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I was driving along I-94 heading west when I saw the sign. Actually, what I saw was the overpass with the sign on it.
The bridge itself was fairly new, constructed out of yellow brick. It felt as if someone had transplanted the structure from TCU’s beautiful campus and plopped it over the grey concrete tarmac of the Michigan highway. The sign was equally impressive. It said in beautiful, all right, attractive lettering, “Jackson, Michigan.”
Someone new to the area may have looked at the placard and thought, “I bet that’s a great town to visit.” They would have thought that until the next sign, which was one of those blue marques showing available accommodations. One hotel. Best Inn…which is doubtful.
The second told me about the restaurants at which I could dine- all fast food. Then came the second exit, which was also the last exit to Jackson, this one with another sign and another slough of fast food restaurants. McDonalds had a restaurant off both exits, exactly one mile apart. As I drove between the McDonalds, I drove past a golf pro shop that looked closed, a mall that most definitely was shuttered, and a giant beer mug announcing a casino just a few miles further down the road. I wondered if the diet coke also came in 20-foot glasses. How big were the jumbo shrimp there? What about Little Debbie’s?
Then I started thinking about the church. Aside from the fact that almost anything begins a segued trail through my mind to food, this was now the opposite. I again imagined the optimistic traveler who drove past the overstated demarcation of Jackson and its attractions. It would be a fair assumption that there was very little promise in this town.
They would drive through. They may stop at the McDonalds… but exploration, commitment and residing there for even one night would be a non-consideration.
The revelation is that I know Jackson. The signs advertise the wrong things. The town has quite a few really great reasons to stop… even frequent. There are two fantastic sushi places, a quaint coffee shop with live music, some authentic Mexican bistros, a Chicago style pizza sports bar, the Cascade Falls, a hidden bike trail, bicycle shops, a prison museum, some vibrant churches and a public park which is, frankly, surprising. There is an ice rink which happens to be a rarity in this part of Michigan. There are even more hotels, but you would have to be on a different road to see their advertisements. The first sign may be accurate after all. The second set of signs undersell and simplify what’s available. Jackson is more than two McDonalds, side by side.
Sometimes, we as followers of Jesus advertise our faith with the grandest sign, but when our friends see our lives, they think we are something they can have at any life stop. They are wrong of course, because they have never driven off the one road to see what it is about. Believers claim happiness and heaven and freedom as if it’s a Happy Meal. The truth is that some things do exist 0.1 miles off of the exit, but almost never the best things. If I am interested in the richer things, the things that really make me want to stay in Believersville are somewhat further in. This doesn’t mean we can’t gain things 0.1 miles off my straight-line approach to getting somewhere fast. It simply means that our best signs should point to the deeper, richer things. These things make me stay. They help me commit. They deepen my experience, because it’s not about making my trip go faster as it is knowing the value of the investment.
In other words, the fruits of the Spirit are not a list of things added on the dollar menu to my bathroom stop. They are instead a revelation of the person I am becoming when I choose to live here in the Jesus tribe. I commit to the person I am becoming. I commit to Jesus’ vision for my life, for sometimes a filet-o-fish is great, but it is never better than sushi.
For to us was born today, in the city of David, a savior, which is Christ, my Lord and our hope. Can’t you feel the power of God in those blessed words?
Merry Christmas! The New Year rises and falls on our ability to invite people to the table and God’s promise to sit with us there.
How can this not be our Christian desire? The tears are leaving a well-worn path down my cheek. My emotions have come at the craft of Idina Menzel. I have realized that music connects me emotionally to a place where God moves my actions in the way that a skilled Masseur moves my hand to involuntary motion by compressing and releasing nerves. I have no choice but to flex and grasp in obedience.
There are emanating truths that transcend our religious, political and ideological differences. They come from the heart of God. These irresistible acts are pressed into our psyche because we are created to hear God’s voice. We are hard-wired to respond to God’s audible sighs.
As Christmas comes into its own, we notice that people react to the promise of goodness, hospitality, generosity and practical expressions of goodwill. I contend that this is the DNA imprint left on humanity by God’s creation. After all, we are made in the image of God, but the spirit of Christmas goes far beyond a simple outward expression of Samaritan intentions.
It is the season most marked by the story of God’s display of care and investment… of love. Jesus Christ was born to us, for us, because of our need, and inspired by our condition. It is the single most distinction of the Christian God, that He became Emmanuel, God with us.
It was not a gesture to the desperate masses but a complete manifestation of love, demonstrated and awakened in each of us because we know we were made for more. We also know that the “more” is not just a good feeling. In fact, some people react to the season of God’s profound love with a reaction that is the worst of our behavior, but even that is still a reaction, a response to God’s voice in each of us. It makes me wonder.
Is there still room at the table for those we disagree with? Is there a place of hospitality at the feast prepared by my Lord? My heart feels it. My soul cries for it above the din demanding to have its own way, to be recognized as right, important, and valuable. Not all that long ago, I did not want to share my place at our own table with outsiders. I wanted it for myself. I fought for the quiet right to be aloof, distant and exclusionary, but that is not the heart of God. It is not our Christmas. It is not our heart.
This year, I would love to see the Church of Christ open its spots at the table to dissenters and revolutionaries and to embittered, hostile and angry rejectors. I wonder if I would be quiet enough in that room, accepting enough. As we invite, I pray that people may see a tiny glow that comes from standing in closeness to the baby sent to the stable.
I know that we often hear about our rights in this day of opposition. I am just foolish enough to believe that if I act the part of the lamb and live more like the messiah at His birth, the residual imprint that exists in each life may vibrate to the tones of God. Today I am wishing Merry Christmas to the enemies of God. I am bidding God’s grace and light to pour out in the lives of rapists, terrorists, thieves and murderers, for my keeping them away from my table has done little to move them toward the love of God and His forgiveness. Merry Christmas!
What began as a planned trip to our annual National Youth Workers Conference in Columbus, Ohio, transmogrified to a board retreat, which became a tour to visit supporters from Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Ohio. Clearly, we could not visit all of the over four thousand households that have made Crossroads Farm a reality over the last twenty one years, for over nine thousand rural students in two Michigan counties. We selected people who have been with us from the beginning, many of whom we have never personally been able to sit down with and thank. The results of our search, became the itinerary for an eight State, nineteen stop visit, over fourteen days. We called it the Soil Health Tour and it was about checking the readiness for CRF to boldly push into the next steps of ministry developments. Some of you have followed our meandering path through the South.
We have eaten meals with friends who, have travelled the world, played in symphonies, ridden on Shamu, written a jingle for Coke, bought cars from Jay Leno, have a place in the Indiana High School Basketball Hall of Fame, performed at Carnegie Hall (twice), were college athletes, run corporations, were among the first students and volunteers at CRF, tried out to play in the WNBA, serve on boards like the Air and Space Center and Chick Fil-A, are highly ranked military officials, former CRF board members and proudly, we call them all friends. They all are extraordinary trajectory changers in the lives of rural students.
Even now, as states are beginning again to tighten restrictions on meeting and celebrating, we have discovered, for the sake of relationships, people are willing to risk illness. This is because, people seem to understand that “face-to-face” matters. The spirit of God travels. It brings hope, strength and unbounded joy. We need to see each other and if there is a lesson to be learned from this challenge to body-life and congregation, it is this. The extraordinary rises from the normal. One of the greatest meaning of life comes from the most basic thing thing. You.
In fact, God placed such a premium on our personal interactions that He commanded for us to do it often. At Crossroads Farm we have been teaching through many of these commands. There are 59, “One another’s,” listed in the New Testament. Here is our short list of “One Anothers’” from the road.
In other words, we want to touch. Many of us use touch as a critical, if not primary demonstration of love. Those of us who do, have had our psyches dramatically and negatively altered. We would never “Inflict,” our love language on another, but it does make me wonder how we move forward after we have associated physical expressions of love with fear and potential death.
CRF began its formal ministry in 2001 after spending a year in prayer and training with its student leaders and volunteers. This happened exactly twenty years ago.
The first official event for Crossroads Farm was a murder mystery game, spread out over 105 acres. The night was ambitious from the start. With only three people working full-time at the Student Ministry Center, located in the ramshackle (and this would be the best possible description for the building) former Reading Baptist Church, the first outreach occasion would require more of a mindshare than what we felt we had.
On the afternoon of the event, while the local band, PFD (Pray Face Down) set the stage on a hay wagon that had been rolled into the north end of the old cow barn, Zac, one of our two employees was riding a mower through the shoulder-high grass, in order to complete the maze. A number of hours later, he would rush in to the CRF office in order to convert the hastily, and somewhat inaccurately sketched map into 50 charts.
Our other worker, Scott, was busy making sure that the clues were placed in envelopes, numbered 1-10. These were distributed across the 105, football-fields worth of corn, trees and grass ways. We had not calculated the nearly 4 miles of cross-country turf, necessary to travel in order to procure all 10 of the clues. At 5:30 p.m. our 25 student leaders and the few under-informed volunteers (some of whom never would actually discover their assigned clue site on the grounds) gathered to pray one last time.
I distinctly recall the words I spoke to the faithful few who had dared to trust God for something bigger than our collective imagination. These leaders had hoped, prayed and imagined for over a year. It was now our role to wait on God. I may have been less than inspiring.
“Hey!” I said, hedging my bet on God’s part of this deal. “I’m glad tonight has finally arrived. We have been praying that a lot of your friends will come tonight. Listen. Even if we are the only people here tonight, we are going to completely have a blast!”
My expectations had officially been couched in pessimism.
I went into the farmhouse to grab a few things before the night would begin. I exited the house at 6:05. There was nearly an hour before the start time posted for the event. In suburban America, we would have had an hour and fifteen minutes before kids would, mostly, be here. What I saw, defied my understanding of youth ministry.
Our lane into the farm had ten cars lined up to get in. To the east, there were another ten cars waiting to turn right into the lane. Waiting to turn left and onto the farm, were another ten cars. As these cars parked in the field beside the barn, two, three and four, laughing students spilled out of their seats.
I did some pretty quick math. I ran up to Zac, and handing him a credit card shouted, “Zac! We are going to need way more donuts! Go into every shop, convenience store, gas station and market and buy them out!”
He returned an hour later, having traversed twenty square miles for donuts. I contend that he also brought back, Hostess Donettes, a fair variety of Little Debbies, and perhaps, a few frosted bagels.
By the time students had filed into the barn, we had a grand total of 186 students in attendance. I realized that God had us in the place where he wanted us.
This last weekend we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the CRF Murder Mystery. Amid the Covid pandemic fears, political uncertainty, moving program and adjusting to governmental requirements/ best practices and the instability of high school and middle school schedules, CRF chose to hold an event which would be predominantly outside. We placed sanitizer at key locations, kept groups of students to under ten, created wider paths and bigger site areas in the maze and masked up in the hospitality tent. I have not lost sight of the first lesson I learned twenty distant murder mysteries ago. God shows up.
These numbers may scare you, but they do not frighten a God who holds our future and eternity in the palm of His hand. Between our three MM20 locations, we saw 543 students and 115 adult volunteers for the 2020 grand combined total of 658. That is over 650 people who heard the gospel shared. It also means that over 30 students responded to the message of Jesus’ love and sacrifice for them. 30 young lives were stretched into eternity, while our world panics about the months ahead. I am concerned that far too many of us have made the decision to spare our own lives at the expense of eternity for someone else. I understand the controversy of the statement for most believers. I want to assure you that we at CRF will continue to make wise, safe and informed decisions regarding student, staff and familial safety, but I understand that I really have very little say in who is affected by a virus.
I also want you to hear me say, that if God is to allow me to suffer with this terrible disease, my hope comes, not from the amount of days I have kept safely ensconced from it, but rather the 30 lives that will survive into forever with their God. I’ll make that trade every single time.
I walked to the house on Saturday night bone weary, but thankful beyond words for the lives he allows me to be a part of each week. By the way, if you take the annual average attendance over the last 20 years and add them together, that gives us the number of 9,000 students.
One thing I know. We are going to need more donuts.
Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.