Thursday, September 9, 2021

 

When my soul fainted within me,
I remembered the LORD; 
and my prayer came to You,
into Your holy temple. 
Those who pay regard to vain idols
forsake their true loyalty,
But I with the voice of thanksgiving
will sacrifice to You; 
what I have vowed I will pay. 

Deliverance belongs to the LORD! 

Jonah 2:7-9

For all of September I will be preaching Jonah.  His story resonates with all of us, because who hasn’t been faced with a job for the LORD, and not wanted to do it?  Who hasn’t felt at one time or another that they were in the deep belly of a fish in darkness and misery?  Who hasn’t felt like they were vomited up into a situation they never wanted?  And who hasn’t felt resentment when someone we dislike has escaped our version of justice?  If any of these has happened to you, you are in good company, because Jonah felt all these things. 

This prayer, from the belly of the big fish, confirms all that Jonah knows to be true of God.  Hebrews believed that prayers had special effect if they were spoken in the temple of the LORD, but Jonah can’t get there.  So from the depths of the ocean, from a belly of the fish, Jonah asks for help and trusts that his prayer finds it way to the temple and so to God.  He also counts on returning to the temple some day to pay the vows he’s making in that dark place, of giving thanksgiving and a sacrifice of praise. 

When we are in trouble, we may be sure that our prayers make it to the very throne of grace, that God hears all our petitions, and we can count on returning to our places of worship to give public thanks, to make offerings, and to praise God because we know: Salvation belongs to the LORD!

Elizabeth Stone

September 5:  Jonah 1 “Recalcitrant Prophet”                                                                                    September 12: Jonah 2 “3-Day Prayer”                                                                                                  September 19: Jonah 3 “180° Turnaround”                                                                                              September 26: Jonah 4 “Sour Grapes”

Catch my sermons at Stanford Presbyterian Church's Facebook page, or at www.stanfordpresbyterian.org  or www.wvlivingstone.com 

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Of Church Camp and Christian Parenting

 

 

Excerpt from Valley of the Shadow by Elizabeth and Erin Stone, © 2014.

 

Christian parents often think that engendering faith in their children is a natural.  For those of us who came to Christ independent of our families, we think that our kids will get it and will always cling to it, just because they have the benefit of being raised by Christian parents.  But the truth is that every child has to come to Christ on his or her own.  Every person has to make that commitment, not as an extension of what they have been taught and seen in their parents, but independently.  I prayed for all of my children.  From the moment I knew they existed I prayed that always they would know the love of God.  I prayed for them to know how we loved them, and that they would see the Kingdom of God lived out in the microcosm of our family life.  But I also prayed that God would make Himself real to each of them, that all of them would make the decision to follow Christ and accept salvation through Him.  But for our kids, the most significant factor in finding faith was church camp. . .

Our church camp is what you would call “rustic.”  We slept in cabins with electric lights, the bathroom was several hundred yards down the path.  It was on a man-made lake in Ohio, and we swam in the lake.  Folks who have passed through that camp all have a great love of it, and most try to spend time there every year.  What made it special was the genuine faith of the people there, the sacrificial servanthood of the staff and volunteers, the ultimate authority of the Bible in the organization and teaching, and the mission of sharing the Gospel with as many kids as possible.  Going to camp is like stepping into a faith community from the book of Acts, if just for a week.  The whole camp is like an impromptu church, organized around the teaching of the apostles.  The small groups and cabin groups are like house churches, having devotions, learning and working together.  Everyone comes together for a common meal, and then goes off for their various activities, only to come together at the open-air chapel by the lake for vespers every evening.  Kids come from all kinds of families, and they get to participate in a Christian community in miniature, and experience God’s love in that context.   As parents, I think Greg and I did everything we could to catechize our children, to bring them up in the fear and admonition of the Lord.  But every one of our kids, without exception, says that the place where Jesus Christ became real to them was at church camp. . .

One by one, my children took their turns going off to camp.  They started when they were five and they still try to go every year. And one by one, each made his or her commitment to Christ, maybe at the outdoor chapel, maybe at the prayer rock, maybe at the campfire, or in the gazebo.  And to our great joy and eternal blessing, every one of them from Josh on down, turned around and served as a counselor.  Patrick and Rebekah also hired on as staff, John-Mark has now followed in his father’s footsteps and taught high school camp, and Erin directed junior camp.  Camp’s great benefit is that we received more than we ever contributed.  Our kids not only learned faith in a dynamic Christian community, but they fellowshipped with people from other church traditions. Our camp would often have a missionary staff person from another country: Russia or Kenya or Latin America.  The lasting impact on camp and on our kids has been so much for the good, because as they interacted with people from different Christian backgrounds and different cultures, they saw that the grace of Christ is the same throughout the Church and throughout the world.  Whatever our outward skin color or culture or rituals, there was always a common denominator of faith, a marker that was recognizable in any person who belonged to Christ.  And instead of being a barrier to Christian community, everyone learned to appreciate the gifts and the diversity without losing the focus on Christ.  In a few weeks of intensive fellowship every summer a foundation of grace was built in the hearts of these kids, and a kindred spirit among them that expressed itself across the miles and months of the school year with letters and phone calls and impromptu gatherings, as well as lifelong friendships.  This foundation became an anchor – one of the many God provided – to tether us to hope during the difficult times ahead.


Copyright © 2014 Elizabeth Stone.  All rights reserved. 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK     1-800-273-8255


Tuesday, February 16, 2021

 

For the next several weeks, Erin and I will be sharing excerpts from our book, Valley of the Shadow, published in 2014.


Prologue: Are we healed yet?

           

It is Thanksgiving eve, the twilight hour.  In the chill of the night, with a dusting of snow on the ground, two stealthy figures emerge from my house.  Shrouded in darkness, they come to the vehicles, and using the keys, they enter.  The interior lights are quickly doused, and the perpetrators hide within.  Both sliding doors of the mini-van are quietly opened, leaving them ajar.  Windows on our sub-compact are rolled down, and there the two warriors take up their positions.  It grows darker and colder, and still they wait, knowing that their ambush is unsuspected and of genius proportions.  Eventually, an old red jeep pulls up to the house.  Since the driveway is already to capacity with vehicles, it pulls onto the lawn.  A tall brown-haired young man emerges with a black cocker spaniel at his heels, and a second young man, with lighter hair and blue eyes, is disgorged from the passenger side.  With a war cry unrivaled in history their attackers leap from their positions, this one wearing a sombrero and the other with goggles and a pink karate helmet.  The young men know their female siblings are upon them, with a well thought out strategy and the element of surprise.  Suddenly the peace of the neighborhood is rent by the sound of electronic automatic weapons, plastic foam darts with rubber tips soar through the air.  Ah, curses! One of the weapons jams, resulting in an all out charge.  The boys, not in any way cowardly or unprepared, leap to retrieve their own weapons, previously loaded and lying ready on the back seat. For the next hour there is a barrage of darts sometimes hitting, mostly missing, as my adult children tear through my house and yard aiming at each other.   These largely innocuous missiles, many of which will lie hidden in couches and behind dressers until the next family gathering, these form one of our traditional reunion rituals. What started as a couple of gag gifts has snowballed into a highly competitive strategic game, and now the grandchildren have become corrupted. 

 

            I often wonder, years after the event, if we are healed yet, if we are back to normal. What makes a normal Christian family life?  Is it the way we dress, or the particular church we attend? Is it Bible reading and prayer at mealtimes? Is it the absence of certain behaviors and the presence of others?  Is it the foods we eat or the way we vote or the music we listen to?  And when things go wrong, does that mean we have failed?  Have we failed God, have we failed ourselves?  Are we no longer worthy of the name of Christian?  Is our witness for Christ destroyed?  What happens to faith when the unthinkable happens?  Where is Christ in the furnace of human tragedy?    

 

            I found Erin in the closet, lying on the floor.  I had stuck my head in the door to tell her to wake up and take the dog out, but she never appeared.  Tired and frustrated that I was again coercing her to take care of what was supposed to be her and her sister’s dog, I stormed into her room and grabbed her by the arm to get her up.  But her arm flopped down to the floor.  She was lying across her half-packed suitcase, the insides of which held not only her clothes but also pools of vomit.  That’s how I found my precious baby girl; that’s how the nightmare began.

 

            What is the worst day of your life?  Can you pinpoint it? I can. The worst day of my life was that hot summer morning, the day I became a statistic.  When you become a statistic, life is thrown into a tailspin.  We tend to quantify life in terms of percentages: 50% divorce rate, 33% of all women contract cancer, approximately 4400 teen suicides every year.  But when you experience it, it is no longer this abstract quantity out there, sanitized by impersonal percentages, all of a sudden you are the statistic, and it is raw, emotional, and fills every corner of your soul.  In the economy of Heaven numbers are not important, but we live in a world that analyzes the tragedies of life.  This is my story, the story of my family, when we became a statistic.  And it is the story of how God’s redeeming love burns brightest in the furnace, how He walks with us in the furnace.

 

Copyright © 2014 Elizabeth Stone.  All rights reserved.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK     1-800-273-8255




Saturday, January 16, 2021

 

We all know the best food is made from scratch.  Fresh ingredients combined and cooked on the day you eat them and cooked to your taste.  Cookies, straight from the oven, bread that has been kneaded and baked spread with butter while its still warm, pies, cakes, doughnuts, fritters, everyone has their favorite treats and we all know that they are best when they are made: from scratch. 

Lots of heroes and heroines of the Bible started from scratch.  Without visible resources or help, they accomplished great things for God’s people in the most meagre circumstances possible.  Moses started from scratch with the people of Israel who were enslaved and powerless.  Deborah started with ravaged empty grain fields and timid soldiers.  David started with a misfit group of disgruntled warriors, ready to go off at any minute.  Ezra and Nehemiah started with displaced exiles just trying to survive.  Jesus started with twelve unlikely disciples.  After Peter denied His Lord, he was sifted like wheat by the devil, and by God's power started over to encourage the brethren.  Paul’s life as a leading Pharisee was ripped away on the road to Damascus, and he started life all over as a missionary.  Lydia started a house church with a group of prayerful women who were struggling in ignorance.  Jesus Christ started from being dead in a tomb, written off by followers and opponents, and He burst from that tomb in glorious resurrection power to change the world.

Why is God so enamored of starting from scratch?  He created the world from scratch.  After we sinned and corrupted God’s world, He saved us with His own Son.  The Lord Jesus Christ, our second Adam, remade this world and saved us, starting from scratch.  God brings His people through difficult circumstances, often putting us in the extremity of need, so that He gets our attention.  Then God takes us through new vistas of His loving care, His miraculous solutions to our problems, and His calling on our lives to share in Kingdom building, starting from scratch. 

Paul said, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.  For God Who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.  But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and to us.”  II Corinthians 4:5-7

Starting from scratch: whether it is from our first encounter with the living Christ or if we find ourselves hit by circumstances that bring us down to a place of starting over, God always meets us there with resources and help that can only be from His hand.  When we land at the bottom and begin again by faith, it is here that the surpassing power of God really shines in our lives.  We become the clay jars holding the eternal treasure of the Gospel for all to see.  So when you find yourself in what seems like a dry, barren place, remember that starting from scratch is God's favorite recipe for great things.  Pray, and look around for the ingredients that He has surely placed there to help you, because your story will add to the many other inspiring grace stories where God started from scratch.     

Elizabeth Stone, B.S. MDiv.

wvlivingstone.com

Monday, December 28, 2020

Our Light in the Darkness

 


Christmas Eve 2020, the same, but different.  The sanctuary, beautifully decorated, had half the pews cordoned off with purple Advent tape (that had been there since Lent), and communion was pre-packaged.  An overflow space was prepared in fellowship hall should we exceed our governor’s mandates for maximum occupancy, and the candles for passing the light from the Christ candle were set out for worshippers.  Techy guys had been trained on our new high-definition camera, the sound system was linked and the wi-fi was up to speed for online broadcast. We thought we were ready for any contingency.

Then the snow hit.  White Christmas pouring down.  The temperature dropped 40° and the snow covered my yard and car in less than an hour; it settled on the wet roads, creating a slick icy layer underneath and the white topping made the lines invisible.  I left home three hours early to drive the 40 miles to church, avoiding over-cautious drivers going thirty miles an hour and dodging the crazy people going eighty, zipping in and out of traffic.  Anxiety was running high before I even arrived.  I stepped out into the quiet of the snow-covered twilight.

What with covid-19 (still plaguing us in 2020) and the sudden snow, few were in church (no overflow tonight!). But we believe that numbers don’t matter, so in-house or online the congregation is whoever shows up; the folks God wants there are always there.  And people got their money’s worth; we forged ahead with the full Christmas Eve service: lessons and carols, sermon, special choir pieces, organ solos, and communion.  

Spiritually exhausted as I always am after worship, I climbed back in my car and headed home.  Typically I enjoy the Christmas lights and peace of stores finally shut down for Christmas, but not tonight. The roads were worse, not better, and there was no evidence that trucks had plowed or laid down salt or cinder.  With four-wheel drive and good tires, I wasn’t afraid, but I soon realized the long way home was the best: the back roads were particularly dangerous, so I headed back out to the main arteries.  The actuators on the side roads were so covered with snow the light wouldn’t change in my favor to make a left, so I had to make a right, then another right.  The next light wouldn’t change either, so I waited and waited and waited, and when traffic was clear for a country mile in each direction, I made my left anyway, and eventually got home by the long route, two hours instead of a 50-minute journey.  

Making the last turn onto our street, my heart lifted when I saw: luminaries.  Every few feet on our road someone had placed luminaries, little bright sentinels reaching as far up the hill as I could see and leading the way home. Shining bravely in their little paper bags as the snow continued to fall, they would not be quenched.  I thought of the Light of the world shining in the darkness at Bethlehem, when the unexpected birth of the Christ Child changed the world.

Unprecedented times, unprecedented circumstances do not quench the Light of lights that is Jesus.  Do not be distracted. Do not be dismayed. The Light of the world still shines in our darkness, whatever it is, and He leads us all the way home. 

Elizabeth Stone, BS, MDiv

www.wvlivingstone.com

 

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