As a part of this worship service we recognized the 65 individuals that have been a member of the church for 50 years or more...
This morning we begin our ninth year together. I can hardly believe it. There are moments when I feel like I just got here; that we are just beginning our season of ministry together. But there are other moments when the reality of the passage of time crystal clear. When I walk through the building I can see the impact of an endless stream of renewal and renovations projects that are a testimony of our time together. There are those who were once children that are now youth and young adults. My sermon and Bible study files are beginning to get snug. There are powerful memories of profound times of worship in this room and times of laughter and fellowship in rooms across these grand facilities that fill my mind. There is also a stream of faces of those what have walked beside us that are now with God that come to mind. There are moments of shared triumph and others of shared pain. Each of these moments and memories has become markers of the life we have shared together. Over these eight full years together you have opened your heart to embrace people from across the globe and across the street. You have poured yourselves out in mission and ministry to further God’s work on earth. You have become the kind of church that I always dreams about but never thought could actually be. I thank God for you and for the opportunity to serve as your pastor.
This morning we come to a well known passage and an established pattern for this first Sunday marking a new year in ministry together. We will seek to hear what God has to say to us in Scripture. I will also lie before you some of where I see God leading and guiding us in the coming year.
We listened as LaJuanda read our passage earlier in our service. Many of you would have immediately recognized the passage as the parable of the wise and foolish builder. The passage describes first those who hear the word of God and puts it into practice. They are the ones that build their lives on solid rock and when the storms come they are able to withstand them. The second image the passage uses is for those who hear and do not put the words of God into practice. They build their spiritual homes on the shifting sands, so when the storms come their lives come crashing down around them. Jesus offers this parable at the close of the Sermon on the Mount. We tend to think about the Sermon on the Mount being addressed to a huge crowd, but this message was directed primarily to the disciples, those closest to Jesus. In offering this parable he wants them to understand that it is not just about hearing the words he had just offered. It was essential that they put them in practice. What was true for them is also true for us. For eight years we have grown the breadth of our missions and ministries. In this coming year the focus will be on growing the depths of our walk with God. Our goal is to help make sure that the foundation for our lives and for the life of this church family is on the solid rock of the word and way of God.
One of the things that I cherished during my sabbatical was my time with God. Sometimes this would occur in the early morning hours with my Bible open while much of the family was still asleep. But there were other moments. Some of them I have told you about. Others were when God stepped in to an unexpected place or moment and stirred within me. I long for each of us to have this kind of living and abiding walk with God. These are the kind of experiences with God that help us dig deep and lay our foundation on the rock of our salvation. One of the tools that God used during my sabbatical to foster these kinds of experiences was Ken Gire’s book, Windows of the Soul. I was so moved and stirred by what he had to say that we have invited Ken Gire to come to our church the second weekend after Easter and lead a retreat based on this book. I can hardly wait for you to hear him and to consider how God might be speaking into your life.
Soon after my return from sabbatical I mentioned the hope of launching an Oklahoma City Center for Hope and Wellness based on a model I saw being lived out by a church in New Hampshire. This would be a tool that would help both those within and outside of the walls of this church to deal with real life issues from a faith perspective. Mike and Pam Wanzer have taken lead on the development of this ministry and we will open it with by offering a marriage retreat in February and the six week seminars the first week of March. This is a significant development for us that I believe will prove to be a powerful tool for outreach and personal spiritual growth.
I am also excited to share with you that Monty Gavin will be launching a new Sunday school hour learning opportunity. The class will be called Disciple-Making 101 based on Dann Spader's study Walking as Jesus Walked. This is an area where Monty has some significant experience and can provide great leadership for us. Look for details on this new class coming soon.
In addition, the first Wednesday night and SALT Bible study series will focus on “Knowing and Doing the Will of God.” This study will help us gain a better understanding of what it means to put our arms around what God’s will is for us as a people of God, and as individuals, and how we move forward living our lives in the midst of God’s way and will. We will start this study on Wednesday, January 16th. I hope you will choose to be a part.
Beyond these specifics initiatives we will continue to work toward growing and strengthening our Sunday school classes, provide ongoing resources for personal devotions, and provide other discipleship related events and resources. This directed focus will not just be for the adults in our church family. Our youth take part in a DiscipleNow weekend experience and we will offer discipleship focused camp experience for your children and youth. The desire of my heart is that everyone from our young child to our most cherished senior adult will have an opportunity to deepen their walk with God. It is the desire of my heart we act as a discipling congregation, reaching out to touch our community and reaching deep to be touched by God. It’s my heart’s desire that we are seen not only as a missional congregation but also as a discipling congregation. I truly believe this is where God is leading us. I invite you to come go with me.
But I want to pull us back to our focal passage. This parable presumes that the storms of life will come. Both the house built on the rock and the house built on the sand faced the raging torrent of the storm.
Our life stories can testify to the reality that the storms of life will come. The promise from this Scripture is that when the storms of life will come, those that have built their lives on the rock will weather the storms. There is another passage that speaks to this same promise. Psalm 62 begins; Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.
As we move into this New Year we can be confident that we will face challenges and there may be moments when even the opportunities set before us seem overwhelming. The face of these challenges could be economic or could be cultural challenges as we increasingly seek to embrace a wider breadth of those from our community. We do not know what the storms will look like, but we can be confident that we are being built on the rock of our salvation and that with God as our rock we will never be shaken nor forsaken. We can go forward in confidence. We go forward with God.
Today we have celebrated those who have lived a life of faithfulness before us. I rejoice in the story of faith each of you that have been members for fifty years or more bring to our church story. You have witnessed a diversity of pastors and seasons of ministry. You have been at the ministry heart of this congregation’s work in its community and the world. You have supported this church with your time, your resources, and your talents. I am grateful for you. We are grateful for you. You are witnesses of what it means to build your life on the rock and to weather the storms of life in the security of your relationship with God. Continue to be a witness before us. Continue to live and grow beside us.
Each year as I come to this Sunday I continue to be amazed at how many of you have joined this church family during my season of ministry here. Your story, like my story, is this latest chapter of this church’s story. I am amazed at the giftedness you bring. I am amazed by the faithfulness you display. I celebrate the countless roles you have embraced to help us be the church God calls us to be in this season of ministry. Continue to be a witness before us. Continue to live and grow beside us.
Words cannot express the joy that I feel about these first eight years I have spent in ministry with you. You are truly an amazing church family. I can hardly wait to see how God will stir in us as we seek to deepen our walk together and with God. I can hardly wait to see how God will move in our midst in mission and ministry. I can hardly wait….how about you?