Monday, October 31, 2016

More Blessed To Give...

I love gifts! Don’t you?

I am writing this on the last morning of October. Yes, I know what tonight is! In a few hours, our Small Group will join us in front of our house, eating Chili (“Grandma Norris’s Chili!!!”), cornbread and (maybe) a few pieces of candy as we greet people from our neighborhood and pray for God’s blessing upon them as they Trick or Treat.

But, my thoughts this morning are far more about yesterday. I have realized in the past 24 hours that none of us could have imagined back in January what would happen on the last weekend of October.

What happened? Stone Ridge Church asked Tom Burks to succeed me as Sr. Pastor. And he accepted! It’s hard to imagine anyone more excited than me about this decision. Early this year, our Elders and I struggled with the question of when to begin the work to find a new pastor. None of us expected some “Aha!” moments by God, which brought the Elders to a unanimous decision to recommend Tom. None of us guessed that it would move along so quickly, but we are all rejoicing in God's obvious timetable.  He alone knows what the future holds and He brought us to this quick decision for a reason.

The transition will formally begin on January 1, 2017. We expect it to take most or all of next year, but Tom and I have been talking for weeks about what it will look like. As the retiring pastor, my heart is full of hope and expectation!
UNADJUSTEDNONRAW thumb 2df6
You know, St. Paul wrote that it’s more blessed to give than to receive. That means it’s still a blessing to receive. This pastoral transition is a huge gift from God to Stone Ridge Church and to me. I have longed for a church that continues to find ways to reach people with the love of Christ in rapidly changing times. I think Tom is the man to lead us into that future. Game on!

Speaking of giving, we begin a new series at Stone Ridge this weekend, simply called “Gifts.”  In a recent conversation about the Biblical accounts of the birth of Jesus, we realized that every key player in the drama gave something. The whole history, stated in one short sentence, “God so loved…that He gave His only son…” (John 3:16), is surrounded by characters who had to make choices to give. It’s pretty amazing stuff and I can’t wait to begin unpacking it with you this weekend!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Standing Watch

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW thumb 2dd6
I learned something during the opening days of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. Being the pastor of a church with many military members has taught me numerous great lessons, but OIF challenged me — along with our whole church — in some unique ways. It’s one thing to help support the family of a military member on deployment. It’s entirely different when you are helping Stand Watch over them when they send their loved ones off to combat.

OIF meant that many of the people in normally “non-deployable” jobs were being sent off to war. For Stone Ridge Church, it meant that we had over 20 families to serve as their spouse/parent was sent away into dangerous territory. For Cathy and me, we discovered that we were suddenly leading a small group of wives whose husbands were gone for an indefinite time. We prayed for them, made ourselves available to them and encouraged them as they went about their lives with as much normalcy as possible. Their job was to keep things going here, without disrupting the focus of their service member there. Everyone knew that combat was hard and extremely dangerous; we wouldn’t make it more so by communicating some of the nagging problems of life with those who were away fighting for us all.

I write this today because I gained a perspective during OIF about a unique part of my role as a pastor. Those who follow Jesus are frequently called his bride. One of the most apt descriptions of our relationship with the Savior is found in the holy, intimate, fully-commited bonds of matrimony. While I am individually a part of Christ’s bride, my pastoral job is largely to Stand Watch over the beloved of Jesus.

During OIF, I interacted with the brides of others. I gained great respect as I watched them carry their increased responsibility with dignity and courage. I heard their hearts as they longed for the safe return of their husbands. I took seriously their requests that I not throw them into a panic with an unannounced visit to their homes. I had been put on their call lists; my presence without prior notice would send off alarm bells that something terrible had happened.

My recent prayers have frequently turned to the impending end of my assignment (from God) to Stand Watch over the part of Jesus’ bride called Stone Ridge Church. I am in awe that God would have selected me for such a responsibility. I want to finish it well…and I want to turn it over to a successor who gets it. The honor of caring for the bride of Christ is far overshadowed by the gravity of the task. Unlike the spouse whose loved one goes off to war, Jesus is a very present Husband. He promised that he would be with us. Still, he chose that some would carry the load of Standing Watch.

This coming weekend at Stone Ridge Church is very critical. The church family will consider Tom Burks as he communicates God’s Word to us. Tom is the unanimous recommendation of our Stone Ridge elders as my successor. Please pray for him. It’s a serious responsibility we are all contemplating. For the church, it’s the responsibility of prayerfully seeking God as we voice our individual opinions on this decision. For Tom, it’s the riveting task of  whether or not Jesus is calling him to Stand Watch at Stone Ridge.

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Road Ahead



I don’t know if God has a department of data and statistics in heaven; I don’t know if such things will matter much there. But, if God does, I will find it fascinating to discover little tidbits when I get to the end of this life. One such piece of trivia will be which highway I traveled more than any other highway during my lifetime. It’s very possible that the ultimate winner would be U.S. Highway 60 between my hometown of Socorro, NM, and the great metropolis of Pie Town, where my grandparents homesteaded in the 1930s and where my parents met.

We went west to Pie Town pretty often when I was young. Then, the decision to go to college in Arizona was followed by the choice to live in the Grand Canyon state for most of my life. Even though Interstate highways can often get you there faster, the closest road between my current home and my boyhood home has long been (you guessed it) through Pie Town.

It’s not Pie Town, though, that is on my mind this day. Instead, it’s a stretch of that highway over the St. Augustine Plains.


RiLO6YO7RcK5OuCPVcksVA thumb 2dd4
That big patch of brown in this satellite photo tells a simple story of a road that stretches out in a very straight line for 20 or so miles between some gorgeous mountain terrain. It’s that very straight road that has my attention as I consider what is happening in our lives.

If you have never traveled U.S. Highway 60 between Datil and Magdalena, you may not know that today it is clearly known for the huge dishes that make up the Very Large Array. Having grown up in that part of the country, my fascination with the highway there stretches back long before the VLA captured the skyline.

Driving east from Datil, you pass through a few hills, then quickly find yourself entering that ribbon of road. Far ahead of you, the ribbon climbs up from the other side of the plains, then disappears as it goes over a hill.

When I was a little boy, that highway ribbon seemed to go on forever. It would capture my imagination as I considered how far away it was. Getting there seemed to take “forever” in my childhood. Even then, however, we would gradually ascend that first small hill rising from the plains and be that much closer to our destination.

It seemed endless...

I write today about a different stretch of highway in our lives. For over thirty years, we have been at Stone Ridge Church. Though our traveling companions have constantly changed over the years, we have kept moving consistently toward a change in the road that was once so far away.

Today it isn’t!

Over the weekend, our Stone Ridge Elders announced their unanimous recommendation of Tom Burks to succeed me as Stone Ridge Sr. Pastor.

NewImageTom just celebrated twenty years on our church staff. To say that working with him is a joy is understated…way understated! Tom has pushed my buttons (mostly in good ways), constantly teased me and often challenged my thinking. He is a generation behind me (even though I have more hair) and has frequently helped me better understand some of the nuances of communicating with younger people in our church.

Tom has been our worship pastor for most of those years. A friend of mine once said, “Tom could sing the phone book and it would be inspiring.” I couldn’t agree more. He has a great voice and a wonderful heart for God.

Of late, though, Tom has had the itch to do something different in ministry. He has grown into an excellent communicator. He has long been the best strategic thinker on our staff. He is a leader at heart who loves to raise up other leaders. For my part, I completely believe that Tom will be an effective Sr. Pastor for the next season of life at Stone Ridge Church.

The Elders, though, have carefully reminded us that it is the church (not the Elders, nor the retiring pastor) who must call the pastor. For that reason, Tom will be preaching on the weekend of October 22-23. On October 23, from 4:00 to 5:30 p.m., he will be available at a Q & A which will help people get more acquainted with him. Then, on October 29-30, Stone Ridge members will vote (to either call Tom or not) in all three services.

Several have been asking about the road ahead for Cathy and me. The long answer is that we don’t fully know. There are possibilities that we will stay connected to Stone Ridge for the rest of our lives. We are praying daily (please pray with us) for God to show us what our next season is supposed to be.

The shorter answer is that we will be around for a while. If the church votes to call Tom as Sr. Pastor and if he accepts, we won’t officially begin the pastoral transition until January. The first three months or so will be taken up with finding his successor in the worship ministry. The next three months, he will begin to pick up some of the preaching and leadership responsibilities. The current plan includes a needed break for the Burks family next summer. I expect that Tom will be taking the lead in pretty much everything by next fall. Neither Tom nor I (nor the Elders) are fully sure what the exact schedule will be, but we are trusting God to show us bit by bit which His plan is.

The narrow ribbon of highway was once so far away. The road is beginning to rise toward the unknown in the hills beyond. Cathy and I are buckled in for the adventure!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Thanks, Granny!

Some of my fondest boyhood memories involve my uncle, Granville Norris. “Granny,” as we kids called him, was a bachelor until the ripe old age of 83. It was one of my great privileges to perform his wedding!  

 

When Grandpa and Grandma Norris moved near us in the Rio Grande valley, Granny and Yogi (my dad’s other brother), continued to live up in the mountains near Pie Town, NM. Granny’s work was often slow in the cold winters and he would slip down to visit all of us. One Christmas vacation, he took me fishing early every morning, teaching me some of the art of catching trout. We would build a campfire on the edge of the little lake, bait our hooks, then warm up at the fire as we watched our poles. Granny loved to fish and I loved to go with him.  

 

When I was in high school, unusual moisture patterns high in the Rocky Mountains caused a sudden decision to route all the water from the main channel of the Rio Grande over into a large irrigation canal near us.  Rather than tapering off the flow, it was quickly shut down, leaving huge pools of water in the river bed.  Many of those deep pools contained fish.  One day, Granny and I went over to the river to see what we could catch. At this point, it was okay to catch them with nets or by hand…they would die anyway.

 

As we made our way down the riverbed, stopping and checking every possible fish hole, I remember seeing a snake out sunning on a sand bar. It was a not-so-subtle reminder that there were other things besides fish out there. It was August, the weather was quite warm and we checked as many holes as we could before it was time to make our way home.

 

We found a place to work through the salt cedar on the bank of the river and climb up to the levee road where Granny’s truck was parked. I took the lead and zig-zagged up the embankment, when suddenly Granny gave me a bone-jolting shove and shouted, “Get up there!"

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW thumb 2dcd

I loved and trusted my uncle. Granny had been a friend, a teacher, someone I could laugh with and confide in. But, he had NEVER been so harsh before.  As I hustled up the embankment, he told me, “You just stepped over a big rattlesnake hidden under a log!"

 

Granny and I did our best to destroy that snake. It may not be scientifically correct, but my motto is still, “The only good snake is a dead shake!” After it was over, I relived the memory over and over. As years have gone by, I can still hear Granny’s voice in my memory. It never seems so near as that day when he yelled, “Get up there!”  

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW thumb 2a1b

If you and I are to live FatihFit lives, we must develop a relationship with “The Trainer.” The ways our eternal Trainer communicates are not always kind and gentle. Neither are they always pushy or rough. In every situation, He has our best in mind…even if we don’t understand it at the time! I can’t wait to talk to you about it this weekend at Stone Ridge Church. Hope you can join us!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Beyond the Pain

I think Malcolm Gladwell got it right — in my opinion, he often does. His book Outliers describes what he calls the “10,000 Hour Rule,” the idea that people who find something they love to do and stay at for at least 10,000 hours are the ones who leave an indelible mark on their world. Among his many examples are The Beatles who, long before they were thrust upon the world from The Ed Sullivan Show, had spent thousands of hours playing in shabby clubs in Paris. Before they became known, they would often play for hours every night, making barely enough to make ends meet. Yet, the demand of those accumulated hours was to find ways to keep fresh music coming for their handful of fans. The combined musical proficiency and artistic creativity helped them to be unusually ready to take the world by storm.

I think of Gladwell’s discovery of the power of 10,000 hours as I reflect on our current Stone Ridge sermon series, FaithFit.
Thumb FaithFit1 Web 1024


The idea is that God, the “World’s Best Personal Trainer,” wants to help us get fit with faith. The challenges of everyday life demand us to move beyond the minimal, mundane way in which many followers of Jesus have tried to live.

I introduced this series last weekend, describing how a number of my friends have become active in CrossFit. CrossFit training, they have explained, isn’t about body sculpting; it’s about being ready for the everyday physical challenges of life. As I watch some of them overcome years of being out of shape, I rejoice that they are getting healthy. Every hour of training, combined with every healthy food choice, is moving them closer to the energy and strength they have needed all along.

If CrossFit is helping people face the physical challenges they meet everyday, FaithFit is far more important! FaithFit people...
  • Love, even when surrounded by hate.
  • Hold on to God, even when others give up.
  • Experience peace in the middle of turmoil.
  • Live confidently, even when many are afraid.
Those FaithFit qualities require that we learn to live beyond the pain which tries to hold us back. If physical fitness means moving beyond temporary discomfort to do things we never dreamed we could do, spiritual fitness is even more so. “Those whom God uses greatly, He wounds greatly,” someone wisely said. Jesus Himself endured pain in this life because of the joy He knew would come later (Hebrews 12:2). If that was true for Him, how much more for us?

It is pain that holds many people back from getting fit. Our challenge this weekend at Stone Ridge Church will be to willingly submit to God’s Boot Camp. It won’t be easy, but the results are out of this world! See you there!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Put Your Shoes On

Like many of you, I’m fascinated by the advances in energy-saving technology. I’m pretty amazed at the current slate of LED lights, with the way they shine while staying cool and use almost no energy in the process. Obviously, we have been headed down this road for years with the now out-of-date fluorescent lights. It’s a fluorescent light story I want to tell you.

Thumb hqdefault 1024


I was in our kitchen one day, changing the fluorescent tubes in the light fixture. As usual, I was amazed at how I could touch the old light with my bare hands and gently twist it to remove it from the fixture. I left the light switch on…my hands were far from any live electricity...and the glass of the tube served to insulate me from any danger.

Like you, I had changed fluorescent tubes dozens of times over the years.  We even kept a small supply of them so we were ready when we needed to replace them. Easy peasy, right? Yep, easy peasy…until I let go of my grip on the tube with one hand and failed to control the effect of gravity as I held it in my other hand. The first result was a “slight” bump on the corner of a kitchen countertop. The second result was an explosion of tiny shards of glass when the tube escaped my other hand and fell to the floor.

What do you do when needles of glass are covering your kitchen floor, along with some in your dining room and in your family room? I have since discovered that perhaps I should have been concerned about the mercury that escaped. For me, though, the first step would be, “Put your shoes on!” Quite honestly, I don’t remember if I had my shoes on that day. However, the idea of walking barefoot over that glass minefield makes sleeping on a bed nails rather comfy by comparison.

At Stone Ridge Church, our vision is quite simple: “A church of broken people for broken people.” Reaching those who have been blasted and bumped and banged up by life is a full “shoes on” experience. Shards of pain can show up in the most unexpected places and the most inopportune times. It’s worth it, though, because Jesus has a way of doing more than vacuuming up the broken shards of our lives. He takes those broken pieces and turns them into works of art that become His tools to touch and change others who are broken.



That’s our topic this weekend at Stone Ridge. Hope you can join us!

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Crazy Schedule and An Old Elm Tree

When I was in Jr. High (today it is often called Middle School), I was really bugged by a quirk of school-bus scheduling. My school schedule called for an 8:00 a.m. class, which was before our bus arrived at school. That wasn’t a problem, since my dad got to work at about 7:45 and his workplace was just a couple of blocks from the school. The end of the day was the part of the schedule I despised. Our bus drove two routes each morning and each afternoon. The bus driver lived a ways out of town, near the end of one of the routes. He kept the bus at his house, so the most natural thing to do was to pick up the route nearest his home first in the morning and drop us off last in the afternoon.

As I said, the morning part wasn’t a problem. It was getting out of school at 2:45 in the afternoon and not getting home until 4:30 that just seemed not right. One of my friends lived on the OTHER route, the one that got picked up last and taken home first. His school day, from pick-up to drop-off was about an hour shorter than mine.

I found a solution to my dilemma…I started walking the 2 ½ miles home from school. I took shortcuts through town, across fields an over a drainage ditch, often making the journey in just over a half-hour. My mom would often be in town running errands or picking up younger siblings, so I would arrive home to a quiet house and a pile of left-over home cooking from that day’s lunch.  On special days, I could smell the sweetness of fresh donuts piled high on a platter on the kitchen counter.  The pile would be much smaller by the time everyone else got home!
Thumb American Elm Tree Deerfield Academy Old Deerfield MA June 14 2012 1024

After my “snack”, I frequently headed outside with a book, and began the climb about 20 or 25 feet up into a large elm tree, that helped form the property line next to the road which bordered us on two sides. At some point, I had used some scrap lumber to build me a seat between two large forks in those limbs. On breezy days, it could get a little shaky up there, so I found something to help strap me in. I would read and sway in the breeze until the school bus drove by. I was always fascinated by my view, looking at the top of the bus far below me, realizing that the bus driver and passengers had no idea that I was watching them from above.

The scene I just described took place over a half-century ago. I remember it with fondness because then, as now, some of my best replenishment comes when I am alone. If you, however, pulled back the camera to display a wider view of my life, you would see that, even back then I was surrounded by people more often than not. Quiet, alone times may replenish me, but they don’t define what life is about.

The kingdom of God happens as people discover the grace, the love, the hope, the healing and the reconciliation power which God wants to bring to us. We may fill our minds with books and stretch our imagination with the arts; we may train our bodies with athletic competition and grow our soul with prayer. However, we will never…not ever…reach spiritual maturity outside the realm of healthy, encouraging, challenging relationships.

Thumb growing up final 1024

As much as I have cherished my moments in the elm trees of life, I know that being like Jesus requires well-developed, genuine friendships. Let’s talk about it this weekend when we continue our “Growing Up” series at Stone Ridge Church. Hope you can join us!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Never Forget

 

 


If you are like me, you have discovered that human nature is sometimes frustrating and often humorous. This isn’t a political blog and I will steer clear of any partisanship this election year. Maybe that’s why I can’t escape the obvious result of the rancor between the two sides, both of which are quick to minimize the faults and foibles of their own candidates while making a mushroom cloud of every opposition misstep.

…not that it’s hard to locate those missteps...

I smiled when I read the humorous interpretation of some recent polls: 70% of Americans don’t trust one candidate…and 70% of Americans don’t trust the other candidate. It reminds me of the answer an old friend — a teetotaling Baptist pastor -- once gave when asked what to do about a seemingly unsolvable problem. “Turn to hard liquor!” he quipped.

Here you and I are, exhorted to honor those in authority and pray for them as well. We are regularly reminded that a steep price has been paid in blood for our freedom and we must exercise our right to vote. However, we are in such a mess that the best presidential candidates both major political parties can produce are people that most people don’t like and can’t trust.

I told you that I will steer clear of partisanship. I told you that this isn’t a political blog. So, what am I getting at? It’s simply this: both sides of our political system will claim that they have the moral high ground. They will insist that the weaknesses — the lies, the deception, the immoralities, and the arrogance — of THEIR candidate are minuscule when measured up against the same failures in the other candidate. And neither side will have the humility to stand up and say, “I am a sinner in need of grace. I would have no hope if it weren’t for the unconditional love of God."

As you may imagine, I’m not really writing about politicians. I am writing about people who fill the seats in churches every week. Often, we are quick to point out our own successful track record; all the things we do for God, for people and/or for the church. Somehow, we church folks can be just as guilty of claiming a “moral high ground” and we miss one of the simplest stories of Jesus:

Thumb 2015 05 16 16 41 58 1024

10 “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector.
11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector!
12 I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’
14 I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Luke 18:10-14 (New Living Translation)

When we start believing the lie that we are somehow in great spiritual shape because of all the wonderful things we do, we jettison a key part of spiritual maturity from our lives: passionate love for Jesus.

It’s time we recapture our lost spiritual passion, so that will be our focus this weekend at Stone Ridge Church. I invite you to join us Saturday at 5 or Sunday at either 9 or 11.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Don't Quit!






Thumb 154461 1024I picked up Nearing Home, by Billy Graham on audio, then waited a long time to listen to it. I hadn’t expected his wise words to have such an impact on me. We all know Mr. Graham, at least at some level. His crusades around the globe have been seen by multiplied millions. If you have had a chance to attend one of those crusades in person, it stays with you. Billy Graham has been known as the “pastor” to Presidents and Kings. Many of the great leaders of the world have sought his counsel for well over fifty years.

I fully expected Mr. Graham's wisdom in this book, written after he had turned 90. What surprised me was his passion! Here is a man who traveled the world to talk about Jesus, sometimes so weak and sick that he thought he wouldn’t be able to preach. In those times, he asked God to give him strength and focus, only to see God provide for him over and over again. This man, who has seen hundreds of thousands respond to his invitation to receive Christ, rings the bell loudly: “Don’t quit! Live every day to the fullest. Don’t fall into the temptation to just take it easy when you near the end of this life.”

If Billy Graham had written those words in his thirties, they would be meaningful. Coming from a nonagenarian (look it up!), they are downright convicting!

Thumb 260885509 ef52060a8f 1024
Another man who intrigues me is Warren Buffett, who turns 86 this month. If it’s the “American Dream” to make enough to retire and relax, Buffett should have been done a long, long time ago. The man insists on living a relatively simple, frugal life and is giving away most of his wealth to charity. Like Billy Graham, Buffett could have left well enough alone and “retired” a long time ago. Again, like Graham, Buffett keeps doing what his strength allows to make every day count.

Why is it so important to both Graham and Buffett that their days count during this sunset period of life? I came up with one word that seems to drive them: “future.” Even as they near the end, they both want to invest every day doing what they can to help others change their future. They both shine as examples of Psalm 92:14: Even in old age they will still produce fruit.” (New Living Translation) Their commitment goes far beyond their own work ethic, though. They are both sounding the call for others to join them. “Don’t quit!”

All this summer at Stone Ridge Church, we have dug into the stories of Elijah and Elisha, two men of God who stood against the tide of evil in their generation. As Elijah passed his work on to Elisha, it was with an eye to the future. What did Elisha do at the end? We pick that up this weekend, with the final installment of “Don’t Blink!” I hope you can join us!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Slow Down!

Cathy and I just completed a month-long vacation. We traveled to the mountains of Arizona, the mountains and valleys of New Mexico and the rain-washed hills of northeast Kansas.  We saw family, reconnected with people we love, ate too much and endured “hotter-than-normal” weather pretty much everywhere we went.  I got attacked by a man-eating tick, but that’s another story.

The purpose of our trip was to unplug, take long naps and focus on anything other than work. We were mostly successful. Before we left, someone told me that it takes three weeks for most people to fully disconnect from the regular flow of their work, whatever that work may be. It that’s true (our trip seemed to verify it), it means that Cathy and I have only really disengaged from our church leadership lives twice in the thirty years we have been at Stone Ridge.

Maybe it’s the whole three-week thing that opened me up for an aha moment just a few days before we traveled home. The setting was a quick trip up to the mountains around Taos, New Mexico. My brother and some of his family led the way with their travel trailer and we all spent the night together. After our arrival, we took a walking tour of the Taos Plaza, then drove out to the bridge that crosses the Rio Grande Gorge. We were greeted by others with word of some activity below the bridge, then delighted to see...
Thumb IMG 2187 1024
…six Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep emerge from below the bridge.

The next morning, my brother Jimmie and I got up and drove up to the Taos Ski Area, from which we departed on a two-mile hike up to Williams Lake. The 1400-foot gain in elevation was challenging, but the majesty of our arrival was worth every step!
Thumb IMG 2199 1024

A few hours later, we were on our way back to the Albuquerque area, following my brother’s pickup and trailer, just as we had done the day before. It was that trip, slowly winding through some of New Mexico’s magnificent and varied scenery, that caught me off guard. You see, for most of my life, a slow-moving truck and trailer have been nothing more than an obstacle to get past. Much tension has been added to many of our trips because I couldn’t bother to be slowed down by someone else on a two-lane highway.  For two days, the RV in front of us was nothing more than a guide on the way home. My only goal was to follow it at a safe distance and not worry as others had to pass us every few miles.

Arriving back at Jimmie and Melody’s mountain home, I realized how relaxed I was and talked to Cathy about it. A quick run into town a few hours later, with a rush around the curves along the way, convinced us both how much more we enjoyed ourselves when we simply slowed down.
Thumb road sign reduced speed 2 1024
It was with a broken heart that the thought hit me, “I have been in a hurry most of my life and it has filled me with tension. How much more could I enjoy life if every journey was like that trip to Taos?"

Throughout this summer, Stone Ridge Church has been looking at the lives of Elijah and Elisha, two Old Testament prophets. “Don’t Blink!” has been a fun and challenging theme. Maybe we could all see more and better enjoy the ride if we slowed down a bit. Maybe we would find that we are noticing much more of the beauty and majesty of God along the way. That’s sure my goal! I hope you can slow down enough to join us for one of our weekend services at Stone Ridge this week!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Next!

He led leaders. He influenced thousands. He pastored a church that baptized over a thousand people a year for many years in a row. It was one of the first mega-churches in the USA. Then he was done and the church needed a new type of pastor/leader.

The pastor I just described sensed my desire to learn from him and poured himself into me when I was a young pastor in my first church. He told me stories and taught me principles that still help me today, almost 35 years later. The reason I reminisce about him is that I learned many huge lessons from him, one of the biggest of which I saw from afar: the conclusion of his work as mega-church pastor.

While today’s headlines seem to be flooded with stories about pastors of large churches who flame out, disqualified by moral failure or by leadership abuse, my pastor friend resigned his church and went off to teach pastoral leadership at a Christian University. He wasn’t slinking away in disgrace. I learned a lesson by watching his final months as a pastor.

My pastor friend got caught in the turbulence of massive cultural change…change which diluted his leadership effectiveness. He had started in that church during a time when most leadership was coming from what came to be known as the “builder” generation. Builders were folks whose worldview was shaped by World War II and its accompanying hardships. After the war, they set out to rebuild this nation. They were hard-working, risk-taking hope-filled people, whose parents had endured The Great Depression and World War I. The Builders respected authority and loved it when a pastor took the reins, made the hard decisions and courageously led them forward. They also understood when those in authority made decisions with little or no input from those following them. Neither were they surprised when their leaders took on the perks of authority. In their thinking, it was “normal” that the pastor of a large church would have the shaded parking space nearest the church buildings, should be respected from afar (even if you never got close enough to shake his hand) and should be front and center at most every large event.

Many in my generation gave their hearts to Christ under the leadership of my pastor-friend. In their young adult years, they couldn’t help but admire him…until things changed.

The next generation, often called “baby boomers,” shook our nation with a whole new way of thinking about leadership. They questioned authority, rather than honoring it. They resented the perks of the old-style leaders. They expected to participate in decisions, with leaders seeking them out for input before pressing forward. In the case of my pastor friend, many of the same people who came to Christ under his pastorate began to question his style as they started taking jobs in upper management of their workplaces.

“Suddenly,” my very effective friend wasn’t finding it so easy to lead. I didn’t hear about his troubles right away, but was shocked when I learned that people were leaving his church by the hundreds, heading off to other churches where they could have a voice in the big decisions of their places of worship.

My friend’s heart for God didn’t change. His track record of helping many find Jesus was intact. His desire to see churches be effective was the same. But his pastoral ministry came to an end.

I think about my old pastor friend today as I remember the prophet Elijah. He stood for God at the top of a conflict-strewn mountain. His prayer life rings out as a testimony even today. His heart for people and his faithful dependence on God stand as permanent models for us all. Of all the Old Testament prophets, he was the one sent back from heaven to meet with Jesus on top of mount of transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8).
Thumb DONT BLINK SRC WEBSITE BANNER UPDATED 1024
But even Elijah’s service had to end.  And that end opened the door for another prophet, known for even more of God’s miracles. It was a “Big Deal” and we will focus in upon it this weekend. It’s Part 5 of the “Don’t Blink” series at Stone Ridge Church. It will be an exciting weekend…you don’t want to miss it!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Let It Rain

Thumb Corn and sunflower butterfly is optional 298058648 1024
If a butterfly flaps it’s wings in Yuma, will it fix the drought in California? I know the question sounds crazy, but that’s the basic idea of “The Butterfly Effect.” If this micro view of the chaos theory teaches us anything, it’s that the small things we do can have significant results. This is very encouraging to most people because we live in a generation in which pretty much everyone wants to make a difference.

I am a runner and I subscribe to a Facebook page made up of people around the world who are committed to run. It has to be one of the most encouraging groups I have ever seen, serving up constant support to those who are trying to overcome their natural penchant to be couch potatoes. One thing that has intrigued me, though, is how much runners get involved with the needs of other runners. If a runner gets injured, their post gets overwhelmed with words of hope and promises to pray for them. Runners say things like, “I”m dedicating my 10K to…” When someone on the page describes an illness or an accident involving their child, the post goes viral. Runners around the world look for anything they can do to offer hope and encouragement.

There is just something in us that wants to make a difference. We may feel as small as a butterfly in our everyday life, but we hope that we can do something…anything…that might help solve the worlds problems...

…so why not pray?
Thumb DONT BLINK SRC WEBSITE BANNER UPDATED 1024
“Elijah (the Bible says) was a human being just like us, but he prayed and the rain stopped. Later, he prayed and it started raining.”  Elijah didn’t need to flap his wings, hoping to make some minute atmospheric difference that might bring rain in a few weeks or months. He needed to pray, believing that the God who created weather is big enough to change it because of the prayers of one man. Elijah’s story is incredibly hopeful for you and me. We are people who desperately want to see God move. “Let It Rain” is this week’s episode of “Don’t Blink” at Stone Ridge Church. It will be encouraging, fun and helpful, so you don’t want to miss it. Can’t be there?  Catch the podcast!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Paid In Full




Weight lifting 1161875 960 720
I was recently telling a friend the story of a guy named James who move to my hometown when I was in Jr. High. I remember him because of his attitude and the way he treated his classmates. James dressed somewhat conservatively, was friendly without being pushy and didn’t demonstrate the flash of someone who thought they were pretty special. In fact, I might have just missed the arrival of James in our town except for a quality I had never seen before.

I was in a gym class with James. I had seen him in his street clothes and, as I said, he was just a normal guy. But the first time I saw him in gym shorts, I was shocked by the bulging leg muscles he had. Then, on the track around the football field, I realized that James could fly down the 100 yard dash in a way that surprised all of us.  In fact, James could run step for step with the fastest guy in school, who was several inches taller and had legs that would carry him like the wind.

The difference between James and the other guy could be defined in two simple words: work ethic. These days, I am accustomed to seeing high school athletes log long hours in the gym pumping weights and conditioning themselves for whatever sport they play. Back then, I had never really seen such work…until James.

As it ended up, James’s family only stayed in our town a couple of years. Then, for whatever reason, they moved to the town 75 miles south of us. Our high schools played each other in sports, so I got to see James a few times making great plays on their teams. I enjoyed catching up with someone I considered a friend…and it hurt to see the way he helped his teams beat us…all because he paid the price long before he ever arrived on the field.
Thumb DONT BLINK SRC WEBSITE BANNER UPDATED 1024
Last weekend at Stone Ridge Church, we learned how God worked in the life of Elijah the prophet. Elijah went through severe testing, learning to trust God in a time of drought. As he learned faith, God sent him to teach faith to a widow and her son. Those tests…those challenges…kept having higher stakes. Then the day came when God brought Elijah out of the “training room” and onto the “playing field.” Tom Burks will pick up the story this weekend at Stone Ridge Church. You don’t want to miss the second installment of “Don’t Blink!” Can’t be there?  Catch the podcast.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Forged and Tempered

Anyone who has read or watched The Lord of the Rings knows that Aragorn could not conquer the dark lord Sauron without the re-forging of the ancient sword which had been broken centuries earlier, cutting off Sauron’s hand and wresting the ring of power from him.



The images of the hot metal being hammered into place by the elves give mental pictures to the hard work of the Holy Spirit upon everyone who wants their lives to count and make a difference in our broken world.  Forging is the application of heat and mechanical energy that causes metal to change shape.  Tempering is the application of heat to decrease the hardness of alloys, making them more pliable and less brittle.

When we read the Old Testament stories of two prophets — Elijah and Elisha — we are immediately drawn to the out-of-the-box, over-the-top miracles that God did through them. We can “see” Elijah taunting the false prophets on Mount Carmel, then calling down fire from heaven to burn his sacrifice to God. We can feel the relief of Naaman after he relented and took Elisha’s instructions to dip seven times in the Jordan River so that his leprosy would be healed.  But, have we ever stopped to see that God was using challenges and pain and difficulties to forge and temper these two prophets?  Both of them are remembered for their mountain-top experiences, but we quickly forget the doubts that surfaced as God graciously applied heat and external energy to forge and temper them.

If you want to walk with God, he will heat you up to harden you and mold you into shape. Then he will heat you up again to decrease your hardness and make you more flexible, increasing your endurance as his servant.

This weekend begins our Summer Sermon Series at Stone Ridge Church.  For the next 13 weeks, we will focus upon Elijah and Elisha, learning how God forged and tempered them.  Then he did miracles! I’m excited about this series, entitled “Don’t Blink” (or you might miss the miracle!) for multiple reasons. Among them is the privilege of working with this year’s preaching team. We will learn from each other and all of us will grow at Stone Ridge Church. I hope you can join us for the introduction this weekend. Can’t make it? Catch the podcast!

Monday, May 2, 2016

A Day of Hope

Thumb mothers day 1301851 960 720 1024
I have frequently written about the blessing of growing up in a home with two parents who loved their family and who lived their faith consistently. My dad has been gone for many years, but my mom will turn 90 in just a few weeks. None of us should ever take the credit for the good that comes from our lives; for me passing the bulk of those kudos to my parents is “easy peasy.”

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 25, 2016

Glad I'm Not Job


Thumb IMG 2108 1024

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

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

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

God wants you to know that he hasn’t forgotten you. No matter how much you have messed up nor how many times you have lost your faith, he is still there for you. And he promises his children that their future is one of hope…even if they are at the very end of life.
Thumb Web Banner 1024
The “Why?” questions are a fitting finale to our “Spring Cleaning” series this weekend at Stone Ridge Church. In addition to anchoring to God’s Word about our “whys”,  we will offer everyone who needs it a chance to receive prayer. It’s time for your hope to be rekindled, so join us and bring some friends! Can’t make it? Make sure you catch the podcast!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Looking For A "Handy" Excuse

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

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

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

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


Rather than accept that Jesus had just healed the man’s hand, they looked for a “handy” excuse. “God doesn’t work like that! We believe in the Bible and we we know God doesn’t work like that!” In other words, “If it’s outside my comfort zone, it can’t be from God.”
Thumb Web Banner 1024
What happened to me in the car with my friends and what happened to the religious leaders in Jesus’ day were both examples of “Hangups.” The truth is, we all have some and they blind us to some of the ways God does his work. One the best things we can do is learn to recognize and acknowledge our hangups, asking God to clean them out of our lives. No Spring Cleaning is complete without a few hangups being swept out and dumped in the trash where they belong.

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

Monday, April 4, 2016

Yep, this is my lawn...

Thumb IMG 2088 1024
…and it has a story to tell.

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

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

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

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

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

I thought of our lawn as I thought about a critical element that must be present for God to convert our hearts from dry, desert places to places teeming with life. That element? Forgiveness! It begins with the forgiveness we get when we place our faith in Jesus’ completed work on the cross. He died to take our place and pay for our forgiveness. Sadly, that beginning is as far as it goes for some people. Some are happy to receive forgiveness, but resistant to extend it to someone else. What could have been a joyful, beautiful heart is quickly dry and barren again. Sadly, some never allow themselves to fully experience the abundance that Jesus offers them.
Thumb Web Banner 1024
We are learning to live transformed lives at Stone Ridge Church during our “Spring Cleaning” series. The power and importance of forgiveness is essential for us to fully realize God’s gift. That’s our topic this weekend and you don’t want to miss it! Can’t be there? Catch the podcast?

Monday, March 28, 2016

Power Down

 

Thumb 160072289 0a0533b487 1024


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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 21, 2016

Are We There Yet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thumb Bridge 1024

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

Monday, March 14, 2016

"It's Not My Job"


Thumb Atlas sculpture on collins street melbourne 1024

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

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

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

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


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

It’s Easter season. WE ARE RESPONSIBLE TO REACH OUT IN LOVE. WE AREN’T RESPONSIBLE FOR THE OTHER PERSON’S RESPONSE! It’s not our job to change their heart.

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 7, 2016

Building Bridges Toward Your Rich Uncle

Thumb 2973705142 8456d5581f o 2 1024

If you have followed Jesus for a while, you probably noticed the raw wisdom in His words: “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 19:23 New Living Translation) It’s one thing to attempt a serious conversation about God’s love and what He can do for a person who is homeless or hungry or hurting; it’s quite another to pursue a similar discussion with someone who happens to be resource-rich.  You may not have a rich uncle or aunt or cousin or sibling or neighbor, but someone in your circle is far from God and has plenty of distractions to cloud his or her condition. Engaging them with why they need Jesus and how much His love could mean to them can be exponentially challenging.

 

While I will talk about this to our Stone Ridge Church family this weekend, here are a few thoughts on the subject:

  1. Even Jesus acknowledged the challenge of reaching those who have much.
  2. People with resources are often targets of those who would try to benefit from their influence, their fame and/or their wealth. Consequently, they are naturally skeptical. 
  3. This who have much leverage their wealth to create walls that insulate them from connection to the outside world. Their private lives are frequently quite different from the people they are in public.
  4. Jesus’ promise in Luke 4:18-19, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord ’s favor has come.” (New Living Translation), can be great news.  However, His promise will be ignored until someone realizes that he/she is poor, captive, blind, oppressed and needs God’s favor.  We must pray for them to recognize their need.
  5. Many of the resource-rich find it hard to trust others. We who follow Christ must be willing to spend the time necessary to build a good name before them. Proverbs is a great place to start with practical ways for us to do this.
  6. The Bible is full of examples in which God transformed those who came from wealth or influence, suddenly realized their deep needs and were changed by God’s power. 2 Kings 5 gives the story of Naaman, the commander of a great army who developed leprosy. Even in his condition, he wasn’t ready to humble himself. Someone loved him enough to confront his pride; as a result, God not only healed him, but transformed his heart.  

 

You and I are surrounded by people like Naaman. They have great needs that get lost in the shadow of their ample resources. As we open our eyes and our hearts, we will be amazed at how many of them encounter the powerful love of God and receive the gift of new life through Christ.

 

If you have resource-rich friends, many of them are still open to an invitation to Easter at your church.  This may be the one weekend a year when they are open, so we much make the most of those opportunities.  “Take Me To Your Leader” is our topic at Stone Ridge Church as we journey toward Easter weekend. This week we will unpack even more about how to reach those with resources. Hope you can join us!  If not, catch the podcast.

Monday, February 29, 2016

All In The Family

Thumb IMG 0200 1024

It was a conversation I wish I hadn’t heard, but sometimes the words you wish you hadn’t heard make an indelible mark on your soul. They teach you something you needed to learn. This instance was a conversation between two family members. One, a man who follows Jesus, was passionately trying to “convert” the other, who just as passionately resisted. The scene was a family crisis and everyone was reeling from the pain.

“Have you ever truly given your heart to the Lord?” queried the Jesus-follower. He was pushing…hard…and I knew it was from a genuine concern for the other man’s eternity.

“I’m not here to talk about this,” replied the second man with a note of anger in his voice. “I came here to support my family!”

The air was thick with the conflict between these two men, both of whom I loved deeply. In reality, I had just as much concern about the heart of the second man as my kinsman who was trying to share the Gospel with him. Was my own failure to say something to a man I loved a lack of faithfulness? Was my Christian family member driven by guilt as much as by Gospel passion? I’m not sure I have an easy answer to those questions.

This whole event, which took place almost four decades ago, sprang to memory as I thought about our upcoming sermon series, “Take Me To Your Leader.”  Most of you have heard of one of Jesus’ apostles named Andrew. Some of you remember that he was the brother of Simon Peter. What you probably don’t know is that Andrew fills a unique role in the narrative of the Gospels: every time we meet him, he is taking someone to meet Jesus. Somehow, Andrew had a winsome way of connecting people to Christ, including his own family.  That’s huge for me, because I find that family are some of the hardest people for me to talk to about the life Jesus offers.

Easter arrives in March this year. The season of remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus remains one of the best opportunities you and I have to naturally invite those we love to come and hear about Jesus. All during February, we have been focusing on how to pray and “Take A Minute” out of our lives to show Christ’s love to someone in our path. Easter offers a natural way to take it a step further and invite people to church with us.

“Take Me To Your Leader” begins this weekend with some simple ways you and I can build bridges with our family during this holy season. I hope you can join us for a worship gathering at Stone Ridge Church. Can’t make it? Catch the podcast!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Not Enough


Lamborghini Aventador
A few years ago, medical problems landed me in an unfamiliar place. The specialist I had chosen happens to be in one of the nicer neighborhoods in all of Arizona. The location of his practice meant that Cathy and I would spend many days and nights in that area of Phoenix, sometimes in a hotel and other times in a rented condo.

It was during the frequent travel to that upscale community that I remember thinking, “It would be hard to live here and be satisfied with what you have.” The streets were crowded with very new, very expensive cars. Imagine a place where a simple Cadillac can look like a lower end vehicle. In such an environment, envy lives on steroids.

The reason for my whole line of thinking was simple: I spent many years of my life never being satisfied with the car I drove. Every time we got a car, part of the reason was because our previous car just wasn’t good enough for me. I would give Cathy the list of reasons that it made sense for us to dump the old model and get another one. Sometimes she would put up with me. Other times she would make it clear that she considered my idea a bad choice.

To be honest, much of my envy was secretly tucked away in my heart. I had far more dreams of newer, bigger and/or better than I dared speak to my wife about. I’m telling you now because I know that many people struggle with the same thing.  Consequently, I want to introduce you to a word: CONTENTMENT. Is it possible to learn contentment in a world that constantly screams, “Get more…you need it…you want it…you won’t be happy without it?"

This weekend at Stone Ridge Church, we will talk about Contentment as the final piece of the puzzle, helping us to “Reach the Broken Relentlessly.” Simply, it’s hard for us to have the necessary focus to reach out to hurting people when we are constantly trying to fill the emptiness we feel with things which promise fulfillment, but never really deliver. I’m pretty excited to share this with you because I will offer you a step-by-step way off the “never enough" treadmill. I hope you can join us live at Stone Ridge Church…it promises to be a great weekend. Can’t make it? Catch the podcast!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Take A Minute



Thumb RTBR SR Website Banner 955x501 1024
Last week, I told you about a way we are encouraging our Stone Ridge Church family to personally reach the broken. Take A Minute happens when we pray daily, asking God to give us open eyes, open ears and an open heart to see the hurts that are right in front of us.  When we notice them, we are to simply do whatever the Holy Spirit prompts us to do.

I am working a shorter schedule this week so I can play with my grandkids. Therefore, I want to share with you a Take A Minute story that happened with one of my friends recently. I shared it last weekend at Stone Ridge, but it was a holiday and many were gone. I think you will enjoy it!

“I took a minute the other day when I was getting fuel for my truck. I pulled in behind a young couple who were getting out of their car. I inserted my card, started the fuel, then noticed the couple standing there face to face. She had a dollar in one hand and was taking change from the guy’s hand.
Thumb 5569380818 7cce938f6b o 1024
“At this gas station, you can get any size coke for 95 cents. I left the nozzle in my tank to fill it up and went inside to get a Diet Coke. When I went to pay with my drink in one hand and a dollar in the other, the young lady I had seen outside was saying to the cashier: ‘Pump four, $2.63 please.’ She then walked away.

“I sat my Coke on the counter, put the dollar back in my pocket and took out a $20 bill. Handing the twenty to the cashier, I said, ‘This is for my Coke; put the rest on pump four. And, by the way, if by chance they ask, tell them it’s from heaven and they should pass it on.’

“I walked to my truck just as the pump clicked off. I looked over and saw the young man put the nozzle in his tank and start pumping gas. The young lady standing beside him was holding his arm and looking for the pump to shut off at $2.63. I was washing the bugs off my windshield and noticed the girl frantically signaling the young man to STOP! They talked for a moment and she went in the station. Soon she came running out waving her hands, hugged the young man and said something to him. He started pumping again.

“With anticipation on their faces, they kept watching as the pump numbers whizzed by. When it stopped, the young man put the nozzle back and they stood there, hugging and rocking back and forth with tears in their eyes. 

“I had tears in my eyes, too, as I finished washing the bugs from my windshield. They never noticed I was there, but that didn’t matter. I got to thank God for His goodness and the reminder that all I have belongs to Him. I’m just the manager."

All kinds of people I know are having Take A Minute stories. These events release untold joy to those who experience them and I hope you get to hear more of them. Better yet, Take A Minute and experience your own!

According to Jesus, it costs something to be Take A Minute people. Those who weigh the cost and pay the price are the happiest people on earth. That’s our topic this weekend at Stone Ridge Church and I can’t wait to talk with you about it. Can’t be there? Catch the podcast!

Monday, February 8, 2016

They Don't Care How Much You Know...

Thumb RTBR SR Website Banner 955x501 1024
Three generations of our family were represented in a recent conversation around my aunt’s dining room table. Somehow, we got to the topic of how my dad handled it when a customer couldn’t pay for the car repairs dad had done for them. I shared a story my father told me about a man who had the reputation of owing people all over town…and not paying his bills.  “You can take your car when you pay for the work,” dad explained as the man tried to convince him to take “payments.”  Credit cards were largely unused back then; accepted payment was by check or cash.

I shared dad’s story to describe the wisdom of a businessman who genuinely cared for people, but had a keen discernment about whether cutting them some slack was truly helping them or just enabling their bad choices.  My brother was at the table with us as we talked about this. I love Jimmie’s perspective on these matters for several reasons. First, he seems to approach life a lot like our dad. Second, he is eight years my junior and enjoyed a completely different experience growing up in our home than I did (dad’s work shifted from a car dealership to a shop at home, plus he had seen how quickly I grew up and intentionally carved out more time to spend with my brother). Third, Jimmie worked in dad’s business for several years, experiencing things I only heard about.

“I can tell you another story about a customer who couldn’t pay,” Jimmie said. "Dad let him take his car and told me, ‘He will be good for it.’ In the end, dad was right."

You KNOW the saying: “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Is it possible that our dad was caring for people in both the above situations? Was he caring for the first man by forcing him to take responsibility, then caring for the second one by extending him credit? Without doubt, I would say, “Yes!”

Last weekend at our church, I introduced a simple little concept called “Take A Minute.” In our fast-paced world, followers of Jesus are often just as rushed and just as stressed as everyone else. Jesus didn’t cut us any slack because of our busyness, though. He told stories like that of “The Good Samaritan,” emphasizing that being too busy to help the hurting means we are just too busy! “Take A Minute” means that I am praying daily for God to open my eyes, my ears and my heart to notice the hurting people who are already in my path. I’m asking God to prompt me at least once a week to a need right in front of me, then I will “Take A Minute” to do whatever He shows me to do. It might be as simple as listening to the hurts in a person’s life. It might be challenging like helping change a tire on the side of the road or offering to pray for someone. The ways we can reach out to touch the brokenness around us are as far-reaching as the creativity of God.

I had just finished unveiling “Take A Minute” in one of our services last weekend, when a family in need waited to speak with me. In itself, this isn’t very unusual, but I was instantly touched by the deep economic struggle of this family and the seeming desire to get their lives moving in a new direction. Hearing their plight, I explained that we have a pastor who has direct access to the resources to help them and I left to find him. A few minutes later, that pastor and I were walking back to the place where the family was waiting. One of our young men stopped us and said, “My wife and I want to help that family. We are willing to take care of them for a few days.”

I am cautious telling you stories like this one, because we are all so influenced by a culture in which problems are revealed in the first few minutes of a story, then the whole thing is resolved in an hour or two. Real life is rarely like that, but I have frequently seen people, even families, radically changed because someone took a minute. Maybe it was a stream of someones taking a minute and I just got to see the one who helped them get past their obstacle, but in the end, lives were transformed by the goodness of God. There’s power in taking a minute, whether we get to see the full redemptive work of God or not. We must trust that our part is significant, even if it seems minuscule at the time.

I love to tell stories because they help us understand things we might have missed. On this Valentine’s weekend at Stone Ridge Church, I will share three “Take A Minute” stories directly from the pages of Scripture. Each one is a great example of caring for the brokenness in people. I hope you can come, because I believe you will be encouraged to care even more than you do now. By the way, these same accounts from the Bible are what helped my dad learn what genuine care looks like. Bring your sweetheart with you!

Can’t make it this weekend? Catch the podcast!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Another Way

I’m convinced that most of us are controlled, at least in part, by fear. We fear what we can’t control. We fear that others are in control. We fear losing what we have. We fear for our safety. We fear for our children. We fear the brokenness we see in others. 

 

I know this was true of me a number of years ago when I spent some time talking with an acquaintance named Jim. Jim had a terminal illness and my heart went out to him. I expressed my desire to talk and pray with him and we both ended up pleasantly surprised. Jim had some things going on in his life that I feared. It turns out that he feared what I, a conservative pastor, might say to him. Our conversations ended up with us both wanting to really listen to each other and respect the other’s background and viewpoint. There were no heated words, nor well-formulated arguments trying to win the other one over. Instead, we simply listened…and learned…and genuinely cared for one another.

 

Back then, during that season of getting to know Jim, we didn’t use words like “broken” to describe people. Our church’s vision statement, “Stone Ridge is a church of broken people for broken people,” has elicited lots of conversation on this subject. Some have more than a mild distaste for the fact that we call attention to this issue, but it resonates with many, once they take time to think deeply on the meaning of it. 

 

Most of us would quickly say that our world is very broken. Just this morning, I got up to the news that a militant Islamic movement in Africa — Boko Haram — was responsible for the deaths of 86 people in Nigeria. Many of them were children who were burned to death. Closer to home, about ⅔ of Americans say that our nation is heading in the wrong direction. We know that something is broken in the Middle East. We can tell that the world-wide economy appears to be broken. We are all aware of the statistics about broken marriages and broken families. It’s pretty easy to see that the U.S. immigration system is broken. BUT, even though we will acknowledge brokenness in every place and every segment of the world, many of us don’t want to identify ourselves as broken. Our pride rails against such a description. 

 

Perhaps, then, it’s better that we talk about HOW we are broken. Most of us can easily see facets of brokenness in our own lives. None of us would say that we have reached perfection in character, attitudes, thoughts or the way we maintain relationships. Most of us will admit to at least one bad habit that hasn’t been tamed yet. My bad habit is gossip, so please tell me yours! (That’s a joke.)  

 

Therefore, SINCE we are broken, we can open our hearts to the God who loves broken, lost people and sent His perfect son to die for us. As He forgives and begins to heal our brokenness, we can find ways to step into the broken lives all around us. The world has no need of proud (even arrogant) Christians who sit around and criticize everyone else. The world needs followers of Jesus who love genuinely and serve endlessly. When is the last time that you stopped to really listen to someone who is desperate for a listening ear or to touch someone who hasn’t been touched with genuine love and respect for a long time?

 

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were like rivers at flood stage, drowning everyone who got in their way. Jesus came along and gently offered people a drink of living water. It’s time that we learn to love like Jesus, listen like Jesus and touch like Jesus. “Reach the Broken Relentlessly” is part of life for everyone who participates in the life of Stone Ridge Church. We are taking the words of Jesus, the actions of the early church and the practical realities of 21st Century life, to give you a simple way to become involved. I can’t wait to talk about it this weekend. Can’t make it to a service? Catch the podcast!