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A Return On Investment
Have you ever put your hard-earned money in an investment that resulted in a partial loss or total failure?
Early in our marriage, Judy and I invested a large sum of money in a venture that we were sure to make a great return. Many of our friends were also convinced this was a money-maker, so literally hundreds of thousands of dollars were invested from people in the Grand Rapids area. All of us were excited about how this new opportunity could make life economically easier.
Then the bombshell exploded and the company went bankrupt, leaving each investor with nothing but a piece of paper with an empty promise.
I am a very forgiving person and can overlook people’s mistakes and shortcomings. However, I find it more difficult to trust people when they refuse to take responsibility for their actions.
I grew up in a family of five children. Mistakes and bad decisions were always forgiven, but excuses were not tolerated.
When Dad told us to complete a work project, he expected us to do it. If it was not completed, he wanted to know why. If our reasons made sense he gave extra time to complete the project, but if we gave him excuses it resulted in extra work. More excuses equaled more work!
Photo: Skitter Photo
Years ago there weren't computer games and the Internet to entertain kids. We had to find different ways to have fun and pass the time. I was raised in the country and our closest neighbor was a mile or two away, but my brothers and I found plenty of mischief to get into. We spent lots of time outdoors searching the creek for polliwogs, building forts, hitting the soft ball or playing games by our house.
One game we often played was called ‘Hide and Seek'. My little brothers would scatter and hide in the craziest places and I would try to find them. I remember yelling out, "Ready or not - here I come!" I would tease them and say, "I'm coming to get you!" As they waited for me to come and get them, their little hearts would pound with excitement and sometimes I could hear them breathing hard with anticipation. However, if it took longer than they thought it should, their excitement turned to boredom and I think if they would have had a pillow, they could have fallen asleep before I got to them.
Father God has promised that His son will come and get His children one day, but we don't know exactly when. We read in God’s word about the return of Jesus Christ and that it could happen at any given moment. So, we wait with excitement, but like children, when it takes longer for Him to come and get us than we planned, we can grow tired or bored and even fall asleep.
The cool thing is that Jesus will come with a shout! So, even if us kids are sleeping, that'll surely wake us up! The sad thing would be ... if we weren't prepared and ready to meet Him.
In Matthew 25:1-13 Jesus talks about the kingdom of God and the importance of being prepared for the return of Christ. He uses the parable of the ten virgins to make it easier to understand. Five were foolish, they didn't prepare for the unexpected delay of the bridegroom, but the five wise virgins planned ahead and made sure they'd be ready to meet him. They were waiting and longing for His appearance.
Verse 13 says, "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour [of Jesus return]."
Ready or not He is coming ... Let’s make sure we're ready!
I have been burdened to pray for our church families who have unsaved loved ones. I ache for those who faithfully serve the Lord and yet have rebellious family members who refuse to submit to God and receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and savior. Sometimes these folks are overwhelmed with grief over the thought that their loved ones will be eternally lost.
I especially want to encourage all those who are standing in the gap for unsaved family members or those who once knew Christ and have grown cold in their Christian faith.
The prophet Ezekiel was commissioned as a watchman to warn Judah of impending judgment unless they repent and turn to God. He was told that many would give a deaf ear to his warnings, but yet he was to be faithful in proclaiming the truth.
We can’t change our loved one’s hearts, but our consistent example can pull them in the right direction. You can’t push a string, but you can pull it. Your loved ones are carefully watching you, evaluating whether the Jesus you serve is worth their consideration.
Years ago I pastored Hibbing Christian Assembly in Hibbing, Minnesota. We had a precious couple named Ed and Ruth. They had 6 kids who were raised in the church. Five served the Lord, but one of their sons completely rejected Christianity.
As a teenager he became drug and alcohol dependent. He often broke into the church to sleep off his drunken stupors. Ed and Ruth were heartbroken and embarrassed over his behavior. They had to take harsh action toward him to protect their family from the influence and consequences of his behavior; as a result, the joined the Navy.
Things went from bad to worse. Every time he came home for a visit the whole family was disrupted by his behavior. Ed and Ruth were relieved when he returned to his naval duties.
Ruth was our organist. We practiced our Sunday worship songs on Thursday afternoon with the other musicians. Before practice we had a time of prayer. On numerous occasions Ruth would ask us to pray for her son, Darrin.
For years things got worse. Darrin left the Navy and got involved with civilian work. He met a lady whom he moved in with and they had two children. Their lifestyle was wild and crazy, which caused even more heartache for Ed and Ruth.
I remember one particular Thursday afternoon when God spoke a word to me for Ruth concerning Darrin. I shared how she was not to look at his behavior because God was doing something positive in his life.
A few short months later she came to me with a grin that was from ear to ear.
“Pastor,” she said, “let me read a letter from Darrin to you.”
The letter was Darrin’s testimony of how he and his girlfriend were saved through loving people sharing Jesus in a local church in their area.
Darrin’s girlfriend became his wife. Both serve the Lord today with faithfulness and joy.
Ed and Ruth learned a valuable lesson: Never give up on your kids, keep praying.
Luke 11:9-10 gives three commands in our praying:
Let’s continue to bombard heaven for our unsaved loved ones and visualize them serving the Lord.
What’s it going to take for our families to serve Jesus? Focused and persistent prayer reinforced by our obedient Christian example.
Last Sunday I had the privilege of visiting my daughter’s church in the Franklin, Tennessee area. I love to worship God through music, and from the first note on the guitar I was all in! I could feel my tired body getting recharged and my hands began to clap. I was smiling with delight and on certain phrases of the songs my arm just seemed to reach for the sky, as if I could touch heaven.
Then my excitement changed to a calm quiet stance, as I sensed that God was wanting to do something new in my heart.
A phrase in the final song seemed to stand out to everyone, as if God had used a heavenly marker to highlight it for us. "God makes all things new."
I've heard this quoted or read it in my Bible many times, but today it was as if I understood the depth of its meaning for the first time.
The pastor stepped on the platform and said, "God doesn't just make things better, He makes them brand new."
A young man on the worship team then shared an insight about this phrase that I'd like to pass on to you.
He said, "It's like the knickknacks my mom collects. If one breaks she can often pick up the pieces and glue it back together, and from the outside it looks good as new, but in reality it’s still broken and if you look on the inside, you can still see the cracks. Man’s best efforts can only patch things up to make the outward appearance better, but only God can take the broken pieces and make it brand new from the inside out."
When God restores He doesn't restore back to the original state it was in. He's so much greater than that! He restores forward to where it should be now! He doesn't patch things up. He has the power to recreate and make anything or anyone brand new. He won't just patch up your broken relationships or your broken heart. He won't just make it better or more tolerable - No! He wants to make it brand new.
Behold, I am doing a new thing; it now springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the dessert.
Behold, I am making all things new.
Photo: Mike Wilson
Many people have influenced my life, among them was Pastor Henry, who led my parents to Christ and shepherded our family in the early days of our spiritual journey.
He was special because he was practical, down-to-earth and biblically sound in his preaching and teaching. My father especially loved him, because he came from the same Finnish background and both spoke the Finnish language fluently.
He and his wife Maxine, lived by the University of Minnesota, Duluth. I attended and graduated from this university, so I often stopped by their house to chat with him about life.
His knowledge of scripture and love of learning influenced me to enter into full-time Christian service. He persuaded me to get a good theological education. I went on to attend and graduate from Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.
The most important wisdom he gave me had to do with reflection. He often said to me, “Keith, people are driven by life, which results in anxiety. Ministers are no different. The demands of ministry can be a terrible taskmaster.”
The call to ministry can easily be replaced by being driven in ministry. This results in losing the essential peace that sustains ministry and life itself. Ministers can become performance-based just like any other person in their business or occupation.
My devotional life had to become a priority. The why of life is more important than the what of life.
In 1987 I read the book by Dr. Gordon MacDonald, Ordering Your Private World. Dr. MacDonald helped me to be a called person rather than a driven person. Two chapters of his book explained how journaling would assist in maintaining order in my spiritual life.
The other day I noticed that I have filled out an entire shelf in my bookcase with completed journals over the past twenty-eight years. These journals are a biography of my spiritual journey. Prophetic words and valuable insights from scripture have been recorded in these journals.
During times of great stress and confusion, I have drawn strength and clarity of purpose by reviewing their contents.
In the book Friedman’s Fables, the author uses the illustration of a fly to describe how we often live life as human beings. He gives the fly human emotions and thought. He asks the fly a series of questions:
Why do you buzz around as you do?
That’s what flies do. We just keep moving.
What’s your purpose?
We buzz around.
What is the result of your activity?
We buzz out and die.
How many of us are like the fly, buzzing around with a full calendar of activity without purpose? Our end result is like that of the fly – we buzz out and our life is meaningless.
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
Reflection keeps us in touch with ourselves and constantly reminds us how we are prone to buzz around in our life with busyness based on our own sinful desires. Reflection shows us how much we need God daily so we make choices in the light of eternity.
Take time to reflect and enjoy the peace it will bring to you.
Romans 4:19 – 20
Without weakening in his faith, Abraham faced the fact that his and Sarah's body was good as dead, yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had the power to do what He had promised.
While reading this entire chapter, my mind went in so many different directions, because it’s just rich with insights into receiving the promises of God, but these two verses in particular really challenged me. How can I remain strong in faith without weakening, when everything around me says it's hopeless?
I can picture our faith being like a powerful magnet that draws the promises of God to us. So our promises just hang out there in that invisible realm until we decide to use our magnetic faith to pull it into the existence of our everyday life. The strength or power of the magnet determines its ability to draw the object to it. That’s how faith works in our life. The Word of God strengthens and empowers our faith, enabling us to draw God’s promises.
I love how scripture lets us in on the struggles that Abraham faced, so that we can learn from his example and know that we're not alone or condemned as we fight through our own doubts and unbelief. And I'm so grateful to learn how he overcame doubt while he still faced the facts and reality of the situation.
God told Abraham he would be the father of many nations, but Abraham took an honest look at himself and Sarah. He was 100-years-old, well past the age of reproducing; and Sarah's body was well, let's face it - she wasn't a young chick anymore. So it looked pretty impossible for them to parent even one child, but a nation? Really God? Yes!!
Maybe you're faced with impossible situations today, you've looked at the facts and you honestly find it hard to believe that God can do anything about it. I want to encourage you to make the same choice that Abraham did, choose to believe that God has the power to do whatever He said He would do, no matter how impossible it may seem.
There's an important truth I have learned in my own life and I'd like to pass it on to you.
Faith doesn't deny the facts, it just simply overrides them.
Fall is a very special time for my son Aaron and me. Since he was 12-years-old we have hunted deer together with bows and arrows, or guns. He is now thirty-eight, so this tradition has lasted for twenty-six years.
About seven years ago he purchased forty acres of pristine hunting land in northern Wisconsin. A few years later he built a beautiful cabin on the land, which makes our annual hunting excursions very comfortable and peaceful. This yearly trip has become a tradition with us that is now being passed down to his boys, my grandchildren.
Ezekiel (9) and Isak (8) joined us for last November’s hunt. It happened to be gun season, so we set up deer blinds in two separate areas by trails that are regularly traveled upon by these animals.
Blinds are portable tent-like enclosures that can be moved and set up in any area quite quickly. They are made of camouflage material so they blend into the woods and are often unnoticed by these observant animals.
The boys were filled with excitement to sit in the blinds with Dad and Grandpa. Ezekiel went with Aaron and Isak accompanied me. We hunted in the early morning and late afternoon. We prepared snacks and brought little games for them to amuse themselves because they were not used to sitting still and being quiet for long periods of time.
Isak especially had a hard time sitting still and being quiet. He breathed long breaths of boredom when deer were scarce, but was frozen with excitement when we saw or heard deer.
He reminded me so much of his father Aaron when he was 12-years-old and started to bow hunt with me. I put him in a tree stand about 100 yards from where I was hunting so I could keep him in my sights. I wondered how he would act. Could he be quiet and be patient or would he be anxious and noisy?
To my surprise he sat motionless for a long period of time. I was amazed because he had never exhibited that type of behavior before.
As darkness approached I walked to him and helped him climb out of his stand. As we walked back to our camp, I asked him, “How did you stay so quiet and still for the entire hunt?”
His answer illustrated an important principle of life. He said, “Dad, I knew there were deer in the area around my stand because there was lots of deer sign. I expected to see deer and I watched one deer for nearly an hour hoping it would come within shooting range. It did not come that close, but it was sure fun watching it.”
Waiting was hard for him and his son Isak when there was no expectation. However, expectation makes waiting endurable and even enjoyable.
In the morning, Lord, You hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before You and wait expectantly.
But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
The majority of Isaiah 40 describes the greatness of God. Aaron could wait with expectation because the signs of deer activity surrounded his tree blind. Isaiah 40 says God’s handiwork is all around us in what He has made in the sky and earth. Therefore, we can wait with expectation for Him to act in our lives.
The wait can be exciting because we gain strength by rediscovering His powerful and intimate attributes. Whatever you are going through, wait upon the Lord with expectation because He has your best interests at heart.
In the natural most of us love the smell of fresh baked bread, but my little brothers and I especially loved it. Let me explain.
My father was a gentle, wonderful man with a great sense of humor when he was sober, but when he drank he became violent, beating and nearly killing my mother several times, until I reached an age when I could stand up to him.
Sometimes Daddy worked on a job that took him out of town for a few weeks at a time. We weren't told that he'd be gone for a while, but we always knew. We'd be walking home from school like every other day, but then we'd stop dead in our tracks! Filling the air was this wonderful, welcoming aroma of fresh baked bread.
Now, the bread didn't speak to us audibly and say, "You don't have to be afraid; it's safe to come home!" We didn't have to hear the words, we knew its meaning. So, we ran home filled with excitement! This comforting aroma was a sign to us that Momma was safe in the house and all was peaceful again.
I didn't realize until writing this that I was sending out the same signal to my kids. I traveled a lot internationally when the kids were teenagers, sharing the gospel through speaking and singing, but when I returned home the first domestic act on the agenda was baking bread for my family. The bread in essence was saying that Momma is home and though I had been gone, I hadn't forgotten them.
God gives us that same reassurance.
Jesus, the Bread of Life, is the promise and sweet fragrance to us that even in the midst of troubled times or feeling alone, the aroma of His love brings peace and reassurance that He hasn't forgotten us.
The next time you get a whiff of fresh bread, I hope it causes you to stop and think on these words from the Lord, "Don't be afraid - I am here - I haven't forgotten you."
Jesus said, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me will never go hungry, and he who believes in Me will never be thirsty.”
Our family loves good movies accompanied by delicious snacks. Some years back we watched the movie The Bear.
Briefly, a young orphaned cub is befriended by a huge male grizzly. Male adult bears often attack, kill and eat cubs, so this story did not support normal adult bear behavior.
On one occasion the young cub wanders into the mountains, away from the safety of the male grizzly. This was a dangerous decision because mountain lions also lived in bear country. A cub was no match for a full-grown mountain lion. Without warning the cub was attacked. He fought courageously and ran to the nearby stream. He climbed onto a log that was protruding over the stream. The lion followed and the cub had no place to go except into the swift current.
He was cornered, so his bear instincts overrode his fear. With all his strength he stood on the log and issued a little bear roar that warned the lion he was going to fight to his death. To his surprise, the lion backed off and ran away quickly.
The little fella thought his roar and demeanor had scared off the mountain lion. However, when he looked behind him, there was standing the huge male bear. The little bear’s roar was backed up by the large bear’s presence.
This story illustrates how God is constantly with us and protects us when we fall prey to stalking enemies.
The mountain lions that stalk us are not animals, but rather come in the form of fear, abandonment, failure and unbelief.
In Genesis 21:33, Abraham calls God by a new name for the first time. Names for God depict His character. In this verse, Abraham calls God Olam El, or Everlasting God.
El means strong, mighty or powerful. Olam means that God’s existence goes as far as possible into the past and the future. In other words, God is timeless.
The Everlasting God exists outside of time. God sees the past, present and future all at once. This is important because God does not see us for what we were but for what we will become.
For example, God doesn’t see a born again prostitute or murderer as a former prostitute or murderer. God separates our sins from us, according to Psalm 103:12, as far as the east is from the west.
Hebrews 8:12; 10:17 say that when we receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and savior, God forgets our sins as though we had never sinned at all. Olam El, through the cross, eradicates all records of former sins.
In Abraham’s day He did so through offerings and sacrifices. In the New Testament, He did it through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Abraham is called the father of the faith. Upon reading his biography in Genesis, we discover Abraham had many flaws and weaknesses. Abraham isn’t remembered by God as the former covenant-breaker, the one-time liar or double-minded man. He is God’s friend and our faith example. Abraham was grateful his past actions were not allowed to define his present situation. Olam El had guided, or navigated, him through every season, even the embarrassing ones, and preserved his destiny.
God reaches back in time for all of us and cleanses us, like Abraham, from all of our wrongs once and for all.
The next time you are cornered by circumstances, illness, finances or an attack from vengeful people, stand your ground and let out a roar of faith. Behind you is the Everlasting God whose presence will cause your enemies to run for the hills.
Photo: Patrick Fore
The other day I saw a clip from an old Walton's series. The Walton family had taken in two orphans from another country that had been nearly destroyed by enemy boomers. The children were traumatized, loud noises frightened them and they didn't trust anyone. The little boy didn't talk; he looked to his sister to be his voice and comfort. She had become his only safe place. They had forgotten how to smile or play with other kids, joy was like a long lost friend.
Their innocence had been brutally stolen from them. Though the family tried to reach out to them, the children were trapped in a mental prison of terror and isolation. The young Walton girl was frustrated with them, because they didn't want to play or do fun festive activities. She had no idea of the ordeal they had been delivered from or the emotional stress and fear that still held them captive. The young Walton girl had always felt safe and secure with her family, far from the destructive effects of a war. So how could she possibly understand why they hid under a bridge in trembling fear as a plane flew over them?
My sister was so much like this big sister. She was always my safe place. I could tell her anything and never feel judged or rejected. She always stood by me, protecting and nurturing me my whole life. In all of our years together, there was never an unkind word spoken between us. I trusted her completely and will miss her terribly. Sis went to heaven July 9th of this year.
Days after her funeral I could no longer fight off the depth of sorrow that overtook my emotions, and struggling through the tears I heard myself cry out, "My safe place is gone!" I felt so alone and vulnerable without her.
It was in that very moment that the Lord gently led me to Psalm 91. The entire chapter confirmed 'Who' my eternal safe place was.
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.
I believe most of us desire a place of peace where we are sheltered from the enemy. Where we are fully accepted just as we are and loved unconditionally. Perhaps you are searching for that safe place today. It’s wonderful to find an earthly safe place, what a treasure, but it's so much greater to find your eternal 'Safe Place', Jesus Christ, and His arms are open wide for you.
Photo: Davide Ragusa
It seems the older I get the quicker life passes by. Recently my wife and I were going through old pictures of our grandchildren. All were either in grade school or pre-school age. Today these little people have become beautiful, handsome and responsible young adults. What happened to our precious little boys and girls? The answer is obvious – they grew up, and yes, we grew older.
On July 9, my wife’s precious sister, Dionna, passed from this life, escorted by angels into the arms of her Lord and savior. This was another reminder of the acceleration of time. Funerals are candid reminders of the brevity of life.
Important questions confront us during times of loss:
- Who are we?
- What’s our purpose?
- Where are we going after death?
- What will we spend our life on – temporal or eternal things?
I have been a pastor for nearly 40 years. I have officiated at numerous funerals where the deceased represented a variety of ages. Here are a few:
- Jayla, age 12
- Sarah, age 8
- Tony, age 48
- Rita, age 51
- Glen, age 49
- Vernon, age 21
Death affects every age! We can’t ignore it and we can’t escape it.
Luke 12:16 – 21 is an in-your-face text. It’s the story of the rich fool who thought his wealth was a result of his efforts. It says in verse 16 that the ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest.
This is a vital statement because crops only grow if the ground is sufficiently filled with moisture and nutrients. In other words, only God can make a seed reproduce.
However, the rich man took credit for his wealth and decided to build bigger barns and bins to hold his surplus of grain. His conclusion was, “I will say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’”
This overconfident man thought he was totally in control of his life. His plan made sense but his focus was only on temporal wealth.
Notice what God said in response: “You fool. This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself? This is how it will be for those who store up things for themselves and are not rich toward God.”
We are only a breath or heartbeat away from death.
Psalm 90:12 instructs us to number our days so we will get a heart of wisdom. A wise person lives their life in the light of eternity. They recognize that life is short and eternity is forever.
Jesus Christ has made eternal life available for all mankind. He arose from the dead making death a transition from biological life to eternal life.
Dr. Paul Rees, editor of World Vision Magazine, described following Jesus Christ with these words: The time to die is now…die now, it helps to get a lot of things settled. Then live forever!