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Saturday, January 19, 2019

"Gospel Treason" by Brad Bigney. A Review

Gospel Treason: Betraying the Gospel with Hidden IdolsGospel Treason: Betraying the Gospel with Hidden Idols by Brad Bigney
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Not another book on marriage?!?! Yep, another book on marriage. This one is penned by Brad Bigney, senior pastor of Grace Fellowship Evangelical Free Church in Florence, Kentucky, a member and certified counselor of the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors and a member of the Association of Biblical Counselors. But it's more than just a book on marriage. This popularly written, 224 page softback is about why there are problems in marriages, how to decipher the idolatrous root of those troubles, and ways to move forward with a healthier marriage. The not-yet-married, newlyweds, older married couples, pastors, and counselors will all benefit from this work.

Since there are plenty of other reviews already hovering out there, I'll simply mention a few of the aspects I appreciated. Bigney does a heartening job on unpacking conflict: "The conflict that we often resent is God's appointment for the realignment of our hearts...We want him to remove the troublesome people and give us extra grace in their place, but he wants to realign our hearts to love him and other people more. The heart is what he wants to work on" (62). I think that coming to see our marital conflicts (and other relational adversities) in this light, changes their temperature and flavor to become more hopeful and health-giving.

Further, the author, drawing from James 4.1-3, explains how many of our clashes come from conflicting desires we have. Unfortunately, the desires have grown, so that "idolatry hijacks legitimate desires and turns them into ugly demands". These demanding desires then expand to become needs which launch into expectations (often assumed and rarely announced), which then finally fester into disappointment (70-4). I have sat in many marriage counseling discussions with couples and seen this played out in technicolor! But, I catch this pattern also lurking in my own heart.

Lastly, Bigney has helpfully addressed the ways we make our children and our marriages into idols. For example, don't "start trusting in your marriage for all your happiness. Continue to trust in God, and thank him for what he's doing in your husband, but don't redirect your trust away from God" (155). The whole point of the book is how we are all idolaters, making other things equal to or more important than, God in our lives. And so, often "times it takes a painful trial to expose our idolatry" (95).

"Gospel Treason" is an easy-to-read work that the not-yet-married, newlyweds, older married couples, pastors, and counselors will find beneficial. But it is also important for any Christian as they think about relationships of every kind (work, play, sports, etc.). This volume has a wide set of applications for those who really want to love God more, even in the middle of relational collisions, or other trying circumstances. I highly recommend the book.

You can get the book here: Gospel Treason

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Sunday, January 13, 2019

Vespers - 13 January 2019


(The first prayer is original to me. The last two prayers are primarily from Evening Prayer from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer that I have slightly modernized, and tweaked. Feel free to use them in your church, Bible Study, Discipling Group, or personal devotions. Mike)


You who are the shoot from the stump of Jesse, the branch from his roots that bears fruit, upon whom the Spirit of the LORD rests, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD, whose delight is in the fear of the LORD; and who does not judge by what your eyes see, or decide disputes by what your ears hear, but with righteousness you judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth (Isaiah 11.1-4). We call upon you for help! We are finite and thus fallible, we judge by what our eyes see and decide disputes by what our ears hear. Therefore, some of our decisions have failed, and some of our counsels have fallen through. Lord, have mercy on us and give us your aid. Guide us in our counsels and lead us in our decisions; especially as we counsel these folks….and as we have to decide on these issues…. May your Spirit of wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and fear of the LORD rest on us and lead us into all truth. O Lord, hear our prayer.

O God, creator and preserver of all mankind, we humbly beseech you for all sorts and conditions of men; that you would be pleased to make your ways known unto us, your salvation unto all nations. To this end we ask you to bless the Pardigons, Backyard Missions, the Berrys, Teresa, the Iversons, the Shepherds, the Youngs, and the Bangladesh Pastor’s Project. More especially we pray for your holy Church universal; that she may be so guided and governed by your good Spirit and good Word, that all of us who profess and call ourselves Christians may be led into the way of your  truth, holding to the true faith in the unity created and produced by your Spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life. Finally, we commend to your fatherly goodness all those who are in any ways afflicted or distressed in mind, body, or estate, especially these…; that it may please you to deliver them from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, and to comfort and relieve them according to their specific necessities, giving them patience under their sufferings, and a happy conclusion to all of their afflictions. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we, your unworthy servants, do give you most humble and hearty thanks for all your goodness and loving-kindness to us, and to all humankind; and we offer up our praises and thanksgivings for your recent mercies granted to us...We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all, for your inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for  the hope of glory. And, we beseech you, give us that due sense of all your mercies, that our hearts may be unhypocritically thankful; and that we show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days. O Lord, hear our prayer.

"Our Help Is in the Name of the LORD" - 13 January 2019



Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth. Lord, please hear us and for Christ‘s sake answer us. O God Most High, who uses our trials and the testing of our faith to bring about steadfast endurance in us (James 1.2-4), we ask you to lift up those who are dispirited in body or mind, those who are grieved or dreadfully disturbed with fear and anxiety, and those who are walking through troubled times in home and health. We especially ask your care for these…. Grant them recovery, refreshment and some substantial sense of restored health.

O Lord of the Harvest: have regard to the prayers of your servants in this congregation; send us forth as laborers into your harvest; increase in us the Spirit of power, love and a sound mind; strengthen us to endure hardships as good soldiers of Jesus Christ; and grant that your Holy Spirit may prosper our work so that by our life and doctrine we may show forth your glory and bring forward the salvation of many. We principally pray for those engaged in our English as Second Language classes starting this week that they may be heartened, helpful, and helped by your blessed presence. And we ask that your hand would be on our Care Groups, which begin again next week, that our Care Groups will be enriching and invigorating; hearts will be mended; hopes will be fortified; lives will be positively impacted; unbelievers and those who no longer associate with your church will come, belong and believe.

Look upon your Church throughout the world, and on International Victory Charismatic Church, Antioch Christian Church, Christian Faith Fellowship, and Edmond Christian Church. Give all your comforting, courage-inspiring aid. Strengthen us in our longing to serve you more faithfully, leading us away from the doctrines of demons to that which is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, and cause us to succeed in genuine godliness. And please, please, Lord, do not let our brothers and sisters in Chengdu China be forgotten, nor left destitute or detained.

O Lord God, the Almighty, the Most High, we plead with you to turn your face upon these United States of America. Do not forsake us nor give us over to what we may deserve, but instead turn us toward you, and spur us on to chastity, sobriety, virtuous living, generosity and equanimity. Protect us from all enemies, foreign and domestic, and guide our governmental leaders to remember and return to their vocation “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” And guide our President, Mr. Trump, to stay true to his Presidential oath of office, to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution; that to the best of his ability he would not neglect his duty, and to the best of his ability he would not go beyond his duty, by the help of God!

Finally, we implore your kindest care and compassion on the nations of our world, especially where there is so much that upsets and alarms. All we ask because you have invited us to pray and promised to hear. And we ask in faith and in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

"Domestic Abuse: Help for the Sufferer" by Darby Strickland. A Review

Domestic Abuse: Help for the Sufferer (Resources for Changing Lives)Domestic Abuse: Help for the Sufferer by Darby A. Strickland
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You find out that your loved one is being berated by their spouse, verbally and emotionally beat into submission. Your Christian neighbor comes over to talk, and begins to pour out their heart describing how their spouse demands their submission, even quoting the Scriptures that talk about male headship, spiritually pounding them into shame. What help can you give, if any? Maybe you find yourself in a cycle of physical, verbal, or emotional violence that comes around after a season of apologies, flowers and sweets. You start noticing that the next stage is the increase of blame from your significant other - "If you hadn't have burned the toast, I wouldn't have exploded like that," or some-such. All of these situations and more are covered in Darby Strickland's "Domestic Abuse: Help for the Sufferer." This small booklet is crammed full of helpful information, heartfelt biblical advice, and wholesome encouragement.

From the first page through the endnotes, I loved how Strickland easily maps out what oppression looks like (not just physical violence, but emotional, spiritual, financial and sexual). As she points out: "If your spouse is seeking to gain or maintain power and control over you, they are violating God's design for the sake of their own dominion. God has a word for this: oppression" (1). Her defining the oppressor's motive of confusion-making is very perceptive: "Oppressors want to obscure what they are doing, so they work to create confusion in the minds of their victims" (9). And even when the oppressive person comes with hat-in-hand, remorseful and apologetic, they are usually in a part of the abuse-cycle where they are resetting "the power and control dynamic," but there will soon come about excuse making and blame-shifting which "are signals that they are still justifying their behavior" (12-3).

Strickland also notes three aspects of an oppressor's heart. Oppressors believe that they are entitled to getting their desires and demands. Oppressors are also effective manipulators, especially as they portray themselves as sufferers. And finally, oppressors have very little self-awareness and are profoundly self-deceived about their behavior and intentions - that their behavior is right and their actions are therefore justified. There is no self-reflecting doubt in their mental make-up (22-5).

Lastly, the author lays out the importance of coming to see that the abuse is not your fault; you didn't do anything to deserve this treatment. God himself hates this violence and oppression, sees your suffering and desires to rescue you. With these thoughts in mind, Strickland then explains the importance of you monitoring your safety, speaking to others (silence and isolation are part of the oppressors arsenal of manipulative tools), speaking to God, and considering if you should flee or not.

"Domestic Abuse: Help for the Sufferer" is an important pamphlet of only 51 pages. This needs to be on your church's book table. Also your congregation's leadership should take it up, read it, and discuss it. In the next few days I will be leading my church's elders through this manual so that we're better prepared to help any who are being crushed under the jackbooted heal of oppression. I highly recommend the booklet.

The booklet can be purchased here: Domestic Abuse

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Sunday, January 6, 2019

"Loving Father, We Thank You..." - 6 January 2019



Loving Father, we thank you for your constant care for us personally and corporately; we thank you for how you have brought many people into this congregation’s life over the years; we thank you for your consistent provisions; and we thank you for bringing us to a new year. O God, please renew our spirits by your Holy Spirit, and draw our hearts unto yourself; so that our work may not be a burden but a delight; and give us such a mighty love for you as may sweeten all our obedience. Let us not serve you with the spirit of bondage as slaves, but with cheerfulness and gladness as children, delighting ourselves in you and rejoicing in your will (adapted from “Spend and Be Spent,” 12).

Look upon your Church throughout the world, and look on St. Patrick’s Church, St. Paul the Apostle Parish, St. Philip Neri Church, and Liberty Worship Center. Bestow your preserving care and guide them in the paths of righteousness for your name’s sake. Build up their resolve in tenacious faithfulness to you. Establish the centrality of the Gospel of Christ in their midst, that they may enjoy the greater glory and fresher freedom, and may firmly hold to it no matter the cost.

We are concerned for our nation, Lord God. We are concerned that the citizens of our country may be losing their way and becoming enslaved to pleasure, ease, covetousness, envy, personal peace and affluence, and may be selling their birthright for a mess of pottage. We are concerned with the way many people get their notions and ideas shaped and inflamed by social media, sound-bites and celebrities. We are concerned by the hot-headedness, the perpetual offendedness, and the growing fear-mongering. We also are concerned that our leaders may have forgotten that we are supposed to be a Constitutional Republic instead of a full-fledged democracy or oligarchy, and are moving us along other paths that are harmful. O God our God, we love our country, please have mercy on us and help us that as a nation there would be a return to virtuous daily living, as well as justice and equity governmentally, communally, and personally.

In every nation all over this globe please set up good governments that will seek to be fair; where the leaders will care more for the welfare of their people than lining their own pockets, securing their own power, or building their own fame.

O God Most High, giver of all good gifts, who provides our daily sustenance and wellbeing, we ask you to lift up those who are broken in body or mind, who are grieved or terribly troubled with fear and anxiety. We especially ask your care for these…grant them recovery and restored health, refreshment and rest.

Finally, we call to mind family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, enemies, and acquaintances who have not confessed Jesus Christ as Lord and continue to walk in darkness; as well as those who have turned away from the Christian Faith…..save them, O Lord, in your great mercy! All we ask in faith and in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, January 4, 2019

"You Welcomed Me" by Kent Annan. A Review

You Welcomed Me: Loving Refugees and Immigrants Because God First Loved UsYou Welcomed Me: Loving Refugees and Immigrants Because God First Loved Us by Kent Annan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

According to the U.N. Refugee Agency website, around the world there are some 40 million internally displaced people, 25.4 million refugees, and 3.1 million asylum seekers. Those are staggering numbers, making the head swim with incredulous vertigo! How should Christians think of refugees, and what are we to do? On top of this, what are the ways to treat and respond to immigrants? Kent Annan, director of humanitarian and disaster leadership at Wheaton College’s Humanitarian Disaster Institute, cofounder of Haiti Partners, and author, makes a try at helping North American Christians navigate this condition in his new 144 page paperback "You Welcomed Me: Loving Refugees and Immigrants Because God First Loved Us". As the author declares, "In this book, I hope to inspire you with stories of refugees and immigrants and those who are involved with them. I hope to inform you with research, sacred text, and experiences. I hope for nothing less than seeing our - and other people's - lives changed along the way" (9).

Annan takes up the topic with zest from the get-go as he races through the subject, drawing in a plethora of illustrative stories from his own experience, and those he has gleaned from other sources. The author weaves in Scripture passages, many of which have historically been understood to refer to God's people caring for God's people, and universalizes them to incorporate all peoples as our brothers and sisters needing our concern. Further, the book is unburdened by interrupting footnotes or endnote references, so that it appears the author is simply rattling numbers and statistics off the top of his head. It's not until one gets to the notes after the appendix that you realize he's been drawing from other articles, op-eds and authors.

Where the book's strength lies is on three levels. It addresses the fears and rhetoric that fuels intense repulsion. Then it exposes the ways immigrants and refugees get dehumanized by us and in our perceptions. Thirdly, "You Welcomed Me" gives readers tangible suggestions on how to engage on behalf of the foreign-born (locally, nationally, and internationally). The author is even willing to challenge some of the "more-socially-just-than-thou" crowd: "Urbanites with lots of diversity around them probably do well to confess that they can be condescending to others who aren't in cities or churches as diverse as their own" (35).

How we interact with, and on behalf of, immigrants and refugees is an important subject. And it is a fiercely politicized issue. I appreciate Annan taking this topic on (something that is very personal to himself) and presenting his thoughts. Though I have some reservations toward the book, nevertheless it is helpful for slowing people down, shift their gears, and think through ways we can fairly and judiciously benefit displaced people. I circumspectly recommend the book.

My gratitude goes out to IVP for sending me the book at my request. I read this copy, marked it up, highlighted it, and then used it for this review. All of the comments are my honest opinion and freely given.


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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

"Blood and Thunder" by Hampton Sides. A Short Review

Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson & the Conquest of the American WestBlood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson & the Conquest of the American West by Hampton Sides
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What an handsome read, that is simultaneously horrible and heartbreaking. Handsome in that Hampton Sides is a good historical writer. Though it's a long endeavor, yet he made the subject interesting - even in the tedious spots. Handsome, also, in that the personalities came through nicely, with all of the quirks and kinks.

But it was horrible and heartbreaking in the treatment of Native Americans, Jingoism, ethnic pride, might-makes-right, deaths, etc. The misguided policies and plots made me cringe. But the horrible is part of the manliness of the book. Sides does not shy away from the less-than-glorious details. Not for voyeuristic pleasure, but to chronicle the realities of the day. And the heartbreaking comes at the end with the final moments of Josefa and Kit, that opens up into brokenhearted celebration with Navajos on the way home. I cried!

This is a good historical tale that will inform the reader of events, mindsets, worldviews, perspectives and blunders. It shows the calamities and miseries for all involved in the westward expansion. To take the time delving between the covers of this book will not be wasted or lost time. I highly recommend the book.

My deep thanks to the friends who gave me the book as a gift. I deeply enjoyed it!


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