Wherever You Pitch Your Tent, Build an Altar

then he set up his tents and built an altar there to honor the God of Israel.

—Genesis 33:20, Contemporary English Version

One of the memorable songs of the Motown era—made famous by the Temptations—was a seventies tune with lyrics written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, “Papa Was A Rolling Stone.”  It has been said that the extended instrumentation on the song is as famous as the vocals. The Temptations’ version is an enduring depiction of classic soul.  And soul music always tells a riveting story.

Remember the lyrics?

 Papa was a rollin’ stone

Wherever he laid his hat was his home

And when he died

All he left us was alone.”

 I have no idea who the writers had in mind as “Papa,” but on this we can agree:  there are better examples of family leadership. Personally, I have only lived in four different cities in my entire life. Three of those major, lifetime moves were guided by my late husband and life partner and were based upon God-given directions about ministry.

As a Biblical example, Jacob was a papa whose transitions were broad. Jacob was undisputedly one of the most unique individuals who ever lived. The Genesis account (chapters 31 to 33) describes one of the great transitions he engineered for himself and his family. Spiritually, he transitioned from being a trickster, swindler and cheat one day to becoming a Prince with God the next.

The King James Version and other translations say that Jacob named that altar in Shechem “El Elohe Israel” or “God, the Great God of Israel.”

I am creating my personal El Elohe Regina, celebrating God, the Great God of my own life. My personal altar is a place that will forever bring praise to God and allow me to celebrate the great work that He has done in my life and in the life of my family.

Whatever your ballad, whatever your story, be like Jacob and decide this:  wherever you pitch your tent, you just oughta build an altar.

Fathers Paint Beautiful Pictures

“A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children…”

Proverbs 13:22

Fathers create beauty when they invest time, energy, love and patience into children. The investment of about two decades can result in a lifetime of blessings for several generations.

The most memorable photo I have of my father is of him at the end of the day. Dad was leaving the foundry with soot on his face. I love that picture because It captures the authenticity of who he was and the impact of Dad’s work ethic.  A traditional blue-collar guy with a strong back and grit under his nails, Dad’s legacy gave us the gift of perseverance.

Fathers with a strong work ethic cultivate in their children the seeds of persistence, a pattern of not giving up. We need people in our lives who pass along important lessons, by word or example. Fatherhood comes with rich opportunities to share inspirational lessons that last a lifetime.

Here are seven authentic lessons fathers can teach children:

1. Feed those thoughts and dreams. Thoughts and dreams need nourishment. Feed them with good information, great books, and positive people. Nourished dreams have a way of coming true.

2. Words have power; watch them. Be careful of the words you speak. Breathe life and light into children with words of motivation and encouragement.

3. Affirm their divine destiny. Every day, point children toward their best future.

4. Nurture the power of faith. Faith lets us accomplish what others label impossible. Faith fills the darkest moments with light.

5. Be grateful. More than saying “thank you,” help children cultivate an attitude of appreciation—valuing what you have and appreciating what others do for you.

6. Be Forgiving. When you let go of hurts, you remove a burden from your own heart. Forgiveness isn’t so much about freeing the one who hurt you as it is about freeing yourself. Counting wounds detracts from the powerful things you can do.

7. Love unconditionally. This last lesson is the most important. A heart of love touches and heals like nothing else in the universe.

On Father’s Day, 2013, may all of the children, mothers, and wives be especially appreciative of fathers who are willing to teach authentic lessons. The celebration of Father’s Day is always an occasion to remember what having a father really means.  And, for me, it is about appreciating a husband who was present; one who knew instinctively how to be a fantastic father.

To all of the fathers who take time to paint masterpieces, Happy Father’s Day!

Life Is Like A Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich

    I will offer You my grateful heart, for I am Your unique creation,  filled with wonder and awe. You have approached even the smallest details with excellence;  Your works are wonderful; I carry this knowledge deep within my soul.—Psalm 139:14 The Voice

I saw my friend, Sarah, walking by me the other day with her head down. “Look up,” I said. “Things are going to get better.” I wondered what life had delivered that made her look so forlorn. As I walked on, I concluded that Sarah was probably suffering from a huge dose of feeling ordinary…which nobody is, by the way!

You are uniquely you. The talents God has given you set you apart. Your gifts make you extraordinary, even if there are days when you feel that you are just another cookie-cutter replica of Joe or Jane Ordinary. Whatever you may think, you are not just another common, mundane person taking up space on earth.

You were born an original. You are the exclusive, distinctive, matchless person God had been working on for a long time.

Your life reflects how unique you are. No one else has had the exact same experiences.

Many of us see our lives as commonplace. We view our contributions as run-of-the-mill. We look at our lives as middling and mediocre. Just like the painstakingly familiar peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Delicious but unglamorous.

I’m afraid that people are giving up their appreciation for treats that have long been our mainstay—like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They are trading PB&J sandwiches for trendier snacks. Like hummus, for example. I haven’t exactly developed a taste for this growingly popular dip. Of course, I know it’s wonderfully low in fat, high in protein, and made from those healthy legumes—chickpeas.

At our house, we took the mundane PB&J sandwich to a new level recently and made it extraordinary.  Someone brought home a container of freshly-made peanut butter from the deli and a jar fresh-fruit laden jelly. How healthy is that?

I should have reminded Sarah that life is like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but it’s up to you to make it extraordinary. You may look like everyone else, but you’re not. Tap the power God has given you by recognizing the wonder in who you are.

 

THE STRATEGY OF HOPE

 Hope is a strategy. One of the ways that we face life is the path of hope. Inevitably, we will face disappointments, setbacks, regrets, frustrations and failures. But God has given us ears to hear. Listen to the music of hope…there is music in the air. God has given us eyes to see. Open up your eyes to beauty.

I was looking out the window the other day and saw a honeysuckle vine climbing the trunk of a tree and almost reaching my second floor window. Who knew that honeysuckles grew that tall? God gave me eyes to see the delicate white flowers and the ability of smell so that I could enjoy the sweet fragrance.

God gave us hope so that we could always believe that there was something more wonderful ahead. Our miracle was waiting, just around the bend in the road in front of us. Hope gives us the encouragement to keep going, even if we do not see the object of our hopes.

Sometimes we slip backwards and say to ourselves, or to others, “This is hopeless. I’m giving up. I’m going to quit.” We become dissatisfied so easy. Giving up and quitting has  become far too easy.

Hope is such a small word, only four letters, yet we toss it around so carelessly. “I hope its sunny tomorrow.” “I hope I get the new job.” We generally associate hopefulness with wishful thinking, but hope in God is so much deeper than that.

The psalmist asked a question that I ask of you today:  what’s the problem? “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted in me? Hope thou in God…” Psalm 42:5.

The next time you find yourself defining a situation as hopeless, stop and reconsider. With the great God of the universe on your side, nothing is hopeless! Even when your plans have failed and the way seems dark, our commitment must be to hope in God.

It is springtime. Everything is growing and blooming.  Let’s also practice growing hope in our hearts. You are never defeated when your strategy is hope.

 

Sometimes God Answers Prayer, but …

In the world you shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer;

I have overcome the world.

—John 16:33

Now, I know you are completely puzzled by the title I’ve used today. As a believer, did I really mean to say that “sometimes” God answers prayers?  Well, let me finish the sentence; you deserve that.

Sometimes God answers prayers by not removing the hurt we are trying to pray away. Just today I finally had to turn the news off for a while. The story about the three young women held against their wills in Cleveland for nearly a decade was too heart-wrenching to continue watching.  What about the pain, the agony, the throbbing disappointment that those praying families had suffered? The news media reported that one young woman’s mother died a few years ago of a broken heart. How does God answer prayer when your heart is breaking?

Believe me; He does answer. God gives us strength to bear the weight of the seemingly unbearable.

We live in this world. Jesus himself warned us that the world was not to be our consolation. He spoke to His disciples the words recorded by John. He speaks them to you and me. Jesus did not sugar coat our Godly futures.

Yes, you are anointed, favored and highly regarded by the Great God of the universe. But, sometimes, He leaves you in it rather than taking you out of the storms of life.

I read an old story about a father who took his child to the doctor to repair a cut above her eyelid requiring stitches. Choosing not to use an anesthetic, the doctor asked the child “Can you keep from jumping while I fix your eyelid?” The child replied, “I can if Daddy will hold my hand.” She went through the entire procedure without flinching.

What can you take? What pain are you able to endure? What will the world hand you tomorrow that will really test your mettle? (That’s your courage, determination and enduring spirit.) You can take anything if your Daddy holds your hand! Just ask Him.

Who’s Afraid of the Dark?

I will give you treasures hidden in dark and secret places.

Then you will know that I, the Lord God of Israel,  

have called you by name

—Isaiah 45:3, Contemporary English Version

 I, for one,

am not particular about being in the dark.  Actually, I prefer bright sunshine and well-lit rooms.

My favorite feature of the night is the brightness of the stars. These starry treasures point out that, even God wanted to punctuate the dark mantle of the night with a sprinkle of glimmer. I like that.

Life offers many contrasts. There are opposites and divergences.  Out of darkness comes light. Out of agony comes joy.

Someone has said that the richest blessings are often those that come to us in the night seasons of our lives, when we believe that we are surrounded by an unfamiliar haziness. In that hour, God sends a surprise package—some unbelievable delight.

There are countless stories of people who lost their homes during a flood. I have heard many people say that, after the loss, when those residences were rebuilt, they had an even better home.

The story is told of a man whose home and all of his belongings were washed away. On the darkest day, he stood to survey his losses as the waters subsided. Despondent, he saw an object shining in the mud. It looked like gold. And it actually was gold. The floodwaters, which brought ruin to his door, also made him very wealthy.

God will reveal to us hidden treasures in dark, secret places! This promise, this divine truth, comes today to brighten the night of your trouble, whatever it looks like. Look a little closer. You will see evidence of God’s hand, moving.

The darkness is not always the herald of shadowy things; sometimes it is about unanticipated blessings. Perhaps the night will usher in your next season of favor.

Mr. Demille, I’m Ready for My Close-up (or, Tyler Perry…Are You Out There?)


I must work the works of him who sent me while it is day;

night is coming when no one can work.—John 9:4 NRSV

 

 

Lights, camera, action!

Last Saturday evening, I trudged out into the February chill to hear author Eric Metaxas speak of how William Wilberforce launched a heroic campaign to end slavery.  There were a billion reasons that came to mind as excuses to stay home where it was warm and cozy. An hour and a half after taking my seat in the auditorium, I was glad that I came. Author of the book, “Amazing Grace,” Metaxas told riveting stories about how one person used his talent and influence to make a lasting global difference, impacting millions of people. The lecture was riveting and inspirational. I left telling myself:  “I’m ready to do something really big!”

I think I am ready for my Oscar. How about you?  Or we could plan a trip to LA, take a stroll down Hollywood Boulevard and see if anyone placed our stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame…but forgot to tell us.

Among the more memorable words ever spoken in the world of cinema, for some strange reason, I suddenly recalled this famous line from the picture, “Sunset Boulevard.” Actress Gloria Swanson slinked down a winding staircase and said, “Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”  Swanson was Norma Desmond in the ‘50s classic and her lines addressed famed director, Cecil B. DeMille.  Playing Norma to the hilt, Swanson was ready to face all of “those wonderful people out there in the dark.”

There are even more people in the dark today. Who knew that we could find inspiration in the portrayal of an attention-driven actress? But this is the inspiration we need to tackle our God-given assignment and this is the strength we will find to help people walk into the light of Christ.

Well, this is the moment for your close-up.  I am challenging you to begin your most important quest—not necessarily to become a famous actor but to take on the pursuit of your really big role: accomplishing your divine purpose in life.

What is the one big thing you feel chosen to do? What great dream do you have for making a difference? What will you do to make the universe a more peaceful and joyous place?

You may be the one to positively impact someone halfway around the world. Closer to home, God may be counting on you to reach out in a new way in your own neighborhood or family.

Today is your day! This is the moment to find your true self.  If you don’t mind my saying so, it’s time to go big or go home.  Just go do it—whatever it is that God created you to do, do it now.  It doesn’t matter what work you envision; just don’t be a procrastinator. If you don’t do it, it may never be done. Ready for your close-up?

Watch Your Words!

“As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”  Proverbs 23:7

I worry sometimes that, when people walk past my door and hear me talking to myself—audibly—they may be concerned.  No need. Usually, I am speaking aloud those affirmations I need at the moment.

Positive affirmations are important. Speaking them aloud helps them to sink in better.

Did you realize that whatever you speak over your life is what happens?

Whatever you speak to yourself is the life you create.  When you speak words of healing, then, you are healed. You have the power to speak victory over every illness, every bout of depression or any negative situation.

What you say in your heart happens.  Those words that you speak to yourself internally are the words that grow out of your innermost thoughts.  When we envision something, we create our own reality.

There is a popular Donald Lawrence gospel song with the words, “encourage yourself in the Lord.”  Of course, those lyrics are based upon the Word of God.  “…but David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.”—1 Samuel 30:6(b) (KJV) His life was in danger. He had suffered tragedies, now mutiny. His own troops were murmuring about stoning him. If David could speak encouragement, with all of the trauma and difficulties he faced, so can you.

When you do that—when you encourage yourself in God—the Lord Himself will, in turn, encourage you.  God hears; He listens. He uplifts you with heavenly encouragement. Just take note of the words recorded in Psalm 10:17 (NIV): “You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and listen to their cry.”

Watch your words because your words have the power to kill or your words can give life.  How incredibly wise Solomon was when he recorded this warning for our benefit:  “Life and death are in the power of the tongue.”—Proverbs 18:21(a)

The words that you nurture are the words that bear fruit.  Your words have a harvest. You plant them by speaking them and you can be certain that whatever you plant will grow. Just like in the natural world, if you plant corn, don’t expect to harvest green beans.  With the words you speak, you will harvest something, and you don’t want your harvest to be illness and despair.

While I acknowledge that it is human to speak words of doubt when you feel that there may be a reason to give up, we should never speak those words.  Make a commitment never to say, “I cannot do this” or “I won’t make it.” We serve a God who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask of Him or even think about asking. Apply this truth to your words.

Believe in your next victory. Speak it. Have confidence in the exceeding greatness of God’s power to bring what you believe to pass.

Can Fear Wreck Your Dreams?

I know a place
Ain’t nobody cryin’, ain’t nobody worried.
Ain’t no smilin’ faces…
I’ll take you there

These are the lyrics of the song made popular by the Staple Singers, “I’ll Take You There.” I don’t exactly know that place they sang about. Where is the hidden place they were going? Can there actually be an earthly place with no tears? No worries? Where is the place where dreams are fulfilled?

I stood outside a few months ago and watched the storms roll in. Clear skies were replaced by threatening, shadowy clouds. Fierce winds whipped the trees, pelting the ground with hail the size of quarters. It was fascinating. Whatever stockpile in heaven where hail was stored, must have been nearly empty.

“Mom, I forgot to tell you,” my daughter said. “You traded Midwestern snow storms for sunnier weather, but you may occasionally have to run for cover.”

In some ways, the storm opened my eyes. Our lives are much like that squall. Life is a passage from sunshine to rain. From balance to shakiness and back again. Our dreams can take us on a wondrous journey.  It is our dreams that transport us into the perfect future God designed for us.

Often, the storm that devastates our dreams is this:  our fears. Fear paralyzes. We fear being sick, forgotten, sad, heartbroken, alone or destitute. We fear being childless, homeless, demoted, undervalued, unappreciated, friendless or jobless. Some days we fear a combination of all the above.

Here are three simple affirmations for living an extraordinary life.  We can each put a stop to the self-defeating fears that destroy our dreams:

  1. I am full, strong, joyful, healthy and chosen. I will stop imagining the worst—My fears are a battleground. Sometimes the thing I fear the most is what I create with my imagination.  I refuse to get lost in the ordinariness of envisioning the most terrible thing that can happen.
  2. I dwell in God’s presence. I am never alone—The Creator of the universe cherishes me. My connection with God is the divine solution to my fears. Because I was created in His image, God has gifted me with His presence and with the power to overcome fear. That spark of divinity is the place from which I unfurl my greatest dreams.
  3. I claim all of God’s promises—I can tune in to God and His promises.  I believe that I am the joyous, triumphant recipient of all that has been promised.

 For I, the Lord your God,
hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, “Fear not,
I am the one who helps you.”

                                                     Isaiah 41:13 (English Standard Version)

Getting to “Whatever”

“Whatever happens, keep thanking God because of Jesus Christ.  This is what God wants you to do.”   1 Thessalonians 5:18 (Contemporary English Version)

             There are times in life when the atmosphere simply shifts. The earth moves. The stars swing into motion and reappear in a completely different part of the galaxy. It is at those times, that Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica speaks volumes. In those surprising “whatever” moments, that’s when life happens. When you face the unexpected. When some part of the mere process of living on planet earth simply jumps out of the darkness and shouts, “surprise!”

I know about “whatever” moments. And I know because the Lord designed a paradigm shift in my life. In a new, untried place, I learned a deeper lesson of what it means to completely rely on His design.  I live in a new place. I have a new, unanticipated marital status—widow. But, in your case it may be joblessness, finding a home, entering a relationship, having a child, facing an illness, finding financial balance. Any new phase can lead to those “whatever” moments. Mine is clearly a new walk, yet I trust that God’s guidance and sufficiency are not behind me—not in my past—they are ahead of me, in the future He is leading me towards.

When I spoke with a friend’s daughter who unexpectedly became a very young widow, I shared the importance of thankfulness at her new “whatever” point.

The advice of Paul is clear. When you come face-to-face with “whatever,” your response must be to immediately start thanking. Then, keep thanking.  Thankfulness is the posture God wants for you.

Even when we are blessed, secure, healthy and comfortable, we must constantly be aware of the fact that thankfulness, in every situation, is essential. Today, more than ever, I recognize small mercies. Never wait for the big miracles; be thankful for breathing, thinking, walking, talking, working, eating, loving someone and having folks who love you. Life sparkles when we give thanks in all things.

You get to that thankful place of “whatever” by growing up in your faith. And by trusting God for all of your tomorrows, even the unplanned ones. Do not hinder the work that God will accomplish in you by anything—especially by seeds of doubt about whether or not you can see all that is in your future. Because you cannot.

Still, know this. His abundance is enough. In that grace, embrace every one of life’s “whatever” moments.

(Image:  iStock Photo by Aldo Murillo)