Thomas Smith, FBC member since 2011, has spent the last five months training to become an Army Musician. Thomas joined us for worship on Sunday, May 25, sharing his gifts of music and the word of witness below.
Good Morning — I have been asked to share how five months of training to become an Army Musician has shaped my faith. But before that story, I must tell another…
In August 2011, I moved to Greensboro. On my first Sunday here, I made the walk across the parking lot from my apartment on Adams Street to First Baptist Church. The next day I had a welcoming email from Becky Yaun, that Wednesday I was at choir practice, and the following Sunday I was playing trumpet with the hand-bell choir. My immediate love for First Baptist and the congregation here, along with the opportunities in worshipful music making, made the transition from attending churches on rotation for the previous four years (depending on where my undergraduate’s brass groups were playing or where friends with cars were attending) to becoming a regular member an easy one. And on the second Sunday of Advent, after feeling the need and desire to be for quite some time, I was baptized, the greatest thing I ever did in Greensboro, NC.
Over the next two years, throughout the ups and downs of graduate school at UNCG, First Baptist was a constant source of strength and peace. It took a lot for me to miss a Sunday or Wednesday here and no matter what was going on over at the school, passing through those doors to the atrium never failed to calm my spirit. The love expressed by the people of this church, both overtly and subtly, often bordered on the overwhelming. And even during a time of transition in the leadership of this congregation, the message never failed to be timely and relevant. This for me was where God was.
Then, immediately following worship on the last Sunday of 2013, I headed over to the Greensboro Army recruiting office for the van ride to Charlotte and the beginning of the great adventure. Thinking back while preparing for this morning, I realized how pertinent Alan’s sermon that day was to the story I am trying to tell — he reminded us of the meaning of Immanuel – God With Us – and that our Lord was and is with us at all times and during all trials.
Throughout reception week at Fort Jackson, everybody was ready to do all things through Christ who strengthened them. Upon running of that bus for the first real day of training, though, I was faced with a challenge that, for probably the first time in my life, appeared as if its being overcome would not just be a question of finding the motivation and will, but also one of inherent ability. I was never more doubtful that that first day or two. No problem though, I had a standing appointment with God every Sunday morning. But at that first ‘Protestant – non-denominational’ service at Fort Jackson, something was not right (and it was not just that I did not know any of the words to any of the songs). At first, I blamed my distraction and Sunday morning depression on simply missing First Baptist and its people. I soon came to feel, however, that I had subconsciously decided that God could not be met for any extended period of time anywhere but in this building. The chaplain’s messages were good, but even as the weeks went on and I learned the words to most of the praise songs and was able to tune out the chattering of those in the back rows there only to avoid the yelling drill sergeants, I still found much of those times of worship unfocused and unfulfilling.
Over those same weeks, I discovered myself being more open to communication to and from God at all other hours of the weekday. I was talking to and praising Him everywhere — in line at the marksmanship range, in line for meals, in line for the latrine, in line for the bus, in line for the sake of being in line…at 4 o’clock A.M., while folding the tightest hospital corners and bed in Bravo Company ever saw, I interspersed my ever-popular infomercials on the amenities offered at the Hotel Fort Jackson with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (‘This Joy I Have’ and ‘O Thou that Tellest Good Tidings to Zion’ were two standbys my bunkmates got to know well, even if they never really grew to enjoy the early morning performances). While drill sergeants made on-the-spot corrections, I got into the habit of making on-the-spot prayer, not putting off until that evening or Sunday morning what could be addressed right away. And the blessed assurance that came at these times brought greater comfort in the knowledge that He was always there.
We know God is omnipresent, but do we always act as if we really appreciate His presence? If we truly understood that the Creator of the universe and everything in it, the One who sent His Son to die for the sins of all mankind, from the slight to the most atrocious, was alongside us, open to conversation all day, everyday, here, there, everywhere, would we be so quick to reach for mindless activities on the smart-phone during every lull in the day? So quick to allow feelings of doubt, negativity, or self-pity to hinder our forward progress? Or would we spend a little more of our time contemplating his greatness and constancy, expressing eternal thanks for His wonderful gifts, continuing to attempt to live in such a way that we might be that much more worthy of them, though at the end we will always fall short. The magnitude of all this may be too large for immediate comprehension and action, but I believe we can place greater emphasis on the perpetual availability of God during the constant work in progress that is our Christian lives.
Now, I do not want anyone to leave thinking Thomas Smith stood up this morning and said “hey y’all, we don’t need church!” I am a firm believer in the support that organized religion, communal worship (particularly of the Baptist variety), and fellowship brings to our faith. But we cannot let our God be limited by our preferred style of worship, our church, or our denomination, though I believe there is nothing wrong with preferences in any of these areas as long as they lead to genuine worship that serves only Him. I have seen how easily our love for a particular place can get in the way of our ability to worship and communicate with God when we are not in that place, which is not to say that these places and their people should not be held close to our hearts…as I seek out a new house of regular worship in Georgia a week or two from now, I will always remember the people met and lessons learned at First Baptist Greensboro. Thank you all for listening and may the Lord continue to bless and keep you and this church – Amen.