Will the World Force the Church to be the Church?

Nicole Headshot in blue shirt

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

It may have been when New York passed the late-term abortion legislation in January. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish the world from those who call themselves Christians. If we love the truth and consider God’s Word as the truth, then it would seem our view and response to issues as Christians, as the Church should be led with great clarity. And yet, headstrong opinions leading to erroneous thinking become the foundation for some Christians who forget what is the truth (you look in the mirror and then forget what you look like). They begin to mirror the world and soon don’t see what’s so wrong with the world’s thinking and approach to issues.

But it may have been when New York passed the late-term abortion bill in January that it felt like more of the collective Church gasped — abhorred not only by the bill’s passage but by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s celebrating and heralding the bill as “a victory for all New Yorkers.” He also encouraged the rest of the nation to follow suit.

At times I have wondered what issue or crisis would be enough to awaken and tip off the collective Church to realize that it can no longer walk hand in hand with the world; that it can no longer remain dumb, numb, indifferent or silent on evil. That the world would become so sick that to stand with it would go against our every sensibility. We were never meant to walk in step with the world. We were never meant to fit in. We were never meant to make people comfortable in their sins. As the Church, as God’s Elect, we were already told of our identity in Christ: But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9, New International Version) We need not look to the world for validation. The world will never validate us. 

We are supposed to be calling others out of darkness–not joining them in it. We are to be the light, drawing them to the light.

light bulb people gathered around

I am encouraged by many of you who have been living as “living stones” as built into a spiritual house to be a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:5). I know many of you are living your faith authentically and without compromise and discipling others in this way as well. This latest grievance may be the very culmination of evil that forces the rest of the Church to be the Church.

As English abolitionist and politician William Wilberforce (1759-1833) wrote in his book, Real Christianity, “The true Christian knows that if he or she is to hold the favor of God above the favor of men, he or she will have to become indifferent to the dishonor and lack of esteem that might be encountered in practicing authentic faith.” You will be despised just as Jesus was despised and rejected.

If we should be indifferent about anything it is no longer caring to have more friends. May those who once tried to be friends with the world realize that the best friend the world could have is the truth: Jesus. This will certainly make you an enemy of the world and you may receive fewer dinner party invitations but give them Jesus anyway. The world may resist the truth, but love them anyway. Giving them Jesus and loving them will keep you in right relationship with your King (Jesus) and offer the world a real friend against its very real foe (Satan).

Stand in holy courage,

Nicole

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Nature Abhors a Vacuum: Our Representation Matters

Nicole Headshot in blue shirt

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

Dear saints, it’s been a while since I’ve written you. And I’ve missed you. It hasn’t been for lack of things to say, that’s for sure. From 2018 and into the New Year, there have been plenty of issues to pray about and elevate for our discussion. It is simply that lately my schedule has been packed—and so has my head and heart—packed with prayers. Prayers for our nation and world. Thoughts about our present-day issues and what should be the biblical response. All of these items and more have been in my head amid my daily joy of leading this ministry, a healthcare ministry, mentoring young ladies and also keeping to my project management consulting work— similar to how Paul kept his trade as a tent maker while sharing the Gospel.

Among the deluge of disturbing issues, many of us were angered and grieved by the late-term abortion legislation passed in New York last month. Christian physician and public policy leaders with the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA) of which I serve as their area director for Washington, D.C., and is the nation’s largest faith-based association of doctors, responded to this abhorrent legislation calling it “medically unnecessary” and “morally bankrupt.” Read the full response and press release here.

True to 2 Timothy 3:1-5, wickedness is increasing. Wickedness is boasting of itself and carrying on in plain sight. It is no longer hiding. In their confusion and rebellion, those who encourage it call evil “good” and good, “evil.” Sin is no longer hideous to them if it ever was. There is no fear or reverence for God. As British politician, philanthropist and slavery abolitionist William Wilberforce (1759-1833) said in his book, Real Christianity, “They have no love for holiness and no desire to acquire it.”

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. (2 Timothy 3:1-5, New International Version)

Christian Representation Matters

Writing this blog post would be unnecessary if Christians were truly welcomed within the diverse cacophony of voices. But by our very nature as God’s elect, we’ve already been called “a peculiar people,” “a holy nation,” “a royal priesthood,” set apart for God’s purposes (1 Peter 2:9). So we should not expect to be embraced by the world but delighted when hearts are open to receive His truth and light; delighted when eyes are no longer veiled to truth; delighted when people finally come to the end of themselves and want what only God can give them.

As things continue to implode, do not be alarmed by all of the disintegration happening. It must happen and continues to signal Christ’s return. The increasing wickedness does not disrupt our call. God has placed us here as His servants and witnesses for such a time as this. The Christian voice matters. Our representation matters. The best thing we can do is to come into agreement with what God wants to accomplish for His purposes and glory in a perishing world; that more may repent and be drawn to Him in these last days.

Our voices should not be contained to church pews, the pulpit or only among those with whom we share sweet fellowship. As a dear sister in Christ said recently, “Christianity is a lifestyle,” and as such, our faith is our life. It is not compartmentalized. We live Christ’s life in us out in the open. It is an inside-outside work.

walking-to-light-in-dessert-small

Do not underestimate the power of the light of God abiding in you. While moral and societal decay and wickedness seem to be having their way, this is not so. As Christ’s vessels, the light and new life residing in us is stronger than the darkness trying to press in. Such to the degree, that the words from John 1:5 speak to the unconquerable power of such light: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (New International Version)

We have everything to gain by being His representatives. And we don’t need anyone’s permission to act as such. We have already been called to fight against the powers of darkness.

When Aristotle said, “Nature abhors a vacuum,” it’s a sobering reminder that our culture will fill it with something. It might as well be filled with our voices as Jesus’ representatives in the earth.

When we walk in the light and lead others in His light, our and their future is indeed bright. If we do our job well and without compromise, many will benefit and this will be reflected in our culture. We seek to disciple and equip others to respond to issues from a Christian standpoint. As my fellow brother in Christ and Christian Medical & Dental Associations Washington colleague Jonathan Imbody writes in his book, Faith Steps (Legion Publishing, 2016), “Faith steps simply means making choices in God’s direction.”

We desire to impact our culture in response to God’s direction so that others may experience what Jesus has promised, “life and life to the full.” (John 10:10)

Our representation matters. We are rich in opportunities to share Jesus, His light, love, and truth with the world. We can represent Him right where God has planted us or wherever He sends us. The world is in need and nature abhors a vacuum.

As the Lord asks in Isaiah 6:8, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?,” I hope your response will be, “Here am I. Send me!”

Embolden us Lord, that we may glorify you.

God bless you and Go in courage,

Nicole

“These Are the Results”

Nicole Headshot in blue shirt

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

On October 27, 2018, I was invited to share a message for the third year in a row to students at Livingstone College in Salisbury, North Carolina. The message I delivered was entitled “Identity Theft” on how Satan steals the identity already given to us by God. God created us in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). Called the “father of lies,” Satan from the very beginning has been challenging God and His designs to fabricate a counter design. In order for us to acquiesce to Satan’s design, we’d have to change our identity. Many people are living off of a false identity to deal with traumas, abuses and brokenness. They concoct and are attracted to what the false identity offers and tells them.

The false identities are camouflaged in “courage” and “acceptance.” That’s the appeal. But they are empty promises from Satan. In confusing the truth about our identity, he sows seeds of depression, hopelessness and apprehension about our future. But here’s the Good News: Jesus came that we may have life, and have it to the full! Question is, Will you volunteer to suffer? A dear sister in Christ and guest writer for Voices Against the Grain, Bambi Jenkins, shares a sobering message on this subject entitled “These Are the Results.” I implore you to read and consider what identity you are living today. If you have accepted false information, there is hope.   -Nicole

To the Broken: “These Are the Results”

bambi jenkinsI had a vision. I was driving down the street and saw a woman walking around in her home with a broken spirit. She is smart, has all types of degrees, is a peak performer at her job and holds a top position. But, in her home when no one was around, she was torn and depressed. As she walked slowly throughout her home, head hung down, she looked back over her life.

Her history was traumatic. She had been sexually abused, exposed to a lot of trauma and severely mistreated at the hands of those she trusted. Being raised in the church, she had begun to trust the Lord but soon lost her connection with Him. She turned to alternative religions and paths that opposed the Christian faith in which she was raised. Desperate to escape her pain, she created a false image of herself. At work, she was skilled, confident, and personable, but when alone at home, she was defeated, depressed with thoughts of suicide. She was confronted with the reality of her tormented past, without any viable repost. The identity she was able to portray at work, was not sufficient to sustain her destroyed self-esteem at home.

These are the results of abuse, neglect, and fear.

You see, if the devil fears anything, it is the future you and what God has planned to do through you. The enemy wants to discourage and disrupt your progress towards being who God created you to be. So Satan sows seeds of self-doubt. Seeds that can be carried throughout and impact virtually every area of your life.

Without God’s help, many will surrender their true identity in order to cope with deep-seated pain. We will put on a mask to conceal old but still-painful wounds so that people may see a more beautiful, successful and powerful person —a person that we are unable to see for ourselves, but one that we desperately create in an attempt to fit in with society. We will turn away from what God says about us and become what the world says is more acceptable.

deception-john-rizzuto

But know this beloved: God is calling us out of all the self-made tombs that we have accepted for our lives. He’s calling us out of the darkness and the very painful chains that bind and distract us. He will show us what it means to live free in Him. He will give us a new identity and the confidence to live in it as He mends our broken hearts.

Psalm 34:18 NIV The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

We can stand against pleasing our flesh, the devil and this world’s agenda, by simply trusting in who God says we are.

James 4:17 NIV Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

To the Church: “These Are the Results”

In my frustration about what is happening in some churches and with its leaders, the Lord allowed me to see and understand that if we don’t recognize the results, then we won’t understand how to fight to be free of them. The results that I’m speaking of is when leadership lacks truth, love, and order, we create church members who are simply religious, without a true relationship with Christ. This often turns nonbelievers away who don’t care to participate in what they see as hypocrisy.

We have many great leaders among us, however, too many are more concerned about their image, church rosters and/or financial success. This leads to ineffective and powerless sermons and teachings that compromises the very power, strength and saving Grace of God’s Word.

All too often the body of Christ has come under attack because of those who use the house of God as just another social club to alleviate their loneliness and boredom. But the Word of God makes it clear the role of the Church leadership:

Proverbs 27:23 NLT Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds;

Jesus is calling for Christian leaders to follow Him and to speak the truth in love, without compromising it in order to avoid offending anyone. We are to put our trust in Him— not in numbers — and believe that He will provide everything that is needed. Leadership is responsible for teaching the truth as well as living it. As leaders, we have to be serious about God’s Kingdom business and not religious busy-ness.

1 Timothy 3:2 NIV 2 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect.

Many church members have relinquished the responsibility of their relationship with the Lord and knowing His word, giving this work totally over to the church. This has resulted in fickleness, inadequate power, ineffectual prayer, and instability. Hebrews 10:25 encourages the gathering together of saints but that is not where it stops. Christians, we are to study daily as well as teach those in our care the word of God. No one can eat once a week and be sustained. As with Christians, we must continue to feast on the word of God every day. When we neglect to read and meditate on the word of God, this weakens our spirits and allows the flesh to take control.

Jeremiah 15:16 NKJV 16 Your words were found, and I ate them, And Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; For I am called by Your name, O Lord God of hosts.

We must be willing to look in the mirror and get real with ourselves. We have to allow God to penetrate those painful areas that we’ve attempted to hide and hold back. We need to understand that anything that we hold on to, is the very thing that the enemy will use to target and distract us. Obedience must become non-negotiable to us. Children of God, I encourage you to get to know God for yourselves. Pray for those in authority. Lift each other and live God’s truth before everyone.

Jesus is calling for nonbelievers to put their trust in Him alone and to yield their lives to Him based on His love and truth. He loves you so much that He died for you. I can agree that there are those in the church who seem to be living different lives from what they profess. There will be many who profess to know Him. This can be disappointing and discouraging but nevertheless, God’s word is still true.

Titus 1: 16 NIV 16 They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.

Also, please understand that there are many who aren’t playing with God but are simply struggling in different areas and could be in the process of change. Don’t run from God because of them. Run to Him because of Jesus. We are all in need of God’s strength to stand. I’m praying that you will come to know Him for yourselves.

Altar Call to Alter Your Path

These are the results, but it’s not the end. There is hope.

i surrender all

Do you desire the real thing? To no longer live a facade? Will you volunteer to shed your robe of comfort in exchange for pain — on purpose? Are you ready to be someone who no longer wants just a surface relationship, who runs to the throne of grace to surrender all to God?

My prayers are with you.

Your sister in Christ,

Bambi

When You Understand Your Position, Beneficial Decisions Will Follow

Nicole Headshot in blue shirt

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

Might you go through some unnecessary experiences based on a decision made in desperation? Yes indeed. All of us can immediately recall a decision made in haste that we had to pay for. As a dear friend and mentor says, “The most expensive thing you will own are your decisions.” Such a situation was experienced by one man who lost a great deal over a bowl of red lentil soup.

Recently, and as always, I was enjoying sweet fellowship with a dear sister in Christ as we shared about our Christmas fellowship with family and friends, reflected on this year’s triumphs and challenges and how the Lord has been with us in all of it. She also shared with me new revelations learned in her study on Isaac and Rebekah’s twin sons, Esau and Jacob. Great revelations she shared about their story I may communicate in a future blog post, but it is on my heart to remind you of something that came forth as she and I spoke.

If you know the story (see Genesis 25-33), Esau was born first and then Jacob. We read the account of their birth in Genesis 25:24-28 (NIV):

24 When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 25 The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau (or Edom, which means “red”). 26 After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob (which means “grasps the heel, he deceives”). Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them. 27 The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was a quiet man, staying among the tents. 28 Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Now comes the crux of the story for this particular message:

29 Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30 He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew (it was red lentils)! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.) 31 Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” 32 “Look, I am about to die (at that time there was a famine in the land),” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?” 33 But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him selling his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.

Red lentil soup

 

 

??? Hold up (emphasized with a “No he didn’t” neck twist). I love lentil soup and make a good one too. Esau gave up his birthright and all the blessings that come with that for some red lentil soup?? It had been a while since I’d read the story so when I reread this my mind was boggled. Puzzled, I said, “What was he thinking??” I then felt compassion for Esau, recognizing that in those times when you are really hungry (notice that he said “famished”) you don’t always think clearly or rationally. You may act in haste or in desperation as Esau did — and lose far more than you ever intended. Your decision made in haste, in weakness, without recognizing what you already possess, what you already have, what is your position, may take you through some unnecessary experiences.

I thought, “Couldn’t somebody have given Esau some nuts to take the edge off his hunger so he could think clearer??”

But this was not simply a decision based on Esau’s thinking compromised by hunger. Esau did not value or appreciate what he had as the firstborn son (verse 34 says, “So Esau despised his birthright.”). In dismissing what he had, he did not internalize the weight of what he already had and in not understanding, he was shortsighted. But the impact of his decision was long-term (read further in Genesis). Now, his brother Jacob fully understood the worth and value and of Esau’s birthright and what came with it. Jacob was very upfront with Esau in asking what he wanted. We later read in Genesis 27 that Jacob gets blessings from his father Isaac that would have belonged to Esau, through a deception.

As one reading this, you were created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27). The world will sell you many things contrary and counterfeit to your identity, but there is only one truth to base yourself on. For those in Christ Jesus, we are seated with Christ Jesus in heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6). We are the head and not the tail. Through Christ Jesus, we have already been made victorious. Through Christ Jesus, we are already rich. We have a glorious inheritance. Nothing the world offers can compare. Do not accept or fall prey to the temporary and fleeting pleasures that the world is selling. What is offered may appease temporarily but will surely pass as a bowl of lentil soup. Do not exchange your position to gratify a craving or in attempt to remedy a situation.

Understand what you already have. Understand your position. When you understand your position, you will better understand your value and the value of your position. You know what you will and won’t allow into your life, you know what you will and won’t pursue. When you know your position, beneficial decisions will follow.

Heavenly Father, thank you for telling us in Your Word who we are. We are greatly positioned. Thank you Lord! Thank you Father for your love, grace and mercy shown toward us when we’ve made hasty decisions. You can work even these situations out for our good. We pray for those who have exchanged their birthright and all that comes with it for something far less, something so sinister as to leave them empty handed. In Your Word you tell us that Satan comes to steal, to kill and to destroy. May those things stolen from us be restored. The only way we understand who we are is to know who You are.  If we have accepted something less, something counterfeit, please help us to see it and bring us back to the right position so we may live life to the full with nothing missing as you’ve promised. In Jesus’ Name we ask this. Amen. 

Love and blessings to you in the New Year,

Nicole

Before God Publicizes You, Pray That He Prepares You in Private

Nicole Headshot in blue shirt

Name in lights. Red carpet nights. Your “come up.” Many people fantasize about and relentlessly pursue platforms that they think will quickly rocket them to celebrity status. In their desperation to arrive, numerous celebrities would likely advise them not to rush or force it; to approach it with great caution and preparation. As they reflect on their own negative behaviors and decisions amplified in the public sphere from poor wardrobe choices, to drunken outings to disparaging words said, they admittedly would have desired more time to be hidden away, more time to have been prepared in private beforehand. They might have prayed for anonymity.

Female celebrity red carpet arrival

For several years, God has been preparing me in private before launching me public. Much of this preparation or “oven baking” as I refer to it, has occurred during my prayer time and commune with Him. Also, while reading and studying His Word. In my commune with Him, I have learned to hear how He speaks to me and trust the information and revelation imparted to me. Some information was meant to share to encourage, equip or instruct others, and other times it was only intended for me — and wisdom has helped me to distinguish between. I’ve also been surrounded by trusted godly counselors for who I am truly grateful.

He has been honing my diligence and obedience in completing routine tasks that grew my ability to be entrusted with greater responsibilities, such as mentoring young people on a weekly basis. He has allowed various situations to deepen my confidence in Him as my Provider, my Healer, my Everything. He has prepared my temperament (and continues to) for public and knowing that not every issue requires a response, and how to respond when needed. He continues to deepen my patience and love toward others which hasn’t always been easy but is becoming more of my default.  🤗

In a society whose value seems to rise and fall based on the number of “likes,” “followers,” views, comments, shares and retweets, I’ve learned not to base my direction or success on the rise and fall of human accolades or disapproval, nor shout outs or silence.

It has been during the wilderness experiences where I grew confident in how He leads me but this confidence did not come overnight. It’s also been where I have learned to fight in the spirit against Satan’s lies and attacks in his attempt to distract, derail and diminish me.

I’ve learned to operate in my lane obediently. I do not seek nor desire someone else’s lane. I also accept the costs of my calling (every calling has a cost and we should embrace those costs) and what it means to run in my lane — which also means I am willing to risk being misunderstood.

As a dear brother in Christ, Hakim Hazim, founder of consultancy Relevant Now, recently said, “People don’t realize that what you do publicly for the Lord directly relates to what you do privately in the Lord.”

So true. The years of daily walking with, talking to, listening to, learning from Him in private have prepared me to be His representative in public. Step out too soon, speak too soon, or get ahead of Him and we may find ourselves in a snare. May we seek to dwell/abide in the “secret place” to keep us hidden from being entangled by the snares of this world. I love Psalm 91:1 which says “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” (NIV) When we abide in Him (keep our mind on Him) we are covered, hidden in His shadow! Even as He brings us forth publicly, may we SEEK to dwell and remain in His shadow!

Secret place cave

In her blog post entitled “Made in Secret,” author, speaker and co-founder of Messenger International, Lisa Bevere, captures preparation well. She describes this process like a pregnancy with the skillful and intentional shaping, forming, developing of that embryo from the moment of conception to the time of birth.

How awesome is our God! She writes that “God does His biggest work in us privately so that He can powerfully work through us publicly.” She also writes that, “There are many occasions where God has us in seasons of anonymity in which great growth occurs. What is often celebrated and applauded in the spotlight is the result of what was developed in the dark.”

New Territory

I wasn’t looking specifically for this opportunity, though I repeatedly made known to the Lord my desire to do more work that afforded a biblical worldview. After much prayer, searching, asking, knocking, refinement and waiting, in mid-April of this year, the Lord made way for me to serve as the new Washington, D.C. area director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations. Prior to, I had never heard of the ministry/organization but God is amazing! After a providential introduction to CMDA in mid-April and several conversations with CMDA headquarters in Bristol, TN, I was officially brought into this role on August 27.

In this role, I will have the opportunity to minister to the spiritual and professional needs of medical and dental school students in the D.C. area, as they continue their schooling, residency and prepare to render care to patients and share the gospel. I love it!!

Since 2014, I have mentored young people and have seen the fruit of this labor bear out in their lives along with the fruit they are producing in the lives of their peers. God knows the particular burden on my heart for reaching our young people and this position is tailor-made for me. As I say, “God wastes nothing” with regard to our life experiences, relationships, work, skills, etc., in how He will knit them together for His purposes and glory.

I kid you not though: This role is stretching me in new ways. In those stretching moments, I catch myself questioning the Lord’s judgment in placing me in this role. Am I really ready for this? Am I the right candidate for this work amid the other well-qualified folks He could have used for this role? Am I really equipped? Certainly, He thinks so. But I take it one day at a time. I am by no means acting like I know it all but I am trusting in and being led by the One Who knows all.

As an habitual planner, my private moments of preparation have tempered me to trust Him in areas of ambiguity and “firsts” and “I don’t knows” when I am asked questions by others excited by what the promise of my role and work may deliver through the ministry. I am building the plane as I am flying it. Thankfully, Jesus is the pilot, the engineer, the designer and the mechanic. When we see Him as such, you and I can rest that we are in His trusted hands, even in times of ambiguity and “firsts.” But only a private preparation offers you this assurance.

Bevere concludes with this counsel:

“If you love the spotlight more than the secret place, you’ll gravitate toward self-promotion and move ahead of God’s timing. Embrace the hidden place. God has you strategically positioned while He prepares you for future promotion. Refuse to be in a hurry.”

We all desire to better understand and live out God’s purpose for us. Are you giving God the time and opportunity to prepare you in private for His work, that He may exalt you in due time, for a season that is fitting (1 Peter 5:6)? In what areas can He trust you to be His representative? Will you set aside your interests for His? Our enemy is always “prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8), to get at someone who slacks off or refuses to undergo development and thereby has multiple chinks in their armor for the devil to access.

Before God publicizes you, PRAY that He prepares you in private. May you seek to dwell in the secret place, abide in His shadow to preserve you from the enemy’s snares.

Love and blessings,

Nicole

Do Not Allow the Kavanaugh/Ford Effect to Become the Butterfly Effect

Nicole Headshot in blue shirt

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

Contentious. Raw emotions. Triggers. New wounds made and some old ones thought healed, now reopened. The past few weeks in our country have been among some of the most divisive experiences that I can recall recently. It’s been difficult to watch.

Newly confirmed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, 53, and psychology professor and research psychologist, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, 51, were in the hands of a very public and irresponsibly mishandled process neglected by that “wisdom that comes from above — considerate, impartial and sincere” — as described in James 3:17-18. What we painfully watched unfold for nine hours on our televisions and digital devices — a woman bravely recounting a deeply traumatic event before millions of people and a man defending his character before those same millions of viewers— has created a highly polarized nation. Presumption of innocence. Presumption of guilt. The process has pit women against men, men against women, women against women, party against party, faction against faction and has ultimately led to tribalism. The real enemy behind every division (Satan) has no prejudice against who he divides from pursuing righteousness so long as we unite in lawlessness and hate toward one another. Gasoline and matches.

Brett-Kavanaugh-sad-Christine-Blasey-Ford-The Stream

Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh (left) and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (right) give their sworn testimonies during Kavanaugh’s controversial confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate on September 27, 2018, amid sexual assault allegations made by Ford against Kavanaugh that she said occurred 36 years prior. Photo courtesy: The Stream.org

I believe that what you see depends on where you sit. What you see often depends on how you’ve had to view life through the lens of your experiences. I discussed the issue with a number of dear loved ones of faith and we saw the situation differently. The emotions and gut perspectives shared by each of us were valid as we sat in the seat of our own experiences. We were a microcosm of our larger viewing society that is now at each other’s throats. The only difference in our group was, amid our disagreement on what we were seeing, we came together in love and prayed for truth and God’s will to prevail.

Hopefully more people will carry this disposition forward.

Do not allow the Kavanaugh/Ford effect to become the Butterfly Effect. What do I mean by that? It’s a small change that causes a ripple effect that can give rise to a tidal wave we cannot come back from. An escalation of name calling, hateful and ignorant words spoken, compassion lacking, wicked thoughts acted upon, death threats made to both parties and their families, has led our society further down a path of inhumanity and even less civility. Do not allow the emotions of these present conditions to beat with such a ferocity that it takes us to conditions and consequences with one another that we cannot come back from by “changing something throughout all parts of the immeasurable whole” as the Butterfly Effect chaos theory suggests. To where we are no longer recognizable to one another, as human being to human being, created in God’s image.

Butterfly Effect Animated

So how do we heal? In what seems like chaos and evil unhinged, do we trust God to handle all parts of it?

We need to remember that in all of the sifting, shaking and dismantling that God is reconciling all things to Himself.

In Christ’s supremacy, He is the same One Who holds all things together: 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the first born over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  (Colossians 1:15-17)

Since God is in control, our disposition is to follow His lead and to lead in love.

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:19-20)

And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. 1 John 4:21

America is in desperate need of a love letter from you to keep this union.

This may sound Pollyannaish to some but it is very real. God is love and His love in us truly can overcome hate. The butterfly effect is upon us. You have a choice. One bitter word spoken can cause a ripple effect of no return. Undeniably, our country needs healing on numerous levels. Will love lead you or will you be part of the chaos? Will love distinguish you in today’s “us vs. them” climate? Will you be a peacemaker with others whether their view is near or distant to yours? Will you be a voice against the grain? We have a great opportunity here to be that love letter. Can God trust you to model His love letter to others?

Heavenly Father, thank you for first loving us so that we can know how to love you and model that love to others. Remove anything in our hearts that is not of you so we may do this work to your glory. Renew a right spirit within us. Help us to be your love letter to our families, friends, colleagues, communities, nation and world. Jesus, we need you, we need your healing. Help us to be your hands, feet and mouthpiece. Prepare hearts in advance to receive your love. Help us to be both the messenger and the message. We cannot do this work without you. Thank you. We love you.

In Jesus’ Name, we pray and ask this. Amen.

Nicole

Note: We continue to remain apolitical and nonpartisan with our content and mission. The events of these past few weeks required a biblical response.

Smorgasbord or Bread of Life: Which One Truly Satisfies?

 

Nicole Headshot in blue shirt

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

His apartment walls and shelves were covered with hardly any open space to spare. Not much more room for additional photos, paintings or posters to be hung. Though organized, the shelved knick knacks and novelties collected during his various travels, religious ornaments of all sorts, altars and shrines with multiple “saints” or gods who were supposed to render health, good fortune or other, was a lot for the eye to take in. Much for the mind to digest. From Hinduism, to Kabbalah, to New Age beliefs, to a Star of David, other religions I didn’t recognize, and some Christian references, I was unsure what or which item(s) was offering this man a sure foundation and anchor in his life.

I was at this man’s apartment to accompany my friend who had a business exchange to make with this man who is a photographer. The man kindly welcomed us into his home. With great pride and enthusiasm, he explained what each saint, relic or ornament meant. He spoke of his travels, his Cuban, Jewish and Chinese heritage, his homosexual lifestyle, his exploration of religions and paths and his belief in reincarnation (who wants to come back to this world??). In his delight in telling us about his beliefs and himself, one might have come away feeling more enlightened; that a great key to answering life’s great mysteries and myriad questions had just been handed to them through this buffet, through this smörgåsbord (Swedish term for buffet) of stuff. You should be full and satisfied. But quite the opposite occurred, at least for me, because I am already satisfied. As I looked into the man’s hazel green eyes, though his speech was passionate and enthusiastic, the deadness in his eyes could not lie. The absence of true joy gave him away. Essentially, this middle-aged man had sampled and tasted everything, and had come away still hungry. Still searching. Still seeking substance and sustenance.

In his profound emptiness and trying to convince us of his happiness, I simply felt sadness and compassion toward him. He’s “been around the world and I, I, can’t find my baby” as the ’80s Lisa Stansfield song says. He’s dabbled, sampled, been around the world and still hasn’t found the real food that sustains. The emptiness could leave one asking, “What all did I eat? Shouldn’t I feel satisfied?”

Smorgasbord dinner

A smörgåsbord dinner.

 

Instead of offering us a smörgåsbord and leaving us unsatisfied, Jesus came to satisfy and sustain us. He is the Bread of Life. In John 6:25-59, Jesus tells His disciples this. Let’s look at verses 30-35:

30 So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’[a]”

32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

As I wrote in this April 2018 blog post, “All You Can Eat,” Jesus leaves us filled, running over and more than satisfied. He is our daily bread and Bread of Life. We can feed at His table continually and the longer we stay, the more we love Him and desire more of Him. It’s okay to linger and go back for seconds. The abundance is ours if we want it. Eating of His Bread at His table is where brokenness is healed. It’s how we gather strength to be refined by and overcome life’s challenges. It’s where we are filled and able to pour into others with a fresh word to revive their downcast souls.

The man then asked me what it is that I do.  🙂 I delightfully shared with him my serving the Lord in ministry, discipling others (particularly our youth), and also my consultant work in public relations and project management. I lovingly planted seeds of truth. I immediately felt his internal defensive walls go up when I mentioned “ministry” and “Jesus Christ.” In short, he responded with “let everyone find their own path that leads to God.”

Upon conducting our business there, my friend and I hugged him and went on our way. I continue to pray for him. Though being there was not on my agenda that day, it was on God’s. I know my being there was not by chance — if only to show the love and truth of Jesus Christ.

Many people are deceived and seeking, so we as the body of Christ continue to pray for them. The enemy is diligent to confuse, deceive and co-opt. We know God’s truth when heard, received and responded to, can overcome that. We thank God for His great mercy for those He is giving time to return to Him. We pray that they respond.

I am encouraged by a dear sister in Christ whose past is similar to this man. She had traveled the world, explored and dabbled in this religion and that one. All of this and she still had emptiness. Then at age 44, she literally wore herself out “searching.” She finally came to the end of herself. Thank goodness! In that winding down, she looked up to Jesus! Her new life began! Today, at more than 30 years later, she continues to live boldly and passionately for Him. She wastes no time nor turns down any opportunity to share about the Lord! I just love her. Her testimony encourages me and hopefully you that God’s love is so great, His patience so amazing, that those who come to Him, those who are His, He will give them eternal life, they shall not perish, and they will never be snatched from His hand (John 10:28-30).

Thank you Jesus! Keep praying saints. Be ready and available for those divine appointments.

15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, (1 Peter 3:15).

Nicole

 

 

 

 

 

Serving Others: Why Do You Do It?

Nicole Headshot in blue shirt

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

Why do you do it? What motivates you?

Suffering is everywhere in our world. We can barely turn on our television or devices or read a newspaper, book or magazine article without being jarred by learning about someone else or another community suffering. It is worldwide and our solutions at times seem to only touch the surface. And in part, that is true.

If a key motivating factor is missing from our desire to serve, alleviate suffering and render justice, our approach and solutions will fall short.

You may be socially aware (having a sense of concern or responsibility for the problems and injustices of society), which is great. You may be even more socially aware and more “woke” than others. That’s great too. And yet, that is not enough. It falls short of God’s intentions for truly rendering aid to the needs of people beyond their physical needs and alleviating their physical, mental or emotional suffering.

In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus gives us our direction and instructions to truly make those suffering whole:

19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

If we are not first motivated by a love for God, and then a love for neighbor, our efforts will be surface.

As we as individuals, through our businesses, groups, organizations or ministries serve in various facets determined to make great change, we would do well to invite the key player to lead our plans: God, and a love for God. This intentional action and focus allows us to be part of the redemptive transformation for people God intends —beyond simply meeting their temporal needs.

serving man soup photo credit Green Mangos Catering

Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

An excerpt from the book, A Missional Life (2013), written by 14 authors and published by the Christian Medical and Dental Associations, challenges us to further discern our motivations for serving others:

“Are you motivated by a general need to do something or do you desire to see the knowledge of God’s glory cover the earth, “as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14)?

How you answer that question will largely determine whether you are focused on being a disciple of Christ acting on his behalf for the good of others, or if you are merely acting and rebelling; whether you are truly missional or merely have a social conscience; whether you are living for Christ or for yourself.”

Introspection

While it is good to think about and feel compassion for the suffering happening in our world, have you done so with an eye toward Christ Jesus? With an eye to see, ears to hear and a heart attuned to catch God’s biblical vision of how He desires for you to respond as His ambassador? As His hands and feet? Are you serving for yourself or serving Him? Why do you do it? What motivates you? Are you connected to God’s eternal plan or simply your strategic plan? Are we giving them bread for their body and for their soul — food that will sustain them beyond today?

We are imperfect beings and often self-centered (sometimes unintentionally) so we need a better motivation to do what is good; a more perfect motivation to truly do work with results that will last.

Heavenly Father, help us to have the mind of Your Son Jesus Christ in all that we do, even as we seek to alleviate suffering in our world. May we serve as the hands and feet of Christ as we address the physical, emotional, mental and temporal needs of those you place in our path as well as their eternal and redemptive needs. May we offer Your bread that will truly sustain them.

In Jesus’ Name we pray and ask this,

Amen

Nicole

Sometimes We Lament

Nicole Headshot in blue shirt

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

It’s taken me more than a week to pray on and write this blog post…and it still may not hit all the right notes. Though I hope you can relate to the message’s tone and tenor. I trust that the message is one you can relate to, feeling the pang of each event in your spirit. With each event, the pangs seem to intensify.

Sometimes I lament in my spirit. I lament over the wickedness in our world and how mankind continues to grieve and offend our gracious God.

Murdering spirits. Shootings. Young people being slain in our streets. In our schools. In our parks. Slayings. No regard for human life. Bombings. Wars. Abortions. When will it stop? When will justice come?

Sometimes we lament.

Domestic violence. Sex trafficking. Perversion. Grown men (including men of the cloth) and women attracted to children and teens. Unnatural attractions. Rampant, horrific sexual abuse, sexual violence and harassment. Persecutions for faith. Prejudicies. Myriad injustices. A culture, society and world that is hostile toward God and seemingly bent on continuing this way.

Sometimes we lament.

lament Prayer-1024x683

Addictions. A bondage hastening unto death.

Sometimes we lament.

Corruption and wickedness enacted, enjoyed and exposed on every level, throughout our various institutions that were designed to be trusted and lawful.

Sometimes we lament.

Satan, demons, and the wicked proclivities behind it all.

Sometimes we lament.

The ungodly thoughts that we slay in our own hearts and minds. We pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” from Psalm 51:10.

Sometimes we lament.

Recently, I felt such a grief in my spirit as I have at times before, that I expressed this to a dear sister in Christ. She too has experienced this. For those of us who love the Lord and who have prayed to know the Lord’s heart, you’ve likely felt this burden. But I trust that God’s tears are far greater.

Since when God created man, He has known what resides in man’s heart. It’s dark and ugly. Jeremiah 17:9 reads “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Ecclesiastes 7:29 reads, “This only have I found: God made man upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes.”

lamentin person bent over

Scheming. Planning. Self-seeking. Plotting how they can next satisfy their flesh, their appetites and selfish ambition. And yet, amid their plotting, our compassionate, loving and merciful God —  our God of great forbearance — awakens offenders morning, after morning, after morning, allowing them to return to their plotting. Some are aware of what pleases and displeases God but do what they want anyway, without regard for how their choices offend a holy God. Others are simply blind to the truth. Those spiritually destitute and without the Holy Spirit continue to pursue evil. They despise the truth, despise righteousness and seem all the more thrilled to ride their way to hell, drink in hand.

How long, how wide, how deep is our Savior’s love, His patience and kindness toward us?! The stench of wickedness has reached His nostrils! Creation is groaning. The earth remembers it’s slain. We’re daily witnessing the consequences of evil. Yet, God continues to strive with mankind, for now. He pursues and pursues us. His love is amazing to me. I’ve often admitted that if I were God, I would have annihilated mankind a long time ago. Fortunately, His plans are better than mine.

In ways far beyond my comprehension, God still loves. Throughout the bible, we see God’s love displayed for people amid their repeated and blatant disobedience. Many of the Old Testament prophets lamented over the people’s disobedience. Jeremiah is sometimes referred to as “the weeping prophet,” grieved that his warnings of God’s judgment pronounced to the people of Judah were constantly disregarded as they worshiped worthless idols. Stubborn and rebellious hearts. They should have all been destroyed! But in Jeremiah 5:18, Jeremiah speaks the LORD’s words that He “will not destroy them completely.” This also caused Jeremiah to grieve because he knew of the Lord’s great compassion — and that his words of warning would be looked upon foolishly by the people of Judah if the Lord withheld His wrath.

Moses often prayed for the Israelites in their disobedience as they built idols and altars to worship false gods. As I wrote in this article “Should I Not Care About These Too?” about God’s instruction to Jonah to warn the Ninevites of their impending destruction if they did not repent, Jonah became angry at the Lord for His compassion toward these wayward people.

1But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. 2He prayed to the LORD, “O, LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” In verse 4, the LORD replies, “Have you any right to be angry?” (Jonah 4:1-2,4)

Gods-Help

Today, God, in His great mercy, continues to send His People to pray for, warn and instruct those walking in spiritual blindness on paths of destruction. We lament knowing that some will choose to remain blind, disobedient and will ultimately perish. However, in our lamenting, we should also be encouraged. There is power in the prayers of the lamenting  — even those said without audible words but uttered in deep groans. There is promise in our pleas. God indeed sees, hears and answers prayers. He hears His remnant crying out and petitioning on behalf of the lost. If those who are far way from Him should see the error of their ways and desire Him, He is willing to save.

Heavenly Father, thank you. I don’t understand how you love us so. Your lovingkindess is beyond comprehension. Your grace, unfathomable. Your mercies are new every morning. Even those who rejected You yesterday can become your forever sons and daughters today if they truly repent and choose Your Son Jesus. As we lament over the condition of our world, Your love, Your grace, Your victory and Your great plan of salvation out shines the backdrop of wickedness. We will boldly and lovingly continue to share the Good News hoping that others may hear and turn to You. Even against the backdrop of the darkest of times, our confidence in what You will accomplish will not be slackened. Amen.

Nicole

Are You an End Times Soldier?

Nicole Headshot in blue shirt

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

There are times in life when we’re given unsettling news or information.

Such information can leave us bewildered or worried. We may wish the news was different or would reverse course. To deal with it, we might hide our head in the sand hoping “it” goes away. For some of us, receiving unsettling news may momentarily jolt us, then sobers us up very quickly and steers us into a new mindset. It is often better to have the news so we can respond accordingly rather than being left in the dark and blindsided. It’s even better when despite the unsettling news, the outcome is good if you’ve made the right decision.

In this way, God’s Word has prepared His People for things to come in these last days. In fact, as someone said, “The Bible is more up-to-date than tomorrow’s newspaper.” So true. He has also given us our focus, mission and marching orders. In our daily commune with Him, He gives us our instructions. God is training and raising up soldiers in His Army to endure to the end.

Many of us have prayed for God’s will to be done in this perishing world — for Him to render justice to injustice; for Him to remove the corrupt and replace with the godly; that people would no longer place their confidence in idols but be wholly dependent upon Him, to soften hardened hearts to receive truth, and to fully mature and unify the Body of Christ.

We should reject any notion that this process will be neatly packaged with a pretty red bow. God is destabilizing everything to expose, dismantle and remove. He is using the situations as instruments to draw hearts to Him. This destabilization must run its course. But do not be afraid.

End Times

We’ll move in greater confidence when we break off our long-held love affair with traditional systems and institutions, expecting deliverance from them. God Almighty is our assured Deliverer.

Things will continue to destabilize with “great distress” as never seen before (Matthew 24:21). As described in Matthew 24, these are birth pains — the outcomes of a wicked and sin-wracked world, a world at enmity with God their Creator. God will not allow wickedness to go unchecked. This earth is passing away. God will create a new heaven and a new earth as told to us in Isaiah 65:17, 2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21:1. We are to look toward a new heaven and new earth where righteousness and God’s Kingdom will reign. He is making all things new.

Revelation 21-5

Dear victorious saint and soldier, I encourage you to run your race in obedience; to obediently and courageously walk out your calling amid whatever storms are brewing. Though the waters will be choppy, God is with you! He will get you to shore. May we have a heart for reaching the lost and desire to see this last harvest come to Christ.

We have wonderfully Good News to share with the world! That is the mission. God is extending His forever family — not failed institutions and systems. God has always been in the business of reconciling us back in right relationship with Him. Gratefully, as soldiers in His Army, we’ve been invited to co-labor with Him in this great mission field and ministry of reconciliation as Christ’s Ambassadors as Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 5:18-20.

If you are indeed an end times soldier, patiently encourage growth with our brothers and sisters who are yet to mature into this disposition. Encourage them in faith and truth. The weak and the strong both belong to God. May we be purveyors of hope or as a dear brother in Christ says, “be hope dealers” to those who are unsteady in these times. We should expect to grow spiritually as we graduate to new levels in our calling. May our hope, joy, a deepening love for others, peace and steadiness be considered the normal disposition of God’s People in times of increasing instability— rather than a carnal default of worry.

John 16-33 mountains

Our God and Captain, King Jesus, has already overcome the world (John 16:33)! Jesus defeated Satan. In Jesus, our victory is already won and we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37). May we live like we know this.

As things appear chaotic, remain mission-focused, not distracted by the peripheral or extraneous. Keep watch, be ready and keep your eye on Our trusted Captain to lead you ever so faithfully. Follow Him so closely that your focus will not allow you to become double-minded, causing you to be caught off guard and deceived. Our Lord’s return will be joyful for us who belong to Him but very dreadful for those who do not as they’ve chosen the world as their portion instead of Him. May we be found fit to be partakers of our reward and inheritance.

Though our world is in perpetual unrest, we can remain in constant rest through our relationship and confidence in Christ Jesus. With this disposition, you will indeed be an end times saint and soldier.

Love and God bless you,

Nicole