Heavenly Fellowship

My schedule has been jam-packed lately. While reflecting on the past week, I thought about the many ways that I’ve recently connected with loved ones: one-on-one phone calls, conference calls, individual and group text messages, emails, online meetings, and (my favorite) face-to-face interactions.

No matter how brief or extended the exchange, love and concern were the common denominators. Whether it was a prayer conference call, a text from my Mom, or dinner with friends, the love in those exchanges is what made them so enjoyable.

As Christians, universal love is our distinguishing characteristic. John 13:35 says Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” In his sermon about loving our enemies, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quoted Matthew 5:43-44 which says “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” Ancient Greek culture had seven different words to represent various types of love, including the universal agape love for man, nature, and God. 

Modern society flings the word love around, making it undervalued. We allegedly “love” a lot of material possessions that can be here today and gone tomorrow. Yet, we are often reluctant to invest the time, attention, and energy to express concern or encourage others around us. Sometimes we love selfishly, expecting reciprocity. That’s not love – that’s a business arrangement. Sometimes we hoard our love, trying to ration it out to those whom we deem as deserving. That’s a deception because God loves us all. Furthermore, as the saying goes “Love does not divide, it multiplies.” Life events can harden and close our hearts, for fear of vulnerability or further pain. The trouble is, when something is hard and closed, nothing can go out nor in.

As we pray, we can petition God for the wisdom, strength, and courage to love and encourage those who touch our hearts (in a good or bad way). We can ask God to soften and open our hearts. We can receive and extend forgiveness. Psalm 103:8 says “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

Those who know God can demonstrate agape love. 1 John 4:8 says “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” Therefore we are not the source of love within ourselves. God is our source of love. We are merely conduits of His love. We are the channels that God’s love flows through. We do not have to be stingy with our love, because we tap it from an unlimited source.

For this reason, when people of God gather, love flows through us, making our times of fellowship, whether we are gathered for a meal, worship, or other activities, a glimpse of the divine. As the song goes, when all of God’s children get to heaven, what a time! Times of fellowship is a glimpse of heaven on earth.

More importantly, as we travel through our various spheres of influence, it is even more critical that we demonstrate love in unexpected places and everyday situations. Dr. Cornel West said “You’ve got to be a thermostat rather than a thermometer. A thermostat shapes the climate of opinion; a thermometer just reflects it.” We are ambassadors of The King! You never know how much your simple, genuine extension of God’s love can bless someone else. Wherever you are, there should be a sweet spirit of love and heavenly fellowship.

“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” -2 Corinthians 13:14

Majoring in the Minor

As the saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. I am a recovering perfectionist. Recently, amid looming deadlines and competing priorities, I planned a busy day to optimize progress on multiple fronts. I was up ahead of the sun, working, cleaning, planning, and organizing. My logic was that if I made a Herculean effort that day, it would alleviate later stresses.

Throughout the day, I repeatedly encountered unexpected delays and challenges that resulted in me not making nearly the level of progress that I had hoped. By that evening, my perfectly productive day had morphed into a frustrating mess. I was irritated and feeling like an underachiever.

Dejected, I flopped into a chair, then sighed to myself as I realized I needed to get right back up to retrieve something that I needed for my next task. It was then that I caught a glimpse of my reflection. I barely recognized the frowning, stressed-out person that I saw looking back at me. I immediately had a reality check with myself, praying and asking God to help me. I had unintentionally tried to fly solo that day, not seeking God’s guidance on my To-Do List. I’d failed miserably. I invited God into the situation, asking Him to help me recover and prioritize.

The truth is, God wants to be involved every aspect of our lives. He does not want us worried, anxious, nor distracted. Those are tools of the enemy. Philippians 4:6-7 says “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” We need to pray and invite God into every situation that concerns us. Psalm 138:7-9 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will stretch out Your hand Against the wrath of my enemies, And Your right hand will save me. The Lord will perfect that which concerns me; Your mercy, O Lord, endures forever; Do not forsake the works of Your hands.” How often do limp along in our weaknesses and frustrations, injured and struggling for so long that we no longer recognize it? Job 12:13 says: “To God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are His.” God already knows all things in detail. He doesn’t need to come up to speed because He IS the speed.

It took years for me to realize it – but my deep-seated desire for perfection is born of a spirit of pride. Proverbs 16:18 says Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall.” I didn’t have to fall far. It only took a relatively minor level of frustration to help me see the error of my ways. I spent some time in prayer, asking God’s forgiveness and confessing my need for Him. I continued to pray, asking God to bind up a spirit of pride and loose a spirit of humility. I needed God to order my steps. I did not want to operate in frustration one moment longer. To my relief, as I sealed my prayer in the matchless name of Jesus, a spirit of peace came over me. I returned to my To-Do List with a different mindset. I quickly distinguished between which tasks were critical vs. optional. I reprioritized and remixed my To-Do List based on what I felt God thought was important. A few hours later, I retired for the evening feeling both peaceful and victorious because, in His loving and merciful way, my beloved heavenly Father taught me how to stop being the captain of my own tempest in a teacup. He showed me how to avoid majoring in the minor because only what we do for Christ will last.

“So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.”
-1 Corinthians 15:58

Calling on the Name

Over the holiday weekend, I was delighted to give and receive messages from many loved ones. Yesterday, I reflected on my multitude of life roles and the various names that I answer to. I am a daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, sorority sister, neighbor, girlfriend, coworker, customer, intercessor, classmate, worshipper, and the list goes on. A unique name accompanies nearly every role. I thought about how I am sometimes able to identify a sender or caller based on how I am addressed.

These thoughts led me to think about our expectations when we call on the Lord. As we transform from being self-centered to Christ-centered, knowing the various names of the Lord – who we trust God to be – is vital to our spiritual growth. God is all-encompassing. According to Exodus 3:14, God is the great I AM: “God said to Moses, I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” The I AM reference is not a limitation as if the statement is an incomplete sentence. Rather, it is the opposite. I AM refers to the fact that God is omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), and omnipresent (everywhere at the same time). There are no boundaries nor limitations. The Lord knows us intimately and understands our motives and intents, even when we are unable to articulate them.

There is no question about how well God knows us. The question becomes how well do we know God? We sometimes restrict God, deciding for whatever reason that a situation is not God-sized. In those moments, we should remind ourselves of God’s names.  There are entire books devoted to the names of God the FatherGod the Son, and God the Holy Spirit reflecting His triune identity as our:

  • Creator (Genesis 1:1)
  • Provider (Genesis 22:14)
  • Healer (Exodus 15:26)
  • Banner (Exodus 17:15)
  • Peace (Judges 6:24)
  • Shepherd (Psalms 23:1)
  • Righteousness (Jeremiah 23:6)
  • Savior (Luke 2:11)
  • Redeemer (Job 19:25)
  • Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5)
  • Rock (1 Corinthians 10:4)
  • Peace (Ephesians 2:14)
  • Way (John 14:6)

This is not an exhaustive list, just a glimpse into the powerful entity that we can directly access through prayer. The Lord provides opportunities to learn about Him across his broad spectrum of identities. We need only to believe in Him and call on His name to tap into that transformational power.

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him – the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.
-Isaiah 11:2

 

 

 

 

 

The Ripple Effect

I recently enjoyed a lakeside stroll. I was fascinated by the rippling water. Some ripples were caused by wind blowing across the water’s surface in small waves. Other ripples were caused by turtles, fish, or other animals breaking the water’s surface. In each case, no matter where they began, the ripples always moved across the entire lake.

The ripples remind me of our prayer journey. Prayer is the practice of paying attention to God. God is always at work, and cultivating a rich prayer life shifts our mindset, allowing us to focus on God’s ultimate movement above our transient impressions. Prayers are powerful spiritual transmissions that reverberate just like those lake ripples. The element of water is symbolic of God’s purification in our lives. Hebrews 10:22 says let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” 

In his book “How to Pray After You’ve Kicked the Dog”, Terry Tekyl explains that we apply prayers like water because we sprinkle some situations in prayer and saturate others. Even when life overwhelms us and we feel that our prayers are small and insignificant, like a drop in that pond, they spread out in all directions and reach their God-appointed destination. 1 John 5:14-15 says “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” Our prayers are alive and continuous. Sincere prayer allows us to express appreciation as well as concerns to God. Our prayers invite God into situations that burden our heart as well as our heart itself. Prayer is a relief and a release, a vehicle to minister to ourselves and others. Psalm 68:19 says “Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burden, The God who is our salvation. Selah.”

The ripples on that pond reminded me that God is constantly moving, working, arranging, and orchestrating events in our lives. Through the ebb and flow our lives, we can walk in the reassurance that God is constantly at work. Sometimes prayer ripples take a while to reach God’s intended place. However, we must remember that we operate according to God’s timeline, not the other way around. As we continue to pray and seek God’s face,  He blesses us with the spiritual vision to recognize the blessings all around us.

I encourage you to trust God as you become a catalyst for His ripple prayer effect!

 

Called to Kindness

Some days I feel like an etiquette referee. I encounter unnecessary rudeness and want to call a flag on the play! I am often thunderstruck by the irony that we have so many ways to communicate and fail miserably at many of them. A text or email exchange can mount a war of words. A curt comment can send me into a tailspin. A brash tone can make me question myself, or worse yet, want to reciprocate with similar harshness.

Every day God presents us with countless opportunities to extend His love, grace, and mercy to others. Unfortunately, we tend to lead with our own self-absorbed agenda instead of seeking God’s agenda first. The results are catastrophic.

It seems that in our desire to do the ultimate and greatest good, we can miss the forest for the trees. We get caught up, then rush and rude our way through the nuances of everyday living because we are too preoccupied with the big picture. We miss extraordinary opportunities because they appear under the guise of ordinary situations. We must remember that we are called to kindness – not just when we feel happy or optimistic, but all the time. This mental and spiritual shift from “Me First” to “God First” is a deep, serious and lifelong work. The good news is that every day we get a new chance, a fresh opportunity, to experience and demonstrate God’s love. Anyone can give themselves a pass: “I’m having a rough day.” or “You have no idea what I’m going through.” But if we reserve expressions of love solely for times in our lives when everything is going swimmingly, we’d never do anything for anyone and God’s kingdom wouldn’t advance one iota.

You may not always be happy or deal with pleasant circumstances, but you can have joy which allows you to operate in love daily. Psalm 19:8 says The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.” When we trust God to address every concern we have, we can focus our energy outward and be more compassionate in our interactions with others, even when they do not initially demonstrate or exercise kindness toward us. 1 Chronicles 16:23 says Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his dwelling place.” It is not by our own will or power, but through God’s Holy Spirit that we are able to express courtesy, kindness, and concern regardless of whether it’s reciprocated. An ability to return callousness, rudeness, or even downright hatred with love is a sacred responsibility. Luke 6: 35-36 Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.” 

Security Source

A few minutes of any newscast is enough to threaten our sense of security. With disturbingly increased frequency, regular people are losing their lives in ordinary places through surprising and devastating events.  Children and adults alike are being regarded as disposable as all manner of harm occurs against the innocent and vulnerable. The motives vary, but the result is the same: horrific events can throw us into a tailspin, making us feel helpless, fearful,  and angry that such suffering and evil even exists. We may question God, demanding to know where he when such horrific events happen. 1 Peter 3:12 says “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their prayers; But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.””

On a personal level, we often experience pain, loss, disappointment, traumas, and hurts that will never make the local news. Some challenges are private and unknown even to those who are close to us. Others are humiliating where our pain is on public display. Those same woeful feelings cut even deeper when our lives are directly affected, yet the line of questioning may remain the same.

Whether the issue is a personal or global tragedy, we find ourselves struggling to regain a sense of security. If we try to serve as our own source of security and strength, life events help us to realize that we do not have nearly the level of power and control that we think. John 16:33 says These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

Our sense of security is based in our identity. If we profess to be an entity exclusively unto ourselves with no other connections, then we are limited and only experience security in temporary and fallible ways. However, if our identity is anchored in a relationship with Jesus Christ, then we learn to trust God’s sovereignty far beyond every immediate issue or circumstance. Romans 8:28 says “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” As distressing as life can be, we can rest assured that even if “the worst” happens and our lives end earlier than we anticipate, we will transform to a different state of existence where we can see our Father’s face. We don’t have to live a daily existence fearing death, danger, nor failure. We need not be reckless, but we don’t need to be fearful either. This is because our sense of security relies on the unlimited and everlasting power of God rather than our limited and temporary financial, emotional, and intellectual assets. The beginning of 2 Corinthians 12:9 says “And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”” Stressful, burdensome situations force us to recognize and admit our limitations while simultaneously providing opportunities for us to invite God into the midst of the situation where He can show and prove himself strong in concrete and specific ways. Proverbs 14:26 says Whoever fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge.” 

In order to feel certain in an uncertain world, you must carefully consider your security source.  Remember Psalm 31:24 which says Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart, All you who hope in the Lord.”

Seeing Beyond Circumstances

There is an appointed time for every thing. Ecclesiastes 3:1 begins by stating that “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” Oftentimes, we think of seasons only in terms of positive times of health, peace, and prosperity. In truth, seasons can be positive or negative, but are often an ongoing combination of both. Difficult or unexpected challenges demand our energy, attention, and resources, making it difficult to focus on anything else. If we examine carefully enough, we can still identity blessings even in the midst of the most disheartening circumstances.

When facing challenging seasons, it is important to think of your difficult situation as temporary yet rich. Even when the challenge translates to continuing your life in a different way, such as major health crisis or the loss of a loved one, the event may be permanent or have longstanding repercussions, but your perspective and attitude about the ordeal can gradually change. Challenging seasons are temporary because they are designed to strengthen and mature us, to provide an opportunity to strengthen our faith. Every aspect of our identity intensifies when we we are crisis.

The Lord allows us to endure challenging seasons so that we can experience Him at work and He can be glorified through our lives. In the midst of challenges, many people around you are watching to see whether your previous declarations of faith withstand your current situation. Will you still declare God’s goodness or do you lash out, and distance yourself, as if you are punishing The One who holds all power in His hands? James 1:2-4 reminds us to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Building our faith involves cultivating a vision that allows us to see beyond our current challenges. Hebrews 11:1-2 tells us  “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” It is easy to praise and glorify God based on what we see, but how often do we declare God’s goodness based on what we do not yet see, feel, hear, touch, or experience? We must speak life over ourselves in every situation. Speaking life helps us to fully internalize the truths that God is working everything together for our good, that we are His masterpiece and the apple of His eye, that the Lord loves us from everlasting to everlasting and will never leave nor forsake us. Speaking life and shifting our focus from our circumstances to our Creator makes it easier to see beyond whatever challenge we currently face. Our heavenly Father is the giver of every good and perfect gift. Those gifts go beyond surface appearances to address our deepest and most intimate needs for hope, love, joy, healing, deliverance and peace. If you feel uncertain of God’s love and intentions towards you, ask Him to open the eyes of your heart so that you can fully receive His love and every blessing He has designated to lift and carry you through your challenging season.