Check Your Enthusiasm

Put everything to the test. Hold fast to that which is good. (1 Thessalonians 5:21)

“Christians are not only being persecuted for their faith but also for their foolishness.” -Dr. Tony Evans

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

11 Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Acts 17:11 (New International Version)

Scrutinize. Examine. Inspect.

As Christians we are indeed called to be salt and light. I would not want to imagine this world without such. Yet, for some Christians in their effort to “do right” there is a reckless enthusiasm that hitches itself to something (or someone) posited as “virtuous” to come against and rid the culture wars landing on our doorsteps. The enthusiasm is ginned up in a fear and panic to “take back our country,” quickly turning ‘virtuous actions’ into an “us vs. them” battle. Christians who are supposed to be known for their kindness and love have resorted to tactics used by the world such as name-calling, mudslinging and bullying. The posture of conspiracy, fear and “hair on fire” anger has swung the pendulum so far as to dismiss how we should approach one another and the issues of our day.

Tragically forgotten is our spiritual authority and positioning as those redeemed in Christ Jesus. We are seated with Him in heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6). We need not resort to the ways of the world or get spun up by the continued deterioration of this world. Scripture tells us that this world is perishing and is in fact passing away. Even as the storms are tossing, remember that Jesus is in the boat with us.

I work in public policy in particular to advocate for healthcare legislation that is ethical and will advance human flourishing without diminishing human dignity. The work requires my engagement in the 50 states and the District of Columbia to monitor various bills of interest being introduced in the state legislatures. A good work and one certainly of spiritual warfare that I am blessed to do with many godly, prayerful and ethical advocates. Yet, I have also seen bad bills introduced from both sides of the aisle in attempt to “take back our country” in the “us vs. them” battle.

Unfortunately, if you’re not angry or fearful enough, if you’re not riled up, it’s thought that something is wrong with you. If you are not wholly partisan, then often you are considered an enemy; as one who has deviated from the tribe. Aka, “If you’re not with us, then you’re against us.” From this podcast episode of The Holy Post on the “war on winsomeness,” co-host Skye Jethani speaks on the fear that has captivated some Believers: “If you are captivated by fear, you cannot love. Fear leads to self-preservation.” Even winsomeness has come under attack when wisdom would unshackle them from fear and reckless enthusiasm. In facing the issues, some Christians do not imitate our loving God who is above the situation. We are not the sweet smelling aroma of Christ.

In Dr. Tony’s message “God is Shaking Things Up” delivered at the 2021 National Religious Broadcaster’s Convention held in Grapevine, Texas, he gave a hard but truthful word: “Christians are not only being persecuted for their faith but also for their foolishness.”

Turns out that while the church has been caught up in CRT, removing books about Ruby Bridges, name-calling the liberals and bad-mouthing the conservatives, the biggest threat to the Church as been itself.

Dr. Evans went on to say:

“The White church has become too Republican by wrapping our faith in the American flag. When you pursue a nationalistic faith, you corrupt the Gospel because you have not made the nation to King Jesus, but to nationalism. The Black church has become idolatrous too. We are often ‘more Black’ than biblical. The evil of abortion and homosexuality the Black church doesn’t often speak to this.”

“Since we serve a Kingdom, let’s act like it. We’re too evangelical and not Kingdom enough.”

We must test everything to ensure it is not our flesh leading us but that we are being led by the Holy Spirit. In using the latter approach, the supernatural happens. Hearts, minds, families and communities are transformed. Repentance happens and people turn from their wicked ways. We foil the schemes of the devil who is out to steal, kill and destroy. People experience true freedom! Decay is held back or reversed. Cities prosper. I know that is ultimately what we desire.

The Bottom Line: Our Commandment to Love Others and Our Call to Holiness

Jesus commands us to love God. Jesus commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). Jesus commands us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:43-48).

God doesn’t need us to right every single wrong on earth, particularly if our actions are conducted in a fashion and spirit that lacks love. He does invite us to be effective messengers of the Gospel, to be ministers of reconciliation, to be Ambassadors of Christ to confront wickedness in a world that is more inclined to run from Him; in a world that pursues its own wisdom rather than God’s perfect wisdom. As those redeemed in Christ Jesus, we carry within us a hope that should anchor us and others rather than driving us to fear and division. Jesus took on human form to model what loving others, even our enemies, should look like. God has given us His Holy Spirit to help us live out that love.

In the Old and New Testament, God says “be ye holy, for I am holy.” That means we live very differently from the world. When we give the Holy Spirit charge over our conduct and our character He will enable us to approach others and the issues of our day in a godly way. Our enthusiasm and zeal will be in check so that we are not destroying those we are led to help. I know that is ultimately what we want.

I am glad that Jesus is neither “left” nor “right.” He is too big for such categories. His ways and thoughts are far better and higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). His ways are, thankfully, counterintuitive to our natural. Members in the body of Christ have resorted to guerilla warfare when our warfare should begin on our knees. We’re asking God to remake this country and world but let that work begin first with you. Ask Him to remake you.

Heavenly Father, remove our fear and anxiety. Let us see that perfect love casts out all fear. Keep us from the error of an unchecked enthusiasm that pits us against an enemy or “frienemy” we’re commanded to love. Remove any offensive way in us. Lead us in your ways, Father. Let us not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions (1 John 3:18). In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Check out:

The Holy Post: Episode 509: The War on Winsomeness & Interfaith Cooperation with Eboo Patel on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/episode-509-the-war-on-winsomeness-interfaith/id591157388?i=1000562243895

Dr. Tony Evans Message of “God is Shaking Things Up” at the 2021 National Religious Broadcaster’s Convention: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bxqfukvddh8

Is The Universal Church Being Made Visible Today?

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:18-20, New International Version)

RT @BethMooreLPM I believe, if you watch closely, you will see that those who keep or quickly recover their joy are those who by constant practice bring it all back to Jesus again and again. When they’re appalled by this world, they refocus on Jesus. When they’re devastated by people, they steady themselves in Jesus. When they’ve lost faith in institutions, churches, leaders and, inevitably, themselves. They fix their eyes on Jesus and thank God that He’s not like us.

RT @jimcha Thank you, Beth. As a pastor of more than 30 years who recently walked away, this spoke to my heart deeply. Happened across a Rich Mullins song while driving home tonight–it was all I could do to not burst into tears. I love Jesus, though I am finding His church unrecognizable.

RT @BethMooreLPM Oh Jim, I am heartbroken. I’m so so sorry. There is going to be life on the other side of this. Meaning. Ministry. And church. Don’t give up on it. There is community for you. May Christ be so evident to you as you heal. And, brother, let those tears fall.

From reading the May 30, 2021 above referenced Twitter thread exchanged between Bible teacher and author, Beth Moore and a pastor named Jim Chamberlin, I can say that in this past year I’ve felt a similar sadness as Pastor Chamberlin in finding the Church ‘unrecognizable.’ My heart goes out to Pastor Chamberlin. I feel the weight of his words. After being in sorrow about the state of our world, the Church and some of its people, and the institutions, and the character I thought they should have had, I have also encouraged myself by fixing my eyes on Jesus, gratefully knowing that He is my and our Greatest Hope. The joy of the Lord is and has remained my strength, as noted in Nehemiah 8:10. In all of the turmoil and division in what looks like intractable chaos and disintegration, Jesus is reconciling all things to Himself. In Paul’s letter to God’s people in Colossae, to the “faithful brothers and sisters in Christ” as he writes in Colossians 1, it is a message to God’s people. And so it is, as Mrs. Moore tweeted in encouraging follow up and heartfelt empathy to Pastor Chamberlin, there will be life on the other side of this. We will see God at work in the messiness. There will be meaning. God is reconciling it all. Will we, will I be then patient in the travailing, in the reconciling? It seems a long time getting there but I know it is coming.

The issues of the universal Church are myriad. I won’t list the issues here as you’re likely acutely aware what are those growing pains. The maturity of the Church and whether the Church is being made visible to the world, is if Jesus–not the ‘Jesus’ we’ve created to fit our agenda–if Jesus is being made manifest in these fleshly temples. If we are truly living out the nine fruits of the Spirit (faithfulness, gentleness, goodness, joy, kindness, love, patience, peace, and self-control) as outlined in Galatians 5:22-23, we will reflect Christ to the world and to each other. By yielding to the Holy Spirit, Jesus is recognizable in you and me. If we are appealing in our character, then Jesus will be recognizable in you and me. If we decrease self so Christ can increase, then Jesus will be recognizable in you and me. Thereby, I believe we’ll come through like pure gold. It’s all about Jesus. It’s all about Jesus.

Keep your hope,

Nicole

Where Do You Live?

Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:36, English Standard Version)

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

When someone asks you, “Where do you live?,” your response would be framed based on whether or not you and that person share the same region, state, city, neighborhood or community. We respond giving them a physical or geographic reference. Such reference offers the person more context about us and our life to give them a better picture (or assumption) about us.

But for this message, we are citizens of heaven as Paul tells us in Philippians 3:20-21. We are of another kingdom, a kingdom not of this world as Jesus tells us in the aforementioned John 18:36. We are foreigners traversing this earth in these earthly bodies until we are called to our eternal home. While in these earthly bodies as citizens of heaven, we strive to live out kingdom principles while engaging with earthly culture, institutions, kingdoms and systems. It is our goal to engage with the culture as we undertake The Great Commission to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:18-20) but not to become ensnared by the culture; to be in it but not of it.

Where Do You Live?

No doubt, we have seen the uprising and clinging to of the “kingdoms” we’ve established–our institutions, strongly held ideologies, opinions, tentpoles, insecurities, fears and zero-sum viewpoints. These “kingdoms” quite often conflict with God’s Kingdom. It’s unclear how clinging to any of these reaches others. I am sure the Lord finds it all infantile. If we are truly living out the Gospel, we should be extended out of tribalism.

In his book on racial reconciliation, One: Healing the Racial Divide (September 2020), Pastor Dennis Rouse addresses our society’s racial and political divide. Rouse challenges readers to examine these issues in the light of Scripture, calling the Church to build a “kingdom culture” that transcends biases, preferences, and even political loyalties, and instead fosters unity and healing in the body of Christ. I enjoyed his book and recommend it for your reading. He articulates the sadness and lament I feel given the past year or more’s racial and political division within the body of Christ: “A person’s level of disappointment is the difference between expectation and realization.” While I am not “pollyannish,” admittedly, I have had higher expectations about the Church’s spiritual maturity–not recognizing the reality of where we actually are.

We are praying for the Church to become one; to be fully matured, lacking nothing. I am and you are right to be expectant and hopeful of the Church’s true unity through diversity and oneness in a time of division. It will happen! Christ will make sure that His Bride is ready and found without spot, without wrinkle and without blemish. It will happen by His Word and by His work!

Therefore:

Are we willing to surrender any and all of these “kingdoms” we’ve constructed in order to extend ourselves to the other? Can we forgo these kingdoms, can we forgo spoiling for a debate, will we deny ourselves the right to be right and be ready to lose whatever we might lose, so we aren’t ensnared by the culture? Will we deny ourselves for God’s Kingdom? Where do you live?

When Jesus walked the earth, He was always extending Himself to “those people” aka, anyone who wasn’t like Him, aka, us, the “whosoevers”! Does where you live wall you off from others who do not agree with you? Will we pull up the tent stakes and welcome others? Would we move heaven and earth to do so? Rouse says, “Loving “the other” is what real Christians do…or it’s at least what real Christians genuinely want to do. And they will move heaven and earth to make it happen.” Where do you live?

Knowing what we know about ourselves and where we live any given day between earthly kingdoms and God’s Kingdom, knowing that we are daily being sanctified to look more like Christ to one day be perfected, Lord, we need Your grace. Thank you, Lord, for taking the time to shape us, to strive with us. That you love us too much to leave us unfinished; that you will grow us out of our insecurities; that you will perfect us.

While I like every song performed by gospel artist Jonathan McReynolds, his newly released song, Grace, is ever becoming my favorite. Sharing it with you as we think on the gift of God’s grace, how much we need it and how lost we would be without it. With the immeasurable grace and love God has shown us, may we as brothers and sisters in Christ, as the Church, extend such grace and love that confuses the world.

Love and blessings,

Nicole

When Populism and Personalities Kill

“He will fight for us. He’s not your typical politician. He will shake up the establishment.”

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

Those words and many others are what have enticed a number of President Donald J. Trump supporters to hitch their wagon to his train and ride it all the way to its destructive end and destination. He is a man who has captured the minds, dollars and fervent loyalty of his supporters to include many evangelicals. In capturing and holding such loyalty, President Trump even attempts to “talk like us” (and by “us” I mean Christians) by using certain words that kept many by his side without seeing even the dangers of that.

But through the chaos, division, gross malfeasance and lawlessness that has been the hallmark of Trump and his Administration during these past four years, the train on fire that many rode to the end manifested itself devastatingly on January 6, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol where at least five people were killed, many citizens and law enforcement injured. Millions of Americans and others worldwide watched in horror as a mob of insurgents stormed and overtook the U.S. Capitol as those believing that their president, their hero and country had been unfairly ripped from them through the outcomes of the 2020 presidential election in which President Trump was defeated. NOTE: This mob does not include the many Trump supporters who are not part of this travesty and are equally grieved by what occurred.

Capitol Riots on January 6, 2021. (Photos courtesy of the Los Angeles Daily News and WUSA-9 CBS/Washington, D.C.)

The process on January 6, 2021 on other such occasions in our country’s history was to be a routine formality for Congress and Vice President Mike Pence to certify the election results (certifying Joe Biden as the next President and Kamala Harris as Vice President). But days leading up to, an insurgent mob loyal to President Trump arrived in our nation’s capital and on Wednesday, January 6th, stormed the Capitol in what lawmakers condemned as an attempted insurrection aimed at overturning the results of an American election–a response largely publicly championed and incited by President Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and others. What Congress began at 1 p.m. that day was derailed by an attempted coup that led to lives lost, multiple injuries, destruction to the Capitol, offices and property therein as rioters pushed their way inside. With members of Congress, staff, Vice President Pence and others quickly escorted to safety and fitted with gas masks to overcome tear gas used by law enforcement to scatter the mob, the unfolding events shocked and appalled. It is a day that will live in infamy and certainly stains our country. Committed to what they started on Wednesday afternoon, Congress and Vice President Pence returned to certify the electoral college votes, completing this process around 4 a.m. Thursday, which affirmed Trump’s 306-232 defeat.

People are responsible for their own actions. We also expect for those who acted criminally or contributed in some way to the violence to be held accountable. Several have already been arrested.

I live, work and worship in Washington, D.C., and am praying for our city and this country, as you likely are. I did not expect the grief that is so heavy upon my heart.

The Church

This is not a political message as I strive to remain apolitical. Though it has political references, this message is expressly for the Church. The Church has long been an enemy of the state–an enemy of this world as was expected and intended. With the prince of this world (Satan) operating as he has been since being kicked out of heaven and taking one-third of the angels along with him to wreak havoc against God and His children, the Church, the Christian is squarely in his sights. Persevering through opposition, oppression and persecution are par for the course for those who decide to follow Jesus. Jesus clearly warns us of this in John 15:18-21 (New International Version):

18 “If the world hates you,(A) keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you(B) out of the world. That is why the world hates you.(C)20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’[a](D) If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.(E) If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name,(F) for they do not know the one who sent me.(G)

It is dangerous for the Church, for the body of Christ to seek an agent outside of Christ to relieve us from persecution. True–it is good that we have allies joining us in the fight to advance light and godliness amid darkness. In fact, not even Christ is pulling His Church out of the battles but rather, calling us to engage so that we are indeed that “city on a hill,” the light that points the lost, the deceived and the hopeless to Christ and the cross–not to a politician, platform or personality.

So what is populism? Populism is defined in several and yet similar ways. The Oxford English Dictionary defines populism as “a political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups,” also defined as “the quality of appealing to or being aimed at ordinary people.”

Certainly, there were many other reasons why voters voted for Trump for 2016. Whether in hopes for a better economy, a fair shake for small businesses instead of golden parachutes for corporate America CEOs, or Hillary Clinton was covertly evil, cold and can’t trust her, or whether to support and advance pro-life policies or simply for the fact that he “talks tough” following President Barack Obama who was weak on a number of issues. The reasons are varied and not a broad stroke. This is the case with many voters who vote for a candidate (and often the conflict of doing so). In America, we’re allowed to vote for who we choose. We’re also allowed to change our minds (which some did once seeing the Trump Administration on display). The fervent support and loyalty that President Trump received from many in the church was built trusting that he would not tone down who he was, that he would fight to protect the underdog (and some evangelicals see themselves and the collective Church in this category), and that he would not capitulate to the political establishment. This was an attractive, shiny object that blinded many.

Whether politician, a personality or “celebrity” preacher, being loyal to such things and people can kill the witness of the gospel and skew our line of sight. It is dangerous when the Church is not willing to call such people to account for their wickedness, division and lawlessness. She loses footing in her walk, in her light and line of sight. We don’t walk alongside the world’s systems and behaviors. The Church, the body of Christ was never meant to. If Christ was hated by the world, those who follow Christ will be too. We don’t need a rescue from anyone else other than Christ. We don’t need anyone to stand up for us. It will most certainly backfire.

Our Inheritance, A Glorious Kingdom

Dear brothers and sisters we belong to a Kingdom not of this world! We have a glorious inheritance, a glorious Kingdom in which our God reigns forever and ever and ever! He is seated on the throne today even in the midst of this upheaval. HE is our strongtower that the righteous run into and are safe (Proverbs 18:10). HE is our Rock and a mighty Rock is He. HE is our refuge.

Let us run this race as the Church that truly believes this (and many of you are). We need nothing else. Be bold enough to call evil what it is and have no loyalties to it (Ephesians 5:11). We can advance the gospel and godliness without the backing of a personality. Let’s boldly lift Christ up so that HE may draw all men unto Him (John 12:32). We need not lift up anyone else’s banner for in doing so, we kill our witness.

Love and prayers,

Nicole

SPECIAL UPDATE: How Your Giving Has Blessed SE DC

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

“He loved playing football. He was a leader. He was focused. He was determined to get out of the hood.” 

These words spoken by Crystal McNeal, give some insight into the character, direction and plans regarding her son Davon Thomas McNeal, 11, who was shot and killed in the District of Columbia on July 4, 2020. Davon was one of seven people killed in the District within the first four days of this July, according to this July 5th Washington Post article. Crystal, who works as a violence interrupter in the city to help mediate disputes between criminals and beefing groups to urge them to put down their weapons, was hosting a July 4th cookout in the Southeast D.C. neighborhood of Cedar Gardens in Anacostia–an event that was geared to restore peace and trust in the violent neighborhood–when shots fired struck her son Davon in the head. He was retrieving earbuds and a cellphone charger from his aunt’s car when he was shot. By August, at least four men had been charged in Davon’s murder. The four men had also attended the neighborhood cookout that Crystal hosted with the intention of restoring peace in the violent community–only to have her son killed there.

“He was always smiling,” says his mom Crystal. 

Davon liked to play football with the Metro Bengals, an organization that provides youth cheer and football programs in the District. He had made 28 touchdowns. He also loved the colors orange, black and white.

Davon was a sixth-grader at Kramer Middle School–a school and community that has long been on my heart and in my prayers joined by our ministry partners. In 2017 thru 2018, I along with a dear sister in Christ, Barbara Crymes West of Washington State whom I met during grad school, began developing a faith-based leadership development curriculum to help students–particularly those living in high-poverty and high-crime communities–to navigate present and future challenges through biblical principles. The curriculum components are also designed to equip students to lead others in their environments to prepare for future education and career opportunities. Along with the curriculum, we wanted to provide lunches for the students, field trips, supplies and equipment–of which 15 donors gifted us $925 (with a fundraising goal of $2,500) toward those costs via a Facebook fundraiser conducted in November 2018. With a greenlight received from the school’s principal at the time, Roman Smith, and Site Coordinator Cliffone Ault, we prepared to launch the curriculum in February 2019. However, a change in school leadership and a few other events placed the curriculum launch with Kramer Middle School on hold, if not permanently.

We are grateful for everyone who donated and supported this work whether financially, or through guidance and review during the curriculum’s development. None of that is wasted. We are still setting funds aside, praying and desiring to launch the curriculum as the Lord wills in 2022 or after, knowing that the needs still exist, although it may be with a different school or community. Nonetheless, our hearts remain with Kramer Middle School and the community as we supported their food bank in 2019 and the Lord also positioned us to serve the community in a unique way this year, even through the devastation of a young life cut short by violence. 

Since learning about Davon’s murder on July 4th, he and his family have been very much on my heart. I have been praying to know how to help them. Given what has been a busy few months with other ministry work, in the quiet few days leading up to this Christmas, I had opportunity to research articles to reach Davon’s paternal grandfather, John Ayala, who would connect me to Crystal. John explained that in early August of this year, the Davon Thomas McNeal, LLC was launched to help clothe and feed the District’s homeless population. Crystal, along with her 10-year-old son, 18-year-old daughter, 20-year-old son, other family, friends and volunteers, have been helping to clothe and feed 256 men and boys staying at the 801 East Men’s Shelter (part of St. Elizabeths East), at 2700 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, SE. The food and beverages are prepared by volunteers and clothes donated. I was amazed and also pleased to learn how the family is serving those in need in Davon’s honor while still grieving his death in what has been less than six months’ time. Speaking with Barb and another dear sister in Christ, I asked them if it would be okay to give the $925 raised to support the McNeal family in their efforts and they were in agreement. I told John our intentions of donating $1,000 to Crystal to support their work of clothing and feeding the homeless–particularly when many are so hard-hit by this pandemic–loss of income, food, shelter, etc. Before giving the check, I told John that I wanted to meet Crystal. 

“Everyone deserves a chance to make it.”– Davon McNeal 

I had opportunity to speak with and meet Davon’s mom Crystal on Saturday, December 26, 2020. I am grateful to have met her and others serving the men at the East Men’s Shelter. The day was bitterly cold as men lined up to receive shoes, warm, thick socks, clothes, and a hot meal. A blessing to pour into this community in Davon’s honor. Those items were unloaded from Davon’s tribute van provided by Philadelphia Steelers football player, Anthony McFarland. McFarland was raised in Prince George’s County. When he learned of Davon’s murder, he reached out to the Metro Bengals to see how he could help. I saw the van and it is wonderfully designed with photos of Davon and with scripture from Deuteronomy 31:6 (“So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.”- New Living Translation). The van also includes Davon’s tagline “Everyone Deserves a Chance to Make It” as words taken from a Frederick Douglass speech he recited in English class, encouraging hopeful futures beyond the hood. 

The Davon Thomas McNeal Tribute Van

Men from 801 East Men’s shelter grateful to receive warm clothes and shoes.

In the photos posted below, is the card and gift of $1,020 presented to Crystal McNeal along with the names of each of our donors (a donor provided $20 cash day-of along with our $1,000 check, so a total of $1,020 was given to Crystal along with the purchase of men’s socks). Our donors were: Andy from Kansas, Barbara from Washington State, Becky from Minnesota, Cheryl from Washington, DC, Cindy from Minnesota, Dee from Florida, Felicia from Maryland, Gregory from Maryland, Jaime from Virginia, Jason from Pennsylvania, Julie from Kansas, Justus and Rachel from Minnesota, Makeba from Florida, Mary from Washington, DC, Nicole from Washington, DC and Sonia from Maryland.

Such a blessing. Thank you for being a part! A blessing to be aligned with what God is doing right now.

Crystal, her family and the community plan to host a parade at Kramer Middle School in Davon’s honor on Saturday, January 9, 2021 on what would have been his 12th birthday. I plan to attend.

God bless you. Continue to pray for God’s supernatural peace to heal the McNeal Family and SE DC.

Nicole

Nicole presents Crystal McNeal with group card and gift of $1,020 to help support the family’s efforts of clothing and feeding those in need in Davon’s honor. Davon was also a sixth grader at Kramer Middle School in SE DC.

Group card with donor names and states represented given to Crystal McNeal on December 26, 2020 at 801 East Men’s Shelter.

 

Check for $1,000 presented from group to Crystal McNeal to support work of The Davon Thomas McNeal, LLC.

Speaking Truth with Grace

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-2, New International Version)

As those who have been reconciled to God through the blood and righteousness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, saved from eternal damnation and separation from God, we have wonderfully Good News to share with the world! We who were once lost and sinking in sin and are now experiencing new life in Jesus Christ want to ensure that others who are where we once were have opportunity to receive “life and life to the full” and are no longer slaves to the devil, the thief who seeks “to steal, to kill and to destroy” as told to us in John 10:10.

As ministers of reconciliation and in our zeal to share the Gospel with a perishing world, we know that the culture is not one that runs to God but from God. We should not expect to be readily received. However, in our desire to disciple, to educate, equip and speak truth to those walking on destructive paths, we must remember to do so in love, with grace. Otherwise, we are like a clanging cymbal as described in 1 Corinthians 13:1. Can you imagine that in your ears? Quite unpleasant and will likely not have the desired effect on our listener as we hoped. We may have much knowledge and speak with great faith but without love, without grace, we are nothing, as 1 Corinthians 13:2 tells us.

A few years ago in my boldness to share and deliver the gospel with a “punch” in hopes that people would really get it, a dear brother in Christ who is one of my spiritual mentors gave me this wise counsel: “Not everyone can handle 100 CC’s of truth. Lean on the Holy Spirit for the words to say, when and how much.” Wise words.  For even if we’re chomping at the bit to pour out everything we can about the gospel, too much truth at one time can be too much and not fully absorbed, particularly for the non-believer or spiritually immature. Also, remember that you, others, and most importantly, the Holy Spirit are partners in this Kingdom work. You and I are God’s fellow workers. As described in 1 Corinthians 3:5-9, “one plants, one waters, but it is only God who makes things grow.”

God bless you dear brothers and sisters in Christ as you live out the Great Commission wherever God has placed you. The world desperately needs what we have and needs to hear this wonderfully Good News. In doing so, invite the Holy Spirit into your conversations in advance to give you His words and temperament for that divine appointment—to speak the right amount of truth in love and grace—without compromising the gospel or your witness.

Here’s a great article that prepares us for how to engage in the right spirit for such encounters:

Shelter in Place

Nicole D. Hayes Head shot

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

I’ve never been a bandwagon person. I like the freedom of not being hitched to things that if you give it time and sit back long enough the flawed agendas and limitations are revealed. I know that eventually, the wheels will fall off.

I realize that when life is unjust and out of control some people need something to get behind when trying to restore justice, morals and order to our disorderly world; to invigorate hope in the hearts of those who despair over what they see; an attempt to right the ship that is on the brink of sinking. Movements. Initiatives. Hashtags. Campaign themes. Black Lives Matter (an extremely progressive, un-Christian agenda, socialist leaning–I’ll need to write a separate article to unpack this properly). Make America Great Again (For who and from what period??). #MeToo. Just to name a few from a very lengthy list. I’ve worked in public relations for more than 14 years. I know a little something about how such communications strategies and tactics are supposed to help change behaviors and move the dial toward better outcomes. Some of them have really good intentions and aspirations. They simply fall short as they are often rooted in the world’s philosophy of “make it sound good as we seek to do good without God.”

Movements, initiatives, campaign themes and hashtags strive to create a unified body and voice to advance a collective response on a particular issue. Some people shelter in these spaces, certain that getting behind them, getting on board, being part of the bandwagon will indeed make the world as it should be.

As I said, I’ve never been a bandwagon person. Therefore, I have chosen to shelter in place.

The term “shelter in place” has been used more frequently and most recently as local, state and national leaders seek to mitigate the spread and devastation of  SARS-CoV-2 (I’m calling it by its actual name), or COVID-19, a novelle coronavirus that originated in 2019 in Wuhan, Hubei, China becoming a global pandemic. That is one way and a good way to use the term. However, for the purposes of this article, I will reference the description for “shelter in place” provided by Wikipedia: “Shelter in place is the act of seeking safety within the building one already occupies, rather than evacuating the area or seeking a community emergency shelter.”

Psalm 91-1 mountain

Let that definition sit with you for a moment.

I found the Wikipedia definition fitting–only secondary to the best one offered to us in God’s Word from Psalm 91:1-2, Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.

For those of us who say we follow Christ, that we trust in the Lord, that HE is the anchor of our soul (Hebrews 6:19), we need not leave that “house” or that “shelter” to seek other shelter. He is our refuge and our fortress. We can either shelter in/abide in the Lord, shelter in His Word, which is indeed our surest security or we can get behind the lying “prophets” of such movements, initiatives and hashtags who offer a false hope. As Believers, as carriers of the gospel message, God has authorized us to tell the world what is the way to perfect justice, what is perfect peace, what is perfect and godly wisdom, what is true restoration, reconciliation and healing from brokenness and lawlessness. We don’t look to the world to define that for us.

Someday, God will make everything new. Things will be as they should. Until then, keep your hand to the plow, work while it is day, cling unswervingly to the hope you have in Christ, tell others about Him and shelter in place/abide in Him.

Love and God bless you,

Nicole

Spiritual Vigilance: What I’m Learning in This Time of COVID-19

Nicole D. Hayes Head shot

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

Do it now and do it always.

COVID-19: a novel coronavirus that surfaced in Wuhan, China at least in December 2019 as we can tell. A disruption. A disruption to life that we are all experiencing together in similar and different ways. Schools and universities closed. Many work places closed. Parents who can, are working from home and homeschooling their children. Our healthcare professionals are being deployed to the front lines to care for the sick in unprecedented ways.

At the time of this writing, there have been 3,610,006 global cases of COVID-19 with more than 1.2 million of those cases reported in the United States. There have been 252,346 deaths with 69,079 of those deaths having occurred in the U.S. (source: Johns Hopkins University). More than 159,000 in the U.S. have recovered from the virus and more than 1.3 million globally have recovered, praise God.

I’ve been angry about it. Sad about it. Feeling helpless about it. In prayer about it. Like you, I am praying for our healthcare professionals, our first responders and frontline workers fighting against the pandemic. I am also praying for God’s mercy.

If you’ve read the bible, you likely understand that we are on a trajectory of sorrows, of greater distresses toward Jesus’ return. This pandemic is a fire drill in a sense to prepare us for more shaking to come. What we do from here is critical to enduring the race ahead.

Pray. Commune with the Lord. Pray. Fast. Study the Word. Pray. Live out the Word. Pray. Fellowship. Pray. Worship. Pray. Repeat. Obeying the Holy Spirit: always.

What we love, what we place as a high priority, what we do repeatedly tends to become a routine, a habit, a way of life; a training and disciplining. Because of such diligence and vigilance, we can better recognize what belongs in that routine and what doesn’t. We’re more apt to avoid something that would be considered a distraction or take us away from what we’re seeking to attain and maintain.

In my blog post entitled “What Does It Mean to Be ‘Fit’ (F.I.T.)?”, I write that “Our faith should be continuously maintained and developed/kept “fit” to help us persevere in courage, in the confidence of God’s promises and faithfulness. Someone told me of warriors past who would regularly maintain their shields which were made in part from leather. If the leather was not regularly maintained, the shield would crack and leave the user defenseless against oncoming arrows. Consider how important this is in our being able to thwart the enemy’s fiery darts by arming ourselves with and deploying the spiritual shield of faith as depicted in Ephesians 6:16. Our faith must be fit for the fight.”

Though the examples below outline the vigilance needed to preserve our physical health and protection, they can also serve as guidelines to encourage the spiritual vigilance we need to exercise daily.

Obedience

During this time, we’ve been given specific, basic instructions to follow to mitigate the spread of COVID-19:

  • Wear a mask
  • Social distance at least six-feet apart
  • Wash your hands
  • Disinfect/wipe down surfaces

No Slacking

To let up on any one of the aforementioned instructions can be harmful or deadly. One’s laziness, carelessness, neglect or being cavalier can be weaponized against themselves, their family member(s), neighbor(s) and community.

Self-Control

In staying healthy and keeping our immunity up against illness/disease, it means adopting healthy lifestyle choices. Eating healthy, whole foods. Eliminating as much processed food and sugar (except those naturally occurring in fruit) from your diet as possible. Exercising. Getting sufficient rest. This is not the the time to gorge and abuse your body leaving your immune system vulnerable. We need to be fit for what is coming.

Stay Alert Concept

God has shown us the way to live. He has told us what is coming. He has left nothing hidden in this regard. Short of shouting from the rooftops with a cry in my spirit, I wish I could convey in words how critical our spiritual vigilance is and will be in the days to come. The stakes are high. Others are watching so they might follow. This race requires our constant vigilance–not out of fear or striving for perfection but done with a disposition of obedience and a quiet rest and trust in Christ. Do it now and do it always.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. -Philippians 3:12, New International Version

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. -Philippians 2:13, New International Version

1Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will  not escape. 4But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.

6So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert (wide-awake, alert, having a watchfulness, vigilant) and self-controlled. 7For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation for a helmet. 9For God did not appoint us to wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. -1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, New International Version

Love You, Watchful and Running With You in Christ Jesus,

Nicole

When People Cast Off Restraint

Nicole D. Hayes Head shot

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

The stop sign. The blatant warning label. The godly counsel given. The awaiting ark of refuge from an impending flood of biblical proportions.

Bad things happen when we ignore, dismiss or rebel against sound guidance and warnings. Our rebellion creates a propensity for lawlessness, anarchy and most certainly destruction, disintegration and devastation. Sin releases a power and energy that always produces decay and most certainly, death:

13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.  James 1:13-15

If such decisions and behaviors bring forth death, what then, births life?

Answer: Wisdom, obedience.

Proverbs 29:18 tells us that Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint; but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction. (New International Version) A more blatant reading from the New Living Translation reads, When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whoever obeys the law is joyful. 

Seeking godly wisdom, desiring and obeying instruction protects us from many dangers, error and sinfulness. It is a preventive work meant to keep us from straying from the path and falling into ditches. A word of wisdom can save.

Wrong Way Do Not Enter

 

 

We Must Love Truth

The passage from 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12  in short, tells us that people perish because they refuse to love the truth and so be saved (v. 10), and for this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness (v. 11-12).

During a recent bible study, our group discussed that by its nature, wickedness is restless. Wickedness is always chasing, seeking, constantly enticed by other temptations because it is disinterested in standing in the truth and pursuing righteousness.

Prophets were and are sent to warn, serving as both harbingers and intercessors — seeking to warn others of what is coming if they continue in their ways —and to pray, intercede on the behalf of others, petitioning before God to show mercy, to withhold His wrath.

I can’t imagine the frustration of the Old Testament prophets who repeatedly warned and pleaded with rebellious people to turn from their wicked ways and obey the Lord. From Moses, to Jonah, to Jeremiah, and others, their warnings were often ignored. Sometimes the people heeded the warnings when the consequences of their actions became so severe that they pleaded for God’s mercy. They would tear their clothes and put on sackcloth to show their remorse. When God in His great love and mercy relented in His wrath toward the people, they soon returned to their rebellion. This happened over and over again, as we saw with the Israelites.

To win this, we must love truth and stay with truth. When we refuse to hold to the truth, we reap every wicked thing we’re seeing in society today. Per the Pulpit Commentary on Proverbs 29:18, it says, “The prophets were the instructors of the people in Divine things, standing witnesses of the truth and power of religion, teaching a higher than mere human morality. The fatal effect of the absence of such revelation of God’s will is stated to be confusion, disorder and rebellion; the people uncontrolled, fall into grievous excesses, which nothing but high principles can restrain.”

When people cast off restraint, it is not freedom they create–but captivity. Ultimately, through their rebellion and God giving them over to the wickedness they so desire, the stubborn will be destroyed.

The Path to Life

John 13:17 says, If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. (English Standard Version)

Satan suggests that we can have a good life without God. But can a life without God be transformed into life? God is about integration (us with Him) for us to have life and life to the full (John 10:10). Satan, is about causing disintegration, being the thief who comes to “steal and to kill and to destroy” (John 10:10).

The path to life is WITH GOD. Otherwise, we are an enemy of God and on a path toward destruction.

As a dear brother in Christ and spiritual mentor says, “God will not obstruct us from accessing Him. However, people may choose to restrict their access.”

If you desire life and life to the full:

Don’t play with time. Don’t play with God’s mercy.

Hear. Turn. Obey.

Dear Heavenly Father,

I pray that those who are far from you will be divinely persuaded to follow you.

In Jesus’ Name I pray and ask this,

Amen.

Nicole