Monday, August 31, 2015

Made To Be You

Thumb Bundesarchiv Bild 194 0798 41 Düsseldorf Veranstaltung mit Billy Graham 1024Not long ago, I saw a video of Billy Graham sitting in a chair at his North Carolina home.  In his nineties, his recorded voice revealed the weakness of age and his fight with Parkinson’s, but his conviction of spirit rang through as though he were still standing in a stadium in front of thousands.

I thought of that scene and remembered a college classmate who had the audacity to say, “Billy Graham is getting old and someone needs to take his place.  I think I am ready to be the next Billy Graham!”  His statement leads me to several observations:
  • Though Mr. Graham may have seemed “old” to us at the time, he was in his forties.  Hmmmm.
  • My classmate had a certain passion about him and was an engaging preacher.  He was ready to set the world on fire for Jesus.  To the best of my knowledge, he ended up flaming out…just like many others with similar dreams.  
  • No one who wanted to be Billy Graham really understood the commitment level of Billy Graham.  The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham, by Harold Myra and Marshall Shelley, is one of the best leadership books I have read.  It gives keen insight into just how hard the evangelist worked.  His life has been about far more than speaking in large stadiums.  
  • Wanting to be Billy Graham is ludicrous.  God only made one.  The flip side of this argument is that God also only made one of my classmate.  If only he could have set his sights on how to be the person God created him to be!

This brings me to the simple point of this post.  If you want to live an “Unstuck” life, you need to figure out who you are.  The longer you try to walk through life in someone else’s shoes, the longer you will stay stuck.  In my early ministry years, I worked part-time at a church in the inner city.  The pastor, Jim, was a large, strong country boy from Idaho.  He didn’t have much education.  His preaching lacked polish.  He knew little about administration, but his wife helped keep things organized.  Jim, however, saw the needs in his poor neighborhood and went to work.  He enlisted a few of the men in the church and they built apartments to house senior adults who couldn’t afford to live other places.  He looked for ways to care for the people who lived all around that church, a place of poverty, crime and fear.  People came to Christ there because Jim loved them and taught his church to love them.  During the three years we were there with our young family, he helped teach us to love them, too.  I’m so glad that Jim didn’t try to be someone else!

God made you on purpose.  Rick Warren said it well in the opening paragraph of The Purpose Driven Life: "The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness. It’s far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions. If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by his purpose and for his purpose.”  You aren’t an accident.  No one on the planet can be a better you than you…no one!  If you can get hold of this truth, it will help you live the best life you can possibly live…one that gets “Unstuck" and stays there.  That’s our topic at Stone Ridge Church this Labor Day Weekend!  Hope you can join us.  Can’t make it?  Catch the podcast!

Monday, August 3, 2015


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I heard recently about a man I know in another state.  He has struggled for most of his life with various forms of addiction, primarily addiction to drugs.  “An amazing thing happened,” his family member told me.   “He knew that his life was coming apart and that he couldn’t go on the way he was.  His life was hopeless and unmanageable; he had truly hit bottom.  He was on his knees, crying out for God to take away his urge to use.  Miraculously, God did just that!  He walked away from decades of addiction and began to live a new life, clean and sober.”

This is where this man’s story takes an unexpected turn.  His family member went on: “Now he is away from the drugs.  He even quit smoking because it kept him from being around a family member who has health problems.  The only problem? He is depressed and finds nothing joyful in life.”

As I heard that description, I was reminded of things I was taught over the years.  An addict becomes consumed with getting whatever feeds her or his addiction.  All of life is focused on getting the next fix, the next high, or the next drink. Feeding the addiction is what the addict lives for.  That means that this man was living in the miracle of no longer desiring the chemicals that once used to make him feel “normal,” while at the same time losing his purpose to keep going every day.  And He is miserable!

Talk about being stuck!

Before I go on with his story, what about you?  Is it possible that you are stuck on the road of life?  Did you get this far, only to begin wondering if you can move any further?  Or, like the Israelis during the days of Moses, have you been delivered from slavery to Egypt only to quit believing in the promised land?  Their wilderness was so miserable and their unbelief so severe, that they tried to go back to slavery rather than face the hardship of carving out new lives.  Is that you?
  • Did your dream of a family turn into a nightmare?
  • Did the dashed hopes for your marriage leave you believing that you can never find relational joy?
  • Did that “perfect job” end up destroying your soul or your health?
  • Did the trials of following Jesus somehow blur your memory of the hope He once gave you?
I’m pretty sure that we all get stuck at one time or another.  I just returned from a family reunion in mountains covered with shades of green.  We’ve discovered, though, that the very rain which fills the lowlands with water and makes the grass grow high, is the stuff which can make cars slide off the dirt roads and end up in a bar ditch.
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In the case of the man who got free from his chemical addiction, the blessing of taking away his dependence became the curse of taking away his reason for living.  I was reminded of Jesus’ words: "The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” John 10:10 (New Living Translation)  Somehow, this man has been trapped between what the thief had been doing to him and what Jesus promised to do for him.

The answer to this man’s stuck condition is right in front of him.  His past and his changed life are the very things that are needed to help others who are struggling.  He needs to discover the joy that God can use him because of his past, rather than in spite of it.  Romans 8:28 (look it up!) always holds true!

We just finished a 12-week series called “Why Bother?  This Stuff Matters!”  As we have covered the high points of Christian belief and a Biblical worldview, I have been able to spend most of the summer on the sidelines at Stone Ridge Church.  I return, refreshed and ready to talk about “Unstuck!”  Our series begins this weekend and I am excited to share it with you.  If you can’t make it, please catch our podcast!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Kings and Kingdoms



Those of us who have lived in the USA for our entire lives don’t have much practical experience with a monarchy.  Sure, we can read about countries that still celebrate (and sometimes revere) their royalty, but our governmental system doesn’t really leave room for a person with absolute authority.  In fact, acting “kinglike” would be a fatal error for any American president.  We have long lived with the idea that every chief executive of our country serves for a limited time, then we will all move on.

I mention this because I don’t think most of us get the whole idea of being under the rule and reign of a king.  Even the citizens of Great Britain have a say about the people who actually lead their nation.  They may love and respect their royals, but real political authority is now in the hands of men and women elected to serve the nation.

History is replete with examples — both good and evil — of kings and queens and various other sorts of monarchs.  Idi Amin, whose title was “president,” was variously called a ruler and a dictator.  He was known to simply create titles for himself, one of which may have been “King of Scotland.”  While Amin was a classic example of evil, ancient Biblical history tells of a king named Solomon, renowned for his wisdom and for the great wealth of his nation during his reign. Solomon had some deep fault-lines in his personality, but we generally categorize him as a great king.

Reflecting on kings can produce a smile or a frown, depending on the nature of the ruler. Without doubt, some have ruled with genuine love and concern over their subjects.  Others, realizing their “absolute power,” have ended up corrupted absolutely.

Thumb 1215px CrownOfThornsBedfordMuseum 1024When Jesus Christ came upon the scene in the Roman outpost of Judea, the people of their little nation were, like most of the known world, under the rulership of a dictatorial nation.  Rome vacillated between different forms of government — at times Caesar was in absolute control and at other times, power was in the hands of the Senate — but the Roman people certainly lacked the freedom through which we tend to interpret the idea of power and authority.  Rome's distant outposts were often governed by people far more cruel than the Caesars themselves.  No wonder the people of Judea longed for their own “king,” who would deliver them from the oppression of the great empire.

Jesus, though, came for a different purpose.  He made that clear when He said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”  (John 18:36)  What does that mean?  What is this kingdom thing anyway?  It’s fairly easy to recognize that Jesus is…ultimately…King of kings and Lord of lords, but how does this whole “kingdom of God” idea play out for those who follow Jesus every day?  How does it work for those in a free nation like the USA or those in a totalitarian place?  That’s the topic this weekend at Stone Ridge Church.  It’s our last episode of “Why Bother?”  As we have been saying all summer, “This stuff matters!”  That’s doubly true of this subject, so  I hope you can join us Saturday or Sunday.  Can’t be there?  Catch the podcast!

Monday, July 20, 2015

You Worship Something!

Many years ago, a pastor from what was then an Eastern Bloc Communist country was released from prison.  He had been held there and tortured for many years because he wouldn’t recant his faith in Jesus Christ.  Finally free, he was able to get to the United States, where he was able to write and talk about his story.  One of the disturbing questions that he was asked repeatedly was, “Why did some Christians stand firm in the face of great hardship while others ended up denying Christ so that they could avoid the pain?”  His answer has haunted me for years: “Those who stood firm had their faith in Christ; those who denied Him had their faith in their faith."

I’m thinking about his quote today because it strikes me that many people live in denial.  They think that they are free from worshiping and serving anyone or anything.  It was that great theologian, Bob Dylan, who wrote the famous lines:
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

It was Jesus Christ Himself who set the record straight on this issue.  As he faced off with the devil in the wilderness, he answered the last of three temptations this way: “Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him. “For the Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the LORD your God and serve only him.’ Matthew 4:10 (New Living Translation)  

If we’re honest with ourselves, we will admit that we are surrounded by things that seem to be crying out for our full devotion.  Once we face that truth, we can take the next step and realize that those things — even good things like our mate, our family and our friends — aren’t truly worthy of our worship.  After all, placing them on such a pedestal will ultimately put us into some type of bondage.  For instance, how many times have we heard stories about a wife who “worshiped the ground her husband walked on” only to be lured into a lifestyle that she completely detested?  A huge chasm exists between loving someone and worshiping them.  Love implies selfless devotion, but worship is a complete yielding of oneself to someone…or something.
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Let’s take this one step further because many followers of Jesus have been lured into a very subtle trap.  They have fallen in love, not with their Savior, but with worship.  Why is this so dangerous?  One reason is that it can leave us just as spiritually anemic as those Christians who denied Jesus because their faith was in their faith.

Only one Person satisfies all the hopes and dreams of worship.  He is the one who sets us free versus everyone and everything else, which only put us into bondage.  He is the one worthy of our praise, our honor and our full devotion.  That’s our “Why Bother” topic this weekend at Stone Ridge Church.  You don’t want to miss this message, but catch the podcast if you can’t be there!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Battle Lines

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“Let’s just drive,” I said, as Cathy and I planned a recent trip to Topeka, Kansas.  Our journey straddled the July 4th weekend and flights seemed unusually expensive.  “I can afford a little extra time off for the trip.  We can stop in Albuquerque and see my family on the way."

So we drove...about 1400 miles each way.  What do you do on a 1400 mile trip?  The answer for us is easy: we listen to audio books.  Our choice this year was the unabridged version of Les Miserables.  The audio performance was really quite good…but it’s about 30 hours long.  30 hours!

After the first couple of hours, during which we hadn’t really entered the story line yet, Cathy and I made the decision to fast-forward our way through much of the historical background.  “Should have gotten the abridged version,” she said.

Even with her jumping around the pastoral passages (I was driving), we still didn’t get finished with the book before we arrived back at home.  Therefore, we made the decision to watch the movie, choosing the screen version of the musical, which was produced in 2012.
I happen to like Russell Crowe as an actor, but his Javert wasn’t desperate enough, especially after hearing Victor Hugo’s description of the character in the book.  For that matter, most of the movie characters seemed a bit shallow.  That may be the result of trying to fit an epic story into a 2 ½ hour movie.

My purpose here today is not to write a critique of either the novel or the film.  Instead, I want to point your attention to this simple fact: evil exists…and we will spend our lives either fighting it or capitulating to it.  The story of Jean Valjean is captivating and haunting because he was wronged by a system which considered the poor as expendable.  Valjean’s initial response was to  fight that system with malice and deceit.  A powerful change happens to Valjean as the story unfolds.  His transformation results from an act of unconditional love.  With a new heart and a converted outlook on life, he spends the rest of his days fighting against the very force that once consumed him.

I learned long ago that the most heart-pounding, nerve-wrenching stories MUST have a very evil bad guy (or girl).  After all, the battle is largely meaningless unless it includes the hope of bringing down some form of insidious darkness.  In Les Miserables, Javert might be seen as that villain.  However, he is far more the victim than the perpetrator of darkness. Jean Valjean was considered evil because he stole a loaf of bread to feed hungry family members.  Javert considered himself good because of his self-rejecting moralism.  Both men, though, were victims of an evil system which only Valjean wanted to escape.  After all, moralism is easier to defend than repentance.  That is, until a person’s own version of morality fails them, as it does Javert.

I spent far too many years of my life failing to understand the depths of pervasive evil in our world.  Maybe my enemy wasn’t dark enough to really grab my attention.  That is true no longer. I recently reflected with these lines:
If you stand for the right,
You’ll be in a fight,
For people love darkness
More than they love light.

You see, I have been the moralist and I have been the penitent.  I have come to realize that being the latter requires that I face up to the battle lines in our world.  It was Paul who reminded us that our struggle is NOT against flesh and blood.  Like Javert, people are the (often willing) victims of a world twisted by genuine evil.  Fortunately, God has given us weapons of war to bring down the great schemes of our enemy.  That’s the topic this weekend at Stone Ridge Church.  You don’t want to miss it!  If you can’t make it to one of our services, catch the podcast!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Dead Or Alive? It Matters!

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When Cathy and I recently watched “Move Over, Darling,” starring Doris Day and James Garner, we pretty much knew we were in for a treat.  We have long admired the stars and figured that the film would be captivating.  We enjoyed the expected humor, but the story resonated on a number of levels.  The gist of it is this: how much would change if a spouse, thought to be long dead, turned up alive?  The answer, of course, is EVERYTHING!

Everything would change.  It doesn’t matter that a court had announced the death as legally viable and the life insurance had paid off.  It would make all the difference in the world if the person wasn't really dead.

I won’t give away the plot line of the movie.  It’s worth the watch, even without dinosaurs. (Nor does the city of Los Angeles get destroyed by an earthquake.)  Even without digitally-enhanced action, this film has twists and turns and some life-changing decisions that MUST be made.  It’s scarred with human failures as well as the lack of communication among the main characters.

I mention the “dead or alive” question here because the entire faith of Christianity hinges on it. Most of us would say that Confucius said some pretty wise things.  The same would be true of Buddha.  No one can question that Mohammed founded a religion that has influenced the far corners of the earth.  The single feature that sets Christianity apart is the faith that Jesus Christ died on a Roman cross, was buried in a borrowed tomb, then rose from the grave, never to die again.

Only Christians will tell you, “The One we follow is alive!”  We don’t mean that He is alive in our hearts and minds.  We are not saying that He is alive because His teachings are life-changing. We are saying that He is fully alive and has conquered the power of death.

Saul of Tarsus dedicated his life to stamp out the teaching that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah who had risen from the dead.  With great violence, Saul came against the followers who had dedicated their very lives to spread the news about Jesus.  They wouldn’t back down, so he grew even more forceful.  One day he was on the road from Jerusalem to Damascus.  His purpose was to shut down the followers of Jesus in Syria.  Later, Paul described what happened to him on that road:

6 “As I was on the road, approaching Damascus about noon, a very bright light from heaven suddenly shone down around me.
7 I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’
8 “‘Who are you, lord?’ I asked. “And the voice replied, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, the one you are persecuting.’
9 The people with me saw the light but didn’t understand the voice speaking to me.
10 “I asked, ‘What should I do, Lord?’ “And the Lord told me, ‘Get up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told everything you are to do.’
11 “I was blinded by the intense light and had to be led by the hand to Damascus by my companions.
Acts 22:6-11 (New Living Translation)

Saul’s physical blindness was a reminder of his long-held spiritual blindness.  Was it because Saul hadn’t heard of a resurrected Christ that he didn’t believe?  Obviously not.  He had heard and had seen formerly timid people who were now willing to die a martyr’s death because of their faith.  It didn’t convince him, just as many of us aren’t convinced of the veracity of Islam just because some are willing to die.  What DID convince the scholar/religious zealot?  He said that he SAW Jesus…alive!  He heard Jesus speak.  For Saul, an alive Jesus changed everything!

It matters whether or not Jesus is alive.  If He isn’t, skeptics can doubt without danger.  If He is, everything He said must be true.  One verse alone, John 14:6 (I encourage you to look it up), is enough to rattle many cages!

We will pick up the subject of a living Jesus this weekend at Stone Ridge Church.  It’s the next installment of “Why Bother?”  You don’t want to miss it!  Can’t be there?  Catch the podcast!

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Man Behind The Curtain...


…Pay no attention to him.  He’s isn’t who he says he is.  He can’t do what he says he can do.

The news spiked again last week with word of a false claim made by a leader. This time it was a civil rights worker in the Pacific Northwest who passed herself off as an African American, an ethnicity which her parents describe as false.

Such stories are becoming commonplace.  We hear them about a famous anchorman or about a military hero that wasn’t  The story might be about a politician or a member of the clergy.  Inevitably, we hear the news because the person is significant enough to draw eyeballs to his or her story.

There is a very personal part of this post that goes all the way back to my youth.  While I never took on a false identity, I was certainly guilty of exaggerating things about my life.  It started when I was in high school, I think.  Looking back, I wonder why I felt it necessary to juice up the things I said about myself.  Such exaggeration isn’t all that unusual for a teen, I guess, but for me it continued well into my twenties.  I realize now that I was on my way to being a person who could have lied about my life with aplomb.

Fortunately, I got hijacked by God.  It was the Psalmist David (who had his own struggles, if you remember) that wrote to God, "You want me to be completely truthful, so teach me wisdom.” (Psalm 51:6 New Century Version) It’s hard to describe the change that happened in me and I can’t remember all the details, but God changed my heart. I found myself wanting to be truthful at all costs.  This meant that I had to go back and clear up some things I had said. Coming clean was hard, but it set me on a course that rescued me from the person I could have become.

“The person I could have become.”  I could just as easily have been the guy making false claims about my life as some of those who recently made headlines.  I got rescued from having two faces; the real one hidden behind the curtain and the false one that others saw.  

I didn’t write this to be cathartic.  I wrote it because I know people who look at Jesus as if he is a man behind a curtain.  They think of the “real” Jesus as an outsized illusion, a figment of Christians’ imaginations.  But, is that true?  Could Jesus have been a fake?  That’s the “Why Bother?” question this weekend at Stone Ridge Church.  Talk about something that matters! That’s why you need to be there this weekend.  Can’t make it?  Catch the podcast!