Joy In The Struggles

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Trials are a surety in life. “Whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger,” is how the old saying goes. “No Pain, no gain” is another catchy one. Personally, I like the way James 1:2-5 addresses trials:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Ever notice how hard it is to stay the course, when everything around you is falling down? In the midst of real struggles, it may seem impossible to find joy in the testing of your faith. But that’s what we’re supposed to do. We’re challenged to look beyond our present circumstances and recognize God’s presence right in the middle of our struggles.

Perhaps you’re down to your last few dollars, but somehow your needs are still met. Maybe you’re marriage is rocky, but the thread hasn’t been broken yet. Maybe your dream seems a million miles away, but somehow, tiny doors of opportunity still open up effortlessly.

Tonight I want to challenge you to look at the big picture of your trial. Within that snapshot, find that subtle blessing that continues to provide amidst the constant struggle. That’s your joy. That’s God walking you through the struggle.

What; No Comments?

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The flesh. Woo! I can hear some folks out there beyond cyberspace yelling, “Amen brother”! The flesh is a monster, when it comes to walking this path toward Christ. Some of y’all know what I’m talking about. For those who don’t, let me try to explain it.

Jesus told his disciples to deny themselves, among other things. As easy as it may sound, this task is quite difficult because, by nature, we love ourselves and are totally self absorbed. We’re too busy trying to make our own lives comfortable before worrying about the next guy. So, the concept of denying myself seems logically…stupid.

If I’m hungry, I want to eat. If I have $10 in my pocket, I’m going to “Subway” for dinner. That’s what my flesh wants. However, if I’m really following the Lord, I just might consider giving that same $10 to the homeless guy I’ll likely pass, on the way to “Subway”.

Now someone might say, “Wait a minute, Ennis. What about your stomach? Weren’t you hungry?”

Well yeah. But, if the Lord placed it on my heart to give up that money and deny my stomach, I trust him. I’ll do it out of obedience.

Sometimes, its just not that clear-cut dealing with the flesh however. Let’s take this blog for instance. I’ve got about 75 followers, and no one comments on any of my blog posts. Why? Well, I have theories:

  1. My writing sucks. No one in they’re right mind would post a comment to this meaningless junk.
  2. After all this time, I still don’t know how to operate my settings and enable comments.
  3. Everyone who reads my posts suffers from short term memory loss, and simply can’t remember what they read by the end of the post.
  4. My writing sucks (wait I already used that one).
  5. God, in his divine plan, is keeping me focused on who this blog is supposed to be about: Him; not me.

My flesh has a tendency to tell me how awesome my writing is, until I scroll to the bottom and see no comments. Then, my flesh gets bitter. In that state, I completely forget that “Writin’ With The Lord”  is supposed to be about glorifying the Lord; not praising Ennis’s human ability.

Oooooo. Man, that hurt just admitting it out loud.

Our flesh sure is prideful. Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall”. I have to constantly check my flesh, because it tends to want to take credit for God’s blessings.

“You read that book? It was awesome, right? did that!”

“You heard that song? Sweet wasn’t it? That was all me!”

“You see how many people responded to my Tweet this morning? Man, I’m good!”

I could keep this up all night. These are real sentiments lurking inside my heart. Notice, no glory to God was in a single one of them! If I allow that attitude to fester and roam freely, I might as well dig my own grave, because it will lead to my destruction.

To combat those selfish desires, I try to write something I would image Jesus would be proud of. After all, this blog is just one of the ways I use the gift God gave me to honor him. When I keep that perspective, it’s really pointless worrying about comments and attention. If I write something that glorifies the Lord, that’s enough for me.

So, I’m gonna go to bed now. I won’t worry about the “zero” that will be in the comments section because…well…I feel pretty good about sharing a piece of me with you fellow wordsmiths and readers. We’re all human after all. We all deal with imperfections. Pride is one of mine. I’m sure some of you can relate. Sharing my struggles with the flesh is just one way of denying myself, in my walk toward Jesus.

My True Story – For Tasha

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Tasha,

What I am about to share with you is a true story. It was written in dramatic fashion simply because I’m a writer at heart, and that’s just what I do. But, make no mistake: the events played out in our marriage and ultimately led us to a life of love in Christ Jesus.

Tasha, the devil will stop at absolutely nothing in his efforts to destroy a marriage. After all, if he can get to the parents, the children will most likely be affected as well. “Steal, kill and destroy” is not just some snappy catchphrase, sister. That’s exactly what the enemy plans for marriages and relationships.

Sister, I want you to fight for your marriage. When I say “fight”, I’m not talking about airing your private emotional reactions all over social media. Believe it or not, by doing that, you’re actually doing precisely what the enemy wants you to do! I’m talking about genuinely and diligently seeking the Lord’s guidance in all matters concerning your marriage. You’ve gotta pray unceasingly and trust in the Lord to work out what is good for you both. It’s the hardest task you will ever undertake, Tasha. Honestly, a lot of couples don’t make it. But those who survive the fire come through it stronger than ever.

And so, I want to share our story with you. Misty and I decided to share this story with the world last year. It was included as one of 40 testimonials published in a book called “Trials and Triumphs“. My prayer is that this story encourages you (and Zack) to dig in and fight for your marriage. You’ve both been through so much together. I believe that together, there is nothing the devil can throw at you both, that you cannot handle with God’s grace and mercy. This story is called “Going The Distance“.

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Hearing the family van park in the driveway, I typed out the last words of my text message. I pressed SEND, and stuffed the phone into my pocket. My wife, Misty, opened the front door, glanced in my direction, then diverted her eyes elsewhere.

“Hey,” she said, disinterested.

“’Sup,” I replied casually.

“So…can we talk? I have something on my mind.”

“Sure, what’s—” My phone buzzed. A return text had come in.

“No, not right now. Besides, someone needs you, obviously.” She pointed toward my buzzing pocket. “Maybe we can go out tomorrow, for a drink.”

As she walked away, I reached for the phone.

‘She’s a liar, and you need to leave her,’ read the message from a female colleague. Recently, I had taken to confiding in her regarding my marriage. ‘You can do so much better, Ennis. You deserve someone who can take care of you.’

The next day, Misty and I drove to the riverfront. We walked along the boardwalk making small talk for awhile.

“All right, we’re here, Smith.” I turned toward her. “What’s on your mind?”

“Our marriage,” she said solemnly. “I think…maybe…we should try separating for awhile.”

And there it was. We were now talking about the pink elephant in the living room.

“It’s really not… you. I just think I need time to myself to discover who I am, and where I need to be.” She stared out over the gray rippling waters of late fall.

I didn’t put up a fight. I agreed to the separation. In truth, I was tired of the nagging feeling that my wife might have embraced a life of infidelity. I had also begun to believe in the soothing words of my newfound confidant, who continuously shared her own marital problems with me. Our stories were similar, and I had come to view her as a shoulder to lean on.

Two days later, my fears were proven correct. The phone bill arrived. I scrutinized Misty’s cellphone portion and discovered dozens of calls made to a specific number over the past month. I dialed that number, and my heart sank when a familiar voice from her past answered the call. It was him. The man I’d had to deal with almost ten years past. Once again, it seemed he’d returned to her life. I couldn’t speak; could only end the call with a trembling hand. Hurt immediately turned to rage. I called her, demanding an explanation, and insisting on a divorce.

“I want you out of my house!” I yelled. “If you want to be with this idiot so badly, you can leave tonight. I’ll let the kids know you won’t be coming home.”

“You can’t take my kids a—” she started.

I abruptly ended the call. Spitefully, I gathered up our five children and announced our divorce. The three oldest were rocked to the core, understanding fully what that meant for the family. The youngest two didn’t understand. Having to explain divorce to my three- and six-year-old children only intensified my rage toward Misty.

She never left the house, and for a week, we tip-toed around one another. I spent most of my time drinking myself into a stupor to cope, while she openly continued her separate life. One weekend, we sat in our bedroom and talked candidly about our failing marriage.

“I can’t understand why you just can’t be honest with me,” I said.

“You want the truth? I don’t know why I don’t love you anymore,” she said. “I don’t even know why I see other men. That’s right; other men. It’s not just one. I think I love him, but I’m also seeing his best friend unbeknown to him. I can’t stop it.”

My knees buckled, and I collapsed to the floor. My pride broke and I cried out to God. In that instant I rationalized that this whole situation was payback for the thousands of indiscretions I had perpetuated over the years. I had once given my heart to the Lord, but had backslidden and become worse than before. I’d lied to my wife, behaved selfishly, cheated and stolen to get my way, so many times. I deserved everything that was transpiring now. My tears flowed and I pleaded with God for forgiveness. I apologized to Him for everything I had done.

Two weeks later, I found a small home to rent. My wife had settled for an upper flat to move into. As we packed our belongings and prepared to go our separate ways, she came to me one afternoon.

“Dear, are we doing the right thing?” Her eyes seemed so sincere, but emotionally, I had already departed from her.

“Yeah, I think we are. People divorce every day. The kids will adapt.”

“Can we try one last time? I think maybe we should give church a try.”

I was appalled at the idea. It was the fact that she had come up with it. I stalled for time, having already fixed my mind on starting a new life without her.

“Sure. I guess a few visits wouldn’t hurt.”

Six months later, Jesus recaptured my heart. Up to that day, we had church hopped until settling on a large congregational Pentecostal church. I struggled to accept the worship music, and often fought against the messages of the pastor. Because of my hard-heartedness, our marriage sputtered along slowly. By all appearances, we were fine: still in the same house together, still one big family. But, we each fought our personal demons, maintaining one foot in the world while trying out Christianity. And then it happened.

I attended a men’s ministry meeting, one Wednesday evening. The speaking guest, Bill,  was the author of a small book entitled, 30 Minutes in Hell. During the altar call, I reluctantly approached, fell to my knees and immediately felt the sensation of burning pressure fighting to remain over me. I remember pounding my fists on the altar. Bill approached and laid a hand on my shoulder.

“Woo!” he screamed. “Brother, I don’t know what you’ve got going on but some burden you’ve carried for a long time is lifting off you, right now. Don’t fight it! Let that thing go!”

It was hard, but I did. I released years’ worth of misguided anger against my wife, that very night. God set me free, and almost immediately I saw a change in our marriage.

On January 31, 2010, Misty and I were baptized together. For a few months afterward, Satan came against us with vengeance. Misty struggled to severe soul ties with other men, and I struggled with forgiveness, drinking, and releasing my own negative ties. But we maintained our dedication to the Lord and He has continued to strengthen our marriage and family.

Recently, I got the chance to witness our two youngest children, now seven and ten years old, raise their hands unabashedly in worship to the Lord. I cried tears of joy, knowing the Lord blesses and keeps us.

On our return home from the two-day children’s rally, my wife wrapped her arms around me and hugged me close. “I didn’t realize how much I loved you until you were gone away from me.”

“Me too. I really missed you.”

Today, I’m giving God the praise for helping us to go the distance.

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Fight for your marriage, Tasha. Satan is the father of lies and we cannot defeat him on our own. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Tasha, you have to recognize that this is THE battle of your life! Your faith comes down to right here and right now. Dig deep and seek the Lord’s Divine counsel. He will tell you what needs to be done, and he will walk you through his will, Tasha.

I’m praying for you and Zack, sister.

Everyone’s Got Their Thing

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An acquaintance has a gambling problem. Another can’t get enough of strip clubs. A friend attends church regularly, but can’t stop posting half-naked selfies. Another just can’t seem to climb out of the debt hole. Still, another friend drinks too much, while yet another is secretly addicted to pornography.

By the way…I’m included in one of those categories, just so you know.

What do we all have in common, besides being failures in some personal area of life? We’re all human. But, you know what? Despite our humanity, Jesus meets us right where we are; in our most vulnerable states.

In the book of Matthew, chapter 9:10-13, we see Jesus hanging out with tax collectors and “sinners” at Matthew’s house. Now, if you want to imagine that in terms of today’s society (particularly urban society), think about it like this: Jesus went to the hood Bar-B-Que to eat with the dope boys and the turn-ups. When the uppity suburbanites hear of this party, they immediately check Jesus’ crew.

“Hey! Why in the world is he hanging out with those thugs and degenerates?”

The bible says, upon hearing this, Jesus replied, “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

“What in the world is that supposed to mean?” asks the snooties.

And therein lies the problem. Most unbelieving people can’t understand the gospel or show respect for Jesus because they don’t even see their own need to have him in their lives.

Thankfully, Jesus cares enough about man to meet him right where his sins are exposed. He does so in a loving way.

Can I be 100 with you for a minute? This statement may adversely effect my future loan inquiries, but it may also set someone free, who just might be suffering from the same struggles; strength in numbers and all that. I struggle with debt. I have for most of my adult life. No matter how hard I try to trim fat, my financial savvy is a constant trainwreck. It’s not that I spend money on ridiculous items. I simply haven’t found the formula for getting ahead of the expenses my large family regularly incurs. While this “thing” of mine is a thorn in my side, Jesus never once punished me for battling this sin. Yes; it is a sin in my life. I have to discover what keeps me financially bound. While it may be something simply for Dave Ramsey to point out, I struggle with it daily. It’s my cross to bare. Because I recognize it, I know that I need the Lord in my life. I need him to help me through the rough times, to locate the source of my sin and to ultimately eliminate it, because I can’t do it on my own.

Everyone’s got their thing. The importance of recognizing your thing, is knowing you don’t have to try conquering your thing before you come to Jesus. He already knows what your vulnerabilities are. So instead of acting like the suburbanite snobs (I don’t have a problem. I’m perfect in every way), bring your baggage straight to him and let the Lord walk you through it.

Watch Your Step

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Have you ever tripped on a flat surface? Oh c’mon! Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about! You’re walking along the smooth pavement of the local asphalt-paved track, or leisurely strolling the polished concrete floors of the mall, when suddenly,

“Shqueak!”

You catch your balance after a quick double-time-step recovery. What’s the first thing you do after the trip? You look around to see if anyone saw you break stride. The second thing you do is look back at the pavement as if it physically reached up and tapped the toe of your shoe. The last thing you do is laugh at yourself for tripping where there was no obstruction to begin with.

Have you ever backslidden without an obvious temptation? Don’t give me that look! You know what I’m sayin’! You went back to that one thing that kept you bound. But, you recovered pretty quickly, didn’t you? Maybe you jumped back into the word, or revisited church after a brief stint.

The first thing you probably did was look around to see if anyone noticed you slip. You know how judgmental church folk can be. Next, you probably looked back at the thing that caused your slip.

“Pssh, I don’t even know why I did that again.”

Then, you probably laughed at yourself because you know better. Look, don’t be too hard on yourself. Jesus knew we would fall from time to time, during our walk. That’s why he gives us grace.

The truth is, we have a tendency to be harder on ourselves than anyone else could ever be. Sometimes we backslide, and the guilt of our failure keeps us bound in a state of perpetual pause; unable to move forward, past the guilt. Friend, that’s not what God intended for us.

Can you imagine how odd it would look if you tripped over thin air on the walking track, and (instead of continuing on) stopped and stood right there, grief stricken over a simple stutterer step? All you lost were a couple of cool points, not your salvation! If you didn’t fall on your face, keep it moving.

Friend, I trip everyday. No, seriously, I do. Today, I chose to eat beefaroni instead of fasting lunch, like I had originally planned. What can I say; I’m human. I am far from perfect. Occasionally, I trip over smooth pavement. For me, that metaphor comes into play as reality whenever I make a dumb decision for no good reason; something I definitely didn’t pray about first. But, I usually recover. And I know the Lord’s grace is sufficient.

If you’re a new Christian, try not to be too hard on yourself, when you trip. It happens. We do live in a fallen world and none of us are ever perfect. The trick is to watch your step and keep moving forward. Never stop walking.

Paraclete’s Promise: The Fantastic Fantasies of Timothy (Chapters 1 and 2)

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Chapters 1 and 2 introduce us to Timothy, his…charming personality and the start of his fantastic fantasies. I look forward to introducing the book to the world, later this year.

CHAPTER 1

Tim stood in the hallway, in front of a large closet-door mounted mirror. His hazel eyes inspected blooming auburn color in the caramel complexion of his cheeks; a stark contrast to his favorite navy blue Transformers T-shirt, and frayed blue jeans. His tiny fingers combed through his black unkempt natural curls, Dad had just trimmed two days ago. He checked out the slouch of his 9 year-old stance, and flipped an index finger underneath his nose, absently wiping the damp finger across a pant leg.

“I’m not sick,” he mumbled. “It’s just a stupid cold. I don’t know why I can’t go outside.”

“You’re not going outside, because I said so, kiddo.” Dad replied as he walked toward the front door. “You had a slight fever this morning. That means rest and indoor activity for you, buddy; understand?” He ruffled Tim’s hair as he passed by.The front doorbell rang twice.

“Yeah,” Tim grumbled.

“I’m sorry, what was that?” Dad pronounced, as he swung open the door. “Care to repeat?”

Tim drug his feet over to the living room couch, picked up his orange-cover Fire Bible from the arm rest, tossed it across the room, and pressed his face into the soft seat cushions. He smashed a throw pillow over the back of his head, and screamed.

“Yes sir!” His voice muffled beneath the couch cushions.

Dad was already talking to the guests standing on the porch, instructing them to walk a delivery around to the side of the house. As he closed the front door and started back toward the kitchen, Tim sprang up from the couch and peaked through the bay window curtains to catch a glimpse of the visitors. Outside, snow fell from the slate gray sky in huge flakes, blanketing everything in wintery white. A blue and white delivery truck was parked in the driveway, with the front of the truck facing the street. Tim watched two men walk up a metal ramp lowered from the back of the truck. They reappeared moments later, slowly carrying a huge white cardboard box down the ramp, then up the driveway toward the side door.

“What is that?” He whispered, as he walked toward the kitchen.

Dad stood at the side door stoop, watching as the two men carefully carried the box through the propped storm door, and down the basement steps. He flashed a wink, and two-thumbs up, at Tim.

“We’re back in business now, buddy.” Dad said. Tim reasoned that Dad was going to be occupied for a while. This would be the perfect opportunity to get into some video game playing time. Last night, Mom made him shut it off, just as he was about to begin a new level. She had told him he spent too much time on the game.

“Dad, since you’re gonna be busy, is it alright if I play the game for a little while?” He asked. A little smirk creased the corners of his mouth. As Dad descended the basement steps, he called up,

“Sure buddy. No, wait a minute. Uh…we’d better ask Mom once she’s back from the grocery store. She thinks you should spend a little more time doing other things besides mining blocks and killing exploding Crappers.”

“They’re ‘Creepers’ Dad! I don’t spend that much time-”

“Tim, you’re not getting me busted, son. As soon as Mom’s home, you can check with the boss.” Tim heard the delivery men laughing. “Why don’t you get a jump on the next chapter we’ll be reading tonight, in second Corinthians?”

Tim stomped back into the living room, and spied his Fire Bible lying on the floor, next to the television table. He kicked the book across the cream Berber-carpeted floor, flopped down on the couch, and gazed through the bay-window. The sounds of plastic ripping and tools clanking together resonated from the basement. Then he heard an awful sound like metal scraping across the concrete floor. Dad yelled up the steps.

“Buddy, if you don’t want to read, why don’t you play with your toys?”

Tim clenched his teeth and shook his fists at the living room floor.

I don’t wanna read the stupid bible, or play with dumb toys he thought.

He huffed, and rested his chin on top of his hands, folded neatly across the back of the couch. Tim watched snow cover 12th Street in an awesome sheet of white fluff. His ears burned and his stuffy nose dripped, as he watched his brother, Kyle, and twin-sisters, Alicia and Asia, streak through the front yard, throwing snowballs at one another.

“Kyle’s outnumbered,” he said. “I should be out there with him.” His eyelids grew heavy. ***************************************************************  

Tim opened his eyes to see Mom kneeling over him. Her warm fingers were gently massaging his brow.

“Hi, sweetheart.” Mom said. “You’re still a little warm. Are you feeling any better?”

Tim sat up on the couch and stretched wide. He had fallen asleep while watching the snowball fight. Suddenly, he remembered Dad telling him to ask Mom about playing the video game. Faking a horsed cough, he sighed.

“Hi, Momma. Yeah, I guess I’m feeling better. My throat’s a little scratchy and I’m a bit tired.” He whined.

Mom wrapped her arms around him and squeezed tight.

“Oh, Momma’s little man is definitely sick. How about you stay put, and I’ll get you a blanket, okay?”

She kissed his forehead, before walking toward the bathroom. A wicked smile glistened across Tim’s freckled face, as he lie back lacing his fingers behind his head. Mom returned carrying a small plastic medicine cup half full of pink medicine that always reminded him of liquid bubble gum.

“Here honey,” she said handing over the cup and a small Afghan blanket. “Drink this and rest for a while. I’ll be in the kitchen putting the groceries away, if you need me.”

It was now or never. Tim quickly swallowed the pink medicine, and called out to Mom as she turned the corner, into the kitchen.

“Momma, Dad told me to ask you if I could play the game for a while. So, can I, please?”

Mom peered around the corner; one raised eyebrow, a sideways smirk lit across her face, and a hand rested on her hip.

“You must think I came down with the rain, Mister Smith. I was on to your little ploy from the beginning. Since you have enough strength to concentrate on your game-play, you’ve got enough strength to walk right into this kitchen and help put the groceries away. Hop to it, skinny-minny.”

Skinny-Minny; he hated being called that. Tim huffed and launched the blanket across the living room. It came to rest over the bible. Jumping from the couch, he defiantly folded his arms and stomped into the kitchen, grumbling under his breath.

“Hey! What’s with all the racket up there?” Dad called from the basement.

“Tim is about to help put away the groceries. I don’t think he’s in the mood to cooperate, Daddy!” Mom yelled down the basement steps.

“Tim, do you want me to come up there?”

Judging by the tone of his voice, Dad must have been standing at the bottom of the steps poised to race up. He was probably waiting for Mom to give the word. Best to drop the attitude.

“No sir, I’m fine. I was just about to help her put the food away.” Tim cut a sour glare at Mom, who stood before him smiling.

“Alright, mister.” Dad said, “You behave yourself, up there. I’m going have something for you to play with, shortly. In the meantime, be my big guy and help Mom out.”

Tim pouted all the way through the boring tasks of gently stacking eggs in the refrigerator, stacking canned goods inside the low cupboard, gathering up the discarded plastic bags, and depositing them in the storage bin. Mom made small talk, but Tim had decided to ignore her. It wasn’t fair that she wouldn’t let him play the game.

“Hmm, not talking to me, eh?” Mom said. “That’s fine. You and your attitude should be able to keep each other company in your room; definitely no video game time for you, Timothy Jonathan Smith.”

“What?!” Tim yelled.

“Don’t you back sass me, mister. Off you go, now. Make sure to pick up, and refold, that blanket in the living room, please. And pick up your bible as well.”

As Tim tromped through the kitchen, Dad intercepted, yanking him off his feet, and hoisting him in the air above his head. Tim squealed in frustration, as Dad hugged his little body and spun around the kitchen. Tim didn’t know whether to yell in anger, or laugh at how dizzy Dad’s spinning made him.

“Hey!” Mom yelled. “You two knuckleheads take that foolishness out of my kitchen. Your son’s going to spend some quiet time in his room.”

Dad set Tim on his feet. The whole kitchen seemed to spin around him. He reached out to steady himself, when Dad caught a loose arm, helping him regain a sense of balance. A few seconds passed before his eyes adjusted. Tim scowled at Dad.

“Whoa! If looks could kill, I’d be in serious trouble, Momma,” Dad chuckled. “What’s with the lemon face, buddy? Your attitude earned you a ticket on the ‘time-out trail’ again? We just read in Proverbs 29:11 this morning, ‘fools vent their anger, but the wise quietly hold it back.’”

Mom whispered, “I think the T-Y-L-E-N-O-L he swallowed, is making him a bit S-L-E-E-P-Y and C-R-A-N-K-Y.”

“I can spell, you know.” Tim said. “The bubble-gum stuff isn’t making me tired, and Dad, I don’t even know what that poor verb means!”

Mom and Dad laughed. Dad reached into the snack cupboard, and pulled out a juice box and small bag of potato chips.

“Here buddy,” he said, shoving the snacks into Tim’s hands. “I’ll give you a pass on the trail today. The proverb means you have to learn to control your temper. Foolish people allow their anger to control them. When that happens, trouble usually follows.”

Tim rolled his eyes, and sighed. Dad always had a bible scripture ready to recite.

“Okay, I can see you’re not in the mood to listen. Tell ya what: the new dryer is installed. Why don’t you go on downstairs and check out the box I had the guys leave, by the steps. Maybe you can make something happen with it.”

“I don’t want to-” Tim started to protest. He was quickly interrupted by Mom.

“Timothy, I’ve had just about enough attitude from you, mister. You can either go to your room and sulk, or you can go to the basement and play with the box. Either way, you will not continue to traipse through this house, pouty-faced over your video game! Are we clear, Mister Smith?”

Tim glowered at Mom.

“Better do what Mom says,” Dad said. “Go on downstairs and let that imagination, between your ears, take over for a while. Who knows? You just might have a bit of fun.”

Tim gazed into Dad’s brown eyes, reassuring smile and shiny bald head, like a chocolate milkdud. He remembered watching the delivery men haul the box toward the side door, through the snow. It did appear to be a pretty nice sized box. He sighed then slowly walked toward the basement steps.

“Wait,” Mom said, walking into the living room.

She reappeared carrying the Afghan blanket and his Fire bible. As Tim mounted the first few steps, she draped the blanket over his shoulders like a cape, and handed the bible to him.

“Here ya go. You might need these down there. Have fun.”

“It’s just a dumb box,” Tim mumbled. “How much fun can I have with it?”

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CHAPTER 2

Tim walked down the tile basement steps determined to completely ignore the dumb box. Instead, he planned to walk straight to the toy chest. Better yet, he decided to destroy the stupid box, using Dad’s tools. He just needed to reach the toolbox inside the laundry room.

“Go play with a stupid box. What am I gonna do with it,” he complained, “Rip it to pieces.”

After the last step, Tim rounded the corner leading toward the laundry/utility room. Standing there, blocking the path of the basement hallway, sat the white cardboard box. He had only seen it from a distance before but, up close, the thing was humungous!

“Wow! Hey, Dad this thing is huge,” he yelled. “Can I cut a hole in it? I might need a window for my…fort…or something.”

Ideas and possibilities began to flood his mind, and suddenly destroying it seemed like a bad idea.

Dad shouted down the steps, “No buddy; no holes. We can use it for garbage later, this week.  That won’t stop you from playing with it, right?”

“No, I guess not. I can tip it over and make…” An idea clicked as quickly as a flash, and he was off to collect supplies and equipment.

Tim squeezed between the box and the narrow sheet-rock basement wall, and darted for the wooden toy chest at the far end of the hallway. Tossing the lid open freed the familiar smell of cedar. Secretly, he loved the smell of the old chest. It was filled with all sorts of toys he and Kyle played with. He rummaged through the chest, randomly inspecting an action figure here, a stuffed animal there. A variety of things were at his disposal. What would he need to make a trip through the depths of a newly discovered and uncharted cave?

No, not a cave, he thought. It’s my new race car, so I’ll need a few fix-it guys to put the wheels and stuff together.

While rummaging, he happened upon a red tyrannosaurus, and several action figures of interest.  One was a plastic ocean diver, with one pull-off, retractable flipper still attached. The futuristic diver was equipped with a removable utility belt and a flattened inflatable yellow plastic air-tank draped across his back. It was a present for Kyle’s 9th birthday. A few years ago, he had given it to Tim. The second action figure was a limited edition metal spaceman, Dad bought for Tim’s 5th birthday. He paused for a moment to press the buttons on the spaceman’s wrist computer, and smiled as miscellaneous lights buzzed on the action figure’s suit.

“Cool. Your lights still work Abe.” He said. “I guess you can come, too.”

The third action figure was a big-game hunter, Tim had bought with his own allowance money, two years ago. He remembered how proud he’d been, paying for it himself. There had been so many adventures the little hunter had shared with him, and so many nights the hunter had been tucked under his pillow while sleeping.

“Nimrod,” he whispered. A wide grin stretched across his cheeks, as he stared at the hunter. “I almost forgot about you, buddy. How about you take one more big adventure, with me?”

Tim set the dinosaur and three action figures on a shelf, before continuing his search through the toy chest. He found a lion-tamer’s bullwhip: a souvenir from a visit to the circus. Deep down at the bottom of the chest, his fingers wrapped around a battery powered light saber, Mom had bought for Kyle a few years ago. Flipping the toggle switch activated the toy. The plastic, round tipped blade flashed then hummed a bright indigo blue.

“Wow! The sounds still work, on this thing. Better take it with me, just in case I might need to fight off monsters, or something.”

Leaving the toy chest, Tim turned and walked through the dark utility room passing by the new dryer and the washing machine, and headed straight for the linen closet where mom kept the winter comforters and Dad’s special-occasion winter hats. He held the light saber overhead, illuminating the dark closet as he searched for the perfect comforter. As he waved the toy left to right, he thumbed through the neatly stacked linens.

“The force is strong with me.” he said. Tim yanked on a large green and brown comforter usually found on his parents’ bed. He dragged it across the basement floor, out the utility room, back into the hallway toward the box. One swift kick at the bottom, toppled the huge box. The open lid landed just before Tim, spilling miscellaneous wrappings to the ground. Inside, he discovered big rectangular pieces of packing foam and a large wad of bubble wrap.

These might come in handy later he thought.

Setting the light saber aside, he grabbed the comforter with both hands. In one quick yank, the comforter flew into the air and settled down over the big box. He ran back into the utility room, over to the low shelf where Dad kept all sorts of paint cans. Mustering all of his strength, he picked up one of the cans by the metal loop handle and dragged it back to the comforter-covered box. He walked the can to the back of the box and set it down on top of a corner of the comforter just as Dad came down the stairs, carrying Tim’s Fire Bible, he’d intentionally left on a step.

“What are you…ah, I see,” Dad said. “Making a little hideout huh?”

“Yep,” Tim beamed. “I just need one more can to hold down the roof so it won’t blow away when the storm comes.”

“Oh, yeah we wouldn’t want the roof to disappear would we?” Dad said. “I don’t think your insurance claim would cover imaginary disasters. I see your roof doubles as a front door too. That’s pretty good thinking, kid. I won’t tell Mom that you’ve got her clean comforter on the basement floor.”

“Thanks Dad,” Tim said as a yawn escaped his parted lips. “Can you help me carry another can over here?”

“Sure buddy. Where are we gonna put it; on the other side, at the corner?”

“Yeah, I was thinking about maybe using something for the-” Tim started, but was interrupted by another yawn.

“Sure you’re not getting sleepy buddy?” Dad asked.

“Dad I can’t sleep now! I’ve got stuff to do here.”

Dad shook his head and raised his free hand feigning retreat.

“Alright, why don’t you go back in the closet and grab one of the spare pillows. You may need a seat in there. I’ll just toss this inside, in case you need a little light reading on your trip.”

“Yeah, the pillow’s a good idea, Dad.” Tim said.

Dad started for the stairs.

“Okay buddy, I’ll leave you to it then. You need any help, just yell. I always knew you were gonna do something great, kid. It’s your destiny.”

He was half way up the staircase, when Tim yelled.

“Dad! Can you cut the light off up there please?”

“Sure buddy.” Everything was just about set. The lights flicked off, surrounding Tim in the darkness of the basement. He stood motionless allowing his vision time to adjust, before reaching for the light saber on the floor. Thumbing the button, the basement was illuminated in a soft indigo-blue. Tim walked through the darkened basement toward the toy chest, back through the utility room to the linen closet. Opening the closet door, four different hats, each its own unique color with a silk band around the crown, hung from cap hangers screwed into the door. Each hat wore its own see-through plastic bag. Dad once told Tim the Fedoras, as the hats were called, needed to be protected from dust.

“Probably shouldn’t touch these.” Tim whispered.

He reached up the door and tipped the brim of the hat on the lowest hanger: a caramel brown Fedora with a chocolate colored silk band. Setting the light saber down, Tim pulled the smooth felt hat out of its thin plastic covering, and hid the bag between two blankets.

“Wow, this is so sweet.” he snickered. “Every explorer needs a cool hat.”

He closed the closet door, picked up the light saber and walked back to the box. He set the large hat over his head. It sank low over his ears. Tim picked up the small bag of potato chips and the juice box, while holding the light saber under his arm. He crawled into the box and set aside the snacks and the light saber, right next to the bible. Next he hauled the packing foam and bubble wrap to the back of the box. He then crawled out to gather his passengers: the diver, the spaceman, the hunter and the red T-Rex. With just enough room inside to maneuver between the front and back of the box, he decided to organize everything.

“This is great, Nimrod! You guys need to sit in the back just in case of an emergency.”

Tim pushed the dinosaur and action figures between two packing foam blocks near the rear of the box, before sitting on the pillow.

“Well, I guess I need to eat before takeoff. You guys check the ship back there for any broken pieces. I’m just gonna have a snack and then we’ll be off.”

Tim sat, ate chips, and drank the juice while staring into the blue light of the light saber. The light reminded him of the night light mom used to turn on at bedtime. He was afraid of the dark once.

Not anymore. I’m a big kid now, playing in the dark. Nothing to be afraid of he thought.

As he ate and drank, Tim flipped the little bible open to the spot where his Spongebob book marker had been set in second Corinthians, chapter 13. By the blue light of the light saber, he absently read through verse 13:14.

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the presence and fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

Tim barely noticed another yawn slip through his lips as his eyes slowly glided toward the soothing glow of the blue light. The blue light was nice. The blue light was…somehow warm. The blue light…the light…

The Blessed Victory Into The New Year

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In January of 2014, I said a prayer. Unfortunately I don’t remember the words verbatim, but the gist of it was something like this:

“Lord, let this be the year of ‘The Blessed Victory‘ for my life. May this be the year of breakthrough, prosperity, easy living, and happiness for my family and I.”

After I made that prayer, I got the sense of God answering me. “Okay,” He said. “‘The Year of Blessed Victory’ it is; trust me.”

I once heard someone say, if you really wanna hear God laugh, just tell him what your plans are. I tell you that, just in case you don’t know who God is. He’s all powerful, omnipotent (look it up in the dictionary, kids), kind yet jealous, gentle yet firm, fiercely loving and he’s got a sense of humor.

When I made my plans through that New Year prayer, I had a different perspective on what I actually wanted the year to look like, than the way it actually progressed. In short, 2014 turned out to be the toughest year for my family and I to endure. In fact, I believe it’s been the end of a stretch that began seven years ago, after my Mom passed away from Cancer. I was so mad at the Lord for taking her away. Despite my anger, he called me to him anyway.

Coming to the Lord wasn’t easy because of the lifestyle I wasn’t exactly ready to give up, but he was patient with me. In time, I began to follow him, but I had a lifetime of baggage to unload through the process. In the Christian community, we believe life progresses in seasons. There are seasons of prosperity, season of peace, even seasons of sorrow, loss and sadness. Sometimes those seasons might last a few months, or they can stretch out for a few years. That’s just life: one gigantic roller coaster. My season just so happen to last seven years, during which time, God allowed all sorts of trials to test my faith in him and my resolve in allowing my life to be changed by the truth of his word. The first six years were a culmination of painful lessons and miraculous blessings. God, knowing that I was still a baby Christian, walked me through, holding my hand. But, there comes a time in every man’s life when he needs to find out what he’s truly made of and what he really believes in.

2014 put my faith to the test in ways, I might not have been able to handle in previous years. God will never give you any more than you can handle, but he’ll allow it get awfully uncomfortable, to build and sharpen your faith. I learned true humility. I’ve learned that it is not a sign of weakness to cry out to the Lord in front of your kids. I’ve learned how to pray the God for the miraculous and the mundane. I’ve learned that…there really is a difference between the world of the faithful believer and the world of the non-believer.

I want to spend just a moment on that point, if I may. This is so very important. There was a time when I thought being Christian meant you simply added the words of the bible to the life you already have; that every once in a while, you needed to throw in a “praise Jesus” after a couple of words, just to let people know where you stood regarding religion; that every once in awhile, you needed to go to church, just to get that emotional pick-me-up, from an entertaining pastor. But overall, you really didn’t have to change who you already were. You simply needed to add to it, like learning a new craft. Afterall, we all live in the same world, right?

I could not have been any more wrong. Contrary to popular secular belief, Christianity is not brainwashing. The Lord Jesus knew exactly what he was telling his disciples when he charged them to take up their cross daily, and follow him. Parents, the culture of today is in direct conflict with the teachings of God’s Holy word. Everything about our culture is in direct defiance to what the Lord had intended life to be like.

How many times have you seen a homeless person, and immediately felt the urge to be someplace else? How many times have you seen a wicked celebrity fall from the grace of Hollywood, and thought, “Well, they had it coming anyway.” That’s the world we live in. It’s different than the world God wanted us to be in. The two simply can’t coexist because a house divided cannot stand. A person who is both compassionate and cold at the same time, will always have to deal with some form of torment. You have to be one or the other.

There really are worlds within the world. If you’re not careful about what you’re following, you may find yourself walking through a season of sorrow longer than you’d like. And so it was for me, and my family. On the surface, we may have all looked like we had everything together. But we struggled this past year in ways that would amaze some of our friends and family. There were days, we prayed for the gas tank to make it another few days. There were days of choosing to pay a bill to keep the electricity on for another 10 days, or eating. There were times when fasting wasn’t really on purpose. Your kids eat before you do.

I doubted my writing ability. When you need to make a living, you turn to what you know how to do first. When that doesn’t offer enough, you start to dream. When you dream, you learn to start praying. But, when your prayers go unanswered, you find yourself tested. I was tested a lot this year. In the passed, there were people I could call on for physical help, or secret stashes I could dip into. Not this time. This was the season to believe or not believe.

Somewhere I heard, “To get what you’ve never had, you have to do what you’ve never done.” Now, that saying could go in many different routes. Sure you could brandish a piece and go out and rob someone. No thanks. In my case, I did something I never saw myself as capable of doing on a somewhat long-term basis. I fasted for 21 days. I won’t go into detail with that, because the honor and glory is not mine to be had. All praise is given to the Lord for walking me through that very difficult time, because in the midst of it, I found out what true joy in the Lord looks like. At the end of that period, nothing happened.

Or did it?

In the late November, I got a word from the Lord while I slept.

“Your season is over, son.”

That’s it. I really didn’t think much about it, until I recalled my daughter giving her heart to God in September. That was a huge deal, and though she fights her own personal struggle against the influences of the world, I know who’s walking beside her. There were a few other miraculous occurrences; things that might be explained logically to anyone else. But to my wife and I, we recognized God’s hand working in our lives. And then, on the 19th of this month, God showed up and reminded me of the promise he made back in January.

Despite my doubts on the effectiveness of my writing, I continue to write. I don’t know how to shut it off, so failure is never an option where my writing is concerned. Faithwriters and Xulon Press must be in agreeance because they sent an email to me, announcing that I had just won a publishing package for a book I’ve only written one chapter for! That, my friends, is the blessed victory. It could mean absolutely nothing to anyone who just happened to click on this story, purely for entertainment. But, to me and my wife, it is the beginning of something new and great; something that was promised by the Lord himself.

When I look back on the trials and challenges of not only 2014, but the last seven years, I understand that God needed to take me through some things in order to get me to a place where I would willingly lean on him alone. That’s a good thing, you see. I’m selfish, self-centered, judgmental and sometimes cruel without him in my life. I had to get to a place where I could honestly admit those traits exist within me. But, with him leading me, I am the opposite of them all.

You see that gauge I picked up? It topped out at just over 120. Let’s say the 200 mark is the tipping point between my faith in the Lord and going back to a life without him. It’s a pressure gauge, you see. It tells you just how much you can take before you quit and go back to a life devoid of God’s presence. Now, look at that needle again. Over seven years, that’s how close I came to giving up. I was more than half way there. But God knew me better than I did. He always cheered me on, while I struggled to believe in him through the hard times.

“C’mon son, just a little more. You’ve got this, and I’m still here with you.”

I wouldn’t change a thing. The road ahead is still littered with trash I have to walk through, but I know God is with me. I know he’ll make a way. I know his promises are faithful and true. I know that when times get tough, he will never leave me as long as I believe in him.

The promise of the blessed victory happened, and I didn’t see it coming. 2015 is going to be an exciting year for my family and I. So let me ask you, friend. What are you believing in these days, and what are your expectations for the New Year?

As Good a Time as Now

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Ecclesiastes 11:4 (NIV) – Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.

“I have to get right before I can start going to church,” he says.

“I have to study a bit longer before I’m ready to test,” she says.

When we wait for the times to be perfect, we are inactive. God often presents opportunities when He feels we are ready to handle the challenge. We have to step off the bleachers of waiting, into the arena of action, through our faith in Him.

As a writer, I’m often confronted with this obstacle:

“Just a few more lines and it will be ready, after a few minor edits. Then, it will really be ready…after a few more descriptive words.”

We make up excuses for not trusting in the Lord and putting ourselves into action for Him. We wait for perfection while ignoring the fact that we live in an imperfect world. We have to give God what we have right now, and trust His judgment.

Time is never on our side. It waits for no man. While it affects God in no way, the same does not hold true for us. Every wasted moment, is an opportunity (to serve our Lord) gone. In a word: fear. Fear holds us captive; makes us wait for the perfect time to act. God says that time is now:  time to write that song; time to enroll in that class; time to act. There will never be as good a time as now.

TIME: The Enemy of Man

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One day, Man and Time met face to face in the radiant light of Eternity, to chat. Man approached Time with a casual, almost whimsical smile and nonchalant swagger. But Time appeared rigid and perturbed by the impromptu meeting. What transpired, would define their tumultuous relationship forever.

 

MAN:             “Hey, how’s it going with you?”

 

TIME:            “Hello Man. We need to keep this short. I have a schedule to keep. What can I do for you?”

 

MAN:             “Straight to business. Okay, so here’s the deal. I’m going to need you to be a little more lenient in your duties. Some stuff is simply taking me…a bit longer to complete, than originally anticipated.”

 

TIME:            “That’s not an option. Work with what you’re given. You’re wasting me, right this second.”

 

MAN:             “Why are you always against me? What have I ever done to offend you?”

 

TIME:            “Hey don’t take my work personally. I’m not your friend. My job is not to support your efforts. I march forward, whether you’re ready or not.”

 

MAN:             “Can’t you slow down a bit? Sometimes, I just need you to cut me a break.”

 

TIME:            “Sorry. I don’t operate that way. That’s not how God built me to function.”

 

MAN:             “Yeah, well can’t you cut me some slack? I understand I can be difficult to deal with, but I have a lot to do. You don’t exactly make it easy for me to complete my tasks and accomplish my goals.”

 

TIME:            “That’s not my problem, Man. I treat you no different than I treat every other living thing in this world.”

 

MAN:             “Therein lies the problem! God created me in His own image. He placed me ahead of every other living thing in the world. Why can’t you fall in line, and submit to my authority?”

 

TIME:            “Don’t you lecture me! You’re a double-minded creature, by nature. You don’t know what you want from one day to the next. Half the time…excuse me…half of me, you want me to speed up to quickly advance your blessings. With the other half of me, you would have me slow down to prolong your lazy behavior. Which is it? I simply don’t have ‘time’ to wait for you to decide, Man!”

 

MAN:             “But…but…wait a minute…”

 

TIME:            “I wait for no Man! You know how this works! From the moment you take your first breath of fresh air, outside the womb, your clock begins countdown. Our race begins. You can’t bargain with me; you can’t negotiate for more or less of me; you can’t persuade me, so don’t try! Instead, focus on your calling, as dictated by the Lord.”

 

MAN:             “That’s what I’m trying to do, if you would only…”

 

TIME:            “I’m not finished! Don’t interrupt me again! Stop wasting me on perishable things, trivial desires and feeble beliefs. Use every day to diligently search for the Lord and His call on life. Only He has the ability to alter how much of me is distributed among you.”

 

MAN:             “I understand.”

 

TIME:            “Really? No, I don’t think you do! More often than not, I find myself watching you condemned than redeemed, when we meet at the end of your cycle. You’re failing, Man. You’re repeating the same mistakes over and over again; perpetuating insanity.”

 

MAN:             “I know. I just don’t know any other way. If you could just help me out this once, I…”

 

TIME:            “Argh; I AM helping you! We’re talking right now. And do not give me that pitiful excuse, ‘I don’t know any other way’. You’re born with an innate knowledge of the Lord. You simply choose to disobey Him. I can’t help you with that. You have to choose to follow Him, in order to influence me.”

 

MAN:             “I suppose that makes sense. You’re basically telling me that I can’t waste you.”

 

TIME:            “That’s what I’m telling you, Man. I will not wait for you; for any of you. The Lord is my authority. What you fail to realize is that He’s given me authority over you.”

 

MAN:             “I see.”

 

TIME:            “Yes. You finally see.”

 

MAN:             “Yes. I have no excuses. I have to choose wisely. I have to seek Him first.”

 

TIME:            “Yes. Who knows? If you follow Him faithfully, maybe He will instruct me to give more of myself. After all, even I’m called to serve Him.”

 

MAN:             Yeah, I see. I need to think about this for a little while. It’s a lot to process right now.”

 

TIME:            “Might I suggest something? While you’re busy deciding, I’m working. While you remain still, I’m pushing forward. How long will it be before you decide?”

 

The question lingered in Man’s ears through all Eternity. How long, before you decide?