Thursday, December 29, 2011


(As the year closes, please consider this article as a challenge to think carefully about what you are handing down to your descendants.)

My wife loves barns.  It was one of the first things I learned about her.  I like to tell people, “our next house is a barn”.  The barn* in the picture to the right is affectionately called “StarBarn” by our family.  The photo, itself, is entitled Red, White, and Barn and it's dedicated to my bride.  These days the old barn just stores hay.  I had a bright idea.  I tracked down the owner of the land and explained to them that I had a great photo of their barn.  Since it only holds hay now, I wonder if they would allow me to cut the star out of the barn, repair the hole, and present the star to my wife.  It was worth a shot.  The response I got was even sweeter than the idea of possessing that star.

By phone I spoke to the old farmer’s wife whose parents had immigrated from Scandinavia to raise wheat in the promising fields of the New World.  She actually was sympathetic to my romantic gesture and I’d like to think she gave it a half minute’s consideration before replying, “Well, no, we don’t want to see that star go.  You see, my mom painted that star on that barn soon after my dad built it.  It was something they did back in the old country and she wanted to keep that tradition alive here in America.  We actually have an old picture of my mom painting that star on the barn.”  Wow, now I’m feeling like I should ensure the preservation of that star – maybe a nice moisture-controlled, hermetically-sealed case.  What a treasure!  Let’s catch a word from our Sponsor:
For I [Apostle Paul] am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well. (2 Timothy 1:12)
You see, Paul’s disciple, Timothy, was custodian of a Star as well (see Numbers 24:17).  Grandmother Lois had become a follower of Jesus.  In turn, Lois’ daughter became a follower.  Then the third generation, Timothy, became a follower of Jesus, himself, honoring the legacy handed down to him.  Before Timothy ever drew breath, something of great value was awaiting him.  He went on to become one of the most influential leaders in the young Christian church – all because his ancestors handed down to him something of enduring value to them.

In the Smith family, we do Christmas gifts a little differently than most.  Each child gets four gifts, The Jesus Gifts – gold, frankincense, myrrh, and swaddling clothes.  I’m not sure, yet, what the boys think about this year’s Gold, but it was a long labor of love from their parents – literally.  I spent the summer and fall downloading old VHS tapes, scanning print photos, digitizing ancient slides and negatives, and pulling old cassette tape content onto my computer.  Every media-borne memory is now on my computer.  (And my computer is now on Carbonite!)  For Christmas, I edited 30 to 50 minute “Human Highlight Reels” for each of our four boys.  For me, it brought the sweetest flood of memories reaching back over a quarter century.  Our new daughter-in-love cried watching the 24-year life-span of her groom unfold before her eyes.  Forgotten, but not gone moments in each child’s life are now back within their grasp – every boy’s media memories loaded onto their own portable hard drive.  If not now, in due time, this may be their “star barn”.  That was Gold – a gift of enduring value. 

Frankincense, the gift that reminds of us of our spiritual connection with God, is also on those hard drives in two parts.  Part 1 is 100 Hymns of the Faith.  They may never listen to them, but in some future decade when a “far advanced” civilization mentions the word “hymn”, at least my sons will know where to find one.  “…pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise...”  Yeah, that’s lame sauce.  Frankincense Part 2 is special to our family.  My oldest son remembers me thundering away in the pulpit, but the three younger boys were usually in children’s church when I was “shucking the corn”.  Now, they have videos and audio going all the way back to my ordination sermon, and even one special sermon I did based on the biblical characters after whom they were named – Isaac, Noah, Joshua, Gideon – all mentioned in Hebrews 11.

Every generation has to figure out what of their parents’ world they will embrace and what they will release – what hand-me-downs to cherish and when to get new stuff.  I’m sure there was a time that the old farmer’s wife would’ve paid me to paint over that dumb star.  Now, it is a family heirloom.  My boys are young adults, reorganizing the furniture of their new, mature world.  Whether in the pulpit or at the dinner table, we’ve given them a foundation – firm and secure.  Like Lois and Eunice, my wife and I pray that our sons enter their worlds boldly and create a whole new legacy that rises high above this foundation.

My mom’s favorite hymn was “Wherever He Leads, I’ll Go”.  Mine is “He Leadeth Me” (as performed by the Martins).  They’re both in the Top 100.  Followers of Jesus don’t go the direction their parents tell them to. Followers of Jesus follow where He leads.  And we’ve handed THAT down to our children.

Clark H Smith

* StarBarn is at the northeast corner of US 81 and River Bottom Road (Co Rd 352) 3.5 miles north of Concordia, Kansas.  You can see it on Street View on Google Maps.  The current owners were so very kind to send me a copy of the photo of grandma up on a rickety scaffold painting the star as grandpa looked on.  I framed both pictures together.  This hangs in the front entry of our home. (click the pic to enlarge)
The text in the middle is a wonderful word from our Sponsor:
The LORD will command the blessing upon you in your barns and in all that you put your hand to, and He will bless you in the land which the LORD your God gives you. (Deuteronomy 28:8)

Monday, December 26, 2011

‘Twas The Day After Christmas

Today, I’m thinking about change.  It is usually negative things that change us most quickly.  Like my dad falling through ice into a river.   That changed me.  Now I hate even the thought of a cold shower.  I think ice-water-swimming, “Polar Bear” clubs are a gang of idiots.  (I notice that not a lot of people do that solo.  Must be peer pressure.)  Personally, I’m a slow learner – I stuck my tongue on frozen metal TWICE before I figured out that a wise man would not do that.  Speaking of Wise Men, and I prefer Magi, let’s get a word from our Sponsor about how they changed “the day after Christmas”:
And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way. (Matthew 2:12)
Now, I know as well as you do, that “by another way” simply means a route based on different GPS coordinates.  But don’t you also think the Magi, themselves, were DIFFERENT after their encounter with the Babe?  Our Sponsor tells us that the shepherds who met Jesus also “went back another way”:
The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them. (Luke 2:20)
Most of my years in ministry have been as an associate pastor.  That means I got to preach when the big dog didn't think there'd be much of a gathering - like the Sunday after Christmas.  I always chomped at the bit for an after-Christmas message.  It's full of opportunities to challenge followers to actually live out the message of Christmas.  I loved preaching about the Magi and the Shepherds.  Christmas is supposed to change us.  December 25, yes, that’s supposed to be an encounter with Jesus.  I hope your family began the day in Matthew 2 or Luke 2.  I hope you explained that the reason we give gifts is to honor God the Father gifting us God the Son (that’s the point of John 3:16).  But I must point out that followers of Jesus are expected to have an encounter with Jesus daily.  Scriptures, throughout the Old Testament and New, call us to engage God/Jesus daily, just as the first followers did.  Christmas is a celebration of Jesus’ birth.  Did not Jesus live throughout the full year?  Should not we celebrate all those days, as well?  Be a follower of Jesus, follow him “day by day”.  Please don’t be a C&E (Christmas and Easter) Christian.

Preparing to write this article, I asked myself what single experience has changed me most.  I keep coming back to one thing – death.  I’ve held hands with a husband as life support was removed from his beloved, brain-dead, 63 year-old wife.  I've ushered a mourning widow from the hospital room, leaving behind her groom of 65 years.  I loved a young couple throughout an emotionally whipsawing three dozen hours with an non-viable newborn.  I’ll never forget standing in the middle of an intersection with my hands on the shoulder of a man who’d been blithely going about the pleasures of 20something life 45 seconds earlier.  Now, his car had been t-boned outside my office and, given the nature of his injuries and his unresponsive convulsing, I can’t believe that he ever lived a normal life again.  All I could do, in my dread terror and evangelistic urgency, was to whisper to him, “Jesus loves you.  I want you to know that.”

Death is the worst thing that can happen to a human and it is something we all instinctively dread every day of our lives.  At this moment, late on Christmas night, my mom, age 96, is rattling doors upstairs, getting herself ready for bed… or for the start of the school day, we never know what she’s thinking – she never knows either.  First thing in the morning, I’ll check to see if she is still alive.  Death is near.  Let’s be honest, tomorrow is not guaranteed for any of us, let alone tomorrow night.  For this reason I despise all this modern silliness with zombies, the ancient fascination with “Halloween”, and all other excuses to “play” at death.  I don’t wear black clothes.  It's a matter of personal preference, but, for me, black is too closely associated with death.

Here's what does matter and is NOT a matter of personal preference:  Followers of Jesus, live urgently!  Live each day urgent to feel the presence of God in your lives and live eager to share that presence with others.  Followers of Jesus, live urgently to say “Jesus loves you” to someone BEFORE they’re at peril of death.  Followers of Jesus, like shepherds and Magi, be changed by your daily encounter with Jesus.  The color of your clothes isn’t any matter to me; I urge you to “put on Jesus” (see Romans 13:14).  Whether celebrating a new birth or awaiting the pangs of death, LIFE is urgent and beautiful when you follow the Author of Life.

Clark H Smith

A Personal Note:  I’m posting this article the day after Christmas which for the last… uh, very few years… has been the day the world celebrates the birth of my dear wife.  I was changed forever the day I met her.  (I proposed to her two days later.)  She was changed forever the day she met Jesus.  Every day she shows me, her family, and her wide world that she is a follower of Jesus.  Happy birthday, DollFace. 143.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Wishing You A Mary Christmas

The New York Restaurant Critics’ 1982 calendar featured Barbetta Restaurant on its front cover - a coveted honor.  Celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor made a habit of dining at Barbetta (in New York’s Theatre District) after taking in a show.

On a visit to New York in ’82, Alyse, I, and a good friend made an “out-of-our-league” pilgrimage to Barbetta.  This friend “had a friend” who formerly managed Barbetta.  She told us to present ourselves at Barbetta as her guests and we’d receive the star treatment.  She was right!

The current manager anticipated our arrival and seated us at a prime table.  Appetizers were on the house.  For entrées, I probably got chicken parmesan or something pedestrian.  I don’t remember what our friend ordered, but I’ll never forget what Alyse ordered – or better – HOW she ordered.

She studied the impressive menu like it was a college textbook.  When our waiter came to take our order, Alyse folded her menu, laid it on the table, looked directly at the waiter and said unequivocally, “Tell the chef to cook for me whatever he would like me to have.”

The waiter, my friend, and I responded with stunned silence.  She made her request with such certainty that the waiter dared not even double check her instructions.  It was a spectacular moment.  Back to the table after a word from our Sponsor:
While Jesus was saying these things, one of the women in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore You and the breasts at which You nursed.” But He said, “On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”  (Luke 11:27-28)
There is a strong inclination to revere the mother of Jesus, reasonably so.  Some people go so far as to call her “the Mother of God”.  I’m not going to admonish others on what to say, but I’ll point out that Jesus did admonish the woman.  When a “woman in the crowd” tried to elevate Mary, Jesus quashed the thought immediately.  “ON THE CONTRARY!”  Jesus wasn’t having any idol-worship even if it was for His own mother.  But let’s note who He did say was blessed, “those who hear the word of God and obey it.”  But hold on here, I happen to remember another word from our Sponsor:
And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
My wife’s middle name is Alyse.  Her first name is Mary.  What my Mary did in Barbetta in 1982 is exactly what Jesus’ Mary did 2000 years ago.  They both trusted the one who was in control of the outcome.  I’m a picky eater (or so EVERYONE ELSE says).  I imagine that chefs get a little annoyed at guests who “hold this” and “add that”.  They’ve put together the menu with thoughtfulness and pride.  Who am I to call a change up?  Well, I’m the customer, amn’t I?  After all, I’m paying for this meal.  I’m going to stuff it in my mouth.  “The customer is always right.”  Well, sure, if you’re talking about a brick and mortar restaurant serving food for the body.  But there is no spiritual parallel.

God knows what is best for us (see Isaiah 55:8-9).  I want to caution “cafeteria Christians” - picking and choosing what part of God’s wisdom to ingest.  “I’ll have a plate of No Killing, but hold the No Lying.  For dessert, I’ll have some Gossip with a dollop of Lust, but I’m watching my hate so I’ll stay away from the Anger cobbler.”

Mary, both of them, agreed with the one in control BEFORE they knew what the outcome would be.  That is FAITH.  “Blind” faith?  Give me a break.  My Mary trusted that Barbetta didn’t build a legendary reputation by stiffing tourists with a string of spaghetti doused in ketchup.  Jesus’ Mary trusted God.  She didn’t have to know the outcome to know that God would not give her more than she could handle.  Her faith was in God, not the outcome.

When you know the character of the one you trust, you don’t have to worry about the outcome. 

I’ve got to tell you the end of the story.  First off, no, I can’t for the life of me remember what Alyse ate.  Neither can she.  The experience totally eclipsed the dish.  But I can assure you, it was spectacular.

Secondly, this was our first trip to NYC and we didn’t understand the patterns and rhythms of the place.  We kind of stumbled our way around town without understanding how things work.  As we finished our meals, the manager – a cross between a Cuban refugee and Rodney Dangerfield – came to our table and said, “When you’re ready to leave, you let me know.”  At the right time, we signaled our departure.  The manager motioned to a busboy, whispered something, sent him out the door, and asked us to wait just a moment.

Here’s what we figured out during our wait - cabs don’t routinely travel on cross-streets looking for passengers, they stick to the north-south arteries.  Barbetta is on 46th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues.  Our busboy sprinted 200 yards west to 9th Ave, hailed a cab, and rode it clockwise back to us – east on 47th, back down 8th, and west to Barbetta’s front door.  The busboy hopped out of the cab and held the door open for us!  What incredible service.

Friends, followers of Jesus agree in advance to the direction of God’s leading.  FAITH AGREES WITH GOD IN ADVANCE.  If you truly trust God to have only your best interests at heart, stop being so picky!  Close the menu and thank God in advance for He has planned for you.  You will NOT be disappointed!

And by the way, Mary Christmas!

Clark H Smith

Did you know that Barbetta was a BBQ joint.  Well, ok, not exactly, but if you find the history of words interesting, I think you’ll enjoy this post at another site of mine.

Monday, December 19, 2011

“I Do Not Like Your Hat”

Last Friday, the 16th, was the 41st anniversary of my first kiss.  Hay rides.  What are ya gonna do?

Today, the 19th, is the 2nd anniversary of my second oldest son, Noah, getting his first kiss as a married man. His bride, Tiffany, is the closest thing to an angel since… well, since my wife was born.  The kids got married in a sushi bar.  Actually it was a sushi bar + Japanese steakhouse.  One hundred guests sat noshing appetizers around the island grills. Noah worked the room while Tiffany made herself ready.  At some point, music began to play and the kids walked down the “aisle”.  Three brothers and a friend stood up with Noah.  One brother wore blue, Braveheart facepaint (I’m not kidding).  A sister and three friends stood with Tiffany – no face paint per se, but isn’t that what eye shadow and blush are?  Between bouts of tears and choking up, I officiated.  In biblical times, weddings were exclusively done in the context of a feast – the knot was tied in the middle of the meal.  I’m so thrilled that the kids decided to go this direction.  It was relaxed, innovative, and joyous for everyone involved.  It was a shared experience, not a witnessed ceremony.

One month ago, we received another great blessing from Noah & Tiffany – not what you’re thinking (no thanks to their mischievous young brother who launched a Facebook virus about them being “in the family way”).  The kids are looking for a house and wound up with no good prospects as their apartment lease ran out.  My wife and I encouraged them to and move into our house and take the stress off where to land next.  Sharing a home with them now has impressed upon me the power of a simple word from our Sponsor:
…speaking the truth in love… (Ephesians 4:15)
You’ll recall from your college days, roommates are dangerous things.  Family roomies… grown up, married family roomies are no exception.  Meshing lives and preferences and habits together is tough enough for a husband and wife.  When you add the dynamics of another husband / wife, son / daughter-in-love, things can get interesting.  Tiffany does social media marketing and is a part-time pro baker.  She loves cooking, as do I.  Very early on I realized that our kitchen dynamics needed some sorting out.  So we talked – in love.  It would be very easy for shallow people to fall apart at this point.  Hurt feelings, pride, stubbornness have a way of screwing up relationships.  Just yesterday Tiffany and I were talking, I said to her, “I’m happily stuck with you forever and you’re stuck with me forever.  I’m glad we can talk honestly and still love one another.”  She agreed.

Every Sunday, pastors stand in the pulpit and talk about the “church family”.  We even call each other brother and sister.  We’re supposed to have the living, loving dynamic of grown-ups rooming with one another.  It is often the farthest thing from the truth.  Twenty years in ministry has taught me that what our Sponsor said through Jude said 2000 years ago is still true today:
These are the men [and women] who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever.  (Jude 12-13)
“Love feasts” refers to gathering as a church family for the Lord’s supper (and other activities).  In these gatherings are people (like this gal) who care only for themselves, not for others, creating pain and divisiveness rather than harmony and compassion.  The church is also full of people who want love, but not the truth.  Even spoken in love, most people don’t want to hear “you made a mistake” or “you need to take a step toward maturity”.  The result of all this is a church full of divorces and schisms.  Folks won’t speak to each other, but heartily gossip about each other.  Many just bolt the church altogether hoping the folks at next church will be nicer to them.  Is that what a family is supposed to look like?  Our Sponsor does not thinks so.

On this topic, the Gospel according to Go, Dog. Go! is quite helpful. 

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to simply tell someone you do not see the world the way they see it and still love one another?  Sunday morning, my dear Tiffany, offered me a plateful of gorgeous looking cookies called “Snowballs”.  Apparently these cookies have dates in them.  I assured her those snowballs would melt in Hell before I ate one.  And then I went on a terribly amusing rant about disgusting foods, including, but not limited to, dates, figs, and sauerkraut.  (I even worked out the etymology of the word “disgust” mid-rant.  I was at my best!)  Tiffany walked out the door… to church.  In a couple hours we’d all be back home – together.  And our family feast of love will carry on… with extra snowballs for all the rest.  You're welcome.

Followers of Jesus speak the truth in love.  Followers of Jesus HEAR the truth in love.  Followers of Jesus forbear, forgive, and forge on together I wish it were so in practice as well as principle.

Clark H Smith

The story of Noah and Tiffany living in our home has another fascinating wrinkle.  Please jump over to my It’s Good To Be The Dad blog and read this post.  It will inspire you.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


I’m giving you a long one today.  I hope it will be worth your efforts to stick with me through this post and, most importantly, put my suggestions into action.  I share the following examples, not to brag on myself, but to demonstrate the power of an encouraging word.

Example 1:  I have suite of ear problems that is starting to consume my life.  I recently spent a lot of time on a website that helped me get a much better understanding of what I’m dealing with.  The site helped me feel like I was not crazy or an ogre.  I ended the day by sending the site editor a note of thanks and I told him that I considered what he was doing was a true ministry – blessing lives with information and encouragement.  He wrote back, “God bless you too.  You have made my day.”

Example 2:  A lifetime ago, my wife and I bought a beautiful piece of fine art by an up and coming artist, David Griffin.  The art still moves us and I took the time to track him down and thank him for the beauty that brightens our home every day.  In response to my note, David wrote back: “I'm really at a loss of what and how to say it.  To say I'm humbled by your letter and kind words would be an enormous understatement.  For you to take the time to write and make the connection is a testimony to your kind heart.”

If writing an email of kindness and appreciation is all it takes to make a person’s day, then I suppose it should be happening all the time.  But I’m not sure how much encouragement is actually occurring.  Our world is drowning with “communication”.  Every hour, 2.5million Facebook statuses are updated, 2.1million Tweets are twitted, and... get this, every hour 10billion emails are sent.  Oh, and Al Gore just invented something new called “snail mail”.  There’s ample opportunity to bless one another.

Let’s check in for some encouraging words from our Sponsor:
Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. (Colossians 4:6)
Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, But a good word makes it glad. (Proverbs 12:25)
A man has joy in an apt answer, And how delightful is a timely word! (Proverbs 15:23)

Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right. circumstances. (Proverbs 25:11)
Followers of Jesus should excel in encouragement.  We should distinguish ourselves by building one other up.  God in Heaven knows that life on earth is full of perils and disappointments.  He should not have to send angels to accomplish what He expects us to do. 

Now here’s today’s secret-so-hidden-it’ll-blow-your-mind-when-you-discover-it: EVERY PERSON ON THIS PLANET NEEDS ENCOURAGEMENT.  When you see a neighbor working in their yard, thank them for their efforts to keep the neighborhood beautiful.  They’d truly like to hear that.  When you see a multi-tasking mother in the store, stop and tell her she’s going to survive and thrive.  Quietly she wonders if she’s already screwed up this little life.  Bless those who work under you, they wonder if you notice their service, but bless your bosses, too.  They’re human (yes, really) and they wonder if they’re leading well.  I believe if you simply pay attention to the people in your world, you’ll see endless opportunities to bless others.

I’m going to extend this article a bit to weave in two more illustrations.  Hang with me, it’s worth it.

Each year in my high-school hometown, Rising Star, Texas, the students cleaned up “the peanut barn” (a hulking WPA-era stone edifice) to host the homecoming carnival.  When my tour of duty came, I threw myself into the task because I wanted to get the work over with.  I don’t dawdle when it comes to chores.  I spent several hours inside and outside the building which was situated across the street from the pool hall where the “town fathers” would spit-n-whittle and play dominoes as the hours passed.  When I got home, my dad told me an amazing thing.  He said an older man drove up to the house, knocked on the door, and spoke these words, “You’re son is Clark Smith, right?  I’ve been at the pool hall watching him.  He’s the hardest working young man in this town.  I thought you’d like to know.”

WOW!  Parents, is a knock at the door about your children EVER a good thing?  Well, it was this time.  That experience put a mark on me.  In a way, I have tried to “return that favor” a thousand times over.  (And I wonder if that old man was returning a favor of someone who blessing him along the way.)  My quest in life is to bless children to their parents - and vice versa.  When I’m at school events and I see a parent of a child I know, I butt right up in their business and I tell them something admirable about their child.  Last winter (2011), I took my son and two of his friend to the Kansas state wrestling meet in Wichita.  We shared a three hour ride there and then back, four meals together, a night in a hotel, and a day at the arena.  As we drove back, I determined to send their parents a note that reads, in part, as follows:
As a father of four sons, I’ve met hundreds and hundreds of the kids in the social networks of my boys.  I’ve met several, maybe a couple dozen, who I describe as “dipped in pure gold”.  This weekend, I added two more to the list – in fact, Marco and Cole are added at the very top of the list.
I know that all kids can be challenging, especially when they begin to “stink” as Alyse and I call the adolescent years.  I’m sure Marco and Cole have their moodiness and self-will.  It’s a fact of life.  So I’m not telling you they are angels, you know better.  But for the 30 or so hours I spent with them Friday and Saturday, I can safely say I have never enjoyed two young men any more.  Marco and Cole were courteous, congenial, considerate, and whatever else you’d hope they’d be.  I know the boys were there to enjoy one another, but I enjoyed them just as much as they enjoyed each other’s company.  I could go on about Marco’s tech-savviness or Cole’s stealthy humor, but I think you get the point.  I want you to know that Marco and Cole represented their homes and families perfectly.  I thought you’d like to know that.  I’ve thought a lot about how to summarize this weekend’s experience...  simply put, I was blessed by their character.  Moms and Dads, you have done well.  The fruits of your parenting labor are borne well by your sons.  Well done.
If you’re a parent, can you possibly imagine more encouraging words?  And I certainly meant everything I said.  (I didn’t change their names because there’s no reason not to celebrate them again from this platform.)  Now, if you can imagine hearing words like this, you have just affirmed how important it is to speak words like this.  Right now, this very instant, you are thinking of a parent who needs to know that they’ve done well – certainly all parents need to hear that.  There are people in every corner of your big word who’s “day would be made” by hearing from you.  I beg you, don’t be the kind of person who just hits the LIKE button on Facebook and think you’ve done something positive. 

Go!  Get connected.  Get engaged in positivity today!  Be an encouragement donor.  Maybe someday there’ll be a knock on your door and the person will just say “Thank you.  You made my day.”

Clark H Smith

Monday, December 12, 2011

Judge Not (??)

As young parents on a tight budget with four hungry little boy mouths to feed, dinner buffets were often a welcome diversion to Hamburger Helper at home.  One visit taught us a memorable lesson.  We all sat down at our table, ordered drinks, and prayed.  “Amen” was the signal to charge the buffet lines.  My wife and I helped the younger two boys while the older two (ages about 10 and 8) went off to forage for themselves.  The four of us got back to the table first.  Eventually our second oldest son, Noah (yes, the cookie monster), came straggling back to the table.  On this first trip through the line his plate was heaping with fried shrimp, ham, chicken strips, drumsticks, and a dollop of mashed potatoes with gravy.  His eyes were as big as his plate as he exclaimed, “Can we have thirds?”  (I guess seconds were a given.)  Choking back our laughter, my wife responded, “Let’s see how you do with that plateful and then we’ll judge.”

Noah’s effusive response still rings in my ears, “Don’t judge, just say yes!”

Let’s get a plateful of wisdom from our Sponsor:
“Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” (Matthew 7:1)
…who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.  (Hebrews 5:14)
How many times in your life have you heard someone say, “judge not, lest ye be judged”?   I recently heard someone being interviewed for jury duty say just that.  It makes sense; we shouldn’t all be walking around wagging fingers at one another.  What kind of world would that be?

Well, let’s be careful about this.  What kind of world would it be if no one did judge?  Banks would go broke in days if bankers didn’t judge whether you have enough money to cover your checks.  The electrical grid would explode if no one judged how much juice was going through the lines.  We’d have a nation of idiots if teachers didn’t judge whether tests results were accurate or not.  Speaking of tests, how would you like it if your doctor saw a dark spot on your lung x-ray and said, “This doesn’t look right, but I don’t want to judge whether it is good or not”?  I once heard an otherwise reasonable pastor say, "I'm not judging, I'm just responding to the facts as I understand them."  Uh, yeah, you're judging.

See, we desperately need a world full of assessment and discernment.  When Jesus said, “don’t judge”, He didn’t mean don’t use your noggin.  He actually meant don’t condemn someone to hell – that’s God’s job and His alone.  Jesus and the writers of the New Testament were constantly urging followers to be wise and discerning.  How can we “flee immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18) if we don’t embrace some standard of morality and make assessments based on it.  Since our culture has become judgement-phobic, maybe a better word would be “discern” or “discriminate”.  (The c-r sound in both words is from an old root word meaning ‘to make a separation between’.  Critic, crisis, and crime are all related.)  Followers of Jesus know it is essential that we pay attention to our world and take action when good conflicts with evil.

Are three heaping platefuls evil?  Well, we can debate that, but I also know who’s going to have clean up the vomit off the hardwood floor in the middle of the night.  Yeah, I think I’m going to go ahead and drop the gavel on that one – No Thirds!

This is a hot topic in our society today.  Hop up on our Facebook page and share your views on the tension between judging and "responding to the facts as I understand them."

Clark H Smith

Thursday, December 8, 2011

I'm Not Trying To Kill You

My wife and I have enjoyed 28 pretty spectacular years of marriage so we’re really not at high risk of the wheels coming off.  Still, there are times when tension arises.  In those moments, if you were standing close by, you’d hear one of us say to the other, “I’m not trying to kill you.”  A strange admonition to pass between two love birds?  …well, not really.  Let’s listen carefully to someone else who loves us, our Sponsor:
“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)
Israel’s King David knew a thing or two about fear.  From the time he was of kindergarten age he confronted evil of all kinds.  This verse from perhaps the most famous passage in all of scripture tells the pure simple truth – each one of us live life in “the valley of the shadow of death”.  Sometimes we don’t see our fears as ultimately the fear of death, but that’s what it is.  If you’re in a spat with your neighbor over a fence-line or dog poop, that’s not life and death, is it?  Maybe not on the surface, but if your neighbor is mad at you – really mad! – what’s his limit?  How far is he willing to go to put you in your place?  Our minds conjure up fears often greater than the immediate circumstances warrant.  Take your employment for example.  Ever been in fear of losing your job?  How did it make you feel?  Anxious?  Paranoid?  Defensive?  Why?  Because our jobs provide our “livelihood” – the means to keep us alive with food, shelter, and clothing.  If our livelihood is at risk, we drop down to survival mode pretty quickly.  Ultimately, all fear is a shadow of the fear of death (whether being killed by others or by untimely death that could have been prevented).

Many Christians shy away from some aspects of the realm of psychiatry / psychology – perhaps for good reason.  Take Sigmund Freud, for example.  He was no follower of Jesus, but let me ask you, didn’t he study the minds of people created by God?  Look at this “iceberg of consciousness” based on Freud’s findings.  Thoughts and perceptions on the conscious level are literally “floating” atop deeper things in our mind.  Among the things in the basement level are our fears.  We may not always recognize their presence, but they are still there.  Let me illustrate this with the simple event of “road rage”.  Some idiot in front of you is checking his cell phone and he veers into your lane.  You do the sane, defensive thing, you honk your horn.  The dufus “who almost ran you off the road” extends and proudly displays one of his digits.  You get hyped up, he gets hyped up, and in seconds everyone’s blood pressure is boiling over.  Sometimes people wind up getting shot, you know that.  Over what, careless driving?  Are you kidding me?  Think I’m straining here?  Go back and read this illustration about a husband who threw his marriage on the trash heap because his wife forgot to clean a little spot off the floor.  A spot!  I’m telling you, each one of us is skating around on some slick ice on top of this iceberg.

My wife and I have seen fear in action up close and personal.  We have seen our very closest friends destroyed by fear.  We have watched others disabled by anxiety and defensiveness.  We try to guard against this in our relationship.  The best way to do that, we have found, is to recognize that each of us are fragile people and prone to reacting in unhealthy ways.  So when I’m getting tense, my blood pressure is rising, my mouth is getting dry… my dear wife looks at me and says, “Clark, I’m not trying to kill you.”  And I remember that she didn’t marry me just to get a close shot at the back of my head.  If I’m sensing something it’s my own fear.  I’m going through the valley and I’m focused on the evil rather than God’s presence in my life.

Followers of Jesus don’t deny fear Many times we can’t even avoid circumstances that provoke fear.  It's actually a healthy response, but dealing with challenges through fear is a terribly bad solution.  All we can do is realize that we are not alone.  God loves us and has afforded us a home in heaven for eternity.  We are not guaranteed a peaceful path on earth, but followers of Jesus can have inner-peace through faith that God watches over us.

Try it out.  Say to someone today, "I’m not trying to kill you.".  And tell me what the look on their face was like.

Clark H Smith

What works for you?  How do you take the pressure off a marital spat... besides assuring your partner that you are correct and they are wrong?  Jump on the Follow Illustrated Facebook page and share your wisdom for making a happy marriage.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Leave A Mark

In the 90s, my sons had a NASCAR racing video game.  The venerable Benny Parsons recorded some chatter that played at random times during the race.  One of the more memorable quotes, often played when there was a wreck, “That’s gonna leave a mark!”  Hopefully, avoiding wrecks, all of us would like to think we’re doing something significant that will leave a mark in this world.

In the Dust Bowl Depression days of the 1930s my parents attended Wayland Baptist College in Plainview, Texas, but never managed a return visit until the 70s or 80s.  I was with my folks as they strolled the memory-laden and all-grown-up campus.  Inside the oldest building on campus, Gates Hall, my dad found a staffer and made a strange request – “Can we go up to the third floor on the east side of the building.”  I love a cliffhanger.  Let’s pause here for a word from our Sponsor.
This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)
There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. (John 1:9)
Jesus was a light entering a pitch black room.  Everything was illuminated by Him.  There are no dark corners in the spiritual world which Jesus inhabits.  There is no continent where the Gospel has not been preached.  While there may be isolated tribes where Jesus’ name has never been spoken, they are spectacular exceptions which prove the rule.  Safe to say, The Word of God has left His mark in every part of our world.

In stark contrast, we have the fictional, but eerie testimony of one “Eleanor Rigby”:
Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name
Nobody came
Father McKenzie wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave
No one was saved
I have no idea what was on Paul McCartney’s mind when he wrote those words testifying to a life of zero significance.  How sad that Eleanor’s name was not remembered by a sibling, a neighbor, a random stranger who was blessed by a good deed or kind from her.  Maybe that's the metaphor McCartney intended. Followers of Jesus are expected to make some sort of mark on the world, however great or small.

Up on the balcony of Gates Hall, my dad pointed outward to the portion of the façade sitting atop the columns which could only be seen from the balcony.  Fifty years earlier, with a dark charcoal pencil, Carl A. Smith scrawled his iconic brand “CAS” on that façade.  You’d have to stand there yourself to realize how hard it must have been to get up to that façade six feet out and ten feet up above the balcony.  I don’t know how he did it, but it was important enough to him that, indeed, he did it.  He left a mark.

In the “inter-urban” wasteland of Mesquite, Texas in the 40s, my dad was called “The Jesus Man”.  In the unthawed wilderness of central Alaska in the 50s and 60s, my dad was called a church planter.  At my dad’s funeral in the 80s he was called a tool completely used by God.  My dad was a follower of Jesus – he left a mark.

Followers of Jesus have it easy.  We are yoked up with Him and He is doing all the pulling of the plow.  All we have to do is agree to go with Him… and we get to leave a mark.

Clark H Smith

Are you a father?  Visit my other blog - It's Good To Be The Dad - and see how dads can put this illustration to practical use.  Good stuff!

My dear FI readers, would you jump on the Follow Illustrated Facebook page and share a thought, a blessing about someone who made a mark on your life?  So many people have poured their love into our lives, It is fitting that we honor their efforts.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Mention My Name

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."
Romeo and Juliet / Shakespeare

I distinctly remember being about 8 years old, staring into the bathroom mirror, and thinking, “I should be named Jim.”  I have no idea where that came from.  I also remember a college dorm-mate who spent four years calling me “Kent”.  I tried correcting him a few times to no avail.  That’s when I realized that names are just handles by which we hold relationships with others.

As a teen in Texas in the 70s I marveled at the Sunday afternoon exploits of a man named Roger.  Roger Staubach is a Heisman Trophy winner, Super Bowl winner and MVP, and world-class business man.  In this short space* I cannot say enough about the man’s unimpeached character and goodness.  I had the privilege of meeting Roger and doing a little work with his company during my sojourn in the Dallas business community in the 80s.  In 2008, Roger sold his global real estate company to a larger firm for over $700 million.  Being an inquiring lad, I pried open the Annual Report of the buyer, Jones Lang Lasalle and read the details of the transaction.  Here’s the one line that riveted my attention:

“Right to use the Staubach trade name . . . . . . $101,000,000”
Page 12, section 4 – “Intangibles”

I think even Shakespeare would pause at that transaction.  Sure a rose can go by another name, but if your name alone is worth ONE HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS, go with that.  If you put YOUR name for sale up on Ebay right now, what do you think you could get for it?  More on this after a word from our Sponsor:
God highly exalted Him [Jesus], and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth. (Philippians 2:9-10)
And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)
As much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they. (Hebrews 1:4)
Over the course of my ministry, I have come in contact with two witches and one demon possessed woman.  I don’t toss around statements like that casually – today’s thought requires that I mention it.  In each case, I was extremely leery, but I had one approach, the Name of Jesus.  In brief, I tangibly felt evil flee the scene at the name of Jesus Christ.  It is “a more excellent name”!  I hope you never wind up in a situation where evil envelopes you, but if you do… well, now you what to do.  “Jesus” is not a lucky penny or a genie’s lamp to rub for personal benefit – it is the name to call when Heaven is your only hope (as is the case more often than you think).

In Malcom Gladwell’s Tipping Point, he talks about a fascinating kind of person – the Connector.  A conversation with a Connector would go something like this: “Ah, you’re going to Flagstaff?  Well, there’s a great restaurant there, il Pasto, only open on the weekends, but you’ll be glad you waited.  When you get there, tell the front desk host that you want to talk to the manager, Louie.  Tell Louie I sent you – he’ll fix you up.”  (My words, not Gladwell’s.)  That’s what a Connector does – he puts a person-in-need in contact with a person-who-delivers.  I have a tiny little life and only a few connections.  Only a couple of times in my life have I said “mention my name”.  (I am golden with the secretaries at Olathe Northwest High School.  If you need anything just tell them that Gideon’s dad sent you – they’ll fix you right up!)  But scripture gives us the assurance that “at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW.”  That's a connection!  I’d mention THAT name early and often if I were you.  It’s worth a lot!

Clark H Smith

*I have much more to say in praise of Roger, but I'll try to keep this short and relevant.  This is not hero worship.  I shook Roger's hand once, that is all.   What I adore about Roger is that he steadfastly pursued what is good and right.  During most of his football career, the Cowboys officed above the Dallas Playboy Club.  I don't know if he ever went there.  What I do know is, unlike so many of his peers, Roger's has had one wife.  He never got busted for drugs, hookers, or shooting his own dang leg in a dang night club.  In business he never cheated anyone or cleverly filed bankruptcy for strategic advantage.  The day Roger retired from football (March 31, 1980) all of Dallas wanted to talk to him, but he couldn't be found for about an hour.  KLIF Radio was playing a tribute song non-stop for him and they desperately wanted to know what he thought of it.  Finally, Roger called in and apologized for not phoning sooner.  He'd taken his daughters to school... in the family station wagon... listening to an Anne Murray 8track instead of the radio.  Glamorous?  His name certainly wasn't glowing in "Neon".  But I wondered how it felt writing "Roger Staubach" when he endorsed a check for $700,000,000.  What's in a name?