God and the Taj

Bob Mayo, Stonepoint Member

For several years of my life, I lived on an Air Force base in Bossier City, Louisiana. We arrived there when I was eight years old and now I was in Junior High School (7-9 grade). I was probably about 13 years old and was not a good student. I would spend most of my time in class day dreaming. I remember one day, just as clear as if it had just happened, that I was looking at this big geography book. It was the size of a “coffee table” book, if you remember those and had black and white pictures of various sites from around the world. I remember turning a page on this day, and there stood a full-page picture of the Taj Mahal. Having already been to Asia earlier in my life, anything Asian attracted my attention. I remember thinking, “boy, I’d like to see that someday.” I don’t recall ever having any thought of that event until I was actually in India in 1993, some 30 years later. 027

For some reason, this thought came back to me this morning (Aug 31st) as I was getting ready for work. I thought to myself,“God really did something really cool in my life with that trip.” I’d like to share a little of that with you today.

Just for a little background, my wife and I had been supporting Missionaries through GFA, where I currently work, for about three years. 1993 and 1994 were kind of pivotal years in our life for many reasons. It started when I started to take God more seriously in my life and was becoming uncomfortable with my life as it was. Through another strange work of the Lord in May of 1993, I received an invitation from GFA to go to India and tour the work for two weeks in November. When I opened the invitation, I had was immediately struck with a strong impression that I was supposed to go on this trip. I really did not expect my wife to be in favor of it, but when I told her about it, she said, “if you really believe God wants you to go, then you need to go.” I don’t have time to go into it, but that really surprised me and there is another story about her making that statement! So, from May to November I worked toward getting ready for the trip. It was six months of much struggle and spiritual battle for us. About everything that could happen to make me change my mind, happened. I finally told my wife that I was not going to go. Her response was, “oh yes you are! Don’t let these problems change your plans.” Again, I was shocked by her response. So, I kept at it and finally the day arrived.

I boarded an airplane in Denver and headed for Dallas. At the airport, I met up with the rest of the tour group and some GFA staff who were also going. We boarded a plane for Germany and then transferred to another plane to Delhi, India. After a little rest, the brothers on the field loaded us in a bus and took us to another state to visit India’s most famous tourist site. I still had no thought of that day back in junior high school. We arrived at the Taj and filed off the bus. As we approached the complex we walked through a gate that was cut through the wall around the Taj. It was then I looked up and there standing before my eyes was the Taj Mahal! I immediately was brought back to that day in junior high school. I didn’t hear God’s voice, but in my spirit, it was as if God spoke to me and said, “See, you wanted to come here, so I brought you. I was with you even when you had little or no thought of Me!” I don’t know if I gasped or said something, but the person next to me asked me what was wrong. I told him about that day in school. We had a really nice tour of the Taj, but I was so intrigued about what had just happened to me that I don’t remember much of what our guide talked about. At the time, this was the strangest encounter I had ever had with God! I don’t remember if I even thanked Him for actually bringing me there. I think I did, but it was something I have never forgotten.

Why do I tell you this? I know for myself, I don’t always appreciate the things God has done in my life. This was just one “God thing” in my life during the years of 1993-1996 until we finally came down here on staff. I haven’t talked of these “God things” often because of fear that it may sound like I’m bragging about or embellishing things. That’s not the case. God did so many amazing things, some small, some big, to get me and my wife down here to serve at GFA. He has done even more to keep me here.

So, here is my takeaway. Make yourself think about things that God has done in your life. As I was writing this I asked myself why God doesn’t do such things in my life any more. Then I realized, He has! Some of them are so minuscule that unless you are aware that God is in and with us, that we will miss it all together. I can think of days sitting here at my computer in the office and having just a terrible day. My mind and heart would be just dark and black when someone came up to my desk just to say hi. Many times, the person would give me a hug and say, “I love you Uncle Bob.” (That’s my nickname here, by the way.)There are still hard times, but if we don’t rebel, God can turn our struggles into praise and thanksgiving in a millisecond. God desires our praises. Let’s try to remember to thank and praise Him even when we don’t feel like it. Who knows, maybe you will end up at the Taj!!

 

Tear the Veil

Bob Mayo, Stonepoint Member

Matthew 27:51 says, and behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.

The verse above takes at the time of Jesus’ death on the cross for us. Just before that the book of Matthew says that, “Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up His spirit.” What an event that must have been! This heavy curtain that separated the two main rooms of the temple was torn from top to bottom by unseen hands. This curtain separated the Holiest Place, where God dwelt and was only accessible to the high priest one day a year. And that could happen only the priest conducted an elaborate cleansing ceremony.

But something changed on that day. I don’t know for sure, but it probably wasn’t noticed by many people, if any. The death of this troublesome teacher on the cross changed everything. Where only the high priest could have access to God’s holy place before, it was from this day forward, opened to all who would seek Him. Again, I doubt if the crowds knew this. But Hebrews 10:19-20 explains what happened, Therefore brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that He opened for us through the curtain, that is, through His flesh,” Through the death of Jesus Christ, we now have access to God!!

I’d like to quote a section from the Believers’ Commentary regarding Hebrews 11:20 that might explain this better, “This clearly teaches that the veil between the two compartments of the tabernacle was a type of the body of our Lord. In order for us to have access into God’s presence, the veil had to be rent, that is, His body had to be broken in death. This reminds us that we cannot draw near, by Christ’s sinless life, but only by His vicarious death. Only through the mortal wounds of the Lamb can we go in. Every time we enter God’s presence in prayer or worship, let us remember that the privilege was bought for us at tremendous cost.

I don’t think I need to stretch this post out. What a glorious privilege we have as God’s people. When we pray, we are praying to the living God who controls the universe and everything in it! Brothers and sisters, we need to take this to heart. We can reach God anywhere and anytime. We have received more blessings than we realize. This should make us fall on our faces and worship Him. God wants and deserves our worship. I pray we will have high thoughts of God in our lives and walk with Him.

I named this post, “Tear the Veil.” That’s actually a song by a group of Christian young people called Enter the Worship Circle. I thought it was appropriate for this post so I included a link to it below. I hope you will take three minutes and thirty seconds and listen to it. May God bless you and may you seek His face in love and humility.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FRFYgyVTXQU&list=RDMMFwgIn3vobag&index=25

Memories

Bob Mayo, Stonepoint Member

I don’t really have a message with this blog, but I would like to tell you a story. It’s a true story about a trip I made to Asia back in 2002. I was with the ministry I am working with now and we were going to take a “tour” of the mission field. This was a good trip as I recall, but there was one event that has stuck in my mind for years.

At one point, we stopped at one of our Bible schools for a few days. There were 365 students in the school that year. Most of them were young men and there were about 12 girls. As always, when we arrived all the students had formed two lines at the entrance to the school and we had to walk down the middle. They sang songs to us and threw flower petals (at least it wasn’t rocks) at us. We were later given a neckless made of flowers that we wore for the first day.

After that we sat down and had tea with the leader and had the opportunity to ask questions. Then it was time to take a tour of the campus. We walked around awhile and the leader explained all the operations of the school. There were young men hanging around us, mostly out of curiosity. A little later we came to one of the boy’s dorms. It had two levels and we went upstairs. It looked like a military barracks, just a big open room with bunk beds. The students kept all their belongings, which weren’t much, under the beds. As I was there I walked to the end of the room and looked down to the first floor. There was a small patio and there were probably 12 to 15 young men hanging out there and they looked up at me. I went back to the group and listened to the leader some more.

We went down stairs and out the door at the end of the building where the patio was that I saw from upstairs. Our group stood at one end of the patio and the 12 to 15 brothers stood in a group on the other side. The leader was still talking, but I started looking at the young men. As I watched, I became overwhelmed with a thought. I thought to myself, “these guys will all be graduating sometime before too long and going out into the villages. At best, they will face verbal opposition and probably be beaten and some possible killed.” I no longer heard the leader as I was just crying out in my heart to God for these guys to be safe and faithful to the end. Then I noticed, as I looked at them, they all started looking back at me. Suddenly, I found myself walking toward them across the patio. I grabbed one of the guys, gave him a big bear hug and said “praise the Lord.” That’s the only sure thing I could think of that the guys would understand in English. Suddenly I was swarmed by all the guys all wanting to be hugged and give me a “praise the Lord.” We smiled at each other, hugged each other and probably shed a few tears. It may sound strange, but for me, this was the most poignant part of the entire two-week trip. The rest of the trip was good, but I couldn’t get these guys off my mind. As you can tell, they are still there today.

Why do I share this with you? I’m not sure really. It just came to mind and I decided to let my fingers do the talking as I tend to do. I do not know where any of the men are. By God’s grace they are still on the mission field and sharing the Gospel of our Lord while the door is still opened to do so. At least I hope they are. Generally speaking, once a student gets on the mission field, he starts a church within a year or two, so many of them are probably pastors leading their flock.

Another thing that probably brought this to mind today was a DVD I saw over the weekend. It was about a Western Missionary and his wife whom the Lord used to visit many places where there were Christians under extreme persecution. I won’t share any of the stories here as it would take up too much space and they are probably copyrighted. But I can tell you that the first time I watched the DVD, my heart was actually in physical pain. I was a Christian when a lot of these stories happened in the 80’s but I never knew how much these believers suffered. In one country, the missionary visited, he learned that at one point there were no Christians left in the country because the non-Christians who were persecuting them killed 100% of the Christians. Somehow, God grew a new church, I believe from the children of the Christians who were killed.

So, I guess this is my point. You probably all know this, but we are all part of the Church. There is no persecuted church and free church. Those brothers and sisters in these persecuted countries are part of us and we are part of them. I often wonder if I would have the strength and courage to stand the way these brothers and sisters do, sometimes to the point of torture and death. Philippians 1:21 says, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” 

I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be on a “downer” or preach at anyone. I just know that it would please our LORD if we pray more for the Church. There will be tough times to come, but we know that scripture says the gates of hell will not stand up against the Church. May our LORD give us the grace and wisdom to take this to heart. Please pray for the Church, especially for those who are suffering under persecution. They are all our brothers and sisters. Blessings!

A Love Lost, A Love Regained

Bob Mayo, Stonepoint Member

It’s been a tough couple of months! You may have been experiencing some of this too. For me, as a lot of you may know because I tell you or post about it, I have been in a survive-the-day mode lately. It’s mostly physical, but of course when one struggles physically, there is a spillover to the emotional and the spiritual side, too. At least there is for me.

Lately, I have become dry, angry, frustrated, fearful and many other things I could mention. But what bothered the most is I became spiritually dry. Don’t get me wrong, I have been doing the right things even though they may have been a struggle. I have maintained my time in the Word, I have sought to pray, I kept coming to church and worked in re:generation. But it was more out of duty than anything else. Basically, in my mind, I became a respectable churchgoer and missionary worker, but there has been very little life in it.

It makes me think about a devotional I wrote around nine years ago. In Malachi 1:6-11, God says to the priests that they have despised His name? How did they do that? They had been offering defiled sacrifices to the LORD. Basically, their worship had become dull and just a job. Their motivation was no longer love and devotion for the Lord. This made me thing about my own life. What they were doing was offering sacrifices to the LORD that were not in accordance to the Law. They offered blind, sick and lame animals and kept the best for themselves. In other words, they began to love themselves more than they loved the LORD. God even told them to offer the sacrifices to their Governor and see if he would accept it. But he was tired of their offerings and did not want to see them any longer. The priests became sloppy in their service to the LORD. Today, I feel like my love and devotion for the Lord is sloppy. I can tell you, constant pain draws you into loving and taking care of yourself above all else. That may be a “normal” reaction. But since when should a Christian have a “normal” reaction to the trials of life.

Another verse that I have read and heard several messages on struck me today. “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. (Revelation 2:4).” I guess (to save face) I don’t want to say that I have abandoned my first love, but I have certainly put myself and my needs above that of Jesus Christ. I wonder what Jesus would say about that. In this passage in Revelation 2, John is writing about the church at Ephesus. They were basically a good church. They did good works, they patiently endured trials for the name of Christ and they tested people who called themselves apostles and rejected many of them for false doctrine. Most pastors would be thrilled to lead a church like this. But something was wrong. God said ‘you don’t love me like you used to.’ He then told them to repent and go back to doing the original works they were doing but with the attitude of Loving Christ above all else. This makes me think, is it possible to go about doing good things for God and looking good for God and be falling away? Evidently, we can.

If I can be perfectly honest with you, these past couple of months have been a time of loving myself. Please, I’m not discounting difficult times in our lives. I know of several people who are struggling right now with sickness, discouragement and even death of loved ones. It’s OK to feel sad or troubled about such things. But we do need to guard our hearts about becoming discouraged and dull in our walks with the LORD. There is another passage that I came across today. Let me quote it here for you: But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 2 Timothy 3:1-5.

I’m not trying to scare anyone, but we are living in difficult times. Talk about stating the obvious. I think there will be more and more pressures on God’s people. We will have trials and struggles and will be tempted to forget about God and become lovers of ourselves, proud and fearful. But we can still look good on the outside and appear to be godly but have no power. This passage ends with, “avoid such people.” That scares me a bit. One thing I do not ever want in my life is that I become a respectable church goer. The real question is, how are we going to live because this is going to happen? Are we going to be ready?

I don’t know if this will make sense to any of you. Maybe this is just for me. And I’m certainly I’m not judging anyone. But for me, I need to ask myself some serious questions. Questions like am loving myself more than I love God? Am I ready to suffer for Him? Am I going to trust Him in uncertain times? Is Jesus worth dying for? If we don’t ask ourselves questions like this and keep the LORD first, we can easily fall away and not even know it until God reveals it to us.

That seems to be what happened to me today. I repented of my selfishness and my self-pity. I repented that I love myself too much and especially these past couple of months I have put taking care of my needs and pain above all else. One thought I have had about my pain during this time, was that I wonder how my wife lived in pain for 30 years or more. I’ve been putting up with this for a couple of months and I’m ready to throw in the towel.

God’s people should be different. We should not be proud, arrogant, abusive or living for ourselves. We should have a deep love for others. We should be humble and let others be first over ourselves. I could go on but I won’t. This time of trial for me has been really small when I look at the trials of some other people that I know. Our trials will continue and probably get worse. Scripture bares that out. My prayer for myself, and for all of God’s people who are truly serious about following Christ, is that we will be the real thing. May we be lights in the darkness. May we have the courage to be serious about God and His purposes. Our director at the ministry has told us several times, “don’t hold on to your lives too tightly.” Our lives are not our own. Jesus said that ‘he who loses his life for My sake will find it. Those who hang on to their lives will lose it.’

May we become a people who are totally surrendered to Christ. He is worth it! Whatever we may go through here on this earth is worth it. We will have an eternity to spend with Christ! Are we ready? God bless you!

we are a little church (no great cathedral)

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

Despite all of my ‘artistic sensibilities,’ i’ve never been a poetry guy.

Song lyrics, yes. My head is overflowing with an entire lifetime of lines from songs, from ABBA (don’t judge) to The Zutons, from the first song i learned (which was probably Jesus Loves Me) to the new Passion album. They’re all fighting for space up there, and the Rolodex of lyrics in my brain still spins when i need to find something, although more slowly than it used to.

gothic_cathedral_carouselBut poetry…meh.

Maybe i’m a product of my times, but i’ve always been a lot more Jackson Browne than William Shakespeare. I remember buying a book of Shakespeare’s sonnets one time, after seeing a TV show where a guy wooed a girl by romantically quoting one from thin air at an opportune moment. So i thought i’d buy a book and commit some to memory. Just never happened for me…neither the memorization or much wooing.

But i was reading an article online today about one of my 90’s jangle bands, and ran across this poem from e.e. cummings, i am a little church (no great cathedral) and it actually resonated with me. Like i said, not a big poetry guy, but obviously, old e.e. and i are kindred spirits in a way, with the whole capitalization thing. I’m lowercase i’s, he’s lowercase everything.

He starts the poem off this way:

i am a little church (no great cathedral)

far from the splendor and squalor of hurrying cities

So, that phrase prompted me to Google a few facts. According to something called ‘The National Congregations Study,’ the median church in America has 75 attendees on a Sunday morning. That’s the median, meaning if you could walk by all of the churches in the US on a Sunday morning, half of them would have less than 75 people inside. Half.

And 90% of our churches have 350 people or less.

So, Stonepoint, despite being ‘far from the hurrying city’ is a large church. Nowhere near the Mega-churches (of 2,000 plus) that the news media reports on, but definitely in the ‘grande’ category at Starbucks. We have almost a thousand people coming to one of our campuses every weekend. With so many people, it’s easy to show up, find a seat in the back, listen to some songs and a sermon, and leave without really connecting to anyone, being affected by anything and having very little interaction outside of a quick handshake or two and a ‘how ‘ya doin’?’ on the way out the door.

If that’s what you’re looking for in a church, we’re probably not for you, and honestly, you’ll probably be attending somewhere else in a few years. People who don’t get plugged in, don’t generally stick around.

The way we counteract the ‘bigness’ is to ask people to continually think smaller. What we mean by that is to get invested in one of our Journey Groups, home ‘churches’ where people really get to know each other…and we mean really get to know each other. Journey Group leaders serve as the ‘pastors’ of their group of 10-12 people, shepherding them in a way that our staff can’t possibly do well in a body of so many.

The only way this thing works the way it is designed to, is for people to know each other, in close fellowship, through good and bad times. It’s not a Stonepoint design, by the way, it’s God’s design, laid out for us all throughout the New Testament.

Acts 4:32-34 says this: Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.

cummings goes on to say this:

around me surges a miracle of unceasing

birth and glory and death and resurrection

When we first started, Stonepoint was a church of thirty-somethings—young families who, in many cases, had been away from church for a while, and now had kids and were interested in raising them up in a God-honoring way. A few months in, we started getting some people in their 50s and 60s, and to our surprise, they stayed. They were inspired by the life-change that was taking place, and the fact that through our Journey Groups, they felt more cared for on a personal level than they previously had at church.

If they drew up a blueprint of ‘what i want in a church’ would Stonepoint fit it to a tee? No, but many of them are willing to set aside some personal preferences in order to be part of what God is doing here.

If you spend any time hanging around here at all, you see stories of people’s lives being miraculously changed by God’s power working through them. People who have been written off by society, and sometimes by other churches, have come to faith in Christ and are walking pictures of the ‘miracle of unceasing birth and glory and death and resurrection.’

Why wouldn’t you want to be a part of that?

Nobody in their right mind would call our building a ‘cathedral’ and if they did, it certainly wouldn’t be ‘a great one.’ It’s a metal building, and will always be one. And that’s okay. If you spill a little coffee, or your kids play around in the ‘sanctuary’ it doesn’t bother anyone, or if it does, it shouldn’t.

The goal was never to be a large church…that just kinda happened. But the vision since before Stonepoint even had a name was to be a faithful, committed church. That’s why we ask our members to serve, to be in community, to give of the resources that God has blessed them with, and to be honest with us when we ask how that walk is going, both in conversation and in the 4C assessment we send out every two years.

So in essence, despite our size, we need to keep striving to be a little church with a lot of people, and leave the cathedral building to someone else.