Are You an End Times Soldier?

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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

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Grateful in the Wait

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Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

Does it seem like everyone is being blessed except you? You’ve been faithful, obedient to what God asks, yet some of your requests presented to Him appear delayed with no Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA). Living in a “microwave generation,” we want everything NOW.

Like you, I am waiting on God for some answers also. As I wait, I have asked, “Lord, where are you at on this? When are you going to release me from this situation?” Silence.

I write this message to minister to you and me. How can we remain grateful and joyful in the wait and not become depressed about requests God hasn’t yet answered? Here are five tips:

    1. Time is a Trainer. For those of us who’ve journeyed with the Lord for a while, we’ve come to learn that time is a trainer. Time develops our faith and trust in God and His holy Word. We’ve learned that He is not bound by time and therefore, can’t be rushed by our anxiousness. Time trains us to shed attitudes and behaviors that are not of Him so we can be more in alignment with His will. Time trains us to develop our muscle and weight in character, integrity, credibility, competency, perseverance, love, patience, and other traits that can’t be acquired overnight. Time trains us to victoriously run the race, equipped to address life’s opportunities and challenges. I’ve experienced this development in my journey and review it with joy!

Grateful in waiting 1

2. God Prepares a Place for Prepared People. As stated in tip #1, time is a great agent to develop character traits and skills necessary for us to move into and occupy that next level. Would you want to enter that role without the necessary preparation and refinement? Not if you want to operate in a spirit of excellence. As God prepares you to occupy that new level, He is also lining up the people, provision and resources to sustain you in your new role. God is excellent and will not do things half-baked. Allow Him to properly prepare you to step into your prepared position.

3. Remain Faithful and Avoid the Shortcuts. As we wait, we’re subject to complaining and may consider other options. Satan will present you with shortcuts that promise to deliver quicker answers and rewards rather than waiting on God. Don’t take the bait. The enemy’s counterfeit offers have convinced many to accept and adapt to less than fulfilling plans and outcomes. Remain faithful in what God has asked you to do. Remain grateful for how He is preparing you in the process. You won’t be disappointed when the promotion comes.

4. Suffering: God’s Instrument to Mature and Propel Us into Our Destiny. From challenging employers, to dwindling resources, illness or persecution, our perfection will not begin until we undergo affliction. God will use suffering and trials as instruments to spiritually mature us to become more like Christ and to propel us into our destiny. Suffering produces qualities within us that would otherwise remain dormant. We must expect it, go through it and not consider it strange. “Great spirituality came out of the suffering of Paul, Stephen and others. So it will be with God’s People today. These are the authentic outcomes of the Christian faith,” says Hakim Hazim, author and co-founder of Christian think tank Freedom Squared.

5. No Good Thing Will He Withhold. Satan will try to convince you that “God has forgotten about you.” This is a lie. Psalm 31:19 says, “How abundant are the good things you have stored up for those who fear you that you bestow in the sight of all, on those who take refuge in you.” God delights in blessing you! “For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.” (Psalm 84:11)

God’s ETA is always on time, never late. He is not limited by our circumstances or rushed by our anxiousness. Remain grateful and joyful in the wait. He will exceed your expectations and greatest imaginations (Ephesians 3:20).

God bless you,

Nicole

(Article originally published on November 21, 2014 on GospelToday.com. Site no longer exists.)

Battered, Burned and Still Held Together: Visiting the Museum of the Bible

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Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

Living in Washington, D.C. as I have for the past 12 years, I never want to take for granted the ease of access I have to visit our national treasures, monuments and museums —treasures that people travel thousands of miles to see and cross off their bucket lists.

With life and addressing other priorities, I had not yet had opportunity to visit the Museum of the Bible which opened this past November 2017. I truly desired to and finally did so this past July 4th weekend.

Upon clearing security and entering the museum, not to be irreverent but I felt like a kid in a candy store! You encounter families and individuals who are just as excited as you to learn about the Bible’s global impact and influence. Psalm 119:105 “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” greets you on the marble wall before beginning your tour. Throughout the museum’s six floors of exploration and admiration, you will see how this Psalm held true in the quotes given by abolitionists, ministers, members of Congress and government and other influentials who share how the Word of God shaped their lives, decisions and work.

Museum of the Bible introduction

I took great joy in reading about God’s people positioned throughout time who spoke His Word boldly and unabashedly to stir hearts and spirits. There were times in America’s and the world’s history–times of George Whitfield, an American Anglican priest in the 1740s during America’s “Great Awakening–and Charles Spurgeon, an English Baptist preacher in the mid-1800s–where people would crowd streets, churches and theaters, pressing their way to hear the Gospel, thirsty to receive the Good News. They were receptive to a word of encouragement, instruction or rebuke–to be awoken from their slumber of indifference. No candy-coated messages that so proliferate today to comfortably keep people in a spiritual slumber of indifference. As Whitfield said, “I love those that thunder out the word…the Christian world is in a deep sleep. Nothing but a loud voice can awaken them out if it.” (1739). Reading these words excited me and reminded me of another passionate “preacher”/abolitionist, William Wilberforce (1759-1833), who pulled no punches when writing his book Real Christianity, whereupon he called for Christians to forgo cultural Christianity and truly pursue authentic faith. I wrote about it here.

During my three-hour visit (you will need more time than this; I plan to return to finish), I saw several captivating exhibits: a pile of blackened, still-held-together bibles burned by those who rejected the truth. Many scrolls–some in pristine condition, and others tattered and worn to pieces by weathering and water – were written in various languages telling of His Word. Hundreds of bibles passed down through the generations with clasps and jeweled covers or worn leather, still held together. I imagined the journey each of these precious books traveled to reach us today. I imagined what storms those books endured and how those words of hope sustained its readers in their times of trial.

Museum of the Bible bible

I could go on! However, I will keep this post brief as I do not want to spoil your visit! I hope you are able to visit the Museum of the Bible–it is a “must do” for your bucket list.

What I can say for certain: the Word of God is sure and it endures. I looked at those burned, blackened, worn bibles, still holding together, through it all. People reading those words likely felt beat up by life, beat up like the book that was yet giving them life and holding them together. In every situation we encounter, God’s Word will indeed serve as a “lamp unto our feet and light unto our path” if we seek and trust Him.

Even in these present troubling times, and in times before, and in trials to come, you can rest assured: “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” (Isaiah 40:8

Love and blessings,

Nicole

View more photos from my Museum of the Bible visit published on our Voices Against the Grain Facebook page (posted July 9, 2018). To visit the Museum of the Bible, view their website to order your timed tickets. General adult admission/requested donation is $15 and $10 for children ages 12 and under.

Immigration Reform: We Cannot Stem Lawlessness by Sacrificing Children

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Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

“Papi! Papi!” “Mommy! I want to go with mommy!” Grief and anger panged me as if these children were known to me. More than 2,300 children have been separated from their parents by law enforcement in illegal border crossings. The wails from the mouths of little ones we’ve viewed this week in news coverage punches to the gut and rips at the heart. Knowing God’s love for children, He cannot be pleased at their suffering.

Many of us have prayed for ministering angels to minister to these children and their parents. Years and years of data show the psychological impact that could be lifelong, even if the children are reunited with their parents. From this June 20, 2018 Wall Street Journal article, “The Effects of Parental Separation on Children,”  biological stress responses are activated in a child separated from their caregiver. The symptoms exhibited could include elevated blood pressure and heart rate, anger, depression, social behavioral disturbances, among others. “If the biological response is continuously engaged, it begins to cause “wear and tear” on the child’s body,” according to Dr. Jack Shonkoff, director of Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics there are “lifelong consequences of extended exposure to serious stress, a condition sometimes called toxic stress. Current research indicates that chronic stress puts people at increased risk of psychiatric disorders and other health problems.”

Immigrant children separation 1

This is unacceptable.

The process for the reunification of separated parents and children is unclear. A policy that was cobbled together in a fashion with little to no regard for the human toll, has many wondering if reunification is even possible. As journalist and CNN political commentator, Errol Louis, poignantly said, “You go to the dry cleaners, they give you a ticket for your clothes. You leave your shoes at the bowling alley, they give you a ticket. They take your children and there’s nothing…no receipt, no bracelet, no tracking method, nothing.”

Immigrant children separation 6

This is unacceptable. This is not a win for anyone. There is no art to this deal.

Many of those crossing our borders illegally are seeking asylum from devastating brutality and violence, and simply a better life. Not all of these people are deviants and dangers to the community. Yes, these are illegal crossings. Yes, we are a nation of laws and must justly and fairly enact the laws. We are also a nation of people, of immigrants created in God’s image.

Dear friends have shared with me their personal stories of immigration and separation for a time from their mom or dad and the trauma felt of that experience. Their emotional reaction to that childhood trauma is still palpable. I’ve heard the stories of children whose behavior in the classroom drastically deteriorated from kindergarten to first grade when their father was deported within that time. I know the hard work of friends in social work who help immigrants deal with various traumas, day in and day out.

America has a long and shameful history of separating, locking up and incarcerating people, particularly our black and brown. We have no misgivings about their age, even if they are toddlers wearing diapers. Those who do the incarcerating benefit heftily: contractors of the detention facilities are being paid millions by our federal government, some more than $40 million. Here’s an article on contractor-run shelters in the Washington, D.C. region that are banking lucrative contracts to house migrant children.

Immigration-Detention

There’s also Juan Sanchez, CEO of Southwest Key nonprofit who runs 26 immigrant shelters across the country who was paid nearly $1.5 million in salary — a salary double than what he was paid the previous year. I can tell you as someone who completed their Master of Public Administration in nonprofit and faith-based management, this salary is waaay out of line in administrative costs (with just his salary alone) over program costs. Southwest Key is a smaller nonprofit in comparison to the multi-billion dollar American Red Cross with vast responsibilities whose CEO, Gail McGovern earns $600,000 in annual salary.

The Problem (only one?) with Government 

We are deceived and will be disappointed if we think our government will behave right. We cannot expect a callous, removed, impersonal, bureaucratic and cumbersome government to act personally toward what’s happening on the ground. It is simply not designed to do so. It’s role is to enforce the laws. To be frank, we the Church and the world became comfortable when government created programs to help others so we could move on with our lives — not realizing the world of difference we would awake to right now when we assumed that government would act godly and just. There is no substitute for godliness. This is one of the heartbreaks and false comforts of progress without godliness. The government, masters of implementing and evaluating systems, processes, regulations and laws, but unskilled in matters of compassion.

The truth is this: in our government’s attempt to curb the insidious activity of criminals (human and drug traffickers) from infesting our soil, they have made insidious decisions to where families have been torn apart and perhaps irreversible damage done. We cannot stem lawlessness by sacrificing children. Human trafficking, child smuggling, drug trafficking, those wanted for arrest, I get it. We are a nation of laws and laws need to be enforced justly and fairly. We are also a nation of people.

Our Role as Christ’s Ambassadors, as Dual Citizens

I’ve made it a point to remain apolitical on our ministry platforms. My main reason for doing so is to prepare us for God’s Kingdom which is permanent and perfect over the temporary and very imperfect system to which we are geographically subjected. But this issue required a response.

No matter your political leanings, we know that families together is God’s design. Satan loves nothing more than to promote ideologies that seek to distort, divide and destroy God’s design.

Indeed, our nation’s broken immigration system has long needed fixing. Our immigration system is not sustainable in its current state. It is a complex issue and the very complexities are why previous administrations have left it to future administrations to fix.

Some Christians are divided over the issue. But as Richard Land, president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary, said on the dual citizenship of Christians: “As citizens of the U.S., we have an obligation to support the government and the government’s laws for conscience sake. As citizens of the Lord’s heavenly Kingdom, we also have a divine mandate to act redemptively and compassionately toward those who are in need.”

As Christians, we should be especially compelled to advocate for those who are caught in the margins — who lack a certain status and thereby more vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment.

© Copyright 2012 CorbisCorporationAs Christ’s Ambassadors, we have been called out from the world to not behave as the world does. In a decaying world that has lost its way, this separation should not make us abstain from bringing light to darkness. This is and always will be our role. To engage so others can see the hands and feet of Christ at work amid insidious, skeptical and unjust situations. If we love God, we will love our neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40). We have an opportunity to demonstrate His love in this issue and many others.

While God certainly has many purposes at work, it’s undeniable the squeeze placed upon our nation and world that has brought many more to their knees, praise God. The situations are being used as instruments to expose on a larger scale the depths of our immorality and prejudices and long-held indifference about it, giving us a real good look at ourselves. The situations are also turning us back to God. As a dear brother reminded several of us in prayer meeting this week, our God is and always has been in control! No matter how things look, His purposes WILL BE ACCOMPLISHED! God cannot fail! (Thank you, Dracy)

As a dear sister reminded me, God is at work even in our suffering. We see this depicted in the lives of those throughout the Bible, and we have experienced His Presence in our trials. The news will not depict this but trust that God is a very present help in our situations. Be encouraged. Take heart for He has overcome the world (John 16:33). We need to act like we believe this even amid vast injustice. Concerned as we all are about these children’s future, I am entrusting them to our very present God who holds their future.

Immigration child separation 7 we belong

Many wonder how history and others will remember them. If you’re looking for a mission field, or looking to leave a legacy, start here: May we strive to become a united Body of Christ that hears, shares in and is compelled to relieve the suffering of others, to be a refuge for others. Will we be who we say we are? Yield to however the Holy Spirit leads you to do this and do it without hesitation.

20I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Philippians 1:20-21 #NoRegrets #BoldLiving

May our living be bold.

Our actions do not need to be gigantic but inaction is unsatisfactory.

May we also keep lifted in prayer the parents and children, the social workers and health care community, the faith community, legal community and many others who will be called upon to help rebuild these fractured lives. We pray for their strength where fatigue is certain. We pray for provision and abundance of resources to carry out their efforts.

Love, prayers and blessings,

Nicole

Who You Know: Favor and Consequence

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Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

You’ve heard the statement said that “It’s not what you know but who you know.”

Possessing knowledge of something and/or having connections to help resolve situations or to advance efforts are beneficial. More often than not, it’s in the “who we know” that delivers our immediate help. This is the case as we’ll see displayed in Daniel 2 and throughout the book of Daniel’s 12 chapters.

Who Daniel knows — the living God — proves to be his blessing to others by correctly interpreting King Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams. This relationship granted Daniel and the other “wise men” in Babylon a pardon on their lives for the king was going to “cut into pieces” the magicians, sorcerers, and wise men who had promised to interpret his dream and had failed. Through his relationship, commune with and prayer to God, God provided Daniel the dream’s meaning. Because of this, Daniel was given favor with King Nebuchadnezzar and was promoted to a high position, making him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and lavished with many gifts. In addition, “at Daniel’s request the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego administrators over the province of Babylon, while Daniel himself remained at the royal court.” (Daniel 2:49)

Who Daniel knew not only gained him favor, promotion and spared his life, it also saved others’ lives and gave his closest and godliest wise men promotion and favor with the king.

The favor bestowed was temporary for in chapter 3, King Nebuchadnezzar builds an image of gold, 90 feet high and nine feet wide in the province of Babylon. He issued a decree ordering everyone to worship the image or be killed. Others did, but Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would not. They were committed to honor, worship and serve the Lord God. The magicians whose lives were saved by Daniel, now saw an opportunity to have Daniel’s men destroyed. The magicians went to King Nebuchadnezzar and told him that Daniel’s men would not worship the golden image. This infuriated King Nebuchadnezzar and he summoned them into his presence.

Despite the king’s threats, the men remained committed to serving the Lord and would not worship the golden image. Well, you know how this part of the story goes. Infuriated by their refusal to worship the golden image, King Nebuchadnezzar orders Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to be tied up and thrown into a fiery furnace heated seven times hotter than usual (Daniel 3:19-20). In this process, the men were committed to serving God whether He delivered them or not.

You know the story. The furnace’s heat was so intense that it killed the soldiers who escorted them. God joined His godly servants in the fiery furnace. They were unbound, unharmed and didn’t smell of smoke. Upon witnessing this, King Nebuchadnezzar saw how mighty the God of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and decreed that no one say anything against their God or they would be “cut into pieces.” (Daniel 3:28-29). He further said, “for no other god can save in this way.” The men were once again promoted by the king in the province of Babylon.

 

Daniel-3-the-Fiery-Furnace

How amazing is that?! Because of the Who that Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego knew it brought them to be recipients of opposition yet also great favor and promotion. There’s no one like our God! None!

Daniel goes on to interpret more of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams. By chapter 4, King Nebuchadnezzar now acknowledges the work and miracles of the Most High God. He once again calls upon Daniel to interpret a disturbing dream he had, for all of the sorcerers, diviners and magicians had failed to do so, once again. He knew that he could trust Daniel to give a correct interpretation. But more importantly, he trusted Who was Daniel’s source of information/revelation.

In verses Daniel 4:34-36, King Nebuchadnezzar by this time is praising “the Most High God,” (this is after he lost his mind and throne for seven years, and then God restored him, per the dream) and says, “I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation (v. 34).” By verse 37, King Nebuchadnezzar says, “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”

This is powerful. Look at this transformation undergone by King Nebuchadnezzar! An arrogant king is humbled. Who would have thought this possible in the earlier part of his and Daniel’s relationship? What I love about this entire journey of Daniel and King Nebuchadnezzar is this:

  1. Daniel never apologizes for or compromises who he knows (God) to someone who did not initially believe in his God.
  2. WHO Daniel knows (God) is both a blessing (he and his men were promoted multiple times by the king, and he was able to spare the lives of the other false diviners) AND a consequence (Daniel’s men were thrown into the fiery furnace for not worshiping the golden image). Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would not compromise their relationship with God and were committed to Him, whether He delivered them or not.
  3. Through the CHARACTER and faithfulness of God and Daniel, Daniel became endeared by King Nebuchadnezzar and through that, King Nebuchadnezzar came to see the true God.
  4. Daniel’s intimacy with His God paved the way for King Nebuchadnezzar to experience God personally and glorify God in his life.

As Believers, we do not have to compromise God when engaging with others who do not believe. We have what the world needs. The relationship we have with God and His faithfulness toward us will speak volumes with many who will place us in trusted positions because of what they see God doing through us, even if they themselves choose not to seek Him. Because of Who we know, we will be able to bless others to see the goodness of God where others have failed. Through Him, we will have greater influence to govern, to lead and to provide counsel on some of our world’s most challenging issues. We will be given access that will puzzle others who will say, “How did you get that?”

Let’s be real: there are some folks where just your association with them is always a consequence and no good can come from it! 😦 There will always be consequence and discomfort in knowing the Lord. Daniel’s story shows us that and if you’ve lived for God more than one day, you know this too. However, Daniel shows us that there is an abundance of blessings beyond what we can imagine (even hearts changed for eternity) in following Him, unabashedly. Never compromise and never discount what your influence is doing now and for eternity. Never discount that God is at work. #Harvest

Nicole

 

 

 

You Cannot Be Gentle in This Fight

Nicole Headshot in blue shirt

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

For the past three weeks, I’ve been praying on and drafting a blog post on the importance of “who you know” based on the book of Daniel. I’ve nearly completed it and was prepared to share it with you today or this weekend. But, a more immediate subject is impressed upon my spirit to address now with the Body of Christ. You can expect to receive the Daniel message sometime next week.

Kate Spade, 55. Anthony Bourdain, 61. Too many others to count. This Tuesday and now today, we are grappling with the sad and sobering news of lives lost to apparent suicide. Bad news travels fast particularly in today’s real-time news cycle at our fingertips— received on our phones, pads and various devices communicated across myriad platforms. As outside onlookers, the breaking news alerts of their deaths shocks us to our core, gives us pause and conjures up questions of “why” because we have benefited from their many gifts and talents. From a distance, we see them smiling, seemingly living well, traveling the world, basking in the fruits of their talents and enjoying life.

But by the news accounts, the external did not match the internal, what we as outsiders were not privy to seeing. We don’t know the inner turmoil they battled. Even for those closest to them, some of the “whys” remain and will remain. We lift their families, loved ones, friends and colleagues in prayer as they process these losses.

I write this article not as someone who has ever contemplated committing suicide. This will not be a data-driven article on suicide. I want to preserve that information for a more in-depth discussion we’ll have on our radio show/podcast as we relaunch our show later this summer/early fall since our hiatus last April. Some of us have been praying about various regions of the U.S. that are experiencing a significant uptick in suicides and we’ll discuss that on the show as well.

This is a message to strengthen and encourage.

I shared earlier today and through previous blog posts on overcoming anxiety and illness this year. While I experienced healing around mid-March, I underwent further attacks to my physical and mental health in late March up through early May. More returned trips to the ER for heart palpitations with heart rates that had doctors very concerned. Labs coming back showing that my body is sound, perfectly healthy and yet heart rates were off the charts. They ruled out this and that. Sent me home. The enemy, our formidable adversary, Satan, kept pounding my head with more thoughts about death, not being alive to complete the call on my life and ministry God has for me, etc., etc. I thought I was losing my mind.

As we continue in our walk with God, He extends us out further to advance His Kingdom; to be light where there is darkness. This is what I do and desire to do more of and yet, sometimes I wanted to isolate. I felt like my head was in a fog, quite simply oppression. The enemy had me running back and forth to doctors’ appointments, multiple tests were run, getting the all clear every time. These were ridiculous “errands” and not a good use of my time or resources. But this is the enemy’s plan. He can’t steal our salvation but he can sure try to steal our peace, joy, time, resources, focus, etc.

One morning, after being pounded relentlessly by the enemy, I called a dear sister in Christ who is a mighty prayer warrior. I seldom reach out to people like this but I was desperate. I knew my call to her was likely inconvenient timing because of her work schedule but I prayed that she would answer, and certainly she did. When her jovial voice answered, I shakily shared with her what I was experiencing. She immediately went into full throttle prayer. I began crying (folks who know me know I don’t do this) for what seemed like 10-15 minutes. Then, that thing just broke. It lifted. Was gone. No more. DONE. We laughed! We spoke for an hour and my spirit was lighter, my head clear and I was back! I should have reached out sooner!! I am grateful to her and the saints!

She said many great things during our conversation but certainly one statement that I have implemented and will share with you. She said, “We need to get angry.” 

I asked her, “Get angry?”

She replied, “Yes. We don’t get angry enough at what our adversary, Satan is doing. We need to get angry.”

I instantly understood what she was saying. And she was right–at least in how I had been responding to the enemy’s attacks.  I had to:

Get angry that Satan was trying to steal my health (and your health too).

Get angry that Satan was trying to steal my peace (and your peace too).

Get angry that Satan was stealing my time and resources with distractions (and yours too).

FIGHT punch

Though I am a fighter, I was still being too passive. I realized that I had to be intentional because the enemy was definitely intentional about trying to derail me. I could not be gentle in this fight. And neither can you be gentle in your fight. Punch the heck out of him. Nor do we give Satan any authority. He can only operate with the authority we give him.

For those of us advancing God’s Kingdom, living daily as Ambassadors of Christ, we can expect opposition. God will often place us in direct conflict with the enemy (sift us like wheat, Luke 22:31), but I promise you, you will be stronger and spiritually mature if you keep your focus on Jesus, in whom lies our victory. Saints, we have a formidable adversary who wants to derail and destroy you by any means possible. It’s important as soldiers in God’s Army for people to see us victorious but for them also to see our battle scars. David, Job, Moses, Paul and countless saints before us experienced those battle scars in part because of their weaknesses even while advancing God’s will. If you don’t have battle scars, don’t have something to lose/gain, then you don’t have skin in the game.

As one dear seasoned saint told me about our adversary, even when things appear chaotic everywhere: “The devil is serious about doing harm to humanity. The difference between him and many of the saints in carrying out efforts, is that he is disciplined, organized and committed.”

Saints, this is indeed spiritual warfare. As our enemy is so committed, we must be committed, disciplined and organized in our prayer life, in our walk. We should do nothing less. Our enemy won’t. We must be fit for the fight (read our blog post on what it means to be F.I.T.). We, you cannot be gentle in this fight. PUT ON your helmet of salvation to guard your thoughts. TAKE UP your shield of faith to thwart the enemy’s fiery darts coming at you. WIELD the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God so you can immediately respond to the enemy’s lies. Remember that you are already positioned in victory through Christ Jesus.

Today, I am at the best I’ve ever been. I feel like I’ve undergone a six-month metamorphosis and have come out newer, stronger, more resolved and more emboldened for God’s Kingdom. What I’ve gained and learned is indescribable and has prepared me for the next level. I pray this for you too.

I shared this prayer earlier on social media, and will include it here as well. I was first praying it aloud but was led to post it.

Heavenly Father, thank you for sending Your Son Jesus Christ to give us life and life abundantly (John 10:10). In You, is Life! For those who seek You and trust in You, we know that You have good plans and a good future for us (Jeremiah 29:11). We come against the murderous and suicidal spirit in the earth; the thief that seeks to kill and destroy. We reject the spirit of anxiety, depression, despair and hopelessness. We reject the enemy’s lies which are ALWAYS counterfeit to the truth and Your promises. Father, we pray those battling this right now may feel and know and be settled by Your love, joy and peace. Reset their minds with thoughts of hope and peace. Help us to be a refuge to those who are hurting. Where they feel faint by this life, give them strength. May they know that they are loved by many, but most importantly, loved by You. Thank you. In the name of Jesus, we ask this. Amen.

Love and blessings to you my brothers and sisters,

Nicole

Jesus, Not Politicians, Is the Author of True Liberty and Deliverance

Nicole Headshot in blue shirt

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

There were politics in Jesus’ day as it is today.

Jesus was not a political figure, carried to and fro by the whims of the people. He said what needed to be said knowing that it would bring opposition against Him. Jesus could not have helped people then or now had he been a political figure. Unlike the promises made by politicians, Jesus did not necessarily come to remove everyone’s circumstances. What He did come to do was to change our hearts and minds about our circumstances.

No doubt that our society and world endure what are seemingly intractable problems to solve. All around the world it’s the same song. From poverty, racism, addictions, corruption, violence and other issues, we do our best to solve and eradicate the problems. We create campaigns, marches and movements to bring awareness and arouse action. We work to inform and shape policies in hopes to break what has bound us. Yet, with these activities and more, many problems remain. In all of mankind’s intellect, reasoning and can-do spirit, we are unable to completely eradicate problems.

It is in our nature to seek answers; to solve problems. We seek to fix and make sense out of. We desire to bring justice to unjust situations. We desire to bring relief to those ailed. This is all very good.

Yet, for those in Christ Jesus, we understand that even such situations exist for God’s purposes. Purposes we may not understand but trust that God is sovereign even in times of suffering and wickedness. What was meant for evil God can make for our good.

Jesus told us that we would have trouble. It’s inescapable. As sure as we’ll face problems, Jesus also assured us of this: “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.” (John 16:33, NIV)

So how should we respond? Sit on our hands and wait for Christ’s return? No. While we should not divorce the pragmatic from the biblical in addressing issues, and while we should keep our hands to the plow (Luke 9:62) and not grow weary in doing good (Galatians 6:9), most importantly, we pray for people to invite Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit to change their heart and mind. This is where change begins. Jesus, we pray for your love and light to transform.

Yes, Lord. We need change. Without you, true change is elusive.

setting_captives_free

In desiring to help, we must prepare mindsets. This is where the fight actually begins. If mindsets are enslaved they need to be set free. A freed and renewed mind begins to write a different story other than the previous narrative of enslavement they thought they were held to. People can’t change the story until they receive new information. God has given us His Truth to lay down a better track to replace the one they’ve been playing. We have been called to set the captives free, to set free those who are oppressed (Luke 4:18). Christ is the true author of liberty and deliverance. The truth will set you free (John 8:32). 

Pray for the Body of Christ to be a light wherever God has planted us; to boldly and lovingly share His Truth. Man’s version of liberty and deliverance is limited and constantly needs revising as it falls short of true freedom. The world can offer good solutions by putting its traditional applications on situations but WE, the Church carry within us the best and true solution: Jesus. Then we will indeed see chains broken.

-Nicole

 

“All You Can Eat”

Nicole Headshot in blue shirt

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

What comes to your mind when you hear or see the words “All You Can Eat”? These four words typically generate excitement among those of us who desire to get the most bang for our buck; to maximize our dollars and leave an establishment feeling greatly satisfied.

A term often associated with buffets, “All You Can Eat” restaurants excite patrons who envision multiple food stations offering a variety of cuisines in as many helpings as they can consume at a fixed price. At some buffets, you could indulge in breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert all in one sitting. A seemingly perfect match for maximizing your dollars only limited by your stomach capacity and waistband.

buffet with people.jpg

Being raised in Kansas and eating hearty foods such as mashed potatoes (yum), macaroni and cheese and meatloaf, these were also once my favorites to eat at buffets at a fixed price. Fast forward to when I located to Washington, D.C. several years ago for an internship. There was a popular buffet near my workplace that I’d visit during lunch. This place offered an even wider variety of food options from different countries and of course…mashed potatoes. Excited to see creamy mashed potatoes, I loaded a few spoonfuls onto my plate. Along with macaroni and cheese, vegetables and other items. What I had not prepared for was that at this buffet and many in the area, the food was charged by weight. Yikes. I paid a hefty $$ for that lunch. I quickly and strategically learned to adjust my portions after that experience!

Food is a familiar territory for Jesus. He fed crowds of thousands with loaves of fish and bread. After feeding the multitudes and they were satisfied, there were baskets of food left over. Jesus leaves us filled, running over and more than satisfied. 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.

basket-bread-rolls-fish-750x330

I make no apologies for wanting everything that the Lord has for me. I want to feed at His feet. I daily depend on Him for my sustenance, my spiritual nourishment. It’s where healing is reaffirmed. Where brokenness is healed. Where 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. It’s where we experience great joy in fellowship with Him and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s where our heart and mind come closer to Christ instead of being far from Him. It’s also where we learn more of who we are in Christ Jesus. It’s where we begin to see that God’s vision for us is much wider than it is limited. It’s where we develop the confidence to grow and go into our calling; to leave the familiar to enter the unfamiliar. It’s where we receive our daily instructions.

God is always doing a new thing, so we need to be at the table to get our instructions! It is where feeding our faith becomes fuel to press on amid spiritual warfare. It’s also where we develop new appetites for what Jesus desires and forgo our old appetites of the world and where we break unhealthy generational appetites passed down to us. I won’t kid you: feeding at the table may cost you separation from those who are uncomfortable with your new appetite. But that’s okay. You’ll have food for them when they’re ready.

Spiritual food= sitting at Jesus’ feet and feeding at His table. When we sit at Jesus’ feet and feed from His table, we are more than satisfied. Take time. Make time. We can have as much of Jesus as our heart desires. He already paid the price for our direct access. The Lord desires a close and intimate communion with us, that we would thirst and hunger to know Him more. That we would have a singleness of heart for Him. He is there waiting for us. The food is prepared. There is no limit to your partaking and return.

Will you come to His table? It is an “All You Can Eat” invitation. #TheBreadofLife

You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. -Jeremiah 29:13 (ESV)

Love and Blessings,

Nicole

A Call for Authentic Faith

 

Nicole Headshot in blue shirt

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

“The descent is easy.”- Virgil

I read a lot. Thanks to my mom, I’ve loved reading since I was a kid. Mom enrolled me and my brother in a book club where we’d excitedly wait to receive the new reads we ordered each month. As an avid reader today, I am also selective in what I read and what I feed my spirit. Two years ago, a great book passed my litmus test and was added to my collection.

Sometimes you read a book and from the first page the author’s words grip you. Their words resonate with you so much that you are nodding your head all the way through. You might even highlight certain text that you want to remember. You might even say as I did in reading this book, “He (or she) is speaking my language!”

Real Christianity, written by English abolitionist and politician, William Wilberforce (1759-1833), is the book I am referencing. Wilberforce and his book’s message were instrumental in stopping the slave trade in England. In his book’s introduction, Wilberforce pens an “author’s apology” telling the reader that because he is not a theologian he may not be taken seriously but that his message is nonetheless important, truthful and worth strong consideration. After he apologizes, he writes this:

“Enough apologies and justifications; let me get on with the task at hand. Here is what I am going to attempt to accomplish in writing this book. I’m not going to attempt to either convince skeptics or answer the questions unbelievers seem to ask, but rather point out some of the problems with the beliefs and actions of those who already claim to be Christians. I’d like to attempt to contrast what we see in the lives of many, perhaps most, who make this claim with what I understand the Bible teaches about what it means to believe in Christ. I am disturbed when I see the majority of so-called Christians having such little understanding of the real nature of the faith they profess…

…Life as we know it, with all of its ups and downs, will soon be over. We will all give an account to God of how we have lived. Because of this fact, I’m not going to pull any punches in what I write. I hope you will seriously consider what is contained in these pages. If what I write seems too rigid or austere, I would only ask that you check what I have to say against what the Bible teaches. That is the only opinion that counts. If you accept the authority of the Bible, I assume you will agree.” – William Wilberforce, Real Christianity, 1797

Real Christianity book cover

Wilberforce’s words written more than 200 years ago are “speaking my language” today. Wilberforce anchors his message in the infallible, unchanging and often offensive Word of God. His straightforward writing from the book’s start to finish makes no apologies for upholding God’s Word as the standard by which we should live, particularly those of us who proclaim to follow Jesus. In his day, Wilberforce was disheartened by a climate that was gradually abandoning authentic faith and embracing something far easier to swallow; something that would allow people to live how they wanted to live and make themselves more likable to others: cultural Christianity.

Cultural Christianity is a watering down of God’s Word and relationship standards to make it more palpable to those who want to do what they want to do anyway. In watering down the truth, we strip the Word of its power to truly heal and restore people, communities, our nation, world and situations. This action is akin to using a placebo to treat an illness instead of the medication prescribed by your doctor. You allow the illness to fester and worsen. Either you want to be healed or you don’t. Wilberforce said it well:

“Nominal or superficial Christianity does not have the ability to create such outcomes (that overcome any social, economic or racial barriers). (Societal) and political decay can thrive under cultural Christianity but authentic faith will bring it to a sudden halt.”

As society was pursuing greater degrees of progress, Wilberforce saw more people wavering in their convictions. Trust and believe that today, we are reaping those decisions made then.

As the Roman poet Virgil wrote in his popular work the Aeneid, “The descent is easy.” In essence, the seemingly “little” and “insignificant” compromises we make become even easier to do so the next time, and harder to ascend back up to truth. If we decide to be “all in” then we’ll never be satisfied with living as a halfway Christian, making the descent into cultural Christianity and candy-coated messages less likely.

In leading Voices Against the Grain, to boldly advance God’s Kingdom in a ‘do your own thing’ society, I too, pull no punches. I desire to deliver God’s Word just as it is — not adding to or taking away from it. Like Wilberforce and many others who share/teach God’s Word, I am not seminary trained. However, I have gained much knowledge revealed through the Holy Spirit and spending significant time communing with the Lord. God has also placed great and studied spiritual teachers in my life who have aided in my further understanding, teaching and administering of His Word.

Introspection and Call for Authentic Faith

Many of you reading this are living out authentic faith in a time when unbelief, strange teachings and “live and let live” ideals are preferred. Thank you! You have no idea the amount of moral, political and social decay and injustices that have been stopped simply by your prayers and commitment to truly share the Gospel, unfiltered. Yet, God desires that the entire Body of Christ exercises authentic faith— not only some. When we gradually fall in with societal trends, we are accelerating society’s decay. In Matthew 5:13-16, we are described as “salt” and “light.” Salt preserves and light shines a path out of darkness. Neither occurs when we compromise the truth.

Where are you on the spectrum of truth? If you are a Christian, do you see truth from the view of our God who “changes not” (Malachi 3:6)? As a Christian, are there areas where you’re likely to compromise and if so, why? 

This is a call for authentic faith. We can’t walk the fence between pleasing God and pleasing the world. The compromise is never worth hindering someone’s true liberation found only in Christ Jesus. We should trust that God is big enough to overcome opposition. Jesus said, “And I, if I be lifted up (exalted) from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” (John 12:32). The attraction of the cross of Christ and the matchless love of God will prove to be the mightiest revelation to draw those far away near to Christ, those with whom you may fear sharing truth.

John 12-32 I if I be lifted up

We share truth (Jesus) because we love God and we love people. We desire for those who will to become beneficiaries of truth, no longer slaves to deception but freely living as intimate co-workers with God. We desire that no one lives less than the abundant life Jesus promised. This can only be acquired through sharing and living authentic faith.

Can you be counted on to never compromise the truth (Jesus)? Will you live “all in” and not halfway? Pray for courage. Pray to grow in deeper love with the Lord that gives way to your unwavering obedience to Him.

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”- John 8:32

-Nicole

What Does it Mean to Be “Fit” (F.I.T.)?

Nicole Headshot in blue shirt

Nicole D. Hayes, Founder, Voices Against the Grain

“Fit.” It’s a word that the Holy Spirit has given me in this season. So, what does it mean for me, for you, for the Body of Christ?

First, let’s see how the dictionary defines “fit”: 

1. (of a thing) of a suitable quality, standard, or type to meet the required purpose.”the meat is fit for human consumption”
synonyms: suitable, good enough; relevant, pertinent, apt, appropriate, suited, apposite, fitting; archaic meet “fit for human habitation”
2. in good health, especially because of regular physical exercise.
“I swim regularly to keep fit” synonyms: healthy, well, in good health, in (good) shape, in (good) trim, in good condition, fighting fit, as fit as a fiddle;
verb 1. be of the right shape and size for. “those jeans still fit me” 2. fix or put (something) into place. “They fitted smoke alarms to their home”
synonyms: lay, position, place, put in place/position, fix

Now we have a good idea of what meanings encompass “fit.”

In persevering and running our race, in countering the attacks delivered by our adversary Satan, in dispersing light in darkness and encroaching on the enemy’s territory, in taking territory away from the enemy and reclaiming it for God’s Kingdom, we must be “fit.”

  • “Fit” emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually. As Paul said in Philippians 4:12, “I am content in all circumstances.” We are not elated or deflated by our circumstances. We are maintained and steadied by the peace of Christ and the confidence in Him in whom we anchor our hope.
  • That we would allow perseverance to “finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:4
  • Our faith should be continuously maintained and developed/kept “fit” to help us persevere in courage, in the confidence of God’s promises and faithfulness. Someone told me of warriors past who would regularly maintain their shields which were made in part from leather. If the leather was not regularly maintained, the shield would crack and leave the user defenseless against oncoming arrows. Consider how important this is in our being able to thwart the enemy’s fiery darts by arming ourselves with and deploying the spiritual shield of faith as depicted in Ephesians 6:16. Our faith must be fit for the fight. 
  • We must shed/lay aside anything (ex: sins, burdens, strange teachings, carrying unnecessary weight) that would hinder our ability to successfully run our race so we are able to move freely and unobstructed as instructed in Hebrews 12:1-2 :

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Training Like an Athlete

When I think about being “fit,” I consider the great example of athletes training to meet and exceed certain performance goals. From diet, to rigorous workouts, to having great coaches (in our case mentors, teachers, pastors), to proper rest and recovery, to implementing discipline and consistency in adhering to the various criteria required to meet their goals, there is significant preparation involved. Being undisciplined or unprepared in any area could lead to missed goals.

Athletes training

During elementary and junior high school I ran track. I was one of the fastest sprinters in school, competing against other schools and taking home first and second place ribbons. My prized races were the 50 and 100-yard dash and bringing up the rear as the anchor in relay races, taking us into first place. Again, these were short distance races for which I was well prepared.

Now enter the 800-meter race. It was a hot day and for whatever reason I was running the 800 meter. The track was black asphalt made several degrees hotter by the beating early afternoon sun. In one moment I remember coming into the curve of the track. In the next moment, I was waking up on the black asphalt and being escorted to the school nurse’s office. My mom was called and met me at school. According to my PE teacher, I blacked out, likely from a combination of the heat, hot asphalt and not consuming enough fluids beforehand, causing dehydration. Thank GOD that I didn’t bust my pretty teeth in the fall!  🙂

In short, I had not properly prepared for that longer race. I was not fit to endure it to successful completion. What I had in physical abilities and talent was short-circuited by a lack of practical hydration. This can happen in running and enduring our spiritual race too if we’re strong in a number of areas but not shored up in one or more. Imagine if you do everything else but aren’t engaged in a continuous spirit of prayer? Or not studying God’s Word, meditating on it day and night so you can immediately and confidently refute the enemy’s lies? Imagine if your shield of faith has been neglected and subject to cracking on the first hit?

In wrapping up, I’ve created an acronym to summarize being fit for our purposes:

F.I.T. = Fortifying an Intentional Trajectory

fortify: strengthen, protect, secure mentally or physically

intentional: deliberate, intended, purposeful, studied

trajectory: moving under the action of given forces; course, path, track

May we fortify our spiritual development with the intentionality of completing our race in excellence.

I believe that we are in a time of seeing greater moves of God accompanied by greater enemy opposition as we advance God’s Kingdom in the earth. We are indeed overcoming that enemy opposition and are more than conquerors because He that is in us is greater than he that is in the world. Hallelujah! We were chosen, predestined (fit) for this race. We have been positioned, placed in this particular race by God to endure to a specific end designed on a track for His purposes. So, let’s be intentional, purposeful in our development that we may be fit for what’s coming.

Fortify us, Lord, in your Word and may we meditate on it and keep our mind on you to keep us on the path. We want to hear you say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

female track runnerFit female track runner

Love and God bless you! Run your race!

Nicole