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The Power Struggle

Image  I believe every moment in life is teachable and if you pay close attention, you might learn a great lesson from God.

I went to the beach on Memorial Day with my siblings, cousins and their kids. The oldest of the children wanted to wade in the water, so I took him to the shoreline. He stood in the ocean, a few feet away from the sand and puffed up his chest as if he was Zeus (or maybe a Power Ranger). A small wave came and knocked him down. He got up, clearly upset and embarrassed, and made a fist. He started chastising and punching the water for “attacking” him. I tried not to laugh because I could tell his five-year-old ego had taken a hit. But when the waves knocked him down again, I couldn’t help it. He was not amused. I told him, “Listen, the water is a force to be reckoned with. Why don’t you just enjoy it instead of fighting it?”

He did not care for my words of wisdom so he walked away and went to build a sandcastle with his brother.

I thought about what had just transpired and it occurred to me that I have been where my nephew has been many times. I’ve been knocked down by life and I have gotten back up only to wave my fist at the “Giver of Life.” How dare you embarrass me and not cooperate with my efforts? Each time, I could hear Him cautioning me: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you (1 Peter 5:6).

But sometimes it wasn’t enough to help me overcome my shortcomings. Sometimes I’d walk away (blatantly ignoring God) and preoccupy myself with something I knew I was good at – something that made me feel like I was in control.

Everyone likes control — some to a higher degree than others — even children as young as my nephew. Control makes us feel mighty and powerful, and unfortunately, self-reliant. Control is a symptom of pride and a recipe for destruction.

King Solomon warned, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2). Apostle Peter quipped, “God opposes the proud, but shows favor to the humble (1 Peter 5:5).

David received favor when he went into battle with Goliath. He did not use his own strength. He relied on God’s power by recognizing that he was nothing without Him.

Jacob had to learn this lesson the hard way. Jacob really thought he was something. He was smart in his own eyes as he earned his keep by scheming people such as his twin brother, Esau. However, when he learned that Esau was out to get him, Jacob fled for his life. He was so afraid to return home that he finally turned to God in prayer.

According to the passage, Jacob struggled all night with an angel, who biblical scholars believe was a manifestation of Christ in angelic form before his incarnation. This “struggle” between Jacob and the angel was an aggressive form of prayer, not a physical act of violence. The angel commanded Jacob to stop holding on to him, but Jacob replied “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:27). It is important to note that this statement was Jacob’s declaration of faith and deep humility.

When the angel saw that Jacob would not let go, he touched Jacob’s thigh removing it out of joint. The pain should have thwarted Jacob, but instead it made him fight (pray) harder. Finally, the angel blessed Jacob and changed his name to Israel.

Jacob’s name meant “supplanter or to hold the heel.” His parents gave him that name because he came out of his mother’s womb holding his twin brother’s heel which metaphorically implied that he would always fall behind in life.

Nevertheless, since Esau was firstborn, it meant that he would receive the birthright, which was a very important and sacred thing in those days. It wasn’t just a transfer of physical assets; it was a spiritual honor. It’s no wonder Jacob schemed his brother into selling his birthright. And he was proud of it.

This did not please God because Jacob did not act according to His will. It was not until Jacob was truly remorseful for tricking his brother and fought hard to be in right standing with God that he was given the desires of his heart; blessings and honor, hence his new name, Israel, which means “who prevails with God.”

Isn’t that what we all want at the end of the day? Favor, blessings and a new name (identity) from God? Life will always push us to our own devices when we want things to go our way as opposed to God’s. But when we humble ourselves before the Giver of Life, we can prevail through failures, shame and frustration, and be lifted up.

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Uncommitted to Commitment

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:2-3

My generation is the worst when it comes to commitment! Yes, I said it! And you know what? I am part of the problem too.

We are so relationship challenged and social media is not even to blame.

As a matter of fact, we are great at being social even if it kills us to be genuine while doing so. We do such a good job putting on an act behind our computer screens that pretending comes naturally to us when we see our “friends” face to face.

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But when it comes to maintaining meaningful relationships, we lack effective communication skills, compassion, forgiveness and patience to stay in them for the long haul. We are quick to dismiss those who rub us the wrong way, exclude those who do not measure up to our ideal human standards and end things between people we’ve known for years (since childhood even) over something minuscule.

And lets not get on the topic of marriage! Kim Kardashian is not the only one who holds a record for calling it quits after 72 days of wedded bliss (and disharmony). There are countless others in that age group who have lasted about that long if not less, and who, fortunately for them, do not have to deal with the attentive eyes of the public, media sensationalism and scrutiny.

I don’t know if the fault lies in Disney movies, but what I do know is that we have been conditioned and disillusioned into believing that perfect relationships exist. As a result, we can’t keep friends, spouses, children or parents around us for too long if they don’t march to the beat of our drums.

This zero-tolerance-for-flaws attitude that we have is even affecting the way we do church. I can’t tell you how many times I have literally watched from the back pew as the church fell apart…and away. At one church in particular, we downsized from a 300-member congregation to 50 faithful worshipers in a matter of two days. From what I learned from my mother (she was part of the latter group), the majority of the flock were unhappy because our pastor was not open to the idea of purchasing and remodeling a big abandoned warehouse across town. That’s all it took!

A few years ago, I watched (again) as some of my fellow peers from the young adult ministry jumped ship. I am not sure what their real reasons were, but I knew some of them were unhappy that our senior pastor had released the youth pastor, who was also the head honcho of our group. I remember feeling as if something was wrong with me because I still chose to attend the church. I tried to persuade my husband into leaving and prayed that God would show us to the door and point us to the perfect house of worship, but neither my better half nor my Savior would budge.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that whatever happened between the senior and youth pastors was not my battle. I was not in a committed relationship with them; I am devoted to God. And the church I attend is our divine meeting place until further notice.

I also learned that you can’t follow people toward a path that looks or feels right. People will lead you astray. Since I decided to follow Jesus, I have to trust His way, for better or worse, for narrow or narrower.

He has said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it” (Matthew 7:13). 

Why leave the church over one person (or two)? Why send your spouse “to the left” because he failed to get one thing right? Why yell “no new friends” because your confidante disappointed you that one time? I get that we are human and capable of being hurt. But the people who hurt us are human too and fully capable of getting it wrong (just as we are).

Granted, there are instances when we have constantly forgiven those who have wronged us, but isn’t that what commitment to God is about?

Imagine if God was not committed to us or to His cause (which is to save each and every one of us from the pits of hell)? Imagine if He lacked effective communication skills (the Word), compassion, forgiveness or patience in our relationship with Him? Where would we be?

Oh I’ll tell you…we would have been dismissed, excluded and put to an end! Thank God, He is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

We can’t allow the world to be our source of inspiration when it comes to commitment. They’ve got it all wrong anyway! They’ll tell you “to love things and use people instead of use things and love people.”

God created people so that healthy relationships would be formed in love and unity would permeate the earth through peace. It was His way of demonstrating what He desires with us — intimacy and oneness. But we can not accomplish neither of those without commitment. In the final analysis, anyone worth having is worth fighting for. If I am worth it to God, then you are worth it to me. If you are worth it God, then I should be worth it to you.

Because God sees us in completion, He fights for us and is committed to helping us realize our full potential.

And if we say we are committed to God, then we owe it to Him to accept our pastors, flaws and all; to accept our parents, flaws and all; to accept our spouses, flaws and all; to accept our friends, flaws and all; most importantly, to accept ourselves flaws and all. We owe it to God to maintain our relationships (unless He tells us to cut ties with certain people).

Let’s stop nitpicking at the fragments of people’s identities, and start loving them in the wholeness of Christ. Let’s be committed for Christ’s sake.

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Faith in Action

“You have stayed long enough at this mountain.” Deuteronomy 1:6

Have you ever felt stuck? Paralyzed? How many times have you talked yourself into doing something, and even envisioned yourself going after a dream only to find yourself in a standstill?

The inability to do something that you are fully capable of doing is the worst feeling in the world. It’s a feeling I know too well.

I can recall days when I literally felt bound. When I was in high school I was sitting in my geometry class feeling groggy from a cold I was just getting over. I folded my arms on my desk and put my head down. Before I knew it, I dozed off. The sound of the bell awakened me, and I opened my eyes, ready to grab my bags and dash out of the classroom. I was so embarrassed I slept through the entire period.

But when I tried to move, my limbs would not budge. I felt lethargic and frozen in place. I tried again, but I could not lift up my head. I panicked because from my peripheral vision, something dark and evil was looming over my shoulder. I could not even scream.

I could see my teacher looking at me. She had one arm on her hip and the other one in the air with a board eraser in her hand. “Well, aren’t you going to leave? I know you don’t love my class that much,” she said. She turned her back to wipe the blackboard. I could not reply.

I said a silent, desperate prayer to God. Please forgive me for not paying attention during lecture. I am sorry. Help me!

Finally, I was able to wiggle my fingers, then I sneezed. My head jerked and I lifted it up and all of sudden felt life throughout my body. I grabbed my stuff and left the room as fast as I could.

I don’t know what happened to me that day. But years later, after a couple of more episodes, I discovered through an online medical article that I may have had sleep paralysis. According to research, this phenomenon is the result of sleep deprivation or irregular sleep habits and affects half of the population. In some countries, people refer to it as “spiritual oppression.”

Thankfully it’s not uncommon and usually does not persist or cause bodily harm. Neither should fear of failure.

While sleep paralysis can evoke fear, fear alone is debilitating. It can cause you to not move forward when necessary, even if there is nothing physically stopping you and every single body part is functioning properly.

When the Israelites reached their window of opportunity at the Red Sea, they were filled with terror. How were they supposed to cross over? There weren’t any boats in sight. And it did not help when they noticed that the Egyptians were pursuing them. At that point, all they could do was cry out to God. Moses tried to calm them down, saying “Fear not.” But God’s children were not convinced. Moses himself felt uncertain.

The Lord said to him, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward” (Exodus 14:15). If you read the whole passage, you will find that God never once entertained their fears. You would think, with Him being powerful that He would have stretched out His mighty arm, gather them in His hand and carry them over. But instead He gave them instructions to follow. He made them put their faith to work so that they might be delivered from stagnation.

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So in a sense He did carry them over! Hearing from God restored the Israelites’ motivation and destroyed the power of fear over them. What looked impossible became effortless and they were able to overcome their obstacles. Why? Because they stopped standing and did something. They prayed and followed directions.

The Israelites’ journey is no different from our own. Just like them, we are all trying to get ahead in life, and sometimes that means breaking out of our comfort zones (dead ends) and trusting God all the way. We don’t only need faith (Matthew 17:20) to believe it can happen; we need clear instructions from God (Psalm 32:8) and a solid work ethic to make it happen (James 2:17).

Scripture to meditate on:

Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. Matthew 17:20

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. Psalm 32:8

In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. James 2:17

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Little is Much When God is in it

“And God is able to give you more than you need, so that you will always have all you need for yourselves and more than enough for every good cause.” 2 Corinthians 9:8

I got an unexpected check from Sallie Mae a few weeks ago! Unheard of, right? Since I owe the Department of Education, I was tempted to call their offices to find out why they sent me a check and not a bill.

But then I remembered my recent prayers. Did I not ask God to help me pay my debts and believe that He would? Of course I did.

At the time, I was not the least bit concerned about how He was going to do it, so why start now? The fact that He did it through my debtor is proof that He doesn’t only show up when we least expect Him to; He shows up how  we least expect Him to.

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There was a widow in the Bible who was struggling financially. Her husband had just died and the creditors were coming to take her sons to sell them into slavery (people were used as collateral in those days).

All she had was a small jar of oil. She ran into Elisha, a prophet, and shared her dilemma with him. He told her to borrow jars from her neighbors and fill each of them up with oil. Keep in mind, all she had was a small jar of oil.

The widow did as Elisha advised her to do. She closed herself and her sons inside of their home and started filling the jars. When all the jars were filled, the oil stopped flowing. She went back to Elisha and told him about it. He told her to sell the jars to pay off her debt and live off of whatever amount of money was left (read 2 Kings 4:1-7).

God did not only use her deficit (her small jar of oil) to pay off her creditors; He gave her a surplus.

Have you ever had less than enough and were forced to stretch it to make ends meet? It didn’t work out the way you imagined it would, did it? A few of your debts were probably left unpaid…

I didn’t have enough money to take care of my monthly expenses before I received the check in the mail. I was stressing about it because I did not want to fall behind on my payments (or my credit score impacted). And I certainly did not want to borrow.

It’s not that I am too proud to ask people for help but I really believe that I share the blessings of Abraham — that means I am a lender and not a borrower — and I am a joint-heir with Jesus per Romans 8:17.

I did the only thing that was plausible at the time (and still is). I let go and let God. I prayed and left my burdens at the altar. In a matter of days, He sent me the funds via Sallie Mae. Not only was I able to pay my bills, but I got to give an offering at church on Easter Sunday.

Glory to God!