Monday, December 30, 2013

BookPastor >> "The Rebirth of the Church" (Eddie Gibbs)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on November 20th, 2013. 


TITLE: Rebirth of the Church, The: Applying Paul's Vision for Ministry in Our Post-Christian World
AUTHOR: Eddie Gibbs
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013, (272 pages).

Many different churches, denominations, movements have tried to relate Church, mission, and culture, but few have reportedly succeeded in what they planned to do. In the past few decades, the idea of "church growth" was the popular paradigm for Church and mission. Programs and literature are produced to accompany the excitement. The next paradigm becomes "church health" in which churches tend to prefer to be healthy inside first before reaching out to others. More recently, the excitement hovers around the term "missional" which is an initiative to let any mission work reflect God both directly as well as indirectly. The belief is that the heart of missional work is not about initiatives, projects, or programs. The heart of missional is God. Missions in this instance is not simply a program, but a full-fledged demonstration of one's identity in a missional God. While in the past, the evangelicals tend to be more "defensive" of key doctrines and theological stands as they live counter-culturally; the liberals tend to be more concerned about "relevance" to the culture around them; the Anabaptists work toward purity and separation from the culture; the missional aims to be the Church within the culture. All of these movements struggle with acceptance by the wider Christian population. All because of the increasing separation of Ecclesiology and Missiology, so says Eddie Gibbs, Professor Emeritus of Church Growth at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Gibbs begins with a no-holds-barred criticisms of the post-modern Church, calling them fragmented, reductionistic, and largely reflective of the culture around them, instead of being an influencer or them. He looks at the collapse of civil societies through the ages, and laments the similar plight of the Church at large. The few shining spots of Christianity are increasingly being threatened by postmodern influences like pluralism, secularism, relativism, and of course, acts of terrorism that create a negative backlash against any religion. A response is needed. So Gibbs relooks at the Early Church, eager to learn on the one hand, but also cautious about the different contexts involved. This is something that the Apostle Paul did. Although there were population centers throughout the Roman Empire at that time, what we learn is that instead of strategizing on the different approaches to the different cities, Paul was primarily led by the Holy Spirit.  Gibbs then looks at the cultural backgrounds and the lifestyles of the people in the first century, noticing the rise of institutional power; increasing crowdedness and busyness; households the building blocks of society then. In terms of understanding and applying the idea of "oikos" (housing) then, Gibbs notes how the house meetings flourished then, and how many modern churches adopt that same idea into their home-based meetings like small groups. The difference is that first century "oikos" is more about bonding, obligatory protection, and subordination to authority; while our modern home meetings are more about independent lives coming and meeting together on the basis of convenience and independence, instead of community and co-dependence. In terms of the locations of Paul's ministry, Gibbs notes that while the population centers at Galatia, Ephesus, Philistia, Corinth, Rome, and many others are large, our modern cities are even larger. This is one reason why modern churches need to design their missional strategies from the ground up, instead of simply transplanting what Paul had done to our complex world. Three challenges need to be considered:

  1. The richness and treasure the gospel itself is and how to share this message;
  2. Our culture's historical and social baggage;
  3. Various economic and political powers that world-class cities exert on its citizens as well as outside.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Midweek Meditation: "Blessed Christmas!"

"Christmas day declares that he dwelt among us. . . This is the festival which makes us know, indeed, that we are members of one body; it binds together the life of Christ on earth with his life in heaven; it assures us that Christmas day belongs not to time but to eternity." (Frederick Denison Maurice, 1805-1872)

Monday, December 23, 2013

BookPastor >> "In Search of the Real Spirit of Christmas" (Dan Schaeffer)

TITLE: In Search of the Real Spirit of Christmas
AUTHOR: Dan Schaeffer
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, 2003, (208 pages).

What is the Christmas Spirit? Is it about giving presents or seeing the sign of Santa and reindeers? What about decorating Christmas trees and the food around the dinner table? Is that what Christmas is all about? Intrigued with all the big shopping frenzy and the numerous arguments back and forth about the religious significance of this annual day, author and pastor Dan Schaeffer helps us to reflect more meaningfully on the different symbols and purposes of Christmas. At the heart of the book is the conviction that without a real sense of Christmas and what it is all about, we will all be impoverished year on year, going through the motions of trying to make Christmas meaningful, but regretfully always falling short. Any fun-filled expectation seems busy on the outside but empty on the inside. Even Christians are not immune. In the search for the real Spirit of Christmas, Schaeffer has the following to say:
  • We should not just read about the story of Christmas. We ought to "put ourselves" into it.
  • Learn to imagine how Jesus laid in the dirty manger while our modern babies are delivered in a posh and modern hospitals;
  • Think of the humble and simple way Jesus was born, and compare it to the huge medical facilities we enjoy.
  • As we remember the nativity image, think of what it all means.
  • Christmas is not so much our search for God, but God's search for us!
  • Christmas is not just for friends or family. It is for all, just like Christ came for the whole world.
  • Think about the Christmas gifts and the persons behind the gift. Compare the giving to the way God gives us Jesus.
  • If Jesus is coming to our modern city and lifestyle, how would he be treated?
  • Are we more receivers or givers? Think how love can be the background of receiving and giving.
  • Beware of the Christmas grinches, and learn to pray for them, and not despise them
  • The world presents a wooden, a plastic, a cloth, or an artificial Jesus. God gives us a real person.
  • The Spirit of Christmas may not be a material thing. It is something much more. It is the giving our ourselves and our gifts are to reflect a part of us that we want to share.
  • ...
Observing the festival year on year has kept Schaeffer himself searching for a deeper meaning behind the increasingly commercialized and secularized day. While arguments continue to mount for and against the use of Christ in Christmas, it is important to remember that God is able to defend himself. God is able to make himself known to anyone at anytime. As we try to put back "Christ" in the word "Christmas," we must not forget to put "Christ" back in the word "Christian."

Schaeffer has eloquently put together a great set of reflections and questions to help us appreciate the real spirit of Christmas. For too long, we have focused on attention on the temporal instead of the eternal. Some of us see Christmas and the rituals surrounding the shopping spree as some kind of a magical potion to keep ourselves fulfilled. Sadly we have forgotten that Christmas is about an Omnipotent God in Christ. Christmas is about Jesus who is Omniscient, who is Omnipresent, who is all righteous and holy. Whether we sing carols, go to Church, buy gifts for the poor, treat our family well, or enjoying some Christmas program, we need to learn to think back on that beautiful day when the baby was born in a manger. This act of remembrance is an annual ritual that will increase in meaning as we learn to train our minds on the Giver behind any giving or receiving of gifts.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Midweek Meditation: "Christmas Love"

"Charity means nothing else but to love God for Himself above all creatures, and to love one's fellowmen for God's sake as one loves oneself." (From the Cloud of Unknowing)

Monday, December 16, 2013

BookPastor >> "Life After Art" (Matt Appling)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on November 12th, 2013.


TITLE: Life After Art: What You Forgot About Life and Faith Since You Left the Art Room
AUTHOR: Matt Appling
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2013, (160 pages).

There was a time in which a typical child would be thrilled to have the chance to play, to draw, and to paint with pretty brushes. There was a time in which prim and proper expectations are relaxed so as to unleash the creativity and the chaos that only children can imagine. When the child grows up and leaves the art classroom, what happens to the art, and more particularly, what happens to the artist in the person? This question is cleverly dealt with in this unique book written by an arts teacher who is not just passionate about art, but also deeply convinced that life in itself is a way of art. A pre-kintergarten through six grade art teacher himself, Matt Appling spends his time writing, reflecting, teaching, and promoting the idea of life and art through his website. He believes that the artistry in each person is a gift from God.

In six succinct chapters, Appling begins with a proclamation that all children are artists. They are risk-takers. They are not so disturbed by what is good or not good in their work. They simply do it. Unfortunately, the moment the child leaves the classroom, the artistic capacity starts to leave the child as the child grows up in a competitive and a challenging adult world. The logic of fear of failure inhibits the faith in trying and testing. They gradually lose the three childhood traits: 1) that creating was important; 2) that generosity is part of creating; and 3) a lack of self-consciousness as one gets totally immersed in the creating.

Appling laments that one starts losing the creative charm when one begins to think creating is unimportant; that art is not creative; and that arts per se are self-limiting which leads one toward laziness. As a result, adults soon start to manufacture a world that is increasingly lacking in creativity and beauty. Survival concerns overwhelm creative activities.We prefer functional activities over fictional imagination. We forsake art and creativity in exchange for survival-based activities and busyness. What works becomes more important that what is worthwhile doing. Such a life may be practical but it lacks beauty. Slowly, Appling turns the story from children in general to the children in us.
  • What if our creation tells us a lot about ourselves?
  • What if we are filling our physical spaces with "junk" instead of clearing them out for a space to be creative?
  • Are we willing to continue exchanging a life of creativity with a toilsome routine of non-stop practicality?
  • Is sacrificing our creative bent worth it over the long run?

Appling declares no. There is hope. There is a way back to the creativity in the classroom. There is life after art. What we need to do is to learn how to re-create the environment that gives us fresh hope of life in the first place. Do not be content with mere "good enough" but be passionate to become the best person we are created to be. We learn that risk taking is a way of life and is a necessary step in any creative activity and ability. The freedom to fail is not about the risk of failure per se, but the liberation of oneself toward unleashing the best of us.

Finally, Appling reminds us again that our creativity is all possible because we are created in the image of God our Creator. It is because we are creators on earth that our natural selves cannot stop creating; cannot stop thinking about creating; and cannot help but create. Suppressing such creativeness is essentially suppressing what is human.

So What?

When the child leaves the art classroom, what happens to the art that the child has learned? If the world outside starts to dull our creativity and our sense of artistry, perhaps it is time to return to the art room, the one we all loved as children years ago. In order for creativity to flourish, one needs to learn to give and take directions not in terms of conformity that suppresses one's freedom but in terms of enhancing the creativity within the boundaries given. Some of the memorable quotes from the book are worth noting:

  • "In math class, you could not improve on a 'right' answer. Right answers were 'good enough.' You could not come up with a 'better' answer, or exceed the teacher's expectations. Life is not like math class. It is like art class." (50)
  • "Much like the case of the hunters, creativity appears to be something of an instinct that people follow, whatever circumstances they live in." (56)
  • "It is precisely that ultramodern thinking that causes most Christians to miss the truth of the Bible, many other Christians to become disaffected with the Bible, and non-Christians to scoff at the Bible. We are stripping all the beauty out of the Bible and demanding that it provides us with a formula instead of faith." (63)
  • "There is a great focus today on the amount of trash and waste that modern man produces, and we prioritize reducing waste. But think about the mental landfill that we've created with all of the junk that fills our minds. It dwarfs everything we throw in the trash can." (78)
  • "An amateur artist tries to erase a mistake. A master artist learns how to work with a mistake." (105)
  • "But consider this: perhaps the anxiety that you feel about your life, your purpose, and all of your hopes and ambitions is due to the fact that you have been looking at them all wrong." (132)
  • "A little bit of beauty can change everything." (139)
Let me offer five thoughts from the reading of this book.

First, this book reminds us that there is a childlikeness in all of us even if we grow old. I learn long time ago that there is an impending second childhood when one grows old. Now, I believe that there are more than two childhoods simply because this childhood never really goes away. One can suppress it. One can try to inhibit it but one can never eradicate it completely. For to do so would be deleting a part of us. Remember that Jesus calls us children? That must be for a reason.

Second, in a world of progress that is defined by scientific advancement and technological prowess, we need to learn to appreciate life and creation for what it is. Enjoy nature. Appreciate the simple things in life. Do not be fixated by machines and the kinds of manufactured brilliance to the point that we forget the most beautiful things in life are also the most simple. In fact, a lot of created things in life are due to proper observance of the natural world we live in.

Third, the stories of arts and creativity in the book give readers a renewed hope that art in itself is not necessarily a path toward poverty. See the creative giants like Jim Henson, whose puppetry ideas have charmed children all over the world in the Muppet Show. Remember Theodor Geisel who created the Mr Seuss cartoon character? What about Shigeru Miyamoto, where people easily remember his design and games at Nintendo?

Fourth, this book is not simply talking about creativity, it is also speaking to the creativity inside us. Wake up! Pick up your creative energies and create something! This is that sign that makes this book worth reading, buying, and gifting it to friends. When the reading of this book awakens the child in us, when the pondering of the ideas triggers the inner desire to want to create, to admire creation, and to be creative, this book would have been worth more than the sticker price. There is no price tag for creativity, for creativity in itself is priceless.

Finally, there is no need to dig too deeply for a reason just to enjoy art. Just admire or appreciate art for what it is. If we can do that, we will be better at appreciating life what what it is. That way, enjoying art becomes a metaphor for enjoying life.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Moody Publishers without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Friday, December 13, 2013

"Evil Did Not Win"

It has been a year since the Sandy Hook killings where 20 children and 6 adults were gunned down in what is America's second worst massacre. Tomorrow (December 14th) is the first anniversary of that fateful day. The questions remained. Why did the gunman did what he did? Why must innocent little children die? Why must loved ones suffer? Perhaps, one of the biggest questions is: Did evil win? The mother of Emilie in this video answers it with an emphatic: "Evil did not win."

It is a touching gesture that shows the world that in the midst of much hatred, violence, and ill-will, we can still choose to love.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Midweek Meditation: Christmas Joy


"There is an inescapable logic in the Christmas message: we experience joy, quite simply, in self-surrender, in giving up our lives. Joy calls for renunciation. (Ladislaus Boros, 1927-1981)

Monday, December 09, 2013

BookPastor >> "Vertical Church"

This review was first published Sep 3rd, 2013 at Panorama of a Book Saint.


TITLE: Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs for. What Every Church Can Be.
AUTHOR: James MacDonald
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2012, (320 pages).

What is Church about? Why do we go to Church in the first place? Is it about men meeting one another's needs? Or is it about people pointing one another to the true Giver of all things, the Helper of all help? In a book that has received multiple endorsements by many different church leaders, this book aims to shake us back to the fundamentals of faith, and church going. We must be reminded what is the chief goal of men, not to magnify our needs or to amplify our human lack, but to glorify God.

If a Church is to truly be the Church of God, it cannot be constantly focused on the meeting of needs, meeting desperate people,or focusing constantly on horizontal level matters such as management, leadership, Church strategies, problem-solving, caring etc. These things are important, but the moment the Church loses its transcendental and eternity perspective, it is not becoming of the true Church of God. MacDonald is compelling:

"We are taught to study our culture and contextualize the message to fit the uniqueness of the mass we seek to minister to. Is this helpful, or has it taken us off track? Is the church to be about scratching the minutiae of our unique itches, or is it about filling the vacuum of universal commonality installed in us by God?"

The book is structured in two parts. The first part deals with the doctrinal basis of "Vertical Church." Here, MacDonald reminds us of four things to peel away the layers of self-based needs so that we can face our real needs. Firstly, the author looks at our universal longing, that we have a God-shaped heart that only God can fill. The "eternity" idea is glimpsed through Ecclesiastes 3:11. The author even highlights how Maslow amended his famous Needs hierarchy, conceding that there is a need for an encounter with transcendence beyond the highest level of self-actualization. An awesome meeting with God far surpasses any kind of a relevant meeting of needs. Secondly, the highest passion of a "vertical church" must be the glory of God, for the glory of God. It is the manifestation of the presence of God that is far greater and better than the relevance debate. Thirdly, the glory of God is the sustaining fuel of a life-giving Church. This is the secret of John Wesley's ministry. It is also the secret of Jesus' ministry on earth. Only God can give this glory, and only this glory can meet the deep longing of the human soul. Creation shouts out praising God. Glory comes down blessing creation. The flip side is also true. If the Church is focused only about building the Church, meeting needs, or trying to reach the lost, or to help the poor, when difficult moments arrive, they falter. Fourthly, MacDonald warns us that if we fail to make the glory of God our primary focus, we are in danger of letting the spirit of the age of this world become the spirit of the church. He warns us against becoming like Eli, whose sons went astray. This happens when we put the the needs of the church as the primary product, and the glory of God as the byproduct.

"When the people of God are not told the works of God, they lose the wonder of God, and everyone does that which is right in his or her own eyes." (133)

Thankfully, the second part of the book shows us the way. In "Unashamed Adoration," we are urged to bring our churches back toward a worshipful community. In worship, the glory of God comes down and fill us. We learn to direct our longings for God and God alone. In worship, we fall down and kneel at our feet, bringing all of our needs, our lives before God in humble access. The word 'adoration' is a good guiding word. Worship is not the 'what,' the 'how,' or the 'where,' but the 'who.' Second, we preach so that our worship of God increases. Moreover, preachers need not be apologetic about preaching the Word of God. In fact, there is no need to apologize as long as God is glorified and Christ is preached. It is about heralding the message of God like men on fire. Third, witnessing our own testimony of God's work and grace on our own lives is key. Be bold. Be plain. Be clear. MacDonald points out three "time-tested" but "dishonest" ways of sharing the gospel.
  1. "Relational gospel" or friendship evangelism, where people receive Christ on the basis of personal friendship. What if their friendship crumbles sometime later? Will the faith then crumble as well?
  2. "Renown gospel" where people receive Jesus because some people they admire are Christians. 
  3. "Reasonable gospel" where people believe because it makes sense or it is easy.
  4. "Resource gospel" which makes Christ becoming our own self-improvement program.
Instead, one needs to be bold in their sharing of their personal testimony. People also need to learn to pick ripe red apples, and not be too fixated on green apples that are not ripe for picking. MacDonald even pleads with his church not to bring "green apples" to church.

Finally, unceasing prayer is the fourth prerequisite of becoming a vertical church. For more than 25 years, Harvest Bible Church has prayed non-stop. If we dare to pray we will grow. If we dare to pray boldly, we will grow boldly. For MacDonald, his entire ministry is bathed in prayer.

My Thoughts

I am moved. This book to me is a wake-up call for Churches to put first things first, to channel their resources toward the central mission, rather than to spread themselves thin by focusing on peripheral issues. Far too many churches and their leaders are paying lip service to the need for worship, or to be too focused on earthly matters at the expense of God's glory. Some churches even live as if there is no heaven, but all earth. The relevance debate continues to grip many churches wanting to make a difference in their churches and in society. Unfortunately, that is only a peripheral matter. Christians in Churches have only this one goal: Glorify God and to see God's glory come down and be manifested through us. I find myself doing lots of underlining and nodding my head frequently for the things that resonate with me. As a preacher myself, I do feel that the chapter on preaching is worth the price of the book. That said, if church leaders do want to make a difference, they need to know more of the Difference Maker: God Himself. If we truly desire to be the true Church of God, we must desire God. Any other desiring is like fast food. They are essentially junk food.

Will this be a book that is too heavenly focused that it ignores earthly needs? No! Far from that. In fact, I will venture to say that a heavenly focus is the only way that creation can truly fulfill its calling. It is the way to usher in the glory of God, for God's work done in God's way will never lack God's supply.

Do your pastor or church leaders a favour. Buy them this book.

Ratin: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by David C. Cook Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Midweek Meditation: "Christmas Peace"

Peace comes not from the absence of trouble but from the presence of God.

In Christ's peace,


Monday, December 02, 2013

BookPastor >> "Jesus+Nothing=Everything"

This review was first published in January 25th, 2012 at Panorama of a Book Saint. 


TITLE: Jesus + Nothing = Everything
AUTHOR: Tullian Tchividjian
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2011, (224 pages).

This is Tchividjian's (pronounced as 'cha-vi-jin') personal spiritual journey from fear to faith, and from law to grace. The basic conviction behind the book is reflected in the following phrase:

"Jesus plus nothing equals everything."

In a personal confession of how he has intimately filled his faith with other things, he lists his personal pain and struggle as a senior pastor of a merged Church. The crisis leads him to focus more on what it means to live for God. Tchividjian points out powerfully the many different idols that believers have piled up in the name of Christian service. Many people have unwittingly added stuff to Jesus in order to feel that they are accomplishing everything. The result is a works-based kind of service that basically scorns the work of Christ at the Cross.

In 6 parts, Tchividjian dissects the human problem. In Part One, Tchivijian goes through a period of painful self-examination and make powerful observations about how trapped believers are, in wanting to do everything apart from God's strength. In Part Two, he guides readers in going beyond intellectual faith, toward heart-work and soul-search. In Part Three, he points out succinctly the many barriers which Christians often either fail to recognize, or unwittingly place before themselves, that prevent them from following Christ more truthfully. Part Four exposes the painful reality where Tchividjian does spiritual surgery to expose not so much of our sins, but how much we need Christ. Thankfully, Part Five makes a redemptive turn toward hope. With Christ as our focus, not only will we get everything we need for this life, we get more. This chapter is worth the price of the book.

Closing Thoughts

I like the way he points out how many Christians focus too much on fruit that they ignore the roots of the problem. Grace is the root, while peace is the fruit. I enjoy the way he exposes the three deadly sins in the lives of many Christians: 'legalism, performancism, and moralism' (45). The book flows intuitively from sin to grace to hope. Along the way, the author makes some rather bold statements, especially the part about the Christian life that needs to be 'better' than simply imitating Christ. While I appreciate his point about going beyond imitating to 'be crucified, buried, and raised with him,' I think true imitation of Christ is already inclusive of all those. Maybe, Tchividjian finds it necessary to break the verbs up. Personally, I think it is unnecessary. Thomas a Kempis, who wrote the classic work, 'Imitation of Christ' sums up all the theology and Christian actions in one word: Imitation of Christ.

I think we can do no more than what Christ has done. Tchividjian has given us a wonderful book to help readers move from legalism-performancism-moralism to grace and peace. Our Christian living needs to reflect a grace that embraces all of Jesus and no idols. That is God's will for our everything in life. 

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provide to me free by Crossway Books and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All comments above are freely given.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Midweek Meditation: Christmas Hope

As we prepare for the Advent season, for the next four weeks, we will be reflecting on the themes of hope, peace, joy, love, and finally, Christ. This week, we look at hope.


Monday, November 25, 2013

BookPastor >> "Growing Up" (Robby Gallaty)

Want to do discipleship and not sure how? Maybe, this book can launch your journey to discipleship. This review was first published on September 25th, 2013 at Panorama of a Book Saint. 


TITLE: Growing UP: How to Be a Disciple Who Makes Disciples
AUTHOR: Robby Gallaty
PUBLISHER: Bloomington, IN: Crossbooks, 2013, (248 pages).

This whole book tries to answer the following questions. How do we as disciples make disciples practically, daily, passionately, and plainly? Written with practice in mind, the methods described in this book have been time tested and group tested. For the past decade, the author has been a part of Discipleship Groups (D-Groups), ever since he was dramatically transformed from his past life as a drug and alcohol addict. He openly shares about his failures encountered. Rejected from the school basketball team, the author had to nurse a failed relationship with his girlfriend, suffered a failed business venture, endured an accident that broke parts of his back, and spiraling downward in drugs and depression. It took a dear friend to patiently walk him back to faith and hope. He experiences what it means to benefit from people who sought to make a difference in the lives of others. "Growing up" is about Gallaty wanting to be a part of the solution instead of being a part of the problem. What better way than to consolidate all his energies and ideas into the work of discipleship. For him, making a difference simply means helping to make disciples who can make more disciples.

Just like his Church's mission statement to "Deliver, Disciple, and Deploy," the author spends the first three chapters of the book to make a case for the importance and necessity of making disciples. The rest of the book is contained in six steps using the CLOSER acronym for ease of remembering.
  1. Communicate with God through prayer
  2. Learn to understand and apply God's Word 
  3. Obey God's commands
  4. Store God's Word in our hearts
  5. Evangelize
  6. Renew our Spiritual life daily.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Midweek Meditation: A Prayer for Tacloban

On November 8th, 2013, a super typhoon hit Tacloban in the Philippines. Many lives perished. Families distraught and the world watched in horror. How can we help? How can we pray? This week, we pray for the survivors, where some may be wondering why they are alive while their loved ones are dead.

(Photo credit:
They escaped the waves, and survived the storms;
So many of their friends, colleagues, loved ones, didn't.

Wondering why they are still alive while others are not,
Guilt rains around, Confusion reigns all over.

They say: "Why them? Why not us? Why God?"
Questions mount about life;
Seeking answers about the dead, the dying, and the disaster.

Many questions, few answers.
What is the meaning of it all? 
Why must the super typhoon even exist?
Is there a God?

Like Job, we cannot understand the calamity that befall Tacloban.
We can only wait for help.
We can only look for hope.
We can only hope for light.

O Lord, help Tacloban.
O Lord, do not make the needy wait too long.
O Lord, help the rest of us remember the survivors in prayer.
Enable us to help whatever we can.


Monday, November 18, 2013

BookPastor >> "Wounded by God's People" (Anne Graham Lotz)

Ever been hurt by people in Church? Do you want to learn about the healing process needed? If you have, and are still hurting from it, you may like to consider picking this book up. This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on September 16th, 2013. 


TITLE: Wounded by God's People: Discovering How God's Love Heals Our Hearts
AUTHOR: Anne Graham Lotz
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013, (240 pages).

Some of the deepest hurts are inflicted by people closest to you, even God's people. Some of the deepest healings are guided by God through the valley of hurts and wounds. So says the daughter of the famous Billy Graham. This reality has been experienced by many people. Most of them do get unreported. For various reasons, people choose to keep silent and quietly suffer the hurts they have received. Some will leave their church community they love. Others may even go around mouthing bad things as a retaliation. Not many will go on record to forgive and to publicly testify how God has healed them in spite of the deep hurts they have suffered from God's people. Ruth Graham Lotz is one such person who bucks the trend. She begins with painful memories of how she and her husband have been ostracized by her own Church in the aftermath of a power struggle, and compares her experience to that of Hagar. Feeling dumped by most of the Church people, she experiences the pain of rejection. Moreover, she was hurt by people she had respected, even receiving some wrongful accusations along the way.  As she recalls the blows, she reflects back on Hagar, how God is bigger than any hurt.

Being hurt also brings about certain positive things. She learns that people who wound others are people who have been wounded themselves. This is the vicious cycle of pain. Like Sarah who has experienced the pain of being ignored by her husband, and as a result hurts Hagar. There is also the example of Hannah in the Bible, who was constantly ridiculed by Peninnah for not bearing a child. What happens is usually escape or to take flight. Wounded people, especially God's people often run away from the people who wound them. Thankfully, Lotz wastes no time in bringing readers toward the God who heals. Less than a third into the book, readers will notice that Lotz's intent is to lead people toward God more and more. There is no hurt too deep that God cannot reach. No one can outrun God. At the same time, God also shows us our blind spots. We need to be humble to see and to do something about it, with God's help. Lotz also makes an insightful note that it is those times when we feel hurt that we can be tempted to look out at the specks of other people's eyes, forgetting about the log in our own eye. It is a reminder that hurt people are not perfect themselves. When God heals us from wounds by others, God can also heal us of our self-inflicted wounds. The chapter on the "Spiritual Blind Spots" by itself is worth the price of the book.

Hurts can also come about through the act of wounding. When God prunes, He can also feel the hurts. Discipline can be painful. Sometimes, God can use others to discipline us. Thus, we cannot be too liberal to say that all hurts are evil and badly intended. Readers are reminded that when God is in control, He is free to use all methods to guide us, even hurts. That said, God is no sadist. Though sometimes, for those of us who receive hurtful wounds hurled at us one after another, we start to question whether God is fair to us in the first place. What is most important in these cases, is to remember steadfastly that the world may forsake us, but God will never forsake us. When we are in the wilderness, God is there. When we cry, God is there. When we need hope, God is there. Just because we do not feel it does not mean God is absent. For every seemingly silent moment is a tiptoe by God to look for opportunities to touch us. Even if God is around us, we need open hearts to let Him in. We need to open up our clenched fists and to let Him hold us. One touching moment is how Anne Lotz lets God reach out to her through her famous dad. In a moment of exceptional sensitivity and love, the author's terrible day turns into a terrific moment of praise and thanksgiving. All because she knows someone cares. This book through and through is a testimony of how God cares for His people, especially when they feel hurt.

So What?

Having experienced personal hurts, Anne Graham Lotz is an example that often, authors do not choose their books. Their own life experiences dictates the way. Aware that there are many who choose to keep silent in order to avoid embarrassing themselves or others, Lotz chooses to make it known in this very personal book. She anchors her book on the truth that Jesus is able to heal not merely because He is God, but He has also been wounded by people.

Although the title of the book says wounded, this book is less about the wounding but more about the healing. After all, any hurts written about have already happened. Any conflicts have already occurred. What remains is the nursing of the wounds, the remembrance of them may be even more distressing.

I used to tell my fellow pastors that "sheep can bite." What I fail to add is that sheep can also be healing agents used by God. People hurt. God heals. That often happens through people who are willing to let God use them. Of all the challenges of recovering from hurts, I think the most difficult will be our self-inflicted hurts. Our self-imposed prison can be the most difficult to overcome. Lotz calls this the stubborn spirit. In such times, we all need eyes that not only can see, but eyes that are willing to see. We need ears that not only can hear, but are willing to listen. We need hearts that not only are open, but are willingly laid open for God to use and to touch. People can hurt us lots. People can throw mud at our faces or torment us with their words. The test of character is how we respond. Do we retaliate? Do we judge? Do we wallow in self-pity and regret? Or do we demonstrate the grace of God and to let the peace of God that transcends all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord?

One more thing. Remember that while every hurt is an opportunity for healing, it can also be spiritual moments of encountering God when we are most bare, most vulnerable, and most raw. This book is required reading for all who love the Church, those who have been hurt, and those who yearn to see more of God, in spite of their wounds.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Zondervan and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Moving Tribute: "Give Me Jesus"

Ruth Bell Graham passed away on June 14th, 2007 leaving behind her husband, the famous evangelist, Billy Graham. This couple has lived out an exemplary Christlike lives. They remain a rare model for marriage, for faith, for spiritual fervour, for all things life, and above all, for Christ. This moving video is a reminder of such a great woman who had been called back to the Lord. I remember my time at Gordon-Conwell, my professors were saying about Ruth's special sense of humour that was so down to earth, and yet very profound. One day, as the car she was in crawled to a slow speed due to construction works, she saw the final road sign that says: "End of Construction - Thank You for your patience," she said to her husband that those were the words she wanted on her tombstone. As I reflect on her life and her husband, I am encouraged. I am inspired, that for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. Give me Jesus.

Here is the song by Fernando Ortega, called "Give Me Jesus." You can also check out a beautiful writeup of famous quotes from Ruth and her husband here.


In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise

Give me Jesus.
Give me Jesus, 
Give me Jesus.
You can have all this world,
Just give me Jesus.

When I am alone,
When I am alone, 
When I am alone,
Give me Jesus.

Give me Jesus.
Give me Jesus, 
Give me Jesus.
You can have all this world,
Just give me Jesus.

When I come to die,
When I come to die,
When I come to die,
Give me Jesus.

Give me Jesus.
Give me Jesus, 
Give me Jesus.
You can have all this world,
Just give me Jesus.

Give me Jesus.
Give me Jesus, 
Give me Jesus.
You can have all this world,
You can have all this world, 
You can have all this world, 
Just give me Jesus.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Midweek Meditation: "Jesus Be My Center"

This song helps us to focus on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of the Faith. It is a beautiful rendition of


 Jesus, be the centre
 Be my source, be my light

 Jesus, be the centre
 Be my hope, be my song

 Be the fire in my heart
 Be the wind in these sails
 Be the reason that I live
 Jesus, Jesus

 Jesus, be my vision 
 Be my path, be my guide

 Be the fire in my heart
 Be the wind in these sails
 Be the reason that I live
 Jesus, Jesus


Monday, November 11, 2013

BookPastor >> "Outreach and the Artist" (Con Campbell)

This review was first published on September 3rd, 2013 at Panorama of a Book Saint.


TITLE: Outreach and the Artist: Sharing the Gospel with the Arts
AUTHOR: Con Campbell
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013, (128 pages).

This is a unique contribution to the art of evangelism. We have many books pertaining to the how and the why of evangelism. Not many touch on the beauty and the creativity in terms of letting art speak the wonder of God. This book, written by an artist as well as a scholar tries to speak into the beauty of God using the natural artistic creativity of humans. The three thrusts of the book are about evangelism:

  • With the arts; (chapters 2-3)
  • Through the arts; (chapter 4)
  • To the arts. (chapters 5-7)

In evangelism with the arts, Campbell begins with his personal testimony of his journey through visual arts toward jazz. Paintings and drawings fail to interest him. The piano only motivates him up to a certain point. With the saxophone, something artistic within him finally clicks. It leads him to dedicate more time playing it. Playing it leads him to a love of jazz. Jazz leads him to the Church, but not after a period of grappling between God and jazz. Slowly but surely, he recognizes how jazz can replace God, and makes a conscious decision that instead of allowing jazz to become a god in itself, he will let jazz be a channel to lead people to God. Thus the book of outreach and the artist where Campbell describes not only his own journey from jazz to God, but to help readers find their own stories in terms of evangelism with, through, and to the arts.

The biggest “ministry” for the author is actually the art of listening. He realizes that people are often fed up with the culture that is high in telling people what to do, but low in listening to one another. Even Christians themselves are not immune. Pointing out that the biggest barrier to people is not atheism or Christianity per se, but Christian people, Campbell shares how through jazz, he is able to introduce the person of Jesus. Even if people are resistant to the gospel directly, they will still be open to a good session of jazz. Those who love jazz will find it appealing. Creativity has a purpose, and more importantly, music is a way in which we can infuse our search for personhood with creativity, meaning with spiritual awareness, and evoking thoughts without being rude. For example, a few different jazz players who play together as one united band is a marvelous expression of the Trinity, unique three persons and yet one God. Campbell makes a distinction between professionalism and opportunity. The former is about working out the best quality, while the latter is trying to use music as a means to reach out. Sometimes, being too conscious of using music as a tool for evangelism can unwittingly result in a deterioration of integrity of the music in itself. It is a fine balance.

Some tips include clear communications, where the artists explain exactly what they are doing and why; to acknowledge critics for their honesty; and to avoid 'bait and switch' techniques that bait people with music, and then rudely switch them to a Christian message. Better to be upfront in the first place. For Christians, having appropriate expectations are helpful. Other tips include how to involve the Church in any arts outreach event. One tip in particular is to build rapport. Whether the audience is churched or unchurched, the moment the musician or the artist is able to connect with the audience, a lot can be accomplished. People connect with what is common in all of our hearts: need for security, acceptance, love, care, and the awesome human touch.

In evangelism through the arts, Campbell looks at two ways in which arts-based outreach can be done. The first is the "message" where the message takes priority, and the means to do it is of secondary importance. Theologically, this is based on the foundation of the gospel that needs to be proclaimed and to be heard. We are Christians not because of the name. We are Christians because of the gospel. The second approach is the medium where attention is paid to the way the message is transmitted. Here, the message is infused or incorporated into the medium in such a way that outreach can be done creatively. Whether the message or the medium is used first, it is good to be aware of the pros and cons of each. Campbell then makes a case for the artist to do some self-evaluation to determine which is most appropriate, according to the evangelistic contexts and the gifts in possession.

In evangelism to the arts, Campbell directs his attention to the arts community. This is perhaps the most challenging of all, and the author dedicates three whole chapters to do that. Chapter five invites readers to learn to appreciate the contexts and the subcultures of the artists. What language do they speak? How do they communicate? What vocabulary do they use? How do they live? Who do they hang out with? One way that Christians can learn more about these subcultures is to maintain some connection with them. Credibility is key when it comes to connecting with artists. On the one hand, they dislike pretense, especially when Christians try to say they know music when they are actually non-musicians. On the other hand, they dislike bad quality artists. Chapter six then looks at how many artists who grow up in churches, eventually leave, prompting the author to say: "The church gave them music, and music took them away." He looks at the two reasons why these people leave the Church. The first reason is the incompatible lifestyles. Many musicians hang out to the wee hours of the night, and making it hard for them to be earnest and regular church attendees. The second reason is the way the rest of the Church stereotypes the musicians, and even ostracize them and alienates them. Campbell then homes in on the main problem. It is not the music or the art, the musicians or the artists, the Church or the wrong stereotypes. It is idolatry. For artists, any infatuation with glorifying the acts is tantamount to idolizing the arts. In an industry where total devotion is expected, artists are trapped between creating good quality work, and letting the pursuit become an end in itself. Learning to recognize and then to work toward dethroning such an idol is the key to survival. A great way forward is to look for those who have successfully modeled a lifestyle that is honouring the arts without making them an idol. Learn from various individuals. Campbell includes in the book some short profiles of several artists like Keeley Manca Lambert (Acting); Richard Maegraith (Jazz); Dan McGowan (Comedian); Kristin Berardi (Music and Photography); Ian McGilvray (Painting); Keith Birchley (Classical Music); Hayley Neal (Performing Arts).

So What?

This is a special work of art, written by a musician as well as a scholar. As a jazz musician, Campbell understands music and the temptations that go with idolizing it. As a scholar, he thinks through the implications of theology and the arts. Campbell is also an Associate Professor of New Testament at TEDS. One of his recent books is a theological one, called "Paul and Union with Christ." You can read my review of that book here. Written in a very easy to read, but yet powerfully anchored on the premises of the gospel and theological integrity, Campbell urges readers to be creative in any evangelistic endeavours; to be active in engaging the arts community through genuine interest; to be welcoming in terms of openly appreciating the works of musicians through sincere engagement; to encourage musicians and artists from within the Christian community to see the bigger picture of God who can work with, through, and use Christians to speak to the arts community.

I like the attention given to arts in this book. While it seems like a book that attempts to evangelize the community of artists and musicians, readers will be pleasantly surprised that the book offers much more. In fact, it even invites readers to take the plunge and do the arts, if not, to be more appreciative of the arts. Learn to communicate our intent for sharing the gospel in love. Instead of trying to "bait and switch" any unsuspecting artist, be frank with them and state our intention upfront. Ask for permission. Be genuinely interested in what they are doing. Let the love of God spur all of us to good music and great art, and in the midst of enjoying the arts, we get a glimpse of the beauty of God. In the midst of marveling at the wonders of God, we get a glimpse of the human person created in the image of God.

You do not need to be an artist in order to appreciate this book. What you need is to have an eye for appreciating the arts, and an open heart to learn, to be humble, and to ask the experienced professional to teach us. Who knows. Our humility and willingness to learn from them can teach us a thing or two about faith and spirituality. Our learning disposition can also encourage non-Christians to adopt the same attitude when it comes to faith and the gospel.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


I received this book free from the publisher through the® book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Midweek Meditation: "Thanksgiving Prayer"

This prayer by the late Samuel Pugh (1850-1922) is a reminder that we need to be good stewards of what we have, to be mindful of those who do not have, and to do something about it.


Monday, November 04, 2013

BookPastor >> "Speaking Christian" (Marcus J. Borg)

TITLE: Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power - And How They Can Be Restored
AUTHOR: Marcus J. Borg
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: HarperOne, 2011, (256 pages).

Have you ever heard of "Christian Talk?" It is a kind of language that uses familiar Christian words marinated in Christian Church culture. Some people call it "Christian Speak"or "Churchy" language. Instead of letting words communicate what they mean, Christian Talk communicates a particular culture, that often distorts what the words actually mean. This book aims to bring back the true meaning of the words so often misused and even abused. According to Marcus Borg, Canon Theologian at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland as well as a Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Oregon State University, there are two reasons why the words have been misused.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Midweek Meditation: The Three Silences

In learning meditation, one of the most important postures is in the posture of silence. It can be a great teacher to the open student. When the heart is still, a little whisper, a small ripple can create waves of profound images to help us grasp a bigger sense of God's presence. The following reading is from the American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

THREE Silences there are: the first of speech, 
  The second of desire, the third of thought; 
  This is the lore a Spanish monk, distraught 
  With dreams and visions, was the first to teach. 
These Silences, commingling each with each, 
  Made up the perfect Silence that he sought 
  And prayed for, and wherein at times he caught 
  Mysterious sounds from realms beyond our reach. 
O thou, whose daily life anticipates 
  The life to come, and in whose thought and word 
  The spiritual world preponderates, 
Hermit of Amesbury! thou too hast heard 
  Voices and melodies from beyond the gates, 
  And speakest only when thy soul is stirred!


Monday, October 28, 2013

BookPastor >> "What Does the Lord Require?" (James Howell)

Want a wonderful exposition of Micah 6:8? This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on November 20th, 2011.


TITLE: What Does the Lord Require? - Doing Justice, Loving Kindness, Walking Humbly
AUTHOR: James C. Howell
PUBLISHER: Louisvilled, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012.

This is a book about the Old Testament book, Micah 6:8. It explores the person of Micah. It explains the biblical contexts. It touches on how listeners perceive the message then, and its relevance for modern readers. Most of all, it looks to the God that the prophet Micah is pointing to. Obedience to God will lead to true fulfillment and will satisfy one's deepest desires.

"He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8)

Micah is a man more in tune with God, compared to the religious leaders of that day. What stands Micah apart was his boldness to denounce the greed and bullying happening during that time, as well as his boldness to point people to hope in God. It is essentially an exposition of the verse. It goes through each of the three verbal emphases: 'Do justice; Love Kindness; and Walk humbly.'

Before jumping into the three things, Howell tells us that God has shown us what is good BEFORE asking us to do good. This pattern is so consistent with the nature of God, where He shows us the way so that we know the way to obey. He patiently points out the essence of 'require.' In Hebrew, the word is darao, which is a continual longing, a desire that grows and grows to do the three things.

An insight comes forth quickly, that the three things are actually one and the same act of love. Justice needs loving kindness. Kindness is needed in humility. Humble living goes hand in hand with justice. The author calls the line between the three as 'blurry.' This is important for it helps us to see the whole verse as one verse. It enables us to practice all together.

Justice is something  that is 'done' rather than talked about. The word 'mishpat' is actually the law. Contrary to modern conceptions of desiring to be free from following laws, there is a risk of missing the opportunity to obey the laws that lead to a happier and more liberating life. True obedience to laws lead to freedom, not bondage.

The third thing that Howell talks about is the nature of 'walk humbly.' 'Hatzneia' means the opposite of pride and arrogance. It is aiming toward a 'downward mobility' of lesser greatness for self. It is an attitude that is so focused on God, that one does not have time to inflate the self.

The book concludes powerfully by stressing how the three things required of Israel is actually a reflection of God's character as well. This book may be small, but I advise the reader to take time to drink from the well of wisdom and the exposition of the Word. It comes also with discussion questions which should double up as a book cum Bible study materials. There is also a leaders guide.

Great book!

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is supplied to me free by Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. The comments given are freely mine.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Two Questions About Joy

This short video clip is a powerful reminder about life. We all need to learn to ask the two questions about ourselves.

1) Have you found joy in your life?

2) Have your life brought joy to others?

I got a hunch that most people are more concerned with the first. Unwittingly, they have de-emphasized the second. My readers. I hope that you would have answered yes to Question 2, MORE than question 1.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Power of Words

This short video shows us how words can be so powerful. I enjoyed it and hope you do too.


Monday, October 21, 2013

BookPastor >> "Why Not Today?"

Ever hear of the Dalit people? This book is not mean to guilt-trip you. It is meant to open our eyes to see that there are many in this world who are needy. It's time for some of us to grow beyond our petty issues of life. This review was first published on August 7th, 2013 at Panorama of a Book Saint. 


TITLE: Why Not Today: Trafficking, Slavery, the Global Church . . . and You
AUTHOR: Matthew Cork and Kenneth Kemp
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2013, (288 pages).

Freedom is good. Freedom is great. Freedom is desired and even framed in nice sounding words in the United Nations. Yet, the very freedom that many in the developed world have often taken for granted is still very much out of reach to a group numbering more than 300 million. For more than 3000 years, this group has been oppressed, discarded, and considered as "untouchables" by many in the land. Blame it on a caste system that has managed to suffocate this race of people. Blame it on the aftereffects of reincarnation beliefs that these people are getting what they deserved. Blame it on apathy. More importantly, in this book, the focus is not simply on the outcasts, the spot light is also on those who know about it, and still refuse to do anything about it. Welcome to a book that highlights the plight of the people in South Asia known as the "Dalits."

A) The Discomfort

It begins with the Cork's discomfort over the "safe" environment he lives in. An environment that is predictable; that minds one's business; that toes the cultural line; that competes and lives like any other neighbour next door; that basically goes through life that maintains the status quo. Then one question (attributed to Bill Hybels) pops up that deepens the discomfort: "Do you have a vision with dying for?" Gradually, the conviction grows with the author finding Scriptural exhortation to speak up for the silenced, and bring about justice for the weak. This book is a story of how the author has found meaning and compassion to serve God through the Dalit Freedom Mission. Flying from California to Andhra Pradesh, Cork experiences not just a culture shock, he endures a tsunami of people in the poorest living conditions, with pleas for money and relentless cries for help. It is the sight of the children that is most unbearable. Poverty, hunger, dirty, helpless, just seeing the conditions of these "untouchables" is gut wrenching. Of all the reasons for the state of the Dalits, the one that is most targeted is the dreaded caste system where the Dalits are ranked at the lowest level to the point that they are not considered humans. What then can be done for these Dalits? How is justice going to be fought on behalf of these "untouchables?" This book reveals an American pastor's journey from discomfort to convert; and from convert to effort. Each discomfort leads him to prayer and faith. These words sustain him: "Do What You Can. Where You Are. With What You Have."

B) The Energized Convert

Seeing the real thing speaks more than words. Imagine seeing numerous beggars, mostly children who are hungry, uneducated, lost, poor, and being cast aside by the rest of society. Some children especially girls are sold away as slaves. Many are belittled, ridiculed, and treated in a manner that is less than humane. As long as one is a Dalit, justice seems to never be on one's side. Yet, seeing how education can bring about better livelihood and future for the Dalit people, Cork realizes that the most practical goal is to create an educational culture: Build schools. Those who have broken through the ranks are those who have benefited from education, such as Udit Raj who is a Dalit with a PhD, who in his early years, tell of the unfair treatment by his class, who simply assumed that because he is a Dalit, that he has to do all the chores and the cleaning up.  There is also the legendary Dalit, Dr Ambedkar who spends his entire life battling the chief cause of the Dalits' plight: Hindu Caste System. Understanding the history of the Dalit fight, and recognizing that his Church needs to wake up to the challenge to break the cycle of injustice, Cork is convinced that the rewards is far greater than the costs to bear. The 'converted' Cork learns that ministry is not about getting his Church on a balanced position with regards to worship, governance, and purpose. Neither is it about blending contemporary culture with biblical ministry. For him, the vision is about global freedom, in particular, how he can harness his Church's resources toward helping the Dalit Freedom Network. It leads to the starting of a new Church with Cork as the lead pastor. Just as his new Church finds liberation in a new vision, likewise, they increasingly realize, together with their partners from Dalit Freedom Network, that it is the gospel that will truly liberate the Dalits.

C) The Continuing Effort

On and on, the book flows with pages of wake up calls that will cause readers to have the same kind of discomfort as Cork. Education is not about helping the Dalits. It is also targeted at the powers of the land of India, and the outside world. It is also tackling the horrible divide of the rich and the poor, where the rich in India are profiting from the cheap labour of the poor and the outcastes. It is a most unfair system, tightly held and believed by millions of Hindus, including the Dalits themselves. Those who fight the system also do so at their own risk. Fighting injustice is often not so simple. For instance, it touches on religious sensitivities across the country. Certain Hindu radicals will basically use the fight to free the Dalits as a religious provocation too! Converting into the Christian faith is also a risk, and violence has been common.

So What?

It takes only less than 24 hours to change a man's view of the world. It takes a first hand look at the horrors of poverty, injustice, and a fatalistic religious system in order to wake one man out of his slumber. More importantly, what has happened to one man, can also impact us. It reminds us that Christians everywhere must stand up for the weak and the marginalized everywhere. If your Church or organization is going through a dry patch, or suffering from spiritual lethargy or a general lack of vision or purpose, what is needed is not more programs or more activities to keep one's members busy. It is also not about trying to maintain our churches' status quo, to become a church that is on "maintenance mode." What is needed is a vision from God about what the Church with all its people and resources can do: Make a difference.

The question that has arrested Cork can also be a wake up call for us: "Do you have a vision worth dying for?" If you do not have, or if you feel your church do not have one, start praying. Start seeking. Start seeing. Start visiting places. Start to venture beyond your comfort zone. Let one's prayers guide the way. Let the reading of the Word, and the examining of Jesus' outreach to the poor in the gospel energize us. Let the Holy Spirit guide us to do the right thing. The title of the book is a direct challenge to all of us: Why Not Today?

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Moody Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Midweek Meditation: Learn to Read Well

In an age of social media, there are millions of stuff and articles flying around, all available with a simple electronic click. While there is a concern about information overload, there is also a concern of getting false facts, wrong ideas, and erroneous news. Discernment is extremely important, more so in this age where many who seem to be in a world of their own often misread stuff.


Monday, October 14, 2013

BookPastor >> "Grounded in the Faith" (Ken Erisman)

Want to teach theology to the layperson without stumbling over big words or difficult concepts? Why not try this book? This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Aug 5th, 2013 here.


TITLE: Grounded in the Faith: An Essential Guide to Knowing What You Believe and Why
AUTHOR: Kenneth Erisman
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013, (288 pages).

What exactly is the biggest challenge in modern Christianity? Echoing Dr J.I. Packer's word, it can be summed up in one word: "catechesis." Arguing that there is a tight correlation between "wise catechesis" and the health of the Church, this guide is written for Churches and believers to adopt a step by step curriculum that can be used for empowering the teachers, equipping the believers, and engaging the world. Is this a tall order?

Ken Erisman believes it is possible, and proposes a three stage learning paradigm. Firstly, he urges readers and learners to listen to the what for the message of truth in the Bible. Secondly, he encourages them to absorb the truth through thinking, pausing, reflecting, and integrate them. Thirdly, he exhorts them to let the truths they have learned, to help them interact with the world. Thus, there is a lot of learning as well as equipping going on. With this three-step paradigm, the author skillfully guides readers through three levels of biblical engagement.

Level One begins with very basic stuff: Justification; calling of the believers; Salvation; Regeneration; Doctrine of Man and Sin; Temptations; Sanctification; and Scripture. It goes back to the very beginning why we need God in the first place. For unless we all recognize the need, there is very little reason to get back to addressing any need at all! Putting things first, Erisman highlights that man by himself is never good enough. He cannot justify himself. Life is more than good works. We cannot be righteous in our own strength. Through the doctrine of justification by faith, we are reminded again that justification is by God and from God. Erisman goes through the Ten Commandments, Romans, Galatians, with frequent interjections by renowned believers such as Tim Keller, CS Lewis, Philip Graham Ryken and many more to shed farther perspectives on this topic. He talks about the five "incredible spiritual benefits" of calling, regeneration, conversion, salvation, and adoption as children of God. Understanding the significance of each helps us appreciate the immense gift of God in Christ Jesus for us. Then Erisman goes to the other end to show us how vulnerable we are even when we have been justified: Temptations of the devil, the flesh, and the world. For many of us, just to know the different ways temptations can come at us will help us be more spiritually vigilant. Having done the initial benefits and risks description, Erisman ups the stake by exhorting all toward sanctification in Christ. For when we become like Jesus, we will move to a realm where our natural tendency is not to sin, but to be holy. The way to cultivate this holiness is Scripture, which Erisman presents five reasons why Scripture is so critical to the life of the believer.

  1. Jesus held the Word highly, and so should we;
  2. Jesus's Word is eternal, and so too the Scriptures;
  3. Scripture is all inspired by God;
  4. Scripture inculcates faith in us;
  5. Scripture gives us hope and joy.

Level Two progresses into an intermediate level. Here, Erisman defends the reliability of the Bible; modes and models of prayer; God's will; and the Trinity. He puts forth four reasons for believing the Bible's divine sources; the Y.M.C.A way to understand the Bible as the Word of God; and affirms again the accuracy and trustworthiness of the Bible. He lists the Lord's Prayer as one of the most essential elements of the Christian life, highlighting six aspects of the prayer for readers to take note of. Prayer and the seeking of God's will go hand in hand. An interesting part is how Erisman describes the "seven specific ways" to discern God's will. He ends the chapter on the subject of the Trinity, and how the Christian needs to appreciate the Trinity as a mystery as well as learning what has been revealed in the Bible. He also highlights the erroneous claims of modalism, tritheism, arianism, and why they do not reflect the Trinity of the Bible.

Level Three is about Christ, the attributes and character of God, and the nature of God. Jesus is unique, fully divine as well as fully human. God preserves his children through perseverance, preservation, and assurance. Learning the attributes of God will show us exactly why God instructs the children of God to be. For instance, those who know God will be those who have great energy, great thoughts, great boldness, and great contentment in God. In knowing God better, we too will naturally grow to be better people too. Other questions are also dealt with such as,

  • Does God really need our glorifying of him?
  • Why does the Bible calls God as "jealous?"
  • What about the "wrath of God?"
  • If God created everything, it it then true that God is the author of sin?
  • ...
These and many more are covered in clear and poignant ways.

So What?

I remember a time when books by the late Paul E. Little were popular with my circle of friends. Books like "Know What You Believe," Know Why You Believe," and "How to Give Away Your Faith" are remain respectable on Amazon rankings to this day. Reading this book is like combining some of the best parts of those three books into one. More than that, this book is a book of theology made simple for the layperson. I find the book very light in terms of its delivery, but upon seeing the scope of coverage and the important issues it highlights, I have to constantly remind myself not to belittle the simple words. For the most profound truths can come forth through the simplest words.  In reading the book, readers will be encouraged that studying theology need not mean plowing through thick encyclopedia-sized textbooks or leafing through dated documents by dead theologians. Theology is very much ancient and contemporary, reverent and relevant, heaven-focused and earthly minded.

In trying to make the best sense of the book, let me offer a L.A.I.T.Y acronym to be used as a pedagogical handle. The first three is borrowed from Erisman's three-step paradigm for learning. The next two is my contribution to make the acronym work.

First, Listen for teaching moments. There is no need to jump through the pages just to find something that resonates with our heart. If readers find something interesting or troubling, just pause and listen through the words, asking God what it all means.

Second, Absorb the word of God. Let the Scripture references be the anchor for all the descriptions that Erisman have done. After all, any other text book or human authors can only try to shed light on the Main Deal: The Bible. Consider the Bible references and read this book with an open Bible. Absorb through memorizing the Word of God.

Third, Interact broadly and boldly. The Word of God is not meant to just paralyze us into a closed ended analytical exercise. There are contemporary moments in which what we learn can be put into practice in our daily lives. Perhaps, the interaction begins with saying out the Word of God from memory.

Fourth, be Teachable. In our day and age, it is easy to let knowledge and the accumulation of know-how puff us up. As we go forth to engage the world, to equip believers, and to exhort the Church to do more, we need to be reminded that we too are works in progress. We too need to be constantly learning. Being a disciple is essentially about being a learner too. Our humility is reflected through our teachability.

Fifth, Yield to the Spirit of God to guide us. There is no guarantee that whatever we have learned will have an immediate application. Sometimes, we just need to bide our time and wait for the right opportunity. This is where cultivating a sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit is important. The ability to yield to God is an indication of our relationship with God in the first place.

Overall, I recommend this book for the equipping of the laity in Christian Education.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Baker Books and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Friday, October 11, 2013

What Would You Do If Money Were Not An Object

One of the problems why people are unhappy with their jobs is because they are doing something that they don't like, and to keep doing it. Worse, they are encouraging their own children to do unhappy things for the sake of making money. The vicious cycle continues. This video reminds us again: "What Do I Desire?" Truth is, many of us have no clue.


Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Midweek Meditation: "Thanksgiving Song"

With Canadian Thanksgiving around the corner, it is an appropriate time to dedicate this week's "Midweek Meditation" with one of the most beautiful Thank You songs. Here it is:


Lord, I am thankful;
Thankful for the Name of Jesus; 
Thankful for the Blood that cleans us. 
Lord, I'm thankful for You, each day. 
Each day I am thankful; 
Thankful for the Spirit's leading;
Thankful that in You there's healing.
Lord, I'm thankful for You.
Lord, I am thankful;
Thankful for the Name of Jesus; 
Thankful for the Blood that cleans us. 
Lord, I'm thankful for You, each day. 
Each day I am thankful; 
Thankful for the Spirit's leading;
Thankful that in You there's healing.
Lord, I'm thankful for You.

Oh let my spirit soar in worship to Your Name. 
My life is not the same by the power of Your Blood. 
And every moment that I breathe, 
Your Spirit leads and meets my every need 
of walking in the Light of You.
Lord, I'm so thankful;
Thankful for the Name of Jesus; 
Thankful for the Blood that cleans us. 
Lord, I'm thankful for You, each day. 
Each day I am thankful; 
Thankful for the Spirit's leading;
Thankful that in You there's healing.
Lord, I'm thankful for You.

Lord, I'm so thankful
O Lord I'm thankful...
For all you are to me...

Lord I'm so thankful,
Very very thankful
For you are to me..


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