Wednesday, August 29, 2012

We closed our family's cabin in Prescott this last Spring. The fifty year lease with the church camp had expired in 2002 and even though the camp had extended the lease to run for the lifetime of my parents, as a gesture of appreciation for my family's involvement in the camp, we decided to end it and yield the property back to the camp. It was a difficult and emotional day for me... closing the door and walking away from a place that had been such a Large part of my life, so many happy memories of so many happy hours and days spent with loved ones here. People don't last forever. Neither do places, it turns out. The two are related and connected. People and places come together thru the purpose of men and of God for some good. They grow and prosper and abide together for a while... for an age, for a generation, and then they dissolve into time. The people die, the places wither and dry up, and God grows new people and places and plants them somewhere else. He's the real gardener. We are just the garden. This little cabin was such a place. It was a garden in my life. My grandfather built it in 1952. It became a haven for my family. My brother and sister and I roamed the pine woods nearby and spent idyllic summers there with my grand-parents. My grandmother cooked on the wood stove in the kitchen before there was natural gas for cooking in later years. We ate many meals together, shared many days of bliss there. The memories are forever. The memories are the only part that will last, forever I believe. We will take them with us, when we leave this world and are reborn into the new life that the Lord has prepared for us. I don't know what heaven will look like, but I suspect that somewhere in a quiet, remote corner a little dirt road will wind thru the Ponderosa pines, dipping and rising thru the woods, until a humble little cabin will be revealed, nestled in the granite boulders and oak trees. It will be shiny and new... made new, just for us. That's my hope. Hope is a large part of living. Without hope it isn't possible to Live very Large, is it? I know that we can't go back, in time and space. We are always going forward in this life. Life is linear. We are stuck in the present, only able to look behind us and see the recent past, which quickly dims and fades away. When we turn around and look forward we can't see what's coming next.... too foggy up ahead. We have to use our Faith to look forward... Trust and Obey. We have to let the Lord lead us forward, like children clinging to the hand of a parent, as we walk thru dangerous traffic.

But God is Large enough to take us back someday. He can take us back to the happiest times and the happiest places, with the people that we loved and lost. We will all be together again someday. That's my prayer today. Take me back, Lord. Take me back.


Take me back to days that I loved.
To places and times that I recall. 

To guitar picking, cool evening breezes,
To Indian Summers and Desert Fall. 

Take me back to a ditch of cool water,
Wandering by the old iron wood trees.

To campfires, and ghost stories, and crickets in hollows,
And the sight of a hawk soaring high and free.
Take me back to the rock house, and a lonely windmill.
To the yellow bloom of Palo Verde’s,
 Saguaros, standing like sentinels still.

Take me back to a sunset bold,
Flaming billows of crimson and gold.
To a night sky, heavens’ bright sky,
Celestial lamps twinkling, young and old.
Take me back to the smell of the rain,
As it clings to the grease wood, pungent and sweet.
My mind cannot smell, or hear, or feel.
Only my memory serves to reveal,
But all of the beauty my senses meet. 

Take me back to that humble cabin,
Nestled fair in the granite and oaks.

To a world like Pans’,
At dusk in the pines, and kick the can!
Building forts, and fighting wars,
In secret places that were mine and yours.

Take me back to voices past,
Speaking softly as I lay in bed,
Telling me that all is well.
The pillow soft against my head.

Take me back.

Take me back.

Take me back.


Monday, August 27, 2012

Grace is the largest of all the large concepts that we learn from the Word of God. It is large beyond our capacity to grasp it. It is large in both quality and quantity. God's Grace. Grace abounding. Grace upon Grace. Grace filling our lives and our world in Christ.

I remember a story that my father told in a sermon once, an illustration about Grace. In this story, you are the observer of a scene... a scene that is seen from a distance. A figure of great grace and beauty stands poised high upon a pinnacle, a great white spire. All of a sudden, the figure leaps from the top of the pinnacle and dives down, far down, straight as an arrow in a perfect, graceful dive, falling and falling, seemingly forever, until the graceful figure penetrates the surface of the sea. Down and down and down goes that beautiful figure of light, into the depths of the ocean, deeper and deeper, until there is no more light. Only darkness in the gloom of the depths of the deepest ocean. Upon reaching the bottom of this black place, the figure of light delves into the muck and mire of the ocean floor, burrowing ever deeper into the mud and slime of the bottom most parts of the earth. Finally, the creature reaches out and takes hold of  something. With a motion like a coiled spring, up comes the figure of light, grasping a slight, wretched creature. Up and up and up they rise. Upward into the pale light and further up into full sparkling light again, finally piercing the surface and bursting into the daylight again. The figure, now grasping the pale, wretched creature now flies like a beautiful angel like bird, returning upward and upward to it's place on high.

The story is meant to portray the distance that God came to save us. It is meant to try to portray the depths that God had to delve in order to save us from the darkness. It is, of course, a feeble attempt. We cannot possibly know how far God came, or how much he gave to save us. We can only really understand it in human terms. A father's love for his only son. What a gift.

I wrote something about Grace a while back. I wanted to try to illustrate this large concept. It is, of course, a feeble attempt. There really aren't proper words to explain it, I think. Anyway, here's my swipe at it. It's a little graphic, so don't let the kids read this one, folks.



Think of the person that you hate most.
Consider your own worth, your value, not to your mother, or wife, or to those who love you most,
But to those who hate you most.

Pick a number between 1 and 100, or between 1000 and 10,000, or between…
It doesn’t matter, just pick a number.
Now divide it by itself.
1000 divided by 1000 equals 1.
That’s too high.
There is no number for your value.
There is no number for my value.
We are zero.
We are less than zero.
We are an infinite negative number in value.
Math is no help here.

Let’s consider nature.
Think of the most unattractive stray dog that you have ever seen.
No, dogs are too loveable.
Think about a leach or a tick.
Think about a hyena caught in the act of eating an innocent fawn in the darkness.
Nature won’t work either, not horrible enough.

Think about mankind.
Think about Hitler, or Stalin, or Vlad the Impaler, or Manson, or Jeffrey Dahlmer, or some other despicable monster from the gallery of history.
He is you. You are him.
The most vile, murdering, torturing, raping, sadist that you have ever heard of, or could imagine.

Now cut out his picture. Your picture.
You worm.You bastard.
You despicable monster.
Paste it on a piece of paper.
No, blow it up into a poster.
Print thousands of these posters.
Put them on walls and billboards everywhere.
Offer yourself up to the multitudes as an object of scorn.
Now ask for forgiveness and affection and love from them.
From anyone.
You cringe at their response.
Wretched Monster!
How dare you seek forgiveness!
Picture yourself being dragged before tribunals.
Accusations, condemnations, sanctions, censure, disgrace.

No one defends you. There is no defense. You are a monster. No one stands with you. You are utterly alone. No one speaks for you. Who would possibly advocate for a despicable creature like you?

Shouts for your head, your blood, your life!

Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!
After the beatings, and the tar and feathers, you lay still in the gutter.
Wounded, bleeding, abandoned, covered with offal. Discarded.

Left for dead.

And then you feel a feather-light caress across your bruised brow.
You turn your head… and you are face to face with a child.

An innocent, beautiful child.
He stoops over you, stroking your head with his hand.
He gives you a drink of cool water.
He smiles and sings you part of a lullaby in a soft lilting voice.
He helps you to your feet, and takes your broken hand in his little hand, and he leads you home to his father’s house. 

Welcome to grace.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

When's the last time you had a good cry? If your answer is not since I was a kid, then you need to let it go. I mean you need to let loose and have yourself a good emotional flush... I mean, ball your head off man. Because it's good for you to do that once in a while. If you grew up and somewhere along the way you stopped crying, then you are leaving behind one of the most important therapies available to insure spiritual, mental and emotional health.

As Christians, we sometimes feel guilty when we grieve for the loss of loved ones. That's because we are told that we are suppose to rejoice when our Christian loved ones go to see the Lord. It's true that we should have joy in the fact that our dear departed has now left the pain and troubles of this world behind. But it's also true that death is not natural. All of that crap about death being part of life is nothing but a bunch of hogwash. If you believe that, then you need to go back and start over in your Bible reading. The Bible tells us a very different truth about that.

Here's something that I wrote on this topic. Maybe it will help us to explore this issue further.


Christians are often questioned for crying during times of loss and grief, like when a loved one dies. We are told by well meaning, but misguided well-wishers that we should not be sad. We should not weep for those who have died, because our loved ones are now with the Lord in heaven. Certainly this should comfort us and console us greatly, but I do not agree with brethren who say that we should not weep and cry at such a time. Here’s why I believe differently.

Death is not natural. It is unnatural. God created man for eternity. He was not appointed to die. It was not until man and creation fell into sin that death entered God’s creation (Genesis 2:17). Death stalks mankind throughout our lives. Death separates us from those that we love, not forever but for now. It is only natural then that our reaction to the separation and horror that is death is to weep.

The Bible is full of examples of God’s faithful servants who mourn for their dead. Genesis 50:1 shows us Joseph weeping for his dead father, Jacob. Deuteronomy 34:8 shows us the children of Israel weeping for Moses after his death. But the most important example is Jesus himself. Luke 19:41-42 shows us Jesus weeping for the city of Jerusalem. It says, “And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes.” He goes on to prophesy about the destruction of this city, and the deaths of many of its inhabitants, at the hands of the Roman legions. He saw the deaths of many in his mind’s eye, and he wept, as a father weeps for his children.

The most significant, and poignant example of Jesus weeping for the dead is the story of Lazarus. I always think of Lazarus as a young man, although scripture doesn’t tell us his age. He was known and loved by Jesus (Jn. 11:3). Jesus knew and loved this whole family (Jn. 11:5). He had been a guest in their home many times. Perhaps he had watched Lazarus grow up, during his travels and ministry. When Jesus saw Mary and Martha in grief, weeping for their lost brother, he wept also. He joined them in their grief. Why did he weep? He knew that he was going to raise Lazarus from his grave. The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus had intentionally waited for Lazarus to die, before coming to Bethany (Jn. 11:4, 11:11). He knew that he was going to raise him from the dead, as a demonstration of his power and identity as the Son of God, the Messiah. So why did he now weep? I think he wept because he was not only God. He was also man. He wept, because men and women weep when their hearts are overcome with grief. They weep when they share in the grief of others whom they love. We weep because God has created us with the capacity to Love. Our weeping is a physical manifestation (flesh) of the sorrow that we feel in our hearts (spirit) when we lose Love. In other words, we weep because we Love. If we did not love, then for what would we weep? For whom would we weep? Perhaps Jesus wept for another reason also. Perhaps he wept because he knew that Lazarus would also die again someday. His raising of Lazarus was only temporary, after all. Someday, he would have to die all over again. He would have to suffer all over again. Maybe Jesus also wept for him because his need for a demonstration of God’s power would cost Lazarus another death. We can only guess why Jesus wept. But he did. Jesus wept (Jn 11:35). Since he wept, we may be assured that weeping is not weakness, it is not sin, it is Christ like.

So go ahead and cry. There is no blame in it. There is no weakness in it. It is just a part of life and of humanity, as long as we do not hide in it, as long as we do not replace our faith with grief. The book of Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time for everything (Ecc. 3), “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;” Let’s not be afraid to weep, when we should weep. Let’s not forget to dance, when it is time to dance with delight before the Lord. Let’s not be afraid to embrace each other, when we should embrace. Let’s not miss a chance to Love, ever, in our lives. Every chance to Love comes just once. Only regret will abide with us, if we do not Love at every chance.

M.J. Smith
April 4, 2008



Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Lord Loves Cowpunchers Too

I wrote this piece a few years back. It's about purpose. I haven't actually read any of Rick Warren's books on Purpose... Purpose Driven Life, Purpose Driven Church, etc. I guess I should. We shouldn't be afraid to learn from any source or seek God's wisdom regardess of the direction from which it approaches. I don't agree with all of Mr. Warren's theology, but I'm sure that he loves the Lord, so maybe I should take a look at his books sometime and see what he has to say about Purpose.

Meanwhile, here's something that I wrote about seeking God's purpose, even when we might be mistaken in thinking that he doesn't really have much in mind for us.

The Lord Loves Cowpunchers Too

It has been my experience that cowpunchers don’t seem to pay a whole lot of attention to the Bible. As far as I can tell, the reason is... the Good Book doesn’t actually make any mention of cowpunchin’. Oh, sure, there’s a lot of talk about farmin’, all that reapin’ and sowin’, and what not; and sure, there’s alota mention of sheep herdin’, what with the Good Shepherd looking for lost sheep, and so on, but nary a word about ropin’ or tying wild cows. Because of this, I’m afraid cowpunchers are under the mistaken impression that the Lord forgot all about them. Well, I’ve got news for you boys. He’s got plans for you too.

You see, the Lord put us all here for a reason. We’re not just supposed to wander around, doing what we please all the time, looking out for old number one, paying no attention to fences that need mending, or a cow ballin’ off in some canyon. The Lord has work for everybody, and the Lord’s got a job for you too.

Now there’s lots of lost souls in this old world… strays who have lost their way. Who do you figure is better suited for finding those strays, than a cowboy? If you think about it, really, that’s what a working cowboy does. He goes out and finds a creature, which doesn’t necessarily want to be found, and he brings him home. The way I see it, the Lord put you fellers in this world to cast for those strays, and to gather ‘em to him. He needs some folks who can trail, and who are willing to cross a few of them old rough canyons, and search those brushy thickets; cause as you know, you find strays in the damnedest places. The Lord owns every one of them. He bought ‘em all, a long time ago, and he paid top price. He wants the whole lot brought too him, every last one.

Now it’s not so much, that the Lord needs your help, although he welcomes it. You see, the works doesn’t just benefit the stray; it benefits you too. It’s kinda like when you were a kid, and your pa use to make you chop firewood, or hoe weeds. Sure, he benefited from your labor, by not having to do it himself. But he knew that you also gained from it, by building some muscle on your skinny frame, and learning something about the value of a hard days work. In the case of the stray, he gets helped out of a tight spot, and you get sort of a warm feeling for helpin’ him, too. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell which one gets the most good out of it. That’s how the Lord’s deal works. There’s one other thing you might need to know. The Lord runs his outfit different than most you might have been with in the past. He doesn’t go in for rude or uppity behavior. That’s what he meant about the top boss among you being the servant of all.

Now the Lord swings a wide loop. It covers all men. He said, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me.” That means you too, cowboy. When he was raised up on that cross, the Lord pitched his loop, and dallied, and turned us all towards heaven. Now don’t get me wrong. Unlike the unruly steer, we can slip his rope, if we want to. We can trot off into the brush with a high head, and straight to hell. But who would we be foolin?

Not the Lord, he sees us wherever we bush up. Not Satan, he’s just waitin’ to rustle us, and drag us off into his hole. It’s just yourselves that you’re foolin’, if you think you’re hidin’ out. 

Now the jokes on you boys, if you don’t join the herd, cause it’s on the Glory Trail. It’s headin’ to a mighty pretty place, come on along. Where we’re going, the pastures will be green and the waters still, and clear. There’ll be shade when you want it, warmth when it suits you, and rest for the weary. Nobody will go hungry, and nobody will be sore or sorrowful anymore, and there’ll be folks there that knows you.

Now I’m not gonna lie to you. It’s a long walk, and you’ll probably end up ridin’ drag most of the time. Sure, it’s a little too far between water, and you might be gant and crippled before the trip ends. But you’ll draw your pay at the end, boys. You’ll draw your pay at the end of that trail.

M.J. Smith



“They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” Revelation 7: 16, 17.