Look, and see ….

 

It happened yesterday — a minuscule moment hidden in a dandy day. I almost missed it.

 

Yesterday was one of those days that started out wonderfully and grew better by the hour. Emma, our oldest daughter, and I woke up before dawn to get ready for the Little Rock Marathon 10K race. It was our first 10K together, as well as our first road race (the others have been trail races, we are more naturally suited to off-road, root-and-rock-hopping, hill-scrambling sorts of races). We were excited, to say the least.

 

The cold air that greeted us as we left our hotel did not deter us. We knew that we would warm up soon enough. As we lined up with the 3,000 other participants in the 5/10K we encountered friends from our hometown and my workplace. As a dad-and-daughter running team we were glad to start the race alongside a coworker and friend of mine who was running with her daughter as well (a shout out to Robin and Hannah for a race well run!).

 

During the race Emma and I talked, ran with other home town folks for a bit, laughed, thanked volunteers along the way, talked even more (she is a teenage girl, after all) encouraged each other, and looked forward to a big post-race breakfast. As we neared the finish we kicked it into high gear — high gear is required for me to keep up with Emma as she approaches the finish line. We finished at the same time, enjoyed post race pictures, and collected our medals for completing the race. Soon after, we found out that of 1600 10K participants we had outrun 1197 of them. To add to our excitement we also learned that Emma had won 3rd place in her division! Make no mistake, this paragraph does function to build the narrative to the point of this post, but it also serves a huge, and well-placed, “dad brag.”

 

Sporting our medals and salty with sweat we made our way back to the hotel for showers and breakfast. We later checked out of the hotel and ran a few errands before heading home. Then, it happened. We stopped at a garden center/nursery in North Little Rock. As I browsed for a new plant for my office Emma said, “Dad, let me have your phone.” One never knows what is on a teenager’s mind when that request is made. She took my phone and began taking pictures of plants. She hunkered down over a few that I had already moved past. Then, smiling from ear to ear — a smile that will soon feature braces — she revealed her pictures. I was stunned.  One of her pictures stopped me in my tracks, which wasn’t difficult considering how stiff I had become after the race. I lingered on her photo, savored it, and admired her eye for beauty and ability to capture it. Her is Emma’s picture:

 

img_0118

 

 

If I offered a title to this picture it would be “God’s Hidden Jewel.” Here’s why. I had walked past that tiny plant saucering a single drop of water. I hadn’t noticed it at all. Emma had. She had spotted it right away, and then acted on her excitement in seeing it. What a life lesson. How often do I walk by these God-saturated moments and gifts? Each of the many times that I have looked at her picture I have been reminded to slow down, focus my attention, and spot the “hidden jewels” along each day’s path. A child’s giggle, an encouraging word, or a lavender sunset are grace-gifts from our Heavenly Father that can slip by us if we are not on the ready.

 

“Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!” exclaimed the Psalmist in Psalm 34:8. The lesson gleaned from yesterday was “Look, and see that LORD is good!” Sometimes the biggest part of the day lies outside of the most exciting moments, and is hidden among the smaller ones.

 

As I pondered this lesson another passage of Scripture sprang to mind:
“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Luke 18:17)

 

A simple, and stern, reminder. We come to Christ and into His Kingdom with “child-like” faith. We also recieve God’s gifts as children do — in humble, simple, grateful trust in our Father in Heaven. This reminds us that in order to recognize God’s gifts, and to walk through each day at His pace, we would do well to observe how our children move through moments. As they stop and gasp in wonder, so should we. They miss nothing, neither should we.

 

Today, and tomorrow, let’s set our minds to walk at a child’s pace, to look, and to see …

A perfect day is a gift from a perfect God

 

It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. The picture below is evidence of the truth of that statement. As you would expect, there are many words, and entire stories, pulsing through this picture.

image

 

Let me share a few of them. I do so to highlight the principle that we should make the most of each day, and in doing so thank God for His daily gifts. This principle sings loudest this time of year. Friends and families spend more time and more focused time together around Christmas. This picture will remind me to do that with greater frequency well after the Christmas season and long into the New Year.

 

I also share this picture and posting to brag on Emma, our oldest daughter. To not brag on her would mean that I am remiss in my role as a doting dad.

 

Last August I began running on a regular basis. Prior to this I had only run every-now-and-then. By that I mean I ran if chased by our kids, our dogs, or an occasional nagging notion that I should exercise more. One of my commitments for this year was to exercise more. After a short time Emma took an interest in running with me. We officially began trail running — running off-road in the woods — the first week in November. We quickly set a goal to train for the Mt. Nebo Bench Trail Run on December 17. It is a 7K (4 mile) trail run around Mt. Nebo. It only gave us six weeks to prepare. We trained hard, and, we had a lot of fun together in the process. We enjoyed daughter and dad talks as we ran (she did most of the talking, I was too out of breath to talk most of the time). While running one cold, rainy night we also found and “rescued” a kitten. You get the picture. It was terrific fun running and training together.

 

Yesterday was the big day. It was our first “race” ever (although Emma had done some 5K walk/runs with her mom in the past). We got up at 5 a.m, fixed our “runner’s breakfast,” and loaded up for a 2.5 hour drive. On the way we laughed, talked, and planned our race strategy. For the sake of brevity, and to not test your patience, I will highlight the stories captured by the picture in bullet points:

  • As the race began we kept our pace and watched those around us. We came up with code words for passing certain people — for example, “Code Red” meant we would track down and pass the fellow in red who was just ahead of us for most of the race.
  • As we approached and passed a fellow runner (a woman in her 50s.) Emma said, “I have to tell you that you smell great!” The lady appreciated the comment and replied, “So, I don’t smell to perfumy or strong?” “No,” Emma replied, “you smell very clean, just right.”
  • While other runners grabbed and chugged the water from a volunteer at the halfway point Emma preferred that we stop, enjoy our water, and thank the volunteer for being there. Emma also took the time to put our paper cups in the trash bag (she was appalled that other runners threw their cups on the ground; I later told her that the volunteers would pick them up).
  • As we neared the finish we turned on our “deer legs” for the last big hill and later Emma used “cheetah legs” (more of our code talk) to try to track down a another runner who had stayed ahead of us the entire time. It is worth noting that it was no small effort to catch up to people that we had passed prior to the “water break” and overtake them a second time.
  • Emma finished 12 seconds before I did, thanks to her “cheetah mode.” When I heard them announce her name over the PA system as she crossed the finish line my heart and eyes welled up. She had done it. A 7K trail run full of hills and slippery paths couldn’t stand up against her young legs and strong will.
  • As I crossed the finish line she high-fived and hugged me. We had finished, shaved 30 seconds per mile off of our training times, and logged one of our best experiences ever.

 

image

 

On the way back home we replayed the day, planned our next race, and talked about seeing the new Star Wars movie. She soon fell asleep. As I drove I could only think, “Thank you God, thank You for Emma and for a day like today.” As I bathed in the delight of the day I remembered that this very sense of delight is the delight that God has in us as His children. What a wonder. What a God. What gifts He gives.

 

As you think on these words, and smile at the photos, think beyond them. Think beyond them to the gifts that God gives to you. Then, think beyond the gifts that He gives and enjoy Him. His gifts are great; He is greater.

 

His greatest gift to us isn’t our children, or our best days, it is His Son for us and in us each day!

 

By the way, Emma won third place in her division. I couldn’t resist … Merry Christmas from the ole Bearded Acorn!

A book, Twitter, Proverbs, and Lucy the pup…

It has been almost two months since my last posting. I am pleased to tell you why that is the case. First, I began posting meditations on the “one anothers” of the New Testament here on the Bearded Acorn with the hope that my ongoing study of and scribbling about them might blossom into a book project. It did, and then some. In fact, I am now 14 chapters into a book manuscript. Much of the study and heavy lifting is in the rear view mirror. What remains to be done is the tedious, head-scratching work of revision, along with spit-shining, and then submitting it to a publisher, which will likely happen in early August. I share that as an update for you, and as an item for you to pray about for me. I will say that learning to write a book for the first time is like … well, it’s like learning to write a book for the first time.

The second reason that I have not posted on this blog in a fortnight or two is because I have had a desire to begin a second project. This project is for those of you with a shorter attention span, or that have a leaning toward writing that doesn’t exceed 140 characters (25 words). These quips will sprout from my daily reading in the book of Proverbs and be shared through Twitter.

Many years ago when I was a new Christian (in 1993) my pastor encouraged me to read a chapter of the book of Proverbs everyday. Preferably, the chapter that corresponded to that day’s date. For example, today I am reading Proverbs 30 since it is the 30th day of the month. While I haven’t done it every day since 1993, I have done it almost daily. And, it has paid off. It directs me to do things that emerge from my reading and to avoid doing things because of what I have read. Give it a try. I offer you a money back guarantee on it as a discipline that will help you to grow in Christ.

Just how will the book of Proverbs and Twitter come together here? Read Ezekiel chapter 6 to find out. No, I am just kidding. Here’s the real story — I will tweet out an application from my daily reading in Proverbs. It will not be a quotation of a verse or two. Neither will it be a re-hashing of verses. Cliche. Instead, it will be a bending and application of one verse from that day’s reading. By bending, I mean that within the proper context and interpretation of the passage I will shape it into a tweet that will show you another side, or an odd side, of the verse and share it in a way so as to provide some application of it for you. And, fear not, there will be some satire and humor involved as well.

Here are two examples from this week from the 28th:

“Prov. 28:19 – Work well with your portion and you will have plenty. Chase things with no worth or substance and you will lose all, or more.”

“Prov. 28:23 – Rebuke shapes and smoothes the bedrock of friendship. Flattery attempts to insert silicone implants into it.”

So, if you are interested check them out at @JodySmotherman on Twitter.

For those of you who have followed this blog since its inception in January. You know that you are expected to go and look up the verse and read it before you read my thoughts. Just one of the ground rules that will help you to get the gist of it and to make sense of my non-sense.

There you have it. The two reasons why my posts were halted: working on a book and getting my Proverbs tweets ready to load and fire off. It’s also worth mentioning that family, work, small group Bible study, and getting a wonderful Australian Shepherd puppy — the kids named her Lucy — has taken up some time as well. For the record, Lucy is one of the smartest and sweetest mammals, including humans, in North America. She loves the tweets from Proverbs, you might too. She loves chewing on and shredding my book manuscript notes even better. In two months publishers might get a kick out of doing the same. Sigh

The Bearded Acorn is now officially back open for wordiness.

Come Thou Fount…

 

The lyrics to this stout old hymn leave me in awe each time that I hear them. It is an awe for Christ, and an awe for the artfulness of this hymn. This hymn is a work of God-honoring art.

How can a hymn be a work of art? And, why is it that a good number of contemporary “praise” songs will never be seen as one?

Let’s see why:

  • This hymn is doctrinal broccoli–high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. It’s the kind of stuff that you need, and can grow on, but will likely pass over for bacon. The modern day musical diet of many Christians is high on theological bacon that is loaded with flavor and fat, but low on the stuff that matters.
  • The hymn writer knew his role and place in God’s Kingdom. He saw things rightly –God is the deal, we are not. The request to “tune my heart to sing Thy praise” says so. Selah. Pause and chew on that broccoli…God please align and tune my heart (because it is severely out of alignment and tune) to sing Your praise (instead of my own which I enjoy and am habitually tuned to sing). ‘Nuff said.
  • In this hymn the strong cords of sound theology are over-woven with silken threads of poetic language. What a shame that Christians ape the lingo of today’s culture rather than using the grand gift of language to offer to God words of praise that are carefully chosen and fitly spoken, or sung, or prayed, or sighed.

This list could go on, but, brevity is the soul of wit. Let’s keep both soulful wit and wit-ful soul in tact by summarizing. What is present in this hymn, and many of its siblings, is good theology, mindful movement in thought, beautiful words and composition, and humility. This is what most contemporary songs lack, and are unfamiliar with. Other things are missing too, but Who is counting?

If my children gathered around me and said, “Dad, you are good because you are good to us, and do good things for us, and for loving us, loving us, loving us (x4).” I would wonder who was being honored, or if any honor was present at all. If they sang the chorus of this ditty four more times, and swayed with their eyes closed and hands folded, I would flee the room.

It’s a pointed point.

If my children said, “Dad, you are a good dad, because you are a good man, and your kindness and actions prove your character,” then I would be moved. Then, my heart would sing. But, Who is counting?

For a hard time call…

“You are going to have a hard time in life,” he said. It was true then, and it’s still true today.

Those tough words won’t ever be the title of a popular Christian best seller. Heavens no. Heck no, too! As a side note — or sarcastic note — here are some titles that you might find on a Christian best seller list:

  • Happiness in Seven Minutes, or Less
  • Full life, full pockets
  • Raising Pets that Honor God
  • Fulfill all of your dreams: God dotes on you because you really are that special and deserve it

Snicker.
Sigh.

Pardon the hyperbole in the titles, but some “Christian” books suggest things that are almost this absurd. And they sell.

Back to life being tough. Who spoke those dreary words in the intro to this post? Uh, Jesus did. Dang.

We all like to receive good news. Personally, I prefer to hear the truth even more. If the two happen to be the same, then great. If not, that’s to be expected in this world. I am not a pessimist. I am far from it. I am an optimistic realist. Moreover, I try to be a biblicist. So, let’s see what the Bible has to say about a tough life for those who follow Christ.

Jesus said things to His early followers like:

  • “count the cost…” Luke 14:28-33
  • “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Matthew 7:14
  • “In this world you will have trouble…”John 16:33

In Romans 8:18 and James 1:5, Paul and James add to this line of thought showing that the Christian life isn’t an easy meander from here to eternity. Rather, its a uphill climb, and at times requires some rock-climbing-like effort.

Being a genuine, biblical, non-bandwagon or trend-following Christ-follower means that you will endure some tough times as you live by faith and because you live by faith in Christ.

I don’t want to be a spiritual downer, but the Bible paints a picture that many Christian followers would like to keep swept under the rug. Namely, that the Christian life, though full of God’s best for us, is ripe with difficulty.

I want happiness, comfort, and ease as much as you do. But, those aren’t the primary components of the Christian life. Rather, Jesus promised peace, joy, and abundant living. Please don’t confuse happiness and ease (based on circumstances) with joy and peace (based on Christ and his provision for our needs). Happiness comes and goes like a vapor; joy abides forever, and it can also blossom during hardship.

The abundant Christian life is full of joy, gladness, peace, and purpose. Indeed, those very things are often borne during hardship, and raised up through difficulty.

So, for a hard time call…call yourself “His.” And mean it, and live it.

Know that through hardship comes growth, depth, and a strong message to others.

For example, in Acts 16:16-34, Paul and Silas were attacked, stripped down to their boxer shorts, beaten, thrown in jail, and locked down in stocks. All this happened because they were sharing Christ and upset someone’s apple cart. Please read those verses, it’s amazing stuff.

While in jail, and aching from their beating, Paul and Silas began to pray and sing hymns to God. The last phrase in Acts 16:25 is poignant, “and the prisoners were listening to them.”

The hardship that Paul and Silas had endured amplified their sincerity and steadfastness in honoring Christ. Keep in mind that they were not visiting the prison passing out Gospel booklets, or at home praying for those in the prison, they were in the prison because of their obedience to Christ. When genuine Christ-followers are steadfast during awful times, it points to the greatness of Christ, His promises, and His Holy Spirit. It also reveals to those who do not know Christ precisely what they do not have, or have to rely upon in their lives.

So, for a hard time call yourself “His.” It will lead to some hard times, but to even more great times.

The sign says

 

There are events that happen every now and then that seize my attention. And, they demand that I respond rightly. By rightly, I mean that I should take the time necessary to halt, soak in the event, and process it in a manner worthy of its presentation.

Here’s the story. We were on a pre-Christmas trip to Branson, Missouri. We were driving to the Branson Landing to do some shopping. Then, it caught my eye (for the record trees, rocks, the clouds, a hawk, anything of that sort tends to catch my eye). It was a tree that was strangely out of place. It wasn’t growing out of the ground; it wasn’t growing on top of a rock ledge; it was growing out of the rock ledge about 12 feet off of the ground!

So, I slowed the car, pulled off in an awkward location that would irritate other drivers, grabbed my camera, and bounded off toward the tree. I zig-zagged along the grassy roadside to the spot, and with cars whizzing by, and my family worrying about my safety and sanity, I took several photographs of it.

It appeared to be a red oak, and as I approached it, and positioned myself slightly under it, I was awestruck. It was grand. I hadn’t seen anything like this before. In the middle of a busy roadway, in a tourist town, grew an oak that was defying the rules. It was a small dose of wildness among sterile domestication; it was visually poetic.

 

 

image

 

As I backed away from the tree and took several more photos something unexpected crept into the viewfinder–a road sign.

 

image

 

The sign was telling drivers — and a nut like me (though I prefer the term “acorn” instead of “nut”) — not to go this way. Ironically, the red oak stood as a striking contrast to the sign’s message: “WRONG WAY.” The tree was growing the “wrong way” according to common sense and the usual practice of nature. It should have been growing on the ground where its roots could anchor and spread, or in a pasture, or anywhere other than out of a crevasse in a rock ledge.

I have no idea how the acorn that became this daring oak arrived in the gash in the rock ledge. Perhaps a suicidal squirrel dropped it there as it pondered leaping off the ledge. Who knows? I do know this: the acorn did what it was supposed to do in the location that it was placed in. Hmmm. This lesson needs little, if any, elaboration.

Psalm 1:3 states that the godly man (or woman) “is like a tree planted” by streams of water, bears fruit in his/her season, has non-withering leaves, and propers. Note the verb “planted.” The trees (godly men or women) in this verse are planted. You are where you are by design.

This rock ledge-defying tree was not planted alongside a calm stream of water. We usually aren’t either. Like this tree, we are to grow where we are planted. We often have to do it against the “rules” or the expectations of those around us. But we do it. We hold on, grow, drink in the water that God gives, and by His power we bear fruit, resist withering, and prosper. Even on a ledge.

Why do we?

Why do we? Why did I…

“Why” is a word akin to a scalpel. It is sharp and necessary for the removal of hurtful or harmful things. Ask the question “why?” three times and you will begin to find a real answer. Many churches, and a legion of Christians, shrink back from this soul-slicing, motive-revealing word. Why?

The one word question of our day seems to be “how?”We love pragmatism. It gets results. It makes us feel like we are in control. It deceives. “How” should be the last question asked, not the first. The apostles erroneously asked Jesus  “how” several times. Jesus sighed each time, and then rebuked them. That same results-oriented blind spot resides in the church’s rear view mirror today. And it grows.

The truth is that theology drives methodology. It does so in a manner that is unavoidable and undeniable. A weak theology, or wrong-headed one, will drive a weak, wrong-headed life. A sound and deep theology will cultivate a sound, deep life.

I don’t recall Jesus ever saying to the apostles, “Guys, here is how church growth is done” or “here are the four keys to successful…” Paul was silent on this too, no doxological, steps to uber spiritual success, or weight loss. David didn’t pen any self-esteem based or do-it-yourself psalms. Solomon’s pithy Scriptural wisdom omits, “lean on the how-to, in it is success, yea, like results craved by church growth campaigns.”

Sadly, churches today chase any boomerang that is tossed into the air, and will ape most any method that seems to “work.” It will chase and mimic with even greater fervor when the method is advertised by a well known minister. What have we been reduced to? Just for the record, Christ and His Kingdom doesn’t need a marketing team, or a focus group, or celebrities, or carnival barkers. Just sayin’.

So, let pragmatism die a quick death and soon be forgotten. The church has poked its own eye enough with this pointy trinket. Let the church regain her soul, by returning to sound doctrine that sings from the pages of Scripture. Our believing, and thinking from it, will drive our doing.

So, the next time you ask “why did I?” Just know, that the roads of your actions were built by the machinery of your beliefs.

“As a man thinks in his heart, so is he…”

Think more, strive and chase less.

What is the Bearded Acorn?

What is the Bearded Acorn?

It would be difficult to define, so let’s at least shoot for a description of this facial-hair-laced nut that roams about the blogosphere:

Bearded Acorn: \bird-ed ˈā-ˌkȯrn\, noun:

1) a blog that shares Bible truth, humor, satire, and an occasional haiku (no kidding).

2) an outdoorsy guy who gathers acorns with his three daughters and raises them into oaks.

3) all of the above, and a little more.

If you guessed “3,” you are correct!

The whole reason for this blog is to share thoughts: thoughts from the Bible, funny thoughts, practical thoughts from and for day-to-day living, and a few poetic thoughts every now and then.

Along the way you will find posts about serious truths and topics. As you know, wisdom and wit are good partners. So, I’ll try to fold some humor into the batter as we go along. It’s a dandy lubricant for soul-shaping and thought-honing.

Here’s my promise to you: the posts will seek to be even-handed (both encouraging and sparking hard thoughts fairly), clear-headed, dry-witted, and truth-girded.

Welcome to the Bearded Acorn, let the mosey begin.