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Thursday, December 18, 2014

A God of surprise

I am continually amazed at the way God works in our lives.  Just about the time that I think I have God “figured out” He works in my life in a way that completely surprises me!  And then I realize, if I could “figure God out” than He wouldn’t be God! 
The Bible says in Isaiah 55:8, “His ways are not our ways; His thoughts are not our thoughts.” 
God works in ways that we can’t completely understand. 
Who would have thought that the way to bring the Messiah into the world was through a 13 or 14 year old virgin girl, giving birth to Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit?  Yet the scriptures tell us in Luke 1:37, “For nothing is impossible with God.” 
Life can be full of surprises. 
But God is a God of surprise and loves to take ordinary people and ordinary things and make them extraordinary in our lives. 
I encourage you - this Christmas season - to keep your eyes open for a fresh new surprise from our awesome God.  Keep your eyes open for something unexpected, something big. 
Many of our church family this year have faced financial difficulties, physical sickness and spiritual attack.
Here’s what I know:  nothing is too hard for God.  There is no degree of difficulty with God. 
God never worries.  God never frets.  God never raises his hands in the air and says, “Oh, my,” “What am I going to do next?”  “What is a God to do?”  There is no panic switch in heaven.
Just about the time that we are ready to give up - God steps in a does a miracle!
Know this:  Your surprise miracle is on its way!
Let me leave you with this prayer:
“Father, encourage each family at our church with a wonderful Christmas season.  Let this month be filled with times where we reflect about you.  May you give us a holiday surprise that comes not from a gift that we receive, but from your moving in our lives.  Thanks you Jesus.  Thank you for your salvation.  We love you!”
Written with much love........

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What are you looking for this Christmas?

Linus is talking to Peppermint Patty about the theological implications of Christmas and he quotes Luke 2:7, “and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.” 

Linus goes on to say, “Some scholars feel that the “inn” more likely was a private home with a guest room.  Manger could also be confusing here so some scholars think that perhaps the,” -  and Peppermint Patty interrupts him by saying, “Wouldn’t be neat to have a Christmas tree completely covered with just candy canes?” 
Two people looking for two totally different things.
What are you looking for this Christmas? 
Are you looking for the perfect gift, (or gifts) the bargains, the right decorations or Jesus? 
Dr. Luke writes in Luke 2:12,15, “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."  When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." 
They found Jesus because they were searching.  They were seeking Him.  And later on another group, the wise men found Jesus because they were seeking Him. 
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."  (Matthew 2:1,2) 
What are you looking for this Christmas? 
Let me tell you this – you will find what you are looking for. 
Jesus said in Matthew 7:7,   "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” 
Jesus is the reason for the season! 
Let’s all covenant together to seek after Jesus this Christmas.
Just a thought for a Wednesday.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Have yourself a very ordinary Christmas

I know that we all agree that Mary being pregnant as a 14 year old virgin - by the Holy Spirit of God - is an extraordinary event - a miracle from God.
Yet, my challenge to you today is to take this extraordinary event and limit yourself to an "ordinary" celebration of what God has done for us.
Let me explain.
Joe Queenan, a writer for the New York Times and the magazine, GQ, criticizes what he calls our culture's "inability to accept the ordinary."
He writes that we insist that "every experience be a watershed, every meal extraordinary, every friendship epochal, every concert superb, every sunset meta-celestial - nothing can ever again be exactly what it was in the first place - ordinary."
In today's world, we all feel the pressure to make the Christmas Season - that much better - than the year before.  We put pressure on ourselves and on other people to make Christmas Eve and Christmas Day utterly fantastic.  
Have you ever driven around your neighborhood and seen homes that are lit up like the home in the movie, "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation?"
Over the top.
Christmas can become a competition of "who has the best celebration," to "who gave and received the best gifts," to "how big of a celebration we can have."
And at the end of the season we finally collapse on the coach, exhausted.
Christian author, Michael Horton writes this (in response to Queenan's quote):  "Today we feel the pressure to have our weddings look like the cover of a bridal magazine or movie set.  Our marriages have to be made in heaven, even though we're very much on earth.  Our presentations at work have to dazzle.  Our kids have to make the dean's list and get into the best graduate schools - nothing short of "brilliant" and "groundbreaking" will satisfy if you want a good job.  When we do stop and smell the roses, it has to be an unforgettable package at an amazing resort.  It is not enough to enjoy recreation at a public park, but extreme sports are what really interest us."
Can I ask you to consider something?  Why not applaud heaven for this extraordinary birth by spending Christmas Day in a very ordinary way - thinking of Jesus - deepening your relationship with family and friends - and retaining your sanity.
Just a thought for a Tuesday.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend:

Sometimes it is easy to run out of superlatives when you watch and connect with a Christmas production like we saw yesterday.

Didn't God move in a powerful way?

Several raised their hands for salvation!  663 people attended.

I especially enjoyed the "Stomp" - the boys pounding on the buckets in conjunction with the Christmas tune, 'Lil Drummer Boy."

From the beginning to the end, Jesus was lifted up and glorified!

I encourage you to keep the moment of exalting Christ in your own individual family times - united around our Savior and Lord.

I can't begin to list all of the names of those who participated - but let me say a huge, huge, "Thank you," to everyone who gave of their time and help.

You are appreciated!

Wasn't the "kids choir," just wonderful?

Much gratitude to Pastor Brian (whose vision it was to produce, "The Christmas Collision") and the rest of his team!

I met so many new people yesterday, I stopped counting.  Good stuff!

I applaud you for inviting friends and family - and trust that they will "keep checking us out."

Your children (and teenagers) are a priority for us at Stone Church.  We are a church that honors and respects the family!

Upward Basketball will begin in a couple of weeks.  Please pray for this incredible outreach ministry to the community!

Parents with children:  We will be starting a second Kid's Hub service (during first service as well as second service) on January 4th.

Please put on your scheduling radar:  Season of renewal.  January 4-7 (Sunday A.M. and P.M.)  Bishop Murisa from Tanzania.  Child care provided at each service.

Okay, I have to say it:  The Dallas Cowboys beat Philadelphia last evening - but must win the last two games to make the playoffs.

God is good, my friends.  Through the highs and lows of life - he is always there, always caring for us, always providing for us.

We have much to be grateful for.

Love you all......

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Master of the obvious

Have you ever caught yourself saying something that is so obvious, you almost come off looking foolish for saying it?
I do that sometimes.  I call that being, "master of the obvious."
Let me give you a story that illustrates this - and then at the end of the blog apply it to the Holiday Season.
There is a story of a customs officer who observes a truck pulling up at the border.
Being suspicious, he orders the driver out and searches the vehicle.  He pulls off the panels, bumpers, and wheel cases but finds not a single scrap of contraband, whereupon, still suspicious but at a loss to know where else to search - he waves the driver through. 
The  next week, the same driver arrives.  Again, the official searches, and again finds nothing illicit. 
Over the years, the official tries full-body searches, X rays, and sonar, anything he can think of, and each week the same man drives up, but no mysterious cargo ever appears, and each time, reluctantly, the customs man waves the driver on.
Finally, after many years, the officers is about to retire. 
The driver pulls up.
"I know that you are a smuggler," the customs officers says.  "Don't bother denying it.  But I just can't figure out what you have been smuggling all of these  years.  I'm leaving now.  I swear to you I can do you no harm.  Won't you please tell me what you have been smuggling?"
The driver replies, "TRUCKS."
My dear friends, don't miss the obvious this month - Jesus.
It is all about Jesus.  More than anything else, I challenge you to draw yourself and your family closer to Jesus.
Just a thought for a Wednesday.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Talking to other people

I read today that according to a study published in Scientific American, we each speak an average of 16,000 words per day.
(I would suspect - that for women, the number of words is higher).  :)
If I were to ask you, "how many different people, people outside of your circle of friends do you speak with," most folks would say that they routinely converse with a very rich and diverse variety of people very day.
But separate research studies show that we routinely talk to a very small group of the same people over and over again.
Most people converse with 7 to 15 people very day - but here's the deal - about 80% of our words are shared with a small group of about 5 trusted confidants, allies, and friends.
That means that close to 13,000 of our 16,000 daily words are directed at a very small group of friends and confidants.
These closest coworkers, team members, family members, and friends make up our true inner circle.  These are the people who think like us, care about us, and believe in us.
Now here is the challenge:  Perhaps, just perhaps, God is calling  you to (with intentionality) reach out to those outside of your Christian "huddles" and build relationships with people outside the church or with people who don't know Christ.
At any rate, I encourage you to make it a point to speak with one person (outside of your small group of friends) each day.
After all, don't we have the good news?  (We do!)
Just a thought for a Tuesday.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend:
God is moving at Stone Church!
We used to sing a chorus with the words, "Wonderful, wonderful, Jesus is to me....."
And truly - Jesus is wonderful.
God is a God of the miraculous!
As God does a miracle in your life this week, please contact the church office with your story!
I received a testimony last evening of a man (after he was prayed for yesterday during the altar time).  He said that he felt his ear pop and that he was hearing better!
Praise God!
During the second service altar call, people lingered and worshipped God.  I, personally, felt God's presence in a powerful way - I long for more of God's presence in our lives.
In the midst of the stress of the month of December, I encourage us all to pause, and reflect - and reflect on our relationship with Christ.
Many, many thanks for the love offering that was given to us yesterday as a church staff.  We are very grateful for your love and thoughtfulness to us.
Debbie and I had a great time with my men's life group (and spouses) last evening at our home.  It is always gratifying for us to see people grow in Christ!
Just a reminder - the yearly theme for 2015 is coming soon!
All parents:  We will be having Kid's Hub in the first service (as well as the second service) beginning on Sunday, January 4, 2015.
If you aren't in a life group yet, please consider joining one - life groups change lives!
In mentioning the lack of touchdowns the Chicago Bears fans have scored recently, the second service booed me yesterday.  Booed in church!  (I love it!)
Love  you all.......

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Making adjustments for a healthy marriage

This evening the Chicago Bears play the Dallas Cowboys.
Of course, I will be watching, pulling for the Cowboys to win - unlike they did last year at Soldier Field (remember - I was at the game and it was very, very cold).
In one way, marriage is a lot like football.
In a close game, each team has the responsibility to make adjustments according to what they other team is doing.
The ideal time for this is halftime. 
Good coaches makes the required adjustments during the intermission, especially if they are losing.
A winning marriage requires the same type adjustments - adjustments that are made proactively.
Each person in a marriage come into that relationship with a set of assumptions, traditions, values, habits and rules from their previous life as a single person.
And so:  adjustments are to be made if the marriage is to be healthy.
And what's wild is that it is normally in the smallest of things that can bring the greatest of frustrations.
Someone has said, "We are worn down less by the mountain we climb than by the grain of sand in our shoe."
Something as small as where the toothpaste holder is - can bring about a siege of horrific conflict between the husband and wife.  (Not picking up after yourself - even something as small as whether the toilet seat stays up or down).
These small things can lead a couple to ask themselves:  Why did I marry this person (with a lot of tears and anger).
Can I tell you something:  You did marry the right person - without a doubt.
So...let me give you some points to remember as you make adjustments in your marriage (from the book, "Starting your marriage out right."
Recognize that adjustments are inevitable
It is 100% normal to have times of frustration and conflict over different areas of relationship in marriage.  In these adjustments, focus in on changing your behavior and becoming more tolerant and accepting of your spouses behavior.
Understand that adjustments have a divine purpose.
God uses these adjustments to teach us how to love one another in a godly way - as imperfect, different human beings.
Ask God for wisdom on how to live with this person who is different from you.
Instead of working, "just" on your spouse (and changing them) - how about accepting the situation and work in adjusting yourself?
Be more concerned about your own rough spots than those of your spouse.
Jesus said it best:  take the log out of your own eye before trying to take the speck out of your spouse's eye.
Make a commitment to hang in there, to work through the inevitable adjustments.
What's a good verse to memorize for all couples?
Philippians 2:3, "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself."
And finally, know this dear couples:  Your spouse is your friend, not your enemy.
I encourage you to say at some point today to your spouse:  "You are not my enemy.  You are my friend."
Just some thoughts for a Thursday.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

If God says I'm Okay, then I'm okay

Here's what I know:  If God says I'm okay, then I'm okay.
What counts in life is gaining and receiving the approval of God.
You see, if God likes and approves of me - than what does it matter what others think?
Realize this, my friends.  You are on this planet to please an audience of one.
No matter who rejects you - God never will.
As a pastor, over the years, I come across those who have experienced rejection - especially from their parents.
Let me hone in on that for just a second (the thoughts apply to any relationship in life).
The Psalmist tells us in Psalms 27:10, "Even if my mother and father forsake me, the Lord will receive me."
Even those who brought you into this world, even if they reject you, God won't.
We are always our "parents children", and some still, are trying to win their parent's approval. 
You never could get it growing up.
Let me share this with  you:  If your parents rejected you growing up, it wasn't your problem, it was their problem.
It is a biblical principle:  Parents are not to reject their children.
So it wasn't your problem, it was their problem.
Perhaps, just perhaps, they were rejected and now they are just turning the rejection that they experienced on you.
Many of you, even as adults, are still trying to win  your parent's approval in many and varied way.
The truth is, if you haven't got it by now - and - you may never, ever get it.
Probably not.
Perhaps they have died and there is no way to get that approval.
Listen to me, please:  It doesn't matter.  You don't need it.  You don't need anyone's approval to be happy. 
All you and I need is for God to approve us.
I leave you with this:  Don't  let your happiness be dependent upon other people.
Just a thought for a Wednesday.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Being a "cool" parent

I have always tried to be relevant with my kids and understanding of the culture that they live in.
There have been many times when they have mentioned a tune or a movie or a book, and I will go out and buy that certain "something" and read it or listen to it or watched it.
However, here is what I know:  your kids want you to be their parents, mom and dad, someone they can go to for advise and counsel - and not necessarily their "cool" friend.
A recent article in the Washington Post spoke of the growing phenomenon of "cool" parenting, complete with "selfies" and "Lol's".
Writer Andrews Reiner observes:
"Cool has been morphing from a political statement to a self-serving, at times desperate, need to simply fit in with a culture of conformity.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in the place where our children spend most of their time, the Internet.  A big part of cool today means curating a Photoshop-perfect image in social media, staying constantly looped into whatever pop culture news has gone viral and blithely dropping pithy, snarky tweets and text messages, as if this was the way we talk all of the time.  In other words, you're cool if you are relevant."
The writer sees "cool parenting" as an extension of Facebook "like" culture, a dumbing down of individual morality and backbone, and a pooling of "right" and relevance based on perceived popular opinion. 
I guess my thought to you today is this:  Maybe, just maybe, God isn't calling you to be the "cool" parent that our culture presses us into being - but the man of God or the woman of God the Scriptures consistently prompt us to be.
Do I want to know and understand the culture that my child is living in?  Absolutely.
But do I need to act, think and talk like the culture that is present in America today to be an effective parent?  Absolutely not. 
We are called to raise our children as "unto the Lord," and not as "unto the culture that we live in."
A disclaimer:  that does not mean that you ban your child from any participation in the culture we live in (that's legalism - and candidly impossible) but that you, as a follower of Christ, are explaining culture and comparing it to Scripture. 
Your child will not love you more if you are the "cool" parent.  But they will love and respect you as you are there to counsel them, guide them and encourage them in the ways of the Lord.
Just a thought for a Tuesday.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend:
Wasn't it wonderful to hear the testimonies yesterday (first service) from the people from City Church in Chicago?
God is on the move!
It is our privilege to minister at their church once a month:  feeding the homeless.  Ministering of the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Thanks for giving to their ministry on a continual basis!
It is encouraging when the suburbs and the inner city unite in one common cause:  Jesus Christ.
I enjoyed spending "foyer time" yesterday - sharing and hearing of Thanksgiving experiences with our church family.
Debbie and I drove to Springfield, Missouri this past Wednesday for Thanksgiving with our family.  We came back Friday - so it was a quick trip. 
We had a great time!
Of course, the Dallas Cowboys losing (and losing bad) wasn't a lot of fun - but, hey, they play the Chicago Bears this coming Thursday!
You can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family - which is why the love for family runs deep - you are family forever.
I am thankful for a wonderful dad and mom - and children and grandchildren. 
Debbie feels the same way.
There are a lot of exciting events at our church this month - as we celebrate the birth of Jesus.
Reminder:  Invite friends, families (and enemies) to our Christmas celebration on Sunday morning, December 14 (both morning services).  An appeal for salvation will be given.
Reminder:  I will be speaking on miracles this coming Sunday morning (in the context of the birth of Jesus).  Would encourage you to bring someone who needs a miracle in their life as we will be praying for people.
As a staff, we have settled on a theme for 2015.  More to come.
Thanks for being, you, Stone Church.  You are loved and appreciated!