Lent Is Here

“But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,
so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting,
but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father,
who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Matthew 6:17-18
Image of Matthew 6:17-18I am one of the biggest advocates of planning ahead. I preach it and I practice it and for the most part I’m consistent, except for when it comes to Lent.
I just don’t know what it is. Every year the Lenten Season comes around the same time, and every year I’m surprised that it’s here. Then I spend the day before Ash Wednesday scrambling and scurrying to get prepared for the 40+ days ahead. If I’m going to fast, I very spiritually ask God to tell me what to fast, and if possible by the end of the day so I can stop at the store when I leave work. Then I write down what I want to “get out of my fast” and the “purpose” for which I’m fasting.
Rubbish! I mean seriously, most of us are fasting because that’s what we’re supposed to do at Lent. Unfortunately fasting has become less of a spiritual practice and more of a fad. Some people are so accustomed to it, that they haven’t asked God what their fast should consist of in years. They know they’re going to do The Daniel Fast, or stop drinking or give up Facebook because they do the same thing every single year.
And the reasons we fast are just as bad as the methods. Sure we say we’re doing The Daniel Fast so God can be our source. But it’s actually because we know we’ll lose at least 8 lbs. and reward ourselves with a cute new Easter outfit. We avoid (I mean abstain from) social media so we can finally do the stuff we’ve been putting off for the last month. We don’t watch TV because there’s nothing good on this time of year anyway. Well, except for The Walking Dead which returns this Sunday.
Sorry, I digressed.
If you find yourself fasting out of habit, or just so you can say you’re fasting, rededicate your fast to the Lord. Actually talk to your Heavenly Father about what He wants for you during this season. He will tell you. When he gives you the answer and you follow his lead, he will give you all the strength and support you need to successfully complete your fast and be victorious in the end.
(Contributing Writer: Marlena Patterson)

Read Your Bible (Particularly the Proverbs)

These are the proverbs of Solomon, the son of David and king of Israel. They will help you learn to be wise, to accept correction, and to understand wise sayings. They will teach you to develop your mind in the right way. You will learn to do what is right and to be honest and fair. These proverbs will make even those without education smart. They will teach young people what they need to know and how to use what they have learned. Even the wise could become wiser by listening to these proverbs. They will gain understanding and learn to solve difficult problems. These sayings will help you understand proverbs, stories with hidden meanings, words of the wise, and other difficult sayings.
Proverbs 1:1-6 (ERV)
bibleThe world would be a whole lot better if everyone just read the Proverbs in the morning instead of the newspaper or our social media news-feeds. I mean seriously. If everyone in the world, Christian or not, just adhered to the Wisdom of Solomon, we may not have half of the issues we have. Why? Because it’s all relevant.
Here’s an example. Proverbs 7:6-23 (ERV) begins, “One day I was looking out my window at some foolish teenagers and noticed one who had no sense at all.” I mean seriously. How many times have you looked out your window and saw some teenagers acting nuts-o? And there’s generally one in every bunch that feels like they have to be the wildest.
Anyway, the scripture goes on to say that the teen with “no sense at all”, wound up walking through the neighborhood near “that” woman’s house. Some of you know exactly who “that woman” is. Now, even if you live in a wonderful neighborhood that doesn’t have a “that woman”, then you at least have heard stories about her from friends, or seen her on a popular prime-time television show that’s shown on Thursday nights. (I’m just sayin’.) You can pick one.
The boy knew he had no business over there in the first place. But it’s getting dark and the woman suddenly appears before him. He didn’t even have to read the Proverbs to know she was going to pop up, because in 1984 the prophet Whodini said the “Freaks Come Out at Night”.
Verse 10 says the woman was dressed in her booty shorts and stiletto sneakers because she had plans for him. What? That’s not what it says? So what’s the word the Bible uses? Hmm?
Brothers! Let me tell you something. Most of you are not as smooth as you think. It’s not likely that you “just happened” to notice her from across the room. It was probably planned.
Okay. Let’s jump down to verse 13. I’m going to translate what happens in 2015 while you read along in your Bible. But my version is much cleaner.

“She saw the young man and said, ‘Hey Tony. Where my hug at?’ Then she said, ‘I just got finished making that homemade lasagna and strawberry cheesecake. I told you I could throw down. You should come and get some while it’s hot.”

Know your Bible! Don’t get bamboozled! Now, “that” woman, is your baby mama and you’re stuck with her forever!
Now ladies. Before you jump down my throat, it works both ways. Except a man wouldn’t be called “that guy”, he’d be referred to as, “Girrrrl (with the roll of the eyes), you betta watch out for him because He. Is. A. Dog.” You see; the guys have it much worse.  But in case you’re interested in reading it, that version takes place in 2 Samuel 11.
Anyway, you read the rest for yourself. All I’m saying is, read your Bible. Particularly the Proverbs. They can save your life.
pattersonphoto(Contributing Writer: Marlena Patterson)


“But where sin increased, grace increased all the more,
so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign
through righteousness to bring eternal life
through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Romans 5:20-21
just-saying-scripture-graphicsThe thing about forgiveness is that it goes two, three or even four ways. First, the offender needs to seek forgiveness from God. That’s number one. Next, the offender needs to seek forgiveness from the person to whom they caused harm. That’s a given. But then, the offender, and sometimes the person harmed, needs to forgive him/herself. That is always difficult. Finally, the world (whether it’s family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, or people on Facebook) needs to forgive the offender. That folks, is near impossible! Not because we’re incapable of forgiving, but because we are unwilling.
Sometimes we forget that Christ was literally nailed to two posts of wood, beaten to a pulp, and had to walk dang near naked in front of EVERYONE. We forget that he was humiliated, falsely accused, cursed at, spat on, and probably worse, just so that God could forgive us and we could be reconciled to the Father. Sometimes we forget that “at just the right time, when we were still sinners, Christ died for US.” Sometimes we forget that to God sin does not have degrees; it is all just sin.
So, regardless of how bad the offense, we need to forgive one another. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you.” For some reason, we think kindness and compassion is only for those who are innocent. Just like we tend to think that church is only for those who are “Saved”.
Now I’m sure someone will say, “Well I can forgive, but I won’t forget.” That’s fine. You should remember so that you can learn and grow from that experience. But you still need to forgive them. And when you do, don’t bring it up at every Thanksgiving dinner, or summertime cookout. And don’t go around telling everyone you meet what happened, under the disguise of a “testimony” when your motives are not to lift up, but to tear down.
So what’s point?
Forgive your offender. Let them of the hook.
Let the issue go, and give them a chance to change.
And most importantly, give God a chance to heal them and you.
pattersonphoto (Contributing Writer: Marlena Patterson)

I Need You to Survive

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!”
And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”
…God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it,
so that there should be no division in the body,
but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.
1 Corinthians 12: 21, 24b-25
surviveHave you ever asked someone to do something for you and they said, “Sure. No problem. I’ll do it.” Then, sometime later, you ask that person to do the same thing for you and they say, “Sure. No problem. I’ll do it.” Then again, at a later date, you ask them again and they say, “Sure. No problem. I was just thinking about that. I’m going to do it today.”
Finally, when you decide to simply do it yourself, the person says, “I was just about to do it.” After you give them that look (you know the one) you say, “Oh that’s alright. Don’t worry about it. It’s no big deal.” Then, you vow that you will NEVER ask them to do anything for you ever again.
But God…
(Church say, “But God.”)
But God places you in a position where you need that very person again. (UGH!) When you realize it, you do EVERYTHING in your power to avoid asking them for help. But, despite your greatest effort, you must swallow your pride and break the vow you made to yourself. In agony, you ask the person for help, and this time they come through for you. Now doesn’t that make you feel better about them?
NOPE! If you’re anything like me, you’re still holding on to that first impression of them not being dependable, and that vow you made too. It’s really hard to let someone “off the hook” once you’ve nailed them up there.
So what do you do?
First, let go of that vow you made, and all those “nevers” along with it.
Next, try talking to the person before you write them off. Explain that it’s important to you that they keep their word, and that they’re honest about their ability and willingness to help. Or, at the very least, to let you know if they’re having difficulty doing what you asked. That way, you can make other arrangements if you need to, and it removes any extra pressure from them.
Finally, read 1 Corinthians 12 and remind yourself that although we don’t think we need those people who disappoint us, we really do. Remember that each person is part of the body of Christ, and is vital to His mission.
Realize that God has placed them in your life for a reason. Not just to do that one thing you can’t do for yourself, but also to remind you, as Hezekiah Walker sang, that we need each other to survive.
pattersonphoto (Contributing Writer: Marlena Patterson)

He’s Preparing Me (and You Too)

“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.”

Jeremiah 29:11
preparing me graphicHave you ever been in a place where you’re just going through a whole lot all at once? I mean, before you even have a chance to process one thing, here comes something else. Seriously.
Have you sometimes felt that God is piling SO MUCH on you that you might actually, physically break?
So what do you do about it?
Probably, like many of us, you just deal with it. You take the hit and keep on movin’. After all, you’re a busy person. You have work stuff, and home stuff, and family stuff, and church stuff, and more church stuff. Not only do you not have the energy, you don’t have time to DEAL WITH IT. But eventually. (Church say “eventually”.) You will HAVE to deal with it.
Eventually, you will reach a point where you will just have to STOP. When you do, it’ll all flood you at once and you’ll have to release it. But that’s not the end. Once you’ve had your release you’ll think about EVERYTHING you’re going through and you’ll ask the magic question.
God, why?
Why are you putting me through ALL of this right now? Why do I have to go through any of this at all? Why does it seem like everything is falling apart? Why? Why? Why?
Now I won’t pretend to know what the answer is, or what God’s personal answer will be to you. What I do know is what the Word says. And despite what I feel, I MUST believe that its’ true.
“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.”
When I’m going through a whole lot all at once, here’s a song that helps me, and I pray it’ll help you too.
Listen to the song and be encouraged.
pattersonphoto(Contributing Writer: Marlena Patterson)

Watch Your Back

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your god. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Isaiah 41:10
my-go-to-graphicHave you ever felt, or known, that someone was out to get you? That they were trying to defame your good name, ruin your reputation, conspiring against you, or at the very least, using your flaws (your humanness) to try to make themselves look just a little better than you?
Whether the sabotage is taking place on your job, in your home, or at church (yes I said “at church”), it is always hurtful, and it takes a toll on you mentally and emotionally. You begin to wonder what was said about you, who is involved, how this will affect your other relationships, and what people think of you.
So how do you get through it?
If you’ve been saved and walkin’ with Jesus a while, you pray; and watch your back. If you’re a new Christian who’s still honeymooning with Jesus, you think, “Man if I wasn’t saved!” Then you pray and watch your back. If you’re on your way to the Alter but haven’t quite gotten there, you make a plan of how you’re going to curse them out and take them down before they get you. Then you remember that you’re trying this Jesus thing so you probably shouldn’t do that, so you call a church member instead. After it takes them 30 minutes to calm you down, you pray and watch your back. (Yep. You know that’s how it happens.)
I know someone, who is constantly trying to make me look bad and defame my character to make themselves look better. (Isn’t that something?) Although they’ve been doing it for years, it’s still hurtful because I’ve worked so hard to remake myself into a woman of integrity (Oh I was a big fat liar). But I want people to make their own opinion of me based on our interaction, not the opinion of someone else.
So how do I get through it?
First. I let my work, attitude, and actions speak for themselves. I am the same me at church, at work, on a job interview, at home, everywhere. My character, speech, ethics, passions, and standards are the same everywhere I go because I always try to “conduct myself in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”.
Second. I have a Post-It note with a scripture like this one (Jeremiah 1:8), that reminds me:
(1) don’t be afraid;
(2) God is with me;
(3) God will strengthen me when I’m weak;
(4) He will help me when I need it;
(5) and if stuff gets sticky, and it will, God will rescue me.
Third. I pray and watch my back.
pattersonphoto (Contributing Writer: Marlena Patterson)

Lessons Learned

“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”
Phil 4:19
“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
Exodus 14:14
lesson-learned-graphicHave you ever had God reiterate the same message in your life, over, and over, and over again?
Well every year, all year long, there are two messages that God continues to deliver to me loud and clear. The first is “I got your back. I will take care of it. Don’t worry about it.” The second is, “Don’t trip. I’ll fight your battles. You just chill.” My translation. God probably doesn’t speak slang.
Here I am again, realizing that God is showing himself to me once again. After having a very bad customer service experience, I wrote a number of emails to the company about my ordeal. It was actually the same email delivered to multiple people. Anyway, as a result, the company decided to return to me the full amount of my $800 deposit (which they didn’t have to do).
About an hour after I received the good news, I had what Oprah calls an “Ah Ha” moment. I realized that the amount they were refunding ($800) was just $55 short of the bill I’d incurred with a plumber due to a leaky sewage pipe in the basement (I know right!) the week before ($855).
So look at God! An unavoidable $855 plumbing bill is covered by a refund received because of someone’s bad manners. Ain’t God good! Won’t he do it!
So what’s the lesson?
1) God’s [ALWAYS] got your back. He will [ALWAYS] take care of it. Don’t [EVER] worry about it.
2) Don’t trip. God will fight your battles. Just be still.
pattersonphoto(Contributing Writer: Marlena Patterson)

Livin’ It!

 “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
Philippians 1:27

livin-it-graphicOne day I called a company to cancel a policy I’d obtained from them less than a month before. When the customer service representative inquired why I was cancelling, I explained that I discovered I already had the same coverage with a different company. Although I answered his question honestly and directly, that wasn’t a satisfactory for him. He began to yell, yes yell, at me that I wasn’t answering his questions and I wasn’t listening to him. But throughout the call, as he spoke over me, I maintained a calm, polite and respectful voice and tone although I was heated!

Eventually, I hung up on the man because he just wasn’t yielding. After waiting a few minutes, I called back hoping to get a different agent. No such luck. Once again, the same man answered the phone pleasantly, I identified myself and the purpose of my call, and he asked, “Is this the same person I was just on the line with?” I answered him, “Yes. I would still like to cancel my policy.” Again, he went on a rant, yelling, and almost cursing insisting that he wasn’t going to cancel my policy, and that I wasn’t listening to him. But still, I remained calm and polite and respectful toward him. At this point I was HOT!
In the midst of his rage, he said the only way the policy could be cancelled is through non-payment. Eureka! That was the answer to the question. When I heard that, I thought, “I’ll just call the bank tomorrow and place a stop payment on the account.” After that there was no reason for me to stay on the phone with him. I said, “Thank you for that information. Enjoy the rest of your evening,” and I hung up again.
Through all of the yelling, and the emotions running high, I didn’t take the bait. I was determined that no matter what he threw at me, I was going to “conduct myself in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
Living the Word, is a lot harder than quoting it.
pattersonphoto  (Contributing Writer: Marlena Patterson)