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Friday, July 16, 2010

He Spared My Life

My life was spared over an unexpected sale on men’ snakeskin boots. On a mundane southern afternoon, my mama reminisced against flashes of music from passing cars and sudden laughter from the open window. The sun’s light appeared brilliant against the sunken, dusty blue couch and crushed pillows that propped up her breast and arm. And as her voice fell against me like shards of glass, it was ironic that she sought to encourage me with her terrible news.

My mama told me to never believe that I was not meant to be here. That God had his hand upon me because she did her best to take me out. Upon learning of her pregnancy, she swiftly made an appointment and sat patiently in the clinic. And though he was late, she reassured herself that he would bring the money so she could move on without me.

But life would have it that he was delayed in route to the clinic by a sale on snakeskin boots. My mama shared when he walked in grinning in boots she’d never seen, she knew there was a problem. He apologized but kept proudly glancing at his feet as he shared he had always wanted a pair and they were finally on sale so she would just have to wait on the money.

Disappointed but determined, she made new plans to get me out the way. And as my mama sat in the clinic a second time, she tried to ignore the sinking feeling as the hands on the clock kept moving with no sign of him and the money. She learned later that he got arrested in route to the clinic for some mischief or the other. And so weary now, but not to be outdone my mother made a third appointment but she was too far along so she cursed everyone that worked there, including God who would not bring this to pass.

And so before I was introduced to the world, I survived three attempts on my life and entered the world under Genesis 50:20 “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” And within the secret plans for my death was borne a witness that we can all hold on to. That I am here, despite what others planned for me, because God never took his hand from me. And while he used snakeskin boots and sudden arrests to keep them off of me, there are symbols and stories in your life that demonstrates God’s love and protection of you.

And so as the light played against my mama’s pretty brown freckled face and I watched her beautiful lips tell of secret plots, I did walk away with something that would never leave me. I began to absorb that even if my own mama didn’t love me like she should, a greater power did. And while it’s hard to believe anyone can love you unconditionally if your own mama didn’t, it dawned on me that God cared enough about me to stop an unimportant black girl from having her way. And with my head resting on the cool bus window, the merest hint of a smile began to stretch across my face as I awakened to the understanding that I moved in favor.

My transparency about my beginnings is so you are able to embrace that His favor is the reason you are still here, despite what others planned for you. Your circumstances, challenges, pain, background, what people think of you…none of those can determine your destiny if you keep listening to who God says you can be. In her own tough way, my mama was encouraging me that I was here for a purpose. And that no matter what I would face through the years, I could look at that thing with courage because I did not face it alone.

Perhaps I’m here simply to share this simple truth... That God really loves you and will never leave you. Nor will he allow your enemies to overtake you, no matter how many times they come up against you. God is with you and His favor is simply a reflection of the immense love He has for you. I know it for myself and thought I’d remind you of that powerful truth.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Spiritual Soldiers

Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes..." Ephesians 6:11-17

One of the realities we all come to is that sometimes we are in the right fight but with the wrong people. We believe we are really at odds with a co-worker, another church member, or even the person we are in a relationship with. But when we come to the realization that it's not the individual we struggle against, but the spirit that is controlling them we can shift our approach.

When we focus on it being the person, then we fight them in the flesh where we can never have victory. Because the enemy is masterful at things of the flesh it's an uneven match. You can't bring a knife to a gunfight and that's what you do when you think you'll give that person back what they are giving to you. But when you understand that you are dealing with the rulers of darkness that are strategic in their assignments to destroy and kill you, then we have to know what weapons to fight with and protect ourselves.

The fact that they rule in darkness indicates that they cannot handle the light. And the light is the Word of God, which is why Psalm 119:105 says "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path." When the Scripture acknowledges that there is wickedness in high places that tells you that the enemy does have power. So it would be unwise to believe you can face such a formidable foe on your own strength. Your strength will come from the Word of God and He prepares us strategically for being spiritual soldiers.

God clearly directs us on how to protect ourselves, yet rather than put on the belt of truth, many of us are spiritually sagging. You can't be prepared to defend yourself from the world when everything about you reflects the world. And as we guard our chest, we are really being protective of what is placed in our hearts for there we find the seat of our conduct and character. And character is simply what you will do when you believe no one is watching.

Then He tells us that our feet should be fitted in Christian cleats so we can hold our ground, despite the elements that seek to make us lose our footing. And that shield of defense against the advances of others is surely made from the promises of God.

The enemy is relentless and if he can defeat us on the battlefield of our minds, our flesh will easily follow. But we must be clear that the fight is not physical, it's not against the person in front of us; it's one of spirit and in that we have the confidence that we have already been given victory. But we can delay or forfeit the promised end when we do not rely on God's strength.

We have all been prepared for these ceaseless battles and as spiritual soldiers, we should be tireless in working towards "'Well done, good and faithful servant!"

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Dichotomy of Dying to Live

By Jothany Blackwood

One of the most powerful lessons that has been translated from the pulpit to the front porch is that we must die to the things of the flesh in order to live as Christians. And while that is not always an immediate transformation, it provides a model for the dichotomy of Christian living. And it is found in this conflicting idea; that in order to live a life of purpose, you must first die to the ways of the world.

And the challenge for many of us is not with the death of a thing, but it is in the mysterious act of living afterwards. We have all had some experience with death; whether from the intimacy of its embrace of loved ones or the recognition that it waited patiently for us like an unwelcome visitor with no place to go.

We recognize, however, that we have experienced the emotional death of relationships that promised so much and friendships that summoned our trust with ease. And after they ended, we were left with the pain of here's another one that didn't love us and we readjusted our masks with a heavy sigh.

Many of us have shouted, prayed, cried and danced our way through spiritual death as deliverance revealed that which had quietly offered promise underneath. It left us with a transparency that not only allowed us to see what we had survived, but even greater it offered the reflection of who God said we could be.

As I was dealing with my grandmother's death, my soul cried out from the uncertainty of how to live without her. And many of us are in that place of ambiguity that seeks clarity on how to live again without the familiar issues or behaviors that accompanied us until we met Christ.

Yet the resurrection indicates that after the death of certain behaviors and ideas, it is followed by living in fulfillment of one's purpose. If we can allow our hunger for the things of the world to die, then surely God will sustain us in every way. We can be confident in the knowledge that the essence of this dichotomy is not simply that we must die to live, but that all that we are belonged to God all along.

And since Jesus died and lived to tell about it, perhaps our story can also tell of how we rose again from our circumstances and challenges and lived a renewed life. Each day we get the chance through Christ to rewrite and create our own story and as my grandmother would often say, "You just make it a story to tell!"

Saturday, April 3, 2010

His Only

By Jothany Blackwood

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

Nothing expresses the concept of God’ love more comprehensively than John 3:16. It’s a scripture that children are taught to learn and adults learn to lean upon. When the Scripture speaks of God’s love, we must embrace the fact that it is not limited to a selected few or one favored group. If that was the case, it’s a real possibility we would not be included. But it is an inclusive love that has the breadth to go beyond our failings and the depth to lift us from our falls.

When John declares this gift is for the whole world, it’s inspiring because it means that even folk like us still benefit from its reach. Folk that may not be where they need to be yet but are pressing forward are renewed by His presence. And His love transforms the possibilities in our lives into purpose and we are simply better because of it.

Think of the ways in which we share our love for our mates, family, friends, even in our giving to strangers. We may choose service, affection, gifts, or simply language to transfer our feelings to that individual. But God’s love is expressed in the giving of his most priceless gift, His only son Jesus Christ.

When I reflect on the reality that He gave His only, I realize that normally we wouldn’t give people our only of anything. Human nature would caution us to keep back something for ourselves. Even the most benevolent spirit that freely shares would hesitate on giving away their only coat, their only car, or their only dollar.

I recall as a child, if there was only one of something left in the refrigerator, you asked for it. The only slice of pie or only cup of milk had special significance because it might be needed for something important or promised to someone else. If you dared take the only of anything without permission, it was certain that you would bring the wrath of Big Mama upon your little head.

And so I’ve always been encouraged that John reveals that God “so loved” us that his love is solidified with action and not just in words. It moved beyond rhetoric to the reality of giving that which He valued most, Jesus Christ. And we are all beneficiaries of that wonderful gift.

And so the immense power of God’ love is that He says, “I’m not just going to give you what I have, I’m going to give you all I have.”

God chooses to love us even when we aren’t that loveable and gently looks beyond our faults. And therein rests the power of love. That it gives us not only the chance to become better, but to become a part of something greater than ourselves through His love.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Word for the Weary

by Jothany Blackwood

“The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary…” Isaiah 50:4.

It is amazing that God would empower regular folks like us with the ability to impact people around us in meaningful ways. That he would recognize that we would need access to his power to endure the perils of this journey and use us to speak a relevant Word so his people might be changed. We have all been given the very real power of uplifting and encouraging our brothers and sisters through the Word of God.

That means that we have access to the Spirit and power that resides in His Word, and it can manifest itself in our lives. When we speak over our situations, then we must also believe in the things God said will come to pass, especially when there is no evidence of it.

God rarely blesses us just for ourselves, but we are conduits for him to bless his people. He understands that sometimes we need to receive understanding, a renewing word, and a timely prayer from folks whose lives reflect ours in more tangible ways. We can then appreciate that what God places in us is bigger than us and that the gift is to be used to uplift and encourage so that they may also walk in their purpose.

The experiences we have come through, though weary, have made us stronger and we can then translate that knowledge into a pathway for others to find their way. God sent you ahead in that struggle so you could then return to his people and tell them how to survive it. And more importantly, to survive it whole.

See there are others who could not have handled what you went through, who would have given up facing those conditions, who wanted to die from the pain, but because of the Word God planted in you, they were able to continue the journey.

The wisdom that God has given you from your testimony was not just for you, but he trusts us to speak that into people’s lives. This is so they may know his power, his love, his grace, and his presence, even when it seems we are alone.

We are never alone and he needs you to remind someone of that simple truth. And though weary from our struggles, it will be our sharing of the life changing power of God in our lives that will make the difference in these uncertain times.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Transparency of Single Moms

Being a mom is a powerful lens for viewing the amazing way that the Lord loves us. When you look through His transformative lens, you realize that if He has called you to motherhood then it can become an act of praise in itself. That your relationship with and response to your child should reflect evidence of the depth of the love we experience with Him.

And our circumstances may reflect a diverse range from raising children in traditional households to courageously operating through His power as single moms. In all of these dynamics, we must embrace that God is extending the chance for us to become better through the journey of raising our children.

Yet, the quiet truth is that for many single moms, it is also a journey that is shaped by a myriad of conflicting emotions. That for as much joy and fulfillment we experience, it is also infused with challenges that could be better responded to if we felt safe to share with other believers.

If we could be transparent, we would share the nights of weeping that questioned if joy would ever knock at morning’s door. Or how we crumbled inside as children cried for fathers whose absence we could not explain and the inadequacy of feeling we were not enough on our own.

If we were transparent, we would express how overwhelming it can be to parent alone, work, go to school, work in the church ministry and make it all look good so we were awarded our superwoman card. If we were transparent, we could take our attention from coordinating our superwoman capes to our designer shoes and finally tell our truths with relief.

If only we could be transparent to one another, then we would see that we are not in this alone. That we are knitted into a community of believers so that we can help each other heal the brokenness, release our failures, and eventually learn to forgive ourselves. That the absence of these things translates into the presence of women transformed by the love of Christ and better equipped to reflect that same love at home.

If we were transparent, then we could look back over the journey and clearly see that God has been with us every step of the way. Otherwise, how did we do it? You may have looked to be doing it alone, but the truth is that you could not have survived it, much less excelled in your role without His power.

God knows what He placed in you and your children have demonstrated the evidence of that deposit of love. The only thing left is for you to see that the journey will end with “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And now all that is left is for you to walk into it.

A Spiritual Dialect

My grandmother had an expression that captured the myriad nuances of testimony and its power to transform. As we sat around her porch on humid, southern nights, she would open her stories of God’s goodness with “honey, it’s a story to tell!” As though there are some stories only to be read, others folded like worn quilts in the secret places of our hearts, or still others that dance unrestrained like leaves upon a sudden breeze.

But what I sensed in her expression was the urgency of sharing our testimonies. That engaging in a communal dialogue about the Spirit connected us to an individual transformation and ultimately, a collective one as a body of believers. When we keep the power of God to ourselves, we miss the lesson that was meant not just for us, but for others. That our overcoming is a roadmap for how others can continue their destinies uninterrupted.

Testimonies are simply our stories translated into a spiritual dialect, where our sundry experiences are shared in the same voice. The barriers that once separated us become less meaningful. Instead we are connected through the strength of learning that someone not only survived their circumstances, but came out of it unbroken. Where the story from the other side offers a reflection of who you can become, a compass for direction, a light in darkness and confusion, and manna for your soul.

The Word teaches that we overcome through the testimonies of others, so embedded in that is an edict that we must give voice to our experiences. That the articulation of our journey with God carries power beyond our words, but that it morphs into an agent of change when shared. You are standing now because you heard of someone who did the same. You can shout now because you read of someone who shouted out of what you are going through.

And so knowing that testimonies by their nature must be shared, we gathered around the porch on humid, southern nights to share how we made it over. And by the time the front porch crowd thinned and Big Mama shooed us all home… you knew that no one left that porch unchanged.