Saturday, April 25, 2015

What a Privilege It Is

[Added Sunday 5 PM - Click here to go to a website where you can listen to a recording of the April 26 worship gathering.]
"We are entering a time of discernment for the future of Crossroads and the individuals.  Who is God calling to continue to meet together as 'Crossroads'"?
(from preliminary minutes of Crossroads Community Church's Board of Directors regular April meeting)


"This Sunday (26th) is the church’s annual partner meeting.  This is an extremely important meeting.  Not only will we be looking back at the past year, but making decisions about Crossroad’s future.  If there is any way you can attend, please make it happen.  Pastor Tom Stover will be sharing a message from God’s word during worship.  Pastor Tom is one of the founding people of Franklin Avenue Mission that we assist with once a month, but he does so much more as a psychologist and pastor with Holy Trinity Church and Ministries and Trinity First Church.  After worship we will then share a potluck meal together and then move into our annual meeting."
(from an email that went out late Thursday afternoon from the Crossroads office on behalf of the board)
Those who have been following this blog may have seen Friday's post about Tom Stover who will be preaching at Crossroads tomorrow. He chose action oriented scriptures (James 2:14-20 and Matthew 25:31-40) and will be preaching a message entitled What a Privilege It Is.

He'll be speaking about the privilege it is to serve the poor. But when I see that title, I think of what a privilege it is to serve the with the people of Crossroads over the past four years.

At the meeting I've asked that a print version of my post "Small But Mighty In the Lord" be handed out. As we consider what we will be doing as individuals and families in relation to this church, and as we move toward choices that those who feel called to be a part of Crossroads will be making for the church as a whole, it's my prayer that we'll recognize what a privilege it is to see the Lord at work in our midst now in 2015.

Last Sunday I announced that I'll be moving on from Crossroads sometime soon, probably in early June. (See my post "Confident in God's Good Future" for the announcement I made during last Sunday's message. If plans stay as they are, I'll be starting training as a bus operator for Metro Transit, perhaps as soon as June 8.) That announcement, which was known to the board ahead of time, adds one more reason that tomorrow's meeting is especially important. 

Please pray that the Lord will guide those who are current Crossroads "partners" (see info on "Partnership" on the Crossroads website) to make good decisions, both about their personal future involvement with this church and about the choices they make about our church's future as a whole. Please pray that we would celebrate and give thanks for all God is continuing to do through this amazing group of believers. God has blessed me so much through all of you!

www.equalsharing.com

Friday, April 24, 2015

Exciting Moves Ahead!

I found a place to write a bit, at a coffee shop in Bloomington across the street from the "Room and Board" store where I dropped off a class of high school students as a part of their Interior Decorating class. It's a "field trip" for this class today, and I've got "my" bus securely parked and waiting. We have two more stops today before we head back to DC.

I wanted to find a place to write about some the positive and exciting changes that are ahead for me and for us in the months to come. But now I'm here and I'm wondering just what to write.

I'm wondering what to write, not because I don't have a lot to share, because it's been brought to my attention that things are different now that I'm transitioning to a new phase of life.

In my life as a pastor I found that writing openly like this was really helpful and motivating for me, and, I think, helpful for at least some people in the ministries that I've served. But now I'm puzzled about what my relationship with this "Sharing Ministry and Faith" blog will be going forward, now that I'm transitioning out of my work in the Cokato area--where this blog began.

Anyway, instead of writing here today, I need to pause and pray and talk with loved ones about this blog. But I want to repeat something so you'll know it's true: I am just as positive and excited about what God will be doing in and through me today and tomorrow and next week, next month and next year as I ever have been.

So I'll probably write a few emails today instead of writing on here right now, and, if you ask, I'd love to share with you in whatever ways works for you: face to face, on the phone, texting, email, whatever. Please ask if your curious. I'm not shy. God is so good at all times, including the present. It's a thrill to follow Him.

www.equalsharing.com

Tom's Story - The Beginning

Our Guest Speaker this coming Sunday at Crossroads: Tom Stover of the Franklin Avenue Mission. We got to know Tom through Paul Gustafson, who had work
Tom Stover (at right) in photo from April 2011
ed alongside us, and Tom, for several years in the late 2000s.

Here's Tom's Story (from holytrinityalcc.org/2012/07/the-beginning-pastor-tom-stovers-story)

Matthew 25:34-40

“…For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me… What you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me..”

Tom Writes: 

During my first year of seminary one of our required courses was that each student would need to spend five days in the intercity of Minneapolis and St. Paul involved with outreach ministries to the poor. We would be spending these days meeting with different ministry directors in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis learning about their ‘calls and passions’ and then we would get our hands dirty doing ministry. What I must confess to you is; I entered this course skeptical and with a very negative attitude. I was at seminary to learn Scripture, theology and doctrine and not to be spending my time pretending I was getting something done driving around the intercity. To tell you the truth, I really believed that if people wanted to do better for themselves all they needed to do was to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, work harder and quit making excuses. Again, I do feel ashamed to tell you this was my attitude and it wasn’t that I didn’t care; it was that I really believed that the best way that we could help most of the people there was to educate them on the value of good hard work.

I need to tell you that on my first night out on the street I had a major paradigm shift concerning the homeless.  It was a very cold January evening and our group was brought to the Catholic Charities facilities in downtown Minneapolis where we were going to give out some hot food, toiletries, prayer and encouragement to the men and women who were at the shelter. When I entered Catholic charities on the first floor that night and I looked around at a sea of cold and tired men taking cots and trying to find some space on the crowded floor amongst all the chaos, I was overwhelmed.  A thought came to me, “that most of these men couldn’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps because they don’t have any boots and if you gave them boots they probably wouldn’t know what to do with them anyway.” It was at that moment I felt in my spirit the Lord say in a very somber way, “Hey Tom, how’s that theology of yours working now?”

Much of my world view changed that night. That was in January of 2003 and I’ve been in the intercity doing ministry ever since. Over the years the Lord has been very gracious as he has taught and mentored all of us at Holy Trinity Ministries. One of the wonderful revelations the Lord has shown us is; as we begin our ministry to the poor and the needy most of us begin with the idea that this is all about those we minister to however, the fact of the matter is, our ministry to the poor and needy is as much for us as it is for them. As we reach out to help those who are hurting the Holy Spirit changes us from the inside out as we begin to see everything new – how we judge people, how we love on people and how we see our own circumstances with a new spirit of thanksgiving.  It always amazes me how involved and how close the Lord is when we are doing this ministry; I believe it is something very dear to Him!

Matthew 25:40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ ”

www.equalsharing.com

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Confident in God's Good Future

Toward the end of today's message at Crossroads, I made an announcement that impacts our future here in the DC area. You can listen to the whole worship gathering at THIS LINK ... but the quality of the recording is not so good this time.

Here it is, pretty much as it was actually said at worship today:

... There's no good time to do this... There's some changes going on with Toni and I. We are walking through some changes, the church is walking through some changes.

You guys have known, I've said before, that I was looking for another job to supplement income because, hey, we're not exactly busting out the seams here, and so we keep our eyes open for what might be coming next and I've made a decision that I'm going to be doing something else.

Starting in June at some point, and I don't know exactly what that's going to be yet, but I do have a position that I've been offered. I've always said to Toni, well, if nothing else, I can drive bus.

So that's my plan right now, unless the Lord opens another door between now and then, is that I'm going to drive, not school bus, but city bus, during the rush hour; they always looking for... people to do that sort of thing, so, that's the plan.

You know, when we came here to Dassel-Cokato area there were five of us. We came as a family, and Naomi went off... off she went to the cities. A couple years later... Daniel went off, well first he went to Concordia and then to the cities. And then Jonathan, off with Breanna, and now our granddaughter is in the cities. And so there's kind of this magnetic pull. ...

So we'll probably end up [there], exactly when, I don't know, but my plan right now is that, I've talked to the board this last week, and we have an agreement with the church that there would be a 60 day notice, now the board said "we'll change that to a two week notice" just to allow some flexibility.

The plan, though, is, for... I was thinking the last Sunday in May, maybe it'll be the first Sunday in June, don't know exactly yet about when my "last Sunday" would be, but... please pray for us as we go through this.

The reason I want to bring this up now is that "What Next," really is all about Jesus and what he is calling us to, what God is calling us to. There are lots of details to be thought about.

As we consider how we're going to transition our lives quickly, or over a longer time, but the point is that God carries us. He's going to take care of us. He's going to take care of Toni and I. He's going to take care of you guys.

We love you very much. Some of you have been with us through thick and thin for a very long time. It's wonderful, it's great... but today... during the church family time, I handed off the microphone, and I just watched you guys at work. I was just standing over there, marveling at how this body functions. It's so sweet. And, each one you will need to be praying to see what God wants you to do.

There's that verse that says "Don't forsake gathering together as you see the Day approaching," that's not about when I go, but I hope you don't just run off... Becky was saying the other day "No lame duck pastoring..." ...We'll love each other and spend time together as we do this next thing.

But this is the verse I was going to close with because I think it's so fitting here. Jesus said this in John 14: Let not your hearts be troubled. In Jesus' Father's house there are many rooms, I, Jesus, to to prepare a place for you... and I will come again so that where I am there you may be also.

That's what's really next for us, is being in the house of the Lord, for ever and ever and ever amen. We know who the victor is. We know that he wants us to be with him. What a great thing. And a lot of the details are not known to us yet. They're known to God only. But because of Jesus we can be confident in our good future. Say that with me: Because of Jesus we can be confident in our good future.

We have a lot of questions about what's going to happen. We talk about it just as we talk about the weather. "Oh, what's going to happen tomorrow?"

Let's just do what God calls us to do. Okay? Extending the kingdom of God, in the places where he plants us.

Now that was a little bit longer than usual... if you get another pastor maybe sometime you can make sure that "only this amount of time... [for the message or worship]" That's up to you guys.

Or maybe you'll decide to have multiple elders. We had a study about this, we had a church study group--we looked at some of the early church stuff where there were multiple elders that were kind of pastoring a church together. There's no scripture that says you have to have a particular individual who is the leader of a particular church. You guys will be praying about that.

The board is going to meet again tomorrow night. And next week there will be the annual meeting and there'll be some conversation then.

Don't forget the potluck next week and we'll eat together.

And then we'll trust the Lord.

www.equalsharing.com

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

What's Next?

During our 10:15 AM worship gatherings at Crossroads we've been seeking answers to questions about Jesus. Who Is Jesus? Why Did Jesus Die? Did Jesus really rise from the dead? (a.k.a. "Look Into It") and last Sunday What's Jesus Doing Now? Now this week we'll wrap up with What's Next?

What's next for Jesus? Now that he's reigning and ruling in creation and in those who have received him as their Lord, what's next? What's next for Him -- and what's next for us?

I saw a story online that ran last summer on daytime TV about a guy who has worn a name tag 24/7 for over 14 years. He's even had a name tag tattooed onto his chest. You never need to wonder, when you meet him, "Who is that?" No anonymous, no incognito. He is who he is and everyone knows it all the time. It will be with him -- on his body -- until this life is over. His name is SCOTT. You can't miss it. Ever.

Last week, during our message time, I encouraged people to take their church bulletin, fold it so the top of the bulletin back cover, with its illustration of God: Father, Son, Spirit was on the outside. And then I invited them to put it on themselves. On their heart. On their head. On their hands and on their feet. Why? Because the Holy Spirit, through the speaking and declaring of the Word of God, takes all that belongs to Jesus and gives us to us. Jesus, always with the Father and the Holy Spirit, comes to live inside us. There is no separation between us and our God. And nothing can ever rip us apart.

Like Scott's name is always on him, so Jesus' name is on you. And that won't change. It's 24/7.

So therefore, Jesus' future - it's our future too. And this week we'll look into that. What's next for Jesus -- that's coming up for you and me also.

www.equalsharing.com

Monday, April 13, 2015

Small But Mighty in the Lord

Jan. 4, 2015
The picture that I'm posting at right is from January, the first worship gathering of this year. (On my computer screen it's at my right, not sure how it will appear on yours.)

I put it here because I'm so much enjoying being with these people, maybe even especially this year. Our numbers are small -- I need to be reminded of that because I have had such a positive feeling about Crossroads these days.  It is sad for me that so many that have been a part of this church family over the past 4 years have chosen to leave and go elsewhere, but it's been such a blessing to serve the Lord alongside those who have felt God's call to either stay or to come as fresh faces in our fellowship.

One of the big highlights for me has been seeing people take leadership roles. These include Crossroads people heading up:
  • Youth Ministry. This is an ongoing blessing. We wondered, last summer, how our work with young people was going to fare when two or more of the key adults chose to step away from Crossroads. But Libby and Mark (doing double duty with youth on Wednesdays AND Sundays!) Nancy, Krista and Toni and Steve Nelson (from Freedom Church) bring blessing to our kids every week, and then there's the upcoming June YouthWorks Mission Trip--Mark Koller and Mary Kay Morris are making that happen--along with Libby as fundraiser in chief. I help our youth lead High School JAM -- and have a blast every Wednesday coming up with crazy games. Fun! 
  • The "third Saturday of the month" involvement at the Franklin Avenue Mission, highlighted in our local newspaper last week. (We have permission to make the full article available, download here or ask for a copy if you'd like to see it.) Ron, Betty, Randy, Nicki, their kids and others make it possible for folks from our area to participate there. I am so thankful for Paul Gustafson--because he's the one who got us involved in the first place. Tom Stover, with Paul, founded the mission back in 2010--and Tom will be our guest speaker on our annual meeting Sunday April 26. I am so blessed when I can go along!
  • the Elijah House Prayer, Healing, Transformation workshops (held March thru May and scheduled again for Wednesdays in June & July). Patty, together with Becky, are sharing this with us and there is a hope to launch an Elijah House "School of Ministry 201" this fall. "Elijah House School of Ministry is founded upon principles from Malachi 4: 5-6 and Matthew 17: 11. In the spirit of Elijah, we call God's people to restore the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers and to restore all things. We believe God is passionate to bring restoration to individuals, families, churches, communities, regions and nations."
  • Prayers and Actions on behalf of those in need. Tuesday Evening Prayer is going strong. Diann, Norma Jean, Toni, Becky and I have been joined now, on a fairly regular basis, by Mark (Patty's husband) and Jerry. This same group, with others, have faithfully reached out to several people in need locally, and some participate also in the Franklin Avenue mission. At the moment we're banding together with others to help a single mother and her kids get ready to move. Many hands, praying and helping -- they do good work.
  • Nancy (praise God for her and for John!) began a women's Bible study group on Thursday evenings last fall and it's continuing now; about 10 women have participated from Crossroads and from the community. They are now going through a study called "Becoming A Woman Whose God Is Enough." These women are mighty warriors of prayer and action on behalf of many.
  • For about 3-4 years Don & Robin Begarowicz have invited Crossroads folks and others to their home on Monday evenings for prayer and praise at the Cokato Lake RV Resort and Campground. A couple weeks ago we went through the property praying at the various locations where people gather each summer. For some reason fewer people have been coming on Mondays than when it began, but I still find our time together in prayer and praise to be a great blessing.
  • The Spirit of the Lord has come upon Danielle, Tammy, volunteers at the Cokato Food Shelf and Thrift Store and others to push us to reach out and care for those who might otherwise be forgotten. I have my role in this but there is so much going on that God is clearly in charge! For example, the Lord blessed us to help organize early morning rides to work for Danielle's son John, beginning before Christmas and continuing until a fellow inmate got a job at the same place. I only had to drive once during all that time. Praise God for Mike, Joel, Chuck and Don, all from the wider community!
  • Bonita Garthus has been leading our 3-4 times a year "Meals on Wheels" outreach. What gift you are!
  • Nancy, John, Libby, Diann, Matt, Paul, Randy, Amy, Toni, Brenden, Krista, Ron, and so many others make our Sunday morning gatherings possible with cleaning, serving, audio visuals, worship leading and Adult Bible study facilitation. All is done with a cheerful heart--no one is compelled to serve other than by the willing heart God gives them. Thank you Jesus!
  • Al Sorenson capably leads our church board of directors, Robin keeps great financial records, Miranda gets the board minutes out in a flash and the other board members do the behind the scenes counting and recording of offerings each Sunday. Each one shares scriptures and prayers as we meet together every month.
This morning, at our regular 6:00 AM prayer time we were led through the sixteenth chapter of Romans where the Apostle Paul greets almost 30 Christian leaders by name. In prayer today a sister in the Lord, either Jean or Gina, prayed that we will grow in this model of shared ministry in the future, allowing our leaders to equip us for the Lord's work, so we all become mature in Christ. My hope is that Crossroads will continue some sort of partnership with churches whose ministry model is not only "top down" but has deep respect and enthusiasm for the ways God works among the  MANY uncommon people of God that we find right here in our midst.
For me personally, as far as my pastoral role goes, two major highlights so far this year have been:
  • The preaching series "JESUS" and the previous "The Dangerous Kind" have challenged and blessed me, both in the hours of prayer and study and in the time of presentation when we're together on Sunday mornings. The plan going forward is to finish the "JESUS" series this coming Sunday and then move into a "Holy Spirit" series in May (after our annual meeting April 26 with guest speaker Tom Stover). Pray that the Lord would continue to lead us boldly in His ways as we gather. And, as the Lord leads you, let us know how you have been blessed by what has been shared.
  • Continued ministry with people in need. I am blessed to be one of the trusted "first call for help" people in our area. I've been meeting with many in our area who come alongside elders, low income households, people in crisis, those who suffer addictions, but so far I haven't found anyone who wants to partner with me on this. Pray about this please, and take a look at the "Help! I Need Somebody!" page on our website and the "DC Help" page too. My prayer is that this ministry will be seen to be a calling for Crossroads as a whole, and not just for me personally. Our communities would be less compassionate if Crossroads people were not here to support this work.
I know there are many other aspects to Crossroads ministry that should be highlighted, and I humbly ask that you let me know what I've missed. I haven't even mentioned the wider missions we support in East Africa, South Central Asia, South East Asia and New York City. We try to keep all this updated on our website but I know we fall behind.

I'm looking forward to meeting with the Crossroads board of directors tonight as we pray together about what the way forward will be for us in the months and years to come.

slightly updated 23 April 2015

www.equalsharing.com

Monday, April 6, 2015

Look Into It

Earlier last week I saw that someone had posted some pictures on facebook of a church gathering. Many of the pictures included the faces of people who I know and love. I was pastor of that church for 13 years.

As I looked through the pictures a question came to my mind. I wondered whether very many of those folks have a good understanding of the truths that the church they're part of stands for.

I checked that out at the church I'm now part of yesterday by asking who had done "in depth research about the truth of the resurrection." 3 or 4 people raised their hands yes. Not a very high percentage. Probably all churches are about the same?
(I asked that question because I had prepared some paper copies of a piece on "Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ" and didn't have enough copies for everyone. I intended just to give it out to those who hadn't done the study. I had way less copies than I should have. You can find links to it, for reading online or printing, on our "Jesus" series webpage under the April 5 "Look Into It" message. I encourage you to check it out.)
So, if all (or many) churches are the same in this, that is, that they are often populated by people who haven't done the challenging investigative work about their faith, it might be fair to ask if it's really necessary! Do Christians really need to study the basics their faith? Can't they just trust their leaders?

According to Ephesians 4, believers who haven't examined their faith can be tossed around by "every new teaching" instead of being mature and unified "in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God" (Ephesians 4:14). Because of that, relationships and feelings end up in the drivers seat.  Christian believers end up gaining their confidence, even their confidence about the truth of their faith, more from the personal support of their friends than from personal knowledge or "conviction" of the truth. They are reluctant to share the faith boldly because there is an underlying uncertainty in their minds and hearts. They also tend to be drawn into disputes on details instead of focusing on big questions: Is Jesus God? Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Can we trust Him?

Now, though it's true that elders and others who are recognized as leaders bear a special responsibility for knowing things in depth, those leaders and teachers are supposed to help all believers come to mature and intelligent faith (Ephesians 4:11-16). The unity and togetherness of the local church (and beyond) then comes from the truth of God, not from personal relationships. The sad thing is that personal relationship connections can be founded on feelings or faith in carefully crafted lies (myths) just as much as on truth.

Yesterday, at the end of our worship time together, one of our elder women stopped me and said she had never heard a message on the the importance of evidence and truth on Easter Sunday. I wondered if she really remembers everything she's heard on every Easter during her 70 years in the church, but I know that much of what is preached and taught in churches is not really an encouragement for people to investigate truth. It's more often that Easter Sundays are just full of joy in having the flock together.

Pushing believers to study and learn is an important part of what Christian leaders need to be doing, even when it's not popular for them to do so.  That's what we shared yesterday at Crossroads. I encourage you to look into it, but, even more, to look into the truth of God that stands up under the closest examination.

----------------------

Here's a video resource presented by Gary Habermas that I looked at this week and found it helpful.  The trouble with videos is that they are often convincing because of the speakers, so please be skeptical about this too. Check it out at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ay_Db4RwZ_M.


www.equalsharing.com

Friday, March 27, 2015

God's Word -- and God's Love -- on the Cross

I'm continuing to study the question "Why Did Jesus Die?" I'm doing this as I prepare for Palm Sunday, the day Jesus entered Jerusalem on the way to the cross.

It's clear Jesus did not die by mistake. No, it's clear, from scripture, that Jesus came in order to lay down his life for us. That was God's plan.

But that doesn't answer the question "Why did Jesus die?" The mere fact that he purposefully walked and rode into the headquarters of his enemies doesn't answer the "why" question at all. I'm asking about the strategy. What was it about the spiritual situation of the world that required Jesus to give up his life, and how did Jesus' suffering and death (and subsequent resurrection) provide a remedy?

It seems to me that the Word of God gives at least two ways of looking at the how God works LOVE through the Cross. Scholars say there are more, but I think there are basically two.

I'll try to say some things about what I understand about each, but I know this will not be complete or even very well written. I think I've spent a hundred or more hours studying this over the last couple weeks and I'm just needing to get some things written down that will be hopefully helpful for me (in terms of organizing thoughts) and perhaps for others too. Not having to drive bus this week has let me get some of this done.

1. Some portions of scripture (as I read them) seem to look upon Jesus' death as an answer to the question: "How can God mercifully pardon sinners who have caused untold suffering to themselves and others without God also becoming an accomplice to their evil and without disregarding the cries of those who have suffered?"
That's the way I would ask the question. The Psalms, for example give voice to those who suffer--and they cry out for justice! And the prophets do the same.

But that's not the way most Christians would answer the "How can God..." question.
  They would ask "How can a Holy God excuse sin and evil?" highlighting a legal requirement for justice, saying God cannot save sinners without punishment. So, they would say, in an act of mercy, God the Father pours out His wrath on Jesus, satisfying that legal requirement. There are scripture passages that say almost exactly that--for example, Romans 3:25.

What do I think? Leaving aside, for a moment, the impersonal justice issue, I can see how God pouring wrath upon sin and evil, Jesus having taken it all on himself, can picture the Gospel truthfully. What sweetness in knowing that Jesus died for me, that he took upon himself the consequences of the sin and evil I have done, including the sin and evil I have participated in and benefited from without intent... i.e. Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. It's a horribly painful, though good, word from God. God shows love as, in Christ Jesus, he suffers and dies for us, in the place of sinners and all who have done evil or failed to do what is good.

It seems to me, however, that this idea of "substitutionary atonement" can imply a separation of God the Father from God the Son. It can make God the Father seem to be an enemy of God the Son, and an enemy of anyone who sins. That's a problem because Jesus states, for example, in the Gospel of John, that he and the Father are one. And it's a problem because God wants us to "flee for refuge to Him" instead of running away.

I'm thankful for scripture passages that make it clear that "GOD IS LOVE" and that there is and never has been any division or separation between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I should look them up and add them here... maybe I'll do that later.

The words believers focus on when they think of God and Jesus being separate are the ones Jesus says on the Cross, "My God... why have you forsaken me." I think Jesus felt abandoned on the cross but I'm pretty much convinced that the Father never left him.

The words Jesus spoke about being forsaken on the cross are actually quoted from Psalm 22 verse 1, and a later verse in that Psalm declares that "he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him."

This interpretation leads to the second understanding of the atonement that I'll speak about below.

I can't reject this idea of Jesus' death being a sacrifice for us entirely, however, like others seem to do, because the scriptural evidence for it just seems to be so strong. And I don't think that the sacrificial language was only a way of "speaking in a way that religious humans can understand." There is real evil to be dealt with and the Cross somehow deals with it in a decisive way.

I'm drawn to some passages that I can't completely understand, where the Bible speaks of Jesus' blood has been shed and that our salvation (and a remedy for evil) has been provided for, not only on the Cross itself, which brought it out into the open, but in eternity past, before there was anything--before the creation of space and time and everything else, that is, "before the foundation of the world". See, for example, First Peter 1:19-20 and Revelation 13:8.  It's all been prepared and the Cross just brings it out.

I have a lot more to learn and study about this.
2. Though I don't think the Cross is ALL about God's reputation, but some Christians have come to that conclusion. They would say that the real problem is seen, for example, in the Garden of Eden where Satan lies to the woman about God. Then the woman and man disobey by eating the fruit from "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (instead of the knowledge of God!). Then the man and woman both hide from God even though God is seeking them.

The question that the Cross answers in this case is, "How can God convince people that He is really for them and with them and not against them?" The answer is: In the Cross God demonstrates that there is NOTHING he would not do to gain their love, and he is willing to suffer the wrath and abandonment of every human being present in order to gain their trust. It's all about love. The only wrath is the wrath of the people--and of Satan--who pour out their venom on Jesus as they afflict him with injustice and cruelty and death.
In the passage from Genesis 3, where the man and woman are hiding from God, there's no reason to think God is hunting the couple to punish them after they sinned... no reason, that is except that the man and woman go and hide! There's no reason to think that God would not have forgiven them if they had confessed instead of blaming one another (and the snake). But because they believe God is now someone who should be avoided they become untrustworthy partners with God. So God decrees that they shall die--but that death was never to be permanent. God has had a plan, since before creation, to win the people's trust--and that's what happens when Jesus comes as he had already planned, and ends up suffering all the way to the death.

This view says that the real problem that Jesus' death solves is about God's reputation, about how to get people to go to him instead of running away. It is really important that we know God rightly, so we go to him and not away, that we don't avoid Him or His Word, because he is the only source of true life and love! The Bible has many examples of people who invent other "gods," that is, other ways of coping or living, ways that reject God's purposes for us here on earth. And all of them lead nowhere but into more evil, more suffering, and, eventually, to a very dead end.
So--what should we say about the Cross? How does God work love through it?

It seems to me that God the Son puts himself forward on the Cross to suffer the worst injustice and cruelty sinners could dish out, dying and then rising from the dead (!) so that all the world's oppressed can know where to find hope and help when all is lost. They can go to God and hope in Him! They never need to be afraid of his wrath or punishment! It's ALL about love!

That preaches! That's a message that truly speaks with the voice of Jesus, a voice that we need to make sure is speaking loud and clear. From what I read in scripture Jesus is much less concerned about a need to "fulfill a legalistic requirement" than just sharing LOVE! In the Holy Spirit, I believe God is at work in us to preach the Cross in a way that draws every sinful and broken human being to himself.

I should clean this up and look for other examples from scripture before I publish this blog post, but I really need to stop working on this. I'm thankful for the opportunity to serve as the pastor of a church where people really care about truth, and look forward to bringing some of this out on Sunday at Crossroads.

God's peace to you all in Jesus' name.

www.equalsharing.com

Monday, March 23, 2015

Another Week of God's Grace

It's a beautiful morning here in Cokato. I finished my snow shoveling workout and, since I don't need to drive my regular morning and afternoon school bus routes this week, I can spend more time doing other things.

We had a great weekend, both as a church family and as a personal family.
  • On Saturday we very much enjoyed time at the Franklin Avenue Mission. A reporter from our local newspaper was there so perhaps there will be something printed about that next Monday.
  • Then yesterday we launched the "JESUS" series of messages in the morning and then in the evening, after a visit to our son Jon (and Breanna and granddaughter Lydia) we worshiped at Igreja Brasileira da Esperança in Bloomington. Toni's nephews serve there -- one as worship director and one as translator. I really enjoyed the chance to listen to a message in Portuguese and to speak with those who braved the snow to be out yesterday evening.
  • After dark last night we drove back to Cokato. The snow was coming down and the roads were greasy. We did get home safely, but one block from our home I put on the brakes for a stop sign and slid into the path of an oncoming car, that, praise the Lord, was still stopped at the intersection. 
Toni and I are praising God for His grace -- and I am reminded again how foolish it is to have any pride in our my strength or abilities -- including in my driving ability. All we have and all we are and all we can do are just signs of God's great love. But we can absolutely trust in Him!

Two main things on my "to do" list for the week:
  1. Looking ahead to next Sunday -- I'll do a message on Why Did Jesus Die? This will fit in with celebrating Jesus' entry into Jerusalem ("Palm Sunday"). I had been scheduled to preach on one of the "Seven Last Words" of Christ as he spoke them on the Cross. I've been growing in my understanding of Jesus' work and that will fit in nicely with next Sunday's message.
  2. Looking ahead to Crossroads' future and my own future -- As I explained on this blog on March 13, I will be taking a substantial pay cut beginning next month. I have offered to take on some more school bus driving work (activity trips etc.) but I've been looking beyond that. This "spring break" time will give me the chance to search and pray and perhaps make a decision. As for Crossroads future, I'm hoping to meet this week with others for prayer and consultation as to our mission in this community, particularly in connection with something I've called "DC Help."
I ask your prayers and any suggestions you have would be welcome. In the meantime I'm excited about the mission work God gives us to do here. I praise God for each day and each opportunity that He gives. He has me, and you, firmly in His hand. Let me know how I, and Crossroads, can be of service to you.

www.equalsharing.com

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

JESUS

Note added March 23 - more HERE about the "Jesus" series of messages mentioned below, including a link to a recording of what we shared yesterday at Crossroads.
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Good afternoon! I'm writing this from the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers building in northeast Minneapolis. I drove school bus to the Guthrie for a high school "introduction to theater" class and found parking here. I'm sitting in their lobby doing a bit of work.

I thought I should take time to jot some thoughts and prayers about what the Lord has been leading me to do some preaching on this coming Sunday and in the next few weeks after that. We're coming close to the time of the year when Jesus gave his life for us and rose from the dead -- so it makes sense to me that we should refocus on some of the basics of the faith, specifically, some of the basics about JESUS.

That's my working title for the upcoming series, simply "JESUS." But what wonders we have from God in Him!

A few weeks ago my son Daniel connected me with some teachings on that are helpful in understanding just who JESUS is--teachings from C. Baxter Kruger. He  I'll need to find time to review some of this before I'm ready to preach this coming Sunday.

Many times in a series of hour plus long messages simply entitled "In" (see that first video below) he says this:
The Gospel is not the news that you can receive Jesus into your life. The Gospel is that the Father's Son has come, and He has received us into His life.
Now that little sentence may need some unpacking in order to understand it... we could rephrase it like this:
The good news that Christians have for you is that JESUS came and did everything necessary to bring you and me and every other human being into a perfectly sweet relationship with the God of All.
How could JESUS do that? After all, wasn't Jesus a human being, known here on earth as "Jesus of Nazareth" or "Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph"? Yes, he is a human being (still, even today, no less than he was when he was here on earth 2,000 years ago). And yes, Jesus was known as one "of Nazareth," that is, the name of the town he grew up in and he was known as the "son of Mary and Joseph." That is how he was known when He was here on earth 2,000 years ago. But Jesus is so much more than that.

We'll begin, this coming Sunday with scripture from John's Gospel chapter 1 and then go on to other scriptures such as Hebrews chapter 1 and Colossians chapter 1. We will learn, or be reminded, that JESUS wasn't just born of the virgin Mary, but that HE, our wonderful Lord and Savior, was in the beginning--that everything in creation was made by HIM--and that JESUS is the one that holds everything together. EVERYTHING... including everything that does not yet know his name.

JESUS is able to do that because He, with "Father" and "Holy Spirit" IS the God of All. He IS the God of ALL--not only of those who happen to know his name. What we have is good news of truth to proclaim so that people can know the JOY of what's going on in this beautiful but broken world.

That's all I'll write for now. More on Sunday at Crossroads -- and in the video below. 



www.equalsharing.com

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Most Dangerous Choice

I started writing this at 8:10 on Saturday evening. At that time I wrote:

I'm scheduled to preach in the morning. I don't know just what I'm going to say even though I've been working on this message off and on since mid afternoon, and though I've been praying about it all week. So I guess I'll do what I have often done in the past few years when I seem to be stuck -- I'll write to you... to the one or two people who might see this blog post tonight. I wonder how long it will take to get this done?

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Now I'm about ready to post this... it's 8:15 Sunday morning. Please pray that the Lord would bless His Word as it is preached today.
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Added 5:00 PM - you can access the recording and visuals here
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We've been blessed at Crossroads as God has led us into a series of messages focused around the ten chapters of Graeme Sellers' book The Dangerous Kind.  Now we're onto message #10 -- a message I've titled "The Choice of the Dangerous Kind." Graeme calls it "This Is Your Life."

Before the message we'll be reading Deuteronomy 30:19-20 (and some surrounding verses) and Matthew 7:13-15. The first of those passages includes the famous words "choose life" and the second, equally famous, says this:
"Go in by the narrow gate. For the wide gate has a broad road which leads to disaster and there are many people going that way. The narrow gate and the hard road lead out into life and only a few are finding it."
Those are Jesus words. Words that Jesus speaks, not to everyone in general, and certainly not to those who don't yet know who Jesus is...

Actually, those are Jesus' words to those who had already made some sort of decision, whether well thought out or not, to follow him. Jesus' audience has already tasted his goodness and love and they had already decided they wanted more.

How do we know that? 

Go to Matthew 4:23...
"... He [Jesus] went throughout all Galilee, teaching... and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.

"So his fame spread... and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him...

"Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them..." (Mt 4:23-5:2)
And at that point Jesus begins the long speech we call "The Sermon on the Mount"; and the "narrow gate" passage is part of it.

Here's what I see: The choice of the narrow gate with the hard road, or the wide gate with the easy road is given to people who have already had a positive experience with the Lord. People like that have, by then, already made a decision, of one sort or another, to follow Him, at least in the sense of wanting to know or hear more about Jesus. The message about choice isn't given to those who only have heard about him but who haven't had personal experience with him. The choice isn't given to those who have only just heard the testimony of other people or mere teaching about our Lord.

It's not about a first decision to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. It's about the continual decision to live as if Jesus really were Lord.

The same is true of the "Choose Life" passage of Deuteronomy 30. The people of Israel were already chosen by God and they were already a part of His family. They had already benefited from the saving power of God, leading them out of slavery in Egypt, bringing them safe through the wilderness of their rebellion. By this point God had already treated the people of Israel as his own. And yet, they were given a choice. Don't be distracted! Stay with me!

The choice wasn't to be or not to be one of God's children, but, instead, like in Matthew 7, the choice is for those who are already God's people to decide to follow in his ways, to act and to bring blessing to the world--to be, in their daily lives, the people God had already chosen them to be.

Grace always comes first, and then the choice is irresistible... like in "choose this day who you will serve" in Joshua or "will you also go away" in John 6:68. We say "Where else will we go? You are life and love and truth! You're the best, Jesus! We will love because you loved us first."

The fact is this: God always loves first. He always chooses first. He chooses. He pursues. And when we come to know Jesus, when we learn about him, we know God does loves and chooses every one of his human creatures. Even those who are the most far away.

So then, "the choice" of life or not life, the choice of following Jesus on the narrow path or following the world on the easy wide road... that choice is given only to those who already been chosen by God and who have been filled with his grace and love, to those who know they belong to him.

The choice is whether we will live in a way that honors Him and His choice for us. Whether we will follow him in pursuing the lost.

God's choice, his most dangerous choice, was to accept you and me into His family! What a risk! Therefore the only choice we have is whether or not we will copy his way of choosing.
  • The choice is whether we, like Jesus, will leave the 99 who are safe and go in pursuit of the one who is lost.
  • The choice is whether we, like Jesus, will passionately dare to pray and then, upon God's command, enter the dark places to bring light and life and hope.
Why do we need to make that choice? Why don't we just automatically become God's warriors as soon as we come to know Jesus' love?

There is an enemy who will get us off track. There is an enemy who comes to distract and dissuade... that is, to take us away from God's purpose... to make us something less than soldiers of God in this world.

At the beginning of this series of messages we put this picture up on the screen.


Is this how you think of your daily life? That you, a son or daughter of God, would be one of those who is sent into this world to rescue and reclaim those who are caught in darkness? The devil does not want you to think of yourself like that.

Here are Graeme Sellers words:
"The father of lies urges us to settle for nominal Christianity, for an unobtrusive, inoffensive fondness for Jesus that sentimentalizes him and minimizes the kingdom reign he ushers in."
It's true. Satan comes up to us every day and whispers to us that we're really not very important. The devil tells us that the best we can do is to receive God's grace, that we will never be strong enough, not even with God by our side... that we will never be strong enough to really do anything significant for God

He'll tells us that "mission" is something we do in other places and that our every day life right here can never be as exciting or important to the Kingdom of God as what missionaries do, or what we do when we travel to another place. He'll tell us that only big churches and large crowds and flashy presentations are true signs of God's presence.

He'll tell us that you and I, in a little church in Dassel-Cokato can certainly not be important to Him.

And then the devil will tell us to
"... make ourselves comfortable...
He'll convince us of things like imitating Christ's supernatural ministry is "mythology for half-wits" and

"... that since we will always have the poor with us, then it is senseless to attempt to do anything about poverty.
These are quotes, more or less, from Graeme Sellers' book.

The devil tells us
"... we ought to grasp for promotion and greatness...

"...that we are free to pick and choose the words of God we like and discard the ones we deem personally irrelevant or culturally insensitive."
I believe this is true from the Word of God:
"Satan makes a play for our heart.

[Satan tells us that] "love must be doled out in careful measure to those meriting it but never to those who do not. How awful it would be, he tells us, to love someone who engages in practices and promotes viewpoints we do not, and in so doing inadvertently endorse them and their flawed, sinful ways. Keep love in reserve and guard your heart, the thief of hearts counsels us; it is much smarter and safer that way. Not loving unconditionally – that's really better for everyone concerned."
Satan makes a play for our heart. He makes a play for the heart of believers. He tempts us to live for ourselves, to abandon the mission God has given us.

And then, worst of all,
"He [the evil One] will shame us and scold us and scare us, insisting that our bad behavior condemns us... and that our failings are the final word on our lives.

" 'You had your chance,' [the devil will] tell us when God makes us an offer to become the dangerous kind and we refuse it, 'You blew it. And that's all there is to say-you're done
for.' "
"You're done. You're out. You're disqualified.You may as well give up now."

Those are the worst words that can be thrown at us.

But those are never words of God.

Jesus, who most clearly represents the heart of God came, not to condemn us, but to save us. And when our hearts condemn us, when Satan's scheme succeeds and our hearts fall into his hands, God is greater than our hearts!

God continue to choose us, even when we fail to choose him... he is stubborn and frustratingly persistent. He can take no for an answer, and he grieves when we refuse the call... but as long as we live he continues to pursue.

Here's a final quote from Graeme's The Dangerous Kind
This is truth that blows prison doors right off their hinges. Whenever our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts. Whenever our sin accuses us, God is greater than our sin. When it comes to being the dangerous kind, even though we keep refusing, God keeps offering. Why? Can't he take a hint? Can't he take no for an answer? Well, yes, he can, but he'd really rather not. He knows us better than we could ever hope to know ourselves. Our sin and stubbornness never surprise him and they do not deter him. He knows what we can be if only we will say yes to him.
He knows what we can be if only we say yes to Him.

We, like Jesus, can become the Dangerous Kind. Right here. Right now. In Dassel-Cokato, pursuing the lost, piercing the darkness with His love.

God already made the most dangerous choice, choosing you and me to belong to him while we were still the worst sinners in the world.

He only calls us to follow him, to choose as he has, and not to shrink back.

Let's pray...

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Okay, that's all the prep I have time for. I still need to rearrange the slides and make a few more. Visuals are helpful... and then I'll run and pick up a man from the Cokato Apartments.

Hope to see you today... or on a future Sunday... at Crossroads... the most dangerous little church I know.

www.equalsharing.com 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Crossroads Mission Center

What follows is a sort of update to a piece I wrote back in December - a piece I entitled Moving Ahead into 2015, summarizing some recent developments at Crossroads Community Church. THANK YOU to all who have supported, and continued to support, the work we do together in Jesus' name.

It's another beautiful morning--a little after 8 at the moment. There is no elementary school in the Dassel-Cokato district today so my school bus run was shorter than usual. It'll be mostly sunny today with temps in the 40s and 50s. So much for the weather report. :)

I thought I should report, as I take a few minutes to write today, that I offered, and the Crossroads board accepted, to reduce the amount that Crossroads pays me for my work. The reduction will take effect at the beginning of April and will continue at least through June. It's the only prudent way forward since Crossroads' income isn't keeping up with expenses.

The reason for this is that quite a few families have moved on from Crossroads. (See this post from the fall: What It Means to Trust God.) Other families and individuals have come on board with joy and thankfulness for the Lord's work in our midst, so I'm not discouraged personally! In fact, I'm more energized and positive about our work together with the Lord in this place than I have ever been.

Crossroads is not, at least not anymore, a little church that resulted from people leaving one to found another. Crossroads is becoming a mission center and God is blessing us every day with energy and the joy of the Lord. We've been highlighting some of the mission outreaches in our bulletin each week -- there are more to go. Next week, for example, we might highlight the work the Lord is doing through Gintarė Varankevičiūtė in New York City... or perhaps the introduction to the "Elijah House" prayer ministry that we're sharing on a few Saturdays this spring. Stay tuned or explore our imperfect website at crossroadscokato.com.

Here are a few pictures from our mission highlights that we've featured in bulletins since the beginning of January -- on our website you'll find links to all these and more.










I include these as an encouragement to all who have been part of Crossroads Community Church Cokato over the years, and those who are now joyfully participating in the mission God has given us. I also include these to show how we are indeed being "THE DANGEROUS KIND," more than just one more little church in the community. God is doing great things through us and it is privilege to serve with all who have been a part of this church.

Praise God for all his love - love we get to share in Jesus' name.

www.equalsharing.com