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.

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.

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.

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.

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.