Sunday, August 29, 2010

"Kill Your Darlings" - A Sermon Blooper

Some sermon bloopers are pretty the time, years ago, when I was preaching in Spanish and said that Jesus forgives us from all our sins.  The word for "sins" is "pecados," but I accidentally replaced this word for the similar sounding "pescados."  This way the sentence took on an entirely different meaning:  "Jesus forgives us for all our fish."

Today's sermon (as far as I know) was blooper-free in the 11:00 service, but in the 8:30 service I made a doozie. 

I was preaching a sermon entitled "Be a Fish," about freeing yourself of idolatry, and walking in the spirit.  The messsage was based on Luke 18:18-30 and Galatians 5:16-25.  That sermon will probably become a "Spirit and Truth" article, and you'll be able to read it here later.  When I preach, I use PowerPoint, so there are always changing images, outlines, etc. behind me.  One particular point of my sermon on idolatry was entitled Our "Good" Idols.  I had pictures of several good things that we can often get sidetracked by, placing good things ahead of God's best plans for our lives.  There were four pictures: one that represented health, another that represented family, another that represented patriotism, and another that represented charity.  The point was that we can even let these good things become idols if we get our priorities wrong.

As I said, the sermon went well at 11:00, because I remembered to talk about a writer's phrase, "Kill your darlings."  Click this link to read an entire article I wrote about killing your darlings, back in March.   In a nutshell, killing your darlings means getting rid of those things that really aren't essential to your story.  I used the phrase to talk about ridding ourselves of those extraneous activities, loyalties, and priorities that create idols in our lives.  On the PowerPoint screen, right in the middle of the four pictures of health, family, patriotism, and charity, were the words "Kill Your Darlings!"

This worked well at 11:00, when I actually remembered to talk about the phrase.  But at 8:30, after I talked about those four areas where we can get our priorities off, I forgot to comment on the italicized "Kill Your Darlings!" that popped up in the middle of a picture of a family, the American flag and Statue of Liberty, an apple, and someone giving to the Salvation Army.

What in the world could that preacher mean by putting "Kill Your Darlings!" on his PowerPoint during a sermon, and then not even commenting on it? 

Most of the time, PowerPoint with the sermon is a good thing.  This time, it worked against me. 

I've never had to print a retraction, either for my writing or for a sermon.  This isn't exactly a retraction--but it's not far off the mark.  Let's just call it an acknowledgment of a blooper, and an explanation of what was meant for those who were utterly confused in the 8:30 service.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Under Attack! - My Article in the Southside Messenger

Spirit & Truth # 191
“Under Attack!”

By Rev. Greg Smith

Years ago, one of my children had an imaginary friend. Most children have one at some point, but this friend, whom she called Anxiax, did more than simply play invisible ponies. We began to worry about our three-year-old’s imaginary friend when she described in vivid detail all the ways he told her that she could murder her parents. One night when I was praying over my sleeping little girl, the Lord revealed to me that Anxiax was no imaginary friend. He was nothing less than a demon that had been plaguing my child. I prayed for her, claimed authority over the demon through Jesus’ name, and cast it out. With a flutter, it left the room. I began to sing praises to God, and immediately the room was filled with a presence of light and peace. How do I know this wasn’t just my imagination? After that night, my three-year-old never mentioned Anxiax again.

Sometimes Satan comes at God’s people with overt attacks like this one. In Matthew 8:28-34, Jesus came into direct confrontation with demons outside the town of Gadara. Jesus did not argue or debate with them. He did not give them time to make a case for their right to possess the terrified demoniacs. In this encounter, Matthew only records one word that Jesus spoke. He told them, “Go!” From time to time, life puts us face to face with pure evil, an overt manifestation of the devil’s intentions. When you see obvious evil, it’s not hard to identify it as such. In Luke 10:18-20, Jesus gave his followers authority over demons. All you need to do is claim that authority and put a stop to the works of the devil.

Frequently the attacks are less overt. Often the enemy of your soul will come against you in more subtle ways. In Matthew 8:23-27, the devil tried to catch Jesus while He was sleeping. Just as he tried to take Jesus’ life before the appointed time by manipulating King Herod’s attack on the children of Bethlehem, Satan had also tried to preempt the atonement by prompting the crowds to attempt to stone Jesus. Here again, the devil inspired the wind and waves to misbehave and make an attempt on Jesus’ life. How can I say that this storm was demonically inspired? Jesus rebuked them. You don’t rebuke something that’s inanimate, that has no capacity to understand and obey. When he rebuked the storm, it obeyed his command. This shows that there had been a spirit behind the storm. Here’s where we need discernment, not only to identify the overt onslaughts of the enemy, but to see the more subtle attacks for what they actually are.

Whether we encounter direct and overt evil, or whether we face the more understated schemes of the deceiver, the Christian needs to remember his authority. By the power of Jesus’ name, speak to the wind and the waves, and command them to be still. Speak to the tumult in your life, and don’t allow it to have power over you. Jesus said to his disciples, "Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?" Don’t be afraid to face the enemy. Instead, have faith. Remember your rights as a Christian. Remember your authority, and claim your power. Don’t forget that Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).”

Monday, August 9, 2010

"Amen" - My Article in the Southside Messenger

Spirit & Truth # 190

“Teach Us to Pray: Amen”

By Rev. Greg Smith

For the past several weeks, we’ve been looking at the Lord’s Prayer, not just as a thing to be recited verbatim but as a model or outline for our own personal prayers. Jesus taught us to begin our prayers with praise—“Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” Only after we’ve sought God’s face through worship should we move on in prayer. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is the next phrase of the prayer. Once we’ve sought a relationship with God, we should seek God’s will. Once you’ve done that you can pray for your needs, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Confessing our sins and releasing those who have sinned against us is integral to healthy spirituality, so Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Jesus realized that his disciples were about to go into a dangerous world, so He taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” If we take each of these phrases and expand them with our own words, taking time with the Lord rather than rushing through this thirty-second prayer, then we will have a good model for how to approach God.

“For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever” ends the Lord ’s Prayer in praise, the same way the prayer begins. When you begin and end your prayer in praise, then you bookend your time with God by focusing on Him, rather than on yourself. You recognize that the kingdom and power and glory are His, and not your own. You see your life in the proper perspective, recognizing who you are in light of who God is.

Perhaps the most difficult word in the Lord’s Prayer is also the most neglected. “Amen” is a word of resignation to God’s will. The English word, which means “so be it” comes to us originally from Hebrew, which passed through Greek and Latin before it came to us. The root of this word means “to be firm, confirmed, reliable, faithful, have faith, believe.” We don’t pray “so be it” at the end of our prayer as a way of saying, “May it be as I have said.” Rather we pray “so be it” as a way of asking God, “May it be according to Your will.” This is perhaps the hardest word to pray, because we tend to want our will to be done, rather than simply trusting in God to bring His will about.

The next time you pray “amen,” I invite you to linger on that word. It has become almost a meaningless word in our prayers these days, akin to saying, “I’m done now,” or “I’m hanging up the phone now, God.” But in reality it is a word of great power, when you let it bring you to a place of accepting God’s will. Amen is a word of submission and trust, and we all need more of that in our prayers.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Seduced by the Sundew - My Article in the Southside Messenger

Spirit & Truth # 189

“Teach Us to Pray: Seduced by the Sundew”

By Rev. Greg Smith

“Our Daily Bread” says:

“In the Australian bush country grows a little plant called the "sundew." It has a slender stem and tiny, round leaves fringed with hairs that glisten with bright drops of liquid as delicate as fine dew. Woe to the insect, however, that dares to dance on it. Although its attractive clusters of red, white, and pink blossoms are harmless, the leaves are deadly. The shiny moisture on each leaf is sticky and will imprison any bug that touches it. As an insect struggles to free itself, the vibration causes the leaves to close tightly around it. This innocent-looking plant then feeds on its victim (Our Daily Bread, December 11, 1992).”

At some point, each of us finds ourselves seduced by the sundew. My biggest temptation may be no temptation at all for you, and the thing that lures you the most may have no effect on me. But each of us has our weakness, and nobody knows how to exploit our frailties than Satan. That’s why Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4; Luke 4) must have been the source of this prayer. Both gospels say that Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil. This does not mean, of course, that God was the tempter. St. James the Less tells us:

“When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death (James 1:13-15 NIV).”

God does not tempt us, but allows Satan to do his worst. God knows that it’s good for us, in the long run. So James says, “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 (James 1:2-4 NIV).

In the desert, Satan tempted Jesus with three things: First, he tempted Jesus to satisfy his fleshly appetite instead of satisfying the demands of the spirit. Next, he offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if He would simply bow down and worship the devil. Finally, Satan tempted Jesus to trust in supernaturalism rather than in the simple knowledge that God was leading Him. How often do we test God by demanding supernatural signs, rather than simply trusting Him? How often do we try to establish kingdoms for ourselves in this world, rather than simply following God? How often do we put our own desires above God’s desires?

These are the fiery darts that Satan hurls against believers all the time. Our answer should be the same as Jesus’ answer. Don’t debate with the devil. He’s a debate champion. Just speak God’s Word back at him and turn away.

“Lead us not into temptation” is our prayer (Matthew 6:13 NIV). Perhaps the best way to avoid temptation is to stay out of those places of temptation! Don’t be seduced by the sundew. Ask yourself instead, “What would the Son do?”