Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Motivations

Over the past couple months I’ve been on a journey in my own life of trying to discover the motives behind my actions.  I’ve been at a place for quite a while now that longs to do the right thing for the right reason.  So many times I do the right thing in everyone’s eyes because I want people to think better of me or I want to gain respect.  The motives behind my actions are not always what they should be. 

Jesus spends most of his time teaching about the heart. It seems as though Jesus cares more about our heart than our actions.  If our hearts are in the right place, won’t the right actions flow out of that?  We have some how switched the two. We think doing the right thing means our hearts are in the right place.  I know this isn’t true because there I times I do the right thing for very selfish reasons. 

I have begun asking the question, why am I doing… fill in the blank.  What I have found in my life is that the reason why I do a lot of things is because there has been someone out there that has told me not to.  Let me give you an example.  One day I was at Chic-fil-A for lunch with some friends.  Chic-fil-A has the best milkshakes, so I usually go for a chocolate shake.  This day was no different. The cashier handed me the milkshake and says, “Don’t squeeze it too hard the lid may pop off.”  After hearing, this I didn’t even think - I just instantly gave the cup a couple small squeezes right in front of the cashier.  The cashier looked at me and said, “I said don’t.”  I have this automatic reaction to people who tell me to do something; I just don’t do well when people tell me what to do.

The question then remains, why do I do that?  Why am I so quick to do the opposite of what people tell me?  What is the reason or motivation behind those actions? When we answer these kinds of questions we begin to understand the condition of our own hearts.  But we must evaluate our motivation, not just our actions.  Jesus says, “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”  Jesus is constantly telling parables that people think have to do with farming, finding lost things, and being kind, when the more I read them the more it seems as Jesus is trying to get us to see the condition of our own hearts. 


For me answering these questions has shown me that I have a prideful heart at times.  The reason I do the opposite of what I’m told is because I want to prove to people that I don’t have to listen to anyone and I can figure it out on my own.  That’s the truth.  For the last couple months I have been aware of this and have spent a lot of time in prayer about it.  As we answer these kinds of questions it causes us to look straight in the mirror and own our own junk.  It goes beyond our actions and into our hearts.  This is what Jesus kept trying to get the Pharisees to see. Following Jesus is about more than just what we do, but why we do it.  When we answer that question we are forced to stare at our evil and deal with it instead of being blind to it.  We have gotten really good at playing the game and doing the right thing, but all we are doing is fooling ourselves into thinking that we have it all together.  I hope you spend some time evaluating your own heart by finding the motives behind your actions.   

Jake Kline

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Hope

What do you do when the world seems to be falling apart?

I don’t mean your world, necessarily, but the world as a whole. Have you listened to the news lately? I keep up with current events, and the past several weeks have been very alarming. Most recently, there was the apparent suicide of comedian Robin Williams this past Monday. I remember watching Good Will Hunting when I was 13, and experiencing the joy of him as an actor. His comedy was unmatched, and his dramatic roles were incredibly authentic. Then, when I heard he committed suicide, I wondered, “How can a man who has brought so much joy not experience it himself?”

Worse yet, there is a growing fight in the Middle East. Before I talk about it, I will mention that I don’t care about the politics of this topic. In the Middle East right now, there is a “new” terrorist group called ISIS. They’re insistent that America is evil and we should all die. On top of that, they have been linked to another terrorist group called the Hamas. The Hamas group is fighting a different war right now. They’re currently based in Palestine, and their hobby of the month is launching rockets from buildings like hospitals and schools at civilians in Israel. There have been many casualties, and even more disheartening is the cease-fire efforts. Both sides attempt to create a temporary ceasefire, just for respite. The first 72-hour ceasefire that was agreed on lasted around 2 hours. The latest ceasefire lasted around 70, but after that it was straight back to killing. What kind of world is this?

Now, I know that practically speaking, my day-to-day life isn’t changed much by both of these events. I am incredibly thankful for that, but there is pain here too. At the top of my list is the recent fact that my grandfather, one of the wisest, strongest, and best men I’ve known, is being decimated by lung cancer, and no matter the treatment, the news is the same. There isn’t anything we can do to stop it.

 I am blessed that my individual life is going well, but the world seems to be crashing down around me. It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while I start to feel hopeless. I look at these scenarios and think, “Where is Jesus in all of this?” One of the defining things about ISIS is they hate Christians. Their big thing right now is finding and killing any Christian they can. The hard part is, you know those Christians prayed. They probably prayed harder, more earnestly, and if I can jab at how we talk about prayer, with “more faith” than we have. When I try and empathize, my heart breaks. I want to yell at God, not knowing how He, the perfect loving creator I believe him to be, can listen to those cries and seemingly do nothing.

I hope I have made you feel the tension I feel lately, and I want to share with you the resolution. The first one is simple, but deep. As Christians, we believe that Christ died to make all things new. If that’s correct, that means we must have hope in the face of a world that’s falling apart. That’s the reality. That’s what sin is doing to the world. The cool part is this isn’t the final state of things. Eventually Jesus will fix it all. That knowledge, if we let it take root, gives us hope in even the worst situations. The second resolution is linked. Jesus, while he will eventually fix it all, isn’t content to wait. He didn’t just die on the cross to eventually save us. He died so he could start renewing things immediately.

So what does Jesus’ renewal look like? To me, a renewed world is one that is full of Love. This isn’t cheap, worldly love, which is the word I use interchangeably for music, tacos, and my friends. This is the deep, deep love that God has for his children, like a good father towards his kids. This kind of love isn’t natural. It shouldn’t be able to exist in this broken, sinful world. And yet, this kind of love pokes through into our world like a light through clouds. This is the love that I got to experience this past weekend with my cancer-ridden grandpa. This past weekend was his and my grandma’s 60th wedding anniversary. My grandpa, his loving wife, their three boys (one of whom is my dad), and all of their grandkids got together to celebrate them. I will never forget that night, or the look of pure joy on my dying grandpa’s face as we sat as a family and watched old 8mm tapes of my grandparent’s vacations, early Christmases, and other big moments. The love of Christ was there. It’s the same love that, in the midst of a country that’s tearing itself apart, is showing up in people. Honestly, I don’t have a specific story I can tell you from the Middle East that tells of how Christ’s love is showing up there. However, I know Jesus. I know that wherever there are Christians, He is there too, meeting people in the midst of their unbelievable pain. He doesn’t avoid the hard situations. He walks towards them.

Jesus wants to renew the world, and he wants to start now. The catch is that he isn’t here anymore. Who do you think Jesus wants to start renewing the world? 

I want to challenge you this week as I challenge myself.  First, we must have hope in all situations. And whether or not the situations around you are big or small, I challenge you to walk into the darkness, the hurt, the confusion, and take the light of Jesus there.


Thursday, August 7, 2014

Seeing God in Nature

The sunset last night was beautiful.  Did you see it?  Every night I intentionally watch for 2 things; the sunset and the night sky.  I live in the country so I have a panoramic view of both events.  I have always loved nature but lately I use it as a reminder of God’s created beauty for us…for me to enjoy.  It is intimately given to cause us to ponder the Creator so over the past months I intentionally looked for the unusual. 

In January it was Snow Rollers.  Our property was scattered with random sized snowballs with no footprints marking their creation, just skid marks as they grew in size.  Snow rollers, snow logs or Mother Nature’s snowballs, as they are called, are a rare creation which requires perfect conditions of cold snow topped by wet, loose snow and strong enough wind to roll but not destroy the fragile creation. 

Then in April I set my alarm for a 2am wakeup call with hopes of viewing the first of four blood moons to occur on and between April 2014 and September 2015.  All four blood moons will occur on major Jewish holidays! Cloudy skies prevented any sightings but I anticipate the second blood moon in October.  I will once again set my alarm for the early morning hours.

It is so intentional, God’s gift of beauty and wonder.  I am drawn to Him.  I praise Him, the Creator of my sunsets.  

For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. Romans 1:20 NLT

My search for the wonder in nature has renewed my focus on God in all areas of life.  It has become an intimate moment of praise and worship to my Savior where He fills me with joy.  It is so much more than a sunset.  It is a priceless gift that a loving father gives to his child to experience, enjoy, and ultimately draw me closer to Him.

Susie Rosengarten



Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Taking a Sabbath

Sabbath rest is such a much-needed part of life that we in the Western Christianity have largely ignored and at times even criticize.  We live in a culture that rewards multitasking, long work hours, and an abundance of activities.  Even our vacations are so busy and draining that people often say they need a vacation from their vacation.  Persons who know the art of rest, rejuvenation, and Sabbath are often criticized as being lazy or weak.  And yet I believe this is exactly how God has wired us. 

God provided the model of Sabbath when He rested on the seventh day from all of His creating.  When God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments, the longest of all referred to taking a Sabbath each week.  Even their fields got a Sabbath 1 out of every 7 years in order to replenish and renew.  Peter Scazzero in his book “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” writes:  “Sabbath keeping summons us to slow down to God’s rhythm. For when we are busier than what God requires…we do violence to ourselves… And in doing violence to ourselves, we are unable to love others in and through the love of Christ.”

When we don’t take time to rest, renew & rejuvenate; our bodies, minds and spirits begin to break down.  We become shells of who God created us to be.  Instead of living at peace we become anxious, instead being patient we become hurried, instead of forgiving we criticize, and instead of loving we even begin to hate. 

We often think that we will get more done and be more productive with less Sabbath, and yet the opposite is true.  In the February 9th, 2013 edition of The New York Times Tony Schwartz writes: “A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.”  People are finding out the truth of what God already put into place.

So how do we do this idea of Sabbath?  Find time throughout each day to stop and be renewed by God.  Take a whole day each week to be stop and rest.  Take multiple simultaneous days each year to be able to listen and be refreshed by His Spirit.  What should we be doing during that time?  Peter Scazzero writes that we should stop, rest, delight (in his creation, other people, play) and contemplate (focus on God).  While this can happen anywhere, Crossroads has provided Deep Woods (cabins, prayer walk & trails) for this very reason. 

Begin with small steps so that it won’t be an overwhelming experience that soon goes by the wayside.  Learn from others that are practicing it well.  Just do something, and by that, I mean at some point stop doing and rest. 

God Bless!


Jason 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Vicarious Spirituality


Have you ever noticed that as Jesus, the long awaited Messiah, began his earthly ministry he drew large crowds? The people of that time thirsted for hope, hungered for justice, longed for a word from God and Jesus was their answer so they flocked to hear him, see him, touch him…at least for awhile. But in three short years the crowds grew smaller. In the end, even Jesus’ small band of disciples deserted him in fear and as he hung on the cross only a few were there to suffer with him.

How does the Son of God so quickly lose his popularity? It was always meant to be that way. Jesus never intended for any of us to live our spiritual lives vicariously through Him. He didn’t come to create a new cult and set himself up as the leader. His purpose was always to lead us back to life with the Father. Dare I say it…Jesus is NOT the subject…he is the way…the verb that reconnects us with God. Jesus wouldn’t allow his disciples to be satisfied with a vicarious spirituality that depended on him as the focal point. For that reason he challenged his disciple to grow up, to own their stuff, to speak out, to share, to let go, to try and fail, to be full and active partners in establishing the Kingdom that God has designed.

We continue to be a vicarious culture. Our real lives aren’t interesting or fulfilling enough so we live vicariously through other means. We vicariously feel important through famous people who have made it big. We live vicariously in the home of our dreams through HDTV. We vicariously run, pass, and play while seated comfortably in our easy chairs watching endless hours of sports programming. We vicariously experience romance through the Hallmark channel and adventure through Bear Grylls. We have vicarious sex on pornographic websites and meaningful friendships through clicks and emoticons on social networks… and on and on it goes.

Often, even our spiritual life is lived vicariously through the church’s weekend programming or through someone who we consider close to God…like maybe a pastor.

In this season of transition as I step aside as Lead Pastor of Crossroads church and as we wait for God to bring a new leader, I simply want to remind you that your life with God cannot be lived vicariously through Jesus, through a saintly family member, through a Bible teacher, through church activities, through comfortable Christian traditions, through me or any pastor from the past or that is yet to come.
We are all instruments to connect you to real life with God.
God calls you into relationship with him.
God calls you to be salt and light to the world.
God calls you to love as Christ loved.
God calls you to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.
God sends you out into the world to make an impact.

Don’t settle for a vicarious spirituality!

It’s time to grow up, own your stuff, to speak out, to share, to let go, to try and fail, to live as a disciple, to be full and active partners with God in establishing the Kingdom He has designed.
Go live…really live!

Randy Bargerstock
Lead Pastor
Crossroads Church of God
Lima, Ohio

*Pastor Randy will step aside as Lead Pastor of Crossroads Church on July 31st, 2014 to pursue the next challenge that God is preparing. This is his last Blog entry on this site. He plans to share further reflections on his own Blog site in the near future.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Living with the Spirit

I was golfing with a friend who is a nurse and he was telling me about a doctor who is an atheist.  My friend told me that he was with a patient and asked if the doctor would pray with them.  The doctor’s response, “There is a saying that hands spread open can do a lot more good than hands closed together.”  When I heard this I thought what experiences does this doctor have that has completely robbed him of the power of God?  

While I was at IYC (International Youth Convention) there was a main session titled, “In Tune With Power”.  For the whole week we were talking about how we needed to be in tune with 4 different things; purpose, purity, power and people.  When I saw the one about power I was intrigued because power isn’t something that is talked about a lot.  When we read the story of Jesus you can’t help but see power, but when you look around todays churches, it looks like we are a bunch of powerless people.  Why?

The speaker referenced a pretty familiar passage in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”  I would guess that most of you have read this passage before, but what struck me for the first time.  There seems to be a correlation between the power of the Holy Spirit and being witnesses.  In order for us to be the witnesses that God has called us to be, we must first be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.  This is so comforting to me as I reflect on it, because it not longer means that I have to depend on my own power and strength, but instead I need to be connected to the ultimate power and strength through the Holy Spirit.

The obvious question after this is then, how do we do this?  I’m learning that if I surround myself with people who are striving to live in this same way, living close to the Spirit becomes a much clearer path.  Matthew 18:20 says, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name there I am with them.”  The way that I connect with the power and strength of the Holy Spirit is by connecting with other people who are trying to do the same.  It’s in these relationships I experience the power of love, grace, mercy and forgiveness through other people by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I hope you take some time today to experience the power of the Holy Spirit; I am convinced that this is what the world needs to see.  They need to see the power of love, grace, mercy and forgiveness, and to be completely honest I need to see that in my own life too.


 Jake Kline

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Great Divorce

The other day, I was reading C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce. He is one of my favorite authors, and not for the Chronicles of Narnia. He is one of the great thinkers of the faith for our time.  The Great Divorce has nothing to do with divorce. The book is one long parable. Lewis writes this book in the form of a story, and it’s strange to explain, but I will try. The story is from the perspective of a man that has just died, and then is almost in Heaven. It’s kind of a purgatory-esque place where people who have died recently are gathered, and angels meet them. There, conversations take place. Angels come to meet people and ask them to join them in the journey forward, deeper into Heaven and to Christ. The interesting part of the book is how C. S. Lewis portrays these conversations. The angels are pleading with them to come, because the ghosts of the humans have to give something up in order to move forward. It’s incredibly interesting.

For example, in one conversation, there was a self-righteous man. He argued with the angel, saying he was only there to get what was rightfully his. He ranted and raved about how he had done the best he could and he wasn’t perfect, but he was a good person. The angel tried to convince him that he didn’t deserve anything, that he in fact deserved hell. The man wouldn’t give in. He was too proud, and chose his pride over moving towards Christ.

Another conversation took place between an angel and what I’ll call a controlling mother.  This conversation was hard for me to read, but not because I’m a controlling mother. The angel was begging with her. Her problem was she saw everyone in her life as they related to how they could serve her.  She ranted to the angel about how her son had betrayed her, when in reality he simply made his own choices. She ranted about her husband who abandoned her, when she really pushed him away by being overly controlling. The hard part of this conversation was at the end, the angel, at the verge of giving up, asked her if “you could, just for a moment, think of something other than yourself?” That was convicting.

The point of this book is for us to see Christ and experience Heaven, we have to give up whatever is in our way.  This isn’t meant in a physical way, such as giving up a nice car or house or something. It’s meant in a deeper way. I have to sacrifice who I am and what I love to find Christ. I have to put parts of me to death, in order that Christ can bring them back to life. This week I’ve been learning, through C. S. Lewis, what it means to offer myself as a living sacrifice, like Romans 12:1 says. The cool thing is this. On one hand, when we refuse to put things to death, to submit things to Christ, they eventually die as weak, polluted things, like the love a mother has for her family that goes too far to the point of obsessive control. On the other hand, when we put things in our life to death, such as lust (which is simply a polluted, twisted version of love), Christ breathes life into them. Once lust is killed, the love that can rise in its place is supernatural.

I hope this made sense. If not, let me sum it up. Christ wants us to put to death the things in our life that keep us from him, such as our pride, lust, or self-righteousness. He wants these to die so that he can raise His characteristics in their place.

What in your life do you need to put to death?

What could Christ do in your life if you were rid of that?

Will you let him? 

Andrew Saffell