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A Job to Do

A Job to Do

By: S. Daniel Smith

Mark 1:15: “and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (ESV)

We read this quote from our savior today and know one crucial fact: We have a job to do. As the old hymn goes, “We’ve a story to tell to the nations!” In telling the nations, we are continuing to herald the same warning that Jesus proclaimed as he began his earthly ministry. Yes, the kingdom is delayed, but it is still at hand!

To put this into contrast, if I refuse to proclaim this message to those around me who need it, then I am telling my savior that I don’t believe his kingdom is at hand and while I’m grateful that I became a believer, I see no pressing need for anyone else to join me. How can this be? How could a Jesus follower possibly, after being redeemed from his own sin, then not want to help rescue others from their sin?

The eternal kingdom is at stake. When Jesus first said these words, he was telling unbelievers that they had to make a choice about what to do with him. They had to either accept that he was the promised one or reject him. Unbelievers today are also faced with that decision.

And what is it that they must do? Repent and believe! Jesus gave us no lists of things to accomplish to earn his forgiveness. We are given no commands to see this priest or take that pilgrimage. We are only ordered to repent and believe. Romans 10:9 tells us, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Believers are also faced with a decision. Will we reject our job? Or will we tell others that the kingdom is at hand? It is a decision we must all make and we are all responsible to Christ Jesus for the answer.

I’m not saying it’ll be easy, only that it’s necessary. I struggle with rejection as much as the next person. And I certainly struggle with having a clean life just as much as the next guy. I regularly feel like I’ve blown my witness, or have no witness at all. We can’t be like Jesus completely, but we must continue to work at it, knowing that we believe the kingdom is at hand and that we can help others learn that fact.

To learn more, take a look at the following books:

Master Plan of Evangelism – Robert Coleman

Tell the Truth – Will Metzger

Share Jesus without Fear – William Fay

Closing 2016 and Opening 2017

In December of 2015, I decided to officially make an effort to be a writer. Not just a guy who had a couple of publishing credits (I had five credits outside of a volunteer stint at the Sherwood Voice), but a writer with an extensive list of bylines. Also, because I was a freelancer, I wanted to have a wide array of credits in 2016.

I did two things to push me in the right direction for 2016. First, I started journaling. Writing about my writing helped me see my progress. Secondly, I set a goal: 16 in ’16!

Neither of those worked as I planned. I didn’t journal everyday, though I did journal often and it has shown me things like how much time I waste chasing ideas that don’t matter. It also helped me find my writing voice. That voice has started to become a solid part of who I am. For that, I’m grateful.

The goal of 16 credits didn’t happen, not by half.

This doesn’t mean that 2016 was a bust though. I got seven credits last year. I’m so happy with that! By pushing myself, I got more credits in one year than in the entirety of my effort since 2000 when I got my first byline. I’ll take the seven and run with it. I also made more money this year than ever before, though it was really not that much.

So, as the clock turns over on 2016 and my writing starts a new year, I need to decide what 2017 will hold.

First and foremost, it will hold a closer relationship with God. I wrote about this in my main blog post on 2017, but it bears repeating…none of the following goals matter if my faith is not strengthened in the coming year.

Instead of making a 17-in-17 goal, I am making a goal of hitting certain wickets on my path as a writer. For example, in 2016, I got published by EFCA Today and EFCA Now, both periodicals with (you guessed it!) the Evangelical Free Church of America. This year, now that we’re members of a Southern Baptist Church, I want to focus on getting published by an SBC publication. I have already started the process, but more details will have to wait.

Another goal in 2017 is to increase the exposure that my writing receives. Here’s another example: In 2016, I was published in many smaller-circulation e-zines or periodicals. This year, I want to increase my writing exposure by going for magazines like, On Mission, Christianity Today, Outreach Magazine, and the like. These are bigger names in publishing, and I’ll probably get rejected a lot, but I’m used to it (been getting rejection letters since 1999!

The final goal of 2017, and the biggest one as far as I’m concerned in writing, is getting an agent and/or a book deal. Since the book is still in planning and writing, I don’t know yet if I’m going to sell it to the publisher directly or get an agent for it. Of course, it would always be cool to say, “well, my agent is working on…” but I want to do what is right for the book. If the book can be sold directly, then I’ll probably go that route.

Here’s to 2017. While I didn’t reach all of my writing goals in 2016, I made a huge splash with the number of times my writing appeared in periodicals. I believe 2017 holds even more promise!

The Only New Year’s Resolution that Matters

dscn0145The year 2017 is looming large in my sights. While the Christmas lights still twinkle on the tree and the kids haven’t even broken any of the toys yet, I know that I must start thinking seriously about the coming New Year. It isn’t all about football and parties, you know. There’s the goal setting and resolutions to think about too!

Do you have any? Resolutions I mean. Like me, I suppose (assume?) you’d like to finally lose that 20lbs you’ve been staring at in the mirror for the last several months. I know that this is a big one because my e-book “Gluttony” is selling faster now than any other time of the year. But not even this important resolution really matters.

Goals are important too. For example, I have a goal to write for some major publications this year. Christianity Today tops that list. In my opinion, it’s the gold standard for Christian journalism. But not even this major milestone goal matters.

The only thing that matters this year…the only resolution that bears us any benefit, is to get closer to God this year than we were in 2016.

II Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Of course, this happens when a person accepts Christ. Maybe that happened for you at the New Year, but chances are, if you are reading this, then you’re already a Christian. Yet there is something we as humans, whether regenerated or not, have in common with every year as it ends. We know what it’s like to have the old pass away and the new arrive. And just like 2017, our lives carry the baggage of the previous life. You’ll deal with decisions you made in 2016 for some time in the New Year just like the New You continues to deal with the issues that came from the old you.

Which is why it’s so important to set the ultimate goal this year. Make your New Year’s resolution count…make a committment to know God better this year.

I’ll give you three realistic ways to accomplish this.

  1.  Get into the Bible. Read it consistently. As for me, I’m a horrible daily reader and my ship’s watch schedule often keeps me from setting aside a very specific time each day for scripture reading and prayers. Doesn’t matter. Just read. I’m more a believer of getting into the Bible than doing it at a specific time each day. We’re all busy. Just get into it. Put a little “x” on the calendar each day you do it. Just get started and over time you’ll develop the habit you need.
  2. Pray more. All the time. Every day. I have ideas on how to do this every day and you can read them here. The important thing, however, is simply to do it. Set a timer and talk to God for five minutes. It’s not that difficult. Five minutes. You can talk about the latest Hollywood gossip or your favorite sports team for hours. You can talk to God for five minutes. What do you talk about? How about the football team or your favorite actor? Do you think he isn’t interested in what you’re interested in? The important thing is to just start somewhere.
  3. Fellowship often. I put this last because the first two deal with God directly, and I’m an introvert. Extended time with other people wears me out. This is especially true if it’s time spent with people I don’t know. However, fellowship isn’t just the exhausting potlucks and parties. Find people who also follow Jesus and spend time with them. Even as an introvert, I find my soul rejuvenated when I do this with people I love and who love Jesus.

I want to encourage you to start 2017 with a strong, sensible, spiritual goal to get to know God better. It’s the only thing that really matters in eternity, and I am convinced that eternity is the only thing that matters for our lives.

May you have a blessed 2017!

A Nation of Unclean Lips

And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips…”

I am the last guy who wants to equate modern America with Old Testament Israel. People who quote Jeremiah 29:11 and II Chronicles 7:14 make me want to pull my hair out. Those promises were for Israel in some of her darkest days. We are not that people and that situation is not our situation. But I digress.

After what was a horribly polarizing election cycle, which saw far more hate than love, more angst than peace, and more lashing out than making up, I noticed something disturbing. Christians, in large swaths, came to Trump in what can only be assumed was an attempt to stave off the hounds of liberalism.

I don’t care who people vote for. Most of the time I stay out of the argument altogether. I’d rather talk about Kansas City Royals baseball, naval warfare, writing, and theology. People who voted for Trump did so for many decent reasons, just as people who voted for Clinton did. Even those who voted for Johnson or Stein did so for defensible reasons. Your politics is your politics.

But when you vote in a way that seeks to speak on God’s behalf, I get concerned. I’m particularly concerned when people want to side with a politician who will just as surely stab evangelicalism in the back as look at them.

Further, what I saw on Twitter and Facebook made me ill. Christians debating unbelievers with anger on their lips (or on their keyboards, as it were). How sad! What a divide we’ve caused this year! We spewed anger and evil out of one side of our lips to unbelievers while wishing each other a “good day” from the other side on Sunday morning. Despicable.

To echo the great prophet Isaiah: We are a nation of unclean lips.

Yes, there are some angry atheists. Many of them, especially in the hours immediately following the election results, did some very ugly things. Does that make what we do acceptable? Of course not! Yet Christians in America, especially the conservative, Bible-believing ones, have sold any moral authority we had in order to get a man in office who will probably (I stress probably) get someone on the Supreme Court who will nominally uphold our moral agenda. Not that it will lead to the overturn of Roe v Wade or Obergefell v Hodges (same-sex marriage) or any other moral issue.

Which is the point in the end. Instead of remaining true to God’s agenda of caring for the poor, feeding the homeless, providing shelter for the orphans, and most importantly, telling them about eternity and how to be a part of it, we convinced ourselves that our hope is in the American political machine.

The American Christian seems more concerned with having a moral America than a believing one. So we elect people who will legislate our moral code while we drive a wedge between us and unbelievers so that they will never want to hear about how to believe in Jesus.

Isaiah’s response to realizing that his nation had gone the wrong way was to claim woe and to ask God how it could be fixed. And God did fix it. As Isaiah watched, an angel delivered God’s redemption directly to him. We also have redemption, if we believe in Jesus Christ.

Now, here’s where it gets amazing. God, after purging the sin from the prophet, asked a pivotal question. It is a question as vital today in America as it was in Old Testament Israel.

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”

God wants to know, from among the professing Christians…in the crowd of those hoping for a political solution to a spiritual problem, who will really speak for him?

The dust is still settling, but in a nation of truly unclean lips, it’s time for believers, who understand that they also have unclean lips, to realize just how bad the spiritual situation is and respond, first with repentance from our own sin, and then to the call to go to the crowds for God. We must retreat from filthy politics that just drive a wedge between us and the world and openly work to reconcile the unbelieving world to God.

And God is looking for people to go even today. His words shouted from the annals of Isaiah’s time still echo today. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Will you also be a laborer? Will you cling to the hope of the great American political machine or will you join the Holy Ghost in his effort to turn America (and the world) into a truly Christian nation?

Dissecting John 3:16

For God…

Our Bible study group on the USS Hue City (CG 66) recently looked at John 3:16, perhaps the most famous verse in the Bible. The fame is well deserved, for this single verse packs enough theological punch to keep a writer/minister busy for days.

I’m going to break down some of the very simple things we talked about in class. Please feel free to discuss your own thoughts about John 3:16 in the comments section.

Let’s get to work!

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

  1. First off, “For God” signifies a sort of transition. We won’t go too in depth into this, but scholars believe that Jesus has stopped talking at this point and the author (possibly a different one than John the evangelist) has started to share his personal thoughts on the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus.[1] In fact, there are several “issues” with the book of John that make scholars think that at least two people wrote it at slightly different times.[2] Chapter 3 of John, along with chapters 2-11, is thought to have come from an earlier signs source, which would have been written closer to when Jesus was alive on earth (John in its present form was written sometime between AD70 and AD100).[3] That the more conservative D. A. Carson agrees, or at least acknowledges this possibility gives it credence in my estimation.[4]

I’ve belabored the point, let’s move on.[5]

When I say that “For God” means we’ve reached a transition, I mean that the statement is sort of like, “therefore” in that we need to find out what the there is for. So what is Jesus (or the writer) saying when he writes, “For God?”

He is explaining something that happened in verses 14 and 15. “…so shall the son of man be lifted up…” Why? Because God loved the world so much!

  1. God loved the world. Yes, the world is fallen. Yes, it isn’t the “very good” of Genesis 1:31. Still, it is God’s creation. Our children, despite their sins, are still our children and we love them dearly. God loves his creation! This is good news! And because he loves his creation, he wants to rescue it, even from itself. Praise God!
  1. Abraham mirrored God’s sacrifice by offering Isaac on the alter. Isaac is the “type” of Christ and Abraham is a “type” of God, meaning that they are illustrative of Jesus and God, respectively. Another word to use for “type” is “shadow.”

The difference in John 3:16 is that God is offering the sacrifice on behalf of all creation, whereas Abraham offered Isaac to show his faith in God’s provision. In this way, Jesus was God’s provision. God offered Jesus to satisfy his own requirements to have a perfect sacrifice. Jesus, by becoming that sacrifice, accepted this as Isaac did, and in doing so provided the way (John 14:6).

Another very important point here is that, by actually sending Jesus to die, and by Jesus committing himself to death, God asked more of himself than he ever asked Abraham and Isaac to do. Isn’t God like that? He always goes further than he asks us to go!

Again we go back to verses 14 and 15. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the son of man be lifted up. Of course, Jesus was comparing his future sacrifice to the salvation method in the desert. John Shelby Spong rightly says, “It is a powerful image.”[6]

  1. Jesus is God’s ONLY son! We are able to become adopted sons and daughters by believing in Jesus’ sacrifice (John 1:12), but God only had one son, and it was that son that paid the price for our sins. In the Greek, this wording indicates that God gave his best, most unique gift possible.[7] How much more should we do the same!
  1. Liberal theologians (I’m thinking of the book Underground Church, by Rev Robin Meyers) state that the “good news” isn’t just about what happens after death. That is part true. It isn’t JUST about what happens after death, but this verse certainly makes it mostly about that! My other favorite verse in John, 14:6, also makes John’s point more about what happens after death than not. I think this is one of the distinctive marks of John’s Gospel.

I understand the value of telling someone what the gospel means now in this life on earth. Each of us is bombarded with the requirements of life. To know that the gospel means something now is very good! This is especially true since the gospel is sometimes all the downtrodden have.

However, the ultimate restoration presented in John 3:16 has nothing to do with this current Earth. It is much more about the Earth and Heaven to come. When John wrote Revelation, he was telling his readers about that restoration. He was letting them know that they should hold on in the face of persecution. He seemed to say, “God is coming back, and he’s going to fix everything someday. Just keep holding on to the good news!”

Some call that escapism (especially as it relates to the rapture), but it’s actually what the gospel is all about. God is restoring humanity through Jesus, his only son, because he LOVES the world!

  1. “Should not perish, but…” This is the crux of the matter. Pick life over death. Accept Jesus over oneself. Pick true Christianity over other religions. However you slice it, the point is that there are only two options. Either accept Jesus’ sacrifice, or die.

Final Thoughts: I could write so much more about John 3:16. Like 14:6, it is a bedrock verse of our faith. In this verse we have the gospel…the good news. God did not leave us to our own devices. He did not demand petty sacrifice like so many other “gods.” No, he became the sacrifice because HE LOVED US! If you haven’t made your decision today, please do so. This life is the time to make the decision and today is a great day to do it!

[1] Carson, D A. The Gospel According to John. William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company. Grand Rapids, MI, 1991. Pg 203.

[2] Brown, Raymond E., Edited by Francis J. Moloney. An Introduction to the Gospel of John. Doubleday. New York, NY, 2003. Pg 40.

[3] Spong, John Shelby. The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic. Harper One. New York, NY, 2013. Pg 12.

[4] The Gospel According to John, pg 35.

[5] I’m working on a much longer project to be unveiled in the not-too-soon-future, but don’t let this information bother you. That John didn’t write every line in the book named for him shouldn’t rock our faith to the foundations. In fact, the editor of John chapter three actually expands on Jesus’ words and simply provides a backdrop to what Jesus and Nicodemus discussed. If there is more than one author, then they were faithful enough to the story to provide consistency. We know, of course, that God is the ultimate editor of his book anyway (II Tim 3:16).

[6] The Fourth Gospel, pg 92.

[7] The Gospel According to John, pg 204.

My one and only Sci-Fi Credit

I have always dreamt of being a sci-fi writer. Actually, I already am a sci-fi writer. I’ve got thousands of words written about science fiction characters, planets, what have you. Maybe someday I’ll share them with you, but I’ve stepped back from sci-fi for awhile to focus on writing from the back pew.

This post is not about being a sci-fi writer, however, but being a sci-fi author…meaning that I’ve got published credits. To that end, I do have one sci-fi credit. I wrote a piece that I submitted to Ambitions Magazine (it was also submitted to Nth Degree and rejected). Sadly, that magazine isn’t in production any longer.

Anyway, I not only got the below piece published (for which I’m grateful), but I got paid $2.00 for my efforts! Funny thing is, I never cashed the check. The article appeared in 2004. Sometimes I go a little sideways with my theology, but just remember it’s a speculative piece. Enjoy!

Mars and the Garden of Eden Ambitions Mag

Will I ever Write a Book?

Actually, I have written a book. I thought for sure that Feeding the Dragon was going to be my ticket to stardom. Even as the final edits were being done and the cover was in design stage, I started writing the second book in what I was sure was the next Tom Clancy-esc series. To my great surprise, Stars and Stripes even interviewed me! I thought I was in for sure! I checked the subscription numbers for Stars and Stripes and guestimated that approximately 15,000 people could become interested in purchasing Feeding the Dragon.

I sold maybe…MAYBE…150 copies. Most of those were by family members or close friends (thank you!). The book is now out of print and the publisher has returned all rights to me. What a sad end to what I thought was my big move.

Writing a book is hard. It’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. I learned a hard lesson in Feeding the Dragon.

The publishing world is cut-throat and I was not ready to play.

Thankfully, I’ve learned my lesson and my approach now is to slowly build an audience that trusts me to deliver a specific area of expertise. That expertise is practical theology to make their lives better and (more importantly) more productive for the kingdom.

Someday, I hope that will become a book. I know my desire is to move out of blogging (which is another form of independent publishing) and article writing and into traditional book publishing. The book is in its very infant development stage. I’m not even yet ready to talk about it.

Safe to say, however, that someday, I will write a book. And you’ll be the first to know about it (after my wife!).