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You’ve been accepted!

Christian-quotes

I’ve often heard religious leaders repeat the mantra “rejection is simply protection” or “rejection is redirection.”

Every time I hear these expressions, I am immediately reminded of a particular experience when such wise words took on a real meaning for me. Like the time I could not find the funds to cover my tuition at a prestigious private fine arts college in Miami where I aspired to study film. As a result, I ended up enrolling at a community college, transferring to a university (after four years) and graduating with a degree in journalism.

Perhaps that is not the best example since the school did not really reject me. It was my parents who rejected the school and the idea of paying $20,000 plus per year (that did not include books or equipment).

Still, it hurt me until I finally accepted that it was for the best. I saved a lot of money attending a public institution and I learned that I wasn’t as passionate about writing and producing film like I thought I was. I was really attracted to the idea of becoming a successful film writer in Hollywood.

I didn’t deal with much rejection after that. In my former years, things came easy. Whenever I applied to a school, I was accepted. Whenever I applied to a job, I was hired. Whenever I applied for a credit card, I was approved. Easy, peasy.

But these days, things are different. Jobs are competitive, schools are selective, credit cards are manipulative (you have to be very careful and discerning with those) and life is a tougher teacher when you become an adult.

Recently, I applied to several jobs. I was called for interviews for three of them and moved on to the next steps. I prayed, mustered up as much confidence as I could and sold myself to the best of my ability. The hiring managers seemed impressed and assured me that they would be in contact in a week.

After several weeks went by, I had a gut feeling that I would not be hired by neither employers. I was right. I received one disappointing e-mail after another (all in one week): “Thank you for your interest with [insert company name here]. After careful consideration, you have not been selected.” I even received a letter from a school that I attended three years ago but took a break from. I had decided to re-enroll last month so that I could go back and finish the Master of Art program. However, when I tore open the letter, it read: “We regret to inform you that you have not been selected.” Ouch! That hurts! And those aforementioned mantras could offer no sense of relief or hope to me. I felt like I was down for the count.

After all, it was just a few years ago when my husband and I learned that the deal fell through on a house we were trying to purchase. Prior to that, we lost our unborn baby. Surely, rejection letters from a potential employer or school are mild in comparison, but nonetheless, they are some damaging triggers.

Hearing you have not been selected, chosen, picked, favored, etc. every day can remind you of experiences in the past when you felt like a failure, and ultimately take a toll on your confidence.

Thank God, He says otherwise: “But I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit — fruit that will last” (John 15:16).

Did you catch that? God does not want to lead us to a high-paying job where we are likely to become reckless in our spending, arrogant, compromising, and miserable. At the end of our lives, none of that will contribute to our legacies and that’s what God wants to protect us from. Quite simply, He wants to give us a blessing that “brings wealth, without painful toil for it” (Proverbs 10:22).

In the grand scheme of rejection, God truly wants to redirect us to our purpose — that unique assignment that will bring glory to His name, allow us to make our mark on this world and outlive us for many generations to come.

We may not have been selected for that job position or degree program that would have enabled us to build our careers. But rest assured, we were created by a loving God who has written to us 66 letters of acceptance and promises to lead us to our purpose and fulfillment if we will just trust His route. The way of the world will get us lost anyway.

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Spiritual Growth

A Divine Potential

remodeling

I admire people who can make something out of seemingly nothing or, who find value in another person’s trash. Sadly, I am not one of those individuals. You may never find me making crafts or shopping for used items at some yard sale. Call me spoiled or uneconomical, but I take pleasure in purchasing quality items and paying the full price (unless there’s a sale).

However, lately, I have noticed a lot of DIY projects on Pintrest and Instagram that has got me feeling like I missed out on one of God’s greatest giveaways – an abundance of creativity. Apparently, my friends have a lot of it to spare.

One gal pal in particular found four old, broken chairs behind a restaurant. She loaded them up in her car and took them home since she was in need of a dining set. She took the seats apart, sowed new fabric onto them, sanded the wooden frames and painted them gold. After attaching the seats back to the bodies, she had brand-new fancy looking chairs to call her own. What I would have considered a lost cause, she deemed priceless, figuratively and literally.

It dawned on me that when she discovered the chairs, she didn’t just see a big mess; she saw potential just as God did when He created the world.

Contrary to the Big Bang Theory, the book of Genesis makes it clear that God created everything and everyone. It states, “In the beginning, when God created the universe, the earth was formless and desolate” (Genesis 1:1-2).

After God made the skies, land, plants and animals, He decided to create humans. God took dirty, loose soil and made a man. Then he took a bone from man’s rib cage and created the woman (read Genesis 2:7, 21). God was pleased when He looked down at everything He had made. He saw potential in a dark space and created perfection.

Even though much of God’s creation today has been marred by sin, He doesn’t obsess about the broken fragments of our lives. He’s God and He’s pretty creative. According to the author of the Book of Hebrews, “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:14).

Simply put, we are no longer a lost cause because of the finished work of Christ on the cross. And because we are not a lost cause, we shouldn’t interpret difficulties as a sign to quit. In knowing this, we should look at the circumstances in our lives and see them the way God sees them – with potential.

When the Israelites were released from captivity in Babylon by the Persian king, Cyrus, not many of them returned to Jerusalem. The small group who did, found the city in ruins. Under God’s command, Cyrus was committed to restoring the region to its glory days by rebuilding the Temple. The people participated in this project using materials that Cyrus provided them with. Although the task was daunting at times, the people persevered and completed the Temple (read the Book of Ezra).

The damage done in Jerusalem represents the obstacles that we all face in life. It is interesting to note that God did not get entirely involved with the rebuilding project by performing miraculous deeds as in former crises. He let the people do it themselves which is a clear indication that God does not give us success on a silver platter.

Much like rebuilding a city or taking on DIY projects, getting over a divorce, dealing with health issues or overcoming a financial calamity takes a lot of faith, patience and hard work – all of which are developed through the sight of potential.

It’s hard to see the beauty in difficulties, but they are in fact gifts from God. Through them, we are able to grow and propel to greater heights of perfection which can only be found in Christ.

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Against all Odds

dice“For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” 1 John 5:4

On Father’s Day, just a few hours before the big game, NBA player Chris Bosh addressed the media about his team’s 3-1 deficit in the Finals. One reporter asked him what his attitude was going into a game where the odds were heavily stacked against the Miami Heat (no NBA franchise has ever rallied from such a hole to win the Larry O’Brien trophy). His reponse: “Odds are for people who can’t do it.” The Heat’s star Lebron James added, “Why not us? History is made to broken, why not be part of it.”

That’s a lot of confidence, but unfortunately it was not enough for Bosh, James and their teammates. They succombed to the San Antonio Spurs in a game – best-of-seven series – that many sports analysts and basketball fans described as a “jaw-dropping masterpiece.” But that doesn’t mean they haven’t defied the odds before; they are one of four teams in NBA history to have gone to the finals back-to-back four times or more. That says a lot considering how long the NBA has been around and the amount of teams that compete each year. That is why the Miami Heat can afford to be hopeful in the face of adversity…and so can we.

We have a lot of odds stacked up against us in our own personal endeavors. Research show and tell us that the ratio of Americans who go on to become billionaires are one in 785,166; one in five marriages will end within five years; the chances of a normal, healthy woman getting pregnant are only 20 to 40 percent; the odds of having identical triplets sans fertility treatments is one in every 2 million; the chances of dying from heart disease is more than one in three if your’re a woman; men have one in two chance of developing cancer; and the chances of living to 100 years of age is one in 1,000.

These statistics, including family history and past experiences (whether personal or interpersonal) cement this idea in our minds that we cannot beat the odds. As a result, when faced with challenges while trying to pursue a seemingly unattainable goal, we shrink back in unbelief, become discouraged and give up.

But a careful look at the lives of the saints in the Bible reveal that perfectly flawed humans who find themselves in compromising situations can defeat the odds as long as they trust God.

When Gideon was given the daunting task of delivering the Israelites from the aggressive Midianites the first thing he did was measure his failures against the enemy’s success. Gideon was the “least in [his] father’s house” and came from a weak clan. On the contrary, the Midianites boasted an army as numerous as the sand on the seashore and they always succeeded in their raids against Israel. How could Gideon not be afraid? An angel of God had to encourage him: “God is with you, you mighty man of valor” (Judges 6:12).

Gideon was still unsure if it was truly God asking him to combat the Midianites. He said, “Show me a sign that it is You who speak with me” (Judges 6:17). More specifically, Gideon asked God to make a piece of wool wet overnight and He did. He also asked God to keep another piece of fleece dry while making the surrounding dirt wet and God complied. Gideon finally obliged.

He assembled a formidable group of Israelite men but God commanded him to downsize lest Gideon and his crew take credit for the victory. If anyone was and is deserving of all the glory, it is God.

Gideon’s shrunk his troupe from 32,000 to 300 and they went on to defeat the Midianites. Their victory was truly an anomaly to those watching from afar because the Israelites did not boast an impressive resume. They clearly lacked the strength and size to conquer their enemy, but they had the favor of God upon them. And that was more than enough.

Like Gideon, we may become fearful in the face of adversity and begin to doubt God. In desperation, we may even seek out other options to guarantee a win. But God will always remind us, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit” (Zechariah 4:6). He knows our faith is best developed when we have done everything humanely possible only to fall short.

So He does not only use the odds to build our faith; He employs us in our vulnerable state – by His grace – to test our faith and allow us to defeat the odds for His glory.

 

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Courage to Start Over

          starting-over-road

Starting all over, either by force or by choice, is tough for anyone, young and old.

I remember when I had to attend a new elementary school at the age of eight. I was very upset about leaving all of my friends and relatives at Dillard Elementary School where I was a student for three years. I really felt like I belonged because the student body was very diverse and the faculty and staff were culturally conscious. We explored the world around us through lively and interactive presentations in our special classes and at our school assemblies. I didn’t want to leave all of that behind (this affected me a lot emotionally), but I eventually found the courage to adapt to the new faces and curriculum at my new school.

Many years later, when I left home for college at the age of 19, I quickly learned that my past experiences could not prepare me to adjust to my new environment in Tallahassee. Aside from now having to live in a slow-paced (and sometimes too friendly and scary) city, I had to pay my own rent, buy groceries and prepare my meals, nurse myself back to health when I was sick and deal with other issues without the help of my family. When the hurricanes blew through during that period, that was especially hard for me because my dad was not there to make me feel safe.

Reading the Bible, which appears to have a ‘starting over” theme weaved through all of the stories, helped a lot reminding me that I was never alone in life transitions.

After the Jews were taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar II, they spent 70 years as prisoners in Babylon. Prior to their exile, the Jews had already experienced slavery and deliverance in Egypt and made a life for themselves in Jerusalem.Yet, they were distressed because they lost their city, homes, pride, Temple (a symbol of their faith) and most importantly, the Ark of the Covenant. It was hard for them to get comfortable in the homeland of idolatry where the Babylonians bowed down to anyone but God.

When they had served their time – their captivity was the result of their sins and God’s subsequent judgment – King Cyrus of Persia sent a decree allowing the Jews to return to their land with the blessings of the Persian Empire. However, not many of them were willing to leave Babylon because they had already settled. The few that did return to Palestine had to start all over because all they found was rubble in the place they once called home. After many years of opposition, they were able to successfully rebuild the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem. A revival was held in celebration of this feat in which the prophets read books of the Old Testament and gave the Jews a renewed sense of hope.

Babylon represented chaos, but the Jews turned to God, who encouraged them to keep calm: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity” (Jeremiah 29:11-14). Zion, the land of Judah, to which the Jews returned represented God’s spiritual kingdom. In retrospect, when the Jews went back home, they also returned to God’s unmerited favor.

In life, we will all experience change (both good and bad) and each one will feel like the first time — like we have been taken out of God’s goodness and held captive in a strange and chaotic environment. If we are not careful, we will settle in our broken places and miss out on our breakthrough. Instead of returning to God and rebuilding our shattered dreams, we will revel in pain, anger and bitterness and become sluggish.

That is not the purpose of God’s judgment or grace. He wants us to grow in the hard places in preparation for a fresh start. And if that seems like a daunting task, we only need to remember His promises to Israel through the prophet Isaiah: “But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

 

References: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

“Then times of refreshment will come from the presence of the Lord.” Acts 3:20

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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!

 

 

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A Name from God

I recently attended a baby dedication ceremony in support of my cousin and his wife (their daughter is my goddaughter). There were about ten parents dedicating their baby that day, and a lot of family and friends there to witness it.

The presiding minister began the service with prayer before calling each parent to the altar with their bouncy, sleepy or cranky babies. Before he prayed for each baby, he shared his or her name with the audience and explained what it meant. There was Zachary, which means “remembered by God”;  there was Jacob, which means “he grasps the heel”; And there was my goddaughter, Vitani which means “I am war.”

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Since her name is not biblical, he prayed that she would grow up waging war against the enemy of her soul for the sake of the church.

It was clear to me that the minister had done his research on all of the babies’ names so that he would have some guidance in what to pray for regarding their unique journeys.

I thought to myself, what would he have done if he had to present a baby with a name like mines. Ifonia is not your typical Greek, Hebrew, English, Spanish or French name. I’ve done my research. My name cannot be found anywhere.

From my understanding, you will find a few women in Haiti (where my parents are from) with my name, but Haitian parents typically opt for names like Marie, Claudette, Fabiola and Natalie for girls. So not only is my name not popular in America; it’s not even widespread in Haiti.

Ever the one to want to fit in, I hated my name. From elementary to college — you’d think adults would have a clue — I got picked on daily because of it. My teachers could not pronounce it and my peers could not accept it. It got worse in my early adult years.

People would ask, “what does it mean?”

“I don’t know” I would reply.

Sometimes I wondered why God did not prompt my parents into giving me a familiar name like they had given my siblings, Eddy and Lola. Not just a familiar name, but a name with meaning (because I am deep like that).

Once, a man from Venezuela asked me if I knew what my name meant. I told him it did not have a meaning. He told me I was wrong and that my name meant “beautiful bird.” I looked this up and could not find any piece of information online (Google to be precise) to back his claim.

What I did discover is that the last three letters of my name spell, “Nia,” which means “purpose” in Swahili and “brightness; radiance” in Welsh.

For the first time, I felt like I belonged in the world of people with typical names (with meanings). But the ego boost was short-lived when I realized that my name still fell short, literally, because I could not find a meaning for “Ifo.”

I think my need to fit in had a lot to do with years of never belonging to a particular group. I was never part of the popular crowd, the geek club or the talented/athletic bunch. It was the same when I began my career. I had nothing in common with the mothers in the office, nor the party-goers, smokers or happy hour devotees. I managed to stick out as the church girl without once being preachy or acting self-righteous.

At some point I accepted my fate (or calling) as the outcast. I’ve learned that God has called and set us apart as the “salt of the earth” and “light of the world.” It is His desire that we do not conform to the patterns of this world.

In the Bible, when God chose someone, He often gave them a new name. He changed Jacob’s name to Israel, Simon to Peter and Saul to Paul, after each had an encounter with Him.

He has even promised to change ours.

“Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it. ” Revelation 2:17

With that being said, I am proud to say that I have accepted my name, calling and destiny no matter how far apart they set me from the world.

 

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The Promises of Spring

I love the spring season. It seems full of promises and new opportunities, especially after enduring a long, dreary winter.

I remember when I was getting married in the spring of 2008. I had a spring-themed wedding and stuck with colors like pink and green with yellow being the accent of our floral arrangements and decorations.

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At the time, I had no idea that the number “8” symbolized new beginnings  or that “3” represented the oneness (God in three persons) of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When I learned this (I got married on 3-8-8), my wedding date took on a deeper meaning for me. It became more than just marrying the man I fell in love with in front our family and friends in my pretty ivory dress.

My husband and I were entering a holy covenant together as one, before God, and about to embark on a new journey. We were boldly — you have got to be bold to make a vow to God — leaving an old life behind and braving the unknown, all the while trusting God would be with us. In retrospect, we were taking a page out of Noah’s book.

Noah knew what it was like to experience a new beginning. And while the other saints in the Bible could also relate, Noah’s story is unique in the fact that he and his family were the only people standing as an old era came to an end.

God was pleased with Noah’s faithfulness, but disappointed in the sinful men and women of that time. He decided he would wipe the human race from the earth with a flood, sparing Noah, his family and “two of all living creatures, male and female.”

God told Noah to build an ark and gave him specific instructions on how to build it. It had to be 450 ft. long, 75 ft. wide and 45 ft. high with three decks, many rooms and just one door in the side. It took Noah 120 years to complete.

When the time came for God’s plans to unfold, Noah, his family and the animals entered the ark. God shut them in. For 40 days and 40 nights, it rained and the ark floated on the surface of the water. Noah and his family had no concept of time (no clocks or calendars) and had not heard anything from God while they were in the ark.

Noah’s faith in the Lord was probably the only thing keeping him sane and hopeful. And though God did not speak to Noah, he was mindful of him. In the eighth chapter of Genesis, the text states, “God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded” (Genesis 8:1).

It took a year for the flood to end and for the land to be dry enough for Noah to leave the ark. To test the outdoor conditions, Noah sent out a dove to see if it would find dry land. It returned to the ark. Seven days later, Noah sent the dove out again. This time it flew back carrying an olive leaf. But Noah waited to hear from God, which was about a month later. God said to him, “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you – the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground – so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number upon it” (Genesis 8:16-17).

People often read the story of Noah and conclude that God messed up with creation the first time and needed to start over. However, that was not the case. Humans messed up (Adam, Eve and their descendants) and the wage for their sins was death.

The flood was a physical demonstration – and one of many – of God’s judgment toward mankind. In Noah’s case, the ark symbolized the salvation found in Christ. That is why scripture states, “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe” (Proverbs 18:10). It is important to note that the one door built on the ark represented Jesus being the only way to enter God’s rest (John 14:6).

Noah’s story is a prototype of our Christian walk and we would be remiss if we did not apply the lessons of his journey to our own. Noah’s relationship with God was the difference between his life and the life of the sinners during that era, and it set the course for Noah to experience a new beginning filled with God’s many blessings.