Monday, January 30, 2017

Strong Like Caleb

I want to tell you about a person in the Bible who never lost hope, though he may have had good reason to do so.

After the Israelites were freed from Egypt, God had great things in store for them. God told Moses to send 12 men to spy out the land of Canaan so he sent them on a reconnaissance mission. Caleb and Joshua in addition to 10 others were sent on this mission. After 40 days they returned with their report. The land was rich, fertile, and according to their report, the men appeared as giants. In reporting back to Moses the majority of the men were afraid - they doubted that they could ever possess this land. But Caleb saw that they could take over the land. Caleb was outnumbered, but he believed. He said, "If the Lord delight in us, then he will bring us into this land and give it to us." (Numbers 14:8)

Because of the Israelites doubt, the Lord God became angry with them. None of them would enter into the Promise Land except Joshua who would lead them and Caleb whom God promised that He would allow him to possess the land. In addition, for each day of their mission, it would become a year of punishment thus 40 years in the wilderness. The 10 spies, who fed the doubt of the Israelites met a special end.

Caleb heard, believed and held on to this promise. 45 years later at the age of 85, after they have entered the Promise Land, Caleb tells Joshua I want what was promised to me. Caleb eloquently stated, "The Lord has kept me alive. I am as strong today as I was then. I am strong and ready for battle. Now, therefore, give me this mountain." (Joshua 14:10-13)  Joshua blessed him and gave him the land.

Caleb had a different spirit than his peers - he didn't succumb to peer pressure but chose to believe in the faithfulness and strength of God. After all, he had seen and participated in God's miracles - deliverance from Egypt, crossing the Red Sea, and God's provision. What reason was there to start doubting now?

Caleb was willing to hold on for as long it took to realize the promise - 45 years is a long time. Caleb watched his peers die in the wilderness, but Caleb also had to live through the wilderness experience. A wilderness is mostly dry barren land not meant to be inhabited by people. The Israelites were never meant to live in these conditions for 40 years but because of their unbelief, God allowed them to. That may seem like a harsh lesson, but it brings the point home for us - there's no need to doubt God, yet we do it over and over again. In the minutiae of life, Caleb had to hold on to and believe that there was something better. That promise kept him focused and allowed him to live differently. This made him strong mentally and physically.

Caleb saw the Promised Land - He knew there was something better out there because he had seen it. He saw the the bounteous vines laden with grapes; he saw the pomgranates; he saw the fruitfulness of this fertile land.

Like Caleb, God has made promises to us that we can hold on to. These promises can give us strength and focus as we navigate our wilderness experience. God is faithful and cannot lie - so when he makes a promise, He will keep it. It may take longer than we think we are capable of for God does not view time like we do, but His promises always come to fruition and when they do, it's always the right time.

But my servant Caleb has a different attitude than the others have. He has remained loyal to me, so I will bring him into the land he explored. His descendants will possess their full share of that land. Numbers 14:24 [NLT]

But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it. Romans 8:25[KJV]

Are you like Caleb, where you can say, I'm give me this mountain? Are you going through a wilderness? Hold on, with a different attitude and belief; the promises of God will come to fruition.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Raising Children

The process of making bread is similar to raising children.

The basic recipe is relatively simple with few ingredients; but in order to get bread, we must combine, mold, shape (even pummel) all the ingredients together. Then we must let the dough sit, until it rises.

Once it rises, we separate the dough and depending on our recipe, let it rise further before placing it in the oven.

Once it comes out of the oven, it's beautiful and ready to be eaten. One of my favorite memories as a child was eating slices of fresh baked bread with butter on Saturday afternoons.

In Proverbs 22:6 [KJV]we read, train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 31:28 [KJV] says, her children rise up and call her blessed. 

As mothers, we train our children by teaching, molding character, disciplining, hugging and being practical examples for them. Sometimes the hardest part is to just sit and wait while the bread is rising. Everything went in that is needed to make a loaf of bread, but with children, we don't know how long it will take for them to rise; for them to rise up and call us blessed.

I've had to sit and wait as my oldest went through a wayward stage. This child went off to college and probably had the typical college experience - enjoying his freedom away from home just a tad bit too much. When he came back home, I sometimes felt as if I didn't know him. But since he was an adult now, I learned it was better to pray and believe the promises of God's word than to constantly nag or harass him. So I prayed daily. I prayed constantly. I prayed often. My husband and I both prayed. Today, this young man is someone who lives to please the Lord; a young man who is not ashamed of what Christ has done and is doing in his life. He embodies Romans 12:1-2. But during his season, I had to wait and hope and pray and wait as God worked and formed him into the perfect loaf of bread.

Through my children, I know that the promises of God's word are true. As I've waited with each child, I don't wait idly. I wait with a belief that God's promises aren't empty and they will come to fruition. I wait as an exercise of faith. I wait hopefully.

So let's do our part in raising our children and trust that when they are old, they will not depart from our training and will rise up and call us blessed.

Traditional White bread Recipe

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Rogue Squirrel

For the past three weeks in Southern California, it has been raining consistently. Every day there is rain - lots of it, torrential downpours. Nothing like I've seen since I've lived here. As I was listening to the rain and working one morning, I noticed movement in the backward. I stopped for a second then continued working. But the movement was still there, so I explored further. There was a squirrel in one of the chairs. Somehow he had poked a hole in the seat and was taking the cotton out of the chair. When the squirrel became aware of me, it ran off with the cotton in its mouth. I had never seen that before and it made me smile and marvel at the same time.

I could only deduce that he was using the cotton to keep his living quarters warm. I did some online research which confirmed that squirrels make nests in trees of leaves and limbs but for extra warmth, they will use whatever they can find, like carpet fibers and cotton.

The unseasonably cold and rainy weather brought that squirrel to a chair in my backyard where I witnessed him absconding with a mouthful of cotton. I'm not an animal lover by any stretch of the imagination, but this simple act by the squirrel magnified the greatness of God in all of His creation. That pesky squirrel was ingenious enough to find additional warmth for his nest by using my backward chair. It's a minor inconvenience for me and a lifesaver for the squirrel.

When I look at nature and see God's handiwork, I can only say that he is amazing. When I see how everything in nature works together perfectly, again I'm amazed. I surely could not have provided such detail if it were up to me. And if God can wire a squirrel to take care of itself, how much more care went into me? Just like He made that squirrel, He made me and knows every part of me. 

For the life of every living thing is in his hand and the breath of every human being. Job 12:10 [NLT]

Does nature move you to praise God?

Monday, January 23, 2017

A Victorious Stance

In the Bible, in the Old Testament, Joshua was the leader who brought the children of Israel to the Promise Land - Canaan, the land of milk and honey. Recall that Moses was the leader that led the Israelites out of Egypt, but because of their disobedience, they wandered in the desert for 40 years. The generation that left Egypt would not get to see the Promised Land.

Joshua is part of the new generation and Joshua is being led by God. He is fighting battles for them and they are capturing many lands. "Every place that your foot shall tread upon, I have given to you." (Joshua 1:3) The only pre-requisite was that Joshua is strong and very courageous. (Joshua 1:7)  As they crossed the Jordan river, they began to live out this promise. Joshua and his men conquered Jericho, Ai, and the surrounding cities.

As the Lord fought battles for the children of Israel, they had constant victories to the extent that the surrounding nations were afraid. Joshua 10 describes a story where five kings are afraid of Joshua because of his conquests. As the story begins - the kings come together to figure out how to defeat Joshua. God told Joshua, "Fear them not, for I have delivered them into your hand." (Joshua 10:9) The kings were: the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmoth, the king of Lachish and the king of Eglon. When kings fear you because of your courageous faith, you are doing something right.

Then God comes through in stunning fashion - hailstones fell from heaven to defeat the enemy and the sun and the moon stood still to record the longest day ever, This happened so that Israel could defeat their enemy.

At this point, the five kings hid in a cave. When Joshua became aware of it - he commanded his men to barricade the entrance of the cave and to continue fighting. This was war so there was lots of carnage. After all of this, Joshua commanded that the kings be brought out. Joshua then told the men of Israel - the captains of the men of war, "Put your feet upon the necks of these kings." And they did it. This action was an indicator to the children of Israel that these kings were defeated; that God had promised this land to them and it was theirs; that even though they were kings they were nothing in God's sight; that what seems impossible and implausible to you is possible with God; that you don't need to be afraid of people in elevated positions if God is fighting your battles. At that moment, with their feet on the kings' necks, Joshua said, "Fear not, nor be dismayed, be strong and of good courage. For this shall the Lord do to your enemies against whom ye fight."

After this moment, these five kings met their inevitable end. Subsequently, Joshua conquered the surrounding kings and their lands. "And all those kings and their land did Joshua take at one time because the Lord God of Israel fought for Israel." (Joshua 10:43)

I would imagine that there are many variations to placing your foot on someone's neck, but the one that I envision is one where you raise your foot to the height of the person's neck. You are momentarily off-balanced but you harness your core strength to position your foot on the person's neck. Once stabilized, at this angle, you are able to wreak havoc and destroy what is in your way. That's how I would imagine it. You are going from the very bottom to the top. Whatever is under your foot is in subjection to you.

Joshua possessed courageous faith so that he was able to defeat the kings. In making a point to the people - his captains, he reinforced the greatness of God by letting them know that their enemies would be defeated.
Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do. Joshua 1:7 [NLT]

Do you have courageous faith to defeat the kings in your life? What do you need to put your feet on, in faith? 

Friday, January 20, 2017

An Ode to Love

America has been mesmerized by the display of love from the Obamas; not just from Barack to Michelle, but the entire family. It's almost as if there's an element of surprise that such a love exists because these bodies are wrapped in brown skin; as if love was the exclusive domain of those who are not brown.

Most of the images in mainstream media do not show or celebrate black couples in love. If they do, it's that we are oversexed or aggressive but nothing that's normal like the Obamas. In the mainstream view of a Black man - he is a thug, he is aggressive, he is a gangster, he is cocky. He is often vilified. He is never portrayed like Barack Obama - smart, confident, helpful and a family man with a smart woman by his side - Michelle. She was confident, yet not seeking out the spotlight. I distinctly remember when Barack told everyone, "you know, I have a wife." It implied - we're together, a team, a partnership, a package deal. It's so rare, this demonstration of "Black Love" that when they make it to the White House, you may think that seeing their expressions of love is a new thing; that it was unique to them.

But love will do that. If you love someone it is a natural progression to expressing that love - everyone does this. You love your husband - you're considerate of his feelings; you rub his back. You love your wife - you're considerate of her feelings and your hand has a special place in the small of her back. You love your kids - you play with them and you hold them. Affection leads to expression naturally. You make each other smile. You like each other's company. There's no pretense - it just is. It doesn't mean that every day is a good day but simply you're in a relationship with each other. Why hang around if you don't care, if it doesn't matter? It's not abnormal to love the one you're with.

My daughter is getting married later this year. Within the wedding industry, just looking at pictures for photographers, venues, dresses or accessories you would be hard pressed to believe that folks that look like me get married. I was searching for a flower girl dress. I have yet to find a picture of a little black girl in a flower girl dress. It is maddening yet a reality. These images shape a perception that black love looks different from the mainstream. It doesn't; the only difference is our skin color.

I have enjoyed watching the Obamas these past 8 years because though he occupied the highest position in the land the display of their love for each other was normal. They genuinely like each other and it shows. I hope they have dispelled the notion of "Black Love" or any color of love since love is universal; when you love someone, have seen them in good times and bad, support their dreams, have a common goal in seeing the best for your family - it will show. It may look different for each of us, but it will be on display as evidence of the relationship.

As they bade America farewell they were holding hands; then they looked at each other smiled and swung their hands with all the glee in the world, as if to say, "we did it!" That's love.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Engaging the Senses

You may have noticed a theme in the last 5 posts in that they all focused on the senses - seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting. Our senses help us to learn about the world we live in; they also help us experience God. Can you imagine your life without any senses?

But in order to fully experience all that God has to offer, you will have to start with a simple act of faith. You will have to recognize your need for a God who can save you due to your shortcomings. This act of faith is believing in God and asking Him to be Lord of your Life. You don't have to work for it, don't have to go to church, you don't even have to read the Bible nor say a special prayer. You simply have to believe. 

Once you've made this decision by making this leap of faith, you can begin to experience life differently.
Your vision can be calibrated by the Master optometrist so that you are walking in your purpose.
As you learn to pray, you will also learn to listen in pray; to really hear and get to know the One you have committed your life to.
In the same way that you reached out and touched Him, He will touch you and minister to you.
Your desire to live in a way pleasing to Him will be a sweet smell to his nostrils.
Cumulatively, you will taste and experience the goodness of the Lord in spite of your circumstances - because you have a resource, a Comforter who is always with you.

In our physical bodies when one sense is missing or not used often enough the others become heightened. So as an example, a blind person can hear really well. The same may happen in our spiritual walk - we may go through things in life - we lose our vision or our sense of purpose but in our prayer time and quiet time, because we are seeking, we are more attuned to what the Lord is saying. The senses are independent yet interdependent in the physical and the spiritual.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. Ephesians 2:8-9 [NLT]

It is my hope that you are able to experience all that life has to offer by first taking a step of faith by believing in Christ and then engaging your senses to experience God in everything you do.

Additional resources:

Friday, January 13, 2017

A Guaranteed Good Taste

Introducing new foods to a baby is quite an adventure. If you're anything like me you initially introduced them to something you thought they would like such as bananas, or pears. You'd put just a little bit on the spoon then put the spoon in the baby's mouth. Then you'd wait for a positive response. If they swallowed you were good to go - you knew the baby liked the fruit. But oftentimes it might not have been that easy. I never thought one of my children would like squash (probably because I didn't like it). So I tentatively let a little fall on her lips just so she could lick and taste it. No protest. She willingly opened her mouth and devoured squash. Squash was her new favorite food.

If you don't taste something, you'll never know if you like it. Your tastes are purely subjective, but to taste and experience God is not.

O taste and see that the Lord is Good. 

Unlike food, once you taste of the goodness of the Lord, you are certain to like it because of the immediate benefits. You will experience His goodness, His grace, His love, His mercy. Most people I know need these things. This tasting is an acknowledgment of an experience that God is good. It's not only that God is good; it's that once you've experienced God you will know that He is good. It's not a sampling that you refuse; it's more an act of faith. Humans are wired to like and experience good things. God is the ultimate good.

Are you being a baby and clamping your lips shut refusing to taste? Perhaps a taste of God's love in the kindness of strangers, or the embracing fellowship of a church maybe the taste you need to allow you to open up and really taste and see that the Lord is good. If you dare to taste, you will see and experience the goodness of God. You will be blessed.

Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in Him! Psalms 34:8 [NLT]

Have you tasted of the goodness of God?

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A Sweet Smell

When I was growing up, my mother always had other women who visited her. They would stop by unannounced (which in our culture was never a problem) to just chat or share some information. What I noticed, even as a child were the identifying attributes of each woman, I noticed who carried themselves with grace, I noticed facial expressions and I always noticed how they smelled. (I know it sounds strange but I've always had a keen sense of smell).
 Because of the pleasantly perfumed smells of certain women, it became an aspiration of mine. I associated a distinct smell with being a mature woman and as a mature woman, I wanted to have a smell associated with me so that once you get a whiff of it, you made that association and thought of me. I've been on the hunt for my signature fragrance, but I have not found it yet.

Much as the smell of perfume makes for an enjoyable physical atmosphere and a pleasant association. there are multiple things that we are told are sweet-smelling to God in the spiritual realm. “Sweet-smelling” denotes the ability of a substance to release an aroma that is attractive to the olfactory sense, making for a pleasant atmosphere.

Sweet smelling in the Bible is often associated with sacrifice.

  • The Levitical burnt offering is said to be a sweet savor, an offering made by fire unto the Lord. These offerings were a dedication of the priests and they served as a reminder from generation to generation that the Lord was a deliverer and indeed God.  Exodus 29:18, 25 [KJV]
  • In the New Testament Christ made the ultimate sacrifice for us and was considered a sweet smelling savor. Ephesians 5:2 [KJV] He was considered an offering and a sacrifice. An offering denotes no blood and a sacrifice indicates there was blood. Christ was both for us - an atoning sacrifice that was pleasing to God.
May our lives be a sweet smell to God; may we love like He loved; pray and be generous.This may not come easy - but the greater the sacrifice the greater the sweet smell. I hope my life is like a signature fragrance, sweet-smelling to God.

Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. Ephesians 5:2 [NLT]
Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. 2 Corinthians 2:15 [NLT]

Does your smell associate you with Christ?

Monday, January 9, 2017

A Touch of Hope

I had this print in my house for many years. Every time I looked at this picture, I wondered what propelled her forward.

She had been struggling for a while with a "female issue." You see she bled so much that it caused much pain and embarrassment. She may have been emaciated from the amount of blood she was losing on a regular basis. In those days, she was more than likely ostracized because of her condition. This had been going on for a long time - 12 years. Every month she dealt with the pain, the staining of her garments, the cleaning up that never seemed to end. This lady, some say her name was Veronica, hemorrhaged blood. We don't know if it was intermittent or constant, but it affected her quality of life. She had gone to many doctors, with no success.

12 years, many doctors, constant bleeding - what would you do?

She heard that Jesus was passing by. She knew that he had done miracles of healing. She knew she needed healing and thought it was worth a shot to see Jesus. But the crowds, they were so thick she didn't stand a chance of having an audience with him. Perhaps, she thought, if I just touch Him, it would make a difference. I've tried everything else, I have nothing left to lose.

In the midst of the crowd, with her persistence, she was able to touch the hem of his robe and immediately she felt a difference in her body. But Jesus noticed also. He said, "Who touched me?" His disciples couldn't understand the question as so many were around Him. In a crowd, you will be touched. How do you not get touched in a crowd?

She came forward - embarrassed no more yet a little nervous. "I touched you." Jesus said, "Daughter, go in peace. Your faith has made you whole." In acknowledging her, Jesus recognized who she was; he called her daughter. To be called daughter by the great physician is endearing, it's personal, it recognizes your humanity and your frailty. Just one word from the great physician could elevate her spirit. But he also confirmed that she was healed; that this burden was lifted.

Can you imagine her after that encounter? No more pain, no more shame, and telling everyone she met. 12 years and a simple touch of the Master restored her. This story conveys the epitome of hope - having tried all she could, yet never giving up. Reaching out to Jesus, because his reputation proceeded Him. And then eventually having a personal audience with Him that solidified that hope.

And when the woman saw that she was not hid, she came trembling, and falling down before him, she declared unto him before all the people for what cause she had touched him, and how she was healed immediately.

And he said unto her, Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace. Luke 8:47-48 [KJV]

What have you held onto for 12 years? Don't lose hope; seek out Jesus. Touch Him.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Learning to Listen (Again)

The conversations with my dad these days are different simply because I'm listening more. I feel like I spend more time listening to him instead of talking. To the observer, it looks like there are very long breaks or that I might not even be on the phone. Sometimes, to me, it feels like an eternity, because this is not my natural inclination, but I'm learning that these pauses are part of the conversation and he's still there. When he speaks again, it's usually some rich thought that I was not expecting. So I've learned in conversation with him, that these lengthy breaks are good and are to be expected. These lengthy breaks are called listening.

I am applying this concept to my prayer time. Somehow we've been taught that when we pray, we should be as verbal as possible - request, praise, acknowledge, worship. We're so busy bombarding God with our words that we don't hear what He's saying to us. So I've added listening to my prayer time. Just being still. Just reading a scripture and waiting. Just pausing. Listening requires concentration so for me, I cannot pray when I'm in bed, or tired else I will fall asleep. I have to find a space where I can be intentional, focused and yet patient.

In listening, it's not like the heavens will open up and God will speak directly to you, but you will receive promptings in your Spirit; another scripture or thought may be placed on your mind; you may be prompted to reach out to someone; to forgive someone. Be patient; be willing. Just listen.

Just as I've learned to listen again to my earthly father, I'm doing the same to my Heavenly Father. Unlike my earthly father, He does not change. I should have been listening all along.

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak,......James 1:19 [KJV]

To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. 
And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. 
And a stranger will they not follow but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers. 
This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them. Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep

In your quiet time, how do you cultivate the art of listening?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

New Year - Check your Vision

I've worn glasses since I was 12 years old, so I'm very familiar with what happens during an eye exam.  An eye exam is where the overall health of my eyes is assessed while also checking the quality of my vision. During the exam, the optometrist always asks me to remove my glasses - in essence putting me back to square zero. Without my glasses, I cannot see perfectly and everything is blurry. Then he puts that device in front of my eyes - and knowing what he's trying to get to - for he knows my prescription, he starts adjusting the lenses for quality and clarity.

After an initial adjustment, he starts a series of questions to narrow down the best prescription for me. "Can you see better with this lens or this lens? How about this one? Better now? Which one is clearer?" Each question requires an answer before he can proceed. He'll repeat the same process for the other eye and then he'll put them both together, and ask a bit more questions. The final test, he'll ask me to read the smallest line on the eye chart. At this point, he provides details regarding my prescription.

I have to provide input so that the optometrist can have the best direction in terms of my vision. Sometimes, though the questions seem to take a bit longer to answer, or when there seem to be multiple changes of lenses I anticipate that my vision has changed drastically. I'm always surprised to hear that my vision is still the same. Other times, most recently, I'm told my vision has changed.

Last year my dreams were blurry and fuzzy but they were also calibrated so that I could see clearly. I had a vision exam in the form of life. Things happened and I was asked, "Can you see clearly now?" I answered, "No." I stayed there for a while disillusioned and in a state of despair. Something else happened. "How about now?" "It's getting clearer," I responded. Another life event occurred. "Better or worse?" "Better." "OK, let's keep going." Again, something else happened. "Can you read the bottom line?" "Why yes, it's perfect."

The Master Optometrist was controlling the lens. It was important to Him that I am able to see. He kept, prodding, adjusting and calibrating until my vision was what it should be. I kept working with Him and providing input because I knew that He was doing things to adjust my vision so that I could see clearly.

A new year presents a perfect opportunity to check your vision. Take time to answer the questions that are being asked of you. Our ultimate purpose is to please God; as He keeps adjusting the lens we'll figure out how to do what we're designed to do. We'll keep listening and answering and we'll be confident as we execute our vision. Visions change - so keep checking in to ensure that you can see clearly.

...the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory. Isaiah 60:19 [KJV]

Have you checked your vision recently? Have a wonderful new year