Christmas At The Movies

Don't miss the start of our Christmas series beginning this week! If you do, you'll just have to pick it up on the mp3 but you'll be missing out on all the other great stuff!

It seemed appropriate to launch this with a reminder of how wonderful life is and talk about the hope that the Christmas Season promises.

Remember - Baptism

As the official rode along in his carriage, he was reading the prophet Isaiah out loud. The Spirit said to Philip, "Go to that carriage, and stay close to it." Philip ran to the carriage and could hear the official reading the prophet Isaiah out loud. Philip asked him, "Do you understand what you're reading?" The official answered, "How can I understand unless someone guides me?" So he invited Philip to sit with him in his carriage. This was the part of the Scriptures that the official was reading: "He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. He was like a sheep that is silent when its wool is cut off. He didn't open his mouth. When he humbled himself, he was not judged fairly. Who from his generation will talk about his life on earth being cut short?" The official said to Philip, "I would like to know who the prophet is talking about. Is he talking about himself or someone else?" Then Philip spoke. Starting with that passage, Philip told the official the Good News about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water. The official said to Philip, "Look, there's some water. What can keep me from being baptized?" (OMITTED TEXT) The official ordered the carriage to stop. He and Philip stepped into the water, and Philip baptized him. (Act 8:28-38)

(Before beginning, I invite you to read “By Water and the Spirit” as it represents the primary source material for this sermon and the United Methodist Church's full statement on baptism)

Health care has been put front and center in our lives lately but have you picked up on the next “big thing?” It has been planned to come to your home and take your breath away – literally. As one part of the team says - “The breath is a window into the blood.” Yep, we'll be able to smell how you're doing by your breath. Breath-mints anyone?

Breath is more than 99% water, but roughly 3000 other compounds have been detected in human breath. An average sample contains at least 200 other components, including bits of DNA, proteins, bacteria and fats floating in the mist. We're a water people, but then the Biblical story has been clear we have always been wishy-washy.

From the beginning of the Biblical record, God gave us the opportunity to choose God or choose our own way. Ever since we chose our own way we've been wishy-washy. This is what makes the covenant of God so significant and the sacraments so important to remember.

In both the Old and New Testament, God enters into covenant relationship with
God’s people. A covenant involves promises and responsibilities of both parties; it is instituted through a special ceremony and expressed by a distinguishing sign. In the old covenant it was circumcision. (Genesis 17:1-14, Exodus 24:1-12). In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God fulfilled the prophecy of a new covenant and called forth the Church as a servant community (Jeremiah 31:31-34, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). For Christians, that sign would be baptism.

Baptism, like communion, is a sacrament. A sacrament is intended to help us a remember that God is the one doing the offering – it is he who is giving the gift. It differs in this way from a dedication where we make a gift of a life to God for God to accept. We believe that the sacrament of baptism is as much for the child or youth or adult – the parents – the grandparents and for you and me. We remember and proclaim what God has Done.

But some ask why should I be baptized?


At that time Jesus came from Nazareth and was baptized by John in the river. Mark 1:9


Jesus said, “Go then, to all people everywhere and make them my disciples, baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and then teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:19-20

We know that we have come to know Him, if we obey His commands. 1 Jn 2:3
Those who believed and accepted His message were baptized… Acts 2:41
But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Acts 8:12
One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, ...And after she was baptized, and her household as well, (Act 16:15)
Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. (Act 18:8)

Of course the questions don't end there. Remembering the heritage is important to understanding the answers to some of those such as...

New Testament contains no explicit mandate, there is ample evidence for the baptism of infants in Scripture (Acts 2:38-41, 16:15,33) and in early Christian doctrine and practice. Polycarp (69-155 AD), a disciple of the Apostle John, was baptized as an infant. Justin Martyr (100-166 AD) of the next generation, about the year 150 AD, states in his Dialog with Trypho The Jew that Baptism is the circumcision of the New Testament." Irenaeus (130-200 AD) writes in Against Heresies II 22:4 that Jesus came to save all through means of Himself -- all, I say, who through Him are born again to God -- infants and children, boys and youth, and old men." (I don't agree with the theology but the research by Dr. Dennis Kastens is solid: Infant Baptism History)

Infant baptism is based on the understanding that God prepares the way of faith before we request or even know that we need help. This grace that goes before is often referred to as prevenient grace (UMC).

It is sometimes asked DO I NEED TO BE REBAPTIZED?

Nope, once is enough, no matter what denomination baptized you. Remember, this is God's work.

You're United Methodists so you sprinkle when you baptize, right?
No, our church has always offered to people being baptized and to the parents of infants the choice of sprinkling, pouring, or immersion. Immersions tradition comes from John the baptist but sprinkling came from the Old Testament, Num. 19:18-19 and Psalm 51.7-12. I've jokingly said that we'll spray you down with a hose.

The amount of water that covers our bodies will never be sufficient to enact change in our souls. “Baptism,” Maxie Dunnam says, “doesn't explain, it proclaims.” Whether it is a baby baptized, a youth, or an adult, baptism is an outward sign of an inward grace – God's gift, a gift in Jesus Christ which has been offered to us all. This is what the man declared to Philip, not that he had done something but he believed GOD had offered Him grace. Baptism is a representation that GOD HAS MOVED, DOES MOVE AND WILL MOVE to bring us into connection with Himself.

How can I "remember [my] baptism and be thankful" when I was baptized as a baby?

What we are called to remember in reaffirmation is the gift of God's grace, not a particular event. Through this celebration, we can "remember" our baptism as much as we "remember" our own birthday each year.

Click here for the link to Crossroad's MP3 collection.

Family Man Big Buck Contest

It is so time for Christian guys to be, well, guys! I'm not talking about being some kind of bizarre "superman" kind of thing. I'm so all over The Family Man Web's Big Buck Contest.

Okay, I admit it, this was the first thing I clicked on when I came over to check out this awesome is that for a contest! Thanks to Lori at All You Have To Give who definitely has done great work in watching out for the women out there.

It just started, the rut is in full swing now down here in Georgia and I know it is other places. Fall turkey season is cranking in other states and waterfowl season is about to open down south. Get your sons and daughters out if you can too. Now is the time - get out and make some stories!

Remember - Communion

1 Corinthians 11:23-29
I remember the coupon. It was kindergarten and I had been awarded a yellow coupon – one free cheeseburger at McDonalds. I remember taking that coupon in hand with fear and trembling because I had never had a yellow coupon before. I was a plain white coupon kid – straight up hamburger kind of guy. No cheese had ever defaced my burger. So it was that a few days later, with my dad willing to sacrifice and eat the cheeseburger, that I Kenneth Lee Hagler, presented the yellow coupon to the cashier at the McDonalds in Starkville, Mississippi. With that first bite, a whole new world opened for me – cheese was a good thing – No – it was a GREAT thing on a burger!

On the night that he was betrayed, Jesus certainly did more than add cheese to hamburger. Jesus did more than just break bread and pour out juice. Jesus did more than interrupt the celebration of the Jewish Passover meal. He He gave us himself. In communion, this reality is what we remember.

The communion meal is a mystery. For centuries, there have been different thoughts among Christians on this meal. I have come to respect all of those that respect the meal. When Paul wrote to correct the Corinthians, he gave to us the first and most basic ritual of communion. And what he was saying to those who were gathered – remember the meaning – don't play with this – it is seriously GREAT!

The United Methodist has 43 page document titled, Holy Mystery
that outlines how the United Methodist Church understands all of communion. It is good reading but it isn't a sermon – it is more like a little homework – as I'm sure you don't want me to read off a paper!

Where it gets personal is this – Jesus took bread and wine – and he set them aside in a ritual. They became the essential tangible items through which Jesus connects to us. We remember what Christ did in the past, receive his presence in our lives today and place our hope in a future God has promised. The past, present and future connect with us.

But why should a person even take communion?

It follows Jesus' example.
Mark and Matthew's Gospels record the words that reflect that Jesus took part in the ritual. "Truly I say to you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God." (Mark 14:25)

It honors Jesus' teaching.
We understand that the communion meal was something Jesus taught to be done often...
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes. (1Co 11:26 NASB)

It demonstrates my faith in Jesus.
The record in Acts records how the early church made communion a habit as did the early church as a whole.
Acts 2:46 "Day by day, attending the Temple together and breaking bread in their homes…"
Acts 20:11 "And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed."

What about the questions around communion?
Why do you let children take communion?
When children come forward we tell them the bread and juice remind them that Jesus loves them very much. After all, this is the truth we all need to hear! Jesus said we should not stop the little children from coming to him and if the bread and juice represent him, it is appropriate for children to come.

Why is grape juice used rather than wine?
It came about during the 19th century in response to prohibitions of alcohol and the growing problem of alcoholism and continues through to today.

Why do you use bread with yeast when Jesus didn't?
It has been in question for a number of years what meal it was exactly that Jesus celebrated in the upper room. The word used for bread in Greek could refer to any type of bread, with or without yeast. Of greater importance is our belief in an open table where all can come and receive.

What do you believe happens to the elements?
We believe that the elements are a tangible way through which God can work though the elements though they remain bread and juice. John Wesley wrote that this “This is the food of our souls: This gives strength to perform our duty, and leads us on to perfection” (“The Duty of Constant Communion,” I.3).

What do you do with the leftovers?
Traditionally, the elements are returned to creation or consumed by those who prepare and serve. The handling of the bread and juice should be handled and used with reverence.

Can anyone take communion @ Crossroads?
The answer is yes. We call our table an open one. You don't have to be a United Methodist or a member. You may not even feel worthy. You may not even be a Christian. We believe this simple meal with all its meaning, is God offering us grace.

This meal is a chance to remember that Jesus is all we need. We'll never experience God fully if we act like a diner who keeps interupting their meal to go eat at the restaurant next door, says author Larry Crabb. This is food for our soul.

Remember...begins this Sunday

I'm really excited about the next two weeks at Crossroads UMC as we look at the two practices Jesus told us we should remember to do - Communion and Baptism. This week, as we take a look at Communion, I want to recommend a little reading.

Check out This Holy Mystery. This is an explanation of the background, meaning and practice of Communion in the United Methodist Church.

Heroes & Villains - Part 2

Sometimes the Villain is the Hero...
There are a lot of negative outcomes surrounding discrimination. But maybe the worst thing about discrimination is how it contributes to disconnection. We build barriers and walls and push away those who might be the very ones who are meant to bring hope and joy into our world. But the unknown, the concealed parts of our lives including the potential for pain, make it nearly impossible to move forward.

The relationship between Bella and Edward in the Twilight series highlights this and this one scene captures the tension that exists throughout the series of novels. “What if, I am not the hero? What if I am the bad guy?” And in all that we've been taught, we know that Edward must be a monster for after all, Edward is a vampire.

But author Stephanie Meyers challenges us with the question, a tension that exists in Edward's own character – What if the villain is in fact the hero? It was on his death bed that Edward was turned into a vampire by one who was also a doctor. A doctor named Carlisle Cullen.

Carlisle was the son of minister in the 18th century when he was bitten and because of his convictions, fought to live a new way. Now stop and imagine this – a doctor with over 200 years of medical training. A doctor with a moral compass, a conviction not to survive off of humanity but to heal humanity. A vampire, surviving off of animals rather than humans.

Sometimes the villain is the hero.

This truth has been at the heart of the spiritual struggle that takes place behind the scenes in our world. The story of Elijah the prophet of God in the Old Testament illustrates the ongoing struggle of spiritual warfare. The Bible tells us that King Ahab and Queen Jezabel probably did more evil in the sight of God than any other King or Queen of God's people. In fact, they didn't even worship God but instead chose to worship Baal. In the face of this idolatry, Elijah stood firm and condemned the false worship. Ahab and Jezabel did all they could to dicredit and destroy Elijah. The nation wasn't sure who to believe. In the most powerful exchange in 1Ki 18:17-18 When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, "Is this you, you troubler of Israel?" (18) [Elijah] said, "I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father's house have, because you have forsaken the commandments of the LORD and you have followed the Baals. (NASB)

What happened to Elijah was a pattern that would continue and has continued for all who follow after God. To the religious leaders of the day, Jesus, was himself called the villain. Matthew records in chapter 12 the story of a man who was blind and couldn't speak, he

“(22)...was brought to Jesus, and He healed him, so that the mute man spoke and saw. (23) All the crowds were amazed, and were saying, "This man cannot be the Son of David, can he?" (24) But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, "This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons." (25) And knowing their thoughts Jesus said to them, "Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand. (26) "If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? (27) "If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? For this reason they will be your judges. (28) "But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Mat 12:22-28 NASB”
The Jewish religious leaders had already discovered that Jesus was out of their control. In their minds, he was not “their messiah.” He regularly did things they did not approve of, like spending time with prostitutes, fishermen, shepherds and tax collectors. He healed people on the Sabbath and even touched the most vile to heal even! Rather than try to control, they sought to destroy – to discredit and lie.

What do they say? They say Jesus is of the devil! Of all things they could say they try to discredit Jesus by saying he is of the devil. And it is here that Jesus gives the famous - “house divided” teaching. In these lines Jesus again highlights this core value of evil that I spoke last week - '"Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. "You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (Joh 8:42-44, NASB)

Paul points out what should be evident, is the character of Jesus. Imitated by evil of course, this is what we have to be careful about. But Paul wrote to the Galatian church that the “...fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, (23) gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Gal 5:22-23 (NASB))”

I can best describe it this way. The pastor that had the biggest impact on my life wasn't the best preacher or the best chaplain. No, Malloy Owens showed it to me because of a life that was simply being a Christian – a word that means literally: “little Christ.” Malloy wasn't boisterous but was simply the kind of guy you liked to hang out with. He wasn't my pastor for more than two years but it was enough. Even within the face of opposition, Malloy showed in his life, the character of Christ – the fruit of the Spirit.

It wasn't a character that Malloy created in himself but what Jesus did in and through him. It is this change that puts God and others first that shows through our lives – it is the loving acts done one at a time that mark the hero from the villain. The devil is in the details – the fine print – the words – Satan is a liar. But Jesus came not to change words and details but to make a difference in our lives – heroes are always found in actions – one loving act at a time.

Heroes & Villains - Part 1

Throughout the story of Harry Potter, there is a denial of any possibility that the great evil wizard, Lord Voldemort could still be alive after his disapperance. Over and over, Voldemort's followers are able to manipulate and infiltrate the ranks of authority and power. The turning point finally coming when Voldemort replaces one of the most powerful wizards with a look alike. As the tension builds and the wizarding world is overthrown by the dark lord, One of Harry Potter's professors makes this simple statement, “Voldemort is playing a very clever game. Declaring himself might have provoked open rebellion: Remaining masked has created confusion, uncertainty, and fear.” (pg 208, The Deathly Hallows)

The parallels throughout history are unmistakable. Adolf Hitler brought hope to a nation and then led Germany down a path of complete darkness and oppression. King Henry the VIII pride and selfishness led England into a downward spiral. One of the United States earliest and greatest generals was Benedict Arnold. Because of his early successes against Great Britain, some even desired to replace General Washington with Arnold. Yet, this hero was found to be a wolf in sheep's clothing and his name became forever associated with his traitorous deeds.

Real life and fictitious stories often parallel one another. Stories such as Harry Potter, Twilight, Batman and Star Wars, have brought to light a rather challenging and at the same time, disturbing reality – what if the hero is the villain?

It is a reality we face most specifically when we begin to deal with the spiritual realm. So many things sound good and make us feel good. Even in the Church universal we have in the last few decades decided that to talk about...Satan, is taboo. When Paul wrote the Corinthian church, it was this reality he was writing about. There is opposition we face in following Jesus Christ and you may never realize it because Satan is a master of disguise.

Disguising and Lying
It was Paul who highlighted that Satan comes disguised as heroes, even as pastors and clergy, but it was Jesus himself who pointed out where it comes from. It is a core value of evil to lie. In confronting the religious leaders of the Jewish people, Jesus said, '"Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. "You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (Joh 8:42-44)

Like those surrounding Harry Potter, so many wanted their world comfortable. Like our day, we don't want to believe there might be true evil. You may not even want to hear me talk about the possibility that there is a true evil one at work in our world in opposition to God. But I've had plenty of things that have over and over again confirmed Satan's work. I have seen it in relationships with friends and marriages. I have seen it in the corporate world and in ministry. But it has been in starting a new church that I have most seen the work of Satan. Whether in people or some in businesses, there have been those who have tried to take advantage and undermine the mission of Crossroads.

Satan does not want people connected to God, following Jesus or becoming his disciples. And as Carlester pointed out to us last week from his experience playing professional football – even within the Church, there are times and people where circumstances appear and people who appear as men of peace.

Ultimately, within society and today, among Christians the evidence is present that we have come to believe that our “self-interest is a virtue.” This may be the greatest lie that Satan, has been able to infiltrate among believers. It sounds good – it makes us feel good but as Dorothy Sayers so distinctly expresses it – “hell is the enjoyment of our own way forever.”

Sometimes the hero is the villain.
If any one of Jesus' followers knew this truth, it would have been Peter. He tried rebuke Jesus. Failed at following Jesus. He even denied knowing Jesus. But this follower, this saint, would also come to die for his belief in Jesus Christ.

He wrote from his own experiences that we should, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (5:8)” In other words, be humble, keep in check your self-interest - Methodist pastor Adam Clarke wrote centuries ago that Peter was saying - “be not overcharged with the concerns of the world.”

Satan doesn't care for you at all. Why does sin never satisfy us? We are never satisfied with our awards are we? Our toys? Our salaries? Because we never satisfy the devil. You and I are only snacks. Satan is into snacking – he is always looking out for his own self-interest. Just as he is never satisfied – sin will never satisfy no matter how good it looks.

But Peter said there is a way to resist the Devil – the villain in a heroes clothing - But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. (1Pe 5:8-10)

It isn't in your strength, or your wisdom or your spiritual abilities – but in your faith. Peter doesn't back away from saying it will be hard – our self interest after all isn't a virtue in God's eyes. We find our faith strengthened in knowing we are journeying with others – our bretheren – the Saints – after the way of Jesus.

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