Saturday, June 26, 2010

Connecting With God

Last week I had the opportunity to accompany some young people as they attended a youth conference in Colorado Springs. Its a given that coming from southeast Texas to the mountains of Colorado that the scenery and the climate is an awesome shift. That aside, I have to say that attending meetings with a couple thousand young people who are bombarding heaven with their prayers and with worship do something to you. Having served in youth ministry for 15 plus years and now a senior pastor, I can honestly say that at no other "event" do I receive the spiritual infusion that I do attending these.

Yes, I know that God can speak to us and do things in us where ever we are at any given moment. That being said, I can't help but think there is something truly powerful about an environment saturated by corporate brokeness, desperation, and passion. Within that climate, I just think it is so much easier for us to be sensitive to God's voice. I mean think about it, no television, internet, Ipod, computer, cell phone, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Distractions are limited to very few things and you spend a few days saturated with little more than God and His Word.

Our culture is one that is characterized by busyness. Our schedules are filled with work, entertainment, chores, work, education, friends, family, more work, social networking, and somewhere, somehow we find a little time to sleep. For me personally, I'm trying to juggle being a husband, dad, son, friend, and pastor and all the responsibilities that come along with that. If you are anything like me, in the middle of all the busyness, God often takes a back seat to it all. I know that God is with us always, and in everything we do, but let's face it, we often use that statement to make us feel good in light of the fact that our personal prayer life and our times of intimacy with God are little more than puny and pathetic. Maybe that doesn't apply to you, but it hits me right between the eyes.

We've fallen for this lie that as long as I do my duty and go to church once a week for an hour or so, read my little promise scriptures, pay my tithe, put a Christian bumper sticker on my car, and listen to Christian music, that I'm good with God. The truth is I'm good with God, because of what Jesus did for me. I just think we are off track as long as we have the kind of mind set that says, "as long as I give God a little token offering of my life then all is well." Is that really the kind of life that He's worthy of?" Think about it for a moment. The purpose of Jesus coming and submitting Himself to death on a cross, was to reconcile you and I back to God. He came to rip down the wall that separated us from our Creator. He came to bring us into relationship with our heavenly Father. God, Himself, put on flesh and blood, and was willing to bleed and die in order to restore our relationship with Him. Can we honestly think that an hour a week and a quick prayer before nodding off to sleep, and our prayers of personal petitions, are worthy of His sacrifice?

If Christ's sacrifice was for the purpose of connecting us to God once again, shouldn't connecting with God be a huge priority on our life? I believe our attempts at fitting God into our schedule are playing right into the hand of the enemy. Our enemy doesn't really mind if we engage in lots of religious activity as long as we lose sight of what Christ died to give us. God longs for relationship with His people. A real authentic relationship is not one that we try to squeeze in somewhere between all of our list of to do's. Real authentic relationships demand time in order to be healthy. While it may be a truth that we are sons and daughters of God, it is equally true that we will never experience the fullness of that relationship if we don't choose to spend time cultivating it.

God longs to connect with us. God longs for us to come to the place where we long to connect with Him. Let's determine to make time for those personal, intimate encounters with our Creator. Let's make a decision to work the rest of our lives around those moments. I grew up with personal Bible study, prayer time, and quiet times being called "spiritual disciplines." The more I think about that, I just kind of think if that's the way we see it, we're missing the point. I'm just crazy enough to believe that we can fall so in love with our God that our heart yearns for those moments of personal connection. After all, God has fallen so in love with us that He was willing to do whatever it took to connect with us. Let's live a life that is worthy of the sacrifice Christ made for us.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

My Dad

I've posted this before, but with Father's Day here I can think of nothing better to post this week than this article I wrote about my Dad immediately following his going home to be with the Lord a few years ago. For those who didn't know my Dad, it'll introduce you to him. For those who knew him, it'll remind you of this world's greatest Dad.

Most of you knew Troy Stone as a strong conservative voice in Ellis County. A man who had an opinion about everything and never hesitated to share it. A man who held elected officials accountable, ruffled the feathers that needed ruffling, and rocked every boat that needed rocking. You knew him as a man who loved his country and was determined to do whatever was necessary to keep it the greatest country in the world.

But, let me tell you a little bit about the man I knew as Daddy. He taught me things every young boy needs to know. He taught me how to throw a football, kick a soccer ball, and hit a baseball. Never, once did I ever look to the sideline without seeing my Dad on it. Every single game there he was on the sidelines rooting for me as if I was the best player out there, when in reality, I can assure you, I was not. By the time I made it to high school, my physical stature, yes, I was a runt, steered my away from organized sports and I became involved in marching band. Dad’s level of support never changed. It didn’t matter if it was a home game or an away game. Every week there he was in the stands watching my eight minute half-time performance. Once again, I don’t recall one that he missed. 

That’s the way he was with all of his children. He always supported everything we were involved with. He invested his time, his money, and his energy into each of our lives, our dreams, and our futures. I think I can speak for each of his children in saying that when we were young we thought he was the best. What is an awesome testimony though, is that each of us hold that same opinion here at the end of his life. 

My Dad had five children, but he was “Daddy” to many more. I remember years ago, our family sponsored a young boy who lived in an orphanage in Fairfield, TX. My Dad heard about a track meet this boy was competing in. I don’t remember all the details, but I believe he ran the mile. Although he told my Dad that he wasn’t very good and had never won, my Dad drove to Fairfield to watch him race. When the race started, he took off too fast and my Dad was sure he was going to run out of gas, but he never did. He won the race. I think that the fact that he had a “Daddy” in the stands that day had something to do with it.

I learned more from my Dad by just watching the way he lived his life. He was always willing to help out whenever he saw a need. Like the times he would see a family in need and would buy them groceries, clothes, etc. Or, like the times he would hear of a need at church and would step up to the plate to supply that need. There were even a couple of occasions when he opened his house to young people in need of a place to stay.

Daddy, taught me that the wealth of a man is not found in the size of his bank account but in the depth of his character. He taught me the importance of being a man of integrity and man of your word by living it out before me. For example, one time he had promised to take me to a Ranger’s game. He was out of town working in Laredo at that time and we didn’t think he was going to make it home in time. I was crushed, because he had promised to take me. Then all of a sudden into the driveway pulls my Dad. He runs into the house, changes clothes, kisses Mom and off we go to the game. Pretty incredible for a man who had just driven all the way from Laredo. I don’t remember anything else about the game that night, just that my Dad kept his promise.

I also learned about strength and courage from my Dad. There was no better example of that, than how he lived his life over the past few years. While living with the advanced stages of emphysema, he continued to live his life to the fullest. Even though he became oxygen dependent 24/7, he continued to be involved in the Republican party here in Ellis county. Every election day you could count on seeing him working the polls. Afterwards, he would be exhausted for several days, but that never kept him from doing it again. He never let his disease prevent him from making trips to the Houston area to spend time with his children and grandchildren. On July 4th, 2004 while hooked up to his portable oxygen machine, he insisted on running his snow-cone machine at an outdoor church function in southeast Texas. We constantly got on to him about over doing it, but the fact is he knew no other way to live his life than full-throttle.

I could write volumes about my Dad and perhaps someday I will. He didn’t leave his family a huge monetary inheritance, but the inheritance he left is worth more than all this world’s riches. It is no doubt that this world is a better place because of his influence here. All that knew him will truly miss him. America will miss his patriotism. Ellis county will miss his strong conservative voice. The Republican Party will miss his leadership. And I’ll miss my Daddy.

Friday, June 4, 2010

There's A Hole In The Bottom Of The Sea

"There's a frog, on the knot, on the log, in the hole in the bottom of the sea." Not sure if you've ever heard that song, but it was one my Dad sang way too much when I was growing up. He would start it up at times like when we were on long trips and we had played the ABC game until all of us kids were bored out of our minds. It never mattered how much we protested, the song went on and on and on. And while the song was a bit annoying, I never really thought about the fact that there might be a big hole in the bottom of the sea. Until now that is. Now looking at what is going on in the Gulf of Mexico, that annoying song seems to be playing out in front of us. I'm thinking maybe if we could find a big enough log with a big enough knot and a big enough frog, we could solve a really big problem.

Ok, so maybe the whole log, knot, frog thing isn't going to work, but it appears nothing else is getting the job done either. Now, while I have no idea how to fix the spewing oil in the Gulf, as they didn't offer that course at the school I attended, I'm struggling a bit with the fact that we are pretty intelligent beings but can't plug a hole. I know, I know, its deep underwater and its got a lot of pressure forcing the oil out, and I'm sure the greatest minds are at work trying to fix it. I think there a couple of things that bother me about this whole thing. Number one is that those who lost their lives in this accident have pretty much become a side note. Let's remember that children have been left fatherless, wives have lost husbands, and mom's and dad's have lost sons. Another thing that bothers me is everyone blaming everyone else. BP's under the gun, the government's getting hammered, people are mad at oil companies, and our President is going to kick somebody's... well, we won't go there. I'm thinking lets just get the hole plugged and then worry about all that later.

Anyways, I was just sitting here wondering what God thinks when He sits back and watches mankind do his thing? I mean lets face it, we are really good at making messes. Lets see, there was that Russian nuclear meltdown thing, Exxon Valdez, the unsinkable Titanic that sank, and the madman from Germany to name a few. Throughout the ages we've made one mess after another. Our man-made messes date all the way back to the first man and woman that God created. Remember, there was that whole forbidden fruit thing that really got things headed in the wrong direction. The problem with that mess though was that man's best efforts couldn't fix it. When Adam and Eve blew it in the garden, mankind was presented with a problem that only God, Himself could bail them out of. Fixing this mess would require a hefty price, but thank God, He stepped up to the plate and did what He had to do to save humanity.

What is so special about mankind, that God would stop at nothing to save him? Scripture says it like this, "What is man that you are mindful of him and the son of man that You visit him?" The longer I live the more I believe that this is really less about the man and more about God. What I'm trying to say is that this scenario reveals much more about the heart of God than it does about the value of man. Think about it all for a minute. God does an amazing work in His creation of the universe. He spins the planets into motion and adorns the sky with the sun, moon, and stars. He landscapes our planet with mountains, plains, oceans, and thousands upon thousands of different kinds of plant life. Then, He continues this creative wonder by creating sea life, birds of the air, and every kind of "creeping" thing that calls this planet home. And, to top it all off, He creates us and places us right smack in the middle of all He's created and allows us to be stewards of it all. Then "we," the thankful, and gracious recipients of all His goodness did what could only be expected. We did what amounts to spitting in His face by rejecting Him and aligning ourselves with the enemy of God. Crazy isn't it? Can you see the big mess we caused?

What's even crazier is how God responds to our mess. He cleans it up. Wait a minute, let me paint the complete picture. It's like we're in the middle of the ocean surrounded by flesh eating sharks and God doesn't just simply throw out a life saver. No, instead He throws Himself to the sharks in order to rescue us. Our actions put us under a death sentence, but instead of God simply turning a blind eye, He takes our place and condemns Himself to death in the person of Jesus. What's mind boggling is that after all of that, there are those who still reject this God and all His goodness.

While I have no idea how this oil spill in the Gulf is going to play out and how big of a mess it will ultimately be, I know for certain that regardless of how big it is, it will never compare to the mess we created in that garden so many years ago. And while it is certain, this clean-up will probably cost more than any clean up effort in our history, the price that was paid for our salvation eclipses it by a long shot.

Now, let me see where was I? Oh yeah, all together now..."There's a hair, on the wart, on the frog, on the knot, on the log, in the hole in the bottom of the sea...there's a hole, there's a hole, there's a hole in the bottom of the sea."