Monday, November 26, 2012

Be Prepared

Spirit & Truth # 299
“Be Prepared”
By Greg Smith

            When I was a kid back in the seventies and eighties, “rapture” and “tribulation” and “millennium” were common household words.  My parents circulated in a crowd of people for whom end-time prophecy was a favorite pastime.  There was always speculation as to who the antichrist might be—whether it was the Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, or the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, whose mark on his forehead looked like the Beast’s mortal wound that had been healed in Revelation 13:3. 
            My dad told me about a time when he saw a strange and glorious cloud formation in the east while he was driving.  He pulled the car over and got out, because he didn’t want to be raptured and have his car run off driverless, causing an accident and possibly someone’s death.
            I remember another time when I was young—I came downstairs from my bedroom, and the whole house was quiet.  Unbeknownst to my parents, I had just been misbehaving, but at the sight of the empty house I became convinced that the rapture had come, and because of my sin I had been left behind.  How glad I was to find that my family had just gone outside to visit the garden.
            My parents kept a walk-in closet that my brother and I jokingly called the “Tribulation Closet.”  From wall to wall it was stocked with dried foods that the family could use as emergency provisions, in case of the apocalypse.  In addition, my parents bought water beds, not for comfort, but for the reserves of drinking water which they could contain.  (By the way, I do NOT recommend drinking from a waterbed.)
            By now, you’ll understand why I have an aversion to the extremes that can come from a fascination with end-time prophecy.   When Harold Camping predicted the rapture on May 21, 2011, I rolled my eyes.  When he forecasted the total destruction of the world on October 21 of the same year, I groaned again.  Those dates came and went, without incident.  You can imagine my opinion on the Mayan calendar’s doomsday date of December 21, 2012.  We don’t have anything to worry about, because Jesus said in Matthew 24:26 (NIV), “…about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
            Don’t get me wrong—I believe that Jesus will return in glory, and that He will rule on the earth, that He will judge the righteous and the wicked, that Satan will be defeated, and that God will make His dwelling among us.  But you don’t have to be worried.  Instead, you should be ready.  Jesus said, “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him (Matthew 24:44).”  If you haven’t received Jesus as your Savior, I pray you will do so, so that when He does return He will find you ready.
            This holiday season as you prepare for the advent of the Christ child, be ready for the future, for His second advent, and for the ushering in of eternity.  Avoid extremes, but live a life of expectation.  Who knows?  His return just might be today.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Best Gift

Spirit & Truth # 298
“The Best Gift”
By Greg Smith

            Well, it’s happened.  Somehow another year has flown by and the holiday shopping season has arrived.  Stores festoon their displays with ribbons and bows, piping in Christmas music to put customers in the purchasing mood.  Black Friday sales have already begun, and shoppers want to take advantage of every opportunity.
            Another opportunity you’ll want to take advantage of is the holiday witnessing season.  Like no other time during the year, believers have a window of opportunity between Thanksgiving and Christmas to share their faith with people who are more open to hearing the good news about Jesus.  There’s something about this festive time that opens people’s hearts to the Gospel.  They may not know what the star of Bethlehem points to, but they think it’s pretty as it sits atop their tree.  They may not appreciate the babe in the manger for who He really is, but they think it’s a beautiful story.  So people’s hearts are more inclined to listen when a Christian friend tells the story of Jesus, and what He’s done in their lives.
            1 Peter 3:15-16a (NIV) says, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience.”  First, this means that believers should honor Christ as Lord everywhere they go, whether that’s into the mission hall where they serve soup to the homeless, or into the crowded and frustrating shopping lines.  Keeping a clear conscience, Christians should first set an example to others, so that when they see us, they aren’t seeing just another hectic shopper or stressed-out person preparing for holidays.  Our neighbors, and even the strangers around us, should see an example of Christ’s love in the behavior that we show.
            Second, it means that we shouldn’t just demonstrate Christ through our behavior—we should tell about Jesus with our witness.  “Be prepared,” says the apostle.  If you’ve never done so, considering writing out your testimony in advance, so that you have a clear message in your head that you’re ready to share when the opportunity presents itself.  Tell others about the day you met the Lord.  Tell them about the hope that now resides in your heart.  Share with them how important it is for them to accept Jesus as their Savior.  Invite them to receive Him as their Lord.  Be ready to pray a prayer of trust and faith with them—because they might not know how to do it on their own.
            Peter says that your manner of witnessing is important.  Instead of getting up in people’s face, insisting that they recognize that “Jesus is the reason for the season,” give your testimony “with gentleness and respect.”  You’ll go a lot further in sharing your faith.
            This holiday season, go ahead and find the best shopping opportunities you can.  Find the best deals and get the best prices.  But take the opportunity to give God your best as well.  Keep Jesus in your heart everywhere you go.  Be an example of Christ-like love and hope.  Prepare the witness that you’ll give for Him, and invite others into the saving grace of Christ.  That’s the very best gift you can give in this busy, festive, and sacred time.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Belief and Unbelief

Spirit & Truth # 297
“Belief and Unbelief”
By Greg Smith

            In Mark 9, Jesus descends from the Mount of Transfiguration to meet with a demon-possessed boy in the valley.  The child’s father says, “If You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 
            Jesus responds, “’If You can?’ Everything is possible to the one who believes.”
            Immediately the father of the boy cries, “I do believe! Help my unbelief.”[i]
            Whether we choose to admit it or not, every Christian is a mixture of belief and unbelief.  When belief is taken as agreement with a theological proposition, we can sometimes be both faithful and faithless.  Some doctrines are hard to understand—like how God can be both three persons and one person at the same time, or how God can be ultimately good, yet still allow evil to exist in the world.  We inherit both our Bible and our biblical doctrines from our forefathers, and we simply agree to believe some things that to the natural mind seem unbelievable.  We believe, but deep within us is a shred of disbelief that lingers.  We ask God’s help with our unbelief.
            When belief means something more than adherence to theology, we can have an even more difficult time.  The New Testament word pisteuĊ (I believe) means something more than agreement with dogma.  It means trust.  If I look at a chair that’s sitting before me, I can agree that it will hold me all day long.  I can measure it, weigh it, and examine its joints to make sure that they’re secure.  But I haven’t really believed, or trusted the chair until I have sat in it with my full weight.
            Believing in God means something more than theological assent.  It means placing your whole life in the arms of Jesus, and letting Him carry your full weight.  Perhaps the demon-possessed boy’s father agreed theologically that Jesus could cure his son, yet his unbelief, or mistrust, held him back from fully submitting to Jesus’ treatment.  When Jesus saw that the crowd (full of a mixture of believers and unbelievers) was quickly arriving, he quickly stepped in to heal the boy—before time could increase the man’s doubt.
            When you find yourself like this man, a mixture of belief and unbelief, pray the prayer that he prayed.  God will quickly step in and do something mighty on your behalf.  Below is a prayer that may help you express your mixed emotions to God:
Lord, I believe!  
     Help my unbelief.
Lord, I trust!  
     Help my distrust.
Lord, I open myself to You!  
     Help my blockages.  
Lord, I am receptive to Your agenda today!  
     Help my projections of self-will.
Lord, I am passive before You!  
     Help my hyperactivity.
Lord, I cooperate with the healing You bring!  
     Help my resistance.
Lord, I accept Your will!
     Help my insistence on my own.
          For filling comes only to an empty vessel.

[i] Vv. 22-24 HCSB

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What's Most Important

Spirit & Truth # 296
“What’s Most Important
By Greg Smith

            Our recent political candidates build their platforms on a great array of issues.  Important topics like healthcare, defense, taxation, jobs and the economy, abortion, education, and international policies head the list of those things that are important to voters.  On Tuesday, America voted to elect the candidate that it felt best represented national interests, and offered the best policies.  Now that the election is over, let’s move past the politics and talk about what’s most important.  Let’s get past the important debates and get to the things that are the most important.
            In Mark chapter 12, a teacher of the law came to Jesus, wanting to get past all the many issues of his religion and of their current political situation.  He wanted to know what was most important—which of the commandments would carry the people into God’s blessing.  “’The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no commandment greater than these.’”
            In a neck-and-neck election, it’s easy to sling mud and throw a few stones while you’re at it.  It’s easy to let political differences get in the way of what’s really important—Love!  Love is the greatest commandment.  All the policies in the world can’t save your soul if you lack the love of God and neighbor. 
            In her county gospel song, “If You Don’t Love Your Neighbor, Then You Don’t Love God,” Rhonda Vincent says:
There are many people who will say they're Christians
And they live like Christians on the Sabbath day
But come Monday morning 'til the coming Sunday
They will fight their neighbour all along the way

Oh you don't love God if you don't love your neighbour
If you gossip about him, if you never have mercy
If he gets into trouble and you don't try to help him
Then you don't love your neighbour and you don't love God

There's a God almighty, and you've got to love him
If you want salvation and a home on high
If you say you love him while you hate your neighbor
Then you don't have religion, you just told a lie

            Jesus knew that while the teachers of the law believed in God with their heads, they didn’t love God with all their hearts.  If they had loved God, then they would also love their neighbor.  Lack of love for neighbor indicates lack of love for God. 
            It’s easy to let issues that we think are important get in the way of what’s most important.  Don’t let your politics impede your love.  Whether your candidate won or lost—one way or another, the issue is already decided.  Now is the time to do what’s most important.  Love God.  Love your neighbor.  Live at peace with both.