Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Midweek Meditation: The Problem with Professionalism

"Professionalism. That’s our greatest problem in the community. I have five sisters getting MD degrees, and far greater numbers getting RN, LPN, and MSW degrees. But a funny thing happens. They come back from their education and they are concerned about titles, offices, and parking privileges. So I take all of that away from them, and I send them to the Hospice of the Dying. There they hold people’s hands, pray with them, and feed them. After six months of that, they typically get things straight again, and they remember their vocation is to be a spiritual presence first and a professional presence second." (Mother Teresa)

Monday, December 15, 2014

BookPastor >> "Excellence" (Andreas J. Köstenberger)

TITLE: Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue
AUTHOR: Andreas J. Köstenberger
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2011, (272 pages).

Christians are not simply called to do good. They are to embark upon the pursuit of excellence. There is no better way than to begin with God. By reflecting on the character of God and the works that would honour Him, we will pursue excellence in whatever we do, based on a biblical and theological foundation that is integral to our Christian faith. This is what the author and professor had done. In this book about Christian scholarship, Köstenberger urges us to pursue excellence according to God's way. At the same time, he cautions Christians from becoming too "critical, unbelieving, or supposedly objective" in their academic pursuits, which may waylay their own faith and integrity in their scholarly work. Excellence in God must be in line with a scholarship of integrity. Christian scholars need to put on the mind of Christ. Let me review this book by summarising based on a series of Vs: Vision, Vocation, Virtue, and Vessels. The biblical basis for this book is based on the beautiful passage from 2 Peter 1:5-8.

A) Vision

According to the author, the vision is always about the character of God. For everything God does is excellent and perfect. This means we adopt God's pattern of work and rest in our pursuit of excellence. It means being must come first, and not doing.  This also means continuing to add on to the excellent work, and not presume we sit back like couch potatoes. For the notion of holiness is to become who we are originally created by God to be. As a scholar, we are called to pursue scholarship as "excellence in pursuit of truth on mission for God in the world." This means learning to let the Holy Spirit guide us, to actively apply the Word, to look for ways to share love, and to link scholarship to world mission. As far as the author is concerned, "genuine spirituality will result in academic excellence." (84)

B) Vocation

Whatever work we are called to do, we need to add diligence to our faith. This means obeying authorities, just like the Old Testament stories of obedience to God and kings. There are no short cuts. Track down sources. Be accurate in citations. Use proper styles and careful writing. Observe deadlines. Cultivate diligence for life. Adding to it is courage, which is the key motivation for the author's decision to write this book. Courage means learning to speak and work with conviction in spite of worldly opposition. Especially when students seek professors' approval in many areas, one needs to constantly ask: "Whose approval is key? God's or man's?" With courage, add passion. This calls for frequent self-examination that we are in pursuit of truth more than anything else. Then there is restraint, which is about learning to love and to be able to speak the truth in love. Being a Christian scholar also means being creative. Strive for eloquence too.

C) Virtues

For Köstenberger, moral excellence means exercising the virtues of integrity, fidelity, and wisdom. These three are added upon the earlier attributes of excellence. Integrity means learning to be our truth selves even when no one is watching. It means being faithful even to the little things. Fidelity means being truthful to God, to the Word, to the institution we serve in, and the ourselves.Interpret Scripture humbly and faithfully and teach the Word. By adding to it wisdom, we are compelled to come back to God once again, the Source of all wisdom.

D) Vessels

Continuing the ladder of excellence, Köstenberger encourages us to adopt relational excellence by becoming vessels of grace, humility, interdependence, and love. Grace can be expressed in thought, word, and deed. We as people saved by grace, ought to be the people filled most with grace. When we learn to be gracious in everything, we would become the best testimonies of God's grace to the world. Humility is that true greatness and will enable one to pursue the essence of truth in the right manner. Interdependence is an offshoot of humility, where we acknowledge we are not sufficient in ourselves. Learn to collaborate on projects. Appreciate the research done by other scholars. Be approachable to teach as well as to learn. Serve one another. Finally, love is the mark of genuine scholarship.

It is one thing to get excellent scores in our academic work or scholarship pursuits on paper. It is yet another to achieve that with footprints of grace and humility. While it is important for us to achieve our targets, it is equally, if not more important do so in a way that glorifies God and respectful of one another. This book is certainly a good reference for anyone in the academy, especially if they are people of the Christian faith. There is no excuse for shoddy work. There is also no excuse for shameless hypocrisy or ungracious behaviour when it comes to pursuing worldly excellence. After all, God's work must not only be done in God's way. It needs godliness with contentment.

Wonderful book!


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Monday, December 08, 2014

BookPastor >> "Praying Backwards" (Bryan Chapell)

This book was first published at my old blog, "A Bookworm Pastor Recommends" on April 11th, 2011.


TITLE: PRAYING BACKWARDS - transform your prayer life by beginning in Jesus' Name
AUTHOR: Bryan Chapell
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005, (208pp).

This book has an intriguing title. The main thesis of this book is that our prayers should begin, continue and end with Jesus's Name as our first concern. The way we usually end our prayers, should instruct us right from the beginning how we should pray.  We should seek God for God alone. We should seek God's purposes in any of our prayers first. We should let God's will be done whenever we pray. As we end in the name of Jesus, we should also begin with putting Jesus foremost and always through all of our prayers. Doing this corrects two common errors. First, we avoid limiting God through our human wisdom, thinking that we know best. We remind ourselves God knows best. Second, we do not use God's Name as some kind of a wishing well. We remind ourselves that it is God's purpose that is most important. Chapell adds:
"But when our routines have desensitized us to his priorities, then it's time to begin where we end. Praying backwards will inevitably turn our prayer priorities upside down. By saying 'in Jesus' name' first, we will more readily discern when our prayers go astray from his purposes, hijacked by our self-interest." (15)

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Midweek Meditation: "Proud & Defensive" vs "Broken & Vulnerable"

This chart is taken from Peter Scazzero's bestselling book called "The Emotionally Healthy Church." It is not meant to be scientific, only a few indicative statements to test our emotional inclinations. 

1. I am guarded and protective about my imperfections and flaws.
1. I am transparent and week; I disclose myself to appropriate people.
2. I focus on the “positive,” strong, successful parts of myself.
2. I am aware of the weak, needy, limited parts of who I am and I freely admit to failure.
3. I am highly “offendable” and defensive.
3. I am approachable and open to input.
4. I naturally focus first on the flaws, mistakes, and sins of others.
4. I am aware of my own brokenness. I have compassion and am slow to judge others.
5. I give my opinion a lot, even when I am not asked.
5. I am slow to speak and quick to listen.
6. I don’t get close to people.
6. I am open and curious about others.
7. I keep people from really seeing what is going on inside me.
7. I delight in showing vulnerability and weakness, so Christ’s power is seen.
8. I like to control most situations.
8. I can let go and give people the opportunity to earn my trust.
9. I have to be right in order to feel strong and good.
9. I understand that God’s strength reveals itself in admitting mistakes, weakness, and statements that “I was wrong.”
10. I blame others.
10. I take responsibility for myself and speak mostly in the “I,” not the “you” or “they.”
11. I often hold grudges and rarely ask forgiveness.
11. I don’t hold people in debt to me, and I am able to ask others for forgiveness as needed.
12. When I am offended, I write people off.
12. When I am offended, I ask questions to explore what happened.
13. I deny, avoid, or withdraw from painful realities.
13. I honestly look at the truth underneath the surface, even when it hurts.
14. I give answers and explanations to those in pain, hoping to fix or change them.
14. I am present with people in their pain and am comfortable with Mystery and with saying, “I don’t know.”
15. I have to prove I’m right when wronged
15. I can let things go.
16. I am demanding.
16. I assert myself respectfully and kindly.
17. I am highly self-conscious and concerned about how others perceive me.
17. I am more aware of God and others than the impression I am making.
18. I see people as resources to be used for God.
18. I see people as gifts to be loved and enjoyed.

[Peter Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Church, Zondervan, 2003, p114-5]


Sunday, November 30, 2014

BookPastor >> "Passion for the Fatherless" (Daniel J. Bennett)

When we look at Paul's letter to the Ephesians, especially chapter 1 verse 5, we would realize one thing: We are all adopted. Some have gone on to say that the very gospel thrust is about adoption and the Church ought to be the prime force behind adoptions. This review was first published on November 17th, 2014 at Panorama of a Book Saint.


TITLE: A Passion for the Fatherless: Developing a God-Centered Ministry to Orphans
AUTHOR: Daniel J. Bennett
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2014, (240 pages).

Experts estimate the number of orphans globally stands at 163 million. In the United States alone, there are 425,000 of which 115,000 are waiting to be adopted. We may shudder at the numbers or be horrified at the huge quantity of fatherless. What about our compassion? Is it not God's will for us to care for the poor, the weak, the vulnerable, widows and orphans? Bennett believes that it is not only what God wanted the Church to do, it is also a very powerful "apologetic" when believers stand together to support the fatherless. Whether it is fostering, adopting, mentoring, or simply supporting, the transformation can go much more. Not only will orphans be reached and cared for, the ones who reached out will also be transformed.

Daniel J. Bennett is Senior Pastor of Bethany Community Church in central Illinois whose passion for orphans accelerated after his stint as a Family Pastor in 2005. He has adopted a child too. He notes how people caring for foster children are able to open up conversations about God as well. He describes his convictions as follows.

"My compassion for orphans flow from the fact that I know God and know that he passionately cares for the fatherless. I love orphans because I love God. If I did not have this theological understanding, my passion for orphans would be commendable but ultimately worthless." (19)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Midweek Meditation: Gandhi's Advice to Christians

E. Stanley Jones, an American missionary to India, asked Gandhi what missionaries could do to make Christianity more accepted in India. He asked, “How can we make Christianity more naturalized in India, not a foreign thing, identified with a foreign government and foreign people, but part of the national life of India and contributing its power to India’s uplift? What would you, as one of the Hindu leaders of India, tell me, a Christian, to do in order to make this possible?”

Gandhi responded with great clarity and directness: “First, I would suggest that all of you Christians, missionaries and all, must begin to live more like Jesus Christ. Second, practice your religion without adulterating it or toning it down. Third, emphasize love and make it your driving force, for love is central in Christianity. Fourth, study the non-Christian religions more sympathetically to find the good that is within them, in order to have a more sympathetic approach to the people.

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