Category Archives for "faith"

Book Review: By Faith, Not By Sight by Scott MacIntyre

Over the weekend, I finished reading By Faith, Not By Sight, a new book by Season 8 American Idol Finalist Scott MacIntyre.  As you may recall, Scott was the blind contestant who went pretty far on a show that has captured television ratings for the past several years.  In his new book, Scott tells the story of his journey on American Idol, and he also shares the up and down struggles and challenges of his health and career that led him to his current notoriety and success.  Without giving away his whole story, there is so much more to this artist than his unique American Idol appearance.  Scott MacIntyre clearly walks by faith and not by sight.  His trust and faith in God throughout the obstacles he has faced is remarkable.

As an American Idol fan, it was interesting to get the inside scoop from one of the contestants I followed a few years ago.  I also appreciated learning the back story of how much Scott has overcome to achieve his dreams and to share his gift with the world.

Whether you follow American Idol or not, I recommend By Faith, Not By Sight as an inspiring story of how God works in amazing ways despite the struggles we all face.  The book was also a great follow-up to my recent thoughts on taking Leaps of Faith.  Stories like this confirm the importance of learning to live by faith.

Who has inspired you recently?  Do you watch American Idol?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

(Please note:  There are affiliate links in this post.  Should you purchase The By Faith, Not By Sight by clicking one of these links, I receive a small percentage of the purchase.  These funds are used to support The Stretched Blog and to extend ministry and missions to Guatemala.  Thank you!)

Answers To Your Stretching Questions

On Friday, I asked you to ask me any questions.  Today, I’ll do my best to answer the questions.  This is one of my longer posts, but I hope you’ll find in interesting and perhaps a little humorous.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on my responses to your questions.  Thanks so much to each of you for some wonderful and challenging questions (I may just have to do this again some time).

What would you go back and tell 16 year old you if you could time travel? from Larry Carter at Deuceology

Great question, Larry.  I’d tell myself to buy stock in Apple.  I’d tell 16 year-old Jon Stolpe to be confident in who God made him.  I’d tell me that I am a writer.  I’d tell me not to sweat the girlfriend thing, because God has an unbelievable wife in store for me for the future.  I’d remind me that I am a leader.

Who is your favorite blogger? from Rob Shepherd at robshep.com

This is really a tough one as I follow so many great bloggers.  Perhaps, my favorite is my dad, Norman Stolpe.  My dad is a writer’s writer.  He has been writing for years.  He doesn’t blog regularly though he keeps a blog.  But his weekly sermons have to be considered as some type of blogging.  My dad has inspired me on many different levels when it comes to my writing.  I don’t ever expect to hold a candle to his writing skill, but I hope that my dad will be proud that I’ve followed in his writing footsteps in some small way.

What motivated you to start blogging? from Rob Shepherd at robshep.com

I have a friend, Frank Chiapperino, who was my biggest encouragement to start blogging.  Frank was our adult ministries pastor at the time, and he now pastors his own church in Minnesota.  Frank still blogs fairly regularly about leadership, technology, and small groups.

What verse in the Bible challenges you the most? from Rob Shepherd at robshep.com

Colossians 4:2-6 is one of my favorite verses and probably one of the verses that challenges me the most.  Making the most of every opportunity means so much to me.  I need to make the most in sharing my faith with others.  I need to make the most of the time I have with my friends, family, and co-workers.  I don’t want my time here on earth to be a waste.  I want to hear God say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Would you rather have spam for hands or mayo for a tongue? from Rob Shepherd at robshep.com

This ones easy for me.  I hate (I strongly dislike) mayo, so I’ve got to go with Spam for hands.  If I had a mayo tongue, I’d be throwing up all the time.

It’s a question I asked on my blog yesterday. If you wrote a cardboard testimony what would it say? from Eileen Knowles at The Scenic Route

“God love me – broken and bruised, impatient and imperfect, STRETCHED!”

Where do you see yourself in 15 years? from Joe Lalonde at jmlalonde.com

In 15 years, I will be 55.  I’ll have two kids in their later twenties, and I will have been married for over 30 years.  I hope to be 100% debt free including the house.  I hope to be giving way more than I’m getting.  I’d love to have written at least one book by that time – though I’m still figuring all that out.  If I stay at my current job (which is definitely a possibility), I will have been there for over 31 years.  I’d like to continue to grow in respect.  I’d like to be known for investing in others like no other leader before me.  I’m not sure if blogging will still exist in 15 years, but I’d like to use my writing as a tool to expand the Kingdom.

As a man of strong religious beliefs, what do you think is in general the greatest challenge today to people who seek to maintain their religious faith? And what is the greatest challenge to maintaining your faith personally?  For example, is it that science has called into question many fundamental beliefs in the Bible? Is it rampant materialism in our society? Is it pressure from the mass media to adopt more secular values? When people who are hypocritical in their religious practice are exposed to the public, is that the greatest challenge to believers? Or is personal hardship and suffering a greater challenge to faith than all of these?  from Michael Shaw at I Love Skippack

Wow, this is a pretty deep question which I may need to explore in more depth in a future post.  My short answer is this: The greatest challenge today to people who seek to maintain their religious faith is the same challenge that has plagued people since the beginning of time.  We are so bent on being in control.  We’re self-centered, sinful creatures.  We all struggle with ME, ME, ME.  And we live in a culture where this pull towards ME is so strong.  It’s so easy to be distracted by the things of this world that call to us saying “I can help you get ahead by doing this or doing that.”  For me personally, it’s not much different.  I get distracted by thoughts of trying to get ahead, trying to make a name for myself, and trying to keep up with the Joneses.  The Bible talks about “seeking first the Kingdom of God” in Matthew 6.  This can be a real challenge and can be nearly impossible without the support of family and friends of faith who spur me on.  This is part of the reason I love this blogging community.  While I hope my writing will spur other on, it’s often the Stretched Community that pushes me to keep the faith.  For that, I’m grateful beyond words.

How much are you ready to stretch yourself in order to see your God-given dreams come to pass?  from Joe Abraham at joeandancy.com

Appropriately, this question is rather stretching for me.  I’m fairly certain that I’ve shared this here before – I hate change.  I like things to be the same.  I would eat the same thing for breakfast and lunch every day given the choice.  So it’s no surprise that “stretching” to achieve my God-given dreams is not always easy for me.  Honestly, there have been a few setbacks along life’s journey that have dampened some of my dreaming, but I’m relearning some of the skill related to dreaming big again.  I shared some of this in a guest post over at Expect the Exceptional a few weeks ago, and I’ve been sharing some of these thoughts especially related to my leap of faith decision to go to Guatemala.  I think I struggle most in this area in trusting God financially to provide should I decide to leave my career and pursue something else.  I’m not convinced that this is where God’s calling me, but I think it would be the biggest challenge for now.  I’m not sure this fully addresses your question, but I hope it’s a start.  Thanks!

Wow!  This was more challenging than I expected.  Thank you to everyone who answered the call to question me.  What’s your answer to one of these questions?  Or better yet, what’s the one question you’re most afraid to answer?

Foundations Class Starts Today

We’re all bastards but God loves us anyway.

– Will Campbell

I found this quote in Phil Yancey‘s book, What’s So Amazing About Grace. In this book, Yancey shares a story (A Home For Bastards) about Will Campbell’s conversation with P. D. East, anti-Christian newspaper editor. Campbell’s quote ties in to the topic of a class I’ll be leading over the next several weeks. In the Foundations Class, we’ll be using John Ortberg‘s book, Fully Devoted, to discuss spiritual transformation. Each week, we’ll talk about one of the five Gs (Grace, Growth, Groups, Gifts, and Giving).

This week, we’ll be talking about Grace. As the quote above implies, grace is undeserved by all, but God gives it anyway. The story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32 is a wonderful story of grace. In this parable, the younger son of a rich ruler decides to cash in his inheritance early. He completely squanders the money, and he is eventually left to live with the pigs.

In a stroke of awakening, he decides to crawl back to his father to request a job as a servant. In the story, the father sees the son comes back from a distance, and he runs to him with open arms. The father welcomes his son back as a son and not as a servant. The father extends grace to the son.

Meanwhile, the older, loyal son sees what is happening and becomes jealous of the grace extended to his brother. He misses out on the loving grace already extended to him by the father. This can be an easy place to find myself as a long time Christian – and a first-born son. The story is a good lesson that God’s grace is open to all who chose to accept it and to return home to a loving Father.

If you’re interested in getting in on the conversation, come join us at the Foundations Class. We’re meeting Sunday mornings at 10:15am at Christ’s Church of the Valley.  There are also other Foundations Classes being offered if this time slot doesn’t work for you.

How have you experienced grace?

Movie Review: Blue Like Jazz

Saturday afternoon, Leanne and I went to the movies to see Blue Like Jazz.  The movie is based on a book by Donald Miller, and it was directed by Steve Taylor (who I saw in concert when I was in high school).  The movie itself was funded primarily through individuals who gave money through Kickstarter.  All of this adds up to making Blue Like Jazz very different from most movies made today.  BLJ didn’t have the huge marketing and financial budget that most movies have these days.  Marketing has been be word of mouth and by the hard work of Miller and Taylor.

I read Blue Like Jazz several years ago.  The book, as I remember it, is a collections chaotic thoughts about Miller’s journey from a broken home and fundamental church background through doubt and disillusionment to a rediscovery of God and His love for us.

The movie takes the general stories and themes of the book and weaves them together to retell the story of college student, Don Miller, and his journey to rediscover his faith in God.

BLJ contains many chaotic conversations and scenes.  There are many things in the movie that had me scratching my head – ‘is this okay?’.  There’s cursing, drinking and drunkenness, discussions about sexuality and sexual orientation, and many other things in this movie that my have you feeling uncomfortable.  I would encourage you to hang in there.  These things bring clarity to the ending message and discovery.  I don’t want to give it away, but the last five minutes of Blue Like Jazz are powerful.  You need to see the whole movie though for it to all make sense.

This is not a “Christian” movie.  It’s a movie made by Christians.  Many Christians may decide not to see it because it’s too secular, and many who are not Christians may decide not to see it because it’s too God focused.  Here’s my take:  Give it a chance.  Go see the movie!  You could wait until it comes out on DVD, but I’d highly recommend that you find a theater and go see it.  Bring a friend along with you.  After the movie, go grab a cup of coffee together, and talk about the movie.  It’s different.  Blue Like Jazz will definitely have you thinking.  It’s not required, but you may want to read the book before you go see the movie.  Certain things in the movie will make a little more sense if you’ve read the book – like the rabbit chasing the sexy carrot scene.

Blue Like Jazz gets my recommendation.

Have you seen Blue Like Jazz?  If so, what was your take?  If not, do you like jazz music?

What Is Worship?

Come, let us bow down in worship,
    let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
for he is our God
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    the flock under his care. 

Psalm 95:6-7

When you hear the word worship, what comes to mind?

I think of going to church and singing.  I think this is the answer that is drilled into our heads from an early age – not necessarily on purpose but by tradition.  I don’t think that answer is wrong, but I think it short sells worship – big time!

Yesterday, I had the privilege to be a part of a leader/facilitators meeting for a foundations class that is being rolled out at our church.  As we were discussing the leaders role in transformation, the following verse from Romans came up for discussion:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will.  Romans 12:1-2

Typically when I read these verses, I read about sacrifice and about transformation.  And I skip right over “this is your true and proper worship”.  If I’m reading this from a leaders perspective, I worship God when I give of myself sacrificially to serve and to lead others.  This didn’t say anything about going to church and singing.

So what is worship?

Of course, worship happens at church, but I think there’s so much more.

Worship is the way I live my life.  I worship God when I put Him first in everything I do.  I can worship God in my parenting, in my marriage, in my friendships, in my exercise, in my job, and even in my writing.

Our worship can be misdirected.  We easily get caught up in this culture of consumerism and celebrity.  We put movie stars and sports stars on pedestals.  We watch TV shows like American Idol (I like that show), Dancing With The Stars, and Celebrity Apprentice.  We are consumed with thoughts of greed – “I have to have this” or “I have to have that.”  This is all misdirected worship.

God says, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.  You shall have no other gods before Me.  You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”  Exodus 20:2-6

We have a choice to make.  We can allow the distractions of this world to hijack our attention – our worship.  Or we can choose today to worship God – at home, at church, at work, and throughout our lives.  What’s your choice?

What does worship look like for you today?  How do you worship God?

How Big Is Your God?

“My God is way bigger than me and my meager expectations.”

(My Facebook status 4/2/2012)

Yesterday, I posted on my blog about my upcoming missions trip to Guatemala with the high school youth group from our church.  As part of the post, I asked The Stretched Community to pray about the trip, and I asked for the community to consider supporting the trip financially.  I shared in the post how much money I needed to go on the trip, and I mentioned a STRETCH goal of $5,000 to help with a special project in Guatemala.  Honestly, it felt awkward asking for these things, and I didn’t know what to expect.

My post went live at 5 AM EST.

At 11 AM EST, I received an email from an old college friend indicating that he and his wife wanted to donate the entire amount – the cost of the trip plus $5,000!

That’s right.  In 6 hours, God provided for my “big ask.”

I was floored and flabbergasted.  I honestly didn’t know hot to respond.  This kind of stuff doesn’t happen everyday.

I really believed that $5,000 was a big STRETCH.  When I spoke with our high school youth pastor about the goal, he said okay, but he indicated that he didn’t think that was possible.  When I called him up yesterday afternoon to share the news, I think he nearly fell off his chair (I’m not sure if he was sitting or not).

I think sometimes we short sell God.  Our faith in God is puny.  It’s like saying, “God, give me a glass of water.”  When in reality, God can give us the whole ocean.  It’s like saying, “God, I need a few dollars.”  When in reality, God owns the mint where money is made.  It’s like saying, “God, help the Cubs win the World Series.”  Oh maybe, this doesn’t always work out.  Just kidding – of course.

You get the idea.  I’m discovering that God has way bigger plans and dreams for us than we realize.  We set the bar way too low when it comes to asking God the big questions and when it comes to believing what God can do in our lives.  We need to learn to have great expectations!

Throughout the day, I received other messages of encouragement with indications of additional support.  My shock continued throughout the day.

So where does that leave me?

I’m going back to the drawing board.  I’ll get back to you with more details on how The Stretched Community can join together to do something great in Guatemala.  Stay tuned for more details to follow.

In the meantime, how have you seen God respond to your “big ask” questions?  In what ways do you need to expand your thinking to get in line with a God-sized response?  How big is your God?

Guatemala – The Big Ask

Two weeks ago, I told you that I made a “Leap of Faith” decision to go to Guatemala this summer with my daughter and other teenagers and leaders from our church.  I’m starting to get excited about the trip, the opportunity to hang out with my daughter, and the chance to serve others in Guatemala.  This is a “leap of faith” decision for several health and logistics reasons, but it is also a “leap of faith” decision for financial reasons as well.  I’ll share more about that in a minute, but I wanted to share with you first about what we’ll be doing in Guatemala.  Check out this short video to get a small glimpse into how we’ll be serving this summer.

Sounds pretty amazing!  Right?

Here’s where the big ask comes in.  I need your support to make this happen.  First and foremost, I need your prayers.  Pray for safety at home, in travel, and on the ground in Guatemala.  Pray for effectiveness in the ministry that we will have with the people of Guatemala.  Pray for God to move in my life and in the lives of those on our team as we take this adventure.  Second, I’d like to ask you to consider how you might be able to support this trip.  I need to raise $1,300 to make this trip possible.  This will pay for my airfare, food, and lodging.  While this may seem like a big goal, I know it’s possible through God.  In fact, I’d like to add a STRETCH goal to this.  I’d like to see if together The Stretched Community can raise an additional $5,000 to support a special project down in Guatemala.  I’ll have more details about that in the coming weeks, but I thought I should throw it out there.  This is part of the STRETCHING experience.

So how can you help?

Consider advertising here on The Stretched Blog.  All proceeds for advertising will be used to fund this trip and for this special STRETCH project.  You can click on the Advertise Here links on the main page, or contact me about doing something different.  You can also click on the Google AdSense links and Amazon Associate links that can be found on the main page.  Every dollar earned through these programs will go to the trip and the STRETCH project.  I guess another way is to consider donating to the project.  I haven’t quite figured out how to make this work yet, but I’d certainly welcome any cash gifts that would make this trip possible.  (Drop me a comment if you’ve got any ideas or want to pass along any donations.)  In the coming days, I’ll add some time of goal thermometer on the main page to help you keep track of where we stand with the goal.

I know it’s a big ask.  Honestly, it’s a bit awkward to even ask.  But I know that with faith like a mustard seed there are mountains that can be moved.  And so I throw it out there to the Stretched Community.

One more thing, pass this along to your family and friends who you think would be interested in making a difference for the people of Guatemala.  Thanks!

What’s the hardest question you’ve ever asked?

Leap of Faith Continued (The Decision)

So I kind of left you hanging yesterday when I shared about my “big decision” and about my wrestling matching between my fears and my leap of faith.  I wanted to share today about my decision.

After a lot of thought and prayer, some pushing and prodding, and some great advice from a few trusted friends and family members, I’ve decided to join Hannah (my daughter) on a missions trip to Guatemala.  This summer, I will be joining our church’s high school missions team as they head to Guatemala to serve with A.I.M. (Adventures in Missions).  I don’t know all the details yet, but I know we’ll be there for eight days.

So why was this decision such a big deal to me?  After all, going on a missions trip with my daughter sounds like a great idea. Right?  Well, yes it does.  And lots of people take trips like this.  I know the trip will cost money, and I don’t know where that’s coming from yet, but I’m trusting that God will provide (I’m trying to figure out how to use The Stretched Blog and The Stretched Community to help).  My bigger worry is about leaving home for eight days.  You may remember that we had to cancel a planned trip to Kenya a couple of years ago due to some family health issues.  These health issues have improved dramatically, but I still carry some of the fear and anxiety of that time period.  This makes the decision more challenging for me.

As I was discussing my decision with a good friend a couple of days ago, he pointed out that I had faith that God would provide the financial resources to make the trip possible.  Shouldn’t I also have faith that God would take care of things at home while I was away?  This point really hit home for me.  And so I’m making this leap of faith to Guatemala – trusting that God will provide both financially and health-wise.

I’m excited to share more of this journey with The Stretched Community in the coming days, weeks, and months.  Stay tuned to keep up with this leap of faith.

How or where are you taking a leap of faith these days?  Have you ever been to Guatemala?

Leap of Faith

I’ve been wrestling with a decision for a while now.  The decision is a big deal for me.  I see so many reasons to go a certain direction with the decision, but I grapple with my own fears and anxiety that would keep me from going in that direction.

I’ve talked with a few people about the decision.  These are godly people whose wisdom and opinion I respect.  Each of them have encouraged me to put aside my fears and to take a leap of faith.

What is faith?

Faith is trusting in things we can’t see, in things we can’t control, and in power beyond us. Faith is about dreaming big.  Faith is believing that everything will be okay in the end even when we can’t see the way right in front of us.  Faith is being able to put aside our fears – or maybe to face our fears – and trust that God will take care of things.  Faith can help us break the paralysis of analysis inflicted by life’s anxieties.  Faith is more than just words – it’s followed by actions.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.  Hebrews 11:1

As I was thinking about faith and about my decision, this clip from Indian Jones and The Last Crusade came to mind.  In the scene, Indiana Jones must get from one side of a chasm to the other side.  When he arrives at the edge, there’s no apparent way to get across.  Through his study of ancient literature and archaeology, Indiana Jones comes to the conclusion that the only way across the gaping pit is to take a step of faith.  This is exactly how I feel as I head into my decision.

Isn’t this a great clip?  You see, in life, we have decisions to make that require faith.  Which college should I go to and what should my major be?  Who should I marry?  Where should I live?  Where should I work?  Where should I go to church?  Should we have kids?  You get the idea.  Our lives are riddled with decisions that require faith.  We have to trust that as we step into the great unknown, God will catch us.  And that’s where I’m at with my decision.

Stay tuned for more details about my “big decision.”

What leap of faith do you need to take right now?  What’s holding you back?