Dirt Clods

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sounds simple, right?

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

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

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

Matthew 5:23 says this:

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

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

Colossians 3:12 tells us this:

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

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

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

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

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

Sick

ToiletMark Johnston, Connections Pastor

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

Really sick.

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

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

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

What’s my reason for telling you this?

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

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

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

Spiritual Alzheimer’s.

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

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

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

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

Ghosts

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

My parents were married and childless for almost 15 years before i was born. They had gone through several ‘lives’ by the time i came around, and early in their marriage they were farmers. The first little place they had was north of Barry, Texas, and during their time there, they became close friends with the people who owned the larger place next to them.
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Their names were Henry Ray and Ethylene, and my parents remained great friends with them throughout the years, even after they gave up farming and moved to Dallas. Every few months, we’d  go and spend a Saturday with them on their farm, hanging out and listening to stories from their past. I’d fish and play with their grandkids, Tim and Sheila, who i thought were my cousins until i was probably 10 or 12.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Trip to the Paint Store

Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor

This spring we are painting the exterior of our house.

The front part of our house dates to the 1930s and has typical issues of a structure of that age. A quick look reveals ‘here’s where some termite damage was, here’s where even a lousy modern homebuilder would put at least some insulation in the walls’…that sort of thing.

FullSizeRenderOne of the missions of painting is to cover up some of those flaws. We know we’re not going to make it look like a pristine new home, but we can make it presentable and pretty in an ‘old house that’s not historic and has a bunch of nasty chickens running around’ sort of way.

My wife got an e-mail coupon from Sherwin-Williams offering us a discount on paint since we have been loyal customers and spent roughly a million dollars with them over the past 24 years doing paint projects in the three houses we’ve owned over that time.

The trip to the paint store got me thinking about covering things up and how we do the same thing in our lives.

We cover up our hurts, our bad habits and the hang ups that separate us from God and each other, and for some reason, it seems to be accentuated when we walk through the doors of a church building, especially by those of us who grew up in church. We feel we need to hang a sign around our necks that says “i’m okay” or “don’t ask.”

A large part of painting is prep work—caulking, scraping, power washing, taping around places you don’t want that color of paint, or any paint to go—that’s the part of painting that we all seem to dread. All that tedious stuff won’t be visible like a coat of fresh, different colored paint will, but without it, the new paint is just a waste of time and money.

So, when you come before God, are you going to hope that a fresh coat of paint is enough? Have you said a ‘sinner’s prayer’ and pretty much stayed the same since?

Have you given Him the authority to scrape away the layers of junk that life has built up on your walls, or have you just tried to slap a layer of “Christian” on top of it? Have you done the necessary prep work (dying to your selfish desires, laying aside old habits, quit hanging around the people who drag you down) so you can allow God to complete the good work He began in you? Have you realized that those things are extremely hard to do and that some barriers are impossible to break down on your own and thought about coming to re:generation on Monday nights, where you can meet other people who are admitting their brokenness and walking alongside each other and spurring each other on to a greater relationship with Christ?

At Stonepoint, we want to be a church where people aren’t afraid to talk about their junk, and are willing to admit that a fresh coat of paint isn’t going to help the messes that their lives are in.

Don’t try to hide your flaws, admit them to God and to Christ-following friend who will hold you accountable, and let’s start repairing what’s broken instead of covering it up.