Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Christmas Glories

I've been going through my dad's old files lately. It's hard to believe that it's been nearly a year since his passing. I ran across this article of his, which was published in the December 1965 edition of "The Stetho Scoop", newsletter for Mesa Lutheran Hospital (now closed). I was touched by the elegance of my father's words, and was also amazed at how well these sentiments still translate to our world today. In 1965 the world was war torn and sin torn and rife with every form of hatred and violence... political, ethnic, and religious. Fast forward to 2015 and nothing much has changed, the same strife, just different names and entities. But this war torn, sin torn, fallen world will one day be altogether changed. It will be wiped clean, and made new.

Christmas reminds us that one thing will never change. God doesn't change. His faithfulness is changeless. His Glory is everlasting. Our hope is real and our reward is sure. The victory is already won. Praise God for the coming of His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

I wonder what the "Christmas Glories" look like in heaven, something more than tinsel and glitter and five watt bulbs, I'll bet. Merry Christmas dad.

An old colored gentleman who shines shoes remarked the other day that the workmen around the shopping center were putting up the Christmas "glories." It was a striking word to use for the tinsel and the glitter of the yuletide decorations, reflecting the sensitivity and perception of his race. It is fascinating in a country so surfeited with the application of cardboard and color as is ours that the use of tinfoil and five watt lamps can with justice be associated with the word glory. But it is so! There is a halo of glory surrounding Christmas that illumines even little pine trees and dime-store decorations.
Several times this fall the urge has come to send Christmas cards to treasured non-Christian friends in far-away lands. It is acutely painful to realize that they would appreciate the greeting, but they could not share the glory. Over-commercialized though it may be, the glory of Christmas shines in the eyes of little children and the hearts of the aged. It is reflected from Bethlehem's star. It comes from the Christ-child in His manger-crib. it is mediated by the Spirit of God.
Half the world will fear the other half this Christmas night. They have no Christmas glories. They have dipped the stars in blood.
But Bethlehem's star is beyond their reach, and they cannot jam the angels' song: "Glory to God in the highest, and peace and good will to men." Christmas will always have its glories. They live in the hearts of men. They come from the heart of God.
                                                                                                                 Joe C. Smith

Friday, June 26, 2015

Eyes To The Sky

Do you long for His appearing?The Apostle Paul did. He was nearly used up by the time he writes to Timothy from Roman prison. He was looking for the coming of the Lord's Day, or union with Christ immediately after his own death, whichever came first (2 Timothy 4:8). For Paul we know that it was the latter. He will be among the dead who will be resurrected on that glorious day. But for some, there will be no death. There will be the sound of trumpets and the shouts of angels and the glorious and terrible sight of the coming of the Lord. Eyes to the skies brothers and sisters. Look for Him! The bible describes that day very well. You can read about it yourself. I would advise that you do so ( Daniel 7:13, Matthew 24:30, 26:64, Mark 13:26, 14:62, 1 Corinthians 15:52, 1 Thessalonians 4:17, Revelation 1;17). As for me, the older I get the more that I long for His appearing.

One more sunrise,
One more moon,
One more morning,
One more noon,
One more song,
One more tune,
I sure hope He gets here soon.
One more hope,
One more fear,
One more river,
One more tear
One more waking,
One more wait,
One more struggle with love or hate.
One more longing,
One more pain,
One more loss,
One more gain.
One more whisper,
One more wink,
One more meal,
One more drink.
One more hug,
One more kiss,
One more thought for those we miss.
One more day,
One more living,
One more prayer of praise and thanksgiving.
One more mile,
One more wave,
One more smile,
One more face.
One more victory,
Once more His strength,
One more failure,
Once more His grace.
One more sunrise,
One more moon,
One more morning,
One more noon,
One more song,
One more tune,
I sure hope He gets here soon.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Patterns To Follow

Making Friends

I’ve been thinking about examples in my life. Specifically, I have been thinking about my grand father and my father and how and why they built relationships with people. I see a pattern in their lives and I think I know the origins of that pattern.

Let’s start with my grandfather.  My grandfather was Jack Smith. We called him Jackie… we always called him Jackie. I don’t really know why. The grandkids named him that, the name stuck and eventually, many of his friends and family also called him that. Jackie didn’t know any strangers. If you had any dealings with him, or if you got anywhere near him for any length of time, if chance brought you together with him, even under the most peculiar or unlikely circumstances, chances are you became his friend, possibly a confidant, probably a good friend, and in many cases, your life was altered forever after for the better. I know that sounds like hyperbole, but believe me it’s not. Let me tell you a story as an example of this phenomenon. Jackie was a highway patrolman, among many other endeavors. In fact, he was one of the original fourteen Arizona highway patrolmen. They worked alone much of the time, since there was only one assigned to each county. They patrolled the state highways, providing law enforcement and assistance to the public. One day, as Jackie sat in his patrol car along side a highway, along came a motorist in a big shiny convertible. The driver was alone in the car and he was speeding. He wasn’t just speeding a little; he was driving dangerously fast, like the proverbial bat outa hell! Jackie pulled out behind him and accelerated and in a mile or two he turned on his lights, signaling the motorist to pull over. Well, the immediate reaction from the guy was to push the pedal to the floor and go even faster. Now my grandfather was a cool head. He had as cool a head as anybody that I have ever known. He stayed with the runaway, pacing him and after a car chase lasting for some miles, Jackie found a straight stretch of road and maneuvered his police cruiser in front of the rogue motorist and managed to head him to the side of the road. He approached the driver on foot, and when he got a few feet away, he just stood there and stared the man down with a very disgusted look on his face. You would have had to have known my grandfather, and have been the recipient of the gaze of those steely, pale blue eyes to really appreciate the effect. After a few moments, he walked around to the passenger side, opened the door and got in, and began to lecture the driver on traffic laws and the need for abiding by said laws for his own safety, as well as the safety of others with whom he shared the highway. After a while, the lecture ended, but the talk continued and they talked about their lives and many other things. He spent two hours sitting in his car, first lecturing and then counselling this man. When the time ended, Jackie got in his patrol car and he drove away. He didn’t take the rogue driver into custody; he didn’t even write him a traffic ticket. He just left the man sitting there by the side of the road, pondering the events. How do I know all of this? Because that man spent the rest of his life telling that story to people, including my own family members. The man’s name was Frank Bentley. Ironically, he owned an insurance agency, and sold home, life and auto insurance. Not only did he become my grandfather’s insurance agent, he became his life long friend. His life was certainly changed that day. Not only did he not die from a car wreck on that highway, as a result of his agitated emotional state, neither did he become a convicted felon for public endangerment, resisting arrest, or worse yet manslaughter, had he killed someone else on that road. Instead, he received much needed counsel and advice from a man who would become his mentor for the rest of his life. That was quite a turn of events for him. How would you have handled that situation? How would I? Probably not the way that Jackie did. But then, we’re not Jackie. There was only one Jackie.

My grandfather had just one child, my father, Joe Carson Smith. So is it surprising that he studied this gift of relationship and friendship building that his father displayed in his life? I know he did. He talked about it frequently, and he used these stories to teach his own children life lessons about relationships and friendship.

 My father applied this model in his own relationship building, as a part of his ministry and life, which were really a single integrated entity. His ministry was his life and his life was ministry. No compartments… another tough act to follow, at least for me. Most people know of my father as a biblical scholar, or a preacher and teacher of some note, or maybe just as a name within the brotherhood, usually synonymous with rabble-rouser or some other pejorative term. What many don’t know about my father is how much of his time was spent in relationships with people, all kinds of people. To say that his office door was always open is not a cliché, but is the actual truth and the norm. He literally never closed his door, unless he was counseling someone. If he was in his office, his door was  open. If someone wandered in, whoever that someone might be, my father stopped whatever he was doing and focused his full and complete attention on that person. I can’t tell you how many people have told me stories about my dad spending time with them in his office, discussing whatever was on their mind, for as long as they wished to stay and talk to him. This applied as much to the janitor as to a church member, or even to me, his youngest son, who wandered in and sat down and wanted to talk to his dad about something. He was never too busy for people. He recognized the importance of listening to and building trust with the people with whom God brought him into contact. He understood the priority of relationships and friendships with his flock, and as far as my dad was concerned, pretty much everybody was a member of his flock. He was, first and foremost, a shepherd. Don’t get me wrong. He was a notable theologian and was by many accounts an excellent college professor and I know he was a good teacher, because I learned much under his tutelage and instruction. He was also an excellent preacher. But if you spent some time with him and closely observed his day to day work in ministry, you would realize that what he did first and foremost was shepherd his people and encourage them and counsel them and be a friend to them. That’s what he considered the highest priority in his ministry. He didn’t just sit around in his office and wait for people to walk in though. He was out in the highways and hedges constantly, visiting people in hospitals, nursing homes, jails, you name it, stopping by their homes to check on shut-ins, taking communion to many, many countless saints who couldn’t come to the table on the Lord’s Day. I followed him around often, first just as a preacher’s kid, then as a deacon. When I became an elder and began the work of a shepherd myself, I would go to see folks, and wherever I went, I would hear the same thing. “Oh Mike, good to see you, your dad was here earlier”. As hard as I tried, I could never get ahead of him when it came to calling on his people, until the day that he retired. Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Well he was getting paid to call on people after all. It was just part of his job as a paid minister”. Well that’s true. He was getting paid, at least most of the time. Unless the church was having trouble meeting the weekly budget, then his paycheck was the first budget item to get deferred. He didn’t do it for the money. He did it because he loved God and His people. He would still have done it, even if he had taken all of his education and gone to some university and made a whole lot more money amidst the ivory towers of academia.

We hear the word, “intentional” a lot these days, within the context of evangelism and discipleship, along with being “missional”. Sometimes those terms bother me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for seeking and reaching the lost. I’m also dedicated to making disciples of Christ. The Lord has commanded us to do both things, after all (Matt. 28). What bothers me is the motive behind these terms (intentional & missional). I mean, insurance salesmen are “intentional” when they contact you to buy life insurance, but their motive is profit, not friendship. I got news for you; call girls are not looking for relationships. They are completely focused on their mission, which is your money. They are purely missional! Maybe purely is a poor choice of words. If our intent is to win people to Christ, then we must first begin by loving them, no strings, no motives, just love. That should be the intent. That should be the mission.

We need to build relationships with people and be friends to them because if we are there along side them, not as salesmen, but as friends, who just happen to be in Christ, then people will see Christ in us and we will then make them His disciples too. I think maybe, that’s what Christ meant about loving our neighbor. I think that’s what my grandfather and my father figured out. They followed the pattern of Jesus Christ, in his long walks with his disciples down those dusty roads of Galilee and Judea, person to person. The way to impact the world for Christ is one at a time, person to person, through hours and days and months and years of relationship building and friendship giving, until everybody that we know comes to Christ, because they see Him in us. It’s a lot more time consuming than going out and “doing evangelism”. It’s a lot less efficient, in terms of numbers, than utilizing emerging technologies and methodologies in missiology. It requires a high degree of personal investment and sometimes it gets messy, because people’s lives are messy. Sheep are stinky, so if you can’t stand the smell then don’t be a shepherd.

The world is full of people. There is no shortage. Most of them don’t have any relationship with Christ. Many of them don’t have any relationship with anyone who knows Christ. Some of them don’t have any friends or family. Let’s not pretend that there are no opportunities for us to make an impact, to make a difference in people’s lives. It doesn’t take any training. You don’t need to be an evangelist to bring people to Christ. You just need to be their friend. That’s how Jack Smith did it. You don’t need to be a biblical scholar to win people for the Lord. My father was both an evangelist and a biblical scholar, but he won more people for the Lord by friendship than he did any other way. He won them by showing them Christ. That was his intention. That was his mission. Along the way he made a whole lot of friends. That was the earthly reward for his 50+ years in ministry. He was a rich man.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Go Ahead and Cry!


I have a confession to make. I haven't cried much in the last couple of weeks. I guess that will shock many of you, since many are aware that my father passed from this life and went to be with the Lord on December 23rd. I'm feeling guilty about my lack of tears. I'm wondering what's wrong with me. Maybe I'm just sort of dried up and don't have any tears left. Lord knows I've shed my share of tears. In fact, I carry the crying gene that was passed down to me from my father. We Smiths are famous for crying! So why can't I cry now?
I have felt the prayers of so many friends and family in the past weeks. I appreciate those prayers so much. I need your help now... please pray for me... pray for me to cry. I realize that's a pretty strange prayer request, but it's what I need most of all right now, I think.
 I know what some of you are thinking. You're thinking, "Christians shouldn't cry about losing loved ones who are in Christ anyway. Why shed tears, when we know that our loved ones are with the Lord?" Well, I respectfully disagree. I wrote a piece about this very thing a few years ago. I still believe it, but now I need to live it. Thanks for your help on this. I'll get back to you.


Go Ahead And Cry

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