“I’ve been such a bound man. I’ve been a pastor proclaiming freedom for the prisoners while I lay buried under the jail.”
Those aren’t the words you’d expect to read from the respected senior pastor of a well-known Southern church with more than 3,000 members. But Scotty Smith, who also serves as an adjunct professor for Covenant Seminary in St. Louis, isn’t interested in writing what’s expected. He no longer wants to play it safe. And his lifelong devotion to self-protection is being sacrificed in the pages of his new book, Objects of His Affection, a vulnerable insight into how God’s delighting love brought one man face-to-face with his long-buried grief, his shame and his idols.
Smith pastors at Franklin, Tennessee’s Christ Community Church, a haven for musicians, writers, and many of the creative types found in and around the conservative Nashville community commonly known as the buckle on the Bible Belt. An avid fly-fisherman, the 51-year-old pastor has previously coauthored two books with Christian artists who are members of his congregation: Speechless with Steven Curtis Chapman and Unveiled Hope with Michael Card.
But his most recent work began as a 1998 sermon series titled “Objects of His Affection: Subjects in His Kingdom,” a series that would dramatically impact Scotty’s own life in ways he never anticipated.
“Every day we need to hear we’re objects of God’s affection because we have such a hard time believing it,” says Smith, who holds an M.A. in New Testament Studies from Westminster Theological Seminary. “But being an object of God’s affection is to thrust us into a certain lifestyle. We’re subjects in His kingdom. To live as someone who is alive to the affection of our Father is to be moved certainly to a place of adoration, but also surrender. God’s radical acceptance of us is meant to redefine everything that we are.”
This particular sermon series would prove to do just that. Though approached during the summer about writing a book on the topic, Smith had no idea the uniquely personal direction the book would end up taking. That fall found Scotty and his wife of 29 years, Darlene, on sabbatical, teaching and studying at Covenant Seminary. But a restlessness, an overall sense of discomfort in every area of his life, left the North Carolina native searching for answers. “God was not allowing me to enjoy the things that I had always had emotional fulfillment from, the things where I have accrued so much of my sense of centering. I realized I was running from a Father who had been beckoning me for quite some time in every area of life.”
The disturbance of his soul came to a head in a February 1999 meeting with his two best friends. The men were meeting to try to discover why recent years found them drifting apart. In the course of their conversation, Scotty revealed a fact from his life that he had never spoken out loud.
“It was in that meeting when, Boom! I said, ‘I haven’t been to my mom’s grave in the 39 years that she’s been dead.’ The death of my mom and not going to her grave – that truly has had more power over me than the gospel.”
Killed in a car accident when Scotty was only 11, Martha Ward Smith’s death quite literally took the life out of her family. In the following years, neither Scotty, his older brother, nor his father ever openly acknowledged their loss or their emotions. For Scotty, it led to a life where control was imperative. As long as he could manage his circumstances, distance himself from pain, protect himself from the risks of relationships, he could cope. He could maintain. He could survive.
“All those years there was something I worshiped more than the God of love: my commitment to protect my heart from what might happen if I really dealt with the loss of my mom. My mom’s death defined me more than the love of God. Once realizing that, I could begin to see how serious it was, and I could begin to see it wasn’t a matter of trying harder or having more discipline to break free. It required the provision of God’s grace to tear down those idols…. The power of shame finally caught up with me. I love to talk about the Garden of Eden and the time when we were naked and without shame. No doubt as I preach and teach on that, it has been the cry of my own heart.”
Opening up to his best friends was the first step on a journey that has been eloquently captured in Objects of His Affection. Moved by God’s love, God’s unwillingness to let him avoid the deeper issues of his heart, Scotty and Darlene drove home to North Carolina and visited his mother’s grave for the first time. In the two years since, Scotty’s life has been marked by an open and growing relationship with his father, by a renewed understanding of the depth of God’s love for His children, and by the healing strength of finally grieving what he’s lost.
“The willingness to talk about my own story in the book is the beginning in me of knowing that it’s only in God’s love that we can risk that level of vulnerability. This book’s kind of become my journal of the last year. I’ve thrown the gauntlet down of wanting to be one in the company of God’s people who will move from simply loving the theology of grace to becoming someone more changed by that grace.”
But the book is far more than the story of Scotty Smith. Though his experiences are present within its pages, Objects of His Affection focuses primarily on God’s love for His people as expressed in Zephaniah 3: “The Lord your God is with you. He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you. He will quiet you with His love. He will rejoice over you with singing.” It is a love that compels a response.
“I want to dare readers to believe that what God says about Himself in Scriptures is true. He loves like this. I want readers to be confronted with the enormity of God’s self-revelation of His love. I want them to be willing to risk, ‘Do I know Him in this way?’ And I want readers to know that God’s love has a destination-we’re to be conduits, not receptacles. Where in my relational world does this love need to go?
“I would want to say to anybody who reads this book that the life of faith is an ongoing journey that we all share together. Here in 200+ pages is a fresh insight into the heart of a fellow sojourner that’s known the Lord for 30 years but is even now continuing to discover how little I understand and really experience of the enormity of God’s love. Therefore, read this-don’t pity me and don’t applaud me-but read this book as a doorway, a window into your own soul.”
And that window can open up more than a tremendous theological treatise on the love of God. While Objects of His Affection offers a myriad of profound truths to stir the minds of its readers, Scotty Smith’s personal revelations and the story of his own journey undoubtedly will compel a heartfelt response in the farthest reaches of the soul.
“The gospel indicts me, but it’s not the indictment of a merciless judge. It’s the indictment of a Father who brings an invitation to dance. I want to dance.”