22 December 2009


I recently purchased a menorah to display in my home. Hanukkah just ended last week, so my purchase was a little late (but it was on clearance!). The story surrounding the Jewish Festival of Lights fascinates me. It has recently caused me to think of Christmas in a very different way.

During Christmas we usually focus on Jesus’ birth, but I want you to imagine back with me to 165 years before Christ was even born. If you were a Jew during this time, you would have been living in Palestine under the rule of the Greek king Antiochus Epiphanes. Now Antiochus hated the Jewish people from the very beginning of his reign. He issued orders forbidding the observance of Jewish ritual laws. Not only did he construct statues of Greek gods all over Jerusalem, Antiochus even convinced the High Priest to participate with him in the sacrifices to these idols. Although all of these actions were horrifying to the Jewish people, the vilest thing Antiochus did was when he laid siege to the holy Temple in Jerusalem. After dedicating it to the Greek god Zeus, Antiochus sacrificed a pig, an unclean animal, on the Temple altar. He drained its blood and smeared it all over the Holy of Holies, the most sacred part of the Temple. As if this was not horrifying enough, the Greek army confiscated the sacred Temple menorah.

Once the menorah was taken, the Jews were thrown into complete hopelessness. The confiscation of such a holy instrument was a direct insult to the Jewish people. Before, the Hebrews had remained steadfast in their faith without confrontation. Now that the menorah had been taken, they could no longer tolerate anymore of this torment. A Jew named Matthias Maccabbee finally stepped up and retaliated against the Greek’s oppressive rule. Matthias was definitely a zealot. He slit a couple of Greek officer’s throats, declaring that the Jews had been standing by for far too long. “If we would just take action and fight back,” he said, “if we had the courage to start a revolt, God would give us the power to do it. Think of all of our ancestors—David, Moses, Joshua, Gideon. Whenever Israel was threatened, they resisted and won. If we attack and stand our ground, God will have mercy on us and deliver us.”
The Jewish people were immediately filled with fervor. Taking up their arms, they joined Matthias and raged war against Antiochus and his Greek army. They were determined to defeat the invaders and win back the sacred menorah.

After winning back the menorah, victory seemed sure. The Israelites returned to the Temple to clean up the mess that the enemy had wrecked on it. Altars were overturned an smashed in two, blood was smeared over the walls, scrolls were torns and lying among the dust. But before anyone begins purifying the Temple, before anyone starts cleaning up the mess, everyone searches the Temple for oil to light the menorah. This is the first thing that needs to be done, before anything else. All the priests sift around through the rubble until a small flask of oil is found. It doesn’t contain much, but at this point it doesn’t really matter. All that matters is that the menorah must be lit. Now. Eagerly, the High Priest sets flame to the candles, and a warm glow settles over the Temple, casting shadows on the walls. With the lit menorah back in the Temple, the Jews were filled with a sense of peace and confidence. Now that the menorah was lit, there was hope. The Jewish people knew that they were finally safe.

When I first heard this story of the history behind the Jewish festival Hanukkah, I wondered what was up with the menorah. The only places where a menorah, or a lampstand, is mentioned in the Bible are in Exodus and Leviticus. God issued specific descriptions to His people about how the tabernacle was to be constructed, and among these descriptions were instructions about the menorah. The High Priest ritually attended the lampstand, making sure that none of the candles had been extinguished. God commanded that the menorah be lit all day and all night. It was to never go out.
To the Jewish people, this menorah was a symbol of God’s presence among them. As long as the candles were lit, God was taking care of them and dwelling among them. If the flames were blown out, the Jews believed that their God was no longer with them.
Now can you understand the devastation the Jews felt when the menorah was taken from them? Their enemies had extinguished the candles and removed it from God’s Temple. The symbol of God’s presence was absent, and because of this, it seemed to the Jews that He was no longer with them.

The desire to experience and connect with God is one of the deepest longings in the soul. We all have menorahs, symbols, with which we measure our favor with God. Many times its our wealth and financial security. Other times its our emotions, our "spiritual progress," our sense of worth. When we put stock in these symbols, we are as C.S. Lewis terms it saying “encore” by demanding that God reproduce an experience or an emotion.

That menorah was supposed to be a symbol of God's presence, not a gauge of God's presence. A symbol’s value lies only in its ability to lead to the spiritual. The menorah and the temple became worthless when the people were content with the symbolic representation of Yahweh instead of Yahweh Himself.

We are content with our wealth as an indicator of God's presence. We are content with our emotional well being and happiness. We are content with all our comforts and securities. We have made all of these elements symbols, and instead of directing us to God, they replace Him.

In Isaiah 9:2 the prophet promises that one day God would send a permanent Light. This Light would outshine the light from the menorah. Whereas the menorah’s light was transient and unreliable, this Light would be permanent and dependable.
Symbols will let you down. They will fail you. If you have not already experienced it, your menorah will be taken away from you someday.
But there is good news. God promises over and over again all throughout Scripture that He will never leave you. Regardless of whether you are aware of it, God’s presence is always with you. This is the reason why God sent the Light, because He wants to be with you.

The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him.
He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of
John 1:9-12

The birth of Jesus marks the permanence of God’s presence among His people. The light that the Jewish people had longed and desired for was now attainable. And unlike the light produced from the menorah, this Light, God’s presence, could not be blown out.

The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness can never extinguish it (John 1:5).

May comfort, peace, and joy direct you to God's Gift of Light this Christmas season.

07 December 2009

Irony of the Day

A while ago someone asked me whether I thought that the church I attended was a little too "worldly."
"Worldly?" I asked. "What do you mean by that?"
"Well," they began, "Your band plays some pretty rocky music that the rest of the world listens to, and everyone, including your pastor, dresses casually, like everyone else in the world. How will they know that you are different if you look and act like them at church?"

I almost couldn't keep myself from laughing a little. In other words, if we can't be holy or set apart by mimicking God's character traits, such as love and peace, shouldn't we at least be weird?

We expect people in our faith community to uphold certain religious doctrine. We expect people to attend our weekly worship services, to pray regularly, to support the church financially, to read the Bible, to avoid sin. And yet, we do not expect people to progressively become more and more like Jesus. We do not expect that people will become more compassionate, more joyful, more generous, more gracious. We might even be surprised if they did.

Instead, we settle for being weird.

In Romans 9-11, Paul confronts his Jewish brothers about a similar attitude that they had. The Jewish Romans were still convinced that the only way that they could obtain righteousness was by observing the law. This made them despise the Gentile Christians, who Paul claimed had been given "grace" by God. Why should they be given a free pass to righteousness when they had worked so hard for it?Paul presents many arguments to convince the Jews otherwise, utilizing the traditional rabbinical interpretation skills he had learned through his studies. In Romans 10:5-8, Paul makes the following argument:
Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: "The man who does these things will live by them." But the righteousness that is by faith says: "Do not say in your heart,
'Who will ascend into heaven?'" (that is, to bring Christ down) "or 'Who will descend into the deep?'" (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).
But what does it say? "The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart," that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming."

Paul, in this passage, insists that Scripture has always affirmed that justification is through faith and not through observing the law. God has always accepted people on the basis of faith; this was not a radical, new idea. He uses two Scriptural passages to contrast the righteousness by law and the righteousness by faith. Christians today understand the law of righteounsess to mean that the Jews did not take the law seriously enough. They fell short of observing it faultlessly. Because of their failure to uphold it completely, they needed a Savior to redeem them and perfect the law. This viewpoint about the law is the product of our own "Christianise" view on atonement, where we were not good enough so God sent us Jesus. Yes. And no.
The law itself was never invented with the intention of it leading to salvation. The law’s purpose was to point the Israelites to God’s character and nature. When it was properly observed the Jewish people would realize God’s grace. But did they? The Jewish people unfortunately did not realize that the law was the direction to salvation, not salvation itself. Instead of pursuing a right relationship with Yahweh and as a result being transformed into His likeness, the Jewish people resorted to legalism in order to gain God’s favor. Christ, then, did not replace an old way of obtaining salvation. Christ is salvation.

And yet somehow we find ourselves as Christians, who have been given what Paul calls the "word of faith," still trying to be holy people through other means.
Jesus tried time and time again to convince the religious teachers of the law that righteousness was cloaked in giving to the poor, being compassionate to the outcasts of society, forgiving others of their wrongdoing. Righteousness is cloaked in love, peace, and justice, not circumcision, dietary laws, and observance of the Sabbath. The first century Jews had equated all of those practices with their identity and had come to recognize those practices as the dividing difference between them as the "children of God" and the pagans that Jesus was not just challenging their actions. He was challenging their identity and their understanding that they were people of God.

We have our own boundaries today. We do this, but they do that. We have come to understand our identity as God's people, both consciously and, in most cases, unconsciously, based on the "Christian" things we do. Here's the great irony of Jesus' day: The "righteous" were becoming more damaged by their "righteousness" than the sinners were becoming damaged by their sin.
What would it look like if Christians today clothed themselves in love? In justice? In shalom?
What would it look like if Christians found themselves being transformed into the image of Christ instead of being conformed outwardly into the image of Christian culture?

Perhaps Christians would be better Christians if they spent less time in church and more time becoming the people that reflects Christ's character.

27 November 2009


A while ago, someone commented to me that ideas are the most dangerous things in the world. This off-hand comment sounded strange to me at first. It sat unsettled until I took the time to think it over. I have gradually come to realize that this is true. Ideas are dangerous. Think about it:
  • Which is more dangerous: A nuclear warhead, or the idea behind it? A nuclear weapon would pose no threat if there were no idea of death and destruction behind it. Would it even have been invented?
  • Hitler was only as dangerous as the thoughts he transmitted to the German nation. The thoughts about the “uncleanliness” of Jews, homosexuals, and mentally and physically impaired people were the root of that genocide. Hitler was only as powerful as his ideas.

Ideas / thoughts are behind our every single conviction, action, word. They are what make us say the things we say, do the things we do, consciously and subconsciously. Most of the time we do not even realize it.
Christians can be just as “dangerous” with their thoughts. When we view the world through a Christ-centric lens we can effectively be “dangerous” to this world that is captive to another kingdom by instilling values of love, peace and joy. Conversely, when our thoughts are based on our own false, human understandings, we as Christians can just bring even more destruction and brokenness into the lives of the people around us.
When the Iraq war began a few years ago, a major news station held an interview with a prominent evangelical leader on TV. He praised the war efforts and declared that “God was on our side” in it. The news reporter began asking for his perspectives on fighting. “Doesn’t Jesus say in the Bible that we are supposed to love our enemies and turn the other cheek?” the news reporter asked. The pastor hesitated for a moment. His discomfort was apparent to the thousands of people who viewed the news that evening. Finally, the Christian leader carefully explained that Jesus’ teachings did not apply to politics or to the public arena, but were only to be practiced privately. Regardless of our individual stances on the Christian response to war, I’m sure we can all clearly see the dichotomous ideas the Christian leader was insinuating. There is something terribly wrong with the way he is reasoning.

All Christians currently, or at some point in their lives, have had thoughts, reasonings, and understandings that are contrary to their identity as people changed by the blood and truth of Christ. Many times we mix up “God’s truth” with other thoughts and convictions that we may already have had. This is very easy to do. Ideas and beliefs that are new or different from our already present schemas make us uncomfortable and defensive. Although we may think that we are shining examples of Christians who think like Jesus does, it is no different with God’s truth.

There’s a study that states that it is actually healthier not to wash babies every day so that they can build stronger immune systems. Try telling some mothers this. Keeping their babies clean is a ritual. Doing otherwise is inconsistent with the way they have been taught and will make them uncomfortable. Most mothers will deny that this research is true. In the same way, God’s truth can make us uncomfortable because it is not consistent with our already present (human) ideas. Instead of running away from such beliefs and reverting back to our own pre-accepted notions, we need to critically examine our philosophies and be open to discovering God’s truth.

This very issue is something that the early Christians at Colossae were having trouble realizing. Paul writes in Colossians 2:6-10:

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him,
rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and
overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive
through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and
the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. For in
Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been
given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.

It must be noted that these Christians at Colossae were “rooted and built up” in Christ. They weren’t atheists or agnostics or even “Christmas and Easter Christians.” They had genuinely and whole-heartedly accepted Christ as the King of their lives. What had gone wrong? Somehow the Christians there had either begun “flirting” with other popular ideas of the day, or had borrowed from their former ways of thinking and added it to their new faith. They probably did not even realize they were doing it! The people liked some ideas their Christian faith offered, but it was not “good enough.” They chose some parts from Christ’s teachings that they liked and discarded the ones they disliked or maybe did not understand. Those holes were in turn filled with other “philosophies” and ideas, which as Paul said were from “human traditions and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.”Although their ideas undoubtedly had some Christian theme imbedded within, God’s character had been distorted in some way. Somehow today we think that many of our ideas like these are permissible because they have some “Jesus” in them. As long as we have some biblical ideas, our understandings, perceptions, and worldviews must be true. This reasoning is false! Christ must be the center of our thoughts, not an afterthought or idea that is tacked on to our already constructed, human ideas. Christ is to be the identity of His followers!

One of Paul’s trademark sayings is that Christians are “in Christ.” Paul is apparently trying to make a very important point about a believer’s identity. We as Christians must realize that our true reality lies within Christ. Christ is the framework of how we should see ourselves. He is the very fibers of our identity. The decision to follow Him is not just something that involves our “quiet time” with God or our time here at church. Being “in Christ” means reconstructing our entire understanding of who we are based on who He is. This new realization of our identity in Him should affect every aspect about ourselves, especially the way we perceive the world around us. We cannot be wholly and radically transformed by Christ without being “made new in the attitude of our minds” (Eph. 4:22-23).Some of you may think, “Well, of course all of my beliefs are centered in Christ! I believe everything the Bible says. This sermon is for ‘those people’ who don’t know the Bible well enough. This sermon is for ‘those people’ who do not go to Sunday School or church regularly."

Many of our “Christian” ideas we have learned through osmosis are completely contrary to the teachings of Christ! Many times without realizing it we are like the church at Colossae. We think we have a pretty good handle of what “God’s truth” is, when in reality we have perverted many of His truth with our own reasonings, our own marred perceptions, our own culture, and even the church’s traditional teachings. As human beings, it only makes sense that our mental processes are still captive to our sinful nature and the principles of this world. The world has governed how we think and reason ever since we were born. Just as Christians need to be sanctified by emptying themselves of their sin, they also need to be sanctified of their minds. If there is one thing I have learned as I have continued to grow and mature, it is that we as Christians need to discover just what it means to be buried with Christ, to view our whole identity, our entire reality in Him.

Peter was one Christ-follower who thought he had his identity figured out. In Mark 8:27-33, Jesus asks His disciples who they think He is. Peter gives the winning answer. “You are the Christ,” he boldly replies. I can see Peter patting himself on the back. He has everything figured out. What Jesus says next, however, throws Peter for a curve. Jesus began to tell His disciples what it really meant to be the Christ. He told them how the Christ must suffer at the hands of men and die a painful death. He told them that they as His disciples must die to themselves and pick up their crosses. It got to be too much for Peter. He pulled Jesus aside and frantically rebuked him. “That’s not the way it’s supposed to happen!” I can see Peter saying. “Have you read the Scriptures? Have you heard what all the teachers of the law say? Jesus, you must be confused. The Christ is not supposed to die. Everyone knows that You are supposed to triumphantly defeat the Roman government and deliver us into a kingdom of stability and peace. And I'm supposed to be your right-hand man in battle. That’s what the Bible says!”
Like many of us today, Peter’s thoughts were distorted by human tradition. Even though his perceptions were based upon Scripture and the religious tradition of the day, it was completely contrary to Christ’s identity. He himself built his own identity out of this deceptive philosophy, thinking that he was to be Christ’s right-hand man in waging war. His identity was based upon the human traditions of the day instead of in Christ’s teachings of love.

Jesus dying on the cross was by no means what we would call “practical.” It was by no means utilitarian. It is completely contradictory to the way the world has conditioned us to think. Why do Christ's other ways of instilling the Kingdom need to be "practical?" We need to realize that God’s Kingdom values are counter to our own human ways of thinking. It may seem like it is upside down, but maybe that is the wrong way to look at it. Perhaps our world is the one that is upside down, and in reality, Christ's reality, God’s kingdom is the one that is right side up.

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

- 2 Cor. 10:5

03 November 2009

You Are God of This City

Our cities cry to you, O God, from out their pain and strife;
You made us for yourself alone, but we choose alien life.
Our goals are pleasure, gold and power; injustice stalks our earth;
In vain we seek for rest, for joy, for sense of human worth.

Yet still You walk our streets, O Christ! We know your presence here.
Where humble Christians love and serve in godly grace and fear.
O Word made flesh be seen in us! May all we say and do
Affirm You God, Incarnate still, and turn men's hearts to you.

Your people are your hands and feet to serve your world today,
Our lives the book our cities read to help them find your way.
O pour your sov'reign Spirit out on heart and will and brain;
Inspire your Church with love and pow'r to ease our cities' pain!

O healing Savior, Prince of Peace, salvation's Source and Sum,
For you our broken cities cry-- O come, Lord Jesus, come!
With truth your royal diadem, with righteousness your rod,
O come, Lord Jesus, bring to earth the City of our God!

---E. Margaret Clarkson

14 October 2009

It's Morphing Time

It all started with a porn magazine.

A while ago I showed my husband Aaron one of my favorite childhood locations. There is a hidden wooded trail tucked away in a park I frequently visited as a kid. When I first found it, I felt like I had discovered a secret place of my own. It became the Sherwood Forest where all of the merry men camped out, the jungle where I discovered ancient ruins. Over the years, I have become fond of this special place.

As Aaron and I walked along the quiet the path, something caught my eye. Admist all of the flourishing green backdrop, something did not belong. Trash. I bent down to retrieve it and was shocked at what my eyes saw. There, lying in the grass and tinted with dirt, laid a remnant of a pornographic magazine. What was that doing all the way out here?
Afraid that someone else, particularly a kid, would come across it, I picked it up and tucked it away in my pocket. As soon as I arose to my feet I spotted another conspicuous piece of paper up ahead. Aaron and I shuffled over to pick that sheet of paper up also. Soon we found another, and another. We finally came to the end of the paper trail.
I was just about to continue down the trail when I realized that we weren't even on the trail anymore. In fact, I didn't know where we were at all! I had practically grown up on this trail... How could I have gotten lost?

Getting lost happens to us all. It could begin with a porn magazine, a swig of alcohol, a lust for material possessions, habitually neglecting your relationship with God, a sense that we are more "righteous" than other people. Some Christians tell you that the problem is that you were not spiritually strong enough to guard yourself from being tempted. The problem with this explanation of the problem is that it encourages followers of Christ to just avoid "not doing" certain sins. Perhaps the problem is not so much that we became enslaved in sin as it is that we stay enslaved to sin.

Many times we think of our "spiritual life" in terms of how we are doing, well, "spiritually." It is one more part of our existence. So, when we have wandered down the path of porn, we strive to "get our spiritual life together." We pray rigorously and more frequently. We suddenly focus on community service or attending church more regularly. Unfortunately, this is pretty much the religious equivalent of going on a diet. The truth is, our "spiritual life" is simply one way of referring to our entire life. God is not just interested in your "spiritual life" but is interested in your life! More than that, He wants to redeem it. There's a popular understanding that God loves you the way you are. This only presents half of the truth. God loves you the way you are, but He loves you so much He does not want you to stay that way.

Christ has not come so that we can merely abstain from sin. He did not come to make us holy people by making it easier to resist temptation. Jesus came so that we can become w(holy) transformed and renewed creatures. We do not become restored into His image by simply "not sinning" but by actively being transformed inwardly.
Paul writes in Romans 8:29 that God's children are to be "conformed" to the likeness of His Son. This is a pretty bad rendering of the Greek text. Christ's followers are not to reluctantly comply to God's image. The Greek word here, sumorphizo, is where we get our word "morph." In other words, Paul is writing that we as Christians are to "morph" or take upon the identity and essential nature of Christ. When we conform to something we outwardly adapt. When we "morph", we inwardly and completely become transformed.

I think this is why it is so difficult to break sinful habits. Simply "not doing" something because we know it is wrong will ultimately keep us enslaved to our human nature. Yes, we may eventually stop committing that sin, but inside nothing has changed. We may look different on the outside, but the inside is still the same.

Finding yourself lost on that path may seem hopeless. Maybe you do not even know how you got there. Maybe you are convinced that you will always be there. Maybe you are not enslaved to sin but are content to stay right where you are, already on the path. There's good news: you do not have to stay there.

10 October 2009

Some Questions

Through what lens should we view other people?

What is the meaning of "justice?"

How should people with a holistic vision for Christ think/act relative to the issue of war?

If we are to be living embodiments of God's grace and love individually as disciples and collectively as the Church, how does our participation and/or approval of acts of violence make the love of God known?

What does the Cross say about the response to violence?

06 October 2009


Have you ever feel like you are going crazy? Like you're the only one who really gets it, and everyone else thinks they do... but don't?

Last week I was driving some new friends back from Columbus when eschatological subjects popped up on the radar. I, for once, did not initiate them. The conversation began escalating, and I hadn't said a word. Finally, after saying a quick prayer, I offered my understanding of what the kingdom looked like - not just as a spiritual reality, but in its ever-increasing earthly/physical embodiment.


They all thought I was crazy. It was against everything they had ever been taught, ever thought of. They had never heard anything like this in Sunday school or church. In a single moment I had become a radical, unorthodox liberal. I was one of "those" theologians.

And yet, the only replies they could muster up was that they did not "like it." I could see how uncomfortable they were with it.

I could write thousands of entries about this. I already have spent a countless number of hours developing these thoughts into writings. Maybe more of those thoughts will appear later on this blog, but right now something else is dominating my schema...

Why do so few people understand? Sometimes I feel so alone.

24 August 2009

You Are Loved, Too

Why is this guy still talking to me...?

I admit that I strongly dislike mingling and small talk with people I do not know too well. I'm an obvious introvert and don't care much for awkward conversations with people I will never see again. My new husband is the exact opposite. He thrives on conversations with new people and can't pass up an opportunity to have an in-depth conversation with the cashiers at WalMart. He's the life of the party; I'm the person who quietly talks to some close friends, away from the center of focus.

Imagine my discomfort, then, when an associate from a jewelry store inside Polaris insisted on talking to me as I was passing by. All I wanted was to pick up a new "I am Loved" button in a new language to add to my collection(http://www.iamloved.org/), but the salesman spotted me and approached me before I could hurry on my way.
I hope he's not going to try to convince me to buy a diamond ring, I could help but to think. The man instead asked me a whole bunch of questions about my personal life. Why did I collect these buttons? Did I know any foreign languages? Greek and Hebrew? Why those ones? Where was I going to college? What was I studying?
There was a slight pause in the conversation when I told him that I was pursuing a degree in Biblical studies. A flicker on interest seemed to shimmer in his eyes.
"What do you want to do with that?"
A little agitated with his endless supply of questions, I politley answered and made up an excuse about time. That's always a good, American excuse.

As I was walking away, it suddenly hit me that I had the opportunity to share what I believed with that jeweler. I didn't even have to set up the road to Calvary myself: All I had to do was ask him if he had ever read the Bible. I was rather shocked that the idea of telling him about what Jesus was doing in my life never had even occurred to me. I told him that I wanted to teach others about the Bible, but I didn't even take the time to teach him about the Bible.

I've been learning this summer to view every single circumstance with spiritual lenses on. The present world is not solely physical. Everything that is physical also has a spiritual entanglement. Perhaps things should not even be defined as "physical" or "spiritual." We as Christians need to see the spiritual in every encounter, every conversation, every action. The battle may have already been won, but we have seemed to forgotten that the battle for God's kingdom is still through our efforts joined with our King's.
There is a world filled with a countless number of souls who are headed for hell. Countries try to destroy the message of Jesus Christ because, as Richard Dawkins attests, religion is the weakness and threat to society. YouTube has a "Blasphemy Challenge" where thousands of people deny Christ on video for the rest of the world to see. Somehow, though, we shrug this off and conclude that evangelism is for hyper-Christians like Billy Graham and missionaries like Hudson Taylor.

Matthew 28:19-20, frequently referred to as the "Great Commission" passage, commands Christ followers to make disciples (notice it does not say "believers"-- but that is another topic for another time). The interesting thing about this command is that in the original Greek language is says that Christians should make disciples "as they go." There is no destination.

Some Christians may be called to a career in an organized ministry, but all Christians are called to full-time ministry.

Witnessing is not an option. It is not a "spiritual gift." It is not a task set aside for a select group. It is not something that we should wait until "God calls" us to do it. So many times I hear Christians claim that they didn't sense that "God was telling" them to talk to someone about Jesus, so they didn't do it. Claiming this is like saying that they didn't sense God telling them to love someone. Just as God has already told us to love others in Scripture, so also has He already told us to tell others about him in Scripture.

I have been trying to apply this command to witness to others "as I go" throughout my daily life. I now see why Aaron is so eager to talk to the waiter at Southside Diner, the greeter at WalMart, and our next door neighbors. Ever if he is not talking to them about Jesus directly, he is still sending the message that they are valued and worth talking to. I now try to strike up conversation, even though I am still a little uncomfortable with it. And, everytime I walk by that jewelry store, I look for that jeweler who challenged me. I intend to finish our conversation where we last left off and communicate to him the message on the buttons that I had previously ignored. I think I'll even approach him first myself.

19 April 2009


People are fascinated with fire. Last fall I ventured away from homework one night to attend a bonfire on the campus of my school. Perhaps I simply do not attend enough campus activities, but I was amazed at how many people came to this event. The school events I have participated in have attracted a good number of students, but I had never seen so many students gathered together as I did at this bonfire. As I sat on the cool grass, breathing in the cool, night air and enjoying the company of friends, something in particular struck me about fires.

Do you know why people are so drawn to fires? Not because they create light, nor because they radiate heat. The number one reason why people are attracted to fire is because they simply like to watch things burn. It was not long into the evening before students began throwing anything expendable into the large bonfire. People would gather around to watch the flames devour a marshmallow. Exclamations pierced the night air just because the searing heat quickly contracted a Styrofoam cup into a little ball. Something about burning things fascinates people.

John Wesley said that if you set yourself on fire, all of England will come to see you burn. Just as there is a fascination with fire burning wood, there is a fascination with people who allow themselves to become consumed by the fire of Christ. When you set yourself aflame, people will be curious. They will be drawn to the heat you are radiating and drawn to the light you are emitting, but more than that they will be drawn to the reason why you are burning.

Many people today claim that Jesus was merely a good teacher or a religious figure whose behavior should be modeled. Jesus portrayed some “guidelines” that “spiritual” people should follow. In the end, He may have exemplified an ethical life, but He was nothing more than human. Jesus Himself, however, claimed differently. His own followers thought that their Rabbi was a good, spiritual sage, but they did not have the slightest idea what His role as the Messiah fully implied.
In Luke 9:18-27, Jesus finally revealed His identity as the Christ and its implications. In fact, Jesus focused more on the implications of it in regard to His disciples than He did for Himself.

“If anyone would come after me,” Jesus said, “he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23).

You would think that Jesus would be more interested in explaining the theological significance of His death, the biblical significance of His “Davidic” role, but He instead brushed all that aside. His death and resurrection would enlighten the disciples later. What was important to Jesus now was that His followers understood what their responsibility was in response to His Messianic identity. Ask any Christian today about the significance of Jesus’ identity and they can easily give an accurate answer. But can they explain the significance that has for them outside of their “getting into heaven?”

Ask many non-Christians and they, too, can mirror the responses of a Christian. One of my friends who is very passionate about evangelism once described her surprise about this. “Every unbeliever I have witnessed to knows exactly who Jesus is,” she said. “Somehow we get the idea that Christians are the only ones who know about Jesus’ identity and that once everyone knows that Jesus is God they will fall on their knees and convert.” It seems that just about everyone today, Christians and non-Christians alike, knows who Jesus is. The problem is that those who really do believe that He is the Messiah do not know what that means for them now.

This places believers and non-believers in the same position. One group knows, refuses to believe, and continues to live without interruption, while the other group knows, chooses to believe, and still lives without interruption. Something is wrong. Perhaps our presently construed definition of “atheism” needs modified.Christ has called His followers to live differently by picking up their crosses on a daily basis. Not just on days when they feel like it. Not just when God seems evidently present in their lives. Not just when they are with other Christians who are observing them to make themselves feel better about their own inconsistencies.

Following Christ requires a higher standard. Christians are called to forfeit their lives, to offer themselves on the altar and burn. It is easier for living sacrifices to crawl back down off of the altar when the burning becomes too intense (Rom 12:1). By daily denying and dying to themselves, followers of Christ testify that Jesus really was and still is the Messiah. Christ has not so much saved them from something as He has saved them to something. It all comes down to whether Christians will choose to act on their belief in the true identity of their Messiah and continue to light the night sky as they offer their very lives as living sacrifices.

12 February 2009

Erected Walls

"Listen, O Lord, to my prayers. Listen to my desire to be with you, to dwell in your house, and to let my whole being be filled with your presence. But none of this is possible without you. When you are not the one who fills me, I am soon filled with endless thoughts and concerns that divide me and tear me away from you. Even thoughts about you, good spiritual thoughts, can be little more than distractions when you are not their author.

O Lord, thinking about you, being fascinated with theological ideas and discussions, being excited about histories of Christian spirituality and stimulated by thoughts and ideas about prayer and meditation, all of this can be as much an expression of greed as the unruly desire for food, possessions, or power.

Every day I see again that only you can teach me to pray, only you can set my heart at rest, only you can let me dwell in your presence. No book, no idea, no concept or theory will ever bring me close to you unless you yourself are the one who lets these instruments become the way to you.

But Lord, let me at least remain open to your initiative; let me wait patiently and attentively for that hour when you will come and break through all the walls I have erected. Teach me, O Lord, to pray. Amen."

- Henry J. M. Nouwen

10 February 2009

Stuck on a Treadmill

4 February

I ran on a treadmill earlier today, but I still feel like I’m on one: Running, but not going anywhere. Tomorrow begins four months of routine. I will be learning about theology, the Bible, God, and religion. I will be teaching students about theology, the Bible, God, and religion. It seems that my whole life has become devoted to the study of theology, the Bible, God, and religion.

Treadmills are so funny to me. The reading device tells you that you have run two miles, when in reality you haven’t even left the workout room. It tells you that you have gone somewhere, when you yourself know that you haven’t budged.

I get good grades, my teachers praise me for my intellect and writings, my boss compliments me on my teaching skills. It would seem as if I were getting somewhere. All of these appear to be indicators that I am maturing, growing smarter and wiser. Despite all of these indicators, glaring at me in red, digital type, I know I’m not moving.

Maybe it’s a good thing I’m not getting anywhere. I’m not quite sure where I should be going.

17 January 2009


If there was a moment during my trip in Israel when I was going to die, I was sure that this would be it. With the rest of the group behind me, I silently slipped through the dark alleys of Bethlehem, guided only by the faded light cast by a few streets lights and the directions from the Palestinian tour guide. Rounding a corner, the only people in sight were two Arab men, intently watching the group pass by from beneath their head scarves. A slight chill rose when I finally reached the wall's checkpoint. How had I somehow managed to be the one leading the group? I wondered. To my relief, I heard our guide rapidly speaking in Arabic to one of the security guards behind me. So far so good.

The silent military check center was intimidating, especially at this time at night. There were no guards inside, and the sensation that I was being watched swept over me... Soon I realized that the Israeli soldiers monitoring the station were tucked away somewhere, watching us through the many security cameras and talking to us through a PDA. After passing through a steel revolving door and a metal detector, I came to the passport check. Two Muslim women up ahead of me were trying to leave the city's walls, but for whatever reason couldn't. The guard started reprimanding them loudly in Arabic and then pulled them aside. Another guard appeared and escorted them through a side door marked by a warning sign unreadable to me. My turn. The security guard glowered at me as he glanced at my passport, then motioned for me to continue.

As I exited the check station and neared the final exit, the graffiti plastered all over the wall struck me hard. There had been artwork, political statements, and posters all over the wall surrounding the rest of the city, but none had been as explicitly honest as this. The one that remains etched in my memory is a simple sentence sloppily scrolled across the wall in red spray paint: “Jesus will destroy this wall.”Safe on the bus once more, this single sentence turned in my head over and over. My memory kept returning to what had stunned me in Nazareth only a few days earlier. While walking along the streets there, our tour guide pointed out a peculiar plant growing up a telephone pole. “This is a mustard plant,” he remarked. He broke open the pod and showed us the tiny seed granules. Then, very casually and off-handedly, he added, “This grows in crazy places.”After continuing a little ways, we saw another mustard shrub. I had to do a double take to make sure my eyes weren’t deceiving me. This mustard plant was growing through a wall. As small as this plant was, it was somehow strong enough to penetrate a stone wall and start crumbling it. I was floored. If enough of those plants started infiltrating that wall, they could easily break it down.

Jesus once said that the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed (Mt 13:31, Lk 13:18). A farmer planted it in his garden and “it grew and became a tree.” The funny thing about this is that mustard plants are not trees. They’re shrubs. Although their external shaft may be small, they have incredibly strong root systems that grow to be twice as large as the visible plant itself. Interestingly, Isaiah 53:2 describes Jesus as a tender shoot whose roots grew out of a dry ground. Jesus declared that God's kingdom had come. He broke down gender and racial walls by talking to a Samaritan woman at a well and healing another in her "unclean" hometown. He broke down walls when He touched the untouchable, healed the unhealable, and loved the unloveable. Jesus even literally broke down the "wall" in the temple that separated man from God. Ironically, people in Israel still flock to the Wailing Wall because they believe that it is the closest they can get to God's presence still emanating from the destroyed temple beyond it. Even though Jesus destroyed such walls a long time ago, we've built them back up and have created our own walls in our own minds.

As members of this kingdom, maybe we, too, are supposed to sprout out of this dry ground that is captive to another kingdom. Maybe we are supposed to grow like a small mustard plant and welcome God's presence and power here on earth. Maybe this kingdom of heaven transcends earth’s boundaries and grows into something remarkable. Maybe this kingdom grows in “crazy places” and is capable of breaking down walls – not just physical walls, like the one in Bethlehem, but social, political, religious, and even spiritual walls.

Only when we realize God's kingdom here on this earth can Jesus truly break down walls. Walls may not be visibly crumbling and mustard plants may not be noticeable just yet, but we can be confident that the roots are slowly strengthening...

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility...-Ephesians 2:14

Violence Resistance

Last night a friend of mine showed me this music video to a recent popular song:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AuK2A1ZqoWs

One of the images in this music video that has really stood out to me is a clip at the very beginning that only last for a few seconds. As the violence and hostility begins to escalate, a little boy flashes across the screen shooting a fake gun.
This image, as brief as it is, is a perfect reflection of what our fascination with violence looks like everyday. This past summer I interned as a youth director and taught the few middle schoolers who attended the church on Wednesday nights. One evening, we discussed what God's peace looked like and how to implement it into the world. We imagined what the world would look like when there would be perfect peace. One of the middle-school aged boys shocked me and stopped me dead in my tracks during my lesson. "I don't think that a world with peace would be very fun." I immediately questioned him why. "If there wasn't any violence or killing," he replied, "there wouldn't be any good movies or video games."

A chill rose up inside of me. Entertainment. The number one reason why we have become so desensitized to violence.

Numerous times people have become defensive when I raise up this issue. They admit that we are desensitized to violence, but are we really violent ourselves? Not really. Especially compared to other countries where killings are rampant. We've got it together pretty well here in America. Why should we be concerned about genocides and persecution occurring outside of our nation's boundaries? What does social injustice in other countries have to do with us?
Everything. When people everywhere discriminate against others, it challenges one of our most important values as Christians: human beings are created in the image of God. Such violence and dehumanization is a threat to all humans, because all humans possess this God-given quality. As Martin Luther King once said, "Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere."

Since we are so desensitized, the desecration of human beings has been subversively occurring right here in the States. So many people don't believe that such an amazing government as that of the United States could possibly allow unjust violence, but abortion is one of the many ways we are threatening the concept of God's image. Parents can abort their fetus if the baby has a chance of having a handicap or mental illness, such as down syndrome. How long will it be before we permit killing a mentally ill baby once it has been delivered? Why don't we just kill all such people now and "cleanse" our whole human race?
Regardless of its physical/mental/emotional condition, that baby was created in the image of God. A threat to it is a threat to us.

We have the potential to do so much evil. "We can ride our bikes with no handlebars," and we can also easily start genocide. It all starts with a toy gun. Christ has called us to be active peacemakers, but we have somehow become content to be peacekeepers instead. How much longer will we continue to see but then look the other way?

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. Edmund Burke

Spiritual Barometers

A while ago someone asked me how my "spiritual life" was doing. This question caught me off guard. Even more so, the first things that came to mind caught me off guard. Usually I think about my spiritual life in terms of the things I do during my "quiet time." If I've been reading the Bible consistently over the past week, it's going great. If not, I feel guilty and as if I've failed. I've realized that this thing comprises my spiritual barometer. It is a definite way I can "accurately" tell whether God and I are doing great. This past month I've been realizing that I have another spiritual barometer that's even more compelling than the other:I judge myself spiritually by all the good things I am involved in.

This semester I've been involved in various ministries that have taken up a considerable amount of my time. To be honest, instead of spiritually enriching me, they have worn me out. Some of them I flat out did not even enjoy anymore. All of the energy I poured into them was draining. All of the effort I put into them was unfulfilling. But I kept pressing myself to continue. I told myself that I had to keep doing all of them because they were what made me a good, "spiritual" person. If I discontinued, I would be failing as a good Christian.

This passage in Matthew 7 was recently brought to my attention:
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'

So often I buy into the same lie that the people in this passage believed. If I cast out demons and perform miracles, then I must be doing great spiritually, right? No matter how significant the things you do for Christ, they do not ultimately take the place of knowing Him. It's really quite ironic, actually. Sometimes we can get so caught up following God's commandment to love other people that we do not love God. There's a reason why loving God is the first commandment.

Sometimes, loving other people is not loving God.

In the first chapter of Mark, Jesus went off by himself to spend some time with His Father. He had just healed many people and had cast out lots of demons, and everyone was flocking to His location, looking for Him. As if He didn't know He was being hunted down, His disciples came and informed Him. They told Him that He should go and help those people who needed Him. Jesus did something very profound in this passage: He said no. That's right. Jesus chose not to to meet the needs of those who really needed Him.

Decieving ourselves with these kinds of barometers is a dangerous practice. Cramming our schedules with good ministry opportunities does not necessarily make us "spiritual." Reading our Bible regularly does not necessarily show how devoted we are to God. Neither does journaling or community service, or fasting, or "Spiritual Life Credits."

Now, let me ask you this same question: "How are you and God doing?"Quick- what's the first thing that comes to your mind?