Monday, November 28, 2011

Be Careful, Little Feet, Where You Go

Spirit & Truth # 251
“Be Careful, Little Feet, Where You Go”

By Greg Smith

            Many of us grew up hearing the children’s song that says, “Be careful, little feet, where you go; for the Father up above is looking down in love; oh be careful, little feet, where you go.”  Jesus told His disciples “Follow me.”  For those who walk in the way of Jesus, it’s best to be careful where you let your feet carry you. 
            Psalm 1:1 (NKJV) recognizes three places that believers should avoid.  It says:
Blessed is the man
         Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
         Nor stands in the path of sinners,
         Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;

            Most Christians don’t set out to sin—they just stumble into it.  Sin creeps up on you where you least expect it.  It begins with something as simple as walking in the wrong direction.  Imagine the alcoholic who decides to go for a walk.  The road forks to the right and to the left.  The road to the right leads to his church, where nearby live many of his new Christian friends and mentors.  The road to the left leads to the downtown district where he used to frequent bars and liquor stores.  He stands at the crossroads, deciding which way to walk.  He doesn’t say, “I think I’ll go and have a drink.”  He simply decides to walk down the road to the left and see what there is to see.  He’s walking in the counsel of the ungodly.
            The left-hand road leads to the streets where he finds his old drinking buddies on the corner.  They see him, and invite him to stop for just a bit.  He doesn’t say, “I think I’ll have a drink with them,” but he does decide to stop for a chat.  He goes from walking in the counsel of the ungodly to standing in the path of sinners.  It’s a subtle degeneration—one that he doesn’t even perceive.  But just watch the trouble it causes!
            “Why don’t you come in and take a load off your tired feet?” one of his old friends says to him.  He doesn’t intend to do anything but have a seat for a while, but before you know it he’s gone from standing in the path of sinners, to sitting in the seat of scoffers.  From walking, to standing, to sitting—and now he’s got a glass in his hand.  That glass that he never set out to find, has now found him.  It’s not because he decided to misbehave from the beginning, but because he just wasn’t careful about the little decisions he made along the way.
            Psalm 1:1 pronounces a blessing on the person who does not follow that kind of path.  Instead, verse two suggests a better obsession than the sin that so easily entangles:  “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night.”  When you set your mind on the things of God, His word that lives in your heart will help you decide, when you stand at the crossroads.  Follow God’s word, and you’ll be able to follow the advice of Proverbs 3:5-6 (NKJV), which says:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
      And lean not on your own understanding;
       In all your ways acknowledge Him,
      And He shall direct your paths.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Fan the Flame

Spirit & Truth # 250
“Fan the Flame”

By Greg Smith
This is not a picture of me, but you get the idea.

            Fall is in the air! The leaves have already changed and made a crackly carpet on my once-green lawn.  Today, I got out the typical tools of fall, to take care of those leaves  As a pastor, I can’t burn leaves just any evening.  It’s illegal to burn before 4pm, and I have meetings many evenings.  Often the weather is uncooperative, and either the leaves are too wet, or the wind is too high.  So the evening has to be just right—like tonight.  It’s dry and still, and my calendar’s clear.  So I got my my rakes, matches, and garden hose.  You see, I’m a burner, not a bagger.
            My younger son knows my technique well, so he asked me curiously, “What’s the leaf blower for?”  You see, I’m a lawnmower man.  He helped me rake out the bushes, and watched as I sucked up the leaves with my riding mower, then put them in a pile to burn them (very carefully).  So since I’m a lawnmower man, he wanted to know what I was going to do with the leaf blower. 
             “What do you need to build a fire?” I asked him. 
If you’re a regular reader then you remember that this same nine-year-old and I just went camping a few weeks ago, and he built and lit his first campfire.  So he knew the answer by heart:  “Fuel, heat, and oxygen,” he said.
“That’s right,” I told him.  “The dry leaves are the fuel, the matches provide the heat, but on a still night like this, we might have to help the wind along.”[i]
You should have seen his delight as throughout the evening I pointed my leaf blower at the places where leaf embers had almost died.  “Woah!” he often exclaimed, as the air hit the leaves and embers ignited in a shower of orange.  Flames leapt up and a guttering fire was once more renewed.
This is what Paul had in mind when he said to young Timothy, “I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands (1 Timothy 1:6).”  Sometimes Christians start out well, but something hinders the fire in our hearts.  Life can leave us breathless, or we can separate ourselves from the warmth of other believers, or we might let the devil dampen our spirits.  A fire in your heart can be a difficult thing to maintain.  It doesn’t just tend itself.  You have to watch it, nurture it, help it along.  That’s why Paul told the Thessalonians, “Do not quench the Spirit.”  Like a fire, your spirit needs the warmth of others believers, the fuel of God’s word, and the breath of the Holy Spirit to burn inside of you.  Then you’ll be able to sing from your heart the hymn of B.B. McKinney, Breathe on Me:

Holy Spirit, breathe on me,
my stubborn will subdue;
teach me in words of living flame
what Christ would have me do.

Holy Spirit, breathe on me,
fill me with pow'r divine;
kindle a flame of love and zeal
within this heart of mine.

[i] I do not recommend that my readers attempt this burning method at home.  This is for professional pyromaniacs only.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Waiting on God

Spirit & Truth # 249
“Waiting on God”
By Greg Smith

I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear
and put their trust in the Lord.

Here I am, I have come.
I desire to do your will, O my God.

May your love and your truth always protect me.
Be pleased, O Lord, to save me;
O Lord, come quickly to help me.

May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you.
May those who love your salvation always say,
“The Lord be exalted!”

(Psalm 40:1-3, 7-8, 13, 16 NIV)

            When I was a child, my family took a vacation to Disney World.  What started out as a fun ride turned into disaster when we got stuck on the “It’s a Small World” ride for a couple of hours.  Imagine being confined to a small boat in an enclosed space while animatronic figures sing a saccharine song over and over while you wait for the ride to be resumed or evacuated.  I just couldn’t wait for someone to throw the switch that would pick us up out of that watery ride and set us on solid ground, far from earshot of that song.
            An experience like this, however grating on the nerves, is nothing compared to the agonizing waits of actual life.  Hospital waiting rooms are crowded with those who wait impatiently to hear word of a loved one’s surgery.  Parents spend many late night hours waiting for children to come home safely from work or a date.  Widows wait with hands folded in prayer, pining for the day when they will see their departed spouses again in Glory. 
            As the psalmist waits, he recalls God’s past faithfulness, when the Father lifted him out of the mire and set his feet on a rock.  As you wait on God, remember His faithfulness to you in the past.  You have seen effortless times in your life—those sublime moments when everything seems to fit together as if by plan.  Perhaps it was by plan, and God is the master architect.  You have also seen trying times, when everything seems to be falling apart.  But you have seen either God’s deliverance out of those situations, or felt God’s presence to calm you during those times.
            Recalling God’s past faithfulness gives you faith in this present moment.  You say, “Here I am, I have come,” presenting yourself to God to do with as He pleases.  You know He will care for you, because He always has.  Remember His protection and salvation, and anticipate a time of rejoicing once your wait is over.  Wait on the Lord, and be patient.  Wait on the Lord.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Consider Your Call

Spirit & Truth # 248
“Consider Your Call”
By Greg Smith

Ezra the Priest Reads the Books of the Law

It has been said that Christians without goals are a little like Alice in the fairy tale Alice in Wonderland. In a conversation between her and the Cheshire Cat, Alice asked, "Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?" "That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the cat. "I don't much care where," said Alice. "Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the cat.[i]  When a Christian has no idea where they’re trying to go in life, then it doesn’t matter which way they go.  But God has a plan for you, and understanding your purpose is the key to knowing how to get there.
Ezra knew his purpose as he gathered God’s people to leave Babylon and return to Jerusalem.  He was going to restore true worship in a rebuilt temple.  He had all the money and tools he needed for the task.  One thing he lacked: people to serve.  Ezra writes, “When I checked among the people and the priests, I found no Levites there.”[ii]  So he sent a delegation to the local Levite seminary and asked the school’s president to send him some students who would be willing to serve.  In the end, out of the six or seven thousand people who went with Ezra to restore worship in the temple, only twenty were qualified Levites.  Ezra must have been wishing that more had answered God’s call.
Today, most Christian denominations in America are experiencing a pastor shortage.  One pastor within my own denomination writes: “Nearly half our senior pastors are entering into the last 10 year of their ministry before retirement, and if the high stress of pastoring (and the normal life expectancy of Americans about 77) holds constant then about 25% of our current pastor will be in heaven in 2020.  Over half of pastors are in their late 50 and 25% are in the late 60s.  Most will either retire or “go on to be with the Lord” over the next ten years.”[iii] 
God needs more people who will answer His call to Christian service.  We talk about God calling people like Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, and the disciples.  We know that God calls pastors to ministry.  But every believer has a call from God.  Whether you’ve discerned it yet or not, God has called you to serve Him in one way or another.  It might be in vocational Christian service, or it may be in the secular world.  God may lead you to stay exactly where you are, and to continue doing what you’ve been doing, but to change your focus and do if for Him instead of for yourself.
Discerning your call means listening to God’s still, small voice.  God may speak to you in the quiet of your prayer time, or your Bible’s well-worn pages.  You may hear His voice through the lips of friends and neighbors who share godly counsel, or through the Sunday sermon, or on Christian radio.  Perhaps nature itself will show you something you need to know from God, or situations will play themselves out in such a way that God’s purposes become clear.  However God’s call comes, I hope you will listen with your heart.  Consider your call.  Find your purpose.  Trust God to bring it about.

[i] Source Unknown.
[ii] Ezra 8:15
[iii]  Nov 2, 2011