Thursday, August 14, 2014

Portals Into God's Presence: Have Thine Own Way, Lord

If you've been following this blog over the years, you know that from time to time I take a hiatus, turning Upward and inward so that I can be more faithful in my adoration of God, service to God, and witness of God's active and awesome presence in this world. Beloved, now is such a time. I feel a change on the horizon, amazing things ahead in my marriage, motherhood, and ministry. This hiatus is not about withdrawing from all things, rather it is about living more deeply and thus drawing away from social media...including this blog. To be honest, I'm not sure how long it will last, except that I will be back. But for now, my activity on From Time to Time, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram will be on pause.

My prayer is that you will be stretched and strengthened during my pause, just as I hope to be. My prayer is that you will live more fully into your purpose as one who is created and loved by Almighty God, just as I hope to be. And until my return, my prayer is that this song, "Have Thine Own Way, Lord" will be your prayer, as it is mine. This hymn, written by Adelaide Pollard, is an ode to trust in and surrender to the absolute will of God. As you meditate on the words, be blessed by the heartfelt and humble rendition by one of my favorite preachers of the day, E. Dewey Smith, pastor of the The Greater Travelers Rest Baptist Church in Decataur, GA. 

Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after Thy will,
While I am waiting, yielded and still.

Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Search me and try me, Master, today!
Whiter than snow, Lord, wash me just now,
As in Thy presence humbly I bow.

Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Wounded and weary, help me, I pray!
Power, all power, surely is Thine!
Touch me and heal me, Savior divine.

Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Hold o’er my being absolute sway!
Fill with Thy Spirit ’till all shall see
Christ only, always, living in me.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Portals Into God's Presence: Nothing But the Blood

On Sunday, during both worship services that I attended,  I was reminded of the amazing power of the blood of Jesus. Often, we have conversations about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, without really thinking about the atonement, reconciliation, forgiveness, and healing made possible at Calvary. And while it may seem awfully violent to some, I am grateful that "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). This giving of Jesus was not only in His living example, but also in His dying sacrifice. With that in mind, our hymn for the week is, "Nothing But the Blood."

This hymn, written by Robert Lowry, is lifted in our congregations on First Sunday as we commune together at the Lord's Table, but how powerful would it be if day-in and day-out we lived intentionally remembering that it is the blood of Jesus that makes us righteous in the sight of the Almighty and All-Loving God! I will admit, I take issue with some of the language of the song—as an African-American woman—and the way it lifts up whiteness as virtuous. If I could rewrite the chorus, I'd replace the word "white" with "clean" or even rewrite the entire line to say, "Oh! precious is the flow that gives a heavenly glow" but that's just me. That said, I'm not throwing the baby out with the bathwater and this is still one of my favorite songs. Please enjoy the lyrics and the spirited rendition at Second Ebenezer Church in Detroit of "Nothing But the Blood."

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

For my pardon, this I see,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
For my cleansing this my plea,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Nothing can for sin atone,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
Naught of good that I have done,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

This is all my hope and peace,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
This is all my righteousness,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Now by this I’ll overcome—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
Now by this I’ll reach my home—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Glory! Glory! This I sing—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus,
All my praise for this I bring—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Portals Into God's Presence: Love Lifted Me

I had a rough day yesterday. I had been feeling pretty good, but sleep deprivation and being at home alone with a crying baby and tantrum-y toddler (who both wanted and needed my attention at the exact same time) got the best of me. I cried yesterday. I whined and complained to a friend yesterday. And after I got both girls to sleep, I crawled into bed and prayed myself to sleep. Thanks be to God, I woke up this morning ready to get up. I can say without a doubt that the love of God touched me this morning and lifted me from the low place where I was the night before. Because the loving hand of God moved me from where I was to where I am, today's hymn is "Love Lifted Me." It is as much about the profound love of God in Christ that releases humanity from the grips of sin and death as it is about the love of God that believers experience each and every day: healing love, comforting love, delivering love. This love merits a response—the praise of our lips and  a tangible witness to the world that we have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.

On another note, this song holds a very special place in my heart. On the Wednesday evening when I was to preach my initial sermon, there was a brief period of devotion before preaching time. The last hymn sung—no music, just voices—was "Love Lifted Me." In that moment when my nerves were screaming louder than the Holy Spirit was speaking, the song gently reminded me of God's loving presence and power. And in that moment, God's love lifted me from nervousness to boldness to preach. Beloved, can you recall a moment when you were keenly aware that God's love was lifting you from the valley onto higher ground?

I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore,
Very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more,
But the Master of the sea, heard my despairing cry,
From the waters lifted me, now safe am I.

Love lifted me! Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help
Love lifted me!

All my heart to Him I give, ever to Him I’ll cling
In His bless├Ęd presence live, ever His praises sing,
Love so mighty and so true, merits my soul’s best songs,
Faithful, loving service too, to Him belongs.

Souls in danger look above, Jesus completely saves,
He will lift you by His love, out of the angry waves.
He’s the Master of the sea, billows His will obey,
He your Savior wants to be, be saved today.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Portals Into God's Presence: Lift Him Up

I've been thinking a lot about what it means to be a disciple—follower, student, imitator—of Jesus the Christ. I've been mindful of my own behavior, most especially in my home before my husband and daughters, and the way in which it does (and sometimes does not) witness to the saving and transforming power of Christ in my life. I've been watching television and seen self-proclaimed Christians highlighting and showcasing self instead of showcasing the Christ in them. All of this has led me to think about evangelism and the famous quote by Mahatma Gandhi where he said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” What would it look like for Christians, in general, and me, specifically, to follow in the footsteps of our radically loving Christ? For one, the world would be turned upside down and inside out with love, grace, truth, and forgiveness.

All of these thoughts have inspired our hymn for the week: Lift Him Up. This song, written by Joshua Oatman, Jr. is an evangelistic hymn, whose main idea is that if followers of Christ would actually follow Jesus in word, thought, and deed then men, women, boys and girls would be drawn to the Savior. Beloved, are you lifting up Jesus in your walk? Are you lifting up Jesus in your talk? I challenge you (and myself) to examine your behavior. Locate those places that aren't so Christ-like and ask God to transform your ways of being. I guarantee that God will touch someone you encounter because Jesus is exalted in your life.

How to reach the masses, men of every birth,
For an answer, Jesus gave the key:
“And I, if I be lifted up from the earth,
Will draw all men unto Me.”

Lift Him up, Lift Him up,
Still He speaks from eternity:
“And I, if I be lifted up from the earth,
Will draw all men unto Me.”

Oh! the world is hungry for the Living Bread,
Lift the Savior up for them to see;
Trust Him, and do not doubt the words that He said,
“I’ll draw all men unto Me.”

Don’t exalt the preacher, don’t exalt the pew,
Preach the Gospel simple, full and free;
Prove Him and you will find that promise is true,
“I’ll draw all men unto Me.”

Lift Him up by living as a Christian ought,
Let the world in you the Savior see;
Then men will gladly follow Him Who once taught,
“I’ll draw all men unto Me.”

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Portals Into God's Presence: I'll Be a Sunbeam

On Monday, July 7, 2014, God blessed our family with another sunbeam. Victoria Nana Adjoa, also known as "Baby Girl" made her arrival. She is so precious--the spitting image of her older sister--and has shown me that my heart was capable of expanding even more. We are all well, albeit tired. She sleeps a lot and I try to sleep as much as I can. Big Girl is enjoying her "Little Sister" and Hubby lights up so much when he's with her.  

With Baby Girl as my inspiration, our hymn for the week is Nelle Talbot "I'll Be a Sunbeam" a traditional children's hymn. My prayer for our girls, and myself, is that we will be loving and kind sunbeams for Jesus, witnessing to God's glory in all that we do. 

Jesus wants me for a sunbeam,
To shine for Him each day;
In every way try to please Him,
At home, at school, at play.

A sunbeam, a sunbeam,
Jesus wants me for a sunbeam;
A sunbeam, a sunbeam,
I’ll be a sunbeam for Him.

Jesus wants me to be loving,
And kind to all I see;
Showing how pleasant and happy,
His little one can be.

I will ask Jesus to help me
To keep my heart from sin;
Ever reflecting His goodness,
And always shine for Him.

I’ll be a sunbeam for Jesus,
I can if I but try;
Serving Him moment by moment,
Then live for Him on high.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

I Won't Complain... (Part 2)

Okay, okay, okay...a more appropriate title for this post is, "I'll Try Not to Complain..."

On Thursday at 10:00am I embarked on a 24 hour cease-fire on complaining.

The short synopsis is that I made it 24 hours and only complained 2 times.

Each time, once in the parking lot of my OB after waiting almost two hours to be seen (she was at the hospital delivering babies) and once in the afternoon when I was dead tired and couldn't hold it in any longer, I was keenly aware of my complaining. I caught myself and tried to spin my negative talk into words of gratitude. Ex. "Aren't we blessed to have an OB who prioritizes her deliveries. In the next few weeks she'll be doing the same for us."

Without complaints filling my air space, the day was rather quiet. There were few times when hubby complained about things--like someone driving crazy on the highway--and I smiled and nodded. (As a point, he is not a big complainer at all!) As a society, complaining is part of the way we communicate; Much small talk is littered with complaints. But as a child of God, who believes that all things work together for the good of them that love God and are called according to God's purpose, complaining does not glorify God, nor does it affirm who I say that I am and what I say I believe.

I must admit, in the 24 hours I wasn't complaining, I recognized just how much I do complain. I caught myself complaining a lot in my head, forcefully stopping the words from exiting through my lips. And even that was troubling. As a child of God, I am to be transformed by the renewing of my mind. In the words of Rev. Dr. Allen Paul Weaver Jr., paraphrasing Romans 12:1, I have to "change the way I think." I earnestly desire that my mind chooses gratitude over complaints.

I also began to question the difference between acknowledging a situation and complaining about said situation. In other words, trouble and distress and idiots on the road are going to be part of our lives for as long as we live. My aches and discomfort were not eased because I was choosing not to complain, however the way that they shaped how I move about my day did change. My aches and discomfort had less power over me when I paid them less attention. Although difficult and counter to what I normally do, not complaining made the day a lot easier.

When the Lenten season began, I started posting moments of grace on my Facebook page as a way of turning my attention away from sin, struggle and sorrow to the gifts and graces of God. I continued that practice because it has helped me to journey through a rough patch with my toddler, a difficult pregnancy, and days when I question whether or not God really called me to ministry. That was a good start. But I learned in my 24-hour cease fire on complaining that identifying one moment of grace is not enough. Starting this week, I am going to have one day each week where I cease complaining, until one day turns into two, and two into three, and three into four, and not complaining becomes part of the fabric of my being.

The challenge was to stop complaining for 24 hours and watch how your life starts changing. One of my sisters in ministry (and friends on Facebook) put it a better way. She said, "Watch God change things..." I am inclined to agree. When we stop complaining, instead of focusing on our stuff, we are actively lifting our eyes to the hills and placing them squarely on our Help (Psalm 121:1). When we stop complaining, instead of letting negative talk have its way, we are speaking words that edify and minister grace to those that hear us (Ephesians 4:29). When we stop complaining, we are witnessing to ourselves and everyone around us that we have learned to be content in all situations because we serve a God who promises to supply all of our needs according to God's riches in glory (Philippians 4:11, 19).

Beloved, if you embarked on the 24-hour challenge with me, how did you fare? Whether you you joined the challenge or not, will you join me in cultivating a lifestyle sans complaints? Not only will God be glorified, I can guarantee that God will change your life in the process!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

I Won't Complain... (Part 1)

July 3, 2014
10:25 a.m.
A few days ago I got tired of hearing myself complain. Sure, my pregnancy has been filled with woes and aches and illness, but I must admit that I have been over the top in my complaining about every little thing that has bothered me. Add to this complaints about the weather, people's driving skills, my neighbors shoddy parking, etc. etc.. Besides the fact that complaining is annoying, it is antithetical to the will of God. I know this. I taught a Bible Study on this. In his first letter to the Thessalonian church, the Apostle Paul writes, "In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you" (5:18).  Giving thanks is the polar opposite of complaining. And if God wills that we give thanks in every thing, then our complaints--my complaints--are a slap in the face to a great and wonderful God.  And yet, I still complain.

This morning, someone on my Instagram feed posted the following image:

The image convicted me and reminded me of my desire to stop complaining. With that in mind, at 10:00am today, I embarked on a 24 hour challenge to cease complaining. I'll post my findings and observations tomorrow, but until then, and in the Spirit of Portals Into God's Presence, I leave you with one of my favorite songs, "I Won't Complain"  This song may be easy to sing, the harder and more rewarding part, is living it out day to day...

I've had some good days ,
I've had some hills to climb,
I've had some weary days,
And some sleepless nights.
But when I look around
And I think things over;
All of my good days
Outweigh my bad days
I won't complain.

Sometimes the clouds are low
I can hardly see the road.
I ask a question, Lord
Lord, why so much pain?
But he knows what's best for me
Although my weary eyes
They can't see.
So I'll just say thank you Lord
I won't complain.

The Lord has been so good to me.
He's been good to me.
More than this old world or you could ever be.
He's been so good to me.

He dried all of my tears away
Turned my midnights into day.
So I'll just say thank you Lord
I won't complain.

Portals Into God's Presence: God Will Take Care of You

The date of delivery is drawing near for our family; Baby Girl will be arriving soon. Getting ready for her arrival is not as hectic as when Big Girl arrived two years ago, but there is much to prepare for nonetheless. In the midst of this, my belly is big and my body is slow, making it difficult to get things done. Interestingly enough, I am not stressed or stressing out. Deep in my heart I have an assurance that God will provide everything we need, from material items to help from family and friends. Beloved, whatever you may be experiencing--whether it is preparing for the birth of a child, reeling from a grim diagnosis from the doctor, unemployment, or the like--I invite you to meditate on the words of "God Will Take Care of You," written by Civilla D. Martin, and rest in the promise that, "He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty" (Psalm 91:1). Also, enjoy this footage of the late, great Mahalia Jackson sangin' this song...

Be not dismayed whate’er betide,
God will take care of you;
Beneath His wings of love abide,
God will take care of you.

God will take care of you,
Through every day, o’er all the way;
He will take care of you,
God will take care of you.

Through days of toil when heart doth fail,
God will take care of you;
When dangers fierce your path assail,
God will take care of you.

All you may need He will provide,
God will take care of you;
Nothing you ask will be denied,
God will take care of you.

No matter what may be the test,
God will take care of you;
Lean, weary one, upon His breast,
God will take care of you.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Portals Into God's Presence: Walking in the Light of Jesus' Love

What a week it has been. I didn't post last week because I was dealing with some (more) pregnancy related illnesses. While I'm still dealing, I have been so inspired by my Big Girl that I couldn't let another week go by without writing something. When I did her Spring shopping, I purchased a pair of Disney Princess sandals that light up when you walk. I wasn't sure what her response to them was going to be; I hadn't really thought about it. The sandals were cute and reasonably priced so I bought them. Anyway, the first day she wore them she was so excited. After getting dressed, I told her to go show daddy her shoes. Instead of walking into the room, she skipped and jumped with such joy that hubby had no other choice but to notice the light-up shoes. And for the rest of the day she skipped and jumped. In fact, it was a Sunday, so she debuted her shoes at church. She was so enthralled by the light that she insisted that hubby tap her foot during worship so the lights would keep flickering. 

With most toys and clothes, after a few encounters, she is totally over them. But not these light up shoes. Each and every time she wears them, she walks so the light shines. What's also really amazing is that she often requests to wear them. She want to constantly walk in the light.

Big Girl's excitement about her light-up shoes got me to thinking about what it means to be a Christian, walking in the light of Jesus' love. Do we hide our lights under bushes, or do we skip and hop with joy so that others will see the light of Christ shining in our lives? Do we express our faith at particular times, or do we yearn to always walk in ways that witnesses to the glory and light of God? Seeing Big Girl has caused me to reevaluate the light I exude, and is the impetus for choosing this week's hymn: Walking in the Light of Jesus' Love.

I admit, I don't know this hymn, written by Virgie C. DeWitty. I cannot sing it, nor would I recognize the tune if I heard it. But none of that mattered when I read the lyrics. Walking in the Light of Jesus' Love is a hymn about witnessing to the world, resting in God, and the beauty of an intimate relationship with God. Personally, the second verse spoke volumes to me as I enter into a period of sacred rest to prepare my body for the arrival of Baby Girl. 

My prayer for you, Beloved, is that you will walk in the light of Christ with the same joy that Big Girl walks around in her light-up shoes! 

Walking with Jesus in His love-light,
With Him as my daily guide, 
Satisfied fully I journey onward
In the footsteps of the crucified. (the crucified.)

I'm walking in the light of Jesus' love,
I'm walking in the light of Jesus' love.
I've peace and joy divine, for Jesus' love is mine,
I'm walking in the light of His love. (The light of His love.)
Walking, walking, walking in the light of Jesus' love.
I've peace and joy divine, for Jesus' love is mine;
Oh, I'm walking in the light of His love. (The light of His love.)

Beside still waters Jesus leads me,
And my strength he does restore,
He bids me lie forn in green pastures,
When I rest we journey on once more. (yes, on once more.)

I know His goodness and His mercy,
Shall my every step attend,
Upon the mountain or in the valley,
I'll keep walking with my dearest Friend. (my dearest Friend.)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Portals Into God's Presence: Steal Away to Jesus

I remember singing the African-American Spiritual, "Steal Away to Jesus" as a young person. I haven't sung it in years, but for some reason it is resounding in my soul. Maybe it is because the older I get, the more I recognize the fleeting nature of life. Maybe it is because there is something beautiful in knowing that there is a home in Jesus beyond this temporary and temporal world. And maybe, it is because this weekend—for the first time since my Big Girl's birth two years ago—I am stealing away with my girlfriends for a few days of rest, relaxation, play, and sleeping late. It may sound strange to some, but as a mother it is easy to lose oneself in the care of your children. Every once in a while, I have to take time to nurture myself as a woman. And so, however trivial it may seem, I hear the voice of my Lord—as the writer says—calling me to a time of green pastures and still waters.

Stealing away does not always mean changing locations. Sometimes it is getting lost in a book, a piece of music, or staring into the night sky. That said, if you cannot steal away as I am this weekend, I invite you to get wrapped up in the beauty and sound of Mahalia Jackson and Nat King Cole singing, "Steal Away Jesus." Wherever here is, no matter how joyful or challenging this place is, we haven't got long to stay here...

Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus!
Steal away, steal away home,
I ain’t got long to stay here.

My Lord, He calls me,
He calls me by the thunder;
The trumpet sounds within my soul,
I ain’t got long to stay here.

Green trees are bending,
Poor sinners stand a-trembling;
The trumpet sounds within my soul,
I ain’t got long to stay here.

My Lord, He calls me,
He calls me by the lightning;
The trumpet sounds within my soul,
I ain’t got long to stay here.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Portals Into God's Presence: We've Come This Far By Faith (and giveaway, too!!!)

Tomorrow is my 38th Birthday! Glory and honor be to God! When I think about the possibility and promise of a new year, I cannot help but think about the provision and protection of the past years. In the words of the hymn writer Albert Goodson, "[God's] never failed me yet." Indeed, I have come this far by faith.

So, our hymn for the week is "We've Come This Far By Faith." It is one of those staple songs in the African-American church. Many do not know, and have never sung the verses. We know the chorus well. The chorus speaks volumes about what it means to journey with God. Implied in the chorus is a life of struggle, doubt, disappointment, and the like. Explicitly stated, however, is that idea that even though I may face such circumstances, God has never let me down and that I get through such situations only in relationship with God. In my soon to be 38 years I have had my share of struggle, doubt, and disappointment, but I have arrived at this point because of the presence and activity of my Sovereign and Loving God.  Beloved, it may not be your birthday, but will you take a moment to think about just how far God has brought you? Can you declare with me and the Gospel Legends (seen below), "We've come this far by faith!"

We've come this far by faith
Leaning on the Lord
Trusting in His Holy word
He never failed me yet
Oh' Can't Turn Around
We've come this far by faith

Don't be discouraged
with trouble in your life;
he'll bear your burdens
and move all discord and strife.

Just the other day, I heard a man say
He did not believe in God's word
But I can truly say, the Lord has made a way
He's never failed me yet.

Birthdays are all about gifts. In the spirit of community and giving, I am pleased to announce From Time to Time's first ever GIVEAWAY!!! We will be giving away three copies of The New National Baptist Hymnal" 21st Century Edition. It is my favorite hymnal, and the one I consult most when writing Portals into God's Presence.

You can enter four ways: Leave a comment on the blog (, send me a Tweet (@ddotolivia), post a photo on Instagram (@ddotolivia), or leave a post on my Facebook page with your first name, favorite hymn, and one-two sentences describing how the song ministers to you. Entries must be received by 11:59pm on Wednesday, June 11, 2014. Winners will be announced on Thursday, June 12, 2014 in the next edition of Portals Into God's Presence.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

National Running Day: The Top Ten Reasons I Run

Today is National Running Day! Even though I am 34 weeks pregnant and am not currently running, I am excited to celebrate National Running Day! This morning, in honor of National Running Day, I went for a 3 mile walk at Roosevelt Park. I made a pregnancy PR (personal record) and shaved 3 minutes off of each mile. I was determined and I must admit it felt really good!

I started my running journey in 2006. I was always the fat girl growing up, not confident in my body, who would get out of participating in gym by any means necessary. In elementary school, I dreaded the Presidential Physical Fitness test when it came around each year. In high school I managed the lacrosse team so that I would be exempt from my gym requirement. I was one of the most non-athletic people I knew. I wish I could say I began running for some noble reason, but honestly, I started running to lose weight (again) in preparation for a friend's wedding. I was her maid-of-honor and no way was I walking down the aisle in a size 14 dress (how vain, and funny considering my own wedding dress four years later was a size 14). I met my goals and strutted down the aisle in a size 8 dress. More than that, I developed a love for running that endures to this day. I am not the most graceful runner, nor the fastest runner, but each and every time I hit the pavement I feel more alive. 

So, in honor of National Running Day, I present the Top Ten Reasons I Run...
10. I keep my heart healthy, diabetes away, and cholesterol down.
9. I run... to prove to my body that it is capable of more and more and more...
8. I run... to belong to an awesome community of people with similar aspirations!
7. I run... because I really like chocolate and Doritos!
6. I run... to hear from God and encourage creativity!
5. I run... to get out my frustrations.
4. I run... to keep my depression at bay. 
3. I run... to preserve the sexy for myself and my husband! 
2. I run... to show my daughters that physical health is as important as spiritual, emotional, and intellectual health!
1. I run... as a thanksgiving to God for the movement and activity of my limbs!

Why do you run? If you are not yet a runner, I invite you find some motivator in your life that would get you out on the pavement, put one foot in front of the other, and get moving! Your mind, body, and soul will be blessed!

And, shout out to my parents! I am two days away from turning 38 years old. They called me to see what I want for my birthday. For the most part, I have everything I could ever want or need. So, in honor of National Running Day and to support an amazing organization that has motivated me to run, my folks are gifting me one of the new Black Girl's Run! singlets and a medal hooks. I only have two medals now, but since I plan to run the Trenton Half Marathon in November as part of the BGR! Team, I need a place to hang my running bling!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Portals Into God's Presence: O for a Closer Walk with God

At my former church, the Bethesda Baptist Church of New Rochelle, we usually sang a hymn before entering into our time of prayer. It was always Spirit led, never printed in the bulletin. The hymns were sung to focus our attention on the presence of God as we made our way to the altar. One of my favorite songs of preparation was "O for a Closer Walk with God" written by William Cowper. I cannot speak exactly to what I love about this hymn, but every time I hear it my soul, and my feet, are drawn away from the cares of the world and towards the sweet presence of God. As you meditate on the words of the hymn, and listen to the rendition by the Carolina Youth for Christ, my prayer is that something within you would be quickened to walk more closely with God.

O for a closer walk with God,
A calm and heavenly frame,
A light to shine upon the road
That leads me to the Lamb!

Where is the blessedness I knew,
When first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul refreshing view
Of Jesus and His Word?

What peaceful hours I once enjoyed!
How sweet their memory still!
But they have left an aching void
The world can never fill.

Return, O holy Dove, return,
Sweet messenger of rest!
I hate the sins that made Thee mourn
And drove Thee from my breast.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Portals Into God's Presence: In the Garden

For myriad reasons, from our geographical location to the realities of being an adult, I have recently been dealing with bouts of loneliness. The weight of isolation is heavy and palpable. Even though I've been living here for almost four years, I am used to having face to face access to my family and friends. My parents are an hour away. My sister and niece are clear across the country. My best friend is in Tennessee completing a doctoral program, which comes with its own kind of distance if she is to get her work done successfully. My other sister friends are spread all around the country. Sometimes the telephone—even with the technological advances in video calling—is simply not enough. While I am grateful for my New Hope Baptist Church family—with all of the love and warmth and smiles and hugs—Sunday is simply not enough. I can hear you asking, "what about your husband and daughter?" Often my husband's work and commute—a sacrifice he makes to provide for our family—keep him away for long hours. And while I relish in my daughters cuddles and smiles, engaging a two year old is very different from engaging other adults. So yes, even this married ministering momma struggles with loneliness from time to time.  If we are honest, many people struggle with loneliness. Loneliness can come from isolation, but it is also possible to be in a room full of folks and feel lonely and unknown.  God created human beings for relationships; Relationship with God and with each other. This relationally thrives on our senses. We need to see and be seen. We need to touch and be touched. We need to hear and be heard. This is clearly evidenced in studies of newborn babies. Babies can fail to thrive for lack of touch. Adults are no different.

The reality of loneliness, once I get over myself, has often driven me closer to God. It is living into the truth and beauty of Psalm 23, "Yea, though I awl through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me." God is present in the moments when we feel all alone. Jesus knew this and took full advantage of this. His prayer life is a reflection of knowing that God was with him through it all. When people forsook him, Jesus tapped into the presence of God. When folks didn't understand his teaching, Jesus tapped into the presence of God. When facing impending death, Jesus tapped into the presence of God. When hanging on the cross—the most lonely and isolating experience ever experienced by humankind—Jesus tapped into the presence of God. Jesus teaches me that when my family is absent, I can still hear and be heard by God. Jesus teaches me that when I cannot see my friends, I can still see and be seen by God. Jesus teaches me that when the Thursday afternoon loneliness strikes, I can still touch and be touched by God.

And all of that leads me to our hymn of the week. In the Garden speaks to me most profoundly in the lonely places. It is my prayer that is minister to you, most especially if you struggle with loneliness. Beloved, as C. Austin Miles wrote and Marvin Sapp so sweetly sings, we are never alone because God is with is—Emmanuel—walking with us, talking with us, and holding us close.

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice,
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.

I’d stay in the garden with Him
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Portals Into God's Presence: What a Friend We Have in Jesus

I have come to know that prayer is essential in the life of the believer. Prayer is a conversation with our Sovereign and Loving God. It is as much about listening as it is about speaking. It is a pathway to peace. It is a burden remover. It is an opportunity to be completely vulnerable in the presence of a Holy God who, because of the atoning death of Jesus Christ, looks beyond our faults and loves us beyond measure. Prayer is a safe place, a hiding place, with our True and Faithful Friend. And without prayer, life is empty and lifeless.

I can always tell when my prayer life is in shambles; When conversing with God becomes secondary to the care of the world my life is burdened down with worry, anxiety, fear, and sometimes anger. Since becoming a parent two years ago, I have a had a more consistent prayer life--mostly because I needed to hear from God like never before. Yet, there are still times when I neglect my relationship with God and the flourishing of my soul, to the detriment of all else. In these times, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" serves as a reminder that if I would but pray, that God would grant me peace, lift my burdens, give me guidance, dry my tears, and whatever else I stand in the need of. The video is an amazing arrangement from the College Choir at the Mount Zion Baptist Church in Nashville, TN. I pray that this hymn blesses you and, if your prayer life needs some revival, that it serves as a reminder that you can always go to your Faithful Friend Jesus in prayer.

 What a friend we have in Jesus,
all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
all because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged;
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy laden,
cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge;
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In his arms he'll take and shield thee;
thou wilt find a solace there.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Happy Birthday, Big Girl!

The dust has settled. Three parties later, I am still basking in the joy of celebrating our Big Girl's 2nd Birthday! It is hard to believe that the sweet, tiny girl that we brought home--one who was totally reliant on us for everything--is now two years old and can do so much for herself.

For her first birthday we had a simple cake with two friends over. We figured she didn't understand and we didn't want to make a big fuss.

This year was all about the fuss! Big Girl had a party at her daycare with her classmates on Friday, a party with family and friends on Sunday (her actual birthday) at grandma and grandpa's house, and a party at home on Monday with her friends from the neighborhood. All in all, she had so much fun, and we had fun watching her! Here are a few pictures from each party...

Now that the dust has settled, we are settling into some major life shifts in anticipation of Baby Girl's arrival in June. Big girl bed, anyone? As I've said before, parenting is no joke—especially with a precocious and sometimes stubborn toddler—but watching her celebrate her birthday, hearing her say her entire name (all five of them), and all that comes with her growth and development is a beautiful thing! I am looking forward to her continued growth, and watching her come into her own as a big sister. Before we know it, she'll be graduating kindergarten, graduating sixth grade, celebrating her sixteenth birthday, and going off to college. And until then, I will cherish every moment...

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Portals Into God's Presence: Just a Closer Walk with Thee

This past Sunday, during morning worship at the New Hope Baptist Church, there was a guest soloist whose song stirred and convicted my heart. He sang, "Just a Closer Walk with Thee." Sometimes, it is easy for our feet to stray from God, closer to things that do not matter. Sometimes we are walking with Jesus, but somehow or another we've lagged behind a few steps. Sometimes we get so excited about what God is doing in our lives, we run out ahead of God. But, if we take the teaching of Jesus seriously, we would know that if we seek first God's kingdom—in other words, walk as closely to God as we can through devotion, prayer, study, and service—that all other things (the stuff we sometimes chase) will be added to us (Matthew 6:33, my translation). I'm in this place (again) where I want to walk as closely to Jesus as possible, and so this song, author unknown, has really ministered to me all week long:
I am weak, but Thou art strong;
Jesus, keep me from all wrong;
I’ll be satisfied as long
As I walk, let me walk close to Thee. 
Just a closer walk with Thee,
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea,
Daily walking close to Thee,
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.
Through this world of toil and snares,
If I falter, Lord, who cares?
Who with me my burden shares?
None but Thee, dear Lord, none but Thee. 
When my feeble life is o’er,
Time for me will be no more;
Guide me gently, safely o’er
To Thy kingdom shore, to Thy shore.

While different in style and sound than the soloist on Sunday, I absolutely love this rendition of "Just a Closer Walk with Thee" by Wynton Marsalis and Eric Clapton. I hope you love it, too!

Beloved, where are your feet headed? Are you walking close to Jesus, chasing other things, lagging behind, or a few steps ahead? If, like me, you've lost your footing for a while,  let's purpose to walk closely with Jesus each and every day of our lives.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Portals Into God's Presence

As I continue to bask in the glow and grace of the Resurrection of Jesus, this hymn keeps coming to my heart and lips. "Because He Lives" is a resurrection hymn not just for the Easter season, but for every season and situation that you and I may face in our lives. From chaos to crisis to challenge, the believer can declare, "Because He lives, I can face tomorrow, because He lives, all fear is gone; Because I know He holds the future, and life is worth the living, just because He lives!" So our hymn for this week is "Because He Lives" written by Bill Gaither. The accompanying video is Bishop G.E. Patterson singing "Because He Lives" during an alter call on Easter Sunday in 1994 at Temple of God Church of God in Christ. Beloved, when life gets rough, let the words of this hymn motivate you to walk in resurrection power to get through whatever situation you may be facing.
God sent His son, they called Him, Jesus;
He came to love, heal and forgive;
He lived and died to buy my pardon,
An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives!  
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,Because He lives, all fear is gone;Because I know He holds the future,And life is worth the living,Just because He lives! 
How sweet to hold a newborn baby,
And feel the pride and joy he gives;
But greater still the calm assurance:
This child can face uncertain days because He Lives!  
And then one day, I'll cross the river,
I'll fight life's final war with pain;
And then, as death gives way to vict'ry,
I'll see the lights of glory and I'll know He lives! 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Portals Into God's Presence: Low In the Grave He Lay

One of the hymns that is imprinted in my heart and on my tongue is "Low In the Grave He Lay." Although I am not a very good singer, I was a member of the youth choir at the Bethesda Baptist Church during my teenage years. One year, under the direction of Alan McBride, we prepared to sing "Low in the Grave He Lay" for Easter Sunday. At that point in my life I cannot assuredly say that I had surrendered my life to Christ, but still the words of that chorus simultaneously pierced and encouraged my soul. Some twenty years later, I am still encouraged by the words to this hymn. The resurrection of Christ—His victory over sin, death, and the grave—are the hope and promise to which I cling when these earthly days are rough. When I have grave-like days, I remember that the grave does not have the final say; The tomb has been opened and Christ is risen! His victory is my victory, and for that I am eternally grateful.

But this hymn not only points to the promise of new possibilities in Christ, this hymn is one of the reasons why I want my daughter to know the songs of Zion. It is why I sing hymns sweetly in her ear as she dozes off to sleep each night. It is why my heart is warmed when she, in her unique two-year old way, sings "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, there is something about that name..." You see, when I had turned my back on the church and on God, the lyrics to the songs of Zion had already been etched into my heart, mind, soul, and tongue. And in part of my repentance—my turning back to God—the Holy Spirit would bring these songs back to my remembrance (John 14:26). In all honesty, in the early stages of my faith formation I was shaped more by the great hymns of the church than by the Bible itself. As I grew in Christ, I came to know the Word that inspired the hymn writers to pen such powerful songs. By sharing the songs of Zion with Big Girl, and Baby Girl when she arrives, I am participating with God in the shaping of their faith.

"Low in the Grave He Lay" is a simple song about the profound mysteries of God. It is a song of triumph, not only for Christ, but for those who believe in His suffering, death, and resurrection. As Robert Lowry wrote in the refrain, "He lives forever with His saints to reign." On this Easter Sunday, my prayer is that you would walk victoriously in resurrection power on this day, and every day of your lives.
Low in the grave He lay—
  Jesus my Savior!
Waiting the coming day—
  Jesus my Lord! 
Up from the grave He arose,With a mighty triumph o’er His foesHe arose a Victor from the dark domain,And He lives forever with His saints to reign.He arose! He arose!  Hallelujah! Christ arose! 
Vainly they watch His bed—
  Jesus, my Savior!
Vainly they seal the dead—
  Jesus my Lord! 
Death cannot keep his prey—
  Jesus, my Savior!
He tore the bars away—
  Jesus my Lord!
Image taken from 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Portals Into God's Presence: Revive Us, Again

On Tuesday I had the privilege of sharing with the Rev. Dr. Gary V. Simpson, and the good people of the historic Concord Baptist Church of Christ in Brooklyn, NY for their Holy Week Revival. I love revival worship services—the people of God intentionally gathering for some Divine CPR. I preached from 2 Corinthians 4:4-12 with the subject, "Rising from the Dust." I was revived while preparing the message, and my prayer was that God was glorified and the people were edified.

As a hymn lover, I often look to the lyrics of the great hymns of the church to either pray (verbatim) or to guide and inspire my prayer before preaching. Tuesday was no different. Prior to preaching, I prayed the refrain to one of my favorite revival hymns, "Revive Us, Again." The refrain is both praise and petition: Hallelujah! Thine the glory. Hallelujah! Amen. Hallelujah! Thine the glory. Revive us again. If there is anything that I've learned in my short time in ministry: If I am going to preach and teach and serve in a way that is pleasing to God, God must quicken—revive—me by the power of the Holy Spirit each and every time.

As we commemorate our Savior's death tomorrow, and celebrate Easter on Sunday, may these words of praise and petition written by William P. Mackay, and inspired by the resurrection of Christ, revive your heart, soul, and mind.

We praise Thee, O God!
For the Son of Thy love,
For Jesus Who died,
And is now gone above.

Hallelujah! Thine the glory.
Hallelujah! Amen.
Hallelujah! Thine the glory.
Revive us again.

We praise Thee, O God!
For Thy Spirit of light,
Who hath shown us our Savior,
And scattered our night.

All glory and praise
To the Lamb that was slain,
Who hath borne all our sins,
And hath cleansed every stain.

All glory and praise
To the God of all grace,
Who hast brought us, and sought us,
And guided our ways.

Revive us again;
Fill each heart with Thy love;
May each soul be rekindled
With fire from above.

Image taken by Rev. Dr. Emma Jordan Simpson, Executive Pastor at Concord Baptist Church of Christ, Brooklyn, NY. Follow her on Twitter: @RevEmmaJ

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Portals Into God's Presence: Blessed Assurance

Today's hymn is one of my all-time favorites. It's probably the first hymn that I knew by heart. And when my heart is heavy, it is one of those songs that bubbles up in my spirit to lighten the moment. There is something assuring, and reassuring, about having a personal relationship with Jesus and letting that relationship shape the narrative of your life. There is something assuring about being able to declare with confidence, "This is my story, this is my song." My story. My song. In other words, I know that I know that I know that no matter what is going on in my world, I can experience the glory and delight of relationship with Jesus. So, our hymn for the day is Blessed Assurance written by Fannie J. Crosby. One of the beautiful facts about Fannie Crosby and this hymn is that she was blind from shortly after her birth. But without physical sight, she had spiritual sight and insight to pen great hymns like Blessed Assurance, Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior, and To God be the Glory!

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
born of his Spirit, washed in his blood.

This is my story, this is my song, 
praising my Savior all the day long; 
this is my story, this is my song, 
praising my Savior all the day long. 

Perfect submission, perfect delight,
visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
angels descending bring from above
echoes of mercy, whispers of love.

Perfect submission, all is at rest;
I in my Savior am happy and blest,
watching and waiting, looking above,
filled with his goodness, lost in his love.

And if that wasn't good enough, please enjoy Gospel great Shirley Ceasar doing her own thang with the song.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Motherhood and Poverty: How Ministry and Motherhood Have (re)Shaped my Perspective

Motherhood is the most magnificent, maddening experience I have had in all of my days. Magnificent because you get to witness and shape this little human being as they grow into their purpose. Magnificent because of the joy you feel when you look into their eyes and hear their laughter. Magnificent because you know that through them you are participating in God’s work of creation. At the same time, it can be maddening. Maddening because you second guess every decision you make. Maddening because as you as you gain confidence in yourself as a parent, someone else comes along and (loudly) second guesses every decision that you make. Maddening because the toddler (and teenage) years are real doozies. I feel this profoundly when I think about the geographical distance that separates me from my mother, my sister, and my closest sister-friends. Every day, and most especially on Sundays, I am grateful for our New Hope Baptist Church family—particularly the women. As I’ve written before on this blog, and in an article I published for Urban Faith Magazine, motherhood thrives in community. It takes a village to raise a child. But I firmly believe that it also takes a village to guide a woman as she grows into motherhood.

Poverty is defined as the state of being extremely poor. The poverty line is the estimated minimum level of income needed to secure the necessities of life. According to the National Poverty Center, the poverty threshold for a single parent with two children in 2010 was $17, 568. I cannot imagine securing much of anything for a single person, let alone a family of two children, making less than $18,000/year. Admittedly,  I have never been poor. However, I know the profound effect that poverty has on individuals and communities. Homelessness and food insecurity, to name a few. As such, poverty can lead to desperation. Just yesterday, the Academy award nominated actress Viola Davis was on the Ellen show talking about growing up poor. She admitted to dumpster diving and stealing from grocery stores as a child just to secure meals. Poverty can cause good people to sometimes make bad decisions for the sake of survival. This is illustrated in Erykah Badu’s song, “The Grind.”  The chorus is hauntingly true for many in our society:
Every day is a struggle
How to hustle some doe
If you was raised in the hood
Well then you already know
It be days that be good
But mostly money be slow
Have you ever been hungry before?
Have you ever been hungry before? Have you ever been homeless before? Have you ever not known how your basic needs would be met? In the verse of "The Grind" Stic-man from the hip-hop group Dead Prez rhymes about the necessity of crime in order to survive. Ethically speaking, in this case crime is not the end, survival is:
Mommy got a job makin' bout six-somethin' an hour
She became the breadwinner when daddy was unemployed
Working forty-plus hours and kissing ass
Seeming like the only honest way she can get some cash
She struggglin' - she don't know I be hustlin' pulling my own weight
I be hearing them fuss and fightin' at night mad late
Over economics; it's logic meaning they don't got it
Living in the projects, money's the only object
She makes $280 a week, standing on her feet
The ends aint even meeting - the family ain't eatin'
Cause if taxes is 10%, and the rest if for the rent
Then crime is what u get and niggaz is innocent
See it really ain't about if you eatin' or not eatin'
It's breathin' or not breathin' - freedom or not freedom
'nother day, 'nother way, 'nother dollar spent
Gotta make a revolution out of fifteen cent.

I believe that poverty is a sin against God. Not that it is a sin to be poor, rather structures that support and propagate poverty so that a few thrive in opulence—while many others remain shackled by lack—breaks the very heart of a loving and just God. Jesus, in his initial sermon found in Luke 4, echoes the words of the prophet Isaiah as he describes the ministry for which he was sent: 
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. (NIV)
And so we don't over spiritualize his ministry, in Jesus' words, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10b). In a close look at Jesus' deeds, we see that while his coming was to secure eternal salvation for humanity, his embodiment in human flesh caused him to be concerned with the real physical needs of people—Jesus healed bodies, invited his disciples to rest, and fed the multitudes. With all of that in mind, I wonder how Jesus would respond to the story of Shanesha Taylor, an Arizona mother who left her two babies in the car while she was at a job interview. I know his heart would ache for her children—because children held a special place in his heart during his earthly ministry—but I wonder how he would feel about this mother being charged with felony child abuse. 

I know how I respond.

First, I am grateful to be in a position where I do not have to make such decisions. I am grateful to have resources to provide for our family, even beyond our basic needs. And even on days when I feel most alone as a mother, I have a loving husband, parents who are just an hour away, a few neighbors that we trust, and a church family to care for Big Girl should an emergency arise. And trust, when you are homeless and trying to get your family on its feet, a job interview is an emergency. In her situation, I cannot say whether or not I would have left my children in a car in an effort to secure a job that would provide food, clothing, and shelter for them. Hear me: I'm not saying she was right. I'm saying she was desperate. As I said above, poverty can cause good people to make bad decisions for the sake of survival.

A few years ago, upon hearing the story I would have immediately judged her. But now that I am a mother, and a minister of the Gospel, I cannot judge her. I also cannot justify her actions, either. In fact, her situation raises many questions for me. If she was homeless, chances are she could not afford childcare. The cost of childcare in the country is crazy to begin with—it is the reason even well established families opt for mom (or dad) to stay home with their children until they are of age to attend public school. Surely, she would have cost herself a job if she brought her children up to the interview and asked a receptionist to watch them. Which is why I do not fault this mom.  I fault the system in place that does not provide adequate support to women trying to provide for their families. What are the childcare options for homeless moms? Do homeless shelters have clean and caring childcare centers should such a need arise? Why was she criminalized and her children taken away from her, when the intent of her actions was far from abuse and neglect? Where was/is her village? Where is the children's father, and why is he not being discussed in the story?

All that said, I believe that Shanesha Taylor did what she thought was best to care for her children. She did what I set out to do every day. She did what most mothers set out to do every day. But, her circumstances—the reality of extreme poverty in one of the richest nations in the world—have thrust her story front and center. Perhaps, instead of condemning and criminalizing this mother, we would take this opportunity to condemn and criminalize the system that caused her to make such a tough decision just to survive.

On another note, I heard about this story around the same time that I heard about Lisa Atliff, the Pennsylvania mother who left her baby in a car for five hours while she was drinking in a bar. To be honest, I am quicker to judge this mom. She was at a bar, not trying to secure a future for her family. Even still, her story also makes me wonder about her village and her mental state. Post-partum depression is real. Isolation is real. Mothers, especially first-time mothers, need all the support they can get to raise happy and healthy children. 

image taken from,  copyright Zadeshe Freeman

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Portals Into God's Presence: Sweet Hour of Prayer

I’ll keep today’s post short, and sweet.

My throat started to feel scratchy early Tuesday morning. By the time Tuesday afternoon rolled around, I had a full fledged respiratory thing. I tried to ride it out with Tylenol—the all purpose drug for expectant mothers—but by the time Wednesday afternoon came I had a respiratory thing and body aches. I called my doctor to see if there was anything else I could do or take to ease my symptoms. I called my husband to come home early from work to care for Big Girl, and me, while I was laid up in bed. And, from then until now, I’ve been calling on Jesus in prayer. The only thing worse than having a sick baby is being a sick mommy. Your child’s needs don’t stop just because you need to. So, I’ve been praying. A lot. Mostly for healing and strength. And God has been faithful. Big Girl has been low maintenance today, so I’ve been able to get a modicum of rest since she’s been home from daycare. But that hasn’t stopped me from praying. With all of that in mind, our hymn for the week is my favorite hymn about prayer Sweet Hour of Prayer:

Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
That calls me from a world of care,
And bids me at my Father’s throne
Make all my wants and wishes known.
In seasons of distress and grief,
My soul has often found relief,
And oft escaped the tempter’s snare,
By thy return, sweet hour of prayer!

Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
The joys I feel, the bliss I share,
Of those whose anxious spirits burn
With strong desires for thy return!
With such I hasten to the place
Where God my Savior shows His face,
And gladly take my station there,
And wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!

Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
Thy wings shall my petition bear
To Him whose truth and faithfulness
Engage the waiting soul to bless.
And since He bids me seek His face,
Believe His Word and trust His grace,
I’ll cast on Him my every care,
And wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!

Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
May I thy consolation share,
Till, from Mount Pisgah’s lofty height,
I view my home and take my flight.
This robe of flesh I’ll drop, and rise
To seize the everlasting prize,
And shout, while passing through the air,
“Farewell, farewell, sweet hour of prayer!”

No video or audio this week. Meditate on the lyrics as you cast your cares upon God. In my particular situation I am especially drawn to the first and third verses. What about you? How is God speaking to you through this hymn?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Portals Into God’s Presence: O, How I Love Jesus

Last night I had the pleasure of worshipping at the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens, in Somerset, NJ. My pastor, Rev. Dr. Ronald L. Owens was the preacher for their Lenten service. My heart was not only warmed to be in worship one more time, but also because the hymn for the night was, “O, How I Love Jesus.” I was glad because we were singing a hymn. I’ve said it before—and will continue to say it—I love a good hymn. Next to the Word of God, my faith was given language through the theology of the hymns I sang as a girl. In an effort to reach young people, many churches are opting not to sing hymns in worship. This young, funky preacher loves the old and the new. I believe, if used prayerfully and considerately, that tradition can usher us into greater intimacy with God. All that is to say give me a hymn any day.

But besides loving a good hymn, I love this particular hymn. As I think about today’s moment of grace, this hymn embodies the very grace of God.  The first things of God’s grace is love; God’s unconditional, radical, looked beyond my faults and saw my needs kind of love as expressed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. I can love God—with every fire of my being—because God demonstrated and continues to demonstrate to me how much I am loved by God. As I prepared my Big Girl for bed tonight, I sang this hymn sweetly in her ear. I want her to know in her head and heart that God loves her and, because of God’s amazing love for her in Christ, that it is a pleasure to love God in her worship, her witness, and her walk.

There is a name I love to hear, 
I love to sing its worth; 
it sounds like music in my ear, 
the sweetest name on earth.  

O how I love Jesus, 
O how I love Jesus, 
O how I love Jesus, 
because he first loved me!
It tells me of a Savior's love, 
who died to set me free; 
it tells me of his precious blood, 
the sinner's perfect plea.

It tells of one whose loving heart 
can feel my deepest woe; 
who in each sorrow bears a part 
that none can bear below.

If you forward a minute and a half or so into the video, you will hear Kim Burrell give this hymn life. It's short, so when the music fades I dare you to begin to pick up where she left off and declare your love for Jesus in song. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Moments of Grace

It has been a long time.

A long time, indeed. 

Since my last posting, much has happened. I have been named the Minister of Christian Education and Church Life at the New Hope Baptist Church in Metuchen and a beautiful baby girl has been gestating in my womb. (I cannot believe I ran my first 10K while unknowingly four weeks pregnant!) Hubby and I are thrilled! To God be the glory!

At 18 weeks and counting...

Celebrating my mom's 65th birthday at 21 weeks...

Big Girl (the daughter formerly known as Baby Girl) doing her thing...

Big Girl has been growing by leaps and bounds in so many ways. It is amazing to watch her grow and develop into this twenty-two month old girl-child with smarts, sweets, a sense of humor, and stubbornness to boot. While I wish I could say that this pregnancy has been easy, it has been quite the opposite. I had many health challenges in my first trimester complete with a 3-day hospital stay. At this point, I still have really bad days (though they are fewer and far between). Taking care of a toddler while pregnant is something else the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. All of this while trudging through seasonal depression and a surge of wicked hormones from weaning Big Girl. I must admit, I had some days where my faith was faltering, days where making it to bedtime was my highest aspiration. What helped me through these times is to recognize the grace of God--God's unmerited favor and blessings--in the midst of it all.

There was a time when I could only communicate the grace of God in fluffy and lofty religious language. But recently, my eyes have been opened to see God's grace in the simple and the profound, in the ordinary and the extraordinary, without a separation of the secular from the sacred. For that revelation, I am grateful. I have been sharing these "Moments of Grace" on Facebook as a witness to the goodness of God and in hopes to encourage someone else--most especially another mother who may feel overwhelmed by the awesome responsibility that comes with parenting a young child. Posting has had another beautiful and unexpected consequence; When I sit down to share my moments of grace, my mind is flooded with so many to choose from. In the moment of posting, I am living out the words written by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippian church, "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things" (4:8).

I wanted to share these moments here, as a way of reentering the blogosphere. So, here goes:

Grace: Baby Girl sleeping late so I could get ready for the [St. James AME Newark Women's Ministry] conference, hearing two different--but equally dynamic--women of God bringing the Word, and hubby taking Baby Girl to park so momma can relax even though he had her all day. I am blessed, indeed!
March 15, 2014

Grace: yesterday Deaconess Jaime slipped me two packs of crackers to put in my robe before worship in case I get hungry. Church is one of few places that still takes good care of expectant mothers.
March 16, 2014

Grace: Shampooing, detangling, rinsing, finger coiling, and blow drying Big Girl's hair without a single tear being shed. In fact, there were giggles and smiles.
March 17, 2014

Grace: having a rough mommy-to-be day and Big Girl wanted to go outside in her car. Grateful for our church member/neighbor who came by to take her out. This is the same woman who keeps her during worship. They have a great relationship and, for that, I am grateful. It really does take a village. Motherhood thrives in community.
March 18, 2014

Grace: got home well past Big Girl's bedtime after a wonderful worship service. Big Girl was silly tired (as opposed to cranky tired) which made for a fun and enjoyable dinner, bath, and bedtime.
March 19, 2014

Grace: Singing Big Girl to sleep in my arms while Little Girl in my womb danced along to the rhythm.
March 20, 2014

Grace: surrendering to Jesus' teaching to become as a little child--both in wholeheartedly trusting God and in the reckless abandon with which I slid down the slide today playing with Big Girl.
March 21, 2014

Grace: Sleeping in until 8:00am this morning. That may not seem like a big deal to many, but when your child is an early riser, sleeping in is better than being in Oprah Winfrey's audience during a "My Favorite Things" taping.
March 22, 2014

and lastly, my Moment of Grace from today...

Grace: Being encouraged and gently nudged to return to blogging by a seemingly random, but totally Holy Spirit inspired, group of friends who miss my voice and point of view.
March 23, 2014

Beloved, today will you pause to identify God's active and amazing grace in your life?