22 December 2019

"Advent always begins in the dark"

"Make your face shine upon us that we may be saved."
As Fleming Rutledge writes, "Advent begins where human potential ends." There is nothing humans can do to manifest their own salvation. Advent teaches us we are weak and helpless, but God comes to us, "not the other way around." And he fulfills his promises to us. He saves us, redeems us from our tragedies.
I find myself facing the tragedies of my life, often unable to believe in the larger plan God has for my life. Will God redeem my career, my path, my chance at affection? Will God turn his face toward me and save me? In Advent, I am learning to let God's redemption begin where my potential ends.
A few days ago I wrote that I made a recent turn toward cynicism. The track record of failure in reality has led me to deny hope. But as I am learning now, Advent is about turning toward the future which God is creating. That God will do something. Hope is not in vain, but it will be manifested in Jesus. God is teaching me that hope is worth holding on to.

Flying Over Europe

16 December 2019

He is the answer to the question we didn't know how to ask

"The Lord spoke again unto Ahaz, saying, 'Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be as deep as hell or as high as heaven.' But Ahaz said, 'I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord.' And he said, 'Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.'"
How would I answer God if he were to issue me the same opportunity? Ask of the Lord your God a sign, anything. What could I possibly ask? How often I have asked God to make himself known to me. Where have you gone? What do you want from me? Have you truly called me? Do you even have a plan for me? Yet now confronted by this question in God's own words, I do not know whether the sign I seek is worth asking for. Like Ahaz, I ponder, Who am I to test God? I cannot. I cannot when I am confronted by my Creator.
All that I could possibly ask would be only the most basic, most primitive element of my faith: to know for certain that he loves me. That he would comfort me with his warm embrace. Nothing else would matter. Nothing else would mean as much as truly knowing God's affection for me.
So when God responds to Ahaz, he responds through Isaiah saying, Could you weary your God? Therefore the sign is this: a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call him God-is-with-us.
Perhaps God does know what we actually need, what signs we seek. He asks us what we want, and we may be befuddled in our words, but in our hearts, we crave love and warmth and affection. So he gives us what we truly need: himself. God alive in the flesh on earth. He comes to love us, to show us love, to touch us.

Because he is the answer to the question we didn't know how to ask.

Beirut, Lebanon

15 December 2019

Advent this year

There are many reasons for a young person to be cynical in this period in time. Love, politics, religion, education, career, hopes, dreams, reality, love again, heartbreak... What right do I have to be hopeful? Why should I imagine there is anything better ahead?
I recognize I've made a turn toward cynicism recently. I can't give a straight answer why. Maybe because hopefulness is so exhausting.
Instead I'd rather temporarily meet my own personal needs. I wander back to my emotional home where I can imagine fantasies in which at least some primitive part of me can be fulfilled. Because the life I should be living--at least the one in my imagination--I'm not.
So what am I doing? Shall I take hold of life and existentially seize opportunities? Am I to sit back and expect God to show up? Maybe. Or maybe I am meant to wait. That is what this season of Advent has taught me. I am waiting for God to show up. Maybe these lectionary lessons about waiting are what I've been needing to reflect on and learn from. This Advent season is something I've needed.
Unlike Lent where the key word is sacrifice or repentance--active behaviors--in Advent, the key word is wait. I let God show up because I am waiting for him. Wait, and maybe I'll find reasons not to be cynical.

Beirut, Lebanon

08 December 2019

God finds us when we are merely surviving

We may often find ourselves in circumstances wherein we only want to survive. Ruth and Naomi looking for bread. David writing songs of his life in danger. Joseph and Mary looking for shelter. We ourselves, just trying to get by. So we expect nothing more from God. Only let me live. Let me survive. I have no intention of thriving. Yet we cannot see the greater picture, the greater promise God has in store for us. Ruth finds a husband and enters the narrative of God's people. David is found to be after the heart of God and becomes king. Joseph and Mary become parents to the Messiah. We may be just seeking survival, not realizing there is an abundant life yet to come.

Beirut, Lebanon

02 December 2019

What is Advent for us today?

"In the early days of the church, the faithful believed that the end times were just around the corner. But they never came. Two thousand years seems a long time to wait for something imminent. So how long do we have to wait and for what? 
If the Gospel writers thought the end was near, they were clearly wrong. Christ seems to have missed his deadline. And, like waiting for a friend in a cafĂ©, waiting for a bus in the rain, we check our watches, drum our fingers, and prepare ourselves for disappointment. 
Sometimes, it feels that the waiting in Advent is a bit fake; as though Advent is a ritualised vestige of the time when we waited with true expectation for Christ to come and fulfil all things. Ritualised in Advent calendars and in Advent wreaths, candles lit, doors opened. Ritualised, because in our hearts we know it will not be now, it will not be soon. 
Waiting for Justice to arrive for many seems a long wait. For the ravaged and broken people of Syria, the mountain of the Lord seems very far away. There are no ploughshares left in a land which has more craters than fields of grain. 
For those bereaved, wounded and traumatised by the events on London Bridge on Friday, the mountain of the Lord is a long way from the dark valley they walk through. For those affected by climate change, justice seems to ebb further away, as the waters rise and the hurricane destroys their land and their homes. 
For those who suffer because of their gender or their sexuality or their race, they find that justice is not something they can afford to wait for, because while they wait, they are persecuted, oppressed, broken by an unjust world. 
That is not the waiting we are called to do in Advent, a passive hanging around until God gets his act together. There is no place in scripture where God gives us the indulgence of helpless passivity. If we throw up our hands in despair and ask God how he can let these things happen, the answer in the Gospels comes back clear and strong, that God has in fact given the hungry all that they need to be well fed, he has given the persecuted all that they need to receive justice, he has given the war-torn all that they need to find peace - because he has given them us. He has given them us, and what we wait for in Advent is for the Spirit of God to take us over, to fill us with such compassion that we have to act, because we cannot bear to see so many in such pain. 
The presence of God makes us discontented with a world which should be like the Kingdom of God, but isn’t. The presence of God makes us hungry for justice and hungry for an end to starvation, and corruption, and war. The presence of God calls us not to be content with the world as it is. The presence of God gives us courage to walk the hard road of making change. 
Because to change the world, as Isaiah said, means we have to put down our most cherished weapons, we have to abandon and unlearn the paths we have trod into a world we do not like, we have to remove ourselves from the comfortable myopia that indolence and isolation bring. Advent is where we wait for something that will change us, even though we may be frightened by the change."

30 November 2019

Hope is human

One subtle way that people dehumanize each other is when they ignore or denigrate another's hopes and dreams. Hopes and dreams make us human. We long for a better life. We want meaning, purpose, fulfillment. We have ideas of our own. We have hopes to be realized.
So what do we do when our hopes and dreams are taken from us? When they are subdued by others who don't care? How can we hold on to being human?

Beirut, Lebanon

23 November 2019

Someone To Run To

"I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take heart: I have overcome the world."

Story 1.
There was once a man who thought he knew all the answers. He thought he could put God in a box. But he had his doubts. He questioned the realness of his faith.
So Jesus came into his life and told him there was more to life than having all the right answers. His name was Nicodemus. His story is found in John chapter 3. He was a Pharisee, a teacher of Scripture, he was supposed to have things figured out.

For a young person, it’s easy to think that at this age, at a young age, I have all the answers I need for life. I used think I had figured things out, you don’t need wisdom from others, I don’t need the discipline from my parents, from elders, or even God. Because I think I know how to live.
But there are others times as a young person, that I feel like I don’t have any answers whatsoever. I have doubts about God, I have doubts about your faith. I doubt whether Jesus can show up in your life, whether Jesus is the answer, whether this thing called Christianity or this thing called Adventism is worth living.

I see pieces of both in Nicodemus. Nicodemus had presumption, he assumed that he had his faith and worldview figured out, he was satisfied with the life he was living as a Pharisee.
But when Jesus came into the picture, he doubted the things he thought he knew. Because now Jesus turned his whole perspective on life upside down.
So he came to Jesus in the night because he needed to figure things out. And he found that Jesus embraced him as he was, doubts and presumptions, pride and prejudice. All that he was.
Because when Nicodemus started asking questions, when he started digger deeper into his faith, when he started wrestling with his doubts and what he thought was truth, he found a Savior who truly satisfied.
"For God did not send Me into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Me might be saved."
His questions plagued him, his doubts tormented him. Jesus was unafraid of his doubts, Jesus wasn’t stressed about his questions.
Because at the bottom of his doubts, his questions, his pride, his presumption, Nicodemus found a more wonderful, a more satisfying Savior. He found a Jesus who was all whom he truly needed. Nicodemus had more than doubts and questions to run from, he had Someone to run to. In this world, you will have doubts and questions, but take heart, He has overcome.

Story 2.
There was a woman who lived a life drenched in sin. She didn’t know if she was addicted to the abusive captivity of sex or if that was the only life she had known, and she had nothing else to turn to.
But she was trapped. Trapped in the abuse forced upon her by her family, trapped in the arms of sickened relationships, held on tight by the painful suffering of darkness in her life.
We don’t know her name, some speculate her identity, but in John chapter 8, her name is not given. But perhaps with no name, we see reflections of ourselves.
No man seemed to love her, so she kept doing what was doing. If she couldn’t find love, she’d find something that appeared like love. She wanted to run away, she wanted to escape; one day she got her chance.
One day, in the midst of a shameful, embarrassing transaction of sin, the religious leaders stormed in, grabbed her naked body, bound her in arrest, and took her to the public square. She was finally caught.

There in the square stood the teacher, some called Him the Messiah, a man many had talked about, a man people had said was the one they were waiting for. But why did it matter to her. Her cruel worthless life was about to end.
A Pharisee called out to the Teacher,
"'Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?' This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground."
Our failures, our sins can take us rock bottom, but Jesus meets us where we are on the ground we have fallen, and He writes His love on the dust.
The woman found that it wasn’t her failures and accusers who had driven her to Jesus, but she found that this Savior had drawn her with His deep and vast love.
She had a dirty, shameful past to run away from, but that didn’t matter as much to this Someone to run to. In this world, you will have sin and guilt, but take heart, He has over come.

Story 3.
"She turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.
Jesus said unto her, Woman, why do you weep? Whom do you seek? She, supposing him to be the gardener, said unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.
Jesus said unto her: Mary."
This story, like the other stories, is about ourselves. We too, like Mary, may wonder where God is. We may not say God is dead, but we may imagine He is absent from us. That He has left us alone. That God has abandoned us. Or we may find ourselves weeping, because we find ourselves in a world without hope. We live in a world full of pain and suffering, violence and troubles, wars and rumors of wars, uncertainty and no peace. And yet amidst all these troubles in the world, we might feel hopeless because the pains of life are too much to bear. So like Mary, we wonder where God is.

Recently, and for a very long time, I had been feeling despair. I felt discouragement. I felt disappointment. I felt like my hopes and dreams had been taken away from me.

Maybe the way I had described Mary doesn’t seem relevant to you, but that assuredly describes my own pain of recent times. I had been wondering where God was, and it was only until I turned around and started paying attention did I realize God had been behind me the whole time. I let my eyes be blinded by my pain and suffering, not realizing that as I mulled over my grief, that God was reaching out to me, that if I turned around, I'd find Someone to run to.

In this world you will have despair and discouragement. Your world may come crashing down on you. Your hopes and dreams may be ignored and forgotten. But take heart, you might find that God has been standing behind you, calling your name. He has overcome.

The thing about pain and suffering is that the more we grow in our faith, the troubles we see in life should not lead us to despair, but that they draw you to hope. Not that you have something to run away from, but Someone to run to.

In this world, you will have things to run from.

But take heart,
take courage,
be of good cheer: you have Someone to run to.

Nairobi, Kenya
with writing from Beirut, Lebanon

05 November 2019

When darkness seems to veil

"But Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was."

What is this thick darkness in my life where it seems God is obscure, His face is veiled, and I am afraid? Perhaps it is there in the mystery, in the fearful unknown that I find God's presence. Or, where I least expect to find God, He is present.

My whole life feels like thick darkness. Has God been drawing near me this whole time?

Have I been seeking His hand and not His face? Can I trust God and love God even if He will not deliver me? Maybe it won't always be a fiery furnace or a lions' den from which He saves. Maybe it's an environment. Maybe it's a period in life. Maybe it's the place to which He carried me.

Perhaps this whole time, I was meant to seek His face when instead I was seeking His hand to deliver me from this trial. Maybe I'm not meant to be delivered. Not now. Not the way I'm expecting.

"But if He does not..." 

Even if He does not, what do I do?

Beirut, Lebanon

30 April 2019

I would know in a whale

Lately I have been tempted to put God to the test. I want to run away from God as far as possible, like Jonah. Why? Because I want God to run after me and pull me back. I want to be swallowed by a whale and know that I’ve been called by God. This indifferent attitude of God (not mine) leaves me unsure about my identity, my calling, and my fulfillment. I wish God would grant me more affirmation, more fulfillment that I would know I am meant to be where I am, but I don’t have any of that. I am left discouraged. Is that my fault or God’s?

Flying Over the Horn of Africa

12 January 2019

Grace Will Lead You Home

As the years come and go we tend to rely upon mere things of this world to fill the emptiness that the past year left in us. But God reminds that He is all we need to fill that emptiness, because His grace is sufficient for us.

With Him we can do more than survive. We can thrive.