Monthly Archives: December 2008

Vision 2009 – A Vision for a Church God Can Grow

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In 2008 according to pollster George Barna it became evident that Christianity’s image is indeed slipping among the younger generation.  In an article entitled A New Generation Expresses its Skepticism and Frustration with Christianity” Barna speaks of the book, entitled unChristian, by David Kinnaman, and an accompanying study that revealed startling facts about the under thirty age group. 

 

The study shows that 16- to 29-year-olds exhibit a greater degree of criticism toward Christianity than did previous generations at the same stage of life.  In fact, the investigation uncovered a steep negative downward spiral in young people’s overall attitude toward Christianity. 

 

A decade ago the vast majority of Americans outside the Christian faith, including young people, felt favorably toward Christianity’s role in society. Currently, however, just 16% of non-Christians in their late teens and twenties said they have a “good impression” of Christianity.

 

To add to these findings it has also come to light that society is being far from subtle in their expression of hostility toward Christianity. Barna’s research shows that Christians are acutely aware of the shift in people’s perceptions of their faith: 91% of the nation’s evangelical Christians believe that “Americans are becoming more and more hostile and negative toward Christianity.”

 

Taking facts like these into consideration it brings a serious tone to the topic of praying for new vision and life for “the Church” in 2009.  We need to be falling on our faces before God and asking for a transformed church that God can grow in the 21st century.  And in my opinion we must pray for breakthroughs in reaching an expanding unchurched generation of young people who are hostile to the Christian faith. 

 

It becomes helpful to think about the characteristics we need to pray to see demonstrated in the Church in order to see it become desirable.  We are not the first Christian generation to face a society that is hostile toward the Christian faith.  But in order to change minds and hearts about “our faith” we must demonstrate a “life of faith” that people will want to try and to be a part of.  Reflect with me on the type of Church that God engineered to reach the world for Christ in the first century.

 

 

A Reflection on the characteristics of a “Church God can grow” from Acts 2:42-47 NKJV.

 

Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.

 

 

1.         42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.

 

It was a learning Church.

It was a fellowshipping Church

It was a praying Church.

 

 

2.         43 Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.

 

It was a reverent Church full of respect for God and His ways.

It was a Church where God-things happened. 

 

If we expect great things from God and attempt great things for God–more of God’s presence and power is bound to be demonstrated. More of God’s presence among us would occur if we had faith and believed that together—we and God could see supernatural things happen.

 

 

3.         44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.

 

It was a sharing Church; these early Christians had an intense feeling of responsibility for each other and were willing to go to great lengths to care for the poor among them.

 

 

4.         46 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple,

 

It was a worshipping Church; they never forgot to visit God’s house.

 

Things can happen when we come together. God’s Spirit moves upon his worshipping people.

 

 

5.        and breaking bread from house to house,

           they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart,

 

It was a happy Church; gladness was there and they were simple in heart they were easily satisfied and not preoccupied with what they did not have.

 

 

6.         47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.

 

It was an attractive Church

filled with people others could not help liking.

 

The phrase having favor with all the people is also translated in other versions as “having the goodwill of all the people.”  In reference to the original language this phrase was written in it is important to realize that there are two Greek words for good. Agathos simply describes a thing as good but kalos (the term used here) means that a thing is not only good but looks good; it has a universal attractiveness about it.

 

Real Christianity is an attractive thing. There are so many people who are good but their goodness is tainted by a streak of hardness or self-righteousness. The early Church was not only ethically good but also visibly good.

 

As we enter the New Year 2009, let’s pray that the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ could once again be in all aspects a church that God can grow.  Pray especially for Crossroads Church of Denver that we could embody the characteristics of the early church identified in Acts 2:42-47.

 

Happy New Year,

Maryellen Stipe

 

Please feel free to add your comments and reflections regarding prayer and new vision for the Church (either the church-at-large or specifically Crossroads Church of Denver) in 2009.

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Finding Your Way Out of Depression

How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?

How long will You hide Your face from me?

How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart daily?

How long will my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and hear me, O Lord my God;

Enlighten my eyes, Lest I sleep the sleep of death;

Lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed against him”;

Lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved.

But I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.

I will sing to the Lord, Because He has dealt bountifully with me. 

Psalms 13:1-6 (NKJV)

 

When believers find themselves in depression it doesn’t help to hold the despair in. The Bible models to us through the examples of the saints of old that when we are down and out the proper strategy is to open up and pour out our hearts to God.  David, that man after God’s own heart, was shameless about discharging his miseries before The Almighty.  In Psalm 13, we find David depressed and on his face before God and in just the first three verses he lists four woe-filled complaints.  Surprisingly, his grievances are not that out of the ordinary.  In fact, his complaints are the common complaints that torture those faced with long term despair.

 

 

How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? is David’s first perplexed protest. The cry of David’s soul is that the dry and trial filled season he is enduring has gone on way too long.  His question reveals that his hope for relief has almost completely vanished. David is so emotionally trampled by life’s circumstances that he feels like God has abandoned him. He wonders if the arid season he is in will ever end and his questions for God aren’t ending either.   How long will You hide Your face from me?, he continues.  In Scripture “to seek the face of God” refers to seeking an audience with God and overtly seeking His favor through prayer. God “hiding his face” means He withdraws His presence or His favor.  David feels as if God has totally ignored him and his prayers for a very long time.  He feels rejected and wonders why God has chosen not to answer.

 

How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? is complaint number three and it takes on an air of warning.  In contemporary language the essence of what David is saying is, I’m going to have to take things into my own hands if you don’t help me soon.”  David laments that he has spent every day in the same distressing situation only to be no closer to finding his way out.  He admits to trying to devise his own rescue by counseling himself, yet he realizes the folly of leaning on his own resources.  David is desperate and can’t understand why God has withheld His guidance. 

 

David’s final issue with God is– that on top of everything else–his enemy is triumphing over him.  How long will my enemy be exalted over me?, he quizzes His Father in Heaven.  David was a man well acquainted with war and highly competitive in his nature.  Nothing galled David more than to have God sitting back seemingly ignoring him while his enemy prevailed over him.  He hated being beaten by his enemy and does not hesitate in asking God why he would allow this happen?

 

Many Christians might think that the depressed David must have surely overstepped his bounds with this overflow of inquiry to his M.I.A. God.  Yet Psalm 62:8 commands, Pour out your heart before Him: God is a refuge for us.   Job and Jeremiah are two other saints who boldly risked coming before God with similar interludes of questioning.  Venting true feelings before The Almighty is not off limits.  Bible commentator Warren Wiersbe, however wisely calls for balance in the venting process.   He states: We must not deny our feelings and pretend that everything is going well…but at the same time, we must realize how deceptive our hearts are and that God is greater than our hearts and can still lift us above the emotional storms of life.

 

The Bible urges us to be discerning as we give air to our feelings, we should never forget whose children we are. 1 John 3:20 assures us, For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Many times in Scripture we see believers singing the blues when God has their ultimate redemption right around the corner.  In the story of Joseph for example when Simeon is left behind in Egypt Jacob bemoans that his life is over. The patriarch feels that everything has gone against him when in actuality everything in his crazy family is just about to be worked out. With this and many other biblical stories in mind it is good to remember as we set out to vent our emotions that our emotions are not always completely truthful. While clearing the toxic debris from our hearts is healthy and good and permitted by God we should never believe that just because we feel something, it is true.

 

When struggling Christians are depressed no matter how bad it gets they should continue to pray.  The truth is if we wait and persevere and don’t give up, God will eventually touch us and lift our hearts. The Bible teaches that even if we don’t hear God’s voice we can be assured the Holy Spirit is at work within us. Romans 8:25-26 states, But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.  The Holy Spirit helps us through periods of trial and waiting and helps us to pray in the midst of them.  He communicates our feelings to God when we can’t find the words to describe them. The promises of God to reward those seekers who persevere through the desert are prevalent throughout Scripture.  In the book of Isaiah and then again in Jeremiah for instance God declares, For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, And floods on the dry ground;  Isaiah 44:3, and I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint. “Jer. 31:25 (NIV).

 

One thing is clear as the reader continues through David’s Psalm 13 lament.  After releasing his miseries to God David seems to get better and begins to find a new direction for his pain as he talks to God.  Instead of being accusative and viewing the Lord as being absent and uncaring for example, David now requests that He “consider and answer.” Consider and hear me, O Lord my God; Psalms 13:3, reflects a different more intimate tone on the part of David.  Somewhere in the midst of his pain God has touched him and drawn him closer. 

 

As the Psalm goes on, replacing the total despair that had overtaken the outlook of his soul David somehow finds a burst of hope.  He passionately requests that God enlighten his eyes.  Enlighten my eyes, Lest I sleep the sleep of death; Psalms 13:3 or as it is also worded Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die. Psalms 13:3 (NLT).  This request involves petitioning God for physical and emotional vitality as well as spiritual enlightenment. Here David shows inspired insight into the reality of depression.  Depression is a body, soul and spirit ailment and requires an appropriate all encompassing treatment. The Bible reflects the truth of the physical and emotional components of depression; it is not just a sin issue.  Scripture shows how the spiritual, emotional and physical aspects intertwine. Verses such as Proverbs 17:22 ,A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength reveal the interconnection between all aspects of a human being.  Those suffering with depression should consider the physical components of their malady and pray as David did for restoration. If a sufferer of depression is so weakened that he or she cannot function in daily routines there should be no hesitation in seeking the assistance of one’s personal physician.  The knowledge of modern medicine and nutrition can provide help to the person fighting the physical repercussions of long term despondency.

 

When Christians find themselves in seasons of despair they should “keep the faith” continuing to reach out to God .   Hebrews 11:6 teaches us what the bottom-line of “keeping the faith” really is, But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Heb 11:6 (NKJV).  Those in the grips of depression should cling to the foundation of their faith.  They should continue to believe that God is a loving God who rewards those who diligently seek Him.  As the psalm draws to an end I believe that it is because David has encountered God that he finds the reserves to continue to express his trust in the Lord’s unfailing love.  Psalms 13:5-6 reads, But I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, Because He has dealt bountifully with me. David begins verse 5 with the word “but” and but is a word that usually introduces a contrast.  David is saying, in contrast to my former grievances…I have trusted and my heart shall rejoice and I will sing.  By the end of this psalm, David in prayer has made some obvious different choices.  His  faith shown byrelying on the Lord’s love and then remembering his mercy, has paved the way for David to rejoice. 

 

When a person is in depression it is good to try to train yourself to remember the mercy of the Lord towards you in the past.  How has God shown his loving-kindness to you at other points in your life?  Remind yourself of those times and praise God for those times and it can begin to have good results.  Paul a man not unfamiliar with depression taught, Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! …Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  Phil 4:4-7.  Rejoicing in David’s life led to singing of His goodness, which in turn began to lead David out of the depression giving him patience to wait on the Lord a little longer.  David had the foundation of an intimate relationship with God and a habit of trusting in God’s love and reminding himself of God’s goodness (see Psalm 34).  He knew how important “keeping the faith” was to the equation. I would have lost heart, unless I had believed, that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord!  Psalms 27:13-14. 

 

As we come to the close of the psalm David’s circumstances had not changed. Saul was still hunting him down, the wilderness was still the wilderness and his longing for God was still a reality.  In fact we really have no evidence that God had spoken to Him throughout the entire ordeal but I believe in his lament and in the pouring out of his heart to God, God in the process touched him and revealed himself to David. Nothing around him was different and yet David on the inside at least for the time being was changed.  Our conclusion must be that because he poured out his heart before God, because he continued to pray staying close to God and because he kept the faith, he appears to have escaped the pit of his depression.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Christmas Greetings

Vintage Christmas Greetings

Vintage Christmas Greetings

A greeting is by definition an acknowledgment or expression of good will, it often takes the form of a salutation exchanged upon meeting someone.  Gabriel the angelic messenger assigned by God to handle the news of the birth of Christ became practiced at delivering just such salutations. 

In the first chapter of the book of Luke we are told,

God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, to a virgin whose name was Mary and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you’.” 

The Greek word that is translated greetings is elsewhere translated “rejoice” in the New Testament.  It seems that in angel-speak the only phrase that can suffice when good news is virtually brimming in your throat is “joyful greetings.” Gabriel did not mean to frighten Mary as he approached her but we are told nonetheless that Mary was thoroughly shaken.  She was shocked and wondered what could possibly be behind such “joyful greetings.”  Likewise the shepherds were equally stunned when Gabriel burst on their scene months later announcing the same “greetings of great joy.”  Joyful greetings and the events of Christmas just seem to go together. 

 

To send forth joyful greetings in response to the good news of Christ’s birth is a natural reaction.  The shepherds on the morning of Christ’s birth went throughout Bethlehem passing on the “joyful tidings” that they had received to even more astonished recipients.  And the greetings have gone on and on now for over two-thousand years.  The question is, as you face Christmas are youlike the many faithful who have gone before youbrimming with “joyful greetings”? Or is “bah-humbug” more akin to what is really on your lips?  It may be time for an attitude check.  If Christians are not prepared to send forth the good news through Christmas greetings who will?  This is why it is important that before we launch into the holy day festivities we prepare our hearts and have our joy rekindled.           

 

All of those who claim Jesus as their Savior are ambassadors of God’s Kingdom and like Gabriel it is our duty to deliver the life changing Christmas greetings.  The true Christmas greetings the good tidings of the gospel are calling out to be sent.  Sent to the checker at the grocery store, to the single mom up the street, to the teen-ager next door, and to whoever crosses your path and is willing to listen.  But are you willing to get involved in the process?  Christmas greetings can be spoken, they can be written, and they can even be sung.  They can be delivered, in a letter, in a card, in an e-mail, over the phone, or over the back fence but they must be delivered.

 

In Matthew 28, following his resurrection Jesus went forth with excited anticipation to be reunited with his disciples and after he said, (you guessed it) “Greetings” he made it clear what they ought to do.  “Go into all the world and teach all nations, the things I have made known to you.”  Jesus called his disciples to participate in the spreading of the good news.  Just like Gabriel, the angel choir, the shepherds and the wise men, they were called to go forth and meet and greet new ones with the news of the incarnate Christ’s coming to the world and the salvation he has to offer.  This Christmas before you get all involved with the buying of presents, before you take on the task of decking the halls, or preparing for the endless holiday meals, ask the Lord who he would have you share some “Christmas greetings” with.  Who would God send you to as a messenger of His timeless good news?  Pray and ask the Lord to show you the divine appointments he has scheduled for you this season.  Be like Gabriel so many years ago and be faithful to share the good tidings of Christ’s birth, death and resurrection with a waiting and wondering recipient.

 

 

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The mailing of Christmas greetings has been an American tradition for well over one hundred and fifty years. The first Christmas cards actually came from humble origins beginning as handwritten letters and artwork sent from school children to their families around the holidays.  It was not until after the invention of the steam printing press in the 1840s that Christmas cards as we know them today began to appear.  The first cards specifically for use at Christmas were printed in England in 1843 and within a decade the custom of sending cards soon spread to the United States. Initially, Americans had to import their Christmas cards from Europe and it was 1875 before Christmas cards were published in the U.S. 

 

The first Christmas cards were not cheap and with prices ranging from .75 to $1.25 only wealthy Americans of the time could afford to send them.  It was the postcard boom of the early 1900’s that made sending Christmas greetings a custom that most Americans could afford.  By 1907 the American public was wrapped in the idea of the “penny postcard”, and with more and more Americans moving west, mailing a postcard was an inexpensive way to send Christmas communications to the relatives and friends back east.  It was the “penny postcard” craze that firmly established the tradition of sending Christmas greetings in the U.S. 

 

Christmas greetings in the 21st century have endured a similar twist of the times. As expenditures for Christmas cards have again become “pricey” and the cost to mail them equally high, Americans of the last decade have once again changed the face of Christmas greetings.  Today the least expensive way to send a message to those we hold dear is a down-loaded e-mail full of Christmas tidings.  These digital Christmas-grams have begun to replace the Christmas cards and postcards of old and sending personally designed messages clad with an individual’s personal digital photos has become the new craze.     

 

How ever you choose to send them, Christmas greetings can bring wishes of joy and health and the good news of Jesus Christ to those we know and love. Christmas cards, postcards, e-mails and the like give us the opportunity to honor our intentions to “keep in touch” with an old friend or relative. They bring joy to those who receive them, not just because of a beautiful illustrations or inscriptions, but because they all say, in intent, “I thought about you this Christmas and wanted to share with you all the joy of Christmas that is in my heart.”

 

Do you send Christmas Greetings of any type during the holiday season? If you do why do you think it is an important practice?  And what form do your Christmas Greetings take cards, postcards, e-mails, phone calls, personal visits etc.  Please respond and comment with your views concerning Christmas Greetings?  We would like to know what you think?   

  

 

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Remembering Our Sister in Christ, Julie Robbins

Julie at the family cabin last spring

Julie at the family cabin last spring

To all of Julie Robbins dear friends and her Crossroads family:
Julie has fought the good fight and now she has gone home to be with Jesus. She changed addresses gently and comfortably before midnight on Sunday, December 7, 2008. Julie’s husband, John; her daughter, Kacey, and her husband, Tim; her son, Ian, and his girlfriend, Nicole; and her sister, Nicki; were at her side when she slipped peacefully away. We all know to be absent from the body is to present with the Lord but we continue to pray for God’s grace and comfort for the family and all of us who knew her and loved her. John will be taking her back to Helena, Montana for burial but they would like to have a memorial service at Crossroads. No details have been decided but we will let you know. Thank you all for your prayers and support- the family have really appreciated it- and of course, we know Julie would have approved (and that’s the most important!).
The Lord’s comfort and blessings on this time of loss but also this time of celebration of a beautiful woman in Him.

From, Judy Crewell

Please feel free to add your condolences and remarks in rememberance of Julie’s life to the comments section at the end of this post.  We know that she was well loved by the Women at Crossroads. 

We have created a special page (see “Memorial — Julie Robbins ” under the listing “pages” in the sidebar) that includes the details of her memorial service and other misc info.

Praise the Lord, after running a long hard race in this life Julie is home with her Savior!  We will grieve this loss of a precious, loving and caring sister in Christ together.  Please share your feelings with the rest of us.  We welcome the contribution of your memories and stories to this post.  Julie’s quick wit, fun loving personality and godly character will not be soon forgotten!  

Maryellen Stipe

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