Insomnia, Marbles & the Backyard Olympics  

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

“Regrets…i have a few.
But then again, too few to mention”

My WayIMG_5153

Paul Anka wrote it, Sinatra and Elvis sang it, and i wish i could say the same.

I’ve told you before that i suffer from insomnia. Three or four nights a week, i’ll wake up at 1 or 2 in the morning, and when i’m up like that, i’m rarely able to go back to sleep for a couple of hours. 

Almost always, i’ll start processing some dream i was having—analyzing the choices i made that led me to being trapped in the wooden coffin like Uma Thurman, or in the submerged airspace that’s rapidly filling up with water, and thinking about what i could have done differently to avoid having it happen in the next dream.

Then, after checking the time on my phone, and getting a drink of water that’s not gonna drown me, either God or the devil will place some thoughts in my head about the kids when they were little. I’ll lay there trying to do one of those ‘military relaxation techniques’ that i read about, trying to relax, breathe, think about a blank wall…none of it works for me. 

I have a lot of great memories of their childhoods, i just wish i had more.

Like a lot of dads, i was the primary breadwinner in the family. I worked a lot of hours when we first got married, and were raising our oldest child–trying to pay for a house to live in. Angie was able to quit her job when our second daughter was born, when we made the conscious decision that we could do without some things in order to have her stay home and raise our kids. It meant we never had two newish cars, never went to Disney World, and she had to learn to cook, ‘cause paying to go out to eat was obliterating our bank account. I don’t regret any of those decisions, especially the last one. But i did end up having to work…a lot, and had a second job most of those years, playing music at church. (Yeah, like that’s a job.) 

We did things as a family—all the kids played Upward basketball and soccer, and i never missed a practice, and only missed games the year Spencer played outdoor soccer in the Springtime and my allergies couldn’t take it. Angie would record the games on her phone and i’d watch them that afternoon on the iMac. It wasn’t the same as being there and yelling at him cheering for him, but it was as close as i could get.

Once my job situation improved, we put a big, expensive hole pool in our backyard, and we spent every weekend afternoon in it. I’d throw the squishy football and the kids would take turns jumping off the hot tub into the air, while i’d lob the wet ball to them. We’d do Olympic diving events, where they’d represent obscure countries, and i’d have them perform the random dive of my choice. ‘Now, representing Trinidad and Tobago, Sheridan Johnston performing…the pencil.’ ‘Now representing Ukraine, Spencer Johnston performing…the belly flop.’

I’d kept a lot of my toys from childhood, and sometimes we’d set up the Hot Wheels track, and get out the cars (my old heavy ones would always beat Spencer’s new lighter weight ones) or my old tabletop basketball game where you flip the little levers to toss the ping pong ball into the basket.

When we got our first PlayStation, as part of the bundle, we got this game called ATV Off Road Fury and sometimes the kids would stick a controller in my hands and get me to try to drive the four wheeler around. I’d always run up a tree. Without fail. I could be in the middle of the flippin’ desert, and find the one tree and drive straight up it. We’d all laugh, i’d find reverse, and somehow run up the tree again. We’d box or play golf on the Wii sometimes, too.

We’d go on vacation most every summer to a beach—Galveston, Port Aransas, or South Padre and spend a week hanging out, having fun, eating seafood, or in Shelby’s case, macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets, and i think all of us look back on those times fondly. We helped plant a church and all four kids had a hand in it—even the two youngest, at 11 and 9 were some of the original Stonepoint Kids workers. (Well, they had a bubble wand and the toddlers ran around and chased the bubbles. Our curriculum has come a long way since the old days.)

So what do i regret at 2:06 in the morning?

I dunno—i guess maybe it still wasn’t enough. Like Don Corleone, sitting in his garden with his youngest son, looking back on life, i guess i just thought there’d be more time. They are all almost grown now—the youngest is 17, and our lives have changed drastically as we downsize and move into a smaller house. I still get to play music with a couple of them, and i’m trying to relish these times, ‘cause i know they’re not going to last forever either.

So here you go, dads—here’s the lesson from someone who’s been there. Try harder. Be more intentional. You don’t ever get the time you missed back. Whatever your hobby is, figure out some way to get your son or daughter involved in it, or find something else. I promise you, nobody sits around in their old age saying ‘i wish i’d spent more time working’ or ‘if i’d only spent more time drinking beer with my buddies life woulda been so much better.’

You’ve probably seen the illustration with the jar of marbles. You start with 6,570 marbles in a big glass jar, and remove one every day until your child is 18. I only have one kid with any marbles left, and those are as thin as the hair on the top of my head is getting. As much as i guess i did, looking back, it wasn’t as much as i could have done.

Life is too short not to be intentional. Our kid’s lives are too precious not to be poured into every chance we get. Yeah, you’re gonna mess up sometimes, you’re gonna be selfish every once in a while, but please, please, please keep in mind at how short the time really is, and don’t waste opportunities to spend with them, even if it’s just playing cars in the floor or running a virtual ATV up a tree.

Don’t miss opportunities to share what God is teaching you, and if He’s not teaching you anything, get in His Word and start learning something to share today.

I promise you, they will be some of your favorite memories some day. And some night. 

 

Here’s a great reading plan on the Bible App on Becoming an Connected Father–https://www.bible.com/reading-plans/15130

 

Photo by Spencer Johnston

Hollywood and Vine

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

“We’re going to Costa Rica!” 

At least that’s what we thought.

In June of 2015, our family was set to go on an overseas mission trip to Costa Rica. We had gotten passports, packed clothes we could get dirty, or even leave behind if we wanted to, and settled into a hotel on the fringe of DFW, where we could pay to spend one night, and leave our van for the week without springing for a parking garage at the airport. (My wife knows how to save us some money!)Megaphone Guy

Tropical Storm Bill was active in the Gulf of Mexico, and we were scheduled to fly to some city in Florida, and then catch another plane to Central America. The morning of the flight, we woke up, had breakfast, then got a call saying our plane was delayed because of the storm.

Then it got delayed again. And again. So we grabbed some lunch in Grapevine, piddled around some more north of the airport and then got the dreaded call saying the flight was cancelled. Dick Patterson, who organized the trip, tried to get us on a flight on another airline, since Spirit Airlines, who had already been bad to deal with, was less than zero help at this point*, until we all finally realized we weren’t going to Costa Rica.

Our kids, who were 15 and 13 at the time, were so disheartened. Having losers like us for parents, they’d actually never been outside the state of Texas before, so they were looking forward to setting foot on some foreign soil…and doing some ‘mission stuff’ too.

Angie and i decided that since i had 10 days off work, and everything covered on the worship team, we might as well go somewhere, so we drove to Love Field that evening, and picked Phoenix off the board. $99 each and we’d figure out something to do once we got there.

After surviving the ‘10PM and still feels like a pizza oven’ surprise when the automatic doors opened at PHX; the next morning, dressed like Costa Rican missionaries, we went to the front desk of the hotel and asked what sights there were to see. They rattled off a few things— Sedona, the Grand Canyon…all the Arizona spots, when the front desk girl said ‘you know it’s only 6 hours to Los Angeles, right?’

Twenty minutes later, the four of us were in a Sonata pulling out of a rental car parking lot, headin’ to the coast.

We made some fun stops along the way—recreated a U2 pic from The Joshua Tree sleeveThe Joshua Tree
for our family Christmas card using an iPhone and a tennis shoe for a tripod on the roof of the car in 117 degree heat at Joshua Tree  National Park. We ate some really bad pizza at a place we have agreed to never talk about, and ended up in Hollywood, on the walk of fame, outside of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, or whatever it’s called these days.

On the corner of Hollywood and Vine, there was a man with a megaphone, who apparently felt called by God to yell at the top of his lungs to anyone who was unable to tune him out. He informed each of us that we were bound for hellfire and damnation…apparently just for being tourists on Hollywood Blvd.

Doing the Lord’s work.

Having the complete opposite effect that God intended, if He had indeed called the man to be his mouthpiece there.

It’s no wonder that the Scientology Center across the street is such a big deal in California. Nobody yells at you at the Scientology Center. At least not at the first meeting.

Anyway, that guy has always bothered me. I really wanted to ask him why he was yelling, but i couldn’t get close enough to talk to him, because of the volume of his megaphone. But i’m betting he’s turned more people off the the gospel of Christ than he has won ‘converts.’ 

‘Cause the day we were there, he was running behind about 10,000 to zero.

I used to know a young man who wore those radical ‘Christian’ T-shirts. The ones that say ‘Turn or Burn’—that sort of thing. He was a guitar player, and i always tried to get him to buy a shirt that said ‘Gibson’ or ‘Fender,’ the big electric guitar brands. Every time i wore my own Fender shirt out in public, some dude would come up and say ‘hey, you play guitar?’ and i’d get the opportunity to say something like, ‘yeah, i’m on the worship team at my church’ and get to ask questions about his faith. Sometimes, they’d run…but sometimes they wouldn’t, and i had some good conversations with people just because of our common interest.

Nobody ever approaches you if your shirt says ‘YOU’RE GOING TO HELL’ in big, capital letters.

I don’t know—i feel sorry for the guy with the megaphone. His message is important—eternal truth that the world needs to hear, especially a lot of the people on the streets of Los Angeles. But the message was falling on deaf (and ringing) ears because of his delivery.

Fire and brimstone led to my wife getting ‘saved’ at the age of 12 at her little church in West Virginia. But a relationship with Jesus didn’t come until much, much later, because nobody walked beside her and explained what it looked like. Somebody to say ‘i’m sorry your family is poor, and that your dad left, but God is a father that will never leave you or forsake you.’ Someone to point the way to a little girl with trust issues, to a loving father that she could trust with her eternity. Someone to say ‘i may not always be here, but God always will.’

But hellfire and brimstone megaphone guys don’t have time for that. They’re too busy yelling.

I’m reminded of a song by Randy Stonehill that said “I was standing on the corner by the marketplace/ When a fellow with some leaflets shoved one right in my face/ Well he poked me with his Bible like it was a loaded gun/ And I said ‘whatever it is your selling, man, I don’t want none’” (Randy Stonehill—Through the Glass Darkly)

So how ‘bout this—let’s put aside the tracts and amplification and invite our friends to coffee and talk to them. Maybe they’re not even unbelievers, but folks you know could be in a deeper fellowship with Jesus than they are right now, and simply have a conversation. Find out where they’re at. Find out their hurts. Find out what’s keeping them from the kind of relationship they need with Him, and share what He’s doing in your life. 

If the answer to that is ‘nothing, right now’ then let’s fix that problem before you go to them. Stonepoint has several Bible reading plans available at http://stonepointchurch.com/resources/bible-reading-plan. This life doesn’t last forever. Ask anyone over 50 and they’ll tell you how short it really starts looking.

I pray for the guy on Hollywood Blvd. I pray that he will put down the megaphone, turn down the volume, and simply walk up to a person and say ‘hey—let me tell you what Christ has done for me.’ Softly. Rising above the din of noise, and traffic and the numbing roar of life on the street.

And that someone will finally listen.

Megaphone Image via Shutterstock. Joshua Tree pic by Angelia Johnston.

*-The opinions expressed about Spirit Airlines solely represent those of the individual author, and do not reflect the feelings of Stonepoint Church, or the Lord, who loves all air carriers equally. Even the horrible ones.

Shackled

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

My doctor in Canton has his office on Buffalo Street, a few blocks from the courthouse. I don’t know if he has some deal worked out with the county or what, but on more than one occasion, when i’ve been in the waiting area, a sheriff’s deputy or constable has brought in a prisoner, wearing an orange jumpsuit, prison shackles and handcuffs to see the doctor.Shackles

Um… it’s the prisoner in the jumpsuit and chains, not the constable. Probably coulda worded that a little better.

It’s always an uncomfortable situation for me and the dozen or so octogenarians in the waiting room. We all look up every time the door opens, to see the next soul entering Purgatory anyway, but when we see the jumpsuit, it’s generally ‘all eyes on phones and magazines’ from that point on. But it’s impossible to ignore the rattle of chains across the fake hardwood floors, and the inmate shuffling his way to a seat. The guy always ends up sitting directly across from me, where i feel the need to make a little nervous eye contact, acknowledge him, and try to not look too condescending before going back to stare a hole through the phone until my name is called. Five or six hours later.

The last fellow had a bad cough, which probably prompted his trip to the doctor. My initial reaction was ‘dude, cover your mouth…oh wait…you can’t.’

There’s a Grand Canyon sized contrast between the people in the room who have freedom, and the one individual who does not. Any of the rest of us are free to change seats, read a different magazine, get up and read about the ‘poop in a box’ mail-order colon test procedure that’s advertised on the wall display, or simply leave, if we don’t mind the $20 hickey the doctor’s office is going to hit us with for not keeping our appointment. The guy in the jumpsuit can’t do any of those things. He can’t even go to the bathroom without asking, and being escorted there.

It probably doesn’t surprise you, but i’ve never been to jail. I did have a warrant out one time, when i lived in the Panhandle, for an expired inspection sticker. Hey—most outlaw’s first crimes are small…John Dillinger got into a fistfight as a teenager, and young Clyde Barrow didn’t return a rental car on time. My blatant disregard for the rules of decent society got back on track when the Chief of Police, who knew me from church, called and said ‘hey, son, come down here and take care of this. You don’t want me to have to come get you.’

I paid my $175 fine and have managed to stay on the right side of the law from then on. Been straight for thirty seven years. And yeah, i’ve let my inspection lapse a few times since then. Dillinger, Clyde…their mistake was getting caught.

I don’t have any idea what the guy in the jumpsuit did to end up in jail, but i’m pretty sure his crime was of a more serious nature than mine. But i’m also certain that he’s not the only ‘prisoner’ in a room with that many people in it. 

What i mean is this: in our everyday lives, we see people, and have conversations or make small talk with some of them. How many of those people are trapped in their own cages, fighting addictions, mental illness, depression, loneliness, or any of a hundred other issues, and never let on? How many folks will you see or speak to today who are in invisible shackles?

Some folks flash their problems like neon, but most, sadly, do not.

Jesus sought out people—those with the obvious chains, and those with ones we can’t see; and as his followers, we should do the same. It’s hard, it’s often uncomfortable, but the great commission doesn’t say ‘go and make disciples of people who are just like you,’ it just says ‘go and make disciples.’ 

If there are areas of your life where you are being held captive, Stonepoint offers re:generation on Monday nights. Re:gen is a discipleship ministry where dozens of people have discarded the chains that have bound them, and found freedom in Christ.

I can’t stress to you enough, that re:gen is not just for ‘those people,’ unless ‘those people’ includes all of us. Anything that keeps you from having the relationship you need to have with God, or with another human being is something that needs to be eliminated from your life, not just ‘managed.’ Re:gen can help identify those things and help you on a road to recovery and a deeper relationship with God and with others who will fight your battles with you and spur you on toward love and good deeds.

We also stress the need for community at Stonepoint. Every member of our church, is part of what we call a Journey Group. Journey Groups are small groups of 10-12 people, and usually meet in homes one night during the week. They study the Bible, hang out, eat dinner, and sometimes go bowling, or have pool parties—it’s generally a bunch of folks just living life together. When a crisis happens—a surprise visit to the ER, a bad diagnosis, or when a family member dies, the folks in your Journey Group are your first phone calls and texts, your first line of defense and support.

It’s also the group of people you can share your struggles with, and when it works the way it’s supposed to, are counseled with Biblical advice on how to deal with those struggles, and given accountability to make sure they’re being dealt with. It’s the Stonepoint version of the church the way it’s described in the second chapter of Acts. People doing life together is so much better than trying to do it alone.

Our next GroupLink, where we put people and groups together is scheduled for November 3rd at 12:15 at our Wills Point Campus, and you can sign up HERE .

Jeremiah 29 says this “And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity…”

God is still in the business of rescuing captive souls, and the distractions of our day make seeking Him with our whole hearts difficult sometimes, but the journey is worth it. Freedom in Christ is a tremendous reward and breaking free of bondage is worth the cost.

Everyone has worn shackles at one time or another, but once you’ve experienced life without them, it’s hard to imagine ever wanting to go back.

Flesh and Blood Jesus

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

My dad took a lot of pictures when i was little, mostly black and white, but a few color ones as well—the bright Kodachrome oversaturated reds and yellows that i love about the photography of my childhood. But mostly, at our house, things were black and white.

When my kids were little, we watched some old TV shows that i’d enjoyed when i was their age—Dick Van Dyke, Andy Griffith, that sort of thing. Classic shows that are still great today, that had an innocence about them that disappeared from TV in the 70s and 80s. 

The Head of ChristOne day, when she was around three or so, our second daughter, Shelby, asked me, ‘when did the world start being in color?’

In her mind, old photos and movies simply captured the world as it was, and then one day, suddenly, like Dorothy opening the door from Kansas to Oz, everything changed and vibrant color was everywhere.

I explained that everything had always been the way we see it, and that black and white was just the result of the film and camera equipment we used. I loved that idea, though. That to a child, the world could be nothing but shades of grey, until one day…boom!

Sometimes, however, kid’s misperceptions carry over into adulthood.

When i was young, one of my Sunday School Classrooms had a reproduction of an oil painting of Jesus thumb-tacked to the wall. It’s called The Head of Christ, and was painted by a man named Warner Sallman.

According to Wikipedia, after publication in 1941 ‘it had been reproduced over half a billion times worldwide by the end of the 20th century. Enlarged copies of the work have been made for churches, and small pocket or wallet-sized prayer cards bearing the image have been mass-produced for private devotional use. The painting is said to have “become the basis for [the] visualization of Jesus” for “hundreds of millions” of people.’ 

You’ve seen it—i mean, it is one of the most reproduced artworks in history. Probably not regarded as ‘great art’ by the critics, but still one of the most famous paintings in the world. (I’m guessing right around #3, right behind the Mona Lisa and Dogs Playing Poker.)

Mr. Sallman did other paintings of Jesus, including one of him knocking on a door, that seemingly everyone’s grandma had on her wall when i was a kid, but this one, also unfortunately known as The Sallman Head, was his big hit.

Now i know, that’s not really what Jesus looked like—he was, after all, Jewish, and most Jews have…let’s say ‘more striking facial characteristics’ than the man in the painting. Archaeologists have also determined that men of the first century probably didn’t have 1960s hippie hair, contrary to public opinion, and the way we, and Mr. Sallman, envision things. In one approximation i saw, Jesus looked a lot more like a young Bob Dylan than the flowy haired guy i grew up seeing on the wall. But despite knowing this, that image of Christ is the one that pops into my head when i visualize him teaching the Sermon on the Mount, or sitting with his disciples having supper.

Be honest, a lot of you who grew up in church like i did, get that same image, or something similar.

But sometimes, seeing Oil Painting Jesus as Flesh and Blood Jesus is hard. Like little Shelby, thinking the world had simply been black and white at one point, there is a real temptation to see Bible characters, not as three dimensional, actual walking around the world people. People who dealt with some of the same kinds of problems we have (an ingrown toenail) or much worse problems (living in the Middle East without air conditioning)—but as somehow more like an oil painting than real. Two dimensional characters from a novel instead of living, breathing flesh and blood.

Maybe we do that because it’s easier that way.

Oil Painting Jesus never looks at me with disappointment at the bad choices i make. Flesh and Blood Jesus does.

Oil Painting Jesus doesn’t confront me with my sin issues. Flesh and Blood Jesus does, and tells me to ‘go and sin no more.’

So if i, as a committed Christ-follower, have a hard time seeing the Savior in the real world, imagine how a non-believer views things. A fairy tale that somehow people believe, like Jack and the Beanstalk. Stories someone made up to scare kids into behaving themselves, ‘cause they don’t want to burn in hell.

That’s why you and i have to see the importance of living out the gospel. People won’t see Jesus as real, until they see his followers that way—living out the things that he instructed us to do—loving, serving, being the hands and feet that he told us to be. Not by handing out tracts and yelling through a megaphone on a street corner, but by reaching out to the tax collectors meth-heads and prostitutes women who see sex as a commodity. By being kind to everyone we come in contact with, even those we disagree with politically, in our religious beliefs, social status or sexuality.

Not condoning, but also not condemning.

Treating people with love makes them want to get to know Flesh and Blood Jesus, and that church, is the goal. Imagine Heaven—seeing someone there that God, the creator of all that surrounds you—used you to help guide into an eternal relationship with him. Now imagine staying silent, and that person never knowing the Savior because you were too busy, too judgmental, too caught up in your own self-righteousness, or just because you didn’t care.

Oil Painting Jesus may look alright on a wall, but he won’t change your life the way Flesh and Blood Jesus can. And, a lot of the time, it takes Flesh and Blood Believers to show people that he’s real.

Lions 0, Bears 0 

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

If you were in church as a kid for any length of time, you heard the story of David and Goliath. Israel had begged God for a King, so they could be like other countries, instead of allowing Him to be their King, with Judges on earth to rule the day to day stuff. So God raised up a guy named Samuel to help guide the transition. The first king, Saul, was doing a lousy job, so in 1 Samuel 16:10-13, God led Samuel to anoint David, a young shepherd as the future King of Israel. 

david-sling-5-stonesThe Philistine army, as they did on a regular basis, was warring with the Israelites and this time, sent their biggest, baddest fighter, Goliath to the front lines to taunt the opposition. And the Israelites wanted no part of Goliath. He was nearly 10 feet tall, and covered head to toe in heavy armor. Picture your son’s basketball team going out on the court and seeing Shaquille O’Neil suited up for the other side, telling the kids he’s gonna block every shot they toss up and dunk on every play on the other end. (I guess the way the world is today, if Shaq ‘identified’ as a 7 year old, some people would be okay with that.)

Anyway, David went to the front to take his brothers some sandwiches, saw this enormous guy making fun of God’s people, and volunteered to fight him. Since he was so young, and not even in the army, King Saul, obviously thought this was a terrible idea, but allowed David to plead his case in 1 Samuel 17:32-37. The New Living Translation tells it like this, with a ton of exclamation points:

“Don’t worry about this Philistine,” David told Saul. “I’ll go fight him!”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Saul replied. “There’s no way you can fight this Philistine and possibly win! You’re only a boy, and he’s been a man of war since his youth.”

But David persisted. “I have been taking care of my father’s sheep and goats,” he said. “When a lion or a bear comes to steal a lamb from the flock, I go after it with a club and rescue the lamb from its mouth. If the animal turns on me, I catch it by the jaw and club it to death. I have done this to both lions and bears, and I’ll do it to this pagan Philistine, too, for he has defied the armies of the living God! The Lord who rescued me from the claws of the lion and the bear will rescue me from this Philistine!”

Saul finally consented. “All right, go ahead,” he said. “And may the Lord be with you!”

So having bear and lion killing on his resumé was enough to convince Saul to let the kid take on this mighty warrior. You know the rest of the story, David winds up his slingshot, bops the big guy in the forehead with a rock and then takes Goliath’s gigantic Hanzo sword and whacks his head off with it. He then holds up the big ole, now decapitated head to the Philistine army, and they run away, since they had bet the farm on this ‘send a smart-aleck giant out to fight for us’ plan and apparently didn’t have a backup.

But i want us to throw things in reverse and focus on David, before all this happened—alone in the pasture, tending his father’s sheep, always wary, constantly vigilant, keeping them safe from the predators wanting to steal them away.

What are the lions and bears in your life, and how good a job are you doing at killing them?

They may be small issues, in our human minds—but sin is sin to a holy God, and He sees anything that keeps us from having the relationship we need with him, or should be having with other people as a big deal. Something that needs to die in our lives.

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, puts it this way: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:5-11. ESV)

At Stonepoint, we strive to be a church that doesn’t hide from the fact that we all have problems, and openly talk about our sin struggles, instead of sweeping them under the rug, and acting like they’re not there. 

Folks who grew up in the church are particularly adept at this—you dressed up in your best clothes on Sunday, smiled for the Olan Mills guy taking your family picture for the church directory, and never said a word to anyone about the war zone that had your address when company wasn’t over. That inherent dishonesty is what drove millions of people away from the church when they were old enough to make their own decisions, and soured them on God, thinking that, if He did exist, He was somehow the author and perfecter of that sort of behavior.

That couldn’t, of course, be further from the truth. But that ‘clean up on the outside and show the world a nice façade’ mindset still exists today in some supposed ‘houses of God.’ It’s a shame—in a world desperately looking for authenticity, the church should be a place where everyone can be themselves…flawed, sinful, but loved and being transformed by God just the same.

That’s why Stonepoint offers re:generation on Monday nights, as a place where you can meet with other believers who are doing their best to destroy their own lions and bears, and will encourage you with confession, exhortation and Bible study to help guide you in the fight. Re:gen can help you kill those lions and bears when they’re cubs, rather than full grown destroyers.

Predators attack us from everywhere these days—our ‘entertainment’ is a constant deluge of temptation, our electronic devices provide 24 hour distraction from God’s word and meaningful conversation and there are unhealthy things to eat on every corner.

So, i ask you again—what lions and bears do you need to kill this week to keep them from being who God wants you to be? This day? This hour? Take it one step, one sin, one temptation at a time, and ask God for strength to defeat them. None of us are immune, none of us are so ‘holy’ that we can’t be derailed under the right set of circumstances.

It’s okay if Lions and Bears sometimes win on the football field. Just don’t let ‘em destroy your life.  

Snooze 

SnoozeMark Johnston, Connections Pastor

I love hitting the snooze button.

And i have a feeling that i’m not alone here. I mean, there’s got to be a reason that when the alarm goes off on my iPhone, the Snooze button is five times as big as the Stop button. The lure of those extra few minutes of sleep grabs ahold of a lot of us in the morning, and oftentimes sets us on a treadmill of being nine minutes behind all day.

I always wondered ‘why nine minutes? Who decided that? Why not an even ten? Why not fifteen?’ So i Googled it, and found that it’s basically a throwback to the days of mechanical alarm clocks. When they came up with the idea for a snooze, the gear ratios were already standardized throughout the industry, so because of the gears, the engineers could make it either a few seconds over 9 minutes, or they could do 10 minutes and some change. The rationale was that 10 minutes was long enough for people to fall back into a deep slumber, so they settled on 9. 

With today’s electronic gadgetry, of course, they can make it any darn length they want, but people have gotten used to a 9 minute snooze, so that’s what we still use.

Not sure if i’m an oddball or what, but i can go back to dreaming in those 9 minutes, and do most of the time. In fact, some of my best dreams are during that little window, free from drowning, being trapped in a crawlspace or left alone in an abandoned amusement park to screw up the entire night. (Yeah, i’ve got some issues. Before casting stones, let’s see you write yours down for everyone’s amusement.)

I never hit that button on Sundays, no matter how little sleep i’ve gotten, 1.) because i’m excited, and 2.) because there’s so much to do from the moment i get up. But i’ll hit it a time or two during the week, unless Angie prods me to get up and go for our walk around the park before the weather heats up.

I mean, i like my job, but i really, really like my bed.

Of course, there’s a huge difference in falling asleep, staying asleep, and going back to sleep once you wake up in the middle of the night. I’m pretty good at the first one, and absolutely suck at the other two. The upside is that some of my best blog posts were written at 3AM, so i shouldn’t complain. But i guess i do anyway.

Truth is, i probably like the snooze button a little too much—not just in the mornings, but in life.

I am a procrastinator. Big time. I’ve told you before, that i keep everything, and i mean everything on my computer/phone calendar. It’s full of different colored blocks of time, which helps me keep things in balance. Red is family time, so if there’s no red on the calendar for a week, my priorities have been out of whack. Orange is ‘me & Angie’ time. If it’s only on there in a couple of 30 minute spots in a week, that’s a problem—i’m not doing my ‘husband job’ well.

But let’s say the calendar alert reads “Have a hard conversation with Bob” or “Talk to Angie about that thing you’ve been putting off talking to her about.” I somehow find a way to drag those things until the next day, next week, or next month. They’re still there, of course, but they’re conveniently ‘put off’ until i’m better suited to deal with them.

Which is usually never.

At my previous job, i didn’t have a manager above me in the company. I reported straight to the President, who was the guy who hired me, and was, and still is, a good friend. He was also born with the ‘conflict avoidance’ gene just like i was. Often, when it was time to fire someone, he and i would both put it off until the last possible moment. Frequently, we’d avoid an issue, decide not to make a decision right away, and find the situation somehow work itself out through other means, and when it was all over, smirk, high five and say ‘one again, procrastination pays off!’

Not saying that was a great way to run a company, but it did work for us, some of the time.

The Bible, however, take a decidedly less cavalier view of putting things off. 

James 4:17 says “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”

And let’s look at this exchange in Luke 9 for a minute. In the New Living Translation, Jesus says to a man, “Come, follow me.”The man agreed, but he said, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.”But Jesus told him, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead! Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God.”

Another said, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.”But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”

So, the first guy, being a noble son, is saying “hey, Jesus, my father’s old and doesn’t have long to live. Let me take care of him until the time comes, make the funeral arrangements, and settle his estate, and then i’ll follow you.” The fifth Commandment in Exodus 20:12 tells us “Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” On the surface, here’s this fellow wanting to do just that, but then Jesus rebukes him.

In reality, the man is probably saying something more like ‘oh, sure Jesus, i’d love to be your disciple. Really, i would…but you see, my father is old and i should be there for him, so i can’t follow you just now. Give me some time, and i’ll get back with you.’

Page 1 of the Liars & Procrastinator’s Playbook that i could be one of the co-authors of.

The second man is doing the same thing—saying what he thinks Jesus wants to hear, but having no intention of following through on his promise. Jesus, of course, knows his heart, and hits him with a truth-bomb as well, going so far as to say he’s ‘not fit for the Kingdom of God.’

So, how do procrastinators change? I’m not sure…heck, i’ve been putting off the finishing touches of this post for a few hours now. But i think we saw the answer in James 4 earlier—we need to look at it, and treat procrastination and conflict avoidance for what it is: sin.

Simply put, it’s a part of our sinful nature that we need to turn away from and throw into the fire of refinement, along with the less socially acceptable sins in our lives. Like Jesus said in to the guy in Luke 9, God’s desire is for us to be spiritually alive and share our personal stories about His Kingdom to a world that is dying. And the time to do that is now.

Without hitting Snooze.

Between a Man and a Woman

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

The Bible says a lot about marriage. 

Man Woman Ripped SilhouetteThere are numerous places where men and women are instructed to behave in certain ways toward one another in their married lives. It’s most notably featured in Ephesians 5:21-33, but also mentioned in 1 Corinthians 11:8-9, 1 Timothy 2:13, Colossians 3:19, and 1 Peter 3:1-6.

In Matthew 19:4-6, Jesus explained that marriage was instituted by God himself. “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Marriage is used as a metaphor for Christ (the Bridegroom) and the Church (the Bride) in the New Testament. (In that same section in Ephesians referenced above, and again in Revelation 19:5-9.)

But the Bible is woefully absent of couples that are good examples of what it teaches. 

It seems that throughout history, even among God’s people, a bunch of things have come between a man and a woman.

Think about it—although Jesus states that monogamy had been God’s ideal from the beginning, most all of the Old Testament patriarchs had multiple wives, or concubines. In fact, a lot of it is pretty skeezy. Abram’s wife Sarai was unable to conceive, so she suggested he sleep with her handmaiden, Hagar to try and perpetuate the family line. Lot’s family was royally screwed up—after seeing their mom turned into a pillar of salt, two of his daughters get him blackout drunk in Genesis 19, and over two consecutive nights have sex with him in order to conceive their own children. (I don’t remember Mrs. Bridges teaching us that story in Sunday School.)

David was unfaithful to his wife Michal, with Bathsheba, and then had her husband killed trying to cover up the affair. Judah, a widower, was seduced by his daughter-in-law, Tamar, and mistaking her for a prostitute, had relations with her, and got her pregnant. Twice. God instructed the prophet Hosea to intentionally marry an unfaithful wife, and then write about it in the Old Testament book that bears his name, because it reflected God’s relationship with the nation of Israel. (Think Pretty Woman, except with a donkey instead of a limo, and a chick named Gomer, probably not looking like Julia Roberts.)

Ruth and Boaz are probably the best example of a married couple that we’re given in scripture, but she was a widow, and Boaz was her late husband’s uncle, which didn’t raise an eyebrow in that day and time, but to me, is still pretty weird. 

Solomon wrote Song of Solomon to describe the intimate relationship between he and his wife—but which one? If he’d written each of the 103 verses about a different wife, there would’ve been almost 600 of them, upset that he’d left them out of the poem, and he had another 300 concubines on the side. (I can picture him walking down one of the halls of the palace, seeing a girl and saying ‘Hi, i’m Solomon, don’t believe we’ve met,’ while the girl (rolling her eyes) replies ‘um…like we’re married!’)

Men can be pigs, or at times display ‘pig-like’ qualities. Even God’s men.

There are very few unions, Adam and Eve, and Noah and his unnamed wife are the only examples that come to mind, where a couple apparently remained faithful to one another throughout their lives without somebody making a mess of things. And let’s face it, Adam didn’t have any options, and after the flood, neither did Noah.

Moses had two wives, but we’re not told if these were simultaneous, or if his first wife, Tharbis, the daughter of the Ethiopian King, had died, or was just back home in Egypt, when he married his Midianite wife, Zipporah. (Those are two names that ain’t making a comeback.) Joseph and his Egyptian wife Asenath are mentioned to have two sons in Genesis 41, but there’s nothing of her anywhere else in the story, but i think we’re safe to assume Joseph was a faithful husband, given his virtuous response to Potiphar’s wife when he was younger. 

Anyway—the Bible doesn’t paint any kind of picture for us on what those relationships, or the other marriages in olden times were really like, and that’s a shame. Those of us who have been married for a long time could really benefit from reading about how a couple, married for 300 or 400 years dealt with aging parents, or problem children, trouble with their finances or personality differences with one another. Or just how freaking tired they must have sometimes been of sharing a tent and a bedroll with one another, and how they worked through that.

But here’s the deal, church. Since the Bible doesn’t give people many real, relatable human examples of marriage, you and i need to be the examples.

The outside world is watching, and when a ‘Christian’ marriage fails, folks are there to shout ‘i told you so’ from the highest rooftops in town. In their minds, it ‘proves’ to them that our faith is not real, that God is not who we say he is and puts His whole Church in a bad light.

Truth be told, when both parties are fully devoted followers of Christ, divorce is not an option. If a man and woman are both recklessly in love with Jesus, they find a way to love each other well.

The world is full of bad examples of marriage. Every day our news feeds pop up with another pair of celebrities making the decision to ‘consciously uncouple’ or whatever this year’s trendy euphemism for failure is. Believers need to make a stand and show what true marriage should be. But again, what should that really look like?

It goes back to Christ and the Church. Even though, we as the Church, much like Hosea’s wife, continually fail to keep our end of the bargain, and chase after other lovers, God is faithful. God loves us unconditionally, and welcomes us back when we stray. Marriage shows us how deep and intimate our relationship with God can be, and nothing, and no one can separate us from His love. (Romans 8:38)

(I’m not saying martial infidelity cannot be grounds for divorce, since that is stated multiple places throughout our Bibles. I’m using it, like Scripture does, as an illustration of his relationship with us, but, on the flip side, i know of many marriages that God has healed from the sin of unfaithfulness.)

We have a chance to reflect God’s plan for marriage to the world better than the heroes of the Old Testament. It’s true that a lot of things can destroy the bond between a man and a woman, but we need to hold on, persevere and show an unbelieving, cynical world the unquenchable relationship between Jesus and His Church.

The world needs it. Desperately.