Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Helping Together

It all started with a car accident that totaled her car.

"Without a car, she lost her job. Without her job, she lost her apartment. Without her apartment, she was facing homelessness with her child. Without family to support her, Crystal sank into depression and hopelessness, unsure of what to do when the day came when she would have to leave her home.

"Fortunately she was able to secure emergency housing through her church..." Hopefully, that church connection also provided the love and prayer support she needed...

All of that was a wonderful thing for Crystal... but the rest of what was needed came through community partnerships.
  • a "Community Action Agency"
  • a "Parents Support and Outreach Program"
  • the "Workforce Center"
  • a program called "Helping People Get There" (volunteer drivers)
These led to a job, housing support for a permanent place to live... but, living in central Minnesota, she really needed a car, since, with volunteer drivers, she would often be early or late to work and day care. She saved up money for insurance, and through a United Way Transportation Program, she was able to receive a donated car.

All along, someone in the community had a older model car with only 90,000 miles on it that they were willing to donate! But it took the community partnership to connect the person in need with the vehicle.

The board president of United Way of West Central Minnesota writes:
"When Crystal came to our office to complete the documentation and title transfer paperwork, she cried with joy. Her car was there, waiting for her, complete with a car-seat for her son and a full tank of gas. She could scarcely believe it."
You can read more of the story at this link on the West Central United Way website.

Today I met James Miller, the "marketing director" of that particular United Way (based in Willmar). I stopped there after a networking meeting sponsored by the Minnesota Council of Non-Profits -- a meeting that was held at the Heartland Community Action Agency Building. Tomorrow I'm meeting with Mark Sexton of Wright County Community Action.

I'm doing all this because if we are going to truly love others in practical ways, its important for us to prayerfully work with community partnerships. In Cokato there are many people who don't know about these organizations; there might be a bit more knowledge in Dassel since they are closer to the County Offices (in Litchfield) than Cokato is to its "county seat" (in Buffalo).

I believe that churches should be carefully and prayerfully helpful to connect people with whatever resources are available. As I learn more about what's available, I will be more helpful as I serve here as a trusted first call for help.

(I've been working on the possibility of getting a "Love INC" affiliate in our community... I haven't found others to work with me on that yet... but we can still do a lot with the community partnerships that exist.)

Here's a video highlighting the work of the United Way of West Central Minnesota. "Crystal" is highlighted in the middle of the video.


Monday, February 23, 2015

12 Good Things

For several years, I think it's been nearly 3 years now, I've been part of an early morning phone prayer time with other ministry leaders.

This morning at 6AM prayer we read part of Acts 25 as one of the "daily texts." In the reading Paul is brought up on false charges. He appeals to a "higher authority."

The lead pastor of the "network" that I had participated in until last spring led prayer this morning (as he often does on Mondays). He read the Acts 25 Bible passage and spoke about how we can find encouragement in the account of Paul's trial before Festus. We then entered into a time of spoken and silent prayer, praising God for all He does in our lives when times are difficult.

Some of us who were on the call have experienced false accusations in the past. Together, and as individuals, we have experienced God's protection, and we often find that the troubles brought upon us by others bring us to a place where we can better fulfill God's purpose in our lives.

After prayer, our prayer leader sent the prayer call participants an email. He apologized for a technical glitch we experienced on the phone and then said:
"... After our prayer time, I read this article. It is focused on what we prayed about. Be blessed!! http://www.churchpastor.com/2015/02/suffering-blindsides-minister/ ..."
The other recipients of the email were the others who were in on the prayer call today. All of them are known to those of us at Crossroads who participated in the January "Leadership Days" in past years, and three have been on hand at Crossroads more than once either preaching or leading groups.

Last year, when the "network" fell apart, I was wondering what would happen. I had appreciated sharing in the mutual support of the prayer calls, message planning groups and leadership huddles--all of which stopped rather suddenly last March. The prayer calls resumed in the fall and I am thankful!

God is good. God has provided for each of those who were on the call today, and others, even though there was such unexpected interruption in their previous work and in our work together.

I find the same to be true for us.

According to the author of the article that Per forwarded to us,
"When we are faithful in the midst of our sufferings, 12 good things happen."
Here are the 12 good things he mentions:
  1. God is honored, 
  2. Jesus is pleased, 
  3. And the Holy Spirit is given a situation He can use for God’s purposes. 
  4. The devil is infuriated, 
  5. Our enemies are puzzled, 
  6. And the critics of the church are silenced. 
  7. The church itself is strengthened, 
  8. Believers going through tough times are encouraged, 
  9. And the unsaved observe and want what they see. 
  10. You yourself are blessed and strengthened,
  11. Your reward in Heaven is great, 
  12. And your reputation goes through the roof (Luke 6:35). 
Then the author writes:
"For believers—for faithful disciples of the Lord Jesus—suffering is not 'par for the course.' It is the course."
How have you experienced "Good Things" from God when you have suffered unexpected trials and opposition?

Let's share -- and pray for one another until God's Kingdom fully comes.


Friday, February 20, 2015

Our Good and Practical Shepherd

In regard to church futures, the question is: "What does God want?" and "How will we sharpen our spiritual hearing so we will do what He wants?" We must bow to Him only in everything. Practical plans are needed, but only after we have heard from God about what He wants. ...Otherwise we are considering ourselves to be just one more human organization.
In the fall of 2013, and continuing into the spring of 2014, several brothers and sisters from our local church ministry had been getting together as a "Church Study Group" to consider what it is that God is calling us to "look like" as a church. In the bottom half of this post you'll find a handout that we used last spring.

I recall this now because certain practical considerations are bringing the question of what God is calling us to be and do to the surface once more. Last night I pulled out the book Reimagining Church -- NOT because I believe everything Frank Viola says in it are good or correct, but because I think the book does a good job of opening up QUESTIONS like the ones below for us to consider.

The quote at the TOP of this page comes from something I had written earlier this week. It strikes me now, this morning, that there are times when practical matters can lead us to do spiritual work that perhaps we have been avoiding in the rush and hurry of life.

Though it is the spiritual, that is, the voice of God, that needs to lead the practical in decision making, there are times when the practical can lead us to considering spiritual things. Examples of this is when sickness leads us to consider lifestyle questions that we may be ignoring, or when financial difficulties lead us to examine and change our ways of spending money.

Let's praise God for EVERYTHING, including the challenges we face. God will not leave us, but He may want to lead us into something new. He IS our Good Shepherd. We shall not be left in "want," that is, lacking what is needed, but we must heed his voice.

A letter size copy of the above can be downloaded here.

During our church study group's work we read only the first half of Reimagining Church. The second half has to do with leadership an the question of what a "pastor" might be according to scripture. You can read my Nov. 2013 reflection on that question at this link.

As I recall, I think I agreed, as a whole, in what Frank Viola wrote about the "pastoral" role. What will God be leading us to in regard to THAT question in the weeks and months to come? Let's consider with lots of prayer! We will NEVER be afraid.


(You might be interested in a blogpost from January 2014 entitled "Scattered Thoughts on Togetherness.")


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Dangerous Love In Action

"Love is a wrecking ball crashing into the artifices we've erected to wall ourselves off from others, especially those we do not approve of. It does not permit isolation to go unchallenged, does not agree that cutting ourselves off from our neighbors, family, co-workers, and planetary co-inhabitants is a choice we are free to make. Love demands interaction and engagement, moving out of the safe harbor of our carefully guarded retreat and exposing ourselves to the pain and hopes and joys of those around us. Love is investment, personal and persistent, in the life of another, investment in someone other than ourselves. Our approach, typically, is divestment and detachment, moving fast and far away from those who would make demands on our time, our finances, our hearts."

This coming Sunday we're moving into the 8th week of a series based, more or less, on the themes raised in Graeme Sellers' The Dangerous Kind. The chapter title is "Love: God's Gold Standard." That's where the quote above comes from.

How many Christian believers and how many churches excel at "personal and persistent... investment in someone other than ourselves"? I praise God that we have had tastes of that at Crossroads! Please praise God with me that many are being touched and transformed by the "dangerous kindness" of God as it shines through this ministry. It's such a privilege and I am more thankful than anyone but God knows.

Crossroads is becoming a "safe place for the dangerous kind"--for the kind who won't leave well enough alone, who shine in the darkness and won't give up. Please pray that the Lord would continue to bless us and stir us up to do His work, work that, to be very honest, very few other churches are willing to do.

One of the families we are blessed to be working with at the present is involved in a situation that I can't describe in full, partly because I need to make sure no one will guess who it is that we're working with. A child was hurt, charges were filed, and some supportive people in this little family's life are refusing to help. So we are doing what we can, and I am advocating for them as they seek help from others. And we are praying. Yes. We are praying and they are seeing hope. Praise God.

How many others are in a similar circumstance? How many others have we been privileged to come alongside? Dozens. In our little communities. It's quite amazing.
  • Addicts are in recovery. 
  • Mentally ill people are moving toward health. 
  • Prisoners are being released. 
  • Children and youth who have had very little spiritual nurture are having experiences of the outrageous unconditional love of God. 
  • Once a month a party is held on Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis for people who need a break. 
  • Missionaries who reach out to at risk children, prostitutes, virtual "slaves" in garment factories are being supported and raised up. 
  • And many are being challenged and discipled in ways they never have in the past.
Crossroads is a place for God's outgoing, practical, strong LOVE, a place that allows for that love to flow in a way that I've rarely experienced. Please continue to pray, and come alongside Crossroads as the Lord leads so that the blessings will continue in the days and weeks to come.


Saturday, February 14, 2015


I've been writing here a few thoughts that vaguely relate to the message we'll share tomorrow at Crossroads, a message I titled "reputation.god." There's an online website that I've heard advertized called "reputation.com" that helps people check and improve their internet reputation and identities. But God invites us to find our true identity, and reputation, in Him, specifically in God as he has revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ.

The scriptures we're focusing on tomorrow are (1) the story of the prophet Samuel's anointing of the young man David, who was always remembered later as the best king the people of Israel ever had... even though it was strange, in that culture, that the youngest would be selected over the elder and (2) parts of the Sermon on the Mount that encourage people to SHINE (on the one hand) and NOT be trying to enhance one's reputation (on the other). You can read the scriptures [here].  

Here's what I wrote beginning an hour ago...


Right now I'm sitting in our kitchen/dining room. It's just after 7:30. The sun is coming up yellow on the eastern horizon. A beautiful morning, though outdoors it's windy and a couple degrees below zero. I'll head out in a few minutes to go get some exercise at our local Snap Fitness.

Yesterday in the early afternoon Toni and I went to the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport to pick up one of the young women who had lived with us as a foreign exchange student back in 2009-2010. It's been really fun to spend time together again. When she and the other girl were with us then we weren't able to learn as much from one another because of the language and cultural barriers. Now I feel like I've gotten to know this particular young lady so much better. It's great!

One of the things I most enjoyed learning yesterday was about the ways people relate in her culture, and hearing her speak about how "strange" I and other "Americans" are in her eyes. I often think that we here in our country put on a fa├žade as we relate inter-personally; but that's even more true, it seems to me anyway, where she comes from. I have a lot more to learn but it seems to be that the sense of "reputation" and "honor" they have would make it difficult for people to be very honest. (But I may not be understanding correctly.)

Tomorrow at Crossroads we'll speak together about "reputation," and specifically the idea of reputation and how it fits into our relationship with God, and, more importantly, God's relationship with us. It seems to be that God wants to set even Americans free from the ways we are concerned about what others think of us. Now I'm praying about how that affects others in other places around the world, including in the Asian culture our foreign exchange "daughter" represents. How do Korean Christians relate to their families and their cultures? Maybe I'll learn more about that in conversations today.

It's so great how God weaves our experiences together to teach us. The theme of "reputation" and "identity" came up another time this week too. On Wednesday our young people heard a presentation on Christian "identity" at Freedom Church, the idea that we all have many roles or "identities" in life (for example, son/daughter, worker/employer, student/teacher, younger/older) but there is only ONE identity that will last forever... being a son or daughter of God. Being confident in that identity sets us free from undue worry about how others look at us in this life.

So what I wrote here is not all cohesive or complete, but I hope you'll get the sense that I'm just trying to get some things written down before these thoughts fade away in the activities of the day. I am praying, and I invite you to pray with me, that God would direct what we share tomorrow at Crossroads, so, as we speak the Word of God, we would allow God to do what he wants to do in us, that is, setting people free to follow Jesus in all of life.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

"Hidden?" No

So this Sunday (Feb. 15) at Crossroads we're going to be looking at another theme that rises out of Graeme Sellers' book The Dangerous Kind. The chapter title is "Hiddenness." I have uploaded a scanned copy of the chapter -- you can download it as a pdf here.

As of now the main scripture readings that we'll be using are from
  • First Samuel 16, where the Lord leads the prophet Samuel to anoint the youngest son of a large family to be the next king, saying that it's not the outward appearance that matters, but, instead, "the Lord looks at the heart," that is, a persons inner self, their character, morality and overarching attitude.
  • Matthew 6, where Jesus teaches his disciples about giving and praying and fasting, warning them not to do these things to purposefully gain attention.
As we have proceeded through the chapters of Graeme's book, I've been using different titles for my messages each week--different, that is, than Graeme's chapter headings. Most of the time I did that for reasons that I can't fully explain. (Go here to see the messages and titles we've been using.)

This week, however, I'm using a different message title because a message title such as "Hiddenness" might lead us to think that God wants everything we do to be hidden and secret--and, that is just not true. After all, Jesus says we are NOT to let our light be hidden! In fact, he says "Let your light so shine before (in the sight of) others so they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven!"

As of this moment my tentative title is "Not for Show." The good point of Graeme's chapter is that nothing we do as believers in Jesus should be done in order to draw attention to ourselves. We should not be seeking publicity for ourselves. The book chapter challenges the ways that Christian leaders use publicity to draw attention to themselves--and are often seduced into wanting more and more applause.

On the other hand, and this is why I'm changing the title for my message this week, we should not think God wants us to be shy and avoid the spotlight either. Enjoying obscurity can be good for a season (Graeme speaks of this in regard to a church association) but that is not always God's call to us! There are times when we are too quiet, too publicity shy, too solitary. When we are too hidden open conversations like this will not go on.

I'm not just quibbling over terms. Many believers in Jesus honestly think it's best to remain hidden. I don't believe, on the basis of scripture, that is true. If you read the rest of Graeme's book, you'll see he doesn't believe that either! After all, you can't be "dangerous" against the enemy and on behalf of the kingdom if you stay hunkered down. Remember this: if Jesus had remained completely hidden, he would not have been killed.

So let's not stay hidden--but let's not do things just "for show" either. God can give the wisdom and correction needed as we let God's light shine brightly through what he does in us. 

These thoughts are not fully developed. Please share by commenting or in any other way what you think. Help me better hear and communicate what the Lord is saying to us now.


Monday, February 9, 2015


It's a few minutes before 8 o'clock in the evening as I write this. Someone will stop by (in just a few minutes I think) who needs help. I don't know really anything about the person or the situation. We'll pray and see what we can do.

This is not unusual for us. Our specialty is "coming alongside" people who are in need. We do it a lot.

It's part of what makes us "dangerous" for God -- shining Jesus' light in the darkness.

It doesn't make us particularly popular. There's little glamor to be had in spending time with people who don't know where to turn. It's often messy. Sometimes we feel like what we do doesn't make a big difference. God has called us to it though, so we hang in. Often for a long time.

Please pray for us and support us as you can.  Go to www.crossroadscokato.com to learn more.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Be Prepared For A Cross Road

If you do not have what you need today, if you are poor or sick or injured, cry out for help! If on the other hand, you do have what you need, and if, having everything needful, you're still tempted to complain, consider this:

God is the only one who has the right to move us from one place to another or from one life situation to another. Any complaints from Christians about "not liking" the places or the situations God has put us in... Any serious longing for a climate that is less cold or for more personally "suitable" conditions (financially or in terms of relationships or location, instead of looking at the work God is doing in us and through us where we are) is probably a rejection of the cross.

I wrote the paragraph above after reading this:
To belong to Jesus is to accept that in the exchange of our old way of death for his new way of life, we take on his life in all its unflattering and humiliating expressions. Understandably, we'd rather avoid these unsavory aspects of following him and move directly to the glorious rewards. This option is not offered to us despite our repeated insistence that it is our birthright.

We breeze right past Jesus' darker predictions of what joining up with him will entail. "I have chosen you out of the world," he tells his disciples, "That is why the world hates you. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you" (John 15:19b-20b NIV). The world will hate us, which is bad enough, but it's worse than that:

"I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. Your enemies will be in your own household!" If Jesus is to be believed, this is what we can expect from both those who know us and those who do not: they will "revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake" (Matthew 10:35-36 NLT; 5:11 NKJV).

This is not quite the Hallmark version of Christianity we thought we were signing up for. It brings us back to the archbishop's lament. "Everywhere Jesus went, he started a riot. Everywhere I go, they serve tea." The riotous, conflict-laden impact of Jesus no doubt lies behind his hard warning to his friends. At all times and in all circumstances they are to be prepared for their road to be a cross road. "And He said to all, If any person wills to come after Me, let him deny himself [disown himself, forget, lose sight of himself and his own interests, refuse and give up himself] and take up his cross daily and follow Me [cleave steadfastly to Me, conform wholly to My example in living and, if need be, in dying also]" (Luke 9:23 AMP).

His words lay waste to thoughts of jingoistic triumphalism and trial-free following. To be under the Word is to be under the cross. The cross is the ultimate under. And we who rebel at being under anything other than our own lordship resist this under most of all. For what is the cross but an instrument of torture, humiliation, and death?

The cross we carry is more than the burdens we bear from others' reactions to our love for Christ; the cross we carry is the signal of our own defeat and the announcement of our own death. "I die daily!" Paul cries out. We are to follow his lead.

For the dangerous kind, who are to get busy dying so we can get busy living, being under the Word is a risky undertaking. The Word asserts its own reality against the reality we would carve out for ourselves. The Word we are under demands fidelity, calls for faith, and countenances no argument. The Word accomplishes what E. F. Hutton could only dream of: the Word speaks and we listen. The Word commands and we carry out its orders. The Word is our beginning, our end, and all the landscape in between.
Quotation from Grame Sellers from his
book The Dangerous Kind, pages 66-68,
in a chapter entitled "Under the Word,"

As the author of that long quotation would say, "This is what I think. This is what I would invite you to weigh and test and consider..."

Let's talk!


Monday, February 2, 2015

Under the Word

Here's an excerpt from the chapter "Under the Word" from book The Dangerous Kind by Graeme Sellers, a member of the Alliance of Renewal Church's leadership team. 

We're studying this in preparation for our worship gathering at Crossroads on Feb. 8.
What is needful is that the Father's heart for us be fully expressed and his will wholly accomplished in us. Each time the Living Word breaks through, his goal is the same: personal address. Authentic encounter.

If the Word does not address us in the reality of our lives, where things are brutish, hard, and cruel, then we fail to allow the Word to be God's Word to and for us. His Word gets relegated to the nonessential category of words we might listen to, or might not, depending on our mood at the moment, words that are alternately interesting, arresting, or unappealing. In the end though, whatever descriptive label we append to them, they are just words. Rather than standing under the Word and its full weight of conviction, grace, and power, we stand over the words we hear and bring our judgment to them. Do they please us? Do they satisfy us? Do they tell us what our itching ears wish to hear? We are prone, after all, to fill up on spiritual junk food and run after catchy opinions that tickle our fancy.

For example, take the typical response of church-goers after sitting through a sermon we do not care for. Not liking the sermon, we conjure up all the reasons-theologically and presentationally--why it fell short of the glory of God. However, nice, polite church folk don't come right out with severe evaluations of the morning message; instead we offer the pious-sounding assessment, "I didn't get much out of the sermon today. It didn't really feed me. It didn't minister to me."

The remark gives the appearance of thoughtful reflection and spiritual depth. With such statements we may fool ourselves and others, but we can never fool God. He who is truth knows its opposite when he hears it and sees it. "I didn't get much out of the sermon today" is us standing in judgment of the words we heard. But when the living Word comes forth, even when it is not handled skillfully or delivered with distinction, it always addresses us,not we it. Evaluating sermons (or the worship set or the building or anything else) is just a technique for dodging the divine Word that exposes our vulgarity, our pride, our vanity. God's Word is the Word that is over us in order that it might be life to us and for us.

The Word of God strips away pretense and posturing. It disarms our arguments and exposes our self-adulation. It doesn't do this sometimes. It does it every time. No exceptions. We have our opinions and perspectives; we live in a culture that trumpets tolerance as an absolute virtue. You have your point of view and I have mine. What works for you is good. What works for me is good. Whether or not it is true, right, and virtuous is less important than a pragmatic embracing of the perspective that all opinions are equal and tolerance is next to godliness. Ironically, God will have none of this. He is, you might say, intolerant of this point of view. All viewpoints are not equal and truth is not relative. There is a Word before which all other words must give way.

"This is not good for me." Human words. Our words on the situation we're in, our take and our talk. "You don't know what's good for you." God's word over our word, silencing our word. When it's his Word, whether severe and corrective or sweet and comforting, there are no other words to be said.

"You don't know what's good for you." God's Word. We can feel the weight of it. It is not offered up for negotiation or appraisal. It just is. No wonder Jesus warns those who follow him, who stand under his Word in all its terrible beauty and authority, "Family. Friends. Reputation. Kiss me hello and you'll kiss them goodbye. My way is the way of the cross."