Not One of the Crowd

Then I said, “I will not make mention of Him, Nor speak anymore in His name.”
But His word was in my heart like a burning fire Shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, And I could not – Jeremiah 20:9

Do you sometimes feel like the prophet Jeremiah? He was called to be a prophet. Life for him was not at all easy. He couldn’t marry and have a family. His community hated him and they didn’t want to hear what he had to say because his messages were of doom and gloom. They were probably thinking, “who does he think he? These were people he grew up with. They were his neighbors. It got so bad that Jeremiah didn’t want to speak any more. He tried to keep silent but he couldn’t. He couldn’t keep silent when he had a message to share with the people that could result in their salvation.

Do you pass up opportunities to witness to others because you don’t want to be criticized, ridiculed, ignored or shunned? Are you tired of your friends making fun of you because you talk to them about God? Do you feel like you are an outsider because the people you once hung out with want nothing more to do with you? You cramp their style. You are a drag because you don’t want to go to nightclubs or the bars or hang out at the mall anymore. Your boyfriend dumped you because he’s not into that Bible stuff.

What do you do? You do what Jeremiah did. Realize and accept your new life as a Christian and that you have work to do. Accept that life at times will be difficult because you serve God. Jesus had to deal with family, neighbors and friends who rejected and questioned His ministry. He faced persecution and opposition from the religious leaders. In spite of all of these things, He finished the work God had sent Him to do. Follow His example. Continue to share your faith. Those who want to hear it will listen. Sooner or later, the seed will fall on good soil.

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Sitting At His Feet

I wrote this devotion years ago and wanted to share it now.

One day I kept hearing the words, “Sitting at His feet, sitting at His feet.  There’s no other place I’d rather be, than sitting at His feet”.

I have often imagined myself sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to Him share the Word.  I think of the two sisters Mary and Martha.  How very different they were.  The Bible gives an account of what happened one day when Jesus visited them.  As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a village where a woman named Martha welcomed them into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught.  But Martha was worrying over the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”

But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are so upset over all these details! There is really only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it-and I won’t take it away from her.”

A lot of times we are like Martha fussing and fretting over things and not taking the time to spend with Jesus.  Just recently, I realized that I had gotten so caught up in doing the Lord’s work that I was neglecting Him.   I missed my early morning devotions with Jesus.  I missed sitting at His feet so I made a point of setting aside time each morning for Him.  When I sat at His feet, allowing His words to fill my mind, I was overwhelmed by what He had done for me on the cross.

The reality of what Jesus has done for me—for all of us sank in.  And like Mary I don’t want anything to take this away from me.  I don’t want the worries and cares of the world or the demands of my daily life to rob me of the truths I learn when I take the time to sit at Jesus’ feet.

Martha had placed more importance on the preparation of dinner rather than on the guest while Mary had done the opposite.  The words Jesus taught were food for Mary’s soul—they filled her and satisfied her more than any dinner could.  Martha needed to partake in that spiritual food too.

Like Mary we need to take time to sit down and be fed by Jesus.   I can almost hear her singing the words, “Sitting at His feet, there’s no other place I’d rather be than sitting at His feet.”  Jesus invites you and me to leave what we’re doing for the moment and come and sit at His feet.

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Recommit to God

But You, O Lord, are a shield for me, My glory and the One who lifts up my head.  I cried to the Lord with my voice, And He heard me from His holy hill.  Selah – Psalm 3:3, 4

When I was going through a tough time because I was pregnant and unmarried, the words of this psalm comforted and sustained me.  I knew that I was not alone.  The Lord was with me.  He didn’t condone what I had done but He didn’t condemn or forsake me.

A story I can relate to is the one of the Samaritan woman.  She was married five times and living with a man who wasn’t her husband but Jesus reached out to her in love.  He didn’t excuse her lifestyle but he offered her a new one life with him in the center.  He didn’t condemn the woman caught in adultery but showed her grace while at the same time telling her to stop sinning.  God doesn’t discard us when we sin.  He reaches out to us through His Word or through others. I once heard about a man who was at the lowest point in his life, feeling worthless and one day he heard a sermon about God’s love and forgiveness which turned his life completely around.

When we cry out to God, He doesn’t ignore us but we must come to Him with a contrite heart, ready to forsake whatever separates us from Him and receive His forgiveness.  We have the assurance that, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

For those of us who feel we are too sinful to go to Him, we are encouraged to, “Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness …” (Joel 2:13)  There isn’t anything you can do that will diminish God’s love for you.  I knew that even while some church members were unforgiving toward me, I knew that I had God’s forgiveness and that His love for me hadn’t changed.  It hadn’t lessened.  In fact, during those times when I felt the heat and the censure from others, God’s love is what sustained me.  If you have wandered away from God, return to Him.  He is like the father of the prodigal son who returned after wasteful living.  The father was waiting for him and he ran to meet him.  God longs for us to return to Him.  He’s waiting with open arms to welcome us back.

I’m thankful that God is “gracious and full of compassion” (Psalm 145:8).  Our response to His goodness and mercy is to recommit our lives to Him.  And in doing so, we can be confident “that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

Source:  Bible Knowledge

Living Water

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But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life” – John 4:14  

When the Samaritan woman needed water, she went to the well to draw it.  There she met a Jewish Man whom she didn’t know was Jesus.  As she was drawing the water, He asked her for a drink.  She was taken aback asking, “How can you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” because Jews didn’t have anything to do with Samaritans.  Racism existed between them.  The Samaritans were a mixed race resulting from intermarriages between the Israelites and the Assyrians after Samaria fell to Assyria.  For the Samaritans worshipped at Mount Gerizim while the Jews believed that the rightful place of worship was in Jerusalem.  Jesus explained to her that it isn’t where we worship God that’s important but how we worship Him.  God wants us to worship Him in spirit and truth.  Our worship must be genuine.

When Jesus asked her for a drink of water, He was thirsty.  It was her response to His request which led Him to said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who is saying to you, ‘Please give me a drink,’ you would have been the one to ask him, and he would have given you living water.”

She thought He was speaking about the physical water but He wasn’t.  She doesn’t realize that her need isn’t physical but spiritual.  Her life is in moral decay.  She had been married five times and was living with a man who wasn’t her husband.  She needed what only Jesus could give her and was freely offering her.  The water in the well could not satisfy her.  It would temporarily quench her thirst but the water Jesus wanted to give her would satisfy her forever.

The woman asked Him,  “Where are you going to get this living water?”  His answer was the water when given to those who receive it, it will become a well, springing up to eternal life.  It was life-giving water.  Jesus is the Source of the living water which He wants to give to all who thirst.  “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink” (John 7:37).  He is offering the gift of God, which is eternal life. 

What is the living water that Jesus gives to those who thirst?  “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”  But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.  Ephesians 1:13 states, When you believed in the Messiah, you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” 

Jesus knew this woman and what her life was like.  He wanted her to know that despite her past and her present, He wanted to give her a future of hope.  When He made her aware that He knew about her previous marriages and her current living arrangement, He wasn’t condemnatory.  He came to save, not to condemn.  He commended her for being honest when she admitted that the man she lived with wasn’t her husband.  She realized that He was  prophet to be able to know such things and then she changed the subject.  She spoke to Him about worship.

When He told her that God wanted people to worship Him in spirit and in truth, He was basically telling her that worship isn’t just about going to a particular place or church but we worship God by the way we live.  Many of us go to church every week but there are things, relationships, people in our lives that have no business being there or there are things in our lives that we need to sort out, clean up.  Until we do that, we are not giving God the proper worship He desires.  This woman worshipped God but her life was in conflict with His Word and His commandments.  Jesus wanted her to see that true worship was a life that was pleasing to God.

She was looking for the Messiah to come and explain everything.  After Jesus revealed that He was the Messiah, she dropped her water pot and ran off to tell her community.  She said to them, “Come, see a man who told me everything I’ve ever done! Could he possibly be the Messiah?”  As a result of her testimony, that “He told me everything I’ve ever done,” many of the Samaritans of that town believed in Jesus.  The Messiah, the Savior of the world had come into that town and reached out to a woman whom many shunned and ostracized her immorality.  Jesus saw someone who needed Him and what He could give her even if she didn’t realize it.  He had a dialogue with her and opened her eyes to the fact that God loves her and wants to give her the gift of salvation which leads to eternal life.

Today, Jesus is offering you what He offered her–living water which springs up to eternal life.  All you have to do is drink.

Sources:  Wikipedia; Bible Gateway; Zondervan Handbook to the Bible, pp. 626, 808; Got Questions; Christianity;

Parenting

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye – Psalm 32:8

From the time we are born, our parents are there to care for us.  We don’t have to worry about anything.  They provide for our basic needs.  As we get older, they offer us guidance and instructions.  We listen to them most of the time because we know that they want what is best for us.  There are times when we want to do things our way and soon learn that our way is not best and can lead us into trouble.

Our parents God’s stewards.  He entrusted them with the awesome responsibility of raising us to be godly examples to others.  It is no different from the parents we read of in the Bible like Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jesse and his wife, Zechariah and Elizabeth and Joseph and Mary.  Some of them made mistakes but they trusted in God to help them to raise their children.

God is our Father and like our earthly parents, He takes care of us.  He provides for us, teaches and disciplines us.  Moses told the children of Israel, “You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the LORD your God chastens you” (Deuteronomy 8:5).  When God does this, it isn’t pleasant, of course just like when our parents spank us or punish us, it feels terrible.  It’s painful but they do it because it’s necessary.  They want to do away with a behavior or habit that is problematic.  According to King Solomon, “He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him promptly” (Proverbs 13:24).  Although it may be painful for us, God’s chastisement is motivated by love.  “For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives” (Hebrews 12:6).

Parents raise their children as best as they can.  They train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).   Some children turn out well while others don’t.  Don’t be discouraged when you’re having problems with your child.  Continue doing your best and pray.  I’ve been having issues with my son lately and this morning when I was worshipping, the Lord put it in my heart to sing, What a Friend We Have in Jesus.  These words spoke to me, giving me comfort and encouragement:

Have we trials and temptations?  Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged, Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Discipline is also an expression of love, although, the child might not think so at the time but in retrospect, he or she will see that their parents acted out of love and for their best interest.  As parents, we are guides, teachers, disciplinarians, stewards and role models.  We have to reflect God’s character if we want our children to be like Him.  Parenting is a huge responsibility but it is also a blessing and a privilege.

Sources:  Blue Letter Bible; Hymnal Net

The Queen of Soul

“When God loves you, what can be better than that?” ~ Aretha Franklin

There is so much I could write about Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul but I decided to concentrate on the highlights of her music career and her “social and civic contributions”.

Aretha Louise Franklin was  born on March 25, 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee.  Her father, Clarence LaVaughn “C. L.” Franklin was a Baptist minister and a circuit preacher while her mother, Barbara was an accomplished piano player and vocalist.  Theirs was a troubled marriage because of her father’s philandering.  The couple separated in 1948.  Before her tenth birthday, Aretha’s mother died from a heart attack.  Several women, including her grandmother and Mahalia Jackson alternated helping the children at the Franklin home and it was during this time that Aretha learned to play the piano by ear.

Following her mother’s death, Aretha began singing solos at New Bethel, debuting with the hymn, “Jesus, Be a Fence Around Me.”  When she was twelve, her father became her manager, bringing her on the road with him during his “gospel caravan” tours for her to perform in various churches.

Her music career found Aretha signing on with big recording giants such as Columbia, Atlantic, Arista and RCA.  She belted out many hits such as You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman, I Say A Little Prayer, Hold On, I’m Comin’.  And she thrilled the younger generation with Who’s Zoomin’ Who and Freeway of Love.  Hearing Freeway of Love transported me back to the ’80s which were a great time for me when I was living in New York.  And who could forget I Knew You Were Waiting For Me, her number one duet with George Michael?

In 1980, she gave a command performance before the Queen at Prince Albert’s Hall, in 2009 she sang at the 2009 inauguration of President Barak Obama.  In the following year, she received an honorary degree from Yale University.  In 2014, she received honorary degrees from Harvard University and New York University as well as honorary doctorates in music from Princeton, Yale, Brown, Pennsylvania, Berkeley, New England Conservatory of Music and University of Michigan.  She was the recipient of other honors such as Doctor of Humane Letters and Doctor of Law degree.

Aretha was dubbed “one of the giants of soul music, and indeed of American pop as a whole.  More than any other performer, she epitomized soul at its most gospel-charged.”  Her voice was described as being a “powerful mezzo-soprano voice” and she was praised for her arrangements and interpretations of other artists’ hit songs.  At the age of 14 when she recorded her first album, Songs of Faith, Jerry Wexler declared that her voice “was not that of a child but rather of an ecstatic hierophant.”  A hierophant is a person who brings religious congregants into the presence of that which is deemed holy.  Aretha’s explanation for that would have likely been, “Being a singer is a natural gift. It means I’m using to the highest degree possible the gift that God gave me to use. I’m happy with that.”

Singing and music weren’t her only passions.  Aretha was a civil rights activist.  Throughout her life, she was involved in the struggle for civil rights and women’s rights.  When Angela Davis was jailed in 1970, Aretha told Jet Magazine that, “Angela Davis must go free… Black people will be free. I’ve been locked up (for disturbing the peace in Detroit) and I know you got to disturb the peace when you can’t get no peace. Jail is hell to be in. I’m going to see her free if there is any justice in our courts, not because I believe in communism, but because she’s a Black woman and she wants freedom for Black people.”  Not surprisingly, her songs “Respect” and “Natural Woman” became anthems of these movements for social change.  She was also a staunch supporter of Native American rights, supporting their struggles worldwide and movements which fostered their cultural rights.

“We all require and want respect, man or woman, black or white. It’s our basic human right” ~ Aretha Franklin

It was a sad day when it was announced that the great Aretha Franklin passed away after losing her battle with pancreatic cancer.  She leaves behind a world touched by her music, her incomparable voice and her effortless work in championing human, civil and women’s rights.  She was the first woman to be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.  In 2013, she was again ranked first in Rolling Stone magazine’s “100 Greatest Singers” list.

“American history wells up when Aretha sings.  Nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American spiritual, the blues, R&B, rock and roll—the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope” – President Obama in response to her performance of “A Natural Woman” at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors.

Notes to Women salutes the woman with “the voice of the civil rights movement, the voice of black America” and a “symbol of black equality”  She was an inspiration not only for those in the music world but for all of us.  Although she is no longer with us, her music, her legacy will live on.

“It really is an honor if I can be inspirational to a younger singer or person. It means I’ve done my job” ~ Aretha Franklin

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Sources:  Wikipedia; Brainy Quote

Only God Can Restore Us

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Hosea 14

The people are exhorted to return to the Lord, ask Him to take away their iniquity, to receive them and in return they will offer the sacrifices of their lips such as praise, thanksgiving and confession.  They will acknowledge and confess that no nation can save them and that no longer will they say that their idols, the works of their hands, are their gods.

They will acknowledge and confess that the Lord is their God and that only He could save them.  And in response to this, God will heal their backsliding and love them freely.  He will turn His anger away.  They will no longer have anything to do with idols.

Verse 8:  I am like a green cypress tree; Your fruit is found in Me is similar to what Jesus said in John 15:4:  Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.  Our fruit is found in God.  Unless we abide in Him and He in us, we can do nothing and any effort to do our own will, not seeking Him, trusting in ourselves or in others, our efforts will be in vain and fruitless.

God is the only One who can restore us when we go astray.  Nothing or no one can save us.  Only in God, can we find mercy and deliverance.