Monday, October 12, 2015

Treasure Chest

No matter who you are, where you live or how carefully you plan, life gets upended sometimes. If you are honest with yourself, you will admit that you have fantasies that every problem you face will be understood and repaired in the two hours or so that it takes to watch a good movie. The truth, though, is far more serious that your dreams.
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One of the wisest things we can do in life is to invest our time, energy and money in things that count and that can prepare us for the inevitable trouble ahead.  The problem is that our culture teaches a concept of investment that is mostly upside-down to what God says in the Bible.  A few examples:
  • The culture says that we should party now since we might not be able to party tomorrow.  God says that we should seek His kingdom above all else.
  • The culture says that it’s a sign of maturity to prepare for our own problems. God says that He cares for those who put Him first.
  • The culture says that getting everything we can for ourselves is the way to be successful in life. God says that real life is found in what we give, rather than what we get.  

Examples abound in which someone chooses God’s way of living versus the way “everyone” around us seems to live.  I was intrigued by the story which Pastor Randy Scroggins told about His daughter Lacey. Lacey, a student at Umpqua Community College, went through the horror of classmates and a teacher being gunned down around her.  One of her classmates, a boy whom she had known in high school, seemed to intentionally land on top of her when he was shot.  It was his blood on her that made the shooter consider her dead, and this spared her life. While Scroggins told the press about the heroism of the boy, he is quoted as going more in-depth with his church: "Moms and dads, you can take your kids to soccer games, you can take them to baseball games, you can keep 'em out of church, but I am telling you, there is nothing going to take the place of teaching your children how to pray.”  It was her prayer life, he said, that sustained her during her ordeal.  I can almost hear the skepticism in response to that statement, but let’s be real for a moment: Lacey’s life got upended and she knew how to face it.

I love to remember the season of my sister Cabby’s death in 1976, not because of the pain of the loss, but because of the provision to pay the cost.  My parents were without health insurance and my mom had already gone through major surgery that year.  Cabby developed a heart infection that Thanksgiving, which landed her in a coronary care unit in an Albuquerque hospital. A few days later, she died.  Suddenly, my parents were facing not only the loss of a daughter, but the huge costs associated with hospital and burial expenses. God’s promise, "'Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,' says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, 'I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!’” (Malachi 3:10 New Living Translation) stands just as true today as when He spoke it to the prophet long ago. My parents lifestyle put God to the test and money arrived in surprising ways.  Every cost was quickly covered.

Cathy and I often tell about the time when we needed a larger vehicle for our growing family. After much prayer, we purchased one, both of us confident that we were following God’s plan and not our own. Within a few days, our oven, our refrigerator and our washing machine went out. It all happened so fast that it became humorous. “You have a problem, Lord,” we prayed as we handed it all to Him.  Life gets upended sometimes.

We have seen the principle which Jesus described, "Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need," (Matthew 6:33 New Living Translation) lived out over and over again.  We have seen the opposite, too.  When Jesus is at the center of our lives, He is there to see us through the crises.  When we supplant Him, we will ultimately find ourselves bankrupt in the face of overwhelming need.  

This is a serious topic for many who read it, but I can’t tell you how excited I am to talk about God’s generosity.  He loves for His kids to get this one right and learn to live so generously that we are simply a reflection of His goodness to the world around us.  He also loves to pour out His blessings upon us, supplying everything we need. Living Generously is our topic this week as we continue “40 Days of Community” at Stone Ridge Church. God has given us a way to live that promises to meet every need every time. I encourage you to join us and find out more.  In fact, it would be a great weekend to invite a friend.

Can’t be there?  Catch the podcast!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Serving Is Better...Together

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“Why do Americans drink so much water?"

It’s still one of my favorite stories from the Dominican Republic.  One of our friends, a teacher, took some of her summer vacation to teach English to school children in this place that is so beautiful…and so humid…and so warm…and (frequently) so without air conditioning.  Still, the locals don’t always have access to an abundance of clean water.  Purified water — something we take for granted in the U.S. — can be expensive.  Therefore, the locals don’t get in the habit of drinking too much of it.  “It’s hot here and the water helps me stay healthy,” was our friend’s reply to the little child.

The next day, the kid had a new question: “Why do Americans sweat so much?”

IMG 1039 1024I tell that story because I have watched at least a couple of hundred people trek off to that beautiful, tropical, hot island to serve others.  Many of them take their vacations to work on construction projects in which concrete is mixed by hand and hauled from the mixing site in bucket brigades.  Even Cathy got in on the action.

I hear all kinds of stories about Jesus’  followers heading off to retreats and conferences, traveling to (sometimes) posh destinations to hear a favorite Bible teacher.  We get excited about joining the thousands at elaborate concerts performed by our favorite Christian musicians.  We love to laugh and play and hang out together.  The people in our Small Group go to movies together.

All of those together things seem pretty normal.  The ones that intrigue me, though, are the ones that involve back-breaking, sweaty work in which teams of people start each day full of expectant energy and end it exhausted.  The crazy thing is that, while new people make the trip every year, some of the same ones go back again and again and again.  There's just something about serving together that bonds us like nothing else.  A week of challenging work often creates life-long friends.

Thumb IMG 1523 1024Serving together makes life richer and more beautiful.  It’s a part of “community” that can easily be overlooked, but it’s absolutely essential for those who want to really mature as they follow Jesus.  “Serving Together” is the topic this weekend at Stone Ridge Church as we continue “40 Days of Community.”  You don’t want to miss it and it’s a great week to invite a friend. Who knows?  You might find yourselves working side-by-side in some hot, humid place not long from now!

Can’t make it to one of our services?  Catch the podcast!

Monday, September 28, 2015

When You Grow, It Helps Me Grow



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When does a story really begin?

In so many ways, this story begins in 1988.  That may sound really strange to you, but consider this sequence of events...

  • In 1988, Barry and Sonia Burnett came to Yuma to pastor a mission church that our church sponsored.  They told us when they came that their heart was in international missions.  After a few years in Yuma, they departed to serve as missionaries in the Dominican Republic.
  • In 2002, with the Burnetts back in Yuma working as regional missionaries, Barry led our first trip to the Dominican Republic, where we established a long-term missions partnership with Primera Iglesia Bautista, Puerto Plata.
  • In about 2010, I was contacted by Fausto Martinez, who began his relationship with Jesus through Primera Iglesia Bautista, Puerto Plata.  He had met his wife Debbie through a missions project she did down there and they were now serving a mission organization in New York City.  That ministry also runs an orphanage across the border from Yuma, in San Luis, Mexico.



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  • In late 2013, Fausto and Debbie Martinez moved to San Luis to work in the orphanage, helping cement our friendship with them. They stayed a few months, then moved back to NYC.
  • In June, 2014, a Stone Ridge Church mission team was traveling home from Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic.  Upon arrival at JFK airport, we were told that bad weather had interrupted flights on the US East Coast and our flight back to Phoenix was cancelled.  We were further told the airline wasn’t required to help us find lodging for our two-day layover.  “Besides,” they said, “all the hotels near the airport are booked up!”

What do you do when you have a team of over twenty people stuck in NYC and no place to stay?  After our team prayed, thanking God for the interruption, I remembered our connection with Fausto and Debbie.  I messaged them on Facebook and asked if the ministry where they serve, New York School of Urban Ministry, might have a place for our team to stay.  Well, Bethlehem may have had “no room at the inn” for Mary and Joseph, but NYSUM had plenty of room for us!

We spent two nights in Queens, grateful for the comfort, the peace and the hospitality of this ministry which trains and deploys teams from all over the US to minister to the needs of the sprawling metropolis.  Before we left to return to JFK and our flight home, I told a friend, “I think God is up to something.  This would be a great place for a youth ministry to come on a mission trip.  It would stretch and grow them in ways we can’t imagine.”

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Fast forward to Sunday, September 27, 2015.  A team of 24 young people (they started with a goal of 15) is preparing to depart for NYC and NYSUM on December 17.  A packed house at Stone Ridge enjoyed a wonderful dinner, followed by a night of music and dance and laughter, reminiscent of a big city show.

And, in so many ways, it started back in 1988...

…but that’s not the purpose of this post.  The show put on by SRC kids was just a sharply focused picture of a simple truth: God designed us to help each other grow.  For the past five weeks, NYC-bound young people have helped each other grow.  They wrote, they practiced, they filmed, they edited, they prayed, they sang and they danced together.  They did all this because something much deeper, more life-changing is going on among them.  These kids are discovering that God has rich purposes for their lives.  They are taking off their masks.  They are opening up about their vulnerabilities.  They are reaching out to their friends to talk about how much God loves them, too.

Helping each other grow; that’s what they are doing.  It started when Barry and Sonia Burnett showed up to help our church grow in missions.  It continued when Primera Iglesia Bautista, Puerto Plata helped us understand the importance of planting new churches that could reach people with God’s love.  It continued when Stone Ridge sent teams of builders and healers and pray-ers and communicators to help the work in the Dominican.

Then, unbeknownst to us, it was going on in the heart of Fausto Martinez down in the DR. And God had been doing it in Debbie’s heart since she was a little girl growing up in a pastor’s home in the Pittsburgh area.  Fausto and Debbie came to help people grow in San Luis.  In turn they helped us grow.  Then, by God’s grace, all this led to NYSUM, who helped us grow to see the vast needs of their city and the possibility that our teens might do something there.

Now, Stone Ridge teens are helping each other grow as followers of Jesus.  They are also helping their friends grow to know and receive God’s love for themselves.  And, in December, we will all grow as they go to the broken to declare and demonstrate God’s love to them.

Can you tell how excited I am to talk with you about Helping Each Other Grow?  That’s the topic this weekend as Stone Ridge Church continues 40 Days of Community.  I can’t wait to grow with you at one of our services!  Do you have a friend to invite…one who can help you grow? Encourage them to join you! I hope you can make it, but if you can’t, please catch the podcast.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

When Relationships Fracture

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Cathy and I were early in our Yuma years when we looked at each other one day, saying, “We’re one of the only couples we know who both grew up in homes where our parents genuinely loved and stayed committed to each other.”  We were surprised at how uncommon this reality was for so many, when it was “normal” for us.  Since that discovery, we have often looked back at our childhood home environments as a key reason our own marriage has been relatively healthy.

It’s likely that you have no real experience with the kind of relationships I am describing.  Many people I know have families who stuck together, even though their homes weren’t warm, loving places.  I commend those of you who have decided that you will do the hard work of learning how to raise your own children in an environment quite different from the one you experienced.  

Even in my extended family, we had an unusual amount of loving camaraderie among us while we were growing up.  I grew up in the same town with cousins on both sides of my family.  We were frequently together with them, adults catching up with long visits and kids playing together. On many Sunday afternoons, men would watch a football game on TV and women would visit in the kitchen.  Being on the farm gave us kids lots of space for running and playing to our heart’s content.  At times, we even had the cousins from both sides over for the day; that was some of the most fun of all!

I will never forget the change when a family member got married.  This particular family member had been single for much of life.  The choice of a mate brought with it a problem we hadn’t faced before: addiction.  After the initial joy and hope that accompanied the beginning of a new household, different ones began to notice changes in our family dynamic.  The chemical addiction which raged in the new family member’s life started to add significant stress to our previously placid existence.  Increasingly, the trust which had ruled all our relationships for so long began to be clouded by concern that the addicted spouse’s problem was like a black hole, threatening to pull everything of value into it.

The tragedy of what happened in our family is that the problem didn’t end, even when our family member who married the addicted person died.  A family who had been guided by love and transparency was now marred by a guardedness that clouded the memory of our previous innocence.  Though the rest of the family held together, relationships were fractured in a variety of ways.

As I said above, most of you have experienced the dull pain of murky, mistrustful relationships. If your family has been blessedly insulated, those problems have broken out in your workplace or among your friends.  Tragically, they are all over the church.  For that reason, we can’t overlook this subject during “40 Days of Community.”  Just what is it that destroys relationships and how can they be built or rebuilt?  That’s our topic this weekend at Stone Ridge Church.  I hope you don’t miss it.  In fact, I’d love to meet the friends you invite!  Can’t be there?  Catch the podcast!

Monday, September 14, 2015

You really did THAT?


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One of my great loves of serving in a multi-generational church is working with young leaders.  Yes, they seem to get younger every year, but that’s a different conversation.  We had to recently start a new Small Group for students and career people in their late teens and early twenties.  For some reason, our young adult group (who are mostly in their late twenties) was “old” to them.  I LOVE problems like that!

Jason, a high school student, was a student leader at children’s camp this past summer.  On the last night of camp, the Holy Spirit spoke to a number of student leaders and other staff about their need to fully commit themselves to follow Jesus, no matter where He leads them nor what He wants them to do.  Jason came to me that night with tears in his eyes.  “I believe that God is calling me to be a missionary,” he said.  Ever since then, he has stepped up his role as a student leader in our youth ministry.  Last Sunday, he showed up in the “green room” before one of our services.

"Why are you here?” I asked him.  Sometimes he sings with one of our bands.

“I just wanted to come and pray with you guys before the service,” he said.  He knows that some intercessors gather before each of our services with the people who will be up front leading. We pray, asking God to use us as we worship and share His Word with the people.

I LOVE young leaders!  Did I already sorta say that?

In a recent conversation with our staff, I told a story about how we used to go out on Monday nights and try to visit everyone who had filled out a visitor card on Sunday morning.  We would go up to their front door unannounced..we didn’t call first because we didn’t want them to tell us it wasn’t a good time.  They would usually invite us into their home, letting us interrupt Monday Night Football and we would talk with them about Christ.  We would also answer their questions about our church.

Any of you who have been around churches for a LONG time will remember doing things like that.  It was normal.  Well, when I told a story about it to our staff, at least one of our young leaders started rolling her eyes and laughing.  “You really did THAT?” she asked incredulously.

“Yep, that’s how we did it,” I replied.  "Every Monday night."  It turns out that she was horrified, which made me stop and think about how much our culture has changed.  These days, if someone rings MY doorbell after dark, I go to the door wary of just who might be there and why. I rarely expect that I will either invite or let them in.  Even when it’s someone I know and I do ask them in, it’s hard not to consider it an interruption.  Believe me, I have plenty of interruptions (you do, too) so I treat them gently…at least most of the time.  Still, arriving unannounced at my door is NOT the best method to influence me in a positive way.

I had another conversation Sunday.  This time, it was with some older followers of Jesus. Somehow, we got onto the topic of how churches have changed over the years.  I told them that I read about churches long ago (say 500 years) that wouldn’t be anything like churches are today.  It always amazes me how God’s people through the ages sought the leadership of the Holy Spirit and found ways to reach out to their generations with the love of Jesus and the life-changing power of the Gospel.

We don’t knock on doors on Monday nights anymore.  If your bell rings, it probably isn’t us.  But we are finding ways to show and share the love of Christ that work pretty well in 2015.  It’s all part of “40 Days of Community” and I can’t wait to talk with you about it this weekend at Stone Ridge Church.  Can’t join us?  Catch the podcast!

Monday, September 7, 2015

No Longer Alone


When did “alone” become such a badge of honor?  I completely understood when a mom of tiny ones told me recently about her predicament.  Her oldest is in school and her second child is being home-schooled.  The three preschoolers in their home were all down for a nap and that second child wanted to talk to her…nonstop…during her only “break” in a hectic day.  Yes, she desperately needs some minutes alone!
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The problem comes when someone, whether because of personality or circumstances or location, finds themselves alone most or all of the time.  That’s when the quietness that some so desperately need becomes a curse. It’s like a darkness of soul that gradually closes in.  In the beginning of human history, God said,  “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Genesis 2:18 (New Living Translation)  While I know that some of you are introverts, even you will recognize that we really do need others in our lives.  Here are a few examples:
  • When I was recuperating from cancer surgery a few years ago, I needed others to care for my physical needs.  Later, I needed others to pray for me and encourage me when the journey seemed hard.
  • When you lost a loved one, you needed to know that people cared and that you didn’t have to grieve alone.
  • If you have gone through a divorce, loneliness is one of the hardest things you had to face.
  • At times you have a job that’s too big to handle by yourself (for me, this is almost every day!) and you need others who will help you.  You reciprocate when they need you.

Even though encouragement is a gift which God gave me and which often helps others, I frequently find myself in need of it.  When the journey seems long or the load gets heavy, I need to be encouraged.  When fatigue sets in, I need encouragement.  On the Thanksgiving following prostate cancer surgery, I ended up in the hospital with severe pain.  It took heavy drugs to relieve the pain, but it was the presence and joy of two friends that encouraged me.  “Everything will be all right,” their presence told me.  In other words, the doctors could relieve the physical pain, but I would have been left alone if not for the care of those friends.

What kind of hope do you need?  What is discouraging you and making life seem dark?  How has weariness of body and sadness of spirit made life seem like an inescapable well of hopelessness?  It’s time for you to be no longer alone!  You need something we call “community.”  That’s why we will spend the coming weeks focused on it.  “40 Days of Community” begins this coming weekend at Stone Ridge Church.  You will be so glad when you join in.  Can’t make the first week?  Catch the podcast!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Made To Be You

Thumb Bundesarchiv Bild 194 0798 41 Düsseldorf Veranstaltung mit Billy Graham 1024Not long ago, I saw a video of Billy Graham sitting in a chair at his North Carolina home.  In his nineties, his recorded voice revealed the weakness of age and his fight with Parkinson’s, but his conviction of spirit rang through as though he were still standing in a stadium in front of thousands.

I thought of that scene and remembered a college classmate who had the audacity to say, “Billy Graham is getting old and someone needs to take his place.  I think I am ready to be the next Billy Graham!”  His statement leads me to several observations:
  • Though Mr. Graham may have seemed “old” to us at the time, he was in his forties.  Hmmmm.
  • My classmate had a certain passion about him and was an engaging preacher.  He was ready to set the world on fire for Jesus.  To the best of my knowledge, he ended up flaming out…just like many others with similar dreams.  
  • No one who wanted to be Billy Graham really understood the commitment level of Billy Graham.  The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham, by Harold Myra and Marshall Shelley, is one of the best leadership books I have read.  It gives keen insight into just how hard the evangelist worked.  His life has been about far more than speaking in large stadiums.  
  • Wanting to be Billy Graham is ludicrous.  God only made one.  The flip side of this argument is that God also only made one of my classmate.  If only he could have set his sights on how to be the person God created him to be!

This brings me to the simple point of this post.  If you want to live an “Unstuck” life, you need to figure out who you are.  The longer you try to walk through life in someone else’s shoes, the longer you will stay stuck.  In my early ministry years, I worked part-time at a church in the inner city.  The pastor, Jim, was a large, strong country boy from Idaho.  He didn’t have much education.  His preaching lacked polish.  He knew little about administration, but his wife helped keep things organized.  Jim, however, saw the needs in his poor neighborhood and went to work.  He enlisted a few of the men in the church and they built apartments to house senior adults who couldn’t afford to live other places.  He looked for ways to care for the people who lived all around that church, a place of poverty, crime and fear.  People came to Christ there because Jim loved them and taught his church to love them.  During the three years we were there with our young family, he helped teach us to love them, too.  I’m so glad that Jim didn’t try to be someone else!

God made you on purpose.  Rick Warren said it well in the opening paragraph of The Purpose Driven Life: "The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness. It’s far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions. If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by his purpose and for his purpose.”  You aren’t an accident.  No one on the planet can be a better you than you…no one!  If you can get hold of this truth, it will help you live the best life you can possibly live…one that gets “Unstuck" and stays there.  That’s our topic at Stone Ridge Church this Labor Day Weekend!  Hope you can join us.  Can’t make it?  Catch the podcast!