Of Dogs and Death

walter closeup

Walter (racing name Pj’s Pasadena) 8/20/2006- 7/14/2020

(Author’s note: this article first appeared in the August 2020 FUMC Winnfield newsletter The Cross and Tower)

On July 14, 2020, my wife and I made the difficult decision to put our almost 14 year old retired racing Greyhound, Walter, to sleep. He had a good life, a successful racing career (view Pj’s Pasadena’s racing career here Pj’s Pasadena Racing Career), love and a comfy dog bed at our house for almost 9 years. Over the last few months, we had witnessed his daily decline due to spinal stenosis, cataracts, gum disease, and hearing loss. It had become difficult for him to have a quality life, even to stand, walk, or run. Still, the decision and the finality of the moment was and is very difficult.

As a pastor, one of the questions I am asked is will we see our pets in heaven? Do “all dogs go to heaven” as the movie says? In short, I don’t know. There is no direct indication in the Bible that our pets will or will not meet us in heaven. Theologians are split on the issue. Some say that animals do not have a soul in the same way as humans, thus they will not experience the afterlife in the same way that we do. Others say that since God created all the animals (Genesis 1-2), saved them during the great flood (Genesis 6), and made a covenant not only with Noah but all creation in Genesis 9, that animals could experience an afterlife similar to humans. Some also make a case that God promises us that heaven will be a happy place and if seeing our pet again will make us happy, then surely God has the power and the capability to make that happen. In Isaiah’s description (Isaiah 11) of the new heaven and new earth, several different kinds of animals are present. Revelation 19 describes Jesus’ return on white horses. It appears that animals could be  present in heaven and the afterlife.

1973_00004_Kevin_s_first_year_ 1 (00.01.10.666)

The author with his family’s American Samoyed, Cotton at less than 1 years of age.

As one who learned to walk by pulling up and holding on to our American Samoyed,  Cotton, who always dreamed of becoming a veterinarian and started college as a pre-vet major, one who visited the LSU Veterinary school on many occasions, volunteered at the Baton Rouge Zoo, and has been owned by many dogs and cats through the years, I hope to see them again. But whatever comes, my trust is in Jesus and his grace, mercy, and love. Whatever comes, the animals I have known and loved have made me a happier and better person.

A veterinarian was called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolf hound named Belker. The dog’s owners, Ron, his wife Lisa, and their little boy Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle. Belker was examined and found to be dying of cancer. The veterinarian told the family we couldn’t do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.

As they made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told the vet they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience. The next day, The veterinarian felt the familiar catch in his throat as Belker’s family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that he wondered if the boy understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away.

The little boy seemed to accept Belker’s transition without any difficulty or confusion. They sat together for a while after Belker’s death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives. Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, ‘I know why.’ Startled, they all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned them. He said, ‘People are born so that they can learn how to live a good Life – – like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?’ The six-year-old continued, ‘Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.’

Do all dogs and pets go to heaven? I don’t know, but I certainly hope so.

Thinking about dogs and death,

Kevin Smith

The Birds of the Air

busy place

The bird feeder is a popular place in the mornings and evenings!

One of the benefits of the pandemic for most of us (except for essential workers- thank you!) has been to spend more time at home with friends and family. Many (including me) have also spent more time in the yard or finding ways to enjoy God’s great outdoors. While I have been spending more time at home, I have enjoyed watching the birds at my backyard feeder.

cardinal fly away

Female Cardinal flying away

As a child, I was an animal lover. My favorite show was Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom hosted by Richard Perkins. The closest I could get to Wild Kingdom was our backyard bird feeder outside our large dining room window in Beaumont, Texas. We would eat meals, visit, and watch the birds. We even got a Peterson’s Book of Wild Birds and would check them off as we saw them, marveling at the many species and colors.

tufted titmouse

This Tufted Titmouse came in for a quick bite

I still have several birdfeeders in the yard. During the pandemic stay at home order, I saw cardinals, sparrows, chickadees, tufted titmouse, mourning doves, blue jay, mockingbirds, house wrens, house finches, white headed nuthatches, brown headed nuthatches, brown thrasher, red bellied woodpecker, hummingbirds, and even a few migratory rose breasted grosbeaks. Maybe even a few other species that I missed or forgot along the way. That is at least 15 species of the birds of the air who have visited my backyard!

brown thrasher

Brown Thrasher- a rare treat!

Thinking about all of these birds reminded me of a favorite passage of Scripture in Matthew 6. “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?” Mathew 6:26-27 (KJV). We have had much to worry about during the pandemic. Will someone I love get sick or die? What will happen with my job? What about our students and schools? When will be able to return to church? These and a thousand other questions worry us. But every time I looked out of my window at the birds, I was reminded that God takes care of them. How much more so will God take care of me?

Every time you are worried or stressed or concerned, maybe simply look out of your window at the birds of the air and remember that God takes care of them. Since God takes care of them, surely He will take care of us!

sunset snack

Sunset snack for a male and female Cardinal

Doing Life and Church in a New Way

Who could have imagined that life could change so quickly for our world, our nation, our state, and our community? Because of the COVID-19 virus, our lives have changed. Social distancing has become a buzzword and a way of life. For a while at least, we cannot gather in large groups. Almost all large group gatherings, including church services, have been postponed or canceled. We have had to live in a new way. We have been forced to do church in a new way.

church-online-heroInstead of preaching to a congregation, I am preaching to a screen. Instead of gathering in person for worship, we sit in front of a screen. Instead of leading a Bible Study live with a small group, I am prerecording it for viewing later. Like you, I have been forced to do things out of my comfort zone, such as speaking to a camera or becoming a video editor.

isaiah 43_19The good news is that we follow a God who is always asking us to do things in a new way. Isaiah 43:19 says “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” God is always in the process of doing new things, but we do not always see it. God’s promise is that even in the darkest of days, in the wilderness or in the desert, God will make a way for us.

Who knows? Maybe we will slow down. Maybe we will spend more time with our family. Maybe through living and doing church in a new way, God may speak to us in ways that would not have happened if life was “normal.” Maybe someone will see and know the message of God’s love and grace online, who would never physically venture into a church. Honestly, I am still uncomfortable with this “new” way, but it is what we must do right now for the safety of our families and our community.

There is much unknown about the future. What I do know is that even while living and worshiping in a new way, God has not left us or forsaken us. And maybe, this new way of living and doing church could be God doing a new thing in our hearts and lives. Do we perceive it?

Doing Life and Church in a New Way,

Kevin Smith

Keep Your Eye on the Ball

March means that spring is here. The days warm and lengthen. The flowers bloom. But the surest sign of spring, may be at the ballparks all over the country. The sound of ball hitting leather, bat hitting ball, and the umpire yelling “play ball” brings to mind memories of days and evenings spent at the ballpark. Spring training for Major League Baseball has commenced, and my beloved LSU baseball tigers are already several weeks into another season.

One sound you’re likely to hear at the ball park is the coach sayinbaseballg “keep your eye on the ball!” “Watch for your pitch!” “Focus!” Of course, focus is not exclusive to baseball and is needed for all sports such as basketball, football, track, and many others. What is true at the sports field and basketball court is true for life, we must maintain our focus and keep our eye on the ball on all things in life, including our faith.

 

Hebrews 12:2 reads “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, hebrews 12_2the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” It is easy to become distracted while playing ball, and it is easy to become distracted in life. In life, we can become distracted by the busyness of life, work, school, family, and so many other things. While those things are not bad things, they can distract us and take our focus off of Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

Consider where your focus is. Is it on Jesus? Why or why not? What is keeping you from focusing on Jesus? Like the coach saying to his ball player “keep your eye on the ball! Focus!”, we cannot allow ourselves to be distracted by anything around us. Keep your eye on the ball and, most of all, on Jesus!

Keeping my eyes on the ball and on Jesus,
Kevin Smith

The Importance of Retreat

(Author’s note: This article was written for and published in the February 2020 edition of The Cross and Tower newsletter at FUMC Winnfield)

Jesus was a busy guy!  Thousands of years later, we are still talking about his short three years of full time ministry.  To tell the stories of his teachings, miracles, birth, life, death and resurrection takes 11,304 words in the Gospel of Mark; 18,346 words in Matthew; 19,482 words in Luke; and 15,635 words in John.[i]  That is a total of 64,767 words to tell the story of who Jesus was and what he came to do!

Yet Jesus also found time to spend with God and apparently he did it regularly.  Luke 5:15-16 reads “But the news about Him (Jesus) was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses.  But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” (NASB)  If Jesus was purposeful about finding time to retreat and focus on his relationship with God, shouldn’t we?

There are many good retreats such as Cursillo, Happening, Walk to Emmaus, Youth camp, and many others that help us find focused time to spend with God. I am blessed to have been to several of them.  Maybe you have too.  Over the past few years, I have become involved in a retreat called the North Louisiana Christian Ashram and this retreat has met yearly in Louisiana for over 40 years!  In fact, the worldwide headquarters are in nearby Ruston, on US 167, near the Methodist Children’s Home.

What is an ashram?  Christian Ashrams were started by the great Methodist missionary to India, E. StanleIMG_4115y Jones.  The word “Ashram” simply means retreat.  Ashram includes a rhythm of an evangelistic speaker, Aaron Brown from Joplin, MO, Bible teaching, by Jason Ramsey from West Monroe, LA, small groups, food, fellowship and more.  The healing service on Friday night is always a highlight of the weekend.  FUMC Winnfield member Jan Beville and I are privileged to serve on the planning team for this year’s ashram which will be February 7-8, 2020 at FUMC W. Monroe, just off of Interstate 20.  This year, we are trying a new, shortened two day schedule which begins at 11 AM on Friday and concludes about 3:30 PM on Saturday.  We are hoping this will make to Ashram more accessible to out of towners (like people from Winnfield) who will only have one night’s lodging expense, as well as those who are working full-time, that would only have to take a half day off work on Friday to fully participate in the weekend.  But each Ashram is a come-and-go event, so if you cannot stay for the entire retreat you could come to some of the worship services or Bible study.  Registration (lodging not included) is only $45 (without meals) or $75 (meals included) for the entire weekend.   You can find out more about the ashram by talking to Jan Beville, Kiah Beville, me or visit http://www.christianashram.org/north-louisiana-christian-ashram.html.  I have a brochure with a registration form if you would like to register for the ashram, view the schedule, or you can register at Eventbrite.com (search Louisiana Ashram- an extra fee is required).

If Jesus thought time away with God to focus on his spiritual life was important, shouldn’t we who claim to follow Jesus follow his example?  I invite you to make retreat, an intentional time set apart for spiritual growth, a part of your life.  And I invite you to the Ashram to help you realize that goal.

Taking time to retreat,

Kevin D. Smith

[i] https://overviewbible.com/word-counts-books-of-bible/

 

 

Finish Strong

(Author’s note:  this article first appeared in the January 2020 edition of “The Cross and Tower” newsletter published by FUMC Winnfield)

It has been a successful and historic season for LSU football. As a passionate LSU fan and proud LSU Alum who witnessed one, count them, one, winning season dulsu football helmetring my three years at LSU (1992-1995), it is almost heaven to witness an undefeated regular season, a SEC Championship, many postseason awards, number one ranking, and a chance to win a national championship. Yet with those successes come high expectations. It would be a great season, but a disappointing one, if the Tigers fail to finish the season strong and come up short in the college football playoff. They must finish what they started.

So it is with Christmas. Christmas, with all of it’s wonder and cheer, wise men and shepherds, poinsettias and lights, and the wonderful gift of Jesus, God’s only son, is only the beginning. We cannot leave Jesus in the manger. The one born on Christmas grows to be a great teacher and leader, was crucified and buried for our sins, then rose on the third day, and now He lives in us. We remember and celebrate all of these facets of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection through the Christian year, which begins with Advent instead of a calendar that reads January 1.

My encouragement to the LSU Tigers is to finish strong! Play hard! Finish what you’ve started.

My encouragement to you and I after Christmas is to finish strong! Watch Jesus grow. Listen to his teachings. See him die for you and me. Witness the empty tomb. Watch for his return. Spread the good news about Jesus. It is our task to finish what Christmas has begun.

I found this Christmas poem by Howard Thurmon many years ago and it has become a favorite of mine.
The Work of Christmas
When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone, When the kings and the princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flock, The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among brothers, To make music in the heart.

GEAUX TIGERS! Finish strong!

Go Christian! Share the good news about Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection!

Finishing Strong,
Kevin Smith

For All the “Saints”…

Good read! GEAUX SAINTS!

Not the Perfect Pastor

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a New Orleans Saints fan. Seriously, my earliest memories of football…any football…are of the New Orleans Saints on Sunday afternoon, usually at my Grandmother’s house. I love me some Saints football.

That’s one reason I’m heartbroken this week. The Saints played in the NFC Conference Championship game on Sunday afternoon and were robbed (yes, robbed) of the chance to play in the Super Bowl on February 3rd. There was a horrible no-call pass interference penalty late in the fourth quarter that most likely would have ended the game with a New Orleans walk-off field goal. Anyone but the most avid Los Angeles Rams fan would agree the non-call was egregious (check here and here), but that fact doesn’t change the result of the game: LA Rams 26, NO Saints 23!

Here’s my confession: I take the New Orleans Saints too…

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THE Way Forward

winding-road-1556177_960_720(Author’s note- this article was written for the October edition of The Cross and Tower Newsletter for FUMC Winnfield)

For over 40 years now, the United Methodist Church has been in turmoil over homosexual marriage and ordination of homosexual clergy. In 2016, the General Conference, the worldwide meeting of the United Methodist Church, elected a group of 23 persons from a range of theological perspectives, called the Commission on a Way Forward, to help us (hopefully) reach a solution to this impasse. They have presented three options to a called session of General Conference will take place February 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis. You can access the entire 93 page report here: Commission on a Way Forward or a shorter 2 page infographic summary here: Overview of Proposals for 2019 General Conference. Other options and petitions could also be presented, discussed, and voted on at the General Conference meetings.

What will happen at General Conference? Will one of the plans be approved? Will the United Methodist Church split or dissolve altogether? I don’t know. I don’t think anyone else knows either.

But I do know the answer to the question is there a way forward. The answer is clearly YES! Actually, I know not only A way forward but THE way forward. THE way forward is to follow Jesus each and every day. THE way forward is to follow the one who said “I am the way the truth and the life” in John 14:6. THE way forward is to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” in Hebrews 12:2. THE way forward is to follow Jesus.

THE way forward is to be faithful to our mission. Our mission is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Our mission is to make a difference, to make disciples, in our community and around the world. We accomplish this through the many ministries and programs of our church- Sunday School, Sunday morning worship, Wondrous Wednesdays, acolytes, youth, Kids World, Helping Hands, Kairos, Chancel Choir and so many others. This is our mission. This is our task. Obviously, this mission falters or even fails without your support through the giving of your prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. We cannot forsake our mission. Jesus is depending on us.

What will happen in February? I don’t know. But I do know that I plan to come to work on February 27. I do know that we will have Sunday morning worship on March 3. I do know that Jesus will still be Lord, working and moving in the world and in my life. I do know that our mission will still be the same- to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

I want to encourage you (and me) to not be distracted or in despair over the called session of General Conference and a way forward. Instead let us focus on THE way forward, following Jesus and being faithful to our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Following THE way forward,

Kevin

James and Ella Russell Window and Good Shepherd Window

(Author’s note: This is the manuscript for my message on August 12, 2018 at FUMC Winnfield and is the tenth in my “Windows to the Soul” sermon series expounding on the Christian symbolism present in our church buildings and sanctuary windows at FUMC Winnfield. My sources are listed at the end. Much of this information is from “FUMC Winnfield: Christian Symbolism and History” published in 2012. I decided to publish in case some were absent and would like to read my message.)

I. Introduction

Over the last weeks we have been looking at the reminders of God all around in the symbolism of our church building and stained glass windows.  Today we come to window number 9 in memory of James and Ella Russell and window number 10 in memory of Mr and Mrs N.M. Jackson.

II.  Body

A. Balcony Cross

IMG_2770Window Number Nine (in memory of James and Ella Russell) in the Balcony is divided by the cross, seen more distinctly from the outside of the church, is a contrast in its simplicity and carries out the arched theme seen throughout the sanctuary.

James G. Russell, Sr was born June 15, 1879 in Blanchard, Isabella County, Michigan.  He died Oct 11, 1967 (aged 88) in Winnfield.

His obituary reads: Jame G. Russell, Sr., 88, retired accountant of Winnfield, died at 11:35 p.m. Wednesday, October 11, 1967 in a local hospital after a lengthy illness.  The deceased was a native of Blanchard, Michigan, but moved with the Tremone Lumber Company to Winnfield 65 years ago. For the past several years he was employed as bookkeeper for a local wholesale grocery.

Mr. Russell was an active member of the First Methodist Church where he served on the board of stewards for many years. He had taught Sunday School classes, all ages ranging from 6 to 60 years.

Funeral services were conducted in First Methodist Church with Rev. Richard Walton russell 2officiating, assisted by Rev. R. H. Staples and Rev. Edgar Dufrense. Survivors include three sons, J. G. Russell, Jr., of Winnfield, Lawrence Russell of Alexandria, and Donald Russell of Bossier City; three daughters, Mrs. Max Allen of Winnfield, Mrs. Clyde Corley, Bastrop, and Mrs. Charles Dark of Cleveland, Texas; 10 grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren.[i]

Clara Ella Gibson Russell was born Feb 22, 1886.  She died Dec 6, 1954 (aged 68).  She is buried in Winnfield Cemetery.[ii] Rusty and Ellen Russell are James and Clara’s grandchildren.

All of the windows are beautiful, but this is window is one of my favorites.  It is the most visible window to me from the pulpit while being hidden from many of you in the pews.  It’s simple image of the cross is a reminder to me to always center what I do and say on Jesus and what he has done for us.

As many of you know, I was not raised a Methodist.  I did not set foot in a Methodist church until I was in college. When I was deciding if I wanted to be a Methodist and was called to be a United Methodist pastor, a man named Dan Solomon was the Bishop in Louisiana from 1996-2000.  I met with Bishop Solomon in his office in Baton Rouge and we had an honest and fruitful conversation.  It is one of the reasons I am standing here this morning.

Bishop Solomon was an excellent preacher and many of the times I heard him speak, he reminded his listeners to “keep the main thing, the main thing.”  The Russel window is a constant reminder to me to keep Jesus and the cross the main thing in my life and preaching, that, like the arched theme and cross, I might point others to Jesus.

The lone sheep window in the stairwell near the Sanctuary in honor of James’ son, Jim.  This window was made by Betty Lawson’s sister and was given by the church and the community in October of 1993 for Jim’s 80th birthday.  The Russell windows reminds us of their faith, to keep the main thing the main thing, and to point others to Jesus.

B.Good Shepherd Window

IMG_2768Window Number Ten, lighted throughout the night, depicts Christ as the good shepherd. Recalling the beautiful passages of Psalms 23, we see the depth of Christ’s words, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays clown his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11). The life of service that Jesus lived and his sacrificial death have inspired the figure of a stalwart young man carrying a lamb.  On the walls of the catacombs of Rome where the early Christians went to escape the Roman soldiers. there is found over 150 times the picture of the shepherd, reminding the faithful scattered sheep of their Good Shepherd whose care was unfailing at all times.

The good shepherd window is in memory of Mr. and Mrs. N.M. Jackson.  Napoleon M. Jackson was born Feb 16, 1870 in Ruston.  He died Jun 4 ,1939 (aged 69) in Winnfield.  He is buried in the Winnfield Cemetery.

His obituary reads: N. M. Jackson, 69, prominent citizen of Winnfield, died suddenly img_1773.jpegSunday morning at about 4:30 as he was about his usual task of caring for his dairy cows. His grandson, Harold DeBray, who assists him during vacation time, seeing milk flowing down the hallway of the barn, went to see the cause and found Mr. Jackson dead.

Mr. and Mrs. Jackson moved to Winnfield in November, 1909, coming from the old Jackson farm near Ruston, where Mr. Jackson was born and reared. Here they reared and educated their family, taking an active part in the religious and civic life of the community.  Mr. Jackson had been a member of the Methodist Church since a youth and had been a member of the Woodmen of the World for many years.

Last rites were conducted from the Methodist Church Monday morning with the pastor, Rev. G. A Morgan, officiating. He was assisted by the Rev. Alwin Stokes, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, and Rev. W. T. Strain, Baptist minister of Simsboro.  The floral offering, coming from friends throughout the state, was one of the largest ever witnessed in Winnfield, attesting to the esteem in which the family is held.  Published in The Winn Parish Enterprise (Winnfield, LA), June 8, 1939[iii]

Ella McIntosh Jackson was born Mar 23, 1874 in Waxahachie, Texas.  She died Nov 25, 1960 at the age of 86 in Winnfield.

img_1766.jpegHer obituary reads:  Mrs. N. M. Jackson, 86, died at a local hospital early Friday morning, November 25, 1960. She had been in failing health for the past two years.  Last rites were conducted at the First Methodist Church with the pastor, Rev. R. H. Staples, officiating. He was assisted by Dr. W. L. Holcomb of the First Baptist Church and by Rev. P. M. Carraway of Shreveport, former pastor of Winnfield. Burial was in the Winnfield Cemetery under direction of Southern Funeral Home.

The deceased was the former Miss Ella Olyce McIntosh, born in Waxahachie, Texas, on

IMG_6556

Mr. and Mrs. N.M. Jackson

March 27, 1874. She was active in the religious and civic life of Winnfield and took a leading part in various clubs and groups. Mrs. Jackson was a charter member of the Methodist WSCS and served as its president for four years. She was also a charter member of the Readers Review Club, the Garden Club, and Methodist Orphanage Society, of which she served as president many years. Other organizations of which she was a charter member included the P. T. A., and the Delphians.

Mr and Mrs Jackson had six children.  They are the grandparents of John Glen Jackson and great grandparents of Jan Shell Beville and Fran Shell Walton.  Published in The Winn Parish Enterprise News-American Winnfield, LA), December 1, 1960[iv]

The most represented image in catacomb art is of Christ as the Good Shepherd. In the ancient world sheep provided wool, milk, cheese and meat and the shepherd of the sheep was the person who led the sheep to good pastures, risked his life to protect them from wild animals, gave help to the sheep who were injured, kept an accurate account of them, looked for those who were lost and made sure they were safe at night

The kings of Israel were expected by God to be shepherds of His people (II Samuel 5:2) and the New Testament word for “pastor” from the Latin pastorem literally means “shepherd.  The sculptures and images are meant to evoke passages in Scripture about Christ as the shepherd who goes after the lost sheep, finds it and brings it home as well as the shepherd who protects, pastures and lays down his life for his flock:

In John 10:11-15 Jesus says 11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.  The early Christians used the Biblical metaphor of the Good Shepherd to show the redeeming work of Christ and of His care for believers—Jew AND Gentile.[v]

If you are like most people today, chances are you do not know any shepherds. Think about their job. First, to better understand the purpose of a shepherd during the times of Jesus, it is helpful to realize that sheep are utterly defenseless and totally dependent upon the shepherd. Sheep are always subject to danger and must always be under the watchful eye of the shepherd as they graze. Rushing walls of water down the valleys from sudden, heavy rainfalls may sweep them away, robbers may steal them, and wolves may attack the flock. David tells how he killed a lion and a bear while defending his father’s flock as a shepherd boy (1 Samuel 17:36). Driving snow in winter, blinding dust and burning sands in summer, long, lonely hours each day—all these the shepherd patiently endures for the welfare of the flock. In fact, shepherds were frequently subjected to grave danger, sometimes even giving their lives to protect their sheep.[vi]

A shepherd tended his flock day and night. He would gather the sheep into a sheepfold at night for their protection. The sheepfold was a pen, a cave, or an area backed by stone walls. Since there were no doors, the shepherd would often sleep or sit in the opening, ready to guard his sheep from harm.

The good shepherd was different than a hired hand who might run away in the face of danger.  The good shepherd would stay and defend them. He had a genuine loving concern for what belonged to him. In chapter 10, Jesus illustrates how the shepherd cares for his flock, protecting them from weather, thieves, and predatory animals. He loved and shielded them and if necessary, he would lay down his life for them. [vii]

A shepherd knows his sheep well. There is a personal relationship between Jesus and his followers. Jesus knows each of us by name. On the other hand, we respond to his voice and do not follow the voice of strangers who may lead us to harm.  When Jesus gave Peter the responsibility of leading his Church, he again used shepherd imagery. He told Peter, “Feed my lambs. . . . Tend my sheep. . . . Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17).  The image of shepherds is that they are kind, loving, patient, strong, and self-sacrificing. They are a good image for Jesus. And sheep, who can be rather stupid and foolish creatures, are a good symbol for us![viii]  The good shepherd window reminds us that Jesus is the good shepherd who laid down his life for us.

III. Conclusion

We love our stained glass windows and we should.  But what do people see in us?  Does the light of Christ shine through us?  The balcony cross reminds us of the Russell family and to keep Jesus the main thing.  The good Shepherd window reminds us of the Jackson family and that Jesus is the good shepherd who lays down his life for us.  The question is will we allow the light of God to shine through us as brightly as it does these windows?

[i] https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/58955130/james-g.-russell

[ii] https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/27341643/clara-ella-russell

[iii] https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/54395312/napoleon-m.-jackson

[iv] https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/54395075/ella-jackson

[v] https://earlychurchhistory.org/christian-symbols/symbol-of-christ-as-good-shepherd/

[vi] https://www.gotquestions.org/Good-Shepherd.html

[vii] https://www.allaboutjesuschrist.org/jesus-the-good-shepherd.htm

[viii] https://www.loyolapress.com/our-catholic-faith/scripture-and-tradition/jesus-and-the-new-testament/who-do-you-say-that-i-am-names-for-jesus/the-good-shepherd

Carolyn Sue Smith Window (Lyre-Dove with Olive Branch and Ark- Lamb on Book of Seven Seals)

IMG_2741(Author’s note: This is the manuscript for my message on August 5, 2018 at FUMC Winnfield and is the ninth in my “Windows to the Soul” sermon series expounding on the Christian symbolism present in our church buildings and sanctuary windows at FUMC Winnfield. My sources are listed at the end. Much of this information is from “FUMC Winnfield: Christian Symbolism and History” published in 2012. I decided to publish in case some were absent and would like to read my message.)

I. Introduction

Over the last weeks we have been looking at the reminders of God all around in the symbolism of our church building and stained glass windows.  Today we come to window number 8 in memory of Carolyn Sue Smith.

Carolyn Sue Smith was born March 23 1939 in Winnfield.  She died Sep 6 1950 (aged 11) in Winnfield.  She is buried in the Winnfield Cemetery.

Her obituary reads: Tragedy struck suddenly this week in Winnfield with the untimely death of Carolyn Sue Smith, 11 year old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Troy Smith. Carolyn became very ill Tuesday afternoon at her father’s store, the Jitney Jungle supermarket, and was taken to a local hospital, where she died at 2:45 a.m. Wednesday.

Funeral services were conducted at the First Methodist Church with the pastor, Rev. P. M. Caraway, the former pastor, Rev. Fred S. Flurry, of Hammond,, and Rev. Alwin Stokes, officiating. The Methodist choir sang, “Lead, Kindly Light.”

Carolyn was born in Winnfield on March 23, 1939 and had lived here all her life. She was in the sixth grade in Winnfield School, where she was especially interested in science and math and did excellent work in this field.  She was everyone’s friend, having a sweet disposition and a habit of being kind to everyone. Her classmates loved her and showed this by electing her to several positions of honor in her classes.

She was a member of the elementary chorus and the band at school, and was a member of the Girl Scouts. She was active in the Junior Department of the Methodist Church and was a member of the Methodist junior choir.  Surviving, besides her parents, are one brother, Troy Lynn; her grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. F. O. Lattier, Winnfield, and Mr. and Mrs. J. L. Smith, Timpson, Texas.[i]

Carolyn was the sister of Troy Lynn Smith- Missy Smith’s husband. She had an Aneurysm upstairs at the store and died next day.  Died Sept 6 on Missy’s birthday, whom she had just met. It was a tragedy that affected their family for many years to come.  But even in her few years on this earth, she seems to have made a positive impact on those around her.  We remember and celebrate her short life, as well as the beautiful gift of this window in her memory.

II. Body

A: Lyre

IMG_2733The lyre again represents praise or worship. Psalms 33:2 reads, “Praise the Lord with the lyre, make melody to Him with the harp of ten strings!”

The lyre dates from before the Bronze Age (400-3200BC) and may have evolved from ancient harps.  “The fundamental difference between a lyre and a harp, is that in a harp, the strings enter directly into the hollow body of the instrument, whereas on a lyre, the strings pass over a bridge, which transmits the vibrations of the strings to the body of the instrument – just as on a modern guitar.”  Concerning the number of strings, each lyre varied in design. Typically there were three, four, seven and sometimes ten strings, each representing certain patterns of frequency (sound) considered appropriate in the design of the instrument i.e. meaning and purpose of the communication.[ii]

The ancient Hebrews had two stringed instruments, the “kinnor” (harp) and the “nebel” (lyre).  In both instruments the strings were set in vibration by the fingers, or perhaps by a little stick, the plectrum (as Josephus says). The strings were made of gut, metal strings not being used in olden times. The body of the instrument was generally made of cypress (II Sam. vi. 5) or, in very precious instruments, of sandalwood (I Kings x. 11; A. V. “almug”).

The kinnor and nebel are often mentioned together. As in the case of all instrumental music among the Hebrews, they were used principally as an accompaniment to the voice. Instruments were used on joyous occasions, such as banquets and festive processions (Gen. xxxi. 27; I Sam. x. 5; II Sam. vi. 5; Isa. v. 12), and especially in the Temple service (Ps. xxxiii. 2, xliii. 4; Neh. xii. 27; I Chron. xvi. 5); here also in accompaniment to songs of praise and thanksgiving (I Chron. xvi. 16; II Chron. v. 12; Ps. xxxiii. 2, lvii. 9, lxxi. 22). They were never used on occasions of mourning (Isa. xxiv. 8; Ezek. xxvi. 13; Lam. v. 14; Ps. cxxxvii. 2; Job xxx. 31). The nebel, the lyre, seems to have been reserved exclusively for religious occasions (Amos v. 23; Ps. cxliv. 9). In connection with secular events (Amos vi. 5; Isa. xiv. 11), its use appears to have been regarded as unseemly and profane. It is evident from the Old Testament that the lyre could be played while the performer was walking (I Sam. x. 5; II Sam. vi. 5; Isa. xxiii. 16); hence they must have been easy to carry.[iii]  The lyre reminds us of the joy of music and praising God through song.

B:  Dove with Olive Branch and Noah’s Ark

IMG_2735The dove with olive branch is a symbol of peace. When Noah’s ark is used, it stands for salvation or more particularly the salvation which the Church affords. Thus it is often used as a symbol of the Church.

We already examined the symbolism of the dove on two prior windows, so this morning I’m going to focus on what Noah’s Ark Represents. This morning we shall examine briefly certain aspects of the story of Noah’s ark and how it relates to Christ. If we fail to see Christ in the story of Noah’s ark, we miss the point.  The image of Christ portrayed in the Ark offers many parallels.

-The ark was constructed of wood.  The cross upon which Jesus died was constructed of wood.

-Noah was instructed to make a single door in the side of the Ark; it was the only entrance into the Ark, and access was controlled by God.  Likewise, Jesus said that He is the door, and that no one comes to the Father except through Him.

-The Ark carried all of its passengers safely to the destination that God had prepared for them.  Jesus said:  I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. (John 14:1-3)[iv]

-The word Noah means rest or comfort. Christ is our comfort and rest (Heb 4:4-11).

-Noah built the ark according to God’s revelation, not his own wisdom or imagination (Gen 6:15). This is symbolic of Christ and Christ’s workers, building the church according to God’s plan and not their own plan (Matt 16:18, John 6:38, 1 Cor 3:10-15, Eph 2:20-22).

-The dimensions of the ark was 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits high (Gen 6:15).  We lose the significance of these measurements when we translate them into English dimensions. The number 3 signifies the Trinity (Matt 28:19). The number 5 signifies the creation (four, Rev 4:6-9) plus God (one). 5 (four plus one) is creation in God, or strengthened creation. God created humans with 5 fingers, 5 toes and 5 senses (hear, see, smell, taste, touch).

-Like Christ, the ark was for the salvation of all living things, not just mankind (Col 1:20).[v]  Pictures depicting the ark can even be found in the catacombs where the early Christians gathered.[vi]  Noah was saved from the water, but through the waters of baptism we are saved.  The dove with olive branch and Noah’s ark reminds us God’s salvation through the ark and through Jesus.

C: Lamb on book of seven Seals

IMG_2738According to John 1:29, when John the Baptist saw Jesus, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” This and a similar statement in John 1:36 have brought into being two of our most meaningful symbols of Jesus Christ. One form of this symbol shows a lamb reclining on the Book of the Seven Seals mentioned in Rev. 5:1. The Easter banner symbolizes Christ’s victory over death.

The lamb represents Jesus. A lamb summed up all the sacrifices of the Old Testament.  A lamb was described it as “the theological shorthand for all the sacrifices of the Old Testament.” This lamb showed the evidence of having been killed, yet it was alive! Here is Jesus, the One spoken of in prophecy; He is a man, yet sinless; He has been crucified and has been resurrected! Death could not hold Him! He is worthy to break the seals and shower blessings upon the human race by redeeming it.  A lamb is the epitome of weakness. As the Lamb of God, Jesus portrayed perfect weakness – He did nothing in His own power; He remained on the cross and died for His enemies!

What do the seals signify? Only the Lamb, whose very life has overcome death, is worthy to open the seals and to redeem humanity. [vii]  This seems to be an appropriate end to the windows ringing our sanctuary, for this window panel, more than any other, looks toward the victorious second coming of Christ when the lamb shall become the lion of Judah.  The lamb reminds us of the sacrifice of Jesus and that he is coming again.

III.  Conclusion

We love our stained glass windows and we should.  But what do people see in us?  Does the light of Christ shine through us?  The lyre reminds us of the gift of music and the songs of praise to the Lord. The dove and Noah’s ark remind us of God’s salvation through Noah and Jesus. The lamb and the seven seals remind us of Jesus’ sacrifice and the day when he will return.  The short life of Carolyn Sue Smith reminds us that there are no guarantees in life and that we can impact lives in only a few short years.    The question is will we allow the light of God to shine through us as brightly as it does these windows?

[i] https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/59211940/carolyn-sue-smith

[ii] https://designconsciousness.blogspot.com/2017/01/the-significance-of-lyre.html

[iii] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7266-harp-and-lyre

[iv] http://www.icr.edu/what-noahs-ark-represents

[v] https://www.talkjesus.com/threads/the-significance-of-noahs-ark.49679/

[vi] https://earlychurchhistory.org/christian-symbols/the-deluge-as-a-biblical-symbol/

[vii] http://www.thegoodseed.org/insights/revelation5.html