Tuesday, February 24, 2015

He defines us...

It was the Christmas season of 1969, and I was home from college on break and working part time at J. C Penney as a gift wrapper/clerk. I took my lunch break and decided to go to the drugstore and get myself a soda.  All of my life up to that point I had attended segregated schools in my hometown. However when I went away to college, it was in a town that with recent marches and sit-ins, there was considerably a lot of changes. With those changes there had also been tragedies and lost of some lives, and as a student I was the beneficiary of the price paid. In my college town, my room-mates and I could go downtown and eat at the KFC or  drink at the public water fountain that no longer had signs for "colored" and "white". I remember us giggling to ourselves and feeling special after going into a public bathroom and walking out without someone yelling at us.  It was with this attitude that I went into that drugstore that day, not a smug attitude, but an attitude of confidence that change had come and now I am just like everyone else.

I was not trying to make a statement or be defiant, all I wanted was a soda. When I walked up to the counter, I did notice some strange looks and it did take a really long time for the lady working the counter to finally come over to me to ask what I wanted, but did not consider that change had not come entirely to my hometown.  My original intention was to order my drink and leave to go back to work, but because the waitress was moving so slow, I sat down at the counter on one of the stools.  Finally she came over with my drink and sat it on the counter in front of me. I paid her then inserted the straw to take a sip and that is when her movements that had been in slow motion all this time turned to turbo speed as she rushed over to me and said "You cannot sit there."  I asked her "Why?" and she said "Because we do not serve people like you at this counter." I then asked her "What kind of PEOPLE am I?" and she replied with so much anger in her voice "Nigras."  Now when I look back in retrospect and giving her the benefit of the doubt...maybe she was trying to say "Negroes", but with the venom in which she said it, I think she was aiming for the other word. LOL  I laugh now, but back then, trust me, it was far from funny. Because with that, something snapped in me and I watched in what looked like what had now become my turn to be in slow motion  as I took the large soda with ice and dumped it over the counter with a big splash. I did not aim for the waitress but I am sure that she got several DROPLETS on her shoes anyway. I arose from the stool and as I slowly left the store I could hear the waitress and others by now, shouting, cursing and calling me awful names.

After exiting and walking back to my job I fully expected to have the police follow and arrest me, or even someone throw something to hit me in the back.  But thank God, that did not happen, even though that walk was only about a block, it felt like an eternity to get back into the safety of J.C.Penney that day. Now... did I benefit from tossing that soda on the counter? No, and I would handle it much better and differently today...but can I be honest and say that it sure did feel good back then :-)

Recently I was having a phone conversation with my 13 year old granddaughter about the movie "Selma" that we each had seen; she and her friend of the same age were blown away with the portrayal of some of the scenes of segregation and how some people felt about it back then. When I told her that when I was 13, "that way" was a real part of my life. Now don't get me wrong, I did not have a tough life, both my parents were hard working folks that gave me and my siblings the very best that they could in everything, I never remember wanting for anything as a child growing up.  They also taught us to have respect for others as well as ourselves. My father worked in a Paper Mill,which was considered a very good job back then, but he was not allowed to eat his lunch in the cafeteria/break room, he and his other black co -workers had to find a place in the rafters or wherever to eat.  But my Dad never complained, he was just so thankful to have a steady job that provided for his family. He worked there many years and was awarded special recognition upon his retirement.  My mom was a housekeeper and not only was she excellent at keeping other people's homes, but she kept her own home immaculate and organized. I have so much to be thankful for, because they taught us to be good at whatever we do and never let someone else's opinion of you, define you. But it was still a time when segregation reigned and underneath even all the love and security that my parents provided for us, was a certain fear of being rejected or even harmed while out in public because of the color of our skin.

That experience that day at the drugstore and many other similar experiences I have had do not define me. Yes, I am black, an African American, a Negro if you will, I was made by God, I am not a mistake and though it may sound cute...God is NOT color blind. When God made me He knew exactly what color He wanted me to be and He does not expect me or anyone else to ignore that fact. I do not expect others to NOT see my color, just as I will not ignore theirs; but I will respect our diversities. God in His graciousness made diversity in all of creations...I think it would be quite boring if we all looked the same.  :-)  We have so much to benefit from each other.  While a bouquet of only yellow daffodils is certainly beautiful and can brighten a day, there is so much you can say about a bouquet of yellow daffodils, red roses, purple tulips and pink peonies!  The mixture and abundance of diverse colors and features of a mixed bouquet will bring hours of OOO's and AAAH's (ever been to the Philadelphia Flower show?)

I am sure that many of us from all races can share stories about when we have been mistreated because of prejudice (pre-judged by the color of our skin) but we all know that those experiences do not define us.  God is the One that defines us.  When we surrender our past hurts and rejections to Him, He becomes our foundation of which we build not only our existence but our very character.  I found this list on a website and according to His Word, this is how He defines us:

I am God’s child (John 1:12)
I have been justified (Romans 5:1)
I am Christ’s friend (John 15:15)
I belong to God (1 Corinthians 6:20)
I am a member of Christ’s Body (1 Corinthians 12:27)
I am assured all things work together for good (Romans 8:28)
I have been established, anointed and sealed by God (2 Corinthians 1:21-22)
I am confident that God will perfect the work He has begun in me(Philippians 1:6)
I am a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20)
I am hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3)
I have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power, love and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7)
I am born of God and the evil one cannot touch me (1 John 5:18)
I am blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing(Ephesians 1:3)
I am chosen before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4, 11)
I am holy and blameless (Ephesians 1:4)
I am adopted as his child (Ephesians 1:5)
I am given God’s glorious grace lavishly and without restriction(Ephesians 1:5,8)
I am in Him (Ephesians 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:30)
I have redemption (Ephesians 1:8)
I am forgiven (Ephesians 1:8; Colossians 1:14)
I have purpose (Ephesians 1:9 & 3:11)
I have hope (Ephesians 1:12)
I am included (Ephesians 1:13)
I am sealed with the promised Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13)
I am a saint (Ephesians 1:18)
I am salt and light of the earth (Matfthew 5:13-14)
I have been chosen and God desires me to bear fruit (John 15:1,5)
I am a personal witness of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8)
I am God’s coworker (2 Corinthians 6:1)
I am a minister of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)
I am alive with Christ (Ephesians 2:5)
I am raised up with Christ (Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 2:12)
I am seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6)
I have been shown the incomparable riches of God’s grace(Ephesians 2:7)
God has expressed His kindness to me (Ephesians 2:7)
I am God’s workmanship (Ephesians 2:10)
I have been brought near to God through Christ’s blood (Ephesians 2:13)
I have peace (Ephesians 2:14)
I have access to the Father (Ephesians 2:18)
I am a member of God’s household (Ephesians 2:19)
I am secure (Ephesians 2:20)
I am a holy temple (Ephesians 2:21; 1 Corinthians 6:19)
I am a dwelling for the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:22)
I share in the promise of Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:6)
God’s power works through me (Ephesians 3:7)
I can approach God with freedom and confidence (Ephesians 3:12)
I know there is a purpose for my sufferings (Ephesians 3:13)
I can grasp how wide, long, high and deep Christ’s love is(Ephesians 3:18)
I am completed by God (Ephesians 3:19)
I can bring glory to God (Ephesians 3:21)
I have been called (Ephesians 4:1; 2 Timothy 1:9)
I can be humble, gentle, patient and lovingly tolerant of others(Ephesians 4:2)
I can mature spiritually (Ephesians 4:15)
I can be certain of God’s truths and the lifestyle which He has called me to (Ephesians 4:17)
I can have a new attitude and a new lifestyle (Ephesians 4:21-32)
I can be kind and compassionate to others (Ephesians 4:32)
I can forgive others (Ephesians 4:32)
I am a light to others, and can exhibit goodness, righteousness and truth (Ephesians 5:8-9)
I can understand what God’s will is (Ephesians 5:17)
I can give thanks for everything (Ephesians 5:20)
I don’t have to always have my own agenda (Ephesians 5:21)
I can honor God through marriage (Ephesians 5:22-33)
I can parent my children with composure (Ephesians 6:4)
I can be strong (Ephesians 6:10)
I have God’s power (Ephesians 6:10)
I can stand firm in the day of evil (Ephesians 6:13)
I am dead to sin (Romans 1:12)
I am not alone (Hebrews 13:5)
I am growing (Colossians 2:7)
I am His disciple (John 13:15)
I am prayed for by Jesus Christ (John 17:20-23)
I am united with other believers (John 17:20-23)
I am not in want (Philippians 4:19)
I possess the mind of Christ (I Corinthians 2:16)
I am promised eternal life (John 6:47)
I am promised a full life (John 10:10)
I am victorious (I John 5:4)
My heart and mind is protected with God’s peace (Philippians 4:7)
I am chosen and dearly loved (Colossians 3:12)
I am blameless (I Corinthians 1:8)
I am set free (Romans 8:2; John 8:32)
I am crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20)
I am a light in the world (Matthew 5:14)
I am more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37)
I am the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21)
I am safe (I John 5:18)
I am part of God’s kingdom (Revelation 1:6)
I am healed from sin (I Peter 2:24)
I am no longer condemned (Romans 8:1, 2)
I am not helpless (Philippians 4:13)
I am overcoming (I John 4:4)
I am persevering (Philippians 3:14)
I am protected (John 10:28)
I am born again (I Peter 1:23)
I am a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)
I am delivered (Colossians 1:13)
I am redeemed from the curse of the Law (Galatians 3:13)
I am qualified to share in His inheritance (Colossians 1:12)
I am victorious (1 Corinthians 15:57)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

We are without excuse...

Not a very fun title, saying that "we are without an excuse" may bring back memories of your high school math teacher telling you this when you didn't have your homework, or your parents saying this to you after you did not do your assigned chores, but watched TV instead.  Or even as an adult, you really don't want to hear this from your boss or even a friend when you haven't met the goal or completed the favor you were asked to do. But it is what it is, if you don't follow and commit to the requirements, rules, and standards...then we are without excuse...

That is what resounded in my mind and heart as I was reading the book of Deuteronomy today. A friend, Pastor Abie, suggested that we read the book of Deuteronomy  a couple of weeks ago, so that we would be familiarized and be able to follow along better with his current teachings on the Book.  He is an excellent teacher and was doing such a great job, I felt at first like "I've read that book before, may have been a while but..."  To be honest, I am not a Deuteronomy kinda gal, I'm more of a Psalms gal...or at least I thought I was.  See, after my husband passed, I LIVED in the Psalms for about 10 years. I read them over and over, and even when I tried to move on to something else, I felt strongly drawn back to the Psalms.  That Book ministered to me inside and out, teaching and assuring me that God is a Comforter, a Peace giver.  But when Pastor Abie suggested reading Deuteronomy that morning, I slowly began to feel "Yep, it's time to learn more about you God, more of Your character...even if there are a lot of names in there that I cannot pronounce." :-)

And it has been a new adventure!  I am learning how God truly is a Father, a Protector, a Provider that wants the best for His children.  He is also a Disciplinarian and if you were blessed to have a wonderful earthly father like I was, then you know that with all the love, provisions and nurturing also comes the discipline. A real father sets good standards and expects his children to abide by those standards, not because he wants to be a dictator, but because he wants to protect us and help us to become all that we should be.

And so it was in the Book of Deuteronomy chapter 30, after God through Moses has given the children of Israel all the blessings that come with following and abiding by God's standards and also the curses that come when they do not, in verses 11 through 14 Moses says:

"Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?”  Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it."

In other words...in my translation "Y'all heard and got the Law right? Well you are without excuse if you don't obey it.  The Truth is the Truth."  The Israelites had experienced physical proof of God's goodness as a Father, a Provider, as a Protector, a Faithful God. Now He is saying to them Obey Me, yes the One that delivered you from Pharoah, opened the Red Sea, sent you Manna, provided meat, sustained your clothes and shoes, caused you to conquer your enemies...I am the same yesterday, today and forever...Obey Me.

Fast forward to today...me...God has proven Himself to me over and over again, He is my Father, my Provider, My Protector, My healer, My Deliverer and on and on and He is saying to me "Obey Me",
" I will fight your battles".

I read on a blog about a person that is attending a church that recently was found to have some corruption in the leadership. This person wrote that they believe that the people that  still attend there (themselves included), even though they know about the corruption that transpired, are victims because they themselves did not commit the wrong doings; and that they are in a no win situation and cannot make a decision on what to do. First of all my heart goes out to them and secondly, this is where you need to know the Word and voice of God for yourself. God has standards and if His standards are being compromised in any way, then you need to get direction from HIM on how to get on the right track.  Because...we are without excuse...if we KNOW that something is not lining up with GOD's Word (Standard) then there should be a big 'ol red flag flapping in your face.  I know that it is not easy, and that is why I am so thankful to be learning more about God's character and His standards in His Word.

No one is perfect and there will be times that we fail, God knows this, but we cannot stay in that position. Hopefully we all can go forward on this journey of learning more about God and what He expects of us, so that when we stand before Him, we will have no excuses for not following Him to the fullest.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

He is with us...

"You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed." Psalms 139: 16

Recently I was having a conversation with one of my sisters about 5 o'clock in the morning at the kitchen table. We only get the opportunity to see each other physically about once a year, so we make every minute of our visits count. In this conversation about how God has worked in our lives, I told her my "conversion" story (probably for the umpteenth time);  how I remember being at a point in my life, where I knew I needed something more in life. It was many years ago, but I can still see it as plain as day in my head...me sitting in front of the TV, late at night, my husband and son already upstairs in bed. The TV evangelist asking if anyone wanted Jesus to come into their hearts...make them new, and me bowing my head and praying along with him. When I prayed it was not just mumbling words to me, I really meant it, in fact I was desperate for change and I knew I could not do it myself.

As I shared with my sister, from the time that I said that prayer and for about a week or so afterwards, I felt as if someone was constantly following me.  Not a scary, fearful feeling, but a warm, precious, comforting presence.   Sometimes the feeling would be so strong, I would turn to see if someone was indeed standing there. I will never forget that, I did not understand it then, but now I know that it was the Lord letting me know that He was with me. That I would never be alone...

 God is always with us, whether we feel like it or not.  After all, He is everywhere, all the time, so it just makes sense that He's with us constantly...it's a no brainer. :-)  He knew about us even before we took on a form in our mother's womb. He knew what color eyes we would have, hair, skin and even our personalities.  He knew our weaknesses , our strengths too. He knew the wrong choices that we would make, the mistakes...even the really, really bad ones. He knew how we needed love, kindness and nurturing. He knew that we would need a Redeemer, Someone to redeem and save us from our fallen, sinful nature.  He knew that even though we are inately aware of right and wrong, because of our sinful nature, we tend to lean to the wrong...He knew we needed Someone to be an example of Righteousness. He knew, before I was even formed that I would need Jesus...

I cannot say that I have always known without a doubt that He has been with me, but it does not change the fact that He has. But now when I think about it, there have been many times in His mercy when He has given me a glimpse of His omnipresence in my life: As a small child climbing up  and sitting in the chinaberry tree in my backyard in South Carolina, feeling the warm wind in my face...I somehow knew that it was Him. As a young woman being so distraught and wanting to take my life and yet in the middle of all the negative voices in my head, His still small voice saying "Be still". His presence "following" me right after I accepted Him into my heart and life.  A vision of four Angels surrounding me as I went in for major surgery.  His presence of peace as I traveled the journey of grief. His love like a blanket over me as I seek Him early in the morning. But even if I never experienced these times of actually feeling His presence, the fact is, He is with me, and He is with you.

There are not many people (if any) that can know everything about you and still love you. Maybe your mother, but even they don't know every single thing about you and they are limited in how to help us. Oh but there is One that knows us, truly knows every single detail, the good, the bad AND the UGLY!  And He still loves us and is limitless on ways to help us... how can we not surrender to such a One as He?

Father, I thank you for your presence, I thank you that you know all about me and yet you still love me. I thank you that there are times as I look back over my life I can see how you have ALWAYS been with me. Help me to see Your Hand in my life each day. To have the confidence that You are leading and guiding me through this imperfect world. Thank you for being with me before I was formed, even when I was a little girl in her cut off jeans sitting in a tree, and even now as a woman that has walked over some rough terrain on this journey but still holding strong because of YOU! Amen.