Monday, January 26, 2015

Is jealousy righteous...or selfish?

Growing up on a little farm meant that dogs were a natural and necessary part of our lives.  We almost always had at least one (sometimes more) big dog.  Somewhere along the line we got a little Pekinese mix and she ruled all the other dogs, but that’s another story.  For several years we had a good-sized German Shepherd mix we named Keno (I had never heard that was a form of gambling when I was a kid, so I have no idea where the name came from.)  Keno was a loving, friendly and energetic family dog, but he protected his territory, especially our house.
Yellow guard dogs
Keno slept and stayed outside, even in the cold winters.  On nice nights, he would sleep on the front lawn, always alert for any incursion upon his territory (our property).  One evening, some friends were coming to spend their last night in town before they moved away.  They had finished packing quite late and finally arrived at our place long after we were bedded down for the night.  As their headlights turned into our gravel driveway, Keno immediately went into full protection mode.  He straddled the sidewalk, barking.  As our friends started opening their car doors, Keno added a ferocious growl.

Keno’s bark had woken up my parents, but our guests weren't sure so the man started hollering my dad’s name: “Jimmie!  Jimmie!”  As my dad opened the front door, the friend yelled, “I think it’s a lion!”

It wouldn’t surprise me if, somewhere way up North, another canine was barking that night.  This time, though, it would have been a wolf, fierce and hungry.  The animal’s bark could have been directed at a hunter, whose kill the wolf was attempting to steal.  It could have been a small bear or even another wolf.  The growl and bark of this animal was not the righteous protection of his “own” territory, but the attempt to control what belonged to another.

I have been thinking about our dog Keno and that imaginary wolf for a while.  Jealousy is one of our most powerful emotions.  When it is used to protect that which we love, it can be very righteous and helpful.  When it is used to control that which we want, it can be devastating…even deadly.

It’s that controlling type of jealousy that enters our conversation as we continue our Clean Slate series this weekend at Stone Ridge Church.  When jealousy is ugly and selfish, it becomes the root of much violence.  No wonder it keeps many from living in peace with others.  I can’t wait to talk with you about it this weekend.  Can’t be there? Catch the podcast!

Monday, January 19, 2015

If You Really Knew Me

From time to time I like to remember the day my friend and co-worker Tom rocked my world with these words: “I’m at the point of resigning and walking away,” he said, “because you’re not real.  In the past few months, your life has been turned upside down and you are deeply hurt, but you won’t open up about it.” 

 

Talk about a wake-up call!

 

The truth was that my life HAD been turned upside down.  Our church had gone through a major crisis and, in ways unrelated to the church problems,  my family was hit with some significant pain.  Looking back — it has been over fifteen years — I walked away from that meeting having no idea how to be what Tom called “real.”  At that point, my idea of a pastor was someone who took everything that came at him and ministered to the hurts of everyone else while not wanting to burden anyone with his own struggles.  It took a while to overcome my own internal image of invulnerability.  

 

In the years since that day, I have constantly been in a sort of “life school,” learning when it is best that I open up about personal stuff versus when I need to wait silently for the Lord to bring me through it.  I still don’t get it right sometimes, but God is faithful and I’m getting better about it.  

 

One question that comes back to me is whether my failure to open up was really an issue of pride.  Was I mum because I wanted others to believe that I was sort of a Superman who simply didn’t struggle with the things that might cripple “ordinary men?”  I admit that pride could have been part of my attitude, but a bigger part was the lack of awareness of my need to be vulnerable and how to do it appropriately.  

 

IfYouReallyKnewMe

A very long time ago, I talked with a man about his need to be open and talk about things with his wife.  “Complete this sentence,” I said: “If you really knew me…”  Without hesitation, he replied, “…you wouldn’t like me!”  He lived in fear that others might learn of some great darkness in him and completely reject him.  This possible rejection caused him to isolate and insulate himself from others he feared might walk away once they knew the truth about him (whatever it was).  We talked a lot that day about the love of God and the deep love that genuine Christ-followers would have for him, regardless of his secrets.

 

The argument of God’s relentless love and the unconditional acceptance of those who walk in Christ’s forgiveness can be enough to help people like the “…you wouldn’t like me” man take a risk and open up.  But what about those who are afraid to open up to Jesus for an entirely different reason:

 

JesusIfILetYouReallyKnowMe 2

 

There is a movement afoot for people to open up about the person they are on the inside.  That can be a very good thing, but what often clouds this movement is that old lie, “you are basically good.”  In this context, people are encouraged to open up with the expectation that anyone who truly loves us would never want to change anything about us. But what happens if we take this subtle warping of truth to its natural conclusion?  That ultimate end could be found in someone like Adolph Hitler.  Let’s say that he opened up and told others, “I hate Jews and think all of them should die.”  Would we quickly say, “Well, those are your feelings and you are good, so we will just accept you with those feelings; no change necessary!?”

 

Anyone who knows the Gospel knows it wasn't that way with Jesus.  Over and over He met people in their brokenness.  He loved them deeply and unconditionally, then said, “Go and sin no more!”  It is for this very reason that many people resist coming clean with Jesus.  We will meet just such a person in the Bible this weekend at Stone Ridge Church.  Frankly, I was surprised when I looked at this meeting through the lens of personal pride and protection.  You may react the same way, but I hope you will LOVE the end of the story.  I can’t wait to share it with you!  Can’t be there?  Catch the podcast!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Begging At The Border

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Living near an international border gives me simple and ample opportunities to cross into Mexico on a somewhat regular basis.  At various times, I have driven from our home to a parking lot right next to the border crossing, walked across to a pharmacy which is literally across the street from the USA, picked up meds, come back through Customs, and gone home, making the whole trip in about 45 minutes.  Being this close allows me to notice one of the constants of border life: beggars.

Most people who beg along the border with the United States do so in the form of selling something.  Often it is little packs of gum.  Other times it is jewelry or wood carvings or some type of pottery.   The constant which is evident in every one of them is their obvious look of deep poverty.

I have heard before that these street merchant/beggars are actually fronting for someone else.  Someone else supplies them with their products and someone else takes most of their profits.  I don’t know if that is true, but it is pretty easy to see the people with open hands and have pity on them.

All of this makes me wonder if the border beggars ever have hope of a way out.  Do they ever look at the tourists who cross into their country and dream of a better life for themselves?  Do they notice the medical workers who cross each day to work at various clinics in their city, then go back to America to live and think, “I wonder if I might find a way off this border?”  And…I shudder to think this…are there some who have no desire at all to get out of their mess?

I raise that last question because of something I long ago noticed in myself.  I grew up in a hard-working family, but with a mom whose spiritual gift of mercy showed up in all its glory when one of her kids got sick.  Getting sick meant that mom would dote over us and be concerned about us.  More than once, I turned some slight discomfort into a major illness.  Staying sick longer made life a little easier for a while.

Don’t judge me too quickly.  How many times did you call in sick, then go off to play?  A friend of mine told me once about a borderline employee who barely kept her job, then called in ill one morning.  Within a couple hours, fellow employees found her at the coffee shop they all frequented, laughing it up with her friends.  She got fired that day.  Yes, the easy road can be fraught with danger.

This whole thing is human nature working overtime.  From the recuperating war hero who gets hooked on prescription drugs to the crime victim who transforms their pain into a permanent identity.  I bring the subject up because the ease at which we claim “victim” as our identity is a major obstacle to dealing with things like conflict.  We let ourselves get choked with the dust of our pain and use it as excuse so we don’t have to deal with relational conflicts.

That’s what will will talk about this weekend at Stone Ridge Church.  It’s Part 2 of our “Clean Slate” series.  It might be painful, but don’t miss it; you’ll be more than thankful when the dust clears!  Can’t be there?  Catch the podcast!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Clean Slate

A long time ago…a long LONG time ago…I didn’t know any better.  I remember thinking for months, “This pastor gig is a snap!  Best job in the whole world!  Everybody loves me!”  And they did...

…until they didn’t anymore.

The first sign that something was way off came when I heard that I was being “roasted.”  Do you remember that colloquialism?  People got roasted — picked on and poked fun at — as a way of garnering attention.  And sometimes to raise money for charity.  The only problem with me being the roasted pastor was that I wasn’t present and it was a way for some to express their discontent.  As someone once said, “They weren’t carrying my photo in their wallets anymore.”  At any rate, they took to verbally cutting me up when their group gathered for other purposes.

And it hurt!

The day came when we needed to do something about the problem so we went out for dessert with some friends.  We had an enjoyable time with fun and laughter.  We were having so much fun that I almost didn’t say anything about the purpose for going out.  In fact, Cathy and I were in the backseat of their car and all the way back to our driveway before I finally got up the nerve (Cathy may have elbowed me in the ribs…I don’t remember) to talk about the problem.  Then I got an earful.  It wasn’t that the other couple wanted to be a part of tearing their pastor down, but that they knew how bad it was and felt I needed to know.

It hurt more!

That painful driveway conversation was the beginning of what would become the regular practice of facing the pain when relationships get bruised.  Paul, the Apostle wrote, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all." Romans 12:18 (English Standard Version) That’s actually very good news because it means that God wants us to have a clean slate when it comes to relationships.  It’s doubly good because we aren’t held responsible for the refusal of others to do the hard work of cleaning things up.

Clean Slate

I sat down with one of our Stone Ridge leaders a few weeks ago and talked about some of the pain we had endured in 2014.  We had to face it that some people left our church rather than deal with the ugliness of bruised relationships.  Unfortunately, many people (including many Christ-followers) treat relationships a bit like we treat garbage…when the container gets full, dump it out and start over again.  The obvious result is a relational landfill accumulating more and more people who were once our friends but are now our refuse.  Why, we asked ourselves, do so many choose what seems to be the easy road when it does so much long-term damage to the landscape of life?

The results of our conversation became the seeds of our new sermon series “Clean Slate.”  What are the roadblocks that keep us from dealing with relational pain?  Does God have anything to say about them?  Is it possible to hit the reset button and go back to a place of health and hope when relationships have been busted?  We believe that the answer is obvious and that God’s intention is to take some of our most damaged relationships and turn them into our most cherished ones!

It all begins this weekend at Stone Ridge Church.  Can’t join us in person?  Catch the podcasts!

Before you go, I invite you to take advantage of the relational encouragement of reading the Bible with us in 2015.  We are excited about this chance to fill our lives with hope and wisdom from the Word of God.  Want to join in?  Click here to find out how!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Closing Out

A second glance at today’s title brings ominous thoughts to mind.  "Is he closing out his blog?”  “Is he closing out something in his ministry?”  “Just what is he closing out?”  I’m aware that a “Close Out” can be a sale, but does it signify the end of the business, the end of the year, the end of a certain season or just the end of a certain product?  In all cases, it means the end of something, but what?

For me, those words do signify that something is coming to an end, but it’s the same thing that is coming to the end for you: 2014.  As I “Close Out” Dwell & Cultivate for another year, I have a few thoughts to share as we head into the holidays.

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1. Life is short!
A beloved aunt passed away this year.  Aunt Johnnie lived for many years with severe pain, but she was one of the kindest, most gentle women I ever knew.  For her, the 92 years she lived were actually too many; she would have preferred to go home to heaven much sooner.  Still she cheered us with her attitude and poured out love to all who knew her.

My friends Jo Patti, Bev, Olivia and Brian have all passed away this month.  In each case, their lives were relatively short and their loss brings acute pain.  Watching them slip out of this life — all were followers of Jesus and they have gone to the place He promised to prepare for them — leaves their families and closest friends with the deep sadness that accompanies their deaths.

“Teach us to number our days…” the Psalmist (Psalm 90:12) said.  We can’t really increase our tomorrows, but we can live today to the fullest!

2. Reflect on the lessons of this year.
What have you learned?
What have you gained?
What have you cherished?
What have you wasted?
What investment will yield future rewards?
What do you need to stop doing?

3. Establish a plan for the new year.
How do you want to live differently?  What new habit do you need to pick up?  I have learned that many good habits are made or lost by tiny decisions.  For instance, a decision to walk every day can generate huge health benefits.  A problem most people encounter, though, is that they procrastinate.  They plan to walk for a certain number of minutes or a certain distance, then they don’t get started on time.  That often leads to the decision not to go at all.  “I’ll just skip today,” they think.  “I’ll do it tomorrow.”  You KNOW what happens next; “tomorrow" becomes another “tomorrow” and the decision gets lost.  This is where a tiny change can change everything.  If you are late and can’t make your planned goal, GO ANYWAY!  Walking less is better than not walking at all.  When you return home, you can rejoice that you did something and be ready to do better tomorrow!

One area where I encourage you to plan is to have a daily time with God.  I have been doing this for many years and I can tell you that the benefits are amazing.  For 2015, I invite you to join me and read the Bible through.  I have discovered a plan that breaks the year into monthly segments.  This means that new people can be welcomed every month and those who get bogged down can pick it up and have a fresh start each month.  I will let you know more as we get ready to roll.  I plan for us to begin on January 5, 2015.  Also, Cathy and I both read a devotional book each year.  I will let you know more about this part of our lives, too!

I think it’s an advantage to most of us that the Christmas holidays are at year’s end.  We have some time to reflect on the past and think about what’s next.  That’s our topic this weekend at Stone Ridge Church.  I hope you can join us!

In the meantime, thanks for joining me along the way in 2014!  We wish you a full dose of God’s grace and joy this Christmas season!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Family Matters

I heard the phrase again: “I need to live in community.”  This time it came from my friend Lesa, who just returned from a long-term mission experience in several third world countries.  “One of the hardest things about coming home is the rush of life in the USA.  I grew used to a slower pace with teammates who often took time to read their Bibles and pray about things before we launched into our work.”

Lesa went on to explain that facing impossible problems caused by poverty and hardship caused her team to lean into God and each other literally every day.  Their close ties were so critical that they became in every way a family…and she misses them!

I am hearing the “community” description frequently these days.  Notice that they aren’t saying that they need “a community.”  Over the years, some churches have used the term “Community” as part of their name.  There was a time that this description was used to make it known that they wanted their church to be for all who lived in the community.  Other churches used “Community” to infer that they were not affiliated with a denomination.

What my young adult friends are referring to when they talk about living “in community” is completely different.  They long to have the kind of close, healthy relationships in which the masks come off and life is lived among each other with all its joy, its hope and its brutality.  They don’t want a sanitized version of what previous generations have called “fellowship.”  When I was young, “fellowship” simply meant that a group of Christ-followers ate together.  They would eat, swap jokes and stories and the latest political controversy, all without the slightest transparency about what was really going on in their lives.

In those days, hard edges and painful discussions were reserved for the sanctity of their own homes and the safety of their families.  I remember the joy of that era, when a much higher percentage of American families were somewhat healthy.  Parents found a way to make marriages work, the term “latchkey kids” hadn’t been invented yet, most moms stayed at home and many families ate meals together (get this) once or twice a DAY!  Those weren’t perfect families, but they became deeply connected because they lived “in community.”

In recent years, all this has changed.  The press of work and the variety of “necessary” activities has pulled at the fabric of families until only bare threads are left in many cases.  Young adults who have grown up in this era long for a place and a group of people with whom they can share life in healthy ways.  They long for community.

This all became very personal to Cathy and me a few years ago.  Our young adult friend, Logan, decided that he liked us and wanted to hang out at our house.  A military officer and gradate of the Naval Academy, Logan is a very sharp young man.  Cathy and I couldn’t figure out why he wanted to spend time with a couple of “old folks’ like us!  Every few evenings, Logan would show up unannounced at our front door and ask if we were doing anything.  Most times he came in, often spending hours with us.

At the time, Logan’s fiancĂ©, Kenra, was off on a third-world, 11-month missions excursion.  When she returned, they both spent hours at our house doing the most informal pre-marital counseling we have ever done.  We talked and prayed and laughed and cried and ate and played games. Without Cathy and me knowing what was happening, we were “in community,” often mystified that they kept wanting to “hang out.”

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After their marriage, Logan and Kenra began working with other young adults at Stone Ridge. Soon a large group of them were hanging out together, doing life and growing up in Christ. Some of these young adults are married and others are single.  Some came from very healthy home backgrounds and some from very broken families.  Together they are sharing the important things of life in a way that is closer to the house churches described in the New Testament than anything I have ever known.

Many years ago, someone described church as a place where people go to “be alone together.” I’m so glad for the way that mold is being broken at our place.  After all, family matters!  It always has, even in the days of Jesus.  And it’s an essential part of the Christmas story.  I can’t wait to share it with you this weekend at Stone Ridge Church.  Already busy with your family? Then do some holiday baking and listen to the podcast together!

Monday, December 8, 2014

You Can't Microwave Life!

I sat in a room with our Stone Ridge Church elders recently.  For you who don’t know what sort of weird creatures elders may be, our guys aren’t all in the same codgerly (yep, I coined that word) age group.  In fact, we have at least a couple of them who are in their thirties.  These are the ones we depend on to keep our church operating as smoothly as possible and to protect us from things and people who might dilute the purpose which Jesus gave to all His followers: “Make disciples.”

Anyway, since this isn’t a post about our elders per se, let me get back on topic.  As we sat down for one of our regular meetings, I started counting as I realized how many of these men have taken a certain exhortation by Jesus’ brother James seriously.  That strong statement?  "Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you." (James 1:27 (NLT)  No less than 4 of our 10 elders and 1 of 4 pastors in the room have welcomed orphans into their homes and families. Some of them have adopted while others are doing foster care.  At least one family is doing both.

Those families are some of my heroes!  I have seen the way they have chosen to open their arms and their hearts and their wallets and their houses to welcome kids who, without them, may have been left waiting...

…and waiting...

…until time literally ran out.  Some of them have taken in kids that the system had lost hope in. Once foster kids reach a certain age and can’t go back to their biological families, they are considered stuck.  Most adopting families aren’t ready to take on those kids, hoping rather for an infant or a small child.  In at least one instance, a family adopted a child with health problems. In that child’s nation of birth, those problems would have been left untreated and the child would have died.

One common factor in every family and every kid is that NOTHING MOVES FAST!  The kids may be in desperate need and the families may be wishing the clock and the calendar would speed up, but every adoption story and every foster story plays out slowly…especially when we’re used to a microwave society.

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Unlike many of you, I can remember a world without microwaves.  In fact, my grandmother still cooked on a wood stove when I was young.  When the microwave (and the dishwasher and the the clothes dryer and the electric can opener and…) was first introduced, it was touted for convenience.  Simply, it was meant to make life easier.  Somehow, though, the message that changed our way of viewing life was that we could do everything faster.

But we can’t!

Not everything can be taken out of the freezer, defrosted, cooked and on the table ready to eat in under ten minutes.  You can’t microwave life!  Ask those elder families at Stone Ridge about this and they will tell you stories of frustration and hardship and mountains of paperwork and home visits and desperate prayers before, finally, a precious child is welcomed (sometimes temporarily) by a loving family.  That’s the way real life works.

And it’s worth the wait!

As we zone in on God’s relentless love and the story of His Son’s birth this month at Stone Ridge, we need to take a closer look at just how long some of the familiar characters waited.  It was often a looooong time.  And it was worth it!  I can’t wait to share more this weekend.  Can’t join us?  Catch the podcast!