Monday, November 28, 2011

Make It Personal (Mr. Mellencamp)

When I’m not writing posts for Follow Illustrated, I write great marketing content for professionals.  One of the best ways I’ve promoted my own business is through my ebook, SPROUTS – marketing ideas you can put to work now.  (Go ahead, check it out!) Behind SPROUTS is the idea that most businesses have a significant network already built up around them that they can energize very easily – and often at a very low cost.  Similarly, through my 20 years in the ministry, I’ve seen that the most effective evangelism and “church growth” efforts are the organic, friend-to-friend kind.  It is a very rare thing for a person with no prior connections to just show up at church on a Sunday morning.  Most of the time, church visitors come with friends.  The same is true of faith in Jesus.  Occasionally, a pastor is effective enough that a listener will realize what the Holy Spirit has been saying to them, but far more often, people come to saving faith in Jesus because they have seen Him at work in other people’s lives.

I want to briefly share my first SPROUT with you, a personal story I call “the John Mellencamp Factor”.  I don’t particularly care for Mr. Mellencamp’s music.  As a singer, Mellencamp is immaterial to me.  But I always pay attention when one of his songs comes on the radio or he appears on TV. Always.  Why?  I just happen to personally know the craftsman who built a high-value custom kitchen for the Cougar.  Mellencamp is interesting to me because I know something about him that creates a connection between us – thin as it may be.  Let’s catch a word from our Sponsor about social connections and then wrap this up.
Philip went and found Nathanael and told him, "We've found the One Moses wrote of in the Law, the One preached by the prophets. It's Jesus, Joseph's son, the one from Nazareth!" Nathanael said, "Nazareth? You've got to be kidding."
But Philip said, "Come, see for yourself." (John 1:45-46)
Like all people, Christians are social animals.  Remember, God said “It is not good for the man to be alone”. (Genesis 2:18)  We are created to live in community with one another.  Although belief in Jesus is a deeply personal thing, Christianity is best when it is a shared experience.  Jesus called disciples to follow Him and those disciples (later called the apostles) personally shared their stories of life with Jesus, launching Christianity.  (That’s what the Gospels are all about.)  The story of your personal relationship with God is deeply meaningful to others.  Followers of Jesus look for opportunities to share their faith.

In our modern culture with mass electronic communication and more information than can ever be consumed, the personal experience is even more powerful than ever before – it’s like a light in the world-wide darkness.  I can illustrate this with Facebook.  I launched this blog in September 2011.  For a month and a half, I struggled to get even a handful of hits daily.  When I opened a profile on Facebook my hits grew, but were still small.  However, when someone reads my blog and “likes” it or shares a link to it on Facebook, the visitor count skyrockets.  Did the content change?  Not at all.  But the “Mellencamp Factor” kicked in.  I’m supposed to be a strong advocate for my blog, but when others speak positively about it, your friends really believe you.  What you care about matters to others.  I’d like to say that is genius marketing strategy, but it’s just simply the way God created us.

So what’s your story?  How has following Jesus made a difference in your life?  Others will care about Jesus (and follow Him) because YOU care about Jesus and follow Him.  Let’s light this Facebook candle!  Click the “F” logo below, share this link on Facebook, but most importantly, share your story today – write a few words (or many, like I do) and tell your friends what following Jesus means to you.  It will mean something to them because it is personal to you.

Clark H Smith

Friday, November 25, 2011

Today Only, 90% Off!!!!

Today is Rebecca Black Friday (see video).  Merchants across ‘Merica and all over the interpipes are “slashing” prices.  In reality, this is “truth in pricing” day – we see how much mark-up goes into the junk we buy the rest of the year.  When it comes to discounts, I don’t get out of bed for less than 20% off.  My snailmailbox gets flooded with offers of 10% and 15% off.  Why do they even bother?  I guess today we’ll see the stuff-we-can’t-live-without marked down as much as 50% and 60%.  Mr. Retailer, you’ve got my full attention.  More door-busting deals after this word from our Sponsor:
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  (Romans 5:8)
What would you do for 90% off?  Would you get up at 2am?  Would you skip the Thanksgiving feast altogether and tent it in front of Best Buy?  Hmmm?  What’s it worth to you?  You see where I’m going with this?

God asks followers of Jesus to “sacrifice” 10% of their income to Him.  Yes, the rest of our lives are to be dedicated to His service, but there’s no loss of use there.  Jesus on the other hand… He obeyed God and it cost Him 100%.  Jesus gave 100% of His life to God.  We give 10% and live at a 90% discount of what Jesus paid.  Let’s try to keep some perspective.  Sometimes followers of Jesus will talk about giving up one thing or another since they became followers.  Sometimes followers of Jesus will not indulge in certain foods or behaviors that others enjoy.  Sometimes followers of Jesus take entire parts of their lives (see this post and set them aside for the sake of following Jesus more closely.  Let’s not consider that a “loss”.  I’m going to be uncharacteristically blunt here… Jesus hung on a cross.  Don’t whine about what you’re “giving up”.  You’re living at a 90% discount.  Take it.  Take it all day long.  Our Sponsor is shouting, “But wait, there’s more!”:
I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done.  Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ. (Philippians 3:7-8)

Clark H Smith

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

“You’re Welcome”

that's me... in the middle
As previously mentioned,  I’ve been married to a spectacular lady, now for 28 years.  Over the summer I had the opportunity to do a good deal of work at her mother’s townhome.  I painted the finished basement, changed some light fixtures, and did quite a bit of carpentry work to add features that she wanted.  (Other sons-in-law helped out, too!)  During the course of my work she would say, “how can I thank you?”  I paused one day and said to her, “Please understand.  I am saying ‘thank you’ to you.  I’m saying thank you for allowing me to marry your daughter.  I’m saying thank you for bringing me into your family.  I’m saying thank you for being a wonderful mother-in-law and grandmother.  I’m the one saying THANK YOU.  You should just say ‘you’re welcome’.”

Saying “thank you” is a social courtesy.  Have you ever thought about what the response, “you’re welcome”, really means?  An acquaintance of mine who runs a fantastic etymology site describes a "welcome guest" as "one whose coming is in accord with another's will".  In other words, if I express my will and send you an invitation, when you arrive I will say “Welcome” – you have come at my will.  (Notice that German keeps the ‘i’ – willkommen). 

At Thanksgiving time, followers of Jesus celebrate living in this world by God’s grace.  We attribute the good things that come our way as blessings from God.  When blessings are short and troubles seem great, followers of Jesus cling to God for grace to endure our troubles.  Let’s get a word from our Sponsor:
Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6)
God extends an invitation to every human – “Believe in Me”.  When we come to God in faith, we are always “welcome”.  Saying “Thank You” to God means we accepted His invitation and recognize the benefit of coming to Him.  And what a benefit that is!  Another word from our Sponsor:
Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. (James 1:17)
me... on the, uh, left
Thanksgiving is a spectacular season.  In this harvest time, we celebrate the bounty of a blessed earth.  Thanksgiving tables brim with food, “just put the pies over there, there’s no more room here”.  Decorations in many homes in America will honor or reference the pilgrims who first came to this great land to pursue God with all their hearts.  Their survival, and our current freedoms, depended on coming well to God, in faith.  This Thanksgiving when you say grace over the bounty before you and the loving family and friends surrounding you, when you’ve said “Amen”, stop for a moment and listen.  Followers of Jesus will likely hear a spiritual reply, “You’re Welcome”.

Clark H Smith

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Greater Love

This post is going to make a lot of people uncomfortable because it emphasizes principle over practice – putting one’s beliefs ahead of one’s preferences.  

All human relationships require compromise because we are all unique.  Where to eat dinner out, what color to paint the house, how to spend our income… every person sees the world uniquely.  Allowing for differences of opinion and taste is necessary for harmony.  Today’s post deals with differences of opinion between humans and God.  Shall we allow compromise there as well?

Clark, Ethyl, brother Stony
Growing up in Fairbanks, Alaska, I was fortunate to know some spectacular people.  Two friends of the family were close enough that we called them Uncle Ted and Aunt Ethyl – the most wonderful people to ever tread this earth.  Uncle Ted, a US Marshall*, had his work cut out for him tracking down bad guys in “the Last Frontier”.  Aunt Ethyl was a saint, A SAINT!  Spending the first years of her teaching career in remote Bethel, her school bus was a dog sled and she drove it!  When she celebrated her 100th birthday, her impact was so great that grandchildren of students paid their respects.  But Uncle Ted and Aunt Ethyl were not married and not blood related.  They were just friends, connected by love and best friends for life, but Ethyl would not marry Ted.  To explain why, let’s start with a word from our Sponsor.
And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:9)
Aunt Ethyl was a spectacular person.  She played piano in church until her 100th birthday.  As a teacher, she breathed pure love into many a student’s heart.  She blessed, she encouraged, she inspired.  Pouring from her heart was the living water of the love of God.  In fact, she loved God more than she loved anything or anyone else – even Ted McRoberts.  Ted had been previously married and, though long divorced, Ethyl would not marry Ted because she felt scripture told her not to. 

How do you feel about that?  Do you think that you could deny yourself a relationship because scripture told you not to marry that person?  That’s a fair way of putting the question, but that is not how Ethyl saw it.  She simply saw her love for Jesus as greater than her love for Ted.  She was not going to compromise her relationship with God so she could have a relationship with a man.

Look at this another way.  16th century poet Richard Lovelace penned these words, “I could not love thee, dear, so much, loved I not honor more.”  The words were spoken by a man leaving his lover behind as he went off to war.  In essence he asked, “If I stay here with the one I love, I would be a coward and who would want to love a coward?”  Loving Jesus was more important to Ethyl than loving Ted.  I don’t know how Ted processed the whole thing, but I’m sure he asked himself many times, “would I prefer that Ethyl give up her devout love of Jesus to marry me?”

These are very difficult matters for Christians to resolve.  Our earth-bound minds have earth-bound desires.  Many times those desires conflict with what God's best for us.  Followers of Jesus feel this tension daily!  Followers of Jesus also know that compromising faith in the wisdom of God is never the way into deeper fellowship with Him.  Followers of Jesus, just like Jesus, Himself, daily choose   God’s wisdom over our earthly desires.  I count myself a fortunate man that I was able to watch Aunt Ethyl live her faith out in front of me.
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.  (Galatians 2:20)
Clark H Smith

Note: In this post I am NOT arguing what should be the Christian’s position on divorce and remarriage.  If you’re interested in that, visit my paper on the subject.  Today, I am talking about a person who chose her faith in God over human desire and, I believe, was richly blessed for it.
* I just finished reading this book.  It is exceptional.  Even if you never dreamt of living in the Great Land, Ted adventures will thrill you and his good-heartedness will inspire you.  Get yourself a used copy and love it!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

His Eye Is On The Sparrow

stolen w/o permission from Facebook*
I watch a lot of sports on TV and attend my share of live events at my son’s high school.  Injuries are inevitable in sport.  When I see a player get hurt, there is a scene that always flashes through my mind.  I was 7th grade toe-picker riding the pine while my schoolmates played real basketball out on the floor.  It was my first year in “organized” sports in Rising Star, Texas and I wasn’t any good so Coach Weldon Hill was right to use my weight to keep the bench from floating up into air.  In the midst of an away game in Gorman, Texas, my classmate and gifted athlete, Craig Campbell, jumped to catch a long, high pass coming to him at mid-court.  At the same time a ne’er-do-well Gorman Panther jumped to block the pass.  I’m not sure if either player even touched the ball, but their collective momentum created a spectacular crash.  Craig fell backwards onto the floor – his head leading the way.  To describe a short period of time we use hyperbole like “blink of an eye”.  Well, in exactly one half of a blink of an eye Weldon Hill was up off the bench and out on the floor, before Craig even felt the pain that was just about to shoot through his body.  Coach Hill’s reaction was so swift it was almost a “pre-action”.  I was stunned by his attentiveness and flight to action.  Those of us who still love Coach are not surprised.  Let’s catch a word from our Sponsor:
Not one sparrow (What do they cost? Two for a penny?) can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. (Matthew 10:29 TLB)
We’re earth-bound creatures and we tend to focus on what happens here on earth.  It is very difficult for us to comprehend what happens in heavenly places.  Because God does not walk among us, we rarely consider that He watches over us.  (Micro-illustration: Hunters can set up shooting stands in trees because deer never look up.)  Followers of Jesus embrace the promise of scripture that God cares for us enough to attend to our every step.  And we ask Him to not only watch our steps, but to guide them as well.

Weldon Hill was created in God’s image; he demonstrated as much that night in Gorman.  I assume that when Craig jumped up Coach calculated that the coming down part was going to be problematic.  To this day, when I see a sports injury in a game, I compare the response time of the medical staff to Weldon Hill’s pre-action.  In 41 years, no one has ever come close – NEVER.  For my hometown readers, this post will bring warm remembrance of a truly great man.  I'm a better man today because of the influence of Weldon Hill.  Even if you didn’t know him, I hope you’ve had the privilege of having a Weldon Hill in your life – someone who has your best interests at heart even when you didn’t know it.
"Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
In this and so many other wonderful ways, Weldon Hill let his light shine.

Clark H Smith

*if the Hill family wishes, I will remove this image
PS - If you know the power of a good man's influence, would you click the "f" Facebook icon below and share this story?  I think you'll be doing others some good.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Lamb Who Befriended Wolves

Those who live their faith and shine their light are not alone.  God is filling the world with believers and it is my frequent pleasure to connect with others.  In the last few weeks, the Follow Illustrated project has made some friends around the world.  Today, my new friend Julian from Adelaide, Australia is our guest author.  Julian grew up in a Christian home but never truly gave his heart to the Lord until his late twenties. Since that time, however, he has zealously sought the truth of God's Word, and has a real burden to share the knowledge of God with others. Julian has been blessed with the opportunity of preparing and leading a number of small group Bible studies over the years, and has been shining his light in this world through various internet platforms, including his "100 Answers in 100 Days" blog project.  Please check out and share 100 Answers.


A number of years ago now, my pastor forwarded me an email from a certain atheist gentleman who had written to him, expressing his offense over certain Christian teachings. As I read the email, I really felt as though this was written not by someone who didn’t believe in God at all, but rather by someone who believed in God and hated Him. What I read, as this man cursed the “inhumanity of God”, was the writing of a man who simply didn’t understand both the justice of God and the abounding love and mercy of God. I felt compassion for hm, and wished that I could answer him. But not by email - the man had not written to me, after all. However, the email mentioned that he was a member of a certain atheist organization, and a frequent contributor to their online forum. And so began the idea to visit that forum and share my faith with whoever would care to listen.

When this happened I had been a Christian for just two years. As much as I wanted to visit that forum, there was much trepidation to overcome. Who was I to speak to an organization of atheists!? Surely I didn’t know my Bible well enough for that. To me, this was only something that the “Lane Craig’s” of the world do. But as I thought about what I would say in my introductory post, I felt confident that it would at least speak to anyone who thought as that fellow who wrote to us did. And so I took a step out in faith. I logged into the forum ready to speak with people who I expected would be hostile towards me, and I was prepared never to answer back spitefully. And I went not as someone who had all the answers, but as someone who trusted that God did, and that He would help me.

When I posted my introduction on the Justice and Mercy of God, I received something like twenty responses in the first hour. And so began a week-long conversation between myself and probably 15 or so men, (though none of them were the gentleman who had written to my pastor). Many of them mocked me, as expected, but I never spoke down to any of them. Yet others, I could tell, had genuine questions they were (perhaps secretly) desperate to have answered. And so I patiently answered them in turn; there were more questions than I could handle. Many of the questions had me completely stumped, but one thing I never did was copy and paste some Googled response. I would simply go away and think about it for a while; and then I would return with great joy as I shared what I still consider to be some very insightful answers to the problems they raised. God was at work - He had the answers, and I was learning as much that week as many of these guys were!

During that week, some of those guys’ comments brought tears to my eyes as I could see their struggles against God being broken down. I left there well respected by most of them. We hear of “militant atheism” and many of these guys would have fallen into that category. My own pastor had advised me not to go there lest I become the target of persecution! I find that so tragic. But the Lord gave me so much love for them that it overcame my fear of them, and as I reached out to them I realized that so many of them really do just want to understand. They are like “sheep without a shepherd”. And what I learned that week was that God could use even me, a two year old Christian, to be that shepherd.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." (Matthew 9:36-38)

Julian at 100 Answers 

I, Clark, encourage you to subscribe to the 100 Answers blog 
and follow on Twitter at @100AnswersBlog.

Friday, November 11, 2011

No Punching Bag

I recently received a very puzzling “Friend Request” on my Facebook account for Folllow Illustrated.  The request came in from a woman who had dogged my steps at a church for six years.  She was indefatigable in her gossip and under-mining me throughout the course of my ministry.  In a weird way, I was impressed by her unswerving persistence to her mission – it was just a lousy mission.  And don’t think I imagined my persecution by this woman.  A member of the church board took my wife and I to lunch to apologize for our treatment.  A high school classmate of this woman called me one day to explain how thirty years earlier in high school this woman had gone about destroying people who competed against her for class office and school prominence.  I was relieved to be informed of all this.  I often say, “Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me.”

Overall, I was quite confused by this woman’s relentless antagonism.  Her daughter once wrote a school paper about “the most influential person in my life” – I was the subject of that paper.  The woman once stood in the doorway of my office plaintively inquiring of me, “How can I get my husband to be more involved in the spiritual development of our kids?”  Hmmmm.  By the way, her husband was an elected member of the church board.  I’m about to gag, let’s get a word from our Sponsor: 
With [our tongues] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.  (James 3:9-10)
Over the course of my church involvement, I’ve been a Sunday school teacher, a deacon, and elder, an associate pastor, supposedly a co-lead pastor, and a senior pastor.  Church leaders (at all levels) beg people to consider the claims of the Gospel and to become engaged in “the life of the church”.  Time after time, I’ve seen non-believers and new Christians get involved in the church only to be scalded by the contempt, back-biting-gossip, character assassination, and down-right unholy mean-spiritedness that goes on every Sunday morning in America’s “houses of worship”.  I don’t blame anyone for running from the church as if it were on fire… in many cases it is.  Even Jesus, our Sponsor, agreed with getting some distance from unsavory characters:
“As you enter the house, give it your greeting.  If the house is worthy, give it your blessing of peace. But if it is not worthy, take back your blessing of peace.  Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet.  Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.”  (Matthew 10:12-15)
Jesus personally knew what it was like to be despised (see Isaiah 53:3).  He suffered rejection from the beginning of His life to the very bitter end (see Matthew 27:41-44).  I’m NOT comparing myself to Jesus in any way.  AND I am following the admonition of Jesus to the frail humans he sent out to ministry on earth.  Many times, I’ve entered a “house that does not receive me” as in this present case.  When that happens, I try to follow the words of Jesus and “shake the dust off [my] feet”.  So I replied to Mrs. Smiling-In-Your-Face-While-Stabbing-You-In-The-Back as follows (unedited except for the name of the church):
“I received an email saying that you wanted to be Facebook friends with FollowIllustrated Clark Smith.  I don't know what you are searching for, but you will not find it here.  You are one of the most evil people I have ever met.  I had to resign my employment at [such-and-such church] specifically because of YOU.  You ruined my life and my career.  Now you are stalking me on Facebook.  Go away.  Go far away.  Go to the remotest point you can think of.  Leave. Me. Alone.”
Jesus promised a destiny worse than what was visited upon Sodom and Gomorrah for those who reject ones who come with His blessing.  I don’t know what this snippy little haus frau deserves – that’s not up to me to decide.  I do know that you can pretend to keep all the commandments you want, but if you can’t keep your tongue in check… well, for the sake of your beneficiaries you should consider if your life insurance has a “Sodom and Gomorrah” clause in it.

For those of us desirous truly following Jesus daily and not just singing in the choir on Sunday, I want to give you peace.  You are not required to be a punching bag for people with unresolved personal issues   Followers of Jesus are commanded to “Go!”.  We are not commanded to “Stay”.  Sometimes the leaving is not on your own terms, but it is always healthiest to find the place where your blessing is received.  Let me know if I can pray for you and your need to leave a bad situation.  I will happily do so.  I’ve been there.

Clark H Smith 

Bonus Post – Veteran’s Day

I've never served in the American Armed Forces.  Therefore, my debt of thanks is even greater to all of you who did.  Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken tells a spectacular story of survival, unflinching resolve, and ultimately, love and forgiveness. 
On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood.  Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared.  It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane’s bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard.  So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War.
The lieutenant’s name was Louis Zamperini.  In boyhood, he’d been a cunning and incorrigible delinquent, breaking into houses, brawling, and fleeing his home to ride the rails.  As a teenager, he had channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics and within sight of the four-minute mile.  But when war had come, the athlete had become an airman, embarking on a journey that led to his doomed flight, a tiny raft, and a drift into the unknown.
Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, a foundering raft, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater.  Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion.  His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will.
…an unforgettable story of a man’s journey into extremity, Unbroken is a testament to the resilience of the human mind, body, and spirit.

My wonderful mother-in-law gave me a copy of this book.  It is a spell-binding page-turner; I could hardly put it down.  It brought me to tears and it gave me goosebumps.  The story in itself is spectacular – what Louie Zamperini endured (and forgave) is virtually incomprehensible.  Since the moment I began reading, I have come to see veterans in a completely different way.  All Americans owe all those who’ve served in the Armed Forces a deep debt of gratitude.  Let us remember them in our hearts and prayers for 364 more days after today.

And the whole world owes America a great thanks!  When you read this book, pay careful attention to how we treated the Japanese who had brutalized our servicemen for years.  “Do unto others…”

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Ripped from Today’s Headlines #1

I once worked on a church staff for a senior pastor who refused to cut out a cancer in his administrative staff.  Seeing a storm brewing I left the church for a different pastorate (which was tragic in its own right).  Unaddressed, the cancer cost this good pastor one third of his congregation at what should have been his zenith in ministry.  A year after the damage was done, this old pastor mumbled to me, “I should have fired [that person] a long time ago.”  Faint consolation to me or to the many hundreds of parishioners impacted by the fracas.  The big guy had made it clear to me that he was running the ship and things were going to go down the way he dictated.  Down they went, but hardly on his terms.

Today, my TV is drenched in coverage of the abominable situation at Penn State.  I love JoePa.  I’m no fan of Penn State football, but I truly admire and revere any coach who lasts 61 years anywhere and there is not one discouraging word to be said about him.  Until now.  The allegations are that JoePa was not forceful enough in dealing with a pederast on his staff.  Joe Paterno is done at Penn State.  I don’t know nuthin about what Joe did or didn’t do and certainly not why.  I can’t help but wonder if JoePa wasn’t a lot like my former senior pastor – paralyzed with hope that some pleasant solution would work itself out.  Folks, it NEVER DOES.

Some people (understandably) think God and His Son, Jesus, are tie-dyed peacenik Love Gurus; that everything they do is anchored solely in Love.  That’s what John 3:16 is all about, right?  Or how about this word from our Sponsor:
“…God is love…”  (1 John 4:16)
I believe that 100%.  I also believe these words from our Sponsor:
…“Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts”… (Isaiah 6:3)
In His Love, God does not see our faults.  In his holiness, God is bound by His character to punish our sins.  This dichotomy is extremely difficult for mortals to understand.  God has a great challenge of balancing His attributes of Love and Holiness.  He cannot prefer one attribute over another.  He cannot ignore our sins and, yet, He cannot fail to view us with compassion.  People like to point to Jesus’ great love for us and are correct in doing so.  But did He not also love those moneychangers whom He drove out of the Temple with a whip which He braided Himself?  We miss out on the full, true character of God if we look the other way when we see something that makes us uncomfortable.  (Here’s a video of a good sermon I delivered on God’s need to balance His attributes.)

I ache for the situation JoePa is in.  I also ache for his situation the day that he first heard of the problem within his staff.  Personally, I think he should have braided a whip and beat the sodomizer half to death… or farther.  Joe has a track record of loving people longer than most of us have been alive.  I can only guess that he hoped a) that the allegations were not true, or b) that the problem would quickly and quietly go away.  I don’t know.  What I do know is that he did not act swiftly and that cancer has cost him his professional life.  I’ll ache for JoePa a year from now as he quietly mulls over what he could have and should have done differently.

I’m going back for one more word from our Sponsor.  Jesus was walking about in Jerusalem when the Pharisees drug out a woman, probably kicking and screaming, who had been caught in the act of adultery.  You know the story.  Yes, Jesus declined to cast the first stone of judgment on the woman.  But note, Jesus also stood as King of Heaven and Earth and said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.” (John 8:11)  “SIN NO MORE.”  Jesus didn’t wish the problem away or turn a blind eye.  In essence He told her, “knock it off, I’m not going to put up with this.”
Jesus did not do loving things the right way.
Jesus did the right things in a loving way.
When a child asks you for a tenth, eleventh, and thirteenth cookie, you tell them “no”.  Not because you don’t love them, but expressly because you do love them and know what is good for them.  Many times saying “no” or saying “stop” is the most loving thing we can do.  It is certainly the righteous thing.

Clark H Smith

Monday, November 7, 2011

"Follow Me"

What if…

What if your footsteps left an imprint for all the world to see – “Follow Me”?  Where will you make those footprints?  Where will your footprints lead others?

Jesus blazed an amazing path across our world.  His birth is well recorded as a spectacular event.  The next peek of Him we get is at age 12 in the Temple doing His Father’s business.  Then the next time He appears in recorded history, eighteen years later, He is fasting, baptized by John, and preaching words that continue to revolutionize our world.  Some people wonder about those quiet years.  What did Jesus do between 13 and 30?  We assume that sometime in those years, His earthly father, Joseph, passed away and Jesus cared for His mother and younger half-siblings.  But what else did He do in those years?  What were His relationships like?  Is there anything He needed to overcome or apologize for? 

In this current season of political wrangling, one presidential candidate after another is attacked – rightly or wrongly – for past misdeeds.  The mud-slinging, even within a political party is mind-numbing.  It’s hard to really get behind any candidate for fear of being embarrassed for supporting him/her when the truth of the character is revealed.  I wonder what the first followers of Jesus thought.  “I sure hope this guy pans out.”  “We’ve got nothing left to lose.”  Well, I think we do know what people said about Jesus.  Let’s check in with a word from our Sponsor:
They were utterly astonished, saying, “He has done all things well…” (Mark 7:37a)
Jesus never let anyone down.  He had no dark past to apologize for or run away from.  He was the real deal from the jump.  When His ministry earthly was finished, the dead had risen from the grave, but there were no skeletons in his closet.  His legacy was “He does all things well.”

For followers of Jesus, His excellence is of special note.  If we are going to follow Him, we are not called to mediocrity.  Followers of Jesus cannot pursue our desires 167 hours a week and “follow” Jesus one hour a week.  Why?  Because the One we follow leads us to the light every moment of every day.  And just importantly, remember the shoes.  Followers of Jesus have said to the whole world, “Follow me, I’ll lead you to Jesus.”  Stay on the path.

Clark H Smith

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Bonus Post: A Father's Love

It's Football In America Day.  I'm in the midst of watching 14 glorious hours of college football games - mostly alone.  My four wonderful boys are wandering through the terrain of their own lives today.  My sweet wife is savoring a calm and quiet day at home.

Today, surfing an un-explainable stream of  consciousness, I stumbled across the work of an ESPN writer, Wright Thompson.  Two articles in particular capture well some of the mystery of the father-son relationship.  (article 1, article 2)

All this prompted me to write a short note to Wright.  I don't know him and he doesn't know me.  But as is my habit, I write to people who inspire me in some direction or another.  I thought the readers of Follow Illustrated might find my comments to Wright interesting:
Nice work, Wright.  Are you a dad yet?  I am.  Four boys ranging from 16 to 26 – on any given day I’m not sure who’s the oldest.  In your writing, you have touched on the key component of fatherhood – anguish.  There is anguish in the day to day.  "Dang it, why did I do that?"  And there is anguish in the decade to decade.  "Have I done enough?  Have I done enough to shape and energize this little life I love so very much?"
You and Les Miles (see article 1) and I live in the shadow of wishing our fathers had seen us at our very best.  That’s the sweet spot of parenting, the payoff pitch.  In reality, we see our kids at their worst, for sure, and only occasionally at their very best.  The trade secret of fatherhood is that we love even when love is not easy.  If we did only love when it was easy, it wouldn’t be love.
I hope and pray that someday, when my kids are at the top of their game, they wish I was there… and remember that I WAS THERE when love wasn’t easy.  
In the Old Testament, the first time the word "love" is used it is in reference to a father's love for his son.  (Genesis 22:2)  In the first three books of the New Testament, the first time the word "love" is used it is in reference to a Father's love for His Son.  (Matthew 3:17, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22)  In John, the first time the word love is used it is in reference to a Father's love for the whole world.  (John 3:16).

Followers of Jesus thank God for His patient love of His young children.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Clean Up on Aisle Faith

In the course of doing a lot of marital counseling over the years, I’ve heard some rather amazing stories about discord in marriage.  Almost universally, the problem dissolves into the ancient tension between Faith and Fear.  Here’s a spectacular example:

A young man, not yet 30 years old, was on his THIRD marriage.  One morning, as he was headed out the door for work, he noticed a spot on the linoleum in the kitchen.  He mentioned to his wife that there was a spot on the floor and …here it comes… that she should clean up that spot – and soon.  Arriving back home at the end of a hard day’s work, the husband noticed that the spot was still on the floor.  He did what any right-thinking, red-blooded, American male would do in that circumstance – he launched in to an all-out, soul-crushing, marriage-killing assault on his wife.  I was stupefied.  I asked him why he let a spot on the floor impact his marriage so negatively.  His honest response, “If I can’t trust my wife to clean up a spot in the floor, how can I trust her to stay married to me?”

Let that soak in while we rush to our Sponsor for some soul-cleansing words:
And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm.  And He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”  They became very much afraid and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” (Mark 4:39-41)
Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham.  (Hebrews 2:14-15)
Whether we follow Jesus or not, all humans are caught up in this tension between Faith and Fear.  For some reason, God allowed those polarities to come into our lives.  AND we also know that God wishes to inspire our faith.  He does not want us to live in fear and desperation.  We have to choose where our hearts will guide us – toward fear or toward faith.  Hang tightly to these two thoughts.
All fear is a shadow of the fear of death.
Faith drives out fear.
Followers of Jesus have confidence that God is bigger than our circumstances.  Consider King David.  “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me…. (Psalm 23:3)  Let me caution all of us, David didn’t decide to trust God when he realized the threat of death all around him in the valley.  David, and followers of Jesus, trust God’s protection BEFORE the danger shows up.

Back to SpotMan.  This young man actually had a good heart – I think.  He had decided, however, to live his life in slavery to fear rather than the freedom of faith.  When I heard his tale of woe, I said to him soberly and frankly, “You are a damn fool.”  Maybe you don’t care for your pastor to be so blunt or coarse, but that is what he needed to hear.  How would you describe someone who would throw away the chance of a good marriage with a wonderful woman over a spot on the floor?  Maybe my words were not blunt enough… he’s now on his fourth marriage and it is on the rocks, as well.  (He should have read this article.)

My heart aches for everyone who is bound by fear.  Fear and Faith are two of the prominent themes in this blog because they describe the nature of our lives on earth.  Followers of Jesus are not exempt from this tension, but our faith must lead us away from reacting to life’s unpleasant moments with fear.

Clark H Smith

ps – I’ll bet you know someone who is struggle in the bondage of fear.  Would you share this post with them.  At the least, click the Facebook logo below and share this post with your world.  You’ll be doing someone a great favor.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Only Half Right

In the December, 1993 issue of Playboy Magazine… or so I’m told… famed conservative radio talk show host, Rush Limbaugh, gets his two-cents published to an audience not likely to hear from him often.  With such a broad fan base, it is no surprise that more than a few listeners called Rush’s show chiding him for being used to promote and sell more copies of the not-so-conservative magazine.  Indeed, they said, the conservative position is starkly against porn and the degradation of women.  Rush’s response was typical, something to the effect of “If Jesus were alive today, he would relish the opportunity to be interviewed by Playboy.  Look who He hung out with.”  Let’s check with our Sponsor to make sure Rush has his story right:
Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him [Jesus] to dine with him [Pharisee], and He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.  And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume.  (Luke 7:36-38)
And by “sinner”, Luke was delicately indicating that the woman was a prostitute.  There are several other accounts in scripture that record Jesus hanging out with sinners or all sorts.  So Rush was right (just as he so often claims), Jesus seemed to frequently find Himself in the company of the unsavory elements of our society.  But in his zeal to vindicate himself, Rush missed something even more important than who Jesus found fellowship with.  Let’s check back in with our Sponsor:
Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” (Luke 7:48)
Jesus, like Rush, was a man on a mission.  But instead of talking about politics and economics, Jesus was in the soul-saving business.  He did not shun the presence of sinners, but He never once countenanced their sin – He confronted it.  Remember the woman caught in the act of adultery?  Jesus said to her, “…go, and sin no more.” (John 8:11).

Rush’s defense of his interview in Playboy is weak.  He was wrong by comparing methods instead of message.  Rush also suggests a dangerous openness to temptation.  Granted, we have to be in contact with sinners to share the gospel with them, right?  (Thankfully someone shared the gospel with me when I was a sinner.)  But let’s be very cautious.  Followers of Jesus stay focused on the message and the mission.  Followers of Jesus guard their hearts to stay pure and focused in the mission field.  Remember the words of Jesus as He sent out his first batch of missionaries:
“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.”  (Matthew 10:16)
Clark H Smith

ps – While looking for images for this post, I searched a wide variety of options.  This Google result was pretty funny:  “No results found for ‘hugh hefner in church.’