Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Pray First -- then plan

I sent this email to the Crossroads Board of Directors a few moments ago. Please pray for us that God's will would be done!

"... [Treasurer] - could you send me an itemized tally of our mission giving for 2014, including any pass through that went to missions, including the discretionary fund. I don't need to know the dates that funds were given, just the total for the year given to each purpose. Let me know if that's confusing. I would like to use that information in my message on Sunday, Feb 1.

Board in General - Please consider coming to prayer tonight if you can.

Also, see the attached chapter from The Dangerous Kind. I am praying and studying through it in advance of our February 1 message. Notice, in the chapter, that the author encourages us to not abandon thinking or avoid the facts.

Instead the scriptures push us to
  1. always pray first and ask God, to be in tune with God's will, and then to discern, that is, to check what God seems to be saying to us against the scriptures (more of that in the next chapter "Under the Word"). Only then, having gotten a supernatural sense of what God is doing, 
  2. consider what practical tactics and decisions God would call us to.
We never act out of fear, but always out of faith, but that does not mean we should not be prudent. There is an "art" or even a "poetry" to this action -- but it's not just a matter of emotion or reasoning, nor do we throw our brains out. Pray and listen to what God is saying first, then think. It often takes time. We cannot just go with our first reaction -- but you know that!

An example is in Acts 16 where, contrary to what might seem sensible, Paul and Silas did not run for the exit as soon as their chains fell off. They stayed and the jailer and his household were saved:
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household. (Acts 16:25-33)
I see similar things going on in our midst as we hang in there with people like [name] and [name] (both we're working with in recent weeks) and others (throughout the years) who we have walked with. The same is true as we pour out our gifts and prayers for ministries in Thailand and Bangladesh and Tanzania and New York City. It doesn't make logical sense but I hope, as you pray, you can see God's hand in it. Your work allows us, together, to be dangerous for the kingdom of God and dangerous against the enemy in our time and place

One of the things we need to be PRAYING over and asking God to speak to us in is the partnership agreement. This isn't a matter of human logic. It's something that fits perfectly into the topic that we're going to address this Sunday. I think it would be helpful if one or more of you would speak about this during the church family time this week.

God's peace to you all.

Pastor Steve


Friday, January 16, 2015

The Poor and "Real Relationship with God"

This is from Graeme Seller's message to the Alliance of Renewal Churches, I think in 2012. Let me know if you're interested and I'll make the recording available. We'll share some of this at Crossroads on Sunday.

...I would contend on the basis of what scripture teaches, that caring for the lowest and the least, the poor and the needy, confirms real relationship with God.

In Jeremiah 22:16 we read,
"He [King Josiah] made sure that justice and help we given to the poor and the needy and everything went well for him. Isn't that what it means to know me, asks the Lord."
Now the background for this text is that the prophet Jeremiah has gone to king Jehoiachim, and he has brought him a devastating word of judgment from the Lord. Jeremiah is announcing to Jehoiachim that his kingdom, his reign, will utterly fail, and it will fall precisely because of his shabby treatment of the poor and the needy. And in this verse he is contrasted unfavorably with his father, King Josiah.

Now Proverbs 14:31, picking up on the theme, says
"Those who oppress the poor insult their maker, but those who help the poor honor him."
Now I think it's easy to think that we're on track with the Lord, and miss his heart almost entirely for the poor. It's easy for men and women who follow Jesus in a culture that that worships at the altar of success, and does so in the church, it's easy to believe that we're on track with the Father because our prayer life is on the right trajectory, because we finally got that finally got that building program off the ground, because we're beginning to grow as a church or if we're not growing we're declining for all the right reasons. And it's easy to think that we are flat out on target with the Lord and miss his heart for the poor and the needy, and never even see it. Never even see that we've missed it.

I really believe in my heart that the Lord would have us to ask, in the Alliance of Renewal Churches:
  • Where is your heart for the poor?
  • Will you have a reputation among men and women in the world, both those who know Jesus and those who do not, as those who have mercy and compassion for the ones who have no one else to care about them? 
  • Will you be known for mercy? 
  • Will you be known for your compassion for the poor?
...Proverbs [14:31], that to oppress the poor, which is accomplished both by what we do to them and what we fail to do for them, brings shame to the name and reputation of the living God. The Hebrew word [for "insult"] in the text means literally to defy or blaspheme.

So, as we consider this let's look at Jeremiah 22 again. I want to read verse 15 as well. The prophet is having a conversation with Jehoiachim and he remarks:
"A beautiful cedar palace does not make a great king. Your father Josiah also had plenty to eat and drink, but he was just and right in all his dealings. That is why God blessed him. He gave justice and help to the poor and needy, and everything went well for him. Isn't that what it means to know me?"
I think that's the key phrase in this passage. Isn't "caring for the poor and needy" what it means to know me?

This is no small thing because knowing God is the end game of this entire enterprise we've embarked on. Jesus says, in the last days, many will come to him and say, "Well, Lord, didn't I do amazing things in your name, didn't I cast out demons, didn't I heal the sick, didn't I start and international ministry didn't I go to the places where nobody had heard the gospel, didn't I lay down my life and give up my dreams for you?!" and Jesus says, I will say to them in that moment "Leave my presence. I never knew you." [Matthew 25]

Knowing God is everything. And knowing God, as you are well aware, is not a matter of information assimilation. Knowing God is a dynamic in which we experience heart transformation. And scripture contends that those who know God are led, inalterably and irrefutably to compassion for the forgotten and the friendless.
  • If you know God you will love the loveless. 
  • If you know Him, you minister to the poorest of the poor. 
Standing with the down and outers, walking alongside them, this is what God says verifies personal friendship with him.

So James observes in chapter 1:27 and 2:5,
"Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world. Listen, dear friends, isn't it clear by now that God operates quite differently. He chose the world's down and out as the Kingdom's first citizens, with full rights and privileges. This kingdom is promised to anyone who loves God."
What do you think? Does Graeme get it right? Let's talk!


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

And if we do believe...

I started this post yesterday after publishing "Do We Believe." I'll try to put part of it up online now (as part of my preparation for next Sunday) and then go on to other things. These reflections connect with the preaching and teaching series that we're sharing entitled "The Dangerous Kind."

Some of the thoughts I will express below have been roiling in me for quite some time but I'm don't think I've shared them in public like this. It's when I saw some of these things reflected in Graeme Seller's book The Dangerous Kind that I got interested in this book in the first place.

Here are the thoughts:

In a section called "A Dangerous Kindness to the Forgotten Ones" Graeme writes:
Jesus calls us to something higher... better... wilder... than our [normal] concept of Christian belief and service. ... The first thing he mentions [as he unveils] his life's purpose [in Luke 4:18-19] is ministry to the poor, to those outsiders who stand almost no chance in this life of ever becoming insiders. It is to the inconsolably forgotten that Jesus directs the first declarative promise of his explosive, life-changing kingdom agenda. The poor are the first on the list and the first in line, and we would do well to give careful attention to this reality.
He then goes on, either in the book or in other teachings that I've heard, to say that it's in compassionate, bold ministry with the forgotten ones that we are truly "dangerous" against the schemes of the enemy and advance the Kingdom of God. In a presentation that he made at the Alliance of Renewal Churches gathering in 2012, Graeme says that those who have been rescued by God from the deepest darkness are the strongest and most fearless when they find they have a friend in Jesus who will stand by them no matter what. We'll develop this further as the week goes on.

But let me say this for now: If we do believe there is a war going on (see previous post), and if we believe we are soldiers in that war, there will be differences between the way we live and the way others live, including in this aspect of our relationships with those who many would like to ignore.

Some of those differences in the ways we live will set us apart even from other Christian believers! Yes! It's true! Because some Christians have limited ideas of what "spiritual warfare" is, and others don't believe in it at all. 
  1. Christians who have a limited picture of spiritual warfare tend to see the battle either in terms of
    (a) political activity, either by involvement in the culture war to "bring the nation back to God," or, on the left, working for programs and policies that benefit the poor, the environment etc.
    (b) personal salvation (saving people's future for heaven when they die by getting them baptized or making a decision for Christ)
    (c) individual holiness (tamping down sinful behaviors, habits and attitudes, raising up godly ones), which may involve literal demonic oppression.
  2. Christian believers who do not believe they are warriors in a spiritual conflict may have never learned about this part of the Christian life. They may be living with what they think is
    (a) a deep sense of God's grace and peace (all is well, not only with my soul, but with the world as a whole) or
    (b) God's sovereignty (God's in control, there's nothing I can do except take care of my own business so as not to be a burden on others).
    Sadly, any teachings that say "there's nothing we can do" do not line up with the Bible's teachings about Christian activity. A quick look at the book of James will show that is true.
I am thankful for the perspective that Graeme Sellers shares in regard to ministry to the poor and forgotten ones (in the third chapter of his book and in other places).

Staying in relationship with broken ones is one of the most powerful things we can do in spiritual warfare. And that's not a perspective I've seen very often among believers.

As we do stay connected with them as much as they allow us to do so, prayer and practical ministry can make a big difference in their lives, and in the lives of those they touch. That's a very important part of what it means to be "the dangerous kind," advancing the cause of Christ in the world.

More later.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Do We Believe?

Yesterday at Crossroads we read the verse from John 14 that tells us that when we believe in Jesus we will do the works that he does, and, in fact, will do greater works. I still don't know the full meaning of that, but, as I got back from my morning school bus route today, I found myself wondering if we believe these words of Jesus--and whether we accept what I believe God has been teaching us over the last two weeks.

God gave me two images to share on the last two Sundays during message time. Click here to learn more about what we were taught on those days.

The first image was of the landing at Normandy Beach in 1944. The idea behind it is that the Jesus' victorious work during his earthly life was like that invasion.

"On D-Day during World War Two, Europe was invaded and the battle shifted inalterably in the Allies' favor. In a sense, the war was won on June 6, 1944, even though there were long months of warfare and bloodshed to come, Christ's incarnation and death at Calvary represent D-Day, but we await the final consummation of the war against evil when Jesus comes again. Until then we live "between the times," in an age in which Christ's victory and Satan's dying endeavors overlap. ... There is still formidable warfare to be fought by the followers of Jesus, an ongoing battle against the powers of hell." (quote from Graeme Sellers' The Dangerous Kind)

The second image, from yesterday's message, was of an iceberg. The idea here is that the part of our lives that we see "normally" is much smaller than what is "under the surface," and that it is God himself who is connected with us because of what Jesus has done for us. Just as Jesus said, repeatedly, that he was not alone but that the Father was with him, and that he only did what God the Father sent him to do, so we can know, through the Word of God, that we carry much more spiritual weight than we might imagine because through Jesus we are also connected with God the Father and our actions mean how they may look at first.

"You and I are invited into that power packed relationship. That's how it is that we will be able to do the works of our Lord--and, according to what he promises--even greater works! The full extent of what that I do not yet know, but I do know that we who have a personal relationship with Jesus are stronger than we know when are deeply connected with God. We are not pansies. We are not weaklings!" (quote from Saturday's blog post).

The question I ask this morning is "Do we believe?" Do we agree with this particular interpretation of God's Word? If not, why not? And, if we do, what are the differences this will make in our lives as we fight the good fight today.


Saturday, January 10, 2015

How Can We Live Like Jesus?

 [Go to the "The Dangerous Kind" page for more plus a link to the recording made Sunday morning.]

Today after a visit to the Wright County Jail I was wondering if I ought to make the trek from Buffalo to St. Cloud to see someone who is in rehab there. I did go and afterward I was glad I had done both, but what I want to say here is that there was a process that I went through as I (1) first had the idea of seeing [name] today, (2) considered it and checked on details, and (3) paused to make the decision before starting the drive.

That "process" included quiet time with God--in fact--it was all "quiet time with God..." even though that "quiet time" involved conversation, communication and a certain amount of research. (I didn't know if visiting today would be allowed.) In my experience, "quiet time listening" for God's will often involves conversation and communication with others--even including time writing things like this.

We've scheduled some of this "quiet time" into tomorrow's worship gathering at Crossroads. I wonder how it will go. I expect God to speak. I expect we will hear him as we listen.

We're in the second week of a series that is following the outline of Graeme Sellers' book The Dangerous Kind. Its second chapter begins with a look at Jesus' mission statement (proclaiming good news to the poor, liberty to the captives etc. from Luke 4:18-19) and Jesus' promise that we who believe in him will "also do the works" that he does and even "greater works" (John 14:12).

Then the question "How can this be?," that is "How can we live like Jesus?" is answered like this:
"Jesus models the naturally supernatural life that his friends will live because, just as he is in the Father and they are one, so his followers will enjoy the same intimate communion with the Father." (p. 21).
The "quiet time with God" that I paused for today before driving from Buffalo to St. Cloud was a "tip of the iceberg" example of the "intimate communion with the Father" that Jesus makes available to us when we trust Him.

The visit in St. Cloud turned out to be interesting and helpful. I'm sure that it was only one tiny part of what is going on in [name]'s life right now. I believe God is at work in [name] and in the life of the other man I visited today, and also in me as I am privileged to come alongside them a bit. There's deep pleasure and satisfaction in it even though I do not know, in the natural, how things will turn out for these guys. Please pray for them even if you don't know their names.

Spending time with God--studying, praying, and then acting on what God calls me to do--that's what pushes us to step out to do Jesus' works. Graeme calls it "A Dangerous Kindness" (the title of his next chapter and what's planned for our Jan. 18th message). The "Dangerous Kindness" is a willingness--no, more--a deep desire, a yearning to be with those who are often forgotten, to come alongside them--and to stay there. And, as we will see in coming weeks, there is great power in that -- power that comes straight from the heart of God.

The power for the work of God comes from God's heart. It comes as we put on the "breastplate of righteousness," as we understand the deep, abiding, strong, stubborn love that God has for us when we do not deserve it. It does not come from checking ourselves to see if we have the strength or the motivation to do what God desires us to do. There's a sense that the "breastplate of righteousness" keeps us from examining our own hearts or our own strength. Instead of seeing ourselves and our abilities--we look down and we see JESUS!

It's God's own love that moves us. It's not "our" love in any sense of the word. As we know Jesus and his forgiveness, we experience and recognize God's love for us, personally. From God's Word we learn that love of God is for ALL--for the world and for all of the world's people. Because of that love, because of that love that comes from outside of ourselves and pours from God into our hearts, we are then moved and empowered to do God's good work. We act out of the heart of God and out of His purposes. Neither what we might imagine as "natural" nor the "supernatural" acts of God come from us. They spring from only our relationship with God.

Remarkably, the same was true for Jesus during his human life on earth. Like we cannot act alone, neither did Jesus! Jesus did what he did because of his relationship with God the Father and Holy Spirit. In this--and in other ways too--we are like him--we are like Jesus.

When you read the gospels, you'll see that he, Jesus, took moments apart for quiet times with the Father. And those "quiet times" were just the tip of the iceberg when it came to his relationship with God the Father and Holy Spirit as he was doing his work as a human being on earth. That relationship was solid and dangerous for God and against evil!  It was his relationship with the Father that powered him up to do his mission. His ability to do good came from God the Father. It did not come from anything he carried in his own self alone.

The Gospel of John reveals a bit of this truth. Read it when you can. For example, in a conversation with one of his disciples Jesus says:
"I am in the Father and the Father is in me... The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works." (John 14:10)
And we have these words:
"The Son [Jesus] can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel." (John 5:19-20)
You and I are invited into that power packed relationship. That's how it is that we will be able to do the works of our Lord--and, according to what he promises--even greater works! The full extent of what that I do not yet know, but I do know that we who have a personal relationship with Jesus are stronger than we know when are deeply connected with God. We are not pansies. We are not weaklings!

On the evening before he died on the cross for us, Jesus prayed for us, that we will be in the relationship that HE has with God:
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me." (John 17:20-21)
And Jesus continues to pray for us (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25)! Jesus is our dearest friend now. He is with us still. He is with us in Spirit--in the full partnership with God that we share in the Holy Spirit.

Jesus says: "I will not leave you as orphans" (John 14:18). "I am with you always" (Matthew 28:20). Jesus has asked the Father, and He has given us the "Spirit of truth" who Jesus says is "in us" (and among us) now (John 14:16-17). We share in the life of Jesus today! And that's why we can live like Jesus, doing what he did.

The one thing we will not do as we are in relationship with our Lord is what Jesus did in his death. We do not need to suffer and die for human sin. Jesus has done that once and for all. He has opened the way, not only for salvation, but also for the full empowering of God in what we do.

It all begins with Jesus' love relationship with us. As we believe in what Jesus has done for us and as we believe so that we step out in obedience to DO Jesus' works, we become more and more "dangerous" for the kingdom of God and against the enemy of everything good -- bringing good news to the poor, freedom to captives etc. -- those lives are the fruit of deep and personal intimacy with God. They come out of quiet times and every part of lives that are lived in dependence on God.

As Graeme Sellers says:
"The dangerous life [comes out of] giving and receiving the love of God, for this is how the world will be shaken from its dark sleep and awakened to the glorious light of eternal life in Jesus Christ." (p. 28)
As I finish writing this as best I can for now, I am praying that all of God's people will receive and live in this truth. We are made for more than what we have experienced so far. On Sunday, and every day, in our quiet times with God, we will soak in this and trust God's Word--and believe.

This post written Saturday, slightly revised & corrected on Sunday.


Tuesday, January 6, 2015


Last night I spent an hour or so at Don & Robin Begarowicz's home at the Cokato Lake "campground."

I often do that on Monday evenings. Don & Robin have opened their home for "Holy Spirit Christian Camaraderie" almost every week for, if I remember correctly, about 3 years. Don leads a time of worship and prayer and then we go on to conversation, some Bible study... and we pray for one another. It's good, it's free, and Don & Robin have never minded that I rarely stay for more than an hour.

These times at their home are one of the many reasons that we at Crossroads are blessed by having Don & Robin in our midst. If you can ever find the time to come on a Monday, I believe you will be glad you did.

As I was there last night I mentioned that I'm planning on moving on to the second chapter of The Dangerous Kind for this coming Sunday's message topic. Someone asked how I can do that considering that last Sunday I barely touched on the teachings from the first chapter.*

She's right! There is a lot more to Chapter 1 than the simple wake up call that I was led to bring out on January 4. But not everything can be said in 20 minutes. I just took a couple ideas from it and expanded them for our community. That's why I am encouraging people to get the book and read it! If you can't afford it, let me know and I'll provide one for whatever you can give.

When you get this book, you'll see that it's not an easy read. The author of A Dangerous Kind is an extremely intelligent man, a scholar as well as a pastor and spiritual teacher. He has studied the scriptures and theology and has been teaching and preaching for many years. He writes powerfully, but he does use an advanced vocabulary. You might need to read slowly with a dictionary, or, if you want, you can just let what you don't understand go right over your head.

But the Lord does encourage us to make an effort. God desires that we study and learn, challenging ourselves to grow more and more into the fulness of God's truth--truth that is sometimes difficult to understand. Since God knows more than we do, we should always expect to be challenged as we learn.

We live in a time when many Christian believers love to be entertained and end up rejecting any teaching that's not simple. Some even believe that "simplicity" is a sign of godliness. While there's no point being complicated just for the sake of showing off our education, putting too much emphasis on "simplicity" leaves us open to following entertainers and storytellers. Author Graeme Sellers spoke about this as he was teaching at The Master's Institute in 2009:
I find that people would like to take a "Holy Spirit shortcut" to knowing God and his ways. I find they want a shortcut to the development of their character and the changing of their hearts and minds to be like Jesus. I find that many people would like to attend a worship service and have God zap them and take care of it all that way and then leave completely ready to do the work of God.

That's why we bop around like pin-balls going from meeting to meeting and conference to conference, hoping to get a Holy Spirit blessing or impartation from the person who is conducting the meeting so we'll be able to do the things that they're doing. But what we don't see is that while we want what they want we're not willing to do what they did. Most of the people who have a legitimate anointing from God and an impartation to give, that comes from God, have that anointing and impartation as a result of years and years and hours and hours and hours in the Word of God.

The Bible says it is the Word of God that will equip you for every good work. If you want to be doing the works of God, you must be in the Word of God, willing to study and learn. That's where you'll find your ability to do what God desires you to do.
At Don & Robin's last night I was honored as one of those who gathered there said that he had listened* to my message from Sunday morning more than once since I shared it. He also gave me Sunday morning's bulletin insert with with verses that he had read carefully and highlighted. That's an example of study.

How do you study? How do you learn? Are you willing to challenge yourself? Take time away from entertainment and study the Word of God.

Click here to download and read the Bible verses that are in chapters 1 & 2 of A Dangerous Kind. Spend some time studying. Look them up in your Bible along with the paragraphs before and after, and with whatever other study aids you can find. Write some notes. Share what you've learned with a friend. (I find that I learn best when I take what I've learned and put it in words, either speaking or writing.)

I’d be thrilled to help you find some study resources that work for you, so you can study and learn the sweet Word of God.


*At [this link] you can find a place to download the first chapter of A Dangerous Kind and see what we did with the topic on Jan. 4. You can find a link to my recorded message there too.


Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Times

“When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.” (Matthew 16:2-3) We’re in a time that’s something like after the Allies landed on Normandy Beach in World War II. When the Allies landed there, the enemy knew his time was short. Satan’s time is short. He will lose and he knows it. So he prowls and attacks. But he is defeated. Jesus defeated him on the Cross! Now, this is a time God is giving us to bring more and more into the Kingdom before the Last Battle. God is allowing us to do good… bringing light into the darkness… until Jesus comes again. (from today's bulletin insert)

Too many believers go it alone. Too many behave as if it was peacetime, a time of ease when there was no devil prowling, devouring, someone we need to resist, firm in our faith.

I don't underline and accent the word "our" because the faith somehow "belongs" to "us," and it's not because "our" faith is better than someone else's. Faith is a gift of God. It belongs to God and because it is true there is only one.

I highlight the word "OUR" because, as in war, it's dumb to stand alone, believing that somehow your individual faith will sustain you. It will not.

You need others. You need others every step of the way. You need others because this is not a time of peace. This is a time of war, and it will be until that day when Jesus comes again.

One of the enemy's tactics is to make us believe this is a time of peace. The Lord warns us to be aware of the times, and twice in Jeremiah, and again twice in Ezekiel, the Lord speaks against those who would proclaim "peace when there is no peace." (See Matthew 16:2-3 above and also Jeremiah 6:4; 11:10; Ezekiel 13:10,16).

The devil uses that tactic because it's easier to get us when we are alone. As a sign of this consider that your body has two legs and two feet. It's easy to knock you down when you stand on one alone.

God has given me this message many times over the years, but it is especially important today as we move into a series at Crossroads entitled "The Dangerous Kind."

Please pray that I keep my message short enough today so we have time to pray for each other, standing together against the devil's tricks.

(You can download what was prepared for today's message by clicking [here] and the slides and recordings on [this page]. You'll notice that in my original preparation I didn't emphasize this particular aspect of the Christian life--that we shouldn't go it alone. It's there but not a central point. I've done some revising and will ask for others to pray for me as we gather at 10:15 so the time will be used well.)