Note To Self…

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The health of both in-laws is in jeopardy. A childhood friend is literally fighting for his life. Two brothers in Christ decided to turn away from truth. Marriages are unraveling before my eyes. Tensions between co-workers (at work) are at an all-time high. Border-wall talk is continuing to further divide our nation. James Ingram died.

It’s just February. What surprises will the remaining 10 months hold for 2019?

Sometimes I look around, and it seems as if the enemy is winning. But I know better. I know that…while times and trends may change, God is still the same today, as He was yesterday. Tomorrow, He’ll remain the same: forever faithful; forever in control of everything.

It’s not always easy to remember that truth when everything around you appears to glorify tragedy. But, if you look close enough and remember what truth really is, you’ll see God hasn’t gone anywhere.

Last week, a total stranger was miraculously healed of cancer. Last Sunday, I witnessed a father, mother and son each get baptized and publicly profess their love for Jesus. Today, another childhood friend left the hospital after almost two weeks inside, due to congestive heart failure. God’s given him a new lease on life, and my old buddy is taking it seriously. A couple at church is experiencing a renewed relationship, through a life-group. My wife and I see the change in them both, and it’s amazing to see God refreshing their zeal and passion for one another.

God’s still in control.

My Reason

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It’s that time of year again, when we focus on the true reason for the season. During December, arguments are always made by people focusing on the wrong aspects of the Christmas Holiday. I hear things like:

  • I’m not celebrating that Jew.
  • Christmas was really a pagan holiday, you know.
  • Jesus wasn’t even born in December.
  • Christmas is just a man-made holiday to celebrate western commercialism.
  • Easter is the holiday we should really celebrate.

The list can go on forever. I think folks lose sight of what the season is really about. Admittedly, even I am guilty of complaining about how much money my wife spends on presents every year. But then, I remember why we celebrate. When I do, the joy I see in my family on Christmas morning trumps all complaints. We celebrate Jesus, what He did and what He continues to do for us all.

One trait I love about Jesus, is His undying love for the sinful. That’s each and every one of us, by the way. We all sin; we are all sinful by nature. The Bible teaches me that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). It also teaches me the very wages of sin, is death (Romans 6:23). That means from the time I (personally) was born, I deserved death because I could never live up to God’s standard of what holy really means. In spite of my naturally doomed life, the bible teaches me “To all who receive Him, to those who believe in His name, He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). It also teaches me that, “If we confess ours sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Now, someone might ask why I’ve brought all this scripture into this one-sided conversation. Well, let me break down why these particular scriptures are important to me. Here is my reason for the season:

 I am a sinner

Romans 3:23 teaches me I was born to make mistakes worthy of death, in the eyes of my Holy God. I could never be a “Good Man” in His eyes. That’s just the way it is. Adam and Eve ushered sin into a perfect world, essentially damning everyone who would ever be born. I could never do any acts or behave a certain way that would clear my debt to God. It’s like this: I could never naturally change my skin color. I was born a black man. In like fashion, I was born into a sinful world. As such, I’m a sin-filled man by nature.

My sin should have killed me

Romans 6:23 further explains that my sinful nature is worthy of death. Whenever I ogle an attractive woman, who isn’t my wife, I’m committing adultery by God’s standard of perfection. Whenever I wish death on a mass murderer, I’m committing murder in my heart. By God’s standard, He’s the only one qualified to commit a man to death. Since God is extremely serious about His standards, my very life is worthy of death, because everything I do is in violation of His standards. Based on these two scriptures alone, God views me as an outsider, because He’s holy and I am not. Sure, He loves me but, by nature, I have no part of Him.

This is where Jesus comes into play, in my life.

God adopted me, through Jesus

John 1:12 explains to me, that when I received Jesus into my heart, and actually believed in the power of His name—there is actual power in the very name of Jesus, people—I was granted, by God Himself, the privilege of being adopted into His family, as one of His very own children. Think of adoption, as you know it, on a Spiritual scale.

When my close friends—the Estermyers; a white family—adopted tiny brothers Avery and Omari—brothers born of a black family—into their natural family, Avery and Omari, joined Haley, Noah, Wyatt and Mattie as children of Nik and Tosha. They receive the same love and attention because they are now Estermyers, and always will be. These boys will grow up knowing they belong to this loving family of five boys and one girl. On a personal level, I will live out the rest of my days knowing I have been adopted into the family of Jesus, Moses, and Adam! They are my people. Because they are my family, Gd gives me the same love He granted to each of them. I did nothing to deserve it. His love was a free gift, just as Avery and Omari received the free gift of Estermyer love simply by being who they are.

Jesus forgives my sin

1 John 1:19 further explains this to me: now that I’m in the family of Jesus and because I love and trust Him, I can freely confess all of my sins to Him—past and present—and He will not hold them against me. The death I deserved before ever knowing the Lord Jesus? He died in my place, simply because He loved me before I ever knew Him! Because He still loves me, He forgives my sinful nature even as I continue to walk through life. Since my sins are forgiven, I don’t have to live a life of regret and shame, wishing I had not committed some of the acts of my past. I’m not condemned by them anymore. They are forgiven; paid in full!

This is why I celebrate Christmas. I was—and still am—a sinner deserving death, by God’s holy standards. But, because He loved me so much, God sent His son—Jesus—to take the penalty of death in my place. Because Jesus loves me just as much as God does, He forgave all of my past sins, and even forgives the sins of my present. Does that mean I can go on doing the same things that dishonor the Lord? Certainly not! Because I love and respect Him, I try to live a life separate from the things I used to do; things I fully know dishonor the Lord. My walk with Christ isn’t about following a bunch of rules. It’s about loving and trusting in Him because I understand that He has a plan for my life that’s better than anything that I could ever imagine. Because He loved me before I knew Him, He paid the ultimate price—His own life—just to free me from the slavery of damnation. Sometimes I forget what that really means. But, it always comes back to me and the truth is overwhelming. I was made for something greater than I can imagine. And although I fear the physical pain that might be associated with death, I do look forward to spending eternity in the presence of the man responsible for my salvation.

Christmas isn’t just a happy holiday. Christmas is a celebration of Jesus Christ. Never forget that. He is the entire reason for the season. Despite what other faiths may believe, if not for Jesus, the human race might have faced an unimaginably different and terrifying fate. So, don’t lose sight of the holiday. The gifts are nice. The parties are fantastic. The family celebrations are wonderful. But, remember the true family you belong to, as a believer. And even if you’re not a believer, know that Jesus loves you and will battle hell for you.

 

Merry Christmas.

 

My Second Half

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I’m not much of a sports fanatic. Occasionally, I’ll watch a basketball game (haven’t been interested in my Pistons since the 2004 squad disbanded); maybe even a football game (my Lions–nevermind). The second half is usually the turning point for a lot of teams who find themselves falling behind. It’s the time to refocus on the mission; to rally the individual players into a single unit, with the singular purpose of winning the game.

If we look at life as the ultimate game, then why shouldn’t we treat the second half the same way? Six months after my 45th birthday, I’m really looking back on the first half of my life, and taking stock of where I am. I’m also regrouping to plan on the second half.

For discussion purposes, we’re going to assume that I’ll live to be 90 years old. If I live longer than that…we’ll say I was granted that “1UP” life. You gamers know what I’m talking about. Anyway, I digress.

Did you know that many people deal with bouts of depression right around age 45? Of course you did. That’s where the term “Midlife Crisis” comes into play. Instead of replaying self-appointed shortcomings and failures in my personal game, I’d like to look at the lessons learned and accomplishments achieved. Successes and failures in life really boil down to perspective. It’s all in the way you look at things, that determine your attitude.

In my first half, I saw my wife and kids grow; wrote and published a book; wrote, produced and published music; and (most importantly) gained a relationship with Jesus. Unfortunately, I found myself running life’s hamster wheel for more years than I care to count. Because of that, there are regrets of experiences I wish I could have given my family. But, I’m a firm believer in Romans 8:28:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

I have been called, according to his purpose. I have faith in that knowledge, so I know that the good and bad plays of my first half will only strengthen my gameplay in the second half. Someone might ask, “Enn, how do you plan to play your second half? What are you going to do different than the first two quarters of the game? Some might think your play pattern is set.” Well, that’s a great question.

If I take up the mantle of “coach” for a second, let’s pretend we’re in the locker room regrouping. My personal talents, attributes and dreams represent my offense, defense and special-teams factions of the squad. These are some things I might say to my team.

  1. In the second half, we need to go out there and gel. I can replay moments (during the first half) when offense and defense worked independently of one another, and each totally ignored special teams. Sometimes, my talents operated without the use of my attributes. I can’t follow my dreams if talents and attributes aren’t lining up. People who continue to fall prey to this, often look back on life with regret.
  2. We’ve got to execute. I’ve got all of these ideas in my head. My problem is putting action to those ideas. I’ll give you a prime example: A few years ago, I put together an instrumental album on Bandcamp and Noisetrade called, “Takin’ It Back To The Oldschool“. Now, if you know me personally, you know I love old school hip hop and actually produce my own music. I had the great idea of producing instrumentals incorporating that old school hip hop sound. Then I would reach out to old school artists like Will Smith, MC Lyte, Rakim, KRS-One, etc. to get them to flow new rhymes over these tracks. The problem was…I executed as far as producing the instrumentals and never reached out to the artists. Flash forward to 2017: Will Smith, DJ Jazzy Jeff ft. Biz Markie and Slick Rick drop a video for Will’s song, “So Fresh“. Jeff and Will executed their idea fully. I only partially executed. Partial execution doesn’t score points in a game.
  3. We’ve got to defend. Listen, the older I grow, the louder the voice of doubt screams in my head. It reminds me that other people have the same ideas and better resources. It reminds me that I’m not as young and adventurous as I once was. It wants me to doubt God’s ultimate plan for my life. It reminds me that I don’t even know what that plan looks like! I can gel as a team, and execute to score all the points in the world. But, if I can’t defend against the opposing team’s attacks, I still lose the game. In my personal game, Satan is the coach of the opposing team. He has no problem with trying to thwart my plans and frustrate my faith. He’s frustrated my writing in the past. He’s frustrated my dreaming. He’s kept me running that hamster wheel for far too long, under the guise of “This is just how life works. Accept it and keep running“. As a Christian, I know he’s a liar. That truth doesn’t make his attacks any easier to block. So, in the second half of the game–my game–I need to step up my defense. My relationship with the Lord has to continue to grow. His word; His time; my prayers; His will for my life. This is my defense against the opposing team. At the end of the game, I want to be able to say what the Apostle Paul said to Timothy:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

Gel, execute, defend. These are the tactics for my second half. Maybe you’re in a season of life when you’re looking backward instead of moving forward. Maybe midlife has you questioning where you go from here. Maybe you just need to take a breather and refocus, friend. It’s never too late to refocus your efforts, or repurpose your God-given gifts. Make your second half count.

 

 

 

Only One of Perfection

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Romans 3:23 (NIV)“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”

Do you know how much pressure we impose on ourselves by trying to live a life of perfection? Oh c’mon. Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about, you uber Christian, you. Everyday, we struggle against the earthly desires we crave, while trying to uphold our Christian duties. Duties; as in works. You’re not convinced you’re one of them? Fine. Let me give some examples of what we tend to do. Check out my fancy-shmancy color coding:

“Christians should really stay away from ‘Harry Potter’ movies, because they promote demon worship and witchcraft. We can finish this conversation later, after I return from watching “Solo”.

Yep: an actual statement made by one of God’s children. Here’s another one.

“You let your kid listen to that ‘Kendrick Lamar’ crap? My kid only listens to ‘Bizzle’ and ‘Sevin’. Yeah, they drop ‘Nigga’ in their lyrics too, but they’re promoting Jesus by speaking the language of their folks.”

Yes, actual statement. I really can’t make this stuff up. Here’s one more for you.

“I give to the needy every chance I get. We have to give to the less fortunate. It’s in the bible, you know.”

“What about that homeless guy we saw Downtown?”

“Oh, he probably just wanted money for drugs or something.”

That was an actual conversation.

Sometimes I think we try too hard to adhere to rituals and rules, and forget that at the end of the day we’re all just people prone to fall short of God’s standard. In our quest to be perfect, we often come off as judgemental and hypocritical. If that’s the way we present ourselves in front of unbelievers, why would they want to follow us? 

I tend to get caught up in ritual practices, too. Sometimes, I cross the line between following the Lord and I going off the deep end, in my own quest to earn His favor. I reason to myself, “This is what God wants me to do, so I’ll do it and prove myself perfect in His eyes.” Now, no one is going to admit that’s what we do, but it’s the truth of who we are. We try to live super Holy lives despite partaking in straight-up pagan and carnal activities. 

Did you NOT know Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th? Did you also NOT know that the December 25th celebration was originally a pagan feast, we Christians adopted? We need to cut out all the Pharisee acts, and just live life to the best of our abilities. Celebrate the birth of our Lord, absolutely. But don’t judge the family that doesn’t celebrate Christmas as being sacrilegious! That’s their choice. Let God sort that out, in His timing. 

Let me say this: God knows our hearts and He knows our flaws. It was because of His love for us, despite our failed nature, that He sent the only one of perfection–that’s His son, Jesus–to die sacrificially for our sins. We can’t earn Salvation through any acts of super Christianity. Salvation is a free gift of God, through faith in His son Jesus Christ. 

I am a God fearing, flawed man. Everyday–every single day–I mess up one of God’s Old Testament laws. There is no way I could ever live up to any of them. That’s why I love Jesus. He knew me before I was born. He knew what kind of a failure Christian I would become. In that knowledge, He still said, “Father, I’ll go down and take one for the team. Ennis is going to be out there someday. I need to do this for him.” 

In His perfection, Jesus chose to become a living sacrifice so that I personally would be set free to live my life for Him, complete with my everyday failures. I could never repay Him for that! I can’t mimic His perfection!

I see Christians get mad over Donald Trump tweets. I see Christians hate on each other, over clothing. I see Christians judging other Christians who show love to Muslims. I see Christians judging others over music, food, even the type of car one drives. 

I think (and this is just my opinion) we ought to get on with the business of focusing on our own personal relationships with Jesus, as opposed to following rituals and judging others who may not live up to our standards. That’s why I like Romans 3:23. It reminds me that we all fall short of God’s Holy standards. Who am I to judge someone else, as I’m enjoying Sevin lyrics,on my way to watch a Star Wars flick and eat cheese Ballpark Franks with my gay cousin. Did I mention I was wearing my anti-Trump T-Shirt to the movie theater? 

You hate me right now, don’t you uber Christian conservative?

Jesus loves you.   

Wisdom in the Tale

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Ted,

I think the mark of a truly gripping story is its ability to seamlessly graft its audience into the role of the protagonist. Sometimes, such stories mimic a heavy truck starting a decent down a gentle slope. It’s only a matter of time before that truck gains enough momentum to become an unstoppable force. At that point, you need to grab the wheel tight with both hands and hang on for dear life. The final-destination is a mystery, but the ride is the thrill. Great stories take us on a journey and cause us to ignore the destination for joy of the ride.

I’ve read through “The Circle: The Complete Volumes” edition three times, and with each read, my respect and admiration of Thomas Hunter grew. He doesn’t resemble me in the slightest. Yet…I watched him grow through the complete story—from a naïve young hustler, into a full fledged seasoned hero. Thomas is the kind of warrior I envision King David was. Heroic. Fearless. Human. I fell into the role of his character and lived out his journey with ease. Each time, I not only learned something new about the character, but learned something new about myself through Thomas’s experiences as well.

When I first learned you were writing a new book tethered to “The Circle” series, I was immediately stoked! The idea that Thomas’s adventures might continue filled me with great anticipation. I ventured to my local Barnes and Noble, walked straight for the Ted Dekker section and purchased my hardcover copy without hesitation; in and out in 5 minutes, man! No need to look for anything else. When the time was right and I had space to devote my full concentration toward beginning the new journey, I plowed right in and was immediately introduced to my new protagonist. Not one to drop spoilers, I’ll stop right there. Needless to say, I was a bit…surprised…at the roll of the lead character. But like that ol’ truck spoken of earlier, I resolved to fasten my seat-belt and take my foot off the break peddle. And you know what? Roughly 160 pages in, we’re rolling, baby!

Ted, it’s been awhile since I’ve written anything of substance, I think. On my 45th birthday, I bought a nice blank journal to get back to putting pen to paper. Writing the old-fashioned way helps to get the creative juices flowing when I’m dealing with writing-draught. In addition this year I resolved to really focus on reading through the entire bible. Between the physical writing and the devoted time with God, He’s really been challenging me and my walk. Sometimes it’s frustrating seeing my broken way of thinking laid out in front of me. But, at the same time, I think God’s fixing my understanding. What’s all this got to do with “The 49th Mystic” you might ask. I’ll give you the answer by a single name: Talya.

By the time I realized Talya was speaking directly to me (with his teachings), I acknowledged my full immersion into the role of our protagonist. Once again, the transition was seamless. It wasn’t like, “We’re in first gear; shift to second; shift third; etc.” It was more like, “I’m reading a story; I’m in the story; the elder is speaking to me personally!”

Talya gave me 6 hours of silence to work on adjusting my perception by the truths contained in Romans 12:2. Ted, do you know how many times over 9 years I’ve read that particular Scripture? Yet, it never hit me as square in the face as it did while Talya took me through the first training lesson. Amazing! God can use anything to get to anyone.

I’ll tell you what I’m learning through the process of reading this story. I’m learning that I’m the Christian looking forward to the joys of the life after this one, but stuck trying to figure out how to enjoy this life. I’m learning that, though saved by grace by faith in Christ Jesus, I’m still struggling with judgment which keeps me from understanding what true love looks like. Perfect love cast out all fear. I’m struggling to understand how to live that out because fear binds up my writing.

Even now, I struggled to begin writing this…this…whatever you wanna call it…addressed to a specific author, because fear told me I’d be wasting my time in reaching for someone untouchable. Yet…you conquered your fears at some point in your career. You faced the same battles I struggle against. You pressed through. That much is clear because, as a fan, I’ve purchased the evidence of your triumphs.

Talya, rather God using the fictitious character Talya, is inviting me to go deeper into the waters of my walk with Christ. It’s uncomfortable, man! I can’t see what’s under the surface of those deep waters. I don’t even like to swim. But…I know He’s calling me into something greater. So, I’m forcing myself to keep moving forward. I can’t wait to see where this journey leads, both for me and for our protagonist. The journey is scary, but so far it’s a wild ride.

Ted, I want to thank you for your obedience. The story’s going to be another best seller for sure. But, even if it isn’t, you need to know that through your God gifted talents, you managed to reach through time and space to help a brother in need. I needed a helping hand to remember my purpose in Christ. Your story and your characters are helping me to Re-member.

A House Divided

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Mark 3:25 (NIV) – ” If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”

A house is generally strong when it’s set on top of a solid foundation. Maybe that foundation is a simple concrete slab on grade; maybe it’s a solid wood crawlspace; or just maybe it’s a good old fashion poured-concrete wall basement with a 6-inch concrete slab. Whatever your foundation is constructed of, it’s an integral part to building a strong house that will eventually be weather retardant.

On top of that underground foundation, the builder constructs solid walls of treated wood framing with insulation and brick facade. Maybe your home has steel reinforced dead-bolt doors, vinyl weather-guard windows and seamless gutters circling a pristine asphalt-shingle covered roof. Even your chimney flue is cover protected. Can you see it? Of course you can! You’re picturing it right now, in your mind.

Now imagine that I’m actually a 25-feet tall gremlin, dangling a gigantic screaming chainsaw monstrosity over your beautiful roof. The blade on this demon-tool is 24 inches wide and spinning so fast, the teeth are glowing red hot. I’m smiling at you, because we both know what’s about to happen. You watch horrified as I arc a tremendous chop, bringing the chainsaw down and through the center of your new dream home. As I pull the machine free of the smoking cut line, we watch your house collapse into the gap left by the chainsaw. For a few moments, your house bucks and strains against its own weight. Wood beams splinter. Glass windows crack. Bricks fall from the facade. Where the structure was once a single solid unit, the two separated halves now struggle for balance, pushing against one another. Finally, the strain proves to be too great. We watch your ramshackle abode implode, falling into the basement. Your home is totally destroyed.

Do you understand that example is exactly what the devil has planned for your marriage? Or how about those relationships within the church (the church, people!) that are toxic. Sister so-n-so is mad at brother what’s-his-face over something inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. That toxic relationship and that struggling marriage are bound to drive a wedge between what should otherwise be a united body. Gossip and rumors divide a church. Power struggles divide a marriage.

This afternoon, I was in Kroger going through the checkout line with my wife. The bagger was an older woman who happened to glance at my River of Life T-Shirt (shameless plug for my home church, y’all), before smiling at me.

“You have a home church or something?” She asked. I was a bit bewildered because she had just checked out my T-Shirt.

“Yes ma’am,” I said. “We’re in Belleville, and we love it.”

“You should think about visiting us sometime. Some of those other churches are just too ‘churchy’ if you know what I mean.” She said. “We’re non-denominational and encourage people to come as they are. We don’t get into all of that extra church stuff.”

I was stumped on so many different levels. Did I not just tell this woman we loved our home church? Why in the name of Jesus would she ignore that and suggest my church might be too “churchy”? By the way, what does “churchy” look like? And, what is all that other extra churchy stuff?! In the body of Christ, we should honestly encourage each other, rather than divide one against another.

Could you see your left eyeball having a conversation with your right foot?


“Hey, how’s it going down there? You enjoying kissing socks all day?”

“Uhh–”

“You know, you should seriously consider coming up here where right and I hang out. We don’t do that ‘Walk-N-Balance’ stuff. We see no point to it.”

“Did you seriously just invite me to  park on top of face? Who’s gonna get us all to the car in the morning, if I’m not where I belong?”

“Don’t worry about that. Just come on up here where our vantage point is way better than anything you’re looking at down there.”


Yeah, when we fight each other–whether it’s a spouse or a brother in Christ–we’re destroying our own home. Power struggles have no place in the body of Christ. Think about it.

 

 

Soldier At War

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1 Thessalonians 5:17 (ESV) – “Pray without ceasing,”

My nephew recently enlisted in the Marine Corps. As we speak, he’s being trained (physically) in the ways of a fighting military soldier ready to defend our nation and our interests at a moment’s notice. He will receive special weapons training; learn to be proficient in hand-to-hand combat. He’ll be taught mental toughness techniques; learn to use his fear as a self-motivating tool to press forward. The military will teach my nephew to become a man ready for war.

My cousin recently made the decision to give his heart completely to the Lord. As we speak, he’s being trained (Spiritually) in the ways of a fighting Christian soldier ready to defend our beliefs and our faith at a moment’s notice. He will receive special weapons training; learn to be proficient in apologetics combat. He’ll be taught mind-renewing toughness techniques; learn to use his own fear as a catalyst to seek the help of the Lord and press forward. Jesus will teach my cousin to become a man ready for war.

I am a Christian soldier. I do not use an assault rifle; I use fervent prayer. My frontline is not a physical land border, but a spiritual realm plane. My sword is not a sharpened blade, reserved for close encounters. It’s my bible, and I use it in daily battle. I’m not trained to push my body to its physical limits through rigorous physical activity. I’m trained to push the physical limits of my aging knees, as I assume the prolonged posture of prayer.

My brothers and sisters in arms are with me–and I with them–as we stand in the gap for those in need, just as our respected veterans stand beside one another in defense of the weak and helpless. Military soldiers muster courage in the face of insurmountable odds. Christian soldiers stand fast in the face of overwhelming hostility. Although our battle is not against flesh and blood enemies–but against rulers of the spiritual realm–we are ready to fight against our adversary at any time.

I am a Christian. I believe Jesus is the son of God. I believe He died on the cross and was resurrected. I believe I am saved by grace through faith in Him. I am a saint of heaven’s army. I am a soldier at war.