Monday, April 20, 2015

...Selflessly


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I’ve done a lot of thinking about it and I don’t have a good track record of doing things selflessly. Far too often I have been far too aware of the effect my actions or words might have on others and made choices based on how those actions will affect me.  Ouch!

I’m sure that I’m the only husband who has every done something nice for his wife with the hope that she will give her blessing to my desire for some new toy.  I learned early on that the secret with Cathy was NOT flowers.  “Why did you spend money on those?” she would ask.  See’s Candy was another story!  I honestly can’t remember giving her See’s Candy so that she would green light something I wanted, but I can remember lots of times that I bought her See’s Candy so I could eat (at least) half it.  Generous of me, don’t you think?  I even gave her the privilege of sharing her half with the kids!

I remember reading about an American church which purchased and set up a large diesel generator for a remote, third-world village, providing them with electricity.  I’m quite sure that the church felt very good about their act of kindness, but never took time to discern that the nearest diesel fuel for the generator was hours distant and the village had no way to get it.  Thus, a year later the generator was rusting away unused.  One would have to question if the purpose of the gift was truly to help the poor or to make the rich feel better about themselves.

I felt a bit judgmental when I first read that story.  Now, I stop to ponder the things I do and the motives behind them.  How many times have a preached with the hope that people will notice or recognize me?  How many times have I given with the awareness that someone is watching?  How many times have I made myself feel good by the kind thing I did for someone in need with far less focus on the deep needs of the person I was “helping?”  Again, ouch!

You can judge me if you want.  I understand.  I just hope that you will ask yourself the hard “motive questions” before you complete your thoughts.  At the end of the day, we ALL must face the words of the only completely selfless person who ever lived: "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28 NLTse)

“It’s not about me” is a popular saying, but maybe we all need to stop ourselves from quoting it too quickly.  How can we measure whether those words are really true in us?  Here are a few questions we might ask ourselves:
1. Do I really care about the need I am meeting?
2. Do I genuinely love the ones who have the need?
3. Do I expect anything in return for giving to this need?
4. If only God and me ever know that I gave or served, is that good (even preferable)?

The moment that my personal reward or the attention of others is no longer my motivation for giving/serving is the moment I am ready to live more selflessly.  “Serve the World Selflessly” is the third step in the Stone Ridge Church discipleship process and serving is in the DNA of our church (God put it there!).  Truth be told, we don’t always get it right and we sometimes give/serve for the wrong reasons.  But we’re learning!  That’s why we will talk about it again this weekend.  I hope you can be there, but if you can’t make it, catch the podcast!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Leaning

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“While You Were Sleeping” is on our “top movies” list.  One of our favorite dialogues is between Lucy (played by Sandra Bullock) and Jack (played by Bill Pullman).  Lucy and Jack are in the process of falling in love with each other, but they haven’t fully figured that out yet.  Jack confronts Lucy, who has just received flowers from her landlord’s son, Joe, Jr...
Lucy: [to Jack] Okay, um. What do you mean by the leaning thing? You mean because he gave me flowers? 
Jack: And then you *leaned* 
Lucy: And then I leaned. 
Jack: Yeah. 
Lucy: Okay, how did I lean when I leaned?
(Thanks to IMDB for this!)
The scene becomes hilarious as Jack describes “leaning” in a way that was far from Lucy’s mind.  Then Joe, Jr. sees Jack and Lucy together.  Joe offers to help Lucy, if she needs it. Whens she inquires why he wants to help, he says it looks like Jack is “leaning."

We’ve watched the movie so many times that C and I often tease each other about “leaning” too much.

I wish I had a picture of something I saw a few years ago.  A couple came walking up from the parking lot to our auditorium and we saw that they were literally leaning into each other, holding each other up.  I was very moved by the scene. The couple, in their 80s, had been married about 60 years.  We met them when we first came to Yuma and knew them as some of the hard-working, single-minded people whose heritage is in the land which they farmed.  Deeply committed to each other and to their marriage, these people were both strong-willed.  A short conversation with either of them and you knew they were fully willing to give you a piece of their mind if they found the need.  They were also quick to share areas of disagreement with each other.  They both knew how to stand alone...

…and here they came, leaning.on.each.other...

…because they could no longer walk very far without it.  Like I said, I wish I had a picture.  You see, leaning is something we all need to do.  It may surprise you that even Jesus surrounded Himself with people He could lean on.  No matter how strong and individualistic we may be, “We all need somebody to lean on.”

The second step of The Walk is, “Grow Together Relationally.”  Leaning relationships can take months or years to form, but they are an essential part of becoming the person we were designed to be.  We will talk about it this weekend at Stone Ridge Church.  Hope you can join us…we need to lean on you!  Can’t be there?  Catch the podcast.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Passion Gets Deeper (not older)

From time to time I see something that makes me think, “I don’t want to be that way.”  One of those situations is when I see an older couple eating in a restaurant and they don’t talk.  They may sit down and make a comment or two about what’s on the menu, but spend the rest of their time looking around the room and ignoring each other.  That sight makes me wonder what happened.  I mean, can you imagine a young couple on their first date essentially ignoring each other?  (If they do, I sort of think it will also be their last date!)

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticizing when I stop to focus on the couples who no longer communicate in public.  The sight of them sitting and eating silently makes more more than a little sad for them.  Life is way too short and we humans are made for healthy intimacy; what a tragic reality that many couples don’t talk anymore!

By the way, young couples who read this might want to make a mental note of how often communication is cut off from each other by the incessant message notifications that scream from our phones: “READ ME NOW AND SEND ME A REPLY!”  It could be that you are setting yourself up for a bad habit of not practicing the art of intimate communication with that person across the table.

The couple below are holding hands.  This picture was taken a few months before their 65th wedding anniversary.  I know that they have kept up the hard work of communicating because I have watched them for over 40 years…they are Cathy’s parents.  I thought of them recently when I was told about a teen at our church who commented to her mom about her appreciation when she noticed Cathy and I holding hands at the end of our annual Tenebrae service.
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I mention talking and touching because both help stoke up the fires of passion.  Those fires were designed to last a lifetime and are well worth tending.  The type of passion I want to talk about today is the passion God intended us to have with Him.  The relationship he has offered us was made possible through His Son Jesus Christ, who died and rose again to conquer the power of death…spiritual death…that had it’s grip on all of us from birth.  That relationship is made real through the person of the Holy Spirit, who comes to dwell in those who believe.

The passionate relationship God designed for us to have with him is just as fragile as human relationships, though.  Way too many people start following Jesus, then get lost along the way.  They quit communicating and stop listening to the point that they are like the couple looking around the restaurant.  They notice all kinds of other things but lose connection with the One they love the most.  In the case of our relationship with Christ, He is never the one who moves away!  In fact, I am convinced that He is always as close as a simple calling out on our part and always ready to restore the communication.

I made a conscious decision some time back that I don’t want to lose the passion of my relationship with Jesus.  I want it to get deeper, not older.  I choose to sing songs of faith sometimes out of discipline rather than raw emotion.  I choose to stop and reflect on Scripture, even when it doesn’t seem to speak directly to me.  I choose to pray and write in my journal, even when it feels mechanical rather than personal.  Why keep doing those things when I’m not feeling them?  I want my passion to grow!

“Love Jesus Passionately” is the first step of our Stone Ridge discipleship process.  We deeply believe that every Christ-follower can grow more passionate in their love relationship with Jesus.  That’s our subject this weekend in our first installment of “The Walk.”  If you must miss it, make sure it's not because you’re stuck in restaurant silence with someone you love.  Catch the podcast here.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Why The Good Guys?

During a recent visit to one of my doctors, he announced, “Your test results are great! Do you have any questions for me?  I don’t need to see you for another year!”  Since this happened to be a follow-up visit to the urologist who performed my surgery for prostate cancer, this was great news.  The visit became memorable when my one question lasted only a minute or two.

Realizing that I was doing very well and that I didn’t need his professional expertise, the doc and I launched into a discussion about life in general.  Specifically, we talked about the challenge he and others face when they must talk about bad news with their patients.  “It seems like the worst news often comes to the best people.  We physicians have conversations about this,” he said. This doctor is a Christian and he followed this thought with, “I wish some people could understand how short this life is up against eternity.  That would offer them some hope.”

We conversed about how God frequently uses the worst circumstances of life to refine some of the best people, shaping their souls to be more like Him.  Serious illness, after all, can do some formidable soul-shaping.  Many people, though, prefer that they simply be given a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card, so that they can go on living in their orneriness.  They don’t want their soul shaped; they just want to be in control of their own lives.

Why do bad things happen to the good guys?  That’s where I stop to reflect on this Holy Week. Besides, who ARE the good guys anyway?  Doesn’t the Bible say,

10 “No one is righteous—
not even one.
11 No one is truly wise;
no one is seeking God.
12 All have turned away;
all have become useless.
No one does good,
not a single one.”
(Romans 3:10-12 NLTse)
Ouch!!
 
If that’s the case, how can we see anyone as “one of the good guys?"  Does it just mean that they aren’t quite as bad as the bad guys?  Is that what Paul meant when he penned those words?  Or, is it possible that those words are intended to body slam us into the dirt so that God can get our full attention?  
 
Come to think of it, the best people I know aren’t that way because of their behavior, but because of their beliefs.  What do they believe that set’s them apart?  It’s all about mercy and grace.
 

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Such mercy is anything but cheap.  I was recently struck by the power of these simple words: "With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—(Jesus) entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever.”  (Hebrews 9:12 NLTse)  Truly “good” people acknowledge that their faults and failures exact a significant price: the blood of God’s own Son.  These are the folks who get it that they deserve to pay for their own sins…but they can’t.  The sins are too big, their power too deadly.  Only the perfect sacrifice can satisfy the stinkiness of sins.

The flip side of mercy is just as powerful...

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These days, I find myself often praying for grace.  I pray for grace when someone is sick or hurting.  I pray for grace when relationships are coming apart.  I pray for grace when hope seems lost.  Someone defined grace as “decisive action, based upon what I know is true about me, even though it may not feel true.”  I love the thought that God often pulls up with a truckload of grace, then dumps it all over us, giving us more than we need to walk through life’s messes.

This Holy Week, I pray that we all will find ourselves at the foot of the cross.  Only then can we rejoice in the beautiful sacrifice that was made for our sins.  After we embrace the cross, the resurrection will welcome us with full expressions of Easter mercy and grace.  At that point, we will emerge as better people, based on belief rather than behavior.

Easter weekend is on our hearts at Stone Ridge Church.  Scores of people will bring their gifts to the 50 For 50 Project.  Many of our friends will join us.  We will be amazed at God’s goodness and throw a great party in His honor!  Join us!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Hee-Haw


Have you ever noticed the way donkeys fit into some key Bible events?  Who can forget the day Balaam (Numbers 22) beat his donkey, just before the donkey started talking to him?  However, did you know that one day a lion attacked and killed a prophet, but didn’t eat the man — he was food after all — nor the man’s donkey?  In fact, the lion and the donkey stood guard over the old prophet’s body until someone came and took him away for burial.  Check it out in 1 Kings 13!

Donkeys show up at various times in the Bible.  Though they were considered a beast of burden, they were often ridden by those who had enough resources to own one. Donkeys eat less than horses for some reason and they are more adaptable to an arid climate.  No wonder they are found so often in Scripture.  Israel, like Arizona, has it’s share of mountains, but it is known for its deserts…donkey country!

I found instances in Scripture of donkeys ridden by leaders and prophets, by king’s daughters and king’s sons.  What I didn’t find (maybe I missed one) was a single mention of a donkey ridden by a king.  That is, of course, until THE King rode a donkey’s foal down the hill from the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem.  It was a seemingly unique event, prophesied hundreds of years earlier by Zechariah (Zechariah 9:9).  The King of kings road a humble animal — I read once that donkeys were the stretch limos of that day and kings rode them in times of peace — with a background of “Hosanna!” as he rode.  The people threw their cloaks on the trail before Him. They paved it with palm branches.  For them, it was a day of great hope.

And they completely missed the message!

Jesus was on a donkey when they wanted a warhorse.  Hosanna (“Save us!”) was their desperate hope that someone would finally deliver them from servitude to Rome.     They wanted freedom, but they didn’t understand that the greatest freedom isn’t fashioned by human governmental systems.  The best freedom of all happens in the heart.  It jumps up with rejoicing in jail cells (see Acts 16).  It lives, fueled by hope, in the darkest places and the most awful hours of history.

True freedom is born of peace.  That was the message on the Sunday of palm branches.  The Prince of Peace rode the animal of peace into the city of peace.  His grand entrance was the beginning of the greatest week in history.  Before it ended, some of the same people who yelled, “Hosanna!”, would cry out, “Crucify Him!”  Then the King would die the death we deserve, later exploding out of the tomb to obliterate death’s power over us.

I can hardly contain the joy I have as we prepare for the beginning of Holy Week this weekend at Stone Ridge Church!  Grab your palm branches and join us!  Can’t be there?  Catch the podcast!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Love In, Love Out

I was saddened to hear that a guy I know may need a heart transplant.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m amazed at how common such procedures have become.  I have lived long enough to remember them when they were an earth-shaking breakthrough.  Still, it’s hard to hear that someone fairly young must go through one.

The possible transplant of a major organ got me thinking: what if someone could get a love transplant?  What would change if, say, a victim of years-long abuse began to be loved unconditionally by the people around her or him?  Every time the victim spews out angry words of retaliation, she is met with love.  Every time the victim shuts down with anxiety, he is met with love.  Every time the victim tries to control everyone in her life, she is met with love.  I mean, what would that look like?  Perhaps a better word than transplant would be transfusion.  It's like a whole new type of blood starts flowing in the victim’s veins.

Over time, be it weeks or months or years, would such a transfusion actually change the character of the victim.  In fact, would her/his identity as a victim be transformed by the transfusion?

One of my greatest privileges is that I get to regularly watch what happens when people get a love transfusion.  Without heaping guilt or condemnation on people, I watch their hearts change. Their attitude, the way they spend their time, their relationships and even their speech often changes.  In fact, I see it so often that I am no longer surprised by it.

A woman I know showed up at our church a long time ago with an extraordinary amount of pain in her background.  For a long time, I wondered why she kept coming back.  She was bent on protecting herself from being hurt again.  She purposely kept her heart hard and went through life taking what she needed without fully allowing people to really know her.  A few years ago, she got involved in a group who simply kept loving her.  In them she saw the love of God in a way she hadn’t known since she was a child.  Bit by bit, the callouses came off her heart.  The more vulnerable she became, the more she changed.  She went from bitter to tender before our eyes.  She now pursues God, not out of legalistic zeal, but out of a deep desire to respond to His great love.

"We love because God first loved us." 1 John 4:19 (New Century Version)   I don’t think that verse is saying, “We MUST love or He will condemn us.”  Instead, it means, “We start loving as a natural result of His love.”  Love in, love out!

Paying It Forward is a byproduct of a love transfusion.  That’s our topic this weekend at Stone Ridge Church.  Can’t join us?  Catch the podcast!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Selfishness or Sacrifice?

Animals are…well..animals and they do some things that don’t always make sense to us.  In late 2013, a mama sloth bear in the Smithsonian’s National Zoo gave birth to the first of what would be three cubs.  Shortly after the baby was born, she proceeded to eat her young, much to the horror of the keepers who were watching on closed-circuit television.  She then gave birth to the other two cubs and everything seemed normal as she nurtured them for the next week. Suddenly, she ate a second cub.  By now, her keepers knew that they must intervene so they took the third tiny bear away from its mom.  Turns out that the baby was sick, probably having caught a virus that ran through all the sloths over the next few days.


Still, the thought of mamas eating their offspring is exponentially repulsive to most of us.  The idea of mothers, even animal mothers, thoughtlessly ignoring or destroying their young grates at every decent thought we can form.  We can excuse an animal, though.  It’s the stories of young human mothers who have a baby, then abandon it in a dumpster that screams INJUSTICE. Such selfishness makes us want that parent to be caught and punished harshly.



Contrast those atrocities with mama polar bears.  They must put on over 400 pounds of weight just to get pregnant (they eat seal blubber, not ice cream), but then they fast for eight months during their pregnancy.  They go through a bear form of feasting, then fasting so that they can have healthy babies.  Something about the discipline it takes to do both causes us to rise up and cheer.

Do you remember the 1988 story of the Armenian mother who was trapped for eight days with her four-year-old daughter in a collapsed building caused by an earthquake?  After she gave her daughter their only food, a jar of blackberry jam that had miraculously landed with them as the nine story structure fell on top of them, they had nothing else to eat.   “I’m thirsty, mommy,” said the child.  The mom, barely able to move, chose to do something she had heard about somewhere.  She cut her finger and gave some of her own blood to her daughter.  Then she kept doing it for days!  They were starving and dying of thirst.  The mother cared nothing for her own survival; she was willing to drain out her own lifeblood to save her child.  Miraculously, they both lived.

Selfishness or sacrifice?  We all face the question of whether we will be more like the polar bear or the sloth.  Will we end up doing the desperately selfish act of discarding others to go on with our own lives or will we give our lives away so that others might live?

We HOPE that we will be the ones who sacrifice.  But this is not a choice which we usually make just one time.  We keep making it over and over again, each time deciding who will pay and who will reap the benefits.  It’s those decisions that must be faced as we consider what it means to “Pay It Forward.”  That’s our topic this weekend at Stone Ridge Church and I hope you will be in one of our services to hear about it.  Can’t join us?  Catch the podcast!