Don’t Go Back

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Romans 6:1-2 (CEV)–“What should we say? Should we keep on sinning, so that God’s wonderful kindness will show up even better? No, we should not! If we are dead to sin, how can we go on sinning?”

Yesterday, I read an interesting post written by an extremely talented young lady concerning the portrayal of modern-day Christianity in mainstream television. While I don’t watch the show, I was intrigued by the subject.

(Check out her post here: “Woke Christianity & The Bachelorette“)

Our culture is moving at such a fast pace, it’s amazing we’re able to keep up with the ever-changing tide. Fads come and go at the speed of the internet. And everywhere we look, Christianity is being attacked as some sort of outdated, dogmatic religion with no real place in today’s super-sophisticated society. The culture attempts to “tolerate” our faith by changing some of its doctrines a little bit each day. On the surface, it seems to be working, because we now have a generation of young and old “believers” who try to walk with one foot touching the gospel and the other foot touching the soils of the world’s culture.

What’s more, this behavior is justified (by those straddlers) by using God’s word in error. They say things…let me bring it home for a minute…we say things like,

“I can do whatever I want to do; God still loves me.”

“I’ll just do it once more. Jesus will forgive me when I pray about it tomorrow.”

“God understands I still mess up, so He’ll forgive me for this later.”

We can’t accept the free gift of undeserved grace and then turn around and trample it, by continuing to live in our sinful nature that Jesus paid for in the first place! That’s like being freed from a life of drug addiction, only to keep going back to the addiction under the false belief that every time you return to the clinic, you’ll be freed permanently.

Look, we all have baggage, and my bags may be heavier (for me) than yours are for you. When God frees us from the burdens of those bags, we’re truly free. We don’t need to go back and pick them up; carrying them with the false notion of, “Jesus will help me put them down again”. Yeah…He might. But why pick them up again?

When the woman–caught in adultery–looked up to find no one but Jesus standing over her, she was freed in that moment. But Jesus made it clear to her, “Go, and sin no more.”

Once God frees you from your “it”, leave it behind for good. Don’t go back.

Faith of a Mustard Seed

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So the Lord said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. “

There is an old saying, that I am about to butcher I’m sure. It goes a little something like this:

“In every family, there is a black sheep.”

That statement is supposed to be taken in the context of that one kid in every family who consistently drives the parents bananas with the questionable life choices said kid chooses faithfully. Watching the child grow up, is like watching a train barrel down the tracks headed straight at a solid wall. Apparently the conductor’s view is block, preventing a clear line of sight. Instead of yanking the breaks and stopping, she actually speeds up. As a spectator to the impending disaster, you feel helpless.

And there it is. I said it out loud (or maybe I just wrote it out loud). I feel helpless. You see, Misty and I have a couple of those “sheep” in the family. It’s hard to watch your children purposely choose paths that will lead to the same mistakes you’ve made in the past. It’s especially hard when you’ve warned them of the dangers, but they choose the paths anyway. It’s like they actually think they have secret information that will completely change the outcome of their foolish decisions.

Sometimes I look up in the sky–I mean literally–and ask God, “Are you seeing this?! What are you doing up there?! Is this our fault?”

Yeah, I know; I know. It’s rude. Don’t tempt God. Don’t question His motives. I get it. I really do. But I still struggle with trusting His plans, when my kids are doing truly stupid stuff. Sometimes my faith doesn’t feel as if it’s as big as a mustard seed; and that’s a problem! Have you seen the size of a mustard seed? Just take a glance at the picture up there! Luke 17:6 tells me all I need is for my faith to figuratively be that size, and I could literally uproot a tree. So, if I can’t pray my kids into better life choices, maybe my faith is broken. That sounds like logic, right? Nope. That sounds like a bunch of egotistical false-religion jiberish. And yet, I have to fight the urge to believe in it.

Parenting isn’t easy, and just because your kids grow into young adults doesn’t make parenting any easier than it already wasn’t. In fact, as they grow older, their bad decisions grow bolder and bigger. Watching them make mistakes becomes an exercise in faith training, for real. Seriously, my wife and I came to the realization a long time ago, that we cannot direct their steps. We don’t have the power to do it. Sure, we can take ’em to church, but we can’t force them to develope a relationship with Jesus. We can tell them of the dangers of the night life, but we can’t force them to lock themselves away after a certain hour. We can give them the ole, “Choose-your-friends-wisely” speech, but we can’t force them to stay away from certain people. Ultimately, we parents have no power over the lives of our children.

But we have the power of prayer, and we have faith in God. I believe in Romans 8:28, I believe God has a plan for my kids and I believe He keeps His promises. They may not come to pass in my time-frame, but He never lies and He’s always faithful. So, in the times that I feel like my faith is weak–especially concerning my hard-headed kids–I try to remember God’s word and I try to remember that He can be trusted.

Faith is a constant exercise. Don’t think that the folks who appear to have it altogether really do. They struggle with faith, too. Their struggles may be on a different level than yours, but make no mistake; the struggle is just as real. It’s hard to look beyond the circumstances you see, but that’s where faith grows. Right there in that space between what you can see with your eyes, and what you believe will come to pass in your heart, that’s where faith grows.

Featured Poet: Dwayne White-Smith – “If Not Now…When?”

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Dwayne White-Smith

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 go home,

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.

Simple

That Moment When God Reminds You…

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A good life is like a fantastic roller coaster. High peaks slowly creep, and the anticipation is scary-exciting. Then, the rush of the downhill race takes your breath away. Life throws a few speedy curves into the ride for good measure. The truly great coasters will even surprise you with quick peaks and valleys in succession, just to add witty surprise to the experience. Then, in a blink…it’s all over.

A mediocre life is like a drive along a dessert highway. The asphalt is slightly bumpy and quite often the anticipation stems from a need to arrive at the destination. The scenery is dull. The road is straight and yields no surprising twists or turns. The journey is so mundane, it seems to take several lifetimes before the end arrives.

The thing about life is, it’s often a combination of both the good and the mediocre. We experience the highs of the hilltops at times, but we also endure the lows of the valleys: the success of a promotion and the grief of a lost loved-one; that first kiss, and that first bee-sting; the triumph of broken spiritual chains, and the deflation of facing personal weak faith.

It’s the duality of life. Hills and valleys. Highs and lows. Ups and downs. It never stops. But one constant is true.

God’s always there.

I know, it may not always seem like it and some might have a genuine right to argue against my claim. There are real monsters in the world. There are tragedies everywhere. And sometimes, things don’t exactly have to be earth-shattering to bring you down from the hilltop. Sometimes, it’s just a series of little things subtly chipping away at your joy and confidence.

But, God is still there, too.

I believed God had given me specific talents, uniquely crafted for me. Sure…anyone could do what I can do. But no one could do it exactly the way I can. Surely, He had to have given me these talents for a reason. It’s a high point, when you realize your purpose.

But as the years continued to roll by, I didn’t seem to recognize any forward movement with my talents. My gifts just didn’t appear to make any difference in my life, or the lives of others. Despite the countless encouraging scriptures of faith, I really struggled to continue believing my apparent gifts were from God. More and more, I started to believe they were a product of my own design and that I was now wasting time with them. Where I’d once vehemently believed God had spoken those gifts into my heart, I was suddenly contemplating giving them up.

Friday morning, I was ready to stop writing altogether. And then…Friday evening came.

My home church–River of Life–hosted an outpouring service, and despite my secret decision to pack up my pens and journals, I came to church expecting to see God move in the lives of my church family members. The church was alive with the sounds of praise and worship, and the presence of the Holy Spirit was heavy in the sanctuary. For almost two hours, we sang and prayed, before my Pastor took to the pulpit.

Pastor Eddie launched into intercessory prayer; boldly praying for folks to receive the blessing of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The place was electric! As he prayed, and pronounced blessings of healing for people he didn’t know personally, I simply basked in the presence of the Lord, watching the Spirit work through the lives of my church family and visitors alike. And then, something unexpected happened.

He called my name. Pastor Eddie called my name, and caught my eye.

“I don’t normally call people out,” he announced, “but the Lord wants you to know, don’t quit on your gifts. Brother don’t quit on your gifts.”

I broke. I lost strength and fell to ground. He could not have possibly known that very morning, I’d decided to stop writing. My Pastor had no idea what I had been struggling with since the beginning of the new year. He couldn’t have known I’d given up hope. There could be only one explanation.

God was still there. He was…He is…still watching me. He knows my name, and He knows my heart. And on that Friday, among so many different people coming to Him with their own issues–looking to be set free–He took the time to speak to me in a way that could not possibly be mistaken for anything other than what it was: miraculous.

I was completely undone. At some point, my wife came to my side and held on to me as every ounce of guilt and shame poured out through hot tears and naked sobs. When composure returned, it came with a renewed sense of purpose. With that purpose came freedom. I have no idea what God wants me to write, but He told me not to give up. I have faith in Him. I’m riding the hilltop.

I don’t know what you’re struggling with right now, at this very moment friend. But I can say this with fresh confidence: God sees you. He knows where you are, and knows exactly what you’re going through. I know life is hard sometimes, and it becomes easy to lose sight of what’s true; what’s good. Despite my struggles, I think the best thing I could have done was to go into that outpouring service with expectancy. I had no idea what I was looking for. I just wanted to be in His presence. And maybe–just maybe–that’s all you need. You just need to be in the Lord’s presence. You seek Him, even in your struggles, and I promise you He will find you; not that you’ve ever been lost to Him. I lost my youngest son once. It was a nightmare. I don’t wanna talk about it. But God never loses His real children. He’s always there. Sometimes, He just wants us to come to Him; to seek His presence.

So don’t give up. Don’t give in. Don’t quit. I believe He’s rooting for you. You just have to keep on believing…

 

 

*always*

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.

 

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Hell is real, bruv.

Ask any saint, and he’ll tell you so.

Lives are cut short;

Lasting only as long as sin entertains, persuades and deceives and destroys;

Oh, the agony of the eternal fire!

When exactly did this happen?

Even now, I regret some of my past decisions; actually…

Every decision to ignore the truth of God;

Never to breathe a peaceful life again.

Sometimes, You Gotta Just Go With God

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“What does that mean, Enn?”

Yeah, I know…

“Sometimes, you gotta just go with God; what exactly are you saying?”

Well, see, that’s the thing. I don’t exactly know.

“What do you mean, ‘I don’t exactly know?’ What am I about to read here?”

I can’t rightly answer that question. But, I can tell you this: there are seasons when the Spirit moves in me and I recognize it’s time to sit down at the keyboard. Usually, I’ll turn on some inspiring music and wait for Him to put words into my heart. Tonight is no different. He’s moving, and I’m trying to listen.

One of my favorite songs is “Hymn of Praise” by William McDowell, featuring Julia McMillian and Daniel Johnson on lead vocals. Man, whenever I hear this powerful worship song, I can’t help but to fall in line with the Holy Spirit. Tonight, this song is on heavy repeat…even as I write. As I listen to the praises of God’s people, I’m trying to see the words forming in my heart. This special message is for someone tonight.

You’ve been trying so hard to make things work out in your favor, doing everything you think is right. You’ve been working hard, taking care of your responsibilities and doing everything by the book. Yet, for every step you take, it seems like something or someone pulls you two steps backward. When’s it going to be your time to catch a break, for once?

God sees you. He heard that prayer of desperation, last night. He knows exactly where you are and precisely what you’re going through right this moment, as you read these impossible words. Yeah…He sees you. He sees your struggles.

Mark 9:23-24 records a powerful exchange between Jesus and a father. “Jesus said to him, ‘If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!'”

That last verse is personal to me, because I know what it feels like to struggle with unbelief strapped to weak hope. But Jesus doesn’t say, “If you wait until your emotions line up with your head-belief, then I’ll act.” No. He simply tells us to believe. You may not feel it emotionally. It may not make any sense to you. It’s a leap of faith.

Tonight, I need you to believe, even if you don’t feel it in your bones. Just trust in God and know that He’s got you exactly where he wants you. Maybe it’s time to leave that job. Maybe it’s time to be brave and put yourself out there. Maybe it’s time to ask for help. Maybe it’s your time to pursue you calling. You’ve been struggling so hard. Believe. He is with you, and knows where you are.

 

*Always*