Warm Up: Zechariah 4:10, Who despises the day of small things?
Stretching: Read Nehemiah 2: 11-20
Running: It can be toughing ‘getting back into it’ after a layoff. We can walk away from running for a lot of reasons: injury, rest, boredom, fatigue, lack of discipline, etc. But once we’ve stepped away from the discipline of working out, it can be hard to get back into it. Sometimes after a layoff, I have felt so overwhelmed by the prospect of starting up again, that it paralyzes me and I don’t do anything at all except put it off longer! I have found a secret however: Don’t be afraid to start small. Easing back into a training program is a good idea anyway. Just doing something, no matter how small, can kick start the process and get things moving in the right direction again.
In today’s story we learn about the importance of doing something to get things moving. Nehemiah is a Jew who was taken into captivity by the Babylonians. Much like Esther and Daniel, however, he found favor among the ruling party of the day. In this story, he is cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, ruler of the Persian Empire. After speaking with friends who have returned from Jerusalem, he is distraught to hear that there is much distress and upheaval in the city. This news leads him to fast and pray. The king notices his sad countenance and in a strange twist, grants Nehemiah’s request to return to his homeland, under the king’s authority, to see what is happening. Upon his arrival, Nehemiah takes notice that the walls were in ruins around the city. This is an interesting observation and one that shapes his strategy. He summarized that the problem with the restoration of Israel wasn’t outside the walls of the city, but inside it. The remnant that had returned had fallen into apostasy and had become distracted and discouraged by the enormity of their task. After 141 years, the city was still in disarray. Obviously, there was great opposition from those who did not want to see Judah restored and the Jews returned to their homeland. Nehemiah’s strategy was not to focus on what he couldn’t do, but what he could do. He started by rebuilding the walls. In the secrecy of night, he made his plans. Then, he set his hand to the plow and never looked back (Luke 9:62). The result is found in Nehemiah 6:15: “So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days.” That’s an amazing recovery. Once protected from the outside, Nehemiah and Ezra started working on the people in the city from the inside out and Judah’s reformation had begun. Remember, whether you’re just getting started or getting back to it after a layoff, “inch by inch, life’s a cinch; mile by mile, life’s a trial!”
Cool Down: “Lord, I know I’ve been disobedient in some disciplines in my life and I hear you speaking to me about this. I know you want to restore discipline in my life, but sometimes, it overwhelms me. Show me a strategy for getting back to work. I love you enough Lord that I want to try again. But, I need you to help me. Put it in my heart a way to begin again without being overwhelmed. I know you are able to do that Lord and I submit to your will. In Jesus’ name, Amen”
I was able to see Noah this week and LOVED it. Most importantly, it made me want to go back and read the biblical account again. What more could we hope for? Obviously, it was a story loosely based on Noah. I’m not sure why Christians would have expected more from Hollywood and a director who doesn’t share our beliefs. I certainly didn’t. Maybe, that’s why I wasn’t disappointed. Still, if it puts the subject out there and gets a discussion going and if it gets people to open up their Bibles and read more, I want to support that.
Word on the street is that Christians are actually going to movies and Hollywood can make some money if they are paying attention. For the first time EVER, two of the top five movies this weekend were about the Judeo-Christian worldview of God. (I haven’t seen “God’s Not Dead” yet.) And there are more coming! I’m looking forward to seeing “Heaven is for Real” and later this year is “The Exodus”.
Just perhaps this movie wasn’t FOR us. The idea that God might be using Hollywood to tell the world that He’s coming back was not lost on me. “As in the days of Noah….
Warm Up: Matthew 5:39, But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Stretching: John 8: 1-11
Running: I was running on a restored train trail in a suburb of a popular city in the U.S. that I’ll leave unnamed. It was a very pleasant Sunday afternoon, and there were lots of other folks using the trail and enjoying the day. Being an old farm boy who was brought up with manners, I acknowledged the people with a greeting as I (or they) went by. It didn’t take long to notice that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore, Dorothy. People were less inclined here to respond or make eye contact with strangers even in a setting like this in broad daylight. After about the fifteenth time I greeted someone along the way and they didn’t respond, I decided I wasn’t going to waste my (short) breath trying to be polite. These people were obviously hardened criminals that wouldn’t recognize hospitality or generosity or kindness if it was a branch that hit them in the face. I set my glare on tunnel vision and off I went to show those rogues that…well, that I could be just like them.
The kingdom of God is a paradox. The Beattitudes make this point in the most beautiful language: The poor will be rich; the weak shall be strong; those who hunger will be filled, etc. My pastor has a wonderful saying that has been a life lesson to all of us who have sat under his teaching: “Respond in the opposite spirit”. It’s connected to the law of sowing and reaping. Those who give will get; those who are merciful, will be shown mercy; those who forgive others, will be forgiven, etc. In today’s story, Jesus masterfully deflects a difficult situation, a trap, by drawing a line in the sand and reminding those who would throw a stone at a woman for a sin she committed that they are not without sin. His point was that by judging others, they bring judgment upon themselves. As Christians, we are aliens in this world. This is not where we belong. We stick out; we’re not supposed to blend in. Jesus said that they hated him and we should expect similar treatment. I’m always leary of popular Christians leaders in mainstream media. Holding onto the things of God make us foreign to this culture and people won’t understand us. Still, we are the overcomers in this world because Jesus overcame the world first. Unfortunately, in my story above, I chose to be like the world instead of the light of the world. I responded in the same spirit and who knows what blessings I missed along the way?
Cool Down: “Lord, this is a strange place I live in. Help me not to get too comfortable here because my home is in eternity with you. But while I’m here, help me not to be conformed to the image of the world but transformed by the renewing of my mind. Let my light shine in such a way that others will glorify you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
Is Heaven is for Real?
I Saw the movie, “Heaven is for Real” this weekend. It was a great movie to see on Easter….if you’re going to see a movie on Easter. First of all, it was done well, which is always refreshing if you’re a Christian watching a movie made in Hollywood. The last couple of weekends, we’ve gotten Russel Crowe, Emma Watson, Greg Kinnear, and Thomas Haden Church. The cinematography, scriptwriting, and acting were all very good. The boy who played Colton was a magnet. You couldn’t take your eyes off of him. Other than a few scenes designed to show his playfulness, his performance was very authentic.
I read the book and was concerned how it would play out in a movie. There were several good subplots which kept the story moving forward, although a little slowly throughout the middle. The thinnest, which I thought would have been more interesting, was the story of a woman who lost her son in combat. The story could have mined her struggle a little more because I think it was the one most closely related to the questions being raised by the movie. The previews showed a wonderful scene where Colton tells her that he saw her son in heaven. It was not in the movie and I wonder why it was taken out.
My oldest son was quite put off about the picture of Jesus, or that Jesus was given a ‘face’ in the movie. He felt like it somehow discredited the boy’s experience. I think it was simply part of the story that was true to the boy’s experience. Personally, I think the fact that it was the same image as the girl from Lithuana’s drawing makes for a more compelling argument. His point was that others who say they have seen Jesus have reported different images. By the way, the opening sequence of Akaiane Kramarik’s drawing the eye of that image, into the beginning of the story was stunning.
My youngest was surprised by how the pastor’s church responded to the story as it unfolded in their community. Therein lies the theme of the movie; Is heaven for real? And if it is, how does it affect the way we live our lives on earth? The church response went deeper than whether the boy’s experience was real. It questioned the reality of heaven. Samuel (my son) was surprised by that. But, as we watch Christians live out their lives on earth, do we see an eternal reality? Do we live in such a way as to ‘store up treasures in heaven’? Is our earthly life, heavenly minded?
This is the challenge that Burpo leaves his congregation and the audience with as the movies closes (rather abruptly, I would add): Do we live our lives ‘on earth as it is in heaven?” If we believe heaven is for real, should we?
It’s a good movie and one I would recommend seeing with your family. I found it encouraging, affirming, and well done.
Warm Up: Galatians 5:16, 17, “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.”
Stretching: Read 1 Corinthians 9: 19-27
Running: I didn’t do well in physics. Actually, it was the only class I had to drop out of in high school. Today, my simple understanding of physics is limited to work: I exert less energy and work more efficiently when I employ the laws of physics. By using simple machines like pulleys, levers, wedges, wheels and axles, inclined planes, and the like, I can don’t work as hard! This is not true for those who exercise however. If we want to train to be stronger, we have to increase resistance. Increasing resistance strengthens us. When I was running in college, my best friend and I used to go into the mountains to spend long weekends fishing, hiking, and running. When we were in training, we would always head for “Killer Mountain”. It was practically the face of a cliff on the side of a mountain that was more mountain climbing than running up a hill. The rule was that you couldn’t stop moving your feet. That was the only failure. We would moan and complain the entire first leg of the run knowing what was ahead or us. Then we would arrive at the base of Mount Killer-manjaro, crane our necks back to see the summit, grit our teeth, reach deep down inside, and start scaling the path up the mountainside. By the top, you were practically crawling, and completely exhausted. But in the end, we knew we were stronger.
Paul liked resistance training. In our reading for today, he related his work as an apostle to training for an Olympic-like sporting event. In this case, he was probably referring to the Isthmian games which held competitions every five years in running, wrestling, boxing, and throwing a discus. The Corinthians understood the intense training required by the athletes to compete in these games. The reference alluded to sacrifices, disciplines, hardships, and struggles. There was no cutting corners in preparation and these elite athletes took no short cuts in their training. Likewise, Paul resisted anything that might weaken him in ‘running the race set out before him.” This was a recurring theme in Paul’s epistles. He spoke often about the fight between the flesh and the spirit and the need to be vigilant and disciplined. His prize was in winning souls and he resisted anything that would keep him from that goal.
Cool Down: “Lord, I admit that my flesh is strong. But I understand from your word that gratifying my own desires is contrary to living a life led by your Spirit. Help me to run towards spiritual disciplines instead of running away from them. Sometimes my greater obstacle in overcoming is myself. Thank you for sending your Spirit to guide and strengthen me in my resolve. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
“He sends his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly.” Proverbs 147:15
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.