Column by Sumter Pastor Clay Smith: Smart people....


We were working cows the other day at the Florida ranch. Greg, who has helped us for years and knows cattle, is running the show. Someone asked me what my role was. I replied, "My role is to ask Greg what he thinks we ought to do, listen to what he says, and then say, 'I think that is what we ought to do, too.'" Greg has a lot more cow sense than I do.

The next day I met with my cousin Ned and an old friend, Jed (have you heard the one about Ned, Jed and Fred walking into a bar?). We were going over a fertilizer and spray plan for the orange groves. Rather than treating all the groves the same, we were going to use a cheaper mix on one block and a more expensive mix on another block. I listened to Ned and Jed talk back and forth and felt like I was back in Beginning Hebrew. I had no idea what they were talking about as they discussed different options for attacking problems in the grove. Finally, they worked out a solution, turned to me, and said, "How does that sound to you, Clay?" I told them I thought they were on the right track, and that was the direction we should go. My job at that meeting was to listen to people a lot smarter than me and figure out if we had the money to do what they said.

I went to the dermatologist last week. It was a full-service visit, meaning I had to put on my shorts with no shirt and let her look at the spots on my skin. I pointed out a couple of places that worried me. She looked at them and quickly said, "Those are nothing to worry about." Then she pointed at three spots on my bald head. "These look pre-cancerous to me. I want to freeze them off. Is that alright?" Is that alright? Absolutely. You went to medical school and did a residency. You know what to look for. You are a lot smarter than me. Stick my head in the freezer and get these things off me.

Not everyone listens to smart people. I was visiting with someone in the hospital when the doctor came in. He outlined what they had found, described his treatment plan, and then asked, "Any questions?" The patient/parishioner shook his head "no," the doctor left, and then the patient/parishioner said, "Those doctors, they don't know what they are talking about." I guess the doctor slept through med school. This scene has played out multiple times.

I am just as guilty. My mechanic says, "Your tires are really getting worn. You need to replace them soon." A little voice in my head says, "He just wants to sell me tires. I bet I can get another 5,000 miles out of them." A few weeks later, sitting on the side of the highway, changing tires, I cuss myself for not listening to someone smarter than me.

I admit I get frustrated after I preach when someone comes up to me and says, "I disagree with your sermon." My responses are usually, "Thanks for sharing that. What did you disagree with?" They tell me, and then I say, "Why do you believe that?" "I just do," they reply. I am not saying I am smart, but I did go to school a long time to learn the Scriptures and teach the best I can.

There is a verse in the Bible, in the book of Judges, that says, "In those days, there was no king in Israel. Every man did what was right in his own eyes." There is nothing new. It seems to me that we live in an era when everyone feels like they get to decide what reality is. People may believe that dog worm medicine cures cancer, but I am pretty sure that is not the case. People may believe they control their own destiny, but one phone call can change all that. People may even believe they get to define who God is, but I am sure God defines himself. My hero, philosopher Dallas Willard, said, "Reality is what you run into while you are chasing your beliefs." Smart man.

Not too long ago, I visited with a man who is dying and knows it. I was impressed by his calm. He radiated peace. Though I knew the answer, I asked him about his soul. He replied, "A long time ago, I put my soul in the hands of my Savior. I am not afraid, and I have a peace that passes all understanding."

Smart man.

The Rev. Dr. Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter. Email him at