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Okla. pastor: Church will ‘help, encourage, feed… in Jesus’ n

MOORE, Okla. (BP)–Recognizing God as their refuge and strength — and vowing to “rise from the rubble,” worshipers at First Baptist Church in Moore, Okla. gathered May 9 to offer thanksgiving and praise during a service of celebration in the wake of the devastating tornado which destroyed half of the city’s residences only six days before.
Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating and First Lady Cathy Keating joined Moore Mayor Glen Lewis, U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts and other state and local dignitaries at the 10 a.m. service, which attracted more than 2,000 people. As church members and others, many of them victims of the twister, listened, Keating reminded them that when all of those helpers from elsewhere and all of the media have departed, “we will stay together as an Oklahoma family.”
Others offering assurances of comfort and assistance included Lewis, who tried to calm fears of local residents by pledging that the city “will not bulldoze” any property of debris until the homeowners have recovered all their personal property and have given permission to do so. Lewis, mayor of this southside suburb of Oklahoma City the past six years, encouraged residents who had lost their houses to rebuild in the city. He pledged that building permits will be waived for reconstruction projects.
The residential area located immediately south of the church, Highland Park, received heavy damage during the storm. Several members of First Baptist live in that area.
A special testimony was brought by member Lucy Austin, described by pastor Alan Cox as the church’s “matriarch.” Austin spoke about how her faith in God sustained her as the storm roared through her home.
Wrapping herself in a prayer blanket which had been made and given to her by her Sunday school class and covering herself with a pillow, Austin told how she “grabbed a folding chair and her Bible” and rode out the storm in a closet.
“As soon as I wrapped the blanket around my shoulders, that was when God’s peace came over me,” Austin said, even though she could hear her house being torn apart around her.
Shortly after the storm hit, Austin said a wall fell over on top of her place of refuge. When the tornado had passed over, Austin said she had received only a minor bruise on her right arm. She then noticed the splintered door jamb near her leg, and rejoiced when “all of the nails were pointed away from me.”
Cox, who had spent the week helping to direct a huge disaster relief effort as his church was transformed into a distribution center for everything from food to toiletries and from clothing to a comforting word, spoke from Luke 23:55-24:10 in a sermon titled, “We Will Rise from the Rubble.”
Drawing a parallel from Christ’s resurrection as described in the text, Cox said, “From the city of tears and splinters today, we want the whole world to know that Jesus is alive in Moore, Okla., and we are here to help, encourage, feed, clothe and give shelter in Jesus’ name.
“We see through new eyes. We will never be the same again. But just as Christ arose from the grave, in the spirit of his resurrection we will rise from the rubble.
“Life is not nearly so complex as it was for us a week ago. The tornado has simplified much. You see, human desire is so naturally drawn to the things of this world. Yet with shocking suddenness we have become quite simple: the simple touch of a daughter’s hand, or discovering an undisturbed desk drawer full of treasures, or finding a small family photo, or hearing your dog bark.
“We have experienced hurt and heartache and destruction and despair. But that’s not all. We also have experienced the gratitude of simplicity, the thankfulness of togetherness, the appreciation for a common goal of life and, most of all, the appreciation for our salvation — that Jesus lives. Our Lord understands our scarred hands in his hands and in his heart.
“Life, for many of us, has been miraculously spared. We’ve been saved for yet another day — a day to be lived in the fullness of the power of God. We better understand the preciousness of life and the words of Jesus in Matthew 16:26: ‘What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?’”
Calling for the congregation to “see two sides of the storm,” Cox focused on the “shadow side of tragedy” and the “sunrise after tragedy,” reminding them that hope “outlasts the dark, rebuilds the landmarks and outlives broken hearts,” and that in the sunrise “there is discovery and direction.”
“The darkest day ever in the world — the day of the crucifixion — was transformed into the dawning of a new day, the brightest day in all the world,” Cox said. “From the cross, from the shadow side of tragedy, we move to the sunrise of hope, the resurrection of Jesus, and there we discover triumph and peace and comfort and encouragement.
“Many of you have never trusted Jesus as your Savior and have found yourself crying as the mariners on the ship where Jonah had boarded, crying to their gods, not knowing really to whom they were crying. The sunrise of hope is to give you direction and discovery — to say to you this morning, Jesus died and arose from the grave that you might be saved from your sins and know life forever.
“In recent hours, you have prayed for God to give you physical safety and if you’ve never trusted him as your personal Savior, now is that moment to ask him to give you spiritual safety that you might be in the loving arms of God through his Son, Jesus Christ.”

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  • Bob Nigh