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.

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

2017 Church-wide Daily Spiritual Growth Plan – “Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds”

As the story goes, a disgruntled man wrote an editorial, published in the local newspaper, about his plans to quit participating in church.  He pronounced, “I’ve been going to church about 50 Sundays each year for decades and I don’t know if I can recall what the message was last week let alone 2 years ago.  I don’t think it is having any impact on my spiritual health so I’m finished!”  A few days later another fella wrote into the same paper and shared, “I’ve been eating the meals my wife has prepared for 365 days each year for decades, and I don’t know if I can recall what the meal was last week, let alone 2 years ago.  But I know I’d be dead if I did not eat!”  A humorous reminder of the nature of spiritual growth.

Like organic growth, spiritual growth is sometimes not all that visible.  My four boys are age 13 down to 8.  We have fed them similar types of meals for years and for the youngest physical growth is so gradual we can hardly see it.  But all of the sudden, my oldest is eating more of those same meals, and growing at a much more rapid rate.  In the same way, you and I cannot know when and how the Lord might produce significant periods of spiritual growth and when He might have us in a place of more gradual development, but if the nutrients of the Gospel message are not there, we will likely lack the raw spiritual materials for gradual growth, and certainly for substantial growth.

As we enter 2017 this certainly applies to Sunday morning worship services, Sunday school, and small groups.  However, one of the areas we want to invite our congregation to “put ourselves in the way of God’s grace” this year (to have a meal to enjoy throughout the week) is through daily devotional material.  We are happy for folks to use whatever sound method of spiritual development works for them to get into Scripture.  But frequently one of the reasons we do not get on a pathway spiritually individually, as a couple, or as a household, is because we do not know how to cook our spiritual meals very well.

A few years ago we participated collectively as a church body (at least 30 bought the book) in spiritual growth on the home-front, using Starr Meade’s book, Training Hearts, Teaching Minds.  In a similar manner, but for just 1 year duration, we are making her newer book, Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds, available for purchase on Sunday mornings.  The format is very user-friendly, with one spiritual growth question (catechism is the church word for that) from a carefully written document, The Heidelberg Catechism, which believers have found Biblically sound and beneficial for centuries.

To help fuse the life of our church body during the week with our worship services on Sunday, we will include the focal question for the week in our service every Sunday, and then the book walks through short readings, including Scripture, each day.  In past years, when we utilized the previous book at the Peters household, we just kept it right by the dinner table.  Like a lot of families with busy activity schedules, we only end up sitting down all together 3-4 evenings of the week.  So if we missed Monday, we just moved on to Tuesday.  If we missed a whole week, we just started with the current week.

Maybe as an individual, couple or household, you will be able to be a bit more organized with it, or maybe you have another plan already.  But if not, or if you just want to join the journey of our collective church family, I hope you will pick up a book this Sunday and dive in.  We will even provide a card to guide you if you get lost on what week we are on!  My sincere wish as your pastor is that this will bless your family, and especially for those with little ones, these time-tested questions and answers about the Lord will give them really healthy spiritual meals that they can build Gospel health from an early age, for lifelong spiritual vibrancy.

If you like Kindle and want to save a penny or know you will be out for a few weeks and want to order it directly, here is the link.

And to read an article from Christianity Today about the impact of this approach for churches, go here.

Burnt Orange Pine Trees – Harnessing the Means of Grace in the New Year

A serious drought struck our region of the country, beginning back in August and extending until just a few weeks ago.  I imagine a lot of spiritual lessons could be drawn from observing and considering the impact of no rain for weeks and weeks on end.  It certainly gets everyone’s attention when we realize that something essential for all life, that is usually available in plenteous supply, might actually run out – a reminder that God’s presence and His saving grace are blessings He chooses to give as a gift.  And the picture of how hardened the earth becomes when it has not been watered drives one to think on the hardness of our souls without spiritual moisture in the forms of Word, Sacrament, and Prayer.

But what struck me lately, in this Christmas Season, was the mix of burnt orange dead pine trees on the hillsides, intermingled with the usual vibrant green ones.  Like other parts of the country, Alabama’s leafy trees (my “forestry” major sister would not be excited with that terminology!) get brown and lose their leaves in the fall, even when moisture is overflowing.  But the pine trees in our region rarely shift colors from their steadfast green.  Since pine trees sprout up here like dandelions do in other regions, it is hard to avoid the sight of the burnt orange blighted scenery.

As I think about my spiritual life this last year, and look to the upcoming year, I am convicted about the message these scorched “never-greens” send about growth in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I cannot say that I have ever had a stellar year of spiritual vibrancy, and in some ways, this past year has probably been better than others.  Spiritual growth is not something we can put on a scale to weigh or time around a race track, so only God ultimately knows what is happening in each of our souls.  But this past year has certainly been a battle to maintain the means of grace:

  • to keep up with my good plan to read through the whole Bible for the first time in several years (my app tells me I’m at 38% and yes I started in January, not July! Ha)
  • to carve out regular focused time in prayer (I’m glad there is no app to tell how I’ve done with that!)
  • and to draw close to God in worship, including the sacraments God provides (as a pastor, my attendance record is usually pretty strong, but heart and body are not always in the same place).

What a joy, then, to realize that the security of my salvation is not dependent on my perfect follow-through on these, or any other good spiritual practices – that the tree of Jesus’ righteous life and sacrifice for me is the most remarkable green, and I have his vibrancy credited to me by faith.  And what a joy to realize that although sun-charred pine trees may not recover in the new year, God’s gracious empowering can renew me and anyone else who needs it.  And what a conviction, that God is always offering rain – word, prayer, sacraments – for His people, and we are foolish to extend our roots in the direction of the world’s dryness, when his streams of water abound.

Cross : Crown : Creed

As I launch this new blog, it won’t surprise those familiar with our church name or my sons’ names, that I picked some “C” words for the title. The letters are convenient and consistent (there I go again!), but the meaning is really what I have on my heart and mind.

Cross – The Apostle Paul, in the book I am currently preaching through, declares that Christ crucified, is central to the Christian faith (1 Cor. 2:2). One of my favorite passages, 2 Corinthians 5:21, states that God made Christ, who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. The Cross is where God the Son bears the punishment we all deserve and, more than that, gives us his good record of faithfulness, that we might be seen as righteous before a holy God. So the Cross is vital to understanding what God does for us.

But the Cross also describes how we live for God. Jesus called us to, take up our cross daily, and taught that whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for God (that is, entrusts it fully to Him), will save his life. The Cross is central to how we can pursue a transformed live as Christ-followers.

Crown – Jesus not only comes as Savior through the Cross, but wears a Crown as our Lord. Proverbs 3:5-6 has been dear to my heart since the King of Kings first laid ahold of my heart in salvation – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths”. When we realize our attempt to find our way in life on our own is futile, we will welcome the good commands of God, and his “easy” yoke as the best way for us, even if our soul defaults differently. So the Crown is vital to understanding what God does for us.

But the Crown also describes how we live for God. We have a new identity, we are crowned with a new status as Sons and Daughters of the King of Kings. For this reason, in his heavenly kingdom we will lay down those crowns at His feet, realizing that our high status is from Him, alone.

Creed – As we understand the Cross and the Crown, as they apply to Jesus and to us, we will grow in our belief. A creed is just an affirmation of faith. “I believe in Jesus” is a simple, but sound, creed. Some of our churches identify with certain historic statements of faith like the Apostles’ Creed or Nicene Creed. Other churches perhaps affirm Biblical truth but just never call it a creed. But God’s desire is that all of us be creedal in the way the late musician Rich Mullins expressed in one of his songs, “I believe, what I believe, is what makes me what I am. I did not make it, no it is making me.”

The truth about what Jesus has done, embraced through faith by followers of God, and lived out, is the Christian life. Cross. Crown. Creed.

Growing and Moving

Growing and Moving…Cross Creek Church recently celebrated all that God has done in and through our church family in the four years since we began.  Although the church exists wherever its members live and work and play, much of our meeting time has taken place at S. Shades Crest Elementary School.  As we have grown about fourfold since 2009, we are excited to move to a new Sunday meeting location at Deer Valley Elementary School.  God has opened the door for this move to a more visible location but has also given us a chance in the midst of our move, not only to look back but also to look forward to what He will do in the future.  We hope you will pray for us as we seek to glorify God by inviting all into God’s grace, and that you will join with us in whatever way God might be leading, to extend his Kingdom in our surrounding community and across the globe.