Sunday, July 26, 2009

Leftovers 2 Kings 4:1-7, 42-44

Friday night Beth and I had the opportunity to participate in a grand part of life in Oklahoma. We went to Lake Eufaula with Scott, Kama, and Andrew and loaded onto a pontoon boat with her parents and heading out for some fishing at dusk. The sand bass were running and we pulled in over 100 fish in about an hour. I had never seen anything like it. The sand bass were hitting the water’s surface so hard it looked like that part of the lake was boiling. It seemed with almost every cast we had a hit. I had grown up with the traditional cast and wait – cast and wait – cast and wait – hoping to catch one or two fish in the course of the day. Nothing I had experienced on a lake could prepare me for the flurry that awaited me. The sand bass run was beyond anything I could have imagined.

Throughout of worship experience we have heard two stories of people who had experiences beyond their imagination. While the circumstances of each story are different, an encounter with the prophet Elisha that drew them into a grand act of provision with God. Hear the Ogburn version of the stories

The first story about a woman filled with desperation. Her husband was a man of faith and a servant of the great prophet. He had performed his role with heart but his resources were pretty meager. He died leaving his wife and children deeply in debt. When the woman could not settle their debts the creditors let it be known that they were going to seize her sons as slaves to pay off the debts. The desperate woman came to prophet. There was nothing left to do. “What do you have?” the prophet asked. “Just a little lamp oil” she replied. You can imagine the prophet stroking his beard thinking through the situation. “Go get any empty jugs from your neighbors and bring them here” he told her. She scurried off and begged her neighbors for anything empty jug they might have. “It does not matter what they look like” she probably said, “The prophet told me to collect them.” She collected what she could and brought them to the prophet.” At his command she took her little bit of oil and began to pour it in the jugs. She probably wondered what he was thinking because she knew how little she had. But there she stood and her bit of oil filled the first jug, then the second one, then a third one….he filled jug after jug. She could not believe what she was seeing. “One more”she called out. “We do not have any more” one of her sons said. “That’s all of them.” With the spoken word the oil stopped pouring. She looked around with utter amazement. “Go sell them and pay off your debts” the prophet told her. “You will have enough left to love on the leftovers.” Her world was changed. God had provided her everything she needed – with leftovers to spare.

An unnamed man brought prophet bread made from the first fruits of his crop. It was an as an act of faithfulness. But, the man could not have been prepared for what was about to happen. The prophet told the man to feed one hundred people with his twenty loaves of bread. The math did not work. The man asked the prophet, “Do you see what I brought you? There is no way this is enough to do the job you are asking me to do.” “Trust me,” the prophet told him. “Go and do what God has asked you to do.” The man did it and good multiplied his offering. God used what the man brought, fed the people - with leftovers to spare.

On Wednesday night we faced a difficult decision as a church family. We made a decision to sell our cabin at Falls Creek and our lodge at Glorieta. The decision was made both to contain costs and provide our congregation some additional resources to help us maneuver through this season of financial concern. A little over three months ago I sent the email to Bruce and Kim that this would be the sermon scripture for the morning. I could have never imagined how meaningfully these two parallel stories can speak into our church family life this morning. God knew and guided us here.

Both stories begin with a personal encounter with the Prophet Elisha. They would have understood Elisha as much more than a preacher, a pastor, or an evangelist. In that era the prophet was understood to be the voice of God among the people. When they came to Elisha they understood that they were coming to the one who could help them hear God’s voice and experience God’s presence. The woman understood she was in a crisis of faith and in a defining moment of her life. Many in this room have come to God sharing her sense of desperation. You know that short of an act of God thing will only get worse. You have done all you know how and now come seeking a fresh word from God and a sense that you are not walking this path alone. The woman could not conceive that God could use her limited resources to do something amazing. For some, the anxiety of financial concerns in your life – or in the life of our congregation – demands you – demands that we - turn to God with hope and expectation. We come knowing that we need God’s provision.

The man did not know what awaited him. He came to his moment of crisis and definition in an act of faithfulness. He brought God his best and waited to see how God might use it. He could not imagine that God would use his resources to do something amazing. For some in this room you come like the man. You have been faithful and you long to see what God will do with the tithes and offerings you have brought. We come wanting to see God’s provision.

For different reasons the woman and the man come seeking. God speaks into their lives with clear direction. They must choose obedience. “Obedience” is one of those words that seem to be fading away from the vocabulary in our current culture. We would rather negotiate the terms and conditions that are comfortable for us. We would like an explanation of objectives and outcomes. We want to know the fine print of the contract. Elisha did not offer either one of the two a choice. He told the women to go and gather all the jugs she could, without telling her what would happen next. He told the man to feed the one hundred, even over the man’s concerns. He told the man to fee the one hundred, without telling him what would happen next.

We, as individuals and as a congregation, are called to listen for God’s direction and to respond in obedience. God’s movement among us is unmistakable. We see God’s hand in the growth of our ministry with children, youth, 20somethings, refugees and internationals. We see some great new individuals and families joining us side-by-side in ministry. We are witnessing the renewal of this grand facility. But, we do not know what will happen next. Where will all of the required resources come from? Who will God bring into our church family? What will we look like in one year or five? What is going to happen?

Let me make you nervous. I do not know how it all works out. Our task is not to have it all figured out. Our task is to be obedient. The call to obedience is not to a pastor’s voice or a strategy plan devised by others. Our task is to be obedient to what we as a community of faith believe to be the voice of God. It is about looking for where God is moving, for sensing how God is shaping us, to prayerfully considering what God is saying to us in worship, in Bible study, in prayer, and in song. Obedience is not easy. I believe that we were obedient on Wednesday night- but the pain of the decision was unmistakable to all of us. It was a defining moment for us – a moment when we trusted all of our congregational resources into God’s hands. Obedience commands trust and change. It commands that we align our lives and our church life to be where God wants us to be – and to do what God has for us to do – without knowing the results in advance. It is about trusting God and trusting God with the results.

Both stories end with a grand act of God. The woman’s needs are met with leftovers to spare. The man’s bread is multiplied with leftovers to spare. Neither one of them could have imagined what God would do in them and through them. The woman could not have imagined that God would not only meet her short term need using her own resources – but that God would also provide her a future. The man could not have imagined his simple offering would become a tool of God. These two stories are testimonies of God’s faithfulness. These two stories remind us that God will make a way.

* I wonder what God will do in and through us if we choose to come to God’s presence and listen for God’s voice.
* I wonder what God will do in and through us if we worry less about the results and focus more on doing what God calls us to do.
* I wonder what God will do in and through us if we really trusted God with our resources – trusting God to use them and multiply them, even leaving leftovers.
*I wonder what God will do in and through us – a defining moment awaits us - I can hardly wait to see what God will do.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Call Ezekiel 2:1-3:4

Below is the text for tomorrow's message at First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City. It asks us to consider what it means to hear God's call, to respond, and to entrust the results to God. It also offers a powerful picture of God's means to sustain us in the fulfilling of God's call.

We found ourselves in a picturesque estate in the rural countryside of a Western European country. When you looked that the grand house from the outside it was huge in scale and profound in its architecture. Just the sight of it made you stop and look. But I do not think I was prepared for how cold and damp a building like that could be. We were there in the early Fall – too late for the warmth of summer, and too early for them to choose to turn on the heat. But, what I remember most about Beth and my month at a country estate is not the grand house or the beautiful countryside. My memories focus on our reason for being there. We were there to take an intensive training on Islam. The sessions were led by a former Islamic religious scholar. He pushed us hard and every session was spiritually and emotionally draining. The more I understood about the complexities of reaching Muslims, the harder our missions assignment among Muslims in SE Asia appeared. There was a specific moment when I wondered if I was up for the task. I knew that I was called by God to reach a specific Unreached People Group, but the task was so huge, so hard, so daunting. I felt the tension between the joy of the call and the struggle of making it real. I sat there – wondering – praying – asking for God to speak. God laid our passage on my heart. It spoke to me with power that cold, cold morning. I bring it to our worship because I believe it speaks uniquely to us this morning.

We stand between our Experiencing God journey and our return to the regular diversity of worship themes. But, before we move forward I want to pause and hear a Biblical story that tells the story of the call of Old Testament prophet Ezekiel. While the theme is Blackabyesque, Ezekiel’s story paints a very different picture of what it means to hear God and respond with heart and passion. LaJuanda Speegle read our passage for us earlier in our worship service. Let’s dive back in a take a closer look at “The Call.”

Ezekiel’s story actually starts in Chapter One where he uses language like we hear in Daniel and Revelation to describe his encounter with God. His description sounds a bit bizarre until we ask ourselves “what other words would you use to describe the presence of pure and unadulterated purity, holiness, and power?” He finally runs out of words and says; This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking. Our passage begins; 1 He said to me, "Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you." 2 As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.

What an incredible picture. Can you imagine being raised to your feet by the hand of God? In my mind’s eye I hear James Earl Jones’ voice for the voice of God. God had Ezekiel’s undivided attention and was ready to speak. I want to invite you into this moment. I want to invite you to have your heart lifted up by the Spirit. I want to invite you to begin to think about a moment when God has spoken to you – or to prepare yourself to hear God’s voice speak into your life.

The voice of God rings out; 3 He said: "Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their fathers have been in revolt against me to this very day. 4 The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says.'

I have had some lousy jobs in my life. I spent a college summer making specialty highway signs alongside a slew of paroled state convicts. I helped install office partitions at a nuclear power plant in the weeks just after they had experienced an emergency shutdown. I have clean out and clean up three huge stores that had been abandoned by a failed grocery store chain. I have had some lousy jobs, but none of them compared to Ezekiel’s job assignment. Ezekiel was the first prophet God commissioned after the people of Israel were taken into captivity in Babylon. They were there because of their obstinate disobedience of God’s way. His message would be to tell them that their beloved Jerusalem that they thought was untouchable was soon to be destroyed. I can only imagine what Ezekiel’s face must have looked like when he heard his divine assignment. I think he must have felt the tension I felt between the joy of the call and the overwhelming nature of the task.

We hear again from God; 5 And whether they listen or fail to listen—for they are a rebellious house—they will know that a prophet has been among them. 6 And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them or their words. Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions. Do not be afraid of what they say or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious house. 7 You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious.

I think that these are words that are hard for us to process in a result driven culture. One of the things that I found fascinating in the Experiencing God materials is that every story of someone responding to God’s voice was a success story. God wanted Ezekiel – and us – to hear that we do not have to fear failure or rejection. God made it clear to Ezekiel was that his job was to do what God asked of him – that the results were between the hearers and God. Can you imagine what we could accomplish for and with God is we did not fear rejection or failure? Can you imagine how bold we might become if we realized that our job was to be faithful – and that all the rest was in God’s hands? These words changed my life. They told me to cling to the joy of the call and leave the enormity of the task in the hands of God.

God continues to speak; 8 But you, son of man, listen to what I say to you. Do not rebel like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you." 9 Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, 10 which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe. Ezekiel 3 1 And he said to me, "Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel." 2 So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. 3 Then he said to me, "Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it." So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth. 4 He then said to me: "Son of man, go now to the house of Israel and speak my words to them.

What an incredible picture – God feeding Ezekiel the Word that would sustain him. Margaret Hess describes this beautifully’ “He (Ezekiel) is not to measure the effectiveness of his preaching by the response of the people. The heart of his ability to preach with integrity and authenticity lies in his ability to take the word of God inside himself, and to root his proclamation in the word as it transforms him, Ezekiel, from the inside out.”[i]

For most of us it is hard to imagine doing hard things, uncomfortable things, difficult things, seemingly impossible things for God. This just does not fit in our comfortable lives and our comfortable faith. But, Ezekiel’s call gives us a picture of how we might survive the difficult moments of faith and faithfulness. With broad and colorful strokes Ezekiel’s story depicts what it would look like to be fed by God – for the Word of God to be the sustenance we need to not only survive the challenge but to thrive in it. Many nibble at the Word. We endeavor to do a five minute devotion, to attend an occasional Bible study, to listen to a Sunday school teacher give their take on a passage, or even listen to a sermon like this one. To be honest, we become content nibbling at the crumbs on the edge of the salad bar. If we want to claim the kind of sustenance that will carry us on good days and difficult ones – that leads us to say “yes” to God regardless of our fear of rejection or our fear of failure – then we need to dig in – to devour the Word until our stomachs are full. To dig in – to devour the Word until we discover its sweet and transforming taste. This will move us from casual encounters that sooth us to transforming encounters with God that change us.

We are called to respond to the voice of God and find sustenance in the word of God. We will face opposition and challenges. We may have to deal with rejection or failure. But I bring you good news – the call is not to do rack up religious points or be a prize winning Christian. Our task is to be present, to be faithful, and to trust the results into the hands of God. Our task is to eat the Word that is given us until it fills us, sustains us, and transforms us. It is your turn. What is God saying to you? What is God calling you to do? Are you ready to step out of your comfort to be the presence of Christ in our community and our world? God stands ready to give you all you need to sustain you.

[i] Hess, Margaret B., “Preaching to Deaf Ears,” Christian Century, June 18-25, 1997, p. 587, copyright by the Christian Century Foundation

Monday, July 6, 2009

Kingdom People Acts 13:1-3

Yesterday we began the 14th week of the Experiencing God series. The theme focused on what it meant to be Kingdom People. Below is my take on what it will mean for our congregation.

At noon on April 22, 1889, with a wave of a hand and the blast of a cannon, the Oklahoma land run began. The New York Times article published the day after captures the intense hours just before the rush began. People from across the globe and across the social spectrum stood side-by-side ready to find their place in a new land. Oklahoma City would have claimed a population of 7 when the cannon was sounded, and numbered over 10,000 by night fall.[i] The hopes and diversity of those at the starting line would define the character of our great state.

The moment that triggered the missionary expansion of the Church was a quieter affair, but demonstrates the similar sense of hope and a similar scene of diversity. The passage begins; 1In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. This morning we heard our focal passage read in English and Spanish and see it written in Burmese as well. This was fitting. This one verse paints a remarkable picture of the church in Antioch. The short list of leaders reflects an amazing array of racial, social, and economic diversity. Barnabas is a Helenistic Jew and a cultural insider with the early church, Simeon emerges from the heart of Africa. Lucius came from North Africa, from what it now called Libya and had migrated to Antioch. Manaen grew up in the comforts of the Jewish royalty. He grew up as the stepbrother to Herod: the same Herod who had John the Baptist beheaded and oversaw the trial of Jesus. The zealous Saul was best known at this moment for his persecution of the early church. He grew up a leather worker and emerges from synagogues in Tarsus and Jerusalem.

Church historian Mark Moore notes; “This list is impressive because it indicates the mobility of this church. Because their leaders represented such a broad array of people, the church could move evangelistically into any sector of this pluralistic city with a coherent voice for Christ. Simeon could speak to those of African heritage (blacks); Saul could debate in the synagogues; Manaen could deal with the wealthy politicians; Lucius could minister to the immigrants. Furthermore, because of the diversity represented in the leadership, this church would be more likely to avert the kind of racial division that impacted the young church of Jerusalem.”
[ii] The strength of the Antioch church was found in their diversity.

God could use them to reach the world because they already had a Kingdom worldview. They could see past the boundaries that normally would separate them from each other and claimed a focus on what made them one, their shared relationship with God through Christ. Many churches are locked into a myopic worldview. It is all about them. It is all about their comfort. It is all about their convenience. The church in Antioch would have had to choose to deal with language and culture issues. The tough choices made them the church they needed to be so God could use them to touch the world. I celebrate that we are making these same kinds of choices.

Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of when Brian and I first met the Chin community. We knew the right thing to do was to invite them to come and be a part of us. We could have never imagined how much it would come to mean to all of us to have their community a part of our community. We could not imagine how much better we would be as a family of faith because we made the choice to cross language and culture and become family to each other. There was a moment when we tried to reach out to the growing Hispanic community. Alan and Griselda Escobar came to help us. We tried to do it on our timing and it did not work. In due time Carlos and Debra came into our lives. It was clearly the movement of God. Our hearts were ready and God moved. We have begun to make forays into the Classen-Ten-Penn community. God is opening doors of opportunity for us. When a church has a global world view, God can use it to touch the world. God is making us Kingdom people – a people with a Kingdom worldview. Get ready for God to move.

Our passage continues; 2While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." We find the church in Antioch engaged in a moment like this one. They were worshipping side-by-side – and God moved. We should not be surprised. The passage speaks of them worshipping and fasting. We do not talk a lot about fasting. It is a concept that seems oddly out of place in our all-you-can-eat buffet world. Fasting is the act of choosing to do without in a way to sharpen our hearts – our attention – to hear from God. They came to worship with a sense of expectation. They came wanting and expecting to hear from God. They had a Kingdom heart.

Stan and Kay are friends that Beth and I cherish. They were serving as missionaries to Indonesia at the time and were living in Jakarta. They decided to spend some focused time praying and fasting. God laid my name on their hearts and they began to pray for me without really knowing why – but did it as an act of faithfulness. They did not know that at that same time half way around the world I was being rushed from one hospital to another with the question of life and death still very much in question. Their prayers were being lifted at the very moment I needed them most. They came to God with expectation and God stirred.

I wonder if we come to worship having taken time to prepare ourselves to hear the voice of God. The cultural temptation is to view worship is something planned for us. It is where we ask if the music is the music that pleases our ears or if the sermon “feeds” us. It is not about what we get from our time in this place instead of asking what we bring to this moment and how God might stir among us. The church in Antioch came with expectation. They came as people with a Kingdom heart. God did not disappoint them. The Holy Spirit said; “I am going to ask you to send out your very best. You have welcomed the world in your midst – now I am going to do something special through you.”

Verse 3 tells us; 3So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. We also need to hear that the initiator of missions is the Holy Spirit and the tool of the Holy Spirit is the church. In the church of my childhood missions was the act of the denomination. We identified those with a heart for missions and sent them to the denomination to determine where they would go. We heard from the occasionally and we did missions education based on the stories of other missionaries, doing other things, in other parts of the world. The New Testament story is the story of where the Holy Spirit stirred within local congregations and then they responded together – missionary and church acting as one. Missions belongs to the local church. Missions should be an act of the church driven by the urging of the Holy Spirit. The local church was and is intended to be the centerpiece in missions – both local and global. God calls Kingdom people into His Kingdom work.

We can celebrate that our church is seeking to reclaim the New Testament model; to reclaim our place in the mission story. You see it manifested in what God is doing among us as we seek to minister alongside the Chin both here in our city and in Malaysia. The first dollars have landed in Malaysia to empower their schools for children. I believe the day is soon coming where we will name a missionary who will move to Malaysia and served as a resource and relationship with the Chin refugee community living in the slums and make-shift refugee camps. Over the next year or so you will also witness our congregation working with Chin leaders across the nation to begin Chin churches everywhere the Chin community has landed.

The Spirit has stirred within Margaret Ford’s heart and the heart of others and it appears that we will be invited to become a part of the story to deal with human trafficking. God is moving. Paul and Barbara Calmes, Joey and Jeannie Clifton, and Jeannie Lemons were a vital part of what God is doing in Guatemala. Their hands became the hands of God as they touched and ministered those living in remote locations and in orphanage walls. God has used our church as a vital part of the ministry in Aceh, Indonesia. When we made the initial commitment to give an offering, we could have never imaged that we would ultimately have to offer ourselves as a tool of God to empower the work in that wounded part of the world.

Other churches in our country are on a similar missions journey. We will have great opportunity to work with them in partnership to reach people with the “good news of great joy that is for all peoples.” The global church is growing at a remarkable rate. In fact, the majority of Christians now live in places that we once considered mission fields. They too have claimed a Kingdom worldview, live out of a Kingdom heart, and are ready to partner for the sake of the Gospel. The next season of mission will be defined by how we as the global church choose to work together so that all may know this one named Jesus. The opportunities are tremendous. The question is whether we are ready and willing to be the kind of Kingdom people that God can use to touch the world. A church of rich and poor, rich in ethnic diversity worshipped and prayed. They came with expectation and God moved. He asked them to send out their best so that they God be Kingdom people used by God to touch the world. They responded and the world was never the same. May it be true of us.


[i] Into Oklahoma at Last, available at http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/big/0422.html#article on 7/2/09.
[ii] Moore, Mark, “Leaders of the Church at Antioch,” available at http://markmoore.org/resources/essays/acts/leaders.pdf on 7/1/09.