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

How Big is Your Praise?

As I left a lovely worship service with echoes of “Ride on King Jesus” still stirring in my heart, I went to get a palm branch – a tangible reminder of the victory we have in Jesus – when I was thunderstruck. The palm branches were so large that they were not in buckets but in large barrels! Delighted, I took a palm branch that was nearly as long as I am tall. This plant set my spiritual imagination on fire as I imagined Jesus being welcomed into Jerusalem with people waving these huge palm branches and laying them down on the road as he humbly entered the city. It was a far cry from my original vision where palms were the size of a small hand fan.

As I rode along with the edges of the palm leaves blowing behind me, I began to think about the importance of praise and thanksgiving. Earlier this week, I received a thought-provoking text which asked: “What if you woke up tomorrow with only what you had thanked God for today?” That convicted my heart. We take so much for granted every day. We tend to focus on what’s next or what we don’t have, instead of acknowledging God’s faithfulness which constantly blesses us in so many ways.

Praise and thanksgiving are essential parts of a rich prayer life. Praise gets God’s attention. It shifts focus from us to our Creator. He is the one who can make things happen. John 15:5 says “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” It is interesting that we can holler, cheer, and cry during a performance or sporting event but praise for our Creator often arrives in hushed and reserved tones. Psalm 100:4 says “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.”  Everyone likes to be appreciated. Hasn’t a compliment lifted your mood? When your sacrifice is acknowledged, doesn’t it make the sacrifice feel worthwhile? How much more is it with the Master of the Universe? When The One who knows us intimately knows that we appreciate and acknowledge what He does, it gets his attention ahead of submitting our petitions.

I believe just like palm branches of yesteryear, my praise used to relatively small and somewhat mechanical. However, as God brings us through difficult trials, our faith grows. As our faith grows, our praise grows. As our praise grows, our thanksgiving grows. We more readily reflect on situations where He has stepped in to correct, deliver, help, heal, comfort, provide for, and keep us. We see His favor at work in our lives. We experience joy unspeakable as we come into an awareness of Him moving on our behalf. We learn to watch for God’s leading and have a sense of peace that goes beyond our current circumstance. Our life focus shifts, moving from a self-centered existence to one where our every action become an act of worship as God becomes the center of our joy.

I encourage you to wave your spiritual palm branch, honoring God with your praise, worship, and thanksgiving. I believe that no matter what size your praise may currently be, giving thanks to ALLmighty (that’s not a typo) God helps your praise to grow. 2 Corinthians 4:15 says “All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.”

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!

 

Light as a Feather

Sometimes life can weigh you down. The past week has been more challenging than most. It seemed like each time I got a handle on one situation and got some wind back in my sails, another situation would knock the wind right back out of me.  As the week went on, I just felt heavier and heavier.

Sunday night I was involved in a car accident. As a result, I missed my treasured bible study fellowship class Monday night. My usual Sunday post was published on Tuesday as I emerged from a medicated fog. On the Christian calendar, last Wednesday was also Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Lenten season. I have a beloved family member who works at the school where the horrific shooting occurred that day. I spent several hours on Ash Wednesday extremely concerned, not knowing her status. I was relieved to receive a confirmation later that evening that she was safe. However, the personal connection amplified my heartbreak as details unfolded. I attended a community prayer vigil on Thursday.

Attending the prayer vigil, being part of a praying community, completely changed my outlook. As prayers and hymns were lifted for everyone involved including students, families, various facets of the school system, and first responders, I felt a shifting in my spirit. Matthew 18:20 says “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them.” Sometimes, when we are frustrated, discouraged, anxious, or heartbroken our instinct is to isolate ourselves. We just want to seal ourselves off from the world and privately tend to our wounds. Isolation can lead to circular patterns of anxious thoughts. Philippians 4:6-7 reminds us “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  We weren’t designed to operate in isolation, especially when we are hurting. We are designed to exist in a community. There is strength in numbers. Acts 1:14 says “They all met together and were constantly united in prayer, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, several other women, and the brothers of Jesus.”  Although I arrived at the vigil weighed down by multiple life concerns, I departed feeling much lighter. Galatians 6:2 says that we are to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” The burdens of my heart had been distributed among the community of Believers and most importantly, collectively lifted to the Lord we trust and adore. Psalm 55:22 says “Cast your burden on the LORD, and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.” 

At the prayer vigil, I switched my lens to focus on the Lord and what I felt was right rather than wrong with the world. I reminded myself of God’s covenants and promises. Instead of marinating in a frustrating and uncertain place filled with vexing variables as I mentally played out alternate endings, I opted to focus on God as the constant. He is The One who can balance any equation. Unity, love, generosity, hope, and faith still exists. Caring, wise, resourceful, thoughtful, and generous people still exist. Philippians 4:8 says “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

I’m not saying that the rest of the week was a fairy tale complete with unicorns and fairies. I’m saying that my mindset changed. Romans 12:2 tells us “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” I was able to see a path forward. I no longer felt stuck. For the remainder of the week, as I encountered bricks of troubling situations, I lifted the situation to God. I did my best to extend grace to others as I spiritually handed God each brick. I don’t want any of them – God can have them all because God can handle them all!

 

 

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.”

Holding Pattern

While an aircraft awaits clearance to land, it typically flies in an oval-shaped flight path over the destination airport. That flight path is known as a holding pattern. Sometimes we find our lives in a holding pattern – a place where God allows us to see our goal or destination but doesn’t provide immediate clearance to arrive. Life’s holding patterns can be frustrating and discouraging. Here are a few considerations to help you fly into your God-given destiny with confidence. Holding patterns:

  1. get our attention – When we are not bombarded with concerns that we normally experience on the ground, we can hear from God more clearly. Proverbs 2:1-5 says “My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.”
  2. are designed to build you up, not break you down – Holding patterns boost your strength, patience, and endurance. Romans 5:3-5 says Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
  3. allow time for removal of dangerous obstacles – the Lord is preparing your destination, divinely arranging and rearranging obstacles that would otherwise hinder or compromise your successful landing. Isaiah 57:14 says “and it will be said: “Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.”
  4. keep you focused on your destination – the longer your holding pattern, the greater your desire to land safely and arrive at your intended destination. Philippians 3:12-14 says Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

  5. require clearance from The Control Tower – Admitting our inability to land independently is both an admission of our weakness and a confession of God’s strength. John 15:4-5 says “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
  6. give you greater appreciation for your “arrival” – overcoming adversity and cultivating a closer relationship with God during your hold makes your landing far sweeter. In the midst of a holding pattern, God can expose talents and gifts that you didn’t even realize you had. Genesis 50:20 says “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
  7. bless you in new and exciting ways – landing victoriously after enduring a difficult holding pattern allows you to experience new dimensions of God’s provision, protection, grace, mercy, and favor. James 1:12 says Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”