Burden of Strength

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Photo Credit Gino Astuto Artist

There’s an invisible armor that we all tend to bear… Its superhero characteristics include the illusion that you have it all together. There is no moderation in these commendable qualities you possess. You can take care of others, be independent, put your needs aside or indicate that you do not have any to begin with. This armor of strength is your superhero mechanism to reject all forms of denial, depression, or sadness that you may feel because you have an obligation to control yourself and those around you. Nothing happens without you or without your consent. Nothing comes past this armor that you bear. Nothing…

The saddened state of this armor is that you probably did not put it on yourself. Society teaches us to be independent, strong, financially dependent, and incredibly self-sufficient. For the African-American culture, there is an epidemic of the stereotypical “Strong Black Woman” who has to dance between the image of being strong but vulnerable enough to be with an equally “Strong Black Man.” The pressures that both black woman and men face are too heavy to bear so often times it leads to a co-dependency that ultimately destroys cultural relationships and healthy authenticity. For the typical “white” culture in society, men and woman bear the armor of strength through status and hierarchy that only deepens the divide that our country has been fighting for hundreds of years. Other minority cultures bear the armor to protect themselves from being hurt and taken advantage of, which furthers the distance of reconciliation and restoration that is so desperately needed…

I’m sure you’re familiar with the story of David and Goliath. “In 1 Samuel 17, just before David goes out to face the giant, Saul tries to protect David in the best way that he knows how by dressing him in his own armor (Walker-Barnes, 2014).

” Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them: “I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off. – 1 Samuel 17:38-39 NIV

If we are all honest, we all have been dressed by an armor that we are not meant to bear or is not our own in some sort of fashion. We cannot allow culture and society to paint the picture of who we are supposed to be…and so like David, we need to begin the process of taking off this armor that is “too heavy a yoke to bear (Walker-Barnes, 2014).” Only then can we be free and move and discover our own identity in Christ. Even the best of the best superheros dismantled his suit and identified as human…Clark Kent to Superman and back to Clark Kent. But what does this look like for you and I?

“It is for freedom that Christ set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1 NIV

When we accept Christ we are no longer slaves to the things of this world, no longer slaves to the armor that it wants us to bear, and no longer slaves to the pressures that it wants us to conform to. Those yokes are heavy and will cause us to have real life issues that are detrimental to our physical health and overall well-being! Who wants to live life like that? I’ve been there and to be honest often times find myself back in a trap that wants me in bondage to bearing the heavy burden of this world, especially when it comes to trying to take care of everyone in my circle. But let me tell you what joy it is to become slaves to righteousness. God’s yoke is easy and light. God bears the yoke for us and thus we are led to freely and wholeheartedly obey the love that sets us free…Please don’t misunderstand that we are not supposed to walk around with no armor. Ephesians 6 advises us to put on the whole armor of God…we are supposed to be protected and guarded but the difference is the weight of the world’s armor will be a burden, while the weight of God’s armor will liberate you.

I have recently taken a class that addressed this issue of the burden of strength (in particular African-American woman) but I believe so many others deal with it as well. We read a book from Chanequa Walker-Barnes called “Too Heavy A Yoke: Black Woman and the Burden of Strength” and a lot of this content I wrote about comes from this book. She really does a masterful job of offering historical, social, and theological influences on why we deal with this burden of strength and even crafts practical ways in which we can begin the process to being free from these stereotypes. I will address three here that she mentions that I thought were most insightful to me. Be Blessed! Be Revealed!

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  • Find a safe community or small group – Walker -Barnes speaks about becoming a part of community in which you trust and feel safe enough to “dis-armor.” We are meant to be in relationship with other people and intimately connect emotionally and spiritually. Do you have a community of close friends, small group, or safe place where you can be vulnerable and let down your guard? Also, “when you are able to demonstrate compassion for others, you learn to be compassionate toward yourself (Walker-Barnes, 2014). I often like to ask myself “who is sitting at your destiny table?” Who you associate with often determines where your future will look like in the next couple of years including your well-being.
  • Acknowledge that we are not the Divine – this is one out of the twelve steps Walker-Barnes crafts in the book but I thought was probably one the most important. There is a Power greater than ourselves who can restore to us right relationship with ourselves and others. The biggest take away is that there is hope! There is healing available to you and I if we are willing to receive it.
  • We carry this message to others – it’s one thing to get it for ourselves….but trust me there is more work to be done in generations that follow us and they need to know that they don’t have to bear a burden if they do not have to. Let’s be a generation of bridge – builders that offer hope and restoration for a better tomorrow.

 

 

 

Cloudy and I Know It

Last year was a bit “cloudy” for me. I went through a lot of transitions and experienced some high points and low points. Dreams were put on hold and others came to reality. My faith was tested and my walk with God wavered. Many people believe this myth that because you are a Christian, you won’t have struggles or you do not wrestle with your faith…this couldn’t be further from the truth. I say all of this to say that there were moments I was on Cloud nine. I was blissfully happy and nothing in my surroundings could move me in a negative direction. I saw clearly what life had in store for me and I was ready to dive headfirst into the vision I know that God has for me. Then there were other moments…

…life situations that I allowed to happen and life situations that. just. happened

…and they placed me right in the middle of the clouds and everything became a blur. All I could see was what was right in front of me and nothing made sense anymore. My heart became heavy, my mind stubborn to the Word of God, and I felt myself slowly falling away from God’s pleasing and perfect plan for my life.

Welcome to what I call life. We all have different life situations that will challenge the way we see things. Sometimes we allow those things into our life that we know are not for us…they could be romantic relationships, business partnerships, jobs, excessive social media, etc…and they slowly take our focus from being above the clouds where the vision is clear to suddenly being immersed in them.

Sometimes we allow GOOD things into our life, but it’s not the BEST God has for us.

What’s funny is then we try to justify our actions. We try to make the wrong right, or what we think is right fit into our lives. Let me tell you…it will not work! No matter how bad we desire our own wants, we know in the back of our minds something is off. I guarantee you the Holy Spirit splashed a huge warning sign in front of us at some point but we were so stubborn to follow it because we want what we want so badly. Then I’m sure you get frustrated with the struggles of life because you have no control over it. Well, at least I do. I had a situation that lasted nearly 8 months and it seemed like whenever I fixed one problem, the situation only got worse and was prolonged further!

I understand what it means to feel pain in areas of life that makes you wish you had a huge reset button. (How cool would that be to just reset life lol?!) You’re tired and your strength is weak. You wonder what the future has in store for you. You feel like no one else is going through what you are experiencing. Trust me when I tell you that we all have some giant elephant we are dealing with…some choose to try to hide it which only makes matters worse. Life is certainly not a fairy tale, but I know it is beautiful. It becomes beautiful in its own time. Only when we surrender to God’s will and perfect timing, will we be able to see the beauty above the clouds and even in them.

The serenity about life is that when we mess up…God is still faithful. God is not moved by our conditional behavior. The fact that I fell slowly into the clouds only made me aware how much more I need a Savior that loves me in spite of the filth. It was when I recognized my weakness and vulnerabilities that I could be strong in the Lord. I am not saying that you should accept your shortcomings as a way of living; we are called to be set apart and live a lifestyle that is pleasing to God. However, we are to accept our wrongs as lessons, make them part of our stories that we share with others, as to maintain an integrity and wholeness towards soundness and healing. True healing and peace comes from accepting all of yourself, even the parts you don’t want to; to recognize that you may be on cloud nine or in the clouds. That’s authenticity. That’s integrity. God can only transform what we authentically bring to Him…

Now that the new year is upon us and it is 2017, it is a great opportunity to see clearly what God has for your life. I am joining my church in our annual 21 day fasting and prayer this month which starts today. Why fasting and prayer? It is the most powerful spiritual discipline of all discussed in the Bible. We need our lives transformed! We need results and not talk! We need the power of God! Prayer and fasting is the answer to all of those. I’m believing God for clarity and a clear vision for 2017 and beyond. If you need to get out of the clouds, I encourage you to fast and pray so that your life can be used for Kingdom purpose. I will leave you with 12 things you can expect from a Fast from Lisa Bevere’s “You Are Not What You Weigh.” Be Blessed. Be Revealed.

 

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WHAT TO EXPECT FROM A FAST

Excerpt from, You Are Not What You Weigh, by Lisa Bevere

  • Fasting Creates a New Hunger -(Ezra 8:23) As the initial hunger pangs or longings cease, a new desire is formed.
  • Fasting Works Humility – (Psalm 35:13) – We feel our natural strength waning. In our weakness, we find ourselves more dependent upon God. It is turning away from what we can provide, and turning toward what God alone can give.
  • Fasting Increases Sensitivity to God – (Luke 2:36-38) Anna in the scripture could hear clearly what God was saying.
  • Fasting Chastens or Disciplines – (Psalm 69:10) David maintained his spiritual life by means of bringing his body into subjection.
  • Fasting Changes Our Appetite – (Acts 13:2) God often uses times of fasting and prayer to speak to the desires of our hearts, and to reveal his purpose and destiny for our lives.
  • Fasting Increases Our Capacity – (Esther 4:16) Fasting increases your capacity for self-sacrifice and imparted wisdom.
  • Fasting Brings Answers to Prayer – (Isaiah 58:9) A godly fast will bring answered prayer and it may come through his Word, or as a still small voice, or by a strong confirmation of what He has previously shown us.
  • Fasting Leads to Quick Healing – (Isaiah 58:8) The healing can be physical, mental, or spiritual. Even natural medicine supports this – many illnesses occur in the digestive system. A short fast gives our body a chance to refocus its energies on healing instead of eating. (Please consult a physician before undertaking a fast if you are ill.)
  • Fasting Opens the Door to God’s Protection and Provision – (Isaiah 58:8) God promised to be a guard before us and behind us. A fast renews your righteousness and sends it on before you. Then, as you give God the glory, He returns righteousness as your rear guard.
  • Fasting Looses the Chains of Injustice – (Isaiah 58:6) This fast has the power to loose any unjust chains that bind us. It is not merely for personal liberation, but it represents God’s desire to see us reach out and loose the ties that bind others, and remove the chains of oppression.
  • Fasting Frees the Oppressed and Breaks Every Yoke – (Isaiah 58:6) A fast is a time when we take our eyes off of ourselves and our own needs; and look around at the oppression and pain of others. In response, we learn to reach out in compassion and help – becoming agents of healing.
  • Fasting Motivates Us to Provide Food for the Needy – (Isaiah 58:7) You are not eating because of a fast, then you are free to share your portion with those less fortunate.

If you would like to follow the 21 day devotions for fasting and prayer, click the link below.

http://21days.victoryatl.com/

 

They’re Cheering You On.

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There was a time in college I woke up late for my team’s 6:00 am mile run. Yep, I slept right through my alarm and rolled over in the comfort of my bed as my teammates ran the mile early in the morning. I awoke to the sound of a knock on my door. It was more like a banging. As soon as my eyes opened, suddenly the realization of where I was and where I was supposed to be hit me like sirens going off in my head. I ran to open the door and see who was banging and it was my head coach.

With my hand still on the door handle and my eyes locking eyes with my coach, I did what anyone else would have done. I slammed the door back shut. Then proceeded to run to my bathroom to try to figure out how to explain what just happened. My coach came in and followed to check on me. In the most understanding way, she simply told me to get dressed for the run and head over to the track.

When I arrived at the track, all of my teammates were still there; finished with their timed run. So I stretched and stepped up to the line…alone. My coach had a timer in her hand and told me to go when I was ready. I took off. I had so much adrenaline built up from being late and having to be timed, I ran the first lap faster than my natural pace. Lap 2 came around and I noticed myself getting tired early. Then the most interesting thing happened…

I heard the sound of my teammates cheering me on to finish. Mind you they already finished their race. Yet, two teammates joined me on the second lap and my energy picked up. My determination increased. My wind came back. Lap 3 came around and other teammates joined me and the cheers got louder. By the time I was on my last lap, my entire team was running with me pushing me to finish strong to the end.

I will never forget the power of teamwork and love in that moment of my life. I was late, I was tired, I was defeated before I even started and finished my race. Yet, I had people who went before me and cheered me on to the finish line.

Life will often happen the same way. We mess up. We get tired and our faith will get weak. Hope seems lost. Yet, scripture says that we have a cheering section ready to inspire and motivate us to the finish line. They did it. Most importantly, Christ did it and so can we.

Sometimes we win because we have strength to finish on our own. Other times we win because of who’s watching us. You’re not alone. You have teammates cheering you on!

Hebrews 11:1 also talks about the weights and sins in our lives that can slow us down and get us off track. What are you willing to give up in order to get where you are trying to go? What are the weights you need to lay aside to be the champion you need to be? It’s a daily struggle to lay aside the sin in our lives and live as the champion in Christ that we are. Paul in Romans 8 speaks about this internal battle we have that we as Christians struggle with. However, in the very next chapter we get clarity that we are winners, even if we don’t feel like it.

 

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Olympic Gold: USA Women’s 4×100 team. Photo from SB Nation.

We are more than conquerors through him who loved us (Romans 8:37) and there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because He has set us free from the law of sin and death (v.1-2). So when your faith gets tired and your hope seems lost, remember that you are not alone in your struggles. You have a group cheering you on to the finish line because they know you can make it. Christ already won. There’s a champion, fighter, builder, and thinker in you! Get focused again and push yourself to the limit! In Him we are winners and in our weakness, He is made strong.

It’s time to run again. Be Blessed family. Be Revealed.

 

 

 

 

Nine Profits for Praying with Others

It’s been a busy week so forgive me for being delayed in my posts! But I’m back so get ready to receive a flood of reading in the next few hours. We continue with our study of Habits of Grace with David Mathis and he takes us into the topic of praying with company. Our personal prayer lives are so important but our joys and benefits aren’t limited to that. Praying with other Christians; however, takes planning, initiative, and synching of schedules. From Jesus’ example, we see how the early church was in communal prayer all throughout the book of Acts:

  • All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer (1:14; and 2:42)
  • While Peter was in prison, “earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church” (12:5)
  • And in an emotional goodbye to the Ephesian elders, Paul knelt down and prayed with them all (20:36; 21:15)

Here are nine profits for praying with company. Be Blessed! Be Revealed!

  1. For Added Power – Matthew 18:19…There is an added power to our prayers when we unite with fellow believers in the faith and make our requests to the Father with our hearts joined together. We live in a culture that promotes independence, but the Christian life was never meant to be done alone. We are better and stronger, together.
  2. For Multiplied Joy – When we share the joy of prayer, we double our joy. We not only add to our joy, but also to theirs. Praying with other believers we are avail ourselves to a channel of joy we otherwise would be neglecting.
  3. For Greater Glory to God – Our multiplied joy in God then makes for multiplied glory to God – because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.
  4. For Fruitful Ministry and Mission – We are to pray for each other in our different ministries and mission for the Lord. We should anticipate greater fruitfulness in the work when others are joining us in prayer. Romans 15:30-32
  5. For Unity Among Believers – Praying together is an effect of the unity we already share in Christ and a cause for deeper and richer unity. It’s a sign and catalyst for more unity.
  6. For Answers We Otherwise Wouldn’t Get – There are some answers to prayer we simply would not get without involving others in praying. Sometimes we have to involve the leaders of the church. James 5:14-16
  7. To Learn and Grow in Our Prayers – The best way to learn to pray is pray with others who have had their prayers shaped by scripture and are more mature in their faith. We are being shaped deep down as we join our hearts with others in prayer.
  8. To Know Each Other – It’s in prayer that we are most likely to let the walls fall. You hear their hearts in prayers like nowhere else. When we pray together, not only do we reveal what most captures our hearts and truly is your treasure, but you can tell if a man or woman is really on speaking terms with God. (Jack Miller)
  9. To Know Jesus More – The best for last, we ultimately know Jesus better. With our limited vision and perspective, there are parts of Christ we’re prone to see with more clarity than others. Tim Keller states, “By praying with friends, you will be able to hear and see facets of Jesus that you have not yet perceived.”