Working & Walking

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Before I go into any actual devotional rhetoric, let me brag on our God for a moment. He is so faithful and awesome. The Lord always blesses me with pleasant surprises, helping me to glorify his name.

Earlier today (while at work), I trolled WordPress blogs for good reads and inspiration because my writing has been stunted this year. What can I say? I’m experiencing a dry spell, and the well could really use some replenishing. During my random searching, I discovered “When I’m With You…Whitney Ibe Blog!” and was instantly smitten by this brilliant blog created by a faithful sister in Christ. After reading a few of Whitney’s blogs, my spirit was willing…but my flesh proved to be weak. For the bulk of my lunch hour, I stared aimlessly at a blank Word screen trying to force a story into existence. Finally, I conceded defeat, shut down the blank document and went on about the business of my profession, wondering when a time would come when I could leave this line of work behind for something better suited toward writing for the Lord.

After work this evening, I stole away to my favorite prayer closet to spend time with the Lord. The iPod was plugged into the Bluetooth speaker. My bible was set on my bed. The sounds of rainstorms filled the air. I hit the floor, but at some point during my prayer-time, I dozed off. Personally, I think it was the thunder and rain pounding through the speaker. I awoke frustrated but determined to at least get my read so I sat up and stretched. Opening my bible to the next chapter of Acts, I never made it five verses into the chapter, before the Lord showed up with inspiration. I stopped reading, opened my laptop, and immediately began typing.

Acts 18:3-4 (NKJV) – “3So, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked; for by occupation they were tentmakers. 4And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.”

The Apostle Paul was a Pharisee of Pharisees. He was a learned man of Scripture. He was a former terrorist who had completely souled out to Jesus. He performed miracles of healing and even raised the dead during his missionary trips. He was…a tentmaker by trade. Family, pastor-brother Paul was a regular Joe with a day job! Yet, somehow he managed to consistently make it to church every week and preach with such boldness that he led Jews and Greeks to the Lord! Man, I really felt led to share this revelation because somebody out there is seriously questioning what God is doing in their life, in regards to the profession they find themselves in.

Throughout the New Testament, we see examples of Paul’s tremendous effectiveness for the kingdom of God. But these two verses in Acts also proved that Paul was merely a man who—just like us—needed to make a living. His tent-making profession may not have directly helped him to further God’s purposes, but it sure did help him eat, I’ll bet. And his day-job never hindered his ability to preach the Gospel and win souls to Christ. God blessed Paul with that specific skillset and profession, to help support himself.

Maybe your day job isn’t glamorous. Maybe you’re questioning the Lord’s purpose in positioning you right where you are, professionally. Maybe you’re frustrated with long hours or little pay—or both. Remember that God knows exactly where you are, and can use you in your profession. We simply have to live out our Christian walk, even on the job. Let me close this with a true story.

Last October, I was placed on a construction site as the Engineer’s site representative. I was to work closely with the site’s Superintendent—a feisty, foul-mouthed youngster with a loud personality and the girth to back up his temper. A few days into the project, I wondered what the Lord’s plan was for sticking me with this young man who, at first glance, shared nothing in common with me. But, as time and the project rolled by, I learned some things about my young friend. Frank had grown up Christian, and though his language might tell otherwise, he remembered a few things about scripture. I never had to pressure Frank, or hit him over the head with the bible. But, little by little, he grew curious about whatever he saw in my life.

Last week, Frank came to church with me, and fell in love with the Lord. He has a light in his eyes today that I’ve never seen before. Two days ago, he purchased a new study bible through Amazon, and seems excited about its arrival. For the last few days at work, we review his bible trivia app during lunchtime. Best of all, Frank is planning to shut the job down at 3PM this coming Friday, so that he and I can make it to church at 7PM, to celebrate good Friday!

I did nothing, family. This miracle’s glory belongs solely to God! I simply went to work every day. Paul held his day-job and still won souls for Christ. The Lord can use you for his purposes, right where you are. Some preachers are called to full-time ministry, but for us regular people, God provides a means of supporting ourselves in addition to the call on our lives. Never doubt where he has you. Maybe you are there to fulfill his purpose.

Saul

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I want to talk about Saul: the first anointed king of Israel. Before I can get into this interesting character study, let me give a little background for those who may not be familiar with this particular king. I think it’s important to get the gist of where he came from.

Just before 1 Samuel 10, we find that the children of Israel basically grew bored with following the leadership of God’s appointed judges. They wanted to be like all the other surrounding peoples and nations, who were ruled by kings. I guess they figured, “If a king is good enough for them, it’s good enough for us too”. The children of Israel took their petition to their recognized spiritual leader, Samuel. Now, Samuel never did anything without consulting God first, and this petition was a pretty big deal. Essentially, they were making a decision to follow the leadership of a man, over the leadership of God Almighty. But God took it all in stride.

“Sam,” I imagine God saying. “Don’t worry about it. It’s cool. They’re not turning away from you; they’re turning away from me. You’re in the clear. So, I’m gonna give ’em what they want. But…you be sure to explain to them exactly what kind of man they are about to get. Be sure to remind them that they asked for him.”

This kind of reminds me of a certain presidential election. I’m just sayin’…

To make a long story short, Samuel–led by God–chooses and anoints Saul, son of Kish, to be crowned the first king of Israel. Saul was handsome; he was strong and he was tall. Think…DuWayne “The Rock” Johnson; but with hair. The people were elated!

But Saul had some issues. He wasn’t very uhmm…disciplined. Saul loved the Lord (or so he claimed). He just had a problem with following the Lord’s commands to the letter. He would blatantly disregard the instruction of Samuel–who, by the way, was God’s representative of the day–to worship God in whatever way he saw fit. Not surprisingly, God eventually removed his presence from Saul.

Saul’s wishy-washy faith and obedience reminds me of how we sometimes behave, today. We like to serve God in our own special ways, totally disregarding his plans and his guidance. And then, just as Saul did, we grow jealous and agitated over those who seem to be blessed instead of us.

Did you know Saul grew so jealous of David, that he literally tried to pin him to the wall, with a spear…twice?

#HATER

We really cannot serve God any old willy-nilly way, and expect him to honor and bless us. It just doesn’t work that way. Think of it like this: you charge your 11-year old son with the responsibility of cleaning the kitchen five nights out of the week, for $5.00 at the end of the week. This kid washes a single dish and one fork on Monday, but expects to be paid $5.00 on Saturday! Sounds insane, right? That’s how we treat God; exactly how Saul did.

I propose a change. If we want to hear from God, and receive his blessings, we need to get to know him. That’s what relationships are for. You get to know a person; come to understand what their wants and needs are; and then cater to those needs or wants. God loves us, and wants the best for us. We simply have to follow him whole heartedly. That’s really not a hard thing to do, when we remove our selfish tendencies and lethargy. When we follow God, the way he wants us to follow him, watch out! The blessings come suddenly and often.

 

The Story of US (Prelude)

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Everyone has a story to tell. As long as we live and breathe, we are someone’s story: God’s. Perhaps you live a life of nonstop adventure, where every event is a celebration. Or, like many of us, maybe you live a simple life of Monday-Friday workdays, grocery store shopping and weekend Netflix. Maybe you’re the life of every party, or maybe you constantly fly under the popularity radar and that’s just the way you like it. No matter where you may fall on the “interest” scale, rest assured: you have a story to tell.

My wife and I just celebrated our 15th year of marriage, this past August. We are the parents of 5 children, ages 10 to 24. For the most part, we live seemingly normal lives of carpooling, school days, work days and church. We don’t drink alcohol. We’re non-smokers. We don’t party hard on the weekends. We haven’t experienced a genuine family vacation…ever. We drive a 10 year old Dodge Grand Caravan and a two year old Ford Fiesta. Together, our large family cram into a three bedroom home with one bathroom. Uh, did I mention that there are three women in the family? One bathroom can be quite challenging at times. On the surface our lives may seem dull, simply existing one day at a time. Perfectly harmless.

But then, you don’t really know us, do you?

You might not believe some of the things we’ve experienced individually and together. You might be shocked to discover that addictions and abuses have affected our family in ways that might end other relationships, if not for the grace of the Lord. You might deny the fact that Misty and I can each truthfully say, “I might not be here, if it weren’t for God”. You may even question the validity of our Christianity after discovering some of the things we’ve done, and continue to struggle with.

For years, we’ve tried to bury a past that would have left us a broken and splintered family. Some mistakes of our youth continue to resonate in our present. Past deeds haunt and hinder our future. But we know today that the God we serve can, and often does, grant us his grace and mercy. He supplies for our needs and also makes a way for us to break through. The more we grow in the Lord, the more I see the time approaching, where we will face our past together and share our stories with the world.

People are hurting. Individuals and couples alike are facing difficult situations daily; carrying secret pain that cannot be reconciled no matter how hard they may try. Our time to share is now. We want people to know, no matter how dark your situation may look, God can restore. God is the healer. Through him, all things are possible, especially redemption. I know personally.

This October, we’re stepping out on faith. Together, Misty and I will begin the journey of writing our story, in the hopes that it may one day inspire and encourage others who may be going through some of the experiences we’ve endured together. It will be painful, because it means facing demons, answering hard questions all while reaffirming our forgiveness of one another. No one is beyond God’s grace and mercy.If he continues to restore and strengthen us, just maybe our story will encourage someone out there to seek his face. We’re ready to share. Are you ready to experience our story?

 

I, The Pharisee…

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I have a close friend in church who lives day-to-day just like the rest of us. His past is full of hurt, shame and disappointments; no different than us all. Some days are easier than others, when it comes to following the Lord. I think we can all relate to that struggle.

I have another close friend in church, who grew up the product of a church-going family. This brother never struggled with addictions. He never endured the pain of watching his parents dissolve their marriage. He gave his heart to the Lord at a young age, and has diligently followed ever since. His is the story of many God fearing Christians in the world today.

Both of these brothers share my love and respect, for different reasons but also for the main reason that links us: their love for Jesus Christ. Both men are fathers, doing their best to raise their young sons to be godly young men. Both men are faithful husbands, awesome dads and active members of the church family; just as I am.

And there is where my disobedience surfaces. I, the Pharisee, have the audacity (from time to time) to consider myself better than them. Luke 18:11-12 reads, “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess’”. In my own translation, that could read something like this:

“God, I thank you that I am not like other men–foolish spenders of money, unable to reflect on drunken days as a youth because you know I’ve had many to reflect on, fearful of my roll as head of household, without recollection of days as a thief because there were many examples, constantly double-minded, yet rigidly narrow minded in my vision. I read at least a chapter of the bible, almost everyday; I sometimes begrudgingly tithe 10% of my wages. But don’t hold those traits against me Lord, because I know I’m doing better than a lot of folks.”

That sounds totally ridiculous, doesn’t it? And yet…that’s what’s within my heart. As wretched and self centered as those sentiments sound, they are lurking within me. Just as the Pharisees judged others who were not like themselves, so I do the exact same thing against my brothers, without compassion for their struggles or lack there of.

I once asked another good friend of mine, “Brother, how are you able to look past the blatant wrongs of some folks?”

He told me, “I have to constantly remind myself ‘you don’t know the whole story’. I have to remember that I don’t know the circumstances that they may be facing. Besides that, Jesus warns us not to judge, because judgment is the Lord’s.”

When I began to take a good hard look at the way I see others in relation to my own life, I found that judgment is more prevalent within me than I would like to admit. Everywhere I looked, I found evidence of me measuring folks against my lifestyle. The harder I looked, the more I hated what I was doing. The reality is that I’m not leading a Christ-honoring life at all, as long as I look at the faults of others without considering my own faults.

I can recall one such instance where I simultaneously condemned one brother for his lazy lifestyle, and then judged another brother for teaching on the dangers of teen sex, knowing he’d never experienced it himself. The killer in all this hypocrisy was that I felt totally justified in my behavior! I face lazy moments in my life today. And I remember being a teen involved in sex, long before I was ever married. So, what gives me the right to have any sort of feeling–one way or the other–on someone else, in relation to circumstances they may be facing, that I myself can totally relate to? That’s not love. That’s hate.

This is hard for me. It’s transparent. There will be those within my circle who may read this and gasp, never knowing that one of my biggest struggles in life is the battle against judgment. But, it’s also refreshing for me to air it, because there is power in admitting your faults and giving them over to the Lord to cover. That’s what I need. I need his mercy and grace. I need him to soften my hardened heart and grant compassion where judgment sits.

I don’t want to be a Pharisee any longer. I want to give all my faults and weakness to the Lord, and have him walk me through the process of laying them down once and forever. I guess if there is any lesson to be learned from this–for you, dear reader–it would be to take a serious hard look in your own mirror and find out what you may need to give to the Lord. For years, I thought my silent judgment of others was a harmless trait reserved for only me. But as it turns out, it’s the one thing I never really wanted anyone to see.

I am flawed. I am judgmental. I am a Pharisee.

But today, I’m trying not to be anymore. Lord help me…

 

 

Keep Your Eye On The Ball

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In sports, particularly those involving a ball, the coach always lays down the fundamental rule of the game.

“Keep your eye on the ball.”

Wide receivers can be distracted by defensive players, in football. Soccer goalies can likewise be distracted by opposing team players’ orchestrated chaos. Every center-fielder knows the dangers of losing the baseball in the open sky. And free-throw shooters can easily be distracted by those multicolored shakers folks rattle from the seats behind the backboard. It’s amazing the things that can distract us from the goal–the ball.

This year’s election is shaping up to be no different. Now, now…before you make any assumptions family, this is not apolitical debate post. Quite the opposite. While I would expect people to pick a particular side, this late into the election year, what I find really fascinating, and disturbing at the same time, is the display of blatant hatred between folks of differing opinions. What’s really got me baffled is how rampant that hatred is flowing through the Christian community!

As this political race continues to heat up, I’ve seen friends “un-friend” each other over choices in candidate backing. I’ve read some of the most un-Christianlike commentary written about people over the red vs. blue debate. I’ve even read flat out lies quoted by people who are supposed to be shepherds!

Let’s be clear. If your pastor says something to this effect, “If you back *blank*,” (feel free to insert your choice), “you’re going to burn in hell,” chances are you might want to start seeking a new church.

The race for the presidency isn’t the only distraction today. Race is also making Christians lose focus. Look…it’s no big secret that we’ve got a race problem in this country. It’s always been here. Some folks are simply tuning into reality late because now it’s being filmed everywhere. It’s a really important issue, that upsets me just like it probably upsets a lot of you. Here’s what it’s doing to us, as the body of Christ: it’s dividing us. Many multicultural churches are now finding an ever increasing challenge of being sensitive to all of its congregation members. That should always be a given anyway, but once cultural sensitivity is thrust into the forefront every Sunday, we drop the ball.

Let’s look at the presidential race for a minute. Now, we Christians believe in what the bible says; am I correct? I mean if you doubt the word, you should probably stop reading this blog right here. God’s word tells us how the story ends.

“What story are you talking about, Enn?”

That’s a fair question. The answer is simple: the only story that matters! Life and the end of the age. We know that in the last days, things are going to get slightly weird for us all. But, in the end…we win! Yay! By “we” of course I mean those who truly follow the Lord. Which leads to my next point. In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus gave an awesome commission to us all:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

But that wasn’t all he said. If we back up a bit, before he gave the great commission he gave the disciples these awesome commandments found in Matthew 22:37-40. Jesus said:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Here’s where these come into play today. Family…tomorrow I want you to conduct an experiment. Watch social media. Look at how people are treating each other over their differences in candidates, then ask yourself if this is the love Jesus told us we need to display. Honestly, Hillary and Donald are distractions from the bigger issue. As believers, we should recognize this fact: Satan is dividing us, and winning! So many people are concerned with Joe backing Hillary and Jane backing Donald that we don’t see the division in progress. As believers, we should be focusing on bringing folks to Christ. Our mission hasn’t changed! Keep your eye on the ball! Jesus is the ball!

The same holds true for the race issue. Yeah…I know its bad out here. I get it. Again, take a step back and look at what’s really going on. Satan is dividing us! I’ve got white friends who are now uber sensitive to what comes out of their mouths out of fear of offending me. Watching them struggle with words is uncomfortable to me, because we’re supposed to worship together in the same place every Wednesday and Sunday! Dude, stop being afraid to talk to me! II Timothy 1:7 says, “For God did not commit to us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” Get back in your right mind and have a decent conversation with your brother! I’m black; you’re white; we love the Lord. That’s it! Again…Jesus is the ball. Keep your eye on him.

This wasn’t supposed to go 900 words long but apparently, I’ve had it on my heart for some time. Christians, now is the time for us to unite and share our beliefs with a hurting world. I honestly don’t care who you decide to vote for. I’m not going to erase you from my friend list, and dodge you on the street. Yeah, that stuff is really happening out there. I know we’ve got racial tensions out there. This isn’t new despite what the media keeps throwing at you. Let’s heal each other with the love the Lord told us to display. I just told you guys a few nights ago, my cousin’s an atheist. She hates Christianity. I love her anyway. She’s my blood, and any so-n-so who raises a hand against her will have to come through me first. Our differences will not cause me to hate her.

As believers, we seriously have to keep our eye on the ball. we’ve got a mission that is super relevant today. The mission isn’t new, and hasn’t changed in centuries. We simply have to stay focused on it, despite the distractions of our time.

Smith out. Good night.

Foolish Beliefs

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1 Corinthians 1:18 (NLT) – “The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.”

1 Corinthians 2:14 (NIV) – “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.”

My family has been at the forefront of my critical thinking lately. My dad; certain cousins; my brother-in-law and nephew have all been a constant focus in my thoughts. These are good people, who do not believe in what I believe. It’s safe to say that some of them even consider me foolish for placing most of my major decisions in the hands of religion. That’s how they view a belief in God. For them, praying first is a weak-minded sentiment. That’s why I worry about them.

A few weeks ago, I was involved in a car accident. I literally walked away from the terrible scene, but it made me acutely aware of a few things:

  1. God truly does exist (as if there were any doubt before the accident).
  2. We never know when our time on this earth is up. Time can’t be wasted.

Along with thinking on my loved ones, I’ve been seriously praying to the Lord to give me direction on how to share the gospel, particularly with family members who are not receptive of it. The two referenced verses from 1 Corinthians make a clear cut case, that people who do not believe in God will–and do–view the message of the gospel as foolishness. These verses have honestly intimidated me for years. In the past, I’ve taken the stance, “Well…if they aren’t going to believe me anyway, then why should I even bother? After all, they deserve whatever they get for disrespecting the Lord.”

That way of thinking is old and immature. I don’t want my Dad to pass away into an eternity absent of God. I want to see him and my Mom when this brief moment in time–called my life–is over. I want my cousin Bry to gain an understanding of what her grandmother Amanda knew to be true. I want my nephew Lakota to enjoy his young life, depression free; not always in search of fulfillment that will never come from any other place except the Son. I want my brother-in-law to come back to what he knows to be truth.

I think it’s a dangerous position to have a belief in false truth. What if you believed gravity was false and decided to walk  off an 800-feet high cliff to prove your point? Ultimately, believing God is false is just like that, and will lead to terrible consequences. I don’t want that for my family. I want them to come to know the Lord and trust in him just as I have.

Walking Through the Open Door

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1 Peter 5:10 (NLT) – “In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation.”

Just because we are believers doesn’t mean we are exempt from trials and suffering. Peter knew this more than most, because he had endured countless attacks due to his belief in Jesus Christ. But he always kept the faith that God was at work within his life, despite his many encounters with opposition. Peter knew that he would be restored someday, even if that “someday” was the day of the Lord’s return. I want to share a true story, that brought this Scripture verse home for me.

For quite awhile, I was unhappy on my job. The original company I’d worked for had recently been acquired through merger with a larger firm. Dynamics were changed, new policies were enacted and generally speaking there were some challenges. All in all, it ceased to be a good fit for me. I prayed diligently on the matter, and before too long, I was presented with several prospective opportunities. While the first two just didn’t seem right for me, the third choice lined up as if God had specifically spoken into my life. It lined up so well, that I doubted it. So, before lunging head first at the opportunity, I took time to pray even more. I believe God confirmed that third choice through several ways: speaking with my pastor; bible scriptures pointing toward following the Lord’s direction; and there was a peace I felt over the whole decision. The time came when I signed the necessary documents and set a date for starting my new career. At the same time, I drafted a profession letter of resignation from my existing firm, and offered a timeframe of 3 weeks notice.

The day after I submitted my letter of resignation, I contracted viral pinkeye, and had to take days off from work. Four days after the submission–and incidentally four days into my sick leave–I received a call from the Vice President of my division. He wanted me to reconsider my decision to leave the company because it “looked bad” for me to leave after the company had invested so much into my developement. I respectfully declined, and thanked him for the time spent working together. The VP suggested that I take the weekend to reconsider the resignation. Here, I’ll divert.

Faith requires us to believe even when we cannot see the outcome. Oh, sure we read about it all the time in bible stories and listen to testimonies and T.V. shows with happy endings, so we know faith is real. But, it isn’t until you’re truly faced with tough decisions that you find out just how strong your faith really is. That weekend, I struggled terribly with the 11th hour decision. Do I stay put, and retain the company car and all of my health benefits, especially at a time when I’m dealing with a progressive health issue? There is safety in the known. Or, do I follow what I believe to be the Lord’s direction, honor the signed documentation of a new company and start a new career at 43 years old: no health benefits; no company car; no seniority. For a brief moment friends, I chose to stay right where I was, because logic dictated that to be the smart move. But, once again, God confirmed. My wife reminded me that we had prayed for months for God to open new doors of opportunity for me, professionally. And I was reminded that once he opens one door, he shuts another. How can I claim to love the Lord if I do not follow his direction, even in the tough times?

The follow Monday, I gave the VP my final answer, and was immediately terminated from my job. The day was May 2, 2016. Because my last day of physical work on the job had been Tuesday, April 26, 2016, I would received no sick leave time from that point (I had apparently run out), and my health insurance benefits had effectively expired on the last day of April. No benefits, no company car, no income for at least four whole weeks. When God opens one door, he shuts another for good. We have to decide whether or not we are willing to walk through the new door.

Today, my pinkeye has me irritated and I have to beat my flesh into submission because it constantly wants to run contingency plans for the tough times ahead. But, I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe I made the best decision for my family. I believe that what Peter said in the Scripture above is truth, and God will restore, support, strengthen and set my feet on a solid foundation. The physical and spiritual struggles I’m enduring right now are only temporary. I look at it as the enemy attempting to get me to doubt God’s deity. But, we have to always remember who we truly serve, and he’s not a failure.

I didn’t want to write this story to put my business out into the wind for attention. I actually didn’t want to share this at first, because part of my battle with my flesh is dealing with the reality of being fired from a job. The circumstances surrounding the shut door don’t even matter. My ego was bruised. But…if sharing this story encourages one person out there to look to and lean on God’s word during sufferings, sharing this story was worth it. Since this was such a long post, let me share that verse with you once again. And, be encouraged friend. When you’re going through the struggles, recognize that you must be on the side of God, because Satan is persecuting you so heavily. My vision is blurry, and I struggled throughout this entire writing.  But I finished it, for someone out there beyond my keyboard. Be encouraged because God is still with you.

1 Peter 5:10 (NLT) – “In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation.”

 

*Always*