Reconcilable Differences

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

man in black long sleeved shirt and woman in black dress

Photo by Jasmine Wallace Carter on Pexels.com

My wife and i are really different from each other.

I mean, we both have brown eyes, and my hair used to be brown like hers, but outside of some things like that, and the obvious male/female distinctions, (yes, despite what some might say, they do still exist) we are vastly different. She likes some of the same music i do, but on road trips, we usually keep the iPhones unplugged from the sound system in our car, or on the rare occasion we listen to music, regardless of whose playlist is on, we toss the other an occasional bone, but end up hitting the ‘next’ button…a lot.

She loves word games, Words with Friends and Scrabble on her phone. I, on the other hand, am so bad at those things, and so disinterested that the one time she and i played each other, she ended up using the app on both phones and basically played against herself just so the game would be sightly interesting. (Me: ‘CAT for four points…good enough!’ Her: ‘If only there were two Qs i could play QUINQUEVALENT here for 600!’)

She admits to being a risk-taker, and i like to keep both feet on the ground. I’m chipper in the mornings and she’s whatever the extreme opposite of chipper is. (Google some and insert one here if you like. I’m not gonna choose one, and put it in print because of this next difference.) 

She’s confrontational and i am decidedly not. 

Her ideal Saturday is to be outside working and mine is to be outside, laying on my back in a swimming pool, which we no longer have. I sing and she claims to have gotten ‘kicked out of Glee Club’ in 9th grade, scarring her for life. She is a great dancer and i can make people who claim to have two left feet look like Bruno Mars. We both love good coffee, but i take mine black and she drinks hers ‘light tan.’

In spite of all these differences, and there are dozens more i won’t bore you with, we get along. 

It’s not that we’ve stumbled on some magic formula, or read enough marriage books or attended seminars…although those things are great and i encourage you to take advantage of them. But for us, most of the time, it’s because we choose to get along. I love her and accept her for who she is, and she loves me. We put up with each other’s idiosyncrasies because we know that in the long run, those little things don’t really matter.

It hasn’t always been this way, and it has really taken time, prayer and realizing what God wants us to model for our children, and the outside world, in our marriage, to try to do these things. 

In scripture, the Apostle Paul explains how marriage should work in Ephesians 5:22-28. 

I love the way The Message puts it in modern terms: Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.

Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage.”

We were out at dinner one night, years ago (this predated Angie learning how to cook, you can read the story of that HERE) and saw an older couple sitting silently at their table, not speaking a word to each other while they waited on the meal to arrive. (This was before restaurants had TVs plastered on the walls or anyone had cellphones and the distractions they provide.) It was heartbreaking to see them, maybe married for many years, probably empty nesters who felt like they had absolutely nothing to say to each other. 

We made a promise to each other, right then and there that we would not end up that way. Over the years, we’ve known many married couples who lived under the same roof, went to dinner occasionally, didn’t really fight, but weren’t really ‘married’ in the real sense of the word—they just sort of co-existed. 

There’s a huge difference in ‘married’ and simply ‘not divorced.’

It hasn’t been easy. Both of us, over the years, have dug extreme potholes in our marriage. (Not the little annoying kind, either. I’m guilty of some major, Van Zandt County ‘break an axel’ ones.) 

About a year in, she had some major abandonment issues from her past (her dad, her first husband) that she’d never really dealt with in a healthy way. Her reaction was to push me, as her husband, to see if i was going to leave, too. 

After a while, in my own immaturity, my answer was ‘sure—if things stay like this, i will.’ 

Things really didn’t get a whole lot better until she did a book study at our old church called Experiencing God by a man named Henry Blackaby. It wasn’t marriage-specific, but about what Christian faith is supposed to look like in our lives. It completely changed her perspective on who God was and how, as a believer, she was supposed to live it out. Her angry reactions began to be replaced by kindness. 

She began to realize that i, as a human, was going to fail her…repeatedly. I was supposed to represent Jesus to her, as my bride, and love her the way He loves the church, but if her faith was put in me to do that, she was going to lead a life of constant disappointment.

She started to see Christ as her true, unfailing husband, one who would never leave or forsake her (Deuteronomy 31:6) and me, not as some knight in shining armor that rescued her from the life she’d been living before we met, but as a flawed, fallible man that she was supposed to model the Church to, in our marriage. She began to serve me, not out of obligation or as something that builds up resentment, but as an outpouring of her love for God.

When i saw her starting to change, it made me want to do the same.

At some point, we have to understand that our marriage vows aren’t written in chalk, but are more like tattoos. It may fade a little, but it’s never completely going away. At times you may regret the fact that it’s there and think it’s a mistake, but you deal with it, embrace it and come to see it as a part of who you are.

Choose to love. Make the daily choice to put God first, your spouse second, and other things (kids, job, etc.) in their proper places. It’s a difficult balancing act, to be sure. Learn how to resolve conflict in a Biblical way. Fight with each other against the outside forces that want to destroy your marriage instead of against each other. Engage that little ‘mouth filter’ we all have, but sometimes decline to use, when the temptation to be critical comes rising to the surface.

CS Lewis said it this way, “feelings come and go…but, of course, ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love.” 

Make a vow to your significant other to not end up like that couple in the restaurant, or if you see your marriage headed that way, stop and be a servant to your spouse, as Jesus would do. Define your marriage by the things you have in common, instead of your differences. Pray with one another. Fight for your marriage. 

Ephesians 5 says your marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church to the outside world. What kind of portrait are you painting?

#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!?”

What’s Your Sign?

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

At our recent Baptism and Family Night at Splash Kingdom, i had the chance to visit with Jami Johnson for a few minutes as things were starting to wind down. Jami, as many of you know, is the Stonepoint Member and WPISD teacher whose world was ripped apart almost 4 years ago, with the tragic death of her son, Adam, in an automobile accident.

She was sitting by herself in the shade, while her middle son, Aaron and his friends had fun at the park. I know she must have thought about how much her fun loving little Adam would have enjoyed the night, as well. We chatted for a few minutes, and i asked her how she was doing. I guess she sensed that i wanted honesty instead of the usual answers that people give that question.

Her response was so insightful, that i asked if i could share it.

She said, ‘i’m probably doing as well as most people. The difference is you know my struggle and my pain,’ she nodded toward the 700-plus folks at the water park, ‘and we don’t know what most of those people are dealing with.’ 

 of4bm-car-stick-shift-storyShe went on to say that she’d recently seen a Facebook post where someone told of getting really frustrated, on the road behind a person driving erratically, jerking, braking quickly and having trouble going up inclines. On the path to road rage, he got closer, and noticed a sign on the back of the car saying “I’m learning to drive a stick shift.” His initial irritation with the other driver, suddenly turned to empathy as he recalled his own experiences grinding gears, stalling out going uphill, missing second, all of the struggles that most of us go through learning to drive a standard.

Because he knew the situation, he was able to have sympathy for the other driver, realize that the extra two minutes his trip was going to take was not really a big deal, and maybe even say a quick prayer for the obviously frustrated, embarrassed girl and her teacher.

It’s like when i see those cars with “Student Driver” emblazoned on them. I want to have some mercy, but based on the information, i also tend to stay the heck out of the way, just in case.

The problem is that most of us don’t have a sign.

We don’t walk around with something around our necks saying “Recently Divorced,” “Dealing With the Death of a Loved One,” “I Have an Unfaithful Spouse,” or the myriad other problems that can affect us, and affect the way we treat other people. Some of the time those hurts are invisible—internalized, or only shared with a few close friends. For other folks, they’re bubbling so close to the surface that they erupt at the slightest provocation, leaving the rest of us to wonder what’s wrong, or worse, grumble about a presumed lack of courtesy, irritability or sometimes, downright ugliness.

So what if we treated everyone like they had a sign? 

Would you get as frustrated in the grocery store if the older person in line in front of you that waited until all the groceries were scanned to pull out her checkbook had a sign on her back that said “I’m 80 and Have No One to Take Care of Me?” What if the driver going 50 in a 70 had a sign that said “I Lost My Job, and Can’t Afford to Get My Car Fixed, and Am on My Way to An Interview”—how would you feel about being stuck behind them then?

One time i saw a guy throw a large soft drink back through the drive thru window at a Wendy’s, because they’d gotten his drink order wrong. Maybe he was just a jerk, but looking back, i wonder what his sign would have read.

You’ve heard it said ‘hurting people hurt people.’ Everyone is dealing with a hurt, of some kind or another. Some of them we know, but most, we don’t.

Your pain may not have made the ten o’clock news like Jami’s did. In fact, it may be private and you may not feel that you have anyone to share it with. At Stonepoint, we try to set people up with as many opportunities for honesty as we can. 

One of those is our Journey Group ministry. Journey Groups are small, home-based Bible studies where people share what’s going on in their lives—the good and the bad. It’s a smaller setting than our Sunday morning gatherings, and one where vulnerability and transparency are encouraged. Journey Groups are places where healing, sharing and dealing with hurts are encouraged.

We also offer re:generation, a twelve step, faith-based recovery/discipleship ministry that has helped countless people deal with hurts and unhealthy habits in their lives. Re:gen gives people a chance to talk about things in their past that has affected their lives in ways they haven’t dealt with well, and gives them a means to a better life, free from that baggage. Re:gen meets at 7pm on Monday nights at our Wills Point Campus.

Some wounds never fully heal. Jami and many other people have had their worlds so altered by outside forces that hanging moment by moment on God’s promise to never leave or forsake is the only way they get through each day. (Deuteronomy 31:6) We can never fully know the extent of their pain and what goes through their minds, but God does, and reliance on Him is what we read on their signs.

Maybe you’re doing okay with your own struggles, whatever they are. Hopefully you’ve already given them to God, shared them with godly friends and dealing with them in a Biblical manner.

No matter what your story is—let’s try to treat everyone we come in contact with like they have a sign that we can’t see. We’re all dealing with something, and Stonepoint needs to be a church of people who treat everyone with that sort of empathy, whether they ever set foot inside our doors or not.

So if we’re in the car, at the grocery store, or in the halls at church asking ‘how are you?’— let’s look for the signs.

The Stonepoint Choir

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor
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When i lived in the Panhandle, Dan Fogelberg released an album called The Innocent Age (don’t judge—unless you are one of about 20 people on the planet, he played the guitar better than you do.)

It’s a double album, with 16 songs about time, life and lamenting the loss of childhood innocence—all the wisdom he had accrued in his thirty years on earth. (Yeah, at thirty he was already thinking about this stuff.)

One of the songs on the record is called The Sand and the Foam and contains the line ‘time stills the singing child a holds so dear.’

Immediately after listening to the song i went outside to either go to my job at the radio station, or just drive aimlessly up and down Main Street,’cause that’s all there was to do in the Panhandle, when i caught the sound of a little kid across the street from the house I was living in. He was sitting on the front porch, singing as loudly as he possibly could. I don’t know if he thought nobody was listening and probably didn’t care if they were, but he was just sitting there, singing.

Most kids love to sing and dance. If you don’t believe me, put the Trolls movie in the DVD player and grab yourself a three-year-old.

Mark Twain said “all of us contain music and truth, but most of us just don’t know how to get it out.” I think it’s true, and it’s especially evident in kids. Music just flows out of ‘em. I remember being a little kid on my red swing set in my grandparent’s backyard, swinging so high the poles were lifting off the ground, singing “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” at the top of my lungs like I would explode if it didn’t come out of me. 

A lot of you were probably the same way when you were little, but somewhere along the way we lose that joy. Maybe we still contain music and truth, but a lot of us just forget how to get the music out. Getting the truth out is a subject for a whole ‘nother blog post.

I’m not saying that i wish life was like a musical where we sang sentences to one another, or spontaneously broke into musical numbers like The Greatest Showman (and y’all would certainly lose me at the dancing parts if we did) but there definitely is a time to sing as a response to what God has done in our lives.

One of the reasons i like to do music for re:generation on Monday nights is because those people sing like crazy. They feel like they’ve been forgiven much and they respond to God with exhilaration. 

Some of them may not be the best singers in the world by musical standards but it’s a beautiful noise. 

You may not be a music person, you may not care at all about Dan Fogelberg or singing at all, for that matter, but music matters a great deal to God. The Bible is full of songs and Zephaniah 3:17 even speaks about God singing over us, his people. 

The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.

If God Himself sings over his children. How can we not respond with singing back to him?

Every week, i have the privilege of standing in front of a room full (some services) of people at Stonepoint. The band has rehearsed and we’ve ironed the bugs out of the arrangements and hopefully sound alright by the time folks arrive.

I like to play the guitar and sing. I love leading the band and the interaction with the rest of the players and singers when something works out just like we’d rehearsed, or the way i’d heard it in my head a few days before. I’ve done it on and off since i was 14 years old, and it’s probably ingrained in my DNA strands, since most of my kids picked up instruments fairly easily. (Sorry, Shelby!!)

But my favorite part of a service is not singing.EC18-01309 2

Every week, i try to put a spot or two into the set where i can back off the mic and just let people carry things. Those are the spots that inspire me, make me smile on stage (ok…occasionally smile) and remind me of why i can’t imagine doing anything else on Sundays. The voice of the saints crying out to God is a beautiful thing, and i pray we don’t take it for granted.

So if your friends from other churches say something about Stonepoint not having a choir, i hope you’ll correct them and let them know that we have the best choir around. Nobody wears robes, they aren’t seated according to musical parts, and some can’t carry a tune in a bucket, but rest assured that it is a choir and that God is pleased with what he hears.

He loves singers, even bad ones!

Don’t let time, or life, still your singing, church. Let’s make a joyful noise to the Lord this Sunday!

Grandfathers (Leaving a Legacy)

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

One of my grandfathers raised cattle. He had a place outside of Athens down the kind of winding, red-dirt road that Texas country songwriters can only dream of. To get to their house, you had to cross over two little one lane wooden bridges that looked like they could barely support a bicycle, much less our ’68 Oldsmobile. I’d catch fish with my uncle, play with the old bird dogs and i remember driving the tractor around in a circle in a field when i was four or five. I didn’t run over anything important.  

Old Hands

My grandpa chewed plug tobacco, and there was a stinky brass spittoon in the living room between  ‘his chair’ and the fireplace and when i got stung by wasps, he pulled the wad out of this mouth and put it on the back of my neck where i got stung, I don’t know if it helped, but i remember it.

He’d give me silver dollars to buy the barbecue beef sandwiches at a place called “Fred’s,” because he knew i loved them, subconsciously doing his part to perpetuate the consumption of beef, but i never spent them. I saved them in a little silk bag that i’ve kept all these years.

His father had been a traveling preacher, wrote songs that got published in some hymnals, led ‘singings’ around Texas and had his three daughters sing around places where he preached, but he died a few years before i came along. Apparently my grandfather was the one in the family who didn’t have musical abilities, so he raised cows instead.

My other grandfather, the one on my mom’s side, grew up in a small town, but in town, not on a farm. He was the youngest of twelve children, and a great storyteller. He was a carpenter by trade, and a car mechanic, and a preacher for a while…and a whole bunch of other jobs. He was good at some of them, but had some health problems and never stayed at a job too long. He could play a few songs on the fiddle, and a couple by ear on the black keys of the piano, and was really fun to be around.

He played catch with me until he was way up in his 70s, throwing the ball underhand, because his shoulder hurt. When i got to school, and the other 7 year olds threw OVERHAND, it nearly broke my hand.

And i inherited none of their cattle-raising or carpentry skills.

We didn’t talk much about spiritual things, but i know they prayed for me.

I’m a grandfather now, too, and i wonder what my grandkids’ perception of me will be forty years down the road. “Dado and Honey had this nice house with a swimming pool in Dallas, and then they helped start a church and moved to a farm that they didn’t know how to take care of, and had some cows and chickens” will probably be the blog post synopsis, if either of them attempt to write it all down. They’ll remember the electric guitars hanging on the walls in my home office and hopefully they’ll remember going to church in a metal building with people singing about Jesus all around them.

It’s strange to think of how old my grandfathers seemed when i was little. Granted, they were a few years older than i am now, both in their sixties when i was born, but i wonder if Greyson and Georgia look at me as ancient like i did them back then.

At least i can still throw overhand.

One Saturday morning a few months back, i woke up early and started writing what turned out to be a sort of “Leave a Legacy” trilogy of blog posts. This is the first one started, the longest and the final one finished. 

I guess it’s because i really didn’t have the relationship with them that i want to talk about. They were ‘good men,’ don’t get me wrong, and the older i’ve gotten, the more i realize i could have done much worse. Times were different then, and i don’t think that generation looked at church as something you were…it was just some place you went. 

It’s the kind of mindset Stonepoint set out to destroy.

As people, we need to be reminded often of how short life is, and how the greatest thing we can do is to remind our kids and grandkids of that fact when they’re young.

Singer-songwriter, Warren Zevon, when faced with the realization that his cancer had progressed to the untreatable stage, summed it all up to David Letterman this way, “enjoy every sandwich.” 

While not scriptural, in a literal sense, i think the sentiment holds a lot of truth for us. We do take things for granted, every day. Living in America is a blessing so many people in the world dream about. Even the people across the globe who hate us want to come and live here. The opportunities we have, the wealth even our poor people possess is the envy of the rest of the world.

No, it’s far from perfect, but it’s still pretty awesome and we need to instill in our kids the fact that as great as it is, there is a far, far better world to come.

Philippians 3:17-20 says ‘Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.’

In other countries, ones where Christians are persecuted for their faith, it’s easier to remember that. I think the harder life is, the closer people draw to God. We saw it in the days after 9/11, churches overflowed with people who hadn’t been in years, on their knees praying fervently for God to intervene and save our country. It happens on a smaller scale in communities where tragedies strike, but as people, we tend to forget and when the chaos returns to normal, or we adjust to whatever the ‘new normal’ is, we give God a cursory wave and thanks as we pass by a church on the way to the lake on Sunday.

Am i asking for persecution? Heavens no—i’d be one of the first to die in a zombie apocalypse. But we need to look beyond ourselves, beyond the years we inhabit this earth to pour into those in our sphere of influence, oftentimes right under our roofs.

Moms, dads, grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles…God has you in a specific place here on this earth at this point in time for a reason. Are you living a life like Paul, where you can say to your kids and grandkids, “join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” 

We are not guaranteed tomorrow. James 4:14 says ‘you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.’

Let’s use some time wisely today to pour into the next generation about the things that God has taught us in his word and showed us in our lives.

I loved them dearly, but don’t be like my grandfathers.