Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Day I Discovered My Mom Had Given Me Syphilis

Through the years, my bestie!
With 25 glorious years of wedded bliss in the time capsule of love, my wife and I enjoyed a day off, taking in the bucolic charm of Weston, Missouri.  My bride sat cozied up beside me when my phone rang.

This is Clark Smith.

Hello Mr. Smith, my name is Dwayne, I’m with the Wyandotte County Health Department. Mr. Smith, you recently took a blood test?


Mr. Smith, you have tested positive for syphilis.

I’m a writer.  I have NO words to describe the ten thousand thoughts that raced through my head in a psychic lightning bolt.  I twisted in the agony of consequence, questions, arguments, denials, and the ugly, cold dispassion of scientific truth.

But, But, But… I’ve never, how could I, when did I, ...Wyandotte County… why are you calling me?  I live in Johnson County.

Yes, Mr. Smith, our county health department handles all sexually transmitted disease reports for a seven-county area.

What test did I ever take that turned up positive for syphilis?

Apparently your Ear, Nose & Throat doctor ordered it.

Yes, I have an inner-ear disease!  How does that relate to syphilis.

I don’t know, sir, you’ll have to ask your doctor.

Dang straight!  (I'm pretty sure that's how I phrased it.)

I hung up the phone and feebly began trying to offer my wife of a quarter century a plausible “explanation” for the conversation I’d just had.  We kept our plans to finish our anniversary date with dinner with the family.  Not even Stroud’s fried chicken could keep my mind off the fact that I was now living with syphilis.

It was a long weekend before I could get my hands around the neck of my ENT... I mean get an appointment.  

What the heck are you doing, Doc?  You tested me for syphilis?
Some things are not, cannot, MUST NOT
ever be true, right Mom?

Yes, Méniére’s Disease can be caused by syphilis, it’s a routine screening we do.

Routine to you!  And I continued my protest.  

It’s i-m-p-o-s-s-i-b-l-e that I have syphilis… knowing all the while that doctors hear this “not me” speech constantly.

Well, Clark, I don’t want to cast any aspersions on your mother, but it is possible that your mother could have passed it along to you in utero

NO, IT’S NOT!!!  Of all things, THAT is NOT possible!  (Those of you who know my mom are laughing at the gross absurdity of the doc’s suggestion.)

Well, let’s order a more rigorous test and see what it shows.


… park that for a moment …

Joseph was down in his woodshop by the Nazareth town mill.  The cell phone in his overalls vibrated, lit up, and showed an incoming call from Palestine Parenthood clinic.

Hello, this is Joe the Carpenter.

Joe, this is Mary.

Are you ok, Mary?  Is everything ok?

Well, yes, I’m ok Joe, but I have something to tell you.  Joe... I’m pregnant.

…after the sound of carpenter’s tools hitting the floor, there was a long silence on the other end of the line…

Pregnant!  Mary, how can you be pregnant?  You never, I mean, I never, I mean, we... never… that's i-m-p-o-s-s-i-b-l-e!

I know, Joe, I know.

So how in God’s name are your pregnant?

Yes, Joe.

Yeswhat!?!?!?  Joe screeched, reaching the end of his human patience.

Yes, Joe, in the name and glory of God, I’m going to bear a son – His Son.

…phone hits the floor…

Face to face, impossible questions and incredulous answers soon followed.  Imagine how hard it was for Mary to believe that an angel was actually standing in front of her, a virgin, announcing her pregnancy.  Imagine how hard it was for Joseph, who had honored his fiancé’s virginity, to hear that he would not be the father of their first child.

I know 0.1% of what that is like.  The impossible can be true.

The story of Christmas, the story of Jesus, the story of Joseph and Mary is the story of all of us… it is the story of faith.  What did Mary say when she was confronted with the most alarming, shameful, and disturbing news of her life?

“Behold, the bondslave of the Lord;
may it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

When God speaks and when you accept His word before you ever see how it “all works out for good”, that is faith.  Later, Jesus honored her, not for birthing Him, but for having the faith to accept and obey the difficult word of the Lord.  (Read this post for a unique, Follow Illustrated spin on that story.)

My story?… oh heck… Doc ordered that more thorough test and I passed it with flying colors.  Turns out I have an “antigen” or something that is too tall for standard size syphilis screens.  What I  don't have is syphilis... I SWEAR I DON'T!!!

I’m thrilled to tell you that, as hard as it was for her to sit through those anxious days of uncertainty, my dear wife (whose first name is also Mary) never doubted me, never threw a pot, never ran crying to her mother, never spat, “How dare you!”

Christmas is a marvelous time of music and light, of joy and love shared generously.  I beg you to never forget that the story of Christmas is the same story as the other 364 days of the year – faith drives out fear.  Faith drives out fear.

I wish you a very Mary Christmas!

Clark H Smith

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Do You Believe Hard Enough?

I’m no fan of Progressive Insurance’s ad campaign.  It seems like they’re willing to mock everything but single women.  In one of the most recent commercials, spokesperson ‘Flo’ explains to a co-worker that he doesn’t “believe hard enough”.  Burn thirty seconds and watch the commercial.

What about you?  Do you believe hard enough?

I grew up believing this word from our Sponsor:
“…Truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.” (Matthew 17:20b)
Jesus referred to a mustard seed because it is so small.  Most of us can muster even “a little” faith, can’t we?  I remember clearly putting this promise from Jesus to the test.

In my childhood, the TV show “My Favorite Martian” was a favorite show.  It featured a human-looking alien who had a special ability – a levitating finger.  He could point at anything, lift it up, move it around, hilarity ensues.

I remember laying in bed one night begging God for a levitating finger.  I promised Him that I would only use it “for His glory” – I would become a spectacle, but I would be sure to tell people they should follow Jesus while I floated anvils and bank safes and cars over their heads.  How could God turn down a deal like that?

Even though I was only about 6, I remember so clearly waking up the next morning.  I took a moment to gather my wits, I remembered my prayer and also God’s promises in scripture.  I was ready to move mountains!  I pointed at a pen on the table in my room.  I paused, then, I willed it to float.  That pen is still probably on that table today!  Never budged.

What went wrong?

Actually, nothing went wrong.  At age 6, making objects float seemed like an act of faith.  Today, making relationships work seems more like a mountain worth moving.  What’s your mountain?  What would you do if you could only “believe hard enough?”  Another word from our Sponsor:

Moreover we know that to those who love God, who are called according to his plan, everything that happens fits into a pattern for good. (Romans 8:28 Phillips Translation)

This verse is one of the most misunderstood verses in all of scripture.  We mistakenly think that if the result is good, God is obliged to make it happen.  Not surprisingly, many people think that God works out things for “our good”.  I like this Phillips Translation because it reminds us that God has a great big plan for good – a long term plan for good.  God’s ultimate good is the Good News – the Gospel.  God wants to see all people saved through faith in Jesus.  Levitating plates of food doesn’t quite rise to that noble occasion.

At another time I may try to discuss the miracles Jesus performed.  I hope you’ll trust me when I say that Jesus was reluctant to do miracles.  “Doubting” Thomas didn’t believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead until he touched Jesus’ wounds.  A last word from our Sponsor:
Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”
Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:29-31)

Jesus could have done thousands of “parlor tricks” (my term) to wow and amaze people. The miracles he did perform certainly seized people’s attention.  But Jesus did not want us to believe because He broke the laws of physics – after all, Jesus created those laws!  Jesus wants us to have a faith that trusts in God’s good plan whether or not it ever affects us personally.

Are you a follower of Jesus?  Do you believe hard enough?  In what?  What do you believe in?  Do you have faith that God can heal your broken or torn relationships?  Do you have faith that God can give you the resolve to endure grave difficulty in your life?  Do you have faith that God will bless your obedience to Him?

Every day I see “Laundry List Christians” presenting God with petitions of things they’d like to see Him do.  Need money for the car brakes, baby is sick… I once had a young dating couple ask for prayer that the divorce of one of the two love-birds would go well.  No foolin’!

Pray for whatever you want, but I think the best prayer is what Jesus prayed in His most desperate moment, “Not My will, but Thine be done.” (Luke 22:42)  Do you believe hard enough to pray that?

Clark H Smith

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Sense of Touch

A friend of mine is a physician and bit of a Renaissance Man.  Aside from being a skilled surgeon he studies French, geology, economics and is a marathoner.  This month, he’s organizing and hosting an association meeting of doctors in his specialty.  With great enthusiasm, he told me about a video he’s sharing with the other doctors.  After hearing him talk about it, I had to look up the video myself.  I, too, was mesmerized by the speaker’s passion about a simple thing like touch.  I’d like you to take 18 precious minutes of your life and watch this video.

Now, I’d like to remind you of one of the most remarkable moments in the life of Jesus.  Note the sense of touch in these Words from our Sponsor.

And a woman who had a hemorrhage for twelve years, and could not be healed by anyone, came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. And Jesus said, “Who is the one who touched Me?”
And while they were all denying it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing in on You.”
But Jesus said, “Someone did touch Me, for I was aware that power had gone out of Me.”
When the woman saw that she had not escaped notice, she came trembling and fell down before Him, and declared in the presence of all the people the reason why she had touched Him, and how she had been immediately healed.
And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

There is so much to speak about in this passage, but let’s focus on the Physician’s touch.  Jesus was walking through a crowd and noticed that someone touched Him.  Peter, the Attention Deficit Disciple, chides Jesus, “You’re in a crowd, Master, everyone touched you!”  But Jesus lived His life with such compassion that even in a crowd He sensed the touch of a person in dire need.  Jesus’ sense of touch went far beyond what Peter could conceive.  He sensed despair, sorrow, fear, and pain.  What a magnificent sense of touch!

When I was a teenager, my church youth group performed the “Celebrate Life” musical.  I’ve never forgotten one very powerful songs from that musical, “I Quietly Turned To You.”  It’s the songwriter’s interpretation of this moment between Jesus and the woman with a hemorrhage.  Do you have 4 more minutes?  I’d love you to hear the song performed.

Here’s the hook line:
Help of the helpless, friend of the friendless,
I quietly turned to you, and you turned to me.

It’s hard to go through this life without getting a few nicks and dings.  Some of us get outright smacked down.  You ever feel that way?  Abraham Verghese says a physician’s greatest skill is his touch.  He’s right, and the Great Physician, Jesus, demonstrated that sense of touch.  He brought healing to the woman.  Do you think He feels your pain, your sorrow, your need?  Don’t you think He wants to heal you as well?  Trust His touch.

By the way, did you pay attention to Abraham Verghese's closing thought?  Verghese concludes with a reflection on physician's touch conveys to the patient:

I will always, always, always be there.
I will see you through this.
I will never abandon you.
I will be with you through the end.

Hmmm... where have I heard that before?

Clark H Smith

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

"For My Own Sake"

Over at It’s Good To Be The Dad blog today, I write about a disciplinary issue I recently faced with one of my sons.  I hope you’ll read all of it.  Let me excerpt main point here:

Recently, one of my sons did something he shouldn’t have.  It was a big deal.  It wounded my trust and a bond I felt we had built.  As we debriefed his transgression and I thought about how to mete out consequences for what he did, something inside of me kept saying, “Whatever you do, don’t let your son’s actions break the relationship you have with him.”  I actually verbalized to him, “I’m not going to let this become a problem between you and me.”

Of course, I believe that “inner voice” was my conscience being informed by the Holy Spirit.  In essence, this was God saying, “Here’s how I would handle it.”  That’s what the Holy Spirit does, He gives us God’s wisdom for how to go about this life on earth.  And it’s usually right on target.  No, it’s always right on target!

Well, here’s the fact, I am God’s son and I have wounded His trust and a bond He wants to have with me.  (So have you.)  In that light, these Words from our Sponsor resound in my soul:

“I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake,
And I will not remember your sins.” (Isaiah 43:25)

Did you catch that – “for My own sake”?  We humans tend to see things from our earthly perspective.  We say that God forgives our sin so we don’t suffer the consequences.  We talk about how wonderful it will be to live in Heaven forever.  All true.  But God sees it differently, He’s the Father of the Prodigal Son.  Why we left home, what we did while we were gone, how broke we are, how humiliated we are to drag our lousy butts home… none of that matters (because they have been handled by Jesus on the Cross).  The only thing the Father’s heart cares about is fellowship with us – having us back home where He can lavish His love on us.

I want to amplify this with another, terribly sad story.  Many years ago, I encouraged a young mother to get more involved in activities at the church and get to know some other moms who could encourage her.  She cried as she told me she didn’t want to get close to anyone because they might find out that in a previous chapter of her life she was a stripper.  I tried to assure her that her past was hers to share or withhold.  I felt so bad for the fear that held her back from enjoying supportive fellowship with other followers of Jesus.

Sadder still is the fact that some years after that conversation, this beautiful daughter of God took her own life.  She never saw herself the way her Father did.  She never saw her sin as something that her Father wanted to get out of the way in their relationship - for His own sake!  She saw her sin as a roadblock.  God sees our sin as road kill.  Don’t linger over road kill!

Every one of us have done enough wrong (even one thing) to hurt the heart of God.  But NOT ONE OF US has done so much wrong that the Sovereign Creator of The Universe can’t get over it.  It’s NOT ABOUT YOU!  God doesn’t look at your shaggy life, wallowing with the pigs, and say, “That tears it.  I’m done with you.”  His heart aches, He reaches out to you, through Jesus, and says, “Man are you gonna look great when I was that stink off of you and give you some clean clothes.”

Yes, you live in your world and you have the memory and possibly the guilt of your sins.  AND God has given you this inner voice, a conscience, which is your sixth sense – your spiritual sense – which brings His truth and wisdom into your life.  You hear Him saying, “I’m not going to let this become a problem between you and me.”  Believe that.  Believe in Jesus and believe that God wants to wipe your slate clean because it’s about Him, not you.

Believe that.

Clark H Smith

Monday, August 13, 2012

Thou Shalt Not...

My wife and I recently attended one of our community's largest churches. The pastor gave an admonition to "Avoid Evil" and listed the following: don't drink alcohol, don't go to R-rated movies, don't skip church, don't fail to pay the tithe.  (Reminds me of this article I wrote last October.)

I emailed the pastor asking, "Have you seen The Passion of the Christ?" He said he had. I asked him how he could do that when he says don't watch R-rated movies. "Of course," he said, "what I meant was don't watch movies that dishonor God." I left it there.  I’ve had quite enough of this slight-of-hand whereby preachers “walk back” what they clearly meant to say when they’re called on it.

To myself, I wondered if he had seen G-rated "FernGully" or PG-rated "The Goodbye Girl" - two examples of "OK"-rated movies that are despicable offenses to the will and wisdom of God. In my humble opinion, "The Goodbye Girl" does more to offend the heart of God than "Kill Bill 1 & 2" combined, maybe with "Boondocks Saints" added in.

Recently, my son was back at that church. His Sunday school lesson was an admonition to not listen to secular music - only listen to Christian music... and be careful about some of that Christian music.   Now seems like a good time to catch a word from our Sponsor:

All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor. Eat anything that is sold in the meat market without asking questions for conscience’ sake; for the earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains. If one of the unbelievers invites you and you want to go, eat anything that is set before you without asking questions for conscience’ sake. But if anyone says to you, “This is meat sacrificed to idols,” do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience’ sake; I mean not your own conscience, but the other man’s; for why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks? Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (I Corinthians 10:23-31)

All this legalism (do what I say) reminds me of the "Gezeirah" - Jewish "fence laws" that put up a spiritual fence lest you get close to breaking an actual law. For example, Jews are forbidden to touch a pencil on Sabbath because if they get it in their hands, they might forget it is Sabbath and write with it - and writing is work and you can't work on Sabbath. (Also see "a dicto simpliciter".)

Jesus dealt with legalism frequently - and often fiercely.  The Jews were heavily burdened with laws.  There was even a law about washing hands that particularly irked Jesus.

Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated?  But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man.   For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.  These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.” (Matthew 15:17-20)

The problem is that laws (and law keeping) create a FALSE SENSE of a healthy relationship with God.  Example: “Don’t go to R-rated movied, you’re a good person.”  But Jesus, and Paul, tells us that FAITH is the key to a right relationship with God.  Faith doesn’t need laws.  Faith seeks to do things that bring glory to God.  That’s what the life of following Jesus is all about.  Whether Christian or Jew, our duty is to grow in faith and help others grow in their faith. When we make fence laws we admit we don't trust ourselves or others and we are too lazy to emphasize a faith that seeks to love God. Instead we create rules to keep from making God mad at us.

If you’d like a little more on this topic – specifically “free moral agency” – I recommend this short paper.

Unless something else arises, next week I plan to discuss what Christian are to do with our freedom to do as we please.  Now that should be worth reading, shouldn't it?

Clark H Smith

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Sizzlin' Sabatical

Follow Illustrated is taking the summer off while your host checks his honey-do list twice and negotiates with Mrs. Follow Illustrated about what actually "has" to get done.  See you all at apple pickin' time.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Idol Worship

Over the last few seasons, my wife and I have enjoyed watching American Idol.  We pick our favorites and then yell at the TV screen when our guy or gal doesn't advance.  As a person who can’t sing a lick, I am downright envious of these kids’ marvelous talent.  What I would give to be able to… …that’s another post.

Jordin Sparks became the American Idol – 2007 version.  She’s soared to well-deserved fame.  That fame has a value, or so thinks Beats Audio, who pays her to star in one of their ads.  If you’ve seen even ten minutes of Idol, you’ve seen this commercial.

The spot is intentionally ironic.  The one, true performer is physically present, but the listener prefers a reproduction.  That’s okay for Beatbox, but do you realize we often do the same thing with God.  A word from OUR One, True Sponsor will explain:
But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. (John 4:23)
…you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. (John 14:17)
Right now, I’m wrestling with the inclination to pick on the prototypical church service – 25 minutes of signing songs that the “worship” leader wants you to sing and 35 minutes of hearing words the preacher wants you to hear.  I do think that is a problem, but I’m convicted to keep this personal and positive.  I want to challenge you.

Do you worship God?  When?  Where?  How?
Does God know that you are worshipping Him?
What does spirit and truth worship look like?
Do you know God by the way He abides in you?

If your only experience of worship is corporate singing at church, I humbly suggest you’ve missed something important.  Singing is a wonderful thing to do, but it’s a dusting of snow on top of the tiny tip of a giant iceberg.

God wants you to realize that He is spiritually present in your life RIGHT NOW.  He is not a Sunday morning experience.  He’s not someone you talk at just before you eat.  Real worship is living that demonstrates God’s worth as a present force in your moment-by-moment life.  Worship is a relatively new word, only about 700 years old.  In the Bible, words now translated as “worship” actually meant things like “sacrifice” and “service”.

If you “sacrifice” an hour a week to sing songs at God, I challenge your concept of “worship”.  If you can only remember a time or two you served someone in need, I challenge your concept of “worship”.

Me?  If I’m so bold as to challenge you, shall I prove up my “acts of worship”?  (Wow, I have a pretty demanding readership.)  I recommend you read one of my former posts on this topic – it explains my concept of worship. 

I believe I worship by wrestling every day with God regarding my attitude.  To see people God’s way and not my way is worship – it demands that I confess the worth of God’s opinion over my own. 

I believe I worship by constantly considering how I can help others.  That’s not my natural temperament.  I’m the baby of the family and more often than not I've been the “star of the show”.  In the last ten years, God has impressed upon me that I am a better and happier human when I am lifting others up.  May not sound like much to you, but to me, that’s a transformation that has allowed me to discover real worship. 

I also believe I worship God when I consider the world with Grace.  Righteousness is my inclination – if something (or someone) is wrong, I hammer on it until it is right.  God wants me to love righteousness AND love grace and mercy.  Like Jesus treated the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8), God wants me to balance righteousness and grace the way He does.  Accepting His worth to change my heart is my most important act of worship.

To put it simply, WORSHIP is the attitude that God is worth more than you.  You down with that?

God’s preferences for your relationships are worth more than yours.
God’s desire for the words that go in your ear and out of your mouth is worth more than yours.
God’s wisdom about your finances and worldly possessions is worth more than yours.
God’s choices for what you do with your body and mind are worth more than yours.

Jesus calls you to follow Him into a lifestyle where EVERY moment of your life is a “not my will but thine be done” moment.  How are you doing on that act of worship?  Privately list the ways you defer to God’s will.  Who has more sway in the business of your life, you or God?  That’s when we find out whether you worship God or not.

To find more worth in your preferences, your desires, your wisdom, your choices, well, that’s the definition of another important word, the opposite of worship – idolatry.  It makes for a great TV show, but as far as relating to God, having an idol (especially yourself) is not the way to go.

Clark H Smith

Monday, May 14, 2012

Come To Your Senses

Let's lighten up this week with a quick game of
"One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other".

So, of these three, which one is the misfit?

You know me, the answer will surprise you.
Email me your thoughts.

Clark H Smith

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Man... Like Jesus

Uncle Jim and Aunt Barb were in town hosting a gaggle of family at dinner to celebrate the sale of Jim’s business.  He and a couple friends started a business from scratch and, in time, their hard work paid off.  At a Mexican restaurant, Jim’s simple drink order almost turned into an international incident.  Between Jim’s southern Missouri English and the waiter’s green card Spanish, it was hard to understand exactly what Jim wanted.  “Make a regular margarita on the rocks, but before you bring it to me, strain the drink off the rocks into a second glass, no ice, with salt, and bring me that glass.”  The rest of the family was cracking up at Jim’s meticulously engineered drink order.

This scene reminded of an old Meineke television ad.  A limo drives up to the Meineke store for service.  An attentive young mechanic steps out and says, “Gee Mr. Big, a man like you could afford to get your car serviced anywhere.  Why come to Meineke?”  Mr. Big looks up with the smug confidence you’d expect and responds, “How do you think a man like me got to be a man like me?”

It dawned on me, the same meticulous thought that Jim put into his drink order could also be found in his work efforts.  Jim wasn’t sloppy in one area of his life and all put-together in another.  That’s a lesson we all should contemplate.

Last week I talked about the high cost of sin and what it cost to erase that sin from our spiritual slate.  I suggested that we “count the cost” before we sin.  Today, I’m going to think a little bit more about that.

Some followers of Jesus think they never sin.  That’s ok.  I know them better than they know themselves – they sin!  So do I.  I’m not bragging, I’m ashamed of it.  I can also tell you I earnestly desire to follow Jesus away from a life marked by sin.  My sins tend to happen when I’m not focused on following Jesus.  When I get caught up in the busyness and distraction of this world, I find it easy to act worldly.  When I’m meticulous about my spiritual life, I find temptations easier to avoid.  Let me be specific.

On Mt. Sinai, Moses was given 10 Commandments.  One was “do not commit adultery”.  Pretty straightforward.  But Jesus came along and tweaked that one:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  (Matthew 5:27-28)
Ah snap, you know that “girl at the gas station” I mentioned last week.  I just might have busted a commandment on that one …not sure.  If so, it was just for a split second.  I promise.

Moses also delivered the law “do not murder”.  No prob, right?  I’ve never killed anybody.  Another Word from our Sponsor begs to differ:
“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” (Matthew 5:21-22)
Look, I’m going to be honest with you, my brother is a pin-head when it comes to his concern for our mother.  He’s not mean or disrespectful, just care-less.  It upsets me severely.  But I’m cautious – very cautious – not to “damn” him.  I’m supposed to live my life as a faithful follower of Jesus and I’ve got to let God deal with all the other pin-heads out there… (and God, I have a list for You if You don’t know who to check on).

I’m leery of how most Sunday sermons are indiscernible from a Dr. Phil pep talk.  Seems like a lot of Christian talk has dipped into a whole lot of pop psychology.  But I’m going to give this some slack on the matter, Jesus told us the our main problem is between our ears.  You can go all your life without killing or adultering someone and still have just as much that needs forgiveness as the worst person you want to point to.  (So maybe you should stop pointing.)

Let’s go right back to the verse I mentioned last week:
But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)
Jesus knows that there are things on earth that appeal to us – most of them were put here to meet our needs in some way.  But followers of Jesus, “a man like Jesus”, seeks His Righteousness first and trusts that our earthly needs will be met – without sinning.

I’ll close with another, very personal story.  My first grade teacher, Ethyl Peasgood, was also a dear personal friend of mine throughout my life.  She was THE most decent, kind, and righteous person I’ve ever known.  I stood beside her hospital bedside in Alaska weeks before she passed away at 102 years old.  In her weak voice, she told us the story of committing her life to Jesus.  “I was in the barn on the family farm.  I prayed, ‘God, make me a better girl.’  I’ve said that prayer every day since.”

How does “a man like me get to be a man like me”?  By daily committing to follow Jesus.  By daily committing to not follow the folly of the world into immediate gratification, short cuts, and shoddy work.  By daily counting the cost of every decision you make and every action you take. 

Uncle Jim’s peculiar drink order wasn’t a silly one-off moment at a restaurant.  It was one of thousands of moments where he thought carefully about the results he expected – and did the things that got those results.  That’s how a man becomes the man he wants to be.

Clark H Smith

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Salad Threshold

You can’t lose weight by talking about it.
You have to keep your mouth shut.
my dad, Carl A. Smith

This post is NOT about one slob’s valiant efforts to shed weight.  It’s about something entirely different. I promise.

I’ve reached The Salad Threshold three times – each of the last three Springs as I began riding my bike to wear off winter weight gain.  The riding season always starts off the same… check over the bike, locate my sweat bands, rinse out the CamelBak “hydration system”, check the weather, get on the trail, and ride.  And NO!  I don’t dress in sissy poser Tour de France togs and NO! I don’t ride on the streets and clog up traffic at rush hour.  You’re welcome on both accounts.

It doesn't take many days of riding before I hit The Salad Threshold (TST).  TST is an amazing mindset that happens after riding for two hours daily, sweating gallons of water, nursing aching muscles, and getting up the next day to do it all over again.  TST happens when I come face to face with why I’m riding in the first place.  I do a loop… in other words, I’m not riding to “get somewhere”.  I’m riding to work off all the food I ate without enough exercise in the winter.  TST happens when I realize that every extra calorie I ingest costs me effort on the bike trail.

Look at that innocent box of goodies to the right.  “Sweet Fredom” they call it.  “No sugar added” they brag.  Each 100 calorie bar in that box is one third the size of a banana and yet eating each one will cost me a mile and a half on the bike!  (And do you think I want just one?)  What I ate between Christmas and New Year’s Day alone will cost me a month of biking.  The tamales I ate just during the BCS Championship game alone will cost me three long days of bike riding.  (We call them Loose Belt Tamales.)  THAT’S WHEN THE SALAD THRESHOLD KICKS IN - I suddenly realize the high cost of what I’m eating and then I really only want to eat salad.

Let me shift gears here, after all this is supposed to be a blog spiritual stuff.  Hear this word from our Sponsor:
For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? (Luke 14:28)
Jesus teaches us that we should count the cost of what we do before we do it.  Here, He is talking about people who want to be His followers but who may not be ready for the commitment.  It’s a common human condition – we like the idea of something, but we don’t think through the consequences to us or others.  On Christmas Day, I was wolfing down jambalaya and gumbo like I was a dying man.  I was not looking at my bike, I was looking at the andouille!  Our Sponsor had something to say about food as well:
Do not worry then, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear for clothing?” … But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  (Matthew 6:31-33)
Let me put the fine point on this.  We live on earth and we are earthly minded.  We tend to “seek first” the pleasure of the moment.  When we seek what feels good now we tend to make “miscalculations”.  A miscalculation of food means an extra week on the bike.  A miscalculation of behavior… well, what’s the cost of that?

Followers of Jesus will celebrate Easter in three days.  There will be Good Friday services where we remember Jesus’ death.  We’ll eat a little cracker and drink a little grape juice.  On Sunday, there’ll be singing, and preaching, and general celebratin’ as we remember Jesus’ resurrection.  But where in all this will you count the cost? 

You do know why Jesus died, don’t you?  You do know why this man, the Son of God, who never miscalculated anything, went to the criminal’s cross, don’t you?  Because spiritually, you and I missed The Salad Threshold.  Neither you nor I considered the cost of our behavior.  We didn’t consider the consequences.  Hey, maybe it was just little 100 calorie bit of gossip.  Or maybe, it was a whopping tamale of a sin that, now, you can’t actually believe you committed.  But just the same, the price has to be paid – the weight of the debt has to be worked off.

Jesus never gossiped.  Jesus never lusted for the inappropriately dressed girl at the gas station.  Jesus never cheated on His taxes, He never disobeyed His mother, He never said to His brother, “I hate you.”  He knew no sin.  And He’s out there riding the spiritual bike while you’re stuffing your face with spiritual Twinkies and tamales.  It’s not fair, is it?  THANK GOD!

This Easter season, in the midst of all the pastel colors, new clothes, and exuberance of Spring, I pray that you’d hit The Salad Threshold.  I pray that all of us learn to count the cost of our behaviors.  When we hit that Threshold we truly begin to live as Followers of Jesus and honor the death that bought our release from the weight of sin.  Thank you, Jesus!

Clark H Smith

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Jump Into Spring

Ah, it’s that time of year again.  The birds are chirping, the flowers are blooming, love is in the air, and my dadblasted neighbor has taken his 150 decibel motorcycle out of winter storage.  No kidding, the airport has called him complaining about the noise.  Seriously, this “follower of Jesus” thing is fine and everything, but I’m willing to consider breaking a few commandments just to shut up this guy’s bike.  You don’t have to encourage me, but at least you could say you understand.

A few Springs ago, I had an odd encounter with another motorcycle.  While picking up my son at his junior high school, I was approached by one of the teachers – Coach.  Coach is a jovial giant, standing in the mid six foot range whom I’d gotten to know during the school year.  Coach had a problem – his fat hog was dead… I should clarify, his motorcycle wouldn’t start.  As I waited for Junior to bounce out the exit doors, Coach recognized me and asked for the favor of a jump start.  Dejectedly, I turned down Coach’s request, “Sorry Man, I don’t have any jumper cables in my car right now.”  To this day, his response stunned me:
“You’re a pastor and you don’t have jumper cables?”
I have a master’s degree in Ministry.  I remember some of my course work pretty well, but I just can’t find my notes from the day the professor covered which emergency car maintenance items ordained ministers were required to have in their car at all times.  Since Coach is also an assistant basketball coach at a nearby Christian college, I figure he knows what’s expected.

I’m in a quandary here.  What should be required of pastors?  And since pastors are supposed to equip the flock, what is required of ALL followers of Jesus.  Right now, how many of you have jumper cables in your car?  But, I do think Coach is onto something.  Remember the Good Samaritan?  I think loving your neighbor somehow involves being ready to help him… somehow.  Will a word from our Sponsor satisfy?
If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. (Matthew 5:40)
But I wasn't being sued… How about:
Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:42)
Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. (Luke 6:30)
Okay, I’m willing to be generous and I guess I would have even given Coach my cables if he just asked to borrow them, but I didn’t have any.  What to do?  What to do?

In fact, I make it a point to always have jumper cables with me always.  On that occasion, my wife was having trouble with her battery and I put my cables in her car so she wouldn’t get stranded.  (Husband points!)  I like being able to help and I’ve given many a disabled vehicle a jump.  When I lived in South Carolina, I would carry around a cooler with ice cold water bottles in it so I could comfort the afflicted during the sweltering summers.  Seriously, Coach, I take this “follower” thing seriously, preacher or not.  Let’s catch a final word from our Sponsor and see what else followers of Jesus need to have at the ready:
Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you. (1 Peter 3:15)
There’s a lot there!  The main point is that followers of Jesus live their lives with a rare kind of Hope – the kind the worries of the world cannot extinguish.  And when you have that kind of hope people are going to ask about it.  So always be ready to give the people around you a Jolt of Jesus – jump their sad hearts with the Good News that God has great plans for all of us.  Prepare today to say to someone, “I’m calm in the midst of this pain / sorrow / calamity, because I believe in God’s love for me and His plan for me.  I’m not going to let temporary circumstances steal my joy.”  Say that and you’ll be giving someone a jump that will stay with them for a long, long time!

Well Coach, I may be a sad sack little pastor with no jumper cables, but I still have a brain.  I suggested we get his chopper started the old fashioned way, with a push.  “I never tried that before, but let’s give it a shot.”  (I thought, “You’re a science teacher and you never jump started your motorcycle before?”  Two can play at this game, you know.)  Coach saddled up and Junior and I got behind the rolling half ton of mass and gave it our best.  In ten seconds, I had redeemed myself for failing the pastor test and Coach was off annoying suburbanites seeking a quiet Spring afternoon.

Clark H Smith

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Going Nowhere... With A Purpose

My wife and I have had a theme song since the early days of our marriage – Two of Us Going Nowhere by the Beatles.  We love to just wander.  When we get the chance we’ll point the car in one direction or another and see what’s out there.  A summer ago, we found ourselves in the Blairstown, Missouri business district which featured a closed general store, a GAS-BEER-MINNOWS outlet, and a gun store.  We went to the gun store. 

After shopping a few moments and calculating this was not the day to invest in a 30.06, we sauntered out.  On the way out of the store, the kindly lad who we’d been yacking with said something that I didn't clearly understand.  We got outside and my wife asked me what I heard.  "I don't know," I said, "it almost sounded like he said 'We love you.'"  "That's what I thought I heard", she replied.

I’ve always heard of country hospitality, but I found this Missourian “Aloha” a tad odd.  We were in a gun store for crying out loud, not Precious Moments.  When I hear “I love you” from someone other than my wife or kids, my mind kicks into Skeptical gear.

Made me think of another awkward retail situation.  Back on Dec 15, 2011, I posted the “Attaboy” article.  In it, I mentioned a great fellow, David Griffin.  In the mid-80s, David was an up-and-coming artist in Dallas.  He got the chance to be included in a gallery that showcased his work very well.  Only problem was, the gallery was run by the Moonies (a cult of Christianity rife with theological and financial error).  When I got back in touch with David after 25 years, that gallery was still on his mind:
As a side note I must say to you my involvement with the gallery run by the" Moonies" was a big embarrassment. I guess when you're young, naive and desperate you'll believe almost anything. After I found out I did confront them with it and they just danced around a confession, I pulled out of the gallery that day. You didn't ask I just felt the need to confess my mistake.
So what’s the connection between the gun store in Blairstown and David’s gallery.  Let me tie this up with a couple words from our Sponsor:
Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.  (Matthew 10:16)
 Flee immorality. (I Corinthians 6:18)
“Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE,” says the Lord. (II Corinthians 6:17)
Followers of Jesus live in a crazy, mixed up world (with crazy, mixed up people – some of whom are us!).  But we are not to become so mixed in with that world that there is no difference between them and us.  I’m not saying the gun store folks were Moonies or had some ulterior motive, but they sure made my spidey-sense tingle.  David admits he got flim-flammed, and frankly, I love the fact that, to this day, David is still agitated about that brief period of time that he found himself on the shady side of the street.  It says his conscience is in good working order.

Followers of Jesus follow Him toward righteousness.  NO!  I am not saying we put up an 8’ privacy fence and ignore the world.  Read this post and remember that we’re on a mission and we’re going to get our hands dirty – but we don’t have to get our hearts dirty.  Do you know the difference?

Followers of Jesus, even if you’re “going nowhere”, you’re on the mission field.  Like wolves and snakes, keep your eyes open – be shrewd about where you go and how.  Like lambs and doves, be innocent – don’t eat what the wolf eats and don’t sleep where the snake sleeps.  Be separate. 

And if you don’t mind getting your infantry on at a store that has that nice Precious Moments vibe, I can hook you up.

Clark H Smith

Monday, March 19, 2012

Thank You For Your Patience

I recently posted this my Facebook account:

LIFE: the time you spend waiting
for everything to come together just right. 

Sometimes we think we're busy, but more often than not, we're just waiting for all the right pieces to show up.  My goal is to post two Follow Illustrated posts a week.  Lately I've been fortunate to get one up.  I don't want to do this half-way or half-heartedly so I only write when I can.

The first three months of this year have been tumultuous, I'm sure yours have been, too.  I have another "tumult" this week.  Nothing bad, just consuming.  I appreciate all my readers who subscribe or check in regularly.  I hope to have a post later this week and then be more regular moving forward.  "I hope."

You ever feel that way?  Hopeful... if only because that's your last option - to wait and see what turns up?  My most recent sermon touches on that.  It's about Patience.  Maybe you'll get something out of watching the video.  I post the second half first because that's where the meat of the message is.  If you can't watch the whole thing, focus on the best part.

Part 2
Part 1

"If you can't watch the whole thing, focus on the best part."

I just said that.  Good words for living.

Keep following Jesus.

Clark H Smith

Thursday, March 15, 2012

No One Will Ever Know

Unbelievably, a pregnant teen once walked into my church office hoping to get someone to take her to the abortion clinic.  The youth pastor’s wife and I sat with her for two hours trying to encourage her not to go through with the abortion.  Here’s a snippet of dialogue that happened near the end of the conversation.
Pregnant Teen:  I just don’t want anyone to know.
YP Wife:  But Honey, God will know.
PT:  I don’t care if God knows.  I just don’t want anyone else to know.  I don’t want them to think I’m a slut.
ME:  Oh, that’s not the way I would go with it.  If you could possibly keep a secret from anyone, it would be God – He really matters.  The other people don’t matter compared to the value of what God thinks about you.
The teen left the office and finally got her dad to take her for an abortion.  One of the saddest days of my life.  And yet, the idea of caring what people think and not caring what God thinks is, perhaps, the most common error committed by humans. 

Yesterday at It’, I wrote about a current American Idol Top 12 contestant who apparently didn’t think his past would catch up with him.  Please read that post.  Today, I want to address the spiritual component of this problem.  To get there, check out this verse that my own rock star son sent me:
Life is not a spark in space
An episode of Will and Grace
Controversial yet mundane
Deborahs messing with your brain
Even Scientologists know theres more to all of this
Search the ruins for trap doors
Wonder what you're put here for
"Do Better" by Max Bemis / Say Anything
I think the song is about a guy who’s trying to “do better”.  The first two lines caught my attention.  “Life is not a spark in space / An episode of Will and Grace”.  I think he means life is more reruns of  silly old TV shows.  But hold on there, life is all about WILL and GRACE - our will and God’s grace.  Our Will gets us into trouble.  God’s Grace provides an escape from our trouble.  The only “catch” is, you can’t pretend you’re not in trouble.  Speaking of catching, let’s catch this word from our Sponsor:
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.  (Hebrews 4:12-13)
That bears repeating: There is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.  Get it?  You don’t hide anything from God.  It is one thing for a child to close their eyes and pretend something is not there.  The author of “Do Better” was once an atheist – a childish person closing their eyes pretending there is no God.  Here’s the deal, friend, you can close your eyes all day long and pretend all you want, but God does not close His eyes, He does not blink, He does not sleep.  He knows who’s “been good or bad”, but unlike Santa Claus, God does something about what He sees.

Sound ominous?  Sound threatening?  Sound like yet another preacher trying to scare you into being good – into “doing better”.  Don’t go down that road.  My name is Clark Smith.  I am a sinner saved by Grace.  My own will gets me in dutch with God.  God’s own grace gets me out of trouble.  Let’s go down that road… together. 

Follower of Jesus, I hope you’ll do better.  I pray you’ll do better.  You should.  You owe God your very best every day.  But God’s grace comes without a price tag, without a gotcha.  John 3:16 (a great word from our Sponsor) says, in essence, you deserve to perish for exercising your Will wrongly, but God loves you and He can’t bear to watch you destroy yourself – His creation.  His free gift of Grace is all you need to enjoy everlasting life with Him in Heaven.  The gracious gift is freely given, but it is not free.  Jesus, who had no warrants out for His arrest was executed so you could go free.  Believe it.  Take the deal.  His Grace trumps your Will.

Clark H Smith

Monday, March 5, 2012

Shame On You, Pastor

lifted up or out of reach??
I once took a seminary course on evangelism.  The course was “taught” by my own senior pastor.  One of the assignments of the course was to write a report on an evangelistic call.  I had been hoping to get my very worldly neighbor to think more seriously about matters of faith so I invited him to attend my discipleship group and then we talked afterwards while sitting in his Suburban.  Altogether, we spent three hours one Thursday morning delving deeply into the believability of the Bible and our commitment to its claims.  When I turned in the report, the my-way-or-the-highway pastor said, “You didn’t go into his house?  This isn’t an evangelistic call.”  And he commanded me to write up a different experience.

What do you think?  Was the pastor right?  Can you only share the Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ by knocking at someone’s house, holding their storm door open, and barging in when they open the main door?  Is that the way it works? 

And don’t think this is an old-school, pastor-past-his-prime problem.  I sat in a church yesterday and heard this, “Do you know how much it costs to get someone saved?”  The energetic young pastor criticized people who unflinchingly spend hundreds at sporting events and then begrudge giving their tithe to the local church.  Fortunately, the evangelist had done the math for us.  He counted the cost of taking a lost soul to dinner three times, his travel costs, time costs, and then he amortized the cost of the church building on the occasions when the lost man visited.  He came up with the exact amount of George Washingtons it takes to secure a man’s soul in heaven - $3043 (or close to that).  I’m gonna get sick.  Let’s wash our brains out with a couple words from our Sponsor:
“…one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” (John 9:25b)
“…what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops.” (Matthew 10:27b)
In the John 9 passage, a man born blind – whose vision was restored by Jesus – was pressed by the religious elite of his day to declare who Jesus was.  The blind man did what he should have done.  He stayed away from debating and simply told of his personal experience.  In Matthew 10, Jesus is sending out the disciples on their first “missionary journeys”.  He didn’t send them out with the answer to the Da Vinci code or the gift if palm-reading, nor did Jesus tell them, “bring them back to Me and I alone will get them saved.  Jesus simply said “confess Me before men” (Matthew 10:32).  That’s it.  That’s the entire plan of the Gospel and that is the entire cost of spreading the Gospel – your voice.

Follower of Jesus, here’s a dirty little secret not many other preachers will tell you – (I’m going to whisper this) you don’t have to take someone to church to get them saved.  That’s not what saves you.  You don’t have to sit on someone’s couch for three hours to get them saved.  That’s not what saves you.  All you have to do to get someone saved is tell them what your life is like now that your spiritual vision is restored.

After a day at church when I had some missionaries speak, young son Noah (the cookie monster) piped up at supper and said, “I’m going to be a missionary.”  I asked why.  He responded with cheer and confidence, “They touch people’s eyes every day.”  Well, I knew what he meant to say, “they touch people lives every day” and he just mis-heard it.  On the other hand…

Follower of Jesus, the unsaved see the world as a place of striving, of self-effort, and self-righteousness.  They see the world as a barren field from which they, through their own effort, have to eke a living.  They see a world full of hurt, disappointment, and rejection.  They see the world as a showcase of victories and losses.  They see the world as just getting even or just getting by.  They see the world in black and white. 

Before a person ever sees the inside of the church, they see you.  They see how you live, how you love, how you resolve conflict, how you serve others.  They see the Gospel of Salvation every day in you.  Add your confession to that.  “I believe in the love of Jesus.  I believe in the free gift of salvation.  I believe living a life according to the teaching of the Bible is best.”  Can you do that?  You’d save a pastor I know $3043.  You’d get an A+ in my seminary course.  Follower of Jesus, be a missionary.  Go out today, and touch someone’s eyes.

Clark H Smith

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Big News for Little Brother

Follow Illustrated's little brother blog, got some good news today.  IGTBTD is now an official blog of / National Center for Fathering.

Check out the announcement.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Whispering Spirit

As quiet as the sound of snow falling...
try not to make God yell at you
when He wants to whisper.
I think pastors often say things that their flock might not understand.  Just as often I wonder if even the pastor understands what he says.  Today, I want to talk about “listening to the Holy Spirit” – a church term used as frequently as “Welcome”, but shrouded in mystery and confusion.  To illustrate:

I’ve mentioned my money-pit house before.  I’ve had more than my share of problems with the garage door.  Numerous service calls and many hundreds of dollars invested left me only wearier when new problems arose.  Several years ago, I just threw up my hands.  The door had “seized up” somehow so I just popped the hitch off the powered door opener and we raised and lowered the heavy door for close to a year, maybe more.  That means we also left it unlocked.  No harm befell us, but I certainly put the persons and property of our house at risk.  Let me break here for a word from our Sponsor.
And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. … But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth. (John 16:8-10, 11a)
In a flood of final instructions before Jesus was crucified, He promised us that the Holy Spirit would come and help us realize more fully (convict) the realities of Sin, Righteousness, Judgment, and Truth – four things that we really need to know more about to successfully follow Jesus.  But how does the Holy Spirit do that?  Do we get a text message saying, “Don’t gossip.” or “Put more money in the plate.”?  That’s never happened to me, how about you?

Do you believe you have a conscience?  What is it?  How do you know you have one?  Would you agree that your conscience leads you or prompts you to do something?  I believe the conscience is our sixth sense and this is how we sense the conviction of the Holy Spirit.  I recommend that followers of Jesus spend time in prayer asking God to heighten their sense of the Spirit.  And I always point out this word from our Sponsor:
And [the Word of the Lord] said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.”  (1 Kings 19:11-12)
… and the LORD was in the still small voice.  This passage is about a contrast in the levels of force and sound volume.  “A still small voice”… sounds like a whisper to me.  I think the point is that God does not prefer to yell and scream at us.  I don’t think God appreciates having to shout above the clutter of our world to communicate with us.  He wants to whisper to us as a Father comforting His child at nap time.  If you want to hear from the Spirit, you desperately need to find a time to slow down, settle down, and listen up.  Don’t make God shout at you.

Now where was I?  House… money pit… garage door… yes, garage door.  You know what was wrong with the door opener for the year (or more) that we lifted and closed it manually?  On top of the  wall-mounted opener pad is a little switch.  It seems this switch locks and unlocks the unit.  Someone sometime somehow pushed this switch to OFF.  I’d paid for two service calls and finally gave up – inconveniencing my family and myself (not to mention the safety issue) for a year because neither I nor the service folks ever noticed this still small switch in the wrong position.  The word “fool” comes to mind.

Follower of Jesus, are you missing something?  Are you inconvenienced or at risk spiritually because you are not sensing the Holy Spirit convicting you of sin, righteousness, judgment, and truth?  Maybe you need to slow down, turn off the noise, and tell God you’re ready to listen.  I can’t tell you what your perceptions will be.  If you realize that your conscience has a dynamic role in your life, I’d beg the Holy Spirit to speak through your conscience to help you follow Jesus even more closely.  And pay attention when you get even a still small whisper from your conscience.  Heeding it may save you a quakenado of trouble.

Clark H Smith

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Abusers of His Grace

Today, not only am I going to give you TWO illustrations, I’m going to follow up on the topic I discussed in my last post

“Grace” means we get the salvation that we don’t deserve – for free, we don’t have to do anything to get it.  A friend recently posed a thought to me, “Don’t you think God makes salvation too easy?”  In essence, if we had to work at it a little more, don’t you think followers of Jesus would take their salvation more seriously?  Let me illustrate this kind of grace by telling you about my cousin Gregory, whom I admire deeply.

In the late 1960s, Gregory walked into a barber shop and said to the barber, “Sir, I don’t have enough money to pay for a haircut right now, but if you’ll let me work in your shop, sweeping up hair or whatever, until I have earned enough to pay for a cut, I’d really appreciate it.”  The old barber looked at him and motioned for him to sit down in a chair.  “Any young man who actually wants a haircut these days can have one.  It’s on me.”

That’s grace.  Gregory didn’t ask for anything for free, but the one who in charge of haircuts offered it for free – no work to be done before or after.  All Gregory had to do was sit in the chair and receive what the barber offered him.  Easy Peasy.  Let’s catch a word from our Sponsor:
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
For followers of Jesus, salvation is free.  Oh, it cost plenty!  A sinless Jesus, who was pronounced innocent by the highest legal authority, was crucified – an extraordinarily cruel, painful, and humiliating death between two pirates.  But it’s free to us and sometimes we treat free stuff (“you get what you pay for”) with disregard.  I once recommended a teenage Christian rocker rename his band “Abusers of His Grace” – because that’s what we do.  We abuse the free gift God gave us.  He saved us from the consequences of sin, but all too often, we take that salvation from sin as a license to sin.  Follower of Jesus, are you an Abuser of His Grace?

There’s no quick cure for this.  The Holy Spirit works in our lives (see John 16) to draw us away from sin and move us toward righteousness.  It’s a life-long process and it’s never complete.  (If you know a perfect person, please point them out to me.)  For me, a major step toward desiring not to abuse God’s grace was to see sin the way God sees it.  Every sin is a hammer-strike driving a nail into Jesus’ hands.  It’s a thorn digging into His brow.  It’s a rivulet of salty sweat running down into a back lashed open with 39 strikes from a metal-tipped whip.  Every sin – past, present, and future – caused a mother to watch her innocent son tortured and killed.  You think your white lie, your gossip, your moment of lust, your anger, your pride… you think it’s no big deal?  Follower of Jesus, stand by Mary at the cross and tell her, “No biggie, I’m saved.” 

Catch a load of this piece of junk pictured on the right.  I can call it junk, I’m not the insurance company that covered this “work of art” for $1,081,644 only to have it accidentally “cleaned up” by a janitor – ruining the art installation.  (Read the full story.)  You see, the artist intended the sculpture to look like a bucket that had caught rainwater which had leaked from the ceiling and subsequently dried in the black tub below.  Talk about “shabby chic”.  The janitor thought it was a mess that needed to be cleaned up – that was her job!

You know where I’m going with this, right?  God wanted to clean us up, He sent His Son to do the dirty work.  But we, followers of Jesus, often times find it fashionable, even preferable, to keep on looking like the trashy world we are supposed to be saved from.  Make sense to you?  Me neither, but it’s the story of my life.  Like I said, there’s no quick fix, but if you are serious about following Jesus, you will make progress.  Bookmark this post and the one from Feb 20.  Mull all this over for a while.  Make a note on your calendar to come back and read these two posts and see if you’re making progress on your own or if you need to cry out to God begging for help getting cleaned up.  He’s like a barber I know, He’s always eager to help someone who really wants help.

Clark H Smith