31 January 2012

SERMON: "We Would Be Known as Healed Healers"

This sermon is called "We Would Be Known as Healed Healers" and is based on the gospel reading from Mark 1:21-28. Later in the service many people came forward for prayer for healing of body, mind or soul. Like the man with the unclean spirit, our healing starts with Jesus in the sanctuary. But as with Jesus, whose fame spread throughout the land after this healing, God wants to extend our healing and our influence beyond the walls of our sanctuary. We are blessed in order to be a blessing to others. May God bless you today. You are already a blessing to me and to many others.

17 January 2012

REFLECTION: Tribal Leadership

YouTube video: Seth Godin on the tribes we lead.
My personal "Cliff notes" version of this video is below plus a link to the book.
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Tribal Leadership (How to Lead a Tribe)

1. WHO are you leading is a more important question than HOW are you leading.

2. What people want from their leader more than anything is TO BE MISSED when they are not there. 

3. You don't have to have charisma to be a leader. Being a leader gives you charisma.

4. Leaders commit to the cause. They commit to the Tribe. They commit to the people who are there.

More about Tribes is available from Seth's book here.

16 January 2012

SERMON TEXT: Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus: Your Personal Invitation to God’s Epiphany


All the tech companies are in the cloud now: Microsoft, Google, and Apple. “In the cloud” means they store your files and information on remote servers. iCloud - Cloud computing is all the rage today. Jesus calls two disciples and talks to them about being “in the cloud.” He talks to them about angels ascending and descending into heaven. Jesus is the epiphany of God. Listen to the reading from John 1:43-51.
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, "Follow me." Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth." 
Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" 
Philip said to him, "Come and see." 
When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, "Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!" 
Nathanael asked him, "Where did you get to know me?" 
Jesus answered, "I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you." 
Nathanael replied, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" 
Jesus answered, "Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these." 
And he said to him, "Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."

My friend Buck told me a story this week. He has a pharmacy buddy he visits with in the furniture section of his pharmacy. The pharmacist friend was fishing in a nearby lake and it was kind of cold. He had his cell phone in his upper left jacket pocket and was fishing on the bottom with a weight and a hook. He leaned over to look down in the water, and there were two people on either side of him, and his cell phone fell down into the water. Just then he felt a bite on his fishing pole and reeled in what he thought was a small fish but it was his cell phone. The guy next to him, instead of saying, "Whoa, you're lucky!" said, "How did you do that!?" 

I was in the midst of a prayer meeting earlier this week when my cell phone buzzed and I left the room to answer it. After the call I poked my head in the door but the prayer session had begun. So I left. How much do our cell phones ensnare us? How do they enhance the web of our relationships? If only we could look up God's cell number in our address book and click on it. Would God's voice sound like Siri's voice on the iPhone 4S? I wonder.

Passing along the beach of Lake Galilee, Jesus saw Simon and his brother Andrew net-fishing. Fishing was their regular work. Jesus said to them, "Come with me. I'll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I'll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass." They didn't ask questions. They dropped their nets and followed. [Mark 1:16-18 (MSG)] They dropped their nets and followed Jesus. We drop our nets when we drop our defenses. We drop our nets when we drop our ego, our sense of who we are and how we want to be seen by others. We drop our nets when we let go of the distractions and obsessions that keep us away from the freedom to which Jesus calls us. Jesus once said, "If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed." We are desperately seeking an inner freedom from the nets that entangle us. We are entangled by relationships that haven't worked out as we had hoped. We are entangled by family members whose health is failing. We are entangled by our sense of lack of money, or lack of friends, or lack of family or whatever it is that we think we lack. Jesus approaches us and says, "Come with me. I'll show you how to get untangled from those nets. I'll teach you how to use different kinds of nets to bless people. You have no idea what you can do with those nets." And we drop our nets and follow Jesus. Jesus is ever enlisting us in projects that we hadn't imagined. We had never thought of that before. Someone from the church calls us on the phone and wonders if we will help with this project and our initial reaction is no, I've never done that. Yet as we think about it and pray about it we sense God calling us to do this thing that we weren't planning to do. We see this new project as an opportunity not a responsibility. So we say yes and we find ourselves, with Gods' help, doing this thing we had never considered.

What are the nets that are tying you up? What are the nets that are keeping you from following Jesus? Have you ever noticed how the Internet is sometimes called "The Net." That is a good name for it because it ties us up. We are tied up by our fascination over the presidential race, the Kardashians, sports, technology, whatever it is that ties up our time. Interests are good. There is nothing wrong with reading and keeping up with the news. That is part of what we are called to do as Christians. Sometimes our experience of "The Net" is tied up with making a living. Some of us work in the Information Technology industry or other industries that are tied into the net. In truth, the net includes our whole financial, political, cultural and religious system. 

Following Jesus gives us freedom by connecting us to the Christ within us. We discover new kinds of nets that are good, healthy, spiritual nets that tie us in to our true selves, not our false selves. These nets are spiritual practices such as spending time with a spiritual friend, reading the Bible with spiritual eyes, praying in whatever way makes us feel connected with God. The freedom also is freedom from the net of enslavement to the desire to be "successful" in the eyes of the world. Think of the fishermen who dropped their nets to follow Jesus they were laying their burdens down in the sense that they were no longer going to be defined by their jobs. There is a difference between a job and a calling. Our job is what we do to make a living, to pay the bills, to pay the rent, to buy food, to support our families. Our calling is what we do to find life, to get out of the bed in the morning, to fulfill our purpose in life. Our calling is why we are here. It's why God put us here on this earth. Our calling is our purpose in life. Find your calling. We find our calling when we find our epiphany. We find our epiphany in the person of Jesus.

In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus’ call to Nathaniel and Philip is an invitation to an epiphany. What is the epiphany? What is the revelation? The epiphany is the person of Jesus. Jesus call to these two fishermen is not a call to mission so much as it is an invitation to an epiphany. Jesus is the revealer, the epiphany, of God. 

And Jesus said to him, "Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man." The angels ascending and descending remind us of Jacob in the Old Testament. Jacob wrestled with an angel of the Lord at Bethel and won a blessing from God. He had a dream about a staircase stretching from earth to heaven. Angels were ascending and descending this ladder to heaven. (Gen. 28:1-17) 

Jesus says Nathaniel is an ideal Israelite. Jacob’s new name, given to him by God, is Israel, which literally means “God’s people rapturously beholding their God.” Jacob saw God face to face and he was transformed. (Gen. 32:30) 

Our gospel reading wants to tell us that people like Nathaniel who see Jesus are seeing God face to face. Jesus, the Son of Man, is the ladder stretching from heaven to earth. Jesus is the point of contact between the finite and the infinite. Jesus is the conjunction between time and eternity. Jesus is the place where the heavens are opened and the divine glory is contemplated. Nathaniel, as guileless Jacob, is the prototype of a new humanity. He is reborn in Christ but this is an extended process as we see in the rest of the Gospel of John. The cross is the place where the heavens are opened. There is a mysterious conjunction between the crucifixion and the exaltation. 

Amazon.com started out as a tiny company with less than a dozen employees. They worked out of a 2,000 square foot basement with a 6 foot high roof. One employee was 6 foot 2 and had to walked with his head stooped down at all times. During the day, they handled computer programming and other tasks. Afternoons and nights they would spend packing and shipping orders. Bezos says the team would be kneeling on the concrete floor packing books, until one day he announced that his knees were killing him. His solution? Knee pads for everyone! Bezos says the person next to him cast him a look of disbelief that seemed to say: “I’m working for this person . . . ?”  (Holtje, Jim (2011-12-06). The Power of Storytelling: Captivate, Convince, or Convert Any Business Audience UsingStories from Top CEOs (pp. 27-28). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.) Amazon.com today is a billion dollar company. Remember what Jesus said about the explosive growth of the tiny mustard seed. Amazon.com's humble beginnings are an illustration of that concept. 

Imagine Jeff Bezos and his employees getting down on their knees to pack boxes. They spent so much times on their knees that Bezos ordered knee pads for each employee. Do we need to order knee pads for each member of our congregation? Are we spending enough time on our knees in prayer? Strangely enough, it is that time down on our knees in prayer that helps us ascend Jacob's ladder from earth to heaven. For that time on our knees shows our intention to develop a relationship with the Christ within. That Christ within us is the connector between our human nature and our divine nature. God calls us like God called Nathaniel, to come and see. See Jesus. See Jesus in the people who persecute you. See Jesus in the people who can do nothing for you. See him in those who will do nothing to further your agenda. Turn your eyes upon Jesus. 

Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in his wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim. In the light of his glory and grace.

11 January 2012

JOURNAL: The night the music died

"It's funny how one insect 
can damage so much grain ... 
Can't you come out to play 
in your empty garden, 

Where were you the night John Lennon died? I was with a college friend in Jackson, Mississippi. We were shocked. Drove to Smith Park in Belhaven in his red Beetle convertible. People were there. Sitting in circles with candles. It was a surreal scene. We sat there on the ground with the others in silence. I was impressed people knew and cared. I remember a dull feeling of loss. I remember wondering why he was killed and felt angry anyone had the nerve to do it. Another one bites the dust. Yes, I know each person is unique in her own way. But this was someone special. Famous. Beatle. Imagine. 

"And we are so amazed.
We're crippled and we're dazed. 
A gardener like that one 
no one can replace."

07 January 2012

BOOK REVIEW: iPad at Work

iPad at Work is a revelation as well as an incredibly useful tool. The author's writing style is so instructive and engaging that I read the book in one sitting. I look forward to returning to it time and again if and when I ever get up and running with the iPad. You see, I don't even own an iPad yet and I still enjoyed the book.

This book is a great place to look if you are thinking about whether or not to purchase an iPad. If you are like me, wondering whether to go with an Android based tablet or an iPad, after reading this book, chances are you will decide to purchase an iPad. This is especially true if you, like me, use a Mac at home or work.

If you do already use a Mac, you should also get this author's book, Mac at Work. That book is also mesmerizing and extremely useful. It will change the way I use my Mac for the better. As the author puts it, in regard to the way I've been using my iMac, I've been driving a Ferrari in the parking lot. It's time to take it out on the highway with some of the Omni software programs he describes in Mac at Work.

Having read these books on the Kindle, I recommend purchasing them from iTunes in the iBook format. They will look better and the links to the Apple App Store will work making for a seamless experience on your Mac or iPad. However, the Kindle experience is just fine for getting your head around these wonderful tomes.

If you have an iPad, you should read this book. If you are considering buying an iPad, you should read this book. Even if you don't have or want an iPad, this book is an interesting read just to see where we are in 2012 in terms of technological devices and productivity tools. The title of the book promises the iPad is a business tool and by the end of the book you will have no doubt that indeed it is that.

I like the way the author takes care of newbies at the beginning of the book with basics and fundamentals such as how to use gestures to work the iPad. I'm talking about basics such as whether to get a black or white one. The author prefers black because videos look better against a black outlined screen. You'll also learn the difference between WiFi and 3G devices so you can decide which suits you best. All the basics such as how to cut, copy and paste on the iPad are covered. If these topics sound elementary to you, hang on because you are just getting started.

The book then goes into a detailed but not boring overview of all the different ways you may use an iPad for business. This includes everything from printing from you iPad to text messaging and video conferencing. You learn to how remotely control your home and work computer from your iPad whether your computers are Windows based PCs or Macs.

The book goes into great detail on pertinent items without being tedious. For instance, here are a few of my notes from different sections of the book:

  • How to sync photos from iPad to Mac & iPhone ... Must have OS X Lion on Mac
  • Move PDF files from iPad to Google Docs or Dropbox via the GoodReader app
  • iCloud account : How and why to add it on Mac OS X Lion

Throughout the book, each topic covered such as taking notes in meetings or managing contacts gives a nice review of a few of the best apps available and each chapter ends with the author giving a few paragraphs about his workflow stating how he uses the apps he has reviewed in his own work as a trial attorney. I also appreciated the author's dry wit which adds interestingness without being sarcastic.

This is a well written and fascinating book on many levels.

I recommend it without reservation.

03 January 2012

SERMON: Three Steps You Must Take in 2012 1. Decipher Where You Are; 2. Envision Where You Want to Be; 3. Take Action to Get There

2012 lies before you like a path not taken. This new year brings you new opportunities in your spiritual journey. Today, January 1, is a time for reflection and preparation for a new leg on your spiritual journey.
The sermon scripture for today is Matthew 2:1-12. Listen for God's word to you.

2:1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,

2:2 asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage."

2:3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him;

2:4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.

2:5 They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

2:6 'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'"

2:7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.

2:8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage."

2:9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.

2:10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.

2:11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

2:12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Here ends the reading.
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Life is a journey. The wise men were on a journey to find Jesus. They were experts in the field of astronomy. They had come perhaps from the royal courts of Persia to visit King Herod in Jerusalem. When they saw a special star or a shining angel above Bethlehem they knew it signaled the birth of the Messiah. They knew this because they knew both astronomy and the holy scriptures that spoke of the birth of a messiah.

The wise men presented baby Jesus with certain gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts have been given many symbolical meanings. Traditional Christianity says the gold symbolizes Jesus' royalty, frankincense his priestly duties, and myrrh points to the prophet's death he would suffer. More important than the gifts was the thought behind the gifts. The magi believed this baby was the Messiah and had come to worship him.

The wise men brought gift to baby Jesus. They brought the newborn king gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Like the wise men, you may have the gift of giving. You may have the gift of giving as expressed in giving money, time or talents in service to Christ. The magi had the gift of encouragement. Their gifts would have encouraged Mary and Joseph. You may have the spiritual gift of encouragement. You notice what other people contribute and thank them for what they do. We need more of that gift in our world today.

The wise men had studied astrology and the sacred texts. They also kept abreast of what was happening in the world. So they noticed the new shining star that appeared in the heavens and knew what it foretold. What signals or signs help you to locate the Christ within? You have the sacred texts, study opportunities, prayer groups, meditation times, and other spiritual disciplines. You know what is going on in the world and all the challenges we face as a species. The first step you need to take today is to decipher where you are in your spiritual journey.

Along the journey we encounter certain road blocks. The wise men encountered an evil ruler who wanted to use them to thwart God's plan. King Herod wanted to kill the Messiah. He wanted to shut up the Truth. He wanted to use the wise men to accomplish his evil purpose. But God reached out to the wise men in a dream and helped them find a way around the road block of King Herod. God warned them in a dream not to return by the same road. God will help you find a way around the road blocks in your life. God will show us the way forward even when we feel trapped. Yet God's purposes cannot be thwarted; God's purposes will prevail. The second step you need to take today is to envision where you want to be and trust God to help you get there.

There is a medieval woodcut that shows the earthly world contained within a great bubble. Outside the bubble lies a celestial realm filled with stars and moons and with the mechanisms that make creation run. In the picture, a man is poking his head through the bubble and gaining a glimpse of that wondrous creative realm that had previously been invisible to him. The wise men were aware of a spiritual realm beyond our five senses. Their heavenly vision was based on a combination of the science of astronomy and a spiritual discipline that connected them with a realm beyond this earth. We too have moments when it is as if our head has momentarily burst through that bubble and we get a taste of a new world spread out before us. [Spangler, David (2008-10-01). Everyday Miracles: the inner art of manifestation (Kindle Location 281). Lorian Press. Kindle Edition.]

The wise men took action on what they knew and believed. Taking action is what you must do as well. When we act on our knowledge and faith God honors our energy and things change for the better. Perhaps today you know what is happening and you see what God wants you to do. Take action now. Get yourself going in a way that is in alignment with God's will for your life. Take action to get where you want to be. That action may be subtle rather than forceful. We do not acquire what we desire, we become it. The smallest change can have a very large effect. This has become known as the Butterfly Effect. The Butterfly Effect suggests that something as seemingly tiny and inconsequential as the flutter of a butterfly's wings can set up a chain of cascading consequences, such as a growing interaction of atmospheric disturbances that eventually could result in a tornado or hurricane many thousands of miles away. Any small change we make in moving toward our goal may make a huge difference in our lives and in the world. So let's not feel overwhelmed or underprivileged. Let's not get discouraged with the enormity of the change we desire and say there is no way we can achieve that goal. Let's just take an action, however small, in the direction we want to go. God may multiply our small step way beyond what we had thought possible.

We are not astrologers so we may never see a sign in the heavens such as the night star over Bethlehem. That star led the wise men to Jesus but that is a star we will never see. There is another star that we may see every day. That star may lead us to Jesus birth. That star is the sun. We sit with God in silence in the morning time. We read and meditate upon God's word. And as we pray, there, through the window, we see another star rising. It is a star called the sun. The sun rising, shining through our window in the morning, that is our sign that the Christ wants to be born anew in our heart this day. Let's take that sign of the sun star rising as God's sign to us that this is a new day, a new year, a new era in our lives and in the life of this congregation. As we focus on God's star we find a wise way on life's joyful journey.

There are three steps you must take today: 1. Decipher Where You Are; 2. Envision Where You Want to Be; 3. Take Action to Get There. This is important to you because today, on the first day of 2012, you have the opportunity to turn your life in a more positive direction. God has a claim on your life's journey. You have a purpose in life. The wise men's purpose was to find and worship the Christ. Your life's purpose is to find and connect with the Christ within you.
The Rev. Dr. Jonathan L. Burnham preached this sermon at St. John's Presbyterian Church, 5020 West Bellfort Ave, Houston, TX 77035 on January 1, 2012, Epiphany Sunday. Phone 713-723-6262 | sjpresby.blogspot.com

02 January 2012

JOURNAL: Auld Lang Syne

I get sentimental this time of year.
My heart is full of gratitude
for friends old and new.

May 2012 be an eventful year
full of joy, love and peace
for you and those you love.