Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Frailty of An Independent Spirit Revealed

I hate being sick. Okay, dumb thing to say – who among us wouldn’t say that? But I mean, I really hate being sick. I never, ever look at it as a “good excuse” to slow down; I loathe being slowed down at all by my health. Or much of anything else, I guess I should admit. I’ve been very blessed to have reached my mid-forties with little or no medical issues. No major surgeries (other than childbirth, of course), no major illnesses, no broken limbs, even.

But this past weekend, I was knocked down. I lost two days of my life to recovering from a little infection in my throat called streptococcal pharyngitis – strep throat. Had you seen me over the weekend, the physical knock-down I took would have been obvious to you. But it’s the spiritual humbling that I believe may have been the real benefit intended for me through this brief illness, by a gracious and merciful God who uses suffering to draw us nearer to Him. Ironically, I’ve been battling “receiving” this gift all week.

You see, one of the spiritual truths I have a hard time keeping in focus is that I am a frail, weak jar of clay, and can do nothing without Christ.

I have been told that I have the “gift of administration,” but for me, that gift comes with its own handicap. It comes with a false sense of independence, a self-styled inner monologue that, no matter what is thrown at me, automatically begins chanting, “No problem! I can handle it!”

As a young, newly-married woman, I quickly learned to juggle the needs of a husband and then one…two…three children as I also managed my own life. Throw in more and more responsibility around the house as my husband began traveling? “No problem, I’ve got it.” Children begin entering into private school and volunteering is a must? “No problem! I can do it!”

As a divorced mother of those three children, I was able to care for them and work-full time, while also keeping an active social schedule, a clean house, and a consistent exercise program. No partner to help with all this? “No problem! I can handle it!”

Even as a Christian I’ve lived out of this sense of independence. As a remarried woman, I brought my three kids into our newly-formed family, while Warren brought two. Five children, a new husband and a new career to build in a new community, setting up a new home and making all new friends? “No problem. I can do this.”

Over the last several years I’ve been forced to acknowledge that I cannot, actually, “do this” all on my own. As I’ve drawn closer to Christ, He has time and again put circumstances way beyond my control into my life, forcing me to rely on Him in ways I previously had relied only on myself, as well as teaching me to rely on Him in ways I didn’t know I could. He’s shown me, over and over, that I can do nothing apart from Him (John 15:5).

I’ve even spent a lot of time this past summer reading John chapter 15, where Jesus refers to Himself as the vine, and us as the branches. As I read those passages, I know them to be true, and I understand the peace that comes with their truth.

You’d think, then, that I would understand that independence is a myth born out of not knowing who I am in Christ. You’d think that, having been pulled out of my comfort zone time after time to serve in ways that are “not me,” I’d have a deep understanding that it’s entirely the Holy Spirit working through me. You’d think, having experienced the amazing, incredible, not-of-this-world peace that comes from leaning on Christ day in and day out, especially through trials and seasons of stress, that I would cling to Him every day to ensure that His peace would not leave me.

Yeah….you’d think.

That’s just not been my experience. The “belief” that I can handle life on my own runs deep in my soul. I’ve certainly learned that I need Jesus to help me out in some areas, or perhaps during some seasons, but the independent spirit within me is one that is dying a very slow death.

And so it is that I find I need to be regularly reminded of my own frailty. This last weekend was another time of revelation for me, that I’d once again begun piling my to-do list with more and more, and all the while depending on myself – not Christ – to provide the strength to get it done. While confined to lay under a blanket – and largely disallowed from doing almost anything – I found myself stewing over all the things I'd intended to get done. Reading was one thing I could do, so I picked up a book our small group is studying, and within two paragraphs was directed to “take a break and open your Bible to the book of John. Read chapters 14 through 16 and give yourself some space to soak in the words…notice particularly how Christ desires that His disciples have peace and how He comforts (them) with the truth that they are not left alone.”

I actually did that; I closed the book I was reading, picked up my Bible, and read John as directed. Though I knew when I opened my Bible what I was about to read, the living, breathing Word of God still pressed in on my administrative little heart in ways I didn’t expect, reminding me that “apart from Me, you can do nothing." (15:5)

Other phrases jumped out at me. “Let not your hearts be troubled.” (14:1) “Peace I leave with you…let not your hearts be troubled.” (14:27) “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.” (16:33)

I’d lost my focus again, and had begun living out functional unbelief. It troubles me that I can continue to do this with such ease, and without even realizing it until I’ve veered far enough off the path that it’s obvious to anyone close to me that I’m not abiding with Christ, not walking humbly with him. I could allow that realization to create in me despair, hopelessness and a sense of unworthiness. And in fact, I have felt some of all those feelings this week. I’ve been like a yo-yo, up and down, unable to find my center.

Having been reminded that I am, in fact, completely dependent on God for the very breath I draw (Psalm 139:16), that all my lists and plans and accomplishments will fail the very moment He decides to allow me to fall ill for a few days, my first response was to once again try to pull myself up by my own bootstraps! Independent Spirit!?

It was only when I simply sat in the quiet of the morning, and allowed my heart of turmoil to cry out to Jesus for help, that the words of Psalm 51 came to me, unbidden. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me…restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” (51:10, 12)

I’m on the road to recovery this week, both physically and spiritually. Actually, as you read this I may well be on the road to Minneapolis, to attend John Piper’s annual conference, where I hope the Holy Spirit further “rights my soul.”

I share this less-than-flattering week of my life with you mostly as a confession of sorts. I think the Christian walk is hard. I find the deceitfulness of my flesh to be relentless, and the fact that I fall on my face regularly is, at times, incredibly discouraging. I am quick to beat myself up and slow to recall God’s grace.

But I would also call this an invitation. If you can relate to feeling this way…if you find yourself feeling heavy and burdened and irritable before you even realize it, and you realize you’ve strayed from abiding in Christ…be wiser than me. Run quickly to the feet of the King, and cry out to Him, “Have mercy on me, Oh God!”

Psalm 51:1-12

Have mercy on me, Oh God,
According to your steadfast love;
According to your abundant mercy
Blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity;
And cleanse me from my sin!

For I know my transgressions,
And my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
And done what is evil in your sight,
So that you may be justified in your words
And blameless in your judgment.

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
And you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
Let the bones that you have broken rejoice.

Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
And take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
And uphold me with a willing spirit.

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The Incredible Story of an African Pastor

The story starts several years ago when Luke Miedema, formerly of The Crossing but now in seminary in Chicago at Trinity, spent a year in Kenya with another of our missionaries, Scott Shannon. During the course of the year, Luke developed a relationship with a Kenyan couple whom we'll call Joe and Sue. They ran a small business and an orphanage that provided education along with basic physical needs to some of the orphans in a small town named Igoji. When Luke returned to the U.S. and joined our staff, he helped our church partner with this orphanage. Over the years The Crossing supplied teachers, educational curriculum, food, and much more.

But then a couple years ago Sue developed an illness and died unexpectedly. She had been the one who really ran the orphanage. Now that she was gone what would happen to the kids? The hope was that her husband would step in and provide the necessary leadership. But that didn't happen.

What we didn't realize was how much Sue was the heart and soul of the orphanage. When she died, all the good things that were happening fell apart. Her husband Joe didn't have any interest in maintaining the work. But even worse, he saw it as an opportunity to line his own pockets by keeping up the facade of the orphanage so that he could keep the western money flowing in. His plan didn't work. Because the ministry came to a halt, so did the money.

Into this mess stepped a pastor named David Kimanthi and his family. Sponsored by a group associated with The Crossing called Kenyan Christ Like Leadership Project (KCLP), David moved his family to Igoji to plant a church and help the orphans. Before Sue died, she was very excited that David was coming because she knew her small town needed a gospel-believing church. But after she died, Joe turned on David, blaming him for the loss of American funding.

David has persevered in ministry through some difficult times. Not only was he in a new city to start a church, but his wife was recovering from cancer and he was making a once-a-week, six-hour roundtrip commute to Nairobi to finish his seminary degree. On top of all that, Joe started to blame David for the fact that The Crossing stopped sending funds for the orphanage. To retaliate, he roused up a lot of opposition to David within the community. Obviously, that isn't the way that most church planters want to start their ministry.

But through all of this, by God's grace, David has established a church in Igoji. While he was in the process of doing that, people in a town nearby called Nkubu heard about the new church and started walking 30 minutes each way to attend. They asked David to come to their town and start a church there. He said yes, and now on Sundays drives back and forth trying to pastor both churches.

Here is a small portion of the most recent update that he sent to us. English isn't his first language, but I don't think that you will have any problems understanding what's happening.
Whatever we have achieved, and the courage we have had in church work in Igoji, is because we knew God is on our side and you together with many other God's servants were on their knees interceding for us. We admit that, from August 2009 to April 2010 was not easy for us. The church work was going on very well and we were very much encouraged; but there was a severe external opposition from few people. It was life and death. It reached a point when we had to shift from living to Igoji to come and live in Chogoria in a house where there is security and many other people are living with us in the same compound. This shifting happened because we feared the group which was organized to kill the pastor, might come at night and accomplish its mission. How those plans got stopped is that I had to involve the police, the area chief, and the community together with the parents/guardian of the children we are helping. We had to talk plainly and it was announced by the local leaders that if anything bad happens to the pastor or to any member of his family the mentioned people will be accountable. As a pastor and servant of God, who is supposed to love and serve all equally, I didn't like this public method of solving the problem by unveiling people names to government officials, to their neighbours, and their names being announced publicly to a big gathering. I feared I might be creating more enemies. But through my little knowledge and wisdom this has helped a lot. We now have peace. We can now walk into the villages without any fear. Some of the two people who were one of the masterminds came into the church (their are two ladies, one retired primary school teacher - single mother, and another lady). It was very hard for them to be embraced by the church members because they were thought as if they have come into church to monitor pastor's movements. I have no problem with them. I love them and I am open to them. They one day told me that, they don't understand why I didn't take them to court and yet I had enough evidence of their plans, and I also had witnesses. I told them there was no need. Even though I am with them in the church, I am very conscious about their movements. I have to be very keen to listen, and allegorically analyze every word which comes out of their mouth. I am also encouraging church members to admit them as one of their sisters, but it is taking time.
I don't know about you, but reading David's letter was humbling and it has encouraged me to pray more for him. I hope that you too will remember him, his family, and the churches when you pray.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

How's YOUR Religious Lteracey?

So how literate are you when it comes to your religious knowledge? That's a fair question, isn't it? To question one's literacy about the content of their religious beliefs? I mean, what are your beliefs about if not about actual things you believe to be true? And if religious beliefs are important to you, shouldn’t knowledge about basic religious beliefs be important to you?

But a surprising quiz/survey recently came out by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life that does not shed a good light on Americans and their religious literacy. This survey does, however, affirm that Americans are the most religious people on the planet. Just not the most literate about their religious beliefs. Ouch! Highest in number of people who believe; lowest in literacy about those beliefs. Not a good combination, I think.

ABC News did a story on this last night that you can read and watch here. I encourage you to watch the video of the story they ran on their Tuesday night news, then take the quiz for yourself. It's obviously a shorter version of the survey than what they talk about in the story. It may comfort you to know that I got all my answers correct, but then again I'm a pastor. This is my job. My getting any wrong should cause you serious concern.

One more troubling thing about this survey: the ones who scored the most answers correctly were the atheists and agnostics. Ouch again! It raises the question—How important is biblical and religious literacy to the average American Christian? If faith in God's word—i.e., belief in the literary content of the Bible that defines the Christian faith—really is the most important thing for a Christian to know and understand and believe, then why are so many so content in knowing less about the Bible than they do the weekly plots and characters of their favorite TV shows, or the latest happenings of their favorite music stars or Hollywood stars, or the technical disciplines of their vocation?

Perhaps your religious literacy is quite good. Take the quiz now for yourself and see how you do.

Please understand that my purpose in this blog is not to make you feel bad about yourself, but to raise a vital question—Are you reading your Bible? Do you value growing in your knowledge of God's word enough so as to actually read it? Is that value reflected in your daily schedule? Have you read the New Testament cover to cover yet? How old are you? How old do you want to be before you have read the New Testament for the first time? If you've read the New Testament, then have you read Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1st and 2nd Samuel, 1st and 2nd Kings, and Nehemiah yet? The number of pages you have to read to read all that is less than the average textbook you read in college. Or the average novel you've read on the beach.

Wouldn't it be great a year from now if you could answer Yes, I have read the entire New Testament from cover to cover? Or, Yes, I have read Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1st and 2nd Samuel, 1st and 2nd Kings, and Nehemiah? Why not make a plan to start tomorrow? No, why not start today?


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Raising Boys to Read

“According to a recent report from the Center on Education Policy…substantially more boys than girls score below the proficiency level on the annual National Assessment of Educational Progress reading test. This disparity goes back to 1992, and in some states the percentage of boys proficient in reading is now more than ten points below that of girls. The male-female reading gap is found in every socio-economic and ethnic category, including the children of white, college-educated parents.”

So writes Thomas Spence in a recent op-ed in the Wall St. Journal that’s well worth reading in its entirety. He goes on to detail the strategy of what he describes as “considerable number” of teachers and librarians, aided by several publishers, to address the problem. To get boys to read well, they must read more. (So far so good.) To get boys to read more, we must “meet them where they’re at.” Translation: encourage them to read “books that exploit [their] love of bodily functions and gross-out humor.”

If you find yourself questioning the wisdom of providing boys with a steady diet of books like Captain Underpants and SweetFarts, you have an ally in Spence. He continues:
Education was once understood as training for freedom. Not merely the transmission of information, education entailed the formation of manners and taste. Aristotle thought we should be raised "so as both to delight in and to be pained by the things that we ought; this is the right education."

"Plato before him," writes C. S. Lewis, "had said the same. The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting, and hateful."

This kind of training goes against the grain, and who has time for that? How much easier to meet children where they are.

One obvious problem with the SweetFarts philosophy of education is that it is more suited to producing a generation of barbarians and morons than to raising the sort of men who make good husbands, fathers and professionals. If you keep meeting a boy where he is, he doesn't go very far.
In light of the correlation between boys’ higher consumption of electronic media and their lower reading skills, Spence goes on to suggest an alternative solution: “The secret to raising boys who read, I submit, is pretty simple—keep electronic media, especially video games and recreational Internet, under control (that is to say, almost completely absent). Then fill your shelves with good books.”

To all of this, I’ll add a few comments of my own.

1. While I by no means think all video games and other electronic media usage are always reprehensible, Spence makes a good case to limit your kids’ involvement with them. This is an obvious, common sense solution.

2. To my mind, however—and I think Spence implies as much—it’s just as important to make reading a normative activity for your kids. This means reading to your children even from infancy. My kids are young, so I don’t claim that they’ve developed an unassailable life-long love for reading as of yet. But our regular routine includes reading before naps and bedtime and we'll read at other times as well (very often at their instigation). So far at least, they love it. When other options become more available to them, they’ll at least be rooted in a solid foundation of experiencing the benefits of books.

3. Don’t underestimate the favorable light you’ll shed on reading by actually participating in it with your kids. If my son likes to join me in pulling crabgrass out of my yard (yes, I'm one of those people), I don't think it's much of a surprise that he likes to read with me.

4. Part of what children (and adults for that matter) discover is that their imagination, fueled by the narrative of good books, can compete with more visual media. Don’t believe me? Ask yourself how often you thought the book was better than the movie. (And I say that as a serious fan of both.)

5. Spence’s general point that good books help form boys into the right kind of men is well made. But I’d add that developing good reading skills is specifically integral to growing in the Christian faith. Christianity, by God’s own intention, is a religion guided by written revelation. Developing a solid habit of reading, as well as the comprehension and critical thinking skills that come with it, is of great help in mining the truth of the biblical text. And when that text is the primary place where God, by his Spirit, reveals the good news of his Son, it pays to read indeed.


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Monday, September 27, 2010

None Good But God

The name and rank of convicted war criminal William Laws Calley comes quickly and effortlessly to my recollection. I don't need Google, Wikipedia or anything else to help me remember who he is or the infamous role he played in American military history; "Lt. William Laws Calley" is a phrase forever seared into my consciousness by countless nightly television newscasts aired while I was still a boy, just beginning to make sense of a much larger world that was far more confusing and contradictory than anyone - adult or child - really wants to deal with.

I was, after all, only eight years old when many of the horrific details of the My Lai Massacre in the Son Tinh district of South Vietnam became public knowledge. (Caution: My Lai link contains graphic content.) As an adult, armed with considerably more information and historical analysis, I can of course appreciate the distinction that Lt. Calley did not, all on his own, slaughter between 347 and 504 civilians, most of whom were women, children and the elderly. Although 26 U.S. soldiers were charged with war crimes for their actions at My Lai, Calley alone was convicted. He served just three years of a life sentence, though his name will forever be associated with one of the most barbaric incidents in all of American military history.

The tragic, blood-soaked history of the American involvement in Vietnam - and Calley's name in particular - came to mind once again as I read an article entitled Members of Stryker Combat Brigade in Afghanistan Accused of Killing Civilians for Sport, published Sept. 18 by The Washington Post. While it should be noted, of course, that being accused of war crimes is not the same thing as being convicted of them, the preliminary evidence against a few members of 5th Stryker Combat Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, seems pretty compelling. According to The Post, "Members of the platoon have been charged with dismembering and photographing corpses, as well as hoarding a skull and other human bones."

I have a deep, routinely-frustrating love for the United States. Given the opportunity and wherewithal to live anywhere else on the planet, I'd almost certainly live here. The truth is that I love the U.S. so much that deep down in my soul I still want to naively believe that we are at least trying to be "the good guys" - any and all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. I greatly prefer to keep my spiritual color palette black and white; heroes need to be heroic and villains need to be villainous. And I want them to stay that way, if at all possible...please don't confuse my already-shaken loyalties by publishing photos of hapless victims that have been very deliberately mowed down by American military firepower.

The supreme irony weaved into this depressing, disturbing piece of news coming out of Afghanistan is that one of the primary reasons the U.S. entered into armed conflict against the Taliban strongholds in Afghanistan is precisely because they (the Taliban) helped train the terrorists who exacted such a huge loss of civilian life with the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks against New York City and Washington, D.C. Our moral outrage against targeting American civilians for murder has somehow morphed into...targeting different civilians for murder. Afghans can be forgiven for asking what, exactly, separates Stryker Combat Brigade from the 9/11 hijackers.

As I spent the last week or so meditating further on this recent news, I just couldn't shake the feeling that we as a nation are very obviously not learning from our own very-recent history. Yesterday's Son Tinh district in South Vietnam all too quickly becomes the La Mohammed Kalay village in Afghanistan of Jan. 2010. Insert different names, calculate a higher or lower body count, change the details surrounding the various aggravating all adds up to far too many nauseating examples of the depravity of the human heart and a disillusioning realization that there really are, after all, no good guys.

Jesus caused such an uproar in 1st-century Palestine precisely because He was perfectly committed to the Truth (John 18:37-38) and unflinchingly provided humanity with the most accurate portrayal of the human condition to date. He upset His own disciples, undoubtedly, by calling them "evil" (Matthew 7:11) and hacked off the Pharisees time and time again by telling them that they did not understand the Scriptures (Mark 12:24-27), that they were, in fact, "white-washed tombs" (Matthew 23:27-28) and acting as blind guides and fools (Matthew 23:16-17). Jesus alone had a perfect understanding of the human heart, and He clearly did not like what He saw. And yet He was consistently filled with compassion for our plight (Matthew 14:14-16; 15:32), not wanting to leave even one of us in our deplorable condition (2 Peter 3:9).

Jesus offers the grimmest-possible assessment of the human condition, that we are all evil and capable of unspeakable evil. He affirms that God is less concerned with the fate of nations than He is with the renewal of the individual human heart (Matthew 18:10-14). Simultaneously, Jesus offers the best-possible answer to human wickedness and depravity, namely that through His sacrifice we can become co-heirs with Him of a Kingdom that will not spoil, tarnish or fade (Matthew 6:19-21). The trouble seems to be that most of us will not accept the first part of the equation (total depravity) and thus we see no need for the salvation part of His equation, either.

I really don't like to think of myself as "evil," and my guess is that you don't, either. So what do we do with the fact that Jesus very clearly and repeatedly says that we are? That we all are? Are we tempted to distance ourselves from the truth of Jesus' assessment simply because we are not personally responsible for atrocities such as My Lai? I have to think that not many of us like to think of our armed forces carrying out unspeakable atrocities against civilians when we have entrusted them to prosecute a war that we may feel was completely justified by the tremendous loss of life that occurred when the World Trade Center towers collapsed. It's human nature to locate an enemy and vilify them, but confusing as heck when pursuing the enemy turns out to reveal our own bloodlust.

If we can somehow distance ourselves from the worst of the worst, does that then mean that what Jesus says about us is nullified somehow? It's helpful, I think, to regularly recall that Jesus saved some of his harshest denunciations for those who allowed themselves to believe that they had achieved any form of moral superiority over their fellow man (Matthew 23). Under the right circumstances, we can all very easily become the next William Laws Calley.

I know a lot of folks who don't agree with various tenets of reformed theology, and I can certainly respect that. I am always willing to enter into a congenial, spirited dialogue about the Five Points of Reformed Theology with another Christian brother or sister, as long as we both appreciate that our theologies are, at bottom, just our best attempt to make sense of the Scriptures that we both agree were breathed out by God and validated by the life and ministry of Jesus. I note with interest, though, that the one point of "Calvinism" that people tend to resist most vehemently is the Doctrine of Total Depravity. Funny, since that would seem to me to be the easiest one to prove. Pick up any newspaper. Turn to any page. There it is.
Romans 3:9-18 (ESV)
"No One Is Righteous"

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:
"None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one."
"Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive."
"The venom of asps is under their lips."
"Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness."
"Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known."
"There is no fear of God before their eyes."

Note: In his book Created in God's Image, Anthony Hoekema provides what I have found (so far) to be the single best explanation of the reformed doctrine of total depravity. (See Chapter 8, "The Spread of Sin.") Hoekema softens his preferred terminology somewhat from "total depravity" to "pervasive depravity," arguing that many people reject sound biblical doctrine by misunderstanding the term itself.

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Psalms, Hymns & Spiritual Songs: September 26, 2010

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This week's music set-list review features photos by Scott Myers and was planned and lead by guest worship leader Rhett Johnson. You'll find links in the song titles that will allow you to purchase versions of the songs as recorded by the original artists.

He is Yahweh by Dean Salyn.

This is a song that we’ve been singing at The Crossing since 2003 and paints a picture of God’s sovereignty that is reminiscent of Isaiah 40.

Who is moving on the waters?
Who is holding up the moon?
Who is peeling back the darkness
with the burning light of noon?

Who is standing on the mountains?
Who is on the earth below?
Who is bigger than the heavens
and the lover of my soul?

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Heavenly Father, Beautiful Son by Mark Altrogge

Mark Altrogge, a pastor and songwriter for Sovereign Grace Ministries, wrote this song highlighting the unique, yet complementary, role each person in the Trinity plays in our salvation.

Father, You loved me,
sent Your Son to redeem.
Jesus, You washed me

by Your blood I am clean.
Spirit, You’ve opened these blinded eyes
and brought me to Christ.

Heavenly Father, Beautiful Son was based on the prayer, The Trinity, which we also read corporately. The prayer is from The Valley of Vision, a collection of 16th century Puritan prayers, and is a highly recommended resource for personal prayer. You can find a copy in The Crossing's bookstore.

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Rock of Ages - Words: Augustus M. Toplady (1776), Additional chorus: Page CXVI

The sobering lyrics of this hymn give us a deeper understanding of our desperate need of Christ's finished work on the cross.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to thy Cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress;
Helpless, look to thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.

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Christ is Risen by Matt Maher and Mia Fieldes

Let no one caught in sin remain
inside the lie of inward shame
but fix our eyes upon the cross
and run to Him who showed great love
and bled for us.
Freely You've bled for us.

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Awakening by Chris Tomlin and Reuben Morgan

Awakening served as a prayer that the Holy Spirit would not only work in our hearts but in the hearts of all the nations.

For You and You alone awake my soul; 
Awake my soul and sing
For the world You love Your will be done
Let Your will be done in me

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Music Team for September 26, 2010:

Andrew Camp - vocals, acoustic guitar
Mark Collum - vocals
David Cover - electric guitar
James Dent - bass
Rhett Johnson - guest worship leader and electric guitar
Andrew Luley - drums
Kerry Maggard - keyboards

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For more information about music written for corporate worship by members of the music team visit The Crossing Music. You can also find us on Twitter and Facebook.

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Saturday, September 25, 2010

A "Lost" Screwtape Letter You Should Read

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon a "Lost Letter to Wormwood" written by Kevin DeYoung over at the Gospel Coalition's website. Many years ago C.S. Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters, a fictional correspondence between a head-demon and an under-demon full of wisdom on how to entice and enslave despicable humans.

DeYoung has taken the original format and wrote a "lost letter" which speaks to all of us, but specifically teenagers and younger adults (I'm talking 14-24 here).

If you are a teenager, if you're a college student, if you're a parent of either, read this (I'd even suggest having your son/daughter read it and then talk about it together...just do it over a meal out. I've found that most anyone is bribe-able with good food). If you're connected to someone in this age range, in any way, read this. DeYoung is incredibly insightful and creative.

I commend the whole letter (part one & two), but I'll give some highlights.
"Your teenage subject has all the usual paradoxes of American youth we like to see down here: rebellious, yet disinterested; slothful, yet impetuous; disrespectful to parents, yet an irresponsible drain on their resources; tolerant of religions he knows nothing about, yet fiercely intolerant of the one he knows best."

"If he tries church for a few weeks, make sure it is a pointless endeavor. Do not forget our little rhyme: 'If to church one must go, lead him to an empty show. And when all we can do is meddle, makes sure on one church he does not settle.'”

"Speaking of sleep, do whatever you can do to keep your subject out late on Saturday evenings? Drink, girls, football, video games, paper—it doesn’t matter. Just keep him up. You know perfectly well how our Father Below insists on busyness at all costs and how terribly he depends on sleep deprivation for his work. It’s a well known fact among the higher ranks of devildom, that silly humans suspect our interference in the big things–death, accidents, spinning heads, and the like. They never expect that our work consists mainly in distraction."

"Heaven is at stake, my infernal child. Spirituality is one thing. God talk is generally harmless. Student “fellowships” as they call them are tolerable for a season. But for hell’s sake, Wormwood, church is absolutely out of the question."

"The Three S’s of youth misery: Keep them separate. Keep them selfish. Keep them searching. Allow me to expound."

"Keep them selfish. It’s really quite simple. All of our human subjects are selfish, but the young especially. It’s hardly their fault. They have no spouse or children to think of, only themselves. They have food handed to them on plastic platters...And yet, I must hasten to add, don’t underestimate your subject. Human youths are capable of extraordinary acts of courage and bravery and accomplishment, as the Annals of the Enemy record."

"One more thing, students today love the idea of community. Do everything in your power to keep them loving the idea of community rather than loving their community."

HT: Kevin DeYoung

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Don't Pass by the Good News

One of the spiritual disciplines that I've always wanted to practice but never been very faithful in doing is journaling. If you are not familiar with the phrase "spiritual disciplines," it is often used in reference to 1 Timothy 4:7 "Discipline yourselves for the purpose of godliness."

As Paul indicated in his correspondence with Timothy, godliness, by which he means godly character, doesn't happen apart from discipline and effort. It's obvious to all of us that a person doesn't get physically stronger without working out. The same is true for the spiritual area of our lives. The spiritual disciplines are the Christian's workout and over time God uses them to bring about greater godliness.

Now the most recognized spiritual disciplines involve the Bible, prayer, worship, and serving. Journaling doesn't make every person's list of spiritual disciplines. Some of you might be wondering whether journaling is even biblical since it is never commanded in the Scripture.

When some people speak about journaling, they mean that they write down their prayer requests and then record his answers. For others journaling is similar to writing in a diary in that this is the place that they are very honest with God. The part of journaling that I personally like the best is writing down what I'm learning. I find that when I have a pen in my hand, I expect God to teach me through his word. And just through the process of writing I find that I learn a lot more than when I don't. Writing slows me down and makes me think about what I'm reading.

With this idea of journaling in mind, it is easy to see that the Psalms can be considered to be something like journal entries. David and others bare their soul to God, write out their prayers, and remind themselves of God's past faithfulness. So while the Bible never commands us to journal, the practice is modeled.

Now before I give any false impressions of myself, I need to let you know that I only journal once or twice a week. The other days I read my Bible but don't spend time writing down what I'm learning. But when I do take the time to do it, there is always a huge dividend.

In order to be as practical and helpful as possible, here's my journal entry from yesterday:

Luke 15:1-2 Now the tax collectors and "sinners" were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."

Soul this is good news: Jesus welcomes sinners like me. He doesn't tolerate or put up with or endure or bear with or attack or pass by or ignore sinners. He welcomes them. He calls them to come to him and then he's glad when they do.

The term sinners is so vague and general that some of the shock of Jesus welcoming them is diminished. When Jesus welcomes sinners that means that he welcomes proud jerks who are self-consumed. He welcomes angry liars, sexual perverts, jealous gossips whose words hurt people. He welcomes superficial worriers.

This is first and foremost good news for me. Jesus welcomes me even though my sin is pretty nasty. Second, I don't want to be like the Pharisees who tried to separate themselves from sinners and condemned those that they came into contact with. I want to welcome sinners and all their problems like Jesus did. Third, Jesus is amazing. He doesn't need sinners. But he does love them. He sees them as broken and lost and he has compassion on them. May his name be forever praised.
I then went on to pray a form of these thoughts for my family and The Crossing. May we rejoice in the Savior who welcome sinners. May we be a family and church that hangs out a sign that says "Sinners Welcome Here."

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Special Story from Colleen Kelly

For this week’s blog post, let me introduce to you Colleen Kelly. She is one of our beloved staff members with our Veritas ministry, which is The Crossing’s ministry to college students. About a year ago Colleen was diagnosed with cancer. We all can relate to the shock when first receiving such news. And I personally was amazed, encouraged, and challenged when listening to and reading emails from Colleen over this past year as she shared her own fears, but also a very real trust in God’s sovereignty and the goodness of his will for her life. This is a battle you and I face everyday to one scale or another. All sin is really about this very issue. Do we believe in the goodness of God’s will for us? And do we believe that he is in control of—sovereign over—everything in our lives?

On these issues, I’ve come to realize that Colleen is the real deal. I write this very sentence with tears welling up in me as I remember this past year for Colleen. And so I’d like to share with you here what she shared with our Tuesday morning women’s ministry this week regarding what God has taught her and is teaching her in all that’s happened.

Hi, my name is Colleen Kelly and I’m on staff here at The Crossing, working with Veritas, our college ministry. Jeannette asked me to come and share with you all today a little about the past year of my life.

Flash back to last October. I was having terrible chest and shoulder pain and a lingering cough and couldn’t figure out what the cause could be. The pain was so sharp it cut into my sleep for a week, so after finally being convinced to go to the doctor, I begrudgingly made an emergency appointment – I hate going to the doctor. I hate the way you feel so vulnerable. I hate the way you have to admit weakness and essentially give in to it. But mostly I hate the way I’m not really in control of anything that goes on – or is said to you – inside that tiny, sterile office.

Thinking I just had pneumonia (I was coughing for like, a month), my doctor ordered a chest x-ray and told me he would call later that night to confirm the pneumonia so I could fill my prescription for antibiotics. But the phone call I got instead changed what the rest of my life will look like.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the first words out of his mouth: “Uhh, Hi Colleen, I just got your x-ray results. Do you have a few minutes?” And then he told me he was pretty sure I had lymphoma, a type of cancer. You see, he had seen on the x-ray a big, dark mass right by my lung. He had actually seen this before in a patient, about 6 months before, so he knew exactly what he was looking at.

This was NOT what I was expecting – maybe pneumonia, maybe bronchitis, heck, maybe I was just making too big a deal out of the common cold, but cancer? It never crossed my mind. I was actually here at the church that evening, setting up for a Paul Tripp conference when I got the phone call, and was obviously really overwhelmed and emotional. What are you supposed to think when you just find out you probably have cancer? I called my dad and had to tell him what the doctor told me, and he, I think, was probably more in shock than I was. He didn’t really think that the doctor could be right, so I explained to him everything the doctor had explained to me. He got really quiet, obviously trying to comfort me in some way but having a hard time doing so. I went home that night in a state of numbness. All of my roommates and closest friends stayed in that night to just sit with me. It was one of the weirdest experiences of my life – how do we talk about this? What should I be thinking or feeling, especially when there were so many unknowns?

After meetings with specialists, countless tests, and a few surgeries later, I found out that I had a tumor the size of a baseball between my heart and clavicle. My lung was at half of its capacity and it was pushing against my trachea, thus causing the cough. This kind of tumor accounted for about 2% of all non-Hodgkins lymphomas. But, as the doctors and my dad told me over and over, if you’re going to have cancer, this is the best kind to have. I just kept thinking how weird it was that I had cancer, that I was even talking about this.

Cancer is a hard teacher. No matter how much you scour the internet, how many fellow cancer patients you talk to, how many questions you ask nurses and doctors, how much you read about suffering for the Christian, there are some lessons – whether physical, emotional, or spiritual – that you can only learn firsthand. In so many ways, this wasn’t near the best case scenario. But in a lot of other ways, I’ve been blessed beyond measure and I want to share just a few of the ways that I’ve been able to see past the dark waltz that is cancer, the ways in which my imaginary veil of immortality has been lifted.

I want to share with you this morning how this cancer was an opportunity for me to see the gifts that God was blessing me with. Before having cancer, I would say I had a pretty good theology and background of suffering – I knew that suffering is a gift, I knew that it helps me to grow as a believer and that a Christian should expect to suffer. I know what the Bible has to say about suffering. But now I was being asked to experience this suffering and knowledge of it in a new way. I was being asked to really believe and trust that God is sovereign, and that he is good – even in the midst of a terrible diagnosis.

What if I only had 6 weeks to live? That first week, not knowing anything except that I had cancer, this was a very real possibility. One day, my roommate asked me if I wanted to go shopping. I remember thinking to myself, “What’s the point? Why spend money if I won’t be here, might not even be alive?” That’s obviously a very petty example, but I had to think about death in a very real way.

God was asking me if I really believed him when he said that he is real, and sovereign, and merciful. Do I believe what it says in Romans, that God is working everything together for my good? Do I believe God? Was I ready to face that question? I had to think about it and be very real with myself and with God. Do I believe Him? It was one of those moments where the answer to that question would change how I viewed this cancer. God was very faithful in my prayers and tears in helping me to answer with an overwhelming yes. I do believe that God is good. I believe his Word and his promises to me.

Psalm 84:11 says, “For the Lord God is a sun and a shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” After that conclusion, knowing that in a deeper sense than I had before, I realized that the fight was not foremost against cancer, but against the struggle of unbelief in what God promised me.

So the first gift I would say I was given was a reality check. I was forced into having a perspective of eternity that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. In a way I miss that, because I was given a sweet taste of the face-to-face reality of eternal life in the presence of our God. That is a very scary, yet very comforting thing.

Another gift I was given was a chance to love him more simply, to love him as he demands, and as he yearns for. In the testing grounds of evils, your faith becomes deep and real. A great, life-threatening weakness can prove amazingly freeing. Nothing is left for you to do except to be loved by God and others, and to love God and others.

1 Peter 1 talks about rejoicing in your trials:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

The goal to suffering – both yours and mine – is not to get through it. It is not to reach the end and once again be in a place of comfort and rest. The goal is to be refined. The goal is to reach our inheritance that Christ promises us, to know and love him more fully than we did before. That is the gift of refinement. The blessing comes in what God does for us, with us, and through us. He brings his great and merciful redemption onto the stage of our trial, so that he will be exalted amidst our weakness. This cancer is one of many shadows that come upon each of us: all the losses, pain, disappointments, and evils. Sometimes he heals and restores, but he is always sustaining and teaching us.

So I’m happy to report that after six months of chemo and radiation, after losing my hair and feeling physically weak and sick all the time, I’m now in complete remission. But I want to stress to you that even if this had been terminal cancer, even if I had been given 6 weeks to live, I would hope that I could talk about it in the same way. His promises would still be true. The cancer would have still been ordained by God, still for my benefit and my good, and His glory.

I’ll end with this quote from Charles Spurgeon:
"Unerring wisdom ordained your lot, and selected for you the safest and best condition. Remember this, had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there. You are placed by God in the most suitable circumstances. Be content with such things as you have, since the Lord has ordered all things for your good."

Thank you.
If you would like to read Colleen's online journal that she updated during this past year, you can do so here.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Christians and Economics: Who Cares?

“I only care about the moral issues.”

I can’t say for certain, but I’m willing to bet that many Christians would express something similar to the above statement when asked about their views concerning economic issues. Doubtless this holds true even in the face of the serious and difficult economic questions facing our nation at present. Abortion, the institution of marriage, the pervasiveness of pornography and other sexually explicit material—these are easily understood to be of prime relevance to following Christ. Not surprisingly, these are the issues that readily engage Christians on at the level of the larger society. On the other hand, economic issues—with the exception of the need to give to the poor—are often seen as something Christians can ignore.

But there’s a problem with this line of thinking: Christians aren’t to conceive of anything as being irrelevant to following Christ. Rather, as Paul says “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31, emphasis mine). Paul clearly understood that everything we do is to be pursued in line with God’s character and purposes. In other words, everything we do has a moral dimension.

A moment’s thought is enough to help us see that this certainly holds true for economics. As Austin Hill and Scott Rae point out: “Economics, much like politics, requires us to answer the question ‘How shall we order our lives together?’ That question is, fundamentally, a moral one” (The Virtues of Capitalism, p. 12). Perhaps an example will help to illustrate the point.

Recently, the state of Social Security has once again found its way into public debate. Sober-eyed economists and governmental officials tell us that our nation will eventually not be able to meet its commitments to Social Security recipients. Too many people are reaching retirement age while too few are paying into the system to support them. So what to do? Many decry reneging on promises to older Americans as a breach the government’s integrity. On the other hand, to continue to fulfill those obligations in the near and intermediate term virtually guarantees we’ll not be able to do so in the long run. Are we then willing for younger individuals to simply be out of luck? With these things in mind, it quickly becomes apparent that any discussion involving the finances of Social Security at the very least touches on considerations of justice and equity for millions of people.

But if it’s true that specific areas of economic policy (e.g., Social Security, unemployment insurance, or the composition of the tax code) have a moral dimension, it certainly makes sense to say the same of larger economic systems like capitalism, socialism, and everything in between. To cite Hill and Rae again:
Economic systems and policies are, in part, an expression of how a society regards both its weakest and most powerful members, and all those in between; they often play a key role in determining who “wins” and who “loses” in a society; and they can both encourage and discourage positive, productive behavior among the citizenry. Over the course of history, some societies have chosen economic systems that have helped a larger percentage of its citizens to enjoy social and economic success. Other societies have utilized economic systems that have caused the few to flourish while the many were trampled upon.
If the authors are right, it means that Christians should very much be concerned with the larger economic contours of our society. None of this is to say that Christians are to place a higher priority on championing an economic view than championing the gospel. Rather, it’s to say that living in step with the gospel and the God who brought it about should involve us in thinking carefully about economics (and every other area of life for that matter).

Because there’s far more to be said on the intersection of economics and our Christian faith, we’re happy to be offering a new connections class (starting October 3 at 10:30) on this very topic. We’ll center the discussion on Jay Richards’ book Money, Greed, and God, though we’ll likely bring in other material along the way. We won’t answer or even address every question and we certainly won’t claim always to be offering the final word, but we hope to make a meaningful contribution to the discussion.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Am I Now Officially Out of Excuses?

Just last week, the Census Bureau unveiled some fairly disturbing statistics with regard to poverty in the United States. A breaking news alert from CNN, received at 9:20 a.m. Thursday morning, carried the subject line "1 in 7 Americans Live in Poverty." Stating that the 2009 poverty rate closed out the year at 14.3%, the "highest in decades," that news brief was followed up within the hour by a nearly-identical alert from The Washington Post, which provided a bit more detail:
The number of people living in poverty has climbed to 14.3 percent of Americans. The Census Bureau says that about 43.6 million people, or 1 in 7, were in poverty last year. That's up from 39.8 million, or 13.2 percent, in 2008. [More]
I'm not sure why, but it took me a minute or two to realize that these grim statistics were stacking up 2009 numbers against those from 2008, just the previous year. If, then, the Census Bureau statistics are to be believed, within 12 months time, the percentage of Americans living in poverty increased by just over one full percentage point, which translates into 3.8 million people (and their families) slipping below the poverty line. That averages out to well over 300,000 families per month.

Getting all worked up over poverty statistics is easy; getting involved and doing something about it is something else altogether, but perhaps easier than you might think.

In God's gracious providence, He has very patiently drawn me into relationship with other Christians who take Jesus quite literally over that whole "care for the poor and marginalized" command (Matthew 6:2-4; 19:21; James 1:27; 2:14-17; Galatians 2:9-10; Hebrews 13:12-13). The sad truth is that my darkened heart is not naturally predisposed to helping others less fortunate than myself. Quite the opposite, in fact...I am far quicker to envy those who have more than I do, and dwell on various plans and schemes for obtaining more than I actually need. So I really need other Christians to help me remember that I worship a God who commands us to give of ourselves (John 15:12-13) and modeled self-sacrificing servanthood throughout His entire earthly ministry, most scandalously by submitting Himself to death on a Roman cross (Philippians 2:3-8).

Pat McMurry, president of Columbia Love INC, is fast becoming one of many fellow believers who regularly reminds me - without using words - that true faith in Christ always manifests itself with acts of giving, and self-sacrificial giving at that. Pat is one of those guys who has that unmistakable crazy-for-Jesus look in his eyes, never more so than when he starts talking about how the entire Body of Christ really needs to set aside its ecclesiastical and denominational differences, mobilize and work side-by-side to alleviate suffering in the local community. I asked Pat to share some thoughts on last week's Census Bureau statistics, and here's what he had to say:
What struck me most about last week's statistic of one in seven Americans now living below the poverty line was that with just one outreach effort per week, Americans could touch the life of every needy person in America, every day.

In their book
When Helping Hurts, Brian Fikkart and Steve Corbett outline four relationships God created for Adam, and every subsequent human. First is our relationship with God; second is our relationship with ourself; third, relationship with others; and last, our relationship with the earth, or our work. The authors go on to point out that poverty comes in many forms and is always the result of a breakdown in one or more of these foundational relationships.

Material poverty is the outcome of improper relationship with work, but that is often exacerbated by compromises in the other relationships as well. One very important dynamic to realize is that when we come to a "helping" relationship with another we can easily imply that "we" are here with resources while "you" are over there with your need. Corbett calls this a God Complex, an example of poverty of relationship.

The reality is that God has all the resources, and we are all needy. God stripped himself of His rights, became needy and brought His resources alongside us. He learned obedience through the things He suffered. Our posture toward those in need is more accurate when we acknowledge that we are
both fellow strugglers and that we can learn from each other. Truly, God has chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith.

Jesus' assessment of the rich is much less flattering...think camel going through the eye of a needle (
Matthew 19:23-24), your gold is corrupt and testifies in judgment against you (James 5:3), etc. With all the news this week about the number of Americans living in poverty, it's easy to be overwhelmed by the presenting need. But if it's true that God has given the poor richness of faith, then there is a huge reservoir of faith available for us "rich" folks to access. But we'll never access it if our understanding of our relationship with the needy is skewed.

My life was changed forever in 2007 when a small group of us went to a "Loving Help" program administered by the
Hudsonville, Mich., Love INC at a large, older, reformed church. On Thursday evening, about 400 volunteers from churches all over Hudsonville came together to share life with about 500 folks in need of assistance. There was childcare, food, homework help, activities for the kids, life coaching, budgeting, holiday gift-making, cooking, resume writing, Bible studies and GED classes for the parents and adults.

Everyone was completely engaged.

Those receiving assistance were so excited to be part of a process to better themselves and their community; their faces were radiant! There was no trace of entitlement so often associated with the handouts that often define benevolence; these people were partnering in their community for a better life. The volunteers were also thrilled to be making a significant contribution to the welfare of others. One pastor who volunteered as a teacher said, "Thursday nights, I go home and I just can't sleep, I'm so overwhelmed by the impact of the Gospel in the lives of people."

It's incredibly significant that when Jesus started His ministry in Galilee, He stepped onto the stage of human history and quoted His biography from hundreds of years earlier, namely
Isaiah 61:1: "The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners." Jesus was coming alongside our need, leading us in proper relationships and setting us free from our oppression.

Right here in Columbia, Mo.,
Granny's House has opportunities every weekday afternoon to fall in love with someone whose life can be greatly impacted by a friendship. Love INC of Columbia has a similar program to the one in Hudsonville called Living Large For Real. Once a week, month, or quarter there are numerous opportunities to discover what Jesus meant when He said, "Those who lose their lives for my sake will find it." There are childcare opportunities, mentoring possibilities, teaching, transportation, even opportunities to create a teaching track of your own.
Alleviating poverty, then, is ultimately not about emptying your's about emptying yourself. It's not ultimately about dollars, incentives and programs, as important as those things's about relationship. Pat mentioned the all-too-common feeling of being "overwhelmed" by the scope of the poverty problem, but I think this mental roadblock was effectively shattered by Mother Theresa's famous idea that we are all called to "minister to the face in front of us," not waste time and energy wringing our hands over the global scale of poverty.

There are, however, several other half-truths that can prevent us from serving. Some of the more popular ones might look something like this:
  • "Hey, I am not rich...I am barely getting by myself!"
    A sentiment such as this makes the false assumption that local charities are only interested in your dollars. As much as benevolent organizations do, in fact, require funding, the plain truth is that what is really needed is
    you. Your time, your talents, your passion. Know a little something about car repair? You are needed! Know how to cook? You are needed. Can you teach someone else to sew? (You get the idea...service to the poor is not first and foremost about your bank account.)

  • "I don't have a skill that would be useful."
    Not true. Everyone is able to help, albeit in different ways, because God very deliberately made us this way, to teach us to rely on others where they are strong and we are not (
    1 Corinthians 12:4-11). Even if you can't immediately name a skill or gifting you have that you can use to serve others, I suspect the folks at Love INC or Granny's House could; talk to them for more than three minutes and I am confident you will come away having had the idea that you "have nothing to contribute" blown completely out of the water.

  • "My life is so busy; I don't have time to serve others right now."
    Focusing all of our time and effort on ourselves and our priorities is probably the single-greatest flat tire on the road to helping others. The great truth we tend to ignore is that we can help ourselves by helping others. Reaching out to others can quickly draw us into relationships where we find, to our great surprise, that we are in fact the person being blessed. Somehow, in God's economy, He has ordained that we find our lives when we give them away (
    Matthew 16:24-26). It doesn't make all that much sense to our natural minds, so we resist blessing others with our time, talent and resources. We think we are merely being sensible and prudent...when in fact we are robbing ourselves of Kingdom blessings.
As last week's Census Bureau statistics clearly show, there really is a tremendous need for the Body of Christ to rise up and be a redemptive presence in our local community. In the city of Columbia, Mo., there are plenty of ways to get involved right where you are, with whatever you have. A quick phone call or e-mail to the folks at Granny's House and/or Columbia Love INC will get you rolling.

Getting involved is never without risk, of course. For me, the thing I fear most is that by surrounding myself with people who are so clearly bonkers for Jesus, I will one day cast off everything that entangles and run with perseverance the course set out for me (Hebrews 12:1-2), without so much as a glance backward at a corrupt lifestyle that encourages me to acquire, acquire, acquire...but this is all I've ever known for most of my adult life. The need is overwhelming, the means for getting involved could not be simpler, and now, in my opinion, we are all officially out of reasons why we can't empty ourselves in the service of another.
Romans 12:3-21 (ESV)
3-8: "Gifts of Grace"
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

9-21: "Marks of the True Christian"
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Photos provided by Scott Patrick Myers.

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs: September 19, 2010

091910 1594 Crossing Worship

This week's music set-list review features photos by Gerik Parmele. You'll find links in the song titles that will allow you to purchase versions of the songs as recorded by the original artists.

The music and the readings in this weekend's service focused our attention on God's story of Creation, Fall, Redemption and Consummation.


Doxology by Steve Hendershot

To God be glory.
To Him our hope, praise, love and fear.
Now may the Father of all glory
be glorified here.

091910 1608 Crossing Worship

God of Wonders
by Marc Byrd and Steve Hindalong

Psalm 19 tells us "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands." God of Wonders calls us to join creation's declaration of God's majesty.

God of wonders beyond our galaxy,
You are holy, holy;
The universe declares Your majesty.
You are holy, holy.

091910 1670 Crossing Worship

Glorious and Mighty by Joel Sczebel, Todd Twining and Bob Kauflin (based on Psalm 96)

This song by Sovereign Grace declares God's lordship over all of creation.

Majesty, You fashioned the heavens,
Your decrees can never be changed.
Over all the plans of the nations
Your judgements reign.

091910 1712 Crossing Worship


A short video was played introducing the portion of our service that wrestled with sin and death's intrusion into the world. Taylor, Josie and Alison played an excerpt from a piece by Philip Glass and Paul Simon that underscored creation's lament.

With Melting Heart and Weeping Eyes - Words by John Fawcett (1740-1817), contemporary music by Clint Wells

We confessed our sins with a hymn that speaks of being "wrapped up in self-conceit and pride." But then God opens our eyes to the depravity of our sinful hearts, we realize we cannot save ourselves and in humility are led to sing this final verse.

Does not Thy sacred word proclaim,
salvation free in Jesus' name?
To Him I look and humbly cry,
"Lord save a wretch condemned to die."

091910 1691 Crossing Worship


Following a short time of silent confession we given the assurance of our forgiveness from Titus 3:3-7.

Christ is Risen by Matt Maher and Mia Fieldes

In Christ is Risen we boldly express our confidence in our strong Deliverer and Risen King, Jesus Christ, who has triumphed over the effects of The Fall.

O death, where is your sting?
O hell, where is your victory?
O church, come stand in the light;
Our God is not dead He's alive,
He's alive!

091910 1625 Crossing Worship


We remembered the living hope that is ours because of Christ resurrection by reading 1 Peter 3:3-4.

On Jordan's Stormy Banks - Words by Sam­u­el Sten­nett (1787) with contemporary music by Christopher Miner

This hymn paints a picture of the "inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you..." which we read about in 1 Peter.

On Jordan's stormy banks I stand
and cast a wishful eye
to Canaan's fair and happy land
where my possessions lie.
I am bound, I am bound,
I am bound for promised land!

091910 1656 Crossing Worship

Holy, Holy, Holy (Lord, God Almighty) - Words by Reginald Heber (1783-1826), Music by John B. Dykes (1861)

Holy, Holy, Holy!
merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons,
blessed Trinity.

Music Team for September 19, 2010:

Carly Allen (bass)
Taylor Bonderer (violin)
Lacey Burrell (vocals)
Andrew Camp (acoustic guitar)
Mark Collum (vocals)
David Cover (electric guitar)
Scott Johnson (vocals, piano)
Andrew Luley (drums)
Josie Patton (cello)
Alison Tatum (violin)

For more information about music written for corporate worship by members of the music team visit The Crossing Music. You can also find us on Twitter and Facebook.

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