Friday, November 29, 2013

God Meets People on the Cedarbrook Prayer Trail

I love our prayer trail. So many people have stopped to thank me for the crosses and what the trail means to them. Just this week I got an email from someone that was touched by God on the trail so I want to share it with your here.

One day in June, I was driving by the church and something pulled at me to stop by and check out the prayer trail.  I had never been on the trail. You need to know that I am not a spontaneous person and always have a plan for my day. But I drove into the church parking lot and pulled up close to the prayer trail entrance. 

I was the only one in the parking lot.  No one else was on the trail. I got out of my car and started to walk towards the gates of the trail.  I was in jeans and a light shirt.  It was warm and sunny.  Great day to check out the trail and take a little walk. 

I've been very stressed out with my marriage and proceedings with divorce.  It was not going to be an easy road and there was a lot that was very heavy on my shoulders that day.  However the experience on the trail was amazing! Gods great grace was present that day. 

As I started to walk I told myself that I really wanted to clear my head, slow down, and take in all that the prayer trail had to offer.  But MY head is ALWAYS busy and thinking about what needs to be done and what do I do next and all the problems the world is experiencing and what a mess life can be......

I read the first plaque~  "Be still and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10
OK I thought, I will try. I took a deep breath. 

As I walked along the first section of the trail, I began to cry. I started to think about all the problems that I was facing and the fears that were very deep within my heart. 

I read the second plaque~ "God will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away ever tear from their eyes."  Rev. 7:17
OK I thought, I need to lean on Him and trust Him. He will comfort me. 

I continued up the hill on the trail.  I started to pray about what should I do.  I have no idea which way to turn.  No one was providing direct answers to all my life questions.  I am so confused what to do, what to think.  I need help! Someone help!

I read the third plaque~ "I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go."  Isaiah 48:17
OK I thought, this is starting to freak me out a little bit.  It was like He was right there with me.  He was directly talking to me.  Never have I ever experienced that before. 

I continued...a bit more slowly now.  My mind began to worry about how I was going have enough money to continue to provide for myself.  I have no one in my family that can help me, so how am I ever going to be able make it.  I am scared about the future.  Help me to understand what to do so I will be ok. 

I read the fourth plaque~ "God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus." 
Wow!  Tears ran down my checks as I stood there in awe.  I could not believe what I was reading and how I was feeling.  God will provide.  I need to stop worrying and lay it as his feet.  All of it! 

I head so full of things I could hardly keep my thought pattern in line.  It was like a thousand people all talking to you at once.  I tried to quiet myself and focus on the beauty of the plants and flowers. 

I read the firth plaque~ "I will restore you to health and heal your wounds, declares the Lord."  Jer. 30:17
I continued up to the top of the hill where the three crosses are stationed.  As I was walking, I felt like someone was standing right next to me.  Holding me.  I looked up at the crosses, tears running down, and it began to POUR.  Not just rain a little... I mean in two minutes I was drenched.  Where did that come from?  Where is the bright sunshine that was here just a few minutes ago. 

I walked as fast as I could back down to the parking lot.  I scooted under the front door entry of the church to seek cover from the rain.  I began to laugh.  I was really soaked!  Never got to the last plaques. 

God had my attention!  I thought that no one would believe my story of what I had just experienced on the prayer trail.  It is almost like I made it up.  I stood there for some time and prayed.  Tried to dry off a bit and headed back to the car.

I started the car, began to drive out the drive way and again something told me to turn around.  When I did, there was a beautiful rainbow over the prayer trail entrance.  I have attached the photo.  

- - - - -
God will speak to us when we seek him. The Prayer Trail is not magic. It's just a means to help you focus on God. I hope you will take advantage of the trail and tell your friends about it. - Remy 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Update from Grace Outreach Church

On Sunday we got an update from Touger Tao, one of two church planters we are supporting in the Twin Cities. Paul Robinson sent me this update about his church that will be launching in early January:

Worship is going really well; the praise team is rocking and the experience itself is uplifting and engaging based on what members and visitors are saying.  We are getting a steady flow of visitors each week and a few of them are repeat visitors.  

I am following up with visitors during the week following worship with a note, phone call or in some cases a one on one.  We're adding people to the Core group (6 in the last 45 days).  Last month we added a bi-monthly "Core Development Team" meeting.  This has been helpful in planning our evangelism, gathering and special events.  We are working toward a January 5th launch service.  

Last Saturday at our harvest gathering we served chili, hot dogs and hot chocolate to our neighbors, hosted games and crafts and visited with those who stopped by.  We had about 50 people participate.  One man and his two sons said he noticed our sign advertising the event but still had some difficulty finding us.  He said he persisted because his "family was low on food."  It was great to see them get their fill and enjoy making arts and crafts together.  

Another Spanish-speaking family stopped by (a mom and two teens).  They too seemed to really enjoy themselves.  The mom couldn't speak English, but one of our members speaks Spanish and made her feel comfortable.  This family showed up at worship on Sunday and our member translated the service for the mom.  I learned very late on Sunday through my wife that this family was brand new to town from California.  We also learned that they had no furniture.  Our crew got busy and found them some free furniture on Craigslist and delivered it!  As I write this some members are working on beds for the family as they are sleeping on inflatable camping mattresses. I am encouraged that the outreach in Grace Outreach is happening.  

Things to pray about right now in addition the usual church planter list is getting our children's ministry off the ground.  We have a space challenge, but need to get something going even though the space is not optimal.  One idea that we're toying with is to use technology to engage the young people.  If we had 5 to 10 Generation I iPads or similar devices we could load them with bible-based applications were youth could learn God's word in an age appropriate way.  

We want to stay in this location until we pack it out, but we can't wait any longer to bring the children's ministry online.  That's about it for now.  I will send you our Fall-Winter calendar and a copy of the logo.  Let me know if you need any pictures as we have them.

Pastor Paul Robinson
Grace Outreach Church
New Brighton, MN

Friday, November 01, 2013

Bring Jesus With You Into Old Testament Stories

I just wrapped up my four week series on Samson. I got more feedback on Samson than I've gotten in some time. I think people came to know his story AND God better through this series. I closed by talking about how God enabled Samson to make a comeback in the last moments of his life. 
One thing I never got to was the issue of how to interpret a story like this from the Old Testament. If you go out on the internet and read other sermons on Samson, you might get a totally different slant. Some people present Samson as the hero all the way through the story and even justify the atocities committed saying that God anointed him for those acts. Since they were committed against the Philistines, they were justified. 
Be careful with that kind of thinking. When you read the Old Testament, you need to remember that Jesus had not yet been revealed. People didn't have a full picture of God. They communicated God in ways that made sense to them.  A strong military leader who crushed his subjects was their view of a great leader. God is often cast in that light. 
But when Jesus showed up, we got a better picture of who God really is. He contradicted many of our concepts in some striking ways. If you want to do a little digging, compare Psalm 110 to Samson's story. The psalm plays off of Samson's killing spree to present the coming messiah in the same way.  The nations are his footstool (literally, a pile of dead enemies are a place to prop his feet).  
But we know better now.  Psalm 110 is true in that God's messiah rules the nations, but not in the way thought.  Jesus even warned his disciples, saying that the Gentiles lord it over others but it is not so with them.  Jesus called them to influence people by serving them. one ever saw that coming. I like what Abraham Lincoln said about overcoming enemies: Don't I overcome my enemies by making them my friends?  I think Jesus would agree with that. 
I've compared reading the Old and New Testament to one of those "connect the dot" pictures. In the Old Testament there are very few dots. You have to be very careful how you connect the dots. It's easy to create a picture of God from those dots that doesn't reflect the true nature of God. 
In the New Testament, there are many more dots, much closer together. Jesus gives us a full picture of who God is. When you read the Old Testament, you need to bring your picture from the New Testament to help you see what God was actually doing.  There is so much more I could say here, but it's enough to get you headed in the right direction. 
I hope you'll listen to all of the Samson series.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Reflections on THE FIGHT

I just got back from THE FIGHT event, featuring Craig Groeschel, at Cedarbrook. It was a special event for men promoting his new book about Samson. I thought it was good and a lot of guys were challenged in very positive ways. 

But I need to be honest, I had a cringe factor listening to Craig. Craig is a "mans man" kind of guy. I think he plays that card a lot to relate to men. That's fine. It's not my style, but it's an okay approach.

But a common practice with Craig and others' like him is to make fun of women to get a laugh and bond with men. Quick example, the book of Judges talks about how Delilah nagged Samson until he gave in. Insert joke here. You could see that coming for miles. But it only reinforces a negative stereotype of women that subtly gives men the right to ignore women rather than pursue a constructive conversation with them. If he wants us to FIGHT, call us to FIGHT for that. He blew an opportunity in my mind.

Real men, godly men, are sensitive to others. Real men, godly men, honor all people and don't take cheap shots. It merely undermines their integrity, but they don't always realize it because it got them a short term reward (a laugh). 

I feel a strong responsibility to make sure Cedarbrookers follow Jesus in EVERY way. I'm really grateful for Craig Groeschel's heart to challenge men.  He's clearly reached a lot of people. I don't want to take anything away from him. But if he is going to challenge men to step up and radically follow Jesus, then I think he should offer the full challenge. Challenge men to respect everyone and not play the "macho" card to excuse themselves from being sensitive to both people and important issues.

Men, we can do better. A lot of women have thanked me for posting similar thoughts on Facebook. But I'd love for just as many men to thank me too. We should all be concerned about giving dignity to everyone.

Coincidently, I came across a blog post of a man who attended a men's conference who had similar reservations. Check it out. I'm not looking to spark a debate. Just throwing it out there to get you to think. Integrity means "wholeness." Our faith should effect our whole being, not just the parts we want it to.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

My Unity Manifesto

I'm taking the church through the book of Ephesians and asking the question: what is a Christian...really? 

To fully understand Paul's letter you need to understand God's mystery, that is, his desire to bring everyone and everything together in the person of Jesus. You can read or listen to my message on this today. It's a cry for unity in the church.

I closed the message with what I called my unity manifesto.  A couple people asked me to publish it separately from the message so here it is!

My Unity Manifesto:

If I’m going to call myself a Christian, and be a part of a church, then:

I want to be someone who makes every effort to unite people 
    and not divide them.
I will not divorce my wife or cut off my kids or encourage others to do the same.
I refuse to sacrifice relationships in the church over petty personal agendas.
I will not fan the flames of office politics and 
    undermine the dignity of my coworkers with secrets, gossip and slander.  

I will not diminish the integrity of the church across town 
    by criticizing their beliefs or practices.
And I refuse to bash political parties for not promoting or 
    living out my personal values. 
I won’t mock people in the news who self-destruct or minimize people 
    who have chosen to live a lifestyle that I don’t believe is biblical 
    or honors God.
I’m happy to call sin, sin. But I refuse to use God’s Word to tear people down.

The mystery of God compels me to make every effort to bring people together into God’s family.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Facing the Fear of Death

I gave my final message in the series on Facing Your Fear yesterday and addressed the fear of death. I've often thought at funerals, "I should share this stuff on Sunday!  This is too good just to keep for funerals!"
I took the message a little deeper than the typical nice thoughts about heaven. In fact, I challenged the thoughts a bit and then showed the theology behind why Jesus raising the dead was central to his message.
Two of the biggest questions I get about heaven are:  where do we go when we die? and, when do we get our resurrected body?  
Paul said that we get our resurrected body when Jesus returns and the dead are raised. He describes how we will be given "spiritual bodies" (read 1 Corinthians 15). What that is, I'm not sure. But Jesus' resurrected body looked the same as normal and he could still eat food but had the ability to go through walls. So there was definitely a difference.
What happens to those who die before Jesus returns? That was a big question in the early church too. Paul said that when we leave our body we are in the presence of the Lord. So, even without a new spiritual body, our spirit must have some form of existence in God's presence. This is the confusing part. But the Bible says nothing about a Purgatory where we wait around waiting for our number to be called!
You can download the sermon text (attached) or download it from the website.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Let's Pray for Trouble

Yesterday's message was out of the ordinary. It was a one shot message straight from my heart after about six weeks of God messing with me about the purpose of Cedarbrook. I hope you'll listen or read it.  
Here are some bonus thoughts that I didn't have time to share yesterday:
We’re in the middle of a 40 Day Prayer Challenge right now. Someone pointed out to me the prayers of the early church are much different from what we typically pray today. What we typically pray about is for God to meet our practical needs. But the early church was very poor. They were often persecuted. But they didn’t pray for money and they didn’t pray for protection. Do you know what they prayed for? Boldness to share their faith.
Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus." Acts 4:29,30
It made me think that we should pray less for God to help us get out of trouble. Maybe we should ask God to get us into trouble. What I mean is…we should ask God to send us people that are in trouble so we can help them.
  • God send us broken marriages. God send us teenagers on the edge of destruction.
  • God, send us people who have ruined their lives with addiction or a reckless lifestyle.
  • Send us some trouble because you love people in trouble and we can help them. 
Working with troubled people is messy. But to whom much is given, much is required. 
After speaking my message on Sunday, people have already talked to me with excitement about their ideas to start a third service, plant a new church and a house church. It's interesting what happens when you start to ask the question: What if?
We'll be giving people the opportunity to dream a little in focus groups soon, but you can always email me and get the conversation started!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Youth/ Worship Staff Position Update

If you are wondering whatever happened to our search for a worship/youth staff's still in process!  We are looking for a very specific fit for our staff. It's not as easy as you might expect.

Finding a person that is gifted both with youth AND music is not easy to come by.  Add to that someone who is a good fit culturally to our style of church (casual, upbeat, outreach oriented) AND the Midwest/rural comfort gets complicated!

But God has the right person and will bring him/her to us at the right time. Like any good decision, we  have to be patient and not hire someone just to "fill a slot".  We hope to have this person with us a long time so we want the fit to be right.

I'm heading to a job fair at North Park University in Chicago this Saturday where I hope to meet potential candidates. (North Park is the school for the Evangelical Covenant Church, our denomination).

Please continue to pray that we'll find this person. Pray also for the band. Aren't they doing a great job without a staff person in place?  Let them know how much you appreciate them. Thanks.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Top Ten Problems With Living Together Outside of Marriage

I started a new sermon series yesterday yesterday looking at exposing Marriage Myths.  The first myth I tackled is the myth that living together will help reduce the odds of divorce.

But I didn't approach the topic with a Bible teaching. I figured that some people wouldn't believe the Bible but they might believe science. So my points were all gathered from recent research and testimony from people who had a bad experience living with someone.

Following are the notes. If you'd like to listen to the message or read it (along with the articles that I used in my preparation) just click the link here.

  • ·      Living together has increased by 1500% since 1960.
  • ·      The majority of young adults in their 20s will live with a romantic partner at least once, and more than half of all marriages will be preceded by cohabitation.
  • ·      Nearly half of people will insist on living together before risking marriage.
  • ·      Two thirds believe that living together before marriage will help reduce the chance of divorce.

Why do people live together?  
  1. ·      They want to spend time together.
  2. ·      They want to save money.
  3. ·      They hope to see if they are ready for marriage. 
  4. ·      Women think it will speed up the road to marriage.
  5. ·      Men think it will slow down the road to marriage.

The Top Ten problems you wish people would have told you about living together.
10.  There is less celebration if you end up getting engaged/married.
9.  Breaking up is hard to do. It can take years.
8.  Your investment may cause you to marry someone out of convenience.
7.  Men and women see it differently resulting in tension.
6.  If it doesn’t work, it will feel like a divorce with all the baggage that comes with it.
5.  Those who are “testing the waters” have a higher failure rate. 
4.  You might find a good roommate but not a soul mate.
3.  You develop poor  habits that don't serve a marriage well.
2.  It’s not really like marriage and therefore not a true test.
1.  It puts you at odds with the model God set for his people.

Join me on Sunday as I offer part two in this series. I'll be looking at the wisdom of God's plan for marriage being a life long convenant between two people.