Saturday, August 30, 2014

Not A Distraction

Too often we "church people" get so involved in our "church activities" that we don't PAY ATTENTION to the needs around us.

This isn't only true with "church people" of course, but "church people" should know better because we follow a Savior who says that when we help those in need, we are actually ministering to him. (Mt 25:13-46). Even worse, we can think of people's needs as a distraction or an interruption of more important work.

A couple hours ago as I was working on my message for tomorrow, I got a phone call from someone who has volunteered to help locate a missing person. Flyers needed to be printed. I didn't know much about the situation but I decided to go and print them.  Here's a version of the flyer:

I said "yes" to printing these especially today because I can see a connection between the passage I'm studying in advance of tomorrow (Nehemiah 5) and the need that came to me a few minutes ago.

I hope I will always see the needs of others as a part of God's call on my lives, and not simply an interruption. To paraphrase Marley's Ghost from A Christmas Carol:
“Mankind is my business. The common welfare is my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, are all my business. The dealings of my trade (in this case, the work I am doing to get ready for tomorrow's message) is but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!" 
A person might think that preparing to preach the Word is much more important than printing flyers, but it's my belief, as I have studied God's Word and prayed, that God often brings into our lives exactly what God desires that we do. That's what happened to Nehemiah in chapter 5 as people brought the needs and injustices of the poor to his attention. Nehemiah was called by God to step away from the important and holy business of building the wall around Jerusalem so that the poor would not be ignored.

I'm looking forward to sharing more about this tomorrow.  Join us tomorrow at Crossroads if you can, or listen the recording we hope to post afterward.

www.equalsharing.com

Friday, August 29, 2014

Spiritual Friendship

I encountered this via twitter this morning. How important are your spiritual friendships beyond family? Jesus' command to "love one another" is all about spiritual friendships that last.
"...I imagine Christian communities in which friendships are celebrated and honored—where it’s normal for families to live near or with single people; where it’s expected that celibate gay people would form significant attachments to other single people, families, and pastors; where it’s standard practice for friends to spend holidays together or share vacations; where it’s not out of the ordinary for friends to consider staying put, resisting the allure of constant mobility, for the sake of their friendships. I imagine a church where genuine love isn’t located exclusively or even primarily in marriage, but where marriage and friendship and other bonds of affection are all seen as different forms of the same love we all are called to pursue.

"By shifting our practice of friendship to a more committed, honored form of love, we can witness—above all—to a kingdom in which the ties between spiritual siblings are the strongest ties of all. Marriage, Jesus tells us, will be entirely transformed in the future, barely recognizable to those who know it in its present form (Matt. 22:30). Bonds of biology, likewise, are relativized in Jesus’ world (Mark 3:31–35). But the loves that unite Christians to each other across marital, racial, and familial lines are loves that will last. More than that, they are loves that witness that Christ’s love is available to all. Not everyone can be a parent or a spouse, but anyone and everyone can be a friend..."
This is from a longer article from Christianity Today that is previewed at http://spiritualfriendship.org/2014/08/29/til-death-do-us-part-and-why-thats-about-friendship-too/

Even as a married person, I long for spiritual friendships that are deep and significant, where prayers can be shared and where Romans 12:15 becomes a real part of life.  Where no one needs to weep or rejoice alone.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

True Stories Wanted

God's peace to all of you.

I'm studying in advance of this Sunday, August 31 --

As a part of our "ReBuild" series I'm planning a message that I've titled "NOT A DISTRACTION: Remembering the poor and oppressed." The title comes from the fact that many times, as literal or figurative building projects go on, that some would say that the complaints and needs of those who are in the worst conditions should be ignored or at least shuttled to the side so the "building" can go on. Or, if they don't say that, that's what is done.

Nehemiah chapter 5 gives a positive, good example of how such needs should be handled.  The books namesake listens to the complaints of the poor and oppressed. He doesn't ignore them. He allows the cries of the poor to affect him, he then "takes counsel with himself" (which I'm sure included prayer and reflection on the Word of God). He then confronts the leaders and officials of the people because they have been benefiting from a [mini] economic system that is said to have caused the common folks of Jerusalem to beg, go into debt and sell their children into slavery--to simply survive. 

In the case of the nobles and elders that Nehemiah confronts, they react in a very good way. "They were silent and could not find words to say." Nehemiah then instructs them further and warns them about what will happen if they do not listen--and they change their ways, returning their mortgaged lands and the children who had been sold into slavery.

(Nehemiah also sets a good example, not using his privileged position to enrich himself but instead using all he has to bless those who are in need.)

What poignant story or stories are you aware of that would drive home the point that this is not just ancient history but something that goes on today? The stories could be either negative examples (stories of exploitation) or positive ones (stories of those who confront the self-centered powers and/or set good examples in the face of need).

FYI - The early church, filled with the Holy Spirit, addressed these issues in Acts 2, 4 and 6... and in other ways as well.

Thank you.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Good Work Under God

The building that Crossroads Church meets in has a large insulated garage door in the area where we gather for worship. That large door has been helpful in some practical ways. It's also been fun to use in messages and sermons now and then.

One of the times we used that big garage door was as we very quickly illustrated the concept of "teamwork" last Sunday.  (This was part of our "Re:Build" series.)

Here are a few things that were said (for a recording go here).
"We've been doing a series here based on the book of Nehemiah over the past couple weeks and I want to do a little children's piece based on that -- but I'd like to turn your attention to this little piece in the bulletin where it talks about what we've done so far in that series.

"When we come to Jesus we get built up into a spiritual house -- into a place of protection for all who need protection. So today I'd like to invite and ask you to go home from here and read chapters 3 and 4 of Nehemiah... Spiritually, the teachings in Nehemiah are not about a city in the middle east. The teachings of Nehemiah are about the spiritual family of God which spans all denominations and all around the world--and about the work that's needed to keep that family of God protected from the evil one. We're going to do a little piece now that will apply to that.

"So, I'd like kids to come over here... "
We then opened the big garage on the south side of the building, and we handed out some colorful interlocking mat squares that the kids use in our children's area. They're about two feet wide and about 3/4 inch thick.

I wish I had a photo of the kids at work! Some took the task quite seriously, doing their best to interlock the squares. We only had a few minutes for our little "Time for Children" so we couldn't actually build the "wall" of floor mat squares... but we did discover that we needed more than just young children. We added older youth and then some adults to "seal up" the entrance, the gap in the wall of the building made when the garage door opened up.

As a dozen children and adults were doing their best to play along with my illustration, I said something like this:
"In the book of Nehemiah there are a lot of families that get involved in the building of the wall... Nehemiah inspects the wall and he sees that there are gaps...  The lesson of chapters 3 and 4 is that it takes a lot of folks. It takes the whole community as they build this wall. Spiritually what that means all of us who are people of God have a role to play. When part of that goes away all of a sudden there is a gap. But we do need to depend on the Lord because--Can we make this complete? Absolutely not! But God does give us all a role.

"That is the story of the book of Nehemiah. It's about building the wall around the city of Jerusalem, about taking our place in building the spiritual protection that is needed in the city of God."
And then we prayed:
"Father, we want to do what you want us to do. You know where the proper places are in the wall where each of us is to be working. Whether it's "over there, in that particular area" or over "here..." We want to release control to you, so that we're not the ones who are in charge of determining which piece of the wall, which part of your kingdom we are to be working in. We want to let you determine that. So come Holy Spirit and lead us. You need to lead us so we are doing the proper work at the proper time. In Jesus' name."
The rest of the worship hour was led by this summer's "YouthWorks" team. I plan to post more about their presentation on our "Re:Build" page later. 

The YouthWorks team is ONE example of ONE group that took responsibility for ONE part of the "spiritual building" that God is doing, both in the city they traveled to (Chicago's south side) and in the Dassel-Cokato area. There are many more parts, many more gaps to fill and gates to build. 

So let's submit the needs to God, asking him to lead each of us to the place he would have us build, and then doing just what He says.


www.equalsharing.com

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Love INC

The following email was sent out a few moments ago to our Crossroads email list.  One of the links below is for a video that explains what "LOVE INC" is all about.  In our Dassel-Cokato area we are blessed blessed with food shelves and thrift stores. Let's pray about a next step and a DC area "Love INC" affiliate!  Let me know if you're interested in looking into this alongside others in our community.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Love INC Digital Information Kit
From: "Crossroads Community Church"
Date: Wed, August 20, 2014 7:45 pm
To: Crossroads Community Church

Crossroads Friends -

Who would like to join me in looking into this?  (See below.)  I believe that our area would greatly benefit by having a Love Inc. affiliate in our community.  (I'm sending the same message out to the other churches in the DC area.)

Please reply or otherwise let me know.

Thank you.

Pastor Steve

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Love INC Digital Information Kit
From: "New Affiliate Development Team" <NewLoveINC@loveinc.org>
Date: Mon, July 14, 2014 6:50 pm
To: "Steve Thorson" <steve@equalsharing.com>
Dear Pastor Thorson,
Thank you for your interest in Love In the Name of Christ. For more than 30 years, Love INC has been mobilizing local churches to transform lives and communities In the Name of Christ.
There are approximately 150 Love INC affiliates meeting over 1 million needs each year through more than 10,000 churches, 9,200 community agencies, and 100,000 volunteers.
We have gone to a digital format of sending out our materials. Please follow the links below to access informational materials about the Love INC ministry. You can also learn more at our website, www.loveinc.org.
May God bless you as you seek to help meet needs In the Name of Christ in the Dassel-Cakato, Minnesota area!
Love In the Name of Christ - Love INC
PO Box 270305 | St. Paul, MN 55127
NewLoveINC@loveinc.org | www.loveinc.org

My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love,
so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding,
in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ,
in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Colossians 2:2-3 (NIV) 
LINKS:
Love INC Video (Best viewed in Firefox or Google Chrome)
 




-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Love INC National: New Affiliate
From: Love INC National <info@loveinc.org>
Date: Mon, July 14, 2014 9:17 am
To: info@loveinc.org

This is an enquiry email via http://www.loveinc.org/ from:
Steve Thorson <steve@equalsharing.com>

I am interested in helping start a new Love Inc affiliate in my community. I serve as pastor of Crossroads Community Church in Cokato, MN. There are two Love Inc affiliates nearby, one based out of Delano, the other in Buffalo, MN. Neither of them serve our "Dassel-Cokato" community, roughly determined by the boundaries of the DC school district - http://www.dc.k12.mn.us/district/images/districtmap.jpg

I'd love to share more about this dream so please contact me by email or by phone - 763-291-3499 (cell).


------------------------------------------
This is sent from a central emailing system at Crossroads Community Church
You may reply to this email.
Clicking reply will reply to the one sending the original message.  If you would like to be taken off this email list please reply and let us know!
To contact the Crossroads office leave a message at 320-286-2100.
To contact Pastor Steve Thorson call 763-291-3499 or email steve@equalsharing.com
To contact others at Crossroads please check the Crossroads Contact webpage.
Our administrative assistant is normally at the church office from 9:00 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday (as of July 15, 2014).
Thank you.

www.equalsharing.com

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Where's Your Focus?

One of my goals, actually a pretty important one, is to do my best to stay out of the way of other people's relationship with God.  I find my pattern in this as I read from First Corinthians chapters 1-4, where the Lord cautions us to avoid putting too much attention on spiritual "leaders" (a better term would be spiritual "servants").

Please take 15 minutes to read those chapters and to ask God to examine your attitudes... Are you focused on your relationship with God or are you distracted by the names and reputations of the "servants" (1 Cor 3:5) who the Lord assigns to each one of us.
Here are links to the chapters - clicking on each will open a new window.

First Corinthians
chapter 1 - chapter 2 - chapter 3 - chapter 4
Here are a few lines from chapter 3:

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building.

Our enemy and all spiritual forces of evil want all of us to take our attention off of the Lord.  So the devil tempts both those who are recognized as spiritual "leaders" (actually not leaders but servants of God) and others.
  • The devil tempts (1) the recognized spiritual leaders to put a lot of emphasis on themselves (being joyful or offended depending on people's response to them)
  • The devil also tempts (2) the rest of the people to spend too much time thinking about their relationships, whether good or difficult, with "pastors" and others who have spiritual leadership responsibilities in their churches, Bible study groups, prayer groups, etc. 
As this applies to most believers, when you focus too much on the successes or failings of leaders (or how easy or hard our relationship is going with them) you can, if you're not prayerfully careful, you can end up
  • isolating yourself spiritually or moving from one fellowship to another in a way that does not honor God (and thereby disobey the command of God that we "love one another" within the Christian fellowship)
  • avoiding close fellowships and staying only in large assemblies of believers where the relationships are less personal.
I'm not sure I did a good job of explaining this, so please take time to read the first four chapters of First Corinthians and ask God to examine you in regard to your attitudes and relationships with the "servants" of God in your life.  And please respond and let me know whether or not you think this reflection on God's Word is helpful--or not.  This has been perking in me for a long time

www.equalsharing.com

Monday, August 18, 2014

Church and Family

A dear friend recently challenged me about how church and family fit together.

The assumption is often that church should fit the standard way that each of us does family--but there is another way to think about this, a way summarized by the phrase "Family On Mission."

Here are two video presentations from Community of Hope church in Rosemount that I think are helpful in explaining what this is about -- presentations that are a part of the "Re:Build" series on the book of Nehemiah that we are using parts of at Crossroads.  At this link you can learn more about that, plus listen to our versions of messages in the series that we've shared so far.

On August 24th at Crossroads the plan is that some of our youth, particularly our youth who have been part of the YouthWorks mission trip, will be planning and leading worship as an example of the TEAMWORK that families can engage in as mission partners with the Lord.


Rebuild: A Study of Nehemiah | “Family On Mission” Nehemiah 3 (Jason Lovold) from Community of Hope on Vimeo.


Rebuild: A Study of Nehemiah | “Fighting For Family” Nehemiah 4 (Per Nilsen) from Community of Hope on Vimeo.

www.equalsharing.com

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Do Not Hold Back

Jack Aamot put this on facebook this morning.  It's worth a read:
Once in a while I feel I have to express my deep feelings and convictions. This facebook way seems to work:

I believe that most Christians have a reluctance, perhaps a fear to share the good news of God's love, Jesus' death for our sins and the resurrection as an exclamation point that all sins were paid for, and we have an alive Jesus who is empowering his followers by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit- who according to Jesus gives us the power to "witness."

In fact Jesus commission to the 11 was they were to go and make disciples.

There is a growing number of people who love Jesus but do not want to help the pre-Christians experience the presence and power that comes with salvation, shalom, via a turning to Jesus and experiencing new life in him.

Rom 1:16 is Paul saying I am not ashamed of the gospel: Jesus is the Christ, he died for our sins, he rose from the grave and is alive today so we can have a unity with him as powerful and rewarding as his unity with the Father. Paul goes on to say: it, the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe.

Later on in Romans Paul says you have to hear this good news in order to believe, and to hear it someone has to tell you the gospel so no it's not enuf to give a poor child a pair of socks (as I heard the other night)...

Now I think that God will use all the kind deeds, the listening ears, the smiles, to prepare the person to hear the gospel and respond by faith to what they have heard -- in scripture we read about those who sow the seed, others water the seed - only God gives the growth - and there are workers for the harvest time - [but] someone needs to share the gospel - the good news - and then God moves to help them say yes to Jesus -

So Jesus asked us to pray to the lord of the harvest - always there are those ready to respond - for laborers to go to harvest - those God has ready to repent and believe and receive his gift of eternal life.

There I got some of it out there - do not hold back from those you encounter - tell them about Jesus - it just may be that God has prepared them for you to "evangelize."
*** To learn more about the evangelistic movement that was founded in Brazil by Jack Aamot and others, go to Movimento EncontrĂ£o (automatic google translation from the Portuguese).  I met the "BIG ENCOUNTER" movement when I was in Brasil 1983-84. ***

www.equalsharing.com

Monday, August 11, 2014

Thursday's JAM (Jesus and Me)

On Thursday at LQ, during our extended "JAM" time (from about 11 AM until about 4:00 PM), God led me from the book "DO HARD THINGS" (chapters posted on the Leadership Quest webpage) and the book of Second Timothy (which we studied all week during JAM) and Nehemiah (which God laid in front of me/us in 2013 for the "Re:Build" theme) and finally to Jeremiah 42. 

I got some brief napping done too--part of the time on a footbridge in a more or less deserted area of Split Rock Lighthouse state park.  Yes, right there on the bridge.  It wasn't easy to find a quiet place because lots of heavy equipment was being used to reconstruct some of the main pathways and park areas.

Jeremiah 42 spoke with much power--especially verses 10-12:
"If you stay in this land, I will build you up and not tear you down; I will plant you and not uproot you, for I am grieved over the disaster I have inflicted on you. Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, whom you now fear. Do not be afraid of him, declares the LORD, for I am with you and will save you and deliver you from his hands. I will show you compassion so that he will have compassion on you and restore you to your land."
When I have the time and energy I will share more about what all of this said to me. 

God's perfect peace be with you today.

www.equalsharing.com

Sunday, August 10, 2014

First Scary Steps

Imagine the scene at right -- at night.  The photo is from 2013 but Aaron, Matt, Brenden, Quinnton, Kendall and I were there again each night last week, with a bunch of LQ1 students and adults.  We worshiped God and had great discussions.  Our young men led the discussions and did a great job.

The whole week was very good.  It met, and exceeded, the expectations we shared on our Leadership Quest webpage (here).

On Sunday night (Aug 3) I led off our campfire discussions by standing on my hands on the platform.  I didn't do it on my own.  The four I mentioned above picked up my feet.  Today at Crossroads we did it again -- except this time not in the dark.

I didn't do this as a stunt.  It was a part of demonstrating the theme of the book Do Hard Things.  It might not seem hard to you, but for me, who has had a fear of having his heels over his head since childhood, it was a big deal.  Honestly.  But it is important for us, at whatever age, to be prepared to move outside our comfort zone when the Lord calls.  Standing on my hands on a wilderness stage in the dark, even with help, was, for me, a Scary First Step.

This morning we began a new message series at Crossroads.  Info, and a recording, can be found by clicking here.  It's a series based on the Old Testament book of Nehemiah -- a series that we're calling "Re:Build."   Take a look.  It's worth your time.

I'm certain that God has led us to this series.  It's not something I came up with on my own.  The series connects so closely with what God is calling us to do at Crossroads -- especially in terms of our ministry with children and youth.

We're needing to "rebuild," in part, because at least one of our key youth leaders has been called by God to make a change, a change that will not have her involved with our youth program this year.  Also our long time Sunday School superintendent is likewise being called by God to make a change.  Her hope is to be more involved with our Adult Bible Study.

Any changes bring both opportunities and fears.  The book of Nehemiah leads us to a good way of handling these things.  In chapter 1 Nehemiah hears the troubling news, weeps, and then prays in faith, confessing his sins and claiming God's promises.  Then, at the beginning of chapter 2, Nehemiah goes to the king of Babylon, using his position to get the permission and the materials needed for the Re:Build.

Tomorrow evening our church's board of directors will pray and ask God how we should proceed.  Please be in prayer that we will hear our Lord's call and obey.

www.equalsharing.com

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Late Note

Good morning.  Just a quick note before I go back to bed.  This week has been a full one, mostly doing preparation for what's coming up next.  To see what the "next" is you can look at our church website "Leadership Quest" page and "Re:Build" -- the clever name that someone in our church network came up with for the message series that we're planning to start on August 10.  (On Thursday I met with network partners to begin work on a fall series -- based on the first half of the Gospel of Mark.)

At the beginning of last week we hosted a "families with young children cookout."  We're also looking for responses to a "Children and Youth Ministry Survey" (download here) so we can better prepare for fall programming that traditionally begins at the beginning of September.

In the midst of this Toni and I are expecting our first grandchild!  Exciting times!

www.equalsharing.com  

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Word from the Lord

Hebrews 2:1–3 says this
"We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard..."
On Thursday of last week a member of our church board of directors sent me the following devotional message based on the passage above.  It was originally written by Dr. Charles Stanley and distributed by "In Touch" ministries:
The Signs of Drifting
Hebrews 2:1-3
     Regularly gathering in the house of the Lord with brothers and sisters in Christ provides an "anchor" of support and accountability. But skipping church in order to pursue other interests is an obvious sign that a believer has begun to drift away from God. Less apparent are the men and women who mentally skip the worship service. The act of attending means nothing unless we make a deliberate decision to receive God's Word and apply it to our life. As the writer of Hebrews warned, if we do not pay attention to what we have heard, we will drift away from it (2:1).
     However, Sunday morning is not the only time for receiving a steady diet of nourishing principles and encouragement from the Bible. We should be in its pages every day, reading and meditating for ourselves. When our interest in what God has to say decreases, we're already slipping out into troublesome waters. The only way to keep our way pure is by following His Word (Ps. 119:9).
     If Bible reading is neglected, a prayer life has usually faded as well. Prayer is the way believers communicate with the Navigator. If we stop talking with Him, the God who once seemed so close soon feels far away. That chasm in our spirit is one more sign that we're far from shore and safety.
     I've watched many a captain guide his cruise ship through a narrow channel. The crew members are intensely focused on their tasks because drifting means disaster. Life is full of narrow channels to navigate. We cannot afford to drift away from God and His Word. Only He can bring us safely through.
The person sending me this message then said:
"He's talking to me..."
When I read it, I thought it was, indeed, a good word from the Lord.  A good word of warning that we need to pray about--not only now in summer, but also during other times of the year as we choose other activities for ourselves and our children--activities other than gathering with other Christians for worship and mutual encouragement. 

Because I thought it was a good word, not from me, but from the Lord, I asked each of our board members at Crossroads to read it over and give their permission to have it sent out in their name, that is, in the name of the whole board.  It's also printed on the back of the bulletin that people will get when they come to worship on Sunday.

So, is the Lord speaking to you in this?  Pray and discuss it with your family.  Is God calling you to take some action, to make a change?  Remember - this message is not from me as a pastor.  It's from the Lord.

www.equalsharing.com