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.

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.  

Washes Whiter Than

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

A few months ago, the wife and i were at one of those little shops where people sell things that you don’t really need, but buy anyway. She liked the way this big bar of soap smelled and thought it would be good to use in our shower, so she bought one.dove

Now, we’re Dove people. “Dove is ¼ cleansing cream and will never dry your skin the way soap does,” the old commercial promised, and we believe it. My knuckles don’t dry out as badly in the wintertime when i use Dove. I know it’s ‘girl soap’ and being a guy, i should be taking layers of skin off every morning with Lava or at least using Irish Spring or something, but i don’t care. I like it.

We buy the stuff by the pallet at Sam’s, since my wife has this weird, Howard Hughes-like obsession with new bars of soap. When one is like halfway gone, she deems it ‘thin enough to see through’ and opens up another, leaving me to finish up the old one over the coming weeks. So at any given time, there is one big bar and two or three partial ones in our shower, since i refuse to do that thing my parents used to do where they’d graft the old sliver of Ivory on the the nice new bar like that little guy that was that was growing out of the other dude’s stomach, leading the resistance in Total Recall. That’s just nasty.

My frustration with the shower soap is a subject for another blog post. Or another trip through re:gen.

Anyway—she tried out the big new bar from the little shop one night and didn’t like it. Like i said, we’re Dove people, and she knew this going in. It sat in the shower, unused for a couple of days, since everyone had developed the same opinion of it. But instead of throwing the thing away and saying ‘golly—i wasted a a little money,’ she went out and bought a little blue dish that matches the paint on the wall, and decided we’d all use the big bar that nobody likes by the bathroom sink instead. (No vote. It’s a dictatorship.)

Now, we have a long established pattern there, too. One of those pump dispensers from either Bed, Bath and Beyond or Bath and Body Works (i can’t tell the difference, and never know which one we’re in) has been by our sink for years. It’s nice, foamy hand soap—stuff that she spent an hour selecting in whichever one of those stores we were in at the Outlet Mall, where they make you think you’re getting a good deal, but probably just paying regular price.

You know the drill. The wife goes in, and smells 40,000 different varieties of soap and lotion, while the husband stands around, holding bags from the 5 other stores she’s bought spatulas and bras in, and his bag of $14 blue jeans from the clearance section of the Levi’s store, desperately wishing the bath and lotion place had one of those nice leather chairs like Dillard’s or Nordstrom. And a TV.

Occasionally she’ll ask my opinion, whether i like the Cucumber Vanilla Spice or the Chocolate Frosting Cinnamon Kumquat better and have me smell a little dab from the sample pump on her hand, but other than that, and whipping out the debit card, i’m utterly useless in that place.

Well, that little pump that we all like has disappeared into the recesses of the bathroom cabinets where the kids and i can’t find it, and been replaced by the soap dish that everybody hates, and the pump only makes a reappearance when company comes over.

Now, here’s the real problem—the big bar of soap everyone hates, but has to use, never gets any smaller. 

We are a family of obsessive hand washers, beaten down over the years by my wife’s germophobia, but somehow this thing, like the widow’s oil in the Bible, never gets used up. And believe me, i’ve tried. I stood there dumping water into the little blue tray one night, hoping to melt it and i swear the next day it was bigger. Out of spite!

She says she knows the bar soap is a virtual petri dish of germs, compared to the pump, but still can’t bring herself to throw it away, an act that would cause her children (and husband) to rise up and call her blessed.

I’m sorry to rant like this, but i do finally have a point. I think.

Our current message series has touched on the subject of things that don’t need to be in your life, but have entrenched themselves in there anyway.

What’s your bar of soap? Your secret shame that won’t leave?

You know—that thing you’d like to get rid of, but can’t seem to make go away. The habit, or hangup you wish wasn’t there, but never gets completely used up; the thoughts that your mind likes to go back to when you’re bored or lonely. The things you can’t melt away and just seem to get bigger when you try.

We’ve all got ‘em. Like the bar of soap we’re ashamed of, and hide when someone else is around, but as soon as they’re gone, it’s back out, visible to no-one else. Maybe it’s substances. Perhaps it’s worrying about what people think of you. Maybe you’re a perfectionist and it keeps you from finishing blog posts for months, obsessing over commas. It may be food, it may be alcohol or tobacco. Everybody’s got something.

The Apostle Paul talks about this in Romans 7:15-20 “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.”

The late, great Christian songwriter Keith Green paraphrased Romans 7 this way: “The very things i hate, i end up doing. The things i wanna do, i just don’t do.”

Dear reader, if Paul, who saw, and was temporarily blinded by the risen Christ, and called to preach His truth to the Gentiles, can admit this sort of thing, and go so far as to write it down for people to still read 2,000 years later, why are we hiding our junk? Why can’t we, like Adam and Eve, admit that we’re naked and ashamed, and need help from our heavenly Father, who loves us and will clothe us, eventually in righteousness itself.

On Sunday, Brandon mentioned our need for authentic community—a place where confession takes place regularly, and accountability is the norm. If you’re in a Journey Group, take time this week to split up into guys and girls, and talk about these things, pray for one another, and follow up during the week.

If you’re not in a Journey Group, e-mail us at groups@stonepointchurch.com and we will let you know when our next GroupLink is scheduled. GroupLink is where we put people and groups together. It’s great to have a group of people that you can do life with, and you’ll soon wonder why you tried to live without it.

Stonepoint also offers re:generation, a twelve step, Bible-based discipleship ministry for people with sin issues that they are struggling with, which, if we’re honest, is everyone. Re:gen can help you deal with your hurts, your shame, the things you obsess over—whatever it is that is hurting your relationship with God or with other people.

Re:gen is not easy. It forces you to take a long, hard look at yourself, and the steps you’ve made along the way that formed you into the person you are, and openly share those things with a group of people that will become your friends. Parts of that are really difficult, but worth it in the long run. In the end, it’s not about receiving a coin, it’s about restoring and deepening a relationship with Jesus, and making that relationship the top priority in our lives. One step at a time.

The blood of Jesus washes whiter than any bar of soap you can buy, and it’s the only thing that can make us truly clean.

Dirt Clods

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

When i was in second grade, i got into trouble at school.

I know some of you are thinking ‘what’s the big deal’ or ‘what took you so long,’ but you’ve got to understand this was a huge thing to me at the time.

The weather was hot and the top of the ground had cracked on the school playground. A bunch of kids over by the swings started throwing dirt clods at those of us by the blacktop, so we retaliated. It was so much fun! Cracked EarthI was kinda sheltered by a tree, so my chances of getting hit were minimal, and the air was filled with projectiles for several minutes before some teacher yelled at us and told us to stop.

A little while later, back in the classroom, Mrs. Anders directed our attention to the front of the room, where a first grade teacher had brought in a sobbing little boy who had gotten hit near the eye by someone’s dirt clod. She asked all of the boys who had been involved to stand up, and a few of us nervously did, giving dirty looks to the others we knew were a party to it, but didn’t stand.

She told us how disappointed she was in us, and explained that we could have put this little boy’s eye out. The threat of life with an eyepatch made him cry even harder, imagining how close he’d come. (One of the biggest fears we had as kids in the 60s was losing an eye—well…that, and riots, Vietnam, assassinations and nuclear holocaust.) And since i grew up in church, i was ladled with a good degree of natural guilt from Sunday School, and felt horrible for the kid.

Those of us who ‘fessed up’ had to miss recess the next day, but i think that was the only consequence to our crime. I knew i deserved it, and it really affected my behavior in school from that point on…at least until Junior High rolled around.

I got in trouble for throwing dirt clods all those years ago, and it affected me. But after a while, the possibility that other people could be hurt by my actions rarely crossed my mind anymore.

In re:generation, Step 9 is called Amends. Amends is a time for participants to look back at the Inventories they’ve done of their lives and make restitution to the people they’ve hurt over the years…to find the people we’ve hit with things far worse than dirt clods and tell them how sorry we are, and ask them for forgiveness for the harm we’ve caused.

Sounds simple, right?

Now, i’m not saying i need to try to find the kid that i may or may not have bopped in the face with a dirt clod in 1969 and remind him of the awful scene he’s probably tried to blot out of his memory for all of these years. And to be honest, i don’t think i ever actually knew his name, and if i did bother to find it out back then, it’s been lost in the recesses of my mind.

But there are people in my life that i’ve caused harm to, that i have treated poorly, that i need to seek forgiveness from. I need to acknowledge the pain that i’ve caused in my selfishness and pride and innate desire to put my needs way before the needs of others.

Most of those people, i happen to be married to.

Matthew 5:23 says this:

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 

What if the flip side is true—that someone has hurt you, maybe years ago, that altered the course of your life in ways that you feel you can’t forgive?

Colossians 3:12 tells us this:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

What would it look like if we came clean? Came clean with our spouses, our children, our neighbors, our families. What if we said ‘i’ve thrown hundreds of dirt clods at you over the years. I’m sorry. Will you please forgive me?’

What would a church of forgiven, forgiving people look like to the rest of Van Zandt County?

Look, we’ve all made mistakes. The Bible says we “all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23.) The way we react to those sins, the ones we’ve committed, as well as the ones that we’ve been on the receiving end of, sets us apart in a way the world can’t help but notice.

We’ve all lobbed a few dirt clods in our lives, and had them chunked at us. What’s your next move?

Re:generation and a Lesson in Pride

Bob Mayo, Stonepoint Member

It was a bit of a different night at re:generation this week. The first thing that happened (just as a sidelight) was that we had three men graduate, so we had a ceremony for that. More on that in a minute. Usually, since I am one of the helpers, I’m supposed to be there at 5:30PM, one and one half hours before re:generation starts at 7PM. As a group, we usually have a dinner then we meet for a half hour or so before the doors open at 6:30. All that to say, I forgot that when we have graduation, we skip dinner and just have our meeting. So, by the time the graduation ended, and we actually had snacks with everyone who was there, I was getting seriously hungry! But I was able to grab a few snacks and take them into class with me, so I survived my hunger.

The graduation itself was also a little different and quite good. First of all, as I was sitting waiting for the meeting to start I noticed several GFA staff coming in! That, in itself was strange, until I remembered that one of our GFA staff was graduating. He invited several of his friends from the ministry and I think they all came. The three guys did a great job with sharing something about their year in re:gen. If you don’t already know, most re:generation participants aren’t really big on being on a stage before a crowd of people. But they all did great. The graduation ended with my friend from GFA singing a song that the Lord gave him, I would say, specifically for his graduation. It was moving and well done and the audience really loved it. I was pretty happy and proud for my friend from GFA.

Monday night was also a little different for me. My role in re:generation is that of a learner and a back-up teacher. I have been at this for nine months and have had to fill in exactly twice. But this night turned out to be my third time. I did not know I would be leading for sure until our leaders meeting when the regular teacher called in to say he had to work. I did have some pre-warning so I had was at least somewhat prepared. But it’s always a bit scary for me to be the teacher here.

There are three in our class right now and we just passed the halfway point. As the guys were sharing I became aware that a lot of the discussion was around anger and pride. As I listened, I thought of a passage in the Bible that is probably familiar to all of you. Philippians 2:3-4 (ESV) says this: Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility COUNT OTHERS MORE SIGNIFICANT THAN YOURSELVES. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interest of others. As the guys were sharing, I was carried back to my own re:gen group in 2016. I really love those guys and we got to be close during our year together. When it is your turn to speak in the group we usually say something like, “my name is Bob and I struggle with… (we give two or three things). At one of our meetings one of the guys said, he was wrong with sharing his two or three things. He had discovered that he could sum up all his problems in one word: PRIDE! The rest of us looked around and almost as a group, decided that that is all any of us need to say in the future. “Hi, I’m Bob and I struggle with PRIDE! It was actually kind of funny.

What I shared with the class this week was that pride in our lives needs to be crucified. I asked them if they could imagine what their lives would be if we could actually count others more significant that ourselves. What a difference that would make with our wives and children, with our co-workers and our bosses or leaders. My wife died in December of 2012, and today I still think back to times where I was just proud and stubborn with her. While I know God, and my wife, has forgiven me. I still live with the hurt I caused.

But there is a more important reason why we need to be get rid of our pride. God actually opposes the proud! No surprise there. You can’t read the Word without seeing how damaging pride is to others and ourselves. Satan fell because of pride! God humbled Nebuchadnezzar and made him go crazy for a while until he humbled himself to the true God! Pride separates friends, hurts others and turns God against us! Here, in no set order, are a few verses that that talk about pride and humility: James 4:6; Romans 11:20; Proverbs 16:18 & 29:13; Mt. 23:12. There are many, many more.

Just a little bit of self-disclosure, I struggle in this area way more than most people realize. I can seem so laid back and humble. While that is true some of the times, there are other times where it is just a smoke-screen to hide anger, rebellion, shyness and fear. In a word, pride. Ugh! That is hard to admit. I wish I had a three-step program that would get rid of pride in all our lives. But there is no such thing. The best I can tell you is to learn and take steps to humble yourselves before God. Confess sin when it occurs, let God cleanse and forgive you, make apologies when and where necessary. Trust God to reveal your steps. I know for sure that God loves us more deeply than we can ever know and will help us do this. But we need to be willing to be crucified.

I started this with quoting Philippians 2:3-4. I’ll end it with Philippians 2:5-8. I won’t quote it here but please take a couple minutes to look at it. Paul basically tells us to have the mind of Christ Jesus. Then he talks about Jesus’ journey into humility for our sake. Just writing about this fills my heart with remorse for my failures in this, and fills me with joy, thankfulness and peace at the same time. Jesus Christ humbled himself and died on the cross, for what? For people like you and me! When I think about this, it makes me just want to fall at His feet in shame, humility and gratefulness. Our lives need to be more about Jesus and less about ourselves. I guess that about sums it up. Love you all!!

Sick

ToiletMark Johnston, Connections Pastor

A while back I got sick in the middle of the night.

Really sick.

We’re talking drunk freshman in college, ‘i’m never eating that again,’ lying on the bathroom floor in the fetal position, looking like one of those really awful extras in The Walking Dead, crying out to God kind of sick.

I’ll spare you the details, but believe me, it was bad.

I made all kinds of promises to the Lord while lying there, and i did live through it, although i haven’t had the chance to tell my two youngest kids that they’re going to have to be missionaries to Africa. I’ll try to find an appropriate time for that in the future, maybe one night over pizza.

What’s my reason for telling you this?

Over these fifty some-odd years, i’ve learned a few things in this life—never keep your bottle of Chloraseptic next to the glasses cleaning spray on the nightstand when it’s dark (that one works out badly either way), that no matter how much i love my wife’s curly hair, getting it out of the shower drain is not a job for the faint of heart, that i have zero business living in the country, and that who I am when I’m lying on the bathroom floor at 3:00 in the morning is who I should be all the time.

Desperate. Crying out to God because I can’t do this on my own.

The more i’m in tune with what the Bible says, what God’s word tells me that i am…weak, sinful, prone to wander…the more i can see that bathroom floor kind of helplessness every day. And i need that constant reminder. Despite how big a mess of things that i have made this life, on multiple occasions, and found God’s grace as the only solution to my predicaments, i still tend to think that i have this under control. That somehow i am smart enough to navigate these waters, even though the very One who created those waters, and the storms that stir them up tells me in His word that i am not, and that He’s got this if i’ll just stop being stupid. But i continually forget.

Spiritual Alzheimer’s.

But here’s the deal—i know i’m not alone in this. Most of us, if left to our own devices, tend to forget how helpless we really are in this life. Our pride steps up and says ‘we can handle this’ unless we continually squash it down and feed it the Truth of scripture.

If you’re struggling with letting God have His way in your life, you don’t need to end up hugging a toilet to get your spiritual system cleaned out. Stonepoint Church offers a great ministry called re:generation that meets on Monday nights at 7PM at our Wills Point Campus. re:generation is called a ‘recovery’ ministry, and unfortunately, that paints a picture of people that are going through struggles with drugs or alcohol. And while it’s a great program for people with those struggles, the honest truth is that we are all recovering from something, and that re:gen is really a discipleship ministry, pointing people to the truth that is in God’s word and teaching them to rely on Him for strength in every day life.

I have said on many occasions that in re:gen, people come through the doors acknowledging their brokenness, and in just about all of our other ministries, we are trying to convince people that they are broken.

re:gen has shown countless people that sometimes in life, the bathroom floor is not the worst place you can be.

Ghosts

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

My parents were married and childless for almost 15 years before i was born. They had gone through several ‘lives’ by the time i came around, and early in their marriage they were farmers. The first little place they had was north of Barry, Texas, and during their time there, they became close friends with the people who owned the larger place next to them.
images

Their names were Henry Ray and Ethylene, and my parents remained great friends with them throughout the years, even after they gave up farming and moved to Dallas. Every few months, we’d  go and spend a Saturday with them on their farm, hanging out and listening to stories from their past. I’d fish and play with their grandkids, Tim and Sheila, who i thought were my cousins until i was probably 10 or 12.

I loved them and loved going there. The problem with going to visit them, was that we had to drive home at night.

There were two or three ways to get there, and my dad, since he missed living in the country, didn’t necessarily take the shortest distance home. In fact, he’d usually take the pooh bear way both directions, so he could look at crops and land and trees and cows, and generally not see houses every few feet.

The main way we’d come home had this hard 90 degree curve. Now, i liked scary stories growing up. I loved The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, and this short-lived 70’s show called Ghost Story, which was basically, well…stories about ghosts.

On the way home, as we approached the curve, i’d lean forward from my un-seatbelted spot in the back seat. The headlights of our Oldsmobile would hit this rusted out, smashed up 1950s station wagon sitting by the bar ditch in front of the house of a man they had known during their time living there.

Every single time we drove by, my mother, like it was scripted, would say the exact same phrase upon seeing the brown, mangled remains of the car: “I don’t know why Herschel keeps that old car that Ruthelle got killed in…” and as her voice trailed off, my eyes would widen as this ‘death car’ came into full view on the side of the two lane road, under the eerie glow of a nearby light pole. It scared me out of my mind, but i couldn’t look away! I would envision old Ruthelle’s ghost climbing out of it, or worse, imagine seeing her out of the corner of my eye sitting next to me in the back seat like a scene from one of those TV shows. My heart would race a thousand miles an hour until we’d gotten a safe distance away and my mind would finally start to focus on the Southwest Conference football game or country music on the AM radio in the car.

Apparently Herschel’s wife had died in some horrific car accident many years before, and in his grief, he’d had someone tow the vehicle back to his house where it came to rest in it’s scary spot by the side of the road. I don’t know the details of the story—if he’d been in the car with her and survived, if she’d gone out alone one rainy night and he thought if he’d been there the outcome would have been different…and i was afraid to ask my folks the particulars. All i know is that she died and the car she died in sat there scaring the bejabbers out of me every time we drove by it. That and we never drove by it in the daylight.

As i got older, i came to see the inherent sadness in the story, how he’d been unable to ‘let go’ of his beloved and kept her reminder sitting there for some twenty years. There’s no such thing as ghosts, but in this man’s life he held on to an imaginary one instead of letting go, as if somehow, the car kept her around in a strange way. (In case you’re wondering, he finally remarried when i was teenager and i’m guessing the new wife gave him a ‘me or the car’ ultimatum as part of accepting the proposal, so the wreckage went away and he did move on at some point.)

So, why am i reliving a childhood trauma in the Stonepoint Blog? As far as i know, none of you have your spouse’s deathmobile sitting in your yard.

But is there something from your past that you can’t let go of? Is there some sin that you think is too big for God to forgive, so it keeps sitting there in the weeds as a reminder of your past life? Is there wreckage that you keep around as a reminder of something that you just can’t seem to get rid of? Have you lost something or someone valuable, and you feel so much sadness that you keep reminders of them—mementos that, instead of bringing back happy memories, simply point out the void?

Are there ghosts in your past that you can’t, or won’t face and tell that you don’t believe in them anymore?

There’s hope in Jesus. Stonepoint offers re:generation on Monday nights where other believers who are fighting their own ghosts gather to encourage, admonish and share with one another how hard it is to have someone take away the rusty remains, but how God fills the void when you do. What would it look like to have a life free from those things that have haunted you, to get rid of the junk and wreckage of past relationships and hurts that don’t seem to have an end?

Don’t let twenty years pass by before you let someone drag your old car away.