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Sunday, December 16, 2018

"Blessed Are You, O Sovereign Lord" - 16 December 2018



Blessed are you, O Sovereign Lord, God of our ancestors: to you be praise and glory forever. You called the patriarchs and matriarchs to live by faith and to journey in the hope that you are the God of your word. May we, similarly, be obedient to your call, be ready and watchful to receive your Son and live forward in hope-filled trust and joy.

Thank you that in the fullness of time you sent your Son, born of a woman, born under the law, born into a low condition, who underwent the miseries of this life. Therefore, we implore you to look in on those who find this time of year a grief and hardship due to painful memories, sorrowful losses, adversarial family relations, broken promises, and impending privations…may the Gospel-hope ricocheting around the walls and halls in the Christmas carols, lift their hearts and faces to look up to you and rejoice in Spirit-birthed confidence.

As your Son was born in a time of great conflict, of oppression, of “might-makes-right,” of faith and religion used as a moralizing machete, of frustrated national ambitions, of revolt and rebellion, and he came as the beginning of a new way of being human; we pray that you would hear the weeping of those who are in despair; see the blood-splattered walls and streets; take notice of the horrors in our world; and guide the directions, decisions and dealings of earth’s leaders. In the words of Jeremiah, may they do “justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood” (Jeremiah 22.3). O God, hear our pleadings!

We are grateful that the Word, who was with God and was God, became flesh and dwelt among us, and that even from his infancy grace and truth came through him. We pray for your Church in all places, we pray for this congregation, as well as St. Charles Borromeo Church, St. Damien of Molokai, St Eugene’s, and St. Francis of Assisi Parish. Preside over your Church with your protection and direction; prevail within your Church to remove all heresies and schisms, to build up holy unity, and to foster wholesome compassion; and project from your Church the hope of that first Christmas, all wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger, and announced in angelic splendor. And we beg you to strengthen our Chinese brothers and sisters in Chengdu, China who have recently been arrested, intimidated and interrogated, especially Pastor Wang Yi and his wife Jang Rong. Thank you for their courage and inspiration. And please change the hearts of President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang for the good of all.

And, Father, your Son was born at the end of tiring travels and journeys. It reminds us to pray for those travelling and soon to be travelling. Keep them safe and sound going and coming. And finally, please turn our family gatherings into times of pleasure and peace. May that crabby Uncle, ornery Auntie, sour parent, angry adult child, or offended sibling be overcome by the Prince of Peace. And where we should, help us to be effective peacemakers.

Please hear our prayers, which we present to you in the name of Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

"enGendered" by Sam A. Andreades. A Review

Engendered: God's Gift of Gender Difference in RelationshipEngendered: God's Gift of Gender Difference in Relationship by Sam A Andreades
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In our highly-charged, inflamed moment in history when people are throwing out the maxim, "Gender is a social construct," and heroes are made out of individuals who blend, bend, revamp and rewrite their sex, both inside and outside of Church, what is a body to do? And more specifically, how can Christians know what's right or wrong? Help has arrived in the 256 page paperback "enGendered: God's Gift of Gender Difference in Relationship" written by Sam A. Andreades, a Presbyterian pastor and the founder of Higher Ground, a New York City ministry of Christian discipleship serving those with unwanted same-sex attractions. This volume is ideal for marriage seminars, as well as for homework in marriage counseling and pre-marriage classes.

Andreades addresses himself to the topic of gender, what it is, and how it functions, from a biblical perspective: "this book takes a systematic theological approach to the teaching on gender found in the Bible" (25). And the author is serious about the "in the Bible" part! As he works through Judges, and other passages of Scripture, a reader's eyes will become large with surprise, and there will be quite a few "Aha!" moments. I have been a preacher and Bible teacher for almost 28 years - all told - and I found myself saying "wow!" a time or two!

The author is very clear that "the Bible sees gender as a...gift [of God] added upon our biology, shaping our identities and deeply revealing of God's self". In fact, "the Bible gives us a better place to look for our manhood and womanhood. And it is not in cultural practices" (37-8). Andreades gingerly dances his way through the Trinitarian perichoresis (that inner relationship between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit - where the Son, who is equal with the Father nevertheless submits to the Father; and the Spirit who is equal with the Father and the Son, notwithstanding, submits to the Father and the Son). Then he draws from it the value of the interrelationships between men and women. This brings him to see that in marriage, husband and wife are equal "before God, and equal in their charge of taking dominion, yet in relationship the man is to take charge and representation for her sake, the woman to promote him to the place of responsibility for his sake" (72). He then fleshes out how this looks, sounds and acts through most of the book. One of the ways this works out is in reference to the wife submitting to her husband. Based on Ephesians 5, her submission is a gift, and then Andreades asserts "the Bible never tells husbands to make their wives submit - quite the contrary" (111). Beautiful! Just plain beautiful!

What adds color to "enGendered" is that Andreades has done extensive interviews with men who have been same-sex attracted, many of whom were in monogendered (man-man) relationships, but have since become deeply committed to their intergendered (one man and one woman) marriages. Many of these interviews and observations show how valuable gender distinctions are, and the ways they benefit men and women in life-long relationships. I found this aspect of the book highly intriguing, and it will be an encouragement to those who are faced with unwanted same-sex attractions.

And, of course, gendered relationships have to be dealt with in the church, which is another family context. Therefore, the principle still applies, equal in essence, in economy fulfilling different roles. Andreades does a wonderful job in unpacking this aspect. My only disagreement has to do with his handling of 1 Corinthians 11.5 ("but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven") which he takes as apostolic approval of a woman taking a public, vocal role in a church's gathering. It seems to me that Paul is simply using one of the Corinthian church's practices to make his point, and then Paul corrects their practice in chapter 14 where he is dealing with public-speaking roles (see 1 Corinthians 14.33-40). But the way the author handles 1 Timothy 2.8-15 is excellent, especially the manner in which he hearkens back to Genesis 2-3.

"enGendered" is a refreshingly delightful and clarifying book. It is filled with biblical reflections, eye-opening surprises, and heartwarming descriptions. I know for certain that every pastor should have a copy and read it studiously, making notes, marking it up, underlining and highlighting. But also married couples - whether recently married or joined together decades ago - will gain much from Andreades's material. I highly and happily recommend the book!

My huge thanks to the author, whom I met once at our denomination's General Assembly in June 2018. When I saw his book, I was immediately taken up with it and asked him for a copy to be sent to me. Once his editors were done with their business he immediately forwarded a free edition which I used for this review. All of the perceptions and perspectives written herein are my own, and are freely given.

The book can be purchased here: enGendered

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"Body Opponent Bag Combinations" by Sammy Franco. A Review

Body Opponent Bag Combinations: A Newbie to Expert Guide to Body Opponent Bag Combinations and Workout RoutinesBody Opponent Bag Combinations: A Newbie to Expert Guide to Body Opponent Bag Combinations and Workout Routines by Sammy Franco
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The book is very simply what it says it's about, it's a 192 page softback handbook that guides a practitioner through various routines and combination punches (or punches, grabs and kicks) on a Body Opponent Bag (BOB). This simple-to-read-easy-on-the-eyes manual is condensed from the author's larger books on utilizing a BOB in honing your martial skills. Sammy Franco, founder and creator of Contemporary Fighting Arts and accomplished author, mixes in boxing, martial arts, a small amount of grappling and kick-boxing to round out his book's program.

"Body Opponent Bag Combinations" is set up to take newbies to the intermediate level, and intermediates to the advanced. A reader doesn't need to have any fighting training to gain from the book, though it does help. The idea appears to be that wherever you are in your skill-sets, you can gain many useful ideas and practices by following the author's program. The pictures and simple explanations are quite clear and simple to follow. There is plenty of room to write your own notes and come up with your own combinations. Franco also gives some basic advice that comes from years of using a BOB, such as avoid "bag training two days in a row. Give your body a few days to recover from your last workout" and, to avoid "injury or burnout, don't engage in BOB training more than three times per week" (144). The older I get, the truer I find this advice!

After reading "Body Opponent Bag Combinations" I became re-interested in getting back to mixing it up with my BOB, and just had a healthy string of rounds with it last night. If you're looking for ideas on how to make your BOB training more beneficial, or wanting to start up some martial training, you'll find this book just right. If you run a school that has a BOB or two, this book should be in your training/lending library. I highly recommend the book.

You can purchase the book here: Body Opponent Bag Combinations

And the author's website is here: Sammy Franco

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Monday, December 10, 2018

"O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" (Advent plus 1) Pt 3


(If you would rather listen to the sermon you can go here)


O Come, O Come, Emmanuel Pt 3
Isaiah 11.1-10 (Luke 1.30-55)
BLESSED Lord, who has caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of your holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Joshua Wehe’s Eagle Project tree… Today we come at the major Scripture behind the 3rd verse of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”: “O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free / Thine own from Satan's tyranny; From depths of hell thy people save, And give them victory o'er the grave. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.” As we sing this verse we can clearly see how it bleeds Bible and glistens Gospel! The main passage driving this verse is Isaiah 11.1-10, where we hear of the Spirit of Christ, the justice of Christ and the New Creation of Christ.

Spirit of Christ (11.1-3a): The promise is of the one who will come as a 2nd David (v.1), “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit” (11.1). Like Joshua Wehe’s Eagle Project tree…. This special one, this long-awaited one will have the Spirit of the LORD resting on Him (11.2). The Spirit will enable this 2nd David in his calling and mission (11.3a). // “And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1.35).  ““The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor” … “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”” (Luke 4.18-21).  O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free / Thine own from Satan's tyranny…” Therefore, this Spirit is on Christ, and if we are united to Christ, the Spirit resting on him fills us. His Spirit becomes our resource for …! “O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free / Thine own from Satan's tyranny…”  The rod of Jesse, the branch from his roots that shall bear fruit, and buds and blossoms with a particular fruit, both the justice of Christ and the New Creation of Christ!

Justice of Christ (11.3b-5): No hood-winking him! No pulling the wool over his eyes, “He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear” (11.3b)! [a] He won’t be fooled BY or ABOUT the poor, “but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth” (11.4a). In fact he will show proper care and fairness for the truly poor and the genuinely meek of the earth (The meek will inherit the earth). [b] 4c sounds like the book of Revelation in a nutshell “and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked” (11.4b)! [c] He will be so accustomed to moral integrity and steadfast loyalty that he will seem to be clothed with it, “Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins” (11.5)! Even Mary’s song of praise in Luke 1.46-55 wraps justice and righteousness like swaddling cloths around the coming of Jesus! “He fills the poor with good; he gives the suff’rers rest: the Lord has judgments for the proud and justice for th’ oppressed” (Isaac watts). Therefore, the embodiment of the eternal Son of God as that embryo in Mary’s womb, as well as in his birth, holy life, teaching, crucifixion for our sins and resurrection for our justification, ascension and enthronement nails down and opens up our hope that death is not the final word; evil is not the last statement; desperation is not our definitive demise, and so we sing, “O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free / Thine own from Satan's tyranny; From depths of hell thy people save, And give them victory o'er the grave.” And being united to Jesus, the rod of Jesse, by the Holy Spirit thru faith, also makes us part of his concern for righteousness and justice—in a world where people are being sexually beaten up, physically violated, economically trounced and racially desecrated. “O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free / Thine own from Satan's tyranny; From depths of hell thy people save, And give them victory o'er the grave.” But the other fruit budding and blossoming on this rod of Jesse is the New Creation of Christ! The justice of Christ and the New Creation of Christ must go together!

New Creation of Christ (11.6-10): Alec Motyer makes this comment: “[…] first the Messiah buds forth and then, through him, new life for people becomes possible on a world-wide scale and the life of nature itself is transformed.” In a very picturesque way, the prophet shows how the one we are praying to, comes and brings reconciliation and resolution to old, deeply embedded hostilities, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them” (11.6). In fact, the scenic presentation goes further and shows how the New Creation brought by the rod of Jesse changes the old natural fierceness from within, where carnivores have a new nature, and shockingly they become herbivores: “The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox” (11.7). This all points back to Eden, but points forward to the New Eden of the regeneration of all things! You surely may come just as you are; but be assured, he will not leave you as you are! Even the curse appears to be completely removed, “The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den” (11.8). Genesis 3.15 seems to be played out…, and, surprise, this New Eden is Mt. Zion; and, surprise of all surprises, Mt. Zion becomes the whole transformed earth; “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (11.9)! Personal New Creation, but also Corporate, Tribal and cosmic New Creation, “In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious” (11.10)!  O yes! “O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free / Thine own from Satan's tyranny; From depths of hell thy people save, And give them victory o'er the grave.” And the carol assures us our prayer shall be answered: “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

Those who have been made at peace with God thru our Lord Jesus Christ, the rod of Jesse, are freed to become his peacemakers among warring family members, church members, tribes and races, and joyfully desire to see love and peace flowing to the creation. As the choir sang: “Oh, happy towns and blessed lands  That live by their true king’s commands. And blessed be the hearts he rules, The humble places where he dwells. He is the rightful Son of bliss Who fills our lives and makes us his, Creator of the world, Our only strength for good” (George Weissel, “Fling Wide the Door.”). And so, rightly we sing this verse in our Advent carol, “O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free / Thine own from Satan's tyranny; From depths of hell thy people save, And give them victory o'er the grave. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

O come, thou Rod of Jesse” – right up front you know that you are praying for the one born that night in Bethlehem to come, to come again and fill out to the fullest the promise in Isaiah 11!
O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free” – you are asking him to liberate, emancipate, to break chains and shatter shackles – our own and others! But what chains and shackles?
O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free (1) Thine own from Satan's tyranny [temptation, domination, subjugation!]; (2) From depths of hell thy people save, [hell can be felt and experienced in many ways – some mental illnesses feel like hell; crippled and cruel relationships; addictions; social unraveling and brutality – yes! From the depth of hell thy people save!], (3) And give them victory o'er the grave [run with it! Let your hearts run and race through every death-trap, and the final death-trap of us all].
And then, look up, be encouraged, for we are heard and will be answered: Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Vespers - 9 December 2018


Built on Psalm 23
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. It’s to you we pray on behalf of those who need to be replenished and restored…supply them with all they need, give them refreshing places of rest and refreshment, lead them upward and onward, even when they lose their footing. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. There are some who are treading and trudging their way through dark places, crawling through the dark night of the soul. We pray for them…may they have a sense of your unexplainable presence, detect hints of you holding them by their right hand, and feel you correcting and directing them into comfortable and comforting ways.  O Lord, hear our prayer.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. We ask you to be with our brothers and sisters in Nigeria, Iran, Cameroon, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, India, Mynmar, and many other places. And we ask, even more specifically, for those who are in harms’ way, or are being trafficked, or are in brutal and horrifying captivity…pour on them your life-saving mercies so that they will be fortified to faithfully hold to the good confession they made in the presence of many witnesses and fight the good fight of the faith. And, O Good Shepherd, deliver them. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. May we all hear your sheepdogs of goodness and mercy herding us safely and securely toward your forever-presence and fellowship. We thank you that though we may lose our way at times, you will never lose us. O Lord, hear our prayer.

"Who Is Like You, O LORD?" - 9 December 2018



Moses sang (Exodus 15.11), “Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” and so we draw near to you through Jesus Christ with a true heart in the full assurance of faith.

O faithful Lord, we pray for your Church in all nations, for this congregation and for Korean Martyrs Catholic Church, Little Flower, Mar Thoma, and Sacred Heart Church. Lead and guide your people in sound doctrine, establish the preeminence of the Gospel of Jesus, strengthen and fortify your little lambs in utmost loyalty, and supply all our needs richly in Christ Jesus, so that we may learn to devote ourselves to good works to help in cases of urgent need and not be unfruitful (Titus 3.14).

God of steadfast love, please call, convert and conserve those who have never submitted to your Son, and please collect those who have “wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6.10).

We implore you, merciful Father, to look compassionately on the sick and sorrowful, beleaguered and besieged, heartbroken and harried … we ask you to restore and bless them body and soul in Jesus Christ, and grant them to have joy in you.

O LORD, you who are a man of war (Exodus 15.3), we beseech you on behalf of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. Grant them your strengthening presence to guide them, protect them and keep them strong in their duty; and for any who have been in combat and are riddled with horrible memories, fierce dreams, shame-filled regrets and intense anger; bring them the sustaining, health-restoring aid they need and grant them your unshakeable peace.

God, mighty over the nations, we ask for the countries of the world that you would please turn the violence, saber-rattling, and tyranny on its head. Direct the leaders, along with the citizens of each country, toward greater and greater justice, peace and civility that all the peoples of the nations may flourish in health and hope, your Church would be safe from harm, and your Gospel make unhindered progress.

God of our fathers, look on and guide these United States of America, our leaders – including the judges for our Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, our citizens, and all residents; preserve us from all enemies and from all falsehood; move us to a more considerable moral integrity; restrain us from accepting and indulging ungodly, destructive lifestyles, habits and addictions; and arouse us to become exporters of goodness and virtue rather than vice and villainy.

All we ask here, Lord, we ask in faith and in the name of Jesus Christ your Son and our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

"The Twelve Days of Christmas in Oklahoma" by Tammi Sauer, Illustrated by Victoria Hutto. A Review

The Twelve Days of Christmas in OklahomaThe Twelve Days of Christmas in Oklahoma by Tammi Sauer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a fun book, and a beautiful way to introduce young Oklahomans and non-Oklahomans to the State's history and hot-spots! Tammi Sauer, author of some 27 children's picture books, has put together a brilliantly illustrated kid's hardback that spins off of an old Christmas song, with a distinctive Oklahoma twang! "The Twelve Days of Christmas in Oklahoma" is 40 big, glossy, colorful pages of sheer fun, facts and features, colorfully illustrated by Victoria Hutto.

Sauer takes the old Christmas song and tailors it to Oklahoma around a visit by young Addison to her Oklahoma cousin, Ethan. They spend twelve, face-paced, whirlwind days touring Oklahoma sites, sounds and smells from the Southeast corner to the Northwest panhandle. The unique aspects of Oklahoma, from history to happenings, are chronicled in letters sent by Addison to her parents each day, mentioning activities and specific facts about the State. And each day is included in the distinctive rendition of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" that help hammer down what was experienced.

"The Twelve Days of Christmas in Oklahoma" needs to be picked up by the State tourism folks! But even better, it will make a great Christmas present for your kids, grandkids, and any children you know. It's easy to read and attractive. It can be read by a second grader alone, or with a child cuddled in your lap. I bought a copy for my four grandchildren who live in another State. I highly recommend the book, and urge you to snatch up copies soon to get them delivered before the holidays!

As a side note I met the author for the first time today at a book-signing at a local bookstore. I had the opportunity to glance at a few of the author's other children's picture books. Though they have different illustrators, the ones I peaked into looked promising. Give them a glance as well.

The author's website has a list and short description of all her books. Her site is here: Tammi Sauer

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