Archive for the ‘crossings’ Category

Small Group, Back Again

Posted: September 17, 2010 in crossings, small group

3 years ago this week, I went to the first meeting of the first Crossings guys small group.  There were four of us….me, Scott, Chris and Aaron.  That first meeting was Aaron’s last meeting.  So, for the next four months, there were just the three of us (pictured here).

3 years later, there are now 3 guys small groups, encompassing about 20 – 22 guys total between the 3 groups.  I’ve admitted in front of Crossings, as well as to other small group leaders, that our first small group “reproduction” last year was a difficult one for me.  Our original small group had been together, and grown together for 2 years.  Some of my greatest current friendships were forged in that group.

But growth is good, right?  So last year we reproduced, and I gladly assumed the leadership of the 2nd group.  This year, my group remains mostly in tact, as it’s the other group that has reproduced into 2, making the total of 3.  And it continues to grow, as 2 more guys have joined the newest group, just within the last week or so.

If you don’t know this already, small group has been life changing for me.  I’ve prayed and contemplated much over the last few years about how God might use me to serve and minister both now and in the future.  My history will certainly leave many doors shut.  But at least for now it’s clear that small group is the way in which God has called me to serve.

And not just by way of serving and loving the guys in my group….but also to help lead the groups as a whole in service to others.  I’m so proud to say that in the last 2 1/2 years, the guys group has been involved in at least 23 different “3rd leg” service opportunities.  20 of those have been helping people in our community (and guys in our group) move to a new place.  And a few of those moves have been so clearly a God-given ministry that it has brought me to tears at times.

Now, can we continue at that pace?  I don’t know.  We’re trying to be more selective in these opportunities, to make sure that we’re assisting in moves that truly need our help, that don’t have other friends or resources to call upon first.  Regardless, these opportunities have been a blessing to me, to our group, and to those we’ve helped.

Even more importantly (to me at least) is that small group has given me a reason to enjoy living in Knoxville again.  My wife and I have developed deep and wonderful friendships through small group that we know will last for a long long time.  We’ve watched friends get married, have new babies, go back to school, move to new homes, get new jobs.

This is something that you just can’t get on Sunday mornings at church.  Sundays are fabulous for connecting with God…but rarely for connecting with others.  At Crossings, that happens through small group.  And I thank God for mine.

Moving Crew

Posted: November 13, 2009 in crossings, serving others, small group

IMG_1113bAbout 18 months ago, after our guys small group had been meeting for about 6 months, had grown in numbers just a little, and were starting to gel, we kept having conversations each week about how we wanted to serve more consistently, both as individuals and as a small group.  We wanted to be involved with helping people.  Problem was, we just didn’t know how, and we didn’t want to just default to serving meals because that seemed like something lots of people were doing already.

Over the last 18 months, God took it upon Himself to figure this out for us.  He has effectively placed in our path NINE (9) opportunities to help someone either in our small group, or in the Crossings community, move from one home to another.  We are now, as we like to call it, the Moving Crew.

Two of these opportunities have come in the last two weeks.  Last Thursday night, about 9 of us helped a single female in another small group move from one apartment to another.  The ENTIRE move, beginning to end, took about 50 minutes.  That’s what happens when you have a reasonably small amount of furniture to move, 9 guys, and a 20-foot box truck that Threds lets me use.

Then, last night, another move.  We were excited to help Kristin, a great friend and a super-awesome person, in her move as a first-time home owner!  (Refer to picture…not pictured is China Matt, who I think must have been using the bathroom while this was being taken.  Sorry man.) She had significantly more stuff.  But again, with 10 guys, a 20-foot Threds box truck, and 2 other pickup trucks, the entire move took about 2 hours.  Then we were treated to home cooked BBQ, chips, brownies, and sweet tea!

It can be hard work.  It can be frustrating.  But it’s so amazing to get to step into the lives of people in our community and help them in a tangible way, in what is usually a sort of overwhelming time.  I’m so thankful God heard our conversations and prayers, and helped us find a way to serve.

In fact, our small group is so pumped up about our ministry, we’ve taken the obvious next step.  We’re getting t-shirts!  =)

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Creating Moments

Posted: October 29, 2009 in crossings, small group

Hot Camping StudsHaving been a part of my guys small group now for over 2 years, I sometimes find myself feeling bad for churches that try to do small groups, and it just doesn’t work.  I don’t even really know who these churches are, I just know they’re out there.

Coming from a fairly traditional church background, up until just a few years ago, I can totally understand how small groups just don’t work in many places.  It’s hard to describe, but not so hard to understand.

At the same time, it’s hard to describe exactly why they DO work at Crossings.  Granted, not every small group is always flourishing.  Some have growing pains.  Others end.  Still others have consistency issues.  But, as a whole, our small groups are thriving and are truly providing the life blood of our church.

Because each group is different, does different things, and are led by different personalities, I can really only explain MY view as to what makes a small group work.  How do you build community among people who may not know each other?  How do generate a spirit of loyalty and camraderie?  How do build a small group for the long term?

For me, it’s by CREATING MOMENTS.  What do I mean?  Think back to your youth group (if you were in one).  Do you remember the lessons or what you prayed about?  I don’t, and you probably don’t either.  But do you remember the mission trip, the CIY conference, the service project you did in the cold of winter, or the crazy experiences on the church van?  I do.

Think back to high school.  Do you remember any individual class session or a conversation with a friend?  Probably not.  But do you remember your prom, going to the state competition in something, participating in a special event, or your graduation party?  I do.

Are you a parent?  Think back on your child’s first year.  Do you remember much about individual days or moments spent with your child?  Probably not.  But do you remember the birth?  The first time they smiled or crawled?  Their first birthday party?  I do.

So now, I think back on my small group.  We’ve studied about 15 books of the Bible, spent hours in prayer for one another, eaten lots of great snacks, and spent time talking about our weeks and what’s going on in our lives.  Do I remember much of that over the course of 2 years?  A little bit, but not much.

But what do I remember?  …….  our very first awkward small group meeting at Scott’s apartment, helping the Restoration House with a work project, laughing our asses off at IHOP, going to see The Dark Knight, helping people in our community move to new places, welcoming Mark to our small group with a customized banner, spontaneously deciding one night to go see midget wrestling, only to end up at Sundown in the City, celebrating the glorious revolution from England together, going camping on a wet and rainy weekend, gangsta posing with the BVD, leaving a stack of potted meat cans on one guys doorstep, going to see our new friend in the hospital after he had a wreck, then helping him move to a new apartment a week later, pissething on the wall, going tubing on the Pigeon River, going to see our buddy’s band perform, volunteering at Prom of the Stars, watching a guy in our small group get baptized.

For me, this is what makes our small group great.  Clearly, we are grounded in seeking Christ together, studying His Word, and praying for each other.  But what has made it last, what has built true friendship and loyalty and a spirit of togetherness, has been creating moments.  Moments that build, that serve, and that endure.  To me, without these, we are basically a Sunday School class that meets on Thursday.  But by creating moments, we become a small group.

Come On In, The Water’s Fine!

Posted: October 5, 2009 in crossings, faith

For me, one of the nice things about growing older – both in age and in my faith – has been the opportunity to wrestle with faith questions in my life.  Over the years, one of the most important of these questions has been the role of baptism in salvation.

Background – I grew up in a church tradition, and went to a Christian college, that both viewed and taught baptism as being a necessary, final step to being saved.  There was a specific salvation process – you believe, you repent, you confess, and you are baptized.  All four of these steps were necessary, and the omission of any, at the very least, put your salvation at risk.  It was looked at sort of like changing the tire on your car, but forgetting to tighten the lug nuts on the spare.  Yeah, the tire is there, but it’s probably going to fall off as soon as your drive away.  Then you wreck and die.

I had often questioned this view of baptism, but had neither the depth of faith nor the moxy to dig into it further.  I had asked myself questions like, “If you saved a person in the deserts of Africa, and the nearest “dunkable” water source was 5 miles away, and this person simply could not make it to the water source, would they really die and go to hell?”  Scriptural references aside, this simply did not make sense to me.  It was contrary to the loving and relational nature of God.

A turning point began for me around 1997, when I heard Bob Russell, senior minister of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Ky, do a sermon series on these 4 steps of salvation.  Long story short, he spoke of baptism in this way…..baptism isn’t necessarily required for salvation, but it is required for the “assurance” of salvation.  God is not a legalistic God, so it’s not in his nature to make us do things to earn his love.  But read the New Testament, especially Acts – Jesus was baptized, and everyone who came to know and believe in Christ was baptized.  If it was good enough for Jesus and the first Christians, shouldn’t we naturally follow that example?

This made sense.  It left open the possibility that a person was saved upon belief and repentance, even if they couldn’t immediately get to a baptistry, creek, or lake.  It helped me see baptism as a celebration of salavation, rather than the final exam.  Since that time, I’ve viewed baptism as a wedding ceremony to Christ….when you fall in love and commit your life to your future spouse, you don’t have to just run out and immediately get married.  At the same time, it’s not necessary to have a full blown wedding with 100’s of people and a fancy ceremony.  Yet couples like to do this, because it’s a celebration.  It’s a way to celebrate their love with others, to make it public, to create a memory that will last forever.

You don’t have to get baptized immediately….accordingly, nor should you wait 2 years to do it.  You can be baptized in front of 2 people or 10,000.  The point is, it’s a celebration of your love for Christ.  It’s your wedding to him.  Maybe – MAYBE – you don’t have to marry Christ.  Maybe God’s love reaches wide and long enough to hold you in, even if you ignore this important step.

But why would you?  Why ignore the example of Christ and the early believers?  Why explain away its importance?  Why sprinkle when Christ was immersed?  Why baptize babies when people in the Scriptures made this decision on their own?  Why roll the dice and take the chance?  In this way, baptism as the “assurance” of salvation has always made great sense to me.

Yesterday, we had another Crossings baptism celebration.  As always, it was great.  At Crossings, we have baptism celebrations every 3-5 months.  In most cases in our community, new believers in Christ are not baptized immediately.  I have old friends who would have a great deal of issue with this, so much so that they would probably not attend our church because of it.  I can understand this, I just don’t agree with it.  You just can’t imagine how special it is when we plan these celebrations, invite the entire community, have dozens – even hundreds – of people show up, and all celebrate wildly together when each person is raised from the water.  As a result, our baptisms are less of a hurried requirement (and even sometimes annoying to those who are ready to leave church and get to lunch before the crowd arrives)….and more of an anticipated party.

I’m so grateful for the depth of God’s love.  And I’m thankful that the waters of baptism are not a hoop, a jump rope, a high bar, or a 3 point line.  Rather, they are 2 open arms, a kiss on the cheek, a thousand hugs, and enough “woo hoo’s!” to last a lifetime.

Good Stuff

Posted: June 23, 2009 in crossings, family, friends

A few good things to share…

About 3 weeks ago we visited Athens, TN for their annual Moo-Fest – a day long downtown festival sponsored by Mayfield Dairy Farms.  Food, games, animals, lots of cheese and milk, and a tour of the Mayfield plant are all part of the festivities.  It was pretty fun.  We had a hard time pulling Eli away from the hoola hoop area:

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And, best of all, I snapped a picture of a redneck guy with plumber pants getting a $10.00 chair massage from a street vendor!

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Two Sundays ago, I was honored to be able to speak for about 15 minutes during the two Sunday services at Crossings, as part of a mini-series called MMIQ – My Most Important Question.  We did this last summer as well, with 6 different people sharing over two weeks.  Same this year.  It was very tough, very emotional, but I’m so thankful to have been able to share openly with our community.  It was really the first time ever since my legal problems started 9 years ago that I’ve given any sort of public testimony of any kind.  I didn’t go into a lot of detail about the things I did, but really talked more about how the Crossings community has truly changed my life and made it possible for me & my family to experience true community, when I had thought that might not ever be possible again.

I want to say thank you to so many people who hugged me, cried with me, and encouraged me after each service (many of you are readers, so thank you, thank you, thank you).  I was a little scared to share some of my experiences, and was not sure what to expect in response.  I couldn’t have been more blessed, encouraged, and loved.  It simply reinforced what this community is all about.  Amazing.

Finally, this past weekend, I had the opportunity to see my college roomate for the first time in over 8 years!  Andy (I’ve called him Buddha since our freshman year – long story – but that’s what all our friends called him all through college), his wife Jen, and their oldest daughter Oliviah were in Florida on vacation this past week, and were driving back through Knoxville on their way back home.  They stopped by Saturday afternoon, spent the night with us, came to Crossings, and headed back out Sunday afternoon for a drive home to Indiana.  It was so incredible to see my friend again after so long.  We were roomates for 3 1/2 of our 4 years of school and recounted so many great times, stories, and pictures.  He’s now the father of 4 great kids, and is a riot squad leader at a maximum security prison in Indiana.  I’m thrilled they are doing well, and can’t wait til we get together again….hopefully sooner than 8 years from now.

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small group - pastor mark

Yes, this is just what it looks like.  A custom made 6′ x 2′ vinyl banner welcoming “Pastor Mark” to our small group.  Dotting the banner are the “deadly” words that you just don’t use at Crossings.  And yes, three guys are wearing wife beater shirts.  One is wearing daisy duke cut off shorts.  Two are wearing do-rags.  And one is wearing nothing but hiked up umbro shorts, goggles, a watch, and Old Spice.

And it was a great evening.  Lots of laughs.  Great discussion.  And the opportunity to help someone in our community move her stuff into storage later in the evening.

From L to R:  Andy (Grizz), Josh (Hut, Hut), Kurt (IJ), John (P3), Scott (Scott-O-San), Mark (Pastor), Me, Reid (The Roman God).  Not pictured, because of either work or showing up late:  Josh (A-Bomb), Chris (Gater), & Ryan (The Footballer).

At Crossings, we’ve already begun to jokingly refer to the fact that we love us some t-shirts.  It’s been cool on my part to be part of providing t-shirts for the community over the last 2 years.  In fact, I fully believe that t-shirts can help instill a sense of community … they commemorate moments or events, they help you feel connected.  It’s awesome showing up pretty much every Sunday morning and seeing at least a few people wearing a Crossings t-shirt of some kind.  Below is a recap of all the t-shirts we’ve produced thus far.  For each tee – the front of the shirt is on the left hand side, the back of the shirt is on the right hand side.

Here’s a brief description of each (from the top).  1 – Crossings Logo Tee – Crossings logo on the left chest with “HPFTWBTG” on the back (Helping People Find Their Way Back to God).  We’ve actually done two runs of these – some in black, some in charcoal, some in chocolate brown on a ladies cut tee.  We also printed the front logo on several hooded sweatshirts, which everone seems to have really loved.  Probably about 150 of these shirts and hoodies circulating.  2 – Crossing Baptism Tee – given to anyone who is baptized at Crossings as a commemorative shirt.  3 – The Tour of John’s Story Tee – we did about 300 of these last March at the end of a 20-something week long study of John.  They were free to anyone who wanted one.  4 – Production Tee – we gave these out to all the people who had actively served and sweated during the time we were at the theater, setting up and breaking down every morning.  We asked these awesome servants to come forward at the end of a service in January at 4MS to applaud their efforts and present their shirts.  5 – Pregnant Woman Tee – this was the one I did for my small group, and as a practical joke on Mark.  I posted about this roughly a month ago.  6 – Never Thwarted Tee – Like the John tee, this shirt commemorated a 20-something week study of the book of Genesis.  We took preorders for anyone who wanted one at a very low cost.  Both this and the John shirt are “concert style”, where the back of each shirt has the date, the passage studied, and the “big idea” for that week.  Similar to a concert tour layout.  (UPDATE)  Greg reminded me that I forgot the Balls Tee – Trevor, during a testimony last summer, basically said that his boss at work would sometimes tell him to “grow some balls”.  And he said it just like that.  Then realized his faux pax, then made fun of himself and had the whole place laughing.  So I made some Balls Tees and had them there early a couple of weeks later, so when Trevor showed up, about 12-15 of us were wearing these shirts.

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