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Sunday, October 14, 2018

Vespers - 14 October 2018

(The Oppressed): O LORD, a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you (Psalm 9.9-10); hear the cries of those being oppressed by abusive spouses, violent and violating adults, and neglectful caregivers…Hear their cries, come to their aid, and give them a way out of the oppressiveness. And, O rescuing, compassionate God, give us ears to hear their cries, the courage aid them, the wisdom to know how to get them to safe places, and protection in the process. O Lord, hear our prayer. 

(Marital Difficulties): From the very beginning you said that it is not good for a man to be alone, and gave him a helper comparable to him that together they might fulfil their God-given task of fruitful multiplication, filling the earth, subduing it, and having dominion over the earth as your priestly, regal representatives; but things went quickly sour, with marital disharmony and conflict being one of the results. We implore you to take notice of those couples who are experiencing conflicts and clashes, discord and disputes…May your Gospel, your Spirit, and your church surround them and fill them with hope, guide them toward repentance, reconciliation, and resolution, and walk them into better days ahead.  O Lord, hear our prayer. 

 (Raising Children): First, we thank you for our children, grown and growing up. And thank you, O God, that you delight to call us – who are often disorderly and disobedient – you delight to call us your children, and to be called our Father. We ask you to be with those who have children at home – at whatever age – and give them discernment to know how to raise them well. May the children of our church and families flourish in godliness, faith, hope and love as they grow into adults. May their parents have the mental, emotional and physical energy they need. O Lord, hear our prayer.

(Generalities): Finally, Father, we have other people or other situations on our hearts. In this silence listen to our concerns and longings, answer our prayers, and show us your consideration and kindness …. O Lord, hear our prayer.

"O Lord, Who Knows the Thoughts and Intentions of Our Hearts" - 14 October 2018

O Lord, who knows the thoughts and intentions of our hearts, we pray for the besieged and beleaguered peoples in our world, suffering from floods, droughts, tsunamis, hurricanes, unemployment, military threats, fears and pestilence. Please establish peace, justice, recovery and efficient economies in all lands, for the good of all, so that the Gospel of Jesus may spread unchecked, and that your Church may dwell securely in peace and quietness.

Guide our own leaders in this country to throw off selfish programs, cut-throat tactics, and dastardly devices; and to put on what is truly legitimate and will promote evenhanded integrity.

Give ear to our concerns as we pray for those who are in unbelief and for those who have disserted the Christian Faith….may they turn around and believe in your Son Jesus Christ, and have everlasting life.

We pray for our enemies that you would lead them and us from prejudice to truth; and deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty and revenge to faith, hope and love; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you through Jesus Christ your Son.

For your Church in all places, this congregation, Shields Blvd Baptist Church, Soldier Creek Baptist, Solomon Temple Baptist, and Sooner Baptist Church. Our desire is to see all who claim to be your people, to be holy, whole and health-giving in Jesus Christ. Therefore those who have stumbled into errors that dishonor you and create schism, restore them to your way of truth; those who have allowed their desires and ambitions to squeeze out brotherly love and create fights and wars, reinstate them in the cross-shaped ways of Christ; those who are towing the line and promoting decent doctrine and genuine godliness, encourage them by giving grace to the humble as you withstand the proud; and those who are standing firm against the pressures and persecutions of the world, strengthen them that in life and in death they may remain faithful witnesses.

Look upon the many seminaries in our land, those institutions that educate and form leaders for your church, especially the various campuses of Reformed Theological Seminary, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and Covenant Seminary. May these seminaries have the instructors, administrators and money they need to function well. May each campus be an environment of thoughtfulness, decorum and genuine godliness.

LORD, since your eye is on those who fear you, on those who hope in you steadfast love, that you may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine (Psalm 33.18-19), we intercede on behalf of those with cancer, MS, diabetes, Crohn’s, dementia, and other ailments…lift their hearts, grow them in the Christian virtue of defiant hope – a godly defiance against hopelessness and hollow despair, and do bring them lasting relief.

Thank you for inviting us to pour out our prayers, and promising that as we pray in Jesus’ name you hear us and will answer us. Amen.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

"Faith in the Shadows" by Austin Fischer. A Review

Faith in the Shadows: Finding Christ in the Midst of DoubtFaith in the Shadows: Finding Christ in the Midst of Doubt by Austin Fischer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've said it before, and it's worth saying again. I'm pretty certain I'm right...but there's always that niggling little question mark in the back of my heart and head. I've been seriously wrong before, and I just could be wrong about some things now. Austin Fischer, lead pastor at Vista Community Church in Temple Texas, brings his doubts and question marks to the fore in his recently published 183 page paperback, "Faith in the Shadows: Finding Christ in the Midst of Doubt". Mildly irreverent at times, forcefully honest, leaning toward Eastern Orthodoxy while remaining securely Protestant, the author challenges the "certainties" of Fundamentalism and fundamentalist Evangelicalism. Primarily, it is a book that seeks to give voice to the misgivings Christians can have, and to soften some of the sharp, jagged edges of rock-hard answers.

Fischer tackles evil, the silence of God, Fundamentalism, evolution and the place of Genesis 1-3, God's existence and apologetics, and hell. In many ways its a wonderfully useful read because the author is not only skeptical, but skeptical of his own skepticism. Fischer moves through all of these subjects toward his main concept: certainty is an enlightenment, rationalist notion; and Fundamentalism swallowed that pill long ago and has been infected since. Therefore faith "is not the absence of doubt. Faith is the presence of love" (146).

"Faith in the Shadows" has many bright points. I enjoyed the way Fischer dealt with Job, doubt, and evil. Another bright spot that I wasn't prepared for was as the author recounts the reasons he now embraces evolution as okay with Scripture. Here he throws himself his own curve ball that he just can't hit: "Simply put, evolution is a brutal, vicious, wasteful, and cruel process. It involves the creation of life through monstrous violence over immense ages of time. It is difficult to believe that God who would use evolution it bring about humanity could be the same God who took on flesh in Christ to redeem humanity" (109). Exactly so! I have said it all along! And here is someone who has come to accept theistic evolution, and sees one of the major problems with theistic evolution.

"Faith in the Shadows" is a decently written dossier on one pastor's loss of Fundamentalist certainty, and his willingness to walk forward following Christ, while being willing to voice his own doubts and queries. Though there are conclusions the author makes that I simply can't swallow, nevertheless he has drawn forth a beneficial perspective: faith requires humility, not hamfisted certainty. "Christianity promises more than we can hope for without giving up control" (160). In light of some of my concerns already mentioned, I can still give my prudent recommendation.

I am truly thankful to IVP for sending me a copy of the book at my request. They made no demands, and they issued no diktats. Ergo, I am free to give my own review as I see fit, which I have done here.

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"The Accidental Superpower" by Peter Zeihan. A Review

The Accidental Superpower: The Next Generation of American Preeminence and the Coming Global Disorder
Peter Zeihan
A division of Hachette Publishing Group
1290 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10104
ISBN: 9781455583669; $28.00; November 2014
5 Stars of 5

Bundled together in fifteen dense chapters and an epilogue is a confluence of geography, demographics, history, economics and geopolitics. But more than dry, dusty facts and figures is an education! This is one of the reasons we were supposed to stay awake and pay attention while taking those classes in secondary school and college! Oh, now I get it! And so Peter Zeihan, a geopolitical strategist who has worked for the US State Department in Australia, the DC think tank community, helped develop the analytical models for Stratfor, and started his own firm – Zeihan on Geopolitics – has handed off to readers a thoughtful learning-experience in his 384 page hardback, “The Accidental Superpower: The Next Generation of American Preeminence and the Coming Global Disorder”.  This tome exhibits why we were forced to sit through those classes and expected to grasp their content: all together they all matter! Therefore this is not a book of “recommendations on what” the author thinks “should happen” but “predictions about what will happen” (v).

Since there are hundreds of reviews of the book already splattered across the internet, I’ll simply focus on its main emphasis, and why this book is important. Zeihan starts out with his major thesis – geography counts, therefore the “trick is to begin with geography and see where it takes you; don’t start with a theory and use geography to justify it” (Ibid.). That means that geopolitics is a significant tool, since it is a “study of how place matters” (8). Thus, as the author works his way through the seven continents and their history, he builds a case for why America became an accidental superpower, and will remain one for many years to come.

Zeihan also shows the ways in which America made a safer world through its World War Two era Bretton Woods guarantees that were “firmly rooted in the United States’ unique strengths: a singular combination of geography, industry, and technological development that constituted the primary source of American power” (5). Because of Bretton Woods, America relieved many nations from the need to pour monies and manpower into building huge defenses and navies to secure their territories and transports or invade other nations to secure necessities. And so for the past 70 years there has been a world-wide historical vacation for most of the planet. But those days are coming to an end, according to the author, and the result will be traumatic for many nations. Not only will there be an end to the international free trade order, but most countries’ demographics (aging populations with less and less younger people to prop up their industrial and economic apparatuses) will fight against them as well. The crucial years will be 2015 through 2030. Yet America will still remain the dominant power for the numerous reasons charted out in the book.

What I enjoyed about the book was that it was not a chicken-little-the-sky-is-falling dystopian work. Rather, pursuing outcomes based on the confluence of geography, demographics, history, economics and geopolitics takes away the ideological and emotional edge. Further, it was an education in all of those subjects, and their significance in discerning what is happening now and what are the trends for the future. I found it interesting that the book was written in 2014, and some of the foreseeable events Zeihan mentioned (Ukraine and Russia, Syria, Greece, and so forth, just to name a few) have now begun to play out in 2018.

“The Accidental Superpower” is worth the time to read and think through. It will give the reader a bigger frame of reference for viewing what is presently happening on the global scene and why. I think this book is a keeper, and will be one referred back to over the next few decades. You may not agree with all of the author’s analysis, but in the end, you will find it helpful and instructive. This volume should be read by anyone who wants a glimpse into what will likely be coming (and is already starting to come). It also needs to find its way into High School and College classes, if for no other reason than as an illustration of the significance of geography, economics, history, demographics and geopolitics, and how those disciplines can team up and work together. I highly recommend this book! And now I am ready to jump into his second volume, “The Absent Superpower”. I can’t wait!

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

To purchase the book, start here: The Accidental Superpower

Friday, October 12, 2018

"Personal Counseling Journal" by Witt and Savage. A Review

Personal Counseling JournalPersonal Counseling Journal by Rush Witt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Honestly, it's unfair to say I "read" this "Personal Counseling Journal." Instead, the 104 page paperback is a methodical series of blank, lined pages broken down into twelve counseling sessions with loads of room for counselees to jot down notes and observations from counseling sessions and homework. The top of the first page gives space to write down the date and location. Then at the bottom of the second page is room to scribble out the "Growth Assignments" for the specific session, along with aids for Scripture memorization. The next four ruled pages are intended for the person to inscribe observations, reflections, and thoughts about the "Growth Assignments and Additional Notes." There's a workbook section of several pages with two columns. One column prompts with "Put Off: Ungodly thoughts, words, and actions" and the other cues with "Put On: Godly thoughts, words, and actions." Finally, there is a "Topical Scripture Index" to aid both the counselor and counselee, that covers subjects ranging from anger to worry and worthless feelings. It's a very straightforward resource meant to be an easy-to-use aid.

Rush Witt, lead pastor of Paramount Church in Bexley, Ohio, and Greg Savage, associate pastor of Reynoldsburg Baptist Church in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, have give counselees and counselors a very usable tool to help in the counseling and disciple-making process. If you're looking to "work smarter, not harder" this may well be the thing for you and those you're desiring to help. I happily recommend it.

You can pick it up here: P & R Publishing

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Monday, October 8, 2018

"Praying the Bible" by Donald S. Whitney. A Review

Praying the BiblePraying the Bible by Donald S. Whitney
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Donald S. Whitney, professor of biblical spirituality and associate dean at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and accomplished author on the subject of the spiritual disciplines, has handed off to Christians a wonderfully simple approach to prayer. This 106 page hardback, "Praying the Bible" puts in readers hands and hearts an uncomplicated, usable way to turn boring old prayers about the same boring old things filled with boring old phrases into fresh and fleet seasons of prayer.

Whitney lays out a straightforward method for prayer: "when you pray, pray through a passage of Scripture, particularly a psalm" (27). It's that plain! "By this means his words become the wings of your prayers" (32). And the benefit of this approach is that "the Spirit of God will use the Word of God to help the people of God pray increasingly according to the will of God" (37).

One of the beauties of "Praying the Bible" is that the author walks the reader through several examples of how this is done. He uses 1 Thessalonians 2, John 5, Psalm 23 and others. He methodically, but not laboriously, steps through sample verses showing how it's done. And the main resource the author returns to in the Bible are the psalms. He makes a clear case for the psalms being the main place to go to draw out our prayers; "God gave the psalms to us so that we would give the psalms back to God" (46). There's even a pleasant "Psalms of the Day" chart in the appendix to aid a praying Christian in regularly using using the psalms.

The only place I wish Whitney had been stronger was how he addressed the imprecatory psalms. He side-steps their value and use in Christian prayer, by making them primarily about my sin, or Christ's final return when he will destroy every rule and every authority and power, with the last enemy to be destroyed being death (1 Corinthians 15.24-26). Though I agree with him that the imprecatory psalms should never be used with regard to personal foes, there are times to pray them with regard to those who oppress God's people, who foist murderous injustice on the innocent, or who traffick in human souls.

If you're in a dry and weary place where there is no water; panting like a deer for the water brooks; wondering how you can better seek the face of God, then this little handbook is just the thing. Pastors, Bible teachers, seminary students, moms, dads, sons and daughters all need it! I highly recommend the book.

You can pick up the book here: Crossway

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Saturday, October 6, 2018

"The Daybreakers" by Louis L'Amour. A Review

The DaybreakersThe Daybreakers by Louis L'Amour
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My oldest son loaned me a copy of "The Daybreakers," after we watched the 1979 movie "The Sacketts" with Sam Elliott, Tom Sellek, Jeff Osterhage, and Glenn Ford, which is based on the book. "The Daybrakers", first published in 1960 and reissued in 2000, is vintage L'Amour storytelling that follows two of the Sackett boys, Tyrel and Orrin, out of the Tennessee mountains to Mora, New Mexico. It accompanies them down cattle trails, through shoot-outs, into gold-mining, and on to lawyering and Law Enforcement. The novel recounts a deep and painful friendship spawned in the dust of a cattle trail that partially dies in the dust of a town street. It teases out the growing love between the two boys and their sweethearts, and love gone bad. The tale also exhibits loss of blood, family and friendship ties as thick as blood, and bad blood. "The Daybreakers" is inviting and enjoyable, enticing the reader to keep turning pages. If you're looking for a good story, and yearning for a decent western, it's all right here. I highly recommend the book.

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