Sometimes, when you hear an idea, you have to write it down before you forget it. I’ve often thought of journals and blogs as small jail cells that holds your prisoner safe until they are ready for release.
Tonight I joined with some old, young friends who I worked with in another life when I was young. Our connection was mysterious and spiritual. They were teenagers then and I was very young in the ministry. But 25 years later, here we were gathered around a table marveling at the fact that I was ministering to their children at a kid’s crusade. Sometimes, it’s worth getting older just to have these serendipitous encounters like this.
But, I digress….
One of the girls is a prosecutor for a local district attorney’s office. She was lamenting her role a prosecutor because of the inherent nature of the job to convict people. She talked about how she much more preferred the role of defense attorney because it’s more towards her tendancy to show grace and mercy. She recounted a story where she was feeling especially ‘guilty’ about sending a college student to jail for a convicted crime. In the parking lot, she bumped into another old(er) friend of ours, Dave Dunn, the pastor of the same church where all these kids grew up together. In that moment he spoke the most profound truth to her.
He recounted the story of Jonah. Do you remember what happened when the sailors pulled lots to see who among them was causing the storm? They tried to throw everything overboard EXCEPT Jonah. They didn’t want to have to send him to a watery grave. Even after Jonah insisted they throw him overboard, they hesitated. But, in fact, they were keeping Jonah from his own redemption; not to mention that of the people of Ninevah too. What they thought was mercy was actually injustice. The parallel is that in doing her job, this young lawyer may have had a part in God’s purpose for this young college student that might change his life forever. Sometimes your break down is your break through.
Such wisdom. I think this is a truism in many ways, but none more so than how we try and protect our children from failure. How often do we step in and thwart the will of God for our loved ones when we ‘bail them out’? I’ve always said the hardest part of parenting is letting your children fail. The lessons must be learned and sometimes they must be learned the hard way.
Isaiah 55: 8,9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts
Tempted to step in and save the day? Step back, take a breath and let God be the hero.
June 7, 2018 on the steps of the capital building in Charleston, WV. This was Paula's story. She showed up without really expecting to be part of the performance ministry. I'm not sure how we talked to her 'into' doing it, but she did. I loved her comment: "This is out of my comfort zone." EXACTLY. That's the definition of faith, isn't it? God is continually trying to pull us out of comfort zone...which is our routine. The very nature of practicing spiritual disciplines is the idea of shaking up our routine so we 'unlearn' how to live in the kingdoms of this world and live in the Kingdom above...HERE. So, good for you Paula. You stepped out in faith today and we're all reminded what it is to live in the Kingdom of God. My thanks also to Elkview Baptist Church for showing up so I didn't have to go alone. You're my PEEPS!!!!
Stop #2: Frankfort, KY, June 5, 2018. An absolutely GLORIOUS day: Blue skies; no humidity; 75 degrees. My purpose is single-minded: I want to bless God for his faithfulness over 30 years of ministry. As the kids and adults gathered from 4-5 churches across KY, I had the opportunity to share my faith story and invite them to join me in a performance of "Arise My Love" to an audience of ONE. Of course, people on their way stop and watch as we perform. How could they not? "What are these people doing with sticks?" I hope they enjoy it. They seem to. But, it is not for them. Under a perfect sky on a perfect day with about 20 youth and adults and 20 more chaperones and parents, we did "Arise My Love" on the steps of the KY capital building in Frankfort, KY. Then, we gathered together to pray for the elected officials from KY that serve in the Federal government and our leaders in Washington. It's not political. We just ask that God would give them wisdom in governing. All in all, a perfect day. "IN God whose Word I praise. In God I trust and am not afraid." Thanks to all my 'stickers' who showed up. By the way, this is an excellent ministry opportunity for your teams. I would encourage you to add a heritage tour through the capital grounds. Next up: Charleston, WV.
May 31, 1988. I resigned my commission in the U.S. Army and started following the "Wild Goose" in full time ministry. It has been a wild ride. But as I've preached, "You'll never know the faithfulness of God until you walk in faith." Only faith moves God and somehow, the lack of faith in our lives, limits or even binds the LIVING GOD from moving in our life. My story has been one of God's continual faithfulness. Being in this type of ministry, I've had to trust God for 30 years. Why would I suppose that God, who has shown himself faithful again and again, would for any reason, abandon us now? This was the life of every man and woman in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11. But they were no different than us in so many ways. Even the great John the Baptist had doubts. But, in the end, GOD IS FAITHFUL and our testimony is one of HIS great faithfulness.
In celebration of this journey, I am traveling to every state capital (except Alaska and Hawaii unless someone provides the way!) to perform our signature piece, "Arise My Love" with the God Rods and pray for the state and national leaders of our day. On the 30th anniversary of Salt and Light, we began the tour in Richmond, VA, the place where it all began. Six of us performed including my son, Samuel. Hank and Peggy Graser, Melissa Oliver, and CHAOS from Lawrenceville UMC in Lawrenceville, VA joined in. As we performed, I offered God my thanks for his UNFAILING love, his UNWAIVERING favor, and his UNMERITED grace.
Do you TRUST God? Would you continue to TRUST Him if the stock market crashed? Would you continue to TRUST Him if you lost someone very dear to you in tragedy? If your only HOPE was in HIM, would it be enough? You probably can't answer those questions without having an experience that requires you to do so, for which I pray you don't have to. And yet, I would pray that you would come to know that you can. For to KNOW God is to TRUST Him. Proverbs 3: 5,6, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge HIM and HE will direct your paths."
I recently was asked to speak at the memorial service for my brother-in-law. Steve was a great guy who was genuinely concerned about friends and family. One of the ways I described him was by showing a glass half-filled. I mentioned how Steve was a guy who always seemed to see the glass half-full.
To listen to him talk, you would never know that he struggled with depression. He was the eternal optimist. There was always a job to do or a place to go. There was always tomorrow. The sun would come up tomorrow. Although he struggled with the darkness, when you were around him, you always felt like you were walking in light. At the center of who he was, there seemed to be light.
As I considered this more closely, I was drawn to the idea of the line on the glass formed by the water. So often, the difference between the glass half full and half-empty is HOPE. How you view the present stands on this one thing, “HOPE”. Hope is future. Hope isn’t found in the past or the present. No one HOPES for something that has already happened. It is about tomorrow.
We’re built to hope to because we were made by God IN his image. We’re not what we appear to be. We’re spirit beings and future is our DNA. That’s another reason that “Happily Ever After” resonates with us in books and stories. 1 Cor 13:12 says, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
Hope is such a powerful thing. But unless the thing we hope for is utterly certain, we can be easily disappointed.
As for me…
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ the Solid Rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand.
The Bible has much to say about hope:
Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope.
Psalm 42:11, “Why so downcast oh my soul and why so disturbed within me. Put your hope in God for I will ever praise him, my Savior and my God.
Is 40:31, “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings of EAGLES; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.
When all else is gone and the end of all things has come, the Bible says there will still be three things that remain: Faith, Hope, and Love
Hebrews 11:1, brings two of these three everlasting qualities into one verse: “Faith is the promise of things hoped for. The evidence of things unseen.
Hope is the essence of my faith, which is the center of who I am. Because of FAITH, I am assured of my HOPE and that always lets me see everything in light of the glass half full.
Romans 15:13, “May the God of all HOPE fill you with joy and peace as you trust in HIM so that you may overflow with HOPE in the power of His Holy Spirit?
Several years ago, I went through a difficult season where I experience panic attacks. Being in faith-based ministry, it was hard to recognize and understand. It took me to the depths of despair and almost overwhelmed me. But, I was very fortunate to have friends, family, counsellors, and a God who longed to help me. The experience brought me into a deeper place of faith than I had ever been before. Since then, God has used that experience to give me insights and help other people going through similar problems. Recently, I wrote a letter to a friend who was struggling with some depression and it captured an 'overview' of a few things I learned in my story. I'm posting it here to help you or someone you may know that is struggling with these issues. They are NOT alone.
Wanted to share a few more things with you regarding the anxiety, panic attacks, depression or whatever else you’re going through in that vein.
First of all, as we discussed, get some medical help. Let me know how that goes. I was given a more deliberate dosage of a anti-anxiety med to get me back on track. After about 1 month, I was put on a low-dosage medicine, which I still use today even though the doctor said I probably don’t need it. Look at this way: If you had strep throat, you would get medicine. If you had a fever, you would get medicine. Your mind is a physical entity and if it’s causing you physical problems, you should get medical help. There’s nothing weak or faithless about that; no shame in getting medical advice and assistance. It’s your first step in this healing process. The reason I know that there was a chemical imbalance in my situation was that the medicine immediately cured my physical symptoms; There really was a simple chemical imbalance in my brain. Things start to break down when you get older and I was given to a familial history of anxiety and worry, which I didn’t really recognize until now. But, I’ve never struggled with anxiety or depression until now. That’s why I didn’t know what to do with it. I can’t believe no one told me to go and see a doctor!
Then, I went into counseling with a Christian Counselor. I also have an excellent friend who meets with me weekly to disciple me and work through scripture. It’s a blessing. Do you have an older/wiser person in your life that is a mentor? This guy has been a real gift from God to me…especially with not having great male role models growing up. He’s shown me how to be a better minister, man, husband and father. Although, I have to say, I’ve been a pretty good Dad. That came easy for some reason.
I have a journal of our meetings together over the course of 18 months. I met with her every week initially. She was helpful in several areas:
-Spiritual: There is a spiritual dimension of depression and anxiety that you want to get into. I’m not really sure what books to recommend here. I didn’t really find one book that was helpful. You’re looking for material on the mind as a battleground. Joyce Meyer has a book called “The Battleground of the Mind.” The foundational truth here is learning the lies you believe and where they came from so that you can get to the root of wrong thinking. First of all, the mind and your patterns of thinking are very much involved in this issue. For me, fear gripped me because I started looking to the future and feeling hopeless about my financial situation. After 25 years of faith ministry, I suddenly felt that I had to take control of things because financially, we were not going to make it. Now, why would I start thinking that after 25 years of seeing God move faithfully in my life, would I believe he would suddenly stop being faithful? Honestly, I had to unlearn-relearn about God and who HE is.
The "sin in our members” is there because of our long history living outside the “Kingdom Among Us.” By the way, I strongly recommend ANY Dallas Willard. His book, “The Divine Conspiracy” broke me. I’ve been studying it for almost 2 years with my mentor. Also, a books by James Bryant Smith were helpful; especially, “The Good and Beautiful God”. It’s part of series. The other two books are “The Good and Beautiful Life” and “The Good and Beautiful Community.” Those books is based on this very premise. How do we see God and why??? What are the lies we believe and where do they come from? Anyway, that sin in our members is strong and generates automatic responses in us that have been cultivated from years of living outside the kingdom…OR living inside the kingdom but not knowing or understand it’s power for THIS LIFE. Remember, Jesus said, “I have come so that they may have LIFE (THIS LIFE) and life abundantly.” (John 10:10) WOW. I had to rethink my automatic responses. AND that took me into the dark places!!!
Here’s a key point: God wants to use this very situation in your life to bring you into a greater understanding of HIS nature. That’s why you need to faithfully embrace what you’re going through and wrestle with it. YOU WILL BE OKAY. It’s just going to be season where you need to go through it. NOT around it. If you want the full measure of God’s blessing in your life, you will embrace this ordeal and walk through it. I can tell you for REAL, the deeper waters are life giving. A friend said to me, “Jeff, you’ve always been able to rearrange the furniture in this room. This time, God is destroying the room. He’s completely rebuilding this room from the ground up.”
In my life, pretty much everything goes back to my childhood. (This is Psychology 101, right? Everything goes back to our parents!) I had automatic responses that i used to survive back then. It was a difficult situation and my only coping mechanisms led to issues that I still carry around. But this season in my life forced me to recognize them and how it affected my relationship with God and how I viewed Him. Discipleship and spiritual disciplines are the way to disrupt the automatic responses in our lives.
(By the way, Willard’s book, “Renovation of the Heart” is the go-to book on the ideas of discipleship.)
You need someone to help you through that. I pray that you can find the right person who won’t let you sneak away with answers that you know they want to hear. Start praying for that person in YOUR life. God wants to help you through this season more than you want to help yourself.
There are other things too:
Lastly, my wife gave me the most beautiful prayer when I was struggling so much. I’ve kept and have it on my desk even today. You may want to copy it down and put it somewhere where you can pray it regularly:
Teach me to trust you when I don now know where you are going.
Help me to surrender and not turn inward into myself out of fear.
The storms and winds of life blow strongly all around me.
I cannot see in front of me.
Sometimes, I feel like I am going to drown, Lord.
But you are CENTERED. Utterly at rest and peace.
Open my eyes that I might see you are with me in the boat. I AM SAFE.
Awaken me, Jesus, to your presence within me, around me, above me, and below me.
Grant me grace to follow you into the unknown, into the next place in my journey with you.
In JESUS name. Amen.
The counselor used to ask me what I was afraid of. When she tried to get me to be as specific as possible, I said, “I’m afraid I’m going to lose my house.” Her response: “Then your house is an idol.”
Wow. What are you afraid of right now? (Verbalize that.) What is it that you are most worried about? (Verbalize that.) The answers to those questions are important to your healing. Get to that because they reveal something about how you view God and your relationship with Him.
You’re NOT alone.
Today, my son and his wife gave birth to my first grandchild, Koen Rayner Smith. Last week, I sat down with him and presented him with a list of things I wanted him to hear from me about becoming a father. It is the most important job he will ever have in this life and I wanted to share what I've learned. Perhaps, it is something you may want to use as a tool for your boys, too....when the time is PERFECT.
Children are a heritage from the Lord,
Your offspring a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are children born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.
Psalm 127: 3-5a
Father. It’s the greatest title you’ll eve know. It’s been my highest reward and achievement and joy. No one can prepare you for it. But I’d like to share with you the things I learned (so far):
We are spirit beings learning to live in a spirit world that will exist forever. That’s generally my theory of everything.
Stephen Hawking died recently. He had, by all accounts, a brilliant mind and was deeply respected and loved by many. He was also an atheist who worshipped science over God, believing that science eliminated the need for a god.
I saw a movie called “The Theory of Everything” which was his biopic. I had an uncle who died of the same disease and it was excruciating to watch. I can’t imagine what it was like to live through it. In a comment today, his first wife said that death was a welcome relief for him. After having watched the disease ravage my uncle’s body over a period of ten years, I can’t imagine what it was like to live with the disability for almost fifty.
But, I’m not here to comment on his life, but his death. I couldn’t help but wonder what it was like when he slipped into the next life and in a moment discovered the truth that he had been searching for. Stephen Hawking wanted to know the origins of the universe. Now, you have to understand that I have a biblical world-view and yes, it is my interpretation that I have diligently worked on for 50-plus years. And so, my worldview says that God created the universe. I believe that whether or not God met Stephen Hawking after his death, he knew immediately that God created the heavens and the earth. There was no big bang or if there was God made the explosion that caused the big bang.
All I know is that this man was an avowed atheist until he died. He isn’t anymore. But, it’s too late to make choices now. My best hope for him is that as death approached, he saw the truth in time and repented. For God’s mercy is wide and his justice is fair.
Does that sound harsh? Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the father except through the son.” (John 14:6) “You must be born again to enter the Kingdom of God.” (John 3:1) “But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father in heaven. Do not assume that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10: 33, 34) I could go on and on. I’m sure that Stephen Hawking knew at least some of these verses. But he chose to believe in science instead of God.
Therein lies my one point in writing this: We forget that we are spiritual beings in a spiritual universe that can not be ‘seen’ by science but only through faith. Paul referred to is as ‘seeing through a glass darkly…” (1 Cor 13:12). We feed our mind and our flesh in this life and pay little or no attention our spirit. We seek knowledge and power and refuse to strengthen our soul. But in the end, we are spirit beings in a spiritual world and there isn’t a science book around that explains how that works. And by the way….that’s forever. Everyone who has ever gone before and everyone who comes after us will go the same way. They died. We will die. They will die.
I suppose Stephen Hawking would consider my faith a placebo to placate my lack of enlightenment. My faith is anything but a placebo. It is my HOPE. There is a powerful image of this very theme in Luke 16: 19-31. It’s the story of a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus. Lazarus dies and goes to ‘Abraham’s Bosom’, or a place like heaven. The rich man dies and goes to a place like hell. Here, he can see Lazarus sitting at Abraham’s side. In hell, the rich man is tormented and begs Abraham for a little water to cool the tip of his tongue. But, Abraham replies that there’s a chasm between them that can’t be crossed any longer. The rich man begs Abraham to send someone from the dead to warn his brothers who are still alive. Abraham replies that they have prophets and the Word of God and they won’t change their minds even if someone rises from the dead. What an alarming reality. We are and will continue to always be spirit living in a matrix where what we see and know is only a partial reality.
Many people would consider it cruel and narrow minded to say that unless Stephen Hawking accepted Christ as his Savior, he is now separated eternally from God and without hope. But, I think the mere fact that God allowed Stephen Hawking to live fifty more years than the two he was given by doctors is a clear sign of the love of God. I’m sure that God reached out to Mr. Hawking many times during those fifty years. I’m sure God spoke to him over and over again through the universe he explored. And I’m certain God was at the center of the very questions Mr. Hawking wrestled with during his career. For fifty extra years, God wooed him. That sounds like love to me. But in the end, he probably refused to accept God’s invitation to explore the universe and all of its origins for eternity.
I saw a bumper sticker once. It looked the humanist bumper sticker supporting evolution as the origins of man. But after the image of the man there was another picture of a grave. Which begs the question: What happens when you die? Do you KNOW? Can you be SURE? Science can’t answer that because they don’t understand spirit. Then, does your theory of everything address death? I would ask, “How is that working for you?”
“ For know whom I have believed in and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto HIM until that day.” Tim 1:12b
It's Not About the Eggs.
So, it’s not about the eggs; not really. For 60 years it’s not been about the eggs, although that’s what they are making: Easter Eggs. They make peanut butter, maple nut, coconut, and fruit nut. (They used to make a fruit concoction of red cherry, pineapple, and green cherry. I remember those and they tasted like fruit cake and you know what happened to those!)
No one is exactly sure about how or even when it started. Perhaps 1958? That’s what we settled on, anyway. Some say it was in Blanche Clawson’s kitchen. The church didn’t have a kitchen and so they started it in Blanche’s kitchen. Velma Gamble made them in her kitchen too. Then they moved it to Dolly Clawson’s kitchen. But eventually, the Ladies’ Aid at Hopewell got their own kitchen and the annual Easter Eggs were made there. And so, for 60 years they have made the eggs to raise money for mission and outreach. They also had spoon suppers, apple butter and the chicken bar-b-q dinners. The spoon suppers and the apple butter have gone by the way side. (Much to my own chagrin! The apple butter was amazing!) But the Easter Eggs have endured longer than anything else.
Anywhere from 10-14 women and hopefully a man or two, work at a steady pace for 3-4 days making 400 pounds of the most delicious nugget centers you can imagine. That’s down from the 1500 pounds they made back in ‘the day’, when things were much different. They work in their centers like a well-oiled machine. It all starts with the Karo or corn syrup. You add water and sugar. (I’m sworn to secrecy on the recipe. It’s sort of like the Chick-Fa-La sandwich or the Colonel’s famous chicken recipe.) That concoction has to be put to boil to a top-secret temperature just until you see the ‘string’ on the syrup. (That’s Easter Egg talk!) On the other side of the room, they are separating the egg from the yoke; the yellow from the white. The reasons for this are as confusing to me as changing brakes on a car. But, it’s important for reasons that these ladies all understand. Then, someone puts the whites in the mixer and beats it into whip. This is what my mother does. It’s a very important job and requires someone with infinite skill. This is why my mother is in charge of it. Now, they have two commercial grade mixers. “Back in the day” they used hand mixers. No one will admit to it, but I like to think they beat the whites by hand when they first started. It sounds every exciting, anyway. Then you add the syrup mix and voila! The gooey white centers are filled with nuts or fruit or whatever you’d like to add to give the egg, extra flavor. I’m up for Oreo cookies or M&Ms. What about a mystery flavor? By the way, this is the spot you want to be in if you are NOT helping and just standing around providing the entertainment as you get to lick the mixing spoon.
Next up is the shaping station! Someone takes all that goo and measures out a pound or half pound and shapes them into Easter Eggs. They used to make ¼ pound eggs when there were kids in the Sunday School program upstairs. That’s about the time, I was coming through the church as a child. But, I don’t remember ever getting a ¼ pound Easter Egg! We did, however, always have a half pound egg in our baskets and they were certainly treasures. Usually, they would last for a week or two. You would cut off portions of the egg and eat it in chunks.
And there I go again. You see, it’s really not about the eggs. That’s why I went up there in the first place, you see? I had this niggling…it’s that persistent thought won’t go away. The thing Farmer Hogget had about his pig being a sheepdog in the movie, “Babe”. I wanted to go up there and watch the ladies make eggs. I thought I could write a story about it; perhaps a play, like Steel Magnolias. I just wrote my first murder mystery. Maybe I could set my next death scene in the kitchen of the church where the ladies make Easter Eggs. I could call it “Death by Nuts”?
But, what I really wanted was to go back and connect with my past. The whole thing is about nostalgia and memories. 1958 was the year I was born! These ladies have been making these Easter Eggs as long as I’ve been alive. We’re all a dying breed! These woman; this process; me. We’re all getting old. These people represent a heritage of country people, who gather together like country people used to do when they built barns, made apple butter, sat on country porches and visited and worked in the fields together at harvest time. I remember those days and like all of us who get old, I like looking back on them. My grandmothers, Luella Smith and Geraldine McCrea both worked on Easter Eggs. I remember others like
Dolly Clawson, Ruth Carlson, Joanna Carlson, Margie Johnson, Twila Dunlap, and others who were committed to this work all their lives. They watch from the sidelines now; a cloud of witnesses. Their children and their friends continue on with the work. Karen is Dolly’s daughter. Three sisters from the same family work at the same jobs their mother used to do here.
It’s definitely not about the eggs. They may make $2000 to support local ministries and missionaries. They will support a program stuffing backpacks with food and supplies for underprivileged kids in the area. Some monies will be donated to recovery programs in a sister church. Hands of Hope is a handy man ministry for widows and elderly. There is also the food bank ministries and goodwill services.
And it’s about the relationships. They talk and chatter while they work. These are friends too. Rarely is there silence. They make jokes and laugh. They talk about what’s going on with their kids and their community; straining from gossip, of course. I mean, it is the basement of the church, right?
Tomorrow is chocolate day. It’s the day you lick you fingers. There’s white chocolate and milk chocolate covers. They melt the wafers and then drop the bottom of the eggs into the vat. After it dries, they dip the tops and spread them over the top until they meet the covered bottoms. They do this with their hands. It’s quite a messy ordeal I’m told. But how bad can it be to be covered in chocolate?
The piece de resistance, however, is the crowning moment of the process. The flower is set upon each finished egg like the official seal of the king on royal documents. This is the mark of an egg that is ready to be presented to the world: The royal baptism. Margie Johnson was the first to add the tiny pink momento on top of the egg. She did it by hand and it caused a problem because the egg couldn’t be packaged until the flower on top dried. Eventually, they ‘streamlined’ the process to make the royal rosebuds in advance and just sit them on top of the egg when they were finished. Who said old dogs can’t learn new tricks?
Today, a homeless man came in looking for help and food and money. It certainly caught us all of guard and for a moment the mood quickly changed. But once their safety was secured, these ladies responded just the way they should have. They gave help and food and money and sent this ‘angel unaware’ on his way. It certainly gave them something to talk about and even more to consider. I wonder if when they are making eggs ten years from now, someone will remember the story of Paul from Montana who stopped by the church looking for some help while the ladies were making their Easter Eggs. Maybe my name will be mentioned during the conversation. Just like that, I’ve become part of the story too. It certainly was worth the trip. It’s not about the Easter Eggs.
I love playing an end of year game with my family and friends. It's a contemplative game about the past year . In one word, I ask them to describe the new year. For me, that word would be LIFE. 2017 was LIFE.
The theme of our VBS this year was, "The Game of LIfe". It was a board game theme. The scripture verse was Psalm 16:11.."For you have shown me the path of LIFE." We did a total of 5 weeks of VBS: Lawrenceville, VA; Morrow, OH; Alberta, VA; Spartanburg, SC; and Chicago, IL. The 5-day VBS was broken down into the path of life in Christ: Old Life (Battleship); New Life (Operation); Abundant Life (Candy Land); Victorious Life (Trouble) and Eternal Life (Chutes and Ladders)!
So, I decided to do our year-end wrap up with that format this year. Ready? Play!
Old Life: 29 years of ministry. Still relevant and impactful. 30 years of marriage. 59!
New Life: The BIG ANNOUNCEMENT this year was that we're going to be GRANDPARENTS! our Son, Benjamin and his wife, Alyssa, are having a baby in March 2018. It's a boy!
Lots of wonderful family gatherings and outings and ample and diverse ministry opportunities around the world!
:-117 ministry dates
-50 ministry events
-2 International mission trips (Brussels, Germany, Panama)
-National Conferences (Worship Arts/Children's MInistry/Youth Leaders)
The Christian Service Award. This is a great story. It captures something important about what victorious life looks like in my stage of life!
We have a small group of men that meet throughout the year as community. Mostly, we gather to mentor young boys as a fellowship of men. Although we have a calendar of events each year, our premier event is the Mentor Classic; a fall retreat for fathers and sons in the Shenandoah Mountains. It's an event amped up by competitions and a full slate of activities such as golf, fishing, hunting, shooting, etc. One of the awards presented each year is the Christian Service Award. This award is given to a man in the group who has demonstrated exemplary service in the name of Christ for the past year. Recommendations are made by men in the group and then chosen by Chris Harper, the group leader. Although I have been with the group for 18 years, I have never won the award. I honestly thought I was ineligible since I was in full time Christian ministry through Salt and Light, perhaps that disqualified me from a Christian Service award. In any event, I wasn't expecting it.
As the leader read the letter, I knew fairly quickly, it was coming my way. So, my first thought was, 'should I be glad or mad about this?' Honestly, the idea of an award for Christian service seems like an oxymoron. Anyone who serves with the heart of Jesus never expects to be recognized for their service. Still, we are sojourners in a foreign world and it's nice to encourage others and be encouraged through a recognition like this. So, I'm all for it.
It wasn't emotional...UNTIL...
As the letter went on, I realized that whoever wrote it knew more of me than most of the men in the room. And by the time it was over, I was a hot mess.
Here's the letter:
I would like to nominate a man among us who has never won this esteemed award before. He is often overlooked due to the fact that it is within his job description and soemth he does day in and day out. His work has sent him all over the world; teaching, mentoring, and performing for people of all shapes, sizes, colors and nationalities. He has reached hundreds of thousands even millions of people because he was willing to answer when the Lord called him. He chose obedience and sacrifice over financial gain. After serving in the military for over 98 years with a fast track to being a high senior leader for our nation's military, this man decided to leave behind the safety net and step in faith into the world of entrepreneurship and full-time ministry. He has developed teaching frameworks and models for children ministries and created the God Rod, which to this day, still is used all over the world. His wisdom, creativity and talent are, quite honestly, amazing to witness. Over the past year, he has also stepped up to begin a small group men's ministry that has served many of you among us today; teaching leading, and giving more insight into God's Word. He has played an instrumental role, often behind the scenes over the last 18 years in the Mentor Classic, to include introducing and leading on of our cornerstone events, the 'right of passage" ceremony. Over the last year, he has also been spending time volunteering with the CRC program; helping mentor young students in the Shady Hill areas. Within the last few years, he was attacked by a serious bout of depression which has been one of the hardest things that he has had to overcome. Non only for him but for our family as well. It was hard to comprehend and wrap our minds around how and why? IIt was as hard and as real as the most serious of cases. It goes to show that no matter how strong, courageous, or talented you are, we all have to go through a crucible that test our resolve and faith as Christian men. Romans 12:11 states, "They triumphed over him by the blood of the lamb and by the Word of their testimony..." I bring to light the darkness that existed today to give praise to God for giving him, and us, the ability to overcome this and all other darknesses. With all of the slights and laughter we throw his way, even though he continually asks for it, I think it is time to recongize this great man and the affect he has had in all of our lives and the world. We are very proud to nominate our dad, Jeff Smith, for this year's Christian Service Award.
Ben and Samuel Smith
To be recognized by your peers for an award like this is certainly a wonderful thing. To be recognized by your children for an award like this, is another thing altogether. That's Victorious LIFE.
I'm still here! But this year, I had a revelation about life. It's not a word I throw around. I've had five or six spiritual revelations in my life. This one was a biggie.
I've been studying the works of Dallas Willard over the last several years with my mentor and friend, Hank Graeser. It's been such a blessing. This year, we've been working through the book "The Divine Conspiracy", a book about the Sermon on the Mount and what discipleship means.
The revelation for me was that Jesus' primary message was, "Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand." AT HAND. The kingdom of heaven is available as soon as we come into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Eternal Life doesn't happen when you die. Life eternal happens when you die. Eternal Life starts when you're saved. Who lives like that? That kind of life is a life of abandon. It is intentional in discipleship. And, it is marked by joy and peace. The word for "Repent" means, "Change the way you're thinking." We don't think like that. But, I'm learning to and it's very exciting.
LIFE. Life at every stage in every phase and every season. In this holiday season, I do wish you JOY because we have been given a gift and it is really good news. A Child is Born. New Life...for everyone.
Thank you for partnering with us in 2017!