God doesn’t owe me results

The night was a failure. Even after a day of prayer and fasting.

No one noticed that my heart was beating in time with the Father’s. No one noticed that my soul was alive and refreshed.

People were out breathing in the cool night after the long, scorching day. Last week on my nightly strolls, I had met several women. Under the cover of dusk, we had sat on park benches and talked while children played around us.

But tonight there was nothing invigorating.

A stop at the local store made me wonder where the line between friendly and amorous should be drawn. And why was I always the one to draw the line?

And then there was that woman again. The shriveled Gypsy for whom I had once bought bread and eggs and now every time she saw me she snagged me with a long, anguished tale and a request for a couple of euros. How could I communicate love? Bread, eggs, and euros were not going to alleviate her poverty of soul.  Her granddaughters averted their blushing faces.

And that was all. No one else seemed open to conversation. Alone and discouraged, I finished my route and turned toward home.

That’s when truth started to sink it, settling between the churning waves of injured pride and self-pity.

God doesn’t owe me results. He doesn’t owe me deep, blossoming friendships and engaging conversations. If I cultivate a certain level of spiritual maturity, He doesn’t owe me the world on a silver platter.

My service is not qualified by my carnally-defined successes but by my faithfulness. Am I loving (and consequently serving) God with all of my heart? My soul? My strength? My mind?

Years and years ago, my Sunday school teacher gave me a quote that I have kept tucked inside of my Bible ever since. “There is no more powerful force for rebuking all evil things, whether of conduct or of opinion, than that of the quiet, strong, persistent life of a man or woman who goes on from day to day doing the duties of the day well, cheerfully, and with joy.”

As I walked those final blocks home, my sense of entitlement slipped away. “What if?” I wondered. “What if in my day to day journey, I start counting each blossoming friendship and engaging conversation as a blessing rather than my entitlement? What if I named each interaction as a gift rather than my payment for growing in Christ?”

The neighbor man waved and smiled. “Good evening.”

I waved back. “Good evening.” And it was.

Privilege and poverty

A proud tree stood with arms stretched wide
Until they reached the other side
Of a wall that ran both deep and wide.

The tree offered fruit and shade
Of the same quality that it saved
But on its side it proudly stayed.

And this side--both yours and mine--
Toiled but controlled the time,
And the other side could never climb.

Then one day that tree fell down,
And passing people quickly found
Not one but two ruts in the ground.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

What child is this?

“What child is this?” We sing the words of that Christmas carol every year as if we don’t know what Child “this” is.

Do we?

Is Jesus the sweet baby in the manger “no crying he makes”?

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”

(Matt. 25:35-36)

God’s greatest Gift to man didn’t stay in a manger. So let’s not pretend He’s still there.

“Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

(Matt. 25:40)

Who do I laugh at?

The sun came and went as ominous clouds marched across the sky. I shivered and wondered why I hadn’t checked the weather before I had walked to the park to study. Winter was coming; that was certain.

On the other side of the bubbling fountain of the garden plaza, a man was stretched out on a bench in front of the bamboo forest. I had seen him there before. He wore several layers of clothing all with that grimy, unwashed tinge. He was a perfect picture of a North African homeless. But he didn’t bother anyone. Even when he awoke, stood up, and stumbled to another part of the garden.Beside me, just on the other side of the fig tree, were two boys pretending to be men. They smoked cigarettes, played music, and took selfies.

But when the homeless man got up and walked away, the boys gawked at him. Then they whispered something to each other and snickered.

I was angry. If the man had bothered them, I could have understood the sentiment to mock him. But as it was, the man had done nothing to deserve anything less than their respect. And yet they laughed at him. How dare they!

While I was still high on my judgment throne, God asked me, “Who do you laugh at?”

Me? Laugh at someone?

How many times have I amused myself at the expense of another? In short, who do I look at and tell myself I am better than they? Maybe it’s not the homeless man. But it could be the boys smoking cigarettes. And really, does that make my pride any less hideous than theirs?

On a roll

If I would have been Elijah, 51 more people would have died.

When Ahaziah, King of Judah fell through a lattice and lay sick in his bed, he wanted to know if he would live. “Go, inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron,” he told his messengers.

But on the way, Elijah intercepted the messengers to give the king a word from the Lord: “You shall surely die.”

King Ahaziah wasn’t happy with this meddling in his affairs and he sent out a captain with his 50 men to fetch Elijah from where he sat on top of a hill. Elijah responded by calling down fire from heaven and consuming the 51 men.

But the king didn’t give up. He sent another captain and 50 men. These also were consumed by fire from heaven.

And still King Ahaziah didn’t give up.

If I had been Elijah and seen the third party of 51 men approaching me, I would have sighed, “Yes, Lord, I know the routine. Fire from heaven.”

But the third captain fell on his knees and pleaded, “O man of God, please let my life, and the life of these fifty servants of yours, be precious in your sight.”

Elijah had executed God’s will on the former two occasions. Why would God want anything different this time?

That’s why I say that if I had been Elijah, 51 more people would have died. Or at least I would have attempted to call down the same fire from heaven. I would have been on a roll.

I often think about this story when I’m tempted to make a “policy” on how to treat a certain category of people: persistent beggars, inappropriate men, meddling taxi drivers, aggressive women, etc. Yet, God showed Elijah the Tishbite how important it was to listen to His voice in every situation. Likewise, God may want me to say a certain thing to one aggressive woman and want me to keep silent with the next. The point isn’t to get energized by being “on a roll” but to listen in each situation.

Yes, always listening can be exhausting, especially when we hear commands we don’t want to obey. When Elijah heard the angel of the Lord say, “Go down with him; do not be afraid of him” it may have crossed his mind that calling down fire from heaven would have been less of a hassle. But he still went. He still listened.

(2 Kings 1)


Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

What if you were Soukaina?

Have you ever stepped into someone else’s shoes and tried walking around in them?

Soukaina is sixteen years old. She lives with her parents and two year old brother in a poor neighborhood of a bustling North African city. In that tiny, sixth floor apartment, personal property and space are out of the question. She doesn’t have her own bedroom. In fact, there is only one bedroom for the entire family.

She usually attends school but spends her free time on the streets. She gets in trouble for bullying neighborhood kids. Her parents send her out of their way, but paradoxically rebuke her for spending too much time on the streets.

Her father is diabetic and doesn’t have a job. Her mother works herself to the bone six days a week. Her little brother follows her around and gets into everything.

To get anyone to listen to her, she has to yell. Sometimes, it’s just easier to hide. Once, she said, “I don’t like to live here. There are many bad people.”

Yet, she is loved. Despite the abstract and irregular displays of affection, her parents love her.

So what if you were Soukaina? Well, what if you were? What would your life look like? What choices would you make?

I’m not asking these questions so you can recognize your privileges or count your blessings. I’m asking you because looking at the world from someone else’s perspective makes you better capable of loving them.

Unashamed of our offerings

A few weeks ago, a friend read us the story of the woman and the copper coins (Mark. 12:41-44). As we sat around the room listening to the story, we saw the Teacher and His disciples watching the procession of people drop their dutiful percentages into the offering box.

And in the middle of the clanking coins of the proud and wealthy, we saw a poor widow approach the box and drop in her two small copper coins.

I had always pictured the widow creeping up and hiding her flushed face as she dropped in her offering. But if she was trying to hide, she would have done a better job than to let the disciples see the value and count the number of coins that had dropped in.

Maybe she wasn’t embarrassed at all. Despite the wealth and the substantial giving of the others, she was unashamed to bring her offering to God. And why should she be ashamed? She gave God 100%; she gave “all that she had to live on” (Mark 12:44).

I want to offer my life like she offered her two copper coins.

WhatamIdoinghere

WhatamIdoinghere
And whatwasIthinking
To expose myself to rejection
And the stinging unknown.
WhatamIdoinghere
And whatwasIthinking
To make myself vulnerable
To a broken world,
Tasting its pain and distress
Hearing the cry of the oppressed.
WhatamIdoinghere
And whatwasIthinking
To let my soul experience
The piercing emotion that comes
From living a full life,
Allowing my will to battle strife,
Petitioning for souls at heaven’s door,
And understanding love more than before
WhatamIdoinghere?

The pattern of practical loving

Sometimes I don’t know what the practical side of love is supposed to look like. And by the practical side of love, I’m referring to loving those in need. Is it really even “supposed to” look like anything, as if it were a consistent pattern? 

This is on my mind because today on my way to the store, I saw the same beggar that I always see on the way to the store. As usual, she sat on the sidewalk, her swollen feet outstretched for passersby to take pity on her condition.

I smiled and greeted her. Her face lit with an almost-toothless grin. She cackled a greeting in return and asked how I was. She wasn’t expecting anything more from me than what I gave.

So what did she really want? Was it the couple of coins I could have dropped into her hand? Was it the groceries I could have bought for her? Or did she really just want eye-contact: to be treated like a normal person, to be loved instead of patronized by a stranger?

When I walked back out of the store, I had nothing for her except another smile. And she was ready with that same brilliant grin. What I had given her was all she wanted from me today.

Perhaps the only consistent “pattern” in practical loving the fact that one is loving.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Matt. 22:37-40

Aisha- part 2

Aisha was waiting for me on my way to school the next day. And the next. And every morning that I had the early hour of class. Because of her, I began to recognize the network of house workers who met regularly to chat on the way to their respective jobs.

Although I was glad for the chance to practice conversational Arabic, I still was unsure of what she wanted from me.

The day she had invited me to stay at her house grew closer. Because of my apprehension, I managed to whittle the overnight adventure down to a day trip. On the Friday before, we rehearsed what would take place on Sunday: I would meet her at the same place under the berry tree across from the bus stop at 11:00 a.m.

I don’t think she believed I would follow through with the plan. She tried calling me five times while I was in church. And when I finally answered, I was on my way to the meeting place.

“I’m coming!”

She spewed a string of sentences I couldn’t understand, but what I assumed to be a reason that she was behind schedule.

“Okay. Okay. No problem. Okay.”

And I waited under the berry tree until a taxi pulled up and honked. Aisha was in the backseat, bouncing in her excitement. She grabbed me in a warm embrace before I had the chance to close the door behind me. And she talked, one rapid sentence after another, often missing the fact that I didn’t understand.

The taxi wound through the new city, behind the old city, and up up up on a hill. There was no containing Aisha’s joy as she led me out of the taxi and into her world.

It was the first bite of a day full of exquisite North African hospitality.