Monday, April 18, 2011

"Lord, Is It I?"

Spirit & Truth # 223
“Lord, Is It I?”
By Rev. Greg Smith

            Sometimes the questions we ask in life become more important than the statements we make.  We want to be definitive; we want to show others how sure we are, but too often when we try to prove we have the answers, we don’t allow ourselves to ask the hard questions.  The life of Judas is full of mysteries that may never be unraveled.  Yet even as it lacks answers, it leads us to one of the ultimate questions of life. 
            One question that surrounds Judas is that of his last name.  Many good scholars suggest that “Iscariot” means “Man of Kerioth,” a town that once existed but is now lost to archaeologists.  Others posit that the name comes from a group that went by the Latin moniker “Sicarii,” or “Dagger-men.”  These assassins were Jewish zealots who loved to slip into a crowd and slip a knife between the ribs of Roman officials.  Could Jesus have called such a man as a disciple?  Well, He did call another disciple named Simon the Zealot, and He did call Matthew the tax collector.  Paul the Apostle had blood on his hands, as did Moses, so why not Judas?
            Another question we have regarding Judas is that of his motivation.  Some say that he was spurred on by political motivations—that he wanted to force Jesus into a situation where He would have to become a military Messiah.  Others cite his greed as a motivation, quoting John 12:6, which says, “he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it.”  Still others remember Luke 22:3, “And Satan entered into Judas.”  Maybe all of these motivated Judas’ betrayal of Jesus.  We may never know.
            Many wonder where is today.  Some say he was doomed to hell because of his betrayal.  Others say that his remorse, his returning of the blood money, and his subsequent suicide are all indications of repentance.  For that reason, they say, he may be in heaven.  This is countered by some, whose doctrine states that all who commit suicide go to hell.  We won’t know the answer to this question until we reach our final destination.
With all of these good questions, though, there is only one that is essential for us.  It is the question asked by all the disciples when Jesus announced that one of them would betray Him.  Matthew 26:22 (KJV) says, “And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I?”  This is the central question of every follower of Christ.  Lord, when have I betrayed you?  When have I denied you?  When have I run away?  Every time we sin, we are guilty of betraying our Lord.  As Lent concludes and we look forward to the season of Easter, let us take our sin seriously.  Instead of pointing a finger at Judas, let’s point the finger at ourselves.  “Lord, is it I?” we ask.  Perhaps that’s the most important question of all.

Monday, April 4, 2011

"Faithfulness & Gentleness" - My Article in the Southside Messenger

Spirit & Truth # 221
“Fruity Christians:  Faithfulness and Gentleness”
By Rev. Greg Smith

            Over the past weeks, we’ve talked about the Fruit of the Holy Spirit.  Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV) says that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”  We’ve seen that love and joy are related to one another:  joy is the overflow when the heart is filled with love.  Peace and patience are also tied together: only when a person is at peace with God and within themselves, can they be patient with others.  Kindness and goodness are linked: if there’s somebody in your life that you would like to see turn good, then treat them with kindness.  Faithfulness and gentleness are likewise married to one another: when we are faithful with the mission that God gives us, the result is a gentling of violent spirits.
            One such account of faithfulness and gentleness working together is found in Acts 9, where God called Ananias to minister to Saul, who had been blinded by a dazzling appearance of Jesus on the Damascus road.  Ananias wanted to resist God’s call on the basis that Saul had persecuted the church, even to the point of participating in martyring one of the first deacons.  Yet Ananias was faithful to God’s call, and went to Saul’s side, speaking peace and laying hands on him in prayer.  The result was both physical and spiritual healing; Saul’s bodily eyes were opened, and the eyes of his soul were illumined by the truth of God.  Saul was converted to Christ, allowing the Holy Spirit to change his violent heart to a gentle one.  He changed his name to Paul, and became the greatest missionary the world has ever known.
Acts 19:11-20 says that God did many miraculous works at the hands Paul.  Though Ephesus was a difficult mission field full of idolatry, witchcraft, and occultic practices, Paul was faithful to share the message of Jesus.  The result was that so many Ephesians gave up their occultic practices that they had a book burning, destroying their grimoires and other demonic books.  The value of the books that and other occultic tools was 50,000 pieces of silver.  The people were gentled by the good news of Jesus, and submitted themselves to the call of God.
            This week, as I was preparing a message on faithfulness and gentleness, my heart was broken by a pastor who decided to exercise his own wrath against Muslims, rather than living out the Fruit of the Spirit.  You’ve probably heard how the Rev. Terry Jones of Dove Outreach Center (an ironic name, since the dove stands for both peace and for the Holy Spirit) of Gainesville, Florida burned a Koran on March 20.  Prior to the burning, the Muslim community begged his forbearance.  It seemed that Jones intentionally sought to offend those who pleaded with him to relent.  No doubt you’ve heard of last week’s reprisal, how Islamic militants in Afghanistan overran the U.N. building, killing twenty, two of whom they beheaded—all in retribution for the burning.  While nothing can vindicate the actions of the Islamic militants, the question I have for Rev. Jones is this:  What did you think would happen?  Were you demonstrating love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?  In what way do you think you were showing the Fruit of the Holy Spirit?
            As the Bible shows, the result of a Christian’s faithful demonstration of God’s truth and love is a gentling of people’s hearts.  Ananias approached his enemy and called him, “Brother.”  When Paul ministered to the Ephesians, he didn’t burn their holy books.  Through the power of God, he healed their diseases and shared God’s truth.  The result was that demons fled from the power of Christ.  Yes, a book burning did result, but the difference is that Paul didn’t destroy their holy books—those who rejected the occult disposed of their own volumes of witchcraft. 
The difference between Ephesus and Gainesville couldn’t be more great.  In Ephesus, Paul’s faithfulness resulted in the gentling of occultic practitioners.  In Gainesville, unfaithfulness to the true Spirit of Christ resulted in a violent uprising on the other side of the globe.  My Christian brothers and sisters, I encourage you to share the truth and love of Jesus with anyone who will listen.  But as you do, exercise the Fruit of the Spirit.  Around the world their may be laws regarding freedom of speech or censorship.  There may be laws permitting or forbidding public demonstrations.  But against the Fruit of the Spirit there can be no law.