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Friday, May 25, 2018

"A Sometimes Stumbling Life" by Mike Khandjian. A Review.

A Sometimes Stumbling Life: Making Sense of Our Struggles and God's Grace in the Journey of FaithA Sometimes Stumbling Life: Making Sense of Our Struggles and God's Grace in the Journey of Faith by Mike Khandjian
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Eugene Peterson pictured the Christian life using a phrase from Nietzsche, "The Long Obedience in the Same Direction," which gets a good handle on an important aspect of being a disciple of Jesus. Mike Khandjian, Senior Pastor of Chapelgate Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Baltimore, Maryland, does something similar with the title of his new 212 page paperback, "A Sometimes Stumbling Life: Making Sense of Our Struggles and God's Grace in the Journey of Faith". The title gives out the main thrust of book.

The eleven chapters are packed with stories from Sacred Scripture and real life. They follow a flow from the first steps to the final sojourn, examining and illustrating the often forward stumble of Christians. Each chapter takes up and wobbles it's way through fears, fixations or failures and arrives at a hope-filled conclusion. Every page is packed with encouragement to lift the heart. As an example, "Sin pleads with me to hide in secrecy. The Gospel assures me I don't suffer alone. Sin constantly attempts to convince me I can fix what I have ruined. The Gospel alone leads me, again and again to Jesus, which receives sinners with welcoming Prodigal Son grace. Sin displays what I have lost. The Gospel offers the relentless love of God in Jesus" (68-9). Good news as we stagger and stammer forward!

"A Sometimes Stumbling Life" is a read that will take one to Jesus over and over again. It would make an ideal gift for anyone from graduates to grandparents. The volume can also make a good addition to your church's book table. Grab a copy, and get ready to be encouraged. I highly recommend the book.

Thanks to for the copy of the book used for this review. The sentiments and statements are mine. And this review is freely given without any compulsion or coercion by the publisher or any other party.

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Sunday, May 20, 2018

"Come, Holy Spirit" - 20 May 2018

Creator God who in the beginning made all things of nothing by the power of your word, and all very good; whose Spirit hovered over all that was formless and void to bring forth order and life. We pray for your Spirit to hover over us; and we pray that your Spirit would continue to cause the earth to bring forth fruit bountifully. We pray: Come, Holy Spirit!

Revealing God, who assigned prophets, judges, and Psalmists – like Moses, Deborah, David and Isaiah – to bring forth your decrees, directions and adulations, and clothed them with your Spirit who guided them and testified through them of the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories; cloth us with your Spirit that we may bravely serve you and our neighbors in love and truth. We pray: Come, Holy Spirit!

Holy God who sent your Son Jesus Christ into the world that through him we might have life; and after his death, burial, resurrection and ascension, you sent forth your Holy Spirit by your Son, so that we would not be left as orphans; may we know that our Lord Jesus is with us and we are with you. And we ask this especially on behalf of those facing surgery, chemotherapy, and physical troubles, loss, and shadowy insecurities… We pray: Come, Holy Spirit!

God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who sent the Spirit of Truth to bear witness of Jesus, and by his indwelling presence makes us able to also bear witness of our Lord: pour down your rousing and refreshing goodness on us and your people all over the world – including Ebenezer Baptist Church; Fifth Street Baptist; Friendship Baptist; Garden Addition Baptist; and Siloam Baptist Church. We pray: Come, Holy Spirit!

Sovereign, saving God whose Son sent the paracletos, the helper/counselor, who comes to convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in your Son; concerning righteousness, because he has ascended to your right hand, and we presently see him no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged (John 16.8-11): may the Spirit continue to convict our world – including the USA, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, and Nigeria – concerning sin, righteousness and judgment, that all the world may turn to you and live. We pray: Come, Holy Spirit!

Adopting God, who gave us your Spirit of adoption by whom we can cry out “Abba, Father! May your Spirit bear witness with our spirits that we are your children, no matter what our society shouts at us; no matter what the devil whispers to us; no matter what our defeats and frustrations gossip to us; no matter what our tired and trembling hearts sigh to us! We pray: Come, Holy Spirit!

Sanctifying God, whose will for us is holiness and so you have given us the Holy Spirit; May righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit run deep in us and blossom beautifully forth from us; and so fill us with joy and peace in believing that we may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. We pray: Come, Holy Spirit! 

In Christ’s name we pray: Come, Holy Spirit! Amen.

Friday, May 18, 2018

"The Rhythm of Life" by David Adam. A Review.

Rhythm of LifeRhythm of Life by David Adam
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A nice, handy 136 page paperback guide to prayer. It has a simple "rule" for morning, midday, evening and night prayers for each day of the week. David Adam draws from several sources, some historical and others contemporary, to color the daily rhythm. Though it is geared for communal prayer, it is still usable for those who are alone.

Each day of the week resounds with a specific theme. Sunday is resurrection; Monday reflects on creation; Tuesday is shaped by incarnation; Wednesday is filled with the Holy Spirit; Thursday thinks about community; Friday gazes at the cross; and Saturday recalls the fellowship of the Saints. There are short litanies; Psalm recitations; small Scripture readings; praises; and collects. About ten years ago I obtained copies for everyone living at home and we used it for a year in family worship. And I have picked it up and utilized it in my personal daily devotions. I recently took it up again.

If you're looking for a tool to help keep yo on track with daily prayer, "The Rhythm of Life" will work. It will fit in your purse, slide into your pocket, and unobtrusively sit on your desk. This little prayer book is ideal for anyone who would benefit from a structure or routine to keep them "praying without ceasing". I highly recommend it!

You can obtain a copy here: Rhythm of Life

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Thursday, May 17, 2018

"Scars Across Humanity" by Elaine Storkey. A Review

Scars Across Humanity: Understanding and Overcoming Violence Against WomenScars Across Humanity: Understanding and Overcoming Violence Against Women by Elaine Storkey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Her book will raise your blood pressure and stoke your sense of outrage. But it will also sharpen your perception of what is happening around you, just out of ear shot or out of eye sight. Wife, mother, scholar, author, speaker, journalist, tireless advocate for the marginalized as president of Tearfund and cofounder of Restored: Elaine Storkey compiles a sturdy dossier on violence against women and girls across the world in her 288 page paperback, "Scars Across Humanity: Understanding and Overcoming Violence Against Women". On the one hand it is easily readable no matter your skill level; on the other hand it is hard to read if you have a heart!

"Scars Across Humanity" is a studious report on the ways nations and societies assault and violate their women and girls. Storkey takes whole chapters to meticulously describe the universality of specific forms of violence. After asserting that gender-specific violence is a global pandemic, she then takes eight chapters to work over various manifestations of female-focused coercion. Abortions that target female fetuses and infanticide of girls; genital mutilation; early, enforced marriages; honor killings; domestic abuse; trafficking and prostituting; and sexual violence in war. Each subject gets its own chapter thoroughly researched and rigorously packed.

The author then takes on theories of gender-based violence. She examines sociobiology's and evolutionary psychology's explanations, and exposes their inadequacies. Storkey also gets into Marxist/Socialist forms of feminism, showing where these are unsatisfactory. The author kindly grapples with Islam, pointing out the ways it has been misused to fuel gender-based violence, and registers ways that Islamic feminists are making inroads from within. Finally, she presents a chapter on Christianity and gender which I thoroughly enjoyed, and appreciated.

I found two areas that gave me some concern. To begin, the author seems obsessed with "patriarchy" throughout the book. She lays all of these evils at the feet of patriarchal societies, patriarchal traditions, patriarchal power, patriarchal authority, patriarchal cultures, ad infinitum. But, as far as I could see, it was never defined. There is a load of ideological baggage encumbering that word, but it means different things to different groups. As it stands, the book leaves the reader with a bad taste for "patriarchy" so that if they ever heard it used they would immediately think bad things (in a kind of Pavlovian way). I really did find this unhelpful.

Further, Storkey is a Westerner, as am I, and it hit me that some of her analysis showed a smidgen of Western snobbery. For example, while describing the badness of "early and enforced marriages" for girls, she targets Niger, where "a staggering 75 per cent of all girls marry under 18, and 33 per cent under 15" (50). That statement strikes me as culturally and chronologically condescending. It wasn't that long ago our very own grandparents and great-grandparents married at those ages. No doubt there were social pressures that pushed this, but there was also a shorter lifespan that inspired urgency. Now that Americans and other Westerners live, on average, well into their 70s, we can (and are) postponing marriage to later years. So I checked it out with a simple Google search, and World Bank says the average lifespan in Niger in 2015 (when the UK version of this book was originally published) was 53 and rising (other sources gave slightly different lifespans, but all were 60 and below). Though there may be other social expectations and cultural perceptions at work in Niger, shorter lifespans are surely giving some sense of urgency as well. I'm not sure that earlier marriages are proof positive of gender-abuse.

But neither of these concerns takes away from the value of the book, in my eyes. This is an important read for all. It is eye-opening and heartbreaking. "Scars Across Humanity" needs to be picked up and poured over be men and women, politicians and pastors, academics and medics. I highly recommend the work, which you can purchase here: "Scars Across Humanity".

My thanks to IVP Academic for sending the book used for this review. There were no strings attached. The conclusions and concerns herein are my own, and freely given.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

"The Lost World of the Flood" by Tremper Longman III and John H. Walton. A Review.

The Lost World of the Flood: Mythology, Theology, and the Deluge Debate
Tremper Longman III and John H. Walton
(Contribution by Stephen O. Moshier)
IVP Academic
ISBN: 978-0-8308-5200-0; April 2018; $18.00

The Biblical deluge story is an episode in Scripture that generates plenty of friction. It brings questions to the surface for those who believe it is authentic, and raises the ire of those who are certain it is fictional. Not long ago Tremper Longman III, Distinguished Scholar of Biblical Studies at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, and John H. Walton, professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College and Graduate School, added their contribution with a 192 page softback, “The Lost World of the Flood: Mythology, Theology, and the Deluge Debate”. The volume also includes a chapter on geological data by Stephen O. Moshier, professor of geology and chair of the geology and environmental science department at Wheaton College, and director of the Black Hills Science Station. This volume is the fifth installment to IVP Academic’s “The Lost World” series.
The emphasis within “The Lost World of the Flood” is quickly made clear: the authors hold to the flood account as a genuine space-and-time event that employs worldwide language to communicate a theological message. This is what the authors are denominating as theological history. Actual events that happened in the real past, recounted and interpreted by Bible authors to tell theological truths. But according to Longman and Walton, the use of worldwide language does not necessitate that the flood story was actually global. Rather, the language is hyperbolic, such as when I say to my friend, “Man! You weigh a ton!” Unless my friend is the Hulk, then the excessive language communicates fact without precise accuracy. In other words, the Biblical account utilizes worldwide language to describe a seriously traumatic, but regional flood, to make a theological point.  A large percentage of the chapters simply add detail and color to this main emphasis.
Other chapters pick up further tidbits that either feed into the Deluge story, or come after it. For example, who were the sons of God and the daughters of man? There is also a discussion about the literary placement of the Tower of Babel incident in Genesis 1-11. And then there is an important treatment on the theological flow of the first eleven chapters of Genesis. But the majority of the material is devoted to the Flood itself, the form in which the tale is recounted, and the purpose of the story.
I immediately noticed a change in attitude and approach in this volume. There was a pronounced humility and charitableness toward those who may not agree with the authors’ assessments, something I didn’t find in previous installments in “The Lost World” series. “If the readers deem that information useful and beneficial, we are gratified. But for readers who cannot accept our findings, believing that the Scripture makes claims that require other conclusions, we hope that at least we have shown how our particular interpretation is the result of faithful interpretation” (viii). Further, Longman and Walton took great pains to emphasize that they hold to the Scriptures as God’s Word, which speaks truly, and to which they want to submit themselves and their lives.
Beyond the fact that I disagree with the authors’ premise that the flood was a traumatic, but regional flood, rather than a worldwide deluge, I had one other chief dissent. Several times in the book Longman and Walton declare that God did not inspire the events, only the Biblical interpretations of the events. “Events are not inspired; interpretations of events are inspired” (23), and “Methodologically, we have noted that events are not authoritative; interpretation of events by the biblical authors is what carries authority” (177). This sentiment is unsatisfying and causes some head-scratching. How can you have the one without the other? If the authoritative interpretation by the inspired writer says these events happened at the direction and decree of God, then that seems to me to indicate the event is also inspired. I’m not sure you can affirm one and disavow the other, without creating internal dissonance. Certainly there are incidents in Scripture that are purely descriptive and not prescriptive, and the rehearsal of the event makes it clear. But once the author merges the description of an affair with the diktat of God, as is happening in Genesis 6-9, it seems fairly clear to me that the authoritative interpretation is telling us the two go hand-in-glove; event and interpretation are inspired and authoritative.
“The Lost World of the Flood” was easier for me to read than the other volumes in “The Lost World” series. I found the tone in this book much more tolerant. Most of the material stirred my thinking in a way that I disagreed with the conclusions, but felt I was in a safe place to do that. This volume could be valuably used in a group discussion, or as a supplemental textbook in a seminary class. I cautiously recommend the book.
Thanks to IVP Academic for providing, upon my request, the free copy of the book used for this review. The assessments are mine given without restrictions or requirements (as per Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255).

Monday, May 14, 2018

"Between Barack and a Hard Place" by Tim Wise. A Review

Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of ObamaBetween Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama by Tim Wise
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The book is about ten years old and thus dated on some matters (written in 2009). The book falls out in two chapters, the first on white denial and the second on white responsibility. The story Wise tells is disheartening at many levels. On the one hand, no one escapes Wise's criticism or condemnation, whether white folks or President Obama. No one seems engaged enough, active enough, attempting enough to satisfy Wise's righteous indignation or imperative. The alarmism - going to all the highest and most hurtful examples and indices to the point of nearly expounding a white conspiracy theory - makes Wise's criteria an impossible standard. Even the author's chapter on white responsibility, where he brings out suggestions for remediating the situation is a mixed bag, some useful, others impracticable. On the other hand, the author does expose the numerous ways we delude ourselves, and socially/economically harm others. Overall it was an okay read; but there's got to be a better way to explain the circumstances and map out the resolution than by high-brow, self-righteous remonstrations.

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Sunday, May 13, 2018

Vespers - 13 May 2018

  • (Coming Week): Father, since we recognize our lives, successes, upswings and downswings are in your hands; that though every way of a man is right in his own eyes, yet you, O LORD, weigh the heart (Proverbs 21.2): we pray for this coming week… Smile on us in our day-in-and-day-out routines; guide our conversations with family, neighbors, fellow-workers, employees, fellow-parents, grocery clerks and baggers, doctors and nurses. Direct our plans and proposals we will be mapping out; provide richly for us, and supply us with thankful hearts. O Lord, hear our prayer. 
  •  (Persecuted Church): Sovereign God, mighty in power, deep in love, rich in compassion; you know all of those who suffer in your name, for whom we now pray…: we remember those who are imprisoned for their faith. May they, like Paul and Silas, still sing your praises in their cells and see you do mighty things on their behalf. For those who are being tormented both in body and mind, give them the grace to endure and to see you comforting them in their afflictions that they may be able to comfort others with the comfort you have given them. For those who will be martyred because of their love for you, may they truly know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. For those abandoned and banned because of their loyalty to you, may they know you are walking with them through this and be strengthened to endure. Make us ever mindful of our brothers and sisters around the world; and may we together overcome by the blood of the Lamb, by the word of our testimony, and by not loving our lives so much as to shrink from death. O Lord, hear our prayer. 
  • (Hardships): Almighty God, whose thoughts are not our thoughts and whose ways are not our ways: you never pledged us an easy life; you never guaranteed us unending success; yet we affirm with Proverbs and the Shorter Catechism that as long as it serves for your glory and our own good, there is the promise of long life and prosperity. We pray with, and pray for, those who are facing various hardships….Some are in deep desperation; others find themselves dented and debilitated; several are staggering; and not a few are stumped. O Lord, you who care about these and their predicament, bring them the props and provisions they are in need of. Send them hope and help. And may they all come to rise up and rejoice in you and your name. O Lord, hear our prayer.