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

The Cross

Standard

Luke 9:23 – “And he said to them all, ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.'”

QUESTION: What does the cross mean to you?

I want you to take a moment and see a version of it in your mind. At the heart of a Christian’s faith lies that image. We might not all agree on what Jesus might have looked like as he walked the earth, but I’ll bet we can all agree on the universal image of the cross. Though two believers of different denominations may imagine its detail differently, the silhouette is unmistakable. Never in the history of mankind has one image invoked the gamut of emotions the way the cross does.

  • Atheists might say, “There is no God, so I don’t think about it.”
  • A new believer might view it as a painful reminder capping the humiliation and torture our Lord endured for us.
  • A seasoned pastor may look on the cross with joy, as reassurance of the completed work of Abba Father, once for all mankind.
  • Still, others may look at it as nothing more than an accessory to complement the watch and bracelet worn today.

IN 43 years, I’ve harbored each of those attitudes of the cross. For most of my childhood, it represented nothing more than a long vertical stick attached to a short horizontal stick; not even worth a second thought compared to my toys. Through adolescence, I developed an atheistic arrogance and disdain for those who coveted it. I treated it as a simple accessory to dangle from my gold chain, with no regard for the significance of its existence. Sixteen years ago, the cross brought about feelings of solemn reverence, even sad respect, because I couldn’t understand why Jesus would allow himself to endure that kind of punishment for me.

Today…today, the cross is my source of inspiration. Whenever times are rough, the valleys are especially low, and it seems as if I can’t catch a breathe of fresh air for the life circumstances surrounding me, I remember that image stands for victory. It killed my Lord, but it never stopped him! The cross is the instrument I nail my sinful desires, fears, and anger, to and bury daily; daily, family! You see, it never stops.

Each day I wake, I have to deal with my human flaws. Sometimes my issues just don’t seem fair. The cross reminds me that I serve a God who overcame death itself. The battles I don’t have the strength to conquer he defeats for me, because of his work on the cross. I believe he fights my battles, not because I ask him to bail me out, but because of his ultimate plan for my life; a plan I can’t rightly see the outcome of. Where my human eyes lack the ability to see Jesus bodily, the cross represents his work, in my eyes.

So today, what does the cross mean to you?

 

 

The Eleventh Hour

Standard

This short story was recently published in the new release from Faitherwriters entitled, “Mixed Blessings-Classically Inspired”, available now on Amazon. Enjoy!

 

“Adam.” Henry whispered.

“I’m sorry?” Paul knelt down to get closer to Henry. Surprisingly, the younger man seemed calm given the gravity of what was about to happen. During his 25 years in this business, Paul Whitney had seen the gamut of emotions run through men, at this stage of the process. Some cursed, others cried, still others begged for mercy. Never had he come across a man like Henry Jones: so reserved; almost peaceful. Paul reasoned the kid must be in shock. He needed to hear what was going through Henry’s mind.

Henry slowly turned his head as far as the restraints would allow. Smiling up at Paul, he spoke.

“I said Adam, boss. It all started with Adam. You see, his life was perfect. He had everything a man could ever want or need. And the only requirement for maintaining perfection, was to leave one small tree alone. ‘Don’t touch the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ God told him.”

Paul recognized the story, and his heart suddenly ached for this young man.

“That’s right, Henry. He did, son. But men…even Adam…are sinful by nature. Though Adam was the first man, he wasn’t God’s perfect creation. God knew Adam would commit the ultimate crime.”

“Yeah boss, and we receive the ultimate punishment for it as a result. Hmm…crime and punishment. They’ve walked side by side through time forever. It all started with Adam.”

Paul stalled the proceedings for a few moments. He felt in his heart that Henry Jones was sorting things out, as he sat patiently awaiting his fate. It suddenly came to Paul; the calm and reserve of the young man. He’d heard stories of this before, but had never actually seen it in person. Before he continued with protocol, he had to be sure.

“Henry…son…is there anything, anything else at all, you’d like to say,” he said. His eyes, usually stone boulders encased in a cold emotionless face, now pleaded with the young man.

 ‘Now is your last chance son,’ he tried to will to the young man’s mind.

Henry’s reserve broke. His calm eyes turned somber with guilt and regret. Tears rimmed his lids but refused to spill over. Henry smiled wanly at Paul.

“Boss Whitney, do you honestly think a man can be forgiven for past sins, just before he is punished for his crimes?”

“I do, son. If a man truly…honestly and wholeheartedly repents to the Lord, I believe he is forgiven. Of course, I haven’t read a Bible in a little over 25 years now. But from what I remember, God forgives those who honestly seek his forgiveness.”

“I think I’ve read every day for the past three years, boss. It’s a good book. I’ve read, but I haven’t really…”

“You haven’t believed have you, Henry?”

“No sir. I haven’t. I deserve this, boss Whitney. I deserve to burn in hell for what I’ve done. But I’m afraid. And quite honestly, I’ve felt pretty peaceful with all of this ever since I started reading.”

“That’s good Henry. We all need to believe in something at some point in our lives.”

“What about you, boss? What do you believe in? You haven’t read in 25 years. Maybe it’s time you go back to God yourself. He just might take that sour look away from your face.”

Paul felt a lump in his throat and swallowed hard to compose himself. Clearing his throat, he noticed a tingle in his chest, and stood upright to resume protocol.

“Does the accused have any last request?” He bellowed, staring straight ahead through the observation glass.

“I want to ask God to forgive me for the sins of my past. I don’t deserve his love, but I want to repent just the same. I thank him for each day of peace he’s given me up to this moment. I thank you, boss Whitney, for listening. Lord, please come into my life and save my soul. I’m ready, boss. And boss…I think you should read tonight.”

Paul’s tough exterior cracked.  Though his posture held steady, his heart melted. Tears streamed down his face.

“Henry Jones, electricity will now travel through your body until you are deceased. May God have mercy on your soul.”

Henry slowly shut his eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. Through the reflection of the glass, Paul could see a smile on Henry’s face. God had accepted his plea.

Paul tipped the brim of his cap, and the lights flickered.

Faith, You Must Have

Standard

“I’ve watched this one for a long time. All his life, he’s looked away to the future; to the horizon. Never once did he keep his mind on where …he…was! Hmm? What… he… was doing! Hmmph! Adventure. Heh! Excitement. Heh! A Jedi doesn’t crave these things.  You are reckless!”

Anyone who claims to be a real Star Wars fan knows Yoda’s unique dialect doesn’t flow as simple as that. But, that’s what I heard. I must’ve watched “The Empire Strikes Back” a hundred times since I was a kid. But this time, those accusatory words hit me personally, and square in the heart. On top of that, I watched Luke Skywalker struggle with his faith in the Force; watched as he erroneously judged his command of the Force on the circumstances surrounding him. The icing on my cake of conviction was that infamous dialogue between Luke and Yoda, after Luke’s submerged X-Wing Fighter was levitated out of the bog.

“I don’t…I don’t believe it,” Luke said.

“That is why you fail.” Yoda sighed.

For most of my adult life, I’ve spent too much time star gazing into the future, and never really concentrating on the “here-&-now” tasks required to get me there. Spur-of-the-moment decisions and knee-jerk reactions cause more setbacks than successes. Eventually, life can become frustrating when you try to go it alone. Since I struggled with the concept of “faith alone”, I usually made up my mind to do something, then prayed about it afterwards. But, that’s not how it works.

Faith is a lot like the Force. In Luke 17:6, Jesus said, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” That kind of faith seems impossible, in the natural world, so most of us don’t even bother trying to cultivate it. Because we tend to look at our circumstances, we lack the faith to believe in miracles, despite claiming to know Jesus. The trick to changing that failing faith, is to do precisely what Yoda told Luke Skywalker:

“You must unlearn, what you have learned.”

We have to put our complete trust in the one who created everything, and controls all things. That’s Jesus. Faith in him is the way we conquer our giants. Complete trust in him, is how our lives will change. Believe it or not, trusting him all the way is a simple choice. I don’t mean it’s easy. If that were the case, everyone would be saved! What I mean is, you have to choose to trust the Lord. It’s a daily wholehearted choice.

Trusting in the Lord may start out small and seem ridiculously uncomfortable, in the beginning. But, that’s where he meets you, right where you are with his mercy and grace. As you continue to move toward trusting him, he gives more grace. And believe me when I say his grace is sufficient. There isn’t a challenge you will encounter that God can’t walk you through.

So here’s my call to action, friends. In 2016, let’s all train to be Jedi. Our lightsabers are prayers because our struggle is not against flesh and blood enemies, but against the rulers, authorities and powers of our dark world. Whether you realize it or not, our greatest battles are fought spiritually. Let’s start fighting back, by using the real Force: our faith.

Switching Roads

Standard

Forks in the road go unnoticed. You’re travelling the wide, paved, familiar, well-lit path when suddenly that narrow branch of bumpy dirt road juts out from the trees. Just as quickly as it appears, it’s gone; a faint afterthought on your journey toward the known destination.

That’s the problem with everyday life. We spend so much of our time stuck on the freeway of familiarity, that we blow past the off ramps leading to new adventures. We see the signs but ignore the turns anyway. We’re just too busy, too afraid or too stuck (on auto pilot) to choose the road less travelled.

What if those forks or off ramps actually lead to something better than what we’re used to? As a Christian man, I believe God wants me to enjoy my life. So, if my life becomes stale, mundane, or just downright dull, isn’t it in my best interest to change things up a bit?

If I knew for certain one of those forks in the road would lead to a better life, I wouldn’t hesitate to alter my usual course. But, I don’t know for certain. Because of that fear of the unknown, I tend to stick to what I know; the same boring well travelled stretch of road.

So for once, I’m gonna take one of those rugged detours to see where it leads, because I have faith that God’s got my best interest at heart. I’m pretty bored with the road I’ve travelled consistently for almost 20 years. Time to see what else might be waiting for me, just around the bend. After all, God said in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Sounds like whatever path that narrow road leads to, God’s got my wellbeing under his control.

 

*always*

Keep On Keepin’ On

Standard
"Dear Ennis,
Thank you so much for your submission. Unfortunately I don't feel I'm the appropriate agent to represent your work as the story just isn't right for me.
I'm sure another agent will feel differently, and with the vast array of opinions in the industry, I wish you the best in finding the right representation.
Thanks again for thinking of me.
All best,
Elana"
Rejection number 28. Here’s another…
"Mr. Smith,
Thank you for giving The **** Agency the opportunity to review this project. Unfortunately it is not right for us at this time. Please understand that our opinion is but one and another agent may feel differently.
Danielle ****
Literary Assistant
The **** Agency"

Yeah, so far you all feel the same. That was rejection number 29. How about this one…

"Thank you for your email. Unfortunately, I don't feel I'm the right agent for your work but I wish you success in all your publishing endeavors.
Sincerely,
Ginger ****
Executive Vice President"

That was rejection number 30. Out of a total list of 62 queried literary agencies between the months of September through December, I have received 30 rejections on my book. Why share these failures? Why draw attention to what might be viewed as evidence of a dream that should be laid to pasture? Why not just quit and focus on something else?

Because quitting is exactly what the enemy expects me to do.

I read a true testimony of a cop who wrote a book and queried 90 literary agents, before someone believed in his story. 90 agents. 91 was the magic number.

Famed director Spike Lee won a student Academy Award for one of his very first films, while attending film school. He figured Hollywood was poised to come knocking on his door. But once he figured out no one in the industry cared about his local award, he put his nose to the grindstone and hustled his craft. This year, he received an honorary Oscar.

Stephen King worked odd jobs doing everything from teaching to dry cleaning. And then one day, his agent called to inform him that “Carrie” had just sold for $400,000 dollars.

I am a writer. I don’t care what anyone else thinks or says, because I’m here to tell you that I’m a darned good writer. The rest of the world is simply going to have to catch up with what I already know to be true. So, while the rejection letters keep on coming in, I will stand firm in my belief and passionate about my craft.

You should too. Whatever it is that you do passionately, do not allow the world to take it away from you. Stand firm and keep pressing on. It won’t be long before the world figures out what you already know to be true: when it comes to your craft, you’re a bad muthaf*****!

Keep on keepin’ on.

Looks like I just received rejection number 31.