Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Faith Steps of the Week

Here's a quick update on what's up with us and Crossroads.

Personally, we're hoping to move into Cokato before winter.  Good, affordable rental housing has been hard for us to find so we're looking to buy a home.  It's a big commitment, but since we're asking others to make commitments, we need to lead in that direction.  We're taking steps of faith and encourage others to do so as well.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) night at the PAC, from 6:30 - 8:00, the Dassel-Cokato area youth will meet together for what is known as "DC-United."  Youth directors from Cokato and Dassel formed this organization a few years ago... the youth directors get together on Friday mornings to pray and share together, and to plan large group youth events, and the first of which will be held at the PAC tomorrow night.  The theme for DC-United during school year is "REAL."  T-Shirts will be available at the PAC tomorrow night (like the one Dassel Church of Christ's music director Dave Herring is wearing in the photo at right).  Crossroads has a special role this year - we will be the "prayer team" for our area youth.  The September 28 event will feature music and prayer.  Please join our youth and the Crossroads Prayer Team at DC-United tomorrow!

Thursday evening we have been asked to share the good news of Jesus in a special way--we will host a memorial service for a community family (the family of Dorothy "Robin" Westbury, who passed away last week).  The service will be at Crossroads beginning at 6:30. 

THEN, ON FRIDAY EVENING AND SATURDAY MORNING AND EARLY AFTERNOON, Crossroads will host our first retreat!  We're making final preparations for this "FREE AT THE CROSSROADS" retreat that begins Friday at 6:30.  Details are available on the Crossroads website.  The retreat's purpose to make sure we know we are free.  The idea that we are free is not understood by Christians.  We normally spend most of our lives following other people or our sinful selves.  Without knowing it, we give control of our lives to others.  On the retreat we will spend some time understanding, from scripture, how GOD calls us.  When we understand that, and hear God's call, then when people "command" us, or when the devil and our sinful selves try to order us around, we'll be able to say "NO!  I'm now going to be following Jesus Christ.  I'm going to follow God in every area of my life."  On this retreat we will learn some practical and Biblical ways to do that.  Again, I encourage you to go to the Crossroads website to learn more.  Registrations are still open.  No one will be turned away.  Invite friends and family.

Our retreat leader will be Pastor Wendy Berthelsen.  She is the founder of Call Incorporated (more info on the Crossroads website).  Pastor Wendy will also preach on Sunday morning, October 2, at 10:15 a.m. worship.  We will share the Lord's Supper (communion) that morning as well.

Then, on Sunday afternoon, Toni and I will drive south to Des Moines, where we will gather with many others for the annual gathering of "LCMC," "Lutheran Congregations In Mission for Christ."  (That's the organization that I'm officially connected with as pastor.)  We will be there through Wednesday or Thursday.  We feel a good vibe with this group and are looking forward to it.  Some highlights of the gathering include worship on Sunday evening with preaching by Pastor Bill Bohline of Hosanna! Lutheran Church, Lakeville, MN, Messages by keynote speakers Greg Goden, TJ Anderson and Gemechis Buba, a Bible study by David W. Preus (through whom I heard God's call to serve as a pastor in 1980) and closing worship with communion with preacher Jaynan Clark.  On Wednesday evening and Thursday there will be a special event for new ministries... perhaps I'll learn something there that can be helpful for us at Crossroads.

Thanks for taking the time to read what I've shared.  Please keep us in your prayers and share your comments!  Thanks!


Friday, September 23, 2011

Your Circle

Another day, another field trip!  Today the bus is at Collinwood, just south of Cokato and Dassel.  It's a beautiful day for the 4th graders to be out exploring and learning about God's creation.  Praise God!

I came into Cokato to have a late breakfast with the other driver and got a message from the Cokato Manor suggesting that I stop and spend a bit of time with a family about to lose a loved one.  So I did that.  It was a God blessed opportunity, seeing that I was having breakfast, at the time, no more than 100 yards away from the nursing home.  And what a privilege to share the good news of Jesus' undying love with those who are near death.  "Blessed are the poor in spirit... Blessed are those who mourn..."

Last night at huddle* we were challenged to notice "God Blessed Opportunities" like that.  God blesses us in so many ways every day, sometimes with affirmation, sometimes with correction.  The key is to NOTICE them and then ask the Lord to help us learn the purposes he has in mind to teach us.  We used a diagram like the one below:
The dotted line represents our every day lives.  The X at the top represents a moment when we notice what just might be God's action in our lives.  The "X" is sometimes called a "KAIROS" moment.  It's not that God isn't acting among us regularly, it's just that at times we think, "hmm... could that be God?" or "Is there something the Lord might be trying to tell or teach me through (whatever it is)..."  Sometimes the X moment is a scripture reading.  Sometimes it's an unexplainable "God-incidence" like the one I experienced today at the café.  Sometimes it's a difficulty or crisis.

In any case, what is good then is to take time out to process what we have experienced instead of just letting what might be a God-moment go by unnoticed.  Doing this "processing" in a group, particularly with others who know Jesus and the Bible, with others who are likewise trying to learn from the Lord... doing this with a group like our "huddle" will keep us from getting too far off track.  I'll process this moment, and others, with those I'm learning to trust in the "huddle" next week.

Once we notice and consider making a change based on observation, reflection (and PRAYER!), we discuss it with others and then make a plan to put what we have learned into action.  The "believe" part of the circle is the way we responsibly act on what we have learned.  Again, it's important that we do this with others so we aren't deceived by our emotions, our faulty perceptions, or our sinful selves.

Over and over again I have seen the Lord put events like the "café call" today.  I've seen these as confirmations or affirmations of my sense that I should stay in the Cokato-Dassel area.  I'll check that with the group next week.

God can speak to us through many kinds of events, even those that are hard.  I have certainly experienced those too.  But, as we will hear in the song "He's Always Been Faithful" on Sunday,
I can't remember
a trial or a pain
He did not recycle
to bring me gain.
  (Sara Groves)
So, what is God doing in this "everyday" of your life? What's your circle today?


*A "huddle" is a group of 8-10 Christians who meet regularly.  Marcus Haug is leading Crossroads first huddle.  We have met three times so far.  For more see Huddle Logistics.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

God's Life Plan

Good evening all.  I'm home for a relatively short time, considering it's night.  I'll head to bed soon in the hope that I can get a good night's rest.  Tomorrow bus 38 and I will be on duty from early morning till late afternoon, doing the morning route, an all day field trip and then the regular afternoon trip.  Same thing Friday.  Then, on Saturday, Toni and I are planning on heading up near Mille Lacs for a wedding.  So, if I'm going to get a message together for Sunday I'd better sketch out a few thoughts now.

The group I'm working alongside these days is doing a series on "LIFE."  They actually began last Sunday--but I was called upon to share a message on commitment then so I'm a week behind the rest.  So we'll read Genesis 1:26-28, which speaks of the gift of human life, we'll celebrate the baptism of Raquel Grace Robertson, we'll share a scripture Raquel's grandpa brought to our prayer meeting tonight (Hebrews 3:1-6), add Psalm 8, and then I'll read this priceless scripture from Matthew's gospel:
Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’ And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.  (Matthew 19:23-25)
It's clear from all these scriptures that having and raising children to know Jesus is a sacred trust.  Part of the task to which God calls parents and every adult Christian is to help children know what God thinks of them, that they are precious in his sight, and that God longs for them to know Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior and then to know their own identity, as God's very own.

Anyone who has trusted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior discovers that they are holy in God's sight, precious, and called to His.  As I am reading in Raquel's grandpa's "Life Application Bible" in a reflection on Hebrews 3:1 -
"By knowing who you are in Christ, you can deny all the false messages of the world.  Many strident voices will try to convince you that you're not pretty enough, not smart enough, and not successful enough.  But your identity in Christ alone completes you!  You can add nothing to it, and this world's detractors can take nothing from it."
God's plan is that Christian adults impress that on young people as often as we can and by whatever means we can--through tender loving care, through prayer, through the scriptures, and through baptism...  God's life plan is that we would continue to do that as long as we live.

That's all I have time energy for tonight.  At least it's a start on what we'll share on Sunday.  I hope you can come and be with us.  It will be a God blessed day.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Love Without Boundaries

Sponsored by Love Without Boundaries
7:00 PM, Friday, Sep. 23
The Church of St. Philip Social Hall
821 E. 5th St., Litchfield, MN 55355

On Friday evening I'm hoping to go over to Litchfield to hear Pete speak.  I've never met him but I do know what he represents--a courageous group of people who are dealing with issues that I can only begin to understand.  The sponsoring organization is called "Love without Boundaries."  Together with NAMI of Meeker County, LWB works "to eradicate the stigma involved with mental illness through education and support."

The flyer for Friday evening's event says this:
Besides the standard medical treatment for mental illness of medication and therapy, there is a crucial third ingredient: spirituality, volunteering, creativity, focusing our lives not on just on our wounds, but on what we love. Using the insights gained from his own 30 year struggle with depression and MS, National speaker Pete Feigal uses humor and heartbreak to examine this extra element to recovery to give consumers, family members and mental health professionals concrete ideas and tools to help fmd our gifts, and then ways to share our gifts with others. The focus will be on tinding hope, losing our shame, building new dreams, and rediscovering meaning and purpose in our lives.
As I mentioned back in January in Mental Illness and Poverty of Spirit, sheriff's deputies had brought this subject to light during their annual meeting with local pastors, saying that many of their domestic calls and other calls for service involved mental illness.  So this isn't just something that "some people" deal with and the rest of us can ignore.  It's good for all of us to know something about it.  According to government statistics, mental illness affects about one quarter of all adults and a higher percentage of youth.  Yet, many of us know very little about it.  Learning something will help us avoid (1) unnecessary fear, (2) naive optimism (thinking people just need to get over it), or (3) the rejection of those who suffer, thinking of them as somehow worse sinners than the rest of us, believing it's all about poor choices or a lack of self control.

I like the name "Love without Boundaries" and I'll try to go to the event on Friday night.  Let's reach out to those who suffer in this way, praying with and for them and their families, and helping them find ways to cope and find healing just as we do with any other illness.  Can we really exclude people from our care who are suffering in ways that we cannot imagine?  Or can we ask "What Would Jesus Do?"

"Love Without Boundaries" (LWB) itself is a local support group for the loved ones of individuals whose lives have been touched by mental illness.  LWB meets on the first Thursday of every month from 7-9 p.m. at the Litchfield Public Library.  You can contact LWB at lovewithoutboundaries09@gmail.com or call Dollie at 320-693-7072.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Free in Truth

A few months ago someone gave me a t-shirt with the words "I AM FREE" and underneath a Bible reference - "John 8:32."  It doesn't look like the one pictured here.  It's white with black letters.  It doesn't have anything else on it, not even the words of Jesus from John 8:32.  What are those words?
"You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
In this part of John's gospel, Jesus is having a discussion with the religious leaders.  The religious leaders don't believe Jesus can be any kind of savior or messiah because he doesn't have the right credentials. Jesus reply is this: "It's not a matter of which professional group or religious society we belong to.  It's only a matter of truth.  Truth is truth, whether it's accepted by you or not.  Therefore, anyone who knows and teaches the truth is free from spiritual domination of any kind, whether from human beings or from the deceptions of human nature.  Being free is just a matter of knowing the truth, and," he says, "my Word is just that--it is truth."

I'm thinking about that as we at Crossroads are discovering who we really are as a church.  We are a sort of "toddler" church, a very young group of believers that just getting to its feet.  We're thankful for the partners we have--both those in our local area and those further away.  They walk beside us as we walk beside one another, holding one another up.  One thing we don't want to do is to start depending on man made rules, so-called "infallible" doctrines, unbreakable traditions or institutional requirements.  Those are traps we want to avoid.  We believe God is calling us to be free.

One sign of this freedom is an unwillingness to lock ourselves (or others) into ways in which we do church ceremonies.  This coming Sunday we will celebrate Crossroads' first baptism.  Someone from our church is roughing up a baptismal font.  The baptism will honor the responsibility of parents to teach and raise their children in a way that honors God and trusts Jesus.  When parents bring their children to be baptized, that's what they do.  They recognize that their love, and their guidance, is not enough.  As they baptize their children, they are honoring great commission of Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20).  They will baptize first and teach the children to obey afterward.  They trust that God works through baptism, as it says in Romans 6:4.  They don't believe it matters how much water is used or that God "requires" any particular way for baptism to be done.  Others will do it differently, desiring their children to come to repentance before baptism.  I believe the Bible honors both, and so will we, so help us God.

Religious people so often want others to conform to their own standards, somehow trying to enforce their interpretations of God's Word and bind others to it.  It's my prayer that we at Crossroads will be, and remain, truly free, bound only by the truth of God's Word, truth that never fails, but truth that we never interpret with complete clarity.  In this life there are many things we will never know pefrectly (see 1 Cor 13:12).  Some things are very clear, other things are not.  Christian scholars and teachers over the centuries have disagreed about baptism and other in a church-dividing way.  We at Crossroads, together with many in the Alliance of Renewal Churches, will not do this, so help us God.

If you're looking for a church that is free and truthful, check us out.  And pray for us, that we will not fall into legalism of any kind.

Such freedom may make us feel less secure, from a human point of view.  It will have us relying on God alone.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Commitment and Blessing

I begin writing this as I am preparing myself to to preach (tomorrow) and to preside at a wedding (today).  Part of the message the Lord has for us tomorrow was shared on this blog back on September 8 - see "I Will, With God's Help."  I'm being called by God challenge our people to a deeper and more public commitment to the ministry of Crossroads Community Church.

The Lord gave me the confidence to do this as I listened to Pastor Larry Johnson as he spoke at the Youth Encounter commissioning two weeks ago.  His notes are available for download as a pdf at this link.  I plan, like Larry did, to use the blessings of marriage as an analogy to the blessings of other commitments that God calls us to make.

Tomorrow we'll begin the message portion of worship with a reading from Matthew 20, the one where God (pictured by a landowner) gives the same "wages" to workers no matter if they work twelve hours or one.

This produces a problem when it comes to encouraging believers to "get to work" on what God wants done in this world.  If every desperate believer in Jesus is going to get the same reward, what's the incentive to actually do God's will?  Yes, there is the danger that we won't ever get around to doing what God wants done (see Matthew 25 for some warnings about that), but there are also some blessings we'll miss out on if we wait too long.

God wants us to get on the way of blessing as soon as possible, for our sake, and for the good of others--for the salvation and healing of so many who do not yet  know our Lord.  And the way we can get on that way of blessing and to say on that way is through commitment through God's commitment and ours. 

[At this point in my message I'll share some of what I wrote back on Sep. 8. about God's amazing commitment to us and the blessings beyond number that brings to the world.]

It's not easy to make or keep (honest) commitments, but when we do, we reap the benefits (see Romans 5:3-5 and James 1:2-4) as do those we serve.

To use a bus driving analogy, my commitment to drive on Monday through Friday provides structure and builds character in my life, and it also gets the kids where they need to go.  If I just drove when I felt like it, kids would be stranded some days.

Or, when we are raising children, it takes commitment and follow through!  How terrible when parents are ruled by their feelings in regard to their children!  Having our own children, or having foster children or adopted children, that is a wonderful example of commitment, as we stick in there to for their sakes.  But, as we do, we experience blessing ourselves.

The blessing to us personally actually comes from the fact that making and keeping commitments is not easy.  Whether it's marriage, raising children or even committing to a particular group of believers like Crossroads, some of the blessing comes because of the suffering and the trials we face as we stay together and pray together.

I've often compared staying together to a rock polisher, a mechanism that keeps us bouncing off one another, getting our rough edges honed off.  As we hang in there, or here, with others, this bouncing off one another's personalities hurts sometimes, but that, in time, and with lots of prayer and forgiveness, produces strength of character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us. Go back and read Romans 5:3-5 and James 1:2-4 once more.

Making commitments to one another is a way to grow spiritually.  If you want to grow closer to God, pray that he will lead you to a commitment that pleases him.  Don't just go with the flow!  If we avoid making commitments, if we just go with how we feel at the time, if we just  "get out" when the going gets tough, we will not grow spiritually.  If we simply stick around when we feel like it, we will not become mature and able to reproduce, that is, to make other disciples of Jesus as he has commanded us to do.

But there's another blessing that comes with commitment.  This is one that my pastor friend Larry Johnson didn't touch on two weeks ago.  I was reminded of it as I read what Mike Bradley wrote recently in his blog.  In a piece entitled "Don't Underestimate the Power of Presence and Encouragement."  He spoke there about the Old Testament story about David and Jonathan:
"....In 1 Samuel 23... In verse 13 and following we have the story of [future king] David and his men hiding in the wilderness, [reigning king] Saul hot on their trail. David receives word Saul is searching for him in order to kill him.

"Then, as I read verses 16 and 17, Holy Spirit caught my attention. These verses tell us something that on the surface might not seem all that important or exciting. It is the simple story of Jonathan coming to be with David. It is a short story of the power of presence and encouragement...

"David is in a place where he needs courage; and Jonathan comes to be present with him and to give him that word. In verse 17 we read Jonathan’s words of encouragement to David:  '"Don’t be afraid," Jonathan reassured him, "My father will never find you! You are going to be the king of Israel, and I will be next to you, as my father, Saul, is well aware"' (1 Sam 23:17, NLT).
Jonathan has made a commitment to BE there with David.  He has said, "You can count on me."  This gives great comfort and wonderful peace.

This week several of us were gathered at a home in Dassel along with two staff members of the North Heights - Community of Hope group that we're part of.  If you were here last week you heard a message by the senior pastor of those churches--you can listen to it on our website's "worship" page.  As we were at that Dassel home, one of the pastors from those churches looked me straight in the eye and said, "We want you to know that we are here for Crossroads.  We're committed to this relationship.  We're not just going to let you go."

That was very encouraging.  It was a much needed word at the time.  All of us at the table, I think, felt a sense of confidence rising in us as we heard this word of promise.  I've felt that many times in the past few months as we've been growing into relationship with this North Heights - Community of Hope group, and with the whole Alliance of Renewal Churches.  And it's an encouragement we will share with one another as we are willing to step into commitments to local churches, to local churches like ours.

If you have not made a commitment to a local church, now would be a time to pray about doing that.  For your sake, and for the sake of the others, like me, you will encourage by doing so.  I believe your commitment will be a blessing.  And through making that commitment, and through keeping it, you, and your church, will grow.

There are several ways you can commit to the ministry at Crossroads.

After you've experienced the ministry here, and after you've prayed and asked all the questions you need to ask, you can become a Crossroads partner.  You do that simply by signing the partnership commitment that you'll find in the church's front room.  (You can see it on our website's "about us" page, in the paragraph that begins "Our members are ministry partners who...).

Or, whether or not you're ready to sign the partnership agreement, you can commit to something else through this church--you can take the step of deciding to come to prayer on a Wednesday evening--it's the "deciding" to come that constitutes the commitment.  Or you can sign up for the upcoming retreat, or you can say that you will serve with our children or youth or in another capacity.

You can say, yes, count me in, or, yes, I admit it, saying "I am a leader.  I am important!  (At least to someone, at least in some small way.)  I'll quit pretending it doesn't matter what I do, what I say, what I decide."

Taking a step of faith, to say "Yes, I will, with God's help," taking that step will help you grow, and you, and others, will be blessed.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Unnecessary Resistance

Last night at huddle* we were challenged to consider how the power of God in and through our lives is encountering resistance.

As I've been praying through this since I find that there are two kinds of resistance, (1) unnecessary resistance, that is, ways in which God's power (see Ephesians 3, especially verse 20) is burned up unnecessarily, and (2) God's purposeful use of power, which is intended to make things happen.

Some of the things God wants us to be directing his power toward may resist Him too, but those purposes are not unnecessary.  I think what God wants us to do is to examine the ways in which his power is dissipated unnecessarily so it can be properly directed toward overcoming the resistance HE chooses.

A bus driving analogy: one could consider the children on the bus to be "resistance" because they add weight to the vehicle (and, at times, stress on the driver!), but removing them so the bus can move more freely would sort of defeat the purpose of the bus.  What we want to do is remove the excess baggage and friction etc.  That's the "unnecessary resistance," not the kids.

More about this later.  I just wanted to get this thought written down.


*A "huddle" is a group of 8-10 Christians who meet regularly.  Marcus Haug is leading Crossroads first huddle.  We have met three times so far.  For more see Huddle Logistics.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Friendly, Firm, Fair

I hope my last post (I Get It Now) didn't make anyone think that the kids on my bus are a problem!  They're not!  I'm getting to know them and, the more I get to know them, the better I like them.  Kids have energy and creativity, they are excited to express their individuality (especially in the afternoon) but, honestly, they are truly blessings to me. 

I am very glad to have this job.  When I wrote the post yesterday I was thinking about the huge responsibility I have in driving this 40 foot vehicle with 50+ young people on board.  There are skills involved that no one really knows school bus drivers need to have, until you actually drive.  But the time with the kids makes up for the challenges.  They are gifts of God!  Each one!

That doesn't mean it's all calm.  The school district has rules in place that young people, to various degrees, like to challenge. The rules are good and the school administrators do an excellent job of being a "team" with us drivers.  We can, and do, call on them often to help us in our work and in our relationships with these kids.

When I was done with my route today, I stopped in briefly at the weekly prayer meeting that the local pastors have each Wednesday.  After a couple errands, I came home and have been listening to public radio, as I often do.  This morning there happens to be a discussion on the air about "school discipline." (Click that link to listen to it later.)  The speakers, Ross Greene and Michael Thompson think of proper behavior as a skill that needs to be learned.  Consistent bad behavior, they say, can be, perhaps, explained and dealt with as a "learning disability.."  It's important, they say, not to get into power struggles with these kids.  Forming relationships with the kids and targeting strategies toward these young people is needed more than punishment.

As I think of the many young people I've known and cared about down through the years, and as I think of the kids I'm getting to know on my bus, it seems to me that there is truth to what they say.  I don't think Proverbs 13:24 means that we need to use corporeal punishment.  I think it means that some sort of intervention is needed, that we must be firm, and that it's huge mistake to just let kids do whatever they want.  (I've never used a "rod" on my kids.)  But neither I didn't just step aside and let kids run my home or my life.  Thanks to the firm and fair rules and the back up of the administration in my school district, I won't let the troubled kids run the bus either.  I'll seek to build relationships with them all.


Monday, September 12, 2011

I Get It Now

from http://www.shoecomics.com/comics.php?sel_dt=011707

At our meeting before school started, this comic was handed out to the bus drivers.  Now that I've driven for five days, I get it.  Click on the comic to see the punch line.  Some things you only appreciate when you are actually "doing it."  Please pray for me and for all school bus drivers on the road today!


Saturday, September 10, 2011

You and I

You and I, we don't need to be alone. Whatever the situation, whatever the sorrow, whatever the pain, the Lord wants to give us to each other, to be companions and comrades and co-belligerents in spiritual warfare, to stand or sit together in the darkness and point one another to the light that sometimes seems tiny, to the light that will, on one glorious day not too long from now, break through and flood this broken world.  Jesus, acquainted with sorrows, still marked with the scars of his suffering--Jesus will reign!  No sorrow, no sin, no confusion, no pain, NOTHING will overcome that love.  And, honestly, nothing will overcome it today.

To know we're not alone, to know we're not alone even "only with God"... to know that we need to be honest.  The Holy Spirit longs for us to be really real with one another, to not hide our sorrow or brokenness away in a dark corner, to shatter the fake strongholds, to come out, to stop pretending that we're always okay.  There's nothing more lonely than living a lie... and those lying façades don't only make you or me feel alone, they also keep others in the dark.  They think we're doing just fine.

God is calling you and I to honest living.  I am praying that Crossroads can be a place for honesty.  The same goes for this blog I call "equal sharing."  Let's be real together.  Let's rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.  And let's BE those people who dare to rejoice or weep, as the case may be.

It's time to let one another in.  It's time to give up the false front.  It's time to come, with two or three or a dozen others--it's time to give up the desperate and wearying attempts to hold the transforming power of God at arms length.  Let go and let God!  And let your brothers and sisters see you!  Stop fighting so hard by yourself!  Let God be God and let others be brothers (and sisters). When you and I do that, in Jesus' name, the Holy Spirit comes in... and His presence, soon or later, will bring REAL joy.  Then songs and praises will be as real as tears.

That's the kind of church God is calling Crossroads to be. A place where you and I don't need to be alone.

P.S. ... For a bit more in the same vein, take a look at the video you'll find at Where You Can Be You.

(Pastor Bryan Lowe turned me on to this topic today.  See "Rainy Day People" and submit a comment if you dare.  I did.  I appreciate Pastor Bryan so much.  He is one of the most courageous people I know.)


Friday, September 9, 2011

Good to be Known

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is so high that I cannot grasp it.
The bus I'm driving these days has a digital video recorder in it.  Today I had the eerie experience of sitting in my supervisor's office watching what had occurred in the bus over the previous two or three days.  I knew the recorder was there, but had forgotten it, I guess, so it was a strange sensation to see what had gone on behind my head while I had been busy driving.  And lots goes on!  More than I know.

Early this morning the Bible verses above came to mind, given to me, I believe, by the Holy Spirit.  Watching the video recording made me think of how God is watching over all of us with such love, seeing everything and hearing everything and still loving us, even when we are doing what is not pleasing in his sight.

Oh! how He loves us! (Even though he knows us!)   Because God knows with such love, he came himself, in person, straight into our dysfunctional world, to take upon us all the sin HE knows (far more than what WE know), so He could save us from ourselves.  For that reason, and for many others, it is good to be known-- good to be known by the One God!

Let yourself know that He knows!

It is so good!


Thursday, September 8, 2011

I Will, With God's Help

Life has changed.  I've started my regular bus route--getting up before 5:30 five days a week, getting home at 8:30 or 9, then turning around to go back to the Dassel bus barn at 2:45 or so for the afternoon run, home here about 4:30.  There's a lot to learn--making sure the bus isn't too early or late, learning the kids names and personalities, and getting to know the orderly ways that the buses unload and load at the schools.

I've made the bus driving commitment for the 2011-2012 school year alongside my commitment to Crossroads Community Church.  It's a big commitment.  The new schedule cuts down the flexibility of my daily life.  I've always been busy--I'm almost never bored--but still, already on the third day of driving bus #38 I can see that things have changed.

Commitments are good things.  There is, first of all, the commitment God makes to his creation.  God continues to sustain and bless us with sunrises each day, with sunshine and rain and snow, and by giving us each breath and each heartbeat.  This morning I so much enjoyed seeing the wildlife--two young deer running on a trail alongside the road, staying with the bus for quite awhile.  Beautiful.  And birds beginning to flock together. 

Each season that goes by is a clear sign of God's commitment to us--and we who have had God's love poured into our hearts get a little taste of how much God is committed to us as we are not willing to just "let go" of those who suffer.  Deep inside we know, from God's point of view, we are not replaceable.  God loves all that he has made and he does not change.

In the Bible, we read over and over again that God cares enough to make promises.  He makes promises to his creation in general, and to the human race in particular and to those who have come into a personal relationship with him. Through the life of Jesus we learn that God cares for individuals, even when they fail.  It's remarkable that when Jesus said to his disciples "follow me" that he remained faithful to them too!  He did not replace them when they disappointed him.  He remained faithful to them throughout his ministry and then, when he rose from the dead, he came back to those specific men and women.  Only Judas was replaced, but that, sadly, could not be any other way.

In return for his commitment to us, God calls us to make commitments.  First, he calls us to love him above all things.  Because we human beings are inconsistent in our sinful nature, God calls us to confess our commitment aloud, to say with our lips, "Jesus is Lord."  This means we leave behind other options for "kings" or "queens" of our lives.  God comes before everything else and he will not share that central place.  See "God Won't Cohabit" for more.

But though God's promises and faithfulness to us and our response of commitment to him is and remains the central commitment of our personal lives, and though no one except God has a right to judge that relationship, we are called to make other commitments also. 

On Sunday evening Toni and I went to the Youth Encounter commissioning service in Spring Lake ParkKelly Marie Gilbert, who we at Crossroads heard from in March made a promise to a particular ministry--to be trained and then to serve for one year as a volunteer with a group of young people called "Crossfire."

At the commissioning service, after some exuberant worship, Youth Encounter's president (Pastor Larry Johnson) gave a message on commitment, speaking of the blessings that come to us when we are willing to say "yes" in response to God's call, instead of just coming along with a ministry when we feel like it.  I'm hoping to share more of Larry's message here when I get a copy from him.

This is a season for commitments.  I believe it's a time for those who have been participating with Crossroads Community Church to prayerfully consider what God is calling them to in connection with this ministry.  Larry spoke of the dangers that come when we merely "co-habit" with one another.  I came to believe that was a word for this season of our church.  Perhaps it is God's word for you in this season of your life too, wherever you may be.  Our church is based on partnership--you can read a bit more about that on the "about us" page of our website.
Our members are ministry partners who trust Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior, accept the Bible as authoritative for faith and life, and believe God is calling us together for this season of our lives to pray, worship, study the scriptures, serve, care for one another and give financially for the ministry and mission of God through Crossroads Community Church of Cokato.
If you are a partner, this may be a time for you to consider a more specific commitment.  Some of us are unwilling to step out to say "I will, and I ask God to help me."  I can understand that!  Adding this bus driver commitment alongside of everything else certainly does stretch me!  But, for this season, it seems to be the will of God.  So I said yes.  Perhaps you can say yes too.

(A follow up to this is at Commitment and Blessing, written Sep. 14.)


Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Just a quick word of encouragement to check out the Crossroads website at crossroadscokato.com.  We'll try to keep it updated.


Sunday, September 4, 2011

Following Jesus Where You're At

Here are my preparation notes for tomorrow's preaching.  I'm thinking of this for a variety of reasons, partly because someone I have cared about and spent time with recently came to a very sad end.  I don't know what else to do but go back to scripture and cling to the promises of our Lord. 

I love the Bible stories of Jesus and his disciples.  I love them because, from a spiritual point of view, they are so deeply connected with the lives of the followers of Jesus who are alive today.  I love these stories because they are so honest.  They show God at work in the mess of everyday life.  These stories show what God can do through the lives of his disciples, through the lives of people like you and me, even when we don't look so good.

It sort of reminds me of First Corinthians 5:17 - 6:13.  You can read that at the bottom of this post.  That passage speaks of the new creation, that, as Jesus' people, we are new.  But even so we live in a broken and sinful world, a world that not only has its effects on other people out there, but also on us, on you and on me.  First Corinthians 5:17-6:13 tells us that yes, we are new, and that God is at work in us on behalf of others, but that things do not always go so well.  Beginning in verse 4 of First Corinthians 6 it says this in the translation called "The Message."
People are watching us as we stay at our post … in hard times, tough times, bad times; when we’re beaten up, jailed, and mobbed; working hard, working late, working without eating; with pure heart, clear head, steady hand; in gentleness, holiness, and honest love; when we’re telling the truth, and when God’s showing his power; when we’re doing our best setting things right; when we’re praised, and when we’re blamed; slandered, and honored; true to our word, though distrusted; ignored by the world, but recognized by God; terrifically alive, though rumored to be dead; beaten within an inch of our lives, but refusing to die; immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy; living on handouts, yet enriching many; having nothing, having it all.
The life of a follower of Jesus, you see, isn't about us at all.  It doesn't really matter what the circumstances of our lives are.  We don't look at ourselves and we don't want anyone else to do that either.  We look to Jesus, and to him alone.

I have to do that because, as the song "Everlasting" says:
A thousand times I've failed
Still your mercy remains.
And should I stumble again
Still I'm caught in your grace.
Everlasting, Your light will shine when all else fades.
Never ending, Your glory goes beyond all fame.

So I love the stories of Jesus and his disciples in the Bible.  I love them because guess who gets the glory and the honor and the praise?  The disciples?  No.  It's Jesus.  It's Jesus every time.

Yesterday I asked my brother Randy to come and read scripture this morning.  Randy, would you come now and read another one of those true and honest stories.  As he reads, let's close our eyes and imagine ourselves in the real life situation they were in.  They've had an incredible day of being with Jesus.  He had just fed thousands of people with a few loaves of bread... this should have shown them that they never had anything to worry about... but they didn't get it... in any case, Jesus now sends them out ahead while he goes alone to pray.

Mark 6:54-56
     45 Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.
     47 When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. 48 He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, 50 because they all saw him and were terrified.
     Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 51 Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, 52 for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.
     53 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. 54 As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. 55 They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed.

So who is it that looks good in this story?  Is it the disciples?  Hardly.  Their hearts were still so hard that, when they came to land on the other side of the lake, they were no good at all.  But, honestly, did it matter?  Did the disciples do the healing work?  Were they the ones who the people over there were glad to see?  No way.  It was all about Jesus.  It was NOT about them.  And it's not about us either.  In fact, when miracles do happen when we pray, when we DO get a chance to participate in God's incredible healing and saving work, there's a bit of danger there.

Turn over with me to Acts chapter 3.  Now we don't have time to go through all of this, but you'll see here in Acts 3 that two of Jesus' disciples, filled with the Holy Spirit, are going to the temple in Jerusalem at the time of prayer, and they meet a crippled man who asks them for money.  They didn't have any money, but they did have Jesus living in them through the Holy Spirit, so, speaking in the name of Jesus, they said, "'Get up and walk!' Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man's feet and ankles became strong."  He jumped to his feet and went with them into the temple, "walking and leaping and praising God!"

Then look at Acts 3:11 and following:
11 While the beggar held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. 12 When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.
When success comes to Jesus' disciples, whether it's then or now, when we pray and someone is healed, or when we help someone get to know the Lord and they are saved, it's a great thing, but it's also something of a problem because it's so easy then for people to start looking at us instead of at the one we serve, Jesus Christ himself.

The miracle stories of the Bible, and the miracles that God does in the world today, they are very good and very precious, and we ought to be seeking and praying for these mighty acts of God to take place among us.  But more often than not, we human beings who have found our Savior Jesus and have been filled with God's Holy Spirit, more often than not you and I are going to end up being used in more humble ways.  We shouldn't be satisfied with that, and we should keep pursuing great and mighty signs of God's presence among us, but we should not be discouraged when things turn out differently.  Because, in the end, it's not about us at all.  And God will us ALL THINGS for his glory--even when all we do is to just let someone know something about the Lord, even when all we do is give someone a sign of Jesus' love in a rather small way.

Because, in those circumstances, Jesus is at work too.  Right where you are at.  Even before everything becomes clear and perfect in your Christian life.  What's important is that Jesus shines.  Not you.  Not me.

[At this point of my message tomorrow, I'm going to ask my son Jon to speak about his experiences in his every day life, helping people to come just a little closer to Jesus, and then we'll pray and encourage one another to do the same.]


First Corinthians 5:17--6:13
     17 ...If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
     6:1 As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. 2 For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.”I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.
     3 We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. 4 Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7 in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 8 through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9 known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
     11 We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. 12 We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. 13 As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also.


Friday, September 2, 2011

Send A Missionary (part 3)

The Garden of Hope In Chiang Mai, Thailand
Like many young people, Andria is filled with the Holy Spirit after having been healed and transformed by Jesus Christ. She deeply desires to give her life to mission work, especially among other young people who have suffered abuse and exploitation.

Several, even many, from Crossroads have supported her so far, but time is running out.  She needs several one time gifts or monthly commitments so she can serve with The Garden of Hope in Chiang Mai, Thailand, "a community that protects vulnerable and at-risk children and teenage women from abuse and exploitation in Southeast Asia and equips and enables them to develop maturity and responsibility, bearing fruit for the glory of God."

Unlike many of us, Andria does not have a "home base" of relatives that can support her.  She came to us as one of "Crosswalkers" in 2010 (through that "walk" she experienced what it truly means to trust God) and, then, in July shared a message at Crossroads.

Will you help her?  Every bit helps.  Her deadline is TUESDAY (Sep 6) and she is still in need of about $4000 total in one time gifts or monthly commitments.

Go to "Send A Missionary" to learn more and to find out how to send a donation.  In any case, please pray!


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Where You Can Be You

This video really fits Crossroads.  Really.  See below for a transcript.  (Thanks Mary Kay!)

Here's a few reasons why people don't go to church.  

    I can't come to church until I get my life together.
        Church is HOW I got my life together.
        (A place for new beginnings.)

    Church is filled with a bunch of hypocrites...
        and there's always room for one more.
        (Imperfect people welcome.)

    All they care about is your money.
        They care about me, not my money.
        (People are priceless.)

    Is there some kinda dress code?
        Yes, the code is, wear some clothes.
        (Come as you are.)

    Church, it just makes me nervous.
        I was nervous at first and then I felt right at home.
        (Right where God wants you.)

    I'm not sure I believe everything that you believe.
        ...but you can still belong.
        (Doubts welcome.)

    Church is for whimpy, girly men.
        ...you wanna say that again? :)

    If you knew me,
    and what I've done,
    you wonldn't want me.

        If you knew me,
        and what I've done,
        you wouldn't be worried.
You can come to my church
even if you were brought up
    Church of Christ,
    Southern Baptist, or 
    ...a little bit of everything
    ...or a whole lot of nothing.
See, it's not about a religion, it's about a relationship!

So please come to my church.
    Where nobody's perfect,
    Where beginners are welcome,
    Where socks are optional, but grace is required
    Where forgiveness is offered.
    Where hope is alive!
        And it's ok... to not be ok.