The Road Less Traveled By

Written 2/15/14; revised 6/1/20

Back when I was a young padawan studying the Word, I had a bad habit of downplaying logistics. Whether geography, time, and/or historical backdrop, I figured by skimming the peripherals, I’d discern the passage more quickly without distraction.

However, as I now know, when we consider the Scriptures, we find every word, pronoun, and article carrying strategic purpose and placement.

Take John 4 for instance…

In this chapter, we find Jesus not only ministering to a woman at a well but [literally] going the extra yard in finding her.

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Yet, before the encounter takes place, we’re given context retroactive to John 3:22-23

After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized.” 

This in mind, let’s flash-forward to John 4:1-6:

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.”

In these two passages, we’re given three regions as backstory to John 4: Judea, Galilee, and Samaria. With Galilee and Samaria, we’re given specifics; with Judea, the reference is less clear. Still, we have enough detail to discern the relationship between the three communities.

Note the maps below as they will come in handy in a minute…

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Going back to v. 2, we find Jesus leaving Judea for Galilee from a somewhat debatable departure point. Assuming Jesus started where John was baptizing, we can deduce Sychar not only as a sensible midpoint but a contrast to how Jews traveled given the cultural climate between them and the Samaritans (see black/white graphic above). While traveling through Sychar made sense in terms of mileage, it’s only fair to wonder: Why Jesus did go there in the first place?

To answer this, we’ll need to examine a few more ingredients. So far, we’ve discussed geography as context; however, we still need to unpack…

  1. Relational dynamics

  2. The timeline

Relational Dynamics: Back in Jesus’ time,  it was culturally unacceptable for a Jew to enter a Samaritan town. As we see in the Good Samaritan parable, Samaritans were widely considered half-breeds (half-Gentile, half-Jew). If a Jew was departing Jerusalem on route to Galilee, he likely would have traveled east of the Jordan to avert Samaria (a difference of a marathon give or take); however, as noted earlier, Jesus took the road less traveled by to show us why he came to die. In this case, Jesus traveled to Samaria to share the Good News and to preview the Spirit as part of their worship. He knew by making his presence known, whatever social norms existed would soon pale in the light of the hope he carried.

The Timeline: Additionally, we must note the timing of this passage as v. 6, indicates:

 “Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.”

Here, we must remember the “sixth hour” did not pertain to 6:00 am as we might surmise, but 12:00 pm according to the Jewish clock. Like the location, this seemingly small detail is rather significant. If Jesus appeared at noon, then clearly he would have arrived during the heat of the day – a time when many were indoors. With well activity peaking during dawn and dusk hours, it’s fair to say if Jesus had intentions of ministering to crowds, he would have arrived in the morning or evening. Accordingly, one must wonder: Did Jesus time his journey to Sychar?

In short, ‘yes’, Jesus had every intention of meeting the woman exactly when he did; however, the longer answer integrates the ‘why’, specifically why Jesus came to inspire this particular woman in light of her tumultuous history (v. 16-19). For starters, Jesus came to transform her life through the revelation of his compassion at the potential cost of his reputation.

Remember it was culturally unacceptable for Jewish men to speak to Samaritan women back then; even Jewish women would avoid dealings with Samaritan women given the tension. And toJesus’ credit, he was well aware of this; hence, why we chose a time where he could counsel one-on-one without being a distraction.

But as the case with any individual ministry, Jesus’ timing went way beyond public perception. For Christ so loved this woman at the well, he would transform her from ostracized outcast into a victorious vessel where his evangelism would snowball into cultural transformation. Once an adulteress, now a mouthpiece with testimony and message to share.

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To me, this is what makes John 4 so captivating. When we consider Christ’s intentionality, his strategy to free this woman from bondage and ignite her hope through his identity, it’s hard not to get excited. Like Jesus, we should want to restore life amidst the broken hearts and dreams we encounter. We should want to ignite change in those who doubt their worth. But above all, we should want to accept the call to lead others to a greater understanding of who God is. Because at the end of the day, God’s love is contagious and captures why we’re here: To encourage the discouraged and stir love as the root of faith.

As the story concludes, the woman accepts Christ, his prophetic declaration (v. 21-24), and fearlessly saves many Samaritans as a result:

“Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.’ After the two days he departed for Galilee.” ~ John 4:39-43 (ESV)

Not bad for an ex-social leper who spent years pursuing false securities through unauthorized relationships.

At any rate, I hope you have a better understanding of why scenic and demographic details play such a valuable role in the ministry of Christ. As this chapter reminds us, even elements God transcends can help breathe life into desperate circumstances. If you want your life to speak, dare to seek God like no one else you can live intentionally like no one else. By believing God has established your steps, you can trust him to get you to where you need to be even if it’s mean a few extra minutes or miles.

Selah.

Cover photo creds: Million-Wallspaper.com

Wading for God: A SOAP Study on Romans 15:1-7

Note: Usually I separate the observations and applications when writing these SOAP Bible studies; however, I believe the following observations are better attached to their respective applications in light of the content. While normally I  flesh out marketplace implications, due to word count, I’m allowing the pod above (and future pods) to cover this piece.

Scripture: Romans 15:1-7 (MSG)

Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, ‘How can I help?’ That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out. “I took on the troubles of the troubled,” is the way Scripture puts it. Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next. May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we’ll be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus!

Observations/Applications:

1. I like how the Message captures Paul’s heart in v. 1:Strength is for service, not status.” For one thing, it quickly defines what strength is designed for while contrasting it to the contrary. I might even add ‘skill’ to the ‘not list’ given our culture’s way of synonymizing strength to societal contributions. Still, it’s imperative we grasp what Paul is stating: We are strong in Christ meaning we’re strong in faith and in our conviction to persevere in weakness. Internally, this can mean accepting God’s grace without debate; externally, this can mean patiently enduring with shortcomings outside of our control. Regardless of how this looks, we must be thorough in translating faith to action since many practice truth in theory without it correlating to tangible care. For instance, some forgive without saying the words while others are easily content being willing to help without actually helping. Perhaps this is why in v. 2, Paul is straight-up straightforward: “Let each one of us [make it a practice to] please his neighbor for his good, to build him up spiritually.”

2. If there’s one main concern I have about the church (and the Christians in them), it’s how we have programs to reach people, yet avoid people’s troubles in fear of not being able to handle them. One could say we want to win souls for the Kingdom without having to address their warts and worries along the way.

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Yet, as Paul emphatically states, in v. 3, “That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out.” Put another way, He took on the troubles of the troubled and that in a nutshell is how we should approach the communal aspect of our evangelism and discipleship.

Galatians 6:1-3 (MSG) captures this beautifully:

Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.”

3. The dance between the Message and Amplified translations in v. 4 is fascinating:

For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope and overflow with confidence in His promises.

Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next.”

For starters, we don’t just endure through the Word; we encourage through it. Likewise, we don’t just read the Word to stay alert; we study the Word to inspire diligence and vigilance. After all, for counsel to exist, there must be a community of ‘two or more’ gathered (Matthew 18:20) where confidence and trust can be shared maturing in God’s promises. Furthermore, while it’s important to be ready for the ‘next’, we can’t get there if we’re not loving in the now with apparent hope. This is why trust isn’t an individual exercise, but a corporate pursuit. To be on mission with Christ is to co-mission with each other. All the more reason we should embrace weakness as our endurance, encouragement, and counsel strengthen and builds up the body.

4. Finally, in v. 5-7, we see the purpose of endurance and encouragement captured in one word: Harmony. To have harmony is to have unity. And like the early church in Acts, God desires these gifts to help us be of one mind and one heart…according to Christ Jesus. But how do we achieve this in a way the words resonate at our core? In short, Paul gives us a template in these verses:

May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as  Jesus gets along with us all…so reach out and welcome one another to God’s glory.” 

Again, it’s interesting to note how many facets of God’s nature can’t exist in a vacuum or isolation. Case and point: “glory” – the very last word of this passage reminding us why all of this matters. As for how we experience glory, many would say righteousness, walking the walk, living out the truth we declare and believe, etc. But honestly, this is more how we posture ourselves to glory. To encounter it, we must seek the Lord as we reach out and welcome one another to where He is. Doing this implies love and as we know from 1 Peter 4:8, love covers a multitude of sins and seeks the best for others. Accordingly, as we’re inviting people to glory one step at a time, let’s embrace weakness as pressing into Jesus regardless of our circumstances. If we’re actively pursuing freedom and healing from strongholds and helping others do the same, no question we’ll inspire Scripture to come alive in people.

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Prayer:

Lord, we thank you for your goodness, your grace, your capacity to redeem and restore. We thank you for the golden opportunities and divine appointments you’ve been setting up around the world in recent months. We declare our joy and satisfaction in your ways and purposes. But now, Lord, we ask you to forgive us for not taking our faith seriously, specifically in the areas of relying on your strength and for helping others as we see fit, not as you see fit. We say it is you, God, who makes us fit, who equips us for good works and establishes our steps for them to happen. I know in my case I have hidden behind the quarantine at times and avoided being available to lick wounds from past resentments. I admit there have been times I’ve prioritized my perception of healing, basing it in distance from people and the absence of personal errors and wrongdoings toward me. But I’m gripped, oh God, by how you pursue us regardless of the trouble we’re in. I’m amazed how you’ve orchestrated the Scriptures through the passage of time for our benefit. As such, we choose to wait for you as you wade in for us and choose to lean on you as the rock of ages who never forsakes us. Even though we may not see the evidence of maturity and growth in every place in our lives, we ask God you help us rely on your steady counsel as our source, our refuge, and our strength. We choose to make peace with our brothers and sisters, with those who disagree with your ways and who criticize without compassion. We choose to not be disheartened by the evidence of disunity. Instead, show us the way to harmony and maturity in dealing with those who are lost, whether by faith, in character or in their understanding of you. After all, at every point in our lives, we are lost without you one way or another. Why not be warm in our correspondences with one another as we humbly seek your heart, your strategies, and your invitations? Why not say ‘yes’ to your unfathomable joy as we hand out those invitations to those who really need them for such a time as this? Be with us as we go forth from this moment and this place. To yours be all the glory, forever and always. Amen.”

Selah.

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Cover photos creds: wallpapercrafter.com

 

 

 

What Keeps Us From Being Addicted to Jesus?

Shout-out to my colleague, Karen Hall, for bringing this question up during our latest Messenger Fellowship Zoom call…

What keeps us from being addicted to Jesus?

Scripture references: Ephesians 1:19-20; Colossians 3:1

In fewer words, not living the full Gospel…in the fullness of hope. One could say the answer to what compromises our hope is also the answer to this question.

Yet, digging deeper, I believe a good chunk of this comes down to entitled expectations concerning the new life we have. For some of us, we think like Martha through the lens of ‘becoming’, not ‘it is finished’; for others, the concept of a ‘new thing’ may be a ‘new way’ tied to an ‘old thing’ in disguise.

Whatever the case, to be addicted to Jesus, it’s important we give into God as our default, not just as a ‘go-to’ option. For instance, we may want to help more people in more situations ‘Christ in us’; however, if we deny our help as anything without helplessness, are we really capturing the love and life of Jesus? Are we really capturing the power of Cross in our arenas of influence? Or are we content letting worldly systems (and our proximity to them) get in the way?

I know for me, independence has a way of exposing my attitude towards Jesus. To the extent I shy away from weakness, to that extent I yield to self-preservation and self-effort. At times, it’s almost as I’d rather embrace defeats I can understand than total sufficiency I can’t. Perhaps some are like me wondering what might happen if they have too much of Jesus? As if there’s an imaginary cutoff…or overdose limit?

Either way, the problems with independence are many, but if I had to pick some common themes, I’d say…

1. It hinders daily abiding.
2. It chains us to ‘old creation’ thinking/keeps us from celebrating our 100% helplessness in light of God’s 100% sufficiency
3. It distracts us from Jesus/wanting to be like him.
4. It separates Christ and Cross as the source of our new creation.

No wonder so many feel dead where they’re alive, alive where they’re dead, and thirsty to cope to bridge the divide.

Selah.

Looking ahead, if there is a follow-up to this bonus post, I’ll look to discuss the following…

  1. How we, as business leaders, can rest in victory and be released in confidence knowing our future is guaranteed.
  2. How intercession is an expression of our certainty in Christ’s power to save.
  3. How God guarantees outcomes is core to his sovereignty.

Stay blessed and healthy, my friends…

~ Cameron

Cover photo creds: HipWallpaper

Corona Fight: Why We’re to Be Unshaken, Not Stirred

So recently, I was reading a blog post about how God is using this COVID-19 crisis to help believers see what is still shakable in their own lives (Haggai 2:5-7, Hebrews 12:22-29).

And by all means, my heart resonates with this truth.

Until something is unshakable, there’s always room for greater stability and strength.

Yet, while much focus is on how God is shaking out our co-dependencies¹ (and rightfully so), I can’t help but wonder if we’re forgetting the grander scheme unfolding.

‘Cause truth is: Yes, God wants to prune our dependencies and purify our securities. But I also believe He wants to use this time to train the body to be hope in the face of age-defining uncertainty.

Not to suggest we be insensitive to personal conviction or how God is shaking the nations. Certainly, now is a perfect time to take inventory and ask the Lord to awaken us in this season of chaos.

However, in our quests for enlightenment, let’s not forget the bigger picture either – specifically, how the church must show the way amidst the dismay through love-distance (a.k.a. long-distance) relationship².

As for the days ahead, I wish I knew more. For now, what I can say is a super creative God is illuminating new creative outlets for those He loves. And as the evidence pours in, let’s keep one thing in mind:

The same God who is shaking global foundations is the same God fixing your eyes on what He intends to remain unshaken.

Even though there’s much change to behold, there’s still plenty of life in you purposed for consistency (be it joy, faithfulness, endurance, etc). Accordingly, let’s not lose sight of what God has done as we lean into what He’s about to do.

As for any of you feeling displaced or out of rhythm, be encouraged: God is not one to run out of ideas. If anything, He’s working out a temporary solution with lasting repercussions you can’t see yet.

As for you with spiritual gifts centered on direct services, like giving, compassion or hospitality, be discerning and disciplined, but don’t vacation from your calling either. Rather, research, network, build your technological awareness (To be fair, this goes for all of us 😉)…and dare to see where God’s bridges of benevolence take you.

In closing, I charge you, my friends, to calibrate to God’s character/Word (see verses below) and consider what He’s anchored within you. After all, even when life seems to fall apart, He never stops refining your part in helping others find Jesus.

Selah.

Stay tuned next time when I’ll finally unveil ‘part 2’ to my ‘4 convictions for 2020‘ series. Until then, may God’s hedge of protection cover and calm you in these turbulent days.

“Worship the Lord your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you.” ~ Exodus 23:25 (NIV)

“For the LORD protects the bones of the righteous; not one of them is broken!”  ~ Psalm 34:20 (NIV)

“Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good thing, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” ~ Psalm 103:1-5 (NIV)

“Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”  ~ Proverbs 16:24 (NIV)

Footnotes

  1. For some, you may feel God is sifting your heart Amos 9 style as opposed to shaking it (see video above).
  2. More on this term in a future post; for now, view it as a love that stays in bounds because it knows no bounds.

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Cover photo creds: Action News Now

Rise and Shine: The Secret to Giving Your Best

Inspired by vintage Keith Green…

Many of us have heard the phrase, ‘Do your best and let God do the rest’.

But lately, I’ve been wondering how well I truly understand this.

I mean I ‘get’ the Bible verses…

And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.” ~ Colossians 3:23-24 (ESV)

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.” ~ 1 Corinthians 9:24 (ESV)

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” ~ Philippians 4:13 (ESV)

Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.” ~ Galatians 6:5 (MSG)

…yet somehow in the application, I’ve been missing something. And I think I’m starting to see what it is.

You see, we often approach work as a derivative of ‘doing’ be it a project we initiate or a means to manage. Define the goal and pursue it. Clarify the objective and go for it. In a way, this makes sense given we’re all hard-wired to perform with excellence for excellence.

However, while execution and effort have their place, it’s important, dare I say critical we ask ourselves: At what point are we allowing God into the picture? Into the frame-work of our work if you will?

At the point we’re exhausted? At the point we’re confused? At the point we’re doubting?

Or are we making way His way from the very beginning?

As one who has failed time and time again with this, trust me when I say…

1. If you want to do your best, let God get in front of it.
2. If you want God to do the rest, let Him get behind it.

Don’t wait until you’re burnt out. Don’t wait until you’re stuck. Rather before you clock in each day, consecrate your effort, receive His faithfulness, and know He will accomplish His purposes in you. Even if He’s guiding you into turbulence, into danger, know He’s calling you to see Him in the midst of it in a fresh way. Accordingly, don’t be discouraged by growing pains when in reality He’s sowing gains you can’t yet see.

In closing, I encourage you, friends…

1. Let God be in the midst of your best and rest, not the middle.

2. Examine any place you may be relegating God to an on-call substitute, any place where ‘doing the rest’ has become a request to autocorrect above anything else.

Let Him be more and go before!

Selah.

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Cover creds: The Youthing Magazine