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Your darkness will be as noonday (Isaiah 58)

This verse has been on repeat in my head over the last few weeks. It’s from one of my favorite passages where God tells us what a true fast is. It isn’t about food; it’s about living a selfless life. Being fully available to people in need – those in your family and your community. Giving of yourself is the truest way to fast and to please the Lord your God. When you learn to do this, even your darkest days will be as bright as the afternoon sun. Your troubles will not blind you, drown you, confound you, nor destroy you. You will retain your vision, your sight, your knowledge and your awareness. You may be overwhelmed, but you will not be overran. Simply because you are rooted in your Source. You are grounded in the knowledge of God being with you and for you. The Light of His Holy Spirit will brighten every crevice and corner of your life. In the process, you learn to endure. You learn to stand. You learn to speak. You learn to embrace your vulnerability. You learn to embrace your strength. You learn to embrace yourself. You learn the value of obedience and surrender. Through your lessons you become able to surrender your selfishness and make yourself available to others’ needs. In this, you become a well-used, and much multiplied, vessel of the Most High God.

Aurora lights

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.

The Lord will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”  ~ Isaiah 58:9-12, NIV

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Stand Bold Against the Spirit of the Antichrist

March 14, 2012
Haifa, Israel

For they are traveling for the Lord, and they accept nothing from people who are not believers. So we ourselves should support them so that we can be their partners as they teach the truth.  ~ 3 John 7-8, NLT

Last night, I heard a passionate message about standing firm against Islam from an pastor from Uganda. He had been raised as a Muslim and converted to Christanity twenty years ago. He was nearly killed in his home a few months ago byMuslims in his hometown. He spoke of the Islamic agenda of world domination and said that the Islamic strategy is bold intimidation in the face of opposition to this goal. Bold to the point of killing and dying to contribute to the advancement of the goal of dominating the world.

            The pastor posited that the Islamic agenda can only be advanced and accomplished when the church remains quiet… and when the church compromises on its’ belief, the battle has already been lost. The pastor insisted his listeners return home and stand boldly against Islam as the spirit of the antichrist.

            I went to bed thinking about this message, particularly a question one of the congregation members asked: “I live in Brooklyn, NY near a mosque and they’re always outside with their signs. I know I need to pray on this, but how do I stand bold against Islam in Brooklyn?”

            The question was asked with much passion. And it disturbed me with an even greater passion. The pastor’s testimony was heartbreaking and provoking, however (compassion aside) I was more stirred by the reaction to his message. When people are riled they do not differentiate between a religion and the people who practice a religion. The Brooklyn man expressed concern for his family’s safety while living in such proximity to a mosque, but I didn’t hear any concern for the Muslim families themselves for living in such proximity to non-Muslims. This is where I think we fracture ourselves in the body of Christ: we begin to look at ourselves and our immediate community (family) as separate from the greater community (city, nation, world) because “they” don’t look like us, think like us, believe like us; therefore, they can’t possibly be created like us.

            Of all the cities in America, I would least expect New York to be antagonistic towards any particular group of people. Unfortunately, the City is showing itself to be a great antagonistic intimidator of the Muslim community both politically and socially.

            I don’t like pulling all my cards, but they do work well for illustrative purposes. As a black Christian woman, I look at persecution anywhere from three historic perspectives: black American struggle towards citizenship and equal rights; the ongoing feminine struggle to own ourselves, our identity and our bodies and to be heard in our communities; and the power and controversy of Jesus Christ as a man, prophet, and the one and only sacrificial Son of God. All hated, persecuted and mistreated minorities historically. Throughout history, each part of me has needed someone to speak up for my benefit. I needed help. I needed validation. What I know from my own personal demographics is that when a population is marginalized, sub-human treatment soon follows. When a population is no longer seen as having equal creation and living status as the person judging them less worthy, then atrocities will soon follow.

My dear friend, do not follow what is bad; follow what is good. The one who does good belongs to God. But the one who does evil has never known God.  ~ 3John 11, NCV

I received a case from the homeless clinic I volunteer for. During the first few hours of getting to know the young woman I was assigned to help, she asked me something along the line of, “Can you see God in me?”

            “Yes,” I replied immediately.

            “How can you be so certain,” she asked with a curious smile.

            “I look for God in everyone.”

            “Everyone?”

            “Yes. If didn’t see God in you, I wouldn’t be here with you. There have only been a few times I have been unable to see any good in anyone – I steer clear of those people.”

            “Why?”

            “Because if I can’t see God in them, they have nothing for me and I have nothing they will receive. God takes care of me and He has brought me a long way. I know He will not allow anyone to enter my life who will damage the work He has done in me. Knowing that, I go where He sends me and help those He sends to me.”

            “Like me?”

            “Yes, like you.”

Examples of the spirit of the antichrist

In its most basic form, the antichrist is a spirit of selfishness. This spirit works to keep those in its grip blind, ignorant and to themselves. Asleep. Unaware. Disinterested in the plight of their neighbor. The antichrist is not a religion as much as it’s a way of life… or rather, a way towards death.

            Jesus Christ’s spirit is one of giving. Christ’s Holy Spirit is selfless, helpful and a comfort to the believer. The Holy Spirit is life.

            The antichrist divides and separates.

            Christ built a community – a body of believers sent to share his message of love and life with the world.

            The antichrist spreads fear and hate.

            Christ is love.

            The antichrist is an antagonistic hoarder – it wants everything for itself.

            Christ is generous – laying down His life for His friends. Giving life to those who invite Him into their hearts.  However, Christ can only dwell in a heart that is not inhabited by His enemy, the spirit of the antichrist.

            Don’t be fooled by the “threat” of Islam, the threat of “them”, the threat of “others”, or the threat of anyone who isn’t us. The antichrist isn’t hiding in religion or the unknown as much as he’s hiding in us – the body of Christ. What are you giving of yourself? What are you keeping to yourself? Have you surrendered yourself completely to God? Or have you held back and allowed the enemy of God squatting rights in your heart and mind?

            I truly and deeply believe that I don’t need to know about any “threat” in the world as much as I need to know that I have the Holy Spirit of God housed within me. The same is true for you! With this power, this light and glory we can face the enemy of Christ with a gentleness, a patience, and a strength that infiltrates, weakens, and crumbles the hold of the antichrist on the people within our life-circles – family friends, neighbors, community members, co-workers, etc.

            Christ stands in the gap between Believers and God as an intercessor – a bridge to bring us back into the presence of our Creator. Christ is our example of how we can stand in the gap between non-believers and God so that through the foundation Christ has already laid, we have a way to bring those who love the darkness into the life-saving and grace-giving light of God’s Kingdom.

            The antichrist widens the gap and attempts to throw all of mankind, his enemies, into its abyss. With as much effort as you resist the enemy for the sake of your soul, also help your neighbor resist in the saving of their soul.

May God richly bless you in your walk and make you a greater blessing to others around you. Peace be unto you.

My dear children, these are the last days. You have heard that the enemy of Christ is coming, and now many enemies of Christ are already here. This is how we know that these are the last days. These enemies of Christ were in our fellowship, but they left us. They never really belonged to us; if they had been a part of us, they would have stayed with us. But they left, and this shows that none of them really belonged to us.

            You have the gift that the Holy One gave you, so you all know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth but because you do know the truth. And you know that no lie comes from the truth.

Who is the liar? It is the person who does not accept Jesus as the Christ. This is the enemy of Christ: the person who does not accept the Father and his Son. Whoever does not accept the Son does not have the Father. But whoever confesses the Son has the Father, too.

Be sure you continue to follow the teaching you heard from the beginning. If you continue to follow what you heard from the beginning, you will stay in the Son and in the Father. And this is what the Son promised to us—life forever.

            I am writing this letter about those people who are trying to lead you the wrong way. Christ gave you a special gift that is still in you, so you do not need any other teacher. His gift teaches you about everything, and it is true, not false. So continue to live in Christ, as his gift taught you.

            Yes, my dear children, live in him so that when Christ comes back, we can be without fear and not be ashamed in his presence. Since you know that Christ is righteous, you know that all who do right are God’s children.  ~ 1 John 2:18-29, NCV

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Just do it – You Are Duty-Bound!

“When a servant comes in from plowing or taking care of sheep, does his master say, ‘Come in and eat with me’? No, he says, ‘Prepare my meal, put on your apron, and serve me while I eat. Then you can eat later.’ And does the master thank the servant for doing what he was told to do? Of course not. In the same way, when you obey me you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.’”  ~ Luke 17:7-10

*I’m raising my hand* I’m guilty of expecting appreciation for what I do. A simple word of thanks goes a long way with me. Yes, I want to hear a “thank you.” Yes, it would be nice if reciprocal giving was sprinkled throughout a relationship (even an employer/employee relationship). One of my struggles has been to not be so stingy with myself to seemingly ungrateful people. But it’s hard. It’s like a law of nature: someone smiles at you, you smile back; someone greets you, you greet them back; someone does something for you, you show gratitude. So it’s hard to hear that I should consider all the work that I do as my duty – what I’m expected to do, therefore unworthy of thanks. Ouch!!

In my mind, if my actions don’t illicit responses, then I haven’t made an impression – so I begin to think I am better off saving my energy for someone who will reciprocate in some form. 

However, Jesus’s instruction in Luke 17:10 is that we should just do as we are instructed with no expectation of gratitude because it is our duty as the Lord’s servant to do His will.

Still difficult to hear.

I’m trying to imagine giving my all day in and day out with no acknowledgement of my effort at all. Sounds like a dark place. It’s a selfless place, to be sure. A necessary place for a humble servant in committed service to their Lord.

It is important to know that yes, as individuals, we need to be grateful, but as servants we need to be humble. A humble servant is lowly in self-estimation. There is no pride or ego that needs the flattery of gratitude. Humbleness is modesty, but it’s not weakness. A great deal of strength is required to completely set your self aside in service to another.  

duty
  1. something that one is expected or required to do by moral or legal obligation.
  2. the binding or obligatory force of something that is morally or legally right; moral or legal obligation.
  3. an action or task required by a person’s position or occupation; function

Believers are expected to serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13). We have an obligation to our Lord to mimic His selflessness. We are required to do for one another, to help and support each other, to fill in the gaps in each other’s daily lives. What my brother or sister in Christ can’t do by themselves, they can perhaps accomplish with my assistance. I am then duty-bound to offer and to serve. Look to Jesus as the primary example for that thought train. We couldn’t achieve forgiveness for our sin alone, but Jesus was able to do it for us. He came to serve. He humbled Himself for our benefit and became the first of God’s great harvest (1 Corinthians 15:20).

When the ten other disciples heard what James and John had asked, they were indignant. So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  ~ Mark 10:41-45

I have not found a statement of gratitude from God for Jesus’s service or sacrifice. Jesus performed His duty. However, at the outset of His ministry, He was validated by God’s voice from Heaven saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)  

It I important to realize that when God has set you on a path of service, you have already been validated – simply by His selection. You need to know that He loves you and is pleased with you even before you perform, because nothing you do will earn worldly accolades from the God who is greater than the world. And we are in service to God in all we do.

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“I am the MOST loving, forgiving, and selfless person EVER!”

“I am the most loving, forgiving, and selfless person EVER!”

Right? Surely you’ve had your moments of greatness that may have lasted into a lifetime or a lifestyle?

“When a servant comes in from plowing or taking care of sheep, does his master say, ‘Come in and eat with me’? No, he says, ‘Prepare my meal, put on your apron, and serve me while I eat. Then you can eat later.’ And does the master thank the servant for doing what he was told to do? Of course not. In the same way, when you obey me you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.’”   ~ Luke 17:7-10

That sounds like a harsh word from Jesus! Talk about “tough love!”

Let me tell you a story…

There was once a young woman who spent her entire existence at the beck and call of other people. (We’ll call them “Everyone Else.”) If Everyone Else needed her here, she came. If Everyone Else needed her there, she went. She truly believed in being present. She thought being used was a good thing – she felt as if Everyone Else’s use of her was validation of her existence. Then one day the young woman realized all her usefulness had been used up – or rather her presence was no longer needed or wanted because Everyone Else had outgrown her… or their lifestyles had changed… or they had become distracted by Someone Else who met their needs more immediately. All those who used to want the young woman around were seeking after Someone Else. So the young woman skulked away in dreadful sadness because she had applied so much importance to how important she was to others. Unfortunately, her sense of self had been tied up in how Everyone Else valued her.

In an effort to reinvent herself, to realign her values, and to make sure No One Else was ever again in a position to discard her so carelessly, the young woman began hoarding her love, forgiveness and generosity for herself… with the intention of lavishing her gifts only on Worthy Ones. In her mind, Worthy Ones would know how to love her back. They would be gracious in forgiving her lapses, and they would be equally generous of themselves and their time.

Years passed and then more years passed. Soon the young woman was looking back over decades of wasted time as an old woman still living alone in the fortress she had built to protect herself from all her would-be destroyers. Worthy Ones had never crossed her path… or if they had, perhaps they hadn’t considered her Worthy Enough to stop for. Sitting on a stockpile of treasure she had hoarded for herself (all her love and her willingness to express it however and whenever needed) the old woman finally realized it did her no good to have love if there was no one to give it to.

To her horror she realized that running away from selflessness led her straight into the most egregious form of selfishness (sin) imaginable. She hid her treasure and blessed no one.

“Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.’

“But the master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’

 “Then he ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver. To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’  

~ Matthew 25: 24-30 NLT

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Show Me the Love

Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. Our actions will show that we belong to the truth…  (1 John 3:18-19)

[Hosea’s Reconciliation With His Wife] The LORD said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.” (Hosea 3:1)

Occasionally, I have to remind people that I am a work in progress, just like them. Though I continue to strive, I have not reached the mark (Philippians 3:12-14), just like you. When I first read God’s instruction to Hosea, I was taken aback. I felt sorry for him. Goodness, to be explicitly instructed to take an adulterous spouse back! That couldn’t be me!

But it is all of us, isn’t it? We have all violated the trust, love, loyalty, and faithfulness of someone near and dear to us. Mother, father, brother, sister, husband, wife, friend. And our sentiments have also been violated by someone. We have all fallen short of perfection in our relationships. If we were all perfect, what would be the purpose of this life? Everything we go through in life is for our perfecting, for our improvement, for our growth. I’ve come to see God’s instruction to Hosea as God’s instruction to me in working through the hurts received during my interactions with people. LaShawnda, go, show your love to _________, though they set you aside for someone else (betrayed, neglected, ignored or disregarded you). Love __________ as the LORD loves you. That’s the gist of this whole love thing – reaching an ACTIVE state of loving others as God loves us.

Much of the Bible is about tell and show, hear and go, and believe and do. Like our faith and belief, our love is activated and strengthened by what we hear and see. We follow through on what we have faith for, what we believe in and what we love by doing something. My favorite verse to this effect is Jeremiah 1:12, Then the LORD said to me, “You have seen well, for I am ready to perform My word.” Are you performing God’s word? Are you carrying out His instructions? We’re told to love one another. To pray for one another. To submit to one another. To share each other’s burdens. To share our possessions so none of us are lacking. We are instructed to have the same mind. Yet somehow, those of us in Christ, invariably go wrong.

Use things, not people

We love Himbecause He first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

recycle love Pictures, Images and PhotosLove can be operated by one person, however love is most effective and powerful when it’s reciprocated. We are able to love because we have first been loved. We are called to go out and love on people so that everyone will experience the love of Christ. We are to use our gifts and talents in the execution of our commission. We are made to be useful (be of service; serve some purpose;) but not to be used in a consumptive way (destructive; wasteful).

If you take/receive from someone (love, friendship, tenderness, kindness, housing, transportation, support, you name the resource) without giving anything back, then you’re a user. You’re consuming and depleting a resource.

When you give you shouldn’t expect anything in return. However, when you share (participate in, enjoy, take part jointly, receive equally), there is a definite expectation to receive something in return. When you share yourself with someone, there’s an expectation for that person to share themselves with you.

Think of an exchange with you and your best friend. You first bonded over a secret or shared experience. Had your friend not reciprocated either with their secrets or experiences, how close do you think you’d be? Probably not very. You’re close because you recognized a likeness in each other. That recognition came from sharing something meaningful to each of you.

Users are selfish and are not looking for shared experiences. They’re looking for opportunities to get over on someone in order to improve their situation. However, sharing life experiences will get you much further than using someone for what life has given them.

What have you done for me lately?

Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”  (John 14:21)

God said it first: try me, test me, prove me and see what I will DO for you. He, in turn, tests us, examines us, searches us to make us aware of what we are doing for Him.

Love does. It gives and shares. Love is active. It shows up.  Love cannot co-habit with fear and it doesn’t hide itself.

Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. (1 John 4:17-18)

I take issue with people who try to censor me or hide me away. To me it expresses a lack of appreciation for who I am. Appreciation is an expression of love (recognition of the quality, value, significance, or magnitude of people and things; an expression of gratitude).

When you start to examine people based on their actions, you see a lot more of how they really feel about you. That’s not to say you’re comparing yourself to others. You’re comparing one person to themselves  – you’re reviewing their action record. For example, if a male friend holds the door open for every female in his radius, but as you approach he walks through first and the door slams in your face, you would doubt his care and respect for you. Or if a female friend set a beautiful table and served an elegant plate to all her guests but when she got to you, she dumps the food on in a pile, you would doubt her consideration and love for you. These are simple illustrations but it’s indicative of people who are not trying to show love. They’re not trying to give it. They’re not trying to share it.

In our flesh we want to pull away from such people – the ones who react harshly to the gentleness we try to live our lives with. That’s the struggle. Hosea left. He was told to go back. I find that I always go back to try one more time to reach out in kindness and gentleness. To be self-controlled and patient. To offer all of my joy and none of my sadness. That’s what I do to show my love.

Love is not a game of Hide n’Seek

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor 13:12-13)

People in the world will mess you up. It took a great deal of time, effort and concentration for me to focus on God’s character defining love. I had to let go of and forget the treatment I received from people who claimed to love me but never showed me love. Because of their way of expressing “love”, it was hard for me to trust and surrender to God when I first acknowledged this journey. I had to get rid of what I knew and act in faith according to what I believed. Then I had to become open to the full cycle of giving and receiving.

Years ago I heard a quote: “Everything is love; hurt and anger only tries to mask it.” It’s not possible to hide love. That quote got me through a lot of hurt and many stages of anger. I eventually became willing to express myself more fully, which in turn made me more receptive to other peoples’ self-expression. I stopped running from other people’s anger, and stayed around to try to resolve the issue. I stopped avoiding hurt and faced it in an attempt to soothe it.

Don’t you want to show yourself clearly and be known fully by someone? With no fear of recrimination, rejection or judgment? The best way is to boldly reveal yourself and accept others in their true state as well. When you remove the reason for hiding, fear has no opportunity to root itself in you.

When you channel God’s love into your life, most grievances will be covered – set aside, forgiven, forgotten, become a non-issue (1Peter 4:8). God’s love makes it easier to forgive and continue to build. It makes it easier to love and continue to support your loved ones and strangers alike. It’s easier for two people to submit (defer to another’s judgment, opinion, decision) to one another in various matters. God’s love is a unifier and makes it easier for us to share the same mind. How fortunate for us that the love of God does all this and more for us so we can in turn do the same for others – pull them from their dark hiding places (when they’re ready) and cover them in love (when we’re able). Protect them, nourish them, build them up. This process is made possible through your openness, through knowing someone and making yourself known to them.

Share yourself and spread the Love!

This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. (John 15:12-13)

God is selfless in all He has done and continues to do for mankind. His intent is that we would be just as selfless with one another. So get to work! Come out of hiding. Approach boldly and reveal yourself. Put the truth of action behind your words. Go, show your love! Prove it! You are made perfect in love, for God is your designer and your example. He loved you first so you can shower others with the love you have for Him.