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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.
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!”
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.
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