John 17:20-26

Each week we say in the Apostle’s Creed “…the holy catholic church…” many of you wonder why we do it, some don't say it. Others mumble it. Some may even wondered if I send reports to the Pope (the answer is no). I hope though, to clear up confusion about this little word that does cause some confusion

In the creed, of course, the word "catholic" is not capitalized. Meaning that it is not part of the proper name "Roman Catholic." Rather, it is an adjective (drawn from the Greek word katholikos) meaning "general" or "universal." The word "catholic" (small "c") appeared when the creed appeared in 390 A.D. in France. While the name "Roman Catholic" (large "C") was never formally applied to the Church of Rome until sometime in the 15th century (about the time of the Protestant Reformation).

So when we say the holy catholic church, we’re getting at the heart of this United series and the prayer Jesus was praying. When Jesus prayed that his desire was for us to be one as the Father and Son are one, I think there was something different in mind than having us worry about denominations. Jesus wasn’t interested in perfect institutions but in personal unity. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are ONE but they are each unique. Professor Merrill Tenney noted there is a parallel between the unity Jesus spoke of here and Paul’s idea in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 that the church is a body made of many parts.

The thing that keeps us from being united has less to do with denominations and everything to do with a three letter word called sin. More specifically it happens when we love the WAY WE DO CHURCH more than we love people.

It seems to me that when the CHURCH is focused on loving people it is more likely to lead change. The symbols of the church and stain glass windows were part of the earliest multimedia images – they were a slide show used to tell stories and relay the truths of the Bible. The same thing has been true for all of our rituals and traditions. But the methods must always be open to change. This is the problem that Jesus had with the Pharisees over and over again.

Similarly, it was a love for the people that brought Martin Luther to odds with the Pope. It was a love for people that brought John Wesley to odds with the Church of England. Sometimes, these changes in method bring renewal and other times they bring splits. What is consistent – must be consistent is the MESSAGE must remain the same –

But it doesn’t stop with the Church as whole – it filters through to the core of who we are and the cancer that is sin. As a cancer survivor, I don’t say that lightly. At its simplest – cancer is a cell which begins to focus on itself rather than the whole. In the same way, when we fall in love with our WAY OF LIFE more than loving others – we cooperate in the sin of disunity.

Have you ever been betrayed? Ever had a friend you trusted in turn on you? Then you have some idea of what Jesus went through when not only did Judas turn him to the Pharisees, but all others abandoned him. While we can’t know exactly what they were thinking – we do have some ideas. One of those that is most prominent is that at the end, the disciples were still holding on to the idea that Jesus was going to call all the angels down from heaven and take care of business on the Romans – then they would be in charge!

They we missing out on what Jesus said about ‘taking up your cross,’ and what he said to rich young man to ‘go sell all you have, give to the poor and follow me.’ That were about to learn the most important lesson of the Church – we are called to LOVE PEOPLE more than any WAY OF LIFE – even the religious kind.

You know, I’ve discovered that I most often fail at being united when I fail to serve? It is when I fail to ask God – God what is keeping me from you? And then I don’t stop to listen. While I was getting ready for this series, I got a hint God wanted me to do something – to put my sermon writing down – put aside my planning – and let him interrupt my routine. I really wish sometimes God wouldn’t do that. But he did. So a couple of weeks ago, I shut down my laptop, pushed it to the side and drove down to The Helping Hands of Paulding County – our local mission center helping people get assistance to live. It was just a fact finding mission right?

Until Joe came in right at closing time. I spent the next hour helping Joe fill out paperwork to get him assistance so his wife, 2 children and one unborn child, might continue to survive on less the $1,200. I was more inclined to cry but Joe kept laughing – he kept talking about how it was going to turn around – he was going to keep looking for more work – he never stopped smiling or laughing. Do we love people or our way of life?

To get to unity, Jesus, points to two things in his prayer and it starts with INVESTING in your relationship with God. “May they also be IN US so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” John 17:21 (NIV) If you and I work on developing our relationship with God, unity would be the natural result. Get in an internet forum and go to the spiritual section like I did. It didn’t take long to discover those who were more focused on RIGHT RELIGION rather than RIGHT RELATIONSHIP. You don’t have to force it or vote on it. We get unity by getting closer to the One we’re unified with – Jesus.

And yes there is more – we must begin to love others with the same love God has shown to you and me. Jesus prayed: “I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them." John 17:26 (NIV) Remember: God loves me as much as He loves His Son Jesus.

Now I have to ask you to be a little thoughtful today – to take this time to consider: Do you love your way of life more than people? What is God asking you to give up? What is God asking you to pick up?

(This is the rough draft of the sermon preached. It reflects a collaboration of ideas from other pastors in the 15 churches taking part in this series so not all thoughts and phrases are original to me - I'm thankful to journey with some great people!) NOTE: Do to technical difficulties, no mp3 is available for this sermon.

Please...Pinch Me

Just enjoying this song and thought, "hey, if I'm grooving to it, maybe someone else needs to hear it too." Just love the spirituality hidden in the randomness - it makes me happy - may the force be with you.

United By God's Plan

John 17:17-23

There are wonders that abound in our world. Always have been. We don’t always expect where they’ll come from either. Take George Foreman for instance. At one time, he was on par with Mohammed Ali, that was until they stepped into the ring together. While boxing made him famous, George Foreman’s one thing wasn’t boxing – nope he gave to world a grill. You might say it took losing the one thing he thought he had to find the one thing he was intended to give.

Grizzled cowboy Curly Washburn turned to City Slicker Mitch Robbins and asks: “Do you know what the secret of life is?” Then he lifts his finger and says, “This.” Mitch says, “Your finger?” Curly responds, “One thing. Just one thing. [and something else not repeatable]. Mitch asks, “But what is the "one thing?" “That's what you have to find out,” said Curly.

Coming out his prayer, Jesus brings clear there is one thing and you don’t have to find it out, it is already known. We can work our way from Genesis to Revelation and find there is one thing that is at the heart of all God has been about. It is phrased in different ways. It is acted out in different places and times.

God’s one thing for His people is to influence the world so the world may believe in Jesus. In verses 20-21, Jesus prays for our unity SO THAT “the world may believe” that Jesus is God’s Son. Again, in verse 23, Jesus prays for our unity “to let the world know” that Jesus is God’s Son and that God loves them.

These verses pose 2 questions to us. First, WHAT IS GOD’S BIG PLAN FOR US?
It isn’t something God is hiding from us. That is one thing that amazes me over and over again in our world. God’s plan for His people is that they GROW IN UNITY and, REACH THE WORLD FOR JESUS.

"My prayer is … that all of them may be one … SO THAT the world may believe that you have sent me. … May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
John 17:20-23 (NIV)

The second follows from the first, namely HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE IN HIS PLAN?
There are so many words we use in the church that most people don’t use in every day life. (I’ve got a sermon in the works for next month on that so stay tuned!) Sanctification is one of the words. At it’s simplest, it is when something is used for its INTENDED PURPOSE. How are we sanctified? We let God USE US for His purposes.

To be used by God means we have to TRUST IN JESUS’ WORK ON THE CROSS. The philosopher Cicero said, “Trust no one unless you have eaten much salt with him.”
Jesus’ sacrifice made it possible for us to know God. Do you get that? God wants to hang out with us! You wonder why Jesus ate and went to parties? Is there a reason at Crossroads we put a priority on communion as a time for friends to gather at the table? God wants us to know him – He wants us to trust him. God wants us to fulfill our purpose.

To do that, we’ve got to FOLLOW GOD’S WORD. Jesus says, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” John 17:17 (NIV) Following God’s Word will keep us on track to be used by God. So, as often as you can, whenever you can – you have to make time to read the Bible. We’ve made time for TV, then video games, then cell phones and e-mail. God’s word is what will be THE guide IF you want to be where God wants you to be.

Ultimately, God desires us to pass on what we have learned. We are to SHARE THE MESSAGE ABOUT JESUS. Do you get this amazing point? Before you knew Jesus existed and lived on the planet 2,000 years ago – He PRAYED FOR YOU: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.” John 17:20b (NIV)

Somebody answered that prayer. Okay, a lot of somebodies answered that prayer. We are called to be that answer to prayer. Bringing people to Jesus is the primary way we are used by God.

In the story of Lord of the Rings, one of elf leaders named Elrond doubted that humankind could rise up in the face of the great evil, Sauron. But Jesus was no mere fantasy, He was God’s Son, this prayer he prays points that He NEVER lost faith in God or his confidence in humanity to follow God’s plan.

One man came out of his house on his way to church on Sunday morning, just as his neighbor came out of his with his golf clubs. The golfer said, "Henry, come play golf with me today." Henry, with an expression of horror on his face, replied, "This is the Lord's day, and I go to church. Certainly I would not play golf with you." After a moment's silence, the golfer quietly said, "You know, Henry, I have often wondered about your church, and I have admired your fidelity. You know also that this is the seventh time I have invited you to play golf with me, and you have never invited me to go to church with you."

Jesus prayed for those who do not believe. How about you?
1. 2 people you know who aren’t going to church/do not believe.
2. Begin praying for them following Jesus pattern:
“God, may I be like Jesus in my life so __________ will believe in you.”
3. What helps you be like Jesus? DO THAT!
4. Hang out with them. Listen. Laugh. Live.
5. Don’t be silent.
Look for or make opportunities to invite to church/tell your story.

We become an answer to Jesus’ prayer and become more united when His followers FOLLOW GOD’S PLAN.

(This is the rough draft of the sermon preached. It reflects a collaboration of ideas from other pastors in the 15 churches taking part in this series so not all thoughts and phrases are original to me - I continue to be thankful to journey with some great people and look forward to our last week in the series!)

Beyond the Hunt

Hunting season has just begun with the start of small game hunting last weekend. That got me thinking about one of the lessons I learned recently. This past spring, I took my son turkey hunting for the first time. Understand, I am fairly new to hunting myself. However, I also believe the best way to really learn something is to teach it to others.

We set-up early on private land in a small pop-up blind and waited for the first sounds of crows. Sure enough, as the sun came up and crows began calling, the first turkey gobbled. We practiced patience for a time but I knew my son was not going be content for too long especially when the gobblers went silent.

We began moving about and stirred up another gobbler but he went silent moments later. Then I saw the problem, we had a coyote in the area. Looking back on it, I think we should have set-up on the coyote but I was not sure exactly what to do even if we had! Instead, my son got to see some wildlife up-close when that coyote got within 10 feet of me and my son and spooked.

We did not hunt much longer after that encounter. We set-up on a target and my son got to fire off a 20-gauge for the first time. We enjoyed the time and he is ready to go get his first bird next year.

This reminded me of what Paul wrote to the Ephesians in 5:15, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise…” In our moral behaviors we need to walk wisely. I could have pushed my son to hunt longer, it was still early but would that have been for him or me? In the same way, we need to be wise in facing temptation, in relationships with co-workers but especially in how we pass on our faith and heritage to the next generation.

May I Ask: Who was the last person you taught?
May I Suggest: The next time you learn something, turn around and teach it to someone else in the next seven days. Come back and let me know how it turned out.

Sportsmen Tip: Know your limits and your partner(s). Always carry your ten essentials into the woods so you are prepared. Be sure to note how physical and mental strain may be causing stress in those you hunt with. Even the smallest outing can turn miserable if we’re not wise.

Spiritual Fitness Check 016

Generosity. Buy a ream of paper for a local school. Better yet, by a case and drop it off at a local school and say it is a gift to some incredible teachers. The teachers of our future leaders need our support right now.

UNITED by God’s Power

John 17:11-16

The great soul singer, Smokey Robinson, was a scheduled speaker for a two-day Youth Anti-Drug rally for the public schools of Sarasota, Florida. On the first day, he testified how God had rescued him from drug abuse. As a result, his speech for the second day was canceled. Smokey said in essence, "You can go into many public schools and talk about awful things, but if you mention God or Jesus, you're out of here." Is something wrong with that? Has something happened along the way to change things?

When we hear Jesus’ prayer in John 17, I’m left with this idea that things are exactly how Jesus imagined they would be. To follow Jesus is to live with friction and tension. Verses 14-15 alert us to where that tension lies: The World and The Evil One. It is a reality that evil exists and it encourages the culture to go against God’s plan and desire. But this is no battle of equals – because of Jesus’ life – the end has been decided. Even so, we must still face the conflict. BUT there is POWER available to overcome.

Whether you like it or not, Christians are called to be different. Notice what Jesus said about us, the church: "They are not of this world even as I am not of this world." Do you know how we got the name "Methodist"? We did not choose it because it sounded nice. Originally it was a term of ridicule thrown at John & Charles Wesley and his Eighteenth Century followers because they were so methodically different in their lifestyle.

We Christians are not supposed to be different just for the sake of differentness. There is no virtue in just being weird. Our distinctiveness should consist in our special joy, love, peace, but also it has to do with our values and lifestyle. We Christians have values that differ from the majority.

Followers of Jesus are also called to change culture. One of the businesses highlighted in the book – “From Good to Great” is Eckerd Drug Stores. What isn’t spoken of though is that founder Jack Eckerd became a Christian in 1983. It occurred to him it didn’t seem right for his stores to carry magazines like Playboy and Penthouse, so he got rid of them. He then contacted other businesses to follow suit and many did just that. Christians pray and work for a time when God's kingdom will on earth as it is in heaven. This is what St. Peter wrote, "We wait for new heavens and a new earth where righteousness is at home."

It means as a church, Crossroads lives with a different priority on things. Our vision is for people to connect, follow and become disciples – NOT through programs or just pretty words or polished worship and such but through One Loving Act At A Time. Before our first worship service ever took place we acted in love toward families who needed assistance in preparing for school and for kids who don’t even have families who could support them. All along the way – we’re Rethinking Church to be about others – how many churches partner with their bank for more than their account and mortgages?

But to face all we need to face, Jesus understood we'd need protection. How does God protect us? Through the power of His Name (see verses 11-12). In ancient cultures, there existed the belief that to know the name of a “god” or “demon” was to have control over that spiritual being. That isn’t the way it works with God. To call on God’s name as Jesus did is to call on the Father who is in love with his children and runs to their aid. God’s name represents His character, His power, His purpose. When we call on Jesus, we are calling on everything His name represents. There is power is the name of Jesus.

Remember, as followers and disciples of Jesus, we are not supposed to fit in. Jesus warned, "Beware when all men speak well of you." Our task is not to conform to a secular society, but to allow ourselves and our culture to be transformed by Jesus living in us. When we do – then the world has a chance to see God’s heart.

(This is the rough draft of the sermon preached. It reflects a collaboration of ideas from other pastors in the 15 churches taking part in this series so not all thoughts and phrases are original to me - I'm thankful to journey with some great people!)

I know, I know...

...you don't stop blogging. You gotta keep doing it says all the world. Truth, no you don't. You can take a break. You can say no. I did. And I don't feel guilty in the least bit! :)

But I'm back. Since the kids are back in school, I guess it is time for me to go back to the blog. Time to dust off the keyboard.

Loving Life!

United by Perspective

John 17:1-10

Where would we be in science without the microscope? We’d know nothing about cells and structure and how the body works. We’d know so little about biology or botany. What would we know about DNA and curing diseases. But where would science be without the telescope? How would we know about our solar system and planets? We’d know nothing about stars or planets or the make-up of our universe. We’d have been unable to explore the moon or our own galaxy.

So which one is more important? Well, I suppose it matters based more on whose shoes you walk in. Like so much of life it has to do with perspective. I don’t think you can put a value on either one – both have brought advances to our knowledge of the world and universe we live in. I sincerely doubt the science community doubts that both have been necessary.

There was a group of pastors gathered for lunch one day (not OUR group of pastors! ;). They were of different denominations and began to talk about those difference. The conversation grew more heated as the meal went on. The waitress, having listened to the ongoing discussion, finally took out a pen and began drawing on a napkin. As she was finishing, one of the pastors called her over and asked for extra napkins. She laid a stack on the table along with the one she drew on. One pastor picked up the napkin of the waitress. As he read it, he paused and passed it on the pastor next to him until all read it and with that – the debate ended. On the napkin was a circle and in the center was a dot that said “Jesus.” Around the line were written the names of different denominations of Christians. Underneath were written the words, "The nearer to the center the nearer to one another."

In this prayer the word GLORIFY is used 8 times. That ought to tell us something – it is important. Ultimately, bringing God glory means that we do something that directs someone’s attention to something great about God. The closer we move toward the center, toward Jesus, the more we begin to become the ongoing answer to Jesus prayer and life – for God to get the attention.

When we look at Jesus’ prayer, the first 5 verses reflect that Jesus isn’t praying a personal prayer but that his desire is for God to get the attention. In verses 6-10: Jesus is providing a guideline and idea for how we are to pray and live – namely that our lives and prayers should show obedience to God – just like he did
• He revealed God to us.
• He gave us the words God gave him.
• He taught us to obey God’s word.
• He showed us that God was the source of all he has.
• He helped us understand and believe that God sent him.

Ultimately, He was obedient and went to the cross for us.
“And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:8 (NIV)

Having faith has more to do with being Obedient than it does with Bible trivia. Do you, like Jesus, pray for God’s blessings so you might serve God better? That God will get the credit? Do you act in such a way that your first priority is giving to God with your treasures? Do you see Church as the building or as the people?

Many people turn denominational adjectives into nouns. Instead of saying, I am a Baptist Christian, a Presbyterian Christian, a Catholic Christian, or an Orthodox Christian, they say, I am a Baptist; I am a Presbyterian; I am a Catholic; I am Orthodox, and so on. This is a distortion of values, for being a Christian is the important thing, and what kind of Christian you call yourself is purely secondary if it really counts at all. That is what this series is all about: It isn’t about us – It’s about God.

We’re a United Methodist Church – we do things a little different from Cedarcrest Church or West Ridge Church but then we do things a little different from Acworth UMC and Due West UMC too. Are we going to use a microscope to analyze the differences or discover the similarities? Will we use a telescope to see how far apart we are or discover all the ways we do just what Jesus desires? Will we move together – toward Jesus so God will be glorified? Will we hold together and celebrate “…. the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. (1 Jn 5:14)”?

Together, on August 1st churches came together to Engage Atlanta – It was more than symbols of our unity but it was faith in action. In the same way, it is this same inspiration – the same spirit of God that brought together a vision to support kids and their families.

My prayer, is at the end of your life, you should be able to say “I did what God gave me to do.”

So, may I ask you to consider this question: Is your life pointing others to the greatness of God or are there areas of your life that are hiding the glory of God for others?

To become the United Church that God desires means that we see with the eyes of God for those Jesus doesn’t desire to leave behind.

(This is the rough draft of the sermon preached. It reflects a collaboration of ideas from other pastors in the 15 churches taking part in this series - I'm thankful to journey with some great people!)

Facing the Lion

The story is told of a lion who used to prowl in a field where there were four oxen. Many times he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near they turned their tails to one another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them. One day, a fight started among them. Each went off to pasture alone in a separate corner of the field. Then the lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four.

What on earth was it that caused those four oxen to walk away from each other? Was it how much space they had? Was it the way one snored at night? Maybe it was the color of their fur? Maybe it was the kind of grass they liked best? I doubt that nothing was as great as the common obstacle they faced – living with a hungry lion!

Like most pastors, I get asked now and then, about the differences with denominations (or non-denominations). I also get an ear-full about the problems with denominations. Sometimes, the idea even circulates around that somehow, another church or denomination is “the competition.” Crazy isn’t it?

Jesus prayed these words recorded in John’s history of Jesus life, “I pray that all of these people continue to have unity in the way that you, Father, are in me and I am in you. I pray that they may be united with us so that the world will believe that you have sent me. (John 17:21 GW)”

A couple of months ago I got an e-mail from George Wright at Cedarcrest Church inviting me to a meeting of other pastors in our area. At the table, I sat with Tom Tanner at River Stone Church, Mike Linch at North Star Church and other pastors of various denominations. Yes, we worship different ways, have some differences in how we express our faith or organize our church…


…when it comes down to the heart of the matter, you need to know something – we’re on the same page. We believe there is a unity in Jesus Christ that is BIGGER than the small things. We are not “competition” but brothers and sisters who share a common faith and belief that God has BIGGER plans for this world than we have.

So in August, those of us who gathered together months ago, we’ll be preaching in our churches a common message: “UNITED.” We are learning as we go mind you. Hey, we’re not perfect – we’re pastors – that should say it all. We have read those words of Jesus and believe what unites us is BIGGER than any little thing dividing us. It was Jesus’ prayer and it is our’s.

So this August, don’t sit on the sidelines but get to church where you can face your lion with help and unite with what God is doing!

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