Tag Archives: hope

We Can't Breathe: Eric Garner, Advent & Grace

We Can’t Breathe: Eric Garner, Advent & Grace

In recent years, I’ve commemorated Advent, the four-week season that leads up to Christmas. It’s been a great time of reflecting on the story of the birth of Christ and the celebration of the coming of the Messiah to rescue humanity.We Can't Breathe: Eric Garner, Advent & Grace

The interesting thing about Jesus, and something that Advent so powerfully recognizes, is that the rescue He provided is progressive. In Advent, we celebrate the rescue that came, the rescue we live in now, and the rescue that is still to come…the ultimate rescue we long for. We look back on His work on the cross, we contemplate the salvation He is working in us now, and we anticipate His return to restore a broken earth still suffering from the impact of sin.

And in the middle of this season, I can’t help connecting all that Advent represents with the state of America right now. As the grand jury decisions in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y., have sparked anger, outrage, protests, and debate, we are seeing a groaning rising from the earth. There are plenty of things that can distress our hearts. There are plenty of things in this fallen world that cause us to long for Jesus’ return. Some of those things are obvious to all believers, and some of those things are obvious to all mankind (such as human trafficking, terrorism, etc.). But the events of Ferguson and Staten Island haven’t caused a universal distress.

I can’t breathe.

I won’t lay out all the background of why the black community (and those who sympathize with it) see police officers escaping indictment for lethal force as such an injustice. But understand that there is an inbred distrust of law enforcement that goes back generations. It comes from the experiences of our grandfathers, our fathers, ourselves, and our children.

I can’t breathe.

We have seen too much injustice. We have seen law enforcement officers receive grace for their mistakes while the mistakes of our brethren are fatal. We have seen a justice system we are told to trust disappoint us time after time. So we groan:

I can’t breathe.

Our struggle is like that of Advent. Our rescue has come. We have seen the dismantling of institutional racism in this nation. We have made progress. We have a twice-elected black president. We have increasing opportunity and influence. We are experiencing rescue. But we realize we are still broken. Still disproportionally in poverty. Still undereducated. Still looked upon with suspicion (whether we have a degree, own a home, and make more money than those profiling us). So we Advent. We yearn for a rescue. A rescue the president, justice system, nor any civil rights leader can provide. Writer and Pastor Winn Collier’s words on Advent ring so true:

“Advent first pierces the cold air as a desperate groan from those living at the jagged edges, from those who taste sorrow’s bitterness, those accustomed to the crush of disappointment, of fear. Advent comes first for those who have made a wreck of things, those who carry a legitimate complaint, for those whose existence teeters on the brink. If you do not know any pain, if you have no yearning for what is not yet true, if you have no pang of grief for your sorrow or the sorrow of another…if there is no raw, raspy voice somewhere in the hollows of your soul that every now and again whispers into the ravaging night, God, please…Please tear the heavens and come down… then some of what Advent offers will always stand remote for you.” – Groan, by Winn Collier

The groaning of the black community in America today is not an African-American groan, it’s the grown of mankind. It’s the groan of broken people who make mistakes, sin, and carry anger yet believe in grace and yearn for grace. It’s the groan of people who realize justice might be blind, but it isn’t always colorblind. It’s the longing for the just and righteous One who looked into the eyes of the adulterous woman and said “go, and sin no more,” instead of consenting to the lethal force of the authorities. Our world is broken. Our justice system is broken. We are broken. So we yearn. We Advent. Desperately, we Advent. Oh, Come Emmanuel.

We can’t breathe.

 

 

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We're Not God, We Don't Have Answers

We’re Not God, We Don’t Have Answers

Sunday night I was stunned and saddened to find out, via Twitter, that Dr. Myles Munroe, a renowned pastor and leader from the Bahamas, died in a plane crash along with his wife and seven others. I loved listening to Dr. Munroe speak. His teaching was so profound, insightful, and inspiring. And he always had a smile on his face when he preached, so he felt welcoming.We're Not God, We Don't Have Answers

Though I haven’t heard Dr. Munroe in a while, and haven’t read any of his books (he’s written or co-authored about 100), his tragic death hit home for me.

When untimely tragedies like this happen, we are forced to contemplate difficult questions of life and faith. Unfortunately, we don’t have proper answers to the questions.

I read several post on social media following news of Dr. Munroe’s death Sunday, with some people saying the pastor had finished his assignment and that his work on earth was complete. Those words are often used to help the mourning come to terms with their loss, but I question the accuracy of it.

How do we know Dr. Munroe’s assignment was complete and his purpose fulfilled? It might have been, but it might not have been either. Surely he has done more than most to advance the Kingdom of God in his lifetime, and he lived a full life. But just 60 years old and en route to a leadership conference, Dr. Munroe could have still done plenty more and impacted more lives.

I don’t know if Dr. Munroe’s time was up and he was just ordained to die on that day. But neither does anyone else on earth.

We like to have answers. Maybe we think it will help us sleep better at night or deal with difficulties in life. Maybe it’s just part of our culture, or just human arrogance that we need to know why. But I’ve found God rarely gives us answers despite our myriad questions. And He does it for a reason…faith.

We just have to trust Him. Trust Him when He tells us to do something that makes no sense. Trust Him when we experience an inexplicable tragedy. Trust Him in life, and trust Him in death. We don’t need answers, we just need Him. And though He never promised us answers, He has promised His presence.

Our theology — no matter how profound, historical, researched, spiritual and biblical — is inadequate to provide reasons and answers to difficult things of life. We do more harm than good when we try to give an explanation for everything.

God has the answers, not us. In our immaturity, we probe Him for answers. But in our maturity, we realize He is the answer. And that is enough.

Death is always a hard thing to process. And I don’t fault people seeking answers in pain. There are two great perspectives on death and mourning I highly recommend. First, my friend Jordan Rice, who lost his wife to cancer a few years ago, has written beautifully on this topic. Check out his blog post: Trapped in the Grip of Grace. Second, to go deeper on death and the hope after it, N.T. Wright’s book Surprised by Hope is an excellent and profound read.

 

 

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photo by Andre Delhaye via compfight

5 Lessons From My 80-year-old Self

On the heels of writing some tips to my 18-year-old self, I was thinking of what advice I could use now. If my older self,

photo by Andre Delhaye via compfight
photo by Andre Delhaye via compfight

say the 80-year-old Kevin, could give me some guidance on navigating life from here on out, I wonder what he would say? I wonder what lessons, tips, and words of wisdom he’d share.

He’d probably start by saying I know less than I think I know right now. Then he’d say my future is bright and I become filthy rich (OK, wishful thinking there).  Most of all, he’d probably focus on regrets he has and how I can change my life to avoid them. So here are five things my 80-year-old self would tell me to live a fuller life:

SPEAK YOUR MIND

You tend to be cautious, young Kevin (yes, you’re still very young). You speak up when needed, but you’re guarded with your words. You’re diplomatic by nature, which has been helpful in gaining friends, bridging gaps, and defusing conflicts. Yet, your opinion needs to be heard more — unfiltered and direct. It will catch people off-guard, and it may hurt some feelings, but as long as it’s done in truth and love, it’s worth it.

BE SILLY

There’s nothing more beautiful in life than being able to laugh at yourself. It’s more natural for the youngest and oldest among us, but it’s something you need to rediscover and embrace. Laughing is one thing, but being able to make a complete fool of yourself — and awaken the silliness in others — is a moment you’ll never forget, trust me.

TAKE RISKS

You’ll never regret taking a risk. Do they all pay off? No. Is there embarrassment or discomfort in the moment? Yes. But looking back, taking a risk was always the right decision. Risks always result in either the outcome you desire or a lesson learned. The only thing that holds you back is fear. And you’ll find out what you fear most about risks never happens. The greatest risk of all is the risk not taken.

SPEND TIME WITH PEOPLE YOU LOVE

You’ve been telling yourself to do this for years, and you’ve gotten better at it, but remember this: You can never spend too much time with the people you love. No one ever reached 80 years old and said, “You know what, I think I spent too much time with loved ones.” Take every second and every minute that they give you. Too many people let work, school, church, chores, sports, Scandal, and social media get in the way of real relationships. By the way, Facebook, Instagram, and Olivia Pope won’t last that much longer anyway. If your loved ones are really loved, prioritize time with them.

SAY ‘I LOVE YOU’ OFTEN

Those three words mean the world to people, Kevin. They don’t part your lips enough. The people you love — which include pretty much everyone — need to hear it. You’ll regret not saying it enough. Your words are sincere. You only say what you mean. If there’s anything people should remember about you, it’s that you loved them.

Enjoy the journey, young Kevin. You’ll be OK. Oh, and get off Facebook!

What do you think you’d regret most at an older age? What are some changes you can make to avoid those regrets?

 

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nadia's book

Living in Faith Every Day

The following is an excerpt from the forthcoming book “The Past is in the Past So Let It Pass: For Women” by Nadia Atkinson. It’s a compilation of testimonies by 16 women about their journeys in finding Christ.  

“…For I will surely deliver you, and you shall not fall by the sword; but your life shall be as a prize to you, because you have put your trust in Me,” says the LORD.’ ”

Jeremiah 39:18 NKJV

Tell me what was your life like before Christ? nadia's book

Before Christ, I lived a life with no direction. I believed that the only person that guided my life was me and those around me. I hung around people who lived a negative lifestyle, and even had those people around my child. I lived a promiscuous and dangerous lifestyle, and at the time, it was fun. I didn’t do drugs, but I allowed myself to be around them and allowed them in my home. I was 19 years old with my own apartment thinking I could do whatever I wanted, never thinking about consequences, or the danger I was putting my daughter in.

What drew you to Christ?

There had come a time when I had hit rock bottom. I was about to be evicted from my home and I needed help and none of the so-called friends that I had around me every day could help me, nor could any of my family members. Everyone had an excuse as to why they couldn’t help me. It was then that I realized that I could only depend on Christ. I don’t remember exactly how it was resolved, but it was from then on I decided I would never put my faith in man again.

What made you decide, the day you were saved, that that was the day to dedicate your life to God?

I became saved when I was young. I attended church on a regular basis due to my mother and stepfather making it a requirement. I said the words and I prayed the prayer, but I never really took it seriously. In my mid-twenties, I was dating a gangbanger who I thought was a great guy but had the bad boy thing going for him that I loved. I never thought that I would ever see that bad boy side of him. One day I decided I was going to check his voicemail on his cell phone, and I did. It was easy because men never use passwords that can’t be guessed. Well I told him I did, and I don’t know what he thought I heard, but there was something on there that he didn’t want me to hear. I confronted him about a girl’s message that was on there, but he didn’t care about her message, he was just angry that I checked his messages. He threatened to kill me, and knowing that he was capable of doing just that, I was scared. He knew where I lived with my daughter and he knew where my family lived. I left my home for about a week. I was staying at my best friend’s house who just so happened to live across the street from a church.

The following Sunday I attended one of the services at that church. I prayed and I cried like I had never prayed and cried before. I promised God that I would change my life if my life was spared in this situation. I dedicated my life to Christ that day and I meant it with my whole heart.  When the service was over, I felt a weight lifted off me, but I wasn’t going home just yet. I went back to my friend’s house and she told me that while I was gone a lady knocked on her door to get help because she was having car trouble. Now my friend lived in an apartment complex, so the lady could have knocked on 10 others doors that were around my friend’s house. My friend welcomed the lady in to make a phone call. Before the lady left, she told my friend I don’t know what’s going on, but know everything is going to be fine, and then she left. Till this day, my friend has never seen the lady ever again. When she told me what happened, I felt like it was confirmation from God that He heard my prayer and my cries. I went home that night and never worried about the situation again.

If you could save someone by telling them one thing God has done for you in your life, what would it be?

God has spared my life in many ways. There are so many things that could have happened in my life due to the lifestyle I was living such as diseases, homelessness, incarceration, and the list goes on. I am disease free, never have been without a roof over my head, and never been incarcerated. Only by the grace of God was I spared, so I take every chance I get to tell someone to go to God and He will see you through.

 

Nadia is a small business owner in NJ who is God-fearing, trustworthy, and a student of the Word of God. She loves reading, writing, praise and worship, food, the beach, learning about our universe, spending time with family, giving advice, and being in love. You can order her book here.

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photo by Michael Yan via compfight creative commons

The Blessing of Hope

By Kevin Howell

photo by Michael Yan via compfight creative commons
photo by Michael Yan via compfight creative commons

There’s a misconception of what it means to be blessed.

Blessed is a common word used in church, and we often invoke it when things work in our favor:

“I was blessed with a job.”

“I was blessed with a car.”

“God blessed me with a house.”

“God blessed me with a spouse.”

“God blessed me with ____,” (you can fill in the blank).

Though those things can be considered blessings, they are not the primary example of blessing according to scripture. To be blessed means to be fortunate, well off, or happy. And though the aforementioned things certainly make us happy, we can create a culture within the faith that ties the idea of being blessed solely to receiving some sort of gift from God (or someone else).

So, if you don’t have a job, a car, a house, a spouse, or other things you desire and see others with, then you’re not blessed? Maybe according to modern-day church culture, but not according to Jesus.

I’m no theologian, but when I read the words of Jesus, I see a much different definition of blessed, none clearer than in Matthew 5.

Those whom Jesus described as blessed aren’t people we would considered blessed in our culture: poor in spirit, meek, those mourning, and the persecuted. Furthermore, Jesus didn’t call people blessed based on what they had or received, He called them blessed because of what they will receive.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matt. 5:3-10)

The blessed shall be comforted, shall inherit the earth, shall be filled, shall obtain mercy. Being blessed is based on a hope. Not on something you possess, but on the hope of Christ and His promise. It is a matter of faith in Him, realizing Jesus Himself is the blessing. It’s not the gift, it’s the One who gives. Therefore, being blessed is independent of what you receive.

Even if we look at our forefathers (men and women) in the faith, we see blessing isn’t based on what they had. I think we’d agree the Apostles and other disciples of Jesus were blessed — they walked with Jesus after all. But Paul nor Peter never said they were blessed because of what they had. They were blessed because they were in Christ, children of God. Even during persecution, even during lack, even during trials, they were blessed because their blessing was based on hope, not their current circumstances.

The hope they had was in Jesus and the kingdom of heaven. It’s the same hope we have today. The hope of peace, provision, and all the kingdom of heaven is composed of. As singer David Crowder put it, “It is the hope in a rescue that has come, the hope in a rescue that has found us, and the relentless hope in a greater rescue that is still coming.”

So regardless of whether you’ve been given the things you’ve been believing for yet or not, you’re blessed if you’re in Christ. And you have a hope and bright future in Him.

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