Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Crutch or Crown?

Almost two years ago, I fractured my leg playing flag football. That was the most excruciating pain I've ever had to experience to date. To add insult to injury, it happened at the most inopportune time--a mere six days before my 27th birthday. I had plans to really live it up and enjoy myself, but suddenly out of nowhere, I found myself on bed rest, popping painkillers and hobbling from room to room in my house. Talk about a setback...I really don't have to tell you that I didn't take that situation very well. Then there were the crutches. I swore those crutches were going to be the death of me. I didn't have much upper body strength to begin with, but there I was left with no other choice than to carry all of my 100-something pounds of weight everywhere primarily by the strength of my arms. The worst part was hobbling up and down the stairs of my building (I live on the top floor of a building with no elevator). You can imagine the workouts I got just from doing simple things like getting the mail or just some fresh air! So that was my life for what seemed like an eternity.  On a daily basis, I watched the muscles in my legs gradually diminish from the lack of use. I often complained and felt sorry for myself because I am very into physical fitness. The inability to be active was pure agony...but then I began to notice something. While one part of my body was weakened, another part of me was getting stronger than ever. Soon, I began to appreciate the muscles in my arms, as well as the crutches that inspired my new-found strength in a place where I least expected.

In life, setbacks occur. They can attack us in our relationships, in our careers, in our churches, and even spiritually. What is important to understand is that God uses what we think are "setbacks" to make us pause and align ourselves with His will. This happens because we sometimes allow daily distractions to get us out of sync with God's purpose for our lives. Suddenly, we stop waiting to hear His voice and we begin to rely on our own understanding when making decisions. Some of us even become arrogant and act like we don't need God at all. God chooses to deal with His children in  different ways, but the way He tends to deal with me is through trials. It is through difficulty that God seems to get my attention the most. To be completely transparent, that is when my prayer life becomes fervent. All God wants is for us to keep Him at the center, and when I fail to do that, He tends to put me in situations where I have no other choice but to depend on Him.

The good news is that the Lord cares for us and protects us, providing safety even when we are going through a tough time. Notice, I didn't lose my leg. As painful and frustrating as it was, my leg remained mostly in tact. My period of brokenness was temporary, but it gave me an opportunity to develop in a place that I didn't give much attention to before. When I began to see how my unfortunate circumstance was actually benefiting me, I started to view my crutches differently. I began to embrace them for their true purpose. And when the pain subsided and my healing was complete, I was eventually able to restore the muscles in my legs to point where I am now stronger than I've ever been:)

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee [shall] bow...and every tongue [shall] confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11, NKJV)

When Jesus came down to earth to save us from our sins, He came down in the image of a servant. To the average man, he was an equal, not the Son of God. He was ridiculed, persecuted and eventually murdered; however, His perspective and unwavering faith in the face of difficulty allowed Him to complete the task at hand. The reward for His obedience was to be elevated above all things and to regain His rightful place with the Father. Right perspective is key to spiritual growth, deliverance and healing. When we look at things through the lens of faith, that is when God can work out the kinks in our lives. Faith in trials increases our strength to endure, and when it's all said and done, we too will be restored and made stronger than ever before. On the other side of brokenness is power.  There will come a day when God will elevate us above the things that try to cripple us now and we will eventually receive our crown in Heaven. First, we must go through a period of brokenness and healing before God can bless and use us for His glorious purpose.

It is imperative to learn to trust the process, no matter how discouraging it can be. Make a decision today. Will you choose to let your circumstances cripple you or will you use this opportunity to draw closer to God, who is the source of all your strength??

Passages of Encouragement: 

In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, He will restore, support, and strengthen you, and He will place you on a firm foundation. (1 Peter 5:10 NLT)

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 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)

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Hope in the Wilderness

If I can be completely and painfully honest, I am going through a really rough phase in my life. Some days, I am truly dissatisfied with where I am in my life. There are certain goals that I have set for myself that still seem out of reach and completely out of my control.That frustrates the heck out of me. There are moments when I hit the lowest of lows and all I feel is hopelessness and loneliness even though I am often quite busy and surrounded by people most of the time. Ironically, even in the midst of feeling this way, I am also reading a book called "Lord, Change My Attitude," which chronicles the story of the Jews as they traveled from Egypt to the Promised Land. A trip that took waaayyy longer than it should have simply because of one thing: lack of faith.

The Jews literally grumbled the entire way to the Promised Land--a land that God Himself assured them was full of opportunity and fulfillment. Many doubted, some rebelled, and as a result, some even died. In the end, only two out of thousands of people that embarked on the journey actually made it into the Promised Land. All because the people, including their fearless leader, Moses, failed to depend on God when things got tough. Let's not forget that this was the same God who thought enough of them to perform miracles which led to their freedom from bondage. This was the same God who made specific promises to them and came through on each and every one.

Life before the journey had been pure hell for the Jews. They had been beaten, abused, underfed, and overworked for many generations. But God's unfailing love, compassion and infinite power broke the shackles which bound His people, and for the moment, they were sincerely grateful...but somewhere along the journey, things got rough again. The more they traveled through the desert land, the more uncertainty began to settle in...it became harder and harder for them to see and trust God's plan. Praise eventually turned into murmuring and the Lord's anger was provoked. After all God had done, the people still had the audacity to doubt the Lord God Almighty. Suddenly, they couldn't take Him at His word, but instead sent scouts to check out this so-called Promised Land...Who did they think they were to test the validity of God's promise? Had God not delivered them out of bondage, provided for them, and protected them every step of the way? Was He suddenly a liar? Lack of faith stunted their spiritual growth and blocked their opportunity to experience the abundance God had promised them...They didn't realize that God had to take them through the wilderness in order to make them ready to receive the abundance of the Promised Land.

That happened thousands of years ago, but sadly, it still happens with us today. That story literally sums up what I am currently dealing with. Things are happening that are really challenging my faith. After all the Lord has done (and continues to do) to prove Himself worthy of my trust, I have the audacity to question what He is trying to do in my life. Now I find myself asking, "Who do I think I am?" I know that I am nothing without the Lord, and the more I reflect, the more I realize that it is time to really get my act together. Regardless of what is going on, God has been too good. He's been too faithful and has seen me through even worse times than this for me to suddenly doubt Him. I don't have to understand His ways. It is through my faith that I will begin to see God's work in my life. As hard as this process may be, one day I know that I will realize how this was used to make me ready to receive the Lord's blessings. But even as I travel down this path, I can still thank God for the provisions He makes for me even in my wilderness state. He has not forgotten about me and He still blesses me every step of the way. It's my prayer that soon I will be able to tell this story and encourage someone based on the truth I will come to know. As I sit here today, the Holy Spirit is encouraging me that this too will work together for my good. I have to trust His process. He knows this is the best way to get my attention back towards Him. It's in the wilderness that I will learn to keep Him at the center of everything and not shut Him out of the areas I want full control of. And when the time is right, I know that the Lord will fulfill every promise He has made to me. 

Scriptures of Encouragement:

Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God's will. Then you will receive all that He has promised.  Hebrews 10:36

Oh How great are God's riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand His decisions and His ways! Romans 11:33, New Living Translation (NLT)

I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord and be of good courage. And He shall strengthen your heart. Wait, I say, on the Lord! Psalm 27:13-14, NLT

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Music to Live By...

Music has always been a major source of expression for me. Certain songs have pushed me through some of the darkest moments of my life and continue to encourage me in my brighter days. As I've grown, my taste in music has continued to evolve, but I am proud to say that my 2,000+ iPod library is extremely diverse :) While I do have my moments where I need to indulge in my secular collection of "old skool," hip hop, pop, alternative or r&b music (to name a few), I have grown to appreciate the music that penetrates my soul and speaks life to my situations in ways that no hot beat or clever play on words can ever accomplish. For me, the catchy beat has to be substantiated by the words and the Spirit behind them in order to keep my attention. I really want to share the music (new and old) that I believe God uses to speak to me directly, in hopes that one or more of those songs will affect your life for the better. Hey, I'm bored and I love music so hopefully my fellow music lovers will find my list refreshing and enlightening. Either way, here goes nothing!...
(Note: This list is not ordered by preference)
  1. Be Optimistic - Sounds of Blackness
  2. I Made It - Jonathan McReynolds
  3. Happy - Tasha Cobbs
  4. I Owe All - James Fortune & FIYA
  5. Keep On Moving - Soul II Soul (not really "gospel" but def positive)
  6. Today - Kirk Franklin
  7. The Anthem - Planetshakers
  8. Healer (Live version) - Hillsong
  9. Our God - Chris Tomlin
  10. Sovereign God - Maurette Brown Clark
  11. My Heart Has Been Restored - Maurette Brown Clark
  12. Hallelujah - Marvin Sapp
  13. Breathe Into Me - Fred Hammond
  14. God Is - James Cleveland
  15. Grateful - Youthful Praise
  16. Powerful God - Youthful Praise
  17. I Love the Lord - Whitney Houston (originally recorded by Richard Smallwood)
  18. Love Lifted Me - Youthful Praise
  19. Press In Your Presence - Shana Wilson
  20. Can't Give Up Now - Mary Mary
  21. I Worship You - Mary Mary
  22. Yes - Shekinah Glory Ministries
  23. Calling My Name - Hezekiah Walker
  24. For Your Glory - Tasha Cobbs
  25. Without You - Tasha Cobbs
  26. I Belong To You - William McDowell
  27. I Pray - Jessica Greene
  28. Thank You - Walter Hawkins
  29. He's Able - Darwin Hobbs & Deitrick Haddon
  30. Resting On His Promise - Youthful Praise 
  31. He Won't Fail - Fred Hammond
  32. Even In The Rain - Maurette Brown Clark
  33. Say A Prayer - Donald Lawrence
  34. I Am - Youthful Praise 
  35. Thou Art My God - Ricky Dillard
  36. It Ain't Over - Maurette Brown Clark
  37. Just A Prayer Away - Yolanda Adams
  38. Never Give Up - Yolanda Adams
  39. More Than Enough - Vickie Winans
  40. Make Me Over Again - Tonex
  41. More of Thee - Bishop Noel Jones
  42. No Other Choice - Tye Tribbett & GA
  43. Thank You - Benita Washington
  44. That Name - Yolanda Adams
  45. Turn Around - John P. Kee
  46. Without Love - Cece Winans
  47. You Are My Peace - Juanita Bynum
  48. Yahweh - Mali Music (as ministered by Juanita Bynum)
  49. Every Praise - Hezekiah Walker
  50. Song of Gratitude - Donnie McClurkin

Before Leaving This Earth...

I posted my bucket list here in order to get my thoughts organized in one place...My mind was becoming too crowded LOL. I encourage everyone to do this. It was kinda fun and I think everyone should have something to strive for in life:)These are in no particular order, by the way....

  • Go on an African Safari
  • Walk on the Great Wall of China
  • Visit the Holy Land
  • See the Pyramids of Egypt up close and personal :)
  • Say 'Yes' to Everything for 1 Day (and write about the experience)
  • Sky Dive (tandem most likely)
  • Get a tattoo
  • Visit Dubai
  • Go jogging across the George Washington Bridge (NYC)
  • Participate in a charity bike ride
  • Learn and master another language
  • White water rafting/tubing
  • Go to a gun range
  • Write a memoir
  • Have washboard abs (a girl can dream, lol)
  • Perform in a stage play
  • Travel to every state in the U.S.
  • Read the entire Bible (and understand it)
  • Do 1 random act of kindness everyday for 1 week and use the opportunity to share Christ
  • Work in Public Affairs
  • Tour the White House
  • Learn to play piano
  • Visit the Grand Canyon

Monday, December 30, 2013

New Life Resolution

At the end of every year, most people find themselves replaying scenes from the previous 12 months in their minds. Some
images make us cringe while others inspire us to keep pushing in the right direction. For some of us who cringe over the mistakes, mishaps, and failures of the past, we often find ourselves jotting down a list of temporal "resolutions" that we will attempt to magically fix all by ourselves at the stroke of midnight on January 1st, only to find ourselves back at our bad habits by January 2nd. I don't know your story, but that is definitely mine. 

Through my writing and so many other things that have occurred recently, I have gained a lot of insight and decided to abandon this mystical New Year's Resolution stuff. I came to the conclusion the other day that something has got to give. I need permanent change, not a brief pause in my regularly scheduled program. I need a lifestyle change. I also realize that I can't expect my issues to dissipate on their own, as I remain the same person I was in 2013. I have to do something new in order to see new results. 2013 has been pretty good to me. I say that because God has used a lot of good and bad things to show me His power, His love and His direction in my life. As I began to reflect on what He has done for me, I was encouraged to jot down my own list of things that I must do if I wish to have the abundant life The Lord has promised (John 10:10). A lot of times, we read that scripture and think of God as a genie who just gives us everything we want without us lifting a finger, but we are so wrong (that's a different blog for another time). Becoming better takes some work on our end...

 As you read my list, I want to encourage you to ponder the things you want to do differently going forward. Feel free to share them with me as we attempt to become better versions of ourselves together. I also have a favor to ask of you. After reading this, I ask that you would hold me accountable. The truth is that I can't do this on my own. Trust me, I know. I need someone to remind me of my goal every step of the way because I'm human and life happens. I promise to hold you accountable as well...

              My New Life Resolution 

1. No more negative thoughts or speech: negativity only serves to either hold me back or make me feel worse about things I cannot change.

2. Uplift and empower the women around me: This year I discovered that too many females (young and old) suffer from low self-esteem. A lot of the poor decisions we make stem from some deep-rooted hurt that has never been fully addressed. I can attest personally to that. I don't want to be a part of the problem so I vow to be more of an encourager instead of tearing others down to boost my own self-worth.

3. Stop lying: Believe and speak the truth at all times, whether it's comfortable or not. Lies have caused a great deal of pain in my life and I no longer want any part of it. 

4. No more fear: I am fully committed to believing in the person God called me to be. Instead of living in fear, I intend to bask in the love, power and self-control that God has given me. (2Timothy 1:7)

5. No more people-pleasing: Trying to please everyone is not only impossible; it's exhausting! From now on, I will do things based on what is right, not what is popular.

6. Forgive and move on: I've held onto a lot of pain caused by other people, but I'm only hurting myself when I don't forgive. While it is hard to forgive and forget, it is possible to forgive every time I remember. 

7. Spend quality time with the Lord everyday: I have learned the hard way that going through my day without seeking God is like driving a car while blind folded. I never know what to expect and there's danger at every turn. 

8. Speak kindly to myself: This is not to be confused with being prideful. I have spent TOO much time tearing myself down, or talking about myself before somebody else can. The power of life and death lie in the tongue and I am tired of killing my own self-esteem.

9. Put things into proper perspective. Everything isn't a big deal.

10. Use the past as a map toward a better future: If we insist on looking back, then we should at least use it to make us better...

Happy 2014 and beyond! May God bless and encourage you as you strive to become the person He created you to be!

~ Shawn

Monday, December 23, 2013

Not Guilty (Pt 1)

"Through Christ, God has given us the privilege and authority as apostles to tell Gentiles everywhere what God has done for them, so that they will believe and obey Him, bringing glory to His name." Romans 1:5 (NLT)

Every year at this time, I am reminded of one of the greatest gifts God has given me since I first accepted Him into my life. Almost six years ago around Christmas time, I found myself in a spiritual rut. I was a recent college grad who was struggling through a tough course in the school of adulthood. I was officially in the "real world" and I hated everything about it. I had dreams and goals for myself, but I was so insecure and had very little faith in the direction my life was headed. To help me cope, I had begun to engage in shoplifting in order to feed my insatiable desire for "things" and control. For a while, I achieved both and if all else failed, I at least thought I had a promising future in that since I never got caught.

But one day I did get caught.

It was the most humiliating day of my life. There I was in the middle of a store being asked to empty my pockets in front of everyone, including my sisters who I knew looked up to me. I was escorted out of the store and led handcuffed through the mall to a security holding cell. The cell in which I was placed was barren and the only thing in my view was my own reflection in the glass door. My eyes caught the gaze of a person I didn't recognize staring back at me through that glass. Who is this person? How in the heck did I get so low? My thoughts ran rampant until an officer came in and blew my mind with one simple comment.  "You work for NBC. There was no reason for you to do this."

At first, I had no clue what he was talking about or how he knew where I worked. I thought that perhaps they ran a search on me and found the information, but then I noticed something that explained everything. I had totally forgotten about the jacket I was wearing, which bore the company's famous peacock logo on the sleeve. As I was doing my deed in the mall,  I had forgotten that I was also acting as a representative of a well-respected media giant at the same time. Somehow, I was tarnishing the reputation of what it meant to be a part of that organization. You know how stereotypes go. People with good jobs don't steal. Shoplifters are usually poor and uneducated. Well so much for that stereotype...

I had a completely different message for this blog post before I started writing it, but God has literally interrupted that train of thought to share something with me that I need to share with anyone who reads this. Many times as Christians, we go through life doing whatever pleases us, forgetting the responsibility that we carry. The "logo on our sleeve," if you will. Unbelievers look at our behavior and question our faith because sometimes our behavior is "worse" than theirs. I have heard that too many times to ignore. We tarnish the reputation of the One we represent whenever we act on our own will and desires. It's time to take this walk seriously and be the ambassadors God has called us to be, according to the Word of God. As one of my good friends always says, "Preach the Gospel and when necessary, open your mouth." Let's allow our lives to be the example of Christ's love. We have to be mindful of our actions. The world is watching.

Not Guilty (Pt. 2)

"For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am..." I Corinthians15:9-10 (NKJV)

Fast forward from the  prison cell to the months after my arrest...It was time for my court hearing that would determine my fate and ultimately shape the direction of my future. The four grueling weeks leading to that day will always be etched in my mind. Probably God's way of keeping me humble. Everyday, I got up at 5AM and prayed for God's forgiveness as soon as I opened my eyes. I asked for a second chance as I got dressed for work. I prayed again as I boarded the bus to work, and as I walked to the building. I fasted. And I prayed some more. Every. Day. I tried to smile to hide the guilt, fear and anxiety that was eating me alive, but I failed miserably. Although I prayed to an all-powerful God, I doubted that He would forgive me this time. I knowingly made the wrong choices. I spat in His face every time I chose to disobey Him. I didn't even bother to pray about it until after I got into trouble. I figured I was probably wasting my time praying the way that I did. But I literally had nowhere else to go. I had to trust Him. Eventually, the day finally came.

In court, I had to sit for almost two hours and watched more than a dozen other offenders receive harsh punishments for their crimes. The experience was excruciating. By the time the judge called my name, I was bracing myself for the worst. My dreams of a great career in the government were over. My reputation and ability to lead others was finished. Finally, the judge issued his ruling...What?!? Not guilty?? I'm free?? Am I hearing correctly? This time, I wanted to shout. Cry. Run. Anything that would help me express the elation I was feeling...

In spite of everything, God forgave me. Wiped my slate clean. Gave me a fresh start with a new sense of gratitude that I never had before. I am embarrassed to admit that he also confirmed His existence. There were times that I questioned if He was even real. Yet, He did all of this and more for me because He loves me. In fact, He loves us. More than 2,000 years ago, God knew that we couldn't overcome the guilt of our sins on our own, so He sent His only Son, who NEVER did anything wrong, as a sacrifice to wipe each of our slates clean for good. Because of that sacrifice, I was able to come to my Father and be forgiven. The thing that blows my mind the most is that there were many people in that courtroom who did the same thing I had done. But I was literally the only one to walk away with a clean slate. To God be the glory...

God examined my heart and saw my desire to turn away from the sin that got me in that situation in the first place. If it had not been for God's grace at that moment, I wouldn't be sitting here writing this blog trying to encourage readers to accept the freedom that God has promised each of us through Jesus Christ. I would literally have nothing to say right now. Today, I implore you not to wait until trouble comes to go looking for God. He wants you to come today. No matter where you are in life, no matter what you did 5 minutes ago...Another chance at life is available. Please accept Christ into your life and let his Spirit help you navigate through this difficult journey. Just like me, your story doesn't have to end with what you did wrong. It's time to accept the invitation and walk in the abundant life that God has richly promised all of those who love Him.