New Year, Same God

darkness

Ephesians 2: 1 – 10

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

This is such a powerful scripture! It’s so full of love, grace, forgiveness and kindness that I just want to mediate on it to truly grasp what it is indeed telling me. When I read this scripture, what sticks out in my mind the most is the thought of having a “vain religion”. James 1:26 states:

If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridle not his tongue, but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.

Vain- having no real value; worthless

Jesus encountered religious leaders all the time that continued to question his deity because He didn’t succumb to what “they’ thought he should be doing. Those leaders were so caught up in the law that they couldn’t grasp their mind around grace. This isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. Currently, a similar epidemic is plaguing the church today. Too many “believers” are practicing religion but have a heart far away from Jesus. Too many are looking to condemn instead of providing truth in love. I am not speaking as an observer but as a former participator. I too have lived a life tangled in the web of the “I can’t help its” deceiving myself to believe I had the strength to save myself from my woes. With God’s loving pursuit of me, I now understand more clearly that it’s by God’s grace that I am saved and not my works. Therefore, how can I encounter anyone else without love and humility? Instead of viewing others faults and condemning them, how about if we collectively loved people with the same truth and love that God gives us? If someone is in darkness, don’t push them further in their pit but shine The Light so they can see how to get out of it. Jesus is that light and He is calling His followers to spread His name. Let’s glorify the Father together!

Can comfort be your idol?

seektheefirst

Matthew 10:38-39 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

This summer, I’m attending a small group book study every Tuesday night. We are reading The Prodigal God by Tim Keller. The book is about the parable of the 2 lost sons. I’ve frequently heard this parable preached with the entire focus being on the younger son; however, this book provides insight on how both sons were indeed lost. The book is riveting and I am learning entirely too much. I say too much because after each session I leave wrecked! Wrecked… in a good way though. Wrecked in a “Jesus loves me and is conforming into His image” way. I can go on and on about all the things I am discovering through reading this book, the Bible and through prayer but I’ll spare you…for now. I will just focus on what I learned last night. So during our discussion last night our facilitator brought up the topic of idols. He had a nice power point of various things that can become idols in our life. So as my eyes are scrolling this list, I stop dead in my tracks at comfort. “You know you have a comfort idol if your greatest nightmare is stress/demands.” After reading that, all I could hear were cricket sounds in my head. Like oh boy, I thought I was doing better on the idol front and now I am smacked in the face with a new revelation. I KNEW I was guilty. I sat there, asked questions and pondered this new discovery all night. Let me give you a little more info about me, pretty much everything I do, want and need stems from my own level of comfort. Don’t get me wrong, I will serve, help, assist and encourage others whenever I can. I do know it’s not based on my own strength because if it was left up to me, I will spend my days in serious relaxation. So I know it is the Holy Spirit working inside of me. However, I often times avoid doing hard things; sacrificial things. It’s always easy to do the easy things but I know God is challenging me to do the hard things. Being holy should be my main pursuit. Avoiding things that bring discomfort to your life does not help to glorify God. Being a free-spirit, it’s easy for me to neglect something that requires discipline in place of something that is fun and self-pleasing. Lately, I’ve noticed a huge push for people to become minimalists now. I grew up with humble beginnings so the last thing I want is less. lol I have the means to shop, go out to eat frequently, attend weekly social events and put my son in several activities. I have validated this in my mind because I am always in search of a deal; however, I am still living in excess to ensure my comfort level isn’t disturb. What I lack is the discipline to do the things I should do without focusing on my happiness being the end result. David Platt describes how many Americans have domesticated Jesus into how we want to live our own comfortable lives when he wrote:

A nice, middle-class, American Jesus. A Jesus who doesn’t mind materialism and who would never call us to give away everything we have. A Jesus who would not expect us to forsake our closest relationships so that he receives all our affection. A Jesus who is fine with nominal devotion that does not infringe on our comforts, because, after all, he loves us just the way we are. A Jesus who wants us to be balanced, who wants us to avoid dangerous extremes, and who, for that matter, wants us to avoid danger altogether. A Jesus who brings us comfort and prosperity as we live out our Christian spin on the American Dream. (13, Radical)

How true indeed for many of us and we don’t even realize it?! It can be so subtle that we don’t realize it. We can see this with the surge of prosperity preaching that is taking over the airwaves. We hear this when people focus more on receiving blessings when the mere fact that we are saved and restored to the Father is the greatest gift we could receive. We witness this when believers look down on other believers for not looking the part or deciding to leave everything behind to do mission work. We hear people say, “it doesn’t take all that” when in fact it does take all that. What it takes is for us to live a life striving to be obedient to Jesus and not just when it feels right. It takes us having private time with Him to discover His path for our lives. Sure, we can’t do this on our own and Jesus knew that. He ascended so the Holy Spirit could descend and take up residence in us. We don’t have to rely on our own power to move from our comfort level because the Holy Spirit living in us believers will guide us! How awesome is that! I can’t think of a better blessing. So as I lay my Banana Republic addiction aside and get up from my comfort spot, I will seek Christ’s guidance to continue to wreck my world and make me more like Him.

Matthew 16:24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

Nothing ever could separate us

chained

Romans 8: 38-39 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

“Don’t get distracted by what other people say or even when you’re isolated with your own thoughts…the enemy will always try to trip you up or question your identity in Him. Just start free writing you will be surprise what comes out.” – My friend Tierra

I am my own worst critic. Is what I say to myself but that is FALSE! Satan is my worst critic but here I go again over-dramatizing my own opinion of myself. Somewhere down the line after many trials, I gained the innate ability to constantly doubt myself. I was one of those kids that thought the world was a stage. I had a sense of boldness and determination early on. So much so, that my mom took me to an audition when I was 7 years old to try out for the Cleveland School of the Arts. I vividly remember my audition like it was just yesterday. The prospective drama majors were told to read a small part from the Wizard of Oz. They gave us a script in advance with several different characters and we had to select only one character to recite. Well of course I memorized the entire script. During my audition, I recall seeing the judges face light up with joy as I ran over my lines. I immediately told them I could read more parts since I memorized it all so next thing I knew, people were coming into the audition room to see my act. I felt such a sense of purpose at the tender age of 7. I got accepted into the school and it was a wonderful experience. I learned so much. Fast forward a few years and now I am a theatre major competing with my peers for parts in plays. I am now getting critiqued on how I could have done things differently – smile more, smile less, work the room, stand still, become the character, be more modest. It was too much. It was no longer fun for me. I no longer enjoyed the process. However, those voices from my drama teacher and peers never left me. Instead, their voices became my own voice. I was able to critique any and everything I put energy into. Nothing I ever really did was good enough. People compliment my parenting skills, I brush it off. If I make a delectable dish and I get rave reviews, I brush it off. Even when writing this blog, I don’t really attempt to make it more public. I know all of this is because I can still hear the voices that now sound like my own. The voices that tell me that I shouldn’t even try to do more and I should just play the background where it’s easiest. However, God’s voice is becoming louder. He is showing me that I can find my identity in Him. I don’t have to stand in the background; I just have to stand in Him. He is my comfort, my strength, my help, my savior, my everything! When I get afraid, when I feel weak, He is there. For nothing can ever separate us! I am found in Him. The enemy doesn’t want me to rest in God’s promises so He will use anything to get to me, even my own voice. I am not that little girl on stage trying to entertain folks. I am now a woman, after God’s own heart, who is living to be obedient to her loving Father. The same Father that has provided gifts and talents that He doesn’t want to be hidden. I can take no pride in these gifts but I can use them to glorify my Father! How excellent is the name of God! If you are struggling today with this or a similar issue, know that you are not alone. You weren’t created to fade into the abyss but to glorify the Father in ALL your ways. God bless and stay encouraged. xoxo

To India and beyond…

New-Delhi

Acts 1: 6-8 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

I’ll let you in on a little secret… I am one of those closet missionary wannabes. Sounds funny but before joining Parkside Church, I was completely ignorant to the International Christian Missionary world. I love doing things in the community but I never really thought about leaving the United States for anything other than pleasure. When I joined my church, I met so many lovely people that have dedicated their lives to international missions. We also receive a missionary calendar that we pray through on a weekly basis. I have always been in awe of people who truly dedicate themselves and their time to full time service. I always considered that “lifestyle” to be way out of my scope. However, every since I watched Slumdog Millionaire (I know I am ridiculous), I have been completely obsessed with the children living in the slums of India. Being a mom, I can’t even fathom how hard their life is. I grew up in “the hood” but my experiences don’t come close to what the children living there face on a daily basis. Over the past few months, I have met many of my church members that have spent weeks or longer at the New Delphi Bible Institute ran by Pastor Isaac Shaw. I attended three presentations detailing the experiences of going to India. As I listened, I would just sit in my seat in awe of what God is doing there. Well fast-forward a couple of months and this “internal mission trip groupie” had the pleasure of meeting Gloria Shaw, Isaac Shaw’s wife. Okay let me just start by saying she is a lovely, kind and warm woman of God. She spoke to my life-group about all the things that are going on in India and with the 61 church plants there. I think I had a glisten in my eye because after her presentation she walked over to me and said I should come to the Institute to teach Vacation Bible School! Ummm seriously, how did she know I was a VBS teacher! The Holy Spirit is AMAZING! As I told her about how I want to go to India but I am a single mom with a son (cue in the excuses), her response was simply, “bring him along”. I think my heart leaped out of my body, did the running man and somehow jumped back in. So yea basically I am going to India the summer of 2014 for 2 weeks! I am way too excited! Not so much that I will be this awesome help (although I pray I will be), I know going to India will transform my life! I am praying that my son continues to grow in faith and develops an even stronger walk with Jesus. I want to become everything that Jesus has for me to be. I will have to pay for our transportation and Visa’s so I will try to figure out how to raise funds for the $1,500/pp flight. I just really know that God is giving me the desire of my heart even though I kept it a secret. Lol He is definitely all-knowing! Please pray for me as I prepare my mind and heart for this journey. xoxo

Take a load off

Sisyphean toil

Psalm 55:22, “Give your burdens to the LORD, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.” (NLT)

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” 1 Peter 5:7

The last few days I have felt mentally drained. It seems like a never-ending laundry list of task that I must accomplish. I was starting to get that overwhelming feeling of not holding everything together. My morning devotional was about casting your cares to the Father. After reading it, I decided to write a list of my worries. It started like this: debating on grad school, bills, child-care during the summer, preparing my son for 3rd grade, etc. As I looked at the list, the problems that have been plaguing me seemed small. God whispered to me about writing a similar list but this time about the things I am not worried about. As I started writing about how I feel secure in other areas such as my job, my home stability, my health, my regular meals, my child’s needs, my relationship with Jesus, family life…etc, I realized how the things that truly matter, God has already made provisions.

Sometimes we have to stop and think about the things that really matter. The glass really is half full. God provides soooo much for us but it’s easy to get caught up in the madness and pressures of society. Whether I go to grad school or not, God will still provide. If I have to wait a few weeks before sending Aiden to camp, I know I have loving people in my life that I trust with the safety of my child. If I have to pay small amounts on bills for now, I am blessed abundantly with a job that more than supports me and my child.

Recently, I started to sponsor a child from Compassion International. His name is Godwin and he is from the Togo. We are able to write letters back and forth. Godwin is almost a spitting image of my son. They are the same age and they love soccer, singing, church and reading. My son agreed to do extra chores in order to raise money to ensure we can keep supporting Godwin. I thought it would be a good way to teach selflessness and giving. Well last night we received a letter telling us all about Lome, the town Godwin lives in located in Togo. Only 30% of the children in Lome can go to school. Aiden learned about their community and the hardships they face. As I am trying to instill a sense of gratitude in my child, I see how God is trying to instill a sense of gratitude in me. God always holds up a mirror for me to see myself and that I am a constant work in progress. So I won’t spend this day worried about things I can’t really control right now. Instead I will rest in knowing that I have an omnipresent Father that cares about my needs, whether large or small. I can go to Him with all things and like a good Father does, He will give me what I need according to His perfect will.

The hope in heartbreak

Broken_heart

Romans 8:37-39

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Love can be such a fantastic, exhilarating and liberating experience! You have all these different views of how your love story will develop into a beautiful tale that your one day grandchildren will tell their children. Or maybe how you and your mate will serve Jesus, hand in hand, conquering the world together? Possibly, it’s the undoubting knowledge that you can trust this person with your innermost thoughts and fears without the air of judgment. Your mate will provide the satisfaction, contentment and love your heart has desired since you were a little girl. Love…such a beautiful thing UNLESS it doesn’t go according to YOUR plans. Unsustainable love has the opposite effect. You suddenly question every minute you spent with this person. You wonder if you ignored the signs, if the devil was using them to get to you or if you had a momentarily brain lapse with a brief stint of insanity! I say all of this sarcastically but we all have been there at one point or another. You know the place…it’s always open, has many visitors, yet it’s a very lonely place, no double occupancy allowed but you can stay as long as you like….can you guess it? Yep, it’s Heartbreak Hotel! What a place! Not only can you stay there but many musicians have provided a soundtrack of misery induced songs you can listen to or authors who have novels designed to keep you in a place of glum. It’s insane how this world makes it so easy to be sad and miserable. However, there is a solution. His name is Jesus. I know… I know. I knowwww what you are thinking. Oh doesn’t that sound just so easy Aisha? I have laid it down at the altar and I don’t feel any better. Or, it’s easy for you to say that, you don’t understand. I get it. People keep telling you the same thing. Well let me add something to my “Jesus is the remedy” saying. Heartbreaks are sometimes necessary to bring you closer to God. Gasp! I know, it shocked me too! It wasn’t until my heart was broken that I finally understood everything God was trying to tell me. I’m not the only one either. I have seen this play out with a few people. Now I am not suggesting this is everyone’s plight in life but for a hard headed few of us, God uses whatever He sees fit to draw us closer to Him. It wasn’t until I had a man pursue me and love me, just for me being me that I allowed my heart to get vulnerable to the point I was able to throw caution to the wind. I was able to be free like that innocent little girl that never had a guarded heart or a barricade of walls blocking anyone from trying to get in. I was truly free! But what I didn’t realize was that he was only able to love me with imperfect, human love. He wasn’t able to cover all of my needs…it’s actually not a realistic request either. His love seemed to satisfy me but it wasn’t eternal. As safe and as happy as I felt, it didn’t last. However, when things ended, I heard a whisper from my savior that said, “My love is not like that, it’s forever”. Right before I could pack my bags for a stay at heartbreak hotel, my loving savior reminded me how perfect His love is for me (and you too). There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting human love but there is something drastically wrong if we want it in place of a loving relationship from our Heavenly Father. I didn’t realize how much adoring affection was waiting for me in the arms of Jesus. There is so much hope in heartbreak. When we are broken, we recognize our need for our Father. He is pursuing us with His perfect, unchanging love. You don’t have to be sad, hurt or confused. We are in a fallen world and some of these types of things will happen. No matter how hard it seems, seek the Father for love and comfort. He really does answer prayers. Try it for yourself!

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