Lukewarm Like…

I’m so over weak, lukewarm, watered-down Christianity. Seriously. I know of no one who likes lukewarm coffee. Most of us also don’t like lukewarm, melted ice cream. Most foods and drinks are made to be served either hot or cold. Rarely, if ever, have I read serving instructions that state lukewarm as the best serving temperature. Usually it’s either hot or cold.  As Christians, we should really devote ourselves to being lit hot on fire for Christ. We live our absolute best lives on fire. We are our best selves on fire. We are most effective on fire. Being lukewarm or cold only leaves us in a place of mere survival and existence instead of fully thriving and living with purpose in the will of God. Settling on lukewarm does a major disservice to ourselves, to the world we’re called to serve and impact, and most of all, to God. 

I got saved at 19 because I wanted to be “safe”.  You know, I wanted all of the promises, blessings, and protection from God without the commitment. So I got a bit religious and went to church out of mere routine for years. I mastered all of the church culture –  how to clap and sing the songs, when to nod my head and holler “amen”  when the preacher said something really profound, when to hi-five my neighbor and all the other stuff we learned to do in church overtime. I got rid of (or cut down on) most of the “big sins” (or so I thought) and read my Bible every now and then. I thought I had it going on. I thought I was such the ideal Christian. Young and foolish me. I was so dull and lukewarm. There was no passion. No fire. God did not have my heart. I was just going through the motions. In fact, at one point in time I had a crush on my Pastor and was more excited to go to church to see him than to worship God. Ugh. So lukewarm. It took me years to fully understand the need to be on fire. As I grew in this revelation, every area of my life got better –  emotionally, relationally, creatively, etc. 

So exactly what does it mean to be on fire for Christ? It means to yield every part of our being to Him, devoting ourselves to an ever growing relationship through consistent Prayer (Colossians 4:2), study and application of His Word (Matthew 4:4), obedience to His Word and instruction (John 14:15),  and worship (John 4:23-24). To be on fire for Christ means that we unapologetically seek Him and live as His ambassadors. To be on fire is to be filled with his Spirit  (John 14:16-17;John 16:7), rejecting any and everything that is contrary. 

The world doesn’t need lukewarm, churchy Christians with no true relationship, no victory, no power, no authenticity, and no passion. What is gained through us merely holding the title of being Christian and congregating weekly in our churches with no fruit to show that we really belong to Him (Matthew 7:15-20; John 15:5). The world is looking for answers. The world is hurting. The world is looking for healing and health. If we bear the title as Christians, it is our duty to point the world to freedom set forth by the truth of a Mighty God (Christ) who is extending a global invitation into salvation, restoration, and redemption. So, it is our duty and privilege to live on fire for Christ.

The Perfect Will

Last week, something hit me like a ton of bricks- anything is possible. Literally, anything. I find that when I take this approach to life, my hope elevate and I remain in a place of expectancy and excitement. The sky is no longer the limit because God is limitless and infinite, so there is no limit to possibilities. For example, I’m still pretty young. I already have 2 degrees, but if I wanted to I could return to school and embark upon a brand new career path, from Aerospace to medicine. I mean, I could become an astronaut or a physician well before I turn 40! I can get a job in my field in Los Angeles and start a brand new life in the West Coast. I can even land a job in another country and start a completely new life in a completely new culture. I can get on Christian Mingle and probably be engaged within a year or so. Bottom line, I can do and have just about anything I want. But the keyword here is can, which simply implies the possibility. It is vital for us to understand that just because we can do something does not mean that we should. Just because something is possible doesn’t mean that it aligns with God‘s perfect will

I’ve always been a very strong willed person, wanting things my way on my timing. So, one of the most difficult challenges in my walk with God has been the surrendering of my will. See, I want God to fit all of His infinite, limitless, immeasurable being into my small, finite, tiny box. I would pray about what I wanted and when I wanted it, and I grew upset with God whenever things weren’t moving my way. Such foolishness! I’m so thankful for maturation. One of the most powerful yet simple revelations I’ve had during my development as a Christian is the fact that God‘s will is indeed perfect, it always has been and always will be. Perfection leaves no room for improvement, so it can literally get no better. 

Romans 12:2 is one of my favorite scriptures that I frequently use in my blogs because (in my opinion) it is part of the foundation of living the new life in Christ. The scripture tells us not to partake in the mindset, philosophies, attitudes, etc. of the world but to be changed by renewing our minds so that we can grow to understand the will of God, which is good, pleasing, and perfect. The revelation of God’s perfect will provides me with so much peace about the trajectory of my life. It helps me to let go and fully understand and trust that my plans cannot and will never be as good as God’s plans. With this understanding, I’ve learned the importance and necessity of praying for my desires in alignment with God‘s will.

Lately, I’ve been asking for God to make my desires His desires, and His desires my desires. Yes, He will grant us what we want (Mark 11:24; Psalm 37:4), but always in accordance to His perfect will. Now, we can certainly choose to make our own decisions independent of God’s will (without considering His divine guidance and direction), but the outcome is usually less ideal, sometimes downright horrible. I’m still suffering the consequences of decisions I’ve made independent of God’s guidance. There are thousands of different roads we can take in life, but we must trust and believe that He knows what’s best and He has the absolute best in store for us. 

When I pray for God’s will over my desires and plans, I am ultimately partnering with God to live the best life. Things may not go as I had planned (they rarely do), but I can be certain that all of God’s plans will work out to my benefit (Romans 8:28). Am I disappointed at times? Sure. I’m human. I still want what I want, when I want it; however, I’ve learned to truly trust that God opens doors that no one can close, and He closes doors that no one can open. It’s all for my good. I can tell when God is making things happen in His will because things seem to flow seamlessly, or if there are obstacles, they are removed. Contrarily, when something is not in God’s will, it just doesn’t work out, and there are always signs. I’ve tried to make things happen my way, but it only lead to unnecessary, self-induced hardships. I’ve learned to be grateful for both open and closed doors because it’s God’s way of making sure we take the right steps along the Perfect will He has orchestrated for our lives. Life just goes better when we trust Him, prioritizing His will over our thoughts, understanding, and desires. He will always lead us in the right direction (Proverbs 3:5). 

The Gift That Keeps Giving

Love. It’s the foundation of our faith and salvation. It’s because of love that God sent His one and only son to suffer for our sins, providing the gateway to redemption and salvation (John 3:16). Because of love, God was that eager to restore mankind back into His arms, where we were created to be. Love is the greatest commandment – actually, it’s twofold. The absolute greatest commandment is to love God (Matthew 22:36–38). Then the second greatest commandment follows – to love each other (Matthew 22:39). 

I have always been one to hold grudges. I’ve always been one to take offense quite quickly. I can remember the details of an offense that happened 10 years ago as if it just happened today. I can recall what was  done and said, how it was done and said, etc. Most of all, I can recall the intense anger and hurt it induced. I’ve always been one to internalize, so I wasn’t always good with expressing my thoughts and feelings. Needless to say, rather than working through relational issues, it was far more convenient for me to just cut people off, leaving no room for further hurt or offense. No conversation, no mediation. I just simply disconnected. Of course, rumination kept the cycle of resentment and anger in full motion. When I examined this attitude and behavior through the truth of God’s word, I realized that I was in agreement with darkness through disobedience, and in the great danger of sin. This is greatly displeasing to God, and should in no way ever be taken lightly (Romans 6:23). 

If we don’t forgive others, God will not forgive us (Matthew 6:14–15). Yikes. If we claim to love God but hate someone…well…we actually don’t love God (1 John 4:20–21). Again, yikes. God’s requirement for us to love is nonnegotiable, and I think that’s because God continuously pours out so much of His love on us through His immeasurable grace and mercy. Christ is available to all (no one exempt), and when we except Him into our hearts, He fills us with His Holy Spirit. How sweet! He literally abides in us, helping us to walk in the obedience of His ways. In fact, love is the first stated fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). So, this tells us that love is a choice we are more than capable of making. Simply put, we can make the choice to love and forgive others because God has extended immense love and forgiveness to us. It’s the gift that keeps giving. 

Because I know me, I have to make the daily decision of drawing closer to God through prayer, worship, and His word. He’s the only, and I mean the only way I can walk in the love He has called me to walk in. Again, I have always been one to hold grudges. Letting go and forgiving does not come naturally for me. It just doesn’t. Unfortunately, I am a pro at harboring anger, but this isn’t God’s way. It is quite displeasing to Him. So, I must start my day with prayer and worship and I must make the daily decision to choose what is right and pleasing to Him. Lately during my morning prayer, I have been verbally committing to the Lord, “I choose love. I choose forgiveness. I choose joy. I choose grace.” When I commit myself to these things before God, I’m being proactive. So if someone ticks me off (which will happen throughout life), my heart and mind are already set to choose God’s approach. This not only helps me to treat people better, but it also helps me to feel better. Above all, it pleases God and keeps me focused on Him, which keeps me in peace (Isaiah 26:3).

When I think about God’s grace, my heart warms. There have been times when I have willfully sinned, and yet received a blessing instead of punishment. Now I need to make a strong disclaimer here!!! I am in no way implying that God rewards sin. He does not!!! I am, however, emphasizing how God has spared me from the wrath and punishment I deserved. His kindness and patience is meant to draw us to repentance (Romans 2:4).  In other words, there’s something heartwarming about being spared from the punishment we deserve, and it makes me want to do better. It brings deep conviction, making me want to turn from any and everything that offends and grieves Him. God deeply loves us, and He wants us to come closer to Him. He wants more than just religious routine. God wants a relationship. So, He lavishes us with so many amazing gifts, like His love, grace, and mercy.  Because we are also called to give, He expects (and helps) us to extend these gifts to one another. They are truly gifts that keep giving.

When someone wrongs me, I remember that I have wronged others in the past. I remember that I also have flaws just like anyone else. I remember that I cannot judge or hold anything against anyone, because God is not holding my sins against me. I think about how God loves me unconditionally, and He gives me the ability to love others because He loves me. His grace spares me from the punishment I deserve, so I can spare others instead of holding their wrongs against them. At the end of the day, we all need room for err. Grace helps me to keep my eye on the beauty in others. Grace helps me to look past flaws. Love drives me to embrace the beauty in others because God embraces the beauty in me. Of course the temptation to steep in anger and resentment arises from time to time. But I am training myself not to yield to it. I choose to reflect upon and extend the gifts that keep giving, which enrich my peace and joy.

Thoughts and Feelings

I believe that some people are born with the natural tendency to lean more on the positive side, taking on more of an optimistic perspective. Others have to work a little harder to stay on the optimistic side. I am one of those who often have to put in a tad bit more work to see the bright side of things. 100 great things can happen in a day, but all of my attention can tend to shift to the one annoyance – a molehill turned into a mountain. It’s a trait that I legitimately hate.

We all have weaknesses and flaws, so there is no shame at all. The awesome news is Christ gives us a NEW nature (2 Corinthians 5:17). It doesn’t mean all of our issues vanish overnight. That would be too easy, and we would gain very little strength without perseverance. When we have Christ, we have issues, but our issues don’t have us. We may struggle from time to time, but we trust that everything (even our faults and failures) works out for our good in some way according to the perfect will of God (Romans 8:28). We know that we can get through anything with Christ (again, according to His perfect will and plans) because He gives us the strength and He makes us victorious (Philippians 4:13; Romans 8:37). With all this being said, I think it is safe to conclude that deliverance is participatory. God will help us (emphasis on help) but He won’t enable our laziness or passiveness. He does require our participation.

Negative thoughts. We all have them from time to time. Some of us hang on to them WAY longer than we should. Here is the liberating reality – WE DON’T HAVE TO. Sure, negative thoughts will pop up in our minds here and there. We will have encounters and experiences that will induce negative thoughts and emotions BUT we have POWER over them (2 Timothy 1:7). Also, it’s great to know that self-control is a fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). We don’t have to sulk in our negative emotions and thoughts. We’re human. We will feel them, and it is healthy to acknowledge and address them, as internalizing is toxic; however, we must be sure not to prolong our occupancy in negative thoughts and emotions. We can’t stay in them. In fact, we’re not supposed to take unresolved anger into the next day (Ephesians 4:26), but thankfully God extends immeasurable grace that spares and empowers us through failures and mistakes. I have slept on anger and awoke to it more times than I care to count.

It’s amazing how our thoughts and emotions effect our physiology. There are numerous scientific studies that show a correlation between anger, resentment, pessimism and various diseases. This is why it is so urgent and important to capture toxic thoughts and emotions, address them, express them in a healthy way, take them to the Lord in prayer, worship to shift our attention from the negative to God, and intentionally think something GOOD and life-producing. In the book of Philippians, Apostle Paul gives us pretty solid instructions for how to think. We’re to trust God with what’s wrong (through prayer and worship) while keeping our minds on things that are true, lovely, and beautiful (Philippians 4:4-8).

God is inviting us into His rest and peace. Peace is also a fruit of the Spirit, so as Spirit-filled sons and daughters of the Most High, we have everlasting access to it. Peace should be our default, and it can be. This is the power of God. This is why Jesus hung on the cross and rose three days later with all victory. This is why He wants us to come to Him with EVERYTHING. He knows every thought and emotion, and we never have to feel ashamed or embarrassed to bring them to him in prayer because He loves us and beckons us into His presence where there is fullness and joy (Psalm 16:11). So, we can overcome our negative thoughts and emotions by dealing with them in a healthy way through open and honest communication, prayer, worship, and intentionally deciding the think something good and live-producing. We must continuously work with the Holy Spirit to renew and cleanse our minds and hearts from day to day. He is there waiting for us. We just have to meet Him. That’s how we continue on in PEACE and JOY. That’s how we live awesome lives.

This is the Day

This is the day the LORD has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it. This is a scripture of great gratitude found in Psalms 118, verse 24. A scripture that I have become so familiar with over the years of my journey as a Christian. Earlier this year, familiar words written across a page in the Bible became a code written across my heart as COVID-19 shifted the world.

I have always been ambitious with a focus to obtain more. I have two degrees and I am blessed to enjoy a creative career. It has taken much patience, tenacity and perseverance to overcome many challenges. It took me nearly 10 years to complete my bachelor’s degree. By my sophomore year at Frostburg State, I was over school. In fact, I began to loath it. I grew increasingly impatient with completing mundane coursework that was not stimulating or engaging.

I began earning straight F’s because I was so disconnected. My GPA plummeted below a 1.00. Besides, I grew tired of being a broke college student. So, I decided to take a sabbatical from school, return home, and get a full-time job so I can live independently; however, I soon learned that that was not a sustainable plan.

My lack of education and experience landed me consecutive low paying, mediocre jobs, none which were rewarding. After reality set in, I realized that I needed to complete my education to transition from mediocre jobs into a lucrative, fulfilling career. So, I enrolled in evening courses at the University of Baltimore while maintaining a full-time job.

I worked as a secretary at a medical practice from 8:30am to 4:30pm, then attended classes from 5:30pm-8pm, then from 8:15pm-10:45pm. During my second to last semester I earned my real estate license in addition to that. By my final semester, I was working on building my real estate business, while working my full-time day job, and completing a full-time academic schedule, including an 8-hour weekly internship. I really wanted MORE. The struggle was very real; however, constant self-reminders of my past failures pushed me to persevere. Also, the desire to earn a comfortable salary remained a driving factor.

At the time, I was sleeping on the living room floor of my grandmother’s two-bedroom apartment with other relatives. I felt like a failure because of my past mistakes. I knew that I should have been further along in life and I felt regret each day. On top of that, I constantly witnessed my peers enjoying awesome careers, buying houses, etc. and there I was making $15 an hour, still trying to get through undergrad. I really overcompensated by pushing myself hard. I completed my bachelor’s degree with over a 3.00 GPA and I was honored to give the commencement speech as the graduating class representative. The constant longing for more only grew from there. The desire to grow is natural; however, when it impedes on our ability to enjoy the now, it becomes toxic.

Pre-pandemic, I remained in pursuit of more with this subtle, yet constant concern that I was missing out on something. I would wake up early to get extra work done. I would spend hours online seeking new opportunities. I felt that I was never working hard enough. Honestly, the pressure I placed on myself became exhausting, denying me of the peace and joy obtained through enjoying each day the Lord has made. Looking back, I can honestly acknowledge that I was often too optimistic about time, setting daily goals that were not realistic. For example, my to-do list would include something along the lines of completing a few job applications, working on my thesis docuemntary, blogging, finding new photography clients, and getting better with different creative software. With a 3-hour daily commute to a full-time job, I just did not have the time to complete everything from the to-do list. I often went to bed at night feeling unproductive with to-do items incomplete. Sometimes I would try to make it up by resuming after returning home from work, which was unhealthy because I made room for nothing else – no leisure or pleasure, only work from the early morning into the late night. This is the epitome of self-sabotage and it felt horrible. This is the result of overcompensation.

My unraveling from the constant feelings of needing more began when COVID-19 afflicted the world. Each day I heard the tragic stories of those affected by the disease. Suddenly, I joined society in what I believe was a global call to slow down. I began to unravel from many toxic ideologies that became grafted in my mind over the years. In a world full of suffering, I gained a deeper appreciation for life. Though many of my prayers were aimed at healing for the suffering, many prayers were also charged with much gratitude for my blessings.

I exchanged the constant pressure to obtain more for enjoyment of the now, en route to the more. I slowed my pace and made the decision to be present in each moment, no longer feeling guilty for relaxing and having fun. Each day really became the day the LORD has made; so, I chose to rejoice and be glad in it. I have never been happier or healthier. Interestingly, I am still unraveling. It is an ongoing process, and like many other processes, some days are better than others. Fortunately, my overall condition is far better than what it was before.

When quarantine began, transitioning to remote work saved me a 3-hour daily commute, which provided extra spare time to think, reflect, etc. As the whole world was forced to slow down, I had quite an awakening. I was forced to look at the reality of life. Life is too sweet to miss the present moment, chasing the next. I heard about people dying every day. Hospitals were overflowing. People all across the world were hurting. My heart hurt for them, but my heart grew so full of gratitude because sickness never touched me or any of my loved ones.

I became so grateful just to be alive. I swelled with joy just to be able to spend time with family. With unemployment increasing, my heart grew even warmer toward my job. As I witnessed the tragedies on the news, I humbly realized that it could have easily been me, or a loved one. My gratitude is a deep knowing, enjoying, and acknowledgement of my blessings.

I realized what really mattered the most to me, and that is God and family. I realized the urgency to cherish each moment. An opportunity can be replaced, but a life cannot. No amount of success or money can buy good health. So, I closed up my MacBook when my work hours ended, and I started enjoying more movie nights with my family. I slept a little later. I began setting more realistic goals. I ate loads of cookies and milk. Sometimes I layed in bed and starred at walls. I listened to new music. I started new creative projects that bring me joy. I spent more time having fun conversations over the phone. Some days I never changed out of my PJs. I played my Playstation 4 more often. I realized that everything is okay, and everything will be okay.

I decided to give up my strong will (i.e. the need for things in my life to go my way according to my timing). Parallel to the message of the brilliant Mercy Me song that was released during quarantine, I learned to “hurry up and wait”. Only in my early 30’s, I realized that I have no legit reason to rush everything like there is no tomorrow. My success is not based upon anything except the willingess and boldness to live according to my purpose, which I have been doing. Thus, I am already successful.

I renewed my gratitude by taking my eyes off of the next, and gazing at the now. I took a deep look at my life and what I saw was beauty. I took a deep look at myself and what I saw was a perfectly imperfect woman who is growing deeper in purpose each and every day. I saw a woman who is enough. I replaced my complaints with praises for the beauty of each day, from the grey skies to the presence of my 75-year-old grandmother in my life. I gave thanks for everything.

There are some moments when my mind tries to wonder left, but I have gotten so much better at capturing the toxic thoughts and refocusing on the truth that matters. When I begin to feel that opportunities are not coming fast enough, I just remind myself that I never even applied for my current job. It was offered to me, at no effort of my own. That is a blessing worth thinking about, and it helps to keep me hopeful that even greater is to come.

I am a firm believer that shifting our focus to gratitude can bring great joy amidst some of life’s most challenging situations. When you wake up, write down every blessing in your life. Write how they make you feel. Reflect on them throughout the day. Filling your mind with your blessings leaves less space for negative thoughts. During quarantine, I have been rolling Philippians 4:8 around in my head like crazy and it has helped me so much! The scripture states to intentionally focus on what is most dope – everything that is lovely, pure, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy. In order words, I’ve learned to combat tormenting, negative intrusive thoughts by interrupting them with something positive, from a compliment that someone gave me to the friends and family who deeply love me.

I capture the negative thoughts and cast them away by intentionally thinking of something good in my life. For example, when I start feeling inadequate, I think back to how I persevered through undergrad, evolving from earning all F’s to standing on the stage to give the commencement speech before my graduating class. That is a blessing I should think of! Another example, when I get tempted to get frustrated about money, I think back to when I was sleeping on the living room floor of my grandmother’s two-bedroom apartment. I now enjoy my own home in a great area. That’s major progress, so sobering– a blessing I should think of! Another example, when I start growing impatient while waiting for greater opportunities, I think about how I was making $15 an hour at a medical practice answering phones all day (which was so miserable). I am now a contractor with a digital media production company, using my creative skills to tell stories and actualize visions. That’s major progress – a blessing I should think of! There is even greater power with verbalizing positive words. For example, I often verbally remind myself that I will meet my goals, if not in my planned timing, in God’s perfect timing. This is how I combat negative thinking and it has been highly effective.

In the evening, write down every good thing that happened to you throughout the day. Feel free to even speak them out loud. Call someone you can trust and confide in to talk about your blessings and ask them to share theirs. The practice of gratitude is contagious! Reflect on these good things before you go to sleep. Wake up and repeat.

May we all develop a deeper love for life, while helping others. This is the day the LORD has made; so let’s rejoice and be glad in it.

Enjoy this MercyMe jam that helped me to hurry up and wait (Isaiah 40:31).