Monday, May 23, 2011

"Dust and Life"

Spirit & Truth # 227
“Dust and Life”
By Rev. Greg Smith

            Many people call Spring and early Summer “allergy season” because of all the dust, pollen, and other irritants around at this time.  Recently, I was cleaning out my basement, and had a horrible time breathing because of all the dirt and dust in the air.  Did you know that there’s a difference between dirt and dust?  Dirt is earth, and dust is mostly skin cells.  But it makes sense that we put the two together in our minds, since God formed our bodies from the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7).   God says in Genesis 3:19, "Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."  In Genesis 18:27, Abraham says, “I am nothing but dust,” and Psalm 103:14 says, “For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.”  You could say that dust is the base material from which all things come, and to which all things return. 
Throughout the Bible, dust is a symbol of lowness, humiliation, and abasement.  Mourners and penitents sprinkle dust on their heads (Job 2:12; 42:6).  In The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, D. Miall Edwards writes: “Shimei ‘cursed’ David and ‘threw stones at him, and cast dust,’ literally, ‘dusted (him) with dust’ (2 Samuel 16:13). So the crowd which Paul addressed at Jerusalem manifested their wrath against him by tossing about their garments and casting dust into the air (Acts 22:23).” 
Dust can also be a symbol of sin.  In Luke 6:42 Jesus says, “First take the wood out of your eye and then you will see clearly to take the dust out of your brother's eye.”  In Eden, the serpent was cursed to crawl on his belly and eat dust the rest of his life because he tempted Adam and Eve to sin (Genesis 3:14).  Jesus tells His disciples to shake the dust from their feet at those who refused to listen to the Gospel, thereby indicating that their sin was on their own conscience, and not on the head of the evangelist (Luke 10:11, Acts 13:51).  It also reminded the disciples not to carry with them the negativity of the unreceptive audience.
Perhaps it was the psalmist who best expressed the problem of dust:  “My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word (Psalm 119:25)!”  Frankly, I’ve become a bit obsessed with this one verse that’s so filled with honesty and hope.  It has become my prayer whenever I realize that my soul is clinging to base, sinful, human nature.  I pray this verse when I recognize that my mind has been lingering on thoughts of rebellion, grief, and degradation.  I recall this verse any time I become aware that I’ve been grasping after earthly or fleshly things.  It’s a prayer of confession, but also an appeal for help.
Note that the psalmist contrasts clinging to dust with its opposite: life according to God’s word.  Dust is a dead thing, but God’s word is life.  What an amazing hope—God’s word (whom John 1:1 identifies as Jesus Himself) is our life-giver and our savior!  In John 10:10, Jesus says, “I am come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly.”  Psalm 113:7 assures us that God “raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap.” 
So the next time you find yourself hanging too tightly onto someone else’s negativity, or worrying over physical problems, or tempted toward fleshly sin, or covetous, or depressed—remind yourself of God’s salvation.  Confess to God, “My soul clings to the dust.”  Name the dust—whatever “dust” represents for you at this moment.  Then ask God to take that dead dust away from you.  Ask Him, “Give me life according to your word.”  Let it be your prayer.  Let it be your hope.

(On a side-note, I thought I'd share this cute video with you, based on Psalm 103:14, which says, “For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.”

"Choose the One"

Spirit & Truth # 226
“Choose the One”
By Rev. Greg Smith

            Summertime is almost here.  Time for fishing and the beach and all those cookouts with family and friends.  I wonder—what would the people at church say about some of your friends who might come to your barbecues?  When self-righteous Pharisees accuse Jesus of eating and drinking with tax collectors and “sinners,” He defends His friendships with them, saying that it was the sick who needed a doctor, not the well (Luke 5:31). 
In Luke 15, Jesus answers the same criticism with two stories that indicate how God seeks out lost people and saves them.  First, He tells of a shepherd who has a hundred sheep.  When one of the sheep goes astray, the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine to find the one, and returns home rejoicing.  Then, Jesus tells of a woman who has ten silver coins.  When one of the coins goes missing, she sets the other nine coins aside and turns her whole house inside out until she finds it, then invites all her friends to celebrate that the lost coin has been found.  In the same way, God seeks out those whose souls are lost, and rejoices when they are found.
I wonder—what if the shepherd or woman in these stories had become distracted?  What if God had gotten distracted when we were in need?  What if He’d said, “I have wars and hurricanes and famines to worry about,” and didn’t have time for you?  You would have been the lost sheep that never was found, the missing coin never recovered.  Aren’t you glad God doesn’t get distracted, but stays focused on His mission to seek and save those who are lost?
If we call ourselves Christians, then we are supposed to have the character of Christ.  If Jesus doesn’t get distracted, but makes us the top priority in His life, then we also make Him our top priority, not allowing ourselves to get sidetracked by all the world has to offer.  Too often we let the good things of life jostle for our attention.  Family, friends, cookouts, amusement parks and the beach all offer diversions this time of year—and those are blessings.  But don’t let them take your eyes off of the God who loves us.
In Matthew 13:45b-46, Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”  Some have interpreted this scripture with the pearl as humankind, which is of great value to God, and God as the merchant.  When God sees us, He gives everything up so that He can redeem us.  Others interpret it the other way around, where God is the pearl and we are the merchant.  So, when we find God we should put our relationship with Him above everything, forsaking the whole world in favor of the Lord.  Which is the correct explanation?  Both—for if God gives His all for us, then we should do no less than give our all for Him.
This summer, you will have a never-ending supply of diversions and distractions.  Be sure to choose the One who matters most.  Choose the One who never loses focus, but seeks you out as if you were the only one in the world. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

"Doing Time" - My Article in the Southside Messenger

Spirit & Truth # 225
“Doing Time”
By Rev. Greg Smith

            Today, I visited a dear young woman who is an inmate at a local jail.  Her time is almost up, and she told me that she’s counting the days.  “Twenty more days an I go home,” she said, delight and anticipation written across her face.  “I can’t wait.  Time seems to go so slowly now that my days here are short.”
            Time is a strange thing.  Sometimes it seems fast and sometimes it seems slow.  The Greeks had two words for time.  Chronos referred to chronological time, the kind that can be measured by a clock.  Kairos meant special time or sacred time—like when you can look at your sweetheart of fifty years and say, “It seems like only yesterday since the day we got married.”  Or like when you’re having your devotional time with the Lord and suddenly you look at your watch and a couple of hours has gone by without you noticing it, because the time has been so sweet.  That was Kairos time.  The trick is learning how to turn Chronos into Kairos.
            I told my friend how happy I was for her that her time in jail is coming to an end, and shared Psalm 90:4, which says, “For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it is past, and like a watch in the night.”  Yes, time is different to God as well—it doesn’t flow for the Eternal One in the same way it flows for us.  In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis said, “If you picture Time as a straight line along which we have to travel, then you must picture God as the whole page on which the line is drawn.”  God stands outside of time, and gives us those sacred moments as we need them.  How can we make all of our days sacred days?
            Psalm 90:12 says, “So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”  My friend has certainly learned to number her days.  And actually, having her days of incarceration numbered has actually given her a heart of wisdom.  She realizes how precious freedom is, and how important each decision is. 
Those who do not realize that our days are numbered are more likely to take time for granted.  They don’t carve out sacred time, but live as natural creatures rather than the supernatural beings that God created His children to be.  When you realize your limited time on the earth, then suddenly each day becomes special.  You convert Chronos into Kairos every time you get a chance, and you begin to live for God rather than for yourself.  That’s how the Christian should do time, and thereby gain God’s heart of wisdom.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Second Chance

Spirit & Truth # 224
“A Second Chance”
By Rev. Greg Smith

Oops, The Book of Blunders tells about police who “stopped a teen-age girl in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, after complaints that a car had been seen going around her neighborhood in reverse for some time. The girl told police that her parents had let her use the car, but she had put too much mileage on it. ‘I was just trying to unwind some of it,’ she said.”  Sometimes, especially when we’ve failed, we’d all like unwind life and go back to the way things used to be.  Peter felt the same way.
After failing miserably by denying Jesus, seeing the crucifixion and witnessing the resurrection, he must not have known what to expect next.  He wanted to unwind the miles and go back to the way things were before he became a disciple, when he’d been a fisherman.  “I’m going fishing,” he says in John 21.  The other disciples go with him, but that night they catch nothing.  Peter wants a second chance at the old life—but as the philosopher said, “you never step into the same river twice.”  Things always change.
Jesus appears on shore, but they don’t recognize Him.  The Master tells them to throw the nets on the other side of the boat, which must remind them of the incident on Lake Gennesaret (Luke 5:1-11), when the same thing happened and they hauled in a miraculous catch.  Once again, though it makes no sense, they obey, and God provides a second astonishing harvest of fish.  This shows that when you’ve made mistakes, while there are no second chances at going back to the way things used to be, you do get a second chance at showing Jesus that you can be obedient to Him. 
Finally recognizing his Lord, Peter does a strange thing.  He puts on his clothes and hops out of the boat, swimming to shore to meet Jesus.  Now, when’s the last time you put on your clothes to go swimming?  Usually you take something off.  I don’t think Peter thought he was going swimming.  He’d just seen Jesus reenact the miraculous catch of fish—perhaps he expected Jesus to let him walk on water, like he’d done before in Matthew 14:22-33.  But once again, you never step into the same river twice.  When you’ve messed up, you can’t go back to the way things used to be.  But you can know restoration.
Three times Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” and three times Peter said, “Lord, you know I love you.”  Each time, Jesus replied, “Feed my sheep.”  For each time Peter had denied Jesus, the Lord restored him.  Peter couldn’t regain the old times, but he could know Jesus’ forgiveness and a fresh start.  The same is true with you.  No matter what you’ve done, there is a new beginning with Jesus.  The trick is being willing to jump in with both feet.  Do you need a fresh start today?  Take Jesus’ hand, and begin again.