Monday, May 2, 2016

A Day of Hope

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I have frequently written about the blessing of growing up in a home with two parents who loved their family and who lived their faith consistently. My dad has been gone for many years, but my mom will turn 90 in just a few weeks. None of us should ever take the credit for the good that comes from our lives; for me passing the bulk of those kudos to my parents is “easy peasy.”

Imagine my surprise, then, when I learned that many of today’s Christian moms struggle when the Mother’s Day sermon is from Proverbs 31. In my thinking, any passage that begins with, "An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels." (Proverbs 31:10 New American Standard Bible) and ends with "Her children rise up and bless her; Her husband also, and he praises her, saying: 'Many daughters have done nobly, But you excel them all.'" (Proverbs 31:28-29 New American Standard Bible) should be more scrumptious than a fancy Mother’s Day Brunch...

…”But it’s not,” my friends have told me. “Too often and too long that passage has been used to lift up a seemingly impossible standard for women.” I have spent some time reflecting on this and realize that, in spite of this era of constant affirmation, many (most?) moms feel pretty down about the things they DON”T do well.

Could it be that we have such high expectations for our children today that we have silently convinced ourselves that perfect kids come from perfect parents…which we aren’t…and we spend inordinate energy thinking constantly about how we Simply. Don’t. Measure. Up?

My musings on this subject led me to think much about this Mother’s Day and want to do everything possible to make it a Day of Hope for all of us. The day is special to me on a whole different level because it was Mother’s Day, May 8, 1960, that I gave my heart to Jesus. It’s certainly hope-filled for me, so join with me and the Stone Ridge Church family as we celebrate it! We will do parent/child dedications in all services this weekend as we celebrate moms. Can’t join us? Catch the podcast!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Glad I'm Not Job

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Aren’t you glad you’re not Job? I have been reading the Old Testament book of Job again recently and it struck me that I have no idea what I might do if I were walking through Job’s trials. Job was described by God himself as “...the finest man in all the earth...blameless—a man of complete integrity…" (Job 1:8 New Living Translation) Yet God allowed Job to wade through some of the darkest waters anyone could face. His children were all wiped out in a day. He lost his fortune, then he lost his health. Suddenly all he had left was a wife who told him, “Curse God and die,” and three “friends” who kept telling him his troubles must be what he deserved. Before the story is over, Job doubted and questioned God. He judged God for letting him go through the pain. He seemed to almost lose faith…until God himself spoke to him.

You and I are regularly in danger of being like Job.  We may not experience the same level of trials Job went through, but we are in danger of giving up hope that God loves us and cares for us. Trials have a way of filling us with “Why?” questions.
  • Why is this happening to me?
  • Why is God not answering my prayers?
  • Why can’t I seem to experience God’s presence anymore?
  • Why is my life falling apart?
  • Why can’t I get along with the people I love?
  • Why have my friends abandoned me?
The “Why?” list can go on and on. The end result is that we can go from a great sense of God’s faithfulness to wondering if he even exists.  Aren’t you glad you’re not Job?

It’s easy to wonder why a God of love and mercy and grace and hope and forgiveness could seemingly abandon a man he called blameless. After all, if God could abandon Job, he might abandon me, too! In reality, though, GOD DIDN’T ABANDON JOB! In fact, it seems that one of God’s purposes was to work through Job to show the rest of us that he is ALWAYS FAITHFUL, even when we feel forsaken. If you carefully read the story, you will discover that the end of Job finds the man even more blessed than he was at the beginning.

God wants you to know that he hasn’t forgotten you. No matter how much you have messed up nor how many times you have lost your faith, he is still there for you. And he promises his children that their future is one of hope…even if they are at the very end of life.
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The “Why?” questions are a fitting finale to our “Spring Cleaning” series this weekend at Stone Ridge Church. In addition to anchoring to God’s Word about our “whys”,  we will offer everyone who needs it a chance to receive prayer. It’s time for your hope to be rekindled, so join us and bring some friends! Can’t make it? Make sure you catch the podcast!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Looking For A "Handy" Excuse

When is the last time you saw God do something outside your comfort zone? Could it be that you have never seen God do something outside your comfort zone? Could it be that something happened outside your comfort zone, but you were certain it wasn’t God because, surely, God would never do anything like that?

Years ago I was hurled into a very uncomfortable place as I joined two other pastors and a Christian counselor on a prayer retreat. The car’s stereo was playing a worship album. One of the songs included words about lifting hands to the Lord and suddenly the other three guys all had their hands in the air (at least the driver kept one hand on the steering wheel!). I was so outside my comfort zone that I briefly considered jumping out of the car as we sailed down the highway. I imagined that injury or death might be preferable to spending a few days with guys like this!

A few years later, having read the Bible and searched the thoughts of those very wise in the Scriptures, lifting hands in worship had become a regular part of my own worship experience. You can imagine my sadness when someone I deeply loved and respected spoke about lifting hands and said, “It can’t be Biblical because we don’t do it and we believe the Bible.” I remember thinking, “How can this person be so blind? The Bible is full of references to lifting hands in worship.”

One day, Jesus had an encounter with religious leaders whose logic was very similar to what I just described:
9 Then Jesus went over to their synagogue, 10 where he noticed a man with a deformed hand. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Does the law permit a person to work by healing on the Sabbath?” (They were hoping he would say yes, so they could bring charges against him.)
11 And he answered, “If you had a sheep that fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you work to pull it out? Of course you would. 12 And how much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Yes, the law permits a person to do good on the Sabbath.”
13 Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored, just like the other one! 14 Then the Pharisees called a meeting to plot how to kill Jesus.
(Matthew 12:9-14 New Living Translation)

Rather than accept that Jesus had just healed the man’s hand, they looked for a “handy” excuse. “God doesn’t work like that! We believe in the Bible and we we know God doesn’t work like that!” In other words, “If it’s outside my comfort zone, it can’t be from God.”
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What happened to me in the car with my friends and what happened to the religious leaders in Jesus’ day were both examples of “Hangups.” The truth is, we all have some and they blind us to some of the ways God does his work. One the best things we can do is learn to recognize and acknowledge our hangups, asking God to clean them out of our lives. No Spring Cleaning is complete without a few hangups being swept out and dumped in the trash where they belong.

That’s our subject this weekend at Stone Ridge Church and I can’t way to talk with you about it.  Can’t be there? Catch the podcast!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Yep, this is my lawn...

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…and it has a story to tell.

I looked out on a recent morning and noticed the beauty of the back lawn with blooming lantana in the background. I thought about the significance of this as I realized how much I continue to learn about life through the dual lenses of nature’s beauty and the Bible.  It struck me that, less than two decades ago, this strip of ground was nothing more than barren desert land. In a world of internet access that allows us to quickly look up people and events from millennia in the past, two decades is like the blink of an eye. The interesting thing about this lawn is how it came along and replaced hot, arid, desert soil crawling with scorpions, rattlesnakes and gila monsters.

Before I go there, I must quickly acknowledge that some of my friends would rather see the untouched desert than focus on the little oasis that is our yard. “Keep the earth in it’s natural state,” they would say. Who could disagree with them, at least when it comes to sunset-drenched skies and the view of miles and miles of desert blossoms following rare rains?  Still, my yard calls me at times to deeper truths. Insights of how God designed our human lives to work are to be found in the simplicity of lawns and flowers.

For instance, did you realize that the desert was the Biblical place where God took people so that He could work on them and prepare them for something better ahead?
  • Moses spent 40 years there when he ran from Pharaoh (Exodus 2), then another 40 years there with Israel. God was preparing his people for the land of promise.
  • Elijah experienced a great victory on Mt. Carmel, then ran from wicked Queen Jezebel, going to the desert to hide. When he got there, he heard from God and it prepared him for the completion of his life's work.
  • Jesus was sent into the desert after his baptism and was tempted there by the devil. This helped prepare him for his earthly ministry.

No matter how much you might like the desert, it isn’t described in Scripture as the place to long for. Jeremiah (17:6) compares a person who puts his trust in the wrong things as being like a bush in the desert. On the other hand, Paul described those who follow Jesus (1 Corinthians 3:9) as “God’s field.” God’s preferred destiny for my life and yours is as cultivated land — not desert.

The real story about my lawn today compared to the desert of a few years ago is the story of some soil preparation, some seed, a blessedly small amount of water, some fertilizer and some sunshine. It’s the story of work, more consistent than hard. It’s the story of preparation for the good and the beautiful to grow and the occasional pulling of weeds that would quickly take over if they could. It’s the story…the picture…of life.

I thought of our lawn as I thought about a critical element that must be present for God to convert our hearts from dry, desert places to places teeming with life. That element? Forgiveness! It begins with the forgiveness we get when we place our faith in Jesus’ completed work on the cross. He died to take our place and pay for our forgiveness. Sadly, that beginning is as far as it goes for some people. Some are happy to receive forgiveness, but resistant to extend it to someone else. What could have been a joyful, beautiful heart is quickly dry and barren again. Sadly, some never allow themselves to fully experience the abundance that Jesus offers them.
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We are learning to live transformed lives at Stone Ridge Church during our “Spring Cleaning” series. The power and importance of forgiveness is essential for us to fully realize God’s gift. That’s our topic this weekend and you don’t want to miss it! Can’t be there? Catch the podcast?

Monday, March 28, 2016

Power Down


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My first car, a blue 1955 Ford, came fully equipped with an engine, a 3-speed-on-the-column, an AM radio and air conditioning (when you rolled the windows down).  I think of it today because it also came equipped with a steering wheel about half the size of one of the rings in a 3-ring circus.  That was the closest it got to “power” steering.

I grew up watching my dad relax while he drove our family down the highway for vacation.  He would get his seat in a comfortable position so that he could rest his wrist in his lap while he gently held the steering wheel from there. Dad was a very good driver and knew how to be cautious, but he also knew that long road trips were even more tiring if he was white-knuckling the steering wheel. The super-sized steering wheel in my 1955 Ford allowed me to do the same…if the road was straight and I didn’t have to suddenly change directions.

Some time after I graduated from my ’55, I learned a critical lesson: cars with power steering can be almost impossible to steer without it. One car we bought had a chronic power steering leak. I would fill the reservoir and drive a few miles, fluid literally pouring out along the way. That particular model made it hard — and expensive — to replace the power steering pump and it was cheaper to keep buying lubrication than to fix the problem. (I’m pretty sure the City of Phoenix was able to save some big bucks that year because I was chip-sealing the streets for them, but that’s another story.) The moment the power steering fluid would get too low, the steering would almost not move. It can be scary trying to dodge through city traffic without the ability to turn.

I’m talking about this subject because we, like cars, are designed to operate a certain way.  Our Designer intended us to journey through life effectively. If we were a car, we would notice that God intended us to be fully equipped to do all the things we were designed to do. Our problem is that we are products of a very broken world. Not only do we all have a past that includes some hurts, some hangups and some habits, but we often keep trying to make the trip down life’s highway with critical parts broken. For instance, if God intends us to see in this dark world (He does), we discover than our headlights won't work. If He wants us to stop short of some of the pot-holes that threaten to shake our lives apart (again, He does), we discover that our brakes are out.

The tragedy for many who have decided to follow Jesus, is that they keep adding fluid to a broken part of them and limping a little further along. Or they intuitively know that their lives are not working as they should, so they just work harder and end up on the side of life's road, exhausted.

You and I need to explore some of the ways we try to fix the brokenness in our lives by doing it on our own. Then we need to find out what wonderful equipment God has designed for us and how to appropriate it. That’s where we begin this week at Stone Ridge Church with a message called “From Hurts to Healing.” It’s part of a new series we’re calling “Spring Cleaning.” Hope you can join us!  If not, catch the podcast!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Are We There Yet?

A recent conversation about the timing of things sent me on a search to gain further understanding. I discovered a thorough discussion of the Hebrew calendar, how it came about and how it fits in our modern world.  The aforementioned conversation was about the timing of Easter. Where we live, “Fair Week” falls on the first of April every year and along with it Spring Break for all the county schools.  Someone asked if the County Fair was set to correspond with Easter, since it often falls that way.

The answer, of course, is that Easter moves around a bit — Yuma County Fair doesn’t — based on (what else?) a Christianized interpretation of the Jewish calendar.  I won’t get into the nuances of why the Christian celebration of Easter doesn’t coincide with Passover this year (you’re welcome!), but I want to take a moment at the outset of this Holy Week to speak to those of you who follow Jesus.

In a statement: “Don’t over-schedule and under-enjoy!"

The proverbial “Are we there yet?” question has become the time-honored tradition of families who journey down the highway to visit grandma or Yellowstone or Disney World. Little ones, tired of being strapped in to legalized confinement, want off the road and onto the playground…or the bathroom.  The tragedy is that we adults can be just as guilty of shutting out the journey in hopes of quick arrival at the destination. Once there, we rapidly bore and are ready to set off again to some other joyful place that will last but a few thousand milliseconds.

This week, our journey is toward a cross and an empty tomb. Will we miss the scent of citrus blossoms (at least where I live) and the warmth of spring air along the way? More importantly, will we miss the opportunity to daily reflect on the harsh reality of Jesus’ journey those last few days before he gave himself to be served up as the sacrifice for our sins — MY sins?  Will we fail to take our eyes off the empty tomb (and the big party) on Sunday, long enough to really notice the highway from here to there?

Going back to that Jewish calendar is going back to a reminder that, since humankind’s earliest history, the observation of times and seasons was intended to get our focus off the end of the road and onto the view...and the personal reflection...and the people...along the way.  Will you spoil your Easter week by seeing how many busy things you can cram into your schedule (another way we avoid the experience of the journey)? Or will you stop for a series of holy moments with a heart-cry: “Lord, change me. As I reflect on Jesus and his journey, teach me to notice you in my journey. Forgive me for all the times I wanted to cut to the chase, get there fast and hurry off to another mindless destination.”

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Our church, Stone Ridge Church in Yuma, Arizona, has a variety of open opportunities for you to pause and reflect this Easter weekend. I invite you to join us as we celebrate “Bridge To Redemption.” It’s what Easter is all about! Oh, and don’t travel alone…the people you love can come with you and help make the journey that much more special.

Monday, March 14, 2016

"It's Not My Job"

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Serving is a part of life for those who make Stone Ridge Church their home. “Don’t stay where you are,” “Raise the bar,” and “Others need you” are three of our five values. “Serve one another selflessly” is the third step of our discipleship process.  We frequently put out the call for help and fully expect that everyone in our church will find a way to serve. “Attend One, Serve One” is our call to Stone Ridgers on Easter weekend, when we ask everyone to commit to two services, one to invite friends and the other to help out in some way.  Yes, serving is a way of life for us...

…so what I’m about to tell you will set some of you free.  You see, one of the perils of a servant culture is that some people take on loads they were never meant to carry. Nowhere is this more true than in the area of reaching out to our friends who are far from God.

I was reflecting recently about the Easter a few years ago when I invited our neighbors to attend a service. I prayed and looked for an opportunity to connect to them. The door finally opened a few days before Easter. I saw my neighbor outside, went over for a short conversation and popped the question: “Would you guys be able to attend Stone Ridge on Easter…we’d love to have you!” I was crestfallen when he replied, “We already have other plans.”

All of us feel the weight of eternity on our shoulders when we step outside our comfort zone and initiate a faith conversation with someone we care about. The stakes are high and one of our greatest fears is that we will put ourselves out there, only to be turned down. The temptation is to never take the risk, but what if we don’t? What if we just play it comfortable and pretend that the spiritual condition of those we care about doesn’t really matter all that much?

"I thought you said you were going to set us free, Sam! This feels just like the heavy weight I have already been carrying around.” Hang on, friend. The freedom part starts NOW. I want you to look at something Jesus said…"For no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me.” (John 6:44 New Living Translation) Did you get that?  This was JESUS talking!  He said that he didn’t walk around with that weight on his shoulders. His job wasn’t to argue, nor to convince.  His job was to be available and to reach out in love to those around him.


I discovered this principle the very next year after my neighbor had turned me down. If anything, I felt even more intimidated by the challenge of inviting them…I already had one rejection to discourage me. So, here’s what happened: a week or two before Easter, I pulled into our driveway, noticing our neighbor out in his front yard. I waved at him, then pulled into the garage. As I got out of my car, a bit fearful of another rejection, I stepped into the sunlight to see him walking my way. “When are your Easter services this year?” he asked. “We want to come!"

It took a couple more years after that, but one Sunday at Stone Ridge, my neighbor and his wife gave their hearts to Jesus. All along, I had prayed for them. When God had fully prepared their hearts, they gladly received Jesus.  It’s not my job to change those hearts…it is my job to pray and invite, making the most of every opportunity to declare and demonstrate the love of Jesus!

If you are reading this and don’t really know where you stand in your relationship with God, I want to encourage you. If someone has reached out to You, inviting you to an Easter service, but you have turned them down in the past, why not call them or text them? Or go next door and tell them that you want to attend with them this year. It’s very likely that the God who made you has been gently preparing your heart for you to meet…and develop a relationship with…Jesus!

Our Bible friend Andrew, who has been the subject of our Stone Ridge “Take Me To Your Leader” series, has one more experience for our reflection. This week, we’ll see how he handles it when someone comes to him, WANTING to meet Jesus. It will be fun…and a great preparation for Easter! Can’t make it to Stone Ridge this weekend? Catch the podcast!