Monday, December 14, 2009

Stepping on Toes - My Article in the Southside Messenger

Spirit & Truth # 159

"Stepping on Toes"
By Rev. Greg Smith

When I turned 35 years old, I took a trip to the doctor, because I wanted to hear what he might say about entering middle-age. After much poking, prodding, and blood-letting, he said, “You’re a tad overweight, and your triglycerides are a touch high.”

Here was somebody telling me some pretty negative things about myself, but did I get offended? No. I'd gone to him just so he could tell me negative things. I went to him so he would tell me what I needed to change in my life.

Often, I have finished a sermon and been greeted by a parishioner who said, "You stepped on my toes today, Pastor." Sometimes they're smiling. Sometimes they're not. Most people don't like getting their toes stepped on.

Many people don’t come to church to be challenged. They only want to hear pleasant messages. They flock to be one of thousands attending televised megachurches whose pastors preach a feel-good message without any substance. 2 Timothy 4:3-4 says, "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths" But when we go to church, we need to be open to hearing from God, so that we will be challenged--so that we will be changed.

The message that John the Baptist preached was a hard one to hear. "John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire (Luke 3:7-9)." But people listened to his painful preaching and they gave a receptive response. In verse 10, the people say, "What should we do, then?" Verse 15 says they were "waiting expectantly."

How do you respond to the tough teachings you get from the pulpit? Do you get offended? Or do you allow yourself to be totally transformed? Sometimes a sermon steps on our toes, but thank God that Jesus only steps on our toes when we trample on His heart! Maybe it's time to listen to God's message.

Instead of coming to church wearing steel-toed boots that protect your precious toes, we need to listen to God's word from Exodus 3:5, ""Take off your shoes, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." Make yourself vulnerable. Let God step on your toes, so you can be totally transformed.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Main Characer in Your Life

“The Main Character in Your Life”

By Rev. Greg Smith

Then Jacob called for his sons and said: "Gather around....” He blessed them, giving each the blessing appropriate to him.... When Jacob had finished giving instructions to his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed, breathed his last and was gathered to his people. (From Genesis 49:1, 28, 33)

Every one of us was born, and every one of us, like it or not, is going to die. From the first breath to the last, we are the main characters in our own lives. Unlike any of the other characters in our life’s story, we view our own experiences from start to finish. Nobody else witnesses our secret moments or sees the depths of our hearts. Likewise, we can never see the hidden places in the lives of others. The only life we see completely is our own.

While it is true that we are the main characters in our own lives, it is not true that our lives are all about ourselves. The apostle Paul says, “If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord (Romans 14:8).” The truth is, we are not the only one who sees the full scope of our lives from beginning to end. God is the invisible witness who sees it all. We must remember that we do not live or die to ourselves alone.

As he faced his own death, Jacob was aware that he did not die to himself alone. While each of his sons was the main character in his own life, Jacob’s death would be a major chapter in the personal history of each of his children. At least for a time, Jacob would become the central player in the family drama. He would, in fact, pass on from his own life, leaving his sons to pick up the pieces and figure out how to move on. Truly it could be said that his death was not all about him. His death was all about them. Knowing that his time on earth was finite, he used his final days to bring blessing to those around him.

The same can be said about us. Though you are the main character in your life, you are also the main character in someone else’s life, at least for a time. Think of the family gathered around Mama’s death bed. In their eyes, it’s all about her. But she makes a choice. Is it all about her? Or will she make it about them? Will she leave them with a parting gift of wisdom? Or blessing? Or peace?

In reality, none of us can predict the hour of our own passing. It may be in sixty years, or it may be tomorrow. So it remains for us to live today as unto the Lord. Likewise, our imminent destruction must make us live for others, and not for ourselves. The more we invest in ourselves, the more we invest in the destructible. The more we invest in those who will live beyond us, the more we invest in immortality. Will you make somebody else the main character in your life today?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Spirit and Truth # 158 - Painful Preaching

Spirit & Truth # 158
“Painful Preaching”

By Rev. Greg Smith

"See, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. Then the Lord you seek will suddenly come to His temple, the Messenger of the covenant you desire—see, He is coming," says the LORD of Hosts. But who can endure the day of His coming? And who will be able to stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner's fire and like cleansing lye. (Malachi 3:1-2 HCSB)

He is coming. Can you feel it in the air? Can you hear it on the wind? Even as we wait, the Messiah is on His way. We don’t know when He will arrive, but He is coming still. Are you ready?
Malachi had a vision of the coming Messiah. But he knew that the people’s hearts weren’t ready to receive the Lord. He foresaw that before the Lord would come, another messenger must arrive, to fertilize the soil of their souls. John the Baptist must come before the Messiah, preaching that people should repent and be baptized.

John was anything but what the people might expect. From the beginning, he turned people’s expectations upside down. His message was the photo negative of everything that they already knew. It was completely backwards from the way their minds worked. John Opposed sin and invited repentance. Specifically, he decried the sin of King Herod, who had taken his brother Philip’s wife as his own. John knew that the people take the morality (or immorality) of their political leaders as an example to follow, so he confronted Herod’s sin directly. John preached a message that would turn the establishment on its ear. And that kind of message is dangerous.

Sometimes preaching can be painful to the hearer. Powerful preaching can burn away our impurities like a refiner’s fire. It can scour our hearts like strong lye. And that can be uncomfortable. Yet it is necessary if we’re to become what God wants us to be.

Preaching can also be painful to the preacher. John stuck his neck out, and ended up losing his head. Yet he was willing to risk it all. As a result, Jesus would say that there had never been anyone born who was greater than John.

God calls every believer to be a preacher like John. Maybe we’re not called to wear camel’s hair and eat locusts—but we are all called to speak God’s truth, even if we know it won’t be well received. Even if it gets us into trouble (Mt 11:11; Lk 7:28). We can’t be afraid of criticism. We can’t be afraid of people getting mad. When we, like John, become “a voice crying in the wilderness,” then “the crooked will become straight, the rough ways smooth, and everyone will see the salvation of God (Luke 3:4-6)."