20 August 2016

In Memory of T. Hartley Hall

T. Hartley Hall was a memorable figure. He served as president of Union Union Presbyterian Seminary when I was an M.Div. student there in 1992-94. I have a few memories of him to share. He was a Southern gentlemen of the previous generation. He was a Presbyterian from a previous generation. He smoked cigarettes constantly (as did many of us in that time) and often expressed concerns about his tobacco company stocks.

T. Hartley Hall (he always used his full name) toured the Middle East with a group of us from the seminary. On the flight over from New York to Iman I couldn't sleep on the plane but he had no such trouble. He put on his eye shades, stretched out his hands behind his back and snored like a baby. He was a loud person even when he slept.

Every afternoon at 4 pm or so wherever we were, on a bus or on a plane he pulled out a small, expensive looking wooden case and put it on his lap and ritually opened it up. The case contained a fifth of high quality Single Malt Scotch with glass cups. If you were sitting next to him he invited you to partake. I did share the cup with him from time to time on that journey.

Another memory was when we were having a spirituality conference at the seminary. We had a guest speaker and were having dinner with the faculty and conference leaders. The conference leader asked us all to describe what we mean by "spirituality." I tried to say something profound as did everyone else. When it was T. Hartley Hall's turn to answer he cleared his throat and I rolled my eyes. I didn't expect much from him. He was not very "spiritual" in my eyes. He then went on to eloquently and briefly describe spirituality as stewardship by which he meant giving 10% of your income and above to support the work of Christ's church. That blew my mind. It was so basic. It took me many years to grow into his definition of spirituality. Come to find out, he was actually much more spiritual than me.

Rest in peace, T. Hartley Hall. I'm glad I got to know you in your prime. You were a mentor to me. I look forward to glad reunion in the life to come.

17 May 2016

Breaking the Sound Barrier: How the Holy Spirit Works

Look at the Second Chapter of Acts in the New Testament. 

What do you see?

You see one of the most dramatic stories in the Bible. 

It includes miracles of sight and hearing. 

Then it quotes an apocalyptic Old Testament text from Joel. 

Let's try to get at some of the wildness of the story today. 

I'm referring to what happened in Acts 2:1-21.

= = = + = = =

Do you remember how it felt when the Holy Spirit was pushing us into the Single Parent Family Ministry? That uneasy, queasy, scared, unsure, tentative type of feeling? I remember it. Finally you come to a point where you’ve either got to do it or no. You’ve either got to be courageous and go forward or you’ve got to just let it go and then count your losses.

That kind of feeling I had last night. I was at my son’s high school. They were having a performance in the theater department. Three hundred parents were there. We had a silent auction on the side trying to raise some money for a trip to Edinburgh. I felt like I should stand up and say that we have this booth over here if you’d like to donate. We had iPads on each table if you’d like to donate. We’re having a great year. We appreciate the director. Let’s give him some applause. We appreciate the principal of the school for supporting this program. Let’s give him applause. We appreciate the people that cooked all this food tonight. Let’s give them applause.” But I wasn’t sure.

Before all that, I was going to say, “I’m Jon Burnham. I’m the pastor of St. John’s Presbyterian Church. We’re having worship tomorrow if ya’ll want to come.” I was going to do that too. Well, I did not do it. I just did not do it. It was like there was a sound barrier around me and I could not break through it. Now would it have been the right thing for me to do or not? I don’t know. I don’t know that group well enough to know if that would’ve been appropriate. But had that kind of feeling. Wow, here’s an opportunity. I need to speak, I need to break the sound barrier, but I’m scared. I’m not sure, and so I didn’t.

That’s kind of how Jonah felt when God told him to go to Nineveh. It was a great city of the ancient world. God called Jonah to go and announce that God was going to judge the city. That’s not something you want to volunteer for or agree to when your life could be at stake. And Jonah didn't even like the people living in Ninevah.

It’s the same kind of feeling Moses had when he stood before the burning bush. God calls him and says, “I’m going to send you up to Israel."  Yes, I understand they’re slaves to the Egyptians right now. I know Pharaoh is the most powerful man on Earth. But you’re going to speak to him because I’m going to give you the power to do it.

And Moses stuttered like, “Ah ah ah ah ah I can’t even do this.”

And God said, “No, this is what you’re going to do. Moses felt uncomfortable. He trembled. There was a sound barrier full of fearful silence surrounding him. He finally broke it. He spoke out and God let the people of Israel out of Egypt into the promised land.

Or remember Jesus himself after his baptism in the river Jordan. Immediately after his baptism, the Spirit pushed him out into the wilderness. That word for "push" is "ball-o" in Greek and it's where we get the word baseball. The Spirit threw Jesus out in the wilderness. I imagine he was a little scared and uncomfortable. That wilderness in Israel  didn’t have any wild animals there at that time. This was a metaphorical image. Jesus was going to struggle with his mission. He was going to deal with what God was calling him to do. He knew what that was going to take. So yes, he had some fear and some uncomfortableness around that. 

It’s the kind of feeling that you get when I say this. “Hey, could you give me the email address of somebody that you know that we can put on our church newsletter list?” There are some heart palpitations around that. There’s a sound barrier around us. We're not comfortable speaking about our faith in Jesus.

“What are people going to think?” We wonder.You know the feeling. That’s the kind of feeling that the disciples were having on the day of the Pentecost. That's when the Spirit broke the sound barrier. They started hearing people speaking in all different languages. The people gathered from all over the world. They were at a festival. Everybody heard the gospel in their own language. Never mind the person speaking didn't know the language. The Spirit broke the sound barrier.

There’s a great story here about Chuck Yeager who broke the sound barrier in air flight. It happened on October 19, 1947 at Edwards Air Force Base. The problem happened in the airplane at that speed around seven hundred sixty five miles per hour. When you’re about to break the sound barrier, your plane starts vibrating and rattling. The assumption was if you went five, ten, fifteen miles per hour faster, your plane would explode. The test pilot would get right on the edge of that speed and breaking the sound barrier. The plane would start shaking and the pilot would reduce the speed because he did not want to die. But Chuck Yeager was one of those pilots and he decided he was going to do it. Thirteen hours before he got into that plane for that flight, he had an accident. He was riding a horse and into a stable when “WHAM,” he ran right into the gate, breaking two ribs. Thirteen hours before this flight. He decided, “I’m going to do it anyway.” Even through the pain.

When he got in the little tiny space for the cockpit, he couldn’t even close the door because he was in so much pain. It was like closing a bank vault. He had to take a broomstick. to shut the door from the inside. One of his engineers told him how he could finagle it to get the door to shut. 

So, he gets up in the big plane that took him way up high, and they dropped him out of his plane. It’s like dropping a bomb. That’s what that big plane does. It drops bombs. It dropped Yeager's plane from its bomb door way up high in the air. 

Yeager is flying the test plane now. He wants to break the sound barrier. So he takes off and circles back around, getting plenty of height in case something happens. So he’ll maybe have a chance to get out of it if an accident happens. He comes up to that speed nearly breaking the sound barrier. It was around seven hundred sixty five miles per hour when he starts shaking. But instead of backing off the speed, he hits the gas! And then,“BOOM!” people on the ground heard this sound. “BOOM!” they thought he was dead. They thought the plane exploded. What had happened is that he had broken the sound barrier. That explosive sound is what happens when you break the sound barrier. “BOOM!” is the sound. And what he found on the other side was quiet, and peaceful. The plane was not shaking any more. Everything is fine once you get through that sound barrier.

The secret was to speed up when everybody else slows down! Isn’t that crazy? That’s what the Holy Spirit did to the church on the day of Pentecost. The disciples are sitting around, they’re frozen in fear, they’re shaking, “Oh God, Jesus. They killed Jesus, they’re liable to come for us. We can’t leave this room. Somebody might see us. If they identify us as Christians, they may hang us up on a cross.” They’re in fear, trembling. You think it’s hard for you to get somebody to sign up for your church email list? If they spoke to someone about it, they thought they might die or get killed! And what does the Holy Spirit do? The Holy Spirit just jumps right over their head and starts speaking.  through all the people in the crowd. The church is trying to put on the breaks and the Spirit is trying to push the gas. That, my friends, is how the church was born. If the Spirit had not broken the sound barrier, I don’t think any of us would be sitting here today. So that is how the Spirit works.

What does that mean for us? I don’t know. You tell me. Think about it, pray about it. We Presbyterians excel in slowing down. It’s so easy to slow anything down in this church, or in any church. All you have to do is tell a committee and that’s good. We have a process and I understand that. I love the Presbyterian way of doing things. But sometimes to break through to the next level, you’ve got to speed up instead of slowing down. Especially when you start feeling anxiety and that turbulence and the fear. So let’s just pray on this day of Pentecost that God will give us the courage to do what needs to happen. Whatever that may be. I don’t know what that is, I’m just telling you what the Bible says. You all have got to figure it out. You’re all smarter than I am anyway, so I’m not worried about it. Let’s take a moment and reflect on what we’ve read and heard.

14 May 2016

Working Toward Spiritual Transformation through a Church Writing Ministry - My Interview with Kelly Boyer Sagert

 Purchase now on Amazon Kindle and I get 4% of the sale!

Writing is a spiritually transformative act.

How can Christians be more intentional about facilitating spiritual transformation through writing?

Here is the transcript of my interview with Kelly Boyer Sagert about her CHURCH WRITING MINISTRY. My comments are in bold text and her remarks are in normal text.

Note that Kelly has written a very helpful book on this topic. Her book is called Everything to God in Prayer: A Writer's Weekly Devotional . I highly recommend it.

So just remind me of your name and where you are and what church and tell me about your writing project that you are doing with the church. 

OK! Sure!  I am Kelly Boyer Sagert.  I am in Amherst, ...well the church is in Amherst, Ohio. It's Heritage Presbyterian Church.   I'm actually in Merino, OH which is adjacent.  We're about 30 miles west of  Cleveland  to kind of orient you to where we are.

Everything has evolved organically I guess.  I have been a professional writer now for 26 years.  And part of that is over time  people started asking me to speak at writers conferences.  I really enjoyed doing that.  A lot of public speaking and teaching were added to my repertoire. 

Maybe, I'm trying to think, maybe  about five years ago the Metro parks in our area are really strong and they asked me if I would put on a writers conference.  It was not specifically Christian.   And so I put on that writer's conference.  And then I became known as the person who knows about writer's conferences in this area.

  Numerous people would ask me where is the nearest Christian Writing conference.  I would say I have no idea.  I don't know of any around here.   And finally after being asked that for about two years it occurred to me that we should be doing one.  And so let's see.  We just had our fourth annual.  In 2012 I decided we ought to have one.  I had no money.  I had no nothing. It was just sort of an idea. 

So I went to our church and said if I could get speakers to speak for free or somehow figure out how to pay speakers would you be flexible on how we could host a conference here?  Our church was really in financial trouble there.  Trust me I'm going to do the best I can to make it reasonable for you as well and they said sure . That sounded good.

And then I went to my writer's group.  It was not technically a Christian Writer's group although it was run by a former Nun and  most people there were strongly Christian.  That might not be the technical whatever but in reality they were mostly faithful  Christians.  So I said to them if I get a free venue or one that is very reasonable in cost would you donate your time to speak at it?  And all kinds of people said absolutely and so ultimately we put together a writer's conference.  That was 2012 and we had maybe 50 people.  We broke even financially and didn't go into debt. It was really well received and so we decided well let's keep doing this.  We just had our fourth annual writer's conference in April.  In the past it's been one day but this year we added a social event the night before and then it one day so now it's a day and a quarter. 

And this upcoming year we are thinking about starting a Christian writer/speaker kind of event as well.   I have tentively booked a speaker.  I'm not sure how we are going to pay for it and all sorts of things .  It's definitely as we expand we are expanding our faith and so far so good. And so maybe a couple of times a year we are going to have a Christian author come and the reason we want to do that is to open it to the community to people who don't necessarily even consider themselves writers because right now the people we are getting are actively writing or want to be.  Then we could open it up further to others who don't necessary think of themselves as best selling writers but like to read .. and then in the middle of all  this actually during the first year we did this  I got seriously ill.  I had 9 colon surgeries in 14 months. four of them were great big ones (surgeries)  and then five of them smaller.  I was very ill for about two years. 


Yah, it was pretty wild.  During that time obviously I was doing a lot of reading because that is always my default position. If I can't be doing things I'm always reading.  I read a book that talked about a Ministry of Words .  I had never really thought about what I was doing as a ministry .  I thought that was a bit strange when it was a Christian writer's conference.  I hadn't thought about it that way.  And so I wrote and e-mailed the author and told her how her book had sort of flipped my brain...flipped a switch on in my brain  and she said I have a feeling you have a ministry of words too.  You just don't know what it is yet. So then from a practical standpoint and from what I learned there when I realized I was stable in my health I thought will I will start doing something every month smaller as a small group  ministry that from a practical stand sense would feed right into our writer's conference and from another just a ministry...that people could be ministered to in a small group way. So I talked to our church and we started doing monthly spiritual writing classes.  Tonight is the last one.  We are finishing year two.  And that is a little different in that the writer's conference there are some workshops where people are actually writing but there's a lot of educating.  Anywhere from How to get published? Editing.   How to create characters? How do you interview people?  How do you find sources?  There's a lot of practical aspects to the writer's conferences where the spiritual writing is strictly where you kind of delve inside yourself through writing exercises.  For example ...and I could send you something that would make this easier to understand.  I found scriptures in the Bible that related to  water and all the ways  it was used and then how the Bible uses rocks and color and all these different things.  I would sometimes  read a scripture at the beginning and give  people an exercise to start free writing  and then they would begin free writing on that subject.  And then we would go around the circle and if you want to share that would be great and if you don't just say pass  that would be ok.  We are not going to pressure you.   And then we talk about it.  We talk about the patterns we see and the insights we gain and that's free.

 I do ask people to bring canned food if they can as we live in a very poor city. There's a lot of hungry people. So certainly someone  can pay us by bring food to the food pantry and more power to them.   We certainly appreciate it. Other than that I pay for everything extra myself to make it happen.

So all this is going on and our church...was without a minister and I had pretty much had to learn to preach and other church leaders had to learn to preach .  It was a pretty wild time.  We were working with our Presbytery through it and it was several months ago that they sent out that they had some grant funding for ministries that didn't necessary involve a pastor.  They wanted to strengthen ministries that are done by lay people.  So I thought what the heck .  Most of the people on this list of who would decide who got the funding  were people I had worked with them when we didn't have a minister.  So they know me and know what I do .  And so I sent in that what I wanted to do was two,  no three fold.   One I wanted to create a workbook so that people who wanted to do this in their own churches could do it and that I also wanted to offer training so that people could sit and go through it and see what it was like and all sorts of things .  And three because we really live in  poor communities I wanted to get some scholarship funding because I know there are people who  want to go to a Christian writer's conference and even though it's $20 early -$25 later  and you can pay it later some people just don't have that money.  So I wrote a grant and I think it was in August I got money to do  that.  So now I'm in the middle of writing a training manual.  I am going to do three training sessions in the Cleveland area. The west side of it  and east side of it and Cleveland proper.   And we have enough funding I'm making 45 training manuals,  15 each.  And I'm buying props.  I made some Christian poetry magnets that we can use.  There's  all kinds of cool things we can do.  We are doing our training and then we are turning it into Kindle and any money we get off of Kindle will help continue to fund the Christian writing ministry that we have.  

So I'm in the middle of doing that.  I think that's the big picture of what I'm doing .   That gives you the broad idea of what I'm doing.  I can send you  the training manual with the understanding  it's not quite done.

Wow! That's great.  So it's kind of more from teaching a writers class in your church to teaching it in the city.  Has it become kind of a Presbytery thing?  Well I guess it has since they gave you the grant money.

Yes,  they have taken it on as a ministry they do  and they actually had me come in to do a leadership training for the Presbytery. One of the options people could take classes from me .  I taught three or four in the daytime.  did it three or four times . Different people from the leadership of other churches could come.  Yes, and that's what kind of sparks people's interest.  You can get this funding .  I can only go so many times.

 I did some outreach.  There's an Episcopal priest who came and helped our church with some leadership training when we didn't have any money . She asked me if I would bring this to her church and I personally went and did that .  I just saw her Saturday and she said we are ready for you to come back. So that may become a more regular thing.

Also there's a former pastor of mine now  works in Hospice and there was a man who was in homebound palliative care and he kept saying to the pastor "I just want to express my stories, I need to get this out before..." whatever so we went to his house and just took it on the road a few ways with Presbytery,  the other church and this Hospice thing and it was well received. That's starting to spread.

That's neat.  It's kind of one of the things I was thinking about too.  I love the story of the Hospice guy's story and I kind of got to thinking I wanted to help people to write their memoirs.  So have you had any success stories of someone who came and they went and wrote and  they followed through  and how did that make them feel?

Probably the biggest one ...and I didn't realize when she first came about two years ago.....Pretty much we put it on a sign and I told the people I knew whoever's coming are coming. It was usually four to ten people .  Now this is the monthly workshops I'm talking about . It's clearly a small group ministry and we usually get four to ten.  And someone who just happened to be going down the road and saw it came to the first one and someone gave her a ride after awhile because she told me she didn't have transportation and someone started picking her up .  Little by little I could tell she had some rough times in her life and not too long ago she said you know when I came the first time, she said I realized I needed to get sober or die and she said there are stories within me I have to tell that will hopefully  help other people.  She told me just last month you have completely transformed my life which was not me.


She said you never judged me.  You always made me feel important to the other people that were there.  And I said well you are.  That might have been a stretch there  but I would say she has said her life is different because she is expressing things she hasn't been able to do before.

That's cool.  And so you started this out and maybe it still is once a month just like a writer's training type  thing?

Well the yearly writer's conference is a writer's training . Where we teach you: Here's how you can improve your writing ,  Here's how you can edit,  Here's how you network and how you publish. The annual event is clearly a training event and networking too.  Whereas the monthly is more tapping into what God is trying to tell you what your ministry maybe should be .  Now one of the ways ...well when I send you the workbook you will see what I mean.. but when I was really sick and I realized I was getting better I signed up for this creative writer's class and they told me one of the first things they want you to do is write as if I was a very specific color in the first person. At the time I thought that was bizarre.  And so the first color that came to my mind was strawberry pink.  And so I wrote as strawberry pink and it told me all kinds of things that I hadn't realized that I was thinking about myself and my family. And so that is one I have used and over and over again people tell me that they get these insights .  Things they had never realized about themselves.  And other people will say well I knew that about you ..others outside the class .  It's more like a gateway to talking about faith and even discovering what it even is .  So it is different in that way.

Well that's great.  So you are kind of like using the writing as a spiritual director kind of sense.

Yes, a spiritual director.  So yes when I started I didn't realize that's what I was doing  but now that it has actually become a reality that really is what it is.

Well that's cool.  It is.  That's kind of like what I was thinking.  Here's what I was thinking and I really haven't done anything  but I'm really happy to hear about yours and I want to get everything you send me .  I don't know I just . . I can't even remember what got me turned on to this whole concept but I was thinking about helping people write their memoirs and helping them publish and I was thinking that would be a great thing to do when I retire.  I had read a great article about what to do when you retire.  Then I thought why wait until I retire and that got me to thinking about this .  Then I was reading and learning all about self publishing and then I got on the whole idea of getting my church to be a self publishing community let's say.  So we go around and find stories like I'm getting from you and we write them up in books,  something like Chicken Soup for the Soul

Yeah, I've written for that by the way.

Ok . So there you go.

So yes I know what you are talking about.

 So I'd like to get stories about the church.  Get some good news stories about the church since all we hear is about how it's falling apart...which it is, but there's always the other side.  And so I did find a woman in the church who does some transcribing for me.  Like this interview.   I will probably send this to her and see if she will transcribe it  and that's kind of as far as we got in developing this.  I kind of wanted to have a production machine or something from different people in the church and that really hasn't happened but have you ever thought of anything about like that?  What is your response to that idea?  Pros or cons?

You know I really like it .  Two things ..these aren't direct answers to you but I thought of it.   One of the things I did was ending up writing a book of devotional based on all this, on my experiences with the colon disease and writing with the church. I can send you one .  I should be able to send you one of my kindle versions.  EVERYTHING TO GOD IN PRAYER, a writer's weekly devotional.

Well I will buy it on Amazon.  Tell me your name again.  I'm so bad. 

No that's alright.  My name is Kelly Boyer Sagert.

OK right .  Here I go. I'm going to your Amazon page.  Oh my goodness you have 1970's, Joe Jackson,   that sound right?

That's me.

Extreme sports, Flappers...

Yep that's me too.

Oh that's cool .  I don't see that particular book.

It should be EVERYTHING TO GOD IN PRAYER.  It should be in there.

Well ok let me just site it .  Here it is. 

What I was thinking.  Everyone of them have writing prompts and so that might help you with some people. When you say write something a lot of times what stops people is they worry about what will they write about.  What will they say?  Every one of those has a brief devotional and then it says try writing about this.  So that might help people get started

Yeah, that's right. 

That could help and the other thing is there's another church and  I wrote to them once and they sort of did this on line.  I think it was a Baptist church.  It was about things ...basically the idea  was you would do an awful thing in your life and then you are willing to write about it and help other people. I had a colostomy for eight months and that was the worst thing that happened in my life.  So I wrote about how that was the worst  and wrote how it spiritually effected me and how I came out on the other side.  And so they did it all on line.  That's the only other church who are doing kind of, sort of what you are talking about. 

Ok,  well maybe you will remember then and you can tell me their name.

Yeah.  I will have to look in my emails. 

Well anything else on this on what you are doing  ....I'm going to turn the recording off and continue our conversation.  If you've got time.  Well I'm going to turn this off then.

= = = + = = = 

P.S. If you'd like to hear and discuss ideas that work in the church, join my Facebook Group called The Gospel According to Jon

09 May 2016

Four Ways NOT to turn 1.2 Billion Christians into One and One thing that will Never become Obsolete

I need a new smart phone.

I got the Nexus 6 some 18 months ago. I still owe $150 on it. The battery is weak. I need to replace the phone. Because I can just change the battery. The phone was made to become obsolete in a matter of months. Say a couple years after buying the device you need to buy a new one. That's the way it's designed. The Christian religion seems to me dated. Sometimes it feels like were trying to become obsolete. Phyllis tickle said every 500 years the church has a garage sale. Where having a garage sale now. My bad she means and I agree we are setting out over. Try to find new ways of being church and doing Christ mission in the world.

This also happens the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. We celebrate the man who started the Protestant Reformation in Germany. Start with the Lutheran Church. We like to celebrate all good things the Reformation brought about. Intended to be like. Howard took some the power away from the priesthood and get back to the people. I can go on list other ways the Protestant Reformation was a blessing to the world. We don't talk about as much as the ways it was not so much a blessing to the world. We don't talk about how it divided the church from two brands into thousands of brands. We don't mention how we Protestants threw out the contemplative dimension of the gospel. The way we over emphasized left brain rational thinking. The way what it set in motion would 500 years later become a virulent strain of atheism. We don't talk about how the Reformation downplayed the mystery of the gospel.

Let's look at the last century. One of the remarkable things we see in the past century is the Christian growth in Africa. Africa is home they 8.7 million Christians in 1900 and 542 million Christians today. Africa will perhaps be home to 1.2 billion Christians by the year 2050. Thirty years from there will be as many African Christians as there are American and European Christians combined today. Africa is the future of the Christian church.

So we are so fortunate to have African members in our church. We have a beautiful African members here who contribute so much to the life and leadership St. John's. We have already nested and help them birth a Ghanian Presbyterian Church in the past 10 years. Now we're in conversation with a Ethiopian Christian church. Our future in this presbytery hinges on growth in the African church. So I'm excited about a new opportunity to partner with an African church. Join us in praying for God's guidance in this. The Session and our committees need your prayers for discernment.

It is remarkable to look at the fragmented nature of the Christian church. The number of Christian denominations grew from 1,600 in the year 1900 to 35,000 today. Projections call for 70,000 Christian denominations by the year 2050. As the church continues to fragment into splinter groups, how can we be one in Christ? For clues, let's turn to the apostle Paul in his writings in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 13. There we learn what working toward Christian unity is NOT.

First, it's not being able to speak in other languages without learning them. If we can speak in every language there is in all of heaven and earth, we would all sound like clanging cymbals. We'd be making noise. Along these lines one thing I've noticed in the past few years is the way text is perceived in social media. If you send someone an email and the letters in your sentences are IN ALL CAPS, you are screaming. That is considered to be screaming and yelling at the person you're sending your email to. It works the same way on Facebook. If you make a comment in ALL CAPS that's considered to be yelling.

Notice our church sign. All letters are IN ALL CAPS. People who see our church sign in all caps, especially young people, think we are yelling at them. Why are we yelling at them? Are we afraid? Do we not like them? Because the letters on our church sign are all in caps. Yelling at people driving by the church is not a way to bring about Christian unity and growth in the kingdom of God.

Paul lists a second way of NOT creating unity in the church. Knowing the future is not all it's cracked up to be. If we were the greatest futurists in the world that will not help us to create unity in church. Are you familiar with the term futurists? There is a whole course for Futurists at the University Houston. It is one top programs for that in the country and in the world. I follow several futurists on Twitter and Facebook. They project social and technological trends. They project what will happen in the next 5 to 20 years. If we were masters of futurist thinking that's not be enough to bring unity to the Christian church. That's still not be enough to be successful in mission.

Paul lists a third way we will NOT bring unity to the church. According to Paul, the key to Christian unity is NOT in having the gift of faith. If I was a faith healer that would not create Christian unity. I could touch someone on their forehead and heal them and that would not create Christian unity. If I could speak to a mountain and make the mountain move that would not create Christian unity. Such dramatic displays of faith do not achieve Christian unity.

Paul then lists a fourth way that will not bring Christian unity. He says Christian unity is not giving away everything we have. If we gave everything we had to the poor that would not create Christian unity. That would not prove our discipleship. That would not change the world.

Likewise, imagine if I were burned at the stake for preaching the gospel. That would not create Christian unity. If you became a martyr for Christ that would not create Christian unity.

The apostle Paul says the key to unity is our love. He goes on to describe what love is. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love isn't envious. It doesn't boast, brag or strut about. He says there's no arrogance in love. It's never rude, crude, or indecent. It is not self absorbed. Love isn't easily upset. Love doesn't keep score. It doesn't tally wrongs or celebrate injustice. Truth is love's delight! Love puts up with anything and everything that comes along. It trusts, hopes, and endures no matter what. Love will never become obsolete.

Notice that last line in particular. Love will never become obsolete. You see, as the church has a 500 year rummage sale, we find some things are obsolete. For example, a church sign that displays all capital letters is obsolete. A church that focuses only on the left brain and rationalism and scientism is obsolete. We can no longer afford to neglect the mystery of the gospel.

A church that focuses only on white people in Europe and the United States, that is an obsolete church. The one thing that will never be obsolete is love. Agape love. The kind of love that puts the interest of others before my own interest. The kind of love Christ showed for the world. The kind of love that lays down our life for our brother and sister. They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes, they'll know we are Christians by our love.

= = = + = = =
Sermon from Mother's Day, May 8, 2016

by The Rev. Dr. Jon Burnham

John 17:20-26

”I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

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02 May 2016

How to Get the Peace of Christ NOW in 3 Easy Steps

Sermon from May 1, 2016 from John 14:23–29

Here is an audio recording of this sermon. Below I pasted the manuscript. I tend to use the manuscript to refer to as I'm speaking and riff from during the sermon so what I say does not exactly match the manuscript.
This one goes into my dad's experience in the death of his mother and my experience in the death of my brother. The peace of Christ comes to us in our suffering and tragedy. Ours is not a rainbows and butterflies faith in a genie in a bottle ready to grant us 3 wishes kind of God. Ours is a burying your brother in the frozen ground with peace of Christ in your heart kind of faith.
I mention Memphis and Jackson, Tennessee as well as Puckett, Mississippi and Houston, Texas among other places.
How to Get the Peace of Christ NOW in 3 Easy Steps
Sermon for May 1, 2016
John 14:23–29
Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
”I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.
Jesus tells his disciples one important thing right at the end of his time with them.
He tells them he is leaving them with his peace. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
It's kind of hard not to be afraid these days. We see a world spinning out of control. We see a presidential race that looks like it's heading toward a disaster. We hear of wars and rumors of wars. The economy in Houston is tattered at best. I've even heard it referred to by some in the oil business as being a Depression that we are in in this city. Times are tough for many people. Thousands of people are losing their jobs.
In such a time we wonder about our survival. I remember one night when my children were young. I couldn't sleep that night. I was afraid I might lose my job. If I lost my job, how would I pay my mortgage? Would we get get kicked out of our home? Would I be homeless with a a wife and two children? Would we have to live on the streets? It was one of the most frightening nights of my life. Thanks be to God, everything worked out in the end. But in our day-to-day lives we are not at the end are we? No. We are right in the middle of it.
The first step in finding the peace of Christ is a recognition that we need it. If we are unaware of our need then the peace of Christ there is no mechanism for us to receive it. So awareness of a problem in our own lives is the first step.
Are you aware that you have a need for Christ's peace in your own life? Do you have a gnawing sense that all is not right with the world? Do you face some health issue our financial challenge that seems like it may be the end of you? Do you have a loved one are relative who has a life-threatening disease? If so, you are feeling it. You're feeling the pressure. You're feeling the need for help. You are feeling a need for the peace of Christ. Congratulations. You have taken the first step toward the peace of Christ.
The thing about finding the peace of Christ is that you can't make it happen. You can't go out in your backyard with a shovel and dig a hole until you finally dig up the treasure of the peace of Christ. The peace of Christ is something that comes almost in a roundabout way. I guess it's more like a boomerang that you throw out and it comes back to you. It's more like a boomerang than being on the receiving end of a shotgun shell.
Remember Judas? Now when I say Judas you immediately think of Judas Iscariot. That is the problem. Because the Judas I'm thinking about is the brother of Jesus. I mean the literal, blood brother of Jesus. He grew up in the same family as Jesus. Mary was his mother. Joseph was his father. Jesus was his brother.
Poor old Judas the brother of Jesus. He's kinda like Rodney Dangerfield. He gets no respect.
No wonder Judas the brother of Jesus came to be known as the patron saint of lost causes among Roman Catholics. He now goes by the name of St. Jude. The tradition is that his name was similar to the traitor, Judas Iscariot. So few, if any, faithful Christians prayed for his intervention. They had the mistaken belief that they would be praying for Judas Iscariot. As a result, St. Jude was little used. You might say he was the unemployed saint. So he became eager to assist any who ask him, to the point of intervening in the most dire of circumstances. The church also wanted to in courage veneration of this forgotten disciple. So the church said that St. Jude would intervene in any lost cause. Thus St. Jude became the patron of lost causes.
I am familiar with the name of St. Jude because I spent 20 or so years in ministry around the city of Memphis, Tennessee. St. Jude's is a well respected hospital in Memphis. It is a hospital that treats children with cancer. What an appropriate cause for St. Jude. Because children with cancer are in the most dire of circumstances.
I remember when I served as Director Christian Education. It was at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson Tennessee. We had a young child in the church who had cancer. He got treatment at St. Jude's Hospital in Memphis. He survived until he was about ten years old. Then he died of cancer. The first step in finding the peace of Christ is a recognition that we need it.
There's no way the mother of that child who had cancer could force the peace of Christ into her heart. She could not make that happen. You cannot make it happen. I cannot make it happen. The peace of Christ calms as a free gift. The second step in finding the peace of Christ is to acknowledge your inability to get it on your own.
My dad is writing up his memoirs. One of the stories he tells is about his own coming to Christ. He was a young boy of 10 years old. He gave his heart to Christ during a summer revival meeting. It was on a Saturday night at his church, First Baptist Church of Puckett, Mississippi. Later that night and the next day there came a huge flood. The flood was so big that they were not able to go down to the river and have the baptisms outdoors like they usually did. That flood delayed my dad's baptism by one year. The next year when they had their next revival meeting is when he finally got baptized.
Even so, he says he was so glad that he gave his life to Christ when he did. It meant his mother got to see it. Several months after that during the Christmas holiday his mother died of pneumonia. So at least he was happy that his mother got to witness him giving his life to Christ before she died.
When my brother died in Mississippi in January two years ago, there was an ice and snowstorm. The roads covered with ice. Snow was falling as we drove to his funeral service. Snow is a rare experience in central Mississippi. After his funeral service, the roads were so icy that we had to postpone his burial service.
The next day, my son and I went to the funeral home. We drove to the countryside where his gray plot was. We rode with the funeral director and a couple of the employees from the funeral home to the grave site. It was way out in the country. The roads were still icy and treacherous. When we got there they dug a hole in the ground and lowered his casket in and shoveled dirt on top of it. There was a whole bunch of cows just across the fence. This is our family graveyard out in a pasture in the country in rural Mississippi. The cows mooed so loud that day. I could almost imagine they were mourning for my brother who as the hired hands laid him in his grave.
Bad weather delayed my father's baptism. Bad weather delayed my brother's burial. We are not able to control the weather are we? The recent floods in Houston prove that once again.
Neither when can we control the peace of Christ in our life. The thing about the peace of Christ is that it comes to us not because our lives are placid. It's not that we are experiencing a pleasant time of life and so we feel peace. The peace of Christ can come even in the midst of facing the death of your mother when you're 10 years old. The peace of Christ can come even when you are burying your brother. The peace of Christ can come when you are burying your mother. The peace of Christ calms and the most dire of circumstances in life.
Never think that God's job is to make sure your life the smooth sailing all the time. Never think that God wants to keep you from having problems. That is not how the peace of Christ works. The peace of Christ comes to us in the most awful times of our lives. I know I experienced the peace of Christ while my brother was dying and during his funeral service. A lot of that had to do with the fact that so many of you were praying for me then. The peace of Christ comes to us when we are open to receiving it. It comes when we acknowledge that we are not capable of making it happen. It often comes to us because someone else is praying for us.
So here's how to get the peace of Christ now in three easy steps.
1. Recognize your need for Christ peace.
2. Acknowledge your inability to receive the peace of Christ.
3. Accept the peace of Christ as a free gift.
If we follow those three steps we will find that we have the peace of Christ. Because Christ gave it to us. He does not give as the world gives. He does not give to get something back from us. So do not let your hearts be troubled. And do not let them be afraid.

Jon B.