A Song of Wonder

Luke 1:26-37; 2:25-35

Let’s play a Christmas song game? I will give you a clue, you figure out the Christmas song:

  1. Righteous Darkness
    O Holy Night
  2. Far Off in a Feeder
    Away in a Manger
  3. Bantam Male Percussionist
    Little Drummer Boy
  4. Nocturnal Noiselessness
    Silent Night
  5. Jehovah Deactivate Blithe Chevaliers
    God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen
  6. Delight for this Planet
    Joy to the World
  7. Perceived Carillon Noel 24 Hours
    I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, their old familiar carols play
And wild and sweet, the words repeat, of peace on earth, goodwill to men.

But in despair I bowed my head, ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said
“For hate is strong and mocks the song, of peace on earth, goodwill to men.”

That contrast in the song I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day serves as a reminder that this is not always the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. I always hear two songs in the air this time of the year: a song of wonder and awe; as well as songs of sorrow and woe.

Today’s passages remind us that even Mary heard the same two songs. She heard the majestic voice of the angel singing: “You will become pregnant and have a son, and you are to name Him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:31-32). But she also heard the foreboding song of Simeon: “This child will be rejected by many in Israel and it will be their undoing. And a sword will pierce your own soul” (Luke 2:34b-35).

Sometimes it seems that the song of the sword will drown out the song of wonder. + Read More

Where Will You Look?

Isaiah 9:1-6
John 1:1-14

One of my favorite pastors relates the following story about buying a Nativity set.

My mother-in-law, Ruby, lives in the southern Indiana town of Paoli. We spend family Christmas with her. But Christmas isn’t official in Paoli until Wilson Roberts decorates his variety store, which he does on the day after Thanksgiving. Each year it is the same adornments: a cardboard cutout of Rudolph taped to the front window, a strand of tinsel hung over the check-out counter, a bucket of candy canes sittin’ next to the cash register. On that day, at precisely 8:50am, people from all over town head to the variety store to start their gift-buying. It is a migration every bit as predictable as the swallows of Capistrano. I stopped in a few years ago looking for a nativity set. It’s a small store, in sore need of a liquidation sale. Wilson’s motto is, We have it, if we can find it. Forty years of merchandise is stacked to the ceiling. I went inside and sought out Mr. Roberts; he was sittin’ in the back of the store, puffin’ on one of those rum-soaked Wolf Brothers Crooks cigars, his ashes dribblin’ on the floor.

“I’d like to buy a nativity set.”

“Well I know we have one if we can just find it,” he said.

He began to look by the hair nets and bobby pins, not there; by the garden hoses, not there; by the yard goods and notions, not there either. He looked over near the lawn chairs, then underneath the candy display, which is where he found it. He blew the dust off the box, opened it up and began to take a roll call. One manger, one kneeling mother, one proud father, three wise men, one sheep, one cow, one donkey, and oh yea, one baby Jesus.

“Everyone present and accounted for; that’ll be 12 bucks,” he said.

“How ‘bout 10?” I countered, “The box is torn and the cow is missing an ear.”

Wilson Roberts squinted, shifted his cigar from one side of his mouth to the other, and finally said, “Deal.”

The day I bought the nativity set was the last day I saw Wilson Roberts alive. He died the next year; we drive past his old store on the way to Thanksgiving dinner at Ruby’s. The variety store is closed now. When he died; it died. Every now and then I think back on Wilson Roberts searching here and there amidst hair nets and bobby pins and garden hoses and yard goods for the baby Jesus. Sometimes our search for the Divine, our longing for the true meaning of Christmas has us poking around into all kinds of corners. 1

John writes, “He (Jesus) came unto His own, and His own received Him not”

because even though they were wishing and hoping and begging for an encounter with the Divine, they were looking in all the wrong places. John tells us that when John the Baptist tried to point them in the right direction they weren’t buying what he was selling: a carpenter’s son? from Galilee? who preaches peace and love?

John writes, “He (Jesus) came unto His own, and His own received Him not,” because even though they were wishing and hoping and begging for an encounter with the Divine, they were looking in all the wrong places. They were desperately looking for a Jewish Messiah who would come among them as a Warrior Priest who would lead Jewish revolutionaries in an overthrow of the Roman government. When instead, He died on a Roman cross His own people rejected the entire idea of a suffering Messiah, despite the fact that’s how the scriptures pictured Him. And consequently, they missed out on their one real chance to hook up with God.

They, like Wilson Roberts, were looking in all the wrong places.

In some circles, the same dynamic exists 2000 years later. + Read More

Fear Not

Isaiah 6:1-5
Luke 1:5-13

Most of us have heard of Claustrophobia, but when was the last time you heard someone refer to ‘Xenophobia’? Xenophobia is the ‘fear of strangers or foreigners’ or ‘of anything strange or foreign.’

Like an awe-inspiring angel of the Lord suddenly and without warning appearing where and when least expected? Zechariah, Mary, the shepherds; they all experienced an ‘appearing’ and those appearings caused a xenophobic reaction in all of them as it would you and me.

A couple of weeks ago when we were studying Isaiah, I challenged my Disciple students by saying something like, ‘if you unequivocally and without a shadow of a doubt knew that God Almighty was sitting on His throne in that room behind you how many of you would jump up and vault right in there?’ On the other hand, if I were to charge each of you $5 for the chance to look through a little peephole in that wall back there to see God Almighty seated on His throne without Him knowing you were looking there would be a line down this aisle and clear out the door and I would be flush with cash.

My mother loves to tell the story of how she took me and my two brothers to see Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho when we were only 6, 7 and 8 years old. How, when it came to the scene when Anthony Perkins wielded that butcher knife, my mom noticed that all three of us had thrown our coats over our heads and that all three of us were also peeking out at the big screen.

In a similar way, there is something about the supernatural, the otherness of God, that both attracts human beings and repels us at the same time. We are mysteriously drawn to it and yet the closer we get the more we want to run away.

Is it possible that God is the ultimate object of our xenophobia?

That He is the ultimate foreigner; the mysterious stranger who threatens our security? That He is too awesome, too holy, too other-worldly for us? That in His presence we quake and tremble? That meeting Him personally may be our greatest trauma? That the real reason we fear death is because it implies meeting our Maker? + Read More

Come Lord Jesus!

Matthew 24:1-44
I Thessalonians 4:13-18

Destiny came down to an island, centuries ago, summoned three of the inhabitants and asked, “What would you do if I told you that tomorrow your island will be completely inundated by an immense tidal wave?”
The first man, who was a cynic, said, “Why, I would eat, drink, be merry all night long!”
The second man, a mystic, said, “I would go to the sacred grove with my loved ones and make sacrifices to the gods and pray without ceasing.”
And the third man, who loved reason, thought for a while, and finally said, “I would assemble our wisest men and begin to study how to live underwater.”

What would you do if I told you that tomorrow we would experience the most cataclysmic event in world history? An event more dramatic than when the heavens opened and for forty straight days a deluge fell upon the earth almost wiping out the entire species of Homo-sapiens.

What would you do, if you knew without doubt that Jesus was going to return tomorrow?
Not as a helpless baby who after His birth was seen by only a select few. But as the Son of Man preceded by trumpet sounds and coming on the clouds with power and great glory, in such a way that all people everywhere would see Him at once?

What would you do today if you knew tomorrow Jesus would return, as He promised He would, to initiate that mysterious sequence of events associated with the end of time as we know it?

Would you like the man of reason, begin to figure a way to live with the negative consequences of such an event? Or would you be the mystic sacrificing and praying as you waited? Or would you just carry on, life as usual, like Noah’s neighbors, who were warned that a little rain was going to fall, but who were content for years to eat, drink, and be merry?

For to be sure, a few days before Jesus suffered and died on the cross He spoke to His followers about the things that would come in the “last days” and delivered a similarly clear message: “I am coming again, at a time you cannot know and will least expect; so I advise you . . . if you are not ready . . . get ready!”

I want to discuss just two aspects of the second coming of Christ. + Read More

Thanks Be to God

II Corinthians 9:6-15

Every night about 9:30 pm, unemployed, homeless and hungry men gather under the elevated train in Queens, NY; where relief comes in the form of Jorge Munoz’s white pickup truck, filled with hot food, coffee, and hot chocolate. The men eagerly accept containers of chicken and rice from Munoz. For many, this is their only hot meal of the day. One of the regulars says, “I thank God for touching that man’s heart.”

Munoz began his meal program, now his nonprofit, in the summer of 2004 when he and his mother began preparing 20 home-cooked meals daily. Numbers gradually increased over the years to 35, 60 and now about 140. Munoz estimates he has served more than 70,000 free meals since 2004. Sustaining this endeavor consumes most of his life. He and his family are funding the operation through their savings and his weekly $700 paycheck.

Asked why he spends so much time to help people he doesn’t know, he answers, “I am grateful for a stable job, my mom, my family, a house; everything I want I have. And these guys don’t, so I just think, ‘OK, I have the food.’ At least for today, they’re going to have a meal to eat.” 1

Jorge Munoz illustrates what Paul is talking about in II Corinthians, where in five verses he uses the words ‘thanks’ and ‘generosity’ three times each. In other words, ‘gratitude’ (thanksgiving) and ‘generosity’ are kissing cousins. It is because Munoz is content and thankful for what he already has that he is able to act out of that gratitude and freely express generosity.

Gratitude; being thankful for the many blessings we have leads to generosity, which then leads to expressing thanksgiving. So really thanksgiving and generosity are more than kissing cousins, they’re cyclical in nature; gratitude leads to generosity which leads to gratitude. + Read More

Cheerful Giving

Luke 21:1-4
II Corinthians 8:1-5, 9, 9:6-7

So, “God loves a cheerful giver” does He? Really, a cheerful giver? Isn’t that an oxymoron? Like awfully good, diet ice cream, fine mess, jumbo shrimp, Microsoft works, pretty ugly, small crowd; cheerful giver? At first glance, we’re only cheerful about giving when we fork over our hard-earned dough on ourselves.

On Sunday morning a father gave his son a couple of quarters and a dollar. “Put the dollar in the offering, and you can have the 50 cents for ice cream.” When the boy came home, he still had the dollar. “Why didn’t you put the dollar in the offering? his father asked. “Well, the preacher said that God loves a cheerful giver. I gave the 50 cents a whole lot more cheerfully than I could the dollar.”

On the other hand, author, philosopher, historian Thomas Carlyle tells how, when he was a boy, a beggar came to the door. His parents were out and he was alone in the house. On a boyish impulse, he broke into his own savings bank and gave the beggar all that was in it. And he tells us that never before or since did he know such sheer happiness as came to him in that moment.

Is it possible to give cheerfully? I think so. And I’ll tell you how it’s possible. + Read More

A Change of Heart

Luke 19:1-10
I Timothy 6:6-19

After worship one Sunday a little boy told the pastor, “When I grow up, I’m going to give you some money.”

“Well, thank you,” the pastor replied, “but why?”

“Because my dad says you’re one of the poorest preachers we’ve ever had.”

This morning I am preaching my 820th sermon since I have been the Pastor of CrossPointe Community Church. Of those 820 messages, a scant 28 have addressed the subject of how our wealth and possession affect our walk with Christ. That’s 1 and ¾’s of a sermon per year on this important to Jesus subject.

How do we know it was important to Jesus? Because one-third of all the parables He taught have to do with the wise use of money and possessions. Because someone took the time to discover that 1 out of 6 verses spoken by Jesus directly bears on how His followers would handle money. By that reckoning, should have given 140 by now. So that means I owe you 111 or a little over two year’s worth to catch up.

Why is this so? I’ll give you two or three reasons next Sunday. But for today let me say that in CrossPointe’s history, there haven’t been too many times when we as a church needed to address this for practical reasons.

But now we need to.

Last Sunday after worship Annie Dean presented CrossPointe’s Investment Plan for 2018.

The figure of $133,326.69 represents the amount of money we will need to raise to meet our ministry goals for 2018. It covers things like staff salaries, utility needs and other operating expenses and ministry and outreach goals. When you divide the total by 52 Sundays in a year we need to average $2564 per week. So far this year our average is 2395 per week. So in order for us to meet our ministry goals, we will need to raise an average of $169 more per Sunday.

But I’m not worried . . . for there is good news here. We have a lot of people who wholeheartedly believe in and therefore support this church. We have people in this church who have already wholeheartedly embraced the Biblical principles of faithful stewardship. And I am confident that we are ready to hear and respond to the word of God. + Read More

Camel Knees

Luke 18:18-30

“It is harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.”

If we had been within earshot of Jesus, we would have understood what He meant about a camel passing through the eye of a needle. Incorporated into the main gates to ancient cities there often stood a smaller gate, known as a needle’s eye, that was used mainly by pedestrians. The main gate was almost always closed at sunset and on the Sabbath for security purposes and to keep camels and their camel jockeys and their wares from entering the city. But people could still pass through if need be.

Now once in a while, there was an insistent camel owner, who for whatever reason wanted to get inside the city walls even though the main gate had already been closed. Was that possible?

Notice Jesus didn’t say it was impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle He said it was very difficult. In his commentary, Ivor Powell suggests it was difficult because it required three things:

The animal had to be small; the load had to be taken from its back, and the camel, somehow, had to go forward on its knees. It could be done, but it was difficult. 1

Because we who live in America are rich, it would do us well to consider the same three requirements for it is still harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.

First, that person must be on the small size, not physically, but attitude-wise.

For Jesus is more interested in the rich man’s attitude toward his wealth than anything else. + Read More

Little Is Much

Luke 13:18-19

A mustard seed is one of the tiniest of seeds. It is only slightly larger than a grain of sand.
But a mustard seed contains something a grain of sand does not: Life. It grows into a beautiful mustard plant. Mustard plants can grow to be over eight feet tall.

Jesus challenges us to understand that like that living seed, His Kingdom is alive and although often starts small, it grows very large as well.

In 1924, Kitty Suffield wrote a song titled Little Is Much When God Is In It. Kitty was the pianist at a small church in Ottawa, Canada. The pastor had a teenage son who had a great singing voice but he was shy and lacking in confidence; besides what good would come from one boy singing a song. But Kitty encouraged him to offer his gift to the Lord. That boy’s name was George Beverly Shea, who grew up to sing to millions at the Billy Graham Crusades. Little is much when God is in it.

In the scriptures little becomes much when God is in it.

God tells Gideon he has too many warriors to do battle against the Midianite army
after winnowing them down from 32,000 to 300, God gives the victory. Little is much when God is in it.

I Kings 17 tell the story of a widow who because of a severe drought is down to her last bit of flour and oil. Elijah asks her to use the little she has left to prepare him a meal. And when she does, God provides her sustenance until the drought ends. Little is much when God is in it.

A little boy offers Jesus five loaves and two fish which in the hands of Jesus end up feeding over 5,000. Little is much when God is in it. + Read More

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