Friday, December 19, 2014

Who is God and what does he do?

We had dinner with some dear friends last night. Leave it to kids to ask the most profound questions. Addie is four years old. She's very bright and very curious. She asked her mommy this question, "Who is God and what does he do?" Her mom asked for my help in answering Addie and I'm not sure that I was able to sufficiently answer. I'm not sure that anyone is quite able to sufficiently answer Addie's question, but I went to bed last night and woke up still trying. So here's my answer after considerable pillow time, and some more time scratching with pen and paper.

Thanks for asking Addie. I think I needed to spend a little time pondering. Sometimes God uses children to wake us up and make us think about the important stuff.

This is for you Addie, and for Kenzie too!


He always was.

 He always will be.

He made the whole world,

And he made you and me.


He’s very busy cause he keeps the world turning.

He keeps the stars shining and everything working.

But he never gets tired and he never sleeps.

He watches and guards and safely keeps,

Every mommy and daddy and little child.


He’s strong but gentle.

He’s wise and fair.

He’s brave as brave.

He knows and he cares.

And He wants us to know Him,

And be His best friend.


But the best thing about Him,

Is how much He Loves!

He loves everybody, the large and the small.

He loves so much and He loves so well.

Love is the thing that He does best of all!


He loves us so much He’d do anything for us,

Like our own moms and dads.

You know they adore us!

He loves everybody who ever was.

He loves everybody who ever will be.

He especially loves you,

And He even loves me.



                 MJS 12/19/14

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Remembering our heritage as we approach July 4, 2014

Our Heritage
Heritage – “the status acquired by a person through birth; a birthright.”

(American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language)

Whoever we are, wherever we are from, whether we acknowledge it or not, we are heirs to a rich heritage, passed to us thru family, and country, and God.

Family Heritage

We are shaped and formed by our family heritage, maybe more so than we know or care to acknowledge.

Our former first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton, wrote a book titled, “It Takes A Village To Raise A Child”, and like so many other things, she got it about half right. Now I don’t know about your village, but I’d rather not have some of the folks in my village raising my kids. No, it takes a family to raise a child. God invented families. He invented them to raise children. And like so many things that God created with perfection, human weakness, and sin have made imperfect. But God uses all things to good, even these.

We are not all born to perfect homes. My mother certainly was not. Her father died when she was twelve, leaving her and her sister with a mother who was incapable of raising children on her own. She was raised by two aunts. But she survived adversity, and found God, and he provided her with everything that she needed.

My father was born out of wedlock, to an Irish Catholic girl who was unable to be his mother. But God provided him with parents, and to a young couple, desperate for a child of their own, a son was given. Together, they made a Christian home.

It soon became apparent to them that this child would not be a farmer, due to severe hay fever, and allergies, but he excelled in his studies. They aspired for him to be a doctor, or lawyer, perhaps a political leader. But God had different plans for him. They were not altogether happy the day he announced that he was determined to become a preacher of the Gospel. I’m sure that they wished for him to have all of the best and finest things in life. But he chose the path of God over worldly gain. Eternity will judge whether he chose well. I think he did.

Being preacher’s kids, my brother and sister and I were raised in the church. As a preacher’s kid, I have had sort of a love/hate relationship with the church. My experience would lead me to believe that preacher’s kids require more instruction and discipline than average. I would also have to say, at least in my case, that their wild reputation is well earned.

 I am fortunate indeed, to have benefited from the mentoring and training which I received in the church, from many Christian saints, both men and women.

 I won’t name them. They know who they are, and so does God. I thank God for them, as I sit in church and reflect upon all of the blessings that I have received in my life.

Any child, raised in the church or not, must one day finally decide for himself, if he believes. In spite of the finest examples of living Christian saints, in spite of all of the instruction by parents and dedicated Bible teachers, we must finally decide for ourselves if we believe. Some fall away, some find their faith in the church, and some find their faith in spite of the church.

The church, of course, is an extension of the family. It is the family of God. Through it, we all share in a rich heritage.

The problem with the church, like the family, is it’s full of people. Because of this fact, it’s far from perfect. But God uses the church to train us. He uses it to teach us tolerance, and forgiveness. He uses it to teach us how to love one another, even when we’re not very lovely, even when it’s hard. He uses the church to teach us to serve one another, and to learn humility.

Despite all of the flaws and failures of our families, and church families, we should thank God for them; for the blessings which we have received from them, for the lessons we have learned, for the sustenance we have received, for the love and discipline we have received, for the sacrifices that have been made for us. This is our heritage.

American Heritage

We should also thank God for our national heritage, for our American heritage, for the liberty, which we enjoy in this great nation. We should remember the price of this liberty, paid for with the blood of our finest young men and women, on so many shores, in so many places across the centuries.

So on Memorial Day, or Independence Day, we celebrate our heritage, and we sing again the old patriotic hymns. My favorite is “America The Beautiful”. It is difficult for me to sing it without choking back tears. The words are so fraught with meaning:

“O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife. Who more than self the country loved, and mercy more than life! America! America! May God thy gold refine, till all success be nobleness, and every gain divine!

O beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years. Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears! America! America! God shed his grace on thee, and crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea!”

Our heritage has been insured by the courage, and sacrifice, of uncounted heroes.

Gary Hildreth’s essay on the fate of the signers of the Declaration of Independence reminds us of the debt that we owe to our forefathers.

He writes:

“Have you ever wondered what happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence? Five signers were captured by the British as traitors and executed. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons in the Revolutionary Army, another had two sons captured. Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or the hardships of the Revolutionary War. They signed and pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.

What kind of men were they? Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were merchants; nine were farmers and large plantation owners, men of means, well educated. But they signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that the penalty would be death if they were captured. Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British navy. He sold his home and his properties to pay his debts, and died in rags. Thomas McKeam was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him and poverty was his reward. Vandals or soldiers, or both, looted the properties of Ellery, Clymer, Hall, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Ruttledge, and Middleton. At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson, Jr. noted that the British General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. The owner quietly urged General Washington to open fire. The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt. Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife, and she died within a few months. John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside as she lay dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and his gristmill were laid to waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children vanished. A few weeks later he died from exhaustion and a broken heart. Norris and Livingston suffered similar fates.

Such are the stories and sacrifices of the American Revolution. These were not wild-eyed, rabble-rousing ruffians. They were soft-spoken men of means and education. They had security, but they valued liberty more.

Standing tall, straight, and unwavering, they pledged: “For the support of this declaration, with the firm reliance on the protection of the Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”  This is our heritage.
Heritage In Christ
We should not, however, confuse Liberty with Freedom.
 We should remember in our prayers, our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, without liberty, suffering persecution and bondage, but still they are free. That cannot be taken away from them. Kings, and despots, and goverments have the power to bestow liberty, and to take it away, but freedom comes only from God. He bestows it, a gift, through Jesus Christ.
We can read of our heritage in Christ in the twenty-second chapter of Genesis. There we find God declaring our birthright through Abraham.

“And it came to pass after these things that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.

 And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.

And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together. And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. And they came to the place, which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son. And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovahjireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen.

 And the angel of he Lord called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:1-18)

This is our heritage, our birthright under the covenant that God made with Abraham.

It is the covenant that was fulfilled by God, who did not withhold his only son, but sacrificed him upon that terrible cross, that we might be redeemed from sin and from death. This covenant is fulfilled, and a new covenant is offered to us in Christ. It is the  covenant spoken of by Jesus in the upper room, when he instituted the Lord’s supper (read Matthew 26:28). It is our heritage, our inheritance, which is spoken of by Paul in Romans 8:14-18, and in Galatians 3:26, and 4:4-7.

Jesus himself describes our heritage, our birth right in his parable of the Prodigal Son.

“And he said, A certain man had two sons: And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.

And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.

And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called they son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found…” (Luke 15: 11-24)

We stand before God, as the prodigal stood before his father, having squandered our birthright in sin, but in Christ our birthright is restored. In Christ our heritage is assured.

Christ receives us back with open arms. All accounts are settled. All debts are paid.

He paid them with his blood. For you and for me.

So I am reminded of the story of the little boy and his boat. Of all of the stories that I have heard my father tell from the pulpit, across the many years, this is my favorite, because of its simple, beautiful message:

There once was a little boy. He was a bright lad and good with his hands. One day, he went into his father’s workshop and he built a toy boat, crafting it from wood, and string, and glue and paint. And when he was done, he had built a beautiful sailboat.

He took it down to the shore, and he set it in the water. He stood there watching, first with wonder, and then with dismay! A breeze filled the sails, and carried it out into the lake, and it sailed away. It was gone!

Weeks later, as he walked through town, the boy stopped in front of a shop window. There, displayed in the window, was his sailboat.

He went into the shop, and he bought the boat from the shopkeeper. He didn’t say a word. He just paid for it, and he left. As he was leaving, grasping the boat in his arms, he was heard to say, “You are mine! I made you, and I bought you! Now you are mine!”

That’s exactly where we stand with Jesus. He made us. If you don’t believe me, go back and read Genesis again. You will find him there, at the creation. He bought us, with that long journey from Heaven to Calvary. With his blood, he bought us, at that terrible place called Golgotha. We belong to him. Whether we acknowledge him as Lord, or not, whether we believe, or not, we belong to him.

This is our heritage!

You are a Child of the King. Won’t you claim your inheritance?

How, you ask, do you claim your birthright? By confessing before men that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, by repentance, which is a conscientious attempt to reform and turn away from sin, by obedience in Christian baptism, through which you will receive the Holy Spirit, and by continuing steadfast in your faith and fellowship with the body of Christ, which is his Church. If you do these things you will claim your inheritance in Christ, and receive your crown of glory, and eternal life.

It sounds so easy, but what I have just described entails a very long journey. It entails a lifelong struggle, with every ounce of courage and strength that you possess. It may require you to suffer. It may require you to give up what you have, your most loved possession. This journey may take you far from home, along dangerous, dark, narrow passages, up steep, winding, rocky paths, towards a lone cross. It may mean giving up your life.

It won’t be all gloom, darkness and struggle. There will be light, and beauty, and laughter, too. Along the way will be rest when you need it, and love, faith, and fellowship with other pilgrims who are on the same road as you. And in the end, the struggle will be forgotten. It will be left behind. It will be sloughed off, like an old garment, as we put on the raiment’s of heaven, and are made new.  

This is our Heritage, from our Heavenly Father, thru Jesus Christ.                           

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Special Moments

Happy Father's Day to all of you dads out there, and to my dad too.


OK guys, this one is for you. I mean all of you Dads out there. I have a news flash for you. We should spend more time with our children. I believe that is a true statement. I also believe that we don’t have a clue about how to go about it. I come to this conclusion based upon the desperate pursuit of happiness and frantic pursuit of indulgence, which is displayed in our culture. I’ll tell you what it’s about, and what it’s not about. It’s not about spending our money on our kids. It’s not about taking them to amusement parks or exotic, far away places to purchase their affection. It's not about buying them every toy or gadget or thing that goes vrroooom. It’s about finding time and spending that on our kids. It’s about sharing ourselves with them. It’s about simple pleasures and sudden magical moments that cannot be contrived or designed, or purchased with a ticket, or started with a key.
Think back to your own childhood. Do you have any “special moments” that come to mind? I’ll bet that you do, if you will just allow yourself to think for a moment, back to those simpler, innocent times of childhood.

I will share one of mine with you, to help you get started. It is one of my earliest recollections. I must have been about four years old. I know I was not yet five, because I hadn’t started school. I remember my father taking me to Helsing’s coffee shop in Scottsdale for breakfast. It was just he and I. Everybody else had gone off to their daily routine of work or school. We would sit in a booth and he would have a bear claw and coffee. I would have a single scoop of chocolate ice cream in a fancy dish. I don’t remember what we talked about. I suppose we talked about whatever came into the mind of a four year old boy. I don’t remember the waitress, or much about the surroundings of the coffee shop. What I remember is feeling good because my father, a very important man, wanted to spend this time with me. For that moment, he was all mine. There was no one else competing for his attention…siblings, work, friends, they were all removed. We were all alone in the universe, a father and his youngest child. I don’t know what the tab for that meal totaled… maybe five or six bucks? It was a priceless investment, nevertheless. I’m sure that my father had no notion of the importance of this moment to me, that it would be such a significant and formative memory for me later. He was just doing what dads are supposed to do. He was just loving me.

Let’s admit it men, we are not exactly tuned into our relationships. We know so little of the effects that we have on the lives of those around us, especially our children. We must remind ourselves occasionally to do a “status check” on our relationships.

Have you forgotten to love your children lately? It’s never too late, as long as you are alive. It doesn’t cost much, just a little of your time. Don’t worry about how to go about it. It will take care of itself. Just turn the TV off, get up and go do something with your child. Take a walk, go throw a Frisbee in the park, play a board game, get in the car and drive… when your kid asks you, “Where are we are going dad?” just say, “I don’t know, let’s see where the road takes us.” Whether you’re skipping rocks on a pond, or sitting on a bench at the mall eating ice cream, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is being there together, spending your real treasure on them... your time and attention.

 Some day they will thank you for it. Even if they don’t, they will remember, and by remembering, they will know that you loved them, and that for one special moment, there was just the two of you, alone in the universe.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Lest We Forget

The world is full of memorials, memorials for those who are dead. The Hispanic culture has a holiday dedicated to remembering dead loved ones. They call it Day of the Dead, Dia de Muertos. The idea is not only to honor dead loved ones, but to actually commune with them, to communicate with their spirits.

Many of the world’s religions revere and worship dead ancestors, believing that their spirits are still with us and can interact in our lives. This is more than just memorializing. This is now a form of worship and a form of spiritual divination, which is forbidden by the Word of God.

We need to be careful about our memorials, about who we are memorializing and why. We need to be careful that our memorials not become idolatry.

Satan would have our memorials become idolatry. He is always working to turn our worship away from God and towards something else... anything else.

But we like to remember loved ones, what they meant to us, what they did for us, how much we loved them, how thankful we are for their lives and what they meant to us, and this is good and appropriate. We mark the graves of loved ones with headstones, markers with all sorts of sentiments written on them. We plant flowers and tend gardens at the graves of our loved ones past. Some of us visit them regularly. There’s nothing wrong with that.

We have a national holiday dedicated to remembering our fallen heroes who died in wars. We call it Memorial Day. It’s Memorial Day Weekend. For those who are working or going to school it means a three day break. For many it will be spent on picnics, eating hot dogs… they’re always on sale on Memorial Day! Time spent with friends and family, maybe getting out of town for a camping trip.

Will we take time to remember our fallen heroes, I wonder? We’ll get back to that idea in a minute. First, let me give you a little history on the holiday that we call Memorial Day and now observe on the last Monday in May.

Our Memorial Day started after the civil war to honor those who fell in battle. There are varying accounts as to who originated the observance and where it was first observed. I did a little research on the origins of the national holiday that we now call Memorial Day. Here is what I found:

On May 5, 1868, in his capacity as commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic - the organization for Union Civil War veterans - General John A. Logan issued a proclamation that "Decoration Day" should be observed nationwide and annually.[16] It was observed for the first time on May 30 of the same year; according to folklore, the date was chosen because it was not the anniversary of a battle.[17] According to the White House, the May 30 date was chosen as the optimal date for flowers to be in bloom.[18

Events were held in 183 cemeteries in 27 states in 1868, and 336 in 1869. The northern states quickly adopted the holiday; Michigan made "Decoration Day" an official state holiday in 1871 and by 1890, every northern state followed suit. The ceremonies were sponsored by the Women's Relief Corps, which had 100,000 members. By 1870, the remains of nearly 300,000 Union dead had been re-buried in 73 national cemeteries, located near the battlefields and therefore mostly in the South. The most famous are Gettysburg National Cemetery in Pennsylvania and Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington.

There is some evidence that General Logan adopted his Decoration Day from the pre-existing annual Confederate Memorial Day custom that had already been in place in the South since 1866.[20]

 The preferred name for the holiday gradually changed from "Decoration Day" to "Memorial Day", which was first used in 1882.[32] It did not become common until after World War II, and was not declared the official name by Federal law until 1967.[33] On June 28, 1968, the Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moved four holidays, including Memorial Day, from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to create a convenient three-day weekend.[34] The change moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May. The law took effect at the federal level in 1971.[34] After some initial confusion and unwillingness to comply, all 50 states adopted Congress's change of date within a few years. - Wikipedia

So there you go, probably more than you wanted to know about the history of this holiday. Hopefully we will attend a parade or ceremony remembering those who have died defending freedom this weekend, or at least spend a few moments in thankful reflection remembering them… because that’s the point. That’s what it’s really about, isn’t it? Remembering those whom we loved, remembering those who died for us?

I visited France in June 2012. Among the places that we visited was the beautiful region of Normandy. The people of Normandy still remember the sacrifice of blood and of lives that was given by our young men in liberating them from the yoke of Nazi slavery.

Everywhere you go, in every little square in every village there are markers, plaques, memorials to those who fought and many who died there. Many of these local memorials are dedicated to a single soldier or platoon that died there in that particular village.

We visited Omaha Beach, where so many American and allied soldiers died on D-Day. We also visited the American cemetery at Colville Saint Laurent. The cemetery sits on the heights above the Normandy beaches. It is a beautiful place, a beautiful memorial garden where lie the remains of American soldiers that died liberating France. I wrote a piece about my experience there. You can read it here:

It is altogether fitting to observe memorials of loved ones. It is more important, ever so more important, to observe memorials dedicated to God. The Word of God is full of memorials. God commands his people to remembrance… to remember him… to remember who he is and what he has done for us.

In Deuteronomy Moses prepares the children of Israel to enter the promised land that God would give to them. He delivers to them God’s commandments, among them are these words.

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 strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

10 When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. - Deuteronomy 6:4-12

Lest we forget.

God instituted other memorial observances thru Moses so that the children of Israel would not forget what he had done for them… so they would not forget the wonders and miracles that he had accomplished in their deliverance from bondage in Egypt.

The feast of Passover called them to remember how they were passed over by the death angel. They marked their doorposts with the blood of a lamb and so were passed over by the death angel, which killed the first born of every Egyptian.

The feast of Weeks, or Pentecost reminded God’s people of their liberation from Egypt and of thanksgiving for receiving the bounty of harvest in the Promised Land.

The feast of Rosh Hashanah or the festival of blowing trumpets celebrates the day of creation and points to the coming of the Lord’s Day when trumpets will sound at His return.

Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement is a memorial to God’s forgiveness of sin and a day of repentance.

The festival of booths or tabernacles is a remembrance of the time spent wandering in the desert by the children of Israel where they sojourned under God’s wing.

God made and commanded all of these observances, all of these Memorial Days for his people in OT times.  As with all of the Old Testament, these memorials not only demonstrate God’s faithfulness and love for his people, they also point forwards in time to the coming of Christ.

The blood of the lamb in Passover.

The first fruits of Jesus resurrection on Pentecost.

Jesus Christ’s coming on the Lord’s Day, when the trumpets sound on Rosh Hashanah.

Christ’s death on the cross was the real Day of Atonement foreshadowed by Yom Kippur.

All of these were memorial days for the children of God in OT times and are memorial days for Christians today in Christ.

Today is Sunday. Today is a memorial day for the body of Christ. Every Sunday is Memorial Day for Christians… is it not? Because Jesus commanded us to remember him. Remember what he did for us. Remember how he loved us. Remember that he died for us.

How can we forget? But we do. Sometimes we do, when we get caught up in the wonders of the world, in the worries of the world. We forget. We forget that God is there, waiting… waiting for us to remember him.

God forgive us for forgetting Him. God forgive us for not remembering Him every day. God forgive us for not taking a part of Him with us wherever we go. God forgive us for not living our lives for Him, and in honor of Him. God forgive us for taking for granted our liberty, our freedom which we have because of Him. God forgive us.

Jesus said “remember me”. Don’t forget me. I’m going to go and die for you. I’m going to lay down my life for you.

I love you that much. Now you love one another, just like that.

Love one another, little children. In so doing, we are loving Christ! That’s a mystery, but it is true! The word of God proves this.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Philippi… “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.” That’s a pretty nice thing to say, isn’t it?

I thank God every time that I think of you. That’s love. That’s loving like Christ. The Apostle John wrote to the church, “We know love by this that he laid down his life for us and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” Then he said, “This is his commandment that we believe in the name of his son Jesus Christ, and love one another just as He commanded us.” 1 John 3

Remember to love. Remember him by loving one another. That’s our Memorial Day observance. That’s the Memorial Day custom of the church of Christ, to love one another. They will know we are Christians by our love. It’s supposed to show, isn’t it? It’s supposed to show when we are in Christ, when we are loving like Christ!

Let’s remember him today, by loving one another. Let’s obey Christ’s commandment… “Remember Me”. Remember me every day, in everything you that you do. Love me with all of your heart and all of your mind and all of your soul.

This is our memorial day, as Christians, as the body of Christ. Go and be a part of His church today, and remember him, because our Memorial Day is not just a day to remember someone who is dead. It’s a memorial to One who lives!

It is the only Memorial Day that remembers one who has died, and now lives again. It is a memorial day to remember the promise for us to live again after death. Jesus died for us. Then he defeated death for us. And he lives and reigns at the right hand of God!

Let’s remember, lest we forget.


Lest I forget Gethsemane.

Lest I forget thine agony.

Lest I forget Thy Love for me.

Lead me to Calvary.


Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Song Bird

It's Mother's Day and so we remember all of the blessings that we have received from our loving moms today. One of the many blessings that I received from my mom was her wonderful capacity to focus all of her attention on her child and listen to all of the questions, concerns, fears, hurts, fantasies, and absurdities of a child's heart. She has always there to listen and to respond with care, compassion and a dose of good advice. My mother also taught me a very important skill, that is to listen not only with our ears, but with our hearts... listen for God. Thanks mom. I'm still trying to be a good listener, not easy for me though.


I once made a pilgrimage to the Holy Lands, according to the custom of Christians across the ages. We saw many wonderful sights, straight from the pages of the Bible. We visited the Sea of Galilee, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jericho, the Dead Sea, Jerusalem, and many other places. I had so many wonderful experiences, that it would be difficult to describe them all to you.

Perhaps my most notable experience was strolling through the streets of the Arab quarter of Old Jerusalem. Given my stature, and girth, I was soon surrounded by young Palestinian children, running on ahead of me, shouting as they ran, American Goliath! American Goliath! Or maybe it was standing atop of Herod’s Dead Sea fortress at Masada, not noticing the glares and stares directed at me by machine gun-toting Israeli soldiers. I had inadvertently worn a blue and white-checkered headdress, which I had purchased from a street vendor. I did not realize, until told so by my Palestinian tour guide, that wearing the colors of an Arab in this national shrine of Israel, was considered an offense. This place is after all, a symbol of Israel’s survival and resistance to aggression. Never again, they swear, will Masada fall. Despite my cultural ignorance and ineptitude, the Lord protected me, a humble pilgrim on my journey. I met so many people, experienced many adventures, saw many sights worth seeing. We shared many wonderful moments with friends and family, which I will not recount for you here.

No, I will not bore you with a travelogue of my journey. I will let you make your own journeys. I would like, however, to tell you of an incredible event that I experienced there in that land. I would like to tell you of the time that I felt the Lord’s touch, first in a garden, and later again on a mountain.

Of all the holy sites that we were shown, all of the gilded shrines and altars, all of the dimly lit, incense laden churches, containing the bones of dead saints… of all of these places, the only place where I truly felt the presence of God, was at a place called The Garden Tomb. Gordon’s Calvary, as it is also known, is named for a British General, Charles Gordon, who made a great contribution to the world, through his campaigns in China, and in Sudan. He freed many from tyranny and slavery during his service to the British crown. He finally gave his life in that service, and for that cause. How appropriate it is, in my mind, that this place was “discovered” by him, and bears his name.

Great controversy surrounds the sites, purported to be the places where events in the life of Jesus occurred. None is more controversial than the much-disputed location of his crucifixion and burial. Some say that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the one true holy site. Some say that it occurred on the Mount of Olives, others say it is here, at Gordon’s Calvary. It is not important to me, whether or not this is the place where they laid Jesus after his death; after all, he only stayed for three days. No, this place is important to me for a different reason. It is the place where I felt God’s touch.

We arrived there on a tour bus, as do thousands of pilgrims every year. We were escorted into the garden, and shown the tomb hewn from the rock. We viewed the promontory rock face on the hillside, eerily shaped like the face of a skull, and we remembered the Gospels description of Golgotha, “the place of the skull”.
The grounds of this place are beautifully maintained. It is a peaceful oasis, amidst the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem, lying just Northwest of the Damascus Gate. Arrangements had been made for our tour group to hold a private communion service, so we were escorted to a secluded area of the garden grounds.

As I sat and listened to scriptures being read, and the prayers of the elders, I reflected upon the beauty of this place. Suddenly, the world around me dimmed, as I heard the song of a single bird, joyously trilling his beautiful melody towards heaven. I can’t explain to you why this seemingly inconsequential event struck me with such force. I can only describe to you its effect on me. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stiffen, and goose bumps rising on my skin. My heart fluttered, and thumped in my chest. I knew, as surely as if I had been struck by lightning, that God was there with me. It was as if he had spoken my name aloud. I glanced around at the others. No one else had noticed. No one else had heard it. I was alone in the moment.

Now I am not a seeker of signs. I seek my God through prayer, and his counsel from his Word. Neither am I a person who believes much in the supernatural. I consider myself to be a fairly level headed, rational person. But I will tell you this. I felt God with me there in that garden. He made his presence known to me there. He spoke to me, with the song of that little bird.

I know what you are thinking. That’s sounds pretty fuzzy doesn’t it, maybe even a little nutty? Certainly, it would be difficult to prove such an event with hard, empirical evidence in a court of law.

“Mr. Smith, could you describe for the court, how you were able to identify this presence that you felt? How can you be so sure that it was God? Isn’t it possible, Mr. Smith, that what you actually experienced was a random series of events, which you construed to be of a spiritual nature, given your heightened emotional state? Isn’t it much more likely that it was a mere coincidence that caused that bird to begin singing at that moment? In fact, Mr. Smith isn’t it possible that it wasn’t really a bird singing at all? Isn’t it possible that you were listening to a soundtrack, which was being broadcast through hidden speakers, to enhance the spiritual mood at this so called, Garden Tomb attraction, which you were attending?”

It would be very difficult to prove indeed, but the story doesn’t end there.

We bid farewell to Israel and traveled to Europe, where our journey eventually culminated, high in the Bavarian Alps, at a village named Oberammergau. We were there to attend their world famous passion play. This play has occurred every ten years, with very few interruptions, since the 14th century.

During the terrible Black Plague, which swept through Europe killing many millions of people, the townsfolk of this village called an urgent meeting. At this meeting they prayed to God to save them. They prayed that if he would spare their tiny village of this dread malady, they would commemorate the life, death, and resurrection of his son, with a passion play. According to the legend, not a single man, woman, or child from the village was lost to the plague. It was truly a Passover for the people of Oberammergau. The people of this village were spared by God, and in grateful obedience, they kept their promise. So began the tradition of the Passion Play of Oberammergau. The play is produced once, every ten years. It is produced completely, and exclusively by the residents of this village. It is a great honor to be selected for the cast of this production, and cast members spend years in preparation for their portrayal of their character.

An impressive theater has been constructed for this enterprise, surrounded by the natural wonder and beauty of the mountains. The amphitheater is covered by a roof, except for the stage, which is in the open air.

The play portrays the life of Christ, through several acts, each ending in a vignette, a living portrait. Each vignette creates a living picture, as if painted by a great master, depicting some Bible scene.

Dialogue for the passion play is in German, but is easily followed by reading from a printed version, in English, French, or Italian. This is truly an international event.

The day of the play arrived, bleak, damp, and gray. Clouds shrouded the mountains surrounding this nestled village. I considered staying in my room. I was suffering greatly from traveler’s misery. The cuisine from our last tour stop in Greece had done me in. It was probably the mousaka, or maybe it was the ouzo. Anyway, I wasn’t feeling very much like sitting through a six-hour play. My mother insisted that I go, and she pulled from her magic bag, a small bottle of pills. She told me to take one, and my trotting would cease. I looked at the tiny yellow pill in the palm of my hand. I thought to myself, “I’m a pretty big guy. I’d better take two.” Well, let me tell you, I didn’t need to worry about that function for a while. In fact, I didn’t need to worry about indoor plumbing for the rest of the trip!

The play was all that it was suppose to be, and more. It was truly a captivating experience. Even though it was many hours long, I found myself lost in time, as I was drawn into the story that was portrayed, so dramatically, with such pageantry, and surrounded by a setting of such natural beauty.

Finally, the scene of the crucifixion was portrayed. Jesus, hanging upon the cross, issued his cry of anguish, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” There was not a sound to be heard in the amphitheater. At that moment, a shaft of pale sunlight broke through the clouds, and was cast upon the stage. That’s when I heard it. That same songbird that I had heard at the Garden Tomb, I heard it again! It was the same song. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck becoming stiff, and the goose bumps on my arms rising, just like in the garden. I had felt his touch again, just like in the garden. How could I hear the same bird now, thousands of miles away?

Now I don’t know much about birds. I am not familiar with the migration patterns of songbirds. Could a certain songbird migrate from the deserts of Israel to the Bavarian Alps in a matter of days? I suppose it’s possible, but not likely. Maybe it was a coincidence, but I don’t think so. No, I believe that God wanted me to know that he was there with me. I like to think that he was honoring my journey, my pilgrimage, by reaching out to me, and caressing me. Only God knows why he reached out to me. Only God knows why he sent this little bird on an errand, first to a desert garden, and then into a mountain valley to carry a message to me, gently whispering, through the song of this little bird. I don’t know why, but I thank him for it.

I don’t know why he sent his only son into the world on his errand of tender mercy. But he did. Neither do I know why he loves me, especially me. But he does, I know that he does. I will accept his will in this matter, and in all other matters.

I believe that God is with us always, but hidden from us. Sometimes, I think he slips down, close by, and whispers to us, very softly, like a father would steal a precious moment with his sleeping child, brushing a wisp of hair away from the face, lightly caressing the cheek, before slipping silently away in the darkness, leaving behind only his fragrance. I believe that my Father caressed my cheek that day in the garden, and on the mountain.

I believe that God sends us messages, according to his will, and in his own way. Don’t be surprised if God caresses your cheek with his gentle touch some day. Listen for him, watch for him. His touch is gentle, his fragrance sweet. I will also listen for his call, and wait for his touch, but whether in the garden, or on the mountain, I will never hear a songbird in the same way.


I later learned from my mother, that she also heard the songbird in the garden, and on the mountain. She recognized the significance of this event, and concluded as I have, that it was a gift from God, for a mother and her child.

So I dedicate this story to my mother, who heard the songbird, and who taught me how to listen, not just with my ears, but also with my heart.



                                                                                                M. J. Smith

                                                                                                March 14, 2005

The Songbird


I sat alone in a garden,

On a misty morning of glistening dew.

Not a breath of wind stirred,

Not a voice was heard,

The world was silent, subdued.

Suddenly the stillness was broken,

By a joyful, melodious song!

A songbird was singing his greeting,

To the world, and the sky, and the dawn.


A question I bore, along with my wonder.

To whom does the songbird sing?

If my hearing, per chance did not hear him,

To whose ear would this joy, he bring?

If he were to sing, with no one near him,

Then whom would this song be for?


Who listens to this minstrel,

As he beckons to the empty wood?

Is this needless beauty wasted?

Or is there some purpose, some good,

Which drives this feathered messenger,

To deliver his greeting each morn.

What master does he serve?

As his clarion call is born.


He is heedless of the acts of men.

Proclaiming his message above the din.

Only for the moment halting his song,

Persistent, continuing after the throng,

Has died, and all again is silent.

Then  begins his solo anew.

To whom is this glory directed?

If not to God, then who?


It is God for whom the bird sings.

No audience of man required.

But he shares this wonder with us,

That we might be inspired.


So thank God for the little songbird,

Who each day does his duty,

Thank God for His creation,

Filled with such delicate beauty.

                                                            MJS 3/10/05



Thursday, May 1, 2014

Chocolate Gravy

My Life Group (Chandler Christian Church) has just finished up a 12 week bible study on the book of Acts. The series was titled, "Unleashed - Acts That Changed The World". The theme  of being unleashed for Christ was taken from Acts 8:4, "Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went". We learned how important it is to share our story with others.... our stories of God's power in our lives; and how important it is to share The Story... the story of Christ and his death, burial and resurrection. We practiced these principles by sharing our own stories with one another in our Life Group. I shared this story (Chocolate Gravy). It is not a story that I have told to many others, but I am going to put my money where my mouth is in being unleashed for Christ, and share it with the world. So here it is.


Have you ever eaten chocolate gravy? Maybe you have never even heard of chocolate gravy, much less tasted it! I hadn’t either before I married my wife. Her family is from Texas and Oklahoma. Apparently, chocolate gravy is a peculiar regional delicacy, known only to that part of the country. Chocolate gravy is served warm, over biscuits, with a pat of butter on top. It’s really a thin chocolate pudding, but because it is traditionally served on biscuits, it is called chocolate gravy. Whenever my wife’s aunt Carol came to visit, she would always make chocolate gravy for the whole family. I can still see Carol and Dean (Donna’s mom, Claudean), fussing in the kitchen, while Donna’s dad sits at the counter, giving them all kinds of unwanted advice, the kids waiting patiently in the other room for the feast to begin. If Donna’s grandmother (Mrs. Owen) made the biscuits, they were a treat all by themselves. If you have never had the opportunity to enjoy chocolate gravy and biscuits, my advice to you is to find some sweet elderly lady from Texas or Oklahoma, and ask her please, if she would make you some. You will be richly rewarded with this ultimate comfort food.

My childhood, while not overly privileged, or uncommon, was nonetheless quite idyllic. I never really wanted for anything, and in so many respects, I suffered none of the misfortunes of my friends, such as broken homes from divorce, domestic violence, or discord. But as I grew into manhood, my expectations for happiness in my life began to wane. I despaired that I would not measure up to expectations, both my own, and those of my family. By the time that I was in my mid twenties, I also began to doubt whether God was very concerned about me, or that perhaps he wasn’t there at all. I never enjoyed dating very much. I liked girls well enough, but I didn’t enjoy the games and charades involved in dating. I also began to think that I would probably never find someone to love and someone to love me back.

My grandmother died in August of 1981. She was the first loved one that I lost to the enemy… death. It was a difficult time for me. I had failed repeatedly in college, my own fault, and no one else’s. I had worked in a series of unfulfilling jobs, and I didn’t see my prospects being very bright for the future. I had a real maturity problem, and was mired in a serious pity party. What I am describing is a failure of my faith. I had begun to deny every lesson that I had been taught in Sunday school, about trusting God, and believing that he knows our needs, and is faithful to provide for us. I suffered this failure of faith alone, and in silence. I still went to church. I still sang the hymns, and helped out when asked to serve in any way. In fact, I had been appointed as a deacon. Here I was, appointed to serve the church, and to minister to the needs of the flock, and my faith was drying up inside of me like a cornhusk. I realize now that there are many in the church like I was then. Sitting in church, mouthing the words of prayers and hymns of praise, while inside, their souls are a barren wasteland, a desert of spiritual desolation. How easy it is for us to hide our spiritual poverty from one another, but not from God. He is there. We can’t see him. He has not allowed us to. But he is there. I know. I know he is there, because he answered my desperate prayer.

I sat in my bedroom one night, and I handled an old .38 revolver, and I wondered if I would not be better off just being dead.  Finally, I did the thing that I should have done all along, the thing that I knew that I should do, but because of pride, and spiritual immaturity, the one thing that I had failed to do. I got down on my knees beside my bed, like I use to do each night when I was a little child, and I prayed. I prayed like a child prays, with simple urgency. I asked God to help me. I prayed for him to find a place for me in this world. I prayed for him to send someone to help me find my place in what had up to now, been a very lonely place.

A month later, my whole world changed. I met the girl who is now my wife.  I knew the moment that I met her that she was the girl that I had been waiting for. I knew it as sure as I knew that the sun would come up again the next morning. I knew that God had sent her to find me, and to love me, and to save me. She stood there in front of me, a young beautiful woman, looking back at me with a rather doubtful expression. It was a strange moment. I knew, but she didn’t. I’m pretty sure that she didn’t know about God’s plans, or mine. It took a few days of desperate courting, and charming, and cajoling, for her to warm up to me, but I was sure of it from the start. I was looking at the angel that God had given to me. I was willing to do whatever was necessary to bring God’s plan, and mine, to fruition. I have often asked her if it was love at first sight for her. She answers with a good-natured deference, but I know the truth. I had to win her. God might have brought us together, but it was still up to me to win her, and win her I did. For me there was no doubt. I saw my future as clearly as a person sees a vast and distant vista after he climbs to the top of a mountain and gazes into the lands beyond. All I had to do was go forth into this new land and plant my flag, and claim it for my own, like Joshua and the children of Israel headed for the Promised Land.

I have learned to trust God finally. I have learned to wait on him. I have been tempered and tried, and refined by fire and water, hot and cold, agony and ecstasy. Some might argue about the refined part, but the process continues. I am changed, made and re-made into what God would have me be, or at least, what I have allowed him to make of me. Imagine what we could be if we could just yield to his will completely in our lives! Our resistance to his will is the only limiting factor in our lives. I still resist. I still stumble and fall along the way. I still get impatient, and mad, when I don’t get my way, like an impetuous child. But I will never deny my God again. I will never turn away from him again, and I know that he will never turn away from me.

I never expected to have as much joy and happiness as God has given to me. I didn’t expect it, because I failed to trust him. He has surprised and amazed me with the abundance of his generosity. We should not be surprised when God answers our prayers. We should not be surprised when he keeps his promises. But we are. We ask for a little, and he blows us away, with abundance, and joy, and wealth beyond measure. He heaps it upon us, “My Cup Runneth Over”. Imagine what we would receive if we asked for a lot! (Mark 11:23, Matthew 7:7-8)

If I die tomorrow, I have lived richer, and have received blessings ten times more than I could ever have imagined. Every day that I awake, and greet another day is like being in the bonus round. Paul said, “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21). Someday, I am sure that I will be ready to give up this body, and this life, and gain what awaits me in heaven, but for now, every day is like chocolate gravy, sweet and rich, an unexpected delight. And despite the burdens and trials that I face in this world, I’m ready for another helping every day. Life is an indescribable delight, a rare delicacy. Don’t despair, just Trust God and taste it. Life is good. God makes it so.

I hope that there is a kitchen in heaven. I can’t imagine a home without a kitchen. I hope Aunt Carol, and Dean are stirring a pan of chocolate gravy for me when I get there. I hope they let Mrs. Owen make the biscuits. There won’t be any heart disease in heaven.  Pass the butter!