Monday, November 6, 2017

Giants in the Valley

"You come against me with sword and spear... I come
against you in the name of the Lord, God Almighty..."
(I Samuel 17:45)
Giants have been favorite characters of mine for most of my life!  From the fairy tale of Jack and the Beanstalk read as a child; to the true account of David and Goliath heard often in sermons, Sunday school and Bible study.

Never once however, did I think that I would encounter giants in my own life. Or find them lurking in the shadows of my bedroom! Especially at this late date!

 Recently, as I prepared to retire for the night, out of nowhere they appeared.  A flash from my young adult past! A past that has taken me years to recover from.  I was caught completely off guard, which was exactly the Enemy's intent.  For a few hours I revisited that dark, miserable place.  Surprised at the tremendous power it still held over me!

Decades ago before I learned to walk confidently in the righteousness of Christ, my life was filled with foolishness and regrettable decisions. By the grace of God I learned from them and was able to survive it all so it was natural for me to ask my giants: Why now after all these years are you showing up?   You see it was the Giant of Guilt and its twin Shame trying to haunt me and steal my joy!  Why?  Because the Evil One never gives up, even on an older Saint.  He has to try to win a few more battles even if he can't win the war! 

As a Christian, I know this will not be my last encounter with Spiritual Giants. They will show up again, and again and usually when I'm most vulnerable.  During those times when in self-pity, I saunter into the valley of depression, discontentment, or despondency.  Praise the Lord, I now know a God Who does His best work in the Valley!

All I need to do is remind myself of the life of David. In the Valley of Elah where he slew Goliath, a human giant, I Samuel 17:1-4  and went on to defeat the Giant of Fear, Psalm 23:4 ; the Giants of Guilt and Shame, my old foes, Psalm 51:1-3, and the Giant of Apathy concerning his family woes, 2 Samuel 13.

The Prophet Ezekiel knew about giants as well.  In Ezekiel 37, God gave him a vision of  Dry Bones in a valley.  These bones symbolized God's people at a spiritual low.  Dead and lifeless, desperate for a purpose; scattered from their homeland.  Everything they knew and loved had been taken from them.  They faced the Giant of Hopelessness.  There seemed to be no solution for their current situation. 

BUT GOD never left them.  Just as He will never leave us in our valleys!  We will stay there as long as He deems necessary for us to feel His presence but we do not have to linger there. Although our Enemy comes with powerful weapons, David in the Valley of ELAH said, we come in the name of the Lord, God Almighty (I Samuel 17:45).  Perhaps these strategies may prove helpful when your Giant shows up!

1.  Refuse to Engage! Even though taunted, teased, and tempted by those who continue to bring up your past, don't defend yourself. Don't try to justify or explain your actions.  It is Satan's pleasure to accuse Christians (Rev. 12:10).  It is God's pleasure to forgive! (I John 1:9)

2.   If Forced into Battle Confront Giants with God's Word! Jesus used this strategy in the gospels and it is a sure fire way to turn the Devil on his heels. (Matthew 4:1-11).  If you've never done so start memorizing scriptures that you can recall and draw from at a moment's notice. (Ps. 119:11)

3.  Refuse to Dwell in the Past! For every painful thought replace with God's promise (Isaiah 43:18; 2 Cor. 10:5; Phil. 4:8).

4.  Embrace Your New Identity! You are no longer that person in your past. You have a new ID with a new name and a passport bound for heaven! While here on earth you have Spiritual Immunity against sins committed in your past and they cannot be held against you.  (Romans 8:1, 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 2:20; Phil. 3:13)

5. Choose Not to Remember Your Past! This is different than simply forgetting. (Although perhaps psychologically one can forget past trauma at some level.) This is taking a cue from our omniscient Father when He chooses to forget our sins (Psalm 103:12). In His dealings with us our past never enters the picture. We must learn to do the same thing - See ourselves as God sees us!  

When Your Giants Show Up Lead them to the Shores
of Forgetfulness and then Wait for God to Show up!
 (Micah 7:19)


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Monday, October 23, 2017

How to be a S.M.A.R.T. Woman of God!

His divine power has given us
everything we need... (2 Peter 1:3)
I'm the first to admit that some technology scares the heck out of me!  I mean there's something quite terrifying (if your birth pre-dates the Digital Age) about a little apparatus, called a smartphone that really IS smarter than you are!

Although it's been several years since I gave up my flip phone begrudgingly; I still struggle with keeping up with the changes and options available to me. My children and grandchildren tell me that if I'd just try them, these new apps would make me more savvy and efficient in my life.  I can't however seem to get past the simple mundane functions I've gotten accustomed to!

It's like that in my Christian life as well!  I don't use nearly enough or efficiently, the options God gives me that could make a radical change in my life spiritually! This was never more evident to me than at a Joyce Meyers conference last weekend! Among the many thought-provoking insights she shared, there was one thing she said that struck a chord: "Everything you need is already downloaded into you by the Holy Spirit when you are saved!"

I think it was the use of the word download that grabbed my attention!  You see, at home I'd been clicking Remind Me Later for a week, putting off a message to install updates that would help my computer run better and more securely!  I wondered... how many times have I said the same thing to the Holy Spirit?  He says: My Friend, time to stop texting and spend some quality time with me.  My response:  Remind Me Later!

Ironically, 2 Peter 1:3 is one of my favorite scriptures.  I think it speaks not only to me but busy Christian women, everywhere.  We say we can't get along without the modern conveniences of smartphones, i pads, e-readers and the like.  Having these items at hand makes us smarter and are essential tools for achieving a successful life!  Really? If you've got the time...let's take a fresh look at this verse:

His divine power has granted to us
all things that pertain to life and godliness,
through the knowledge of him who called
us to his own glory and excellence, (ESV)

I believe God wants us to be smart Christian women but S.M.A.R.T. in Biblical ways! After all as Joyce reminded us. When He saved us, He downloaded us with the Holy Spirit and we get all these wonderful user friendly options:

 S - The ability to take SELFIES from any given angle:  John 16:8-9

M - Unlimited MEMORY no purchase necessary:  John 14:26

A -Convenient APPS for life (prayer, relationships, etc):Romans 8:26
             Galatians 5:22
R - Eliminates ROAMING charges: John 14:17

T -Maximized TALK TIME with clarity and speed: Acts 1:8

Let's Begin to Live Smarter not Harder!


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Monday, October 9, 2017

The Only Thing Worse than Death...

Where, O death, is your victory?
(I Cor. 15:55b) 
It's been a bloody week for America, both nationally and locally!  News media and their pundits are still speculating on the motives behind the Las Vegas Massacre that took place last Sunday!

Grief-stricken families like many of us are shocked and sickened by all the violence we're witnessing.  Yet I've been trying to keep my thoughts on a higher plane. I'm choosing to blog this week about life rather than death.  The Divine rather than the Devil.  

It's not an easy thing to do in our current culture where bad news is aired 24 hours a day.  I must admit that I frequently check out emotionally refusing to watch the news and instead opting to read something inspirational or engulf myself in a silly or romantic movie. (The made-for-TV Hallmark movies are a guilty pleasure!)

Last night however, I settled down to watch a movie I spotted weeks ago on a free HBO preview.  I didn't know a lot about it except that it was snubbed by the critics even though it had some good actors in it.  I put off looking at it because from what I could tell it was about grief, pain, and death!  Surprisingly, after viewing Collateral Beauty, the profound take-away for me was the value of life!

Will Smith, Kate Winslet, and Helen Mirren are all A-List actors who gave outstanding performances. The supporting actors weren't shabby either.  Without giving away the plot I'll just tell you that its about a grieving father who deals with his pain by personifying Time, Love, and Death writing letters to each one and is eventually given the opportunity to speak to them directly.  Sounds a bit too far-fetched and dark?  Bible readers will tell you that there are similar personifications throughout the bible. The Apostle Paul speaks to Death in I Corinthians 15:55 and the Apostle John visualizes Death, as the Pale Rider in Revelation 6:8.

As mysterious and frightening as Death is to many, for Christians we are assured that it should hold no terror for us! (I Thess. 4:14-14; Rev. 14:13; John 11:25-26, Is. 57:1-2: 2 For. 4:17-18). 

 A Wasted Life is Much More Frightening: 

--A Life Consumed with Coveting and Possessing (It's been established that Stephen Paddock the Vegas shooter was a millionaire! He gained some of the world's riches but lost his soul -Mark 8:36

--A Life in Bondage (Drugs, alcohol, food or any other abuses of pleasures) - Eccles. 2:1-9

--A Life without Purpose, Passion or Hope (Violent crimes by and against black youths are increasing each year.  Pew Research compared 2016 deaths with 2015. Up by 900 the total came to 7,881. I have no stats for 2017). The Thief's purpose is to steal, kill, and destroy.  God's purpose is to give life more abundantly - John 10:10

--A Life spent worrying, grieving over loss to the detriment of viable relationships. A life of anger, unforgiveness, bitterness, and hate. - Phil. 4:6-7; I Thess. 4:13; Ephes. 4:22-24

-A Life of paralyzing fear that prohibits you from taking reasonable risks; that conditions you to accept less that God's best, and allows His wondrous gifts in you to lay stagnant or dormant in the midst of unmet needs -  2 Timothy 1:7; Ephes. 5:20; Ephes. 2:10

When one thinks of the Sanctity of Life, this precious gift God has given that allows us in our humanity to commune, relate, and enjoy all things that are good! We need to do so with more appreciation.  WHY WASTE LIFE ON SELFISH AMBITIONS AND UNKINDNESS? (James 4:3) DEATH INDEED WOULD BE PREFERRED!

Even in grief and the complexities of life and death; God provides ethereal beauty and power.   As His children we can endure it all with a depth and hope many will never understand. (2 Peter 1:3)  Don't Waste Your Life, wondering what could have been! Christ came to give you life and that more abundantly!


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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

SMILES: A Different Kind of Ministry

A joyful heart makes a cheerful
face, but when the heart is sad the
spirit is broken (Prov. 15:13 NASB)
Sundays are not just a day of worship and rest for me; it's  also the day I catch busy friends and relatives for long and pleasant chats!  Such was the case a few days ago when I called a nephew in Chicago and he blessed me with news of an incredible ministry he is now involved in!  Well, he didn't realize it was a ministry, but tell me what you think!

Due to a recent and painful season in his personal life, he found himself with too much free time and too little money for his comfort!  So he decided to become an Uber driver. With his quick wit, charming personality, and surprising vast knowledge of the bible (he's not a member of any church) this has proven to be a perfect fit for him!

He of course meets all types of people as you would imagine, but there was one that he definitely made an impression on! It was a celebrity television news anchor who was so infatuated with his positive attitude and great smile that she posted a selfie with him on her Facebook page and mentioned him by name on the air!  Her simple tag: You have the Power to Brighten Someone's Day! got me to thinking. What if we all made a conscious effort to SMILE more!!! 

Now, I know this sounds too simplistic for a lot of Christians.  We want something with a little  more spiritual oomph to it...preaching, teaching, street evangelism, healing, and praying for deliverance sounds more like we're doing God's work!  Sitting and grinning doesn't quite make it in our Book of Righteous Works!  But Sisters, do you realize what the power of a smile or the lack of one can do?  Just as the moon gets its glorious brightness from the reflection of the S-U-N, every ministry done with a SMILE, reflects the love of the S-O-N (Jesus Christ) in us!

Here are some things we need to consider:

First, God loves to see His children smile!  He's concerned when they don't!  Take the case of Cain in Genesis 4:6-7.  When his sacrifice was rejected by God for being inadequate, Cain didn't say anything but his face and attitude betrayed him. His lack of a smile showed disappointment and even after being instructed lovingly how to remedy the situation continued the sullen behavior until the whole matter became too much for him and he killed his brother, Abel!  (Proverbs 18:14A man's spirit will endure sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?) A smile and a good attitude might have prevented a murder! 

Second, God is not the only One concerned when you don't smile, others are too! If you've ever had a job involving customer relations, you know how important it is to present yourself to the public with a smile! It helps people relax. Engaging in conversations, even difficult ones gets easier, and whatever you have to deal with begins on a more positive note. Nehemiah, cupbearer to the King in Nehemiah 2:1-3 found this out when his usual cheerful attitude was missing and drew the King's attention.  This gave Nehemiah the perfect scenario to describe the suffering of his brethren and get the needed resources from the King to help them out of a difficult situation. (Proverbs 12:25 - Anxiety in a man's heart weighs him down, but a good word make him glad.) The lack of a smile can be a strong indicator of a need that can only be met by you!

Third, a smile doesn't always mean that one is truly happy! Some people smile only when things are going well. Having their way is the only time a smile is worth showing!  But happiness is a poor substitute for true joy isn't it? I think King Ahab would agree! In I Kings 21:4-7, the king is unable to clinch a deal with Naboth for a desired vineyard. So he goes home and sulks and grows increasingly depressed.  Jezebel his wife tires of his attitude and hoping to lift his spirits has Naboth slandered and  murdered seizing the property.  However, Ahab's smiles of temporary happiness soon turn to sadness as he and his family suffer under the judgement of God prophesied by Elijah.  (Proverbs 15:15 -All the days of the afflicted are evil, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast.) Smiling (especially when you don't feel like it) shows you are waiting on Someone greater to bring you joy!

What have we learned about this unique but often neglected Ministry of Smiles?
  • Heartaches, disappointments, and trials in life must be mastered.  Don't take your frustrations out on others.  Smile no matter what's going on.  It's good medicine for the broken-hearted! (Proverbs 17:22)
  • God is greater than any of our fears and anxieties. Read God's Word, Pray and Seek out the very best resources available to help relieve the situation, but remember that you also must avail yourself to be the answer to another person's prayers! (James 2:16)
  • Smiles need to be genuine and not just reserved for times when you get your way or to impress certain groups of people.  Be a reflection of God's love,  grace and wisdom wherever you go and in whatever you do! (Eccles. 8:1b)
  •  Smiles are not just for ushers, greeters, church receptionists, or those serving on the hospitality ministry.  This is a ministry that EVERYONE belongs to!

- Mother Teresa


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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

From Mediocrity to MAJESTY!

"You have made them a little lower
than the angels and crowned them with
glory and honor." (Psalm 8:5)
Joy, pure joy! That's the only word that comes to mind when I think of Sunday's celebration of women at my church.  How does that old hymn go?  What a fellowship, what a joy divine, leaning on the everlasting arms... 

This was the finale of our annual women's bible study and while jubilant over the book, Living In the Pink, by Sharon Tubbs, I think we all felt a bit overwhelmed and surprised by the bonding that took place over the six weeks we were together.

It was a journey of transparency, reflection, and revival as we compared our lives with those of the characters in the study, wincing often when one of them stirred up some familiar guilt or pain.  But somehow we always came away inspired and never condemned; evidence of the grace of God permeating this wonderful book.

The highlight of course was the author,  Sharon Tubbs as our guest speaker for the day!  Having met a few celebrity writers, I couldn't vouch for the character of any one of them if you asked me!  But Sharon's passion and authenticity is readily apparent!  She desires to do her part in bringing every Christians into the divine power and authority for which they were created (Psalm 8:5; Ephesians 2:10; Hebrews  2:7).  In other words, to take us from Mediocrity to Majesty!

Here's a brief summary of her message:
  • Mediocrity is going to church on Sunday.  Majesty is trying to be like Christ seven days a week!
  • Mediocrity is praying for where God wants to take you. Majesty is praying for where God wants to use you!
  • Mediocrity is encouraging your significant other to come to church. Majesty is not sleeping with him the night before!
The move from Mediocrity to Majesty is all about Stretching!

1. Stretching beyond a life of "Me" - Nehemiah 1 - Comfortable in Persia, Nehemiah was concerned about his brothers suffering in Jerusalem. He sacrificed prestige and a plush environment to do something about it!

2. Stretching beyond "They and Them" (Living to please others) - Genesis 29:31. Leah, the unloved wife of Jacob tried to win his favor by producing multiple male heirs. She finally comes to the realization that God is the only one she needs to please and it is He that deserves all her praise!

3. Stretching beyond Your Blessings - 2 Kings 4:8-17 - The barren Shunammite woman settled for a mediocre life of complacency.  She had no son and hopelessness almost denied her the opportunity. But God taught her through her selfless service to the prophet, Elisha, that when you Delight yourself in the Lord, He will give you the desires of your heart! (Psalms 37:4-5)

Sharon Tubbs asked a question of herself that we should all ask!  Where is the greatness in my life?  Are my dreams, gifts, and talents buried beneath a facade of mediocrity? If so, it's  time to do some Spiritual Stretching:

Stretch UP toward the hills which comes our help! (Psalms 121:1) 

Stretch BEYOND the ordinary to the Extraordinary! (Ephesians 3:20)

Stretch OUT, bringing someone else with you as you discover the majesty of this truth...we are made just a little lower than the angels and crowned with glory and honor! (Ps. 8:5) 


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Sunday, August 27, 2017

Changing Our Minds About CHANGE!

"Be not conformed to this world
but be ye transformed... (Rom. 12:2)
Little Fox, one of the stories in the book, Living In the Pink, by author Sharon Tubbs, is about the difficulty of change. This is one of several vignettes about Christian life, the women in my church is studying.  Sharon takes a very humorous but revealing look at the practice of saving seats in black churches.

The whole matter was brought to light recently by brilliant cast members (also from my church) who performed it live in a session of our annual women's bible study.  We laughed ourselves silly at the antics of Sis. Sho'Nuff and her Bestie, Sis. Towery, but in the end, more than a few of us were convicted of the spirit of rebellion when it comes to change! How silly of us! Is there any other way to become more like Christ? That IS our goal isn't it?

For so many years we have been taught to fear change.  Call it mass insecurity if you like! And to be truthful for a lot of people good things have not always come in the aftermath of most of them.  But in Christ we need not feel that way!  In fact, we should embrace change because we know Who the Change Agent is and He always works it out for our good (Romans 8:28-30)

My challenge to you and a reminder for myself is to learn to recognize when it is time to change and to accept it with faith in our Lord Jesus Christ!  I'm not asking you to toss out the beneficial and valuable traditions that have proven to add to our faith and character. I too, am a product of a rich and undeniable strong familial, church, and ethnic culture. All have stood me well and I proudly pass them down to the next generation.

 I'm simply calling to your attention, that our entrance into eternity and into a world free from the evil, violence, sickness, and devastation we're witnessing today will only come on the wings of change! (I Corin. 15:51-57, I Thess. 4:15-17) We will not be able to claim fully God's promises in the next life nor will be able to withstand the difficulties of this one without embracing a mindset of change!

 No one is saying that change is easy!  But change does NOT have to be ugly!  You know what I'm talking about don't you?  In  I Samuel 15:23 the Prophet Samuel spoke these words to King Saul: Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft and arrogance (pride) like the evil of idolatry.   I thought about that for a bit. When I resist change so vehemently as to cause chaos and confusion who am I serving?  I can only conclude that I'm not serving God, but MYSELF! 

The Only Antidote For The Fear of Change is Trust in God! It works because:

1. "I the Lord do not change." (Malachi 3:6) Change will not destroy you because God's faithfulness toward you does not change!

2. "We are made new in the attitude of our minds...created to be like God" (Ephes. 4:22-24 
To grow in righteousness and holiness requires that we change old attitudes.

3. " Forget the former things; do not dwell on them.  See, I am doing a new thing!" (Is. 43:18-19) What God has in store for you is more glorious than what you think you've lost!



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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Wounds of My Sister

Faithful are the wounds of a friend...
(Proverbs 27:6)
I thought I was done with talking about hurt after a women's bible study I facilitated a few years ago.  About 150 women and myself took a deep look at the wounds in our life.  Those we endured and those we inflicted on others!

Although we had no expectations that the study would answer every question we had about our pain; with the Lord's help, surely we could come away with a better understanding and coping strategy! I think for most of us we were able to do just that!

However, recently as we've ventured once again into a study of self revelation and reflection, I've discovered a pain that didn't quite manifest itself in the past one.  We talked about Church hurt, Father wounds, Self hurt, and the like from both the physical and emotional perspective but not so much this one. It is a form of Self hurt, I suppose, as it cuts deep into our own souls, festers, and spreads its poison into our family, work, and all other social circles.  It's called Sister Wounds! 

Sister wounds are the intentional (and sometimes unintentional) infliction of pain upon another female to render victims powerless, in order to achieve feelings of significance, value, or wholeness missing in other parts of our lives. [my definition]

It is very much like the crab in a bucket metaphor. Women in similar situations, face a common fate or opportunity, sees one rising above the fray, and pulls her down to perish with the rest!
We do this by discouraging, isolating, and otherwise minimizing her gifts and talents! Its root cause is jealousy fueled by insecurity and is one of seven deadly sins women commit against other women far too often. Interestingly, I came across an internet post that really explained it well.  Take a look at it when
you get a chance.

Apparently, Sister wounding is as old as the sin that it is because I found evidence of it even in the Bible.   Take the case of Sarai and Hagar (Genesis 16:1-7).  Sarai, Abraham's wife could not have children but an acceptable custom of the time was to use a surrogate.  She chose her handmaiden, Hagar but when she conceived and bore Ishmael, Sarai's old insecurities cropped up and she put both Hagar and her son out!  The bible doesn't tell us all the details but I believe there was enough blame on both sides.  Hagar no doubt flaunted her fertility in the face of her broken sister so we see that the Sister Wound sword was perhaps slashing both ways! Their inability to coexist in harmony is one of the reasons Muslims and Jews are mortal enemies today!

Another situation, this too having to do with child bearing, was the story of Hannah and Peninnah (I Samuel 1:6-16).  Verse 6 tells us that Hannah was teased continually by her Sister wife, Peninnah because she could not bear children, again exploiting another sister's weakness to fulfill a selfish need. Even the love of Elkanah, the husband was not enough to soothe her pain.  This shows you how deeply devastating it can get.

Yet all, wounding is not bad!  Sometimes the truth hurts for a short time but brings long-lasting good in a situation!  Just as a surgeon may have to open a wound to release the poison lying deep within, in our Sister relationships we may have to do the same thing!  The difference is our motivation (Ephesians 4:15) .  Proverbs 27:6 tells us that a Sister Friend's words, even when they hurt is faithful (can be trusted) to have our best interest at heart!  It is the so-called friend who flatters and allows us to behave recklessly to our own detriment that is the true enemy.

Sister wounds are often generational, pain passed down from a mother to daughter then from a sister to a sibling. It can come from experiences early in childhood, never dealt with or betrayals of many sorts still existing.  But this we must remember!

Wounding that is malicious is comparable to murder! (Prov. 18:21)
Wounding that is compassionate and loving heals many pains (Prov.16:24)

My Sister, If you must wound me, 
Wound me with the Truth
Then Pray with Me until I Heal!


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