Friday, December 30, 2016

New Year, Less Me, More Thee (feat. Natasha Bedingfield's "Unwritten")

Every year around this time, "New Year, new me" tweets, posts, and status updates flood our timelines. We talk about how we're going to turn over new leaves, and by the time the next year ends, we realize we've been raking in the same mess we promised we'd leave behind. We declare that we'll cut off all the dead weight that held us back in the previous year while we continuously try to revive things and situations that are clearly labeled DO NOT RESUSCITATE. We say we'll eliminate toxicity out of our lives, but we've gotten so accustomed to breathing in the pollutants that we've forgotten what fresh air feels like. So, for 2017, I'm not making a New Year's resolution. I'm deciding to live unwritten.

Click here to check out the song!

I've listened to "Unwritten" by English singer-songwriter Natasha Bedingfield countless times since its U.S. debut in 2005, but it wasn't until I started thinking about what to post for the new year that I realized how directly the song ties into following God's plan for our lives. It has always made me think about the unpredictability of life, and how much of it I still have to look forward to (I'm in my early 20s, but I consider myself an old soul). After looking at it from a biblical perspective, though, I'll probably never listen to this song the same way again. The first verse is so simple, yet so profound. "I am unwritten, can't read my mind, I'm undefined / I'm just beginning, the pen's in my hand, ending unplanned..."

Lamentations 3:22-23 reads, "Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness" (NIV). In other words, every day we are unwritten, redefined and refined by God. Our past — what we did last year, last month, last week, and even 5 minutes ago — He's already forgiven. Each day He gives us another chance to get things right, even though we don't deserve second chances. God knows our every move, every decision we'll ever make and every outcome of every situation we'll face because the pen is not in our hand; it's in His, as we see in Ephesians 1:11-12:

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. (NIV)

To us, the ending may seem unplanned, but God's got it all figured out.

The next verse of "Unwritten" is even more poignant. "I break tradition, sometimes my tries, are outside the lines / We've been conditioned to not make mistakes, but I can't live that way..." It's human nature for our tries to be outside the lines. We were made in God's image, and we should try to be like Him, but He does not expect us to be perfect. Romans 3:23 reminds us that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (NIV). He sees everything about us, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and still loves us — and because the pen's in God's hand, He already knows exactly when, where and how we'll make mistakes. This is where the "dirty windows" Natasha mentions in the song's pre-chorus come into play.

"Staring at the blank page before you / Open up the dirty window / Let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find..." Every day is a 'blank page,' and we imperfect Christians are the 'dirty windows.' Natasha says we have to "release [our] inhibitions" (i.e., hindrances, dead weight, toxic situations, etc.). In order to reach our full potential, we have to allow ourselves to be opened up and be illuminated by the Son, to be used for God's glory as we learn from our mistakes. We have to choose to live an unwritten life.

As Natasha's chorus tells us:

No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten

"Unwritten" speaks to how every day is a clean slate. We don't have to wait for the beginning of a new year to start a new beginning. In light of that, starting now, I'm choosing less of me and more of God. As I watch Him continue to write my story, I'll do my best to clean my dirty windows: to actively listen and think before I speak, to judge less and love more, and above all, to open myself up to hear what He has to say. I hope that my 2017 (and yours) will be a chapter worth reading. Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Living Single (and Saved) feat. John Legend's "All of Me"

When God sends me a husband, John Legend's "All of Me," from his 2013 album Love In The Future, will definitely be on my wedding playlist. In the soulful ballad, Legend discusses the ups and downs of the unconditional love he has for his wife, Chrissy Teigen. The first time I heard the song, I instantly loved it. I thought, oh wow, John and Chrissy are totally #RelationshipGoals. I want a love like that one day. Then I paused for reflection.

I'm a single millennial and a hopeless romantic. I look at couples like John Legend and Chrissy Teigen, Ciara and Russell Wilson, Meagan Goode and DeVon Franklin and so many others who seem to be absolutely perfect together...and then I realize how silly that sounds. No one is perfect. My generation glamorizes and glorifies relationships that are under the constant scrutiny of the Hollywood spotlight. Generally speaking, if it looks happy, if it looks fun, if it looks sexy, it's automatically labeled as #RelationshipGoals, regardless of how things actually are behind closed doors.

We don't know how many disagreements John and Chrissy got into last week, or how many nights Russell missed Ciara when they had separate events on opposite sides of the country. We only look at the highs they show us and completely disregard all the lows. We are on a never-ending quest to duplicate what looks real, not caring whether or not it actually is. We get so focused on looking for love, validation, and acceptance in all the wrong places, that sometimes, we forget to love ourselves, and more importantly, we forget to look up to the One who first loved us. As I played "All of Me" a second time, I realized something. We already have a love like the one John Legend describes: The love of Christ. I'll explain as we look at parts of the song.

Verse 1:

What would I do without your smart


Drawing me in, and you kicking me out

You've got my head spinning,

No kidding, I can't pin you down

What's going on in that beautiful mind?

I'm on your magical mystery ride

And I'm so dizzy,

Don't know what hit me, but I'll be alright.

Okay, so God doesn't actually have a "smart mouth," but He always tells us and shows us what's best for our lives, even if it's not what we had in mind. He draws us near to Him when we allow ourselves to hear Him, but sometimes life makes us feel like He's kicking us out when we face trials and obstacles. The ebb and flow of life is God's "magical mystery ride." He is not something that can ever be pinned down or fully grasped. Isaiah 55:8-9 reads:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord.

"As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (NIV).

He might make us dizzy sometimes, but we have no choice but to trust that He has something beautiful in store for us.


My head's under water,

But I'm breathing fine.

You're crazy and I'm out of my mind.

We may feel like we're under water, but no matter how deeply we seem to be submerged, we are anchored in God's love, and can never be drowned by life's problems. Jeremiah 29:11 reads, "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (NIV).

The enemy may trouble the waters around you, but God's promises are your life jacket. Don't panic. God's got you. Remember His promises and breathe.

And the chorus blessed me the most:

'Cause all of me

Loves all of you

Love your curves and all your edges,

All your perfect imperfections.

All that God is, loves all that you are. I repeat, all that God is--all that magnificence, all that might, all that holiness, all that mercy, all that grace--loves ALL of you. Nothing you do is "breaking news" to Him. God knows you better than you could ever know yourself, because He created you. In spite of every time you've tried to curve away from Him, He still loves you. He's seen you at every breaking point, and He knows each of your sharp edges like the back of His hand because He always catches you right before you slip through your own cracks. If that's not love, I don't know what is.

Give your all to me

I'll give my all to you

You're my end and my beginning

Even when I lose I'm winning.

'Cause I give you all of me.

And you give me all of you, oh oh...

Jesus doesn't ask us to be perfect when we come to Him. He just wants the best of us that we can give. When we consistently give him our best, He'll give us the desires of our hearts. He is Alpha and Omega, our end and our beginning, and even when the world says we lose, in Him, we're always winning.

Last but not least, the bridge:

Give me all of you.

Cards on the table, we're both showing


Risking it all, though it's hard...

There is purpose in singleness. Yes, life gets hard. Yes, life gets lonely, but trust God and know that He loves you enough to never leave you alone. You will always be imperfect, but He's using your single season to perfect you to be used as a vessel--and possibly to prepare you for the person you're supposed to be with. So, if you're single and struggling with love, don't worry about #RelationshipGoals. Instead, stop and reassess your relationship with God and make sure it is where it needs to be. Love God first. When we immerse ourselves in Him & see how he loves us unconditionally, we learn to love ourselves. As we learn the art of self-love, He'll send a perfectly imperfect person to love us as an earthly example of just how much He cares.

Image Credit: Amazon

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Growing Pains (feat. Jekalyn Carr's "Greater Is Coming")

Gospel artist Jekalyn Carr's hit song "Greater is Coming" (check Jekalyn out here) opens with a commentary on olive oil. As the opening melody plays, Jekalyn says:

"An olive has to go through three stages for its oil to run: It has to go through the shaking, the beating, and the pressing. And just like the olive, some of you may have felt like you go through the shaking, the beating and the pressing. You've [gone] through all of that for your oil to flow. Now, your greater is coming."

This song has always been one of my favorites. The combination of Jekalyn's powerhouse vocals and the overarching message of anticipating greatness is appealing to both the ears and the heart, but understanding the significance of the shaking, the beating, and the pressing made me appreciate it even more.

I was curious about the olive metaphor. When I looked it up, I found direct connections between the olive harvesting process and life's growing pains. People, places, and things in our lives come and go as we grow. If we're really attached to those people, places, and things, growing can hurt as God takes us through the three stages that are necessary for our oil to run, constantly adding and taking away things in order to prepare us for our purpose. After these stages, the oil flows. The anointing is sealed by the oil, and we are able to walk in the fullness of our destiny.

In the field: The Shaking

"If it had not been for the shaking, / I never would've been ready for the making..." Have you ever noticed how most of the time, when we feel like life is good, & things are going according to our plans, unexpected things happen to us out-of-the-blue to change us? This is the shaking. Proverbs 19:21 reads, "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails" (NIV). God's plans always override our plans. What we think is a shake-up is God's way of re-centering us on His map for our lives.

According to Made How, "The olive tree boasts two prizes—the olive itself (called the table olive) and the precious oil pressed from the fruit's flesh. In fact, a third prize is the tree which has a twisted trunk full of character..."

You, the olive, are the prize. When seedlings, who are not as developed as you are, see your character—the height of your tree and the size of your anointing (20-30% of an olive's weight is oil)—they will try to graft themselves to your trunk. Some are there to grow into other trees. While you wait for your own oil to flow, speak life into them and help them along their journey, even if they are only attached to you for a season. Share Godly wisdom with them and pray that they will have the strength to go through the process, which is often long and arduous:

Olives are first seen on trees within eight years, but the trees must grow for 15-20 years before they produce worthwhile crops, which they will do until they are about 80 years old. Once established, the trees are enduring and will live for several hundred years. (Made How)

Encourage the seedlings who are destined to be trees, even if they are damaged. Made How says, "Damaged fruit can still be used by pressing it into oil." Even if your oil isn't flowing yet, the weight of your anointing is still visible. Use it. Love the damaged fruits with the love of Christ so that they, too, can be used for God's glory. Tell the seedlings that the reward will be greater than the sacrifice, but help them prepare for the cutting. Olive trees grow from cutting, too. At some point, every tree has to stand on its own. Olives come in a wide variety of colors, flavors and shapes, and every anointing is different. That is why, after the cutting, the tree should not compare itself to the tree next to it. According to Made How, "The key to the flavor, color, and texture of the olive is the moment of harvest." Your fruit may not ripen at the same time the next tree's does, but don't worry. It will ripen exactly when it's supposed to—in God's timing.

Toxic Attachments: The Beating

"If it had not been for the beating, / I would've never knew how anointed I would be..." Many seedlings will try to attach themselves to your anointing, but not all of them are good seedlings. While some genuinely want to grow into trees, others are there to taint your anointing, to drain the oil out of you before you even get a chance to use it. Instead of growing, they'll take what they can, and then fall off the tree.

Made How said it best, "Fallen fruit looks edible, but it isn't. All olives...require processing before they can be eaten." Fruits that are destined to fall will make you think they're trying to grow with you, but be not deceived: they don't care about your progress or your process. They are not interested in growing to be used by God; they are only interested in using you.
When fruits that need to fall are determined to hang onto your branches, the beating occurs in a process called machine harvesting:

Each machine has a crew of six to nine men to operate the machine, shepherd the falling olives into the nets, and strike the branches to knock down the stubborn few by hand. The vibrations of the machine shake down about 80% of the tree's burden, and knocking at the branches with staves yields another 10%. (Made How)

God is operating the machine of your life. The beating is necessary because a "stubborn few" people and habits are hard to shake. You may feel like life is beating you up, but God is doing it for your own good, allowing those burdens that are holding you back to fall away. When they fall off your tree, let them go. Don't try to reattach them. It might seem like you can't live without that person or thing right now, but holding on to them can keep you from your calling.

Refined vs. Unrefined Oil: The Pressing

"If it had not been for the pressing, / I wouldn't be able to walk into my destiny..." The pressing stage is usually the most difficult, because after this stage, the oil runs. Pressing seasons are often categorized by depression, pressure, stress, temptation etc. This season will often hurt the worst because you will most likely feel pressed out, like you're at the end of your rope...alone, no friends, patience stretched thin. It's easy to break during these periods, but the strong of faith will prevail, & the reward will be so worth it.

A word to the wise: Oil is a sealant. The anointing on your life is sealed and protected because you are walking in your purpose, but the sealant does not guarantee a life without stumbles. Pressing is an ongoing process. According to Kitchn, "Olive oil also falls into two distinct categories: refined and unrefined. While unrefined oils are pure and untreated, refined oil is treated to remove flaws from the oil, making it more sellable." Society tells us it's best to be "sellable" Christians, to appear perfect and flawless, an approach that is often viewed as holier-than-thou, a turn-off to people who don't know God or who have strayed away from Him. When it comes to winning souls for the Kingdom, being unrefined is better because it shows that God can take something imperfect and perfect it for His glory. Philippians 3:12-14 reads:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 

Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (NIV)

The highest quality oil is Extra-Virgin—unrefined. So, if you've gone through the pressing, and you still feel like there's work to be done, you're right. There is always room to grow as a Christian, always more to learn. And when the growing gets tough, the tough keep pressing.

*Image Credit: Kelli Foster

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Flashlight Revelations (feat. Jonathan McReynolds' "Christ Representers")

I was using the flashlight feature on my Samsung Galaxy S7 the other day, and I accidentally turned it towards myself. I was momentarily blinded by its light, and I thought, how can something so little give off so much light? As my eyes adjusted, I heard three things in my spirit:

1. Little seasons require strong faith.
2. The spotlight is necessary.
3. Leave the light on.

Mustard-Seed Seasons

Little seasons require strong faith. At surface level, that seemed simple. After I sat with it for awhile, though, I realized it was really deep. Sometimes God allows us to have "little" seasons; a "little" role, a "little" job, a "little" position, to test us. Seasons where we have little to no money, little to no friends, little to no support, little to no opportunities can cause us to lose faith. In Matthew 17:20, Jesus says: "I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you" (NIV). If you find yourself in a "little" season and wonder why the devil is fighting you so hard, it's because he sees your potential.

Satan always attacks in the "little" season when we're most vulnerable because he knows what we're capable of. We may be little, but we serve a big God who has placed extraordinary gifts inside of us. Satan knows how powerful our gifts are and the mountains our faith can move, so he tries to make the mountain we're facing seem bigger than it actually is in order to thwart God's plan for our lives. He finds us at our smallest and whispers nothings in our ears: 'You are nothing. You'll never have anything, you'll never amount to anything.' He encourages us to feel sorry for ourselves because he knows that if he can keep us down, he can keep us from walking in our purpose. If we quit in the little season, we're making the enemy's job easier. God tests us in the little season to make sure we're prepared for where He takes us next.

In The Spotlight

The second nugget God gave me was 'The spotlight is necessary.' It didn't make sense to me at first, but then I started thinking about the purpose of a spotlight, and suddenly, it clicked. In theater, a spotlight is a bright light shone on one or more characters throughout a play. It follows them and highlights their actions. The spotlight bares all. It causes the audience to focus solely on the character(s) under it and brings them to the forefront of the play. Once it is on them, there is nowhere to hide. Sometimes, especially in the "little" seasons, we may feel like God is far away and think He can't hear us. That's not true. During that time, His spotlight is on you. The spotlight works two ways: God uses it to follow you, to watch you move to see how you react to what life throws your way. If you keep the faith and trust Him in the little place, He'll elevate you to the next level. God can see everything about you. In the spotlight, He'll reveal the dark spots--things, people, habits, etc.--in your life that need to leave the scene before you begin the next act. The spotlight forces us to lay those things bare because God can't heal what we don't reveal. The spotlight is not meant to cause stage fright, but rather to show us the areas in which we need to improve to bring us closer to God.

"We Are Christ Representers"

The third point is, in my opinion, the most profound: 'Leave the light on'. Even in the little season, it is important for us to leave the light on. In our Christian walk, we will undoubtedly encounter dark spots, bumps in the road, and obstacles that seem impossible to overcome. As I mentioned before, God uses the little season to prepare us for elevation. All too often, when He elevates us, when we get comfortable, we tend to hide the fact that we had to go through a lot to get to where we are because we are ashamed of our dark spots. Those dark spots are our testimony.

I'm reminded of a song by gospel artist Jonathan McReynolds called "Christ Representers" (hear it on his GRAMMY-nominated album Life Music: Stage Two here) that borrows from Matthew chapter 5. The song says, "We're the light of the world, we're a city on a hill / And we're tellin' everybody that Jesus is real." As Christians, we are supposed to live and lead by example. If we tell people that Jesus is real without evidence to back it up, how can we expect them to believe us? Matthew 5:14-15 reads:

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. (NIV)

And as Jonathan's song reminds us:

          We're not your average boys and girls

          There's something very special on our ID

          And what I'm worth to the world

          It's way bigger than me

Your responsibilities as a Christian, as a representative of Christ, expand beyond just yourself. God brought you to where you are. You owe it to Him to celebrate and share where He brought you from. Your dark spots are nothing to be ashamed of. They are a part of who you are, and a testament to God's grace and mercy. They may help someone else who is struggling.

Your light will make room for you. Before you know it, your light will shine so brightly in the "little" place that you will have no choice but to be elevated to higher ground, not because of how great YOU are, but because of the Light that lives within. Shine your light wherever you go, even in the "little" season, because, as author Marianne Williamson so eloquently put it in her book, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of "A Course in Miracles" (read it here):

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Driving Lessons (Inspired by Travis Greene)

Want to learn how to drive? It's easy: Don't. This was Gospel artist and pastor Travis Greene's message on October 16, 2016, the third sermon in his series "Fall In Love" (aptly titled for this season). The series focuses on how to grow in the Christian walk and emphasizes that no matter how many times we fall, God is always there to catch us. The full title of the sermon was "Fall in Love, Part 3: Hands Off His Will." Still wondering how this relates to driving? Let me explain. Pastor Greene's sermon came from 2 Samuel (listen to his message here) and I decided to add a Proverbs perspective to it. It really resonated with me, and I hope it blesses you as well. These are a few take-away points I got from the message, along with some musings of my own.

If you find yourself becoming too wrapped up in something, it may be necessary to step back and check your motives. Make sure you're doing it for the right reasons. Are you motivated by a calling, a genuine love and appreciation for the thing? Does it give you a sense of fulfillment, or are you doing it for others' approval, acceptance, and validation? Are you in it for money, fame, recognition and/or material gain? First, ask yourself if God is pleased with what you're doing, and then take it a step further and ponder this: If God is the ONLY one who likes what I do, will I still do it? If your answer is yes, you've found your calling.

God should always be in the driver's seat of your life. If you're in a season where everything seems to be falling apart around you, it's probably because you're trying to drive. All too often, our plans cause us to veer off God's course for our lives. Sometimes God wants to take us in an entirely different direction than where we want to go. This causes us to become uncomfortable, and we start to doubt or downplay the gifts that God has placed in us. Fear creeps in, and we complain, "God, this is not cool. Everybody else is doing x, y, and z..." That's just it. Never measure your accomplishments in comparison to everybody else's. You're not 'everybody else.' You're cut from a different cloth. You are a child of God, and He has created you for a specific purpose. Never question Him. Never try to tell Him when and how to move. He knows what He's doing. You may not understand it right now, but keep in mind that God knew the ending of your story before it even began.

It might look like everybody else has it all together, but there is a reason God is shifting gears in your life. He could be protecting you from hurt, harm, and danger, saving you from heartache, and maybe even saving you from yourself. There is safety in His will. Sometimes a change of direction is necessary--& sometimes He creates a new lane altogether, a new lane that has been custom made for you, which may seem intimidating at first glance. Purpose is usually discovered in uncomfortable places. God takes us to those uncomfortable places to reveal Himself to us, so that we can see where we need to improve. It is here that He shows us how to use our fall--our faults, shortcomings, and imperfections--to glorify Him. It is here that He pushes us out of our comfort zone and into our destiny.

In sum, God is God. He anticipates our falls and is there to catch us even when we think we don't need Him to, when we think we can handle it on our own. We may think we know what we want, but God knows what we need. As Pastor Greene pointed out in his message, "The more you see God, the more you'll see you." In order to discover your purpose, to see God work in your life, you have to take your hands off His wheel and submit to His will. As scary as it may seem, even if you don't know what direction the car is headed in, trust God's plan for your life. He'll never steer you wrong.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight. -Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)

Travis Greene & his wife Jackie are doing a new kind of Kingdom building at their church, Forward City, in Columbia, SC in an effort to win young souls for Christ. To learn more about Pastor Greene and the Forward City family, click here. Check out Greene's album, "The Hill," which includes his Grammy-nominated hit, "Intentional," by clicking here.