Monday, February 28, 2011

"On Fire for God" - My Article in The Southside Messenger

Spirit & Truth # 216
“On Fire for God”
By Rev. Greg Smith

“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps (Matthew 25:7).”

            In the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus gives three parables that are all about being prepared for His return.  In the parable of the sheep and goats, Jesus’ message is to be ready for the judgment by making sure you’ve been the kind of Christian who cares for others.  In the parable of the talents, Jesus’ message is that we should be ready for the judgment by investing the talents God has given us wisely.  In the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, Jesus says we should be ready for His return by keeping our lamps burning.
            Throughout the Bible, the lamp is a symbol of the soul.  It can only be kept burning by the oil of the Holy Spirit.  In the parable, the wise young women who had enough oil and kept their lamps burning were admitted to the wedding feast.   The foolish ones who had let their lamps go out were left outside because they were unrecognizable to the groom, having no light to shine on their faces.  In other words, if you’re not “on fire” for God, you won’t get in.
            This parable has a meaning that’s related to the final judgment.  It also relates to the everyday spiritual life.  Waking up to Jesus each day means trimming your lamp.  This is a daily renewal of our relationship with Him.  In this context, unless you daily maintain your lamp, trimming your wick through prayer and keeping yourself filled with the oil of the Holy Spirit, when Jesus comes to meet with you in prayer, you’ll be left outside in the cold and darkness.
            I’ve had this experience many times, when I went to my prayer time with a guttering lamp, and Jesus did not grant me admittance to the feast.  Because I had neglected my spiritual growth, had fallen into sin, or had just grown apathetic to God, my flame had gone out.  Prayer was a chore in those times, and God seemed far away.
Your wick must be daily trimmed, and the lamp must be regularly filled with oil, if you want to enjoy the feast.  You trim your wick by prayer, Bible study, and meditating on God’s word.  You fill your lamp with oil by opening yourself to the Holy Spirit and allowing Him to light a fire inside you. 
            In his book Seeking Peace: Notes and Conversation Along the Way, Johann Christoph Arnold writes, “Time we waste, temptations we yield to, laziness or lethargy in our work—in general, any lack of discipline in our thoughts or in our interaction with others—frequently have their roots in our neglect of prayer.”  Prayerlessness creates an oil leak in the lamp of your soul.  Be sure to keep your lamp filled, your wick trimmed, and your flame burning brightly.  Awake to Jesus every day, and be sure He finds you ready.


Friday, February 25, 2011

"Pray for Who???" - My Article in the Southside Messenger

Spirit & Truth # 215
“Pray for Who???
By Rev. Greg Smith

“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you because of your faith so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven.”
(Matthew 5:44-45a CEB)

            What would you like to say to your enemies?  What would you wish for them?  If we’re honest with ourselves, we must admit that we’ve entertained some sadistic daydreams where our enemies suffer all kinds of calamities, either at our hands, or at the hands of “fate.”  All too often we agree with the words of the Irish blessing that says, “May those that love us, love us.  And those that don’t love us, may God turn their hearts.  And if He doesn’t turn their hearts, may He turn their ankles, so we’ll know them by their limping.”
            Instead, Jesus calls us to love our enemies, and pray for them.  This way, we’ll be acting as children of the Father.  Remember, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God (Matthew 5:9 NIV).”  If you call yourself God’s child, then you need to act like one.  You need to learn to love and pray for those people that you would naturally curse, if left to your own devices.  British theologian William Law said, “There is nothing that makes us love a man so much as prayer for him.”
            Louise (not her real name) was a member of one of my former churches where I served as pastor.  She and I did not see eye to eye at all, but were constantly in conflict with one another.  When the Lord called me away to serve another church, our differences were still not resolved.  They no longer mattered to me anymore, as I was no longer in the situation.  Apparently, they still mattered to Louise.  Years later, I received a phone call from her dear friend who told me that Louise had been very sick, and they didn’t expect her to last many more days.  On her death bed, Louise had asked to see me.  Me!  I couldn’t believe it—of all people, why would she want to see me?  Well, I drove the distance to my old neighborhood and paid her that final visit.  The two of us cried together and blessed one another.  And wouldn’t you know—the peace that she and I made that day lasted into eternity.  It was one of Louise’s final wishes that I (of all people) conduct her funeral.
            Now, Louise had been the bigger person in that situation.  Apparently, she had been praying for me all those years.  God had impressed on her heart that before she saw Him face to face, she and I had to make peace.  And I’m glad she used her remaining strength to reach out to me.  Yet, what haunts me to this day is why I never took the initiative to reach out to her in peace.  As her pastor, I should never have waited for Louise to take the first step.  I hope you can do better than I did.
            Is there someone who has brought conflict to your life?  Love them.  Is there someone who’s stolen your peace?  Pray for them.  Don’t wait for your death bed or theirs.  Make peace now, because it’s only the peacemakers who can truly call themselves children of God.

Monday, February 14, 2011

"Non-Judgment" - My Article in the Southside Messenger

Spirit & Truth # 214
By Rev. Greg Smith

            Recently, I told my church that I had discovered a hidden letter that had been tucked in a drawer by a former pastor a dozen years ago.  This note was a warning to any pastor who might come after him, naming a person in the congregation who had always been a thorn in the pastor’s side.  When I told the worshippers who the scoundrel was, they burst out laughing, for I had named one of their gentlest and most beloved deacons.  My ruse was up, and everybody knew that there had never been any such note left.  My point was simply that we tend to judge a person one way when we meet them in a neutral situation, and a very different way if we’ve been warned about them in advance.  We treat them differently still, if they have been commended to us by someone we respect.  We prejudge people based on all kinds of true or false criteria, but Jesus warned us about this kind of prejudice.
Jesus said, “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.  Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom.  For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you (Luke 6:37-38 NKJV).”
Jesus wasn’t saying not to discern the difference between good and evil, sin and righteousness in our lives.  He wasn’t even saying that we should avoid such discernment when it comes to other people’s lives.  He was saying that we should not cross the line from discernment to condemnation.  A person may have sin in his life, but it is wrong for someone to condemn that person because of his sin.  God is the judge and we are not.  If I stand in judgment, I assume the role of God, and that is the sin of hubris. 
            “Give, and it shall be given to you,” Jesus said in verse 38.  The context of this verse is verse 37, which talks about giving non-judgment, non-condemnation, and forgiveness.  When you give judgment, that’s what you receive.  When you give condemnation, that’s what you get back.  But forgiveness is the reward of those who give forgiveness to others.  Give whatever you want to receive. 
            In Matthew 7:12 (NLT), Jesus gives the Golden Rule:  “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.”  The Silver Rule is like it:  “Do not do to others as you would not have them do to you."  Who have you judged lately?  Who have you condemned lately?  Who have you forgiven?  Expect to receive from God just as you gave.

Monday, February 7, 2011

"Reconciled" - My Article in the Southside Messenger

Spirit & Truth # 213
By Rev. Greg Smith

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”
--Jesus (Matthew 5:9 NIV)

            Jesus had all kinds of crazy teachings that some people doubt whether He really meant.  “Blessed are the peacemakers…Turn the other cheek…Go the second mile…Pray for your enemies.”  These kinds of lessons turn the world on its ear.  Could Jesus really have meant what He was saying?  I mean, what would happen if everybody in the world followed advice like that?
            The world would be changed forever!
            However, instead of viewing the world through God’s eyes, we choose to view other people through worldly eyes.  I read about a reporter who was interviewing an old man on his one hundredth birthday.  “What are you most proud of?” asked the reporter.  “I don’t have an enemy in the world,” replied the old man.  “How wonderful!  How inspirational!” the reporter said.  “Yep,” the old man said.  “I outlived every last one of them.”  That old man needed an attitude change!
            In 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, (NIV) the Apostle Paul writes,
So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

            Regarding no one from a worldly point of view means seeing our enemies through God’s eyes rather than being blinded by our own bitterness.  If you’ve been made new in Christ, how much more should you forgive!  If your enemy is a fellow believer, how much more should you treat him or her as the new creation that Jesus has called them to be!  We who were once enemies of God were brought into His family by the blood of Christ.  It is the indwelling Christ who allows you to reconcile with your enemies as well.  Through Him you can no longer count their sins against them.
            If Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin for us so that we might become righteous, how can we follow Him and do the same?  We can do this by simply say “I’m sorry” when someone is offended by us—whether we think we’re at fault or not.  We can accept blame that we think we don’t deserve, for the sake of reconciliation.  That’s what Jesus did when He hung on the cross.  If you’re a Christian, then you’re Christ’s ambassador of peace.  Do you have the courage to do the same thing He did—to lay your life down for the sake of peace?