Monday, February 8, 2016

They Don't Care How Much You Know...

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Three generations of our family were represented in a recent conversation around my aunt’s dining room table. Somehow, we got to the topic of how my dad handled it when a customer couldn’t pay for the car repairs dad had done for them. I shared a story my father told me about a man who had the reputation of owing people all over town…and not paying his bills.  “You can take your car when you pay for the work,” dad explained as the man tried to convince him to take “payments.”  Credit cards were largely unused back then; accepted payment was by check or cash.

I shared dad’s story to describe the wisdom of a businessman who genuinely cared for people, but had a keen discernment about whether cutting them some slack was truly helping them or just enabling their bad choices.  My brother was at the table with us as we talked about this. I love Jimmie’s perspective on these matters for several reasons. First, he seems to approach life a lot like our dad. Second, he is eight years my junior and enjoyed a completely different experience growing up in our home than I did (dad’s work shifted from a car dealership to a shop at home, plus he had seen how quickly I grew up and intentionally carved out more time to spend with my brother). Third, Jimmie worked in dad’s business for several years, experiencing things I only heard about.

“I can tell you another story about a customer who couldn’t pay,” Jimmie said. "Dad let him take his car and told me, ‘He will be good for it.’ In the end, dad was right."

You KNOW the saying: “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Is it possible that our dad was caring for people in both the above situations? Was he caring for the first man by forcing him to take responsibility, then caring for the second one by extending him credit? Without doubt, I would say, “Yes!”

Last weekend at our church, I introduced a simple little concept called “Take A Minute.” In our fast-paced world, followers of Jesus are often just as rushed and just as stressed as everyone else. Jesus didn’t cut us any slack because of our busyness, though. He told stories like that of “The Good Samaritan,” emphasizing that being too busy to help the hurting means we are just too busy! “Take A Minute” means that I am praying daily for God to open my eyes, my ears and my heart to notice the hurting people who are already in my path. I’m asking God to prompt me at least once a week to a need right in front of me, then I will “Take A Minute” to do whatever He shows me to do. It might be as simple as listening to the hurts in a person’s life. It might be challenging like helping change a tire on the side of the road or offering to pray for someone. The ways we can reach out to touch the brokenness around us are as far-reaching as the creativity of God.

I had just finished unveiling “Take A Minute” in one of our services last weekend, when a family in need waited to speak with me. In itself, this isn’t very unusual, but I was instantly touched by the deep economic struggle of this family and the seeming desire to get their lives moving in a new direction. Hearing their plight, I explained that we have a pastor who has direct access to the resources to help them and I left to find him. A few minutes later, that pastor and I were walking back to the place where the family was waiting. One of our young men stopped us and said, “My wife and I want to help that family. We are willing to take care of them for a few days.”

I am cautious telling you stories like this one, because we are all so influenced by a culture in which problems are revealed in the first few minutes of a story, then the whole thing is resolved in an hour or two. Real life is rarely like that, but I have frequently seen people, even families, radically changed because someone took a minute. Maybe it was a stream of someones taking a minute and I just got to see the one who helped them get past their obstacle, but in the end, lives were transformed by the goodness of God. There’s power in taking a minute, whether we get to see the full redemptive work of God or not. We must trust that our part is significant, even if it seems minuscule at the time.

I love to tell stories because they help us understand things we might have missed. On this Valentine’s weekend at Stone Ridge Church, I will share three “Take A Minute” stories directly from the pages of Scripture. Each one is a great example of caring for the brokenness in people. I hope you can come, because I believe you will be encouraged to care even more than you do now. By the way, these same accounts from the Bible are what helped my dad learn what genuine care looks like. Bring your sweetheart with you!

Can’t make it this weekend? Catch the podcast!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Another Way

I’m convinced that most of us are controlled, at least in part, by fear. We fear what we can’t control. We fear that others are in control. We fear losing what we have. We fear for our safety. We fear for our children. We fear the brokenness we see in others. 


I know this was true of me a number of years ago when I spent some time talking with an acquaintance named Jim. Jim had a terminal illness and my heart went out to him. I expressed my desire to talk and pray with him and we both ended up pleasantly surprised. Jim had some things going on in his life that I feared. It turns out that he feared what I, a conservative pastor, might say to him. Our conversations ended up with us both wanting to really listen to each other and respect the other’s background and viewpoint. There were no heated words, nor well-formulated arguments trying to win the other one over. Instead, we simply listened…and learned…and genuinely cared for one another.


Back then, during that season of getting to know Jim, we didn’t use words like “broken” to describe people. Our church’s vision statement, “Stone Ridge is a church of broken people for broken people,” has elicited lots of conversation on this subject. Some have more than a mild distaste for the fact that we call attention to this issue, but it resonates with many, once they take time to think deeply on the meaning of it. 


Most of us would quickly say that our world is very broken. Just this morning, I got up to the news that a militant Islamic movement in Africa — Boko Haram — was responsible for the deaths of 86 people in Nigeria. Many of them were children who were burned to death. Closer to home, about ⅔ of Americans say that our nation is heading in the wrong direction. We know that something is broken in the Middle East. We can tell that the world-wide economy appears to be broken. We are all aware of the statistics about broken marriages and broken families. It’s pretty easy to see that the U.S. immigration system is broken. BUT, even though we will acknowledge brokenness in every place and every segment of the world, many of us don’t want to identify ourselves as broken. Our pride rails against such a description. 


Perhaps, then, it’s better that we talk about HOW we are broken. Most of us can easily see facets of brokenness in our own lives. None of us would say that we have reached perfection in character, attitudes, thoughts or the way we maintain relationships. Most of us will admit to at least one bad habit that hasn’t been tamed yet. My bad habit is gossip, so please tell me yours! (That’s a joke.)  


Therefore, SINCE we are broken, we can open our hearts to the God who loves broken, lost people and sent His perfect son to die for us. As He forgives and begins to heal our brokenness, we can find ways to step into the broken lives all around us. The world has no need of proud (even arrogant) Christians who sit around and criticize everyone else. The world needs followers of Jesus who love genuinely and serve endlessly. When is the last time that you stopped to really listen to someone who is desperate for a listening ear or to touch someone who hasn’t been touched with genuine love and respect for a long time?


The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were like rivers at flood stage, drowning everyone who got in their way. Jesus came along and gently offered people a drink of living water. It’s time that we learn to love like Jesus, listen like Jesus and touch like Jesus. “Reach the Broken Relentlessly” is part of life for everyone who participates in the life of Stone Ridge Church. We are taking the words of Jesus, the actions of the early church and the practical realities of 21st Century life, to give you a simple way to become involved. I can’t wait to talk about it this weekend. Can’t make it to a service? Catch the podcast!


Monday, January 25, 2016

Things I Learned In A Funeral

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I’m a pastor, so I have attended scores, if not hundreds of funerals. I have led a fair share of those and am pretty accustomed to the various protocols. I have seen grief in many and varied forms and tasted it’s bitterness on a personal level.  I’m not frequently surprised by what happens in funeral services, but the funeral I attended today today surprised me with its outpouring of loving memories.

The funeral was for a lady named Jean Ann. Though I didn’t know Jean Ann well, I admired her for her faithfulness.  Over several years, she committed herself to greet people entering one of our services. She was faithfully in her place, offering a shy smile, a warm word of welcome and a program to all who entered.  I knew Jean Ann well enough to know that she was from a family background of owning taverns; her job was in the family business. That in itself would have been a stretch for many church folks I have known…I grew up in a setting where drinking anything harder than sweet tea was scandalous. The idea of having someone call themselves a Christian while making a living from selling intoxicating beverages certainly would have pushed the faith limits of many.

Jean Ann’s story is beautiful and powerful and it was brought to light in today’s service. Glancing around afterward, I was aware that many of the people in attendance knew her from the tavern. It’s probable that most of them were getting their eyes opened to another side of Jean Ann’s life, one which stood in stark contrast to the person she had been until just a few years ago.  You see, Jean Ann didn’t just start attending church; she found Jesus!  And, at church, she found a Small Group that is about as eclectic a group of people as you can imagine.

Today, I heard about quiet Jean Ann often laughing herself to tears at some of the zany things that came out in her group. I heard about how amazed she was that God could love her. I heard about the hard questions she asked in her group…questions that others needed to ask, but didn’t…questions whose answers helped her and everyone else keep growing in faith.

One of our pastors led Jean Ann’s group and officiated at today’s service. While he and other Small Group members did their best to honor Jean Ann’s memory (they succeeded!), they did something else they probably didn’t notice: they demonstrated the power of touch. Jean Ann was one of those people who desperately…DESPERATELY needed to know that she wasn’t alone.  She needed physical hugs, but she also needed someone to look into her eyes and listen to her heart. Jesus often touched people and changed their lives. Jesus used a Small Group to touch Jean Ann and transform her.
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All through January, we have talked about Heart Health at Stone Ridge Church. We opened the year with a discussion of how God shakes us with Tremors. Then we talked about the way we must honor Him with our Time, Talents and Tithes. This weekend, we conclude with the importance of Touch.  You see, your world, your town, your neighborhood, your workplace and your school are filled with people like Jean Ann. God wants to transform you by working through you to transform them.  You will never be the same!

Want to find out more? Join us for Family Worship this weekend at Stone Ridge! Kids will be in the services…can’t wait to learn from them! By the end, I'm pretty sure we will all be touched.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Nonsensical Way To Financial Health

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It makes no sense, really.  The idea that people with limited resources should take a portion of their income — the first portion no less — and give it away.  NOT invest it or save it or make a house payment with it or buy food with it…GIVE it away! It makes no sense.

It makes no sense, until you add faith into the equation. That’s a pretty important additive. After all, “It is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him." (Hebrews 11:6 New Living Translation) If you believe that God exists and that He rewards those who seek him, giving the first part of your income to him makes sense.

When I was a kid, I helped my mom plant and tend gardens. She would determine the best time in the spring and we would go to work. We tilled up the soil, drove stakes to hold the string that would keep our rows straight, filled those rows with water — which quickly soaked into the earth — and planted seeds in the mud.  We got those seeds in various ways, but most often we bought them. My parents exchanged hard-earned money for seeds that would be stuck in the ground. Why? Because they had faith!

Year after year, those seeds split open down in the soil and little stems began to poke up through the earth. O, how we rejoiced at those first tiny shoots!  Within a few months, we would have rows of healthy plants. On them were beans and peas, corn and carrots, radishes and melons, okra and squash.  Throughout our New Mexico summers, the Norris dinner table was an assortment of fresh food we had grown in our gardens…by faith.  The rest of the year, we enjoyed the frozen and canned vegetables and fruits that were the continued reward of faith and hard work.

As I remember those years and describe them to you, it strikes me that most of you can understand this picture of faith. My parents let go of their hard-earned cash and received something much greater in return. Most of you get that. Some of you, though, can’t see the connection between what my family did with seeds in a garden and what you and I are called to do with the money in our lives.

I understand something now which I didn’t understand as a kid. That act of faith — planting those seeds and working those gardens — wasn’t just so we could eat healthy food. It was so we could eat! The economic realities of our family were such that those seeds and those gardens literally made it possible for us to survive. Those seed-buying dollars were far less than if we had been forced to buy that food in a store. In other words, my parents were full of faith, but they were also practical!

That’s the disconnect, I think, for many of the people I have known who struggle to put God first in their finances. Giving to him first doesn’t make sense to some folks. To those, however, who learn to put him first, it’s a grand discovery of hidden treasure. It’s practical because of the promises he makes and keeps to those who practice money management his way. “You can’t out-give God,” a Sunday School teacher told me many years ago. I found out that he was right!
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Tithing is one of the hardest hurdles most people have as they learn to follow Jesus. It’s critical to Heart Health, though, and a can’t-miss topic for those who are serious about living by faith. Tithing is an adventurous way to live, which I can’t wait to describe to you this weekend at Stone Ridge Church. I hope you can join us and bring a friend. Can’t make it? Catch the podcast!

Monday, January 11, 2016

"I will give it all to you..."

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Every once in a while, I will read a verse or a passage of Scripture that will cause me to think, “I never saw that before…does that really say what I think it says?” One such occasion was just a few days ago. A group of us read the Bible together each year and we are using a plan that begins with the Gospel of Luke. Here is the passage that turned my head...
5 Then the devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6 “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. 7 I will give it all to you if you will worship me."  (Luke 4:5-7 New Living Translation)

Have you ever really noticed those verses?  The person who was taken up to see all the kingdoms of the world was Jesus.  The scene was the wilderness and Jesus was praying and fasting, shortly before he began his earthly ministry.  The reason the passage caught me off guard was that Jesus didn’t correct the devil.  The Son of God didn’t say, “You are lying, devil; you don’t have authority to give the glory and authority of earthly kingdoms to whomever you please.”  Instead, Jesus said: “The Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.'” (Luke 4:8 New Living Translation)

Could it be that the devil was telling a truth — at least a partial truth — on this occasion?  Is it possible that Satan COULD give glory and authority to those who worship him?  While that idea is certainly not edgy and has been declared true numerous times by some who have dabbled in the occult, could it be Biblically true?  Could God, the creator and sustainer of life, have given authority to the devil, who could then pass it on as he pleases?

Before I go on with this question, let me remind you that the book of Job is clear.  The devil can’t do anything without it passing through the will of God.  Twice in that book, the devil wants to put Job to the test, but can’t do so without God’s permission. In the New Testament, Jesus said to Simon Peter (Luke 22:31), “Satan has desired to have you, so that he may sift you like wheat.” Clearly, the devil has no real authority, other than that which has been granted to him for a time and he is always accountable to God.

I ask this question about what the devil said to Jesus because of my reflection on talents. “Talents” is the topic at Stone Ridge Church this weekend and I am struck with the number of highly-talented people who seem to zoom to the heights of fame and fortune, only to crash into the rocks of substance abuse, broken relationships and broken hearts.  Could it be that they make some sort of deal with the devil, lusting for the money, the popularity and the perks of elitism, without a thought of what it may cost in the end?

To be sure, people with significant talent find themselves facing a plethora of temptations. All of us can understand the desire to use talents as a catapult to everything we ever wanted in life. Maybe the misuse of talents is just another way to gain the world and lose our souls in the process.

Is there a better way? Is it possible to live fuller, richer lives by the proper use of our talents? Could temptation be turned away and genuine treasure be gained as a result?  We must dig into this if we are to have healthy hearts. I can’t wait to talk with you about it this weekend at Stone Ridge Church. Can’t be there?  Catch the podcast!

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Social Media Lie

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I suppose the best way to start this first post of 2016 is by describing my morning.  I am home with laryngitis, having used up my available voice by preaching three times over the weekend.  I started coming down with what I respectfully call “the crud” almost a week ago.  Today, though I feel fairly strong physically, the virus’s systematic and relentless attack on my respiratory system has rendered my voice a short-term casualty.  This is one of those days in which my presence in the office wouldn’t mean much, so I chose to work from home.  My best form of communication right now is a keyboard and that isn’t affected by my location as long as we have some way to access the internet on both ends.  Our staff arrived this morning at the office to find that internet access (which includes the phone system) wasn’t available, but that's another story.

In the process of letting key staff members know my situation, I sent out several text messages, then settled in to a time of Bible reading and prayer.  If I understand Acts 6:2-4 correctly, this is my primary assignment.  Almost instantly, I began receiving text messages in reply to the one I sent out.  In the mix, I received communiques about a meeting in Phoenix next month.  Then, I noticed a query from one of the members of Climbing Companions, a Facebook group of us who are reading the Bible together daily.  In the course of the morning, I noticed that a friend got married, some celebrated wedding anniversaries and children or spouses of Facebook friends had birthdays.

Each of these notices seem to scream at me that I must reply in some way and do so immediately, if not sooner.  I used to feel a twinge of guilt if I didn’t instantly reply to a text  message…or a Facebook message…or a Twitter direct message.  It was only as I began to realize the growing number of social media services, the diversity of ways people and/or businesses were using them and the way their messages seemed to silently shout “URGENT” that I paused to think, “What did Jesus do?”

Your first reaction to that question could be, “Irrelevant; Jesus didn’t have social media!”  Well, have you ever stopped to think about the enormous pressure put on Jesus when he was here on earth?  How about the day He was rushing to the bedside of Jairus’ sick daughter and was interrupted by the woman with female bleeding that had been going on for twelve years (Mark 5:21-43)?  What do you do with His delay in going to care for His friend Lazarus (John 11)?  How about the way Jesus answered His parents (Luke 2:41-52)?  And what do you do with the ease with which he turned down the requests of the villagers (Mark 1:35-39) and sent the disciples away by themselves after the feeding of 5,000 (Matthew 14:22-23)?

If you stop to think about it, Jesus was constantly bombarded with pressure to stop what He was doing and pay attention to something else.  That pressure may not have been coming in on His mobile phone, but it was persistent and persuasive nonetheless.  If anything, the fact that most of this pressure took place in person made it that much harder for Him to know when to say “No”… or “Yes”…or “Not yet.”

The upside in this era of instant communication is that we can meet up and keep up with family and friends that would otherwise be cut off from us.  Most of us love the joy of watching the video of a toddler’s first steps or electronically joining in on a loved one’s birthday party.  Almost every tragedy is made more real by social media.  When a dear friend lost his wife last week in the Dominican Republic, I knew about it almost instantly.  My heart grieves with him and I have reached out with words of comfort...

…but I can’t be there with him, nor am I supposed to be.  That one is easy to understand, but what about the life events in my own town that I must miss, if I am to follow through on my assigned duties from God?  Those urgent pleas to be there in the time of other peoples’ needs often leave me struggling with whether I say “No”…or “Yes”…of “Not yet.”  The Social Media Lie is that I can vicariously be there for everyone at every moment and should feel guilty when it doesn’t work that way.
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Because of the finite quantity of time in our lives, you and I MUST dissect this subject. Many of us will have to admit that our schedules are like runaway trains: we know a crash is imminent, but we can’t seem to slow down.  It’s a tough subject that we will tackle in week 2 of “Heart Health” at Stone Ridge Church.  Last weekend (when I still had a voice), I told you that this would be a great series which can help your friends who don’t go to church.  I hope you’ll invite them and bring them with you!  Can’t make it?  Catch the podcast — it’s a social media thing!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Merry Christmas To All...

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"The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:16 English Standard Version)


I am struck by a few thoughts this Christmas. For one, it is my thirtieth Christmas as pastor of a great church, a church that constantly seeks ways to reach out with love into the darkness around us.  Cathy and I are frequently and constantly recipients of that love and our lives are marked with hope and joy because of it.


Second, it is my 65th Christmas on this earth and I can truly say that each one gets richer and sweeter.  It is God’s kindness and mercy that fill me these days.  I am forever grateful that He loved me, called me and offered me a place in His family. He blessed me abundantly when He gave me opportunity to serve Him by serving others.  Hallelujah!


Third, I am blessed by a wonderful family. Our parents, our children (and their spouses) and our grandchildren are all sources of deep encouragement to Cathy and me.  


Fourth, I have been blessed beyond words to walk at the side of a wife who is a picture of faithfulness and kindness to me.  Cathy’s depth in her walk with Christ is a source of encouragement, hope and wisdom that I can never adequately describe.  


Finally, I am blessed by an abundance of friends, co-workers, and extended family members who lift me up when I am overwhelmed and boot me in the seat of the pants when I need it, which is often!


To one and all, Merry Christmas and the richest of blessings this holiday season!