The Samaritan's Apothecary

The Samaritans were the “untouchables” of the first century. They shared Jewish ancestry, but their lineage was changed through intermarriage with Canaanites and pagans. A Samaritan woman was surprised when Jesus conversed with her since “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (John 4: 9). It’s all the more intriguing, then, when Jesus made a Samaritan the hero of one of his most well-known parables.

Jesus said a lone traveler journeyed from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was accosted by thieves, robbed and beaten. Two religious leaders passed that way but chose not to assist the man. It’s often believed that these leaders may have been en route to worship and didn’t want to be defiled by contact with a corpse should the traveler be dead. No doubt they understood the law’s admonition to help strangers, but there’s a difference between knowing and doing.

The Samaritan showed compassion that day when he interrupted his journey to help the wounded man. He applied first aid, then moved the traveler to safety and rest. We forever remember this helper as the “good” Samaritan. Many in the first century would’ve insisted there’s no one like this since all Samaritans were bad.

The point of Jesus’s story is that we’re all called to show compassion to those in need, and to prove our love for our neighbor whoever he or she might be.

I’ve thought of this story in a new way lately while focusing on the Samaritan’s pharmacy. He poured “oil and wine” into the traveler’s wounds (Luke 10: 34). Wine was used as a disinfectant because of its alcohol content. The oil was like an ointment soothing the bruised and broken wounds in the skin.

I began to think of how this Samaritan’s apothecary might be a good model for brokenness among us.

Today we know the astringent kills germs. When we experience brokenness, we should take the failure first to God asking for his cleansing and wisdom. All of our bad decisions affect our relationship  with God, so we must begin here. Solomon wrote, “The one who conceals his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them will find mercy,” (Proverbs 28:13, CSB).

But we also use the ointment of forgiveness to sooth the brokenness with others. The Scripture exhorts us to be kind and forgive one another as God through Christ has forgiven  (Ephesians 4:32). Thus the forgiveness standard is pretty high. It’s also true that offering forgiveness is good for the offended. Dr. Lewis Smedes said, “When you release the wrongdoer from the wrong, you cut a malignant tumor out of your inner life. You set a prisoner free, but you discover that the real prisoner was yourself.”

No Exit

Years ago students had to relocate to attend theological seminary. I often joke that when I was young, we had seminaries to attend, not just click on! The rise of Internet study has dramatically changed modern education. Nevertheless, my new bride and I packed up and moved to Louisville, our home for the next three years.

I had many wonderful teachers and classes and am grateful for this opportunity. But one of the most vivid memories I have is of a class the name of which I cannot recall and a professor whose name I cannot recall. I suppose I found the material of little value except for one exercise.

The professor listed a “no exit” relationship in the syllabus but said nothing more about it until the day in class he asked us to pair up with someone sitting nearby. Then he announced, “This is your ‘no exit’ relationship partner for the next six weeks.”

Our instructions were to meet weekly for at least an hour and talk. My partner worked in the cafeteria, so we met there for the next few weeks to converse. I soon discovered she was an angry person who had real issues with the church—strange since both she and her husband were enrolled in seminary and served a church near ours. I grew weary of her criticisms and would have ended our discussions, but we were bound by the class rules. After week four or five she revealed how she’d been hurt as a young person in her church by some leaders who were poor examples and did some unkind things; hence, her disappointment with the organized church. I think I became less judgmental.

The next class day after week six our professor became a prophet.

“Many of you experienced conflict and would have ended the relationship had you been allowed to,” he said.

 I thought he had been eavesdropping at our table!

Then our professor explained how so much of life is like this: we meet and enjoy relationships until there is conflict, then we choose to back away. This happens in marriages, at work and at church. He said we ought to declare to our future congregations that we’re in “no exit” relationships and pledge our love for one another even when we disagree.

Over the years I’ve seen the wisdom of his exhortation. Most congregations include people who’ve exited relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ. Sometimes they flee to other churches and sometimes they just give up and stay home.

There is a more excellent way.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Always pursue what is good for one another,” and “be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thessalonians 5: 13, 15).


How To Change Churches Successfully

I'll never forget the family I met at a neighboring church years ago while leading a Bible study. They were happy in their church, I thought, but several years later they presented themselves for membership in our church. The interesting thing is that there was another church in between, so ours was their third church in a short time.

Church growth researchers report that people are changing churches with greater frequency today. And "brand loyalty" is a thing of the past, too. I have an evangelist friend who used to lament people changing denominations--he preached, "it doesn't hurt to change labels on an empty bottle!" But these days it's often not a matter of theology. People seem to be more interested in youth and music programs than denominational affiliation.

When Christians leave a church for another it's called "transfer growth" as opposed to "conversion growth." Since thousands of Americans are unbelievers, enlisting them must be our primary task, though it may be a harder task. But there's nothing innately wrong with Christians changing churches if done thoughtfully and prayerfully. A good reason could be a change in residence putting them out of reasonable driving range. Another reason I’ve seen is change in circumstances, such as children leaving home or, regrettably, divorce, and starting over in a new place.

But there are bad reasons, too. I've known pastors who took pride in announcing their "capture" of those from other congregations. And I've known church members who "court" new folk by criticizing their present church.

These are certainly unworthy practices. Churches are partners and every church is important in the kingdom of God.

The fact is that sometimes people change churches due to hurt or anger, and their pastor may be unaware of this. Pastors can't read minds and want to know if there's an issue deserving attention.

Changing churches shouldn't be done due to brokenness without an attempt to solve the matter. After all, the new church, like the old, is made up of imperfect people--just like a marriage--and conflict is sure to appear in any relationship. Wise Christians seek to keep friendships intact.

A pastor friend told me about getting an email from a family stating they were leaving, and he was disappointed in this kind of casual communication from active leaders. I think church members who consider a new church should talk with their pastor first and offer explanation. A face-to-face conversation like this makes the move open and above-board and gives the current congregation opportunity to repair any brokenness incurred along the way.

If we change churches, we should have nothing but love, gratitude and goodwill for the one we leave behind.

Being Childlike But Not Childish

It’s interesting that scripture exhorts us both to be like children, and not to be like children.

I was always puzzled as a kindergartner by the picture we had in the church sanctuary where we had weekly chapel. It portrayed Jesus saying, “Suffer the little children to come unto me” (Mark 10:14). I thought “suffer” meant pain, so I wasn’t sure what this was about. Of course the King James Bible uses “suffer” in the sense of “allow,” and this is a great invitation from Jesus for children to come to him and be blessed.

Many evangelicals believe in child evangelism. Researcher George Barna found that 43 percent of “born again” Christians came to faith by age 12, and 64 percent by age 18.

Jesus proceeded in Mark’s gospel to insist that everyone must come to faith as children do: “Whoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein” (v. 15). Jesus referred to genuine humility and absolute trust. Children aren’t burdened with self-image in the way adults are.

Numbers of adults to whom I’ve spoken over the years resist declaring faith because of personal embarrassment over what others might think (though the congregation of God’s people would certainly rejoice in all conversions). Children most often don’t wrestle with pride as adults do.

But the scripture also exhorts Christians not to be childish (Ephesians 4:14). Children can be childish at times! Parents may have to break up fights when they hear, “Mommy, Sallie made a face at me,” or “Johnny hid my toy.”

Regrettably many of our churches have witnessed childish behavior over the years. I’ve known some who grew upset when someone allegedly “made at face” at them or when they didn’t get their choice of paint or carpet! Surely the kingdom of God is bigger than this.

Dr. John Killinger, formerly of Beeson Divinity School, in his book, “The Other Preacher in Lynchburg,” told the most amazing story I’ve heard in this regard.

A blue-blooded matriarch sent word that only sheep manure should be used on the church’s rose garden. Killinger said the scheduled business conference lasted two hours as the congregation discussed the virtue of sheep manure vs. cow manure. Oh, my. I’m not sure why someone didn’t respectfully say, whereas beautiful roses are nice, the grounds crew could handle this. And roses have nothing to do with our primary mission to serve a broken world. As Ron Lewis said years ago, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

There is a major difference is being childlike and childish. We need the wisdom of God to know the difference and live the difference.