About Stonepoint Church

Stonepoint Church is located in Wills Point, Texas. We exist to connect people to God, connect people to others, connect people in service and connect people to the world.

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.

 

The Prodigal Do-Over

Outdoors Backpack Hat Man Guy People LifestyleRandal Brewer, Stonepoint Member

We are all familiar with the story of the Prodigal Son told in Luke 15:11-32. Most of us are familiar with a variety of spins on the parable that have been written in books or taught in countless sermons. We’ve been told that the story is equally about the older brother that was angry about the father’s grace and mercy. There’s a really good Tim Keller book, Prodigal God, about the prodigious love of the father. 

As Christians we need to have a good grasp about the younger son, because we are him. No matter who you are, you are him. I certainly am.

Recently, my identification with the prodigal son has been a comfort to me, because I need a Do-Over. I need a bunch of them. This is the most beautiful thing about the story. The big Do-Over. The Do-Over begins with, “When he came to his senses…” (verse 17). I’m really good at coming to my senses, I’m just poor at the timing. I usually come to my senses after I’ve been knocked senseless. It’s a God thing, I think.

Don’t we all need a Do-Over? Not just that initial act of believing in Christ and understanding our sin and our need for a Savior. It keeps going, or at least it does for me. I need a financial Do-Over. I need a spiritual Do-Over. I need a professional Do-Over. I can conceive of some parental Do-Overs that would be good. When it comes to marriage, I’d Do-It-All-Over Again. (Hey baby, gotcha.)

I’ve come to my senses, again. A Do-Over sounds good to me. Now I understand, Lord. I see the light. I can’t undo what has been done, but we can start fresh from here, right? A little Master-of-the-House manipulation on Your part, and we’re good to go, right? I mean, what’s the use of my sin being as far as the east is from the west, or Your prodigious forgetfulness if we can’t have the big fresh and fuzzy Do-Over now?

In this contemplation and fervent prayer, God revealed to me the story found in the minor prophet book of “I’maguy-a.” It’s a short book, and very hard to find, but if you want to pause here and look it up…or it might be quicker if I give you the Cliff Notes version. “I’maguy-a” tells what Paul Harvey would refer to as, The Rest of the Story.

You see, everything wasn’t happily ever after for the Prodigal Son just because he found himself back in the good graces of his merciful father. Oh, it went well for a while. He was excited to get up early and work the ranch. The labor even felt good for a while. He was sufficiently contrite and deferential toward his older brother and amends were made. They laughed again remembering the old days. 

Speaking of the old days, one of the servant girls who was a child when he left was not a child any longer. She was a beautiful young woman. She laughed at his jokes. She appreciated his generosity toward her father and family. In fact, the Prodigal Son had become a favorite among the hired hands. He worked with them and treated them well. They liked him much more than the older brother.

Word of the Prodigal Son’s return reached the neighboring ranches, and when he would run into the family members or servants of those ranches, they congratulated him on his return and were happy to see the rumors of his new life were true. They remembered when he was younger and had held such promise, and such rebellion.

After a while, his responsibilities increased and he led a small caravan into town to engage in trade for his father, and while he was there ran into some of his old party pals from the days of riotous living. They invited him to buy them drinks, but he said ‘no thank you.’ Instead, he directed the caravan to edge of town and set up camp. He sat next to a fire and after the meal was served he contemplated his life and his mind found the rabbit trails of “How Do You Like Me Now?”.

He thought about the servant girl and wondered what everybody would think if he married her instead of the daughter of the wealthy neighbor his parents were planning on. What would his brother say if their inheritance was intruded upon again, this time by a family of former servants? What about the other ranchers in the area? Did they really think that highly of him or did they privately scoff because his only real success was being his father’s son? Would they view his marriage of a servant girl more proof of irresponsibility? Could he go ahead a marry the wealthy daughter and go Old Testament with a second wife? 

He thought about this business trip he was on. He hadn’t thought his father’s instructions were the most profitable. He thinks that he could have traded differently and made more money. In fact, he could have kept the extra profit for himself and began amassing his own fortune. He could eventually branch out on his own and prove his worth was more than just as his father’s son. He could prove it to his brother, the neighbors, the riotous friends, this servant girl who probably only pretends to like him because of his money – his father’s money.

We can see where this is going. The Prodigal Son is on his way. The sin has been conceived in the fertile ground of his mind. We can fill in the blanks for what he’s going to wind up doing, or each of us could fill in the blank for what we would be in danger of doing…for what our next big Do-Over would be. 

How do I make my next Do-Over the last one? Better yet, how do I make my last Do-Over, my last Do-Over? How do I take captive all those “How Do You Like Me Now” comparisons and desires and envies and performances? 

The answer…Love God. How’s that for a good Sunday School answer? I know what you’re thinking—how do we do that…really? What is the practical path to love that which I can’t always see or hear or know? What I have started doing is remembering who I am without Him. I am Pig-Sty Boy. With my mind on the Father, and who He is, and what He has done, I am Prodigal Son, basking in the Do-Over. With my mind wandering all over everybody else, I am Pig-Sty Boy with another Do-Over on the horizon.

Loving God, chasing hard after God through prayer and reading the Bible and making others more important, cause the “How do you like me now” rabbit trails of my wandering heart to grow over with weeds. 

The weed eater is always nearby, I just can’t…pick…it…up.

 Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” Matthew 22:37

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” Matthew 6:33

     

Why Not Fly?

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor 

RobinThe other morning, while I was drinking my coffee, I looked out the back door and saw a bird, a male robin, walking down the sidewalk, like he was just out for a stroll. It seemed a little strange, so I watched him for a minute. He had a twig in his mouth, which I assumed was going to be used for a nest. Now, our yard is a veritable Home Depot of bird nest building materials, with a dozen or so trees, that drop limbs every time there’s a light breeze in the forecast. There’s a majestic old pecan, some stately oaks, and a few catalpa trees, which I’m convinced line the banks of the mythical river Styx in Hell, dropping crap year ‘round.

Anyway, the bird walked, slowly, like an elderly person, along the sidewalk from our shed to the driveway, a good twenty feet or so, probably looking to do some sort of twig upgrade. It was a long enough distance that I started to wonder if there was something wrong with him, maybe a problem with one of his wings, so I sat down my coffee mug, opened the door, and startled him, so he took off into the air. (And yes, honey, I used a coaster.)

So, after he flew off, I started to wonder, “why in the world would you walk when you can fly?”

As people, most of us dream of having the ability to fly. Some folks literally have flying dreams at night. (I’ve unfortunately never been one of those people, and have always been kind of envious of them. Instead, I get drowning dreams.) Here was this little guy, blessed by his Creator with an ability so amazing—one that he takes for granted, and that his peanut-sized brain can’t really fathom—walking to his destination instead of soaring in the clouds like you and I would do, just for a minute, even if we had no reason to do so.

He’d been blessed with a gift from God, and wasn’t using it.

As believers, we have also been given something incredible—the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God Himself. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) Think about it. In Old Testament times, God’s Spirit dwelled in the Tabernacle, or later, in the Temple, once it was constructed. The indwelling of the Spirit in people in the Old Testament was selective and it was temporary. 

The Spirit “came upon” people like Joshua (Numbers 27:18), David (1 Samuel 16:12-13) and even Saul (1 Samuel 10:10). In the book of Judges, we see the Spirit “coming upon” the various judges whom God raised up to deliver Israel from their oppressors. The Holy Spirit entered into these folks for specific tasks and for certain periods of time. This indwelling was a sign of God’s favor (in the case of David), and if they fell out of God’s favor, the Spirit would depart (Saul in 1 Samuel 16:14).

It was not until Pentecost in Acts 2, that the Holy Spirit, as Jesus had promised to the disciples before He ascended into heaven, filled the believers. Not as a temporary blessing, but a permanent one.

“When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:1-4)

From that point on, the once timid disciples, the very same men who ran and hid when the authorities arrived that night in Gethsemane, spoke boldly of the risen Christ, with no fear of arrest, persecution or even death. They had spent three years walking alongside Jesus in his ministry, witnessing his miracles, hearing his teachings, but it was the indwelling of the Spirit that really changed them.

So in the Old Testament, outside of a few special instances, the Holy Spirit did not live inside God’s people, and when it did, it was only for a season. As incredible as that sounds, you and I have something that Noah, Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Daniel, David, Elijah and Elisha did not—the very Spirit of God living inside us.

Picture yourself in Heaven, finding one of your Old Testament heroes…Moses, for example. Excitedly, you ask him what it was like to see the burning bush, to lead God’s people out of bondage, showing God’s power to the rulers of Egypt, or receive the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.

What if Moses’ response was something like, “yeah that was cool and all, but I want to know what it was like to have the Holy Spirit living inside you?”

Imagine his reaction be to our typical American Christian answer of “you know…It really didn’t affect me a whole lot. In our culture we liked to shop for clothes and binge TV shows on this thing called Netflix and I worked a lot so we could have a bigger house and nicer cars, and go on vacations and cruises and attend sporting events.”

Church, we have the indwelling of Holy Spirit, and we’re walking around picking up twigs to build bigger nests. 

I can’t help but feel that we will one day look back at our fascination with the shiny objects this world has to offer—sex, materialism, even the ‘your best life now’ promise of the TV preachers with nothing but regret and remorse. It’s like we are the Indians, trading the Island of Manhattan for a few dollars worth of trinkets.

God wants so much more for us, as his beloved children. Not ‘blessings’ in the way so many have been taught to think of them, so much as the abundant life of obedience. Of dying to ourselves in order to live for Him, to take up our crosses and follow. To see those in need, and truly hurt for them, share their burdens, and do our part to help lift them up, sharing our own stories of redemption as part of someone else’s healing process.

That’s what the church should be. 

As Hebrews 12:1-2 says “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God”

Church, we have the Spirit of God. Why are we walking?