Monday, November 14, 2011

Rice and Beans

Rice pudding. Fried rice. Rice balls. Spanish rice. Rice milk. Rice meal.

Cathy awoke Monday with her mind on ways she can cook rice next week. Most likely she is turning her creativity to beans next. No doubt people the world over find great ways to cook those two staples. Why? Because it's all they have! I read recently that the world's poorest 1.1 billion people live on less than $1.00 a day. 700,000,000 of them live in Asia and spend up to 40% of their daily income on rice, the majority of their caloric intake. You and I would spend a dollar on a candy bar without even blinking.

It's time we shocked ourselves into reality. For that reason, Stone Ridge Church is going on a 3-day diet the Monday-Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Rice and beans! We will distribute your food to you at worship services this weekend. The culmination of this restricted diet will be what we are calling our 1:17 Offering. 1:17? What's that? I'm glad you asked!

Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows. Isaiah 1:17 (NLT)

You and I may want to do good, but it often takes more than wanting; it takes learning. Subsisting on rice and beans can help us learn. Then we can do more. We can help the oppressed. We can genuinely do something to care for orphans and widows. We can give. We can help those locally, regionally and internationally who are broken and hungry. 1:17! We will start receiving that offering on Thanksgiving weekend. Then we will give it ALL away to where the needs are.

You can choose to distance yourself from this reality or you can embrace it and ask God to speak to you. I hope to see you this weekend at Stone Ridge! It just might be your greatest adventure yet!

Monday, September 19, 2011

It's So Uncomfortable!

Two recent incidents are on my mind today. Both have served to impress an uncomfortable truth into my heart. The truth: we have developed the idea that part of our American heritage is the elimination of anything uncomfortable. If it's too hot, turn on the air conditioning; if it's too cold, turn up the heater. We live in a climate-controlled, acoustically stimulating, smell-good environment.

Let me tell you first about the incidents, then I'll get to the lesson I think God is trying to teach me. The first occurred almost two weeks ago. It was a typical early September Thursday. I was about to leave our office to work on a project in the quietness and high-speed internet of my home. Suddenly, the lights flickered and the power went out. The office was dark and quiet without the hum of the A/C in the background. Early September is HOT in Yuma and it was the hottest time of the day. We waited, expecting it to kick back on in a few minutes. We waited some more. I went home still waiting. Updates sent to my smartphone told me that this major outage started very near my house but had taken in everything all the way to San Diego and up the coast into Orange County. It might not be restored until the next day!

At home, using battery-powered lights, I watched a battery-powered thermometer record the gradual rise of the temperature in my living room. Fortunately, my house was cool when the power went off and I am blessed to live in a place that is very well insulated. I read, drank water and pondered the uncomfortable air as minutes turned to hours. I began to think about how tiny this problem was in the big scheme of things. My friends in the Dominican Republic suffer through blackouts like these almost every day. I have Haitian friends who almost never have tasted many of the comforts I enjoy every day without gratitude.

I admit that I am normally prone to nervous fretting during times like that evening, but for some reason I was able to give this one to God. It was near bedtime and I said to Cathy, "I'm tired; I think I will just go to bed and get back up when the power comes back on. Then I can reset everything." Right after that, a light flickered and our comfortable world was back.

The second incident was this past weekend. Cathy was away on a women's retreat with ladies from church. She called Saturday morning to give me an update. "How are you?" I asked.

"It's funny," she replied, "Everyone is asking me that this morning." Then she explained why. The dormitory she and some friends were assigned was infested with bedbugs. Cathy got the worst of them, ended up with hives from neck to feet and had a bad reaction to the antihistamine she took.

As we talked, we both pondered our insulation from so many nuisances that the rest of the world takes for granted. We admitted how easy it was to develop the attitude that we live above ever being uncomfortable. We also thanked God that it happened to her and not someone else. My wife is pretty mature in her walk with Christ. She endured this and saw it as what it was: interference that didn't have to tarnish the joy of God working the hearts of many women. By the way, they changed rooms, their clothing and bedding were washed by some wonderful ladies in the group, and they all returned home safely with anti-bedbug measures in place.

What about the lesson I'm learning? You have probably guessed it. If not, here it is: I have no right to live in comfort all the time! Paul, the Apostle who endured beatings, imprisonments and shipwrecks, put it thus way: Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. Philippians 4:11 (NASB)

Honestly, I haven't learned this lesson yet and I want to learn it. I don't look forward to the methods God may use to teach me, but I sure want to learn it!

How about you?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, September 5, 2011

Tears and Hope

I awoke to a full schedule in my calendar.  The night before, I had arrived in Phoenix hoping to get some rest.  I was preparing for an important meeting and a critical hospital visit.  I felt fortunate that our designated hotel happened to be right next door to St. Joseph's Hospital and Barrows Neurological Center.  Two days earlier a young man from our church had suffered a very serious accident on a mountain bike and I wanted to pray with him as soon as he was out of surgery.

Hoping to clear my brain and jumpstart my cardiovascular system, I stepped out of the hotel and down the street into the fashionable Encanto district for a brisk walk.  Rush hour was still almost two hours away.  Enjoying the cool September morning, the sound of birds and the view of the old, restored houses I strode along block after block.

Feeling refreshed, I stepped back through the front doors into the hotel lobby, surprised at the number of people gathered around the televisions near the breakfast area.  I looked over to see what they were staring at and saw the smoke pluming out of one of the World Trade Center towers.  "It would be horrible to be in there right now," I thought, not knowing what was happening.  I watched, heard the commentators on the TVs and the exclamations of concern around me.  By now, I needed to get back to my room to prepare for my morning meeting.  I went upstairs and turned on the television to hear the latest as I cleaned up.

I received a call from one of our daughters on my cell phone.  Now, things were beginning to rush out of control.  A plane was filmed flying into the second tower and we knew we were under attack.  How far did it extend?  Was every large city in danger?  Then, one at a time, the towers collapsed.

I made the hospital visit and attended the meeting that day, little understanding that 9/11/01 was the day that changed everything for this nation.  I was due to fly to Chicago the next morning; obviously the trip was cancelled.  Instead, I drove back to Yuma that afternoon, experiencing both tears and hope.

The hope came from a radio report where I heard members of congress; women and men, black and white and hispanic, often foes across the congressional aisle.  They shared a statement and together sang, "God Bless America."  I am crying as I remember it.  Another source of hope came from local reports in Phoenix, telling of long lines at blood banks with people wanting to do anything -- including giving their own lifeblood -- to help.

The tears were as I walked into the door of our home and took Cathy in my arms.  We were under attack, but that day...that day we and our family were safe.

Our hearts go out to every family touched by 9/11.  To the many Marines, Navy, Army, Air Force as well as the many law enforcement, firefighters and DHS personnel who are part of us, thank you!  We can't say it enough.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why I Run Alone...And With Others

I was challenged a few years back when a friend wanted to start running with me. Now, don't get me wrong. I try to offer a friendly greeting as I trot along the roadsides in the early mornings. I smile and say "Hi" even on days like today when it's still dark outside. Friendly greetings are one thing, but running with a buddy on most days? Challenging!

You see, I listen to books while I run. I love the engagement of a great story as I put one foot in front of the other. It breaks the monotony and keeps my mind focused on something besides the pain. The offer from my friend was going to keep me from my books. I said "yes" anyway. And it changed everything.

My buddy was ten years my junior. He was completing a full 30 years as a Marine (Semper Fi!). When we started, he hadn't been running as much as in his younger years, but he still had to qualify in his annual Physical Fitness Test. He wasn't out of shape!

My years of distance running gave me a slight edge at the beginning, but it wasn't long before he challenged more than my book addiction. My pace began to get faster. I was less bothered by the physical discomfort. "Let's run the Half Marathon at Camp Pendleton," he exclaimed one day. A few months later we took off on the 13.1 mile course over Heartbreak Ridge. It changed my entire running perspective.

My buddy's job has taken him out of state during the week the past couple of years and we haven't been running together. I smile, say "Hi" and keep listening to books. But I discovered something: it's harder to stay focused and harder to push myself when I train alone. I lose something by not having a partner who is working on similar goals. It's easier to cut myself too much slack. It's tempting to think I'm doing better than I really am.

I see a parallel between my running experience and participating in another type of race. That's the race called life. Paul, the Apostle, used running symbolism to describe the life of a Christ-follower. "Everyone in a race runs to win," he said. Another time he mentioned, "I'm sprinting toward the finish line of the high calling of Christ Jesus."

In the life-race, I have discovered a critical truth: those who run alone never reach their full potential. I have recently stated it this way: "There is no significant, sustainable spiritual growth outside the context of healthy relationships." Without friends in training with us, we give up, we give in, and we easily quit altogether. With friends, we receive the encouragement, the challenge and the help we need to win the race.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Day Everything Changed

When you stop and think about it, very few days in life are so significant that one can say, "The entire trajectory of my life just changed."  In my almost six decades, I can count them on my fingers.  Easily.  For instance, there was that day I held the hand of that cute little blond girl from college -- to (ahem) keep her from slipping on the rocks as we waded in the Verde River.  That day changed everything!

One of those course-changing days snuck up on me with the prowess of a Navy Seal silently stalking a target.  I was with three other staff members, taking a break to receive some leadership training from prolific author/teacher John Maxwell.  John was still pastoring in San Diego at the time and hadn't launched into his more recent full-time work as leadership consultant extraordinaire.  I remember driving over to the training workshop thinking, "I really need a break; I wonder if this is how burn-out feels."  I wasn't prepared for the full force of John's strong exhortation to take full responsibility for the development of my own leadership.

I'll never forget how John introduced us to a simple chart that we could use to assess our leadership ability.  "If, on a scale of 1 to 10," he said, "only a hand full of '10s' exist in the world and a "1" can't get anyone to follow, where do you see yourself?"  I recall listening to his explanation, then placing myself somewhere in the middle -- about a '5'.  John went on to explain, "If you are a '4' or '5', you may wonder why you can't get strong leaders in your church.  But, the reality is that a '7' (a very good leader) won't follow a '5'.  They intuitively look for leaders who can lead them; those whose leadership ability is equal to or greater than their own.  If you want '7s' in your church, you will need to grow to become a '7' or '8'."

The rest of his conference kept driving home a simple point: each of us must take responsibility for our own level of leadership ability.  (The same could be true for almost any ability.)  While some people may be more gifted or have a higher IQ than others, we must each decide for ourselves whether we will grow or become stale.  Growing as a leader requires a commitment to keep reading, keep listening and keep spending time with leaders who are stronger than us.

I arrived at that conference weary and wondering if I could take a Sabbatical.  I left there with boxes of books and training material I paid for out of my own pocket.  I went home and started reading and listening, a discipline I have practiced for the past fifteen years.  And I'm not done!

A reason I love the Global Leadership Summit is because it exposes me to world-class leaders; practitioners who are making a difference.  They are thinking the thoughts that help me grow.  They are facing the problems that help prepare me to face some of mine.  For two days I will be challenged, stretched and encouraged to keep moving forward.  I can't think of a place I would rather spend August 11-12.

Visit to find a location near you.  The investment is one that will reap benefits for a long time to come.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Big Smile and a Ponytail

With feelings of anticipation we stepped out of the rental car.  Three of us: a lady from our Student Ministry who also had teenage children, my wife Cathy, and me.  We had flown into Portland the night before and departed first thing in the morning across the mountains into Central Oregon.

Our arranged meeting was over lunch, hoping for some insight into the couple with whom we would speak.  I'll never forget that first impression: large eyes, a big smile...and a ponytail.  And that was the husband.  His name...Tom Burks.  It was early summer of 1996.

Tom and Stacy were meeting with us to discuss their future and ours.  We needed a Youth Pastor; they were considering a move from those beautiful mountain vistas to the desert.  Tom and grown up in that town and and gone "home" to lead a Youth for Christ ministry in local schools.  Stacy was the energetic girl with a quick wit (also from the Pacific Northwest) whom he had met in college.  We were all praying, seeking God's direction.

One day earlier, we had met a man old enough to be Tom's dad.  That man was seasoned, having spent his adult life in Youth Ministry.  He had formal training.  He had a strong track record.  He would be hard to beat, if our only concern was a side-by-side resume' comparison.  As our conversation progressed with Tom and Stacy, my heart said "Tom" and my head said "the other guy."

After the lunch meeting, the three of us climbed into the car and started the journey back to Portland.  We would pass near Mt. Hood on this route, but it was shrouded by low-hanging clouds.  Rain began to fall.  The cold, moist air was a planet distant from Yuma at that time of year.  As we drove, we began a casual conversation about our meeting with the Burks'.  Not wanting to dominate, I asked our traveling companion, Janice, what she thought.  Then I asked Cathy.  I was amazed to discover that we all had identical impressions.  The man we had met the day before had training and experience, but he didn't have something we saw in Tom...vibrant energy.  It was as if the joy had been squeezed out of the other guy and Tom was radiating it.  "You can learn skills," I said, "but you can't learn passion."  Faster than I thought possible, we were unanimous.  We came home and announced our recommendation to the leaders at Stone Ridge.

We didn't know then what we would only learn after Tom had been with us a few years...his ministry skill set was adequate in his work with teens, but it wasn't his best strength.  We discovered his ability as a Worship Pastor (his role since 1999) only after a painful ministry "train wreck" when many left our church.  For several months Tom led pretty much alone, standing before us with an acoustic guitar and helping us learn to sing our hearts out in worship.  It is an understatement to say that he has grown.  Today, he works with at least 4 or 5 worship teams, coaching them and helping them grow.  He oversees a large tech ministry, responsible for our multiple services.  In addition, he is an engaging preacher, who often helps us see God in a more intimate way.

But there is one skill many of you don't know about the man who long ago cut off his ponytail (smile still intact!).  Tom is, I think, the most effective strategist on our staff.  He is the one who often sees most clearly as we pray and think our way into the future.  He is invaluable to me...and to us all!

For those reasons and so many more, take a moment this month and thank Tom and Stacy for 15 years of faithful service.  Our church family is blessing them with a bonus (something we do on five-year anniversaries), but your thoughts of thanksgiving will mean more than you can imagine.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Growing Debt Worth Owing

Cathy was whisked from our home one evening last week.  A friend stopped by and said, "I have these cookies I made and I need to run them up to the church.  Do you have your shoes on?"  They jumped in the car and, upon arrival, the friend said, "I need to run these in; they are for the youth event.  Why don't you come in with me and we'll see how it's going, then we can go back to your house and play cards.  (You're taking your life in your hands if you get in a rapid-fire game of Pounce with these two ladies.)

A few minutes before their arrival, I was in an Elder meeting.  One of our pastors asked, "Can we take a short break?  My soda is running through me and I really need to go to the bathroom.  We can look in on the Youth Event while we break."  Another pastor uncharacteristically announced, "This meeting is over!"  I knew something was up.

I stepped into the door of our auditorium to the shouts of "Surprise!"  The media screens had old pics and Cathy and me.  The chairs had been placed around the perimeter of the room and we were sat in the middle of it all on a couple of easy chairs next to a table piled high with cards...all congratulating us on our 25th Anniversary at Stone Ridge.

My mind raced that night as I looked into faces new and old.  I thought about all that has changed over the past 25 years.  Our church has gone through a change of styles, location and name.  The Master we serve and the message we preach are the same.  The methods have been tweaked to more effectively communicate to this generation.  I looked into the faces and remembered the stories of people Jesus has rescued one at a time.

The party moved forward at full speed, with people munching on cookies and ice cream as we gathered in little huddles and shared life.  We hugged, remembered, laughed and almost came to tears.  Cathy and I drove home a couple of hours later, then sat in the middle of our bed reading cards.  I'm still overwhelmed by the kindness we experienced.

I titled this post, "A Growing Debt Worth Owing."  The apostle Paul wrote, "Owe nothing to anyone, except for your obligation to love one another."  (Romans 13:8 New Living Translation) The love we have received for 25 years ever increases our debt to the people among whom we serve and the One who gave me this assignment.  It brings me joy beyond words.

That night was full of highlights for us, but one stood out for me in particular.  As we were speaking to a variety of people, I suddenly saw gathered around me a group of Elders and one of our pastors.  Our church went through our darkest days about a dozen years ago and these men had all faithfully walked through it with me.  I faltered more than once that year, wondering if the church would be better off without me as pastor.  Each time I struggled, they were there to encourage me and help me keep going.  I will never forget.  "I want to thank you all for staying when many left," I told them.  "It means more than you know that you stuck it out during our most difficult season."

It may have been painful at the time, but, as one of the guys said, "It was the best thing that ever happened to us."  He was right!

To all of you who sent and said, "Thank you!", the privilege is all ours.  You are exceptional in your love and we can't find words to fully express our gratitude for your kindness to us.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Summer Study Break

Brian is an old friend who happens to pastor a megachurch.  The eight or nine years that separate us were far more significant when I was almost thirty and he had just finished college.  Back then I was more of the mentor and he was the eager learner.  Now, thirty years later, the age difference is hardly significant.  I am forever grateful for what he has taught me.

One of the critical things I learned from Brian is something he called his "Summer Study Break."  "It's not a break to study," he commented, "It's a break from study."  He went on to explain his need to recharge his preaching batteries each summer.  At the time, he would take about six weeks away from preaching.  He continued on with his other duties of leading and pastoring, but had others preach in his stead during those weeks.

My first Summer Study Break was several years ago.  I have enjoyed one almost every year since.  Inevitably this season leads to some questions to which I will add my answers...

1. Are you enjoying your vacation? A: I'm not breaking from work, just from the creative cost of sermon prep.

2. What do you have to do all day since you don't have to prepare?  A: plenty!  I spend my life in meetings, most of them for planning what we do around here.  I help mentor some younger pastors.  In addition, I'm preparing for Children's Camp next week (I'm Camp Pastor) and for a conference where I'll speak later in the year.  Finally, I'm doing additional reading to fill up my emotional well.

3. I don't want to make a decision about this church until we have heard one of your sermons; when will you preach again?  A: I beg you, PLEASE never make a church membership decision because of the preaching of the Senior (or Lead) Pastor.  That treats the church like a retail outlet and makes you a consumer.  This is the Body of Christ.  Find the local church where He calls you and devote your life to Him there.

All that said, I am preaching twice in July, including this weekend.  I can't tell you how much I have gained from the other speakers in our "Ancient Relevance" series through the Old Testament book of Zechariah.  I am deeply grateful for our pastors John, Tom and Scott, along with Paul Cunningham and Don Vickers (who will preach in a couple of weeks).  They haven't just shared the load; they have stretched us and helped us grow in the faith.


Monday, July 4, 2011

The Ultimate Skycam

Stifling hot. There is no other way to describe it. This is my 26th summer in one of the hottest places in the United States and I still dread such days. We had been told the daytime high might reach 120 degrees (yes, you read that correctly). Cathy and I were committed to join a group from our church to cross the border into Mexico in the heat of the afternoon so we could attend the graduation of a church planting school conducted by our Dominican pastor/partner, Manolo.

We had a stop to make before we reached the border, where we would climb aboard the small bus with our fellow adventurers. I noticed the high, thin clouds overhead and was pleased when our car thermometer read "only" 105 degrees. It was about 3:00 p.m., the heat of the afternoon. Errand completed, we entered the Interstate and headed west. Every one of the approximately ten miles seemed a degree hotter than the mile before. 107...108...109... As we exited the freeway, the outside temp jumped to 112. As we turned off the car next to the Mexican border, we were only one mile from the Interstate, but the temp had reached 117.

We climbed aboard the bus (thankful for the air conditioning) and proceeded south across the border and about ten more miles on to a town called Morelos. The graduation was being held in the town's community center, which also has air conditioning. People began to pack in for the joyous celebration, during which the 35 or so graduates wore black caps and gowns. I need to explain here that the outside temps were so hot that it was impossible to truly keep this building cool inside. With the AC working overtime, I would guess the temp inside the room was 90 degrees. The graduation lasted about 2 hours!

The torrid heat that day is but an asterisk to the purpose of this post. Something happened during that graduation ceremony that reminded me again of how differently God sees our world.

The ceremony opened with the Mexican National Anthem. I suppose that had something to do with us meeting in a government building. Whatever the purpose, I was moved as I looked around to see Mexican brothers and sisters in Christ sing their equivalent of our Star Spangled Banner. One older man showed obvious emotion as he sang the song of his country, a line of which says (in English), "For in heaven your eternal destiny has been written by the hand of God."

You see, most of the people who attended that gathering are from that valley and have lived their lives there. As the crow flies, Morelos is less than five miles from the U.S. Border, yet the people born there live in a different world than we do. Our abundance and privilege often leaves us blind to their poverty and struggle. However, it was James (Jesus' half-brother), who wrote, "Hasn't God chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith?" (James 2:5 New Living Translation) I'm not sure how many of my American friends would have inconvenienced themselves to sit for two hours in sweltering heat to watch 35 church planters graduate. But the people of Morelos came; they packed the place.

More important, the scene was witnessed in heaven. God's thoughts are above our thoughts. He doesn't look down from the Ultimate Skycam and see national borders. He just sees people. And those 35 graduates are going to help shake their nation.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

When Times Are Gettin' Dark

Growing up in the country has a long list of advantages.  I mean, how many of you can smell cow manure and immediately think, "Mmmmm.  Smells like home!"  You couldn't convince me it was an advantage to live in the country when I was about twelve.  I decided to peddle Grit newspapers as a way to earn extra cash.  Riding 5-6 miles round trip on my bike to peddle less than 25 papers wasn't the easiest thing I ever did.  A friend of mine who lived in town could find 25 customers within a block or two, but...I lived in the country!

Living in the country meant quiet nights with chirping crickets in the summer time.  It meant windows open with cool night breezes blowing across the bed.  It meant the fresh scent of sweet corn growing a few feet outside my window.  It meant fresh fruit and vegetables all summer, the tenderest beef I ever had anywhere (literally) and family gatherings with watermelons and homemade ice cream.

Occasionally, though, it meant dark times.  Being far from streetlights can make you forget just how dark a night can be.  Like the night I heart a strange sound that seemed to be just outside my bedroom window.  No moon was shining that night and, try as I might, I couldn't see what was making the noise I heard.  What it sounded like was someone pushing our rototiller around.  I ran that little tractor and I knew well the sounds of those wheels turning.  What sounded like the wheels spinning slowing around their hub was, every few seconds, accentuated by a sudden "CLANK".  I happened to know that a couple of blades were off the 'tiller and laying near it; we took them off frequently to narrow the cutting width so we could till between vegetable rows.  It sounded like someone was rolling the 'tiller away and picking up the blades to take with them.  "We have a robber right outside my window," I thought.  I was scared!

I slipped out of my room and stepped down the hall to my parents bedroom.  "Dad, I keep hearing a noise and I think someone is trying to steal the rototiller," I said anxiously.  He got up and led me back to my room.  Quietly he stood and listened.  I nervously stood behind him.  Finally, he walked to the window and raised it completely; I was ready to bolt!

Dad took the empty frozen orange juice can that we used to prop up the window and said, "Here's your thief."  Inside was a little hardshell bug that had flown down into the can and couldn't get out.  It would fly around the perimeter of the can a few times (sounding amazingly like rototiller wheels!) and, frustrated, make a fast dash trying to break out through the side of the can: "CLANK!"

I have lived about a half century since that night and never forgot it.  I knew where to turn when times were gettin' dark.  I would that every kid had a dad whose strength and unconditional love would see them through childhood and prepare them to face the dark times that inevitably cloud life.  On this Father's Day I pause to gratefully remember my own dad.  This is my 22nd Father's Day without him, but he left me a lifetime of memories to cherish.

Happy Father's Day!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Our Year of Drought

"For he (the one who trusts in the LORD) will be like a tree planted by the water,
That extends its roots by a stream
And will not fear when the heat comes;
But its leaves will be green,
And it will not be anxious in a year of drought
Nor cease to yield fruit.
Jeremiah 17:8 (NASB)

If you take seriously the simple words of Jesus, "Take up your cross and follow Me," you will have at least one long season of drought in your life. I know that many will wish for something a bit more encouraging from me this week, but hold on. Perhaps our story will bring you exactly the encouragement you need if you are in your "YOD" right now.

A "YOD" can take on many forms. In an agricultural society, it was usually just what the term implied: an extreme lack of water. For you and me it can be a season of poor health, tough economics or family crises. It might be a combination of problems. The problems can cascade, pummeling us with questions about whether God has forgotten us or if He even exists. A good drought forces us to ask ourselves many critical questions, the answers to which seem impossible to find.

For Cathy and me, one long "YOD" took place when I went back to college. I had already been serving full-time on a church staff, but the clear change of calling into a pastoral role meant uprooting our little family to locate near the college. We left a home owned by the church where I worked and moved into the unknown world of house rentals. We left the security of a good job and traveled 1,000 miles hoping to find enough work to "put beans on the table." We left the comfort of great friends and a supportive church to find ourselves as strangers in a large city.

Before I tell you about how God provided during our "YOD", here are a few things we learned about living through one.
1. Don't try to detour around it (God wants you to experience the "YOD" and to endure.)
2. Don't take yourself too seriously. (It's okay to look like a fool if God is getting glory from it.)
3. Don't be anxious. (God has this "YOD" under control. He will supply what you need when you need it.)
4. Do keep your priorities. (Our "YOD" was largely financial. We chose to tithe throughout that season and we put God first by faith. He always met our needs!)
5. Do expect to learn much. (For many subsequent years, Cathy and I called our "YOD" our best year because we learned so much about walking with God.)

One day, during our "YOD", we needed to buy a few groceries to tide us over until we received a small paycheck from my work. Cathy asked me if we had a few dollars in our checking account. "We don't," I replied. "We're down to the $5 we keep in the account to make sure we don't overdraw." Back then we knew where every dime went and exactly how much we had in the bank.

"I will take a little from Sean's piggy bank," Cathy said. We can pay it back when you are paid." We were in the car on the way home during this conversation, our tiny son oblivious to what we were talking about. Upon our arrival, Cathy looked through our mail which had arrived while we were gone. The mail that day included a card from Cathy's aunt, the wife of her pastor-uncle who had performed our wedding. "We remember what it's like to be in seminary and try to make ends meet," the note said. "We wanted to send you this to help out." In the card was a check for $20, just enough to take care of our immediate needs.

A "YOD" interrupted by a faithful God! He interrupted us over and over again that year. Put Him first and He will interrupt you, too!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, June 6, 2011

Gopher Holes

I figure that, if irrigation water had a brain, it would avoid gopher holes.  Let me explain.  One of my preferred boyhood chores was irrigating our orchard and field.  I liked the job because it set me free to drive the old pickup truck (I didn't have a license) the mile or so along country roads to open the gate that sent irrigation water streaming through a small system of ditches to provide the life-giving liquid to our fruit and pasture.  (For those of you from places where it rains more frequently, you can't imagine how necessary irrigation is when one lives in arid climes.)

For a time, my irrigation job included a small field on a neighbor's property just west of us.  It was there that I got a brief education about gophers and gopher holes.  At best, gophers are a nuisance.  At worst, they are destroyers of life as they tunnel under the surface of fertile soil and steal the life of otherwise good plants.

Photo gopher

This cute little fella looks innocent, but believe me, he's a destroyer.  He's also a reminder about life, which brings me to the point concerning irrigation water.  Numerous times I watched perfectly good irrigation water completely change its course and plunge down a gopher hole.  Granted, the gopher tunnel could only hold so much water before it quit filling or surfaced some distance away.  The water sought its lowest natural point, the power of gravity pulling it toward the center of the earth (or the bottom of the hole).  If the water had brains, it surely would have avoided the hole altogether, but it didn't.  Stay with me; there's a lesson in this!

You see, I know a lot of people whose lives were once productive and full of joy.  They were like irrigation water, out on a mission to help someone else find life  Then, at some time they were pulled off course by the pain of betrayal; a person they loved hurt them so deeply that they don't notice the little gophers that are burrowing beneath the surface of their hearts.  Sometimes they are just glad that someone is noticing them, unaware that the affection they are receiving is just a setup for more destruction.  Their God-given life starts a downward run into holes of oblivion.  The places and the people they once avoided are allowed to steal their life from them.

We had a way of dealing with gophers back then.  If they surfaced, it took a quick smash from a shovel and they were permanently eliminated.  If the gophers of life are eating away at you, get a shovel.  Or find a helper who will.



Monday, May 23, 2011

Harold Camping Should Publicly Repent

For those of you who have heard the word, but aren't sure what it means, "repent" means simply to turn around, do a 180, and/or change your mind about something.

I checked again this morning and Harold Camping is described as "Bewildered" and "Mystified" after his May 21 Rapture prediction came and went.  That's a little like saying, "Oops!" after playing with matches next to a powder keg which blows up at the base of a dam, with the resulting deluge destroying the lives of thousands downstream.  Camping intentionally ignored the simple words of Jesus, "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone." (Matthew 24:36 NASB) Why do you think Jesus said this?  Isn't it probable that His followers back then wanted to know what was coming and when it would happen?  Jesus spoke graphically about the "what", but said clearly that even He didn't know when.

Early Christians thought of themselves as living in the "Last Days".  The Scripture was given in such a way as to make every generation wonder if this is the time.  For two thousand years, followers of Christ have wondered if His return would be in their lifetime.  My friends who don't follow Christ struggle with this side of Christianity.  We have become an age where many thinking people believe that we humans have complete control of our own destiny and that of our planet.  To them it is absurd that a God beyond our imagination created us and loves us.  The false prophecy of Harold Camping, coupled with the fierce loyalty of his flock, have only served to fortify the "no god is in control" position.

Harold Camping should publicly repent.  He has damaged the faith of many who fell under his elderly spell.  As someone who claims to preach the Gospel of Christ, he has damaged the name of the One who gave His life for us.

Luke 15:10 says that the angels in heaven rejoice over one sinner who repents.

I would rejoice with them.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand...

...words of concern!

That picture I posted here yesterday unleashed a flood of comments, both on this blog and over on Facebook.  One friend told me that I'm loved, even with a cork in my nose.  Another friend warned me NOT to make that my Facebook profile pic.  Many friends just wrote to wish me well.  Thank you!

I seriously considered posting a picture today of Brad Pitt or George Clooney, then asking if I look better now.  :)  The truth is that the "cork" is out, removed by my Dr.  The bleeding hasn't re-occurred.  I have been given some medication changes.  AND I have made some minor "lifestyle" adjustments to minimize my risk...which primarily means I can't blow my nose.  'Nuff said!

I mentioned to Cathy last night that I was surprised by the outpouring of concern over my situation.  When I entitled yesterday's post, "When I Don't Understand", my lack of understanding was not so much about the nosebleed.  It was about the timing of it all and the cancellation of my trip to perform a wedding.  To be honest, I'm still struggling with that.

I'm still trusting God, too!

Thank you ALL for being so kind.  I'm honestly overwhelmed by you!

Friday, May 6, 2011

When I Don't Understand

If you had asked me 48 hours ago, I would have told you I'd be leaving about now on a journey to California.  This trip has been planned for months and it was special; I was going there to perform a wedding.  My cousin's son (second cousin? first cousin once removed?) is marrying his beloved in the mountains southeast of Sacramento.  Shanna (my cousin) and I grew up together and I performed her wedding to Frank many years ago.  They have often shown love and encouragement to Cathy and me, so it was an honor to perform this ceremony for their son Billy and his bride.

How quickly things change!  Cathy departed early Wednesday to spend some time with her parents.  That night, just as I was falling asleep, I awoke to a feeling of sinus drainage way up inside my nose.  I got up to blow my nose in the semi-dark, then realized that it wasn't normal sinus fluid; it was blood.  Blood on the pillow case, blood dripping on the floor, a tissue full of blood.  I'm not prone to bloody noses, but I had one similar to this about two weeks before.  I mentally reviewed, then took the steps to stop the flow, waited a while, then checked; I was still bleeding.  I walked into the living room, typed with one finger (my other hand was holding my nose shut) and discovered on an internet site that I was responding correctly.  I waited awhile longer; still bleeding.

Finally, not knowing what else I had to do, I got my phone and dialed 9-1-1.  I had to repeat my address three times for the emergency dispatcher to understand me with my nose closed and covered with tissue.  The paramedics came, gave me further instructions, checked my vitals and, after a while, we still couldn't stop the bleeding.  They said I would need to go to the ER at the hospital.  They could call an ambulance, but I could ask a friend if I chose.  I called Tom from our staff and he came right over.  (Bless him!)

At the hospital, the physician told me I just need to apply more pressure.  The bleeding stopped about then and they had me lie there for over an hour, with them occasionally taking care of their normal tests.  The Dr. cauterized a small place just inside my nose and pronounced me ready to go home.  As I was being disconnected from their monitors, I suddenly started bleeding again from way up in my sinuses.  The Dr. returned and I explained to him it was just like the bleeding that woke me up.  He said, "I didn't want to have to do this.  You're not going to like me very much."  He then took a long, tight roll of absorbent material, coated it with saline and shoved it up my nose.  I thought it might just come out through the top of my head (not really!).  Jesus' words about getting the log out of your eye (except this was my nose) came to mind.

2011 05 05 09 45 39 763

This is the way I looked.  I felt even uglier.

By the time I got through Wednesday night, I realized I had a problem.  I couldn't rest but a few minutes at a time.  I was also concerned about the trip scheduled for the next day.  Even before I called my Dr. for a follow-up, I called Shanna to tell her what was going on.  I was shaken by the suddenness of the bleeding as well as not being able to stop it.  I could imagine scenarios on a plane, in a rental car on the highway or in the wedding itself.

My Dr. concurred that I definitely shouldn't travel for 24 hours and that we didn't know if or when it would happen again.  He referred me to a specialist next week.  (I'm not worried about the long-term outcome, just the short-term uncertainty of a nose that might just start bleeding at a horrible time.)

I'm grateful that Shanna's family was able to find another local pastor who would step in and do the wedding.  I'm just sorry that I couldn't be there this weekend.  In questioning times like this, I am drawn back to the amazing relevance of the Scriptures: 5 Trust GOD from the bottom of your heart; don't try to figure out everything on your own. 6 Listen for GOD's voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he's the one who will keep you on track. Proverbs 3:5-6 (THE MESSAGE)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Stuttering Crier

Click the "Send" button and your message can be read within seconds...on the other side of the world. Hit speed dial and you can be talking "instantly" to someone in another you both drive along life's highways. Watch earth-shaking news (like the Japanese tsunami) as it happens.

It wasn't always this way. For centuries, one of the readiest forms of transmission for critical news was the "Town Crier." "Oyez, oyez (literally "Listen, listen")!" they would cry in the streets. When print media became more readily available, Criers were replaced by boys hawking papers: "Extra! Extra! Read all about it!"

Today, in our "advanced" civilization, we have need of neither Crier nor hawker; we have Twitter. Or Facebook. Or Google Ad Words. I know. I read them. Almost every day. Some of what I read on Easter weekend has me reflecting on why I am a "stuttering crier." Other pastors told of lives being changed in their churches. The reports I read were in awe of the way God is at work. I never sensed anything but reverent joy on their part.

Therefore, on this Easter Monday, I will not stutter. I will boldly proclaim what happened in Stone Ridge Church this past weekend. Only God can accomplish what we saw, so I am joyfully shouting His praises. Here are the highlights...

* 31 people baptized (more are preparing to be baptized soon)

* Almost 1400 in attendance

* Scores of young families came, many for the first time. Young adults keep bringing their friends and God is changing their lives. In turn, they are bringing other friends and the process keeps multiplying.

* We were gripped by the presence of God. In every service. At every baptism. People were giving their hearts to Jesus in the auditorium and out in the courtyard.

Perhaps the final moments of baptism after the last service said it best. Juan, an elderly man who is very ill watched his grandkids being baptized. Juan gave his heart to Christ not long ago. After seeing his family members and others baptized, he told his son, "I have never seen anything like this. I want to be baptized, too!" Because of his medical condition, some of us met on Sunday afternoon to baptize him in the jacuzzi of one of our leaders. As tears flowed, Juan modeled obedience to Christ's command.

Only God!