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1 Timothy 1:18, 19 Timothy, my child, I entrust you with this command in keeping with the previous prophecies about you, so that by them you may fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and thereby shipwrecked their faith.
We had a heartfelt discussion at CRF recently. It was in regard to the large number of students which have left the faith.
Before I go very far in this blog, allow me to state, that most of the students we are speaking of would still claim to be Christians. They like Jesus. They just don’t trust him in areas where they have opinions disagreeing with Him. The people who leave the faith do so in stages of disobedience: one disagreement after another. These steps to rebellion are the same for teenagers as they have always been: popularity, relationships, acceptance, independence or a sense of adulting without my need of my parents' religion. The problem may be that we have a generation of young persons, not searching for answers to the biggest questions. They instead, are looking for an answer which suits them today.
Kids who made professions of faith at a VBS in a desire to live in heaven or to get the free prize, have begun to search for life through personal idols. Sex. Greed. Personal recognition. Rightness. Comfort. Convenience. Entitlement. Their faith is idolatry. Their god is their wants in this moment.
Get ready. I'm about to become offensive.
The students leaving the faith of their parents, have learned from a generation, that faith is somehow about happiness, popularity, worship styles and right versus left. In the meantime, the fastest growing underground church movement is in Iran. Faith there doesn’t mean being able to attend church occasionally to get a little Jesus. It is not confused with the belief that sex with my girlfriend is okay, or that I can take whatever I feel uncomfortable about in faith and toss it out as an option.
I have witnessed as people who are believers on two sides of an issue contend against each other as if the other side is the enemy. Please hear this. The enemy wants for us to vilify anyone who does not completely agree with us. That is not from God. It is from our one truest enemy. When we create adversaries from within the body of Christ, we self-determine sin from righteousness. We become our own gods. We have destroyed the fabric of the body in our desperate need to be well thought of.
The cost of this form of faith is calculated in church splits, pastoral exodus, religious elitism and the highest percentage ever of departing youths from faith. In Iran, faith is defined by suffering, boldness and death. In our culture it is marked by prayerlessness, opinion, and dissension. What’s not to love?
If “believers” cannot pray their way to agreement, if we cannot demonstrate grace for our brothers and sisters with whom we disagree, if we are unable to put aside our sense of entitlement long enough to pray toward a resolve or course of action, I fear we have taught our children the most memorable lesson: God cannot heal, restore or redeem our differences. We have demonstrated to our kids a faith that ultimately names us as god. No wonder they believe that christianity is whatever they want it to be.
A faith which endures comes at the hand of passion created by pain, tension and suffering. The underground Iranian church members have one exit option. It is death. I wonder what we can learn from them. Would we give to the Lord something which cost us nothing? When it comes to disagreement, we do. We do not sacrifice for the sake of the body. We seldom consider other’s ideas as more valuable than our own. We do not need God’s grace when we claim we are always right. God’s Word says this.
Philippians 2:1-3 Therefore if you have any encouragement in Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being united in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty pride, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
God help us to avoid demonstrating a faith which points, argues and vilifies other believers. Send us a Clement who is willing to contend with the factoring parts toward their getting along. Agreement is found in Christ. Sacrifice is found in Christ. Students who have seen a real Christ will offer their utmost for His highest.
At the entrance of Crossroads Farm’s national campus, there sits an impressive beam and stone archway. The wrought iron words suspended from a 20 foot timber say, "Crossroads Farm, est. 1999, Loving The Rural Teen." It is a symbol of the work CRF intends to complete over the next several decades. It is not what I want for you to see today, however.
The bases of this marque are lain over by rocks from different states, farms and families. Many of them came from the fields which belonged to Harold and Ruth Ashton before CRF existed. God had placed these stones in the ground several centuries before. Each rock tells a story. I wonder where the granite came from? This piece of basalt? Washed here by Noah’s flood? Moved here by an indigenous tribe? One pair of rocks made it from Wisconsin. Others from the shores of Lake Superior, others from a cottage on Lake Michigan. A few were stored in memory of a dear friends farm and anticipation of their part in these posts.
Somewhere near the four foot square by five foot stone base rests an out of place object. It is a reddish orange brick. It should be cause to wonder, Did they somehow run out of rocks?
The brick has a personal story.
It came from a fireplace in a dining area of a place called the Miracle Building. The building served as the ministry hub for a camp called Hiawatha on Piatt Lake in Eckerman, Michigan. The edifice, built in 1972 was an answer to prayer and a demonstration of vision translated to action. The building came to its end under a crushing amount of Upper Peninsula snow in 2019.
That brick signifies the place where Dawn and I met, sat and talked about ministry and life. It was a place where national speakers would start early morning fires and weekly campers would confess and proclaim decisions made during their week at camp. My daughters, along with other people’s daughters and sons, sat on the hearth and warmed themselves during those chilly northern Michigan mornings. It is a symbol of a story of God’s provision and grace. It is a place where God moved.
The fireplace went down with the building, but the story did not.
The Camp no longer resides in the building or in the building built to replace it. It doesn’t matter. The brick is foundational to the story of Crossroads Farm. Over the past 23 years, hundreds of the students from CRF attended camp, heard about Jesus and had a miraculous God change their lives. The fact that the fireplace no longer resides there, that the camp has a new home, or that CRF students will never again be able to sit on this hearth, does not change the truth, that for a time, God used a brick to build generations. It was always God’s fireplace. It was always God’s place. It was always His brick.
In this day of cancel culture, I see much of the movement to eliminate the messier parts of history and life. Our nation quakes under the removal of statues, explanations and historical narratives. It has never been God’s way. It has never been grace’s way. Grace tells the whole story, ugly blemishes, failed relationships, imperfect attempts at loving and serving and redeems the whole story.
Part of the story of CRF comes from this brick, those stones from Wisconsin, the rocks from the back forty of Harold and Ruth’s farm, or the shores of great lakes. Grace rests in in the imperfect stories, transitions and collapses. It does much more though. It demonstrates the nature of our God. It represents the cross, the grave and death. You should see the tapestry of stone in the works.
David’s affair and assassination of his friend, Job’s scars from the boils which symbolized his total loss, Jacob’s cane which reminded him each step of his battle with God, each a reminder of God’s motive operandi; beauty from ashes, life from death, foundations from rubble.
My prayer today is for our part of the story. God can redeem bricks. Always tell the whole story.
To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Thessalonians 1:11,12
Sometimes, a person sits down and has no idea what they should feel. This is exactly where I am today. The last week has been a blur of emotions, activity, and adjustments. The long and short of it is, I experienced a TIA (A transient ischemic attack) last Wednesday at 5:30 in the morning. It is a small stroke that left my left leg and arm nearly useless. These are the words which no 20-year-old has ever thought they would have to learn. Most 40-year-olds live without thinking about these things. Frankly, this 61-year-old had assumed that I’d live my life as wisely as I always have. On Wednesday my ideas shifted. I have officially entered the land of the mortality club. No big, “AHA,” moment, simply a notice, my days have a cap. My activities on earth will someday come to a close.
This is hardly a morbid moment for me. I feel pretty good and Dawn and I are working through a few transitions. I also realize that my days matter, certainly, not more than ever, but I am more aware. Most of the physical issues caused, let’s say 99%, are completely restored. I am tired but I attribute this to my team of diligent nurses who made sure I was doing well each hour.
I suppose I currently have three takeaways from the events of this last week.
1. Prayers matter.
I literally felt a peace and security that would transcend the circumstances. Can I preach for two sentences?
There are times of difficulty in which we decide God’s job is to deliver us from the difficulty. I have come to understand God desires more to be with us in the inevitable struggle that is life. It makes sense right? This isn’t Heaven, and we aren’t ultimately trying to relocate to a better place on Earth. It is a relationship when we desperately need and seek it.
When God’s people pray, God extends His hands into our lives. I believe that the fact of His presence is more powerful than the work He does to “Fix,” it for us. I felt this in the last week.
2. We have an army of friends and family.
The body of Christ is an invasive force of God’s love. I have been overwhelmed by the people who chose to invest in us during this recent hiccup in our lives. The church can matter. When God’s people love others, others are strengthened, encouraged, and comforted.
Remember, if God desires to manifest Himself, He has almost always used a human.
3. God determines our paths.
My phone has been strangely quiet. Don’t misunderstand though. Dawn’s has blown up. What I mean is the world did not end while I was laid up. There was no panic in the office or ministry. Since I could not control my, well, anything, God and His other people did. This makes a simple truth evident. God allows me to partner with Him and incredible people for His Kingdom. He doesn’t need me to though. That is pretty freeing.
I’ll be doing smart things to be healthier for certain. I will try to rest in God’s plan each day, but I am not entitled to it. That is freeing as well.
Eph. 1:11 “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will,”
A few months ago, we watched our Amish neighbor Victor and his son Raymond take our old bank barn down. Wind damage through the previous few months had sheared an upper-corner beam at its joint. This left our oldest barn swinging in the wind. The damage had been caused through decades of a decaying roof line and exposed joints. The solution was pretty quick, however.
This process of an old barn coming down can be sad for a community, but this time has not been. Taking the barn down has been a part of our plan from the beginning. The bank barn was taken apart systematically, piece by piece. The remaining foundational block was buried. The base of the old has created a base for the new Bunk Barn. The beams and siding were placed under the farm’s lean-to by the category of lumber. It will be stored there until the Bunk Barn construction begins.
Systematic deconstruction- asking troubling questions, wrestling through difficult issues, and acknowledging less-than-perfect understanding- allows us to build back again over the pieces and parts we know are solid. It has a purpose. We can use a cultural occurrence of deconstruction to “build back better!”
I have been listening to Christian leaders discuss the current generational crisis in the church today. I believe I have a different take on what is happening. It seems these seismic shifts in value and core beliefs happen with each generation, which would mean this is not a new scenario. It is simply a reoccurring adjustment which the church has always made. We can afford to stay the course with a few sensitive tweaks in our approach to the lost world. The fact that these shifts almost always target a certain age group from our faith communities (16–28-year-olds) is not so much an indictment of our “doing it wrong,” as much as it is a recognition of a strategic plan on the part of our adversary, the devil himself. It is also an understanding of a developmental reality. Young people test boundaries.
The Strauss–Howe generational theory states a culture “turns” each 20-25 years based on generational persons. The good news is that following the “turn” is a season of recovery. This is the good news into which I choose to lean. A stronger generational commitment is coming on the heels of the season of questions. Instead of worrying about the season of attacks on tradition, we can embrace it as an opportunity to build into better answers and disciples.
Here is my point. Faith is not the only thing under the scrutiny of a Gen-Next deconstruction. Politics, historical icons, economics, racial definitions, entertainment, culturally accepted norms, and much more is all under the firehose. I think we would all probably agree, many of these traditional institutions needed a major overhaul. At the very least, they would benefit from a facelift.
Rather than fear it, we should love the idea of getting out in front of faith-deconstruction is obvious for several reasons. First, the purpose is to build something stronger out of the strongest parts. It is a guided exercise as opposed to an angry, misguided, or reactionary response.
Second, it reinforces our understanding of the core truths while releasing our theology from traditional information which may not be essential.
Thirdly, our reliance on bedrock theologies and philosophies becomes sure footing. Francis Schaeffer called these “true truth.”
Let me be clear about what I am saying. God’s truth cannot fall because of a few questions. It is written on our hearts. It is confirmed in scripture, history, and personal experience. Faith is believing the few essentials while understanding if God is able to be understood by human logic, explained with a few really good answers, or become stronger based on something I add to the discussion, then he is not much of a God.
By the way, I have never had to deconstruct a fairy tale. They fall apart on their own. I also do not determine whether something is true by listening to everyone else. I will never discover the ageless and eternal truth of God by submitting it to my subjective emotions.
In this day of classic deconstruction, I need to throw away the things which cannot stand the questions. This is an open invitation to lean on God in His most sovereign position.
So, let’s talk about God. Let’s take away the conjecture and zero in on the firm foundation of Christ.
You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Isaiah 26:3
Each year, as Christmas cards come to the Routledge home from across the U.S. and Canada, we read them and then attach them to two oak support pillars in our living room. As Christmas day gets closer, these posts fill with messages from friends and family. For me, this is a daily reminder of greater things than our temporary struggles. These beams remind me of love, and prayers, as well as changes in each sender’s life. As much as this simple tradition can, it is a signpost of God’s continued care for us.
Traditions are stabilizing factors, balancing our futures beside our pasts. We lean into them when life around us becomes chaotic.
On more than a few of these seasonal notes, there is the word, “Peace.”
Nearby, hanging on the same post is the card which quotes Isaiah 9:6. Christ is referred to as, “The Prince of Peace.” It is what He offers us but we do not have to reside in His peace.
Many of you may already know, Crossroads Farm is putting the finishing touches on our new prayer chapel. Recently, our ancient bank barn was pulled down in order to preserve the barn wood for our next national building project. Our branch in South Boardman, MI is about to embark on a campaign to finish their current facility. Our branch in Cadiz, OH is in process of pulling its leadership team together. Training for their first volunteer corps begins on January 9th. Regular life at the farm can be a bit… well, the opposite of peaceful.
In a week or so, I will be meeting with denomination heads. These conversations always seem to stir the pots. Meetings and funding and training and life, offer us, “busy.”
In only these last two weeks, a couple of our Hillsdale County schools were forced to shut down for a few days because of violent threats. In light of the rash of recent school shootings, the normalcy of school has been disrupted. At the time of writing, the rising number of Covid cases is anything but peaceful. Political turmoil, financial uncertainties and supply line backups are also reasons to roll around in our beds.
These challenges to our, to your peace, are not new or unique. Nor is the solution.
As I focus in on a scene involving a manger, a young couple, a few sheep herders and a baby, I realize my peace comes from a faith in the provision of my God. Nothing else transcends the anxiety. I find peace when I stay my mind on Christ. After all, if I am to believe the rest of the angelic prophesies, I need to trust this simple reality of God’s ample provision.
Sin has been swallowed up in a manger holding a promise. Death has died because of the baby who will die for all. Chaos comes to order when I heed the counsel of the counsellor.
If ever we have needed to hear this message, it is today. I am claiming God’s promise with you today.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6