Sunday, August 28, 2011

“A God We Can Depend On” - I Kings 8:22-24 - August 28, 2011

[This sermon/homily is offered as a part of a service of testimony. 3 members of our congregation spoke to critical moments in their life where God’s faithfulness was on display. The service also included a choral version of “If It Were Not for Grace” with a solo that was testimonial in flavor. The homily serves to pull the voices of witness into a Scriptural context and to challenge the church family to discover their own testimony of God’s faithfulness.]

I can only image what Solomon must have been feeling when he took his place before the altar that morning. He was there to dedicate the temple. The temple has been his father’s dream, but God choose for him to be the one to complete the task. Maybe he felt a little like many of us do right now, seized with the power of God’s story of faithfulness expressed in Don, Cathy, and Larry’s spoken testimony and Dennis’ testimony in song. Maybe the music that surrounded the service that morning while different in tone and language, moved with passion like ours this morning, drawing Solomon and the worshippers there closer and closer to God’s feet. But, our passage tells us that just at the right moment, Before the entire congregation of Israel, Solomon took a position before the Altar, spread his hands out before heaven, and prayed, O GOD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in the skies above or on the earth below who unswervingly keeps covenant with his servants and relentlessly loves them as they sincerely live in obedience to your way. You kept your word to David my father, your personal word. You did exactly what you promised—every detail. The proof is before us today! [The Message, Peterson]

Solomon’s dedication of the temple was strikingly different than most building dedications we would experience in our era. His first words of dedication were not words to celebrate the craftsmanship of what would have been one of the greatest buildings of that era. His words did not celebrate the great wealth he had amassed that made the construction of the temple possible. His words did not celebrate the growth and development of the great city of Jerusalem that the temple called home. He did not celebrate the kingdom he ruled over and their growing status in the region. Instead Solomon begins with a testimony that God was a God that the people could depend on because God delivered on the promises He made.

In my lifetime I have watched our confidence in our government erode because of Watergate, the Lewinsky scandal, political polarization, and national debt figures in the trillions. In my lifetime I have watched our confidence in our religious leaders fade because of a seemingly endless list of ministers embroiled in sexual impropriety, drug abuse, and financial exploitation of their congregations or television followers. Many of us have had people let us down when we needed on them the most. If we are not careful we can begin wonder if there is really anything we can count on. The testimonies and the Scripture we have heard this morning testify that we can depend on God. God is always faithful.

Solomon had faced war with his brothers and was a product of his father’s moral failure. It would have been easy for him to doubt everyone and everything. But, his testimony is clear. God has honored every promise; God has come through at every turn. It was time to celebrate. The temple was done. And in this moment when he could claim the limelight, he made sure that the only one that would get glory was God. God was unquestionably, undeniably, unswerving dependable. God still is. O God, You kept your word, your personal word. You did exactly what you promised—every detail. The proof is before us today! Thanks be to God!

So you have heard the testimony of Scripture and of those who walk beside you every day. What is your testimony? Where do you see God moving in your life? Where has God proven faithful in your life? Let your voice be heard. God is faithful – just as He promised – just as He said.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

“Everyone Matters!” - Romans 12:3-8 - August 21, 2011

I love my daughter, Elizabeth, and she plays a lot of different roles in my life. There are moments the little girl comes out and we laugh at things like we did when she was young. There are moments when she is wise beyond her years and we talk about things that really matter. There are moments she is my co-conspirator in pulling together something new in the kitchen. There are still others when we work together on a project designed to touch our community or our world. There is one very important role she plays for you. She is my hokey illustration filter. One of the tasks of writing a sermon is to try to find an image that can help draw you in – to help you enter an age old Bible text from a new and fresh perspective. Sometimes in the effort to be creative and engaging I can be tempted to wander off into – well, into the hokey or silly. Do you remember the morning I used a door a few months ago – only to discover I could not open it when I was supposed to? Or maybe you remember the band major’s jacket that found its way to stage several years ago? She had real doubt about both of those – and I should have.

I have to tell you that this week’s message invited the prospect of some pretty hokey options. As I thought about how to introduce the idea that everyone in the congregation matters to what we do, I thought about bringing in a pot and a host of veggies, throwing the vegetables in one at a time in a congregational soup or stew that was suppose to show that when we are all mixed together something amazing happens. But, I it did not take long for this pleasant little image to go over the top and hit the Elizabeth filter. I also thought about placing huge puzzle pieces in different parts of the sanctuary and have people bring them up and symbolically talk about what we are all a part of the puzzle and when all the pieces are brought together a beautiful picture emerges. When I moved from talking about the idea to how it would work, Elizabeth game me a look.

So, with no props and no silly images I invite you to look at a family passage where Paul tries to help the church in Rome understand the contribution that each member of the church brings to the life and the ministry of the church. We heard Mike Wanzer read the passage as a whole earlier in our service. Now let’s take a closer look at what it says. Paul begins; For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. Paul understood our temptation to value some roles more than others, some gifts more highly than the other, and some people more than other people. He takes this head on. Don’t think of yourself more highly than you should because of who you are or what you do; any spiritual gift or talent you bring to the table is given by God. It is not about you. It is about God working in and through you.

He wanted them – and us - to understand it the ministry and mission of the church was found in who they were as they expressed their gifts side by side. He tells them; For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. This is one of my favorite passages because it drives home the reality that everyone matters. That none of us are spare parts. Regardless of our age, experience, or gender, everyone matters. God has gifted all who come to him in faith with gifts that are necessary for the fulfillment of the mission/purpose of the church. To be the people we need to be, we need each other. To be the church we need to be, we need each other. While we all are different and bring something different to the table, we BELONG- all of us – we belong to God and we belong to each other. We need each other. We cannot do it without each other. And that is exactly what God had in mind all along.

Paul offers a remarkable list of the kind of gifts he saw. This list is not comprehensive. Across the New Testament we see similar lists that include parts of this list and add others as well. Some have gotten caught up in trying to figure out how their spiritual gifting fits one of the lists. I believe this is misdirected. The point is that everyone one is gifted differently by God and every gift matters. Here we hear Paul say; 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

I love this list because it captures images of those who teach and preach; those who serve with passion; those who encourage others; those who give, and those who share their heart with and for others. This list is a glimpse across the life of the church, as if Paul is peering in and calling out those he sees in service. I think the list for our church might look a bit different. I think it might include a list like: If your gift is making children feel special on Wednesday nights by serving them at their own line; or if your gift is financial oversight expressed by serving as a teller; or if your gift is one of fellowship demonstrated by being a part of the kitchen team; or if your gift if one of hospitality expressed in service as a volunteer receptionist; or if your gift is of compassion expressed in folding clothes, or assisting people in the food pantry, or listening to people’s stories, or praying for people in need at Good Shepherd; or if your gift is a gift of song for worship; or if your gift is creativity expressed with hammer and nail, or if your gift is the gift of humble service expressed in picking up furniture for the furniture bank; or if your gift is expressed in a wide range of other ways where your sometimes publically, but more often in quiet, impact the lives of others through the mission and ministry of the church, then do it joyfully. Each of these expressions of ministry – each of these reflections of spiritual giftedness makes us who we are as a church and as a church family. When Claire McAtee spent hours decorating the gathering room for the VBS section of Kids of Broadway when she knew that her only reward would be the joy in the eyes of the kids, then she shared her giftedness in a way it touched people’s lives. When Bob and Emily Self serve kids on Wednesday nights or when Gene Haney helps wash the dishes, or when John Turpin hands out bulletins and makes people feel welcome in worship, or when Scott Feree runs sound, or fill in the blank here with a name of someone in our church family giving of themselves, we see the God at work in and through one another. God shapes us and calls us- gifts us and makes us who we are as a unique church family. Every person and every act of faithfulness is essential. Everyone matters! Everyone matters and every gift matters because we can only be the church we are called to be when the gifts of everyone are expressed/lived out/valued/embraced.

There is one word we often miss in Paul’s teaching is “generous.” Paul wants it clear that we serve and give not out of obligation but out of joy and a spirit of celebration. It means that every act of service, every act of ministry, and every moment we live out of the spiritual gifts that God has given us regardless of its scale, becomes an act of worship. When we value each person and each act of the spirit, we become the reflection of God we are intended to be as a church family. God has gifted you. The living expression of your God given giftedness is essential to us being the church we were created to be for this era. Every gift matters! Everyone matters!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

You do not want to miss the Passages exhibit at the OKC Art Museum

This afternoon Aaron and I spent several hours touring the Passages exhibit at the OKC Art Museum. It is an interactive exhibit that celebrates the 400th Anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible and includes the story of the translation and transmission of the Bible through history.  The exhibit included an incredible display of rare and special Bible texts and a host of other significant religious and cultural documents that shape the story of the Bible we carry in our hands.  I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the presentation by animatronic historical characters and the video clips that help set the historical tone of each era included in the exhibit. I was also very please to encounter a remarkable display of scrolls and scroll cases of Torahs from a diversity of global settings and historical timeframes; to see a fragment from the Dead Sea Scrolls; and to be able to look at letters from Martin Luther and the Pope that speak to conflict at the heart of the Reformation. Our overall experience was worth every dollar and every minute we invested. I highly recommend that if you are within driving distance of Oklahoma City you make the drive to see this exhibit.  The exhibit will leave OKC in October to go on display at the Vatican.  Catch it before it leaves!

Grace and Peace, Tom

“A Dinner to Remember” - Luke 5:27-32 - August 14, 2011

{This sermon was offered in the midst of a worship service filled with symbols of commitment. The service included the baptism of three young adults, a celebration of the Lord's Supper, and the licensing of my son, Aaron, for Gospel Ministry. The focal passage was read in two sections; the first showing Levi's choice the follow Jesus and the second, telling the story of Levi's party.}

Levi would have been hated by most in the mainstream in culture. They hated him because he was a tax collector, not the kind of institutional dislike we hear expressed for the IRS during tax time, but instead it was a searing personal hatred for someone they viewed as a crook and a traitor. The Romans had an interesting way of paying tax collectors. They told them how much they were to forward on to the government and their pay was whatever they could collect over and above that. It was a recipe for getting wealthy and for being despised by almost everyone who walked the streets beside you. They were the living embodiment of everything the Jewish people hated about the Roman occupations. Levi was of a particularly despised class of the tax collectors. They had mobile booths and would set up wherever they saw a crowd or could expect traffic to give them the maximum take. Some scholars speculate that Levi has been setting his booth up so he could tap the crowds that were drawn to Jesus. He is an incredibly unlikely person for Jesus to invite to his side. It is even more remarkable that he becomes the catalyst for others on the edge of culture to find their way to Jesus.

Whether Levi set up his tax booth on the fringe of the crowds around Jesus or was someone Jesus saw in his regular going in and out of Capernaum, it is most likely that Levi knew about Jesus. In the days before the fishermen working along the seashore had heard Jesus’ call and followed him. Jesus had healed a man with leprosy and another who was paralyzed. Word about Jesus spread like wildfire and the crowds gathered to see what Jesus might do next and to hear what he might next say. Luke tells us that one day Jesus “went out,” out from the crowds and the chaos that swirled around him, to claim a personal encounter with Levi. Of course Jesus finds him attending his tax booth, where else would he be?

I wonder what Levi was thinking when he saw Jesus coming down the road toward him. Jesus speaks. Can you believe it? Jesus speaks to the one everyone hated; to the one no one would have thought of as being worthy; to the one who was a crook and a traitor. Surely he had come to pronounce judgment on him. Surely he will curse him. This is what everyone else did. Were his ears lying to him? Did he hear Jesus correctly? “Follow me.” YES! He did not care how much money was on table and did not pack up his booth. In one moment, in one act, he left everything behind. He committed to follow Jesus and never look back.

Tyler, Morgan, and Abby this morning we celebrate your baptism. It is a bold statement of faith like Levi’s. It is an public act of spiritual obedience. Your baptism makes us remember the moment we decided to follow Jesus. Your baptism makes us remember when your faith was new and passionate. Your baptism makes us remember our first moments following Jesus. Your baptism is a living testimony that Jesus comes for us – each of us – regardless of how others see us or what other say about us – and invites us to follow him. Thank you for your witness among us.

As we heard earlier in the service, Levi’s story does not stop with the choice to follow Jesus. He threw a party and invited all of his friends to get together and get to know Jesus. It was an odd assortment of fellow tax collectors and others that lived on the fringe of the community. The religious set pulled Jesus’ disciples aside. With a mix of sarcasm and self-righteous judgmentalism, they ask how Jesus can eat with sinners like those gathered at the table that evening. Jesus steps in. He has news for them. He did not come for those like them. He came for those whose hearts and lives were sick.

The call to the table is also an act of spiritual obedience. Jesus tells us to do this and remember that the bread is the symbol of his broken body and the wine is the symbol of his shed blood. But was we look at our time at the table through the lenses of Levi’s story we have to ask, when you came to the table this morning, what attitude did you bring with you? Did you go through the religious motions, or did you understand that the Lord’s Supper is a dinner for sinners? Like the table at Levi's dinner, it is intended not for the self-righteous, but instead for those who understand their righteousness is found first and only in Jesus Christ. It is a table where those who are heart sick can find the story to heal them. Jesus tells us that his body is broken and his blood is shed for the forgiveness of sin for the many.

I am not a spectator to this moment. I am a part of the many. I find my place among Levi’s friends – those who know that the only reason that they are with Jesus is because Jesus has welcomed them. There is no part of me that is worthy for this great dinner invitation. On my own merit, my name should be dropped from the list. But Jesus – the Jesus who came for me when I was a stranger and outside the family of God – invites me to the table that flows with grace. This is a table that reminds us that because of Jesus a group of sinners that deserve rejection are invited to the table that testifies God’s grace. We who were a part from God and we not a part of the family of God, because of the broken body and shed blood of Jesus, are made children of God. When one says the church is filled with hypocrites and sinners I can only rejoice.  That is exactly what Jesus intended.  It is exactly what we see modelled at Levi's table and at the Lord's Supper table commissioned by Christ.

I love Levi. He gets it. He knows that he does not deserve a relationship with Jesus, but Jesus comes and gets him. While my place in culture is different than Levi’s, I claim his heart. I know my faults and failures. I know that the only way I have a relationship with Jesus is that he came for me. I know that I did not do anything to earn it or could live a life worthy of God. I could have been- I should have been- left out. But Jesus invited me in. Lord, please help me to remember that I belong at the sinners table with Jesus – not among the self-righteous religious elite second guess God’s grace. I fear that Jesus is not pleased with the modern evangelical Church because we have in our piousness we begin to sound more like the Pharisees than claim an identity with the sinners who know that apart from Jesus we are nothing.

Aaron, in a few moments LaJuanda Speegle and Larry Fitch will come to affirm your call to ministry. I celebrate your response to God’s call. Remember Levis. It is well to be clear that the call to follow is not a once and done, but a once and always leaving everything behind to follow Jesus. Remember Levi. When you find yourself sitting comfortably in judgment of others, you are in the wrong place. It is your call to go out of your way to reach out to those on the edges of religious life and invite them to join you at Jesus’ side and then trust God to move in their lives.

How about you? What is your testimony about your relationship with Jesus? Is Jesus welcoming you to begin a relationship with him through faith? Is Jesus inviting you to follow Him? Have you said “yes” to following Jesus but have never made that commitment public so others might see and hear your witness of faith? Is God calling you to ministry – to missions – or to some specific place of service? Is today your day – or your family’s day to join this congregation as it seeks to follow Christ in this place?

The hymn of response is #285, Wherever He Leads, I’ll Go. How is God calling you and how will you respond?

[1] available online on August 12, 2011.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

“The Mission of God: The Mission of the Church” - I John 4:7-12

Last spring I was asked to deliver a sermon for the CBFO General Assembly and the topic I was given was “The Mission of God: The Mission of the Church.” As I prepared that sermon over and over again I felt led to bring this same theme and this same passage to our church family. You would think that I would be tempted just to preach the same sermon, but I believe that a sermon is written for a specific people in a specific moment. So, while a sentence here and there may sound familiar to those who were there that morning, the reality is that little of the earlier sermon remains. Our congregation is at a different point in our missional journey than those gathered for that earlier event. We are on a mission-centered path, but, I think it is critical that we continue to go back to Scripture to make sure the path we are on is on track with God’s will for us as individuals and as a church family.

A little over fifteen years ago Robert Fulghum released a book entitled, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” As I thought and prayed about this morning, I had a Robert Fulghum kind of moment. The passage that played over and over in my head was the first verse I ever learned. It was John 3:16. I learned it out of the King James Version, so no matter what translation I have in my hand at the time I always hear it the same. How about saying it with me? For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. From my earliest memories of church this passage impacted my view of God. The God that love the world – and loved me – was not far way. This God was and is a sending God. It also told me that the God that loved me also loved everyone else in the world. It just made sense to me that we needed to make sure every knew that God loved them.

So, for the next few minutes I want to claim the heart of the passage I learned in kindergarten and look it its more expanded expression found in I John 4:7-12. We heard this passage read earlier in our service. Hear again verses 7 through 10. 7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. The redemptive love story between God and humanity is born in the heart and the nature of God. With the same love that moved God breathed the breath of life in the Genesis, moves God to send his one and only Son, his very incarnation, to the world that we might find our way back home to Him. The Mission of God is a reflection of the very heart and nature of God – it is the love of God that initiates the Gospel story. God loves us and wants us to live in that love. This is not a polite religious philosophical statement. God has demonstrated the depth of His love with God’s remarkable choice to come incarnate to walk among us, to teach us, and to show us the way. God has demonstrated the depth of His love with God’s incredible choice to claim a path of sacrifice that we might know redemption and grace. Real and authentic love begins in the heart of God and is initiated in the action of God.

Verses 11 and 12 makes the sending Mission of God personal. It reads; 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. Verse 11 is almost identical to verse 7- it is the reoccurring theme that because God loved us we are called to love one another. Our love is to be reflection of God’s love. We hear it when Jesus teaches; “A new command I give you: Love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another. (John 13:34-35). We hear it echoed in Paul’s writing to the church in Corinth when he teaches that those who have reconciled to God through Christ are called now to become ministers of reconciliation. We hear it from the lips of Jesus when he proclaims, “As I was sent, so I send you.”(John 20:20) The redemptive Mission of God expressed through the love of Christ is to become the Mission of the Church. As we experience God’s redemptive love for us – as we experience God living in us and God’s love being made complete in us, the expectation is that we will become a reflection of that redemptive love for others. For God so loved the world he sent his one and only Son….for God so loved the world he sends His people – the Church into the world.

This Redemptive Sending Mission of God is at the heart of the Great Commission. When Christ commissions the Church on the Galilean hillside it transformed the scope of the disciples’ world and catapulted them into a global mission with God. The church was and is called to be at the center of missions. Bill O'Brien, one of my friends and favorite Baptist missiologist, introduced me to one of his favorite quotes. It says, "missions is to the church as flame is to the fire." When the congregation claims its place at the center of missions it is restored to its right and rightful place in the fulfillment of the Great Commission. In its living out of mission the church finds a central element of its “raision d’etre” or reason for being; its foundation for its relationship with the world.

There was a time when we as Baptist outsourced our place in the Mission of God to organizations and structures that required our cash and asked for our prayer, and sent others in our place. The missionary was called out of the church to fulfill their individual sense of call. They were on mission and the task of the church was to support them. We were thrilled to get to see occasional slide show and were enthralled by stories of people that lived far, far away. While this method was efficient and the church could celebrate its global impact in supporting others to serve in their stead, the Church failed to understand their mission as a reflection of the sending Mission of God. The Mission of the Church was not designed for the selected few; it was and is to be a reflection of the way of life of every believer.

We who are made children of God through the love of God expressed through Christ, each one of us, are to be the reflection of God’s love for the world. This means that the missionary and the minister, the lawyer and the bricklayer, accountants and acrobats – all who are a part of the Church because of their relationship with God through Jesus Christ – all who have known God’s love -are to be are to find their place in the living out of the Mission of God reflected in the Mission of the Church. When the Mission of the Church is the living out of the Mission of God there are no spare parts. Everyone matters and every disciple is called to engage – who they are and where they are- and wherever God might send them. Each will have a different place, but each has a place.

As you know, a number of our youth and 20somethings headed to Canada to work with refugees in July because they heard God’s call. One of the results of their work crossed my desk this week on email. A community center leader that had viewed the work of a refugee focused Baptist Church with skepticism has changed their tune. This week they wrote a letter asking for the chancellor of that area to do a letter of appreciation to the church, to the missionaries they worked with, and to the FBC OKC mission teams for the great work they accomplished during their time there. A heart of compassion and hands of service built an important relational bridge to will change the texture of ministry in that community for the good. The team did not pass out tracks or preach on street corners. The directly and meaningfully served in humility and love. They reflected God’s love and those in that community felt its power. Similar stories emerge from almost everywhere we God in God’s name – whether across the street or across the world. God is calling out and sending out people to find their place in His Redemptive Sending Mission. Our job is to have an open heart and a willing spirit. For God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son – and now sends His church

But hear that our embrace of our place in the Mission of the Church it is no small short term task. It would be easy to sit down and pat ourselves on the back and pronounce “well done!” for all we have done. But when the church understands its place as a reflection of the Redemptive Sending Mission of God it will continue to be call it out of its comfort, into the difficult highways and byways of its community and the world. The Mission of the Church will continue to draw us from the safety of our sanctuary to rub shoulder to shoulder with the poor, the widow, the orphan, the oppressed, and with those who live their lives separate from a relationship with God. The Mission of the Church will compel us to learn to speak to a world that it not our own, even when rejection and suffering are a part of the package. The Mission of the Church will summons us to act as agents of reconciliation, responding cross-culturally to the hurt and the hopelessness that captures the souls of those living a world of darkness. The cross-cultural response will be to the both in our own community and to those across the globe that do not have a personal relationship with God. Let us not grow weary in doing good – let us know grow weary in claiming our part in the Mission of God.

For God so loved the world he gave his only begotten Son…Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. As I was sent, so I send you. Where is God calling you? Where is God leading us next? Amen.

“For Thine Is the Kingdom” - July 31, 2011

[Sermon timeslot begins with a testimony by Pam, a member of our congregation. She speaks to God’s faithfulness in a dark period of her life and the joy she finds in now faithfully giving and serving for the sake of God’s Kingdom] Thank you, Pam, for being willing to share a part of your faith story with us. Your words and your living witness encourage us and challenge us.

For the past few weeks we have been looking at the Lord’s Prayer and its call for utter dependence on God. It is a prayer where we invite God to step into every part of our life and to trust God with the very essence of who we are and with the path we walk. We come now to the close line of this great prayer.

We pray; “For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.” What words would you use to describe God? What hymn or song does your heart sing when you see God move in your life? Up until this moment every word from the Lord’s Prayer is lifted from the Jesus’ teaching on the hillside outside of Capernaum known as the Sermon on the Mount. But, when we look at Matthew 6 or the corresponding passage in Luke, we find these words absent in the text. You probably find it as a small footnote on the bottom of the page in your Bible - but it’s not found in the most trusted manuscripts that scholars use to translate our current versions of the Bible. It is commonly called David’s doxology and was linked to this prayer early in the development of the church. It seems to have been their cry in response to this incredible prayer of absolute dependence on God. While it is not found in the Scriptural text, it is seen as a traditional part of the prayer and has had significant standing in church history/tradition. It is tied to and echoes the heart of I Chronicles 29: 11 Yours, LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all.

It is a remarkable picture. The prayer has led us to the feet of God with a bold humility. The prayer invites us to voice a series of petition or pleas to God. We pray that the God who is at one moment both up close and personal and eternal and transcendent will be honored and revered in our lives. We pray that the kingdom of God and the will of God be done among us just like it is at the foot of his throne in heaven. We pray that God will provide our most basic needs and call us daily to dependence. We pray God will lead us away from temptation and evil – that God will keep us away from anything and anyone that would lead us away from God’s presence. Petition by petition we affirm our absolute dependence of God. Petition by petition we pray that God will align us – guide us – direct us to toward the will and way he has for our lives. It is a prayer of absolute dependence, absolute obedience, and absolute trust. It is incredibly counter-cultural to our culture that extols the virtues of self-reliance and independence. It was equally counter-cultural to those who first claimed this prayer as a regular part of their worship experience. But what they discovered was in their prayer of bold humility that carried them to their knees they found themselves face-to-face with God who was worthy of their worship and worthy of their trust. The songs of their heart found voice in this doxology. They so relished in the greatness and power and glory and majesty and splendor of God that the words they claimed became a permanent part of the Lord’s Prayer. Their witness flows from our lips every time we repeat this great prayer. The call is for us to claim the kind of relationship with God where our witness becomes like theirs - our song of faith joins their song.

Have you ever felt so close to God that you we moved beyond words? Have ever seen God move in your life where your faith – your trust – your dependence on God was so clearly affirmed all you could do was to sing? Have you ever experienced the power of forgiveness where you were humbled in the presence of God? Have you ever gotten a glimpse of God’s holiness – or of the depths of God’s love – or the wonder of God’s grace – where your heart is stirred? Have you ever had a moment where the “bigness” of God was on display?

This gets personal for me. Nine and a half years ago a young doctor in a suburban Dallas hospital decided that death was more likely than life for me. While I was in an ambulance being transferred to a private hospital related to the University of Texas medical school, he sent my wife to my house with Keith Parks, a Baptist missions leader that had become like a grandfather to my children. Their task was to tell my children to pray because it looked like I might not live to come home again. Where the doctor saw hopelessness, God had another answer. When another doctor told us that I might never speak in public again, they saw only darkness and despair, God had another answer. When a young Physical Therapist pronounced that I might never walk without a walker again, she saw only boundaries. God had another answer. My life story was not designed to be written in a medical journal, it was written by my Father, who is in heaven, whose name is holy and honored in my life. I sing with joy with the Scripture when it proclaims; Yours, LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. The prayer rings out, “For Thine in the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

Sometimes our stories of God’s work in our lives are big and dramatic. Sometimes the stories are simple and quiet. It is not about the scale of the story, but is instead about giving our lives to God and seeing God at work. Within our church family we know of stories where grief has given way to hope, when pain has given way to healing, when tragedy has given way to a future founded in faith, when despair has given way to joy. In each case God has answer. In each case we see God act. When our story becomes God’s story God’s kingdom and power and glory are on display. When we honor God’s name in all that we do God’s kingdom and power and glory are on display. When our way gives in to God’s will for our lives God’s kingdom and power and glory are on display. When we depend on God’s provision and trust God to meet our daily needs God’s kingdom and power and glory are on display. When we follow God’s lead to His feet instead of following the voices that would call us any other way than God’s way God’s kingdom and power and glory are on display.

We were not created to wander from one day to another on our own; we were created to live lives of trust and dependence God – lives filled with awe and wonder. We were created to lives the kind of lives that sing out to God in praise. Let’s not settle for anything less.

Our Father, who is up close and personal and divine and eternal, Holy, revered, honor and respected, is your name,  Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth and in my life, as it is in heaven. Give me today, my most basic needs, so that I depend wholly on you. Forgive us – forgive me, and help me to forgive others the same way I want to be forgiven by you. Lead us away from anything that might tempt us – anything that might draw our eyes away from you- and deliver us from the one who would have us walk any way but yours. For the Kingdom is yours, the power is yours, and the glory is yours, forever! Amen!

“Forgive Us….Lead Us” - Matthew 6:12-13 - July 24, 2011

I love my brother, Adam. He is one of the most important people in my life. I have to tell you if I had a problem and really needed him; I honestly believe that I could call him in the middle of the night in Atlanta and by morning’s light he would be on an airplane heading this way. He demonstrated this throughout my journey through my catastrophic illness and again two years ago after my hip surgery. When he thought I needed him, he came. I want you to hear my deep love for him, because I have to confess that we spent much of our childhood – let’s see, how should I put this, locked in the natural struggle for self-differentiation one from another. OK, more directly, we spend much of our childhood wrestling and fighting with one another. We shared a bedroom until my sister left for college. Adam and I are only two years apart in age and it seemed that our constant state of being together created endless opportunities to disagree – not so agreeably. I remember that when my mother would hear the chaos, she would come upstairs and tell us; “Stop this now! Now forgive each other, hug, and make up. You are brothers! You should know better.”

Our promise to forgive each other became more about the stopping the fight of the moment – at least until Mom was out of ear shot range. I fear that for many of us, forgiveness is still about making up with someone for the moment, but does not ultimately change the way we feel or act toward others. Jesus understood our struggle to forgive one another. As we move into our third week of taking a closer look at the model prayer – The Lord’s Prayer – that Jesus taught as a part of the Sermon on the Mount. Our the course of the first two weeks we heard that we might best hear this prayer something like…

Our Father, who is up close and personal and divine and eternal, May I make your name Holy, revered, honor and respected in my life. Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth and in my life, as it is in at the feet of your throne. Give me today, my most basic needs, so that I depend wholly and daily on you.

Now we hear ourselves pray: And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…In many translations including the NIV we read; And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors…and in Luke’s account of this same moment we hear Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.

Most of the time when we hear about forgiveness in church, we are talking about God’s grace and the promise that God will forgive us and redeem us. We hear Jesus proclaim from the cross, “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” We hear Paul teach in Ephesians, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us.” We love these sermons. They are good and encouraging words to hear and the promises are real and true. But, I think we are slower to think about us forgiving others. While we cherish the promise that we are forgiven, we are also called to be a people of forgiveness. In fact, Jesus places a profound responsibility for forgiveness on our shoulders. In the model prayer Jesus teaches us to ask God to forgive us as we forgive those who trespass – who sin – against us. Every time I pray this prayer I find these words startling. I have to be honest with you and with God. My hope and my prayer is that God will forgive me – redeem me – restore me, much better than I forgive others – redeem my relationship with others – restore my walk with others. I think this is true for most of us. Our temptation is to demand justice when we feel we have been sinned against, and mercy when we are the sinner. We want justice when we feel like we have been violated. We want mercy when we blow it and wound another. Jesus wanted to make sure that there is no confusion on what he is teaching. At the close of the model prayer Jesus comes back to this theme. He teaches 14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

It was interesting to read the scholars in the various commentaries squirm as they come to terms with the apparent conditional nature of Jesus’ teaching. We are much more comfortable with a single direction forgiveness – of an unrelenting God who forgives us regardless of anything we have done or might do. Jesus wants it clear that those who follow him and know what it is to be forgiven are expected to become a people who forgive others.

We have talked about the fact that this model prayer is a prayer of dependence. We have heard that we must depend on who God is, on God’s will and God’s way, and on God’s provision of our all we need. Here Jesus is teaching that we must so dependent on God’s forgiveness that it shapes our very nature – we who are forgiven become those who forgive. We do not forgive others as an act of benevolence or even kindness. We forgive because we are so shaped by God’s forgiveness that we can do no other. Does this define your heart for others in your life? Do you have an unspoken list in your life of those you simply cannot forgive? Are you still carrying the pain that others have brought into your life? Are you ready to finally let your hate and frustration go – to forgive those who have sinned against you – so that nothing stands in between you and your relationship with God? It seems we forget that the power of forgiveness is an important and releasing for the one who forgives as the one we are forgiving.

We hear ourselves pray; Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil….In these words we hear Jesus teach us to pray for God’s guidance for us to avoid temptation and power of the evil. So often we think that we have the personal fortitude to stand against temptation and evil, but Paul reminds us that we are weak and easily tempted. This is about so much more than the old line from the old Flip Wilson comedy show where he pronounces “the devil made me do it.” It is heard in the trembling voices who say, “I know it was wrong, but I just could not help myself.” We see the unmistakable impact it has on people who find themselves addicted to drugs or alcohol, to pornography or sex, or any one of a thousand other things. We see it lived out in those who tumble from one bad relationship to another. We feel it when we find ourselves stumbling and bumbling over the same issues – making the same mistakes – repeating the same failures, over and over again. We want something more. We long for the power to change. But as long as we continue to depend on our own spiritual strength – our own emotional resolution – as long as we depend on ourselves, we are doomed to repeat the same failures again and again. The only we can actually avoid temptation is for God to lead us away from it – and the only way we can avoid the power of the evil one is to trust God to deliver us from it.

I join these two together because together they help us to see that just as we need God to lead us away from temptation and to forgive us when we fall, we are called to be a reflection that same redeeming and restoring love. Jesus teaches us to pray a prayer that calls us utter dependence and complete obedience. Hear that this is not about become a nice rule abiding religious people. It is about giving ourselves to God a day at a time – a moment at a time. We have to let God define our way of life, becoming a people of forgiveness, and trusting God to lead us away from all that would wound our heart and spirit, and call us toward His feet.

Our Father, who is up close and personal and divine and eternal, Holy, revered, honor and respected, is your name,  Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth and in my life, as it is in heaven.  Give me today, my most basic needs, so that I depend wholly on you. Forgive us – forgive me, and help me to forgive others the same way I want to be forgiven by you.  Lead us away from anything that might tempt us – anything that might draw our eyes away from you- and deliver us from the one who would have us walk any way but yours. Amen!

“Give Us This Day” - Matthew 6:11 - July 17, 2011

We come to the second week of a five week look into what it means to live in the midst of the Lord’s Prayer. It is a prayer that is repeated in Christian churches across the globe. It comes in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus has been talking about the kind of prayer that honors God. Jesus spoke to the crowd about the practice that had become the norm for the religious elite. They would stand and pray in public for everyone to hear. He told them that this kind of prayer stole the glory from God and claimed it for themselves. He also addressed those prayers that go on, and on, and on. He then told them that those kinds of prayers belonged to those outside the family of faith and that the quantity of the words was not substitute for the quality of the heart of the one that prays. With these words still fresh in the air, Jesus teaches the crowd a model of prayer that will draw them to the feet of God with a spirit of humility. Ultimately the Lord’s Prayer is a prayer of dependence; purposely placing who we are and how we conduct our lives in the hands of God. In the first movement we declared our dependence on God’s will and God’s way. Last week talked about how best to understand these words and I suggested that we might hear the first few sentences the prayer something like:

Our Father, who is up close and personal but also transcends the breadth of the universe,
Holy, revered, honored and cherished is your name in my life,  May your kingdom come and your will be done, on the whole of the earth and in my every part of my everyday life, just like it is in heaven.

The prayer continues and we pray: “Give us this day, our daily bread.” This declaration comes as an acknowledgement of our total dependence on God for even life’s most basic provisions- our daily bread. There is a part of me that wants to go silent and allow others to voice this part of the prayer. This is a dangerous part of the prayer. It calls us to the kind of dependence that seems foreign in our culture.

• It asks us to pray out of our need rather than our greed.
• It asks us to pray out of need rather than our wants.
• It asks us to pray out of focus on God meeting our needs for today rather than the seemingly countless tomorrows in front us.
• It asks us to trust God with our basic life substance and everything else.

I think it would be easier to pray that God might bless our endeavors to earn our daily bread. It would be easier to pray that God multiply our crops – to empower our business efforts – or to sustain our monies in IRAs and other retirement accounts and to multiple the value of our investments. The hard reality is that statistically the more someone makes the less by percent they are willing to give to churches and charitable organizations. It seems the more we are sure we can depend on ourselves and our own wealth, the less likely we are to depend on God. We have become so accustomed to the security we find in what we have earned with our own efforts and in the financial plans we have made to ensure our security in retirement, that the idea of being dependent on anyone – even God – seems foreign. If we are not careful, this can even be true for our church. We are most comfortable when we can define our future success by positive giving patterns and can count on an annual stream of limited dollars we receive from dollars endowed on our behalf. This is not what God intends!

It seems that it takes something dramatic to make us remember that we are dependent on God. A drought, a dip in the stock market, the loss of a job, or a tornado – those moments when our security is turned out upside down – make us pause and realize we cannot guarantee our future on our own; that we need for God to step in. Jesus envisions something very different for his followers. He teaches us to pray for God to provide our daily substance – our most basic – and nothing more.

Apparently Jesus does not understand that we live in and are often defined by our American capitalist consumer culture where who we are is defined by what we have. Or perhaps it is us who fail to understand. In the words that will follow this prayer in of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus will teach the crowd not put treasure things that are temporary and that can we wiped out by rust or vermin. He will teach that they were not to worry because if God would care for the birds of the air, that God will care for us. He will teach that if God dresses the flowers of the fields with beauty, that God will make sure we have what we need. He will teach:  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:31-34 NIV)

He is trying to help the crowd gathered on that hillside outside of Capernaum, and all those who would follow him, to understand that the only way to have the kind of relationship with God that we were created for, was to trust God and depend on God to meet the our needs – our spiritual needs and our physical needs. When we fail to trust God, to truly depend on God, we rip God from His rightful place in our lives. We claim for ourselves the reign and the rule of our lives. We cheat ourselves from peace and the security we are promised in the arms of God.

Jesus teaches those on the hillside to pray a prayer of dependence that invites them to trust God for that day, and everyday – one day at a time. It calls them to look past their wants and their fears, and to truly depend on God to meet their needs. It means giving ourselves up to God – to trusting God – to depending in God -over and over again. It means our financial focus is not some distant goal, but focuses on depending on God for one day at a time. It means claiming God’s promises again and again. It means that we see all that we are and all that we have as that which is given by God. It keeps God at the very center of our life and our way of life.

There is a part of me that this makes incredibly uncomfortable. There is a part of me that wants to know that there is a long term plan that will lead to long term stability. I want to be able to graph it and track it. But, this is not what Jesus is teaching us. We are suppose to focus on being faithful today – to depend on God for today – to live for God today – to pray that God will give us what we need – our daily bread. It is easy to be driven by what we want – what we can touch – what we can count – but Jesus teaches us that this is not the way. We are called to a life of daily dependence on God – no more – and no less.

Do you believe that God is dependable? Are you ready to let go of the reins and trust God to provide what you need? Are you ready to depend on God and trust that the daily bread that God will provide will be enough?

Our Father, who is up close and personal and divine and eternal,
Holy, revered, honor and respected, is your name,
Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth and in my life, as it is in heaven.
Give me today, my most basic needs, so that I depend wholly on you….. AMEN!