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Sunday, April 26, 2015

"O God and Father, the giver of all good things" - 26 April 2015 PM

Our God and Father, the giver of all good things, in whom there is no variableness or shadow of turning (James 1.17, we lift up to you our concerns, petitions and supplications.

We pray for those who are encumbered and weighed down with hardships, fears, worries and anguish – whether physical, financial, familial, or vocational; ….Remember them in their need, look upon their distresses, and grant them new resolve, peace, strength, encouragement and guidance, and please raise them up to praise and honor you. O Lord, hear our prayer.

O Heavenly Father, we beseech you to have mercy upon those who are living in mental darkness…Restore them to strength of mind and cheerfulness of spirit, and give them health and peace in your Son Jesus Christ, and through the health-giving work of your Spirit (modified from The Book of Common Prayer-1928). O Lord, hear our prayer.

Guide the nations of the earth, including our country, so that all nations may walk in ways that lead toward tranquility, stability, resiliency, and communal prosperity. We also ask you to hold our State in your hands, guiding our leadership; and grant our industry, education, arts, families, and communities to thrive. O Lord, hear our prayer.

O Lord, we pray for your Church in all places, and we pray for the Catholic Church of St. Andrew; St. Eugene’s; Epiphany of the Lord; Holy Angels; and Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. Look upon your people, that (in the words of Peter) we may not lose our stability by being led away with the error of the wicked, but that we would rather grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; restore and remedy what is warped; and reinforce what is right. O Lord, hear our prayer.

We call upon you for the sake of our enemies; that you would restrain them from harmful habits and spiteful actions, bringing them into your sheepfold washed and made new, and help us to be as gracious toward them as you have been toward us. O Lord, hear our prayer.

We plead for your sovereign grace to grip the hearts and minds of those who dwell in the housing additions around our church building, as well as our families and friends…bring new life where there is only death and sin; bring restoration to those who have wandered away; and reclaim those who have fallen to the deceits of heretics. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Christ Is Risen!

Because Christ Is Risen! Colossians 2.6-15

At the beginning of this month, many churches around the U.S., and the world, were saying something significant – something we should be saying all year long: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! But wait! What if Jesus was only “raised” in the hearts of his followers; if only the memory of Jesus was resuscitated and infused into the life-stories of his disciples; if the resurrection of Jesus is just a spring time myth (a rehashing of the Horace/Isis myth); What If all that remains of Jesus is the “spirit” of Jesus; if by “resurrection” we mean only that the timeless-teachings of Jesus still go on; what if the rising of Jesus is only about some fertile freshness blossoming in our hearts? What if!!!

Because Jesus is risen from the dead:
We Live Different (6-10): Look at all the “walk in him”, “in him” “Rooted…in him” “filled in him” “alive together with him” etc. Because Christ did rise from the dead – body, blood, bones, toenails and hair – and is no longer under the blight of mortality, then something new and restorative and transformative has erupted into time and space and history (see esp. 2.10, “filled [peplaromenoi –crammed full] in him”). We can cast off the determinisms, the fatalisms, the preprogrammed defeatist scripts of victimizations; of our temperaments, prejudices, obsessions, economics, ethnicity, destructive habits. We can live new in our marriages and in our singleness, in our relationships and in solitariness. We can function differently in our business endeavors and in our social activities. We can tackle the depressions, physical debilities, the calamitous and the catastrophic with optimism in God “who raises the dead” (2 Cor. 1.9)!
Christ IS risen! He is risen indeed!

See Ourselves Different (11-15): Because he has risen, we can face ourselves honestly and squarely as rapscallions we are in need of rescue; scallywags in need of saving; scoundrels in need of scouring. And thank God we are no longer justly condemned but graciously liberated (13-14). We now have a new identity-12 (see Baptism….ancient practice of baptism on Easter….renewal of Baptism. Look at Romans 6.8-11!!!!). We are not predestined by mechanistic destinies, genetic proclivities, social predispositions, or imposed identities – Alcoholism, indolence, victimhood or victimizers, violated or violators, anorexia, etc. You have been clothed with the resurrected Christ (Galatians 3.26-27) and so what Jesus is by nature he has made you by grace, therefore the Father says of you what he said of Jesus, “This is my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased!”
Christ IS risen! He is risen indeed!

But if it’s not true that Christ is risen, then none of this is valid; there is nothing new, no way to really break free of the old patterns and old ways. No way to flourish in fresh lives. We’re only left with v.8, the vacuous philosophies and empty deceits of mythical “Positive Mental Attitudes” and self-absorbed human traditions with all of their multi-generational abuse cycles, and biologically mechanical determinisms: the “elemental spirits of the world” (v.8). Then all that is left to us is the empty and barren wasteland of our personal addictions, peccadilloes, and barbaric bullying - and then we die. There is no way to honestly face ourselves, or to confront our deadly destinies. If Jesus has not risen from death, then you and I are shackled to the savage, dead-end existence of dog-eat-doggishness (“dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh,” v.13). You and I are trapped in the snare of our creatureliness to crawl and scratch out your ruthless, red-in-fang-and-talon, might-makes-right barbarism, and then you die!
Christ IS risen! He is risen indeed!

Therefore, I am encouraging you to boldly embrace the fact that Christ died for your trespasses and was raised (not metaphorically, not figuratively, not conceptually, but really raised) for your justification. And so to live and relate and talk in that hope (Romans 6.11 and 23). To see yourself for what you were (and sometimes still struggle with) and what you are becoming because of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection on the 3rd day. // If you embrace Christ resurrected (- and so, crammed full in him!), then you can confess your sins to those whom you have wronged, you can repair those relationships you have mutilated, you can face the dead-ends of life with the sure and certain confidence that death and dead-ended-ness are not the final word. You can lift up your head and look beyond the pain, brokenness, catastrophes, and calamities of your bodies and your world to an unparalleled joy of unending life with God. And in this way, you can clear your head and you can bravely confront the tumultuous chaos and turbulent pandemonium raging sometimes in you and sometimes around you.
Christ IS risen! He is risen indeed!

“…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Romans 10.9-10).

Christ IS risen! He is risen indeed!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

"On this Day of Remembrance" - 19 April 2015 PM

Our God and Father, who has made us your well-loved sons and daughters, we lift up to you our petitions and supplications, appreciating the fact that you know what we have need of before we even ask (Matthew 6.32). O Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray for those who are burdened and encumbered with hardships, fears, brokenness, worries and perplexities….Remember them in their need, grant them courage, peace, strength, and be pleased to raise them up to praise and honor you. O Lord, hear our prayer.

By your great mercy, please keep safe and sound our people who are in foreign lands…and sustain their families. O Lord, hear our prayer.

 Guide the nations of the earth, including the U.S.A., so that all nations may cast off the greed and arrogance that feed unjust wars, oppression and slavery. Please provide economic stability, family harmony, and communal healthiness in this State. And prosper our cities and neighborhoods with hospitality, friendliness, and cooperation that cross racial, social and economic lines. And on this day of remembrance, we thank you for those who risked so much; we pray for those who lost so much; and we implore you to preserve us from those who would seek to destroy so much! O Lord, hear our prayer.

O GOD, who spares when we deserve punishment, and in your wrath remembers mercy; we humbly beseech you, of your goodness, to comfort and assist all prisoners [especially…and those facing death]. Give them a right understanding of themselves, and of your promises; that, trusting wholly in your mercy, they may not place their confidence anywhere but in you. Relieve the distressed, protect the innocent, awaken the guilty; and forasmuch as you alone bring light out of darkness, and good out of evil, grant to them that by the power of your Holy Spirit they may be set free from the chains of sin, and may be brought to newness of life through Jesus Christ our Lord. And to this end, bless and prosper organizations like Kairos Prison Ministry (adapted from the Book of Common Prayer – 1928). O Lord, hear our prayer.

O Lord, we pray for your Church in all places, for this congregation; Christ the King Presbyterian Church-Norman; Bible Missionary Church of Deer Creek; Greater Cleaves Memorial C.M.E. Church; Israel Chapel; Springdale Alliance Church. Provide all that we need that we may flourish and accomplish the priestly work you have given us. Strengthen our homes and families that we may be beacons of hope to our neighbors. Save our enemies from self-destructive habits and actions, and help us to be as forgiving toward them as you have been toward us. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Finally, we plead for your sovereign grace to grip the hearts and minds of many, for the salvation of some and the restoration of others…. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

"The Challenge of Jesus" by N.T. Wright. A Review

The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is

N.T. Wright
InterVarsity Press
PO Box 1400
Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426
ISBN-13: 978-0-8308-3696-3; $12.80; 1999 (Introduction 2015)
Reviewed by Rev. Dr. Michael Philliber

4 of 5 Stars
New Face, Old Friend

For a Presbyterian minister in Oklahoma to review a book by N.T. Wright is similar to a little league short stop trying to give pointers to Cal Ripken or Derek Jeter. It’s comical at the least; and borders on delusions of grandeur at the worst. If there’s anything Wright doesn’t need it’s another book appraisal. After writing over thirty volumes of varying sizes, numerous articles, a New Testament commentary series, plus being consecrated as Bishop of Durham, and now appointed as professor of New Testament at St. Andrews in Scotland, Wright’s name is well known by pastors, seminarians, and lay folk, whether Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Liberal, Moderate or Evangelical. Nevertheless the opportunity has arisen, and taking on something of a fool’s errand, I make bold to assess Wright’s 207 page paperback, “The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is.” Originally published in 1999, it has been repackaged by InterVarsity Press with a new Introduction by the author where he clearly affirms the original content in the book, taking nothing back.

The eight chapters of “The Challenge of Jesus” flow out of various lectures presented in the later part of the 1990s and then were reworked for a larger reading audience. The greatest benefit of the book will be mostly for those who have only heard of Wright but never delved deeply into his writings. This material is a good place to cut one’s teeth, to get a sense of what Wright is up to and where his other books are heading. It’s mildly academic, but easy to read and grasp.

Wright’s stated agenda in “The Challenge of Jesus” is to “go deeper into the meaning” of Jesus, his world, his mission, his vocation “than we have before and to come back to a restatement of the gospel that grounds the things we have believed about Jesus, about the cross, about the resurrection, about the incarnation, more deeply within their original setting” (17). The author correctly recognizes that the Christian Faith is an historical Faith and that if “Christianity is not rooted in things that actually happened in first-century Palestine, we might as well be Buddhists, Marxists, or almost anything else” (18). This, then, is the tenor of the book: to investigate Jesus within the historical texture of first-century Palestine. He examines from within that context what Jesus’ message about the kingdom of God would have meant; the kinds of unsettling connotations his symbolic actions and teaching would have had on his contemporaries; the things the crucifixion indicated to those in his day and how he would have understood his own vocation, which included the cross; and how many first-century Jews understood “resurrection” and what this means about Jesus’ own resurrection. Then in the final two chapters Wright attempts to unpack how all of this pursuit for the historical Jesus applies to late 20th Century Christians, especially in a world increasingly governed by a hermeneutic of suspicion.

Some of the strengths of “The Challenge of Jesus,” at least in my mind, are the historical analyses Wright tackles. Putting the message and mission of Jesus back into its social, ideological and theological context brings out the colors of the gospel accounts in bolder reliefs and shades. Yet the strongest portion of his work is on the resurrection of Christ (something he will spill truck-loads of ink on in “The Resurrection of the Son of God”). This chapter pleasingly portrays how first-century Jews who talked about “resurrection” meant a physical, bodily event, and any other talk that was less than that would have been nonsense. He then walks the reader through 1 Corinthians 15, and the gospel records, making it clear why the bodily resurrection of Christ is important, giving solid evidences for that resurrection, and what the resurrection of Jesus from the dead means; “It was the moment when the creator God fulfilled his ancient promises to Israel, ( . . . ) It involved the transformation of Jesus’ body: it was, that is to say, neither a resuscitation of Jesus’ dead body to the same sort of life nor an abandonment of that body to decomposition. ( . . . ) It involved Jesus’ being seen alive in a very limited early period, ( . . . ) It was the prototype of all God’s people at the end of the last days. ( . . . ) It was thus the ground not only for the future hope of Christians but for their present work” (145).

The weaknesses of “The Challenge of Jesus,” include the final two chapters. Yet if a reader will approach them as an attempt by one scholar to think through the applications of what was covered in the first seven chapters, where he is trying to work out his own maxim, as “Jesus was to Israel, so the church is to be for the world” (183), then that reader will be launched onto their own thinking-application project. Others will likely find Wright’s characterization of Jesus’ divine self-awareness in less than traditional terms a souring weakness. The author sees Jesus’ self-awareness as more relational and vocational, “like the knowledge that I have that I am loved by my family and closest friends; like the knowledge that I have that sunrise over the sea is awesome and beautiful; like the knowledge of the musician not only of what the composer intended but of how precisely to perform the piece in exactly that way – a knowledge most securely possessed, of course, when the performer is also the composer” (121-2). Nevertheless, on this matter, it seems to me that he has not veered off into some heretical enclave, but is still soundly and safely within the property-boundaries of orthodox Christianity.

On the one hand, if someone were unfamiliar with N.T. Wright’s work, then I would encourage them to start with “The Challenge of Jesus” and move over to “Paul: A Fresh Perspective.” Taken together, these two short reads would easily and quickly familiarize one with Wright’s direction. And on the other hand, “The Challenge of Jesus” could definitely be a helpful discussion starter in an Adult Bible class, whether in a college “Introduction to the New Testament” course, or in a congregation’s Christian Education setting. I gladly recommend the book, with the same stipulation I give for C.S. Lewis and other authors: “Read him and profit, and read him with discernment.”

Many thanks to InterVarsity Press for the free copy of this work used for this review.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

"Cast Your Burden on the LORD" - 12 April 2015 PM

Our Father, who has told us to cast our burden on you and has promised that you will sustain us, that you shall never permit the righteous to be shaken (Psalm 55.22); we lift up to you our petitions and supplications through the mediation of your Son, Jesus Christ. O Lord, hear our prayer.

We remember those who find themselves fraught with specific hardships, fears, worries and perplexities….raise them up in new-found hope, comforting, healing, restoring, and defending them where most needed.  O Lord, hear our prayer.

By your great mercy, please keep safe and sound our U.S. Military people and fortify their families, esp. these... Guide the nations of the earth, including the U.S.A., in the ways that foster peace and tranquility that all may prosper and your people may be safe. We pray for this State that you would be pleased to grant us to thrive economically. O Lord, hear our prayer.

O Lord, we pray for Your Church in all places, including this congregation; Jubilee Bible Ministries; New Covenant Bible Church; Northwest Bible; Trinity Bible; Grace Fellowship; Faith Bible; and Northside Bible Church. Strengthen what is true, good, wholesome and right among us, and guide us away from what is harmful and false. O Lord, hear our prayer.

We implore you to change the hearts and dispositions of our enemies that kindness and civility might reign; and grant them new hearts to love you and be drawn into your family thru Christ. Also, we plead for your sovereign grace to grip the hearts and minds of many, to the salvation of some and the restoration of others. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Father, we bring the broken dreams, ruined expectations, and failed hopes of our families, our church, our marriages, our latter years, or our professions before you. We pray that you would heal them; and that may mean you just might need to give us new and better dreams, fresh and sounder expectations, healthier and sturdier hopes. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Mighty God, compassionate and good, whose steadfast love endures forever: lift up your face to favorably behold the works, services, and outreach of this church. Be so engaged in the planning, preparation and performance of our mission trip to Carnegie, our Outreach VBS and our part on the Good News Festival that we may see your work prosper in our hands. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

"Jesus Is Lord, Caesar Is Not" edited by Scot McKnight and Joseph Modica. A Review

Jesus Is Lord, Caesar Is Not: Evaluating Empire in New Testament StudiesJesus Is Lord, Caesar Is Not: Evaluating Empire in New Testament Studies by Scot McKnight
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Scot McKnight and Joseph Modica have pulled together New Testament Scholars to examine a trend flowing through New Testament studies these days: (1) Empire criticism and (2) postcolonial critique. The first chapter surveys Roman imperial ideology and the development of the imperial cult. Nystrom shows that early on, the imperial cult was loose and not as "in-your-face" as has sometimes been presented, because it was often a footnote of the normal religious fabric in the Empire. The following chapters, written respectively by Diehl, Willitts, Pinter, Skinner, Strait, Bird, Cohick, Bevere and Sheets, take on specific New Testament writings showing how empire criticism and postcolonial critique view the Scriptures. They each then show the holes and cracks in these two streams of hermeneutics.

To summarize the end result of these short articles, McKnight and Modica observe in the concluding chapter, "We believe that the New Testament writers do indeed address the concerns highlighted by empire criticism. But we also strongly suggest that this is not their primary modus operandi" (212). That summary statement pretty well encapsulates the thinking of the whole book, and each individual chapter.

Though "Jesus Is Lord, Caesar Is Not" is a fairly technical manual, it is accessible to most any attentive reader. It is a corrective volume that will help to broaden and deepen New Testament studies, without going over the waterfall of empire criticism and postcolonial critique. If you don't have a copy, you ought to pick one up, it'll be worth the cost and the time it takes to read it.

View all my reviews

Sunday, April 5, 2015

"Lord Jesus, Who on the Evening of that First Sunday..." - 5 April 2015 PM

Lord Jesus, who on the evening of that first Sunday of your resurrection appeared to your disciples who had hunkered down behind locked doors out of fear, and said to them “Peace be with you,” showed them your hands and side, and sent them forth (John 20.19-21); meet with us this evening, fill us with your peace, and send us forth. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Mighty God, we remember those who find  themselves struggling with specific hardships, fears, worries and perplexities…Comfort them in their grief; strengthen them in their weakness; deliver them in their distress; and raise them to new hope.  O Lord, hear our prayer.

By Your great mercy, please keep safe and sound our U.S. Military personnel and support their families. Please also safeguard our country, and deliver us from this road to serfdom. Direct the hearts and minds of all the leaders of every nation to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly before you in your ways of truth (Micah 6.8). And we pray for this region of Oklahoma, West Texas and New Mexico that you would be pleased to persist in giving to us the rain we seriously need. O Lord, hear our prayer.

O Lord, we pray for your Church in all places, including Bible Methodist Church; Bible Missionary Church of Deer Creek; Faith Bible Church; Grace Bible Church; and Grace Covenant Church. Help us that by your Spirit and grace we may rouse ourselves to greater and greater faithfulness, that no matter what we may face, we will always walk in your ways. Take care of all our needs, providing for us bountifully from your generosity. Please turn the hearts of our enemies away from hate and maliciousness, and bring them into your fold. And give us daily grace to love our enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return, that we may show ourselves to be sons of the Most High (Luke 6.27-30). O Lord, hear our prayer.

We plead for your sovereign grace to grip the hearts and minds of many, to the salvation of some and the restoration of others…. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Lord God, our redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, who teaches us to profit and leads us in the way we should go (Isaiah 48.17): please – even before we build up a full head of steam – bless, enrich, and cause to thrive our time in Carnegie (all of the preparations, traveling, servicing, teaching, and ministering). Guide us in our own outreach VBS, bringing lots of kids and adults, and preparing their hearts and minds to be very responsive to your Gospel. And may the Good News Festival – and our part in it – be beautiful, full and flourishing that you may be glorified through your Son and by your Spirit. O Lord, hear our prayer.