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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Get Back Up Again

“I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!”

Many of us remember this commercial. An elderly woman has taken a nasty spill, and is unable to stand again. How similar this scenario is to the life of a lukewarm Christian. We are all human, and susceptible to failures in life. Romans 3:10 (NIV) says, “As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one’”. That means at some point, we will fall. It might be a minor slip; it could be a disastrous crash; but it will happen. It is our nature to drop the ball sometimes because there was only one perfect person to walk the earth.

 When it comes down to kingdom thinking and living, the fall itself does not matter. Its what you do after the fall that really counts. Proverbs 24:16 (NLT) says, “The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again. But one disaster is enough to overthrow the wicked.” The lukewarm Christian allows inevitable setbacks to pull him away from God. In essence, he falls down and never gets back up. But the faithful follower turns to the real life alert in times of crisis: Jesus Christ. Through Jesus, we’re able to get back on our feet and continue the walk.


The next time you fall, remember these scriptures. Strengthen yourself in the word. Call on the brethren for prayer. Get back up again, and continue to walk in the path of the Lord.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Faith and Works

   Ever run into an uber-Christian, in church? You know that Christian who quickly tells folks what they can and cannot do; that Christian who seems more concerned with following the rules of the word, than saving souls? We’ve met the Christian who knows the word backwards and forwards, but is swift to gossip about the couple sitting in the back row, quietly keeping to themselves.

   Some Christians fall into the trap of believing their golden ticket to heaven rests in their human ability to “do good” in the name of Jesus. But the truth is, no amount of good works guarantees safe passage into eternity with the Lord. In fact, Paul makes it clear that justification comes by faith in Christ alone. You can’t add works to it, to achieve salvation. Galatians 2:16 (ESV) says, “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Jesus Christ, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”

   But wait, because works do have a place. James 2:24 (ESV) says, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”  Faith in Christ grants salvation, and the works that are produced genuinely through faith, are a byproduct of that faith. You simply can’t work your way into heaven. But a true belief in Christ Jesus makes you want to do good works for Him. It all comes down to this: good works through faith in the Lord; not faith in the Lord through good works. The two are very different.


Friday, April 4, 2014

What's Behind Your Faith

Judgment is a bitter pill to swallow. It often slants the outlook of a situation in favor of the accuser. Calling out someone else becomes an easy task, when you’re able to ignore your own faults. I’ll give you an example. I had a “Facebook friend” recently say something like this:

“Man, you write all these nice sayings and interesting quotes; stuff to make people feel better. But, you have no idea how hard it is to actually try living what you’re talking about, all by yourself. I mean, you have a wife who supports everything you do, and she can take up the slack. You’ve got no idea what it’s like to live the way I do.”

Right here, I’m gonna take a pause from our regularly scheduled program and address this, because I feel like this dude could probably benefit from what I am about to reveal. You see friends, this is a prime example of how judgment can cloud a person’s perception. My friend here made the assumption that he’s the only one going through a struggle, and that I couldn’t possibly relate to how hard it is to trust in God during times of trial. He couldn’t be more wrong.

For the first time, I will not receive a tax refund from Uncle Sam, in 2014. In fact, I actually owe him money this year. Now because I didn’t receive any tax relief, the overdue bills I would usually settle with that expected money (you know, the bills I allowed to slip so that I might buy Christmas presents for friends and family this past December) are now in the red zone. Here is what that means.
1.      The water bill is so high, that I have to pay something on it by April 10th or risk the service being shut off.
2.      The family van, the only vehicle we own, is now two months behind. Repossession is a real possibility unless I can make a minimum payment soon.
3.      The heating/electric bill is overdue by a month’s payment, threatening our payment plan.
4.      The combination cable, internet, telephone bill is so far behind that the internet and cable were just deactivated two days ago. Yep, I've got to pay that in order to be able to pay the other debts.
5.      Our van is in dire need of repair work. The brakes are bad; tires are balding and I just discovered an alarming leak in the radiator core.
6.      My house payments for the last few months have been late, as I try to continuously play “catch up” with the aforementioned expenses. Late fees do add up. Count this month into the rotation as well.
7.      We owe unpaid medical expenses from hospital visits long past.
8.      On top of everything else, our growing children will always have needs, whether they are academic, social or personal. Isaiah blows through shoes; Jordynn needs a new softball helmet; Dominique needs special dermatologic soap. Nate’s running varsity track and needs new glasses.
9.      We have to eat, which means we need to grocery shop with whatever is left. These days, the shopping is light.
10.  And then there is the big one, which is consistently number one in our family. It’s the first thing to come out of the pay checks: we tithe.

There are times when I honestly want to shake my fists at the Lord and ask Him what He’s doing up there. Does He not see the struggles we go through? Does He simply not care, but expect us to tithe and give our time to the church anyway? Are we being punished for something we’re failing to recognize? Am I wasting my time writing for Him, singing for Him, making beats that no one is interested in…for Him? Am I supposed to teach my kids to expect suffering and nothing else, by following Him faithfully? Will my life continue to be a series of events where people keep asking me to donate what talent I have, for free, while my family struggles?

I talk myself out of tithing all the time, convinced that God will just have to understand that I don’t have it this pay period. If He really wants me to tithe, He’ll provide me with more money than I know what to do with. And every time I feel as if life couldn’t possibly get any worse, something else breaks down. It takes a toll on us. 

My wife doesn’t always support my decisions in times of crisis and vice versa. Just recently, she came to me with a plan to hold off buying groceries altogether until we somehow climbed out of the hole. It was a bold plan to be sure; one with a dual purpose of teaching some of our less than grateful children the value of any type of food available, while simultaneously paying down debt. But that plan just didn’t sit well with me. It’s hard to praise the Lord and give to Him, when everything around you is falling apart. Living by faith is not simple.

But still, we remain faithful to the Lord. I don’t mean we reluctantly give and serve either. No. We give and serve believing that He will supply our needs; not our wants; our needs. We believe He will make a way where there is no way. We remember what He’s brought us out of in the past, and hold true to His promises of a brighter future, despite our continued human failures. 
   
 My “Facebook friend” has no idea what I live with, daily. He doesn’t know how hard it is for me to write encouragement when I’m feeling as if God has abandoned my family. He has no knowledge of how I use my own words of encouragement, coupled with God’s word, to strengthen myself so that I might be able to encourage my family. I’m the rock. My kids can’t see me afraid, or they will fall. My wife needs her husband to be her strong tower, when things are collapsing right before our eyes. Real life exists within my little box of the world. And real life is relentless.

I tell you these truths about my life, not to garner any sympathy. I don’t have time or patience for that. I tell you because you’re probably going through the struggle too. You need to know that you’re not alone. But you also need to know this: if you claim to be a Christian, and you find yourself in the struggle, dig deep and don’t quit! This is the time when your faith is truly tested. I told you that I talk myself out of tithing, every pay period. Well…every Sunday after pay period Friday, we sign a check over to the house of the Lord. That’s right. Every pay period, I dig deep into my bible and strengthen my resolve to follow God, no matter what circumstance may come up. If Jesus died for me, the least I can do is remain faithful to Him, despite what trials and obstacles Satan may toss before me.

But friend, the real reason I share my trials with you is here: watch how you judge others. You have no idea what the other guy might be going through. Just because he may be wearing a smile, or speaking affirmations all the time, doesn’t mean he thinks he’s better than you. He might be in a situation 20 times worse than yours, and merely hanging on to sanity by the thread of the Lord’s robe.


Judgment is a cancer that serves no positive purpose in the life of believers. In Matthew 7:1-2, Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” If you want to offer something useful to a brother or sister in Christ, to an unbelieving relative or to a total stranger, offer up a prayer. Pray that God might enter that person’s heart and grant them peace or a deeper understanding of things eternal. Stay away from judgment. Always remember, you never know what someone else may be going through. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Eye on the Prize

1 Corinthians 9:24 (NIV) – “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run is such a way as to get the prize.”

Endurance races take self-discipline, lots of preparation and focus. Many enter the competition with expectations of winning. Along the way, runners will encounter obstructions, physical fatigue, solitude, even pain. Not everyone will finish the course, but the diligent will be victorious. A single runner, out of the entire pack, will earn the prize.
Well, isn’t that just like the Christian lifestyle? It takes self-discipline, loads of preparation and focus to remain true to the Lord. We often start our new walk filled with enthusiasm, energy, and high spirits. But overdue bills, emergency health issues, loss of friends, and unmerited attacks can quickly suck the life out of a Christian trying to stay close to the Lord. Many turn away; content to go back to a life devoid of God’s love. But he who endures to the end will receive a heavenly reward.

Times will become hard. When they do, you must dig deep and get into God’s presence. Even when you feel lost, or angry, seek the Lord tenaciously. James 1:2 says, “Consider it joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,”.  Keep running your race. Heaven is the prize. In times of hardship, look to the Lord and keep your eye on the prize. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

To Be An Encourager

Adults don’t always understand the pressures of today’s teenage years. Technology has changed so much from the days of the 80s and 90s, that they don’t see how social media can ruin a young girl’s whole week in the span of a few key strokes. Mean people are everywhere, and judgment is runnin’ cray cray.

That’s exactly why Romans 14:10 is so relevant to the young Christian today. It says, “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.” Yeah, Paul was talking specifically to the saints. Even in the Christian community, we judge one another. The bible says its wrong, but we find ourselves battling against the fleshly urge to judge others anyway.


Talking about, “I can’t believe she wore those shoes today”; “That hair cut is fail”; or “look at the noob” grieves the Holy Spirit within us. Maybe the shoes are all she’s got. Perhaps he was forced to cut his own hair. Maybe the “noob” is trying out something new for the first time. We shouldn’t bash originality. The bible calls us to help, not hurt. Tomorrow in school, think about helping when you spot someone who might be different than you. To hurt is of the devil, but to heal is of God.  Remember who you are in Christ, and be an encourager. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Enough

This piece was written by a young man I love and respect. My cousin Dwayne is a very talented and passionate writer, in his own rite. "Enough" is a bold cry out to the Lord, asking questions that every Christian has or may have to confront at some point during the walk with Jesus. I wanted to share this with my friends to let people know that even though we may be different, we all struggle with the same issues of our humanity.
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Walking alone in the dark my eyes saw nothing. I stumbled trying to make my way through this maze; this world; this… darkness. Searching for a beam of light my hands became my eyes, guiding me through this unknown darkness. I yelled hoping to hear someone respond but silence echoed through my ears. 

As I continued to walk, searching for hope, I came to a wall. I turn left: wall. I turn right: wall. The only options I had were to turn back around, or give up. As my back slid down the wall my knees bent and my head fell between them. I started to reflect on my life, my decisions, because I knew this was the end. 

"When I was a young child I had no one to show me right from wrong.  No one to give me love. Why did you not love me enough to bless me with guidance, o’ Lord? Becoming a teenager was no easier for me. I sold drugs to make money because it was the only thing I could do. Why did you not love me enough to bless me with the skills to obtain a job, o’ Lord? My adult years are by far my worst years yet. I used women as sex objects, behaved violently toward people who were not deserving of it, drank and used drugs because I could. What did I do to deserve this punishment, o’ Lord? People tell me all the time how you have helped them in their times of need, but you have never lifted a finger to help me my whole life." 

Tears filled with frustration and anger fell from my face as my heart grew heavier by the minute. A voice yelled out to me. 

"My son. I've always been with you, subtly guiding you away from more harm than you could ever bare. But you saw fit to make your own decisions without me. My word says, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:8) Everything you’ve ever needed to become all that I see in you, has been locked within your heart, all along. But you chose to squander your time and raw talents. You chose not to discover and cultivate my gifts. My word says, “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.” (Proverbs 10:4) You abandoned my council of truth, son. All of your decisions seemed as wisdom at the time of execution. My word says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death. (Proverbs 14:12)." 

With no words to follow what my ears had just heard, I began to feel weak. Ashamed and embarrassed I lived my life angry at God for what he didn’t do, never realizing all that he had done for me. For each tear that fell from my eyes, a piece of my old thoughts fell with it. For every scream of joy that exit my throat, a piece of hurt followed. I recalled the powerful words that the Lord had just given me. Each word gave me strength. Each verse, strapped battle gear preparing me for a fight. 

Now I find that I am no longer sitting in a dark corner. I am standing and looking into the blue sky, smiling with my arms stretched out. I finally realize that I had not been alone; I had chosen to ignore God. Well...no more will my eyes be clouded by my selfish and stubborn ways. I’ve been given a second chance. So, enough of my sinful days. 

Close your eyes and open your hearts. Some of the toughest bodies have the weakest souls. They will continue to be empty shells until they have had enough or… can’t get enough.



Tuesday, February 18, 2014

But...What If

2-19-14
“Hey sister,” Ennis waved to Tosha. “You put anymore thought into writing?”

Tosha, absently scrambled to collect baby Mattie, before he could scamper off through the crowd of people exiting through the sanctuary doors.

“Hey, brother E! You know what, I did think about it. But then I thought, ‘Who’s got time to write?’ Between schooling the kids, laundry, meals, shopping; I just don’t know if I’ve really got time to devote to it.”

Ennis nodded. “Yeah, I get that. Sometimes, I feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do the things I have to do; let alone time for following my secret passion.”

“Exactly! I’d love to give it a try, but there’s always something to do. Plus, there’s no real guarantee that I’m good enough to reach people with my writing. I’m sure there are a million folks out there that would make a better Christian writer, than lil’ ol’ me.”

“Well sister, remember pastor did remind us that God can take a ‘nobody’ and use him or her to do miraculous things for the kingdom, through their God-given talents. Believe me…I know.”

“But you’re a real writer, brother. I’m just an average Mom. What can I possibly have to say to someone, to keep their interest?”

Ennis’ face scrunched into a confused gaze.

“That’s a trick question, right? At this moment, Faithwriters.com, the site I told you about last week, is hosting a Christian writing contest, a Christian fiction publishing contest and a Christian testimony publishing contest.”

“Wow.”

“Tosha, these are real people entering these contests; not celebrity or professional writers. They’re everyday Joes, like you and me, simply telling their life stories. Truth always makes for the best type of reading. Everyone’s got a story to tell! I tend to sway toward fiction because I happen to be an excellent liar.”

Tosha erupted in laughter.

“Seriously, sister: Satan doesn’t always have to attack us with an obvious blow, to keep us from doing the will of God. Sometimes, all he has to do is keep us occupied with everyday life. If we’re too busy to follow the Lord’s instruction, then what type of threat are we to the enemy?”

Tosha’s glow faded. She fidgeted.

“Please, don’t misunderstand me. You’re an awesome Mom and an amazing wife: so says brother Nik. But what if God intended for you to reach out to people…let’s say Moms…through the ministry of writing?”

“Hmm. I never really thought about that.”

“This year, a few writers are gonna have the opportunity to win a Xulon publishing package. A few others will be blessed with a discount on Xulon publishing packages. Tosha, I’m entering because I’d love to win one of those.”

“Yeah, that sounds like a good deal.”

“Yeah, well what if this is your time to shine for the Lord, sister? What if you give Him your best effort, and He turns your effort into a publishing package for distribution throughout the world? Can you imagine that?”

“Wow, that would be awesome, brother! But-”

“No ‘BUTs’! Can you imagine where we would be today, if Peter had said, ‘But, I can’t go with you. I have to stay out and fish!’ Or what if Paul said, ‘But you can’t be the Lord! I’ve been trained to recognize him, when he shows up; you are not him!’”

“Wow; harsh brother. I mean, we’re just talking about a few lines here and there.” Tosha shifted Mattie to her free arm.

“I know; maybe a bit extreme. But…what if it isn’t Tosha? What if this is your chance to follow your secret passion for the Lord? I can guarantee you this: even if you don’t win anything, your writing is going to impact someone’s life. Faithwriters reaches out all over the world, through Christian sites and daily devotionals. When you write for God, you’re doing His work and He honors that. What might seem like a few lines to you, just might make all the difference to someone in France. I’ve seen it happen with my own supposed frivolous lines.”

Tosha’s eyes lowered, lost in deep thought. “I think…maybe…I’ll give it a try tonight. Thanks brother.”

3-15-15

Tosha carefully cut the tape from the box top, and smiled as she opened the cover to a stack of freshly printed soft-cover books. Each bore her name and face across the front cover. She thanked God for the courage to follow His lead, a year ago. 



Ennis Smith
Member #52961
Platinum
http://enniscsmith.blogspot.com/2014/02/butwhat-if.html
http://www.faithwriters.com/article-details.php?id=166892

Monday, February 10, 2014

To the End

John 6:70 (ESV) – “Jesus answered them, ‘Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.’”

The question could be raised, “If Jesus knew He would be betrayed by Judas, why’d He let him into the inner circle? Why would God allow something tragic to happen to His only Son? Why does God allow bad things to happen, period?”

Ultimately, Judas’ treachery resulted in the sacrifice that (once and for all time) made salvation and atonement available for everyone, who would believe in Jesus. Of course the disciples had no idea of this outcome at the time Jesus spoke the words in John 6:70. The outcome was just too complex for them to understand.

And that’s just how it is, in our time; the here and now. Bad things happen due to the fallen nature of man and the world. But God always has a plan much more complex than our understanding can comprehend. That’s why we trust in Him through faith. Young brother and sister, I know times get rough and bad things come right out of the shadows! But trust that God also knows. Trust that the hard times you may face now, are only a small stepping stone toward a positive life growth you just can’t see right now. Just as Jesus was fully aware of Judas, trust that He is fully aware, and in control, of your situation. Trust the Lord will see you through to the end.


Friday, February 7, 2014

Toil For Truth

   John 6:27 (AMP) – “Stop toiling and doing and producing for the food that perishes and decomposes [in the using], but strive and work and produce rather for the [lasting] food which endures [continually] unto life eternal; the Son of Man will give (furnish) you that, for God the Father has authorized and certified Him and put His seal of endorsement upon Him.”

   We put so much effort into achieving perishable items. So many of us are trapped inside the Rat-Race maze of life; working hard to sustain or add to the fleeting life styles we’ve developed. Jesus was speaking directly to a portion of the crowd of 5,000 men whom He’d just fed bread and fish the previous day. They came back to Him, not for His message of salvation, but for more perishable food, crossing over the Sea of Tiberius in borrowed boats to get to Him. What tenacity they’d shown, for more bread! But our Lord, told them to instead focus that energy toward achieving the truth of the gospel.


   We tend to focus too much on the things and circumstances of this world. Things of the Kingdom take a distant back seat. But Jesus tells us to flip that logic; to follow Him and strive toward the eternal truth that God offers us all. It’s really all about setting our sights not on what Jesus can give us materially, but what He can provide for our souls eternally. That’s the real truth of the gospel.  

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Upside Down

My 15-year old daughter is a Justin Bieber fan, but his latest antics even have her questioning, “What is he thinking?”

Carrying an invalid license; street racing; driving under the influence of alcohol, marijuana and prescription medication; disorderly conduct; resisting arrest: it all sounds like a scene from an action movie. Unfortunately, these very real charges had Justin behind bars on Thursday. This young man has become a product of the world’s illusion of success. He’s neck deep in the patterns of pop culture; upside down.

The apostle Paul addressed world values in the book of Romans. In 12:2(ESV), he wrote, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” God’s will keeps us away from situations and substances that might land us in trouble. To be transformed by the renewal of your mind simply means this: reading your bible literally changes your perception on how things work within your life.


Justin’s incident could have ended in terrible tragedy. Maybe, God sent that officer to save his life. Perhaps this is the time that Justin draws nearer to the Lord. Is God calling you to turn away from life-threatening decisions today? Perhaps this is your day to change your thinking, by testing your thoughts against the truth of God’s Word.