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?

Live the Church

Josh McCullough, Stonepoint Member

And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful. Titus 3:14 ESV

There’s a song that has popped up recently on the Christian charts called Church (Take Me Back) by Cochren & Co. At its heart the song has a good message. It is about a guy that grew up in church, but strayed into the pleasures of the world (very Prodigal Son-esque). He is wanting (almost begging) for someone to take him back to church. IMG_0002

He equates church to a physical place, full of people, with preaching and singing. 

When done for the right reason, and with the right heart, there’s nothing wrong with this definition of church. After all, Jesus himself said ‘For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.’  Matthew 18:20 ESV

Meeting at a location we call church can be a renewing of spirit for believers. I’ll be among the first to admit that I look forward to Sunday mornings. There is something comforting about it, as stated in the song. Being with a group of similarly minded people, sharing in worship for a couple of hours each week. 

 But even the ‘unchurched’ do that. Sporting events, gyms, restaurants, movie theaters, and even theme parks are full of like minded people spending time on a recurring basis, praising (worshiping) something. 

So how are we as church goers any different? 

The short answer is “we’re not.” Not if we are simply church goers.

We must instead be church doers. As Brandon, Brian and the rest of the Stonepoint Staff have said multiple times the place the world calls a ‘church’ is just a building. The only thing special about the building is the people inside. 

The people are the church. 

Need proof? Look in your Bible. The book of Acts is full of stories of Christ followers meeting in homes and secret locations, sometimes even hidden in fields, because they had to keep moving or risk persecution. Yet they were still called the church. 

On Memorial Day weekend, we as a body participated in what is now called Mission Van Zandt (formerly Stonepoint Serves.) It is a yearly chance for us, along with other bodies of believers, to put this into action. To go out without expecting a return, no strings attached, and ‘Be The Church’ in our communities. 

We go out and and clean trash from parks, do yard work and clean up for the elderly or infirm, and occasionally tackle even bigger projects, like re-roofing a house or building a fence. 

But again, even the ‘unchurched’ do this. They, too, will take a day or a weekend and clean up trash (Earth Day) or give money to the poor.

So what makes us as the church different? 

Back in 1995 DC Talk released their album Jesus Freak. The title song on that album became, and still is, immensely popular. And it’s a good song, but it’s just one piece of an excellent album. I had the album on cassette and repeatedly listened to the whole thing start to finish. 

The song right after Jesus Freak is called What if I Stumble (if you’ve never listened to it I encourage you to do so.) It opens with a spoken quote by Brennan Manning.

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

This is where we have to be different. Don’t just ‘Be The Church’ one day a year and go on living worldly the rest of the time. 

We need to instead ‘Live The Church’ everyday. 

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”  (Acts 2:42-47 ESV)

(Interestingly enough the next track on the Jesus Freak album is called Day by Day.) 

So, instead of waiting for the broken to want to be taken back to church like in the Cochren & Co song, we should be taking the church to the broken everyday. 

Count it All Joy?

Josh McCullough, Stonepoint Member

A good commercial has a sticking factor. A phrase or ear-worm that gets stuck in your memory. Growing up, one such commercial was the one for Space Bags. I remember the frustrated lady screaming ‘Too much stuff, not enough space!’ 

It’s part of our human nature to desire stuff. We collect and amass and still desire more. It could be books, jewelry, cars, trinkets and art, clothes, etc. My own personal vices are Legos and electronics.  

8fbaa9b5-8d8e-4e14-bc63-c91a878482be-shutterstock_9769461cjIt is common in American households to have junk drawers, you know the one…that drawer or cabinet full of stuff that doesn’t really have a place but that we’re not yet ready to throw out. 

Well my ‘junk drawer’ is an entire room, and no, I don’t mean my teenage daughter’s room (although it’s pretty close). The room in question is an office space off our master bedroom that has become more of a storage room than a usable office.  

We have definitely hit the point of ‘Too much stuff, not enough space!’, not quite hoarder status (although my wife might argue that point).

There is a Japanese custom for decluttering that has resurfaced and made it west in recent years, popularized by Marie Kondo. Essentially the custom is to hold each of your possessions in your hand and only keep the items that bring you joy. I’m sure that over simplifies it, but it’s the basic gist.   

Seems easy enough, go through everything and take a moment to see if it sparks joy. A beloved heirloom with pleasant memories attached, the little trinket gift your child made in school with their hand prints for Mother’s Day, that pair of headphones that are balanced just right for music or audio books (just me?) You get the idea. 

 Now I see memes online where people talk about throwing out their electric bills, dirty laundry, dirty dishes, etc. 

This falls in line with a worldly definition of joy, a feeling of great pleasure and happiness. In other words if something doesn’t make you happy, throw it away. 

The problem with using happiness as your guide is where do you draw the line? 

A $400 a month electric bill doesn’t make me happy, the same with endless piles of laundry or dirty dishes. 

The book of James opens with these words, ‘Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds’ James 1:2 ESV. 

So what is a biblical definition of joy? Surely James isn’t telling us to be happy that we’re suffering. 

Biblical joy is definitely a feeling, but not necessarily a feeling of happiness. 

Paul in his letter to the church in Thessalonica used the word as a verb in the form of rejoice and gave us a pretty good definition of biblical joy. ‘Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.’  1 Thessalonians 5:16-22 ESV. 

Notice in verse 18 he says ‘give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.’ 

In other words be grateful. 

Proverbs 17:22 says ‘A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.’ Or if I may be so bold as to paraphrase, Being grateful heals, while grumbling destroys. 

So what happens if we use the biblical definition of joy and apply it to the Marie Kondo method?

Suddenly instead of that electric bill that I was not happy about, I can be grateful that I have electricity and by extension a comfortable place for my family to live. Instead of dreading the endless piles of laundry and never-ending dishes, I can be grateful that my family has clothes to wear and food to eat. 

And that’s just when applied to physical objects, but what about the argument you had with your spouse, or a disobedient action from a child. Sure these are things, but they also aren’t making you happy so we discard them. We jump headfirst into divorce, we kick kids out of the house or send them away. 

After all isn’t getting rid of relationships and the people involved the ultimate decluttering? There’s a billboard on I-20 between Grand Prairie and Duncanville, that if I’m honest, makes me angry every time I see it. It is an ad for a divorce lawyer that says in big, bold letters: “DOUBLE YOUR CLOSET SPACE.” In other words throw them and their stuff to the curb. 

Society, or as it is referred to many times in the bible ‘The World’, tells us it’s ok for relationships to be disposable. The world would have you look at the people you’re in relationship with as objects, no more valuable than the straw you’re not allowed to possess in California. The world encourages this reckless abandon for people while heavily pushing recycling of trash to help the environment. 

Not that helping the environment is a bad thing, in fact as Christians we should be concerned with the Earth that God has given us as our temporary home. But that’s just it God designed the Earth, the skies, and the heavens to be temporary. He will replace these in the end, but relationships were designed by God to be forever. 

1 Corinthians 13:7-8 says it this way ‘Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.’ 

Instead of disposing of relationships in a time of struggle, we should renew our love for one another. In doing so we can place the appropriate value on each other and focus on decluttering where it really matters. 

Clean out the junk drawer (or room in my case), and be grateful for the people God has placed in your life.  

We, the Pharisees

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

Every once in a while, i start feeling like i pretty much have God figured out. 

PhariseeI mean, i’ve been a believer for a long time, grew up in church, and since i was in the cradle i was taught all of the Bible stories that are appropriate for kids. (And a few that probably aren’t. I mean, if you really think about the Ark or David & Goliath, we really do skim over some gory details that would give kids nightmares for weeks.) As Christians, we believe that God’s nature is revealed in the stories of how He has dealt with His people over the years, culminating in His Son, Jesus, the visible image of the invisible God.

The Pharisees in the Bible were the same way, but to the nth degree. Not only had they grown up learning the Law, they had devoted their entire lives to it. They had studied scripture, memorized huge parts of what we now call the Old Testament, and even went so far as to take the laws that were handed down to Moses, and ‘improve’ them (in their minds,) piling more and more minute rules and regulations on the people, until it was exhausting just trying to keep up with them. Their intentions were noble—they did all of this in the name of ‘good,’ with the idea of being holy and righteous before God.

Their lifestyles, however, tended to be purely judgmental. They had God and His laws figured out, dotted every i and crossed every t, but saw only the sin in other people, not the good that God might be working in their lives. They saw themselves as holy; and saw everyone else, because they weren’t as good at keeping the law, as failures.

Then Jesus shows up on the scene, and singlehandedly blows up all of their preconceived notions of who God is, and what is important to Him.

In the story of the two sons, in Luke 15:11-32, Jesus paints a startling portrait of God, represented by the father, as ready and eager to forgive each son’s transgressions and restore fellowship with them. The father, undignified, bucking all Jewish tradition, even hikes up his tunic to run toward the returning prodigal, and embrace him, despite his many sins. It was blatantly clear that Jesus was telling the Pharisees ‘this is what my Father is like.’

Here they are, the teachers and keepers of the ‘capital L’ Law with Jesus standing there saying ‘most of what you’ve been taught and assumed about God is wrong.’ No wonder they didn’t like him.

Now if you grew up in church, like i did, a whole lot of life seemed to be whittled down to be this list of do’s and don’ts—The Ten Commandments, plus some other ‘suggestions’ that church traditions had added to them, to ‘improve’ people’s behavior, much like the Pharisees years before.

In the book Searching for God Knows What, Donald Miller puts it this way: “I grew up hearing about God, hearing that He had created the universe, some animals, the Grand Canyon, and that we weren’t supposed to have sex or drink whiskey or go to dance clubs, that sort of thing, you know. He’s making a list, He’s checking it twice. He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice…”

Some people today are still hung up on the law, even though Jesus came to fulfill it. As the keeper of the church Facebook page, from time to time i get random people asking why we don’t ‘keep the Sabbath’ and meet on Saturday like they did in the Old Testament instead of Sunday. That one’s a biggie, apparently. Nobody ever asks questions about eating shellfish, wearing blended fabrics, or trimming the edges of their beards, at least not on our Facebook page, anyway. (See Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:2 for reference on why we gather on Sunday.)

As humans, sometimes we try to boil ‘religion’ down to a set of moral codes—some sort of checklist of things we can say we did, and another list of things we can say we didn’t do. Even as believers, despite knowing God’s plan for atonement, we still think that those lists will somehow make us righteous before Him, and keep us in good standing. Truth is, if left up to our own devices, none of us can do that. God is completely holy, and one sinful thought that enters our minds separates us from Him for eternity. Without Him coming to earth, in the form of his Son, Jesus, none of us have a chance at redemption.

But, as you really start living it, faith is much more complex than a set of rules to follow. Once you enter into a real relationship with God, and learn more about Him, He begins adjusting your mindset, ever so slightly, one sometimes painful step at a time, to be more aligned with His mindset. 

Christianity isn’t some set of rules and regulations, but about falling in love with Jesus, and asking him to take over your life and allow you to see things more and more the way he sees them.

One problem we have, is while we accept that forgiveness and mercy for ourselves, we still look at other people, and pass judgement on their spiritual maturity though their actions. I’m not talking about someone obviously, blatantly living a life of sin here, but how we sometimes hold other people to a standard of rules that we have decided is right for ourselves. 

Here’s an example. Tony Campolo used to begin his speeches to Christian groups this way, “I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 children around the world died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a sh*t. What’s worse is that right now, you’re more upset with the fact that I said ‘sh*t’ than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.”

People who live in their Christian ‘bubbles’ miss the absolute tragedy of his first point, as they are picking up stones to cast at him for the way he stated his second. All of the repentant feelings we should have for not doing enough about poverty and hunger around the globe is immediately ignored ‘cause somebody said a ‘bad word.’ It’s the ultimate hypocrisy.

Please understand, God’s grace means that we can approach the Father directly now that the Son has atoned for our sins and done away with the need for animal sacrifices through the priestly system. It does not mean we’re excused from obedience of any sort and can do as we please. 

One of our goals, as growing believers, is to truly see our sin as God sees it, ugly and repugnant. That’s where our road to healing and repentance begins. (1 John 1:5-9) All too often, though, we categorize, or write sins off as ‘not that big of a deal,’ when in fact it is a very big deal to God. (Romans 6:23) Jesus was full of compassion when dealing with sinful people, but always admonished them to leave their sins behind them.

But i do wish, as Christ followers, we could stop judging those whose sins differ from ours, and understand that so often, that road to redemption is a rocky one. Not all of us stay in the ruts, avoid the potholes, and stay the course without wandering into the weeds from time to time. 

Believers who stray off course need encouragement and admonishment instead of the judgement that we, the Pharisees are so quick to bring.

A thousand years from now, in Heaven, we’re going to have a much better perspective on what our lives on earth were about, but even then, we’re not even gonna be close to having God figured out.

 

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.

You Don’t Complete Me…And I Shouldn’t Expect You To

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

I don’t like Tom Cruise.

There—i said it

Between his Scientology, the indelible image of that time he was jumping up and down like a lunatic on Oprah’s couch, and the weird ‘center tooth’ that once you see, you can never unsee—there are a myriad of things about him that bother me.

I can’t stand the Mission: Impossible movies, where he will fight a whole team of bad guys who eventually throw him out of a helicopter that’s somehow flying upside down. He’ll manage to fall through the whirring blades unscathed, plummet toward certain death, then suddenly catch with one finger on the face of a cliff, ending up with only a scratch on his arm and cut on his forehead. He then crawls dramatically to the top of the mountain, and upon reaching the summit, discovers a jetpack that his IMF team has planted there, anticipating the whole chain of events. He immediately straps it on and shoots off into the air to chase down the bad guys, who will all ultimately peel their faces off to reveal that they’re actually other people who were on his team at the beginning of the movie. (I don’t think that’s an actual scene, but it’s probably on the storyboard for the next sequel.) Jerry_Maguire_movie_poster

Anyway, back in the day, he played the title character in a movie called Jerry Maguire. Jerry is a middling agent for a high powered sports agency, who gets fired and still ends up representing Cuba Gooding Jr., a Cole Beasley sized #1 wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals. They yell at each other a lot, and jackhammer the phrase “show me the money” into our collective skull until Jerry finally secures Cuba a big contract that will set him up for life, unless he starts buying Lamborghinis, cocaine and mansions, in which case he’ll be broke in three years. 

Along the way Tom breaks up with Kelly Preston and falls in love with Renee Zellweger, who is the mother of the funky looking little kid from Stuart Little. They eventually break up, and everything is falling apart until forlorn Tom shows back up, wanting to reconcile. “You…(dramatic pause while he sets his jaw, presses center tooth down on his tongue, trying to get tears to form in his sullen eyes)…complete me,” he emotes, the music swells and women all over America get real tears in their eyes, while husbands are rolling theirs.

It made a lot of money, and somehow got nominated for Best Picture, in what must’ve been a down year. If it were made today, it would be on the Hallmark Channel, where it’s always Christmas, and feature those same former child stars that are in every single one of those Hallmark movies. And don’t get me started on the fact that Cuba Gooding Jr. somehow won the best supporting actor Oscar that year over Edward Norton in Primal Fear. (Insert eye roll emoji.)

Anyway, as you can tell, the movie, and particularly that phrase bugs me. Mainly ‘cause i don’t like things that aren’t true.

Look, i adore my wife—she is a wonderful, God-fearing, hard working, beautiful woman and i can’t imagine my life without her. I look back at the sometimes painful decisions that i believe God led both of us to make before we met, and i know He alone orchestrated some pretty crazy circumstances to put us together.

But she doesn’t ‘complete me’ and i don’t certainly don’t ‘complete her.’

Complement each other? Yes. (No…not like telling her that her hair looks nice. Although i do tell her that sometimes.) Our strengths balance the other’s weaknesses and vice-versa. She does a lot of things around the house, and enjoys taking care of our property and i…go to work and…play the guitar. (Maybe i should do the other kind of complement a lot more often.)

It’s not some stupid movie’s fault, but i think a lot of the time people go into relationships with that mindset—if i find the right person, my life is gonna be whole…that this guy/girl is the missing piece to my 1000 piece puzzle and everything will be great once i find him or her.

It doesn’t work that way. If you’re looking for another person to fix your mess, and make everything rosy, you’re going to be perpetually disappointed. There’s not a human being alive that can be the knight in shining armor, or the 24/7 beauty queen that our minds say is out there waiting for us. That’s too much pressure, and relationships crumble every day under the weight of unmet expectations because of it.

As believers, we need to find our identity in Christ and Christ alone. God tells us that we are His children, and that it is in Him we find our security, that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

That says nothing about finding a soulmate, or putting some of your trust in another person to make you be the man or woman God created you to be. 

Jesus completes me. I shouldn’t expect you to. 

The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, says this “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6)

Single ladies, single guys…don’t miss this. You’re always going to be disappointed if you put your faith in another person to be your story arc. Life is far too complicated, and we all carry too much sin and baggage into relationships to be ‘enough’ for someone else. Christ alone is enough, and once you put your faith in him, your life’s journey should be about him and his will for your life.

He will put other people in your path to spur you on toward love and good deeds, but you can’t make them the focal point, or try to find your true happiness in the creation, instead of the creator and expect it to be something that lasts.

Those of us in relationships should always try to do the best we can, but we should also know we’re going to fall short.

And continually point each other to the one who won’t.

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.

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