Sunday, December 03, 2006

Fruit of the Spirit: Goodness

Galations 5:22-23: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

Who'd like to be considered 'good'? All of us, right? But what exactly does it mean (from a Biblical context)?

According to Strong's Concordance, the word 'goodness' as found in Galations 5:22 means 'virtue'. Virtue itself is defined as 'moral excellence; goodness; righteousness' or 'conformity of one's life and conduct to moral and ethical principles'1. I like how that sounds. So, in order to develop the fruit of 'goodness', I need to achieve moral excellence and conform myself to the moral principles embodied in the Bible.

It seems so simple when it's put that way. Much harder, however, is the effort to become virtuous. If we could achieve holiness on our own, as my Pastor often says, we wouldn't need God at all. But it's obvious that we do.

So how do we become 'virtuous' or 'good'? A hint can be found in Matthew 19:17, when Jesus was speaking to the rich young man who wanted to know what he had to do to attain eternal life. Jesus said:
.....Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
Jesus let him (and us through scripture) know there was none good but God. Therefore, we can conclude that goodness has to be bestowed upon us by God. And that we can only achieve 'moral excellence' by following God and by adhering to His commandments.

1 virtue. (n.d.). Unabridged (v 1.0.1). Retrieved December 03, 2006, from website:

, , , , ,

Friday, September 29, 2006

Storing Up Hate

Where do you think all that anger goes when you're upset with somebody? What do you suppose happens to the rage, jealousy, spite and antipathy you feel towards another person?

Ever think about it?

Ever wonder why sometimes you can't sleep, overeat, over-indulge or are all too often depressed?

Let me tell you where all those emotions go - absolutely nowhere.

You store them all up in your body, in your spirit and sometimes in your mind.

You ever notice how something will happen and then, once you've played it over and over in your mind, you can't seem to let it go? You ever notice how after becoming angry with someone, you have a headache, feel sick or all of a sudden become depressed? You ever notice how you can't seem to get a prayer through, and putting down that 'ought' (grudge) you bear against your brother won't come easy?

You have to learn to let go.

What most people don't acknowledge (or seem to care about) is that you do more damage to yourself than to another person when you let things go unresolved. When you plan revenge for some imagined wrong. Or when you replay that event over and over in your mind (or keep re-telling that same 'ol story over and over again). The short-term damage is bad enough (bad nerves, frayed temper, vague and amorphous pain), but the long-term effects can be deadly - stress contributes to so many illnesses that you risk your very health by choosing to hold onto that grudge instead of letting it go! Not to mention the spiritual fallout - you can't seem to 'hear' from God, you find your prayer times falling by the wayside, and no amount of rejuvenative efforts seem to be able to rejuvenate your spirits.

Here's what I want you to do if you have things you need to resolve:

Let them go!

And how do you do that?

1. Pray and ask God to help you be delivered of these problems.

2. Review the incident or problem in your mind and see if there's anything (positive) you can do about it. If you can do something, then do it. If not, then go to step 3.

3. Acknowledge the problems you can do nothing about. Release it to God, ask Him to remedy the situation and then let it go. Letting go means you give up your right to keep thinking about it repetitively, talk about it to your friends for the hundredth time, call that person up and lay him out on the carpet, or (and this is the important one) continue to harbor negative feelings about it. Letting go means giving up your right to remedy the situation and leaving it in God's hands. Period.

Feel better? Okay, now breathe....And go on to Step 4.

4. Replace all that negative energy with good and happy thoughts. Every time you are tempted to re-visit it, think of something good instead. Studies have shown you can trick your brain into thinking you are in a good mood by smiling. Try smiling as you think these happy thoughts.

Repeat as necessary.

And - the next time you encounter a situation or problem that gets your dander up - choose to act in advance. Before you even get good and angry about it, resolve within yourself to let it go. Don't even allow it to take root in your heart. Don't allow yourself to dwell on it. And resist all inclinations to pitch a fit. LET.................IT.................GO!!

You'll feel much better in the end.

, , , , ,

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Stunting Your Spiritual Growth

Ever wonder why you find it so hard to grow in God? Do you ever feel frustrated by your level (or lack) of spirituality? I can't give you all the reasons you might not be growing in God, but I can definitely point out one: You.

If you've been a Christian for any length of time, you know how hard it is to 'go through'. How hard it can be to face trial after trial, tribulation after tribulation. How long sleepless nights lead to long empty days until you finally feel you've HAD ENOUGH! That if this 'season' wasn't over, it was definitely time for it to be over. So you take matters into your own hands.

You begin to pray a little less. And hang out with your friends a little more. Or watch a little more tv. Or pay a little more attention to that cutie who sits across from you at work.

Anything to avoid doing what you need to do: spend more time with God. Get through these circumstances. Spiritually grow.

I find that many of us cut off our spiritual growth in one of two ways. We either begin to neglect our spiritual activities (prayer, Bible study, meditation and fasting) or throw ourselves into physical activities to avoid thinking about those things. Our bodies (or our flesh) can operate in direct opposition to God in many ways, and we often pursue physical activity in order to avoid the things of God. You know what I mean - you start to eat a little more or tv becomes oh so appealing suddenly. You engage in more sex, do a little more drinking or hang out more than usual.

Here's a sad truth to all that activity: you can delay, but you cannot deny. You can avoid what God is trying to tell you, detour from your trial or tribulation, but it is never going to go away.

Until you deal with what is required of you, you will have to re-visit that territory again and again - until you get it right.

So next time you find yourself in a tough spot, learn to bear it. Go through what you have to go through, cry when you need to cry and....get past it. God truly designs trials to bring out the best in us, so be assured that the 'you' that waits on the other side of the circumstances will be well worth the pain you had to go through to get there!

, , , , ,

Monday, September 04, 2006

What is 'True'?

I was praying the other day while I was feeling overwhelmed by everything that was going on in my life. Between school, work, friends, family, ministry, etc., I was beginning to feel like it was all a bit too much.

So I prayed and went through this whole griping and moaning routine about my life, trying to get God to feel sorry for me and maybe do some type of miracle so that I could maybe feel better about myself (admit it - you do it, too!). And somewhere in the midst of my self-pity, I learned a pretty interesting thing:

What is true? That's the questioned that was presented to me. What is true, I wondered. Well, it's true that I am tired and run-down and can't remember my mission or focus half the time. Okay, I was asked then, what is 'True'? And I'm thinking, what's the difference?

The difference, I discovered, was the difference between what was technically going on in my life (true) versus the spiritual lessons I was learning ('True'). Yes, it was true that I was often tired and run-down from trying to manage multiple obligations, but it was also 'True' that I was learning patience, endurance and long-suffering. And, yes, it was true that things had not worked out exactly the way I had planned, but it was also 'True' that I had learned to have greater faith and greater trust and had more confidence that God's will for my life was much better than any of my own plans.

So, the next time you're having a tough day, just remember to compare your 'true' with your 'True'. God is still working in your life and you can find the lesson in almost every experience.

Be Blessed!

, , , , ,

Friday, September 01, 2006

About Me....

Let me say first that I am not one of those bloggers who feel like you probably want to know every detail of my life, my relationships, my dreams, my mom, etc. There are many very good personal blogs out there that cover those subjects very well and I am in no way disparaging the journal-blog genre.

But I started this blog to focus on God and use my personal experiences to highlight the way God can work in an everyday, ordinary Christian's life.

But, like you, as I read the posts of my favorite bloggers, I find myself becoming just a little bit curious about who they are, how they've turned into this person that I read every day and just simple things like, are they married, do they work full-time, etc.

So I thought I'd write just a little bit about me ---- just in case you were curious.

I am a 34 year old single woman. I formally committed my life to God at age 24, after I got tired of dating, running around and pretending like I could make it on my own. I am employed full-time by the Federal government and currently live in Michigan. I am in a very happy relationship with a wonderful guy about whom I cannot write (because he would kill me!). Suffice it to say that he is, in many ways, the man I've always dreamed about and I'm very happy God brought him into my life.

Other than that, I just started going back to school this fall (finally!). I am pursuing my degree in Psychology, because I'd like to have the paper to back up what I am passionate about. Are degrees necessary in ministry? That's a subject we could debate all day long - I just felt that since this will (eventually) be my full-time calling, it would benefit me (and you) to get as much knowledge as possible. But of course I know just as many wise people who have never been to anybody's college. Maybe that will be the subject of a post some other day....

Mostly I just wanted to tell you all that I'm really lovin' this whole blogging experience! I had started a website about a year and a half ago, but blogging is so much more immediate and connecting. I've enjoyed every single person I've met and I love reading what my brothers and sisters have to say about life, love and God.

I hope that you all have benefited in some way by visiting me here and I promise to do my absolute best to pass on the knowledge that God has so graciously imparted to me.

If you get nothing else out of this blog, I hope you know that GOD IS AN AWESOME GOD! He Does answer prayers and He Does hear our cries.

And that's it.

Talk to you all soon!!!!

, , , , ,

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Real Problem With Sin

I think about sin a lot. What the Bible says about it. Why we find it so easy to fall into it. Why some things are harder to put down than others.

I know God's admonitions against sin. In Romans 6:12, Paul says "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof." So we shouldn't allow sin to reign in our lives.

And I know that God felt so strongly about sin, that when Paul spoke about fornication, he advised us to flee. Literally, to run away from sin before it could overtake us.

So I can gather from these and other verses that God feels pretty strongly about our sin. And that we should not allow sin to rule us. Or dominate our lives.

But you know what I've discovered the real problem is with sin? That it separates us from God.

I know, I know - you've heard it all before, but it doesn't seem to have much impact in your lives. But what does separation from God really mean?

We can't hear from God.

We are further from God's protection.

We can't experience intimacy with God (comforting, consolation, worship or fellowship).

We cannot hear His guidance, His warnings or get clear direction for our lives.

And why would you want that?

Our relationship with God was intended to be a close-knit, mutually beneficial, supportive relationship. And sin separates us from the Only One who can meet our deep-seated needs for love, companionship, communion and belonging.

It's not so much the harm we do to ourselves when we sin that is so detrimental to us, but the harm we do to our relationship with the One who really loves us.

Think about it.

, , , , ,

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Fruit of the Spirit: Gentleness

I've been thinking about this topic quite a bit over the last couple of weeks.


The other fruit we've covered - love, joy, peace, longsuffering - I tend to think of as attributes. Gentleness, to me, is something that directly impacts every person in our lives. Gentleness potentially has a huge impact on how we treat other people and perhaps even how those people treat themselves.

Gentleness. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition defines it as "Considerate or kindly in disposition; amiable and tender." Hmm. Tender. How often do we hear that word? And how often do we treat other people with love and....tenderness? Not too often, huh?

Our society seems to value those who speak the most candidly. Being blunt is considered to be a positive attribute of its own. Temporarily, we all tried to be politically correct, but that madness quickly passed. And whoever speaks the loudest these days is the person to whom we listen. We have radio hosts like Howard Stern. Media favorites like Rosie O'Donnell. And outspoken critics like Bill O'Reilly. On our tvs and on our radios every single day. But few people are talking about tenderness.

And I admit I'm not much better. I've always been known for my bluntness. And it serves me well in ministry, but (and this is a big but) not in too many other places. I believe it is okay, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, to tell a person how they can grow in Christ, what steps they need to take to be closer to God or areas in their spiritual lives which need improvement. It is not okay, however, to feel that you are the world's spiritual advisor. Instead of condemning anybody else here, I will just condemn myself: it is not okay for me to tell my friends, family and strangers like why their lives are a mess, why they need to get themselves together or why they are falling so far short of their individual marks. But I have. And, occasionally, I still do. But I'm learning...

I'm learning that God values discretion, gentleness, and yes - tenderness - in our dealings with people. It shows so clearly in Proverbs 15:1, where it says:
A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger

A soft word turns aside bad feelings, strife and discord. But words that are harsh just stir things up. A good proverb for me to know.

And you know what I've learned? Being harsh towards someone else never solves a problem. It just engenders bad feelings. You've seen this for yourself - you've been in many situations where something happened where you felt that the proper response included 'breaking someone down' (i.e., cutting another person up emotionally, stripping them of their psychological defenses and exposing their faults to the world). And have you ever seen it help? I mean think about it. Really. After you've told your friends about it and and they've cheered over every word you said, where did it all end up? You - feeling badly because the Holy Spirit has reminded you that you shouldn't treat people that way. And the other person - bitter, angry, embarassed and hurt. And you have definitely not made that other person see his or her (real or imagined) faults. People automatically rush to defend themselves (right or wrong) in the face of an onslaught. And that's what you were - an onslaught. Remember - HARSHNESS BEGATS HARSHNESS. I don't believe you or I will ever get anywhere as long as we treat people unkindly.

But you know what I have seen work? Calmly talking to another person about what's going on. Asking that person how he or she see things instead of always forcing your point of view on that person. Taking the time to explain how some situation or unkind word affected you - not assuming that person knows and simply doesn't care. In other words, being kind instead of boisterous, self-righteous or hard.

Gentleness. Tenderness.

It's what Jesus showed his diciples as they asked him question after question. At times, they even questioned who he was! He never lost patience. He always spoke kindly. And he equipped those disciples to establish a religion that has had a world-wide impact. That shows clearly the power of a kind word.

Can you be kinder to those who are around you? Can you practice tenderness as you help guide your spiritual brothers and sisters on their own spiritual journeys?


Something the world could use a whole lot more of...

, , , , ,

Friday, July 07, 2006

Summer Madness

Oh, dear readers, I must confess - I've been neglecting you. I think of you often. I wonder how you are. I promise myself that I'll get back to writing soon. But something has overtaken me:

Summer Madness.

Every year it hits me and every year I am surprised by it.

Summer is absolutely, positively my favorite season of the year. I love the heat, I love the clothing, and I love all the outdoor activities. If I haven't traveled all year, I am newly inspired to find some place to go. If I've traveled, I seek locations that represent the season - warm, lush and inviting. If I have new clothes, I want to wear them as soon as I get them home. If I have old clothes, I try to find new ways to wear them. Is it just me?!?

I feel alive. I feel reborn. And, by summer's end: I am exhausted! So much to do. So much to see. So many outdoor festivals to attend. I absolutely love to people watch, and it doesn't get any better than in the midst of midriff tops, low riders, couples and singles alike.

So I have been neglecting you.

I'd like to tell you that I'm growing spiritually as I loaf outside reading my favorite books, catch yet another flight to yet another place or mindlessly watch tv, but that would be untrue. Between early mornings and late nights, I pray (but just barely), read some scriptures (but not nearly as consistently as in the cooler months) and I make plans for my ministry (but mostly just enjoy the sun).

So I ask for your forgiveness and your prayers, but mostly, I hope you all are having fun, too!

How is this summer going for you?

, , , , ,

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Fruit of the Spirit: Longsuffering

The next fruit of the Spirit we are going to cover is longsuffering. And, let me say something calmly and rationally before we begin:

I HATE longsuffering. You know what 'longsuffering' means? You got it - to suffer loooong. The The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition defines longsuffering as 'Patiently enduring wrongs or difficulties.' Okay, so not only do you have to endure WRONGS and DIFFICULTIES (in case you missed it), but you have to ENDURE them PATIENTLY. Yeah, right.

And, Wordnet defines longsuffering as 'patient endurance of pain or unhappiness'. So not only do you have to endure wrongs or difficulties, but you also have to endure PAIN and UNHAPPINESS. Did you get that - PAIN and UNHAPPINESS. Patiently. Alrighty, then.

And this is why I didn't want to write this post. I'm no good at stuff like this. I mean, I can suffer as well as the next person - FOR A LITTLE WHILE. And maybe even with a little patience thrown in (if I'm having a really good day) But to PATIENTLY endure PAIN, UNHAPPINESS, WRONGS and DIFFICULTIES for a LONG, LONG TIME??!! No way.

Not that this argument cuts me any slack with God. As I come to Him in the midst of my pain (unhappiness, experiencing wrongs and difficulties), He admonishes me to be patient. He talks to me, He comforts me. But you know what He doesn't do? He doesn't make my pain, unhappiness, wrong or difficulty go away. He gives me just enough to make it for another period of time until I have to come crawling back to Him to be restored, renewed and refreshed enough to go on....until the next time. Eventually, my difficulty (pain, wrong or unhappiness) goes away and I rejoice. And I try to forget that those bad seasons come (because I HATE longsuffering - did I mention that?). But, much like you, I'm always like, what gives? Why do we have to painfully SUFFER for a long time and ENDURE it with such PATIENCE? Why, Lord, why? (Or am I the only one who thinks this way?)

So today we will journey together as we try to answer those questions. And the most important one: Why does God want us to be longsuffering?

First of all, I'm thinking this whole longsuffering thing is pretty serious, since it comes right after love, joy and peace (the happy fruits). And, since, longsuffering has everything to do with endurance, I am going to try and find out why it is so important that we learn to endure. Which will answer my other questions. Namely, how do we benefit from learning to endure? And why does God require us to endure?

To endure means to carry on, no matter what is going on around us. One reason I discovered that we should endure is because God does. Psalm 9:7 says 'But the LORD shall endure for ever: he hath prepared his throne for judgment.' This verse speaks to the everlasting nature of God and how, at the end of our time here on earth, God will sit forever on His throne (after Satan has been dealt with). So His endurance is for a purpose - to last until our time here ends and our time with Him begins. So, out of this we can get two things: 1) We should endure because it is a Godly atrribute (and we are always want to be more like Him) and 2)We should endure because we also wait until the Lord Jesus returns and our earthly time here is at an end.

Endurance is actually mentioned in specific connection to the end times. In Matthew 24, Jesus speaks about end-time signs. He says
Mat 24:4 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. Mat 24:5 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. Mat 24:6 And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. Mat 24:7 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.
Jesus then goes on to talk about other things that will happen and then mentions the importance of endurance. He says 'But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.' So endurance appears to play a key part in our ability to surmount the challenges that will face us during the end times.

By enduring, we also show ourselves to be good soldiers in Christ, as stated in 2 Timothy 2:3, 'Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.' Endurance also helps us to participate in God's work of salvation: by enduring affliction of any kind, we can more readily preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, as Paul makes clear in 2 Timothy 2:10 'Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.' So it is part of our service to other people.

However, the most important part of suffering seems to be the eventual effect it will have on us: suffering will repair us, strengthen us and make us more grounded. 1 Peter says its it so clearly here:
1Pe 5:6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: 1Pe 5:7 Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. 1Pe 5:8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: 1Pe 5:9 Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. 1Pe 5:10 But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. (emphasis mine)

So longsuffering is so very important because it determines our character. It helps us to be more like God. It prepares us for the challenges of the end time. It helps us as ministers of the gospel to be able to spread the Good News. And, finally, it makes us stronger. It helps us to mature in the faith and to be able to face whatever difficulties we are sure to face.

In that light, I'm thinking this longsuffering thing isn't as bad as I've always thought it was (and I'm starting to feel badly that I've always thought so poorly of it). Turns out it wasn't the torture chamber I always envisioned it to be, but God's way of making me over exactly the way I had always asked Him to. To grow me up, to mature me, to make be better able to withstand life's difficulties. Not just to let me suffer needlessly, but to make me a better person and a (much) better Christian.

I think I can live with that.

How about you?

, , , , ,

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Other Woman

I just heard the story today of an older woman whose husband left her for 'the other woman'. Apparently, her husband had been involved in an affair with this woman for 10-15 years. To add insult to injury, after he left her, she discovered he had been moving money out of their joint accounts (and out of his retirement account) to accounts she couldn't touch - in preparation for being with his 'other woman'. This woman is now facing a lengthy court battle, as she tries to regain the money he has, in effect, stolen from her.

There are so many things wrong with this story, it's hard to know where to begin. But I'd actually like to focus on the 'other woman'. (I am in no way implying that her husband was not at fault, but I believe this woman was just as guilty.) The reason this 'other woman' interests me so much is that I'd dearly love to know what's been going on in her mind for these last 10 years or so of her life.

Okay, I'm thinking, she meets this man, they become involved and then they apparently decide they are 'in love' with each other (and, believe me, that's a whole different post). She continues to spend time with him, sleep with him and be in a relationship with this man as he goes home every night to his wife. He probably tells her that he will leave his wife for her (one day) and then she probably aids and abets this man's efforts to re-appropriate money from his and his wife's account and most of his retirement account. He (finally) leaves his wife and they then live happily ever after? I don't think so.

Why not? Because I believe, as the Bible says, that you reap what you sow (or, as the world calls it, 'karma'). Why does this woman think that she is entitled to any happiness with a man who committed adultery (with her) on his wife, stole money from his wife, and spent the last 10+ years lying and being deceptive with this same wife? And, even worse than that - she knew what was going on! She was an integral part of it all - and allowed it to happen. Year after year, month after month, dollar by dollar that was stolen.

I guess my real question is this - Why do women allow themselves to become the 'other woman'? Somebody please explain this to me.

Yes, I know that some people believe you can't help who you fall in love with, but I have a big problem with that line of thinking. You may not be able to help who you fall in love with, but you can certainly help who you think about, who you spend time with and who you sleep with. And I know all about low self-esteem, so that's not a good excuse for me, either. And I know that some women believe there is a shortage of good men, but does that justify stealing someone else's?

I may be a romantic at heart, but I am a realist by nature. And, as a realist, I can realistically say that a marriage or relationship that is founded on lying and deceit has very little chance of lasting. And why (as a woman) would you even want to be with a man who has already proven himself to be a liar? I just don't get it.

Hopefuly, someone will enlighten me, soon!

, , , , ,

Thursday, June 15, 2006

You Are Exactly Where You're Supposed to Be

Do you ever feel like life has just passed you by?

Or, even worse - that you are further behind (in life, in your finances, in your marriage prospects) than you ought to be?

Oh, the world of regrets. Sometimes this world can be more fruitful than our real, everyday lives!

I’ve often been guilty of this phenomenon myself. People will say something to me like, you’re so lucky to have advanced in your career as far as you have. And I will (predictably) say something like, yes, I’m happy about where I am, but I wish I had started trying to advance my career much earlier in life. Think of how much further along I’d be! (And this line of thinking carries over into how much money I’ve managed to save, how close I am to God or how much travel I’ve done in my life.) It’s a common pitfall for us all.

You can see this way of thinking clearly when it comes to people investing their money. Many people will buy a stock and avidly watch its upward (and downward) progression on the stock exchange. Any upswings are greeted with joy and exhilaration. Any downswings with pessimism and dismay. And you know what people seem to remember the most? How much they would have had if a) some economic crisis hadn't occurred; b) if they had sold their stock and re-bought it when the price had dropped; or c) how much money they would have had the stock not lost some (or all) of its value. In other words, they don’t see their increased portfolio balance so much as a gain, but as a loss of where they could have been had things been different. Does this sound like you?

What a waste of time! Even if you've never done it with money, I bet you've done it with some other area of your life. Instead of seeing your life in terms of what you have gained - the goodness and mercy of God, better health or wealth, or a well-functioning, blended family - you see it in terms of where you think you should be - a minister instead of a deacon, a 3K instead of a 5K runner or a possessor of a long-term marriage instead of a divorcee with a great second spouse. Why, oh why do we do this to ourselves?

Someone once said that happiness is wanting what you have. Do you want what you have? Would you be happier if you knew that where you are is exactly where you are supposed to be? And, as a consequence - that what you have is exactly what you are supposed to have?

I know it would go a long way with me.

If the idea that you are exactly where you are supposed to be would make you happy, I've got good news for you! Here it is - you are exactly where you are supposed to be!

How do I know?

Well, first of all, you have the benefit of all my frustrated prayers to God - where I would question His wisdom in telling me I was to accomplish certain things, but would make me wait so long for those things to happen. Or where I would question Him about different situations that had come up in my life (parental neglect, bad relationships) and ask Him why those things had to happen. Wouldn't I have been much better off, I often ended, if my life had just gone more smoothly? If I had started publicly writing in my 20's instead of in my 30's? Wouldn't things be much better for me, I would ask, if I just could have gotten an earlier start in life?

And He always reminds me of why the answer is always the same - No.

He's nice about it and all, don't get me wrong. As He gently brings to my remembrance my immaturity in my 20s (when I wasn't fit to write advice for myself, much less for anyone else), and the important lessons I learned about self-esteem and self-love from having been emotionally neglected as a child, He's patient, kind and loving. As He reminds me how I've grown in compassion and patience through failed relationship after failed relationship and learning from my mistakes, I slowly start nodding my head in agreement. And, finally, He reviews with me how I've spent more time with Him as a result of being single all this time, and how my singleness has contributed to my being in tune with Him. And how all these things have allowed Him to shape me in His own way, in His own way and in His own timing. To (finally) be ready to be in ministry under His terms and not my own.

And I have to agree that He is right.

But, way more important than my own personal experiences are clues that the Bible gives about our destiny in Christ. After God reminds me of the importance of waiting for His timing, I am often drawn to this scripture in Isiah:
Isa 55:6 Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Isa 55:7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. Isa 55:8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.Isa 55:9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.Isa 55:10 For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: Isa 55:11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
Which reminds me that I don't know as much as God does (no matter how logical or inspired my thinking may be) and that I cannot always understand why He does what He does because I'm not God. And never will be. But, it also reassures me that His word has had the desired effect in my life - to make me into the woman of God He would have me to be. And that there is a purpose in it all.

And then I consider this scripture in Jeremiah:
Jer 1:4 Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Jer 1:5 Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.
Which always blows my mind - to think that God knew me even before I was born! And shaped and created me to be exactly the way He wanted me to be. And that, before I were even born, He had a plan for me. That is Awesome!

King David trusted in God implicitly and made many declarations of dependence and reliance upon God. Psalms 16:11, he said 'Thou wilt shew me the path of life:' Because David knew that God would guide Him in all the important areas of life. If he relied upon Him. So it makes me more inclined to follow God myself - knowing that He will lead and guide me as well.

King Solomon reinforced the image of God's guidance and leading in Proverbs 3:5-6, where he says: 'Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.' And the 'path' in this scripture means "a well trodden road (literally or figuratively); also a caravan: - manner, path, race, rank, traveller, troop, [by-, high-] way". So, from this, I can know that God will direct me in this race of life as I travel along life's road.

So, with all this leading and guiding that God does, doesn't it make sense to assume that He is leading us all with a purpose? To a destiny that He has already planned out for us?

Romans 8:28-30 puts the icing on the cake for me when it says:
Rom 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. Rom 8:29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.Rom 8:30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.
We always remember the part of this scripture about all things working together for good for those of us who are called, but we often fail to add the part about God's foreknowledge of us and his predestination for us. This is not to imply that we have no choice in how our lives are lived - we do - but it does suggest that as we submit to God's leading, we will fall in line with His glorious plan for each of our lives. Which will put us - you guessed it - exactly where we are supposed to be!

It always gives me great joy to remember all these scriptures and to contemplate the fact that God thought about me even before I was born and planned a unique and special life for me. He knew me, He knows me and He will always be available to lead and guide me along life's roads - even when I feel like I'm in a rut, at a standstill or wandering in the wilderness. And that is the same for you as well - He knows you, He knows where you are and He knows where He intends for you to be. The path you are on may not look exactly like the road you thought you were going to take, but rest assured it is the path that you were destined to be on.

And, finally, in Jeremiah 29:11, God clearly tells us that He has good plans for our lives. It says ' For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (NIV)' Now in the King James Version, this verse ends with the words 'expected end'. And the Jameison-Faussett-Brown Commentary tells us that this 'expected end' "literally means, 'end and expectation,' that is, an end, and that such an end as you wish for".

So if you had no reason to rejoice before, this verse alone should give you reason! Not only does God lead and guide you and have a Master Plan for your life, He is telling you that His plans for hyou are good and that He wants to give you the end that you desire. And wouldn't that be great!

So, I don't know about you, but I am guessing that I will learn to be content right where I am - especially since this is exactly where God wants me to be! I hope you feel the same way :)

Be Blessed.

, , , ,

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Fruit of the Spirit: Peace

Peace? Yeah, I remember peace. It's that feeling I get when I wake up in the morning. It's when the day seems all new and fresh - filled with possibilities. It's what arrives in large measure as I pray to God. He renews me. He touches my life. He reassures me. And, many times, He chastises me as He sets me (yet again) on the right path.

It's that feeling that hits its pinnacle as I cast my cares on God - tell Him all about my problems, ask Him what He's going to do about them, and then listen as He (yet again) reassures me that everything is going to be alright. And then tells me what I need to do.

And everything is just fine.

But then I get out of bed.

And get on that daily treadmill called life as I begin my daily hurried, rush-rush type behavior that sends me zooming through the house to iron my clothes, shower and run, run, run to my car to get to my bus stop on time.

And that feeling of peace slowly dissipates as I avoid crazy drivers who I am convinced are trying to kill me (okay, I may be one of those drivers on some days). And then I run to the bus stop so that I can hurry up and wait for my frequently (very) late bus. And my foot taps. And I rock from side to side. And once again fantasize about the joys of driving to work before high gas prices and high parking put those dreams (temporarily) on hold. But it's all good, right? (At least that's what I try to convince myself)

And that peace thing? I may regain it a bit later as I read my morning Word and listen to my 'Morning Joy' mix on my Ipod (cuz, no matter how late it is, the bus eventually shows up), but it quietly begins to fade into the background as I reach my stop, face my office building and start that long walk that takes me through security, up the elevators and to my anonymous 'pod'. My place in the world for the next eight hours (excluding lunch).

And that feeling of peace? It flickers out of existence as I go through eight hours of conflict, strife, tedium, trivial matters, frustration, faked bonhomie and relief as my day finally ENDS!


Yeah, I'd like to have a little more of that. Wouldn't you?

I'd like to take a look at what the Bible says about peace, but not in anything approaching a typical manner. If I hear one more cliche about 'eace like a river' or 'peace in the midst of adversity', I think I will SCREAM. This is real life we are talking about, and it's rare that I feel anything initially other than anger in the midst of my own personal adversity. Sure, God, eventually gets through to me and I calm down, but if left up to my own instincts, I would be one sad and frustrated sister.

So I will be looking at a hands-on, clear-cut, practical application of this whole peace phenomenon. For my sake and for yours (so that you can hear me stop complaining about it). Okay - here we go.

Romans 14:17 has an intriguing take on peace to me. It says that "For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. " (I talked about the 'joy' aspect in Fruit of the Spirit: Joy)
It seems to imply that not only is peace essential to the Christian walk, but it is actually part of the 'kingdom of God'. And what is the kingdom of God? Is it a place? Surprisingly, no. The first mention of this kingdom is in Matthew 6:33, where Jesus advises us to seek it first (before all other things). So, from this we can gather it's something we can find. Then Jesus talks about it in Matthew 12:28, where he says if he casts out devil, the kingdom of God is come upon us. So it seems to have a lot to do with the power of God. In Matthew 21:43, Jesus says that this kingdom can be taken away from us. So obviously it is not a tangible place or thing.

This 'kingdom of God' best corresponds to the 'power' of God. When we think of the God's power, we tend to think of all the miracles He performed, the plagues against the Egyptian Pharaoh, the parting of the Red Sea or Jesus healing lepers and the blind. But much of the 'power' of God is also contained in the power of salvation, the work and existence of the Holy Spirit, our righteousness through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the grace and mercy that He has given to us (time and again).

Jesus says in Mark 4:11 "And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables:" So, as Christians, we are able to discern these mysteries, but to non-believers,it will always remain a mystery.

So how does peace play a role in all this? Paul said (in the above-quoted Romans 14:17), that the kingdom of God was, in part, made of peace (along with righteousness and joy). So, if the kingdom of God is the power of God and peace is one of its building blocks, then our having peace in our lives allows us to access the powerenables Wow! It endables us to be the conduit through which the Holy Spirit can work. To operate in our uniquely given spiritual gifts. To heal and to teach; prophesy and preach. Peace is an integral part of the working of the power of God in our lives.

I believe this to be true simply because when I don't have peace (defined by Strong's Concordance as quietness and rest), I don't hear from God. I don't clearly feel the touch of God and cannot clearly identify the leading of His Holy Spirit. So, peace is much more than having a 'restful' state of mind - it is the very gateway of our access to the power of God. Without peace, we cannot truly operate in our spiritual gifts or carry out the work of God.

That's deep.

I've always thought of peace simply as a state of mind, but from the above research, I see now that it is 1)a spiritual gift; 2)part of the kingdom of God and 3)the way we gain access the power of God. Definitely something I want to have.

So how do we get this 'peace'?

In John 14:26-27, Jesus first tells his apostles about the coming of the Holy Spirit and how He would comfort them. Then he tells them "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." So peace originates from God.

Romans 8:6 says that to be spiritually minded is life and peace. So, to have peace, we must be followers of the Holy Spirit (allowing Him to lead and guide us).

2 Corinthians 13:11 admonishes us to "Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you." 'Perfect' means "seek after perfection in knowledge, grace, and holiness, and in the performance of good works (John Gills Exposition of the Bible)", 'of good comfort' means to exhort (cheer up) and pray for others and live in peace means just that. So in order to obtain peace, we have to seek after God and maturity in our faith, do for others and live in peace with others.

And, finally, Philippians 4:6-7 says: "In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus. (ASV)" So we have to stop worrying, let God know all that is in our hearts (and turn them over to Him), and peace will be ours.

I like that. I like not having to carry around my own concerns (driving myself and poor friends and family crazy). I like that God cares enough to listen to my supplications (which, for me, includes complaining, whining and the like). And I like the fact that in exchange for all my bad behavior, He gives me peace. I am definitely on the winning end of this bargain.

I know now that I am going to try harder to attain and maintain my own personal peace. How about you?

What have your experiences been with peace?

How do you think your daily 'peace' walk is faring?

Any other tips you can share with me and other readers about peace?

, , , , ,

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Fruit of the Spirit: Joy

Gal 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
Gal 5:23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

Joy, oh joy, where art thou?

I don't know about you, but as I go through my day-to-day life, I find this idea of 'joy' to be pretty darned elusive. Most days I feel somewhere between okay and good. And on more rare occasions I feel sad or depressed. I have even experienced times of great happiness or great despair. But joy? Not too sure about that one.

So let's find out what this whole 'joy' thing is supposed to be about. Joy is the second fruit of the spirit listed in Galatians 5:22. According to Strong's Concordance, this 'joy' means
"cheerfulness, that is, calm delight: - gladness, X greatly, (X be exceeding) joy (-ful, -fully, -fulness, -ous)."
So our joy is to be a combination of being delighted (but calm), glad and exceedingly joyful. Calm, delighted and excedingly joyful. Definitely not feeling much of that lately.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition defines joy as
1. a. Intense and especially ecstatic or exultant happiness. b.
The expression or manifestation of such feeling.
Okay, so we're supposed to feel intensely ecstatic or exultant and express those feelings as well. Okay - I don't know about you - but I haven't been feeling much of that lately either.

Interestingly enough, this same type of 'joy' can be found in the Bible to describe how a person would feel who receives the word of God (Matthew 13:20), to describe the joy that a person would enter into once he or she has successfully served the Lord (presumably at the end of one's life) (Matthew 25:21), the joy that Zecharias the priest would have once his wife Elizabeth gave birth to the future John the Baptist (Luke 1:14), and the joy that is felt in heaven when one sinner repents as opposed to ninety-nine 'righteous' persons who have no need of repentance(Luke 15:7). Sounds good, doesn't it?

So how do we get this type of joy? I'm glad you asked, because I'd like to know too!

The first hint we get of an answer is when Jesus speaks about how we should abide in him in John 15. Jesus says:
John 15:3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. John 15:4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. John 15:5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
John 15:9 As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. John 15:10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love. John 15:11 These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.
So it seems that joy is found through our relationship with Jesus Christ and his relationship with The Father. Jesus even specifically mentions our spiritual 'fruit' in the above passage - making it clear that we only bring forth this fruit as we abide in him - without him we can't do anything.

Jesus also talks about this type of 'joy' when he talks about his upcoming crucifixion in John 16:22. He tells the disciples that in a little while they would not see him again and they would be filled with sorrow. But they would eventually see him (when he arose) and their hearts would "rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you." That sounds great to me - having a joy that no man can take away!

In John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible, he says that this joy is durable because the "risen Lord would never die more; the blessings of grace, such as redemption, pardon, righteousness, and atonement, would, and do ever remain as the foundation of solid joy: nor could a stranger intermeddle with it". So because our joy would now be based on these things, it could never be taken away by another person. No man can interfere with what Jesus did for us - dying on the cross, redeeming us from sin, making us righteous through his actions. And these things are the very foundation upon which our joy is based. (I think I'm starting to feel a little joy now :)

But, it seems the most important thing to remember about this particular fruit of 'joy' is that it is the fruit of the Spirit - the Holy Spirit that is. Romans 14:17 says
For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost (emphasis mine).
So our joy is to be found in the Holy Spirit.

So, apparently, our joy is not be based on our circumstances, our outlook, our paycheck or our mindset. But on our relationship with Jesus Christ - and our abiding in him. And it can never be taken away or meddled with by man - it is durable, permanent - built rock-solid on Jesus's gift of atonement to us. And, finally, that joy is found within the Holy Spirit - it shows up and is manifested as a result of His presence within us.

I like that. I hope you like it, too!

So pray with me that we increase the Holy Spirit's presence in our lives. All of our lives. Pray for God's people. Pray that we experience God's new mercies every morning and that we are refreshed daily by God's Spirit. And let's see if we can get a little more joy in all of our lives!

, , , , ,

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Fruit of the Spirit: Love

I've recently begun studying the fruit of the spirit (as listed in Galatians 5), so I thought I'd start a series on it on this blog. We will make it through this topic(eventually), but I'm not guaranteeing to be finished by a certain day or time or even stay on topic on a consistent basis. I'm sure I'll blog about a lot of other things in between the discussing the fruit, but we will get through it!

I feel it's important to re-visit this very familiar topic because of my own personal shortcomings. I personally could use more development (and maturity) of my own particular 'fruit' - a lesson I clearly learned during my bus ride to work last week.

I take the bus every day to work. So, every morning, I rush to get ready, get in my car and head out to the bus terminal, where I leave my car for the day.

Well, I got on the bus one day last week and had pleasantly settled into my seat. I had an empty seat next to me, so I got a little more comfortable than I normally would have (my body language normally resembles an uptight effigy - arms tightly glued to sides or crossed in front of me, feet close together, firmly in my own space). So, just as I hit my optimal state of relaxation (or as relaxed as it gets on public transportation), the bus stops to pick up someone else and the woman who got on sat down right in the empty seat next to me! Or, I should say, right next to me and partly on top of me!

She was an older woman (which should have made me feel more forgiving, but had the exact opposite effect), so she stumbled a bit in reaching her seat, and leaned heavily against me as she regained her balance. This caused me to promptly draw myself together, hoping to silently encourage her to do the same. But, no such luck! She was comfortably sprawled in her seat, in part of mine and definitely on top of my coat.

And then the ride began. We hit every bump, turn and curve in tandem, as she stayed glued to my side. Any sharp left-hand turns (and there were several) meant she was comfortably cushioned against my resistant side. Every bump meant she had to re-straighten her bags, her arms, her legs, her whatever. She never seemed to get properly braced, instead seeming to rely on me (and the person on the other side of her) to help her get through the rough places on the ride.

By the time she got off, I was silently blessing her out, muttering things about 'old people' under my breath and giving her the evil eye as I vowed to be on the lookout for her the next day so that I would not have to suffer such indignities and abuse of my person.

It took several moments after she left for me to 'remember' I was a Christian. And then, of course, I was appalled at myself! Needless to say, I spent the rest of the day trying to get it together and vowed to do better with my 'love' walk, among other things.

So here we are today.

And now, on to our study!

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the 'fruit' of the Spirit, these are attributes or qualities we should display as Christians. They are virtues that every Christian should try to attain through time, practice and under the guidance and influence of the Holy Spirit (because you cannot do it alone!). As with most things Biblical, developing more 'fruit' is a spiritual exercise, and should not be confused with positive thinking, positive affirmations or mental gymnastics of any kind. It is not based on your thoughts or your emotions - but it is a lesson learned directly from the Holy Spirit to your own spirit. (Maybe that's why it's so hard to develop them sometimes!)

So that's what it is meant by 'fruit' of the Spirit. And what are these 'fruit'? They can be found in Galatians 5 and are: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control. Sounds fun already!

Love, however, is the most important of these fruit. As a matter of fact, love is so important, there is an entire chapter devoted to it! (And I know you already know it, if you've attended any wedding in the last decade.) It can be found in 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13. It, reads, in part:
1 If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal.

2 And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

3 And if I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profiteth me nothing.

4 Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

5 doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not its own, is not provoked, taketh not account of evil;

6 rejoiceth not in unrighteousness, but rejoiceth with the truth;

7 beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

8 Love never faileth:

And, if you didn't gather just how very important love is from the above verses, this chapter ends by saying:
1Co 13:13 But now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

So, there you have it: we absolutely, positively must have love. And not just any kind of love. Strong's Concordance defines the type of love mentioned here as 'agape' love - which is far, far from the type of love we normally show to each other. Agape love is the type of love that God shows to us - unconditional, unwavering and selfless.

So, we are not only to love each other, but to show the type of love that God shows us to other people, too! Wow. That's deep. (And far, far from what I felt towards that poor woman on the bus!)

So that's our lesson for today - love others with the same love that God has shown us.

(Please feel free to add any other hints, tips or advice to this series. Anything we can say to help each other in our walk is always good and useful information.)

, , , , ,

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Barber Shop: About Fatherhood

T.H., over at The Barber Shop did a great post about a week ago called 'About Fatherhood'. I found it personally to be very inspiring and encouraging to hear a man talk about the joys of fatherhood. With the prevalence of DNA testing being done on talk shows to determine if some (very reluctant) man is the father of someone else's child, and men banding together to see if they can establish parental rights as strong as a woman's (i.e., not have to legally support their children if they were not in favor of him or her being born), it's refreshing to see a brother who feels that fatherhood is both a blessing and a privilege. Here is an excerpt from T.H.'s article.

I'm a proud father of two baby boys, an almost three-year-old and a one-year-old. Prior to becoming a dad I was kind of indifferent about having kids, because my dad was very distant when I was a kid so I guess I looked at children as being a burden to some extent.

In our popular culture a lot of brothers equate freedom and the "good life" to having little or no responsibilities. We're taught to fear being tied down by anything, be it marriage, children, or too much hard work. Words like commitment, discipline, and responsibility have a subtle negative burdensome connotation to them, so even when we embrace some of these situations it's often with a hint of mourning for our lost freedoms.

To read the entire article, visit here: The Barber Shop: About Fatherhood

Thank you, T.H., for a beautiful article.

12 Things the Negro Must Do For Himself

I don't know if you all have seen this before, but Nannie Helen Burroughs wrote an essay in the early 1900s that is eerily relevant to today's society. See for yourself:

12 Things the Negro Must Do For Himself


1. The Negro Must Learn To Put First Things First. The First Things Are: Education; Development of Character Traits; A Trade and Home Ownership.

2. The Negro Must Stop Expecting God and White Folk To Do For Him What He Can Do For Himself.

3. The Negro Must Keep Himself, His Children And His Home Clean And Make The Surroundings In Which He Lives Comfortable and Attractive.

4. The Negro Must Learn To Dress More Appropriately For Work And For Leisure.

5. The Negro Must Make His Religion An Everyday Practice And Not Just A Sunday-Go-To-Meeting Emotional Affair.

6. The Negro Must Highly Resolve To Wipe Out Mass Ignorance.

7. The Negro Must Stop Charging His Failures Up To His "Color" And To White People's Attitude.

8. The Negro Must Overcome His Bad Job Habits.

9. He Must Improve His Conduct In Public Places.

10. The Negro Must Learn How To Operate Business For People--Not For Negro People, Only.

11. The Average So-Called Educated Negro Will Have To Come Down Out Of The Air. He Is Too Inflated Over Nothing. He Needs An Experience Similar To The One That Ezekiel Had--(Ezekiel 3:14-19). And He Must Do What Ezekiel Did

12. The Negro Must Stop Forgetting His Friends. "Remember."

The entire essay can be read here

Isn't it fascinating? And this essay was written around 100 years ago!
And as tempted as I am, I will not take this as an opportunity to put Black folks down. If any of the above applies to you - then you are responsible for dealing with it. And, if it doesn't, it is your responsibility to help others around you to put those things behind them.

We have a long way to go, but, God willing, we will get there.

, , , , ,

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Myth of the Strong Black Woman

It's something my women friends and I talk about a lot. At dinner, running around, walking for exercise, or whatever. We are motivated, we are energized, we are cooperative and we are connected. Oh, and one more thing: We are TIRED!

Most of my girlfriends are still single. They may have a man, they may not. If they have one, it is a litany of what he is doing, what he is doing wrong, what he could be doing better and how can she continue to put up with this man. Our men are broke, broken down, tied down to two or three baby mammas, used up, tied up, playing games, uncommitted, unrepentant, unsure and timid. If they don't have a man, we talk about how they are making it, what their lives (or children's lives are like), how hard it is to meet a good man, how much easier it is to let their lives revolve around church, etc., etc. Oh, yeah: and we are TIRED!

Tired of having to make it work alone. Tired of being the only ones involved in the raising of our children. Tired of trying to make our relationships work. Tired of going to school so we can better ourselves cuz we darned sure can't depend on a man to take care of us. Tired of striving, tired of fighting, tired of 'keeping it all together', tired of taking care of mama, daddy, baby, boyfriend, sister, brother, nephews and nieces.

I want to talk today about the Myth of the Strong Black Woman.

See, Black women my age were raised with the notion that we'd only have ourselves and our mammas to depend on. A few girlfriends, if we were lucky. Maybe some daddy support every now and then (after mama had straightened him out), but, definitely, not ever, don't ever depend on it - support from our men. Or from society. All we had was ourselves, God, our mammas and each other.

So we built our own support networks, took care of our children, held down jobs, bought our own houses and proceeded to - make do. Make do without a man (or husband), make do without societal support, make do in our churches, accept leadership when they 'allowed' us and to take a back seat when they didn't. Be a good friend to other, similarly situated, woman. Be a good daughter and sister. Be a good mama, and in many cases, a good daddy as well. We made do.

But now we are tired.

I read a poem called The Strong Black Woman is Dead by Laini Mataka. In it, Ms. Mataka speaks about the mythological black woman who is now dead. One excerpt reads:

She died from an overdose
of other people clinging to her
when she didn't even have energy for herself.
She died from loving men who didn't love themselves
and could only offer her a crippled reflection.
She died from raising children alone
and for not being able to do a complete job

Sound like anybody you know? (The complete poem can be read here.)

Another article I read talks about the number of households now being headed by single black woman. It says:

I know the statistics: They say that when my grandmother was born at the turn of the century as few as 10 percent of black households were headed by females; when I was born at mid-century, it had crept to 17 percent; and now it is almost 60 percent. No longer a widow or a divorce as in times past, the single woman with children today probably has never married—and increasingly she is getting younger. By the time she is eighteen, one out of every four black unmarried women has become a mother.

And finally, an excerpt from "Soothe Your Nerves: The Black Woman's Guide to Understanding and Overcoming Anxiety, Panic, and Fear" by Dr. Angela Neal-Barnett talks about how black women tend to underplay their stress levels and hold it all in. The author conducted a study of black women where they kept a diary of their day while their heart rate and blood pressure were measured as well. The women never admitted to being stressed out, but their blood pressure and heart rate went up by 15-20 points during the day. An excerpt from the book says:

Interviews indicated that women were aware of their stress level; they were just unwilling to admit it was problematic. Several said to me, "Baby, I don't have time to think about that mess. If I did, I'd be stressed out about everything." Yet taking the time out to acknowledge the stress and do something about it would go a long way toward preventing the development of serious anxiety and the health problems associated with it: chronic upper respiratory infections, hypertension, heart disease, and obesity.

Black women - what are we doing to ourselves? When you get stressed out, how do you handle it? Are you a classic case of 'holding it all in'?

I can only speak for myself - but it sure would be nice to have the family structure be what it used to be. To have loving and supportive dads and husbands. To be connected to each other, with God, with the community. To have a sense of who we are and where we are going. Inter-connected. Bonded. In Unity.

But maybe that's just me.

I know for myself - the days of trying to pretend I have it all together are gone. I am not afraid to ask for help, to show that I am weak, or to depend on others at times to get me through. I am not afraid to admit my complete dependency on God, the helping hands (and strong shoulders) of my girlfriends, the love and support of my family and the consistency and reliability of my man. I need, want and desire all those things to help me make it through.

The image of me as a Strong Black Woman is dead and gone.

How about you?

, , , , ,

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

About the Sexual Revolution.......

The sexual revolution happened before I was born. All I know of it was what I saw on TV - women marching, burning their bras and equality being demanded for all women. Equal pay, equal rights and the equal ability to sleep around.

Or, at least, that's how it was portrayed.

I think the sexual revolution and the women's equality movement were beneficial to me in many ways. I appreciate the fact that I am paid as much as my male counterparts. I appreciate the fact that my future daughters can play any sport they want. And I appreciate all the minority government contracts that were set aside for women. (Not to mention my previously obtained rights to vote and to own property.)

But I also think the sexual revolution brought great losses to women.

One of the issues I have with this 'revolution' is the idea that women are now 'equal' in their ability to sleep around. Women of my generation and of the generation preceeding me were told we were free to sleep with whom we wanted. Birth control became widely available and sex was no longer tied to the idea of procreation. Now, we could just have sex for fun. We could be just as sexually adventurous as man, we were told. Live a little. Date. Sleep around. Enjoy yourself. It's your Right.

But they never told us the other side of the coin. That with sexual promiscuity comes a higher level of responsibility. That getting pregnant no longer meant a man would ask you to marry him. Or even stick around. As a matter of fact, abortions were as widely available as birth control, so that was now one of the choices we had to make for ourselves.

They never told us that since sex was no longer tied to procreation, not only would the man not necessarily stick around, but may never even acknowledge his child. Nor would there be anyone to pressure this young (or old) man into being responsible. Women were now solely responsible for themselves and, in many cases, responsible for the welfare and development of their children.

And they never told us that men and women process sex so very differently. That the hormonal and biological interactions that occur during sex cause men to become distant and women to become clingy. The Bible even says that sex is the only sin you do to your own body - and that you are 'joined' with every person you have sex with. The Bible meant that you are joined 'spiritually' - so you connect with every single person you have sex with. And, unless you go through a long period of cleansing and renewal, you will always carry those people around with you in your spirit. For the rest of our lives.

They never told us that.

The other problem I have with the sexual revolution is that I don't think it prepared women to deal with the reality of being 'equal' to men. Yes, we could join the work force, and no longer had to stay home to raise the kids, but we also lost quite a bit. Because we said that a woman has no set place, we now don't seem to know who we are or where we belong. Most women (myself included) love going to work every day and making a living, but when it comes to the idea of marriage and the 'equal' roles that I am told I should want - I am left at a loss. So now I don't have to cook, clean or be a full-time mom. But, what if I want to do those things? Does that make me any less a 'liberated' woman? (I am often struck not by how many women work these days, but how many women still choose to stay home and be full-time moms. College-educated, smart, work-oriented women. And studies show that women still do the majority of the household and child-raising duties. So, what did we really gain? A new expectation that not only would we work full-time, but that we would do the majority of the household chores and still do most of the child-rearing.)

The Bible admonishes me to be submissive and humble as a wife. To respect my husband and to serve him as I serve the Lord. Society tells me to be equal to my husband (or even to be dominant in the relationship) and to demand my 'rights'. Who's right?

I can tell you this for sure - I do want my rights in my future marriage. I want my 'right' to have a husband who loves me as much as he loves himself. I want my 'right' to have my husband minister to me spiritually and emotionally. And I want my 'right' to have a husband who will do what he needs to do to support our combined household (spiritually, financially, etc.). And I want my 'right' to a husband who feels just as responsible for our children, our spiritual life and our marriage.

I'm just not sure where all that fits in with the 'sexual revolution.'

, , , , ,

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Quest for Perfect Love

Don't you just love Sunday mornings? It is usually the one day of the week that you don't have to get up early, you get to relax and, of course, spend some time with God.

At my church this morning, our Pastor spoke today about the Quest for Perfect Love. This was taken from 1 John 6:12, 16-19:

12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.

17 In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 19 We love because he first loved us.

I love these verses. It reminds us, first, of God's love for us, but also reminds us of our responsibility to love one another. Verse 12 tells us that none of us has seen God - face to face, that is. We know of Him, we can see the wonders of His glory around us, but He is not an earthly being. God is a spirit. However, God lives in us as we love another. This is the secret to finding that ever elusive 'Perfect Love'.

'Perfect Love', as my pastor reminded us, is not often found in another person. Our own love for one another is imperfect - it is flawed. However, God's love is perfect. And, by demonstrating His love to others, our own love is made perfect as well.

I also love the verse about there being no fear in love. That 'perfect' love casts out fear. Wouldn't that be great? To finally not feel fear - about anything? This is possible only through the love that God has available for us. Perfect love - no fear.

And, finally, I love the verse where it says we love God because He loved us first. I am always humbled to think about the many years I spent away from God - living my own life the way I thought was best. Ignoring God. Being selfish. And yet He loved me anyway. The same way He loves you. Despite your reservations, your fears, your apprehensions and your skepticism about who God is. (And, yeah, He knows all about what you think about 'hypocritical' Christians, pastors who are 'pimping' the church and your ability to be a Christian within the confines of your own home - but it's all good, as you will soon discover.)

In fact, He loved you so much, that he made a way for you to come to Him. All you have to do is accept His love for you. Acknowledge that Jesus died on the cross to save your life and that he is the Son of God. And that's it. You are now His.

So, today, when you are seeking that 'perfect' love, and realize that you will not get it from anyone - not your spouse, not your kids, not even your mom - realize that God has it in store for you.

He's just waiting on you.

, , , , ,

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The AIDS Virus is Killing the African-American Community

I was reading an article in Newsweek this week and I was horrified to learn how the AIDS virus is ravaging the Black community. (Newsweek gives an overview of the AIDS epidemic in America here.) Numbers don't lie. The article tells us that:

African-Americans make up just 13 percent of the U.S. population but account for an astounding 51 percent of new HIV diagnoses. Black men are diagnosed at more than seven times the rate of white men, black females at 20 times the rate of white women.

Did you see that figure about black women - we are getting AIDS at 20 TIMES the rate of white women. 20 TIMES. And, most heartbreaking of all, most black women get the disease during heterosexual sex with men.

The virus once referred to as "gay-related immunodeficiency disease" has become increasingly gender-blind, especially in the black community, where heterosexual transmission accounts for 25 percent of male infections and 78 percent of female infections.

And where are most of the black men getting the disease? From homosexual sex with another man.

That's scary. And it's outrageous. One of the men profiled in the story admitted to regularly having sex with both men and women. And, EVEN AFTER HE FOUND OUT HE HAD AIDS - HE STILL HAD UNPROTECTED SEX. And did not bother to inform his sex partners that he had the virus.

Ladies - that could be someone you are dating. Or someone you might consider dating. The article made it clear that it was not only 'promiscuous' women who got the virus from their partner - one woman was married and the another had been with very few men. But it just takes one time. One time with one person without protection. Just one time.

And the scariest part of all is that you can't even assume your partner will know if he or she even has the virus. The article uncovered the fact that testing among black men is low. A study of 2000 bisexual men discovered that half of these men tested positive for AIDS and TWO-THIRDS OF THEM DIDN'T EVEN KNOW THEY HAD THE DISEASE!!!

All I can say is, if you are having sex, protect yourself. Get tested for AIDS. And if you are contemplating marrying or becoming engaged in a long-term relationship, have your partner test himself or herself as well.

, , , , ,

Monday, May 08, 2006

In Pursuit of Perfection

Are you a person who is always striving to be 'perfect'? Does your house always have to look sparkling clean? Do your shoes always have to have a certain shine? Is it necessary to put on makeup and coordinate your clothing before you leave the house? How about your kids - how bent out of shape do you become when they give in to their normal childish behavior? When their grades are less than stellar? What about your spouse - does his or her appearance/mannerisms/job have to be at a certain standard to meet your approval?

The sad truth about it is, if you are a perfectionist about any of the above things, you are probably even harder on yourself. Chances are, you reserve the worst criticism for yourself: How you are not where you want to be in life, don't look the way you want to look, don't like yourself, aren't smart enough, aren't good enough and (maybe) never will be.

And, if you are a Christian, there is one more thought probably echoing in your head: I'm not a very good Christian. This thought typically comes with its own depressing litany: I don't pray enough (or long enough), I can't control my hormones (or my mouth), I am a lousy role model, I don't fast enough, I don't study enough, I don't go to church, I don't go to church as often as I should. I don't know enough of the Word and,the worst thought of all - God can't possibly love me with all my flaws. It's almost like you don't want to be a Christian so much as you want to be able to model what you consider perfect Christian behavior. As if being a Christian on the outside can make up for what you feel you lack on the inside.

In pursuit of 'Perfection'.

A good friend once told me 'Perfection is a Long Road to Nowhere'. This is what you must think to yourself as you strive to reach an unreachable goal.

"But, Sonya", you will say, "Doesn't the Bible require that we be 'perfect'?" The short answer is - NO. The most often quoted scripture is found in Matthew 5:48, when Jesus says 'Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.' But, according to Strong's concordance, this reading of 'perfect' means complete (in growth and moral character), not perfect the way we traditionally mean it - without any flaws, imperfections or mistakes. God knew that we would all make mistakes. Jesus died on the cross to pardon us from all our sins - past, present and future.

This, of course, doesn't mean that we should sin indiscriminately (this is further addressed in Romans 6:1), just that God made provision for us, knowing we would sin.

So what should that say to you? That God knew you would sin and still loves you. Loved you so much that He made a way for you to reach Him no matter what. And, if He can accept you will all your imperfections, shouldn't you?

God does not expect 'perfection', but He does expect you to try really, really hard. To study His word (2 Tim 2:15) on a daily basis (Ps 1:2). To be unlike the world and to transform our minds away from its thinking (Rom 12:2). To love God with all that we have (Matthew 22:37) and to treat others as well as we treat ourselves (Matthew 22:39).

But none of those things require perfection. And what does God think of our efforts? In the well-known story of Cain and Abel, prior to Cain taking Abel's life, Cain brought an offering to God. God was more pleased with Abel's offering (which led to Cain's jealousy and his subsequent murder of Abel), which made Cain angry. But the Bible says, "Then the Lord said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?..."(Gen 4 NIV). God was perfectly willing to accept the best that Cain had to offer - if Cain had been willing to give it.

Our God is not so concerned with the obsessive pursuit of perfection, but with our obedience - a desire to do His will. And, even more importantly, with a willing heart. Our obedience and willingness to please Him count much more than our desire to look 'perfect' in another person's (or our own) eyes.

Perfection is a long road to nowhere.

Strive instead to be 'perfect' before the Lord - experiencing spiritual growth and maturity as you serve Him with the best that you have to give. And, if you do what is right, will you not be accepted?

, , , ,

Friday, May 05, 2006

Christian Worship - Does it Really Take 'All That'?

I attend a Baptist church. Every Sunday we gather to hear a sermon, praise God, sing along to the music, worship, give our offering and return to our homes. But it is an understatement to say that we simply 'enjoy' ourselves while attending church.

We sing. We dance. We clap loudly at the slightest provocation. We jump up and down. We run the aisles. And, sometimes, we pass out from the sheer joy of it all.

As a worshipper at a church that is 'high in the Spirit', I am often asked the question - "Does it really take 'all that' (all that meaning - all that noise, all that hollering (by the preacher), all that music and all that excitement)?" So I ask you that question as well - do you think it really takes 'all that' to worship God?

I could have chosen a different kind of church setting. I could have chosen to engage in the solemnity of the Catholic mass. Or the subdued excitement of the Lutheran church. Or I could have chosen a church that emphasized 'teaching' over 'preaching'. One that was quiet, thoughtful and reflective of the Awesome Unknown that is God.

But I chose the church where I currently worship. With its combination of exuberance and scholarly learning. Shouted worship mixed with deep silences into which we whisper our Awe of God. Dancing and jumping up and down contrasted with the sister in the corner raising her hand in silent praise.

So, again, I ask you - do you think it really takes 'all that' to worship God?

I think it does. I think it takes all you are willing to put out there to worship God in the way you see fit. But I also think you can worship and praise God silently, respectfully and with little ado. I think there is just as much joy to be found in raising your hands to silently worship God as the man or woman has who is running down the aisles as if they recently left a fire. Just as much passion in the man dancing for joy as the child who is clapping her hands and rocking back and forth in silent wonder.

The Bible seems to reflect both views as well. Psalms 66:1-2, says "...Make a joyful noise unto God, all the earth: Sing forth the glory of his name: Make his praise glorious." But, conversely, John 4:24 says "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth." This tells me that God accepts praise and worship how it is offered - and welcomes both. King David danced mightily before the Lord, but God spoke to Elijah in a still, small voice. God just wants you to come. I think it is just us who get caught up in the form and fashion.

How do you prefer to worship God? Do you think there is a difference between praise and worship?

Technorati tags:
, , , ,

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

More Da Vinci Code Stuff

I'm still rather fascinated by the whole Da Vinci Code phenomenon, so I'm reading the news, websites and other blogs to see what others have to say about it. I'm particularly interested in the Christian reaction to it.

From my reading, there seem to be two reactions - strong abhorrence to the book and/or movie and a lighthearted take on what we should all understand is just 'fiction'. Below is an example of the latter sentiment, from the The Grail Code Blog:

The best thing about The Da Vinci Code is that it's getting a lot of people interested in Christian history. You can get a conversation about the Gnostics started in the dentist's office; you can talk with a stranger about Mary Magdalene while you're waiting on the safety island for the streetcar. These things didn't happen before Dan Brown. (That whole article can be found here.)

I agree with the writer of this piece. Prior to the Dan Brown novel, we were not having these conversations, much less even thinking about such things (at least I wasn't). While I have given some time and attention to early Christian history, Dan Brown's novel forced me to re-think my perception of Jesus, the role of women in the early church and my whole concept of sin.

The book did not, however, shake my faith. And I don't believe, in a widely quoted passage from the book that 'everything we had been taught about Christianity is wrong'. I believe that Jesus rose from the dead. I believe that he was the Son of God. So that didn't change upon reading the book.

But it did make me re-think what I thought about Jesus, the workings of the early church and church history as a whole. And the thing to remember (as has often been pointed out) is that the Da Vinci Code is a work of fiction (with some factual content about the Priory of Sion, architecture and art history). (The Catholic Answers website does a really good job of debunking the book in 'Cracking the Da Vinci Code'.) So, ultimately, though I thought the book was a pretty good read (though I liked Dan Brown's book Angels and Demons better), it was just one more good read among many. But, as the Grail Code Blog pointed out, we certainly are having a lot more interesting conversations now!

, , , , ,