Author Archives: Michael Smith

Michael Smith ~ Of Pirates and Preserving Grace: Jonah’s Reluctance

Do you have a favorite pirate story or pirate movie? Often, I picture the sailors in the story of Jonah like they’re out of pirate lore.

He [Jonah] said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea! Then the sea will become calm around you. I know it’s my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”

The men rowed to reach dry land, but they couldn’t manage it because the sea continued to rage against them. So they called on the Lord, saying, “Please, Lord, don’t let us perish on account of this man’s life, and don’t blame us for innocent blood! You are the Lord: whatever you want, you can do.” Then they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased its raging. The men worshipped the Lord with a profound reverence; they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made solemn promises. – Jonah 1:12-16

The story of Jonah isn’t just about him and a giant sea creature.  The story of Jonah is about a merciful, compassionate God who wants a prophet to deliver a message to the city of Ninevah.  Ninevah was the capital city of the Assyrian Empire and pretty much a terrible place to be. 

Jonah hears God and does not want to be the messenger, so he runs and finds himself on a ship headed in the opposite direction.  He is hanging out with a bunch of pagan sailors, then he takes a nap during an incredible storm. 

And then Jonah wakes up. He does it literally and metaphorically. The storm is raging, and Jonah wakes up from his deep sleep, thanks to the help of a friendly pagan sailing officer. Now Jonah realizes what he must do. He tells the sailors to toss him overboard, because he believes that his God is acting like all the other gods, punishing him and them in the process. (That is so “Ancient Near East” of Jonah.) However, God is going to reveal who he really is to Jonah – just not in this part of the story.

After Jonah says, “hurl me into the sea,” something strange happens. The sailors start rowing to dry land. Though it’s easy to skip ahead and assume that they picked him up and tossed him right in – they didn’t. These outsider sailors are acting in a gracious way — a foreshadowing of a gracious God who will relent and not destroy an entire corrupt city.

They decide to try to take him to shore rather than toss him in. They want to do the generous thing here. Their attitude evokes what Jesus said in Matthew 5:40-42:

When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat, too. When they force you to go one mile, go with them two. Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you.

They are going the extra mile.

In the end, they can’t get past the storm; rowing to shore isn’t an option. So they pray, but this time they pray to the Lord God. They are not looking to their gods anymore. In a strange sort of way, Jonah has pointed them to his. They pray and say, “Please, Lord, don’t let us perish on account of this man’s life, and don’t blame us for innocent blood! You are the Lord: whatever you want, you can do.”

They toss him in, and the seas are stilled. This brings about the following behavior:

  • The sailors worship the Lord with profound reverence.
  • They offer a sacrifice to the Lord.
  • They make solemn promises.

Who knew that this would be a transforming part of the story for these sailors? In what seemed like a moment of defeat for Jonah, there’s actually a small victory. He just wanted to be done with following God. But even as he is asking for the sailors to toss him to his death, they are converted, and Jonah’s life is preserved.

What should we make of this?

It is never too late to turn to God. If these pirates can do it, you can too.

How might God take your unwilling attitude or even your defeat and use it to make a difference in someone’s life?

So don’t discount the superstitious sailors and the pirates in your life – they just might be an example of how to respond to God.

Michael Smith ~ The Noah in Your Circle

Jesus had a circle. We call them the disciples. Jesus chose a circle to influence the world.

In the Gospels (the stories of Jesus in the New Testament), we see Jesus talking to all sorts of people: crowds, religious leaders, and even “sinners and tax collectors.” But some of the most powerful exchanges and teaching moments came with his circle of 12. Instead of giving his time to the masses of people in the crowd, the most impacting and lasting ministry of Jesus endures through the witness of the small group that he led and shared life with. Jesus changed the world with 12 people.

When an elevator opens up you see a group of people in it. You always have to decide if you are going to squeeze in…or wait. There are only so many people who can fit in an elevator. Right?

You have a circle. Your circle changes throughout your life. People come and go, and hopefully, you have enjoyed the journey.

The influence of the few, rather than the crowds in your life, have made a lasting difference.

So who is the Noah in your circle? Noah’s radical faith and vision for the activity of God prevented the destruction of all mankind. We have outer circles and inner circles: acquaintances and dear friends. I want to invite you to expand your circle and invite someone in that you’ve heard of; he gets mentioned every once in a while, and he mostly “floats around” in the Sunday school curriculum. This guy, we all need someone like him. His name is Noah—and he’s strange.

In Genesis 6:13-17, we read, “So God said to Noah, ‘I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high. Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish.’”

The author of Hebrews wrote in 11:7, “By faith Noah responded with godly fear when he was warned about events he hadn’t seen yet. He built an ark to deliver his household.” With his faith, he criticized the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes from faith.

There are at least three reasons why you need a “Noah” in your circle.

  1. We need someone who is talking to and hearing from God in a way that you find hard to believe. Finding and listening to a “Noah” is a reminder that there is a part of our faith that needs to be challenged to understand the profound personal nature of life in the Spirit. The presence of a radically irrational believer fertilizes and energizes our own personal walk. Noah’s personal faith was mesmerizing. He took 120 years to build a boat on the premise that God was going to flood the world. That’s weird. That should push us to listen differently to things. How do you respond when you meet other believers who might talk or act differently than you? Who is a modern day Noah you can think of? No – not the people building replica arks – but people in your life who are so trusting it makes you feel uncomfortable?
  2. We need to have someone in our life who is doing a great thing for the kingdom. Do you know and relate with anyone who has turned their back on the things of this world? What would it look like to get that person across the table from you? (This is not to say that you’re not doing things, but rather that you might be inspired to get into the deep end yourself.) Noah’s life work was dedicated to saving the world.
  3. You need someone in your life who is routinely ridiculed for his or her faith. Noah was derided for his plan. You may not know a lot of these people, but they’re important. Why? A lot of what we do is important but relatively “safe.” The world isn’t giving us a hard time for feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, or taking care of the poor. Where we get laughed at and ridiculed is when we talk about supernatural relationships—about God and resurrection and things that seem ridiculous to unbelievers.

Where in your faith journey do you play it safe? How might your life look different if you exhibited Noah’s radical faith?

Make room for Noah at the table. Listen to him pray. Ask him how the building of the boat is going. Ask him how he copes with the ones who laugh in his face. Let his life, his passion, and his courage shape you. Then, this week, take one step in moving from your comfort zone to exhibiting radical faith. You are called to do great things for the kingdom.

Gracious God, give us a courageous faith that would challenge us for the sake of your kingdom. We thank you for the Noah’s in our lives, that while they might make us uncomfortable, they inspire us to go beyond ourselves. Give us such faith, in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Michael Smith ~ From Aldersgate to Holland Road

Let us go to the Holland Road.

On May 24th, 1738, John Wesley reluctantly attended a meeting in Aldersgate. Someone read from Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to Romans. Sounds awesome right? But Wesley shared this concerning what happened to him that night.

“… I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

For me, as a Methodist, this is an important day to celebrate. It is important to tell the story of what God can do in a person’s heart, and because of that work, the world could be forever changed.

The story and message of Aldersgate can easily become forgotten if we are not careful.  Though many churches may carry its name, many also in our movement have forgotten its power.  It is like this with a lot of things in our history.  Take for instance the name Asbury.  People in my neck of the woods hear that and only think of the town where Bruce Springsteen got his start.

We know that it is something much more.  I wonder if we are going to tell the story today – how might we make it come alive?  I submit to you another road – “The Holland Road” by Mumford and Sons.


“Holland Road”

So I was lost, go count the cost,

Before you go to the Holland road,

With your heart like a stone you spared no time in lashing out,

And I knew your pain and the effect of my shame, but you cut me down, you cut me down


And I will not tell the thoughts of hell

That carried me home from the Holland road

With my heart like a stone and I put up no fight

To your callous mind, and from your corner you rose to cut me down, you cut me down


So I hit my low, but little did I know that would not be the end,

From the Holland road well I rose and I rose, and I paid less time,

To your callous mind, and I wished you well as you cut me down, you cut me down


But I’ll still believe though there’s cracks you’ll see,

When I’m on my knees I’ll still believe,

And when I’ve hit the ground, neither lost nor found,

If you’ll believe in me I’ll still believe


But I’ll still believe though there’s cracks you’ll see,

When I’m on my knees I’ll still believe,

And when I’ve hit the ground, neither lost nor found,

If you’ll believe in me I’ll still believe


As people who are walking the road of faith, let us point out particular places and stops along the way where God can meet with us.  Let’s travel the roads that will invite us to come to the end of ourselves that we might find Christ in us, to truly be the hope of glory.  Whether you prefer Aldersgate Street or the Holland Road, start walking and be transformed.


Michael Smith ~ Four Lessons for the Church from Major League Baseball

Opening day brings such hope. Every Major League Baseball team has a chance – at least in theory. But each season, this national pastime’s popularity fades. Struggling to retain its relevance, baseball is trying to “grow younger.”

Sound familiar? Check the average age of an MLB fan (53) and you will see how the church (57) is eerily close to sharing some of the same cultural challenges[1].

Whether or not you are a die-hard fan of baseball, its impact on our culture is undeniable. Baseball has seen its ups and downs recently, not unlike any organization. While the ownership groups seem to be having their largest years of fiscal success, the sport’s popularity is fading. To respond to the changing tide of culture, Major League Baseball has tried to address their need.

Looking at the culture of baseball, let’s see how the MLB can speak to the church today.

Check Your Culture

Baseball and the church have insular cultures. Often in baseball we hear the phrase, “there’s a way to play the game.” Each sport has a rulebook, but what makes baseball unique is the amount of unwritten rules players must learn. Young players often skip college and go directly into the minor leagues, where they ride buses and play for peanuts while picking up the do’s and don’ts of how to play the game.

There is a way to do things and not do things in baseball. I’m not sure why I would be required to throw the ball at someone as a pitcher just because someone threw at one of my teammates. But I’m not in the game. That rule is certainly not written, but we see it play out time and again. You throw at us, we throw at you.[youtube id=”cx2Sps9aMcY”]

What are the unwritten rules of your church? Any room that can’t be touched? Is there a pew you are not supposed to sit in because it is ________ person’s seat? Is coffee allowed or not allowed in your sanctuary? In my denomination (the United Methodist Church) we have a rule book – it’s called the Book of Discipline. It’s a big book. It has plenty of the written rules of how we play the game in our denomination.

The church experience often encourages insider thinking and an insular mindset.  I guarantee you though that if you start to play the church game long enough, it will invite you to be an insider thinker that seeks to preserve the integrity of the “game.” You will think like a churchgoer and dangerously lose touch with those who don’t know all the rules of your church. Check your culture.

It’s Not About the Pace

A lot of conversation has gone into speeding up the game of baseball. In today’s world we want things done yesterday.

For me, pace of play isn’t just about speeding things up. I am certainly not recommending just trying to go through liturgy faster. (Although that might be humorous to see.)

Pace of play is about intentionality – it is about eliminating the distractions and focusing on the actual point of the game. So the pitch clock isn’t about time, but about helping pitchers focus on pitching rather than on adjusting their hats, belts, and a host of other things. It’s the same for batters, who need to keep a foot in the box rather than walking away while we wait for the next pitch to be thrown.

So in the church it is also not about time either, but about intentionality. Are you focused on worship or do a bunch of routine or distracting things eat up the time? How many Sundays do your announcements drag on so long that it almost becomes a mini-sermon? There are clock-watchers in our churches who wonder what was accomplished in that hour of their lives. It’s a little bit of this and that, some music, prayer, a sermon, and once a month Communion.

Help people connect to what they are supposed to be doing in church, rather than the extraneous routine that can distract. Stay focused on what you are hoping to do in worship. Keep your foot in the box, and play ball.

Wear #42

Scandal, lockouts, and performance-enhancing drugs have all been a part of the recent narrative of baseball. The church is also not without its share of blemishes. But for all the faults of either organization, here is one thing baseball teaches the church that we should embody more: We all wear #42.

A number is a signifying mark of the player. No two players on the same team share the same one. However, on April 15, every player in Major League Baseball will wear #42 in honor of Jackie Robinson. April 15, 1947 was the year in which the color barrier was broken in baseball. Jackie Robinson stepped up to the plate, and the game would never be the same. Every April 15 we see the power of solidarity, memory, history, and hope.

The church is still learning this lesson. The sooner we realize we all wear the same number, the better our world will become. Wearing #42 is a reminder of the closed doors of the past that can be broken down by the courage of even one person. So when we all wear it, we acknowledge where we were, and resolve to not repeat history. We learn the lessons of our past to have a brighter future. If a mere game like baseball can set this example, then how much more should the church be leading the way in these areas of justice, love, and hope.

Rally Before the 7th Inning Stretch

As in baseball, often the church’s rhetoric and conversations are reactive and come too late into the game. It seems as if we are having conversations around next-generation ministry as generations have already left the ballpark. If you begin to really buckle down and get serious at the 7th inning stretch, what are your odds of winning?

Right now, let’s put our rally caps on and give it one final push. We can tell the story of the past but we can’t put Babe Ruth on the roster. So who are the new players, and how can we get them in the game? It is time for the church to stand up, raise our voices together as one, and get ready for the next couple of innings.  Whether it’s baseball or church, there is always hope.

[1]–and-what-that-means-for-the-game/2015/04/05/2da36dca-d7e8-11e4-8103-fa84725dbf9d_story.html. Also for UMC –

Michael Smith ~ Afternoons, Coffee Spoons, and T.S. Eliot

“Someday I’ll have a disappearing hairline. Someday I’ll wear pajamas in the daytime.

Oh, afternoons will be measured out, measured with coffee spoons and T.S. Eliot.” – Crash Test Dummies

My library is filled with seminary textbooks and other ministry-related texts. (I went to seminary before the Kindle really caught on.) But my shelves also hold stacks and stacks of other books I have picked up along the way, filled with teachings and principles I was not taught in seminary. So while I have Gregory the Great, folks like Patrick Lencioni and John Maxwell have also made their way onto the shelves.

Then I had a conversation with Ellsworth Kalas.

Much has been said and beautifully written about Dr. Kalas’s impact on many lives. I’ll simply say this: he is the reason I read T.S. Eliot.

Dr. Kalas was known as not only a great preacher, but a great writer as well. He knew how to turn a phrase and craft a statement. When talking about preaching, he admonished me as a student of words and language to open myself up to poetry, fiction, narratives, and other forms of written and expressed word. He said that these different forms of writing would not be a tool to help me, but a tool to change me. He told me I would think differently about language, words, and telling a story. And after all, aren’t we telling a story when we preach?

I am not the most creative or the best writer or preacher for that matter. But spending time in a poet’s world will reveal what life is about. Beyond any book review or helpful ministry-related text I could recommend as a “must-read,” I would encourage you to pull a book off the shelf that has nothing to do with church, leadership, preaching, management, or finance. Let grace, beauty, and truth be revealed to you from the words of those who wish to tell a story, paint a picture with words, and sing a song without music. Then, next time you put pen to paper, add text to a word document, or open your mouth to proclaim God’s love, beautiful words from the poet will help you on the journey.

Take to heart the words of English teacher John Keating (played by Robin Williams) in the movie Dead Poets Society:

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, ‘O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?’ Answer: That you are here — that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?

Spend some time reading something different this afternoon. You just might be given a verse.

For I have known them all already, known them all –

Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons…

T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

Michael Smith ~ Zechariah’s Boy

My son will be better than me – because he already is.

Luke 1: 13-17:

“Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.  He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.  And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

So often when we think of John the Baptist, we reference his weird wilderness clothing and lifestyle.  Or we focus upon his calling to prepare the way for Christ.  This is all pretty standard stuff, but did you notice verse 16?  “He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.”  I’m not sure if I ever really looked at this in the context of where this message was given and to whom.

Picture the scene: Zechariah is burning incense at the altar of the temple of God.  He is doing his priestly duty.  The role of a priest is to speak to God on behalf of the people, while the role of the prophet is to speak to people on behalf of God.  Quick question: What was Zechariah supposed to be doing while doing at the altar?  Isn’t his priestly duty to help bring people to God in the first place?  It is as if the angel Gabriel gives the message to Zechariah that his son is going to do the very thing that he (and his generation) were not doing.  I wonder how that might have felt.

Obviously there are more important issues at hand, including the miracle of Elizabeth’s conception, and the setting apart and special naming of the prophet to lead the way for the Savior. We focus so much on the reality that he was going to have a son in the first place that we miss what this son is going to do. Your son will do what you are not doing now. When Zechariah questions the angel it is more about having a son than about what this son will do. That is just too much to take in and process at that time. This basic questioning of the angel ultimately leads to him being silenced for the duration of the pregnancy.

But let’s not miss this subtle point. There are things our children are going to do that we are not able to do.

Particularly for those who are serving in ministry, it is a humbling reality to understand that one day our children will reach those we couldn’t. Why is this the case? Craig Groeschel tells us that, “in order to reach someone who has never been reached, you must do what no one else has done.”

Sometimes our fear stops us from doing what really needs to be done.  It requires those coming behind us to learn from our victories and defeats but still move forward.  My son is willing to live with abandon; I am older and more cautious now.  We have normalized our pattern of ministry, and it requires something large (like an angel interrupting our ministerial work one day) to convince us to change our model.  If only Gabriel could coach me once a week, then I might be able to figure this stuff out!

Try something new this Christmas.  View it as a gift to yourself, but even more, a gift to the world.  Be outlandish, without fear, put on strange clothes if you have to, and eat weird stuff if it  helps you be who you need to be for those who are far from God.

Though I think it might come across as a bit rude (sorry, Gabriel), the message to Zechariah is actually still a message of hope.  Your son is going to do great things for God, even though we all know it will cost him his life. The gifting of prophecy is never an easy undertaking. Delivering a word (especially to those with authority or power) typically isn’t about sunshine and rainbows.  Zechariah’s prayer in Luke 1: 76 says, “and you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him…”

This is my hope for my son — that he will do even greater things than me, and be able to accomplish things that in my weakness and lacking I was not able to.

There is always hope.

Michael Smith ~ Advice for Young Preachers

When I was in high school, I took private voice lessons.  I will never forget my first lesson: I had to stand in front of a mirror and look at myself.  I thought, “what does this have to do with singing?”  It was the most uncomfortable experience.  This was a lesson in posture, in how the muscles in our mouth and throat, and even through our body, affect the sound we produce as singers. I had to align myself in the mirror.  The mirror revealed truth (it always does).  Even worse for me was when we recorded the lesson and I was asked to listen to the tape when I got home.

You see, I thought that the sound I produced was a combination of Frank Sinatra, Barry White, Nathan Lane, and all of the other great voices that I wanted to emulate.  I was afraid of my own voice and thought that in order to be good, I had to sound like someone else.  When I listened, it wasn’t my voice.  I was able to hear the sound I produced rather than what I thought I sounded like.  That kind of reminds me of some lessons in preaching.

Work on it.

When was the last time you listened to yourself – or worse, watched yourself – preach?  Humble yourself, and listen and watch.  Don’t live into the lie that you are God’s gift to preachers.  I know I’m not; I have to keep working on it every week. Guess what? It’s hard, soul-wrenching work.  When you watch, you may discover that you wipe your nose too much, you sway, or you have a nervous habit.  Of course, preaching is more than just excellent oration; the Holy Spirit is involved.  But let’s be honest: you can still work on ways to eliminate distractions to let the Spirit speak.

Listen to others.

Listening to good preachers should inspire us to sharpen our skills (and not just borrow material). Reflect upon not only the material and presentation, but also on who you are as a preacher. I remember sitting in an ecumenical service where another pastor preached.  I thought to myself, “what is he talking about?”  There was no focus.  I don’t mean to be offensive to that person; in fact, it was more convicting for me.  It invited me to reflect. I discovered I never want to be a preacher who, when I finish, walks away unaware that the people don’t have a clue what I was talking about. I realized how much I want to honor the precious gift of people’s time each week.  When you listen to others, let it inspire you to be the best version of you.  To do this you must find your voice.

Find your voice. 

Much like my singing analogy, there is nothing more frustrating than listening to someone who is clearly trying to be somebody else.  Just go to an elementary school talent show: the fourth-grade version of Christina Aguilera is enough to make you go crazy. Be comfortable with who you are.  If you are not funny, don’t try to be. Let your passion and your authentic experiences shape your words.  Remember that it is not all about you in your message, but people don’t want to hear about this random guy or that girl as an illustration. Your listeners want to know that you have wrestled with your subject and have overcome it, or are still wrestling with it.  Your sermon must be authentic.

More and more, I see people going online and printing off stories they found from a keyword search.  That’s lazy.  Don’t do that.  I like Mother Theresa, Winston Churchill, C.S. Lewis, Henri Nouwen, and Abraham Lincoln – but it seems many preachers follow a recipe for what a sermon should be that includes a sprinkle of quotes from these people.  Quotes have their place, but even more powerful is your memorable phrase that drives what you are presenting over and over again in your message.

I still consider myself a “young preacher,” and I know that I am not “there” yet.  But I do know that if you are not passionate about preaching, then you should find someone else to do it. I would do it for free. Unfortunately, in ministry, we want people to be great at all things. I know a lot of senior leaders who are great at pastoral care, visitation, Bible studies, and the like, but not great at communicating or preaching. Their churches are often struggling.

Until we reach a place where the senior leader isn’t expected to do everything in the church, you will have to work on your preaching. So either delegate this weakness, which can mean swallowing a huge dose of pride, or work on it, listen to others, and find your voice.

Michael Smith ~ All Saints’ and Mentoring: A Personal Reflection

What I Learned from Tim Bock

I was one of those kids who started going to a Christian camp before we were officially allowed to. And as far as I can remember, camp was always a part of my life. This is where I met Tim Bock.

Speaking the Truth

Tim was a guy that at first glance didn’t really want to be your friend. His dry humor and wit often left some feeling awkward around this tall, weird, skinny guy. As a child, I remember that Tim was our babysitter who didn’t want to give my sister ice cream just for the fun of it. He also wasn’t shy about speaking the truth in love to you, and sometimes that can come across very hard. Yet in our family, like in many others, Tim was able to show up at a crucial point where we needed him the most. It was a God-thing.

When I was a junior camper, Tim was my counselor. I remember one night after he finally settled all of the crazy 4th grade boys down, he said, “Guys, I love you.” I still remember the bunk I was in when he said that. I remember the feeling of God’s presence and love come to me through Tim’s simple, yet powerful, words. I was loved and Tim helped me to truly know it.

You may never know the great power that a simple word of love can have on a person, but I encourage you to share love with others. It will never leave my memory. Though a lot of time has passed through the years, the memory of a mentor’s words at a critical time in my life will never fade.

As a young adult, it was Tim who drove me out to work at this same camp for the summer. I had spent several years away from the church and camp, so I was a bit nervous to go back to a familiar (but at the same time new) place. It was in this summer that I met some great friends and connected closer to God than ever before. I would meet a lifelong friend that I would spend time at Asbury College  with. I would meet a future seminary professor that summer, though I didn’t feel called into ministry at that time. That one week of camp meeting alone when Tim was dean was life-altering.

The Most Important Message

Tim was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He fought it hard for as long as he could. I was still in college when I had to give Tim a call. He didn’t sound the same, and we both knew that his time on this earth was running short. He was too weak to speak much, so I chatted a bit about upcoming plans. My old mentor was so affirming and gracious. I knew while we talked that this would be our last conversation.

I didn’t want it to be. I didn’t know what to say. So I said simply what he had taught me when I was a 4th grader.

“Tim, I love you.”

With his struggling voice my mentor told me, “I love you too.”

Many of my friends can tell funny stories of late-night antics at camp and share wonderful memories of Tim’s short life span. My witness to him is very simple: I loved Tim Bock. And I live in the present moment knowing that he made God’s love real to me.

Love changes people. It changed me. When you love, you honor my friend Tim. But more so, you will honor the Savior that Tim loved and served, Jesus Christ. Tim is now part of the “cloud of witnesses” that surrounds us. He encourages us to run the race – and in true Tim Bock fashion – he is probably making fun of me for running it in a weird way. But after we laugh, he tells me I am loved.

This makes me want to keep running.

Who has kept you running?

Michael Smith ~ Remembering Katrina

School was cancelled for the next morning as my wife and I went to bed. We had hoped to sleep in. We woke up and the sky was dark. We decided to leave as soon as possible and placed whatever we could off the ground in case of potential flooding. I carried our wedding album with us. We didn’t have much time to gather, so we only gathered what we thought could not be replaced. In the car, the radio warned drivers to get off the road.

We knew this storm was going to be something, but we did not have a full awareness of its oncoming devastation. This storm had a name; its name was Katrina.

I dropped my wife off with friends that lived near my job and went straight in. I worked at the Salvation Army Shelter. We had already received several families and we were preparing for many more. The busyness of the preparation only fed into my fear of what was coming. Beds were prepared and mats were made ready on every floor of our facility. And then we waited.

It was dark as I gathered around a battery-operated radio with a mother and her two children. We were silent as we strained to listen to the reports. We heard the word “levy,” but I didn’t fully understand what that meant at the time. Sections of the city were being listed, and I didn’t understand what that meant either until she gasped. She said, “That’s me. My house is gone.” She held her children, the only things she had left.

It was like this for days. Months and now years later, it still is so real to me. The stories are too numerous to count; this is just a piece of mine. Many stories are never shared because of the devastation. There are things the mind chooses not to remember rather than to relive. But as a people who look back 10 years after Katrina, we share stories and the hope that in the rebuilding, we can create a new world.

Take a few minutes today to reflect on these words from Robert Penn Warren.

“Love Recognized”

There are many things in the world

And you are one of them. Many things keep happening and

You are one of them, and the happening that

Is you keeps falling like snow

On the landscape of not-you, hiding hideousness, until

The streets and the world of wrath are choked with snow.

How many things have become silent? Traffic

Is throttled. The mayor

Has been, clearly, remiss and the city was totally unprepared for such a crisis.

Nor was I, yes, why should this happen to me?

I have always been a law-abiding citizen.

But you, like snow, like love, keep falling,

And it is not certain that the world will not be

Covered in a glitter of crystalline whiteness.



Lord, forgive us for too often re-creating our world in our own image of power and struggle rather than your peaceable kingdom. The lines still seem drawn too clearly; we need your reconciling peace. Homes can be rebuilt but lives have been lost. Trust has been lost. You can renew, rebuild, recognize, and reenergize us. Above all, we pray that our hope is never gone. Amen.

Michael Smith ~ Staring into Loss: The Tomb


Did you get enough love, my little dove

Why do you cry?

And I’m sorry I left, but it was for the best

Though it never felt right

My little Versailles


The hospital asked should the body be cast

Before I say goodbye, my star in the sky

Such a funny thought to wrap you up in cloth

Do you find it all right, my dragonfly?


Shall we look at the moon, my little loon

Why do you cry?

Make the most of your life, while it is rife

While it is light


Well you do enough talk

My little hawk, why do you cry?

Tell me what did you learn from the Tillamook burn?

Or the Fourth of July?

We’re all gonna die – Fourth of July, Sufjan Stevens

It was early in the morning of what we now know as Easter, and Mary awoke to look at the tomb.  Matthew tells us that they  “came to look at the tomb” (Matthew 28:1).  What were they going to see?  As those who stand on this side of Easter we make assumptions, and it’s difficult to truly understand what they were going to see or do there, but we understand why they went.

How long do you need to stand and stare at the tomb?

For some reason they just wanted to see it.  They couldn’t even see him, for a large stone had been placed to seal the tomb shut.  They were going to just look at the tomb.  Even more, they couldn’t have a moment of peace to themselves because guards were put on watch. Would the guards be respectful of the mourners as they came or were they given instructions to chase them off?  Were they given orders to make a note of who came to visit the tomb so that those people could be placed on some kind of governmental “watch list”?   Mary came to look.

Before they were able to look at the tomb, it changed.  Their lives and the world changed.  There was no time to look, for they were called to go and tell, to be witnesses.  The stone was rolled away, the tomb was empty, and the resurrected Jesus did not give them time to mourn any longer.

Now that light has dawned, one cannot simply stand and look at a symbol of defeat and the past.  New life has broken in and we are not allowed to just look; we are invited and commissioned to go and tell.

Sometimes I still want to look.  In the early morning I want to go and stare at that which once was.

As an Easter people we are only allowed a brief glimpse at this thing we know as death.  Death is not something to be feared or stared at. It has been defeated, its sting lost and its grasp on us loosened.  Don’t go to look at the tomb now.  Go and tell the good news of the resurrection.  Be witnesses.