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Blast a Few Walls
“See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?”
Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.”
—Acts 8:36, 37
Fans rooted for the competition. Cheerleaders switched loyalties. The coach helped the opposition score points. Parents yelled for the competition.
What was this?
This was the brainchild of a big-hearted football coach in Grapevine, Texas. Kris Hogan skippers the successful program of Faith Christian High School. He has seventy players, eleven coaches, quality equipment, and parents who care, make banners, attend pep rallies, and wouldn’t miss a game for their own funeral.
They took their 7–2 record into a contest with Gainesville State School. Gainesville’s players, by contrast, wear seven-year-old shoulder pads and last decade’s helmets and show up at each game wearing handcuffs. Their parents don’t watch them play, but twelve uniformed officers do. That’s because Gainesville is a maximum-security correctional facility.
The school doesn’t have a stadium, cheerleading squad, or half a hope of winning. Gainesville was 0–8 going into the Grapevine game. They’d scored two touchdowns all year.
The whole situation didn’t seem fair. So Coach Hogan devised a plan. He asked the fans to step across the field and, for one night only, to cheer for the other side. More than two hundred volunteered.
They formed a forty-yard spirit line. They painted “Go Tornadoes!” on a banner that the Gainesville squad could burst through. They sat on the Gainesville side of the stadium. They even learned the names of Gainesville players so they could yell for individuals.
The prisoners had heard people scream their names but never like this. Gerald, a lineman who will serve three years, said, “People are a little afraid of us when we come to the games. You can see it in their eyes. They’re lookin’ at us like we’re criminals. But these people, they were yellin’ for us. By our names!”
After the game the teams gathered in the middle of the field to say a prayer. One of the incarcerated players asked to lead it. Coach Hogan agreed, not knowing what to expect. “Lord,” the boy said, “I don’t know how this happened, so I don’t know how to say thank you, but I never would’ve known there was so many people in the world that cared about us.”
Grapevine fans weren’t finished. After the game they waited beside the Gainesville bus to give each player a good-bye gift—burger, fries, candy, soda, a Bible, an encouraging letter, and a round of applause. As their prison bus left the parking lot, the players pressed stunned faces against the windows and wondered what had just hit them.
Here’s what hit them: a squad of bigotry-demolition experts. Their assignment? Blast bias into dust. Their weapons? A fusillade of “You still matter” and “Someone still cares.” Their mission? Break down barricades that separate God’s children from each other.
Do any walls bisect your world? There you stand on one side. And on the other? The person you’ve learned to disregard, perhaps even disdain. The teen with the tats. The boss with the bucks. The immigrant with the hard-to-understand accent. The person on the opposite side of your political fence. The beggar who sits outside your church every week.
Or the Samaritans outside Jerusalem.
Talk about a wall, ancient and tall. “Jews,” as John wrote in his gospel, “refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans” (John 4:9 nlt). The two cultures had hated each other for a thousand years. The feud involved claims of defection, intermarriage, and disloyalty to the temple. Samaritans were blacklisted. Their beds, utensils—even their spittle—were considered unclean. No orthodox Jew would travel into the region. Most Jews would gladly double the length of their trip rather than go through Samaria.
Jesus, however, played by a different set of rules. He spent the better part of a day on the turf of a Samaritan woman, drinking water from her ladle, discussing her questions (John 4:1–26). He stepped across the cultural taboo as if it were a sleeping dog in the doorway. Jesus loves to break down walls.
That’s why he sent Philip to Samaria.
Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed . . .
When they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized. (Acts 8:5–7, 12)
The city broke out into a revival. Peter and John heard about the response and traveled from Jerusalem to Samaria to confirm it. “When they had come down, [they] prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit” (vv. 15–17).
This is a curious turn of events. Why hadn’t the Samaritans received the Holy Spirit? On the Day of Pentecost, Peter promised the gift of the Spirit to those who repented and were baptized. How then can we explain the baptism of the Samaritans, which, according to Luke, was not accompanied by the Spirit? Why delay the gift?
Simple. To celebrate the falling of a wall. The gospel, for the first time, was breaching an ancient bias. God marked the moment with a ticker-tape parade of sorts. He rolled out the welcome mat and sent his apostles to verify the revival and place hands on the Samaritans. Let any doubt be gone: God accepts all people.
But he wasn’t finished. He sent Philip on a second cross-cultural mission.
Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert. So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.” (vv. 26–29)
Walls separated Philip from the eunuch. The Ethiopian was dark skinned; Philip was light. The official hailed from distant Africa; Philip grew up nearby. The traveler was rich enough to travel. And who was Philip but a simple refugee, banished from Jerusalem? And don’t overlook the delicate matter of differing testosterone levels. Philip, we later learn, was the father of four girls (Acts 21:9). The official was a eunuch. No wife or kids or plans for either. The lives of the two men could not have been more different.
But Philip didn’t hesitate. He “preached Jesus to him. Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, ‘See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?’” (Acts 8:35–36).
No small question. A black, influential, effeminate official from Africa turns to the white, simple, virile Christian from Jerusalem and asks, “Is there any reason I can’t have what you have?”
What if Philip had said, “Now that you mention it, yes. Sorry. We don’t take your type”?
But Philip, charter member of the bigotry-demolition team, blasted through the wall and invited, “‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.’ And he answered and said, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God’” (v. 37).
Next thing you know, the eunuch is stepping out of the baptism waters, whistling “Jesus Loves Me,” Philip is on to his next assignment, and the church has her first non-Jewish convert.
And we are a bit dizzy. What do we do with a chapter like this? Samaria. Peter and John arriving. Holy Spirit falling. Gaza. Ethiopian official. Philip. What do these events teach us?
They teach us how God feels about the person on the other side of the wall.
He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance . . . Instead of continuing with two groups of people separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion, he created a new kind of human being, a fresh start for everybody.
Christ brought us together through his death on the Cross. The Cross got us to embrace, and that was the end of the hostility. (Eph. 2:14–16 msg)
The cross of Christ creates a new people, a people unhindered by skin color or family feud. A new citizenry based, not on common ancestry or geography, but on a common Savior.
My friend Buckner Fanning experienced this firsthand. He was a marine in World War II, stationed in Nagasaki three weeks after the dropping of the atomic bomb. Can you imagine a young American soldier amid the rubble and wreckage of the demolished city? Radiation-burned victims wandering the streets. Atomic fallout showering on the city. Bodies burned to a casket black. Survivors shuffling through the streets, searching for family, food, and hope. The conquering soldier feeling not victory but grief for the suffering around him.
Instead of anger and revenge, Buckner found an oasis of grace. While patrolling the narrow streets, he came upon a sign that bore an English phrase: Methodist Church. He noted the location and resolved to return the next Sunday morning.
When he did, he entered a partially collapsed structure. Windows, shattered. Walls, buckled. The young marine stepped through the rubble, unsure how he would be received.
Fifteen or so Japanese were setting up chairs and removing debris. When the uniformed American entered their midst, they stopped and turned.
He knew only one word in Japanese. He heard it. Brother. “They welcomed me as a friend,” Buckner relates, the power of the moment still resonating more than sixty years after the events. They offered him a seat. He opened his Bible and, not understanding the sermon, sat and observed. During communion the worshippers brought him the elements. In that quiet moment the enmity of their nations and the hurt of the war was set aside as one Christian served another the body and blood of Christ.
Another wall came a-tumblin’ down.
What walls are in your world?
Brian Overcast is knocking down walls in Morelia, Mexico. As director of the NOÉ Center (New Opportunities in Education), Brian and his team address the illegal immigration problem from a unique angle. Staff members told me recently, “Mexicans don’t want to cross the border. If they could stay home, they would. But they can’t because they can’t get jobs. So we teach them English. With English skills they can get accepted into one of Mexico’s low-cost universities and find a career at home. Others see illegal immigrants; we see opportunities.”
Another wall down.
We can’t outlive our lives if we can’t get beyond our biases. Who are your Samaritans? Ethiopian eunuchs? Whom have you been taught to distrust and avoid?
It’s time to remove a few bricks.
Welcome the day God takes you to your Samaria—not so distant in miles but different in styles, tastes, tongues, and traditions.
And if you meet an Ethiopian eunuch, so different yet so sincere, don’t refuse that person. Don’t let class, race, gender, politics, geography, or culture hinder God’s work. For the end of the matter is this: when we cross the field and cheer for the other side, everyone wins.
Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory.
(Romans 15:7 nlt)
Lord, in how many ways does my foolish heart make false distinctions among your people? Reveal them to me. How often do I judge someone as unworthy of you by the way I treat him or her? Rebuke me in your love. Where can I blast a wall or remove a barrier that keeps your children apart from one another? Give me some dynamite and the skill and courage to use it for your glory. What can I do in my sphere of influence to bring the love of Christ to someone who may feel ostracized or estranged from you? Lend me divine insight, and bless me with the resolve to be your hands and feet. May I be a bridge and not a wall. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.
Questions for Discussion
1. Philip went to Samaria, and the grace of God blasted the walls between the Jews and Samaritans. Max asks you, “Do any walls bisect your world?” What divisions do you see dominating your culture? What unspoken rules of separation promote a subconscious prejudice? How long has this wall been there? What are the root causes? What keeps it going?
2. Describe yourself with the categories Max used to describe Philip (skin, hometown, economics, relationships, etc.). Now describe someone quite the opposite of you in these categories. Name someone you know who resembles the latter.
3. As Christians, how well do we live out Galatians 3:28–29 and erase the divisions between us? Where have we succeeded? Where have we failed?
4. How could you tell a person on the other side of a dividing wall that he or she matters to you? What could you do to show that person you care?
Ideas for Action
■ Be honest with yourself about your prejudices. Spend some quiet time thinking about this. Make a list of groups of people you tend to prejudge or categorize. Pray over that piece of paper, asking God to change your heart. Then shred the list, embracing the freedom that comes with unbiased eyes.
■ Grow in your cross-cultural awareness. Learn about the group that lives on the other side of a dividing social wall in your community or region. Eat where they eat, shop where they shop, and meet people. Listen to their stories. Find out what you have in common. Find out what differences are crucial, and be sensitive to them.
Reprinted by permission. Outlive Your Life: You Were Made to Make A Difference by Max Lucado, 2010, copyright date, Thomas Nelson Inc. Nashville, Tennessee. All rights reserved.