Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"Churches and Nudist Camps" - My Article in the Southside Messenger

Spirit & Truth # 199
“Churches and Nudist Camps”
By Rev. Greg Smith

            Recently I shared the following story at a large gathering of Baptist women.  In his book, What God Wants to Know, Bruce Larson tells about a story from a family member who was a conservationist.  She and her husband and her five-year-old son were on vacation in Florida when they saw a sign saying “Naturist Camp.”  The conservationist assumed that a naturist camp was the same thing as a naturalist camp, so they stopped to check it out.  When they reached the beach, they learned their error.  The naturist camp was actually a nudist camp, full of vacationers in the buff.  Some swam, some rode bicycles—in all their glory.  Eyes wide, and pointing at the naked cyclists, they boy said, “Look Mom and Dad.  They’re not wearing safety helmets!” 
            The women who heard this story were delighted when I told them that I intended to compare a close-knit church with a nudist camp.  We don’t emulate naturists in every way (hopefully), but there are some ways that we’re similar.
            First, in a close-knit church as well as in a nudist camp, everybody knows everybody else’s faults, flaws, and embarrassments.  The Bible says “everything is naked and open to the God to whom we must give an account (Hebrews 3:13).”  When you’re in a faith community together, you realize you’re all equal before God.  No one person has more value than the others.  God sees us all the same.
            Second, because everybody knows everybody else’s blemishes and defects, nobody has any room to judge.  There’s only one judge, and that’s God Himself.  The good news is that while we see our faults, God only sees people who are made in His own image.  When we come to see one another through God’s eyes rather than the critical eyes of human judgmentalism, we truly begin to live in community.
            Finally, may it be true of the church, just as it was true of the nudist camp, that nobody wears any safety helmets!  Ministry is risky.  Ministry is dangerous.  Reaching out to care for people, ignoring their failings and imperfections, is a perilous proposition.  God doesn’t expect us to wear helmets in the ministry, keeping ourselves safe.  He expects us to go boldly into people’s lives and share His love.
            I knew a church full of elderly members that renovated its entire facility.  When the work was done, one member was so excited about the church’s ministry potential that he suggested they open the building up to be used by outside groups like Girl Scouts and such.  The church’s response was, “We’ve got this beautiful facility now—the last thing we want to do is have kids running around getting dirty fingerprints on everything.”
            The people we care for have faults, flaws, and failings.  But so do we.  We can’t stand in judgment of them—instead we need to charge headlong into ministry, unshielded from their humanity and dirty fingerprints.  We need to make ourselves vulnerable for the sake of their souls.  It is in this mutual self-exposure (of spirit—not of flesh) that nudist camps and churches have something in common.

Monday, October 18, 2010

"Your Double-Edged Sword" - My Article in the Southside Messenger

Spirit & Truth # 198
“Your Double-Edged Sword”

By Rev. Greg Smith

In Uncommon Decency (pp. 20-21), Richard J. Mouw writes:

At a recent gathering of seminary professors, one teacher reported that at his school the most damaging charge one student can lodge against another is that the person is being "judgmental." He found this pattern very upsetting. "You can't get a good argument going in class anymore," he said. "As soon as somebody takes a stand on any important issue, someone else says that the person is being judgmental. And that's it. End of discussion. Everyone is intimidated!" Many of the other professors nodded knowingly. There seemed to be a consensus that the fear of being judgmental has taken on epidemic proportions.

If this is true in seminaries, then certainly it is true in the rest of the world. We live in a world of relativism, where everybody talks about “my truth” and “your truth,” but not “the Truth.” Even many of our religious leaders believe that truth is a relative thing. This couldn’t be farther from the truth!

There is a measuring-stick for ultimate Truth, and that’s the Word of God. We mean two different things when we use that phrase. First, we mean the Bible, which is “God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).”

Hebrews 4:12 says, “The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow.” While your Bible is inspired by God, its pages and binding aren’t living. This can only be referring to our second meaning: John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus is The Word of God, who became flesh and dwelt among us. The Word (Jesus), and His word (The Bible) are the sword that judges the world.

Though the world doesn’t like the idea, it will be judged by the Word of God. Some secretly smug Christians like to hear fire-and-brimstone sermons because they like the idea that God will judge their neighbors. God’s Word judging the world is one side of the double-edged sword. Yet the other edge is when God’s Word judges you. “It judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:12b-13).

The sword of God’s Word will judge the world. It is our standard for ultimate Truth, by which we may discern between right and wrong, verity from error. Yet God’s Word is also a surgeon’s scalpel that cuts the tumors of sin and ignorance from our lives. God’s sword may hurt when it cuts, but it always brings healing. God applies the same standards of justice and judgment to our lives that He uses for the rest of the world. May we lay ourselves bare before the hands of the Great Physician, so he can do heart surgery on our souls. May we open ourselves to the healing that only He can bring.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

"Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive"

After my recent post, "Accentuate the Positive," I wanted to share this video with you, from The Singing Detective.

Wikipedia says:
"Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive" is a popular song. The music was written by Harold Arlen and the lyrics by Johnny Mercer, and it was published in 1944. It is sung in the style of a sermon, and explains that accentuating the positive is key to happiness. In describing his inspiration for the lyric, Mercer told the Pop Chronicles radio documentary "I went to hear Father Divine and he had a sermon and his subject was 'you got to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.' And I said 'Wow, that's a colorful phrase!'"[1][2]
Mercer recorded the song, with The Pied Pipers and Paul Weston's orchestra, on October 4, 1944, and
I hope you have a positive day today.

"Selah" - My article in the Southside Messenger

Spirit & Truth # 197
By Rev. Greg Smith

            Pastor Larry Chell writes: 

“In the Philippines I heard a local pastor use the following parable to illustrate Christ's offer of rest (Matt. ll:28) and the response of people who won't trust Him completely: The driver of a carabao wagon was on his way to market when he overtook an old man carrying a heavy load. Taking compassion on him, the driver invited the old man to ride in the wagon. Gratefully the old man accepted. After a few minutes, the driver turned to see how the man was doing. To his surprise, he found him still straining under the heavy weight, for he had not taken the burden off his shoulders.”

            This is the way we go to God, accepting His invitation to carry our burdens, while all the way we try to shoulder our own heavy loads.  Yet God’s word shows us a better way—the way of rest.  Today I want to introduce to you one of the least read words of the Bible.  Though it appears in Scripture seventy-one times, most people simply gloss over the word “selah” when the read it in the Psalms.  It looks like it belongs in the margin rather than the text of the Bible, yet we need to appreciate its meaning and appropriate it in our lives.  “Selah” is a Hebrew word that means “rest.”
            Psalm 46:1-3 says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble.  That is why we are not afraid even when the earth quakes or the mountains topple into the depths of the sea.  Water roars and foams, and mountains shake at the surging waves.  Selah.”  This short word which seems tacked onto the end reminds us to find rest in the midst of life’s storms.  It reminds us to pause and reflect on God’s goodness even when we’re in trouble.
            “Selah” is a word used in musical notation.  Literally, it’s an instruction to musicians to stop and rest.  Have you ever tried to play a song on a musical instrument, while avoiding the rests?  It no longer sounds like music, but a raucous cacophony.  Our lives are the same way when we don’t take the time to rest, to pause and reflect on God.
            A look at this word’s origins shows that it has many meanings.  It can mean “to weigh in the balances.”  Each of us needs time to weigh life in the balances, to ponder and reflect.  “Selah” can also mean, “to lift up,” as in lifting up holy hands to God in worship, or “to praise.”  Rabbi Simcha Bart says, “One of the primary commentaries on the translation of words in Prophets and Writings - Metzudot Tzion - says that 'Selah' always means 'forever' (Tehillim 3:3).”[i]  When we rest ourselves in God, we need to remember that His promises are forever. 
            The next time you’re reading the Psalms and you come across the word “Selah,” remember to actually stop and actually do it.  Pause.  Rest.  Place your trust in God who sustains you in the storms of life.  Take His yoke upon you, and He will give you rest.

[i] http://www.askmoses.com/en/article/585,2146172/What-does-the-word-Selah-mean.html.  August 20, 2010