Saturday, August 26, 2017

Remember to Pay the Light Bill

Remember to Pay the Light Bill
New St. Paul, Lithonia
August 20, 2017

O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come. Our shelter from the stormy blast and our eternal home. A thousand ages in thy sight is like an evening gone. Be thou our guide while life shall last and our eternal home. Thanks to Ms Kim Hobbs for inviting me here today.  I am very grateful to share this women’s day with you.

To Pastor and Mrs. Crawford,  stewards, trustees and the women’s day chairman and committee, I greet you on behalf of the 200 sections, 30 national affiliates and more than 3 million women and men of the 82 year old National Council of Negro Women. We were founded in 1935 to gain the right to vote, equal access to jobs and to stop lynching. We are headquartered in the historic Dorothy Irene Height Building at 633 Pennsylvania Ave, six blocks from the us Capitol and 10 blocks from the White House.

Thank Davida, Lois Keith,  Gwen Mitchell, and Stacey my cousins

Thursday night, I was preparing to worship with you this morning, I thought about today’s theme. Let’s stay connected.   Before I went to bed, I stepped out onto the deck outside our family room.  The moon was full and shining so brightly.  It was beautiful.  It was so bright that it gave the luster of mid-day to objects below - the railing, the bushes and the deck furniture.  I thought how good God is to give us the sun by day and the moon by night.

Our scripture lesson for today comes from Matthew 5:13-16.  The NIV version reads this way…
13 "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. 14 "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven,

When we were little girls, my parents had a pretty good system for paying the bills.  They would sit in the den, in front of the television.  My mother would get a tray and the checkbook and the bills and they would go through them together.  Most of them were put in the mail.  But every once in awhile, they would take a couple of them to the creditor in person. 

We were always a little skeptical when Daddy volunteered to take the bills.  He was busy with his church and teaching school and still coaching.   He was a loving father, caring pastor, a thoughtful city council member, a hall of fame coach, but he could be a little forgetful when it came to ordinary mundane tasks.  More than once, we came home to find that the lights were out.  No tv.  No air conditioning.  No stove.  We did not have to ask.  Daddy forgot to pay the light bill.  If you are not connected to the grid, you can’t get light.  Our theme today is let’s stay connected.  Reminds me of Al Green – let’s stay together.  Loving you forever, whether good or bad, happy or sad, let’s stay together.

For a subject this morning…have you remembered to pay the light bill? Now, of course, God has given us physical light – the moon, the sun, the stars. But he has also given us, even more importantly, spiritual light.  And that is what Matthew is referring to.
The aim of this message is to remind Christian women to stay connected to that eternal light burning in our lives through all situations and circumstances.
What is spiritual light? The scriptures help us.
Ye are the salt of the earth.  Light is salt.  Light is flavoring.  Light gives us a taste of the immortality in us. 
But light is also enlightening.  Light gives us direction.  Light lights our path. Light is the absence of darkness.  Many little children and old folk too are afraid of the dark.
What is the first thing you do when you come into your house at night after a long day at work?  You reach for a light switch.  You turn on the lights.  When I go into a hotel room, I feel the wall for the light switch.  In the physical world, our eyes are made so that we can’t see without light.
My mean little dog can go out walking at night when it is pitch black.  He can smell everything out there.  Every squirrel, every chicken bone.  He does not need light to know where he is going.   I can’t see without light.
Neither can we find our way in this world without spiritual  light. Why are we here? What is God’s plan for my life?
What should we do about our families? What is the best way to raise children? How do I become a good friend? What is the solution to hyper incarceration? A black man in Georgia has a 70% chance of spending time in prison if he drops out of high school in the 9th grade.  A 30% chance if he finishes high school, but only a  5 per cent rate if he goes one semester of college.  We save 300k for every kid we help graduate from high school.
We need spiritual light to see our way to solutions to human problems.
Are we walking in the light?
Or are we treading the path of darkness? Let me give you a test.  Georgia has removed 500k voters.  Is that the way of light?  Or the way of darkness?  Is that a state set on a hill?  Or one that is hiding under a bushel? We know what light is.  Light orders our steps.  Light gives us direction.  Light focuses our attention. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and light unto my path. Where does light come from? We know where light comes from.  The scriptures tell us where light comes from. The first chapter of John says…In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 4In him was life; and the life was the light of men. 5And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.  Some scholars say it means the evil could not understand the good.  Others say the evil could not defeat the good. Both are true.

We don’t generate the light.  Like the moon, we are a reflection of the true light. Let your light so shine before men that they see your good works and glorify your father that is in heaven.

The moon is a reflection of light from the sun.  We are a reflection of the light from the Father who created us and sent His spirit to dwell in us.  We know we need light.  We are creatures of light.  We stumble without it.  Being without light makes us nervous and afraid.  We are afraid of darkness.  Yet we get lost in the dark sometimes.

The Bible says, 12But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.
You want power in your life…pay the light bill.  You want satisfaction in your life.  Walk in the light.  You want peace of mind in your life.  Walk in the light.    We have the right and the responsibility to choose – are we going to serve the light, or the darkness.  What keeps us in the darkness?  What makes us lose our saltiness?  What makes us forget to pay the light bill? What hinders true connections?  There are at least three factors that make us hide our light under a bushel. 

1. Fear.  Lack of courage.  Fear is a peculiar kind of sin.  Fear paralyzes us.  Fear makes us get in the bed and pull the covers over our heads.  Fear freezes us in one place.  Fear is opposite of faith.  If God is good.  If God loves me, then what have I to fear?  Something bad might happen to me.  Maybe we should flip the script.    Let me answer the question.  Something bad is going to happen.  The IRS is going to call.  The mother is going to die. The friend will get mad. Money will get tight.  The child may get pregnant.  One of my favorite lines from Hebrews makes me laugh:  it says we have not yet suffered unto blood. What is our fear compared to what Paul suffered?  What Esther suffered?  What Jesus suffered?  Who are we to be afraid?  The world learns from us how to deal with fear.  For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love, power and sound minds.

2. Foolishness.  “I don’t know what to say.  I don’t know what needs to be done.” Google it.  Go to Bible Study.  Pray.  Read.  Study to show thyself approved.  We have more information at our fingertips than ever.  Now, the Internet will make an idiot out of you.  You have to know what is real and what is fake on the Internet. Reading is so fundamental.  A new study came out talking about all the ways that children benefit from being read to and from reading to others. 

We like to play around in the dark.  The group WAR had a song back in the 70’s – slipping into darkness.  When you don’t pay the light bill, you can just slide into darkness.  Meander into wrongdoing.  Turn out your own light.  We play around with drugs.  Play around with alcohol.  Play around with tobacco and food and marijuana.  Play around with illicit sex. 
I don’t like her. She don’t like me. Who she think she is? We lose meaningful connections stumbling around in the dark.

But we know the darkness is not our home.  We are creatures of light.  We are made in the image of light.
Pray over it.  Indecision, laziness and procrastination are all forms of foolishness.

3. Faith.  Now this is the most dangerous and the most damaging.  Does God really care?  Is He still listening to me?  I can’t hear God.  Pick up your Bible.  Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and light unto my path.  When we look at the world’s problems it is easy to say one person can’t make a difference.  All the hungry people.  All the hungry children.  War, disease, racism, poverty.  I can’t make a difference.  Yes, you can.  You may not see it in your lifetime.  Suppose the enslaved had given up.  But you can make a difference.  We can all do something.  I am but one, but I am one.  I can’t do everything.  But I can do something.  What I can do.  What I ought to do, God helping me, I will do.

I have had to pray real hard the past couple of weeks. When we see injustice in the world, it’s time to reach for the book.  When we see things that make us cry, you know it’s time to pay the light bill.  I told you that my dad was a football coach, among his many jobs.  He had a favorite saying.  Don’t get in the give up formation.  Don’t give up on your faith.

They have a program at Georgia power.   Prepaid light bill.  I want a prepaid light bill.  I want to pay in advance.  I don’t want to run out of power.  I want my connection stored up for when I need it.  I don’t know when I am going to run across a kid falsely accused.  I don’t know when I am going to see qualified people turned down for jobs.  I don’t know when some woman is going to call me asking for help for his son or daughter.  I need my light bill paid in advance.

Now, God is good.  He does not actually send us a light bill. If he did we couldn’t pay it.   That nagging voice you hear when you have not done your best.  That’s the light bill.  That worried feeling you get when you forget to pray.  That’s the light bill.  When you lose your temper with some idiot who does not know better and then you feel badly about it.  That’s the light bill.  That is the comforter reminding you who you belong to.  That is the spiritual electric meter telling you the light bill is due.  Thank God for the light.  And the light bill.

We are almost too connected.  We got wifi, FB, Twitter, fire sticks, web sites, Instagram, group me, youtube, linkedin, periscope, email, text messages, cable Netflix, hulu, gogo inflight, and only God knows what else.  We are connected to everything but the right thing. 

And you can’t get any of that stuff unless you are connected to the electric grid.  We as Christian women have to make sure we are connected to the spiritual Internet.  The real grid.  Connected to the REAL source of power.  We have to pay the light bill.

We pay the light bill with prayer, meditation, study.  We pay the light bill by paying attention.  Kindness, love, patience, longsuffering.  Those are the real connections that last. We don’t want to pay for the light.  What is the value of salvation? What is the value of peace of mind?  What is the value of joy and peace and happiness?  We ought to be running to pay God’s light bill.

Finally, my sisters and brothers, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Be certain that the Lord will see you out.  Be sure of God’s nuclear power plant.  Walk in the light.
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. We wrestle against apathy and abuse.  We wrestle against selfishness and greed.  We wrestle against jealousy and envy.

There is no reason that any child in America should lack a good education and plenty to eat and the chance at a good job.  There is no reason that every adult in Georgia should not register and vote.  There is no reason that every sick person in this country should not see a doctor.  There is no reason to take federal money to improve the port in Savannah, but not to improve Medicaid for 600,000 people. There is no reason to have guns everywhere.

Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Then, we can say like Job, He redeemed my soul from going down to the pit, and I will live to enjoy the light. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.  Let us pray, LORD, keep my lamp burning; turn my darkness into light. Order my steps. Save me from fear. Save me from foolishness. Increase my faith.  The Lord is my light and my salvation.  Whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the strength of my life….of whom shall I be afraid?  When my enemies and my foes come upon me to eat up my flesh they stumbled and fell.  Though an host should encamp about me, I shall not be afraid.  When my mother and father forsake me, the Lord will take me up. Then we can say, you are my lamp, O LORD; the LORD turns my darkness into light.  This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine… O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come. Our shelter from the stormy blast and our eternal home. A thousand ages in thy sight is like an evening gone. Be thou our guide while life shall last and our eternal home. 

Georgia Property Owners’ Association Act

The Georgia Property Owners’ Association Act (“POA”) was adopted in 1994 to expand the powers of homeowners associations. The POA does not, however, apply automatically. Instead, the developer of a community or the members of a community’s homeowners association must “opt-in” to be governed by the POA. The “opt-in” process generally takes place either by the developer when the developer initially creates the declaration of covenants for the community, or by the members of the homeowners association through an amendment to the declaration.
However, developers of most communities do not submit their communities’ covenants to the POA because there is a provision in the POA that assessments cannot be waived. This means a developer would need to pay assessments on each lot it owns, regardless of whether or not the lot has been developed and sold. There is now an exception in the POA that allows developers to waive assessments, as long as they also waive their voting rights. Most developers still do not submit their covenants to the POA because they do not want to lose control of the homeowners association. Accordingly, it is usually after the developer finishes development of a community that the members of the association are able to submit the declaration of covenants to the POA by “opting-in” through an amendment to the declaration. The specific amendment process within a community’s declaration of covenants must be followed for the “opt-in” to occur. For example, if the declaration of covenants states that the declaration may be amended by the consent of two-thirds of the association members, the consent of such two-thirds will be needed in order to submit the declaration of covenants to the POA.
Some of the benefits of the POA include the following:
Automatic Statutory Liens
After submitting to the POA, the association will no longer be required to file liens at the county courthouse for unpaid assessments or other charges. Instead, the POA creates an automatic statutory lien against a delinquent owner’s lot. In other words, the association will no longer have to file individual liens against lots in order to secure unpaid assessments; rather, the POA provides that the declaration of covenants itself serves as notice that there is a lien for any unpaid assessment or other charges. As a result, closing attorneys, title examiners, purchasers or owners will generally contact the association for a statement of any amounts owed to the association prior to concluding a sale or refinance of the lot. If the association is not paid out of the proceeds of the sale or refinance, the lien continues against the lot and will generally have priority. The statutory lien also results in a secured claim of the association against an owner if the owner files for bankruptcy.
Joint and Several Liability to Pay Assessments
The POA includes another provision that generally strengthens an association’s assessment collection powers. That is, the POA provides that unless the declaration of covenants states otherwise, the grantee (or buyer) of a house is jointly and severally liable with the grantor (or seller) for all unpaid assessments. That means that if the automatic statutory lien is not paid at the closing, the association can proceed against the new owner who will be personally liable for all amounts owed prior to the closing. (Note that the new owner can then seek reimbursement from the previous owner, but the association would not be involved in that dispute.)
Late Fees and Interest
Submission to the POA allows the association to charge a late fee of the greater of $10.00 or ten percent (10%) of the amount due, and interest at a rate of ten percent (10%) per annum on unpaid assessments and charges. These provisions must also be stated within the declaration of covenants, so as part of the amendment process, we generally will include these provisions to strengthen the community’s collection powers.
Attorney’s Fees and Costs of Collection
The POA authorizes the recovery of the association’s costs of collection of the delinquent assessments, including reasonable attorney’s fees actually incurred. If your community’s declaration of covenants does not already use the term “attorney’s fees actually incurred,” we generally will include that provisions as part of the amendment process.
Specific Assessments
The POA provides that to the extent provided in the declaration of covenants, a board may specifically assess expenses to an owner if the conduct of the owner or the owner’s tenants or guests caused the expense. For example, if an owner or owner’s child damages common property that the association then pays to repair, or an owner causes the association to incur attorney’s fees in covenant enforcement against the owner, then those amounts may be specifically assessed against the owner.
The POA also clarifies that all owners and tenants (i.e., people who rent a house in the community from the owner) must comply with all the provisions of the declaration of covenants and the association’s rules and regulations.
Fines and Suspension
The POA gives the association a statutory power to assess fines against violators and to suspend the common area use rights of violators, provided the ability to fine and suspend are stated in the declaration of covenants. We will therefore generally include such provisions as part of the amendment process. Fines constitute a lien against the violator’s lot, and the ability to fine significantly strengthens the association’s powers to enforce the covenants and the rules and regulations.
Perpetual Duration
Prior to 1993, Georgia law at Code Section 44‑5‑60 generally provided that covenants expire after twenty years. That statute was amended in 1993 to permit covenants to automatically renew, but the Georgia courts have held that covenants in communities that were recorded prior to 1993 do not receive the benefit of the new 1993 law. One of the extremely important benefits of the POA is that it has a provision that states Code Section 44‑5‑60 shall not apply to any covenants contained in any instrument submitted to the POA. That means that if a community’s covenants were recorded prior to 1993, submission to the POA now would eliminate the possibility that the covenants will expire after twenty years. Also, as part of the amendment process when we submit a community’s covenants to the POA, we will generally include an amendment that the covenants will be for a perpetual duration.
Note that the issue of pre-1993 covenants expiring after twenty years is still an issue that is being decided by the courts. There have been many interesting decisions in the last few years addressing this issue. One of the more interesting cases is a Georgia Court of Appeals case from 2002 that states that although pre-1993 restrictive covenants expire after twenty years, affirmative covenants, such as the obligation to pay assessments, do not expire under Code Section 44-5-60. The issue of which covenants are restrictive and which covenants are affirmative is still an open issue for the courts to decide. Our opinion is that to best protect the community, opting into the POA to eliminate the provisions of Code Section 44-5-60 is the best option to avoid this ongoing issue in the courts of covenant duration.
Additional Restrictions
In addition to addressing covenant duration, Code Section 44-5-60 states that no change (i.e., amendment) in the covenants which imposes a greater restriction on the use or development of the land will be enforced unless agreed to in writing by the owner of the affected property at the time such change is made. For example, if your community passes an amendment to restrict the number of houses that may be leased at any one time, Code Section 44-5-60 could be asserted that the leasing restriction will not be enforceable against any homeowner who voted against the amendment because such owner did not agree to the amendment in writing.
The best option is to eliminate the owner’s Code Section 44-5-60 assertion altogether. To that end, as stated above, one of the important benefits of the POA is that it states that Code Section 44 5 60 shall not apply to any covenants contained in any instrument submitted to the POA. Accordingly, if your community’s covenants were created by the developer pursuant to the POA, or if your covenants have been amended to submit them to the POA, the limitations within the above Code Section 44-5-60 do not apply. That means the approved amendment to limit leases in the above example would be enforceable against the entire community, including those homeowners who voted against the amendment.