Walking Through the Open Door

Standard

1 Peter 5:10 (NLT) – “In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation.”

Just because we are believers doesn’t mean we are exempt from trials and suffering. Peter knew this more than most, because he had endured countless attacks due to his belief in Jesus Christ. But he always kept the faith that God was at work within his life, despite his many encounters with opposition. Peter knew that he would be restored someday, even if that “someday” was the day of the Lord’s return. I want to share a true story, that brought this Scripture verse home for me.

For quite awhile, I was unhappy on my job. The original company I’d worked for had recently been acquired through merger with a larger firm. Dynamics were changed, new policies were enacted and generally speaking there were some challenges. All in all, it ceased to be a good fit for me. I prayed diligently on the matter, and before too long, I was presented with several prospective opportunities. While the first two just didn’t seem right for me, the third choice lined up as if God had specifically spoken into my life. It lined up so well, that I doubted it. So, before lunging head first at the opportunity, I took time to pray even more. I believe God confirmed that third choice through several ways: speaking with my pastor; bible scriptures pointing toward following the Lord’s direction; and there was a peace I felt over the whole decision. The time came when I signed the necessary documents and set a date for starting my new career. At the same time, I drafted a profession letter of resignation from my existing firm, and offered a timeframe of 3 weeks notice.

The day after I submitted my letter of resignation, I contracted viral pinkeye, and had to take days off from work. Four days after the submission–and incidentally four days into my sick leave–I received a call from the Vice President of my division. He wanted me to reconsider my decision to leave the company because it “looked bad” for me to leave after the company had invested so much into my developement. I respectfully declined, and thanked him for the time spent working together. The VP suggested that I take the weekend to reconsider the resignation. Here, I’ll divert.

Faith requires us to believe even when we cannot see the outcome. Oh, sure we read about it all the time in bible stories and listen to testimonies and T.V. shows with happy endings, so we know faith is real. But, it isn’t until you’re truly faced with tough decisions that you find out just how strong your faith really is. That weekend, I struggled terribly with the 11th hour decision. Do I stay put, and retain the company car and all of my health benefits, especially at a time when I’m dealing with a progressive health issue? There is safety in the known. Or, do I follow what I believe to be the Lord’s direction, honor the signed documentation of a new company and start a new career at 43 years old: no health benefits; no company car; no seniority. For a brief moment friends, I chose to stay right where I was, because logic dictated that to be the smart move. But, once again, God confirmed. My wife reminded me that we had prayed for months for God to open new doors of opportunity for me, professionally. And I was reminded that once he opens one door, he shuts another. How can I claim to love the Lord if I do not follow his direction, even in the tough times?

The follow Monday, I gave the VP my final answer, and was immediately terminated from my job. The day was May 2, 2016. Because my last day of physical work on the job had been Tuesday, April 26, 2016, I would received no sick leave time from that point (I had apparently run out), and my health insurance benefits had effectively expired on the last day of April. No benefits, no company car, no income for at least four whole weeks. When God opens one door, he shuts another for good. We have to decide whether or not we are willing to walk through the new door.

Today, my pinkeye has me irritated and I have to beat my flesh into submission because it constantly wants to run contingency plans for the tough times ahead. But, I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe I made the best decision for my family. I believe that what Peter said in the Scripture above is truth, and God will restore, support, strengthen and set my feet on a solid foundation. The physical and spiritual struggles I’m enduring right now are only temporary. I look at it as the enemy attempting to get me to doubt God’s deity. But, we have to always remember who we truly serve, and he’s not a failure.

I didn’t want to write this story to put my business out into the wind for attention. I actually didn’t want to share this at first, because part of my battle with my flesh is dealing with the reality of being fired from a job. The circumstances surrounding the shut door don’t even matter. My ego was bruised. But…if sharing this story encourages one person out there to look to and lean on God’s word during sufferings, sharing this story was worth it. Since this was such a long post, let me share that verse with you once again. And, be encouraged friend. When you’re going through the struggles, recognize that you must be on the side of God, because Satan is persecuting you so heavily. My vision is blurry, and I struggled throughout this entire writing.  But I finished it, for someone out there beyond my keyboard. Be encouraged because God is still with you.

1 Peter 5:10 (NLT) – “In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation.”

 

*Always*

Right Where I Am

Standard

Hey family! Can you see me? Did you enjoy the music of Beach Dreamin’? Yeah man! It’s not just about the writing with this guy, here. Occasionally, I’ll do something musically creative. I’ve got a gooey soft spot for House Music so, there ya go.

Right now, I’m sitting in my dimly lit study. Miles Davis’, “Kind Of Blue” sets the tone via my iPod, while I peck at the keys of my laptop. It’s a laid back kind of Friday. For a short while, we’ve got money in the bank account, food on the table, the car’s still hanging on, and nothing is broken in the house–except my Windows Vista desktop tower–that can’t be easily fixed. A man’s gotta learn to appreciate the small respites of life. There are pauses in battle.

This past week has shown me a lot of what we chase after, in a never-ending pursuit of happiness. I saw a Facebook feature article of 9 famous rappers who claimed to be rich, when they were dead broke. A couple of guys on the list spent time in jail for tax evasion to the tune of over 1 million dollars each. Another claimed bankruptcy and pleaded with the judge that he couldn’t afford to pay 5 hundred dollars a month for child support. I recall one of his albums going platinum a decade ago. Money…

I recalled a feature on a few celebrities who had committed suicide, and were now worshipped as martyrs by scores of adoring fans unable to let go. I saw another Facebook video that featured some current big-name stars having candid interviews about the price of fame and the resulting depression that accompanies the isolation of superstardom. Fame…

Why do we hate God so much, that we choose to look for a sense of satisfaction found nowhere else but in his presence? Why is it so hard for us to accept the gift of his grace and mercy, and the reality that his love is sufficient enough to give us real and lasting peace? Why do we continue to chase after money and fame–on any level–believing those mirages to be the answer to the void we’re all born with?

We are born with a void. At some point in the lives of everyone, its presence becomes apparent. Thus begins the chase; the pursuit…for happiness. Some folks turn to sex, some to drugs, some to occupations, some to thrills. Millionaires deal with it just as the poor experience it. Powerful men of diplomacy search for something they can’t identify, just as a faceless patron lost in a sea of followers yearns for a plug to fill the void of her heart. All the while, the answer surrounds us.

JESUS

Tonight, I’m far from claiming financial independency. On Monday, I’ve got to wake up and clock in just like everyone else. I’m nobody special in the world; just another uninteresting face among many. You might walk by me on the street, and not even recognize that you’ve just recently read something I’ve written. But…tonight…I’ve got peace. I know that Jesus, has filled–and is continuing to fill–the void I was born with, because I asked him into my heart.

I’m not preparing to go tear up the club, or get turnt up, or skirt chase. No sir, on this Friday evening, I’m spending my time writing and basking in the presence of the Lord. I’m thanking him for the little victories and the covered necessities. I’m cool…right where I am.

Little Gifts

Standard

My 10-year old son, Isaiah, is your average variety video-game junkie. I claim full responsibility, because I was hooked from the days of the Atari 2600. Ahhh, Donkey Kong…

…where was I? Oh yeah…

Isaiah doesn’t take to reading the bible on his own, so I have to make him pick it up and read alongside me. From time to time, I catch him actually digging the stories and chapters we read. Tonight was one of those little gifts. As we read through Luke 10, my little guy had questions pertaining to his own responsibilities as a believer.

“What happens if I try to tell someone, who doesn’t know me, about Jesus and the bible? They’re not gonna listen to me.”

“That’s not your responsibility, son,” I told him. ” It’s not up to you to fully convince people of the gospel, because that’s a work of the heart by the power of the Holy Spirit. Your job is to tell folks about the Lord, and to do your best to live the Christian life in front of people and when you’re alone.”

He thought about this for a moment.

“So, I don’t have to try to get everybody to believe? That just seems too hard.”

“No. Not everyone will listen to what you have to say. But don’t let that keep you from telling them anyway, because God can use you to get to whomever he wants. But just remember that it’s not your responsibility to save anyone. You can’t. That’s God’s responsibility. We’re called to follow him, and spread his gospel.”

I saw it click in his eyes. For one brief moment, he wasn’t thinking about YouTube, Rhett & Link, Creepers or MarioKart. He was thinking on things of the Lord, and he was planning to go to work in school tomorrow; kingdom work.

Tonight, I felt like an accomplished dad.


 

Proverbs 22:6 (ESV) – “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

Repentance

Standard

Dear Lord,

I spend a lot of time complaining about the lack of attention I receive. I clock hours writing articles and stories that I claim glorify you. I work into the late night hours, and sometimes days, putting together original beats and melodies with the plans of writing God-glorifying lyrics or at least passing the instrumentals on to an artist who will honor you. My DJ controller/mixer has clocked some pretty insane hours as I constantly record sessions for my various social media sites. Speaking of social media, I’ve spent loads of time trolling and following various Christian artists and authors; reaching out to give a word of encouragement whenever I feel led to do so.

Through it all, I convince myself I’m doing your will. But tonight I dug deep and faced the truth. In my heart, I’ve long for the glory you deserve. I’ve secretly harbored a desire to hear or read a comment from someone—anyone—who gets where I’m coming from; who acknowledges my efforts.

“Hey brother, just wanted to let you know what you said to me really touched my heart.”

“Hey Ennis, your music really grabbed hold of me today.”

“Brother E, I just wanted to say ‘Thank You’ for writing that piece today. It really spoke to me.”

When did my selfish ambitions take the place of your glorification, Lord? When did you receiving the honor become cheap, compared to me receiving praise for my efforts? When did I fall victim to selfish desires, through the gifts you’ve given me?

In my heart, I want people to praise my writing; my music; my witty banter; my words of encouragement. I want it for me. When I pray that you would bless my talents, I’m praying for self-glorification. Your glory is a distant second despite my words.

This is hard for me to write and accept, because no one wants to acknowledge their own dark side. I need you to know that I see what you’ve known all along. I see my selfish intentions and ambitions. Tonight, I give them to you.

I’m sorry Lord. Please forgive me for putting you behind me. Help me to see clearly, and to use the talents you’ve given me to truly honor you, with no expectations of personal gain. If you don’t get the glory, I don’t want to do it. My confession is real. Guide every step I take, from this moment going forward, Jesus.

Step By Step

Standard

“It only takes one step to start. That’s what he told me. Seemed simple enough. So…why can’t I find momentum?”

You’re not ready yet.

“I thought I was. A man can only take so much, before something gives.”

I know. I understand. It takes time, and a real commitment. Unfortunately, many people choose to go the other way.

“But, the prayer was the first step, right? I mean, I feel like I’m not so…alone…anymore.”

It was. You’re not. But, it can’t stop there. I have so much more in store for you. The plans I have for you, are to give you a hope and a future you can’t even begin to imagine. But, you have to willingly choose to go deeper.

“Pastor says that all the time. I never really understood what it meant. Go deeper, how? He told me one step would change my life.”

And it has. Now that you have a new life, you need to lay down the old one. Part of doing that is getting to know me. I don’t want you to simply know my name. I want you to get to know me intimately. That’s going deeper.

“How do I do that exactly? You’re not going to tell me I need to throw out all of my music, ditch all of my friends, relinquish my intelligence and start meditating all day, are you?”

HA! That’s funny. No, nothing like that. I want you to get close to my Word. Don’t fear it anymore. Learn from it. It’s me. In time, you’ll find me throughout its entirety. I’ve always been there. I’ll always be there. I AM.

“You are—”

I AM.

“What’s that mean?”

It means from the beginning to the end, I will always be. Since you’ve called, and I came, I will never leave you. I will fight for you, but I will not compete for your love. You have to willingly choose.

“What’s the choice I have to make? Why can’t you just come into my life and add good things to what I already have? Why does there have to be a choice?”

I know it seems hard at first. Maybe even unfair. But it has to be this way. Light and darkness can’t coexist. You have to choose between the life I offer and the life behind you.

“So…no middle ground? No compromise?”

No. But I promise you this: though the road may get rough, I’ll always walk it with you; one step at a time. Soon enough, you’ll find that the music you loved, some of the friends you cherished, even your former way of thinking will seem flawed compared to what I will show you.

“And what’s that? I’m already bad off. Giving up all the good stuff in my life is going to gain what?”

My peace.

“Peace.”

My peace; a peace you’ve never known but have always yearned for. You already feel a small portion of it.

“How do you know?”

We’re talking.

“-”

Yes. Let that sink in for a moment.

“Jesus—it feels weird to speak your name out loud.”

I know it does, at first. Don’t be ashamed.

“Jesus, I want to try to get to know you better. Will you help me?”

Absolutely. Now, we’re walking together.

 

* Jeremiah 29:11*

Faith’s Challenge

Standard

Believing For Greater Things In 2016 is the vision of River Of Life Assembly Of God church (Belleville, Mi.) this year. We are taking to heart, “faith the size of a mustard seed”, and believing that this will be a year of awesome praise reports, phenomenal testimonies and evidences of God’s movement in the lives of individual families, as well as the body of our church. God moves mountains for people, by faith.

We all harbor dreams. Some are small, while others are the size of 747 airplanes. I think the disconnect between witnessing some dreams fulfilled and others deferred lies in the strength of one’s faith. Sure, God won’t answer every prayer we toss up willy-nilly; I get that. But, I also believe that some prayers are just waiting to be answered. God simply wants to know if we will believe, by faith, for their fruition. That’s just my opinion. Dreams are often sideswiped by our perception of reality’s boundaries.

Logic challenges faith. My best friend is one of the smartest guys I know. He’s always been an overachiever, from the time we were 9 years old, right up into our 40s. When Eric sets his mind to a task, it’s done, before the first stroke of his hand. Someone possessing that type of drive would have no problem believing for greater things, right?

Wrong.

Eric, knows the intricate boundaries of reality so well, that his own understanding sometimes limits his ability to focus on God’s omnipotent power. He has a difficult time spiritually proclaiming, “Lord, I don’t know how you’re gonna do it, but I’m believing you can and will do it for me, simply because you love me.” It’s a heart thing, friends. It’s not enough to simply speak the words. You have to believe it in your heart. That’s faith. It challenges the culture and reality as we know it.

Honestly, I think that was God’s intention all along. Most times, faith defies logic. We’ve seen the shows or heard the reports of doctors who have declared statements such as, “I don’t understand how this happened. Medically, it makes no sense. Someone must be watching over you.” I’ll bet that in many of those instances, if we were able to go back and see everything, we would find prayer warriors believing by faith on behalf of the miracle recipient.

Did you just flinch when I said that? I saw you. You know who I’m talking to.

That’s the problem with doubt. It leaves little room for faith to do what it’s meant to do. Did you know that Jesus returned to his own home country, and was unable to perform miracles–except to lay hands on a few sick people–because of their lack of faith? That fascinates me! The bible says, in Mark 6:6 that he marveled because of their unbelief. Jesus Christ marveled at the unbelief of the people! That actually makes me wonder how many times I personally threw away blessings from the LORD, because of my own unbelief due to lack of faith. Think about it for a moment. I really don’t care if you’re a believer or not. For one brief moment, I dare you to force yourself to think about this statement:

“What if I actually believe it can happen, for once?”

You can insert whatever you like for “it” to make it personal. Just do it. Ask the question, and seriously think on it. Two bible verses that help me to constantly put faith into perspective are these:

Psalm 37:4 (ESV)- “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

and

Proverbs 16:9 (NKJV)- “A man’s heart plans his way, but the LORD guides his steps.”

Faith challenges us to ignore our surrounding circumstances and trust God to do what seems impossible. Today, I challenge you to pick one dream; one prayer; one desire; one choice and focus on it, no matter how impossible its obtainability may seem. Then…I dare you to start believing that God can accomplish it for you.

Loss

Standard

The Lord awoke me at 4am, last Thursday. I didn’t have to pee, but I did have an eyelash poking at my eyeball, so I slowly made my way down the steps toward the bathroom. After a quick flush underneath the warm faucet tap water, I dried my face, stepped back into the hallway and glanced toward the dark living room. There I saw Pumpkin, our family tabby cat, sprawled out in a deep stretch; no different than the thousand times I’d seem him asleep in this pose before. In the past, he would hop up and lead the way toward the kitchen where his favorite treats were hidden in a low cupboard. I walked into the living room expecting him to pounce up. A tiny smirk lifted my right dimple at the old goofy furball. Just as I was about to speak, I flipped on the soft glow lamp, glanced down at my longtime pet and instantly knew.

Pumpkin had passed away in the night. His lifeless body lay there. His eyes were frozen open in an unfocused stare. His mouth was slightly ajar, as if suspended mid yawn. I was petrified. My heart lept into my throat. After what seemed like an eternity and an instant all at once, I nudged the back of his head with my foot, hoping to rouse him from some sort of weird sleep. But instead of his head bobbing, his whole body shifted across the carpet. Rigor mortis had already set his lifeless muscles. My heart sank. I dropped to my knees and rubbed a hand over the fur of his little head. His ears were cold. He was gone. My little furry son–whom I’d raised as part of my family; older than both Jordynn and Isaiah–had died.

Instead of breaking down, I prayed. My fingers wrapped around his little face. I bowed my head, and spoke.

“Lord, thank you for the 16 years of companionship you gave us with him. I’m grateful for the fun times. I’m grateful that he watched over Jordynn and Isaiah through the years. I don’t have a clue where the souls of pets rest, but if you could make an exception, please take care of my Pumpkin. I will praise you in the good and the bad times, Lord. This is a bad time. I’m gonna love you anyway. Goodbye buddy.”


 

Thursday afternoon was rough. My wife and I sat the kids down after school. I gingerly announced the news, then waited. Ten year old Isaiah, burst into laughter, thinking it was the best joke of all time…until his seventeen year old sister Dominque, broke down and sobbed. She was just shy of two years old, when I’d brought Pumpkin home as a kitten. Thirteen year old Jordynn paled. The youngest of our two daughters, she sat stoic on the couch, wringing her hands and desperately staving off tears. My baby had known Pumpkin her whole life. Twenty-three year old Tomas was the rock of the bunch. My son stood in the archway between the hallway and livingroom like a stone tower. Only his glum expression betrayed his heartache.

As I embraced Dominque and tried to comfort her, the air within the livingroom split with the worse sound imaginable. Little Isaiah’s world had just shattered. My youngest son wailed. He ran for his mother and curled into a ball, as she cradled him on the loveseat. I’ll never forget the sound of his cries. All I wanted to do was take away the pain. He was completely devastated…and I could do nothing to patch his world back together. Pumpkin had been his living stuffed animal. They’d shared food, against Isaiah’s wishes of course. They had fallen asleep together. They had played alongside each other. Isaiah’s life had immediately changed, and he knew things would never be the same again.

After some time, we gathered in a circle  and prayed for our beloved cat. We said our final goodbyes.  Isaiah cried long into the night. Then, there was the silence of mourning.


Tomas recently asked me why death hurts.

“Do you think we’re selfish because we want our loved one with us?” he asked. “Do you think we don’t really believe we’ll ever see them again?”

Friends, I’ll tell you what I told my son. My belief isn’t necessarily applicable to my deceased cat, but more-so to  loved ones in general. The bible tells us that every man is born with an inherited knowledge of God, deep within. I don’t care if you claim there is no God. Deep down within your spirit, you know God exists, because He put it in you. You may not recognize God, but that doesn’t make Him any less real.

Along with that, I believe that we all have a knowledge of death’s finale. When someone dies, we know we’ll never see them walking this earth, again. We can thank Adam and Eve for ushering death into the world, through sin. We feel it. We know it to be true. Why do you think people spend billions of dollars every year on creams, products, equipment and procedures in a futile attempt to retain youth? We fear death’s sting.

I think the pain of death hurts because, in our humanity, we will miss our loved ones, even if spiritually we hope their passing means no more pain for them. We don’t want to give them up. We don’t want to hear statements such as, “His time was up,” or “God called her home.” Although it is true that we all have an appointed time, deep down, we really don’t want to consider the implications of that painful truth. Some funerals are called, “Home Going Ceremonies” and toted as times of celebration at the passing of a loved one. None of us naturally celebrate the passing of our beloved. In the flesh, we want them around, because to be without them is painful…for us.

What if you knew, without a shadow of doubt, that when we died we would wake up in the perfection of heaven, and in the presence of Jesus Christ himself? You gotta get this, now: what if you knew this to be true? If your Mother were going to die of cancer today, leaving behind a horrible 6-month battle, would you still want her to stay here for your benefit or go where she would be at peace, without the troubles we still have to deal with here? That’s the struggle with humanity, I’m talking about.

I believe in heaven. I believe in God. I believe that when the faithful Christian dies, he (or she) will be present with the Lord at the appointed time. That’s being in the presence of perfection, folks! Who wouldn’t want that for their beloved? But, just as I believe in these truths, when my loved ones die, my humanity still cries foul.

Where death is concerned, I think we are a little selfish. And, I think that maybe some of us do question what happens after.  But, for those of us who believe in the words of Jesus, eventually, we find comfort in the passing of our loved ones. We live with a hope and an expectancy that they will meet us again.


 

We raised Pumpkin from infancy into adulthood. My kitty never had to fend for himself. He never fought an outside cat, since he was content to stay indoors his entire life. He never went hungry. He purred a lot. He played with us, and sometimes he bit us, when he needed an attitude adjustment. I will miss him meeting me at the door after work, not because he was happy to see me, but because he wanted  treats; bourgeois prissy boy. I will miss his affinity for the piano. I will miss his tenacity. If he wanted your food, he’d take it from you, if you didn’t fight him off first. I’ll miss watching him chase lasers, neckties and feathers. I will miss his weird sleep poses. I’ll miss his raspy meow. I will miss my furry boy.

Despite our loss, I accept the fact that his time among us was up. And I wouldn’t change a thing. Who knows the mind of God? Lord, I will praise you in the good and the bad times.

Wherever the spirit of my Pumpkin is now, I hope he’s happily romping through open fields of grass, with all the treats he could ever want.

 

 

Pumpkin “Spice” Smith

7/4/99 – 1/14/16

Beloved Family House Cat