Hope Restored

Easter always provokes such incredible reflection and contemplation from me. For many believers in the Christian faith, it represents the cornerstone of our faith journey, the culmination of Jesus’ mission and ministry on earth. It is the pinnacle of everything that we hope for and the major event that anchors our faith. And, with all that it holds for each and every believer around the globe, it carries one more touch of sentimental value to my faith journey. This is the time and season when I, as a young child, felt the tug and touch of the Holy Spirit on my heart, and surrendered my life to Christ. The moment when you encounter Jesus in such a tangible way that it moves you to surrender is one you will never forget, no matter how young or how old you are when it happens.

I was all of seven years old, and I was at school assembly during Holy Week. The Word was being preached, and the invitation to accept Christ as Lord and Savior was extended. I don’t remember who was around me, or who was even sharing the message. But I remember feeling this sense that I wanted Jesus, and so I asked Him to take up residence in my heart and life. Now, I am the daughter of a pastor, who is in a lineage of pastors and ministers of the Gospel. Jesus was no foreign entity to me. I sat under my father’s preaching from infancy, and went to a school where the Bible was taught. But it had to be a personal decision for me. My parents dedicated me to the Lord when I was a baby, promising to do all they could to teach me the ways of the Lord. At the same time, salvation is free and something that you freely accept as a choice. So, I made a choice, one that I admit now, I barely understood what it meant beyond wanting to behave in a way that would make Jesus happy. After all, how deep can a seven year old be about the mystical nature of faith?

Anyway, I remember when I made the proclamation in service the following Easter Sunday. The congregation erupted into praise and celebration, and now I understand that the celebration that went on in Heaven was a thousand times greater than the overwhelming celebration that I witnessed as I stated, in my black and white polka dot outfit (hats, gloves, and all), that I accepted Jesus into my heart as my Lord and Savior. From that moment till now, I can say with conviction that that was the greatest decision I have ever made. So much has happened in the years following that confession of faith, but God has remained faithful and true. He has called me to ministry, I have preached an initial sermon, and participated in a variety of ministries as His Spirit has led me. Writing this blog is one of those outlets for me. But, even with all that, He has steadily been walking beside me.

There is a well-known poem called “Footprints” that has been the greatest illustration, to me, of the journey of faith that all of us are on. When things get tough, and you feel like God has left you alone to fend for yourself, it is often in those moments that He sees that you have gotten too weary and He picks you up in His arms and carries you until you have regained the strength to continue walking. I could tell you of times when, as I looked back over them, I know for certain that He was carrying me.

Easter is the happy ending to the greatest Love story ever written. The Man gives His life for His beloved, to redeem her and bring her back home. Who wouldn’t want to be rescued? Yes, that’s what Jesus did when He died on the cross and then rose back to life on Easter morning. His entire life was devoted to rescuing humanity from the death penalty we deserved for our sins. Love held him to the cross, when He could have called down legions of angels to deliver Him and leave us in our sin state. But a profound and overwhelming love for humanity kept him on the cross, and he carried out his mission to the end. It is because of that love, we have a new opportunity to have an intimate and thriving relationship with your Creator, direct access to Him at any time, in any place. This, as Kirk Franklin so aptly put it, is the reason why we sing. The Resurrection is the foundation for every hymn, every chorus. It is the hope that we cling to for life eternal in the heavens. It gives our life purpose and direction. It restores our sense of hope and a future. In reconnecting to the One who gave us purpose, we gain new life. I know what it means to me to be born again to new life and restored hope in Jesus. I invite you to try Jesus and see what a wonderful difference He can make in your life. I want you to know personally the incredible love of Jesus Christ in your life journey. He would love to reconnect with you today. Love and blessings on this Resurrection Sunday!!!

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Good Friday: The Divine Business Meeting

Welcome to the Boardroom, where the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all in attendance. Meet Jesus Christ, CEO and the one spearheading Project Restoration. We have a lot to do today, and the agenda is full. Please note that Jesus is deep in the trenches on earth during this meeting, in the process of carrying out His mission on the cross at Calvary. This means that there will be intermittent breaks for the humanity He has to bear in order for this mission to be carried out.

First, we must review the mission. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (see Luke 23:34) Remember that forgiveness is essential to the success of the project. Without the forgiveness of sins, humanity cannot be restored into right relationship with her Creator. Let us all keep this at the forefront of our minds as we go through this meeting today before the final run.

Next on the agenda: Mary, Jesus’ earthly mother must be accounted for. Jesus will be returning to Heaven once the project is complete, so we must make sure that we leave her in the care of someone capable and faithful. Jesus nominates John, one of the sons of Zebedee, and his best friend. The motion carries – “Woman, behold your son!” (See John 19:26-27).

Looks like the meeting has Jesus parched. Of course, this business is being conducted while Jesus is actively being crucified, and we must continue to be aware and sensitive to that, even if the ones for whom He is giving His life are not. Jesus states, “I thirst” (See John 19:28). The meeting takes a five minute recess to observe the soldiers mock Jesus’ cry for a drink by offering a sponge soaked with sour wine (see John 19:29).

As the meeting resumes, Jesus conducts some redemption business while the process is still active. Here we are introduced to a young man who, by all rights and reasons, has earned his place on a cross next to Jesus. His criminal cohort who hangs on the other side of Christ, has taken to mocking Jesus’ divinity. The young man corrects his ambivalent companion, then makes a bold request of the Savior as He hangs on the cross, actively fulfilling his request for salvation and redemption. Jesus, in acknowledgment of his statement of faith, honors his request: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (see Luke 23:43). This first act of redemption occurs concurrently with the ultimate Sacrifice of the Lamb of God for the sins of the world. It is proof that redemption and restoration are our prime directive here, and nothing gets in the way of that.

At this point in the meeting, it appears that God the Father must leave the room, because the sins of the world, past, present, and future, are now being placed on Jesus’ shoulders. This is something that the Father cannot see, and it garners a deeply human response from Jesus: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” (See Matthew 27:46). It must be beyond the comprehension of the human mind to consider what it feels like to be distance from a piece of your very being. The separation of a newborn child from its mother. The lost connection between a husband and wife. The disintegration of a longstanding friendship. Nothing could compare to the loneliness Jesus must be experiencing in this moment. The severing of this divine connection, although temporary, could only be classified as agonizing, amidst the hardest mission He would ever take on. In the garden of Gethsemane, He prayed that, if it was possible, God would let “this cup pass” (see Matthew 26:36-46). He knew this mission would be tough, and this moment proves it.

Jesus somehow finds the strength to draw the meeting to a close. Business has been conducted, issues have been addressed, and needs have been met. Jesus announces, “It is finished” (see John 19:30). The temple responds to this statement of finality of the old law being abolished, and the curtain is torn in two, top to bottom, signifying the success of Project Restoration. Every blood washed soul will have full access to the Father with Jesus Christ sitting at His right hand, continuing to intercede on our behalf. In final act of surrender, and to adjourn the meeting, Jesus’ last statement is uttered: “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit!” And he breathes his last.

This concludes the business meeting that took place on Good Friday. On that day, Jesus did the necessary thing to make sure that we would never be separated from our Creator ever again. The debt is forever paid, and the restoration is available to anyone and everyone who seeks and accepts it, surrendering your life as Christ did, and embracing the divine inheritance that God offers to all.

It was, and will forever be, a GOOD FRIDAY.

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.

The Gift of Christmas — the Miracle of Easter

Easter would not exist without Christmas. Christ had to be born in order to die. God bridged the gap, the chasm caused by sin in Eden, between Heaven and Earth, between Creator and Creation through the gift of Christmas. The miracle of Easter lies in the gift of Christmas. The process of the Son of God becoming the Son of Man is EPIC. Here He is, all-powerful, all-knowing, self-sustaining, and self-sufficient. He exists independent of time, space, and matter. He lives in an interdependent, interpersonal relationship within the Trinity. This God the Son, Jesus Christ, INTENTIONALLY CHOSE to leave all of that, lay it all aside, to encounter, embrace, and influence humanity in a way that uniquely bridged the gap between Heaven and Earth. He chose not to just be interdependent with the Creator, but with the creation as well. In doing so, He earned a unique purpose in Heaven, seated at the right hand of the Father — INTERCESSOR. True enough, He could have stepped aside and allowed humanity to continue to self-destruct. But, because God is LOVE, and abandonment is foreign and uncharacteristic of Love, He even chose to redeem and intervene. In the ultimate act of love, He gave all for the one He loves so much. Redemption and relationship were His modus operandi, and this, Beloved, is the Gift of Christmas. The beautiful, magnificent, empowering, loving gift of God as a helpless baby who came took off Glory and infinite nature, to become one of us, to experience and know intimately what is means to be human, and then to give that away in order to reopen the door to a deeper relationship with our Creator. This is the depth of God’s love for each and every one of us. Let’s share the Gift of Christmas!

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