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!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Resistance Is Your Friend

A friend of mine made me a tempting offer: “If you ever want to go somewhere in the region, let me know and I will fly you there in my plane.”  The day came when I needed to make a quick trip that was a little out of driving distance for the two days allotted on my schedule.  We took off from the local airport about midday and flew east.

We were fighting a head wind even as we were climbing to altitude.  Being in the cockpit gave me the advantage of knowing more than I could know sitting back in the passenger section of a commercial flight.  I could tell things like our rate of climb and our altitude, plus our groundspeed. It suddenly hit me that we were climbing pretty fast, but our ground speed was a snail’s pace compared to what we would be doing once we leveled off.

Red tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis in flight
This reminds me of one of my great fascinations: hawks in flight.  We live in an area where I frequently see hawks soaring, ready to dive down to the small animals that make up their diet.  I am aware of their keen vision, but the marvelous thing about these birds is the way they soar for long periods of time without flapping their wings.  I am totally captivated by how they can seemingly hang in mid-air, hardly moving.  What’s their secret?  Resistance!

Resistance is what caused our rate of climb to be so high that day in my friend’s plane.  The wind in our face, coupled with the pull of the props, allowed us to get to altitude very quickly.  If you had seen us from the ground, though, it would have looked like we were hanging in mid-air.

The very force that threatens to drive us back and stop our progress can actually lift us up!

It’s important to remember this principle as we read the Christmas story.  Even as God came into the world as a flesh-and-blood baby, a huge wind of resistance began to blow against Him. Fierce resistance was pitted against relentless love.  Again and again, the enemy of our souls shows himself in various forms, always trying to bring down the Christ and stop love’s relentless march.

What does this resistance accomplish?  I think you know, but still hope you will join us at Stone Ridge Church as we talk about it.  Part 2 of “Relentless” is this weekend!  If you can’t make it, catch the podcast!

Monday, November 24, 2014

He Never Stops

Without doubt, many of my readers will immediately recognize the title, “The Fugitive.”  The hit movie, with Harrison Ford playing an innocent man fleeing the condemnation of a faulty trial, pursued by a federal marshal played by Tommy Lee Jones, is dramatic action adventure at its best.  Far fewer of you, though, will know the The Fugitive was originally a hit TV series in the 1960s.  I was just shy of twelve years old when the series premiered in 1963.
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There was something about that television series that captured peoples’ imaginations.  While it didn’t have the boom-boom-pow of the 1993 film, it drew us into the desperation and the sadness of a physician who found his murdered wife, then had to undergo the humiliation of being wrongfully convicted of killing her.

Every week of that show, Dr. Richard Kimble was in a different town with a new name. Every week, his character revealed a broken man trying to make enough money to get by, even as he sought the real killer of his wife…even as he eluded the relentless Lt. Gerard.  Gerard was a man on a mission.  To him, a murderer had escaped and he was duty bound to find him. Episode by episode and season by season, the lawman grew increasingly doubtful of his quarry’s guilt, but he kept pursuing.

Watching those shows as a kid was both captivating and interminable.  Four years of anything at that age feels like an eternity.  Everything in me wanted to see an innocent man set free and a guilty man caged.  I remember that people speculated for weeks how the show would end.  The whole thing was done so well that TV Guide magazine, in 2002, ranked the series #36 in the Top 50 TV Shows of All Time.

Obviously, I’m here to write about more than a hit TV series.  It’s what captured my young thoughts that I am remembering today.  Something about relentless pursuit stirs me at a deep level.  You see, the Bible…the whole narrative…is about God’s relentless pursuit of human beings.  Dr. Richard Kimble may have been innocent as he fled the persistent officer who was duty bound to capture him, but we have no such claim before a holy God.  We need to be caught by Him. Why?  Because He pursues us, not to punish us, but to cleanse us from our guilt and shame. The Fugitive may have been free from prison, but he wasn’t free, as long as he was running from the Law.  You and I aren’t free as we run from God, either.

And, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free.” (Galatians 5:1 New American Standard Bible) Here we have been, living our lives on the run from the one who was willing to sacrifice His only son so that we could be exonerated.

We run.  He relentlessly pursues us.  All because of love!

If the entire Scripture narrative is about God’s pursuit of us, the Christmas story stands as one of the climactic events.  Think of it: God so wanted to reach us and set us free…He so wanted to give us back the relationship that was lost so long ago in a Garden…that He Himself came as a human baby.  Talk about Relentless!  My heart starts to race as I think about this Relentless God.  We are going to talk about His Relentless love all through this Christmas season and it starts this weekend.  Hope you can be there!  If not, catch the podcast!

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Look In Their Eyes

It felt both normal and strange when I realized that I could usually tell whether a Marine I just met was in a command position. I mention from time to time what a privilege it is that I have pastored many military members…mostly Marines…for a long time. After a couple of decades of this, I became aware that I could almost guess the level of authority they carry. It’s the look in their eyes.

That look, at least in higher ranking military members, is born of years in an authority system that knows few parallels. It’s the look of people who have learned to be in authority by being under authority. In fact, they never seem to lose their sense of being under someone else’s authority, no might how high their rank.

Being a person with authority was a characteristic ascribed to Jesus in Matthew 7. In fact, we will talk about it this coming weekend at our church. My thoughts naturally turn there, so I want to share with you some signs of false authority:

Yelling orders. While things like a large crowd and no sound system can force a person to raise their voice to be heard, that’s not what I’m talking about here. Do you ever issue a command, then start yelling to “make sure" it’s followed? This typically shows how little real authority you have.

Refusing to listen. This is a sign of insecurity, rather than security. Do you have to have the right answer and/or the final answer for everything pertaining to your work?

Delegating responsibility without authority to complete the task. Do you force every person under your leadership to endure your micromanagement? Some people need intense management until they fully understand their role. However, a leader who finds it necessary to micromanage everyone in the organization is showing a lack of true authority.

Taking credit without taking responsibility. Good leaders do just the opposite. They spread the credit around and take on themselves the responsibility when things come apart.

If those are some signs of false authority, what does real authority look like?

Caring for the people in the organization. Your people are ALWAYS your number one asset. It’s trite, but “they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care."

Confidently leading the way. You can be confident about your overall direction, even as you listen to your people on the best way to get there.

Helping people discover their strengths. Many people have received an education, only to discover that they hate their work. This is often because they don’t know their own strengths. You can help them discover those strengths and grow in them, using them to help the entire organization.

Encouraging risk. No organization can remain the same. If it isn’t growing, it will ultimately decline. In addition, growth means change. What risks can your team take? What have you learned from previous failures?

Passing the baton. What people in our organization are ready to go to the next level? Who is ready to take on more responsibility? One of your greatest honors is releasing people to be the person God designed them to be. The short-term loss you feel on your team will become long-term gains for everyone.

The look in their eyes tells me if someone has assumed command. It’s a look that communicates responsibility for the people in their unit and for their assigned tasks. That look tells me that they pay a price to move their unit forward and they carry that load 24/7/365. Others may go off the clock after the day is over and at the end of the week, but not commanders. No matter where they are, the phone can ring and they pick up their load and go to work. It’s not for the faint of heart or the lazy of character.

Jesus understood authority better than anyone. What is amazing is how easy His authority was for those around Him to recognize. We will talk about it this weekend at Stone Ridge Church. I hope you can join us. If not, catch the podcast!

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Room With A View

It fascinates me that property in California’s coastal mountains is some of the most expensive anywhere.  Is it the weather?  Is it the view?  Is it the prestige?  Is it a combination of factors?
Whatever it is, we desert-dwellers 150 miles to the east often think of those mountainside homes, but it’s not their location nor their beauty that brings them into focus…it’s the fires.


 If not the fires, its the mudslides.


If you read this from some California coastal mountain, please give me a little grace as I write about a life lesson from Jesus.  In Matthew 7, verses 24-27, Jesus wrapped up His “Sermon on the Mount.”  His conclusion was a warning about where we build the “house” of our life.  The structure, He said, would be anchored in either rock or sand.

No matter where the structure is built, He predicted that storms would come.  Like the warm Santa Ana winds that stoke wildfires and the occasionally torrential rains that cause flooding, the storms of life are coming to each of us.  Simple truth: you WILL have storms!

The variable, according to Jesus, is where the house is built.  Even more to the point, he was warning about the type of foundation upon which the house is constructed.  The old Sunday School song said, “The wise man built his house upon the rock…and the house on the rock stood firm.”  It was different for the foolish man; his house went SPLAT!

All of this brings me back to my title, “A Room with a View.”  Like most of you, I have occasionally been privileged to spend time in a place with breathtaking views.  The temptation in those places is to spend all of life there enjoying the atmosphere.  Those lofty locations make us want to pack up and leave the less stellar places where the hardships and hassles of life are abundant.  A life with a view and few problems seems so…so desirable!  It’s almost as if Jesus reminds us of the storms to make sure we know we can’t really escape this world by planting ourselves on top of a mountain.

It’s the depth and substance of foundation that make life work, not the elevation of the the rooftop.  I look forward to talk more about it this weekend at Stone Ridge Church. I hope you can join us, but, if you’re stuck in a storm, catch the podcast!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Trail's End

I spent a few minutes recently reflecting on dusty trails. My first thoughts were that much of the best in this world is found along the rarely-traveled backroads. The places where crowds accumulate may be lit up by neon, but the flittering shadows of big trees in the daytime and the sky ablaze at night are far superior to anything shining with artificial light. Those dusty trails have brought me some of my most revered memories.

On the other hand, I have been to the end of some trails where the lack of light became the playground for other kinds of darkness. It was Jesus who said, "God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.” (John 3:19 New Living Translation) I shudder to think how many hearts have been broken and how many eternities destroyed in those shadowy places.

The truth is, it’s not the dustiness of the trail that makes the difference, but where the trail ends. The trails of the human heart are many and we have a choice to follow them to beauty or to disaster. The physical darkness can be our hiding place as we indulge some secret tryst or it can be the place where we revel in the greater light we miss in the daytime. Either way, the trails of our lives are either toward God or away from Him.

We don’t stand still.

It’s a complete misconception that we reach some spot on life’s road where we permanently stop…and camp…until we die. One day, Jesus was on a mountain (Mark’s Gospel, Chapter 9) with His three closest friends, Peter, James and John. Suddenly the whole place lit up and they were joined by two long-dead men, Moses and Elijah. Peter, who always seemed the most impetuous of Jesus’ followers, wanted to build some tents and stay there. They couldn’t stay, because life’s trail doesn’t end just because we’re “in a really good place right now.”

The trail doesn’t end until it ends. And where it ends depends on the trail we have chosen. I can’t say that I fully understand this, but I have been on a few bad side trails in my day and count it a rare privilege that I was shown the way back to the right road.

Jesus said that His trail…that is, the trail of forgiveness and redemption which He paid our admission price to travel, always starts out hard. It’s never the way of the crowds. It’s always the way of the cross. We will talk about His trail this weekend at Stone Ridge Church. It would be our great privilege if you could join us there. Can’t make it? You can listen to our podcast regardless of the trail you’re on.