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.