At first glance, I thought the light falling from the sky was some sort of optical illusion brought on by a combination of my in-flight meal laboriously digesting in my belly, and the double-shot of night-time cold medicine I’d gulped down just before the dinner. The sky outside my window suddenly transformed from the darkening purple of a typical mid-west twilight, to a beautiful albeit terrifying burnt orange. I watched the clouds at fifty thousand feet part like waves split by a speedboat, as an enormous fireball cut through the earth’s atmosphere, plummeting toward the ground far below my flight. For a moment, I was lost for the words to comprehend–let alone describe–what I was witnessing.
“The end of everything as we know it,” the stranger seated next to me muttered; his voice calm like a lazy stream.
“What do you mean,” I asked absently, watching the fireball streak through the low ceiling of storm-clouds. “What was that?”
“That, my friend, was World-War-Three begun. They actually pushed the button.”
My heart imploded. I stopped breathing, and my dinner lurched up my esophagus. “It can’t be. We’re America! No one attacks us! I’m not re–”
‘Not ready’ is what I wanted to say, but never spoke another word on that side of life’s veil. The flash was blinding, deafening and silent.
When I was a kid, my dreams were often filled with visions of cartoon characters of my favorite shows, make-believe adventures with my closest friends and my brother, fantasies of strange creatures and the ever familiar flying experience. I looked forward to sleep in my youth. Sure I had to contend with nightmares every once in awhile but, by and large, my dreams were a place of happiness.
As I grew up, life became complicated by my life-choices. Along the way, I think I lost that childhood innocence of dreaming. Oh I still dreamed, but the visions took on a materialistic turn. Where fantastic creatures and unbelievable companions once reigned, now desires for fancy houses, beautiful cars, stacks of money piles and 24/7 parties took over. The world’s influences rearranged then corrupted my fantasies.
Lately, I miss the innocence of those fantastic dreams. Part of the beauty of writing Paraclete’s Promise, was the return to that make-believe world; bringing outlandish adventures to life through Timothy’s dreams was like revisiting an old friend. The cares of adulting, the pressures of professional performance; the worries of debt all seemed to melt away while journeying with Timothy. The dreams were once again whimsical and fun; frightening but wonderful at the same time. And I always seemed to awaken refreshed. Ready to take on a new day.
I think it’s time to revisit those dreams again. Set aside the worries and cares of the world for just a few hours of reality, in exchange for the timeless journeys of the fantastic. I want to remember what it’s like to dream amazing stories, and wake ready to share them with the world.
2 Corinthians 12:8-10 – New International Version (NIV)
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But
he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is
made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly
about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for
Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in
persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:8-10 – Contemporary English Version (CEV)
Three times I begged the Lord to make this suffering go away. But
he replied, “My kindness is all you need. My power is strongest when you are
weak.” So if Christ keeps giving me his power, I will gladly brag about how
weak I am. Yes, I am glad to be weak or insulted or mistreated or to have
troubles and sufferings, if it is for Christ. Because when I am weak, I am
I own a thorn. For years, it’s been my secret shame. Honestly,
until very recently, its official name was unknown to me. I only thought of it
as a small issue unique to me, and pridefully decided to overcome it alone. I
didn’t tell my wife or my closest friends. Never even considered addressing the
deeper levels of the issue with God. And yet, no matter how hard I try, I can
never climb over it. It’s beyond my ability to handle alone.
The apostle Paul knew a thing or two about relying on the
Lord for strength, in times of weakness. In his second letter to the Corinthian
church, he told the brethren how he continued to face suffering. But God—refusing
to remove the source of that suffering from Paul—instead reminded him that His
grace was enough to not only sustain Paul, but to give him strength through the
suffering. Paul eventually grew to understand and even embrace his human
weaknesses, recognizing God’s supernatural strength working through his own
human weaknesses. God’s grace was strong enough to carry Paul through his
personal obstacles; obstacles he could not conquer on his own.
Christians want to hope God removes every obstacle blocking
our paths. But sometimes, God leaves that thing right where it is, giving us no
other alternative but to lean on Him for strength in dealing with that thing. It is by His grace that we are able to
keep moving forward through some of our most troubling trials. And though He
may not remove all sufferings—remember, Jesus promised us we would face trials
and sufferings—God walks through those times, carrying us when we cannot walk
on our own.
Last week, I took a particular type of test and scored low
on the scale. I’m kind of an over-achiever so, under any other circumstances,
this would have been a real problem for me. But there was actual comfort in now
knowing. In fact, I had peace in discovering it’s an actual thing—my own thorn—and
I’ve secretly struggled with it my entire life.
Dyscalculia is akin to dyslexia and I’m pretty sure it’s
with me. I have a hard time dealing with and processing numbers. In particular,
6s and 9s tend to flip on me pretty easily. Digits in large numbers sometimes
switch places entirely, causing me to constantly double back to make sure they’re
correct. Sometimes, I come up with different answers to the same problem, when
using a calculator, because I’ve flipped a digit or two someplace, so I
constantly have to recheck my math for even the smallest calculations. I can’t remember
a time when I scored a perfect 100% on any math test…ever. I took collegiate
pre-calculus three times while at Western Michigan University and finally
passed with a low grade. Budgets terrify me. Numerical graphs are a nightmare. Number-only
charts mock me, because I have a hard time visualizing what they mean. For a
really-long time, I simply thought of myself as being numbers-dumb. With that
type of shame, I hid my problem from those closest to me…including God, as if
He didn’t already know.
But recently, my wife has been by my side to help me out, whether she knows it or not. See, she’s discovering its depths just like I am. And she’s been supportive and patient. For years, I let the enemy convince me that she would look at me differently, if she knew my struggle. But God’s grace is sufficient. And, I understand now that she’s going to be right by my side whenever I need help.
God may not remove this thing from me. Or, maybe He will if
I ask him to specifically take it away, by name; now that I know what it is.
Either way, I understand where Paul was coming from when he wrote those words
in 2 Corinthians. I have comfort knowing my wife supports and believes in me. I
have courage knowing that God will be with me when numbers challenge me. His grace
Friends, I’m 46 years old and finally coming to terms with an issue I’ve harbored my entire life. God, in His loving kindness, brought understanding and peace into my situation. Just as important, He made it okay for me to share with others. He turned my weakness into a source of His strength and I have a confidence like never before, because I know those who are most important to me are by my side. I don’t have to be ashamed of my personal struggle anymore. So, be encouraged if you’re facing something monumental. God is greater than anything you may face. You may not ever be able to fully defeat all of your struggles, but God’s grace will supply the strength to push through, when you do not have it on your own.
To be clear, this discussion’s crosshairs are trained on my
brothers and sisters in Christ. I’d like to open up a double-standard dialogue
that seems to be swept under the rug often. Let me set the table.
Star Wars films, Lord of the Rings: Trilogy, The Hobbit:
Trilogy, The Avengers films, Shazaam!, Aladdin. What’s a common denominator in
all of these great works of art? Magic is present.
Star Wars—The Force
Lord of the Rings—Wizardry
The Hobbit—more Wizardry
The Avengers—Magic and Sorcery
Aladdin—even more Magic
Now, I’m not trying to advocate what you choose to watch
versus what you stay away from. That’s your business. Quite often, I hear
church folk say to kids, “If Jesus was in the room, would you be watching that?”
My intent is not to condemn or accuse you of hypocrisy in regards to your choice
of movies. This is more a question I’m hoping will actually invite
The aforementioned films and trilogies are considered cinematic
classics and desirable movies to watch, based solely on their content and
storylines. No self-acclaimed movie buff would dare turn a scowl toward the
movies on the list. In truth, it’s the fantasy elements that make most of these
movies entertaining. We all enjoy the mesmerizing action and human emotional
elements of these films.
So why is it that the Christian community has declared war
on the Harry Potter films and their spinoff prequels? Usually, when I ask this
question of some of my Christian-friends, the immediate answer revolves around
the Potter films promoting dark magic. But, when I bring up something like, “Well
so do ‘The Lord of the Rings’ films; so what’s the difference,” I’m usually met
with either a subject change, or an awkward stare.
Personally, I always thought the Potter films were about the
never-ending struggle between good and evil, just like the rest of the films and
trilogies on my list. It just seems, in my opinion, that while we Christians take
no issue with Doctor Strange mastering the dark arts in the name of protecting
humanity, or Gandalf the Grey (or the White depending on which trilogy you’re
in) wielding magic in defense of the light, we are up in arms about Professor
Dumbledore teaching Harry Potter to be a Wizard.
How exactly does that work, without being hypocritical?
Personally, the Harry Potter films don’t bother me, because I’ve watched them along with everything else on my list. It’s entertainment. I don’t really think there was any malicious intent involved in the creation of any of them any more than C.S. Lewis had, while penning The Chronicles of Narnia. I think my question is more pointed at the “why”. Why were the Potter films blacklisted among the Christian community where the others were not? Why are the Potter films deemed dangerous, where the other films are not? Why is the House of Gryffindor more of a threat to our spiritual growth, than The Jedi Temple?
I think what I’d like to see is a hard stance from the Christian community regarding such entertainment. I’d like to see Christians take one stance or another, either completely for fantasy, or totally against it. See, I witnessed a Pastor condemn the Harry Potter films in front of a group of kids, but enthusiastically post photos of his family at the theater on opening day for one of the Star Wars movies. That’s not confusing? Like I said, I’m all for the entertainment of the films. Fantasy is my favorite genre of story, so I like them all. But, I think it sets a bad example and maybe even confuses kids if we begin to pick and choose which fantasy movies are fine to watch, when they all contain the same content.
I enjoyed watching Harry grow up learning his craft, back in the day. I think it would be interesting to see what his children’s adventures would be like today. The thing is, I understand that it’s all entertainment, just like the Wizards of The Lord of the Rings, or the Sith and Jedi of Star Wars, or the Genie of Aladdin. It’s all entertainment. That’s why we watch it. It entertains.
I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the subject. Drop a
comment, and let me know how you feel about it.
Today, I want to share the work of my cousin, Dwayne. He’s a father, son, brother, husband; an every-day man walking through life’s challenges and pitfalls just like the rest of us. But D has a secret bag of talents stashed deep–REALLY deep–that he’s finally ready to share with the world. Writing is only one of them. It’s his outlet of choice, and he’s beginning to figure out that God gave him this talent for a reason. Today, we’re going to hear what he’s got to say.
I’m proud of you, kid. Always have been; always will be.
If Not Now…When?
I pray so much that my
knees are bleeding,
Praying, “Lord please
help me, cos my soul need healing.”
Praying, “Lord please
help me, cos this sin I’m in got me beaten.”
Through my eyes, you can’t
see the turmoil of my soul,
But I’m yearning for just
a touch, of the helm of your clothes,
So I’m crying out, “JESUS
PLEASE, WAIT DONT LEAVE!!!”
“It’s me; your lost sheep, and it’s through you I hope to gain the salvation I seek.”
My knees still bleeding
from the way that I pray,
But God must have me on Do-Not-Disturb cos I don’t think he can
hear what I say.
I can’t stand to take an “L” so with every loss that I take,
I re-evaluate my tools
and every step of my faith.
With every step I’ve
taken, did I keep my eyes on the Lord?
Did I give him my
problems, then take them back?
I’ve done that multiple times before.
You say, “Don’t believe
in Christ; to each his own my friend.”
But did you know that
Jesus will receive you with open arms?
Meaning he will extend
to you his holy hand.
You don’t believe in salvation,
so that you can forever party in the promised land?
But you believe if you
Into the bathroom with no lights on,
And say his name three times,
In the mirror you will see The Candy-Man.
Is your faith about
religion or race?
If your faith is about division, then we’re in the wrong place.
I say, “We’re in the
wrong place,” cos division breeds hate.
Jesus is all love y’all;
that’s all I’m tryin’ to say.
But I’m only an expert
of me; I can’t speak for you all.
Just telling you bits of my truths and progressions as I walk with the lord.
This is my story; a
piece of it, if you may.
But before I leave, I
have one last thing to say.
I share my story to
speak for those who can relate to this.
Let’s get our vertical
relationship right before our time expires and our salvation is missed.
For me, writing is therapeutic. It’s an activity I’ve consistently engaged throughout my life, yet I’ve never been able to make a profession out of it. A lot of times when I write, the focus isn’t about attention for the content in and of itself. No, the writing is my way of working things out; pulling them from the inside and allowing them to flow externally. There’s something about writing that actually forces me to methodically and even prayerfully face my personal issues constructively and intentionally. I hope that makes some sort of sense, because there is purpose behind this letter to you.
I had an opportunity to watch the round-table discussion you participated in, alongside Lecrae, Tedashii, Ben, Sam and Shanti. Man, it was such a powerful discussion with a lot of great incite into what everyday people deal with on personal levels. It also highlighted the need (for me) for the body of Christ to really support one another, because you never know what folks are going through personally. Although we may look like we have it altogether on the outside, people are truly dealing with serious issues on the inside. You spoke about your struggles in constantly dealing with church-hurt; how it seems to keep happening to you. I think what really resonated with me, was when you followed up with, “Sometimes, it’s hard to get out of bed.”
Fam, that struggle is real. And what’s amazing about it, is
I didn’t even realize I was numb to that reality within myself, until someone
else admitted to having the same struggle. Wade, I’m a God-fearing husband,
father and brother. I’m a deacon in my church; I read my Word constantly; stay
prayed up; reach out to my brothers in need; teach the Discovery Rangers age-group
of the Royal Rangers at my church; I use my God-given talents to write and create
music. With all of that stated, I struggle with joy regularly. I know I’m supposed
to be content knowing that my Salvation is intact, by the atoning work of
Christ’s sacrifice. But brother, sometimes man…I find myself asking God, “Lord,
what’s the point of all this? I’m not completely happy in my profession; we
continue to struggle; I feel like I’m wasting the gifts you’ve given me,
because I see no fruit; the older I get, the more I realize time is short. Did
I miss a window of opportunity to do something great? What am I really doing
here? Jesus, where are you?”
A couple of weeks ago, my church hosted a night-of-worship, on a Friday evening. Earlier that day, I went to work bitter over not being able to write anything within recent months. I’d had it out with God that morning. My attitude was literally like this:
“Okay, here’s the deal, Lord: since I can’t seem to find
anything to write about lately and you don’t seem to want to give me anything,
I quit. Right here, and right now. I’m done writing, period. It hasn’t made any
difference, so maybe it was all just my
dream anyway. If you want me to stick with it, for some unforeseen reason, then
you’re gonna have to make it clear to me.”
And with that, I’d officially decided to put down my pen, figuratively speaking. That night, I went to church, for the night-of-worship celebration, without so much as a single word to my wife of what I’d said to the Lord. It wasn’t any of her business, as far as I was concerned. Brother, the atmosphere was truly Spirit-filled. Our worship team cranked out song after song, and the presence of the Holy Spirit was evident throughout the night. Shortly after, our lead pastor broke into prayer over the congregation and over folks who’d made their way to the alter. And then, he pointed at me. He found me, at my seat, three rows back from the alter and announced, “Wait a minute. I don’t normally do this; I don’t normally call people out personally. Brother Ennis, the Lord wants me to tell you, ‘Don’t quit on your gifts.’ Don’t quit, brother. Don’t quit. I don’t know what that means, but He knows you’ll understand.”
Dude. I lost it. My strength left me. I fell into my chair and let the tears flow free. God had just called me out. Wade, He spoke to me personally through my pastor. Seriously, what it looked like, was exactly what it was. The Lord had answered my gripe.
Despite that very personal miracle, each day is another choice
for me to remember the promise and choose to get out of bed. I have to choose
to remember the continued-blessings the Lord bestows on the Smith family daily.
My marriage is strong; my wife and children are healthy. We have a roof over
our heads; the bills are paid; the refrigerators are full; the cars are
operational; the jobs are still providing and we have His favor in our lives.
Each day, I have to choose to deny the desire for “more”: more stuff; more free
time; more fun; more excitement; the superficial. Each day, I have to choose to
remember there are people out there in the world going through serious issues.
When I do, my personal gripes against life in general don’t seem so important
anymore. I have to choose to remember He really is in control of everything.
So, what’s all of that got to do with you personally? Maybe nothing, Wade. Or just maybe, it has a little to do with you. I’ve followed your ministry for quite a few years; followed you over various social media platforms and even had the pleasure of holding a conversation with you over the phone, once. You’ve always been open in sharing your life experiences with your fans, whether good or bad, and it continues to set an example of the type of people we should try to be. Celebrity has a way of widening the gap between famous public figures and the average Jane/Joe. But, I think some folks find a way to speak to the average citizen simply by sharing their life experiences and intentionally reaching back every once in a while, to personally touch a life. The round-table discussion did that for me. It clicked something within, forcing me to consider what I struggle with deep down. Lecrae said something to the effect of folks misinterpreting James’ verse on “counting it all joy” when we face trials. I think he was right; I think…until you face something earth-shattering, whether it is extremely public or secretly private, you really won’t understand the significance of James 1:2. But, I believe God continues to use His people to help one another through trials, even when the far-reaching results of simply sharing testimony cannot be seen. Tedashii has no idea how many people he continues to speak to, by simply sharing his testimony. I hope that by being brave and continuing to share, healing continues to be perfected in the young brother’s life. Likewise for Shanti, Lecrae and yourself. I hope you all realize and recognize the Lord’s work through you all, by sharing your testimonies. You need to remember that for the days when getting out of bed in the morning seem like a Mount-Everest climb, brother.
Today, I slept late because there was nothing particularly exciting to wake up for. But, I got up, Wade. I got up, and I remembered that somewhere in the world, others might be struggling to grab hold of joy and rise out of bed, too. Why not let them know they’re not alone? Why not remind them, through whatever talent I have, that joy comes in the morning? You just have to choose to believe in it. And, it’s okay to let others know that the struggle they’re battling is real, but there exists strength in numbers. God doesn’t makes mistakes. I believe…what you may be going through can be used later as a ladder or bridge to help others hurdle the same thing. That’s the power in testimony.
Everyone has the song; not just a song, as if something randomly picked from a mental library of compositions over a lifetime of music. I’m talking about that one song–uniquely special to every individual. It’s that one tune with the power to transform your entire mood, from the time your ears register the opening bars of melody, or the first measure of the beat. It’s the song. If you had to make out your last will and testament right now, the ending line would read, “And on my deathbed, I want to hear…playing in the background.” You feel it right now, don’t you? As you’re reading this, the song is filling your subconscious with joy. That’s the power of music. I honestly feel pity for folks who don’t genuinely enjoy melodies and harmonies. They’re deprived of one of life’s treasured gifts.
Music flows through my veins. My wife once asked me, “Do you hear music inside your head all the time?”
Yep. I can’t turn it off; even at night when I lay my head down. I usually drift off to the beating of my heart, ringing in my ears. I hear a kick drum.
Everyone’s got the song. But the problem with most musicians–whether novice or professional–is they covet more than one song. Sometimes, I can replay significant events in my memory and they flash across the back of my eyes like movie scenes complete with soundtrack music.
For instance, whenever my wedding day is mentioned or thought of, Luther Vandross’ “Here and Now” automatically dominates whatever scene is replaying in my memory. That song will forever be fused to that special day, within my heart. It was my wife’s choice and simply became a permanent fixture for every scene of our marriage.
I don’t care where I am in the world, or how I’m feeling at a given moment; Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock’s “It Takes Two” will jump-start my mood every time. I was in the 9th grade, the first time I heard that explosive drum beat drop, and was instantly hooked. Today, when no one’s watching, I still dance and recite the whole song.
Music has that power to inspire and ignite. That power is timeless. Some of my all-time classics stir something deep within me today, just as powerfully as they did decades ago.
When I was a kid, I was tortured with different types of sounds and tones constantly running through head. I used to love to sit and listen to my uncle D pound away on the keys of my grandma’s old stand-up piano. It was the only time I really felt like music could be controlled, because he made it look so easy, stringing the different keys together creating melodies. As I grew older, my Mom bought my first drum machine–A Casio 4-pad player complete with drum sticks. My dad bought my first keyboard–an entry level digital Casio with basic voices and a single record function. Through the years, I fumbled around those pieces of equipment trying desperately to recreate the sounds in my head.
But, it wasn’t until the turn of the new century that I finally got hold of something that would help my struggles–rather…someone. Jesus. When I came to Christ, I met a brother named Rob who introduced me to chords. And once I figured out that the sounds I had been playing around with my entire life actually had names, designations and patterns…well my friend…I suddenly learned that I could make my own music. I just needed to practice assembling chords to make melodies. Music and I became best friends.
There is a legend within Christianity, that says Satan–once the Archangel Lucifer–was heaven’s choir director. He was the leader of eternity’s most awesome group in charge of worshiping the Lord. But, he got gassed up on his own talent and decided that he should be running things instead of God. Well…that didn’t turn out too well for him and his constituents. They found themselves evicted. Down here on earth, there is a belief that he’s using music (to this very day) to sway the hearts and minds of many, turning them away from God.
I believe there’s truth in that. Do I believe ALL music is bad? That’s absurd! But, I do believe there exists music that breathes life just as there is music that promotes death. We have to be selective in what we allow to come into our hearts.
Once upon a time, I was completely drawn to the type of music that made me angry inside; wrathful and arrogant. I bought into the culture surround this type of music and it dominated my life, changing me into someone very different from the man I am today. People try to label things to get a grip on what they really don’t understand. I just call it what it is: death music. Whether it was gangsta rap, trip-hop or death metal, I sampled it all with the misguided belief of being a “student of all music”.
Today is different, though. I’m pretty selective in what I listen to and well aware of how some genres affect the Spirit within me. Music with God-edifying lyrics moves me in a way I hadn’t experienced early on in life; it doesn’t matter if it’s Christian Contemporary or Christian Rap. I can vibe to Chris Tomlin or Bizzle; Kari Jobe, Lauren Daigel; Datin; or Selah Tha Corner.
Just as easily, I can still vibe to old school Motown, Golden Age hip hop, 80’s pop and classical music as well. Some Christians are bothered by secular music and choose not to listen; and that’s totally okay, if it’s what you need to do to remain close to God. I’m a Christian man who still listens to some secular music. While I’m very selective in what I listen to for personal reasons, I’m not worrying about Jesus condemning me. Everyone has to work out their own relationship with the Lord, individually. What works for me might not work for someone else. What speaks to me, might not for others. But there is no judgment in me, when it comes down to someone else’s choice. A guy who struggles with N.W.A. lyrics will eventually have to make a choice. I gave it up long ago but it took time, and I had to be ready. Even in music, the struggle is real.
I believe everyone’s got a song. Some people simply haven’t heard it, yet. Sometimes in life, things happen and there are no words to express the resulting feeling. There are times when music knows exactly what to say. Have you ever seen a woman cry at the sound of a beautiful voice? Have you ever seen a baby stop and listen to the sound of his/her mother singing in another room?
“The Greatest Showman” was a pleasant surprise for me. Watching Hugh Jackman prance around in tights, singing show tunes was not my idea of an awesome movie night. I really wanted to watch something explode onscreen, but the boss called the shots that night. And so, I watched…and was amazed. There was–in fact–one particular scene that blew me away.
Jenny Lind took the stage, and sang “Never Enough”. Dude. From the time she sang the first verse of the chorus, my mouth literally fell agape. Yeah, I get it; the actress wasn’t really singing. Her acting only added to the beauty of the voice behind the lyrics. Barnum’s facial expression must’ve mimicked my own. It was amazing watching that scene for the first time. The words simply escaped me.
Some songs just know what to say and how to say it, when words fail us. The wonder of music is that when instruments combine in just the right way, the heart flutters. When a voice hits the pure tone attuned to your heart, heaven opens for a brief moment in time. Music is just that powerful. The world would be a drab place without it.