Hosanna

HOSANNA — A word used to herald the birth of a King by a host of angels, and then used again to honor the now adult as He rode into Jerusalem. The Hebrew word means “save, we pray.” On the day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the most humble of animals, a new donkey that had never been ridden, those who gathered to herald him as King of Israel sought after a ruler who would come and overthrow the Roman government which they had been dealt a short hand. They sought a ruler who would come in with strength and as a soldier, poised and ready to wage war and overthrow a tyrannical reign over the Jews. They were in search of what they wanted, but Jesus came to give them what they truly needed. They were totally unaware of what the angelic host knew on the night He was born — that He came, not to overthrow not a physical rule, but to bridge the gap between Creator and creation, a rift created in the Garden of Eden by the introduction of sin.

Often, along personal journey, when we seek the Savior, our souls cry “Hosanna”, but what we really want is to be saved from our circumstances, from the trials and obstacles of this life. We often miss the opportunity to ask God to save us from the things that got us into that situation, the weaknesses and faults that are exposed in the valley experiences that God allows us to traverse. The reality is that our version of “Hosanna” more frequently sounds like “Why me?” Instead, our version of “Hosanna” ought to sound like “Lord, what is it that you want to save me from in this situation?”  The incredible gift of Jesus on the cross is that God continues to save us every day that we choose to die to self and surrender to the process of transformation that He wants to do in us.

“Hosanna” is not just a chant in the moment, whether it heralds the birth of the King of Kings, or the triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem as he began his final journey to the cross. “Hosanna” is the anthem of the Christian journey. It is the persistent cry of the soul that acknowledges it is in need of a Savior EVERY SINGLE DAY. It is a declaration of surrender to the only One who can truly redeem our soul and restore the connection between creation and Creator. “Hosanna”…”save, we pray” is a humble statement that says to God, “I can’t make it without You.” “Hosanna”, beloved, is a statement, not for the weak-willed or the faint of heart. It is a profound and sincere mantra of faith in a Savior who gave up all He knew in order to participate in the greatest love story ever written, one of a Creator so desperate to repair a relationship ravaged by sin that He gave of His very Person in order to restore what had been lost so many years ago.

So, if you can’t seem to figure out what your purpose is on this earth… If you really want restoration and transformation in your life… If you are searching for peace and can’t seem to find it…. If you have been looking for a love that could heal all the broken places in your heart and soul… May I suggest you start talking to your Creator? He responds to “Hosanna”…”save, we pray.”

This is what Palm Sunday is really about. As we wave palms and cry “Hosanna”, we ought to realize what we are saying, and embrace the assertion that we are in need of a Savior who came to “save, we pray.” Thank you Lord, for coming to save us…

‪#‎SELAH

Treasure Island

I attended a concert this weekend with a friend that was pretty amazing – TobyMac and Mandisa. The thing I love most about concerts, especially with Christian artists, is that it allows an opportunity for them to share their hearts, their inspiration, and their testimonies of faith that spurred them to pen familiar lyrics that are often memorized but not fully understood. In these moments, you get to share in a worship experience and connect with the artists in ways you otherwise not be afforded. I don’t always like crowds though, which runs counter to what I appreciate most about the live concert experience. Thankfully, the opportunities I have been able to share in have been on a relatively smaller scale than the average concert scene.

Anyway, one of the songs that TobyMac has written is called Lose My Soul, and it is written based on the conversation that Jesus had with His disciples in Matthew 16:24-26:

[Matthew 16:24-26 ESV] Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

Here He teaches the disciples about the most important thing. The purpose of a life is not about amassing material wealth to Jesus. The true purpose of a life is saving the soul and achieving eternal life with Jesus at His second coming. John echoes these words in his third letter. Once he has written his salutations, the first thing that John says is this:

[3 John 1:2 NKJV] Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.

You see, John wanted them to make sure that they understood that no amount of material prosperity is equal in value to the prosperity of the soul. C.S. Lewis wrote that we are not humans having a spiritual experience, but spirits having a human experience. The bottom line is that, while we have a responsibility to meet the physical needs that present themselves in our everyday lives, and in the lives of our brothers and sisters with whom we share a planet, it is clearly the soul that is of the utmost importance and value in the economy of the Kingdom. It is from the soul that all other things flow from the spiritual into the physical. How we live our lives on this side of eternity is directly tied to our soul connection with our Creator. Therefore, it stands to reason that the soul is the most important thing to God.

Profit is defined as the gain, advantage, or acquisition beyond expenditure. In layman’s terms, profit, as we all understand it, is the surplus gained beyond what a particular venture might cost you. It is necessary in order for economies and businesses to thrive. In kind, prosperity is defined as the state of flourishing, thriving, good fortune, and/or successful social status. The concept of prosperity has a broad spectrum of areas in which it can be applied: business, ecology, personal life, etc. These concepts run parallel in that, if you have profit, you are deemed prosperous. The opposite seems to be true as well. But what does this all mean in view of eternity?

Recently, televangelist Creflo Dollar got caught in the crosshairs of the media for running a campaign to raise $65 million to replace his personal jet, all in the name of Jesus. He and many other big name televangelists have bought into and proclaim the well-known prosperity gospel, an ideal that God does not want His people to lack anything; rather, it is His desire that we are prosperous in a material way. This is all well and good, if we are being good stewards of said resources being afforded to us. However, the flaw in this philosophy is that it pulls a variety of verses, both from the Old and New Testaments, to support it without doing the homework of fully understanding each verse within the context they were written. The reality is that, while God did indeed promise that He would always provide for us (Matthew 6:25-32), Jesus also, in the very next verse, entreats us as His followers to seek first the Kingdom and His righteousness (v.33). And when Jesus was teaching his disciples in Matthew 16, He was talking about denial of self in order to be obedient and follow Him. It seems to me that the things of God and the Kingdom, acquiring souls for the Kingdom and doing the will of the Father was far more important to Jesus than amassing wealth in the physical realm. In fact, Jesus understood that having an abundance of wealth can actually be an obstacle to entering the kingdom of God (see Matthew 19:16-22). And, so, as a part of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught the masses to “store up treasures in heaven” that cannot be corroded or corrupted by earthly destruction, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).  You see, the real prosperity gospel ought to reflect the heart of the teachings of Jesus, the One who gave up glory to take on the form of humanity, dwell and teach among us, and then, in obedience to God the Father, surrendered His very life to atone for the sinful nature of all humanity. He died so that our souls would once again be able to prosper. That, beloved, is the prosperity gospel that should be proclaimed from every pulpit, large or small.

In buying into this idea that we are meant to “have it all” as God’s children, we have allowed the enemy of our souls’ prosperity to appeal to the greed that is innate to human nature. We clamor to the physical things of this life that amount to nothing more than a jot or tittle in the kingdom of God. So the real question is found in Matthew 16:26.

[Matthew 16:26 NLT] And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?

Is It Really Important? Worry or Peace?

I was having a conversation with some coworkers one day, and one of them had just purchased a house with her husband. She expressed her concern that they were taking a huge step forward, and the gravity of it all was causing her worry and anxiety. It wasn’t that she didn’t have a good job or that her husband of the last 5 months was unemployed. It was simply the idea of becoming a homeowner was a bit overwhelming for her. And one of my other coworkers who is older and wiser reassured her that she would be fine and that they were doing something great together as they began their journey as husband and wife. Her philosophy about worry was simple: Is it really important? For someone who had lived much more life than me or this other young lady who had purchased a home, she had a unique perspective. There are so many things that happen in life that are “worth worrying about” that, for her, buying a house was low on the list. But that made me wonder about the things that we worry about, and how often we ought to ask ourselves, “Is it really important?”

Worry is generally defined, when used as a verb, as to torment oneself with or suffer from disturbing thoughts; (to) fret. Sounds terrible, doesn’t it? Take it one step further when you consider worry as a noun:

 

Worry, annoy, (and) harass all mean to disturb or interfere with someone’s comfort or peace of mind.

 

            Now, who, in their right mind, would want to participate in anything that “disturbs or interferes with their comfort or peace of mind?? Not me. But the reality is that we do it all the time. We worry about our families. We worry about our jobs. We worry about our finances. We worry about the society we live in and the direction we are headed in as a country. We worry about what we will eat for dinner, or lunch, or breakfast, if we are lucky enough to have time to remember breakfast. We worry about the car, and the house, and the church. We worry about what clothes to wear, or what our children will wear, because they are growing like weeds. We worry about the laundry that hasn’t been done. We worry about how we will make time for our friends, our significant other, and even ourselves in our busy schedules. It’s a wonder with all the worrying we do on a daily basis that we can function! And yet Jesus told His disciples not to worry:

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life–whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all our needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

[Matthew 6:25-33 NLT]

            You see, the truth of the matter is that, when the Christ follower starts to worry, he or she is inadvertently telling God that he or she doesn’t trust Him. Yes, it’s that simple. When someone tells you, in no uncertain terms, that you ought not to worry because He has everything under control, and you choose to worry anyway, you are sending a message that His word means nothing to you. This passage should bring the peace that Paul talks about when he reiterates the mandate to choose the kingdom and prayer over worry:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

[Philippians 4:6-7 NLT] 

There’s the peace that you have been looking for… Right there in Paul’s words. Prayer is an exchange; it’s never one-sided. When you decide to entrust the things that concern you into the hands of the Creator, He, in turn, gives you His peace. No more allowing worry to “interfere or disturb your peace of mind”, because God wants to restore your peace. There is comfort and peace that comes from knowing that the Creator of the Universe is intimately involved in and concerned about the affairs of humanity. You don’t have to worry; He has it all under control. He wants us to focus on seeking Him and His kingdom, and then, in response to our obedience, He supplies our every need. Seems simple, right? With Easter swiftly approaching, and in light of the incredible sacrifice that Christ made in order to bridge the gap caused by sin between Creator and creation, it’s clear to me that He is a Man who can be trusted with the heaviest burdens on your heart. And He so wants you to…

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

[Mat 11:28-30 ESV]

Won’t you entrust Him with all those things that worry you and accept His peace that surpasses all human understanding? I promise you won’t regret it.

Five Characteristics of A Godly Friend

Friendship, and whole host of other concepts and relationships, has deteriorated over the generations. Few people I know genuinely understand the difference between a friend and an acquaintance. You don’t trust an acquaintance with your most intimate struggles and emotions. So, one day, as a true friend of mine and me were discussing people who had fallen off as friends, I considered one friendship in the Bible that really embodies for me what a friendship could and should be — David and Jonathan. You see, people come into our lives for a reason, a season, and/or a lifetime. There is always a reason why we encounter people along the journey of life. However, the length of time that they spend in our lives varies from person to person. Some are only meant to be a part of our journey for a season — maybe to challenge us to grow in our personal lives in some way, to meet a need during a certain period of time, or even to expose weaknesses and unresolved areas of pain and lack in our lives that need to be addressed in order for us to successfully move forward and stop repeating history. So, as I considered the good, the bad, and the ugly of the relational experiences that I have encountered in my so-called friendships over the years, and as I reviewed the relationship between David and Jonathan, five strong characteristics stood out to me that would define what makes a good friendship great. Good friendships are grown and maintained when those included in such a sacred relationship commit to the following things in their journey together: Love, Loyalty, Honesty, Accountability, and Sacrifice.

One of the first things that we are told about David and Jonathan’s friendship is how much Jonathan loved David:

[1Sa 18:3 KJV]  Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul.

What a profound statement to make in relation to another person. Love is essential to any human relationship because true love is unconditional. We were created with an innate capacity to love others. And, to love someone as much as you love yourself is an incredible sign of growth and stability. One of the many reasons relationships of any type fail in this day and age is because we fail to love ourselves FIRST. It is not a crime or a sign of selfishness to fully embrace who you are, strengths AND weaknesses. It is something many do not learn until they are well-on in years, and still others never learn this lesson at all. When Jesus commands His disciples to love their neighbor as they love themselves, He clearly understands that loving others flows directly out of a healthy sense of self-love. You cannot provide for someone else what you have not yet given to yourself. It’s just that simple. The wisdom writer of Proverbs put it this way:

[Pro 17:17 ESV]  A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.

Love, true and biblical love, is unfailing and unconditional. Real friends are there for you in ups and downs. They love you when you are great to be around, and they are still around when you are mean as a snake. This is because they know you and they appreciate all of you, because those things make you someone who they want to be around. Shared experiences have bonded you to them, and they know that the sentiment is mutual. Take some time and read 1 Corinthians 13, the most over-read and underused text in the entire Bible. It has been read so many times over the years that the meaning behind the words has been lost. The Message paraphrase translation puts it this way:

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Love never dies.
1 Corinthians 13: 4-8a
Simple yet challenging! Can you love like that?
    The second trait that we find with David and Jonathan in friendship is Loyalty. Loyalty sticks around when everyone else leaves. When everyone can’t handle you, or doesn’t feel like dealing with you, a loyal friend steps in and stands by you. Loyalty has been known to take on many forms: that friend that will stand with you and fight when someone speaks ill of you; the friend who will take you wherever you need to go when your car is in the shop; the friend that will run errands for you when you are sick; the friend who will let you crash on their couch when you have nowhere else to go. The list goes on and on. There is a saying, albeit a bit foolish, that says “A good friend calls you in jail. A great friend bails you out of jail. But your best friend sits next to you while saying ‘wasn’t that fun?'” While I would not condone getting into criminal activity with your friends, the sentiment of loyalty stands out. Only those closest to you will stick by you when the going gets tough, and tougher, and tighter, and painful, and all the rest. Loyalty separates the “fair weather friends” from the “ride or die friends.” And the most important thing to remember about friendship and loyalty is this: It is better to have a faithful few than an unfaithful multitude.
[Pro 18:24 ESV]  A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
     The third trait of a good friend is Honesty. A friend will love you enough to speak truth to you, even when it hurts. If someone does not have the courage to tell you the truth, they really aren’t your friend. This often separates the children from the adults. Telling the truth takes courage, something that seems to be in short supply in this day and age. Instead of telling you that you ought not go out in a certain outfit that does not flatter you, they tell you that you are fly, they have to go! If they are unwilling and too cowardly to be honest with you about how they feel, regardless of whether it will make you mad or uncomfortable, they do not love you, they are not loyal to you, and they are not a true friend. Period. This is one thing that makes or breaks relationships if all kinds. Your real friends are mature enough to speak truth to you even when you aren’t mature enough to hear it. They may say it with grace and love, but it doesn’t keep them from saying it at all.
[Pro 27:6 NKJV] Faithful [are] the wounds of a friend, But the kisses of an enemy [are] deceitful.
If someone is constantly in your face telling you how great and wonderful you are, to the point of obnoxious and excessive, be warned: Do not trust them! Those people mean you no good. They will smile in your face and make you think that you are headed in the right direction, when the reality often is that you are headed toward your demise. It is also important to understand that there are people who exhibit a false sense of truth. They will tell you “truth” to discredit and undermine you in some way, and it is usually publicly. These people mean you harm as well, because they are often operating under ulterior motives. They try to embarrass and humiliate you, so that those who witness such a display will lose respect for and confidence in you. Beware the haters, and understand that how  you respond to them will determine whether those watching lose respect for you or not. Sometimes, in those scenarios, the best and most mature thing you can do is NOTHING. Yes, it sounds counter-intuitive, however, by refusing to acknowledge such attacks in the heat of the moment, you maintain your character and your dignity in the face of slander. There are better and more effective ways of dealing with those people. But that is a topic for another time. Bottom line: Your friends will always love you enough to speak  truth into your life, no matter how painful or uncomfortable as it may be because they want the best for you and they want you to grow.
           The fourth trait of a friend is Accountability. This one is another that is tough to find because this requires that you have standards that you live by, goals that push you to reach higher and dig deeper. It is a sign of a healthy and mature person when they are surrounded by people who push them to grow. People who don’t want to grow tend to gravitate to other people who do not wish to grow, and they become stagnant together. No one wants to be around death or dead weight. Good friends are always challenging you to grow. They share their dreams and visions with you and vice versa, and together, you hold each other accountable to reaching; and attaining those goals. The hard part of accountability is challenging each other to think outside one’s box and learn from each other’s unique perspective. Good friends challenge you verbally. Great friends inspire by the way they live. The way they approach life both challenges and inspires you to press and stretch and test the limits in your own journey. They support and encourage your dreams, while pushing you when you get comfortable or lax in your ambition. They see your potential and push you to live up to it. Real friends will never allow you to settle for “good enough.” They will challenge you to embrace greatness.  Great friends spark brilliant conversation, where you challenge your ideals and your perspective to a point where you are both broader and stretched as a result of your interaction. Together you ask tough questions, and seek answers. You challenge faulty thinking, shallow dreams, and mediocre practices. In short, you become better because of your friendship. This is one of the most amazing and beautiful gifts that friendship provides.
[Pro 27: 17 NKJV]   [As] iron sharpens iron, So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.
           The fifth and final trait of a good friend is Sacrifice. In gang culture, it is often the case that members are known to be willing to die to protect or save other members of the gang. Sacrifice is tied to loyalty and love. If you love someone, you are more than willing to make sacrifices for them. Hopefully, you are in a healthy and thriving friendship, and the feeling is mutual. Whether it is gas money or groceries, watching a child or sitting in a hospital room, you are willing to share resources in order to make sure that they are not wanting. Sacrifice requires that you set aside your own wants and needs to a certain extent in order to meet the needs of another. The ultimate showing of love is sacrifice. Jesus loved us so much that He gave His life in order to restore the relationship between humanity and her Creator.
[Jhn 15:13 ESV] 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
It’s not always easy to do physically, but when you are connected to someone in friendship, it never seems difficult when they reach out for help or need your help. It becomes an outpouring of the first two traits — love and loyalty. In the greatest sense of the phrase, you become your brother’s keeper. Looking out for one another sometimes requires a sacrifice from you or the other person from time to time. Even if it is sitting with them and listening, your effort becomes invaluable in the moment that you decide that what they need is more important than what you want or need to do at the time. These moments of selflessness and sincerity are the moments that bond friendships for the long-term. The moment someone is unwilling to make a sacrifice, even in the smallest way, is the moment when you realize how valuable the friendship is to that person. Granted, there are circumstances and situations that prevent friends from being there, and, if you are always leaning on them, you have to reevaluate your own situation to make sure you are not taking advantage of the friendship and the person you claim to care so much about. Friendship is about balance and mutual commitment to caring for one another and making each other better.
          So, that’s the fab five, in detail. I hope and pray that you find two or three people who embody these traits, and I pray that you grow these traits in your own life. Water your own garden so that you can share that water with others. Good friends really are hard to find, but I guarantee that, when you find them, they will enhance and illuminate your life. See them as an extension of God’s love in your life, and you will never miss His voice or His love in your life. Love to all!

What is Femininity?

Society says that you are feminine based on how you present yourself to the world — perfectly appointed coif, immaculate manicure, flawless makeup, lilting voice and laugh, and a body with “well-placed” curves. Delicate, dainty, and poised… Well, at least, that’s what the definition of feminine grace used to be. The Marilyn Monroes and the Audrey Hepburns of a time forgotten reminded us of what it meant to be a woman — what secret power she possessed, what unique qualities God gave her that empowered her in ways no man worth his salt could deny. Femininity is often punctuated by the way a woman dresses – a flowing dress, a blouse paired with a skirt, and don’t forget the high heels. Heels are highly symbolic of a woman’s femininity, mostly because of the way they enhance and draw attention the physical features characteristic of the female body. They are considered a necessary staple in most every woman’s closet. And yet, in the wake of the feminist movement, and the blurring of the gender lines over the last 30 or 40 years, society seems less and less interested in what would be considered innate to the male and female genders, and more interested in an amorphous existence that flies in the face of the most basic principles of biology and furthering the human race in the most natural sense of the word. But that is a topic of discussion for another day.

So, what really defines femininity? It’s that innate quality that God gave to women. It’s the power of grace and elegance that a woman exudes when she enters a room in all her radiance and glory. It’s not what she wears or how she smells or the way she walks. No, it is the confidence that she possesses, the gentle contentment with who she is, and her being comfortable in her own skin. The external is ENHANCED by the internal. The quiet beauty of femininity — the way a woman carries herself with self-love and self-respect, the manner in which she deals with her fellow human beings, the tone with which she speaks, and the way she touches those around her — those are the characteristics that define a woman’s femininity.

A feminine woman knows she need not be loud and boisterous in order to be heard. A feminine woman understands the power and purpose of her grace and elegance. A feminine woman knows that, no matter what occupation she chooses, she is just as valuable and has something to offer. She is self-aware and self-assured of who she is and what she is about. Knowing her purpose as a woman in a world where the words MAN and WOMAN take on less meaning everyday becomes paramount to her very existence. It becomes the profound reflection of her Creator when she is unapologetically who she is, without asking anyone’s permission, or caring what anyone else thinks on the matter. It becomes less about being louder or more noticeable by those around her, and more about acknowledging and honoring who she is in the eyes of her Creator.  She is more concerned with empowering and encouraging others to honor themselves and their Creator by seeking Him out and learning what His purpose is for their lives. He ought to know — He made them with a specific purpose in mind.

[1Peter 3:3-4 NLT]  

Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.

This is what it means to be feminine, to be a woman, created in the image of her Creator, who loves her completely and unconditionally. And I have to admit that it took me the better part of my thirty years of walking this side of Eternity to understand that. I don’t have to push or shove or fight to be heard or seen. All that is required of me is to walk like the daughter of the King. I am created in the image and likeness of a perfect and loving Creator, and it is my charge to honor Him in all that I say and do because it is a direct reflection of His Spirit at work in and through me. I love being a woman and I wear my femininity with pride because it honors my Creator as I embrace my divine purpose and do all I can to walk in it.