Friday, May 31, 2013

Silence, Sabbath, and Worship

As the Sabbath day approaches, one of the things we need to prepare is to cultivate a heart of silence. This is one of the best ways to prepare for worship. There is far too much noise in our services each weekend. Sometimes, people are so uncomfortable in moments of silence, that they just have to do something. Like tapping on the chair, moving the legs, or breathe a little heavier. There is no need to do that.

The following is adapted from the article "Recovering Silence." It contains some very helpful tips. I have made some small formatting but the content remains as is.


Creating 'Sounds of Silence' in Worship

T.S. Eliot poetically asked, "Where shall the word be found, where will the word resound? / Not here, there is not enough silence." In order for that criticism not to be leveled at our churches, Marlene Kropf of Elkhart, Indiana—who directs the Office of Congregational Life for Mennonite Church USA—provides the following five suggestions. They are adapted from her article, "Unhurried worship," that appears on Leader Online.
  1. Begin on Saturday night. In Jewish tradition, Sabbath begins the night before. Encourage families and individuals to deliberately slow down their pace of activity on Saturday evening. In quiet moments, spend a few moments reflecting on the week just past and pray for those who will lead worship the next day.
  2. Plan the opening and closing moments. If a musical prelude is the tradition in your congregation, include a line of poetry or a centering prayer in the bulletin for those who desire a focus for meditation during the prelude. Occasionally ask people to enter or leave the sanctuary in silence. Let them feel the spaciousness of being together in God's presence without words to interfere.
  3. Slow down your Scripture readings. Frame Scripture readings with silence. Let each word be spoken distinctly and lovingly. Once in a while, provide two or three minutes of silence for worshippers to reflect on God's call to them through the text. Select musical responses to Scripture readings that open a space for receiving the Word. Or choose a short refrain to sing after each portion of text is read, engaging the congregation in prayerful dialogue with the Scripture.
  4. Avoid clutter. Pare down unnecessary words and actions. Try eliminating all words of transition and announcements of song numbers, relying instead on the bulletin or overhead. Such paring back may not only improve the sense of flow in your service, but also add more contemplative space in worship.
  5. Let your prayer time be contemplative. Provide ample space for prayer. Instead of relying on many words, precede or follow the pastoral or intercessory prayers with silence, or include moments of silence within the prayer for people to offer their own petitions to God.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Midweek Meditation: "Mentor Me"

Here is a beautiful prayer that offers oneself to God for mentoring.

"Dear Artist of the Universe, Beloved Sculptor, Singer, and Author of my life, born of your image I have made a home in the open fields of your heart. The magnetic tug of your invitation to grow is slowly transforming me into a gift for the world. Mentor me into healthy ways of living." (Macrina Wiederkehr)

Monday, May 27, 2013

BookPastor >> "Every Good Endeavor" (Tim Keller)

This review was first published at "Panorama of a Book Saint" on February 25th, 2013.


TITLE: Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work
AUTHOR: Tim Keller
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Dutton Press, 2012, (292 pages).

Is there such a thing as "Christian work?" When Christians who band together in a business venture fails, does that mean they have failed as Christians in the marketplace? How do we make sense of work? These and many more are ably dealt with by Tim Keller. Keller takes on work and faith, and engages both of them together within the context of the marketplace. Framed in three parts, Part One talks about the original intention of God for work. Part Two talks about the fall and how our work has become fruitless, pointless,selfish, and idolatrous. Part Three is about how the gospel redeems the world, and in particular, the world of work and how Christians can make a difference in each of their good endeavours. The  way that Keller adopts is to help readers understand the need to cultivate an environment where our contribution in the work becomes a way we can serve God and people. As we work, we also learn to integrate the respective kinds of work we do, the history of the venture, the biblical insights we can apply to the context, so that we can make a fuller sense of what God is doing through us in the workplace. Work, through the many stages and changes of forms and circumstances then becomes a journey toward a specific destination. Like a fully grown tree, as we work through the leaves and the twigs, to the branches and the trunks, to the highest top and the deepest roots, we let our work tell the story of God working through us, and manifested in the daily things we do. The foreword by Katherine Leary Alsdorf sets the stage for a challenging read.

"I learned great lessons about joy at work, patience and hope, teamwork and truth telling, from a people who didn't share my faith. My staff who went away for a meditation weekend seemed to come back more refreshed than those who worshipped together on Sunday at a Christian evangelical churc. I started to see work as a crucible where God was pounding and grinding and refining me, rather than a place where I was actively and effectively serving him." (13)

In typically Keller's fashion, Keller begins with God. Through Genesis, we learn that God creates the world and cares for it. There is a dignity of work right from the start, only to be tarnished and diminished as sin thwarts the original plan of God. Work then becomes a "necessary evil," and degraded into a mere means toward materialistic pursuits. We need then to see all work as culture making. We see work as an important part of serving the community we live in. Work flows out of our love for God, and we minister and serve with competence, that our end product is a result of much gratitude to God.

Part Two hones in on the various ways that sin has destroyed the original intent for work. Having lost the glory of God, work becomes a fruitless and often despite way of life as sin does its destructive influence. Work becomes cursed. It becomes an aimless endeavour with meaninglessness a middle name in world stuck between good and evil.  Using Ecclesiates as a guide, Keller affirms the need for a redemptive element.  Due to sin, work also becomes a selfish endeavour where people work mainly to make a name for themselves, to climb toward positions of power and influence, and unwittingly allows the setting up of idols in the place of work and in the hearts of people. There are personal idols of comfort and pleasure, as well as corporate idols of self-styled secular ideals, or some kind of moral absolutes that place meaning in the accomplishment of them. Idols of self-realization, individual talents, ambition, hard work. There are postmodern idols of human progress, reason, science, or some kind of a "means without ends" idol. These are idols because they become an end in themselves.

Part Three offers hope in God, through the Gospel and how it redeems work. The gospel introduces a worldview that is totally opposite of what the world offers. Against a world that elevates "self-expression, sexual pleasure, and affluence" as meaning makers, the gospel brings us back to help us see that in ourselves or in themselves, we are nothing. For any worldview to take root, three questions need to be asked.

  1. How are things supposed to be?
  2. What is the main problem with them as they are?
  3. What is the solution and how can it be realized?

Keller then helps with several examples on how the gospel redeems the world of work. In journalism, redemption looks at learning to go beyond fact reporting toward reporting in a manner than brings hope and life. In Higher Education, we learn to create people with "reflective" and responsible citizenship. In the Arts, we learn not to let profits be the primary motivator, but beautiful and optimistic. In Medicine, Keller reminds those in the medical profession that it is easy to feel proud and even arrogant in a noble profession. At the same time, medical professionals can feel uneasy when trying to introduce their work in the spiritual realm. The key is holistic health, learning to care for people as people even when they are trained to solve medical challenges. A new concept of redeemed work is one that involves the inclusive participation of all. It is an exercise of common grace that human beings receive. There is no dichotomy of "Christian" or non-Christian work. All work is work, and all work can be redeemed by God. Due to the limitations of ethics, even Christian ethics, we need a new compass for work. Treat people with dignity. Treat people wisely. Serve with respect and fear of God. Let sincerity of heart drive our initiatives. Do not be ruthless. Be calm during moments of failure. Do not be too quick to take sides and divide the organization.

Despite the many publications, conferences, and courses that teach marketplace theology or faith in the workplace, there is still a growing hunger for matters of spirituality and how a Christian ought to live in the world at large, in particular the office and the workplace. From time to time, many in the secular place of work can become confused or disorientated about God's purpose for them where they are. Such people may even feel more fulfilled when in some form of recognized Christian ministry like Churches, parachurches, or mission-based organizations. Still, there are those in the clergy or the familiar "full-time worker" label, who feels that their parishes or congregation needs to be reminded that all good work is in fact, working for God. There is no need to be distracted or irked by labels. What matters is the way we live for Christ wherever we go. The Ten changes that Keller proposes is worth remembering. Every good endeavor will involve one or more of the following.

  1. From individual salvation to a wider understanding that the gospel changes everything, not just our personal lives.
  2. From being good to being saved, that our work is an effective working out of our saved state.
  3. From cheap grace to costly grace, where we are made aware constantly of our sinful selves
  4. From "heaven above" thinking, to Christ present down here on earth
  5. From using God as a value-add, to how we can value add to the work of God on earth
  6. From building idols in our world, to living for God
  7. From disdain for this world to being engage in the world
  8. From doing things alone to working as an accepting community
  9. From mere "people matter" to recognizing the place of institutions, people, and all that matters
  10. From "Christian superiority" to "common grace."

It is hard not to like this book. Keller shines as he distills the wide repertoire of knowledge he has into a powerful reference for understanding God's purpose for work, sin's effect on work, and Christ's redemption of the world, including work. We need to grow in humility, in love, in acceptance, in truth, in justice, and in all things that matter to God. The words, "For God so loved the world," has not, and should not be forgotten. It is because God so loved the world, that we ought to love the world and to live as ambassadors of grace, toward every good endeavour. It is only in Christ, we can bat a good start, make a godly strike, and do a home run. In Christ, all things are possible.

Rating: 5 of 5 stars


Friday, May 24, 2013

Learning to Connect (by disconnecting)

One common sight on the streets, on the buses, or simply strolling by the park is someone, somewhere, holding onto a smartphone. Whether alone or with companions, one cannot help but notice how attentive the owner of the smartphone is on his little gadget on his hand. The posture is similar. With one hand holding onto the smartphone, with head looking down intently, it seems like all the world is sacrificed for the sake of what is going on the glossy panel of the smartphone.

Welcome to a new era of smartphone behaviour. What used to be done in the office, at workplaces, or in business areas, are now done conveniently anywhere, anytime, and anyhow. With WiFi more readily available than ever before, it is convenient to be connected by email, on social media, or anything electronically based. Moreover, smartphones are no longer expensive stuff. Compared to decades ago, the prices for the latest and the greatest continue to drop, while cool features continue to rise.

Alas! The price of convenience is a high price to pay. Especially when we are constantly paying more attention to the thing in front of us, instead of the people around us. Forget about going out together. If people are going to be spending more time on their smartphones whether at home, outside, or with friends, why not just forget about the party or the gathering. Why not just let individuals go ahead with their smartphone craze and live by themselves?

Remember the old saying, "So near, yet so far?" The smartphone is here to stay. Until we learn to manage our use of it, we risk letting the smartphone manage us. Watch this video and you will see what I mean.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Midweek Meditation: "Growing Old"

Growing Old

Life speeds up; Muscle slows down;
Busyness hooks on. Life goes on and on and on.

Busy. No time to rest. No time to pause.
Is faster better? Is busier sexier?

Like leeches, busyness drains the host.
Of passion, of purpose, of peace.

We are all growing; some bigger, some taller, but all older.
Are we any wiser? Is our relationship fuller?

The latest gadgets; the coolest widgets; the fastest digits.
Show me how they teach patience.
Show me how they bring joy
Show me the ways they grow our love
Show me how they can help us love one another better?

No. They teach more impatience.
They are not meant to bring joy
They make people love them more,
At the expense of time for loved ones and friends.

Alas! Speed and busyness are the currencies of worldliness.
Double-headed with a single purpose: Deception.
They tell us that faster and bigger is better.
They trick us by saying more-is-more,
When the truth is less is often more.

Those who give in to these twin deceivers;
Unwittingly deceive others as well.

Nay! Say no! Technologies are meant to serve people, not the other way round.
Growing older is more about grace, not race.
It is about pacing ourselves with people, not technologies.
Technological idolatry sucks. Sucks us empty. Keeps us on the leash.

Come grow old with me. Speed not, for speeding can kill.
Be Busy appropriately, for there is a time for everything.

Let's grow old with pace and grace.
Let's take time to pray, (NOT too busy to pray)
Let's take time to pause.
Let's take time to worship.
Let's take time to wait.

Come grow old and wise.


Monday, May 20, 2013

BookPastor >> "ReLaunch" (Mark Rutland)

Every organization needs to be refreshed or relauched from time to time. It is not a matter of what or why. It is a question of when. When that happens, a book like this will be a great resource to have. This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on April 3rd, 2013.


TITLE: ReLaunch: How to Stage an Organizational Comeback
AUTHOR: Mark Rutland
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2013, (208 pages).

Maybe you feel that your organization is not growing. Perhaps you may be feeling your organization is stuck in the rut? You may even be scratching your head not only about what to do, but where to start. Like a failed launch of your sail boat, what is needed is a new attempt, an improved effort, or simply a re-launch. Or like a ship cruising apparently to nowhere, one needs to not only re-adjust the sails, but to re-affirm the reasons why the boat was launched in the first place. Re-focus. Clarity of purpose. Turnaround.

This is a book about organizational turnarounds. It is common to see organizations that have thrived well in the past, only to decline or to lose the vitality and energy over time. Beginning with the story of the cruise liner that crashed off the coast of Cyprus, killing more than thirty people, and causing not only the careers of several people, but also the environment problems created. Rutland argues that the problem does not start with the crash, but way before the ship ran aground. What can we do about a ship that has crashed? What about organizations that are experiencing dysfunctional times and are heading toward disaster?  How can leaders save their organizations? By relaunching, says Rutland.

A) Learning Component
Any turnaround comprises of three main components. Firstly, there is a learning component. In a phrase that is so synonymous with Max DePree's classic, "Leadership is an Art," Rutland begins with some excellent material on the importance of dream and vision, and how all other structures, methodologies, leadership styles, people traits, and organizational culture can be tethered together in what Rutland calls, "Turnaround Leadership." He shares about his own experience at a megachurch and two universities. So successful was he at the megachurch turnaround that he was invited to lead a school even without prior teaching experience at a school. With dreams come the overcoming of fears. With boldness comes the overcoming of three main challenges:

  1. Need for personal transparency;
  2. Willingness for making tough decisions;
  3. Hanging on to position loosely and always ready to let go of power and position when the time comes.

Rutland says it very well, the key problem in any organizational turnaround. What to do with the different groups of people whose philosophies clash? How do leaders steer a peaceful course between those who want "radical change" and those who prefer the status quo? Enters the second component: The Seven steps of Rutland's turnaround.

B) The Seven Steps of Organizational Turnaround
Step #1 - Facing Institutional Reality
This means being able to see the problems as they are, as well as the strengths and opportunities. Like DePree's classic leadership call to first "define reality," Rutland also echoes the same starting point, through understanding the organizational worldview, respecting the past while envisioning the future, using stories and illustrations each time to press forward the point. 

Step #2 - Communicating a Vision
Having a vision of the future trumps retaining the status quo without idea of the future. For any change to occur, the vision needs to be clear and focused. It must be so clear that every member of the organization will have no trouble articulating that vision. It must be focused so that one is not easily distracted by issues that come and go. Leadership is essentially communicating this vision. So important it is that it is the one thing that leaders cannot delegate. It must be demonstrated passionately. 

Step #3 - Aligning Markets, Message, and Medium
This step represents the nuts and bolts of stringing together the elements of a turnaround. Alignment is critical. Markets need to be understood as to what size we are talking about, what is the productivity we are looking at, and whether we have the means to reach this target group. Having identified the market, the message needs to be crafted to match. Then comes the medium in which the message will be transmitted. All three elements need to be constantly aligned and realigned according to the turnaround emphasis. Leaders need to be careful not to let any change or challenges of any of these three derail the vision.

Step #4 - Creating an Executable Strategy
Having lots of activities is not enough. One needs to focus on the right activity. The same can be said of strategies. First avoid taking the wrong bridge. Then, look for the bridge of maximum opportunity to implement the strategy. Rutland presents a six-step process to do just that.  

Step #5 - Shifting Culture
We do not operate in a vacuum. Organizations have to deal with cultures in the world. Rutland distinguishes culture from brand, in that it is not the brand that defines the culture, but the culture that defines the brand.  In any turnaround, he is wary of any "culture of feudalism" that basically divides and conquers. This may even mean organizational divisions inside are pit against each other negatively. Such a culture is toxic to people inside the organization and also the motivation to move the organization ahead. Another culture to avoid is "parallel model" where groups within do not talk or connect. Another bad model is "perpendicular model" where groups within clash often. The "circular model" is also no good, where the organization goes nowhere except in circles. Avoiding such cultural tendencies is critical.

Step #6 - Keeping an Eye on Quality
For Rutland, quality is essentially meeting expectations. Knowing the expectations is also critical. Sometimes, like many marriages, unspoken expectations come out of a lack of communications. That said, a leader needs to constantly communicate expectations in order to maintain level of quality. 

Step #7 - Measuring and Celebrating Success
Small quick victories are essential to building a turnaround momentum. That is why setting some measurable targets can help immensely. 

C) Team Building
The third component in turnaround strategies is in the building of a team. Hire appropriately. Adopt a system like the finder-binder-minder-grinder system.  "Finders" are creative and entrepreneurial, and are great assets to move organizations forward. "Binders" are those who can systematically bring things in order and in proper perspective. "Minders" are process persons, people who manage existing systems and processes well. "Grinders" are those who have the grit to finish the work set forth. Leaders must learn to help these four types of people work together well. That is why a leader needs to understand his own personality in the first place. Rutland also observes the potential conflict between "finders" and "minders" for they tend to irritate each other. Leadership is in terms of keeping them working together, tolerating if necessary.  Learning to hire also means learning when and how to fire when necessary. A good leader will use firing as a last resort.

Rutland also has a word for forming a board of directors. He focuses on cultivating the board's inner voice through isolating emotional tendencies that can retard any turnaround; avoiding legalistic philosophies that tend to simply things into right vs wrong; and to let a holistic approach balance out the management and the leadership culture. A good board will practice accountability, affirmation, and a responsibility to gather or relinquish resources. A bad board will obstruct appropriate change out of fear, and an ugly board that tries to micromanage everything. He ends with some words of advice to the turnaround leader.

My Thoughts

Leadership is an art, calling for an attitude of humility and discernment to meander among the various perspectives and emotional attachments to structures of organization; styles of leadership; methods of management; balance of chaos vs control or change vs conformity; fear of the unknown vs courage to  explore. That said, I venture to propose that leadership is both an art and a science. Good leadership knows the difference between the two, and will be discerning on how and when to implement them. Great leadership however, will let the art and the science aspect inform each other, and to connect the organization internally as well as its interactions with the culture at large. Spiritual leadership is in terms of wisdom in leading, managing, and working through the turnaround processes from beginning to end, enabling not only the organization to grow in terms of meeting its objectives, but the people inside to grow as persons as well.

This book has given me much food for thought, and though the biblical examples are not many, a lot of what Rutland says make sense from a consulting and practicing standpoint. This book on relaunch can become a seed for a whole new series of books on leadership. I highly recommend this book for leadership and anyone desiring healthy changes for the organizations they love.

Rating: 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.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Hymn: "Let All Things Now Living"

I heard this on the radio today, and it brought back lots of memories about the powerful hymns I used to sing in a mainline Church. Uplifting and lively, it is about the joy of creation and the response back to God in pure worship. When we see the beauty of the earth, we get a glimpse of the beauty of the Kingdom. That is how worship ought to be. Our present chorus is a mere snapshot of the heavenly symphony of praise.

Let all things now living a song of thanksgiving
To God the creator triumphantly raise.
Who fashioned and made us, protected and stayed us,
Who still guides us on to the end of our days.
God's banners are o'er us, His light goes before us,
A pillar of fire shining forth in the night.
Till shadows have vanished and darkness is banished
As forward we travel from light into light.

His law he enforces, the stars in their courses
And sun in its orbit obediently shine;
The hills and the mountains, the rivers and fountains,
The deeps of the ocean proclaim him divine.
We too should be voicing our love and rejoicing;
With glad adoration a Song let us raise
Till all things now living unite in thanksgiving:
"To God in the highest, Hosanna and praise!"

Watch the video here.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Midweek Meditation: "Spiritual Guidance"

"Spiritual guidance differs from psychological therapy in both context and content. The guide and the person being guided are not alone but surrounded by the love of the Trinity. They are not to listen only to each other but also to the Spirit speaking in each of them. Because both must be believing and praying persons, both share in the life of the same Spirit. The aim of such guidance is not to make others independent or free in themselves but, rather, to live in freedom with the Spirit who lives in them and in all believing persons." (John J. English, Spiritual Freedom, Chicago, IL: Loyola Press, 1995, p15)

Note three things as you ponder on the above.
  1. The difference between spiritual guidance and psychological therapy;
  2. The interdependence of the guide and the spiritual mentor on each other;
  3. The dependence of all on the Holy Spirit.

Monday, May 13, 2013

BookPastor >> "Doing Well at Being Sick" (Wendy Wallace)

Have you ever encountered the helplessness when a loved one is sick, or chronically ill? Have you wondered if there is some guide to go through the tough times? Maybe, you are personally going through some physically tough time. Let this book help as a guide on how to do well while being sick. It is written by one who has personally endured painful illness. Not one, but many. Not once, but many times. This review was first published at "Panorama of a Book Saint" in March 20th, 2013. 


TITLE: Doing Well at Being Sick: Living with Chronic and Acute Illness
AUTHOR: Wendy Wallace
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, 2010, (240 pages).

We have all experienced terrible illness from time to time. It can be a simple bout of flu, or a tummy ache. It can also be due to some accidental fall or a crazy migraine. Usually we get well. With medication, we can often deal with the symptoms and with rest, to let our bodies take care of the longer term healing. What if chronic illness hits us? What if the cherished recovery takes so long time to come, that we fear it may never ever come? What if the sickness is so bad that we not only struggle with pain and depression, we lose our hope to live? What if you get not just one sickness, but multiple problems plaguing you over and over again? By the age of 47, Wendy Wallace has gone through heart attacks, lung cancer, chemotherapy, lupus, arthritis, colon cancer, multiple surgeries, and several more ills. It seems too terrible to be even true, but yes. Wallace lived through it all and from the depths of her despair and the heights of her hope through faith in God, she has given us a book to share her journey with. In this book, she deals with questions like:

  • Where and how do we find strength in our weakest moments? 
  • What about the guilt that patients feel when they see their family members, loved ones, and caregivers suffer because of them?
  • Where is God when everything seems to be going wrong?
  • How can family members cope?
  • What about cases when medical professionals make mistakes?
  • What can we do to assist the healthcare given to us?

This book is soaked with the author's experience through her own physical ailments. Just seeing how Wallace was able to overcome the many struggles through illnesses from A-Z already humbles any reader. Yet, she points out that although she is a person with many illnesses, these illnesses do not define her. It is God who defines her. With that knowledge, she is able to develop an attitude of gratitude away from self-pity to other-centered; to spend whatever gifts and time she has wisely, instead of complaining about the things that she does not have. Readers will learn about the relationship with our caregivers and our families. Sometimes, it is our own family members who are having a harder time grappling with our own illnesses. The part about shifting our trust from self to God is soul warming. While humans tend to think short term, God is mindful of all terms. Whatever God does, is always for the eternal good. In illnesses, we learn what being broken and trusting in a more unique way.

The book also deals with how patients can relate to their doctors, even though some doctors are downright arrogant, to the point that their actions may endanger their very patients they are supposed to help. The key is to work together, and not totally (or foolishly) think that doctors are our saviours. They are not. They make mistakes too. By working with them, patients can take responsibility for their own health too. She even goes through a list of the different kinds of doctors who are specialized in very specific areas. Know what is an Otolaryngologist or Nephrologist? There is also a chapter on how to work with hospitals, and to be prepared with a medical list of essential information so that medical professionals can react rapidly to time-sensitive emergencies. The last three chapters of the book will be helpful to those who are going through pain and physical suffering. Physically and practically, Wallace shows us how to live with pain, from pain relief to self-care; from preparation to actual implementation; from moaning about our pain to trusting in God. Mentally, she gives tips on approaching life with a more positive attitude, one that is mature and life-giving not just to self but also to others. Spiritually, she shows us what she has done in her journey of faith and trust, meditating on Scripture.

There are many precious gems in the book.
  • "Most medical personnel work extremely hard to keep us as healthy as possible. But they all make mistakes along the way, and we need to forgive them.."
  • "Contentment is not the fulfillment of what you want, but the realization of what you already have."
  • "One of our tasks in learning to live well is to learn the truths that will set us free to be well in sickness."
  • "In all of life’s difficult situations, God often allows us to stew in these stages until we are ready to accept the fact that He has been in control all of the time."
  • "If I had simply acknowledged that God was in control of my life and looked for His lesson in the situation, I would have moved more quickly out of my grief to a place of contentment. Instead of asking, “Why did this happen?” I should have been asking, “What do you want to teach me now, Lord?” I had no way of knowing God’s plan for my future, but I could have simply trusted that He had one that was being worked out."
  • "We search for happiness through fame, fortune, serial relationships, and acclaim. Yet daily we read reports of the suicides of rich people, the painful ending of yet another celebrity marriage, or the downward spiral of someone who was once at the top of whatever game he or she played. The “saints and poets” Wilder writes about have the opportunity to “realize life” because they see their lives through God’s eyes. God clearly teaches us that “me first” always leads to despair, and the only important thing we do with our lives on earth is to love God and others."
  • ...
If you are sick, or know someone who is sick, this is one book that you must pick up. Wallace covers a lot of areas, but one big area that will need more coverage is in the area of finance. As many societies around the world age, and with the costs of healthcare going up every year, chances are, financial pressures are going to impact our overall state of health too. Sometimes, the lack of money or the stress of it all only goes to make one more ill. Health is a big area of concern for many. In the Bible, healing is understood more of being made whole rather than just a specific area of cure. Healing is about the whole person, not just a discrete part of our body. This book, though not a full healing manual, points us to a wide variety of areas that we can pay attention to. Ultimately, there is a need for hope, that is regardless of positive or negative prognosis. Even if one has only a few months left to live, if one can make these remaining months count, that will be a life more well spent. A healthy person may have many more years to live, but if his life is without purpose or hope, without meaning or love, is that life a better one? 

Let me close with a quote from Mitch Albom's "Tuesdays with Morrie."

“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they're busy doing things they think are important. This is because they're chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


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

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Midweek Meditation >> Change

I learn a lot from the desert fathers during my years in seminary, working on my courses on spirituality. There are desert fathers (abba) as well as desert mothers (amma). The sayings are short but extremely profound. Simple and clear, they do not leave much for us to guess.  Instead, the teachings speak simple truths directly into a complex world. Here is one.  It is about we becoming the person we imitate.

Amma Syncletica said: "Imitate the Publican and you will not be condemned with the Pharisee. Choose the meekness of Moses and you will find your heart which is a rock changed into a spring of water."

The questions for us this week.

  • Who are we imitating? 
  • Are we trying to copy and overcome the person sitting on the next cubicle? 
  • Are we doing something simply because others are doing it?
  • Are we trying to become the person that we admire, based on some worldly feature? 
  • or are we trying to become the person that we worship, based on God's love?


Monday, May 06, 2013

BookPastor >> "Spiritual Compass" (J. Bill Brent)

Interested in finding out God's will for your life? This is a good book on spiritual discernment. This review was first published on March 17th, 2013 at Panorama of a Book Saint.


TITLE: Sacred Compass: The Way of Spiritual Discernment
AUTHOR: J. Brent Bill
PUBLISHER: Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2012, (208 pages).

Spiritual discernment is often talked about but rarely lived out. It is about sensing God's presence and guiding hands, rather than forcing our own ideas into a I-know-what-is-best mentality. Using a compass as a metaphor for spiritual discernment, Bill makes us realize that our deepest desires to find meaning and purpose for ourselves, stem from our attentiveness of our inner compass to God. It makes us sensitive to God's direction and to discover not simply a path we ought to go, but to discover God himself. Along the way, we become more self-aware and more God-aware.

Beginning with the famous Quaker-phrase, "As way opens," Bill describes the differences between a tourist and a pilgrim. Pilgrims recognize that the spiritual life is a long journey. It is an expedition of continuous learning from others. As one cultivates trust in God, one learns to see God in the many details. They travel together. Pilgrims let their lives speak to one another, that in the process of trying to discern one's own path, one helps others to discover both their paths as well a their uniquenesses. It teaches us to develop attentiveness. Learning becomes transformative, and one then learns to lead others in their journey too. The leadings come in many ways. It is patient. It is persistent. It is creative and beautiful. It is both calming and exciting. However, all of these leadings need an acute sense of testing whether they are from God. Bill provides seven helpful ways to test. He also provides some spiritual disciplines we can adopt to sharpen our awareness.

What is also helpful is how Bill brings out the dangers of the dark side. We need to discern whether the valleys are in fact mere spiritual dryness or some warfare. The former we need to cling on to God's promises. The latter we hang on to God's strength.  Bill provides tips on how we can still maintain that compass direction in spite of dark times. Some traveler's aids are listed for the benefit of readers, and excites readers about the dance of heaven on earth.

I appreciate this book a lot for its clarity. Five things strike me powerfully. First, the whole is greater than the sum of all its parts. Sometimes, we tend to highlight only one part of our lives over the rest. That is wrong. As pilgrims, we are not to base our lives on some highlights or high periods of positive experiences. Pilgrims travel the entire journey, and let the whole journey tell the full story. Second,  it is about God, not us. For those who are experiencing spiritual fatigue, it is an apt reminder that whatever we do or not do, does not change God's love for us. Third, even in dark moments, we can still learn spiritual discernment. Good spiritual discernment happens at all times, not only during feel-good moments. Four, the tools and tips provide readers an arsenal of resources to use. At times, when we feel like we have run out of ideas or resources, this book not only provides additional ideas for us to contemplate and put into action, but also to cast new light on old tools. One example is the way to "listen deeply." Most of us talk about the importance of listening. Bill's wide repertoire of listening pointers help us to listen beyond ourselves or our own needs. We are urged to engage in community sensitivity in listening. We are encouraged to listen for movements that benefit others, even when it does not lead to any direct self-benefit. More importantly, listening is putting the interests of others above our own. Finally, I enjoy the leading chapter of the book. It is not just about spiritual leadership. It is about true leaders are those who have been lead in the first place. The essence of leadership is about listening to God, and to lead like Jesus has led. Leading is learning. It is waiting when it is the time to wait. It is moving when it is time to move. It is gathering when it is time to gather. The interesting thing is this. True discernment is not about leading forth like a spiritual Rambo. True discernment is being led by the Holy Spirit to go to any place, willingly and joyfully, even to places we do not want to go. Above all, pilgrims on the spiritual journey will not be too caught up with what to do, where to go, who to meet, or how to go about the travel. They will be utterly content, knowing that it is God who is their traveling partner all the way.

This is an excellent guide for spiritual discernment.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


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

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Midweek Meditation: A Prayer of Paul David Tripp

This prayer is taken from Paul David Tripp's "War of Words" published by P & R Publishing in 2000.

That temper of mine!
            Forgive me, Lord –
            I let it get the better of me again.

When will I ever learn to wait
            Until I’ve heard the whole story,
            To respond under pressure
            As Christ would,
            To meet evil with good?

I’m growing, Lord,
            But my growth is far too slow.

Till my life –
            Break up clods of pride,
            Root out weeds of selfishness,
            Plow under every vestige of stubbornness.

Cultivate me and sow liberally
            More of the Spirit’s
            Fruit-bearing seed.

Send showers
            And storms (if need be);
            Shine brightly on my soul.

Then I will sprout forth
            Patience and kindness and love –
            And self-control –
            In abundance

And my tongue will learn
            To help and heal
            And praise the Name
                        Of the One through Whom
                        I pray,

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