Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Spiritual Gates

At one time this was a city gate at the city of "Dan" in Israel.
(tourist photo)
We've been learning about spiritual "gates" on Monday evenings at Crossroads. A gate is an access point and a place of judgment and decisions.  (See below for a Bible Dictionary discussion of "gates" in the Bible.)

Spiritually speaking, gates give spiritual access to our lives.  Human beings have bodies and brains but those physical and scientifically observable "objects" are not the sum total of who we are.  We are made in God's image and exist in a spiritual dimension as well, a dimension that interacts with the what can be seen but is not equal to it.  This means that, in addition to our physical, emotional, intellectual, social, economic and political relationships, we relate on a spiritual level.  We relate with other people (also made in God's image) and with spiritual beings--God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit and with the other spiritual (non physical) beings God has made.  Scripture speaks of these as angels and "fallen angels" such as the devil and demons.

On Monday nights at Crossroads, we're learning about Spiritual Warfare, that is, the spiritual battles of life.  Christian hymns such as "A Mighty Fortress" depict this warfare... but many modern day Christians are unaware that we are involved with spiritual battles every day.

How do we interact with the Spiritual World?  The Dean Sherman material points to the significance of "gates."  Gates are the places of access, specifically, the places and times of judgment and decision in the lives of individuals and groups.  The gates include our thoughts (2 Cor 10:3-5), our attitudes and emotions (Prov 4:23, Eph 4:26-27, 2 Cor 2:11, 1 Pet 5:6-10), our words (James 3:10, Matthew 16:15-23) and relationships with other Christians that are broken or restored (see Matthew 18).

When we pay attention to spiritual gates, when we pay attention to how we make decisions, we will be more effective and find more peace in our Christian lives.  We can allow God to close the gates to the devil and open them to His wonderful ways.

Here are a few thoughts gleaned from the notes I took on Monday night:
  • When we harbor thoughts of inferiority and discontent, condemnation and criticism, pride and lust, fear and unbelief, and contention and strife, we open the gates of our minds to the evil one.  Instead, God calls us to allow his Word (in Christ and in Scripture) to transform our minds (Romans 12:1-2).
  • When we allow our emotions to be dominated by anger, when we have an unteachable, independent or jealous attitude, and when the negative thoughts listed above become emotions that run our lives, we give the devil access and become less effective in sharing the love and power of God in this world.  God calls us, in First Peter 5:6-10, to resist the one who would dominate us by his "roaring" allowing God to take our anxiety and be in control.
  • When we speak negatively of others, tearing them down instead of building them up, when we do not control what we say about others, hurting them with our words instead of blessing them, we "aid the attack of the enemy."   Many of us are unaware of this  God helps us, however, in his Word, as he teaches us, for example, in the James 3, and as we learn, more and more, the truth the cross, where God shows us the infinite value of each and every human person.
  • Finally, when we do not pray about or are unwilling to work on the restoration of broken relationships, we give an opportunity for the devil to work his evil schemes (Eph 4:26).  We must pray, and then, as the Lord directs, do all we can to restore relationships, especially with other believers.  Matthew 18, which we will be looking at this Sunday (April 3) at Crossroads, is all about this aspect of spiritual warfare and closing the "broken relationship" spiritual gate against evil.
We'll continue to learn more on Mondays -- please join us if you can.


Here is a section about "gates" from the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary:

     Gates in the biblical period bring to mind two images: the massive defensive structures that protect the entrance way, and a place of various activities “in the gate.” Gates and walls together mark the boundary between outside and inside, but gates are more frequently mentioned simply because they give access in and out.
     Gates have existed since defensive walls first appeared in towns and villages. If walls are necessary to protect a town, an entrance through the wall is also necessary, and a gate to protect the entrance would likewise be required. The two developments probably coincided. In the ancient Near East, archaeologists have uncovered town gate foundations dating back at least to the early Bronze Age (3300–2200 B.C.) and have a fully preserved four chamber mud-brick gate complex from the middle Bronze Age (ca. 1800 B.C.) at Tel Dan. Earlier during the Chalcolithic period (4500–3300 B.C.) at Ein Gedi remains of a temple and sacred area which has an enclosure wall with two entrances have been found. One of the entrances has the clear foundations of a two-chamber gate. Much earlier, at prepottery neolithic Jericho (ca. 8300 B.C.) evidence of a wall around the town and a circular tower, probably to serve as a watchtower. Although no evidence of a gate for that time has yet been excavated, there must have been a gate to provide entry into the town.
     The gate is usually the most vulnerable part of a town’s defenses, simply because it stands at an opening into the town. In addition, the gate was often located at a low point in the town’s topography for several reasons: the low point would provide the easiest access to the town by travelers or merchants—they wouldn’t have to maneuver their animals and wares to higher points in the town; the marketplace was often located just inside the gate for the same reason; and the low point would offer a good drainage channel for rainfall throughout the town to run outside the city walls through the gate. Because of its vulnerability, strong towers often flanked the gateway to help protect it. In addition, heavy wooden or metal doors would be closed to shut the gate at night or in times of imminent attack.
     During the Iron Age, the period of Israelite monarchy, two-, four-, and six-chamber gates are found. Rather than a developmental scheme, the choice of gate type seems most likely related to local topography and defensive needs. Undoubtedly, the development of new weapons, including more effective battering rams, required new defensive strategies. Among such innovations were the introduction of inner and outer gate structures. Such double-gate structures may well have been intended to strengthen defenses. Assaulting an outer-gate structure would not give access into the city proper; it would only lead through a narrow passage (where an invading army would be under continual assault by defenders on the walls above) to an inner-gate structure, likewise well defended. Sites with inner- and outer-gate structures include Tel Dan, Megiddo, and Lachish. Typical gate openings during the Iron Age were from 3.5 to 4 meters, from 11 to 13 feet. Such openings would allow easy passage for animals laden with goods, for chariots, as well as for pedestrian traffic.
     Just outside the city gate one would often find a well or spring. Since access to the water supply is quite important, the city gate was often located near the water. Recent excavations at the Jebusite and Davidic city of Jerusalem have found a gate with massive towers protecting access to the spring Gihon. Beersheba had a well just outside the city gate. John 4 has the story of Jesus meeting a woman of Sychar at the well just outside the city.
     In the typical town plan, the marketplace, often an open plaza, was just inside the gate complex. Close by might be either administrative buildings, military buildings, or a shrine or temple. The biblical description of various activities within the gates of the city/town indicates the business of that area. When Abraham was negotiating for the purchase of a burial plot for Sarah, he met with the landowner and the elders of the town at the city gate (Gen. 23:10, 18), as did Boaz when he negotiated the purchase of Elimelech’s property (Ruth 4:1–11). Elders gathered at the city gate to administer justice or judgment (Deut. 21:19; 22:15, 24) as well as transact sales. The prophets have a number of references to proper justice at the city gate (Amos 5:10–15; Zech. 8:16).      King David had a seat at the gate (2 Sam 19:8). At Tel Dan a platform has been discovered just inside the gate complex that may have been for a royal throne or may have been a shrine. Shrines have been excavated at several sites around the gate complex. In particular Bethsaida, probably ancient Geshur, had a cultic platform adjacent to the gate and several steles in the gate complex. Also at Mudayna on the Wadi eth-Thamid in Jordan, a shrine has been discovered adjacent to the gate complex.
     Many have suggested the various activities described above took place literally in the city gate. “Benches” have been found within the chambers of some city gates. However, the benches are often of such height and size that it is unlikely they were used for sitting. It is more likely such benches were for depositing and storing items or for other purposes. It is probable that the activities took place “at” the city gate or “inside” the city gate [i.e., within the open plaza] rather than necessarily “in” the gate itself. The presence of the marketplace and of administrative buildings just inside the gate complex provided the rationale for the elders to gather there. And where the elders gathered would be the ideal place for transacting business or dispensing justice that fell to them.  -- Joel F. Drinkard, Jr.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

April 1 - "I'm No Fool"

At church today we heard from a young woman who met Jesus through the ministry of a Christian metalcore band. In our area we are privileged to have a music venue called The Upper Room where young people can come just as they are. Some are met there by Jesus Christ.
What is the Upper Room?
The Upper Room is a cool new venue, and so much more at 461 3rd St., Dassel, MN. It is a place for young people to 1) Express themselves in a SAFE environment through the arts (mostly music); 2) to be Involved in the operation of the venue, and other things relating to the arts and activities of the venue and 3) Make a Difference in their community and world.

What happens at the Upper Room?
The Upper Room schedules regular events from a variety of musical genres. The genres are geared toward the musical tastes of young people today. Not every event will have music that appeals to all groups. One night may involve hardcore metal and another pop or acoustic. We have even had techno nights.

Who is in charge?
The Upper Room is operated by a dedicated group of young adults and older teens who take care of booking, scheduling, band arrangements, publicity, venue upkeep, security and other multiple aspects of the venue. The venue is sponsored by Rick and Deb Sorensen and is supported by The Hope Fund. The Hope Fund is a non denominational non profit entity that exists to provide hope to those who feel disconnected, and help for the disadvantaged and disabled.

Is the Upper Room a Christian venue?
The Upper Room IS supported by a non profit fund that, although non denominational, is Christian. The sponsors and most of the ones involved in it's operation are Christian. But it is the intention of all of us that we don't create "exclusiveness", in the sense that we create any artificial walls around the place that would exclude anybody. Our purpose is to provide hope for those who feel disconnected and "put out" enough already. ...

For more info go to Upper Room FAQs and What Do We Mean By That?
I received an email from one of the key adult involved with The Upper Room a few moments ago that said, in part:
The Upper Room in Dassel has an event coming up on April 1st (THIS FRIDAY!) and we could REALLY use help getting the word out about this one. We have 4 really, really good bands playing that night. We have been working really hard to get AWESOME bands to the Upper Room. But in order to keep having high quality we really need to get the word out and get people to show up!
If you know young people, spread the word about this April 1st Event.  In any case, pray that God's Will would be done through it.  For more information about this event, contact Rick
Sorenson at 952-994-9572 or

Click the poster below to see the whole thing and pass it along!

Helpless in the Hands of God

Especially since August 2009, the Lord has been such an amazing teacher.  Or I should say, God found me to be such a bad student that he had to put me in his special class.  Some call it the "school of hard knocks."  Others just know it as a time of suffering, of testing, of spiritual fire.  During this time, I've learned to appreciate, together with others, sections of scripture that, in the past, just held no appeal before.  See "Strange Comfort" for one example.

Today, after coming home from church, I found the following on the blog written by my desperately Christian brother Pastor Bryan Lowe.  I find it to be helpful in a way it's hard to describe:

...I want to bring out this book, out into the spotlight.  It is a tremendous devotional that makes its way through the book of Job.  I have leaned on it, and it has held me nicely.  I challenge you to get a copy of this, and to let it work in the confines of your spirit and mind. 

Excerpt from “The Gospel According to Job,” by Mike Mason

 ”Once I met a man who, like Abraham, had moved his entire household halfway around the world on the strength of a vision from God. When I asked him to tell me the story, he answered that there were three versions of that story, and which one did I want to hear? First, there was the version of the story that he told to Christians. Then there was the version he told to non-Christians. Finally, there was the truth.

Job is a book that tells things from the third point of view. Probably, along with Ecclesiastes, it does this better than any other book in the Bible.

Not that the other Scriptures do not tell the truth. But Job tells the truth in a way that makes it almost impossible to pervert the truth into pious pabulum. A few years ago I went through a difficult time. Never mind what the problem was. It was nothing compared to the trials of Job. In fact, it was nothing at all compared to the sufferings of many of my neighbors right there on the quiet street where I lived.

But pain is pain, and suffice it to say that my pain was enough to drive me to my knees, totally defeated, half-crazy at times, and crying out for relief. Month after month the battles raged on, thick, dark, agonizing. I prayed, but somehow prayer did not ‘work.’ Usually nothing at all worked, except lying low and gritting my teeth until, for reasons entirely obscure to me, the straightjacket of oppression began to loosen a little––at least enough for me to get on with my life for another day or so before the screws tightened again. What else could I do? How was I to fight this?

In retrospect I can see that a large part of my anguish was rooted in the fact that there really was nothing I could do to control what was happening to me. I was absolutely helpless, and it is this, perhaps, that is the soul of suffering, this terrifying impotence. It is a little taste of the final and most terrifying impotence of all, which is death.

We Christians do not like to think about being absolutely helpless in the hands of our God. With all of our faith, and with all of His grace, we still prefer to maintain some semblance of control over our lives. When difficulties arise, we like to think that there are certain steps we can take, or attitudes we can adopt, to alleviate our anguish and be happy. Sometimes there are. But anyone who has truly suffered will know that when it comes to the real thing there is no help for it, no human help whatsoever.

Simply put, when we are in a deep dark hole we cannot think our way out; neither can we hope, sing, pray, or even love our way out. In fact there is absolutely nothing either we or anyone else can do to better our situation. We can have faith, yes; but in itself faith will not change anything. Neither faith, nor any other good thing that a person might have or do, can actually lift the cloud, move the mountain, or bring about an end to the problem.

Only the Lord Himself can do that, and when He does, as Exodus 6:6 puts it, “Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke.” How will we know? Simply because nothing and no one else could possibly have done it. In this kind of crucible, therefore, we come to a new understanding of what it means to be saved, what it means to be snatched away from the brink of destruction.

Here we get down to the bedrock of the gospel. During my night of anguish, I turned to the book of Job, and there I began to make contact with the gospel in a way that somehow I never had in studying the New Testament. Reading Job, I found myself experiencing in new and astonishing depth the reality of Jesus’ promise in John 8:32,
 “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

More of Pastor Bryan Lowe's work can be found at

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Doors Are In

Here are some notes for tomorrow morning's sermon at Crossroads. Come and join us for worship at 10:15--Bible study and Sunday school at 9.

Doors were installed out at the Crossroads building this week -- glass panels and doors in what had been just a big opening between the multi-purpose "fellowship" area and the space more or less dedicated to worship.  We'll be glad to have doors that can be shut.  Especially for sound reasons.  It can get noisy in an open building when 100 people are milling around.

Walls and doors--doors that can be closed... These are good things.  Even so, there is a big part of me that doesn't like them.  I prefer wide open spaces and open doors.  I like freedom.  I like to go where I want when I want.  I don't like to be stopped.  Boundaries are very annoying.

What a blessing, then, that God is in charge and not me.  Science and scripture agree about the need for boundaries and divisions.  In the beginning God did dividing work, separating the light from the darkness, the day from the night, the land from the seas, animals from plants, human beings set apart and given a conscious boundary--you can eat from every tree except this one.  It was a boundary, a division, a border given for our good.  A line that we crossed in the first generation, letting sin and demonic deception take control.

My own old sinful self doesn't like boundaries.  That's a sign that the powers of darkness are still on the loose.  The world suffers every minute because we won't stay on our side of the line.  Give us a command, God, and we'll break it and cross over, just like that.  It's who we are.  So God set a boundary for our existence.  Because of our sin, we will die.  Not just physically but spiritually too.  Because of sin, we are cut off from the source of life.  We are cut off from God.

There are then, in the world today, in a spiritual sense--there are two kinds of boundaries, two kinds of divisions, two kinds of walls.  There are the original good boundaries that God has sent us, such as in the commandments... You shall love the Lord your God.  You shall not make anything to be equal with God.  You shall honor his name.  Remember the Sabbath Day.  Honor your father and your mother.  You shall not murder.  You shall not have sex outside of marriage.  You shall not steal.  You shall not gossip.  You shall not want what belongs to someone else.  Those are good boundaries and they will continue until the end of time.

But then there is that other boundary, the one God set up as a retaining wall, a levy, something that was not a part of the original plan.  We human beings were created to live in close friendship and fellowship with God, but because we became traitors, because we changed sides, because we love to sin so much--doing everything except what God really wants us to do--because sin came like a flood into the world because of you and me--because of that God was forced to set up a temporary dike.  That's the dividing wall between us and God.  The one made necessary because of our sinful ways.  And that's the one God means to do away with here.

God wants you to know, for sure, that He does not want to be separated from you anymore.  God wants to come into your life and into mine, no matter how dirty or sin-filled or shame-filled we may be.  In fact, and this is the amazing part, because of Jesus and his remarkable work, the sin and pain of your life can be utterly transformed.

I want to show you a video testimony today--it's one that I put on my blog back in February.  Kelly, the young woman in the video, she's not exactly like the Samaritan woman in John 4, but, honestly, there are a lot of similarities.  (You can read Kelly's testimony here.) Both, I'm sure, felt that God would never want them.  Both, I'm sure, thought that, not only were they on the sinful side of the commandment wall, having done so much except what God wanted them to do... the woman in John 4 had been married at least four times... not only were they on the sinful side of that wall, with you and me... I'm sure they felt the temporary wall between them and God was permanent and fixed and forever.  NOTE - Aug. 30, 2011 - THE VIDEO testimony is no longer available, though a written one is at

But God walked in.  In John 4, God came in the person of Jesus Christ to this woman who was hiding--hiding by putting a wall of time between herself and the others who had come to get water at the well when it made sense.  This woman came at the hottest time of the day when she knew no one else would be there.  She put a few hours between herself and those she was sure would just look and talk.  Or look away.  But Jesus came there anyway, and her close encounter with the Savior changed her life.

There are good reasons for walls.  There are good reasons for doors that close.  Boundaries are important.  But what Jesus wants you to know right now is that he has come to be with you even when he has every reason to stay away.  Even when you are such a mess   Even when you are as you are right now.

But it's not just YOU he wants to know that... it's all those other Kellys and all those other "Samaritan women" out there in the big world.  And it's usually through people like you and me that Jesus uses to reach out today.  Jesus came in to be with us, and now we go out to be with others.

Let me share with you how it is that Kelly came to know Jesus... a part of her story...
The night of Oct 30, 2007, NH Booking (the booking agency i worked for) had a show. Some band called For Today was playing, it was a Tuesday night, and no one was going to be there.

We got there and set up everything by 3:30. I was outside when they (For Today) arrived and the band was all talking about how hungry they were. I mentioned how it was “free taco day” at Taco Bell and they immediately seemed interested. The next thing I know we’re all introduced and I have Mikey, the guitarist, and Kyle, their merch guy, in my truck and we’re headed down the road to Taco Bell.

“Do you have a personal relationship with God?” Mikey asks me.

“Uh, well, yeah, I guess so,” I stumble and change the topic pretty quickly to how crazy Taco Bell looks with about a zillion cars parked everywhere and a drive thru line going into the road. We get in the drive thru line but I know there’s time to kill. Our conversations jump from New Hampshire, to the “scene”, to the weather and jobs. You know, just small talk. We get our free tacos and then went across the street for some Wendy’s because Kyle knew some of the other guys wanted Wendy’s.

We get back to the club and the guys thank me about a hundred times, and I just told them it wasn’t a problem, after all Taco Bell is like 2 minutes away. They go to set up their gear and I go and take my seat at the front of the building and set up my cash box. Kids start coming in a few at a time but I could tell it was going to be a bad night for a show, after all it was a Tuesday.

The grand total ended up being about 25 kids. Which meant we needed to go to the bank and take out some money to cover the band and hall expenses, but you win some and you lose some. We aren’t the type to screw a band over. We got all this settled right before the last band was set to go on. It was a popular local band I had seen a hundred times so I went outside to clear my head.

Faking a smile a whole night gets kind of tiring, so I took a walk around the building and ended up at my truck. I opened the back and sat inside, my eyes started to well up with tears. It was about 26 degrees Fahrenheit and I was freezing but it didn’t matter, I didn’t want to be around people.

“Hey Kelly!”

I look up and see Mikey standing at the back of my truck. I try to dodge eye contact, and sniffle back tears.

Don’t cry, don’t cry, I said to myself in my head.

“How are you doing?” he asks.

“Oh, fine, uh, could be better, but you know… I’ll deal,” I sputter out.

“Are you sure about that?” he asks.

“Yeah, after all, I’m not good at talking anyway,” I say out loud and inside I’m thinking about how much longer I can hold this in.

“Well, I’ve been told I’m a really good listener,” he tells me as he sits on the edge of my truck.
Great I guess I’m not getting out of this one easily, I think to myself. “Well, I, I’m just not doing so well mentally right now,” is all I can get out before the tear ducts open and I have rivers flowing down my face. Mikey just sits there, eager to help but he still isn’t sure what’s wrong.

“We can talk about it,” he urges.

“Well, recently I’ve felt like my life is falling apart at the seams. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but at the same time, I don’t see a purpose in my life anymore. I don’t know where I’m going or where I’m going to be in a couple months. That uncertainty is killing me. I know I’m only eighteen but I’ve dealt with so much crap already, and nothing good is happening. I’m starting to feel like its not worth it anymore.” All this comes pouring out, fast paced and jumbled.

“Well Kelly, you know how I asked you if you had a relationship with God earlier?” he asks.

“Yeah…” my voice is shaking through tears.

“Well, what kind of relationship do you have with Him?”

“I guess not a very good one… like I went to church when i was little. I was raised Catholic and completed all the necessary tasks of Catholicism, like Communion, Reconciliation, Confirmation, but all of it felt forced. In turn, I’ve come to not really get along with Catholicism, but I do believe in God… it’s just sometimes, I wonder what I did to deserve all this.”

“Deserve all what?” he asks.

Oh no, here it comes, I say to myself as I try to mentally prepare for what is about to spill out. I proceeded to tell him the short version of my lifestory. The abuse at the hands of my father. The depression of my mother. The weight of taking care of my younger siblings. The self injury. The eating disorders. The alcohol. The drugs. The suicide attempts…

“Oh man, I’m sorry. I guess I was the opposite of you though. I was the bad kid…” he tells me.

“Yeah, well, I’m still not good at feeling like I mean anything. He just made me feel like I was always doing something wrong. I always needed to by punished. So as a way to punish myself I started self injuring. It started out small, but got worse and worse. The cuts covered my arms and legs. It got easier to block out the pain he made me feel when I could control this pain. I started in eighth grade. It continued until, well, I’m currently two days shy of 2 months clean (September 1 had been my last cut). Two months use to be my breaking point, but before this I went eight months. That was a challenge. I felt so close to breaking all the time. Then I finally did and had to go back to square one. But really the only thing that kept me from cutting something was drinking. This past summer has been a drunken mess.” I took a moment to breathe and recollect myself.

What am I doing talking to a complete stranger about my biggest secrets? I must really be going out of my mind.

“Yeah, well, everything is falling apart again. And I’m trying so hard to hold on but I really don’t know where my life is going, or even if I have a purpose”

“Kelly, I use to feel the same way. I use to drink and get drunk all the time. I’d wake up in jail, or all beaten up. I’d always get in fights when I was drunk but I’d never remember. I was raised in a Christian family. I went to church every Sunday, but it all seemed so distant to me. Until I met this guy. He lived so passionately for Jesus. He made me want to get back in touch with him. I read the whole bible through before I opened my heart to Jesus again. Living for Him has changed my life completely. I don’t feel pointless anymore.” he said.

“Well, I’m only eighteen, I feel like I have so much to figure out still,” I said.

“I’m only eighteen too!” he exclaims “Kelly, would you be interested in opening your heart to Jesus and giving your life to Him?”

I sat there for a moment in silence, tears streaming down my cheeks, and I looked into his eyes. His glowing hazel eyes shining into my life. All of a sudden I was overcome with the urge to live like him, I wanted that glow in my eyes, I wanted that passion for life.

“I do,” I said, “I really do.”

“Well you can!” I could tell he was getting excited.

He said a prayer and I repeated after him. I gave my life over to Jesus Christ. From the moment we said “Amen” I felt God stirring things up inside me already.

“I love you Kelly,” he said. Those words brought tears to my eyes. I hadn’t heard them in so long and never had I heard them with such meaning; however, I couldn’t bring myself to say it back.

“Hey, do you have a bible?” he asked

“Um, no, I don’t. I never have.” I said.

“Well come over to the van, I’ll get you one!” he said excitedly. Walking over to the van I felt like I was about to be handed a million dollars. Holding that bible in my hands felt like holding a new born baby. It was a chance at a fresh start.

“I love you sister” he said and hugged me.

“I love you too” I said. I’ve never meant it more.

The left a bit later, after Mikey introduced me to the rest of the “family” as a new sister in Christ. I felt so unreal. So new. God intervened and answered my ultimated. Mikey would later tell me he felt the call of God beckoning him out into the cold that night.

I started to look at life a different way. More optimistic. More Positive. This didnt mean (everything) got better...

(I’ll probably post more or something at some point… this is just that one day, 3 YEARS AGO TODAY, that changed my life forever. If it wasn’t for God’s intervention, I know I’d be dead.)
Kelly posted that on her blog a few months ago... three years after Jesus came into her life through that young metalcore band member... Now Kelly is reaching out to others...  You can support her in the next phase of her life--she's going with a Youth Encounter Team to Africa...  The Samaritan Woman in John 4 reached out to others too... and many in her home town came to know the Lord -- see John 4:28-30,39-42.

So, I'm wondering... Are your doors in?  Are they open?  Open to the Lord?  And open so you can go out to the world?  Let's follow Kelly, and the Samaritan woman, let's follow them through the door Jesus opened, and share good news with the world.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Much Needed Corrective

The following is from David Housholder's journal.
If you are a conservative or a Christian, one of the boxes you seem to have to “tick” is “pro-Israel.”
This also seems to imply, anti-Arab and anti-Muslim.

I am a great admirer of Israel. They have the best democracy and the most vital and diversified economy (from electronics to agriculture) in the Middle East.

The Israeli national anthem “Ha-Tikvah” stirs me emotionally.

The Hebrew Bible is one of my happy places. Our congregation, Robinwood Church, is preaching through the Psalms (have been at it for a year and a half).

One of my mentors, Prof. Dr. Ralph Gehrke, read Isaiah in Hebrew with me every Saturday for ages.

However, I find that the pro-Israel sentiment in the circles in which I run is sometimes un-reflected at best. Ignorant at worst.

Here are some random thoughts:
  • We don’t need to “defend Israel.” They have a formidable military and a credible nuclear deterrent. We have never fired a shot in defense of Israel and have never needed to intervene to help them. They buy our arms. Fine. So do many Arab states.
  • We need to focus less on the Eastern Hemisphere and more on the Western Hemisphere. We have a fixation on the Middle East. Because we import oil? Most of our imported oil comes from Canada, Mexico, and South America. We are only 4% of the world population, and the main reason for our budget deficit is our bloated “police the whole world” military. We got entangled in the Eastern Hemisphere during McKinley’s term (Philippines) and we have been messed up ever since, with very little to show for it. The Founding Fathers warned us against “entangling alliances” in the Old World. We have the resources to make the Western Hemisphere a democratic, prosperous heaven on earth.
  • Biblical Israel and modern Israel are not exactly the same thing. Modern Judaism was hatched after the New Testament was written, when the temple was destroyed in 70 AD, and they had to reinvent themselves. As did Christianity, Judaism had a Reformation in the 1500s (the hasidic/lurianic impulse) that still affects them to this day.
  • You can’t draw a straight ethnic line between ancient Israel and the modern state of Israel. Golda Meir was born in Milwaukee. Most of modern Israel has Rhineland into Eastern European (Ashkenazi) and Spanish/Portuguese (Sephardi) bloodlines. Middle Eastern DNA roots among them are sketchy at best. You can look up Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jewish lineage on Wikipedia.
  • The only tribe (of the 12) remaining somewhat intact is the tribe of Judah. From which we get the word “Jew.” The tribe of Judah was NOT given the entire holy land, only a county-sized area around Jerusalem. The tribe of Judah can lay no biblical claim to the northern West Bank (Samaria), the area around Tel Aviv, the areas of Galilee and the Golan Heights. God never, in the whole Old Testament, gave the entire land of Israel to the tribe of Judah. The other tribes are gone, as are their claims. It’s like Texans coming back after centuries and laying claim to the whole former USA territory. Not saying that Jews all over Israel (or anywhere in the world for that matter) don’t have a right to their homes, I’m just saying that their saying “the Bible says so” is overstated.
  • There are lots of Palestinian Arab Christians. But conservative US Christians prefer non-Christian Israeli Jews over them anytime. They actually got angry when a Palestinian Christian got elected to be the head of the Lutheran World Federation. A pastor told me last week: “He’s probably really a Muslim.”
  • I often hear people say “God is pro-Israel so I am pro-Israel.” It’s simply not that simple. The Israelites were the “good guys” in the Bible, so anyone who uses the label Israel today must be the “good guy.” Often, but not always. Israel was very fallible in the Old Testament, and not always the object of admiration. You could bring that to its breaking point by being “Pro-Ahab” because he was the king of Israel. And using the label “Israel” today, which modern Israel has more of a right to do than anyone else, does not equate you with biblical Israel. The two nations (biblical and modern) are related, but not identical.
  • The Bible is ambiguous as to whether Israel is a physical or a spiritual nation. Galatians 6:16 makes it clear that the two are not necessarily mirror images of each other (you can be one without being the other).
Not asking anyone to be anti-Israel. Modern Israel is an amazing nation. I tip my hat to them. I want to see them prevail. They have much to add to the world.

Just asking us to consider de-emphasizing our American fixation with the Eastern Hemisphere in general and the Middle East in particular. Had we stayed in the Western Hemisphere, our homeland, the New World; well then, Pearl Harbor and 9-11 would never have happened.

Also asking us to question the “straight line” thinking that equates ancient Israel with modern Israel. One was the mother nation of us all, at some level. The other is a different and amazing contemporary society. Sure, there are some connections. But there are also some disconnects.

Your thoughts?

Please forward this to others…

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Jesus at Work

"A Samaritan woman came to draw water..." John 4:7
I'm in school again. This time just beginning bus driver training at the Dassel-Cokato School District. If all goes well I'll begin work as a substitute driver in about six weeks.  There is a lot to learn.

I'm preaching this Sunday using the lectionary text from John 4.  As I read the text this year, I noticed the simple fact that Jesus meets this woman while she is working.

Have you met Jesus at work?  How has that happened?

Let me know.  Comment below, email or call or text -- 763-291-3499.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Christian Counseling

Last Thursday, the Psychology and the Church seminar saw part of a Christian counseling session on a video produced by the American Psychological Association.  The counselor was Mark Mcminn from George Fox University.

In the video, Dr. Mcminn talks with a woman named "Celeste" about the issues in her life.  Celeste is a remarkably competent and caring woman who is overwhelmed by all that is on her plate -- she's a mother with three children under the age of 10, a wife who tries to "be there" for her husband, employed full time, in graduate school, heavily involved with her church and someone who people turn to when they need prayer and a listening ear.  She is overwhelmed but has managed to stay sane and "hold it together" so far.

Here are some of the things Dr. Mcminn talks with Celeste about:
  1. He asks "what's on your plate?" - and then asks her to try to sort things out verbally (so he can better understand).  This builds empathy and helps her know he cares.  It also helps him know what's going on.
  2. He asks if there has been a recent event or series of events that she can describe that gets to the heart of what's on her mind.  He then "goes with her" in listening and responding so she will say more.  In Celeste's case, Dr. Mcminn notices how alone she feels.  (In a comment made afterward, he wonders aloud if her competence is a way for her to continue to connect with people in the midst  of her loneliness.)
  3. He asks her what helps her deal with things.  She speaks of writing and prayer.  She says it is hard for her to ask for help from people so she goes direct to God.
  4. He encourages her to think about who she can just be "Celeste" with, instead of always being the "super Christian."  Dr. Mcminn sees this as a big need in her life and she agrees--she says she knows she is not "God Junior" and laughs... he encourages her in the direction of social support and peer relationships.
  5. He tries a spiritual exercise with her as a way of releasing control to God.  Sitting relaxed with eyes closed, he coaches her, and participates with her in deep breathing while using the simple prayer "Lord, have mercy," silently breathing "Lord" on the inhale and "have mercy" on the exhale.  They do this for awhile and tears begin to flow.
This is just one sample of what Christian counseling can be.  If you feel alone or overwhelmed, and if you would like a confidential and professional friend to talk things through with, this might be something to try... remember, of course, that every counselor has their own method to help people.  This is just an example.


Last week at the "Faith In Action of Wright County" board meeting, we were discussing what a quarterly newsletter ought to have in it to make it something people would actually read.  We came up with the following short list:
  • Contact information (web address and phone number)
  • A small "statistics" box
  • One "narrative" (written by a staff or board member)
  • A few photos
  • Announcements of two or three upcoming events
  • A testimony
One side of one sheet of paper, printed in color.  Everything else available online and in print upon request.

I'm thinking that's what we might produce at Crossroads.  Anyone interested in helping?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

When the Spring Comes

Here are my unedited notes from today's message at Crossroads.  The audio is available through this link.
It felt a bit awkward, for some reason, but it turned out alright, partly because we were able to share, at the beginning and the end of worship, a story from man named Cory... ask me and I'll tell you more.

The main point is that Jesus moves the attention from any good work other than what he did on the cross for us.  He makes us look at him, not at any other work.
Scripture – John 3:1-17
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
4 “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”
5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

Scripture - James 1:21–27
Remember this book is written to CHRISTIANS—to people who have already been born again … none of this will save you EXCEPT what it says in verse 21—humbly accepting the word of God, which can do that saving work.
        21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.
26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Lord Jesus, come now through your Holy Spirit as we apply your Word to our lives.  Transform us, change us, so we are more and more dependent on you.

106 years ago today, the following article was published in the New York Times:
 The crowds rushing into the streets found that in a row of eight new houses, four had collapsed.  The rear walls of two fell out completely, while the rest were so badly damaged that it was … doubtful whether any would withstand the continued warmth of the weather.  Deputy Inspector Jordan of the Building Department said that the collapse was probably due to the use of freezing mortar in violation of the law.
You have heard the story of the wise man who built his house on the rock and the foolish one who built his house on the sand, right?  The same thing is true when you build with the wrong materials at the wrong time.
In all, on this day 106 years ago, 7 large brick houses fell in New York City due to the fact that they had been carefully built, so carefully built… with freezing mortar… and when the weather warmed, the mortar thawed, and one after another the buildings fell down.  Sometimes one wall at a time.
Is that your life?
That was Nicodemus’ life.  And it was James’ life too.  In fact, it is the life of every single solitary individual in this big old world… unless we are born again.
(start clip…) (you can see it at this link - about 4 minutes in...)
This is from One Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich … A wall is being built in a Soviet slave labor camp.  One of the workers, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov—Shukhov is his last name… Ivan is taking pride in his work…
Here’s a quote from the book:
Shukhov didn't make mistakes... If one of the blocks had a corner knocked off or a kinky edge or a blister, Shukhov spotted it right away and knew which way around it needed to be laid and which spot in the wall was just waiting for it.
He scooped up a trowel full of steaming mortar, slapped it on the very spot, making a note where the blocks in the row below met so that the middle of the block above would be dead-center over the groove. He slapped on just enough mortar for one block at a time. Then he grabbed a block from the pile — he was a bit careful, though, he didn't want a hole in his mittens, and those blocks were horribly scratchy. Then he smoothed the mortar down with his trowel and plopped the block on it. Then, quick as quick, he squared it up, tapping it into place with the side of his trowel if it wasn't sitting right, making sure it was flush with the outside of the wall and dead-level widthwise and lengthwise. Because it would freeze on and stick fast right away.
Next, if any mortar had been squeezed out from under the block, you had to chip it off quick and flick it away with your trowel. (In summer you could use it for the next block, but this time of year — forget it.) Then another look at the bonding in the row below — there might be a damaged block, where a bit had crumbled away, and if there was, you slapped on more mortar, thicker under the left end, and didn't just lay the block but slid it on from right to left so it squeezed out the extra mortar between itself and the block to the left. Make sure it's flush. Make sure it's flat. Block set fast. Next, please!
Off to a good start. Get two courses laid and tidy up the old rough bits and it's all plain sailing…

It will all fall down.
I remember reading the story of Ivan Denisovich Shukhov back in high school or junior high. 
It was close to 40 below zero that day.
I thought to myself – that mortar is going to freeze and it’s going to all come down.
What is Shukhov’s careful work going to mean then?
And what is your life going to mean when it comes down…
Spring is coming.  Fire is coming.  The end is near.

In First Corinthians 3 (slide #1) it talks about building.
“Each builder must choose with care how to build…
… if anyone builds with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it,
(slide #2)
because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done.”
(slide #3)
Sometimes we get so occupied with building, sometimes we get so occupied with our life in this world, sometimes we get so focused on doing good work that we forget:
Spring is coming – Fire is coming – and nothing we have done in this life will matter if we’re working with frozen mortar, if we’re working with a hard and sinful heart.
Spring is coming.  Fire is coming. 
And that is something we all need to hear.
 (slide #4)
Nicodemus needed to hear it.
(slide #5)
Nicodemus, like the rest of us in his natural human way…
Nicodemus had spent his whole life building with freezing mortar.
When he came to Jesus he came because he recognized good work – he recognized that Jesus did things right and in a way that could not be explained by simple human ability.

John 3:1-2
There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.

Good call, Nicodemus.  It’s true.  No one could do the amazing work Jesus did, loving and powerful, setting the captives free, healing the sick, raising the dead…

No one could do that without the power of God.
Nicodemus, and all the people who see something miraculous in good things that happen in this world, they are right.
These things can’t happen without God.
Whenever you see anything good, praise God.  For without God everything is darkness, everything is cold, everything is oppression.  Without God nothing is good Psalm 16:2 – Apart from God I have nothing good.  Take a look at Mark 10:19 too.
Nicodemus is right.
But Nicodemus is a winter worker. 
A frozen mortar guy.
Nicodemus has spent his whole life looking at outward appearances.  He notices good work when he sees it.
But he doesn’t know, and neither do we… he doesn’t know that it’s been winter, that the mortar is freezing, and when the spring comes, when the fire comes, it won’t matter how carefully you’ve laid your blocks.
When the spring comes, when the fire comes, it won’t matter how well you’ve done.
It won’t matter how many widows and orphans you’ve cared for.  It won’t matter how carefully you’ve kept yourself away from the sins of the world.
When the true spring comes all of our good deeds will fall apart.
It will be as it was on West One Hundred and Thirty-fifth Street in New York City on March 20, 1905, when crowds rushed into the streets…  A great rumbling noise was heard as the carefully built walls came tumbling down.
Spring had come!  And spring will come to this frozen world, and fire will come.  And it will all be gone.
Unless, that is, you’ve already been transported into the springtime, unless you’re already on the other side of the fire, on the other side of spring, on the other side of the thaw.

Everything you’ve ever done will be gone—just a pile of garbage—unless (slide #6) you’ve been born again.
There’s nothing more important. 

Nicodemus tells Jesus how impressed he is with what he sees of Jesus work.  “No one can do it as perfectly as you, Jesus.” 
But Jesus wants to tell us this: Get your eyes off the wonderful work of Jesus.  Get your eyes off the work he seemed to do in life.  And turn your eyes on Jesus on the CROSS, when he gave HIMSELF for frozen hearted people like me and you!—look at HIM.
 “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”  
And how does that happen?  Not anything you can do.  You can’t make yourself be born, not the first time, and not the second—not from water, not from the Spirit, not from below, and certainly not from above…
Beginning with verse 5 of John 3, Jesus launches into a very deep teaching that culminates with the key:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  John 3:16
Jesus takes Nicodemus’ attention off the good work that Jesus was doing—good work Nicodemus could recognize… work that was straight and true and life-giving, healing and so loving… 
Jesus takes Nicodemus’ attention away from the work and puts his attention on himself. 
“For God so loved the world,” Nicodemus, “that he gave me, his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in ME shall not perish but have eternal life…”
Jesus takes the attention off even his good work…
(slide #7)

And He puts it on himself.
Because a relationship with Jesus is the ONLY WAY you and I and anything will make it through the coming thaw—through the coming fire—through the judgment that will show everything else to be sin.
You and I and every other person in this world needs to have a new beginning, a new birth.
You and I must be born again.
(slide #8)
And this is the day.  Today is the day to give up anything and everything I’ve ever done on my own.
Today is the day to let go and let God.  Today is the first day of spring—a day for starting over.
And I can only do that as I give up any hope of making it on my own, and put my trust, my faith, in Jesus Christ.
·        Without Jesus, we are New York City construction workers—laboring away before it the spring comes and it all falls down.
·        Without Jesus we are Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, piling one block on another, hoping that some of the mortar might actually set.
It’s time to stop.  Spring is here.
The frozen mortar of your life is melting.  The Holy Spirit is here to turn your heart and warm it in Jesus’ love.
No one can do that but Jesus.
John 3:13  No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.  The Son of Man must be lifted up on the cross… that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
Jesus turns our attention from our work to him and his work.  And his work is so good.
He loves you.  And you can give in to that love now.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Matthew 18:15

Over the past many years, I have come to appreciate the wisdom of a particular Bible verse -- a verse recorded in the book of Matthew -- where Jesus, who originally spoke in the Aramaic language, is recorded, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, as follows in Greek:
Ἐὰν δὲ ἁμαρτήσῃ [εἰς σὲ] ὁ ἀδελφός σου, ὕπαγε ἔλεγξον αὐτὸν μεταξὺ σοῦ καὶ αὐτοῦ μόνου. ἐάν σου ἀκούσῃ, ἐκέρδησας τὸν ἀδελφόν σου·... (Matthew 18:15) -- Click on the colored/shaded words, in this case the Bible verse, for a hyperlink, in this case, a link to one translation of this verse... "If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one."
In our Christian relationships with one another there is almost no other verse that is as helpful.  I believe, however, that it needs to be understood in a way that does not apply only to ways that we are "sure" someone has sinned against us.  I believe it needs to be broadly applied.

I have been thinking and praying about this for a long time.

I believe Matthew 18:15 can apply, not only to times when we are sure that a brother or sister has clearly sinned against us, but to those times when we merely suspect it may be so or even feel "annoyed."

God has given the other members of church to do his work, not only in the "world," but also as people God has put in our lives to "work" on us, making us more mature and compassionate. As we go and talk with one another, allowing God to work on our relationships with one another, God's spiritual work among and through us will grow stronger every day.

Here is the way I believe we ought to apply Matthew 18:15 --

If any of us feel at all uneasy with a brother or sister in Christ, someone we know and are in relationship with, go and talk with that person one on one, when you and that person can be alone. If that brother or sister simply listens to you, then the relationship has been repaired.

As the conversation ends, we don't even need to agree with one another -- we just need to listen carefully and prayerfully and as non-defensively as possible. Then we "gain" our brothers and sisters to be even more important in our lives than they were before.

I believe we need to give high priority to our relationships with one another, to the warm feelings, yes, but also to the feelings that may not be so warm and fuzzy. God is at work even when we don't feel comfortable. We need to trust that and be in prayer for one another every day.

Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Day One

As of today I am part time interim pastor (6 month term) at Crossroads Community Church.  Duties are limited and I'm also looking forward to beginning another part time job--as a substitute and "trip" bus driver for the Dassel-Cokato school district.

I wrote the following to the chair of the Crossroads "launch team" a few days ago:
"I could be wrong, and all of this will need to be talked about with the launch team, but this is what I hear God saying about our future.  As you read this, don't focus on the details... just pray about the general outline of it.

"Crossroads is a ministry center where people of all ages are called to know Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.  These believers will be offered to the opportunity to be ministry partners.  Crossroads Ministry Partners are Christian believers who commit to one another for an initial period of six months in these ways: pray every day, worship every week, read the Bible, serve at and beyond Crossroads, commit to Christian relationships and give generously to support Crossroads as God has first given to them.  Such partners will have the right to vote and be elected to the Crossroads board of directors.  The board of directors will guide the worldly affairs of the ministry with the guidance of the pastor and elders.

"Many details will still need to be worked out, but I believe we are being called to be less a 'church' that people are members of and more a 'ministry' where people are called to be partners, serving alongside others to pray and worship and read the Bible and serve and relate and give so that the kingdom of God can become more fully realized in our community.  The building is a 'center' for gathering people together, proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, seeking the Holy Spirit's empowering and healing, saving presence, holding one another accountable and equipping believers for Christian service in their homes, churches, workplaces, and the wider world.  The Crossroads Ministry Center will work together with churches and other Christian groups to help us all be more effective in prayer, worship, Scripture reading, service, relationships and giving.  Various people will come alongside us to help and share God's Holy Spirit inspired gifts.

"This is in harmony with what God has already been doing in the lives of those He has called to Crossroads--in fact, what he has been doing in their lives in this community for many years."
None of this is official in any way. I'll be working with the launch team to make decisions, and any final product could look very different than what I've outlined above.

If you care to comment or in another way let me know what you think, I'd appreciate it.  The Crossroads building is located on the south side of U.S. Highway 12, west of Cokato, between Cokato and the Dassel-Cokato High School.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Consider It Pure Joy

Here are a few notes I've written in advance of my preaching tomorrow at Crossroads.  I have accepted a six month part time interim pastoral position with this new church in the Cokato area.  More about that in the weeks to come.

(added 10:17 a.m. Monday - the audio for this time of worship including music, announcements, a "time for children" and the sermon for which I prepared the notes below can be found at  The time of free prayer was not recorded.  Thank you to Jeff for recording and uploading this hour of worship and others.  And, thank you to Gene for your comment.  His comment, and a place for other comments is found at the end of each post.)


Early last August I heard a message by Paul Anderson entitled "This is a Test" at Lutheran Renewal's "Holy Spirit Conference."  As a part of that message Paul shared a story about the renovations they did in their home in order to accommodate a community outreach ministry with young adults:
"We came to the halfway point in our home addition. Drew, living downstairs, came up early one morning in the late winter to tell me we had water in the basement. I followed him down—and found the rug floating in our living room. My heart sunk. I grabbed the shop-vac and quickly filled it up. After wheeling it outside and dumping it, I realized that I had made no recognizable change. I called a plumber and asked what one does when the basement floods. He told me to call restoration specialists, which I did. Then I woke up Clint, a young adult living with us, to help us start dealing with the multiplied damage.

We had only started when one of us realized what was going on. I had spoken on testing the previous Tuesday at our young adult community. The next three days our new boiler was malfunctioning, and we had no heat. We went to bed with our clothes on, and only our heads were cold. The night after the heat was restored, the pipe burst. One of us said, “Sounds like we are getting a chance to live out what we talked about on Tuesday.” Clint suggested we sing, and we started with “Jesus Loves Me.”

We experienced an incredible joy in the midst of this momentary disaster once we simply recognized that we were facing a test. We determined to go through it rejoicing rather than complaining.

The restoration people came an hour later. After surveying the extended basement of five rooms, they told me that they had never seen this much water in a residence. They did their part quickly and efficiently over the next four days. Insurance estimated the cost to repair at $12,000. Since we were able to do the work ourselves with the help of hired friends, we saved $8,000, which we used to complete the addition. I had run out of money and wondered how we would finish our massive upgrade. God knew all the time; through a basement flood! What looked like a disaster was turned into a huge blessing.
In James 1:2-4, we have these words:
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."
I was thinking of those words as I was watching the scenes of devastation from the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan.  I was thinking of those words as I learned of the possible disaster at the Fukushima Power Plant and considered all the death and destruction that came from this catastrophe.  And then I thought of all the people throughout the world that are dealing with unbelievably painful circumstances in their lives every day.

This isn't just a basement flood that can be repaired with insurance money and the help of a few friends.  Hundreds have died and thousands have been hurt.  On Friday someone phoned me saying that she'd had a dream, a dream that urged us to pray.  And we have, and we will.  But I don't know anyone who is praying with thanksgiving in their hearts, considering it (in air quotes) "pure joy" that the Japanese have been hit by this terrible "act of God" (air quotes again).

Still, we have these words from James, "Consider it pure joy..."

I've decided to start preaching on the book of James this Sunday, and, as of now, it's my plan to work my way through this book, though I'm not sure if it will be an every week thing or not.  I'm doing this partly because (1) someone came to me about doing a study of James, partly because (2) James is a book where prayer and action get equal time, partly because (3) my home church was named St. James -- the founding pastor named it that because he didn't want that new church to be just about "religion," and partly because (4) it's my prayer that this "church" will be less a "church" where people are members, and more a "ministry center" with people who are called to be partners in the work the church is called to do.

The book of James is written to people who are already Christians.  It's so important to know that.  The book of James is written to people who have already been captured by God's love, God's grace--people in whom the Holy Spirit has worked the miracle of faith.  That's why James can say, in one of his most famous verses, "Faith without works is dead."  I suppose I should apologize for starting with the assumption that I'm preaching to a mainly Christian crowd, since no one can tell who a Christian is from the outside, but I do think it's probably true.  You have come out here this morning, an hour earlier than usual, not because it's your long standing family tradition, not because you and your family have been "members" here for generations, but because you have found something here that is special--and I believe that "special" thing is a person--specifically, the person of Jesus Christ himself--crucified for you and risen from the dead.

And it's only because of Jesus that James can say, in the beginning of his letter, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds."

Trials and tests and temptations of many kinds.  That's our life.  And whenever those things come and stare you in the face, whenever hard times come, James dares to say, speaking to Christians only, to brothers and sisters who know Jesus, "consider it pure joy."  For those who are not Christians, for those who do not know the love and grace of Jesus, who loves us in our failures and in our successes, who loves us when we're good and when we're bad, who loves us when we pass and when we fail... for those who are not Christians they can not and should not "consider it all joy."  Because, not knowing Jesus Christ, life here is as good as it's going to get.  Without the certainty of eternal life with our Lord we cannot, and should not, consider pain and suffering and death itself to be anything other than terribly sad.

This letter of James, and that command: "Consider it pure joy," it is directed at Christian brothers and sisters only.  Normally, when you read the word "brothers" in the Bible, it means others who believe and trust in Jesus Christ.  Our relationship with one another in the Christian family, it's stronger than any natural family ties.  They will end.  Our relationships with other believers, they will go on forever and ever and ever.  How sweet.  How precious it is.

That's one reason we can consider trials and any hard times to be pure joy.  We never have to go through them alone.  In fact, those trials, and even the wounds they cause, they bring us together in love and dependence on God.  No Christian should ever think they need to face their trials alone.  Christian life is plural, not singular.  We share love beyond the Christian "family," but among those who know the Lord, tears, cries, failures, poverty, unemployment... even earthquakes and tsunamis, even the sins we confess--all of these things give us reason to come together for mutual support and encouragement.  We'll see that even more as we go deeper into the book of James.

The main thing we should be praying for and working for, in regard to the people of Japan, is that more and more of them will know the love and grace of Jesus, who died for each and every one of them, and who longs, through his Holy Spirit, that the would all know him.

But there is another reason, or, better, another set of reasons, that we can consider it to be pure joy when trials and difficulties come upon us.  "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."

If you and I are secure in Jesus, knowing that we honestly do not need to worry about anything in this life or the next because God has everything in his hands, then we can confidently and joyfully move through the worst of trials, difficulties and sorrows and dangers like the people were suffering when James was writing -- Christians were being hunted and deprived of their rights and even killed for their faith at the time -- if you and I know that Jesus blazed the trail for us through death to eternal life and promises to carry us through it all -- if we know that we can simply look at the pain and sorrow of this life as ways that God is working on us, so that, as James says, we will be mature, complete, not lacking anything.  When we are mature Christians, our lives will freely flow with faith, hope and love, and joy, and peace, and patience... we receive all these things because of the many trials through which we pass... and, by God's grace, in the end, it's an eternal life of joy!
  • There are so many places in the Bible where we hear about the good that comes to us once we have passed through fiery times of testing.  I don't have time to go through them now, but as you are reading your Bible, look for them.  Look for how God brings good out of bad over and over again.
  • There are so many people who have passed through times of testing and have grown so sweet as a result.  We'll have a chance to share testimonies and faith stories soon, so we can learn from one another that there's no reason to be afraid.
Tests don't last forever.  Remember that.  No matter how bad it is for you, this time of testing will end.  God would have us remember that and learn what we can from every moment of every day.  God would have us ask "What is it I can learn from this situation?" no matter what the situation is.

By the way, God does not want us to bring unnecessary suffering on ourselves.  There's no need to whip yourself or hurt yourself -- I've heard of people in some places who think they need to do that in certain seasons like Lent.  That's not good.  We just notice what we're going through, pray over it, reflect on it with Jesus and the Bible as a guide, and just keep going one day at a time.  That's what it means to persevere.

No matter how hard the test may be, we can learn from it as Christians.  Even Jesus was tested!  The Holy Spirit purposefully drove Jesus out into the wilderness where he was hungry and thirsty and tested and tempted by the devil!  From Jesus example we know, it will be okay--in some way, God is in control.  Just stick close to Jesus, stick close to a Christian friend or two or more--don't try to do it all alone like Jesus did--he was the Son of God after all... trust God's Word, and see what you can learn in the time of trial.  Oftentimes, as was true with Jesus, tests come just before a major spiritual breakthrough when we will become more and more a blessing to others.  Look for what you learn and praise God!

Here are a few other helpful things to know that will help us through these times:

* Through times of testing God is teaching us to live above our circumstances instead of just reacting to them.
* Like a loving parent who wants us to share his or her love and character, God is often more concerned about what happens in us than what happens to us.
* God doesn't usually tell us when we are being tested. We don't know what specific tests we're going to be facing.
* Through tests we experience stress, and in the stress God reveals our attitudes.  Notice them and ask God to work on them.
* It doesn't matter "who" or "what" brings the test. We can still thank God for how God sill use it to refine our character.
* As we go through tests, we get tougher and more mature.
* We can be confused, but, when tests are passed, they bring a reward.
* Tests don't last forever but we don't outgrow them.  Tests and the maturing process will continue throughout our lifetimes.
* Tests produce a testimony. By passing a test you will have the opportunity to witness to God's faithfulness.

"Consider it pure joy when you go through trials and tests of many kinds."  Lord, may it be so in us as we move ahead in this church.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Gray or Grey?

What percentage of the world's Christians observe the season of Lent?  And, among those who do, how many have ashes put on their forehead on Ash Wednesday?  I don't know the answer to either of those questions.  The best I can do is "some, not all."

Should Christians participate in Lent?  Is it good to do so?  Neither Lent nor the "imposition of ashes" is in the Bible.  It's neither required nor prohibited.  In fact, it's a gray area.  Or grey.  Either is okay.

Technically, Lenten observances are adiaphora, things that are not commanded by Christ but are sometimes helpful.  It's a really good and important teaching--clearly outlined in Romans 14.  Understanding this is so important.  It keeps us from splitting and squabbling over things that are important for some and not for others.

Do you know it's okay that some Christians do and believe things differently than you?  If not, I'd really encourage you to do a careful study of the passage I mentioned above:
"Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord." (Romans 14:5-6)

"Let us therefore no longer pass judgement on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling-block or hindrance in the way of another." (Romans 14:13)
Knowing that some things are grey (or gray) is truly helpful.  How to sort out what is gray and what is black and white?  As a pastor, part of my role is helping a local church do that.  If you have questions about these things, don't keep them to yourself.  Ask and discuss, and then bring the questions to those who are called to lead and guide the faith community you call your own.

The fact is that Christians who "do" Lent (with or without ashes) do it for various reasons, and those who don't have their own reasons.  Those who do either believe it's a good thing or are just going along with what's normal in their church.  Some have just grown up with it. Among those who believe it's a good thing, some have thoroughly investigated the issues involved and have concluded that Lent (with or without ashes) is helpful and is in harmony with Biblical teachings.  Others have just had deep or at least helpful spiritual experiences with this "40 days plus Sundays" season.

Let's listen to one another carefully, and then, in your own church, work toward a consensus that is helpful to as many as possible.  Click here for a helpful guide to consensus voting.  Some things God just leaves up to us to decide.  And, in the process, you and I learn to love those who aren't just the same.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Communication is Key

The following video is a good example of bad communication.

Well, yes and no.

I'm sure I've misunderstood others many times.  When I'm at my best, I try to make sure I've heard someone clearly by telling them what I've heard ("I heard you say...") and then asking ("Did I hear you right?)  That lets the person who shared with me correct or clarify what was said.  When I don't do that, I make things more difficult.  Then I need to ask forgiveness and do my best to clarify and correct things after the fact.

Miscommunication will happen.  It's nothing to get panicked about.  It is good, however, to not just "let it slide" but, instead, to get it clarified as quickly as I can. 

I don't know Joe Cocker, so I can't ask him what he really meant to say.  But before I pass on something I've heard you say, I'll try to ask you if I've heard you correctly.  Asking questions to clarify is one way we can truly "get by with a little help from [our] friends."

Communication is key.  As some of us are going through major changes in our lives and in our churches, let's listen carefully, ask questions, and share with others as clearly as we can.  When something seems a bit "odd" or strange, use that feeling to recognize that perhaps something needs yet more clarification.

Communication is close to God's heart.  God's Son is the Word and God created through the Word.  In a scripture many heard yesterday, Matthew 17:1-9, God told us to LISTEN to Jesus.  We do that as we prayerfully read scripture and then enter into conversation with others, seeking clear understanding.

We will never understand God completely.  We will always have questions to ask.  But, as is true in our communication about other things, we will be able to share enough of God's Truth to help others.  Sticking close to the center of God's heart--his heart that we see and hear in Jesus Christ--a heart full of forgiving love... Staying close to God's heart will help us communicate in a way that truly helps our friends.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Ephesians 6:10-18

 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

On Monday evening March 7, 2011 from 6:45 PM to 8:45 PM I will be attending a Bible study and discussion of Spiritual Warfare, a subject that have learned much more about in the last year and a half, including at the "Prayer School" I attended last May.  (For more on this subject in general see "Reasonable But Beyond Our Sight" on May 12, 2010 and several other posts on that subject that were written around that time.)

The event will be held at Crossroads Community Church, 15905 U.S. Hwy. 12 Cokato, MN 55321 and will continue for several Monday evenings throughout March, April and May.

Spiritual Warfare is not about fighting other people.  It's about Holy Spirit controlled thinking and attitudes shaped by God's Word.

For more information go to this link or contact me or Pastor Karl Kruse.