Saturday, June 1, 2013

A Church that Changes the World - A Church of Prayer a Defining Faith - Colossians 1:3-8 - June 2, 2013

Most of you are probably aware that I do sermon planning months in advance of the date for any specific sermon.  I do that because it helps Bruce and Kim in our music and worship planning and it aids me in coming to a passage in an unhurried pace.  When I planned the sermon series that will encompass the next four weeks I could not begin to imagine how right it would be for this moment.  But clearly God knew.  The sermon series is entitled “A Church that Changes the World.”  It was designed to help challenge us to take the next steps in our missions and ministries.  That was before the tornadoes struck our state just shy of two weeks ago and God began to work in our church and through our church in ways that I could hardly have begun to imagine.  So today, I invite you to begin a journey of faith and discover with me, looking and listening to where God is at work in our midst and where God might be leading us in the days ahead.  I invite you to begin a journey of faith and discovery with me that will lead us to become the kind of church that has a transformational impact on our community and the world – the kind of church that changes the world.  I invite you to come with me over these next four weeks as we look at Paul’s letter to the Colossians and what it can mean for us right here, right now. There are words from Scripture to hear and stories to tell.  God is at work leading out in front of us. Come go with me.  We begin with the first eight verses of Colossians and hear the story and the call of a church of prayer and defining faith.

Nikki Edward read our passage as a whole earlier in our worship service, but I invite you to now look at it more closely with us.  In verses 3 we hear Paul write; We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you.  Paul understood the power and the necessity of prayer. Long before Paul wrote the Colossian church he was praying for them. Almost two years ago I led the deacons and our staff through a book entitled The Transformational Church.  It looks at the markers demonstrated by churches that were having a transformation impact.  Our church measured well, until we came to the marker on prayer.  At that time it was a weakness in our congregational life. We stopped reading when we came to that marker and went to work to address it.  We knew we needed it to be a priority, but had not found the right way to engage you.  Since that time we have launched the subversive prayer ministry, PrayFirst, engaging over 100 of you as a part of an email based prayer structure. LaJuanda Speegle leads this effort and keeps critical prayer concerns in front of us.  Last summer, as a response to my sabbatical, we held eleven summer house prayer meetings. By all accounts these had a profound impact on all that participated.  We will offer a new series of house prayer meeting throughout the month of July.  This past March we held a prayer focused worship event letting the prayers you have for our church rise in our midst. We will hold another similar worship experience in the fall.  Beth Ogburn helped launch, CRAVE, a mission focused prayer ministry, and Brian McAtee has now stepped in to provide long term leadership for it.  Recently Brian began providing a regular e-update on critical missions focused prayer needs.  What was once on of our congregational weakness has become the foundation on which we now see God at work in our midst.

Our passage continues and the story unfolds. Paul writes, We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you  4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people.  This week I have watched this passage come to life in the way so many of you have responded to the needs of those impacted by our state’s recent tornadoes.  It has been interesting because the list of those we often think that we minister to became the front line of our response.  Our 20 and 30somethings have taken the lead, diving in to help unload trucks sometimes in a moment’s notice.  Betsy Stewart handled the volunteer hotline that Beth has been managing so that Beth and I could step away to be a part of Aaron’s wedding.  Alex Dooley, Corey Miles, Nate Rogers, Cole Rankin, Hattie Wagonseller, Caroline Hicks, Kimberly Anthony, and a host of others from within our church and from Life Church and Frontline dove in and did whatever we asked in receiving and preparing vitally needs resources received at our Feed the Children trailer drop off point.  Our young adults are leading us.  But they were not alone. When the members of the Sudanese Christian Fellowship arrived for their worship service last Sunday a huge delivery truck arrived loaded with supplies. They decided that their act of worship for the day would be to roll up their sleeves and help out.  The Chin congregations were not able to give time because of their work commitments, but together gave $7000 in disaster relief dollars to help us secure truck loads of furniture for families that will be rebuilding their homes and lives.  Still others like Jamie and Susan Stephenson, Randy Johnson, Shari Hawkins, Laurie Ashford, Paxman Boadu and a diversity of others of you have also stepped up and stepped in to help manage the trailer drop off site and still others have given generously to the disaster relief efforts. Brian and Cathy have also risen to provide timely and essential missional leadership. At every turn I have seen the power of your prayers, the depth of your love for God and the love you have for all God’s people. 

The Scripture speak again; 5 the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel 6 that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.  Paul sees of picture of the church where the hope and gospel, a defining faith, overflows, bears fruit and is set loose in the world.  We are becoming this kind of church.  Stories of lives changed forever because of the ministry of this church are becoming commonplace again.  The light in the lighthouse on the corner burns brightly and people are again finding our church a beacon of hope and faith.  But over the last two weeks we have seen this lived out in ways beyond my wildest imagination. Two years ago we launched the Furniture Bank of OKC.  Ray and Yvonne York provided us a 6000 sq ft facility to serve as its home.  To date we have touched over 75 families through this ministry.  While this is significant, in wake of the recent storms and tornadoes, God is changing its scale.  The Furniture Bank is becoming a tool that God is setting the stage to use to impact the lives of hundreds.  Last week a local realtor provided us an additional 11,000 sq ft storage facility in Moore.  Yesterday 15,000 pounds of furniture arrived from Ft. Sill.  Another 15,000 pounds will arrive on Monday. On Tuesday an eighteen wheeler loaded will arrive from Massachusetts, and two others will follow on Wednesday night.  Claire McAtee, Anna Ellis, Scott Feree and David Canning have been the historic core of our furniture bank ministry, but now people like Mike and Pam Wanzer, Gene Stewart, Jim and Michelle Rosado and many others from our church have now joined their ranks.  In addition, people across the metro are offering furniture and a small army of volunteers from our church and others have fanned out to pick it up.  This furniture will become the core for what we will be able to provide countless families that lost everything in the recent storms and tornadoes.  You also need to know that our partnership with Life Church has helped to change the story of this ministry and has let us touch even more lives.

But there is more to the story. Yesterday a series of rock concerts were held in three venues across our city. All of the proceeds from these concerts are going to help support the work of the Furniture Bank.  This week Beth got a sweet word from the small private school she attended in NC.  The seventh grade class there held a bake sale and auction and raised $1000 to help support this vital ministry. Feed the Children is providing us boxes of food, toiletries, and Avon products that we are delivering as a starter kit for each household where we provide needed furniture.  Feed the Children is also working with us to secure new mattresses for every bed we deliver.  But there is more to the story. If you parked in the north parking lot you may have noticed a large Isuzu box truck parked in our parking lot.  On Tuesday I met with a group of pastors and we talked about what God was doing and would do through the Furniture Bank. I told them that while volunteers could deliver a couch or a table and chairs on the back of a pickup truck, if we were going deliver whole homes we had to have a box truck.  I told them that God was going to have to provide it because we were trying to use all disaster relief dollars to help secure additional resources for the families in need. I told them that I believed that God was either going to have to prompt someone to loan us a truck, give us a truck, or provide $10,000 for us to buy one.  We made it a point of prayer. As soon as the meeting wrapped up I walked into the work room in the office and got my mail for the day.  I sat at my desk and began to go through each letter, and in one I was shocked to find a check for exactly $10,000 to help us in our disaster relief effort. God had answered the prayer before we had even spoken it. The check was sent by someone that had has a history with this church and for whom Jacquita and I had assisted doing a funeral for his aunt.  When he watched the news he wanted to stand with us in this critical moment. God worked through this man and his wife to answer our heart cry. God has taken the seed of our faithfulness and is now using it to bear fruit of hope and redemption.  I truly believe that this is only the start of how God will work in and among us. 

Our passage for the morning concludes, You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.  Paul reminds them of the one that encouraged and taught them and that could celebrate their love of God’s presence and power at work in their midst.  Who are the voices that speak into your life, calling you to grow in your walk with God?  Who are the ones that you are encouraging in their walk with God?  If we are to become a church that changes the world we must continue to strive to learn from one another and to encourage each other in our quest to live as God’s people.  We must point to God-sightings; those places and moments where we see the presence and power of God on display in our midst. We have a grand history, but I truly believe that God is shaping us into being a church that can change the world. Our heart of prayer and our faith must define us. God is going ahead us. Let’s go boldly go to the place where God is leading us and never settle for less.

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