Monday, December 21, 2015

Merry Christmas To All...

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Monday, December 14, 2015

What a difference...

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I recently shared in a brief, but timeless, conversation with some new parents.  As they carried their tiny one out of a church building, I mentioned how different next Christmas will be for them. This Christmas, they have the joy of a tiny baby who is filling them with awe and poopy diapers. Next Christmas?  By next Christmas, their child will be just old enough to start understanding things like pretty wrapping paper under the tree and shiny things on the tree.  Surely by next Christmas their babe-in-arms will have grown into a full-fledged toddler.  By then, their house will be baby-proofed and the word “No!” will become the most-frequently used term in their little family.

By next Christmas, their whole view of the season will have changed radically.  By then, their new baby will be so much a part of them that won’t be able to imagine life without their child. And, it’s just possible, their conversations may have already moved from the joy of one baby to the dream of more.  (We have a saying at our church, “If you don’t want to get pregnant, don’t drink the Stone Ridge water!”)

It has been a little over four decades (it sounds SCARY when I say it that way!) since I stood with wobbly legs in a maternity ward delivery room and watched with a combination of fascination and horror as our family of two suddenly became a family of three.  I will never forget how the impending birth of our first-born became more and more of a reality to me.  The last trimester was like my own awakening to what was about to happen.  Still, I wasn’t prepared for what happened that October morning.  We entered the hospital as a couple; we left as a family. While our baby was much longed-for and deeply loved, the weight of responsibility landed heavily upon me that day.

As a husband, I had a wife who was quite adept at caring for herself (still is!).  As a dad, I was suddenly responsible to do my part to raise our new baby. Our son needed me in a way that couldn’t be neglected.  Most everything would change because of his addition to our family. Though our son’s first Christmas found us struggling through a blinding snow storm, it was those everyday necessities that impacted us the most. What sticks out in our memories are the dramatic events — the broken arm, the sliced head, the first day of school — and yet, it was the small, mundane-yet-inescapable responsibilities that filled us with both joy and work.

Have you ever stopped to think about what changed with Joseph and Mary after the shepherds and the swaddling clothes and the manger?  Have you considered the normal responsibilities every parent faces, along with the load of raising the Son of God?  It’s mind-boggling to consider.  Mary had a baby and He was the Lamb of God, who would take away the sin of the world.  In the past few weeks, we have seen how the Lamb impacted the far-off Magi from the land of ancient Babylon.  We have acknowledged His obvious threat to Caesar, the most powerful man on the planet.  And we have seen the abrasions He brought to the leaders of His religion.  But what about His family?

What about His family?  We must pause and think about what it must have been like to raise the Lamb.  That’s the focus this weekend at Stone Ridge Church.  We hope you can be there this last weekend before Christmas.  Please invite a friend to join you!  Can’t make it? Catch the podcast.

Monday, December 7, 2015

When It's All A Façade

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My thoughts turned recently to a trip I made to Korea many years ago.  At some point we had a break from ministry activities and took advantage of the opportunity to travel up to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) which separates North Korea from South Korea.  On the South Korean side of the border where we stood, we could look across to very impressive buildings which seemed to show the superiority of the people, the government and the economy of North Korea over their southern neighbors.  One of the Koreans with us explained the truth.  “It’s just a shell,” we were told.  “In fact, some of the buildings you see are nothing more than a very clever façade, and aren’t real buildings at all."


Looking back to that conversation, I am not sure what was real and what was fake about the North Korean portion of the DMZ.  I am sure of one thing, however: the idea that the government of North Korea is in any way effective is a total sham.  


Think with me about this for a minute.  I will avoid the whole conversation about U.S. immigration other than to note that people are doing all kinds of things to find a way INTO this country.  At the same time, bold North Koreans are constantly trying to find a way OUT of that nation where they live in captivity.

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A year or two ago, I read a very interesting book (note: this isn’t a Christian book) about the plight of the North Koreans.  I found myself caught up in the story of people who are so desperate that they will risk everything to get out of their country.  Part of my fascination was that North Koreans know the failure of their system better than anyone else.  While North Korean leadership is putting up their public relations blitz to tell the world of their superiority, the average North Korean citizen is fully aware of the lie in which they live.  Most of them would do ANYTHING to get to the South.  


If you have read the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the New Testament), you know that Jesus regularly and persuasively tore down the lies being perpetuated by the religious leaders of His day.  Those lies, that their religious life was superior to that of other people, had become just as much a façade as I have described in Korea.  Instead of setting people free, those religious leaders chained them up in a set of rules that the leaders themselves couldn’t keep. Jesus, the ultimate freer of captives, told those religious leaders the truth about themselves and their empty system.  He compared them to the tombs outside Jerusalem, which were regularly painted with a whitewash of that day.  “You look good on the outside,” Jesus said, “but inside you are full of death.”  

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I write about this with some of my own introspection.  I can pretty easily point out life moments in which I have tried to put people in chains, rather than offer them the keys of release.  I don’t want to do that ever again; I’m quite certain that most of you will agree with me.  That’s why it’s critical that we talk about the effect the Lamb of God had upon his own religious traditions.  That’s our installment this weekend as we continue “Mary Had A Little Lamb” at Stone Ridge Church.  I really hope you can be there for this one.  Maybe you have a friend you can invite, someone who needs a word of hope.  Can’t make it?  Be sure to catch the podcast!

Monday, November 30, 2015

"The Bigger They Are..."

You put your can of soda in the freezer to cool it off faster.  Not sure it really works that way, but you do it anyway.  Then you forget it’s there…until you open the freezer door the next day. We’ve all done it and seen the effects of a frozen soft drink on a previously symmetrical can. Sometimes the freeze actually bursts the can, right?

The same principle works in multitudes of ways:
  • A small fulcrum and a long lever can give a weak person the strength to move a very heavy object.   
  • A small, but canny combatant uses the weight of a larger opponent to throw him to the mat.  
  • Invisible air is pumped into a leather football until it bursts.
In the city where we live, a certain home builder has the reputation of building top-quality, beautiful houses.  If you have the money (he’s not cheap) and the patience (he’s not fast), your new house will be known because he built it.  I think of him here because of something that happened some years back.  A beautiful home was built in a gated community.  Somehow, a water leak was gradually slipping down through the topsoil and making its way into a large pocket of clay below the house.  Rather than leech through, the water kept swelling the clay in the same way that frozen soda swells an aluminum can.  Though a few feet underground, the clay kept swelling and pushing up on the topsoil above it.  All of it put pressure on the foundation of the house, eventually causing a crack...

which grew larger...

and larger...

until the beautiful, well-built house split down the middle.  I think I read once that the crack was ultimately about six inches in some places.

And it all began with a tiny drip of water!

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In the grand scheme of things, a tiny lamb would usually go unnoticed.  At Christmas, we often think of the lambs as attending the scene in the stable, along with the cows and the camels.  It’s easy to overlook the Lamb in the manger.  Innocent, a baby child will grow to be announced as the Lamb of God, who will take away the sins of the world..  At His birth, this Lamb was viewed as a threat to a regional puppet “king.”  Before He’s done, He will be accused as a threat to Caesar himself and hung on a cross to stop Him.

We pick up the story of Mary’s little Lamb this weekend at Stone Ridge Church.  If a drip can split a house in two, this Lamb has no problem messing with the most powerful government of His day.  If He could do that, He can do something pretty powerful with you and me, too!  “Mary Had A Little Lamb” is our topic again this weekend at Stone Ridge Church.  Please attend and invite a friend…you’ll be glad you did!  Can’t be there?  Catch the podcast!

Monday, November 23, 2015

A Little Lamb

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I live in a city.  It’s not a huge metropolis, but it’s large enough to have a variety of defined neighborhoods, each with its own character and culture.  One thing that is pretty much a constant, however, is the quite normal scene of teens walking their lambs down the street to exercise them in preparation for the county fair.

If you think about it for a moment, you will realize that those lambs are growing up in someone’s back yard and are affecting far more than the teen who is raising them. Those of you who have been around a farm know that farm animals don’t take holidays off. They don’t get vacations.  That means their owners don’t get those breaks either, unless they make arrangements for someone else to do the work while they are gone.

I reflected on this and can imagine how many family conversations must turn to those lambs. “Did you bring home the food?”  “Did you check the water?”  “Did you clean up the mess?”  By the time that young person gets the lamb to the fair, the whole family will have been impacted by the animal.

I bring this up because one of the most beautiful and terrible descriptions of Jesus Christ is “Lamb of God.”  Isaiah, an Old Testament prophet was foretelling the death of Jesus when he said, "He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth." (Isaiah 53:7 New Living Translation) Jesus fulfilled those words when He refused to defend Himself to the religious leaders who wanted Him dead.

John the Baptist (John, Chapter 1) reflected this same graphic word picture when, while baptizing in the Jordan River. “Behold, the Lamb of God…” he said, when he saw Jesus among the crowd who had come to hear his message.  This was at the very beginning of Jesus' ministry and most people had no idea what John was talking about. Long after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Simon Peter wrote,
18 For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver.
19 It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.
20 God chose him as your ransom long before the world began...
(1 Peter 1:18-20 New Living Translation)
The Jewish people of Jesus’ day couldn’t hear the term “Lamb of God” without thinking of the generations before them who regularly sacrificed lambs to reflect on God’s mercy and power to save them from oppressors.  The idea that Jesus wasn’t just A lamb, but THE Lamb would have caused some deep soul-searching.

If Jesus is the “Lamb of God,” what difference does it make?  If you read carefully, you will see that the arrival of Jesus on the scene was disruptive to all kinds of people. Rich, poor, rulers, servants, wise and fools were all impacted by one single Lamb.  We have chosen this lens to look at the timeless story of the first Christmas.  Not only was the arrival of the Lamb a game-changer for many of those in Jesus’ day, He is still changing everything for all sorts of people today.  Our Christmas series, “Mary Had A Little Lamb,” begins this weekend at Stone Ridge Church.  We are excited to share it with you!  Can’t join us this weekend?  Catch the podcast!

As you spend a part of this week (hopefully) catching your breath, rejoicing with family and celebrating Thanksgiving, Cathy and I want you to know how thankful we are for each of you. Our lives are incredibly rich because of the gift of family and friends who share the journey with us!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Broken Promises, Intact Fear

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It all started with an innocuous request: “I forgot my gym suit; can I borrow yours?”  I’m certain that the idea of 7th and 8th grade boys regularly lending their gym clothes to each other will horrify some of my germaphobic friends.  To be honest, I look back on the practice with a bit of consternation.  Still, we were kids and kids do things like forget or lose or lend out their gym wear (to those who forgot or lost theirs).  Most of the time, it works out and the lender gets them back after their friend’s physical education class, or at least in time for the lender’s next class.

Most of the time.

Mine never came back.  The friend who borrowed it was considered to be one of the toughest kids in school…at least that was his reputation.  Looking back, I remember how intimidated — how fearful — I was around him.  What I can’t remember is if I lent him my gym suit once or if he brought it back a few times. I just remember that I was ready to go to P.E. one day and didn’t have a suit…so I had to run around until I found a friend who would lend me one.

This whole thing went on for a while, for it wasn’t just the tough kid — the one with my suit — that I feared.  I feared the physical education teacher who was known for his strict policies and who harbored no excuses for failure to show up in his class without being “dressed out” for activity.  That coach was fair, but he was also tough and his zero tolerance policy was enough to keep all of us boys intimidated by him.

I also feared my parents. Those who have heard me talk about them, know that my mom and dad were loving, godly parents.  They taught us how to live, both by words and by actions. There was never a doubt that they loved us, but I was a 7th grade boy who was trying to transition from not-quite-an-adult-but-no-longer-a-kid.  Most of you know that this is one of the most awkward transitions of life.  It is made that much harder because most of us disconnect from our families during this season.  James Dobson once described it as being like the space capsules that lost their radio communication with Mission Control as they re-entered earth’s atmosphere.  The ground team held their collective breaths for contact to be re-established. That’s pretty much describes parent-child relationships during adolescence.

I feared my parents, because they wouldn’t have wanted me to lend out my gym suit. Those suits had to be paid for and we weren’t a family with loads of extra money to throw around.  In addition, they would have wanted me to go to the coach (who intimidated me) and/or to the boy (who intimidated me) to get the suit back.  I did neither.  I kept borrowing another suit and hiding my problem from my parents.

As an adult, I would have wanted my own child to open up to me about the problem.  I would have been happy to help find a solution.  I have absolutely no doubt that my own parents would have done the same thing and saved me days and days of fear that I couldn’t borrow a gym suit and would have to face that intimidating teacher.

In the end, my parents did find out.  They weren’t happy when we contacted the family of the boy who borrowed my suit and were told that they didn’t know what was going on, plus they had no idea of the whereabouts of my missing gym clothes. We did a short-term investigation of “The Mystery of the Missing Trunks,” but finally had to spring for a whole new suit…which I refused to lend out to anyone.  It would have been so much less pain for me if I had gone to my parents in the first place.  The mistakes were already made, but I could have been spared the pain and the shame of the cover-up.

Over a half century has passed since that long, grueling season of fear and intimidation, but I can still remember how it felt inside.  I have learned in the years since that life can throw you some wild pitches, but you don’t have to live in constant fear of them.  Even if you have to face consequences for your own failures, there is One who knows the whole stinky story already. That One has loved you completely since before you emerged from your mother’s womb.  It is His perfect love that offers to send your fears far away from you and to mend the broken places in your life.

Do you need to come out of the darkness of your hidden life and bring your crimes into the light of day?  It is in the light that you will discover perfect love and your fears will be driven away. “Perfect Love” is the fourth gift we have been given by the One who designed us for joy.  Can’t wait to share it with you this weekend at Stone Ridge Church. It’s a perfect weekend to invite a friend who needs encouragement!  If you can’t make it, catch the podcast!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Feast Or Fast?

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Of late, Cathy and I have been spending one evening a week with our friends, Drew and Lesa. This young couple is making plans for their wedding next month.  They came to me in the summer, asking if I might do their pre-marital counseling.  At the time, they told me they knew the stories about the number of couples who came to me for help preparing to join their lives together and who, instead, called the wedding off after a few weeks with me.  (True story!)  Drew and Lesa obviously knew the risks!

Once we agreed that I would help them, they made me aware that they also knew how Cathy and I had together done pre-marital counseling for our friends, Logan and Kenra.  That was a few years ago.  Drew and Lesa told me that they had hoped we might do the same with them. To clarify, I have done lots of pre-marital counseling over the years, but rarely have we done anything quite like what we did with Logan and Kenra (who will soon celebrate their third anniversary).  Our weekly sessions with them often lasted 3 hours, included dinner, lots of laughter, some tears and (when possible) a table game to decompress.  Now Drew and Lesa were asking us to counsel them with the same format.

We said “Yes” as we considered similarities between the two couples.  Both couples have a strong background in missions and both are searching their hearts about how their future includes serving God wherever He calls.  The stakes are high with couples like this and conversations need to be about far more than communications and conflict-management.  Cathy and I began to meet weekly with Drew and Lesa.

Part of the process of counseling in this way includes Cathy and me recalling our early years of marriage.  What were the choke points?  What did we struggle with?  How did we work through the often-fun-but-sometimes-painful process of molding two unique people into one?  The discipline of remembering and gleaning lessons from those days long past often stimulates memories long forgotten.

One such memory is how differently our parents showed love and support to their children. Cathy grew up in a home in which the big days — especially birthdays and Christmases — were celebrated with abundant gifts. My parents, meanwhile, didn’t give that much at those times.  My parents made up for that, though, but having a keen sense of genuine financial needs we had in our early years.  We were surprised with unexpected and much needed gifts on a variety of occasions.  Because of the way our families viewed the big days, we had to make decisions about the way we would raise our own kids.  Big celebrations or small?  (If you are in the early years of marriage and haven’t talked about this, it’s time!)

It’s not just families, but larger groups — groups like businesses or non-profits or churches — that much decide: how often do we celebrate?  What should that celebration include?  When God’s people Israel were in the wilderness, across the Red Sea from Egypt, God told Moses that they were to have a feast three times a year.  That means that they were to slow down long enough to have a big party, remembering what God was doing among them.  Similarly, there were days set aside for fasting.  Those fasts sometimes included solemn assemblies, meant to bring the people face to face with their own weaknesses.  This would — hopefully — cause them to seek God’s favor and recommit their lives to Him.

I must admit that, having grown up in a family that didn’t make a huge deal of what many consider big days, I don’t party enough!  I know that some of you are laughing right now — I could almost hear you as I typed those words!  I find it easy to keep moving ahead to the next order of business and I forget the need to stop and celebrate God’s goodness.  FORTUNATELY, I have a few “party animals” around me and they help me remember just how important it is to stop and celebrate...

…so that’s what we will do this weekend at Stone Ridge Church.  In fact, we’re going to take a risk and do something we haven’t done for years.  We’re bringing the whole church family together for one, big, outdoor “Celebrate Together” service.  It will take place at 9:00 this Sunday morning, November 15.  Those who normally attend Saturday at 5:00 or Sunday at 11:00…PLEASE find a way to change your schedule this week.  The breakfast burritos alone will be worth it!  But the REAL CELEBRATION will be about what God has been doing, changing lives and helping us reach into the broken places of our community.

The Service will be outside in our courtyard.  The morning will be cool — dress appropriately and wear sunscreen.  Believe me, this is one party you don’t want to miss!

Monday, November 2, 2015

My Extreme Makover

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What does it take to turn your heart to putty?  At what point do you take stock of your existence and realize that it’s time for an extreme makeover?

1 The LORD gave another message to Jeremiah. He said,
2 “Go down to the potter’s shop, and I will speak to you there.”
3 So I did as he told me and found the potter working at his wheel.
4 But the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over.
Jeremiah 18:1-4 (New Living Translation)

For me, that critical realization of how messed-up the jar of my life had become happened when I was still in my twenties.  At the time, I was working full-time at a Christian college and part-time on the staff of a little church.  People who knew me would have told you that, as far as God’s jars go, I was pretty well together.  Our young family was happy, our marriage was pretty good and we were very devoted to the things that Christians do.  Cathy and I had determined that we wouldn’t just teach our kids the Bible, we would live out its truths in our everyday lives. Outwardly, my heart looked kind and stable and caring.

Inwardly?  Well, that’s another story.

I could see the cracks in my hardened heart, but I cleverly hid them from others.  I could trace the patterns of bad thinking and bad behaviors that seemed insurmountable.  Over and over again, I confessed the same ugly sins being played out in my thought life.  Over and over, I bemoaned the predictability of returning to those sins. Jesus once spoke of returning to sins as being like a dog returning to its vomit.  That was me.  I hated the vile taste of those sins in my heart, but I kept going back...

...until one night.

Looking back, it was the night that changed everything.  On that particular night, I was fed up. My heart was beginning to turn to putty.  I was ready for an extreme makeover.  I cried out from the bottom of my soul, “God, I can’t seem to experience victory.  It’s that same victory which I tell others is available.  I talk about it as if it’s true in my life, but it’s not.  I am asking You to do whatever You have to do in order for me to change my heart."

“…whatever You have to do…”  Yes, those are the words that open the door for all hell to break loose.  Why?  Because everything that holds on to the sins of our past must be broken.  The clay of life must be crushed into a lump so that the potter can remold it.  It’s like heaven’s recycling business, intended to claim that which is of value and send the rest into the fire or the trash heap.

And it hurts!

I forgot my “…whatever you have to do…” prayer for a while.  Then, bit by bit, my life started coming apart.  I had always be a pretty optimistic guy up until then.  As I began to unravel, one of my friends asked, “What happened to Sam?  He’s not very happy anymore.”  Bit by bit, the outward facade of my life was becoming just as broken as I was inwardly.  Bit by bit, I saw myself slipping away and I didn’t take it calmly.  The pressure of the problems in my life began to be unbearable.  I tried various maneuvers to relieve those pressures, but nothing worked.

Finally, on a Monday morning, I was so down and depressed that I didn’t know how I could go on.  I wasn’t suicidal; in fact, death itself was a terror.  In my despair, I closed myself in our bedroom and got on my knees.  “Jesus!” I cried out.  “I can’t do this anymore!  I can’t handle the pressure!  I don’t know what to do!"

What happened next is hard to explain, but the darkness in my heart suddenly turned to light. Out of that light came a voice, a voice so real that it could have been audible (though it wasn’t). “I know you can’t do it anymore,” He said.  “Now, are you willing to let go and let me live My life in you?”  I was immediately repenting of my sins because of the love that He was pouring into my heart.  In just a moment, I went from the darkness of despair to the light of fellowship with the One who loved me and gave Himself for me.  We began to walk together and talk together.  Did I stumble sometimes and lose the sense of His presence?  Yes!  I had to endure seasons of learning when our close fellowship was lost.  In fact, I went through months that I doubted the entire experience!  Through it all, the unfathomable intimacy with the Holy Spirit and the seasons of drought, I was learning what it means to live the new life God had designed me for.

The apostle Paul wrote...
6 For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.
7 We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.
2 Corinthians 4:6-7 (New Living Translation)

When someone decides to follow Jesus, he or she gets “this great treasure,” which is the Holy Spirit living inside.  Our problem is that we have been taught to clean up the outside of our lives so that we look congenial and caring to others.  At the same time, we don’t realize just how great the treasure is.  The result is that we live these outward lives that look good — what Paul called “a form of godliness” — and inner lives that seek relational fulfillment in the things this world makes readily available to us.

You and I were “Designed for Joy.”  We won’t find it until our hearts become putty in the hands of the Potter and we ask Him for an extreme makeover.  We will talk more about that this weekend at Stone Ridge Church.  It’s Part 3 of “Designed for Joy” and you don’t want to miss it!  Can’t be there?  Catch the podcast!

Monday, October 26, 2015

How much did they leave you?


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What is it with Warren Buffett?  One of the world’s wealthiest men has decided to give most of his money to charity, rather than to his kids?  What is he doing?  Isn’t than “un-American?”  According to recent reports, we are at the front end of the greatest wealth transfer in history.  In the next three or four decades, an estimated $30 trillion (yes, that’s trillion with a “t”) will change hands.  Isn’t this the time when the recipients of those dollars should be planning lavish parties?

Apparently not, according to Buffett.  He is quoted as saying, "My family won't receive huge amounts of my net worth. That doesn't mean they'll get nothing. My children have already received some money from me and Susie and will receive more. I still believe in the philosophy ... that a very rich person should leave his kids enough to do anything but not enough to do nothing.”  Buffett is so strong on the idea of giving wealth away to meet the needs of the planet that he already gave tidy sums to his children so that they could give the money on to charity.  One of his daughters took the cash from her dad and used it to attract other donors, making an even larger dent in some of the needs that pique her interest.

This all begs the question, “Just what is Mr. Buffett leaving his children, if it isn’t that much of his money?”  Could it be that he understands something many of us easily forget…that the most important inheritance we leave behind is not money, but a piece of ourselves?  The Buffett children and grandchildren certainly know something about Mr. Buffett’s wealth, but they have been learning something deeper from dad/grandpa.  They have watched him make all sorts of choices about the way he lives his life.  He and his wife have stayed in the house they bought decades ago, even though they could afford castles and mansions on every continent.  They have chosen to stay in Omaha, Nebraska, rather than live in a city known for celebrities and parties and power-brokers.  When they are gone, it’s probable that they will be missed for their wisdom and their love, rather than for their money.

This is quite personal to me.  My dad has been gone over 25 years.  Though he never made a lot, the last years of his life included some financial decisions designed to take care of our mom for as long as she lives.  Mom will be 90 next year.  Sometimes we wonder if the small amount she has left will be enough, but we don’t really worry about it.  You see, our parents gave us a MUCH GREATER INHERITANCE than the wealth of this world.  They taught us to take care of business, work hard, manage carefully and…most of all…to trust God.  Jesus said it best: "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)

This post, however, is a about something far more important than whether our greatest inheritance is our family’s money or our family themselves.  You see, one of the best gifts we will ever receive is that of becoming part of God’s family.  We get a whole new set of relationships. God the Father becomes our “Daddy” (literal translation of “Abba”), Jesus becomes our Friend (closer than a brother!) and the Holy Spirit takes us residence inside us.  We are no longer orphans and we have an inheritance beyond words!

That inheritance is one of the biggest reasons we are “Designed for Joy!” We pick up Part 2 of the series this weekend at Stone Ridge Church.  Our worship services last weekend were over the top with joyful expressions of praise…I hope you can be with us this week.  Can’t make it? Catch the podcast!

Monday, October 19, 2015

When Fear Swells

By the time he reached his fifties, Henry must have thought that he had seen it all. Having reached his teens during the War Between the States, he no doubt had experienced a lasting impression of the price of conflict. His hometown, Germantown, Pennsylvania, had been the birthplace of the anti-slavery movement in 1688; no wonder that nearly one-third of its citizens left their homes to fight in the Civil War.

Henry was still young then, but he obviously saw both the need to stand up for the rights of the oppressed and the price that must be paid to drive back tyranny.  Henry reached the age of thirteen as the war ended, and he was beginning to look forward to a life that would include ministry, a professorship and some time in government service.  He headed off to Princeton and graduated from there in 1873. Four years later, he received a graduate degree from Princeton Theological Seminary.  Henry took seriously his advantage of  higher education and his devotion to Christ led him to a career as a Presbyterian pastor.

Through his years of local parish work, Henry’s love for English Literature kept him busy, opening the door for him to return to Princeton in 1899 as a professor.  All during this time, he continued his pastoral work. And Henry wrote. Often he wrote poems and short stories, which drew some attention to him, but it was Henry the man who seemed to capture the friendship and loyalty of those who knew him. Helen Keller was Henry’s friend and she wrote, “(Henry)... is the kind of a friend to have when one is up against a difficult problem. He will take trouble, days and nights of trouble, if it is for somebody else or for some cause he is interested in.”  Of himself, Henry wrote, "I'm not an optimist. There’s too much evil in the world and in me. Nor am I a pessimist; there is too much good in the world and in God. So I am just a meliorist, believing that He wills to make the world better, and trying to do my bit to help and wishing that it were more."

As people changed their calendars from the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries, the world was facing cataclysmic change.  Radioactive power was just being discovered and explored.  The exponential possibilities of a force beyond imagination captivated scientists and brought fear to many. Even the discovery of Halley’s Comet was a harbinger of dread to some who thought it could bring about a chemical shift to earth’s atmosphere.  As scientific discoveries were bringing news of massive change to the planet, the political plates were shifting under Europe.  Old alliances were coming apart. Regional conflicts were boiling up with increasing force and the world was beginning to be filled with dread that the whole thing would erupt into a war beyond all wars. It did.  We call it World War I.

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The Berkshires in Winter
As the planet began to shake, even many of the Christians Henry knew were becoming laden with fear and doubt.  It was during this time that he was invited to come and preach at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. During those days, Henry’s daily view was of the Berkshires.  Those mountains inspired him as he considered the perilous times which were leaving many shrouded in gloom.  In addition, he had in mind a tune, written almost one hundred years earlier by Ludwig van Beethoven...

…and he began to write a poem. Filled with the hope of God, Henry Van Dyke faced the difficulties of his era with these words:
Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,
God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flow’rs before Thee,
Op’ning to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;
Drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness,
Fill us with the light of day!

All Thy works with joy surround Thee,
Earth and heav’n reflect Thy rays,
Stars and angels sing around Thee,
Center of unbroken praise.
Field and forest, vale and mountain,
Flow’ry meadow, flashing sea,
Singing bird and flowing fountain
Call us to rejoice in Thee.

Thou art giving and forgiving,
Ever blessing, ever blest,
Wellspring of the joy of living,
Ocean depth of happy rest!
Thou our Father, Christ our Brother,
All who live in love are Thine;
Teach us how to love each other,
Lift us to the joy divine.

Mortals, join the happy chorus,
Which the morning stars began;
Father love is reigning o’er us,
Brother love binds man to man.
Ever singing, march we onward,
Victors in the midst of strife,
Joyful music leads us Sunward
In the triumph song of life.

Henry Van Dyke was a personal friend of Woodrow Wilson, the twenty-eighth President of the United States.  President Wilson appointed Henry to be the U.S. Ambassador to Netherlands and Luxembourg in 1913.  Months later, full-scale war erupted in Europe.  Americans all over the Continent rushed to Holland to escape the bloody onslaught and Henry Van Dyke, the man who saw both the evil and the good, became God’s instrument to organize a relief effort for them.

It strikes me that our generation has too often made joy a shallow thing. It has become a frill that we hang on to when everything is going our way.  If we are the followers of Jesus, people transformed by God’s Spirit, we were designed for much more than that. “Designed For Joy” is our new series, beginning this weekend at Stone Ridge Church.  I hope you can join us as we discover just what God has done to provide us with joy in every circumstance. Can’t make it this weekend? Catch the podcast!

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!

Monday, August 3, 2015


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I heard recently about a man I know in another state.  He has struggled for most of his life with various forms of addiction, primarily addiction to drugs.  “An amazing thing happened,” his family member told me.   “He knew that his life was coming apart and that he couldn’t go on the way he was.  His life was hopeless and unmanageable; he had truly hit bottom.  He was on his knees, crying out for God to take away his urge to use.  Miraculously, God did just that!  He walked away from decades of addiction and began to live a new life, clean and sober.”

This is where this man’s story takes an unexpected turn.  His family member went on: “Now he is away from the drugs.  He even quit smoking because it kept him from being around a family member who has health problems.  The only problem? He is depressed and finds nothing joyful in life.”

As I heard that description, I was reminded of things I was taught over the years.  An addict becomes consumed with getting whatever feeds her or his addiction.  All of life is focused on getting the next fix, the next high, or the next drink. Feeding the addiction is what the addict lives for.  That means that this man was living in the miracle of no longer desiring the chemicals that once used to make him feel “normal,” while at the same time losing his purpose to keep going every day.  And He is miserable!

Talk about being stuck!

Before I go on with his story, what about you?  Is it possible that you are stuck on the road of life?  Did you get this far, only to begin wondering if you can move any further?  Or, like the Israelis during the days of Moses, have you been delivered from slavery to Egypt only to quit believing in the promised land?  Their wilderness was so miserable and their unbelief so severe, that they tried to go back to slavery rather than face the hardship of carving out new lives.  Is that you?
  • Did your dream of a family turn into a nightmare?
  • Did the dashed hopes for your marriage leave you believing that you can never find relational joy?
  • Did that “perfect job” end up destroying your soul or your health?
  • Did the trials of following Jesus somehow blur your memory of the hope He once gave you?
I’m pretty sure that we all get stuck at one time or another.  I just returned from a family reunion in mountains covered with shades of green.  We’ve discovered, though, that the very rain which fills the lowlands with water and makes the grass grow high, is the stuff which can make cars slide off the dirt roads and end up in a bar ditch.
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In the case of the man who got free from his chemical addiction, the blessing of taking away his dependence became the curse of taking away his reason for living.  I was reminded of Jesus’ words: "The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” John 10:10 (New Living Translation)  Somehow, this man has been trapped between what the thief had been doing to him and what Jesus promised to do for him.

The answer to this man’s stuck condition is right in front of him.  His past and his changed life are the very things that are needed to help others who are struggling.  He needs to discover the joy that God can use him because of his past, rather than in spite of it.  Romans 8:28 (look it up!) always holds true!

We just finished a 12-week series called “Why Bother?  This Stuff Matters!”  As we have covered the high points of Christian belief and a Biblical worldview, I have been able to spend most of the summer on the sidelines at Stone Ridge Church.  I return, refreshed and ready to talk about “Unstuck!”  Our series begins this weekend and I am excited to share it with you.  If you can’t make it, please catch our podcast!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Kings and Kingdoms



Those of us who have lived in the USA for our entire lives don’t have much practical experience with a monarchy.  Sure, we can read about countries that still celebrate (and sometimes revere) their royalty, but our governmental system doesn’t really leave room for a person with absolute authority.  In fact, acting “kinglike” would be a fatal error for any American president.  We have long lived with the idea that every chief executive of our country serves for a limited time, then we will all move on.

I mention this because I don’t think most of us get the whole idea of being under the rule and reign of a king.  Even the citizens of Great Britain have a say about the people who actually lead their nation.  They may love and respect their royals, but real political authority is now in the hands of men and women elected to serve the nation.

History is replete with examples — both good and evil — of kings and queens and various other sorts of monarchs.  Idi Amin, whose title was “president,” was variously called a ruler and a dictator.  He was known to simply create titles for himself, one of which may have been “King of Scotland.”  While Amin was a classic example of evil, ancient Biblical history tells of a king named Solomon, renowned for his wisdom and for the great wealth of his nation during his reign. Solomon had some deep fault-lines in his personality, but we generally categorize him as a great king.

Reflecting on kings can produce a smile or a frown, depending on the nature of the ruler. Without doubt, some have ruled with genuine love and concern over their subjects.  Others, realizing their “absolute power,” have ended up corrupted absolutely.

Thumb 1215px CrownOfThornsBedfordMuseum 1024When Jesus Christ came upon the scene in the Roman outpost of Judea, the people of their little nation were, like most of the known world, under the rulership of a dictatorial nation.  Rome vacillated between different forms of government — at times Caesar was in absolute control and at other times, power was in the hands of the Senate — but the Roman people certainly lacked the freedom through which we tend to interpret the idea of power and authority.  Rome's distant outposts were often governed by people far more cruel than the Caesars themselves.  No wonder the people of Judea longed for their own “king,” who would deliver them from the oppression of the great empire.

Jesus, though, came for a different purpose.  He made that clear when He said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”  (John 18:36)  What does that mean?  What is this kingdom thing anyway?  It’s fairly easy to recognize that Jesus is…ultimately…King of kings and Lord of lords, but how does this whole “kingdom of God” idea play out for those who follow Jesus every day?  How does it work for those in a free nation like the USA or those in a totalitarian place?  That’s the topic this weekend at Stone Ridge Church.  It’s our last episode of “Why Bother?”  As we have been saying all summer, “This stuff matters!”  That’s doubly true of this subject, so  I hope you can join us Saturday or Sunday.  Can’t be there?  Catch the podcast!

Monday, July 20, 2015

You Worship Something!

Many years ago, a pastor from what was then an Eastern Bloc Communist country was released from prison.  He had been held there and tortured for many years because he wouldn’t recant his faith in Jesus Christ.  Finally free, he was able to get to the United States, where he was able to write and talk about his story.  One of the disturbing questions that he was asked repeatedly was, “Why did some Christians stand firm in the face of great hardship while others ended up denying Christ so that they could avoid the pain?”  His answer has haunted me for years: “Those who stood firm had their faith in Christ; those who denied Him had their faith in their faith."

I’m thinking about his quote today because it strikes me that many people live in denial.  They think that they are free from worshiping and serving anyone or anything.  It was that great theologian, Bob Dylan, who wrote the famous lines:
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

It was Jesus Christ Himself who set the record straight on this issue.  As he faced off with the devil in the wilderness, he answered the last of three temptations this way: “Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him. “For the Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the LORD your God and serve only him.’ Matthew 4:10 (New Living Translation)  

If we’re honest with ourselves, we will admit that we are surrounded by things that seem to be crying out for our full devotion.  Once we face that truth, we can take the next step and realize that those things — even good things like our mate, our family and our friends — aren’t truly worthy of our worship.  After all, placing them on such a pedestal will ultimately put us into some type of bondage.  For instance, how many times have we heard stories about a wife who “worshiped the ground her husband walked on” only to be lured into a lifestyle that she completely detested?  A huge chasm exists between loving someone and worshiping them.  Love implies selfless devotion, but worship is a complete yielding of oneself to someone…or something.
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Let’s take this one step further because many followers of Jesus have been lured into a very subtle trap.  They have fallen in love, not with their Savior, but with worship.  Why is this so dangerous?  One reason is that it can leave us just as spiritually anemic as those Christians who denied Jesus because their faith was in their faith.

Only one Person satisfies all the hopes and dreams of worship.  He is the one who sets us free versus everyone and everything else, which only put us into bondage.  He is the one worthy of our praise, our honor and our full devotion.  That’s our “Why Bother” topic this weekend at Stone Ridge Church.  You don’t want to miss this message, but catch the podcast if you can’t be there!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Battle Lines

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“Let’s just drive,” I said, as Cathy and I planned a recent trip to Topeka, Kansas.  Our journey straddled the July 4th weekend and flights seemed unusually expensive.  “I can afford a little extra time off for the trip.  We can stop in Albuquerque and see my family on the way."

So we drove...about 1400 miles each way.  What do you do on a 1400 mile trip?  The answer for us is easy: we listen to audio books.  Our choice this year was the unabridged version of Les Miserables.  The audio performance was really quite good…but it’s about 30 hours long.  30 hours!

After the first couple of hours, during which we hadn’t really entered the story line yet, Cathy and I made the decision to fast-forward our way through much of the historical background.  “Should have gotten the abridged version,” she said.

Even with her jumping around the pastoral passages (I was driving), we still didn’t get finished with the book before we arrived back at home.  Therefore, we made the decision to watch the movie, choosing the screen version of the musical, which was produced in 2012.
I happen to like Russell Crowe as an actor, but his Javert wasn’t desperate enough, especially after hearing Victor Hugo’s description of the character in the book.  For that matter, most of the movie characters seemed a bit shallow.  That may be the result of trying to fit an epic story into a 2 ½ hour movie.

My purpose here today is not to write a critique of either the novel or the film.  Instead, I want to point your attention to this simple fact: evil exists…and we will spend our lives either fighting it or capitulating to it.  The story of Jean Valjean is captivating and haunting because he was wronged by a system which considered the poor as expendable.  Valjean’s initial response was to  fight that system with malice and deceit.  A powerful change happens to Valjean as the story unfolds.  His transformation results from an act of unconditional love.  With a new heart and a converted outlook on life, he spends the rest of his days fighting against the very force that once consumed him.

I learned long ago that the most heart-pounding, nerve-wrenching stories MUST have a very evil bad guy (or girl).  After all, the battle is largely meaningless unless it includes the hope of bringing down some form of insidious darkness.  In Les Miserables, Javert might be seen as that villain.  However, he is far more the victim than the perpetrator of darkness. Jean Valjean was considered evil because he stole a loaf of bread to feed hungry family members.  Javert considered himself good because of his self-rejecting moralism.  Both men, though, were victims of an evil system which only Valjean wanted to escape.  After all, moralism is easier to defend than repentance.  That is, until a person’s own version of morality fails them, as it does Javert.

I spent far too many years of my life failing to understand the depths of pervasive evil in our world.  Maybe my enemy wasn’t dark enough to really grab my attention.  That is true no longer. I recently reflected with these lines:
If you stand for the right,
You’ll be in a fight,
For people love darkness
More than they love light.

You see, I have been the moralist and I have been the penitent.  I have come to realize that being the latter requires that I face up to the battle lines in our world.  It was Paul who reminded us that our struggle is NOT against flesh and blood.  Like Javert, people are the (often willing) victims of a world twisted by genuine evil.  Fortunately, God has given us weapons of war to bring down the great schemes of our enemy.  That’s the topic this weekend at Stone Ridge Church.  You don’t want to miss it!  If you can’t make it to one of our services, catch the podcast!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Dead Or Alive? It Matters!

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When Cathy and I recently watched “Move Over, Darling,” starring Doris Day and James Garner, we pretty much knew we were in for a treat.  We have long admired the stars and figured that the film would be captivating.  We enjoyed the expected humor, but the story resonated on a number of levels.  The gist of it is this: how much would change if a spouse, thought to be long dead, turned up alive?  The answer, of course, is EVERYTHING!

Everything would change.  It doesn’t matter that a court had announced the death as legally viable and the life insurance had paid off.  It would make all the difference in the world if the person wasn't really dead.

I won’t give away the plot line of the movie.  It’s worth the watch, even without dinosaurs. (Nor does the city of Los Angeles get destroyed by an earthquake.)  Even without digitally-enhanced action, this film has twists and turns and some life-changing decisions that MUST be made.  It’s scarred with human failures as well as the lack of communication among the main characters.

I mention the “dead or alive” question here because the entire faith of Christianity hinges on it. Most of us would say that Confucius said some pretty wise things.  The same would be true of Buddha.  No one can question that Mohammed founded a religion that has influenced the far corners of the earth.  The single feature that sets Christianity apart is the faith that Jesus Christ died on a Roman cross, was buried in a borrowed tomb, then rose from the grave, never to die again.

Only Christians will tell you, “The One we follow is alive!”  We don’t mean that He is alive in our hearts and minds.  We are not saying that He is alive because His teachings are life-changing. We are saying that He is fully alive and has conquered the power of death.

Saul of Tarsus dedicated his life to stamp out the teaching that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah who had risen from the dead.  With great violence, Saul came against the followers who had dedicated their very lives to spread the news about Jesus.  They wouldn’t back down, so he grew even more forceful.  One day he was on the road from Jerusalem to Damascus.  His purpose was to shut down the followers of Jesus in Syria.  Later, Paul described what happened to him on that road:

6 “As I was on the road, approaching Damascus about noon, a very bright light from heaven suddenly shone down around me.
7 I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’
8 “‘Who are you, lord?’ I asked. “And the voice replied, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, the one you are persecuting.’
9 The people with me saw the light but didn’t understand the voice speaking to me.
10 “I asked, ‘What should I do, Lord?’ “And the Lord told me, ‘Get up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told everything you are to do.’
11 “I was blinded by the intense light and had to be led by the hand to Damascus by my companions.
Acts 22:6-11 (New Living Translation)

Saul’s physical blindness was a reminder of his long-held spiritual blindness.  Was it because Saul hadn’t heard of a resurrected Christ that he didn’t believe?  Obviously not.  He had heard and had seen formerly timid people who were now willing to die a martyr’s death because of their faith.  It didn’t convince him, just as many of us aren’t convinced of the veracity of Islam just because some are willing to die.  What DID convince the scholar/religious zealot?  He said that he SAW Jesus…alive!  He heard Jesus speak.  For Saul, an alive Jesus changed everything!

It matters whether or not Jesus is alive.  If He isn’t, skeptics can doubt without danger.  If He is, everything He said must be true.  One verse alone, John 14:6 (I encourage you to look it up), is enough to rattle many cages!

We will pick up the subject of a living Jesus this weekend at Stone Ridge Church.  It’s the next installment of “Why Bother?”  You don’t want to miss it!  Can’t be there?  Catch the podcast!