Saturday, February 25, 2012

Everyday Worship - Ephesians 5:15-20 - Feb. 26, 2012

(This service is filled with music and the Sanctuary Choir will sing Total Praise by Cymbala immediately before the beginning of the message.  The song is very powerful and will serve in function as the introduction to the sermon.)

How do we take this moment, with the incredible song still ringing in our ears, from this place and this service into our everyday lives?  The invitation to total praise is more than a song.  It is our Biblical call this morning. Please pray with me. Our great and gracious God, we lift our eyes and our voices to you in worship. We know that you give us peace that helps us withstand life’s storms. You are the source of our strength and the strength for our lives.  We come before you in awe and wonder. We come to you with hearts to praise you and with souls that seek you.  Be with us now. Speak to us now; for we are yours through Jesus Christ. Amen.

I love what we do in this room.  I love the music we sing together, the songs that we experience side-by-side. I love the heart of worship that is lived out in song and sermon, prayer and praise. I cannot imagine to ever again having worship defined by one style of music and one predictable structure that we repeat over and over again.  Authentic worship draws us together across generations and draws us to the feet of God.  Each week I long for the worship we experience together in worship.  It is a part of what powerfully nourishes my walk with God. But, we too often define worship as solely and wholly as what happens in this room.  I believe one of the core missions of every believer is to live a life that reverberates in worship in this room and across the whole spectrum of our lives.

In Ephesians 5 we listen as Paul tells the all of those at the Church at Ephesus, Be very careful, then, how you live.  Paul sees two potential ways of life.  One way leads you to emptiness – the other to a life in the spirit and a heart for worship.  He tells them that there is a choice to be made and they are to live —not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. This is where preachers of another era, and perhaps even some in ours, would begin to preach about the evils of our world. Their voices would raise and in a shrill falsetto begin to whine away about the evils of alcohol; of the path of darkness lined with wine, women, and songs.  To be honest, I think this is the easy way out and misses the heart of what Paul teaches. Paul lays two ways of life side by side.  One way leads them to live like the unwise and the foolish – those who choices lead them a lot of places, except where the really need to be.  In contrast Paul offers them a life like the wise, those who make the most of every opportunity, and those who understand what God’s will is for them. Paul taught them, and tells us, that they have to choose whether they will live a God directed life or one that fills time, but ultimately is unfulfilling.  He wants it clear that there is really only one choice would bring them joy.

Paul seizes upon an illustration that everyone listening would understand; 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.  Instead, be filled with the Spirit.  The contrast could not be more profound.  On one side you have the one amused, bemused, and confused by a night defined by drinking.  It leads to finding yourself in the wrong place, with the wrong person, doing all the wrong things.  We see the impact.  It is unmistakable. We witness broken promises, broken marriages, broken people, and ultimately broken lives.  Paul contrast a night filled with wine, with a life filled with the Spirit – the very presence of God.  Paul then desires what a life that reverberates in worship. He describes it this way; be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  I love how Eugene Peterson depicts these two verses in his interpretive translation, The Message. He offers; Don't drink too much wine. That cheapens your life. Drink the Spirit of God, huge draughts of him. Sing hymns instead of drinking songs! Sing songs from your heart to Christ. Sing praises over everything, any excuse for a song to God the Father in the name of our Master, Jesus Christ.

The picture I see when I read this passage is life that looks like a Broadway musical where every important moment is defined by a song and where everyone of us play a leading role.  Paul is describing an everyday kind of worship that overflows in our everyday lives. It is a worship born in a heart of gratitude. Paul sees us celebrating in worship every time we see each other because of everything God is doing in our lives.  The songs we sing bubble up from the depths of our hearts and burst from our lips as naturally as we breathe. It is a heart for worship that looks for any and every excuse to lift our hearts and voices in praise to God.  Yes, we worship corporately in this place, but our life is to be filled with worship that defies time or place and flows from our daily walk with God. It is a Spirit filled life of total praise.

I believe the reason that Paul used the image of song to describe a life that reverberates with worship is because he understood the unique role singing plays in our spiritual story.  Carolyn Gillette is a co-pastor of a Presbyterian church in Delaware, but is better known for the more than 150 hymns that she has written and that have been used in congregations all across the country.  In an article commissioned for the Baylor Center for Ethics she wrote and article on why we sing as a people of faith. Something she said in the article resonated deep within me.  She states. “When we come before God in worship, why do we sing rather than merely think or talk with one another? We sing because music is a gift from God. It is a language that God has given us to express our deepest longings, our greatest joys, and our most profound trust in the One who created us and loves us unconditionally. Like all gifts from God, it is one that God calls us to use with gratitude.[i]

Somewhere deep within us we know that that worship is not a one hour a week experience.  Somewhere deep within us we know that God deserves our songs of praise.  Somewhere deep within us we know that Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf is worthy of singing about; that through Jesus we have found forgiveness and the promise of life now and life forever and that is worthy of our praise.  But sometimes we get so busy doing life - of doing the regular routines of life - that our songs seem to be drowned out.  Some have become so accustomed to stifling their songs in fear of what other might think that they have forgotten how to sing.  Some have limited their worship to this place and this time for so long that the idea of worship reverberating across the whole spectrum of their lives seems too foreign, too passionate, too “something” that the idea of singing seems ridiculous. There are as many rationalizations and excuses as there are people, but these reasons and excuses only serve to divert us from living the lives of worship we were created for.  Anytime and every time we allow anything to silence our song of praise we cheat ourselves for experiencing the fullness of joy God intends for us and the joy our songs of worship brings to the heart of God.

So, it is time to let loose and sing, to claim that precious gift of God that lets us express our deepest longings and our greatest joys.  It is time to seize the life in the Spirit that reverberates in worship in this room and across the whole spectrum of our lives. It is time to sing out from the depths of your heart, whether your voice is young or old, beautiful or sour and off key. It is time to sing songs of praise for everything thing God is doing in your life. Sing songs celebrating God’s love and forgiveness. Sing sings of the depths of God love and the breadth of God’s grace.  Sing songs of God’s provision and God’s wonderful acts in your life.  Sing songs that bubble up from your heart.  Sing songs in this room and in this hour – but do not stop here. Let your songs flow into every moment of your life and everywhere you find yourself.  Sing, because it is time to worship.  SING!

[i] Carolyn Winfredy Gillette. “Why We Sing,” Reflections: Singing Our Lives, Baylor Center for Christian Ethics, 2006. p.11. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Lost and Found - Luke 15 - Feb.19,2012

Just behind the receptionist’s desk in the first drawer of a small filing cabinet we keep the church’s lost and found. You would be surprised at some of what turns up.  I put some of it in box and have brought it on to the platform this morning.  In this box you can find a sweater, a belt, and several pairs of glasses. You can also find ear buds, a set of car keys and several Bibles. I could see leaving the sweater, the belt, and the ear buds, I would think you would notice if you were missing your car keys or your personal Bible.  But, perhaps the most surprising things we keep, waiting to find their owners are two wedding rings.  They are locked up in the safe, sitting there, waiting to be found.

This morning we join our youth in their DiscipleNow experience in Luke 15 and with their theme of “Lost and Found.” In this chapter in Luke we hear Jesus teaching using three parables of things lost and found.  In the first parable Jesus speaks of a shepherd who finds one of his sheep missing.  He leaves the 99 to find the one, and when he finds it he calls out to his friends rejoicing.  The second parable speaks of a woman that with ten silver coins. She discovers one is missing and stops everything she is doing and searches for the lost coin. When she finds it she invites all of her friends to celebrate with her because that which was lost has been found.  Jesus adds to each parable that this how heaven rejoices when one who was lost to God repents.

The tone of the third of the parable trio changes considerably. We have heard the parable read across the breadth of our service. It is also one of the best known parables in all of the New Testament.  But, even though the story is familiar, I never cease to be moved by its. Let’s take a closer look.  This parable is not about a coin you can hold in your hand or an animal you can own.  No, what is lost this time is a son’s heart.  The story begins with a father and his two sons.  The youngest son decides he has had enough and demands his father give him his inheritance now!  This is more than a story of a greedy self-centered son.  It is the story of a son whose rejection of his father and family was complete. He rejected the home that had been provided for him. He rejected the family that nurtured him. He rejected family traditions and his family’s faith. Finally – he completely rejected his connection with his father. He wants the inheritance that is only appropriately given when father died.  By taking so much of the family’s resources, he shows no concern for his father’s future, the family farm, the family’s way of life, or their very survival. This youngest son wanted it all for himself and really did not care about the implications for anyone else. There are a lot of reasons to be angry at this kid.

I think the reason this story strikes so deeply inside of us is that many of us – in fact most of us – know of adult children who make bad choices and watch parents who struggle in pain with the consequences.  For too many, the prodigal son is not just a Biblical story.  It is their life story.

The story turns for the young man.  A famine strikes and those that loved to party with him when he was paying for the party left him as quick as they had come. He managed to squander what had taken his father a lifetime to build up in no time at all. The young man found himself penniless and hungry. He took any job he could find and ate anything that seemed edible. He had once lived a life of plenty, now he found himself glad for the opportunity to eat the slop fed to the pigs.  He hit rock bottom. There was nowhere to go but up – and the only way back up was to go back home. This decision was about more than his empty stomach.  The youngest son finally realized he blew it.  He realized he had lost his way.  He realized he had lost himself.  He decides he would rather be a servant in his father’s house than to stay where he was.

I have to wonder how many fathers would have given up on their undisciplined, self-centered, ungrateful son.  How easy would it be to have written him off?  How easy would it have been for the father to think that if his son had rejected him, the home he was raised in, the way of life he offered, and the faith that he embrace, then he deserved whatever he got.  But this is one place where this parable is radically different than the other two.  The shepherd went looking for the missing sheep.  The one searched frantically for the lost coin.  The father had to wait. He did not go after his son.  He did not send out search parties to find him.  It seems that he understood that you could not drag someone back home and you could not demand for someone to change their heart.  We simply cannot make people behave the way we want them to. It has to be their choice.  No, we find this father doing the hardest thing, standing on the road waiting for his son. 

I have to wonder how many times the father would have stood on the road looking, waiting, and hoping only to head back to his house heartbroken once again.  How many times would he have seen someone coming on the horizon – hoping and praying it was his son, only to discover that when the person drew closer his heart was broken all over again? Some of you have experienced these kinds of moments of heart break, waiting for your children to make the right decision, waiting for your children to come home.

Then came the moment – this time when he saw that someone in the distance and they drew closer the face was the one he knew. His son tried to take responsibility for his actions and acknowledged he had no right to claim the role of son again.  He tried to ask his father to take him back as a servant.  It seems that the words feel on deaf ears.  The father was so filled with love – so filled with joy – because the son that he feared dead was alive and in his arms again.  His answer is to throw a party of parties.  It was time to celebrate. Forgiveness flowed like water.  Joy rained down.  Right here – right here I am ready for Jesus to call “cut,” to add the tag line that “this kind of celebration occurs in heaven every time someone repents and returns to God.” It is right here that I keep waiting for Jesus to tell us God is like the Father, waiting for us to come back home to his love and grace. It is right here that I am waiting for Jesus to close the curtain on this parable and move on. But, so many times Jesus does the unexpected. 

Just when the easy answer would be to wrap up the parable, Jesus brings one more person to the front to the stage for us to deal with. Jesus introduces us to the older brother.  While the younger brother was out blowing the family fortune, the elder brother was caring for his father, caring for the family farm – and his reward was his father’s eye to the path and the alternating silence and moans of concern. This older brother has watched his father standing in the path, wondering and worrying about his brother. While we celebrate the father’s waiting for the prodigal son, it meant that he was sometimes absent physically and/or emotionally from the brother at home. The father feared that he would never see his young son again; the elder brother probably quietly hoped they wouldn’t.

Now the father asks him to come join the party of his younger brother.  He is steamed.  He has showed up to work every day.  He did his part and fulfilled his responsibility to the family every day – but his father had never done anything to reward him for his faithfulness and his labor.  In a single sentence he reminds his father that the younger brother had violated the family name, the family faith, and the family farm. He stresses this son of yours – showing he was disconnected from his younger brother – and his father. He is filled with resentment and anger.

It is easy to relate to the anger and resentment of the older brother.  Isn’t it tempting to join the echo of his indignation? After all, he stayed home, went to work every day, did not throw parties for his friends, did not betray the family name or the family faith; he was good and dependable. Jesus knew it was easy for those around him, and for us, to point a finger at the selfish self-center juvenile delinquent younger brother. It is easy to call him lost. But the older brother is another matter. He looks and thinks a lot like many of us. Jesus wants us to understand that while the older brother never left home he was just as lost to the father.  We tend the use the word “lost” for those who are without a relationship with God. But, this parable makes it clear that “lostness” is also about having a heart that has grown cold to God’s love. The eldest son stood so close to the father but never claimed the father’s heart of love and grace. His heart of self-righteousness was just as profane as his brother’s heart of selfishness.  Both brothers needed the father’s love.  Both needed the father’s forgiveness.  The father blesses his eldest son and promises his everything, but pleads for him to come home and join the party of joy.  He pleads for him to let go of his self-righteous attitude and to embrace a heart of love and forgiveness. 

OK, I am ready for Jesus to wrap it up and to tell me that the older brother did the right thing.  I am ready for Jesus to tell me about the party in heaven.  But instead Jesus simply ends the parable unresolved.  We do not know what the older brother chose. We leave him still brooding outside the tent. I think he leaves us there because it is exactly where we find ourselves, standing here with a decision to make. The reality is that there are all kinds of way to get lost along the way.  Some of us have wandered way off – and others are just outside the tent door – but our need to for God’s mercy and forgiveness is the same. Sin knows no scale.  Our need to draw close to God is the same. God is there waiting for us – ready to welcome us back home.  God stands ready to throw a party on our behalf - for one who was lost is now found.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Lost and Found - Youth DiscipleNow Weekend

This weekend our youth are taking part in a DiscipleNow weekend experience with the theme "Lost and Found."  The youth have been actively involved in Bible study, worship, mission service, and community building events.  While I am excited to hear about the spiritual impact on our youth, I am already impressed by the number of adults Brad Stewart, our Minister for Discipleship and Youth, has involved in this weekend experience with our youth.  Some have served as host homes, others as sponsors, others as worship and Bible study leaders, others worked side-by-side with the youth at the Furniture Bank, others were part of fun experience at the mall, and still others will help prepare breakfast for the youth in the morning.  One of the most important things we can offer our youth outside of introducing them to Christ are adults who can serve as models of people living their lives for Christ.  Brad has pulled together an incredible team of adults who are great models for our youth to see and know.  I am thankful for Brad's heart for shared ministry.  I am equally thankful for so many adults who were willing to say "yes" to investing their time - and their lives - into the lives of the youth that call First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City home.  Well done! 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

“One with God and One Another” - John 17:20-23 - February 5, 2012

Today is an important day.  As we gather across language and culture for worship. We celebrate not what makes us different, but what makes us one. 

It is easy to see what makes us different from one another.  Sometimes it is the color of our skin.  Sometimes it is the language we speak.  Sometimes it is the clothes we wear or the cultural customs that we practice. Sometimes what makes us different is the address where we live or the community we call home.  Too many people in the world are so defined by what separates them from others that they miss God’s call to be one – together – family with and for one another.

Earlier you heard this morning’s focal passage read in Spanish.  Hear it now in English and Burmese.20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

I will never forget that moment three years ago when with joy and tears the United Myanmar Baptist Church marched out of this room to take possession of the space they now claim as their worship center.  That day we began a bold journey to try to model what it means to be two congregations but one church family.

Since that day the Sudanese Christian Fellowship joined the family – remaining uniquely who they are while being one with the church family.  Recently the Hispanic Bible study has begun its own public worship under the name of Nueva Vida or New Life Baptist Church. They too bring their own distinct voice to worship and are carving their own place as a part of the broader church family.  Now, Paxman Boadu joins us and is working to begin the All Africa Baptist Church.  Together we come from Asia, Africa, South and Central America, and these United States.   While the names and number of congregations have grown, the vision has remained the same – to be multiple congregations but together to be one church family.

I realize not everyone in this room this morning was a part of the choice three years ago to be multiple congregations but one church family.  It may seem like a strange idea because it would be easier to simply be in the same building but disconnected than to do the hard work of being one church family together.  But it is important to know that the reason we seek to a church family together is not because we thought it sounded easy, but we chose to move this direction because we believed it was what God taught us to do in Scripture.

This vision emerges from our Scripture for this morning, and others that echo Christ’s call to unity.  Together, across language and culture we have a unique opportunity to demonstrate to our community that while we are different on the surface, what makes us one together is our relationship with Jesus Christ.  Our choice to be unified in heart and spirit is a direct reflection of Jesus’ prayer that that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. We can be one church family because the love of Christ is in us, and through Christ can be made one; one with God and one with one another. This choice to be one is a witness to the world.  Jesus teaches us to seize this unity of faith so that the world may believe.

While we sometimes struggle to talk to each other because we speak different languages, in the effort God is glorified.  While we have to work at worshipping together because each congregation worships so differently, in the effort God is glorified.  Every step we make toward being different congregations but one church family is a witness that we are taking Jesus call to unity seriously.  Every step we take to cross boundaries and be family for and with one another is a living witness of Jesus love for the whole world to our community.  This calls us to the dream of being different peoples, different congregations, but unified in heart and purpose as a witness to the world. When we do the hard work of seeking to work together across what divides us we give God the opportunity to use us to touch the world.  We can accomplish much more together than we can ever do apart.

We listen as Jesus teaches; I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.  I am glad to be able to call each of you brothers and sisters in Christ.  I am glad that through faith in Christ God we are not defined by what makes us different, but by our shared heart for Him.  I am glad to be a part of a church family who is trying to live out Jesus prayer for a unity of heart and spirit.  I look forward to see what God will do in us and through us in the days ahead as we seek to continue to be witnesses of his love and grace in our community and to people of every language and every nation.  Amen. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

From Storage to Ministry

This afternoon Pastor Andrew Pierce and some folks from the Fight for Jesus ministry came by and picked up some chairs, two tables, and so other items we had sitting in storage.  The items they came to pick up had long been out of use in our congregational life, but they were exactly what this new ministry needed.  They are launching a Christian ministry focused on teaching inner city young men to box.  The ministry will be a safe place for them to discover their strength and in the process find a community of faith ready to make them a part of the family.  I am thrilled that we can be a part of their start and will be praying for  God to use them to impact the lives of young men in our city.