Sunday, February 25, 2007

That's my Dad!

That’s my Dad!

My dad, Marion Smith, Sr., affectionately by his grandchildren as “Poppa” and great grandchildren as “Pop,” is the most amazing man I know. Dad is almost 80 years old and given his health history should be resigned to a sedentary life in a rocking chair. But not my dad! Thanks to God - and my mom, his loving companion of over 55 years, I can testify that he is much more physically active than this 55 year old. My mom had nursing experience in the early part of her career that has paid off with the health challenges that she and dad have encountered in the later years. Dad would be the first to tell you that she's been true to all her marriage vows and especially her devotion through his times of sickness.

My dad is a diabetic and has lived with a rare disease called myasthenia gravis for many years. This rare disease is characterized by chronic fatigue and muscular weakness. Furthermore, he was diagnosed with cancer several years ago during surgery but it was inoperable. He went through an extended period of chemotherapy and radiation before it went into remission. In addition, the doctors told him for a decade or more that his heart disease was too far advanced for surgery considering other health factors which greatly compounded the risks of survival. It was not until after he had suffered a heart attack that he was able to convince a young doctor to operate resulting in successful quintuple by-pass surgery a couple of years ago.

Carol and I were in Ackerman to visit with dad and mom a couple of weeks ago when he told us he was going to build a deck to the front of the house. He explained that he was trying to prepare for the day when they might need wheel chair access to their house. I mistakenly assumed that he would hire some local carpenters to construct the deck. When I called the names of local carpenters whom I thought would do a nice job he quietly said that he could not afford them. I knew that was not the case but I also understood the language of my mom’s glance. Her glance communicated to me that she had already waged all the arguments about why he should hire someone to build the deck. But it was all for naught.

That was two weeks ago. The deck is now completed after the eight to ten hour days of labor. These past two weeks have included many days registering sub-freezing temperatures. Some of those days never reached above freezing but that didn’t deter my dad.

Check out the pictures below of the beautiful deck this almost 80 year-old man built in two wintry weeks. If his faith and work inspires you, send Poppa Smith an email at His website - - is a work in progress.

That’s my dad! He’s much more of a man than I will ever be.

Keep it up dad. You inspire and challenge me to face life with faith in God and a resolve to finish strong.

I love you, Dad!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Maintenance or Missional

The Rev. Canon Dr. Harold Percy, Rector of Trinity Anglican Church in Ontario, Canada, wrote “Good News People: An Introduction to Evangelism for Tongue-Tied Christians,” In the book he articulates twelve questions that contrast the difference in thinking between a church in maintenance mode and one in mission mode.

I offer these searching questions as we begin our 2007 journey of Lent. They certainly got me to thinking differently on a couple of points. I hope you find them helpful.

Maintenance or Missional

  1. In measuring its effectiveness, the maintenance congregation asks, “How many visitors have we attracted?” The missional congregation asks, “How many members have we sent?”
  2. When contemplating some form of change, the maintenance congregation says, “If this proves upsetting to any of our members, we won’t do it.” The missional congregation says, “If this will help us bless and touch someone outside of our faith community, we will take the risk and do it.”
  3. When thinking about change, the majority of members in a maintenance congregation ask, “How will this affect me?” The majority of members in the missional congregation ask, “Will this help align our activities around the missio dei — the mission of God?”
  4. When thinking of its vision for ministry, the maintenance congregation says, “We have to be faithful to our past.” The missional congregation says, “We have to be faithful to our future.”
  5. The pastor in the maintenance congregation says to the newcomer, “I’d like to introduce you to some of our members.” In the missional congregation the members say, “We’d like to introduce you to our pastor.”
  6. When confronted with a legitimate pastoral concern, the pastor in the maintenance congregation asks, “How can I meet this need?” The pastor in the missional congregation asks, “How can we meet this need?”
  7. The maintenance congregation seeks to avoid conflict at any cost (but rarely succeeds). The missional congregation understands that conflict is the price of progress, and is willing to pay the price. It understands that it cannot take everyone with it. This causes some grief, but it does not keep it from doing what needs to be done.
  8. The leadership style in the maintenance congregation is primarily managerial, where leaders try to keep everything in order and running smoothly. The leadership style in a missional congregation is primarily transformational, casting a vision of what can be, and marching off the map in order to bring the vision into reality.
  9. The maintenance congregation is concerned with their congregation, its organizations and structure, its constitutions and committees. The missional congregation is concerned with the culture, with understanding how secular people think and what makes them tick. It tries to determine their needs and their points of accessibility to the Gospel.
  10. When thinking about growth, the maintenance congregations asks, “How many Christians, who aren’t currently members, live within a twenty-minute drive of this church?” The missional congregation asks, “How many unreached people groups live within a twenty-minute drive of this church?”
  11. . The maintenance congregation looks at the community and asks, “How can we get these people to come to our church?” The missional congregation asks, “How can we go and be engaged with these people?”
  12. The maintenance congregation thinks about how to save their congregation. The missional congregation thinks about how to plant new missional communities to extend the Kingdom of God.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Ash Wednesday

Lent begins with the imposition of ashes, an ancient symbol of penance common in the Old Testament and pagan antiquity. Jesus alludes to it when he condemns the cities of Bethsaida and Chorazin for not doing penance. “If the miracles performed in you had taken place in Trye and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” (Matthew 11:21)

Today is Ash Wednesday: the first day of the penitential season of Lent. Its true name is actually not "Ash Wednesday" but "The Day of Ashes." Whichever name is used, the reference to ashes comes from the ceremony of placing ashes on the forehead in the shape of the cross as a sign of penitence. Pope Gregory I, who was Bishop of Rome from to 590 A.D. to 604 A.D, introduced this custom. The Synod of Benevento enacted it as a universal practice in all of Western Christendom in 1091 A.D.

Gardeners know that ashes can be used to help grow plants. But basically ashes are worthless. In fact they are often less than worthless - they are a hindrance and a liability. You can't make ashes pretty by painting them, and you can't make ashes smell good by spraying perfume on them. Ashes are just ashes.

And so it is with us - people are just people. When all is said and done, no matter how much righteous paint we cover ourselves with, no matter how much virtuous perfume we spray on ourselves, what we are left with are thoughts and feelings and actions that are best buried and forgotten.

So why do we bother tonight smearing ashes on our foreheads? Why do we gather and remember what we are on Ash Wednesday?

The answer is that while we gather to remember who we are, more importantly we also gather to remember who God is - and what God has done for us in and through Jesus Christ.

The Bible has a number of references about ashes. The first comes in Genesis 18:27. Abraham is bargaining with God to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah when he suddenly realizes that he, a mere mortal, has been speaking to almighty God. He says, "I have been so bold to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes." The words "dust and ashes" are used together in Job 30:19 and 42:6. The Hebrew words have the same consonant sounds. One might rightfully conclude that the word "ash" carries with it much the same theological connotation as the word "dust." Dust and ashes are also synonyms of the word "earth" (adamah). From this word we derive Adam and the Hebrew word for man. Genesis 3:19 states the words around which this service centers, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return." Ecclesiastes 3:20 says, "All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return." Ashes are a symbol of our mortality. We are tied to the earth and nothing in us is immortal unless God gives it to us.

Ashes are also a symbol of repentance. In Jonah 3:6, after hearing of Jonah's message of repentance, the King of Nineveh puts on sackcloth and sits in ashes. In those days such Kings were considered God-like. By sitting in ashes, the King of Nineveh shows his people that he is not immortal.

In Numbers 19:9 and 17, ashes are used in the rites of purification. Hebrews draws directly upon this symbolism in Hebrews 9: 13-14, "The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!"

We do not believe the ashes have any power to purify us of our sin. However, their use can remind us of the cleansing power of Jesus Christ, especially when that symbol is placed upon our bodies in the form of a cross.

Carol and I grew up in Ackerman and Choctaw County, which is one of the poorest counties in Mississippi, which is one of the poorest states in America. And yet, this little county has produced some notables, including two governors (one of whom became a Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit) and a Miss America. I went to school and church with former Governor Ray Mabus and Carol and I were good friends with Miss America Cheryl Prewitt Salem and her family. My parents and I lived only one house down from Governor and Judge J.P. Coleman.

Mr. Gospel Music
There is another from Choctaw County who gained worldwide notoriety and in whom I had deep admiration: James Blackwood. He was a man of very small statue who had a big heart for God and for his fellow man. His life was a Spirit-led one that blazed a trail for Jesus Christ around the globe singing and proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.

Nine times Grammy Award winner, James W. Blackwood, Sr. died on Sunday, February 3, 2002. Born August 4, 1919, he was 82. James Blackwood was the last member of the world renowned Blackwood Brothers Quartet. James Blackwood has been nominated for the prestigious Grammy Award thirty-one different years. The Gospel Music Association has presented Mr. Blackwood with its highest recognition, The Dove Award, seven times for being the top male vocalist in his field. James Blackwood was an intense man of faith who was most honored when the Assemblies of God bestowed upon him their highest recognition of achievement, "The General Superintendent's Medal of Honor" in 2001.

The music of James Blackwood and The Blackwood Brothers has entertained and inspired an impressive list of personalities who have shaped Americana, including former American Presidents, and Elvis Presley. The late Presley, who always referred to James respectfully as "Mr. Blackwood," was very outspoken regarding his admiration for the Blackwood family. James and his quartet sang at both funeral services for Elvis Presley, and Presley's mother. The current Attorney General of the United States, The Honorable John Ashcroft, is among the enormous list of devoted friend and admirers of James Blackwood.

The Story of James W Blackwood, Sr. is a true American tale of triumph over hardship. In 1934, James, along with his brothers Doyle and Roy, and nephew R.W. Blackwood, Sr. founded The Blackwood Brothers. Having once been Mississippi sharecroppers, the four men refused to let such humble beginnings hinder their passion for music. In 1954, the group became the first to ever present gospel music to the masses on network television with an unforgettable appearance on the CBS program, "The Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts."

One of my first recollections of hearing James Blackwood and The Blackwood Brothers Quartet was in Choctaw County during the mid 1950's when I was just a lad. J.P. Coleman was campaigning for governor and held a rally on the football field in Ackerman. Even recollections of this event leaves my mouth watering for more southern fried chicken and my soul thirsting for another Spirited verse of four-part harmony from The Blackwood Brothers.

The Blackwood Brothers Quartet defined a musical style that would become the basis for Southern gospel music that is loved all around the world. Perhaps more importantly, they lived the Christian life and therefore set a righteous standard for those musicians who would follow in the field of Southern gospel music. Their love for God, family and country combined with their unique harmonies remains unparalleled in my opinion.

My Christian life and ministry have been profoundly impacted through the Blackwood family. James' sister, Lena Cain, taught me much about the deeper life in the Spirit. His niece, Madeline Wood, was my choral director and voice instructor at church and school during the formative years. Her love for Jesus is the contagious type and her gift of music is God-breathed. Madeline and her family are in the "cherished friends" category to my family and me.

I wanted to attend the funeral of James Blackwood but couldn't because of obligations that day. Madeline did attend his funeral and shared with me some comments that James' pastor made in his eulogy. He spoke of James' song - I Want To Be More Like Jesus Everyday - and said "we could all be more like Jesus by being more like James Blackwood." Madeline said to me, "I hope that can be said of me someday." I can already confirm God's answer to Madeline's prayer because of her ministry to many. And isn't that a wonderful thought and a worthy prayer for us? That someday it would be said of us on the Tremont Charge that someone was more like Jesus because they knew you and me?

My friend, the late Dr. Tom Carruth once asked me, "When people see you and know you, do they believe God is love?" That is an excellent examination question for our Ash Wednesday, Lenten and Easter preparation.

Our calling as believers for Ash Wednesday, Lent and throughout the year is to make Him known. There are many in our circles of influence who don’t know God or where to find Him. It reminds me of a story about a couple who had two sons, ages 8 and 10, who were very mischievous. These two were always getting into trouble and their parents knew that if any misconduct occurred in their town, their boys were probably involved. The boys' mother heard that a clergyman in town had been successful in dealing with children, so she asked if he would speak with her boys. The clergyman agreed, but asked to see them each individually. So the mother sent her 8-year-old first, in the morning, with the older boy to see the clergyman in the afternoon.

The clergyman, a huge man with a booming voice, sat the younger boy down and asked him sternly, "Where is God?". The boy's mouth dropped open, but he made no response. He just sat there with his mouth hanging open, staring wide-eyed at the imposing figure of the pastor. So the clergyman repeated the question in an even sterner tone, "Where is God!!?" Again the boy made no attempt to answer. So the clergyman raised his voice even more and shook his finger in the boy's face and bellowed, "WHERE IS GOD!?"

The boy screamed and bolted from the room, ran directly home and dove into his closet, slamming the door behind him. When his older brother found him in the closet, he asked, "What happened?" The younger brother, gasping for breath, replied, "We're in BIG trouble this time. God is missing - and they think WE did it!"

It is when we sense that God is missing in someone’s life that we should do all we can to share what God has done for us in and through Jesus Christ.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

World’s Bravest Proposal

I’m surprised that Carol has not submitted my weak-kneed marriage proposal to the Guinness Book of World Records as the “world’s wimpiest proposal.” I told my parents that I was planning to propose to Carol later that evening. It really came as no great surprise to them as we had been dating for about six years. My mother worked at the bank in our small town of Ackerman and by 8:01 AM the next morning all of the employees and most of the town heard news of our engagement.

But there was a problem. I had wimped out that night before on that 4-word question but either forgot or was too embarrassed to update my parents. The troubles compounded when Carol went in the bank that morning and tellers rushed over to congratulate her. Then my mom came out and asked her what she thought. My mom asked Carol if she was surprised. Carol shrugged her shoulders with a questioning look and my mom said, “He’s going to kill me.” Mom did her best and spent the entire day trying to squelch the engagement rumor mill that had spread like wildfire all over the small town. I am confident that she would never have succeeded if it had been after Al Gore invented the Internet. Somehow, about two weeks later, I finally worked up the courage to ask Carol to marry me.

As our son, Casey, heard this story repeated through the years he must have thought, “Surely, I can top that!” Consequently, I have honestly thought about submitting his proposal to the Guinness Book of World Records for the category of “world’s greatest proposal.” Casey came to me with his idea of proposing to Mandy on February 19 at Winter Jam 2005, which was an area contemporary Christian music event planned for the Bancorp Center in Tupelo Mississippi. I told him that if he had the guts, I might have the contacts through my workplace at American Family Radio to help. He was convincing so I worked through my work associate, Ron Cottom, at American Family Radio to help him. Casey made contact with the group, Newsong, who was serving as host to Winter Jam 2005. At first, they seemed a little skeptical of the whole idea but indicated that they had done this sort of thing at least once. They told Casey to email them more information and they would consider it and get back in touch with him closer to the time of the event.

A few days before the event, Casey got a call from one of the road crew of Newsong who informed him that they would grant him his wish if he could rightfully answer but one question. The question was “will she say yes?” Casey was able to assure them that Mandy would say yes and the plan quickly took shape. They told him to check backstage before the concert to let them know where Mandy would be sitting. They wanted to shine a spot light on her when Casey took the stage.

So, it’s the night of Winter Jam 2005 and there are more than 6,000 people gathered at the Bancorp Arena. Mandy is frustrated because Casey tells her that he has to go to the bathroom at the very time that Rachael Lampa and the young man from Newsong is singing their favorite song, “When God Made You.” The song reaches a conclusion and you can watch the video for the rest of the story. Our daughter, Stacey, is the one doing all the exciting camera work.

I was in Reston, Virginia that Saturday morning to speak at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church on behalf of AFA. I will always be grateful to my good friends, Henry and Kathy Eickelberg, for going to all the extra expenses to get me routed back to Tupelo in time for the big proposal.

Mandy did say "yes" and they were married on December 17, 2006. They now reside in Birmingham, AL where Casey is a PGA Head Golf Professional at Farmlinks Golf Club near Sylacauga, AL. Mandy serves as Worship Director at First United Methodist Church of Columbiana, AL.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Vows 'Still' Go Unbroken - Valentine's Day 2007

Happy Valentine's Day!

Last night I came across this 1990 (or thereabouts) recording on WTVA's "Morning Show" with Buddy & Kay Bain. Rob Gardner who was then the producer/director of the show now works with me at AFA.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

'Til Death Do Us Part

This interview was part of an article which appeared in the February 2006 edition of the AFA Journal. The photo at left was taken sometime in the late 1960's before we were married. The photos in the article were taken at the occasion of our wedding ceremony at Ackerman Baptist Church on December 17, 1972.

'Til Death Do Us Part
By Rebecca Grace - AFA Journal Staff Writer

From childhood neighbors to high school sweethearts, a trip down the aisle was the next natural step for Buddy Smith, AFA’s executive assistant to the president, and his love, Carol.

"I was in ninth grade, and she was in seventh grade when I first expressed an interest in her," Buddy recalled. "Her mother put a stop to that, and I couldn’t get past a phone call."

But as the youngsters matured, a relationship of love began to develop that led them to marriage at the ages of 21 and 19.

"We believe that marriage was God’s idea and that He brought us together as husband and wife," Buddy explained. "The foundation of our marriage has always been the acknowledgment that it is made up of three people — the two of us and God as the central figure."

"We like to picture Christian marriage as a triangle — a man and woman at the base with Jesus Christ as the apex," Carol added.

Therefore, a Christ-centered home is the couple’s master key to a fulfilling marriage.

"[But] other vital keys on the ring of a lasting marriage include unconditional love, mutual trust, honesty, respect, care, communication, sexual faithfulness and purity, friendship, reconciliation and growth," Buddy said, all in view of commitment.

"We think it’s very important to talk about commitment in the marriage relationship in light of the nebulous meanings of ‘love’ in today’s culture. … For many couples today, love is treated as a feeling that comes and goes and is void of any commitment," Buddy explained.

"But marriage is not whatever society chooses to make of it," he added. "A Christian marriage is a total commitment of two people to the person of Jesus Christ and to one another."

"We understood on our wedding day that our commitment was only a gesture of beginning the lifelong process of handing over everything to Jesus Christ and one another," Carol explained.

Advice: Anchor yourselves in a Bible-believing church that offers ongoing ministry opportunities designed to strengthen existing marriages.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Beyond The Ultimate

God is up to something much more than the secular press will report on in today's Super Bowl. The following full-page ad is running in the weekend edition of USA Today. Be sure to visit the website - Beyond The Ultimate.

Here is another good read from Christianity Today online - Christian Coaches Face Off for Super Bowl XLI.

Baptist Press reported yesterday that Athletes in Action celebrated its 19th Annual Super Bowl Breakfast with Tony Dungy as the first-ever Super Bowl coach to appear in person a day before the most pivotal juncture in his coaching life. Read the story.

More stories from Baptist Press: