Archives for the month of: July, 2013

A Thorn in My Side

There are so many theories about the purpose that thorns serve in relationship to flowers. One function is protection. Thorns are thought to prevent insects and small animals from climbing the tree and, therefore, preventing the flower from being eaten. The second important function is survival. According to this theory, the shape of the thorns allows the plant to attach to other trees and vegetation in order for the flower to get closer to the light. Amazing! The thorns in our lives could be seen as protective and necessary. Our trials, thorns, are sometimes protection from something far worse. God often teaches us survival skills through trials. Also, our trials (our thorns) enable us to grow closer to God (the light).

We never have to worry about missing the memo from God.  If we failed to receive it the first time, He always provides an opportunity for our lessons to be repeated.

Last night, I attended a midweek, young-adult service at one of my local churches.  Actually, the Tuesday night worship experience at this particular church is not your typical, midweek service.  The atmosphere is charged with and electrified by the Spirit.

The message of the night was from James 1:2-4:

Dear brothers and sisters,when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing (NLT).

The take home messages of the night were:

  1. God uses our trials as an opportunity for growth.
  2. We should find joy in the pain of growth.
  3. When it looks like all is lost, God has one more move.

Wow! How many of us can perpetually see the glass half full?

Last night was my God reminder.  I heard God say, “Just in case you missed the memo the first time, ‘I am reminding you of who I am.’”  During the service, I remembered that God had laid this very message on my heart a few month ago.  I was excited to go home to find my journal entry and be reminded of what God had said then.

Once we embrace the fact that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever,” (Hebrews 13:8) we can rest in the knowledge that what He promised yesterday is still valid today.

Below is my 2/13/13 journal entry on James 1:3-4.  I hope it blesses you as much as it has me.

For you know that when your faith is tested,
your endurance has a chance to grow.  (James 1:3, NLT).

Endurance is preparation for the next time.  Think about jogging.  The first time you commit to jogging, you might only be able to run one block.  But in running that one block, the body is being conditioned.  The cells are being oxidized, and the muscles are being strengthened.  The next time you run, you might either

  1. Be able to run the same distance with less fatigue

Or

  1. Run further

Each time, however, there is an increase in strength that occurs.  The same is true of faith.  Each time you exercise your faith, your spiritual muscles increase, yielding increase endurance.  The things that you endured today might have seemed impossible last year.

So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing, (James 1:4, NLT).

Think about the jogging analogy.  Let’s say you were training for a 5K.  There would come a time in the training process where you could run the 5K without stopping, or without fatigue.  So as far as the 5K level, you would need nothing.  You would be perfect and complete.  However, if you decided to train for a half-marathon, additional training would be required and the cycle would repeat.

The same applies to our faith.  There are different levels of completion.  When you reach, what I will call, “level-one faith,” you are perfect and complete for THAT level.  It doesn’t mean that you are perfect and complete for life.  It simply means that you are ready to be graduated to the next level of faith.  There is always a growth curve—at least until death.

Dear God,

During this season, you have challenged so many of us to have faith in your word and your character.  I pray that we will continue to trust you as you develop us.  I pray that we will trust you with our lives, our relationships, our finances, our destinies, our purposes and our hearts.  In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen!

Day 23: The 30-Day Marriage Prayer Challenge:  A-CORD-ing to God!

“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:12
The toils of life can sometimes be difficult. There are times where the day’s requirements overwhelm our spirit. It’s on those days where we need the most support and encouragement. Know that we were not meant to do life alone. Know that God has created us for partnerships and relationships. Sometimes, all we need to get through the day is an uplifting word, a pat on the back, a kiss on the cheek or a smile of encouragement.
If you have someone in your life that is always encouraging you and acting as a source of strength, thank them. Let them know how much you appreciate them in your life. According to the old adage, “Encouragement strengthens labor.” If you are married, let your spouse know how much you love and need them. If you are single, pray that God brings the right person in your life that will complement you and love you as Christ loved the Church. In Jesus name, we thank Him for every relationship. May all your relationships be blessed. Amen!

Day 22: The 30-Day Marriage Prayer Challenge:  Be strong and Courageous!

According to National Geographic, the ladybug’s distinctive spot and attractive colors are used to repel predators. As Christians, we too have a “predator repellant.” It’s called the blood of Jesus. God sacrificed His only Son that we could have life everlasting. Jesus’ crimson blood covers our entire being. As a result, we can go into the world, a predatory atmosphere, and not be afraid.

Joshua 1:9
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Isaiah 1:18
Though your sins are like scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They shall be as wool.

Today’s prayer: Lord, Let us go into the world and be strong and courageous. Father, send your angels before us to fight the battles that we cannot fight.

Day 21: The 30-Day Marriage Prayer Challenge

Then the Lord replied:
“Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. For the revelation awaits an appointed time it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.
Habakkuk 2:2-3

You say that people don’t get you.  You say that people don’t understand the magnitude of the dreams on your heart.  Then stop trying to convince them.

Yesterday, I had a conversation with a good friend, and he reminded me of a very poignant Biblical truth:  Many are called.  Only few are chosen.  There are so many applications of this single verse, but in this particular case, it simply means that many are called to be world changers, but only few are chosen.

Excellence is hard.  It requires work.  It requires commitment.  It requires sacrifice.  For some, the cost is too expensive.  The mentality of our day is: Live for today.  Tomorrow will tell for itself.  The mentality of excellence is:  Plan for (not worry about) tomorrow.  Let today’s actions set the stage for tomorrow’s success.  This type of concerted effort requires intentionality.  It requires planning.

Instead of trying to convince others, we should spend the time trying to convince ourselves.  Our perpetual effort to convince others is often a cry for approval.  We try to seek confirmation of God’s ideas from man.  Sometimes, we have to learn to seek God and to encourage ourselves.  What if there was no one around to pat us on the back?  What if there was no one around to say, “Great idea?”  Do we stop striving?  Do we assassinate our dream?  Sometimes our desire to succeed has to supersede our need for approval.  We have to believe that, greater is he that is in us, than he that is in the world, (1John 4:4).  Below is an example of a handful of people who did not let others’ opinions deter them.

Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because he lacked imagination.  He built an industry full of creativity.

Bill Gates, Harvard dropout,  founded Microsoft.

Thomas Edison failed about 1000 times before he successfully created the light bulb.

Albert Einstein was thought to be mentally handicapped because he first spoke at around age 4.

When the Beatles were just starting out, a recording company rejected them stating that “we don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out,”

These are just a few people who did not let other people’s opinions deter them.  If you are waiting on an endorsement from others before you pursue your dream, then you will always be mediocre.  Excellence require that you have the faith to trust God and go against the grain.

There are moments in our lives when we will feel as though the walls are closing in around us and that we are surrounded by enemies on all side.  In those moments, it seems like there are more of them than there are of us.  That is when we are called to stand firm on the Word of God and scream the name of Jesus.  Deuteronomy 28:7 says, “The Lord will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven,” (NIV).  This morning I speak God’s words into your situation.  I pray that when your enemies comes at you in one direction, they flee in seven.  The Bible is filled with many verses for various situations.  Below are just a few:

Your enemies are attacking you and have surrounded you on all sides.                

“The Lord will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven,” (Deuteronomy 28:7, NIV).

Your faith is being tested and shaken.

“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Show us how to increase our faith,’” (Luke 17:5, NIV).

The foundation of your marriage is being tested.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love, (1John 4:18).

But for those who are married, I have a command that comes not from me, but from the Lord.A wife must not leave her husband. But if she does leave him, let her remain single or else be reconciled to him. And the husband must not leave his wife.  (1Corinthians 7:10-11).

Your relationships are being tested.

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence, (Jeremiah 17:7, NLT).

Your finances are being attacked.

The blessing of the Lord makes a person rich, and he adds no sorrow with it, (Proverbs, 10:22).

The devil is robbing you of your peace.

 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done, (Philippianss 4:6).

Doctors, man, have spoken death and sickness over your life.

O Lord, if you heal me, I will be truly healed; if you save me, I will be truly saved.  My praises are for you alone, (Jeremiah 17:14).

Doctors, man, have given you the news of infertility.

Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant (Genesis 25:21, NIV).

Man has spoken failure over your life.

Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.

When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing, (Psalm 146:3-4).

Man has spoken curses over you and your family.

Listen, I received a command to bless; God has blessed, and I cannot reverse it, (Numbers 23:20, NLT)!

A few years ago, a network television station featured a woman who was living with HIV.  The HIV-related story had piqued my interest for several reasons.  As a graduate student, I had the opportunity to work as a graduate assistant to one of the frontier epidemiologists who studied the trends of HIV when it first emerged in the US in the early 80s and whose role in the discovery of HIV was documented by Randy Shilts’ 1987 best-selling book, And the Band Played On.  However, as much as I was interested in the topic itself, it was the underlying tale of that feature presentation that, even until this day, has held my interest.  My memories of the details of the story have faded over the years, but the take-home message still resonates in my mind.

The purpose of the story was to document one woman’s daily regime of living with HIV.  The story began with the tale of young love that fizzled out, only to be rekindled later on.

The woman featured in the documentary was in love with the man of her dreams.  Like with most young women, she wanted more than simple romance.  She wanted commitment.  She wanted to be married.  Unfortunately, her beau disagreed.  They eventually broke up.  She met another man, and they engaged in a sexually encounter.  As I remember the story, he was her first.  So it was no wonder when the woman was contacted by the health department to inform her of her exposure to the HIV virus, she knew where she acquired it.  She was tested.  The results were positive. One single decision had changed her life.

One of the few details that I remembered about the story was how this woman made herself vulnerable on camera so that other women could learn from her experience.  She explained to the interviewer that the disease had committed her to diapers because of her incontinence.  I am assuming that her incontinence was a result of the drugs, but I can’t exactly remember.  The story continued in the kitchen.  The camera panned her drug cocktail.   The woman described how taking the medley of pills often made her nauseous and would sometimes cause her to regurgitate them. Whenever she vomited, she would have to retake the cocktail.  Both the disease and the treatment had made her very weak.  It was almost an entirely sad tale.  Almost!!

Remember our prince charming from the beginning of the story.  He resurfaced.  Not only did he return, He married her.  Yes, you read right.  He, fully aware of her condition, chose to marry her.  Not only did he marry her, he cared for her, and he loved her.

This is where I pick up with my second point.  This man married this woman with a disease, which at that time, many people feared and believed to be a death sentence.  Wow.  It made me wonder.

I believe that life is predestined to a certain extent.  Sure, we have free will, and there is a direct correlation between our choices and where we end up.  Even so, I still believe that there are some things in our lives that are just meant to be, and regardless of which path we take, we will end up at the same destination.  That is my belief.  So with that belief in mind, I started to wonder.  What would have happen had she been patient?

(Disclaimer: There might be some people reading this story who are attempting to pervert the discussing by making the assertion that I am somehow suggesting that this woman acquired HIV as some form of punishment.  Such thinking is—well—WRONG!)

I digress.   What would have happened had she been patient?  Would he have still returned?  Could she have been married to the man of her dreams without the baggage?  There is no way to know for sure, but it does make you wonder, even in our own lives.  Could our attempts to preempt God cause us unnecessary misery?  I wonder how many of our bumps and bruises that we receive on our way to victory are a result of our own doing—our pursuit of the infamous free will.  Could our lack of patience take us through tumultuous journeys?  The answer is, there is no way to tell for sure, at least on this side of time.  Fortunately, regardless of what decisions we make, God is faithful, and He will do whatever He has promised.  The Bible says that His Words will not return to Him void (Isaiah 55:11).

One of the greatest gift that God has given us is the gift of grace.  Regardless of whatever decisions we choose, His grace will ALWAYS be sufficient.  He will always give us more than what we deserve.  This woman’s one poor decision did not render her to a life of despair.  God gave her a life partner who would love and care for her despite her past mistake.  This story is one of the most beautiful manifestation of God’s love.  Sometimes it is impossible to live a pain-FREE life, but we can attempt to make it pain-LESS.

Lord,

Please grant us patience in everything that we do.  Give us the courage to trust that your Word will NEVER return to you void.

Isaiah 55:10-11

New International Version (©2011)
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent.

 I can do for you what Martin did for the people
Ran by the men but the women keep the tempo
It’s very seldom that you’re blessed to find your equal
Still play my part and let you take the lead role
Believe me
I’ll follow this could be easy
I’ll be the help whenever you need me
I see you hustle wit my hustle I
Can keep you
Focused on your focus I can feed you”

Upgrade U, Beyonce Knowles

Yesterday, Beyonce’s titled song, Upgrade U, played on the radio.  It had been a long time since I had heard it.  As, I jammed in my car to the midday mix, I was struck by the lyrics above.  So many scriptures came to mind.  Yes, God is present even in R & B.

Ran by the men, but the women keep the tempo.”

1 Peter 3:7 says, “In the same way, you husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat your wife with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. Treat her as you should so your prayers will not be hindered,” (NLT).

Proverbs 31:11-12 (NLT) says that a wife of noble character could be trusted by her husband, “and she will greatly enrich his life. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.”

God has given dominion over the Earth to men.  In the Bible, God has called wives to submit to their husbands.  Submission as defined by the Bible is a reverent term.  It implies respect and love.  Although there are those who have misinterpreted and have perverted God’s command in order to use it as an excuse to treat women indignantly, that was never God’s intention.  Listen, in EVERY situation in life, there are leaders and followers.  In the case of relationships, God has granted the role of leadership to the man.  However, God gave him a need and a desire for a partner.  God also knew the inclination of some men to abuse His word, so He issued consequences for men who abused their authority over their women.  God created a direct correlation between a man’s success and how he treats his wife.  According to 1 Peter 3:7 husbands who mistreat their wives would have their prayers hindered.  Man may run the show, but the woman keeps the tempo, Beyonce.

 Still play my part and let you take the lead role

The old saying, “behind every successful man is a great woman,” is reflective of Proverbs 31:11-12: “Her husband can trust her, and she will greatly enrich his life.  She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.”  This is so true.  Women, we are very powerful, however, as wives, we are called to submit to our husbands.  Ephesians 5:22-24 says, “For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.”

Submission is not an expletive.  I believe that the reason why most people have an issue with submission is because they have an ill-defined perception of the command.  Being submissive does not mean that you are living in your husband’s shadow.  It doesn’t mean that you won’t have your chance to shine.  It also does not mean that you have to accept and go along with everything that your husband says.  Sorry men!

Remember, we are ALL under submission to Christ, so your husband’s leadership and requests must be in agreement with God’s words.  Also, as human there will be time that we will simply have to agree to disagree.  Disagreement does not always infer disrespect.  It just means that we disagree.  Actually, some of the best resolutions are birthed out of disagreements.

It’s very seldom that you’re blessed to find your equal
The Bible says that we should not be unequally yoked with non-believers (2 Corinthians 6:14).  However, I believe the command to be equally yoked extends beyond our theology.  It is possible to be unequally yoked even in the body of Christ.  For example, one person in the relationship may have a heart for missionary work and believe that God has called him to move across the globe, while the other person’s idea of charity is dropping some spare change in the Salvation Army bucket during the Christmas season.  This is not to say that couple cannot express different interests.  However, the core of who you are should be compatible.  As a couple, you should be on the same page.  You should complement each other.  You should be both chasing after the same goals.

So what happens if you are already married and are unequally yoked with your partner?  If you are married and your spouse is not a believer, the Bible urges you to stick it out:

“Now, I will speak to the rest of you, though I do not have a direct command from the Lord. If a Christian man has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to continue living with him, he must not leave her.  And if a Christian woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to continue living with her, she must not leave him.   For the Christian wife brings holiness to her marriage, and the Christian husband brings holiness to his marriage. Otherwise, your children would not be holy, but now they are holy” 1 Corinthians 7:12-14 (NLT).

In the Bible, God, through Paul, addressed the issue of being unequally yoked with a non-believer.  However, there were no concessions made for incompatibility.

I guess the moral of the story is that we all have our roles to play in relationships, and each one is equally important.  We all need each other.

“Let me Upgrade ya!”  I bet you’ll never listen to Beyonce the same way again.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:2, NIV).

The biggest life lessons are the ones that are birthed out of frank conversations.  About a year ago, I was conversing with one of my mentors when he shared with me one of his theories on life.  He said:

“If you get up on Monday morning and say, ‘Ok, it’s Monday, let’s jumpstart this day,’ then you probably have a career.  If you get up on Monday morning and say, ‘Oh s*** it’s Monday,’ you most likely have a job.”

Those words resonated with me.  If we, as individuals, are walking in our purpose, Mondays do not ignite a visceral response.  That doesn’t mean that life isn’t hard and we don’t get fatigued and occasionally frustrated.  It simply means that Mondays aren’t daunting.

So, why are Mondays so unnerving?  Why do most people start to dread Monday as early as twilight on Sunday?  The answer is simple.  Most of us are slaves.  One of our chief masters: Debt.  Sure, fear, laziness and other vices are all co-conspirators, but debt is one of the main slave masters.

I think it’s probably safe to assume that if it weren’t for financial obligations, many people would probably have quit their current jobs eons ago and pursued their passions.  But with mortgages, car payments, loans and other debts, simply walking away is difficult.  Debt not only impact our career paths, it impacts our overall health—physically, mentally, spiritually and relationally.  Debt distorts our perspective, limits our vision and narrows our options.

So how do we conquer debt?  We need two things: a physical and a spiritual plan.  A physical plan could range the gamut from budgeting to financial counseling.  This essential component is need and case specific and beyond the scope of this dialogue.  A spiritual plan requires us to stand on God’s Word.  His word is his promise to us.  God sacrificed His one and only Son so that we could be free.  Hence, it was never God’s intention that we would be slaves to anything, including debt.  Below are just a few principle to meditate on regarding God’s view on debt.

Proverbs 22:7 (ESV)

The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.

Psalm 37:21

The wicked borrows but does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives;

And finally, one of my favorites:

Deuteronomy 28:9-13 (NIV)

 The Lord will establish you as his holy people, as he promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the Lord your God and walk in obedience to him. Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they will fear you. The Lord will grant you abundant prosperity—in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your ground—in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you. The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none.  The Lord will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the Lord your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom.

Today’s prayer:

Lord,

According to the world’s standard for living, money is one of the greatest source of strife in relationships.  I pray that in our relationships, you grant us the wisdom to be prudent with the resources that you have gifted us with.  I also pray we would not allow debt to prevent us from pursuing and living the life that you have destined for us.  In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen!