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Sunday, May 17, 2015

"O God, our God, how excellent are your counsels" - 17 May 2015 PM


O God, our God, how excellent are your counsels; and faithful are you in all your actions. We pray for your church throughout the nations that you would lead them in their decisions, direct them in their actions, and prosper them in their ambitions that they are undertaking in line with your will. Please give patient endurance to our brothers and sisters who are being hounded and harmed for the faith; deliver them from the slanderous tongues of their prosecutors and from the smashing hands of their abusers. And may they stand tall and unflinching in the strength and might of Jesus your Son, the faithful martyr.  O Lord, hear our prayer.

We call upon you to be with these churches; Community Christian Church; Crossroads Church; Crown Heights Christian; Draper Park Christian; Edmond Christian; and Forest Hill Christian Church; may they experience your grace in such powerful ways that they might cast off all self-generated certainties and boast only of you; and that they may enjoy your refreshing restoration as they are drawn closer to you through your Son. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Please help this congregation as we seek to be faithful; especially as we gear up for our work in Carnegie. Continue to provide all the monies, mental agility and manpower, and grant that your work will prosper in our hands. Also, be pleased to aid us in promoting your honor and intensify our love for one another. O Lord, hear our prayer.

We remember before you those who need to repent of their sins and embrace your Son in genuine faith…. Have mercy and save them. O Lord, hear our prayer.

O Lord God, prosper our country, which we love so much, but do not prosper that which is evil or unjust. Strengthen all that is good and wholesome, but weaken and defeat what is dark and destructive. O Lord, hear our prayer.

We ask you to lead the nations of the world toward the things that make for real peace, and will allow for the peaceful progress of your Gospel throughout the lands. We continue to ask you to care for those suffering in Nepal, and bless with your compassion and protection the aid efforts going on there. O Lord, hear our prayer.


Finally, give renovated anticipations, refurbished aspirations and restored fitness – body, mind, heart and soul – to those who find they are in extreme distresses or exhausting difficulties…. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

"Teams That Thrive" by Hartwig and Bird. A Review

Teams That Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church LeadershipTeams That Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership by Ryan T. Hartwig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It would be pretty safe to say that most Christian congregations are led or driven by some form of leadership team. Even in churches directed by a lone pastor there is very likely a body of people who in some way, formally or informally, participate in his or her leadership. Further, from my own experiences and conversations with fellow ministers, I think it is pretty normal that a majority of parish parsons would like to see the leadership team (Session, parish council, vestry, board of elders, etc.) become more efficient and effective. Ryan Hartwig, Ph.D., associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Azusa Pacific University, and Warren Bird, Ph.D., director of research and intellectual capital support for Leadership Network, have pulled together a plan to aid church leadership teams in becoming more competent and capable. It’s all found in their new 272 page paperback, “Teams That Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership”. The authors have surveyed, investigated, examined and interviewed members of leadership teams in 253 churches, culled and packaged their findings, and now presented them for the public. Hartwig and Bird maintain that the aim of their book, “is about teams doing the most substantial leadership work for any church – that of making key strategic decisions – together as a team, and thereby shaping the direction and success of the church” (20).

“Teams That Thrive” is a very involved volume, working through the authors’ analysis, filled with “whys and wherefores,” and mildly technical. The fourteen chapters are grouped in five segments, each section building on the previous. Every chapter but the first ends with an “Expert Commentary” written by successful leaders and authors from a variety of backgrounds. And each chapter finishes off with reflection and discussion questions that are ideal for stirring up dialogue in leadership teams.

The first division of “Teams That Thrive” is concerned with quickly debunking leadership fables. But also it is focused on assisting the readers to more clearly evaluate how their church’s teams work. This evaluation challenges with valuable “who” and “how” questions. Hartwig and Bird make a clear, and repeated, distinction between groups and teams, and carefully walk through the various ways a church is led; everything from an organic/informal team, to the inner circle, to partnerships, cheerleaders, first responders and fire department, to thriving. Whatever way your team leads, for better or for worse, it will “shape the culture, direct the mission, establish the vision and model the values of your church” because “as goes the senior leadership team so go most other teams in your church” (33-4).

The second part of the book gives both a biblical reason for team leadership, and ten practical reasons for following this pattern. After surveying the Biblical material, Hartwig and Bird deduce that “the practice of multiple leadership – or teams – existed from the church’s birth” (48). They then turn their attention to numerous down-to-earth reasons for having a plurality of leaders; greater productivity, less stress, extra leadership development, more creativity, better decision making, enhanced accountability, fewer reasons to feel lonely, a larger sense of joy and satisfaction, builds a deeper trust among the congregation, and improves congregational leadership.

Part three of “Teams That Thrive” dives into the eight common reasons that teams fail and introduces the five disciplines that foster thriving teams. The authors see failure riding the rails where everything is a priority for leadership, the team lacks skill, no inspiration, undisciplined exertions, the absence of godly character, confusion about its purpose, heavy dependence on the lead pastor, and most importantly, communication practices that are seriously defective. As Hartwig and Bird describe, “the greatest predictor of leadership team performance was the amount of stress the team members experienced related to dysfunctional communication practices” (78).

Chapter six along with the fourth portion of the book covers the five disciplines that build thriving teams. To begin, teams must focus on purpose.  The authors explain the 5cs of what a good purpose is and how to own it: clear, compelling, challenging, calling-oriented and consistently held (104). Once the purpose of the team is identified and possessed, it then becomes “the invisible leader of exceptional teams” (117). The next discipline is learning to influence differences in team members, specifically getting the right people to make up the right-sized team. Thirdly is the important step of relying on inspiration rather than control and how to get there. At the heart of this discipline is trust, and the best way “to build trust is to first be trustworthy” (156). Then the authors move to the importance of structuring the team’s decision making process. This requires two separate chapters that cover both making decisions while seeking God’s direction, and in the midst of conflict. Finally, “Teams That Thrive” unpacks the systems by which teams can continuously collaborate and build community.

The book wraps up with the last section, explaining six ways to ensure teams are not sabotaged, and how to catalyze your team’s growth. Here Hartwig and Bird quickly cover the five disciplines with a slightly different view in place, and then remind the reader of what they have been hammering on all along, that your “leadership team is the primary determinant of the health, effectiveness and impact of your church” (249).

One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that church revitalization and renewal methods come with assumed views of how to do church. “Teams That Thrive” is no exception. Almost every example of a church with a thriving leadership team is large, multi-staff, and thoroughly “contemporary”. Of course, that’s fine as it stands, but it does create some concern for ministers who, like me, have pastored smaller churches for years. The first is that most churches in America are less than 200 in membership, and therefore don’t likely have the resources, recruits or reverends to build a thriving team in the image Hartwig and Bird are promoting. Does this mean, then, that a smaller church’s leadership isn’t thriving? Which leads to the next issue: holding up bigger churches with their larger quantities of fiscal means and people tools as the model of magnificence all congregations should strive for. Finally, are only churches that are contemporary, rather than conventional or liturgical, able to have thriving teams? Neither author is saying these things. The questions arise from the overabundance of their examples which almost completely lean in one direction: large, multi-staff and thoroughly “contemporary”.

After spending 20 years in the U.S. Air Force as an enlisted man, sitting through numerous military leadership courses, and obtaining an undergraduate degree in human resources management, I can honestly say that much of what Hartwig and Bird describe and depict is familiar to me. There are loads of good things for ministry staff and leadership teams to pick up and take away from “Teams That Thrive.” Though it is involved and mildly technical, it is simple and straightforward. It would be an ideal book for elder boards, and other leadership teams to read, discuss, and take action on. This is a book worth obtaining and digesting.

Much thanks to IVP and IV Praxis for the free copy of “Teams That Thrive” used for this review.


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Sunday, May 10, 2015

"Draw Near to God..." - 10 May 2015 PM


Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal One, who promises that as we draw near to you, you will draw near to us (James 4.8); we pray for your church throughout our country and the nations, that you would hold us up, shielding us from the assaults of the world, the flesh and the devil. Please give patient endurance to our brothers and sisters who are being hounded and harmed for the faith; may they resist the call to compromise, and by their words and life may they continue to give honor to you. O Lord, hear our prayer.

We call upon you to be with Highland Dr. Church of God; Church on the Rock; International Charismatic Victory Church; Liberty Worship Center; and Christ’s Christian Church. May they experience your grace in such powerful ways that they may cast off all self-made assurances, and boast only of you. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Please help this congregation as we seek to be faithful. Guide us in all our ways. Help us to be instrumental in drawing men, women, girls, boys and whole families to Christ and making them disciples of our Lord Jesus. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Holy God, on this day many are rejoicing in the mothers in their lives; but there are some who have dark memories, and others who have deep sadness. We are thankful for the mothers who have given care, comfort, courage and their very selves for the good of their children. For those whose experiences have been dark or violent, heal those memories, and where possible, bring restoration. And those who have deep sadness, lift their hearts and fill them with full-bodied satisfaction as they give themselves to you and your providential care. O Lord, hear our prayer.

We remember before you those who need to repent of their sins and embrace your Son in genuine faith; and those who have once declared their trust in Christ, but have wandered away….bring them to their senses that they may believe the truth and escape the snares of the devil. O Lord, hear our prayer.

 O Lord God, we seriously desire our country to flourish and to walk in liberty and justice for all, both the born and unborn. Please God, may it be so. We ask you to lead the nations of the world toward the things that make for real peace and wholesome prosperity. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Finally, give renewed hope and restored health to those who find they are in dire straits, along with these (esp. Blanchard and Bridge Creek)…. O Lord, hear our prayer. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

"A Reader's Hebrew and Greek Bible". A Review

Reader's Hebrew and Greek Bible-FLReader's Hebrew and Greek Bible-FL by A. Philip Brown II
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"A Reader's Hebrew and Greek Bible" is a user-friendly, reader-friendly volume. It has compiled the older "A Reader's Hebrew Bible" and "A Reader's Greek New Testament" into a single, leather-bound collection. The format is the same, which means that there are almost no textual-critical notes, but instead at the bottom of each page there are lexical entries. For the Hebrew Scriptures the words used less than 100 times are defined, and in the Greek New Testament words used less than 30 times are expressed. There is also a glossary at the end of Greek New Testament and the Hebrew Scriptures for the more frequently used words.

The text is clean and easy on the eyes. The lexical notes at the bottom can be almost visually overpowering at first (definitions upon definitions). But if a reader will patiently practice using the annotations it becomes less confusing, and reading the text becomes more manageable. The size of the bound manuscript is a bit bulky. But it's worth the trade-off (bigger volume, larger print, etc.).

Since receiving my copy this last Christmas, I have enjoyed using my edition daily in morning devotions. I find my copy inviting, and this has helped me to get back into the original languages. This would be a perfect gift for your favorite seminarian, pastor, or Bible scholar. I gladly recommend this edition!


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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

"Blind Spots" by Colin Hansen. A Review

Blind Spots: Becoming a Courageous, Compassionate, and Commissioned ChurchBlind Spots: Becoming a Courageous, Compassionate, and Commissioned Church by Collin Hansen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The social skyline looks to be changing, increasingly showing angry streaks and looming storms ahead, and churches in the United States will be forced to deal with the shifting climate. The best way forward is to band together preparing for the long, blustery days ahead. But how can we pull it together, given the multiplicity of approaches to “doing church” in the wide religious marketplace? Colin Hansen, editorial director of The Gospel Coalition and author of “Young, Restless, and Reformed,” has sketched out an approach in his just-off-the-press 128 page paperback, “Blind Spots: Becoming a Courageous, Compassionate, and Commissioned Church”. This short piece is easy, and quick to read, with the chapters following the three categories in the title.

After an affirming foreword by Tim Keller, the author addresses the “hazardous climate and perpetual outrage” (25) growing in our society, and that we Evangelicals “need a new narrative to understand our debates in the church and engagement with the world” (31). Hansen then explains that American Evangelicalism’s narrative has normally broken out into three separate, distinct story lines; the courageous, the compassionate, and the commissioned; and that going down any of these plot lines breeds a myopic perspective, what he calls “blind spots” (36). The remedy, according to the author, is to see all three together as the “bigger picture,” like a triangle that “represents the heart, the head,” and “the hands of Jesus” (Ibid.). The next three chapters take each side of the triangle, with its relevant blind spots, and looks them over carefully, asking probing questions and challenging self-satisfied assumptions. The final chapter will demonstrate how all three sides of the triangle can, and should work together, even in individual congregations.

“Blind Spots” describes the present Evangelical scene in a very simple fashion. A reader will likely cheer and pump their fist in the air over some of the descriptions and their attendant blind spots, and then shake their heads in disbelief and shout “No! You just don’t understand” when the author addresses their favorite side of the triangle. But Hansen’s searching question asked early on resonates throughout the book as he scrutinizes each side of the triangle, “Can you love a fellow Christian who sins differently than you do” (29)? If you take the time to mull over the author’s accounts and ponder his points, you will likely be answering that question on your knees. Therefore with the voice St. Augustine once said he heard, I add mine; tolle lege, tolle lege.

Many thanks to Crossway for the free copy of the book used for this review.


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Sunday, May 3, 2015

"O God Most High, who delights in showing mercy" - 3 May 2015 AM and PM


3 May 2015 AM

Almighty God, it is an amazing obligation and opportunity you have placed on us, to pray for your World and your Church; assist us with your Spirit’s aid that we may know how we ought to pray.

We look to you for help and comfort for these who are in pain and trouble, who need physical, financial and emotional healing (Those in Nepal; recovering from surgery; clouded with depression;)….raise them from the miry pit, set their feet on the rock, and raise their heads up above the clamor, worry, and fear that they may acknowledge you as their great deliverer.

We call to you for protection, safety and courage for our U.S. Military people, esp. XXXX, as well as for XXXX in Chile. Keep them whole, and safe from danger, and restore them to their families.

We ask for your care, guidance and protection for our country, pleading with you to direct the actions and deliberations of our leaders to love your truth and righteousness, and to know and do your will. Also, for the nations of our world, those that are in serious disarray and turmoil, as well as those that seem to have it all together, we pray you to restrain the evil and promote that which is best and most peaceful for the good of your Church and wellbeing of all.

O our God, we pray for Your Church in all places, and specifically all of the Christian congregations up and down Western Ave here at the edges of Edmond: by your holy Word and Holy Spirit, guide them into all truth, keeping them from all error; take care of all their needs and grant them success in declaring the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 We seek your direction and help for this congregation; add to our number such as are being saved. We also ask you to guide our planning and implementing our work at Carnegie in June, the outreach VBS in July, as well as our involvement in the Good News Festival in August.

Finally, we implore your grace to transform the hearts and minds of those who have never believed in your Son and turned from their sins…..and please restore those who have strayed away from you...

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3 May 2015 PM

O God Most High, who delights in showing mercy and turning your enemies into your very own sons and daughters, we come and pour out our prayers to you.

We pray for your church throughout the nations that you would strengthen that which is holy, good, and right, giving these brothers and sisters you’re kindest care and attention. Please give patient endurance to our brothers and sisters who are being hounded and harmed for the Faith; may they stand strong; and if they must, may they be holy, faithful martyrs to the end. O Lord, hear our prayer.

We call upon you to be with these churches Korean Roman Catholic Church; Sacred Heart; St. Charles Borromeo; St. Eugene; St. James; St. John’s; and St. Jospeph’s:may they experience your grace in such powerful ways that they might cast off all self-made assurances, and boast only of you. Please pour out your lavish enrichment on this congregation, as we seek to be faithful. Help us to be instrumental in drawing men, women, girls, boys and whole families to Christ and making them disciples. O Lord, hear our prayer.

We remember before you those who need to repent of their sins and embrace your Son in genuine faith and repentance…. O Lord, hear our prayer.

O Lord God, we strongly desire our country to flourish with justice and liberty for all, both for the born and unborn, that by your enrichment we may all enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of true, genuine happiness. Be pleased to lead the nations of the world toward the things that make for real peace and wholesome prosperity. O Lord, hear our prayer.


Finally, give renewed hope and restored health to those who find they are in dire straits, along with these… O Lord, hear our prayer.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

"Perichoresis and Personhood" by Charles C. Twombly. A Review


Perichoresis and Personhood: God, Christ, and Salvation in John of Damascus
Charles C. Twombly
Pickwick Publications (imprint of Wipf and Stock)
www.wipfandstock.com
ISBN: 9781620321805; $16; February 2015

4 or 5 Stars

Most Christians in Church or parishioners in the pews have never heard of perichoresis. To them it will likely sound like a bad skin disease. But hopefully most pastors, theologians and Church history buffs are at least mildly familiar with the concept, recognizing that it is an extremely important notion with regard to the inner life of the Trinity. Charles C. Twombly, a historical theologian who has taught in several seminaries and has been published in Crux, Christianity Today and First Things, has pulled together a new addition to the Princeton Theological Monograph Series with his 132 page paperback, "Perichoresis and Personhood: God, Christ, and Salvation in John of Damascus." This densely argued work lays out John of Damascus's idea of perichoresis, and how it works in his teaching on the Trinity, Christology and soteriology. Those subjects make up the three central chapters of the work.

"Perichoresis and Personhood" examines "how a key theological term, perichoresis, functions in the thought of John of Damascus" (1). Yet the study goes deeper into the background bubbling up from the deep pool of Gregory Nazianzus, Athanasius, Leontius of Byzantium, Leontius of Jerusalem, and the councils of Chalcedon and Constantinople. Twombly's thought is that John of Damascus took an already existing term and concept, stretched it and filled it in, so that the term could give "greater clarity to the Trinity, the Incarnation, and salvation" (6).

The main idea is that perichoresis becomes a means by which "identity and difference" are maintained. Whether talking about the Trinity, Christology or God’s saving humans, there is an association that involves a relationship of mutual indwelling, but a mutual indwelling that is without confusion, blending, merging.; a union-without-absorption (42). Perichoresis "in a Trinitarian context refers to what is beyond creation," that is, God’s own inner relationships; but also is used to "express other relationships as well, most especially that of Christ's two natures." It can likewise be used, along with other terms, to express "the relation of humans to God in salvation" and "God's providential presence in the governance of the world" (27).  

Though most readers-in-the-know  would connect perichoresis to the Trinity and Christology, the author emphasizes that John of Damascus applied the concept to human salvation; the salvation of specific people who, through the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist, enter into union with Christ. This participation that holds together identity and difference, equates a person with Christ, without them being swallowed up in his divinity, or their absorbing him in their humanity (102). And this mutual indwelling of God and redeemed humans, this perichoretic relationship, reflects the Trinity’s inner relationship, for what “is true of God and of Christ by nature becomes in an appropriate measure available to humanity by grace” (105).

“Perichoresis and Personhood” will likely interest specialized readers, those interested in and trained in Church history; nevertheless with a little effort interested readers can make it through the book profitably. The technical language is explained and worked out, but a notepad and a pen lying close by will make it easier to track the flow of ideas and concepts and navigate the areas most confusing. Though there are annoying editorial glitches at places in the book, they should not keep this book from being useful to Seminary libraries, theologians, Patristic scholars, Church historians, or pastors. I recommend the book.


My thanks to Pickwick Publications and Wipf and Stock for the free copy of the book used for this review.

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