Back in October I was engaged in a conversation about politics in an email thread with some friends. It inadvertently turned into a conversation about God, primarily because my friend Blake, who is actually the younger brother of one of my best friends, kept turning everything back to God and faith and prayer. At the time this was very frustrating for me. If I'm being honest I'd have to say that up until that point, my attitude towards church, and religion, and ultimately God, had been somewhat cynical. I should be clear... I've always believed in God. I've always been a Christian. Since I was little. That doesn't necessarily mean I always understood what it meant and it certainly didn't mean I had a relationship with God.
I'll spare the long details of the email conversation back in October, but something very significant happened to me on October 22nd, which was a Thursday. I was in between patients and got in my car, eager to check my email and see if anyone had responded to the thread, and there was an email from Blake. He had sent me a very long email basically telling me his entire testimony. One thing in particular that resonated very deeply with me was a story about how one of his friends came to him and was in great need spiritually. Blake arranged for them to meet his bible study leader at Starbucks and he sat back and watched the guy lead his friend to Christ right then and there. As they were leaving, his bible study leader asked Blake "what makes you happy in life?" Blake remained silent because he knew his answer would be some typical "guy" answer. He then looked Blake square in the face and said, "I fish for men's souls". Blake explained to me about how that moment changed his life forever and he committed himself to doing the same right then. This was approximately 2 years ago and now he turned up in our email conversation and was addressing me.
His email was very long and very encouraging. He told me all the ways that he used to look up to me when he was younger and pointed out things in me that he saw as strengths. As he told me about his faith, he encouraged me in mine and as I read his email I found myself overcome with emotion. It was kind of like a sucker punch. I'm going along, minding my own business when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, the Holy Spirit jumps out of the bushes and punches me right in the chest! It was awesome... and weird. I believe that God used Blake that day to renew my spirit. It wasn't one particular thing, or even a number of things. But I had basically reached a point where I simply wasn't involving God in any aspect of my life, much less my family's. In that moment I had this overwhelming notion of "it's not about me" and "nothing else matters". I called Emily and told her that I felt like God was working on me and I asked her to pray. I then proceeded to drive 30 miles to my next patient's house in utter silence. Just kind of pondering everything.
Since that day, I've had an undying desire to grow closer to the Lord. I have a goal and desire to get in the Word everyday, and I'm failing miserably, but keep trying. I have a goal and a desire to pray everyday, alone and with Emily, and I'm failing miserably, but keep trying. As I dig in the scriptures, and discuss God with others, and listen to sermons, I understand a little more each day that the only thing that matters is a relationship with Christ. Good behavior, morality, rules, regulations, they're all great, but they don't bring salvation. Christ brings salvation, and with salvation comes change. A change of heart and mind. I am a human. I am a man. I am a Christian. I am not God, and therefore, I am not perfect. I fall short every single day of His glory. How can one not, especially in today's age of technology, entertainment, sports, television, celebrities, and the internet? No matter which way you turn, there is a distraction or a temptation. But the beauty is the cross, and the fact that Christ came here and faced those same distractions and temptations so that I would have an empathetic savior and so that I would know that I always have a way out when faced with sin.
My reason for writing this is not to be preachy. It is because I have a desire to talk with others about God. I want to share, I want to discuss, I want to learn. And I want others to see God's grace and mercy and salvation through me and my family. It just so happens that this is a particular area that I've never been comfortable with. And I think a lot of people struggle in the same way. I think it comes from a worldly fear that I'm going to offend someone or that someone is going to think I'm odd. Well that's my problem and my sin. I'm encouraged every day by people like Blake and my friend Austin. Both are guys that are like little brothers to me, yet I find myself looking up to them in their walk with Christ. I'm encouraged by people in my life that are dealing with divorce, cancer, death of a loved one, or just hardship in general, yet rather than shake their fists at God, they are digging deeper in to His grace. I'm encouraged by people like Matt Chandler, the lead pastor at the Village Church in Dallas. He's only 3 or 4 years older than me and has a wife and 3 kids. On Thanksgiving he had a seizure and it turns out he has a brain tumor. Surgeons operated but were unable to get all of it so now he is going through radiation and chemo. Here are 2 videos that exemplify, not only God's grace and mercy, but also why he has had such an impact on my life.
After tumor (sorry, couldn't embed this one):
Video from Matt
I have been truly blessed throughout my life. I have wonderful parents. I have a brother and sister that I love. I have a small group of best friends that I have known since childhood, all of whom have a sense of loyalty and brotherhood that a lot of guys my age can't understand. I have a secure job. I have a beautiful house. I have all the toys I could possibly want or need. I have 3 awesome dogs. I have in-laws that I actually adore, and I think they are pretty fond of me. And I have the most amazing, beautiful, caring wife there is. And we have the most amazing, beautiful little girl on planet earth. Sorry, it's a fact. I have everything, but it's all nothing without Christ at the center. I mentioned before that I have a goal and a desire to pray every day, and that I'm working on it. When I pray, I ask God for things like wisdom, guidance, clarity, understanding, strength, and ability in my personal life, in my marriage, and as I read the scriptures. I thank Him for forgiveness, grace, mercy, love, and faith. I pray for guidance for Em and I as parents, so that we can lay a foundation for her to learn and understand the grace of God, and so that when God decides it is time, He will light a fire inside her and she will believe, and He will save her soul.
I don't really know how to wrap this up so I'll say this. I mentioned my friend Austin earlier. He started a blog yesterday and I read it and felt very inspired and encouraged to write this. Ultimately, I kind of copied him. He's a great guy so if you want to be encouraged and inspired as well, check out his blog. There's a link over to the right for Smith Family Blog. I'll end with Blake's closing remarks to me in his email. He said...
I’ll leave you with this…………………This world is an evil place and Godly men are a dying breed. We have to seek God’s will daily in order to fight the evil that stands against us. If you believe God exists and His only goal is to have a loving and compassionate relationship with you, then we also have to believe that the devil exists and his only goal is to destroy your walk with Christ, your marriage, your family, your friendships, and your peace and joy. Fight the good fight my brothers, take a stand today because we aren’t promised tomorrow.