Sunday, January 24, 2010

An Unveiled Life 2 Corinthians 3:16-18

No one ever expected what they found. There was a long-neglected painting hanging in Venice's San Salvador Church for years. The dirt-encrusted Supper at Emmaus, depicting the resurrected Christ meeting two apostles in a country inn, was thought to be a poor copy of a 15th-century work. This apparently rather sad painting was initially passed over by Save Venice campaign because it was "too dreary." But a closer inspection of the work in the late 90s by two top U.S. and Italian restorers convinced Save Venice to fund the project. It was no easy task. The restorers had to slowly and carefully remove years of dirt and dust and then tediously removal of three layers of over-painting. It seemed over time several had tried to enhance the painting. But their work proved worth the work. Hidden beneath the bad paint job and the years of dirt emerged an incredibly colored, finely detailed painting. The date 1513 at the lower right, along with stylistic and historical clues made it clear that it was a Renaissance masterpiece by Vittore Carpaccio worth an estimated 50 million dollars. (1)

I think it is sometimes easier to envision a restorers removing years of dirt and lays of bad paint off a masterpiece to reveal its beauty than it is to believe that God can remove years of emotional and spiritual debris that cover us so that we can see God face to face. Sometimes we are scared to open the whole of our lives to God, so we try to play spiritual hide-and-seek with God. We try to let God in only in the places we are prepared to give over to God, holding back the dark corners and the quiet shames. We secretly wonder in the deepest parts of our hearts if God would still love us and forgive us if we unveiled ourselves fully to God. We somehow have come to believe that we are not worthy of God’s love and God’s grand grace gift of redemption. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, we want to find spiritual fig leaves to hide behind, so that we are not exposed.

In 2 Corinthians 3 Paul describes the bounds of Moses’ encounters with God. He had come to come to every conversation with his face veiled, hidden from God, shaded from God’s holiness and glory. Paul wanted the church to know it was different when we come to God through faith in Christ. So we hear 2 Corinthians 3:16-17 where Paul explains; 16But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. Did you hear what he said, that when we claim Christ the veil is taken away. We are invited to see God face to face and to find a freedom, a real freedom where we no longer have to live in the spiritual shadows; we no longer have to hide in fear and shame. God, who sees us as we are, loves us, forgives us, redeems us, and makes us free. It is not a freedom celebrated by picnics, fireworks, and parades. It is a freedom invites us into the presence of God and allows us to be transformed by God’s grace.

This freedom is not for us alone. Paul continues; 18And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit….The King James Version and its modern equivalents word this a bit differently. They say; 18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

Our faces are not only unveiled to God but also to one another. For some this may be even more difficult than opening yourselves to God. Some of us wonder if we are worthy for God to see others in and us through us. We see our shortcomings and our failures. We see the limits of what we believe we can accomplish on our own. We shy away from disclosing the depths of who were are with one another in fear that someone might see our weaknesses and reject us. We see our imperfections and wonder how God could choose to work in and through us. But, by unveiling ourselves to God, by allowing God’s power and holiness to free us, the story is changed. The unveiling lets us display the likeness of God. The result lets others see us as transformed people. It moves us from playing at church, with lives measured by obligation, to living in the ongoing presence of Christ and the freedom Christ offers.

In his great devotional classic, My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers offers; The greatest characteristic a Christian can exhibit is this completely unveiled openness before God, which allows that person’s life to become a mirror for others. When the Spirit fills us, we are transformed, and by beholding God we become mirrors. You can always tell when someone has been beholding the glory of the Lord, because your inner spirit senses that he mirrors the Lord’s own character. Beware of anything that would spot or tarnish that mirror in you. It is almost always something good that will stain it— something good, but not what is best. The most important rule for us is to concentrate on keeping our lives open to God. Let everything else including work, clothes, and food be set aside. The busyness of things obscures our concentration on God. We must maintain a position of beholding Him..." (2)

Chambers was right. There are moments when we see someone mirror the character of God. We witnessed one a few weeks ago at the close of a deacons’ meeting. In the closing weeks of December Don Miner led the last meeting of his tenure as chair. The meeting followed its normal flow until we came to section set aside for the chair’s comments. Each month he had quickly passed over this section, moving us to adjournment. But in this last meeting, Don claimed his time and began a process that touched everyone in the room. I doubled checked with him before I shared this story with you. I am still not sure he fully appreciated what he did. Don pulled out a sheet and began with Pam Barnett and moved alphabetically through everyone in the room. The pattern was predictable. He would call a person’s name, and they would smile. He would then begin to tell them what they meant to him, what they meant to his family, and what they meant to the wider church family. By the time he finished sharing what he had to say about each person you could see that they had been deeply touched by what they had heard. His words were an act of blessing and affirmation. In this simple act of humility and generosity Don’s actions were a mirror where we caught a glimpse of God in his face and in the faces of each other.

There are other stories like this one bubbling up across the life of the church. Look around you. When someone chooses to act in love rather than in hatred we see the reflection of God. When we see someone choose to forgive rather than to hang on to bitterness, we see the reflection of God. When we witness someone live in trust rather than fear, we see the reflection of God. There was an era when it seemed that a when we heard a testimony of faith it had to be grand or dramatic. In reality, we most often see the reflection of God in the countless small acts and simple moments when people of faith choose to linger in God’s presence and let their lives become a reflection of God’s love and grace.

Today choose to let the veil down and give the whole of you to God. Claim this moment to see God face to face.
Today choose to claim the freedom and transformation found only at the feet of God
Today choose to claim time to dwell – to hang out – to linger in the presence of God.
Today choose to be let the veil down with those around you and become a mirror of what God is doing in your life.
Today choose to speak words of encouragement, words of blessing, words of hope to each other and to others so that God’s character might be seen and heard in this room – in our city – and in our world.
Today choose an unveiled face – an unveiled life – that God might live in you and shine through you.

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

1 "Masterpiece Revealed," Newsweek, November 2, 1998,
2 Chambers, Oswald, “Transformed by Beholding,” My Utmost for His Highest, available online at

Friday, January 22, 2010

This is the text of the message offered at FBC OKC on January 17th. I am posting it a bit later than normal because of some technical issues with blogger. Sorry for the delay. Tom

I never actually met him, but it was easy to find him. He was always working on the wall. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary was surrounded by a low stone wall. When I first arrived you could imagine that at one time it must have been something to see. It had been built in 1885 when the campus still housed Wake Forest College. But, by the time I arrived the wall was worn for the years and it shape was disrupted by stones pushed from place by the slow but sure impact of weather and the vines that had grown up around it and now weaved through it. Then he came. I now know that his name was Doug Buttram. The story, as I was told, says that that he when he arrived at seminary he did not have all of the money he needed to make it work – to cover the balance, he told them that he would rebuild the wall. The administration said “yes” and he went to work. I really cannot imagine how big the task must have seemed to him that first day. I can just picture him starting at the corner by the administration offices and walking the breadth of the campus seeing the full reality of what he had gotten himself into. But there he was; day after day. He would slowly but surely pull the vines away and then moved the loose stones away from the wall. With the skill of a surgeon and the patience of Job, he would begin to chip away dirt and the bits of remaining mortar. Sometimes, when a stone was missing, he would find a stone in the pile of rocks that had tumbled away over time. He would look through the pile and find just the right stone. It seemed that he handled it stone as if it were a gem of value. Then with a small trowel he would put just down just enough mortar to hold the stone, but not too much, so he did not distract from the innate beauty of the stone and its wall. One act at a time, one day at a time, the strength and the beauty of the wall was restored. When he finished it was something to behold. I could almost imagine the original builders of the wall standing with him in pride. I think about that wall every time I read our focal passage for the morning. You heard it read earlier in the service, but let me share it with you again as we seek to hear what God might say to us this morning.

Our focal passage is Ephesians 2:19-22 and reads;
19Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

When Beth and I flew back into the United States after our recent trip to Malaysia, I watched an older Asian couple trying to figure out which line they were supposed to get into to go through immigration. Apparently their story was a bit complex, as were their travel document. Several people were trying to help them, but it seemed even those in uniforms were not sure where they belonged. You could see the stress mounting on their faces – and then someone stepped in and with a good word and a great attitude guided them to the right line – the line for US citizens. Their stress melted away to smiles and laughter. They finally knew where they belonged.

In the verses that precede our focal passage Paul has been speaking directly to both the Jewish and the Gentile elements of the church about they belong together and now claims verbiage that would strike home to both – look, he says, because of what Jesus did for you, you are no longer foreigners – a people who do not belong – or an alien – those who are banished to the fringes because they are never seen as truly equal to others in the community. He wanted them to know that regardless of which camp they claimed, they belonged. They were all valued members of God’s household. If they had been in that airport – they would have had a line. For Paul there are no green cards – everyone gets full citizenship. Everyone is equally valued. I think our temptation is to think that peoples place in church are based on their family name or heritage, or what we think they can do or how much we think they can give. This is a myth that minimize so many. Hear me, You belong here! You belong not because of where you come from or what you can do or what you can give, because God values us all and claims us all through our relationship in Christ.

Dr. Arland Hultgreen, a professor at Luther Seminary offers a great perspective this. He states; We are all family, and no one is to be treated as a stranger or alien. Differences in race, class, gender, economic condition, politics, and opinion exist, but they are not barriers to living in unity in Christ. The congregation is a laboratory for the kingdom of God. (1) I believe he is right on the mark. We are called to be the kind of church where everyone belongs – where there are no strangers or outsiders - and where others can see the kingdom of God on grand display.

Paul continues in talking about this household of God in verse 21. It reads that the household is; 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. We hear that Jesus is the cornerstone – and then we are built stone by stone with Christ. In our era, cornerstones have become rather symbolic, proclaiming the original name for the building. It was very different when Paul wrote. The “cornerstone” in ancient building methods had an importance as the stone used by the architect-builder to determine the “lie” of the whole building, so Jesus Christ is the pattern by which the church is being shaped by God. The strength and the nature of the building are set by its conformity to this original plan.(2) With Jesus in place as the cornerstone, God claims you as one of the bricks for his work. You have great value in the eyes of God. God began with the apostles and prophets – and now uses us just the same, brick by brick, stone by stone. You are an essential part of what God is building. My mind’s eye keeps going back to Doug Buttram building that wall. I again picture the care he took in choosing and reshaping each stone to make it fit just right. Can you imagine God taking that kind of intentionality – and claiming that same kind of joy - in finding your place in the building of the kingdom and the Church He calls home?

Our passage finishes; 21In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. I love this room. Every time I walk in here I am touched and called toward God. I remember walking through some of the great cathedrals of Europe. They are impressive structures built for the glory of God, but this temple is something grander. Paul says that we too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit - that we are being built together to become the very home of God. Bricks are made of clay do not contain God – no matter how it is formed and no matter how impressive the structure where it is used. Stones are just that – still, cold and hard. Bricks and stones can be fashioned into places where God’s people meeting, but God lives not in a place, but in the midst of his people. You are the living stones, the public testimony of the work of Christ – but together our strength – our witness – our impact – is multiplied. It is Christ that joins us together to become the dwelling place of God. Paul chooses his words well. This word “dwelling” he uses is not a reference to a place God visits, but is an indication of permanence. God’s desire is to be permanently at home in the Church and in the midst of our lives.

About three years ago by Dr. Kenneth Carter, Pastor of Providence United Methodist Church in Charlotte, NC told his congregation; God's temple is in the hearts and lives of a transformed people. When someone comes to worship in a church, they may discover a beautiful sanctuary. And then they meet someone, and there is an acceptance, and a love is shared. And then they/we begin to see the people, and we realize that it is the people who are also the temples, that God is interested in holy places but God is just as interested in holy people. Dr. Walter Shurden, our Baptist Distinctives speaker took a look at this same passage and offers a different voice, He looks back at the grand temple built for God in the heart of Jerusalem and notes;
The new temple is no building at all. It is a much more fragile structure, a much less dependable structure. It is made of the likes of us. We, you and I, are God's temple! What an astounding thought! We are the dwelling place of God! (4)

It is good to celebrate that there are no outsiders in God’s household – that we all have great value in the eyes of God. But in our celebration let us not forget that our challenge is to see the same value in one another – and then to become the kind of family where we are built together – stone by stone – with our strengths and frailties - into a temple – a people – where God lives and it at home. Our call is to live our lives in a way that others can see that together we have become the dwelling place of God. Let the spiritual construction begin!

1 Hultgreen, Arland, J., “Ephesians 2:11-29: Commentary on Second Reading” available at on January 14, 2010.
2 Martin, R. P. 1991. Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon. Interpretation, a Bible commentary for teaching and preaching . John Knox Press: Atlanta
3 Carter, Kenneth. “A Survival Strategy for the Spiritually Homeless,” a sermon preached on August 27, 2006 on Day 1. Available online at on August 14, 2007
4 Shurden, Walter, “When the Walls Come Tumbling Down,” Baptist History and Heritage, Spring, 2005

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

First Baptist, Temple, Texas Burns - Let's Pray for Them

This morning I learned that First Baptist Church, Temple, Texas had a three alarm fire, causing great damage to much of their church facilities. This church is pastored by Martin Knox. a good friend. The church website reports that no one was in the building at the time, so the good news is no one was hurt. But, this church will now face the hard task of rebuilding. They are holding a prayer event tonight at 7pm CST. I invite you to pause where ever you are at 7 and join them in prayer. Grace and Peace, Tom

Thursday, January 14, 2010

It is time for people to quit listening to Pat Robertson

This morning we woke to see Pat Robertson making another effort to speak for God regarding the horrific earthquake that rocked Haiti. It grieves me that the media continues to give coverage to this man. He does not represent the broader Christian community and does not represent God. He is an sad aging man who longs for media attention and seems to say whatever he believes will draw the cameras and the mikes. His view of God is inconsistent with Scripture and his belief that he can independently speak for God is completely out of step of how God speaks through the New Testament. He twists Old Testament passage in an effort to sound like the prophets of old and in the process diminishes the gospel of grace found at the feet of Jesus.

The reality is that Pat Robertson's era is over. His influence in the broader Christian community been lost. He television broadcasts are irrelevant. He speaks to a history that is not his own and offers no foundation for his view of Haitian history. By publishing and airing his dribble, the media gives him a voice that he does not deserve. It is time for people to quit listening to Pat Robertson and to start praying for the people who face overwhelming pain and loss today.

Grace and Peace, Tom

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Mission of Christ Luke 4:14-21

This sermon is offered to FBC OKC as a way to cast a vision for a new year in ministry.

This morning I want to begin with a word of appreciation. Last Sunday you touched me deeply with your gift and your reception in celebration of my five years of ministry amongst you. I was honestly surprised and am deeply appreciative. You are a remarkable church family and I am thankful for the opportunity to serve in ministry together with you.

On January 9, 2005 I stood in the pulpit for the first time as your pastor. It was a grand day, full of pomp and personalities. After the each of the guest speakers had shared their words of encouragement, I took the pulpit to bring words my first words of hope and vision. Each year I have claimed the second week in January to look back and to look forward and to consider a word from scripture that might call us into the next year of ministry. This week I took a bit of time to reread each of these earlier messages. They were an interesting read. The messages for the first two years were filled with anticipation and dream. Our story together was young and the gap between who we were and who we hoped to be was still very wide. The messages over the past three years were significantly different in tone. We began to celebrate some of how we had begun to see how God was moving in our midst. We also heard and responded to the challenge to become family for the Chin community and to begin to find ways to reach with care into the brokenness of the Classen-Ten-Penn area. It was encouraging to look back and see how God has shaped us and remade us. When we look back and can see the God’s movement and faithfulness in our yesterdays, it should give us the confidence to move forward with God into our tomorrows.

The passage that calls us this morning depicts the moment that Jesus announces the beginning of his ministry. Luke tells us that Jesus has been baptized by John and has heard the incredible pronouncement of the Father, “You are my Son, whom I love, and with whom I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22). Jesus has also faced the testing and temptation by the face of evil. He has been blessed and confronted and now he comes home. 14Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. 16He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. I can imagine the stilled silence as Jesus came into the room and took his place among them. They had heard that he had been teaching in other synagogues and that he has spoken with a remarkable power and authority. But this was different. He was not a visiting teacher, he was one of them. They has seen him grow up in their midst. Some of them had probably even played with Jesus when they were all kids. But this was not the kid of their childhood. This grown Jesus was the buzz of the region. He stood up and took the scroll from the prophet Isaiah. Everyone froze waiting to hear what would come next.

Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. 20Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

Jesus claims this passage to announce what his life and ministry was all about. There are two very different ways to come to this passage. One invites us to see this passage through the eyes of a call to radical justice. It is worthy and I will come back to this passage in the future and we will take a look at the passage from that perspective. But for our purposes today, I claim the second track, the call to hear Jesus’ call to radical redemption.

Dr. William Loader states; “What were originally were the words of a prophet announcing Israel’s liberation from exile in Babylon in the late 6th century become a self description of Jesus’ role and calling, and, by extension a role description, a ‘mission statement’, for the Church.”
[i] I think he is on to something. I believe that as the church of Jesus Christ we are called to live as the people who live and minister between this mission statement claimed by Jesus on one hand and the Great Commission he gives his disciples on the other. For much of the past five years you have heard me proclaim our call to fulfill the Great Commission, and it is vital that we continue to keep missions at the very center of the life of our church. But, this morning I want us to consider what it might mean for our next season of ministry to also be defined by the mission of Christ.

This mission statement Jesus claims is strikingly brief but remarkably powerful. It begins; He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners. We have to see this through the eyes of the overall ministry of Jesus. He does not spend energy addressing the political issue of those held unjustly in the jails and prisons of the era. When you look at his ministry you see that he focused on those who were held captive by evil. I do not think it is too much to take the spiritual leap and to focus on those who are held hostage by sin, those who are prisoners to brokenness and addiction. The ministry of Jesus is filled will stories of him freeing those who have been held prisoners to evil by casting out demons. The demons of our culture and era look different. If we look around us we see those who are held prisoner to evil, who are held captive by addiction. We see those who are addicted to drugs, or alcohol, or gambling, or sex, or pornography, or the countless other things that hold people’s heart and consume their mind. We see the horrific impact it has on them and their families. Jesus came that those who are held hostage by evil might find freedom; the redemption of their lives by Jesus the Christ. I believe that in our next season of ministry we must discover ways to reach out and be an instrument of Christ for those held in captivity. I want to challenge us to discover how we might partner with those who are dealing with those living lives of addiction and to learn how we might work together to help them find freedom. God has placed people in our congregation who can help us find the right partners and teach us to be the presence of Christ in the midst of these soul prisons. This will not be an easy task, and we will see many we touch continue to stumble and fall, but we can longer stand by and see these broken families and these broken lives and do nothing.

The mission statement of Christ continues; recovery of sight for the blind. One of my favorite New Testament stories is when Jesus heals the sight of Bartimaeus. In the story Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus from his place in the dirt of the roadside. Bartimaeus had been their begging for money, begging for survival so long that most of the crowd simply ignored him. Others called for him to be quiet. But Jesus heard is cry for healing and restored his sight. Then Jesus looked at him and told him, now go and do as you will. What he chose to do was to immediately follow Jesus. Ultimately, the sight that was restored was not eyes just to see the flowers, but instead were eyes to see Jesus. Most that have joined this church over the past five years have come as Christians, coming to find a new family of faith. Hear me clearly; I am thankful for each person who has come to be a part of this family. You have made us a better church and a better expression of God’s presence in our community. But, this morning I want to challenge us to be more intentionally about reaching out to those who are blind to a relationship with Jesus. I want us to be a church that is so moved by the way God touches and changes us that we become people who invite other people to Jesus. We will not embrace the manipulative evangelistic methods of the ultra right, but it is vital that we choose to become people who share Jesus – who are tools for God to us to offer recovery of sight for the spiritually blind. It is my prayer that we more frequently stir the baptismal waters with those whose eyes were opened and whose lives have been transformed when they got to know Jesus face to face.

The words that Jesus claimed continue; to release the oppressed. The poor, the blind, and the oppressed each find themselves on the outside looking in. Jesus wants it clear that he comes to bring redemption – freedom for everyone, including those that the community pushes down or pushes away. One of my grave concerns is that too many churches are filled with people who look just like each other. They become exclusive religious communities where you seem to have to pass the “like us” test before you are welcomed in. I am thankful that our church progressively looks like the diversity of our community and our ministry now more intentionally reaches out to those who our community drives to its margins. I know that this is not always comfortable, but it is important. We have the rare opportunity to be a model for our city for what a people of faith can be if they look beyond the bounds of race and culture and claim each first and only because of who we are together in Christ. It means that there is no one looking in from the outside; that there is a place for those who struggle and those of means; and for those who walk the hallways of leadership and those who walk the sidewalks of despair. We have much to learn from each other and with each other. In being Jesus for one another we will better see and understand the depths of God’s love.

The final words from the scroll read; 19to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." This was great news to hear. The year of the Lord’s favor was a year of new starts. It was the year of jubilee when debts were forgiven, when hope flourished, when people could begin again. There are many in our community – many in our midst – many of us – who need a new beginning – a redeemed life and a renewed faith. It is my prayer that we will claim this next season of ministry as a time to renew to grow in our faith by seizing new opportunities for discipleship. It is my hope that we will choose to renew the place that prayer plays in our life and the life of our church. It is a time for new beginnings. Let us claim this moment to renew our heart and our walk with God.

On that first Sunday in January 2005, Marv Knox invited the church to put on its track shoes and get ready to run into a new season of ministry. I fear that I have worn the treads on your track shoes bare. So now, I invite you to shed your shoes and slow the pace. Let’s look forward to a season when we more deliberately and intentionally move toward deepening our faith, our faith relationship, and our place in our community. I invite you to come go with me in living out the mission of Christ – as we continue to be the people of the Great Commission. Amen.

[i] Loader, William, "First Thoughts on Year C Gospel Passages in the Lectionary,"available online at, 2010.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

This past Wednesday we began a study on “The Man Called Jesus.” The study will call us to spend Wednesday night’s through the winter months looking at passages that give us a better picture of the humanity and the human experience of Jesus. It is amazing how difficult it was for the church to come to terms with the full divinity and the full humanity of Jesus. I think we are more comfortable with the picture of the divine Jesus than we are the human Jesus. We like the grand healing stories and the images of Jesus preaching to the grand crowds. We like the pictures that display Jesus’ power and authority. But it seems we are we pause when we read passages that point us toward the very human moments of the Jesus story. You can almost feel us twinge when we see Jesus tempted, tired, frustrated, or angry. We are glad to talk about Jesus as Son of God, but struggle when we read the words “Son of Man.”

I think one of the reasons we are less comfortable talking about the humanity of Jesus is that we not want to do anything that questions the divinity of Jesus. We witnessed the strong reaction of the church the movie based on Brown’s Da Vinci Code. While the book and movie went way to far, it seems that some are not even willing to talk about any of Jesus’ relationships beyond the disciples in fear. They fear that they will see something or say something that could be perceived as wrong or heretical. They fear they might have to deal with questions bigger than their bumper sticker faith. They fear that their faith may be stretched beyond the bounds of their comfort zones. They fear. Others are happier to focus on the divinity of Jesus because it lets them off the hook. If they can find a way to leave Jesus as fully divine and leave his humanity in the shadows, then they/we are not accountable to try to follow as Jesus followed and live as Jesus lived. But, in their/our fear to deal with the humanity of Jesus we are cheated from seeing the fuller picture of the one we call Savior and Lord. There is much to be learned from the Jesus who walked the dirt paths that we walk and faced the life issues that we face. I celebrate the divinity of Jesus who is the incarnation of the God who loved us so much that he would come and pitch his tent amongst us. I also celebrate that Jesus claimed a humanity that let us relate to him; a humanity that would show us the way to live lives of faith; a humanity that lets him understand us and redeem us.

I want to know the whole picture of Jesus. How about you? Come join me.

Grace and Peace, Tom

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sustained by God or Painting a Picture of God Psalm 147:1-8

The following message was preached at First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City on February 2, 2010. It invites us to consider how we see God - how we paint our picture of God.

Well with the Christmas Blizzard of 2009, Beth, the kids and I did not get to make our trip to the mountains of Georgia to see my brother and his family. Probably like most of you, we were locked away in our house, held captive by the snow. On Monday we were finally able to get out so we decided to do an overnight trip to Tulsa. One of the highlights of the trip was our stop at the Philbrook Museum. I was particularly intrigued by their collection of Eastern European icons – images Mary and Jesus, painted on wood, most depicting mother and child that looked like those who were painting them. It seemed the same was true of some of the larger oil paintings that depicted scenes in Jesus’ life.

One of the great theologians, Paul Tillich, must have had similar moment. In a book called The New Beginning he asks; How do we paint Jesus the Christ? It does not matter whether He is painted in lines and colors, as the great Christian painters in all periods have done or whether we paint Him in sermons, as the Christian preachers have done Sunday after Sunday, or whether we paint Him in learned books, in Biblical or systematic theology, or whether we paint Him in our hearts, in devotion, imagination and love. In each case we must answer the question: How do we paint Jesus the Christ? The stories in the Gospel of Matthew contribute to the answer; they add a color, an expression, a trait of great intensity, they paint Him as the healer: It is astonishing that this color, this vivid expression of His nature, this powerful trait of His character, has more and more been lost in our time. The grayish colors of a moral teacher, the tense expression of a social reformer, the soft traits of a suffering servant have prevailed, at least amongst our painters and theologians and life-of-Jesus novelists; perhaps not so much in the hearts of the people who need somebody to heal them.[i]

(Move back to the center of the platform) I think he is right. It seems that in reaction to the television charismatic faith healers and in response to medical science and the evolution of psychiatry, it has somehow become progressively easier to remove God from our healing vocabulary. It is our loss. It cheats us out of seeing the depth of God’s care for us. It can blind us to seeing how God heals and sustains us. Psalm 147 is one of final handful of psalms that create the doxology for this grand book of poetry and song. It also paints a bold outline of the image of a God who sustains and heals us. This picture is completed in the dramatic strokes of color found among the healing stories of Jesus in the gospels.

The first stroke of the paint brush is found in verses 1 and 2. It reads; 1 Praise the LORD. How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him! 2 The LORD builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the exiles of Israel. This stroke adds the shades and hues of restoration. The Psalmist begins with praise and almost immediately turns to the healing and sustaining acts of God. Most scholars believe that this psalm was written to the congregation in Jerusalem after their return home from exile.[ii] It speaks directly into their memory and their woundedness. The Psalmist reminds them of a time when they were broken, when they had lost their home, when they we outsiders, strangers in a strange land. The Psalmist helps them to remember when times were dark and desperate and when God stepped in with His healing and sustaining hand to restore them. Like the father welcomed the Prodigal Son home in the parable story told by Jesus, so God gathers the outcasts from Israel.[iii]

Has there been a time when you felt on the outside looking in? Have you experienced a time when you felt like a stranger in a strange land – witnessing others tell stories and assume everyone knows the punch line – sharing inside jokes where they laugh and you stand silent? For some, this moment is found in school – or in the work place – or maybe even at your in-laws table. Have you ever felt like you were going through the motions, without any real sense of purpose or joy? The Psalmist sings out that God is worthy of praise and stands ready to heal. When you are torn down – it is God who stands ready to build you up. When you are isolated, frustrated, and alone – it is God who stands ready to gather us close and restore us to our rightful place as a child of God.

The next stroke of the paint brush is found in verses 3, 4, and 5. It reads: 3 He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. 4 He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. 5 Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit. This stroke adds the vivid colors of the healing of the brokenhearted. It seems that here the Psalmist gets personal. Almost all of us can relate to what it means to have a broken heart. Sometimes our hearts were broken when we saw a dream dashed – a hope vanquished – a young love fade – a loved one lost. I love how the great preacher Charles Spurgeon spoke to this at the close of the 19th Century. His word ring as true now as then. He said, “Hearts are broken through disappointment. Hearts are broken through bereavement. Hearts are broken in ten thousand ways, for this is a heart-breaking world; and Christ is good at healing all manner of heart-breaks.”[iv]

Did you hear the promise of the Psalmist and the assurance of Spurgeon? God is in the healing business. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Can you imagine God knelling down and lifting you up in the moments when your heart cried out? Can you imagine God carefully bandaging your wounded heart so that it could heal in His care? Some of you can because you can bring a testimony of when you were broken hearted and God stepped in with His healing touch. Some of you can attest that God made a way when there seemed to be now way, that God dried the tears of your heart and gave you the peace you needed to move forward in faith.

Some in this room still feel the sharp pain of brokenness and heart break. I bring you good news. God is still in the healing business. The Psalmist declares 4 He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. 5 Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit. God is so concerned for his creation that God has named the stars, God's display of his power is found in his care and understanding of the wounded hearts of His children. Jesus echoes this same kind of view of God when he says 24Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! (Luke 12:24) You are valuable to God, so valuable that he has made a way for heal your broken heart and our broken lives. It is found in the face of one named Jesus, the Christ. Jesus tells us, 33"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." Peace, real peace, is available to you at the feet of Jesus. Take heart, God can speak into your brokenness and bring you the redemption you need to make you whole. Take heart, God can speak into your broken heart and sooth its cry. God can and will restore your joy. He hears your cry. The vivid colors of healing powerfully impact the picture and remind us that God is in the healing business. God stands ready to heal the brokenhearted and bind their wounds.

The third stoke of the Psalmist’s brush calls us to verses 6, 7, and 8. It reads; 6 The LORD sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground. 7 Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving; make music to our God on the harp. 8 He covers the sky with clouds; he supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills. 9 He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call. This stroke adds the tones and textures of God’s sustaining provision.

This cluster of verses begins with the phrase; The LORD sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground. In our era, when we hear the word “humble” we tend to think of it as the virtue expressed in humility, but in this passage the Psalmist is speaking of something very different. He is talking about those who have been humbled economically and socially, the forgotten, those on the fringe of community – and sees the wicked as those who use, abuse, and exploit them. I have to acknowledge that the care for the poor seems to keep finding its way into my Sunday morning message – but not because I seek it out, but because it is a reoccurring theme throughout the scripture. We hear it echoed in voice of Jesus as he began his ministry when he claimed the words of Isaiah and read; 18"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:17-19) We will hear more from this passage next week, but in this context, hear Jesus’ deep heart for the poor and the oppressed.

Just like God cares for the brokenhearted, God does not want anyone left out or left behind. The God who covers the sky with clouds; who supplies the earth with rain and makes the grass to grow; who provides for the cattle of the fields and the birds of the air; the God who is actively engaged in the midst of creation; cares for those who struggle to survive. It means when we find ourselves engaged with ministries like Good Shepherd caring for those in our community, or when we partner with a work in Central Asia to care for children forced to live and survive in the sewers, or when we invest our time and energy with the Chin refugees in OKC and Malaysia, we honoring the heart of God and the ministry of Jesus Christ. It put us in the midst of a broken world in the name of the God who comes heals brokenness. God stands ready to make the way to sustain the humble. It is a rich promise for all for all who cry out for God’s hand. It means that we are not alone in this world, but that God is actively engaged and is moved to compassion. That God cares for each of us. The tones and texture of God’s provision lets us see God’s active love and healing at work.

We end as we begin, with the haunting question, “How do you paint your picture of Jesus?” What tones and shades do you claim for your walk with God? What shapes do you uses as you look at how Jesus has shaped and redeemed your life? What textures do you add as you look at how God has worked in you and through you? Will you be content with the grey tones of moral teacher, the grand preacher, or the social reformer? Or will you claim the vivid colors of God’s healing and sustaining hand? These colors draw you close and depict a Jesus ready to heal the broken heart, the broken life, and sustain those left out. They are life changing colors. They change the lives of those who are healed and sustained as well as those who serve as the witness of their own healing. How do you paint your picture of Jesus?

[i] Tillich, Paul, The New Beginning, (Scribner’s Sons: New York,1955), pp.42-43
[ii] Mays, James Luther, Psalms, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching,(John Knox Press: Louisville, 1994), p.443.
[iii] Knight, Gearge A.F., Psalms: Volume 2, The Daily Bible Study Series, (Westminster Press: Philadelphia, 1983), p.351
[iv] SPURGEON, C. H., “Christ's Hospital;” A Sermon, (No. 2260), Intended for Reading on Lord's-Day, June 12th, 1892,Delivered at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington, On Lord's-day Evening, March 9th, 1890. Available online at on December 30, 2009. Referenced via