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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

"Science, Politics, and Gnosticism" by Eric Voegelin. A Review

Science, Politics, and GnosticismScience, Politics, and Gnosticism by Eric Voegelin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ten years ago I picked up this teeny book as part of my background reading for my doctoral thesis. It was a stretch to read then, but I sensed Voegelin was on to something. Now, ten years later, in the midst of a hot presidential campaign season, with loads of climactic social changes erupting in the country, and racial tensions flaring, I picked it up again and read it with a better appreciation for what the author was communicating. This 102 page paperback is a densely argued, heady work that revolves around two major essays penned by the author in 1959.

"Science, Politics, and Gnosticism" is a work that delves into modern political theory with the author standing in a specific position: one that is open to the divine other while scanning the horizon of modern mass ideological movements. Voegelin is convinced, and seeks to convince the reader, that these modern mass movements are, at the end of the day, Gnostic. The major premise is that these movements are following the trajectory of the lust for power. Since there is a prevailing feeling of alienation from creation because it is a hostile place, and because being is given, therefore these movements seek to take control of being by destroying the givenness of being; “the aim is destruction of the old world and passage to the new” (10). And it is believed that by crafting our brave, new world, the alienation will be, at long last, assuaged.

To reach for this salvation, reality (givenness of being, etc) must be destroyed: “But reality must be destroyed – this is the great concern of gnosis” (26).This destroying of reality is for the purpose of making space to fabricate a second reality so as to gain control of being, to make “being” whatever humankind wants to define it as and construct it into. For this undertaking, Voegelin has a jarring description: “And taking control of being requires that the transcendent origin of being be obliterated: it requires the decapitation of being – the murder of God” (40). The murdering of God then opens existence up to the gnostic re-creation of the order of being (41). The disposing of the transcendent now makes the order of being only immanent – that which is here-and-now is all there is. It is to shift from the uncertain truth of transcendent being to the constructed certain untruth of immanent being; “The nature of the order of being as it is given, together with man’s place in it, is obliterated: the being of world and ego is restricted to the knowledge of the immediate and existent…” (51).

The end result of this gnostic trick of destroying the old world to progress into the new-made eon will only result in greater alienation and frustration, for the “attempt at world destruction will not destroy the world, but will only increase the disorder in society” (10). And the murder of God can only bring about the termination of humankind; “The nature of a thing cannot be changed; whoever tries to “alter” its nature destroys the thing. Man cannot transform himself into superman: the attempt to create a superman is an attempt to murder man. Historically, the murder of God is not followed by the superman, but by the murder of man: the deicide of the gnostic theoreticians is followed by the homicide of the revolutionary practitioners” (47-8).

And there is the rub, “The nature of a thing cannot be changed; whoever tries to “alter” its nature destroys the thing.” As Divine Wisdom declares, “all who hate me love death” (Proverbs 8.36). In this era of renewed and heightened societal re-scripting of the nature of decency, marriage, the common good, Christianity, justice, and whatever else in the name of progress, is – according to Voegelin – a rejection of the givenness of being, a denial of the nature of our embodied existence, etc. The goal of this rejection and denial is to grasp for the reins and redesign reality for the purpose of concocting our own salvation, a social salvation. But in the end it will only intensify the alienation, and bring death.

"Science, Politics, and Gnosticism" is truly a thick read, thick in the sense that there is rich substance between the covers of this short book. It requires a slow reading to fathom what Voegelin is presenting, and the pay-off is that it provides a new way of hearing and discerning the mass movements on the right and the left. I warmly endorse this work!

{Feel free to republish or re-post this review, and please give credit where credit is due. Mike}

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Sunday, July 24, 2016

"Seven Times a Day I Praise You" - 24 July 2016

[This prayer goes along with, and flows out of the sermon for today from Jeremiah 15.16: Critical Crossroads]

From Psalm 119:161-168
Princes persecute me without cause, but my heart stands in awe of your words. There are places in our world, O Lord, where injustice, immorality, illegality and inhumaneness sit enthroned and empowered, violently and viciously crushing people and seeking to harm your chosen ones. Lift up the downtrodden and demoralized, show strength with your arm; scatter the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; and bring down the mighty from their thrones (Luke 1.51-52). We especially ask for you to defend, direct, and deliver your Church in all places, and more pointedly, in Qatar; Romania; Russia; Rwanda, Turkey, and the Republic of South Sudan.

I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil. Eternal God, look upon these United States of America that there may again be great joy at your word, like the joy of those who have found a priceless treasure. Many who are in office claim to be disciples of Jesus, and fellow believers. Especially for them we beg you to shape their desires, direct their actions, protect their families, and build them up to pursue God-defined justice, equity, and the common good for all in this land – the free born, foreign born and unborn.

I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law. Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules. Great God, faithful God, God of truth and fidelity; we implore you to bring honesty and integrity to the forefront of our land, our own relationships, our families, in our jobs, throughout our schools and colleges, into civil office, and out to our international affairs. Rouse your people in this country to reclaim the importance of your word, and to return to committed, prayer-full connection with you, and resilient in pursuing what is right.

Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble. We have loved ones and friends, Father, who seem to be tottering between heaven and hell, perdition and redemption…May they come to the peace your law promotes, the peace that can be found only in your Son, Jesus Christ, and by the fullness of your Spirit, that they may become steady and not stumble.

I hope for your salvation, O LORD, and I do your commandments. My soul keeps your testimonies; I love them exceedingly. I keep your precepts and testimonies, for all my ways are before you. Hear us cry out for those we know who have never known your great salvation: family, friends, neighbors, those kids and parents we interacted with in VBS…. Bring them into your family that they may know they’re forgiven in Jesus Christ, and bear the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and self-control. / And please grant recovery, refreshment, and restoration for those in tight places, difficult spaces, and hard races...; through our great High Priest, Jesus the Son of God, we offer these prayers. Amen.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

"The LORD Loves the Gates of Zion" - 17 July 2016

From Psalm 87
On the holy mount stands the city he founded; the LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob. Glorious things of you are spoken, O city of God. Selah. Sometimes, Lord, we forget that you love the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob; sometimes we think you should cherish our country more than you do your Church; sometimes our constitutional concerns become more important to us than the cares of your kingdom. So, remembering that you love the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob, we still pray for our country as you have bidden us to do: Tensions abound on the right hand and the left. Violence raises its beastly head in brutal and bloody ways. The rhetoric of many simply pours more petrol on the smoldering embers threatening to ignite into a bursting flame. There are places and spaces of injustice in our courts, on our streets, behind closed doors, and out in the open. Therefore, we implore your kindness and goodness to come and smother the seething cinders and to promote fairmindedness, helpfulness and benevolence. Thank you for the many who are working to foster civility and sanity; those in office, those who patrol neighborhoods and streets, and those who influence their communities. / We pray for countries, like France, that have been bloodied by bandits; and for countries that are governed by gangsters. Please give relief, justice and restoration.

Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon; behold, Philistia and Tyre, with Cush— “This one was born there,” they say. And of Zion it shall be said, “This one and that one were born in her”; for the Most High himself will establish her. The LORD records as he registers the peoples, “This one was born there.” Selah. We pray for your Church that meets here, your Church all over the world; and even more pointedly your Church in Oman; Pakistan; Palau; Palestinian Territories; Panama; Papua New Guinea; Paraguay; Peru; Philippines; Poland; and Portugal. Where she is facing hard ways in hard places, grant her help and relief. Where she is impoverished and penurious fill her up with all she needs. In the places where she has compromised with the prevailing philosophies, bring her to hearty repentance. May her numbers increase, her faith flourish, and her hope be rock solid. We pray that for many from “Rahab, Babylon, Philistia, Tyre with Cush” you will register and record, “This one was born there.” May wayward children be restored to the fellowship of Christ’s people….; and may many, many more who have never believed come to faith in Christ and be numbered among the citizens of Zion from every tribe, tongue, skin color and nation… May our Mega Sports VBS be an valuable part of this happening!

Singers and dancers alike say, “All my springs are in you.” Father, as you well know, some find themselves experiencing troubles – health, finances, future, family, recovery from surgeries, physical weakness, mental or emotional struggles, and other areas. We ask you on their behalf, to raise them up; give them hope; show them better times and better days; and may they feel all the way down into their bones that you will never leave them nor forsake them, so that with the singers and dancer they may say, “All my springs are in you!” Through Christ our Lord we pray. Amen.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

"Redemption: A Street Fighter's Path to Peace" by Michael Clarke. A Review

Redemption: A Street Fighter's Path to PeaceRedemption: A Street Fighter's Path to Peace by Clarke Michael
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How does a punky, pugnacious kid with a prison record become a master martial artist, and live to tell about it? Michael Clarke, Kyoshi 8th dan, Okinawan Goju-ryu, and author, recounts his own journey of how this happened in his new, 256 page paperback, “Redemption: A Street Fighter’s Path to Peace.” It’s an adventurous work readable for young teenagers to veteran karateka. The redemption Clarke attained is echoed in his opening words; “An important life lesson my study of karate has taught me is this: you not only have to walk your own path through life, you have to build the path as you go” (xi). Redemption, for the author, was following bushido, taking life in hand with its defeats and disappointments, and getting back up with new resolve and renewed vigor; seven times down, eight times up (211).

Clarke’s autobiography begins in Dublin, moves to the streets of Manchester then to Strangeways Prison and Hindley Closed Borstal, steps into Mr. Vicker’s dojo, travels off to the Island of Jersey, spends valuable time with Higaonna sensei in Okinawa, and lands back in London. The majority of the narrative covers the journey of approximately 15 formative, fist-full years in the author’s life that have shaped the rest of his days. The story is gritty and gutsy, and sometimes green in its youthful naïveté, as the author moves through his hard-won education. Clarke’s tale is also a defense of how and why he moved away from the Japanese style of karate to the Okinawan Goju-ryo, voicing his criticisms along the way.

As with many autobiographies, the author is the hero of his own story. There’s a mixture of humility and hubris as he rehearses his recollections. But in the end, “Redemption” gives insight, not only into the author’s personal narrative, but the earlier history of karate in the West, and the differences in some of the martial art styles. If you’re looking for an eyewitness reminiscence of what karate looked like in the West during the 1970s and 1980s, as well as a personal journey through martial arts, this is the read for you. And if you’re wondering how the martial arts might be helpful for a troubled younger person, then “Redemption” should be one place to begin.

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

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Friday, July 15, 2016

A Letter on Denominations

(Today, a woman wrote me a letter telling me that denominations were wrong, and that "there are no denominations in God's word." The following is my reply that I sent back to her):

15 July 2016

Dear Gxxxxxx,

Thank you so much for your brief note on the dangers of denominations. I agree that denominations are, in many ways, highly problematic for Christ’s Church. And you have zeroed in on the main difficulty: “Denominations are made by men, not by God.”
Many years ago I was a minister, an evangelist, in a group that claimed denominations were a sin. I preached it, taught it, proclaimed it for over 5 years. And then one day the lights slowly came on for me. That group I was in, known as the Churches of Christ, was divided and segmented into 20 to 30 different enclaves, and each assembly had no fellowship with almost any of the other Churches of Christ in their own town or city – even though they all claimed to be Churches of Christ. Each group was right, and every other Church of Christ that didn’t agree with them was doomed. There were those who said you shouldn’t have Sunday Schools. Others said you couldn’t use church monies to support orphanages. Some demanded that churches must use one cup in communion. And the list went on and on, with each faction declaring that they were the only ones who were correct, and if you didn’t abide by their regulations you would be going to hell! That’s when I realized that denominationalism existed even in our anti-denominational sect.
I wished that denominations didn’t exist, and I long for the day when all of Christ’s people will finally gather around him, united and loving each other as he has loved us. But until that day comes denominations, group-affiliations, and federations will probably always exist. The crucial task for us in this disappointing environment is for all of Christ’s people to love and care about one another in spite of the differences. And to that end I am working. I meet with and fellowship with ministers from other denominations once a month, and pray for each of them and their families every day. My Presbyterian congregation works with a Methodist congregation in Southwestern Oklahoma as together we seek to reach the Kiowa and Apaches there. I encourage my congregation to serve with other believers from other denominations at a food bank (Project 66), at the Hope Center of Edmond, and other places. I send my sons to a private school that is owned and run by a congregation that belongs to a completely different denomination. And there are other examples I could give.
This, I perceive, is the way forward; the path we can take in our broken world to fulfill our Lord’s charge, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). And so, if you are not already doing this, I would encourage you to reach across denominational boundaries in ways that show you love Christ’s other people.
Sincerely yours,

Pastor Michael W. Philliber
Heritage Presbyterian Church
Edmond, OK

Thursday, July 14, 2016

"In Praise of Plodders" By Warren W. Wiersbe. A Review

In Praise of PloddersIn Praise of Plodders by Warren W. Wiersbe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I first entered Christian ministry I had a truck-load of ideas and assumptions. With a head full of Seminary, a heart filled with steam, and hands fidgeting for success I dove in only to smack my noggin on rocks and ridges just under the water line. Thankfully I had a friend who had been pastoring for several years pull up beside me and begin to help me clear my thoughts and clarify my “oughts.” Warren W. Wiersbe, a Bible teacher, accomplished author, conference speaker, and pastor who has ministered in churches and conferences in Canada, Central and South America, Europe, and the United States, put together a 144 page paperback, “In Praise of Plodders” that feels like having a seasoned, experienced pastoral friend come along side fellow ministers to give sage advice.

This short, sweet and simple book is perfect for hard-working preachers. The thirty three chapters range from two to five pages covering a wide range of subjects, such as preaching, praying, discouragement, counseling, unction, and time. It is chock full of humor, compassion, suggestive counsel, Biblical substance, and encouragement. It’s aim is not only to freshen disheartened pastors, but to re-orient them to their primary mission; “The important thing is that we seek God’s power not for the purpose of ministerial success, but for the purpose of glorifying Jesus Christ and building His church” (82).

“In Praise of Plodders” would be an ideal gift for ministerial trainees, new pastors, mid-ministry preachers, and even older shepherds. I have personally read this book four times since I was ordained and have recommended it to other ministers when their horizons were bleak and bleary. Therefore, it is without hesitation that I commend this book to you.

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Saturday, July 9, 2016

"Transgression Speaks to the Wicked Deep in his Heart" - 10 July 2016

[This will be the congregational/pastoral prayer at Heritage Presbyterian Church this Sunday. You will notice the occasional ellipsis  "..." in various places in the prayer. These are moments of silence in the prayer for our people to silently mention names, and at times I will specifically mention people we are praying for. If you find this prayer useful, feel free to employ it in your church, Bible study, or personal use. Mike]

From Psalm 36
Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes. For he flatters himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated. The words of his mouth are trouble and deceit; he has ceased to act wisely and do good. He plots trouble while on his bed; he sets himself in a way that is not good; he does not reject evil. Our hearts, O God, grieve for those who have never repented of their sins, believed in Christ and avowed him as Lord….save them, work mightily penetrating their resistance and draw them into your family. / But we also pray for those whose words are trouble and deceit, who plot trouble on their beds, who set themselves in a way that is not good and don’t reject evil: Terrorists, snipers, guerrillas, and the KKK; thuggish leaders of nations and blood-spattered rebels; thieves, molesters, muggers, and the high-society promotors of death. Restrain and vanquish their bloodlust, and bring order and honor to fill the void.

Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O LORD. Stand up, O God, be present now with your church gathered here, world over, and especially in Namibia; Nauru; Nepal; Netherlands; Netherlands Antilles; New Zealand; Nicaragua; Niger; Nigeria; North Korea; and Norway. Protect her from persecutors and pursuers. Fill her with resilient strength to be faithful and firm in her witness of your Son, Jesus Christ. Bring your Spirit of Truth to guide her into all truth, and to turn her away from syncretism with, and surrender to, the pressures of godlessness and materialism.

How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light. We have feasted on the abundance of your house, and have drunk from the river of your delights; for you are our fountain of life, and in your light we see light. May we be a vital and valid channel through which your Gospel and good will way may go forth into Edmond, Oklahoma City, Putnam City, Warr Acres, Nichols Hills, Bethany, Luther, Jones, Yukon, Arcadia, and Carnegie. Shower your goodness on our Mega Sports VBS, Sunday School, Care Groups, Needlework Guild, our folks in New Mexico and Belgium, those who serve at Project 66, the Hope Center, Infant Crisis Pregnancy Center, Henderson Hills Baptist Church mercy ministries, and so forth.

Oh, continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your righteousness to the upright of heart! Let not the foot of arrogance come upon me, nor the hand of the wicked drive me away. There the evildoers lie fallen; they are thrust down, unable to rise. Continue your steadfast love for those burdened by bleakness… loaded with lament…. fraught with fear…. encumbered with illness. Be with the families who, this past week, have lost loved ones through violence, in Dallas, Minnesota, and Baton Rouge. Bring about what is just and right, but also give healing and hope. The spirit of anger, anxiety, apprehension and aggression that seems to be wafting over our land – save us from it! Cause to blow in a fresh social mindset and outlook that will foster charity and cooperation. Lord, have mercy on us; Christ, have mercy on us; Lord, have mercy on us; and give us your peace!