In 26 years of ministry, this is one of the nicest letters I have ever received. It's from a lady from Duesseldorf, Germany that was in my seminar at Interlakken, Switzerland. I am including it because it has more to say about the nature of art and the Christian faith than about me. I hope you enjoy it!!!
Hi there Jeff ,
Your seminar in Interlaken really impacted my life! I've written this to say how if you want to read it all! and- if you like you can share it on your site - Thank you SO much for your ministry.
My suitcase is unpacked and my usual daily routine dictates my time, making the recent workshop experience at the IBC Summer Conferece in Interlaken seem very far away. I miss Jeff Smith’s teaching, the camaraderie of our group and the buzz of impromptu dramatic performance.
This kind of missing has a thoughtful wistfulness about it, an other-ness, a tug to turn the time back.
I catch myself thinking… what was it that happened there, and why do I miss it so much?
When I took my seat in the seminar room on Monday morning, I expected to be a passive observer at the back row, and I came prepared to take notes. But Jeff got us on our feet within minutes of arrival. Being self-conscious just wasn’t an option! It was remarkable how Jeff animated this room of people. We were from about ten different countries, with only breakfast as a stimulant, and within minutes we were happily hopping the steps to the “”can-can",“doin’ tha monkey" or giggling over bumping our neighbor in a line dance! - and what is amazing, we actually liked it! -I felt like a little kid jumping up and down with excitement, yelling, “pick me, pick me!”.
With Jeff’s demonstration, a little practice and repetition, the movements became easier (though even on a good day I find balancing on one foot a challenge and am famously uncoordinated), and our group bonded as we followed his lead.
With each day I was there, the sense of anticipation was heightened. Jeff gave us tangible and practically useful ways of bringing the Bible to life and I did make some notes, yet something woke up in my heart in the sessions last week.
He introduced us to his idea of using "Scripture as script”. It is a powerful tool that requires nothing to be added to the (already perfect) Biblical content. By changes in voice, volume and with judicious use of timing,. the text breathes, enabling us to consider it in a way we’d never done before. Taking part in the exercises was a chance for us to “be the text" rather than simply reading or listening to it.
I “felt” the agony and self-revulsion of David as we discussed his confession in Psalm 51; I “saw" the courtroom as Jeff, in the character of a defense attorney, used the words of the apostle Paul to deliver a his closing argument for the faithfulness of Christ under trial.
In the "Pop-up scenes” my voice accused the disciple Peter of being associated with Jesus (who was being tried before Pilate), In the “God-rod" drama called "The Web”, our group were both witnesses and perpetrators in the death of the Messiah. We were the catatonic, unwilling audience of Satan's self-congratulatory, (and chillingly familiar) speech as he strutted around us prematurely convinced of his victory over Jesus in death. As the music changed, I could imagine the spiritual shockwave as our web (representing sin) was broken apart and Satan was defeated. The resurrection of Jesus was celebrated through the soaring music of “Arise My Love”, and borne on our outstretched arms. - I was taken off guard by the power of the moment, my eyes filled with tears, as my heart responded in spontaneous grateful praise.
It was like plugging into a new kind of technology for the first time. I was then, and still am fascinated and exhilarated by the experience.
I like reading with expression, I love words "lived-out-loud" in drama. But drama is reserved for lively stories with my son at home, or for a puppet in a Sunday School class. In the past, when what I call my ‘crazy side’ popped out in adult company, I would cringe internally and bid her a swift retreat. I’d never considered that this “crazy side" could be something God could use in a church or adult Bible study setting.
It amazes me to learn that MY delight can also be HIS delight.
Thinking (or acting) outside of the box, even church-shaped-boxes, can be a risky business. But seeing Jeff in action, I am amazed at how he uses exactly the elements I considered to be “unsafe”, to captivate and hold the attention of everyone in a church service, young and old alike. With rapier wit and swiftly applied truth, lessons are learned through laughter, or by the skillful rendering of known stories in culturally relevant ways (remind you of Someone?)
I was fascinated to catch a glimpse this week of how this unusual brand of gifted playfulness is such an effective communication tool, and I am convinced it makes God smile too!
Jeff has not buried his God-given talent but has trained and disciplined it for good use. In in the faith-investments he’s made, it’s been multiplied into basketfuls of resources for others.
I think Jesus enjoyed being around children because they are naturally playful and gloriously uninhibited. Children live out a freshly-squeezed sort of joy untainted by cynicism or an internal critic. Perhaps it is the sort of joy He designed in Adam in the first place. I think we tend to train-it-out of ourselves in the sober process of being "grown up". I see this joy in Jeff and since then it’s taking root in me too.
With the soul-permission that this new knowledge has granted, coupled with the realization that this freshly awakened creativity in me can be a valid form of worship, I feel like a little kid who has just found a present with her name on it at the very back of a dusty old cupboard, and with shining eyes she sits cross-legged on the floor, the treasure in her lap and starts unwrapping it, holding her breath to see what is inside.
Thank you Jeff. Keep living your calling - you make a difference!
Blessings to you and yours,
Judy Machine' in Duesseldorf, Germany
Warm Up: 2 Corinthians 5:17, Therefore, if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old has gone and the new has come.
Stretching: Read Luke 5:1-11.
Run: Nothing changes when nothing changes. That was something running through my mind the other day when I was in circuit class. “Circuit” is an group exercise class that alternates activities between weight training and aerobic step exercises. I had hurt a rotator cuff in my shoulder pitching fast balls to my son’s Little League team over the summer. So I laid off upper body weight training for awhile and was just about a month back into my training. Still, I felt like I needed to increase some of the weights, but was comfortable where I was, perhaps feeling justified in light of my recent experience. Although care must be taken when recovering from injuries, generally stagnation is death. Just about the time you get comfortable at a level of your training, you’re justabout ready to start the process of atrophy. Merriam-Webster’s On-line Dictionary defines atrophy as “A wasting away or progressive decline.” It’s never static. You are growing or you are in decline. It’s quite a quandary. In today’s story, Peter has been taken captive on his own boat while a religious man, a friend of Andrew’s, talks to a large gathering about spiritual gibberish. I like to think Peter’s thoughts were far from the meanderings of this crazed man. He was mostly fuming about missing sleep or how he ever got himself into this mess. Just about the time that he’s considering jumping overboard and swimming to shore, Jesus wraps things up. As Peter is pulling in the anchor, Jesus says, “Let’s go fishing.” Hmmm. We rarely consider the context which words are spoken in the Bible. I like to think that Peter’s response is set in sarcasm and angst. “"Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so (overly dramatic sigh) I will let down the nets." (The parenthetical language was added for dramatic emphasis!) The subtext here might be something like, “Are you kidding me? Did you notice there’s no one else fishing now? There’s a reason for that. Fish don’t bite this time of day. They’re sleeping; like I should be doing. And what is it you do for a living? I’m sure it’s not fishing or you would know these things. Why don’t you stick to whatever is you do and stay out of my business.” This response can be subsequently translated into the famous last seven words of the church: ‘But we’ve always done it this way.” Someone once defined insanity as doing the same thing 1,000 times and expecting a different outcome. Anything that is stagnant is actually dying. Do you want something to change in your life? Then change something. When I left home for the first time to go into the Army, it produced the greatest change in my life. Somewhere, I found this simple proverb about change that I posted on my refrigerator and read it every morning: “Change is indeed painful, yet always necessary.” That seemed obvious, but it reminded me that change isn’t easy; just important.
Cool Down: “Lord, search me and show me an area of my faith that is stagnant. I want my walk to reflect my talk and my hypocrisy is weakening my witness. Soften my heart so that I can see what you’re trying to change in me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
Warm Up: Ephesians 6:11, Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.
Stretching: Read Ephesians 6: 13-18.
Run: I didn’t know a lot about running when I started. I wanted to stay fit and running was cheap. But the more you run, the more you understand the need for proper equipment; and nothing was more vital to a runner than good shoes. The market for running shoes was just beginning to develop in the 1970s. Back then, a number of runners to include a guy named Phil Knight started selling shoes out of the back of their cars anywhere runners might gather. Later, “running shoe stores” began popping up across the country managed by elite runners such as Bill Rodgers. The New Balance 320 came out in 1976, breaking the ten ounce barrier! As soon as I put them on, I felt more like a runner…whatever that was!
Remember the movie, “Forrest Gump”? There is that wonderful scene where he just takes off running one day and runs for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours. When he got up that day, he didn’t intend to run that far. It appears that he didn’t intend to run at all, the way he was dressed…except for the shoes: Brand new Nike Classic Cortez! Other than that, he doesn’t look like a runner with his khaki slacks, belt, and a buttoned up short-sleeve, cotton shirt. Who goes out and runs dressed like that? But as he progresses on this journey, his outfit starts looking more and more like that of a runner; running shorts, t-shirts, etc. Even Forrest Gump was smart enough to learn that if you’re going to run, you need to dress the part.
Today’s “Stretching” is about the basic equipment of a Christian who ‘runs the race’. Like good running shoes, they are vital if you’re going to take your spiritual walk seriously. Going the distance requires that you put this equipment on every day. Like Forrest, you might not ‘look the part’ at first because you only start with the helmet of salvation. As a new Christian, the armor may seem bulky or cumbersome. You might even consider going without the breastplate or the belt at first. But the equipment of the believer has been carefully designed for your protection and as you conform to the image of Christ, you’ll find it to be a perfect fit. The more you “put on” your new equipment and run the race with it, the more comfortable it will feel and fit.
Cool Down: “Dear Lord, if I’m going to stand against the devil’s schemes to ‘run me through’, I’m going to need to be fitted for the battle. As a runner, I know how important good equipment can be and I thank you that you have given me the equipment I will need to be victorious through your son, Jesus Christ. In his name, Amen.”
Warm Up: Galatians 6:9, And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.
Stretching: Read: 1 Kings 19: 1-18.
RUN: A devotional like this has to make mention of the exercise phenomena known as ‘hitting the wall’. It is peculiar to endurance sports like running and cycling and is a condition of excessive muscle fatigue due to the depletion of energy. Besides general weakness, symptoms can include dizziness, hallucinations, and even fainting. Now, I have to make a confession, I have never experienced this. I have experienced heat exhaustion (a mild heat stroke) and I have lost my sense of equilibrium momentarily upon finishing a marathon. But, I have never run until I fainted or couldn’t run anymore. Maybe I’ve never pushed myself hard enough or maybe I’ve always developed my training to fit my goals. Maybe I just don’t want to suffer! Part of the issue is pacing yourself and preparing for every race according to attainable and reasonable goals. Most athletes like to push themselves, but going to extremes can be both psychologically and physically harmful.
How many Christians (including ourselves) throw their selves into ministry and six months later are burned out? They have ‘hit the wall’. Let me tell you something about the call of God. It is irrevocable on our lives! (Romans 11:29) It’s not something you can run away from like Jonah tried to do. It’s not something you need to recover from. It’s not something that should burn you out. It fits you like a good running shoe fits your foot. But, like physical training, pursuing God and serving others through our gifts and talents requires balance. The reason that this metaphor is so meaningful is that our spiritual walk with God is an endurance race where we must learn to pace ourselves in order that we don’t hit the wall and fall short of the purposes God has for us. Elijah was a classic case of burn out. After defeating the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel he ‘ran for his life’ until he ‘hit the wall’. He was so spent that an angel was sent to care for him. Eventually, God confronted him with this question, “What are you doing here?” He was so exhausted and disoriented that he wasn’t even going in the right direction. God had to send him back the way he came. Has burn out caused you to veer off the path God has set before you? Is it time to retreat and be still long enough that you can hear from that ‘still, small, quiet voice’?
Cool Down: “Lord, I admit that I’ve been striving a little bit and going on my own strength. Like a runner needs to listen to his body to find balance, I need to hear your voice so I don’t miss the mark and become exhausted from the work you’ve called me to do. Protect me from myself so I don’t become weary in my well doing. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
Just got a letter from Elaine Hanson, Director of Music at North Heights Christian Academy in Roseville, MN. Their school performed our non-seasonal children's musical, "Pirates of the 'I Don't Care-ibbean" available on the website at http://saltandlightmin.org/products/product-details/#cid=101264. She said it was a great success and sent along some pictures (below). If you're looking for a great non-seasonal children's musical, you'll want to consider this one!
"Our show…went really well. I was thrilled. We had nearly 700 in attendance. Thank you so much for the great story line, but also, for the spiritual depth that you put into it. It makes a difference when you can create a musical with a solid message.
Check out this resource HERE.
Warm Up: Psalm 119:11, I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
Stretching: 1 Samuel 24
Run: Have you ever “turned your ankle”? It’s a common phrase in running. Although I never broke anything, I have had several serious sprains. The culprit can be something as small as an acorn on a cement slab; just something small to upset your balance enough so that your support base crumbles. This causes the ligaments around the ankle to be pulled as you try and regain your balance. Normally, this type of thing happens when I’m running trails; especially in the Fall. When leaves cover a trail, it’s harder to see rocks, exposed roots, holes, or anything else you might trip over. When I’m running on a trail like this, I tend to be more focused on every stride, trying to strategically place the balls of my feet on solid ground. As strange as it sounds, a run like this can be mentally draining as well as physically exhausting. When the level road is before me and I don’t have to think about each step, my mind is free to wander, which it often does as I listen to music or daydream.
Just like seasons can obscure a path with fallen leaves, seasons of life can make the path that we’re on seem more difficult and dangerous. I’ve been in seasons where I couldn’t discern the path at all. Haven’t you? Every step has to be more deliberate as I try to find the balance in my footing so that I don’t slip, stumble, or fall. Even what seems like safe footing can be a snare or a trap. There is a great visual word picture of this in our Stretching for today. David and his fighting men are in the Desert of En Gedi. (Doesn’t that sound like a planet in Star Wars?) Saul is pursuing David with the intention of killing him. While David and his men hide in the Crags of the Wild Goat, (Tolkein couldn’t make this stuff up!) Saul enters the cave…alone…to ‘relieve himself’. Now that’s something every runner understands, right? Imagine yourself as one of David’s fighting men in this moment. How would this situation appear to you? “Wow! God has delivered Saul right into our hands. He’s completely vulnerable. We could take him without a fight. Months and months of running away; hiding; living like wild goats in these mountains. We can end it now. We can go home. OBVIOUSLY, God has given us Saul.” Well, all except for the fact that Saul is still the king of Israel and God’s anointed. Even though everything appears perfectly safe, David saves his men from a snare; a trap! “Far be it from me to touch the Lord’s anointed.” This type of balance only comes from someone with sure footing. Knowing the heart of God through spiritual disciplines is paramount to keeping your balance and not getting hurt when the path is hard to follow.
Cool down: “Everything about sin tries to trip me up. Even though I live in a fallen world, I ask that you would help me not to stumble and fall. Prompt me through your Spirit when I’m on uneven footing and save me from myself. In Jesus’name, Amen.”
Warm Up: Matthew 24:43, But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.
Stretching: Read Matthew 25: 1-13
Run: Runners are told to run facing traffic so that you can see oncoming vehicles in the lane closest to you. I like the feel of going against the flow of traffic. I want to see what is coming at me instead of having large chunks of flying metal and iron coming up behind me at break neck speeds. At least then, if something goes wrong, I have a little reaction time. I want to be able to look into the faces of the people trying to run me over! As ludicrous as it sounds, someone could think it’s funny to throw something out the window of a moving vehicle trying to hit an unsuspecting runner passing by; sort of like a moving shooting gallery or an arcade game. I want them to see the whites of my eyes and know that I’ll hunt them down until I find them. Once, I was running along a fairly secluded stretch of road that paralleled beach front property. As a car came rolling towards me, my runner’s sixth sense went into high alert. There were several teenagers in the car. Just after the car had passed, someone in the vehicle threw some fire crackers out the window that went off in quick succession like the sound of a small rapid fire weapon or machine gun. I suppose they had a good chuckle about that. Fortunately, their little prank didn’t give me a heart attack because I was prepared. Had the whole thing come up behind me, I’m sure I’d still be lying in the ditch along that road.
In the Parable of the Ten Virgins, Jesus reminds his disciples that they should be prepared for his return. It’s not a matter of if he’ll return, but a matter of when. In today’s Stretching, both the foolish and the wise virgins were waiting for his return. But the wise were prepared when the trumpet sounded and he came in the black of night. They were the ones who went into the arriage feast with the groom. So, the admonition is to always be watching AND prepared. Don’t let this time sneak up on you and surprise you. It’s amazing to me how we plan for a race. Everything in our lives works around that race date. We plan a training schedule that will help prepare us for our maximum potential on that day. Once we commit to the training, everything revolves around race day. Yet, the Bible is clear that we are not even guaranteed tomorrow. I know people have been saying Jesus will come back since the day he left. But the signs of the age clearly indicate it could be during your training run today. I venture to say, we are far more prepared for race day than for the return of Jesus.
Cool Down: “I can be so enthralled by the things of this world that I forget I don’t belong here. It just gets so comfortable ‘going with the flow of traffic’. But, I’m reminded today to look up with the hope that you are coming back to take me away from this world…soon. Help me to live like you’re coming back today but preparing for tomorrow just the same. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
I just returned from my ministry trip to Interlakken, Switzerland, where I shared a week with pastors and lay leaders from all over greater Europe.
The International Baptist Convention (IBC) is a fellowship of English-language churches and missions in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Central and South America which voluntarily cooperate with each other for the purpose of carrying out the Great Commission of Jesus Christ found in Matthew 28:18-20. The convention is comprised of more than 70 English-language churches and missions located in 27 countries. They are mostly smaller, rural churches that were originally built up around military communities in foreign countries.
I had been asked to speak to this group by Mason Smith, who I met while traveling the creative ministries circuit back in the late 90s. Mason went on to pastor and then followed a call to serve a church in Germany, which was part of the IBC. He coordinated the national conference for the convention this year. I led conferences and training seminars on creative communications and was the speaker for morning devotions. While it sounds like a stretch to say I went on a mission trip to Switzerland, I can testify that is exactly where God wanted to be. Here’s a few of the emails I’ve received since I returned:
“Hello, Jeff, Thanks again for the fresh look at a new way to share the gospel message. I was both inspired and motivated to bring it to our church in Italy. Keep up the good work, and God bless you and all of yours! " Sam Owens, Pastor, Aviano Baptist Church, Aviano, Italy
“Thank you for the script!!! (Feeding of the 5,000) I still have your beat in mind. I woke the last days up with songs in my head. You do a wonderful work. I will use whatever I got from you.” Franziska Kirschner, Germany
“We thank YOU for coming to be with us. Your "different" kind of ministry was different in all the best ways. You were a real encouragement.” Jimmy Martin, President, IBC
“Thanks so much Jeff. You blessed us all this week.” Scott Chadwick, Bulgaria
“Thanks for all you taught us while in Interlaken. What an awesome ministry God has favored you with. Looking forward to worshipping with you again.” Deloris Keuvelaa
These pastors have unique and special challenges as pastors of multicultural churches. Many of them are not paid by the churches they serve, and they raise their own support to serve in these mission fields. Stories of refugees, trafficking, and political turmoil surrounding their countries were common themes as I talked to them about their experiences. Their testimonies of God’s faithfulness blessed and inspired me. Many people had received hope, comfort, and salvation in Jesus Christ from their ministries and it was a blessing to pour into their lives for a week.
I was hoping to share pictures with you from the trip, but when I transferred them from my phone to my computer, I lost them all.
Not only was I able to make the trip and share in this ministry, I was able to give away resources and discounted materials to help these pastors do the things I showed and taught them during the week. I was able to invest all the money you gave me to their work in greater Europe. The classes I taught were well attended and enthusiastic. My students were anxious to go back and incorporate what they learned into their churches.
Warm Up: Psalms 119:105, Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.
Stretching: Read Matthew 4: 1-11
Run: In pains me to start a sentence, ‘Back when I was a kid…” But back when I was a kid we played outside all day in the summer. It’s not that our parents didn’t care, they just didn’t need to be as concerned. Neighbors looked out for each other. There was less paranoia…and fear. Sometimes I would bike around the countryside and other times, I would run back and forth to friends’ homes. I lived way out in the country and some of those old back roads in the ‘hollar’ could make a person run scared. But even on the darkest of nights, when you couldn’t see your feet hitting the dirt road. I wasn’t afraid to run on those roads; not even down Pine Hill. That valley was filled with large ever-greens; Scotch and White Pine mostly. The trees towered over the old dirt road and the branches made a canopy above so that you could only see a sliver of the sky overhead coming down there during daylight. On a dark night, it was like being in a cave. But, I had learned a secret about running down that road at night; look up. Even on a cloudy night, that slit was still ever so slightly noticeable in the trees above and if you used that line as a guide, you could stay in the middle of the road.
Today’s scripture reference is about the nature of God’s Word to direct our footsteps. The Bible is described as a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path in Psalms. I like to think that hiding that word in my heart is the thing that keeps me on the path even in the darkest of nights; like that small sliver of shadow over head that kept me headed in the right direction and out of the ditches on Pine Hill. When was the last time you MEMORIZED a verse of God’s Word? I started writing scripture ditties to rhythmic raps a couple of years ago as a way for children to learn God’s Word. I’ve got to tell you it has been such a help to me in troubled times, because I remember all those simple songs. The power of that led me to develop scripture texts as dramatic monologue. Recently, I memorized the book of Jonah to do as ministry and movement. The more I commit to memory, the more I see the value of God’s Word in my life to lead me in times of trial, testing, and tribulation. Even Jesus who WAS the Word made flesh KNEW the Word and USED the Word to stay on task. Today’s story is a classic example of how Jesus used memorized scripture text to fight off his adversary, the devil.
Cool Down: “Lord, thank you for your Word; the Sword of the Spirit. Remind me to plant it in my heart so that it will firmly take root and grow deep in me. Help me to be as disciplined in memorizing scripture as I am in my running. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
“In running, it doesn’t matter whether you come in first, in the middle of the pack, or last. You can say, ‘I have finished.’ There is a lot of satisfaction in that.” –Fred Lebow, New York City Marathon co-founder.
Warm Up: Luke 22:19, And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
Stretching: Exodus 12:1-25
Run: There is a six-mile loop I enjoy running annually. It is a ‘benchmark’ run that gives me a snapshot picture of my fitness level every year. I suppose its something akin to the annual football game with the cousins. We play for fun and to see if we still ‘have what it takes’ after another year.
We should revisit benchmarks of our Christian walk regularly too: I need to remember the day of my salvation; I need to be reminded of the moment of my calling; I need to share my testimony. Baptisms and the Lord’s Supper are not just a witness to the world. They also remind us again of how God has faithfully intervened in our personal history. They are benchmarks in our spiritual timelines. The spiritual formation of Israel was filled with the notion of commemorative ‘benchmarks’ that were instituted to remind the nation of God’s sovereign hand in their history. These celebrations and festivals in Israel’s calendar year were instituted by God to remind the people of his supernatural intervention. Jews were instructed to pass down the stories behind these events from generation to generation. This is certainly one of the reasons that the national fabric of Israel is so strong as evidenced through their survival despite great oppression and persecution. They are the only people group in the history of human kind that maintained their national identity despite Diaspora. Benchmarks reminded them (and us) of what God has done. “My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shieldand the hornof my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior— from violent people you save me.” (2 Samuel 22:3)
Cool Down: “Thank you for the way you displayed your power throughout the history of Israel. Through those stories we learned about your character and attributes. Like the Psalmist, I will cry out, “I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign Lord; I will proclaim your righteous deeds.” Thank you for the testimony you’ve given me and give me the courage and boldness to tell others the marvelous things you have done.” In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
“I have always loved running…it was something you could do by yourself, and under your own power. You could go in any direction, fast or slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new sights just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs.” – Jesse Owens, Olympian.
“Therefore, I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.” 1 Corinthians 9:26.