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...
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…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!
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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.
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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!

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!