Shine On

“In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” — Matthew 5:16

Earlier this week I took an overdue chill moment and re-watched Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog”.  Except for the original “The Lion King” and “Moana”, I’m not a big fan of all the singing, but the songs were still pretty good.  I thought Tianna was great, Naveen was…eh, and Mama Odie was a trip.  The character that stood out the most, though, was the smallest, snaggle-tooth thing on the screen: the firefly Raymond, Ray for short.  I loved Ray, y’all.  He made me laugh, really laugh, and even cry; he gave me all the feels.  He exuded hospitality, helpfulness, warmth, concern, determination, and courage to fight his good fight.  He let his light shine both literally and figuratively.

Now call me crazy (I don’t mind, really), but I saw some spiritual lessons in this little bug, ones that truly need revisiting.  Three moments featuring Ray come to mind, so bear with me.

The first time we’re introduced to Ray is when Tianna and Naveen are still adjusting to their new frog life and instinctive frog abilities, i.e., catching bugs with their tongues.  This is a disaster as their insect nature locked on an unsuspecting Ray, and they end up completely tangled and tongue-tied…literally.  Ray offers to help right away, but first “adjusts” his illuminating backend, because it wasn’t shining too bright.  He makes a few twists and turns, and then the light is all the way on so he could help them get sorted out. 

Now, in our lives, there are times when the light God gave us doesn’t shine bright or steady; it flickers as our faith and confidence flicker.  For some of us, the flickering has gone on for so long that it’s become our default when faced with challenges.  Our mind and heart-set are more about “I can’t do this, I don’t know what to do”, instead of “I can do this because with God nothing shall be impossible.”  Instead of making the adjustment, of checking ourselves and re-centering on the truth of God and of His power and authority, we allow the darkness of challenges, disappointments, and hurts to crowd us out of our own space.  Our light dims a little, then a little more, and still more until it’s flickering to hold on.

But Jesus Christ tells us in today’s verse to let our light shine; we are to do this with no exception, no matter what we’re facing.  With Him on our side, darkness really doesn’t stand a chance.  It does not have the right or authority to occupy our space in this life.  It does not have the power to extinguish or destroy what was given to us by God.  We need to remember that, always.  When we do, just like Ray we can solve any problem, overcome any challenge, and all this with a big ole smile on our faces.

The second major scene (and third later on) for this scene-stealing lightning bug is towards the end of the movie, when the Shadow Man’s spiritual henchmen on chasing Ray to retrieve the amulet which was instrumental in Naveen’s transformation into a frog.  Ray is cornered in a graveyard by tall, menacing evil spirits, and without pause he rolls up imaginary sleeves (don’t ask; it’s Disney) and warns them with a strong voice, “Don’t make me light my butt!!”  He flies straight at them, his “butt” lit bright and disintegrating the spirits on contact.  He is literally the tiniest thing on the screen, but he has ZERO fear.  He’s not worried that his light will flicker out, because he knows it won’t.  He’s living his purpose, and the darkness can’t handle it.

Fam, wouldn’t it be something to have that type of confidence all the time, to know without hesitation that we can do all things by the grace and power of Jesus Christ?  Wouldn’t it be something to be unhindered by cares and worries, and just do what we were created to do, to live in and on purpose?

Ready for a little secret?  We already have it within us, waiting for us to flip the proverbial switch and allow the light to SHINE, and keep on shining.  The enemy doesn’t want us to do either, but thank God that he holds NO power over us.  We are part of the Lord’s family; we are citizens of the Lord’s kingdom.  It is our right and responsibility to let the world know who we are, Who’s we are, and most importantly the Good News of Jesus Christ.  It is our right and responsibility to let the world know that God loves every single person, and wants us to be in a right, whole relationship with Him.  He wants us to be a part of His family, and y’all know there ain’t nothing wrong with that!

The last major scene for Ray is initially sad but ultimately jubilant.  While he fights the shadow spirits with no issues, he is overpowered by the Shadow Man and mortally hurt.  Surrounded by Tiana, Naveen, and the jazz-playing alligator Louis (again, don’t ask; it’s Disney), Ray closes his eyes with a smile, and the scene zooms out so we see his light fade away.  He is laid to rest in a leaf on the bayou, and his friends and countless firefly family hang their heads down in sadness.  But something strange happens: a small star appears next to the one Ray called his Evangeline (he was in love with the star).   All watch with amazement as the star shines and sparkles just as bright as Evangeline begins to, as if she was waiting for – you guessed it – Ray to join her.  With all the other stars in the sky, these two outshine them all, spurring his family and friends to shout for joy.  Ray lived a good life and the things he did—the way he helped people and stood up to the dark forces—earned him his reward, to be with his love for all eternity.

There is so much in this final scene for my buddy Ray and what it says to me, but perhaps the best way is to look at Matthew 25:23:

His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness!’”

I don’t want to leave anything on the table, so to speak; I want to live this life in the way that is acceptable and pleasing to Him.  I want people to see the good works and Good News God has entrusted to me – the good works and Good News He has entrusted to you—so that He may be glorified, and they may be connected to Him.  More than anything, I want to hear the Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”, when my time on this earth ends.  I want to be like the song from childhood:

“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”

“Jesus gave it to me, I’m gonna let it shine,

Jesus gave it to me, I’m gonna let it shine,

Jesus gave it to me, I’m gonna let it shine,

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”

No matter the challenges, hurts, or flat out attacks, I’m gonna let it shine.  Correction, WE are gonna let it shine.  It’s not meant to be hidden; it’s not designed to fade away.  It is bold and courageous by the love, truth, and power of God, just as we should and WILL be.

So, let’s shine on, Fam. 

Shine.  ON.

Prayer: Lord, thank You for the faith, works, and Good News You have given us to grow and share with this world.  Embolden us now to keep shining brighter than the brightest star, so that others may know and love You as we do.  This we ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.

It’s All Good

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” – Galatians 6:9

These past four weeks did not have a lack of devotional topics; there were certainly plenty, several per week even.  But after I shared the last post, I can say it was game on for spiritual wrestling between God’s insight to grow me up, and the irritation/frustration/anger and tiredness towards the state of this country and world.  I kept praying, reading Scripture, serving at church while following the social distancing guidelines, encouraging others when it was needed…situation normal, right?  Except it wasn’t.  Tiredness weighed heavy and affected me mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  Updates on Breonna Taylor’s death and Rayshard Brooks, videos of protesters of all ages vs. police, other videos and screenshots of hateful, fearful people verbally assaulting people of color…articles about Elijah McClain.

So tiring. 

Using a quote from civil rights activist and pioneer Fannie Lou Hamer, I became “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”  And this was the last thing that a child of God should feel, for any extended period.

You see, Fam, the encourager (me) needed some more encouraging but was in a “tired” loop and so she did not ask for it.  Why she didn’t open her mouth and ask the Lord, only He knows.  But He also knew I needed today’s verse:

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

Or to put it like The Message translation: “So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good.  At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit.”

“But the fatigue already set in, Ms. Writer; you just said so.  So what are you doing now?  What and where was the encouragement from the Lord in this verse?” (I figure y’all might be wondering.)

First, I know – as do you—that God specializes in many things, including giving us chances to get it right.  Even though the tiredness was upon me and I became weary, I was reminded through an AWESOME sermon this past Sunday that I didn’t have to stay that way.  I was reminded that “…that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)  Because I – we – are tied up, wrapped up, tangled up in the love of God who has all power and authority and therefore victory over everything, that means we have it, too.  We have victory over our minds and hearts, for which this knowledge is a great motivator to keep on keepin’ on despite what we see and hear around us.

Second, this “good” that we are doing in this world ain’t for or about us, and never has been: it’s all for God, His Kingdom, His glory.  Carrying the weary weight instead of casting it upon the One whose yoke is easy and burden is light affects the caliber of what we do: it becomes “okay” instead of becoming “excellent”.  It becomes a task to get through instead of a new mercy, a new joy to experience.  It becomes 42 muscles to frown instead of 4 muscles to smile.  Thank God that His options for the good He does are “excellent” and “more excellent”; I don’t even want to imagine what life would be like if God just did “okay”.

Third, there is the promise in today’s verse, and we all know how good the Lord is at keeping promises.  Through the apostle Paul, God promises that “…at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”  Praying, serving, helping, encouraging, fasting, giving, loving, forgiving – all the markers of being members of God’s family and citizens of His kingdom help plant spiritual and physical seeds in this world.  I’m talking about the people who come to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and receive salvation. 

I’m talking about ministries and churches forming and/or growing to tell a dying world the Good News about a living God.

I’m talking about the various types of healing that people have been waiting on.

I’m talking about the confirmation and equipping of God’s purpose for our lives as individuals and as one body of faith.

I’m talking about the God-led response and action against injustice and hatred of any kind, anywhere.

I’m talking about blessings on blessings on blessings.

I’m talking about a much needed, recuperating rest.

I’m talking about a lot, huh?

Now I think it’s safe to say that the “at the proper time” part, we can be sorely tempted (and even succumb!) to throwing a true Veruka Salt tantrum from the original Willy Wonka movie.  That little girl had some spectacular fits.  And like her, we want the promised harvest now, tout suite, pronto.  But God’s timing is not ours, His scheduling is not ours, and in case someone doesn’t know this: He’s an on-time God, period.  So, we must adjust and focus on what we are doing today, believing that we will reap the harvest from the One who’s in charge of it, anyway.

So yeah, I grew weary but the Lord knew how to bring me out of it, and when.  That bounce-back spirit within keeps me going, and just as it does all of you.

And you know what?  It’s all good.

Prayer: Lord, thank You for another chance and reminder that You didn’t create us to become tired and quit in the face of so much distress.  Thank You for the promise of reaping a harvest if we don’t give up.  Thank You for this second wind to keep on going, being, and doing for Your Kingdom.  We’ll keep going, Lord.  Amen.

Gonna Be Okay

26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.” – Ephesians 4:26-27

Friday, 12pm hit me like a ton of bricks.  One minute, I was talking and joking with co-workers, eating lunch and surfing through social media and other news feeds for the latest info.  The very next second, I fought back tears and an inability to speak about what was going on with me.  I tried a couple of times, but the words were blocked by pain, hurt, and rage.  From that point on I talked and joked less, my anger hidden behind a facial mask save for my eyes.  My coworkers saw the change and instead of asking what was wrong, they maintained distance and left me be.  You see, it took a few days, but George Floyd’s death finally got to me, and it wouldn’t let me go. 

It brought back memories of my cousin shot and killed by Dallas police 6 years ago this month.

It brought back memories of me being tailgated by a White police person almost until I got home, with adrenaline racing through my heart as a prayer of protection raced through my mind.  The fear of what that person saw when they finally drove past me angered me: did they see a Black woman minding her business, or did they see someone who “fit the description”?

It brought back every memory of every Black man and woman whose lives were snatched by the claws and jaws of some wolves hiding in plain sight, under the pretense of protecting and serving communities that don’t always look like them while endangering those who do protect and serve with honor.

It brought up anger such as I haven’t felt since the death of my cousin, something deep and simmering in my heart and soul, along with a frustration and tiredness of the “same old same old”: of the digging up Mr. Floyd’s past as if it justified his life being literally smothered away, of the seeming refusal to understand why “Black Lives Matter” without the automatic defensive response of “All Lives Matter”, of the opportunistic crowds who see the protests and demonstrations as an excuse to act a fool…at the expense of still more lives.

I became so angry, and so tired.

On Friday afternoon I was not okay, and in that moment I did not see when I would be or felt that I wanted to be.

Friday night, I sat in the prayer corner of my bedroom and poured it all out to God, pleading almost to the point of demanding that His justice “…run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24).  “Lord,” I said aloud, “People have got to stop fearing and demonizing skin color that doesn’t look like theirs!”  I said a lot of other things, amongst the tears, deep sighs, and still that churning anger.  Somehow I went to sleep, woke up early Saturday morning, began the usual scroll through my Facebook feed, and became utterly disgusted.  Shutting it all down, that day kicked off “No Social Media Day” because all it did was add fuel to what was growing inside me.

Early Saturday morning I was decidedly not okay, which made what God did next such a God thing to do. 

Opening the Bible app, the verse of the day was Ephesians 4:26, part of this week’s thought.  I looked up to the ceiling, gave the Lord a side-eye glance and said, “You think You’re slick…good one, Lord.  Good one.”  And in that one moment, the rage that was trying its best to boil over cooled considerably.  It still lingered, but without clenched jaw and fist, or the disappointment in unexpected silence.  It also tried to come back many times, but that verse stayed up in my mind and heart like a massive shield that would not be broken.

When I wanted to be enraged, the Lord blocked it.     

See, Paul’s instruction in this verse didn’t give me (or any of us) license to be –pardon my French—pissed off and act out until sunset.  Nor did it invalidate the strong emotions that I had and still have.  The righteous indignation at injustice, cruelty, inequality, victimization, and racism is real and true; all of these are contrary to the will and way of the Lord.  Plainly speaking, all of these are sin and cannot be excused or tolerated by anyone who is a child of God.  Reacting and responding to these moral and spiritual offenses ought to be expected.

How we react and respond makes the difference.

Do we go all “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth”?  Of course not.  Do we all bury our heads in the sand and wait for this all to blow over?  Absolutely not.  Following either course does exactly what Paul cautioned in verse 27 and gives the Enemy a foothold in our lives.  He already has too many under his influence as it is.

No, we lean heavily on God for the words to speak out and the strength to stand firmly in the gap for people.  We call on the power that is in the name of Jesus Christ to bind the Enemy from snatching up anyone else.

We use our talents, gifts, and abilities to bring about positive change in this nation and world which are dying from a clear lack of it.  We show this nation and world what the diverse, intelligent, beautiful children of God can do: we show them how we shine.

And every day, we must choose to forgive until the act itself requires no thought.  It must become second nature like breathing.  For if Jesus could ask God to forgive his persecutors and executioners “…for they know not what they do”, we can forgive, too.

When we do these things, it becomes harder for Satan to find purchase in our souls.  It becomes difficult for anger and pain to harden and stay.

It becomes easier to talk and listen to each other.

It becomes easier to love each other.

It becomes easier to accept that we’re all gonna be okay.

Prayer: Lord, You know what we truly need even before we say it.  Let Your justice, righteousness, and peace flow through us all, seasoning our thoughts, words, and actions with the love of Jesus Christ.  Make us better people, Father.  Please.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

His Name

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” – Philippians 2:9-11

Question: Have you ever considered the power that is in the name of Jesus?  I’m not talking about the titles and honorifics we ascribe Him, though He is worthy of every single one of them.  No, I’m talking about His name, five letters which combined exudes a level of authority that nothing earthly, man-made can attain.  His name is infinitely greater than the title of president, prime minister, king, or queen.  His name commands a response out of all who hear it, both mortal and spiritual, and that response is the acknowledgement and confession that Jesus Christ is Lord.

It is at Jesus’ name that demons tremble and flee:

“And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues;” – Mark 16:17

“The seventy-two returned with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” – Luke 10:17

It is in His name that infirmities and disease are healed:

“By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong.  It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.” – Acts 3:16

It is by His name that salvation and restoration to a right relationship with God is possible:

…for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” – Romans 10:13

It is by His name that we can receive joy, love, and peace, to help live this life to its fullness.  It is when we call on His name that things change, both our circumstances and our perspective.

The name of Jesus is powerful.  It connects us to God and His power and authority, and that’s what the Enemy wants us to forget.

It’s important to remember and live this truth because as the days of our “new normal” go on, we must call on Jesus’ name to access that power which can transform anything.  Returning to what was familiar is not an option, especially if it was harmful to us in mind, body, and spirit.  Moving forward on our own knowledge and strength is not an option, either, for if life thus far has taught us anything, it’s that we don’t know everything.  But the truth of Jesus’ name is the one thing we can count on so that we do more than survive: we thrive.

No matter how many times we must do so, we must call on the name of Jesus: not just for ourselves, but also our families, friends, churches, and the world.  At all times let us remember and lean on the power in His name to renew minds, cleanse hearts, and revitalize our spirits.  Let us draw from the authority in His name to speak life into dead situations, and protection for the defenseless.  Let us invoke the name of Jesus Christ for increase in strength, confidence, and faith.

When we do this, live the truth of the power and authority in His name without backing down, we get to experience another truth about Jesus Christ:

“And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” – John 14:13-14

When the Son of God says He will do it, best believe that He will.

Prayer: Lord, we thank You for the matchless name of Jesus Christ, which by itself is full of Your power and authority.  Help us not only to remember but also to live this truth every day without fear or uncertainty.  Regardless of what we see before us, we know that You see it all, and will hear and answer our call.  This we ask in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

P-31 Women

(Instead of a thought for this week, let’s celebrate the Moms, Mommies, Mamas, Mothers, Ma’s, and Madea’s of the world who embody every day the love, dedication, and virtues of the woman described in this week’s Scripture.  Please know that you are loved, you are appreciated, and we are forever grateful to you amazing women.  You do what even the strongest superheroes cannot do.  Happy Mother’s Day)

The sayings of King Lemuel — an oracle his mother taught him:

2 “O my son, O son of my womb, O son of my vows, 3 do not spend your strength on women, your vigor on those who ruin kings.

4 “It is not for kings, O Lemuel — not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer, 5 lest they drink and forget what the law decrees, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights. 6 Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish; 7 let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.

8 “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. 9 Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

10 A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. 11 Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. 12 She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. 13 She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. 14 She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.

15 She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls. 16 She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. 17 She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. 18 She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. 19 In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.

20 She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. 21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet. 22 She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.

23 Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land. 24 She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.

25 She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. 26 She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. 27 She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. 28 Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: 29 “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” 30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. 31 Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

N.O. = Not Over

1 Then Jesus[a] told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’” – Luke 18:1-8

No one likes hearing the word “No”.  The sound those two little letters make invokes a variety of emotions within a person, from shock to confusion, disappointment to anger, dejection to stubborn denial and even rebellion.  When we were kids and wanted something to which our parents told us “No”, we either asked “Why?” a million times, or threw a tantrum (God bless those who tried and lived to tell the tale, talking to the old schoolers like me!), or said something we thought would hurt Mom or Dad.  (Again, God bless those who tried that, too.)

As we grew up and heard “No” to many a request or desire, the on-the-floor tantrums stopped but another response/reaction took its place: defeatism.  “Why should I bother trying?  I already know the answer is going to ‘No’”.  “That’s just the way it is for me.  I’m just unlucky.”  “The universe hates me.”

 Who hasn’t thought these at least once in their lives?

Even as believers in Jesus Christ, as children of God, defeatism can be a hard adversary to conquer, and I believe a large factor is where the attack resides: the mind.  Along with the heart the mind must be protected, cemented in the Word of God to help us hold on to our faith and to be victorious.  The mind must be firm in knowing just who God is, and how much bigger, better, and stronger He is over our circumstances including the “No’s” of life.

Now, it wouldn’t be accurate for me to ignore that there are some “No’s” that work for our good, such as the prevention of toxic relationships, poor financial decisions, immoral choices, and anything else that would work to separate us from the love of God.  While these can be painful and throw us for a loop, there comes that moment later in life when we look back at those instances and say, “Whew!  Lord that was a close one!”

However, I’m not talking about those kinds of “No’s”.  I’m referring to the type that keeps blocking what would be a blessing to us and others around us.  The more we pray, fast, and meditate on God’s Word and His promises, it seems like that block grows and becomes impenetrable.

No becomes No becomes NO.  The threat of defeat, of not wanting to try again, becomes more real every day.  BUT fam, let’s take a tip from the woman in Jesus’ parable: let’s look that block, that barrier, that obstacle straight on and declare this:

NO = Not.  Over.

The widow made her petitions for justice to an unbelieving, uncaring judge without ceasing.  Each time he refused, thinking that she would give up.  But she had that bounce-back spirit on the inside because she kept coming back, making her request no matter how many times he turned her away.  Did his “No” hurt and discourage her?  Jesus doesn’t say in this parable, yet I imagine it did.  She was human, just as we are.  Still, she persisted.

Why?  Because to her, “NO” meant “Not Over.”  She knew she was due justice, and she refused to give up despite the rejections and ridicule.  She refused to accept the judge’s “No” as fact because she understood righteousness would be done.  Day in, day out, she was in that man’s face until finally it was he who gave up:

4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” – Luke 18:4-5

A judge whose job was to dispense justice, got tired of being bothered by a request for justice, and gave the widow what she wanted.  The obstacle that was in her way was worn down, and he learned his “No” was her “Not Over”. 

This woman’s conviction and faith are the key takeaways from this passage of Scripture.  They serve as both testimony and charge to never give up on the good and positive things for which we ask the Lord.  Whether it be improved health, healed relationships, new relationships, new employment, the ability to have children…whatever it is that we have been crying out to God for, we can NOT give up.  We cannot give in to defeatism, doubt God’s ability and thus lose the battlefield of our minds, for we are more than conquerors.  We must remember God is able to do what He has told us through His Word and others He will do.  Look at Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Hannah, Jeremiah, and Elizabeth.  Look at their persistence for inspiration.

Like I shared last week, we must keep praying, trusting, and acting.  We must keep following the PTA no matter how many “No’s” receive.  One “Yes” from God at the appointed time and place will transform all of those into one big “Not.  Over.”

Prayer: Lord God, thank You for the message of persistence and faith, of never giving up on You and Your promises.  Help us now to pray, trust, act, and watch the Enemy’s “No” become Your “Not Over”.  This I ask in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Work in the Wait

“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint.” – Isaiah 40:31, KJV

“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” – 1 Corinthians 15:58, NIV

Several years ago, I delivered a sermon entitled “Work While You Wait” using today’s Scripture as the focus point. Back then the main message was allowing God to change our perspective on waiting. In 2020, this still stands. Whether we are doing okay during this Corona season or we feel like we are about to go stir-crazy in our homes, we need to wait on the Lord. From Genesis to Revelation, the word “wait” and its variations are mentioned at least 41 times, a clear sign of how important this is. This process doesn’t look like what some may envision: sitting at home or at work, twiddling out thumbs, tapping our feet, or checking our watches.

No, no, no – There is work in the wait.

Doesn’t quite sound right, does it? This perspective isn’t so far-fetched, though when we look at several steps that make it possible:

  1. Pray
  2. Trust
  3. Act

This week’s verses come from two eras of struggle and uncertainty. In the second half of the book of Isaiah, this was the 50 years of captivity in Babylon, while the temple and walls of Jerusalem lay in ruins. This was 50 years of wondering what would become of the promises of God, of how they- God’s chosen people- would survive. In the first letter to the church at Corinth, almost 600 years later, the struggle was two-fold: Judea under Roman rule, and the early Christian church against Jewish religious leadership. On both fronts, people wondered how long until God would restore Israel, how long until the Son of God would return. Wondering and worrying certainly have not changed, especially for us in 2020. Still, we must pray.

“Duh, what do you think we’ve been doing, Ms. Blogger?” That may be what you’re thinking, right? But lest we be tempted to stress when things beyond our control seem to grow and grow, we’ve got to pray like Big Mama and Paw-Paw. We need this constant, two-way communication to keep us in alignment with God, to understand what He expects us to do when we are going through. But that consistent, intentional prayer helps keep us on the same page as the Lord, because our minds are focused on Him. Prayer begins that shift in our perspective, from when our difficult season will end, to what we do until it does.

The second step is that “T” word, Trust, which is directly tied to prayer. We can’t effectively do one without the other. At all times, our Enemy looks for ways to inject just enough doubt that will make us turn away from the Lord. At all times, he looks for that weak link. Such demonic, ungodly negativity that can come from people we thought were close to us has the power to stretch or break that link in our trust in God. It has the power to shift our perspective inward, come to a complete stop, and dwell on what isn’t happening. It has the power to tempt us to quit on the promises of God, and even to quit on God, period.

In his commentary on 1 Corinthians, Matthew Henry noted how Paul encouraged the Corinthian church to “…be steadfast…firm, fixed in the faith of the gospel, that gospel which he had preached and they had received, namely ‘That Christ died for our sins, and arose again the third day, according to the scriptures (vs 3-4).” Holding fast to what we believe means trusting God. It means refreshing our memory and recalling all the previous rough spots and situations from which God delivered us. It means encouraging ourselves and each other that if God did it then, He will do it again. It means reminding the Enemy about the truth in the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God:

  1. “Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.” (Psalm 9:10)
  2. “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in Him will I trust.” (Psalm 91:1-2)
  3. “…If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

As we demonstrate and live that trust in God, I guarantee the Enemy will get somewhere and sit down, because he’ll have to go back to his drawing board and try to find another way to tear us down, and tear us away from our Heavenly Father.

The last step is to act. Further in his commentary, Matthew Henry stated that Paul exhorted the Corinthian church “to abound in the work of the Lord, and that always, in the Lord’s service, in obeying the Lord’s commands. They should be diligent and persevering herein and going on towards perfection; they should be continually making advances in true piety, and ready and apt for every good work. The most cheerful duty, the greatest diligence, the most constant perseverance, become those who have such glorious hopes.”

The work of the Lord is demonstrated in various ways, so please note these are not the only ones:

  1. Obeying His commands, which Jesus condensed to: “37…‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22: 37-40) ‘Nuff said. 😊
  2. Realizing and using the gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to 1 Corinthians 12:4-11: Knowledge, Faith, Healing, Miraculous Powers, Prophecy, Spiritual Discernment, the Speaking and Interpretation of Languages. These gifts are meant to be used, not worn as accessories. For example, if Faith is your spiritual gift, it is manifested through the encouragement of other struggling people to trust God anyhow, to see what the end will be. By doing this, we open ourselves to receive the encouragement that we need to keep working for the Lord.
  3. Engaging with people from all walks of life and sharing our story about the Good News. A long time ago, my oldest niece attended what had to be the best daycare in West Texas. The owner made sure those kids knew not only readin’, writin’, and even the Preamble to the Constitution, but also something about the Lord. My niece learned a song that she sang all the time: “I’m just a nobody, trying to tell everybody, about Somebody, who can save anybody.” Can you imagine a four-year-old kid singing this over and over, with enthusiasm and passion?

Even in our struggles, as we wait for that answer or that breakthrough, we are still charged to tell anybody about that Somebody named Jesus Christ. We are still called to testify about the goodness and mercy of the Lord which follow us all the days of our lives. We are still commanded to go and make disciples of all nations. Why, fam? Because we are the only Bible that some people will ever read. We must tell it, meet others where they are and tell our story of how Jesus Christ saved us, and how He’s able to save them, too.

Pray, trust, act, repeat. Pray, trust, act, repeat. We keep doing this because ‘our labor in the Lord is not in vain’. Our work in the wait is not for nothing. Contrary to what anyone else may say, we’re not spinning our wheels for God. Hebrews 6:10 says, “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.” He can’t forget the work, because just as He was with the exiles in Babylon and with the Christians in Corinth, He is with us here and now, right in the middle of our trying situations.

And as we keep praying, trusting, and acting in faith, as we refresh His promises in our minds, our perspective on the situation is changed and we press forward. The more we press, God sends us that energy boost to keep us from running on “E”. He gives us that fresh anointing so we can stand up straighter with the confidence of a child of God. Our spirits will soar as if on wings like an eagle, as we keep moving towards the end of our hard season, praising and shouting on purpose. We will come out of this victorious, fam. Keep practicing “P.T.A.” – pray, trust, act – and watch God work.

Prayer: Lord God, thank You for keeping us thus far in this trying season. Give us the courage, confidence, and anointing to pray, trust, and act wherever we are so that this world will know the God we love and serve is with us, and will bring us through. This we ask in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

He Got Up

“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’” – Matthew 28:18

Many people found themselves celebrating this Resurrection Sunday in ways they never thought they would.  From parking lot services to social media livestreams, to Zoom video calls, even, believers around the world got creative to avoid the “bedside Baptist”, i.e., not doing anything.  (I grew up Baptist so I feel I can make that little joke.  😉)  Yes, we got creative, and have been since shelter-in-place orders were issued.  And to be truthful, church services have been AMAZING every week.  The Holy Spirit has been showing up and showing out in households, reminding God’s people that there is no distancing from Him.  He is everywhere and makes His presence known when we need it most, to encourage us that this too will pass, to provide for our needs when it looks like we’re running out.

Now it is easy to remember this when you are experiencing the joy and elation of remembering what Jesus Christ did over 2000 years ago.  The challenge, though, is to remember this after the joy, after the elation.  Because in case you haven’t noticed, the Enemy seems to work harder with introducing — or reintroducing– things, people, or situations to shift our mindset and heart set away from the fact presented in Matthew chapter 28, verse 18.  We must keep in mind that praising and worshipping God and sharing the good news of his truth is what the Enemy detests. He would rather our focus be on any and everything but the One who has already defeated him. And through the years he has gotten really good at these disruptions and distractions.

But, Jesus got up.

This is the one fact that the devil can never change, never erase.  After all this time one would think he would have learned the lesson.  He is determined to steal, kill, and destroy all who choose a relationship with God over him.  I’ve heard him described as that jealous ex-boyfriend or girlfriend who doesn’t want you to move on to something better if it’s not with him or her.  He may not key our cars or slash our tires, but he can sure raise “h-e-double hockey sticks”.  Sounds about right, huh?

But, Jesus got up.   And He did so with all authority in heaven and earth, given to Him by God the Father.  That means life, death, health, hunger, sickness, every part of the physical and spiritual realms – things which the Son of God had demonstrated in His 3-year ministry:

  • Bringing people back to life (Matthew 9:18-26; Luke 7:11-18; John 11:1-46)
  • Healing people of leprosy (Mark 1:40-45; Luke 17:11-19)
  • Healing the sick (John 4:46-47; Luke 8:43-48)
  • Feeding multitudes of people (Matthew 14:15-21; 15:32-39)
  • Delivering people from demon possession (Matthew 8:28-34; 12:22; 17:14-21)
  • Controlling nature (Matthew 8:23-27; Luke 5:1-11)

There is no aspect of the universe that is not covered by the authority of Jesus Christ, regardless of what we see, hear, or experience.  We who are part of the family of God, who claim Jesus as our Elder Brother, should stand tall and firm against the disruptions and attempts to throw us out of focus with God and confidently declare: “But He got up.”

We are not defeated by this pandemic and its ramifications, because Jesus Christ got up. 

Pay or hour reductions at our jobs will not stop us from praising, worshipping, and serving the Lord, because Jesus our Savior got up.

Extended quarantine orders will not stop us from praying, fasting, and studying God’s Word to become better people, because Jesus our Messiah got up.

Extended quarantine orders will not stop us from using safe, alternate means of worship and fellowship, because Jesus our Lord got up.

I know this is repetitive, but it’s true.  Because Jesus Christ rose from what was a certain end, Fam please believe that we will, too.

Prayer: Lord, thank You for the Gift that took on the sins of the entire world, so that we may be reconciled to You.  Thank You for the Gift that rose with all power of heaven and earth in His hands.  Let us never forget this, never let us fall into despair or disarray.  Remind us daily that Jesus got up, and we can, too.  Amen.

A Great Love

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” – John 3:16-17

For the past two weeks our church has been fasting, praying, and meditating on the book of John, going all the way to the last chapter on Easter Sunday.  Through technology we have shared and discussed some of the prevalent themes in this gospel, particularly the arrival of the Messiah and the personal relationship that God desires with His creation.  Today’s focus was on chapter 14, but since the devotional on chapter three my imagination has been painting the picture of the One who was both 100% human and 100% divine at the same time.  I’ve wondered, “What was Jesus feeling in these moments?  What was He thinking?” more times than I can count.  Why I’m wondering this now, I honestly cannot say.  What has become clear through this devotional is just how much God loved –and still loves—this world. 

John 3:16 is hitting me differently, causing tears to well up even as I write this.  For the Lord to develop His plan of salvation that would require the ultimate sacrifice so that many may be saved, that they would be passed over, is seriously blowing my mind.  Because let’s be honest, fam: we aren’t exactly everyone’s cup of tea.  If there is a nerve to get on, we have that uncanny ability to find and park on it.  If there is a foul attitude to catch, or cross words to sling at someone, or foul thoughts that would smell if they could, we can be about all that.  We can grieve the Holy Spirit with our “…bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” (Ephesians 4:29). 

We human beings demonstrate far too easily how much we don’t deserve the grace, mercy, and love of an all-powerful God, our heavenly Father.

And yet despite all this, despite us, God loves us anywayHe loves us so much that He did what none of us would do, if we’re completely honest with ourselves.  He gave His Son so that everyone who believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior, will have eternal life.  He gave His one and only Son so that the world could be saved from eternal damnation, so that we could be part of God’s family.  Of the countless ways to demonstrate His love the Lord’s plan involved this one-time supreme, ultimate sacrifice to atone for the sins of every single person through the whole of human history.  By believing in His Son, by accepting Him as THE way, THE truth, and THE life, the effects of our sins no longer separate us from God. 

That personal relationship that the Lord has always wanted with you, me, and everyone is real and active.

…And then this amazing sacrifice rose from the dead after three days, with all power in His hands.  Death, hell, and the grave were conquered by Jesus Christ.  The Accuser who’s working even now against us is being thwarted and overruled in the heavenly places, because the Son is there saying, “No, my blood covered that” with every charge he can lobby against us.  The blood of Jesus covers a multitude of faults.  The power in His blood protects us during this season of pandemic and global uncertainty and reminds us that there is nothing too hard for the Lord to handle.  That includes COVID-19.

This is why I tear up, why my heart feels so awed and humbled right now.  I know I have been loved and am loved now by family and friends.  But to experience a great love like this, to really process it and what it means…fam, there really aren’t any words to adequately describe it. 

I am so humbled.

I am so grateful.

All I can say is, “I love You, Lord.  Thank You so much for loving me, for seeing the best in me, for saving me, for blessing me.  Thank You for staying by my side, for healing me when I was sick, for comforting me when I was feeling broken.  Thank You for teaching me to be better, and for being patient with me when I wasn’t.  Thank You for the joy and hope that You bring to my life every moment.  Just…wow, thank You, thank You, thank You.”

Prayer of thanksgiving: Lord God, I just want to thank You and tell You how much Your love means to me.  I love You, Lord.  I truly, truly do.  Amen.

An Anyhow Praise

“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.  The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places….” – Habakkuk 3:18-19

Funny story: I was driving from work the other day listening to a gospel station on Pandora, I believe it was the Ricky Dillard one.  Like I always do, I had the music cranked up and was singing along, the contralto/tenor part (because yeah, that’s what I normally sing) to Maurette Brown Clark’s “One God”.  With every key change I got louder, having a good old time.  About halfway through the song, I noticed a car in the middle lane keeping pace with me.  I didn’t look over, figuring whoever was watching me would go on because I wasn’t gonna stop singing.  I was gettin’ my praise on, fam.

Eventually the car kept it moving, and I continued singing…and the cell phone rang.  Through the car’s Bluetooth (because I wasn’t trying to break any traffic laws that day), a friend of mine asked me what was I doing, because from his view I was either having a concert or telling someone off.  He said he kept honking trying to get my attention, but I wouldn’t look over.

All I could do was laugh and explain I was singing, and he laughed too.

That’s how it’s been for me since the world is in a strange season.  With more news and more safety mandates, with companies trying to stay afloat and families caught up in that process, I’m feeling like the prophet Habakkuk; I will rejoice and praise God anyhow.  While this pandemic is unprecedented in modern times, the awesome healing and restoring power of the Lord is not.  He never stops doing either of these things, nor does He ever stop loving His children.  Speaking personally, His track record of making a way out of no way, of coming in clutch, is impeccable.  So how can I not praise Him through song, or deed, or even this blog?

There are a few things about what praise is and what it does that we’ve all got to remember.  I’ll paraphrase and share my thoughts on a few of them from this great source at www.crosswalk.com:

Praise confuses the Enemy and sends Him running. Y’all, this is so very true.  He cannot stand when we praise God in and out of season, especially when we’re in the “out” as we are today.  This is because our very being is so laser-focused on God that the Enemy can’t worm his way past our spiritual armor to wreak havoc on our minds and hearts.  Imagine the enemy throwing a fit like Rumpelstiltskin before running off to scheme against us once more.

Praise means no time for complaints and worrying.  In addition to the mental and emotional effects of spending time in praise and not in complaints, there are the physical effects that are similar or really the same as those from the “Good Thoughts” post from several weeks ago.  If singing “One God”, “Intentional” by Travis Greene, or even an old 100 like “Amazing Grace” helps me feel healthy and well all over, then I’m gonna be “sangin’” every day.  If thanking Him for all that He’s done can have such a profound effect, then best believe I’m gonna thank Him every chance I get.

Praise invites the Lord’s presence.  When the Lord’s Spirit draws close through praise, there is a feeling of connection, of relationship, for which there are no adequate words to describe.  The cares of this world melt away, leaving just us with the Lord Our Father.  The worries of the day vanish, leaving the creation with the Creator.  In His presence, the reminder of who He is rings clear along with the reaffirmation that there is nothing too hard for God.  And that includes COVID-19.

Praise allows God’s power to be displayed.  This.  Right.  Here.  This isn’t the only way for God’s power to be displayed, of course.  But when we glorify the name of the Lord despite our circumstances, the atmosphere shifts.  We remember all the marvelous things that God has done for us in the past, when we couldn’t see a way out.  And we are reminded that if He did it once, He can do it again. 

We can stand by and watch doors that were sealed shut burst wide open.  

We can witness the weapons that were formed against us fail, just like Isaiah prophesied. 

Sickness and disease are no more, leaving doubters baffled. 

We can rejoice with the people who break through and break out of dead situations. 

We can testify to the Lord who shatters the chains of the enemy, and who makes us to walk upon the high places.

So yeah, I’m gonna keep having the traveling gospel concerts in my car.  I’m gonna stay prayed up and praise full through this current world situation and even after it.  I will praise God anyhow, and be a witness to His signs, wonders, love, and power.  Why?

Because He is the joy of my salvation.

Prayer: Lord God, I just want to praise You and say “Thank You” for simply being You.  Good days and bad days, I will sing Your praise for You alone are worthy.  Amen.