Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Midweek Meditation: "On Success" (Billy Graham)

Billy Graham passed away on Feb 21st, 2018. Our world is constantly infatuated with all things success. Learn from Graham as he offers a different take.
  • "Where do we get the notion that our idea of success and God's are the same? You have written a book; you are a clever manager and promoter; you are a talented artist; you are independently wealthy; you have achieved fame and fortune. Without the gifts of intelligence, personality, and physical energy - which are all endowed by God - where would you be?"
  • "Success stories may be great motivational material for sales seminars, but we are not always successful." 
  • "Many of the wicked are receiving their wages now. Many Christians who may not be succeeding according to the world's standards now, will reap great rewards in heaven."
  • "Our world is obsessed with success. But how does God define success? Success in God's eyes is faithfulness to His calling."
  • "God measures people by the small dimensions of humility and not by the bigness of their capabilities."

Monday, April 23, 2018

BookPastor >> "Questioning Evangelism" (Randy Newman)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on May 29th, 2017.


TITLE: Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People's Hearts the Way Jesus Did
AUTHOR: Randy Newman
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2017, (280 pages).

There was a time in which evangelism is about declaring the gospel outright, spouting out the promises of faith and the perils of non-belief. Then comes the popularity of apologetics where the skills of defending the gospel take on a more prominent role. The ministries such as RZIM and Lee Strobel's Reason for Faith help to fill in the increasing demand for training in defending the gospel. Building upon these two core skills of declaring and defending the gospel in evangelism, author Randy Newman zooms in on a third core skill appropriate for a postmodern climate: dialogue. It is about engaging people where they are. It asks the tough questions of life and goes beyond mere defending toward greater understanding. It prompts people to know that even Christians ask the same set of questions. Legitimate questions are never bounded by faith positions. In fact, learning to ask questions and to respond to them well is key to engaging people these days, just like Jesus did during His days. Use these questions as bridges to foster dialogue and sustain meaningful conversations.

Newman shares about the power of questions even as he deals with basic words such as "God," "love," "sin," etc. We tend to be easily frustrated when we struggle with finding out pin-point answers to complex questions. We can learn from the way of "Rabbinic Evangelism" where we respond to questions with questions. It is not simply to give a logical, rational answer, but to open up the conversation for open learning by all. We learn about Solomon's four lessons:
  1. Avoiding arguments
  2. Recognizing a fool
  3. Remembering people are people
  4. Remembering the power of the tongue.
Evangelism is not about winning arguments. It is about winning souls. Even though questions may not give us answers, they can pave the way for meaningful responses. Newman gives us five principles and five operative questions to help us along. They cover a wide variety of possibilities which would open up the conversation. Through the process, we can also uncover important questions asked by many in the secular and atheistic culture:
  • "Why are Christians so intolerant?"
  • Why does a good God allow evil and suffering?
  • Why does God allow 9/11 to happen?
  • Why should anyone believe in an ancient book?
  • "Why are Christians so homophobic?"
  • "What's so good about marriage?"
  • "If Jesus is so great, why are some of His followers such jerks?"
  • ...
Many of these questions are also difficult for Christians to deal with directly. Sometimes, the best answer when we don't know how to respond is to admit we don't know. The final part of the book touches a little bit about that when questions and answers alone are no longer enough. It is good to be able to dialogue in the open, but there are journeys in which every individual would have to take and decide for themselves. Such questions include matters of the will rather than reason or in matters of the heart instead of the head. There is also a time where the best thing to do is to be quiet. Notice how Jesus refused to answer some of the taunts and jests by the religious leaders of His day? Throughout the entire book, Newman gives us examples of how Jesus had dealt with opposition and issues during His day. Jesus uses a host of skills to deal with threats and traps. He uses Rabbinic style of replying to questions with questions. He often points people toward the more eternal things of life. He does not mince his words when proclaiming truth. The author believes that the way of "Questioning Evangelism" is essentially the way of Jesus. Jesus adopts all forms of declaration; defending; and dialogue.

There are many issues addressed in the book. One of the main areas is how to respond to skeptics and critics in an increasingly hostile climate. One can respond to the hypocrite charge with a simple question, "Do you seriously think that ALL Christians are hypocrites?" One can seek to understand the reasons behind the charge through questions that open up bridges of understanding. There is no need to jump to any defense because truth can defend itself. When dealing with questions that have no immediate answer, we could approach it with compassion. One of the most moving parts of the book is in how we differentiate anger from contempt. Newman quotes Dallas Willard's brilliant take on the Sermon on the Mount:

"In anger I want to hurt you. In contempt, I don't care whether you are hurt or not. Or at least so I say. You are not worth consideration one way or the other. We can be angry at someone without denying their worth. But contempt makes it easier for us to hurt them or see them further degraded."

There are many other examples on how to deal with our angry self and when we simply have no words to say. In our day and age, books like this will increasingly be relevant. No longer are people open to unilateral declarations of the gospel. They want their voices to be heard. They are not content to simply hear the gospel proclaimed but to deal with the bad news occurring all around us. They are more open to conversation with people who care to listen. This book paves the way for us to do just that.

Randy Newman is the senior teaching fellow for evangelism and apologetics at the CS Lewis Institute in Washington DC. After serving over thirty years at Campus Crusade for Christ, he started Connection Points to equip Christians on matters of evangelism. He specializes in helping people of diverse backgrounds on issues of faith.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Kregel Publications as part of their blog tour event without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Midweek Meditation: "On Religion" (Billy Graham)

Billy Graham passed away on Feb 21st, 2018. He has seen many decades of cultural change. One of the most difficult is the postmodern period of skepticism and doubt. Hear what Graham has to say about religion.
  • "Something distinguishes Christianity from all the religions of the world. Not only does it carry the truth of the redemption, by the death of our Savior for our sins on the cross, but it carries the fact that Christ rose again."
  • "We see that humanism has become for many a polite name for a vocal, aggressive, influential crusade against religion in the name of social and moral advance. There is nothing new about humanism. It is the yielding to Satan's first temptation of Adam and Eve: 'Ye shall be as gods.' Genesis 3:5"
  • "There are many bibles of different religions; there is the Mohammedan Koran, the Buddhist Canon of Sacred Scripture, the Zoroastrian ZendAvesta, and the Brahman Veda . . . they all began with some flashes of true light, and end in utter darkness. Even the most casual observer soon discovers that the Bible is radically different. It is the only Book that offers redemption to us and points the way out of our dilemma."
  • "Nothing seems to satisfy. Not politics, not education, not material goods. Some who refuse to turn their hearts toward God have created the New Age movement, with all of its aberrations. This is actually not new but only the latest attempt by man to place something other than Christ inside himself in a futile attempt to satisfy spiritual longings."
  • "Some Christian leaders . . are willing to give up some of the teachings of the Bible in order to harmonize Christianity with the other religions."

Monday, April 16, 2018

BookPastor >> "The Way of the Dragon OR The Way of the Lamb" (Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on May 23rd, 2017.


TITLE: The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus' Path of Power in a Church that Has Abandoned It
AUTHOR: Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2017, (250 pages).

Is the culture influencing the Church or vice versa? Is the Church trying to take things into her own hands by trying the clothe herself with relevance, programs, activities, and worldly attractions in order to bring people into the Church? Are humans replacing God's way with their own plans? In this book, authors Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel examine the seductions happening in the Church at large. The title of the book was inspired by Eugene Peterson's perceptive observation about the temptations facing the Church. Are we adopting the way of Jesus or are we preferring the seductions of the dragon? What does it mean to employ the way of Jesus in a Church surrounded by cultural expectations and fleshly temptations? How do we discern and choose? What are the powers we need to recognize, keep in check, or adopt? For the authors, there are only two ways: God's way or the ways of the dragon. Key to the detection of which way lies in the way we receive and handle power.

What is the Way of the Dragon? It is simply about the exercise of power with greed, strength, and an attitude of world domination. It matches an eye for an eye and retaliates with an even stronger show of force. It despises weakness and attempts to hide any vulnerabilities. It takes the road most people traveled and refuses to accept failure at any level. Churches that practice these ways tend to avoid weakness and foolishness like a plague. They showcase their special leader. They boast in the size of their buildings and budgets. They grow at all costs even if it means minimizing the gospel. Between large and small, they always choose the former. In the process, they dine with the devil of prosperity and power.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Midweek Meditation: "On Prayer" (Billy Graham)

Billy Graham passed away on Feb 21st, 2018. At the heart of preaching the gospel is a heart of prayer. Learn from Graham about prayer.
  • "Many times I have been driven to prayer. When I was in Bible school I didn't know what to do with my life. I used to walk the streets . . . and pray, sometimes for hours at a time. In His timing, God answered those prayers, and since then prayer has been an essential part of my life."
  • "If there are any tears shed in heaven, they will be over the fact that we prayed so little."
  • "Prayer is crucial in evangelism: Only God can change the heart of someone who is in rebellion against Him. No matter how logical our arguments or how fervent our appeals, our words will accomplish nothing unless God's Spirit prepares the way."
  • "We should not pray for God to be on our side, but pray that we may be on God's side."
  • "I believe we should pray that God will take possession of our lives totally and completely. We should pray that we will be emptied of self - self-love, self-will, self-ambition - and be placed completely at his disposal."

Monday, April 09, 2018

BookPastor >> "Power in the Pulpit" (Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on May 8th, 2017.


TITLE: Power in the Pulpit: How to Prepare and Deliver Expository Sermons
AUTHOR: Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2017, (448 pages).

Preaching is hard. Good preaching is rare. Being able to sit through a well-prepared, well-delivered, and well-researched sermon is a tremendous blessing for any Christian community. Many preaching books nowadays try to address the great need for biblical preaching and an appropriate level of delivery that balances theological orthodoxy, biblical faithfulness, cultural awareness, and the cry for help and the hunger for hope. Not many can achieve this. This book hits close to this target. One clue about the effectiveness of this book is the need for a new edition to keep up with changing needs and changing times. First published in 1999, author Jerry Vines had been preaching for over 40 years. Half of that time was when he was pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville. At that time, he had a passion for sharing his knowledge and experience with fellow preachers. Knowing the tough demands on the pastoral vocation, he senses a great need to equip fellow preachers with some basic pulpit skills. Basically, it needs to address two things: Faithfulness to the Word; and fruitfulness as the Word takes root in the hearers. During the past decade, many things have changed, most importantly, the cultural shifts that have been occurring in the world we live. Most of the material from the first edition have been preserved. This new edition not only updates the material, it strengthens the expository preaching preparation part and simplifies the delivery. It is also more conversational when compared with the original.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Calvary - Harvest

This is one of my favourite songs many years ago. It's from the Harvest group.




Calvary, that's the place where Jesus bled and died.
And it's there that sin has lost its power,
At Calvary.
Calvary, there my Jesus won the victory.
There He gave Himself for you and me.
On Calvary.

Brother, give no thought 
For what tomorrow, it may bring. 
Your Father, He knows your heart, 
He knows your every need. 
Just seek Him in His truth, 
and rest upon His Word. 
Share His love to everyone. 
Let's all just praise the Lord. 

Let the stars fall from the skies, 
Let the sun refuse to shine. 
In darkness I know there will be
A light for all mankind.
It doesn't matter who you are, 
Or whatever things you've done. 
 'Cause Jesus, He still loves you, 
and calls for you to come, 

To Calvary . . . 
That's the place where Jesus bled and died. 
And it's there that sin has lost it's power, 
At Calvary. 
Calvary, that's the place where Jesus bled and died. 
And it's there that sin has lost it's power, 
At Calvary. 

Calvary, there my Jesus won the victory. 
There He gave Himself for you and me. 
On Calvary. Calvary. Calvary.

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