Monday, May 23, 2016

Let It Rain

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If a butterfly flaps it’s wings in Yuma, will it fix the drought in California? I know the question sounds crazy, but that’s the basic idea of “The Butterfly Effect.” If this micro view of the chaos theory teaches us anything, it’s that the small things we do can have significant results. This is very encouraging to most people because we live in a generation in which pretty much everyone wants to make a difference.

I am a runner and I subscribe to a Facebook page made up of people around the world who are committed to run. It has to be one of the most encouraging groups I have ever seen, serving up constant support to those who are trying to overcome their natural penchant to be couch potatoes. One thing that has intrigued me, though, is how much runners get involved with the needs of other runners. If a runner gets injured, their post gets overwhelmed with words of hope and promises to pray for them. Runners say things like, “I”m dedicating my 10K to…” When someone on the page describes an illness or an accident involving their child, the post goes viral. Runners around the world look for anything they can do to offer hope and encouragement.

There is just something in us that wants to make a difference. We may feel as small as a butterfly in our everyday life, but we hope that we can do something…anything…that might help solve the worlds problems...

…so why not pray?
“Elijah (the Bible says) was a human being just like us, but he prayed and the rain stopped. Later, he prayed and it started raining.”  Elijah didn’t need to flap his wings, hoping to make some minute atmospheric difference that might bring rain in a few weeks or months. He needed to pray, believing that the God who created weather is big enough to change it because of the prayers of one man. Elijah’s story is incredibly hopeful for you and me. We are people who desperately want to see God move. “Let It Rain” is this week’s episode of “Don’t Blink” at Stone Ridge Church. It will be encouraging, fun and helpful, so you don’t want to miss it. Can’t be there?  Catch the podcast!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Paid In Full

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I was recently telling a friend the story of a guy named James who move to my hometown when I was in Jr. High. I remember him because of his attitude and the way he treated his classmates. James dressed somewhat conservatively, was friendly without being pushy and didn’t demonstrate the flash of someone who thought they were pretty special. In fact, I might have just missed the arrival of James in our town except for a quality I had never seen before.

I was in a gym class with James. I had seen him in his street clothes and, as I said, he was just a normal guy. But the first time I saw him in gym shorts, I was shocked by the bulging leg muscles he had. Then, on the track around the football field, I realized that James could fly down the 100 yard dash in a way that surprised all of us.  In fact, James could run step for step with the fastest guy in school, who was several inches taller and had legs that would carry him like the wind.

The difference between James and the other guy could be defined in two simple words: work ethic. These days, I am accustomed to seeing high school athletes log long hours in the gym pumping weights and conditioning themselves for whatever sport they play. Back then, I had never really seen such work…until James.

As it ended up, James’s family only stayed in our town a couple of years. Then, for whatever reason, they moved to the town 75 miles south of us. Our high schools played each other in sports, so I got to see James a few times making great plays on their teams. I enjoyed catching up with someone I considered a friend…and it hurt to see the way he helped his teams beat us…all because he paid the price long before he ever arrived on the field.
Last weekend at Stone Ridge Church, we learned how God worked in the life of Elijah the prophet. Elijah went through severe testing, learning to trust God in a time of drought. As he learned faith, God sent him to teach faith to a widow and her son. Those tests…those challenges…kept having higher stakes. Then the day came when God brought Elijah out of the “training room” and onto the “playing field.” Tom Burks will pick up the story this weekend at Stone Ridge Church. You don’t want to miss the second installment of “Don’t Blink!” Can’t be there?  Catch the podcast.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Forged and Tempered

Anyone who has read or watched The Lord of the Rings knows that Aragorn could not conquer the dark lord Sauron without the re-forging of the ancient sword which had been broken centuries earlier, cutting off Sauron’s hand and wresting the ring of power from him.

The images of the hot metal being hammered into place by the elves give mental pictures to the hard work of the Holy Spirit upon everyone who wants their lives to count and make a difference in our broken world.  Forging is the application of heat and mechanical energy that causes metal to change shape.  Tempering is the application of heat to decrease the hardness of alloys, making them more pliable and less brittle.

When we read the Old Testament stories of two prophets — Elijah and Elisha — we are immediately drawn to the out-of-the-box, over-the-top miracles that God did through them. We can “see” Elijah taunting the false prophets on Mount Carmel, then calling down fire from heaven to burn his sacrifice to God. We can feel the relief of Naaman after he relented and took Elisha’s instructions to dip seven times in the Jordan River so that his leprosy would be healed.  But, have we ever stopped to see that God was using challenges and pain and difficulties to forge and temper these two prophets?  Both of them are remembered for their mountain-top experiences, but we quickly forget the doubts that surfaced as God graciously applied heat and external energy to forge and temper them.

If you want to walk with God, he will heat you up to harden you and mold you into shape. Then he will heat you up again to decrease your hardness and make you more flexible, increasing your endurance as his servant.

This weekend begins our Summer Sermon Series at Stone Ridge Church.  For the next 13 weeks, we will focus upon Elijah and Elisha, learning how God forged and tempered them.  Then he did miracles! I’m excited about this series, entitled “Don’t Blink” (or you might miss the miracle!) for multiple reasons. Among them is the privilege of working with this year’s preaching team. We will learn from each other and all of us will grow at Stone Ridge Church. I hope you can join us for the introduction this weekend. Can’t make it? Catch the podcast!

Monday, May 2, 2016

A Day of Hope

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I have frequently written about the blessing of growing up in a home with two parents who loved their family and who lived their faith consistently. My dad has been gone for many years, but my mom will turn 90 in just a few weeks. None of us should ever take the credit for the good that comes from our lives; for me passing the bulk of those kudos to my parents is “easy peasy.”

Imagine my surprise, then, when I learned that many of today’s Christian moms struggle when the Mother’s Day sermon is from Proverbs 31. In my thinking, any passage that begins with, "An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels." (Proverbs 31:10 New American Standard Bible) and ends with "Her children rise up and bless her; Her husband also, and he praises her, saying: 'Many daughters have done nobly, But you excel them all.'" (Proverbs 31:28-29 New American Standard Bible) should be more scrumptious than a fancy Mother’s Day Brunch...

…”But it’s not,” my friends have told me. “Too often and too long that passage has been used to lift up a seemingly impossible standard for women.” I have spent some time reflecting on this and realize that, in spite of this era of constant affirmation, many (most?) moms feel pretty down about the things they DON”T do well.

Could it be that we have such high expectations for our children today that we have silently convinced ourselves that perfect kids come from perfect parents…which we aren’t…and we spend inordinate energy thinking constantly about how we Simply. Don’t. Measure. Up?

My musings on this subject led me to think much about this Mother’s Day and want to do everything possible to make it a Day of Hope for all of us. The day is special to me on a whole different level because it was Mother’s Day, May 8, 1960, that I gave my heart to Jesus. It’s certainly hope-filled for me, so join with me and the Stone Ridge Church family as we celebrate it! We will do parent/child dedications in all services this weekend as we celebrate moms. Can’t join us? Catch the podcast!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Glad I'm Not Job

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Aren’t you glad you’re not Job? I have been reading the Old Testament book of Job again recently and it struck me that I have no idea what I might do if I were walking through Job’s trials. Job was described by God himself as “...the finest man in all the earth...blameless—a man of complete integrity…" (Job 1:8 New Living Translation) Yet God allowed Job to wade through some of the darkest waters anyone could face. His children were all wiped out in a day. He lost his fortune, then he lost his health. Suddenly all he had left was a wife who told him, “Curse God and die,” and three “friends” who kept telling him his troubles must be what he deserved. Before the story is over, Job doubted and questioned God. He judged God for letting him go through the pain. He seemed to almost lose faith…until God himself spoke to him.

You and I are regularly in danger of being like Job.  We may not experience the same level of trials Job went through, but we are in danger of giving up hope that God loves us and cares for us. Trials have a way of filling us with “Why?” questions.
  • Why is this happening to me?
  • Why is God not answering my prayers?
  • Why can’t I seem to experience God’s presence anymore?
  • Why is my life falling apart?
  • Why can’t I get along with the people I love?
  • Why have my friends abandoned me?
The “Why?” list can go on and on. The end result is that we can go from a great sense of God’s faithfulness to wondering if he even exists.  Aren’t you glad you’re not Job?

It’s easy to wonder why a God of love and mercy and grace and hope and forgiveness could seemingly abandon a man he called blameless. After all, if God could abandon Job, he might abandon me, too! In reality, though, GOD DIDN’T ABANDON JOB! In fact, it seems that one of God’s purposes was to work through Job to show the rest of us that he is ALWAYS FAITHFUL, even when we feel forsaken. If you carefully read the story, you will discover that the end of Job finds the man even more blessed than he was at the beginning.

God wants you to know that he hasn’t forgotten you. No matter how much you have messed up nor how many times you have lost your faith, he is still there for you. And he promises his children that their future is one of hope…even if they are at the very end of life.
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The “Why?” questions are a fitting finale to our “Spring Cleaning” series this weekend at Stone Ridge Church. In addition to anchoring to God’s Word about our “whys”,  we will offer everyone who needs it a chance to receive prayer. It’s time for your hope to be rekindled, so join us and bring some friends! Can’t make it? Make sure you catch the podcast!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Looking For A "Handy" Excuse

When is the last time you saw God do something outside your comfort zone? Could it be that you have never seen God do something outside your comfort zone? Could it be that something happened outside your comfort zone, but you were certain it wasn’t God because, surely, God would never do anything like that?

Years ago I was hurled into a very uncomfortable place as I joined two other pastors and a Christian counselor on a prayer retreat. The car’s stereo was playing a worship album. One of the songs included words about lifting hands to the Lord and suddenly the other three guys all had their hands in the air (at least the driver kept one hand on the steering wheel!). I was so outside my comfort zone that I briefly considered jumping out of the car as we sailed down the highway. I imagined that injury or death might be preferable to spending a few days with guys like this!

A few years later, having read the Bible and searched the thoughts of those very wise in the Scriptures, lifting hands in worship had become a regular part of my own worship experience. You can imagine my sadness when someone I deeply loved and respected spoke about lifting hands and said, “It can’t be Biblical because we don’t do it and we believe the Bible.” I remember thinking, “How can this person be so blind? The Bible is full of references to lifting hands in worship.”

One day, Jesus had an encounter with religious leaders whose logic was very similar to what I just described:
9 Then Jesus went over to their synagogue, 10 where he noticed a man with a deformed hand. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Does the law permit a person to work by healing on the Sabbath?” (They were hoping he would say yes, so they could bring charges against him.)
11 And he answered, “If you had a sheep that fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you work to pull it out? Of course you would. 12 And how much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Yes, the law permits a person to do good on the Sabbath.”
13 Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored, just like the other one! 14 Then the Pharisees called a meeting to plot how to kill Jesus.
(Matthew 12:9-14 New Living Translation)

Rather than accept that Jesus had just healed the man’s hand, they looked for a “handy” excuse. “God doesn’t work like that! We believe in the Bible and we we know God doesn’t work like that!” In other words, “If it’s outside my comfort zone, it can’t be from God.”
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What happened to me in the car with my friends and what happened to the religious leaders in Jesus’ day were both examples of “Hangups.” The truth is, we all have some and they blind us to some of the ways God does his work. One the best things we can do is learn to recognize and acknowledge our hangups, asking God to clean them out of our lives. No Spring Cleaning is complete without a few hangups being swept out and dumped in the trash where they belong.

That’s our subject this weekend at Stone Ridge Church and I can’t way to talk with you about it.  Can’t be there? Catch the podcast!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Yep, this is my lawn...

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…and it has a story to tell.

I looked out on a recent morning and noticed the beauty of the back lawn with blooming lantana in the background. I thought about the significance of this as I realized how much I continue to learn about life through the dual lenses of nature’s beauty and the Bible.  It struck me that, less than two decades ago, this strip of ground was nothing more than barren desert land. In a world of internet access that allows us to quickly look up people and events from millennia in the past, two decades is like the blink of an eye. The interesting thing about this lawn is how it came along and replaced hot, arid, desert soil crawling with scorpions, rattlesnakes and gila monsters.

Before I go there, I must quickly acknowledge that some of my friends would rather see the untouched desert than focus on the little oasis that is our yard. “Keep the earth in it’s natural state,” they would say. Who could disagree with them, at least when it comes to sunset-drenched skies and the view of miles and miles of desert blossoms following rare rains?  Still, my yard calls me at times to deeper truths. Insights of how God designed our human lives to work are to be found in the simplicity of lawns and flowers.

For instance, did you realize that the desert was the Biblical place where God took people so that He could work on them and prepare them for something better ahead?
  • Moses spent 40 years there when he ran from Pharaoh (Exodus 2), then another 40 years there with Israel. God was preparing his people for the land of promise.
  • Elijah experienced a great victory on Mt. Carmel, then ran from wicked Queen Jezebel, going to the desert to hide. When he got there, he heard from God and it prepared him for the completion of his life's work.
  • Jesus was sent into the desert after his baptism and was tempted there by the devil. This helped prepare him for his earthly ministry.

No matter how much you might like the desert, it isn’t described in Scripture as the place to long for. Jeremiah (17:6) compares a person who puts his trust in the wrong things as being like a bush in the desert. On the other hand, Paul described those who follow Jesus (1 Corinthians 3:9) as “God’s field.” God’s preferred destiny for my life and yours is as cultivated land — not desert.

The real story about my lawn today compared to the desert of a few years ago is the story of some soil preparation, some seed, a blessedly small amount of water, some fertilizer and some sunshine. It’s the story of work, more consistent than hard. It’s the story of preparation for the good and the beautiful to grow and the occasional pulling of weeds that would quickly take over if they could. It’s the story…the picture…of life.

I thought of our lawn as I thought about a critical element that must be present for God to convert our hearts from dry, desert places to places teeming with life. That element? Forgiveness! It begins with the forgiveness we get when we place our faith in Jesus’ completed work on the cross. He died to take our place and pay for our forgiveness. Sadly, that beginning is as far as it goes for some people. Some are happy to receive forgiveness, but resistant to extend it to someone else. What could have been a joyful, beautiful heart is quickly dry and barren again. Sadly, some never allow themselves to fully experience the abundance that Jesus offers them.
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We are learning to live transformed lives at Stone Ridge Church during our “Spring Cleaning” series. The power and importance of forgiveness is essential for us to fully realize God’s gift. That’s our topic this weekend and you don’t want to miss it! Can’t be there? Catch the podcast?