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?