Monday, February 27, 2017

Why Do We Fluctuate in our Devotion To God?

Reading about the Israelites in the book of Judges, you may wonder how they could be so stubborn. You may even think that you're not like them - once you've committed to something or someone you never waver in your commitment, you're never tempted, and you never doubt.

In my last post, I mentioned how God sent judges to deliver the people of Israel; but why did they need deliverance?

Their leader died (Judges 2:6-9). Joshua died at 110 years old but he was influential in ensuring that the people followed the Lord's commandments. When Joshua and those of that generation died, the upcoming generation did not know the Lord and all of his works. Because of this lack of knowledge they chose to worship other gods. This worshipping of other gods instead of the one true God makes God seem petty, but He's not. When you make other things an idol - they become very important to you. Idols will now have a high priority in your life; the idol determines how you live and who you associate with. In Israel's time, false gods like Baal and Ashtoreth - couldn't save lives, couldn't deliver you from oppression, couldn't help you cross a Red sea, couldn't rain plagues from heaven. Instead, these idols created a false hope and filled lives with rituals that had no meaning. But God was and is different - everything He instituted had meaning and purpose and was not an empty ritual. God knew what He was talking about. Today we make idols out of different things - fame, athletic prowess, smarts, money. If we give these things more precedence than God who made us, they are an idol and they will have the same detrimental effect as worshipping false gods in Israel's time.

There was a gap in knowledge (Judges 2:10). As much as it is up to you, your legacy matters. Perhaps because they had not experienced God's goodness directly, the younger generation made a choice to test God. Perhaps they did not really understand what it meant to serve God. Sometimes in spite of passing down what God has done, the next generation chooses to go astray. Each individual has to make the choice to serve God.

God made all of us with free will (Judges 2:11-22). We get to choose. God said if you're always going to choose wrongly, you will suffer but I will still make a way out for you.

So why is it so hard to stay the course?
  • Sin is enticing. The worship of false gods was enticing to the Israelites; it was all around them. Proximity to sin also made it tempting.
  • Sin is influential - Bad company corrupts good character.
  • Sin makes us weak - We don't really have willpower unless we choose to subject our minds. Our wills are entirely powerless.
Perhaps you now see a little bit of yourself in the Israelites; I know I do. Don't look with disdain at the Israelites instead, see yourself in them. Yield to the promises of God's word and be willful about serving Him. Like the Israelites, you'll begin to recognize that He is there in spite of your messes. Out of the mess will come a message.

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. Romans 5:8

Even though you fluctuate, He remains faithful. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Power a Judge Holds

There's a big competition that happens annually throughout the United States that is called the US Academic Decathlon, informally called AcaDeca. This year I was asked by a friend to serve as a Judge. I had no idea what I was in for but since I became aware of this competition, I have had a peripheral interest in it, as it represents academic excellence. I keep my eye on these things just in case a child of mine can participate. So being a judge was a perfect way to learn how this competition works, but it turned out to be more than that.

AcaDeca is an intense competition; a theme is picked annually and each school has a team dedicated to this endeavor. Basically, as a student, you spend all of your free time studying for this competition. What's unique about this competition is that a team is made up of A students, B students, and C students - A, B & C being their GPA. I like the message that sends because so often in schools it seems that the A students are automatically selected for every honor and the others are left out. But this is a team competition so everyone has to work together.

I was asked to be a judge for the interview portion of the competition. We were given an orientation that day on how to be an interview judge. As a judge, we worked in teams and decided which questions to ask the students. We were looking to see how poised, confident and comfortable the competitors were. After each interview which lasted for 7 minutes we then rated them. As an interview judge, it was my job to ensure that they answered the questions. There was no right or wrong answer to any of the questions - for example, "Based on your circle of friends, what would they say about you?"

Some of the competitors were so coached or so scripted we never got to see who they were. Others realized that they could let their true selves shine through without negative ramifications. And some were so shy and tense, we had to work really hard to get them to open 7 minutes. We judged based on the behavior they presented to us.

As judges we were in a powerful position - our scores for this section of the competition determined how the team performed overall. The competitors did not take it lightly neither did we (though we had more fun!)

The Book of Judges is named as such because it details the Israelites exploits after Joshua died while living in the conquered land of Canaan. But you know the Israelites were all too human just like us so they fluctuated in their devotion to God. Judges specifically states, "Whenever the Lord raised up a judge over Israel, he was with that judge and rescued the people from their enemies throughout the judge’s lifetime. For the Lord took pity on his people, who were burdened by oppression and suffering. But when the judge died, the people returned to their corrupt ways, behaving worse than those who had lived before them. They went after other gods, serving and worshiping them. And they refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways." (Judges 2:18-19 [NLT])

My role as a judge was minuscule compared to the judges that God raised up to lead and deliver Israel. Nonetheless, the judge played an important role - they kept order, followed God's laws, brokered disputes,  and was the final authority next to God. Their authority was recognized however, a judge was different from a king in that he/she did not have the authority of a king.

We minimize judging today; we get upset when we feel we're being judged and this is only the case when our actions don't align with the standard of the person doing the judging. Granted, if the individual's heart or motive is wrong, then they will be judging wrongly. But that's not what upsets most people - it is the actual knowledge of being judged that lets them know that they have deviated from a standard. It's being called out - but there is a way to do this.

Judging happens and judging is necessary. If we weren't judging that important aspect of the competition, the outcomes may have been different. If God hadn't sent judges, the Israelites would not have had relief from their enemies' oppression.

Over the next couple of weeks, I'll break down what judging actually entails and how the Israelites were affected by the Judges that God used to deliver them.

And he shall judge the world in righteousness, he shall minister judgment to the people in uprightness. Psalms 9:8

Have you ever been a judge? What was it like?

Thursday, February 23, 2017

More Black History - After Slavery and Jim Crow

My initial post on slavery was written on August 4th, 2015. The 2nd part - this post, has sat in draft mode until now. It seems fitting that I should post this before Black History Month ends. So many of us don't know our history; not just Black History. As an adult looking back, I can now see that History was one of the more important topics taught - but depending on your sources the picture painted may be incomplete. Is history ever complete? We weren't there so we have to rely on and trust the records of what was done at the time. As it relates to Black history, the more we read, research and speak to others the more we realize that this is an area that is shortchanged on many school's history curriculums. As I said in my prior post, it wasn't until I went to college that I really began to unearth my history. Hopefully, this post whets the appetite for learning more of our history.

America has always been conflicted about how to treat its Black citizens. Though Jefferson coined the phrase all men are created equal, he didn't truly believe it for Jefferson was a slaveowner; his belief and his actions were not aligned. Jefferson, like all slaveholders and many other white members of American society, regarded Negroes as inferior, childlike, untrustworthy and, of course, as property. Jefferson, the genius of politics, could see no way for African-Americans to live in society as free people. He embraced the worst forms of racism to justify slavery. (

Of the nine presidents who owned slaves, only Washington freed his. (

But even though many of them decried it, Southern colonists relied on slavery. The Southern colonies were among the richest in America. Their cash crops of tobacco, indigo, and rice depended on slave labor. They weren’t going to give it up and history has shown they did not.

Here's a brief history lesson taken from various sources. The first U.S. national government began under the Articles of Confederation, adopted in 1781. This document said nothing about slavery. It left the power to regulate slavery, as well as most powers, to the individual states.
A dispute arose over the legislative branch. States with large populations wanted representation in both houses of the legislature to be based on population. States with small populations wanted each state to have the same number of representatives, like under the Articles of Confederation. This argument carried on for two months. In the end, the delegates agreed to the “Great Compromise.” One branch, the House of Representatives, would be based on population. The other, the Senate, would have two members from each state.
Part of this compromise included an issue that split the convention into North–South lines. The issue was: Should slaves count as part of the population? Under the proposed Constitution, the population would ultimately determine three matters:
(1) How many members each state would have in the House of Representatives.
(2) How many electoral votes each state would have in presidential elections.
(3) The amount each state would pay in direct taxes to the federal government.
Only the Southern states had large numbers of slaves. Counting them as part of the population would greatly increase the South’s political power, but it would also mean paying higher taxes. This was a price the Southern states were willing to pay. They argued in favor of counting slaves. Northern states disagreed. The delegates compromised. Each slave would count as three-fifths of a person.

What should be done about the slave trade, the importing of new slaves into the United States? Ten states had already outlawed it. Many delegates heatedly denounced it. But the three states that allowed it — Georgia and the two Carolinas — threatened to leave the convention if the trade were banned. A special committee worked out another compromise: Congress would have the power to ban the slave trade, but not until 1800. The convention voted to extend the date to 1808.
A final major issue involving slavery confronted the delegates. Southern states wanted other states to return escaped slaves. The Articles of Confederation had not guaranteed this. But when Congress adopted the Northwest Ordinance, it a clause promising that slaves who escaped to the Northwest Territories would be returned to their owners. The delegates placed a similar fugitive slave clause in the Constitution. This was part of a deal with New England states. In exchange for the fugitive slave clause, the New England states got concessions on shipping and trade.

The black community received an enormous shock with the Supreme Court's "Dred Scott" decision in March 1857. Blacks were not American citizens and could never be citizens, the court said in a decision roundly denounced by the Republican Party as well as the abolitionists, because slaves were property, not people. By this ruling, they could not sue in court. The decision was finally reversed by the Civil Rights Act of 1865.That was 8 long years.

The constitution set forth the ideals of freedom and equality while providing for the continuation of the institution of slavery through the fugitive slave clause and the three-fifths compromise. Slavery was abolished by Amendment 13 of the Constitution. Amendment 13 - Slavery Abolished. Ratified 12/6/1865. Here is the actual text of the 13th Amendment: 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation. 

The ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865 is considered the end of slavery. This then ushered in the Jim Crow era. Jim Crow an appropriate name - not flattering, derogatory, a way of life for blacks and whites, and cruel.

The Jim Crow era accompanied the cruelest wave of "racial" suppression that America has yet experienced. Between 1890 and 1940 (some sources say up to the 60s), millions of African Americans were disfranchised, killed, and brutalized. Quite simply, another human decided that you were inferior because of your skin color. You couldn't drink at the same water fountain, swim in the same pools, go to the same schools or churches, stay in the same hotels, shop at the same stores and many more aggressions because you were Black. You could not vote or participate in democracy. As a Black person, you were raped, lynched, or imprisoned for any perceived slight with minimal recourse. Please let that sink in. This went on for generations and became a way of life for black folk though it was not right. On the flip side, it reinforced a warped sense of superiority in white folks that they never had. This too was not right. Fear is a crazy thing!

Yet, during this time we survived. There was brilliance in Black people and slowly but surely the world came to know. There's MLK Jr, and many before him; there were doctors, nurses, journalists, educators, musicians, athletes, inventors, scientists, activists. There's an endless list of Black achievement from this time frame. There were many battles to fight and many ways to fight them all with the goal of restoring some degree of human dignity to Black people in America.

As a nation, Jim Crow and its vestiges are a part of this country's history. 

Remember, those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it (Edmund Burke).

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Reaping What You Sow

When we were children, one form of fun and entertainment for us was playing board games. One year my oldest brother brought home this game called "The Gold Talent" which was a Bible Trivia game. To this day, I remember my brother with his handsome smile asking, "Who was the king who had his thumbs and big toes cut off?" In all of my reading of the Bible, as a teenager, I'd never found anything like this in the Bible. Back then we didn't have cell phones or even a computer at home. We had encyclopedias, but this information would not be in one, and if it was it would take too long to find.

So we were stumped, and we said, "Who?" He said, "Adonibezek."  Adoni be who??? I had never heard of him; perhaps you hadn't either.

Adonibezek's story is found in Judges 1:1-8. Adonibezek was the king of Bezek - a Canaanite king, who was captured by Judah and Simeon- two brothers. When they captured him they cut off his thumbs and big toes. It turns out that Adonibezek had done this to seventy kings, so he thought this was a just punishment. "As I have done, so God has requited me." Then they brought him to Jerusalem and he died.

There are no random stories or mere coincidences in the Bible; everything is there for a reason and serves a purpose.

We don't know why Judah and Simeon chose to inflict this punishment on Adonibezek but as you continue reading you realized that there was a method to the madness - this was a practice Adonibezek had employed on a regular basis. As he did to the kings he captured to reduce their dexterity, the same was done to him. Cutting off the thumbs made working difficult; the big toes - made walking difficult. These captured kings gathered crumbs from under Adonibezek’s table. They were really humiliated!

Sometimes God in his providence makes the punishment answer for the sin.

So be careful about cutting off the toes and thumbs of others – the same punishment may be inflicted on you. Unlike Adonibezek, if you have the chance to right a wrong, do so before the wrong comes right back to you.

The one who sows iniquity will reap trouble, and the rod of his fury will end. Proverbs 22:8

Do not be deceived. God will not be made a fool. For a person will reap what he sows....
Galatians 6:7

What do you need to make right today?

Friday, February 17, 2017

Encouraging Words from an Old Man to the Rest of Us

After Joshua encouraged the elders, he gave his last sermon to the congregation, which once more included the leaders.

Once, many years ago I went to a Women's Ministry meeting, at church, on a Monday night. The lady who spoke that night talked about rehearsing the goodness of God. I had never heard that phrase before until that night and it is one of those phrases that has stayed with me. The context in which rehearsed is used in the Bible simply means to tell or declare; to repeat. In modern times it means to practice, run through, or review.

In either context, when you rehearse the goodness of God you become emphatic in declaring what God has done for you, and this is exactly what Joshua did in his last sermon. Joshua emphasized how God delivered the people of Israel and how He fought for them in the most eloquent terms, from the time of Abraham to their present - I gave you lands you did not work for and you partake in its benefits. (Joshua 24:1-13)

Joshua then encouraged the people to,  now, therefore, serve the Lord with sincerity and truth. (Joshua 24:14).

When you rehearse what God has done, there's only one response that makes sense; that acknowledges His goodness - service.

Because it's always up to each of us individually to make the choice, Joshua issued a challenge to the congregation- choose ye this day who ye will serve. (Joshua 24:15) Joshua had already made the decision for his household but, would others follow?

What happens next is not something I've ever seen in a Sunday morning service. It almost has a call and response feel to it.

The Israelites said, "We'll serve God." (Joshua 24:16-18)
Joshua said in so many words, "No you won't. You'll mess up. God is not to be messed with." (Joshua 24:19, 20)
The people countered and said, "No we won't; we'll serve God because we have experienced Him."(Joshua 24:21)
Joshua said - "OK. Let's set up a covenant as a witness to what you said you would do." So a covenant was made that day;  it was written and a stone was set up by the sanctuary of the Lord to indicate that a covenant was made between God and the people. (Joshua 24:26, 27)

Joshua died at the age of 110 and it seems the people remembered their covenant because...Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that overlived (i.e. outlived) Joshua, and which had known all the works of the Lord, that he had done for Israel. (Joshua 24:31)

Through Joshua's prompting, Israel remembered all the works of the God. They rehearsed the works of God which allowed them to remember which ultimately encouraged them; for to lose memory is to lose hope.

Since that night, many years ago as a young working (tired) mother, I have rehearsed the goodness of God. When I felt too tired to care, I remembered how God carried me. When I thought I was at my wit's end, I remembered how God came through in providing a different way for me to look at a situation and arrive at a resolution. Even for work, when I was expecting difficulty God paved a way and provided opportunity. God has always been good to me in spite of my circumstances. The simple act of waking up and breathing is evidence of God's goodness. So I rehearse; I practice so that I remember. Like a runner who practiced so that their performance is automatic. Like a singer who rehearsed so that singing is second nature. When we rehearse we're creating muscle memory. We're strengthening our faith and hope muscles creating muscle memory. The work of God in each life is powerful; powerful to change us, powerful to encourage us and powerful to make us live right.

I will remember the works of the Lord. Yes, I will remember the amazing things you did long ago! Psalm 77:11

Like Joshua did to the children of Israel, rehearse God's goodness in your life. Choose who you will serve. Make the choice to serve Him because of all that He has done for you.

Are you ready for rehearsal?