Monday, November 23, 2020

The Instead Christmas by Elizabeth Stone

And in that same region there were shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.  And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior Who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

      “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” 

Luke 2:8-14

 

You can’t change the past.  Isn’t that true?  We think about all the stupid things we’ve said and done, disastrous choices we’ve made, or people we have hurt with out sinful actions and words (most of all we wound the heart of God), and we’d like a do-over.  Most of us would like a do-over of the last few months, when the fear of a tiny invisible virus has held us captive in our homes, and away from our work, our schools, our church families. Most recently a cycling accident on wet pavement has sidelined my holiday plans; with a fractured wrist I can tell you I'd LOVE  a do-over. Truth be told, the stitches in my lip and knee make me look fierce, but for the next 6-8 weeks I will be typing with my left hand. I won't be cooking or traveling or wrapping gifts, but I will have, along with all of you, an "instead" Christmas.


The good news of the Gospel of Christ is that although we can’t change the past, Jesus can. Jesus Christ came into this world, born of a woman, and entered into the hotbed of 1st century religion and politics that were anything but friendly.  He grew up in it, was baptized in the middle of it, ministered in it, preached and taught in it, showed signs and wonders in it, and eventually was arrested, tortured, beaten, and killed for it.  And on the third day after, Jesus Christ rose from the dead.  That is an eternal truth we never want changed.  


But in Advent and at Christmas we remember the Savior’s humble beginnings, that He was born into a poor blue-collar working family and because of the government regulations, His parents had to travel and be registered in the census right when He was due.  So instead of being born in His family’s hometown, born in a house and a comfortable bed, instead of being surrounded by grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins welcoming Him and celebrating His birth, baby Jesus was born in a barn far from home.  He was born in an animal stable, and instead of a crib, He was laid in a manger, padded with hay that animals eat.  And the people who came to welcome Him?  Strangers.  Shepherds.  Instead of family.  It’s was God’s great do-over.  Jesus Christ came to change the past, to remake the world, to redeem all of humankind, and to undo the sin and brokenness of the fall and everything that comes with it: pain and punishment and disease and death and hell.  Instead of all that, we get: grace!


This year is the big year of: instead.  Instead of holiday gatherings, we may be alone in our homes.  Instead of worshipping together we may be isolated and preparing another remote communion, praying and singing on Facebook.  Instead of sharing gifts, we may be mailing them, or cutting them out altogether.  Concerts, games, and celebrations will be cancelled or on zoom instead of in person.  But remember God’s great gift of instead.  Instead of sin, we have a Savior.  Instead of judgment, we have forgiveness.  Instead of death, we have eternal life. So celebrate our great big wonderful instead, that came to us through Jesus Christ at Christmas. That Good News never changes! Blessed Christmas to you all!  


Elizabeth Stone 


Christmas 2020

WV Living Stone Ministries 

www.wvlivingstone.com



Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Lessons in the Stylist's Chair

After 2 ½ months I finally went to get my hair cut.  Not usually good at keeping on top of those kinds of things, even I had to admit my hair was a shaggy, shabby mess.  I confess, I did not deny, but I confessed to my stylist, that I had actually cut my own bangs.  Bless her, she said, “oh, honey I can fix that”. Now I not only look good, but I can see (check out the photo).

The first time I came to her salon, she asked me about my work, and she listened.  I told her about my call to ministry, about the work I do with suicide prevention and recovery, and about my new project on calling in Christ, on vocation.  Then she said, “I know exactly how to cut your hair, now,” and before I knew it, she had cut off about a pound of hair.  We talked about church, and faith, and our families, and promised to pray for each other.  We even wept together, and she told me she could hear my gift in my words.  That was before the covid-19 pandemic.  It was before the murder of George Floyd, before Breonna Taylor. This second time when she styled my hair, both of us wore masks, we spoke a little more about my hair, and the trouble I was having managing it.  She said she would have to take some more weight out of it.  Then I asked her, because I wanted to know, her perspective on the Black Lives Matter movement.  She answered my question with a question: “Do you want to know what I think as a black woman?”  And I said, “Yes, absolutely.  I want to listen.” Her scissors flew and her talk flowed.  Another three pounds of hair fell on the floor which she deftly brushed over to the vacuum opening before I could grasp the full impact of my layered and thinned hair; I felt like Absalom who cut and weighed his glorious tresses.  Yet as she shared her thoughts, her words were worth all my time and attention. You see, none of us can understand the problem or how to solve it unless we listen. 

Astonishingly, she said that she believed that the pandemic served God’s purpose to get our attention.  Those are the sure words of a prophetess.  Plague, sword, famine, flood. When God wants our attention, He is wont to use our circumstances, natural disasters, conflicts, and illnesses to get our attention.  The point?  When we are forcibly confined and unable to be busy, when we are quiet and isolated, we have time to see these red flags of our continuing failures as Christians.  We fail to love other people as Christ loved us, we have failed to love our neighbor as ourselves, and we live by our own feeble idea of justice rather than God’s.  Her biggest concern was that the church was not rising to speak.  It was not enough for us to participate in the world’s solutions, the church had to speak.  She said, “Black Lives Matter is the world’s solution.  What is God’s solution? Reconciliation.”  I was floored!  I hadn’t expected that.  How must the church respond? With reconciliation.  Reconciliation.  A message that is as old as the church, as old as the cross and resurrection, as old as the Gospel: reconciliation.  She said that we had to do the hard work of reconciliation, and the church had to show others how to do it.  It is not enough to believe in Jesus for salvation.  It is not enough to get our fire insurance.  It is not enough to evangelize and get people – black and white – into the Kingdom, or at least into church.  Our churches are plagued by the idea that once someone is saved they will automatically start being loving and just.  But Jesus taught that being born again spiritually is like being born; babies need to be nurtured and fed and loved and cared for, taught to walk and to talk and to use the toilet.  How many times in Scripture are Christians condemned for immaturity, for being satisfied with spiritual milk and not moving on to the solid food of mature faith?  How do new believers know what is true and what is false?  How do we know what we consume is of God and will feed us, or what is of the world and needs to be weeded out of our lives and discarded?  Once we are saved, that is when our journey begins, and it is a journey of sanctification, of becoming more mature, of always becoming more Christlike.  And, by the way, we are called to do this in community, not alone.  We are to help each other build more faith, help each other love and worship God more, build more love for each other, obey Christ more, serve Christ and serve others more, find our calling and do it, invite many others to receive Christ by grace, and we can only do all that in community.  The great commission does not stop with evangelization, with baptizing new believers; we are called to teach all that Christ commanded us, and keep teaching it, until He returns.  We are ambassadors for Christ, preaching the message of reconciliation.  And to whom are we reconciled?  We are reconciled first to God by Jesus Christ, and then we are reconciled to each other by Jesus Christ.  The most startling thing my hairdresser said to me? “There shouldn’t be a black church and a white church, it should all be the same church.”

We tend to think that the virulent prejudices and weaknesses of our culture are new and unprecedented, but in the primitive church there was prejudice and conflict between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians that was just as destructive.  Ephesians 2:11-22 gives us God’s solution:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called “the circumcision,” which is made in the flesh by hands – remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off [Gentiles] have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For He Himself is our peace, Who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility. By abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.  And He came and preached peace to you who were far off [Gentiles] and to those who were near [Jews].  For Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.  So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in Whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.  In Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. 

Paul is kind of a pro at mixing his metaphors, but the point is this: the Church of Jesus Christ is a faith community built on peace, the price of which was the blood of Christ Himself.  His sacrifice on the cross ended the hostility between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, and made one church out of two peoples in the first century, a reconciled church where everyone was not only a citizen of the Kingdom of God, but a family member.  Brothers and sisters, all together, regardless of ethnic or religious origin. No more aliens, no more outsiders, once we believe in Christ, there is no wall of hostility, there is only one body of Christ, only one bride of Christ, made by peace for peace.

Reconciliation happened in the primitive church through hard work, some of which happened in the first church council in Acts 15.  The law of the Jewish Christians, the paganism of the Gentile Christians had to be swept away to make room for grace, grace that when it was fully functional in the hearts and gatherings of believers blasted through their prejudices and traditions and surpassed the law and usurped unworthy idols.  We face the same challenges: dismantling our prejudices, traditions, and trashing the idols that keep us from being the family of God, then reconciling with brothers and sisters, coming together from every nation, tribe, and tongue to be one church with one voice. 

Just a couple more questions from my hairdresser:

What would happen if the church of Jesus Christ would awaken and take up leadership in this crisis by reconciling within the church and modeling reconciliation for the world?

What would happen if the Holy Spirit burned through the Church?

Two things you can do.  Pray, pray, pray, a lot.  Find someone to listen to, someone different from you, someone who shares your deep faith in Jesus Christ, someone whom you can trust. 

~ by Elizabeth Stone 

www.wvlivingstone.com 

Sermons online at www.stanfordpresbyterian.org

Sunday, January 5, 2020




“Savor Christmas” by Elizabeth Stone. 

January 5, 2020.


Today (January 5th) is the twelfth day of Christmas; it is the last day of our nativity feast for the coming of King Jesus, and most of us, myself included, felt rushed through the holidays.  Our rhythm of celebration seems to be dictated by the malls and stores, who even as early as 4 p.m. Christmas day, race to sell off all the holiday items at increasing discounts, taking down their decorations and pushing us all into the next season they want to sell us. 
My mother was unmoved by the Christmas rush.  A good Anglican, Christmas decorations never came down until January 6th, or Epiphany, the Episcopal celebration of the arrival of the wise men.  Epiphany is an “ah-ha” moment, a time when divinity is revealed, or when we grasp the reality of a person or event suddenly and it has life-changing consequences.  We have discovered the divine identity of Jesus the Christ Child; how does that change us?  How does our life proceed?  Once the Christmas decorations are all put away, what new directions do we take?
Psalm 6 is one of David’s songs of lament, when his life was not going well.  We seem to forget – in the mad holiday rush – that lots of people are in sorrow, suffering from illness, want, or sorrow.  Maybe they, like David, are feeling angry, weak, sick, sinful, and shamed, far from mercy and far from the glory that God’s children are supposed to enjoy, especially at Christmas.  At the end of his prayer, David says: “Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping.  The LORD has heard my plea; the LORD accepts my prayer.”  What greater gift can there be than to be heard by God?  What greater evidence of grace is there than the coming of Jesus Christ to save us, the ultimate answer to every prayer? If this has been a tough holiday season for you, let me assure you that you haven’t missed it.  You have been heard. 
Savor Christmas.  Ebenezer Scrooge at the end of A Christmas Carol says: “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” Charles Dickens had it right; the gift of Christmas is not to be pigeon-holed at the end of December and then packed up for eleven months.  The love of God that came to us at Christmas is an all the time gift. 
Tomorrow I will start taking down my decorations, because, after all, I am a true daughter of my mother.  But I will leave out a candle, something to remind me of Christ, the light of the world that came and dwelt among us, the guarantee that no matter what, our prayers are always heard. 


Sunday, December 22, 2019


Beyond Church 12/22/2019

Dethroned Royalty by Elizabeth Stone

And the angel said unto her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David.  And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His Kingdom there will be no end.” Luke 1:30-33

Dethroned royalty.  That was the tribe of Judah and the house of David when the angel Gabriel came to announce to Mary that she would bear the King of Israel.  Caesar was on the throne of Rome, and Herod was ruling Judea (and he was Rome’s puppet and had no Biblical right to rule) so we can understand Mary’s confusion. Her betrothed husband was a carpenter, her people lived in poverty trying to eek out a living under the Roman occupation.  Not what we usually associate with royalty.  Kings are rich and live in palaces and wear great clothes and have political power over all the people in the Kingdom.  They have servants and armies and people obey them.  But not dethroned royalty.  When the people of France revolted against their monarchy, Louis XVI, his family, and all his courtiers were guillotined.  When Tsar Nicholas of Russia was dethroned, he and his family were assassinated.  And when the house of David faltered, the line of David survived, but his heirs lived in poverty and obscurity.  Dethroned royalty can be a threat to new rulers, so if they are not dead, they had better be powerless.  

How was the Kingship of Jesus Christ established?  Herod tries to kill Him when He is just a baby.  And then He, like His earthly parents, lives in obscurity, and learns and works at Joseph’s trade.  When He does come into the public eye, it is not as a military leader, but as a preacher, homeless and camping out in the open, traveling from place to place teaching about the Kingdom of God.  When He is illegally arrested and faces trial, He tells Pilate that His Kingship is not of this world.  Jesus takes up His royal position through suffering; He dies for us.  Now, after His death and resurrection He is King, seated in Heaven, and reigning with power.  Just as the angel Gabriel said, it is a forever throne and a forever Kingdom.  Every promise to David for a permanent kingship is fulfilled in Jesus Christ because Jesus reigns as King in eternity. 

The Bible tells us we are – like our Savior – royalty.  But also like Him, our riches, our power, are not of this world.  Like Him we live in obscurity and we work for a living, our service and obedience are to God.  Like Him we tell others about the Kingdom of God, and how to get there. And as we do, God’s family grows, and royal children are born of the Spirit.  We follow King Jesus imitating His life, so that in eternity He will crown us as His own. 

Thursday, December 12, 2019


Beyond Church 12/15/2020

Backwards Angels by Elizabeth Stone
Hebrews 5:7-14

Thanks to my children and grandchildren, my Christmas tree is up.  Knowing how important it is to  me, whoever comes for Thanksgiving brings the tree in, sets it up, adds lights that actually work, and decorates it. This year my son dragged in all the Christmas boxes, and his two toddler daughters helped Daddy and Grandpa decorate.  When the average height of the decorators is about two feet, we have a superabundance of ornaments on the lower branches, and some of the angels are, well, backwards.  One child put all of her ornaments on one branch, the other spread hers across maybe three.  But they were so proud, and they had such a good time.  It is expected because they are small, and immature, and super cute. 


Christmas brings us all back home, if not physically then at least emotionally.  Most of us have wonder-filled memories of childhood Christmases, and some do not, but the longing for home, for a simpler time, for love and joy, for a safe place at the holidays, is universal.  Christmas is, after all, about love; God’s love that sent His one and only Son for us, the greatest gift, the indescribable gift.  As we grow up, we become the providers for Christmas joy to the younger generation, the ones who are responsible for the simple, safe, love-filled celebration for the children, so I have to ask, are your angels backwards?

The author of Hebrews calls us to mature faith in Christ.  The Jewish believers have become dull of hearing, and have stalled out in their faith-walk.  All their angels are backwards and in the same spot. They haven’t grown up in Christ, they are still drinking milk, they haven’t advanced to the solid spiritual food of the mature.  Over and over they need to hear the basic principles of the oracles of God, over and over they need to review the discernment that makes them sharp enough to tell good from evil.  Their mature correspondent reminds them about Jesus’ time on earth, and points them to His prayers of Gethsemane and His passion:

In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him Who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence.  Although He was a Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered.  And being made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Milchizedek.  (Hebrews 5:7-10)

What is striking about this is: Jesus was heard.  God heard every prayer that Jesus spoke, every request that Jesus made when He was on earth.  He was heard because of His reverence for His Father.  And He obeyed, not because it was easy, but because the goal was that He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him.  Like our Savior, we too are heard, and we also must learn obedience by constant practice, by opening our ears to the deep things of God so we can discern good from evil, and do the good.  Mature Christians are invested in God’s purposes, and over time, we learn that those purposes always include His very best for us.

My granddaughters will grow up, and will know the backside of an angel from the front, and will be able to reach the highest branches. Will they understand the reality of Christmas?  Will they find their own way to the Source of eternal salvation?  Only if we who know Christ have open ears to His Word, and are living the example of prayer and obedience, and only if we tell them.  It is still true that we who are mature create the love and joy of Christmas for the young. You can move the ornaments around after they are asleep, but our witness, our sharing Jesus’ birth story, our worship with them, and above all our walk of obedience will call children to the Christ-child for eternity, which is the great WHY of Christmas.

Sunday, November 24, 2019


Before Church ~ Sunday November 24, 2019

Consider Your Calling I Corinthians 1:18-31

We take ourselves way too seriously.  Have you watched the news lately?  Good for you, it’s really best to avoid the national outlets.  But if you have, like me you have seen all of the politicians screaming and yelling, people attacking one another, and it is so much noise. The wise, the scribes, the debaters of this age are as foolish in God’s eyes as were those of Paul’s time.  Culture holds up as sages: politicians, athletes, authors and speakers, entertainers, the rich who have and can make money, all of whom tell people exactly what they want to hear and who offer vain foolish promises they can never fulfill.  God’s wisdom is exactly opposite to the world’s; God’s power is exactly opposite of the world’s; God’s wisdom and power is the cross.

Cross = a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Greeks.
BUT
Cross = power of God to us who are being saved

Consider your calling.  Consider your calling not in the light of your abilities, gifts, or skills, but in light of what God has done – the cross of Christ.  Our calling is first to participate in the folly and weakness of God, the illogical upside-down plan of salvation that is the cross, a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles.  Every human being falls into one of those two categories: those who bark their shins on the great big Cornerstone that the builders rejected, or those who dismiss salvation as complete foolishness.  That was us before we were called; it is the default setting for human souls.  Once we have received the love and grace of Christ, the foolishness of God, the weakness of God, these become our lifeline.  After we are redeemed, we understand that the cross is the power of, the wisdom of, salvation; we are spiritually dead and powerless without Christ. With Christ we have divine wisdom and power, upside-down eternal wisdom and power. 

“For consider your calling, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world – even things that are not – to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.  He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, Who God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.  Therefore, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (vs. 26-31).

Whatever calling we do, whatever mission we accept from God, it all starts with the call to the cross, to the folly and weakness of God.  Purpose, vision, mission, vocation, all flow from salvation; the simple surrender to the love of Christ displayed on the cross, the most illogical and incomprehensible example of servant leadership, of forgiveness, of grace – God’s spiritual buy-back of our souls in the sacrifice of His Son. 

What passes for wisdom in our time is what’s popular; the story du jour with no truth, no spiritual backbone, no longevity; worldly power is using force to control others.  But God’s wisdom and power are eternal and lasting, forever truth and forever strength that from age to age reveal the love of Christ in the cross.  From this salvation we also receive the righteousness, the redemption, the sanctification of Christ.  So consider your calling in light of the cross, and don’t take yourself too seriously. 

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Timing is Everything
by Elizabeth Stone

"He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, He has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end."  Ecclesiastes 3:11

I've been reading Ecclesiastes and Solomon was experiencing some severe depression.  There is this sense of futility to the opening chapters, but by the end of the book he has worked through a lot of his issues.  You have to read the whole book to get the picture, but it is oh so easy - especially for those of us who have lived awhile - to look back on the years and feel the same sense of vanity and uselessness, of not having done enough or not having fulfilled dreams and aspirations.  Ecclesiastes asks the questions - good questions - that all humans face.  "Imagine there's no heaven, it's easy if you try, no hell below us, above us only sky. . ."  John Lennon posited the same questions in his lyrics, but the problem is, with no religion, no faith, no eternity, there is also no hope.  If we have no expectation of life after death, no expectation of grace and forgiveness, no conviction that God will put all things right, and the brokenness of the world will never be healed, it makes for a sad depressing life.  Solomon of all people had it all: power, wealth, education, wisdom, accomplishments, luxury, love, glory, etc., and yet with all the best the world has to offer, he hits a mid-life crisis, or maybe a late in life crisis, and asks all the right questions.  What is the use of all our human endeavors if we just return to dust?  
The answer: right here in chapter 3 Solomon realizes that not only does everything (and everyone) have seasons of beauty that God gives, but eternity is in our minds.  We have the capability of imagining that there is a Heaven, and that there is a time when all the problems of the world, all the sin, and misery, the devil's work, and even death will all end and we will live in eternity with God.  This perfection that we can clearly grasp with our limited imperfect minds is evidence that we are created for immortality.  Solomon didn't get to see it, but he had enough wisdom to ask the right questions.  And we, living in post-resurrection times, know that the answer is: Jesus.  Because of Christ the door to Heaven stands open for anyone who wishes to go through, for anyone who will lay hold of His salvation.  Solomon asked the question, Jesus is the resounding answer.  John Lennon makes the point for us: it actually takes some effort to imagine that there is no Heaven, because we were made for eternity, we were made to believe in God.  Created in God's image, our minds and souls naturally understand eternity, and yearn for it.  And God also yearns jealously for our spirits as well, because He has made a way for us to spend it with Him.  The light of eternity shining on us now makes the blessings of life sweeter, the suffering easier to bear, and the promise of life eternal gives us all the hope we need.  
The butterfly has a season of being a wriggly caterpillar, but eventually it has a season of being a beautiful butterfly.  Sometimes it takes longer than we wish for things to turn out right, and a season of beauty to begin.  But after all the ups and downs of life, eventually, like the butterfly, we will be permanently changed into something beautiful, something glorious, an eternal soul in shining glory. And we will be reunited with our God who made us with this concept of an eternity, beckoning us to our Heavenly home.