Cross Creek Church Blog

Book of Daniel – Hope in a Hostile World – Sermon Series

Most of us in the West enjoy relative protection as we live out and express our faith. No doubt challenges are brewing and have come for many Christians. But even if we have not faced particular attacks or losses as a result of our commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we have certainly all encountered a culture that is sometimes at best ambivalent about Jesus and the things of His Kingdom. In case we think we can gird ourselves with the buckle of the Bible belt, we would have to have blinders on to not see the shifting winds even in the American Deep South.

If we know our Bible, we know that God can bring revival as He wills, so we should be cautious about doomsday scenarios, and if we know our history, we will also be cautious about envisioning an idealized past 50 or 200 years. Some things are worse now, but others probably better, as we live out the Gospel.

But whether we find our neighbor critical of a Biblical worldview, or work in corporate America where certain aspects of Biblical teaching are taboo, or serve in the military where expressions of personal faith have recently been curtailed, or attend a school where other students embrace an entirely different religious system, we know that as believers we are called to walk in faithfulness in a world that may not be cheering us on.

As we look at the book of Daniel over the next weeks, I’m excited that we can get back to an Old Testament book of Scripture, and also happy to return to more expository preaching from a narrative/wisdom/prophetic book. Topical series are needed as well, but it is good to get back to our bread and butter! Daniel was one of the Old Testament people of God, a Jew, who was hauled off from the wayward nation-state of Israel to a completely foreign environment. The Hebrew people of the time had wandered from faithfulness to God, but their society still remained generally God-directed and many were Biblically focused. In Babylon, things were quite different.

How did Daniel make his way?

What was God doing in the famous stories about the Fiery Furnace and the Lion’s Den and then Handwriting on the Wall?

What does it mean for us today?

In preparation, I would encourage each person in our church body to carve out some time to either listen to Daniel on your bible app while driving or working out, or better yet, to sit down and read it all (takes about 40 minutes). Hope to see you this Sunday morning as we kick things off.

How to Harness Our Struggles – Sermon Series Follow Up

Just over 8 weeks ago we began a journey through what the Bible teaches about not wasting our struggles. Another title for the series could have been “How to Harness Our Struggles.” If you missed the blog I wrote about my personal struggles and how I felt God was leading and preparing me to preach that series, you can find it here.

If you missed a message or live out of town or just want to go back over where we have been, you can connect to the podcast here. I’ve also found the following two versions of the same song personally encouraging in times of struggle (introduced to me by Jeff Koonce)

This upcoming Sunday we will start a new series, but I know many have shared with me how “Don’t Waste Your Struggles” affected them. For further growth in these areas I recommend these resources. Several copies of each will be available on the welcome table at church this Sunday.

A Bruised Reed – a classic on struggle from a Puritan writer that is very accessible

Kiss the Wave – written recently by a man who struggles with severe physical limitations and serves as a pastor in Dubai. Based on a quote by Spurgeon that in suffering we learn to “kiss the wave that crashes us against the Rock of Ages.”

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering – by Tim Keller…nuff said.

New 8 Week Sermon Series – Don’t Waste Your Struggle

As some may know, this has been a summer of struggle for me and our family. Even as I begin to write about the challenges we have faced, I’m immediately aware, perhaps in a special way as a pastor, of the acute and chronic burdens many in our church and community face. My heart goes out to those ones in a fresh way, as I seek to make my way through what the doctors tell me is largely resolved. But for me and for others who face struggles, short-term or chronic, the effects carry forward. Daily we all have opportunity for negative obsessing, or positive maturing in Christ.

I’m also cognizant in a new way of the variety of difficulties people face. Mine was one of physical health, but others deal with struggles in marriage, parenting, addictive patterns (themselves or with a loved one), financial, employment, divorce, church conflict, mental illness, miscarriage, past choices.

If you know our story of the last few months, you may want to just scroll down to the summary of the upcoming sermon series I’ll be sharing. If not, here goes:

In late April, I was awakened one morning around 4:30 am by some chest discomfort. I assumed it was some kind of heartburn, but since I felt a bit nauseous and my skin got clammy, I decided to call two M.D. friends. Both said essentially the same thing, that it was likely a gastro issue, but since I was now headed toward my mid-forties, if I wanted to get a cardio workup, it would not be a terrible idea. On May 9, I went in for that testing, expecting just to rule some things out and at least get a thorough checkup. Since I was hospitalized in 2014 with a pulmonary embolism which I got by failing to move around enough on a flight back from a Peru Mission trip, I have learned to at least be a bit more aware of my health!

On May 10, I got a call first thing in the morning from my cardiologist, who also happens to be a friend and church member, and to my surprise, and perhaps his as well, the results showed potential blockage in a coronary artery. He encouraged me that it might be a false positive, but when he said I should get in for an arteriogram to confirm, and if necessary get a stent, the next day, I understood clearly that it might be a significant concern. I had a busy day, so was not able to speak face to face with my wife, Patience, until that evening. That was a tough conversation, but just that morning, she had shared with me a passage from Psalm 16 that she had been meditating upon. It brought us comfort. “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure.” We would need it in the next 24 hours.

May 11, I went in for the procedure. It was sobering to be the only guy under 60 in the waiting room. Patience and I prayed several times, but as the kind nurses assured us, the docs do these procedures every day. I won’t go into great detail about what happened during my procedure, but I was awake for the entire time and recall it vividly. The doctor and support staff walked me through their video analysis, and all looked good…except indeed for notable blockage in the suspected artery. The doctor doing the procedure was finishing explaining to me that it was not quite severe enough to need a stent, and that they would treat with medicine. Then something happened. I let the medical folks know something felt very wrong. All the personnel rushed back into the room and assessed that ventricular tachycardia had been triggered, the spasming of the lower part of my heart, a life-threatening event. After several rounds of chest thumping and electrical defibrillating, I was quite honestly not sure if they were going to figure things out and whether the Lord might be taking me home much earlier than I certainly expected to go. At just about that same moment they resolved the issue, and not surprisingly, the doctor decided a stent might be worth doing after all. I have been told later that this happens one in so many thousand times during these procedures. I certainly did not expect it to happen to me.

After several days of recovery in the hospital, I was released, with a promising prognosis, and several new medicines I’ll be taking for life.

In my youth I was hit one time by a car while riding my dad’s ten-speed bike, but walked away without a scratch – my dad’s bike was not so lucky! When I was in college I was rescued from a rock face in North Carolina, while foolishly attempting to climb without the right gear. Nine years ago, Patience, me and Clement (in utero) were rear-ended doing 70 on the interstate while headed to the first step in our church planting journey, producing significant injuries for Patience. And I already mentioned the pulmonary embolism. But I have certainly never been more scared for my life than I was on May 11.

Our family and our church body, and friends have a been a great support as I have been working my way back to health, in the Lord’s strength. It has been 2 steps forward and one step back at a few points. But as you can image, God has been gracious to use this season to draw me closer to Him, and Patience as well, and to link us closer, as husband and wife. It is not easy to be the care receiver or the caregiver. Even when physical things seem fine, the mental impact takes its own time to heal.

One of the things that has helped me, and I hope will be a help to others, whatever type of struggle they may face, or have faced or will face, is looking to Scripture. In particular, a booklet that I uncovered through our Hoover library Hoopla app, “Don’t Waste Your Cancer” by John Piper, has helped me frame up what God is doing, and how I can align with it, even if I don’t do so as much as I would like.

I don’t know all that the Lord may want to do with this experience in my life, with this difficulty, suffering, struggle. But at least one way I am pursuing is to preach an 8-week series, based on some of Piper’s key points, with a modified title, “Don’t Waste Your Struggle.” We will start on Aug 12, at our 8:45 am worship service at a church building we currently share with another congregation at 560 Lake Crest Drive. I look forward to how God is going to meet me as I continue to process my struggles in light of His gracious Word, and I look for God to meet his people through these messages, for those who can be present, or who may listen later through our podcast.

If you want a glimpse of where we are headed, here is our series outline.

August 12 – Hope-Filled Groaning – Romans 8:18-25 – Carrying and delivering a baby is painful and difficult, but a mother endures it, and even welcomes it, because of the result. So too, may we view the struggles of this life, as opportunity for increased hope in the heavenly deliverance, which is to come, for all who are in Christ.

August 19 – God Ordained Gift – Job – This is a tough one. When we struggle, we feel cursed. Sometimes God is disciplining us but as a loving father. Whether that is the case in all instances or not, God invites us to see our difficulties as designed by a sovereign and good being.

August 26 – Comfort from Odds or God? – Psalm 20:7, 2 Corinthians 1:9 – Especially with physical illness but also with other struggles, we can incorrectly hope in our odds. Odds of getting another job soon, or our child relinquishing their problematic behavior, or of the stock market recovering. God desires for us to trust in Him, even as we may choose to remain aware of any helpful statistics.

September 2 – Researching Our Redeemer – Psalm 1 – We waste our struggles if we spend countless hours studying…books on divorce recovery, articles on church conflict dynamics, blogs about breaking from addiction – but do not direct equal attention to studying God.

September 9 –  Contemplating a Good Death – Psalm 90:12 – When we struggle, we do not always think of it as a reminder of our fallen world. But it is. We waste our difficulty if we resist thinking about the limitations of this life and learning to hope more in heaven. We are not called to seek escape through death, but we are invited to be those who are aware of life’s limitations and are preparing ourselves for heaven, as well as usefulness in this life.

September 16 – Deepening Human Relationships – Whether we are introverted or extroverted, one way we miss what God is doing in our seasons of difficulties, is if we move away from others rather than toward them. Numerous passages of Scripture invite us to be both givers and receivers of comfort from other people.

September 23 – Growing Godliness – Luke 9:25 – One thing struggles do, if you will excuse my innuendo, is to scare the sin out of us! Whether we have brought the challenges on ourselves or God has determined them for us, we are invited to seize the moment to grow in righteousness, and reject our sin.

September 30 – Glorify God in Our Struggle – Philippians 4:19 – Lastly, and maybe somewhat obvious, we are encouraged by the Lord to have our eyes on His glory in all things. If we can move away from “why is this happening to me?” we can begin to see “how is this a chance to magnify God?” Tough, but vital.

The Silent Man

[Written by Christine Cox]

As I set out our Nativity crèche, I recalled the time when my daughter as a toddler loved to play ‘house’ with our Nativity set. The figurines were so realistic, and, fragile. Only one guess what happened to one of the figurines – there he lay on the floor, shattered. The Nativity scene was so lost, looked so sad, without Joseph.

Joseph is the Silent Man, the stoic man; often under-rated, too often misunderstood, but the faithful guardian of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, protector of his family, and, like the rest of us, a sinner, in need of God’s grace for salvation.

Reflecting on a devotional reading originally from Rev. Gray Bean, PhD, we can learn and grow in virtues that Joseph, a man who spoke no words in Scripture, had exemplified.

Model of faith and compassion: In the angelic dream, Matthew 1, Joseph was troubled that his betrothed Mary was pregnant but being a ‘just man’ he desired to ‘send her away quietly’. However, “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” As Joseph immediately follows the command, we see his faith in God’s word and his obedience. We also see how he exemplified gentleness and compassion to Mary, to someone he thought, at first, had betrayed him.

Model of silence and adoration: Matthew 2 relates the visit of the Magi. Though not mentioned here in Scripture, but visible in all our Nativity scenes, we can imagine that Joseph was there in the background, diligently watchful, with awe and wonderment. “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15) Joseph would need this time of quietness, for the trials that were to come.

Model of strength and courage: Continuing in Matthew 2, Joseph is commanded by an angel to flee into Egypt for Herod was “about to search for the Child, to destroy Him.” In obedience, Joseph courageously leaves everything behind – everything! – his home, his livelihood, his friends and other relationships to move his family to a foreign land in order to protect them from the diabolical threat. How willing are we to leave everything behind for our Lord? “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

Model of fatherhood and daily work:  Though Scripture is somewhat silent on the life of Jesus as a child, we can glean from Scripture, that Joseph was indeed a godly family man with deep love for his Son.
As a godly man, he followed the Law of Moses bringing Jesus to the temple to present Him to the Lord at the time of His purification. As father and leader of his family, Joseph, provided for his family as a carpenter (Matthew 13, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” and taught his Son the trade of his livelihood. (Mark 6, “Isn’t this the carpenter?”).  His fatherhood and deep love is so visible when Joseph and Mary lost their Son in Jerusalem after the Feast of the Passover when in ‘great distress they went in search for Him.’ Through all this, Jesus, God and King, was submissive to His earthly parents (Luke 2). We too can find dignity in our work and daily tasks, to share our talents, to know and do His will in our lives – “be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” (Colossians 1:9-10)

And, yes, I still put out the old Nativity set – several of the animals are missing an ear, or a tail, one Magi clearly glued, but with a new and much bigger Joseph … a sweet reminder, a sweet memory.

 

Street-scape, Under Contruction

[Written by Christine Cox]

The ‘street-scape’ outside our office has changed. Where once I saw hills of Hoover, now houses to be homes. For years we saw the open field and wondered when the construction would commence. Plans were on the books, but nothing had been happening. Then one day I saw the ‘tools’ in place: trucks, pipes, and more trucks. It was interesting to observe this change –gradual but yet in another way, it was quick.

For days on end, trucks were going back and forth moving dirt which, from my perspective, I wondered why so long, how could the crew tolerate the monotony of back and forth – looked done to me; but, they saw something I didn’t. Then the precision of building! Everything was done so methodically – the measuring, the laying of a solid foundation, the hammering, the drilling, the brick-laying ‘dance’ – it seemed like a choreographed crew of four bricklayers. Almost in unison, a repetitive motion of scooping up and smoothing out cement on the wall and then with the other hand, laying a brick; a workflow supported by yet another man heaving piles of wet cement onto the bricklayers’ work platform.

Having never built anything, it is quite amazing to witness!

Actually, we all ‘build.’

Like the houses going up across the street, our ‘house’ needs a solid foundation.
Some of us may have been blessed with a foundation of a loving childhood home; others, experienced struggles, turmoil, and setbacks. Unlike the houses, we have an opportunity to correct a misaligned ‘plumb-line of life’ but only if we have Christ in our hearts and truly trust Him. For if our ‘house’ is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20) “we will not be shamed” and our ‘plumb line’ will be righted and healed. (1 Peter 2:6,24).

Just as the houses across the street go up brick by brick laid against the meticulous framework, with some bricks cast aside if defective, ‘our house’ is also laid brick by brick. Each of our life experiences is a brick, a building block. Some experiences cause us to grow like trees planted by streams of water, yielding much love, joy, peace (Ps 1; Galatians 5:22), in both times of happiness and in times of suffering. Yet, some experiences, we simply need to cast aside and remember that Jesus Christ heals all our wounds. (Isaiah 53)

This, however, requires work and cooperation. As I watch the construction crew, each had its particular role, cooperating with each other, not moving ahead or falling behind. We too need to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling…without grumbling” (Philippians 2:12)    In 1 Peter 2, Saint Peter gives the specifics of putting away all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, slander; abstain from passions of the flesh; keeping honorable conduct, living as servants of God.’ This can only be achieved if we cooperate with God’s fundamental plan for mankind – first, to love Him with all your heart, soul and mind and love others as yourself, so simply said by our Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 22:37-39).

I now look forward to the experience of meeting new neighbors across the street, inviting them to God’s house of worship, worshiping Him together every Sunday morning; encouraging them to grow in Truth of His Word, to live out the Gospel in our community and to serve Him by serving one another.

worship and the gospel

Worship and the Gospel Story

[Written by Jeff Koonce]

Do you ever think about why our worship service at Cross Creek is the way that it is? Why do we do the things we do, pray the things we pray, or sing the songs we sing?

Every week we tell the story of the gospel, the good news that Jesus Christ was sent to rescue God’s people from sin and death. It’s not enough for us to just tell this story once and move on. We need to hear the narrative of the gospel every single week. Why do we need to be reminded of this all the time? Martin Luther said, “Every sin since the beginning of the world has been unbelief and ignorance of Christ”.

Since it’s our nature to turn away from Christ and back toward ourselves, we forget the story of God’s creation, Adam’s Fall, the redemptive work of Christ and our hope for the restoration of all things by God almost as quickly as we hear it. Every week we tell the story of the gospel again with the goal that our worship service is habit-forming, aiming our hearts and minds toward the right end, Jesus Christ.

To this end, we weave a thread of gospel narrative through our liturgy, the form of our worship – the readings, songs, prayers and other elements –  retelling the gospel story through the theme of a service. In particular, we choose songs for their substance over their style, popularity, or personal preference. As a result, our singing in worship is not a diversion of beautiful sounds between moments of talking but continues the gospel story by engaging our hearts, our minds and even our bodies in worship.

And by hearts, I do mean emotions. I know we, as Presbyterians, sometimes scoff at that word, but emotions are not bad; they are part of our God-given make-up. In his book, The Worship Pastor, Zac Hicks states, “Emotionless worship is just as toxic to our faith as haphazardly emotional worship. We are gut- and heart-based creatures before we are head-based intellectuals.” Our emotions simply need to be directed in the right place at the right time.

In worship, we realign our love and emotions toward God. Historian and theologian Dr. Ashley Null says, “What the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.” Our hearts lead the way and it is through music that we can express a full range of true emotions: joy, grief, sorrow, relief, and thankfulness. The Christian life is not easy, but it is good. We should take our cues from the Psalms, which are full of varied emotions, and, with truth and confidence, worship our Lord with the full range of our hearts.

We start with our hearts and emotions, but we do not end there. Our minds and our intellects are engaged during worship as well. Through their the richness and depth, the hymn texts we sing articulate and teach the gospel from a different perspective. Words combined with music illuminate a new depth of meaning that words alone cannot do while singing focuses our attention and aids in remembering. How many times have you walked out of service whistling the sermon?

Singing also physically engages our bodies in worship. We come to know the story of the gospel, not only by having it articulated verbally and conceptually to us but by participating in it. So it is through song that we share in the life and activity of the church by coming together as one body to lift one voice in prayer and praise to God, our Creator, and Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Singing is praying, and congregational singing is corporate prayer. Augustine is credited with saying “Whoever sings prays twice.” When we don’t know what to pray, we let the words of the songs we sing guide us and teach us to pray.

Therefore, when words alone are not enough to express our awe and wonder over who God is and what he has done sing:

“The heavens declare Thy glory,
The firmament Thy power;
Day unto day the story
Repeats from hour to hour;
Night unto night replying,
Proclaims in every land,
O Lord, with voice undying,
The wonders of Thy hand.”
The Heavens Declare Thy Glory

or to express, grief and shame over our sins sing:

“From the depths of woe, I raise to Thee
The voice of lamentation;
Lord, turn a gracious ear to me
And hear my supplication;
If Thou iniquities dost mark,
Our secret sins and misdeeds dark,
O who shall stand before Thee?
O who shall stand before Thee?”
Psalm 130 (From the Depths of Woe)

or to express our joy and gratitude for our salvation through Jesus sing:

“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.”
Amazing Grace

or to express our longing and hope for God making all things new sing:

’Mid toil and tribulation, And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation Of peace forevermore;
Till, with the vision glorious, Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious Shall be the Church at rest.
The Church’s One Foundation

Sing, Cross Creek Church, and sing loudly!

“Oh, sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth!
Sing to the LORD, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.”
Psalm 96:1-2

The Journey

[Written by Liz Getz]

We have all heard the saying “it’s the journey, not the destination” and the older I have gotten the truer that has become.  Interestingly enough my life’s work is focused on the beginning and the end of that journey.  I love working with young children in our church nursery and seeing the inquisitive and growing minds as they see, do, feel and experience new things.  The simple joys of seeing children respond to you with smiles and laughs.  Although I will say the Halbrooks cuties are all pretty tough customers in the laugh department but don’t worry girls Miss Liz will eventually solve that mystery!  🙂

I spend the majority of my time around the seniors in the skilled nursing facility where I work as an HR Manager.  Even though they all seem very similar now we do try to remember they were once teachers, housewives, one was a court reporter, a dentist, career military men and even one that counted money in the cash room at Pizitz Department Store.  The one thing I have learned and see every single day is the amazing and truly unpredictable nature of the human mind.  I see these residents -many of whom have some degree of Alzheimer’s or dementia- having good days and bad days.  I see them in the course of a normal day go from being totally there to being confused and talking about people, places, and events that although real might have happened 50 years ago as if was today to back to being in the present.  They’ve told me they had just given birth to a baby girl…  to saying their parents are coming to pick them up to yelling out for a husband that has long since passed away.

You have to find humor where you can when dealing with this population because it can be hard to watch people at what is an end of life stage.  So it comical to see a 92-year-old woman sitting in a wheelchair talking about waiting to be picked up for school but worried about going because she did not have her books and did not do her lessons.  We smile at them and generally just play along as it is no longer recommended to try and bring them back to reality it can be jarring and is largely unsuccessful.  That is honestly what she thinks is happening right now.  There was a woman who told me every single day until she passed away that her husband had just died.  In her mind, she really could not get past that point and although it is not uncommon it is still incredibly sad.  We cannot decide for ourselves what events or memories our minds will be stuck on or where our mind will travel back to time after time.  I can think of plenty of things I hope I won’t be going back to again and again when I am in their shoes!

The lesson I hope to get out of this is that I want…I need… is to pay more attention to my journey.  I want to focus on the things that really matter in life.  I want the things that fill my heart and mind to not necessarily be the things that fill many of my hours like my career.  I do not want to be defined by what I do or what I am on paper.  I want to remind myself not to get too focused on any one bill to pay or deadline to meet as there will always be more where that came from.  The obligations will continue, the unexpected will happen, but I can choose how to respond in those times.  I will have to ‘adult’ on a regular basis – like it or not.   Yet the things I stress over today will usually not matter in even a month much less a year or 10 years.  I want to see the beauty in each day and never forget it is fleeting.  I want to laugh and make others laugh.  I want to feel great at the end of the day because of how I feel and made others feel and not what I have accomplished.  I want to love unapologetically both myself and others.  Above all, I want to focus on my relationship with Christ as that is the most important relationship we will ever have.

We can turn to scripture for some reminders:

“ So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”  (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

I hope we will all spend more time on our journey no matter if we are towards the beginning, the middle or the end.  Love more and fight less.  See flaws as beautiful not as failures.  Get up stronger whenever we fall.  Help someone around us even if they have not asked for it.  Give of our time not take time away from those we love.  Smile more and stress less.  This list of all the ways we can nurture ourselves and our journey is almost endless.  If we make our journey all it possibly can be then when we do get to that final destination of spending eternity in Heaven with our Lord and Savior it will be just that much sweeter!

Suburbia - Death By Suburb

Satisfying Our Souls In Suburbia

It was the middle of a winter night, perhaps 10 years ago. The dry air circulated by the furnace in our house left me parched. I rolled over in bed grabbing for my trusty bottled water on the night stand and clumsily removed the lid, taking a quick swallow. The immediate painful burning sensation in my mouth and throat made me choke and cough my way from grogginess, to fully awake. My first thought, “I’ve just poisoned myself!” While reaching for the lamp, I called out loudly to my bride.

There on the night stand was my bottle of water, and there in my hands was the similar shaped container of HYDROGEN PEROXIDE! Ah the burn! As a pastor, sometimes you take the call in the middle of the night, and sometimes you make the call in the middle of the night. My poor M.D. friends have received more than one. What a relief to find out, that although hydrogen peroxide will certainly clean you out, it won’t take you out.

Some things seem toxic, when in fact they are not.  Other things seem harmless and in fact can be toxic.

We recently launched a new Adult Sunday School semester with the same title as this blog post.  As I teach each week my plan is to draw from David Goetz’s book, “Death by Suburb.”  Whether someone lives in actual suburbia or is simply a member of lower-upper middle-class American society, the application points are powerful and relevant. Suburbia seems harmless but can be deadly for our souls, or at least highly detrimental to our spiritual growth.

It did not take us long in a class of 30 adults to come up with a list of things in our suburban society that doesn’t look all that bad on the surface, but in fact, threaten to strangle our pursuit of what Goetz calls the “thinker” spiritual life – a closer relationship with God.

Busyness, Comparison, Selfishness, Conformity, Materialism, and yes, even religious activity.

What is a person, sincerely wishing to know God and walk with God, to do? Head for the monastery? Find a quiet rural town? Sign up for the next Nasa launch to the moon? Goetz says, “No,” and I agree. He puts it this way, “Even in suburbia all moments are infused with the Sacred. God really is present where I live on Ranch Road. Reality is not flat, but thick, deep, full… You don’t have to hole up in a monastery to experience the fullness of God. Your cul-de-sac and subdivision are as good a place as any.”

The solution, he argues, is to partake of the spiritual antidotes which have stood the test of time and offer to offset the toxins we find unavoidable to imbibe.

If you can be with us for our series this semester, we will journey through the following, and if not, I highly recommend the book:

  • Feb 5 – Introduction to the “Thicker” life
  • Feb 12 – Toxin – I am in control – Antidote – Prayer
  • Feb 19 – Toxin – I am what I do or own – Antidote – Battle self
  • Feb 26 – Toxin – I want my neighbor’s life – Antidote – Friends with needy
  • Mar 5 – Toxin – I need to make a difference – Antidote – Actions, not results
  • Mar 12 – Toxin – My church is my problem – Antidote – Staying put
  • Mar 19 – Toxin – I need more time – Antidote – In love with a day

But I Live in Birmingham

[Written by Ben Halbrooks]

Missions Month at Cross Creek Church just came to a close this past Sunday – so now we can all finally stop living missionally and get back to our regular lives.

Just kidding.

Of course, there’s no separating God’s people from His mission, no matter what the time, no matter what the place, no matter who the person, no matter what the context. But you already knew that. And our theme verse for the month makes that message clear:

“Sing to the LORD, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples!” (Psalm 96:2-3)

But, you say – “Day to day?”… “Among the nations?”… “All the peoples?”…But I live in Birmingham, Alabama – the second most Bible-minded city in America! There are more churches here than Alexander Shunnarah billboards in the Southeast!

I hear you. I get it. I’ve thought the same. (And I’ve seen the billboards.)

But lest you think this pond’s been fished out, and our work here is done, or that maybe Jesus meant to say, “The harvest is few but the laborers are plentiful,”… let me show you something. In the last few weeks, I’ve been filming a series of street interviews a few blocks from Fixed Point Foundation’s downtown office just to get a sampling of answers to spiritual questions. I thought, It’s Birmingham. I know what I’m gonna get. Right?

Turns out I was dead wrong. Case in point: here’s ten random people answering the question, “What do you think happens after death?”

Wow. Such uncertainty! Why does it feel like many of these individuals have never deeply considered the question at all? And where is their hope? My heart aches for them. Friends, this is Birmingham, Alabama!

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.’” (Matthew 9:36-37)

No, Jesus didn’t get it wrong. There’s a lost world, a hurting world, a broken world – a mission field – in our own backyard. And you, me, the church – we are the few. I’ll close with a passage of scripture Pastor Chris spoke of this week. It’s fitting:

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” (Romans 10:14-15)