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#Onelittlething: Who is this man?

Who is this man?

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He crept into the world unnoticed

Disrupted a world gone dark

As a  baby wrapped in swaddling clothes

A carpenter’s son

Fashioning ordinary pieces

In his father’s backyard

Never made in the list of top ten millenials

Or most influential teachers

A king who rode on a donkey

A god who died at the hands of men

A threat to the authorities

Establishing an other worldly kingdom

In a world that needed disestablishment

A silent revolution without guns or arrows

Knives or a  seat at the table

A platform or publicist

An heir who meddled with the masses

And got muddied in their messes

Who is this man?

That they called Son of Man

Hailed and stripped their robes for

Then, turned and spit on

Who is this advocate who would not put a defense

At his own trial

Yet stands by those who have tried

Tested and spewed out by life

Who is this man?

 

#Onelittlething: A king who became a child

Matthew 1 sounds like credits in a movie. It is boring to read and hard to get through. However, a study we are currently doing in church prompted me to go beyond the boredom. The men and women who make it into the lineage of Jesus do not necessarily have royal-worthy qualifications. As I read through the book, I could not help but wonder why these bunch made it into the lineage of the King of the World. Some of them had failed marriages, rebellious children and colorful pasts. Most of them seemed to have missed all the important seminars in the local temple as they cruised through their lives with passions unhindered.

The lineage of Jesus is about God weaving the story of redemption intricately into the lives of men and women who would otherwise not stand a chance. It is grace invading the earth, disrupting otherwise ordinary lives to usher a God who would redeem the ordinary. Grace is God working in us, in spite of us. Grace is offensive, no wonder the Pharisees often walked away angry and offended.

What is grace to you?

 

Scripture reading:

Matthew 1

#Onelittlething: In love with an idol

An idol is not necessarily a small statue cast in bronze or gold. An idol is whatever we love, serve and trust apart from the living God.  That which we love, we value. That which we value shapes our decisions. An idol shapes our hearts and fills them, determines how we see ourselves and how we see others. It is a difficult thing to identify an idol in one’s life because idols are subtle. Sometimes, it takes a storm to rage through the temples we have constructed for our favourite idols to realize that there was an idol in the first place. Sometimes idols are good things gone rogue. Knowledge that is isolated from the One Knows the End from the beginning becomes an idol. Money in the hands of an idolatrous heart becomes a weapon that puts others in their place while elevating one’s place. Self sufficiency , technology, a spouse, children all hold the potential of becoming idols.

Let’s do a simple exercise:

  1. List everything you consider valuable
  2. Prayerfully consider which among these things have become idols

Scriptures to study

Matthew 6:19-24

Luke: 16:13-14

 

 

 

#Onelittlething: Close your eyes

Close for your eyes for a moment. Where would you like to be? Would you like to be on a sandy beach sipping a pink drink and basking in the sun? Would you like to rub shoulders with the high and mighty, have a chest full of names you can drop? Would you like a seat at the highest table, dining and wining as you watch the world bow at your feet?

Open your eyes. Sit up straight. You would probably like a positive note to remind you that all dreams are valid, that hard work and persistence pay. I hate to disappoint but if there is anything to note, it is this: Be careful,  little heart,  of what you desire. Hearts desire and deceive. Hearts conjure wonders of the world and wander away toward a long, winding road of weary pursuits. In all your pursuits and all your dreams, let these little musings follow:

Who am I before I attain my dreams?

Are there parts of my identity attached to an office suite, an account, a name outside of the Name that gives me Being?

Can I pursue all this and remain free of the entanglements that come with it?

Test me, LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my mind – Psalms 26:2

 

 

LEST WE FORGET: OF SAMARITANS, ELECTIONS AND MOVING ON

In a country like ours, our memories are wired to forget quickly. We are, in street speak, a “happening” country. As we speak, few of us remember what it was like to go through two and a half elections. There was a handshake and apologies. In spite of my cynicism towards the political class, I choose to think that there is hope for us. However, my hope is measured and placed beyond the political class. I say that because I remember the prolonged election period.  I was there when they said we should pray for this country. You may have been there too. I heard them say that the effectual and fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. So, we prayed in tongues of men and in tongues of angels. We fasted for days. We hoped and we remain hopeful. We prayed that there would be no violence or deaths. We prayed for a smooth transition and a just election process.

Some of us said they knew God had spoken so they spoke. I stopped in my tracks when I heard those words, not because God cannot speak to people but because that has been used to support selfish, manipulative and out rightly evil actions. The spoken words became a post on social media. A spark was ignited. There were valid questions, measured responses and misplaced opinions. God became a stone to be hurled at the other side. The scriptures became a poisonous arsenal, fired at the perceived enemy whenever it suited us. Tribe and party trumped over love. Love was trampled over in an attempt to be on the “right” side of things. Confusion ensued. Did we hear Him right? They asked. A defense was mounted for “our side” of things. Those who could not take it were marked as the enemies of purpose, progress and the very Power of God. The church, the body of God, lay on the streets, bruised, confused and naked.

We always read the story of the Good Samaritan under the assumption that we are the Good Samaritans. I have often assumed that if I came across a man who is wounded on the streets, I would be quick to attend to him. I would take him to hospital. I would pay the hospital bill, no matter what it would cost me. I assume that the years of being taught the scriptures have had an effect on my callous heart. That the coldness of my heart has been thawed by This Love I profess. The Scriptures say that a priest walked past the wounded man and he found himself an alternative route. In Hebrew, the term kōhēn (priest) refers to an official who was set apart in order to carry out certain duties related to worship. They were mediators between God and the people. Peter, refers to the believers in the New Testament, as a royal priesthood, a chosen people and a special people to God (1 Peter 2:9).

The priest and I share a name and a role. We also a share a response. As we speak, there are internally displaced persons in this country. Women were raped. Homes were plundered and burnt to ashes. Precious lives were lost. It is not news. It happened in 2007, 2013 and in 2017.  How many strangers have we left bleeding as we found ourselves an alternative route? How often have hidden behind our priestly garbs to avoid seeing the bruised man or woman, lying on the street? How often have we refused to see past our preferences, denomination, biases and tribal alliances?

Then, a Levite passed by and saw the man on the street (Luke 10:32). He saw him then went on with his journey. Look around you for a moment. What do you see? Do you see that terrified neighbour whose life will never be the same? Do you see yourself, posturing in prayer and denying your role in healing this land? Do you see the walls you have built to keep the “others” out? Do you see the powers and principalities at work?

A Samaritan passed by and he had mercy on the man. He took it upon himself to attend to him and nurse him back to health. Historically, Samaritans and Jews were like the proverbial oil and water. According to Jews, even their way of following God, was wrong. Jesus said that blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy. Some of us danced on the graves of those who died tragically in one way or another during the election period. Life, we said, could only be valuable, if it was of our “kind”. The greatest lie in these shaky times is that we do not need one another. We are certain that we do not need the ones on other side (tribe, political party, denomination or religion). We are certain that those who are like “us” will meet our every need.  The trappings of our lives deceive us further into thinking we are self-sufficient. Our certainty has stripped our curiosity. We do not want to wander beyond the imaginary lines we must toe lest we find human beings, made in His image and likeness.

We prayed for this country and its well-being but we forgot that a country is only as good as its people. A person is only as good as his heart.  We lifted our hands in reverence of His Power but we shielded our hearts from His power. We repented for the sins of the nation and its fathers only to turn a blind eye to the logs in our own eyes. We raised our hands as the priests only to step back when God required a man who would welcome the stranger, nurse the wounded and love as He loves. We memorized the scriptures like the Levites then let grow stale in our hearts because it did not suit our political inclinations, our tribal alliances, our biases and preferences. Jesus, we said, can have everything, except that which we value most. We are here, a year after a turbulent time. Did the turbulence shake what’s unnecessary out of us or did it barely move us?

The election season revealed to me I am not a Good Samaritan. I do not know how to love past the lines. I am not a good listener particularly when my opinions are being challenged. My vision is blurry because of the layers upon layers of opinion-dressed-as-truth that have formed cataracts in my eyes. More than ever, I am cognizant of how counter cultural the invite to be a Christian (“mini Christ”) is less about belonging to a church or clique and more about being a beacon towards the Light. If the words of this Gospel are to come alive, then the Levite and the priest (after the old order) must die and make room for a holy priesthood (in the new order of priest). This kind of priesthood is not about piety and rites.

It is about deep seated transformation of the heart followed by love that challenges every fiber of my being by its kindness, faithfulness and authenticity. The stranger and the outcast find space in it just as the lady with a sassy mouth and lad with a tattooed body. This love does not respect lines because it is aligned by He who Loved the World that he gave His Son for it. This Love makes a way because He who first Loved us is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

VIEW FROM THE PEW

The god we want performs miracles on demand, sends some via Uber and gives a receipt for e-payments in form of bribes labelled as offerings. The god we want operates under karma. The god of the cross is gracious and just, merciful and loving, slow to anger and abounding in compassion. Give us the god we want, we pray as we sit at the feet of men who mirror the gods of our hearts. Give us the god we want, we pray.

I am seated in line, yawning and planning the ultimate show down between the attendant and I. I have been seated here for the past two hours. My fellow bench warmers are gnashing their teeth. We are not allowed to use our phones in this waiting room. The screens that are supposed to display the person who is next in line are not working. One gentleman disappears from his booth. The other three are staring at their computers. From the blank expressions on their faces, I am convinced that they are playing Candy Crush or some other mind numbing game. The queue has been growing longer while the pace at which we are being served has been on a sharp decline.

It is a working day. I told my workmates I would back in a few. It seems I am growing roots here. Add a little bit of water, the lack of a digital distraction, the pent up anger from being cut in traffic and you have the perfect cock tail for a World War III. Okay, that’s a bit far-fetched but you get the drift. Being patient is not on my list of things to do before the day ends. We chit-chat with my fellow bench warmers. One lady with gaudy make up has been here before. She knows the drill so she fills us in on how it works. There is a bespectacled gentleman on my right who is equally agitated. We agree that the cost cutting measures that have been employed by this service provider are too drastic.

We are busy trying to calm our wrecked nerves when I catch a glimpse of him and his team from the corner of my eye. He stands out from the crowd because of his ragged beard. His team, composed of men in dark suits, hovers impatiently  while waiting for him to be served. They barely speak to one another but when the leader speaks, the atmosphere changes. There is an air of tension, characterized by a dance between reverence and fear. They do not look at him in the eye. They refer to him as “My Lord”, much to the surprise of most of the people in the room. The team is composed of middle aged men but in his presence, they cower and bow. They speak only when they are spoken to.

One of the local dailies recently ran a story about a flashy prophet who is coming to town. Questions have been raised about how he acquired his wealth but he continues to command crowds. Platforms are easily available. We have a spiritual leader on almost every street of town and every web based platform. It is impossible to go out in search of a church on Sunday morning and go home without finding one. For every  two, ten or even one hundred spiritual leaders, there is a counterfeit leader who is faking it till he or she makes it as they like to say.

The story of golden calf begins with an absent priest and gnawing need for a god that could be felt. Moses was up in the mountain. The congregation was at the bottom of it. Moses spoke to God as a man spoke to his friend. The congregation had caught glimpses of him: in the parting of the red sea, in the triumph over the Egyptian army and in the daily portion of manna. They wanted more tangible proof. Don’t we all want a sign? Haven’t we all been at the bottom of the mountain, deprived of the high of Sunday morning music?

As I watch the interactions in the waiting hall between the spiritual leader and his team, the gap between the God who washed feet and the God we want becomes visible. Voltaire once said that God made man in his image then man decided to return the favour. The God who washed feet tarried in his miracles. He ran  late even  as his friend Lazarus lay on his deathbed. He should have built an empire but he did not have  a palace or a home of his own. He refused to perform miracles on demand so that he would live out the heart and will of His Father.

The god we want performs miracles on demand, sends some via Uber and gives a receipt for e-payments in form of bribes labelled as offerings. The god we want operates under karma. The god of the cross is gracious and just, merciful and loving, slow to anger and abounding in compassion. Give us the god we want, we pray as we sit at the feet of men who mirror the gods of our hearts. Give us the god we want, we pray.

Aaron eventually fashioned the golden calf and the congregation danced in jubilation. Unlike the God of Moses, the calf was present and perfect. He could be sought with gifts and pleased with ease. He did not care about the intent of the heart if the price was just right. Our world demands merit. We work in order to get paid. We plant in order to get a harvest. Anyone who wants a job must seek one diligently. The kingdom of God intrudes into our systems. Grace is given freely without merit. Those who are first shall be last. The least among us shall be the greatest. The way up is the way down in the kingdom.

The calf conforms to our meritocratic systems. We ascribe godliness to spiritual leaders who are simply emperors in the making. We mistake authoritarianism for Christ like leadership. We substitute the call to carry our own crosses daily to Him whose yoke is easy with the yokes placed upon us by self-seeking leaders who seek not the one who laid down his life. We want the Messiah to come with a chariot, a chopper and an entourage instead of the lowly king who forsook equality with God for the sake of his flock. We mistake slavitude with servitude.

Our pastors and spiritual leaders could use less flattery and more honesty.  We need to place fewer expectations on them and depend on the Good Shepherd. We need fewer personalities on the pulpit and more shepherds on the pulpit. We need men and women in the pursuit of the Kingdom on the pews and on the pulpit. We need intentional communities where every believer matters, where the least are seen and heard. We need to lay down our lives for Him who gives Life in abundance and not for the sake of another symbol of our “arrival”. The kingdom of God is a subtle invasion: yeast making the bread rise, a seed gradually growing, a hidden treasure, a king on a cross. May it overthrow the gods of my heart and yours.

TURN RIGHT, THEN LEFT

Turn right, then left

Head towards the door at the end

Open it with caution

Walk in confidently

Success awaits you

Abundance shall greet you

I was twenty one when they said that

Life is what I made it

I turned right then left

The first door was a dead end job

With a stifling tie

A measly paycheck

A pile of debt

That was higher than the mountains I wanted to scale.

I turned left then right

Left my dead end job

For a start up in the valley

A hoodie and a pair of sneakers

That kept me up till six in the morning

Crappy coffee in the teeny-weeny space

We called an office

Dreams bigger than Google

Ideas that would change the world

Overthrow government

Put cash in our nimble hands

I was twenty five when the start up crashed.

Competition, cash crunches

Angel investors did not want it

My business partners bolted

Failure is good, they said.

Turn right, then left, they said

As I popped pills to postpone my demise

Work smarter, not harder

Learn from it and grow

Darkness rising

Rising faster than the start up

Accelerating my steps towards the abyss

Begging for my undivided attention

Turn right then left

I was twenty seven when I went home one day

Tired, afraid and alone

I turned left then right

And never woke up again.