Thursday, April 17, 2014

How Do You Raise Moral Children?

What is your number one priority for your child? In an article in last Sunday's New York Times Dr. Adam Grant of Wharton Business School says that several studies reveal that most parents place far greater emphasis on caring than achievement. Now if you are even a fraction as cynical as I am, you probably think that parents answered the survey that way because they know they should value character over success. If you were to observe what families actually invest their time and energy in, it would be hard to prove that they actually believe their own answer.

Nonetheless, Grant takes parents at their word and asks how to go about raising a moral child. It's an interesting article that touches on the nature vs nurture debate, whether a parent should praise a child's actions ("That was a helpful thing you just did.") or their character ("You are such a helper."), and the difference between guilt and shame. For the Christian it is important to note that our goal isn't to raise moral children but children who love and follow Jesus. Those aren't the same things. Moralism is not the gospel no matter how many people think it is.

Dr. Grant concludes the article by referencing a famous experiment in which kids in elementary and middle school were given tokens for winning a game. Each child was then able to keep the tokens or donate some of them to kids who lived in poverty. But before the kids received the tokens and had to make a choice on whether or not to be generous to the less fortunate, they watched a teacher play the game and make the same decision.

What the experiment revealed is that the influence of the role model was significant and that their actions were far more influential than their words. In different versions of the experiment the teacher alternated between being generous and selfish in their actions and preaching to the kids the wisdom of generosity and selfishness. The results were clear: the words didn't make near as much difference as their actions. Even when a teacher behaved generously but preached on the virtues of selfishness, kids behaved generously themselves.
Children learn generosity not by listening to what their role models say, but by observing what they do.
All this serves as a good reminder that your children are watching their parents and more is caught than taught. You can tell your children church is a priority, but if they see you prioritizing other things, then don't be surprised that they see church as something to do when nothing else is going on.

You can tell your children to serve others but if they see you focused on your needs, then don't be surprised that they act as selfishly as you do.

You can even preach the importance of character, but if they observe you treasuring achievement (yours or theirs), well by now you get the point.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

POF Easter Edition: Dying As the King

Have you ever noticed that the time in which Jesus seems the most vulnerable—his betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion—actually demonstrates that he's the King over all things? Take a look:

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Monday, April 14, 2014

'Hidden' Blessings

The last few weeks, as the winter snows have finally melted away, I've been spending more time at family meals looking out our windows and doors. My seat at the kitchen table affords me a great view of our neighbor's pear tree, covered in white blossoms. It's a welcome sight, a sign that the bitter-cold winter of 2013-14 really is over.

Praise God from Whom
all blessings flow.

There are many days, however, when the sight of this beautiful tree is "obscured" somewhat by the chew marks on our porch deck railing. There are other days when my heart is completely blind to multiple blessings. On those days, I almost literally cannot see the pear tree for the chew marks. On those days, I am reminded of how I used to scoff at the ancient Israelites as they whined and grumbled against Moses and Aaron during the Great Exodus from Egypt.

Numbers 14:10 used to be a jaw-dropping passage of Scripture for me. I simply could not believe that the Israelites would ever lift a stone to kill Moses and Aaron after the miracle of the Red Sea, but the longer I live and the more complaints I hear - particularly those tucked away in the shadows of my own heart - the more convinced I am that God has given us this story precisely to show us how quickly our hearts can turn against Him.

Praise Him all creatures
here below.

As always, time is the great revealer of ingratitude.

Nowadays it is becoming fashionable to dismiss the grumbling of others in our midst by labeling their complaints as "a First-World problem," meaning simply that whatever is currently causing an individual's heart to grow hard is a problem that just about everyone in a third-world nation would accept with overwhelming gratitude. The car doesn't start. The energy bill is too high. Vehicle traffic in Columbia is getting a lot worse. "Can you believe that they only had two cashiers working when I went to pay for my groceries?" These all fall solidly in the category of complaints that most of the rest of the world can only dream about, as these problems would mean that they had cars to drive, homes that had heating and money to spend on food.

It's the same thing with my lower deck railing.

Praise Him above,
Ye heavenly host!

As I sit inside, comfortably enjoying a homemade meal with loved ones, I can't help but glance out the window and be tempted to become annoyed at the nonstop gnawing with which our one-year-old dog has defaced our home. "Some white paint would go a long way toward hiding the ugliness of the gnaw marks," I think to myself. But then I quickly realize that Calvin would simply add a fresh coat of white deck paint to his Wood Railing Diet. Short of removing all his teeth or never letting him go outside, it seems as though my family is doomed to live with a lower deck railing that looks like it was salvaged from a junk least until Calvin outgrows his propensity for eating wood.

And all the while, of course, I fail to see the blessings that undergird this minor annoyance. Without even working too hard, I can rattle off dozens of blessings that exist hand-in-hand with this "problem" of my dog creating an ongoing need for an outdoor paint job:
  • To start things off, our family owns a home.
  • As of this writing, we are in no immediate danger of losing our home.
  • My wife and I both have paid employment.
  • We regularly have meals together in our kitchen, and there is absolutely no concern about running out of food. (One quick look at my waistline confirms this blessing.)
  • Our dog has brought a lot of joy to our lives.
  • My wife and I are both healthy; getting outdoors to paint the railing is still an option.
  • We can easily afford to replace the wood, whenever we decide the timing is right.
  • God has been blessing our lives with a great deal of peace and health for years now.
The blessings above came to mind in an instant; all I had to do was ask God to show me the ways in which He has been supporting us and carrying us over the course of our years together in this home. And the well never runs dry, either. If you spend even a few minutes in this exercise, you soon come to see that for even one of the blessings listed above to be true, a thousand other things had to go in our favor such that we continue to enjoy God's good gifts of life and breath.

Praise Father, Son and
Holy Ghost. Amen!

A couple days ago, Calvin's puppyhood demolition of our home proved to be a blessing in someone else's life in a rather-unexpected way. I was talking to a good friend who has been really down on himself these past few weeks, and he (like me) had "lost sight of the pear tree" for the multitude of "chewed deck railings" in his life. By recounting this episode from my own life, he was able to see that he was indeed a very fortunate man, albeit one who still has a long way to go. In the midst of his struggles, he has a beautiful wife who loves him, many friends who are committed to him regardless of his failures, he is employed and healthy...on and on it goes.

Taking this approach to all of life, I am convinced, is at least one of the keys to biblical faithfulness. Gratitude, even in the form of "forced gratitude," has increasingly been the tool that casts Satan out of my life. The more that the enemy tries to call me down into the depths of despair, the greater the need for an iron-fisted grip on gratitude. When temptations to despair come my way, I can think of no better way to cause the enemy to flee than to mine the riches of my life, the good gifts that God has given, and then trust Him with everything that has been withheld.

The day will come when either Calvin or I will depart this life. If he happens to go before I do, then I'll be able to keep my window screens completely free of claw marks and holes. I won't have to buy premium dog food anymore. (Indeed, I won't have to buy any dog food at all!) I won't be rudely awakened by a wet nose nuzzling my face or hand. I'll be able to put my shoes down on the floor and not wonder where they disappeared to ten minutes later. My deck railing, once repaired, will stay that way.

And my life will be that much poorer.
Psalm 136:1 (ESV)
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.

Hebrews 12:28
Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.

James 1:17
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Holy Week: Palm Sunday, April 13, 2014

Today marks the beginning of Holy Week, a time when we fix our eyes on Jesus' triumphal entry, crucifixion and resurrection from the dead. On Palm Sunday we remember when Jesus set out for Jerusalem, was hailed as Messiah and King and was greeted with shouts of "Hosanna!" During this morning's service, we followed Christ's path from Jerusalem to the cross, seeking Him as our true Savior and King.

This week's Sunday song review features photos by Nate Herndon. You'll find links in the song titles that will allow you to purchase recorded versions of the songs (where available)

1. Call to Worship (adapted from The Worship Sourcebook, John 12:12-13, and Sojourn Community Church)

2. All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name - Words by Edward Perronet (1780), Contemporary chorus by Judah Groveman (based on a arrangement by Jaron and Katherine Kamon)

All hail the power of Jesus’ Name!
Let angels prostrate fall;
Bring forth the royal diadem,
and crown Him Lord of all.
Bring forth the royal diadem,
and crown Him Lord of all.

3. Here is Our King (chorus only) by David Crowder

Here is our King, here is our love,
here is our God who's come
to bring us back to Him.
He is the One, He is Jesus.

4. Hail to the Lord's Anointed - Words: James Montgomery (1821), Music and Arrangement: Vito Aiuto (2008), Arrangement: The Crossing Music

Hail to the Lord’s anointed,
great David’s greater Son!
Hail in the time appointed,
His reign on earth begun!
He comes to break oppression,
to set the captive free;
To take away transgression
and rule in equity.

5. We read the Gospel of Mark's account of Jesus's triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest!”

6. The scripture reading was followed by a time of confession and assurance (adapted from the Worship Sourcebook) based on Matthew 21:8-9, John 3:17, and Ephesians 5:1-2.

Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

For Christ came into the world not to condemn the world,
but that the world through him should be saved.

Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children.
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us,
a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Hosanna in the Highest!

7. Hosanna by Brooke Fraser

I see the King of Glory
coming on the clouds with fire,
the whole earth shakes,
The whole earth shakes.
Hosanna! Hosanna!
Hosanna in the highest!

8. Communion Song: Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed - Words: Isaac Watts (1707), Music: Martyrdom, Hugh Wilson, (1800), Arrangement: The Crossing Music

Alas! and did my Savior bleed
and did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
for such a wretch such as I?

My God why would You shed Your blood
so pure and undefiled,
to make a sinful one like me
Your chosen precious child?

9. Communion Song: How Deep the Father's Love For Us by Stuart Townend, Arrangement: King's Kaleidoscope

Behold the man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders;
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished.

Music Team for Sunday, April 13, 2014:

Andrew Camp - vocals, electric guitars
Kristen Camp - vocals
Nick Havens - bass
Emily Herzog - vocals, piano
Rhett Johnson - electric guitar, vocals
Scott Johnson - worship leader, piano, organ, acoustic guitar
Andrew Luley - drums
Justin Schilb - violin
Benedict Sin - violin

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Getting Ready for Palm Sunday at The Crossing

On Fridays we post a guide for how to prepare for the upcoming Sunday service. It gives you a chance to read the Bible passage ahead of time, see the song list, and get your mind and heart ready. You can see some of the rationale here.

This Sunday is Palm Sunday, the day when we remember Jesus entering the city of Jerusalem for the last time, setting in motion the events that would lead to his death. Keith Simon will preach from Luke 19:28–44, “Jesus is the King No One Recognized.” The Scripture reads,

28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”
32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”
34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.”
35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.
37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

This passage is often referred to as the Triumphal Entry. Yet there’s far less triumph than we might first expect. The Pharisees object, and Jesus cries for the city. Does this sound like a king? What are we expecting in a leader? How should a king act? Perhaps even more to the point, what do we expect God to be like as king? Do we know what we’re looking for? Do we know what we should be looking for? Jesus confounded their expectations, and he still does that today. Join us Sunday to see just what king he really is.

Here’s our song list for this Sunday (with links to lyrics and music)

Sanctus [lyrics; listen] – words traditional (1st century); music by Christine Cover and Scott Johnson

All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name [lyrics and listen] – words by Edward Perronet (v.4 by John Ripon); music by Oliver Holden; chorus by Judah Groveman

Here is our King (chorus only) [lyrics] – David Crowder

Hail to the Lord’s Anointed [lyrics; listen] – words by James Montgomery; music by Vito Aiuto, arranged by The Crossing Music

Hosanna [lyrics; listen] – Brooke Fraser

Alas! And Did my Savior Bleed [lyrics and listen] – words by Isaac Watts; music by Hugh Wilson

How Deep the Father’s Love for Us [lyrics; listen] – Stuart Townend; based on a recording by King’s Kaleidoscope

See you on Sunday!

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

10 Reasons Why I Think Kids Today Are Overprotected

1. I think that if I gave my kids the same freedoms that I (and all my friends) had as a kid growing up, someone would call the Division of Family Services. In elementary school we used to ride our bikes (without helmets!) all over the neighborhood and the only rule was to be home by dark. It was common for kids to walk to elementary school and now that has all but become extinct.

2. I think that kids are overprotected in large part because the internet and cable news wrongly leads parents to believe that child abduction has significantly increased. It hasn't. According to David Finkelhor who is the director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, the only abductions that have increased are the ones done by estranged parents resulting from divorce. It turns out that we shouldn't warn our kids to avoid "stranger danger" as much as a mom and dad.

3. I think that because kids have cell phones allowing their parents to keep in touch with them, they should have more freedom. They don't. If you're a parent, it's likely that you lived in BCP (Before Cell Phones). When you left the house no one could get in touch with you. You might have left your parents a note that you were out with friends but regardless of how they found out that you were gone, they couldn't get in touch with you unless you called home. Now that we can use modern technology to stay in constant touch with our kids, why do they have less freedom than you did growing up?

4. I think that parents overprotect their kids because they are afraid to let kids fail. Breaking news: Failure is an unavoidable part of life and good for your kids.

5. I think that over protection leads to kids who are less confident, take less risks, and are more insecure and timid. See this ebook by Tim Elmore.
In an essay called “The Play Deficit,” Peter Gray, the Boston College psychologist, chronicles the fallout from the loss of the old childhood culture, and it’s a familiar list of the usual ills attributed to Millennials: depression, narcissism, and a decline in empathy. In the past decade, the percentage of college-age kids taking psychiatric medication has spiked, according to a 2012 study by the American College Counseling Association. Practicing psychologists have written (in this magazine and others) about the unique identity crisis this generation faces—a fear of growing up and, in the words of Brooke Donatone, a New York–based therapist, an inability “to think for themselves.”
6. I think that over protection means that kids don't play sports in the neighborhood and therefore play more organized sports under the supervision of an adult coach.

7. I think because kids have less freedom to be outside with their friends, they watch more television, use more social media, and play more xbox.

8. I think that over protection is a factor leading to increased childhood obesity.

9. I think that a variety of sociological factors including the declining birthrate, the increasing number of homes in which both parents work, and increased divorce rates contribute to parents making their children the center of their lives. Interesting and surprising fact: parents spend more time with their kids now than they did 40 years ago.

10. I think that parents want to be good parents. Obvious I know. But what's not so obvious is that good parents raise independent kids who know how to handle failure, are willing to take appropriate risks. I wonder if our over protection is keeping us from being good parents?

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Why I struggle to return to God after I sin (again and again and again)

She described in painful detail how Multiple Sclerosis upturned her life. I heard her story on NPR. Once active and fit, it took only three years impair her ability to exercise, enjoy a walk around a museum, and even help herself to a glass from the cupboard. With profound honesty she shared the hardest part of her disability: always being the one who is helped. 

One day she will need her her husband to help her to bathe, to do everything. "It's hard not to feel beholden," she said. The balance and equality within their relationship tips away from her; receiving help constantly diminishes her sense of dignity.

Hearing this, her interviewer paused, then asked, "So it's a question of grace?"


How true. Her story points to a spiritual reality that's easy: true grace is disorienting and difficult to receive.

Grace is unearthly. We have no categories for it. There are analogies, perhaps. A disabled person receiving unconditional love from a spouse. A newborn relying on his mother's careful provision of food. A murderer adopted by the mother of the man he killed.

These are pictures of grace, but no earthly analogy can capture the depths of human guilt, need, and darkness. No earthly analogy can capture the extravagance of God's forgiveness, mercy, and grace.

That's why we struggle to understand grace. We try to fit it into preexisting categories, but find they lead us astray. We think of God as a family member who loans us money to help us through tough times. But God's grace is so enormous that it cannot be paid back; "loan" is too light a word. Conversely, his grace is so free that efforts to repay him undermine the value of it.

His grace is unearthly. There's nothing like it. That's disorienting.

Remember your first job interview? Your first date? Your first day in middle school? They're all terrifying and exciting and confusing because we don't know what to expect. How should I dress? What will I say? What will they think? How do I act?

For many, their first experience God's grace creates a flurry of disorientation. We see ourselves, friends, family, and life experiences with new eyes. We yearn to live differently.

That first disorientation is never the last.

As his grace drills deeper into our lives, we're confronted with a confusing array of experiences. For instance: how does grace respond when I fall into patterns of sin like lust, gossip, pride, greed, and apathy?

I repent. I return. His grace meets me. He forgives me. I feel relief.

But what happens when I sin again, in the exact same way? And again? And again? Do I despair? Do I wonder why I didn't get fixed the first time? Maybe I try to clean myself up before I repent. But I can't, and my acts of self-righteousness is just another sin on top of sin. So I helplessly repent. His grace meets me once more.

After years of sinning, repenting, and being forgiven, the drill of his grace digs deeper. I wonder if there's a limit? Is God like a disappointed employer, who wonders why I don't improve my job performance after so many opportunities? Does his grace run dry? Will he let me go? After years of gracious help, shouldn't I stop sinning like this?

These questions crash like waves on my soul. Like the tide they recede and return. Every time I hear Jesus' words to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven," they feel, at once impossible to believe and impossible to ignore. I understand the crowd's response, "We never saw anything like this!"

I have no category to understand his grace. I have no category for being the one who always receives. I have no category for the infinite depths of love, which stoops to meet my every need. Learning to receive grace over and over and over and over is a Spiritual education.

I mistakenly believe that my sojourn on earth is about moral performance, but Paul's prayer is that I comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ's love for me (Eph. 3:18-19). My journey is about receiving Jesus' lavish grace and love in ways I struggle to comprehend.

It's my preparation for an eternity spent in awe-full exploration of his grace.

Do you think you've reached the bottom of his forgiveness? That you drained the last drop of his love? That his grace runs dry for you? You've mistaken grace for something on earth. His grace is unearthly. There's nothing like it. It's infinite. Unending. Unceasing. No sin, no power, no suffering, no man, no woman can stop it. You may not feel it, but he lavishes grace on you now, abundantly flowing over every sin to meet you in this moment, no matter where you are or what you've done. Will you receive it?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Why Younger People Are Leaving the Church (and What To Do About It)

The numbers are sobering. According to a recent Barna survey, only two out of every ten Millennials (ages 30 and under) consider church attendance to be very important, and more than a third have adopted an anti-church view.  

While Millennials represent the far end of the spectrum of Americans’ attitudes toward church (about half of society as a whole considers church attendance to be “very” or “somewhat” important), they may be the leading edge of a larger cultural shift. When asked what, if anything, helps them grow in their faith, Americans as a whole failed to rate church among the top ten factors.

The Barna report continues:
But beyond a dip in attendance numbers, the nature of churchgoing is changing. Regular attenders used to be people who went to church three or more weekends each month—or even several times a week. Now people who show up once every four to six weeks consider themselves regular churchgoers. …Furthermore, the percentage of people who have not attended a church function at all in the past six months has surged in the last decade from one-third to nearly two-fifths of all Americans. The shift is even more drastic among younger Americans: more than half of Millennials and Gen Xers [ages 30–48] say they have not been to church in the last six months.
As for the reasons that MIllennials are declining to go to church:
[They] cite three factors with equal weight in their decision: 35% cite the church's irrelevance, hypocrisy, and the moral failures of its leaders as reasons to check out of church altogether. In addition, two out of 10 unchurched Millennials say they feel God is missing in church, and one out of 10 senses that legitimate doubt is prohibited, starting at the front door. 
As I said, the numbers are sobering. But they also point to the ways in which churches need to respond. A few observations along these lines:
1. Any careful reading of New Testament will help us to realize that hypocrisy and moral failings will always be a part of the church. That’s not to say it’s unimportant for Christians—and particularly Christian leaders—to pursue greater holiness through the grace of God. In fact, the opposite is true. But it also indicates that churches need to do a better job helping people understand that they are not collections of people living in ivory towers, but rather communities of flawed and sinful people who desperately need the grace of the gospel…not only before but also after coming to faith. That truth should lead to greater humility and hospitality to those outside the church.

2. The challenge for the church in every age is to hold firmly to the timeless truth of found in the Bible while at the same time faithfully communicating and applying that truth in a constantly changing culture. Christians today need the same gospel as did people in the ancient world. But that means churches will need to find ways to express the gospel in ways that are uniquely suited for the present day. This will affect everything from mining current illustrations, stories, and data to innovating with technology to addressing significant cultural trends and problems with biblical insight. This means that Christians need to be serious students of both the Bible and the world in which they live. This rules out both separation from and capitulation to the surrounding culture.

3. If Jesus was gracious toward those who doubted and wavered (e.g., Mark 9:21-27; John 20:24-29; Mat. 12:20), then the church surely can do no less. This means taking serious questions seriously, so to speak. In any age, there will be issues and beliefs that will make believing the truth about Jesus more difficult. The church needs to tackle these with intellectual rigor on the one hand, and patience, sympathy, and kindness on the other.

4. Perhaps the greatest problem the survey points to is people feeling that God is missing from church. This illustrates a crucial point. If the church is about anything, it absolutely has to be about God—knowing, understanding, loving, worshiping, following, and glorifying God. If it isn’t, then the church ceases to be something vital and necessary, and instead becomes indistinguishable from any number of other organizations and associations. As obvious as it may sound, it’s worth noting explicitly: if God isn’t the focus of a church, people have no real reason to be there.

(For more information about The Crossing’s specific ministry values, click here.)

Monday, April 7, 2014

A Well-Timed Blessing of Fear

Growing up in a Baptist church outside of Detroit, I never understood how the sentence, "He's a good, God-fearing man" could ever be received as a compliment. After all, the American Male Mystique - an enslaving mirage, both then and now - glorifies the "real man" to be entirely fearless and confident, self-assured and in command of his faculties even under the most extreme forms of duress. The presence of fear was more often used as a critique, a sense that a man was lacking somehow, so the idea that a good man should fear anything landed on me as an oxymoron.
So how does a modern Christian male reconcile the entirely-biblical truths that we are to both love (Matthew 22:37) and fear (Deuteronomy 13:4) the Lord? What is the appropriate place for fear in the spiritual and emotional make-up of the well-ordered disciple of Jesus? If Jesus has indeed saved us from sin and judgment, then is there really anything left to fear?

One day last week, the ride to school was especially challenging for me and my son. Our morning routine had not gone well; there had been several less-than-loving comments issuing forth from his mouth, most of which I did not have adequate time to address as a father probably should. Even the simplest tasks - eating breakfast, putting on shoes, zipping up a jacket - became grueling events that tested the mettle of all combatants. In short, a heart of stubborn, rebellious pride had descended on my first-grader, and he had given himself over to it. Heeding some parenting advice once spoken by Jerram Barrs, I desperately sought to "overlook everything I possibly could."

As it happened, God blessed Boone County with a fairly-impressive storm that morning. Traffic was slow and snarled. Bridge construction on Scott Boulevard, other road work elsewhere and partial flooding had the effect of re-routing cars and busses such that the two of us found ourselves trapped in unmoving traffic more than once. And then the hail started coming down, landing loudly on the roof of our car and further obstructing our ability to see out the windshield. I briefly wondered if the hail was damaging my vehicle when the lightning kicked in. A nearby crack, and I no longer needed any more caffeine to wake up. Apart from any "choice" of mine, the adrenaline surged.

About that time, I noticed that my son had gone silent.

I then realized that he actually hadn't said much for a few minutes. Where previously he had been very loudly complaining and critiquing everything that crossed his path, he had at some point gone quiet. The expression on his face provided visible evidence that he had decided to suspend his growling and spend some time wondering what was going to happen to us next. When he began gulping for breath, the fear moving now into panic, I simply reached over to him, put my hand on his leg and looked full into his eyes; "Don't worry. Don't be scared. I'm with you. We're going to be just fine. You can relax." I kept my hand on his leg and repeated those phrases a few times, waiting for his breathing to slow down.

It wasn't too long after that when the hail stopped, bringing a measure of relief to the previously-deafening sound of ice striking sheet metal. The rain slowed up a bit, too, and traffic began to move again. We arrived safely at school, both of us now enabled to articulate gratitude for the warmth, dryness and safety of the car's interior. My son wondered what his life might have been like had he been walking or biking to school that day, as he sees "other kids do sometimes." His school principal stood by the covered entryway, large umbrella in hand, welcoming the kids who were being dispatched from a line of cars and hustling them into the safety of his building. My son was able to express his thanks before we hastily said goodbye.

The message had been received. I said a quick prayer, thanking God for my son's safety...and for the well-timed interruption in his peevishness.

My son is not the only Mayer male with a rebellious, stubborn heart in need of a healthy dose of reality.

I have had the same primary care physician for over 20 years. When I arrived in Columbia in the fall of 1992, I was a hot mess. A physical, emotional and certainly a spiritual shipwreck. My doctor and I have never spent much time talking about issues of faith, but I have an enormous respect for her plain-spoken approach, as well as her patience and considerable medical skills. At some point in the mid-1990s, God's common grace descended on her medical practice as she laid out three different possibilities for me to both enter rehab and have some chance that my University insurance would foot much of the bill. After I wasted her time by finding some small fault with each of the three possibilities for drug and alcohol rehabilitation - none of them fit "my" ignorant preconception of "what rehab should look like" perfectly - she gave me an incredible gift of well-timed fear:
"OK, well, these are your options. These are what your insurance plan will cover. If you keep drinking the way you are, you will die. Probably sooner than you think."
I never did go through any form of "institutionalized" rehabilitation, though I know many currently-sober people who have done so and swear by it. Instead, sobriety came a few months later as the simple truth of her words continued to "make noise" in my soul similar to the incessant downpour of ice that struck fear into the heart of my son last week. The Lord had allowed me to hear these words in a way that had previously been impossible; over the course of 20+ years of drug and alcohol abuse, I lost count of the number of people who had tried to talk some sense into me. On a plane ride from San Francisco to Kansas City, I surrendered my life to the God of my understanding. The specter of impending death had managed to catch my the best possible way.

Of course, fearing God and fearing for our physical well-being are very different. But God is in the business of redeeming even our most selfish fears. Where once upon a time various fears were a controlling influence in my life, a horrid feeling bringing with it much physical discomfort - a discomfort that could only be drowned out with prodigious amounts of drinking and drugs - fear has nowadays been relegated to the less-intimidating role of "indicator light on my heart's control panel." The presence of fear serves merely to remind me that I have 1) forgotten something about God or 2) have placed an inappropriate amount of trust in something other than God.

It's actually a blessing to have a "dashboard light" that calls me back to my Savior when I stray. A rightly-ordered fear of God stands in awe of His perfect holiness and righteousness. In the Bible, it is oddly reassuring to me that the universal reaction to the manifested presence of the Lord is immediate and consuming fear. God and His angels are constantly telling human beings not to fear (Daniel 10:10-12; Luke 2:10; Matthew 28:5), the clearest-possible indicator that God's world is "wholly other" than what we now know, and that His level of perfection is such that we simply cannot grasp it.

We fear that which we cannot understand, and in doing so with reference to God we must acknowledge our weakness and frailty.

Where once I looked down on fear and rather-cluelessly tried to master my own, I can now appreciate this kind of fear as a reminder of our place in God's universe, our need for protection and Christ's call to pursue love as the only effective means of casting out the more self-centered expressions of fear (1 John 4:18). Praise God that He regularly interrupts our selfishness and lack of gratitude with lightning, hailstorms and no-nonsense, plain-speaking family doctors.
Proverbs 1:7
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Psalm 111:10
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!

Job 28:28
And he said to man, "Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding."

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Sunday, April 6, 2014

Songs and Scenes: Sunday, April 6, 2014


Songs and Scenes is a weekly blog review of the songs, readings and prayers featured in The Crossing's Sunday morning liturgy. Our good friend, Scott Myers, took photos of corporate worship this morning. There are links in the song titles that will allow you to purchase recorded versions of the songs when available.


1. Doxology #2 - Words: Thom­as Ken (1674), Music: Old 100th, Ge­ne­van Psalt­er (1551), Arrangement: The Crossing Music

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.


2. Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing - Words by Robert Robinson (1758), Music: NETTLETON, Wyeth’s Re­po­si­to­ry of Sac­red Mu­sic, Part Se­cond by John Wy­eth (1813), Arrangement: The Crossing Music

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.


3. Prayer: based on Psalm 40

LORD, help us to wait patiently for you;
turn to us and hear our cry.
Lift us out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
set our feet on a rock
and give us a firm place to stand.

Put a new song in our mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
May we see and fear the LORD
and put our trust in him.

Do not withhold your mercy from us, LORD;
may your love and faithfulness always protect us.


4. Rock of Ages - Words: Augustus M. Toplady (1776), Based on an arrangement by Ascend the Hill

While I draw this fleeting breath,
When mine eyes shall close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See Thee on Thy judgment throne, Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.


5. Reading: Ephesians 1:3, 5-8

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight.


6. Rejoice by Dustin Kensrue and Stuart Townhend

This morning we introduced this new song by Dustin Kensrue and Stuart Townhend. Here's a helpful excerpt from an interview where Dustin talks a little more about the origins of the song.
I had the idea to write a song that was pretty directly a call for people to worship, specifically in rejoicing. We see in Philippians and other places that Paul calls us as Christians to rejoice—even in suffering and hardships. I wanted to have a song that called people to rejoice in what God has done and who He is, and who we are in Him. Also, I wanted to work in the idea of rejoicing through trials and suffering. That was the big idea behind the song.
All our sickness, all our sorrows,
Jesus carried up the hill.
He has walked this path before us.
He is walking with us still.
Turning tragedy to triumph,
turning agony to praise;
There is blessing in the battle
so take heart and stand amazed.

Rejoice! When you cry to Him He hears your voice.
He will wipe away your tears.
Rejoice! In the midst of suffering
He will help you sing.


7. How Deep the Father's Love For Us by Stuart Townend, Arrangement: King's Kaleidoscope

How deep the Father's love for us,
how vast beyond all measure
that He should give His only Son
to make a wretch His treasure.
How great the pain of searing loss,
the Father turns His face away
as wounds which mar the chosen One
bring many sons to glory.


Music Team for April 6, 2014:

David Cover: worship leader, acoustic guitar, percussion
Alex Derezynski: electric guitar
Emily Herzog: vocals
Andrew Luley: percussion
Ryan Ponder: bass, moog
Christian Smith: vocals
Johnny Tucker: piano, keyboards
Stephen Varner: percussion

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Friday, April 4, 2014

Getting Ready for Sunday Apr. 6th at The Crossing

On Fridays we post a guide for how to prepare for the upcoming Sunday service. It gives you a chance to read the Bible passage ahead of time, see the song list, and get your mind and heart ready. You can see some of the rationale here.

On Sunday Dave Cover will continue our sermon series in Exodus with “Sex” from Exodus 20:14. The Scripture reads, “You shall not commit adultery.”

The church is obsessed with sex. Or at least so goes the criticism. In part, it’s actually because our culture is sex-obsessed, where it’s every marketer’s go-to strategy and the nearly omni-present preoccupation of entertainment. In such a world, we find that we have to talk about sex simply to interact and respond to what’s going on around us.

But there’s also a sense in which we talk about sex, because it is a significant, though not ultimate, aspect of who we are. God gave it to us as a gift, a gift to use rightly and enjoy. Come on Sunday and hear God’s good story of sex and the parameters he puts on all of us for how to use and enjoy that gift.

Given the sermon topic, if your kids normally worship with you in the service, you may want to consider how to handle things. When and how to talk to our kids about sex is an important decision that each family must decide wisely for themselves. One great resource for us is Stan and Brenna Jones’s How and When to Tell Your Kids about Sex: A Lifelong Approach to Shaping Your Child’s Sexual Character. I recommend it, because it’s practical advice set in the bigger picture of how God creates and intends sex for our good.

Here’s our song list for this Sunday (with links to lyrics and music). “Rejoice” is a new song for us this week. It’s by Dustin Kensrue, who’s also done “It is Finished” and “Suffering Servant,” which we have sung recently. Check it out to get familiar with it ahead of time if you can (really, the whole album is worth having).

Doxology [lyrics and listen] – words by Thomas Ken; music from Old 100th, Genevan Psalter, attributed to Louis Bourgeois; arranged by David A. Cover and Christine Cover

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing [lyrics; listen] – words by Robert Robinson; music by John Wyeth

Rock of Ages [lyrics; listen] – words by Augustus Toplady; music by Thomas Hastings; arranged by Page CXVI and David Wilton

Rejoice [lyrics; listen first song] – words by Stuart Townend and Dustin Kensrue; music by Dustin Kensrue

How Deep the Father’s Love for Us [lyrics; listen] – Stuart Townend; based on a recording by King’s Kaleidoscope

See you on Sunday!

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Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Comparison Trap or Why CEOs Make So Much Money

In a well known study (Solnick and Hemenway, 1998) people were asked whether they would prefer to make $50,000 when everyone else made $25,000 or $100,000 and everyone else made $250,000? Assume that prices for goods and services remain the same in both scenarios.

Which would you choose? Would you rather make $50,000 more (in the second scenario) or would you rather make twice as much as everyone else (first scenario)? The majority chose the first option. That's interesting and "irrational" because a person is willing to give up $50,000 in real income for the privilege of having more than the other guy.

One thing that tells us is that we measure our own happiness (or at least what we think will make us happy) by comparing ourselves to others.

In the book Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely explains that in 1993 federal regulators forced companies to disclose details about the pay of their top executives. The thought was that if those salaries and bonuses were made public, there would be a kind of "public shaming" and corporate boards would be reluctant to keep increasing what many thought were already outrageous compensation packages.

Guess what happened? Their plan backfired. Once salaries were reported, the media naturally ran stories on the highest paid CEOs comparing their pay with others in similar positions and as a result executives salaries skyrocketed. In 1993 when the public disclosure was mandated the average CEO was paid 131 times as much as the average worker. Now they are paid 369 times as much.

Comparison explains a lot of our unhappiness. We will always know someone who is more attractive, more fit, has better behaved kids, makes more money, has a cleaner house, has a better marriage, takes better vacations, is more organized, is a better hostess, got accepted to a better college than us. Therefore if our happiness depends on "being better" than others we know, it's going to be a long and miserable life.

Is it possible to opt out of this comparison game? Consider this from the NYT...
James Hong, a co-founder of, a dating site, found that his $55,000 Porsche Boxster had come to symbolize the trap he often saw others in Silicon Valley fall into. Mr. Hong, 33, says Hotornot’s success allowed him “a very comfortable life without ever needing to get a job — freedom money, as they call it.” But he nonetheless saw himself succumbing to the envy malaise.

After all, his best friend, Max Levchin, was a founder of PayPal and has a net worth probably in the tens of millions.

So in a conspicuous move to get out of the game, Mr. Hong has decided to sell his sports car and has bought a Toyota Prius.

“I don’t want to live the life of a Boxster, because when you get a Boxster you wish you had a 911,” he said, referring to a much more expensive Porsche. “And you know what people who have 911s wish they had? They wish they had a Ferrari.”

Mr. Hong said his most effective coping mechanism for feeling outstripped by his friends’ wealth — beyond his choice of cars — is to try to put it out of his mind.

“The only way I’ve dealt with it over time is to consciously decide not to care,” he said. Still, he confesses: “Every now and then, when I hear they’re getting a certain valuation, I think, ‘I need that, too.’ There’s a little devil inside all of us that says, Why not you?”
 Those paragraphs are chock full of insight from Mr. Hong.

1. No matter how much we have or how successful we are, we always know someone who's doing better than us. That's why no one thinks of themselves as "rich." The "rich" are those they know who have more than they do.

2. No matter what we have we aren't content with it but want the next thing. If we get the next thing, then we will be happy. Hong saw this when it came to cars but it's, of course, true about anything in life. The hole in our soul can only be filled by Jesus. Until we come to him, we will never be satisfied. By his grace may we learn that Jesus plus Nothing equals Everything.

3. Finally Mr. Hong gets to the heart of the matter when he says that it's as if there's a little devil inside us that says, "Why not you?" If your co-worker can drive that car, why can't  you? If your neighbor can take that vacation, why not you? If your friend looks like that, why not you? After all you deserve it.

Comparison leads to a deserving attitude and there's not much more dangerous to our contentment than thinking that we deserve better than what we've gotten. People who think of themselves as deserving are never happy with what they have because they always know someone who has more.

The Bible says that because of our sin what we truly deserve is God's wrath and judgment. We don't want what we deserve. We want grace that can only be given by God. Everything that we have, every spiritual, relational, physical, and material blessing comes to us (undeserving sinners that we are) from the hand of a good and gracious God.

When we see that God has been exceedingly kind to us, it steals the power from the question "Why not me?" Why not me? I can give you a thousand reasons. The real question is "Why has God been so good to a wretch like me?" If God wants to give others something different than he's given me, that's his business, not mine (Matthew 20:15). All I know is that he's given me far better than I deserve.

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Where Does All That Moral Outrage Come From?

These days, we hear a great deal about being non-judgmental. Everyone’s views are valid. No one has a right to tell others what they should believe or do. Just live and let live.

There’s just one problem with all of this: no one actually seems to believe it.

To see what I mean, make a mental note over the next few days every time you hear someone make a moral judgment, i.e., characterize an idea or action as wrong or something similar (reprehensible, regrettable, objectionable, unacceptable, etc.), or alternatively, pronounce something as good or otherwise approve of it.

I took a while to think of situations like this I’ve run across in the last several days. The following are all topics about which people expressed moral judgments, often quite strongly (and in many cases both for and against):
  • College athletes unionizing/getting paid.
  • The Washington Redskins’ nickname. 
  • The Comedy Central show The Colbert Report making a joke on Twitter about Asians in response to the controversy surrounding the Washington Redskins. 
  • The remains of aborted and miscarried babies being burned to heat hospitals in the U.K.  
  • A Duke undergraduate student paying for her education by being a porn actress.
  • A student organization at a prominent university promoting traditional marriage. 
  • A gay man expressing the view that other factors beyond the genetic might affect sexual orientation in some cases. 
  • Members of an ethic group criticizing others in the same group for differing political views.
  • Russia’s annexation of Crimea and other threatening moves toward Ukraine. 
  • A congressman’s comments regarding cultural and economic conditions in America’s cities.
  • A handful of religious freedom issues, including the Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby case recently argued before the Supreme Court. 
  • The activism of very wealthy individuals on both sides of the political spectrum.
And this is just a partial list. Among other things, it doesn’t include all the less noticeable moral evaluations that I, along with the people I’m around regularly, make every day.

But here’s my question. If we’re all supposed to live and let live, recognizing that nobody has a right to sit in judgment on anyone else, then where does all of our allegedly moral outrage come from.

Are these things just our personal preferences with nothing else behind them? If so, then why does anyone bother with them at all? You like chocolate, I like vanilla. Who cares?

Except that’s not the way we treat them at all. But here’s the catch. If our moral judgments are worth anything, if they’re to have any kind of meaning to them, they have to coincide with a real moral standard, something above us that we didn’t make up, that doesn’t yield to what we might want it to be, but instead demands that we yield to it.

Could it be, then, that human beings all reflexively make moral judgments because (a) something like the standard I just mentioned really exists and (b) we’re all hardwired to have some kind of an appreciation for it? 

If that’s true then it raises a whole bunch of other questions. But can we at least dispense with the idea that anyone actually lives as if everyone’s beliefs and actions are equally valid?

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Monday, March 31, 2014

Coffee, Kiddos and Canines

One morning, not all that long ago, I had a rough start to my day. I woke up late after a restless, interrupted night of sleep, and completely missed my opportunity to exercise. My life is such that if I don't get up at an ungodly hour to exercise, it simply doesn't happen. Realizing I'd overslept, I was upset before my feet ever hit the floor.

Stumbling to the coffee maker, I pushed the BREW button and decided instead to start my quiet time while my cup of Joe, my "liquid human," my elixir of life, was brewing. I was just beginning to settle into my reading when I heard an unusual but recognizable sound. Liquid was dripping somewhere.

That liquid was my coffee.

The pot, set not-quite-right under the basket, was not catching the brewed coffee. Instead, it was pouring out of the coffee maker onto my kitchen counter...and then off the counter and onto the wood floor below. Puddles, drips, spatter marks on the cabinets...and zero caffeine entering my system.

By now it was only 6:05 a.m. I had already woken up late. Now I'm mopping up my elixir of life from the floor when I desperately wanted to be drinking it instead. (I briefly considered getting a straw and "improvising" my first cup.)

A little later that same morning, my dog dragged half of the mulch out of our backyard and into the house via the fur on his back side. Another several minutes spent cleaning the kitchen floor.

Not too long after that, I was on my knees cleaning the floor for the third time that morning. It was 9:15 a.m., just after a robust breakfast by the two-year-olds I care for, a toddler feast that left more food on the floor than in their little round bellies.

And I was beginning to get frustrated.

I allowed myself to begin feeling like Sisyphus, pushing a rock up a hill, a rock that was destined to roll back down again...probably over his toe. I have plenty of days like this, when I face dozens of these kinds of small irritants. Too often, I end up calling those days "a hard one."

I'm ashamed to admit it. Many days it takes a remarkably small amount of "difficulty" to get me thinking about how hard my life is. And this is true despite the fact I've been on a mission trip to a third world country, where running water isn't even part of their reality. This is true even though I know so many others closer to home who are facing far more difficult circumstances than a floor that flatly refuses to stay clean in the wake of toddlers and canines.

I know people who are battling chronic health issues that just won't go away, just won't submit to our modern medical wonders. Doctors that are out of answers. Conditions for which no drugs have yet been invented. Crushing medical bills that are not at all offset by a much-needed return to health.

I know women who are losing everything they once called home because their husbands are so enslaved to addictions that they can't see the destruction they are causing all around them...and in them. Women packing up toys, bedspreads, clothes, dishes and furniture, praying it will fit into the much smaller living space they aren't even sure they can afford on their own, all because someone else refuses to stop drinking, doing drugs, sleeping around, and/or wrecking their finances.

I know families who just can't get out of dire financial duress. They take one step forward and things clearly outside their sphere of control force them to take three steps back.

Still, I have found that while adopting this kind of perspective can sometimes serve to shake me out of a pity party, it's generally not enough for me to think, "Well, at least my situation isn't as bad as so-and-so's." It doesn't help us much to look around and see others in worse circumstances. Maybe that's because, as we look around, we can pretty easily find others who have life far easier than we have it, too - at least as far as we can tell. Comparison is a double-edged sword, one that the enemy of our souls has far more expertise in handling than we do.

I also think comparison doesn't help much because that's not the way God wants us to find peace, by reviewing our temporal circumstances and stacking them up against those around us. In the midst of our circumstances - maybe even especially the difficult ones - God wants us to seek Him, to remember His promises, and to thank Him for all He has done and is doing for us and in us.

Thankfully, by God's grace, on that Great Floor-Cleaning Day a few weeks ago, I was able to see God's hand in the way my day was playing out, and while I wasn't at all sure what He was up to, I had the presence of mind to stop right then, still on my knees, and ask Him, "Okay, LORD, clearly my agenda for the day is not what you have in mind. What do you have for me today?"

And in that moment, I was reminded of at least some of what He has for me. I was reminded of His promise to give strength for the day (Psalm 29:11) and a peace that surpasses all understanding if I will simply bring all my anxieties to Him (Philippians 4:6-7). Yes, even the silly little anxieties of a household that feels chaotic and unclean.

So I ended up that morning thanking God for the perfect position He has me in.

Offering childcare to other families allows me to be at home for my family, while managing care ministry needs for The Crossing community gives me the much-needed chance to interact with adults during my workday. I thanked God that my husband is no longer enslaved to alcohol or drugs and is wholly committed to our family. I thanked Him for my health and the strength He has given me that allows me to keep up with several short people under the age of three. And I thanked Him for His patience with me.

I wish I could say that I frequently respond to petty annoyances the way I did that morning; the truth is that far too often I fail to go to God quickly. However, I am trying each day, before I ever roll out of bed, to remind myself that I have so very much for which to be thankful. My husband starts most of his prayers by thanking God for the gifts of "life and breath," a turn of phrase that he borrowed from the Apostle Paul as he spoke to the Athenians assembled on Mars Hill to hear the "new teaching" that he was bringing to them.

Like Paul, my husband understands at a deep level that every single breath he draws is an unmerited gift of grace from a living, loving, all-powerful God, a just God who by all rights should have wiped the Earth clean of him long ago. On that count, anyway, my husband is "not as wrong as he usually is."
Psalm 118:24 (ESV)
This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Ephesians 5:20
Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Colossians 3:17
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

1 Thessalonians 5:18
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Acts 17:22-25
So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: "Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, 'To the unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything."

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Friday, March 28, 2014

Getting Ready for Sunday Mar. 30th at The Crossing

On Fridays we post a guide for how to prepare for the upcoming Sunday service. It gives you a chance to read the Bible passage ahead of time, see the song list, and get your mind and heart ready. You can see some of the rationale here.

On Sunday Dave Cover will continue our sermon series in Exodus with “Are you a Thief?” from Exodus 20:15. The Scripture reads, “You shall not steal.” Few of us are probably tempted to break into our neighbor’s house and steal their TV. But what about the impulse shoplifting? Or much more subtly, how do use our time at work?

But even more than that, this commandment actually talks positively about work and says far more about how God views personal property than we may realize.

Here’s our song list for this Sunday (with links to lyrics and music). "Victorious Amen" is a Crossing song which we’ve done before but not in a few years. It’s appropriate for this season of Lent as we get prepared for remembering Jesus’ death and celebrating his resurrection. Take a moment to listen to it (again) before Sunday, if you can.

Before the Throne of God Above [lyrics and listen] – words by Charitie Lee Bancroft; music by Vikki Cook

Behold the Lamb of God [lyrics and listen] – Cam Huxford

From the Depths of Woe [lyrics and listen] – words by Martin Luther; music by Christopher Miner

Amazing Grace [lyrics; listen] – John Newton; arranged by Page CXVI

Victorious Amen [lyrics and listen] – David A. Cover, David Wilton, and Christine Cover

The Mystery of Faith [lyrics and listen] – words traditional English liturgy; music by Scott Johnson and David Wilton

See you on Sunday!

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Crouching at Every Doorstep

One of my older sisters lives in Vermont, so over the past 20 years or so I've traveled there several times. On every trip, I found myself very much enjoying the "rustic beauty" that informs both the countryside and the friendly small towns strewn along its two-lane highways. As a tourist dropping in and out every few years, I suppose it was easier than usual to overlook the now-obvious signs of a growing heroin trade, as well as its ravaging effect on local communities.
Stephanie Predel is off heroin. But the Bennington, Vt.,
area, where she lives, is in the throes of an epidemic.
Photo: Cheryl Senter for The New York Times;
used by permission.

Heroin addiction ravaging Vermont? Really? (Apparently so.) Wouldn't it be nice if we could all just go on living in denial?

Well, no...of course that's not an option. Christians are called to work for the good of the city in which they live (Jeremiah 29:4-7) and denial is definitely not a part of that equation. But as the head of a family here in Columbia, I'll admit that there is a large part of my soul that would desperately like to hang onto the mid-1970's caricature I have with regard to "what heroin users look like."

For a guy in his early 50's, the phrase "heroin addict" tends to conjure up images of poorly-lit New York City alleyways, rundown tenement housing, late-night drug deals in subways or the back seats of garish, customized muscle cars and filthy, emaciated junkies wearing tattered clothing. Those outdated stereotypes get a much-needed smackdown from the bright, fresh faces that just showed up on the front page of the Columbia Missourian last week, and in articles like "Heroin Scourge Overtakes a 'Quaint' Vermont Town" by Katharine Q. Seelye for the New York Times. (Note: Accessing both Missourian and New York Times articles will require a subscriber account.)

Hailey Clark, 20, with a heroin conviction, has lost
custody of her son. Photo: Cheryl Senter for The
New York Times; used by permission.

Maybe the headlines here in mid-Missouri are trying to tell us something about the toll of our voluntary, collective loss of meaning as well. On Thursday of last week, the Missourian featured the images of two cheerful-looking young people, both of whom had died of an overdose of heroin ("Bringing Purpose to Personal Tragedy"). According to the article by Taylor Fox, "Missouri has the seventh-highest mortality rate from drug overdose in the U.S., and heroin is a major contributor to these deaths."

And it gets worse if you do even a little bit of digging. Another related article, dated Nov. 22, 2013, ("Meth and Heroin Abuse Have Surged in Boone County") tells us that:
In Boone County, methamphetamine abuse increased more than 30 percent and heroin nearly 45 percent from 2011 to 2012. The report also revealed a nearly 50 percent increase in overall stimulant abuse in Boone County during the period. Stimulants include methamphetamine and other amphetamines. The number of meth labs detected in Boone County also increased according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
Just a few years ago, I attended a national conference held by the good folks at the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation. One evening after dinner - and an interesting session discussing pharmacology and faith - Ed Welch was sitting quietly at a table signing copies of his books for any and all who might enjoy that sort of thing. So I too stood in line, the lone attendee without a Welch book visible in my hands. When my turn came to meet Ed, I simply shook his hand and thanked him for helping to save my life. (If I ever meet Rick Warren in person, I plan to tell him the exact same thing.)

"Bringing Purpose to Personal Tragedy"
Columbia Missourian, March 20, 2014

My own story as just one case among many, I am convinced that the loss of Christ as an anchor point for our culture is directly linked to the steep increases we see in alcoholism and drug abuse. Beneath these outward signs of disaffection, though, there lies a more pernicious issue, one that is deeply resistant to Antabuse, 12-Step programs, methadone clinics and just about anything else you might use to convince an addict to change his or her deathward ways. I am convinced that just about every addict would agree with this statement, which was also the cry of my own heart from approximately 1975 to 1997:
"My life is just too small and too insignificant to care about."
Absent Christ and His story, this dreadful statement is all too true...for all of us. Relapse is a near-certainty for the addict in the absence of a much larger, more glorified narrative to hang onto. Addict or not, though, this absence of purpose forces us all to consider: "If my life story and legacy is all that I am living for, and if all of it will be a distant memory a hundred years hence, then who cares?" Paul absolutely nailed it in 1 Corinthians 15:32: What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die."

Underneath all our bluster, social skills, career achievements and wealth, we all share the dreaded certainty that one day the wind will blow over us and we will be no more (Psalm 103:15-16). No? Don't agree? Next time you are in a room full of people, ask the crowd for a show of hands: "How many of you know the first name of your great grandfather?" If even one hand goes up, you can follow up by asking that person what his great grandfather did for a living. My experience to date has been that most addicts - heroin, alcohol, meth, whatever - have a heightened sense of their own mortality; "What does it really matter if I live 40 more years vs. overdosing tonight?" This lie is potent precisely because there is much truth in it.

In his book, Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave, Welch offered me some serious help in putting together a recovery story that was "big enough" to satisfy the hole in my heart. Just prior to reading the Welch book, Rick Warren's Purpose-Driven Life challenged me, at a level that I could readily access, to see my own life in the much-grander story of love, sin, mercy and judgment, all of which converge at the cross of Jesus Christ. These were my own starting points; there are others, certainly.

The key, as far as I can tell, is to simultaneously address the hard realities of the individual story while placing the value of that individual inside a narrative that offers them hope beyond this life and the certainty of the grave.

We don't help our addicted loved ones by focusing exclusively on keeping them sober. We help them by loving them into an awareness of a God Who loves them more than they can imagine.
Matthew 25:31-40 (ESV)
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'"

Without the absolute of a transcendent, there is ultimately no moral law, no point of reference, no meaning in life, and no hope beyond the grave.
Ravi Zacharias at Texas A&M University
March 19, 2014

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Songs and Scenes: Sunday, March 23, 2014

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Songs and Scenes is a weekly blog review of the songs, readings and prayers featured in The Crossing's Sunday liturgy. Our friend, Scott Myers, took photos of corporate worship this morning. There are links in the song titles that will allow you to purchase recorded versions of the songs when available.

1. Call to Worship: All Creatures of Our God and King - Words by Francis of Assisi (cir­ca 1225), Arrangement by The Crossing Music

And all ye men of tender heart,
Forgiving others, take your part,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
Praise God and on Him cast your care!
O praise Him! O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

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2. NEW SONG - From the Depths of Woe (Psalm 130) - Words: Martin Luther (1523), Music: Christopher Miner (1997)

Kevin Twit, leader of the Indelible Grace retuned hymn movement, wrote about this hymn on the Indelible Grace Hymnbook website. Here's a helpful excerpt:

So often our experience here and now is a cry from the depths of woe, and we mustn’t minimize the reality of that place that God’s people regularly experience. And there is a certain comfort that comes from singing together in that place, we are not alone and song can help us experience this. But there is real hope for those who trust in Jesus – there is a joy beyond the sorrow, a day when God will set His Israel free from all her sin and sorrow. Yet you don’t easily or quickly go from the depths of woe to trusting with joy. I love the way this hymn takes five verses (and seven minutes) to make the journey.

From the depths of woe I raise to Thee
The voice of lamentation;
Lord, turn a gracious ear to me
And hear my supplication;
If Thou iniquities dost mark,
Our secret sins and misdeeds dark,
O who shall stand before Thee?

Though great our sins and sore our woes
His grace much more aboundeth;
His helping love no limit knows,
Our upmost need it soundeth.
Our Shepherd good and true is He,
Who will at last His Israel free
From all their sin and sorrow.

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3. Intercessory Prayer: Based on 1 Timothy 2:1-6

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.

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4. In Christ Alone by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty, Arrangement: Kings Kaleidoscope

In Christ alone my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all—
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

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5. Communion Song: Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed - Words: Isaac Watts (1707), Music: Martyrdom, Hugh Wilson, (1800), Arrangement: The Crossing Music

Alas! and did my Savior bleed
and did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
for such a wretch such as I?

My God why would You shed Your blood
so pure and undefiled,
to make a sinful one like me
Your chosen precious child?

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6. Communion Song: Death in His Grave by John Mark McMillan

On Friday a thief,
on Sunday a king.
Laid down in grief,
but awoke with keys
to Hell on that day.
First born of the slain,
the man, Jesus Christ, laid
death in his grave.

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Music Team for March 23, 2014:

Andrew Camp: vocals, electric guitars
Kristen Camp: vocals
Nick Havens: bass
Scott Johnson: worship leader, piano, acoustic guitar
Justin Schilb: violin
Benedict Sin: violin
Greg Wiele: vocals, electric and acoustic guitars
Andrew White: drums

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