Monday, January 30, 2012

Pants On The Ground

X Games medalist SNBer
Sebastian "Seb Toots" Toutan
With the Winter Olympics still two years away, the Winter X Games provide a nice snowbunny hint of grander things to come.  I’m amused at the “Big Air” competition.   Snowboarders race five hundred feet or so down a hillside, run up a forty foot ramp, soaring over and landing on the backside of an eighty foot hill.  The stated goal is to fly higher, and farther, and do more flips and spins than your competition.  If you’ve ever watched X Games, you can’t help being struck by the richness of the ski bum sub-culture, especially among the snowboarders who seem to have a deeper, richer, subber sub-culture.  Unkempt long hair, graffiti graphics on apparel and gear, “chill, bro” hand signals copped from the surfing sub-culture, and sloppy, baggy clothing.  Before I start sounding like everyone’s dad, let’s hang loose with a word from our awesome Sponsor:
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  (Hebrews 12:1-2)
This memorization-worthy passage is the climax of Hebrews 11, the “Hall of Fame of Faith”.  The writer of Hebrews admonishes all followers of Jesus to keep their eyes Him and commit themselves to our chosen, long-distance race.  Three keys are alliterated here:
  •  lay aside every Encumbrance
  •  lay aside  the sin which so easily Entangles us
  •  run with Endurance
Avoiding a life detained by sin is the obvious course for followers who want to stay close to Jesus.  But what of these “encumbrances”?  Think of a baseball batter warming up.  He has those “donuts” on his bat – extra weights to force him to work harder.  But no batter goes to the plate with those donuts.  They’d just slow down the swing.  Do you have encumbrances in your life?  Bad habits like laziness and procrastination are dreadful encumbrances.  Failing to grow in our faith, remaining “baby Christians” may not seem like a sin, but it certainly diminishes the purpose of following Jesus.  Followers of Jesus seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit to learn how to lay aside encumbrances.  My guess is you already have a pretty clear sense of the things that are weighing you down and holding you back from a close and swift pursuit of Jesus.

Now where was I?  Oh yeah, pickin’ on the young’uns.  I get frustrated with people who claim to have an objective and then doing things counter-productive to achieving it.  Remember I mentioned “baggy” clothing.  What do bags do?  They hold junk… like air.  “Big Air” athletes can sure turn their tricks and flips, but their baggy clothing encumbers them from excellence.  Compare the picture above to this one of a world-class ski jumper.  If you were a betting person which one do you think has a better chance of getting “Big Air”?

For me, the larger question is WHY?  Why would someone compromise their performance with these counter-productive clothes?  We mentioned the reason in the first paragraph – culture.  My observation is that these athletes are more committed to the safety of their peer (pressure) group than they are excellence.  The first one to break out and wear functional gear would blow the competition away.  Why not borrow some togs from Eddie the Eagle and go for the gold?

SNBer Torstein Horgmo
gettin' air and
droppin' trou.
I’ll stop picking on the kids and prod you one last time.  Are you ready to “put on Christ”?  Are your ready to spend an hour in prayer with God?  Are you ready to memorize a verse that God could use to minister to someone else?  Are you ready to tell someone your “secret” to enduring the hardships of life?  (And I don’t mean a generic status update on Facebook.)  Are you ready to step up to the clear opportunity to start a Bible study at your workplace or in your neighborhood?  Are you ready to stop letting fear hold you back like anchor?  Follower of Jesus, is NOW the time you'll take off your baggy, sloppy excuses and demonstrate Excellence in your pursuit of your Savior.

Clark H Smith

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Living, Simply to Serve the King

Devin Rose is a personal, deeply personal friend of mine.  We have served in ministry together and walked down both rugged and joyous paths together.  I tell Devin all the time that he spends too much effort “trying to teach reindeer to dance” – he likes going against the flow.  But Devin’s heart is the heart you’d wish your best friend had.  Please check out Devin’s reindeer dancing blog at RethinkReligion.

As a junior in high school, I went to Maranatha Camp at the Lake of the Ozarks. I listened to a speaker stomp back and forth on the stage challenging us not to get saved (most of us were church kids), but rather, if "we knew that we knew that we knew we were called to vocational ministry", to come forward. I stayed at my seat. At 18 I was already a little leery of the Christian camp spiritual hype and didn't want to base my life's work on an emotional moment.

Nevertheless, I went to a Christian university, majored in Christian Ministry, and wound up working in the church anyway. Many times, I wanted to get out, to get a new job, and to have a different life. Through a series of choices, unfortunate circumstances, and Providence I found myself no longer working in the church, but running a coffee house and pub. Before I attempt to reconcile those jobs, a word from our Sponsor (as my host would say):
Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works. Let your clothes be white all the time, and let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going. Ecclesiates 9:8-10 (NASB)
The problem with my church job wasn't my job; it was me. I did not start first with the understanding that the works God set before me was the thing I was to do and do it as well as I could. I spent so much time trying to find the right thing I was never right, myself.

This is much like my single friends who are always looking for "The One" when, the truth of the matter is, even if they found the "perfect one", they themselves were imperfect and would doubtlessly ruin the relationship.

Running a cafe and pub is just a job like any other: there are things I like and things I don't, people I like and people I don't; however, my approach to the job makes it perfect for where I am in life. We teach our staff that this is not a job like any other because we start with the belief that a person's life can be impacted by a great beverage and caring about the person you are serving it to.

Nothing has meaning until we give it meaning. When we are externally focused on something or someone else making us happy or fulfilled we miss what God is trying to do in us and then through us where we are in life. I began seeing the way I did my job as a reflection of my identity in Christ. It's not about what I was doing, but how I was doing it. Was I loving other people where they were? Was I speaking truth into their life? Was I treating my boss and employees with respect? Was I listening to the Holy Spirit as to what I should do next?

Each moment you are in is an opportunity to write history, your own obituary, and live the identity that God has given you.

Our calling isn't a magical moment at a camp where God chooses some "A" team of pastors and missionaries, but lifestyle in which we live as servants to the King, doing His work wherever we are.

Devin M. Rose

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

ReThink Religion

I'm honored that my good friend, Devin Rose, invited me to write an article for his tilting-at-windmills blog, Rethink Religion.  I hope all my Follow Illustrated readers with drop by Devin's blog and see what I have to say about "whose job it is to be a Christian".  And be sure to tune in here tomorrow for Devin's guest post on this blog.

Monday, January 23, 2012

I’ll Fix It Myself

We're stalled out in the swamps between the end of college football season and the 54th Annual Grammy Awards on Feb 12.  Howzabout an illustration from each category to illustrate a very important point.

Play By Play #1:  On Oct 29, 2011, Stanford faced USC for a college football game.  With a tied score and 3:15 to go in the game, everyone’s projected top NFL draft pick, Stanford QB Andrew Luck, threw an interception that put Stanford down by seven points.  On the sidelines after the interception, Luck got the attention of his intended receiver and tapped himself on the chest as if to say, “My bad.”  Stanford recovered and scored with 38 seconds to go, tying the in the game in regulation and eventually winning in the third overtime.  After the game, ESPN’s Erin Andrews noted Luck’s distress on the sidelines and asked, “How did you calm down.”  Luck replied, “I had to realize we still had time left, still had time to atone for your mistakes.”  By “your mistakes”, I’m quite sure Luck meant “my mistakes”.  I guess there is no “I” in “team”, after all.

Play By Play #2:  On February 20, 1991, Bob Dylan accepting Lifetime Achievement Award at 1991 Grammy Awards (see video, Dylan’s comments begin at 1:50).  The audio is poor - here what he says:
Well, my daddy, he didn't leave me much, you know he was a very simple man and he didn’t leave me a lot, but what he told me was this, he did say, “Son…”, he said, he said so many things, you know?  He say, “You know it's possible to become so defiled in this world that your own father and mother will abandon you and if that happens, God will always believe in your own ability to mend your ways."

Dylan, an alleged creative songwriter, is actually plagiarizing an old rabbi (who like Catholic priests were called “father” / aka “daddy”), Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, who grossly misinterpreted Psalm 27:10.  This is how our Sponsor originally worded His own thoughts: 
Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me.
Is it true that “God Helps Those Who Help Themselves”?  Granted, the whole testimony of scripture is God working on behalf of His faithful followers.  There’s no disputing that.  But there is a dangerous dark side of this coin that is called “works righteousness” or “works salvation”.  It is the core of every religion other than Christianity, especially Hinduism and Islam.  It’s the idea that you don’t need salvation delivered by God if you are, by and large, a righteous person as demonstrated by your works – if you atone for your own mistakes. 

Rather than “believing” in us to “mend our ways”, God offers to receive us in our un-mended condition.  (Aren’t we perpectually “un-mended”?)  This misstatement is really alarming, but not unheard of.  Another word from our Sponsor really clarifies God’s position on this.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
If you “mended your ways”, then you wouldn’t need a gift from God for salvation, you’d be perfect.  (How’s that working out for you, anyway?  Perfect much lately?)  If you did such great work that God wanted you as a trophy on his heavenly mantle, then salvation would be a reward for your good work, not an escape from your bad work.  I do believe in rewards in heaven, but I don’t believe in heaven as a reward.

Followers of Jesus know this much:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

If we could mend our ways, we wouldn’t be at risk of perishing.
If we could mend our ways, we wouldn’t need the gift of eternal life.
If we could mend our ways, we wouldn’t need to believe in Jesus, we’d believe in ourselves.

Problem: I know how “if” turns out.

Followers of Jesus thank our Father for knowing we can’t mend our ways and loving us anyway and giving us eternal life through our faith in Jesus.

Clark H Smith

Thursday, January 19, 2012

New Year’s Resolution – BURN!

“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.”  Thoreau

Illustration #1 - (I’ve lost my original source for this.  I’m sure my readers trust that I’m not making this up?)  In the late 1990s, I saw a biopic of Elvis Presley’s life.  In one very early scene, Elvis is sitting in church studying the dynamic, flamboyant moves of his Pentecostal preacher.  The church audience was enthralled, engaged, and responsive in the service because the speaker virtually reached out and grabbed their attention.  A little later in the movie we find Elvis performing at one of his very first concerts along with some run-of-the-mill musicians of his day.  The audience sat quietly in rows of chairs nodding along to the beat of the music.  Concert goers chatted with each other; all but checked out of concert.  The movie shows Elvis, mid-performance, reflecting on his charismatic preacher and how he engaged the church audience.  The next thing you know… Elvis bolts over a low railing between the stage and audience.  Volume and energy amp up as he puts that pelvis of his in high rpm.  The crowd goes wild.  The rest is history.

Illustration #2 - Wisconsin’s Door County “Fish Boil” is a food phenomenon that I’d never heard of elsewhere.  You may have never heard of it at all.  Tourist-focused restaurants all over this picturesque region host evening Fish Boils at set times and at a handsome price.  The evening rolls out as follows:  Make reservations for one of two or three “seatings” in the evening – in at 7, out by 8.  You’re invited to gather outside as much an hour earlier to watch… water boil.  [Watch the video I’ve posted below for the full visual effect.]  A large fire is stoked under an large cauldron of boiling saltwater.  Baskets of potatoes, onions, and finally Great Lakes whitefish are lowered into the pot.  At the last moment, the man who’d been tending the fire takes a coffee can full of kerosene and dashes it on the fire.  An ecstatic explosion of fire and boiling water results.  You see, hear, smell, and feel the comestible conflagration.  Tasting the delicious result is the only thing left.  People pay a premium price and spend an extra hour before their meal to watch this curious spectacle.

What do Elvis and Door County Fish Boils have in common?  I’m sure you’re way ahead of me.  This quote says it best: “If a man will set himself on fire, the world will come to watch him burn.”  High school gyms are full of rock-star wannabees who lack the passion to entertain that Elvis had.  It’s the process, the performance that makes a plate of fish and potatoes special.  Dr. Bell-Curve taught us that most people group together in a huge middle herd.  Only the standouts get attention.  Crowds don’t gather to hear a grandma read nursery rhymes.  Ramen noodles in dorm microwave don’t attract any attention.  Likewise, an apathetic Christian doesn’t impact the world anymore than an apathetic atheist.  Let’s check in late here for a word from our Sponsor:
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. (Romans 12:1)
Exceptional words.  Challenging words.  What happens to sacrifices in the Old Testament (the context in which this verse is written)?  They are “holocaust” – burned whole in the altar’s flame.  Paul urges followers of Jesus to become wholly consumed by the mission of their faith.  It’s not a part-time gig, it’s not a job that can be done half-way.  If you’re just smoldering, chances are the world isn’t going to think you’re soon to catch fire.  Let a follower of Jesus fully commit himself/herself to the cause… and the world will attend to the fire that burns within you.

Crowds do not gather to watch a fire smolder.  They want to see a blaze.

Clark H Smith

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Bowl of Red

Esau said to Jacob, “Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.” (Genesis 25:30)
And thus, for that bowl of chili, Esau traded away his birthright – the privilege of being a forefather of Jesus.  I wonder if that chili was even half as good as the red stuff I make throughout the winter?  How did I learn to make such great chili?  Well, lemme break it down for ya.  If you want chili, you’ve got a few options:

You can let someone else do it all for you.
You can buy a can or a package of spices to add to ground beef.
You can follow tedious a recipe.
You can make it from scratch.

Which do you think is the best?  My experience is the homemade stuff I make “by the seat of my pants” is always preferable.  I’ve won more than a few church cook-offs.  I learned the fine art of chili-making by buying Wick Fowler’s 2-Alarm “kits” with individual spice packets.  By adding these one at a time (instead of dumping them in all at once like the recipe calls for) I learned what each ingredient contributed to the pot.  After a year or two of doing that, I learned to reach into the spice cabinet instead of the store shelf.  I knew the taste I was after and because I know the character of each ingredient, I could steer the savory stew in the direction I wanted it to go.

Now I’d like to jump from the kitchen to the study.  The first time I taught an adult Sunday school class, I subbed for a teacher who would simply take Warren Wiersbe “Be…” series books, copy a chapter, and highlight the parts he wanted to stress.  He handed me his photocopies for the week and I struggled to parrot what someone else had said.  The second time I taught, I stumbled around with my Bible and a poor commentary, but I wrote my own lesson.  In time, I got better tools and more of them, but only what aided my study – nothing that I repeated directly.

Now, if you’re thinking to yourself, “Good for you Clark, but I’m not a teacher, not a preacher.  I can’t do all that Bible studying stuff.”  You’re not alone.  I’ve heard church elders say that and every Sunday, pulpits all over the world are filled with pastors who bought (or stole) the sermon in front of them.  There’s even a joke at seminary, “All work and no plagiarism makes Jack a dull preacher.”  Makes me sick to think of it.  But this post really isn’t about plagiarism.  It’s about you being able to feed yourself first, then others.

Let’s go back to the kitchen, the restaurant kitchen.  You walk into a nice restaurant, take a seat, and look for the waiter to hand you a menu.  Instead the waiter says brightly, “Tonight we have chili.”  But you don’t want chili.  You ask what else is available.  Waiter, “That is all, chili, but I’m happy to tell you the chili is prepared by none other than Clark H Smith, an excellent chili cook.”  But really, it’s late June, you worked in the yard all day and you just don’t want chili, even if it’s prepared by an eminent chiliologist.  You see where I’m going with this.  We all have unique spiritual appetites and nutritional needs.  I can whip up a dynamite bowl of evangelism, but if you need a soothing plate of encouragement, you’re going home hungry.  What God has to say to me probably isn’t what He wants to say to you.  You’ve got to learn to “cook” for yourself.

I’m not going to dance around the subject anymore, Follow of Jesus, I’m asking you directly, are you willing to improve your skills so you can sit down with your own Bible and discern God’s wisdom for your life from what you read?  I spent many hundreds of dollars on resources that helped me dive deep into the guts of scripture.  If you want help putting together a library, email me, and I’ll share some thoughts.  But I’d like to give you something for free that I believe will immediately enrich your time in the word.  Take this list of simple questions, print it out, and tuck it inside your Bible.  The next time you read a passage of scripture, go through this list:

Is there a command to obey?
Is there a promise to claim?
Is there a sin to avoid?
Is there an encouragement to share?
Is there a lesson to learn?
Is there a truth to apply to your life?

Write down the answer that applies (could be several).  Then, close your study with prayer.  Commit to God to follow through on the observations you made.  Ask God to remind you of your reading throughout the week.  If at all possible, share what you’ve read with a friend or spouse.  If you will do this, you’ll quickly find a whole new dimension open up in what may sometimes seem like tedious reading.

Now, if you’re out of time, thank you for reading this far, tune in again soon.  If you have a few more minutes, I’d like to share an example.  At breakfast Sunday morning, my wife, Alyse, and my son, Gideon, talked about his biblical namesake.  The story of Gideon is told in Judges 6, 7, 8.  Note this verse – a word direct from our Sponsor:
Then Gideon and the 300 men who were with him came to the Jordan and crossed over, weary yet pursuing. (Judges 8:4)
My Gideon is a wrestler.  He’s really good, earning a varsity letter in each of his first two seasons.  A couple times he lost his composure as a match wore on and he was not gaining an advantage.  I pointed out to him that Bible Gideon experienced the same thing – fatigue and the temptation to drop personal discipline.  I pointed out that victory isn’t announced at the beginning, but only at the end.  Even fatigued and possibly injured, the job’s not over until the work is done.  That’s a lesson to learn.

The same truth applies to other tests of endurance – like marriage.  I’ve told many couples, “If you can survive the first year, you’re going to make it.”  We talked with Gid about the long journey of marriage.  I feel sad for people who make it ten or fifteen years only to hit a rough patch (yes, sometime very rough patches) and give up on the relationship.  Yes, you’re weary, but keep pursuing.  The victory is so close.  If you quit, the best is you can do is start again at the very beginning, but you’re still going to have to do all that hard work all over again.  Pursue victory now, while it is so close.

Now wasn’t that good chili?  Keep cookin’.

Clark H Smith

Thursday, January 12, 2012

“Oppressive Piety”

Dear Follow Illustrated friends, the following is a pure and simple rant.  This is angry-Clark.  It isn’t often pretty, but I hope it gets a point across.  Send me your thoughts, I’ve got ears to listen.

In the half-time of the Dec 11, 2011 pro football game, Denver Broncos vs Chicago Bears, NBC’s Bob Costas did another round of hand-wringing and head-shaking over the inexplicable Tim Tebow. He gleefully quoted a Frank Bruni op-ed in Dec 11 New York Times.  The Frank Bruni / NYT article is classic snarky atheist pablum.  This line, though, was especially irksome:
“Tebow performs a sort of self-righteous bait-and-switch — you come for scrimmages and he subjects you to scriptures”
The author is a “journalist”, a non-producing leech on society’s backside screaming “right-to-free-speech” every time someone nods left and right instead of up and down. “You come for scrimmages and he subjects you to scriptures”  Oh, you poor darling.  How dreadful you didn’t get to tell Tebow what to say.  How dreadful that the fake laws of your profession don’t allow you to rewrite his Sunday school tripe.  The suffering these people go through is heart-wrenching.  I propose a fresh batch of three minute TV spots with Sara McLaughlin yodeling under images of the heads of atheist reporters exploding every time they’re waterboarded with “Lord & Savior Jesus Christ”.  Something must be done to protect these valiant God-haters from having their precious sensibilities wounded. Talk about your first world problems.

The cherry on this I Scream Sunday is this phrase: “oppressive piety”*.  Despots everywhere – Noriega, Idi Amin, Hussein, Hitler, Ceausescu, Duvalier, Pol Pot – deeply appreciate the four level downgrade of what it means “to oppress”.  Yup, that Tebow, he’s one tough desperado. I say set up outside his house blaring 130db of (old) Def Leopard and projecting (young) Tawny Kitaen videos until Saint Timothy runs out in broken repentance and says “dadgummit” or “I have lusted in my heart”.  ANYTHING that will once and for all put an end to the reign of terror that is his own personal, private piety.

Christians are the only minority which can still be safely persecuted in this freedom loving country. 

“In God We Trust”

Clark H Smith

* “oppressive piety”??  I was not aware that personal piety could oppress others.  Is the fact that Tebow is not a whore-monger and substance-abuser somehow ruinous of other’s lifestyles?  I think the NFL still has plenty of night club shooters, wife beaters, and coke snorters to go around.  Let’s not blame little Timmy with ruining everyone’s party.

Monday, January 9, 2012

New Year’s Resolution: Entertain Angels

If you don’t have your New Year’s resolutions nailed down yet, can I suggest one more?  Keep your eyes open to new possibilities.  Let me spin you a yarn…

As I’ve said elsewhere, my dad was a carpenter and he had a wry sense of humor.  Those two attributes came together in the Summer of ’69 when dad was doing some work on the new sanctuary of University Baptist Church in Fairbanks.  This picture shows Dad and some other men scuttling around the sanctuary.  As in most churches the “business end” of the sanctuary is a platform raised on top of the main floor.  This was Dad’s project on the day I joined him as his carpenter’s helper.  Mid-afternoon, Dad called me over just as he was putting the final piece of plywood on the raised deck .  With a benignly-wicked smile scratched across his face, he pointed down to the sub-floor.  More on my nutty dad after a word from our Sponsor:
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2)
Do you need more motivation than that to show kindness to all people?  I would hate to think I snubbed an angel (who then reported to HQ!).  I’m not sure what the writer of Hebrews had in mind, but the downstream application is quite clear… followers of Jesus should not pick and choose who we show kindness to.  Followers of Jesus should consider all people as created in the image of God and we should do whatever is in our power to bless others.  That is part of the calling “Follow Me”.

happy to have my family
join me at my childhood church
In June 2009, I was privileged to take my family back to Alaska.  On June 21, the longest “day” of the year, my family joined me at University Baptist Church where my spiritual foundations were laid and where I occasionally helped my dad, the carpenter.  I asked for permission to say a brief word to the congregation.  I stepped up on the platform my dad had built – exactly 40 years earlier, probably to the day.  I thanked the congregation for their dedication to the Lord’s work and I told them I had been called into ministry myself.  Four decades earlier, none of those dear people had any idea that the knucklehead kid of Carl and Ruth’s would become a pastor.  (In fact, they probably would have doubted it seriously.)  Then I stepped over to the far right side of the stage and stomped my foot.  I told the congregation of the day my dad pointed to the sub-floor before sealing the upper decking.  Carl A Smith, in his own inimitable way had written with his broad carpenter’s pencil, “What are you looking down here for?”  He then took a plank of plywood and sealed the message away for posterity. 

For four decades no one but Dad and I knew that message was down there.  The same is true of the people that cross our paths every day – we don’t know what untold story is written on their hearts.  We don’t know what need they have that must be met and we don’t know what gift they have which will bless others richly.  We don’t know.  But God does and He calls followers of Jesus to “join Him in what He is doing”.  In my last post, Emily Kemak’s brother had no idea that seventy years later some knucklehead in Kansas would be retelling his good deed, quietly done between brother and sister.  He displayed his kindness because it was the right thing to do.  As you make your way into the new year, won’t you add “be kind to strangers” to your list of virtues you want to nurture.  I can’t promise you that people will be singing your praises when the new century dawns, but you never know.  That’s the point, isn’t it?  You never know.  I promise to be good for goodness sake.

Clark H Smith

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

This New Year, Be Generous

Just a couple days before Christmas, my son and I were in a local grocery store.  I spotted something fascinating as I walked down an aisle.  We grabbed what we needed and scooted on to the end of the aisle where I stopped Gideon and asked him to tell me what he saw back down the aisle.  He peeked around the end cap full of sodas, “a guy buying mac’n’cheese.”  I told him to look again and tell me what the guy was doing with hands.  This time it took Gid a while longer, but eventually he said, “looks like he is counting change.” 

The man was doing just that.  I asked Gid if he had any cash in his pocket (I’m strictly a debit card man).  Gid was tapped dry, too.  “Come on,” I barked, cutting short the rest of our list.  We jumped into the express lane and I requested cash back.  By the time, we were done, the tall, husky man had paid for two microwave cups of macaroni and cheese, with his change.  I quietly hustled up beside him, handed him some bills, and simply said, “Merry Christmas and God bless you.”

Most adults understand the scope of what I’m describing – most of us have been there!  Walking out the door, I began to explain that the only reason a person counts their change in the store like that is because that’s all the money they have and they want to get as much filling food as they can afford.  I’m not bragging about what I did.  I’m just following another example.  I told this story to set up one of the greatest acts of generosity I’ve ever experienced.  But first, a word from our Sponsor:
Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. …  Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.  So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.  (Galatians 6: 2, 9, 10)
Tuck that word away for a moment while I tell you about one of the most severe and demanding people I’ve ever known.  Emily Kemak was the principal of Nordale Elementary, the school I attended and where my mother taught for 16 years in Alaska.  Kemak looked like Cruella Deville.  She opened her mail by slicing envelopes over her sharp cheek bones.  She kept her Size 4 figure by feasting exclusively on the bones of orphans.  She kept better watch over her charges than Sheriff Joe Arpaio does his pink jump-suited criminals.  When she said, “Quiet” church mice were in awe of the silence she commanded.  Ok, you get the point.

Bear all that in mind as I tell you the trepidation I felt years later when I received what amounted to a “summons” from Emily.  I was in college in Denton, Texas and she was visiting Dallas.  She asked if, on such and such a date, she could host me for lunch at her hotel – The Fairmont (back when it was the best hotel in town).  On the appointed day I headed off to Dallas.  I’d spent the prior six years in a town of 1000 people in rural Texas.  I’d never been into Dallas on my own before.  I certainly didn’t know what to anticipate.  My head already buzzing with anxiety, I took a gut shot when the only available parking was in The Fairmont parking garage… and it was clear they would want money to let me out.  Well, not only didn’t I have a debit card (in 1977), but I didn’t have any other visible means of support.  I didn’t know that I would need money to have lunch someone else is springing for.  Her plan perfectly crafted, I assumed this is where Cruella would do me in.

An hour later, I had just enjoyed lunch with one of the kindest and most thoughtful people I’ve EVER met.  Emily was cordial, inquisitive, actually inspiring.  I had found a friend and encourager that I really needed at that time.  Then came dessert.  With butterflies in my stomach, I acquiesced to a piece of cherry pie.  When I finished that, Emily was adamant that I order a second piece.  That’s when I felt the worst.  “Well, actually, Mrs. Kemak, I have to tell you.  I parked in the hotel garage and I didn’t realize that they would charge.  I don’t have any money to pay my way out.”  This formerly-evil-now-endearing lady looked lovingly at me and said:
That is no problem.  I had already planned to give you this.  (She slid a crisp $20 bill across the table to me.)  You see, when I was a young woman in college, I didn’t have a penny to spare.  I certainly could not have driven 30 miles and parked in a hotel garage.  I’ll never forget the day my older brother visited me and took me to lunch.  At the end of lunch he handed me a $20 bill.  It made such a difference in my life.  I’ve tried to pass on that kindness as often as I could.  I’m so delighted I could pass it along to you.  Now I know you’ll do the same for someone else when you can. 
And while saying all that, she had also mysteriously summoned another piece of cherry pie for me!

As I walked out of the grocery store with Gideon, I repeated something to him I’ve said often and I want him to embrace personally, “whenever you can, be generous”.  (I can happily say that I have re-gifted that $20 bill many times over – sometimes as a blessing, sometimes as a lifesaver.)  Followers of Jesus, get this, we fulfill the law of Christ when we bear one another’s burdens.  What a privilege it is to honor the highest expectations of our Savior when we lighten the burden of those around us.  Won’t you follow Jesus today?  Won’t you follow my dear friend Emily’s example and be generous to someone at just the right time.  Following no other law will give you such joy.

Clark H Smith

The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones. 
William Shakespeare

It should not be so!  And it is only so if those of us who live, who have been blessed by the goodness of others, do not continue to speak forth the praises of good people.  Today, I sent an email to the Dean of Students at SUNY Geneseo (where Emily's brother gave here the $20) and shared this story of former students.  I'm getting website traffic from all over upstate New York.  I also looked up and snailmailed a hard copy of this article to the descendants of her brother.  I urge my readers to do the heavy lifting of tracking down people who have blessed you and thank them for their kindness toward you.  Even if it is a great niece who gets the news, imagine how grateful they will be for your remembrance.