Saturday, December 24, 2011

"Xmas" Takes the "Christ" Out of Chrismas?

For all you folks out there who are upset about Xmas because it takes the "Christ" out of Christmas,

Or, click on this link to see what it's all about.  Have a very Merry Christmas (Or, Xmas)!

Monday, December 19, 2011

A surprising video.

I'm not going to comment on this one.  I just want to let it speak for itself.

The Fullness of God's Word

Spirit & Truth # 254
“The Fullness of God’s Word”
By Greg Smith

Merry Christmas!  God is among us!  Everything’s changed!  Just as the herald angels sang Jesus’ birth and declared God’s monumental arrival on the earth, so too God’s people must go and tell!  Go, tell it on the mountain.  Go, tell it in the cities and in the country.  Tell it in the offices and in the schools.  Go, tell God’s salvation to everyone who will hear it, because God has sent His joy to the world.
You’ve been waiting for Christmas so you can celebrate the season.  You’ve been waiting so you can sing some songs of joy.  You’ve been wanting to seek some solace.  But is that all there is?  Comfort and cheer?  Joy to the world?  Nothing more?
            In Colossians 1:25 (NIV), the apostle Paul said that God had commissioned him “to present to you the word of God in its fullness.”  What is the fullness of God’s word?  It’s more than the customary Christmas story.  It’s more than carols and candles.  The fullness of God’s word is “the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people (Colossians 1:26).”
            Paul uses the word mystery.  But this word with Greek origin doesn’t mean what you think it means.  It doesn’t mean something secret that only a sleuth can find.  It doesn’t mean a perplexing puzzle that baffles the brilliant.  The word “mystery” actually means something revealed—like that final scene in a whodunit when the crime is solved and everything set right.
            Paul said the mystery is solved.  The secret is revealed.  Everything is set right.
            What’s the solution?  “God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).”  Christ in you, the hope of glory.  This is the fullness of God’s word.  
            You see, it’s not enough to celebrate Christmas, the day when God came into the world.  His name, “Emmanuel,” means “God with us.”  But it’s not enough that God was with us in the flesh, or that God is with us in the spirit.  You can celebrate His advent into the world all you want, but this Christmas I ask you whether Christ has come into your heart.  Christ in you is your hope of glory.  Only then will everything truly change.  Only then will you truly know His peace, love, hope, and joy.
If God is in your heart, then everything’s changed!  God gave His word that we might know and believe.  God gave this word that we might be saved—and more than that.  He wants believers to come to full maturity in Christ (verse 28).  He invites you to go deeper into the mystery, to go and tell it on the mountain that in Christ, everything’s changed.
If you’re not a believer, then God invites you to receive the Babe of Bethlehem and give real meaning to your celebration of Christmas.  He invites you to believe the Lord of life and the message He brings.  He invites you to conceive even as Mary did, inviting Jesus inside so that you can know “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”  Won’t you respond to His call this Christmas?

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Beautiful Song About Aging

This morning, I heard this song for the first time, and had to share it with you.  It's entitled "The Dutchman," and was written by Michael Smith (no relation to me).  I wanted to share it with you, because it communicates the kind of love that old couples have for each other.  Beth and I have known many old couples who have been examples to us in our marriage.

Growing old together is a bittersweet thing.  No one wants to watch a loved one decline in physical or mental strength.  But being there to take care of one another is what marriage is all about.

Beth, you and I are approaching twenty years of marriage.  I pray for decades more.  I look forward to the adventure of growing old together.  I love you.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Fullness of Christ

Spirit & Truth # 253
“The Fullness of Christ”

By Greg Smith

            A couple of years ago, my brother Paul and I had an online debate on our two blogs.  I posted a story about a woman in one of our local shops who told me, "You sure look like Richard Dreyfuss. You even sound like him." Then, with all seriousness in her voice she said, "Are you Richard Dreyfuss?"
My brother was surprised by this story, because people have always told him told him that he is a dead ringer for the actor.  On his blog, he had even posted pictures side by side, of himself and the actor.  Even our mother said she had seen the photo of Dreyfuss and wondered if Paul had simply grown his hair long. 
We asked our blog readers for their comments, and overwhelmingly they voted that while Paul was actually a doppelganger of Richard Dreyfuss, I was in fact the clone of the myth-busting Adam Savage.  It seems that with around 6 billion people on the planet, there are only so many faces to go around.  Everyone is rumored to have a doppelganger, a non-biological twin or double, walking around out there somewhere.
Genesis 1:27 tells us that our Maker made us to reflect God’s own glory.  “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”  That image was broken by our sin, and now we are poor examples of God’s likeness.  So God planned to restore His image in one sinless man: His own divine son Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 1:3 says, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” In Colossians 1, verses 15 and 19-20, Paul writes:  “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation…For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
In one man, Jesus, dwelt both the fullness of God, and the fullness of frail humanity.  His sinless life and His sacrificial death reunite our heavenly Father with anyone who would again become a true bearer of God’s image.  Colossians 2:9-10 says, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.”  Being the head over every power and authority in your life, He sets you free to serve Him and represent His character to the world.
This means that if you’re a Christian then you become not just a poor soul living out your time on this earth—you become Jesus’ doppelganger for other people to see.  When they see you, they see our Lord.  Colossians 1:27 says that “Christ in you [is] the hope of glory.”  He is your own hope, and when you bear His image to the world, He becomes their hope as well.  This Christmas as we remember that Jesus came into the world as a little baby, let’s also remember that He remains in the world in the witness of every Christian who bears His image and His name.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Fullness of Time

Spirit & Truth # 252
“Fullness of Time”

By Greg Smith

 “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons (Galatians 4:4-5 ESV).”

The Bible says that unbelievers who were once enslaved to sin are now brought near by the blood of Jesus.  Because He gave the ultimate gift of love when He died on the cross, those who were once strangers to God are brought into the family of God.  They are adopted into God’s household and become brothers and sisters of Jesus, who is the only begotten Son of heavenly Father.
Jesus’ life is the pivotal moment of all history, dividing our timeline between B.C. and A.D.  During the season of Advent, Christians wait for the second coming of Christ.  But just think how anxiously Old Testament believers waited for the Messiah’s first arrival.  We count backwards from B.C. to the year 0 A.D., but they had no idea when their Savior would be born.  They didn’t know that the day of His arrival would have less to do with dates on the calendar, and more to do with God bringing things about in the “fullness of time.” 
What is the “fullness of time?”  Simply put, it is God’s perfect timing as He works with events in human history to bring His purposes about.  God does things when He is ready to—not when we think He ought to.  Because God stands outside of time, seeing beginning and end all at once,[i] He is able to interject His will into our human existence, inviting us to trust in His timing.  Prior to Christ’s coming, believers waited without knowing when God would send the Savior.  They only knew that He was faithful, and that He would do it when He was ready.
From the beginning, God was working His purpose out.  When God saved Noah’s family from the flood, He didn’t rescue just anybody—He was rescuing the one who was “perfect in his generations.”[ii]  In other words, God knew that it was from the line of Noah that Jesus would descend, so God saved Jesus’ ancestor out of all humanity.  If God had given the wrong guy the plans for the ark, Jesus never would have been born.  But God knows what He’s doing.  So the Lord’s orchestration of human events continues.  When God called Abraham,[iii] when He passed over the Hebrew houses in Egypt,[iv] and when God promised David that his line would endure forever,[v] God was working His purpose out in human history.  He was working in the fullness of time.  All these, and countless other things, had to happen before the world was ready for the Messiah to arrive.  Then, when the time was right, God sent His Son.
If you find yourself in a waiting pattern, unsure of how God is going to bring his purposes out in your life, then trust that He is operating in the fullness of time.  At just the right moment, God will show you His faithfulness.  Perhaps He is arranging things so they will be just right, creating the perfect setting in which to show you His salvation.  At the instant of your greatest need—and not before—He will act, and demonstrate His glory.  Trust in His goodness, and wait on His plan, which you’ll find in the fullness of time.

[i] John 8:58; Revalation 22:13; Romans 4:17
[ii] Genesis 6:9 NIV
[iii] Genesis 12:2-3
[iv] Exodus 12;12-13
[v] 2 Samuel 7:16

Monday, November 28, 2011

Be Careful, Little Feet, Where You Go

Spirit & Truth # 251
“Be Careful, Little Feet, Where You Go”

By Greg Smith

            Many of us grew up hearing the children’s song that says, “Be careful, little feet, where you go; for the Father up above is looking down in love; oh be careful, little feet, where you go.”  Jesus told His disciples “Follow me.”  For those who walk in the way of Jesus, it’s best to be careful where you let your feet carry you. 
            Psalm 1:1 (NKJV) recognizes three places that believers should avoid.  It says:
Blessed is the man
         Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
         Nor stands in the path of sinners,
         Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;

            Most Christians don’t set out to sin—they just stumble into it.  Sin creeps up on you where you least expect it.  It begins with something as simple as walking in the wrong direction.  Imagine the alcoholic who decides to go for a walk.  The road forks to the right and to the left.  The road to the right leads to his church, where nearby live many of his new Christian friends and mentors.  The road to the left leads to the downtown district where he used to frequent bars and liquor stores.  He stands at the crossroads, deciding which way to walk.  He doesn’t say, “I think I’ll go and have a drink.”  He simply decides to walk down the road to the left and see what there is to see.  He’s walking in the counsel of the ungodly.
            The left-hand road leads to the streets where he finds his old drinking buddies on the corner.  They see him, and invite him to stop for just a bit.  He doesn’t say, “I think I’ll have a drink with them,” but he does decide to stop for a chat.  He goes from walking in the counsel of the ungodly to standing in the path of sinners.  It’s a subtle degeneration—one that he doesn’t even perceive.  But just watch the trouble it causes!
            “Why don’t you come in and take a load off your tired feet?” one of his old friends says to him.  He doesn’t intend to do anything but have a seat for a while, but before you know it he’s gone from standing in the path of sinners, to sitting in the seat of scoffers.  From walking, to standing, to sitting—and now he’s got a glass in his hand.  That glass that he never set out to find, has now found him.  It’s not because he decided to misbehave from the beginning, but because he just wasn’t careful about the little decisions he made along the way.
            Psalm 1:1 pronounces a blessing on the person who does not follow that kind of path.  Instead, verse two suggests a better obsession than the sin that so easily entangles:  “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night.”  When you set your mind on the things of God, His word that lives in your heart will help you decide, when you stand at the crossroads.  Follow God’s word, and you’ll be able to follow the advice of Proverbs 3:5-6 (NKJV), which says:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
      And lean not on your own understanding;
       In all your ways acknowledge Him,
      And He shall direct your paths.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Fan the Flame

Spirit & Truth # 250
“Fan the Flame”

By Greg Smith
This is not a picture of me, but you get the idea.

            Fall is in the air! The leaves have already changed and made a crackly carpet on my once-green lawn.  Today, I got out the typical tools of fall, to take care of those leaves  As a pastor, I can’t burn leaves just any evening.  It’s illegal to burn before 4pm, and I have meetings many evenings.  Often the weather is uncooperative, and either the leaves are too wet, or the wind is too high.  So the evening has to be just right—like tonight.  It’s dry and still, and my calendar’s clear.  So I got my my rakes, matches, and garden hose.  You see, I’m a burner, not a bagger.
            My younger son knows my technique well, so he asked me curiously, “What’s the leaf blower for?”  You see, I’m a lawnmower man.  He helped me rake out the bushes, and watched as I sucked up the leaves with my riding mower, then put them in a pile to burn them (very carefully).  So since I’m a lawnmower man, he wanted to know what I was going to do with the leaf blower. 
             “What do you need to build a fire?” I asked him. 
If you’re a regular reader then you remember that this same nine-year-old and I just went camping a few weeks ago, and he built and lit his first campfire.  So he knew the answer by heart:  “Fuel, heat, and oxygen,” he said.
“That’s right,” I told him.  “The dry leaves are the fuel, the matches provide the heat, but on a still night like this, we might have to help the wind along.”[i]
You should have seen his delight as throughout the evening I pointed my leaf blower at the places where leaf embers had almost died.  “Woah!” he often exclaimed, as the air hit the leaves and embers ignited in a shower of orange.  Flames leapt up and a guttering fire was once more renewed.
This is what Paul had in mind when he said to young Timothy, “I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands (1 Timothy 1:6).”  Sometimes Christians start out well, but something hinders the fire in our hearts.  Life can leave us breathless, or we can separate ourselves from the warmth of other believers, or we might let the devil dampen our spirits.  A fire in your heart can be a difficult thing to maintain.  It doesn’t just tend itself.  You have to watch it, nurture it, help it along.  That’s why Paul told the Thessalonians, “Do not quench the Spirit.”  Like a fire, your spirit needs the warmth of others believers, the fuel of God’s word, and the breath of the Holy Spirit to burn inside of you.  Then you’ll be able to sing from your heart the hymn of B.B. McKinney, Breathe on Me:

Holy Spirit, breathe on me,
my stubborn will subdue;
teach me in words of living flame
what Christ would have me do.

Holy Spirit, breathe on me,
fill me with pow'r divine;
kindle a flame of love and zeal
within this heart of mine.

[i] I do not recommend that my readers attempt this burning method at home.  This is for professional pyromaniacs only.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Waiting on God

Spirit & Truth # 249
“Waiting on God”
By Greg Smith

I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear
and put their trust in the Lord.

Here I am, I have come.
I desire to do your will, O my God.

May your love and your truth always protect me.
Be pleased, O Lord, to save me;
O Lord, come quickly to help me.

May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you.
May those who love your salvation always say,
“The Lord be exalted!”

(Psalm 40:1-3, 7-8, 13, 16 NIV)

            When I was a child, my family took a vacation to Disney World.  What started out as a fun ride turned into disaster when we got stuck on the “It’s a Small World” ride for a couple of hours.  Imagine being confined to a small boat in an enclosed space while animatronic figures sing a saccharine song over and over while you wait for the ride to be resumed or evacuated.  I just couldn’t wait for someone to throw the switch that would pick us up out of that watery ride and set us on solid ground, far from earshot of that song.
            An experience like this, however grating on the nerves, is nothing compared to the agonizing waits of actual life.  Hospital waiting rooms are crowded with those who wait impatiently to hear word of a loved one’s surgery.  Parents spend many late night hours waiting for children to come home safely from work or a date.  Widows wait with hands folded in prayer, pining for the day when they will see their departed spouses again in Glory. 
            As the psalmist waits, he recalls God’s past faithfulness, when the Father lifted him out of the mire and set his feet on a rock.  As you wait on God, remember His faithfulness to you in the past.  You have seen effortless times in your life—those sublime moments when everything seems to fit together as if by plan.  Perhaps it was by plan, and God is the master architect.  You have also seen trying times, when everything seems to be falling apart.  But you have seen either God’s deliverance out of those situations, or felt God’s presence to calm you during those times.
            Recalling God’s past faithfulness gives you faith in this present moment.  You say, “Here I am, I have come,” presenting yourself to God to do with as He pleases.  You know He will care for you, because He always has.  Remember His protection and salvation, and anticipate a time of rejoicing once your wait is over.  Wait on the Lord, and be patient.  Wait on the Lord.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Consider Your Call

Spirit & Truth # 248
“Consider Your Call”
By Greg Smith

Ezra the Priest Reads the Books of the Law

It has been said that Christians without goals are a little like Alice in the fairy tale Alice in Wonderland. In a conversation between her and the Cheshire Cat, Alice asked, "Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?" "That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the cat. "I don't much care where," said Alice. "Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the cat.[i]  When a Christian has no idea where they’re trying to go in life, then it doesn’t matter which way they go.  But God has a plan for you, and understanding your purpose is the key to knowing how to get there.
Ezra knew his purpose as he gathered God’s people to leave Babylon and return to Jerusalem.  He was going to restore true worship in a rebuilt temple.  He had all the money and tools he needed for the task.  One thing he lacked: people to serve.  Ezra writes, “When I checked among the people and the priests, I found no Levites there.”[ii]  So he sent a delegation to the local Levite seminary and asked the school’s president to send him some students who would be willing to serve.  In the end, out of the six or seven thousand people who went with Ezra to restore worship in the temple, only twenty were qualified Levites.  Ezra must have been wishing that more had answered God’s call.
Today, most Christian denominations in America are experiencing a pastor shortage.  One pastor within my own denomination writes: “Nearly half our senior pastors are entering into the last 10 year of their ministry before retirement, and if the high stress of pastoring (and the normal life expectancy of Americans about 77) holds constant then about 25% of our current pastor will be in heaven in 2020.  Over half of pastors are in their late 50 and 25% are in the late 60s.  Most will either retire or “go on to be with the Lord” over the next ten years.”[iii] 
God needs more people who will answer His call to Christian service.  We talk about God calling people like Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, and the disciples.  We know that God calls pastors to ministry.  But every believer has a call from God.  Whether you’ve discerned it yet or not, God has called you to serve Him in one way or another.  It might be in vocational Christian service, or it may be in the secular world.  God may lead you to stay exactly where you are, and to continue doing what you’ve been doing, but to change your focus and do if for Him instead of for yourself.
Discerning your call means listening to God’s still, small voice.  God may speak to you in the quiet of your prayer time, or your Bible’s well-worn pages.  You may hear His voice through the lips of friends and neighbors who share godly counsel, or through the Sunday sermon, or on Christian radio.  Perhaps nature itself will show you something you need to know from God, or situations will play themselves out in such a way that God’s purposes become clear.  However God’s call comes, I hope you will listen with your heart.  Consider your call.  Find your purpose.  Trust God to bring it about.

[i] Source Unknown.
[ii] Ezra 8:15
[iii]  Nov 2, 2011

Monday, October 24, 2011

Just Fishin'

Spirit & Truth # 247
“Just Fishin’”

By Greg Smith

            I wouldn’t describe myself as a country music fan, but I love Trace Adkins’ song, Just Fishin’.[i]    It’s about a man and his young daughter fishing together.  She thinks they’re just fishing, but he realizes that they’re doing much more than that.  They’re creating a bond that will last a lifetime.  Adkins sings:

And she thinks we’re just fishin’ on the river side,
Throwing back what we could fry,
Drowning worms an killing time,
Nothing too ambitious
She ain’t even thinking about what’s really going on right now
But I guarantee this memories a big one
And she thinks we’re just fishin’

            This past weekend I took my youngest son camping.  At nine years old, it was his first camping trip.  We hiked.  We fished.  We canoed.  We cooked over a campfire.  To me, It was no big deal.  To him, it was huge.  To me, it was a weekend away.  But he told me he’d had “one of the best days of my life.” 
Over the past thirty-nine years, I’ve had countless camping trips.  Daniel can count only one.  I’ve started innumerable campfires, but this weekend Daniel lit his first.  I have a whole collection of knives, but Daniel just received his first pocket knife.  I have four children with whom I’ve had countless “special” days.  But each of my children has only one dad to share a special day with them.  With the busyness of my schedule, it’s easy to let the events on my calendar crowd out the really important things.  Maybe you’re like me, and you need to reframe your life so that you schedule your activity around your family, rather than scheduling your family around your activities.
Trace Adkins talks about fishing being more than fishing, and I agree.  In fact, it has nothing to do with catching fish at all.  Daniel and I never got a bite, but the time we spent together was worth more than anything we could have put in a pan.  As the evening wound to a close and our fire died to embers, our conversation turned to spiritual things.  He had questions, and together we found where the Bible had answers.  That never would have happened if I hadn’t made time for him. 
In Deuteronomy 6:5-7 God says, “You shall love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”  In other words, spend time with your kids and grandkids.  While you’re spending time with them, whatever you’re doing, tell them about God.
Popular parenting experts say that quantity time isn’t important, but what’s necessary is to spend “quality time” with our kids.  But quality time is what happens when you spend a quantity of time together.  Give yourself to them, and in years to come it will be easier for them to give themselves to Jesus. 

[i] Trace Adkins.  Just Fishin'. (C) 2011 Show Dog -- Universal Music, LLC

Monday, October 17, 2011

"Remember Who You Are"

Spirit & Truth # 246
“Remember Who You Are”

By Greg Smith

Have you ever reached a standstill in life, where God has been using you for His kingdom, but then fear or disappointment or depression grips you and all your work seems to be for nothing?  God has great plans for His people.  The problem is that sometimes we forget who we are in Christ.  We forget the power of the Holy Spirit, and the mission He has given us.

In Ezra chapter four, God’s people who have been rebuilding the temple stop their work, because they fear man rather than God.  But in chapter five, they are inspired by the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah, and they resume their work once again.  The Persian-appointed governor and other officials ask them, “’Who authorized you to rebuild this temple and to finish it?’ They also asked, ‘What are the names of those who are constructing this building (Ezra 5:3-4 NIV)?’”

Satan, the enemy of our souls, likes to intimidate us into submission.  He likes to “kick butt and take names.”  Whenever he sees us building God’s temple in our hearts, he tries to put a stop to it.  If he sees spiritual growth within believers, he throws up roadblocks to oppose it.  Our problem is that we forget who we are.  We forget that our power and authority come from God.  When the accuser says, “Who do you think you are?” we tend to shrink in fear rather than speaking with faith.  But God wants us to remember who we are.

When I was young, my mother used to pray over us before we would catch the school bus.  Then she’d embarrass us in front of the neighbor kids by calling from the front porch, “Take God with you, and remember who you are!”  At the time, we didn’t want to hear it—but it was one of the greatest life lessons I’ve ever had.  Everywhere we go, we need to carry God’s authority with us.  We need to remember who we are as Christians—children of the King, bought by the blood of Jesus.  That carries with it immeasurable strength and authority.

The governor sent a report to the king, saying, “We questioned the elders and asked them, ‘Who authorized you to rebuild this temple and to finish it? (verse 9)’”  The response they received surprised them, for the workers cited a work order from Cyrus, a previous and greater king than Darius.  They also said that they were commissioned to build the temple by the greatest King of all:  “We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth and we are rebuilding the temple that was built many years ago (verse 11 NIV).”  They knew who they were, and whose authority they claimed.  Do you?

When fear threatens to shut you down, do you give in to it or do you claim your authority as a servant of the God of heaven and earth?  Don’t let the devil stall the building project that God has started in your heart.  Be confident that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6 NIV).”  Take God with you, and remember who you are!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Casting Out Fear

Spirit & Truth # 245
“Casting Out Fear”

By Greg Smith

            When I was a small child growing up in the Henrico suburbs, I played all over our neighborhood.  Times were different then, and my parents let me roam from one neighbor’s house to another in a safe pack of kids that looked out for one another.  We played in each other’s yards and club houses.  We swung on swing sets and used the entire neighborhood for our epic games of war games.  We played everywhere—except for the one place I refused to play.  I was afraid to go in my side yard.

            In my small side yard there was a dark area, shaded by our next door neighbor’s fence and an overhanging tree on one side, and by our house on the other side.  Ivy grew on the tree and ran up the side of the house, hanging in creepy tatters that sparked my young imagination.  Whenever a squirrel or other small animal would scurry through the undergrowth, I envisioned all sorts of frightening things making those noises.  I was convinced that a witch lived in that dark corner of my yard, and my fear kept me from playing anywhere near there.

            Now that I’ve grown up, I’m no longer afraid of witches and monsters.  But I have to admit that there are still some dark corners in my life that fill me with fear.  Perhaps you have some things that scare you, too.  Recent political unrest and trouble on Wall Street have got people fearing for the future.  With fear fueled on the one hand by corporate giants and on the other hand by activist groups like Anonymous (whose tag line, by the way, is the same as the demoniac, “We are legion, for we are many”)[i], many Americans dread the worst.   One of my neighbors is planning what to do when civilization as we know it crumbles within the next few weeks.  

            Perhaps your dark corners aren’t political or economic.  Maybe you fear the dissolution of that relationship that has been so strained in recent months.  Or it could be that the doctor’s report has left you despairing for the future.  Possibly, your children are about to make life decisions that you think would end in disaster.  Whatever the dark places in your yard, God wants to shine His light.

            2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV) says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”  1 John 4:18 (NKJV) tells us, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.”
How do we combat the fear that threatens the peace that God wants to put in our hearts?  Seek the perfect love of God.  1 John 4:8b-10 says, “God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  Only through the perfect love of Jesus can your fear, like a demon, be cast into the outer darkness.  Receive His love today.  Let Him cast out your fear.  Let Him set you free.

[i] See Mark 5:9

Monday, October 3, 2011

"Building God's Temple"

Spirit & Truth # 244
“Building God’s Temple

By Greg Smith

Ezra lays the cornerstone of the temple.

            My church is almost at the end of a building project that began its planning stages five years ago.  Our people are cramped for space.  So we’re building an extension to the fellowship hall and some new Sunday school rooms.  The project is scheduled to be complete by the beginning of November, and we’re all getting pretty excited.  I’ve been teaching from the book of Ezra lately, and we’ve been talking about what it really means to build God’s temple.  

            Ezra led the Israelite exiles back to Israel, from their seventy-year captivity in Babylon.  There, they began to rebuild the temple that had been destroyed in their grandparents’ day.  They needed faith and dedication in order to get the project off the ground, and to see it through to completion.  My church is building a physical house for God’s work, but 1 Corinthians 3:16 (NIV) says that “you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you.”  Like the Israelites who rebuilt the temple, and like my church members who are building Sunday school rooms, you need faith and dedication as you build the temple of the Holy Spirit in your heart.

              What does it mean to build God’s temple inside you?  Many people think that means filling their lives with service activities like feeding the poor and clothing the naked and healing the sick and comforting the afflicted.  This might build God’s kingdom on the earth, but it doesn’t build God’s temple inside you.  While these things should overflow from a life dedicated to God, they are the result and not the source of God’s blessing.  Building God’s temple inside you means growing your spirit.  This can’t be done by hard work—it can only be done through prayer and immersing yourself in God’s word, the Bible.

            Ezra 3:6 (HCSB) says that “they began to offer burnt offerings to the LORD, even though the foundation of the LORD's temple had not [yet] been laid.”  Dedicated Christians are often very good at finding helpful things to do, in order to serve others and build God’s kingdom.  This is good, but we need to follow the example of Ezra, who constructed the altar and began regular sacrifices even before he began his work on the temple.  We need to maintain the altar of our spiritual life before we busy ourselves with doing good.  God wants to use you to do great things—but make sure that you prepare your heart for prayer before you prepare your hands for work.  

Have you been weary lately from all the good things you’ve been doing for God?  Why not take some time away from the work of building God’s kingdom, and build an altar to God right where you are?  Let Him renew your heart, and then you’ll have energy to do the rest.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Beat of a Different Drum: Developing Your Talents for God

Spirit & Truth # 243
“The Beat of a Different Drum:
Developing Your Talents for God”

By Rev. Greg Smith

An Irish Bodhran

            I am basically a lazy musician.  I play the piano, the harmonica, and an African hand drum called the djembe, all by ear.  It’s not that I can’t read music—I had five years of piano lessons.  I just don’t want to put in the work it takes to actually practice.  Now, I’ve added a different drum to my list of noise makers: the Irish bodhran (pronounced bow-ran).  I’ve been driving my family nuts over the past couple of weeks, learning this new instrument.  While I’ve been playing the djembe for a decade, the bodhran is entirely new to me.  The rhythms and technique are altogether different.  I’ve had to learn the beat of a different drum.

            The bodhran has taught me that I can’t be a lazy musician.  In contrast to my other instruments, I actually have to work at this!  My church family doesn’t have to worry—they won’t hear the sound of the bodhran just yet.  2 Timothy 2:15 (KJV) says, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed.”  Apparently, I need to study a little bit more as I learn the beat of a different drum.  

            God has given each of us a talent, or a handful of talents, to be used for His glory.  In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus tells the parable of a wealthy man who went on a journey.  He entrusted his servants with the care of his money (a currency called talents).  When he returned, some of them had invested the money and returned his talents back to him along with the profit.  This greatly pleased the master.  But one servant had been afraid to risk anything, and buried the talent.  When the master returned, all he received from the lazy servant was his original coin—and of course the master did not respond favorably to that!

            What talents have you received from the Lord?  Perhaps God has gifted you as a teacher or as a musician.  Or maybe you love to serve in the church kitchen.  You could be a generous giver to the missions of the church, or you might enjoy caring for the sick.  Whatever you do for God, make sure you take the time to perfect your craft.  Giving God your best means dedicating yourself to improvement.  For you that could mean taking a CPR class so you’ll be a better nursery worker.  Or it might mean preparing your lesson a bit more before you preach or teach it.  If you’re on your church’s praise team or choir, make sure you attend practices before you sing with the group on Sunday morning.  Using your talents for God means improving them as you go.  This is how we give God our best.

            In Walden, Henry David Thoreau wrote, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.”  I’m not sure I agree with Thoreau.  Maybe if he isn’t keeping step, it’s just because he needs to practice some more.  God has given His people many gifts and talents.  Rather than shrugging off your lack of preparation and calling it originality or “keeping in step with the Spirit,” why not take time to practice the talents the Lord has given you?  That’s how you glorify Him—by honoring His gift and studying to show yourself approved.

Check out this video of the Corrs.  Irish music is my favorite.  For a great bodhran solo, listen to this video at 1:40 (one minute, forty seconds).   If the video doesn't load, then click here.

Crossing the River

Spirit & Truth # 242
“Crossing the River”

By Rev. Greg Smith

            All of us have pivotal moments in life, where things have changed and nothing will ever be the same again.  You’ve crossed over from one stage to another, and there’s no going back.  These watershed events are often symbolized by water crossings.  In the book of Genesis, Eden was surrounded by rivers.  When Adam and Eve were evicted from Eden, they had to cross the river from a life of blessing to a life of toil and curse.  In Exodus, God miraculously parted the Red Sea so that the Israelites could cross on solid ground.  They left behind their slavery, entering lives of freedom and new national identity—and life would be changed forever.

            Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years because of disobedience and faithlessness.  Finally Moses died, Joshua took the lead, and God was ready to send the people in to possess the Promised Land.  As they stood on the banks of the Jordan River, they realized that once they crossed, life would be different than they had ever known before.

            In pivotal moments like this, we need to take our cue from the ancient Israelites.  Joshua told the people to follow the Ark as it went before them, since they had never been this way before.[i]  When life presents you with situations that you have never before encountered, make sure that you put God first.  Rather than following your own plans, follow God’s word, and let Him lead you.  

            “Joshua told the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.’”[ii]  In Joshua’s day, consecrating yourself involved washing, making sacrifices, and anointing yourself.  Today believers should face pivotal moments in life by living in God’s holiness, receiving the sacrifice of Jesus, and letting the Holy Spirit anoint them with His presence.  Why did Israel consecrate themselves?  Not for the river crossing, but because there were enemies ahead.  Believers today also need to realize that there are spiritual enemies ahead.  God wants you to be “more than conquerors,”[iii] and a holy life is the only way you can win.  

            When the priests’ feet touched the water’s edge, “the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away...So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.”[iv]

            At the Red Sea a generation ago, God had first parted the waters and then Israel had crossed on dry ground.  Now at the Jordan, God expected them to have learned about God’s faithfulness.  He expected them to have grown in their own faith.  So God waited for them to take the first step into the water before He worked the miracle.  Too often we sit around waiting for God to act on our behalf without taking any kind of action ourselves.  But God delights in seeing believers step out in faith.  When all your waiting accomplishes nothing—why not step out?

            Life is going to bring troublesome times.  You may find yourself saying, “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.”[v]  When you come to those difficult times and you know life is about to change forever, don’t fear.  Trust in God, and “Consecrate yourselves, for the Lord will do amazing things among you.”

[i] Joshua 3:3-4
[ii] Joshua 3:5
[iii] Romans 8:37
[iv] Joshua 3:16-17
[v] Psalm 69:1