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Thursday, September 29, 2016

"Too Good to be True" by Ricky Jones. A Review

Too Good To Be True: Christian Hope in a Hopeless AgeToo Good To Be True: Christian Hope in a Hopeless Age by Ricky Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In my experience, Christians often struggle with a sense of assurance – whether its assurance of salvation or assurance that God loves them. Some of the reasons may be because they never felt quite loved or accepted by their parents when they were kids. At other times, it seems to be related to how those they were deeply entwined with betrayed them, as in a disastrous marriage. And still at other times it may be the result of poor biblical instruction. Or it might even be a mash up of all of these background experiences, so that as they come to God they perceive him through this messy, mangled set of lenses. Ricky Jones, Pastor of RiverOaks Presbyterian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has recently penned a 125 page paperback, “Too Good to Be True: Christian Hope in a Hopeless Age,” where he tackles assurance for the Christian. Much of the book is autobiographical, showing how the author himself came at God from a background of insecurity and uncertainty. It is easily written, and easily read.

“Too Good to be True” walks the Christian reader through the various aspects of why they should trust God and know that he really does love them. As Jones rightly observes, “your faith is only as helpful as what you have faith in” (92). And further, not “one of us can really do anything to change the opinion of another person. However, we can change whose opinion we value most” (106). In a nutshell, this little book is a series of Gospel pep-talks for those whose hope is pooped out! It is fun to read, encouraging, and softly challenges our grumpy perceptions of God and his dealings with us.

My only beef with the book is the chapter “God’s Children or His Pets?” There the author rightly explains that God sees us as his children, that he deeply loves us even when we make a mess of our lives. The problem comes when Jones states that God “is never disappointed in us; he only sees us through eyes of love, pride, and joy” (84). I find the notion that God is never disappointed in us an unfortunate and unsatisfactory thought that may well set believers up for discouragement. Allow me to explain. Jesus is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1.3); he is the face of the Father in human form. And Jesus expressed disappointment in his disciples, whom he deeply loved, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith” (Matthew 8.26); as well as when his disciples showed a real lack of confidence and he responded, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you” (Matthew 17.17)? And then that one time when he told Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16.23). So, it seems unhelpful to say that God is never disappointed in us. I think we can happily say, instead, that the Father loves us so seriously and deeply that he desires the best for us, and when we settle for less, his deeply loving heart is disappointed in us. Yet he goes on loving us, and growing us to be more like his Son.

All in all, “Too Good to be True” is a delightful book, full of Gospel encouragement. One way it could be valuably employed is as homework reading in a pastoral counseling setting. Also, if a reader is wrestling with assurance, this little piece might be just the thing to build some buoyancy. I gladly recommend the book.

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Sunday, September 25, 2016

"Yahweh, God of Might and Power" - Congregational Prayers for 25 September 2016

Sunday morning:

Yahweh, God of might and power, who made all things, and then lavished good things upon us and still do; thank you that you give us all things richly to enjoy, you open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.

You who know all things, whose eyes run to and fro through the whole earth beholding the good and evil, from whom no creature is hidden, but all are naked and exposed to your eyes; hear the groaning of those weighed down under stress or distress…, see the grief of those who have lost loved ones…., take note of those shackled and shamed by injustice or bigotry from above or below…., give heed to the ones who are unfairly incarcerated or enslaved…. For all who are in these situations and others, we cry out to you on their behalf imploring you to raise them up, refresh them, restore their wholesome dreams, and set them free.

Spirit of God who hovered over that which at the beginning was tohu v’bohu, formless and void, bringing forth creation; who hovered over the womb of Mary to bring forth him who is the New Creation; and is poured out on us from on high turning the wilderness into a fruitful field and the fruitful field into a forest (Isaiah 32.15): blow upon your Church throughout the world, and specifically on this congregation, as well as Beth Haven Baptist Church; First Nazarene Church of Bethany; Bethel Congregational Church; Bethesda Assembly of God; Bethlehem Primitive Baptist Church; Bible Methodist and Bible Missionary Church. Bring order out of disorder; truth to lead your people in dark times; hope to sustain them through disheartening seasons; reconciliation where there has been racial or contentious division; and peace when all around becomes stormy.

You who sit enthroned in the heavens, who keeps faith forever, executes justice for the oppressed, and gives food to the hungry (Psalm 146.7): we pray that in our country godliness, integrity, uprightness and wholesomeness would gain the upper hand from the White house to the State House and on to our house. May truthfulness and trustworthiness become operative in our Civil Government all the way to our self-government. Rule over, in and through our judicial, legislative and executive branches. And, Good Lord, help us through the remainder of this campaign season to maintain our sanity and civility, and sway the electorate to vote wisely and well.

Take in hand, Lord God, the nations of this earth. Where brigandry, brutality and bloodletting have scarred and marred societies; restore decency and justice, rebuild the infrastructure, return clean drinking water and food, safety and courage. Those countries that have some semblance of respectability and rightness, make them sturdy, and keep them safe.

Finally, Lord God, we pray your name to be hallowed in our homes and families; your kingdom to come in our homes and families; and your will to be done in our homes and families, as it is done in heaven. For Christ’s sake we pray. Amen.


Sunday evening:

May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you! May those who love your salvation say evermore, “God is great!” (Psalm 70.4).

We entreat you to provide help, peace, health, sound minds and sound bodies to these who are harassed by various ailments… O Lord, hear our prayer.

Our Father, we pray for our denomination, this congregation, churches in Tulsa, in Charlotte NC and these churches in our Presbytery: Redeemer in Amarillo; Grace and Peace in Anna, TX; Arlington PCA; Christ Church and Metrocrest in Carrollton TX. We implore you to guide the direction of our denomination and congregations that we may be a clear light in a bleary-eyed world; that we may be a means of Gospel reconciliation in a fragmented society; that we may be a voice of reason and reasonableness in places where emotions run high and violence burbles under the surface; that we may ever walk the way of the Cross with Jesus, even when the national pressure to compromise is intense and stifling. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Our hearts are heavy burdened for those who have never trusted in Jesus Christ and his saving work, as well as those who once declared their faith in Jesus but have since wondered away….For many of them we weep, O God, and for others we hurt. Please generate in them a repentant faith and a faithful repentance, drawing them to our Savior. And help us to see the ways we can be part of drawing them to our Savior. O Lord, hear our prayer.

We are deeply thankful for those in our congregation who are finding a willingness to serve in your church and in your world rescue operation, swelling up in them. During this time of discernment guide them and us; help us to see clearly whether they have been gifted by you to pastor, preach or serve in mission work. And do, O Lord, continue to raise up workers for the harvest – even from our own fellowship. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Lord God, we ask you to continue to provide people, resources and funds to Hope Center of Edmond, Project 66, Anna’s House Foundation, KAIROS Prison Ministries, Hope Pregnancy Center, House of Joy in Peru….and we are grateful for those who serve in these organizations. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Finally Father, there are other concerns and requests that are in our hearts that we silently mention to you….You know these requests, and what is the best outcome, for which we pray. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

"Holy Father, Who Sends Sun and Rain" - 18 September 2016

Holy Father, who sends sun and rain on the just and the unjust, who provides food for the good and the evil, thank you for your tender mercies enjoyed by so many.

O God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, whom the whole heavens adore; let the whole earth also worship, all nations obey you, all tongues confess and bless you; and men, women, girls and boys everywhere love you and serve you in peace through Jesus Christ. We ask this especially for families, neighbors, co-workers, and friends we know….

Almighty God, we pray for churches in the greater OKC area, especially All Souls Episcopal Church; Angie Smith Indian Methodist Church; Apostolic Assembly; Apostolic Faith Church; Apostolic Faith Tabernacle and First Baptist of OKC. We pray that their work, toil, patient endurance and rejecting evil would flourish; that they would not abandon their first love; and that where they have fallen into error or compromised with the world, that you would straighten them out and build them up (Revelation 2.1-7).

LORD, we beseech you for this congregation, please grant us the grace we need to withstand the temptations and avoid the infections of the world, the flesh and the devil; so that with pure heart, sound mind and holy delight we may follow you, our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who is alive and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, ever One God. And beat down Satan under our feet.

We are deeply grateful, O God, for our medical professions, hospitals and clinics. We give you thanks for all of the medical advances accomplished even in the last 40 years; but most of all, we thank you that many women and men have given themselves to the hard work of caring for people – even the most obnoxious. Encourage the weary; strengthen the fatigued; and cheer the diligent. May they see their work turning into healthy and happy patients.

Oh Yahweh Yireh, the LORD who provides, Louisiana still needs help to dig its way out of the aftermath of the flood. 146,000 homes flooded in 9 Parishes (40,000 in Baton Rouge alone). Some places like Denham Springs had 90% of their homes flooded. Continue to send caring people and resources, speed recovery, and show us how we can be part of your compassionate care there.

Father, we know our nation is not spotless, we confess and acknowledge that the U.S.A. is not the kingdom of God nor the Church of Jesus Christ; nevertheless, Father, we love our country. It’s a blessing to live here, and for that we thank you. Now please restore moral sanity to our people and civic sensibility to our governmental leaders. Where decency and virtue are on the decline, wake us up to the train wreck that will be of our own making and grant us to turn around. And, please grant our country safety from all enemies foreign and domestic.

Our great God, in whose hands is our life, health and wellbeing: hear our prayers for those who are hungry, homeless, and hopeless…; for those who are impoverished or imperiled…; for those who are suicidal or dismayed…; for those who find their bodies stricken or the homes wrecked…; for those being hampered with mental or emotional complications…; brighten their days with hope and true happiness; grant them patience under their affliction and a cheerful outcome to their infirmity. All of these requests we ask through our mediator, Jesus Christ your Son and our Lord. Amen

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Louisiana Still Needs Help

Louisiana still needs help to dig its way out of the aftermath of the flood. 146,000 homes flooded in 9 Parishes (40,000 in Baton Rouge). Some places like Denham Springs had 90% of homes flooded. I'm posting the link the PCA's disaster relief page that has some ways you can help:

Feel free to share this post on your social networks. Mike

Thursday, September 15, 2016

"Sticky Leadership" by Larry Briggs. A Review

Sticky Leadership: How Successful Entrepreneurs Get Their Leadership to Stick in the Heads, Hearts and Actions of OthersSticky Leadership: How Successful Entrepreneurs Get Their Leadership to Stick in the Heads, Hearts and Actions of Others by Larry Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Whether directing an organization, company, not-for-profit agency, cotton-gin cooperative, or PTA, leadership skills are required. Most people learn how to lead “on the fly,” in all of the give-and-take of guiding people to accomplish a goal or project. After engaging in these learned-leadership practices for a while, those ways become customary and habitual. And when this happens, one can find oneself in a rut of routine that reproduces marginal results. Therefore, it’s helpful to occasionally pick up material on leadership that can, once more, reignite thinking with regard to the why and how of leading others. Larry Briggs, leadership coach, consultant and founder of V2A (vision-to-action), has compiled a resource to guide, encourage and help leaders, “Sticky Leadership: How Successful Entrepreneurs Get Their Leadership to Stick in the Heads, Hearts and Actions of Others.” This simple-to-read 160 page paperback works diligently to hand to its readers exactly what the subtitle describes.

The main emphasis of the book is that leadership needs to be “sticky” – it must grab the imaginations, motivations and aspirations of the leaders and the led. To do this Briggs walks his constituents through the three crucial traits of loving uphill, leading from the inside out, and creating a game worth playing. These three attributes govern the shape of this short book, where the author takes care to deliver what each means and doesn’t mean.

Much of the material in “Sticky Leadership” will seem common sense and fairly obvious. The value of the book is that Briggs is a coach, and as every coach knows, when the players are in the game the obvious and common sense can get clouded and lost in the sweat and strain. Therefore Coach Briggs hands to his readers a manageable piece to remind the players what they have already intuited and understood, and refreshes them with encouragement to put it into play. I gladly recommend the book.

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Sunday, September 11, 2016

"Glory Be to God on High" - 11 September 2016

Glory be to God on high: And on earth peace, good will toward men. We praise you, we bless you, we worship you, we glorify you, we give thanks to you, for your great glory. O Lord God, heavenly King, God the Father Almighty. O Lord, the only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ; O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, that takes away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us. You that take away the sin of the world, receive our prayer. You that sit at the right hand of God the Father, have mercy upon us. For you only are holy; you only are the Lord. You only, O Christ, with the Holy Ghost, are most high in the glory of God the Father.

O God, heavenly Father, by your Son Jesus Christ you have promised to all those who seek your kingdom and your righteousness to care for their necessities; look on those who are strapped by disease, ailments, depression, mental or physical afflictions; those straining under their weight, and those striving to keep their heads above water; …..raise them up from their misery and misfortune, granting them unlooked for strength and hope, that they may spend the rest of their lives serving, glorifying and enjoying you, now, always and for ever.

Give steadying strength, stabilizing aid, resilient love, long-lasting commitment, unwavering godliness and sound doctrine to your church here and throughout the world; especially in Yemen; Zambia; and Zimbabwe. Through the prayers and work of your Church, may your open-handed help and guidance be shown to all; sojourners and wayfarers find shelter; those blown about by the violence and predation of our world find sanctuary; the lonely and deserted find warmth; and the broken, bruised and battered find respite.

We pray for those deceived and defrauded by heretics and hucksters, that you would grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth so that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil (2 Timothy 2.25-26)…. We also pray for those who have never embraced your Son Jesus Christ, trusting in him for their salvation and repenting of their sins; along with those who have once made a good confession and since then have made shipwreck of their faith…..shine the light of your mercy and grace into their hearts and heads, and bring them to new life in Christ.

High King of Heaven, who is never caught unawares, even though the actions of humankind often grieve you; many today are rightly remembering the horror of that fateful day 15 years ago, when terrorists viciously hijacked 4 planes to slaughter thousands of Americans; and then the subsequent years of tears, bloodshed and destruction that ensued from it. We still sorrow over the evil of it all. We sincerely implore you to grant our country safety from all enemies foreign and domestic, and may this be an important day of reflection in which many in our land turn to you. Thank you for the numerous times further assaults have been nipped in the bud; and thank you for those agents and investigators who have been vigilant and valiant.

Father, pour out your merciful kindness on all nations, that order, stability, and tranquility may be established for the good of all people, and for the sake of your Church. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen

Friday, September 9, 2016

"Attack the Attack" by Jeff Burger (DVD). A Review

His fist flew menacingly through the air toward my face. Instinctively I parried it, grabbed his wrist, turned under his momentum and threw him across my shoulders over onto his back. Though he was 50 pounds heavier than me, and taller by several inches, the fight ended in a split second because my reaction was automatic and aggressive.  That’s the point and focus of the new 93 minute DVD, “Attack the Attack” by Jeff Burger, an instructor in Karate, Ju Jutsu, Muay Thai, and Kung Fu for over 30 years. The training material is meant for easy retention and quick mastery, with loads of demonstration.

“Attack the Attack” begins with the principial aspects of the program: mental, conceptual, and physical. Burger goes on to cover the importance of growing competent through practice, and visualizing the outcome. He also discusses and displays the potential picture of an attacker coming at various speeds and angles, and where to be as soon as the attack arrives. Then he breaks down various blocks – both constructive and destructive, as well as evasions and strikes, while emphasizing that the goal is to do them simultaneously. The information is simple, with sufficient explanation that can be followed through with immediately. Instead of filling the mind with multiple steps and forms that will breakdown in the middle of an assault and adrenalin-dump, Burger hands the viewer short, unfussy actions that can be quickly accomplished.

“Attack the Attack” is an easy to understand visual instruction on self-defense. If you want to augment your personal safety, or are just beginning to think about self-protection, this is a good, inexpensive place to begin. Also, if you’re running a martial arts school or dojo and want to supplement your students’ training, obtaining a copy of this DVD would be the right thing to do. I highly recommend “Attack the Attack”.

Thanks to YMAA Publication for providing, upon my request, the free copy of “Attack the Attack” used for this review. The assessments are mine given without restrictions or requirements (as per Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255).