DEVOTIONAL: Every Day is SUNDAE

Every Tuesday is family date night. My little family of 5 picks a new restaurant at which to have dinner and talk about our day. Yesterday, instead of venturing to a new joint, we ended up at an old favorite. At the end of our meal, I treated myself to a mini sundae: a gooey mess of brownie chunks and chocolate syrup, capped with ice cream and a dollop of whipped cream, and finally topped with a cherry.

While I helped my husband shepherd our toddlers into the car, I kept thinking about how much I was looking forward to my sundae. And how, for such a small treat, it was nice of them to top it with a cherry – garnish usually reserved for the larger, full-size option.

As I relished my dessert it occurred to me that, for Christians, every day is a sundae. Not S-U-N-D-A-Y, but S-U-N-D-A-E.

Why? Because in spite of all the dark, sticky, complicated mess at the bottom of our souls/in our closets/in our pasts, God doesn’t withhold giving us good stuff. And then, by his favor, putting a cherry on top.

Not following me? Ok. How about this? Even though we probably deserved get an STD or worse for all of our fornication and – (clear throat) – playing the field, not only did He keep us safe and healthy, but as a cherry on top he actually sent us a husband or a wife.

Oh, wait, that’s not you? Alright, how about this? Instead of causing us to lose our job – which we should have – when we lost our minds and cussed out the boss, He enables us to retain our jobs and then, only because of His favor, we get promoted or a raise or a new job altogether.

Still not you? Ok. Maybe God’s been merciful enough to keep you from ruining your life or that of your family even though you’re still running to drugs or alcohol or food or sex every chance you get. But not only does He protect your family from your dirt, but He protects you – you’ve never been jumped at a buy, you’ve never been beaten or robbed.

Or maybe God gave you a vision years ago. But you’ve let fear stop you cold – you aren’t doing anything with it and on top of that, all of your friends, everyone around you, is branching out and doing their own thing. Instead of giving that dream to someone worthy, someone who’ll do something with it, not only does God continue to define it for you, He’s giving you time and space to decide to accept the more He’s offering you.

Or maybe it was that decision to drink or drive that should have ended up with you losing your life – or someone else losing theirs. But God…

Or maybe you can’t stop lying.  You want to tell the truth, but you can’t.  But God…

Maybe you have tapped out all of your sources, borrowed money from everyone and their child. You haven’t paid back a soul. And instead of them coming to beat you down or take you to court…But God…

Perhaps you can’t stop visiting illicit sites, or sending dirty texts and FB messages and emails. Your husband or wife or children don’t know yet; it would ruin your family…But God…

I need someone who recognizes that even though all manner of ungodliness can be found in our pasts, in our closets, and sometimes in our mouths and minds, when we repent, God continues to cover all our mess with the blood of Christ, with His grace, AND THEN blesses us on top of that.

He knows what complicated, messy, disgraceful stuff we have living in the inner most regions of our hearts and minds AND HE STILL keeps blessing us; and more than blessing us, He’s still pouring grace and mercy and favor all over us and our lives.

Maybe you’ve been perfect all your life, but I’m here to tell you that for all the mess I’ve chosen to entertain: I shoulda been dead. I shoulda been sick. I shoulda been unemployed. I shoulda been clinically depressed, mentally unstable. I shoulda been homeless. I shoulda been broke. My kids shoulda been… My husband shoulda been…

BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD BEING THE CHERRY ON TOP OF OUR LIVES.

Not only did He pull me up out of and through my mess, but by the blood of Christ, He covered it with all kinds of good stuff, and then chucked some favor on top just because that’s just how good He is.

I could go on and on, but I just keep coming back to the realization that not only does He bless us, keep us, protect us, strengthen us, love us, heal us, direct us, forgive us, correct us, grow us, enlarge our territory…not only does He do ALL of that, He then goes right behind all of that to do a little bit more. When we repent and ask for His forgiveness, He blesses us in spite of our messes, and then adds an extra measure of favor on top – like a cherry atop a decadently messy sundae.

I’ll tell you guys. I got so excited about this that I started reading the scriptures and found that consistently we are told that favor comes with something else.

Job 10:12 says that he grants us life AND FAVOR.

Psalm 5:12 says that He blesses the righteous AND SURROUNDS US WITH FAVOR.

Psalm 102:12 says that He will show us mercy AND FAVOR.

Proverbs 18:22 says the man who finds a wife finds a treasure AND FAVOR.

Proverbs 8:35 says that whoever finds Him finds live AND FAVOR.

Acts 7:10 says he was delivered out of all his troubles and GIVEN FAVOR.

Even Luke 2:52 says that Jesus increased in wisdom and stature AND FAVOR.

HOW. AWESOME. IS. THAT?!

Look back over the dirt, the mess, the skeletons, the missteps and mistakes in your life, and then think back on how, through the blood of Christ and your repentant heart, God covered it all with His good grace and mercy. And then on top of that, He heaped favor and love and forgiveness and blessing and promotion.

As we prepare to celebrate Good Friday and the Resurrection, let’s be grateful for the many times God’s resurrected us – our lives, our families, our dreams, our careers, our hopes – and then went a step further to pour out his love and grace and mercy on us just because He loves us THAT much.

Today is SUNDAE. Let’s walk in all the goodness God has heaped on our lives, and thank Him for loving and calling us in spite of our messy, broken lives.

God uses imperfect vessels for his perfect will. Our lives are beautifully imperfect bowls in which He fills us with all of His goodness.

Don’t allow the enemy to keep you in a pity party of one. Repent. Accept God’s forgiveness. And enjoy the SUNDAE.

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Grown-Up Tantrums

I have three children. A four-year-old, almost-three-year-old, and a 15-month-old.

Of all the child behaviors I’ve seen, few perplex, frustrate and challenge my patience like having to take something from my 15-month-old son.

My husband and I take things from him for primarily two reasons: to protect him or to give him something better.

“No, son, it isn’t a good idea that you attempt to walk with that toothbrush in your mouth.”

“Oh, I see that you’re out of applesauce. Let me have that so I can give you a full one.”

These reasons make perfect sense to us.

But to our son, taking anything from his tiny mitts it’s a declaration of war.

The screaming. The flailing of arms. The attempts to hide and get away.

And the cream on top? The clinching of his tiny fist like a vice grip around whatever we’re trying to take.

Now, before you ask, let me tell you: this little boy is strong. He’s like a little sumo or body builder. And he’s stubborn and strong-willed…

And he’s only one year. So that justifies the response.

No matter how calmly, lovingly and reassuringly I say whatever it is that I’m saying – usually, “Oooh, don’t cry. I’m going to give it back.” – he still wails and hangs on to said object with all of his might.

But he’s one. So that’s what he does because he doesn’t know any better. And because he doesn’t understand loss. And because he’s still learning that his father and I only want to give him the best of everything.

How fortunate we are to outgrow that behavior, right?

Right?

Well, the truth of the matter is that many of us haven’t fully left these tantrums in our childhood.

Although we “know” we serve a God whose wealth is unimaginable and cannot be comprehended by our minds. Even though we have a Heavenly Father who PROMISES to give us a future that’s better than anything we could ever think or imagine. When the rubber meets the road and the Lord tells us to let go so He can give us something more, something new…what do we do?

Clinch our fists like a baby. Throwing full-on grown up tantrum.

During my devotion and prayer this morning, The Lord told me to let some things go. In fact, He’s been telling me for weeks that He’s about to do something new and amazing in my life and that He needs me to rest so I won’t get there winded.

I’ve dragged my feet. Not understanding how me giving up a few volunteer posts could possibly help my career. And how could me turning away potential clients help my house’s pocketbook?

Even this morning I queried Him. “God, you know what our financial situation is. You know our goals? This doesn’t make sense.”

He began to convict me: “Open your hands, Safiya. I can’t put anything new into it if you don’t release some things.

As I continued to seek Him he lead me to Isaiah 43:18-19:

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:18, 19 NIV)

How many of us are so transfixed on the blessings God’s already given us that we’re too afraid to let them go for more?

He doesn’t want us to forget His provision and faithfulness rather He wants us to trust that faithfulness and trust Him enough to let things go; to open our hands so he can put fresh blessings, fresh opportunities, fresh favor, fresh grace, fresh mercy and SOMETHING NEW in our hands.

But we let fear lead us to rejecting God and His blessings. “Lord, if I turn down this client or leave this job, how am I going to make it? If I leave this relationship, who’s going to love me? If I resign from this post how am I going to get seen or appreciated or recognized?”

OPEN YOUR HAND.

Because exactly like our human parents, God only wants to protect us or give us something better. But unlike our human parents, He gives us a choice: He asks us, “Do you want to keep that old thing or do you want fresh blessings/anointing/favor?”

And how appropriate that as we celebrate this season of recognizing our Still-Living God that we be forced to answer this question: if He did it then, can’t He do it again?

There’s a season for everything: that includes jobs, relationships, financial blessings, and everything. When God tells you to let things go it is ALWAYS so He can either protect you or do something new, bigger and better.

I chose today to stop throwing my grown-up tantrum. Not just because I want what God wants to give. No, I did it because I want God to know I trust Him. That no blessing/gift He’s ever given me is greater than the Gift-Giver. And because I know that He knows all of my needs, and dreams and He wants me to succeed as much as I do.

What are you holding on to in your clenched fist?

In What area are you saying, “God, you usually do really well with everything else, but I’ve got this.”?

Open your hand. God is doing something new in YOU and for you.

Don’t miss out because you’re holding onto the past.

The same God who made a way out of no way before wants to do it for you again.

…if you’d just open your hand.

Devotional: Give Me a Clean Heart

Have you been in a little bit of a funk?  Are you feeling depressed?  Do you have a negative self-image or a hopeless feeling from day-to-day?

Maybe your condition isn’t that serious.  May you’re just feeling discouraged, disgusted, disenfranchised and desiring a change, but unable to make one happen.

I’ve been there.  I can relate.

Sometimes it feels like there’s no earthly reason for you to feel so in the dumps, and you just can’t figure out why.

The last time I felt myself in this rut, Fred Hammond’s song “Give Me a Clean Heart” came on.

Some of the song goes like this:

 

Verse 1]
Give me a clean heart
/To see You like I should/
To walk the path that’s right/
To do the thing You would/
Give me a clean heart and I will serve nobody, but You



Verse 2]
Give me a clean heart
/To lose the double mind
/To believe You when You tell me/
Everything will be just fine
/Just lay Your hands on me Lord
/And I will be brand new

Chorus A]
And I am calling out to You for a strength exchange
/I will gladly take Your joy for my weakness/
Give me a clean heart and I will serve nobody, but You

 

The more I thought about those lyrics, the more I thought about what it meant to have a clean heart.  It means starting fresh, wiping the slate clean, pressing reset, returning to the factory settings.

It’s really about renewal.

Well, now you’re thinking, “Why the heart? I mean, why not give me a clean mind, or a clean spirit?”

Well, the more I thought about this and queried God, this is the answer God gave me: Your heart is the source of everything.

H.E.A.R.T: Head, Ears, Attention, Reality and Tolerance.  

 

Head – This isn’t talking simply about your thoughts.  This is actually speaking to your headship, or leadership.  We can find ourselves depressed and distraught when we allow ourselves to come under the headship of people, places and things, instead of God.  If unchecked, this can easily become idolatry when we allow our jobs; money – or the pursuit of money; people, whether spouses, family friends or enemies; or even possessions to dictate our actions.  If we aren’t vigilant, we can find ourselves following things and people instead of God.  When we follow these other things they become our head, we become disoriented, and then we lose heart.

Ears – Who or what are you listening to?  Better yet, who or what are you hearing?  Life is noisy.  And the more you do, the farther you go, the greater you labor, the noisier your life gets.  So much so that sometimes we hear everyone and everything, but God.  Single ladies hear their internal clocks.  Single men hear they mamas’ asking for grandkids.  Corporate ladder climbers hear the call of the corner office on the top floor.  Parents hear the call of their children’s wants.  Spouses hear the call of our partner’s needs.  Friends hear the cries of their friends’ pains.  We’re so busy listening to other people that we stop hearing the Lord, stop looking for His voice, and soon have a hard time differentiating His voice from the crowd.  Lending our ears to others before first tuning them to the Lord can cause us to be misdirected, ill-advised, to lose heart.

Attention – Whatever we give our focus  and attention to will grow.  Period. So let’s say you drew a line down the middle of your lawn.  One side you decided to care for intensely: water, seed, aerate, fertilize and everything.  To the other though you decided to do nothing at all.  What you’d end up with over time is one half of the yard being lush, fertile, green, and blossoming. And the other barren, brown, empty, dry, and dead.  Life is like that.  The relationships you give your attention to – the people, the projects, the problems, the thoughts – will all flourish over time. But those that you don’t, won’t.  In this day and age it is easy to get caught up in giving our attention to our jobs, our personal goals, our careers, or even ourselves, but the only entity that consistently deserves our attention is God.  When this order gets out of whack – when we let other things redirect our focus – we become disconnected from our source, disengaged, and can lose heart.

Reality – Even though we are commanded to be in the world and not of it, after a while it can become easy to adopt the thinking of the world.  And it’s usually sneaky, and undetected.  “Friends” who continue to proclaim that they’re broke because it’s a recession; or that they won’t ever get ahead; or that they can’t start that business because the bank would never give the a loan; or whatever other excuses people use.  When you’re around that all the time, if you aren’t careful, their reality begins to taint yours.  Before you know it, you start professing less of what God’s told you and more of what the world is whispering to you.  Don’t be fooled.  These people aren’t just speaking these idle words into their own lives, but into yours as well. Their “venting” plants seeds of discouragement in your spirit.  Then the next time you feel low,  the enemy replays the tape of THEIR discouragement and the same negative thoughts become your reality.  When we allow the reality of others to taint our faith, we lose heart.

Tolerance – Our lives are consistent warfare.  And just like any weapon used constantly in battle, you get worn down.  As the enemy continues attacking your job, your home, your kids, your marriage, your finances, and you, you get worn down.  So although you used to tolerate attacks well – spitting off scripture to rebuke the enemy at the first site of attack – your tolerance now has worn down so you’re slower to respond, slower to seek God, slower to speak to your battles.  This can lead to weariness and helplessness, and cause you to lose heart.

But, as with all things, the Lord gives us a way to win  this war of the heart.

In Ezekiel 36:26-27 (NIV) the Lord is telling the people of Israel this:

26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

See, that’s the only way we can do life – constantly relying on God to give us a new heart and a new spirit.  When we get tired, worn down, and lose heart, we must seek God and ask Him to renew us.

Then we have to receive that renewal and walk in it.

 I share this with you all because someone reading this has also lost heart.  You may not be depressed, but you’re down, you’re in a slump, you’re feeling unaccomplished, unmotivated, and unable to move beyond where you are to where you want to be.

 Know that it’s normal, it happens.

But it doesn’t have to be permanent. The shortcut is seeking God’s renewal of your heart.

Then and only then will you be energized enough to return to the proper headship in your life, attune your ears to His voice, give Him all the attention He needs, have your reality redesigned, and your tolerance restored.  Then, and only then, will you find the H.E.A.R.T. that you’ve lost.

 Give me a clean heart, oh Lord, and I will serve, nobody but you.

HEART: head, ears, attention, reality, and tolerance.

The Hidden Bondage in BUSYness

It feels good to feel needed, doesn’t it?

To have commitments to help, to serve, to assist, and to do for your friends, your family, your church, and everyone under the sun.

When these appointments are divine and ordained by God they can be a great source of joy, refueling for your Spirit, and tools for your growth and promotion in the Kingdom.

But often we get so caught up in wanting to be there for other people, do things, and be a part of that we join onto and sign up for appointments that God has not advised us to accept.

And the result?

The result is the silent, subtle growth of fatigue, of feeling burdened, unfulfilled and just plain old tired.

Most of the time we commit  because we truly just want to help.  Sometimes we do it to keep our minds off of ourselves, our situations, or our loneliness.  And still other times we let other folks enlist us because we haven’t the courage to say no.

Can you relate?

It’s like staying in a relationship too long.  You knew days or weeks or even months ago that it was time to peace out, but you stayed.  And now, the site of him/her stokes nothing but disdain, bitterness and exhaustion in you.

Or it’s like that extra project you accepted at work thinking it would get you ahead.  Sure, you had good intentions, you had a plan.  But not too far in you realize that you’re in over your head and the golden ring you thought awaited you on the other side now just taunts you as you deal with waves of regret, self-anger and desperation.

Or perhaps the emptiness of your house compels you to join the ladies or the fellas at the club, at the bar, or wherever, because then you don’t have to think about the spouse and kids you don’t have.  Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with hanging out with friends, but if you join the gang just to avoid yourself (or God), beware!

But it all happens! It can be so easy to allow good intentions to draw us into commitments we should not enter in to.

And when we spend any amount of our time, energy, spirit or resources on a project that God hasn’t ordained for us, the result is our own depletion — plain and simple.

And then, those things that kept us BUSY end up keeping us in bondage: to covenants, promises and commitments that we should have never undertaken.

Don’t feel bad.  It happens to us all.

We turn around one day wondering how in the heck we got signed up for this or how we got here.

But the truth is that there are ways to avoid the bondage of busyness.

The first is a basic practice we should all remember: pray about everything.

If we take all of our decisions – big or small – to God, He is just and faithful to guide us and give us peace about the decisions (Phil 4:6-7).  In fact, the Word says in Jeremiah 29:11 that He knows the plans He has for us.  Why not run that new opportunity past the Plan-Maker before diving in head first?

By the same token (presenting all of our concerns/questions to God), we should routinely take an activity inventory.  Set aside time to list all of your commitments inside and outside of the home.  Include your 9-to-5 and your volunteer opportunities; your plans to make groceries and your plan to shop for new shoes.  List it all out and then ask God to show you what should stay and what should go.  Why? Because of Proverbs 16:9:  In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.

Next, we should similarly do a people inventory from time to time.  The fact is that God’s children are lights.  And all things crave light – some for good reasons, some for not so good reasons.  Make sure you take to the Lord in prayer all of the people to whom you’ve committed time or energy or emotion.  Having hangers-on and folks dragging you back to your past won’t help you fulfill the purpose God has for you.

Finally, we should weigh all extra commitments against our home ministries.  Home is paramount folks.  Whether home means you and your dog, you and your spouse, or you and your kids or parents, THAT is always our first priority.  Family is sacred to God.  And no activity that God wants/wills for you to participate in will ever harm your home ministry.  If home is suffering, you may be diverting your energies to activities elsewhere.

Look, the reality is that busyness is dangerous.  Busyness can lead us to sin and repeated sin can harden our hearts and ears to hearing the voice of God.  Once that happens we can easily become enslaved to the very thing or very activity or very habit we’re trying to disavow.

Being busy can also separate us from God.  Like Peter, distraction can cause us to go from walking on the water to drowning in the blink of an eye because when we focus on other things, it can be difficult to keep our eyes on God.  And the Word tells us to both seek God first (Matt 6:33) AND to be careful not to give the devil a foothold (Eph 4:27).  Busyness can give the enemy a foothold — and what ground the enemy takes, he fights like hell to keep.

So are you feeling overwhelmed?  Tired?  Over-committed? Like you’re burning the candle at both ends and no amount of sleep is helping?  That sounds like soul fatigue — and the cure is getting back to basics: God-appointed commitments, peace and quiet.

Just this week the Lord told me I’m doing too much.  That I need to rest.  That the burden I’m carrying I must give over to Him.  And when you’re believing God for big things, as I am, you risk delaying them or jeopardizing them altogether if you’re too busy for God to move and use you.

So, perhaps you’re still unsure about whether you’re bound by your busyness.  I would challenge you to think about Psalm 46:10a:  Be STILL and know that I am God.

Would a God who urges stillness, quiet and peace ever lead you to a place of confusion, being overwhelmed and overburdened?

The answer is a resounding no!

Devotional: Power of the Pause

Have you ever heard the phrase “pregnant pause?”

Basically a pregnant pause is a pause that gives the impression that it will be followed by something significant.

Comedians use pregnant pauses all the time. So do politicians and thespians.

Pauses are powerful. They allow the words previously spoken to linger, take root, marinate.

As a listener, a pause could allow time for understanding and comprehension.

As a speaker, a pause can provide emphasis and impact.

A pause before speaking can head off hurt feelings and stop generational curses.

A pause before acting can prevent regret and bitterness.

As believers, our pauses give God room and time to act. In your pause, God can birth life, hope, promise and deliverance.

Don’t believe me?

Have you ever heard your Big Momma or Madea say, “I wish someone would (you fill in the blank)” and then pause? And then what would they say next, “I’m not even going to go there. I ain’t even going to say that.” That pause birthed faith – faith that God wouldn’t let things get to that level.

Have you ever found yourself about to say what could happen – usually something awful and tragic – only to stop and say, “God forbid”? That pause birthed power – the ability to deny the enemy the satisfaction of seeing you worry.

Let’s get real. Have you ever wanted to cuss out your boss or co-worker and caught yourself before you unleashed all kind of ugly? That pause birthed peace – a peace to know that you’ll have a job tomorrow.

Have you ever been caught in sin, not sure how to escape, only to find yourself pausing and the calling on the name of the Lord? Next thing you know your way of escape is clear. That pause birthed deliverance.

We pause when we pray. Those pauses birth inspiration because in them the Holy Spirit tells us what to pray or He answers our prayers.

A pause can literally stop you from telling a lie, missing out on a blessing, starting or continuing a generational curse.

Have you ever received bad news? And you pause before reacting, before even speaking in response? That pause birthed hope – hope that things can become better, that they aren’t as bad as they seem.

These aren’t coincidences, they’re evidence of God’s word that there is power in your pause.

Psalm 46:10 says “Be still and know that I am God.”

Proverbs 17:28 tells us that even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.

Proverbs 11:12 ESV:

Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.

Proverbs 17:28 ESV:

Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.

James 1:19 ESV:

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;

Psalm 4:4 ESV / 50 helpful votes

Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah

Proverbs 10:8 ESV:

The wise of heart will receive commandments, but a babbling fool will come to ruin.

Job 6:24 ESV:

“Teach me, and I will be silent; make me understand how I have gone astray.

Proverbs 29:11 ESV:

A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.

Exodus 14:14 ESV / 25 helpful votes

The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

Proverbs 18:13 ESV:

If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.

1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 ESV:

And to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.

Lamentations 3:26 ESV:

It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

Psalm 37:7 ESV:

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!

Look, if we are really honest with ourselves, there have been times when we’ve felt like our lives have been on pause – no progress, no forward motion, no direction, nothing. We’ve wanted to move on, move forward, act out, respond and find that we can’t.

What we need to realize is that there is power in that pause. It’s like charging a battery so that when God flips the switch on your next season you are ready to go!

Let’s you and I today decide to embrace the pause. Instead of racing through it, trying to get our point across, trying to get the last word in, trying to be right, trying to appear a certain way, trying to fill the silence, to erase the pause.

I believe that God has something great for you and I on the other side of our pauses – whether they be in conversations or in life. We are pregnant with powerful visions and dreams to change the world and strengthen the kingdom.

My prayer for you today is that you embrace that power, that you invite God to move in that space, in our pauses. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!