LET US COME BEFORE HIM WITH THANKSGIVING

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Several years ago, my siblings and I started a Thanksgiving tradition, which continues today. At our thanksgiving dinner, we all gather around the dinner table and hold hands while each family member, including the children, take turns and share what we are thankful for that year. During the years when we were bruise or battered by events such the loss of loved ones or financial difficulties, those brief moments of remembrance and thanksgiving never fail to reignite our passion for God. Those special moments always offer new hope for the year ahead, and I continually gain strength and confidence in recalling instances when God had intervened in my circumstances. Not to mention the rate of returns I enjoyed because of the lessons I learned from depending on Him.

However, during the 2008 recession, there were some of us who had to determine in our heart that in spite of our financial difficulties we were going to continue trusting God. It is through those times of hardships, which are often blessings in disguise that God’s children come to understand that we always have more than enough for our harvest of thanksgiving.

So I understand the importance of a thankful heart. I have learned to be thankful in good times and in challenging times. I recognize that during my times of pruning I need to be especially mindful to be grateful for what I have, and not focus on what is lacking. Understanding Christ’s heart for His children and maintaining an attitude of gratitude will always sustain and restore us through the lean times.

Just as prayers are sometimes rush because of our “to do list,” we tend to be more reflective and thankful when all is going well. But the Apostle Paul reminds us to “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Our gratitude should not sway during the dry, lean seasons. Just as we are commanded to pray continually, we are to give thanks continually with a joyful heart. The following verse rings true in my own life: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11 NIV).

Recently, while working on an incredible painful writing project, I was reminded of how far God has carried me through pain and sorrow. I reflected on the things He withheld from me so I could learn to depend on Him. And I took time to give Him thanks because He forgives my sins, heals my shattered heart, loves me, and blesses me.

It’s tempting to complain about the things that are missing in our life. It’s easy to be resentful or bitter over what we have lost, and self-pity can be very enticing. But if we look around us at what is happening, particular in the Middle East, there is plenty for which to be grateful. As my late mother loved to quote, “Once there is life, there is hope.” In this wonderful country of America, we can be thankful no one is being persecuted or murdered for worshiping a loving and patient God. We can be thankful for the hope of that last harvest that is yet to come.

 

 

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A SNIPPET FOR THE WEEK

“Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today, is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible.” ~ Excerpted from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

TAKE A LEAP INTO THE LIGHT

A few years ago I read a book by WM. Paul Young call The Shack: Where Tragedy confronts Eternity. Young states, “Submission is not about authority and it is not obedience; it is all about relationships of love and respect.” This suggests that if we have taken the time to create an intimate relationship with our heavenly Father, we will not only understand His character, but also love, respect and trust His purpose for us. Also, once we trust His purpose, we will be more willing to surrender our will for His will. I thought about David’s total dependency and his devotion to God, especially when he was running from Saul, which happened only because he had cultivated a true relationship with Him. But it also seems that the whole point of being a Christian is to yield to God, to accept His invitation and grasp His hand, allowing Him to lead us through the challenging times.

However, the issue may be that the world sees surrendering as a sign of weakness, giving up control, or admission of defeat. And while God did not command us to be doormats, the “starting point” to righteousness or greatness is always submission. By yielding to God’s command, Abraham departed for parts unknown and became the father of many nations and Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt. By saying, “May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38), young Mary surrender to God’s plan without knowing what was in store for her. When we submit to God’s will, we demonstrate faith, strength, righteousness and wisdom, and we become moldable and useable. An intimate relationship with God empowers us because it’s letting go of our resistance to the total openness of who we were created to be, and would not otherwise be without His control or direction.

Remember, it was in the Garden of Eden that our first ancestors abandoned their intimate relationship with God to assert their individuality. And now we are continually searching for something outside of God and ourselves to fill that gap, or heal a relationship many are not even aware has been broken. Since then, men have been seeking to reestablish their identity, value, and security through work, while women are trying to find it in relationships, when all we need to do is reestablish our original relationship with God. But we can only surrender willingly to someone we love and respect, and this is the basic concept of a relationship with God.

Still, for some to surrender to God would be to commit intellectual suicide. But when knowledge is insufficient, or fails to answer the unpredictability of life, we begin to look behind spirituality and question God. A. W. Tozer states, “The reason why many are still troubled, still seeking, still making little forward progress is because they haven’t yet come to a the end of themselves. We’re still trying to give orders, and interfering with God’s work within us.” Webster states that to surrender is to agree to stop fighting, hiding, resisting because you know that you will not win or succeed. We struggle so hard just to survive, when we could simply meet at the starting point on our knees, and surrender to the One who has already secured our victory lap. God knows the distance, timing and outcome of the race, and while it is not our nature to surrender without a fight, life has a way of forcing us to our knees—willingly or unwillingly—for it is where we find good relief.

International Poetry Month

The Tongue of Words

Condensed milk, thick and sweet
is how I like my poetry
flowing consistently
comforting as cornmeal porridge on a rainy day

Sometimes my poetry
taste spicy as scotch bonnet peppers
emerging from under the clumsy shuffle of new love
embracing her power, palatable, full of herself

My poems blaze and spread red
leaving imprints brilliant as poinsettias
marching to their own drumbeat
disciplined and with a moral conscience

My poems have grown muscular arms and legs
and gallop away from the ordinary crowd
their voices loud and tender
moving to their own vibrant rhythm

 

Celebrating Black History Month

Testament
BY CAROLYN M. RODGERS

child,
in the august of your life
you come barefoot to me
the blisters of events
having worn through to the
soles of your shoes.

it is not the time
this is not the time

there is no such time
to tell you
that some pains ease away
on the ebb & toll of
themselves.
there is no such dream that
can not fail, nor is hope our
only conquest.
we can stand boldly in burdening places (like earth here)
in our blunderings, our bloomings
our palms, flattened upward or pressed,
an unyielding down.

Understanding the Path to Fulfillment and Happiness

There is no doubt the world is aching for joy. It is perhaps the one thing all humanity seeks—since the fall of our first ancestors—and which continues to escape so many of us. From the appeal of books such as The Secret and Eat Pray Love, joy is an elusive commodity for many, even followers of Christ. When you consider all the self-help books and sought-after motivational speakers out there (some not without merit) proposing the secrets to living a joyful life, it is easy to see that this is a human dilemma. But this quest for peace that transcends all understanding is nothing new. Almost 3,000 years ago, King David—with all his wisdom, money, power, and intellect—experienced this same dilemma, only to conclude that life is empty and meaningless without God leading.

The Declaration of Independence states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” And today, we are still disillusioned, tired, frustrated, and unfulfilled because we are searching for joy and happiness through power, possessions, relationships, and entertainment. But oftentimes, our search has not only placed an impossible burden on others to make us happy, but it has afflicted us with moral blindness and an insatiable appetite for instant gratification.

However although the desire to be happy is innate in all of us, joy is more than merely happiness. It is a fruit of the Spirit, and perhaps it has eluded us because we are pleasure-seekers instead of Christ-seekers. Jesus tells us to “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33 KJV). Unlike happiness, which is contingent more on external actions, joy flows from within and by believing and attending to God’s Word. C. S. Lewis states, “Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is.” David writes, “You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures evermore (Psalm 16:11 NKJV). Joy is a life-giving and Christ-sustaining emotion, and believers should have that sense of security, in spite of what our circumstance may be telling us.

God, in His infinite wisdom, gives us everything we need. But regardless of what the world tells us, living a jubilant life will not happen simply by positive thinking or by the power of intention. As a fruit of the Spirit, joy is the spontaneous work of the Holy Spirit in us, and so it requires a relationship with God to thwart our self-indulgence tendencies. However, when that relationship is broken or fragmented, joy is not sustainable. When we keep in constant, close communication with Christ, joy is assured even when setback seems imminent. David declared, “I know the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for He is right beside me. No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice. My body rest is safety” (Psalm 16:8-9 NLT). Real joy is of Christ, in Christ, and no one or nothing can fill us like Christ can. It is the path to living a jubilant life!

First published in the July issue of Truth in the News Magazine

Domestic Violence is a Community Problem

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If there were one place a person expects to be protected and made to feel safe, it would be in the home space, yet every day news reports tell a different story. It is a story of violence and abuse in family and intimate partner relationships. The story is ugly, frightening, and in some cases implausible. And while the reasons for violence may vary and are even debatable, the issues of domestic violence remain a growing social and moral problem in our backyard as well as around the world. The textbook, Understanding Social Problems, states, “In U.S. society, people are more likely to be physically assaulted, abused and neglected, sexually assaulted and molested, or killed in their own homes rather than anywhere else, and by other family members rather than by anyone else” (Mooney, et al., 159). However, most Americans take care and pride in making the family a priority, and safeguarding and defending the family unit and its values. But several conditions including personal, social, and economic factors have contributed to domestic violence in communities globally, and Brevard county, though a relatively small community is no exception.

According to Florida Department of Law Enforcement, there were 4,064 reported cases of domestic violence offenses in Brevard County in 2011 alone. Compare with 7,140 between 1998 and 2002. But according to the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics on family violence, between 1998 and 2002 about 3.5 million violent crimes were committed nationwide against family members, 49% were crimes against spouses and 11% of which were children victimized by a parent. But a 2009 article in Florida Today “Opinion Matters” suggests that statistics shows only a small portion of the horrific picture because these crimes are often “crimes of silence.” The article also claims that at lease 4 out of 10 domestic violence incidents are not reported. This is disturbing because silence only serves to protect perpetrators and disarm victims. Many women do not come forward because of fear, embarrassment, financial dependency and other social issues. What is even more troubling is Florida Today’s assertion that each day at least three women in the United States alone will be murdered by an intimate partner and that domestic violence affects 32 million Americans annually.

The Domestic Violence Victim Services Guide, created by the Women’s Center with funding from Health First states that “Abuse can happen to anybody and it does. It does not matter if you are rich or poor, where you live, or whether you are educated. It happens regardless of age, race, culture, or whatever your region happens to be.” Domestic violence is a real threat especially to women and children and it is a growing problem in Brevard County communities. But it is worth noting that many abused victims as well as the abusers are continuing a cycle of abuse. This is because their self-esteem has been beaten down for so long that they have come to believe they are either causing the abuse, or they deserve it.

However, there are several organizations in Brevard County dedicated to responding to domestic violence and working towards prevention. One of which is The Women’s Center. Located at 1425 Aurora Road in Melbourne, Florida, the Women’s Center is committed to addressing the needs of women and empowering them to lead, safe, healthy and self-sufficient lives. Stating that domestic violence and sexual abuse occurs daily in Brevard County, the non-profit organization speaks to the basic needs of these women by providing them with a wide range of programs and services including: transitional housing, victim advocacy, counseling services, career guidance, job training, and financial assistance. Budgeting workshops, reimbursement for transportation, medical expenses and healthcare are also provided for homeless women and their children. Annually, the center helps over 10,000 women and their families escape a dangerous environment.

The Brevard Chapter of The National Organization for Women (NOW) is also on a mission to break the silence around domestic violence and abuse. During October, the National Domestic Violence Awareness month, Brevard NOW host “Take Back The Night” in Melbourne. The purpose of the event is to promote a community wide effort to end domestic violence and to let victims know that they are not alone. The chairperson, Paccione asserts, “Our [NOW] vision is to empower women and their families by providing a venue which brings together all the resources available in our community. Our goal is for all those affected by domestic violence to rise up and say victim no more!” Still, although there are many national and local resources to help with prevention and repeat occurrences, ending family violence will no doubt be an uphill battle because of the various reasons adult victims stay in abusive relationships.

In conclusion, the problem of domestic violence in Brevard County communities is one that affects all its citizens because it affects all race, religion, culture, class, gender and age. Victims of abuse are hiding in plain sight. They are our friends and neighbors, our coworkers and classmates, our church sisters and brothers. We marry them or into the family, and only by breaking the silence and reducing the stigma can society hope to significantly reduce the problem. For any society to be healthy, its citizens must be physically and mentally healthy. Brevard County cannot afford to turn its head in the other direction and walk by. We must give voice to the voiceless in the battle against domestic violence. We must teach each other that corporation is necessary, compassion is key, and information is power.