Category Archives: Mission

My faltering, step-at-a-time seminary path

When I started my Master of Divinity at Africa International University five years ago, I didn’t necessarily expect to graduate from here or with this degree.

Graduation cap (2)

Uncertain when graduation will be held with the COVID crisis, I pulled out an old grad cap and new kente. Why wait to celebrate? PC: Josh Chard

God called me to ministry while in student leadership of my college InterVarsity chapter. Like Gideon, I put out fleece after fleece, only to find the same patient and persistent God he found. Despite my ambivalence, mentors offered to tutor me in Hebrew and church history, enlisted me in pre-seminary and spiritual writing groups, offered me church internships, gave me writing opportunities, and urged me to take an all-expenses-paid visit to Fuller Theological Seminary.

I’d planned to stay in the Twin Cities after graduating, but my gut wouldn’t let me settle. Then God called me through a stranger over Skype to a one-year internship working on the Africa Study Bible, living in my parents’ house back on AIU’s campus. I told my pastor my five-year plan, including going to Fuller after a year, and he laughed at my illusion of control. After all, he’s the one who had shared Isaiah 42:16 with me: “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.”

After a year, my internship turned into a job offer. Meanwhile, my curiosity about classes at AIU had been piqued, and I was already living on campus. Having spent that year researching whether women could preach and teach for my book, I felt more confident about my call. Formal training seemed like the next obedient step, and having the expected professional degree (MDiv) would fortify my credibility as a woman in ministry. My employer offered me part-time hours and support for part-time studies. Committing to a three-year degree half-time sounded daunting with all the unknowns and possibilities of my twenties ahead, but I figured I could transfer credits if I ended up moving away or getting married (you never know!) before I finished. I selected classes that also fit the shorter MA in Biblical Studies requirements. I switched into that degree at one point, redid my internship requirement, but then switched back in time to log those hours as an independent study.

People often perceive me as a bright, confident, and driven go-getter. So why all the uncertainty and backup plans? Maybe I was still resistant or just growing into this call. Maybe it was unconscious girlhood messaging prioritizing marriage or portraying my ministry role models as supporting their husbands’ callings. Maybe my resolve to follow one step at a time was based on past experiences of God surprising me with a labyrinth twist in my carefully planned path.

The past five years have included plenty of uncertainty and challenges. Administrative changes to credit hours, thesis requirements, and the grading scheme. Navigating how, as a foreign single woman, to get to know my classmates in culturally appropriate ways and fend off a couple creeps. Staying on track despite stress at work, a busy travel schedule, or personal loss. Pushing myself too hard and hitting the wall. Resonating with my Reformed classmates’ love of the Bible, and yet feeling excluded from their circle and churches by their complementarian views. Wrestling with how debates that could be purely intellectual for male classmates had high stakes for me: either risk disobeying “biblical” boundaries or risk defying God’s call. Wondering what my purpose was at seminary when I couldn’t grasp Hebrew conjugations. Constantly cultivating connection given my family’s return to the US and the turnover in my social circle of international, young adult, or student friends. Walking through a dramatic church crisis, from warning signs to the painful aftermath to the church search.

But through his Word and his people, God faithfully gave me courage to keep going and guidance for the next step.

Mentors solidified my callings to preach, teach, and write. My homiletics professor described how he and his wife co-pastored for decades and often told me, “You’re a preacher!” My advisor equipped me with a great book and affirming feedback in an independent study teaching at the Bible school where I grew up in Tanzania. The deans there entrusted me with a full elective course and even sat in on some of the lessons. I learned from the example of two North American missionary kids and single women that people like me can teach theology in Africa and respectfully empower local scholars. Four professors encouraged me to publish papers I had written in their classes or recommended I present at academic conferences.

My parents were a constant sounding board. My employer continued to offer me flexibility and support. My fellow volunteers on the youth ministry team welcomed me, gave me constructive feedback, and helped me identify a teaching gift. The amazing ladies in my Bible study prayed me through each hurdle. The assistant chaplain kept inviting me back to preach. Classmates spurred each other on. Not to mention all the family members, friends, and colleagues who empowered and cheered me on. You know who you are. Thank you.

I now find myself at the end of an MDiv from AIU, much more confident in my calling. The extravagant levels of support I received remind me of the words of Hebrews 10:24-25: “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us… encourage one another.”

Maybe it’s my turn to pass it on. To anyone out there tentatively considering stepping out into God’s call – whatever that is – pay attention to your delight in serving, your love of God’s Word or God’s people, and what your cheerleaders see in you. If you want to talk it through, give me a holler. “The path is made by walking,” as they say. Often, you’ll be surprised where you end up when you just take that next step.


The God Who Sets Us Free From Slavery (video)

If you’ve been a little distant from God, longing to be part of a bigger story, or wishing for home, Moses can relate. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the evil in the world or need someone to save you from yourself – this is for you. Let’s rediscover a loving, powerful God together!

If you enjoyed this, check out how I kicked off our church’s “Rediscovering God” theme talking about creation (here) and then the image of God (here) – or check out the next video on the law (here).


Relational Rulers

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They say I have my father’s nose,
My grandpa’s eyes,
My mother’s hair.
Could it be that my behind’s
The only thing that’s really mine?

~”They Say I Have…” by Shel Silverstein, p. 75 of Falling Up

Why did I start with that funny poem about family resemblance? Because today we’re going to read the very first poem in the Bible, and it talks about how we resemble our Heavenly Father.

This year we’re on our journey of discovering God, but as we do so, we’re also going to learn about ourselves and our place in this world that God created.

Last week we talked about how God created the heavens and the earth. And we stopped reading in Genesis 1 right at the point where he created humanity.

Today, we’re going to zoom into that moment. This is the first time our kind shows up on the scene. Creation stories of many cultures are intended to tell us about who we are as humans, our place in the world. And I’m sure you have all noticed from watching your favorite movies or series, or your reading favorite books, that the first time a character is introduced, we learn something essential about who they are that will affect the rest of the plot line. So today we get to focus on humans. Who are we? What is our place in this world God created?

I’ve given it away in my sermon title for today: “Relational Rulers”. Let’s start with relational.

Relational

Let’s read Genesis 1:26: “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness.'” Woah. Stop there. Where is this “us” coming from? Who is talking?

We have a few hints. First, God is speaking. The Spirit of God is also present, because in verse two, “The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters”. Later, in John 1:1-5, the Bible tells us that Jesus was there too.

In Genesis 1:1-4 we read last week:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.

John uses “the Word” to refer to Jesus. John deliberately echoes the language of Genesis by starting his gospel with “In the beginning”.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.

Next, John echoes the language of God speaking the words “Let there be light” and bringing life by talking about Jesus as the Word, life, and light.

Through him all things were made, without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

So today, many Christians understand “Let us make mankind in our image” to refer to God as the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, which we call the Trinity. This is one God, but with three persons, each distinct from each other.

This God has forever been in relationship. For example, there has been a father loving a son and a son loving a father forever. So when John later says that “God is love” he’s not just exaggerating to make a point. Loving relationship is actually what defines who God is.

The Trinity sounded like a stale theological doctrine to me until I heard what Michael Reeves has to say. He points out that if God were a solitary God as in some other religions, he might have created us because he was lonely. He might have needed someone to love him, worship him, serve him. That kind of God would be inherently needy, capricious, and have infinite desires that would be impossible to please. Have you ever known a parent or a teacher or a friend like that?

But God doesn’t create us because he is lonely. God has always been in relationship. God doesn’t need any of us to fill any lack in him. Instead, God creates out of an overflow of the love in the Trinity. How freeing this is for us!

Now, maybe the impatient child in you is asking, ugh, why are we talking about God! I wanted to get to the part about me! But this is about us. This is the God whose image we are made in! So we somehow resemble this God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We see this in the very next verse, verse 27:

So God created mankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.

This is the first poem in the Bible. How cool!

Right away, it mentions that mankind is made male and female – distinct, yet both equally human. It mentions these two because God created male and female for relationship. And out of the overflow of the love between male and female, they create new life. Do you notice already how we reflect God’s image?

We will talk more about how this applies to our relationships next weekend in honor of Valentines’ Day. But what I want us to note is that we reflect the God who is love. So we are made to love and have relationships.

Rulers

This sermon is about Relational Rulers. We’ve talked about how we are Relational, so now let’s talk about how rulers. And no, I don’t mean meter sticks!

Let’s read verses 26 to 28 in full (emphasis mine).

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.

“So God created mankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.”

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth [so far that part is the same as what he said to the birds and fish – but now we get] and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

The concept of ruling over, subduing that’s unique to humans. And it’s clearly part of the image of God, because God says that’s why he creates us in his image. That’s his purpose in doing so.

We’re different from what we rule

He has made us different from the animals and plants, the birds and fish that he wants us to rule over.

We don’t really see other creatures doing work. Yes, they do the basics they need to find food, a mate, and shelter. But they don’t develop things. We have developed language, culture, families, towns, nations, disciplines of knowledge, fields of work… we have been creative workers. God has given us capacity to think, to create, to feel, to be creative. God has given us the tools we need to do the job he’s assigned us of ruling over creation.

We read part of Psalm 8 last week, but I want to read the full Psalm to show us how he explores the position God has honored humanity with (emphasis mine):

Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.

Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Do you hear the language there of being “crowned” like a king? That’s not an accident, because we’re actually exercising the authority of a king in that ruling.

Reminders of the king’s rule

Last week, we discovered that God is like a king, assigning roles in his kingdom to each part of creation. Now, this king is delegating authority over that kingdom – to us!

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King from carved East African chess set

In Bible times, kings would also set up statues in parts of their kingdoms that were far away, where people wouldn’t get a glimpse of the king himself, and they would call those images of the king. They were reminders of the king’s rule over that territory.

It reminds me of how in Tanzania, all government offices and even all businesses must have a framed photo of the President hung at the top of the wall. This is a reminder that this territory is under the authority of the government of Tanzania.

So when the Bible says we are “the image of God” it means we are like statues that remind the earth of God’s rule. Interestingly, later in the Bible, God will tell his people that they must never make idols or statues, which he calls “images” of him – because he has already made images of himself in us!

How do we rule? Delegated authority not tyrants

The way that the Psalmist celebrates our position or the words “rule” and “subdue” might make us think that we can exploit creation and do whatever we want with it. That’s unfortunately what we’re seeing the consequences of in our politics and environment today. But in Genesis 2:15 we get another picture of what this ruling looks like: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it”. It’s about caring for, kutunza in Swahili. Our rule should be caring, not tyrannical, because we’re ruling on behalf of a loving God.

God the king gives us authority to rule, we don’t rule on our own authority. We don’t deserve our position, as the Psalmist reminds us. It is a gift.

If you had a farm in the countryside but you lived in Nairobi, you probably would have someone to manage it. Or suppose you owned an apartment complex. You might appoint a property manager. That person has a lot of authority on the farm or with the construction team or the renters, but only because they represent your authority, and it is understood that they are carrying out your wishes.

We are simply stewards and managers, we are not the owners. In fact, we are owned by the same God who owns creation.

Jesus reminded people of this when they came to ask him a question about taxes. There were some people who wanted to trap Jesus. In Mark 12:14-15, they asked him, “Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” It’s as if some Kenyans under colonization were saying, it is right to pay taxes to the British or not? The Jews hated paying taxes to their colonizers, because it was like accepting that the Romans had a right to rule them. But if Jesus said they shouldn’t pay the tax, he could be labelled as an anti-government rebel. Continuing from verse 16, Jesus said,

“Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

And they were amazed at him.

pxfuel.com(4)Give to Queen Elizabeth what belongs to her, what has her face on it, what her Central Bank created. But you and I – we don’t belong to any power on earth – God created us, and God owns us all.

We should not rule over animals, plants – or over other humans – like tyrants. God’s image is stamped on us all.

Can you imagine how history would look like if we believed our job was to care for each other and care for our environment? If we remembered that God owns us and we owe everything to God? Can you imagine what our world would look like now?

Jesus shows us how to rule

Jesus wanted to help us imagine that reality. It’s not just that Jesus talks about the image of God. He actually is the image of God himself. Colossians 1:15 calls Jesus “the image of the invisible God”. That is why when he came, he talked so much about the kingdom of God. Like the statue reminding people of the king’s authority, he was trying to establish the kingdom of God on earth, showing people what that looked like.

Jesus didn’t finish establishing God’s kingdom on earth, but when he comes back, he will. Then, we will be rulers with him over a new creation, a new heaven and a new earth.

We were created to work

In the meantime, God wants us to participate in establishing his kingdom on earth. That sounds very spiritual. But what does it mean for us?

When God tells us to rule, he’s really telling us to work. That’s what God’s rule looks like. How does Genesis describe the king’s rule of setting up creation? Six days he worked, and the seventh he rests. This is a pattern he later prescribes for humans. God’s orderly, creative, good, and sustainable work is a pattern for our own. Our work is a way that we reflect God. This is our original calling as humans.

Sometimes this doesn’t feel like a high calling. Sometimes our work environments are frustrating. We think we need to go into ministry or missions to really serve God and do something spiritual, or at least escape the stress we’re dealing with. It’s true that our work has become more difficult as a result of sin. But even before the fall happened, God created us to work.

We know this deep down, because when you have a productive day, or when you come in from a sweaty manual job, you feel good. There’s a sense of satisfaction in accomplishing something. There’s also a sense of alienation when you’re unemployed and don’t have any self-employment, because that’s not the way things should be.

God intended us to participate in caring for and developing his work of creation.

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Mural from Burkina Faso

As relational rulers, our relationships and our work aren’t just what we do to pass the time and survive. We’re not animals. We’re image bearers. All of us have a call from God in our families, in our workplaces, in our relationships to demonstrate who God is.

Now, agricultural work is the most basic type of work, but I also think we can apply this to other forms of work. Which of these could apply to your field of work?

  1. Steward the earth
  2. Sustain life (farmer, stay at home mom, baker)
  3. Bring order (administration)
  4. Bring justice
  5. Communicate truth
  6. Show compassion
  7. Think and reason
  8. Create beauty
  9. Build from or develop raw materials
  10. Heal

Share with someone else how you reflect the image of God in your work. Then ask them to pray for one way you want to bring God’s kingdom in your work this week. Your work can include school, caring for family, cooking, or anything productive you will do this week!

This sermon was originally preached at Abundant Life Community Church in Kenya. For the previous week’s sermon, click here. The next one I preached was on the Exodus, available here.


It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over

Last year, when I was burned out by my church crisis, I really resonated with Elijah. I recently wrote a narrative sermon for a seminary class sharing what I learned from his story.

We’re going to watch a clip from the end of the movie Avengers: Endgame. For those who haven’t seen it, (spoiler alert!) ultimate bad guy Thanos wants to destroy the planet by snapping his fingers while wearing a glove with the all-powerful Infinity Stones. He finally has acquired all five stones, and he’s minutes away from snapping his fingers. The small team of Avengers superheroes are trying to stop him. In this clip, I want you to notice how every time it seems like the bad guys were getting the upper hand, the good guys came back with another surprise:

The good guys and the bad guys

Today we’re going to look at biblical bad guys and good guys in a contest. The story is in 1 Kings 16:29 through chapter 19. Yahweh, the true God, is trying to get back his people Israel’s allegiance, because they are worshipping Baal, the false God. The good guy is named “Yahweh is God”: Elijah. He realizes Israel is at risk of being sent into exile for their idolatry. He’s desperate to prove to them that Yahweh, not Baal, is worthy of worship. The leader of the bad guys is Jezebel. Her father’s name means “Baal exists”. She comes from Tyre, where they worship Baal. When she married Ahab, the king of Israel, she made it her objective to promote only Baal worship everywhere. They are fighting over the allegiance of Israel, represented by Israel’s king Ahab, who the Bible depicts as “limping” or “dancing” with one foot in each camp. They’re go to whichever campaign rally is giving out free t-shirts.

Yahweh challenging Baal on his home turf

The story starts with Elijah challenging Baal on his home turf. Baal is supposed to be the god of thunderclouds and fertility. Every year during the dry season, he dies by the god of death. Then during the rainy season, another god resurrects him, and he brings rain and crops. So Elijah says, “As the LORD, the God of Israel lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word” (1 Kings 17:1). If what Elijah says happens, it will prove that Baal is dead and powerless for several years, but Yahweh lives. Sure enough, it happens.

But wait, will God let his prophet die in the drought? This is the first time we see: it ain’t over ‘til it’s over. God provides a brook and ravens to drop off fresh meat for him twice a day. In Israel back then – just like some Tanzanian villages I’ve visited – only a chief would eat meat twice a day. But Elijah was eating like this in the wilderness, in a drought being fed by the equivalent of carcass-picking marabou storks.

But then the brook dries up. God, will you let Elijah die? But – say it with me – it ain’t over ‘til it’s over. God tells Elijah to challenge Baal on his home turf again. He heads straight for Jezebel’s homeland, where he asks a widow in Zarephath to cook him her last flour and oil into mandazis. Imagine the drought we had in Kenya several years back and asking someone in Garissa region to cook you their last ugali flour. But unlike her countryman Jezebel, this widow obeys the prophet of Yahweh, even though it costs her everything. And God miraculously refills her oil and flour, so she and her son don’t die either. God cares for the widow and the needy and his prophets in Baal’s own territory. Ouch!

But then the woman’s son gets sick and dies. Elijah prays, essentially asking God, “Will you let this generous woman’s son die?” But say it with me! It ain’t over ‘til it’s over. And God performs what I believe is the first resurrection in the Bible! Baal can’t resurrect himself, but Yahweh is resurrecting a sick little boy!

Despite all these proofs of God’s power, the famine doesn’t seem to be winning Israel or Ahab over. So Elijah proposes a contest to challenge Baal on his home turf in full view of Ahab and all Israel. Elijah and the prophets of Baal meet on Mount Carmel, which archaeology shows was still a site for Baal worship until 200 AD. Since Baal is the god of lightning, Elijah says they will each built an altar, kill a bull as a sacrifice, and whichever god sends fire from heaven will obviously be the real god. Team Baal tries frantically all day and nothing happens. Elijah douses his altar with water, giving himself a handicap, and as soon as he prays, WOOSH, fire from heaven consumes even the water, the soil, and the stones of the altar! OH SNAP! TAKE THAT, BAD GUYS!

Israel worships Yahweh. They start chanting: “The Lord – he is God!” That’s literally Elijah’s name, remember? Elijah’s imagining he’s like Ironman saying “I am Ironman” [snap]. He’s thinking, “Mission accomplished. Baal is defeated. Yahweh is vindicated. Israel is saved. Peace out!” The false prophets are killed, the rains return. This is the happy ending, right?

Evil’s comeback

But Elijah forgot something: It ain’t over ‘til it’s over. Elijah may have won the people’s allegiance from Baal for a moment, but they are always dancing between two opinions. And evil lady Jezebel won’t go down without a fight. Furious, she calls in the big guns. She vows that her own gods can curse her if she doesn’t kill Elijah in the next 24 hours.

Elijah is totally blindsided by this plot twist. 1 Kings 19:3 says, “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.” Literally. His superhuman race was a bit longer than a half-marathon, but now he flees to the opposite side of the country, Beersheba, which is 173km away – that’s as far as Nairobi is from Nakuru, on foot!

Elijah ditches his servant and lays down to die in the desert: “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life” (1 Kings 19:4). What? Israel’s fearless prophet is suggesting that following God isn’t worth it anymore? The whole time we’ve been asking, “God, are you going to let your prophet die?” and now it’s like the enemy is playing mind games to make him self-destruct!

Like Elijah, I felt burned out when my former church was straying away from God. I felt like the only one pointing out these problems. God did something dramatic (not quite Mount Carmel). I was relieved, but after the adrenaline rush, I realized how wounded I had been in battle. Why did God ask so much of me? I felt disillusioned. I read Elijah’s story. And I realized the crucial moment is what happens next.

The Moment of Truth

Let’s read 1 Kings 19:9-10:

9 There he went into a cave and spent the night.

And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

Strengthened by God, Elijah travels forty days and nights to Mt Sinai. This is where the covenant all started, with Moses on this mountain for forty days and nights. Here, Elijah complains that Israel has abandoned the covenant. God responds.

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

During the Exodus, the wind blew and made a path through the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21). There was an earthquake and smoke when Moses received the ten commandments (Exodus 19:18). Elijah had just seen fire on Mount Carmel. But none of these changed Israel’s hearts from their idolatrous ways. Elijah knows that much. “But Mount Carmel was the battleplan! How could the people not believe after that? I’m out of big ideas. And I’m not enough!” But then… there’s a whisper. But Elijah doesn’t seem to notice.

14 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

The people of Israel’s hearts were as stony as the first set of tablets Moses broke. But Elijah is surprisingly stubborn too. His encounter with God doesn’t change a single word of his answer either.

15 The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. 17 Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. 18 Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”

Elijah has assumed that he and his battleplan were Israel’s only hope. If he died, Israel is doomed. God seems to correct him: “First of all, you’re not the only one left.” We already saw Obadiah in chapter 18 had saved some prophets from Jezebel. God says he’s about to raise up two kings and a prophet to succeed Elijah. Plus, there was a faithful remnant of 7000 believers. From this chapter, Elijah won’t be the star anymore. Two more prophets will confront Ahab before the end of 1 Kings.

Second, we learn that Israel is too stubborn to be saved from the consequences of their idolatry. Next time we see Elijah, he’s confronting Ahab for his worst sin yet. Jezebel has influenced him even more. Israel is spiralling downwards. Even Elijah is too stubborn to obey what God tells him. He never anoints either of the kings. He anoints Elisha, who finishes that task. Despite his superpowers, he’s not the ultimate hero. Before the end of 2 Kings, this northern kingdom of Israel will indeed go into exile.

Where’s my happy ending?

Where is our happy ending? Has evil won? No wonder Elijah was disillusioned. We are left with an unfinished work and an uncertain prophet, wondering, is God going to bring his people back into covenant allegiance to him?

But it ain’t over ‘til it’s over. Elijah missed the whisper. The Exodus and the law and the prophets hadn’t finished the work. But someone was coming to fulfil the law and the prophets. There where the old covenant on stone was broken as soon as Moses came down the mountain, God was whispering about a new covenant on fleshy hearts. In the New Testament, God would unveil his glorious new battleplan on another mountain to Moses and Elijah – the transfigured Jesus.

Elijah wasn’t the Saviour. But he didn’t have to be. There will another prophet who will be put to death, who will say “It is finished!”. There will be another widow grieving her dead son – not from Zarephath but Nazareth. And then – the son is resurrected! The word of God is vindicated.

Elijah got discouraged in the desert because he thought this was the endgame. He thought he was all alone in the fight and he wasn’t enough. But God was trying to tell him his story was only page 554 out of 2177. He wasn’t the star of Avengers Endgame. He was just Peter Parker in Spiderman 2!

Don’t Worry, You’re Not the Messiah

Can you identify with Elijah? When you turn on the news, perhaps you mourn how far your nation has strayed from God’s will. Powerful leaders like Ahab kill innocent people, steal their land, pocket the people’s inheritance. Perhaps you have been battling corruption where you study or work. Like Ahab, people will even sleep with the enemy if it is politically expedient. Perhaps you’re seeing people misled by false prophets, people trying to cry louder, dance harder, and shed more blood to get their miracle today. Perhaps you see so many people dying unjustly of famine, disease, and domestic violence. You wonder whether God is really sovereign over life and death. People keep ignoring God despite our prayers. We think there is a breakthrough, only for things to get worse. Maybe you just want to give up.

But remember: It ain’t over ‘til it’s over. No matter how many comebacks evil makes, in the end, the good guys win. God resurrects even when it seems the dark powers death have won. Yahweh is God!

You, dear friend, are not. You are not the Saviour. You will fail, and you will leave things unfinished. You are not enough, but you don’t have to be. Because you are not alone.

That’s what I learned from Elijah’s story. When I was burned out, I left my leadership role in the youth ministry. As my friend used to say, “Jesus already died.” I didn’t have to kill myself in the ministry. I wasn’t the only one left, so I handed over to the Elishas there. God still had a very good plan for that church, but I had played my role. And I regained hope in God’s redemptive plan.

On your seats, you’ll find a prayer that has encouraged me when I’m overwhelmed. If this message resonated with you, consider praying this each day this week. For now, let’s read it together:

Prophets of a Future Not Our Own excerpt from homily by Fr. Ken Untener

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.


God’s #PressforProgress: the 2016 US election to Intl Women’s Day

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Just before the US Presidential election year and a half ago, I wrote an article for Red Letter Christians entitled “Gender Equality Can Win in 2016”. I said:

Being a Christian means I believe in the good news. It’s not plastic optimism. I am convinced my God is big enough to redeem any mess for a good purpose.

I even see Jesus at work in this election.

I’m not going to say God supports any candidate, but when it comes to gender, God is using the fact that a woman is running against a sexist for a leadership position to raise awareness about gender equality. Women are sharing their stories of sexual assault on Twitter…

Right now, God wants to remind us that women and girls play a pivotal role in the direction of nations. Educating girls, empowering women economically, and ensuring the safety of God’s image-bearers is not peripheral to the gospel. It is how we proclaim to the world: there really is good news for you.

Looking back, I still believe that God used that election to press for progress in an unexpected way. A sustained awareness movement spanned the globe. The momentum of #MeToo has blossomed into sexual assault survivors speaking out, with the silence breakers becoming Time’s 2017 Person of the Year. Now the movement has led to Time’s Up, which includes legal support for harassment cases.

God is still redeeming negative situations for good. God is still at work through you and I. Let’s keep praying and working for progress along with our very big and good God.

Click here to read the rest of my article on Red Letter Christians. Or check out my book about the Good News about Gender.


Impossible with God: The Africa Study Bible launch

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Coworker Nyambura and I celebrate a big achievement & our big God

To be honest, there were times I doubted we would ever launch the Africa Study Bible.

A study Bible is the most complex possible type of publishing project. The layout must juggle the Bible text, notes, cross-references and more. You have to print on very thin paper with special printers. And all the notes have to be extremely high quality theologically and grammatically because they’re bound up with the Word of God.

But this was more than a typical study Bible. We designed six different types of unique features to connect the Bible to Africa, so we had to teach our writers to see the Bible differently as they wrote. And no one has ever produced a study Bible with 350 contributors, much less from 50 countries writing notes in 5 languages.

Compared to this task, our resources were tiny. Our small organization had to invent the entire project management infrastructure from scratch for this unprecedented feat. We wanted the top scholars, respected pastors, and influential ministry leaders from Africa involved, so they all did their part on top of their normal busy commitments. When a writer missed a deadline, it could be due to power outages, malaria, or bereavement. We struggled to find writers from some countries because they were facing civil war or religious persecution.

At one point, I was incredibly overwhelmed with a sense of personal responsibility for the project. After a late Skype call with colleagues, I walked home and put my briefcase down on the grass outside my house. I looked up at the stars and cried. “God, I can’t do this. This is your project. You started it. I surrender. You’re the only one in control. If you get this project done, I’m going to give you all the glory, because there’s no way we can do this on our own.”

On days when it looked impossible, I jotted down how God was at work and reminded myself of the end goal. I couldn’t think as abstract as discipling the continent, so I literally pictured the spine of the Africa Study Bible on my bookcase. “This will get done,” I said to myself. “One day, I will be able to hold the finished product in my hands.”

On March 30, the Africa Study Bible was launched to the world!

Church leaders from all the major ecumenical groups, leaders of several Christian ministries, and seminary scholars gathered in a hotel ballroom in Nairobi, Kenya. Guests and ballroom alike were decked out in African colors and patterns. We sang together, “When Jesus came down from heaven, he landed in Israel. When there was trouble, he came down to Africa. So we must praise him – praise him in an African way!

I rejoiced to meet contributors in person who I had emailed for months. I couldn’t help but notice that the 350 seats in the room represented our 350 contributors. The few empty ones reminded me of so many who had been involved in the project – our French writing coordinator, half of our review team, key editors…. They would attend the Ghana, US, Nigeria or South Africa launches. The little taste made me hungry for our complete reunion in heaven.

As we celebrated the momentous occasion, we remembered where we had come from and where this was going. A youth pastor gave a devotional, highlighting our African Christian heritage from Augustine to his grandma. He reminded us that youth are the Africa of today, not tomorrow – and this Bible roots them in their identity and the word of God. A government minister for education spoke of his vision for using the Africa Study Bible as a key resource as they reform the national curriculum to teach children values. Christians from three generations passed a kerosene lantern along, praying that the Bible would illuminate hearts for years to come.

Then the unveiling. Lights dimmed and pulsed. Young people robed in red Maasai shukas and traditional kanga wraps danced in to a drumbeat. The audience stood and clapped along. The ribbon was cut, the veil was lifted, and the larger-than life Africa Study Bible twirled around like it had jumped into a dance circle. We sang a Nigerian song with hands and hearts lifted, “Imela! Imela!” Thank you, my king!

After all the celebrations, my US and Kenya coworkers went out for a relieved and grateful dinner. Laughing around the table, I realized these people have become my people, almost family. Yet we might never all eat together again until the kingdom of God comes again. We sang a hymn before we departed: Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

When I got home, I put my briefcase down on that eventful spot of grass and took off my shoes. Hands up and teary eyed, “You did it, God!” I jumped and spun, dancing under the stars. “Hallelujah!”

And when I went inside, I opened the pages of my very own copy of the Africa Study Bible.

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Destined to edit books for the church in Africa

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Our missionary family “prayer card” – about a year after my salvation

Last month, I moved into a new associate acquisitions editor position at Oasis International. Over the weekend, I realized that God has been preparing me for this for twenty years!

I moved to Tanzania as a two-year-old and grew up there as a missionary kid. When I was four – exactly twenty years ago this weekend – I decided to follow Jesus. I don’t remember it, but my dad recently unearthed his old journal and came across the night I became a Christian. Earlier this year I noticed the file on my computer, realized this would be twenty years, and decided to celebrate my “re-birthday.” So I read over what my dad had written:

October 22, 1996        Hannah is 4

Dear Hannah,

I want to write this now for you to read later so you can remember what happened tonight. Tonight at bed time you wanted to read your Swahili book and they you wanted to read a book that your Sunday school teacher at the PEFA church next door gave you awhile back. (We had never read it before.) It was in English even though he only speaks Swahili. It was about heaven and hell and a little African boy named Mutu having salvation explained to him. You and I had talked about heaven and that Jesus died for us and what that means.

My dad writes that he explained the gospel in four-year-old terms and we prayed for my salvation.

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Mutu’s story might have come from this Christian bookstore in my hometown in Tanzania

I shared this story with a friend, who noticed, “Books have been part of your story from the beginning.”

“Wow, I never thought about that. This was even before I was reading on my own. But I guess they have!”

And as I thought about it more, I realized that it wasn’t just any book. It was a Christian book written in English, contextualized for Africa, distributed to me through a local pastor. It was exactly the literature that Oasis creates and distributes! Jesus saved this little American-African missionary kid through the same work that I do now!

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Editing Christian literature for Africa from my office in Nairobi, Kenya

From there, God weaved the rest of the story together: The second-grade teacher who told me I’d become a writer. The pastoring grandparents who always gave me Christian books for my birthday. The many childhood visits to village churches. My preteen years on a seminary campus where my friends biked to the bookstore for candy, browsed the shelves, and made our faith our own. The last-minute English major in college and the unexpected call to ministry. An Oasis job opening after graduation asking me to move back home to Kenya – literally to my parents’ house. Getting sick of Pulitzer winners and discovering African fiction. Multiple people randomly telling me last summer that I should go into acquisitions editing.

How does God do it? Not only saving me and continuing to affirm our relationship as I grew up, but designing the way I was saved to chart my destiny? I’m so in awe. I felt like I stumbled into this path, but what a comfort that God has known all along where we’re going!

So all I do is echo Ephesians 3:20: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”


Can writing about equality right gender-based violence?

I missed the registration deadline. Plane tickets were sold out. The hotel was fully booked. The leadership training was full. Over and over, I almost missed out on the “Truth Be Told” conference in Johannesburg, South Africa. So when I arrived, I knew God must have something special in store.

I was very excited – my book Good News about Gender was launching at the conference! But I basically expected to stand at a booth, sign some books, hear cool speakers, and collect a wad of business cards.

Well, was I in for a surprise! I ended up with several posts-worth of revelations (so stay tuned for the next two)!

img_1878It was no mistake that Christians for Biblical Equality and Gender Equality Matters hosted a conference in South Africa with the theme “Truth Be Told: Speaking Out Against Gender-Based Violence.” South Africa has high rates of sexual assault and domestic violence, but many of its neighbors also look to South Africa as a leader in economic development.

Yet as we saw in the conference speakers, post-apartheid South Africans are also highly conscious that ideas of inequality lead to discrimination and violence. “Ideas have consequences,” Mimi Haddad emphasized. She told the story of evangelical social justice activist Katharine Bushnell, who emptied brothels in the 19th century only to find them full the next day. Eventually, Katharine realized she needed to work “upstream” by tackling the theological misinterpretations that justified gender inequality.

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It sounds obvious, but this conference reminded me that gender-based violence is the natural and nearly inevitable consequence of beliefs that women are inferior to men. Adv. Thuli Madonsela (above) explained that when we create a hierarchy where some people – simply because of the bodies they are born with – deserve a better life than others, then anyone who steps out of “their place” threatens the system and must be subjugated with violence. You cannot believe that women are in any way subordinate to men and yet expect them to receive equal treatment in society. Remember “separate but equal” in US history?

Suddenly I remembered why I wrote Good News about Gender. It wasn’t just to advocate for myself or defend my call to ministry. Sometimes I get tired of complaining about gender issues when I have a very privileged life in so many respects. But I realized that the reason I have such an amazing life is because my parents, my grandparents, my university, and my church all lived out the belief that women have equal value to men. My education, employment, and self-esteem is a testament to the effects of egalitarian views.

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And my egalitarian upbringing is also why, when I saw women and girls in my church or school be mistreated verbally and physically, I knew they didn’t deserve it. It just took me a decade to figure out that the Bible was saying the same thing. Now I realize that, to the extent that my family and my society believed in equal treatment, they did so because they thought that all people were created equal, that is, made in the image of a Creator. Our practice springs from our ideology. In Jesus’ words, “Each tree is recognized by its own fruit.

Writing Good News about Gender is not just a drop in the bucket compared to all the direct-service work addressing gender-based violence. And it’s not a trickle-down effect that leaves the masses thirsty. The reason the theology of gender equality looks small is because it’s upstream. Downstream, justice flows like a river.

…but that’s not all I learned at the Truth Be Told conference! Follow me to make sure you hear the rest of the story!


No Fail Too Epic

"Head in Hands" by Alex Proimos

“Head in Hands” by Alex Proimos CC 2.0 via Flickr

Moving from one country to another, I’ve often identified with Jacob’s prayer for God’s protection and provision as he runs away from home. But just lately, the earlier part of Jacob’s story in the Bible challenged me.

While Jacob and his twin Esau are in the womb, God tells their mother Rebekah that the older brother will serve the younger. As soon as Esau leaves the womb, it is clear that Jacob is the younger. Jacob is chosen by God before he is born. He does nothing to deserve that blessing.

Yet the rest of his life he keeps acting like he has to earn it. He acquires a firstborn’s inheritance rights by taking advantage of Esau’s hunger. He tricks his father into blessing him, again by feeding a family member at the opportune time. Then he runs away from home because his brother is angry enough to kill him. He works for his uncle Laban, using superstitions methods to increase his herds. When he meets Esau again, he sends ahead a parade of pacifying gifts. He had asked God for provision and protection, but when it comes down to it, he trusts his own conniving.

Yet God keeps turning these mistakes and selfish actions towards his initial plan – to make Jacob into a nation. Maybe if Jacob hadn’t been such a grasper, God’s plan would have happened in a straightforward way – perhaps receiving blessing without a brother’s death threat. But God gave Jacob the freedom to take the inefficient path to blessing if he so chose. Or maybe God knew all along how Jacob would acquire the blessings. But God chose him anyway.

Jacob’s sons weren’t born in happy succession either. Jacob was tricked into marrying both of Laban’s daughters – two rival sisters. Leah and Rachel kept bearing sons as a way to compete for the affection of God and their man. God used the family’s trickery and rivalry to birth founders for the twelve tribes of Jacob, also called Israel. Perhaps another way would have fostered more brotherly love. But then maybe they wouldn’t have sold one brother into slavery in Egypt, who strangely later saved them from famine. Maybe Israel would have starved before it got started.

Why did God use selfish tricksters and jealous siblings to build his people? It’s not a great fireside story about a nation’s founding father.

Or maybe it is. Maybe the point is to remind God’s people that they would keep trying to help themselves, but they didn’t need to. That even if they went wrong, God was committed to his end of the deal. As long as they were his people and he was their God, he would recycle their mess in super creative ways.

I am scared of messing up. What if I don’t choose the path God has for me? We fear the wrong college, career path, or relationship. Why did I do that stupid or selfish thing? Surely God can’t work with me now.

But God can. God wants us to obey him because it’s a lot better for us in the long run. I’m not saying that we can turn our backs on God or that we will avoid all consequences for our mistakes. But our actions do not make such a big difference that God can’t transform them for his own ends. We keep thinking we have to earn everything, but God gave us his love and forgiveness before we did anything to deserve it. If we’re sincere about wanting to follow God, he’ll work everything out for our good in the end. We can trust that things will go according to the plan of this God who controls everything. We are free to try and to fail and to fall into a cosmic net of grace.