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

Monday, September 12, 2011

"Because of My Enemies"

 Spirit & Truth # 241
“Because of My Enemies”

By Rev. Greg Smith

            Ten years ago this past Sunday, our nation was attacked.  Thousands were killed in a brutal suicide mission.  Individual families had their lives changed, with loved ones ripped away in their prime and without warning.  America was changed on that day.  Suddenly, secure living was a myth.  People flocked to churches, at least for a while.  They cried out to God for healing, and struggled with their ability to forgive.
            Country singers responded with the heartcry of America.  Toby Keith sang:

Hey Uncle Sam
Put your name at the top of his list
And the Statue of Liberty
Started shakin' her fist
And the eagle will fly
Man, it's gonna be hell
When you hear Mother Freedom
Start ringin' her bell
And it feels like the whole wide world is raining down on you
Brought to you Courtesy of the Red White and Blue

Justice will be served
And the battle will rage
This big dog will fight
When you rattle his cage
And you'll be sorry that you messed with
The U.S. of A.
'Cause we'll put a boot in you’re a--
It's the American way[i]

            It has been ten years now, and this past Sunday many of us attended prayer vigils and remembrance services to honor those who have fallen.  If they were well-done, they honored the victims, but they also honored the lives of civilian casualties that have taken place in wars since September 11.  If they were done very well, then they even remembered the human lives that were lost to the tragedy of religiously guided suicide on that day.  September 11 of this year has caused me to ask the question, “How do we respond to our enemies?”
You see, initial anger at an injustice in your life is understandable.  No matter who your enemy is, both personal and national, your immediate response is usually anger.  Then there’s the lengthy grief process of those who have experienced loss.  But ultimately, there must be healing.
King David was had a lot of deadly enemies—some of them were even in his own family.  His prayer in Psalm 5:8 was, “Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness because of my enemies.”  If we’re honest with ourselves, we behave pretty well when things are going nicely.  But when our enemies come against us, they try our patience and cause us to explode in anger.  David’s psalm admits that it’s our enemies that tempt us toward an unrighteous response.  He prays that God will lead us in righteousness, specifically because these people make it so difficult to respond in the right way.
It’s reported the Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross, never bore a grudge.  When a friend wanted to remind her of an offense someone had done to her, the friend said, “Don’t you remember?”  Clara could only respond, “No.  I distinctly remember forgetting that.”  That’s the kind of Christian that Jesus calls each of His followers to be.
How do you respond to your enemies?  Jesus taught us to forgive them, love them, and pray for them.  Maybe you’re not quite there yet, but Psalm 8:5 gives us the first step.  Walk in righteousness, because of your enemies.

[i] Song:  “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American).”

Monday, September 5, 2011

"Earthquakes and Kings"

Spirit & Truth # 240
“Earthquakes and Kings”

By Rev. Greg Smith

Samuel Anoints Samuel as king of Israel  ""

            In his song “Beautiful Boy,” John lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.”  Lennon advises patience in life—but patience is often something that’s hard to come by.  We want to see our plans work out—and we want it now.  But God has other plans.

            2 Samuel 9:1-10:1 tells the story of a young man named Saul who is sent to recover his father’s lost donkeys.  Saul goes from village to village looking for the errant animals.  Finally his companion suggests that they visit the local prophet Samuel, who might tell them where the donkeys are.  Meanwhile God has already told Samuel that Saul is coming.  Saul is God’s choice to be the first king of Israel—even though he doesn’t know it yet.  Samuel has been planning a feast, and has reserved the choicest piece of meat for Samuel.  When Saul meets Samuel, the prophet reveals that he already knows that Saul is looking for his father’s donkeys—that they are all right, and have been recovered.  Samuel invites Saul to the banquet and honors him with the choice meat.  The next day, he tells him that what really brought him to the prophet is the will of God—for the Lord has chosen him to be the ruler of Israel.  Samuel pours oil on Saul’s head and anoints him as king.

            “Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.”  When Samuel set out to look for his father’s donkeys, he had no idea that he’d end up visiting a seer.  When he saw the prophet, he was clueless that the next day, he’d be anointing as king.  But God’s plans were bigger than Saul’s plans.

            Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV) says, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’” God’s plans are bigger than my plans, too.  I was reminded of that recently.

            The morning of August 23, my wife and I were on the way to visit somebody in the hospital.  I was off my schedule, and since we were running later than expected, we stopped at a restaurant for lunch.  Just before we left, we bumped into someone who was on the way into the restaurant—my dad and stepmom, whom I had not seen for  over two years.  (We won’t get into all the reasons.  Suffice it to say that the distance has been their choice, and not mine.)  What a strange coincidence that was!  (Actually, I don’t believe in coincidences—I call them “Godincidences.”)  “Why don’t you join us?” they said.  And not long after we sat down, the earth shook, with a 5.8 magnitude tremor.

            Of course, I don’t really believe the earthquake was my fault.  But God used the earthquake in my life to underscore that His plans for me are what happens while I’m busy making other plans.  What if I hadn’t been running late that day?  What if we’d picked a different restaurant?  What if we’d payed a little less attention to who was coming in the restaurant door?  We would have missed a much-needed reunion!  The earthquake just reminded me that God had engineered the “chance” meeting.

            You probably haven’t recently gone looking for your father’s missing donkeys.  Maybe God won’t highlight His actions in your life with an earthquake.  But the next time life takes you on an unexpected adventure—just go with it!  Watch the strange and wonderful events that God will bring into your day.  Trust that His ways are greater than your ways, and look forward to your next “Godincidence.”