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Thursday, January 29, 2015

"Half the Word" by Joe Abercrombie. A Review

Half the World (Shattered Sea, #2)Half the World by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Left dangling with anticipation in “Half a King,” many readers will be delighted that Joe Abercrombie’s soon-to-be-released 384 page hardback, “Half the Word” is about to see the light of day. In this new work the author picks up a few old friends who are drawn into perilous adventures with new oar-mates, forged together by sweat, fear, fighting and savagery, into a family of sorts. Their exploits take them through half the world, creating much needed, but unlooked for, alliances for Gettland, while overcoming obstructions, conflicts, and vows for revenge.

“Half the World” revolves around a young teenage girl, Thorn Bathu, who has vowed to one day kill Grom-gil-Gorm, the Breaker of Swords and Maker of Orphans, and the killer of her father. The determination runs deep in her blood, and drives her every waking and sleeping moment. She trains in Master Hunnan’s school with this ambition in mind, only to be set up for failure, and through an accident in the sparring ring, finding herself declared a murderer. From here the making of a warrior in all of her Amazonian intensity begins in earnest as Father Yarvi, now the King’s minister, takes her under his wing on his extended journey to the First of Cities, which is half a world away. Thorn is trained by a skilled fighting woman, Skifr, throughout the long voyage, strengthening her muscles, sharpening her skills, and stiffening her resolve. Thorn’s finely fashioned fighting abilities will pay off in winning the heart of the new, young and inexperienced Empress Vialine. Thorn’s daring in defending the Empress, almost singlehandedly, against seven warriors and the sinister Duke Mikedas, will shape an unlooked for alliance between the Empress, her Empire and Gettland.

The expedition sails aboard the South Winds, with a rugged and ruthless crew that includes Rulf the helmsman who had travelled with Father Yarvi in the previous book. But the crew also includes Brand, one of Thorn’s fellow students from Master Hunnan’s school. Brand, orphaned young, has found himself betrayed for his honesty, and similarly pulled into Father Yarvi’s cunning agenda. The adolescent dynamic between Brand and Thorn is stiff but tolerable at first, and then turns icy cold on the return trip from the First of Cities, only to melt into heated embraces in the last third of the book. Both Thorn and Brand develop from the uneasiness of their youth into more mature individuals who find something of their place and purpose in the world. There are wonderful turns and twists through most of “Half the World” that will keep a reader on their bookish toes, turning pages, and biting their nails.

Yet, the wheels of “Half the World” begin to deflate in the last third of the book, where the storyline becomes tired and trudges along. One wonders if the plot becomes more plodding because the author starts imposing steamy love scenes between Thorn and Brand that add nothing to the story, or did the author sense the narrative sagging and so brings in the intrusive sexual trysts to spice things up? There is a shorter, similar scene between Father Yarvi and Sumael. Though none of them are outright pornographic, the scenes are distracting, disappointing and downright unnecessary. Maybe I should have expected that something like this might come about, since earlier in the book I was taken aback by the immodest description of Thorn’s discomforting moment of menstruation that I imagine would bring a blush to many young women’s cheeks. As a father of girls who have grown to womanhood, I know from experience that they would rather the whole business be kept private and not displayed for all to see. In the end, none of these episodes add any value to the plotline, but instead cheapen what was a great story.

“Half the World” began with promises of being just as good, if not better, than “Half a King”. But it ended up sagging its way into being only half the book it promised to be. Sadly, I find it difficult to recommend.

My thanks to Random House Publishing and Net Galley for the temporary e-copy of this book used for this review.

(Feel free to repost, republish or reprint this review; but as always, please give credit where credit is due. Mike)

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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Congregational Prayer - 25 January 2015

Almighty God, whose eyes run to and fro throughout the whole earth to show yourself strong on behalf of those whose hearts are loyal to you (2 Chronicles 16.9), we pray for this world and your church.

We call upon you to relieve the fear, sooth the pain, and settle the trouble of those who need physical, monetary, mental, and relational healing...restore them, remove any gloom or anxiety, filling them with your unsurpassable peace to guard their hearts and minds IN Christ Jesus, and give them solid reasons to have hope in You when they feel all wrung out and thoroughly used up. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Please shield, keep safe and brave our U.S. Military people, restore them to their families unharmed. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Lord God, Maker, Sustainer and Governor of all things: we implore you to mercifully shower us with the rains and precipitation we need in this area. Thank you for what you have provided us, and grant us enough to hedge off this extended drought. O Lord, hear our prayer.

We ask you to look upon our country and its new leadership, maintain our liberties, and guide us all (from the White House to our house) along the path of your truth and righteousness. Also, for the nations of our world, we ask you to turn away the violence, oppression and evil and advance that which is best and most fair for the good of your Church and wellbeing of all. O Lord, hear our prayer.

O our God, we pray for your Church in all places, especially Progressive Baptist Church; Prospect Missionary Baptist; Rancho Village Baptist; Redeemed Missionary Baptist; and Rising Star Baptist Church: For those claiming to be yours, but who have embraced error in creed or deed, lead them into all truth by your Holy Word and Holy Spirit. For those who are towing the line of fidelity in Christ’s cause, supply all of their needs, encourage them, and preserve them from the evil one. O Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray for this congregation: be pleased to assist us in glorifying and enjoying you, and in profitably expanding the borders of your dominion and add to our number such as are being saved. Incline our hearts toward your testimonies and not toward covetousness. Turn away our eyes from looking at worthless things, and revive us in your way (Ps. 119.36-37).  O Lord, hear our prayer.

Finally, we implore your grace to convert those who have never believed in your Son and please restore those who have strayed away from you… O Lord, hear our prayer.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

"Deeply Moved" (John 11.17-29, 32-35, 38) - a Funeral Homily

Deeply Moved
John 11.17-29, 32-35, 38.

Often time this passage is rummaged through for its comforting words in verses 25-26. And then v. 35 is latched onto by others who want to sarcastically or humorously flaunt the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept.” But there is a great depth to this true episode in Jesus’ life, and this afternoon I want to draw your hearts and minds to three things: (1) The Accusing Voices; (2) The Anticipation; and (3) The Anguish.

The Accusing Voices (v. 21 and 32) “Lord, if you had been here,…”: You hear it in this scene – the same thing family members hear in their heads and heart; “If only you had been here…If only you had spent more time with them…if only you had only been a better son/daughter…if only you had…!” Even our Lord Jesus, at the death of his dear friend Lazarus heard those voices accusing him, admonishing him, accosting him! Remember this as you hear those voices in your heads, those whispers and jeers condemning you, shaming you, blaming you. Jesus, who did no wrong, was also blamed in the same way. You loved your mother and did for her the things sons are supposed to do, even watching a Thunders game on TV with her the night before she left you!

The Anticipation (v.25-26): Jesus words comfort us as Christians. We know that he is announcing something big here – death is not the final word! That is our hope; this is what we look forward to longingly. And if we are presently united to Christ, Jesus is saying here, we already belong to that new heavens and new earth, we are resurrection people now! Listen to how the apostle puts it in 1 Corinthians 15: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. … But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” Rejoice! Take heart! Lift up your eyes with longing, expectant hope!

The Anguish (v. 33, 35, 38): Pay careful attention here, because what Jesus felt is shocking. “Deeply moved” (33 and 38) is a fairly tame translation of the Greek word. It means angry, indignant, infuriated! Jesus wept, but it was a fuming, and furious weeping. Why? Because death – that alien, that terrorist, that saboteur, that tyrant – death has violated God’s good creation, and death has violated Jesus’ dear friend. And though Jesus’ own death and resurrection will launch the remedy, nevertheless he still is aghast at the “grim reaper”! Take comfort dear friends, the one person who can do anything about death – and is doing something about it – is irate at death, and angry at XXXXX’s death! Remember, Jesus wept, and so you are not weeping alone!!!

So I end here with the words of St. Peter, words meant to help: “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, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1.3-5). This is true of XXXXX in so far as she put her trust in Jesus – and it is true of you as you also put your trust in him!

Deeply moved – but deeply moved with Jesus, who will one day deeply move heaven and earth to make us, XXXXX, and all things new!

Friday, January 23, 2015

"Praying with the Church" by Scot McKnight. A Review

Praying with the Church: Following Jesus Daily, Hourly, TodayPraying with the Church: Following Jesus Daily, Hourly, Today by Scot McKnight
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Prayer. Sounds like a harmless enough word. People pray in all sorts of ways, whether in gasps of ejaculated cries for help in a crisis, or in planned "quiet time" moments, or in coordinated settings of congregational worship. Yet, in my years of being a pastor, I find that probably most Christians struggle with how to pray, how to generate enough energy, tenacity and creativity to sustain a "prayer life". In my experience part of the problem comes with the notion that all of my prayers need to be of my own crafting. I, personally, have only so much in the area of creative juices, and then I run dry. One remedial question to ask is, do I have to always concoct my own prayers for them to be real? Scot McKnight, professor of New Testament at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, resoundingly says "No!" in his 176 page paperback titled, "Praying with the Church: Following Jesus Daily, Hourly, Today." McKnight builds a case that makes a nice distinction between "praying in the church" (personal, extemporaneous prayers prayed whenever) and "praying with the church" (crafted, traditional prayers from prayer books, prayed at set times). This simple read is for layperson and pastor alike.

In the first segment of "Praying with the Church" McKnight explains his distinction, and pulls together biblical precedent for using the Church's prayers and doing so at the set times traditionally used during daily prayer. The author claims that as we do this we "are joining hands and hearts with millions of other Christians to say the same thing at the same time. By doing this, we are creating in our lives a sacred rhythm of prayer" (2). In this way we are interacting in one aspect of communal spiritual formation where we "are formed together as we learn to pray together" (38). There are times to pray spontaneously, offering petitions for things close to home and for people close to the heart. Then there are appropriate times to implore God's care and mercy, using prayers that remind us that we are involved in the Church of Jesus Christ world over. McKnight's point is well taken. In a narcissistic nation of personal selfies and private subjectivity, daily rising up to pray with and for the Church can be a medicinal tonic that fuels praying with new freshness. This is, in my mind, the best and most helpful part of the book.

The second segment of "Praying with the Church" is more a biographical tale of McKnight's employment of various prayer books; the Orthodox "Manual of Eastern Orthodox Prayers," the Roman Catholic "Liturgy of the Hours," the Anglican "Book of Common Prayer," and Phyllis Tickle's "The Divine Hours". Most of each individual chapter is an explanation as to the use of a specific prayer book, and a forewarning of things a reader might find hard to swallow. Yet throughout, the author reminds his readers why taking this adventure may propel them further up and further on. Though this portion of the book will give some readers fodder to feed on and courage to "dabble" in new things, nevertheless others will be disappointed. I imagine that in the end the Orthodox will "harumph" and write that chapter off as not Orthodox enough; that the Roman Catholic will shake their heads in dissatisfaction and dismiss that chapter as not Catholic enough; and that the Anglicans will smile, nod their heads knowingly and discount that chapter as not Anglican enough. The only person who may well be excited and cheer with glee will be Phyllis Tickle, who likely appreciates the extra coverage her books receive and the free advertisement.

All said, "Praying with the Church" has subtle, soothing strengths and disappointing, dissatisfying drawbacks. Those who may benefit the most from this little tool will be just about anyone who finds their prayers stilted and stumbling and who long to pray anew, both in the Church and with the Church. Pick up a copy and take it out for a spin.

[Feel free to republish, repost or reprint this review: but as always, please give credit where credit is due. Mike]

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

1 Samuel 3.1-10, a Chapel Devotion

1 Samuel 3.1-10
This story, like all of the stories in sacred Scripture, is more about God than it is about God’s servants; it’s more about God’s character than the characters of God’s story! So what does this true story about God tell us regarding God? (1) God knows us even when we don’t know him; (2) God’s patience; And (3) God’s kindness.

God knows: Though Samuel served the LORD, he didn’t know the LORD (v.1 and 7). And yet the LORD knew Samuel – 4 times he calls him by name! Just as we heard in Psalm 139, “O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways” (v.1-3), God knows us before we know him. Something that shocked the socks off of Nathanial when he met Jesus, and heard Jesus say, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you” (John 1.48). This all leads us to think, then on:

God’s patience: The word “called” is used 11 times in these 10 verses. God specifically calls Samuel 4 times. There’s no hurry, no haste, no hassle. God not only knows Samuel, he knows where Samuel is in his pilgrimage. And so with gentleness he prods and patiently pilots Samuel until he knows him.

Being a very hyper-active guy, I need to hear this and be reminded. I want people to make decisions now! I want things fixed and fashioned this very instant! And when I pray, I often want God to drop everything and rush over to me and answer me my way in my time! But thank God, he doesn’t!!! Though God’s patience often perplexes me, nevertheless, his patience is healthy and wholesome.

God’s Kindness: God calls this young fellow and begins to employ him in his world rescue operation. God is famous for utilizing the insignificant and unlikely in his world reclamation project. Even our Lord Jesus repeatedly reminded his people, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14.11, 18.14). And both Peter and James tells us, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Recount with me the many stories of God that tell us this: (1) In two stories separated by centuries he takes an older couple who can’t have kids, and when hope has died, he gives them a child who becomes important in God’s kingdom [Samson and John the Baptizer]; (2) or the foreign woman, who is an outsider, widowed and deeply impoverished – God brings her into his family and gives her the honor of becoming the grandmother of King David [Ruth]; (3) He turns the smallest and last son of Jesse, a shepherd boy, into the King of his kingdom [David]; (4) or the young woman who has no claim to fame, no wealth, no prestige, no power, and God makes her the mother of his own, unique, one-of-a-kind Son, Jesus! (5) Then think of our Lord Jesus himself! We just celebrated Christmas, and so it should be fresh in our minds – God brings his son into the world, not in fame and fortune, not in grand and glorious fanfare with red carpets, military escorts, but instead born in something of a stable and laid in a feeding trough out in a backwater town (Bethlehem), and raised in a shanty town out in the sticks (Nazareth). And once his earthly mission was complete he was unjustly tried before a lynch mob and massacred on a cross. But after all hope had died, he was raised from the dead – body, blood, bones, toenails and hair – raised to be elevated and crowned as Israel’s Messiah and the world’s true Lord.

As we wrap this up, remember and recall that God knows – though you may feel you have lost your way he will not lose you. God is patient – he knows where you are in your pilgrimage and will patiently pilot you to himself. God is kind – “no count people” – as others might say who think they count – “no count people” count with God!

Allow me to end with this: you may be at a place where you are sensing God calling you, tugging and pulling on your consciousness. What do you do? Here is what St. Paul said, “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved…For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”” (Romans 10.9-10, 13). Respond to him like Samuel did, “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3.10); and reply like Mary did, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1.38). And as you do this, you’ll come to know far better than Imagine Dragons could ever imagine:

“I'm waking up, I feel it in my bones
Enough to make my systems blow
Welcome to the new age, to the new age
Welcome to the new age, to the new age!”

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Congregational Prayer - 18 January 2015 PM

O Lord God, as your servant Paul told Timothy, you desire us to pray, lifting up holy hands that are without anger or quarrelling (1 Timothy 2.8). And so we ask your aid to shore up our trust and to help us to come in peace: peace with you through Jesus Christ, and peace with others because of Jesus Christ. We come in the multitude of your mercies, in the name of Jesus and in the power of Your Holy Spirit.

We call upon you to aid and relieve those who are in pain and trouble, who need biological, economic and psychological healing….restore them, body and soul, and give them solid reasons to have hope in you when they feel all squeezed dry and irreparably ruined. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Lord God who gives life, in whose hand is the number of our days; on this Sanctity of Life Sunday we pray for those who are pregnant and afraid – worried about shame and fearful of the future; those who have just heard the news that they are expecting and find themselves pressured by parents or significant others to abort this pregnancy; Father, help them to find strength and comfort, bring them to see that what they are carrying is a human, is their child who bears your image. Surround them with those who will support them through this pregnancy. We also pray for those on the verge of suicide, and those at the far end of life who are tempted by euthanasia. Lord have mercy on them and draw them to your Son that they may know peace and hope. And we ask you to turn the hearts, minds, actions and reactions of the people of this land that we would all recognize that life is your gift. O Lord, hear our prayer.

We ask You to look upon our country, direct the actions and deliberations of all our leaders, especially the recently installed; point them in the direction of your truth and righteousness. Also, for the nations of our world, we pray you to contain the evil, restrain the foul and advance that which is best and most fair for the good of your Church and the wellbeing of all. O Lord, hear our prayer.

O our God, we pray for your Church in all places, Oklahoma Chinese Baptist Church; Olivet Baptist; Paradise Baptist; Peniel Baptist; Plainview Baptist; and Portland Ave Baptist Church: For your people who have embraced error whether in creed or deed, restore them. For those who are faithfully toiling in Christ’s cause, supply all of their needs, encourage them, and preserve them from the evil one.  O Lord, hear our prayer.

We pray for this congregation: may our love and faith toward the Lord Jesus and all the saints, be broadcast and publicized abroad; may the sharing of our faith become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ; and may we become a means of much joy and comfort making the hearts of the saints refreshed (Philemon v.6-7). O Lord, hear our prayer.

Finally, we implore your grace to refurbish the hearts and minds of those who have never believed in your Son…..and please recoup those who have strayed away from You...grant them all to embrace and hold fast to your Son Jesus Christ, to the unchangeable truth of your Word, and to the essential fellowship of your Church. O Lord, hear our prayer.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

"Devotions on the Greek New Testament, eds. J. Scott Duvall and Verlyn D. Verbrugge. A Review

Devotions on the Greek New Testament: 52 Reflections to Inspire & InstructDevotions on the Greek New Testament: 52 Reflections to Inspire & Instruct by J. Scott Duvall
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While in Seminary, the value of learning Koine Greek and Hebrew can quickly get lost in all the vocabulary memorization, learning of declensions, and parsing of passages. And then once one leaves seminary, it is a rarity for one to keep up with their biblical language skills. There are some tools floating around that try to help, by making original language readings devotional; but those are far and few between. Not long ago J. Scott Duvall and Verlyn D. Verbrugge, have compiled a small, manageable devotional guide from the Greek New Testament. This 154 page paperback has 52 entries written by 31 reputable New Testament scholars, such as Craig Blomberg, Darrell Bock, Scot McKnight, William Mounce, Ben Witherington III, to name just a few. The 52 readings start with Matthew and work their way, in order, through to Revelation.

Each entry begins with a short piece from the Greek New Testament. Then the author of that particular devotion unpacks the text (and context) pointing out the salient grammatical items, drawing from other passages and wrapping up to a conclusion. Each section covers around two pages, but the brevity is its brilliance! Though a reader may have forgotten most of their Greek grammar, each author patiently and quickly explains a grammatical point but doesn't belabor the issue. And because an individual devotion is short, but substantive, the reader is able to "keep their study of Greek a deeply Spiritual experience" (11).

"Devotions on the Greek New Testament" is a real jewel! It's perfect for the seminarian, or seminary-trained person. I have found myself regularly ending a devotion praying and rejoicing in the goodness of God! I recommend that you hustle out and get this book for yourself or for that person in your life who had to take Greek in seminary.

{Feel free to repost, republish or reprint this review; but please, as always, give credit where credit is due. Mike}

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