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!