Three Things I Learnt from Fasting for 72 Hours

awareness

If you are reading this, it means that I’m dead, or am in the process of dying.

I can’t take it anymore..

Need………food…..

But let’s not kid ourselves. I love food WAY too much to part with it.

So I decided, instead, to participate in a cellphone/social media fast for 72 hours facilitated by the New Life Fellowship on the campus of Andrews University.

Here are three things I learnt from this experience:

The beauty of awareness

I found myself being intentionally aware throughout the day. Moments which may have been lost while being distracted by my phone were instead noticed and cherished.

My mom has a favorite mantra for us: “Be in the situation!” I’m glad that it finally got to my head, even if it was only for 72 hours!

I realized how many moments I had previously dismissed or passed over because of my preoccupation with a text or a tweet.

The fast also sensitized me to a special sense of awareness of the Spirit of God. The lack of ‘noise’ allowed me to tune in to the voice of God concerning my ministries, my relationship with others, and my connection with Him.

The fast was a much needed “comma” in the run-on sentence of my life where I could pause for reflection and assessment.

The bliss of prayer

Prayer had become so routine and mechanical for me. I would talk to God in the morning and send him “prexts” (“prayer texts”) throughout the day in my mind when I needed him to come through.
Since the fast, however, I had more time to talk to God just for the sake of talking to Him. Tough times of temptation instinctively would lead me to talk to Him, often out loud.

The fast led me to realize that prayer doesn’t have to be a calling bell for a cosmic butler, but can indeed be a conversation with a caring father.

The bane of dependence

I chose the phone/social media fast precisely because it would hurt. And hurt it.
I felt it more during the final moments of the fast, when I would want to tweet something, update my Facebook status, or text my fiancé.

When I wasn’t able to do any of this, I did feel vulnerable and, or, lost at times. I soon discerned that this was simply one example of many things I was already dependent upon; the fast helped me assess the accouterments which I had acquired and the tenacity with which I was holding on to them.

I would encourage a fast for any serious Christian who wants to take a closer look at themselves, and go farther in their relationship with their Savior.

Here’s a 5-step process that worked for me:

Step 1: Identify things in your life that you simply cannot live without.

Step 2: Prayerfully choose one of them.

Step 3: Delineate a reasonable period of time for your fast from that thing.

Step 4: Do it.

Step 5: Journal what you have learned about yourself, about others, and about God.

Who’s going to do it? If you want to challenge yourself, leave a comment below with what you are choosing to fast from!

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Christmas Confessions of a Third-Culture-Kid

Christmas wont be homeChristmas is painful sometimes.

A significant part of the problem is being unable to identify what “home” really is.

Home is where the heart is, people say. But what if my heart is in many different places? Does that mean I have multiple homes? If so, then is there a place out of all these homes to really call “home?”

I am what they call a Third-Culture Kid (TCK). In short, this means that during my 25-year excursion of this world, I’ve spent developmental periods of my life in multiple countries apart from my place of birth.

Due to the high mobility shared by fellow TCK’s across the globe, home is characterized by a state of intermittence – it is fluid and in a constant state of flux.

I am a case in point.

For the first 12 years of my life, home was the verdant city of Kandy in Sri Lanka. Then till I was 19, the metropolis of Muscat in the Sultanate of Oman was home. Thanks to Uncle Sam and his provisional invite called the “Green Card”, home, since then, has been the United States.

Over the span of the last 6 years, I’ve gypsied from Maryland to Michigan, to Beirut, to Muscat, to Sri Lanka, and then back to Michigan, and will eventually head out to California.

“Where is home for you?”

If you are born and raised in your country of birth, the answer to that question would be pointedly singular and specific. But if you were to ask me that question, I’d state verbatim the previous paragraph supplemented by a geography lesson outlining the nautical distance between Sri Lanka and India and an anthropology lesson clarifying that Tamil-speaking Sri Lankans and Tamil Tiger terrorists from Sri Lanka are NOT synonymous concepts.

Home, therefore, is not where my heart is.

It is where my foot is.

Home is where I make it to be.

Home is everywhere. And home is nowhere.

Christmas, unlike any other season, unabashedly and unapologetically reminds me of home. This morning, however, as I was reflecting on the Christmas story detailed in the Bible, I was refreshed to find that my sentiments regarding home found clarity and purpose in the birth of the ultimate TCK – Jesus Christ.

God became flesh. Divinity was enshrouded in humanity. The One who knew no time was born in it. If there was anyone in history who knew the pains of being away from home it was Jesus.

While families across the globe are reunited with their loved ones during this joyous season, the Reason for the season was separated from his family, not just during his birth but for the rest of his life.

But this separation was not a complete separation. Jesus, through his life, exemplified the life of a human being who was in constant communion to his Heavenly Father. Even though there was a physical separation, Jesus felt the closeness of his heavenly home emotionally, spiritually, and relationally.

As I write this, I’m in California spending Christmas with the ever hospitable family of my significant other. At this time I can’t help but remember the many families who have adopted me in like manner by giving a bed to sleep on, food to eat, and a place to call home.

The warmth and sense of belonging I have received in these places have undeniably alleviated the pain of distance. They have taught me that while I may be physically away from those places I call ‘home’, I am and forever will be connected to them in my heart.

This Christmas I’m thankful for the many homes the Lord has provided for me during the course of my life. I truly have pieces of my heart in each of those places.

I’m also thankful that even though I may be seas away from my family, I am but a prayer away from God.

But above all, I thank God for the promise of a permanent home.

A home where I will no longer be concerned with my next flight away.
A home where I no longer need to validate my identity.
A home where I don’t have to live off of my suitcase.
A home of perpetual joy, light, and happiness.
A home that is not tampered by the vicissitudes of life nor the tyranny of time.
A home whose builder and maker is God.

I won’t be home for Christmas.

For now.

Are you a Third-Culture Kid? If so How do you deal with this concept of home especially during holidays? Leave a comment below!

What I Learnt From Raising $7000 Over 7 Days

old man

Jim* is financially cleared for this semester.

Jim’s bank account is out of the negatives.

Jim can register for next semester’s classes.

Jim won’t be kicked out of his apartment.

Jim has a bed.

A few weeks ago, this was not the case. But through a series of fortunate, yet intentional, events, few friends from my seminary (Joseph McCarty, Robert Dabney Jr, Ashton McFall ) and I were able to raise about $7100 in just over 7 days through a GoFundMe page which opened new possibilities for Jim.

Here are 4 life-changing truths that I’ve gathered from this experience.

1) Leadership is a conversation

Andy Stanley said it well:

“Leadership is not about getting things done. It’s about getting things done through other people.”

I’d like to add that it’s also getting things done with other people. The initial and only plan was to talk to Jim after our class and contribute whatever I could from my personal resources. I was surprised to see 3 other classmates who stuck around after class, and one of them had initiated conversation with Jim even before I did.

To make the long story short, based on what Jim needed, we got our heads together, came up with a plan of action, got on a texting group chat, delegated responsibilities, and the rest was history.

All four of us were united in one purpose: Help Jim.

A united vision coupled with a mutual respect and appreciation for each other allowed us to communicate with each other effectively and implement what we’d planned efficiently.

2) Orthodoxy is not enough

I am currently preparing for a profession which requires me to uphold orthodoxy to the highest level.

I wholeheartedly support our beliefs and what we stand for. But here’s what this experience reminded me:

Orthodoxy is not enough.

Knowing right principles, understanding right principles, and teaching right principles are simply not enough if they don’t lead to right behavior.

Because there’s a difference in being righteous and right-ish.

The existential crisis of learning how to present the gospel in an effective way to others while effectively neglecting to reveal it to a brother seated next to me highly disturbed me. I had to do something and I’m glad that there were others who felt the same way.

I think Dwight Nelson, Senior Pastor of Pioneer Memorial Church, summed it up well:

Orthodoxy without orthoproxy is pointless.

3) Money is not everything

As I mused with a friend who helped move the furniture to Jim’s house, we realized that it’s not Jim who got the most out of the experience.

It was us.

All of us knew Jim as someone always dressed with a smile and filled with joy. He was content.

What we didn’t know was that he had that attitude even prior to us knowing about his predicament! The man was smiling even when he had no bed to sleep on, no money in his bank account, and entirely uncertain about the future of his family.

Interacting with people in many under-developed countries and contexts has led me to believe that some of the happiest people are those who have little to no possessions. They seem to find their joy not in accoutrements of luxury nor in positions of honor but in the experiences shared with those they love.

Jim’s eyes would light up when he talked about his family. They would light up even more when he talked about his God.

Yes, the money paid for more than his needs. But what Jim was grateful for the most was for the friendship of his colleagues. He knew that money can come and go, but the friendships developed and the experiences shared during this time will last a lifetime and even beyond.

4) Choice is a power

The same ‘desire centers’ which fired up when I heard about the Syrian Refugee crises, the Paris Attacks or the San Bernardino shooting fired up when I learned about Jim’s situation.

We wanted to do something. Emphasis on “wanted.”

However, I soon realized that wanting to do something and choosing to do something are entirely different things.

The desire to act and deciding to act are two things.

In our case, we decided to act. Jim’s life changed when we chose to ask him a single question:

what do you need?”

After he responded, each one chose to do their part which resulted in Jim paying off his credit card debt, paying off his financial deficit for his schooling, and getting furniture in his apartment.

If we merely stopped at the desiring, we wouldn’t have been able to do any of that.

The power of choice is easily undervalued, underestimated, and, in many cases, under-utilized.

For Jim, a single choice took him from a desperate situation to a promising one.

For us, that same choice took us from apathy to empathy.

*not his real name.

Why I Did Not Overlay My Facebook Profile Picture

facebook-france-flag-french-paris-900x440

If you were on Facebook this week, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Here are three reasons why I didn’t do it.

1) The problem of selective solidarity

France. Lebanon. Syria. Japan. Mexico.

These were the countries who were severely affected during the same time as France, and yet where were the respective overlays for these countries? Why was the safety check feature, albeit useful, initially enabled for one country?

I wonder: what is the hermeneutic used to determine which country gets the most attention during a given crisis? Is there an ideology that takes precedence over others? (I could get into a discussion about Eurocentrism and the effects of western ideology here, but let’s not).

If I were to overlay my profile pic, it would have been a filter with all of the flags above. But even if that filter was available, I wouldn’t be able to justifiably place it considering the number of countries who’ve had terrorist attacks just this year alone whose flags were not duly celebrated in the name of solidarity.

Besides, will a filter of a particular country be available every time there is a crisis in that land? We’ll have to see.

2) The futility of overlay. 

While some are busy choosing a decent yet flattering pic on which they can overlay the Tricolore, many are busy losing their lives. Families are losing loved ones in critical condition. I can’t remember the last time an overlaid profile pic saved or enhanced these lives.

If I did overlay my picture, I know it’s going to be a matter of time till I change it back to my regular profile pic. What would that mean? Am I no longer in solidarity anymore? What am I trying to communicate to the French?

If I’m one of the affected, here’s what I may say:

Thank you so much for showing support. But if you really want to help, here’s what you can do…

This leads me to my final point:

3) The lack of action

If I were to overlay my profile picture, I better be doing more towards France than a wonderfully coordinated set of clicks. Truth is, I didn’t. Not a single dime was expended from my bank account. Sure, if I’m stuck in a serious rut, and saw my news-feed flooded with a brown sea of Kevin faces, I’d feel something nice. But if that’s all that is done in the name of solidarity, I’m not sure how long that feeling would last.

Here’s why: solidarity without service can seem sanctimonious.

If France was a person, and I overlaid her face on mine, it would be a guarantee that that’s not all I’m going to do for her. If I’m not going to do anything more than passively ride the Tricolore sea of blue,white, and red with my surfboard of a profile pic, I’m afraid that it may only exist to make me look good among my friends.

Recently, a classmate of mine expressed that he was in a deep financial pit. Immediately, a few friends and I started a gofundme page where others could contribute funds to help get on track. I wonder what would have happened if all we did was create an overlay of his face or country and place it on our profile pics.

Don’t get me wrong. My heart aches for the families who have lost their loved ones. Terrorism is an ugly thing; a deadly outworking of the brokenness which inconspicuously exists deep within our hearts.

I also believe that the Christ of the cross is the only One who was able to face evil head on to provide both an answer and solution to it. He cares for the weak, the downtrodden, and the abused. He cares more about the plight of his children more than we do.

So then, if you are a believer, let me leave you with this question:

If God were to overlay his profile picture, which flag would it be?

 

 

pic courtesy: http://www.inquisitr.com

4 Things That Kept Our Long-distance Relationship Going for 4 Years.

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You know what’s super awkward?

Excitedly inquiring someone how their significant other is when they’ve totally broken up with them and currently hate their guts.

Happened to me. More times than I care to admit.

In a society where people change their partners like they change their socks, it’s not every day you meet someone who’s been dating the same person for more than a year, let alone do it over long distance.

This past Friday ( September 4th, 2015), Elynn and I celebrated our 4 year anniversary. It is exceptionally special since we have endured most of it being miles apart.

So, we’re like… unicorns in that respect. Rare and stuff.

Here are 4 things that has kept us from killing each other during these past 4 years:

1) Commitment

Someone once shared the following statement with me:

“It’s not the love that keeps the commitment; it’s the commitment that keeps the love.”

This sentiment couldn’t be truer in our relationship. Since we were physically apart for most of our relationship, we had to rely more on the commitment we had for each other rather than on the love we showed each other.

We also saw commitment as a muscle that needed to be exercised through love when we were in the same place. The more intentionally we loved each other when we were together, the stronger our commitment was when we were apart.

I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that there were times, many times, where this commitment was tested either through internal struggles or external circumstances. A quick glance at the conflicts we’ve had in the past, however, reminded us of one thing:

Our conflicts were the flames in which our commitment was forged.

“Yea right. That’s cute and all, but conflicts wrecked our relationship, bro.”

I would agree with you. And I would want you to read till the end of the post. Because without #4, the above sentence is mush.

2) Communication

If our relationship was a body, communication might as well be oxygen.

Maintaining consistent communication was and still is a priority in our relationship. The times where we failed to communicate were inarguably some of the hardest times for us. Prioritizing communication early on taught us a few things:

  1. How we say it is as important as what we say. Approach is as important as content.
  2. Don’t take it personally unless specified.
  3. Affirmation is currency. The more you have, the more you can give and the better you feel.
  4. Listening is everything.
  5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Consistent, effective, and honest communication was, and still continues to be, a life line to us.

3) Consideration

Our long distance relationship amplified both strengths as well as weaknesses. We celebrated our wins,  but we also over-analyzed our shortcomings at times. The strain caused by this sensitized us to each other’s proclivities to extents where we were frustrated with each other.

We realized early on that we had to assume the best of each other especially when things looked bleak. Jumping into conclusions is far easier than struggling to understand, but we realized that the quicker we learnt that, the easier it became for both of us in the long run.

How did this look like in our relationship?

When she didn’t text me for hours on end, I had to recognize that it’s not because she didn’t value me, but because she probably couldn’t text.

She had to realize that my lack of affirmation after a heated conversation didn’t come from a place of malice but of mere mindlessness.

And I can go on. The point is that we had to consider the best interest of the other to maintain a healthy relationship.

4) Christ

Glad you read up till this point. Or maybe you cheated and just jumped to #4 from #1.

At any rate, here’s that sentence I used earlier:

“our conflicts were the flames in which our commitment was forged.”

The flames are necessary for the forging. But if the forgery is left without a forger – one who is responsible for the forging – the flames can be counter-productive, and, in many cases, even dangerous.

The Forger in our relationship was also a carpenter at one point. He knows what type of treatment removes debris and purifies the substance at the same time. He knows where we are the weakest and where we thrive. He knows our end from the beginning and has been shaping us to be His masterpiece on display.

Without Him, all the forging would have melted us by now. We are glad that is not the case.

Reciprocal commitment, consistent communication, careful consideration and Christ has kept us going for 4 years.

Looking forward to 400 more. 🙂

3 Things Candy Crush Taught Me About Life.

candycrush

It consumes you.

For those of you with the app ominously hanging on your phone screen, Candy Crush has been the cause of your procrastination and the lord of your unaccounted time among other things.

Nevertheless, this game was my constant companion during my recent flight to California. The colorful combinations of candies coupled with the soothing snore of my neighbor, drifted me into a mode of reflection from whence cometh these thoughts.

What did Candy Crush teach me about life? Here are three lessons:

1) Do not underestimate the power of choice.

The objective of the game is to advance each level by revealing the allotted number of hidden objects present in each “candy-scape.” This is done by aligning similar candies alongside each other using single uni-directional strokes (left, right, top, bottom). In a way much similar to Tetris, each stroke has the power to break three candy formations or more depending on resulting alignments. I have a limited number of choices I can make in the game and one stroke can be the difference between a win or a loss.

Every stroke is a choice. I can choose what to move and where to move it. And just like in life, each choice I make – whether for the good or for the bad – has its consequences. Every choice I make in this life can either move me closer to a win or take me farther from it.

The greatest power in the universe is the power of choice. Even God doesn’t mess with it. 

It is so powerful that it even affects the lives of those outside my circle of influence. The game helpfully illustrates this as each stroke could blast candies that are even beyond a three-candy radius resulting in a sweet win or a not-so-sweet loss.

Make your choices carefully. For your choices will make you.

2) The toughest vices are usually the tastiest.

Desserts are the worst.

They are annoying impediments in the map which prevent candies from breaking. More often than not, a certain number of these desserts need to be broken to advance to the next map. The game starts you off with just innocent, scrumptious cupcakes. But as the levels advance in difficulty, the deserts get tastier, and harder to break.

The toughest desserts to break are the tastiest.

Coincidentally, sometimes the things we struggle with most in life are those that are the most appealing to our senses. We tend to struggle with them precisely because they are appealing – grabbing our attention and energies while distracting us from the best possible existence. Someone once mentioned that the things that keep us from living to our fullest potential are not the bad things, but the good things that are not good enough. While desserts are good, they are simply not good enough. The more they capture our senses, the harder it is to part with them.

What are your “desserts?” What are those things that keep you from achieving the best?

3) Success comes rarely to the swift, but surely to the steady.

Candies can be destroyed in more than one way. One way is to align triads of similar candies and break them repeatedly. Another is to resist the temptation of breaking a triad, waiting to align four or more candies to create candy bombs. When strategically partnered with certain candies with a single stroke, these candy bombs can rival the impact of Nagasaki, sending thousands of candies to their sugary graves.  Success is ensured by waiting to create the right explosive.

I wonder how many times I’ve sacrificed long term success to bask in short-term wins.

Impatience, I’ve learned, can be a deadly friend in the pursuit of lasting success. Consistency and grit, on the other hand, can be excellent ones.

What if true success is less about how quickly you reach a milestone and more about how steadily you go from one milestone to the next? This way, the pressure of reaching a larger milestone is relieved by the pleasure of achieving smaller ones, which may eventually lead you to the larger milestone in due time.

Just a few thoughts.

Now excuse me while I get to finishing this level.


 

photocredit: http://media.gamerevolution.com/

How to Abuse Your Relationship With God.

girl-hair-meadow-403I have to admit.

Sometimes I think God is in an abusive relationship with me.

I get it. “Abuse” is a word loaded with paper trails, court appeals, and restraining orders. It does have baggage. But when taken at face value, to abuse simply means to misuse, or use improperly.

In that vein of thought, here are three ways in which you and I can ab-use our relationship with God.

Hopefully you don’t resonate.

1) Talk to him only when you need something.

Dr.Allan Walshe, my professor from my youth and young adult class, laid this gem on us:

“Requests are a part of prayer, but they are not the heart of prayer.”

He further explained that the heart of prayer is a relationship – a sincere, singular commitment to a personal God who knows you and longs to be known.

This was paradigm-shifting because prayer, for the most part, had been nothing but a calling bell for my Cosmic Butler.
It’s usually my 911 line for a bruise all the way to a breakup. Yes, I do season my communication with the occasional pre-meal grace. Yes, I do thank him for that miraculous A.  But prayer is still optional communication. I need it when I need God.

Yes. God does want us to come to Him with our requests and desires. As a matter of fact, he’d rather have us to come to Him than anywhere else. But we diminish the function of prayer when we relegate it to a mere transaction. Check out what Aunty White had to say about prayer:

Prayer is the opening of the heart to God as to a friend. Not that it is necessary in order to make known to God what we are, but in order to enable us to receive Him. Prayer does not bring God down to us, but brings us up to Him” (SC, 93).

God doesn’t want to be used. He longs to be loved. I’ll do well in trying to remind myself of that daily. Today, did I talk to him when there was nothing for me to ask him? Did I take some time today to tell him how great He is just because? Did I talk to him as I do to a close friend?

I wonder how our marriages and relationships would fair if we only talked to our partners only when we need something from them.

2) Enjoy the privileges of the commitment while ignoring the responsibilities of it.

When I join a company, I am made privy to two things: My membership privileges and the company contract. I can enjoy these privileges as long as I’m a member of the company, but the moment my choices conflict with the company contract, I may potentially lose my privileges as well as my membership.

Enjoying the privileges of my company while ignoring its responsibilities is a sure way to get fired. Yet when it comes to my company and commitment to God, the same rules remarkably do not seem to apply.

The privileges of Christianity are many. We are called to enjoy gifts like grace, peace, community, purpose, strength, joy and eternal life among others. But while we do that, we are concurrently called to uphold the responsibilities of Christianity such as discipleship, love, sacrifice, service, and join in with the missio dei of seeking and saving the lost.

Unfortunately many of us want to enjoy the crown without bearing the cross.
We let Jesus do all the dirty work while we get to enjoy his spoils. The German theologian and activist Dietrich Bonhoeffer, referring to this as “cheap grace”, galvanized his sentiments with the following definition found in his epoch-making book, the cost of discipleship:

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” 

Have mercy.

Have I enjoyed the privileges of salvation while ignoring the responsibility to my Savior? How have I done that done that today?

Salvation is free but not cheap. The price tag is still high. What then should be our response to the One who paid it all?

3) Ask him to modify your behavior without transforming your life.

The overarching meta-narrative of scripture begins with man created in the image of God and ends with the complete restoration of that image in man where the old order of things has been replaced and transformed into a new one.

The apostle Paul mentions this new order in his letter to the Corinthians:

“if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature. The old things passed away, behold, new things have come.”

In order to effectuate this, he exhorts the church in Rome not to conform to the patterns of this world, but instead be transformed by the renewing of their minds.

Scripture is replete with references which convey the necessity of a total soul transformation. God seems to be asking more of his people because he wants to do more. And yet I still find myself asking him to change certain parts of my life not realizing that God is more interested in transforming all of it.

But is it wrong to ask God to give me more patience? Is it wrong to consult him for my weaknesses? I think not.  However, I think I’m missing the point when behavior modification takes precedence over a desire for life transformation.

The ultimate end of a relationship with God is God Himself. He wants us to see him face to face and to enjoy Him in an unadulterated atmosphere of holiness. This requires us to be changed and transformed into His likeness in order for us to withstand His glory in eternity.

Then what about our behaviors? When God transforms the life, behaviors are more than modified – they are repurposed.

These are three of the many ways I think I have abused my relationship with God. What about you? Have you found yourself in a similar or different situation? If you care to share, leave a comment below!