Friday, April 23, 2010


I don't believe in coincidences. I believe in Godincidences.

What's the difference?

A coincidences is simply when two seemingly unrelated incidents coincide - by accident. If it seems to be a good thing, we call it serendipity. A Godincidence is when two seemingly unrelated incidences coincide - and you can see God's hand orchestrating the whole thing. Here's an example of a Godincidence:

A couple of weeks ago on a Monday I went to the local jail to visit a parishioner. This is someone that I see every Monday morning, so it came as a surprise to me when I was told that a guard had gone to his cell, and he had rolled over in his bunk saying, "I don't want to see him." Why would my friend refuse me? Surely he was sick or something.

My next appointment wasn't for another two hours, so I had some time to kill. I decided to sit in the parking lot and send some emails with my Blackberry. (This was a lot where I don't usually park, because the lot where I usually park was unusually full that day.) I hadn't been in the lot for very long when a girl came out of the jail. Seeing me, she asked, "Do you have a cigarette?" When I told her I didn't have a cigarette, she asked, "Can I use your cell phone so I can call my mom?" I did oblige that request.

When she got off the phone, she said her mom would be there in a little while. I introduced myself, telling her that I'm a pastor so she wouldn't be too creeped out by this man who was about to volunteer to wait with her until her mom arrived. Lynn (not her real name) said that she was 18 years old, and that she'd been arrested the night before for driving under the influence of alcohol. She was distraught, and seemed like she really needed to have someone wait with her. She needed to be treated tenderly, with the grace of Christ. She also needed a pastor there with her, because she had spiritual questions that needed answering. I shared some scriptures with her, and when her mom arrived, I gave Lynn my personal Bible (marked up and underlined, fully customized. I'll miss that Bible).

The thing is--we wouldn't have had that conversation if my friend hadn't refused to see me that morning. So when I left, I thanked God for making him feel badly. Sounds weird, but I do believe that sometimes God will cause something unpleasant to happen, just so He can orchestrate something glorious.

Then, I got a phone call from my parishioner's mom. She said that he hadn't refused to see me at all. In fact, there was another inmate there with a very similar name. The guard had asked the wrong inmate if he wanted a visit from Rev. Greg Smith. No wonder the total stranger had refused to see me! When my friend had heard that the guard had spoken to the wrong inmate, he called his mom immediately, and asked her to call me and tell me about it--just so I wouldn't think he was upset with me. So God didn't need to make my friend sick in order to get him to refuse my visit, just so I would be in the "wrong" place at the "wrong" time just so I could have that conversation with Lynn. All he needed to do was create a case of mistaken identity.

The next day I returned to visit my friend, and we had a good laugh about what had happened. Toward the end of my visit (or, what I thought was going to be the end), I told him that I wanted to share a scripture with him. It was the scripture that had been in my devotional reading that same morning. His mouth dropped open when I opened the Bible to Psalm 121, because that had been the same scripture he had read this morning. "There were some things I didn't understand in that passage," he told me, "and I needed someone to explain them to me. Now, here you are opening up the very same scripture."

Yet another example of a Godincidence.

What kinds of coinciding events have you had in your life lately? Are they coincidences--accidents that have no meanings? Or can you see God's hand in them, speaking God's word into your heart through His manipulation of circumstance? I hope that when these serendipitous events happen in your life, you'll see God's hand and hear God's voice. I pray you'll open yourself to the unexpected so God can use you as His agent in this world.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Partnering in Prayer - A Lenten Devotional - Day 47 - The Easter Horse

-->Day 47 – Resurrection Sunday!
Drawn to the Things of God

This morning we had a great crowd at Antioch’s Easter sunrise service. Someone estimated around a hundred people who gathered at the foot of the three crosses in the church’s side yard to worship our risen Savior. We also had an unexpected visitor. Before we began the service, I had asked the crowd to part in the center and create an aisle down the middle, to allow for a visual pathway and sound to travel to one of our physically challenged members who watched the service from his car. As I was preaching, and before I had even given an invitation, our special visitor appeared and started to make her way down the center aisle.

Our visitor was a chestnut Belgian draft horse that had apparently heard what was going on in the church yard and decided to investigate. She had been so drawn to what was going on at church that she escaped her owner’s fenced-in field and made her way to join us. One member said he thought the horse was about to walk down the center aisle and join the church. I said that if we were to baptize that horse, we’d have to sprinkle, instead of immerse!
Today we graduate from our covenanted time of praying together for an hour a day. Hopefully, you’ll be drawn to the things of God, just as that horse was drawn to church. “I don’t know what’s going on there,” the horse must have thought, “but I just have to go and see.” She escaped from the fenced-in yard that kept her life predictable and safe, in exchange for the adventure of Resurrection Sunday. So too I hope that you’ll exchange conventional religion for a resurrected prayer life that draws you deeper into the things of God. I pray that this is just the beginning of a renewed commitment to prayer—that you’ll keep on praying for an hour a day, and even more, now that you’re used to it. I hope that you’ll check out our new Wednesday evening Renewal Services. Maybe you’ll even seek God’s will for how you can begin a new prayer ministry in YOUR church.

Whatever God leads you to do, I hope you’ll be like this morning’s horse, so drawn to what God’s doing that you can’t stay away. May God lead you by His unfailing love, this Easter season and beyond!

(P.S.: Yes, we did get the horse back to its rightful owner.)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Partnering in Prayer - A Lenten Devotion - Day 46 - The Seven Last Words of Christ

Day 46 – Holy Saturday
The Seven Last Words of Christ

Yesterday, we looked at Jesus’ three prayers from the cross. At the risk of being redundant, I want to share with you from this morning’s quiet time, something the Lord showed me about the seven last words of Christ from the cross.

The seven last “words” aren’t single words at all, but phrases Jesus uttered as He hung upon the cross. I’ll share the words with you, and then some insights on them.

1. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 24:34).”

a. Even when Jesus was on the cross, He prayed for us. Though it seems perhaps forgiving His tormenters didn’t come naturally. Notice that He didn’t say, “Tormenters, I forgive you, for you know not what you do.” Instead, He prayed that the Father would forgive them. Could Jesus, as God, have forgiven them Himself? Of course He could have—but I believe that being overcome with the sin of humanity made forgiving His enemies something difficult for Him to do. It was not beyond His Father’s ability, though. So, wishing to forgive them but finding Himself unable to do it Himself, Jesus prayed the Father to forgive not only Jesus’ tormenters, but all of humanity whose guilt He bore. If Jesus can pray for God to forgive sinners, then I can, too.

2. “This day you shall be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43).”

a. If jesus can save that gujy, who had insufficient theology, and no baptism, and no future of good works, then maybe—just maybe—there’s hope for me! Notice—Jesus knew the length of time it would take this man to die. Every second of our lives is in God’s hands.

3. “He said to his mother, ‘Dear woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother (John 19:26-27).’”

a. Even at the end, He was thinking of others instead of Himself. Jesus entrusted His mother into the hands of the church, not into the hands of family members who even at this point did not believe He was the Messiah. He knew what real family was, and wanted the faithful to care for the woman who dedicated her life to Him.

4. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me (Mark 15:34; Mathew 27:46)?”

a. Here, Jesus understands humanity’s plight to the fullest. He had taken on so much of humanity’s sin and depravity that He felt God had turned His back on Him. How tragic for Jesus, but how wonderful for humankind, that our Savior can understand us that completely!

5. “I thirst (John 19:28).”

a. Jesus’ physical thirst must have been agonizing, for what Roman would think to take a break in the middle of his beating and offer Him a cool drink of water? He must not have drunk anything for many hours. Yet, when they offered him drugged wine to dull the pain, He would not take it. Instead, He drank in our suffering. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” Jesus had said from the mountainside, “for they shall be filled.” Yet instead of being filled with ighteousness, Jesus’ thirst was only filled with our grief, shame, and sin.

6. “It is finished (John 19:30).”

a. A better translation would probably be “accomplished.” There was nothing more than Jesus needed to do, to secure our salvation. His work was complete, and now He could rest.

7. “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit (Luke 23:47).”

a. These should probably be my last words, too—every day! Maybe my first words each day, as well. May each day be fully committed to God!

These Seven Last Words are also the mission of the church: to forgive, to evangelize, to care for widows, to seek God’s face and care for the forsaken, to feed and water the hungry and thirsty, to finish the ministry that He began, and to commit ourselves completely to God.

Tomorrow will be our last email together. Our time of covenant prayer will be ended, but I pray that you will take Jesus’ Seven Last Words to heart, and make them your mission in life.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Partnering in Prayer - A Lenten Devotion - Day 45 - Prayers from the Cross

Day 45 – Good Friday
Prayers from the Cross

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mt 27:46).
Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." (Lk 23:34)
"Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." (Lk 23:46).

Tonight at church, we followed the Stations of the Cross (a wonderful meditation, if you’ve never done it. At Station # 12, the author writes:

Dear Jesus, at this site I tried to hear your last words, your last breath! And during these long hours I heard you pray, pray, pray! Your words were words of dependence on the Father, words of hope in deliverance. Dear Lord, teach me how to pray. Teach me to open my heart to you and to feel the warmth of your love! Teach me to pray with the heart and not with words that come out of my lips like a river. How good it is Lord, that from this site, where you prayed and forgave, where you passed your last hours of pain, I can rise up and say aloud: "Our Father who are in heaven!" Yes Lord I can proclaim this because at this spot you gave up your life for me! Thank you Jesus!

What would I be doing if I were in the kind of agony Jesus was experiencing? As much as I hate to admit it, I’d probably be focusing totally on myself. But Jesus was focused on others. He showed concern for the salvation of the thief on the cross. He made sure his mother would be taken care of after he was gone. He prayed—and I believe his three prayers from the cross are a great model for the Christian life.

1. He sought God’s face. Yes, he did so in despair and defeat (victory wouldn’t come until Easter). But that’s even more important for me to see—that even in despair and defeat, Jesus sought God’s face. He didn’t just trust God when times were good, but he desperately wanted to know God’s presence in his hour of need.

2. He sought the forgiveness of others. If we’re to be like Christ, then we need to be about seeing others forgiven and restored.

3. He rested himself in God’s loving embrace. Rather than striving any longer, Jesus decided it was time to give up the ghost. He decided when to breathe his last, and committed himself to God. We need to live as Jesus died, seeking God’s face, seeking the forgiveness of others, and totally committing ourselves to God.

If we can live as Jesus died, we’ll be doing ok. Pray, pray, pray—even when (and especially when) it hurts.

Partnering in Prayer - A Lenten Devotion - Day 44 - Personal Rituals

-->Day 44 – Maundy Thursday
Personal Rituals

Ok—now, I’m aware that some people who may have had a bad experience of liturgical churches may shrink back from the word “ritual.” They say, “My worship has no ritual. It’s not done by rote. It’s all heartfelt.” But the truth is, everybody has rituals. We also call them habits. We get up, yawn, stretch, get a shower, brush our hair, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush our teeth, and grab our keys—every single morning before leaving the house. This is our morning ritual. We do it because it’s what works for us. You know as well as I do, that when you oversleep and have to skip or alter your morning routine, it throws you off for the whole day. The same is true with our religious or spiritual rituals.

“But I’m a member of ________________ church,” you may say. “We don’t have rituals.”

Oh, yes you do. Even the most laid-back, non-liturgical church has rituals. We tend to do things the same way every week, and often we have a reason. Like at our church, we sing the Doxology every single week after we take up the offering. If we didn’t do it, something just wouldn’t feel right. When I first arrived at Antioch, I suggested to our worship leaders that we do away with that part of our service that I call the “howdy-do.” That’s where we take a break during the worship service and greet one another. It took way too much time and actually detracted from the flow of worship. But when I tried to get rid of it, I discovered that the greeting really was part of the culture of the church. So we didn’t dispose of it—we just found a way to do it that was more appropriate to the flow of worship.

Whether it’s the order of worship or the manner of dress worn by clergy and choir, your church has rituals. How many hymns and praise songs do you sing? Are there certain responses to liturgy that everybody “just knows?” Does the sanctuary furniture have to be in just the right place? How would it be if these things were changed?

Just as all our churches have rituals, so we also have personal rituals. Me, I like to sit in the same armchair each morning before anybody gets up, and pray. If I don’t have that cup of coffee beside me, something must be wrong. I have a whole collection of Bibles, but I have one in particular that I like to use for my personal prayer time. Some Christians use prayer beads or burn incense or light candles when they pray. Others cover themselves with a prayer shawl, kneel in the same position each evening, or use the same devotion book for years. Some always use the same prayer form (A.C.T.S. or J.O.Y., for example). Rituals can give us a sense of connection or grounding. When someone crosses himself, he immediately and wordlessly ushers himself into God’s presence. By raising her hands in prayer, a believer invites God to lift her into His arms. These gestures, tokens, and prayer devices all have deep meaning to many believers. What prayer rituals bring you comfort and peace?

Now, what if they were taken away?

While it’s good to have predictability in prayer, and personal rituals that give a sense of continuity and comfort, it’s also important not to rely on them. It’s God’s Spirit that should ultimately give comfort, and not the lighting of a candle. While the burning of incense might provide a sweet aroma for worship, it’s God’s Spirit that makes your prayer time truly sweet. Every now and then, I find myself away from my easy chair and my favorite Bible—and I believe it’s good for me to do without them. While personal rituals are good, we can’t let them take the place of true spirituality, where we experience God in a personal way. Don’t mistake ritual for relationship. Seek His face. “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you (James 4:8 ESV).”