Helping women live victorious lives in Christ

As I write this blog, we are six days before Christmas.  This holiday season (starting with Thanksgiving) and anticipating the season has been difficult, as this is the first season without my mother, who passed away on January 6 of this year.  As the fall approached and we drew closer to the holidays, I began to dread figuring out what to do.  In particular, I wasn’t sure what to do about New Year Eve and New Years’ Day, since it was on New Years’ Eve that my mother took ill, and it was on New Years’ Day that I was trying to travel home to be with the family (the drama of trying to get a last minute flight on a holiday was tough).

As the season approached, I decided that I would not put pressure on myself to make solid plans, but would just try to let things unfold. A few weeks before Thanksgiving, I decided to go home for that holiday, and my daddy, grandmother (my mother’s mother) and I would spend the day at my cousin’s house.  The memories of the previous Thanksgiving were sometimes hard to bear, as my mother was the Thanksgiving hostess last year. She insisted on having a big family dinner, since earlier that year, we had lost her sister and her cousin, and there were 2 sets of children who didn’t have their mother for the holiday.

Plans for the day began to unfold almost naturally. We spent the afternoon having dinner with family and friends, and spent the evening watching football.  It was a sigh of relief at the end of that day to know that we’d made it through one holiday.

As Christmas now approaches, the plans I desired to have (my daddy coming to visit me) did not materialize, so I am headed back home for Christmas.  The only thing I knew about Christmas was that I wasn’t up for hosting a big dinner at my parents’ house.  Thankfully, my daddy and I have received a few invitations to dinner on Christmas Day, so we will have (hopefully) a leisurely day with people who are aware of our loss and want to support us.

The holiday season is not over, but there are a few things I’ve learned so far:

Be flexible

Try not to be so rigid in your plans (or lack of plans). Be open to how things may unfold and just take each day as it comes.  Let things flow naturally.

Don’t put pressure on yourself

Our emotions are all over the place during this season.  Don’t put undue pressure on yourself to be in a celebratory mood like most people are (or seem to be).  If you don’t feel like decorating the house, skip it.  If you’re not up for a holiday party, skip it. It’s ok.

Accept help from others

We don’t have to prove to anyone that we are strong enough to handle this first holiday season.  If someone offers to help you with something, and you know you could really use it, accept the help with gratitude.  Allow others to minister to you to help you through your grief or difficulty.

Take some extra time for yourself

Try to do something special for yourself for a pick me up…get your nails done, schedule a massage, read an inspirational book, or take a walk.  Do something to care for yourself, to remind yourself that you are valuable and worthy.

Ask God for help and guidance

Pray, pray, pray! It’s ok to cry out to God because He knows and understands exactly what you’re going through.  And, be intentional about reading the Word of God. In particular, the book of Psalms provides us many words of comfort as we struggle, just as many of the Psalm writers struggled.

Take the season one day at a time

Some days may be good, and others may be difficult.  However each day unfolds, just be in those moments.  If the day isn’t good, hold out hope that the next day is a new one with new possibilities.  When the good days come, enjoy them and be thankful for them.

 

I pray this helps someone reading this who is walking through a similar season as I am.  I will write a follow up to share with you how Christmas and New Years’ Day turned out. J Be blessed.

We live in a world where technology affords us opportunities to do thing quickly and easily, many times with little to no help from others. We have smartphones and tablets that we can use to get the latest information on any given topic, without having to ask anyone. If we want to connect with someone, we can use our devices to do so, and when we call them, instead of just hearing a voice, we can also see them ‘face to face.’   If we want to further our education, we can take online classes (as a student in an online Master’s program, I can relate to this).  And if we want to participate in a worship service, we can live stream many churches from anywhere in the world.

Assemble Ourselves Image

Technology is a good thing, but it has the ability to make us think we don’t need to get together with other believers.   Hebrews 10:25 tells us “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near (NLT).” Since the Word of God is timeless and true, this not only applied to believers during the time this was written, but it also applies to us today.  So the question is: in spite of all the advances that enable us to go solo, why should Christians assemble ourselves together? What are the benefits of assembling ourselves together? I’m glad you asked!

As we come together in worship and praise, we receive encouragement from one another, as the verse in Hebrews clearly tells us.  Each person has had difference experiences during the previous week, and will have to encounter other types of challenges in the upcoming week.  These tests can sometimes cause us to get discouraged, so we are to build one another up as we face them, admonishing each other to “…stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58, NIV).  Assembling ourselves together is a way for each of us to get the strength we need to face these tests, “for you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing (James 1:2-4, NLT). The encouragement we can receive coming together and sharing with one another is invaluable (having recently experienced this myself, I can totally relate)!

Also, as we come together, we are given opportunities to minister to others. Worship service is not just about what we can receive individually, but also what we can give to someone else.  God can use us in unexpected ways to be a blessing to others, and we should always be prepared to minister to and bless one another.  Being prepared to minister doesn’t necessarily mean having a sermon or teaching prepared, nor is it just reserved for those who are called to ministry (although every believer has a ministry…that’s another topic for another blog).  We should ask God to send us opportunities to be a blessing to someone, and be open to recognize them when they come.  They can be things as simple as greeting someone with a smile and a hug (not knowing that your greeting is the first friendly one they’ve received in a while), holding the door open for someone, or offering to watch a baby while mom goes to the restroom.  Or you may be called to pray for someone or offer a word of encouragement to a person who’s hurting. Instead of saying, “I’ll keep you in my prayers,” why not stop right then and there and pray for them? What a tangible and real way to show someone you love them and are concerned about them!

Lastly, when we assemble ourselves together, we can learn from one another.  Yes we can certainly listen to a sermon or teaching online, but there’s nothing like sitting next to someone hearing the message or teaching and seeing the light bulbs of revelation come on!  When we’re in small groups or in Sunday School classes, we have the chance to share our personal experiences, which help us to see how the Word of God manifests in real and practical ways. We can ask questions about what we’re learning (something we can’t do over a livestream) and others can help reinforce the lessons in our minds.

Yes, life can get busy, and technology gives us the opportunity to hear God’s Word wherever we may be.  But nothing can replace Christians coming together to fellowship with each other, encourage each other, learn together and pray for one another.  So put your electronic device away, get up and go assemble with the saints of God.  I promise that you’ll be blessed by the experience and will be able to share that blessing with others.   See you in service!

Is Mustard Seed Faith Enough?

Many Christians (I’m sure) are familiar with this passage from the book of Hebrews: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1, NASB). Have you ever prayed for something for an extended period of time, but subconsciously given up hope that your prayer would ever be answered?  We say the right words when we pray and we end our prayer with “in Jesus’ name, Amen,” and yet, deep down inside, we just don’t believe that our answer will ever come.  Well, I will confess that I’ve prayed this particular prayer but didn’t believe it would be answered.  Was it because I didn’t believe that God could?  No, to the contrary, as a part of my prayer, I would confess that I knew God was able.  Or, was it because I didn’t have enough faith to truly believe that God would do what He promised?  For me, it was the latter. The fact of the matter is, I’d seen God answer similar prayers for other people (and rejoiced with them when He did), but somehow didn’t think he would answer it for me (although I knew He could).

mustardseed

Then one day, during my prayer and devotional time, the Holy Spirit convicted me, and showed me that the reason I felt hopeless about my situation was because I was living in unbelief about it.  Once I was convicted, I had to pray for forgiveness and ask God to “help my unbelief,” the same thing a father said to Jesus when he brought his son who was possessed by a spirit to Him asking for help. The father said, “if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” (emphasis mine)  Jesus’ responds this way: “‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.”  Immediately, the father was convicted and says: “I do believe; help my unbelief” (be sure to read Mark 9 for the entire story).  After I was convicted, I asked God to help me and give me faith the size of a mustard seed.  Frankly, I felt like I needed to start small in asking for faith in this particular situation (note: my faith has been great in other situations, but not in this one), because I felt just like that father who brought his son to Jesus.  The small amount of faith I began to ask for is mustard seed faith, which really isn’t a whole lot!

As you can see from the picture, a mustard seed is a tiny thing!  So small that it seems to get lost in the palm of a person’s hand.  Is that amount of faith enough? Shouldn’t I have a little bit more than that?  The answer to the question of whether mustard seed faith is enough, based on what Jesus said, is a resounding YES!  He says in Matthew 17:20, “if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.” (NASB)

So, I decided to take a small step and confess that I have this much faith that God will answer my prayer.  Yes, I believe this sized faith is enough, and I’m standing on that belief and walking in faith (and not by sight).  My prayer has not yet been answered, but I now have hope about it (something I’d given up on a while ago).

Why am I confessing this to you?  I’m being transparent because someone is experiencing this same thing as we speak!  You’ve prayed and prayed and prayed, the answer hasn’t come, and at some point, you made up in your mind that it would never come.  I want to encourage you to take heart!  Ask God to help your unbelief and give you just a little bit of faith.  Stand on that little bit of faith and watch what God will do!  While you’re waiting for your answer, He’s working on you to make you stronger, wiser and better.

If you can relate to this, feel free to comment and share your thoughts.  I pray God’s blessings on you as He reveals more of Himself to you during this time.

There are times in our lives as Christians when we feel pressed on every side.  It seems like we’re catching it from everywhere…our relationships with our loved ones are challenging, we’re overworked on our jobs and are feeling unappreciated, we’re dealing with health concerns, and the place we go to worship and get encouragement is going through a season of trial (these are just a few). The Apostle Paul experienced this pressing and shared his plight with the church at Corinth: “For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life” (2 Corinthians 1:8, KJV)

When we’re feeling this pressure, the first thing we want is relief!  We cry out to God, just like Job did (which is what we should do) and ask, plead or even beg God to free us from the pressure.  We want these burdens off of us, and we want them gone NOW!  Can anyone else besides me relate to this?

Instead of desiring to be released, let’s take a moment to look at things from God’s perspective.   The prophet Jeremiah observed in chapter 18 a potter working on a pot on the potter’s wheel.  According to Jeremiah, “the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands.” (vs. 4, NIV) Doesn’t that sound like us?  We are marred creatures, yet God desires to work on us.  Jeremiah goes on to say in verse 4:  “so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.”

Potter

That is what our Heavenly Father is doing while we are being pressed.  He’s forming us into another pot, shaping us as He sees best.  He’s allowed those sandpaper people to be in and stay in our lives for a reason.  He’s giving place for the challenges we’re facing at work for a purpose.  He’s letting some things happen in our lives that we may not like.

Picture in your mind what Jeremiah sees as he watches the potter work with the pot.  If the pot could speak, what would it say? “Ouch, that’s hurts, Mr. Potter.”  “When will you be finished, Mr. Potter?” “That’s enough, Mr. Potter!”  Don’t we say these same things to God when we’re being pressed?  I know I have!   But it helps to remember that we’re not going through what we’re going through for no reason.  God is allowing our experiences to shape up us in the image of His Son Jesus, to become the person He wants us to be.

For me, I believe in my own season of ‘press,’ God is preparing me for something greater.  He’s getting rid of some things in me so I can be ready for the purpose for which He’s called me. And He’s replacing those character traits and habits that are not of Him with those that are.  So, as the pot, I’m going to stay on the potter’s wheel until the Potter is finished with me.  Being on the potter’s wheel is not the most comfortable place, but it’s the most necessary place.  And I’m trusting that the Potter knows what He’s doing as He molds me until what He wants me to be.

How many Facebook friends do you have?  What about Twitter or Instagram followers?  Between church members, friends from various levels of school (elementary to grad school), sorority sisters, event industry contacts, my FB friends number over 2000 (no I’m really not that popular!)  Yet, among all of those connections, who can I say is in my spiritual tribe?  First off, what’s a spiritual tribe?

WOMEN_IN_GROUP

My definition of a spiritual tribe is a group of people who are living out their walk with Christ daily.  These people not perfect, but strive to live godly lives.  I believe these are people who are also living out the calling that God has placed on their lives. That doesn’t necessarily mean being a preacher or pastor, but recognizing that God has called one to a specific purpose, and doing one’s best, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to fulfill this calling. The members of your spiritual tribe are close to you.  They have nothing but your best interest at heart.  They are on the same spiritual journey you’re on and they want to see you be successful, just as they themselves want to be successful.  They recognize that the tribe is in it together, and that there’s no room for negativity or judgment…just love, encouragement and support.

As we are striving, working, trusting and praying along this journey, there will be some days when we just ain’t feelin’ it.  Sometimes we get tired of dealing with folks who make promises then disappoint; we’re sick of facing haters and those with a jealous spirit, we’re over those who are living just for show (no substance to their walk); we’re done with those who, as James Brown would say “talkin’ loud and sayin’ nothin.’”  This can get old real fast…anybody been there?

But yet, how do we overcome these challenges so that we can continue along our Christian journey?  First, we need to go to God and ask for help!  Also, this is where our spiritual tribe can come in.  If we have the right people in our tribe, they can sense when we are struggling and offer a word of encouragement.   They can totally relate to what we’re experiencing, and want to help lift us out of the funk we’re in so you can keep going.  They know we have something to offer the Body of Christ, and give us that nudge to help you continue.  They also convict us in a loving way when we’re wrong and out of order!  And when we do make mistakes, they don’t judge.

So, having described what I believe is a spiritual tribe…who’s in yours?  A tribe doesn’t have to consist of a slew of folks (truth be told, it probably shouldn’t).  Since your tribe members are those with whom you can be transparent, this number should be a small one.    One of the qualities of a tribe member that I didn’t mention earlier is that he or she should be trustworthy!  She is able to hold things in confidence that need to be held in confidence (and you are willing and able to do the same thing for them).

So take a look at your friends and ask yourself…who’s in my tribe?  If you can count one or two as a member of your tribe, be grateful!  Don’t mistake tribal membership for acquaintances or colleagues.  And if you don’t feel you have one, pray and ask God to show you who should be in your tribe. No man is an island, and we need one another to keep pressing toward the mark.  I’m grateful for those in my spiritual tribe and I pray I am a blessing to them, just as they are to me.

God Answers Prayers, But…

Yes, we know that God answers prayers.  Those of us who believe in the power of prayer know that He’s there to listen and that when we pray according to His will, He hears us; and because we know He hears us, whatever we ask, we know we receive it (see 1 John 5:14-15).  Many times when we pray, especially for those things that are extremely challenging situations (serious illness of a loved one, difficult marriage, long-term financial strain), where we may not see breakthrough for quite some time, we continue to pray but sometimes wonder when the answer will come.  But the question I want to pose today is…as you continue to pray, are you looking for the answer?

prayer image

 

What prompted me to write this today is the fact that I am praying for a few ‘big’ things and have been praying for quite some time.  And God showed me signs of his answering them all in one day, all in one church service.  But I wasn’t looking for the answers! I was just going along enjoying the worship service, when boom, boom, boom…there were the answers.  Three prayer requests, three answers just like that. The situations are not completely solved, but I can see that God is working (note the present tense) to answer the petitions that have been brought before Him.  And these prayers have just not come from me, but from others as well.  I know that He is going to answer, but I was in awe at how God is working and the timing in which He’s working.  My mind is still blown as I’m writing this the next day after it happened.

 

What’s the lesson for me (and hopefully you) today?  Don’t stop looking for the answers and for your breakthrough to come!  They are coming!  And they are coming in ways and through people that you may not expect or anticipate.  When your answers (or the beginning of the answers) appear, give God praise for them!  For me, what God did yesterday was a reminder for me to keep praying, keep pressing, and to not give up.  God is sovereign and has our situations under his complete control. He is well able to handle them, and I am trusting and believing that He WILL answer (just like it says in 1 John 5:14-15). I encourage you to join me and do the same.

As leaders in ministry, we are looked upon to set an example for those who follow our guidance.  It goes without saying that we should be above reproach, honest, consistent, loving, fair, just, and people of integrity.  There are many scriptures that speak to these characteristics (just take a look at what the apostle Paul wrote to his mentee’ Timothy for examples).

Vulnerability-Just-Ahead

It’s true that a leader should possess a certain level of spiritual maturity (again, Paul talks about these qualities in his letters).  Leaders should know the Word of God, not be swayed by every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14) and be able to live out the Word that we teach and preach on a daily basis.  There are countess books by authors such as John Maxwell who expound greatly on the concept of leadership and what makes an effective leader.

Recently the question of transparency and vulnerability in leadership has entered my mind.  Yes, leaders are to be examples to those around us, but how far should we take the example?  The issue I’ve seen recently is the fact that in many instances, church leaders are placed on pedestals by those whom they lead.  Leaders are saddled with sometimes unrealistic expectations of perfection and super-human strength (and no I’m not talking about Superman or Wonder Woman strength), and are expected to always “take a licking and keep on ticking” (anyone remember the old commercials for Timex watches…I guess I’m dating myself lol).  Leaders are sometimes expected to be able to withstand any and everything and keep going as nothing has happened…nothing should be able to faze them, right?

However, sometimes the people we lead (and us as well) forget one very important point: Leaders are human beings!  We experience emotions like sadness, anger, and frustration.  We get tired and sometimes feel like throwing in the towel (or at least taking a hiatus).  We sometimes get confused and are unclear about a decision we need to make.  We sometimes feel disappointment when things in our lives and ministries don’t turn out the way we thought they should.  I could go on and on, but I think you get what I’m saying.

So in light of that, how does a leader balance his or her own vulnerability with the need to set an example?  I’m certainly not an expert in this area, but my thoughts are this: it’s ok to be vulnerable and transparent to a certain extent.  How can this openness benefit those around us?  Being open with some of our struggles can help remind people of our humanness.  Just because God has called someone into ministry or leadership doesn’t elevate a person to the level of perfection.  Everyone struggles with many of the issues I mentioned before, whether we’re a leader or not. We need to stop worshipping people (after all, that’s idolatry – go back to the Old Testament to remind yourself about what God says regarding idolatry), and remember that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23).

Being open with our concerns can also be an encouragement to those around us.  If you’re dealing with an issue, our followers are watching us to see how we’re handling a situation.  Are we living in defeat because we’re facing challenges, or are we standing on the Word of God and in faith to help us overcome?  Paul reminds us that we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37)! And we may experience emotions as a result of our situations (and sometimes those emotions are visibly seen on our faces and in our eyes), but our faith helps us to keep going, and can serve as an example for others experiencing similar situations.

Vulnerability and transparency are not easy.  Our egos sometimes don’t want to admit that we are flawed or imperfect.  But I believe a certain level of vulnerability can be healthy and helpful, not only for us, but for those who follow us.  However, I would caution that we be careful to display wisdom regarding our vulnerability.  Everyone can’t handle hearing everything (AMEN somebody), and we never want to be a stumbling block (1 Corinthians 8:9, NIV) to anyone.   We’re not going on Dr. Phil to tell it all (of course, this is an exaggeration, but you get my point).  We probably shouldn’t share every last one of our issues and concerns, but there are some issues that if shared the right way, can help strengthen someone else.

Your decision to be vulnerable can be a blessing to you and to others but we must be wise.   Every spiritual leader should have a spiritual mentor who has traveled the road you’re currently on, and provide you with Godly advice and can help counsel you through those issues that everyone’s not ready to hear. Ultimately, we should seek God’s guidance about what areas to be transparent in, when and with whom. Stepping outside of God’s will in this area could prove to be disastrous.

So leaders, I believe it’s ok to be vulnerable and transparent.  And followers, I believe it’s ok for your leader to be vulnerable and transparent.  Leaders are human, and we’re all trying to accomplish the same thing: to live fully for Christ, live a victorious life, and to look forward to the promise of eternal life in Christ Jesus.  Whether you’re a leader or a follower, we’re all in this thing together.

Just my $0.02.