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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Thanksgiving People (Colossians).

(Versions of this was presented at Heritage Presbyterian Church on 27 November 2016; and to the Capitol Forum on 30 November 2016)

Thanksgiving People
Colossians 3.17

John Kralik wrote a book, “A Simple Act of Gratitude,” where he recounts some of his story. Here was a guy whose life was a disaster: miserable, broke, overweight, on his second divorce, living in a rundown apartment with no air conditioning. He was an attorney, but couldn’t pay his employees their Christmas bonuses because his clients weren’t paying their bills on time or weren’t paying them at all. But one New Year’s day, Kralik had a moment of enlightenment; He’d start finding a reason to be thankful and grateful every single day, and would write one thank you note to someone each day of the year. Things have since turned around for Kralik, and he observes, “Gratitude presses outwards and that creates good feelings in the universe. A lot of that comes back to you eventually.” I’m not recommending the book, as much as I am the concept that our being a thanksgiving people is a biblical and beautiful thing.

Thanksgiving in Prayer (Colossians 1.3, 12, and 4.2): As Paul undertakes to write this letter, he shows us his own heart, since he immediately goes to thanksgiving: “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you” (1.3). It was a regular part of his praying to think of reasons for gratitude with regard to these Christians he’d likely never met but only heard of. We know this is not a throwaway sentiment because in each chapter he comes back to thanksgiving.

So, starting in v.9, we have a sample of how he remembers them in prayer with thanksgiving: “we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that…giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (1.12-14). He doesn’t likely know these folks personally, but he can’t help but be grateful – and here his thanksgiving is for what God has done for them. “The kinds of things for which Paul thanks God are the kinds of things for which Paul asks…The frequency with which he links his thanksgiving for signs of grace in the lives of this or that group of believers, with his petitions for more signs of grace in the lives of the same believers, cannot be accidental” (D.A. Carson, “A Call to Spiritual Renewal,” 99-100). Paul prays for these disciples to grow fuller in Christ’s and the Father’s resources, and gives thanks for it happening.

Finally, as Paul begins to wind down his letter he comes back to this theme and pattern and invites the Colossian disciples to join with him in thanksgiving in prayer: “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (4.2). Like a hunter on a deer stand, or a referee in a ball game, we’re to be “watchful” in our prayers with the goal of gratitude! Thanksgiving in prayer!

Thanksgiving in Life (Colossians 2.6-7; 3.17): Next Paul moves, in the second chapter, to encourage them to a deeper, fuller, more firmly-grounded life in Christ, and watch how thanksgiving crops up: “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving” (2.6-7). The pattern of our Christian walk is all wrapped up in gratitude: abounding in the rootedness, the fruit-bearing, the Faith, the lived-out-life of reliance on Christ with thanksgiving! Our life is thanksgiving (guilt à grace à gratitude). 1 Thessalonians 5.16-18. Yes, our lives are thanksgiving: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (3.17). Doing – in word or deed – doing it all in the name of, for the honor of, the Lord Jesus, and merging with that is “giving thanks” to the Father through the Jesus our lives are lived in honor of.

How fitting, then, to be known as a thanksgiving people. Not grateful to nothingness and nobody but grateful to God who has liberated us, adopted us, forgiveness us, claimed us, commissioned us. Grateful to Christ through whom we have all of these gems and godsends. Grateful at all times and in all places, but not – like Kalik – expecting it will come back to us, but doing it because, simply, it’s good and right and faith-filled. And that thanksgiving, then, becomes part of our fiber and formation; and becomes felt and smelt all around us, and becomes an integral part of our witness of the Faithful Lord. “Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!... Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever” (1 Chronicles 16.8 and 34)!

(An audio version of this can be found here)

Sunday, November 27, 2016

"O Holy God" - Prayer of Thanksgiving (27 November 2016 P.M.)

O Holy God –
  • Uncontaminated by greed, envy or lust; unstained by hysterical anger, self-centered egoism, or soul-stifling insecurity; and uncontained by space, time, laws of physics, or human rationality.
  • In whom all is contained, sustained and arranged; in whom there is more goodness and truth in one “ounce” of you – so to speak – than there is in our whole being; in whom there is more love and compassion than anything we could imagine or fashion.
  • You are the beauty of holiness itself, in all radiance and purity; you are the meaning of all, seen and unseen, visible and invisible; you are the fullness of justice, rightness, gladness and peace!
And you are all of these things without us, O Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and you are all these things for us!!!!

For the beauty and wonder of your creation, in earth and sky and sea; we thank you, Lord. For our daily food and drink, our homes and families, and our friends; we thank you, Lord. For these minds to think, hearts to love, and hands to serve; we thank you, Lord. For this health and strength to work, and leisure to rest and play; we thank you, Lord. For the abundance you have richly provided for us to enjoy, and from which we can abundantly share (1 Timothy 6.17-18); we thank you, Lord. For the brave and courageous, who are patient in suffering and faithful in adversity; we thank you, Lord.  For all valiant pursuers after truth, liberty, and justice; we thank you, Lord. For your gracious work in the lives of men, women, girls and boys; we thank you, Lord. For the communion of saints, the fellowship of the faithful who have gone before us and those who walk with us now; we thank you, Lord.

----- (Voiced our specific congregational thanksgivings here) -----

Thank you, O inexhaustible Joy, that you are this joy without us; but also that you give yourself for us and to us! Thank you that with you and in your presence is fullness of joy. Thank you that your Son Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross for us (Hebrew 12.2). Thank you that the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away (Isaiah 35.10). Thank you, O God of hope, who fills us with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit we may abound in hope (Romans 15.13). Above all, we thank you for the great mercies and promises given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord, that in him all of your promises to us are “Yes” and “Amen” (2 Corinthians 1.20); to you be praise, glory and thanksgiving, O Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

"The LORD Is Faithful" - 27 November 2016

From Psalm 145.13b-21

The LORD is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works. The LORD upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.” Thank you that on you we can rely; on you we can lean; and to you we can give ourselves away! We join together with those around us who have fallen or been pressed down under their desperation, darkness, dreariness, or disquiet….hold their heads up, turn their faces to look up into yours and radiate your care and compassion through and through, that their hearts may rise in cheer, and their bodies stand straight and sturdy.

 “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.” Thank you for supplying us with wealth and wellbeing, for being there and bringing unlooked for help when we were in want and woe. There are many, some who live just down the block from us, or a street over from us, who work in the cubical right down from us or in the adjacent office building, who have sat across from us in the ER or stood in line with us at the grocery store, who are in need, in want, worried about the next week or month. Supply their need as you’ve done for us. And, Lord, if we can be part of your care for them, give us all we need to share with them – including the same desire and compassion you’ve shown us.

The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” Thank you, holy God, for hearing our prayers, and listening to our spoken and unspoken concerns. We continue to pray for the nations of this world, and all their rulers, such as Queen Elizabeth and Sir Rodney Williams; Serzh Sargsyan; Sir Peter Cosgrove; Heinz Fischer; Ilham Aliyev; Dame Marguerite Pindling; and Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. And we also ask for our leaders, especially Jim Inhofe; James Lankford; Jim Bridenstine; Markwayne Mullin; Frank Lucas; Tom Cole; and Steve Russell. May all the leaders and the led render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, nor devise evil against another in our heart. And may we not refuse to pay attention and turn a stubborn shoulder and stop our ears that we might not hear. (Zechariah 7.9-11).

He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them. The LORD preserves all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.” Thank you that in all of your providential care for the world, you exercise a special providence for your Church. Be with your people world over, including this congregation and 1st Christian-Midwest City, Moore, Norman and Yukon; First Church; 1st Deliverance Church; and 1st Pentecostal of Yukon. Raise her up in righteousness and true godliness to be your new creation people. Restrain what is wrong and rotten; strengthen what is wholesome and good. And may she be filled with your Spirit, and serve Christ joyfully with heart, soul, mind and strength, and love others.

My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.” Thank you, Father, for your great kindnesses. Be with those who don’t know you, and bring them to yourself that together we all may worship you, reveling in your love and peace.

And so, Lord, what we have here faithfully asked may we, please, effectively obtain for the glory of your name, the good of others, and our own encouragement! Amen.

Friday, November 25, 2016

"The Gospel in a Pluralist Society" By Lesslie Newbigin. A Bit of a Review.

The Gospel in a Pluralist SocietyThe Gospel in a Pluralist Society by Lesslie Newbigin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First time I read "The Gospel in a Pluralist Society" was in 2003, and now I have completed my second reading. A lot has changed in my experience and comprehension since my initial reading, and there are things I picked up this time I didn't before. Since there are loads of reviews of the book filling the virtual pages, I'll simply point out a few of the highlights I enjoyed being reminded of in my second reading of the book.

To begin with, Newbigin sought to practice what he preached. This book came toward the latter end of his life and service as a missionary to South India, as well as his work in the ecumenical movement. He brings his talented perception to bear on the mission field of the West, and primarily the West shaped and formed by the Enlightenment. Primarily the greater part of the book is helping the reader to learn to be suspicious of the hermeneutics of suspicion. He does this by challenging the the bifurcation between "facts" and faith, reason and revelation. "There is no knowing without believing, and believing is the way to knowing. The quest for certainty through universal doubt is a blind alley" (33).

Next he spends time tackling how a "revolution of expectations" (130) shapes a Christian view of the future, in contrast to the lack of expectations arising from modern Western culture. For example, after describing two temptations churches can fall into – (1) when things fall apart thinking it’s the end of the world; or (2) tumbling into comfortability – Newbigin goes on to say; “Against both of these temptations the New Testament warns us with its insistent call for a patient hope, a hope which is – on the one hand – confident and sure, an anchor of the soul, and on the other hand patient and enduring. These are two sides of the same thing. Impatience is a sign of unbelief. Firm belief in the one who has promised will lead to patient endurance. That, I suggest, is the central thrust of the New Testament’s teaching about what we can look forward to…Once again we must remember that responsible human action is not possible without some vision of the future” (109). This theme, it appears to me, shapes much of the program Newbigin maps out for the church in a pluralist society, along with the durable posture that Christians should have arising from this program.

Finally, the last half of the book addresses how the church in a pluralist society needs to see itself as a mission church, and what that means. Though most of his topics here cover the why and how of living and breathing and moving as a missionary church, it is rarely an idealistic and academic abstraction. In the end, he sees the local congregation as the platform of real change; "It will only be by movements that begin with the local congregation in which the reality of the new creation is present, and experienced, and from which men and women will go into every sector of public life to claim it for Christ, to unmask the illusions which have remained hidden and to expose all areas of public life to the illumination of the gospel" (232-3).

In many ways "The Gospel in a Pluralist Society" is a long, extended argument for the Christian Faith, but specifically for the faith once for all delivered to the saints in a given location, situated and placed in a real neighborhood and society. The book is an essential read, even more so now than when it was first penned. It is ideal for pastors, evangelists, seminarians, and apologists. But it would benefit anyone who is willing to put their shoulder into the book and master the author's analysis and applications. I highly recommend the book

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Sunday, November 20, 2016

"O Lord Jesus Christ, Who has Lovingly Given Yourself" - 20 November 2016

O Lord Jesus Christ, who lovingly has given yourself for our sins, to deliver us from this present evil age, to deliver us from the dominance of the devil and to deliver us from the fearful bondage of death, thank you! And as our great High Priest you regard the humble prayers of all who call upon you, who call upon you in truth. Incline your ear and hear.

Look upon your Holy, Universal  Church which you are sanctifying, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word; including this church and Faith Mission Church; Faith Tabernacle; First Alliance Church; First Baptist in OKC, Edmond, Moore, Mustang, Piedmont, Yukon and Norman. Straighten out, O Lord, and have mercy upon all the ministers, pastors, elders, and overseers of your Church: aid us to shepherd the flock of God that is among us, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as you would have us do; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in our charge, but being examples to the flock (1 Peter 5.2-3). Remember your servants who are under persecution for your sake and for the sake of your holy gospel; vindicate and refresh them. Keep your Church whole and harmonious, and repair the rifts and rips in the churches. Snuff out the burning fires of those opposed to your reign, and bring to nothing those who are unstable and willingly twist the writings of Paul and the rest of Scriptures to their own destruction (2 Peter 3.16).

Salvage, O Lord, and have mercy upon those who have evil intent toward us, who seek to trap and ensnare us, and who rail and rant against us; forgive them, change their minds and directions, and through Jesus Christ may we and they be reconciled and together come, worship and bow down; kneeling before the LORD our Maker (Psalm 95.6)!

Arouse, O Lord, and have mercy upon all who have pushed you away, all who are terribly mistaken and think they have no need of your rescue, and those who are pioneering their own way...

Refresh, O Lord, and have mercy upon all loaded down with a weight of care, bowed down under disease or dread, doubled over with pain or panic,…surround them with those who care and can give them a hand to hold; give them professionals and friends through whom you would bring help, healing and hope.

Work, O Lord, and have mercy upon all world rulers (such as Ashraf Ghani, Bujar Nishani, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Joan Sicília and  François Hollande, and José dos Santos); work, O Lord, and have mercy upon on our own Supreme Court Justices (John Roberts, Jr., Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, Jr., Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan); work, O Lord, and have mercy upon on all other magistrates, and all the inhabitants of this land. Bring us to speak the truth to one another; to render in our gates judgments that are true and make for peace; and to avoid and eschew the things you hate like devising evil in our hearts against others, and loving false oaths (Zechariah 8.16).

And so, Lord Jesus, what we have here faithfully asked may we, please, effectively obtain for the honor of your name! Amen.

Friday, November 18, 2016

"The Ultimate Martial Arts Encyclopedia" ed. John R. Little and Curtis F. Wong. A Review.

Ultimate Martial Arts EncyclopediaUltimate Martial Arts Encyclopedia by John  Little
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Quite the spiffy and informative book. It's small for an encyclopedia, but covers a wide range of martial arts' history and rational. With regard to it being "ultimate," the authors must have used this word to describe, not the depth of material, but the breadth of the subject. No singular martial art is covered deeply, but the authors spread out to cover numerous modern and ancient styles, as well as from different continents: Asian, European and African.

Beyond the subject matter on the different styles, there are chapters to inform and help broaden the thinking, perception and motivation of the martial artist. These chapters are nicely written, drawing out finer points, and explaining the importance of more technical elements in punches, kicks, and blocks. For example, there's the chapter that emphasizes the fluidity and artfulness of any particular technique, so that "a lock is a block is a blow is a throw." Another piece explains how to turn a back fist into a powerful force. There are other sections that deal with angular kicks, ax kicks, conquering fear and pain, and the secret of middle aged martial arts, to name a few.

In the end, this is a resource book for broadening out a martial artist's knowledge of style, concepts, and strategy, as well as helping the learner become better at their particular style. It would make a solid addition to any martial art school's lending library, as well as to personal collections. I recommend the book.

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"Taekwondo Grappling Techniques" by Tony Kemerly and Steve Snyder. A Review

Taekwondo Grappling Techniques: Hone Your Competitive Edge for Mixed Martial Arts [DVD Included]Taekwondo Grappling Techniques: Hone Your Competitive Edge for Mixed Martial Arts [DVD Included] by Tony Kemerly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The upside to this book is that it draws out several combative and grappling aspects from various Taekwondo movements. The author demonstrates these maneuvers from twelve different katas, and translates them into throws, breaks, arms holds, chokes, and submission holds. The pictures and explanations are fairly easy to follow.

The downside is that the Jujitsu applications of the Taekwondo movements seems forced and artificial. There are several times when the moves translate easily from Taekwondo to Jujitsu. There are other times when the Taekwondo positions and sequences are clearly being stretched beyond their intended use. And finally a few of the throws or chokes are well outside of the initial flow.

In the end this book is about 50/50. A martial arts instructor could use it as a prompt to help make some sample applications to different steps in their kata instruction. But the instructor will have to be discerning and selective to find the ones that "feel" natural and follow simplicity.

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