"But I will tell you what will happen to cowards and to everyone who is unfaithful or dirty-minded or who murders or is sexually immoral or uses witchcraft or worships idols or tells lies. They will be thrown into that lake of fire and burning sulfur. This is the second death." (Revelation 21:8 CEV)
Joe Snyder, East Community Pastor of Oak Pointe Church in Novi, spoke at Mosaic A2 Sunday. Part of the planned mosaic, where Pastor Shannon Nielson isn't the only pastor of the church, was test-fitted as Pastor Joe continued the series "Encounters" on the stage of Mosaic's Washtenaw Community College location. Oak Pointe is the church from which the transplant of Mosaic comes from, many of the leaders and elders of the Oak Pointe community have signed on to bring their knowledge and gifts to this audacious vision. Pastor Joe is only one of the many lines that have been cast into the Ann Arbor area sea…
Pastor Snyder talked about the encounter between Jesus and the sinful woman (Luke 7:36-50). There were many things to learn in this teaching, but above all else I walked away with a greater understanding and a sense of conviction in regards to my own Call to ministry and the universal call to every one of us who name ourselves among the faithful. Quoting from George Barna's book "UnChristian" which examines why people are leaving the church in droves, Snyder said the church has lost the hands and feet of Christ. 1,000 churches are planted each year and 3,000 close their doors. Because the outside world grows increasingly hostile towards the secluded communities of the body of Christ, because we have strayed far from the intentional purpose of our fellowships.
Understanding the reasons why and seeing the proper character that we should be emulating lie in the examination of Luke's gospel and the story of the sinful woman.
Pastor Snyder points to three viewpoints that occur in this story that the physician writes about: Simon, the Pharisee, the town prostitute and Jesus Christ. We each have experienced each one of them, if we have experienced the bottomless ocean of God's grace……and it is the contention of Snyder and many others within the Christian community that we have fallen back into the pharisaical mindset. We have forgotten the reasoning behind our own salvation and the danger of not being a living testimony to the world.
"Don't you know that evil people won't have a share in the blessings of God's kingdom? Don't fool yourselves! No one who is immoral or worships idols or is unfaithful in marriage or is a pervert or behaves like a homosexual will share in God's kingdom. Neither will any thief or greedy person or drunkard or anyone who curses and cheats others. Some of you used to be like that. But now the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and the power of God's Spirit have washed you and made you holy and acceptable to God." (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 CEV).
We see this realized in the story of this woman…..and in Jesus' response to her. Anyone who is on a path other than the path to Jesus Christ is destined for a second death, from which there will never be any recovery….and eternal suffering. And, like Simon the Pharisee and many of his guests, we as the church are driving the secular, new age, post-modern and 'lukewarm' into that lake of fire as surely as if our hands and feet were doing it…….
We aren't told why Simon invited Jesus to his home, knowing only that in those times it was customary for the prophet or rabbi to stay in the home of prominent people when they visited a community. Because of the open-format of homes in those times, people in the community could gather outside the home and hear the prophet/rabbi speak. As we look at the cultural context of the time, Snyder says, we can discern that Simon's purpose wasn't honorable…..
It was customary when one honored guests in their home to do three specific things:
- Greet guest with a kiss…..
- Having the lowest of your servants wash the dirty feet of your guest……
- Pour some scented oil on the head of the guest to 'refresh' their body……
Simon did none of that. Here is a spiritual leader, who had a prosperous house and career, who knew about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob but didn't know Him….and held the spiritual health of his people in his hands….and judged, convicted and sentenced them in accordance to his own understanding, not God's. A warning and conviction of the modern church today, who is pharisaical too many times as the congregations grow, the gospel is less and less important than the show of 'worship' or the biblical lands 'videos' and catchy phrases of the sermons are designed to draw many to the church through mass mailings. We are less convicted of reaching those mentioned in the revelation verse above and become more and more like those people, worse because we know the truth and yet speak, live or emulate it not.
But it isn't those 'assured' people that Christ came to save. He is willing to leave those people who walk in the sinfulness of their own convictions; the new agers, the spiritualist, emerging watery gospels and post-modern self-awareness wallowing in the filthy of their own making…..if they, like Simon, feel that they do not need saving, He stands at the door and waits….making no conviction of the error in their thinking but continues to wait…..until they notice His shadow falling there on the door……
Just like Simon…….sometimes God's silence speaks volumes itself.
Luke paints a picture for us; here is Christ reclining for dinner. In the context of the time, as Snyder tells us, people joined the pleasure of laying down with the pleasure of eating…..and it how the woman was able to stand behind Jesus and wash His feet with her tears……..
Here is a woman, well known in the town for the lifestyle she lives, that hears that Jesus is at the home of Simon the Pharisee and she goes out to purchase a container of oil. In the 'harmony of the gospels,' we find that it is most likely that this woman, among others, hear the story written by Matthew and is captured by Jesus' enticement to "Come to me….."(Matthew 11). She was driven by the very heart of God, not by knowledge of Him, and felt within her soul the agony of not having what He had to offer. She comes behind Him and begins to cry, not a soft gentle sorrow, but a mournful, sorrowful weeping that flows like a river upon the dirty feet of Christ……washing the dirt from His journey onto the floor of Simon's home. Tears of the broken, connected to the heart and grace of God, wash the feet of its champion.
What we may miss in the simple reading of this story is the next thing that takes place…..the wiping of Jesus' wet feet with her own hair. Snyder points out that in those days, a woman's glory was her hair. With the realization of what her tears have done, she undoes her hair and uses it to wipe dry Jesus' feet……she surrenders her self-glory to honor and glorify Christ. The essence of God's redemption of His people lies in this simple seeming action: our self-protection of our glory, our reputations and our very lives must be surrendered to God…..it is our brokenness that arrests the heart of God. It brings His silence, in which we can bask in the warmth of His love.
"People's desires make them give in to immoral ways, filthy thoughts, and shameful deeds. They worship idols, practice witchcraft, hate others, and are hard to get along with. People become jealous, angry, and selfish. They not only argue and cause trouble, but they are envious. They get drunk, carry on at wild parties, and do other evil things as well. I told you before, and I am telling you again: No one who does these things will share in the blessings of God's kingdom. God's Spirit makes us loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. There is no law against behaving in any of these ways." (Galatians 5:19-23 CEV)
Snyder warns us with a quote of the danger of being Simon and not being the sinful woman, "The greatest sin is to be conscious of no sin in your life." Simon wasn't, the woman was……one unbroken by the superiority of his life, the other broken under the weight of her sin before the purity of God's glory.
God's grace is amazing in its availability and encompassing in its focus…..all can come to the feet of Jesus Christ and break upon the sight of the dirt of sin that coats them…..the encounter of pure relationship with Christ bringing the soul-deep tears of our separation from Him to our eyes and pouring out upon them…..we all have come to this point if we call ourselves Christian. Unfortunately, many of us stop there…..
The brokenness we feel as we kneel behind Christ we seek to heal….we claim the promises and the declarations that the prosperity doctrines tell us is the sole focus of God….to give us a rich, abundant wealth in this life…..and it falls upon the harden path when the next struggle comes, the next trial faces us head on or the mundane of living in this world drags on….we are a people who don't want to live broken and yet God continues to break us on the cross….for our own good.
Simon and those other guests gathered question Jesus' authority because of His allowance of this sinful woman to touch Him, to wash His feet and anoint His head with oil…."If this man was a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is….." Christ doesn't give Simon an reproachful word, a stern rebuke or any other judgment of his own hypocrisy of this woman…..
He allows Simon to convict himself.
"Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii and the other fifty.……"
Because the woman, who's sins were numerous and heavy, came face to face with the grace of God, enticed by the call of "Come to Me.."…..and her tears fell broken from a soul humbled by the glory of Christ stained by the dirt of the world….to wash the feet of God's Son…..as He washed her sins from her soul with the powerful of His love…..
"Your faith has saved you……"
He doesn't tell her to stop crying, doesn't claim healing from the brokenness of her heart…..simply tells her she is saved………..
Because of the humility shown by surrendering her glory to glorify God…..something that most of us fail to do.
There is something more in that story that struck me as I pondered the wonderful teaching of Pastor Joe Snyder…..Jesus' silence during the ministrations of the woman upon His feet….her tears wetting the surface, making the dirt run in rivets onto the floor, her lips kissing them continuously and her hair wiping them clean and dry…..He said nothing. Though we know that Simon's thoughts were apparent to Him, as clear as if they had been spoken aloud.
He was silent until she was done and ready to hear the next part of the journey she started in tears.
The world is convicting the church in the light of its own judgment of what they know about God…...but they don't know God because the church has given into the cultural concept of a God that is not involved, engaged and enticing a people He created. Tolerant of anything because He does not want anyone to be condemned to the lake of fire…..too loving to be firm in the path that must be taken to be eternally saved. The church has given into the concept of a love shaped by its own understanding, given voice to the watery pool of stagnant faith that can only be lived in an isolated community of judgmental authority and a hypocrisy of conviction that only lasts within the walls of graceful worship……..They are hostile to the isolated and defensive community of Christians because they believe they have knowledge of God but don't know Him because we haven't been faithful in our obedience to Him.
God remains silent and we, His people, interpret His silence as approval of the way we are doing things. After all, the numbers show that we are doing 'something right' otherwise we wouldn't attract the people to the pews that come to the multitude of services, or locations, that we proudly proclaim on Sundays.......we must have the approval of God if He's not speaking to us. It's all good if God isn't bringing us back to the foot of the Cross with the authority of His holiness.
Could it be something totally different? That God is silent because He's already told us what we need to do? Like Simon and the woman? One got it, the other didn't….
"We do not grow into a spiritual relationship step by step," Oswald Chambers wrote in My Utmost for His Highest. "We either have a relationship or we do not."
The woman had a spiritual relationship with God, by the very outpouring of her brokenness upon His feet the love of her faith was shown and brought her to the point of redemption…..no other words were needed, no commandment to be issued from the mouth of our Savior to be heard and obeyed. She wanted what Jesus promised and knew the next step she needed to take. She knew, by the very relational nature of their meeting, what was required now. And when she stepped out in obedience, humbling herself and all she had to grasp on to in favor of bringing glory to God…..She was forgiven…her faith had saved her. It was then that Jesus spoke, imparting to her the next part of her journey and she heard, because she was ready to hear.
In my own life, I have been lately very much like Simon and unlike the sinful woman…..the silence of God, as taught by the postmodern church, means that I have been found wanting in some way, some sin or pattern of life has not been attacked by the mantra of scriptural words and therefore God hasn't finished with the final touches of His shaping and cleansing so that I can go forward into the purpose that He has set for me even before I was born, to teach His word to those who would hear.
I have been like Simon…..and my inaction is a sin before God.
God has been largely silent in the last few months in my life….prayers of supplication for discernment; in finances, in personal things, in the Call and the search for a new home church have gone largely unanswered…at least in the manner I have come accustomed to by the major movement that God has had in the last year and a half. I have settled into the waiting game, daring God to speak while I sit crouched in tense anticipation of the first words….and nothing. The darkness grows, as if God's very light has been slowly fading into the distance and my attempts to keep the fire going have come to naught….the flame flickers and spurts as the fuel that once was for its consumption is hoarded against the growing darkness. I have reverted to my own abilities rather than relying on God's.
"Let God's truth work into you by immersing yourself in it, not by worrying into it. The only way you can get to know the truth of God is stop trying to find out and by being born again." Oswald Chambers writes, " If you obey God in the first thing He shows you, then He instantly opens up the next truth to you."
The reason God is silent in the postmodern church is because the people that inhabit the pews already know what He has spoken, where He wants them to go and what He wants them to do. Like Christ was silent during the ministrations of this sinful woman who washed His dirty feet with her tears and wiped them dry with the glory that was her hair, the only thing she had to use, so He has told His church what we are supposed to do, and how we are supposed to do it. There is no need for further explanations because we aren't in the position where the next step is ready to be heard. Yet we say He's silent because we've got the business of being a Christian down to a "T" already defined, all we need to do is love….all we need to do is demand 'our' due….all we need is to chant the mantra of healing, prosperity and favor.
We don't have to give our glory up because we acknowledge God's glory every Sunday service…….with our hair coffered and perfumed, confident in our knowledge of who God is….
We play church instead of being the church. God's silence is merely a reflection of His patience, waiting for us to obey before the next portion of work can be understood and obeyed.
We know of God, but we do not know God. And He doesn't need to speak what He has already spoken, why would He if we aren't willing to come closer and listen?
The church needs to do the same, rather than sit back upon the formula of silent acceptance of sinful ways and speak the truth in love….not 'hating the sin, loving the sinner"…but speaking what separates us from God with the compassionate understanding that the personal sins of the corporate church will always be greater than the sinner lost in the darkness. Yet it has been redeemed…broken and humbled before the relationship with the Bridegroom to weep its sorrow as water to wash the dirt of the journey upon this world from His feet with the glory of its hair….relinquished to bring His glory to the world.
God will continue to allow the postmodern, humanistic and culturally saturated church continue on, as pastors of the mega churches dream visions of multi-locations in which to boom their religious sounding messages of prosperity, health and wealth instead of the black and white of the Gospel, the twisting of the Gospel into a hollow shell of Truth by the new aged spirituality of man and the sensational tolerance of all false things in the body of Christ…because everyone already knows that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so whomever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life…..
There is only one alternative, a second death to which there is no recovery……
Obedience is the only way to unlock the voice of God, just as faith unlocks our sinful hearts and brings us into the conviction of sin and Jesus' redemptive love. Just as the sinful woman's obedience in coming to Jesus for what He had to offer her, breaking herself upon the tears of her sins to humbly wash the feet of her Savior so that she can hear what He has to say next.
Simon continued to live in his superior knowledge, comfortable in his own glory that surrounded him of the judgment of both this woman and Christ. He was wrong……and Christ was gentle in His rebuke of his thoughts though Simon failed to see it and be broken……
We, as Christians in the church, must remember why we celebrate our God, why we speak our faith and yearn for the lost to be saved….there is nothing else worth fighting for.