Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Broken Temple John 2:12-22

Below is the sermon draft for tomorrow morning. It is from John 2 and is a great Lenten text that invites us to prepare ourselves for the Easter story. It lets us see a glimpse of Jesus righteous indignation and see the picture of the temple raised and resurrected.

It would have been an amazing site to behold. The Second Temple, or Herod’s Temple, would have been the most impressive piece of architecture in Jerusalem. Archeologist and Biblical scholars paint the picture of a structure with walls that could have stood the equivalent of 20 stories tall. A scholar from the Jewish-Christian Dialogue writes: “undoubtedly the centrepiece of this majestic complex was the Temple itself. A building of shining white marble and gold, with bronze entrance doors, it was said that you could not look at the Temple in daylight as it would blind you. The attention to detail in its construction is exemplified by the placing of gold spikes on the roof line of the building to prevent birds sitting on the Temple and soiling it.

On their arrival pilgrims could hear the sounds of the Levites who sang and played musical instruments at the entrance. The pilgrims would circle around the Temple seven times and then watch the various rituals, sit under the columned porticos that surrounded the plaza and listen or talk to the rabbis. The Temple area was divided into various areas for study, sacrifices, libation etc. and further divided according to a social hierarchy for gentiles, women, Israelites, Levites and Priests. Finally, in the centre of the Temple was the holy of holies, the innermost chamber of the Temple where the ark of the Law was kept.”

I want you to hear the wonder and majesty of this structure so when we hear the account in John 2: 12-22 its impact will leap from the pages for us. Hear the story.12After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days. 13When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

14In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!"

17His disciples remembered that it is written: "Zeal for your house will consume me."
18Then the Jews demanded of him, "What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?" 19Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days."

20The Jews replied, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?" 21But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

In the beauty of the temple’s construction it had become a virtual monument to the religious enterprise, to corporate religion. In the beauty of the temple’s construction they had lost focus on the true purpose of the temple. The temple courts had become the Wal-Mart of ritual products: a unique temple currency that had to be purchased at a highly inflated rate; hawkers selling cattle for the wealthiest; sheep and dove could also be had for the right price. You could buy anything you might need to feed the religious machinery.

Jesus cannot stand it. Jesus made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!"
We like to think of the peaceful Jesus, the healing Jesus, the teaching Jesus, the preaching Jesus, the feeding Jesus, the loving Jesus. But here we see Jesus’ righteous indignation. He was MAD. The temple of God had become the seat of commerce. Something had to change. He takes matters into his own hands. For one moment – in an act of zeal – with a stampede of sheep and cattle and a cascade of coins – the manipulation and economic exploitation – for one moment – stopped.

The crowd stills and turns on Jesus. “By what right do you do this” they asked? “Show us something – give us a magic trick – perform us a miracle – and show us.” With their words still hanging in the air Jesus answered. His words shocked them. He told them what he would do; "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." “What???? Destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days….did you look around – this place is huge and pretty amazing. It took over 46 years to complete this. What are you talking about?”

Jesus was trying them to prepare the disciples for the Easter story. He wanted them to understand that the cross would not be the end of the His story, but the beginning of the resurrection story. He wanted them to understand that what would draw them into God’s presence would not be found in a temple made of marble and the economics of the religious system but in the gift of life and life eternal that could only be found in an empty tomb. Sue points us toward this gift in the voice of the trash collector. Terry Ascotts tells the story of this gift to millions through the ministry of SAT-7. It is the reason we worship. It is what makes us children of God.

John tells us that the disciples didn’t get it then. It took some time and a dramatic moment for them to understand. 21But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. Now it’s our turn. Are we ready to make sure we do not get so wrapped up in the trappings of church that we might miss the power of the presence of God? Are we ready to claim the Jesus that wants nothing to stand in the way of our relationship with God? Are we ready to claim the move toward Easter, gazing at the cross and rushing to the empty tomb? Are we ready to celebrate a broken temple and the promise of resurrection?

[i] Cohney, Shelly, “The Second Temple at the Time of Jesus” available online at on March 25, 2009 and also at on the same date.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Preparing the Way Mark 8:31-38

Below is the draft of Sunday's message. It calls us to prepare for Easter and to give ourselves in radical discipleship. Let me know what you think.
Grace and Peace, Tom

The calendar has begun to move us rapidly toward Easter. In a few short weeks we will sing the “hosannas” of Palm Sunday and the “hallelujahs” of Easter morning. We come to these celebrations from this side of the empty tomb. We know how the story ends. The disciples that walked every day with Jesus did not get this luxury. They lived in the midst of the moment. Jesus tried to prepare them, but they had a hard time hearing. Finally one day he spoke plainly to them. He broke the hard news of what awaited him in Jerusalem.

It is hard to hear bad news. When someone walks into my office and begins a conversation with the question; “I have good news and bad news, which one do you want to hear first?” My immediate reaction is “tell me the good news and skip the bad news.” You know, despite what I say they always stay long enough to give me both the good and the bad news. I listen, but I do not like it.

I have discovered that I am not unique. Most of us cringe when the dentist looks at us and tells us, “I need to talk you about what we need to do next” or when the doctor says, “I have your test results, why don’t you sit down and let’s talk about them.” Those moments put a knot in our stomachs and can make our hearts skip a beat. As we begin to draw toward Easter, and as the disciples drew close to Jerusalem, we hear Jesus try to prepare them – and us – for the days that just ahead. Look for me at Mark 8:31-38. It reads; 31He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

33But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. "Get behind me, Satan!" he said. "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."

34Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35For whoever wants to save his life
will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? 37Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 38If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels."

This is one of the passages where we hear Jesus trying to help prepare his disciples for his impending crucifixion and the resurrection. He is clear but they struggle to understand. It is more than they can imagine. If we are honest, even on this side of the empty tomb, it is almost more than we can imagine. How could Jesus – Emanuel – God with us, choose to claim the brutal pain of a Roman cross.

I. Hard Words to Hear vs. 31-33
This passage finds its place in scripture just after Peter has made his grand pronouncement of Jesus as the Christ. What should have been a moment of celebration turns in a moment of angst. Hear again; 31He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 32He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. Peter cannot bear to stand to hear what Jesus has to say. With Peter’s dramatic confession of Jesus as the Messiah he would have also begun to understand the possible implications of the confession. If Jesus was the Messiah as they had understood it, then Jesus would usher in a military kingdom, claim the restoration of the nation, and his disciples would be at the forefront of what lied ahead. It was going to be great![i] In sharp contrast, Jesus offers a picture of conflict and death. The suffering and dying of the Messiah would have been completely foreign to their ears. The Messiah was supposed to come to conquer and establish a reign of God. How would this be possible? Let’s be honest, sometimes we find ourselves in Peter. We come to God with expectations – with our own agendas – and we expect God to deliver. We expect God’s blessing. We expect God’s protection. We expect God’s provision. We come expecting – and are sometimes shocked to discover God’s plan and our plans are not the same.

The next moment is a dramatic one. Jesus so upsets Peter that he pulls Jesus aside and rebukes him. “Rebuke” is not one of those words we use every day. In fact, even in scripture it is usually reserved for a spiritual context – like when Jesus rebukes a demon. Peter was so captivated by his own agenda that he challenges Jesus and demands he reconsiders what he has said. Every time someone besides Jesus "rebukes," they are proven to be wrong.[ii] Jesus wanted his disciples to understand but their own agendas kept getting in the way. He also understood that everyone would bring their own agenda to cross. He cannot allow the disciples to shape the journey that awaited him. Jesus immediately turned the table on Peter. Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. "Get behind me, Satan!" he said. "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." Can you imagine how these words would have stung Peter? Can you imagine the shock on the faces of the disciples? Can you imagine what it must felt like for the disciples to hear where they had hoped for glory they would find chaos, conflict, and death? We hear this passage from this side of the empty tomb. Can you imagine how a Galilean fisherman might hear the promise of resurrection?

Each Easter season Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ its way to movie screens, church halls and selected television broadcast. It is a powerful and painful movie to witness. But, one of the great flaws in Mel Gibson’s movie is that it seems to imply that the Holy Week story that carries Jesus from the Garden to mock trials, brutal beatings, and ultimately the cross is a story of something that HAPPENED to Jesus. If you listen to a chorus of preachers you would think Jesus was a hapless victim of the cruelty of humanity and the vengeful nature of God. They are wrong. Jesus knew exactly what he was getting into and chooses it as the means of redemption. Peoples’ agenda would have to give way to obedience to God. Chaos and conflict would have to give way to peace. The cross would have to give way to the power of resurrection – the witness of the empty tomb. [iii]

OK, I know it must seem to some of you that I am jumping the gun on an Easter sermon – after all, I am already mentioning the cross and resurrection. But what I want you to hear it that Jesus was talking about it long before that dramatic week in Jerusalem. He wanted his disciples prepared for what they were going to face. He wanted them to be prepared for what would be demanded of his follower on the other side of the resurrection. Jesus wanted his disciples and the crowd to understand that the idea of radical followship was not uniquely his.

II. Get Ready vs.34-38
In the second half or our passage we hear Jesus choose his words very carefully. There are three phrases he claims I want to focus on for just a moment. The first is the phrase is where he calls his followers to “deny himself” Jesus wanted those gathered around him to understand that the radical followship would require them to change their orientation. They were going to be expected to dump their personal agendas – to put self aside. This becomes crystal clear in the second phrase, “take up his cross.” Jesus claims the picture of the most hated, most vile symbol of Roman oppression, the cross, to show them the depths discipleship. He wants them to understand that they will have to choose to pick up their cross – and will model what that looks like in his own Jerusalem moment. Occasionally you will hear someone profoundly misunderstand this idea. They will say things like; “my arthritis is just my cross to bear”…..or “my boss is a jerk, but that is just my cross to carry.” Jesus had something much deeper in mind. It was not about dealing with our life pains or professional discomforts; it is about taking up the kind of discipleship that dies to self – every aspect of self – for the sake of radical obedience to God. It is about throwing out our agendas – our well crafted plans – our expectations of economic success and community recognition. He shows that in the third phrase; “and follow me.” “Follow me” claims a verb form that implies a continuing action – a habit – of following.[iv]

When you wrap these three together you begin to understand that Jesus was calling his followers to the kind of faith that would compel them to set self aside, to take up a self giving way of life where radical followship is the normal, natural result; where our habit is to follow faithfully follow God. Jesus goes on to teach them that it was not about what you could claim as your own – but who claims you as His own. That this kind of faith is not something we would earn or buy – but is expressed in its daily living out of life. It is the kind of faith that will prepare us for the chaos of the streets of Jerusalem, will allow us to tremble at the feet of the cross, and rejoice at the site of the empty tomb. It is the kind of faith born in a Christ who chooses to claim his cross on our behalf and then bring us into the hope and the power of the resurrection.

I saw this kind of faith in the voice of a student from Southern India who is ready to leave his family and his culture and risk his life to share the Easter story in the Muslim dominated north of his country. I saw it in the face of a young Chin woman who will lead a children’s ministry among the Burmese – because she loves them and wants them to know Jesus –even though it might lead to her arrest. We will not face these kinds of dramatic choices, but the call to follow at all cost still echoes for us. We find it when realize that God does not want parts of our life – or even our best – but all of us. Jesus wanted his disciples to understand quest for this kind of radical discipleship will how they would experience the drama of Easter week. He wanted them – and us – to see the cross not only a symbol of agony but also a place of divine choice. He wanted them to understand that the empty tomb will become a place of miraculous hope and life transforming promise. It becomes the strong promise that God is with us and that we live now and for eternity in the midst of God’s presence and power. It becomes the place of promise that will empower them to live as God’s children; a people of radical followship.

We started this service in a time of dedication for four families and their new babes. We agreed to be their family of faith for these families and to model our faith for their children. This is a sacred commitment. It beckons us to live the lives of radical followship that can serve as a living witness to these children and as a source of encouragement to their families. As these children grow they will face a culture where Christianity has been push to the margins and where the values they embrace will be challenged at every front. They will desperately need models of radical followship. The will need to live in the midst of an Easter people who live in the shadow of the cross and the power of the resurrection.

It is time to hear the hard words of Jesus that will draw him to the cross and draws us to the empty tomb. It is time to begin preparing the way to claim lives of radical followship born in the Easter story. It is time to begin preparing ourselves for Easter – for its agony – its joy – and its call to follow. Its time…..[v] Let’s pray.

[i] Influenced by Culpepper, Alan R. “Mark,” Smyth and Helwys Bible Commentary, (Smyth and Helwys: Macon, GA, 2007), p.286.
[ii] Available online at, 2009.
[iii] Influenced by Jung, Carl Gustav, from “Psychoanalysis and the Cure of the Soul” cited as a supporting quotation in “The Ministry of Reconciliation: The Cross of Changes” published in the biweekly newsletter of Le Penseur Reflechit on December 22, 2008.
[iv] Turlington, Henry E. “Mark” The Broadman Bible Commentary: Volume 8, (Broadman Press: Nashville, 1969), p. 337.
[v] Other resources consulted include: Homoletics web resources; “Mark: A Study Guide” by Hershell Hobbs; “Mark” in The New Interpreters Bible; Mark 8:31-38, in Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary's An Exegetical Study of the Common Lectionary, coordinated by Prof. John E. Alsup.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Settling Back In

It has been almost a week since I returned from my time in SEAsia. The influence of jet lag has passed but the glow from the trip remains. A couple of things that I carry with me:

  1. The students and faculty at Singapore Bible College make me very optimistic about the future of the church in Asia.
  2. The heart and faith of the Chin refugees in Malaysia touched me deeply. They have so little but share it with one another and others so generously.
  3. The Chin informal school organization is amazing. It does so much with so little.
  4. I am deeply thankful for my friends serving in SEAsia. They are doing some remarkable things for the Kingdom.
  5. My time in Southern Thailand brought back a flood of memories. But, the passionate faith demonstrated my pastor in Songkhla and his wife continues to be a source of profound inspiration to me.

It is good to be back in my place as Pastor at First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City. I continue to be thankful for the opportunity to serve among a remarkable congregation that share a heart for the world. I am grateful that for the support they give me in living out my twin calls to the church and the world.

Grace and Peace, Tom

Friday, March 13, 2009


This note find the FBC OKC team in the Singapore airport waiting to board our flight back to the US (via Moscow). It has been a good two weeks for me and I think it was a memorable eight days for the team.

My time at the Singapore Bible College still seems to resonate - via follow up emails from several students. The team's time in Singapore allowed them to be exposed to Hindu worship patterns and the powerful presence of Chinese Buddhist temples. The time in KL with the Chin leaders proved remarkably moving. The tour of the city center invited them to begin to process the nature of Islam. The pause in Penang offered us a bit of time to share some memories, but also a time to refresh before our time in Southern Thailand. The time in Songkhla brought back a flood of wonderful memories and a powerful time for the team to see spiritual impact of Thai Buddhism, Animism, and traditional Chinese worship patterns. The time at the Reclining Buddha and the team's response to the adjoining shed with images and idols from a wide range of religions was significant. This moment was made even more meaningful when we realized that our Thail friends were praying for us as we encountered these spiritual icons.

I do wish I could communicate the joy and the depth of the faith of our Thai Christian friends. They are like family to Beth and me. The quickly embraced the rest of the team as well. The time with them was spiritual energizing.

The clock says it is time to head to the plane. Oklahoma City awaits. It has been a great two weeks. It is time to go back home. I will be in the pulpit on Sunday morning. I am ready to be with the family of faith at FBC. I am anxious to share our stories and to move forward together in the ministry that God has prepared for us to do.

Grace and Peace, Tom

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Songkhla, Thailand

We spent about 24 hours in Penang. It was a time to breathe and relax a little before our next stop. Our children had the opportunity to walk the grounds of the school they once attended. We also went by our Penang home. It was a good break and a lot of fun.

Yesterday we took vans the three and a half hour ride from Penang across the Thai border to Songkhla. This was our home for several years. We were met at the hotel by our Thai pastor and his wife. They are like family to us. We took a quick tour of the city, including checking by our old house. Our neighbors still remembered us and we had a grand reunion. We also went by and fed the wild monkeys. It was a blast watching the reaction of our team as the monkeys took peanuts from their hands. We cooled off and then headed to Beth's birthday dinner. We went to our favorite resturant. It is a simple Thai Chinese resturant that puts to shame what we call Chinese and Thai in the US. Our Thai friends joined us for a great night. It was a lot of fun and Beth laughed the whole night. It was a good birthday for her.

Today we head out for the culture and religion section of this trip. It should be a very good day. We will see a Muslim village, a reclining Buddha, a huge Chinese temple, and a wide variety of other sites and sounds. The picture is from a small fishing village the team will see today as well. Look for tomorrow's posting for more details on the day.

Thanks for coming along for the trip via the blog.

Grace and Peace, Tom

Monday, March 9, 2009

Kuala Lumpur

Yesterday was a significant day. We spent the morning and early afternoon with Chin leaders in the KL area. We met with a pastor, the coordinator of the informal school system they have created for the refugee children, and the leadership of the Chin Refugee Commission. We visited in a church in the midst of slum where one of the informal schools operate. There are over 300 Chin refugees living in this slum and over 100 to 150 gathered with us at the church to meet with us. It was a moving time. We also visited in a couple of small homes where 20 to 30 people live together. We have learned of several places where our congregation and others could make a difference in the lives of the children and the broader community.

We spent the afternoon exploring KL. It had the opportunity to catch the flavor the city.

The boarding call for our flight to Penang just sounded. More soon.

Grace and Peace, Tom

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Quick Post Tonight

This afternoon/evening we got our first taste of Kuala Lumpur. We took the express train from the airport then settled into the hotel. We met some long time friends for dinner and ate inside the Petronas Towers, a twin pair of among the tallest buildings in the world. They are an impressive site. There were other developments in the day, but they will have to wait until our return.

Tomorrow we will spend a good part of the day learning about the Chin in Malaysia from one of their leading pastors. We will also take some time to explore KL's central city. I look forward to what we will see and what we will learn tomorrow.

Grace and Peace, Tom

Saturday, March 7, 2009

In Transition

The daily update is a bit later than normal. The Internet connection at the hotel where we stayed last night was not strong enough to allow me to post an update. So here we go.

I met up with the FBC OKC team about 9:45 yesterday morning. (The arrived safe and sound.) We headed out almost immediately. Our first stop was Orchard Road, where the best in high end shopping from Europe and the States meet. The stores and shopping centers are something to behold. These ultra-modern high tech stores offer almost anything and everything you might every need or want. It was fun to see it, but then we moved on to the more culturally focused areas of the city.

From Orchard Road we headed to Little India, an huge enclave that is the primary shopping and restaurant hub of Singapore's significant Indian population. It was great fun to wander among the shop houses and to experience the pulse of this vital community. We grabbed lunch at a wonderful restaurant. We ordered a variety of foods and it seems that everyone found something they enjoyed. A cultural highlight would have been the time in and around a Hindu temple and some of the we discussed there.

We took a short break in the late afternoon and then meet some friends at an outdoor pavilion for dinner. There a seeming endless variety of foods offered in this Singaporean version of a grand food court. After dinner we went to Chinatown. We experienced a huge Chinese Buddhist temple and then did a little shopping at a night bazaar.

We closed the night with a boat ride on the Singapore river. I love how Will Pennington put it: "It is like a Disney ride, but it's real!" By the time the boat ride was over jet lag had set in and the team crashed for the night.

We are now in the Singapore's Changi Airport - one of the best airports in the world - on our way to Kuala Lumpur. More later from there.

Grace and Peace, Tom

Friday, March 6, 2009

Singapore - Day Six Every Tribe, Every Tongue

I am not sure that I can put in words how much this week has meant to me. Today closed the Missions Emphasis Week at Singapore Bible College. It was everything I hoped for, and much, much more. Per the schedule the first event of the day was chapel. Attendance was strong and they again seemed to respond to the Kingdom challenge. A friend of mine had put together a PowerPoint presentation of names and faces from about 60 unreached peoples from across the globe. He added an additional set of just faces representing the rich diversity of the world who have little or no access the gospel. The presentation ran on screens to each side of me during the duration of the message on Revelation 7:9 and our commission to move from a heavenly promise to an earthly reality. The combination of word and images seem to strike a cord with many of the students because the response to the morning through the rest of the day was tremendous.

The friend that produced the presentation for me was able to stay for chapel and a time together afterwards. This allowed me to introduce my long time friend to some of the students and faculty. I think that these connections will have long term impact.

Dr. Albert Ting, the President/Principal of the seminary had invited me to join with he and his wife for dinner. He is a very good leader and I believe that he has this seminary moving in the right direction. I appreciated the time with the two of them and was glad to learn more about their story and some of Albert's vision for the seminary's future. There is one particular project he has in mind that I would love to help raise some of the funding for. More on that another day. I truly believe that SBC is the most strategic/important/vital seminaries in all of Asia and that the students from here have the potential to turn the world upside down for the sake of the gospel. I am thankful for my new friends (and the exsisting ones) here.

The early afternoon offered additional one-on-one conversations with students and faculty members. I still can hardly believe how welcoming both the students and the faculty have been to me. They have invited me into meaningful conversations on life and ministry.

The early evening hours provided a great treat. The students hosted a cultural fair displaying items and offering tastes from their individual countries. Each dressed in the traditional clothing of their country/people. It was amazing to be in the midst of such dramatic diversity while still feeling a powerful sense of connectedness and family. They seemed to truly want to share the best from their cultures with one another.

The evening concluded with International Night. It is a grand program where they put the music, dance, or even the humor from their cultures on display for one another. They begin with the parade of flags representing their home nations. I had seen a similar parade in churches before, but they were symbolic of where some distant missionaries lived and worked. These flags represented the mix of nations amongst the student body. It was a very visual reminder of the potential missions impact the students can have with they return to the places they call home. The various songs, dances and other cultural displays drew both laughter and applause. it was great to celebrate who God had made each of us. I closed the event with a short message on the fact that while we are shaped by God into a diversity of peoples, we become one in Christ. In that oneness of faith we reach out to the rest of the peoples of the world. When it was all over everyone celebrated and broke into another photo-taking frenzy (a similar moment had occurred during the International Fair). I thought it was fun and encouraging that a number of students asked me to have my picture taken with them.

My next task in packing up so I can shift locations in the morning and join the FBC OKC team. I will meet them at their hotel shortly after they check in. I have had a good experience at Singapore Bible College and am thankful for the week. I also look forward to seeing my family and the others from the church in the morning and beginning the next phase of the trip.

Thanks for coming alone with me.

Grace and Peace, Tom

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Singapore - Day Six Another Step Forward

Today was a little different. Instead of preaching in chapel, I lead and hour and a half workshop on "Missions and the Pastor." I was pretty amazed at the turn out. It was one of several workshops and I anticipated an intimate gathering of a handful but instead filled a large meeting room. I am progressively more clear that the seminary model of the past 50 years is a failed model because while it may have produced pastors that had a solid academic model, it failed to produce ministers that could effectively engage their congregations in God's work in the world. The hard reality is that almost 90% of American churches are declining (dying) and have no meaningful involvement in the fulfilling the call of our sending God. We have exported our model for theological training and the result in a remarkable number of pastors in Asia also lack a Kingdom vision. The workshop addressed this issue candidly and we talked about how to help pastors open scripture, open their eyes, and open their hearts to what God is doing in the world. I really appreciated the level of interaction from across national and cultural boundaries that I witnessed in the workshop. It seems that some joys and some frustrations cross the boundaries rather well.

The afternoon afforded me the opportunity to have another one-on-one conversation with two students about what God is doing in their lives and what God is saying into their lives. I am candidly amazed about how receptive the students have been to meaningful conversations despite the fact that I am only on their campus for a short period of time. This has been one of the great blessings of the week.

The late afternoon and early evening featured time with a valued friend and family in the city. It is always my joy to spend time with them. I finished the evening with a cup of coffee with a member of the faculty. I think that he will become a long term friend. I deeply appreciate the quality of the faculty and staff here. It is a great place to be.

The picture posted today is the building that I have called home this week. My room (the guest room) is on the fifth floor. It is the window you see just before the start of the balcony. It has been a good place to rest and rejuvenate for the week.

As I write this my family and the rest of the FBC OKC team is heading to the airport to fly this direction. It will be very good to see them.

Grace and Peace, Tom

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Singapore - Day Five WOW!

It has been a very good day. The crowd at chapel was great and the response to my message was immediate. As soon as the chapel service was over I had several students schedule time with me to talk about their lives, their sense of call, and what God could be doing in the lives and ministries. These one-on-one conversations are a critical part of why I was willing to come to Singapore. It is a good thing to be able to challenge several hundred students to consider the missions call. It is a better thing when you get to see them begin to respond. The first one-on-one was immediately after the chapel service. He is a gifted man with a powerful future in missions. I am glad that he is becoming my friend.

Today I also had the opportunity to join the faculty for lunch and a time of prayer and worship. The Principal/President of the seminary invited me to bring a word of encouragement and challenge to the faculty. I claimed about five minutes or so to talk about what I had heard from the voices of the students and from those around the meeting table about the unique opportunity this school has to impact all of Asia. I truly believe that this is one of the most important and strategic schools in the region for the development of the next generation of Christian leadership. If their students return to the home countries with a heart of missions and a passion for the unreached then they could turn the world upside down for the sake of the gospel.

The afternoon offered an opportunity to meet with another student. This meeting should hold particular interest for the folks at First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City. The student is a young Chin women raised in the home of a key Chin pastor. She was able to give me valuable information that should help me be a better pastor - and for us to be a better church - for the Chin community in Oklahoma City.

The day concluded with a dinner with one of the missions professors here. He is an engaging gentleman with a great heart for the world and keen understand of missiology that could be transformational here.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to be on this campus this week. I am seeing God stir and I rejoice in the moment. Tomorrow offers a time of dialogue with the students in a workshop setting and some time with area missions leaders. I look forward to the day.

The Asia team is now prepping to head this way. They leave OKC early Thursday morning. I eagerly look forward to their arrival.

Grace and Peace, Tom

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Singapore - Day Four Away We Go

The Missions Emphasis Week at Singapore Bible College had its formal kick off this morning. I think we are off to a great start. The students seem to respond to the message I brought them this morning. It sparked some conversations this afternoon. It is amazing to stand in front of the cultural and ethnic diversity that calls this campus home. As I looked out over the crowd, I could not help but think that I was looking at the future Christian leadership of Asia. The students emerge from over 25 countries across Asia and will all return to their home countries at graduation. This seminary is playing a vital role in God's work in this region of the world. I am thankful that they are allowing me to play a small part.

I also had the opportunity to spend some time at lunch with three staff members and hear their hopes and dreams for their students. The three represented three different ethnic traditions, but spoke with one voice in the joy to be a part of the school. I am glad for their heart for their students and their understanding of the role the students could play in the Kingdom in the day ahead.

The afternoon offered a bit of down time to tweak my message for tomorrow. I want to make sure that it is as relevant as possible. I also had some time to read and some quiet time to rest and reflect.

The day closed with a great seafood dinner with the husband and wife team that are responsible for my invitation to SBC. We shared an amazing Chinese seafood dinner. We also took some time for tea and to talk about what God is doing in this place.

I miss my family and will be glad when they get here in a couple of days. I am thankful for the church family at First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City and my ticket is a round trip ticket back to OKC when the trip is done. I am thankful that the church would give me the time and support to spend some time at Singapore Bible College and with the students and faculty here. I think I will come home refreshed and renewed and ready for our next season in ministry together.

Grace and Peace, Tom

Monday, March 2, 2009

Singapore -Day Three On Your Mark

Today was the final prep day to get everything ready for Singapore Bible College's Missions Emphasis Week. SBC is a multicultural seminary in the heart of Singapore. It has about 500 students from 22 different countries. I have been told that we should see between 300 and 400 students each day for the chapel programs and a packed house for the peak International Night event on Friday. I will speak Tuesday through Friday in chapel, lead a workshop on Wednesday, and speak at the Friday night event. I am excited about the week, but I have to confess that it is still a little strange to see my face on the promotional posters around campus.

This afternoon I met with the worship team to walk through the logistics for each day. They have a great plan in place that should highlight the diverse cultures that claim this campus as home. This evening I had dinner and an extended time with the Student Missions Fellowship that his responsible for leading this event. They are an amazing group. They come from: Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, India, and Holland. They raised some great questions and I got to hear many of their stories of how they came to the school and what they hope for next in their life and ministry. Meeting students like these give me great hope for the future of the Church. They are also a powerful picture of the truly global nature of the church. It is my hope to help the church where I serve truly capture an understanding of what God is doing in the world and where we can be a part of it. The good news is that I believe we are moving in the right direction.

The day also gave me two hours with a long time colleague from our work in this region. We have shared a 15 year friendship. Our hairlines and hair colors have changed, but the depth of the friendship remains. I think that there will be several opportunities to work together again in the days ahead.

With this I close another day in Singapore. With the break of morning I will put on my track shoes and get ready for the sprint through the week. Thanks for taking the time to read the blog and for remembering me in your prayers this week.

Grace and Peace, Tom

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Singapore - Day Two Faith,!

It has been a great day in Singapore. I started my day off in worship at the International Baptist Church in Singapore. The church is a multi-cultural congregation coming from 48 countries across the globe. While I enjoyed the worship in general, I particularly enjoyed the sense that I was worshipping with the world.

After worship we headed to lunch at a Chinese restaurant that specialized in seafood. We enjoyed an amazing array of small dishes with a remarkable diversity of tastes. Last night I ate at one of the local outdoor food venues (hawker stalls) and had Malay style satay (pictured above). Singapore has three distinct cultures that call this island nation home; Chinese, Malay, and Indian. This means that meal time offers a blend of tastes and smells unique to this part of the world. It is just one of the things that makes this place special.

I spent the afternoon at Crossroads International Church. I was their guest proclaimer for the day. I spoke on Nehemiah 5, "The Cry of the Poor." It is a great passage I commend to you. While the contrast in scale to the first church service of the day could not have been more pronounced, there was an evident heart and spirit in this young congregation that I truly appreciated.

I closed my day having dinner and spending some quality time with some long time friends. It was wonderful to have some quality time with their family. While we are most often separated by half a world, when we get together it seems that we pick up where we left off like it has just been overnight since we last saw each other. Their daughter is one of Elizabeth's lifelong friends. She will join with us on Saturday so they can spend some time together. It will be good to see them together again.

Today was about Faith and friends - with some great food tossed in. Not a bad way to spend a day. Tomorrow I begin my responsibilities at the school. I am glad to be here....but my heart is also with the First Baptist family - knowing that they are going into Bible study and worship as I pen this message. My thoughts and prayers are there this moment.

More tomorrow.

Grace and Peace, Tom