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Homegrown Depot Blog

You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet!
May 30, 2024

On Sunday night, while the ministry night was coming to a close, our last regular school year event, there were people in the corn field, doing their work. The people in those corn fields have no vision of the corn maze that their work is helping to accomplish. In Harrison County, Ohio, the same dynamic will be happening in a few weeks. In Kalkaska County, they won’t be planting corn, but they will be establishing trails and maze sights. 

They can’t see the maze yet, or the hundreds and hundreds of students who will flock to Crossroads Farm sites for the annual event. They cannot see those who will respond to the Gospel either. 

 

There have been so many, “I didn’t expect to see that,” moments here at the farm, and I know across all of the branches. 

 

Did you know that if you bounce a Mountain Dew 2 liter bottle, it builds pressure and bounces higher. I am about to make you the coolest grandparents in the world. If you continue to do this, the bottle will, when dropped cap down from a bell tower, blow its lid and launch like a rocket to heights exceeding said tower!

 

Did you know that a hotdog, fired at someone out of a balloon launcher at 20 feet cannot be caught by a 5 gallon bucket, but will leave a hot dog shaped welt? Even through the catcher’s equiptment. I know a lot about water balloon launchers. Do you know that an egg, if frozen solid will blow through a plywood castle at 200 feet? Did you know that an egg, unfrozen can knock a kid out at 100 yards?

 

Did you know that if a 120 pound girl, makes contact with a giant earth ball on one side, at the exact same time as a 245 pound linebacker hits it from the other side, she can travel up to 15 feet airborne!

 

Do you know how hard it is to create a flaming arrow that will stay lit during flight?

 

Did you know that Tide detergent glows in the dark? Or that middle schoolers will do anything for points, or if you put a high school guitarist on a stage, but turn him off in the mix, he will still think he’s awesome?

 

Everyone who has worked at Crossroads Farm does.

 

Who’da thunk it. 25 years ago, Crossroads Farm launched on a wing and a prayer. A lot of people waved goodbye from Trinity Church in Lansing, pretty sure this was the fatal end. Don’t misunderstand, they hoped the best. Quite a few contributed. Most prayed. They just had never seen it before. It’s tough to buy in to wishful thinking. How can you make sure you are witnessing something God is doing as opposed to something a pipe-dreamer has launched. 

 

For those of you who watched 25 years ago, congratulations! This is a celebration of something God did through you against all probability! The problem with a 25th celebration is that, in many ways, it’s not very long. We have only seen the tip of the iceberg. In other ways it is too long. We forget or assume on some of the amazing things that are a part of our story. For the purpose of this blog, I can summarize our 25 years of CRF with one statement.

 

The phrase is, “Well, I didn’t expect to see that!” 

 

I remember in our first building, a new student walked through the doors of the old church and stared at the lights, decor and students and said… “This is not what I was expecting!”

 

A few years later and on virtually every first-time visit to the Shed, we heard, “This is more than I was expecting.”

 

Bands that have played at the Murder Mystery, walk into the barn, are swarmed and crowded by hundreds of teenagers, have all said, “This is not what I was expecting!” 

 

In fact, while at the National Youth Workers Conference a few years back, we were connecting with a talent agent for a number of bands. He asked us to describe our event. I got about three seconds into describing our Murder Mystery, and one of his bands jumped forward. They said, “I saw this on KJ52’s feed (a popular Hip Hop artist)!” It is awesome! We want to play it!” And then they, like everyone younger than me, proceeded to show a reel to each other about our event. 

 

We are not what you expect. 

 

I wonder if Christianity shared the kind of God who is not what we saw coming, if it would have the same PR problem it does currently. I think not.

 

How often has God exceeded your expectations?!

 

Our theme for the 25th anniversary celebration is, “Things unseen.” It is a forward look to the things that we believe God has called us to do. If you were there at the beginning you might say, "Oh, no! Here we go again.” But that’s not a scary thing. It is the way we have lived this call for the past 25 years. 

 

I have fond memories of one of our first students at CRF. I remember him jumping out of a car which had careened into our driveway, and running up to our house, and through the door, while his best friend shot him with a pellet gun. I remember him duct taping a newly deceased deer head onto his car hood, kinda like Boss Hog’s Bull horns. He taught me the game Possum Punting. I never expected to see any of that.

 

I recall the day God rescued the vision with a surprise $35,000 check from a man I barely knew. God built the Shed with a large gift from a person I wouldn’t have asked. Our board has been energized by leaders who were far too busy to care about rural American teenagers. I didn’t see any of that coming.

 

I didn’t see the desperation that God would require of our prayers. I didn’t see the numbers coming, in some cases so much faster, and in some so much slower.

 

I didn’t see that Dawn would pray for a bar of soap, which God provided through a dear elderly friend. I didn’t see a house fire coming in the third year. I didn’t see the friends who would walk away. 

 

I didn’t see 9/11 coming. I didn’t see the pandemic coming. I didn’t see the hardship, adjustments, reliance, the plodding, slow, hand of God. If I had, I would have quit before we started. 

 

I didn’t really see many of our existing staff joining us. I didn’t anticipate that my best efforts were nothing. I didn’t know what God was doing, or why he was taking so long.

The answer is written on my wall. God is more concerned with who you are in Him than what you do for him.

 

I told our team as we set up for the 25th anniversary celebration, “All of those times I was waiting for God to do something I saw, He was waiting for me to become something so that He could move without crushing us. He is patient, but not slow like most of us understand it. 

 

I wonder, while some wait to receive the assurance that God is going to do what we see, God continues to say what a dear friend said often to me: “You ain’t seen nothing kid.” But now, my friend, “Dart,” has seen it all!

 

I think Harold and Ruth Ashton would be pleased with what they’ve seen… not Dawn’s and my vision but God’s. So are Gene and Berna Baker. Paul Bamford, Lou, Larry, and literally hundreds of others who left this earth without seeing what they thought they would.

 

You see, the last 25 years have been God demonstrating a better plan, a bigger impact and a greater vision for CRF. It has been a test run. 

 

It has been about the People,

God’s faithfulness,

His unmerited blessing.

BUT…

 

1. God has more

 

9Rather, as it is written:

“No eye has seen,

no ear has heard,

no heart has imagined,

what God has prepared for those who love Him.”

10But God has revealed it to us by the Spirit.  1 Cor. 2

We use these verses to talk about heaven, but they are much larger in scope. It includes our eternity, but it speaks of our life in Christ. 

 

I was speaking at CRF The Lanes this year, and I talked about our vision problem. I made the statement, “Without Christ, the best you can do, is you.” I have friend who says it this way, “You don’t know what you don’t know. The mortal problem, is that the best I want is only the best I’ve seen. God has more. It’s been said, humans use less than 10% of their brains, misquoted and not generally true, but we do know that high school boys use a tenth of their words, and middle school boys use a tenth of their coordination. I contend that we use a minute portion of faith. 

 

God reveals the direction we should walk but seldom the arrival time of our travels. My time will come to an end, but God’s desire for rural students remains eternal and infinite. 

As we look at the next 25 years, which will certainly surpass my time here as president, it has been our goal to rough plan our directions. We have begun to think of it as the CRF Line. A stretch of 13 branch sites running from Pennsylvania to Montana through the great upper midwest. We have begun to communicate with leaders, research those areas and chart a course. 

I cannot see the faces of those students. I cannot even see the leaders of each branch, churches or pastors yet. God does. I am confident of this however, If God sees them, then He is waiting, the passage says, “Preparing.”  

 

2. This Generation waits to see a God BIGGER than they can imagine.

 

Don’t you? Listen to a memory, Isaiah has.

 

3When you came down long ago,

you did awesome deeds beyond our highest expectations.

And oh, how the mountains quaked!

4For since the world began,

no ear has heard

and no eye has seen a God like you,

who works for those who wait for him!  Isaiah 64

 

We need to see God for who He is, and then we began to see things we haven’t imagined. 

 

Dawn always desires more. More from our time… and her problem is that she wants to squeeze an immortal eternal God into our mortal temporal hours. More from our gardens, our hospitality, our conversations and our ministry. It’s what happens when you see God for who He is and want to see what He will do. Sometimes I wonder why we spent so much money on a reclining lounge chair! CRF has always done more.

 

The Shed alone has had over 3,600 students as a part of their regular weekly programming. 10,000 have heard the Gospel. We have sent 184,000 texted devotions to students. Our busses cover about 600 miles each Sunday. Next year it will increase by a couple of hundred more. We pray by name for every single person on our mailing list each week. Over 4,500 households! It takes us over two years to pray through our list. Our published training curriculum, The ARMS of a Servant Leader offers our volunteer Coaches 24 hours of classwork annually while they receive an additional 36 hours of training each year! We expect each Coach to give five hours every week to student ministry representing nearly four full work weeks in terms of man-hours. We call every kid. Receive prayers for each student by name for our big trips, and many of you are a part of those prayer teams. We plant corn in April and May in order to create a maze in June and July, in order to have hundreds of students hear the Gospel, families and schools to have the experience in October. We pack hundreds and hundreds of Christmas gifts, deep fry about a thousand Oreos, and serve a full feast to all of our students at Christmas. We labor over announcements and crowd breakers. We pick up kids across 9 counties. Our Winter Retreat is a spectacle. Our Good Friday experiences are immersive, our summer bible studies are involved and our summer trips are unforgettable. All of this is our utmost for His highest!  

 

I didn’t see how God would impact my children. I didn’t see the number of adult helpers which would come alongside this ministry. I hadn’t anticipated nearly 200 students showing up to the first event. I hadn’t seen students outgrowing our home for prayer breakfasts! I hadn’t seen the numbers of salvations, baptisms, students in ministry, kids of 1st generational students now attending. I didn’t see the number of unfulfilled suicide notes. I cannot have seen the students who have been rescued from lifetime drug addictions, and if the statistics are correct, this ministry area has seen teen pregnancy decline from leading the State, to now being in the bottom third! Not all us, but partly.

 

Now we wait for God again! I’m asking God for the branch directors of 10 more areas. I’m asking that He’ll send us people from areas who will pray. While I wait, He sees the students and the leaders and the finances and the impact!

 

3. Our job is to see the impossible

7For we walk by faith, not by sight. 2 Cor. 5:7

 

This is not a self help cue. It is the way the church is to operate! Through His eyes, seeing the unseen people and places. We are asking you to see students you have never met, places you will never visit and years you will not live to! We desire that you see what God sees, and then do what God says. This is God’s work… And by the way, when you do what you expected to do, you shouldn’t anticipate that God will do more than you expected.

 

4. God’s job is to do it.

Whether it is moving a creek to accommodate a corn field. Praying for land that seems too expensive. Training leaders who sometimes seem more long term than your immediate needs. Calling Influencers and leaders you should have no audience with. Asking for favor we don’t deserve but God wants to grant! What does HE SEE! Doing the next!

 

I desire to inspire you by virtue of the faithfulness of God. Whether you are a branch director who believes that you have a pretty clear view of what God has in store, or a friend who has been here for all 25 years of our momentary life at CRF… whether your vision is being fulfilled or not, to inspire you to stop seeing the way we all see and to see what God sees. I will act in obedience to pursue all that my Heavenly Father seems to be asking me to do. I will hold loosely to my vision, because I know the world, your world, desperately needs to see something beyond our corporate vision for life, faith and hope. It needs to see heaven come down in the form of a man. It needs to see the miraculous nail scarred hands of Jesus. It is near sighted to not see the glory of the cross as our entire existence. We have chosen to live in the promises as opposed to the realities. We need more. We need all of Him, entering all of us, impacting all of the world, for all of eternity.

 

We know that God sees things differently. My question is, what if God is waiting for you to let go of what you see in order for you to see what He sees. 

 

Here’s what I know. You ain’t seen nothing yet. What are you waiting for?

Homegrown Depot Blog

Wait For It.
Feb 12, 2024

Wanna hear something funny?

 

I was on a Zoom call with about 40 leaders from around the country yesterday... Wait for it. At some point in the call, I needed to plug in my laptop… Wait for it. I shut my video down in order to move around my office, locate my charger and plug it in… Wait for it. When I plugged it in and looked up at my screen, there it was. Our Crossroads Farm Zoom video profile picture, normally a CRF logo, was instead, a picture of Bert Spalding, our RCI Director. 

 

I realized how confusing it would be for the other participants to see me one moment and Bert the next. 

Notwithstanding his scholarly and distinguished good looks, we look nothing alike.

 

Alexa recently picked up a conversation between my oldest daughter and a friend of hers, and then in a random act of control, broadcast it to our car. You may now insert your favorite conspiracy, matrix or antichrist story here. 

 

My point is not any of those things, which may, or may not be applicable. It is simply to say, whenever technology is added to our communications, we have added another interpreter to the conversation. My question through each one of these scenarios was, “How did that just happen?”

 

Have you ever felt like this? 

 

How did my marriage end up with this much distance between my spouse and I? How did my kids miss that value?

 

We, at CRF, are in a constant effort of exegeting student culture. Words change. Pastimes change. Identities and passions change, and we are to make sense of it, determine ministry courses of action, and apply God’s truth to a generation. It is a herculean task… Wait for it… If I am doing it. 

 

I am in the process of reapplying my knowledge of the Holy Spirit to my job, my marriage and my roles as father, boss and communicator. I have known, at least cognizantly, His role and partly His function. I rely on the relationship, but sometimes ignore his beckoned call. There must be a spiritual, supernatural involvement from God for us to make spiritual, supernatural changes in our lives, our relationships and our communities.

 

Here is a reminder for you. 

 

He teaches us how to do the things He has called us to. 

 

But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you. John 14:26

 

My problem is my own propensity to solve my own problem with my own wisdom, through my own strength, in my own time. Frankly, I end up putting the wrong face on a problem and communicate through the wrong channels too many times.

 

Psalm 46:10 says we are to, “be still and know that He is God." 

 

My pace always demands my solutions, but God has another principle at work in my life these days...

Wait for it.

 

That’s it. Submit my pace to the Holy Spirit and do not rely on my own solutions. I tend to get a more correct picture and deliver a correct message to the right audience.

 

By the way, I no longer refer to my home system as Alexa. I call her Hal.

Homegrown Depot Blog

Do You Believe In Miracles?
Jan 16, 2023

It is mandatory for prospective Routledges to view the film, Miracle before we can talk further about dating, career or life. 

The 2004 Disney release is dear to me and my family (forced) because I played hockey in Minnesota in the year the USA Olympic team achieved a nearly impossible upset victory over the best hockey team in the world. The American team was selected from a pool of collegiate hockey players and pitted against the Soviet assembly of largely paid athletes. To understand the herculean achievement, one only needs to recall this Red Army team defeated the NHL All Star team by a score of 6-0, short months before the Olympic Games in Lake Placid, NY. 

The real reason I was so completely, emotionally tethered to the movie, is personal. In one of the earlier scenes from the movie, the camera zooms in on the Bloomington Ice Arena. I tell my girls, perhaps in a slightly embellished way, this was a rink where I threw up in every corner. 

I’m attached by blood sweat and personal connection. Some of my teammates knew a couple of the players depicted in the film. Close enough for me to share in the revelry of the gold medal. A person would have to live in Minnesota to understand the passion for hockey in the state of 10,000 lakes. I was there. Herb Brooks coached at the University of Minnesota. It was all so personal.

In my office, above my desk is a glass case holding a replica USA,1980’s olympic jersey. It is signed by the captain of this historic sports team, Mike Eruzione. It is a constant reminder of greater things. I wonder often, what percentage of this watershed moment in American sport lore can be attributed to young men believing in the miracle before the moment of the miracle.

It begs the question, “Can believers expect greater intervention from God simply because we have learned to pray expectantly?”

In other words, are my actions emboldened by a core belief that God cares about my efforts and the outcomes? I believe it.

CRF is, among other things, a study in action sparked by faith. There were so many times in the history of this ministry, when it would appear our future laid behind defeating an indestructible opponent. Scripture is replete with accounts of youthful, and in most cases, unadvisable initiative. David slew Goliath with a stone fired from a boy’s weapon. The Hebrews marched quietly around a fortified city. Moses showed up in a royal Egyptian court with demands of the unreasonable release of a slave work force. The miracle stories all begin with a first step. 

The first step seems to be the most onerous. It requires a requisite faith without reasonable assurances. I have found miracles are held captive by our lack of first steps. We love the romance of the miracle. We are afraid of the first step. 

The first step may be a phone call, a check written, a conversation, a job inquiry, or even a scrap of paper with the improbable concept scribbled. 

My challenge to each person this year is to imagine an intervention in your most common affairs by an invested, loving and miraculous God. Then take a single faith step toward the miracle. Second steps happen naturally enough when our feet hit the seabed of the Red Sea.

Al Michaels shouts excitedly in my mind, “Do you believe in miracles?! YES!”

Homegrown Depot Blog

Coffeehouse Radicalism
Dec 20, 2022

Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint; but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction. Proverbs 29:18

I am sitting in a college coffee shop waiting for my next meeting. I have a 16 ounce dark roast and it has my synapses firing on full. I just closed out a weekly meeting with one of our incredible branch directors. The time spent was literally trajectory changing. It hinges on an issue which I hesitate to write about because of the potential for disagreement among the CRF family of friends and supporters. I will, for the part of discretion avoid most of my knee-jerk reactions. What you are reading is my attempt to sift and sort emotion and reason.

Our branches are experiencing epidemic levels of sexual dystopia. I feel this makes sense given the nature of rural ministry. Students in the cacophony of family chaos, a wholesale barrage of freedoms being handed over to students unable to pack their own lunches, much less determine the cause of their live’s fractures, are being asked to set a course for life’s happiness and fulfillment. There are grotesque levels of disillusion, disappointment and hope. We have done a number on our children in these days of allowances. Kids have been handed the keys to a Lamborghini before they have learned to ride a bicycle. They are crashing everywhere and into everything.

Our conversation was about making this season of disforia an opportunity for the wings, ballast and wind currents provided by a relationship with Jesus. How do we counsel such a great number of rudderless students about the destination of faith? How do we speak about the problems candidly without losing the children who need to hear the message, most. How do we avoid the outrage of a majority of people when we claim there is a better way?

While girls, the least affected group, according to a recent dutch study, 3.2 percent recorded as identifying as non-binary or LGBTQ, are more conservative than males (4.6%), our experience in the rural communities we serve in is about one in every seven girls (approx 15%) are dealing with their sexuality. What we are observing in rural America is not a natural or normal phenomenon. It is an outlier. We are on the front lines in rural America.

Too much is at stake to not step up in our call.

In the 1970s a Christian theologian and philosopher, Francis Schaeffer wrote a prediction for the western world. The exhaustive work was called, How Should We Then Live. He spoke regarding the dissolving of a biblical standard which Christians used to believe, “ABSOLUTE.” He wrote regarding a time in the near future (for him) where people claiming to follow Jesus would determine truth based on their feelings, opinions or circumstances. They would follow a Jesus of their own making, down a road of their own choosing, to a destination of their own happiness. Those days have been with us for a while now. He stated this about a believer’s response.

“The ordinary Christian with the Bible in his hand can say that the majority is wrong.

If Christianity is really true, then it involves the whole man, including his intellect and creativeness. Christianity is not just 'dogmatically' true or 'doctrinally' true. Rather, it is true to what is there, true in the whole area of the whole man in all of life.”

Schaeffer was not speaking in judgement or in hatred. He was being prophetic about a world committed to its own ideas. Truth, as God has dictated, in both senses of the word, was for our own benefit. Our response however, has been to throw off the restraints of God’s truth. We have become angry at God for disagreeing with us about any aspect of life.

These are the days this ministry serves.

Earlier today our directors met to discuss our commitment to loving the children God has asked us to love. One of our leaders made the statement, “Sometimes, real love does not feel like real love to our students.”

I am asking for each reader of this letter to commit to prayer, support and involvement in the lives of rural students. There are many big responses to the issues which are demanding our kids to make long term decisions based on momentary emotions and circumstances. Providing for affordable, or for so many of our most needy families, free counseling which may stem from the familial disfunction plaguing our rural communities, is a large-scale response. Praying for better training which allows our volunteers to step more readily equipped into the fray of hopelessness, or simply giving kids with personal and serious questions about the seemingly difficult rules that God has placed on his children have become more critical than ever.

Meanwhile, we continue to love every kid, at whatever level they are. We want to discover creative, instructive and sensitive responses to difficult interpersonal boundary areas which have been discarded by a world bent on destroying an individual’s personal dignity. Our responses are not about getting students to behave the way we want them to. It is instead to demonstrate Jesus gave his all in order to show them a more excellent way.

A friend recently quoted something someone had shared with him. “Whoever wants this next generation most will get them.”

I have a limited number of responses.

I can either complain and rant to no benefit, or I can want this next generation more. Jesus did the latter.

Homegrown Depot Blog

We Are Losing Their Faith
Nov 02, 2022

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.

 

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