Wednesday, November 30, 2011

God's Internet Gift

People have communicated at a distance for thousands of years.  During most of history that communication was physically written words on paper or other materials.  During the past few years communication has grown tremendously.  It's mostly electronic communication -- and much of it via the internet.  At the moment I'm chatting via facebook with Andria Jasper, a missionary that our church has supported, someone who came through town on foot but who we kept connection with via the internet.  Now she's in Thailand.  Wow!

Back in the Old Testament there is a story about how God scattered people who had become too proud.  But the Holy Spirit gathers us together again in Jesus' name.  He does that as we gather face to face, but also as we connect by whatever means are provided for, including the internet and other electronic communication. 

Last night I was on the phone with friends in the Twin Cities and Texas, and left a message for friends in Wisconsin.  Other friends connect via email and facebook.  And occasionally someone comments on this blog, either here directly, more often, when I link to the blog via facebook. 

Those connections are so good.  They are ways that the Lord has provided to do battle against isolation and loneliness, isolation and loneliness that can lead to depression and despair unless they are brought into the light.

Unless we step away from face to face interaction, and if we don't avoid talking with people, for example, on the phone, I believe we can praise God for His internet gift.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

In The Midst Of

Here's a note I sent to our church's first "huddle" group.
The Lord woke me up early this morning, and, in the last hour or so, has revealed something to me that I want to share. 

For a very long time I've been puzzling about why it is that God wants us to stay here in Cokato. 

This morning it became clear to me that one of the reasons we are still here is that the Lord wants to be active AMONG us and IN us, among us and IN our relationships with one another.

If people leave without being clearly called elsewhere, that cuts off what God wants to do IN and AMONG us. 

One of the things huddle is about is allowing God to deal with us personally, to look, not to our intellectual convictions but to what HE is doing IN us... and a lot of what God is doing IN us he does by our interactions with one another.  Loving God does have to do with loving one another! 

This, as many of the things God is saying to me, needs to be clarified, but I'd ask that you would be praying about it.

After all, the word Cokato does mean "in the midst of."  And that's where God is working through His Holy Spirit... in our midst.
Your partnership, and your comments, whether in person or through this blog, are important ways that the Lord is at work among us.  Please do not hold back.  God calls us to speak and to listen to one another.  Please do not remain silent if the Lord is speaking to you.  I cannot state this strongly enough.  If God is to work in our midst, we must speak what the Lord lays on our hearts. (And don't worry too much if you don't live in the town of Cokato.  The name of the town is just an illustration and county and town boundaries are truly artificial lines drawn by people, not by the Lord!)

The Lord impresses on me that when we hold back on what the Lord is saying to us,  when we hold back the Lord's word that he has planted in us, that his Holy Spirit is grieved.  See Ephesians 4:30... read the entire chapter to see it in context at this link.

For more on this subject, please see Pastor Bryan Lowe's "Rolling Stones Theology."  

Peace to you all in Jesus' name.

Monday, November 28, 2011

One More Step

It's been about two years since Toni and I have really felt "settled."  At some point after the August 2009 ELCA vote* it became apparent to us that the life we had known for 25 years was coming to an end.  It wasn't until February of 2011 that we actually moved from the Cokato ELCA parsonage but there has certainly been a sense of being off balance since 2009. 

Not that it's been all bad.  Being thrown off balance has caused us to cling in a deeper way to the source of our faith, to God Himself.  We and our family have learned and grown spiritually through this time, and so have many others who have been part of the ELCA.

Beginning after my August 2010 resignation from the Cokato ELCA church we started to pack things away.  I am a bit ashamed to admit that my wife ended up doing the lion's share of that packing as both of us struggled spiritually and in other ways.  I wrote and studied and prayed (a lot), did some job searching, commuted back and forth two days a week to Minneapolis beginning in January for a class (Psychology and the Church) and connected with friends and colleagues.  In February we moved to Dave and Barb Yeager's home and then in March we moved to a rented farm house three miles north of town.

The "one more step" today is to go back out to the farm to work on finishing the cleaning there.  It will be so good to get this taken care of.  All of this time of being unbalanced has taken time away from my pastoral work, and I'm looking forward to a better focus on that. 

Of course, just getting the farmhouse and garage out there cleaned out doesn't mean the move is done.  Far from it.  We've still got boxes stacked on the floor of the garage here in own that need to be put up on something so they don't get wet with the Minnesota melting slush that will surely soon be falling off our car and van.  I've told Toni that it will take a year to get completely settled.  Hopefully that's an exaggeration, but still, it's good to think we'll get one more step taken care of today.

What's the one more step that God is calling you to work on today?  There's no sense worrying about tomorrow.  One day at a time is enough.

* click this link to be reminded what that was about.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Children ARE A Blessing!

(This is the beginning of what I'm preparing for Sunday, Nov. 27 at Crossroads.  Still a work in process!  This Sunday is the First Sunday in Advent, a season of preparation before Christmas.  The Thanksgiving-Christmas Season is a time when our hearts turn, more than any other time of year, toward family.  The message God has put on my heart for this Sunday is an encouragement to trust God for our kids, even when we are tempted to worry or hover or, on the other hand, just give up on kids that just seem too far out of control.  God has given us promises we can trust about our children.  That's the encouragement the Lord is calling me to bring this week)

Children are a blessing.  That should be obvious.  Often, however, children bring anxiety.  So much about kids is beyond our control!

Scripture promises that children are a blessing from God. (*See below for some of those Bible promises.)  We all know that God's plan is for us to "be fruitful and multiply," and children into the world.  Another big clue as to God's blessing is that God chose to come into the world by means of a family -- and I'm not only thinking about the once-in-a-world way that God came to be born into a family headed by Mary and Joseph -- God chose a family line beginning with forty times great grandparents Abraham and Sarah.

God used those families--Abraham and Sarah and their children, Isaac and Rebecca and their children, Jacob & Rachel and their children (and on and on times forty) to bring Jesus into the world.  And those little family units were so often dysfunctional, often horribly so.  Still, God promised that their children would be blessings in the end, and they were!  God was true to the promises he made.

And, you know what?  When you and I come to trust in God as our Father through Jesus Christ, the promises that God gave that family come to your family too. 

Did you know that?  Did you know that you honestly do not need to worry about your children?

Oh yes, pray for them!  Love them!  Treasure them!  But do not worry about them.

As God protected Isaac, and Jacob, and Judah, and their wives and their children and grandchildren and great grand children, making them such a blessing, so God will do for your kids.  No matter what happens, God will protect them.  No matter what things may look like now.  Just keep praying.  Continue to trust.  And love them always!

All God asks from you is trust and love.  Trust in his Word.  Trust in the One who came through the family of Abraham and Sarah, that is, Jesus Christ.  And love them as best you can.

According to Romans 4:16, for example, the promises given to Abraham and his family are now given to you when you trust the One who gives the promises.  And those promises come to your children as well.

Parents - Do your best.  But then trust God.


*Here are some Bible passages about children:

Psalm 127:3
3 Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him
Prov 17:6
6 Children's children are a crown to the aged, and parents are the pride of their children.
Psalm 128:3–4
Your wife will be like a fruitful grapevine,
flourishing within your home.
Your children will be like vigorous young olive trees
as they sit around your table.
That is the Lord’s blessing
for those who fear him.
Genesis 1:28
28 Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”
Genesis 15:4–5
Then the Lord said to him, “No, your servant will not be your heir, for you will have a son of your own who will be your heir.” Then the Lord took Abram outside and said to him, “Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!”
Genesis 24:60
60 They gave her this blessing as she parted:
“Our sister, may you become
the mother of many millions!
May your descendants be strong
and conquer the cities of their enemies.”
Genesis 33:5
Then Esau looked at the women and children and asked, “Who are these people with you?”
“These are the children God has graciously given to me, your servant,” Jacob replied.
Genesis 41:51-52
51 Joseph named his older son Manasseh, for he said, “God has made me forget all my troubles and everyone in my father’s family.” 52 Joseph named his second son Ephraim,* for he said, “God has made me fruitful in this land of my grief.”
Genesis 48:4
He said to me, ‘I will make you fruitful, and I will multiply your descendants. I will make you a multitude of nations. And I will give this land of Canaan to your descendants* after you as an everlasting possession.’
Deuteronomy 28:4
Your children and your crops
will be blessed.
The offspring of your herds and flocks
will be blessed.
Joshua 24:3–4
But I took your ancestor Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him into the land of Canaan. I gave him many descendants through his son Isaac. To Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. To Esau I gave the mountains of Seir, while Jacob and his children went down into Egypt.
1 Samuel 1:19–20, 27; 2:20-21
19 The entire family got up early the next morning and went to worship the Lord once more. Then they returned home to Ramah. When Elkanah slept with Hannah, the Lord remembered her plea, 20 and in due time she gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I asked the Lord for him. ... 27 I asked the Lord to give me this boy, and he has granted my request.” ... 2:20 Before they returned home, Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife and say, “May the Lord give you other children to take the place of this one she gave to the Lord.” 21 And the Lord gave Hannah three sons and two daughters. Meanwhile, Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord.
1 Chronicles 28:5
And from among my sons—for the Lord has given me many—he chose Solomon to succeed me on the throne of Israel and to rule over the Lord’s kingdom.
Isaiah 8:18
18 I and the children the Lord has given me serve as signs and warnings to Israel from the Lord of Heaven’s Armies who dwells in his Temple on Mount Zion.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

What To Say?

How can I choose what to give thanks for?  Every moment, every breath, every part of my body and every aspect of creation makes me want to shout in praise!  The snowfall is worthy of a symphony.  The comfort of a warm home, the beauty of the classical music playing in the background, the computer I'm using to write and publish and prepare for tomorrow, the cars in the driveway, my dear wife's voice in the other room as she is on the phone, the anticipation of tonight at the Godspell musical and tomorrow at Crossroads -- SO MUCH THAT IS WORTHY OF PRAISING AND THANKING GOD!

So what will I say tomorrow at church when there's a chance to speak?  How will I sort out what is worth saying tomorrow in a few words?  My guess is that others might also be asking that same question.  Tomorrow we'll give time for people to share testimonies; people will be encourage to give evidence, from their lives and the lives of those they love, that GOD IS WORTHY OF ALL THANKS AND PRAISE!  How will we decide what to say?

Tomorrow, after we read the scriptures (see Preparing for Thanksgiving) we will pray and ask the Holy Spirit to guide our words. Then we will trust God to inspire our speaking and our listening. We will ask him to be in control.


One more thing I'm thinking about today as I look out the window of our new home.  I look back over the last year and I am in awe of God's protection and provision.  Last year, at Thanksgiving time, the Lord inspired me to write a piece entitled "Thanksgiving as an Act of Faith."  This year you may be in a spot like we were last year, not really knowing what the future would bring.  As you pray for how you will give thanks this year, I'd encourage you to look back over the past year or more and see how the Lord has led you and kept you safe.  And if things are especially hard this year, take time to count your blessings, knowing that, in the end, God will make everything work out for good.  Cling to that promise and the other promises from the Word of God.  Check out A Quiet Time with God and God's Love Never Fails.  And then take a breath, and give thanks!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Preparing For Thanksgiving

How are you preparing to give thanks?

Beginning Sunday November 20 we at Crossroads will share a special opportunity to GIVE THANKS to God.  See the Crossroads Community Church home page for that day's order of worship.

How will we do this?  As the Bible teaches, we will give thanks by testifying, that is, by giving testimonies of God's goodness.  We always look forward to sharing what God has done and our hearts are stirred as we hear simple words of thanks!  This is the Lord's doing and the Lord's plan!

This Sunday at church we will especially encourage people to share words and stories of thankfulness.  Feel free to break out into song if you like ;-) but each person speaking should limit their sharing to three minutes or less.

As we prepare, consider these questions:
  • What evidence is there, in your life and in the lives of others that you love, that God is present, healing, forgiving, giving you peace, protection, joy and love?
  • How have you seen God at work?  Are there times or situations that you couldn't have gone through without the Lord?  How have you seen God blessing, protecting, rescuing, forgiving, providing?  
  • What testimony can you give of our Lord's presence during the past weeks or months or years?  Can you point out the "footprints in the sand" that have carried you through these days?
  • What good reasons do you have to be thankful?

Let's not let people think we're just "fortunate" or "lucky."  Let's give God the credit He deserves!  Let's share with one another!  Let's teach our children how to give thanks!  Let's practice that in church where you know people are there for you in Jesus' name!

Consider these Bible verses as you prepare to give thanks.

Psalm 22:22-31
I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;
   in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
   All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;
   stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he did not despise or abhor
   the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
   but heard when I cried to him.
From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
   my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
   those who seek him shall praise the Lord.
   May your hearts live for ever!
All the ends of the earth shall remember
   and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations
   shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the Lord,
   and he rules over the nations.
To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
   before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
   and I shall live for him.
Posterity will serve him;
   future generations will be told about the Lord,
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
   saying that he has done it.

First Corinthians 1:4-7
   I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

John 11:38-44
(from Jesus himself, giving a reason for giving thanks aloud)
   Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

No Shame

Poor doggie!
Our dog, Charlie, has an addiction.  OK, probably more than one addiction... he does all kinds of weird doggy things, but the addiction that's causing him trouble right now is his continual ear scratching.  We discovered that the scratching was hurting his ears.  Looking closer, and with the help of a veterinarian's microscope, we learned that his urge to scratch came from itching--and the itching was caused by mites.

He's now on medication for the mites and the itching, but still, he's got a cone on his head.  There is no shame in this.  It's just an uncomfortable but necessary tool that will keep him from scratching his ears.  It will allow him to heal.

Human beings are different in some ways, but we can be physically addicted to behaviors that hurt us and others.  There's an unconscious physical side to our bodies and brains that are almost impossible to control with will power alone.

Thankfully, help is available!  Medical help.  Psychological help.  Psychiatric help.  Use the help you can find and talk with someone you trust to seek the help you need.

Don't be too hard on yourself.  It's possible you're feeling guilty for something that isn't sinful at all.  You may be suffering from false guilt.  However, if you are addicted, and if your addiction is causing you or others harm, or if it's clearly against the commands of God, get help!  There is no shame in getting help to deal with behaviors or other addictions that we know need to be left behind.

Unlike Charlie the dog, we humans don't need to wear "a cone of shame."  Now that's something to be thankful for!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Coming Out For Prayer

In my opinion it's unfortunate that we immediately think of people being honest about sexual preferences when we use the expression "come out" or "come out of the closet."  It's unfortunate because there are so many things that we keep hidden in polite company., and, sadly, many times we treat Christian community as a sort of "polite society" where we pretend that things we "consider to be unpleasant do not exist." 

Too often we remain closeted, thinking that, perhaps, others we go to church with are doing a lot better than we ourselves.  Betsy Simons of Treehouse spoke of this sort of thing during her educational hour presentation at Crossroads yesterday, saying that Christians can think that once they accept Christ that all their issues should just go away.  But they don't go away.  Instead, people often keep them hidden.  And when they are hidden, they rob us of love, joy and peace, making us less effective disciples of Jesus Christ.  Hidden things become a "log" in our eye, making us critical and sour, keeping us from compassionately ministering to others in Jesus' name.

I'm thinking of this as I continue in thankful prayer for who stood up and/or came forward for prayer at the conclusion of my sermon yesterday.  One person asked us to pray for her as she is dealing with anger.  Someone else spoke of his concern for a sister who is a Jehovah's Witness.  Then four women came forward without saying anything.  I had encouraged everyone to consider coming forward at that point, having clearly stated that nothing needed to be said in public.  But I did say, several times, that it would be important for those in need of prayer to not just keep their concerns between them and God.  I encouraged them to let someone else know what their concern was, so they could be prayed for and prayed with in person, specifically addressing their needs.

I was a bit surprised that only these six came forward.  I thought there might be more.  It could be that I didn't do a good job of inviting, and it could be that it was just too big a change for some.  That's okay.  No one needs to come forward at church.  My ongoing prayer, however, is that no one keeps closeted with their needs, that we would all come out to someone else who can pray for us.  As it says in one of my favorite Bible promises: "Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them" (the words of Jesus as we read them yesterday from Matthew 18).

If you're still in hiding with a big issue, please, in Jesus' name, come out!  Speak with someone you trust and ask them to pray and help you find whatever practical help you may need.  Feel free to ask me or anyone else, or, if you want, come to Crossroads on Wednesday at 6:30... compassionate prayer warriors will be there for you.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Enter the Circle (2)

This is my preparation work for tomorrow's message at Crossroads as of this time.  Please pray that the Holy Spirit would use our worship tomorrow as He desires, to save and free many in Jesus' name. 
Romans 11:33-12:5

33 O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways!  34 For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? 35 Or who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return? 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory for ever. Amen.

12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.
Two weeks ago, on the day before Halloween, I brought tootsie pops to church.  I sucked on one, put it back in the wrapper, and tried to give it to the kids.  ;-)  I talked about how we are infected with "harmartia" (sin) and that covering up sin with a shiny wrapper doesn't work.

Then we looked at the circle of repent and believe--the circle that God uses in our lives to make us new.

The message ended with a story  from the book Too Late In The Afternoon.  A character in the book, Alex's grandson, talked about his grandpa Alex...:
"'...a crotchety old man and had been tight fisted and a hoarder of money… He was always thinking that another Great Depression was around the corner and that thinking robbed him of pleasure.  He had constant anxiety.'"

Then, at the age of 77, Grandpa Alex came to a crossroads--a moment* of truth--

Quoting from the message from two weeks ago:
"'After many years of being a miserable old man, Grandpa Alex got a wake up call.'

"He met a JIM--something BIG in his path."
Who all was here two weeks ago? I mentioned this last week too... I used Jim Richards as the BIG thing... The big thing could be a good thing or a bad thing...  If you met Jim in a dark alley--that would be a good thing... but, in Grandpa Alex's case, the BIG THING he met was bad.

Going back to quoting from two weeks ago:

"'He was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer.  He underwent chemotherapy and was in remission the last ten years of his life."
"'Six months after that diagnosis, we started to see a remarkable change in him."
"He became joyful, generous, kind, someone you wanted to be around.'
"God had done a miracle in Grandpa Alex's life."
And then I concluded the message like this:

"It can be done.  You don't need to go on the way you always have.  God can give you a new life and a new spirit. 

"It's never, ever too late.

"Jesus is here to meet you with his grace.  He knows the truth about you.  You can't hide it from him no matter how many layers of tootsie pop paper you put on yourself.  He knows the truth.  And he's willing to make you new.
And after that, I led a prayer:  (Here's a link to an audio clip of the prayer from Oct. 30 -
"Father God, I can't see the hearts of people. You haven't given me that ability.

"But you can; and you know, Lord, how it is that there have been times in our lives when we've walked around pretending to be new and different when there really is some work that you need to keep doing in us.

"So Lord God, we together here, as we say 'Amen' to this prayer, we want to give you permission to confront us, to be that 'big Jim,' and the let us know the truth about ourselves.

"And then we ask that you Lord would walk with us and that you would send someone else to walk with us too as we make a turn, make a change, a transition--as we repent--and as we believe.

"And we ask Lord that you would bring us through this process as many times as necessary to continue to make us new."
So that was two weeks ago.  It was "Reformation Sunday" and I thought it was sort of fitting because we were talking about having reformed lives, new lives, changed hearts.

But I wonder now, two weeks later, what really happened through that message. Have people who heard that message actually ENTERED the circle? Have we looked for times of encounter with God?

I got a note from someone this week that said it would have been good to help people step out in faith on that Sunday two weeks ago... This person said:
There was a time toward the end of your sermon when it would have been very appropriate for you to ask for those struggling with feelings of guilt or not sure if they were saved, etc., to come forward for prayer. I've seen that at other churches and as people came forward, others in the congregation came up behind them, laid hands on them and prayed along with the pastor. Your sermon was great calling out these issues, but then people were not able to get them resolved in a concrete way...
I actually had the same thought... why not give people a chance to step out...

To step out here... to come forward... to ask for prayer out in the open... because, truth be told, we don't walk the circle alone.
Something more I'd like to add at this point--a bit off the subject but I think it's important.

See the word on the right side of the circle?  When I say the word "repent" what do you think of?  It's my guess that many of us think of SIN.  "Repent" can mean changes away from sin and for us human beings it always means that... at least it means stopping being so stubborn... but "repent" doesn't always mean feeling bad or saying you're sorry.  Sometimes REPENTING means just a change of direction, doing things differently, even THINKING differently. 

...Like in the Bible passage we read earlier from Romans 11 and 12.  We step out.  We don't CONFORM to what we've always done.  And I let God TRANSFORM me... and you let God change you... from the inside out.  REPENTING MEANS CHANGE that God makes in our lives... it really NOT about feeling bad about doing something wrong.
But here's what I'd really like to focus on today:  These life changes--becoming a more faithful and more effective disciple of Jesus--they don't usually happen to us all alone--it usually takes a team--sometimes it takes more than one team.

In the Too Late In the Afternoon book God rescues a man from depression through spiritually wise Christian friends, a medical doctor and a psychologist.  Here in Cokato and Dassel God works through teams of Christian friends, professionals and organizations of many kinds.  Local churches like ours can connect people with the help they need as long as people somehow don't keep their troubles to themselves.  Prayer ministry can lead to practical help, and practical help can lead to prayer.

We are called, by God, to walk with one another and with those we reach out to, to walk with them all the way... not to just get them saved... to get them saved for God, and then let them loose to figure everything out alone.  We're called to walk together.  All the way.

One of the people who are a part of our Crossroads church family has recently come clean about an addiction to pain medication.  That person is now getting help through a Methadon clinic in Saint Cloud.  In order to let God deal with that issue, this individual needed to be honest with other people about it.  It wasn't a matter of just dealing with it one on one with God.  She needed other people to enter the circle with her... to come along on her journey.  Many of us are doing that with friends and family every day.

This is something Betsy Simons knows about.   (See Covenant Love for a bit more about Betsy.  Tomorrow we'll ask her to share at this point in the message -- something about how entering and walking the circle of repent and believe TOGETHER is important in her life and/or in her work with Treehouse, a ministry aimed at loving kids, bringing hope, transforming lives.)

You can enter the circle with Betsy and the youth she ministers to by supporting her--and we as a church can consider making her work one of our church's missions.

Still somehow, we do need to enter the circle.

Somehow we need to step out.  For others.  For ourselves.  But not alone.

Here's what I'd like to try.

Let's be a little daring today.

How many of you know someone, either yourself or someone else, who just needs a change... some kind of a change that you know you need God to handle.  Something that's a God-sized challenge... something that just needs to change.  In yourself or in someone you know well, someone you are close to?  Maybe it's an out of control teenager or child.  Maybe it's an addiction.  Maybe it's something that you know, from the Bible, is sinful.  Or maybe it's just something that you  know you'd like to leave behind.

How many of you have that sort of thing going on now either in your life or in the life of someone you're close to, someone you can walk beside?  Maybe it's a simple matter of being saved for heaven.  Maybe you'd like to know that for sure--that you are saved.  There is power in prayer, in admitting you can't do it on your own.

Is there anyone who would like to share what they'd like to pray about?  What the BIG thing in your life is that is leading you to say, yes, I need a change?  (I'll leave a time here for people to share if they'd like.)

Here's what we're going to try:  I would like to pray for you today. a little more personally than we usually pray here.  Just a little more personally.  I'd like to encourage you to take a first public step, recognizing that you have a need to repent and believe God for a change in your life OR in the life of someone you are walking with.

I won't be surprised if almost everyone comes forward today... So what I'd like to do is to have you be thinking of that one God-sized issue--that BIG JIM challenge in your life right now--and I'd like you to step out, in just a minute, to step out of your row and to come up to the front.

Then I'm going to pray for all of you as a group, trusting the Holy Spirit to give the the right words... and then if there are others who would like to pray out loud... we'll have an opportunity to do that.  And then I'll encourage you to let someone else know what it is you prayed for.

This might be hard in a small town where everyone thinks they know you.  But, honestly, until you let someone else know, you'll probably stay on the same old track.  It's not by mistake that the Holy Spirit had the Apostle Paul write about being MEMBERS or PARTS of one another...  Romans 12:15 is one of the simplest teaching on this: "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep." And we can't rejoice with you, or weep with you, unless we know who you are.

We're in this together, my friends.  Let's not stay back and think we can do it on our own.

(At this point we'll do what was explained above, trusting the Lord to lead us.  We'll then sing a song of surrender to the Lord.)


* In the Bible, when Jesus teaches about crossroads moments you'll find an important Greek word: kairos.  See, for example, Mark 1:15.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Covenant Love

There isn't anything that can get in the way of God's love for you.  No matter how many times you screw up, God will always be there.  Even if a human mother or father forgets, even if friends abandon, God will not.  He has written you into the palms of his hands.

For many reasons we can fall into situations where that love is hard to believe or even to accept.  This Sunday at Crossroads we welcome Betsy Simons, a "Program Associate" from TREEHOUSE will share about one organization that helps people, specifically YOUNG people find hope, guidance and UNCONDITIONAL LOVE.

Come Sunday and meet Betsy.  Hear something about this amazing ministry--a ministry that is much needed in every community--including ours.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Repentance Means Change

"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:2).
The "X" above is a "kairos" such as in Mark 1:15, "The kairos (time) is here..."
This coming Sunday the churches that we're partnering with are continuing a series that began last week.  They will move deeper into a series on family life.  As I've been studying the scriptures and praying over what direction the Lord is leading us, I'm believing that I am called to do something a bit different.

Even though I'm sure a series on family life would be a blessing, I'm going to get off that particular path for now because I believe God is calling us make a turn, to move in a different direction, to, in fact, spend a bit more time on the Biblical "shape" we've been working on, that is, the Circle.

As I mentioned yesterday, the Circle represents God's call to "Repent and Believe."  (For more on this, see Enter the Circle.)

But the Circle applies not only to "repentance" in the sense of turning away from what we normally THINK of as sin.

It DOES apply to that, of course.  Repenting of something that is clearly against God's commandments and God's will IS a part, an important part, of what the Circle is about.

When we sin, God's call is to turn from the sinful path and believe God's Good News--the good news of forgiveness--the good news that allows us to start over with a clean slate and begin to live in a new and more godly way.

That's "repentance as we know it."

There is another kind of repentance, however.  This other sense isn't closely connected with specific sins that need to be confessed.  Instead, it's a change of mind, a change of heart.* 

One can see this, for example, in Jesus' parable story of the "two sons," one of whom first rebels and then changes his mind and does what his father told him to do (Matthew 21:28-32).

Another example: The people who were transformed by Jesus and the Holy Spirit in the New Testament were not changed by just confessing particular sins.  Their minds were changed about everything in their whole life.  They began listening to a new master, a new shepherd, a new Lord.

Repentance isn't just about saying "I'm sorry" for this or that.  It's a change deep on the inside that affects the outside.  Repentance is change that continues throughout our lifetimes.  By the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, we are made over... over and over again... made over to be more and more like our Lord.

It's in that sense of the word repent that we "turn."  We change.  Instead of being stubborn we consider what it is that God might be saying to us.  We're willing to listen.  We don't stop up our ears and wear blinders.  We say, okay.  We say, I'll think about that.  We don't just plod ahead.  We don't wait to be necessarily convicted of a particular sin.  We allow God to change us from the inside out.

Don't just be "conformed."  Allow God to transform you.  Don't just go on and on with your life.  Pray and ask him to intervene today, and then, with other Christians, pray and consider what changes God is calling for in your heart and in your life.  And then act in faith.  Believe me--God knows best.


* Clear evidence that "repentance" isn't just about sin is found in the Old Testament where we see even God "repenting!"  This does not mean that God sinned and needed to say he was sorry.  No.  Instead, this is "repent" in the sense of doing something different than what had been expected. See, for example, Exodus 32:12-14; Psalm 106:45; Isaiah 57:6; Jeremiah 4:28; 18:8; 26:3, 13, 19; Ezekiel 24:14; Joel 2:13; Amos 7:3, 6; Jonah 4:2.  God "repents" or "changes his mind" about punishment when people repent of their sin.

NOTE:  The Lord calls us to "enter the circle" of repentance and change by bringing us to kairos moments.  More about those moments can be found by clicking the word kairos.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Enter the Circle

If you've been to Crossroads in the past few weeks you've seen shapes projected on the wall, shapes that were designed to convey God's truth.  The shape above is based on Mark 1:15, where Jesus says:
The time* has come!  The kingdom of God is near!  Repent and believe the good news!
The straight line at the top is symbolic of our lives.  The "X" is a moment, an event, a crisis, an opportunity or just a time when the Word of God speaks especially clearly to you. 

When we encounter such moments, we can react by ignoring what God might be saying to us through it and just keep going, we can stop or go backward, or we can notice it and then enter the Circle--the Circle of God's Purpose.  We do this through a change of direction (that's the original meaning of the word "repentance") and acting on what God teaches us--acting in faith (that is, to believe).

This is God's desire, that we would pay attention, repent and believe.  To understand more about this, I'd encourage you to go to the Crossroads "worship" webpage and listen to the message from Oct. 30 and Nov. 6.  This coming Sunday's message will build on the "circle" as well.


* The Greek word for "time" in this verse (Mark 1:15) is kairos.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Note to the Board

The following was sent to the Crossroads Board of Directors this morning.
Good morning all.  According to the church calendar  our next board meeting is on November 10.  ...  ...  Toni and I will sleep at the new house (785 Mooers Ave) tonight for the first time.

The class I am teaching on Wednesday evenings is going well.  If it were possible, someday, to have someone record such classes those who are not able to attend could benefit from them.  With available technology, and if someone was willing to help with it, we could also put the class on the internet at the time it is being taught.  The same is true of our Sunday morning worship.  It just needs a person with the proper skills to be there and willing to make the connections.

Yesterday I had conversations with church and community leaders about the future of the Thrift Store.  It will be moving to another location sometime in 2012 and I'm wondering how we at Crossroads could be of assistance.  The coffee shop is also for sale.  I wonder if some sort of coalition could be put together that would benefit us all and extend our mission. 

On a related topic, I've had conversations about a sort of local "FIRST CALL FOR HELP" that I'd like to see us institute in the Cokato-Dassel area.  I do a lot of that sort of thing already, talking with people in need and referring them for help, and I feel energized by that sort of work.  People who do not have a church family could connect with the church in this way were we to make such a service available.  I have one trained person who is interested in helping and in getting others involved.

If you'll look on the Crossroads facebook page you'll see that I posted a video about addiction and depression.  As we pursue the vision of SETTING PEOPLE FREE TO FOLLOW JESUS IN ALL OF LIFE one of the areas that we'll need to look at is how people with addictions, etc., connect with help and with the peace that comes from a close and personal relationship with the Lord (Covenant) and a good purpose for their lives (Kingdom).  The work we do with meeting needs is also about that purpose, setting people free, for example, from physical needs, so they can move on in their relationship with the Lord and with the responsibilities that he desires to give us.

We did a great job helping with meals on wheels during the last half of October.  Many thanks to the eight or more people who helped deliver meals one or more days.  God is calling us to be involved with ministry to the elderly and handicapped of our community. 

Yesterday, as I went to the Cokato Manor for a visit, I arranged with the director of activities to have our church included on the 2012 calendar for leading worship (occasionally on Wednesday and also, for a month that we'll be assigned, on Sunday mornings) -- we'll also be on the schedule for 2012 special "Communion" services at the Cokato Manor.  As time allows, I'd also like to see us sponsor worship opportunities in the local senior apartment and assisted living facilities.  These things we will do in cooperation with the facility management and other churches.

Toni and I will be moving more things on Friday (day and evening) and Saturday this week.  Give us a call if you would like to help--though we DO have our kids home this weekend so that will be REALLY helpful!

Peace be with you in Jesus' name.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Bible Basics part 2

Tomorrow evening at Crossroads we'll continue our Bible Basics class.  So far, in the book of Genesis, we've learned about God's plan to bless the world through us--through all of humanity--by making us to be God's specially made partners--partners who are to live always in close relationship with God and therefore be God's representatives in the world, ruling creation on God's behalf.  We then learned how human beings reject the relationship God desires to have with us and turn over our God given authority to a false god--that is, the devil.  Because of this the world has suffered in ways that we can only begin to understand, and we human beings suffer tremendously as well.

Though we started our discussion of how God continues to bless and care for the world and for us in spite of our "ha-martia" ("hamartia" includes all ways that we do not measure up to God's plan for us, both intentional and unintentional sin, both of which bring condemnation on us and on the world) -- though we have started our discussion on how God continues to bless and care for us even though we are rebellious and disappointing sinners -- though we've started that discussion we'll get into it more tomorrow night.  God reestablishes both his COVENANT and his KINGDOM, first through the lives of Old Testament men and women, and then, finally, through the incarnation, birth, life, teachings, sufferings, death, resurrection and ascension of the ONE who is both Son of God and Son of Man--that is, Jesus Christ.

To understand this big story of the Bible, it's important to know the main Old Testament characters.  We'll look at four of them beginning tomorrow night--characters we find in either the first five books of the Bible (known as the Torah or Pentateuch) or in the books Christians know as as "History" (see Nev'im).  The four main Old Testament characters we'll look at are:
  • Abraham (and Sarah), the one with whom God re-establishes his Covenant, that is, God's irrevocable promise to bless the world through human beings.
  • Joseph, the one through whom God re-starts God's the Kingdom authority and power God intends for us as God's representatives on earth.
  • Moses, the first clear example of Covenant relationship and Kingdom rule combined in one person.
  • David, one in whom we see both a deep relationship with God (for example, in the Psalms) and his courageous rule as earthly king (in the books of Second Samuel and First Chronicles).
None of these, however, show the fullness of either Covenant or Kingdom.  We don't see that until Jesus comes on the scene in the New Testament.  We'll get to that soon.