How To Deal With Those Pesky Beggar Kids in Nairobi

“These street kids are everywhere these days, it is like an infestation.”

Those were the words that left my lips last Saturday at our weekly community group meeting. A few gasps followed the sentence, and then nervous laughter. Someone volunteered an explanation: “we have a doctor in the room, and the word ‘infestation’ carries a lot of weight in the medical world.”

Perhaps “infestation” was a strong word, especially since I was using it to describe human beings. I was talking about the surge of street kids in Nairobi and how they seem to have filled every nook and cranny of our city and the government is not doing much to control them. I was complaining about how most of these street families have been found to be nothing but con-artists feigning poverty to enrich themselves by manipulating the compassion and generosity of unsuspecting Kenyans. Honestly, I have grown to feel towards them the way I would feel towards pests and parasites, hence my choice of words above.

I was in the middle of explaining why I have become so cynical lately that I seldom pay any attention to any child who approaches me on the sidewalk and says Continue reading

FOLLOW ME

 

Photo courtesy: nonprofitrisk.org

Photo courtesy: nonprofitrisk.org

FOLLOW ME. Two words that sound so simple yet are so radical. Actually, they sound foolish. If someone came to me and asked me to leave my job and family and “follow me”, I would first like to know what he is offering and whether it, not he, is worth following.

The sages of history gave us philosophies and principles and life tips. They acknowledged that they were mere men and the best they could do its point us to the truth that even they could not attain. None of them ever said “follow me.” Maybe “obey me”, and sometimes “trust me”, but never “follow me”. The great teachers knew that even they could not perfectly live up to the utopian truths they preached.

They tried, but their flawed humanity got in the way. They failed so miserably that the wisest of them opted to be only pointers to the way, not pioneers. They knew they would fail us miserably if they asked us to watch them as models and judge their words by their actions. Furthermore, only a fool would think his or her role model is perfect. We follow people for a particular aspect of their life, not every aspect.

I follow Max Lucado for his writing prowess, not necessarily for his theology (which I also have no major qualms about). I follow John Piper for his theology, not his sense of humor.

Photo courtesy: lockingshields.org

Photo courtesy: lockingshields.org

Even on Twitter, we have very narrow and specific reasons for following someone. I follow Maria Popova for updates on the latest posts on her awesome website Brain Pickings. I could care less what she had for dinner or where she will be going for holiday. I follow some people for their humor, some for their opinion on politics, and others for their satire. I never follow anyone for everything about them.

In leadership classes, one of the great  lessons is that a good leader is one who follows, one who admits his inadequacies and is not afraid to help. A good leader “leads from behind.”

But then Jesus comes and says “follow me.” The audacity! But the call gets even more radical when we see what Jesus is asking us to follow him into: pain, suffering, alienation, tears… and some mysterious victory that seems to always “feel” out of reach.

Jesus stands apart from the rest of the world changers and thought leaders. Jesus does not point us to higher truth or philosophy and say “follow that”. He does not tell us to rely on the principles he preaches. On the contrary, he tells us that all the tips, the proverbs and all the philosophies he teaches are nothing without him. To benefit from his wisdom, we must first follow his person.

He calls us to follow Him, not just his teachings and his philosophies and his great words of wisdom.

He calls us to follow Him, not just his kind acts and his great missionary works and his altruistic actions.

He calls us to follow Him, not just on Twitter but in our homes and our workplaces and in our sufferings.

He calls us to follow Him, not just on Sundays or on Easter or in the half an hour morning devotion slots.

FOLLOW ME. Sounds radical? It is. Sounds too good to be true? Well, it is both too good and too true, no wonder very few people do.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24

The Storm Rages On…

On this day five months ago, I got down on one knee and asked her to marry me. She said yes, and I placed the rock on her finger. A few weeks later, at the beginning of this year, I stood before a group of fellow Christian journalists at our monthly Inter-Media Fellowship meeting and thanked God for her.

“Last year, she said ‘yes’, and this year, I am praying she says ‘I do’,” I said confidently as the room filled with applause.

forgivenWell, it’s four months since I said those words, and I have to face the reality that she won’t be saying ‘I do’ this year. At least not to me. Somewhere between then and now, a series of tragic events led to a heart-crushing break-up about two months ago. She is no longer my fiancee, and I am no longer her fiance. We had dated for five years.

I have lived with this reality for months now, and I have not been able to confront it publicly until now. I have only told a handful of friends about the break-up, and even then, the details were shaky. Many of you will find out through this post if you didn’t suspect it already. I was determined to keep this rock in my chest intact. I will not be vulnerable. I will not break. I will go through the death of this relationship without shedding a single mournful tear. I will be fine.

Well, I am not fine, yet. And no, I am not going to divulge the details of the break-up on a blog-post. I am sorry to disappoint you. This is neither the time nor the place. Some things are better left to the discretion of a few trusted friends and family.

Which is why I still don’t understand how the first people I alienated after the break-up were my closest friends and family. I guess it’s because I am a rock. I like to be in control. Vulnerability doesn’t suit me. You can come to me with your woes and worries but don’t expect the reciprocal. I am a rock, and I was determined to stay that way. After the break-up, I immediately broke contact with my closest friends. People tried to reach me to no avail. I ignored calls, sent one-worded replies to texts and basically made it clear I did not want to talk.

Most people find it difficult to live through the break-up by having to explain what happened and the reasons to friends. But I found it difficult to just admit that there will no longer be a wedding. I could not even tell the men who would be standing beside me on my wedding day! I was too proud. Too self-conscious. Too self-preserving. A rock.

Which doesn’t make any sense. How can I keep something like a broken marriage engagement from my closest friends? How did I expect to see that play out? To be honest, I didn’t think it through, and I didn’t care. To keep myself busy, I buried myself in work. My editor has been singing my praises. I became an outstanding reporter within a few weeks of working in the newsroom. I wrote stories fast, well, and with the enthusiasm of a toddler who was high on sugar. This rock needed a mask, and the mask of work fit me perfectly.

But I could only keep up appearances for so long. I was not going to avoid and evade my friends forever. Soon, I will start bumping into them. Soon I will have no choice but to confront the reality of what happened between me and her. I will have to re-live and truly mourn, the bad break-up. The rock will soon have to crumble. Storms have been known to weather away even the hardest rocks.

As I type this post, I am slowly realizing the man I had become over the weeks of hiding. First, I began to detest fellowship. I stopped going to my usual church because, among many other reasons, I was not ready to confront the inevitable barrage of questions. Then I stopped reading my Bible, the burden on my conscience was too much to bear. I had long stopped praying by then. I did away with listening to sermons and reading books that got too close to my heart

I hated the person that these mirrors of truth reflected back to me.

I hated the selfish heart I saw reflected in my Bible.

I hated the proud heart I saw reflected in many sermons on following Christ.

I hated the songs that always moved me to repentance because I knew Jesus would not have half-hearted repentance from me.

It became impossible to love Jesus and avoid the church, so I avoided Jesus too.

This rock stayed away from The Rock.

And it gets worse. I will not go into the details, but I will tell you one thing, it is impossible to embrace Christ when your hands and feet are running away from Him. There’s no faking it with the Creator of the universe. You cannot outsmart Him. Luckily, you also cannot outrun Him. These words from a spoken-word piece I wrote some years back seem more relevant now more than ever:

 

 Stuck at the intersection of all the men I could be,

I look up to the heavens for guidance.

Yet my eyes look at Him with great avoidance,

“Good-riddance” crosses my mind, I want to dance around this bind, and daily pretend that I am blind,

I am hoping to leave this maze behind, Cos I am amazed that He’s so kind, amazed that am one of a kind, dazed that I am no longer blind, fazed by His love that binds.

I have seen God’s hand, but I am struggling to take it,

I can see God’s love and I am ready to receive it;

But I’ve sinned so much, I am tempted to reject it;

 

If you’re waiting for a deep, transforming conclusion that will wrap up this post, you will have to wait a little longer. There is none today. I end here, acknowledging how tired I suddenly feel. I thought there would be some relief in writing this down. I always feel better when I write things down. I guess today is different. I know what God wants me to do. I know I need to go back to the Gospel and let it wash over me once more. I need healing. I need Jesus. But this only sounds like empty ideas than a reality to me right now.

I can see the rock flaking, but it still feels too difficult to break.

Sigh.

Loving the Enemies We Make

It is an assumption we always make when we read bible passages about loving our enemies, turning the other cheek and blessing those who persecute us. We assume that we are always the victims. When we read such passages, we tend to see ourselves as the innocent target to the slap or the accusation or the insult.

cheekBut the truth is that more often than not, we deserve it. At least I know I do. For instance, not so long ago I lied to a friend, and through that lie, made her an enemy. She “found me out” and I paid the price by not only losing her trust, but also her friendship.

Now, of course I asked for her forgiveness and repented of my sin before God. Ideally, that would be the end of that. But reconciliation is much more complicated, and much less Utopian.

Chesterton once said that “we choose our friends and we make our enemies”. While it is easy to see how this happens, there is something we deliberately make ourselves blind to — the fact that having an enemy does not always mean we are the innocent party. This victim mentality is a product of our sinful, self-preserving tendencies.

We don’t like to look at ourselves as the guilty ones. Continue reading

Ravi Zacharias on the Problem of Pleasure

I just finished reading Ravi Zacharias’ Why Jesus? Rediscovering His Truth in an Age of Mass Marketed Spirituality, and I found his thoughts on pleasure interesting. This was especially more insightful when compared and contrasted to the problem of pain:

Although I agree that the problem of pain may be one of the greatest challenges of faith in God, I dare suggest that it is the problem of pleasure that more often drives us to think of spiritual things. Sexuality, greed, fame, and momentary thrills are actually the most precarious attractions in the world.

Pain forces us to accept our finitude. It can breed cynicism, weariness and fatigue in just living. Pain sends us in search of a greater power. Introspection, superstition, ceremony, and vows can all come as a result of pain. But disappointment in pleasure is a completely different thing. While pain can often be seen as a means to a greater end, pleasure is seen as an end in itself. And when pleasure has run its course, a sense of despondency can creep into one’s soul that may often lead to self-destruction.

Pain can often be temporary; but disappointment in pleasure gives rise to emptiness… not just for a moment, but for life. There can seem to be no reason to life, no pre-configured purpose, if even pleasure brings no lasting fulfillment. The truth is that I have known people who in the peak of their success have turned to God, and I have known others, drowning in pain and defeat, who seek God for an answer.

Either extreme leaves haunting questions. God alone knows how we will respond to either.

The struggle between pain and pleasure gives spirituality a more defined goal. People in pain may look for comfort and explanations. people disappointed in pleasure look for purpose.

Get the book, it may not be the easiest read (especially the first half), but it has many nutritious nuggets.

Pillars of Prosperity (Sunday@MHC)

Joseph (the old testament one) spent most of his youth in slavery and prison. What do you think is the one item that featured in all of his prayers while in prison? Did he pray for freedom? Did he pray for an easier time? Did he pray for justice? If we only consider a single item that may have featured in each of Joseph’s prayers, we suddenly realize that we don’t have many options. He probably didn’t always pray for freedom from captivity. Now and then, maybe, but not every time. He probably didn’t always pray for justice. What is the one prayer he might have made every time he prayed?

This morning, our senior pastor, Charles Ng’ang’a, preached a message from Deuteronomy chapter 8. The sermon title was “PILLARS OF PROSPERITY” and in order to guard against the dangers of presuming that this might turn out to be another ‘prosperity gospel’ message, he quickly added a disclaiming sub-title: “THE PITFALLS OF PRIDE”. Touche Pastor C. 🙂

“Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors. Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” (Deuteronomy 8:1-2)

rememberPastor C reminded us that the act of remembering is pro-active. That we often forget to remember: “Remembering means not forgetting. Forgetting is not just a lapse of memory, it is a failure to give the lessons of our past a significant place in our present. A failure to guide our choices in the present by the truths learnt in the past.”

The Israelites were urged to remember their wilderness journey because that journey was meant to teach them great lessons, not about the promised land, but lessons about the promise-maker. Using an anecdote from Neil Armstrong’s trip to the moon, Continue reading

I Want to be a People Pleaser

We are hard-wired for justice, and sometimes injustice (when we are the ones on the wrong). We always want mercy for ourselves and justice for others. Self-preservation is the default human-instinct. Darwin defined it as a dog-eat-dog, survival-for-the-fittest, world. This is the reality on the ground, presently. But is this the ideal? Is this what God created us to be? Was efensive, ego-centric and self-prioritizing?

In the beginning, God created man and woman in His own image. The fact that God created is our first clue that to be made in His image means to look beyond ourselves. If God was so selfish, He wouldn’t have made us. He wouldn’t have created other entities on which to lavish His love and abundance on Himself. If God were so self-centered, He would have just been satisfied with creating a mirror.

people_please_222908687Caveat: There is a way in which God must be self-centered, and self-focusing. Because of His nature as Trinity, there is a way in which God has to be God-centered for us, His creatures, to attain ultimate joy. Since we are made in His image, it is in gazing upon His face, and not away, that we become “what we were meant to be” — His. As John Piper puts it, ‘God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him.” And the flip-side to that is that “man is most satisfied when God is most glorified.”

It is while thinking about this aspect of the fallen human nature that people-pleasing came to mind. The popular, psychological, definition of a “people-pleaser” is someone who wants everyone around them to be happy and they will do whatever is asked of them. While this may look like a good thing, it becomes a problem when the person finds his self-worth and validation from the approval of others. They thrive on being needed. To this end (extreme), people-pleasing is bad.

But from a biblical worldview, people-pleasing is not just commended, it is commanded.

This is why sometimes I can’t help but wonder if we take the offense of the Gospel as a license to be unloving and inconsiderate towards those who despise or abuse or simply misunderstand the Gospel. Paul says that it is “the message of the Cross” that is offensive to those who are perishing. It is not the messengers of the Cross that are. Now, sometimes the world cannot distinguish the message from the messenger, and that is a reality we may have to deal with. But the Bible makes the distinction clear.

“By their fruit you will recognize them.” Matthew 7:20

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Galatians 5:23

Jesus illustrated this perfectly by commanding us to “turn the other cheek”, “walk the extra mile” and “give up our cloaks.” These were not just rhetoric devices; they were also pointers to the grace that we are to extend towards others — including those who mistreat us.

People-pleasing is a sin, but pleasing people is not. We are called to live for the good of others, to edify and affirm others – for the glory of God. And this is not just in response to kindness extended towards us, it is also expected of us in response to any unkindness extended towards us. The difference between wordly people-pleasing and Godly people pleasing is that, in the former, we are doing it IN ORDER to gain something, validation, clout, self-satisfaction.

But in the latter, in the Godly people-pleasing, we please others because of who we are – God’s children created in God’s image, validated in the death of Christ and satisfied in the Father’s approval.

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18

PS: The best people-pleasers are God-pleasers.