Retouched

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

When i look in the mirror in our bathroom, unless i’m standing directly under the light, i see my hair as brown.

Now i know that it’s grey—i’ve seen pictures taken outdoors or onstage at Stonepoint with what feels like 10,000 watts shining directly down on my scalp, but in my mind, it doesn’t look all that differently than it did twenty years ago.mark

My perception is not really based in any sort of reality.

Now, before you chalk it up to ‘wishful thinking,’ i know other people do the same thing. When i take a picture of my wife, it can be really good…super flattering. She immediately sees everything wrong with it. A little smile line or tiny crow’s foot are neon signs on the Las Vegas Strip to her—literally the only thing she notices in something everyone else would consider a great photograph.

Some people do it with weight too, seeing themselves differently in the mirror, lighter or heavier than they really are. If we’re feeling bad about something in our lives, our view of ourselves can change with those moods. The flip side can occur when something positive happens. 

Our perceptions of ourselves are sometimes quite different than the way others see us.

Of course, nowadays we have the ability to use software, Adobe Photoshop and the like, to edit pictures to basically make things look however we want. We can take a photo of someone and smooth out wrinkles, touch up imperfections and generally airbrush the heck out of things until they look very little like what we started with. 

No one trusts magazine covers anymore because of this—we assume everything is altered. In fact it’s shocking when you see an advertisement or cover that’s noticeably not edited in some way.

Hollywood has done it for years. They rarely film ‘stories’ anymore without tricking them up with special effects and CGI—death defying stunts and things that couldn’t possibly happen in real life. Superheroes are the thing and regular stories aren’t deemed good enough for an audience anymore. (Although at the time i’m writing this, I Can Only Imagine is the number one selling DVD in America. So just maybe the studios don’t have their finger on the pulse of the viewing public like they think they do.)

Anyway, all this retouching has left us not knowing what to believe.

But there’s actually a grain of eternal truth for us in all this. If you’re a believer in Christ, God sees your life as ‘retouched.’

If you’re like me, and you are…you’re a dirty, rotten sinner, who has nothing good about you. At my core, i’m selfish, conceited, prone to wander, and a whole list of other adjectives that describe my natural inclinations, despite my relationship with Jesus.

God knows us as we are, but when he looks at us, he sees us through the lens of what Jesus did on the cross. He sees us as redeemed. He no longer sees us as adversaries, He sees us as saints.

Saints. Repaired. Restored.

It’s as if Jesus’ death on the cross has ‘photoshopped’ our sins away, so when God looks at us now, all those imperfections are gone. But even better than just ‘cleaned up,’ He sees us as ‘new creations.’ (2 Corinthians 5:17)

If we as believers, truly felt that way—if we embraced the idea in Ephesians 2:10 that we are all ‘God’s masterpieces, created to do good works in Him,’ how would that affect the way we live? How would it alter the way we deal with difficult people, those who God has not drawn to Himself, or maybe just not yet drawn to himself? People that God desperately wants in His Kingdom, but wants to use you and me to help get them there.

If God has retouched your life, he wants to use you to retouch someone else’s. That’s our true reality, and no matter how you see yourself in the mirror, and no matter what color you think your hair is, you can be a part of His redemptive work.

And you don’t even need to own a computer to do it. 

The Holy Spirit Heisman

Randal Brewer, Stonepoint Member

The title is a misnomer. We’re not giving away an MVP award for the most spirit-filled person. Not sure who the judges of that contest would be. The reference is not to an award, but to an action—the stiff-arm. D070315012.JPG

For the gridiron un-initiated, (if you pay no attention to things regarding the sport of American football) the Heisman Trophy (if you don’t know what that is, Google it) depicts a player in an elusive running motion, holding a football with one hand, and the other hand is thrust outward with the elbow locked. It is a technique called the stiff-arm. It is an effective way to ward off or push away would be tacklers, or opposing players that desire to stop the progress of the runner, and/or relieve him of possession of the ball. Correctly performed, the runner thrusts his hand into the chest of the would-be tackler, causing him to fail in his attempt to grab any part of the runner or his jersey, and eventually the tackler will lose his footing and fall away as the runner continues to proceed toward his goal.

The image of the Heisman Trophy has been appropriated in some circles to describe the act of giving someone or something the stiff-arm. Perhaps another word to use would be shunning. This shunning doesn’t have to be a physical act, nor does it have to be against a physical person, though it often is. For example, if a young man were to desire to dance with a girl at a social function or in a public setting, but she declined his invitation, it could be said that she, “gave him the Heisman.” (Perhaps if she was polite and had an excuse like she just had hip surgery it could be said she ‘stepped out of bounds,’ but let’s not confuse our metaphors.)  

Additionally, the Heisman could also represent an intellectual act. If an idea or thought is rejected, one could describe the dismissal as, “I’m giving that the Heisman.”

So now, we have arrived at our question. “Are you giving the Holy Spirit the Heisman”?

Christian conversation often finds itself circling another question: “Is that person really saved?” The question comes up because there are people who claim to be believers, or that regularly attend church, singing the songs and speaking the language, but in other settings sing completely different songs and speak a completely different language. I confess I do not know the answer for any other person. I know the apostle Paul said, “…for what I want to do I do not, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15). 

Chapter 7 of Romans has a lot to say about sin and it would be better to read that for yourself than to continue reading this with the danger that I am misapplying a verse that wasn’t even the whole verse, however…I’ve been giving the Holy Spirit the Heisman. I believe a lot of others are guilty of the same. I have a ball in one arm, and I am carrying it – cradling it, protecting it, running as hard as I can, and I resist most, or many, or all attempts by the Holy Spirit to relieve me of my duty to keep it close.

We had a practice drill when I was playing football. Players lined up facing each other, about a yard apart, and a ball carrier would run through their gauntlet as they tried to get the ball away – to cause him to fumble. The ball was carried in one arm, close to the chest, one hand over the point of the ball, the arm clamped down hard. The ball is precious. Everybody wants the ball. You can only win if you have the ball. Don’t fumble the ball.

I feel like changing my metaphor in mid-run, or at halftime. I’m really juggling a lot of balls. They’re all important to me. They are puzzle pieces of the life I envision. They are puzzle pieces of a me I envision. My life. My work. My family. My fun. My personality—what I want to do and see and have. The Holy Spirit wants me to drop them, and I am holding Him at bay, protecting what is precious to me. You see, I’ve never really wanted to drop it, whatever it is. It’s me. I don’t want to see me die. I love me…except…the thing I hate I do. And this juggling…I’m worn out with juggling. 

I try and make an unspoken deal with God: You save me from eternal damnation, give me a hand around here in the meantime, and I will confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, and I will help out around the church and give money, post spiritual memes, read the Bible and pray, and even do it consistently with conviction when I’m in a bind, only, don’t make me have to die!

The Holy Spirit. That is the thing isn’t it – that word Holy. Holiness…Be holy for I am holy…Holy! Holy! Holy! 

I’m not holy. I can’t hold onto and protect all that is precious to me and be holy, I can’t finish this puzzle of my life and die, I am…unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin…I do not understand…what I hate I do…it is sin living in me…good itself does not dwell in me…I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out…the evil I do not want to do, this I keep on doing…it is sin living in me…evil is right there with me…What a wretched man I am!

What are we trying to keep alive? How many verses can we quote about life and death? How many songs do we hum along to proclaiming a Holy God that has saved us from death, yet we keep resuscitating ourselves? We keep waking up on Monday morning and push the Holy Spirit toward the passenger seat of the car and engage our hearts and minds in the exact same things that have engaged us all along.

I don’t think I’m not saved, I just think I’m a coward, afraid to die. 

This process of sanctification is a slow tortuous death, a gauntlet I’m running through, and I’m afraid to let go of all that the wretched man has in store for me…down there…at the end. That would be admitting failure. That would be fumbling the ball away. Maybe I could just step out of bounds…or can I say yes to the dance? 

Honesty, the Holy Spirit doesn’t seem that attractive in this light to the unspiritual person, and people are watching and my hip is a little sore…from all this running.

Routines 

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

I am a creature of habit.

I eat the same thing for breakfast every day, a Seinfeldian mixture of three different types of cereal (ask me for the details—it’ll change your morning!) I even put the cereal layers in the bowl in the same order every time. 

check-boxes-largeOn the days i shave, i start in the exact same spot on my face, straight down from my left sideburn, and have ever since i started shaving. (I tried to start on the other side once, and it just felt weird.) When i find a pair of shoes i like, sometimes i order a second pair, to transition to when the originals wear out. (Manufacturers discontinue things or alter them from time to time, and, as you may have gathered, i hate change!)

I keep a detailed calendar on my computer, which syncs with my laptop, watch, and phone (thanks, Apple!) and the alerts simultaneously dinging all over the place tell me where i need to be and what i need to be doing, and i really do adhere to it pretty closely. Not like Groundhog Day close, but i do have certain things that i do on certain days of the week, enough that a Monday holiday throws things into a complete mess.

How about you? Are you a free spirit with your time or do you have a set clock that you run on?

What about Sundays? Have you become so routine in your spiritual journey that everything sometimes becomes ‘going through the motions,’ showing up at church most weeks because you feel like you’re supposed to, not out of any real need to connect with God or with your fellow believers?

I did that for years. I’d ‘faithfully’ show up on Sunday mornings, regardless of what my Saturday night looked like, thinking that God was somehow pleased because i made an appearance again that week, rarely paying heed to the fact that my heart was far from Him.

Truth is, my ‘offering’ was not acceptable to God.

Early in Genesis, we see the offerings laid before God by Cain and Abel: “In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.” (Genesis 4:3-5)

That sounds harsh, but Hebrews 11:4 explains that Abel brought his offering ‘by faith’ and Cain did not. Cain did not offer his sacrifice according to God’s instructions, so God rejected his sacrifice and worship, since it was not “by faith.”

Later in the Old Testament (Amos 5:21-24), God tells the people that their very acts of praising Him are unacceptable, because their hearts are not where they should be. 

“I hate, I despise your feasts,

   I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.

Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,

    I will not accept them;

and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,

    I will not look upon them.

Take away from me the noise of your songs;

    to the melody of your harps I will not listen.

But let justice roll down like waters,

    and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Makes you think about checking your heart before walking in the doors on a Sunday morning, doesn’t it?

Some routines are good: you could have a Bible study that you do every morning at the same time, or set aside a few minutes every day for a ‘quiet time’ with the Lord. But far too often, our set times become simply checking off a box so we can tell the folks in our Journey Group that ‘yes we did a quiet time,’ and don’t really connect with God the way we should. We become content with the action and don’t find real contentment in spending time with our Creator.

In Matthew 13:44, Jesus tells us “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” 

I like to picture the field as some place the guy walked through on a regular basis, maybe on his way to work. He trudges along through the same routine, day after day, and then finally stumbles upon a great treasure that has been there all along…he just never noticed it. So, finally realizing its value and importance, he sells all his possessions, so the field, and the great treasure will be his.

Now, i know the point of the parable is that there is infinite, unmeasurable value in the Kingdom of God. It’s something we should totally sell out for, and be willing to give our lives for it. 

But what if the story can be stretched a little to also be used to paint a picture of us, diligently, obediently, but Pharisaically attending church? There we are, week after week, without really noticing the value of it for years, until one day, hopefully, we see it for the great treasure it is.

Look—as believers, our eyes have been opened to the greatest ‘capital T’ Truth there is in this world, and most of the time we behave like being a Christ-follower is just part of normal, everyday life. It’s so easy for us, here in America, to ‘walk through the field,’ as i did in my twenties, and not let the fact that there is great treasure right in front of us change the way we live, the way we deal with the world, except maybe when a crisis happens. 

So, again, how about you? Are you plodding along in your routine or on a search mission for something God has for you? Do you see the treasure we’ve been given and want to share it with others? Have you opened your eyes to the prize that is set before us, and see this time on earth for what it is—mere moments in the timeline of eternity? Are you just checking things off your list or are you living out the Gospel as Christ has called us to do?

There’s really nothing wrong with having routines…just don’t put your time with God in the same category as breakfast and shaving.

Oceans (Not the Song)

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

I love the ocean.

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Photo–Angelia Johnston

My parents weren’t the traveling sort, so i never actually went to a beach until i was 19 when our church singles group took a bus to South Padre. It took us forever to get there, but i thought it was awesome. I was hooked. 

I love the sounds—waves crashing, seagulls squawking overhead—the whole experience is just really my ‘happy place.’ So why do i live in landlocked East Texas, you ask? You got me…i guess the opportunity to do more than visit the seaside never presented itself to us.

Angie and i used to take the kids to the beach every summer, at least to Galveston for a quick trip (even with the kitsch, seaweed & tar washed up on the shore, i still kinda dig it), but if i could work my vacation right, Mustang Island or South Padre. 

But it’s been a while since we went as a family. When the four of us flew to Phoenix on a whim three years ago, we ended up renting a car and driving as far west as we could, stuck our toes in the icy Pacific, then started heading back this direction. Angie and i went on a cruise last January, and would like to do another one if we can get dates to line up with our checking account. There’s a bunch of ocean out there, and i have only seen a tiny fraction of it.

God shows us a lot of things with the ocean—it’s the source of some of our favorite foods; mankind long ago learned to utilize it in transportation, and has laughingly tried to conquer it. But it shows us a lot more than that, in a way. There are depths that we have only recently been able to explore, the darkest recesses of inner earth where sunlight doesn’t come close to penetrating. Creatures that live their entire lives in that darkness that only a fraction of us will only ever see outside of photographs or documentaries.

That kind of depth frightens me. I’m not a good swimmer, and am not really comfortable being in deep water at all. I call it ‘a healthy fear of drowning.’ So i can’t imagine those explorers who ride in contraptions that far down below the surface, dependent on so much gadgetry—pumps, wenches and motors to tether them to life here above the water. And i love gadgetry—my smartwatch just told me my heart rate increased ‘cause i got nervous thinking about being underwater like that.

So i guess i really don’t love the ocean. I love the shore.

But here’s the deal, God doesn’t call us to lead safe lives, walking on the beach picking up sand dollars and shells. He calls us out of our comfort zones—into the waves, into the deep where we can’t see the shoreline or touch the bottom. He wants us to be in places where we are totally reliant on Him.

In Matthew 14, the disciples are in a boat on the Sea of Galilee.

22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Peter takes his eyes off of Jesus, focusing instead on the waves and begins to sink.

Begins to sink…

I don’t know about you, but when i step off the edge of a swimming pool, i don’t ‘begin’ to do anything—it’s an immediate and sudden drop to the concrete below the water. The implication here is that Peter’s faith eroded slowly…he didn’t drop in the ocean like a rock, but that it took a bit of time. As he started sinking, fear probably set in, eroding his confidence more and things just went downhill (literally) from there until he cried out for the Lord to save him.

You’ve heard the story countless times, if you’ve been in church at all and ‘don’t take your eyes off Jesus’ is a great message.

But not the only one.

Did you ever think about Peter being the only disciple that was willing to get out of the boat?

The rest of them were in the boat, safe from the elements, protected, a group of friends surrounding them. It’s a fairly comfortable place to be. Kinda like it is on shore.

Is that you? Is God calling you out of your comfort zone to walk in the storm?

Lisa Singh puts it this way, “If we are not venturing out into the deep, it means we are in the shallow, and there is not much to explore in the shallow. There is no depth, and our view of life becomes superficial when we remain where we are in control. Nothing of significance can grow, survive, or be sustained in the shallow because the waves of life will always wash away and diminish that which had no roots.”

My title said it wasn’t about the song, but as i wrap up, maybe it is…i leave you with this.

You call me out upon the waters

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Photo–Shelby Caldwell

The great unknown where feet may fail

And there I find You in the mystery

In oceans deep, my faith will stand

 

And I will call upon Your name

And keep my eyes above the waves

When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace

For I am Yours and You are mine

 

Your grace abounds in deepest waters

Your sovereign hand will be my guide

Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me

You’ve never failed and You won’t start now

 

So I will call upon Your name

And keep my eyes above the waves

When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace

For I am Yours and You are mine

 

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders

Let me walk upon the waters

Wherever You would call me

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander

And my faith will be made stronger

In the presence of my Savior

 

I will call upon Your name

Keep my eyes above the waves

My soul will rest in Your embrace

I am Yours and You are mine

 

Songwriters: Joel Houston / Matt Crocker / Salomon Lighthelm

Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) © 2012 Hillsong Music Publishing. All rights reserved. http://www.ccli.com. CCLI License # 11051243

#Giving Tuesday

Stonepoint Leadership Team

GivingTuesday_mchimpSince its inception in 2012, #GivingTuesday has gone from being a clever idea, to a movement that seems destined to stay for the foreseeable future.  In a few short years, #GivingTuesday has gone from producing $10 million dollars in 2012 to an estimated $360 million in charitable contributions in a twenty-four hour period this year. As we see the #GivingTuesday movement garner more attention as it goes viral, here are three thingsthat are helpful for you to consider as we approach #Giving Tuesday.

1. #Giving Tuesday helps remind us to take the focus off of ourselves.
The original idea of #Giving Tuesday was to help consumers take the attention off of themselves and their spending and look for ways to give to others in need. Reports this morning estimate that Americans spent over 30 billion dollars (an increase from last year) between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Yes, you read that correctly! In a day and age where Americans spend a lot of money on ourselves, it’s good to find places and ways to bless other causes we believe in with our finances. Let’s face it, Christmas is always merrier when we give rather than receive. We would do well to pay close attention to the words of Marvin Davis Winsett,“Teach us to value most eternal things, to find the happiness that giving brings, to know the peace of misty, distant hills, to know the joy that giving self-fulfills, to realize anew this Christmas Day, the things we keep are those we give away.”

2. We can all become more generous.

If you take a quick glance at #GivingTuesday statistics, you’ll notice two quick things. One, #Giving Tuesday contributions are rising each year, either because of more participants hopping on the band wagon or because of slightly more generous people. (Either way, it’s a great trend!) Secondly, the percentage of giving pales in comparison to the money we spend on ourselves. While our generosity on #GivingTuesday looks promising, it’s less than 2% of what most people just spent on themselves and their families this past weekend. Call me crazy…but what if we matched dollar per dollar on what we spent as Americans on Black Friday and Cyber Monday alone (because we all know we’re not done shopping) and gave the same amount to causes we believe in on #Giving Tuesday? If we gave dollar for dollar, we could give almost $31 billion dollars to causes around the world.

3. We could end the World Hunger Crisis in ONE WEEKEND.

Though cost estimates today are difficult to determine with precision, in 2008 the UN stated that $30 billion dollars would end hunger and global poverty for one year. That means, the amount of money we spent as consumers in one weekend after Thanksgiving in 2018, could’ve helped prevent poverty across the world, if not annihilate it! Yes,I realize that we’re not in 2008 anymore, but I do believe we could end the food crisis and give fresh drinking water across the world if we dug into our pockets a little. I don’t know about you, but the idea of making that type of difference gives me the desire to forego gifts this year around the tree for the opportunity to provide such amazing gifts for others around the world.

So, what’s the reality? If you’re an American, you are among the top 2% of all wage earners in the world. With that being said, it would please God greatly for us to spread our wealth for things that impact eternity. We may not end World hunger this year, but you can still make a difference by giving to a place that is transforming lives, making a difference in society, and will steward your money wisely. Jump on the Bandwagon today and make #GivingTuesday a new yearly tradition and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:35) As I look to give, I may show a slight bias, but here are a few great places you can give that I believe are making an eternal impact.

  1. Stonepoint Church http://stonepointchurch.com/give (We have several strategic partners that we give to monthly that benefit from your giving. Two of them affect Van Zandt County and are listed below.)
  2. Hope Pregnancy Resource Center http://www.hopecanton.com/donate/
  3. Manna Food Bank https://www.facebook.com/pages/Manna-Food-Bank/1443217122670170
  4. Orphan Outreach http://orphanoutreach.org
  5. Sole Hope http://solehope.org

Since God has blessed us richly, let’s consider sharing a portion of that blessing with others in His name.

Abide Daily

Anonymous, Stonepoint Member

Our Journey Group is diving into the four core values as our group study for the next few weeks. We’ve been assigned to pick up a concordance (or to make use of a nifty Bible app of our choice) and dive into the Word, exploring verses pertaining to each core value.

Don’t remember what the Journey Group core values are? Here they are, just as a refresher:

  1. Abide Daily
  2. Devote Relationally
  3. Live Authentically
  4. Admonish Biblically

Now, I don’t wish to delve into each core value specifically in this post. But what I would like to hone in on is Core Value #1: Abiding Daily.

If I am honest, before these past few months I’d probably be brushing the dust off the cover of my Bible if I didn’t keep a protective case around it and lug it around to all the spiritual functions I attend. But as I’ve paused to crack open the Word and wade into the pages and ideas inside, I’m remembering how beautiful it is to soak in more than one verse a day. This emptiness deep inside is losing itself to the filling of God’s peace in the words He is speaking to me.

First, I combed through my dictionary to find the word “Abide.” The definition is simple: “to remain, to dwell.” Remain ultimately means staying faithful to something, while dwell means being in the presence in or around someone or something.

Next, flipping through the highly-condensed concordance in the back of my Bible, I found the word “Abide” and searched out each Scripture verse that was listed below.

(What is a concordance, you may ask? If you Google the word “God,” it will pull up every instance of the word “God” found on the internet. In the same way, if you look up the word “God” in a Bible concordance, it will show you every instance the word “God” is found in the Bible.)

In my small concordance, the first verse that appeared under the world “Abide” was Luke 2:8. It says, “That night there were shepherds staying [abiding] in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep.” This verse never stood out to me before as it did when I read it during this study.

These shepherds were staying up all night to sit and watch their sheep. In Psalm 23:1, it speaks about God being our shepherd: “The LORD is my shepherd, I have all that I need.” In the New Testament, Jesus calls Himself God by placing Himself in the position of Shepherd. “I am the Good Shepherd,” Jesus says. “I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father” (John 10:14-15a).

As I watched the picture before me of the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night, God captivated me by this thought: Jesus watches over me even as I sleep. As a shepherd does, Jesus is always with me, watching over me, guiding me.

This is what God revealed to me through this verse. Before I even take the time to abide with God, before I am ever faithful to Him or before I make room in my life to be in His presence, Jesus is already abiding with me, waiting for me to spend time with Him.

This changes how I approach God. I actually want to meet with Jesus, because He is so excited to just have a conversation with me. To show me one more amazing facet of His character in His Word. To blow me away with His goodness and peace and sheer awesomeness. To listen to my heart as I pray and to answer in specific ways for His glory and my good.

“God is most glorified when I am most satisfied in Him.” I think that is what God wants to bring to us as we spend time with Him: peace and satisfaction. That is what my ever-longing heart craves. And He is the only thing that will truly fill the deep, heart-breaking emptiness inside me.

I hope you find His joy and satisfaction, too, as you open God’s Word and spend time with Him.

Decisions?

Brian Tate, Edgewood Campus Pastor

Decisions. 

Something we have to make everyday. What are we going to eat? What are we going to watch? Which way to work are we going to take? How do I discipline my child with the decisions they make today? What am I going to do with my time? And the list goes on and on and on and on. 

choices decision doors doorway

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

What guidelines do you use to make your decisions? What dictates the choices you make? What outside influences have molded the way you think? Which guidelines or influences do we need to hold on to, or let go of, or change just a little? 

In Genesis 13 Lot has a decision to make. Abram (later he will be known as Abraham) laid out two options: “The whole countryside is open to you. Take your choice of any section of the land you want, and we will separate. If you want the land to the left, then I’ll take the land on the right. If you prefer the land on the right, then I’ll go to the left.” (verse 9)  How would Lot choose? What would be the deciding factors that makes it clear to him? The people living in the land? The looks of the land? God giving him an answer? Discussing it with Abram? This is a turning point in Lot’s life. The decision he makes will affect not only him, but his family. 

“Lot took a long look at the fertile plains of the Jordan Valley in the direction of Zoar. The whole area was well watered everywhere, like the garden of the LORD or the beautiful land of Egypt.” He looks and thinks that the grass is truly greener on the the other side. Lot focused on two things in order to make his choice: 1. The appearance. 2. The past.

  1. Appearance – Lot looked at the appearance of the land. How is it going to benefit me? Is it going to make my life easier? Is it going to make me happy? Is it going to make me look good? How prosperous will it make me? Lot looked through his eyes. He did not seek God’s face! We do this all the time. We come to a fork in the road and make a decision. Most of the time our first factor is the appearance. We judge things from the outside. We rarely look at our heart or others or ultimately God’s. We make decisions based on very shallow things.
  2. Past – Lot thought about the garden of the LORD (Eden). I want to be like that, the ‘good ole’ days!’ Will it restore my life to the way it was? He also compares it to Egypt. “I want my life to look like someone else’s life.” When we make decisions on outside appearance we compare quickly to others. The future does not always hold prosperous gain. Sometimes our past must be burnt down to truly see the future that God has in store for us. We are a new creation, the old has gone! Not only our old self, but our old past. It’s completely made clean by the sacrificial blood of Christ. 

What happens because Lot made a decision? In verse 13 it says, “But the people of this area were extremely wicked and constantly sinned against the LORD.” Lot makes a decision and finds out that he lives among people that are wicked and go against everything the LORD says to do. What are the results? Lot is captured in war and saved by Abram. And later Lot’s city is destroyed because of the extreme wickedness and sinning against the LORD by the people (Sodom and Gomorrah). Lot, in the end, loses his wife because she looked back at the past and appearance of their home. The same things that governed Lot’s decision, plagued his wife’s decision to look back instead of listening to God. 

So what do we do? 

  1. Look past the appearance of things and deep into the hearts of people. Then, go one step further…look past the appearance of things and deep into the heart of God. If Lot would have scouted out the town and realized the extreme wickedness and sinful acts of the people of the land, I think he would not have brought his family into such an environment. Also that the environment is not pleasing to God. While the appearance looks awesome…the heart is deceitfully wicked.
  2. Look towards the future. We don’t know the future…so what does that make us do? Rely on God and His decisions for us. God wants to walk us through our decisions, but we must trust Him in the matter, look forward (not back) and trust that He knows best. Even if the appearance of the situation looks horrible. 

Sears—Where America Shopped

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

When i was a kid, my parents both worked, and since my grandparents lived about a mile away, i stayed with them during the day. I was the youngest grandchild on that side of the family, and an only child to boot, so,  needless to say, i was spoiled rotten.Sears Wish Book

Their little house was in walking distance to my elementary school, my piano lessons, and even White Rock Lake, the couple of times my grandfather and i felt really adventurous. My grandparents didn’t have a car, which seems odd now, but somehow didn’t at the time. My mom would pick us all up after work every Wednesday and cart us to the grocery store, and either she or my dad would take off work to take them to doctor visits and those sorts of things.

They collected Green Stamps at the grocery store and got a few things at the Green Stamp Store, but just like their parents and grandparents, most of what they bought came from the Sears Catalog. You’d get this 2 inch thick catalog mailed to your house a few times a year, figure out which refrigerator, screwdriver, shirt, or pair of pants you wanted, and, best i remember, write the numbers down on a form that was removed from the middle of the thing, mail it in, and a few days later, a delivery truck would drop the stuff off at your door.

Sounds like a super slow-mo version of the way we shop online today, huh?

Once a year the “Wish Book” came out. It was a catalog, with clothes and appliances and stuff, but unlike the others, a huge portion of it was dedicated to toys. Kids all across America would sit for hours and look at the thing, dreaming of what they might get for Christmas. Sometimes we’d be really sneaky, and circle things we wanted, in case the folks happened to get lost in the toy section of the catalog looking for a new bathrobe or something. In my case, it was these big yellow Tonka trucks—backhoes and dump trucks that you could play in the dirt with. ‘Cause that’s what kids did before video games were invented…we sat around and played in the dirt.

And for all my ‘only-child, youngest grandchild spoiled-ness,’ i never got the big yellow Tonka trucks. The disappointment and bitterness that lingers had to be worked out in re:gen.

Sears had stores as well, not like the ones at the shopping malls today, but gigantic, multi-story things in a few places around town, and one enormous store/ warehouse/ distribution center on South Lamar Street in South Dallas. (It’s been renovated and converted to lofts and is known as South Side on Lamar these days.) 

For some reason (maybe it cost less money) my grandparents and i would sometimes walk to the bus stop, take a series of city busses to the ‘big Sears,’ wait in a line to pick up an order, then catch more busses and make it home a few hours later. If i was lucky, i’d get a little bag of chocolate covered peanut clusters at this candy counter in the middle of the store.

Amazon is the modern day Sears. You scroll through the ‘catalog’ online, place your order, and it shows up a day or two later. It’s really just a fast-paced version of the way my grandparents went shopping. 

So why, at the dawn of the Internet, did Amazon see the potential, and be willing to suffer millions of dollars in losses the first few years on the hunch that online shopping would become a big deal? How did Sears not see that this was a 21st Century version of the business they had invented in the late 1800s and be the innovator once again?

Truth is, they got set in their ways, saw their brick and mortar stores as places people would continue to shop, and missed a huge opportunity to be relevant again. To be honest…their last shot. The former 800 pound gorilla is the 24th largest retailer in the country nowadays, still losing market share, hemorrhaging money and closing stores every time you turn around. 

There’s a lesson for us in that, church. The minute we stop being innovative and start saying ‘this is the way we’ve always done it’ we start dying.

At Stonepoint, we’ve spent seven years doing things ‘differently.’ We have used music, testimonies of the amazing things that God has done in the lives of our members, and maybe even knocked you in the head with a beach ball on Family Worship Sunday…really tried to be innovative in the ways we’ve shared the gospel. 

We’re far from a traditional church in our look and our presentation, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t developed some ‘traditions’ of our own as time has gone by.

We do tend to get stuck in a ‘two or three songs/ announcement video/ welcome/ big ballad before the bumper and message’ rut from time to time, and i’m really the one to blame for that. It’s a good ‘formula,’ my budget is still a bit…shall we say, limited on some innovative things we would like to do, and i’m really not all that creative when it comes down to it.

So, here’s what i need you to do. If you ever see us becoming Sears, assuming that people are just going to show up, simply because they’ve been showing up all this time, let us know. We never want to take the gospel for granted, and never want to come up with fresh ways to present its unchanging message to people.

In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus instructed his followers to go into the world and make disciples. This little area of Texas is where He has placed us to do just that and fulfill our part of that ‘Great Commission.’

That calling on our lives is too important for us to become set in our ways.

Please don’t let us become Sears.

Not Too Far Gone

Anonymous
Stonepoint Member
 

I realized today,

In a quiet way,

As I sat in Your presence.

I am too far gone
For my own feet to save me
For my own effort to rescue my soul.
Too far into You
To ever look back.
Too far into Home
To ever want any less.
Yet the pain runs deep,
Claws pierce deeper than my heart can feel.
“Would you hold me while the waves rock me to sleep” says that song.
And Your kindness leads me to repent, to turn, to turn away from sin.
Nothing left to offer of myself.
I’m too far gone to fix myself.
I need You to welcome me back
Like the prodigal son to his father.
The father ran to meet his son. He saw the boy in the distance and ran.
Compassion filled the father’s heart.
And Your heart, Father, is even deeper waters.
Compassion and love fill your heart. You run to meet me as I come, in shame, back to You.
I try to offer my service.
“Make me one of your slaves,” I say.
I’ve planned it out awhile ago, what I would tell You.
But you wrap Your arms around me.
Kiss me on the cheek.
Wrap a robe around me.
Place a gold ring on my hand.
Welcome me as a son.
Celebrate my arrival with a feast.
I am home. Home in You.
I am free.

What I Have Learned from Parenting

IMG_4050Brian Tate, Edgewood Campus Pastor

“I hope that one day you have a child just like you!” 

Famous words from every parent…everywhere! 

Those words are usually said during negative situations, where the parent is frustrated with the child. Where the child has done something to test the patience of the parent. Where the parent’s beliefs are challenged by the child’s actions or beliefs. Where obedience has been turned upside down to disobedience. And while reflecting on those moments of when I have said those words…I’ve realized that I have learned some things through parenting. But I don’t want to just leave things that I have learned, but how I believe they apply to our spiritual lives. 

Now in no way am I equating my love and actions towards my kids as God’s love and actions towards me. And in no way am I equating myself to God. But is it possible that the way I am learning to love my children a glimpse of the way God loves me? 

  1. There is nothing (and I truly mean nothing) that my children could do that would change my love for them. There are a lot of things and ideas in this world that I do not agree with. In fact, there are a lot of things that my kids do already that I do not agree with (placing the new toilet paper roll on top of the dispenser comes immediately to mind.) There are a lot of things in this world that cause me anger, tremendous anger (human trafficking). I can’t imagine being the Creator and watching my creation be so evil, and still choosing to love them. I want to take that type of love and apply it the best way I know how to the way I love my children. 
  2. It’s never easy cleaning up their mess. It takes my time. It takes my energy. It takes my money. It takes my spouse. It takes so much to clean up after each and every one of them. And as soon as I get things back to normal, there’s another mess from the same child! So I wonder, what does it take to clean up our messes? Our problems? Our sin patterns that we so easily return to after God helps clean them up? It takes God, His time, His energy, His resources, His Son.
  3. Their logic is fallible in most cases. I can only hear “the sky is _______ color” so many times before just walking off and letting think that they are right. Does that make them right? No…but if they are going to continue to believe in their own logic, then they may need to experience the sweet taste of failure. Again, that has me wondering how often God has to do that with us. How often does He allow us to believe in our logic  just because we won’t give in to His?
  4. Growing hurts. Whether we are talking physical or mental, growing hurts. There were many nights that, as a parent, I just can’t do anything for a child that is experiencing growing pains physically. There’s also many nights that I can’t calm an over-emotional child because they just don’t understand how to get an answer to a math problem. All growth causes pain. There are times that our spiritual growth will cause us pain and God will not do anything with that pain, because that pain is what brings growth, and He knows that.
  5. They believe everything they have is their’s. It’s not the family’s. It’s not their sibling’s. It’s definitely not mine! They did absolutely nothing for their things. We, as their parents, furnished their bedroom. We supplied their clothing. We provided them food. We made Christmas happen. We even gave them their birthday, their life, their name. And yet somehow it’s all their’s? What selfish little beings. Oh wait…(I’ll let you finish that sentence). 
  6. My child longs to relate to me, spend time with me, talk to me. My child is disappointed when I don’t spend time with them. As a parent, I want to provide that for them. But then I have to ask: Do I long to relate to God? Do I long to spend time with Him? Do I long to talk to Him? He is more than willing to provide time for a relationship to form…but do I? Do I get caught up in my own world that I forget to long after a relationship with God?
  7. Obedience. It’s what I desire for every child to do willingly. Obedience is the willing submission to do what has been commanded without challenge, excuse, or delay. How I long for the day that every one of my children will do exactly what I ask without challenge, excuse or delay. Just once. Every single one of them. On that day, I will feel so accomplished as a parent. But every child has a problem, their children of self-pleasure. Every time I ask there will most likely be one of those three things happen. But isn’t that exactly what God desires from us? Obedience. “Obedience is the willing submission of my heart to God that causes me to do what God has commanded without challenge, excuse, or delay.” Thanks Paul Tripp. 

As I think about the things I have said, the things I have done, or the things I have learned…the one thing that I ponder upon is: Have I ever said “I hope that one day you have a child just like you!” for a positive reason? Have I given my children hope? Have I given my children encouragement? 

Have I pointed out the good things that they have done and say “I hope that one day you have a child just like you!?”