Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Invitation

Tomorrow morning the Sanctuary Choir at FBC OKC will lead us through Experiencing God: The Musical. Over the past ten weeks we have had a little over 150 adults working through the Experiencing God small group study. We have also focused on the major themes in worship. This week we pull it all together in what should prove to be a remarkable worship experience. The musical brings the message and my role for the morning is to bring an extended invitation. I have spent the last several hours working on it. I must acknowledge that my normal pattern is to bring a spontaneous invitation at the close of the week's sermon. But, this week is different - not just because the musical components. Over the past ten weeks I have listened to numerous stories of how God is working in people's lives. I sense that the time has come for some to make their new or renewed commitments public as both an encouragement and a witness to those they walk beside.
We have also seen God stir in some remarkable ways in almost all of congregational ministries. God is so clearly at work in the life of this church. But, we are not without areas of challenge and places where we need to grow in faith and our followship. There are important decisions to be made that will shape us. I believe that we stand at a congregational crossroad where we will have to choose between being satisfied with being a "good church" or step boldly down a more difficult path where we might see God do something transformational. I sense that the time has come for some of our congregational leadership to step out and invite others to join them.
My hope is that the invitation in tomorrow's worship experience will be the time when we choose to experience the presense of God and say "yes" to God's leading.
Grace and Peace, Tom

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Divine Diversity I Corinthians 12:7-13

I have to confess that I don’t like puzzles. I used to, but then came the summer of 1980. I was invited to join a friend, his family, and some other friends for a week at the beach. We would play at the beach all day, eat great seafood for dinner, and then head in for the evening. Someone brought a huge new puzzle with thousands upon thousands of pieces. We set a table up in the middle of the den and went to work. Each evening we would gather around the table and spend hours putting the giant puzzle together. After several evenings of solid labor the picture began to come together. On the final night we made the last push to finish our quest. And then it happened. With several small but significant holes left in the picture we ran out of puzzle pieces. We checked the box. We scrounged around on the floor. We checked every trash can. We looked everywhere. Apparently when the manufacturer sealed the box it was missing some strategic puzzles pieces. We stood around the giant puzzle and looked down on it. If memory serves me well, someone in the room speculated that some mean person on an assembly line may have pulled the pieces out as a mean joke. You would think that if thousands of pieces fit together perfectly it would be enough, but the beauty of the picture was forever flawed by the missing pieces.

In the book of Acts we read the story of the birth of the church in Corinth. It was a vital Roman colony along in the Greek isthmus. Paul poured 18 months into the birth of the church. He knew the folks that called this church family. He wrote to them trying to help them deal with some critical issues. A reoccurring theme in his letter to them was to remind them that they needed each other. He wanted them to remember that every piece – every person – and every gift - mattered. They struggled mightily with this issue. They fragmented over who had brought them to Christ – over where they fit in the social structure of the city – over their spirituality and their spiritual gifts.

It is amazing to think that some two thousand years later that many still are dealing with the same issues. Some boldly believe that their gifting and leadership are defining for the church. Some may think that their church tenure of economic status should command great respect. While still others quietly wonder if they make a difference - if they matter at all. Our church is blessed with a remarkable sense of unity and purpose, but even in our midst I imagine that there are some who sit beside you – and maybe even you – who wonder where they fit, how God might use them, and how they could make an impact in the world for God. This week in Experiencing God we will be looking at God’s Will and the Church. In the simplest of terms, I believe that God’s will for the church is to claim its divine diversity and act as one.

Look with me at I Corinthians, Chapter 12, verses 7 through 13. Paul starts with a defining statement in verse seven. 7Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. Before he begins the list of spiritual gifts he wants everyone in the room to be clear that the gifts are given for the good of everyone. He wants it clear that gifts of the Spirit were not given for the benefit of the individual, but for the benefit of the whole church. With this on the table Paul pressed ahead.

We pick it back up at verse eight. 8To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. This is not Paul’s definitive list of spiritual gifts. We hear other lists in the Book of Romans, in Ephesians, and even later in this same chapter. But this list is different. Its intention is to speak to the places where the Corinthians had faced the most issues and to the gifts that most profoundly impacted how they functioned as a community. Some of the gifts focused how they lived out their lives of faith as a community of faith. Some of the gifts were expressed in their worship together. Still others of the gifts were expressed in their witness to those around them. All of them were essential for the life and witness of the church.

This list was not for the Corinthians alone. Each of us has been given a specific gift or gifts for the ministry of the body. We often think of the word “ministry” in terms of those on a church staff…those in “ministry.” I bring you good news, while some have been set aside for full time ministry ”MINISTRY” belongs to each of one of us. You are a minister of the body of Christ! Each person’s ministry is different, each one called distinctly, and each one is commissioned by God! It means that your unique gifts are God given for the common good of the church and our witness in the world.

We pick our passage back up in verse eleven. 11All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. This echoes what they had heard from his letter only moments before. In the verses that precede our focal passage Paul wrote; 4There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. These gifts, these acts of service, this way of working in the Kingdom begin at the hand of God. No one can take credit for the gifting they have been given. It is God given, at God’s discretion, for the good of the whole of the church. There should be no pride in the gift, only a sense of gratitude and an attitude of humility as we serve side-by-side.

I saw that lived out powerfully in the Friday night performance by the Kids Off Broadway kids. Some spoke; others sang; others supported the kids in set design or staging logistics. There were three distinct cultures and languages among the kids in the choir. It did not seem to matter. They were in this together. They spoke, they sang, they danced – and they touched us. In their diversity and in their simple gifting they led us in an evening of worship that pointed us toward Jesus. We experience this same kind community the first Sunday of each month when we come together in a diversity of gifting, culture, and language to worship God side-by-side. We witnessed this kind of blending of gifts when we served alongside of one another on a Saturday morning in McKinley Part in the heart of the Classen-Ten-Penn community. We claim it every time we set self aside long enough to worship together, to serve together, to work together.

We hear again from Paul in verses twelve and thirteen. 12The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Paul’s vision is unity not unanimity It is not about all of us being alike, but rather celebrating the divine diversity of gifts, talents, and abilities that emerge from the hand of God. In a single sentence Paul addresses the boundaries of culture and status – and dashes both of them. Although we come from different homes and different lives, we are made one by the act of God. Although we are gifted in different ways, we are made essential to one another by the hand of God. The sum is really greater than total of its parts because God blends us together for the ministry God envisions for the church. God’s will for the church is for us to be one – leveraging our gifting to strengthen each other and to impact our world for God.

We are called to live out of our gifting…our God-given gifting…for this moment…for this time…for this community and the world. I still think about those missing pieces on that puzzle that I worked on over 29 years ago. I have to ask if the missing pieces for us to be the kind of church God intends us to be are sitting and wondering if they matter. Yes! You matter. Everyone one of you are essential. I am not concerned about whether you are a teenage or senior adult; whether you are male or female; whether you are rich or of simple means; or whether English or another is your first language. The critical questions if you are a part of this church family are “what gifting has God given you that are essential for the life and ministry of this church? And where are the places where you can leverage your gifts to strength the life and the witness of our church family?” We need you. We need each other. Viva la difference.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Power Global Testimony of Faith

Testimony of Faith by Matthew Tin Za Uk offered at First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City on June 7, 2009

First, I would like to thank God for this opportunity to share my testimony with the wonderful membership of First Baptist Church this morning. My family and I are refugees from Burma. My family arrived on March 17, 2009. My name is Mathtew Tin Za Uk and my wife is No Lawng. I have two sons and one daughter. My eldest son and his family are living in Malaysia.

Today, I would like to share some with you about my life-story. I was born in the Chin State, and I grew up in a Christian family. When I was a child, I wanted to be a faithful servant of God. So, I always submitted my life to God. By the grace of God, I went to seminary in Burma, and finished with my B.Th. (Bachelors of Theology) and my Master of Arts in Missions, in 1999.

After completing my studies, my family and I were sent to an unreached area as missionaries. We served in a land where the people were very strong Buddhists, and had been Buddhists for a very long time. While we were there, we were always harassed by the Buddhists and other non-believers. Sometimes they would report us to the Burmese military. They would throw stones and rocks at me for preaching the Gospel among them.

But as I experienced this oppression, I would remember the lives of our American Baptist, missionary fore-fathers; Adoniram Judson and his wife Ann who first came to Burma in 1813. I would especially remember Dr. Arthur Carson and his wife who came to the Chin State in 1899 and ministered directly with the Chin people. They loved us and literally gave their lives among us so that we would be Christians. So I have a strong conviction in my heart, that all I do will be satisfying to my Lord when I face him.

Today, my family and many Chin people are running day and night to escape from the Burmese military. As you know our country is under the control of a military dictatorship. So, we fled our country. When we arrived in the USA, everything was new to us. We were so afraid because we have no home, we have no future. We have no parents; we have no relatives or friends.

But as soon, by the grace of God, we met with First Baptist Church, we feel like we are safe again, like in our parent’s home. Now we have a future vision, because of your kindness, your compassion. I would like to especially thank Pastor, Brian McAtee. He takes care of my family and the Chin people. He helps us in our daily activity, also.

Finally, I would like to say again thank you to First Baptist Church, for everything that you have done for our Chin people. You have received us like your own children. I would like to say your grace is sufficient for us until today. May God bless you more and more, so you may continue blessing others in the future.

Counting the Cost - Adjusting Your Life to God

The silver haired minister sat and stared at the rural Baptist congregation in the mountains of North Carolina in the moments for he was to deliver his sermon. They had gathered in that same weathered white clapboard church week after week for years. He knew their lives and had listened to their stories. He also knew how they would hear his message for the morning. They liked sermons that affirmed and encouraged them. They liked Jesus stories where he healed the hurting and fed the hungry. They like stories like David and Goliath and about how Moses led the people out of Egypt. He was also keenly aware of the kind of sermons that they struggled with. So he slowly rose from his seat and walked to the pulpit and said; “Today we are going to hear from Jesus. His words today are not gentle. Don’t get mad at me. It’s Jesus who said’em and Jesus who tells us to follow’em. My job is to preach the whole of the Bible, not just the parts we like. So listen up close and hear some hard words from Jesus.” And with that said he took a deep sigh, took one more look around the room, and began his message for the morning.

I can appreciate the moment. Some of the things Jesus says calls us and demands of us in significant ways. Over these past couple of weeks in our Experiencing God journey we have been asked to listen for God’s voice, to dare to respond, and now to count the cost – of adjusting our life to God and God’s will. This is no easy task. It is so much easier to keep doing what we have always been doing; to live and operate out of our comfort zone.

Our problem is that this one named Jesus sometimes confronts with words that can shake us to our foundation – that can cause a spiritual lifequake – that demands us look at everything with fresh eyes. But our reality is that "Some churches, preachers and TV programs present the gospel as though they were selling a used car," writes R. Alan Culpepper of Mercer University. No money down! Attractive terms! Low, low monthly payments! "They make it sound as easy as possible, as though no real commitment were required. Jesus' call was far different. He was not looking for superficial commitment or a crowd of tagalongs. Instead, he required his followers to be totally committed if they were going to follow at all"
[i] We hear this call loud and clear in Luke 14:25-33. Join with me on a roadside with Jesus.25-27One day when large groups of people were walking along with him, Jesus turned and told them, "Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one's own self!—can't be my disciple.

The crowds following Jesus began to grow. Some were drawn by the miracles and others were captivated by the way we spoke with such authority. Jesus understood that many in the crowed followed just for the show. He wanted them to understand the cost of discipleship – the real price for followship.

Jesus starts at their place of primary identity, their family. In the first century world your name, your home, your culture, your religion, your sense of community, and most often even your occupation was determined by your family. Jesus tells them that if they want to be one of His, they had to be willing to walk away from their family identity and base on their identity on their choice to follow. Even in our 21st century world this still seems hard. My family is so very important to me. This seems too great a price. Would I be willing to go wherever God calls and do whatever I understand he calls me to do even if that seperates from family. We did it when we moved to SEAsia. God blessed, but it was not without sacrifice. I can imagine that first century crowd stirring uncomfortably as they heard his words.

Jesus continues; Anyone who won't shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can't be my disciple. Next he tells the crowd that they have to be ready to pick up a cross to follow Him. “When Luke’s audience heard “bear your cross” or ‘shoulder your cross (added tco)’ they did not first think of adding additional responsibilities or bearing up under some burden….they heard it as a call to put their lives on the line as a consequence for following Jesus.”
[ii]. This kind of faith is not some idealized understanding of faith. We heard a testimony of this kind of faith from Matthew earlier in our service. Let’s be honest, few of us have been asked to face arrest or had rocks hurdled at them for the sake of the gospel. The faith of the global Christians challenges us and inspires us. They remind us that what Jesus is talking about is not an inconvenient faith, but the kind of faith where we are willing to put everything on the line.

Scholars debate if the purpose of these hard words were to shake up the lukewarm disciples or dissuade the perspective followers in the crowd from joining him if they were not ready to adjust their lives and the way of living to God.
[iii] I think probably some truth in both perspectives. I believe that Jesus wanted both his disciples and the crowd to seriously count the cost of a God-centered life. He gives them two pictures to help them understand.

28-30"Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn't first sit down and figure the cost so you'll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you're going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: 'He started something he couldn't finish.'

31-32"Or can you imagine a king going into battle against another king without first deciding whether it is possible with his ten thousand troops to face the twenty thousand troops of the other? And if he decides he can't, won't he send an emissary and work out a truce?

I could not help but laugh out loud when I read one of the commentators recommending the proclaimer encourage the congregation to consider what it might look like to count the cost of the renovation of a historic church or for a church to move boldly out in missions. I thought to myself – this is our everyday world. The haunting question was whether in the counting of the cost we count in our count out faith.

The amazing part of the two images that Jesus offers is that the one who begins is more focused on being embarrassed or failure than they are about faith. Jesus’ words are not an edict to make sure we can succeed before we try bold things for God, but rather that we are prepared to follow through regardless of the cost. How do I know this? Hear the words Jesus claims at the close of the two images; 33"Simply put, if you're not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can't be my disciple. This week we chose Eugene Petersons interpretative translation to help us look at this passage. But I think that this last line in even clearer in the New International Version. It reads; 33In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. Jesus wanted the crowd – and us – to understand that he calls people to a sacrificial faith. In simplest terms; becoming a committed disciple means moving from a faith of convenience to a faith that follows Jesus, wherever he leads regardless of the cost.

I can imagine how quiet the crowd must gotten as they listened to Jesus’ words. I can only begin to imagine the look on peoples’ faces as they processed what Jesus had to say. They had to wonder if Jesus really meant that they had to be willing to walk away from everything for the sake of following God’s will or they could not be one of Jesus’ disciples. In my mind’s eye I can see people begin to slip away from the crowd and slip away from Jesus because the price was just too high.
· I wonder how many of us in this room wonder if God really expects us to be willing to put following God ahead of everyone and everything else.
· I wonder how many of us would like to slip away and claim the cultural understanding of faith that demands less of us and promises us that our best life now.
· I have to wonder if we ready to hear God’s voice, to boldly say “yes,” even when we understand the cost.

This week our Experience God sessions will ask us to be ready to adjust our lives and be ready to count the cost so we can respond to Gods voice. How will we answer?

[i] Culpepper, R. Alan, “The Gospel of Luke," The New Interpreter's Bible [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995], 293. Ref. in Homiletics, “Deep- Discount Disciples”
[ii] Vinson, Richard B., “Luke,” Smyth and Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon: Smyth and Helwys Pub. 2008), p.493.
[iii] Influenced by “Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons” at

Friday, June 5, 2009

New Ministry Launches At FBCOKC

This weekend FBCOKC launches a new Hispanic focused ministry. Carlos Simonini is providing the core leadership. His wife Debra will work closely with him in this new endeavor. The hope is a bilinqual ministry will emerge that will allow us to minister with both those whose first language is Spanish as well as those who claim English as a first language but who share a Hispanic/Lantino culture. I can hardly wait to see what God will do in and through this new ministry initiative.

Grace and Peace, Tom