Can I Get An "Amen"… Oh Brother…

Ok, so anyone who has ever read anything on this site knows I’m a Christian.

I hope.

But I tend to be a bit more chilled out than it may seem from some of my writing.

I write like I would speak at a conference. Or like I’ve heard people speak at conferences in the past. And there’s nothing wrong with it for me in that environment.

But I can’t take a non-Christian friend to a church that’s that way every single week!

I don’t like having to Translate for people I take with me.

I remember the first very “evangelical/charismatic” church service I was taken to. I’d been a Christian a couple of years but I was still only about 14 or 15 at the time, and had only known the Church of England up until then, I thought these people were out of their minds.

The preacher kept asking “Can I get an ‘AMEN’?” from the congregation.

I kept wanting to ask “Why?”

These preachers who have to ask bug me when it’s every week.

Conferences are different. You don’t know the group. They don’t know you. So it’s different at a conference. The crowd comes from all backgrounds and all walks of life, every colour, accent, race background you can imagine all there for one reason – to hear you talk about Jesus. It’s a VERY different experience.

But every week?

Oh Brother!

I took a friend who had been moving towards God to church a few times in England. Then we went to a cell group with his girlfriend – who hadn’t been to church with us.

He was fine, but the girlfriend was completely freaked out. She’d never been to church of any kind, and even a friendly and laid-back “charismatic” setting was too much for her.

And we only had one “can I get an ‘Amen'” in the meeting – ironically from me!

We need to be salt and light to the World. That means they need to understand us.

Jesus drew the most broken people to Himself. Prostitutes. Shepherds. Tax collectors.

In modern society it would be the drug addicts, hookers, bikers, “gangsta” types that He’d reach. Exactly the people so many “evangelical” churches push away with the self-righteous crap they spout.

Their are certain moral absolutes that the World expects us as Christians to overlook today. Sexual immorality – and I’m not only speaking about the LGBTetc extreme here. Sex before marriage has crept so subtly into everyday society that many churches don’t even think to mention it. Not long ago divorce would have ended a local pastor’s ministry following an affair. These days it’s barely a ripple in a high-profile “evangelical” ministry leader’s resumé to be divorced.

The issue is the way the church’s self-proclaimed recruiting branch – the evangelicals – spends the majority of its time behaving in a way that actually drives away even genuine Christians because they can’t relate to the condemnation that pours out of the pulpits.

Again, don’t get this wrong. I’m not endorsing homosexuality, infidelity, promiscuity or any other form of sexual sin. That’s what it is: sin.

Equally, you won’t find this site endorsing greed, selfish ambition, vanity or any other sin.

Sin is self-worship. That’s why it drives a wedge between us and God. We are designed to worship. We all do it. Everyone worships something. Be it Christians, Muslims, Hindus or atheists, everyone worships something.

That’s why the whole “Can I get” gets under my skin. It smacks of worshipping the speaker rather than the speaker pointing to the Lord. And it’s so subtle the way it has infiltrated the “evangelical/charismatic” branch of the church disguised as some kind of Godly behaviour. But it needs a translator to understand it, and it alienates anyone not in that group.

Jesus came talking about sheep to shepherds, lost coins to widows, fish to fishermen and judgement to Pharisees – the judgemental.

He met people where they were. Even when they were dead.

How simple would it be for us to do the same? He saw the hurt in the Samaritan woman at the well. Just think about the story for a moment.

You can find the story in the whole of John 4. It’s quite long so rather than reproduce it here I’ll add it as a link here.

But here’s the breakdown. Jesus sits down a noon. It seems innocuous to us. But this is Samaria. A Jew sitting down in a town in Samaria. At the hottest time of the day.

The woman comes to the well, carrying a heavy water-jar. Again, it seems to our modern world. But this is 2000 years ago. Mid day was not a time to go and fetch water. But this woman comes now. Everyone in the town knows her story. Her heart must have sunk as she sees a stranger sitting on the wall of the well.

A Jew. She’s a Samaritan. She knows what they think of her just for being a Samaritan. Quislings. Impure. Worse than a tax collector.

So she sighs and goes to the well. Broken down. Broken hearted.

Then Jesus speaks to her.

She must have almost died of shock. Firstly He’s a Jew. Secondly He’s a man. This breaks so many “rules” it’s impossible to list them all.

He asks for water. For Him to ask for water from her is as likely as Him asking for a pork chop dinner. She’s a Samaritan!

She draws the water for Jesus. She probably expected Him to use it to spit on her. But her curiosity is peaked. I love verse 9 in “The Message”:

The Samaritan woman, taken aback, asked, “How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (Jews in those days wouldn’t be caught dead talking to Samaritans.)

Jesus doesn’t care about convention. He tells her she should rather be asking Him for Living Water – eternal Life.

For a moment, she is confused. He has no bucket, no rope, nothing to draw water with. After all, He just asked her to give Him a drink.

Jesus explains, and for the fullness I look to the Amplified translation of verse 14:

But whoever drinks the water that I give him will never be thirsty again. But the water that I give him will become in him a spring of water [satisfying his thirst for God] welling up [continually flowing, bubbling within him] to eternal life.

She’s all but forgotten her initial fear now, and asks Jesus for the water He offers.

I’d love to see the look on Jesus’s face. A thirsty heart, here in Samaria. Looking for Him, the Messiah. One who truly loves His Father. I can imagine the twinkle in His eye as He sees her heart open to everything the Father offers. His playful nature shining through His smile.

But she misses it for a moment. She doesn’t see the twinkle as Jesus says “Fetch your husband”. Her heart breaks. But there’s something different in Him.

She could have said “He’s out of town”. Or “He’d be in the fields now”. Or any number of other things except the truth.

But she tells the truth. “I have no husband”.

Well, part of the truth anyway. She’s coming to the well at noon to avoid the accusations of the other women. She’s living with a man who won’t even give her his name, but he must have been taking a “husband’s” pleasures. Giving herself to a man who refuses to enter a covenant of marriage because she believes for whatever reason that it’s all she’s worth.

The town harlot. Condemned by everyone in the village. Jesus is the first person she’s met in years who speaks to her with respect, who doesn’t instantly judge her. Who isn’t repulsed by her presence. So a half-truth will suffice. The stranger doesn’t need to know she’s “sexually immoral”. He can just think she’s unmarried, or a widow. No need to rock the boat of this man who’s treated her with decency.

But Jesus knows already. “That’s nicely put: ‘I have no husband.’ You’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re living with now isn’t even your husband. You spoke the truth there, sure enough.” (The Message)

Her heart must have broken even more, but she tries to deflect. “Oh, you’re a prophet?” Quick, change the subject before it gets ugly – after all, she still needs to draw the water.

You [Samaritans] do not know what you worship; we [Jews] do know what we worship, for salvation is from the Jews. But a time is coming and is already here when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit [from the heart, the inner self] and in truth; for the Father seeks such people to be His worshippers. God is spirit [the Source of life, yet invisible to mankind], and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

John 4:22-24 Amplified

He calls her out again. It’s not about where you worship. Samaritans don’t know the truth.

But there’s no judgement in His words. She replies that she’s looking for the Messiah.

The absolute Joy Jesus must have felt when she said that. The delight in His heart as He says ““I am he,” said Jesus. “You don’t have to wait any longer or look any further.”” (verse 26, The Message)

Then the disciples return. They must have been used to the unusual by this point. It may only be chapter 4, but they already know by what already went down that Jesus is not your average bear. After all, He already turned water into wine – a lot of wine – in Cana, drove the traders out of the Temple in Jerusalem, prophesied His own Resurrection, and begun His miracle ministry.

But this is still a shock. He’s talking to a woman. No respectable Jewish man would talk to a woman in public – especially a Samaritan woman. But they know well enough to keep their mouths shut about it.

The woman runs back into town telling everyone about her encounter with Jesus. The Message says in her confusion she left her water jar, but most of the others just say she left it. She came to the well with a burden, literally and spiritually, and runs back into the town with neither.

There’s a parallel here with the day of the Resurrection. Mary Magdalene, a prostitute, is the first person to declare the Resurrection. Here, the town harlot is the one to reveal the presence of the Messiah.

But Jesus never once asked if He could get an “amen” from the crowd…

I Will Give You Rest

We all get tired. Even Jesus needed to recharge from time to time.

There’s no sin in taking time out. Part of being human is we need to stop and recover from time to time physically, emotionally and Spiritually.

The key is to allow ourselves the time to do so.

The last couple of weeks I’ve been on a forced physical rest. I got sick. Not something that happens a lot, but when it happens, it hits hard. I had a viral infection that left me unable to walk in a straight line. Labyrinthitis. It’s a disorder of the inner ear and it left me unable to stand, read, write, walk, watch TV. Basically all I could do was sleep. Not something I’m historically good at.

So for most of the last 2 weeks I’ve slept and listened to sermons on mp3.

I’ve rested in a way I’ve not done for longer than I can remember.

Physically I’m not 100%, but I’m going back to work anyway. I can see straight, and the world is no longer doing circuits around my head when I sit up, lie down or do any form of exercise… like blinking. Hopefully my decision is the right one.

But I’m very aware I need more.

I have a hunger to go into the mountains and sit by a river, watching the eagles fish. Maybe catch a glimpse of one of the wild leopards that live in the area. otters-bend-jan-05-pic-22Perhaps watch the weavers build their hanging nests over the water. Just surround myself with Creation and let it revitalise me.

Jesus used to go to the mountains to be alone with God. He went after feeding the 5000 to be with His Father and mourn John the Baptist’s murder. He knew how important it is to preserve this frail shell we walk about in. To go where we can quiet our mind away from the storms of life.

There’s a place not far from my home called Jongensgat where I used to go with my wife. 2 wooden cottages on a reserve with tortoises, buck, dassies and a multitude of birds. But the best part is there’s no cellphone reception, no TV in the houses, nothing except what you take with you. It’s a great place to just go and be. We spend our entire existence doing and forget we are human beings.

It’s a place to rest. Peaceful, tranquil. Choose your adjective. Amazing. Clear nights give unrivalled display of the Milky Way looking out South where the next land is Antarctica. It puts a real perspective on what I am, and how much I must mean to God that in all that around me, I still matter to Him.

I get to recharge there.

It’s not the only place I feel able to relax, but it’s the only one I know of with no internet, cellphone etc.

steve-jobs-terminatorIt’s vital for us to remember we are not indestructible. We need to rest. I learned that in the last two weeks. It’s easy to forget sometimes.

Every part of our life needs time to recuperate. If Jesus needed to take time out away from the buzz of life, how much more do we?

Modern life decries any need for rest as laziness or weakness, yet God initiated the Sabbath for a reason. We can only work so long before we break down. God designed us to work six days, then rest for one. Jesus rested when he needed it, He wasn’t afraid to take time out to recuperate.

So why should we be?

It’s not weakness to stop after working to rest. It’s a basic human need. Like eating or drinking. Nobody expects us to function without food or drink, but rest seems to be a different story. Taking down-time has been slowly whittled away as a right, and more and more we are expected to take pay in lieu of leave, but money can’t buy rest.

Jesus said “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 NKJV)

“I will give you rest”. Such a seemingly innocuous statement, yet such a powerful image.942dd-p1010010 Consider psalm 23 “He makes me lie down in green pastures”. Through the whole Bible, too many times to quote, the image of resting in God’s presence comes through again and again.

Perhaps that is why the World rails against rest. It’s a place where we can connect with God on an intimate level. Consider the way technology has invaded our every part. Everything goes through the tablet, smartphone or laptop these days. It’s almost unheard of for someone not to have a TV any more.

My wife and I don’t watch TV, just a few select videos and movies of our own choice. We avoid news broadcasts, because frankly they’re depressing and there’s the advantage of not having adverts thrown in. It means we have absolute control over what comes into our home – and we can watch what we find helps us recharge.

Take the time to switch off your phone tonight. Talk to your family. Play a board game with your kids. Buy a board game to play with your kids…

Switch off, tune in to God.

And let Him give you rest.

Jesus: The Unwelcome Guest?

Guest

We all get those annoying calls.

light_ofthe_world_hunt
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to dine with him, and he with Me.” Revelation 3:20

Be it the doorbell, telephone, email, whatsapp or delivery method of the moment, we all get the call from that person we really don’t want to hear from at that moment (or ever sometimes).

 

Just when you want to spend time on your own, or with your spouse there comes the chime.

“Can I pop round for 5 minutes?”

Your heart sinks.

To be fair, I’ve been the annoying caller as often as I’ve received them. When I first left home I wasn’t used to having friends – real friends – my own age. I didn’t know the etiquette. I’d lived a very isolated life, partly by choice to avoid pain, and partly because my pain overflowed and infected everyone near me so I got left out a lot until that point. I was not quite 20 when I left home, and I was welcomed into my then girlfriend’s group of friends from her university Christian Union. I was wary because I felt quite hurt by church at that point. I’d been set on a path to study for ordination in the Church of England, then because I was considering moving away and – for financial reasons initially – sharing digs with the girl I was dating my vicar told me he was withdrawing support for my application.

“Living in sin” wasn’t something I’d thought about, mainly because I recognised already that as far as sin goes we’re all pretty much in the same boat, just wearing different coloured blocks of concrete on our feet as swim-fins. Any sin separates us from God.

But I had this radical idea that Jesus was bigger than that. That He got into the boat with a chisel and chipped the concrete away so we could be free of the burden and walk with Him.

Apparently I was wrong was the message I got.

So I abandoned the hope of becoming a “professional” Christian and found myself wandering aimlessly into business management and customer service, never finding a passion for what I was doing, and resenting having been coerced into that stream.

I kept coming back to the idea of Jesus knocking on my door though.

My Grandfather was a minister, a Salvation Army Officer in his youth. He would advise me “The Holy Spirit is a Gentleman, David. He never forces His way in. You need to invite Him.” I didn’t get it back then. I was too young angry to grasp what he was telling me.

coyote vs tunnel.gifJesus is a guest in our life. He will not force His presence on us or His wisdom over our own. If we choose to follow a different path, He will wait patiently while we smash headlong into the cliff, like Wiley Coyote in the “Roadrunner” cartoons, then pick up the pieces and help us back to the safe path with Him after we’ve tried to force our way through the painted illusion a few times.

Basically, He waits for us to get tired of the constant bruising from running into an imaginary tunnel we painted in the first place and reach a place of acceptance where we invite Him to come in and share Wisdom with us.

I’ve heard preachers say God can’t be surprised. I don’t believe that’s true. There are several places where it’s recorded that the behaviour of the Israelites was so bizarre that God says “And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into My heart.” (Jeremiah 7:31) God is horrified that people created in His image could do something as horrific as human sacrifice, to the point that t was something He had never even imagined – He was surprised.

Even more surprising was that it was a regular happening, not just a once off.

We look back today in horror at the practice. Maybe a thousand years from now people will do the same when they look at selective abortion in lieu of exercising choice before the pregnancy.

But Jesus waits to be invited in.

If you don’t believe in healing, don’t worry: you’ll never have to deal with it. Same goes for financial Blessing. Jesus is a guest. He will never force us to accept a gift we don’t want.

Just consider for a moment: We were given Free-Will that God Himself has said He will not interfere with.

Imagine you go to a friend’s home and during your visit he kicks the cat. It’s his cat. You can sympathise with the feline, ask him to stop, threaten to leave, even threaten him with bodily harm for the assault; but at the end of the day you can’t un-kick the cat. And you can’t force him to never kick it again unless you take the cat away from him.

But you’re a guest in his house. And maybe what you see as abuse is a game they play together. The “kick” may have been more gentle than it appeared. I rough-house with my dogs. Anyone seeing me play with them would think I was being harsh, but I guarantee I come out of it worse for wear than they do.

As a guest in another’s home, we are invited in and the homeowner has the right to eject us should they choose to, or not let us in in the first place.

Jesus comes as a guest to us. He’s not SWAT with a search warrant and breaking down the door – although He has the power to do that. He comes as a guest and awaits invitation.

A personal example. When I moved to South Africa I wasn’t 100% certain it was the right timing so I invited Jesus to show me it was. I went to an estate agent to put my home on the market at 12pm. On the way home I got a call from the agent saying he had someone wanting to come and see the property right now. At 12:30pm I pulled into my drive to find agent and prospect waiting for me – I still don’t know how they got there before me. At 12:40pm the prospect accepted the full asking price and by 1pm the paperwork was signed confirming the sale of the house. In context: two doors away and identical house had been on the market for over a year for a lower price. The buyer had seen that house and rejected it as the price was too high.

So I moved to Cape Town. Very relieved I might add.

I had diabetes and gout at the time. After I’d been here for about a year the gout flared up and I was essentially crippled by it. I couldn’t walk and just the weight of a sheet made it feel like there was in insane imp inside my toe joint using dynamite and axes to hammer his way out. I prayed and felt the Holy Spirit tell me the gout was done.

Within an hour the pain, swelling and discolouration had gone completely. It’s never come back. I’ve not changed my eating habits in any way, in fact my eating habits should have made it much worse by now, but the gout is gone. When God does a work, it’s complete.

But I’m still diabetic. I couldn’t trust Jesus enough to let go of that. So I still have it. Every so often I get the prompt “Ready yet?” My heart says a resounding “YES!”, but my mind gets in the way. I get filled with “what if” questions. “What if it doesn’t work?”, “What if this isn’t God?”

So I’m stuck with diabetes until I can get my head out of the way. I know from Isaiah and Peter that by Jesus’s stripes I’m healed – of everything. I’ve seen in not just with gout but also with acute injuries to most of my body at some point. But somehow I can’t get it through for the diabetes.

That doesn’t mean God doesn’t heal diabetes. I know people He has healed of it. It just means Jesus won’t force Himself on me. He goes as far as I allow him to.

He is a guest.

If you visit a friend for a week, you don’t redecorate the house. It’s not yours to do. You’re a guest.

Why do we think Jesus would be any different when He comes into our life?

He stands and knocks, and waits for an invitation.

Surely you have room for a guest?