Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Christmas Traveling

Christmas is coming in just a few weeks, and many people are excited about that.  For many in Kuwait and abroad this means that there is some sort of extended time off of work.  Whether teachers are getting two weeks off for Christmas and early January, or people in business are taking a month off to return home, many people get some sort of extended break. 

This brought the question to mind: why do we travel?  I think people travel for many reasons.  Some are good and legitimate, such as seeing the world around them, experiencing what other cultures are like, taking some time for rest and relaxation, exploring a favorite historical or architectural monument, and many others. 

However, I know that in my heart and the hearts of many others there are selfish reasons for why we travel.  Sometimes I want to travel just to boast to others about my amazing experience, or to say that I've been to more countries than most, or to make the world jealous with my amazing Facebook pictures and how happy my wife and I are. 

These reasons for travel are not good, and they won't satisfy us.  There will always be someone going to more countries than you, having more income to spend than you, traveling more cheaply than you, posting more amazing Facebook photos than you, and looking happier than you.  That will just leave us either feeling despair that we can't keep up with the international Joneses, or endlessly pursuing the next thing and not appreciating and enjoying what God has already given us. 

I would submit that we need to check our hearts when we are getting ready to travel somewhere, whether it's back home or to an exotic location.  If we have enough discretionary income to travel the world, we need to be trembling on our knees with gratitude to Jesus for it.  All of the opportunities we have to travel are pure grace, and we SHOULD enjoy it, but in a way that pleases and honors God, not that exalts ourselves and our pride.  Let's check our hearts and travel for the glory of God!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Bringing God on Vacation: Georgia

About two weeks ago, I had the unique opportunity to travel to Georgia with my wife for a week. This is not the Georgia where peaches, Coke and Chick-fil-a come from, but Georgia the ex-Soviet Union country that is famous for churches, wine, and monasteries. I was very grateful for the opportunity to go there, and it was both relaxing to enjoy the city, physically demanding with quite a bit of hiking, and educational as we learned about the history of the country and also it's Christian history. Here are some ways I encountered and worshiped God on my vacation.

Encountering different Christians

My wife and I went to the Holy Trinity Cathedral on our first day in the country. It was a massive church that overlooks the entire city.  The cathedral had a very large area around it for gardens, fountains, and other aesthetically pleasing structures.  It was interesting to note that nearly all the women who went inside the church wore a head scarf, which is not too different from the hijab, which is a head scarf that covers the hair of Muslim women in Kuwait and the Middle East.  There was no requirement that women had to wear a head covering to enter the church, but I think most women did this as a sign of respect.  My wife left her scarf at home, so she decided not to enter and waited outside.

As I entered the church, it was a very different experience for me.  As a man who has grown up in the evangelical tradition, I find the beauty and intricacies of orthodox Christianity very different.  The inside of this building was as beautiful as the outside.  There were paintings and icons everywhere, and incense burning in several places.  There were candles set up in a few locations, and even the inside of the building was symmetrical and made the shape of the cross, where the top of the cross is where the priest would give his sermon.  It was extremely fascinating.  Even though I don't believe in the spiritual value of icons and burning candles as prayers for loved ones, it is nice to see that there is care taken to the beauty of the church, both inside and out.  Most evangelical churches are not nearly as ornate, and the churches I've often attended have been in re-purposed warehouses or school gymnasiums. 

Another thing I noticed was the quiet and reverence that people had in the church.  Even though there were well over 100 people walking around, lighting candles, reading the Bible, and praying, it was very quiet.  Most people didn't talk to each other, and when they did, it was a whisper.  It really felt like you were in a holy and unique place.  This is also very different from the evangelical tradition.  We are quite loud, and for good reason.  Every week, people are happy and excited to see each other, so there is a lot of socialization before and after each service.  There is also a time of greeting during the service, and I try to talk to as many people as I can.  I think this is a good thing.  However, I do think there is value in reverence and respect in church. 

The other thing I noticed was some of the sincerity that people had towards praying and reading.  There were a lot of people who were praying, and, at least, looked earnest in their prayers.  Many people were praying in front of icons, and I wasn't sure what to think of that.  However, it could be that some of the images in the cathedral, such as Jesus on the cross, were just a reminder to these people to encourage them to pray and give thanks.  There were also a handful of people who were standing up and reading the Bible quietly to themselves.  It was in Georgian, so I didn't know what they were reading or praying, but there certainly was a level of devotion in the people.  In a very different way, I believe that many of them were truly expressing themselves to God and loving Jesus for saving them from their sins by His death on the cross. 

Do I believe that all of the people in the church were Christians?  No.  Do I believe that all of their practices, such as candle lighting and praying to icons, are biblical?  No.  However, even in the evangelical tradition and at the church I attend there are plenty of people who are not Christians, but attend because they are culturally connected or are socially interested.  And I am sure that when I get to heaven, I will discover there are things that we have done wrong as well.  Through that experience in Georgia, God taught me that there are Christians who look very different from the style of Christianity that I like and that I am used to.  However, it doesn't mean that their faith is necessarily different from what I believe.  I pray for the Christians in Georgia, that God would be with them and show Himself to them in a very real and authentic way, and that the Holy Spirit would empower them to not only look inward to the Georgian orthodox church, but would reach out to other religions and those who are not religious and share the gospel with them.  

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Traveler's Prayer

Jesus, thank You so much for the opportunity to travel.

Thank You that I get to live at the apex of human history where I have the money and ability to see the world.

Thank you that I get enough time off of my job to explore other countries or visit my home country regularly.


I pray that you would help me to be a blessing to others in another country.

Make me generous enough to give to those who ask, whether or not I think they deserve it.

Give me a heart and foresight to buy extra food for the poor and needy.

Help me to tip well and truly be thankful for any service rendered to me.

Open my mouth to share the hope that is within me if an opportunity arises.

Also, help me to be a blessing to the people I'm traveling with, whether it's family or friends. Help me to put their needs above my own.

Give me the mind of Christ to be humble towards them.

Strengthen me to lead well in difficult situations.

Empower me to have devotions or a time of prayer throughout the vacation with others with whom I am traveling.

Support me as I try to listen to Your Spirit when interacting with my friends or family.

Finally, I ask that you would use this time to make me more like You.

Let this time be an opportunity to have my emotional and spiritual batteries recharged.

Allow my trip be enjoyable for me and, even more importantly, pleasing and glorifying to You.

Help me not to forget that I'm blessed to be a blessing.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

How do we participate in Worship II

In my last post  , I explained a little bit about worship in church and why we do it.  I would like to give four tips that have really helped me to grow in my congregational worship.  I don't explain these as rules that must be followed, but rather as methods that have helped me to more expressively worship God.
  1. Sing Loud.  Yes, actually singing the words out loud is something that helps me to worship God expressively. It connects the words on the screen and in my head to my heart as I physically sing the words. The good news for me and for many of you is that God doesn't care about the quality of our singing! So, I sing loud and (probably) badly for the Lord.  God cares about your heart and mind being engaged, which is why I think we should sing loud as a congregation.  I also believe that singing is a way for me to agree and say "Yes" to the truths that are being displayed on the screen.
  2. Close your eyes. Like I said above, there are many distractions that happen at church. People are coming in late, moving around, there might be something distracting with one of the worship team members, you might want to check your cellphone, and a whole host of other things which can be distracting.  I find that I can concentrate more on the words when my eyes are closed.  You don't have to have the songs always memorized either.  What I often do that helps is that as I'm looking at a song I'm not familiar with, I just capture one line of the song at a time, and then I close my eyes as I'm singing.  I reopen my eyes for the second line to put that line in my short-term memory and then I close them to concentrate on the words of the song and to keep from being distracted.  By repeating this process, I find myself far more engaged in the worship than by having my eyes openedClosing my eyes is a great way to focus on the Lord during worship and not think about everything else that is going on.
  3.  Use my body.  Yes, this can be hard for many of us, because we associate church with being still and having a somber mood.  However, using our body in our worship to God is entirely biblical.  The entire book of Psalms includes raising our hands, bowing heads, shouting and dancing to the Lord, among many other postures toward God.  Like I said previously, if we can jump up and down for something as transient as a football game, then certainly we should be physically involved in our worship.  It's not to make a show or to act crazy, but to give ourselves more fully to God.  I often lift my hands in worship as a sign of surrender to God, exactly because I feel more vulnerable with my hands up.  It shows that I want God to be in control of my life, not myself.  I clap because I'm excited about whatever the song is exclaiming, whether it's celebrating God's love or demonstrating his power to break sin in our lives.  We should use our "members for God as instruments for righteousness."  
  4. Sing your own song.  Often during worship, there are breaks between the verses and the chorus, or at the bridge, or between songs in general.  I believe that creates some down time during worship when we are not singing.  However, I don't want be just staring at the worship team or impatiently waiting for the next song.  I try to use that time to make my own song to Jesus.  Like I said, I'm not a good singer and I'm not very creative, but I am using that time to sing to God, thanking him for all his blessings or asking Him for help in various areas of my life.  I believe this is also a very heartfelt sign of worship, because it's me directly engaging with God and not just following the worship team.  Often I do this out loud, but sometimes I softly sing to myself.  I believe this also creates love and fuels our desire for God.

    I hope these have been helpful in your desire to worship the living God and I pray that we would all become more God-centered in our worship and singing.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

How do we participate in Worship I

For the last couple years, I have been serving the church in Kuwait at Mishref. Sometimes that means that I am helping with the sound, or watching for new people during the service, or making sure that needs are being met. During this time, I have had many opportunities to watch people as they are worshiping God. This is a very humbling experience for me. It can also be a very unusual thing to watch. I see some people passionately expressing their worship to God, others quietly reflecting during worship, and I see a third category who are just standing their looking at the screen with their hands in their pockets.  Perhaps they are worshiping God in their own way, but it is also safe to say that some people in every church are not engaged during worship. It seems that there is a some confusion as to what it means to worship God during the singing part of church.

What does it mean to expressively worship God?
We worship God as a response to all that God has done for us. I came from a more reserved church
background, where people would dutifully sing the songs that they are supposed to, but only a few people would occasionally lift a hand while singing. Most of those people were standing in the front, and were either the pastor's family or other leaders in the church. It was not until my college years did I see the general congregation expressing themselves to God during worship. It was a bit of an adjustment initially, but I realize that's because I was never really taught to do that before. However, why shouldn't we be expressive before God. I know many people who go totally crazy for a football or baseball game, spending hours beforehand preparing what they are going to do for the day and what they are going to wear. They do the wave during the game, and shout and cheer for the players who score a goal or do something amazing, and are completely mesmerized and immersed in the total experience. However, some of these same people can look like total zombies blankly staring at the screen when we worship God at church. This should not be! How much more amazing and all-consuming is the God of the universe than any sports game. How much more have we been recipients of physical, emotional, and spiritual healing from Jesus than any other earthly memory that we have.

So, what is it?
We sing because we are responding to what God has done for us and in us. God made words to tell how to think, but He made music to tell us how to feel. Music has a special power in our lives to illicit emotion, whether it is exciting and driving, or slow and melancholy, or soft and reflective. This is one of the main reasons we use music and songs in worship. This is combined with words that demonstrate truths about God, truths about our relationship to God, or ways that we interact with God. We are saying in our hearts AND in our minds the words that are displayed in front of us, whether it's thanking Jesus for the cross, discussing how we will be with God forever, or admitting that God gives and takes away. So, combining these truths with the music that is playing allows people in the church to experience God. At the root, though, expressive worship is engaging on a mental and emotional level with God through the songs are being played.

Am I always engaged emotionally with the songs? No, I'm often distracted by various thoughts that are running through my mind, or seeing something out of the corner of my eye, or just generally feeling distant from God. However, by God's grace, I am able to often become affected by worship at church. And there are four things I do that help me in my worship to God that I will explain in my next post!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

New Service at TLC Mishref

Last year, I was invited to go to out with friends to a very special dinner.  There was a new Texas Roadhouse restaurant opening up in Kuwait relatively close to my house, and my friends had tickets for themselves and for us.  The best part about this dinner was that it was free, which is one of my favorite words in the dictionary!  Because the restaurant was brand new, they wanted to try out the food, the staff, and the service on people before it went to the public.  They wanted to take care of any issues or problems that might occur before in a smaller, more contained environment.  This is what is called a "soft opening." I can't really get that angry about my steak being overcooked if I'm not paying for it, right?  Actually, everything went really well that evening, I had a lot of fun with my friends, and we had so much extra food that we had to take some home.

In much the same way, we have been having some "soft openings" for a new service at TLC Mishref.  Thankfully, the main service at the Mishref campus has grown a lot over the summer and has gotten even bigger with the return of many people from summer holidays and the recent outreach that we had.  So, now we are nearly reaching the capacity of our service each week, and the leadership has been talking for a while about opening another service at 8am. 

The leadership team decided to open the new service on October 3, but also wanted to have several soft openings to make sure all the bugs and glitches were worked out before we announced it to the entire church and the public.  We also started these soft openings so that if people from our 10:30 service wanted to come to the 8am, it would relieve pressure on the amount of people who are attending our main service and will allow more and more visitors to attend.

Our first soft opening for the 8am was on September 12th, and we didn't have any one running the sound or worship in the beginning, so I had to learn very quickly how to use a sound board and some of the controls.  It was also quite small, with about 10 people not including the worship team and other people who were serving in the service.  It was strange looking at all those empty chairs, but all new services have to start somewhere.  The original Mishref service also started at around 10 people over five years ago, and it stayed that way for a long time before it began to grow. 

The second soft opening was the next week on September 19, and it was a significantly improved church service.  There were plenty of people to run sound and media, a great worship experience, and pastor Mark, the primary pastor at both services, preached a really good sermon. We also had nearly 40 people that attended the service, not including volunteers.  It was a much improved crowd and I was surprised that so many people came.
We have one more soft opening on the 26th of September, and then we have our official opening of the service on October 3rd.  We plan on having breakfast cakes and snacks on the 3rd as a way of blessing the people who come to the official opening, and it should be a lot of fun.  Please pray that this new service would be blessed by Jesus and that we would have new growth.  We would prefer that new people come to this service who don't go to church, rather than people who are merely switching services out of preference.  It should be a very exciting event! 

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Gospel in a Land of Mirages

Kuwait is often about appearances.  While this is true nearly everywhere, it is especially true in the Middle East.  If you go to the mall, you will find most of the people extremely dressed up looking their best.  The women are wearing makeup, the latest outfits and six inch heels.  The men are wearing sunglasses that match their shoes and perfectly trimmed facial hair. 

I work at a university, and the same is true there.  Nobody wears their pajamas to class like when I was in university, but everyone is dressed up to the point where the professors often look less presentable than the students by comparison. 

Gyms are also wildly popular here, and you see extremely fit women and really ripped men.  Steroids are not uncommon and there are areas where used needles riddle the ground.  Along with this are a bunch of diet based restaurants where you can order something that's low-calorie to fit your bodily needs.

People live in amazingly beautiful multi-floored homes with stunning gardens and indoor pools.  In the garages are brand-new BMW's, Bentley's and Porsche's that are clean and ready to take a ride on the highway.  Keeping up the Joneses takes on a whole new meaning living here.

The weight of all that pressure can be crushing.  However, the gospel frees us from being trapped by appearances.

As Christians, we know the truth is that we don't have it all together.  There are days where I feel like my marriage is falling apart, like I'm going to get fired from my job, or that I just can't generally figure out my life.

We also need to be reminded that we don't need to have it all together.  That is the gospel.  If God loved us based on our performance, we would all be miserable failures and would be destined toward hell.  In the midst of a Muslim worldview, often the emphasis is on what we do and how we appear. Ramadan, for example, is where all Muslims do a month fast.  I've talked with Muslims who told me me they cheat, but not when they are in public, because they at least want to be seen as people who fast while they are in public. 

However, God loves us based on the performance of Jesus.  Only He lived a life that was perfectly pleasing to God.  We just trust in Christ, and He will change our hearts, and we will slowly but surely become more like Him.

Tim Keller, a pastor and author, said it this way: "We are more flawed and sinful than we ever dared believe, yet we are more loved and accepted than we ever dared hope at the same time."

So, next time you feel crushed underneath the facade of appearances, cry out to Jesus and remember that He pierces through the outside and looks at the heart.

Photos Courtesy of Mohammad Raha

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Life Group Lighthouse Initiative

I've mentioned in other posts about the importance of small groups for Christians, so I won't do that here.  However, I did want to mention some of the initiatives that the Lighthouse Church, which is the English language congregation of the National Evangelical Church in Kuwait, is doing with life groups.

First of all, there will be a book series that all the life groups will be using for the next two years.  I think this is a great idea to have something in a book form that all life groups will be using.  The book is called Foundations for Living, and it's a series of four books written by Susan and Dick Driedger.  This will be exciting to have a clear method for all the life groups at the Lighthouse.

Second, these books are supposed to go through the Christian life, from being a non-Christian to having victory in the Christian life.  This is great because book one can be used to start new groups with those who are not Christians to introduce them to the gospel, and it can be used to help Christians get better at evangelizing and sharing the gospel.  The other books talk about who God is and basic Christian doctrine, having victory over patterns of sin in our lives, and how to live as a balanced and whole person.  These books go back to the basics of the gospel and what it means to be a Christian, and it can't be more emphasized or stressed to keep loving Jesus and what that means for us as believers.
Third, they flew the authors into Kuwait to conduct a  two-day training for all life group leaders and coordinators.  I thought this was a brilliant idea, to have the authors themselves explain how their books work and how to use them in a small group setting to maximize the impact they will have on ourselves and others.  The training was very successful, and there was a record turnout from all the other leaders.  There will be an additional training with the authors for those who could not make the initial weekend meeting.

Finally, there will be a life group presentation and an emphasis to for all the congregations to get involved in a group at all the Lighthouse services.  This will be Friday and Sunday on the 19th and 21st of September  There will be an encouragement from our senior pastor Warren about the importance of these life groups.  Additionally, there will be testimonies from different people who have been impacted personally and spiritually by being a part of a life group.  The pastor will also encourage people to join a life group, and there will be signups after every service for those who are interested to join a group.  The life group leaders will also be recognized, prayed for, and commissioned by the pastor of that service and the leaders will be available to help people sign up or answer any questions after the service. 

I believe this is the largest initiative that the Lighthouse church has done regarding small groups, so I want to encourage you to join one this year, or to get back together with your group from your summer holidays.  If you are not in Kuwait, please pray for our life groups this year, that the entire church would have deep relationships with one another and would grow in our love for Jesus!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Bringing God on Vacation: Maldives

My wife and I went to the Maldives several months ago on an amazing vacation.  It's hard to describe the beauty and the majesty of this place because each of the more than 2000 islands that make up this archipelago are right out of a movie.  The tiny islands have beautiful white sand beaches, trees and palms growing and producing fruit right off the shore, and water that is as clear as glass.  We were so grateful for the opportunity to go.

While we were staying on one of the particular islands, we met another couple who was also staying at the same guesthouse as us.  They both lived in Germany, and we decided to spend some time with them on the same excursions and eating some meals together.  I thought it would be a good opportunity to build a relationship with them.  The man even spoke Arabic, and it was a great chance to practice with him.

One night we had dinner together, and the woman asked about my wife's tattoo which she had on her wrist.  Stephanie shared that it meant hope, and even though she has gone through some struggles in her life, she trusted in Jesus who would carry her through whatever the trials she was going through. 

Did the couple come to faith in Christ right then and there?  No.  However, what my wife did was plant a seed of the gospel through her testimony.  She also was honest and authentic with them about some of her struggles and trials, which I think allows that seed to go deeper than just an explanation of the gospel without how it affects us personally.

We will invariably meet other people on our holidays or travels, whether it's a European vacation or to the state park right next door.  Of course, one of the expectations of a vacation is to spend time with family and unwind, which is reasonable. 

However, we will naturally and normally find ourselves interacting with other people, whether they are staying near or hotel or campsite or a clerk at a grocery store, or just meeting people in passing.  So, all these interactions are opportunities to build people into your lives, even if it's just for a few days.  As Christians, we know that only God and people will be forever, so investing in other people is guaranteed to be one of the best returns on our time on this Earth, even if it's short-lived.  After the week was over, we haven't talked to that couple since, but we were glad for the memories we created with them, and we may end up seeing them again. 

Second, we need to be ready to share the hope that is within us, as the Bible says.  We weren't expected to share the gospel the night the woman asked about my wife's tattoo.  However, she didn't shrink back from sharing her story of how Jesus loves her enough to carry her through all the trials she faces in this life. 

Finally, we need to try to be authentic with people.  I believe that sharing the gospel and the four spiritual laws is great, and the more we do that the better.  At the same time, we need to inject how Jesus has personally affected and has changed US.  The world is watching to see if there is anything different about us.  Do we just seek the same pleasures of money, power and pleasure and just use Jesus as our ticket, like another person may use social skills to get the same things?  Do we self-medicate or pretend like everything is fine when we are suffering, or do we acknowledge the truth of our difficulties, shattered dreams, and pain while leaning on Jesus?  If the world sees that we are different as Christians, they will respond.  If we are just using Christianity as the thing to get what we want, then they will think it as one of the many options people use.  Let's use the opportunities we have to share the joy and hope of God's Kingdom here on Earth.  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

TLC Mishref Fall Outreach

The Lighthouse Church in Mishref is having the annual fall outreach this Friday on September12th, which is one of the biggest outreach events of the year.  For those of you who are wondering,  here are some questions and answers regarding this event.

What is TLC Mishref?

TLC stands for The Lighthouse Church, which is the the officially recognized English language Protestant church in Kuwait.  It has a legacy of over 100 years in Kuwait, and officially has been given land by the Kuwaiti government to operate.  This is part of God's grace to the church, because land is only given by the government, and even Kuwaiti citizens need to apply for a house.  The Lighthouse Church is the English speaking aspect of the National Evangelical Church in Kuwait, which consists of multiple language services that happen every week.  TLC Mishref is an offsite location located in the district of Mishref, but is part of the Lighthouse.

Why do you have an annual outreach?

When I came to Kuwait over six years ago, I had a very difficult time finding a church.  My wife and I didn't know what it's name was or it's location.  I had tried to call the church, but the numbers seemed to be down and I didn't receive a response to my emails.  I remember walking around for over two hours trying to find the church, and eventually stumbled upon a service that was being held in the evening.  A wonderful woman reached out to us after the service, and explained all the different services and even gave us several rides to church going before we had a car. 

I don't anyone else to have to go through that difficult experience to go to church, which is how this outreach was born.  By removing some of the barriers to entry by making church accessible via the outreach, it will allow more people to get involved in church.  I know there are many Christians from multiple nationalities that are interested in going to a church, so we want to make TLC Mishref available for them if they are interested.

How do you distribute information about the outreach?

Most people who live in Kuwait live in apartment buildings with other people of the same profession.  For example, there might be an apartment building full of McDonalds employees or a building for all the teachers who are working at an international school. 
Making the bags of candy and having snacks

Because of this unique setup, we decided to create an invitation to church on this particular day.  The invitation is wrapped in a little bag, along with some candy, because even if you're not interested in going to church, we thought the candy would at least be a small blessing in the name of Jesus.  Who doesn't like candy?  If people are interested in going to church, they can use the information provided.

Once the bags are made, people who are already attending service at TLC Mishref will pickup the bags before the outreach and distribute them to neighbors in their buildings, coworkers, or friends who are not currently attending a service.  This year, we have created and distributed around 350 invitations and candy to multiple buildings.

What do you do on the actual day of the outreach?

At TLC Mishref, we have church on Friday at 10:30, and we will roughly keep to that schedule.  We will have worship and a sermon by pastor Mark Ingram, who is the pastor of that service.  After the service, we will have some sort of icebreaker or game to get people to get to know each other, especially new people who are at the service.  Afterwards, we will have a lunch for everyone provided by the church as a way to serve people and allow them to get to know one another on a more intimate level. 

Now What?

Come to the outreach on September 12th and bring a friend and we will all enjoy a good meal and fun!  If you are not living in Kuwait, please pray that this would be an effective outreach and that people would be able to find a Christian oasis in the desert of Kuwait.  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Tips for Coming (back) to Kuwait

  For many people, the the end of August is when many people come back to Kuwait or start their first job.  The summers in the Middle East are extremely hot, often rising above 120 degrees, so people save up their vacation to go back to their own countries or to travel, and many teachers in Kuwait naturally get the summers off.  It can be difficult coming back to work and to the rigors of life in Kuwait, especially if you, like me, have been living out of a suitcase for the last couple months, or have shirked most professional and spiritual activities.  Also, if you are new to Kuwait, it can be a strange and disorienting experience as a Christian being totally immersed in a radically different world view.  Here are some tips to help people coming (back) to Kuwait.

1.  Go to church.  This cannot be stressed enough.  Getting involved in a bible-believing, God-glorifying church is critical to your spiritual health in Kuwait.  You will be blasted with radically different beliefs about God, Jesus, heaven and hell upon entry or re-entry into the country.  You will also generally be confronted with things that are just culturally or linguistically different, which can be unnerving.  Finally, there will be a host of activities to get involved with, all pulling you in different directions.  Going to church will allow you to be with other Christians, receive some teaching, have your spiritual gas tank refilled, and meet others who are feeling similarly to you.  And don't just go occasionally, but make it something you are committed to, because that is how you will benefit the most from it.

2.  Get in a small group.  Personally, this is as big as going to church.  Going to church is ground zero for getting spiritual revitalization, but it's rarely enough.  Many of the churches in the Arabian Gulf and Kuwait are at a minimum of 50 people or more, and there is no way you can connect to those people in an hour and a half meeting outside a general greeting, handshake or hug.  A small group allows you to go deeper with other Christians, and to get to know their passions and struggles, and they will get to know you, as you pray, study the bible, and apply that the sermon each week to your life.  This has made what could have been a terrible experience in Kuwait into a wonderful one for my wife and I. 

3.  Get to know people.  Yes, this was partially covered in the point above, but it's good to make friends and see people outside of church and life group.  Try to pick at least one other night of the week where you are hanging out with the people that you love and enjoy.  That will bring a lot of stability and peace to your life, and will allow you to build some roots in this country.  Befriend some of the people in your life group or church, and invite them to dinner, lunch or even a cup of tea at your or their place.  Kuwait can be a lonely place, but if you make the effort, you can develop lifelong friends here.

4.  Get in a routine.  This one is just as important.  For those of us who are still getting over jet-lag, we know how insane it is to be out of a normal sleeping routine.  This is true for all aspects of living internationally.  I try to make sure I am consistent when I get enough sleep and go to bed at the same time, when I work out, when I spend time with friends, when I have date night, and even when I take time to relax and read a book.  Of course there are things that interrupt that routine, which is completely normal and acceptable at times, but it's good to have the routine so you can at least have a sense of control over that aspect of your life.

5.  Don't overdo it.  Don't do too much.  I had a friend my first year in Kuwait who tutored for 4-5 hours every day, 5 days a week.  He made a lot of extra money.  Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack that summer, and I believe part of that was contributed to his hectic work schedule.  I'm not saying it's wrong to work hard or even to tutor a little bit, but make sure you have a balance in your life.  Even if you came here to make money, don't let that be the idol you serve, because you'll never get enough and you'll run yourself ragged pursuing it.  God has you here not just for yourself or your family, but to advance God's kingdom, and maintaining a balance of God, family, work, church and ministry is critical to being able to realize it.  

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Advice for the family and friends of a returning expat

 A few weeks ago I posted some advice for expats who are either returning home for their summer holiday or returning home permanently.  Living overseas for over 6 years has taught me a lot about how to deal with reverse culture-shock and with family and friends back home.  If I may be so bold, I also want to give some tips for the families and friends of these individuals.  Seeing the way people back home interact with me has taught me a lot of what I really appreciate about people when I go back home. 

1.  Ask a ton of questions.  The initial temptation is to just pick up from where you left off as soon as you see them.  You might ask how their flight home was or how the year was, but you are eager to get back to normal.  However, while things may have been business as usual in your area, their life has probably been turned upside down.  Like riding a tidal wave, your loved one went through the thrill, terror and adjustment of adapting to a new country.  No, you probably don't really know what their experience is like, which is why you need to ask.  You may not get a full picture of their life, but I'm sure that he or she will completely appreciate and love that you are making an effort.  And this will also benefit your relationship, because you will understand a different part of his life.  Ask about what it was like the first couple weeks, ask who he made friends with, where did they travel to, what pictures can she show you, what was the church or local religion like, how has his or her perspective changed on that country or his home country, etc.  I'm sure your expat will be able to provide you with a variety of answers.

2.  Share your l
ife.  Yes, it may seem like your life has not changed very much with the passing of a year or two, but he or she is probably excited and interested to hear all about them.  They want to feel integrated, and it can be a bit disconcerting trying to live life in two different worlds, so try to catch him or her up on everything that has been going on.  Even the little things like funny stories, interesting news, aspects of life that have been hard while he has
been gone, and introducing him to friends you have made are all important to your loved one who is spending some time back home.  This requires a level of intimacy, and this can become increasingly difficult as the years go on, which is why it is critically important to make those efforts to your friend or family member who has been gone a while.  He or she loves you just as much, if not more, even though he has been away for a while, so make sure you communicate that back by sharing your life.

3.  Make the first move.  Remember, your son/daughter/mom/best friend has been away for a long time, so it may be difficult to make the first move.  I often feel a little guilty just calling up old friends after I haven't talked to them in nine or ten months, because I feel like I did a lousy job keeping up with the people back home.  Because of this, you need to make that extra effort to keep your favorite returned foreigner feel like he or she is still loved, appreciated and thought about.  One of my good friends sent me an email a week or two before I returned home and asked me when I was returning.  After replying they said that they wanted to get together a few days after I returned home.  I totally appreciated this because I felt invited back into their lives and am clearly apart of his thoughts.  Your expat on vacation will also feel this love and appreciation. Because locations, businesses, and other information may have changed in the length of time he or she has been gone, in addition to the expat not necessarily having a "home" base, you are now the expert.

4.  Open up your home.  Yes, this seems like a lot.  For myself and many other expats at home, we live usually with our families.  By God's grace, both my parents and my in-laws have a spare bedroom that we can use freely, which is great.  However, not everyone has that luxury.  Some people have strained relationships with their families back home or maybe there is simply not enough room in the house for any more people.  Even for those who are comfortably living back home with their families, it is nice to occasionally change up the location, because it may give a little more privacy than being with family all the time.  Also, if you live in a different area than the expat's family, it would allow them a chance to travel to visit you and see a different location.  I've always appreciated the offers from my friends to stay at their place, even if I don't usually take them up on it.  

5.  Be available.  This is another difficult one.  While you or your family may be working or have a lot of plans in the summer, it is important to try to be available to spend time with people who are visiting.  They may only have a month or two, they have traveled a long way to get there, and it goes by really quickly.  This can often take a little bit of forward thinking, to find out when he or she will be  in your area, and make a plan to get together even if it's for a day or two a month later.  This can also be extended to vacations.  If you are planning a vacation with some friends and family, it would probably be nice to invite him or her to go with you.  I have some really good friends back home that are actually pretty busy in the summertime, but they are usually the first people to try to plan a weekend or a couple days together.  They have wisdom in booking something in advance with us because they know their summer will quickly fill up if they don't try to plan something with us, and I am grateful for them.  If you can, try to be available even during the week, because the weekdays can seem extra long when one spends them by herself. You can do something as simple as having your returned friend or family member pick up a pizza on their way to your house or meet for coffee.

I hope these hints will be helpful for you and the expat you get to spend time with this summer- or at any time of the year. Good relationships don't just happen, but we have to be intentional to cultivate them.

Monday, June 16, 2014

God is a Life-sustaining Scorching Fire

A few months ago I went to the Maldives with my wife for a week.  Needless to say, it was everything we could imagine; azure waters, amazing snorkeling and underwater life, palm trees swaying a few meters away from the shore and clear skies.  I never really saw anything like it and was so happy with the memories we made while there.

One event that was interesting was during our second day of the trip.  We decided to take a boat out to another local island and spend the day snorkeling and soaking up the sun.  It was a clear day and not too hot, allowing for a lot of fun playing in the water and relaxing. 

We lathered up sun-screen in order to keep our white, European skin from being burned.  We also went back a couple times throughout the day to reapply.  However, after snorkeling and enjoying the sun for several hours, we were unable to escape the power of the sun.  We didn't realize it at the time, but we were both significantly burnt by the end of the trip.  I did more snorkeling, so most of my backside was burned, along with my receding hairline.  My wife was more generally burned all over.  It was bad enough that we had to spend most of that evening and the next day inside or out of the sun because we didn't want to do any further damage to ourselves. 

I think this is so fascinating because the sun gives life to our planet.  It's rays warm the Earth, provides fuel for plants, allows for the water cycle and has many other life-giving usages.  Without the sun, no life could exist, and if the sun disappeared tomorrow, we would not be able to survive long.  Beyond that, the sun gives a lot of emotional life and health.  If my wife or I are out of the sun for too long, she can become sad and despondent.  Many people go through winter depression where the climate gets extremely cold because they are not getting enough sun.  The sun is absolutely essential to our life and happiness.

At the same time, the sun is so powerful that it can do damage to our bodies and cause at least temporary pain.  We loved being out in the sun, but there are consequences, like getting sunburned.  After the sunburn, we either begin to peel of our outer layers of skin, or become tan. 

I think this is a good illustration of our walk with God.  God gives us life and everything we need.  He breathed life into us, and in Him we move and have our being.  Like the sun, He gives us life and sustains life in us.  We are also redeemed by Jesus, who brings us into a right relationship with Him.  He gives us a desire for Him and for walking in His Light.  Similar to the sun, God makes us happy and gives us real joy.  Without Him our lives would be meaningless, and our lives find their true fulfillment in Him.

At the same time, God, like our sun-scorched skin in the Maldives, impacts, changes and even hurts us sometimes.  When God showed up in people's lives in the Bible, the would often fall down on their faces like they were dead.  God's glory is so powerful and penetrating that we would actually die if we beheld Him with our physical eyes.   When Peter saw Jesus and His miracle of Peter catching all the fish on the other side of the boat, he said, "Depart form me, for I am sinful man, O Lord."(Luke 5:8)  As we draw close to God, we see more and more how wonderful He is, and how unworthy we are. 

Being close to God also costs us something.  We need to submit ourselves to the discipline of the Lord.  There is no punishment for the Christian, but we do receive discipline from the Lord in order to grow us to become more like him.  Like the rays of the sun, as we get closer and want to be more near to the Lord, it will hurt us some.  We also need to discipline ourselves and say 'no' to the pleasures of sin in our lives, which does cost us something.  Jacob had a powerful experience with God, but he walked away with a limp, and so it is with us today. 

I would never trade my trip to the Maldives for having the comfort of sun-free skin.  How much more are we willing to behold the glory of God, no matter how much it changes or affects in the short term.  Let's look forward to the Day when we will have new bodies that can handle the beauty, majesty and glory of the Lord and we can see Him with unveiled faces!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Tips for the returning expat

By the time you are reading this post, I should be several thousand feet in the air, and returning back to America for the summer. It's always an interesting feeling going home for the summer, because it is full of excitement, hope, and anticipation about the summer along with feelings of fear of the unknown, whether my friends will still be available or will my friends and family change significantly. As I am going home for the sixth time for the summer living overseas, I thought I would post some tips for those who are planning on leaving now or eventually in the future.

1.  Realize that people back home won't understand your experience. This is probably the most important and critical thing to remember when you travel back home to see your family and friends. You had this amazing (or amazingly difficult) experience, and you've done things, traveled, and built a lot of new relationships that basically filled your time and energy while you were away. Those experiences are completely essential, important and valid while living overseas for any extended period of time. However, you also need to realize that no one from back home will understand or appreciate your experience well unless they've done something similar. That will be hard and will feel very disappointing initially, because you will want to tell everyone about everything that you did. Initially, your friends and family will dutifully listen, even though they won't understand. However, they can quickly become tired and bored because they cannot relate to your experiences. They can also become upset, jealous, or envious of other people enjoying your time. This is your classic case of reverse culture shock, and it can be quite emotional. So, the best tip is to share when you are asked, but don't recount every overseas experience you've ever had, and don't share too much when you are not asked to. 

2. Don't talk about yourself too much. This is related to the first point, but once you realize this, you will be able to focus on others more than on yourself and you'll be able to serve others. You were gone for 9 months, so you might forget that everything back home was not frozen in time. But the truth is, they have had their own experiences over the last year or more, and while it may not seem as exciting as your experience, it's important to validate theirs. So, ask questions and keep updated on what is going on in the lives of your friends and family back home.

3. Make new memories.  Again, this stems from the first point, but it's critical to understand that your friends and family are based on shared experiences, so make new ones in the summer.  You made a lot of new memories with people will being overseas for a year or more, so do the same things with the people back home.  That will allow them to feel appreciated and strengthen your relationships in new and exciting ways. 

4. Put down roots.  Yes, because expats usually get some sort of extended holiday to travel back home, many people only spend that time traveling.  I think traveling around your home country or other countries is fine, but God desires that we put down roots wherever we are.  We need people to speak into our lives, we need accountability, we need some routine and stability.  So, rebuild those lapsed relationships, commit yourself to going to church in the summer, and continue to read your bible and pray everyday so that you are listening to and receiving from the Lord.

5. Make the most of your investments.  Whether you have a month or three months off, use your time in the best possible way.  The vacation time will be over and you will be back to Kuwait or wherever you are sooner than you think.  So, don't waste it all watching TV and doing mindless activities, but push yourself to explore, grow and develop.  Start a project to help the family around the house, take an online course, listen to some inspiring talks or sermons, call up that acquaintance you haven't seen in years.  Make a plan for your summer and try to be faithful to it.  Also, use your money as your other investment.  Going out back home may cost more or less, but that's no reason not to see people.  Use your money to be a blessing to others.  Jesus said to use money as a tool to build relationships with others.  Everyone works hard for their money, but show that people are more important by spending it on them and with them.  

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

You Can't Take it with You

As teachers in Kuwait, we have mixed feelings about our status here. My wife and I are provided with a furnished apartment that is part of a 12 floor apartment complex, which is a great deal for us. There isn't much that we've had to add to it.  Because we can never become citizens of Kuwait, we can also make a reasonable assumption that we will not be here for the rest of our lives, but that is up to the Lord to decide. For this reason, we make do with certain things that are not our preference. Yes, we have spent money to buy things that we need and decorated some to make it feel like a home; we fix things that break, and add items that will make it more comfortable, but we are careful about accumulating too many things.

For example, we have these super ugly gold curtains that Stephanie has never liked but lived with for six years. Our dining table is a little wobbly and our chairs have seen some better days. We have also not bought certain items that would be difficult to bring back.  While it would be nice to have a brand new mixer or a high quality blender, we have lived without such things.  It would be great to buy a new desktop computer with a big screen, but we survive with our outdated laptops.  We would love to have a nice stereo system and a grill where we can enjoy good music and barbeques, but we live without them. I'm not saying that having any of these things is wrong, but that we live this way because we know "we can't take it with us."  Even the things we have bought, we will either sell at a fraction of the price we paid for them or mostly likely give them away. If we did try to keep some things, they would probably be damaged or destroyed in transport, and the cost of shipping would be not worth the stuff we have. 

Our time in Kuwait is a bit analogous to the Christian life.  In the same way that we try not to invest too much in our apartment in Kuwait, we should not invest too much in the things of this Earth.  Ultimately, none of us will be able to leave this life with any of the stuff that we have acquired on this Earth.  We won't be remembered for the quality of our curtains or the amount of toys we've collected over the years.  The Bible says that we've come into this world naked, and that is the way we leave it. If the value of the things we've accumulated in Kuwait will be greatly diminished when we decide to leave, how much less will the value of things on Earth be when we enter into our eternal home?  I think we will look back from heaven and say to one another and to ourselves, "Wow, I can't believe I invested so much of my time and energy in _______!"

Similar to the things we do have to make our lives a little easier or more efficient, there are things on Earth that do add value to our lives or are helpful and useful to us.  What we have to realize though is that we are only stewards and not owners of any of the things we have.  I do not own the furniture or apartment that I live in, but I am able to use it to serve the purposes of my family while I am living here.  I believe that we should be a bit reflective before we just run out and buy the latest gadget or replace our furniture at the first sign of wear.  I try to ask myself, "How will this help me serve the people around me better or grow closer to Christ?" before I make large purchases.  There are many things I have said yes to, because they either blessed my wife or enabled us to serve people more effectively, but there are also things I have said no or not yet to, because I thought our time and money could be better invested elsewhere.  This is where prayer, discernment and wise counsel come in. 

If we look forward to one day returning to a house that will still decay and things that will break down, how much more should we look forward to our eternal home!  We will live in mansions built by Jesus, we will have every desire of our hearts satisfied by Him, we will have bodies that will be literally perfect, and we will be with the people we love for eternity.  My prayer is that we would fix our eyes on that Place and that Person, so we can maximize our faithfulness and fruitfulness while we are on Earth.  

Monday, May 19, 2014

Is Church Important to Jesus: Part II

As I mentioned in my last post, church is important. Yes, we are saved and redeemed by Christ alone, and going to church for a lifetime does not save us. However, Jesus still valued and loved the church, and it is a part of our sanctification process. It's like giving. Giving does not save us. However, if we claim to be a Christian and never give and aren't generous, then we need to seriously think about whether Christ has transformed us and made us into his image. Jesus was extremely generous, and if our deepest desires have been changed to become more like Him, then there will be a desire to give. It is the same with the church. If we have no desire or interest in church, then that is an area in our lives that we need to re-evaluate and refocus back to God. Last time, I focused on what Jesus did in church. I will continue that discussion today, and also what he said about the church.

Jesus served in church

Yes, Jesus went to church, he did miracles in church, and he even served in church. The gospels record in many places that Jesus "taught in their synagogues" (Luke 4:15). Jesus was not merely a consumer of church, but he was a producer and a giver. Many in the church today, and especially for expats in Kuwait, have a selfish mindset when it comes to church. It needs to meet my needs, serve my purposes, and accomplish my goals. However, Jesus does not agree with that standpoint. Jesus went everywhere and preached in the synagogues, using His gifts to serve others. This was not a job he was paid for, but actual volunteering, even though Jesus was quite poor and didn't have his own home. I think we need to have the same mind that Jesus had(see Philippians 2:5). I think by serving in the church, we grow to love it, and I think Jesus did as well. If people come to church only to receive, I think we will ultimately become dissatisfied with it and will only go when it is convenient for us, if at all. However, I have learned that as I serve the local church, I become more invested in it and grow in love towards it, even though it's imperfect. It's one thing to say that I love the universal Church in some nebulous emotional way, but it's completely different when I'm concretely doing something for my local church. It's the same with anything; as we become invested, the more we value, love, and guard it. If you ask your pastor or another spiritual leader what you can do to serve, then I can guarantee that not only will you be a blessing to others, you will end up more blessed than the people you serve. Jesus said it this way: "It's better to give than to receive."

Jesus promised victory to the church

In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said, "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." This is a powerful promise for us today. The church has survived and thrived for 2000 years, and will continue to do so until Jesus comes back. Jesus does not promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against your job, your campus ministry, or even your marriage. But he does promise it for the church. While this refers to the universal church, it also refers to individual local churches. I'm sure Jesus had in mind all the churches that would be started afterwards, and how they would continue on and be a sanctuary against the sin and death that exist in this world.  The gospels and epistles were originally given to local churches. The bible calls Satan the god of this world, and that the world value system and all the citizens therein are under his sway and domination. If it were up to him, he would destroy it, and he is always looking for weaknesses to exploit and bring it down. The church certainly has weaknesses and failures and flaws. There have been moral failures, abuses, and many hurt people caused by the church. This is why Jesus made that promise, so that we would persevere in our churches.  Let's not run away from the church, but rather run towards it and do what we can to help and to serve and to remove the blemishes from the churches we are apart of.  We are part of the process that moves the church toward victory!

So, the next time you are tempted to give up on your church because you don't like some aspect of it, or some individual in the church, remember that Jesus didn't give up on His church, and He doesn't ever plan to until He returns.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Is Church Important to Jesus?

I recently had a discussion with a friend about church.  She mentioned to me that she was no longer coming to the service I attend.  She said she didn't like the preaching style.  I told her I was sorry to see her go, and she mentioned that she did miss the worship and the people that were a part of the service.  I then asked if she found another church that fit her style better, and said she hasn't been going to church at all since she left, and said that she'll just try again in the fall after the summer break.  I didn't know exactly how to respond, so I just gave my typical American, "yeah." 

That conversation made me think about what makes a good church and whether it's even important to go to church.  There is no specific command in the bible to go to church, although there are a number of biblical principles that point in that direction.  I then realized that Jesus definitely went to church (synagogue), and I think we can learn a lot from him. Jesus is both our Savior and our model of how to live this life in the way He did.

Jesus heard sermons that were not as good as His

I wonder what it would be like to be Jesus at church.  Even as fallen, broken sinners who probably have no idea what it's like to preach, we can be critical of preaching, as my example above shows.  But what about Jesus?  Do you think that The Man who preached some of the greatest sermons in the history of the world was occasionally not thrilled at the content of the messages?  Probably.  He is someone who could have honestly said to himself during any sermon, "I could do that better."  And yet, we never see in the Scriptures that he told other Jews that church was not important and he was just going to hang with the disciples in the Galilean countryside and do his own thing.  No, he went to church weekly.  In Luke 4:16 it says, "And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day."  There are plenty of other verses about him going to the Temple and the synagogue.  Jesus valued gathering with other believers, he valued sitting under the teaching of Bible, and he valued spiritual authority.  I think that we can learn that as long as the sermons are preaching truth, we should be going to church, unless we think that we are in better spiritual shape than Jesus.

Jesus did some of his greatest works at church

From what we see in the Bible, Jesus drove out an evil spirit, healed a man with a withered hand, and healed a crippled woman who was bent for 18 years in the synagogue.  Jesus did miracles in church!  He also did other miracles on the Sabbath, probably walking to or from church, or at another person's house for post-church lunch.  Can you imagine the guy who decided to listen to his favorite sermon podcast or sleep-in that morning?  "Yeah, I listened a sermon online from my home church because I wasn't sure about this new guy, Jesus."  Fail.  If you believe that Jesus heals today, then going to church is probably good idea, because that seems to be a great place for him to show up.  Jesus is still healing today, in our bodies, in our minds and in our souls.  I know many people who were healed in church, and we should be available for Him to heal us as well.  

If Jesus thought that there was value in going to a local church enough that he would hear teaching that wasn't as good as his own and would even do miracles in church, than perhaps this is something we Christians should value as well.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Easter in Kuwait

Easter is the largest holiday on earth, celebrated by a few billion people world-wide. This is the holiday that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, showing that he conquered sin and death, and that all those who follow Him will also be raised to life again. His resurrection is the proof that Jesus was not just some unlucky Jew who was crucified. After being on Earth and spending time with his disciples for around 40 days, he went up into heaven.

However, Easter is not really celebrated in Kuwait and in most of the Middle East. It is less popular than Christmas. Most schools and some other places of employment give Christmas Day off. I think this is because many locals celebrate Christmas in some way, at least by giving gifts or having a tree. Another possible reason is that Christmas gets more attention through Western media than Easter does. Kuwaitis and Arabs hear Christmas music, movies and concerts for Christmas, but there are not nearly as many for Easter. The final reason is that it would not be necessarily wrong to celebrate the birth of Jesus, because Muslims believe in Jesus. They celebrate the birth of Mohammid, and because they believe that Jesus is another prophet, it's not a problem to celebrate Christmas.

Easter, on the other hand, is completely different. Muslims would not want to celebrate this holiday because it clearly shows that Jesus goes far beyond being a mere prophet who brings the truth. It shows that He is the Truth, and there is something uniquely powerful and amazing about Him. It even shows that he is like God, with the power to raise Himself from the dead, which would be blasphemy. So, this is the reason that most people have to work.

Because of this, the holiday can just become another day of work. I had the idea to let my students out a little early so I could celebrate, but I decided to keep them because we had a lot of work to do. Many people had to work, and had their normal commitments after work like tutoring, putting in extra hours at the office, or just unwinding at home.

However, my life group planned a few weeks prior to have an Easter dinner on that day, which breathed life and meaning back into the holiday. It was at the house of one of the couples in our group, and we made a celebration out of it. People brought deviled eggs, potatoes, green beans, dessert, drinks and even ham. It made the holiday a lot of fun. We were able to eat around the dinner table together and pray like a family. It was very meaningful and powerful to have a Christian family even though we were all away from our biological family.

My wife also wanted to attend an Easter choir that was performing at The Lighthouse Church. There were some other friends of ours that were performing in the choir, and they were playing a lot of worship songs along with choir music. I wasn't really excited about leaving the Easter party and then go back, but I consented to go.

The choir was a lot of fun with a lot of good music. There were worship songs that the audience sang along with, and it was a celebratory atmosphere. I believe that Easter should be a celebration, a party and a feast. When Jesus comes back, it will be the greatest celebration ever, and we will weep for joy and party forever.

After the concert, we hurried back to our life group Easter party and we played some games and looked at some pictures from our friends' travels. We stayed about another hour and we decided to go home.

Easter can be a lot of fun in Kuwait and can really accentuate the meaning of the resurrection, but we have to look for it and fight for it. The culture here does not merely push you along the lazy river of the holidays like it does in the West. If I don't make time to think about and make Easter meaningful, then it will have no value for me. In a way, that's more appropriate, because it pushes Christians in Kuwait to make it meaningful instead of a larger culture celebrating the shell of Easter without understanding its meaning.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Bring God on Vacation: India Part 2

In my last post, my wife brought it to my attention that I sounded like I had a negative attitude towards India. I wanted to amend that by saying that while all the things I mentioned are true, I also had a great time. There is so much lush vegetation and natural beauty, along with a ton of historical monuments that are well preserved, including the world-famous Taj Mahal.
Travel companions at Taj Mahal

There are more aspects of bringing God on vacation that I wanted to share about my trip in India. As I said before, I traveled with three other people on my trip.  That is another way we can demonstrate Christ's love is through our interactions with the people with whom we travel.

My friends can attest that I am certainly no perfect travel partner, and I have my fair share (or more) of weaknesses and eccentricities. However, I do continue to try and remember my faith in some way.

This is one of the first things to disappear when we go on vacation, and this is tricky for me as well. I am a creature of habit and routine, so when I am thrown completely out of that by going on a vacation, then it's difficult to make that time. However, this is the foundation of being refreshed as a Christian. So, what I try to do is make sure I read some during transit, either on the plane, on the bus or in the car.  While we were traveling around in India, we had plenty of transit time because there was a lot of traffic and driving throughout India.  While part of me wanted to just close my eyes and not engage mentally and just let life slip by, I knew that I probably wouldn't have another opportunity to read, so I pushed myself to read the Bible and pray.  God used it to pour grace into my life to be a little more patient when things weren't going my way, and helped me to realize that vacation is not all about me. 

Mirrors at Amber Fort

Traveling and going on vacation is a lot of fun because we finally get a break from work.  Because of that, I find that people are happy to just to do whatever, especially as a family or a group of friends.

This was especially true for this trip.  Everyone was pretty happy to just be in India and no one had really strong opinions about what exactly we did.  As a result, it sometimes made decision-making a bit painful.  I tried to be as diplomatic as possible and consider the needs of others, but I think it's helpful to be decisive.

There were a few occasions where we didn't know where to eat because there were many options, so I just ended up suggesting a place and that's where we ate.  I also ended up trying to communicate with the driver the most about what we were doing, because it seemed that no one had a strong opinion about where we were going and didn't really want to attempt to talk to him, so I tried to be helpful by talking to him and expressing our needs as a group- it wasn't easy because he didn't speak English!  Being willing to lead can alleviate deer-in-headlight syndrome that often plagues travelers in a new place.

Praying together
On vacation, I usually eat, sleep, and relax a little too much.  Sometimes I even feel like I've wasted my time on vacation because I've jettisoned all the different spiritual activities like church and small group for that week.  One way I tried to remedy this in India was to be willing to pray with and for the people on our vacation.

Humayan's Tomb in Delhi, a 'mini' Taj-Mahal

When we were about to go back to Kuwait, our friend that showed us around India dropped us off at the airport.  We decided to all pray for her while we were there.  It must have been a strange sight, seeing four Westerners and an Indian huddled in a circle together with our heads down and our eyes closed!  A security officer even asked us if everything was alright.  However, we were better than alright because it was a sweet time to thank God for our trip and bless our friend who was so helpful to us.  I think that by taking action as Christians to still have fellowship and spiritual bonding is important to stay encouraged and to help love one another.