Friday, February 19, 2010

Signs of Life

Living in the path of the recent snowstorms, and finding time in February winding down, I can't help but think to the spring.

One sure sign of spring on its way that I remember from growing up is a cluster of small, white flowers, tinged with green, that emerged in my parent's backyard each year.

These flowers, known as snowdrops, brave whatever winter is giving us to unexpectedly thrust themselves through the ground--through snow; through cold, hard earth; through a matted tangle of decaying leaves from the last days of fall. They offer hope of longer days and warmer temperatures when many of us are well within the grasp of a seemingly unending case of cabin fever.

Cold temperatures and a harsh climate would make it seem like these flowers have the worst timing for blooming. But, nevertheless, when things look dreary to our eyes, here they come, imparting a sliver of color to the winter landscape--and a sliver of hope to our frozen hearts.

Sometimes our faith can be as stagnant as the hard, cold, packed earth of the winter months. During such a time, verdant periods of growth in our relationship with God may seem like a distant memory. But by stepping back from our stress and our fears, and reconnecting with the Lord, we can witness signs of life return to our spirit--even if the joy that manifests starts as small as the brave snowdrop.

An appropriate verse from the Bible to illustrate how spirit-filling it is to stop everything and seek God is this one: "I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears." (Psalms 34:4) The deliverance--the spiritual growth in our lives--only comes when we seek God and place our worries and sadness in His hands.

We are reminded by the snowdrop flower that winter will be over sooner than we think. We are reminded by God that time in His presence can break through the layers of ice that encase our hearts, cast aside the piles of negative history that smother our contentment, and even penetrate dense layers of doubt with the clarifying light of love. And as sure as the snowdrop comes back every year, God's grace is available perennially as well.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Rising to the Occasion

Esther had a good life. Though she had been an orphan, raised by her cousin, she was chosen to be King Xerxes' leading lady, after he dismissed his previous wife, Vashti. Esther was pampered with precious oils, beautiful clothes, special food, the best room in Xerxes' harem, and handmaidens to come to her aid as needed. The king even declared a holiday in his dominion following his union with Esther. In short, she had arrived.

But Esther had one big secret: Her nationality. Esther was Jewish, and Jews were not looked upon kindly in the kingdom, due to cultural differences. Esther's identity became a problem when Haman, an esteemed noble in the king's court, decreed the death of all Jewish men, women and children, after Mordecai refused to idolize King Xerxes by bowing to him.

Mordecai sent an urgent message to Esther, asking her to approach the king on behalf of the Jews in the region, to spare their lives. Esther faltered, fearing for her own life, but was quickly reminded by Mordecai that there was no guarantee she would be spared if she was found out. And then Mordecai delivered the kicker: "Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14, NLT)

This passage echoes where I hope a lot of Christians find themselves these days. God has blessed us in many ways. We may have always lived blessed lives, if we look back to our lost time with an honest eye, or we may have found favor in God after breaking free from a difficult past. Either way, as God's children, we are blessed. With those blessings come resources, whether financial, physical, or emotional, in the form of empathy and compassion.

The fruit of our blessings are needed. I believe, in the words of Mordecai, that we were given them for a time like this. 2010 was immediately marked with the worst kind of humanitarian crisis imaginable, a massive earthquake, followed by countless lesser, but similarly damaging, aftershocks. This natural event, with its epicenter just outside of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, has left an estimated tens of thousands dead and an even larger number homeless.

We are needed to extend our grace to our Haitian brothers and sisters, to save their lives, heal their injuries and help them rebuild their cities and nation. Even if it's just $5 or $10, as many mobile phone charity campaigns have made possible, or a small shipment of clothes, baby formula, or water bottles, there is something we can do to be God's grace to a population in need.

I sincerely hope that, in addition to your prayers, you have contributed in some way to this unexpected, devastating emergency in Haiti. If you have, I hope your heart has been stretched to do more. Haiti, a country that was already in dire straits, is guaranteed to have long-term needs following this disaster. And, of course, our families and our own communities have needs as well.

As I alluded to in my review of DJ Official's "Entermission" recently for Da South, we are living in trying times. Families are financially ravaged, following the prolonged recession. Individuals are empty inside, due to the kinds of hurt we read about on the news, as well as the kind of hurt that the devil tries to instill into our hearts, encouraging our souls to fester. Many people are lost and hurt these days, and feel there is no cure-all for their pain.

I feel strongly in my own life that God wants His children to extend His love and compassion in a way that pushes past our comfort zones. We were made small-scale kings and queens in His greater kingdom for a time like this. Give God glory by giving of your wallet, your heart, your time, your sweat, your ear to listen, your knees in prayer. With our intervention, we can save lives--both in the physical, as Esther had the power to, or in the spiritual, by nudging the lost toward everlasting life.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Belated Birthday

Gotta wish S.O. a belated birthday (Dec. 5 was the actual day) and thank him for sharing a track he whipped up to celebrate his born day.

Think of it as a late Christmas present from me... Wow, I stay losing with the celebrations this month!

Seriously, though, "Makings of Me" is a nice, laid back track. S.O., the UK Christian rapper who brought you "Love Is" earlier this year, jacks the beat from a Jahaziel track, also called "Makings of Me," to give love to some of the people in his life in six minutes and some change.


And, if you don't already, follow the kid on Twitter: @SdotThekid

Also, check his Myspace page for more tracks.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Building Through Brokenness

I have come to appreciate the moments when God has whispered a Bible chapter or verse to read that has brought me clarity. I had such a moment this morning.

Flipping through the Bible to get to 1 Corinthians for a Bible study on Jehovah Nissi, I found myself in Nehemiah, staring at chapter 4. I was called to read it.

The chapter deals with repairing the walls of Jerusalem out of rubble. It deals with individuals and ethnic groups despising the efforts of the Jews to rebuild the wall, first with mocking words ("Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble--burned as they are?"), and then with threats of violence, once these groups realized at the halfway point of the rebuilding project that the work was going well.

How did the Jews respond to the negativity that began to swarm around them? They prayed to God and ultimately posted a guard at the wall.

But, after hearing from Jews who were privy to the conversations of the foreign enemies, they came to realize one guard wouldn't be enough to squash the antagonistic desires of Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the men of Ashdod, who became even more bold with their threats.

A decision was made to devote half the Jewish men to protecting the work efforts, and the other half to doing the actual building. However, those who carried materials took to having a weapon at the ready in one hand. Even the builders wore swords. All men stayed within Jerusalem, to serve as watchmen at night.

Additionally, a trumpeter was on call to sound out an alarm in the event of an impending attack. In case a need to fight arose, those who were working on the massive project could regroup and be prepared to defend their rebuilding efforts. "Our God will fight for us," Nehemiah said of what would happen after any necessary trumpet call.

The words that kept them going were these: "Don't be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes."

I found this to be a powerful passage. And I also later realized that God can be seen in the light of Jehovah Nissi, "the Lord is my banner," through this passage, keeping in line with my initial Bible study focus. No actions concerning God are ever wasted!

What struck me most about this chapter is that the city was literally in a state of brokenness--its former walls a heap of shattered stones. Its inhabitants needed to fight hard, harder than anticipated, to keep moving forward on fortifying the city limits.

This parallels common internal strife we face. We often find ourselves crawling tenaciously out of a period of brokenness, sitting in a pile of rubble, yet holding a remnant of faith that things will get better. We look to God to pull us through, and often challenges may seem to build even as we grow in the strength with which God has blessed us.

That is when we have to fight even more, to not give up, but to figuratively rebuild our spirits with one hand and fight with the other. But we have to fight smarter, by ensuring that our strategy to advance and overcome is truly rooted in God, and not in our own limited power. Let God be the banner in our fight for wholeness and peace, the actual and symbolic sign of victory over nagging internal struggles.

Ultimately, the wall was rebuilt, and the enemies' ambitions were deflated. Nehemiah 6:15-16 reads: "So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God."

What we can take away from the passage is that to prevail in an internal struggle, it may take splitting focus on work and protection. It may take being on guard for your spirit overnight--when we are often most vulnerable to attacks of doubt and fear from the enemy--to begin the hard work of rebuilding again in the morning. It may take more than a day. But, victory is at hand. Under the banner of God, fight for your peace and wholeness. When the trumpet of alarm sounds, run to Him, and let Him lead the way. The enemy can't help but lose confidence when faced with a work of God in you.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Music Brief: Willie Will's Redemption Mixtape

We argue about whether Christian rappers should rhyme over secular beats, but Willie Will's mixtape, "Redemption," shuts down this debate for now.

It's a mighty work for the Lord in reaching nonbelievers, taking some of the grimiest hip-hop tracks (including "We Gonna Make It," by Jadakiss; "C.R.E.A.M.," by Wu-Tang Clan; "Ambitionz az a Ridah," by 2Pac; and "Shook Ones Pt. II" by Mobb Deep) and claiming them for God. Not only does he jack beats, but he also swagger jacks to further capture the essence of the original songs, stylistically stepping into Raekwon's two-tone Wallabees on his remake of "C.R.E.A.M.," for example.

These 32 songs are now fortified with the Holy Ghost and Willie Will's dense, intelligent lyrics. Classic tracks in the hands of a talented lyricist is always a win, and this one is a big win for God.

My Top Tracks: There wasn't a track list provided with the mixtape as far as I can tell, so I'll have to title by the names of the original songs and list track numbers. Without further ado...
  • Track 4, "Big Poppa" remake: Stop being a baby, baby.
  • Track 5, "Shook Ones Pt. II" remake: Be shook if not saved.
  • Track 11, "New York State of Mind" remake: Start the revoloution. God=solution.
  • Track 12, "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" remake: Praise for the real Hov.
  • Track 13, "We Gonna Make It" remake: Amped lyrics and amped music.
  • Track 15, "They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)" remake: Christ's story, Pete Rock heatrock.
  • Track 16, "It Was a Good Day" remake: A humorous praise song.
  • Track 21, "The People" remake: Will's flow > Common's. Trust.
Where do you cop this one from? Join the site and access this mixtape, and many other free downloads.