“For the word of the Lord is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness.” – Psalm 33:4

Like many of us, there are certain songs that really speak to the season of life in which I find myself walking through.  This particular song was not around when I last posted on this blog in May 2021, but I can say without any doubt that throughout all I’ve been through, God is Dependable, by Travis Greene:

Thank You for saving me
Thank You for loving me too much to leave
You’re not just the God who saves
But You are the One that remains the same
Every high and low You’ll stay always
I can count on You….

There have been some great high moments of new love, new job and career, renewed family bonds, and a deeper, closer relationship with God.  There have been some extremely low moments of family loss, stress and anxiety seemingly through the roof, and blindside spiritual attacks.  And still through it all, God was there: 

He was there for every tear offered in joy, and every one shed in sorrow. 

He was there when a door was closed only to open a bigger, better door right beside it. 

He was there when my family experienced a tremendous loss, but he has let us know each day, in many ways, that He is sovereign and His plan is perfect.  He loved on and comforted us in wonderful ways.  He guided us—guided me—to keep trusting His process, whether it felt good or uncomfortable.

He led me to seeking Him in His Word, in His promises, when the enemy tried so hard to make me doubt.  He corrected me when I acted like I had no home training—like my parents used to say—leading me back to the narrow path He designed so that I could become more like Him, and be empowered to be one of many warm lights in a dark and cold world.

From last year to now, I have experienced the words in Psalm 33:4 brought to life, that His Word is upright, and everything He does is in faithfulness.  When I would have given up, when I would have thrown in the towel, God was dependable to stay my hand and remind me of the promise He made and continues to keep.  He was dependable to manifest His wisdom and power to work out situations that seemed hopeless.  He was dependable to say “Yes” when the enemy kept saying “No”, and I witnessed the Lord’s “Yes” prevail again, and again, and again.

And He did all of this because of His unconditional, all-encompassing, never-ending love. 

He loves me—and especially you—so much, too much, to leave us alone through the mountain and valley experiences.  He loves us too much to leave us unprotected, without guidance, as we navigate life.  No matter the reasons we give Him—because let’s be real, we give him puh-lenty of reasons—the Lord remains always, showing us that He can be trusted, because He above all is faithful to do what He said He would do.

Truly, no one can keep their word like God…and thank God for that.

Thank You for saving me
Thank You for loving me too much to leave
You’re not just the God who saves
But You are the One that remains the same
Every high and low You’ll stay always
I can count on You….

I am so very glad that we can count on God for everything in every season.  I pray that for the rest of 2022 you remember this, too, Fam.

Prayer: Thank You, Lord God, that no matter what happens in our lives, we can be assured in knowing that You don’t change, that You remain the same, that we can depend on You to do what You said You would do.  I pray for the person reading this right now who needs that confirmation, and ask that You show up and show out that he or she can be at total peace that You love and will take care of them.  I pray that You show them just how faithful You are.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

He Will

“For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.” – Psalm 91:3-4

“God is good all the time, and all the time God is good.” I’ve heard this statement many a time either from a relative or friend, or a call and response in church. It’s a true statement, no if’s, and’s, or but’s: God is good, all the time. And all the time, God is good. I know for myself that He is good, faithful, and cares for us beyond our comprehension. For example, I had an in-home accident in March, where I lost consciousness, fell, and hit the back of my head on the floor. There was no medical reason given for what made me pass out, but that’s exactly what happened. The pain in my head was what woke me up, leaving me staring at the ceiling confused and scared. By the Lord’s grace and mercy, I got up and climbed into bed, and did what some medical experts caution against (some surprisingly don’t): I went to sleep.

I remember literally crying out to God to save me before my eyes closed, to allow me to wake up the next morning. Six hours later, I did wake with a slight headache that grew worse enough for a trip to the hospital. (Thank God for friends that drop whatever they’re doing to come help us in need!) A few hours later, I was back home with a sprained wrist and a highly suspected concussion even though there were nothing showing on the CT scan. And after all that to now, I am very grateful that the Lord heard and answered my cry. See, I know the injury could have been far worse. The danger inside my head was very much present and unseen- except by the Lord. Falling asleep instead of staying up that night was a present danger, too, and the Lord protected me through it all the same. I may never know what triggered the pass out in the first place, but I do know that God confirmed (again) the Psalmist’s words:

“For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.” – Psalm 91:3-4

I love that the writer chose the word “will” and not “may”. God’s deliverance of His children from who or what troubles them is an absolute, not a possibility. It is a guarantee, a promise, and if we know nothing else about God, we know He is a promise keeper. In fact, He is the ultimate promise keeper, whose word never returns to Him void. There is so much evidence in Scripture and our own lives that support this. I mean, look at David’s life alone, from shepherd to king. Just when his enemies thought they had them, God stepped in and blocked them. My fall could have been stopped by the tiled floor, but instead it ended on carpet. The pain, disorientation, imbalance, and memory issues could have lasted longer than a few days. The fowler that was the injury could have had me, but the Lord brought me through.

If His Word says He will do something, best believe He will.

It’s important to really know and understand this fact about God, because there are plenty of voices physically and spiritually that try to convince us otherwise. They try introducing doubt, as if all the other times the Lord has delivered us were just flukes. They try swaying us to believe that this time might the one where God says, “Nah, I’m gonna sit this one out.” And because these voices or forces know how to worm their way into our minds and hearts, they find the path of least resistance, sneak in, and trap us in a lack of faith and fear. However, what they still don’t know is just how much more powerful the One who created us is, how much wiser He is, and how faithful He is to honor His word of protection and deliverance. There is no snare or pestilence, no circumstance or situation, that is beyond the Lord’s power to overcome on the behalf of His children. He loves us way too much to let that happen. I know for sho’ that God loves me, and that He protected me from serious harm.

Look at what He’s done for you in the last 3 months, 3 weeks, or even 3 days. Look at what had you bound, then look at what the Lord did to set you free. Whether it was spiritual, emotional, physical, mental, financial – whatever it was, look at how He moved on your behalf.

He heard your prayer, your cry, and He answered.
Never forget: whatever comes your way, remember the Word of God. Remember the absolute, the guarantee, the promise in it. Because the Lord will do, for you.

Prayer: Lord, we love and appreciate You for being a God- the God—of Your word. Thank You for Your protection and prevention from dangers seen and unseen. Thank You for being stronger that the snares and traps that would harm us. I pray that You show Your power and mercy to those who are crying out to You now, looking for that breakaway, that breakthrough. I pray that You move in a mighty way to set them free, to heal their bodies and transform their minds. I pray that through Your deliverance they step fully and confidently into their season of new life, peace, joy, and blessings. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

All We Need Is Love

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bear all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

July 7, 1967, the Beatles released their song “All You Need Is Love” in the UK, which was released three weeks later in the US.  It became one of their many hits as well as one of the anthems of the “flower power” movement, the passive, non-violent protest of the Vietnam War.  The lyrics are very simple—like, really simple:

All you need is love

All you need is love

All you need is love, love

Love is all you need”

The beat is a little odd (or at least it sounded so to me; my brain kept trying to process it in 4:4 time), but the song is pretty good.  Of course, it has its share of musical critics who have complained that “All You Need Is Love” is too simple, too naïve, as if they knew/know what people need.  Seems like to them, love is not enough, which I guess I can see why they might be right…

(…Don’t panic, fam.  I’m not trippin’, so just hang tight.)

If one’s understanding and/or experience of love is that it is only an emotion, that it is a “crazy little thing” like Freddy Mercury once sang, then compared to all of life’s complexities it probably isn’t enough.  It’s probably too small to take on big things like racism, sexism, prejudices, and fear.  It’s probably too weak to tackle low self-esteem and self-worth.  It’s probably too feeble to withstand the ebb and flow of trials and tribulations.  Unfortunately, that human understanding is itself small and quite narrow. 

Thank God for His divinely inspired Word, however, and the followship of the Apostle Paul to break down what love really is in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.  Real love (better the one Mary J. Blige was searching for in the 90’s) is bigger, stronger, and steadier than anything we can ever encounter.  Think about this:

  • Patient – When was the last time we experienced true patience from someone while we were being absolute numb-chucks?  Answer: every time.  God loves us so much that He allows us opportunities to get our act together, so we can resume becoming the men and women He created us to be.
  • Kind – Remember that moment when we had a chance to act on kindness and be helpful to someone and we weren’t, but the very next moment we received kindness we knew was undeserved?  Yeah, that was the Lord, too.
  • Not envious or boastful – Lord have mercy, that green eyed monster called envy can really be something, especially on Valentine’s Day.  Real, true love is not stuck on who is or isn’t boo’d up.  It’s certainly not braggadocios, either.  The fact that we are loved unconditionally by an all-powerful, unchanging, eternal God leaves no room for coveting or wishing for what some others have.  It’s humbling to know that our imperfections will never be enough to turn the Lord away from us.  Fam, we are indeed good and loved, warts and all!
  • Not irritable or resentful – The King James Version of this verse reads “…is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil”.  True love (i.e., God’s love) doesn’t plot against those who cause it harm.  It doesn’t look for payback, doesn’t subscribe to the Klingon philosophy of revenge being a dish best served cold.  Instead, it makes room so that when we mess up (and that is a when, not an if), it provides correction and guides us back to right standing with God our Creator.
  • Bear all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things – Allow me to put it this way: the true love of God doesn’t give up when the going gets tough, and doesn’t become cynical and merely exist without the hope of a new tomorrow.

Going by Paul’s explanation in his letter to the Corinthian church, I firmly stand by the Beatles’ chorus: a patient, kind, humble, non-resentful, bearing, hoping, and believing love is all we need.  God’s perfect love is absolutely all we need.  It has the power to heal any heart, transform any mind, and renew the right spirit in any person.  It has the authority to cast down the strongholds of fear and hate.  It has the strength to build anew broken relationships and fortify them in trust and truth.  It has the compassion to give us chance after chance when even we wouldn’t.

It’s so easy, fam, it truly is.  All we need is love, His love. 

His love is all we need.

Prayer of thanksgiving:  Thank You, Lord, for Your never-ending, unconditional, fantastic, powerful love.  Thank You for the love that never fails and never gives up.  Amen.

A New Thing

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” – Isaiah 65:17

Well, the start of 2021 has sorta-kinda-maybe disrupted the planned “New” series, keeping in line with last year’s “Walking in the New”. Still it’s a new day and there’s no time like the present to start, right?

In reading Isaiah chapter 65, it struck me how difficult a task it was to tell his nation what thus said the Lord. Much of his book was about the judgment of God’s people after years of turning away from Him, of seeking other gods and fulfilling their selfish desires. I can imagine the righteous indignation and heartbreak the prophet must have felt at seeing his people choose old habits and ways that ultimately led to their being conquered and exiled to Babylon. I can image his frustration at a people being spiritually stuck when they had the Lord who could set them free. This sounds like what parents go through with children that refuse to heed advice that’s “too old”, or ignore cautions that are not applicable in the 21st century. Time and time again, Mom/Dad will say one thing (based on what they learned the hard way) and their sons or daughters do the exact opposite. It’s indeed painful to see loved ones, people we care about, choose a path that leads to an avoidable dead end.

Yes, I can imagine what Isaiah must have felt. It’s a tough assignment to deliver a hard word to hard-headed, hard-hearted people, and have it rejected. However, Isaiah also received a great word that’s the focus of today, a fantastic word of salvation and redemption, an awesome word for a new start.

It’s the latter part of the verse, “…and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind”, that we all need to embrace. If the Lord won’t bring up the old stuff we did in 2020 and years before, if our mistakes don’t enter His all-powerful mind, if He doesn’t burden us with our past, then we shouldn’t do it to ourselves, either. God loves us too much to be done with us, to leave us in the messes we make, so we should be ecstatic to know and eager to accept His redeeming gift! We have more than enough reason to jump and shout for joy that the Father of all creation chose to do a new thing for His people Israel, and also for His family (all of us who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior) in spite of our bad choices and sins!

Yes, we made some costly mistakes even during a pandemic and said harsh words that could not be taken back. We wrecked relationships over politics, racial injustice, and faith. We worried far more than we trusted, and made ourselves sick in the process. But I tell you this: God is sho’ nuff a forgiving God. When we fess up to Him with sincerity, He doesn’t hold grudges. With Him, “…the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” He gives us something new to look forward to, a new chance to get it—i.e., life—right. He gives us a chance to leave the failures and disappointments behind, which allows our perspective on the present and future to shift, and enables our trust in and relationship with God to deepen and grow.

There is so much to experience and gain with the new thing God wants to do for us and His entire creation, so why not leave last year behind and chase after that new thing in 2021? Why not chase after the vision seed He planted in your mind years ago to change careers, start that business, or pursue higher education? Why not forgive those who wronged you, give them a call and allow healing to begin? Why not trust God 3000 percent in all things and at all times? He has a proven track record with those who trust Him, so we can’t go wrong!

Let’s leave all the mess behind, fam, and move forward into that new thing. Let’s take that first step together, encourage each other to take another step, and another, and another. Let’s nudge each other forward when the temptation to step back becomes a little intense. Let’s cheer each other on through the challenges and celebrate the victories (and believe me, there will be victories).

We can do this, folks. With God we can, and we will!

Prayer: Lord God, thank You for every new chance You give us to get it right, to walk in our purpose and calling. Thank You for never giving up on us despite the reasons we give You to do so. I ask that You be with us as we make this first move. Order our steps in Your word, Lord; keep us connected to You and each other as we face what 2021 brings with confidence that we will achieve all that You have set for us. With You, we can’t go wrong! I ask this in Jesus Christ’s name, Amen.

Wise Words

In light of today’s events in Washington, DC, the original posting for this New Year will be delayed until next week.  What is needed right now in this historical moment are words of wisdom that speak truth to power, to the fact that the Lord is God of order and not chaos.  Regardless of political affiliation, something has been shifting among the principalities and powers in the spiritual realm for some time.  They seek and sow destruction, but we who are children of God seek His will, wisdom, and way.  Fam, I ask that you stand in the gap with me for this country, from coast to coast, and pray for forgiveness, healing, and commitment to choose God above all.  For when we keep God first, all else will fall into His order.

Proverbs 28 (ESV)

28 The wicked flee when no one pursues,
    but the righteous are bold as a lion.
When a land transgresses, it has many rulers,
    but with a man of understanding and knowledge,
    its stability will long continue.
A poor man who oppresses the poor
    is a beating rain that leaves no food.
Those who forsake the law praise the wicked,
    but those who keep the law strive against them.
Evil men do not understand justice,
    but those who seek the Lord understand it completely.
Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity
    than a rich man who is crooked in his ways.
The one who keeps the law is a son with understanding,
    but a companion of gluttons shames his father.
Whoever multiplies his wealth by interest and profit
    gathers it for him who is generous to the poor.
If one turns away his ear from hearing the law,
    even his prayer is an abomination.
10 Whoever misleads the upright into an evil way
    will fall into his own pit,
    but the blameless will have a goodly inheritance.
11 A rich man is wise in his own eyes,
    but a poor man who has understanding will find him out.
12 When the righteous triumph, there is great glory,
    but when the wicked rise, people hide themselves.
13 Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper,
    but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.
14 Blessed is the one who fears the Lord always,
    but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity.
15 Like a roaring lion or a charging bear
    is a wicked ruler over a poor people.
16 A ruler who lacks understanding is a cruel oppressor,
    but he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days.
17 If one is burdened with the blood of another,
    he will be a fugitive until death;
    let no one help him.
18 Whoever walks in integrity will be delivered,
    but he who is crooked in his ways will suddenly fall.
19 Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread,
    but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty.
20 A faithful man will abound with blessings,
    but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished.
21 To show partiality is not good,
    but for a piece of bread a man will do wrong.
22 A stingy man hastens after wealth
    and does not know that poverty will come upon him.
23 Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor
    than he who flatters with his tongue.
24 Whoever robs his father or his mother
    and says, “That is no transgression,”
    is a companion to a man who destroys.
25 A greedy man stirs up strife,
    but the one who trusts in the Lord will be enriched.
26 Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool,
    but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.
27 Whoever gives to the poor will not want,
    but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.
28 When the wicked rise, people hide themselves,
    but when they perish, the righteous increase.

The Perfect Stitch

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” – Psalm 147:3

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” – Psalm 103:2-5

For my sophomore year at college, my mother made me a queen-sized patchwork quilt. Made of pink, green, yellow, white, and blue pieces, this fairly thin covering has surprisingly kept me warm for nearly thirty years. Maybe it’s the love or prayers that went into stitching it together, I’m not sure. But to this day, if that quilt is not on my bed, I can’t get warm enough to sleep.

Yeah, I know, I sound like the female version of Linus and his blue blanket…oh well.

As expected with time and usage, this old quilt has collected some rips, tears, and lost stitches. It’s not at the point of being unusable, but a little extra handling care was in order. Recently, I really looked at it and decided to repair as best I could. Needle and thread in hand, I pulled frayed pieces close and stitched them up. Suffice it to say, the stitching isn’t pretty, and it’s very noticeable. Why after all this time it never dawned on me to fix the rips when they were smaller, I don’t know. What I do know is that every pass of the needle through the material was symbolic of what the Lord has done for me personally and for others:

He stitched us back together. However, His stitch is so perfect that none of us look like there was anything torn or broken within us. With His awesome, beautiful handiwork, we don’t look like what we’ve been through.

Think about it: this year we have experienced rips and tears that could have completely unraveled us spiritually, emotionally, mentally, physically, and financially. The fabric of our society, already stretched by the ever-present effects of hatred and fear, was pulled apart in ways few of us thought would happen in our lifetime. The hopeful expectation of 2020 being the year of vision became tattered and torn by calamity after tragedy after catastrophe.

This year, more than any other, has been a trip, leaving us much like my old quilt. And yet, there are only two words I can say to that:

But God.

See, despite all that was going on, the Lord has been putting us back together, working in the background and at the forefront. We don’t look like:

a. Salary reductions or job loss, because bills were still paid, food still in the pantry, and a new job was waiting for us

b. Broken relationships, because a single text or phone call opened a path to reconciliation

c. Sickness and disease, because our God is a healer, and it is His report that we believe

d. Depression, because the joy of the Lord has held the darkness at bay

e. Anxiety, because God took the cares we cast on Him and is handling them with so much ease

Every piece of our lives that was ripped, the Lord has repaired. Every seam that was stretched, God has strengthened. Every part that went missing, He has made new. His is truly the perfect stitch, and I’m just glad He loves us enough to make us whole in heart, mind, and spirit.

I don’t know about you, fam, but I can’t wait to see how and what the Lord does in 2021. I expect The Great to do great things for you, and for me.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Prayer: Lord, it has been a year. Still every time we thought “This is it”, or “Can’t handle this”, but You, Lord. But You, who stepped in and did more than we could ever ask or think. For every tear of sadness, You gave us tears of joy. For every sigh, You gave us multiple reasons to sing Your praise. For every bad moment, You showed up with Your goodness and showed out with Your grace. Thank You, Lord, for all that You have done. I pray that You keep doing what You do best in 2021, and all the years to come. And for the person who is waiting for that breakthrough, believe that it is coming. Your waiting is not in vain. Amen.

Still the Best Gift Ever

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” – Isaiah 9:6

Two Christmases ago I preached a message titled “The Best Gift Ever”, comparing the gift that we are all celebrating today (and really everyday) to the gift I didn’t exactly get when I was a little girl with big dreams and an even bigger imagination.  At some point in the future I may post the entire text of that sermon, but for now, bear with me on this mini trip down memory lane….

Long ago, my parents took me to Sears Roebuck in the Winwood Mall in my home town, to meet the man, the myth, the legend – Santa Claus.  We waited in that never-ending line until it was my turn to tell him, “Yes, I’ve been good” –at least I thought was.  And I left that store excited for what I just knew he was gonna bring me: a Malibu Barbie.

Malibu Barbie

Christmas Eve, my night-owl habit kicked in overdrive as I laid out the cookies, milk, and posted up on the couch to see if I could get a glimpse, just a small one of Santa.  I do remember wondering just how he was going to get in our house, because we didn’t have a fireplace; we had that good old, tall wall heater.  But hey, if Santa could squeeze down chimneys of all shapes and sizes, he could figure out a workaround for me.  And so, confident in this, I stayed up, watched “A Christmas Story” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” God knows how many times, and waited.  And waited.  I must have dozed off at some point because the next thing I knew, dawn had arrived, and Santa was MIA.  But hey, I was good all year and I knew he left Malibu Barbie under the tree just for me.

Y’all, I tore through the gifts as fast as I could to find her, and when I reached her box, savoring the moment of the great reveal, this next picture was what I got:

Not Malibu Barbie.  Good old Saint Nick left me a Superstar Barbie.

Superstar Barbie

Many questions went through my mind, while disappointment swirled in my little heart.  I was hurt, y’all.  I had believed in Santa to be and provide what I wanted, and it didn’t happen.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t throw little miss Superstar away—I wasn’t that crazy.  That doll and I went on many an adventure, as super-secret agents rappelling off armchairs –her—and doing flying scissor kicks off steps – me– to save the world.  And even when ‘she’ accidentally broke part of her neck, I put her back together with some duct tape and kept on truckin’.  Yeah, I was MacGyver before there was a MacGyver!

But after that year, the perspective on Christmas became something of a roller coaster: the anticipation and excitement ebbed and flowed, at times more of the former.  There were peaks and valleys, mind dizzying turns, and abrupt stops.  Sometimes I received what I wanted, sometimes I didn’t, and sometimes I received what I didn’t even ask for (or want).

Still, as a friend from back home used to say during Sunday School, “God is a smart fella.”  He knows and teaches His children that it’s not the gifts – the tangible, material—we want that matter.  It’s the one gift He gave that to this very day, matters the most, and nobody can top that.

And that, folks, is Jesus Christ who is still the best gift ever, even in a year like 2020.  But in case there is someone who’s struggling with what they see instead of what the prophet Isaiah said, let’s examine just three of an infinite number of facts:

FACT #1: He’s “Wonderful”.  Something that makes our Heavenly gift wonderful is that Jesus is everything and anyone we need, at any time, all the time.  Whereas that old Barbie had one purpose, which was to keep me occupied and essentially out of trouble, and because it was constrained by Mattel’s design and my imagination and attention, with Jesus there are no constraints whatsoever.  He’s not limited to a quota of meeting one need per person, per day.  He’s meeting and exceeding the needs of countless believers across the globe.  He’s encouraging and keeping all of our sisters and brothers by blood and by bond through a year-long season of turmoil and uncertainty. 

There is no ageing out with Jesus Christ as the best gift ever, either, meaning we don’t get too big or grown when it comes to Him, even though we sometimes act like it.  This means our problems, situations, or issues will never be too big for Him to resolve.  Therefore, we can trust Him with our everything and not be worried or fearful of disappointment.  We can trust 100% that His yoke is easy and His burden is light.   We can commune and communicate with the Lord through prayer about our situation, say “Amen” and mean it, and let the situation go.  I can certainly say that I am a living witness to this!

FACT #2: He’s our “Counselor”, and He’s our “Counselor”.  The official definitions of this word, according to Webster are:

  1. A person who gives advice or counseling
  2. One that gives advice in law and manages cases for clients in court

In the spirit of keeping things real, we all need some counseling.  We all need the Lord’s advice on a multitude of things because as “smarty art” as we may think we are or have been complimented, we don’t know everything.  And thank God that we don’t!

Now about spiritual counseling, Jesus gives some really good counsel, the kind that has outlived hundreds of generations:

  1. The counsel of the two greatest commandments – Love God, love your neighbor as yourself
  2. The counsel of ask and it shall be given, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened
  3. The counsel of not worrying about what tomorrow will bring
  4. And when we read His council/advice, and we put it in practice…life gets better.  Our perspective on it gets better.

For the other type of counseling (from the legal perspective), Jesus Christ is still the best gift ever because He’s never lost a case.  And every day, every poor, selfish decision we make, every lie we speak, every hurt we dish out– the Accuser, who goes by many names – Lucifer, Beelzebub, Satan, the Devil – builds a solid case against us where the wages of sin are death.  Spiritual fingerprints are all over the scene, and the case is open shut.

But for our defense, there is something which the Accuser just can’t beat.  This something that still works, that reaches to the highest mountain and flows to the lowest valley, that gives us strength from day to day…this something that covers a multitude of sins and that has never lost its power: it’s the blood of Jesus that washes away the spiritual evidence and makes us bright as snow.  And without the evidence, the Devil can’t beat it no matter how hard he tries (and he will keep trying, no doubt!).  Jesus reminds His foe what happened at Calvary and causes him to lose yet again.  “Case dismissed!”

FACT #3:  Jesus Christ, the best gift, is the Mighty God.  Going back to Webster again, this means “powerful”.  While exiled on the island of Patmos, John called Him the “Omnipotent God”, meaning “One who has unlimited power or authority.”  We already know that Jesus has power over life and death, sickness and health.  His 3 ½ year ministry attests to that.  Just look at the lepers, the lame, deaf, mute, physically deformed, demonically possessed, and the dead He restored.  Look at the 5000 men, and thousands more women and children that He fed with plenty left over.  Look at the storm that terrified His disciples, to which He spoke “Peace, be still!” and it did instantly.  Look at the sinners He forgave which the religious leaders wanted to condemn.  Look at the forces seen and unseen that tried their best to tear us down this year and keep us there, and how He provided paths to victory over them.

See how He reached into the bottom of our spirits where the last bit of light was flickering, and PULLED out the best of us, the potential He placed there from the beginning.  Only a might God can do this, just as only He can bring forth the spiritual gifts that the Devil wants us to forget and never use.  No one but a mighty God can nurture, develop, and grow the fruits of the Spirit that the Devil wants us to ignore and let die, despite the chaos that swirls around us every day.

Jesus Christ did all this and so much more: not any version of Barbie—Jesus.

Not anything from a tabletop Ms. Pac-Man to a PS5—Jesus.

He is still the best gift ever, one that never gets old, never disappoints, never breaks, and is always there for everyone.

Merry Christmas to you, fam.

Prayer: Lord, thank You for Your good and perfect gift found only in Your Son.  Thank You for loving us through all of life’s seasons.  Thank You, thank You, thank You!  Amen.

An Instinctive Response

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

(Excerpts from a devotional I submitted to my church for its “21 Psalms of Thanksgiving”….)

Let’s begin with this declarative statement: it can be a challenge to give thanks in all circumstances we encounter. It’s not an impossibility but it is definitely a challenge as we are accustomed to thanking when something good or positive happens to us….

But when the promotion goes to someone else or the job is downsized, we don’t receive the award, or the door is closed in our face as soon as we get to the door (literally and figuratively) – how are we expected to rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks? When disappointment knocks us back or tragedy strikes us down, how can we do this? More importantly, why should we do this?

The answer is found in the life we live in the power of the Holy Spirit. This power creates a solidified joy that is not dependent on feeling good when something good happens to us. In the tough and uncomfortable times, the Holy Spirit keeps our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus. Coupled with continuous prayer which ensures that all we do is done with a sense of God’s presence, giving thanks in the midst of our circumstances—in the midst of “adulting”—becomes less of a challenge and more of an instinct. With regular practice in all situations, the “more” transforms into a definite instinctive response.

~~~Personally, 2020 has provided opportunities to practice “rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances“, as recently as this week. Not gonna lie, it has been challenging. But like the song goes, “When I look around and I think things over / all of my good days out-way my bad days / I won’t complain.” Throughout this year, the Lord has truly been good, IS good, and will forever BE good. Throughout this year, Jesus has let me know that He IS here, and ain’t going anywhere. Where He is, there is peace, love, unity, and purpose.

I’m still practicing, y’all, but I know giving thanks in all circumstances will become an instinctive response for me, as it will for you. I wish each of you a happy and safe Thanksgiving. Don’t let the “itis” get you too badly. 😉

Prayer: Lord, you’ve heard us say many a time that “2020 has been an unprecedented year”, or “Can we start over? Because 2020 ain’t working out too good.” But through it all, You have been the one true constant in our lives, showing us that You are faithful and be trusted, showing that You love us and will never leave us. It is my prayer that we become more instinctive in our response to all circumstances – the good, the bad, and the ugly. I pray that we rejoice no matter what, pray like there is no tomorrow, and give thanks to You for above all, simply being You. I ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Still No Room for Fear

“The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?…Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.” – Psalm 27:1, 14

We all know what’s happening in the US today, from local to federal government levels.  The eyes of the world are on us and have been for quite a while.  The normal levels of anxiousness and concern during election season have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and its economic impact, and the chances of returning to “normal” have all but faded.  Deep-seated fears—either justified by past experiences or imagined by insecurities—have manifested in truly scary, ugly ways.

2020 has done a number on us, fam, that’s for certain.

And yet Psalm 27 rings out loud and clear: the LORD is our light and our salvation.  Not politicians, not special interest groups, not media conglomerates, but the LORD.  His track record of leading and guiding His people through dark and uncertain times is impeccable, so really, who should we fear?  Why should we fear if we believe when we say, “The LORD reigns”?

If we declare so quickly that God is the strength of my life, then of whom should we be afraid?  Naysayers?  Voter intimidators?  Local, state, and federal leadership?  I’ll say it again: God’s track record is impeccable.  I’ve seen Him move the mountains of life out of the way so His children can walk boldly into their season.  I’ve born witness to Him lifting His people above the snare of the fowler and block the enemy’s arrows from striking home.  So, to paraphrase a comedian, “I wish I would be afraid!”

Instead, I choose to follow verse 14 of Psalm 27, because I have experienced the blessings of waiting on the Lord to do His thing, of being encouraged by Him in the meantime.  I know how He strengthens my heart—and how He strengthens yours, too—to trust Him, to cast all our cares on Him and not take them back when it seems He’s moving too slow.  (And for the record, the LORD never moves slow; He moves right.  On.  Time.)  Because of this, I wish I would give the enemy one second of time, one joule of energy fearing the outcome of today.  There are better things to do with the time God has given us, like staying in constant prayer with Him, reading/listening to His word, praising and worshiping Him, thanking Him for all He has done, is doing, and will do in our future.  And especially, we can be encouraging one another not to throw in any towel in defeat, when we are in the family of a victorious God.  

So, fam, here’s my encouragement to you: If any of this happens to be where you are mentally, emotionally, and/or spiritually, then go on and put that figurative towel back down, throw that fear away.  Stand tall with shoulders back, eyes forward, and declare at the top of your lungs:

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

Always remember who you are, Whose you are, and that there is no room for fear.

No room at all.

Prayer: LORD, thank You for Your ageless, powerful word that speaks life to dead situations, and light to darkness.  Wrap us all in the reminder of Your strength and love on this and every day, that You and You alone are in control, and therefore we have nothing and no one to fear.  I ask this in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.  Amen.

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 Tiana 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 Tiana 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, Whose 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.