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Sunday, July 22, 2018

"O God, Who Has Promised Us..." - 22 July 2018


O God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, who has promised us that we have nothing to fear for you are with us, we have no reason to be dismayed for you are our God, who strengthens us, who helps us, who upholds us with your righteous right hand (Isaiah 41.10): we pray for your Church throughout the nations, along with Grace Covenant Church, Grace Fellowship, Grace Place Baptist Church, Grace Pointe Baptist, and Graceway Baptist Church. Look upon our necessities and grant all good things essential for us to do the functions you have called us to. Build us up in the most holy faith, that we may be able to stand strong against all the wiles of the devil.

Look on this congregation with your favor and support. In the words of your servant, Micah, help us – in all of our affairs, actions and ambitions – to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly before you (Micah 6.8). Thank you for the occasions and opportunities you provided us last week, especially with our Vacation Bible School. We have pointed the kids and their guardians to Jesus, to his work and way. Now, be pleased to send your Spirit into the hearts and minds of all of them, stir them up, turn them toward Jesus Christ freely offered to all in the Gospel.

We pray for those unstable people who twist the writings of Paul and the rest of Scripture to their own destruction (2 Peter 3.16): bring those systems, schemes and stratagems to no effect; and may they come to renounce their heretical ways and be brought to the Truth. And we call out to you for people in our lives who need to call on the name of the Lord; folks who have fallen away; and  others we know whose faith and trust has been badly battered…. Draw them close in your kind embrace, that they would turn away from iniquity and find their utmost pleasure in you.

Holy God, guide and direct the leaders of this country to promote and practice genuine justice while protecting our legitimate liberties. On the local, State and National level, shake out those who are Machiavellian and mercenary, and fill their roles with those who will work for economic robustness, but also ethical results. And for the residents and citizens of this land, that we would be good stewards of our national virtues, freedoms and resources.

Hear us, O Lord, as we plead with you for the nations of this often splintered and spiteful world, including Sint Maarten, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Solomon Islands. Please defend your Church in all places; point the leaders of each nation in the right direction; and provide all that is needed for the peoples to dwell healthily and happily on earth.

We pray for those who use terror, trauma, bloodshed or banditry to gain power and coerce the weak – whether in their families, communities or territories: may the wheels of their machinations become bogged down and clogged up until they become impotent and their wheels pop off; and may their hearts be turned by your gracious love found in Christ. 

We intercede for those with poor health, scant monies, family friction, anxious fears and fearful anxieties…May they be aided in their privations, assisted in their improvements, and abetted in their progresses. We present to you these our petitions through your resurrected and reigning Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Friday, July 20, 2018

"Disruptive Witness" by Alan Noble. A Review



Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age
Alan Noble
IVP Academic
InterVarsity Press
PO Box 1400
Downers Grove, IL 60515
ISBN: 978-0-8308-4483-8; $16.00; July 2018

There’s that creepy, uneasy sense that things are just not right. You face it with the growing social media superficiality, flaming tweets and posts, fashionable causes, mounting “offendedness” or “triggeredness,” constant remaking of personal identities, and the perpetually prevalent shrug of the shoulders with the roll of the eyes and a “whatever”. Alan Noble, assistant professor of English at Oklahoma Baptist University, cofounder and editor in chief of Christ and Pop Culture, and contributing author to The Atlantic, Vox, BuzzFeed, The Gospel Coalition, Christianity Today, and First Things, addresses these trends, and more, in his brand new 208 page work, “Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age”. Noble talks to twenty-first century Christians in a way that is meant to bring us to think differently about our present environment and see it more clearly; as well as question our thoughtful, and not so thoughtful, assumptions.

“Disruptive Witness” follows a simple line of consideration, drawn from Charles Taylor, and posits that we “are buffered selves, protected behind a barrier of individual choice, rationalism, and a disenchanted world” (37).  Noble pursues this course page after page, exposing how we create this buffered space by our personal distractedness, by our secular society’s habit of turning “everything back to the self” (55), and by our churches capitulating “to secular conceptions of faith as a personal lifestyle preference” (120). As a result, we now live in a frenetic and flattened culture that “is not conducive to wrestling with thick ideas, ideas with depth, complexity, and personal implications.” Rather, we now have a “culture of immediacy, simple emotions, snap judgments, optics, and identity formation” (24). All of these aspects set up a buffer so that the ways we Christians are used to speaking about the Faith, are no longer heard.

Noble does not focus on diagnosing the problem alone, but presents solutions. “To be a follower of Christ in the early twenty-first century requires a way of being in the world that resists being sucked into the numbing glare of undifferentiated preferences we chose from to define our identity” (172). The author offers multiple suggestions and encouragements on how we can be disruptive witnesses. For example “saying grace” at meals, whether at home or in public establishments, is a way of reminding ourselves that this world is not of our own making, and this Christian Faith is not some privatized penchant. But even more substantively, learning to live “allusively” – recognizing that creation, taste, sound, sight, relationships, and so forth, allude to something beyond themselves, beyond The Self, and ultimately to the Author and Creator of all things. Noble calls this the “double movement” where we delight in the beauty of a moment, creature, object, and then to be drawn “onward and upward to God” (98). There are other significant submissions by the author that include the Sabbath, the church’s liturgy, and more, all of which are very helpful, and well thought out aspects of how we can be rightly disrupted and disruptive witnesses.

I think that the author’s perceptions and prescriptions are worthwhile and helpful. In Noble’s own words, the “challenge facing us today is not so much the temptation to be relevant to the point that we lose the gospel, but the tendency to unknowingly accept a secular understanding of our faith while believing that we are boldly declaring the gospel. Virtually every institution in our society insists that we determine the shape of our lives by personally selecting from an ever-increasing set of patchwork ideologies…But the church does have the resources and practices needed to present a disruptive witness, if we will take the time and have the will to act” (173).

“Disruptive Witness” is a sober volume for Christians in the twenty-first century. A careful read and open discussion will benefit evangelists, apologists, pastors, elders, and Christians of every stripe. It is a book that is urgently needed by those followers of Christ who are deeply concerned about social issues, racial and ethnic tensions, environmental affairs, and governmental actions; and those who aren’t. “Disruptive Witness” ought to be consumed and deliberated over by disciples of Jesus who vote Republican, Democrat, Green or Libertarian. In other words, it is an important book for all Christians, especially those who care about the Faith and God’s world rescue operation!

If you're ready to purchase a copy, you can go here: Disruptive Witness

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).

Sunday, July 15, 2018

"Father Almighty" - 15 July 2018



O God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, who has promised that you will never leave us nor forsake us, so that we may boldly say, The LORD is my helper, I will not fear, what can man do to me (Hebrews 13.5-6) we pray for your Church throughout the nations, including Followers of Christ Baptist Church; 40th Street Baptist; Glorieta Baptist and Grace Community church. Look upon our needs and provide all of the good things necessary for us to do the work you have called us to do. Stir up the glowing embers of our hearts, stoking the fires of joy, love and holiness in us that we may be encouraged to remain faithful to you and consistent in their lives.

Look on this congregation with your favor. In the words of your servant, Paul, help us to increase more and more, aspiring to lead quiet lives, to mind our own business, and to work with our own hands, that we may walk properly toward those who are outside, lacking nothing (1 Thessalonians 4.11-12). Further, we lift up to you our Vacation Bible School starting tomorrow. Encourage all who will be serving, teaching, and coaching. Thank you for the honor of having all these kids come. May they not only enjoy their time, but learn about your Son, and see your love displayed. May this be a time of strengthening young believers in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. And also, for any who are unbelievers, may your Spirit work on them through the songs, Bible stories, and interactions with the adults, that they may come to embrace Jesus freely offered in the Gospel.

We call out to you for those who need to turn away from their sins and believe in Christ, for those who have strayed away and need to be restored…. Turn them away from the darkness to submit to the Son of your love, Jesus Christ.

O Eternal God, as you guided our forefathers to promote and guarantee life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; so guide us now – citizens, residents and leaders – to properly and honorably maintain these gifts. Fill the chairs in our Supreme Court with sensible and sound justices who will decide cases in ways that are true to our founding principles, true to righteousness, and truly noble.

Hear us, O Lord, as we plead with you for the nations of this fractured and sometimes vicious world, including Serbia, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, and Singapore. Restore peaceful and legitimate order, securing harmony and prosperity for the peoples of every nation, that all may enjoy a fruitful life, and that your Church in all places may live in tranquility and security. Thank you for bringing about the rescue of the Thai boys soccer team; and for the rescuers from multiple countries.

We intercede on behalf of those who are distraught with poor health, sparse resources, domestic strife, restless fears and anxieties….. Refresh them, raise them up, give them hope and health, and grant them the friends, sources, and partners they need to recover.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

"The Biggest Win" by Joshua Cooley. A Review

The Biggest Win: Pro Football Players Tackle FaithThe Biggest Win: Pro Football Players Tackle Faith by Joshua Cooley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sports metaphors run aplenty in Sacred Scripture. Whether it's martial arts (boxing, wrestling) or running, the toil, aim, strain, practice and perseverance all give a unique picture to the Christian life. That's what makes Joshua Cooley's new little 160 page paperback, "The Biggest Win: Pro Football Players Tackle Faith" such a fun and useful book. Cooley, accomplished writer of 20 years, and full-time children’s minister at Chapel Hill Bible Church in North Carolina, has woven together an enjoyable work of insights from several Christian players on the Super Bowl LII winning team, the Philadelphia Eagles, and what Scripture says about various subjects. The manuscript is primarily devotional matter for younger athletes, though sports enthusiasts of most every stripe will gain plenty from the material.

Cooley began interviewing Carson Wentz, Nick Foles, Zach Ertz, Trey Burton, Jordan Hicks, and Chris Maragos in 2017 for the book. Page after page, the players' personal stories, fears, concerns, and joys come forth in their own words. But Cooley also marries the players' stories to specific biblical themes in eleven chapters, and then concludes with questions for reflecting on the chapter. In a nutshell, the book leads the reader along this stream: "pursuing God's glory as we compete, recognizing the God-given lessons that athletics provides, and becoming more like Christ through the triumphs and challenges that sports presents" (xiii). In these pages a reader will meet Reformed theology wearing shoulder pads and helmet. But also with each successive paragraph the warmth of the players and writer will rouse and inspire.

"The Biggest Win" will be out at the end of July 2018, just in time for a new sports season. This book should be a present to all of the athletes in your life. If you're a coach, a "jock," enthusiast, minister, or Bible teacher, you will enjoy this volume and gain loads of illustrations to encourage others. Hurry up and pre-order the book; you won't regret it!

My hearty thanks to New Growth Press for handing me an advanced reader copy of the book used for this review. All of the remarks are mine and freely given.

You can obtain the book here: "The Biggest Win"

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Sunday, July 8, 2018

"Maker of Heaven and Earth" - 8 July 2018



O God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, Giver of all good gifts, we pray for your Church throughout the nations, Eagle Heights Church; Eastwood Baptist; Emmaus Baptist; and Exchange Ave Baptist. Sustain us through the hard and happy times. Look upon our needs and provide all good things necessary for us to do the work you have called us to. Strangely warm our hearts, inspire in us greater and greater holiness.

Kindly look on this congregation: give patience and joy to all the parents as they raise their children in your righteous ways. Aid the single that they may resist the pressures of our world and keep themselves chaste. Enrich our marriages that they may be full of harmony, hope, and health. Strengthen the young adults to continue to follow Christ faithfully. May our children (younger and older) embrace the Christian faith we have been handing on to them with gusto and confidence. And may the fruit of the Spirit…..grow large in all of us.

We call out to you for those we know who have strayed away from the Faith; those who are lost; and those whose faith has been unsettled …. Turn them away from the darkness to embrace the Son of our love, Jesus Christ.

We intercede on behalf of those who are distressed by poor health, scanty finances, family strife, unemployment, panicky fears and tumultuous anxieties … (12 Soccer boys, their coach and the rescuers at the Tham Luang Cave in Thailand)… Raise them up and bring them forth safely, giving them hope, health and all that they need to recover.

We pray for all countries, including San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia, and Senegal: since “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14.34), may righteousness win in every land!

O God, by your creating mankind in your own image you did bestow on all people certain, unalienable rights. We come today in rich gratitude for these God-given liberties which are assumed in the Declaration of Independence, described in the U.S. Constitution and longed for world over. Thank You, Father, for your directing providence and gift of courage that guided our forbearers to stand against tyranny and to fight for true liberty. Please protect our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines today, especially those who face numerous dangers and depravations to defend these liberties. Shield our police officers and firefighters who risk much to keep us safe. Guide our national leaders, our legislators, governors and judiciary that they will be firmly steered by our founding principles, protecting and promoting liberty and justice for all – for the free born, foreign born and unborn. Prosper all honest industry, our farmers, our educators, public servants, the self-employed, the medical and helping professions, and others, so that our country may flourish. Deliver us from all natural catastrophes, plagues, famines, pestilence, drought, war, and rebellion. May the religious always be safe to live out their faith in this nation. May the citizens of this land always strive for a godly, moral and ethical excellence in every situation. We joyfully commend these United States of America into your safe keeping, and implore you for Jesus Christ’s sake to hear our prayers. Amen.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

"A Bright Tomorrow" by Jared Mellinger. A Review.

A Bright Tomorrow: Facing the Future without FearA Bright Tomorrow: Facing the Future without Fear by Jared Mellinger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Back in 2016 his then 2 year old daughter was diagnosed with cancer; then came two years of chemo with all of the concerns, exhaustion, visits, and exams. Therefore, who better to write a little book on fear and faith than Jared Mellinger, Senior Pastor of a Sovereign Grace congregation, Covenant Fellowship Church in Glen Mills Pennsylvania. Write a book he did, and what a book! "A Bright Tomorrow: How To Face the Future without Fear" is a 144 page manuscript just published in June 2018. It takes on many of the very things we fear and brings the hope of Gospel to bear on them. What keeps this from being a happy-clappy-feel-positive-all-the-time kind of work, is knowing that it was written during the days of his little girl's diagnosis and treatment.

"A Bright Tomorrow" is written to "push back fear and unbelief and to awaken our souls to the boundless comfort and hope we have in Jesus Christ" (1). By the time you turn the last page you will find it has hit its target of cultivating "confidence as we look to the future" (127). Mellinger takes this Gospel-hope and probes our multi-layered fears about the future, showing us that "our need is not so much to be delivered from the presence of trials as it is to be delivered from our fears of the future" (10). The book is not a long pamphlet on triumphalism, but a rich resource wrapped in hope. In fact, Mellinger never shies away from the reality that we will face suffering at times. Nevertheless, as the author asserts, the grace "by which we are saved prepares us for suffering by waging war on fear and unbelief, and by implanting an unshakable hope in our souls" (66). Mellinger also addresses our culture of panic and how the Christian hope sets us free from playing the culture's panic-game. The last two chapters on death, dying and eternity should make a reader jump up with hands raised high, shouting "Glory! Come, Lord Jesus!"

"A Bright Tomorrow" unfolds in twelve chapters that have reflection questions at the end. This small book makes for good devotional reading. It also lends itself to Bible study classes. If you're afraid, worried, or facing a financial black-hole, you should take up and read this book. If you just received a gut-wrenching diagnosis, had a child go wayward, or lost your job and have no idea how you can face tomorrow, you should find a way to snatch up a copy of this volume and pour over it. In fact, if you're human, you need to get this book and make it your top reading priority! I happily, heartily, and highly recommend this book.

My big thanks goes to New Growth Press for giving me a copy of the book used for this review. All of the thoughts and comments in this review are mine, given without stipulations from the publisher or reservations.

You can purchase a copy of the book here: "A Bright Tomorrow"

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"Same Lake, Different Boat" by Stephanie O. Hubach. A Review.

Same Lake, Different Boat: Coming Alongside People Touched by DisabilitySame Lake, Different Boat: Coming Alongside People Touched by Disability by Stephanie O. Hubach
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We're not very good in the ways we interact and relate with people who have different types of disabilities. I have seen people leave a church because they found out the newly called and installed minister had a child who had neurological and visual malformities and was completely wheelchair bound. In all my years I have only met one minister in one small church who had a clear disability (he had contracted polio as an infant and was unable to use his legs, requiring two forearm crutches). At times I myself have pulled away from people with handicaps, or treated them in a patronizing way. But if these people are men, women, girls or boys made in God's image, and if loving others is evidence that God abides in us (1 John 4.7-12), then having a better concept of disability is essential. That's where Stephanie O. Hubach, mother of a son with Down Syndrome, who served as founding director of Mission to North America’s Special Needs Ministries, is presently a research fellow in disability ministries and visiting instructor for educational ministries at Covenant Theological Seminary, can give us a hand-up. In 2006 Hubach wrote a 240 page paperback, "Same Lake, Different Boat: Coming Alongside People Touched by Disability," on this very subject. She drew richly from Scripture, Theology and her own and others experience to give readers a healthier perception and a better theology of disability. I was very touched by the book, and was brought to rethink what I do as a pastor and what we do as a church.

After a Forward by Joni Eareckson Tada the author takes the reader through thirteen well thought-out chapters that are geared toward classes and individual study. Each chapter ends with "Personal Application" questions. Hubach moves from foundational questions (chapters 1-5), to families (chapters 6-9) and ends with the church (chapters 10-13). Throughout the volume she shows how disability "is essentially a more noticeable form of brokenness that is common to the human experience - a normal part of life in an abnormal world" (29). That's the key to unlock the hard places in our hearts: disability is a normal part of life in an abnormal world! In fact, that is the subtle point behind the book's title. We're all on the same lake (life, made in the image of God, and so forth), just in different boats (personal limitations, brokenness and experiences of the fall). Once we get captured by this analogy, it helps keep us from falling into the pit of patronizing others: "Keeping the manifestations of mercy personal helps prevent us from operating from a position of power" (161). It's a potent and persuasive book.

Beyond the subject of disability, I found Hubach helpfully addressing other areas that fit into, but reach beyond, the book's purpose. Perceptive readers will easily pick up how what she wrote in 2006 is germane to the ways we engage our society, racial tensions, and worldviews today. For example, the author observes that in the work "of access and advocacy for people with disabilities this means we will always seek grace-based justice for the glory of God and for the good of our neighbor, not demand-based justice that seeks power and control for a select few" (143). Take a moment to allow this remark to sink in. How often in our conflicts, church tensions, pro-life work, racial strife, campaigns, etc. do we charge forward with demand-based justice? Hubach develops this juxtaposition further when she unpacks the deep difference between revolution and reformation (chapter 13). It's a little book with a big wallop!

"Same Lake, Different Boat" is a must read for ministers, Christians of all stripes, and those families who have someone in their home who has disability - whether from birth, illness, or aging. The stories, which are often humorous but not glamorous, will make you laugh and cringe. And the theological and biblical nature of the book will hearten you. I happily and highly recommend the book.

My thanks to Ashley Belknap, Director of Engaging Disability with the Gospel (http://engagingdisability.org/), and Cheryl Erb, ministry assitant, who freely gave me a copy of this book used for this review when we were at our denomination's General Assembly in June 2018. The comments and reflections are my own, and are freely given.

Here is the link to purchase the book: "Same Lake, Different Boat"

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