Real Strength

Isaiah 40:11- He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young. (New Living Translation)

Herbert Bowen, Jr.  Voices Against the Grain Devotional Writer

Herbert Bowen, Jr.
Voices Against the Grain Devotional Writer

If reading this scripture created warmth within your heart then you are on par with most individuals. If reading this scripture made you see the Shepherd as kind, then you are on par with most individuals. If you believe that gentleness and grace are precursors to weakness, then you are sorely mistaken. For the strongest people are those walking alongside others wading through their various trials, while demonstrating the meekness to recognize when they’re wrong. It’s that inexplicable eagerness to give 2nd, 3rd, and 4th chances even when the situation seems bleak. These are the most indomitable people known to man. One of which, who shed HIS blood for you and me. Today may we change the social construct that determines strength over weakness, for none is a better example than the Shepherd holding the lamb.

#Godsway

Herbert writes weekly devotionals to combat the decreasing morality in the 18-30 age group a.k.a., “the transition gap.” This is an effort to re-introduce Jesus Christ to this spiritually starved generation. He is a graduate of Purdue University with a degree in Business Management. He is also the founder of B.T.E.P. (Bringing Together Extraordinary People), a Charlotte, N.C.-based nonprofit with a mission to unite professional athletic organizations in accordance with their neighboring counties in the Greater Charlotte area, and to improve underprivileged athletic programs and share in the duty of empowering disadvantaged youth within their communities.
Learn more about Herbert Bowen, Jr., here
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Overcoming Sexual Assault: The F-Word That Produces Our Victory

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

1 in 4. Statistics suggest that 1 in 4 college women will be raped, sexually assaulted or a victim of attempted rape in her lifetime (although we believe the numbers are higher). The numbers are hard to comprehend. Often, it’s not the boogeyman jumping out of the bushes or dark alley. Hauntingly, the perpetrator is someone you know and trust, and allow in your space (2014 statistics indicate that 2/3 of sexual assault victims know their assailant). Forty-four percent of victims are under age 18. Eighty percent are under age 30. Every 107 seconds. We pray for God’s amazing love to heal the broken places. We pray for God’s justice to be rendered. We pray healing for victims and perpetrators.  rape

Why are we talking about this? April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Our devotional writer Ana Martinez has courageously shared her story and video message on several occasions of overcoming assault, which we re-posted this month. We’ve also shared the work of our ministry partner PureHOPE in restoring purity and justice in a sexualized, broken culture. Sadly, we’re still having the conversations because the issue is not resolved. The fact that we are made in God’s image, man and woman He created us (Genesis 1:26-27), some do not hold such reverence for God’s most beloved and wondrous creations.

Sexual assault: you, me and many others too. Part of me debated on whether to share this aspect of my life, but how else could I obtain victory or empower others to do the same?  Because at times I’m a private person, sharing this has taken me out of my “comfort zone.” Believing that our testimonies can bless, empower, free and heal others, I will share my story (thank you Ana for encouraging me).

A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing: In the Presence of Evil

It was December 1992. I was well into my freshman year in college and preparing to break for Christmas. I had finished the last of my classes for the semester and looked forward to leaving school for a while. I lived on campus and didn’t necessarily appreciate the craziness of people and college life. Nor was I the party animal many people tend to become once they are away at college and out from under their parents’ radar. Instead, earlier in that semester, I joined a Christian on-campus youth group. I also met a guy who sang in the campus gospel choir. Awesome! He was talented with a great singing voice.

By that fall, we were dating. I gravitated to his straight-laced, gentleman-like nature. We shared similar musical interests in R&B and gospel. As boyfriend and girlfriend, we ate our meals together, watched movies. A no-pressure, easy-going relationship in which I felt comfortable—especially because he was Christian. By all accounts his actions and behavior displayed toward me were non-threatening—even with him belonging to a fraternity. Yet, I was 18 and still “green” in my perceptions about the world. I was naive. Though I considered myself quite observant and perceptive, there were areas I had never been exposed and protected from.

With finals finished, many students had begun packing to head home for the holidays. Some would return after winter break and some would not. That night, he phoned my room and invited me to his dorm room to watch movies. This would be our last time to hang out before break since he was from another state. Though bitter cold outside with fresh snow on the ground, the thought of snuggling to watch movies appealed to me. I made the brief journey from my dorm to his. Again, because of who he was and how he had presented himself all along never gave me cause for concern. That changed the moment I entered the room.

As I removed my heavy coat, I looked about the room and realized how stark it appeared compared to the previous times I had been there.  Then, that’s when I noticed: the TV was gone. I asked him, “Where’s the TV?” He replied that his roommate, who was not returning the next semester, had taken the television and other belongings. I was dumbfounded. I asked him how he thought we were going to watch a movie. I don’t recall what reason he gave.

We sat on his bed reviewing a poster he had produced. Though I realized we wouldn’t be watching a movie, it was disturbing that he had invited me over with the intent of watching television without the TV. What was up with that??

Atmosphere Shift

Like a spring storm that suddenly rushes in with its dark thunderheads, covers the bright sun and ushers in a swift change in atmosphere, this is how quickly the scene changed in his room. Prior to that moment, I’d never clearly understood the meaning of “spiritual warfare” or what it meant to encounter a demonic presence. In an instant, the person I saw before me was no longer the same person. It was as if he “put on” a new persona. I didn’t recognize this person who had swiftly and forcefully gone from pleasant to violent. Without notice, I was no longer in the company of a friend, but that of a predatory, ill-intentioned, dark, demonic spirit. His once brown eyes behind his glasses were now dark black. With me pinned on the bed underneath his weight, his intent was certain. His weapons: his weight, graduation gown cords and a demonic spirit driving him. While he sputtered threatening words, I struggled against the strength and will of his flesh. The pulling at and away of my clothes, his hands going where they were not authorized; feeling in some ways I gave in only to avoid further harm. In my distress, God intervened…

… I must have prayed to God, because I don’t know how else I would have overcome without the Lord.  Before the ordeal escalated to rape, I believe the Holy Spirit gave me the words that saved me and possibly him. I calmly and politely spoke a few words to him that I do not recall to this day. As quickly as the storm came in, it blew out. He rose up off of me and wore a look of confusion and repentance on his face. I was shocked but I did not stick around for him to change his mind.  I gathered myself, quickly left the room and headed back into the cold, winter night in a daze. All the while I wondered, “What in the world just happened back there?” It didn’t seem real. But it was.

God knows just how much we can bear.

Anger Rears Its Ugly Head…and My Hate Toward Black Men  

As the years went by, I truly believed I was over that incident. Or was I? Did I really have victory over it? I thought I did. But not so. I still harbored anger and hate in my heart. Though the years had distanced me from the event, the emotions were as raw as that night. Had I laid eyes on him, I would have inflicted him with bodily harm. Because of his actions (he was Black), I generated a strong hatred toward most Black men (this didn’t include the Black men in my life who had proven themselves trustworthy). Also, the incident played a role in my poor academic performance that year in college. Disappointed by my performance, I took several years off from school. Through the encouragement of a dear friend, I enrolled in another college and completed my degree.

I realized that I needed to get this straight in my life before God. I got honest before God and asked Him what I should do with this. I asked a trusted friend to pray for me and that I would receive an answer from God, a breakthrough; how to release these feelings and get to the other side of it. I wanted my victory.

Getting to the Other Side of It: My and Your Victory—The F-Word

Barely a day after my prayer request, I was at work when a distinct, familiar feeling pricked my spirit. The Holy Spirit was talking to me. God was answering my question. He literally “zinged” me in my spirit. I felt the sharp sting on His answer and when I received it, I was not happy. Honestly, I was downright ticked with what was being asked of me. Essentially, I had to learn a lesson in forgiveness. Upset, I internally challenged God with questions like, “Forgive who??!! Forgive what??!!” I didn’t understand why I had to step up to the plate. I didn’t do anything wrong!

But in the same moment I surged with anger, it was the same time God lovingly revealed His plan for me and why He called me to that specific action: Because He asks us to forgive one another. He commands it. Mark 11:24-25 reads: “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” 

The main message is in verse 25, but I am providing you with verse 24 as they are both equally important. In my desire to be obedient to God, this was going to be another area. He forgave others and commanded that I do it too.

forgive

Like it or not, we are accountable to God for our actions. We are accountable to Him for how we respond to situations, whether they are bad or good. In addition, God does not want us to miss out on all that our destiny holds because of unforgiveness and holding onto our past. Forgiveness produces our victory! If you have been through such a situation or someone has wronged you, as difficult as it seems, choose to forgive. If not, your victory will be delayed.

I have since forgiven this person. God also removed the anger I harbored toward him and Black men in general. In exchange, He has provided me a peace that exceeds what I expected to feel about the whole situation! Only God! Victory is mine!

Often times when we are going through tough times or experience wrongdoings inflicted upon us by other people, we ask, “Why me, God?”  Furthermore, we may ask, “Why does such a loving God allow bad things to happen to good people?”

Both questions are valid yet, they manifest as part of our selfish human nature that struggles to understand God’s ultimate purpose for our lives.

In all of it, be encouraged. KNOW THAT IN TRIALS, OUR POWER COMES FROM OUR ABILITY TO BE PROCESSED FOR SUCCESS.

Such an example of being processed is described in 2 Corinthians 4:8-12-

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our bodies.  For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.”

While the statistics, raw emotions and setbacks around such injustices are real, the victories are also real.

-Nicole

Nicole D. Hayes is the founder of Voices Against the Grain, a bold teaching ministry launched in May 2013. Nicole’s purpose in creating Voices Against the Grain is to be light in darkness, to boldly instruct truth amid confusion so as to bring clarity and restoration.

Learn more about Nicole D. Hayes here. 

2014: Receive the One Who Gave All

We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Ana Martinez, Voices Against the Grain Guest Blogger

Ana Martinez, Voices Against the Grain Guest Blogger

Another blessed Christmas and New Year begins.  At this time let’s remember all that God has done for us this year and the so many that came before.

 Luke 2:11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

Our Savior has come, He has risen, and He lives!  Christ came to bring us salvation, hope, peace, forgiveness and everlasting life.  No amount of money can buy that gift.      2 Corinthians 5:21- For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.   How amazing is that?

God loves you! He loves you! He loves us!  This Christmas Season know that He loves you in spite of all the mistakes, disappointments, heartache, grief and pain—His love for you remains.  It is not too late to cast your cares on Him. It is not too late to lay your burdens down, to receive His forgiveness, to turn from a life of sin, or to receive healing.  He is waiting to have every area of your life, yet we allow fear to grip us and it only holds us back.  What IF we gave Christ everything?  I know for me, there is so much I am holding onto and He is telling me to let it go.  How do you let go of past hurts and disappointments?  You lay them at His feet and trust that He will see you through.

As the New Year arrives, I encourage you to let go of all bitterness, resentment, unforgiveness, doubt and unbelief.  Leave it behind you and move forward with an open heart and open hands ready to receive all that He has in store for you.

Merry Christmas and Feliz Navidad,

Ana Martinez

About Ana Martinez

Ana Martinez was born in Michigan. When she was age 4, her parents Pastor Juan and Deborah Martinez founded the Potter’s House Christian Fellowship in Almont, Mich.  Ana grew up in the church and in a humble, loving Christian home.  Her parent’s faithfulness and commitment to ministry for over 27 years has been a testimony to her.  In her youth she was like the prodigal son.  She knows what it means to walk away from your call and to stray from the Word of God.  Her life experiences have taught her that God’s way and His principals are worth upholding.  She is a God-fearing Christian woman determined to do the will of The Lord.  Her heart’s desire is to reach the lost and win souls for the kingdom of heaven by sharing the Good News, according to Matthew 28:19. Ana truly believes people are hurting and need to know that there is forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  Matthew 11:28, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give ye rest.”

Ana has served on the Missionary Field, and has served in and led praise and worship, web design, children’s ministry and youth ministry.  Ana’s most recent initiative isGeorgia Peach Ministry, a non-profit she founded that serves widows and orphans.  Ana is also on the board of the Potter’s House Christian Fellowship. Ana is a private chef and has worked with professional athletes over the past five years. She is also an entrepreneur and is part owner in an interior design business, a chef placement business, and is entering into the food product industry.

Ana resides in Southern California with her three beautiful children and seeks daily to model this scripture from Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”