Monday, September 12, 2016

Beyond the Pain

I think Malcolm Gladwell got it right — in my opinion, he often does. His book Outliers describes what he calls the “10,000 Hour Rule,” the idea that people who find something they love to do and stay at for at least 10,000 hours are the ones who leave an indelible mark on their world. Among his many examples are The Beatles who, long before they were thrust upon the world from The Ed Sullivan Show, had spent thousands of hours playing in shabby clubs in Paris. Before they became known, they would often play for hours every night, making barely enough to make ends meet. Yet, the demand of those accumulated hours was to find ways to keep fresh music coming for their handful of fans. The combined musical proficiency and artistic creativity helped them to be unusually ready to take the world by storm.

I think of Gladwell’s discovery of the power of 10,000 hours as I reflect on our current Stone Ridge sermon series, FaithFit.
Thumb FaithFit1 Web 1024

The idea is that God, the “World’s Best Personal Trainer,” wants to help us get fit with faith. The challenges of everyday life demand us to move beyond the minimal, mundane way in which many followers of Jesus have tried to live.

I introduced this series last weekend, describing how a number of my friends have become active in CrossFit. CrossFit training, they have explained, isn’t about body sculpting; it’s about being ready for the everyday physical challenges of life. As I watch some of them overcome years of being out of shape, I rejoice that they are getting healthy. Every hour of training, combined with every healthy food choice, is moving them closer to the energy and strength they have needed all along.

If CrossFit is helping people face the physical challenges they meet everyday, FaithFit is far more important! FaithFit people...
  • Love, even when surrounded by hate.
  • Hold on to God, even when others give up.
  • Experience peace in the middle of turmoil.
  • Live confidently, even when many are afraid.
Those FaithFit qualities require that we learn to live beyond the pain which tries to hold us back. If physical fitness means moving beyond temporary discomfort to do things we never dreamed we could do, spiritual fitness is even more so. “Those whom God uses greatly, He wounds greatly,” someone wisely said. Jesus Himself endured pain in this life because of the joy He knew would come later (Hebrews 12:2). If that was true for Him, how much more for us?

It is pain that holds many people back from getting fit. Our challenge this weekend at Stone Ridge Church will be to willingly submit to God’s Boot Camp. It won’t be easy, but the results are out of this world! See you there!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Put Your Shoes On

Like many of you, I’m fascinated by the advances in energy-saving technology. I’m pretty amazed at the current slate of LED lights, with the way they shine while staying cool and use almost no energy in the process. Obviously, we have been headed down this road for years with the now out-of-date fluorescent lights. It’s a fluorescent light story I want to tell you.

Thumb hqdefault 1024

I was in our kitchen one day, changing the fluorescent tubes in the light fixture. As usual, I was amazed at how I could touch the old light with my bare hands and gently twist it to remove it from the fixture. I left the light switch on…my hands were far from any live electricity...and the glass of the tube served to insulate me from any danger.

Like you, I had changed fluorescent tubes dozens of times over the years.  We even kept a small supply of them so we were ready when we needed to replace them. Easy peasy, right? Yep, easy peasy…until I let go of my grip on the tube with one hand and failed to control the effect of gravity as I held it in my other hand. The first result was a “slight” bump on the corner of a kitchen countertop. The second result was an explosion of tiny shards of glass when the tube escaped my other hand and fell to the floor.

What do you do when needles of glass are covering your kitchen floor, along with some in your dining room and in your family room? I have since discovered that perhaps I should have been concerned about the mercury that escaped. For me, though, the first step would be, “Put your shoes on!” Quite honestly, I don’t remember if I had my shoes on that day. However, the idea of walking barefoot over that glass minefield makes sleeping on a bed nails rather comfy by comparison.

At Stone Ridge Church, our vision is quite simple: “A church of broken people for broken people.” Reaching those who have been blasted and bumped and banged up by life is a full “shoes on” experience. Shards of pain can show up in the most unexpected places and the most inopportune times. It’s worth it, though, because Jesus has a way of doing more than vacuuming up the broken shards of our lives. He takes those broken pieces and turns them into works of art that become His tools to touch and change others who are broken.

That’s our topic this weekend at Stone Ridge. Hope you can join us!

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Crazy Schedule and An Old Elm Tree

When I was in Jr. High (today it is often called Middle School), I was really bugged by a quirk of school-bus scheduling. My school schedule called for an 8:00 a.m. class, which was before our bus arrived at school. That wasn’t a problem, since my dad got to work at about 7:45 and his workplace was just a couple of blocks from the school. The end of the day was the part of the schedule I despised. Our bus drove two routes each morning and each afternoon. The bus driver lived a ways out of town, near the end of one of the routes. He kept the bus at his house, so the most natural thing to do was to pick up the route nearest his home first in the morning and drop us off last in the afternoon.

As I said, the morning part wasn’t a problem. It was getting out of school at 2:45 in the afternoon and not getting home until 4:30 that just seemed not right. One of my friends lived on the OTHER route, the one that got picked up last and taken home first. His school day, from pick-up to drop-off was about an hour shorter than mine.

I found a solution to my dilemma…I started walking the 2 ½ miles home from school. I took shortcuts through town, across fields an over a drainage ditch, often making the journey in just over a half-hour. My mom would often be in town running errands or picking up younger siblings, so I would arrive home to a quiet house and a pile of left-over home cooking from that day’s lunch.  On special days, I could smell the sweetness of fresh donuts piled high on a platter on the kitchen counter.  The pile would be much smaller by the time everyone else got home!
Thumb American Elm Tree Deerfield Academy Old Deerfield MA June 14 2012 1024

After my “snack”, I frequently headed outside with a book, and began the climb about 20 or 25 feet up into a large elm tree, that helped form the property line next to the road which bordered us on two sides. At some point, I had used some scrap lumber to build me a seat between two large forks in those limbs. On breezy days, it could get a little shaky up there, so I found something to help strap me in. I would read and sway in the breeze until the school bus drove by. I was always fascinated by my view, looking at the top of the bus far below me, realizing that the bus driver and passengers had no idea that I was watching them from above.

The scene I just described took place over a half-century ago. I remember it with fondness because then, as now, some of my best replenishment comes when I am alone. If you, however, pulled back the camera to display a wider view of my life, you would see that, even back then I was surrounded by people more often than not. Quiet, alone times may replenish me, but they don’t define what life is about.

The kingdom of God happens as people discover the grace, the love, the hope, the healing and the reconciliation power which God wants to bring to us. We may fill our minds with books and stretch our imagination with the arts; we may train our bodies with athletic competition and grow our soul with prayer. However, we will never…not ever…reach spiritual maturity outside the realm of healthy, encouraging, challenging relationships.

Thumb growing up final 1024

As much as I have cherished my moments in the elm trees of life, I know that being like Jesus requires well-developed, genuine friendships. Let’s talk about it this weekend when we continue our “Growing Up” series at Stone Ridge Church. Hope you can join us!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Never Forget



If you are like me, you have discovered that human nature is sometimes frustrating and often humorous. This isn’t a political blog and I will steer clear of any partisanship this election year. Maybe that’s why I can’t escape the obvious result of the rancor between the two sides, both of which are quick to minimize the faults and foibles of their own candidates while making a mushroom cloud of every opposition misstep.

…not that it’s hard to locate those missteps...

I smiled when I read the humorous interpretation of some recent polls: 70% of Americans don’t trust one candidate…and 70% of Americans don’t trust the other candidate. It reminds me of the answer an old friend — a teetotaling Baptist pastor -- once gave when asked what to do about a seemingly unsolvable problem. “Turn to hard liquor!” he quipped.

Here you and I are, exhorted to honor those in authority and pray for them as well. We are regularly reminded that a steep price has been paid in blood for our freedom and we must exercise our right to vote. However, we are in such a mess that the best presidential candidates both major political parties can produce are people that most people don’t like and can’t trust.

I told you that I will steer clear of partisanship. I told you that this isn’t a political blog. So, what am I getting at? It’s simply this: both sides of our political system will claim that they have the moral high ground. They will insist that the weaknesses — the lies, the deception, the immoralities, and the arrogance — of THEIR candidate are minuscule when measured up against the same failures in the other candidate. And neither side will have the humility to stand up and say, “I am a sinner in need of grace. I would have no hope if it weren’t for the unconditional love of God."

As you may imagine, I’m not really writing about politicians. I am writing about people who fill the seats in churches every week. Often, we are quick to point out our own successful track record; all the things we do for God, for people and/or for the church. Somehow, we church folks can be just as guilty of claiming a “moral high ground” and we miss one of the simplest stories of Jesus:

Thumb 2015 05 16 16 41 58 1024

10 “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector.
11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector!
12 I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’
14 I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Luke 18:10-14 (New Living Translation)

When we start believing the lie that we are somehow in great spiritual shape because of all the wonderful things we do, we jettison a key part of spiritual maturity from our lives: passionate love for Jesus.

It’s time we recapture our lost spiritual passion, so that will be our focus this weekend at Stone Ridge Church. I invite you to join us Saturday at 5 or Sunday at either 9 or 11.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Don't Quit!

Thumb 154461 1024I picked up Nearing Home, by Billy Graham on audio, then waited a long time to listen to it. I hadn’t expected his wise words to have such an impact on me. We all know Mr. Graham, at least at some level. His crusades around the globe have been seen by multiplied millions. If you have had a chance to attend one of those crusades in person, it stays with you. Billy Graham has been known as the “pastor” to Presidents and Kings. Many of the great leaders of the world have sought his counsel for well over fifty years.

I fully expected Mr. Graham's wisdom in this book, written after he had turned 90. What surprised me was his passion! Here is a man who traveled the world to talk about Jesus, sometimes so weak and sick that he thought he wouldn’t be able to preach. In those times, he asked God to give him strength and focus, only to see God provide for him over and over again. This man, who has seen hundreds of thousands respond to his invitation to receive Christ, rings the bell loudly: “Don’t quit! Live every day to the fullest. Don’t fall into the temptation to just take it easy when you near the end of this life.”

If Billy Graham had written those words in his thirties, they would be meaningful. Coming from a nonagenarian (look it up!), they are downright convicting!

Thumb 260885509 ef52060a8f 1024
Another man who intrigues me is Warren Buffett, who turns 86 this month. If it’s the “American Dream” to make enough to retire and relax, Buffett should have been done a long, long time ago. The man insists on living a relatively simple, frugal life and is giving away most of his wealth to charity. Like Billy Graham, Buffett could have left well enough alone and “retired” a long time ago. Again, like Graham, Buffett keeps doing what his strength allows to make every day count.

Why is it so important to both Graham and Buffett that their days count during this sunset period of life? I came up with one word that seems to drive them: “future.” Even as they near the end, they both want to invest every day doing what they can to help others change their future. They both shine as examples of Psalm 92:14: Even in old age they will still produce fruit.” (New Living Translation) Their commitment goes far beyond their own work ethic, though. They are both sounding the call for others to join them. “Don’t quit!”

All this summer at Stone Ridge Church, we have dug into the stories of Elijah and Elisha, two men of God who stood against the tide of evil in their generation. As Elijah passed his work on to Elisha, it was with an eye to the future. What did Elisha do at the end? We pick that up this weekend, with the final installment of “Don’t Blink!” I hope you can join us!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Slow Down!

Cathy and I just completed a month-long vacation. We traveled to the mountains of Arizona, the mountains and valleys of New Mexico and the rain-washed hills of northeast Kansas.  We saw family, reconnected with people we love, ate too much and endured “hotter-than-normal” weather pretty much everywhere we went.  I got attacked by a man-eating tick, but that’s another story.

The purpose of our trip was to unplug, take long naps and focus on anything other than work. We were mostly successful. Before we left, someone told me that it takes three weeks for most people to fully disconnect from the regular flow of their work, whatever that work may be. It that’s true (our trip seemed to verify it), it means that Cathy and I have only really disengaged from our church leadership lives twice in the thirty years we have been at Stone Ridge.

Maybe it’s the whole three-week thing that opened me up for an aha moment just a few days before we traveled home. The setting was a quick trip up to the mountains around Taos, New Mexico. My brother and some of his family led the way with their travel trailer and we all spent the night together. After our arrival, we took a walking tour of the Taos Plaza, then drove out to the bridge that crosses the Rio Grande Gorge. We were greeted by others with word of some activity below the bridge, then delighted to see...
Thumb IMG 2187 1024
…six Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep emerge from below the bridge.

The next morning, my brother Jimmie and I got up and drove up to the Taos Ski Area, from which we departed on a two-mile hike up to Williams Lake. The 1400-foot gain in elevation was challenging, but the majesty of our arrival was worth every step!
Thumb IMG 2199 1024

A few hours later, we were on our way back to the Albuquerque area, following my brother’s pickup and trailer, just as we had done the day before. It was that trip, slowly winding through some of New Mexico’s magnificent and varied scenery, that caught me off guard. You see, for most of my life, a slow-moving truck and trailer have been nothing more than an obstacle to get past. Much tension has been added to many of our trips because I couldn’t bother to be slowed down by someone else on a two-lane highway.  For two days, the RV in front of us was nothing more than a guide on the way home. My only goal was to follow it at a safe distance and not worry as others had to pass us every few miles.

Arriving back at Jimmie and Melody’s mountain home, I realized how relaxed I was and talked to Cathy about it. A quick run into town a few hours later, with a rush around the curves along the way, convinced us both how much more we enjoyed ourselves when we simply slowed down.
Thumb road sign reduced speed 2 1024
It was with a broken heart that the thought hit me, “I have been in a hurry most of my life and it has filled me with tension. How much more could I enjoy life if every journey was like that trip to Taos?"

Throughout this summer, Stone Ridge Church has been looking at the lives of Elijah and Elisha, two Old Testament prophets. “Don’t Blink!” has been a fun and challenging theme. Maybe we could all see more and better enjoy the ride if we slowed down a bit. Maybe we would find that we are noticing much more of the beauty and majesty of God along the way. That’s sure my goal! I hope you can slow down enough to join us for one of our weekend services at Stone Ridge this week!

Monday, June 6, 2016


He led leaders. He influenced thousands. He pastored a church that baptized over a thousand people a year for many years in a row. It was one of the first mega-churches in the USA. Then he was done and the church needed a new type of pastor/leader.

The pastor I just described sensed my desire to learn from him and poured himself into me when I was a young pastor in my first church. He told me stories and taught me principles that still help me today, almost 35 years later. The reason I reminisce about him is that I learned many huge lessons from him, one of the biggest of which I saw from afar: the conclusion of his work as mega-church pastor.

While today’s headlines seem to be flooded with stories about pastors of large churches who flame out, disqualified by moral failure or by leadership abuse, my pastor friend resigned his church and went off to teach pastoral leadership at a Christian University. He wasn’t slinking away in disgrace. I learned a lesson by watching his final months as a pastor.

My pastor friend got caught in the turbulence of massive cultural change…change which diluted his leadership effectiveness. He had started in that church during a time when most leadership was coming from what came to be known as the “builder” generation. Builders were folks whose worldview was shaped by World War II and its accompanying hardships. After the war, they set out to rebuild this nation. They were hard-working, risk-taking hope-filled people, whose parents had endured The Great Depression and World War I. The Builders respected authority and loved it when a pastor took the reins, made the hard decisions and courageously led them forward. They also understood when those in authority made decisions with little or no input from those following them. Neither were they surprised when their leaders took on the perks of authority. In their thinking, it was “normal” that the pastor of a large church would have the shaded parking space nearest the church buildings, should be respected from afar (even if you never got close enough to shake his hand) and should be front and center at most every large event.

Many in my generation gave their hearts to Christ under the leadership of my pastor-friend. In their young adult years, they couldn’t help but admire him…until things changed.

The next generation, often called “baby boomers,” shook our nation with a whole new way of thinking about leadership. They questioned authority, rather than honoring it. They resented the perks of the old-style leaders. They expected to participate in decisions, with leaders seeking them out for input before pressing forward. In the case of my pastor friend, many of the same people who came to Christ under his pastorate began to question his style as they started taking jobs in upper management of their workplaces.

“Suddenly,” my very effective friend wasn’t finding it so easy to lead. I didn’t hear about his troubles right away, but was shocked when I learned that people were leaving his church by the hundreds, heading off to other churches where they could have a voice in the big decisions of their places of worship.

My friend’s heart for God didn’t change. His track record of helping many find Jesus was intact. His desire to see churches be effective was the same. But his pastoral ministry came to an end.

I think about my old pastor friend today as I remember the prophet Elijah. He stood for God at the top of a conflict-strewn mountain. His prayer life rings out as a testimony even today. His heart for people and his faithful dependence on God stand as permanent models for us all. Of all the Old Testament prophets, he was the one sent back from heaven to meet with Jesus on top of mount of transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8).
But even Elijah’s service had to end.  And that end opened the door for another prophet, known for even more of God’s miracles. It was a “Big Deal” and we will focus in upon it this weekend. It’s Part 5 of the “Don’t Blink” series at Stone Ridge Church. It will be an exciting weekend…you don’t want to miss it!