Archives for category: Devotional

When we think about relationships, what are some of the core values that many of us desire/crave?

  • Love
  • Trust
  • Honesty
  • Intimacy
  • Respect
  • Honor
  • Loyalty

Although the above-mentioned list might not be all-inclusive, it’s a good foundational core.  Not many of us would renounces any of those virtues.  This bring me to today’s discussion: Our relationship with God.

Is our relationship with God based simply on blind faith, or is it, or should it be, something more?  In other words, should we just trust God wholeheartedly and NEVER ask any questions? Today, I will explore what those question means to me.  Sidebar: If you have followed my blog for any period of time, you probably have noticed that I typically resist groupthink and encourage individual critical thinking.  In providing my answers, I do not claim to be a Biblical scholar, but more of a Socratic pupil.  So, with that being said, here are my thoughts.

If God wanted our relationship with Him to be solely linear, where we simply did as we are instructed, then there would be no need for free will.  In essence, God would have made us robots, but He didn’t. He made us reasoning beings.

Before I delve further into my thought about what a relationship with God should look like, I will begin by asking a more immediate question: How do we know that God wants a relationship with us?  We’ve heard pastors and religious orators say so, but is that assertion true? For the answer to that question, we have to look at how the Bible describes God.  Oftentimes, when the Bible references God, He is described by relational terms such as father, friend, husband and provider.  One example of God as a father is found in Acts 17:23-28.

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring,’(Acts 17:23-28, NIV).

So, what should our relationship with God look like?  I believe that our relationship with God should model our ideal, human relationships.

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen, (1 John 4:20, NIV).

My interpretation of this verse is that it is impossible to love God in a manner that is different from how we love each other. Therefore, if we acknowledge that our human relationships should be comprised of reverence, love, trust, honesty, intimacy, respect, honor and loyalty, then so should our relationship with God.  Additionally, healthy human relationships require reciprocity.  As such, our relationship with God should have the same expectations of reciprocity.

When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—
the moon and the stars you set in place—
what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
human beings that you should care for them?
Yet you made them only a little lower than God
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You gave them charge of everything you made,
putting all things under their authority—
the flocks and the herds
and all the wild animals,
the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea,
and everything that swims the ocean currents.

Psalm 8:3-8, NLT

In my life, I have faced my fair share of adversities.  Oftentimes, people have told me that it is not my place to question God’s sovereignty.  I wholeheartedly, and respectfully, disagree.  If God and I are in relationship, then by definition, I have every right to ask him the questions that matter to me, and, by definition of our relationship, he is obligated to answer me.  When Job questioned God, God did not ignore him.  He simply explained to Job that the answers to his questions were beyond his comprehension.

I believe that many of us do not get the answers to many of our questions because we are fearful to approach God for answers for fear of being viewed as irreverent.  I do not believe that the God we serve will smite us for simply seeking answers to issues and concerns that are important to us.  In fact, Jeremiah 33:3 says, “Ask me and I will tell you remarkable secrets you do not know about things to come,” (NLT).

Relationships are built on trust.  Faith is developed when trust is cultivated. We cannot have faith without trust. Therefore, we have to first trust God before we can have faith in Him.  In other words, we have to believe that God is who He says He is and that He will do what He said He would do.  When we begin to trust God, we will develop our relationship with Him, and we will, in turn, have faith in His character and His word.

As we begin to trust God (and he begins to trust us), we will learn that there are some secrets that God will keep close to His chest (for reasons only He knows).  However, there are some secrets that He will reveal to us, but the answer will require pursuance of our relationship with Him. Additionally, as our relationship with God matures, we will begin to trust and be comforted by the sovereignty of His “yes,” “no” and “not now.”

 

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Over the past few years, in what some might view as a season of flagrant political and social discord, the term identity politics has become ubiquitous in many political commentaries.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, identity politics is “a tendency for people of a particular religion, race, social background, etc., to form exclusive political alliances, moving away from traditional broad-based party politics,” (Dictionary.com).  The dangers of identity politics is that people who participate in this strategy might even align themselves with a particular political point of view simply because they identify with a specific demographic.  There are even times when individuals who participate could even support and propagate beliefs and policies that are contrary to their best interest.  The root of identity politics is counterintuitive and typically exclusionary.  These tactics are seldom steeped in virtues such as love, honor and respect.  Identity politics is typically based on selfish ambition, pride (hubris) and entitlements.  None of these characteristics have been known to advance or enhance culture or society.

 

The more I meditated on the concept of identity politics, the more I began to realize that, if left unchecked, “identity” culture could become a carcinogen that could seep into other aspects of our lives, particularly our Christian lives.  Before I continue, I feel the need to make a clarification.  There is nothing inherently wrong with identifying with and celebrating our culture, background or heritage.  In fact, a healthy self-awareness is imperative to our growth and development as individuals.  This awareness includes, but is not limited to, an acknowledgment of our history, culture, religion, etc.  However, this healthy self-view could become pathogenic if it is perverted by sentiments of superiority, indulgence, entitlement, pride and wickedness.

 

As a Christian, I have noticed that, in some circles, we have become victims of what I would like to call identity Christianity.  If I had to define identity Christianity, it would be as such: a tendency for Christians to form alliances based on financial, social, economic and/or racial proclivities or identities.

 

During the course of my adult life, I have visited many different Christian churches.  Whenever, I venture into a new city for longer than a week, I would often try to find and worship at a local church.  However, one of the tragedies that I often encounter is that many churches are segregated, even within congregations.  Cliques are often divided among racial, financial, economic, educational and/or social lines.  Even piety makes an appearance.  How can we, as Christians, make “outsiders” feel accepted and welcome when we have a problem embracing each other?  There are those of us who attend church and affiliate with only people whom WE deem redeemable and worthy. In such cases, our fellowship is homogenous and self-indulgent—the antithesis of God’s grace and mercy.  When many of us think about the topics of mercy and grace, we often view them through the prisms of forgiveness, but what if this post challenges a different perspective— that of allowance.  What if we allowed people the grace and the mercy to be different?   It is by the grace of God that we have favor, so why not have mercy on those who are less favorable?  It is by  the grace of God that we have riches, so why not have mercy on someone less fortunate? Are we truly experiencing God’s fullness for our lives when we limit our interactions to people who are like us? Maybe, just maybe, our personal limitations and our various lacks hinge upon our resistance to go into uncharted territory!  Maybe our spiritual, financial or physical breakthrough is in the hands, hearts and minds of the person(s) across the aisle—the one(s) whom we have relegated as inferior. Oftentimes, with God, the answers to our prayers are right below or noses—hidden in places that we should have looked, but we didn’t.

 

“Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful,” (1 Corinthians 1:27, NLT).

 

17 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” 18 So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea,” (Exodus 13:17-18).

What happened to human decency? There was a time when decorum played a vital role in our society. We thought before we spoke, and we actually considered the consequences of our words and actions.  Many blame the disappearance of valor on the advent of the Internet. But is the Internet the cause of society’s visceral conduct or is it simply a conduit? I am more inclined to lean towards the latter. There are many factors that are contributing to the implosion of our humanity, but today, we’ll focus on the Internet.

Here is a thought to ponder: The Fall of Man began with Adam and Eve’s decision to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Well, today, we could say that it seems as if history is repeating itself.  Our vehement pursuit of information has taken us into uncharted territory.

The Internet is laden with all sorts of information–some good; some bad.  However, the sheer presence of information does not always equate to knowledge.  Information is simply raw data.  Knowledge and wisdom is the prudent application of information and the distillation between fact, fiction and opinion.

One of the greatest reasons why the Internet serves a great conduit for the breakdown of decency is because it is anchored by anonymity.  Even when sites are hosted by well known companies, we never really know who sits behind the screen.  Almost every company and every individual has an Internet persona/alias. Social media platforms and website comment sections allow us to hide behind our usernames and spew our opinions under our veiled protection.

Like with anything else, anonymity, when used appropriately, could be beneficial. Whistleblowers and tipsters use anonymity to defend the truth and expose wrong doing. Not everyone is brave enough to oppose evil face-to-face, and that is okay.  In a functional society, we need these types of system in place to maintain order.  Anonymity has also been used to advance and prosper others.  For example, many well-intentioned, good people have made anonyomous donations and gestures for benevolent purposes.  While there are some benefits of anonymity, if we are not careful, it could be dangerous.

Anonymity = the state of being anonymous (secret, nameless, featureless, unidentifiable)

Loosely defined, anonymity is hiding or covering the truth (or a lie).

When something is covered, it is veiled. It is in a darkened state.  Darkness, by definition is the absence of light. Light is representative of truth, goodness and purity.  However, with anonymity, there is a temptation to stray from truth and honesty, which appeal to our primal affinity for darkness. The Internet’s inherent anonymity could potentially satiate our basic appetites for wickedness and cruelty.  Moreover, recent online cultures enable us to be reckless with our careless words because there is little accountability for those who hide behind the armour of user/screen names. In a rather paradoxical way, the anonymity provided by the Internet perpetuates self aggrandizement at the expense of common courtesy and decency. In fact, it’s easy to dehumanize others for shares and likes when we don’t have to look them in the eyes, or face any consequences. In today’s society the old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words may never hurt me,” has never been further from the truth. Words are weighty and consequential. The power of life and death is in our words (the tongue).  Hopes, dreams, aspirations, failure, fatigue and suicides have all been triggered or ignited by words.

So what do we do? The truth is there is no easy, singular answer to yield a resuscitation of decency. However, a good start is individual accountability. Each person has to be responsible for his or her words and actions. While we might not be able to change anyone else, we can definitely change ourselves.

That’s just the way I am!  You’re too judgmental!  Maybe you are just too picky?

Relationships are hard, both platonic and romantic.  They require work, sacrifices and compromises, especially since we are all broken, imperfect people with a suitcase filled with baggage.

It is impossible to navigate the world alone.  We all need friends.  “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed.  If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble,” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, NLT).  With that said, we have to learn to choose our friends wisely.  Relationships should be supportive, encouraging and empowering.  The people in our lives should directly and indirectly champion us to become better versions of ourselves.  We are the company that we keep.  The Bible reminds us of that in 1 Corinthians 15:33: “Bad company ruins good character” (NLT).

Compromise is needed to make any relationship work, but it should never be license for mistreatment.  Yes, we should all accept people for what, who and where they are, but this does not mean that we have to accept what they are willing or capable of offering.  For example, if we are in a place in our lives where our emotional love tank needs to be filled at a level eight capacity in order to make us feel whole, loved and valued, and someone is only willing or able to give at a level two capacity, then it is within our right to terminate or reposition that relationship.  The problem is that oftentimes, people with relational deficiencies take offense to being reassigned.  They often say things like, “You should accept me the way I am” or “You’re being judgmental.”  Yes, it is true that we should accept people as is, and that we should not be judgmental, but it is equally true that we don’t have to accept what someone is giving us simply because they are unwilling or unable to give us more.  It doesn’t mean that they are bad people, nor does it mean that we are.  It just means that we not compatible at the particular moment, which could change in the future.  It is okay to say that we want and need more from our relationships.  It’s even okay to say that we deserve it.  We should be in relationships with people who allow us to make demands of them, and who are willing to make an attempt to meet our needs.  With that said, we must be willing and able to do the same.  We also must be okay with others telling us that we do not fulfill their relationship criteria.  Some relationships are seasonal, and maybe those seasonal relationships have run their course.  That’s also okay.

My past two blog posts have been about prayer, particularly, praying in general.  I was going to move on to a different topic all together until I came across another individual’s blog on the topic (Pretty good read.  Check it out: https://themirific.co/2015/05/20/stagnant-christians-stagnant-enemies/ ).  In this post, the author wrote about praying for our enemies.  Yes, it is true, Jesus challenges and instructs us to pray for our enemies.  But have you ever wondered what those prayers should look like?  If I were to be completely transparent when it came to praying for my enemies, I would say that I preferred some of the move Davidic prayers found in the Psalms such as, “slap all my enemies in the face” or “shatter the teeth of the wicked,” (Psalm 3, NLT).  Those prayers speak to the core of my anger when I am hurt by my enemies.   I also figured, if it worked for David, it should work just fine for me.

While I slightly kid, I must say that the question of praying for my enemies did resonate with me this morning.  I discussed the issue with my uncle, and he provided some insight which I will share with you:

Our earthly battles all seem to come back to Ephesians 6:12, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities.”  In the Old Testament, David was waging war for a physical kingdom.  The sacrifices made in his day were physical in nature.  Today, we waging war for a spiritual kingdom.  Circumcisions in the Old Testament were physical, while today they are spiritual.  When we say those Davidic prayer, they should be prayed against the spirituals that dwell in the individuals, not against the individuals themselves.  When we truly understand that we are in spiritual warfare versus physical warfare, then we would realize that we should be praying for the deliverance of our enemies from the captivity of the evil one.  In the most rudimentary sense, the individuals who commit acts of evil are merely host to principalities.  Now, this does not completely absolve individuals of responsibly under the notion of the devil made me do it, for we all have free will.  However, it does allow for compassion towards our enemies.  For whatever reason, their free will has sent them down a path that has created a stronghold in their lives.  As we all know, bad habits are hard to break, and so are strongholds.  That is why we need to pray for our enemies.  We need to pray for their deliverance.  Notice that when Jesus prayed, he always prayed for others to be delivered from their infirmities.  Oftentimes, their blessings were found in the deliverance.

This whole topic of prayer brought me back to a previous blog where I begged the question: “How different would our world be if we simply prayed for things that weren’t already being prayed for?”  Imagine if we got to heaven and God told us that we could have dramatically changed the world, but we didn’t because those prayers were never released.  Would that knowledge change how we prayed today?  For me, one of the biggest frustrations, and even hesitations, with prayer is that I don’t always see the results of my prayers.  Sometimes, I feel as though God hasn’t heard me or that He is slow to act.  The Bible reminds us that, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient…” (2 Peter 3:9, NIV).  We have to remember that God is sovereign and that He might not answer our prayers in the manner and time we want, but He has His reasons for His approach.

Today, I challenge all of us to put on the armor of God:  the belt of truth, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:12).  Let us pray for our world, our government, our enemies, our families and friends and ourselves.  Included below is a prayer of protection over our family and friends:

Today, Lord I pray an anointing over myself and my family.  I pray a hedge of protection around us.  I pray that the enemy and his allies would not be allowed to penetrate this fence, and that the gates surrounding the hedges are locked and sealed with the blood of Jesus Christ.  I pray that angels will be dispatched to the four corners of this fence and that they will protect and defend us from all attacks.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen!

One of the greatest and most humbling reminder on our road to self-discovery and reinvention is that we are not Jesus!  Yes, as Christians, we are meant to bare each other’s burdens, but we are not called to save, to fix or to restore anyone, including ourselves.  That’s Jesus’ job.  Some many of us in our quest to become Christ-like, or just plain liked, have resorted to becoming a receptacle for others to unload.  We allow others to dump all their “stuff” on our doorsteps.

 

Healthy relationships should be symbiotic, meaning each person should take turns serving the other.  There should be a healthy balance.  Our relationships should improve our lives and well being.  If we find ourselves giving more that we receive, we place ourselves in a position to become out of equilibrium, which puts us at risk for suffering emotionally, mentally or even spiritually.  Additionally, when we fail to set boundaries in our relationships, it sends the message that it is okay to not respect us. It tells others that our feelings do not matter.  That’s not only unfair, it’s also unhealthy!

 

One of the best ways to stop being a receptacle is to learn to love ourselves.  At times, loving ourselves might often mean putting ourselves first.  As Christians, we sometimes have a tendency to pervert the Gospel.  The phrase “die to yourself” has been misused and abused.  In fact, when asked by the Pharisees which of the Commandment was the greatest, Jesus replied that we should first love God, then love our neighbors as we would ourselves (Mark 12:30-31).  In that verse, Jesus commands us to love God, ourselves, and then our neighbors—in that order.  In order to love someone as we love ourselves, it is implied that we first love ourselves.  It is imperative that we love ourselves.  Oftentimes, this might mean saying no to others.  Additionally, it is important that we set aside time for ourselves to allow for a reset.  We will find that by doing so, we will also redefine the boundaries in our lives and have more healthy and productive relationships.

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If we were to count the things in our lives that went wrong, the list could be endless.  But what about the things that have gone right?

Thank you, God, for waking me up!

Thank you, God, for making it through traffic!

Thank you, God, for not falling ill!

Thank you, God, for not falling!

Thank you, God, for protection against things I cannot see!

Thank you, God, for the rainy days!

Thank you, God, for the sunny days!

Thank you, God, for the birds!

Thank you, God, for provision!

Thank you, God, for family!

Thank you, God, for friends!

Thank you, God, for clothing!

Thank you, God, for shelter!

Thank you, God, for love!

Thank you, God, for laughter!

Thank you, God, for peace!

Thank you, God, for discernment!

Thank you, God, for revelation!

Thank you, God, for all the things that I should have thanked you for but did not!

Thank you, God, for being YOU!

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Lately, I’ve found that the first thing I do after waking up and the last thing I do before going to bed is to read the news.  It’s actually gotten pretty depressing.  The typical news story portrays the world as one that has gone to hell in a hand basket.  Stories of savagery and inhumanity are ubiquitous.  Murder, rape, and pillaging are some of the most common headlines.  The sensationalism is beyond the categorical scope of yellow journalism.  The story contents are vile and the commentaries are even more viscous.  This morning, as I attempted to scroll the Internet for my daily dose of news happenings, a small, still voice told me to stop.

 

Proverbs 4:23 says, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life,” (NLT).  In this visual age, our world has become inundated by sensory images, and unfortunately, most of the tactics have been subliminal.  Everything and everyone is vying for our attention.  We have to be cognizant of the information that we filter through our eyes, our hearts and our minds because what we allow to resonate in those places often shape our emotions and our actions.  While it is important that we keep abreast of current events, it is critical that we filter out the hysteria and the nonsense.  The seeds that we water will be the one that will take life and grow.  If we plant seeds of negativity and despair, then our days and our lives will be filled with doubt and turmoil.  If we plant seed of hope, then our lives will be fruitful and productive.  So, during these days of fake news, political turmoil, and civil unrest, let’s take heart that goodness still exists.  God still sits on the throne.  He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).  The promises that God made yesteryear are still relevant today.  Filter out the negativity and embrace the promises.

Go ahead! Quit your job!  Purchase that house!  Tell your pesky neighbor where to stop off.  For goodness sakes, make a decision.  Take a leap of faith! What’s the worse thing that could happen?  I say all this in jest.  Yes, we must exercise wisdom and caution when making decisions, especially life altering ones, but far too many of us seek other people’s permission to chase after our hearts.  Our paralysis is symptomatic of our indecisiveness and our insecurity.  We ask for permission because we are fearful of pulling the trigger.  We believe that if we place the onus of making a decision on someone else, it absolves us of the responsibility.  Here’s the truth: Every decision has consequences—some good and some bad.  Unfortunately, sometimes, we just cannot avoid the negative consequences of our actions.  It’s a part of life in this fallen world.  The good news is that many successes are birthed from misfortunes.  Failure is a part of life. It’s a part of growth. When we ask others for their permission before we act, we are relying on their gifting, perception of life and past experiences, which may be different from ours.  Additionally, we make the assumption that the people from whom we seek permission have our best interest in mind.  Those individuals could have a malevolent agenda.  The Bible says that it is wise to seek counsel.  It does say that we should ask permission.  Next time, before we ask people for permission, we should seek God and His Word.  Why wouldn’t we ask the author of our story about our role in His script.  The next time we attempt to seek advise on a course of action, we should pause and ask ourselves whether we are seeking counsel or whether we are asking for permission.  If we are asking for permission, then we should go to God instead.

Baggage.  It can, at times, be a four-letter word.  We all have it.  Some of are not only carrying our own baggage, but we have allowed ourselves to become saddled by other people’s “stuff.”  Learning to release is one of the most important things that we can do for ourselves.  Galatians 5:1 says, “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,” (NIV).

Christ died on a cross for us to be free.  Why then do we continue to enslave ourselves?   Slavery prevents us from running the race that God has set forth for us.  When our minds are cluttered with nonsense, we cannot focus on our priorities.  As such, we’re tired.  We’re sad.  We’re angry.  We are everything but productive.  On the road to self discovery, one of the most important things we could do for ourselves is to let go.  Letting go allows us to focus on the things that are important to us.

One way to re-center our focus is to carve time out to do some of the things we like to do (e.g. exercising, writing, taking a walk on the beach).  Another way is to write down our plans.  Habakkuk 2:3 says, “’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 lingers, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay,” (NIV).

Seeing our goal, dreams and/or desires affixed on paper allows us to remember what is important to us.  We need to do what it takes to preserve our focus.  Relax.  Breathe.  Meditate.  Yesterday, we wept it out.  Today, we are letting it go!