Let it Go

Philippians 3:1-14
Have you ever found yourself wishing you had done things differently in the past? Ever been tempted to think if only I had done this or that my life would have turned out better?

My guess is all of us can sing right along with Frank Sinatra the first line of the second verse of his classic I Did It My Way: ‘Regrets, I’ve had a few.’ And all of us I am sure are envious of the next line: ‘But then again, too few to mention.’

Because the truth is that most of us have more than a few things we regret.

Bonnie Ware, a palliative care nurse, and author of The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, describes the following regrets as being in common among her patients:

“I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
“I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”
“I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”
“I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”
“I wish that I had let myself be happier.”

A regret is defined as when we feel sad, repentant, remorseful or disappointed because of something that we have done, or something we haven’t done or a loss or missed opportunity.

Regret interferes with our happiness because we can’t be happy and sad, repentant, remorseful or disappointed at the same time.

John Greenleaf Whittier expressed the concept of regret poetically:

“Of all sad words of tongue or pen,
the saddest are, ‘It might have been.’” 1

Do you think we are the only people of God who have regrets? + Read More

Waiting on the Lord

Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11, 26-31

I hope and pray that all of us have a wonderful, glorious, healthy, and prosperous and happy new year. But the truth is none of us knows what lies ahead.

For sure this year will bring the kind of bittersweet mixture Solomon wrote about in his oft-quoted passage in Ecclesiastes 3: (selected)

There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven:
A time to be born and a time to die; a time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance; a time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.

My goal as your pastor and friend is to spiritually prepare you for whatever your future may hold in 2018. I want to help you be enabled to face whatever is facing you with the steadfastness that comes from faith and assurance that comes from God.

To assist us in this regard I turn to the words of Isaiah the prophet, who ministered in the 6th century BC.

The Israelites started out the year 587 BC just like you and I do; with high hopes for a prosperous and happy new year. Little did they know that God would allow their land to be invaded by foreigners, that the city of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple would be destroyed, that many would be killed and that many more would be taken into captivity.

That event that we call ‘The Exile’ created a theological crisis. If God lived in the Temple, and the Temple was destroyed, what does that say about God? Where was God when the Babylonians attacked? More to the point, ‘Where is He now?’ these captives wanted to know.

The questions they were asking are sometimes our questions. And the questions boil down to one: “Can we trust that God is for us?” + Read More

CrossPointe 2018

Acts 6:1-7

I read Acts 6:1-7 on this first Sunday of the New Year because it emphasizes an important truth for our church to consider as we begin another year of ministry.

It didn’t take long for the mother church in Jerusalem to develop a problem. And the problem was that there were more things going on in the life of the church than the twelve could handle by themselves. Credit the twelve with addressing the problem by turning it into an opportunity.

We apostles should spend our time teaching the word of God, not running a food program. And so, brothers, select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will give them this responsibility. Then we apostles can spend our time in prayer and teaching the word” (Acts 6:2b-4).

And they chose the first ‘deacons; ’called that because a derivative of the Greek ‘diakonos’ appears three times in this passage. A ‘diakonos’ is one who ‘serves’ or ‘ministers.’

And that’s exactly what these men did, they took on the responsibility of serving; that is, ministering the program of food distribution, making sure that no one was left out. Now heading up the food program wasn’t necessarily a glamorous or glitzy job, but it was an important one. Important enough to have several individuals working together to pull it off.

The dynamic of deacons in Acts 6 is as relevant today as it was then. We are a busy church; one that is passionately interested in accomplishing our mission to minister to one another, as well as our community. And it is obviously apparent that Gail and I are incapable of carrying out all that we feel God is calling us to do. And therefore this passage serves as a timely reminder that all of us are called to, and given the privilege of being deacons that is servants of Christ who gladly give of our time and energy to accomplish CrossPointe’s mission and ministry. + Read More

The Forgotten Remembered

Luke 2:8-20
Galatians 4:4-7

It was Christmas Eve, and, as usual, George Mason was the last to leave the bank. He walked over to the massive safe, spun the dials, swung the heavy door open, stepped inside, turned around and looked up at the words written on a 3×5 note card taped above the door and George began to remember.

Exactly one year ago on the previous Christmas Eve, he had entered this same vault and then, behind his back, slowly, noiselessly the heavy door swung shut. Quickly he hurled himself at the unyielding door, but it was too late. He was trapped, and instinct told him it would remain locked until it was opened the next morning. Then reality set in. No one would come the next morning. It was Christmas.

He pounded uselessly on the door until he sank to his knees in exhaustion. More than 36 hours would pass before anyone came. Would the oxygen last? He felt his way around the floor and to his great relief found a small, circular opening and felt, faint but unmistakable, a current of fresh air.

Then he began to think. Surely he would not be trapped for the full 36 hours; somebody would miss him . . . but who? He was unmarried and lived alone. His maid didn’t really know him. He had been invited to spend Christmas Eve with his brother’s family, but children got on his nerves and the expected presents. So he had made-up an excuse. He intended to sit at home with a good cigar, listening to some new recordings he was giving himself. NOBODY WOULD COME AND LET HIM OUT . . . NOBODY, NOBODY.

On the morning after Christmas, the head clerk came into the office at the usual time, opened the safe, and then went on into his private office. No one saw George Mason stagger out and spend five minutes at the water cooler. No one paid any attention to him as he left and took a taxi home. There he shaved, changed his wrinkled clothes, ate breakfast and returned to his office, where his employees greeted him casually. That day he met several acquaintances, even talked to his own brother. Grimly, the truth closed in on George Mason. He had vanished from society over Christmas and no one had missed him at all. George was a forgotten man.

In this sense, George had something in common with the shepherds of Israel for shepherds were the forgotten people of their time. + Read More

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

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