The Ultimate BFF

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” – Proverbs 17:17

This week’s inspiration stems from a conversation I had a couple of weeks ago with a friend.  We go back to 2005, when we were both working in the same department.  We met while trying to put up a hanging folder rack on a cubicle; between the years of degrees and previous work experience, you would think the both of us could have figured it out.  That rack gave us the blues, Fam, until we finally realized it was missing some key hardware pieces.

Engineers…gotta love us.

But from that, a friendship was born that is still going on and strong.  We’ve laughed together, cried together, ranted like Yosemite Sam and then some together.  He is my “brother from another mother”, and I wouldn’t trade him for anything.  

God has gifted me with other friends, three who are like my brother and are part of my core, the “circle of four”.  Dating back to college in one case, work in another, and an online writing group for the third, these women and men are my go-to’s for prayer, advice, laughter, crying shoulders, and classic venting sessions.  I look at them and all the years we’ve known each other, and I’m reminded of the theme song from “The Golden Girls” (yes, I’m dating myself and I don’t care.  Y’all know that show was and still is hilarious.  I’m pretty sure some of you have a Dorothy, Blanche, Sophia, or Rose in your crew, too):

Thank you for being a friend / traveled down the road and back again / Your heart is true / You’re a pal and a confidant /
And if you threw a party / Invited everyone you knew / You would see the biggest gift would be from me / And the card attached would say /
Thank you for being a friend‘”

I am forever grateful to the Lord for our paths crossing, and our backgrounds not being so different that true bonds of friendship — of kinship — couldn’t be formed.  And I can confidently say that we are lifetime friends; they couldn’t get rid of me even if they tried.  😉

When the bond of friendship is true and strong, there is no judgment or condemnation.  There is love at all times, like today’s verse says, a love that won’t enable us to do what we know is wrong and harmful.  Friends- especially the life-timers- don’t hype each other up to fail and fall.  They give us the proverbial (and maybe even literal) knock upside the head when we’re being total numb chucks about a situation, a person, or our own selves.  They don’t rejoice and tear us down when we ignore their advice and jump feet first into some good old foolishness.  They pull us back and give us the “business” (i.e., fusses like an old school grandmother with the classic “I told you so!”), but also helps us straighten what we’ve messed up.  Friends are always ready to fight our battles with us, to stand in the gap and agree that no weapon formed against us (or them) will prosper.

Lord, thank You for the gift that are friends.  I call them a gift because in this world, they are not promised, and should be treated as the treasures they are.  😊

Still, as much as they are a gifted treasure, we can’t forget there is one Friend we all have.  Whether it’s early in the morning or late in the midnight hour, He is always available; He neither slumbers nor sleeps.  He’s better than Dr. Frasier Crane from that old TV show, in that we can find no better listener.  He heals our bodies and mends our hearts like the surgeon of all surgeons.  He doesn’t judge, doesn’t talk about us behind our backs.  Rather, He is with the Father constantly interceding for us when the Accuser brings up every selfish and sinful thing we’ve done, said, or even thought.  He’s there each time, saying “My blood covered that.”

His presence is so comforting when we’re grieving, or feeling lonely, or exhausted.  He doesn’t allow us to think poorly of ourselves and sends us confirmation of who we are to Him and the Father through the Word, song, inspirational thought, and of course our friends.

He gives us joy in all situations (something that forever baffles the Enemy) and demonstrates His power and authority to work all things for our good.

As for fighting our battles for us, lookee here: nobody gets down like our Friend.  He can just speak and demons tremble, devils flee.  He tells us to “be still and know” that the Lord is God, and makes our enemies behave.  For example, think of that co-worker or supervisor who seemed set against you and Who you represent.  How many of us can testify to the Lord’s goodness of fixing that work situation and changing people’s hearts and minds when we called on Him?  Or what about the problem that seemed to pass from generation to generation- how many can testify to how He broke that curse and set people free?  Show of hands, please! 😊

He conquered death and the grave by sacrificing His life for us, so we all should know He can conquer anything.  Is there anything too hard for Him?

Of course, I’m talking about Jesus Christ, the One who knows and loves us anyway.  He’s traveled down the road with us and back again, never giving up on us.  He is our eternity Friend, who truly loves at all times, and our elder Brother who stands up for us to protect us.  He does more than we can ever think or imagine.

He is the ultimate BFF; now who can beat that?

Prayer: Lord, thank You for gifting us with friends.  Thank You even more for the ultimate Friend in Jesus Christ.  May we treat all of them as the treasures they are.  Amen.

Love U

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your words are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.” – Psalm 139:13-15

This week’s thought was originally planned for last week, but when the Lord leads in a different direction, I’ve learned to readjust and go with it.  He’s pretty good and flipping schedules like that.  😊  But here we are, ready to think on that four-letter L-word.  Tina asked what it had to do with her situation, the Beatles sang it couldn’t be bought, and Mary J said she was searching for a real one (and boy did she say it!).

But that’s not the type of love I’m talking about.  Out of the 7 types of love we can experience in our lifetime, the one that I’m led to share with you is philautia, or self-love.  More akin to this (on the positive side) is self-esteem, self-worth.  Some of the other forms of love have their challenges, yes, especially outside God’s design for us as women and men.  We can do some real block-headed things for the passionate and playful love types.  And we are the first to rush back to the Lord when the haze clears and the mess is exposed…well, most of us do that.  There are some stubborn and stiff-necked folks who keep trying their way the same way and expect different results.

Still, self-love is important to understand, accept, and take care of.  It requires our mental, emotional, and spiritual state to be healthy so it can be healthy.  When it is operating well, the fiery darts of doubt and fear are extinguished long before they hit their mark.  The cannon-fire of unworthiness is deflected by the love in the ultimate defensive shield, our heavenly Father.  Excuse the poor grammar but can’t nobody tell us nothin’ when we walk and live in the knowledge of who and WHOSE we are.

Fam, this type of love is not dependent on how another person makes us feel special, wanted, or adored.  It is not dependent on any external thing, be it situation or people.  Philautia is about understanding and appreciating that God took the time out of all the awesome things He has done to create you and me.  From the mole on my right cheek to the freckles on your nose; from his short waves to her long, straight hair; from our various abilities, talents, and gifts to our personalities and interesting little quirks- we are all fearfully and wonderfully made.

When we are at our best, we are wonderfully made.  When we are at our worst, we are still wonderfully made.  The Lord stitched every facet of our being in a way that makes us unique and yet perfectly fit in the amazing mosaic that is His family.  Considering this fact, indulging the Enemy’s ploys to make us doubt our worth as defined by the Lord is not what we do.  Accepting his lies of not being intelligent, attractive, and just plain awesome is not what we do.  Thinking and speaking less of our literal God-made selves—and allowing others to do the same—is not what we do. 

Please excuse me if I’m coming across a little annoyed, but Satan has jerked us around long enough on this thing.  This really needs to be said.

Right now, someone is reading this posting, ensnared in a situation that drains the essence of who they really are and what they were created to become.  Now is the time to speak life and love into them. 

Now is the time to tell that man, “The Lord knew you when you were in your mother’s womb.  He knows the good plans He has for you and hating yourself is not one of them.  Be confident and assured that you have value, that you have worth.”

Now is the time to tell that woman, “Every good and perfect gift comes from the Lord.  He made no mistake in creating you.  Belittling yourself is not part of His design.  Stand tall and walk boldly into your season.  You’ve got this, because He’s got you.”

Now is the time to tell our own selves that the God who is loves and treasures us like no other.  Our worth was determined by Him long ago, and there is no changing that fact today, tomorrow, or any point in the future.  We matter to the Lord.

And that’s what matters.

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank You for Your transcending, transforming love.  Thank You for creating us a little lower than the angels.  Remind us now and always of how much You value us, so that we live that truth each day.  Amen.

A Good Report

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?…Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” – Isaiah 53:1, 4-5

This month, the thought was going to be about love and its various forms, or rather that was my plan.  Instead, the Lord’s inspiration led towards a different thought which touches very close to home.  A couple of weeks ago I received news about an uncle being in the hospital and the doctors telling him they had done all they could do, that he didn’t have much time left.  He went in weak and frail, not having much of an appetite.  But hearing these words from people who spent years learning the human body and the ways to heal its injuries and illnesses, did something to my uncle.  While he lay in that hospital bed with family nearby and on the phone, I am told he opened his eyes and looked directly at his attending physician with a determined look.  The strong faith he has in God shined bright from that point, giving him strength to eat and drink, to get out of bed.  He has told people more than once that he’s not worried because he knows the Lord’s got him.

My uncle has let people know just Whose report he believes.

This brought to mind another family member who had received a similar “bad” report, my mother.  February will mark the ninth year since she underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor.  What started out as migraines in the couple of months before became fainting spells and then a diagnosis in January 2011 that rocked our family: type 4 brain cancer.  Well, it rocked most of our family except the one who received such devastating news.  During that time, I witnessed a demonstration of faith that was so inspiring and humbling.  Mom let her doctor know that THE doctor who has never lost a patient would have the final say, that it was His report she chose to believe.  This woman prayed, immersed herself in the Word, and thanked God in advance for healing her.  All the while, I was afraid to ask God on her behalf because I didn’t know what to do if His answer would have been “No.”  Any other time I prayed, His answer was either a “Yes” or “Not yet”.  But I couldn’t shake the fear that this would be the first time for a “No”.  I wasn’t ready for that, as if anyone really could be.

Praise be to God for proving that fear to be “False Evidence Appearing Real”.

She and Dad drove to Dallas-Fort Worth for her surgery with a doctor who prayed with them (something we didn’t expect), which was on a Monday.  By the end of that week, he drove her back to our hometown for a brief stay in therapy, followed by in-home sessions.  The tumor was taken, analyzed, and the initial bad report we had received was changed: type 4 became a variant type 3 which had a treatment plan with a high success rate.  Mom went through chemotherapy and radiation throughout the rest of that year, and the brain cancer has not returned to this day.  I will admit that there have been other health issues since, the most recent being breast cancer.  But this time, instead of being afraid I declared Whose report I would believe, that if the Lord brought her through it before then He could surely do it again.

Looking at these moments in my family’s history, I love how God stepped in and confounded human thought and knowledge, how He demonstrated that He would always be the one with the final say.  I appreciate how the blood of Jesus which was shed on a cross has never-ending power to heal what some may say can’t be healed.  I am inspired how the words of Jesus can speak life (look at the son of the widow of Nain, Jairus’ daughter, and Lazarus) into dire or final situations, and stir up a determined faith to witness the power of God manifested in the lives of His people.  And I love how that same faith spreads to others, moving them to share what they saw God do with people who are looking for the same thing, a “Yes” to a difficult situation.

Right now that person may be reading this blog, wondering what to do, say, think, or even feel after receiving a bad report.  Don’t let fear overtake you, silencing you from reaching out to God.  Instead, speak out loud what you have seen Him do for you and for others, and ask Him to do it again.  Study and meditate on His life giving, lifesaving Word (see list of verses below) and declare that by His stripes you are healed. 

 “Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?…”  Stick with the Lord’s good report. He has never been wrong yet.

Prayer: Lord, thank You for Your good and perfect report.  Thank You for having the final say in our lives.  I ask that You touch and heal the readers of this blog from what may be affecting them physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  Let Your power flow through them in a mighty way, so that they can further testify to how great and awesome You are.  I ask this in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Suggested healing scriptures (see more at Bible Study Tools):

Jeremiah 17:14

James 5:14-15

Isaiah 41:10

Jeremiah 30:17

Isaiah 38:16-17

Philippians 4:19

Revelation 21:4

James 5:6

Psalm 30:2

Psalm 103:2-4

Walking in the New, Part 3: Spirit

“You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”  (Ephesians 4:22-24)

If the human soul is the seat of our will and mind, then the final part of this month’s series – the spirit – is the real person, the core of who we are.  Borrowing from a book I once read, it’s who we are when no one else is looking.  Remove the layers of relationships, education, finances, and careers, and the spirit is what’s left.  And just like our hearts and minds, if this ain’t right, we’re in for some bad storms on the sea of life.  Perhaps this is why David asked God to renew the right spirit within him after petitioning for a clean heart.

Of course, the question must be asked: “What does walking in the new spirit mean?”  A closer look at what makes up our human spirit may provide the answer.  See, the components of this key part of our existence include intellect, emotions, fears, passions, creativity, awareness, insight, understanding and judgment.  Walking in the new spirit means all of these are in alignment with God.  It means putting off the old emotions, fears, and passions that we chased into a spiritual ditch, and putting on a new desire to chase after God’s good and perfect will manifested in His entire creation.  It means shedding the limiting view of “What’s in it for me?”, and developing a panoramic, Kingdom-building perspective.  It means opening our entire selves to God’s limitless possibilities. 

The things or people that would trigger us into a Yosemite Sam fit, or a classic Daffy Duck meltdown get at most a shrug with an “Ok, but God’s still in control and will have the final say.” 

Yosemite Sam (Looney Tunes)
Daffy Duck (Looney Tunes)

The other things that would leave us perplexed become crystal clear, as now we are better able to discern what is in or out of the Lord’s will.  Our insight and understanding dramatically improve as we learn to pause, take a step back, and pray to respond in a God-led, Holy Spirit-filled manner.

By walking in the new spirit, it is as the apostle Paul wrote: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”  (2 Corinthians 5:17)

And who doesn’t like something new?

As with the heart and mind, all of this is a continuous process, and the possibility of challenges exists.  It requires us to work at it and be intentional as we do, even when it seems more than we can handle.  But –and thank God for this interjection—the Lord assures us through His Word and proven record that all things work for the good of those who love Him and are called according to his purpose.  Any setback is only a set up for a comeback, and that’s some pretty good news to me.

So, let’s keep pressing, keep walking into this phase of our lives with a new spirit, mind, and heart to see all of the wonderful things that the Lord has in store for us.

Let’s keep walking in the new.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for this past month, for revealing Your will and way in our lives.  Please continue to lead and guide us in this new season to stay on course and keep You first in the process.  Also, Father, please be of a special comfort to the families of Kobe and Gianna Bryant, the other passengers, and the crew during their time of need.  Strengthen them, Lord, in the days to come.  Bless them directly and indirectly through family, friends, and others.  I ask this in Jesus’ perfect name.  Amen.

Walking in the New, Part 2: Mind

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.” – Romans 12:2

I think Pat Benatar got it wrong in the 80’s.  Though it can feel like it at times, love is not the battlefield (side note- I do really like that song): the mind is.  Without question it is the control center for our attitudes, thoughts, feelings, and actions.  If this ain’t right along with the content and character of the heart, we are in for a world of trouble, Fam.  Perhaps this is why it’s referenced or alluded to in at least 150 different verses in God’s Holy Word.  I’m talking about:

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2)

And He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’” (Matthew 22:37)

You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:3)

Or what about the lyrics to the following Gospel song?

“Woke up this mornin’ with my mind, my mind was stayed on Jesus…”

“Walkin’ and talkin’ with my mind, my mind was stayed on Jesus…”

“Singin’ and prayin’ with my mind, mind was stayed on Jesus…”

(Here is my favorite line because it is absolutely true):

“Ain’t no harm to keep your mind, stayed on Jesus…

And each verse ends with the highest praise we can ever give to our God: “Hallelu, Hallelu, Hallelujah.”

When our minds are fixed on something, heaven help anyone who stumbles across our path; we can be doggedly determined to get whatever it is we want.  Think about our childhood, and the cookies we wanted were contained and out of reach.  How creative (and daredevil) were we to push the chair into position and climb until we stretched on our tip-toes on the countertop?  Remember how our mother or father yelled with fear at seeing us in that dangerous position, and how we turned to look at them with a “What are you yelling for?” expression? 

In that state, everything seems to fade in the background- our physical environment, guidelines, morals, consequences and implications.  Other things that drift from our periphery while we seek a goal can be our fears, doubts, and perceived lack of capability.  Our minds are laser-beam focused on just that one thing, that one person, or that one situation that we absolutely have to have.  Depending on what it is and our motive for wanting it, our focus can be askew and leave us vulnerable to – you guessed it – mental and spiritual attacks.  The progress in our process (ie, relationship with the Lord) can slow down, and even make a U-turn back to the patterns of this world.  These patterns, or the chicken coops from the thought on “Get Free, Be Free”, put us at a disadvantage on the battlefield of our minds, in that we stop using the armor of God like we’re supposed to.  10,000 arrows fly at us and blot out the sun as in the movie “300”, and here we are standing with our shields down, helmets off, and swords on the ground, staring at a flower.

Crazy, right?  And yet this is what we sometimes do!

Our focus on the wrong thing or motive can cause selective memory issues, and we forget “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds” (2 Corinthians 10:4).  We temporarily don’t know how to fight the Enemy, or even worse that we are in a fight.  And that rascal is tricky enough to confuse us into fighting against ourselves, and even God.  Fam, every day and all day, our adversary prowls to see who he can kill, steal, or destroy.  He seeks to snatch us out of the protective, preventive, and provisional hands of the Lord.

The Enemy’s mind is fixed.  On.  Us.  And that’s why it’s crucial that we get and keep our minds fixed.  On.  Jesus.

“Well that’s all fine and good, Ms. Writer, but exactly how do we do that?  How do we achieve victory on the battlefield of our minds?  How are we to be transformed and renewed?” someone may ask.

We do this by understanding that transformation requires a radical and universal change through new habits.  And these aren’t truly new, but they can be to us.  Below are just a few:

  1.  Reading and studying the Word of God daily — To elaborate just a bit, this isn’t a task for speed-reading purposes, or half listening to while doing something else just to mark it complete.  To study is to meditate, to intentionally ask the Lord, “What is this supposed to say to me, Lord?  How do I take Your Word and apply it to my life now?”  It’s about actively waiting for His answer and putting it into continuous action.
  2. Surrounding ourselves with like-minded people who will hold us accountable — Having a “Hype Man” or “Hype Woman” ain’t a good thing, Fam.  They can hinder far more than they can help, even if that is not their intent.  We should not be afraid to be called to the carpet, per se, if our focus has shifted in a negative, harmful direction.  And we need people who are not afraid to check us (with love, of course) and help re-center our focus.
  3. Pray, pray, and pray: Scripture encourages and instructs us to pray in and out of season, when we’re walking on sunshine and when nobody knows the trouble we’ve seen.  It is the primary (not the only) form of communication and communion we have with God, and it is two-way.  It’s not about telling the Lord what we want.  It’s about Him telling us what He wants both from and for us.  It’s not always asking Him for the tangible.  At the right times, it’s about asking for the intangible, like peace of mind, and purpose.  And still there are times when praying to God has no request other than “I just want to hear what You have to say, Lord.”  We just need to be still and know that the Lord is God.

There are other new good habits to deploy that I haven’t mentioned.  But practicing these three until they become true second nature helps keep us on the higher ground mentally and daily transformed to battle the Enemy on the Lord’s terms.  God’s ways are guaranteed to work since He’s already won and as we are His children whom He loves, by default we are victorious, too.  Even if there seems to be a lull in the attacks to push us back to who and how we used to be, we are to practice, practice, and practice so that we don’t.

Hmm…looks like the Enemy is the one with the selective memory, because he keeps fighting a losing battle.  What do you think?

Prayer: Lord, we thank You and bless You for transforming and renewing our minds.  Please help us stay on track, on the high ground, so that when the Enemy comes with his usual tactics, we molly-wop him with Your Word, like-minded people, prayer, and other good habits that make him beat a hasty retreat.  We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Walking in the New, Part 1: Heart

“I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” – Ezekiel 11:19

Welcome to a new year, fam!  Some of you may already be on Day 6 of your resolutions, not missing a beat.  Some may have reached Day 2, shrugged your shoulders and said, “Welp, I tried.”  If you’re like me, you haven’t even bothered with a new resolution list because you still are working on the stuff from the previous two or three years.  (My memory can be like a steel trap at times, so I know what I’ve still got to do.  😉)  With the annual push for seemingly new everything, I asked the Lord about what to share not just this week, but for the entire month.  And true to form, He led to me to the thought of “Walking in the New”.  Yeah, the English may not be 100% correct, but follow me on this journey anyway. 

Instead of focusing on the external per tradition – physical fitness, debt reduction, employing wise spending habits to save up for that trip to Belize, starting a new hobby, etc—for the month of January the perspective will be on the internal elements of heart, mind, and spirit.  With countless Scriptures speaking to them, it makes sense to begin 2020 with these on the right foot.  For if one of the three is off, it will not matter what external goals we set these next 12 months.  We would ultimately be living out of alignment and just like a car operating in that same condition for too long, something in our lives will break down.

So, the heart…yeah, lots of things issue from this life-pumping muscle (Proverbs 4:23).  One could look to my favorite Biblical figure (besides Jesus Christ) and his Psalm 51 to see a sample of one of these “things”.  Though he knowingly and willingly messed up in a big way, King David was man enough to acknowledge his guilt when the prophet Nathan called him out.  And instead of dwelling in the shame of his Michael Corleone setup to get another man’s wife and cover up the affair, the shepherd boy-turned warrior-turned king cried to God and said so perfectly in verse 10, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.”  Jesse’s youngest son had a change of heart, repented of his sin, and began “walking in the new”, the next phase of his relationship with God.  Even when the consequences of his sin were meted out, David did not backslide as our more seasoned saints would say.  He stuck with the Lord who made him king of a chosen people.

Interesting how nearly 400 years later, the Lord offered similar words to His chosen, exiled people through the prophet Ezekiel: “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.”  Unlike David, both Israel and Judah didn’t really bother trying to cover up all the dirt they had done, the idolatry and outright rebellion against the God who brought their ancestors out of slavery.  Generation after generation, monarch after monarch, they weren’t even trying to get it right.  Yet just like God, He offered a way out which showed His commitment to the covenant He made with Abraham.  Instead of sending complete destruction, He preserved a remnant away from Zion and promised that they would return home.  And He kept that promise, too.

A heart that is clean and free of our mistakes, undivided in loyalty and truth, and flesh (i.e., alive) instead of stone (i.e., dead), one that is filled with the love of the Lord and from which life flows to the people around us – this I believe is one of the top three goals for every child of God.  Or rather, I believe it should be.  2019, 2018, 2017…1986, even, are done and over with.  The stuff that bound, conflicted, and hardened our hearts is done and over with.  It’s 2020, fam, and God has given us another chance to see that He is doing a new thing, and to join Him wholeheartedly.  Imagine all the wonderful things that can be accomplished, the amazing blessings that can shower upon us and those connected to us, when the Lord takes our imperfect hearts and fixes them right up.  Imagine the ease of experiencing His peace that surpasses all understanding, guarding our hearts in all situations.  Imagine people walking past us and wondering, “What is it about that person that is radiating such positivity, such joy?”

Imagine “Walking in the New” with a heart overflowing with unconditional love all year long. 

Wouldn’t that be something?

Prayer: Lord, thank You for a new start, a new chance to become closer with You.  Please protect the hearts of Your children as we go along life’s highway and show us the opportunities to invite others to walk in the New with You.  Give us the courage to speak the Good News so that they can come to know You as we do.  Amen.

Endure

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”  (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

The previous posts don’t really show it, but 2019 has been a rough year.  I’m reminded of the phrase, “I don’t look like what I’ve been through.”  And it’s true, I don’t.  Internally, this little old heart gained some new scars big and small, a few real fresh and still hurting.  Some friendships ran their course, family relationships imploded, job turnovers kept me in constant search-mode, new friendships faced spiritual challenges, infernal plumbing and A/C issues flared up at the worst times – geez, it looks like I must have done something wrong to have caught all this drama, huh?

But not so: this year hasn’t been about punishment and consequences.  I am convinced that 2019 was the culmination of the last 3 years and the lesson/character trait that the Lord wanted me to get: endurance.  It’s an easier thing to say than to develop, yet it is required of me as a child of God.  Why required?  Because endurance is the fruit of hope (1 Thessalonians 1:3).  And if there’s one thing believers must have with faith and love, it is hope.  It is a faith-building block for sure, but Lord have mercy!  The process to get it is a challenge.  And when we add our human condition to it – the struggle to forgive and forget, the temptation to hold on to the pain, the habit of feeling sorry for ourselves—y’all, this endurance business can be too much.

Yet, I’m still here.  Heart scarred, spirit bruised, mind weary, I…no, we are still here.  Not because we’re too stubborn to throw in the towel, though that may be true, but because of the Holy Spirit dwelling on the inside.  When things went south, He was always there to keep us from falling.  The enemy threw his best every time, an uppercut here and a right hook there, and the Spirit of God pushed us back up.  When we were clinging on to the ropes, He was coaching us from the corner to get out of there and keep going.  Imagine if you will that old school clown toy with the heavy bottom.  Every time we hit it, the toy would lean backwards without hitting the ground.  No matter how hard the blow, the toy would never fall flat and stay down.  It kept bouncing back.

Bozo Bop Bag

That something on the inside, its base of sand, enabled the toy to endure our wild child punches.  Occasionally, it would land a blow of its own, right in the face.  Likewise, the Holy Spirit is at the core of who we are, holding us up when the enemy and life try desperately to knock us down.  When we want to quit, the Lord won’t let us.  He will not let you, me, or any of His children fall.  He is our guardian who will not sleep (Psalm 121:3-4).

We lift our heads and cry out for relief, and He delivers through His word: “Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4).  We lean heavily on Him to weep, and He answers with “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken” (Psalm 55:22).  We close our weary eyes and listen for Him to say he “…will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you” (Isaiah 26:3).  Believe me when I say:

We are not crushed.

We are not abandoned.

We are not destroyed.

We endure.

Our faith and relationship with God are not in vain, and never will be.  He gifted us with the “bounce back”, His Holy Spirit, to go into this new year with hope that our latter days will be better than our former days.  He promised us this, and if there’s one thing I know and you should, too, is that God always keeps His promises.

Prayer: Lord, 2019 did a number on Your children.  We are still trying to make sense of it, honestly.  But for every sad and dark moment, You gave us light and love in unexpected ways.  You gave us energy to persevere, to endure.  Surely, we don’t look like what we’ve been through, and it’s all because of Your grace, power, and might.  I pray, Father, that in 2020 we receive “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” (Isaiah 61:3).

We are ready.

Amen.

Friendly Reminder

“For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.  Praise the Lord.” – Psalm 117:2

On the way to church yesterday morning, I stopped by Starbucks for my usual breakfast sandwich and chai tea latte.  Driving to the cashier window and whipping out the gift card I’d received for Christmas, my favorite employee appeared.  To protect her identity, let’s call her Mrs. Darla.  Silver hair, bright blue eyes, and warm smile, we chatted briefly about the fog, speedsters down the on ramp, and how I’d planned to avoid the highway altogether.  (Living in Texas has taught me that most of us don’t do well on the road when there’s a single drop of precipitation…no exaggeration, either.)

When food and drink were ready and she passed them to me, we exchanged a “Merry Christmas” and I drove away with a big smile on my face.  I didn’t smile because I had my favorite food from the bucks of stars, but because of the kindness Mrs. Darla exuded towards me.  This was a feeling needed after two weeks of navigating around the standard life stressors.  I told God, “Thank You for that, Lord.  This came right on time.”  

This was the first reminder.

I made it to church safely and worked in the media ministry per usual.  One of the songs ministered by the praise team was “Lord, You’ve Been Good.”  An old school Gospel tune, it filled my heart, or rather it refreshed it.  It brought to remembrance how the Lord had indeed been good to me in the past week, month, even year.  It brought to remembrance how the Lord is still being good to me.  Like the first sermon I gave in November 2015, I saw the Lord’s provision, protection, and prevention in several circumstances, and felt such gratitude.  I know I haven’t been the best me each day, which is why His loving me anyway is just so amazing.

This was the second reminder.

The third came a few hours after worship service wherein I spent time with my paternal aunt and grandmother who turned 103 this year.  Being in the presence, talking with them, laughing with them, making them laugh (because I’m a jokester through and through), watching the Cowboys try to play – there was no better way to spend a Sunday afternoon.  Familial warmth and peace enveloped me…all three of us, really.  I even got a picture with my grandma, who smiled big and bright.  I think she likes selfies now.  😉

Three separate moments demonstrated God’s goodness so perfectly.  When my spirit needed lifting, He sent to Mrs. Darla.  When my heart needed renewing, He sent me to church.  And when my soul needed connection, He sent me to family.   And He did this because His love is great.  His faithfulness to keep thoughts and feelings fixed on what is good, pure, and honorable endures for all time.  He knew what I needed long before I could even think.

His love and faithfulness are great to all of us.  Think about that unexpected early Christmas gift, or that little boy in the store smiling and waving as you passed by, the verse of the day that spoke beautifully to your situation,  or the financial blessing that enabled you to pay bills with some left over.  All these good moments we experienced these past weeks have all been friendly reminders that the Lord is with us and He ain’t going anywhere.  We don’t have to be anxious about having enough, because He supplies all our needs according to His riches in glory.  We don’t have to fear being alone or lonely because He is with us to the end of the age.  We don’t have to worry about being unloved, because He’s already shown how great and unconditional His love is on a hill called Calvary.

I don’t know about you, but I’m okay with these reminders.  Keep ‘em coming, Lord.  Keep ‘em coming.

Prayer: Lord, Your timing and ways are impeccable.  Thank You for making Your presence known.  Please let others know and experience the same.  Amen.

New Levels, New Devils

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13

Three weeks ago this blog began with disruptions and reminders of how to handle them.  Two weeks ago there was progression from experiencing the disruptions to being free of them.  With the way this week has gone in the world and in our personal lives (mine in particular), living and striving away from the chicken coops of the past have introduced new levels, unfamiliar territory in heart, mind, and soul.  We’re standing in a large field of possibilities, of ideas we’d once brushed off as fanciful daydreams that could actually be real, opportunities to bless others and bring glory to God.  It’s exciting, isn’t it?  Who could imagine that the man who’d once been told he could never be anything finally sees how he can be so much more?  Or what about the woman who’d been crushed by countless disappointments and yet now sees the Lord opening a door to a blessed and prosperous beginning?

Who would have thought that a nerdy, geeky, little woman from Texas would be committed to creating an inspirational blog and follow through?

New levels, fam, that’s where we are. 

And true to form, our accuser, nemesis, enemy – that no good, low down rascal—is right there sending in new devils to trip us up.  It seems like everywhere we turn in our field, everywhere we look, something or someone comes up that knocks against the core of who we are in Christ.  Granted, it’s the Enemy’s job to contend against the children of God, the joint heirs with His Son.  But like me, don’t y’all think he does his “job” a little too good?  Don’t y’all wish he would do like our Nana’s and Paw-paws told us when we were young and rowdy, and just “get somewhere, sit down, and hush”?

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m keeping it transparent, fam: the Enemy is working that very last nerve!

Thoughts and feelings that I never ever conceived coming from me have become a temptation with which I wrestle daily.  Attitudes of “I wish somebody would try me” have now become a thing.  The fight to bring it all under submission to the Holy Spirit feels like a 20-round heavyweight title fight, like I’m going against Mike Tyson in his prime, which means a guaranteed knockout for someone like me.  We’re talking round 1, 3 seconds…but I digress.

And yet even as I’m typing this entry and looking at the verse in a split screen, the Lord opens these tired, bifocaled eyes and says, “You know you defaulted to the natural again, right?  Why fight like this when My word is in front of you?  Is My word not a weapon of spiritual warfare?  I know you’ve got faith in Me, because you’ve seen Me work.  I promised you I would never let you fall.  Am I not a promise-keeper?  I know how much you can bear, too.  Am I not faithful to lift you above these temptations?  Am I not powerful to fight these battles for you?  At the sound of my name these devils will tremble and flee.  I’ve got this, because I’ve got you, to the very end.  So remind me, little lady, why are you trippin’?”

Like a little kid with hands clasped behind me and avoiding eye contact, here’s my timid, mumbled answer: “…I don’t know.”

It never fails to amaze how in the midst of a struggle moment, the Lord cuts a simple path of wisdom, insight, and deliverance at the right time that blows the mind.  His reminders are absolutely the best.  His precision makes the strife and worry disappear instantly and leaves us standing in our field once more, looking around with one hand on the hip and the other scratching our heads.

“Really, Lord?  Was that all it took?”

“My son, my daughter—yup, that was all it took.  Now get back to fulfilling the plans I have for you.”

“Yes, Lord.”

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank You for opening the eyes of our hearts when they need to be opened, to confound the Enemy and reconfirm our faith in You and the power of Your word.  Thank You in advance for the power and authority to conquer these new levels in our lives and the devils that think they will overcome us.  It is because of You and You alone that we are already victorious.  Bless Your holy name, Lord!  Amen.

GET FREE, BE FREE

“If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” – John 8:36

Show of hands if you’ve heard the story of the eagle and the chicken*.  It’s not a long one, but I’ll try to paraphrase as best I can.  There once was a baby eagle who fell out of his nest and was found by a chicken farmer.  The farmer brought him to his home and raised him in the coop with his other chickens for years, and the eagle knew no better.  It ate as a chicken, slept as a chicken, and fluttered about as a chicken.

Word got around about this phenomenon, and when a naturalist heard he had to see it for himself.  You see, this individual knew the eagle was the king of the sky and to witness such a creature strutting around the coop, pecking at the ground—this blew his mind.  The farmer explained that the bird was a chicken, trained and raised to be nothing else.  The naturalist disagreed of course, because he knew the animal was born an eagle, had the heart of an eagle, and nothing could change that.

The two men decided a contest to see who was right.  The naturalist picked up the eagle, set it atop the coop fence, and told him, “You are an eagle.  Stretch your wings and fly.”  The eagle looked at the naturalist, looked at the farmer and fellow chickens, and jumped off the fence back to the comfortable, familiar ground.  The farmer grinned but the naturalist didn’t give up.  His eyes fell on the farmhouse, and with the farmer’s permission he took the scared and confused bird to the roof.  Again he said to the eagle, “You are an eagle.  You belong to the sky, not the earth.  Stretch your wings and fly.”  The eagle looked at the naturalist, and jumped from his arm to the farmhouse roof. 

“Told you so, it’s a chicken,” the farmer said with a smirk.

Knowing a little something about eagles – a lot of something, really—the naturalist asked if he could return the next day for one more try.  The farmer was too amused to refuse, and so he agreed.  Early the following morning, the naturalist arrived to take the farmer and the eagle to the foot of a nearby mountain.  From this new location neither coop nor farmhouse were in sight.  The man held the eagle on his arm, pointed towards the sky and said in a confident tone, “You are an eagle!  You belong to the sky and not the earth.  Stretch your wings and fly!”

This time, the eagle lifted it head towards the sun shining bright, straightened its large body from its chicken stance, and spread massive wings to their full span.  They moved slowly initially, as this was an unfamiliar sensation, but in no time they moved surely and powerfully.  And with a mighty screech, the eagle took off, and flew away.

The story ends there, so no one knows what became of the farmer, the naturalist, or the eagle.  But what’s interesting to note is that the powerful king of the sky had to be told three times, in three different settings, that he was free.  And each time found him further from what was comfortable and known.  It seemed to take near isolation from the squawking and fluttering chickens for the eagle to hear nothing but one truth, the truth of who he was since birth.

Much like this animal, we human beings who were made a little lower than the angels have to be separated from the noise and distractions in order to hear, accept, and live this truth: “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.

Fam, do you know, like really know, that Jesus Christ of Nazareth set you free from the slavery of sin, from the eternal separation from God?  Do you know that as we strut, flutter, and peck around the coops of fear, guilt, unworthiness, and the fake news of being unlovable—we are free to spread our spiritual wings to the max and lift off?  Do you know that once the Son of God is accepted as Lord and Savior, there is no principality or power that can enslave our hearts, minds, and souls again?  No matter how strong their influence may be, they can’t pull us back or down to where and what we once were.  Believing otherwise is exactly what the Enemy wants us to do, to forget who and whose we are so we start to make a U-turn towards those old coops of our past willingly.

If perchance you don’t know, then get ready, get ready, get ready.  The time of isolation will come and feel jarring.  Oh who am I kidding?  It’s gonna be a real scary trip that will raise a lot of questions with few answers at first, and they won’t always be the answers we want when we want them.  However just as the naturalist was with the eagle each time and spoke words of affirmation into its life, so will the Lord be with us and say:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you….”

“I know the plans that I have for you….”

“You are fearfully and wonderfully made.”

“You are more than a conqueror.”

“Greater is He is that is in you than he that is in the world.”

“You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.”

“I love you, unconditionally and eternally.”

With words like these coming from an awesome being and creator of all which speaks only truth, how can we not believe Him?  How can we stay with our wings tucked, heads bowed, and our hearts and minds enslaved?  How can we ignore the very basic fact that in Him, by Him, and because of Him, we are free?

Mount up with the wings of an eagle, fam.  Get free, and be free.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for this opportunity to know and accept that in You alone there is true freedom.  Please bless the readers in a mighty, mighty way.  Open doors and knock down walls that have held them back from realizing Your purpose.  This I ask in the matchless name of Jesus Christ, Amen.*Source: The Fable of the Eagle and the Chicken