“There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:42 NLT
We Christians are talented artists, professionals, business-persons, dutiful sons, daughters, spouses, parents and friends. We work hard for the money and dispatch our ministry duties with all the diligence our little bodies can muster. We are Marthas (and Martins), trying to always do the right thing. But could it be that the very “right things” we focus so hard on are distracting us from assuming the posture God longs for us to take?
“In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.” – Mark 1:35 NASB
Three o’clock in the morning. That’s when my “Holy Spirit Wake-Up Calls” come. Most of the time it’s just a soft nudge. Sometimes it’s an urgent jolt. Every time, though, I marvel that He cares enough to wake me for our communion. Me. With my history of self-centered rebellion, yet He still chooses to work with me. Amazing. So my response is to immediately steal away and begin our discourse. Sometimes I move to another room in the house but most of the time He has me stay put in my bedroom. I praise, I ask for forgiveness of my sins, I worship. I petition on behalf of my family, my friends, my enemies. I consecrate myself and my day to Him for His use. I ask that He show me who needs to hear of Him from me and that He strengthen and embolden me. Then the Holy Spirit has His say. He never lays out His plans from start to finish. Sometimes I get to see first steps and sometimes only the final picture. I hear a lot of “I got that” to the things I voice anxiety over.
God wants to hear from us so badly that not only did He ensure that the examples of Jesus pursuing His solitude in prayer made it into the Holy Bible, but He lovingly taps us “awake” to speak to us. For some of us it’s the morning wakefulness, for others it’s God’s Voice we “hear” in some of our circumstances. Either way, again, it is amazing that an all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present God loves us that much.
Finding Jesus missing from the house He was sleeping in, the ever dutiful Simon Peter went searching for Him and when he found the Master, told Him everyone was looking for Him (Mark 1:36, NASB). Simon hadn’t realized Jesus was receiving confirmation from God. I wonder if Jesus was feeling “antsy” after performing so many miracles in Galilee and ready to move on to bigger things–the re-education of His people about The Kingdom of God. I wonder if He shared His feelings with His Father, Who lovingly agreed that yes, it’s time to be about His purpose.
What if Jesus only checked in with God once a week (like on the Sabbath)? What if He only called on His Father when times got hard? How would the passages on Jesus’ prayer life change? Time and time again, He is reported as rising and getting alone, or praying right there on the spot. In other words, He and God had a regular channel of communication. And as His Believers, so should we.
I wonder if Jesus responded to Peter with a smile on His Face when He said, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.” (vs. 38) As wonderful the good times of life can be, nothing compares to the joy inside when you find yourself ON MISSION!
“But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. ” John 20:24
“Lorna, you just need to get out of your head!” That’s what my dance teacher told me after I voiced frustration over being so slow to catch-on to new choreography. I asked, “Why do I keep hearing that? I’ve even been told that at dance conferences from facilitators who don’t even know me!” She smiled knowingly and gave me homework, which ultimately became HEART-work. “You don’t have the faith that you can dance the way we can see you dance.” Laying her hand gently on the center of my chest, she continued, “You have it in you-the ability to learn and move how God wants you to move, but sometimes you doubt and get frustrated when you make mistakes. But we ALL make mistakes as we learn these dances, that’s how we learn! You must be ok with seeing yourself make mistakes. I want you to study the encounter between Thomas and Jesus in the 20th chapter of John. Let’s see if that helps you.” I eagerly dug into this familiar passage that very night and over the course of a week, I not only found myself relating to Thomas on a new level, but God showed me how I should be responding to His instruction in the process and I learned just how critical this exchange between Jesus and Thomas was to the whole world.
I mentioned in a previous posting that our dance academy is a mix of experienced and inexperienced dancers. (Shout out to Missy and Seeds Of Praise Dance Academy, Charlotte, NC!) Some know the “language” better than we less experienced students and can move quickly from learning choreography to MINISTERING in movement. Traditionally, Thomas has been looked down on as a “doubter”. But verse 24 offers at least some reasoning for his point of view: He was not there when Jesus first appeared to the other disciples. Would they all have instantly believed by word of mouth alone that Jesus had risen from the dead? We may never know, but what we do know is that Jesus had mercy on him and did indulge his questioning, actually telling Thomas to touch the injuries to His crucified body (verse 27) as proof it was his Teacher. Some see the comments from Jesus as Thomas received the confirmation he needed as an admonishment. I see it simply as God saying to us that a “seeing is believing” mindset is a humanistic way of functioning (which is “ok” for some). But taking Him at His Word enough to believe without tangible proof is the purest definition of FAITH (which is the Believer’s very foundation)! That kind of faith is what God expects from us in order to tap in to His best for us. Jesus simply “breathed” on the group who saw Him first, and they received the Holy Spirit with power to accomplish His works (verses 22-23).
In dance ministry, my “seeing” is being a witness to the process of the Holy Spirit working first in ME before I can then become His ambassador within this art form. It is not pretty, watching the body come under submission of God’s shaping, but then it cannot be. If He is the Potter and we are the clay, we are shapeless forms with a purpose yet to be revealed after much molding, shaping and even (gulp) FIRING into the vessels God can use in this world. And it is so worth it.
The Holy Spirit was also with the Apostle Thomas, who went from frowned-upon doubter to the one who traveled the farthest East with the Great Commission. He carried the Gospel of Jesus Christ to India, saving hundreds before being assassinated for it. Descendants of that nation’s first Christians are still there, serving God to this day.
It is a pleasure to share thoughts from a good friend of mine, Rev. Vickie Hughes on the blessings of God’s detours…
Are YOU that “Woman at the Well?”
In this Biblical narrative… Jesus was teaching, imparting His wisdom on a woman who wasn’t as accepted as others, because of her ethnicity. Now, this woman had two choices at that time, similar to the choices that Mary and Martha (two other Biblical women) had to make back then. Any of these women could have learned from Jesus; two of the three women actually took the time to listen intently to Jesus. Martha, on the other hand, chose to continue to engage in her own busyness, because that was all she knew. She was in her own world, focused on making herself look good to please Jesus. That wasn’t what Jesus required of her, so she missed it; “it” was the wisdom that she could have gained from Jesus.
How many of us travel through life with our own agendas, planning out our lives without God’s guidance and approval? Then we wonder why our plans don’t work out. What we want matters NOT. God already has each of our lives mapped out leading us through our destinies. We are the ones who seem to ENJOY taking detours. That is not God’s will for our lives. We delay our own blessings and destinies!
Trust me when I tell you that I’m writing from experience. I spent my entire adult life chasing my own career aspirations and dreams, until I started Seminary studies at age 51. I’d been called into Ministry late in life and even did THAT “my” way (at least for awhile, until God stopped me dead in my tracks and had a heart-to-heart talk with me)! Before truly heeding to God’s call, I never really thought about asking God for guidance or listening to His voice, before I pursued something else, moved to another place, or got involved with another romantic love interest. I’ve lived in 8 States since graduating from high school, have 3 POSTgraduate Degrees, have worked in different industries, and have some superficial involvements with friends/acquaintances all over this Country… Need I say anything more? You get it! Wholesome living? Hmmm…
So much heartache, frustration, and pain could have been avoided, if only I’d allowed Jesus to detain me at that well and teach me YEARS before I actually “got” it. That Biblical woman at the well, the Samaritan woman, may have felt unworthy to be in Jesus’s presence initially, but she quickly discerned that she was supposed to be at that spot at that very moment. She chose to not miss her blessing!
I encourage you to slow down and listen for/to God’s voice. If you stay silent and quiet enough for LONG enough, you WILL hear God’s voice. And I’m a living witness that God won’t steer you wrong, if you actually listen to Him. He will give You the same “living water” that He offered the woman at the well millenniums ago. Thirst for it! It assures you God’s protection here on earth and an eternal place in heaven.
Living water GIVES US life.
Rev. Vickie L. Hughes (An Ordained Deacon, AME Zion, who is currently serving as a Chaplain Resident at UT Medical Center in Knoxville, TN.)
“A Father of the fatherless and Protector of widows is God in His holy habitation.” ~ Psalm 68:5
As a daughter of a share-cropping preacher who moved his family to the city when boll weevils consumed the cotton fields he and our mother worked, I was exposed to experiences my daddy never got the opportunity to touch. Rev. L. B. Brown taught himself to swim and to drive a car. He was a laborer, was well-read and pastored churches for three decades despite only having an elementary school education. So on paper, it didn’t look like he had much to offer me as a father, but he did. What he had to offer was the dusty, gritty, unassuming walking path of regular commitment to worship and devotion to God and study of God’s word. He taught me it doesn’t matter how book-smart, popular or tech-savvy I became, I’d have no peace apart from a genuine, transparent relationship with the heavenly Father, through Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit.
Most biblical scholars are of the opinion that Psalm 68 is a celebratory song written for or by King David commemorating the connection between the Exodus from Egypt and the return of The Ark of The Covenant to Jerusalem from exile after being recovered from the hands of the enemies of Israel. The psalm praises God as the One Who goes before Israel, vanquishing her enemies in advance of the battles before her. David reclaimed The Ark, was taught and re-taught his hardened people the life-saving Covenant with God, then restored The Ark’s rightful place in Jerusalem among God’s chosen ones (read 2 Samuel 6). And God made all this possible in response to the hearts of the people turning back to Him, away from idolatry (albeit temporarily, due to our sin nature).
Growing up in a small town in Alabama, we lived in a large house with a wraparound porch, aptly shaded by two large ancient magnolia trees. I witnessed my dad routinely rise at five in the morning and retreat to the front porch with a cup of coffee, a fly swatter, his bible, a bible commentator and sermon notebook. There he would pray, read, study and write for hours with JOY! Despite his devotion (or maybe because of it–another story) my parents’ marriage was tumultuous. Yet my mother’s nagging always stopped just inside the screen door because the atmosphere of worship was set on that front porch. No one disturbed our dad there. Not because he warned against it. He didn’t need to. The Spirit of God was there. It pulled me. It beckoned me to join my daddy there. So I quietly followed him. Most of the time I sketched or read a novel of my own choosing as an adolescent and teenager, but sometimes my daddy shared the joy with which God blessed his heart with me. Like God for the embattled Israelites, my earthly father was clearing a path of devotion and worship before me. He knew I’d have battles to fight within and with the world and he ensured I was taught HOW to fight. He didn’t just preach it, he demonstrated it, through family conflicts, health issues, church drama and racism. I didn’t know it then, but he was fathering me the way Christ fathers us. My dad was helping me to forge weapons and mount a defense against spiritual enemies in advance.
My dad has been gone from this world for nearly twenty years now. It’s taken me nearly this long to realize just how great a general he was in this struggle of spiritual warfare. Armed with the knowledge of the battle plan of worship, devotion and obedience to God, we Believers are victors in advance.
“So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim Your might to another generation, Your power to all those to come.”
~Psalm 71:18 (ESV)
I’m sure you are seeing what I’m seeing. Little old ladies are becoming little old ladies much later in life these days. Gents are not acting like they’re “over the hill” in their forties anymore. Active seniors living communities are commonplace now when they were few and far between and only for the very wealthy when I was a kid growing up in the 1970s. A Center for Disease Control (CDC) report from 2011 revealed that nearly 76% of people in the southern US aged 50-54 years self-reported having “good/excellent” health. This statistic grew to nearly 78% for the same demographic in 2016 (https://nccd.cdc.gov/aging_data/). I don’t know about you, but I don’t know many retirees in their 50s or 60s sitting at home “chilling” anymore. The so-called “aged” is not only generally healthier, but they are also more attractive, sharper and more “antsy” than in just one generation ago. Cool. But WHY??
I believe this is the will of God. We live in a society that while its advances have created a populace that is generally smarter and healthier, the same advances have created a population of self-made, successful loners. We are more spread out, away from family. And though the last recession did result in many multi-generational homes (in many cases, for the sake of survival), our current culture still champions the idea of each person “finding their own way”. But that is not what God intends for us. He intends for each of us to learn how to weather the issues of each stage of life in community. And He intends for these vibrant elders to address this imbalance.
There are many instances in the Holy Bible that reference the generational roles of Believers. Deuteronomy, Psalms, Proverbs, Titus, to name a few chronicles how our elders are to pass down the mighty works of God and model lives of holiness before the generation coming after them. Psalm 145:4 says, “One generation shall commend Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts” (ESV). Who better to accomplish this than us? If you are over the age of 40, (or over 50, like me) dear reader, and you have a seemingly unnatural level of good health, strength, and vibrancy that is no accident, my friend. It is for a purpose. You can be a life-changing catalyst and we are charged with bringing all our talents, our strengths, our “been-there-done-that” wisdom before the Holy Spirit and after giving THANKS, ask HIM what He would have us to do.
So how might we serve the Kingdom of God to win over straying youth and draw them to GOD? Beyond lecturing we model. Beyond dictating we exemplify. Beyond scolding we allow them to hear us call on the power of God to move, the blood of Jesus to save and the Holy Spirit to guide. We accomplish this by getting involved, weathering the attitudes and being present to answer the call as opportunities come. Then we wait and watch the Lord move within their lives. Our progeny is hungry and thirsty, not to declare “my truth” but to learn THE truth and how to live that truth out. I cannot rest. WE cannot rest. Let’s go get them.
If you are ready to accept and acknowledge Jesus Christ as your Savior, simply say so. Bring your sin before Him in prayer, asking for forgiveness and set your mind on repentance (never to commit those sins again) with His help. Now you need to connect with a community of Believers (a Holy Bible-teaching church) to support and edify your walk with Christ. Until then, for more support, I can be reached at email@example.com. God bless you.
“For what I am doing, I do not understand, for I do not practice what I will to do, but I do the very thing I hate.” – Romans 7:15 (MEV)
Despite being a novice dancer, I am blessed to lead a dance ministry at my church. And despite being in my 50’s, I thought it would be a great idea to enroll in a dance academy to improve my dance and choreography skills. You may smirk, but I actually am not the only one over 40 in this school, thank you! 🙂
This isn’t a typical dance school. This is an organization of worship arts ministry education in the dance styles of ballet, hip hop, modern/contemporary, liturgical, the use of props and mime ministry. Students range from the age of 3 and up and are at all levels of experience and abilities. Our leader is an ordained minister but is actually Alvin-Ailey-Dance-Theater-good. She felt led by the Holy Spirit to peel away from the secular world of dance and into using her talents to serve God and uplift the broken in spirit–dancers and viewers alike. Missy is ever encouraging, exuberant and vibrant (like her favorite color, yellow). She obviously loves God and loves people. Hers truly is a sacrifice of personal, worldly success for the Kingdom of God.
So here I am, giving it my all to the uptick in rehearsal sessions from once per week to three times as we prepare for the annual spring dance benefit concert. Now, I can be quite expressive in free worship dance, but when it comes to learning choreography, I am, shall we say, a slow learner. Thankfully, our “run-throughs” are videoed and shared among the students so we can practice on our own outside of the studio.
One recent Sunday evening, we were starting to work on adding formations to our ballet piece. This piece is beautiful. It is simple, but very expressive and moving. If it was a modern or contemporary dance, I’d have fewer issues with it, but with positions being as exacting as those in ballet, I am finding myself struggling with this untrained body of mine at a really embarrassing level. This is a loving and caring group and nearly everyone has his or her own personal bugs to work through with the choreography, so there is no ridicule or judging side-eyes. The embarrassment I have is all on me. I would remember certain sequences and forget others. I would lose my form. I would forget what was just taught to me. To further exacerbate my experience that night was when I would catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror I felt a jolt of shock at how I looked lumbering heavily across the floor with my hands appearing large and wide, opposite the elegant lines of almost everyone else. Kind of like a buffalo with fins. I was in tears by the end of rehearsal. I hung my head. Another very talented instructor patted me on the back after she had been dancing her heart out in my formation group, trying her best to queue me, sequence by sequence to no avail. Maybe I was just tired (it was the third practice session of the day for me), or maybe I’m just not good enough. I tearfully told Missy I would not be dancing the ballet piece.
She wouldn’t hear of it. She asked, “What do you need from me to make this happen?” “Ballet really is hard!” “Everyone was struggling!” “What can we do for YOU?” She offered extra practices and pushed back when I told her she had enough on her as it is (she is a working, married mom of two little ones as well). She hugged me and got me tissues. This is not what you get in “regular” dance classes. This is other-worldly stuff: God’s business. There are plenty of dancers in the piece. She could have easily released me and gave me an at-a-boy for effort, but she didn’t. She extended grace. I was overcome by grace. I then felt a different kind of embarrassment for caving into my feelings of defeat. This is not the behavior of a Christian who has “already won”! I thanked her for her patience with me and we scheduled an extra session for the following Saturday.
It occurred to me as I walked from the dance studio to my car feeling fully loved, what the Apostle Paul wrote in the seventh chapter of the Book of Romans about being dead to a life of sin and the push and pull within between living righteously and giving in to our carnality. On that dance floor, despite being fully aware of the order of movements and combinations, I failed to execute them correctly in my untrained body consistently. As a sinner, despite being saved by my confession of the birth, miracle-working life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, I still sometimes fail to execute righteous living in my body on this earth. Jesus knew this war would be waged within His Believers in this world. That is why He graced us with His Holy Spirit (see Galatians 5:16-25). No, I cannot dance our concert to perfection today. I need practice and lots of it and just like I need the Holy Spirit to operate within me as I minister through dance, I need Him to operate in my life and to guide my daily choices from moment to moment.
That evening in bed, as I propped up my sore feet and swollen knees, I praised God for how He reveals His love and concerns for us through the people and circumstances around us. Yes, I will take advantage of extra practices. I will practice at home. I will practice in my head as I drive. I will practice in my kitchen as I cook and clean. And in between, I will daily admit to God that I can neither minister through dance nor live to His glory in my own power. If I did, I’d end up doing the very things I, as a child of God, hate. I need You, Holy Spirit. Amen.
“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (3 John 1:4, ESV)
My five surviving siblings and I had to end our long goodbye to our ailing mother on January 19, 2019. She was ninety-three years old. She was a retired nurse, the child of sharecroppers from Georgia and she was a FORCE of nature! Yes, she was only human, but even strangers, after just meeting her would have to admit that she had a unique way of approaching the issues of life and did not hold back on sharing her position on a matter, sometimes unsolicited. The word “force” applies to our mom’s persona because no matter how often she was knocked down, she would bloom again, like a spring bulb following a dreadful winter. She was so resilient, our dad often joked that she would outlive us all!
She never seemed to tire of answering the questions of life I would toss to her until my teen years when my line of questioning would lead down the road of challenging her belief system. “Just keep on living”, she’d say when her responses no longer quenched my desire for more wiggle-room or areas of grey. Mama used the phrase so often, if she had tweeted or had an Instagram account, “Just Keep on Living” would have had its own hashtag. She believed when her verbal remedies to my queries would not satisfy my challenges, then the Holy Spirit, through time and circumstances certainly would illuminate the answers reserved just for me. And for sure, on many an occasion, He did. Over time and circumstances, I discovered her wisdom in areas of negative associations, failed romantic relationships, being too trusting too soon, unhealthy habits. My “living” through those situations not only unveiled her wisdom but also helped mold me, as a mom, into a type of facsimile of my mother and her mother before her. That “force” just keeps on living.
Her “force” may have been defined by her personality, but it was rooted in her Christian faith. And though our parents didn’t always agree on doctrine, they ensured that their children’s foundations of faith were constructed of a belief in Jesus Christ. And as we “just keep on living”, our faith keeps on growing, just and she (and Dad) prayed it would.
(of Joy and Happiness) We live in an age of anxiety, stress and disappointment. Surely our benevolent God just wants joy and happiness for His creation, right? Well, yes and no. According to Webster, to be happy is “to feel or show pleasure or contentment”. Webster defines having joy as “feeling, expressing or causing great pleasure or happiness”. Good stuff, but we can have and were created for so much more. I’d like to unwrap some slightly deeper definitions of the concepts of joy and happiness through the lens of the Believer. John Piper, of desiringGod.org explains what “Christian joy” is, “…a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as He causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the Word and in the world”. Characteristically, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. infused brotherly love in his description of happiness stating, “Those who are not looking for happiness are the most likely to find it, because those who are searching forget that the surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others”. I imagine these descriptions, developed by these two preachers of God’s good news were undoubtedly somewhat influenced by the teachings of the Apostle Paul, who made eleven references to “joy” and “rejoicing” in his letters to the Philippians, written during his imprisonment for evangelizing. Paul thought it was important to encourage and praise efforts in the young Church to continue to spread the gospel under the power of the Holy Spirit, and choose JOY ( “Jesus Over You”, as one of my sisters characterizes it) even in the face of persecution and death. Paul opens one letter with selfless encouragement, “Therefore my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm, this in the LORD, my beloved.” ( Phil. 4:1 ESV) What about Jesus? How would our joy and happiness look to Him? He lovingly characterized how we Believers can connect to Him, be nourished by Him and experience true joy in the fifteenth chapter of John. He said in verse 11, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full”. So then how is a Believer truly “in” Christ? When we with great effort do as Jesus tells us to in His Word: “…If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me”. What “cross”? Whatever breaks your heart. Whatever binds you to this world and burdens you. Bring it with you. Then what? Follow? To follow Christ is to immerse yourself in His teachings, model His ways, applying His ways to your burdens. So where does the “joy” come in? It comes in the inevitable exchange of your desires for His. Whatever moves Him to act, moves you to do the same. You are less worldly tethered and more Kingdom-minded. Not lofty, mind you, but with the help of the Holy Spirit, actually grounded in God’s desires for you. My conclusion? To live in a state of Christian joy and happiness is far more valuable and lasting than the temporal happiness of my small self-revolving world. House flipped, joy and happiness ensues.
Puzzle pieces, taken as individuals look pretty interesting. Some are colorful, some are not. Some are really irregular and some have straight edges. If they could talk, they may wonder why. “Why am I so curvy?” says one. “Why am I so boxy?” says another. “Why am I tri-colored?” or “Why am I so plain?” Scattered about, you have a puzzling “mess”. Is this random? No, because unbeknownst to these precious pieces, once the Puzzle-Creator starts to arrange them and connect them, a beautiful thing happens. These malformed pieces make a glorious picture.
You see, each piece’s contribution to the picture is priceless. The picture is just not complete with even one piece missing, and not one piece can duplicate itself on its own. You could say that each unique piece of the puzzle has a unique responsibility to the completion of the picture. Each has a duty to make it whole, its shape and color serving a visual and structural purpose all at once. It seems like each piece is obligated to lend it’s individuality to the beauty of the Puzzle-Creator’s creation.
“Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”(Romans 12:6-8 ESV)
So if you’re wondering why you have the physical attributes; the interests, talents, skills and abilities you have, just know that it is because they are needed. If you wonder why you must endure the experiences you’ve had, just know that they helped to configure you into the shape our Creator needs to complete the Big Picture, His Grand Design, His Master Plan. Do your part. Be responsible by being the best YOU that you can be. No one else could do it better.
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10 ESV)