Opportunities in Darkness

Nicole Headshot in blue shirt

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

Yesterday, we were delighted to return to the radio airwaves after approximately a year’s hiatus. The one-year break from producing our weekly, 1-hour radio show was needed. The time allowed each of us to sow to other ministry activities, pull away from some activities as seasons ended and draw even closer to God to seek His best for us. In addition, the time allowed us to retool a couple things. For example, after considering feedback received from some listeners and ministry team members, I decided to shorten our radio show from one hour to 30 minutes.

In Wednesday’s discussion topic, “What Is Going On: A Conversation,” I reviewed some of the darkest events of 2015 to present day that have sorrowed us (ex: Charleston church shooting, terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels, America’s epidemic of mass shootings, etc.). All of the events, distressing, can make us ask, “What is going on??”

During our conversation, I shared Jesus’ reassuring words told to us in such times from John 16:33- “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!” I also noted that though we are living in unsteady times, we can remain steady in God’s Word so we can help steady others. This also draws us closer to Him.

 

ca. 2001 --- Sky over Wheat Plants --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

While the events have been sobering and heartbreaking, I am persuaded that there are abundant OPPORTUNITIES available in such darkness. In fact, for those of us in Christ Jesus, it presents great OPPORTUNITIES for us to be LIGHT. The harvest is plentiful!

Evil hopes for our indifference, laziness, retreat to pursue comfort and a self-centered focus on me and mine. However, as the Body of Christ, we are not called to retreat but to ENGAGE and show others Christ’s love. It’s God’s mercy, His love, His grace, our prayers, actions, light, love that helps stem the tide of evil. The question is, are you willing? Jesus has need of you!

May we be reminded and encouraged by Christ’s victory obtained for us on the Cross! May we be JOYFUL that he overcame evil and this world!

To learn more, listen to “What Is Going On: A Conversation”.

God bless you,

Nicole

Unshaken and Not Stirred: A Believer’s Position in Chaos

Nicole Headshot in blue shirt

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

The words “shaken, not stirred” sprung to mind in developing this post. I’ve heard the term used by those ordering a martini, but there may be other drinks associated with that term. I have no idea.

But I use the phrase “unshaken and not stirred” in this quick post today to encourage the Body of Christ to remain steady in the horrific and sobering events happening in our communities, nation and world. We remain in prayer for those in Paris affected by this past week’s terrorist attacks. We mourn for all lives lost and affected by violence.

Evil seems unrestrained and fear is gripping those without relationship in Christ and those unsteady in Christ. Darkness looks like its winning and those who trust not in God’s Sovereignty, think he has put His “Out to Lunch” sign up, displaying an ill-regard for the chaos unfolding. But God is in control. Yes, the events are unsettling though necessary to usher in Christ’s return, per scripture. There is no other way. God’s Word has prepared us for these events and the tragedies still to come. We’ve not yet witnessed evil’s capacity.

Yet, in all of this, as Believers, we must remember OUR role: to remain steady, staunch, unmoved, fixed and not stirred by the events. We must remain faithful, being salt and light in darkness, and that by Christ’s light and peace living in us, those without Christ will see it and be drawn to know Him. As Believers, this should be our position and stance in chaos. We are to remain steady.

 

Keep calm and keep steady

Until they are completely humbled and broken, the discouraged and lost will run to all counterfeit forms of escape, solace and stability (ex: alcohol, drugs, New Age beliefs, belief in self, etc.) in which these items will fail and only offer false relief. No rest will be found in these items. Only true peace, rest and security is found in Christ Jesus.

May we remain unshaken and not stirred. May we remain in peace, joy and love. May we operate and display the rest that we have been given through our relationship in Christ Jesus. We already have the victory. On Christ the Solid Rock we stand. All other ground is sinking sand. May we be comforted by the Lord’s promise said here in John 16:33-

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

-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.

 

 

 

Loaded Promises

Leviticus 26:6- “I will give you peace in the land, and you will be able to sleep with no cause for fear. I will rid the land of wild animals and keep your enemies out of your land.” (New Living Translation)

Herbert Bowen, Jr.  Voices Against the Grain Devotional Writer

Herbert Bowen, Jr.
Voices Against the Grain Devotional Writer

Whoa, that is a loaded scripture. In fact, it reminds me of a song entitled, “It’s Working,” by Will Murphy. For “this is my season for grace and favor, to reap what I have sewn.” Thus, everything is working together for our good to make us stalwart in the face of fear, strong in the debilitating afflictions of weakness, and humble in the beauty of victory. We are now conquerors equipped with keen insight to recognize that sometimes in order to move forward in life, we must stop and then turn around. Hence, we didn’t waste our time. We just know more now than we knew then. Thus, as we grow we become more attuned to the striking similarities found within bees, as we look to mimic their process of open pollination to strengthen every flower/person we come into contact with.

Amen #HBSr

The Sweet Smell of Victory

And the satraps, administrators, governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together, and they saw these men on whose bodies the fire had no power; the hair of their head was not singed nor were their garments affected, and the smell of fire was not on them. (Daniel 3:27)

Jill Tomlinson, Voices Against the Grain Devotional Writer, co-founder of Transcend Ministries

Jill Tomlinson, Voices Against the Grain Devotional Writer, co-founder of Transcend Ministries

The men referred to in this scripture were Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—friends of Daniel and servants of the Living God. When they refused to bow and worship King Nebuchadnezzar instead of the One True God, the king was enraged. The penalty for their rebellion was death by fire. King Nebuchadnezzar instructed his men to heat the fire seven times hotter than usual before throwing the three men into the pit. Surely this would quench his prideful rage and satisfy his wrathful vengeance.

The fire was so hot that the men responsible for throwing them into the blazing inferno burned to death as they approached the rim. However, something very different happened to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They fell into the fire, but they were completely untouched by it. They were not alone in the blaze. When King Nebuchadnezzar looked into the fire, he saw another man walking with them, and when they emerged from the fiery flames, the three men were totally unharmed!

shadrach meshach-fiery-furnance-360x513

Even when they were facing death by fire, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego never saw themselves as victims. They saw themselves as victors. They knew beyond any doubt that they were God’s and as such, they would prevail. The fire had no power on them. Even their hair and clothes were untouched. And perhaps most amazing of all, they didn’t even smell like smoke!

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. (2 Corinthians 2:14)

Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we have a choice in every situation. Will we see ourselves as victims to the circumstances of life and react accordingly, or will we refuse the lie and choose to believe truth instead? As children of God, we have been made victorious through Christ. When we look to Him—the fourth Man in the fire, we will diffuse the sweet fragrance of Him, instead of the stench of smoke.  The fire may get hot, but it has no lasting power on you and me as children of the Living God!

If you find yourself in a difficult, hot mess today, choose to walk as a victor and trust the fourth Man in the fire. Stay in His protective embrace. Victors aren’t victors because they have never walked through a fire. Victors are victors because they choose to walk in Truth!    

– Jill

Jill is an author, writer, speaker, and teacher. In her book, No More Lies, Jill leads others through the same journey of biblical truth that brought her freedom and wholeness. Jill and her husband, Jimmy, are the founders of Transcend Ministries—a ministry dedicated to empowering the body of Christ and making disciples worldwide through teaching, writing, and evangelism. They reside in Colorado and have four amazing children—two daughters, a son, and a son-in-law. For more information or to order her book visit www.transcendministries.org.

Learn more about Jill Tomlinson here.

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. 

He Has Risen. He Has Risen Indeed.

Matthew 28:6- “He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying.” (New Living Translation)

Herbert Bowen, Jr.  Voices Against the Grain Devotional Writer

Herbert Bowen, Jr.
Voices Against the Grain Devotional Writer

One sentence is a factual statement, while the other is an affirmation of truth. HE HAS RISEN. One sentence is an act that defies the human psyche, while the other speaks to an unrelenting faith contra the world opinions. HE HAS RISEN INDEED. One sentence should bring about tears of joy, while the other aids us in finding a foothold within the bonds of eternity. HE HAS RISEN HE HAS RISEN INDEED. Therefore, may our excitement resemble that of a child on Christmas eve. For the tomb carried no stench, nor were the maggots present to feed on the remains of a body. All that was left were bandages and the notion that God was among us. Hence, walk the streets with confidence and enter your workplace with determination. Love above all else just as Christ loved us. It is then and only then, that HIS name will be magnified with his glory readily seen on all our faces. Amen

About Herbert G. Bowen, Jr.

Born in King of Prussia, Pa., Herbert G. Bowen Jr., accepted the Lord Jesus Christ at the tender age of 5. An active member of the Central Church of God in Charlotte, N.C. where he resides, Herbert serves as a youth/discussion group leader, where he has preached and taught Sunday school, as well  as Wednesday night service. In addition, he has preached at Second Baptist Church in Pottstown, Pa., Destiny City Church in Salisbury, N.C.  At his current age of 24, Herbert is the youngest board member on the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) Leadership Council, where he serves to lessen the costs of tuition for African American students. Moreover, Herbert serves on the pureHOPE advisory board, where his commitment to “wait until marriage” fits perfectly with PureHope’s mission to bring a Christian solution to an immoral culture.

Finally, Herbert through the will of God 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. His devotionals go out to 2,000+ people and continues to grow under the Lord’s watchful eye.  He is a graduate of Purdue University with a degree in Business Management. He provides business expertise to help others start their businesses.