Saturday, May 31, 2008
The first account of Jesus' Ascension we will look at is found in the first eleven verses of the Book of Acts. It paints the picture of Jesus' last moments on earth and the birth of the church. From the invitation at the Galilean lakeside to this moment, the disciples’ every move has been defined by their walk with Jesus. The Ascension changes everything. The disciples will be forced to become the carriers of the faith. They face this moment with fear and trembling, excitement and trepidation. I appreciate the diverse responses because the Ascension is a story that brings together the presence of the Father, the love of the Son, and the promise of power of the Holy Spirit. The disciples are witnesses of when heaven and earth touched and when the power of God moved in their midst. Their story becomes our story.
We begin with the first three verses. In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2 until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. Luke’s account stands against those that said that Jesus’ resurrection was spiritual not physical, or was a grand imagery scheme of his followers. Before Luke tackles Jesus’ ascension, he places the Jesus story in the midst of forty full days of post-resurrection encounters. The babe in the manger, the wandering teacher and healer, the man on the cross, the empty tomb, the resurrected Jesus – this is the story that lays the foundation for the church…..for our faith.
Luke begins a dramatic shift, the Jesus story prepares to become the Church story, but it requires an act of Father. Hear verse 4. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. "This," he said, "is what you have heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."
“Get ready”, Luke reports, “Something is about to happen that will change every.” Jesus tells his disciples, hang on – while they knew that John had baptized people with water, the Father was about to do something. This image of baptism is not accidental. John did not dip or sprinkle people. He immersed them – plunged them – totally submersed them. Jesus wanted them to know that when the Father baptized them with the Holy Spirit they would be plunged into the very nature – the very presence – the very power of God. The act of the Father would change them and history forever.
The disciples were so predictable. Gene you captures them well. Jesus was talking to them about the coming baptism of the Holy Spirit and they immediate changed the topic. 6 So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" 7 He replied, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. Can you believe that they had listened to the teaching of Jesus, had witnessed the crucifixion, had experienced the miracle of the resurrection – and still we asking “so when are you going to become the kind of messiah we want?”
One more time Jesus draws them close and redirects them. God’s kingdom on earth will be up to you. It is you – you – that will become the living witnesses of God. It is you - you – who will carry the good new of God’s love to the ends of the earth. It is you – you – who will do the impossible through the power of Spirit. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Before we dash to the Great Commission, we need to pause on the first half of the verse. It reads, But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. You have probably heard preachers tell you before that the word of power Luke selects is “dunamin.” “which is the same as the root word for dynamite. But the word carries even more strength than that. It is best defined as “power, strength, authority. Possibly ‘authority”, but more likely divine strength to complete a divine task, here being ‘witnesses.’ The Holy Spirit is the facilitator of this power.”
The power of the Spirit is that we are given the divine strength to accomplish the divine task – that God moves in and through us in such as way that the kingdom of God on earth comes through us. I believe that our temptation is that think we are dipped or sprinkled with the Spirit – with the presence and power of God – because if we embrace divine strength to accomplish the divine task – there can be no excuse for stepping out on faith to do what is required to accomplish the commission that God has given us. Our problem is that fear is not from God. If we are immersed in the power and the presence of God then faith not fear beckons us. You are the carriers of the faith – the hands and feet of God’s kingdom on earth. It is a divine task and you are promised the divine power to do it.
Now the moment, when Jesus would claim his rightful place in heaven and for the disciples to take their place as living witnessed of the Gospel. Hear verses 9. When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. Even now the disciples still weren't sure. The first half of verse ten captures them in much the same posture as the painting. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven. There they were waiting – waiting for Jesus to return – waiting – waiting- and then suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." The two men in white is the same description Luke had used to describe the angels at the empty tomb. If you will allow the Tom Ogburn contemporary translation, “And two angels appears among them and said, boys, if you had been paying attention, I think he gave you something to do and the power to do it – so he’ll come back in due time- get on with your task!” The temptation is to become so caught in our heavenly gaze that we fail to meaningfully engage in the earthly task we have been given I think their words to us might be similar, “enjoy your heaven gazing – now its your turn- get on with it!” There are so many broken hearts and broken spirits that await a word of hope, some many lives that long for forgiveness. Hear that God stands ready to move in and through us. .
How does the Ascension story touch our lives today? Can we be content and let the painting hang on the wall and the story lie flat in scripture, or does it speak to us today?
· It is a Jesus story because it begins with Jesus and carries to the moment he is lifted from sight.
· It is the Father’s story because it promises us that the Father will give us what we need to do all that he calls us to do.
· It is the Spirit’s story because the promised baptism of the Spirit has come and God’s power and promise lives among us.
· It is our story because it paints the picture of the birth of the church and our commission to transform the world.
 The Ascension," Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources. Available online at http://www.textweek.com/mkjnacts/acts1a.htm on May 30, 2008.
May the the presence of the Father, the power of the Spirit, and the heart of the Son fill you and overflow from you today and forever.
Grace and Peace, Tom
Monday, May 26, 2008
It is good to be home. I know that Chad, Paul, and Mack have brought you messages that have challenged and encouraged you, but I am glad to be back in my place among you. I need to tell you what a remarkable church family you are. The meals, the cards, the emails and the calls you have shared with me have proven to be a constant source of encouragement to me. Thank you. With your permission, today I will claim a stool and preach from a single spot rather than roaming the platform as is my tradition. It appears that I will need to give my hip and muscles a little longer to recover and strengthen.
“Home” is one of those words that conjures strong emotion and seems to have as many definitions as there are people to you ask.
The old English proverb recounts, “Home is where the heart is.”
Dorothy of the Wizard of Oz offered the well known line “There’s no place like home.”
Hagar the Horrible of the comic strips pronounces, “Home is where they love you, even when your feet smell bad.”
The great poet, Robert Frost said, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
Benjamin Franklin offered, “A house is not a home unless it contains food and fire for the mind as well as the body.”
Contemporary Pulitzer Prize winning writer John Ed Pearce contended, “Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to.”
And finally, one of my favorites is by a German poet from the last century, Christian Morgenstern, who waxed, “Home is not where you live but where they understand you.”
There is no doubt that home is more than brick and mortar, more than an address, it is about relationships. There is a passage I invite you to consider with me this morning that has something to say about “home.” It is found in the book of Ephesians, Chapter 2, verses 19 through 22. It paints a picture of what it means to be built together as a home for and with God. I believe that Eugene Peterson captures the heart of this passage in his interpretative translation, The Message. We have already heard from our children earlier in the service.
II. God Gathers Vs. 19a
The passage begins; 19 That's plain enough, isn't it? You're no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You're no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone.
I do not think I fully appreciated the power of the symbol of the ‘home country” until I was a stranger in a stranger land. Our first days as missionaries in Thailand are not ones I will ever forget. The sights, the sounds, the language, and the food all let me know that I did not belong. That I was a stranger.
Do you remember your first holiday at your in-laws when you did not know exactly what was going on? Or may the first time you visited another country where English did not work? Or maybe it was that first week at college where everyone seemed different. You feel isolated – even lonely. You are clear that you just don’t fit. This is a feeling Paul knew the people of Ephesus had experienced. As a regional city they had seen strangers -people of diverse cultures and languages that wandered their streets. Paul knew the Jews that had come to Christ had lived their lives as wandering exiles. He also knew that Greek believers -many in the Ephesus church - had been reminded over and over that they were not Jewish. Divisions ruled the day and Paul was ready for them to let their divisions go.
I love how Biblical scholar John MacArthur sees this. He offers, “God’s kingdom is made up of the people from all time who have trusted in Him. There are no strangers, foreigners, or second-class citizens there (cf. Phil. 3:20). members of the household of God. Redeemed sinners not only become heavenly citizens but also members of God’s own family. The Father bestows on believers the same infinite love He gives His Son.” For Paul there are no green cards – everyone gets full citizenship. Everyone is equal. I think our temptation is to think that peoples place in church are based on what they can do or how much they can give. This is a myth that minimize so many. Hear me, You belong here! You belong not because of what you can do or what you can give, because God values us all and claims us all through our relationship in Christ.
III. God Fits Us Together
God is building a home. He's using us all — irrespective of how we got here — in what he is building. 20 He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he's using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone 21 that holds all the parts together.
One summer during college I work as a part of a construction team. One of the people I met that amazed was a gifted carpenter. It seemed he could take common pieces of wood, some nails, and a bit of glue and suddenly a spiral staircase or a handcrafted fireplace mantle would emerge. Paul claims this picture to describe what God is doing with us. God is fitting us together
We are parts and pieces gathered by the master carpenter – it does not matter how we got here, only that we got here. For some the story begins in the craddle roll of the church and carries them into leadership in this church today. Others had seasons away from God - difficult seasons of life and troubled times of faith. But regardless of how we got hear, God stands ready to include us- to fit us together as a part of his grand work.
Even more significant is the fact that we have been built on Christ We can ooh and aah over the great work of the grand architect Frank Lloyd Wright or Aldo Rossi – but the architect that is building us together is the architect of all of creation. The one who shaped the Grand Canyon, the Great Western Plains, and Niagara Falls and the great natural wonders of the world gets involved with us – shaping us, molding us together to become something special- something that God can and will use.
We hear that Jesus is the cornerstone – and then we are built brick by brick with Christ. The church rests on a single foundation in the sense that, as the “cornerstone” in ancient building methods had an importance as the stone used by the architect-builder to determine the “lie” of the whole building, so Jesus Christ is the pattern by which the church is being shaped by God. Its growth is set by its conformity to this original plan.  God will claim you as one of the bricks for his work. You have great value in the eyes of God.
God began with the apostles and prophets – and now uses us just the same, brick by brick, stone by stone. You are an essential part of what God is building. You are the living stones, the public testimony of the work of Christ – but together our strength – our witness – our impact – is multiplied. It is Christ that joins us together
IV. God Lives in Our Midst
We see it taking shape day after day — a holy temple built by God, 22 all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home. Our passage concludes with the unveiling of the blue prints – the picture of what God is building. We see it taking shape day after day — a holy temple built by God.
I love this room (referencing the grand sanctuary at FBC OKC). Every time I walk in here I am touched and called toward God. What impresses me is not the grand pipes of the organ or the stain glass windows. It is the fact that when I sit alone in this room I can look around and think about the people that find their place in each of the pews. I think about their life stories and and how each of them help shape my encounter with God.
I remember walking through some of the great cathedrals of Europe. They are impressive structures built for the glory of God, but this temple is something grander – all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home it is being built to become the very home of God. Bricks made of clay can not contain God – no matter how impressive the structure. God lives not in a place, but in the midst of his people.
The more traditional translation speaks of this temple being the “dwelling place of God.” “The term for ‘dwelling’ connotes a permanent home. God the Holy Spirit takes up permanent residence in His earthly sanctuary, the church.”  God is at home – God lives in our midst! What I hope you hear is that Together we are a living temple where God is at home. Each one has a place. Each one plays a part. Each one – everyone matters! Drawing back to where we began, God is not fashioning a house of a vacation property, God is building us together to be home. God is building us together to be the kind of place where the way of God and the will of God is familiar- in fact, the norm.
If we believe this how might it change how we worship – how might it change how we live? Are we living our lives in a way where we believe God is at home in our midst? Are we encouraging each other and challenging each other to be living witnesses of God’s presence and power?
You belong to God. “For God so loved YOU that he gave his Son- and through His Son has made you one of His.
God will claim you as one of the bricks for his work. You have great value in the eyes of God.
Together we are a living temple where God is at home. If we believe that God lives in our midst it will change how we respond as individuals and as a family of faith.
God is ready to be at home in our lives. Are we ready for this kind of relationship with each other and with God? The plans have been drawn, the Master carpenter is at work. Are we ready to be built together for God?
 From a variety of websites and quotation books reviewed in the week leading up to the sermon.
MacArthur, J. 1997, c1997. The MacArthur Study Bible (Electronic ed.) . Word Pub.: Nashville, TN
O'Brien, P. T. 1999. The letter to the Ephesians. The Pillar New Testament commentary . W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.: Grand Rapids, Mich.
Martin, R. P. 1991. Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon. Interpretation, a Bible commentary for teaching and preaching . John Knox Press: Atlanta
MacArthur, J. 1997, c1997. The MacArthur Study Bible (Electronic ed.) . Word Pub.: Nashville, TN
It is Monday and I am enjoying a great Memorial Day with my family. Yesterday was my first day back at church. It was good to be back among the First Baptist family and great to be back in the pulpit. I am thankful for the three great proclaimers that covered for me while I was gone, but it was good to be back in place. I am posting yesterday sermon in a seperate blog entry. I do not plan to do any further health updates. We have reached a point where the plan includes basic physical therapy, a bit of rest, and progressively more hours back at the office. Recovery is ahead of schedule and all is well, so this blog will return to focusing on issues of life and faith.
I am thankful for all of the words of encouragement and the strong prayer support. I am grateful that the surgeons have been able to deal with last physical limitation and put me back in a place where my life can be defined by my life and work rather than a medical condition. I look forward to a great season with my family and in ministry to my God.
Grace and Peace, Tom
Monday, May 19, 2008
Yesterday I read a text that a church family shared with me on being a Christian in Communist China. It was written about growing up in the midst of Mao's cultural revolution. It is entitled Finding My Way Home by Nettie Ma. It is a good read.
Thank you for your ongoing encouragement and support. More soon.....
Grace and Peace, Tom
Saturday, May 17, 2008
I have claimed the afternoon for reading. Yesterday I had finished Conversations with Jesus by Harold Fickett. I gave me several things to think about. When I had finished Fickett's text I dove into Growing an Engaged Church by Albert Winseman. This afternoon I finished up the text. It may be one of the more important books I have read in a long time. There are several principles he raised that I hope to discuss with our church family. I also began reading David Boren's A Letter to America. I plan to finish it before I head to bed. I still have four or five books I would like to finish before my "study break" finishes and I head back to work. Physical Rehab starts Monday.
I continue to be amazed by the cards, calls, visits and meals that the First Baptist family have shared as symbols of their love and support.
Grace and Peace, Tom
Friday, May 16, 2008
Tomorrow I am going to go the the mall to stretch my legs. I look forward to seeing how I respond to longer runs than the one from my bedroom to the otherside of my house. I continue to be amazed at seeing how God is moving and healing. Thanks be to God.
Grace and Peace, Tom
Thursday, May 15, 2008
I continue to be touched by the support from the congregation. Each day cards come tumbling out of the mailbox that offer words of prayer, support, and encourament. Each night a different family brings the next line a long line of wonderful meals. Phone messages and emails bring words of additional words of support from across the church family. I am indeed blessed to have the opportunity to serve such a great congregation. I eagerly look forward to the time when I am again in their midst.
Grace and Peace, Tom
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Beth has proven to be a great caregiver. This is no great surprise. Unfortunately I have given her much practice over these past seven to eight years. My mother has become my day time babysitter and has been a gift of support and encouragement.
I will begin physical therapy on Monday afternoon. We need to rebuild the muscle mass that has been sleeping over these past six to seven years. I eagerly look forward to beginning the PT process.
I am trying to claim the recovery period as a study break. I have finished Compolo's book of stories that I mentioned in an earlier blog and am about half way through John Ortberg's When the Game is Over It All Goes Back in the Box. A member of the FBC OKC family who is an avid golfer has given me two books on golf to read. I have already begun reading selections from them. Another member shared their copy of David Boren's A Letter to America that I will try to read over the next couple of days. I am glad for the diversity of the texts. Some affirm my beliefs, others challenge them, and still others provide an intellectual release. All are helping me make good use of the down time.
I continue to thank each of you who are taking the time to read the blog and offers prayers and words of encouragement on my behalf.
Grace and Peace, Tom
Monday, May 12, 2008
Thank you for your great support and encouragement.
Grace and Peace, Tom
Sunday, May 11, 2008
I want thank you for checking in. I appreciate the fact that so many of you have been hitting the blog to find out how I am doing. The news is all good. It seems that the one week marker was a significant one. My mobility is increasing daily and the pain remains under control. Every day I seems I can put more and more weight on the hip. I can comfortably sit at angles that would have been impossible before the surgery. I am progessing at a much quicker rate than I had hoped for. I believe a significant reason for the great results and positive progress is the prayers that you and the First Baptist family have offered on my behalf. Thank you!
I am claiming this down time as a study break. I brought a number of books home to read as time and energy allowed. About mid-week I felt up to grabbing a book and beginning to read. The first text I worked through was William Barclay's Spiritual Autobiography. It raised some great issues to consider in sermon preparation. The second book I read was James Bryan Smith's Room of Marvels. It is a novel that provides a vision of a spiritual journey thorugh heaven. It is not the kind of text that I normally read, but offered some issues to consider in spiritual formations. I am now reading Tony Campolo's Let Me Tell You a Story. It is a collection of stories from his life/ministry journey. Some are grand and will work their way into future sermons. Others have been encouraging or challenging but will be best left in the bounds of the text. My hope is that this season of reading will further strengthen my preaching skills.
I am thankful for your care and prayers.
Grace and Peace, Tom
Friday, May 9, 2008
I have had a really good day! I am still taking it easy but I see significant improvement.I'll write another update before Sunday!Tom
It's great news and a reason to continue rejoicing!
Thursday, May 8, 2008
Good night Wednesday. We seem to have his meds at a better timing for him that is working. Tom is deeply touched with the cards, food and love shown to him at this time. It means a lot to the family.Thanks for your continual prayers for his speedy recovery.
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
A Bit of A Setback
Tom had great day yesterday, but apparently pushed a bit too hard. Can you imagine? He did several lapse around the house with the walker and spent five or six hours sitting up in the chair. This seemed good until he noticed that several muscles waking and clamoring for attention. It made it somewhat of a rough night and early morning. Beth and Tom are working to get the pain under control. Tom promises to take is easier today.
Let's all pray for him to take it easy, to relax and let his body heal. He has done so well and this is no time to push the limits. We thank God for how far Tom has come and know that all the rest will come in the appropriate time.
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Tom is still doing well. I asked him if he wanted to give an update personally- his quote was " I am trying to really take vacation," so he'll update later probably by the weekend! For those of you who are wondering if he can take vacation, he is learning!Each day he is getting better. He sat in the lift chair today and is sitting in ways he hasn't in 7 years. His words are this surgery has given him freedom and he is enjoying it.Every day he is a little stronger. Tom did tell me to tell everyone- thanks for the food- he is loving the meals! and really appreciates all the prayers. Most the time he is stronger and stronger, however, there are a few times that reminds him he just had major surgery and to rest and listen to the doctors so he can recover well.His first walk in the hospital was to the elevator where he could see the church from 5th floor... so he is already looking forward to coming back to work, yet taking his time for recovery very seriously.love, beth
Hallelujah! Tom is doing so well and resting and letting go of work for a bit. It is an answer to all our prayers.
Monday, May 5, 2008
Here is an email from Beth:
He had a great night and first day at home. He is amazed how quiet the house is compared to the hospital. We love the fact that this experience was a express, fast lane hospital visit!
He has walked all around the house and it is very exciting to see him walk normally with both legs working as they should. He is slow however and exhausted.
He looks forward to seeing the staff, and in a week or so invites others to come for a visit.
Please make phone calls in late afternoon as well for he is resting most of the day. Sleep is very needed for his recovery.
Thanks for all the prayers! God has been so good.
Sunday, May 4, 2008
Saturday, May 3, 2008
Tom is excited to go home. He is excited by how well he has responded to surgery. I wish I could convey to all who read this the joy and amazement in his voice. This medical experience has been so different than anything in the past and anything he had imagined. He really is thrilled.
I stopped by to see Tom this afternoon. He looked very healthy and well. He was getting ready to stand for the first time and said, "You can come in and pray, then you'd better leave. You don't want to watch this." I agreed to these terms and he said, "Look! Have you ever seen me sit like this?" He was sitting with his left left bent at the knee. I had never seen that and was glad for this new ability. We prayed and I left him to his therapy.
I wondered how it had gone and here is the email I just received from Beth:
"Tom is doing amazing! He walked to the elevators today and did great- he is able to move his hip beyond his dreams.He just called very excited! Thanks to everyone for their prayers.We'll be home on Sunday- and looking forward to that.Beth"
Enjoy the wonder of God's healing power!
They plan for Tom to go home tomorrow. Praise God! What a different experience this has been for them than their previous medical nightmare. Rejoice with me in God's goodness.
Friday, May 2, 2008
Tom has opted not to go home until Sunday. As he said tonight, "I don't need to rush this." It's good to hear him taking care of himself and sounding so normal. Beth sounds like a new woman - relaxed, rested, and reassured. God has been gracious and good to them this week and they both know it.
Let's keep praying for a continued healthy recovery, for patience in recovery, and for good rest after a stressful week.
Today he will have a one-time radiation treament. This will help destroy any bone cells in his leg that might regrow the bone that was removed. All his IV's are out and he is doing absolutely fantastic!
Keep checking in for more good news!
Continue to pray with us for Tom's continued recovery. Please remember that Tom and Beth don't wish to have visitors at the hospital due to his physical therapy and the pain it will cause him, but they welcome your cards and prayers.
Thursday, May 1, 2008
Tom's surgery got started a little later than scheduled. He went in between 7:45am and 8:00am. Everything seems to be going well so far. I will update this blog as soon as more information is available.