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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Warning signs

Signs along the road are not there to prohibit us but to protect us.
When you see a stop sign - that is there so you aren't injured or killed or so that you won't injure or kill others.
When you and I see speed limits on the highway, those are there to protect us - not to prohibit us.
We need warning signs as we drive - and we need warning signs in our Christian life.
All of us want to be real and authentic - none of us wants to be "fake."
We all long to be transparent, and hang around people are "real" as well.
Let me give you some questions that you can ask yourself - to see if you are living the "real thing" in  your walk with God.  These questions are five "warning signs" in your relationship with Christ.
Question number one:  "Am I being spiritually authentic?"  Or am I caught up in what I "should" say as a Christian - or what I am supposed to say?  Do you have a hart time talking about God without trying to convince people that you are spiritual?  Do you work hard at hiding your sins? 
Question number two:  "Am I becoming judgmental and exclusive and proud?" Some people think they are so spiritual - they are looking for a spot in the Holy Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Here's how human nature is:  As soon as we achieve some kind of holiness, we begin to wonder why others aren't as holy as we are!
Question number three:  "Am I becoming more approachable or less?"  Jesus drew people (especially the disadvantaged) to himself.  The Pharisees and Scribes pushed people away.
Question number four:  "Am I growing weary of pursuing spiritual growth?"  If you are like me, sometimes the "weight of perfection" (that is self-imposed or imposed by others), can become so heavy you almost can't bear it. 
Question number five:  "Am I measuring my spiritual life in superficial ways?"  Dallas Willard writes, "Spirituality, wrongly understood or pursued, is a major source of human misery and rebellion against God."  All the self-effort in the world will not draw you closer to God.  The way to spirituality is not to try to be like Jesus, but to train to be like Jesus (Ortberg).  We don't change from the outside in but from the inside out.  Holiness is an "inside job".
I encourage you to take some time this weekend (in your prayer time with God) and ask yourself these five questions - and then ask the Holy Spirit to nudge you in the right direction - the direction of growing in Christ and being authentic.
Just a thought for a Thursday.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Being put on hold

Nothing can drive you and I "nuts" quicker than being "put on hold" by someone (i.e. Comcast, or any organization, group or person).
Am I right about that?
None of us likes to wait with a phone next to our ear - I mean we all have better things to do with our time.
But what if we are waiting on God to answer our prayer?
The cartoon character Ziggy is standing, looking up on a mountain.  The sky is dark and there is one cloud up there.  Ziggy says, "Have I been put on hold for the rest of my life?"
We pray.  We ask God for something.  And then we wait.
And we metaphorically shake our hands to the heavens and cry out, "Have I been put on hold for the rest of my life?"
You've been praying for your spouse - and there is seemingly no change.
You've been praying for a job, but no one wants to hire you.
You've been praying for a friend to come to Christ, but they remain separated from God.
You've been praying for a healing from a disease or sickness - and are still struggling physically.
"Have I been put on hold for the rest of my life?"
We don't wait well.  We are into microwaving, God, on the other hand, is usually into marinating.
I can't possibly (in one blog) give all of my thoughts about this - but here is what I know:
Sometimes God waits because we are thinking too small.  He wants us to ask for something bigger and He wants to give us something better.
Recently, Debbie and I were praying with our son, George about an unpaid internship that he was offered (for four months).
None of us felt good about it.  He said "no" to the company - and it wasn't long before God gave him a full time job with benefits.  If he had immediately taken the "first thing to come along," he would have missed the full time opportunity. 
Sometimes God waits because he wants us to be prepared for a bigger and better answer - and we are not yet ready.  God desires that we grow into our "big boy pants" so that we can use what he has given us.  Before God changes our situation, he wants to change us.
Sometimes God waits because our timing is off.  His timing is always perfect.  His ways are not our ways.  We think we have to "have it now," when we don't.  When the timing is right, God will say, "Let's go!"
My encouragement to you today is to take a step back, take a deep breath, and let God "do His thing" - all the while knowing that God will answer - and the answer will ultimately be what is best for you and for me.
Just some thoughts for a Wednesday.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

How to criticize well

Come on now, you have to agree with me, right?

Everyone criticizes at some point or another.
And - everyone will be criticized.  Jesus, the sinless son of God was constantly on the receiving end of criticism.  Amazing.
What brings on a desire to criticized?
You are troubled by a problem, deeply troubled. 

Your boss at work isn't listening.  Your spouse is doing something that just irritates the socks off of you.  You don't agree with the way a brother or sister in Christ are ministering - their methods, style and attitude.  Your preferences are not being attended to at the church.

What do you do?

The obvious answer is that your criticize, which is natural.  However, today, I would like to teach you some ways that you can criticize in a constructive manner.

I call this:  Rules for giving criticism.

1.  Pray.

We go to the obvious one first.  Spend time with God. 

Pray something like this:  "Lord, please control and direct my expression of negative criticism.  Restrain me from overcorrecting and resorting to handing out false platitudes.  Restrain me from clamming up and remaining silent when I should speak (why is it - in church life - that the "good people" remain silent - as people are walking in the flesh and causing division?).  Guide the way I speak so that critical communication will be constructive; and please, Lord, don't let my words sow discord in the church."

2.  Go directly.

This is huge.

Go directly to the person that you wish to criticize.  Gaining support and building coalitions with others in the church (or at your work) is not only unChristlike, but sin.

Jesus said, "If your brother sins against  you, go and tell him (her) his fault, between you and him alone."  Matthew 18:15.

3.  Go privately.

The criticism is to be delivered between you and them alone.

When you (or I) criticize someone in the presence of others, it is not only rude but a violation of 1 Corinthians 13:4, "Love is patient and kind."

And then - if that person fails to respond to your thoughts, inform them that the criticism will be shared with a third person who, with you, will attempt to help them understand.

Jesus also said, "But if does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses."  Matthew 18:6.

One caveat here:  that takes courage.  It takes courage to criticize someone directly and privately.

The easy way is to criticize behind his or her back. 

And BTW, understand this:  God calls us not only to speak creatively about one another (in a positive manner) but to listen creatively (in a godly way).

If someone comes to you whose "nose is bent out of joint" for a "won't you join my cause" conversation, you have a biblical responsibility to interrupt mid-sentence and say, "I think you are talking to the wrong person.  Please go to the individual with whom you are having this conflict and seek to resolve it in a God-glorifying way." 

4.  Lead with positive questions (seek first to understand and then to be understood).

Ask positive questions so that:

You can obtain additional information to make sure you have sufficient evidence on which to base your criticism.

The person you are criticizing can explain their position.

You can ask the person being criticized if they have considered the alternatives.

In other words, get the facts before you share your concerns.  Try to understand where the other person is coming from.

Perhaps they know something you don't know.

Perhaps you know something they don't know.

5.  Double check your motives for giving criticism.

Ask yourself:  Why do I feel the way I do?  Why am I expressing negative criticism?  Has my ego been hurt and do I want to embarrass somebody?  Is there a desire for retaliation or to advance my own status and control?  Or is my concern truly to help the person and strengthen our church family?  (or your work, or whatever?)

Some people criticize out of a need to make themselves look better - or feel better.  One rule of thumb is this:  If it is really painful for you to criticize someone, you are safe in doing it.  But if you take the slightest pleasure in it, that is the time to hold your tongue.

Paul writes in 2 Timothy 4:2, "Rebuke with all long-suffering and doctrine."

6.  Be honest.

Be honest with your true feelings.

Many times, I am encouraged to seek someone out who has left our church - but when I do - to be candid with you - they are seldom honest with their true reasons for leaving. 

When you deliver criticism, ask the Lord to give you courage to be honest. 

Now then - a huge disclaimer:  There are times when it is not wise to express all that you think or feel.  It is never wise to napalm someone with your words.  Timing is important.  "Bringing the whole load," can be really, really destructive.

But what you say must be honest and real.  How dishonest it is to say one thing to a person directly and other things (about him or her) to other people.  (Read Ephesians 4:25).

7.  Speak the truth in love.

Handing off criticism is not a game or a competition.  There are no losers or winners in such a setting - only growers.  We must not hesitate to speak the truth, but it must always be in a spirit of love.  (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

Ask yourself:  How much of the criticism which I give to others is actually rooted in my own impatience, lack of kindness, jealousy, conceit, and underlying joy in pointing out someone else's mistakes? 

8.  Be objective and specific.

Support your criticism with objective evidence rather than your own subjective opinions.

Do your homework.  Know what you are talking about.  Don't speak in generalities.  "A lot of people are saying."  "Someone told me this."  "Everyone is saying."  That is not only - not true - but casts intimidation and fear in the heart and mind of the person you are criticizing.  Use names.

Stay with the issue - and don't let it disintegrate into character assassination.  We all need to be held accountable as to our performance - but we must never allow ourselves to tear another person down.
9.  Earn the right to be heard.
There is only way one to "earn the right to be heard."  By being faithful and performing well.  And this takes time.  Trust is not only earned - but so is earning the right to give criticism.  In our "world" that would be someone who is new to a church family, new to a ministry situation or new to a church board.
10.  Suggest alternatives.
Come with solutions and not just the criticisms.  Anybody can point out a weakness, not everyone can propose answers. 
"Here is what I see is a challenge, and here is what I believe would be a better way," is a good approach.
And then - volunteer to help with the solution. 
Just some thoughts for a Tuesday.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend:

I, like you, am grateful for the way the Lord moved yesterday. 

At the end of the first service, we kept worshipping and didn't want to leave!
Second service was more of the same sense of God's glory.

Isn't God's presence wonderful!

If you received a healing yesterday in your body, your soul or your spirit - could you contact the church office (708)385-2770 with your story?   We would love to hear of what God has done or is doing in your life.

I spontaneously asked our youth group to come forward and pray for people as the leadership of the church were praying for people.  They immediately responded.  It was great to see teenagers engaged in prayer for people - Pastor Charlie:  You are teaching them well!

Congrats to Pastor Charlie and Heather - it was my privilege to dedicated Cohen Charles as "unto the Lord" yesterday.  They, as you know, are a wonderful family with three handsome boys.

Remember:  Life is difficult, and when  you embrace that, you are at the beginning point of finding happiness in your life.

Peace doesn't come from an absence of trials in our lives but the presence of the Lord with us during those times.

I write that - but to live it is the challenge.  We all have our ups and downs with this.

Is it only me - that wrestles with trusting in God - even after serving Him for most of my life?  I don't think so.

Even great men and women of faith have times of doubt.

But know this:  It is what we do with our doubts that matters.

Doubt is one thing:  resting in those doubts is another. 

At the end of the day, I always come back to my heavenly Father.

Elie Wiesel (the Auschwitz camp survivor) writes of the time that the inmates put God on trial for the suffering they were going through.  They found God guilty - and then someone promptly said, "Good, now let us pray."
Like the disciples of Jesus, we express our doubts and then we say, "Okay, Lord, we have no where else to go but to you."  (John 6:68).
For all volunteers, ministry leaders, life group leaders, deacons, elders, pastors - and spouses:  Ministry (leadership) meeting on Friday, March 13, 2015.  7:00 P.M. - 9:00 P.M.  Speaker:  Church consultant Dick Hardy.  You won't want to miss this important time of training and teaching us to become more effective in ministry.
Why not today, in the midst of your day, pause and have a conversation with God?
Are you giving up something during this season that leads up to Good Friday and Easter?  I don't ask you that to perpetuate some form of legalism, but to stir you to "give up something" so that you can "spend more time with God."
It is not even the "giving up of something" that is ultimately important, but the "turning to God" that is life building.
But how can I fill myself up with God, when my life is full of so many other things.
Sometimes the ultimate answer to why God does or does not heal comes in the form of a mystery, and embracing the fact that it is a mystery - left in the hands of God.
In theology, going to an extreme on any subject can be intellectual laziness.
May God's presence be with you this entire week!
Love you all.......

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Your suffering

This coming Sunday morning, I am speaking on the fact that God can and does heal and that God can and does raise the dead.
Powerful stuff.
We will be praying for the sick and the end of each teaching session (I would encourage you to invite someone to come).
However, at the same time, we are going to wrestle with the fact that not all people are healed and that we can't force God to heal us.
In other words, sometimes God has a purpose for our suffering.
Mike Huckabee writes:
"When [our son] John Mark was 4 years old, he was out playing in the back yard and got a splinter in his foot. He came in and held up his foot. He was crying, and he said, "I got a splinter in my foot!" I said "Sit on the couch. Let's look at it." So I looked at it.
Then, as he held up his foot and I reached over to pull the splinter out (because I knew it would feel better), he said what every kid says (which I still, to this day, don't understand): "Don't touch it!" I said, "What do you want me to do? Take a picture of it and mount it on the wall? I've got to touch it, Son. I don't levitate splinters out of your foot. There is no choice." "It will hurt," he moaned. I said, "It might, but it won't hurt as long. It will sure feel a lot better when I get the splinter out."
But somehow that wasn't adequate. So Janet held down the top of him while I tried to hold down the bottom of him and pull that splinter out. He was kicking and screaming and jerking in all different directions, and here I was with the tweezers, trying to pull out the splinter. I was afraid that I would jab those tweezers way up into his foot.
I wanted to say to him, "Son, don't you trust me? What do you think I'm going to do, cut your foot off? I'm not here to hurt you. I'm here to help you, and if you don't let me help you, it's going to get worse not better. Trust me; I'm your father. I love you. I care about you. I do this only to help you. Be still. Relax."
Huckabee further writes:
"I think sometimes God in heaven must look down upon us, and we must be like a little child who says, "God, I'm hurt. God help me." God reaches in to help us, and the first thing we do is say, "God, don't touch me! Don't do that God!" God is saying, "But I've got to reach in there and deal with the hurt. It may hurt a little, but I've got to do it." We say, "No, God. Please, nothing like that!"
So here we are fighting with God. It is the equivalent of being in surgery when the surgeon has both of his arms up to his elbows in your abdomen, and suddenly you decide that you don't want to be operated on and try to get off the table. How many times in our lives do we find ourselves on the surgery table of the Almighty, where God is trying to work in our lives that miracle of making us like Christ, and when we realize what God's doing, we wake up and say, "God, I don't want you to do this. Let me out of here!"?
While all of us would prefer to receive a miracle or a healing from God - please know that there are benefits to your time of suffering (From Tony Snow):
You gain perspective on your mortality.
It focuses your perspective on what is important.
You appreciate little things more ferociously.
You grasp the mystical power of love.
You feel the gravitational pull of faith.
You understand (in ways that others don't or can't) the power of hope and the limits of fear.
You understand what really matters and what doesn't.
And, perhaps, most importantly, you realize that there are far worse things than illness - and that is living a life without God.
Just some thoughts for a Thursday.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Facing your fears

As you know, fear is False Evidence Appearing Real.

As Christians, we don't like to admit that we deal with fear, even walk in fear, but many times we do.

Everyone knows what it is like to be afraid.

When God asked Adam (Genesis 3:18) where he was, Adam answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid."

And ever since, people have dealt with fear.

Here's what I know about fear:

Some fears are healthy.

Some fears are not necessary.

Uncontrolled fear is tormenting (1 John 4:18).

Uncontrolled fear is tormenting because it tends to paralyze and blind.  It can cause a person to not think clearly or action rationally.  It can blind us to alternatives in problem solving and options for decision making which otherwise would be obvious to us.

Are you waiting for some tests results to come back?

Are you faced with an impossible situation?

Are you dealing with a situation that just won't go away?

Let me give you some practical suggestions:

Share you fears with God and others.  You are not alone.  God is with you at all times - especially in the midst of your fears.  And - there are others around  you who care about you and love you - reach out to them for support.

Apply rational controls.  Ask  yourself, "What are the changes that what I fear will actually happen?  What are the statistical odds I am up against?"  Keep it in perspective.

However, even with that - some people will continue to worry.  That is why we must keep the "odds" in perspective.  Many will have more faith in their "odds" than in God.  Whose report are you going to ultimately believe?  The report of the tests results or God?  (With God - all things are possible).

Mediate on encouraging Bible verses.  John 14:27.  Isaiah 41:10.  1 John 4:4.  Romans 8:28.  Romans 8:31.

Give you panic to God.  Spend time in His presence.  Overcoming fear is more than saying, "I will not be afraid," it is filling up that void (of a lack of panic) with God's peace and God's presence.

Just a thought for a Wednesday.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Behind your back

The other day, my oldest daughter Christie, sent me this funny video that included a bit with Robinson Cano - the all-star second baseman who left the New York Yankees at the end of the 2013 season to take a 10 year, 240 million dollar contract with the Seattle Mariners.

Trevor Mcmaken writes:

"When Cano returned to New York for the first time as a Mariner in April of 2014, everyone knew that he would get booed by Yankee fans for leaving.

Before the game, and this is what the video showed, Cano made an appearance on the "Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon."

They took a cardboard cutout of Cano to the streets of New York and encouraged Yankee fans to practice booing Cano in front of the cutout.  What these fans didn't realize is that the real Cano was standing behind the cardboard cutout, waiting to surprise the unsuspecting fans.

The reactions of the fans on the street were priceless - and revealing.

While they think they are booing a cardboard cutout, they are merciless.  They boo and shake their fists, telling Cano he is not welcome, and that he should go back home to Seattle.

But then Cano comes out from behind the cutout and in mid-sentence they completely change their demeanor.

They begin smiling, they run to shake his hand, and even give him a hug.  One man goes from saying, "Boo!  You Stink" to "Hey, welcome back to New York!" all in one breath.

Here's the "thought of the day" to that story.

How often are we willing to speak poorly of someone behind their back or when there are seemingly no repercussions, but then act much differently when we are with someone face to face?"

Good words.

It is the greatest hypocrisy that Christian participate in on a daily basis.

David writes in Psalms 17:3, "I have resolved that my mouth will not sin."

Challenging words for a Tuesday.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend:
Debbie and I had a great Valentine's Day dinner together!
She is the "love of my life!"
I, like you, believe that everyday should be a Valentine's Day!
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, "Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trust, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails."
Love is a choice.  It's not a feeling - it is a choice.  I choose whether or not I am going to love you.  Feelings can lie; we can never go by our feelings. 
Our feelings always follow our actions. 
If you want to feel kind; act kind.  Your feelings will always follow your actions.
At the same time, the Holy Spirit (in conversations with Him) can restore those feelings that you once had for your spouse (or in any relationship).
Choose to love.  Ask the Holy Spirit for help.  Act in love.
We are thankful for the faithful volunteers in our church who minister with Royal Family Kid's Camp.
I was touched by the video testimony of Samantha, yesterday (a product of RFKC).
Thanks especially to Bob and Carolyn Ferrari - we love and appreciate you!
I encourage you to reach out to the newer people who are attending our church - as you walk through the foyer - make it a point to initiate a conversation with someone new!
I am thankful for our head ushers, Tom Kirchner and Jon Gerstenkorn.  Guys, you are doing a great job!  They can always use more ushers on their team - please feel free to contact them if you would like to serve in this ministry!
I talked to two guests last Saturday at Upward Basketball - and are thankful that a challenge was given at halftime about starting a relationship with Christ.
Remember:  There is no greater testimony than our church family's ability to love, accept and forgive everyone around us, "as is."
If you are reading this, and do not have a church that you call "home" - please know that you are welcome at Stone Church - "as is."  Don't worry about your past, the way you dress, or even what you think or say - you are welcome.  We love you.
Love you all.......

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Showing love

Hey, listen to this:
People don't necessarily remember what they are told of God's love, but they never forget what they have experienced of God's love.
This being a weekend (Valentine's Day) - let's not forget that.
People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.
So true.
Sometimes a story can say more than a string of paragraphs about a subject.

It's a story from Mark Buchanan:

A few years ago, a friend assembled a weekend work party to lay sod in his yard. The sun was shining. He had fresh coffee and cinnamon buns. And the crew he'd called together were all good friends. We liked each other immensely.

Then Al said, "Guys, do you realize something? This is it! This is it!" We stopped.

"Al, this is what?"

"This is community."

We all murmured our assent and congratulated one another. Yes. This is it.

But then I said, "Al, this is great, but I don't think this is it. I like you all too much. Add a person or two to this company who lacks social graces, who looks different, who's needy, smelly, and irritating. If we truly loved a person like that, then that would be it."

Silence. Then one of guys said, "Uh, Mark. We've accepted you, haven't we?"

We all laughed, but they granted my point.

We're always tempted to turn the church into a club. With our kind of people. With a strict decorum designed to keep up appearances and keep out the, shall we say, undesirables. But Jesus said it's no credit to us if we love those who love us—our kind of people. We don't need God to love them; natural affinities are sufficient. But you, Jesus said, are to love the least of these and the worst of these—losers, enemies. That takes God: a supernatural subversion of our own prejudices, and a heaven-borne infusion of God's prodigal love.

I preach that. I try to live that.

A year or so after our sod-laying party, Wanda arrived. Wanda was not our kind of people. She was thirsty alright, for beer, port, rum, vanilla extract, whatever. She had only one way to pay for that. I'll let you guess.

But she was desperate, and thirsty for something else. She called the church one day, wondering if she could see a pastor, and now! Two of us met with her. She told us her troubled story. I told her about the woman at the well whose life, like Wanda's, wasn't going well. But she met Jesus and he offered her living water. I explained what living water was, and asked Wanda if she'd like some.

"Oh yeah!" she said. We prayed. She confessed, repented, surrendered. Drank deep.

The other pastor said, "Now, Wanda, this Sunday will be your first time in church. Don't feel you have to fit in right away. You can sit at the back if you like, come late, leave early. Whatever is comfortable."

Wanda looked at him sideways. "Why would I do that?" she said. "I've been waiting for this all my life."

That Sunday, Wanda was the first to arrive. She sat at the front, and loudly agreed with everything I said. She was the last to leave. The next Sunday, same thing, except she brought a friend, one of her kind of people. I preached on servanthood. My main point: if you've tasted the love of Jesus, you'll want to serve. It was Communion Sunday. In those days, we called our elders The Servant Leadership Team. I asked the Servant Leaders to come and help with Communion. That day only two of our team were in church. They straggled to the front.

All Wanda heard was the word servant. And she had been listening intently to my sermon: if you've tasted the love of Jesus, you'll want to serve.

She walked straight up to serve Communion with the other two "servants."

I flinched.

Then I remembered Luke 7, Jesus' words to Simon the Pharisee as a woman, not unlike Wanda, washed Jesus' feet: "Do you see this woman?"

Do you see her?

I leaned over to Wanda and said, "Since this is your very first time doing this, do you mind if I help?"

So Wanda and I served Communion. The best part was watching the faces of the people I love and serve and pray for and preach to.

Not one flinched. They saw her.

This is it.
May we all continue to show God's love to a hurting world.
Just a thought for a Thursday.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Believing God

Can I ask you a question?
What would happen if you really believed in God - and His power to work in your life and in the lives of others?
To achieve that level of belief, I would suggest that there must be a desire for that belief - a daily prayer such as this:  "God help me to raise my level of faith to believe you for mighty works in and through me."
In God's Word, we have the wonderful assurance that if we ask anything according to His will he hears us.
I like that.  But I must do more than "just" like that - I must practice it.
In other words, there are many things that we can ask of God and automatically know that he will answer - we must simply ask.
Don't assume - ask.
Are you asking for purity, holiness?  God will answer your prayer with an affirming:  Yes!
Do you desire that God dwell in you in a more powerful way?  God says, "Yes, it is done!"
All of that is in accordance with His will.
Ask - and you shall receive.
Do you desire to be used by God is a greater way?  God says, "It shall be done."
Ditto - it is God's will.
As you continue in the presence of God today, and quietly remind him of what you desire, the Father will not fail to give you what you ask for - even above and beyond what you think.
He will fill you today with rivers of living water, the wonderful rivers of his anointing, power and authority - and all He waits for you to do is to ask.
Just a thought for a Wednesday.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

get to or have to

No one likes to be loved or even liked out of obligation.
Whether it be as a boss, or a parent, or even God - no one likes people that are around them to love them out of a sense of duty.
It kind of seems disingenuous, even though that person might do so unintentionally.
So many times we can find ourselves coming to a Sunday morning service - but our hearts aren't in it.  Or serving in a ministry - and we privately desire to be somewhere else - doing something else - anything else but what we are doing.
When anything we do for God (especially our worship of Him) becomes a "have to" instead of a "get to" we need to do a spiritual intimacy check in our spirits.
Have you seen the commercial about the younger guy who is struggling with whether or not to go through with an arranged marriage?  Back in his country of origin, arranged marriages are the norm.
But because he has been living in America for so long, he is having second thoughts about following this ancient custom, especially since he has never met his wife to be.
He decided to go ahead with the custom of his homeland and dutifully waited at the airport for her, flowers in hand, and a gloomy expression on his face.
But......but when she stepped through the terminal, everything all of a sudden, bam, changes.
She is beautiful!  Gorgeous!
Suddenly his glum demeanor disappears and replaced with a sense of sheer joy!  The thought of marrying this beautiful girl is not longer a dreaded duty but a delight. 
What had changed?  Seeing her.
So - here's what I offer you today. 
What can change your relationship with God from a duty to a delight?  Seeing Him.  Getting a fresh new vision of who God really is, refocusing (our word of the year) on His great love for us.  Experiencing His glory.
And when you do - you will be transformed.
Just a thought for a Tuesday.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend:
Congratulations to Deacon Kosloskus for being baptized in water yesterday!
It always encourages me to see children living for Christ - and growing in Him.
We had a fantastic life group leaders meeting last evening at Pastor Brian's home!
Thanks to Brian and Angela for opening up their home - you truly have the gift of hospitality.
Life groups change lives.
Life groups originated in Acts 2:46, "they broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts."
We are slowly transitioning from being a church that "does life groups" to a church of life groups that comes together on Sunday morning to celebrate what God has done during the week.
I am very grateful that the teaching yesterday (and the Q and A with Debbie and I) ministered to so many couples.  We all struggle at times in our marriages - my sincere prayer is that all of us who are married will make a commitment to "make our marriage better," with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Did you know that as you pray, the Holy Spirit can restore and renew that first love that you once had for your spouse?
Let's not underestimate what the Holy Spirit can do in our relationships, specifically in marriage.
I need the Holy Spirit - how about you?
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
I really like some of the new songs that we are singing - it touches my hearts to see God's people worshipping him - with hands raised in admiration of Jesus.
Are you excited about Jesus today?  I am!
It's all about Jesus.
If you are not already in a life group - why not think about joining one.
Please look forward to hearing more about our church-wide 40 day fast - leading up to Easter.  We will be challenging people to choose one day to fast - prayerfully anticipating filling up the 40 days.
Can I tell you something?  You are loved and appreciated.  You are needed at our church.  We are a family - the family of God.
Valentine's Day coming up:  I encourage you to spend some undivided attention with your spouse.
Love you all.......

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Undivided attention

In this season of our lives, Debbie and I are very strong relationally.
The "empty nest" syndrome of negativity did not really hit us too hard - and here is why:
Before our children left the house - Debbie and I learned to be together, without our children.  Without friends.  Without family.  We genuinely like each other and enjoy having fun together.
Here's a marriage principle:  To improve your marriage, couples must schedule time together - time to give each other their undivided attention.
Friends and family should not be present during this time.
It must be planned.
One suggestion for planning this is to sit down every Sunday afternoon and schedule, yes, actually schedule a time to be together during the week - at such and such a time.  Put it on your calendar.  Don't let anything take you away from that time - outside of an actual emergency.
Debbie and I have a "date night" every Friday evening (being "empty nesters" it is not hard to do).
During your time together, create activities that will meet the needs of your spouse (which we will talk about on Sunday). 
Your time together is too important to the security of your marriage to neglect.
Now then, before I go, understand this:  Spending time together will not automatically draw you closer (that's why the time spent must be quality as well as quantity) but your marriage will not succeed unless you do spend time together with one another - alone - no kids - no in-laws - no friends - each week, if not each day.
Just a thought for a Thursday.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Water walkers

None of us will literally walk on water in this world.

I believe I can safely write that.

Yet, Jesus did - and so did the apostle Peter - for a moment.

In the midst of a storm (with huge waves, strong winds and in the middle of the darkness of the night), Jesus comes along and asks Peter to get out of the boat and walk to Him.

And Peter gets out - and promptly falls.

As John Ortberg writes, "It is the story of failure.  Or is it?  Raise your hand if you've ever failed a test, if you've ever been cut from a team, if you ever did not get a job or a promotion you wanted, if you've ever been impatient with a three-year-old, if you've ever said the wrong thing or eaten with the wrong fork or won synthetic fibers - if you've experienced failure of any kind."

And the gist of his book, "If you want to walk on the water - you have to get out of the boat" is that God did not intend for you or me, created in His divine image to go through life in a desperate attempt to avoid failure.

Yesterday, in our staff meeting, we unintentionally were dialoguing and telling stories of our mistakes and failures in ministry. 

I still, personally, feel bad about the mistakes I have made.

And yet, at the same time, God calls us to keep on going - and not only keep on going - but reaching out to do greater things,  things that will succeed if only God is in it.

Did Peter fail?  Yes, in one sense.  His faith gave way.

He couldn't stay focused on Jesus.  He sank.  He failed. 

But let me tell you this:  there were eleven bigger failures in the boat who failed privately, quietly, safe, unnoticed, uncriticized.

Only Peter  knew the thrill, the joy and the exhilaration of walking on water - even for a moment.

Here's the punch line:  I would rather get out of the boat and fail - than sit in the boat and never try.

Just a thought for a Wednesday.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Rats in the cellar

We all struggle with the flesh and temptation.

Can I safely say that?
If you agree with that - as you are reading this - just quietly say, "yep, that's right."

It is true - and we will struggle with our sinful nature until the day we reach heaven.

As the old song says, "Won't it be wonderful there - having no burdens to bear."
Let me give you a principle for overcoming your flesh that can be summed up in one word:


In other words - how you react when  you are caught off-guard by a temptation - shows the depth of your spiritual character.  So be prepared.

Most of the time we can do fairly well when a temptation comes and gives us fair warning.

But sometimes the enemy will attack when we least expect it - and take advantage of our sinful nature and tendency to sin.
One of the favorite tactics of the enemy is to blindside you with a temptation.

Pastor Tim Keller paraphrases an analogy originally used by C.S. Lewis (in his book Mere Christianity) to demonstrate the nature of sin in our hearts.

He writes:

"Now if you want to know if there are rats in your basement, you don't walk to your basement door, clear your throat, and say, "I think I'll go down and see if there are rats in my basement," then jiggle the knob, open the door and in a very leisurely way turn on the light, clear your throat, and walk down the steps loudly and slowly.  When you get to the bottom you look around and say, "Well, what do you know:  I have no rats in my basement."

He goes on to write: 

"If you want to know if you have rats in your basement, you sneak up to the door, silently open the door, flick on the switch, jump to the bottom of the steps, and look around and they'll all be scurrying away.  And then you'll know if you have rats."

Most of the time the enemy will not hit you head on, but will come at  you as an "angel of light."  (2 Corinthians 11:14).
In fact, C.S. Lewis writes: 
"The excuse (for most of my sinful moments) that immediately springs to my mind is that the provocation was so sudden and unexpected; I was caught off my guard (like a rat who didn't get enough warning).  Now that may be an extenuating circumstance as regards those particular acts:  they would obviously be worse if they had been deliberate and premeditated.  On the other hand, surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is?  Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth?"
My encouragement to you this day?  Don't let the enemy blindside you!
Here are some principles for doing so:
Don't place yourself in a position to be tempted.
When temptation comes - run away.  Don't argue with the enemy  or try to rationalize with your flesh.
Pray as you begin the day that you will be protected from the evil one - and pray continually throughout the day.
Put on the full armor of God every morning.
Make a decision of how you would react when temptation comes; before the temptation comes.
Replace tempting thoughts in your mind with thoughts that are holy (Philippians 4:8).
Continually keep the negative consequences of "giving in" to the forefront.
Just some thoughts for a Tuesday.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Thoughts from the weekend

Thoughts from the weekend:

It is always a hard call as to whether to cancel a Sunday morning service or not - but we always try to err (if there is an error in this) on the side of caution.

Your safety is primary in the decision making process.

That being said, and being that you are such a giving congregation, I know that you will come prepared, this coming Sunday, February 8, 2015, to give, to give your tithe and to the building fund and to missions.

Just as a reminder:  Anyone can also get on our Stone Church website ( and give on line.

Thanks for being sensitive to this.

God always takes care of His people - His Church.

We live by faith - which is just how God wants  us to live - totally dependent upon Him.

We can do "all things through Christ who strengthens us".  Philippians 4:13.
This coming Sunday, February 8, 2015, the teaching is entitled, "Healing a bad marriage." (Both Sunday morning services).
Whether you have a great marriage, a good marriage or a "it can be better marriage," the principles taught will be of benefit. After the teaching, Debbie and I will be answering the top five questions that are emailed in to the church this week: Please keep your questions anonymous.
The play call by the Seattle Seahawks at the end of the Super Bowl - Worst play call - EVER.
Congratulations to the New England Patriots.
Another reminder:  Tuesday evening prayer, tomorrow evening, February 3, 2015, 6:30 P.M.  Church chapel.
Upward Basketball continues to be a tremendous outreach for us - I encourage everyone to come out and watch a game and "see what is going on."
Many thanks to all of the Royal Ranger commanders and dads for taking the boys to the Winter Camp.  We are all thankful they returned home safely.
Love you all.......