Waiting Here For You

Book Review: Waiting Here For You by Louie Giglio

Waiting Here For You

Waiting Here For You by Louie Giglio

Well, it’s a bit past Advent, but moving halfway around the world will tend to make one a bit behind. Nevertheless, Louie Gigilio’s devotional Waiting Here For You: An Advent Journey of Hope is a great little volume to walk you through the season of Advent. The book is a collection of Scriptures, devotional thoughts, poetry, and prayers that guide the reader through the season of waiting. Woven throughout the book are beautiful black and white photographs that spark prayer and contemplation.

I added this volume to my normal daily reading and contemplation throughout the season of Advent. Unfortunately, preparations for and relocation to Turkey caused a much longer than anticipated delay in the publication of this review. Yet, it seems a bit appropriate. The season of Advent is one in which we wait for the coming Messiah. We wait for the fulfillment of promises. We wait with Hope—confident and joyful expectation in the goodness of God. And, in this previous Advent season, we found ourselves in that place of waiting.

This devotional helped me walk through the wait. It guided prayers and meditation on the coming fulfillment of the promise. The promise of a Messiah. The promise of the peace that can only be found from responding to the call of Jesus to “Follow.”

Throughout the book, Giglio weaves a story. A story of transitions. A story of gains and losses. And, for us that was what Advent was this year. A time to say goodbye to life as we had known it, and a hello to a new normal. Transitions.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Syrians in Turkey

#Advent15: The Faces of Jesus

I’ve seen lots of faces.

Faces full of fear.

Faces full of joy.

Faces full of anxiety.

Faces full of grace.

Faces full of hopelessness.

Faces full of hope.

And, in many of these faces, I find myself looking into the eyes that belong to a different face.

The face of a baby.

The face of a King.

If you want to know what Jesus looks like, then I urge you to talk to a refugee.

Talk to one who has been forced to leave everything behind. To travel a great distance. To go hungry. To go without shelter, or a bed, or warmth.

It’s not hard to see Jesus, when you stand in the midst of a refugee encampment.

He’s all over the place.

In the face of the young child. Too young to know what’s happening, but old enough to know that life isn’t what it was just a few short weeks ago.

In the face of the old man. Weather-worn from years of farming or shepherding or bread making or bazaar trading. Old enough to know that the world is painful, yet longing to return to the comfort and peace of his own living room.

In the face of the young mother. Caught somewhere between joy and euphoria at the new baby in her arms and the fear of it dying for lack of proper nutrition.

In the face of the teenaged boy. Ready to take on the world, but afraid of what might lie ahead. Hopes, dreams, aspirations, fears.

In the face of those who serve these precious people. Hands and feet forsaking home and family. Leaving behind comfort. Leaving behind safety.

As Jesus was preparing to die, he told his disciples about the judgement (Matthew 25:31-46). Nations, he said, would be gathered together. Some would be sent to his right hand, and others to his left. Sheep and goats. To those the right, he would grant an inheritance of the Kingdom fulfilled. To those on the left, no inheritance.

The difference? How they treated the hungry and the poor and the destitute and the refugee and the immigrant and the thirsty and the naked.

Those who had met the needs, given the inheritance of the Kingdom.

Those who had not met the needs, cast away forever.

Both groups called Jesus Lord. But, only one group had taken the time to see his face.

And, the judgment isn’t against individuals. It’s against nations.

Jesus-followers should take pause when those who claim Jesus try to keep those in need at bay.

“When I was hungry,” Jesus said, “you fed me.”

Will you feed him?

Will you welcome him?

Will you look at the faces and see his face?

A Syrian Man

A Syrian Man

Erbil International Airport

#Advent15: Somewhere Between Here and There

We’re on the plane now. According to my watch, we’re probably about halfway.

It’s strange knowing that when the wheels of this plane touch the runway, I will have to redefine–again–the concept of safety. Yet, I also know that this is the right place at the right time with the right people.

Safety. This is a word that I have come to define and redefine a number of times in the course of the last four years. A word that I have spent many occasions discussing–arguing–with God about. That day on that plane was one of those occasions.

Vicar Andrew White says that the Kingdom life is a risky one. That it’s a life where we shouldn’t urge one another to take care, but rather to take risks.

Risk. Risks are a bit like faith. You step out into the unknown. Trusting that God knows what He’s doing in calling you out there. But, to take a risk means that your definition of safety can’t be one grounded in fear.

Fear. It’s real. It’s also not the opposite of faith. Faith and fear carry the same definition: a belief in something unknown. The difference is what you do with it. Faith is pressing forward in spite of that which is unknown. Fear is isolating yourself against that thing that is unknown.

Isolation. Hiding from that which is unknown. A citizen of the Kingdom who lives in isolation will NEVER bring about the purposes of the Kingdom. They will only ever seek out their own survival. They will only ever take care. They will never take risks.

The Kingdom life is a risky life.

I somehow think it’s appropriate that I’m on this trip during Advent. So many people longing for rescue and redemption and renewal. So many people yearning for something in which they can hope. And, the truth of it all is that there is hope. Yet, proclaiming hope means that the one proclaiming it must take risks.

Hope. Confident and joyful expectation in the goodness of God. We proclaim hope not to the hopeful, but to the hopeless. And, they are hopeless because they are in the middle of the situations against which our definitions of safety often keep us isolated.

For us to proclaim hope means that we must step outside of our isolation. We cannot proclaim hope unless we abandon fear and step out in faith.

The United Nations tells us that 1 in 123 people on the earth today are living a refugees. They have fled home and gone to somewhere else–somewhere deemed to be “more safe.” In order to proclaim hope to these millions of people, we must step out of our “safety”–our isolation–and step into this risky Kingdom Life.

Advent means coming. God coming. Coming into the midst of war and famine and pain and hurt and struggle. God coming to be with us. To dwell. To tabernacle.

And, in His coming, He invites us to come along. To see what He sees. To hear what He hears.

Immanuel. God is with us. In the middle. He has come. He is coming. He will come again. Into our pain. Into our suffering. Into our hopelessness.

And, He calls to us to board the plane. To be somewhere between here and there. Leaving behind our isolation. Leaving behind our fear. Moving forward in faith.

The opposite of fear is Love–not faith. “Perfect love,” the beloved Apostle writes, “drives out fear.” (1 John 4:18)

Perfect love moves us out of isolation and into the middle of the hopelessness to proclaim hope.

Perfect love moves us out of fear and into faith.

Perfect love moves us out of our definitions of safety and into God’s definitions of safety.

“The name of the LORD,” the Proverbs tells us, “is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” (Proverbs 18:10)

Safety. It can either be based in fear or in faith. If it drives you into isolation, then it’s based in fear and isn’t God’s definition of safety. If it drives you to take Kingdom risks, then it’s based in faith and is God’s definition of safety.

So, we take risks.

Not long after that line was written the wheels of the Airbus 321 touched the runway. I had arrived in a place that I never dreamt I would be. I didn’t know what the next week would bring. I didn’t know what I would encounter. I only knew that I was in the right place at the right time with the right people.

“Don’t take care,” the dear Vicar says, “Take risks.”

Erbil International Airport

Erbil International Airport

[All block quotes are taken directly from my journal entry from 3 December 2014.]

Yazidi Camp outside of Erbil

#Advent15: A Hill, A Hope, and a Little Boy

In August of 2014, thousands of Yazidi people climbed a hill outside of Sinjar, Iraq. ISIS had come to their city, and had begun to systematically execute the men and boys and capture the women and girls.

They fled to the only place that would be safe. Up Mount Sinjar, a holy place thought to be the final resting place of Noah’s Ark. And, there they waited.

For rescue.

Or, to die.

No where to go. ISIS had blocked the only ways down the mountain.

And, the Yazidi waited.

Among those on Mount Sinjar in the hot August sun were thirteen families that I met in Erbil some three months later.

They told us of how the US and other nations dropped food to help sustain them. They told us how the Peshmerga finally broke through the blockade and they were able to flee. These thirteen families came south to Erbil.

They finally found a chicken coop that wasn’t being used. They moved in. UNHCR found them and brought doors. A neighbor provides water–it’s not clean, but it’s usable.

Yazidi Camp outside of Erbil

Yazidi Camp outside of Erbil

Eighty-five people live here. Thirty are children.

Among the thirty children, I saw Ali. A boy of about 3 or 4 years-old.

Ali

Ali

I couldn’t image the things that this young boy had already experienced in life. I couldn’t imagine being 4 years-old and hearing gun shots, people screaming, deafening silences in between the two. I couldn’t imagine seeing blood, and bullets, and guns, and destruction. I couldn’t imagine fleeing to a mountain, and wondering if I would live or die.

All this at four.

And, it was into a similar world that the Christ Child was born.

Romans were occupying the land. Not the friendliest of militaries. Herod was king. One of the most violent rulers in history. Known for his at will killing of innocents–just to prove he was in charge.

A young mother–14 or 15 or 16 years old–on a donkey being lead by a man–Joseph–as they traveled a forced 9-day journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. This young mother pregnant to the point of delivery.

Pregnant with the Messiah. Immanuel. God with us.

Forced to leave Bethlehem and flee to Egypt–Mary and Joseph’s own Mount Sinjar–with a young baby of only 12 or 14 or 18 months. Hundreds of miles. Across the desert. To wait for Herod to die.

If you want to know the face of Jesus as a four-year-old boy, look at the picture of Ali. So much pain. So much fear. So much hope.

Hope.

Confident and joyful expectation that God is good.

God is good…

…even in the midst of our hiding on Mount Sinjar…

…even in the moments of being forced to flee our homes…

…our lives…

…even in the middle of our wondering if we would ever make it back home–the dream of all refugees.

God is good.

For little Ali, the knowledge of a Messiah who knows–firsthand–what he is going through is non-existent. And, yet, on that day outside of a chicken coop near Erbil, I hope that Ali saw in me the Jesus that I saw in him.

Advent is our Mount Sinjar moment. We’re trapped between a promised Messiah and the reality of an Empire of Man that longs for destruction. We stand in the middle of time. Hoping for the Messiah. Longing for Immanuel. Yet, not knowing if Messiah will come.

We follow a young woman, and her almost husband, and a donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

And, at the manger we stand. Awestruck.

As we come to realize that Messiah has arrived.

And, yet, Rome–the Empires of Men–still rules. Liberation isn’t quite what we expected.

Ali and his family and the others in that camp don’t know if they will ever make it back to Sinjar. They don’t know if they will have to remain–forever–in that chicken coop. But, they hope.

And, so do we.

For Messiah.

For Immanuel.

For God to be in the middle of it all.

 

The Citadel of Erbil

#Advent15: A Car Bomb and a Coming King

One year ago today, I stood on holy ground.

I was in the city of Erbil in the Kurdistan Autonomous Region of Iraq. I had gone to Kurdistan to see first-hand the situation on the front-lines of the work among refugees that had fled from Mosul, Sinjar, Kirkuk, and other parts of Iraq and Syria.

In our orientation to the city, our host had taken us to a site where two weeks before a car bomb had gone off and a number of people had been killed. I stood in silence–fighting back tears–as we listened to one of the guards tell us about the car, and the bomb, and his friend who had died in the attack. I watched as he knelt down on the pavement and pointed to a small piece of metal. “There’s part of the bomb,” he said.

It was in that moment that I knew I was standing on holy ground. Ground where people had had their lives stolen from them.

I whispered a prayer.

The only prayer that I could find to pray in that moment.

Kyrie eleison. God, have mercy.

The Citadel of Erbil

The Citadel of Erbil

As we walked solemnly back to our car, along the foundations of the Citadel of Erbil, I took in the sights and sounds around me. Life still going on. People still shopping in the bazaar. Taking photographs beside the fountains.

It’s a bit like Advent.

We wait and hope for a better King.

A better Kingdom.

Redemption.

Restoration.

And, while we wait, life goes on around us. Millions not knowing that this King has already come. That this King has set in place His Kingdom. And, that–someday–the Kingdom will be full and beautiful and glorious and nothing will be missing and nothing will be broken.

War will cease. Devices used to bring destruction will be turned into tools to bring life. Lions and lambs will lie together in the cool grass.

And, yet, the message of Advent is that we’re still not in a fulfilled Kingdom. We long for it. We hope for it. We pray for it. We yearn for it.

And, we work towards it. What if the Prophet Isaiah wasn’t just dreaming when he said that swords would be beaten into plowshares? What if he meant for us to do the beating?

It is between these two things that we are stuck. The promise of a new Kingdom, and the birth of the new King. Somewhere, we find ourselves in the middle of it all.

How do we balance between the two? Between the yearning for fullness of the Kingdom and the pain of living in a world of not yet. A world of pain and struggle and illness and war and car bombs.

I left that crater in the road knowing that I had stood on holy ground. Sacred space. I had been face-to-face with mortality and fear and death. But, I got to walk away.

I don’t understand why some of us get to walk away and why others don’t. I don’t understand why some of us get to go on with our trading in the bazaar and taking photos at the fountains. I don’t understand.

But, I know that Advent is here. The hoping. The waiting. The longing. The King is coming.

As I sat in the hotel that evening, I searched for words to put to my feelings and thoughts. I looked for something to say. But, was left with nothing but “Come, Lord Jesus,” and that old Leonard Cohen chorus, “Hallelujah.”

And, it is with those words that John ends his Revelation. The Beast of the Empire has been defeated. The King of Kings and His new Kingdom are fully realized. And, John writes:

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! — Revelation 22:20 (ESV)

Together with John and with the guard in Erbil and with the families and friends of those killed that day and with all the saints and angels we proclaim: “Come, Lord Jesus!”

#Advent15: Spoila

I realized this morning that I haven’t posted anything for Advent this year. I had good intentions of posting each day as we did in the past, and had even written the first week’s worth of posts. But, somehow the words just didn’t seem to fit this season.

Advent is a time of waiting. Of longing for something bigger and better. Of yearning for a new King to establish a new Kingdom.

For hundreds of years, the people of Israel would pray and yearn and long and hope and wait for this new King. As time went on, the hope grew, but the understanding of this King shifted. By the time that Christ came, Israel was expecting an overthrow of Rome. A restoration of David’s Throne. Return to the glory days.

On Saturday, 21 November, I stood in ancient Ephesus in modern-day Turkey. It was such an honor to have Pastor Mark Foster from Acts 2 UMC there with me, and to show him some of the cultural heritage of that remarkable country. I tried to explain things as I saw them. Tried to give him a sense of the land. A place where Christianity had once thrived. A city that had been home to Paul, Luke, Apollos, Priscilla, Aquila, Timothy, and, of course, John the Beloved.

Spoila

Spoila on the staircase at the Terrace Houses in Ancient Ephesus

As we came down the stairs out of the Terrace Houses (a must see if you’re ever in the area), I noticed something. Archeologists call it spoila. It’s the usage of older materials to build new things. There, on the staircase, was an amazing example of spoila. A piece of marble that looked like it had come from the top of an ancient structure placed in among the stairs. Old materials. New uses.

As I pointed this out to Pastor Mark, all of the many verses that God had given us over our previous trips to Turkey came rushing back. And, with them, so many of the prophecies regarding this new Kingdom for which we long.

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. — Isaiah 58:12 (NIV)

They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. — Isaiah 61:4 (NIV)

And, a lot of things made more sense. I had often thought that the whole rebuilding of ancient ruins was to build the old thing again. But, on that staircase at the Terrace Houses in that ancient city, I came to understand spoila.

Taking the old…

…the torn down…

…the damaged goods…

…the mess…

…the pain…

…the junk of life…

…and building something new and beautiful from the pieces.

And, with that understanding came one of those “the Kingdom is like” lessons.

When the remains of what was once glorious are used to create a new–more glorious–thing. That is the Kingdom of Heaven.

And, that’s the message of Revelation 21. A new heaven. A new earth. Built from the spoila of the old. Built from the chaos of the fall. Made into this perfect ordered order that only the true King can do.

I’m back in the States now. Grappling with two mass shootings in the last few days. Grappling with a refugee crisis with which some are hesitant to deal. Grappling with friends that are trying to understand how to make ends meet. Grappling with grief.

And, as I try to understand all of this, I keep finding myself on that staircase in Ephesus. Examining the spoila. Trying to see in the midst of it all where the Kingdom might be coming. Where will the Messiah make His appearance. Where will the ancient ruins be rebuilt into a new and beautiful thing.

And, while I know that all these issues and struggles and pains and griefs and hurts won’t be fully restored today, I know that little-by-little the pieces are being collected, and turned into something that will someday be beautiful.

Because, when the King comes, so does the Kingdom. And, with the Kingdom comes a time where all things are made new.

Until then, we wait.

And, we work.

Because, as citizens of the Kingdom, we are called to be the ones to pick up the spoila and partner with the King to co-create the new Heaven and the new Earth.