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Sunday, January 21, 2018

"Oh, the Depth of the Riches and Wisdom and Knowledge of God!" - 21 January 2018

With Paul and all of the Apostles, along with the saints and martyrs who have gone before, and with our brothers and sisters world over, we lift our hearts in adoration saying: Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen (Romans 11.33-36).

O God, deep in riches, wisdom and knowledge: we pray for your one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, to include this congregation and Grace Baptist, Grace Missionary Baptist, Graceway Baptist and Greater Bethel Baptist Church. Like Epaphras in Colossians 4, we struggle on behalf of your churches in our prayers, asking that your people may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God (Colossians 4.12).

O God, unsearchable in your judgments and inscrutable in your ways: cause the failing, faltering and forgetful to come back into your fold…; get a grip on those who are rambling off into heresy and those rupturing the peace of your church…; and expose and put an end to the schemes and stratagems of those who calculatingly corrupt your truth, and those who haughtily harm your people!

O God, whose ways are beyond our ways and thoughts beyond our thoughts: we humbly ask you to sustain and strengthen the ailing, hurting, hacking and agonizing; also grant a speedy recovery to those giving birth, and those facing surgery…

O God, who does not play the quid pro quo game, for no one can give a gift to you that they might be repaid: we implore your compassionate kindness, and good governance for our country, and all the nations of the earth, to include Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, and Germany. Defeat that which is evil, and develop that which is truly virtuous and upright. For the indigent, browbeaten, broken and exploited we beseech you to turn around the aspirations and ambitions of the empowered, employed, and educated so that they will let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5.24).

O God, from whom, through whom and to whom are all things: we plead with you to aid Dan and Becky Young, along with my friends, Jamie and Jennifer Burkemper (who were here last week). May both teams find you sustaining and galvanizing them; may the church planting work in Ciudad Juarez and the Valle del Rey church plant in the Rio Grande Valley flourish; and may the Gospel of Jesus Christ stream forth, and many become disciples of Christ. 

Truly, to you belongs the glory through Jesus your Son and by your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, January 15, 2018

"Approaching Philosophy of Religion" by Anthony C. Thiselton. A Review.

My youngest son had a paper to complete on Fyodor Dostoevsky, "The Idiot," and the Enlightenment for his AP English Literature class. While we were talking over his content, he was puzzled by the "who" and "what" of the Enlightenment. It just so happened that a new 240 page softback book, "Approaching Philosophy of Religion: An Introduction to Thinkers, Concepts, Methods and Debates" had arrived by post the week before, a work compiled by Anthony C. Thiselton, emeritus professor of Christian theology at the University of Nottingham, England, and fellow of the British Academy. After my teenage son and I perused the volume, examining the installments on the Enlightenment, he borrowed the book and immediately referenced it in his paper. The volume proved to be easily accessible in finding the appropriate topic, and comprehensible by a teenage reader.

"Approaching Philosophy of Religion" simply unfolds in four sections. It begins with recording the historical way-points in the study of the philosophy of religion. Then it readily unpacks the various approaches, covering analytical philosophy, continental philosophy, empiricism and rationalism, existentialism, feminist philosophy, personalism, phenomenology and pragmatism. Next, Thiselton works through various pertinent concepts and issues in philosophy of religion. And finally, the author provides and defines key terms. The manuscript has a nice Chronology at the beginning, and  concludes with a select bibliography marking out recommended text books, recommended seminal works, those volumes of special value, and finally some worthy of note. The manuscript makes itself a worthwhile reference work that is straightforward and uncomplicated. Yet it also is a surprisingly good read that a non-technical, but interested, person could benefit from.

"Approaching Philosophy of Religion" is the kind of volume that High School students would find profitable. It also will help those in college classes that are working on philosophical topics. But it's breadth and approach, as seen in my opening paragraph, shows how useful the volume can be when tackling other subjects, even English literature. It is a book I am keeping on my desk within easy reach, and I highly recommend you do the same.

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).

You can obtain the book here: "Approaching Philosophy of Religion"

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Vespers - 14 January 2018

Prayers on Vocation

(Our Jobs): LORD God, you told your people, “Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the LORD in all your dwelling places” (Leviticus 23.3). You not only tell us how important sacred rest is, but also how valuable our vocations are; that we have callings, jobs, and careers that are good and worth investing into during the vast majority of our week. Thank you for acknowledging our work. We ask your help, direction and focus in our jobs. Honestly, Father, work can grind down our hearts; bosses can grate against our nerves making Monday a sheer drudgery; customers and clients can almost make us pull our hair out with frustration. Therefore help us to recapture and be recaptured by your Scripture’s valuable reminder, “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3.17).  O Lord, hear our prayer. 

(Domestic Callings): We ask you, Lord, to be with those whose calling is to be home, or raise kids, or care for the homebound. Bless their hands and hearts. As they labor to maintain orderliness in the home; as they give their children safe places to grow up, learn, play, and develop as godly people; as they attend to their aging loved ones, some requiring more help than others; may they all know your pleasure, be filled with your presence, flourish in your provision, and see you profit their important work. O Lord, hear our prayer. 

(In School): We also ask you to be with those whose occupation, for the present, is to study; whether it’s furthering their education; learning a trade; or preparing for Christian ministry. Thank you for the opportunities we have to learn and grow in learning. May our students gain the proper focus for their studies; retain what they’re learning; fathom the concepts and principles; and be able to effectively put them to good use. And may they come to rejoice in the gift of a good education, rather than grouse or grumble. O Lord, hear our prayer.

"Blessed Be the God and Father..." - 14 January 2018

With Paul and all of the Apostles, along with the saints and martyrs who have gone before, and with our brothers and sisters world over, we lift our hearts in adoration: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1.3-10).

Build up, strengthen and fortify your church in all places, to include Friendship Baptist Church; Garden Addition Baptist; God’s Chosen People Baptist; and Good Shepherd Missionary Baptist church.

Cause the straying and stumbling to come back into your fold…; grab hold of those trailing off into heresy and right them…; give repentance to the schismatics…; and those who twist your Word to their own destruction and willfully corrupt your truth, bring their counsels to naught!

Give strength, health and hope to those who are weak and weary, sick and sore…

Govern and direct our country; guide and protect our President and Vice President; help our State; watch over our City; preserve us from folly and foes. And being reminded by the commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr, we pray: Almighty God, who has created humankind in your own image; grant us grace to fearlessly contend against evil and injustice, and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently us our liberty, help us to employ it in the maintenance and advancement of justice and truth in our communities, and among the nations, to the glory of your name.

Look kindly upon all nations, including Fiji, Finland and France. Turn them from plans and projects that are self-destructive; and steer them toward better ways and means for the good of their people and for the good of their neighbors.

Provide for all of our adult children who are in college, in the military, and in the corporate and educational world. May they mature with grace and strength and faith; may they flee the love of money, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. May they fight the good fight of the faith; and take hold of the eternal life to which they were called and about which they made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses (1 Timothy 6.11-12).

All we ask for your glory, our good, and the honor of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

"Self-Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies" by Colonel Monstery, ed. by Ben Miller. A Review

Self-Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies: A Nineteenth-Century Treatise on Boxing, Kicking, Grappling, and Fencing with the Cane and QuarterstaffSelf-Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies: A Nineteenth-Century Treatise on Boxing, Kicking, Grappling, and Fencing with the Cane and Quarterstaff by Thomas Hoyer Monstery
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There it was, that dashing bar-fight scene where Sherlock Holmes (played by Jeremy Brett) fights Mr. Woodley as a gentleman. The scuffle ends with victory for Mr. Holmes, the prostration of Mr. Woodley and the applause of the pub patrons. The fighting style looks odd when compared to more modern versions of Sherlock Holmes, but there is a historical twinge to the scene. In the 19th Century England and America there were men putting themselves forward as experts in self-defense, some of whom had personal experience. On U.S. soil Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery was one of these. From December 1877 to January 1879 Monstery wrote several articles on self-defense in the New York magazine "The Spirit of the Times". These articles have been reclaimed, re-collected and republished in the 216 page glossy hardback "Self-Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies: A Nineteenth-Century Treatise on Boxing, Kicking, Grappling and Fencing with the Cane and Quarterstaff" by Ben Miller, award-winning filmmaker, author and fencer.

"Self-Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies" begins with a short and delightful biographical sketch of Monstery. Miller chronicles Monstery's martial progress and exploits from adolescence to adulthood. These include his thirst for training in various forms of Western martial arts, which encompassed fencing, saber-fighting, broadsword, and boxing. After serving as a soldier of fortune under twelve different flags, he established his training school in Baltimore, San Francisco, Oakland, New York and Chicago. In these schools he trained many people to defend themselves in real-life circumstances against local rouges and ruffians. Because of Monstery's breadth of training and personal combative experiences, he adapted his training in unique ways; "his system was ultimately intended for self-defense without gloves" and so he advocated "a guard position somewhat different than those in other treatises of the period" (40). Further, he developed a striking style that seems to come close to certain Asian Martial Arts' strikes: "to establish a line of power from the shoulder to the knuckles of the second, third and forefinger. The principle is the same in fencing" (ibid.). The biography succeeds in describing that Monstery's approach was not only born in the sanitized training school, but also on the streets and ships' decks.

The remainder of the tiny volume are the articles Monstery wrote for "The Spirit of the Times". They include his own sparse sketches and diagrams. Much of the material seems to assume that the reader has a modicum of working knowledge in fencing and boxing. Though it was written for the then average reader, it comes across more as a guide to instructors on how to teach his particular approach and to guide their trainees. Since there is a meager visual display in the book, and the writer assumes more from his readers than may have been realistic, it makes it difficult to conceptualize how a move is to be accomplished, and what it will look like. Nevertheless, a trained martial artist will quickly recognize the genuineness of the material, even with its eccentric properties. Economy of motions looks to be the reigning principle governing all actions.

"Self-Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies" may not be the most expert and expeditious training manual in personal protection, nevertheless it is a well-done historical resource. It also contains some nuggets of gold, both in in fighting and in fighting as a gentleman or lady. It is an easy read, and will enhance the martial artist's historical perspective in American fighting styles. Additionally, the volume should find its way into the lending library of any dojo and self-defense school to show how striking principles and situational awareness are not esoteric aptitudes, but recognizable traits in any genuine martial art. I recommend the book.

The book may be purchased here: "Self-Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies"

View all my reviews

Sunday, January 7, 2018

"We Implore Your Help and Governance" - 7 January 2018

We implore your help and governance, Good Lord, for your church throughout the world, for this congregation, and also for First Missionary Baptist, First Southern Baptist, Followers of Christ Baptist and Fortieth Street Baptist churches. May we flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. May we be planted in the house of the LORD; and flourish in the courts of our God. May we still bear fruit in old age; be ever full of sap and green, to declare that the LORD is upright; that you are our rock, and there is no unrighteousness in you (Psalm 92.12-15).

We plead with you especially and expressly for your church in North America. Preserve us from ourselves; preserve us from amputating ourselves from the essential, directive, life-supporting connection to your Word; preserve us from caving in to the present social and sexual storm that is brewing. Raise us up and guide us in affirming the beauty of your creation ordinance of one man and one woman married for life; the goodness of maleness and the splendor of femaleness. Breathe into us creative ways to communicate this so that our neighbors, friends, foes, society and even our courts will not be able to “withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which” we are “speaking” (Acts 6.10). And give us the astuteness to rightly, and God-honoringly, minister to those who are trapped in the present stultifying social squall.

For our own country, we beseech you: please make very clear to us the insanity that this numbing national nonsense is cooking up for us. May our love affair with the “sovereign self” –our promotion of the new morality with its one undisputable law that self-denial is somehow immoral – may it be exposed before our eyes before it’s too late, before the physical, emotional and human debris piles high into a reeking mass, and may there be some kind of authentic national repentance that might prevail!

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, including Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Estonia, and Ethiopia, who are divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule.

Shower your care and kindness on those ailing, sick, recovering and recouping…

Rescue those who are perishing in their sins, and those who have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs (1 Timothy 6.10)…

Be with our sons and daughters who have begun a new school semester that they may continue to be motivated in their studies, and see their hard work of writing papers, learning, reading, and lab work pay off by them mastering their studies.

Finally, we entreat you to help us in 2018. Especially, that this may be a wonderful year of reconciliation in our families and among our friends; and restoration of families and friends.

We ask all of this in Jesus’ name, for your glory and our good. Amen.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

"Beauty, Order, and Mystery" ed. by Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson. A Review

Beauty, Order, and Mystery: A Christian Vision of Human SexualityBeauty, Order, and Mystery: A Christian Vision of Human Sexuality by Gerald L. Hiestand
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The book quickly catches your attention! Early on the editors claim that the profound mystery of human sexuality “has been exchanged for a constructivist and reductionist vision of sexuality, where these gloriously sexed bodies are viewed as little more than cultural products or biological necessities” (3). That’s how “Beauty, Order, and Mystery: A Christian Vision of Human Sexuality” begins, and then it masterfully moves outward, onward and upward. This recently published 229 page softback compiles papers from fourteen different authors that were presented at the 2016 annual conference of the Center for Pastoral Theologians (CPT). It is edited by Gerald L. Hiestand and Todd Wilson, both pastors at Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, Illinois, as well as cofounders of the CPT. The writers collectively seek to display a Christian portrayal of human sexuality that revels in the beauty, order and mystery of human sexuality as God designed it.

The first part of the book successfully draws out the contours of a theological picture for sexuality. Todd Wilson, after recounting several significant reasons why evangelicals have “kept pace with the sea change of opinion” on same-sex practice (9), then works out his view of “mere sexuality” where “being male or female, is both theologically and morally significant – it matters to God and it ought to matter to us” (15). Next, Beth Felker Jones expresses the awareness that maleness and femaleness are created goods, and that “part of who we are is written on our materially different bodies” (26). Jones’s does an exceptional job in worked out the rightness and goodness of female sexuality. Wesley Hill goes further and kindly shows how the biblical arguments to affirm same-sex unions by Eugene Rogers and Robert Song “pull apart rather than hold together the doctrines of creation and redemption.” Instead, says Hill, bodies, “and the sexed difference of those bodies, matter. And what matters to God will not be cast aside in the kingdom of God” (42). Jeremy Treat explains the role of hyperindividualism, and how the narrative of “the sovereign self” means that now I decide who I am, and that the one undisputable law of the new morality is that we cannot, and ought not, deny ourselves. But he also counters by explaining how the church can be a more authentic community with a more profound ethic. In the final chapter Richard Mouw posits the importance of catechesis on sexuality that will help to cultivate a practical wisdom and faithful improvisation.

The second portion of “Beauty, Order, and Mystery” sketches out ways that our present sexuality is simultaneously beautiful and broken. Daniel Brendsel playfully, but pointedly, couples our obsession with “selfies,” manufactured selves, and hypersexuality, and concludes that we “may need, with wisdom, to limit or adapt or even strategically abstain from cultural and technological practices and postures that are in keeping with the anthropology and ontology of modernity” (86). Next comes the transgender test, as Denny Burk discusses gender dysphoria (the conflict between perceived gender identity and biological sex) while critiquing Mark Yarhouse, and brings us to see that there is a challenge lying before us: “So this is the test: Are we going to balance the authority of Scripture against these other concerns? Or are we going to insist that the Scripture stands over (and sometimes against) these other concerns? That is our test. And we have to stay true even if the whole world goes the other way” (94). Then comes a seminal chapter on the inequality of male and female power that Gerald Hiestand sensitively and sagely works the reader through, emphasizing that any “model of Christian gender relations that fails to meaningfully incorporate Christ’s sharing power with his bride misses the mark, and does not do justice to God’s ideal” (116). Joel Willitts asserts the pervasiveness of sexual trauma, how it is often mishandled, and the importance of fostering the “Kindness Culture”. Finally, we are happily and hopefully shocked by Matthew Mason, as he proclaims the outworking of Christ’s resurrection and declares that my “body’s biological sex at birth is also the biological sex of the body in which I shall be raised,” and shows how this gives substantive hope to those who have undergone gender reassignment (144).

The last segment of “Beauty, Order, and Mystery” looks more fully into Holy Writ and history. Amy Peeler attempts to unpack 1 Corinthians 11.2-16, and in the end reminds us that bodies “matter in worship” (163). Then the reader is schooled in Thomas Aquinas by Matthew Levering, specifically on how divine revelation, human reason and the structure of the human body guide us in discerning God’s wise order for the flourishing of his royal image-bearers. Next we meet with the story and icon of Sergius and Bacchus, where Matthew Milliner brings some needed correction to John Boswell’s misguided presentations of these two believers. Lastly, Matt O’Reilly delves deeply into the connections between Genesis 1-2 and Revelation 21-22, especially the nuptial imagery. As O’Reilly works out these biblical passages and their applications, he asks a most penetrating question: “To what sort of god does our sexuality point” (208)? This final chapter was an elegant ending to the book.

There are several themes I found that consistently ran through these pages, and gave impetus for robust reflection. First is the reiterated premise of the goodness of male bodies and female bodies. Also that God made us male and female and therefore at Christ’s return he will raise us as male and female. And then again, we must take our bodies seriously since grace does not destroy nature but restores it and transforms it. There were other refrains that the keen reader will catch, and will find themselves enraptured in moments of thankfulness and praise!

On the whole “Beauty, Order, and Mystery” was worth my time reading, and has given me several ideas to thoughtfully dwell on. This volume ought to be in the hands of every Christian pastor and church leader, especially in North America and the West. I encourage you to hit the bookstores, search the websites, order a copy, and as soon as it arrives, put all of your other reading material aside and pour over this book immediately!

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).

A copy of the book can be purchased here: "Beauty, Order, and Mystery"

View all my reviews