Swim Scared

Overcoming Fear and Embracing Your Gifts

This year I decided to learn how to swim. Yup, I said it. At twenty-five years old I don’t know how to swim. Personally, I find it kind of embarrassing because I’m from the sunshine state of Florida. In fact, I grew up 15 minutes away from the beach. And get this, I had a pool in my backyard. In other words, my environment growing up had everything I needed to learn how to swim.

There was just one thing holding me back, fear. One of the main reasons why I was afraid to swim was because I almost drowned on multiple occasions. And honestly, those incidents filled me with a fear that’s still difficult to shake. But if I wanted to learn to swim I’d have to face my fear and put it behind me. In fact, when I began taking lessons my swim instructor told me that as long as I let fear fill my mind and control my actions I would never learn to swim.

Now some of you may not relate to this because you’ve been swimming laps since you came out of the womb. But fear is an equal opportunity offender. It gets its claws in all of us someway somehow keeping us from fully becoming who we were created to be. This is because according to an article in Psychology Today by Dr. Matthew B. James, “Fear constricts rather than expands who we are.”

And I think that’s what Paul wanted to communicate to his young protege Timothy.

Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:6-7)

These verses are a part of a letter of counsel Paul writes to Timothy because he knows that he’s going to die soon. Paul shares this wisdom on fear because he wants to prepare Timothy to take up the mantle and continue his ministry in Ephesus. What is important to note in these verses is that Paul tells Timothy that he has a spiritual gift that he has to “fan into flames” (NIV). In other words, God gave him the spiritual gift, but he is responsible for stewarding and growing it.

This gift is what will aid him in fulfilling God’s purpose and plan for his life. But Paul knows that there’s one thing that has the potential to kill the fire in Timothy, and that’s fear. Paul knows that if Timothy is going to stir up the gift inside of him, it’s going to take boldness.

It’s not clear if Timothy was a fearful or easily intimidated person. But Paul writes Timothy several letters and in them tells him more than twenty-five times to be bold. This is because Paul understands that fear and timidity keep us from using the gifts that God gives us. So Paul is trying to really get Timothy to understand that if he’s going to accept this call that boldness matters. Without it, we can’t fulfill God’s purpose for our lives.

I believe there are three ways we can live a bold life fueled by freedom instead of fear:

1. Identify Your Fears

The first thing we’ve got to do is identify our fears by being self-aware. Sun Tzu in his classic text The Art of War writes, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” Sun Tzu is trying to say that our greatest victories come by knowing our enemies, but most importantly by knowing ourselves. And conversely, our greatest defeats come in our ignorance to our weaknesses and fears.

There are plenty of articles and assessments that help you identify and know your spiritual gifts. But when was the last time you really took note of your fears? When was the last time you looked fear in the face instead of maneuvering and trying to avoid it? The spirit of fear can show up in different ways for everyone. How does it show up in your life? Do you fear Criticism? Disapproval? Rejection from people? Failure? Success? Whatever your fear may be, before you can overcome it you have to identify it and understand it. And then you have to confront it head-on.

I find it helpful to write out my fears and the stories behind them. You may find it helpful to sit down with a licensed counselor or therapist to get to the root cause of your fear. This process isn’t fun at all, but it’s necessary if you’re going to push past fear and experience freedom.

2. Boldly Grow Your Gift

If you’re truly going to push past fear and walk boldly in the freedom of your God-given purpose, then you’ve got to boldly, and unapologetically grow the gift God has given you. This is the process Timothy talks about called “fan into flames.” As a way to avoid fear oftentimes we engage in procrastination, laziness & self sabotaging behaviors. Your gift may be small now, but it has the potential to impact the world if you intentionally cultivate it. So boldly grow your gift. Invest in your gift. Seek out mentors that can share wisdom with you. Take that class. Read that book. Do whatever it takes to fan that flame until it’s a roaring fire.

3. Fearlessly Use Your Gift

And lastly, if you’re going to push past fear and walk boldly in the freedom of your God-given purpose, then you’ve got to fearlessly use your gift. Fear often keeps us on the shores of life away from the oceans of purpose and possibility. And instead of using our gifts boldly, fear has us diminishing and devaluing our gift to others. Oftentimes, we rationalize this behavior by telling ourselves that we’re being humble. But really we’re just insecure.

If you’d just fearlessly jump off the shore and into the ocean by faith then you’d see God give you opportunities to use your gift.

My advice, when those opportunities come confidently accept them knowing that using your spiritual gift not only helps other people, but gives God glory.

Fear will rear its ugly head and try to tell you why you’re not good enough, why you should stop, why you should leave this task for someone else. But you’ve got to remember that fear is not an emotion that comes from God. Fear comes from the enemy of our souls and you don’t have to buy what he’s selling. According to verse 7 of 2 Timothy 1, God wants us to take His power, His love, and His calm thinking and overcome fear, so that He can use us and the gifts he’s placed in us. It’s time we accept His love and His power and let it quench all of the fear in our hearts.

In fact, instead of thinking of fear as a “Do Not Enter Sign,” what if we begin to see fear as a sign that we’re heading in the right direction? What if we begin to see fear as a sign that we’re getting closer and closer to the life God has called us to? I believe if we begin to see fear like this then we won’t be able to keep ourselves from living the bold and free lives that God desires for us.




Rediscovering Yahweh as an Afrofuturist

Rediscovering Yahweh as an Afrofuturist, a God who cares about my past, my present and my future.

We all come to a point in our lives when all we have buried rises to the surface. From childhood trauma to the reconciling of life choices, we all, at one point or another, have to deal with our soul’s cry.

It doesn’t take much for the souls of the African Diaspora to cry. In fact, all it takes these days is turning on the television. Even now, days after Hurricane Dorian has ravaged the Bahamas, Africa’s Caribbean sons and daughters reel as the death toll rises to 23 with thousands seeking shelter. It seems as though if it isn’t a natural disaster it is state sanctioned violence. Almost exactly a year ago today Officer Amber Guyger murdered Botham Jean. And the jury selection for her murder trial begins tomorrow, Friday September 6th.

The fact of the matter is, it seems that no matter where you look black bodies are in distress. And my soul cries for a God who can help us navigate the destruction and disruption that comes with being black in this world. I need a God who can speak to and heal the triggers and traumas buried beneath the surface of black people’s hearts and minds.

In my devotion, I found my soul longing for a God who cared about my past, my present and my future. A God who dreamed for me as I realized I lacked the capacity to dream for myself. I needed the God of the Israelites, Yahweh, to show me that liberation was not just for the Israelites, that protection was not just for the chosen Hebrews, but that His hands on love was for me too. And I believe all children of Africa all over the world are in need of the same. We are all in need of a revelation of not just any God, but Yahweh.

Who is “Yahweh”?

In the Old Testament of the Bible and the Torah of the Jewish Scriptures, Yahweh is referred to as the God of the Israelites. Yahweh is a personal name for God. During and after Babylonian captivity, the Jews were forced to leave their homeland. But they were not simply a displaced people, they were also forced to leave behind the name Yahweh for God. They did this for many reasons, but the main reason was that during this time Judaism became less of a local religion and more of a universal one. This meant that God needed a more universal name. And so Elohim became the name that was more commonly used.

But the name Yahweh is very important. The intimate nature of the name expressed not just the sacredness of God, but that He was a personal God concerned about the localized needs of the Israelites. For example, when you look at 1 Samuel, we see the translation of God’s name as, “Yahweh Tzevaot” meaning, “ He Brings the Hosts into Existence.” In other words, this all powerful Being brings the hosts of Heaven into existence on behalf of the needs of humanity. And in a time of destruction when life and dignity are constantly stripped from black and brown communities it is vital that we call on the name of Yahweh. We need a local God who has the power to bring salvation and deliverance into existence.

Afrofuturism and the Essence of Yahweh

Rediscovering Yahweh and the true meaning of His personal name causes many to struggle with the portrait of God painted by Eurocentric Christianity. The idea that God does not care about social disenfranchisement, that He is not in tune to the cries of those with physical illnesses and disabilities, the idea that He is only and always meek, mild mannered, and non-confrontational is a picture of God that often disregards the social, economic, physical, and of course, holistic spiritual needs of people. And those people have a tendency to be black and brown.

I believe that we can access Yahweh and understand His investment in the social and spiritual needs of disinherited people by studying the contemporary secular theory of Afrofuturism. Afrofuturism, according to a variety of academic disciplines, is a cultural aesthetic, philosophy of science, and philosophy of history that explores the developing intersection of African Diasporic culture and technology. The reality is that Afrofuturism as a term is widely debated and difficult to pin down as it has no agreed upon definition.

What is “Afrofuturism”?

One way to define Afrofuturism is to suggest that it presents the opportunity for persons of the African Diaspora to hope. As an artistic aesthetic, African-American artists are empowered to navigate the outer spaces of their imaginations to re-conceive the past and express their vision of the future. Ytasha Womack said it best when she noted that the, “cyclical nature of time” is a favored theme for the afroturist as it gives them the opportunity to redefine culture and notions of blackness for today.

Afrofuturism provides a bi-directionality that bridges the connections between past, present and future. In Mark Dery’s essay “Black to the Future” he explores the many facets of Afrofuturism and its cultural and social significance for black people. A white man writing on Afrofuturism in the 90s, Dery wondered why there were so few Afrofuturists and why the African American community wasn’t as engaged with the topic. Dery felt that Afrofuturism was an important academic and social concept that had the power to, through various artistic movements, reconsider the past as an approach to shaping the social, political, and economic future of African Americans. An important question he asks in his work is,

Can a community whose past has been deliberately rubbed out, and whose energies have subsequently been consumed by the search for legible traces in history, imagine possible futures?  Furthermore, isn’t the unreal estate of the future already owned by the technocrats, futurologists, streamliners and set designers—white to the man—who have engineered our collective fantasies?

Another scholar studying Afrofuturism, Alisha Acquaye, puts it this way:

Black history often plays out like a horrific, science fiction drama that has yet to fully resolve. Our ancestors were kidnapped from their homeland, taken to a distant country and forced into slavery. They were raped, forced to “breed” for labor and the prosperity of the economy, sold, beaten, separated, denied the right to vote, experimented on, denied equal and civil rights, denied humanity—all the while being brainwashed into believing that our race are aliens—not the abductees. Are robots—not royalty. Black history is more terrifying than any fictional tale ever told.

Yahweh as an Afrofuturist

Afrofuturism has risen to the forefront of the 21st century thanks cultural pieces like the artistic and musical catalog of artists like Janel Monáe and films like Black Panther. It is this kind of thinking, a belief in the reclamation of our past for the constructing of our future that Afrofuturism provides. Therefore, Afrofuturism is a direct response to a lack of black presence as it pertains to the truth of our past and the conceptions of our future. I believe Yahweh engages this very practice long before the delineation of such terminology in Revelation 21. There John writes:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look, God’s dwelling is with humanity, and he will live with them. They will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them and will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away. Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look, I am making every thing new…”

Revelation 21:1-5a (CSB)

In this verse we see that John foresees how our personal God, Yahweh, considers the wholistic affects of sin and creates a new Heaven, a new Earth, and a new Jerusalem. Declaring the end to death and pain, Yahweh creates a future that directly responds to and rectifies the triggers and traumas of humanity’s past. At the second coming of Jesus Christ we are promised that there will be no more state sanctioned violence against black bodies, that no more hurricanes will devastate our lands, and that the pain, destruction, and devastation that sin reeked on humanity will not exist. In other words, we serve a God who is creating a future for us that is committed to healing our past and ushering us into a future where our triggers and traumas will be no more.

It is when you understand Yahweh in this light that verses like “I know the plans I have for you says the Lord, plans for a hope and a future” come to have so much more meaning. So I encourage you to study your Word this week and rediscover Yahweh as an Afrofuturist, a God who cares about your past, is involved in your present, and is actively creating an incredible future for you.




Message Daily with L. David Harris

For years many of you have tuned in to “Thoughts in Worship” and “Your Daily Portion” with Pastor L. David Harris on Facebook, iTunes, and many other platforms. He’s led many of you in early morning devotionals and study of the Sabbath School lesson for more than 1500 episodes. As many of you know, Pastor Harris is passionate about sharing the power of the Gospel on all sorts of platforms. What you may not know is that Harris is not just a Pastor. He’s also a website designer, book publisher, writer, podcast host, and so much more currently based in Jamaica. At his core Pastor Harris is committed to creating content that truly inspires, equips, and challenges the people of God to grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ.

We are so excited to announce that we will be providing an updated devotional experience for you that we’re calling #MessageDaily. THIS THURSDAY, on Sept 5th you will be able to download and stream our new 15-minute daily devotional. It will include the morning devotionals you’re use to reading from Harris on Facebook, along with a 10 minute study of the text and concepts being discussed. We know this new devotional podcast is going to bless your life. And we are beyond excited to release the new episodes. Check out this teaser below, and look out for Message Daily wherever you listen to podcasts.

Message Daily Promo




Ditch the Scheduling and Go on an Adventure With God

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about life it’s that it is utterly unpredictable. Rarely, is it ever as neat as we’d like it to be. And regardless of what we have heard from countless sermons, Ted-talks, and podcasts, life doesn’t happen in steps. Life is a constant journey of discovery and recovery. It’s a process, not a program.

Growing up, I thought I needed a method for my faith. I said to myself, “do this, don’t do this, and all will be swell.” I sang “read your bible, pray every day, and you’ll grow, grow, grow” with passion believing those words would come true. Waiting for them to prove themselves in my own life. Except they didn’t. At least, not as quickly as it may have worked for others. In fact, the older I got the more I began to wonder if there are some lyrics missing in that song. Perhaps, the part about how suffering often precedes growth.

See, my life took twists and turns that I was often un-prepared for, couldn’t predict, and couldn’t have planned out. And it was those unpredictable moments, and hard times that truly grew my faith.

Life Altering Scriptures

One particular passage of Scripture really struck me. Since reading James 4:13-15 my thinking has shifted altering the way I move and how I operate in the world: 

Listen! You who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this city and stay a year and make money.” You do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? It is like fog. You see it and soon it is gone. What you should say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.”

James 4:13-15 New Life Version

What terrific advice. It was as if James were talking directly to me! Be still, young man: life is a fog, so lean on God. Don’t try to come up with your plan or follow some formula. You won’t be able to see your way through. Instead, be attentive to the voice of God in your life.

What James is telling us is that we are unable to see the road ahead. Therefore, we must learn to listen for the voice that has already been where we are headed. We must adopt a lifestyle that is highly dependent on the Holy Spirit. One that takes into account what God wants to do in our lives as opposed to our plans. Only an All-Knowing God can deal with our unpredictable lives. He can maneuver whatever life throws at us to fit His good purposes. He knows the way to where He’s taking us. 

Spiritual Spontaneity

I began practicing James advice immediately. Anytime someone would ask me for my plans for the day, or whether or not I would attend an event, I would respond: “If the Lord wills.” This response bothered most people. People want definite answers. We want to plan, to be certain; yet life is uncertain. This small adjustment made way for a more Spirit-led life. It heightened my awareness that as a Christian, I had already surrendered my plans, schedule, and future to Jesus. He was Lord of my life, therefore Lord of my plans. 

The more I became aware of this, the more I began to see the scriptures advocating for such a life. We see this numerous times in the lives of many of the disciples. Let’s take Philip for example: 

An angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Get up and go south. Take the road that goes down from Jerusalem to the country of Gaza. It goes through the desert.” Philip got up and went.

Acts 8:26-27 NLV

On his way, Philip met an Ethiopian studying the scriptures in Azotus. He tells the man about Jesus and the man in turn requests to be baptized. Watch what happens next! 

Spirit Led Moves

When they came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit took Philip away. The man from Ethiopia did not see Philip again. He went on his way full of joy. Philip found himself at the city of Azotus. Then Philip went through all the towns as far as the city of Caesarea preaching the Good News at each place.

Acts 8:39-40 NLV

What an astonishment. Philip didn’t check his iCal, his apple watch, or his iPhone (clearly I love all things apple) to check and see if he was available to go to Gaza. No, the text says the Spirit moved him to his next assignment in Azotus and he got up and went, immediately.

We are so dependent on our volition and plans today that we don’t make room for God to move like that anymore. But in this verse we see Phillip caught up and led by the Spirit. And the truth of the matter is, we can be caught up and led by the Spirit too. Perhaps not teleported in the way that it implies Philips departure, but indeed immersed in God in such a way where our schedules and plans disappear.

It’s happened to me. I have gone from doing missionary work in Costa Rica to working with Special-needs kids in Maryland; from serving as a University Chaplain in the DC metro area to Lead Pastor of a church in the Suburbs of Chicago. And now, I live and Pastor half-way across the world, away from family, friends, and all that is familiar in Australia. It’s funny how the simple practice of accepting God’s will over your plans opens endless possibilities to what God can accomplish.

Adventuring With God

My first practice of changing my vocabulary made way for me to become attentive to God’s leanings in my life. I started looking for God-encounters. Moments where I would feel impressed to go somewhere, call someone, pick-up a book, or sit still. The more I listened and followed these intuitions prayerfully, the more I saw God at work.

In the beginning, all that changed was my perspective. After that, then my expectations changed. I began looking for God to interrupt my life with His agenda. And His plans have always been better than mine.

I love the response of King Ahab’s servant Obadiah when Elijah tells him to tell Ahab he’s looking for him. 

“Now you are saying, ‘Go, say to your owner, “See, Elijah is here.” ‘And after I have left you, the Spirit of the Lord will carry you where I do not know. So I will go and tell Ahab, and he will not be able to find you. Then he will kill me. But I your servant have honored the Lord since I was young.”

1 Kings 18:11-12 NLV

What an incredible declaration! Obadiah understood that Elijah was a man who was on God’s schedule, not his own. Elijah could be moved by the Spirit anywhere at any time. What an adventurous life God has called us to live. To so depend on Him, that our schedules are arranged and rearranged based on His plans for our lives. Such an experience is possible. It’s something we grow into overtime. When we learn to tune our heart and ear to God, and change our vocabulary from “My will” to “If God wills,” then we allow ourselves to truly ditch our schedules and go on a life changing adventure with God. 




Lament: Prayers That Activate the Justice of God

The problem in our world, and in our church, is that we never take time to weep…

All day long the headlines are filled with more bad news than good news. It doesn’t matter if it’s your local news station, CNN, MSNBC, FOX, or even the Young Turks. More than likely, the headline features either a shooting, a robbery, a case of domestic violence, or even a natural disaster. Nationally, a broadcast is incomplete without images of brown boys and girls corralled and detained in subpar facilities. In fact, NBC news published an article yesterday entitled, “Migrant Children Face More Serious Health Risks With Longer Detentions” where they quote Dr. Julie Linton saying, “Children are not like adults. They get sick more quickly and each hour of delay can be associated with serious complications, especially in cases of infectious diseases. Delays can lead to death.”

And while our children are sick and imprisoned at the border, black women are still objectified, senior citizens are losing their homes to gentrification, and the leading cause of death in young black men is police brutality. To top it all off, many are fatigued by the cycle of a black boy dies, there’s a protest, a press conference, then we all go back to business as usual and brace for the next catastrophe. The truth is, like Mother Fannie Lou Hamer, some of us are just sick and tired of being sick and tired.

The God Who Hears Our Tears

I surmise that the problem in our world, and in our church, is that we never take the time to weep. If you notice, we don’t take time to acknowledge and process pain. In fact, in January of this year, researchers at Stanford University discovered that the human brain intentionally tries to avoid the discomfort associated with pain. This is because, according to their research, pain is not a physical sensation, but an emotional one. And so we are all constantly trying to avoid the discomfort attached to emotional unpleasantness. This is why so many of us fail to empathize and sympathize with the wounds of those all over the world. We are intentionally avoiding the emotional discomfort associated with processing oppression, injustice, and devastation.

Social media doesn’t make this any easier. This scroll away feature has trained us to consume injustice and move on. We can watch Philando Castile get shot to death on Facebook Live and scroll away to watch cooking videos or clips of stand up comedians. Our society is set up to feed into our natural bent towards pain aversion. And in an age of scrollers and media watchers, men and women of faith are no different. Many of us are bombarded with images and articles addressing these issues and we too find ways to disregard them. From our places of work to our places of worship, the people of God are constantly trying to avoid the uncomfortable emotional pain of the world’s wounds because we do not know how to process them.

I believe that the first step to truly acknowledging injustice and processing the world’s pain is lament. In his book Prophetic Lamentation, Soong Chan Rah argues that until we learn how to weep for justice, there will never be any change. He goes on to declare that “lament is the language of God.” Lament is the language that gets God’s attention. Based on his pivotal text, we serve a God who hears our tears.

Lament Activates the Justice of God

For example, in Exodus 2:23-25 Moses writes that:

“During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.

God heard their groaning,

and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.”

The New Living Translation says, “that God knew that it was time to act.” In these verses we see that lament not only captures God’s attention, but it also moves Him to act. Secularism will have you believe that we serve a God who is aloof, standoffish, and hands-off in His dealings with humanity. So often the injustice and devastation of our world causes many of us to question, where is God? Why doesn’t He do something about the oppression and destruction in our world today? But these verses show that God cares about injustice. And more importantly, when He hears the cries of His people against injustice He hears and He acts.

But what if God is looking for a church that is willing to weep for others? What if the way we activate God’s justice is by weeping for injustice?

When We Weep

When we weep we employ lament in our intercessory prayers. Living in such terrible and turbulent times, there needs to be a collective lament among the people of God for the people and things of the Earth. In the same way we make room for organizing protests, writing rebukes, and campaigning for change, we must also make time for weeping and reflection. Soong Chan Rah says, “lament recognizes the struggles of life and cries out for justice against existing injustices.” Like the prophet Nehemiah we must determine in our hearts that we must lament for our cities before we can start to rebuild them. We must put our souls in the position of empathetic lamentation in order to activate the justice of God in the Earth.

How many times have we prayed for injustice in our churches? When was the last time you heard a prayer for the decisions coming from this administration? Can you say you’ve prayed over the lives of the children held at the border? How can we say we love God and have no love for one another? How are we disciples of Christ when don’t weep over the things He wept for?

When we weep for our communities, for the disproportionate numbers of African Americans behind bars, for the children unjustly separated from their parents, for the families living in food deserts, for the neighborhoods that look like war zones, that is when we participate in the kind of intercessory prayer that activates the justice of God.

The earth is groaning. The question is, as believers, will we groan with it to the God who saves? Will we lament and activate the justice of the God who hears our tears?




When Isolation is a Blessing: A Testimony

As a child, I was never afraid of the dark.

I was so preoccupied with dreams of singing on large stages or traveling around the world that I never thought about things “going bump in the dark.” This made me pretty independent. Night after night, I went peaceably to my bed and slept pretty well. 

I took my bravery during the night as a signal that fear wasn’t a problem for me, at all. That’s until a few years ago when I was assigned to a remote part of the country to pastor. I was there for 2.5 years and I saw a completely different version of myself. Again, visible darkness was not a problem. This time, it was the distance from friends and family that was scary. Left alone with my thoughts, it felt like the world was on mute. I have honestly never been more afraid, in my life. In that moment I discovered, in the worst way, that I wasn’t afraid of the dark; I was afraid of solitude.

The Mistake of Equating “Activity” With Importance

Like high-calorie comfort food, I LOVE being surrounded by friends, loved ones and supporters. And this new period of solitude quickly revealed to me one of my greatest mistakes: equating “activity” with importance. I’m sure many of you can relate. Personally, my schedule has been hectic since I was a teenager. Choir rehearsals, church functions, school and assignments, concerts, sports practices and games all made me feel productive and that my life was meaningful. In fact, when asked to define myself, it wasn’t uncommon for me to rattle-off a list of activities so that the questioner could perceive me as “somebody.” 

But this new period of solitude was uncomfortable because the isolation removed all of the “noise” of busyness. Immediately, I experienced withdrawal symptoms. I slept constantly. Soon, I began experiencing panic attacks. And even found myself “binging” for activity. My discomfort with solitude was so unbearable I would drive long hours just to be around people. I gained weight, then I lost weight. Scrambling for human interaction, I remember calling friends almost daily to “check-in” or “just say hello.”  I would play movies or music almost constantly.  It wasn’t until I began to pray for deliverance that God sent people to tell me exactly what had been happening. This isolation was not by chance or happenstance. God turned off the noise Himself. 

The God of the Still Small Voice

Elijah had a similar experience. In 1 Kings 19 we find the prophet standing victoriously on Mt. Carmel. He had just faithfully defended the true God of Israel in an epic showdown between himself and 850 false prophets. Having valiantly represented the Lord of Lords, one would think Elijah would be honored. Well, instead of a victory parade or medal of honor, Elijah received a death threat from Jezebel, Queen of Israel. This sends Elijah running. Scared for his life, the prophet seeks protection in the caves of the mountains. It’s there that Elijah is met with true isolation and solitude. And after 40 days of travel and solitary wandering, Elijah is confronted by the Lord:

“What are you doing here Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9 NKJV)

And the prophet answers,

“I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life” (1 Kings 19:10 NKJV).

Not just separated from human interaction, Elijah felt like he was the only one left who still believed in the one true God. This magnified Elijah’s isolation and solitude. In His mind there was absolutely no community for him. There was not one group of like-minded believers he could find safety and comfort in. No one believed in Yahweh anymore. And worse yet, those who used to now wanted Elijah dead.

It’s in this moment when Elijah experiences God as he has never experienced Him before. The Bible says that God passed by and there was a strong wind, then a mighty earthquake, and finally, a fire. But the Bible says that God wasn’t in any of it. Instead, God was in the still small voice.

Can You Recognize God in the Still Small Voice?

Connected with God so intimately, Elijah knew that activity alone does not constitute the presence of God. Yes, all of his senses were stimulated. Elijah watched, heard, felt, saw, and smelled every attack against the mountain. But even as the environment around him morphed changing with each new event, Elijah sensed the emptiness in all the activity.

Here, Elijah teaches us that there can be quaking, lightning, cracks of thunder, strong winds, and even fire, and God can be completely absent from it all. This great prophet shows us that it’s in solitude that we can experience one of the greatest blessings of all: communion with God in a still small voice.

I imagine it was a whisper that wafted through the cave. A voice so distinct, so recognizable that it’s what drew Elijah to the mouth of the cave. It was this still small voice that Elijah followed forward with the expectation of meeting God.

Finding the Blessing in the Stillness

Society will have you believe that productivity means constant busyness. But that’s just it. Busyness is not productivity. Oftentimes, it’s just procrastination. Rarely are we getting what we need to get done. Nor are we even doing what’s most important. And the fact of the matter is, our body, mind, and spirit requires moments of solitude for restoration. As the body experiences sickness as a desperate cry for healing and wholeness, so the weary soul cries out for quiet and rest by getting you to shut down.

The travel schedule dwindles, business becomes light, employment requires a move to a new town, and soon you are transitioned into a period of silence. But it’s important to remember that silence is not punitive. Solitude and isolation are not signs we’ve done something wrong. The silence is only a natural companion to our busy and productive seasons. You’ll always have both. The fact is, we can either come aside and rest awhile, or despise the rest period. But either way, God will send it to detox you and usher you into a particular kind of experience with Him.

As you consider your times of silence, I’d like to challenge you to think of them as opportunities where God is removing the obstacles that create distance between you and Him. It is my prayer that God teaches all of us how to adjust to both the times of busyness, and the times of stillness. It is in both that we become well-rounded in Him.




The Divine Equation

Somehow, someway, I convinced myself that the further along I got in my spiritual journey the less and less I’d need God.

It got to the point where life was testing my theory and I had to ask myself a question that I believe we all should ask: what if we need Yahweh just the same on any given day? On days that are sunny and warm, gloomy and cold; tranquil and easy, and arduous and difficult, what if we need God in the same way everyday? Now, it’s easy to read that and think, “yes, absolutely, we need God all days no matter the kind.” But while we might say that do we really believe it?

My Saving Account

Often, we try to quantify our need for God. “Maybe if I go through X amount of pain in addition to Y amount of sorrow divided by exhaustion and finally multiplied by ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ then that will equate to my needing God.” It’s almost like we think we have a saving account. An account that keeps track of the number and kind of life experiences that will produce our needing to be saved by God. But is that really the key? Is it only when we have reached the end of ourselves and are in utter despair that we need God? If this is the case, then for what reason would we need God in any other capacity than to help us during our worst moments in life?

Measuring What Can’t Be Counted

As human beings, we thrive on quantification. To help keep track of events, moments, responsibilities and more, we use time. Money helps us buy and trade. And we use age to remind us of the maturation process that happens daily, physically and emotionally. Quantification puts us in a position to better control what might come ahead. It allows us to feel more aware, equipped and prepared.

Now, don’t get me wrong, quantification can be a very good thing, however we run into an issue when we try to quantify something that at its very core cannot be calculated or boxed into a simple equation.

We need God for our condition and not just for our day to day mistakes.

Quantity vs Quality

In Mark 14 we find Peter, a disciple who was loyal and extremely committed to Christ. So to hear the words, “Truly I tell you, today- yes, tonight- before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times,” was unfathomable to him! How could he betray the one whom he left everything for?

“Peter insisted emphatically, ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you’” (Mark 14:31). Everyone figured, if there was anyone who would remain true, it would be him.

Later on in the story, Peter is faced with the very situation that Christ forewarned. There, in the presence of those who already knew his truth, Peter denied his association with Jesus. Realizing the fulfillment of what the Savior said about him, verse 72 says that, “He broke down and wept.”

If Peter claimed true loyalty, then why did he deny Jesus? Did he not have enough loyalty to sustain him in that moment? Did he not have enough courage to speak his truth? Here we see that Peter’s issue wasn’t the quantity of his loyalty, but the quality of his loyalty.

When Will Power Isn’t Enough

But Peter is not the only one whose will power fell short. While in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus brought only three disciples with him: James, John and Peter. He asked them to keep watch and to pray (Mark 14:34). When Jesus returned He found all three disciples asleep. Waking them He asks again if they will keep watch and pray. And specifically, He calls to Peter to remain awake and pray. Soon, Christ returns and finds them all asleep, again.

All three disciples, especially Peter, needed that time of prayer to prepare them to receive the kind of strength needed to overcome their flesh whenever they would hit a weak moment. Peter didn’t need more strength, Peter needed a different kind of strength. Peter needed the strength that comes, “not by power, nor by might, but by [His] Spirit” (Zechariah 4:10).

It was because of Peter’s quantification of his loyalty, that he did not stay up to pray. Peter believed that his loyalty would be enough to sustain him, even in his weakest moments. The problem with that assumption is that it didn’t take into consideration his sinful nature.

The Divine Equation

Anyone who has accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior has committed to loving and following Him. Such a decision inherently suggests that in your heart you are deeply loyal to God.

But the truth of the matter is that in our weakest moments our sinful nature will always over power our loyalty when our loyalty is not empowered by the Holy Spirit.

We must lay aside our assessment of how loyal, obedient, believing, faithful, or committed we think we are. It is crucial that we accept that we do not have a quantity issue, but a quality issue. And this quality issue is that our condition is sinful.

No matter how much we decide to sin or not to sin, we will still be sinful. To be sinful is not a matter of quantity, but quality.

When we try to assess our condition as being quantifiable, we run into the issue of adding up our good actions in hopes that they will cancel out our bad ones.

But despite Sin’s complexities, we know that this condition, this illness (Romans 3), is rectified not by what we do, but instead by who can do. Our issue isn’t that we need a collection of whats to cover our lack. No, we need a who; someone that will dwell in us and work through us daily.

Society will tell you that our good behavior is the sum of our experiences multiplied by our good nature. But that equation always falls short. We simply don’t have an inherently good nature. Paul says it like this: “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (Romans 7:18 ESV). In other words, we need God’s divine equation. His divine equation says that the sum of Christ’s life multiplied by His death on the cross plus our faith equals His righteousness credited to us as our own. When we accept God’s divine equation by faith it is then that we receive the power to produce the fruit of His spirit, fruit that is pleasing to God.

In other words, we need God in everything and for everything.

As you continue to reflect on these thoughts I invite you to sit with this question:

What can I incorporate within my day, no matter the circumstance, that will help remind me that I always need God?




Wrong Place. Wrong Time. Wrong People.


When I read the gospels, I see Jesus doing the opposite of what the religious of the day thought He should. Join us as we watch Jesus move in the “wrong” place and time, for the “wrong” people.

1) Read Matthew 15:1-2, Matthew 21-22

We see Jesus in two interesting predicaments. In one He’s challenged about what His disciples are doing, and in the other He’s confronted by a woman in whose company He probably should not have been seen. This is Jesus we’re talking about! Why has He allowed himself to be in a place of the appearance of evil? Is it all a misunderstanding? Have your intentions ever been misjudged? Have things ever looked different from how they really were? Tell us about it using #MessageMag

2) Read Matthew 15:23

The disciples and Jesus were Jewish. It was a cultural and traditional taboo for Jews to be seen interacting with women from Syro-Phonecia. On top of her being someone they didn’t want to be seen with, she was loud and belligerent in trying to get Jesus’ attention. The disciples had a traditional response. Jesus was going to use this situation to teach them how nontraditional faith is. Is your faith nontraditional? Tell us how it is, or is not, on social media using #MessageMag

3) Read Matthew 15:16-20

Jesus has offended the Pharisees. He did so by pointing out the vanity in their rules. The fact that they focused more on protocol than people was a gross representation of God. They cared more about whether you washed your hands, than if you took care of your parents. It seems as if the traditions of the day had drained the church people of what it means to be loving. Have you ever encountered a tradition that didn’t seem to help in loving people? Tell us about it using #MessageMag on social media.

4) Matthew 15:16-20, Ephesian 5:1-5

We see that the writers of the Bible took some time to write out some lists. Look at these lists, and notice how all of the acts that children of God are to stay away from are ones that harm other people. Is it possible that traditions go too far when they disregard the people that are to be God’s children? Take some time to evaluate the traditions to which you adhere. Do you know the difference between the Biblical directives and traditions? Pray about it. Study and ask the Spirit for guidance.

5) Read Matthew 15:24-27

Jesus says He “was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” implying He was sent for people just like this woman. He’s in a place He shouldn’t be, and with a person to whom He should not be talking. It is no coincidence that immediately after it’s recorded that Jesus has a dispute about tradition, He does something untraditional. Take some time to meditate on the actions of Jesus.

6) Read Matthew 15:28

Jesus had this woman teach the disciples what faith looks like. He also stepped out of the traditional way of doing things for the sake of a daughter of God. Traditions in and of themselves are not bad, by any means. But the moment the tradition gets in the way of loving someone, that’s when you must evaluate the root of the tradition. Have you ever been inspired to step out of the normal and do something extraordinary for God? Was it uncomfortable? Was it rewarding? Tell us your testimony. #MessageMag

7) Read Romans 8:35-39

Love is what puts tradition in check. God’s love for us made sure that nothing separated us from Him. We should make sure that nothing separates us from sharing God’s love with others. That means that we will find ourselves in non-traditional places, with a non-traditional crowd, doing non-traditional things. It is then that you will find out that some of the things you weren’t “supposed” to do, are exactly what needed to be done for the Kingdom of Heaven.

…......……………………………………………………………….

Rashad Burden is the pastor of the Mount Olive and Shiloh Seventh-day Adventist Churches in Southern Alabama.


This article is part of our 2019 July / August
Subscribe –>

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Then Jesus said to the woman, “I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel.” But she came and worshiped him, pleading again, “Lord, help me!” Jesus responded, “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.”

She replied, “That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table.”

“Dear woman,” Jesus said to her, “your faith is great. Your request is granted.”

And her daughter was instantly healed”

(Matthew 15:21-28, NLT)

How Jesus Respected and Responded to People Who Were Not in His Circle

From Ellen G. White’s The Desire of Ages, the chapter entitled “Barriers Broken Down.”*

“Jesus longed to unfold the deep mysteries of the truth which had been hid for ages, that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs with the Jews, and “partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel” Ephesians 3:6. This truth the disciples were slow to learn, and the divine Teacher gave them lesson upon lesson. In rewarding the faith of the centurion at Capernaum, and preaching the gospel to the inhabitants of Sychar, He had already given evidence that He did not share the intolerance of the Jews. But the Samaritans had some knowledge of God; and the centurion had shown kindness to Israel. Now Jesus brought the disciples in contact with a heathen, whom they regarded as having no reason above any of her people, to expect favor from Him. He would give an example of how such a one should be treated. The disciples had thought that He dispensed too freely the gifts of His grace. He would show that His love was not to be circumscribed to race or nation.

When He said, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” He stated the truth, and in His work for the Canaanite woman He was fulfilling His commission. This woman was one of the lost sheep that Israel should have rescued. It was their appointed work, the work which they had neglected, that Christ was doing.

This act opened the minds of the disciples more fully to the labor that lay before them among the Gentiles. They saw a wide field of usefulness outside of Judea. They saw souls bearing sorrows unknown to those more highly favored. Among those whom they had been taught to despise were souls longing for help from the mighty Healer, hungering for the light of truth, which had been so abundantly given to the Jews.…

The spirit which built up the partition wall between Jew and Gentile is still active. Pride and prejudice have built strong walls of separation between different classes of men. Christ and His mission have been misrepresented, and multitudes feel that they are virtually shut away from the ministry of the gospel. But let them not feel that they are shut away from Christ. There are no barriers which man or Satan can erect but that faith can penetrate.”

…......……………………………………………………………………………….


This article is part of our 2019 July / August
Subscribe –>

 

 

 

 

 

 

…......…………………………………………..

ELLEN G. WHITE (1827-1915), one of the most published authors in the world, named one of the “100 Most Significant Americans of All Time” by the Smithsonian Institution in 2014, was a co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

_________________

*You can read The Desire of Ages in its entirety online at www.whiteestate.org/onlinebooks.





Get Out of Your Circle of Friends


“Then Jesus said to the woman, “I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel.” But she came and worshiped him, pleading again, “Lord, help me!” Jesus responded, “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.”

She replied, “That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table.”

“Dear woman,” Jesus said to her, “your faith is great. Your request is granted.”

And her daughter was instantly healed”

(Matthew 15:21-28, NLT).

How Jesus Respected and Responded to People Who Were Not in His Circle

From Ellen G. White’s The Desire of Ages, the chapter entitled “Barriers Broken Down.”*

“Jesus longed to unfold the deep mysteries of the truth which had been hid for ages, that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs with the Jews, and “partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel” Ephesians 3:6. This truth the disciples were slow to learn, and the divine Teacher gave them lesson upon lesson. In rewarding the faith of the centurion at Capernaum, and preaching the gospel to the inhabitants of Sychar, He had already given evidence that He did not share the intolerance of the Jews. But the Samaritans had some knowledge of God; and the centurion had shown kindness to Israel. Now Jesus brought the disciples in contact with a heathen, whom they regarded as having no reason above any of her people, to expect favor from Him. He would give an example of how such a one should be treated. The disciples had thought that He dispensed too freely the gifts of His grace. He would show that His love was not to be circumscribed to race or nation.

When He said, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” He stated the truth, and in His work for the Canaanite woman He was fulfilling His commission. This woman was one of the lost sheep that Israel should have rescued. It was their appointed work, the work which they had neglected, that Christ was doing.

This act opened the minds of the disciples more fully to the labor that lay before them among the Gentiles. They saw a wide field of usefulness outside of Judea. They saw souls bearing sorrows unknown to those more highly favored. Among those whom they had been taught to despise were souls longing for help from the mighty Healer, hungering for the light of truth, which had been so abundantly given to the Jews.…

The spirit which built up the partition wall between Jew and Gentile is still active. Pride and prejudice have built strong walls of separation between different classes of men. Christ and His mission have been misrepresented, and multitudes feel that they are virtually shut away from the ministry of the gospel. But let them not feel that they are shut away from Christ. There are no barriers which man or Satan can erect but that faith can penetrate.”

…......…………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

ELLEN G. WHITE (1827-1915), one of the most published authors in the world, named one of the “100 Most Significant Americans of All Time” by the Smithsonian Institution in 2014, was a co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

*You can read The Desire of Ages in its entirety online at www.whiteestate.org/onlinebooks.


This article is part of our 2019 July / August Issue
Subscribe –>

 

 

 

 

 

 

…......…………………………………………..


When I read the gospels, I see Jesus doing the opposite of what the religious of the day thought He should. Join us as we watch Jesus move in the “wrong” place and time, for the “wrong” people.

1) Read Matthew 15:1-2, 21-22

We see Jesus in two interesting predicaments. In one He’s challenged about what His disciples are doing, and in the other He’s confronted by a woman in whose company He probably should not have been seen. This is Jesus we’re talking about! Why has He allowed himself to be in a place of the appearance of evil? Is it all a misunderstanding? Have your intentions ever been misjudged? Have things ever looked different from how they really were? Tell us about it using #MessageMag

2) Read Matthew 15:23

The disciples and Jesus were Jewish. It was a cultural and traditional taboo for Jews to be seen interacting with women from Syro-Phonecia. On top of her being someone they didn’t want to be seen with, she was loud and belligerent in trying to get Jesus’ attention. The disciples had a traditional response. Jesus was going to use this situation to teach them how nontraditional faith is. Is your faith nontraditional? Tell us how it is, or is not, on social media using #MessageMag

3) Read Matthew 15:16-20

Jesus has offended the Pharisees. He did so by pointing out the vanity in their rules. The fact that they focused more on protocol than people was a gross representation of God. They cared more about whether you washed your hands, than if you took care of your parents. It seems as if the traditions of the day had drained the church people of what it means to be loving. Have you ever encountered a tradition that didn’t seem to help in loving people? Tell us about it using #MessageMag on social media.

4) Matthew 15:16-20; Ephesian 5:1-5

We see that the writers of the Bible took some time to write out some lists. Look at these lists, and notice how all of the acts that children of God are to stay away from are ones that harm other people. Is it possible that traditions go too far when they disregard the people that are to be God’s children? Take some time to evaluate the traditions to which you adhere. Do you know the difference between the Biblical directives and traditions? Pray about it. Study and ask the Spirit for guidance.

5) Read Matthew 15:24-27

Jesus says He “was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” implying He was sent for people just like this woman. He’s in a place He shouldn’t be, and with a person to whom He should not be talking. It is no coincidence that immediately after it’s recorded that Jesus has a dispute about tradition, He does something untraditional. Take some time to meditate on the actions of Jesus.

6) Read Matthew 15:28

Jesus had this woman teach the disciples what faith looks like. He also stepped out of the traditional way of doing things for the sake of a daughter of God. Traditions in and of themselves are not bad, by any means. But the moment the tradition gets in the way of loving someone, that’s when you must evaluate the root of the tradition. Have you ever been inspired to step out of the normal and do something extraordinary for God? Was it uncomfortable? Was it rewarding? Tell us your testimony. #MessageMag

7) Read Romans 8:35-39

Love is what puts tradition in check. God’s love for us made sure that nothing separated us from Him. We should make sure that nothing separates us from sharing God’s love with others. That means that we will find ourselves in non-traditional places, with a non-traditional crowd, doing non-traditional things. It is then that you will find out that some of the things you weren’t “supposed” to do, are exactly what needed to be done for the Kingdom of Heaven.

…......……………………………………………………………….

Rashad Burden is the pastor of the Mount Olive and Shiloh Seventh-day Adventist Churches in Southern Alabama.


This article is part of our 2019 July / August Issue
Subscribe –>

 

 

 

 

 

 





God’s Checking Brings Holy Correction

Sin recovery is not returning to the sins that comforted us during difficult times in the past.

Message Magazine’s Online Devotional for Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Today’s Scripture Focus: Jonah 4:4-8

We are focusing on sin recovery principle number six of 12: “We are now ready for God to give us new characters that reflect that of His Son’s.”

Under what pretense do you shelter when the going gets tough?

Every one of us has suffered, to a greater or lesser degree, from addictions. Some may be addicted to the usual suspects – alcohol or drugs, while others are addicted to food, swearing, questionable entertainments, gossip, money loving or believing the hype about self. And the catchall category of addictions lest we become proud and say we’ve never had a problem with anything on my list, is sin. All have had to struggle against sin, even the noblest among us.

When Sin is Your Coping Mechanism

Think about God’s prophet, Jonah. The Lord gave him one simple set of instructions, and he lost his mind. God instructed him to go to one place, to teach one message, to one group of people, for one particular purpose. Like the rest of us with a bent towards sinning, Jonah did the exact opposite. Jonah went to another place, did not deliver the message to the people, and ignored God’s purpose during the whole ordeal. And when God checked him on it (understatement of the year), Jonah reluctantly obeyed but threw a hissy fit.

Do you get upset when God starts tugging at your addictions? When people post messages on social media that challenge your commitment to God, how do you receive it? When trials come that could have been avoided if you simply did what God said, how do you respond? When you realize you have been driving your spiritual bus the wrong direction on the road of life, do you press the brakes or keep barreling down the road? When you face challenges, do you search feverishly for a way to engage in the thing that displeases God, but makes you feel relaxed when you’re stressed?

God’s Checking Brings Holy Correction

Jonah demonstrates what not to do in this situation! He hides and bellyaches about how he figured God embarrassed him. He sheltered beneath the pretense of knowing how God would have handled his situation as justification for disobeying God.

I am going to give some free advice today, which I pray I receive too: never allow yourself to fall back on your sinful vice or indict God when the going gets tough. Recognize the situation for what it is—a wake-up call to help you reroute into the right direction. God is too loving and wise to let us go about our business unchecked. If we respond favorably to the momentary crises, God will show mercy and supply the need for which we had aimlessly sought when we rushed back into the arms of sin for comfort.