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?