Sunday, May 24, 2015

"Let There Be..."

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“Did you bring your Hula Hoop?” our preschool friend Katie asked Cathy as we arrived at their house.  Her eyes lowered in disappointment when Cathy explained that she didn’t.  That exchange helped take my mind back to the TV commercials I saw as a kid.

A company with the crazy name “Wham O” had the reputation for developing toys that kids loved and that lived up to their hype.  I could be watching Dick Bills on one channel or Uncle Howdy on another channel when suddenly Roy Rogers or Popeye would cut to the latest Wham O commercial.  Hula Hoop, Frisbee, Slip ’n Slide, Super Ball and Trac Ball all captured my imagination at some time or another.

For the record, Cathy can still Hula Hoop, but, for some reason, my hips don’t wiggle like they used to.  I played Frisbee golf with my son-in-law Jason last year and the old guy can still fling a disk around (just not as well as the young guys).  Each of those activities lived in my thinking long before being lived out in my hands (or around my waist).  Each is a powerful example of creativity at work.

I mention Wham O and their very creative toys because creativity, done well, impacts us all. When I sat down in my office cubicle to write this post, Cathy was in our prayer room on the opposite end of our little office building.  She and I were in the middle of a running text message conversation that started earlier, but concluded while we were under the same roof.  Think about that with me for a minute...
  • For most of history, verbal communication required that two people be within hearing distance of each other.
  • Written communication could travel much farther, but required that it be transported to the reader or the reader come to it.
  • It took creativity to come up with the telephone…a means of talking to one another while a distance apart.
  • It took more creativity to write each other and transport those words electronically.
  • It took even more creativity to imagine a portable device on which we can talk AND write to each other.

CREATIVITY CHANGES OUR LIVES!

This brings me to a profound truth: human creativity originated in the heart of the original Creator.  His creativity is way beyond our imagination.  In addition, He creates  (making something from nothing) while we re-create (transforming something into something else).  It is amazing that He has given us a mind to “see” things which don’t yet exist, then a heart to work until they become reality.  He, though, sees things that are not yet, then SPEAKS them into being.

The creativity of the Creator: that’s our “Why Bother?” topic this weekend at Stone Ridge Church.  It’s family worship weekend and I guarantee that it will stir up your imagination.  Don’t miss it!

Monday, May 18, 2015

"Explain it to me."

The tiny one had a gleam in her eyes as she spoke.  With the pure simplicity of a small child, she said, “It’s like an egg.  It has a shell, a yolk and a white, but it’s still an egg.”  


Her little friends continued playing with their toys and didn’t really pay attention.


The young student stood before his classroom with a clear cup filled with water.  “It’s like water,” he said.  “It can be solid or liquid or gas, but it’s still water.”  


A few classmates snickered at his explanation.


The young man boldly said to his friends, “It’s like a man.  He can be a leader at work, a husband to his wife and a dad to his kids. In each role he can be different, but in all of them, he is still a man."


One of his friends argued vehemently against the concept.  Another silently walked away.  

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Many years ago, back when we had church services on Sunday evenings, I was approached by a young adult.  I was on staff of that church and not the pastor.  Maybe he approached me because of our similar ages.  Maybe he saw me as more accessible than our pastor, who had just preached and was greeting people near the door.  Whatever may have been his reason, the question he asked caught me off guard and has stayed with me ever since: “I have about five minutes before I have to leave; can you explain the trinity to me?"

 

His question has bounced around in my head like a pinball ever since.  Who can explain THE trinity in five minutes?  Indeed, who can explain it at all?  Simple explanations may help illustrate it, but none can fully explain the idea that God is ONE God in THREE persons.  If the trinity is so far beyond our thinking, why try to understand it?  “WHY BOTHER?”  

 

As we said last week, “This Stuff Matters!”  That’s why we are picking up the subject this weekend at Stone Ridge Church.  You don’t want to miss this important message about the God who loves us and wants us to know Him.  Can’t be there?  Catch the podcast!

Monday, May 11, 2015

This stuff matters!

 

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I’m a guy, you know.

I can tell that I’m a guy because I tend to ALWAYS trust my GPS and NEVER consider stopping to ask a “local” for directions.  “It’s a guy thing!”  By the way, I don’t really ALWAYS trust my GPS.  I was in a big city recently and decided I knew the way to where I was going better than the app on my phone. I ended up taking the long road…the GPS was right. However, I also DIDN'T trust my GPS when I was traveling to a friend’s house in my own town.  I had been there once before and needed a little extra help…until I discovered that the GPS would have landed me in a location about five miles from the neighborhood where I was going.

Does this mean that the GPS and I are each batting .500?

As a guy, I figure it’s also my prerogative to skip the poorly-translated-into-English assembly instructions which came with that new gizmo we just ordered. For the record, I paid close attention to the instructions on how to put together a piece of exercise equipment when it took forever just to inventory all the parts.  Like I said, it’s my choice.

Maybe my guy attitude is an indicator of what is happening among many followers of Jesus who seem to consider the Bible as sort of like my GPS app.  I find it very common for people who say that they love and want to follow Jesus, but who are open to every possible source of direction for their lives.  Then, when the Bible seems to agree with all the other input, they are ready to quote the Bible.  When it doesn’t agree?  Then they just close the Bible and disregard what it says.  Ouch!  But I see it happening constantly.  No wonder our sense of direction has become so cloudy.

Tongue in cheek, I might just consider a campaign to rename the Bible.  I think I would call it, “Start Here!”  and print that title boldly on the cover.  Maybe that would clear some of the misdirection about how we make critical life decisions.

Because of issues like this, we have chosen the theme “Why Bother?” for our Stone Ridge Church Summer Sermon Series.  Indeed, why bother?  Because THIS STUFF MATTERS!  And it all begins this weekend with a message on the Bible.  I promise, you don’t want to miss it, but if you can’t be there, catch the podcast.  You might be amazed to find that God’s Word bats 1.000!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Tougher Than You Think

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Dear Mom,

Later this month, you will begin the 90th year since your birth.  This weekend you will celebrate your 64th Mother’s Day.  I am writing about you today because your story has so much to say to the many moms I know.  I’m inclined to believe that you all have much more in common than you think and my hope is that these words will both honor you and encourage all.

Some time back, you shared very vulnerable feelings with me.  Speaking of your younger years, raising four kids and managing a busy home, you told me that you often felt you didn’t do enough.  You were especially concerned because dad worked so hard and you were afraid that you weren’t carrying your share of the load.

I remember how proud we all were when you got your GED long after I was grown.  You had left school before completing high school and that seemed to eat away at you.  Though you read constantly during my young years and wrote intelligently, you struggled with feelings of inferiority because of that missing high school diploma.  I wonder how many moms I know today feel those same struggles.  In most cases, it’s not the lack of a high school degree, but of a college degree that leaves them feeling somehow “less than.”  How quickly a woman who is an amazing example to her family, loved by her kids and cherished by her husband, can think she doesn’t measure up because she lacks a certain diploma or certificate.

I look back to those years of my childhood and find myself a bit awestruck at the work you did.  Here are but a few examples:
  • You prepared three meals a day (without a microwave), often making biscuits from scratch each morning.  Our home had at least three freezers and we needed them to keep the meat which we raised, along with some of the vegetables that grew in your two gardens.  Our storeroom was lined with shelves containing more vegetables (which you canned), along with a wide variety of jams, jellies and preserves which you prepared from our orchard.   Almost every day, we sat down to fresh food which you had prepared, knowing that most of it was grown a few feet from our back door.  
  • When you and dad bought the acre and a half that was our original land, you worked diligently to harvest and sell the abundant apples, peaches, plums, and crabapples which were growing there.  Don’t I remember that you were able to pay for the land with the proceeds from that first summer’s fruit?  At the time, we lived in town, two and a half miles away; how many hot days did you travel out to work in that orchard?  I was about five at the time, Vicki was tiny and Carol Beth was a baby, if my math is correct. How did you keep up with us while climbing up and down ladders to pick fruit?
  • Not long after we moved out to the farm (in the house that dad built), you and he added a holstein cow to our lives.  A short while later, it was two holsteins, then three.  Cows don’t take vacations  and must be milked twice a day.  Day after day, you and dad got up in the morning, put on your barn clothes and headed out to milk the cows…and feed the chickens…and gather the eggs and (occasionally) feed the pig.  You came back to finish up breakfast and get us kids up for school.  In the late afternoon, it was time to go back to the barn again and repeat the process.  Dad was at work then, so you trained us to help.
  • A memory that makes me smile is that of blue jeans on “creasers.”  I don’t know if that was the official name for them, but they were used every wash day.  I can “see” them hanging on the clothes line, stretching out the jeans as they dried, then being gathered at the end of the day.  Most of those years, you chose to use an old wringer (versus automatic) washing machine.  Clothes were placed in the wash tub, run through the wringer, then rinsed and run through the wringer again.  It was quite an operation to keep all those clothes clean for your family.
  • I remember evenings with milk customers dropping by to purchase a gallon or two or three; it was all part of the work you did.  I also remember churning butter and the terrible (smile) necessity of having lots of homemade ice cream in the summer to use up some of the abundant cream in our refrigerators.  
  • Before I leave the domestic chores, I recall how you took it in stride that some of dad’s customers…once he was repairing their cars at his home-based garage…came from the ranch country many miles away.  They had no choice but to wait while their vehicles were repaired.  If they were there at meal time, they were always encouraged to join the family for lunch.  I remember that, “for fun," you once counted how many unexpected lunch guests ate at your table in a month.  I think the number was over thirty.  You took it all in stride.  
  • I could go on and on, but I want to mention that you were doing other things besides the load your carried at our home.  You were active in our local church, teaching and helping week in and week out.  We were some of the first to arrive and last to leave at events like Vacation Bible School.  
  • After I was grown, you did your share of caring for kids who needed a safe place to live for a time.  I pastor a number of people who have helped carry the burden of fostering and/or adopting children.  I watched you do it long before it was so common.  

Mom, I imagine that some of the younger moms who have taken the time to read the above descriptions are beginning to feel just a wee bit insecure right now.  They can think of their own moms and the load they carried, then be left quite certain that they aren’t doing enough.  What I want to say to them, as well as to you, is that, “You’re tougher than you think.”  Many, if not most, of you will live to see your children rise up and bless you.  Rather than beat yourself up over what you haven’t done, take a few minutes to assess what you ARE doing.  Realize that the rest of us are pretty amazed by you!

This weekend, we plan to focus on this topic at Stone Ridge Church.  Our services will celebrate with families during parent/child dedications, as well as rejoice in our moms.  I can’t wait and hope you can join us.  Can’t make it?  Catch the podcast!

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.