Selling Water by the River: A Book about the Life Jesus Promised and the Religion That Gets in the Way

Selling Water by the River: A Book about the Life Jesus Promised and the Religion That Gets in the Way

by Shane Hipps


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781455522088
Publisher: FaithWords
Publication date: 10/16/2012
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Shane Hipps is the former lead teaching pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, MI. Previously he served for five years as the lead pastor of a Mennonite church in Phoenix, AZ. He is a graduate of Fuller Seminary, the result of a self-termed "Damascus" experience. Before accepting his call as a pastor, he was a strategic planner in advertising for the multimillion dollar communications plan for Porsche. It was here that he gained expertise in understanding media and culture.

Hipps is a sought-after speaker and author of Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith, and The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture: How Media Shapes Faith, The Gospel, and Church. Find videos, podcasts, downloadable resources and more at, or follow him on Twitter @shanehipps.

Read an Excerpt

Selling Water by the River

A Book about the Life Jesus Promised and the Religion That Gets in the Way
By Shane Hipps

Jericho Books

Copyright © 2012 Shane Hipps
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781455522088


Our Most Basic Quest

The desire begins with the first breath.

The moment life first dances in the body, a longing is born in the human heart.

A desire so simple and powerful that it drives a singular quest. This longing is baked into our being whether we want it or not. The longing is as innate to us as our thirst for water.

The object of our thirst goes by many names. Some call it love, others peace, others still joy or happiness. The list goes on. Regardless of the name we give it, the reality it points to is the same.

We search for it in all we do. We arrange nearly everything in our lives to quench that thirst. We look for it in our family and friends, in work and rest, in sex and marriage, in exercise and ice cream.

Some of us will look for it in the renunciation of these very things.

The objects of these pursuits present one problem. Whatever feeling they evoke, whatever thirst they quench, whatever joy they create, it never seems to last. Eventually, our husband’s gaze returns to his favorite glowing screen, our wife becomes cold and critical, our body fails us, the pay doesn’t match the hours, the sex ends, a loved one leaves, children act out, the bowl of ice cream is empty, and the buzz wears off.

Soon the hunger returns and the quest begins again.

The problem is not the pursuit of these things. They are meant to be enjoyed. The problem is the nature of these things. They are temporary, and therefore so is their effect.

Our joy will share the fate of the thing we bind it to.

And here we arrive at the central problem of this life—it doesn’t last.

Everyone and everything, everywhere eventually returns to the dust.

The slightest awareness of such an inconvenient fact charges our quest with even more urgency. We become bent on pursuing a peace that is permanent, unchanging, and eternal. A joy that is not susceptible to the weather, and stays with us beyond the grave.

This is where religion comes in. Every religion promises a solution to the problem of death and the crisis of meaning. Every religion claims to be the sole portal to that permanent peace or the pathway to life after death. Each offers scripture and teachers, doctrines and dogmas, rules and regulations, rituals and practices, music and architecture, all intended to give access to that lasting peace.

You can find members of that religion who will defend it, sometimes to the death (either their own or someone else’s). You can also find those disillusioned by that same religion who vehemently denounce it; it failed them, injured them, betrayed them, or let them down.

Today we have more religions than at any other time in human history, and more variations on those religions than ever before. Each variation offers a new razor-thin distinction, driven by the need to correct the failings of a previous iteration.

I am a Christian, and have been for twenty-five years. I’ve been a church leader for a decade. In these years of practicing and serving as a religious leader, I have come to believe that a big difference exists between the power and purpose of Jesus and the religion that bears his name. Christianity is a powerful aid to billions of people. While its history is riddled with abuses and dark deeds, on balance, I believe the world is better with it. This view is colored by the countless lives I have seen transformed because of it—my own included.

However, we must be careful not to confuse Christ with Christianity.

One is the river; the other sells water by the river. Christ is the river; the Christian religion attempts to package and provide access to water that is readily available to anyone at any time.

Often the merchant gets in the way of the water it wants to provide. Ironically, the religion that proclaims Jesus sometimes builds the biggest barriers to him.

By using the words “selling” and “merchant” I am not referring to the “prosperity gospel” or any other particular expression of Christianity. I am referring to Christianity as a whole, which serves as a gatekeeper for something that does not have or even need a gate.

My interest, however, is not in getting rid of the merchant. To do so would be like trying to get rid of the clouds in the sky. I am hardly a defender of religion, but this does not mean I am opposed to it. I recognize its value. For this reason, I do not advocate that we somehow become more spiritual but not religious. After all, Jesus was very religious by most standards, and he never once talked about “spirituality.”

Instead, my interest is in the water—the experience of deep joy, boundless love, and indestructible peace that Jesus promised. I want to remind us that the river was here before the merchant. The river is available with or without the merchant, it is here despite the current failings of the merchant, and it will be here long after this merchant is gone. While this river does not resist an intermediary, it doesn’t need one either.

This river gives water to all who are thirsty.

The reason this river doesn’t need an intermediary is simple. As I intend to show in the pages that follow, Jesus tells us the river is already flowing within us right now. According to Jesus, nothing stands between it and us. The most overlooked aspect of the Good News is that we already have what we are looking for, and Jesus came to show us how to experience it.

The eternal life Jesus promised isn’t just something we must wait for until we die, and we don’t have to go searching for it on the top of some mountain, or in the renunciation of possessions, or in the pursuit of justice, or in the profession of certain beliefs and the denunciation of others. These methods are the currency of the merchant—religion. Nothing is wrong with them, but they are not requirements of the river. The river is only interested in our thirst and trust in the One who guides us to it.

It is possible to arrive at this conclusion through philosophical reasoning, biblical interpretation, and theological argument. However, such a conclusion would not mean very much. We must taste this water, not merely believe in it. It is an experience of the heart, not a thought in the mind.

While I will make use of these intellectual techniques in this book, my view is born first of a deeply personal encounter—an encounter not easily reduced to words. As a result, I write about it only briefly here.

I have had many moments, often in the darkest hours of my life, where something remarkable happened. A radiant joy at the center of my being opened like a rose, an overwhelming peace and bright bliss burned through my sorrow like a lamp in my chest. This experience has persisted many times regardless of the ups or downs of my life circumstances. Over time, these experiences have caused me to see the words of Jesus in an entirely new light. This experience of quenching a deep thirst from the inside is not unique to me; others know it too, and I believe it is a possibility for anyone who wants it.

I don’t always live there. I am tossed about as much as the next person, but because of these experiences I have come to realize that the river is real and I know someone who can lead me to it. Each day I get a little better at trusting it and choosing moment by moment to find my way to that Living Water where I can drink my fill.

I am convinced that this is the life Jesus promised—the experience of peace, joy, and love while we live, not just after we die.

The world presents us with countless obstacles to Jesus and the life he promised. We are often and easily distracted from the river on the inside by the promise of things on the outside—our work, wealth, or relationships. When these things are going well, we don’t need the river, and when they are going badly, we become so focused on fixing our problems that we forget about the river. Equally problematic are the beliefs that we are taught to adopt that truncate our imagination of God and limit us. They can prevent us from accepting the gift God offers. Then there is the issue of fear. Fear is one of the great barriers to this river. It profoundly distorts our ability to see the gift as it really is.

Ironically, religious Christianity is often the purveyor of the very beliefs and fears that get in the way of the water.

Beliefs are an important part of any religion. What we believe matters, but not for the reasons we may assume. Our beliefs (or lack of beliefs) do not qualify or disqualify us from the river. Instead, they determine how clearly we will see the river, which is always running just beneath our noses. Some beliefs clear the way and give us high visibility, while others create a thick fog. The distance between the river and us never actually changes. What changes is how well we can see and accept it.

I am convinced that many of the barriers to the water created by religious Christianity share a common source—the ways we have been told to understand and interpret the Bible.

The Bible contains sixty-six books, in dozens of literary genres, written by nearly as many authors, in multiple languages, over several thousand years. The Bible is not merely a book, but an extensive library capable of conveying wide and brilliant truths. The Bible is like a piano with a vast range of notes and capable of playing an endless array of songs.

In the last few centuries, Christian institutions have narrowed the range of notes it plays, resulting in a simple song easily learned and repeated. But through time, repetition makes any song, no matter how beautiful, lose its edge and interest.

The fresh becomes familiar and what was once powerful becomes predictable. Familiarity breeds predictability, and this leads to boredom.

Today, we are in danger of believing that nothing new can come from the pages of this ancient book.

But the notes that have been neglected are waiting to resound with songs that still surprise. Strings long silent are now eager to sing. This book is an effort to let sound these neglected notes, to strike the dust from those strings and let a new song rise.

A song big enough for a complex world.

A song that wakes the weary from their boredom and sleep.

A song resounding with the boundless, brilliant, and indestructible love of God.


The Lenses We Look Through

The new eyeglasses made my eighth-grade face moony and bookish. Adolescent insecurity said, There’s no way I need glasses. I can see just fine. That conviction disappeared the moment I donned my new frames. It’s a strange experience getting glasses for the first time. Before, trees from a distance were just puffy green clouds hovering over trunks. Glasses on: All of a sudden trees had leaves, objects had definition. The world changed instantly. Apart from my terribly unfortunate new look, this was quite thrilling.

A few years before that, the term “learning disability” was applied to my particular style of learning, or not learning. A handful of specialists were busy diagnosing and offering different treatments.

During one of my many assessments, a specialist had me read a paragraph out loud from a book, and would overlay different colored transparency sheets on top as I read—blue, brown, orange, green, red, and so on. With each new sheet I was to continue reading while she noted any changes. What she found is that when viewed through the blue tinted sheet, my reading would speed up and smooth out. From my perspective, colors like red and orange made the horizontal lines of text on the page practically vanish, leaving a sea of scrambled letters. Once the blue sheet was placed over the page, the horizontal lines would snap back in full relief.

It turns out that certain frequencies of light were causing my eye problems. The blue screen blocked the necessary frequencies, whereas the red and orange only amplified the wrong ones. It didn’t fix all the problems, but it helped. Eventually I was given blue-tinted glasses to help my reading—yay. (Needless to say, I wore them only in private. I have my dignity.)

A lens is a simple technology. It either bends or blocks light. That’s it.

But lenses have another interesting feature. When working properly, a lens is invisible. It is not something we see, but something we see through. And it determines the way we see, what we see, and what we don’t.

No one comes to the Bible or life without a lens. Our lenses are mostly invisible to us, but they determine how we understand the Bible and the world around us.

A lens can be a set of assumptions or beliefs that we have. Sometimes it can be an emotion like fear or anger. When it comes to the Bible, religious authorities usually tell us which lenses we should use. We learn what to believe about the Bible as a way to help us understand how to read it. We are also taught what to be afraid of or angry about. And our unique “prescription” is comprised of multiple assumptions like the stacked lenses the eye doctor uses, each one bending or blocking light to help us see more clearly—or in some cases, less clearly.

My first set of biblical lenses was given to me in college. Lens #1: The Bible is the Word of God. Lens #2: The Bible is flat; no teaching or doctrine in the Bible is privileged above another. Lens #3: The Bible has no errors, historically, scientifically, or grammatically. Lens #4: The Bible is unified in its message. Lens #5: God doesn’t speak outside the Bible.

This is how I was taught to see the Bible. This set of lenses was given to me by authority figures I trusted and liked, so I assumed they were accurate. They were smarter than me and had done a lot more study on the subject. In time and through study, I learned something fascinating—some of these lenses are drawn from the Bible itself, but others are simply assumptions born of reason, theology, religion, tradition, experience, or observation. They were not infallible and were often chosen unconsciously. This understanding changed what I saw.

Authority figures also told me about other lenses that I shouldn’t look through, as they were dangerous and could distort my vision. Things like:

  1. The Bible is a collection of ancient literary works, like an archeological artifact.

  2. Some parts of the Bible should be read metaphorically, not literally.

  3. The Bible is a human document attempting to describe the Divine.

  4. The Bible contains many diverse messages.

  5. The Bible is just the first word. Not the final word.

While I appreciated their warnings, when I rebelled and tried some of these lenses on I started to see Jesus and faith in new, liberating depth. These and other lenses no longer scared me. They allowed me to explore more deeply, like turning a diamond to see its many facets. Some angles were more interesting, helpful, and revealing than others.


Excerpted from Selling Water by the River by Shane Hipps Copyright © 2012 by Shane Hipps. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Dust from Strings 1

Our Most Basic Quest

Bending Light 13

The Lenses We Look Through

Wind and the Sails 29

What Jesus Reveals about Religion

A Map in the Wilderness 45

The Gift of Belief

Shedding the Swaddle 59

The Limits of Belief

Touching the Stove 73

The Way of Fear and Love

Outside the Boat 89

Just Beyond Fear

The Constant Gardener 105

Good News That Gets Better

The Hidden Treasure 119

We Already Have What We Seek

A Connoisseur of Wine 137

The Power of Thirst

Waves on the Ocean 151

Two Kinds of Life

The Dune is Heavy 163

One Who Lightens the Load

25,550 Days 179

An Urgent Invitation

Dolls of Dirt 195

The Forgotten Miracle

Gratitudes 209

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Selling Water by the River: A Book About the Life Jesus Promised and the Religion that Gets in the Way 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
mojo_turbo More than 1 year ago
Shane Hipps was most recently the teaching Pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids. He started his vocational life in advertising where he worked with Porsche and other high end brands. Eventually, he felt compelled to leave it all and attend seminary in California. After graduating, Shane became the lead pastor of a small Mennonite church in Arizona. Shane is most known for having written a few books; Flickering Pixels and The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture. Most recently, Shane has authored “Selling Water by the River.” The title comes from Shane’s premise that we should never confuse ‘Christ’ with ‘Christianity.’ One is the river (Christ) and one is the “religion that attempts to package and provide access to water that is readily available to anyone at any time.” (pg 6) This book has a nice big font and so becomes a quick and easy read. If you are familiar with Shane’s preaching style, this book is very similar. Shane uses lots of examples from his own life and typically he finds his topic and surrounds it well with a visual “idea” that he repeats through metaphor. In this book, Shane is certainly in his wheel house. As a former advertiser who knows what is is to market and sell a product, Shane uses comparison to tie in the ways we as Christians market Jesus to the world. Much like his Mars Hill predecessor, Rob Bell, Shane reminds his readers that things like ‘eternal life’ and ‘heaven’ begin now and should be lived for now and not in some far off distant future when you die. This is a good book with a question that sticks with you long after you put it down, “how is Christianity getting in the way of Christ?” Once again, Shane doesn’t disappointing, I highly recommend this read. Thank you to Jericho books for providing me with a review copy for a fair and honest review.