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Monday, August 3, 2015

"Fool's Talk" by Os Guinness. A Review

Fool's Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian PersuasionFool's Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion by Os Guinness
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Slick spin and polished patois throb and thud their way through every aspect of American society. Whether it’s left or right, liberal or conservative, revisionist or traditionalist, each group has its own particular guild-talk and encoded lingo that fulfills and fortifies their respective self-perceptions. On top of this, much of our communication has become self-serving and self-absorbed, as we post and present and publish our blogs, statuses, thoughts and tweets. As all of this self-important and self-fulfilling hype clouds our associations, “social” media and society what, then, happens to the Gospel? Increasingly it falls into the trap of just being another slice of profile-raising that craves all the “Likes” it can garner. In “Fool's Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion” Os Guinness, author, editor, and founder and past senior fellow of the Trinity Forum, has compiled a 270 page hardback to help Christians remedy the situation. It is a book about apologetics, but more than apologetics. It is about evangelism, but more than evangelism. It is concerned with Christian persuasion that is an advocacy of the heart, “an existential approach to sharing our faith” that is “deeper and more faithful as well as more effective than the common approaches used by many,” that is less concerned with winning the argument and more focused on “winning hearts and minds and people” (18).

Throughout “Fool's Talk” it is clear that Guinness is not presenting a pre-packaged, cookie-cutter program. The author is making a case for keeping apologetics and evangelism, proclamation and persuasion together (27). But he is also cultivating the important mindset of humility. As he wisely states, if the Christian faith is true, “it is true even if no one believes it, and if it is not true, it is false even if everyone believes it. The truth of the faith does not stand and fall with our defense of it” (58). To have this as a settled condition of the heart relieves the Gospel presenter and defender from the need to close the sell or win the debate, and instead it frees them up to care about the person or persons they are conversing with.

But it seems to me that Guinness is up to something bigger in “Fool’s Talk” than just stressing the value and importance of keeping apologetics and evangelism together. He appears to be doing three other, very important things in the book. First, the author challenges Western Christianity’s attraction toward modernism and postmodernism; the “breathless idolizing of such modern notions as change, relevance, innovation and being on the right side of history,” especially in the areas of time and technique (30). The new forms of “toxic syncretism” that spread “cowardice and compromise,” kowtowing to the pollster as king and data as all decisive, where “truth and falsehood, right and wrong, wise and foolish must give way to statistics, opinion surveys and pie charts,” that becomes “compatible with anything and everything, and so means nothing” (209-27). The importance of this challenge reminds us that if the truth of Christianity is true no matter what, then we don’t have to be captured by relevance as society defines relevance; and it reminds us that we will need to be just as focused on persuasion with those inside Christianity as we are toward those outside.

Along with this, the author will not leave Christians in a self-congratulatory position. Guinness, rightly it seems to me, persuasively subverts our propensity to whitewash our own failings. He defies our need to always be right, to win at all costs, whether with “showy exhibitionist rhetoric or ruthless streamrollering” (170). But more importantly, he lays open our own fault in the crumbling influence of Christianity in the West by pointing out how our own hypocrisies have undermined the Gospel; “Atheists gain their main emotive force not by setting out the purported glories of their worldview, ( . . . ), but in attacking the evils and excesses of Christians and Christendom. Something has surely gone terribly wrong when Christians are the best atheist arguments against the Christian faith and Christendom their best arguments for atheism” (204). Therefore Guinness points to the rightness of confession and repentance; “Plainly, there is a time in our arguments to confess, and confession and changed lives have to be a key part of our arguments” (206).

Finally, Guinness lays out the composition of unbelief; not for the purposes of excuse-making or ridiculing, but to show how the heart, mind and life are engaged in unbelief, and so “we must always need to be ready to go beyond purely rational arguments, for the human will is in play, so our arguments are never dealing with purely neutral or disinterested minds” (94). This means, for the author, that though Jesus is the only way to God, yet there are many ways people come to Jesus (232). He spends two significant chapters unpacking this, “Triggering the Signals” and “Charting the Journey”. In both of these chapters he shows the important place that signals of transcendence have in bringing others to start looking and searching beyond their presuppositions and assurances, and journey toward the moment when they will either take to their heels, or fall on their knees (250). The author is promoting a thoughtful charitableness that should pervade all Christian advocacies.

“Fool’s Talk” is about reclaiming and recovering the lost art of Christian persuasion. Guinness works masterfully to inspire Christians toward that end, but not through craft or technique. Instead, it is an advocacy of the heart, the face-to-face loving others who are in the image of God, seeking to persuade them with true truth that is life changing, even life changing for the persuader! I recommend this book.

My deep appreciation goes to IVP Books for the free copy of the book used for this review.

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Saturday, August 1, 2015

"The Message of Lamentations" by Christopher J. H. Wright. A Review

The Message of Lamentations
The Bible Speaks Today series
Christopher J. H. Wright
IVP Academic
ISBN: 978-0-8308-2441-0; June 2015; $12.80
Reviewed by Rev. Dr. Michael Philliber
5 out of 5 stars

Serious and Simple

It’s an odd assertion, but it clearly appears to me that lament and grief have been escorted out of the Church Sanctuary, and in many cases, forced to the leave the premises altogether.  Their absence brings many American churches to look plastic, and leaves an emotional hole in the soul of a congregation. If everything must be upbeat in a church, then after a while, only the enthused, and those who can fake enthusiasm, feel they have a place. All others are forced to weep and sorrow in the silence of their empty homes, or in the vacant quietness of their hurting hearts. Yet lamenting is a full partner in the Christian life. This is evidenced by the vocalized grief that courses through the Psalms, the Prophets and all the way to Revelation; where the compounding voices and cries join together, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long…” (Revelation 6.10)? Restoring the balanced placing of lament in the Christian life and worship is one of the aims of Christopher J. H. Wright, international ministries director of the Langham Partnership, in his new 170 page paperback commentary, “The Message of Lamentations.”  This small volume is the most recent installment in “The Bible Speaks Today” series.

Wright clearly sees Lamentations as having a valuable spot in Scripture as well as in the sacred society. As he notes, “the book assigns to us, as Christian readers, the missional task of hearing the voice of the oppressed and persecuted, bearing witness to their suffering, and advocating on their behalf – which is part of the purpose and power of lament” (55). To listen intently to the tears and terror of Lamentations tunes Christians to remember that real people have suffered, do suffer still (21); and it trains us to use these words for ourselves and on behalf of others.

The author correctly observes that there are several voices being heard in this biblical book; the voice of the Poet, the voice of Lady Zion, the voice of the people. But there is one voice missing, one person who doesn’t speak for himself in all of the five chapters; “There is one voice we never hear. God does not speak in the whole book of Lamentations. Heaven is silent” (33). His silence honors the grieved and ground down because it makes room for honesty in the hurt, candor in the thickest catastrophe. Yet, because Lamentations is part of the whole of Scripture, because it is in the sacred story, the voiceless one has turned “the whole book into a part of the scriptural word through which God’s voice is heard” (43).

Wright skillfully teases out the various textures in Lamentations, pointing out its particularities and peculiarities. His approach is scholarly enough to delight Seminarians and academics, while being simple enough to benefit busy pastors and Bible Study leaders. The book can be used for personal study, and is geared to facilitate group study. Not only is it affordable, but it affords Christian readers a wealth of deep, thought-provoking substance that will likely bring them to fall on their knees and lift their faces in astonishment and worshipful wonder. I strongly recommend the book!

My sincere thanks to IVP Academic for the free copy of “The Message of Lamentations” used for this review.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

O God, Most High" - 26 July 2015 AM and PM

Sunday Morning:
O God, Most High, who made all things very good by the Word of your power, and are a God of order and not confusion: we beseech you to shape the events, strategies, deliberations and relations in our land, that we may be a nation and a people who enjoy godly order and godly living; a nation and a people who honor blameless virtue and protect the aged, the unborn, the children, and the defenseless; a nation and a people who respect and promote honest work, ingenuity, quality education, and thrift; and a nation and a people who truly are a land of the free and home of the brave.

We call upon you to support our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, law enforcers, firefighters and first responders, that they may be courageous in the face of duty, industrious in the face of drudgery, successful in their tasks, and led by upright, honest leaders.

 Guide the nations of this world in just and equitable ways that their peoples may enjoy good and peaceful security, so that your church may live in calm liberty, and the Gospel spread throughout all lands without harm.

We pray for your Church in every realm; restore unity where there is brokenness; godliness where there is immorality; sound doctrine where there is error; pure worship where there is idolatry; and may the Gospel of Jesus Christ have full sway over us in all that we think, do and say.

Father, who cares about this congregation far more than any of us; to whom our hearts, plans and thoughts are open; we acknowledge that our future lies in your hands. This is your church, and we are your people. Lead us onward, upward and outward that we may be a safe place for those needing sanctuary from the thundering and blustering world and a healing people for those battered and beat-up. Thank you for the opportunities we had this past week in our VBS; thank you for those who perspired, played, planned, and participated. Now, Lord, be pleased to prosper our endeavors to your glory, to the salvation of some, and to the encouragement of us all.

We pour out our hearts to you on behalf of those who are still unbelieving, and those who have strayed away….Please grant them repentance so that they may know the truth and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will (2 Timothy 2.25-26).

And finally we pray for the sick, the recovering, those who are undergoing treatment, those who are  emotionally and physically hobbling,……grant them restored health, renewed strength, refreshing joy and peace; so that they may gain patience, and that patience would have its perfect work in them that they may become mature and complete, lacking nothing (James 1.2-4).


Sunday Evening:
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, as well as Bethany 1st Church of the Nazarene; Calvary Church; Capitol Hill Church; Lake Overholster Nazarene Church; and Southwest Church of the Nazarene; sustain these brothers and sisters, build them up in the most holy faith, that they may be able to stand strong against all the wiles of the devil. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Look on this congregation with your favor, O our God. 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). Please help us as we move into a new season. Guide our Session as they seek to shepherd and lead this congregation, and be with our Deacons as they serve that they may successfully navigate the physical needs of our building, the budget and care for the bodily needs of folks. O Lord, hear our prayer.

We are grateful for Pastor John’s recovery from eye surgery; give him patience as he continues to recuperate; and guide him and Marie as they seek a new field of endeavor. Thank you for the opportunities that have opened up before him, and help him to discern the direction he should take.  O Lord, hear our prayer.

We intercede on behalf of those who are anguished with poor health…, sparse finances…, marital scuffles …, family frictions…, with deep downheartedness…, emotional and mental distresses…, vocational worries…, Please, Father, raise them up, give them hope, health, clarity, relief and all the resources they need; that in the end they may raise their hearts to you in thanksgiving. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

God's Untrendy People

1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you. 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:1-5 ESV).

Why is it that when we are at our best – as God’s people – we are often un-trendy? What is it that sets our feet solidly on the ground while society swirls around with some kind of emotional and moral vertigo? Here in 1 Peter 1.1-5 Peter gives us clear clues of how the God-made, God-treasured people are able to stay the course – which often makes us his untrendy people.

The God-Made, God-Treasured People (1-2). Peter charges out of the chute with declarations about God and about his people. The God-made, God-treasured people are Chosen yet alienated (v.1 – elect exiles).  In fact this tension between being chosen and desired by God while being rejected and alienated from society runs throughout the letter. For example: Jesus – 2.4-5; Themselves – “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles …. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (2.11-12).  

But how? How did they – and how do we – become elect exiles? By means of God’s world rescue project (2). Don’t miss how the whole God is wholly involved in this – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit: 1. The Plan – The Father’s Foreknowledge; 2. The Process – The Spirit’s work of sanctification; 3. The Purpose – Obedience to Christ and his sprinkling of the blood of liberation (see 1.17-21!!!) [made free, living free]

Because God has made us his people, emancipated us, and is now radically transforming us, our aims and our orientations, we march to a different drum-beat; we have different standards of morality, of marriage, of power, of honor, of success, and of worth. He redefines us, who we are, what we’re about, etc. He has thus made us his untrendy people. Therefore, this untrendiness means trouble is possible.

And so, the God-made, God-treasured people are un-trendy. But how do we stay on this untrendy task? … Peter tells us how and why in v.3-5.

The God-Treasured People Made Untouchable (3-5)! (a) Birthed-again according to his abundant mercy. Not based on anything in us, or any qualities of ours, but simply and solely upon his great mercy. 2 Timothy 1.9-10.  (b) Birthed-again into a living hope through the irreversible, irrevocable, unalterable, unchangeable resurrection of Christ. The One who died a shame-filled death for us and yet was vindicated and certified on the third day in the resurrection.  (c) Birthed-again unto an unfading, kept inheritance (4-5). They are guarded by God’s power thru Faith.

Peter is encouraging these Christians in the face of trouble – and all God’s special-made people – to take heart, to have a brawny, beefy, burly confidence, a tough-minded assurance, because the Resurrection of Jesus Christ has happened and it is irreversible, irrevocable, unalterable and unchangeable; and that, therefore you are securely held in the hands of the crucified, triumphantly resurrected Christ; and so, you will never be disinherited, no matter what the world may do. You’re the untrendy God-made, God-treasured people through the crucified and resurrected Jesus! And so, like Peter, we too can break out in rejoicing: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ….!”

Monday, July 20, 2015

"Fight for Power" by Eric Walters. A Review

Fight for Power (Rule of Three, #2)Fight for Power by Eric Walters
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Society continues to disintegrate in "Fight for Power," the second volume of the "Rule of Three" series by Eric Walters. The story line follows Adam, his mother, Herb and the neighborhood into darker waters, deeper drama and a sinister spin at the end. It is an easy read written for teens that picks up where the last volume left off, and leaves the reader looking forward to the final installment.

There are ethical twists, hard decisions and compassionate actions pulsing through "Fight for Power" that will bring the reader to ask themselves, "What would I do in this situation?" Again, as Walters follows the theme from the previous book, it is a "life-boat" scenario, pushing for serious decision-making. The question that crops up in subtle, and at times obvious, ways is, "What makes us moral human beings in inhuman and immoral settings?" One gets the impression that the author has touched, and been touched, by this question in concrete ways, possibly in the environment surrounding the Kenyan orphanage he co-founded.

This dystopian account continues to be free of profanity and sexual engagements. And yet it ably addresses adult topics of life, death, survival and communal flourishing. This will make a great summer read for teens and young adults plodding through the summer blahs and out-of-school ho-hums. And parents may be interested in encouraging their kids to read this work for the purpose of fostering mature discussions with their middle and upper school children. I recommend the book.

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Sunday, July 19, 2015

"O God, the Father Almighty" - 19 July 2015

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 on my side, I will not fear, what can man do to me” (Psalm 118.6)? We pray for your Church throughout the nations, and specifically for New Life Church of God in Christ; Page Sanctuary; Rainbow Church of God in Christ; St. Timothy Church; Trinity Church of God in Christ and Victory Temple; sustain these brothers and sisters through the hard and happy times. Look upon their needs, provide them with all good things necessary for them to do the work you have called them to, stir up the glowing embers of their hearts, stoking the fires of your joy, love and holiness in them that they may be encouraged to remain faithful to you and consistent in their lives. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Look on this congregation with your favor, O Good Shepherd. In the midst of our hurts, skinned-up hopes, and hesitations we pray in the words of your servant, Paul, that you would help us to love one another more and more, aspiring to live quietly, to mind our own affairs, and to work with our own hands, that we may walk properly toward those who are outsiders, and dependent on no one (1 Thessalonians 4.10c-12). Savior, we want to be a sanctuary of Gospel-peace and refreshment for those who are wandering in the wastelands; please bring it about. And raise up laborers – even from among us – to enter your harvest! O Lord, hear our prayer.

Tomorrow, Lord, we launch our Mega Sports Camp VBS. We have prepared and fixed up and organized and practiced. Lord, may your hand be on us as we go into this week. Give us energy, patience, and resilience; may the kids and adults stay safe; and we ask you to orchestrate opportunities for us to explain the Gospel in words, and help us to exhibit the Gospel in actions. Father, prosper our work this week. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Merciful God, whose mercy and love flow freely; we call out to you for acquaintances and intimates who need to believe in Christ and repent of their sins, as well as friends and family who have strayed away and need to be restored, … rescue those perishing; reclaim those straying; and help us to be willing participants in your Gospel working into their lives. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Hear us, O Lord, as we plead with you for all nations, including our own country, in this fractured and sometimes vicious world. Restore and reinforce 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. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

"Praise Is Due to You, O God": 12 July 2015 AM and PM

Sunday Morning:

O God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, Giver of all good gifts, we pray for your Church throughout the nations, specifically in Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, New Guinea, and the rest of Asia: sustain these brothers and sisters through the hard and happy times. Look upon their needs and provide them with all good things necessary for them to do the work you have called them to.

Give patience and joy to all the parents as we raise our children in your righteous ways. Aid the single that they may resist the pressures of our world and keep themselves chaste. Strengthen the young adults to continue to follow Christ faithfully. May these children (younger and older) embrace the Christian faith we have been handing on to them through Sunday School, Faith Alive! and in our homes. And for all of us, may the fruit of the Spirit…..grow large in us.

We call out to you for those we know who need to believe in Christ and repent of their sins, those who have strayed away and need to be restored, and those whose faith is shaken…. Turn them away from the darkness to embrace the Son of your love, Jesus Christ.

O Eternal God, as you guided our forbearers to promote and guarantee life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; guide us now – citizens and leaders alike – to properly maintain these gifts. We pray for clear heads to prevail in the midst of all the shouting. We ask for civility and consideration to once again take the lead. And continue to preserve the free exercise of religion in this land, for the good of your Church and the going-forth of your Gospel.

Hear us, O Lord, to whom all nations are as a drop in the bucket, and look upon the poverty, clashes, coups, and border quarrels throughout the world. Please restore peace, order and prosperity that clean drinking water, food, education, prosperity, and industry may again be established; so that all people might thrive, and your Church be unharmed.

We intercede on behalf of those who are anguished and aching, those with poor health, scanty finances, family strife, nerve-wracking fears and tumultuous anxieties….. Raise them up, give them hope, health, and all the resources they need to recover.

Sunday Evening:

Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion, and to you shall vows be performed. O you who hear prayer, to you shall all flesh come. When iniquities prevail against me, you atone for our transgressions (Psalm 65.1-3).

We pray for your Church throughout the nations, as well as for N.E. 65th St. Church of God in Christ; Greater Gospel Kingdom Church of God in Christ; Light House Church; Love, Joy and Peace Church; Madison Street Church of God; and New Bethel Church of God in Christ. May they be filled with the Spirit of Christ, live by the Spirit and walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5.25). May their fellowships be rich in brotherly love, their homes full of peace and harmony; and their lives be faithful testimonies of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Lord God, our older teens are launching out into new ventures – some already gone. We ask you to help them as they take on more adult responsibilities, making more adult decisions. Guide them in those determinations, and wherever they go and whatever they do, help them to remember who they are, whose they are, and why they are. Surround them with good friends, fellow believers, that they may rejoice that their path is not lonely. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Father, seasons like this can be hard on a church. Sometimes the thoughts and voices in our heads can lead us to think in ways that are suspicious and skeptical; and sometimes the shadow-community lurking in our hearts can dishearten and demoralize us from within with self-doubts, accusing self-talk and defeatism. Father, for our part, help us that our instinctive mind-set will always be from a position of charity and grace. And Father, for your part, please – as you have done in the past, so now and on into the future – continue to sustain us and (and in the words of St. Paul) let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6.9-10).   O Lord, hear our prayer.

Finally, Lord, we again bring up our Mega Sports Camp VBS. Thank you for all those who have given their time and resources; be with those who will help from behind the scenes, and those who will be out front. We pray for the Christian kids and adults, that this will be encouraging to them; and we pray for the kids and parents who have no church that your Spirit would be pleased to use what we do, how we act, and the Gospel-words we speak to draw them into your family. O Lord, hear our prayer.