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Monday, December 15, 2014

Zephaniah: Preparing for the Coming of Christ Pt 3

Preparing for the Coming of Christ-3
Zephaniah 3.1-20
{For this sermon, you will really be helped by listening while reviewing the manuscript.

Merciful God, who did send your messengers the prophets – including Zephaniah – to preach repentance and prepare the way of salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings, forsake our sins, and prepare for the coming of Christ that we may greet with joy the coming of our Redeemer. Amen (adapted and modified from The Book of Common Prayer).

One aspect of Christmas time is how easily we get lost in the scurrying about with the preening of trees, decking homes with wreaths, buying clothes and toys, travelling and visiting family. Nothing wrong with any of those things, it’s just how easily and quickly they can consume us. But the true tale that lies behind Christmas is about God coming in Jesus Christ, establishing his presence among humanity (Immanuel) and moving humanity, history and his handiwork toward the great, adventurous final coming of Christ. Let us prepare for the Coming of Christ.

The Day of the Lord:
1.     Based on God’s Righteousness (5). They were V.1- Rebellious, polluted and Oppressive; V. 2-Disobedient, unwilling to be corrected (they wouldn’t even learn from other’s failures-6-7) and not drawing near to God; V.3 and 4-From Princes all the way to Priests; V.5-Knew no shame; V.7 they were eager to make all their deeds corrupt.

2.     Purging but not Annihilating (8-9). [Lamentation 3.33: “…for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.”]

3.     Worldwide Transformation (9-13). Luke 1.78-79! “…the prophet depicts the formation of a new community of holy people. This restored remnant shall consist not only of a purged and forgiven group from Israel (cf. 3:11-13). The converted from the nations shall join with his people in the worship and service of the one true God (3:9-10)” (O. Palmer Robertson, “The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk, & Zephaniah”, 327). John 12.31; 3.16-17!

4.     A Day of Rejoicing (14-20). There are Carols in Heaven (so to speak):

God rest you merry, Gentlemen, let nothing you dismay, remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day, to save us all from Satan’s pow’r when we were gone astray; O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, O tidings of comfort and joy.
“Fear not, then,” said the angel, “let nothing you affright; this day is born a Savior of a pure virgin bright, to free all those who trust in him from Satan’s power and might.” O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, O tidings of comfort and joy (Trinity Hymnal 211).

Preparing for the Coming of Christ:

1st – Christ’s initial coming put into motion what will be clearly seen at Christ’s final coming. God, in Christ, is purging not annihilating. He is bringing about a worldwide transformation. Therefore, at Christmas, as we rehearse the story in carols, Christmas Eve services, and Scripture readings, we should be thinking about missions and evangelism, so that at his coming one last time: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb(Rev. 7.9-10)!

2nd – When we sing Christmas Carols, tune your ears to hear God singing over you, yes you! He sings over you because the delight of his heart has been accomplished: but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation”(Romans 5.8-11)!

Joy to the world! The Lord is come / Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room / And heaven and nature sing!

Joy to the world! the Savior reigns / Let men their songs employ
While fields and floods Rocks, hills and plains / Repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow / Nor thorns infest the ground
He comes to make His blessings flow / Far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace / And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness / And wonders of His love.
(Trinity Hymnal 195)

Prepare for the coming of Christ by embracing the Christ who has come!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Congregational Prayer - 14 December 2014 PM

LORD, you have said, “Seek My face,” and so our hearts now say, “Your face, LORD, we will seek” (Psalm 27.8). We come before you praying for your world and your Church; and we come praying in the name of Christ your Son.

We pray for the troubled and the secure nations of our world; for the countries staggering under wreckage or wasting maladies, and for those lands that seem quiet and calm: please preserve your Church in every land by granting every nation your peace and prosperity; O Lord, hear our prayer.

Almighty God, give ear to our concerns about the future, the focus, the fortitude, and the fortune of our country, and grant what is best for the good of the citizens and inhabitants of this land, the peace of Your Church, and for the uninhibited proclamation of your Gospel. O Lord, hear our prayer.

O our God, we remember those who are in need … turn their grief into gladness, their suffering into strength, their anger and pain into wholeness and health. O Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray for the people in our lives and on our hearts who may have left the Faith, those who have no faith, and those who have a wavering faith; may it be that during this season when chorales are expected to sing of the coming of Christ, when it is assumed that radio stations will play songs about the birth of Jesus, when talk and thoughts and remembrances of the gift of your Son are more pronounced, that you would use all of these things to draw them to you that you may give them as gifts to your Son. O Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray for Your Church throughout the world, including these churches; Neighborhood Missionary Baptist Church, Netchurch, New Bethel Baptist, New Covenant Missionary Baptist, New Heights Baptist and New Hope Baptist Church: reclaim what is damaged; heal what is sick; strengthen what is whole; protect what is vulnerable; recondition what has become misshapen,  and supply what is needed. O Lord, hear our prayer.

For this congregation we pray: give those in our midst who are single the grace of remaining chaste and virtuous, especially when the pressures are intense or subtle; guide the parents as they raise their children to fear and love you; assist the husbands to be faithful to their wives and loving them as Christ does his church; fill the wives with the joy of respecting their husbands; steer these children and teenagers to value their parents and to grow up strong in our most holy faith; and finally, help the grandparents to be holy and solid examples of godliness for their children and grandchildren. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Zephaniah: Preparing for the Coming of Christ Pt 2

Preparing for the Coming of Christ-2
Zephaniah 2.1-15

God of might, majesty and impartiality, who is just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus; come and help us as we wrestle with your Word in Zephaniah, and assist us to prepare for the coming of Christ. Amen

Christmas can be a two-edged sword for many. Even in our annual family festivities we know this; sometimes joy mixed with anxiety; sometimes good memories are jumbled up with bad ones; sometimes celebration is clasped hand in hand with sadness. But more than our own personal struggles, the initial coming of Christ (the story that lurks behind Christmas) was also a two-edged sword: good news for some, grievous news for others (Just think of Matthew 2 Herod/Magi). For at the first coming of Christ the Lord the day of the Lord began, Christ came and as he came (like a thief in the night) he will again come, and we need to prepare for the coming of Christ [BTW, I appreciated our Choir’s Advent Hymn this morning – did you notice how it pulled both coming together?]

The Plundering Word: 4-15. One of the more serious problems that arises when talking about the Day of the LORD, or God’s justice in any fashion, is that it is often misunderstood, misjudged and misread and God is thought of as some crotchety old codger, some stingy Ebenezer Scrooge in the heavens, who maliciously pounds people like Bob Cratchit. But any real talk of God’s ways must be wrapped up in this understanding from Lamentation 3.33: “For he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.” Why, then, the Day of the Lord? 1st-Judgment starts at the household of God: 1.4-6 and so 2.1-2. 2nd-“If the righteous are scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and sinner?

Universal in scope. The whole known world throughout the fertile crescent, from Jerusalem and Judah (1-3) to those surrounding Judah (4-5, 8-9), to the furthest edges (12-15). Sounds very much like Acts 1.8.

Powerful in span. “deserted”, “a desolation (used at least 3xs)”, “uprooted”, “driven out”, “destroyed”, “a waste (2xs)”,  “Become like Sodom and Gomorrah”, “slain”, and “devastation”.

The Promising Word: 1-3, 7b, 9b, 11. Because God does not take delight in the death of a sinner, therefore from the midst of his sobering, fearful word leaks out hopeful promises. There is a hint here that the day of the LORD has a restorative and happier side.

The “Perhaps” of God’s Way (1-3). There is no side-stepping the Day of the Lord, but there is a hopeful promise of being sheltered in it. “Seek, seek, seek” (3x)! This is the opposite of 1.6, where the bland compromisers simply stumbled along in their day-to-day bland and boring ignoring of God. Hosea 10.12: “Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.” Then trickles out this sudden – unlooked for “Perhaps”, the “It may be…” and this requires faith – confident trust, shaky or strong, in the refuge God sets up.

On that 1st Christmas (if you will), God’s “perhaps” came in flesh and blood, Jesus Christ: “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is giv’n! So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heav’n. No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in” (Trinity Hymnal 201). “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5.25).  Prepare for the coming of Christ by seeking the Christ who has come!

The Restorative Universality of God’s Way (Read these now: 7b, 9b 11). Here we begin to brush up against a theme that will erupt in Chapter 3 and break out into the New Testament; many outsiders will become insiders, and many insiders will turn out to be outsiders. Malachi 1.11, “For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts.” And in the words of the hymn we’ll sing at the end, that puts the angels thundering from the sky saying, “All glory to God on high, and to the earth be peace; good will henceforth, from heav’n to men, begin and never cease, begin and never cease” (Trinity Hymnal 223)! The grand reversal! The inside out, and the outside in; the up down and the down up; the first last, and the last first! And Mary tied that grand reversal to the coming of Jesus: Luke 1.46-55. Gentiles and Jews; blue-collar shepherds and social elites; those nearby and those from afar! God’s restorative way will also be just as universal in scope and just as powerful in span as his judgment. Prepare for the coming of Christ.

The Shaping Word:
1st- The real story lurking behind Christmas is the beginning of the Restorative Universality of God’s Way. At Babel the peoples were scattered and divided because of their pride, so now in Christ the nations and peoples can find the solidifying center around which they may finally find peace and hope. But God must do this by 1st reducing or famishing (v.11) our gods to nothing (money, security, nationalism, health, eternal youthfulness…). Prepare for the Coming of Christ.

2nd-We should take heart from 2.1-3….Don’t give up…Seek…Throughout this Christmas season think “Seek the Lord and his rescuing refuge”. “Sages, leave your contemplations, brighter visions beam afar; seek the great Desire of Nations; ye have seen his natal star: come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ, the newborn King” (Trinity Hymnal 218). The day of the Lord will come to an explosive head, but it’s where we are in relation to the Lord Jesus Christ that determines if we will make it through. “You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thess. 1.9b-10). And, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9.27-28). Prepare for the Coming of Christ by trusting in the Christ who has come.

Monday, December 8, 2014

"Frameworks: How to Navigate the New Testament" by Eric Larson, a Review

Frameworks: How to Navigate the New TestamentFrameworks: How to Navigate the New Testament by Eric  Larson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For the novice and knowledgeable, fathoming the flow of Holy Scripture can be a bit of a daunting task. Especially in a day when ministers, media and mentors are often spooning out a "sound-byte theology" and folks normally get snippets of verses. Here is where the beauty of "Frameworks," by Eric Larson, a Bible teacher at Cornerstone Fellowship in Livermore, California, comes out in full blossom. This textbook sized, 372 page glossy paperback, is succinct, informative and visually appealing.

The first section of "Frameworks" gives a brief, bird's-eye view of the life of Jesus with simple maps and creative handles a reader can latch on to. The material in this segment is meant to help the reader know the general narrative landscape of Jesus' life so when they delve into one of the Gospel accounts they have a sense of where they are and where they're headed. The charts are presented in such a way that a quick glance gets the point and grasps the purpose.

The second section of the volume goes New Testament book by New Testament book. The author gives some salient information about the author, then  briefly explains why the book was written, moves to a brief outline of the New Testament document being discussed, quotes the main verses, answers the question of how to navigate that book, brings out questions to ask while reading or studying the New Testament book, and finally encapsulates one insight to take away. Each chapter is punctuated by uncomplicated graphs, diagrams, and visual aids that help create mental hooks to hang concepts on and retain.

"Frameworks" would make an important addition to a family's library, and will likely get dog-eared and tattered quickly as kids and adults pour over its pages.This book should find its way into the hands of Sunday School teachers and disciplers to not only strengthen their grasp of Scripture, but aid them in guiding others as well. I highly recommend the book.

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A free copy of "Frameworks" was provided for this review.

"Tai Chi Chin Na: The Seizing Art of Tai Chi Chuan" by Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming; a Review

Tai Chi Chin Na: The Seizing Art of Tai Chi Chuan
2nd edition
Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming
YMAA Publication Center, Inc.
PO Box 480
Wolfeboro, NH 03894
ISBN: 9781594393075; $26.95; (1995) October 2014

5 Stars of 5 Stars

Grappling with Chin Na

A martial arts practitioner can quickly get stuck in a rut. Doing the same kata week after week for months on end, learning to kick with precision and strike with exactness, going through the motions to learn various one-step training forms, and sweating through self-defense moves over and over, can rapidly bring one to think they’re learning all there is to a particular martial style. But a moment’s plunge into the 2nd edition of “Tai Chi Chin Na: The Seizing Art of Tai Chi Chuan” will expose the shallowness of such a perception. Dr. Yang, Jwing-Ming, renowned author and teacher of Chinese martial arts and Qigong, has reworked this 432 page paperback. He carefully explains the methods and metaphysics of tai chi chin na, and shows how chin na can be “adopted easily by almost all martial arts styles and blended into their own techniques” (xix).

The first two chapters of “Tai Chi Chin Na” cover the general concepts of chin na, which means “seize and control” (1), and the basic fighting theory of tai chi, which is “to use the soft against the hard, and to use the round to neutralize the straight or square” (Ibid.). The author works out the five categories of chin na; dividing or grabbing the muscle or tendon, misplacing the bone, sealing off the breath, pressing or sealing the artery or vein, and pressing the primary qi channel or cavity (5). These five categories build the framework for the later portions of the book. Dr. Yang explains the importance of the three fighting ranges – long, medium and short (31), as well as the way of circles in chin na – large, medium and small (32). By the reader grasping the ranges and circles early on will add to the execution of the moves explained later in the book, especially as they are applied to the eight technical moving patterns and five strategic directional movements.  By the end of the second chapter it is clear that this is a fairly technical book; technical with emphasis on technique and mechanics, but also the inner logic of positions and movements.

Chapters three through six take the reader deeper into the eight fundamental methods, from which “hundreds of techniques can be derived and developed” (63). Though these chapters can seem exhausting, they are not exhaustive, as the author is only introducing the reader to “some of the possible techniques” with which he is familiar (Ibid.). What this means is that there is plenty of material to work on in “Tai Chi Chin Na” that will last a learner a long time, and as they master the material they will find other ways and other uses for each procedure.  To aid the reader through these chapters, Dr. Yang carefully describes each step of the position or movement, the theory behind it, and attaches very clear pictures with directional indicators that are well-defined. The author expresses, explains and exhibits with such lucidity that, as he promises in the beginning of the book, “it can be learned easily, even by a martial arts beginner” (1).

“Tai Chi Chin Na” at first appears daunting by its sheer size, yet in relation to the number of pages there is a minimal amount of reading after the first two chapters.  Most of this book revolves around the instructive pictures and the Spartan verbal descriptions. It is easy to grasp the point of any given technique and apply it without much difficulty. This would be an ideal book for anyone serious about martial arts, whether they’re newbies or veterans. And for those who may be sliding into a numbing rut in their martial arts style, this volume will likely refresh and rekindle a renewed interest. This paperback is a keeper; get a copy as quick as you can!

Thanks to YMAA for the free copy of "Tai Chi Chin Na" used for this review.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Congregational Prayer - 7 December 2014 AM and PM

Morning Prayer:
Abba, our affectionate Father, who has given us the Spirit of Christ, who intercedes in us and through us, we pray for your World and your Church.

We pray for you to set straight all that is crooked and shattered among the nations (Syria, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Kenya, North-Central-South America, Russia, Ukraine), that people everywhere may have decent opportunities to live in peace, and your Church throughout all lands may be able to serve you in quiet joy.

Almighty God, look upon our country. We pray for the hearts and minds of the administration to be swayed toward what is most just and evenhanded. Give ear to our concerns, qualms and uncertainties about the economic, political and legislative future, and grant what is best for the good of the citizens of this land and the peace of Your Church. And Lord, may we not forget the tragic event, 73 years ago, that took the lives of so many and propelled us into the Second World War. Thank you for the many valiant people who risked much in doing their duty, and hazarded their lives for others.

We ask for you to provide protection and powerful aid to all our Law Enforcement Officers. We know that in any organization and vocation there are a few bad eggs, may they be found out before they do unreasonable harm. But for the many upon many officers, sheriffs, deputies, and marshals who tirelessly do their jobs well, honorably protecting us from the vicious and villainous, grant them success in their work, support from their citizens, and sensibleness from their superiors.

We hold up in memory all those who are travelling a hard path right now, whose minds, bodies and/or souls are feeling the unsettling forces of decay, disintegration or distress (esp. for these we pray)…pull them together in your stout and generous way and restore what needs to be mended.

We pray for the people in our lives and on our hearts who are dabbling and flirting with dangerous actions, actions that will lead them astray, as well as those already gone amiss; we also pray for those who have never repented of their sins and trusted in Christ Jesus your Son…..May it be that during this Christmas season, their hearts and peace of mind will be shaken enough to cause them to see their peril; but also that the Gospel story echoing through many of the carols and Scripture recitations will bring them to joyfully call on the name of the Lord, and be saved.

We pray for Your Church throughout the world, for these churches: as you know their needs far better than they do, we ask you to provide what they really lack, strengthen their faith in Christ and loyalty to the worldwide dominion of Christ. For this congregation we pray: may holiness and joy triumph in our everyday affairs. And in all our interactions with family, friends and foes, may we build God-honoring peacefulness.
Evening Prayer:
Hark the herald angels sing "Glory to the newborn King! Peace on earth and mercy mild God and sinners reconciled" Joyful, all ye nations rise Join the triumph of the skies With the angelic host proclaim: "Christ is born in Bethlehem" Hark! The herald angels sing "Glory to the newborn King!" (Trinity Hymnal #203, v.1).

For Your Church in faraway places and close by, we pray to you O God, including Mount Lebanon Baptist Church; Mt. Olive Baptist; Mt. Olive Friendship Baptist; Mount Rose; Mt. Triumph and Nehemiah Baptist Church. Knowing that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, grant us the grace to flee these things, and to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness, to fight the good fight of the faith taking firm hold of the eternal life to which we were called and about which we have made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses (1 Timothy 6.11-12); O Lord, hear our prayer.

For our whole congregation, in our homes, in our fellowship, out in our vocations, in the marketplace; wherever we may be and go, that based upon and because of your mercies poured out on us in Jesus Christ, help us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to you, which is our spiritual worship. Help us that we would not be conformed to this world – especially in this highly commercialized season, but we would be transformed by the renewal of our mind, that by testing we may discern what is your good and acceptable and perfect will (Romans 12.1-2). O Lord, hear our prayer.

We remember that there are those we know who will likely find this time of year gruelingly grievous – maybe because of the death of loved ones, hostile and harmful memories, financial troubles, serious loneliness, and other privations,…help us to be sensitive toward them, to be alert to their sadness or burdens, and to caringly walk with them through the time. And may your goodness and love come through us to lift their hearts and guide them to find their comfort and joy in you; O Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray for the nations of this world, that peace, harmony, justice and prosperity might prevail for the good of all; so that your Word may run swiftly and be glorified and your Church kept safe; O Lord, hear our prayer.

And Lord, we ask that throughout this season, in the words echoing through the songs, the various ways of recalling the coming of your Son, as well as the talk and memories, you might soften the hearts and consciences of many – and especially those whom we know – that they would become more open to the Gospel of the Lord Jesus, and be drawn to your Son in whom alone is “Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.” O Lord, hear our prayer.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

"Simply Christian" by N.T. Wright, a Review

Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes SenseSimply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense by N.T. Wright
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Whether you are simply wondering what Christianity is "all about," or a newbie in the Faith, or have grown tired and weary in the long trek of following Jesus, this book should be in your hands! N.T. Wright displays the beautiful textures of what makes Christianity Christian, and the Faith fresh.

The author tackles most every "big" subject that sets out the parameters of Christianity. Starting out with what Calvin would call the "sensus divinitatis" (the sense of the divine), Wright walks the reader, yard by yard from one end of the playing field to the other. Encompassed in this book are the Christian rites of baptism and the Lord's Supper, the Church and Worship, faith and repentance, the goodness of creation and newness of the new creation, as well as a host of other subjects. And in each major area Wright returns to how these answer the "longing for justice ( . . . ) quest for spirituality ( . . . ) hunger for relationships ( . . . ) and the delight for beauty" (x).

For the theologically perceptive, there are a few divots in the field, though. The author will leave the door wide open in his reading of Genesis 1 and 2 that will make a few flush with frustration. Also he will rework "justification" in a way that will leave them disappointed, and then everything most classic Protestants claim for justification he will subtly tie to baptism. Nevertheless, there will be much to glean from Wright's perceptive re-telling of the Christian story, such that even the most ardent opponent of Wright will find beneficial and uplifting.

"Simply Christian" would make a great read for a coffee table discussion group that introduces people to Christianity. It would similarly be a good place to start for a discipling program in a congregation. I recommend the book.

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