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.

17 January 2016

Dead Broke and Shot through the Heart

step by step
heart to heart
left right left
we all fall down
like toy soldiers

I couldn't breathe. I clutched my stomach. Bent over and put both hands on my hips. But got not enough oxygen that way so stretched up on my toes reaching for air. I thought I was going to throw up. Wanted to collapse. Couldn't do that. It was forbidden. We had to run one more drill. Coach McGinnis screaming something at me, at all of us. So we lined up and started to run.

Licking my fingers for all the sweet taste of orange I could get, sitting in a reflective moment, sitting in the locker room after practice, some boys naked and others in various stages of dressed, I thanked GOD I had survived another basketball practice! Welcome to the Morton High School basketball team in 1978. No wonder we won a state championship. We were physically, emotionally and mentally as tough as Japanese kamikazes. Well, okay, maybe not that tough but you get the picture.

insert photo of 1978 
Morton basketball team

Fast forward 37 years and here I sit typing words onto a TV screen. There have been highs and lows. Ups and downs. Times I wanted to quit. Days I begged for mercy from the universe. Nights I couldn't sleep with worry. Days of facing criticism from thousands. You don't know what the hell you are doing! Hatred from hundreds. How dare you play games with my money! Through the trials and tribulations of life, the truth of Tigger remains.

Perseverance is the key to opening Door #3. Behind that door are the riches of the ages. Wisdom. Knowledge. Truth. The Japanese honor perseverance with an art form called kintsugi. Kintsugi (“golden mend”) is the Japanese art of mending broken pottery using lacquer resin laced with gold or silver.

Beyond repairing a broken object, the truth is that flawed but repaired objects are more beautiful and have greater value for their experience. The same is true for people like you and me. Our broken and mended parts make us more attractive. Where are your broken parts? How could you perform kintsugi on them? Maybe you can't. Is there someone else or some other FORCE that can? How could you contact that force and get that healing?

16 January 2016

Purple Haze byTommy Emmanuel

Here Tommy Emmanuel plays Purple Haze
on somebody's back porch.
I saw him live on stage at University of Houston
and it was a memorable experience.
He's a one man show as you may see here.

06 February 2014

2013: The Year in Review by Pastor Jon Burnham

2013 was a year of growth in the life of St. John's Presbyterian Church in Houston. That growth was most evident in the four beautiful duplexes being constructed on our property on West Bellfort Avenue near Westbury United Methodist Church. The Single Parent Family Ministry is being built, financed and staffed by Presbyterian Children’s Home and Services (PCHAS), an outstanding partner in ministry. The homes are 
being built by Ryland Homes under the guidance of Home Aid Houston. New Covenant Presbytery is the other partner in this ministry. We look forward to the new ministries that may arise in the years ahead as we live into this new calling from God. 

Our church staff had a big transition this year as we lost the service of two faithful staff members. Curtis Brisch, our Financial Secretary, died on May 22, 2013. Curtis was tireless in his efforts to serve the congregation by keeping us financially grounded. After his death, Sally Shaw and Rebecca Amador took on the position of Interim Financial Secretary and we appreciate their faithful service.

Vivian Ivy, our Church Secretary for some 45 years, retired this fall due to health constraints. Vivian was an institution here with her deft pastoral care skills and organizational mind and depth of relationships. We look forward to honoring her for years of excellent service to St. John’s when she is feeling better.

We also gained a new staff member this year, Rev. Linda Herron, who volunteers her time and pastoral skills as our Parish Associate. Linda has blessed us with her preaching, singing, liturgical leadership, visitation and teaching. She has also helped fill some gaps in the church office and sings in the choir as well. We appreciate Linda’s pastoral leadership.

My time was spent serving as staff consultant for several committees: Administration and Personnel, Faith in Action, Property, Stewardship and Finance, and Worship. This work consisted of about 45 meetings, most of which were night meetings. As head of staff I led about 45 staff meetings and moderated about 14 Session meetings for a total of well over 100 meetings. I also led about 45 centering prayer meetings.

I enjoyed participating in the Southwest Ministerial Alliance and attended about 10 of their breakfast meetings and hosted one of them at our church. In the areas of pastoral care, teaching, and preaching, I made about 55 home visits, about 55 hospital visits and about 30 nursing home visits for a total of well over 100 visits in various locations around the city. I administered the Lord’s Supper about 12 times, conducted 2 memorial services, 1 baptism, 3 healing services, taught 45 adult classes, 2 officer training classes and preached about 46 sermons.

The Holy Spirit led a shift this year in the lives of many church members through the Unbinding the Gospel group studies. May God continue this movement toward deeper relationships and reaching out in mission to our community.

16 October 2013

Seeking New Skin

The sloughing off of the old skin and putting on of the new is a natural part of life for a crab. 
It's similar to the cleansing I seek today which is well described by the ancient palmist. 
Nothing dramatic. Just a minor transformation. 

A minor transformation is my hope and perhaps yours as well. 
We can't make transformation happen in DC. 
We can't even make it happen in our own heart. 

But we can cry out to God for transformation. 
Shed the old skin. 
Put on new skin. 
As individuals and as a nation.

Just beyond our spectacular pride is a tiny glimpse of a way forward. 
Let's head in that direction today. 

- - -
Create in me a clean heart, O God, 
and put a new and right spirit within me.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, 
and put a new and right spirit within me. 

Do not cast me away from your presence, 
and do not take your holy spirit from me. 

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, 
and sustain in me a willing spirit. 
-Psalm 51:10-12