Saturday, July 6, 2019

Before Church

Confessions of a Church Hopper: Insider Hypocrites
Sunday, July 7, 2019

Y’all are gonna be so glad when I find a church home. Like a food critic coming into a restaurant, everyone trembles lest they are the next observation on the Beth Stone church-hopper list.  I wonder if my picture is circulating in the Lexington ministerial, so greeters know me on sight and report me to the pastor; after all, they don’t want to become the next cautionary tale in this spontaneous and hopefully anonymous, review.  If you’re wondering if these examples are about your church, probably not.  One woman can only make so many visits.  And you’ll be relieved to see I am preaching myself for the next five weeks; you can come see if I practice what I preach!  Speaking of which . . .

Hypocrites, the constant criticism aimed at the church. A friend of mine once said, “My husband and I don’t go to church, it’s full of hypocrites.” 

Before I could stop myself I said, “Always room for two more!”  Wow.  Foot in mouth moment if ever I committed one.  She chuckled ruefully, obviously got my point, but didn’t go to church.  So what do we do with a church full of hypocrites? 

Jesus was on about hypocrisy.  He called out Pharisees  trying to trap Him in His teaching in Matthew 22:15-22; He called out rich people who made a hypocritical spectacle of their generosity in Matthew 6:1-4, and He called out His listeners to not judge others for teeny speckly sins while having sin-logs in their own eyes (Matthew 7:1-5).  But here’s the spiritual difference: do you know you’re a hypocrite? 

A hypocrite is someone who gets caught denying his own standards by doing the opposite of what he says.  It is someone who does not walk her talk.  It happens to all of us; we think we are doing all right, and then some besetting sin trips us up, and we fall headlong into the mud of hypocrisy.  Even Paul said, “I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want, but I do the very think I hate,” (Romans 7:15). But how does that translate for us, the insider hypocrites?

Insider hypocrites know we need grace.  We know, like Paul, that in striving to live the Christian life there are going to be slip-ups.  Major ones and minor ones.  Deliberate ones and unconscious ones.  Embarrassing ones and hurtful ones.  What do we do when we slip up?  Do we try to cover up or do we come clean?  Do we lie and prevaricate and justify our actions?  Or do we run to the throne of grace to find help in our time of need, calling on our great High Priest to cleanse us and set us back on the right road?  Cover-ups are pride; we pretend we don’t need Jesus.  Coming clean is how we keep on the path, because we know we need Jesus.  “There is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 8:1).  He is the solution to our sin, the balm in Gilead, the help for insider hypocrites. 

One day, some day, we will slough off our hypocrites’ cocoons and soar into sinlessness by the grace of Christ.  Until then, let’s pray we remain fully aware that in the church we are all insider hypocrites, and show others the same grace, the same mercy, that we ourselves have received.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Before Church

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice.  Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace with be with you.  Greet one another with a holy kiss.  All the saints greet you.  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. ~ II Corinthians 13:11-14

New homeowners like us spend lots of time at home improvement stores, making a house functional and uniquely our own.  Always lots of projects on the front end, and that’s how I met: Melvin.  Retired from a career, he found new fulfillment at a huge home improvement retailer.  I needed bolts and washers; Greg had sent me with samples so I couldn’t go astray (at least that was the theory), and I walked into Melvin’s aisle. 

It was crowded.  Lots of people wanted help finding, among the hundreds of little drawers of hardware, their particular needed bolt, screw, or nails.  As each person came into his aisle, Melvin greeted them.  He introduced himself.  And although he had several customers, he kept us in mind and helped in order.  He talked to us about our particular projects, while adding small talk that showed he was not just interested in making money.  He found what I needed, then took time to show me how to measure and locate what I needed for future reference.  He found my bolts, and when he saw the last package was already opened, he authorized a discount for me.  As I left he said, “Be sure you come back and see me!”  His smile, his warm welcome, his helpfulness, his showing me the ropes so I was at home in his world, all impressed me so much.  And I thought, if churchy people behaved like this, more visitors would come back for seconds. 

My recent forays into new churches have been illuminating.  Some were friendly, some helpful, some welcoming, but in others no-one spoke to me except the pastor, and in one church I was actually invited to go elsewhere.  Many asked for contact information, but few followed up.  Where in the church are the Melvins? 

What if when we walked into a new church, we met a Melvin?  Someone who noticed us and greeted us immediately, someone who spoke to us before we spoke to them, someone who introduced themselves and showed us the ropes, gave us a little information about how things work at their worship service?  What if we met someone who shared a little of their life, and showed an interest in ours?  What if they asked what brought them to our church family?  A Melvin at the door would go a long way to convince newcomers that we have what Paul describes here: rejoicing, restoration, comfort, love, peace, unity, grace, and fellowship.  And what if, before we left, a Melvin made a point of saying, “Be sure you come back and see me.” 

Most visitors see pastors as professionals; paid to follow up.  But if a regular member shows genuine interest, making a newcomer welcome in grand Melvin-style, then the likelihood of them returning soars astronomically.  Even higher if Melvin follows up outside the church service and call or visit.  If visitors trust you with their number, address, email, they should hear from the church that week.  Then people will come back for seconds.

Most visitors are looking to belong; they are trying to find out if this is their church home, or if church has any value at all.  Every church should have the aroma of home, a place where, even if we have never been there before, we feel wanted and welcomed.  It’s not the worship style, it is the fellowship, the hallmarks of grace, of comfort and restoration, of love, peace, and joy lived out in community, a community that wants to expand to include anyone who walks in the door. 
Are you called to be a Melvin in your church?  Every church needs them, lots of them.  Melvins at the door when people arrive, Melvins inside to share their lives and explain how things work, Melvins who will stop what they are doing to invest a few minutes with a stranger, Melvins on the way out to say, “Be sure you come back and see me!” And Melvins who will phone, visit, or email.  (Don’t ask for contact information unless you plan to follow up).  Melvins who invite people to church activities, include them, save them a seat, accompany them.  That’s why people come back for seconds. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Before Church: Confessions of a Church Hopper

Confessions of a Church Hopper ~ Farmers and Builders
I Corinthians 3

Church hopping. Since moving to Kentucky, I’ve done a lot of church hopping.  Mega churches, mini churches, contemporary or traditional, been worshipping with all kinds.  Conclusion: no perfect churches out there, so if you’re looking for that, stop.  Good churches?  Lots. So what makes a good church? 
Let’s talk about leadership. Farmer or builder?  Workers in God’s Kingdom are labor in His field, or on His house with Him as the foundation.  Paul (and Sosthenes 😊) use these metaphors to show that God directs the work and the workers, and we workers are – nothing.  We plant, we water, but God gives the growth.  Paul is saying this so that we – Christians – do not form cultish attachments to our leaders and make celebrities out of them.  It is to protect us from making human idols.  It is to give all glory to God.  And it is to proclaim that the church continues no matter what leaders come or go, and all leaders should be striving for God’s glory, not their own. 
Christians – not just leaders – should be doing our best work for God.  We all should be working and our work should shine.  We are building on the foundation of Christ, and that should inspire us to do our best.  Not using wood, or hay or straw (two out of three of the little pigs found out how fragile those building materials were); our work should be like gold and silver and precious gems, so that when the fire of God comes at the end of the age, all the work we have done that is true and good and actually glorifies God will shine in eternity. 
Leaders belong to their people: “So let no one boast in men.  For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos, or Cephas [Peter], or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” (vs. 21-23).  Spiritually we own all of it in Christ, and therefore we boast only about Christ, and look for others who seek only His glory. We don’t boast about people, this leader or that one.  We don’t boast about which teacher we follow, we don’t make idols out of our pastors or teachers or leaders.  We boast only about following Christ.  Certainly we celebrate the work of many Godly leaders and the work of Christians in all vocations, but we must never take our eyes off Jesus Christ, the Author and Finisher of our faith, our great Cornerstone, our only Foundation.  His work is the basis for our work, and His glory is always our goal.
Not sure where I’ll end up when I find a church home, but it will be where Christians in all callings work shoulder to shoulder to glorify Christ

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Before Church: God Is in Control

Before Church

Sunday, April 14, 2019 “God Is in Control”

Acts 17:26-27

And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward Him and find Him.

Late night TV – always a mistake for us insomniacs – when we find not the soporific effects of boring shows that lull us to sleep, but the extreme programs that shock us into wakefulness, like the TV preacher telling us that God is not in control.  His premise was simple; with all the evil in the world, God is not in control of that.  He had a laundry list of evil: rape, murder, thievery, etc., and justified his idea of no sovereignty in the Godhead by saying that if God was in control, we couldn’t prosecute wrongdoers for breaking the law, because then it would be God’s fault, not theirs. That crazy leap of illogic shows the man doesn’t know his Bible, but he also doesn’t know our God.
Paul, speaking at the Areopagus, makes the case for the One true God, Who is sovereign, even over evil.  Because whenever we talk about evil, we have to realize: it’s our fault.  It’s our fault; not God’s. God made the perfect world, God gave it to us humans, and we ruined it.  We invited evil; we gave satan an entrée into God’s creation and the world hasn’t been the same since.  Every bit of evil is when we succumb to temptation (I Corinthians 10:13; James 1:1:13-18) and our Lord Jesus Christ was tempted too ((Matthew 4, Luke 4, Matthew 26:36-46). But God sets the boundaries for all our troubles and temptations.  Look at Job, the devil wanted him, but God limited the suffering and temptation: the Sabeans who attacked his servants in the field, the Chaldeans who killed his herdsman and stole his flocks, and the wind that collapsed his house on his kids were all within boundaries God had previously set.  And when disease invaded his body, even then God limited its scope – Job’s life was never in danger.  Nor, by the way, was his soul ever in danger; God had confidence in Job.  Job never cursed God, never succumbed to temptation.  Evil only goes as far as God allows it to go, but humans have historically been all too willing to cave to temptation.  That is, and always has been, our fault, our responsibility, and fully prosecutable in human courts, and in the final judgment.  Paul warns that the Man Who was raised from the dead has fixed a day when He will judge the world in righteousness.
Using Scripture and their own poetry Paul challenges the people of Athens to recognize God as Who He is; not Zeus, not Athena, not any of the pantheon of Greek gods, but the One and only sovereign Lord of the universe.  What, then, is the purpose of evil?  Contrast.  To repent, to know ourselves as offspring of God comes from the contrast we see between what the world should be, and what the world is; what our souls should be, and what they are.  The boundaries God sets on evil quite simply maximize our opportunities to recognize God, to repent, to believe the Gospel, and to join His Kingdom, because there is a difference between being God’s offspring and being His children.  If we were quicker on the uptake, there wouldn’t be so much evil. 
God is in control, and we are His offspring.  Isn’t it time we became His children?

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Come Empty-Handed

Before Church

Sunday, March 24, 2019 

Isaiah 55:1-3
Come, everyone who thirsts,
      come to the waters;
      and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
       without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
       and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to Me, and eat what is good,
       and delight yourselves in rich food. 
Incline your ear, and come to Me,
       hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
       my steadfast, sure love for David.

Invitations.  We love to get invitations, don’t we?  When I was a little girl even birthday parties merited written, mailed, invitations, and we loved to go because there were always games, and cake, and ice cream.  My favorite was chocolate.  But we always had to bring a present, you never went empty-handed.

This invitation from God says: come empty-handed.  Come into God’s party, come thirsty, and we will be satisfied with waters, with milk and with wine.  We don’t need any money, because God has paid it all.  Have you ever been short of cash?  Found yourself at the cashier with not enough to pay? Had a check bounce?  A credit card denied?  Gone to a restaurant and not been able to afford what you’ve already eaten?  It’s an awful experience, a terrible feeling.  But this never happens in the Kingdom of God, because Christ paid it all!  We find ourselves in the position to pay for whatever we need, and buy whatever we want.  Thanks to Christ, we are preferred customers at God’s market!.

We can labor for worldly bread that never satisfies.  Bread is notoriously short-lived, going stale in a day and spoiling quickly thereafter. God invites us to His feast.  Jesus, the Bread of Heaven, comes to satisfy us not through our mouths but through our ears: “Listen diligently to Me, . . . incline your ear, . . . hear that your soul may live. . .” Kingdom feasting is on the Word of God.  Jesus said, “I am the Bread of life”.  Where better to feast but at church? 

Gathering this morning, let’s focus on the rich food, the delight of God’s truth.  This is what feeds our souls, this is what gives them everlasting life.  God promises an everlasting covenant of love, the steadfast love that lasts into eternity.  Come, everyone.  Come empty-handed.  We are going to be filled, satisfied for ever.  See you at church!

Before Church is a weekly blogette put out by the Rev. Elizabeth Stone. Connect with Pastor Beth at

Sunday, March 10, 2019

The Big Reveal

Before Church

Sunday, March 10, 2019 The Big Reveal

Deuteronomy 29:29
The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

Plumbing excitement. Bathroom refit commercials talk about the “big reveal” at the end of the day when homeowners get to see their new tub.  If we get this excited about plumbing, we should be over the moon about the Bible.  Why?  Because it is the biggest reveal in history.  The Israelites had the privilege of having the law given to them; in fire and smoke on Mount Sinai the Torah was given, a living legacy for the Hebrews to this day.  But it was just a prelude, the foundation of an even bigger reveal.

The uptick in fish commercials tells us we are in Lent, and even those of us who are not Roman Catholic can cross the street and enjoy a good fish fry on a Friday night.  Today is also the start of daylight savings time (did you make it up on time today? make it to church on time?).  The reminders in the news and on social media tell us we are about to lose an hour of our lives with the distant promise of getting it back come autumn.  But what about the Big Reveal of the Gospel? Jesus told His disciples that while on earth, He held nothing back.  While on earth, He taught everything the Father told Him, revealed everything.  That brings us up from the status of servant, to the status of friend, friend of God:

 “You are my friends if you do what I command you.  No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his mater is doing, but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” John 15:14,15

Every time we look into the Bible, the heart of God is revealed; more evidence of His eternal love for us, His determination to save us, His faithfulness to His promises, and His willingness to go to the utmost lengths to bring us home to Heaven.  It is not a distant promise, but up close and personal, because Christ came to earth in the flesh to reveal it, and to accomplish it.  Salvation revealed, salvation sealed. 

Hopefully you will head out to church on time this morning.  But arrive expectantly, expecting God’s revelation, seeing more, learning more, experiencing more, and being transformed by the Bible truth, the things that belong to us and our children forever.

Before Church is a weekly blogette put out by the Rev. Elizabeth Stone. Connect with Pastor Beth at

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Strife-free Zone

Before Church

Sunday, March 3, 2019 Strife-free Zone

Matthew 5:14,15
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.

Faith is not a private matter, a personal thing we do on our own.  It is not just “Me and Jesus” but Jesus, and us, and a whole mess of other people.  We are saved into the community of faith; when we walk out of our prayer closets, we walk first into church.  And what do we find there?  People like us; flawed by sin and needy for grace.  So it is not surprising that Jesus calls us to make peace with our brothers and sisters before we worship.  Whatever we want to offer on God’s altar this week – our love, our praise, our thanksgiving – we celebrate our reconciliation to God by being reconciled to each other, coming to His sanctuary with open, forgiving hearts.

Proverbs 17 tells us:
The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out. (vs. 14)
Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends. (vs.9)

What is the hallmark of our church family? Strife? Quarrels? Or love and forgiveness?  Is love visible?  Does it show?

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.  See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled. . .” Hebrews 12:14,15

The world is full of quarrels and strife.  When people walk into church, it must be a strife-free zone, that place where believers know love and forgiveness of Christ, and pour the same out on our sisters and brothers, so that any seekers who have wandered into our worship are struck and awed by divine love shared among a people of grace, amazing grace.

Sunday, February 24, 2019


Before Church

Sunday, February 24, 2019  Soul-Hunger

Proverbs 10:3
The LORD does not let the soul of the righteous hunger,
but He thwarts the cravings of the wicked.

What is soul-hunger?  This is what God is promising to fill in this verse, so what is soul-hunger?  It is that deep craving, that emptiness that exists in every human soul that can only be filled with God-love.  Some writers have described it as a vacuum that can only expand with the quickening of the soul by grace. Think of a vacuum-packed pouch of snacks; once you cut into it, it expands with the inrush of air.  Like the snack pack, our souls expand with the inrushing of the Holy Spirit.  In Matthew 5:6 Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” Christ gives us His righteousness in salvation, and we are satisfied. 

Flip side of this proverb? Wicked cravings are thwarted, denied.  Choosing to be wicked blocks the blessing and the infilling of the Spirit; they go around hungry, not even knowing why or for what.  

All of us yearn to be filled, to have our hunger satisfied.  How do we get filled?  Worship.  Prayer, praise, thanksgiving – not just on our own but with the family of God.  Get to church this morning. Be filled in your soul with the never-ending love of God.

Before Church is a weekly blogette put out by the Rev. Elizabeth Stone. Connect with Pastor Beth at

Thursday, January 24, 2019

My New Kentucky Home

Moving to Kentucky! Oh, the irony. Who says God doesn't have a sense of humor? After all that good stuff in my previous blog about why we are called WV Living Stone Ministries - WVLSM - and we are moving. To Kentucky.  My new Kentucky home. Gotta love it.

So what do we do? Rename the ministry KYLSM? Expensive and problematic changing websites and all the promotional items; not good stewardship, either.  And now that people are getting to know us WVLSM, we don't want to frustrate everybody, ourselves included, by changing the online address. I just got good at typing! Sooooooo, how do we move forward?

Clarifying question: Where does God send us to share the Gospel?  The epicenter of the primitive church was Jerusalem, but in Acts 1:8 the Lord Jesus Christ makes it clear that the ripples of the Gospel of grace would expand in ever-widening fluid circles to all Judea, Samaria, and ultimately to the ends of the earth.  Within one generation the Gospel had already spread from Jerusalem as far as Spain, North Africa, and Asia.  So why not from Beckley, to Raleigh County, to Charleston, and to the ends of the earth?  Including Kentucky! White harvest fields exist everywhere, and that is where the Holy Spirit sends us. 

Fruitless and frustrating arguments often end with "What evah", said with attitude and an eye roll. I gave up arguing with God long ago. Just as He sent Israel from place to place by moving the pillar of fire and cloud, He has signaled for us to move on, too. Vocational reassignment does not mean failure, it just means new fields.  So instead of "what evah" I am saying "Where eVah", because wherever God sends me, that's where I go.  Where eVah Living Stone Ministries; I like the sound of that. WVLSM, Where eVah God sends me. Traveling to other states is nothing new; we've been all over the map. Where eVah there is a call to share the Gospel.  Now home base will be my new Kentucky home, but the Gospel, well, that never changes.