Surely the Presence

Matthew 18:20
I Corinthians 10:16-17

I had been teaching my three-year-old daughter, Caitlin, the Lord’s Prayer for several evenings at bedtime. She would repeat after me the lines from the prayer. Finally, she decided to go solo. I listened with pride as she carefully enunciated each word, right up to the end of the prayer: “Lead us not into temptation,” she prayed, “but deliver us from E-mail.”

Seriously though, as helpful as e-mail can be, it one medium that is to blame (if I can use that word) for the increasing isolation psychologists are seeing across the board. Yes, many experts are noting in various studies the trend of people moving away from face to face communication with even our friends preferring more and more instead to relate to them electronically. And this trend is rapidly growing through the ever increasing use of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and texting.

Similarly, psychologists say that as the number of people who participate in worldwide online, virtual reality video games, there is mounting concern that many are squandering their real lives by obsessing over their imaginary ones. According to a survey of 30,000 gamers conducted by Stanford University nearly 40% of men and 53 % of women who play online games rated their virtual friends as better than their real-life friends. 1

A study conducted by the National Opinion Research Center revealed that Americans have fewer people they confide in than past generations. In 1985, the average American had three people in whom to confide matters that were important to them. In 2004, that number dropped to two. Perhaps even more striking, the number of Americans with no close friends rose from 10 percent in 1985 to 24.6 percent in 2004. 2

It all adds up to people spending less and less time in the company of fellow human beings.

Psychologists have even come up with an acronym for the phenomenon; PSI is Perceived Social Isolation. From an online article I read this morning about the relationship of PSI to health:

There are clear linkages between PSI and the cardiovascular system, neuroendocrine system, and cognitive functioning. PSI also leads to depression, cognitive decline, and sleep problems. 3

It’s even happening in the church where more and more Christians are preferring to remain isolated by watching church on television or online.

From my perspective, that’s tragic and that’s an opportunity for the church. + Read More

Forgive and Forget?

Matthew 18:21-35

Mother Teresa once said, “If we really want to love, we must learn how to forgive.”

Bill Moyers said, “In marriage every day you love and every day you forgive. It’s an ongoing sacrament, love and forgiveness.”

Oscar Wilde said, “Always forgive your enemies, nothing annoys them so much.”

Nelson Mandela said, “Resentment is like drinking poison hoping it will kill your enemies.”

Comedian Buddy Hackett said it best: “I’ve had a few arguments with people, but I never carry a grudge. You know why? Because while you’re carrying a grudge, they’re out dancing.”

Life is way too short to be stuck in un-forgiveness. That’s why we can’t listen to enough messages about forgiveness. And more important than listening to messages about forgiveness is actually forgiving the person or persons who have wronged us. I remind you James 1:22 says, “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.”

As we take a look in the rearview mirror of this series we see that forgiveness:

  • Is hard; remember C. S. Lewis said, “Forgiveness is a beautiful word until you have someone to forgive.” It’s not natural for us to forgive because our sinful nature gets in the way. Our pride would have us retaliate or at minimum hold on to the desire to pay back the person who did us wrong. Our sinful nature longs for the day we see the other person suffer and even anticipates saying, “Now you’re getting what you deserve.”
  • Is unconditional; that is, it is not Biblical to withhold forgiveness until and unless the person who wronged us shows remorse and asks to be forgiven. We are to forgive regardless of how the other person feels or what they do.
  • Is sometimes confused with two myths that tend to keep us from forgiving. First, the misconception that forgiveness calls for rebuilding a relationship with the person forgiven. And secondly, the incorrect notion that Forgiveness requires us to do what we can to relieve the person we have forgiven from suffering negative consequences from their actions.
  • Is releasing the person who wronged us from the obligation to repay us what we think they owe us. In today’s parable, the King had a legal right to be repaid, the slave had an obligation to pay the debt. However, the King voluntarily released the slave from the obligation.
    That story illustrates the essence of forgiveness: We acknowledge a wrong has occurred we are not going to be able to overlook. The wrong has created an obligation for repayment. So we choose to release our offender from having to repay the wrong.

Today, I want us to consider the relationship between forgiving and forgetting.

Marlena Dietrich said, “Once a woman has forgiven her man, she must not reheat his sins for breakfast.” + Read More

Dispelling Forgiveness Myths

Matthew 18:21-22
Romans 12:9-21

Although we have taken a couple of breaks, for the past 6 weeks, we have been considering the grace of forgiveness. I believe that forgiveness is the most important subject in the Bible. To be sure, God’s forgiveness of us is the big picture of the entire Bible. And once we are forgiven we know that we are to extend the grace of forgiveness to those who have wronged us. The two sides of the coin of forgiveness are declared by Paul to the Ephesians, “Be ye kind, tenderhearted, forgiving one another just as God in Christ has forgiven you” (4:32).

Dr. E. Stanley Jones, wrote: “A rattlesnake, if cornered, will sometimes become so angry it will bite itself. That is exactly what the harboring of hate and resentment against others is: a biting of oneself.” 1

And so, we have seen in this series that forgiveness is in our self-interest, that forgiveness sets us free from the bitterness that we harbor in our hearts.

And yet we have also noted that forgiving someone who has wronged us can be very difficult.

Today, I hope to make it easier by doing a little myth-busting. I want to expose two myths that have the power to keep us from forgiving others and therefore they have the power of keeping us in chains.

Sven and Hilda, a Scandinavian Christian couple, sang in the choir, attended Sunday School every Sunday, prayed at every meal, attended every church function. But alas, they could just not get along. At home, it was terrible: bickering, complaining, fussing and fighting. After both of them had devotions one morning, separately, of course, Hilda said to Sven, “You know, Sven, I have been tinking. I got de answer to dis hopeless problem we’re livin wit. I tink ve should pray for de good Lord to take vun of us home to be wit Him. And then, Sven, I will go live wit my sister.”

Marla had a falling out with her father because he did not approve of the man she began to date. Each time they tried to talk about it, they ended up in a screaming match until finally, they stopped talking altogether. When Marla married Steve, things between her and her father only became worse. They wouldn’t even get together to celebrate holidays.

After her father unexpectedly died of a heart attack, Marla learned that in his will he had left all of his money and the house to her brother. When she approached her brother to ask if she could at least have the bedroom furniture that had been hers, he refused to even let her in the house. At first, Marla was hurt, but it wasn’t long until the hurt turned to anger. How could her brother be so cruel when he knew how painful this whole experience had been for her? She thought about confronting her brother and giving him a piece of her mind but decided she didn’t want to risk being ostracized further.

Marla was a Christian. She knew that Jesus commanded her to forgive her brother but there was a stumbling block in her way: she had bought into the myth that forgiving her brother also implied that she also needed to rebuild her relationship with him. And since she wasn’t ready for that, she felt she couldn’t forgive him.

It is very possible that you and I have bought into that same myth. + Read More

Mom’s Highest Calling

Acts 16:1-5
II Timothy 1:1-10

On a hot summer day, two Jehovah Witnesses stopped their car in front of a farmhouse in Montgomery County Alabama and started up the path through a gauntlet of screaming children and barking dogs. When they knocked on the screen door, the woman of the house who was on her hands and knees scrubbing the kitchen floor stood up, brushed back her hair, wiped perspiration from her brow, and asked them what they wanted. “We would like to tell you how to obtain eternal life,” one student answered.
The tired mother hesitated for just a moment and then replied, “Thank you, but I don’t believe I could stand it.”

Being a mother is not a walk in the park. Would you believe that by the time a child reaches the age of 18, the average mom has had to handle 18,000 hours of child-generated work? If you do the math, that’s 2 hr. 42 min a day.

Now don’t go to thinking that I am here to give you any tips on how to cut down on those 18,000 hours. In fact, it could turn out that I might possibly add to your burden.

Because I want to talk from a Biblical perspective about mom’s highest calling. For that Biblical perspective let’s first turn to the 16th chapter of the Book of Acts where we are introduced to a guy named Timothy.

Now to be clear, what we are about to read occurred on Paul’s second missionary journey. Four or five years previous, Paul was also in Timothy’s hometown. As usual, he went first to the synagogue and preached the gospel. Timothy’s mother, Eunice, and grandmother, Lois, were part of that synagogue. And when they heard Paul explain that Jesus was indeed the promised Jewish Messiah, they believed and became Christians. And they took on the responsibility to pass the torch of faith in Christ to young Timothy. With that in mind, let’s read from Acts 16:

Paul went first to Derbe and then to Lystra, where there was a young disciple named Timothy. His mother was a Jewish believer, but his father was a Greek. Timothy was well thought of by the believers in Lystra and Iconium, so Paul wanted him to join them on their journey. In deference to the Jews of the area, he arranged for Timothy to be circumcised before they left, for everyone knew that his father was a Greek. Then they went from town to town, instructing the believers to follow the decisions made by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in their faith and grew larger every day. (Acts 16:1-5).

Some 25 or 30 years later, Paul is in a Roman prison knowing full well his time on earth is short and so writes his most personal letter to Timothy, who is now pastor of the prestigious church at Ephesus:

This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus. I have been sent out to tell others about the life he has promised through faith in Christ Jesus. I am writing to Timothy, my dear son. May God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord give you grace, mercy, and peace. Timothy, I thank God for you—the God I serve with a clear conscience, just as my ancestors did. Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. I long to see you again, for I remember your tears as we parted. And I will be filled with joy when we are together again. I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you. This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord. And don’t be ashamed of me, either, even though I’m in prison for him. With the strength God gives you, be ready to suffer with me for the sake of the Good News. For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus. And now he has made all of this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus, our Savior. He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News. (Read II Timothy 1:1-10)

Don’t be mistaken; this message is not just for mothers. This counsel is for anyone in the sphere of influence of a child and that includes you, CrossPointe Community Church.

First, if we, like Lois and Eunice, are going to be successful in passing the torch of faith in Christ to our young people, we must make it a priority to do so. + Read More

Overcoming the Tough Forgive

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Luke 22:14-20

We’ve been talking about forgiving others. We’ve noted that although forgiving others can be very difficult with God’s help it is possible.

One of the things concerning forgiveness that we haven’t touched on yet, and it is one of the most difficult aspects of forgiveness, is forgiving ourselves.

I have a hunch – no not a hunch, I am certain there are many among us who have been living with guilt for the way we hurt others and/or in many cases the way we hurt ourselves by making poor choices that are not in keeping with God’s will for our lives.

And the irony is that many of us make matters worse by hanging on to the guilt of what we have done because we feel like by languishing in guilt, we are somehow making what we have done wrong, right. Yes, there are many Christians who can justify forgiving others, yet find no justification for forgiving themselves, believing instead that there is a price, some form of life-long penance that we must pay.

God does not wish for us to live like that. The first three fruits of the Holy Spirit are “love, joy and peace” (Galatians 5:22). Paul says in Romans 14:17 that Kingdom living is “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

Paying penance will not make anything right, but will only hurt us. Carrying a load of guilt around will not change the past, it will only cause us pain. + Read More

Forgiveness How To’s

Genesis 50:14-21
Ephesians 4:25-32

A little boy was sitting on a park bench in obvious pain. A man walking by asked him what was wrong. The young boy said, “I’m sitting on a bumblebee.”
The man urgently asked, “Then why don’t you get up?”
The boy replied, “Because I’m hurting him more than he hurt me!”

How many of us handle forgiveness like this little boy? For some reason, we prefer to endure pain and bitterness for the sadistic satisfaction of believing we are hurting our offender more than he is hurting us. It is only when we get off the bench of un-forgiveness that we can begin to heal from the sting of being wronged.

And the story of Joseph in Genesis can help us in this regard.

You recall that Joseph was Jacob’s favorite of twelve sons. One day Jacob sent Joseph to check on his brothers who were tending sheep. When Joseph found them, his brothers were not so thrilled to see their father’s favorite son because they were extremely jealous of him. They almost killed their brother but instead sold him into slavery to a caravan of traders heading to Egypt. Through a long series of amazing circumstances in Egypt, God elevated Joseph from slavery to become Pharaoh’s, right-hand man. Because a great famine struck the land of Canaan, Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to buy grain. And guess who was in charge of selling them the grain?

After all those years, Joseph finally had his brothers right where he wanted them; pay-back time, isn’t revenge sweet? Surely Joseph was savoring every moment. He has the power and surely he can’t wait to execute the judgment his brothers so rightfully deserve.

Just when we are ready to lick our lips with Joseph as he exacts revenge, the story takes an unexpected turn. Joseph, who has the power to bring the hammer down on those who terribly wronged him, chooses to forgive them.

How can we emulate Joseph? (I want to give credit to Robert Jeffress, Lewis Smedes and Dr. Frank Minnereth, all of whom prescribe the following three steps of forgiveness.) + Read More

To Forgive or Not

Luke 17:3-4
Colossians 3:12-17

A long time ago, in a land far, far away; two loving grandparents used to stop and pick up 3 brothers and 2 of their cousins on their way to Sunday School. On the way, my cousin Rick began to argue with my brother Tom about something. And as we were getting out of the car, Rick tried to shut the door on Tom. As we all came into the room, the argument was still in full force and teacher must have thought to herself, what a wonderful opportunity to teach the class about forgiveness. So she called those two whipper-snappers up to the front of the room and in fine detective fashion determined the cause of the squabble. Then she asked the all-important question: “Tommy, will you forgive Ricky?”
“Sure,” Tom replied, and then hauled off and slugged Rick in the stomach.
“Wait a minute,” she yelled, “I asked you to forgive him, not hit him.”
“I will forgive him,” Tom protested, “but I had to get even with him first.”

Even though his logic was a little askew, at least Tom was willing to forgive. That may be more than the typical Sunday School student or even many devout Christians are willing to do. George Barna’s latest poll indicates that 40% of Christians admit they are currently struggling with forgiving someone who has wronged them.

Take Jim Rogers of Seattle, Washington, for example; a devout Christian who claims to understand what the Bible says about this subject. “Christ taught us that it’s something we Christians should be willing to do,” he said, “if the person who did you wrong is asking you to forgive him, then it is our clear obligation to do so.” But he has trouble with offering carte blanche forgiveness when that other person refuses to repent and ask for forgiveness. We can sympathize with his feelings: In 2002, his daughter, Jill, was killed in an armed robbery. And his son, Keith was killed two years later by a drunk driver. Neither of the killers has repented of their actions, so Rogers feels no obligation to forgive. “Don’t come asking me to forgive the people who killed my kids.”

Should Jim Rogers forgive the men who killed his two children, even though they show no signs of remorse?

Should we withhold forgiveness until the party who wronged us shows some kind of repentance or remorse or at least asks to be forgiven? + Read More

Hope Resurrected

Luke 24:13-35
I Corinthians 15:1-7

Did you hear the story about a little boy who came home from school to find his pet German Shepard, Rex, with the neighbor’s dead pet rabbit in his mouth? Now, this German Shepard already had a bad rep in the neighborhood. So the ingenious young man, not wanting anything bad to happen to his dog, buried the rabbit in a nearby field. Then he went to the local Pet Store and purchased a similar looking rabbit and carefully placed it back in the neighbor’s rabbit cage. Later that evening as his family was eating dinner, there was a knock on the door. Guess what; it was the neighbor holding the alive and well rabbit exclaiming, “It’s a miracle! This rabbit died three days ago and we buried it the backyard!”

I have a better resurrection saga to tell than that: Luke 24:13-35.

First of all, this story reminds us of the hopelessness of life with Christ.

Verse 21 says, “We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel.”

Perhaps the saddest words in the Bible, “We had hoped.”

The crucifixion had completely dashed the hopes of these disciples. They had followed Christ because they honestly believed that He was who He claimed to be; the Son of God. Just a few days before, they had heard Him say to two broken-hearted sisters, “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me will not really die,” and to prove it they saw Him raise His friend Lazarus. But when they saw Him die, their hope for a Messiah died with Him.

Someone said, “Perhaps the saddest death of all is the death of hope.”

In a powerful article that appeared last August in Psychology Today, titled Dying of Despair, psychiatrist Aaron Kheriaty observes the startling rise in deaths from suicide and drug overdoses over the last ten years. He points to a number of long-term studies that have analyzed the difference between high-risk patients who survive and those who die by suicide. Here’s his conclusion of this research:

Over a ten-year span, it turns out that the one factor most strongly predictive of suicide is not how sick the person is, nor how many symptoms he exhibits, nor how much physical pain he is suffering, nor whether he is rich or poor. The most dangerous factor is a person’s sense of hopelessness. The man without hope is the likeliest candidate for suicide… We cannot live without hope.” 1

Later in the article, the author attributes the waning of hope in America to the decline in the practice of religion.

Our world is filled with so many who have no hope for a preferred future. They are represented by the average Joes who say something like, “I get up in the morning, stop for a donut on the way to work, and for a couple of beers after, then go home for dinner, play with the kids, watch a little TV, go to bed and start the whole thing over again the next day. Is this all there is?”

Perhaps the saddest death of all is the death of hope.

These two on the road to Emmaus had high hopes, but now the flame of hope was all but extinguished. + Read More

Forgiven Forgive

Matthew 18:21-35
Luke 23:32-38

Winston Churchill and Lady Astor were not great admirers of one another. She once remarked to Churchill at a party, “Sir, if I were your husband I would put poison in your tea.” To which he replied, “Madam, if you were my wife, I would drink it.” Publically humiliated for the last time, Lady Astor vowed she would never forgive.

The issue of forgiveness touches us almost every day because we are Christians. And because we are, we value the ideal of forgiveness. We believe in the value of living by the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” (Matthew 7:12). Because we would have others forgive us when we wrong them, we know we should extend the same courtesy to people who wrong us.

But as C. S. Lewis notes: “Forgiveness is a beautiful word, until you have someone to forgive.” 1

It’s not natural for us to forgive because our sinful nature rears its ugly head. Our pride would have us retaliate or at minimum hold on to the desire to pay back the person who did us wrong. Our sinful nature longs for the day to see the other person suffer and even anticipate saying, “You got what you deserve,” and “What goes around, comes around, pal.” Our self-centered sinful nature tempts us to make assumptions about the internal character of the person who wronged us: that person who hurt me is forgetful or careless or doesn’t appreciate me or they hurt me on purpose.

Forgiving someone who wronged us can often be most difficult, but the alternative can be unbearable.

Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt. That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart. (Matthew 18:34-35, NLT)

In commenting on these verses, pastor and author, Ray Stedman, writes:

This is a marvelously expressive phrase to describe what happens to us when we do not forgive another. It is an accurate description of gnawing resentment and bitterness, the awful gall of hate or envy. It is a terrible feeling. We cannot get away from it. We feel strongly this separation from another and every time we think of them we feel within the acid of resentment and hate eating away at our peace and calmness. This is the torturing that our Lord says will take place. 2

Because un-forgiveness is so detrimental to our well-being, we must learn to forgive. + Read More

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