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.