Monday, May 20, 2013

The Woman at the Well: More Than Meets the Eye - On John 4:1-30

The account of Jesus and the Woman at the well is a well-known and often referenced passage among the gospels in the New Testament. It is one of those passages that has a few fairly obvious surface-level takeaways, nonetheless, very significant. If you have heard this story preached on it’s likely that the preacher has hit on a number of different truths we can take from this passage. These include:
  1. Jesus breaks down cultural barriers - Jesus came not only for the Jews, but he is ushering in a time when all peoples can know God through him. 
  2. Jesus ignores gender barriers - Jesus reaches out to not only a Samaritan (who Jews despised), but a Samaritan woman - At this time Jewish men were not allowed to speak with women in public, especially on a one-on-one basis. Not only was she a woman, but she was an “unclean” Samaritan woman. She represents many, if not all, of whom Jesus is reaching (non-Jews, men and women, the rejected, the outsider, the “not good enough”) 
  3. Jesus claims that he offers eternal life - in the form of “living water” that we may never thirst again. This is life abundant. 
  4. Everyone who encounters Jesus has the chance to be a witness of the gospel - Even though it is likely this woman has a dubious past, God uses her in mighty ways as a witness of Jesus and many others come to know him through her testimony. Regardless of our past, gender, age, race, etc., we can all be used by God in mighty ways.
These interpretations of this passage are all true and wonderful in their own right. But, I’m convinced there is an even deeper layer of truth here that has an incredibly profound and life-changing message that has the potential to change forever your understanding of who you are, how you love yourself, and how you are loved by God.

Worldview, Politics and Our Recent Election

I believe this is my first post of this political season that has had anything to do with politics. I certainly have things to say, but, as we all know, facebook isn't always the best place to share our thoughts. In many ways it's a great place. We can all express our opinions freely and have the opportunity to get feedback. But, we all know expressing our thoughts here doesn't always prove fruitful. More often than not, those who agree with us continue to agree and those who don't continue to disagree... we usually fail to persuade those who disagree, but do succeed in creating more division and tension.

No one likes division. But a simple fact of life is that where there is freedom people will disagree on issues. This is normal and healthy. The difficulty is to dialogue intelligently and in an understanding way. We're all tempted to think "only an idiot would think..." and "it's obvious that [fill in the blank] is the right view."

What's interesting is that the vast majority of us agree on most things, we just have a different idea of how to get there. Both political liberals and conservatives want a flourishing, secure, free, vibrant, unified, strong and economically successful democratic nation. We want jobs. We want our kids to have a future. We want liberty. Those are givens, right? Even though there are a few moral and social issues that divide us, we agree on 90% of those too: murder, theft, basic human rights, lying, cheating, loyalty, family... most moral and social issues are not debated. There are only a few that truly divide us (at least politically).

How can we explain why Americans, who want so many of the same things, disagree so strongly about ideas in the following two categories?

Sometimes Seeing a Stranger Smile Can Make All the Difference

Today I wrote an update on Facebook: "Sometimes seeing a stranger smile for no reason makes a difference."

I was in the grocery store buying some lemons, yes some lemons. My favorite meal of four artichokes was on the stove and I realized I didn't have enough butter four my dipping sauce (very necessary)... this is one of the perks of living across the street from a grocery store - you can leave and be back in five minutes before your meal is over-done.

I was standing in line and two gentlemen were shopping near the end-cap of the isle behind me. One looked about 40. Very LA looking. Looked like a cool dude. And standing arm-in-arm beside him was a man who looked to be his brother, maybe slightly younger. The man's  brother, we'll say, had his eyes mostly shut. His head was weaving back and forth, Ray Charles style. It was difficult to say what condition this man had, but he surely had one. 

For some reason he had my full attention for about 10 seconds. As he weaved his head back and forth, every few seconds a pleasant smile came across his face. I don't know why. My first thought was that this guy really enjoys being out and about with his brother. He really seemed to be happy to be out shopping, soaking in the vibe of this store, seeing people, he seamed to be, simply put, present. His smile brought a smile to face and I envied him.

I realize these words actually may offend someone. I don't know his condition. I don't know about the things this man has and will miss out on in life. I don't make light of what the hard aspects of his life are. But there was real joy, contentment and peace on his face. And, I think he has a great gift in that.

I've had a bit of an up and down few weeks and seeing this man smile brought some peace and a smile to my own face. It was a reminder that life can be simple. There are so many things to be enjoyed, even the end-cap of a grocery store. The companionship of a friend or brother. The light on your face.

I was reminded that though we face hardships, stress, things not turning out the way we hoped... there is a simple beauty around us that is poised and ready to bring smiles if we'd just close our eyes a bit and soak it in.

Thanks stranger-dude.

May 15, 2012

The Person of the Holy Spirit

The more we come to know the holy spirit as a person the more we come to know God. The Holy Spirit is not a "force" or a "feeling." The Holy Spirit is not a sense. He is not a "will." He is not a medium. He is a person.

The trinity truly is a marvelous and mysterious thing. It's easy to think of the Father as a person with a personality. It's easy to think of Jesus as a person with a personality. But, I think we often naturally think of the Holy Spirit as the will of God. It's easy, even, to think of the Holy Spirit as a kind of aura of God, like a gas or light shining from Him. This is not SO off-base that it is absurd, but the more we come to know God as he truly is the more we will truly know and enjoy him.

There have been countless illustrations of the trinity given throughout the centuries. We recognize that there is a sort of hierarchy within the Godhead. We typically think of the order as the Father, Jesus then the Holy Spirit. They are ontologically equal but functionally unique. 

It is clear from scripture that as Jesus walked this earth he did only what he saw the Father doing. He sought to glorify and emulate the Father. It is also clear from scripture that it pleases the Father to glorify the Son and put all things under his authority. There is a loving and glorifying union between the two... and we can easily see the Holy Spirit as the light or love flowing between the two. But, I think it's more accurate to truly see the Spirit as a person, as scripture describes, saying "Have you seen this!!? I love this! Have you seen the Father? Have you seen Jesus? This is the best!" The spirit's role is to bring glory to Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit has been in eternal communion with the Father and the Son. He is so enthralled with the glory of God that his sole mission is to bring attention to it and to enable others to testify to it. 

What if, rather than identifying the Holy Spirit as a "force" within you that urges you to be good, you saw him as someone who has spent eternity in the presence of Jesus and the Father and is so amped about the whole thing that he wants nothing more than to show you what it means to see them as they are and to know them as he does. 

Though this may be a crude analogy, it may help a little. Have you ever been so excited about a movie, song or a musician that every single chance you had you urged others to experience what you have experienced? Let's settle on a song. This song has so moved you, the performance so exceptional that not to share it with others would almost be painful. You actually feel offended if others don't like it because it's so good. It's just that good. You urge others to listen, you explain the story of the artist, the lyrics, the moment that just throws you over the edge. You love it and want others to love it too.

The Holy Spirit is Jesus' biggest fan. Jesus is the Father's biggest fan. The Father rejoices and takes great pleasure in bringing attention to his Son. It's this amazing dance of love. 

I urge myself and you to stop seeing the Spirit as merely some kind of conscience but a person who knows the truth about you and about the reality of God... because he is God. His passionate love for you dictates that he will draw you into a fuller and more passionate knowledge and enjoyment of Jesus Christ. Listen to him. Cherish his words. Cherish his guidance. Cherish everything he says. He knows. And, excitingly, he not only testifies to the truth of Christ, he empowers and guides, he reveals, he changes us, he dwells with us. 

Imagine your favorite musical band. The lead singer and guitarist, the bassist, and the drummer. Honestly, I don't know which one the HS is. He comes to your house and talks with you for the rest of your life about this music you love which he has produced. 

April 27, 2012

Let's Abandon Love

Love is the root of all sorts of evils.

Love causes war.

Love causes death.

We need to let go of love.

It's incredible to me that we live in a world where people continue to love and place value in love. Love is an ancient and archaic notion that our earliest ancestors used as a way to form groups, culture, to come together. Perhaps there was a time when love truly was necessary for the survival of the species. After all, doesn't love help us to procreate? I'm not saying that love has never, as foolish and ridiculous as it is, served some kind of purpose. But, can we please admit that it doesn't exist, never has, and should be abandoned in favor of reason?

How many people have died because of love? Millions. We could look to countless examples that prove the point. How many stories have you read in the paper about the murder of some innocent man or woman who's ex could not live without them? Blame love. How many mothers are missing out on what could have been an exciting and rewarding life of career success and luxury because they've chosen to get married or have children out of some archaic desire to love someone to the detriment of what we all know truly matters?

Romeo and Juliette - even our greatest and most beloved fiction is glaring with the evils of love. Love leads to death. Blame love.

Love can even cause war. European countries have stupidly gone to war over marriages. The Trojan war (whether totally accurate or not, it's not the point) is another example of the evils of love. 

Even if you find comfort in love, you can keep it. I'd rather live a loveless life than live in some kind of deluded fantasy. I'd rather live in reality. Whether you claim to feel love (which I doubt) or not is irrelevant. It doesn't exist. Your brain may fire its synapses in some clever way (thanks to evolution by the way) and you may think this is love, but it is not. And you're a fool if you believe it is anything other than just that - vestigial electrical impulses that evolution, had it a mind, would have been wise to release us from centuries ago. I challenge you not to be a slave to what your parents taught you, or to what their parents told them, and theirs before them... about this silly and destructive fantasy called love. 

Think of it. A world with no broken hearts. A world where no one loses their life over the love-based jealousy of an ex-lover. A world where every individual isn't bogged down and enslaved by their delusions of emotion but are free to pursue their dreams, their gifts, all their aspirations - and, no one to guilt you into believing you've "missed it" or have neglected any of the emotional leaches in your life. 

It's time to abandon love. I know you're family told you it was real. But they're deluded too. I know you may feel like you've lost a sense of belonging... but it will pass. You'll eventually see that you're now free. The guilt you may feel for a short time regarding the "sins" (I wish there was a better word) of self-actualization and  shedding the bonds of burdensome relationships will go away as soon as you realized they are only there because you've convinced yourself that you MUST feel this way. You don't. Love isn't real. It doesn't exist. It causes pain, death, heartbreak, loneliness, and even war. But it starts with you. Let it go.

Love MAY exist. But no one has or ever will prove it. So, why not live as if it doesn't exist? It's the rational thing to do. 

Written: March 9, 2012

Can the Pot Call the Kettle Black?

I've decided to write about something that's been on my mind lately concerning an apologetic argument often used in response to a specific objection to Christianity. I listen to a podcast called Stand to Reason now and then, hosted by Greg Koukl, which is very good. A few weeks ago this objection came up on his show and Koukl gave the typical response - I do think the response he used to the objection "works." It's logical, but I find it rather unsatisfying and I think most people who hear it do as well. And, it's an example of a larger question concerning truth. We had our first session of an apologetics course at our church this past Sunday and the same question was posed. It goes a little something like this:

Objection: "Christianity is so judgemental. You shouldn't try to tell others what to think, believe, or how to behave. Just let people believe what they like if it makes them happy. You shouldn't try to change other people's minds."

Response: "You are doing the very thing you accuse Christians of wrongly doing. You are actually trying to change my mind right now concerning what I think and believe. You, in fact, are being judgemental of myself and Christians by trying to change our behavior. If you don't think people ought to try to change other people's minds, why are you trying to change mine?"

Pretty logical right? It is. I don't think the response fails. It is perfectly sound. However, I don't think the response speaks to the actual heart of the objection and thus can be rather unsatisfying to the objector. 

Irresistible Grace

OK, I know this is played-out. You probably already have a strong position. But, hear me out. Let me just get this out there - I'm reformed in my Christian doctrine. I subscribe to the doctrines of grace. But, I still love to engage and listen to both sides. I've just been watching a debate between a Calvinist and non-Calvinist and I cannot get away from one simple idea that, in my mind, is the deal breaker. 

The classic Calvinistic position is that man cannot choose salvation of himself - he is incapable of doing so because he is dead in his sin. Dead men cannot choose life. Just as Lazaras could not yell out to Jesus to resurrect him, man cannot reach out to Jesus to be regenerated into life. The classic Arminian position is that God has given prevenient grace to all men and have been gifted the ability to believe on Jesus for salvation. They would still say that salvation is a free gift of God to those who believe, but it is ultimately up to the free-will individual to choose God, to choose Jesus and declare him Lord. I absolutely believe both "reformed" Christians and "arminian" Christians are Christians. This isn't a debate about who's in or out. BUT, I do believe that this is an important distinction, both about ourselves and about God.

30. Now what.

I'm fairly convinced 30 is the beginning of true adulthood.

I just turned on a song that somehow brought up some emotions/memories from my early twenties. I first thought of the simple joys of being child. Those sweet moments of simplicity and contentment, free of ambition or want. Just being. I also remembered my very early twenties when I caught a glimpse of the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood. There is a certain sadness in losing your youth, but I remember thinking of the beauty of the depth ahead of me in realizing the enormity of what it is to explore and experience adulthood. You leave many childhood experiences behind, sadly, but you begin to step into the depth of what is truly available to us in life - through the pain and depth of what it is to be human you begin to understand the true cost of joy and beauty, pain and suffering, contentment and desire.

I also just now had a flash of my 20s as a whole. Our 20s are an odd decade. Some experience wild early success. Some dredge on in the struggle. Many of us exist here in some kind of in-between stage of wantonness. In some ways it's a time when we step out of the front stoop and the sun begins to beet down upon half of our body, half still in the doorway. We begin to understand a bit of what the world is, but half of our being still has a foot on that familiar hardwood floor. We project the dreams of our youth into that ray of light and wonder what it will bring. This is our 20s.

At 30, I now feel I am beginning to feel that second foot leave that hardwood floor and fully join the other on the pavement. Idealism must meet reality. Upbringing confronts experiences and mistakes. Hope meets the past and you begin to equalize.

There still exists a huge journey ahead, but I begin to feel the shackles and scales of false premonitions and shallow desires fall away. At 30, I think many of us finally realize I am no longer home and I must understand what my new home will be. It cannot be what others say it must be. It cannot be what I thought it may be. It must be what I know it now to be. I am now standing on that stoop facing the world and it is all before me. I am one man. I have gained and I have lost. Everything is potential or kinetic - I must become kinetic.

Written: October 15, 2011

A Person

I think this may be the closest thing to a "proof" for the existence of God I've ever thought of on my own. It's not a proof in the classical sense, but to me it's a strong intellectual and emotionally satisfying way to consider God's existence. I'm sure others have thought of it (if it's a good idea), or perhaps not (if it's a bad one).

When a sound-minded person is asked what the most important thing in life is the answer is almost always relationships or people. Though many of us chase after money, success, power or a picket fence, deep down we all know the thing that has the most power to dramatically change one's life is a person. Persons matter. Whether it's a spouse, a friend or a relative we all put this highest of value on a person to give life significance. We crave relationships. We crave intimacy. We desire other things, but deep down this is what we want.

If we are indeed spiritual beings, what would make anyone think that one's spiritual significance would likewise be found in anything but a person? We are not satisfied and made whole by philosophies or worldviews. Neither are we satisfied or saved by kindness or karma. The thought of men or women in general does nothing to curb loneliness or desire for just one to be close to. C.S. Lewis (In Surprised by Joy, I believe) talks about how we are made with hunger and we find food, we thirst and drink water, we grow tired and are able to sleep. We are made with desires that are meant to be satisfied in some way. He does an incredible job of illustrating that our earthly cravings are in-and-of themselves real but that they also have a spiritual and heavenly significance... they are a shadow of a deeper craving. I believe this deepest of cravings is found in the person-hood of others and thus the person-hood of God.

We do well to remember that this world is not arranged the way it is by chance. I whole-heartedly believe that seeds, harvests, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, or even fruit were not merely convenient tools for Jesus' illustrations and parables. I don't think he ever thought to himself, "Oh! That would make a great illustration for the way God is! I've gotta use that one!" He shows us himself in the very fabric of this physical universe and its beings - the very seasons themselves, our foods, the sun, water, the way a plant grows... it all points to a person and a relationship. Jesus was able to talk of these things in spiritual ways because this is how they exist in the totality of reality. And, the pinnacle of God's creation, we are told, is man. He breathed his spirit into man and woman. Though we find great satisfaction in our work, in food and rest... we find true peace and significant in relationship. I don't see a much clearer illustration of how we can be most satisfied spiritually (it's tough to find another word than "spiritually" - what I really mean is absolutely, in total eternal fullness). 

God must exist and he must be a person. "God" cannot be many gods. He cannot be a force. He cannot be some kind of conglomeration of human thought or intellect. He must be a person. Nothing else makes any sense with what we see to be true in this reality. 

Secondly, and somewhat separately, we also observe absolutes in this world. 2 + 2 = 4. Gravity exists and behaves in a specific way. There is a speed of light. The laws of logic or universal. There are true and false things that can be said about anything that truly exists. I cannot make up my own version of gravity and expect it to behave as I have decided it does. I cannot will 2 + 2 into equally anything but 4. I do not have the power to decide what the objective truths of the universe are. Similarly, I cannot decide what is true spiritually. And though I may have particular tastes in food and what makes a personal likable, I cannot in anyway determine what must be true about God, the gods, or whatever it is the creator is. 

If the physical universe behaves in specific ways and also that true and untrue statements can be said about it, that it is not about what "works for me," what would lead you to believe that the spiritual reality is any different? There must also be the true and untrue if we are to make any sense of this world.

These, again, are obviously not full-proof arguments for God... but they are extremely convincing to me. I guess they can be summarized together in this way.

1. We find the most satisfaction in person
2. We desire spiritual satisfaction
3. Our spiritual satisfaction must also be found in person
a. The world behaves in certain and specific ways (objectively)
b. My opinion about what is or should be true does not change that truth (pertaining to the physical world)
c. If there is a "spiritual" reality, one has no reason to believe it would behave any differently concerning objectivity

Written: August 29, 2011

Boring Christianity

I had the privilege of listening to Francis Chan today at an event in Los Angeles - it was a prayer breakfast for the Mayor. The event was really wonderful, full of good music, prayer for the city and those in leadership, and meeting new people. Many men and women had the chance to pray or share a quick word, but we were fortunate to hear from Francis as he shared the message.

I know of Francis Chan like many do. I'm a "reformed" guy and so how could I not? But, I'm really not all that familiar with him. I haven't listened to his podcasts, haven't read his books - I just know him by reputation. He has been a slightly controversial figure as of late as he recently stepped down from a thriving church to follow what he believes God is calling him to next (among other things). But, what I can say about him now is this man is an example of a man who loves God with an excitement and passion we rarely see from many figures we look to.

This was a prayer breakfast so, naturally, he spoke on prayer... kinda. Early in his sermon he told us how he had always thought there was a disparity between the radical nature of the Word of God and what he found at church. Everyone seems OK, he thought, so this must be normal. Now he finds himself at a place in his life when this isn't good enough. He told us that he doesn't care now about offending anyone, he doesn't care about being politically correct, he isn't afraid to tell it like it the Bible tells it - aggressively. 

He spoke about concepts like, "God doesn't listen to all your prayers, or every one's prayers." He spoke about a God who is shrouded in light. He spoke of a God who is often annoyed by the "praises" of his people who worship him with their lips but who disregard his commands, a God who takes not delight in empty fasts. He spoke about a God who loves and delights in those who feed the hungry, clothe the naked and shelter those in the elements. It is then that this God says:

"Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I." (Isaiah 55)

People were "amen-ing" and "uh huh-ing" Francis all the time he spoke. It was very moving. But, the funny thing was this man was saying things that probably made more people in that room uncomfortable. He sounded fanatical.

I am only 29 years old. I haven't been around for that long... but I sense a change is happening in God's people. There are many men, men like Francis, who have been re-captivated by the awesome beauty, majesty, and sovereignty of our God - and they celebrate this God and would despise a life comprised of anything other than total and utter dependency, worship, obedience and intimacy with this God. Nothing else matters! Nothing else can satisfy this thirst we have. And there is no message more radical than that of the life and words of Jesus.

This Jesus we worship is more radical, I think, than any of us will ever understand. He does not wait to be invited to be the Lord of your life, He is already the Lord of all things, the King of Kings. The Father has given all things to him. There is not a breath of air you can take that is not granted to you by this Jesus. This Jesus demands nothing less than every single ounce of marrow you have to offer, not in oppression, but in life. If you are not experiencing the pervasive explosion of the power of God, than you may not know him. If you have asked a little Jesus to be a part of you life as you pursue your ambitions, you may find that you have been praying to a figurine. This Jesus who commands infinite galaxies in their paths desires to have intimacy with you. This God you pray to has absolute power and an absolute will to give life. This God is terrifying in power and holiness. And, he has created you to participate in His glory. Christianity is as boring as a volcano exploding out of the side of a tidal wave in a hurricane. 

I have been more prompted than ever to dig in. To really dig in with both feet, to take God at his word, to believe these things Jesus has taught us about radical life. Let us come to know this God more and more. What an incredible journey we have before us, one that will last for an eternity.

Written: March 6, 2011

What Glory

We had our first meeting of The Forge tonight, Ecclesia's new meeting of men. I was humbled and honored to be able to share what God has been doing in my life and to speak of the absolute astounding glory of Jesus Christ - the true man.

I am overwhelmed with the love and compassion of God. It is totally absurd and astounding that God chooses to give himself to us as he does. I have so many times in my life forgotten and taken my eyes off our King. This King of ours, the creator of all things, the author of reality, the author of life and joy has called us by name. He has sought us out. He has sought us out that we might have true life in Him, to know his peace, to receive his peace freely. 

I am so excited about what God is doing. God is always moving, always changing us, always pursuing us. What glory we partake of! May we be in awe of the majesty of our God. 

Our God has asked us what we seek and he has answered. He has asked us where we have gone, and come to us. He has pursued us. And he comes to us with life. He comes to us with abundance. He comes to us with all that is good. He comes to us with himself.

May we never lose sight of what life is. Life is knowing God and his son Jesus Christ. We find ourselves in him and he desires to be with us. The God of the universe calls you by name and desires to make his home in you. What glory! 

I am so encouraged by the heart of the men at Ecclesia to know their God, to discipline themselves in all things that they may glorify our God with their lives. I am more than excited to be a family with you men. I am more than excited to walk together as a band of brothers as we celebrate the wonderful God who has drawn us to himself. What Glory.

Written: February 14, 2011


Thomas a Kempis: “To have no opinion of ourselves, and to think always well and highly of others, is great wisdom and perfection.”

Just as the currency of our relationship with God is worship, the currency of our brotherly relationships is service and self-denial, or submission. We were made to worship our God and serve our brother. How often as men we seek status and the benefits of what we've worked so hard for. We deserve this and have earned that. We are hurt to the core if others do not recognize our greatness in some area. These things we see creating our identity suck away our capacity to “think always well and highly of others.” If my ambitions have taken me to wealth and status, and if this is where I find my identity, how am I free to think well and highly of those who do not have the same level of wealth and status? Will I not look down on or pity them? Christ calls each of us to lose his life in order to save it. He calls us to lose our self-identity in order to find it. This isn't a call to “not-succeed,” but a call to lay down all that we do find ourselves with to worship God and serve our brothers.
How often we try to use God’s principles for our gain, not emulate the “laying-downess” the Christ modeled! And, even as I read on my gut is saying, “I want power. I want leadership. I guess I need to serve and submit to get it!” This is also wrong! We shouldn't be taking Jesus’ example as a 12 step program to achieving power and greatness! We are called to serve and submit out of love and obedience, not to achieve for ourselves some sort of piety-generated leadership status. Only, let us serve others and the Lord in order to model and obey Christ. Jesus left perfect glory and status in order to save and serve, but we try to serve to attain the greatness. This is our fault.

Written: December 23, 2010