Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Intimidation and Fear: Stumbling Blocks or Stepping Stones?

Intimidation and fear can be the tools that hold you back or spur you on!

When I first heard the expression “Getting Her” from a friend on Facebook, I had a few questions, but instead of asking, I just decided to watch for posts tagged with that label to get an idea of what that all meant.  That method proved very educational.  I don’t know if that was the original intent of the founder, but I am so glad she stepped out on faith with her vision to empower women who were intimidated and afraid of some aspect of their lives, but stepped out anyway.  Brava!

I was eventually invited to join the group after an epiphany of my own.  I had reached an all-time high in my weight, and then a few weeks later, a tornado of health challenges that threatened to break my will to live.  With prayer and a new-found burst of determination, I decided that no matter what, no matter how long it took, I was going to lose the weight and realize some back-burnered dreams that had been tabled for far too long.

The weight loss has slowly begun to materialize and with it, a rosier outlook.  My health, however had taken on even more challenges.  That still has not dimmed the determination.  I may not be able to exercise as vigorously as when I started out, and until they figure out what is causing this new health challenge, my eating habits have had to adapt to seemingly endless changes, yet I still persevere.

Because of these new challenges, I was momentarily stalled in my quest to allow my dreams to re-emerge from the shadows.  Not until the writing of this post did I recognize the reason for the challenges: to stall me in my quest to polish up those very dreams that cause the enemy to drop what he’s doing and swing his attention my way.

God is allowing these challenges, I guess, to help me to see that I am, and have been, so much stronger than I had originally thought.  Things that used to make me collapse in a puddle of tears, now spur me to ask “What am I to learn from this?” People that used to make me run in the opposite direction, now cause me to ascend into heartfelt prayers for their well-being.  That song, “I’m Stronger” keeps playing over and over in my head when I feel the threat of returning to my old practice of "retreat and hide."

Someone (very wise) recently said to me, “You didn’t think you were that important, did you?” This was in answer to a moment of weakness when I wailed, “Why is the enemy fighting me so much? Why is all this happening to me all at once?”  No, I didn’t think I was that important, I didn't think my actions (or inaction) mattered that much in the grand scheme of things, I thought there were far more educated, more experienced, more qualified people to do what I thought I was being asked to do.  What I have (finally) begun to recognize though, is that there is no one more qualified than me to do what God has ordained for me to do, in the way that He has ordained for me to do it, when He has ordained for me to do it!  So as far as God is concerned, I am important!  How about that?!?!

Sure, I still feel the slings and arrows (and boulders and mosquito bites, and bombs and backhands) of intimidation and fear, but I have gained a new perspective on how to look at them, and in doing so, how to face them and learn from them, and now, how to use them to make my own journey more fruitful.  I may stumble, but I have learned how to get back up, dust myself off, straighten my crown, and continue to stride purposefully into my destiny.  I have learned how to put intimidation and fear into their respective places and use them as the stepping stones to my victory, instead of the stumbling blocks and obstacles they once were.  Because I was so often the victim of intimidation and fear, I strive to be ever mindful of my own words and actions, so that I do not make victims of the very ones to whom I am sent to minister.  I may not always succeed, but with God doing the driving, I’ll know how to make amends.

I guess I'm finally getting her!

Friday, February 10, 2017

My time...but for what?

There’s a Right Time for Everything

There’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth:
A right time for birth and another for death,
A right time to plant and another to reap,
A right time to kill and another to heal,
A right time to destroy and another to construct,
A right time to cry and another to laugh,
A right time to lament and another to cheer,
A right time to make love and another to abstain,
A right time to embrace and another to part,
A right time to search and another to count your losses,
A right time to hold on and another to let go,
A right time to rip out and another to mend,
A right time to shut up and another to speak up,
A right time to love and another to hate,
A right time to wage war and another to make peace.
-- Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (MSG)

I'm going to bare some nasty inner truth, but take the entire ride with me, don't just get off when it gets too rough.

Sometimes I absolutely hate going to church!  There I said it, it's out, now I can breathe...

Now I feel the need to explain...

I was brought up Episcopalian--Catholic-lite, if you will--and thought I was doomed to the watered down, constantly repetitive, hypocritical, snooty version of Jesus I was being taught.  I knew there was more to it however, than what I was being forced to endure, because every year, a "holiness" church would pitch a tent in a vacant lot not far from my childhood home. They would show another side, a more expressive, spontaneous, vulnerable side to Christianity than to what I had become accustomed.  I liked that, but because it went against my upbringing, I had to sneak out of the house to attend those.  It was worth it though, because my heart was opened to what being a Christian was more about, and it was there where I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.

Fast forward 20 years, and I had finally wrenched myself away from the doldrums of rote worship and found a place that was more like those tent meetings from my youth.  Initially, I was happy--freedom to express my innermost feelings, approachable Bible teachers I could ask questions of, ability to use some more of my gifts, etc.

Then...I found out that these people were just like the other people, just as hypocritical, ready to criticize, not as willing to help, etc.  What I didn't know, and I have finally come to learn, was that all people have these faults, no matter where I go; the difference is how many churches are brave enough to admit to having these vulnerabilities on their roster?  It took me many years, and many tears, before I was able to separate the people's actions from Who God Is.

I experienced the highs and the lows, I experienced the love and the hate, I experienced the victories and the defeats, I experienced the abundance and the lack.  I went through so much, but I learned from each experience.  I was able to learn to discern between who was really being sent by God, and who was acting out of their fleshly desires.  I learned that not everybody set in the pulpit by the pastor was meant to be there (yes, pastors are fallible too!).  I learned that I can sometimes learn more from the humble mother next to me in the pew, than the most exalted officer of the church staff, if I paid attention to the real lesson God was trying to teach me.  I learned that just because you're loud doesn't mean you're right, or even know what you're talking about (that one applies in life as well, not just in church!).  I learned that just because the sanctuary is quiet, doesn't necessarily mean that it's a welcoming environment to the Holy Spirit. So many lessons learned through the years, and so many still to be learned, and some to be re-learned, but my dread of church has definitely lessened.  Here's why:

As children, we're taught to not question authority, to respect our elders, to submit to those placed over us.  I took that to heart and it carried well into my adult years.  I endured abusive leaders, unsympathetic elders, false prophets, etc. because I thought that's what I was "supposed" to do, in my obedience to their positions.  Then I witnessed something one night that shocked me so much, it changed my entire outlook on how leadership should be.

At a service one night, under the ministry of a "prophet."  They were ministering to a line of people in front of them, and finally came to a person I greatly respected.  When the "prophet" began to speak, I heard the person, stop them almost immediately and said, "No, that's not me."  First of all, I didn't even know that anyone was allowed to do that!  I was so shocked!  Then the "prophet" went on to divulge some other items, when the person stopped them again, and said, "No, that's definitely not me, and I don't receive any of it."  They then turned and walked back to their seat.  They weren't loud or obnoxious, in fact they were very calm and respectful, but they were very firm and clear that what was being said to and about them was incorrect.

The reaction of the "prophet" was less than complimentary.  It was obvious that they were not used to being questioned, much less rebuffed, because their arrogance immediately came to the fore, and they began berating the individual pointedly.  I understood that their feelings were hurt and their ego took a major bruising, but if you're truly a prophet sent by God, then my understanding of your response should have been one of two things: either clarify the "misinformation," or  apologize to the individual for speaking out of turn, and to immediately go into prayer for clarification, stopping any further erroneous activity.  This is just my interpretation of things, so I acknowledge that there still is so much to learn, but I believe in at least those two steps.

Before this incident, I hated going to church during those seasons of false prophecy because I endured so much more "junk" being heaped on me than what I was already enduring.  I became depressed because of the lies and false accusations that were being hurled at me, often in front of entire congregations.  I also endured false predictions of things to come that never materialized, dimming my fervor for service.  But after that night...I learned to say no!  I often didn't even have to say anything, my demeanor spoke volumes, and only the truly confident or real prophets dared approach me or call me out.  I've still maintained my respect for the office and the calling, but unlike my previous sheep-like behavior, I no longer accept everything that comes out of their mouths without examination.

One other experience also helped turn my heart back to God and the church.  This was after my above experience.  Our church has just come out of a season of revival, complete with several guest preachers.  One of the guests went so far "off the reservation" that I really expected people to start walking out.  When they didn't, I chalked it up to shock and the resulting paralysis. At the conclusion of the revival, our pastor got up to speak, and apologized to us all for the offense and hurt we had endured at the hand of the guest preacher.  That was also something I had never experienced before, a pastor apologizing.  And I came to understand that because the people had the pastor's heart they didn't walk out, but waited to see how the pastor would address it, and their love and devotion paid off.  He apologized to the seasoned members, but especially to the newly converted, explaining the errors and why they were so dangerous.  I learned to love and honor my pastor, and in addition to already respecting the office, I learned to respect the person holding the office.

There have been so many experiences through the following years, from all parts of the spectrum, but I've learned to examine them through the keen lens of the Word of God.  And when I wasn't able to immediately find a corresponding passage of Holy Scripture against which to examine the question, I would simply ask the Holy Spirit to help me understand what was in front of me, whether person, place or thing.

Which (finally) brings me to my topic, "My time...but for what?"  Because I really do like going to prophetic conferences and sitting under prophets, I've come across a lot of things in my life.  One common thread I've found though, is the expression, "It's your time."  This expression is almost universally used as a method of encouragement, sometimes with follow-up and explanation, and sometimes as a standalone.   It's the standalones that still give me pause.  It's my time...but for what?

My experience with prophecy is this: if God gave you a message for me, then He is going to tailor it to me.  It is not going to be like anyone else's message, because I am not like anyone else.  God knows I have an analytical mind (He made me that way, after all), and if I get a vague or incomplete message, I'm going to gnaw on it and question it until I get some answers, either from the person delivering the message, or from God Himself.  So that is often my measuring stick for a true vs. a false prophet.  If you can't give me guidance on what you just said, then I am going to reject everything you said because either, 1. You didn't get that from God, or 2. You didn't sit with Him long enough to get the complete message, thus making me question anything else you may have said.  So if you come to me with a simple, "It's your time," be prepared to be grilled!

I don't mean to sound disrespectful or presumptuous or even obnoxious, I just know that if God sends a message to anyone, He wants them to be obedient to it.  Now, how can one be obedient if one doesn't understand the message?  Whether it's a message of caution, repentance, deliverance, healing, cause for celebration, or whatever, the recipient shouldn't go away questioning the message. 

I put prophets on notice because I hold them to a very high standard, they are, after all, the mouthpieces of God here on Earth.  That is not an office to be taken lightly, by the prophet, the people surrounding the prophet, or the people receiving the message from the prophet.  I know there are some whose demeanors are off-putting, but again, if they are really sent by God, with a message from God, God will prepare the recipient to receive the message, regardless of the vessel delivering it.

I have sat in the presence of some very anointed people who, I believe, were operating under the anointing of prophecy, and so I have learned a few things along the way.  One, prayer is key.  There is no way the person can operate under such a deep and heavy anointing without having an extremely rich and active prayer life.  Two, humility is essential.  The prophet, although anointed of God, is still human, and must acknowledge their own faults and shortcomings as such.  If they know that they are not operating in the prophetic anointing or that there is something going on in their lives that may be "blocking" the anointing, don't try to "work something up," be humble enough to say that the anointing has lifted and that going forward would be in opposition to the move of God.  Also, because of that humility, recognize that the message may not always be received immediately or readily; be humble enough not to get offended or offer any more or less than what was instructed by God.  And three, be prepared for the unexpected.  I believe that though the prophet may have really sat with God and was sufficiently prepared, if God decides to "surprise" the prophet, then it is for their own edification, and they should be open to receive the lesson for them, because there is, after all, a time for everything, a time to plant and a time to reap.

There was my time to shut up, but now is my time to speak up.  I have had too many lessons deposited into my life, and now it is time for me to share them.  It is my time...but for what?  To be a conduit of God's wonders and lessons for life in whatever form He chooses.  As of now, I only write when I'm moved to, but the time will come when this will be shared to the very ones to whom He wants them directed.  Until then, my time is to sow...until it's time to reap.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Smelly offenses

My guilt overwhelms me—it is a burden too heavy to bear.  My wounds fester and stink because of my foolish sins. - Psalm.38:4-5 NLT

Have you ever made the mistake of leaving something a little too long in the refrigerator and been reminded by an unmistakable rotting odor sometime later?  So you go rooting around in the fridge until you find the offending item to get rid of it.  Sometimes the odor has permeated other items and you end up having to get rid of some items that would otherwise have been "good" had they not been in the same place as that smelly item.

Well, so are some of those things we have buried and forgotten or refused to deal with.  Those things that happened so long ago that though they still affect our behavior, the actual event was never dealt with.  How about those things we did to someone else that because it happened so long ago, we think that an apology now would be fruitless?  Maybe those things we've kept hidden for fear of being judged by others, we refuse to deal with. 

Anything hidden will come to light.  How so?  By the behaviors that have grown out of that manure that we don't even recognize are a direct result of the hidden offense/offender.  Have we become promiscuous, but can't pinpoint why?  Do we immediately turn to negativity as a defense mechanism?  Have alcohol or drugs become a balm to soothe a deep ache?  Do we denigrate another as a way to make ourselves look better?  Has pornography become a crutch to achieve sexual fulfillment? All these, and so many more, are merely the symptoms of deep-seated hurts that were never faced, either as the offender or the victim.  And just like that offending item in the fridge, it can affect so much else that would otherwise have been good, but now carries the taint of that "rotting secret."

This past Sunday we were asked to search ourselves. Sometimes those journeys within are less than pleasant.  In truth, they can be downright traumatic, but in order for complete healing to take place, it must be performed.  Tears will fall, feelings may get hurt, divisions may arise, but eventually healing will come if the root is dealt with correctly, that is, in the light of God's Word.

These spiritual and emotional "surgeries" cannot take place lightly, for if misguided, they may cause more harm than good and the healing purpose sought becomes even farther away and may even become more septic.  Any deep seeking must always be done under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the anointed Word of God.  When man undertakes such tasks without the guidance of the Hand of God, perceptions can be skewed, false memories can be introduced, and myriad other forms of damage can occur.

But when it's done right, oh the freedom, the healing, the rebirth!  It's like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, struggling to be free, but when finally free from its prison, its lithe beauty is a wonder to behold, often blessing others by its very presence.

Search your heart, do you need to go under the Surgeon's knife?  Unsure?  Take a look in the mirror, or take stock of how you behave or react.  Study your actions or methods and see if you do something that, until now, you've never questioned its reasoning.  Your healing could be right around the corner, but because you're "smelly," instead, everyone can tell that you're right around the corner.  You may not think that there is anything wrong, yet you wonder why "certain" people react certain ways around you.  Could it be something you're giving off?

We have too many wounded warriors going into battle not recognizing that we have holes in our armor, or that we're bleeding under the armor.  We have too many battles ahead of us to go in so ill-prepared.  There are many men and women of God who are fully equipped to aid in these journeys, but seek God first before seeking them out.  Sometimes God wants to do this healing without any other human interaction...but you won't know unless you ask.

Cleaning out the fridge is not a pleasant task, but it is necessary, especially if something is spoiling the pleasant experience you expected when you opened it.  The same with life, it can be pleasant, but if something unpleasant is in the way, it can spoil the entire experience.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Don't let my demanor fool you!

Keep alert at all times. And pray that you might be strong enough to escape these coming horrors and stand before the Son of Man.” - Luke 21:36 (NLT)

On my way to church yesterday, I noticed a bird on the wires overhead.  As I drove closer, I recognized a hawk, and because it was raining, I assumed its head was bowed to stave off the elements.  As I got even closer however, I saw that it was not in a complacent  or even self-protective stance at all, but was very closely studying something in the bushes across the road.

I received a message instantly about my mistake; it was directed at people like me who jump to conclusions about a person's demeanor, instead of relying on and sharpening my discernment.  Sometimes we will see someone in prayer, with their head bowed, and even though we may know them very well and know that they have one of the sharpest discerning spirits around, we may still assume that in that moment of prayer their guard may be down.  It may be at that moment however, when they may be at their sharpest, most aware of whatever and whomever is around them.  They may even be praying for that situation that you have shared with no one, but God dropped it into their basket, and they're being obedient to His command to pray you through it.  Don't mistake their demeanor for weakness or distraction.

As I began typing this message I received another message.  Just because your situation has calmed down, don't think that the enemy isn't studying you, looking for another way in.  The scriptures do warn us that he is like a roaring lion, roaming about, seeking whom he may devour.  The lion's roar is a warning to put your guard up and get somewhere safe, but what if he doesn't roar, and like the hawk is silently watching your every move, waiting for the opportune moment to pounce?  That's when the scripture Matthew 24:43-44a (MSG) becomes applicable: "But you do know this: you know that if the homeowner had known what time of night the burglar would arrive, he would have been there with his dogs to prevent the break-in. Be vigilant just like that."  Always be on guard where the enemy is concerned, never let your guard down.  And when you become weary, ask the Holy Spirit to stand watch over your soul, He's always on post.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

9/10/11 Lessons

"This is a haunting image of the World Trade Center during a dramatic storm. It was snapped on September 10, 2001, one day prior to the 9/11 Attacks. Even amidst the turbulent winds, cracking thunder, and stone-cold rain, the towers stand tall and strong for their final hours. This photo not only serves as a reminder to the American People of September 11th’s events, but symbolizes the strength needed to endure a difficult time."

That was the original caption printed under this, now, haunting image. What it brought to mind is resilience. It served as a reminder that although storms loomed on the horizon, although the trouble that came next was even worse than could have been imagined, although the subsequent horrors we survived came out of left field, although countless lost their lives, and although the nation was centered around NY, the effect was felt worldwide, we carried on, we bounced back. Through tears, broken bodies, and rubble, we still rose from the ashes, wiser and warier.

We may be gearing up for the battle of our lives, and some things may come from left field, but we've found that despite differences, when we come together, we can get through even the murkiest of circumstances.

Some have already begun to rally, sounding the war cry, while others prefer to hang back, conserving their strength, strategizing, awaiting the real war; regardless on where the gamut we fall, we may fall together, but we also rise together.

I post this from a heart that is both heavy with fear of possibilities and light with hope for possibilities.  My eyes have been opened, and so has my heart, but make no mistake, in the face of battle, my fist is closed.  I could cast aspersions, but that would be energy wasted, when it is better spent in prayer and preparation.

Some are standing in "The battle is not yours, it's the Lord's," while others are standing in "He trains my hands for battle, He strengthens my arm to draw a bow of bronze." The both are from the same manual, the Holy Scriptures, so I stand in both, behind God, my General, my Commander in Chief. I ask for a heart and body strong enough to see my convictions through.

But as of right now, I wait... 


Standing in the Gap

More often than not, when we as born again Christians, hear the phrase “standing in the gap,” we automatically think of praying for someone, of going to God on their behalf.  But let me take it one step deeper, standing in the gap means exactly that, there is a space that needs to be filled, and are you willing to put yourself, not just spiritually, but physically, in that place for someone?

Parents will often automatically answer with a resounding, “YES!” when it comes to their children, and some partners may say that about their spouses, but for the most part, bodily harm or some threat thereabouts will cause a person to pause and shy away from being their “brother’s keeper.”  Let’s be honest, modern day conveniences and creature comforts have softened our resolve to “live and die for Christ.”  So many times we say we would lay down our all for the cause of Christ from the safety of the sanctuaries we frequent on Sunday mornings.  But recently, even the safety of our sanctuaries have been breached, so much so that I have even heard many fall behind the banner of calling for arming their security teams.

This recognition of our being “watered down” may not be shocking to some, as many have heard the clarion call back to Holiness, heeding our Master’s Voice, and feeling the pull on the link to the anchor that keeps us from drifting too far.  But for some, just the idea that we have drifted at all sends shockwaves through their very being, not recognizing how much their “over-tolerant” behavior has pulled them from the Master’s Side, causing the choppy seas of tribulation to rock their boats (but that’s a topic for another day).  Today, I want to get back to “standing in the gap.”

I was listening to a teacher expound on a lesson about King David and Abigail, and conducted a study on the effects of  another issue in the King’s life that caused his seemingly outrageous reaction to Nabal’s insubordination (again, for another day).  The supporting text was, of course, 1 Samuel 25.  What struck me was Abigail’s response, and thus my subject, standing in the gap.

Synopsis of the chapter: King David had protected Nabal’s land and property and so when he wanted to come for a visit, he sent word to Nabal to help him and his servants out.  Nabal sent a very nasty negative response back to King David.  The King, being justifiably angered, vowed to kill Nabal and all his clan.  Abigail, Nabal’s wife, got wind of King David’s plans and hurried to meet him with gifts of her own, in hopes of swaying his wrath. David relented on her say so, God punished Nabal with sickness and death, and Abigail became David’s wife.  Oh, side note: Nabal had a notoriously nasty personality, so this behavior wasn’t unusual, but come on dude, the King?

Anyway, Abigail, being a godly wife, still wanting to save her husband and her household, went to stand in the gap for her husband.  She hoped that by meeting with the King before he had a chance to carry out his destructive plot, that she would somehow sway his resolve for this justified destruction.  Now if you remember your historical facts about approaching a King without being invited, you remember that that in itself carried a death sentence.  So Abigail was really putting herself out there for her husband.  Not only was she going against the law of the land, but she was also going up against the very justifiable wrath of the King, who was already on his way to wipe out her family and any associates.

When Abigail came within sight of King David, she descended from her donkey and ran to meet him, falling at his feet.  She then began to remind him of all his deeds, of her husband’s stupidity (his name “Nabal” did mean “fool”), but more importantly, of the Lord’s promise fulfillment over the King’s life.  She also alerted him to the foolishness of exacting vengeance for himself when vengeance belonged to the Lord (smart woman, invoking God’s laws and promises). That’s what standing in the gap truly is, putting your life on the line for another, and reminding them (and the Lord) of the promises of God and the punishments for disobeying God, of pleading with God on their behalf.

Jesus did the same thing with 10 simple words: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.  He did it from the cross, His life already laid down for us. He rushed into the Father’s presence in the Garden of Gethsemane, and even though it meant His life, He still went ahead pleading our case before a justifiably enraged God.

When we study the Holy Scriptures, we are often shown types and shadows of future occurrences, and here was yet another example of the tremendous sacrifice that Christ Jesus would make being foretold in the story of David, Abigail and Nabal.  So often we just read these “stories” just to read them, and just to reacquaint ourselves with what was going on at the time, but there is so much richness intertwined within these seemingly simply daily happenings.  This is what I found when I went to reread this story myself; I went to read for one reason, but came away with a whole different understanding. 

Won’t He do it?

Friday, October 7, 2016

This feeling

I need your help to define this new emotion I'm experiencing. I just saw "The Birth of a Nation," and yes, my initial responses were profound sadness and rage.  But, like perfume, the initial reaction has now passed, and the deeper, more lasting effect remains. I feel a form of contempt and familiarity, a renewed sense of self worth and purpose, an underlying pity and shame, and yet a powerful hopefulness riding on faith.

This movie and it's accompanying effects and emotions, are not for everyone, for few will know how to handle the rush and multitude of the reactions responsibly...I am unsure of whether or not I may even be one of them.  It comes at a time when we cannot cry "#blacklivesmatter" loudly enough, yet still receive resistance and apathy, pathetically enough, sometimes from our own. But what this movie has helped me to recognize is that with every battle, there will always be Benedict Arnold's and Judases, willing and unwilling.  I can no longer blame them.  They, like Patty Hearst and countless others, have been brainwashed so completely that they actually believe the filth that their captors are spewing.  I will leave them to their own paths, and pray I am elsewhere when they experience their inevitable, unenviable end.

But still, I am left feeling this feeling that am at a loss to define. I want to do something, but am at a loss as to what. I have so much to do, but am at a loss as to where to start. I have so much to say, but am at a loss as to how to convey the depth of it all.

I wish I could explain this feeling...