Monday, March 28, 2011

"Kindness & Goodness" - My Article in the Soutside Messenger

Spirit & Truth # 220
“Fruity Christians:  Kindness & Goodness”
By Rev. Greg Smith
A Portrait of John Mark

            In the musical play Les Misérables, set in nineteenth century France, Jean Valjean serves twenty years for stealing a loaf of bread and for repeated escape attempts.  When he is finally released on permanent parole, nobody will hire him.  He receives the hospitality of the bishop, Monseigneur Bienvenue, and repays the bishop’s kindness by stealing his silver and running.  When Valjean is caught, the police return him to the bishop, saying that the fugitive claimed that the silver had been given as a gift.  To his surprise, the bishop tells the police that it had indeed been a gift.  In fact, Bienvenue says Valjean forgot to take the most precious silver, and adds his own candlesticks to Valjean’s take.  The bishop tells Valjean, “Remember this, my brother.  See in this some higher plan.  You must use this precious silver to become an honest man.  By the witness of the martyrs, by the passion and the blood, God has raised you out of darkness: I have bought your soul for God.”   When we next meet Valjean, he has indeed become an honest man—one whose kindness and goodness have improved the lives of an entire town.  One act of kindness can change not only one person’s life—but many people’s lives forever.
            Acts 15:37-41 is the story of one such act of kindness.  Paul and Barnabas were about to embark on another missionary journey.  Barnabas wanted to take his younger cousin John Mark along on the trip, but Paul refused.  The young man had abandoned the mission during a previous mission trip, and Paul didn’t want to risk taking him again.  The dispute between Paul and Barnabas was so sharp that they parted company.  Paul took Silas and went through Syria and Cilicia, while Barnabas took John Mark to Cyprus on a separate mission. 
In the end, this parting actually resulted in doubling the missionary effort.  But Barnabas’ kind insistence on including John Mark resulted in much more.  Later, the young evangelist would become the companion of the apostle Peter.  From Peter’s accounts, Mark wrote the Gospel that would bear his name.  He would also become the founder of the church in Alexandria.  Just think of how many thousands of people came to faith because of the work of John Mark—and all because Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement, gave him a second chance.
Where Paul could only see the past, Barnabas could see Mark’s future potential.  Where Paul could only see a traitor, Barnabas could only see family.  Who is the John Mark in your life?  Who has abandoned you, or become a traitor in your eyes?  The fruit of the Holy Spirit is kindness and goodness, working forgiveness in your heart that will result in restoration and blessing.  What do you see when you look into the eyes of your John Mark?  I pray that you might find the goodness inside them, that you might show them the kindness of God, and that the result would be lives that are forever changed.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Ears to Hear

Twelve times in the New Testament, Jesus says something like "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."  It's pretty obvious that God wants us to hear His message, and take it into our everyday living.

In Luke 8:4-8, Jesus says:

4While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: 5“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. 6Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. 7Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. 8Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”
When he said this, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

In the verses that follow, Jesus explains his parable.  The seed is the word of God, and the different kinds of soil are different kinds of people who receive or don't receive it.  When you share God's truth with others, they aren't always going to receive what you have to say.  Learning to walk in God's peace and patience (Fruit of the Holy Spirit) means accepting the fact that not everybody is going to listen to you all the time.  If you have truth to share, then by all means share it.  But don't get ruffled when folks don't listen.  They didn't always listen to Jesus, either.  Have patience, and wait for God's timing, and see what grows from the seeds you plant.

"If the person you are talking to doesn't appear to be listening, be patient.  It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear."
--Pooh's Little Instruction Book

"Peace & Patience" - My Article in the Southside Messenger

Spirit & Truth # 219
“Fruity Christians:  Peace & Patience”
By Rev. Greg Smith

“A young business owner was opening a new branch office, and a friend decided to send a floral arrangement for the grand opening. When the friend arrived at the opening, he was appalled to find that his wreath bore the inscription: ‘Rest in peace.’  Angry, he complained to the florist. After apologizing, the florist said, ‘Look at it this way—somewhere a man was buried under a wreath today that said, ‘Good luck in your new location.’”[i]
The truth is that everybody needs to rest in peace—in this life, without waiting for the next.  But how would it be on Sunday morning if someone greeted you in church with, “Rest in peace.”  Somehow, I think you’d take that wrong. 
During Lent, we’re talking about the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).  Last week, we looked at love and joy.  In Acts 18:1-11, the apostle Paul exhibits the next two flavors of Fruit—peace and patience.  In Corinth, he stayed with friends and coworkers Priscilla and Aquilla.  This couple gave him a place to stay, and together they plied their trade as tentmakers.  Honest work was one source of Paul’s peaceful spirit.  Another source of peace was regular worship, both in the synagogue on the Sabbath and among Christians on Sundays.   Later, when Silas and Timothy joined them, Paul spent all his time preaching the word. These friends lent him further support, and helped him remain at peace.  Honest work, worship, and friendship can be a source of peace to you as well, when you find yourself under stress.
Of course, Christian peace is not defined as the absence of conflict, but God’s presence in the midst of it.  When Paul’s audience moved from simple disagreement to personal insults, Paul was already in a place of spiritual peace, and was able to handle the pressure.  “Paul shook the dust from his clothes and said, ‘Your blood is upon your own heads—I am innocent. From now on I will go preach to the Gentiles.’”[ii]  This may sound like a temper tantrum, but actually Paul was following the advice of Jesus in Luke 9:3-5.  He was shaking their negativity off of him (represented by the dust), and basically saying, “I have such peace of mind that your insults don’t affect me.  I have enough patience that I can wait on God’s leadership and can change directions to take the Gospel to others.”  Patience doesn’t always mean staying the same course, if that course isn’t bearing any fruit.  Patience means waiting on God, even if it means a change in direction, and giving Him time to work.
The result of Paul’s peace and patience was that many Gentiles in Corinth came to faith.  “One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision and told him, ‘Don’t be afraid! Speak out! Don’t be silent! For I am with you, and no one will attack and harm you, for many people in this city belong to me.’ So Paul stayed there for the next year and a half, teaching the word of God.”[iii]  What will be the result of peace and patience in your life?  Let God’s spirit grow in you, and wait to see what fruit He brings.

[i] Bits & Pieces, June 23, 1994, p. 4
[ii] Acts 18:6 NLT
[iii] Acts 18:9-11 NLT

Monday, March 14, 2011

"Love & Joy" - My Article in the Southside Messenger

Spirit & Truth # 218

“Fruity Christians: Love & Joy”

By Rev. Greg Smith

Is there anybody with whom you would never share the Lord’s Supper? Throughout church history, churches have had many different policies on who can partake in Communion and who cannot. The Roman Catholic Church typically practices closed communion, which means that in order to partake in Communion, you must be Roman Catholic. Some Protestant churches also practice some form of closed communion, requiring that a participant be a member of their local congregation or their denomination. Others practice open communion, meaning that as long as a person professes faith in Jesus Christ, they are permitted to share the Lord’s Supper with the rest of the congregation.

Churches that practice closed communion do so because they want to make sure that those who participate are of like faith. Churches that practice open communion do so because they emphasize the unity of all Christian churches. Before such terms existed in the Christian church, Jewish believers practiced something similar to closed communion, refusing to eat with gentiles. Jewish Christians continued this practice in the churches in the early days of the faith.

In Acts chapter 10, Simon Peter received a vision from God in which a sheet full of kosher and non-kosher animals was let down from heaven. “Arise, Peter, kill and eat!” said a voice. Three times the apostle refused, saying, “Surely not, Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” Each time, the voice responded, “Do not call anything impure that I have made clean.” Peter was about to discover that the vision had some to do with dietary laws, but more to do with accepting non-Jews into the family of God.

Immediately following the vision, Peter received an invitation to visit the house of the Roman centurion Cornelius. He accepted the invitation, saying, “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection…I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right (Acts 10:38-39, 34-35).” He then shared the Gospel with the Roman family, and they received the Lord as their Savior.

During Lent, we’re talking about the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Here, Peter learned the first two fruits—love and joy. By exercising unconditional love and acceptance of those who were “outside” of his experience and tradition, he was able to lead an entire household to a saving faith in Jesus. The result of his love was overflowing joy. Do you know somebody who needs the fruit of the Spirit’s joy in their life? Give them love, and joy will result. May God fill you with His Holy Spirit this Lenten season, and may His fruit grow inside of you.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Iniquity and Inequity - A Lenten Devotion

                My four children are looking forward to spring break from their schools.  They probably have all kinds of fun things planned.  Some of these plans will actually pan out, and some won’t.  But one thing is sure to happen—there will be fighting.  It seems that siblings can’t have too much time together without a fight breaking out somewhere.  When we only had two children, controlling the bickering was easy.  Just separate the two of them and you’re fine.  But with four kids, it becomes a whole lot harder.  Especially when driving down the road in our minivan.  From the back seat come those familiar words, “Stop that!  He’s touching me!  It’s not fair!”

     I’m always amused at that last statement, “It’s not fair.”  Whoever said that life is fair?  Life is full of inequities, isn’t it?  Someone else has more than you do.  You received praise that someone else didn’t get.  One person’s sin results in someone else’s suffering.  When I hear my children complaining that something isn’t fair, I am usually quick to remind them that life’s not fair.  They shouldn’t expect things to be fair—not this side of heaven, at least.  Sin is part of our fallen nature.  We inherited it from our parents Adam and Eve, and we all struggle with it in this world.  Life’s full of inequity, and most of it is because of our iniquity.

Recently, I was reading Psalm 38, from the Douay-Rheims Bible.  Verses 4, 18, 21-22 say:

4 For my iniquities are gone over my head : and as a heavy burden are become heavy upon me.
18 For I will declare my inequity : and I will think for my sin.
21 Forsake me not, O Lord my God : do not thou depart from me.
22 Attend unto my help, O Lord, the God of my salvation.

                The two Hebrew words that this translation renders as iniquity (v. 4)  and inequity (v. 18)  are the very same word.  The two words in English come from the same root as well.  Iniquity is inequity.  Sin is not fair.

 A good image to portray inequity is a set of scales, tipped too far in one direction because the weights are inaccurate.  Proverbs 20:23 (NLT) says, “The LORD detests double standards; he is not pleased by dishonest scales.”  Today I ask you—where in your life have you been using dishonest scales?  Where have you been unfair with another person, or dishonest with God?  Where have you been unfair or dishonest, with yourself?  Lent is a time of self-examination, of asking God to show you both the iniquities in your heart and the inequities in your life. 

 Isaiah 53:6 says (DRB), “All we like sheep have gone astray, every one hath turned aside into his own way: and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”  Praise God for Jesus, who was unfairly crucified on our behalf.  He bore our inequity so He could bear our iniquity.  Now, may He work His justice in our hearts today.

The following poem is used with permission. 

Inequity vs. Iniquity

is one result of
Inequity is
iniquity is spiritual
Inequity is
iniquity is just
In society
often the iniquity
of a few
causes inequity
among many.
Part of the malice of
is that it blinds us
from seeing
Part of the power of
is that it stops us
from rectifying
since both are rampant
in their ubiquity,
confront inequity
by eliminating iniquity.

© Msgr. Walter Niebrzydowski
June 10, 2001

Monday, March 7, 2011

"Fruity Christians" - My Article in the Southside Messenger

Spirit & Truth # 217
“Fruity Christians”
By Rev. Greg Smith

Often when I lead a group meeting, I ask members to stand up, introduce themselves, and answer a get-to-know-you question like “where were you born?” or “Where would you love to go on vacation?”  Sometimes the questions are silly.  For example, “If you could be any kind of fruit, what would it be, and why?”
The answers I get can be pretty funny.  Someone might say, “I’d be a crab apple, because I have a short temper.”  A married couple might hold hands and say, “Together we make a pretty good pear.”  A single person might say, “I’d make someone a good date.”  By this point, the jokes are so bad that somebody says, “I think I’d like to be a banana so I can split.”
(Yeah, I know…pretty corny jokes.  Or pretty fruity, anyway.)
The fact is that Jesus calls all believers to be a bit fruity.  Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit…When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.”[i]  Bible commentator Charles Ryrie illuminates this:  “Every Christian will bear spiritual fruit. Somewhere, sometime, somehow. Otherwise that person is not a believer. Every born-again individual will be fruitful. Not to be fruitful is to be faithless, without faith, and therefore without salvation.”[ii]
Jesus’ brother James contended that faith and good deeds go hand in hand.  He writes “But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works’; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”[iii]  To James, good deeds are the result of a true faith.  They do not save you, but they are an indicator that your faith is genuine.
Throughout life, Christians continue to struggle with sin.  Part of our problem is that we focus too much on treating the symptoms and not enough on curing the disease.  We try to control behavior by doing good things and not doing bad things.  Instead of focusing on changing behavior, we need to concentrate on changing the heart.  Change the heart, and actions will follow.
The apostle Paul writes, “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature… But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”[iv]  Notice that Paul doesn’t combat poor behavior with good behavior.  He combats poor behavior with a change of heart.
During Lent, we will be learning about the fruit of the Spirit.  We’ll be examining our hearts and asking God to change us.  We’ll be learning to pray, not only for a change of behavior, but for a change of heart.  I look forward to cultivating the fruit of the Spirit with you in the coming weeks.

[i] John 15:5,8
[ii] Charles Ryrie, So Great Salvation, Victor Books, 1989, pp. 45-46.
[iii] James 2:18
[iv] Galatians 5:16, 22-23