Monday, July 29, 2013

BookPastor >> "Whole Prayer" (Walter Wangerin Jr)

TITLE: Whole Prayer: Speaking and Listening to God
AUTHOR: Walter Wangerin Jr
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998, (208 pages).

Prayer is to a Christian what water is for a fish. If anyone does not pray, where then is faith? For prayer is a relationship between God and men. The quality of anyone's relationship with God is intricately tied to the quality of one's prayer life. There is no need for long prayers, just truthful ones. There is no need to worry about the brevity of prayer. The problem is less on what kind of prayer but whether we are praying or not in the first place. The great preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon has reminded us that it is the weight, not the length of prayer that matters more. Ditto.

This book aims to help us cultivate a life of whole prayer. Sometimes, people tend to reduce prayer to asking for stuff, interceding in such a manner as if the only purpose of God is to do our will. Walter Wangerin Jr, in this thoughtful book shows us the simple four parts of praying.

  1. First, we speak.
  2. Second, God listens
  3. Third, God speaks
  4. Four, we listen.
Simple as that. There is a circle of communication that makes up the whole prayer. If any of these parts are missing, our prayer is less than whole. 

A) Speaking

Using the example of a child speaking with his father, it can begin as simple as "Help me, God!" or ends with "Thank you Jesus." How does one speak? For anyone needing help to pray, Wangerin suggests using the Bible, especially the Psalms as a prayer book. In poetic fashion, psalms with with the reader. It completes us in our conversation with God. There is also the opportunity to pray with the people, with God's faithful in worship prayers, daily prayers, as well as occasional prayers. There is also the use of "collect prayers" where there is a 5-fold form comprising:
  1. Invocation: Almighty God,
  2. Basis for petition: unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid:
  3. Petition: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit
  4. Purpose: that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name;
  5. Ending: through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen.
We can speak and pray the Lord's Prayer too, intently and meaningfully. Wangerin closes with a story of praying together with another, for one another.

B) God Listens

Over to God, while five chapters are allocated for the part of "We Speak," only one chapter is allocated for God listening. As one reads the chapter, one quickly recognizes the fact that before a word is uttered in our mouths, God already knows. God precedes, accompanies, and listens throughout time. The beauty of it all is,  God never gets tired of hearing us.

C) God Speaks

Here, seven chapters affirm God's nature to speak with creation. God speaks in a variety of ways. He speaks through song, story, exhortation, law, wisdom, thoughtful theology, the Bible, and also audibly or visibly. God speaks most profoundly to us through life. Laws are meant to preserve life as much as possible. God speaks to those who are most desperate. Through "lesser messengers," God hears even the harshest complaints or the angriest words. God can speak through our own deeds, silly though some of our acts may be. God also speaks through the Word of God and the people that we pray for. Creation too is an orchestra of communication from God. God speaks intimately to us in private as well. 

D) We Listen

There are several ways to do this. Firstly, the pieties, where we respond in good deeds, or alms.It trains our ears to listen well. It also prepare our hearts to receive God's speaking. Secondly, fasting discipline's the soul. Apart from that deeper awareness of the presence of God, it provides other benefits physically too. Thirdly, praying itself is an act of listening. Other than sound, we can use concentration on any one phrase or word, adapting speed in speaking and listening as we go along. Fourthly, there is the opportunity to listen through worship. Fifth, we remove barriers of listening through confession of our sins and to do some self-assessment.

My Thoughts

I like this book for its sheer simplicity and readability. It reminds us again how prayer is about relationships. Wangerin adds: "Whole prayer grows into the wholeness of divine relationship." Ultimately, the way to the relationship is love. If there is no love, why the relationship in the first place? We need to listen with heart, mind, and soul. We pray with words, works, and worship. We become what God has made us to be. That is the purpose of prayer. Let me close with the same prayer of Thomas a Kempis, the same way that the book concludes with.

"O my God, when will silence, retirement, and prayer become the occupations of my soul as they are now frequently the objects of my desires? How am I wearied with saying so much and yet doing so little for you! Come, Jesus, come, you the only object of my love, the center and supreme happiness of my soul! Come, and impress my mind with such a lively conviction of thy presence that all within me may yield to its influence. Amen."


Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Amazing Story of Chuck Fenney

Many of us have heard of the philanthropy of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. The former is a technological billionaire while the latter is a financial tycoon. Both have one thing in common. They are now in an ongoing campaign to give away as much of their wealth as possible to the needy. Ever wonder who inspired the two of them? The answer: Charles F. Fenney. At 82 years old, Fenney has given away a bulk of his fortune, supposedly around $7.5 billion, earned from being a co-founder of the DFS empire. Very few people on earth can have that much money. More than that. In a world where investors are all looking for opportunities to make money from, Fenney looks for worthwhile opportunities to give. Forbes magazine calls Fenney as "The Billionaire Who is Trying to Go Broke." 

Unlike Gates and Buffett, Fenney actively avoids the spotlight, keeping his giving in secret. In a world where people like to get something back when they give, Fenney bucks the trend, observing the biblical way of giving in secret, and without expecting anything in return. Educational institutions, hospitals, and charity organizations have reported receiving millions of dollars from him, anonymously. He is a major donor to Cornell University, his alma mater, the beneficiary of nearly $1billion. In fact, Fenney has been in the business of giving away his money for more than 30 years already, after setting aside some amount for his family as a dutiful father and husband. He is planning to shut down Atlantic Philantropies by 2020, once all his wealth has been given away.

Recently, reports have surfaced that Fenney's wealth is only about $2 million. It was even said that he does not own a house or a car.  Is that true that Fenney will die broke? No. I think he will die rich, far wealthier than all the money that he ever had. What he has done is priceless.


Estimated as of 2012

Here is a brief video of his life.

Here is a longer documentary on him here.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Midweek Meditation: "Blessings"

Laura Story has a gift of putting into words, music, and song, the tough issues of life with the beautiful demonstration of faith. This song, "Blessings" is a reflection on prayer and faith. Take the time to reflect on the words, and pray.


We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
And all the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

'Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if every promise from Your word is not enough
And all the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we'd have faith to believe

'Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not,
This is not our home
It's not our home

'Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can't satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise


Monday, July 22, 2013

BookPastor >> "Seven Events that Changed the New Testament World"

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on April 29th, 2013. 


TITLE: Seven Events That Shaped the New Testament World
AUTHOR: Warren Carter
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013, (192 pages).

How do we read the New Testament? Many scholars will agree that it has to be studied in context, both the context of the Bible texts, as well as the surrounding contexts when the Bible was first written. This book focuses on the latter, the events that influenced the shaping of the New Testament texts, as well as the New Testament world.

The seven events (* indicate the best estimate) chosen are:
  1. The Death of Alexander the Great (323 BCE)
  2. The Process of Translating Hebrew Scriptures into Greek (ca. 250 BCE*)
  3. The Rededication of the Jerusalem Temple (164 BCE)
  4. The Roman Occupation of Judea (63 BCE)
  5. The Crucifixion of Jesus (ca. 30 CE)
  6. The Writing of the New Testament Texts (ca. 50–ca. 130 CE)
  7. The Process of “Closing” the New Testament Canon (397 CE)
My simple summary of the whole book is in terms of three periods: Before Christ; During Christ; After Christ. The first part prepares readers with the contexts surrounding the introduction of the person of Christ. The second part sheds more light into the culture and the circumstances that led to the death of Christ. The third part shows the culmination of the Bible that we have today. All of them necessarily deal with the person of Christ. After all, without Christ, there is no New Testament! The key point that Carter wants to make is that as the ancient world is multicultural, so was Jesus' time, and our modern time. From Greek and Hellenistic cultures, we observe how the New Testament gets transmitted through Greek influence, Jewish traditions, Imperial power, the Roman order, and many more. It explains how the early Christians are considered a minority movement, and suffer much persecution, marginalization, and how powerlessness shapes their identity, their group dynamics, and their way of life. The first event paints the influence of Hellenistic culture that comes with the death of Alexander, one of the greatest emperors on earth.

The first event is essentially about Alexander the Great, whose massive name has been associated with military conquests and the growth of the Macedonian Empire. Carter asserts that Alexander himself is a complicated man, with many concerns not just military might. He tries to create a new economic order. He struggles with trying to get the infrastructure and organizes huge support resources to maintain his mighty military arm. Cultural matters, alliances, people development, cross-cultural relationships, all play a part  in the spread of his influence, through language, city building, philosophical traditions, diverse ethnicities, and religious experiences. What makes him "great" is he manages to get most of this done before he was 33! Not so great was his inability to provide a heir, the implosion of his empire after his death. With Alexander comes the belief that one can only gain, when one gets superiority over all others. This runs counter to the life of Jesus, that instead of seeking power at all costs, Jesus gives up power at his own cost.

The second event looks at the circumstances leading to the Septuagint also known as the LXX. Just the name Septuagint and the LXX represent the enmeshment of four cultures; with the Hebrew Scriptures get translated into Greek, with a Latin name and Roman numerals. We read about the origins that go right to the beginning of Egyptian King Ptolemy II's reign from 285 BCE to 247 BCE, and the imperial order that all the books in the imperial library be translated into Greek. That includes the Hebrew Scriptures. It shows how both Jews and Gentiles came together for a common cause. It marks the beginning of how the Jewish people assert their identity and the preservation of the biblical texts. This helps the Jesus movement through cultural adaptation that keeps the Hebrew Scriptures accessible for the masses at that time. It also presents an opportunity to translate the ancient Hebrew Scriptures through "Jesus-glasses." In case readers are curious about how one can read with Jesus-glasses when Jesus has not even appeared, note that the 250 BCE here is used as a process date rather than an absolute date. In other words, the translation has not been fully completed before the time of Christ, but many years after the Resurrection event.

The third event is about the rededication of the Jerusalem Temple in 164 BCE, where Carter highlights the the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes tries to control the Jewish people, by focusing his control on the temple. Rather than religious persecution, the key point is to remember that the conquest of the temple is essentially a quest for power and domination. The way the Jews defended their temple is a way in which they are defending their very sense of identity. Understanding this point will help Gentiles understand the centrality of the temple, instead of branding them mere religious expressions. In other words, the temple is not merely synonymous with Judaism. It represents the identity, the culture, the way of life, and essentially anything that is fundamentally Jewish.

The fourth event begins smack in the middle of the end of the the superpower of the 1st Century, the Roman Empire. The Jews continue to be struggling under the authority of various superpowers. What they lack for military might, they compensate for the longevity and preservation of the Holy texts, as well as renewed hope and longing for the Messiah. A few takes the path of violence and unrest which unfortunately brings about greater persecution. Interestingly, despite the diversity of perspectives among Jews, we read of how the New Testament describe the Roman power negatively in the gospel of Matthew as well as some positive thoughts through the epistle to the Romans. The significance of this event is the fact that multiple powers are not able to silence the gospel message.

The fifth event is perhaps the most significant of all the seven events: The coming, the crucifixion, and the resurrection of Jesus. It shows how Jesus prefers not to challenge the Roman political might nor advocates violence. It also tells how significant the challenges are for Jesus. Carter then brings together the many different interpretations of Jesus' crucifixion and its significance. For instance, the use of crucifixion is normally reserved for violent rebels, treason, terrorists, and criminals. Yet, the Romans use it to kill Jesus. It is also used for people who resist Roman rule, yet Jesus has been recorded to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what is God's. Why then was Jesus crucified? Perhaps, that can be attributed to Jesus' non-denial of the title, "king of the Jews," when in fact only Rome can grant that title. Is that not a defiance of Roman authority? Not only do they demonstrate the reality of Christ, it shows how one event can impact the Middle East then, and the world now.

The sixth event covers the writing of the New Testament texts after the death of Jesus. Carter concentrates on Paul's letters, writings by people after Paul, as well as the gospels. Essentially, when we understand the history, the circumstances, and the lives of the writers, we get to appreciate the New Testament writings better. It reveals Paul's theological perspectives. It gives insights on how these writings focus readers' attention on Christ. This is significant because it shows how Christianity continues to thrive via multiple witnesses, sharing the same message, even though they come from different backgrounds.

Finally, the seventh event touches on the canonization of the Bible. Spanning 350 years and ratified by different church councils. Readers are reminded that the Bible is not exactly canonized by the Church within the recent few years. It has been deliberated over the centuries, verified over multiple councils, and formed only after much consolidation and extensive sources of authority. Carter highlights three key points in the formulation of the canon. First, the stages are only realized at the end. In the beginning, no one knows that there is such thing as a canon. Second, there are still parts of the canonization process that remains elusive for modern understanding, pointing to the presence of something or someone beyond ourselves. Third, the Scriptures are canonized with Jesus in mind. From the writing, to the using, to the collecting, to selecting, and the ratifying, Carter adds to these five stages, several important criteria that forms checks and balances over the canon and the canonization process. This adds significance because people in general needs to be assured of the accuracy, the reliability, and the sanctity of the Holy Scriptures.

My Thoughts

Whenever anyone talks about events that shaped any particular world, there are at least three questions that one instinctively asks. What events are they? Why are they chosen? What kind of world are they referring to?  This book is basically about highlighting the multi-era, multicultural, multifaceted, multiperspectival environments from which the New Testament, even the whole Bible comes into being. There are many parts that I agree wholeheartedly with Carter. Things like the process of formulation of the Bible that is over a long period of time, traversing many different cultures, survives various trials, endures difficult challenges, and other particular circumstances that often threaten but fail to halt the advancement of the gospel message. I am convinced about the fact that the New Testament arises out of a multicultural environment, and yet retains a staunchly Jewish flavour. I am also intrigued by the way Carter recognizes the tussle between Jesus-followers and the Roman authorities. Why is a small group of ragtag disciples, lowly educated, marginalized, and despised, still able to carry about a gospel message without the similar might of the Roman military, or the economic resources of the Gentile kingdoms? Despite the complexity of multiple voices in a multifaceted environments, through multiple contexts, it is amazing that the message remains so simple. Jesus Christ is Lord and Saviour of the whole world. It is not simply a religious text but texts that are socially relevant. The part that I am a little more ambivalent is the part about reading with Jesus glasses. While it is true that the New Testament is formed through the eyes of Jesus followers, what I am not sure is the extent to which this has happened. Is the entire New Testament written with "Jesus-glasses" at the time of writing? Or is the reading of the New Testament with "Jesus-glasses" more valid for modern Bible readers? Are the writers of the New Testament really that focused on Christ when they write the New Testament? While the overall gist is agreeable, that New Testament is Christ-focused, what is quite arguable is to what extent is the focus. 

Carter ends with a call for "reading in community" with reference to the reading of the New Testament, even the Bible itself. Maybe, that can also be applied to the reading of this book. One will certainly benefit more in engaging discussions about the seven events, why they are chosen, and maybe, other possible events in history that Carter has not highlighted. I will put this book in the same category of Mark Noll's classic, "Turning Points." If you are a history major, do not miss out this book.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


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

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Midweek Meditation: "The Paradox of Our Age"

This amazing essay was written by a retired pastor of Seattle's Overlake Christian Church, Bob Moorehead and published in his book, "Words Aptly Spoken." It has been quoted widely all over the Internet, attributed to different people, and in some versions, even the Dalai Lama has been quoted in saying something like this. According to Snopes, Bob Moorehead is the originator. The words are powerful and readers will be challenged to reflect on their lives as they think of the culture and paradoxes in our society.

The Paradox of Our Age

We have taller buildings but shorter tempers; wider freeways but narrower viewpoints; we spend more but have less; we buy more but enjoy it less; we have bigger houses and smaller families; more conveniences, yet less time; we have more degrees but less sense; more knowledge but less judgement; more experts, yet more problems; we have more gadgets but less satisfaction; more medicine, yet less wellness; we take more vitamins but see fewer results. We drink too much; smoke too much; spend too recklessly; laugh too little; drive too fast; get too angry quickly; stay up too late; get up too tired; read too seldom; watch TV too much and pray too seldom.

We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values; we fly in faster planes to arrive there quicker, to do less and return sooner; we sign more contracts only to realize fewer profits; we talk too much; love too seldom and lie too often. We've learned how to make a 
living, but not a life; we've added years to life, not life to years. We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbor. We've conquered outer space, but not inner space; we've done larger things, but not better things; we've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul; we've split the atom, but not our prejudice; we write more, but learn less; plan more, but accomplish less; we make faster planes, but longer lines; we learned to rush, but not to wait; we have more weapons, but less peace; higher incomes, but lower morals; more parties, but less fun; more food, but less appeasement; more acquaintances, but fewer friends; more effort, but less success. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but have less communication; drive smaller cars that have bigger problems; build larger factories that produce less. We've become long on quantity, but short on quality. 

These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion; tall men, but short character; steep in profits, but shallow relationships. These are times of world peace, but domestic warfare; more leisure and less fun; higher postage, but slower mail; more kinds of food, but less nutrition. These are days of two incomes, but more divorces; these are times of fancier houses, but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, cartridge living, thow-away morality, one-night stands, overweight bodies and pills that do everything from cheer, to prevent, quiet or kill. It is a time when there is much in the show window and nothing in the stock room. Indeed, these are the times! 


Here is another version that talks too about the paradox of life.


Monday, July 15, 2013

BookPastor >> "Bound Together" (Chris Brauns)

In many places, people think they can mind their own business. As long as they do their own thing, and leave others alone, things will be fine. The mentality of "You happy, I happy" is pervasive. In this book, we are reminded that such a mentality is far from the truth. We are more bounded together than we think. Just remember how one silly act of playing with fire in one apartment, burns down the whole building. This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on May 24th, 2013.


TITLE: Bound Together: How We Are Tied to Others in Good and Bad Choices
AUTHOR: Chris Brauns
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013, (208 pages).

Is it true that we can mind our own business all the time? Is it true that as long as we don't do things that hurt people, we are fine? Is it also true that what we do is nobody's business? No! We are more connected than we think. We are more bounded together than we can ever imagine. The sooner we realize this, the better. In this book, Chris Brauns has masterfully expressed this through the principle of the rope. That is the key to understanding this book. With the rope, we are bounded together as one. Without the rope, our relationships easily unravel. With the rope, we live in solidarity through thick and thin, in both good times as well as bad. Without the rope, we come together in happy times, but disperse during unhappy moments. The trouble with human nature is that people tend to come together in good times, but when the bad times come, they flee. They go away. They leave one another alone, disconnected, isolated, and lonely.

Beginning with an observation of an individualistic modern culture, Brauns shows us how the movie characters like the "Lone Ranger," "Shane," "Pale Rider," and more recently, "Jack Reacher" glorify the individual hero. The trouble is, it entices us to be lone rangers or individual rambos in our various contexts. Brauns notes that our modern culture "idolizes the free-floating, unhindered, and isolated hero cut off from any formal responsibilities." Such people eventually live for themselves, care for their own world, and die a lonely death. In contrast, "biblical individualism" has a healthy sense of self-identity within a participative spirit of living in community.

A) The Principle of the Rope

The first two chapters of the book is a grim reminder that we are more connected than we think we are. Take Stevie for instance, whose personal decision to become an alcoholic is a result of his whole family being alcoholics themselves. While the family members may not have taught Stevie explicitly, by their actions, they have influenced Stevie absolutely. Or the story of Achan, where the foolish actions on one man, brought condemnation on himself as well as his clan. The principles of the rope is this: "the decisions and choices made by God's representative leaders have consequences for their people."

There are both negative as well as positive examples of the rope principle. Brauns first deals with the negative part. Like the actions of Adam and Eve that lead to the downfall of man, so are our actions, that while we may like to think that they only apply to ourselves, the truth is it affects us all. Just like the Talmudic story of a group of travelers seated on a boat. When one passenger stands up, and starts to drill holes on the base of his bolted seat, everyone gets affected as water gushes in from one hole and fills the entire boat. The actions of one individual invariably affect the rest.  We are not as autonomous as we think. Our individual actions affect more people than one. Brauns then goes on to share about the biblical understanding of original sin, to explain how mankind becomes more twisted as time goes by.

There is also the positive part, where the gospel through the life and death of one man, saves the world through grace. In disentangling us from sin, we are free to be re-bounded to the Eternal God, our Lord of Heaven and Earth. Theologians have long expressed this as "Union with Christ." When we are bounded in Christ, we learn to see more from God's perspective. For example, we are more aware that God does not simply treat us as individuals, but more as people of God, his children. Solidarity in the truth is also key to life.

Brauns also touches on the objection of the rope principle, addressing the concern why we get blamed for the faults of others. Is that an unfair thing in the first place? How can my rebellion bring about negative consequences for others far away? Why should we be victimized just because of the foolish act of Adam and Eve? The second part of the book addresses this in detail.

B) Applying not Denying, the Principle Constructively

Denying the principle does not necessarily mean it will go away. For we are bounded in ways that we may not even comprehend the fullness of it all. Since we are already bounded, why not live it well? Apply this principle to joy unspeakable, where the joy of one will spread joy to others. Apply that to marriage, where the union of two persons lead to something more beautiful, and how the marriage metaphor helps us understand the relationship of the Church as the bride to Christ. Applying the rope to the roles of husbands and wives will help us appreciate the solidarity that marriage can lead to. When one hurts, the rest of the body hurts. When one rejoices, the rest of the body rejoices. There is also the wider consequences of the rope principle when applied to country and culture. The Church is a vital organ to bring about unity and solidarity, when the people live in unity and solidarity in the Church. Share our abundance of natural resources. Grow a virtuous society of sharing and caring.  Avoid radical individualism or the enthronement of the self over all others. The greatest act of love remains this: when one willingly lays down his life for others. Just like Christ.

My Thoughts

We are bounded together far more intimately than we even know. One act can lead to multiple consequences. Just like one accident on a freeway can lead to heavy congestion, missed appointments, and frustrations all around, we are to be constantly reminded of two things. First, no man is an island. Second, everyone lives in places where there are multiple points of connection and consequences. We badly need an antidote to counter the rising disease of individualism and selfishness. Such individualistic tendencies are only pathetic attempts to hide what is essential for us as human people. We are made to connect with one another. We are meant to be in touch with people, and to be considerate toward one another. If there is one message to take home from this book, it is this: We are connected to one another, whether we admit it or not, whether we like it or not, whether we realize it or not.

Brauns has given us a valuable book to show us that we are bounded together as human beings, and that we need one another. We need each other to work together and live together. We need one another in order to build a community for all. The musketeers's famous words still ring through: "One for all, and all for one!" Just like one bad act like Adam/Eve can lead to the downfall of mankind, one great sacrifice of love, through Jesus Christ gives the whole world life and eternal salvation. Even though some of us can be critical about the idea of original sin, we must similarly grapple with the truth of the gospel. We cannot criticize God just on the basis of sin. We need to acknowledge the God of love, who despite his greatness, chooses willingly to humble himself, to take up the Cross, to be humiliated, executed, and finally raised from the death. Why must God go through all the trouble? It is simply this. Love binds us together. God is not one who is distant far away. He is now near, and he is always here.

Some people may choose to deny the principle of the rope, and carry on a mind their own business model. The truth is, sooner or later, they will come to the crossroads of human connection and communities of people. The sooner we accept the reality of relationships, we better we can become more human. We are indeed made for each other. We are bounded together.

Rating: 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, July 12, 2013

Ten Unhelpful / Helpful Events

This particular post by Tony Morgan is worth pondering about, especially with regards to how we measure success with regards to a Church event. He had previously shared why he isn't a fan of events in general here.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Midweek Meditation: "John Wesley's Self Examination"

When asked about whether one desires to grow spiritually, you will almost always hear people wanting to say yes. The question is how? One way is via self-examination. The Methodist founder, John Wesley has given his followers a set of questions to aid their spiritual awareness. The following has been adopted from Howard Culbertson's webpage.

  1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite? 
  2. Do I confidentially pass on to others what has been said to me in confidence? 
  3. Can I be trusted? 
  4. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work or habits? 
  5. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying? 
  6. Did the Bible live in me today? 
  7. Do I give the Bible time to speak to me every day? 
  8. Am I enjoying prayer? 
  9. When did I last speak to someone else of my faith? 
  10. Do I pray about the money I spend? 
  11. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time? 
  12. Do I disobey God in anything? 
  13. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy? 
  14. Am I defeated in any part of my life? 
  15. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful? 
  16. How do I spend my spare time? 
  17. Am I proud? 
  18. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisees who despised the publican? 
  19. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold a resentment toward or disregard? If so, what am I doing about it? 
  20. Do I grumble or complain constantly? 
  21. Is Christ real to me?

These questions may seem very basic, but they probe deep into our hearts.


Monday, July 08, 2013

BookPastor >> "The Prayer God Longs For" (James Emery White)

TITLE: The Prayer God Longs For
AUTHOR: James Emery White
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2005, (130 pages).

Books on the Lord's Prayer are plenty. The most popular prayer in the Christian Bible is also the most popular prayer many preachers have preached on. Rightly so, simply because it is so rich with insights that it takes the whole Church together to mine the depths of the spiritual prayer. Like many authors, James Emery White has offered his take on this prayer. Calling it the "Prayer that God Longs For," White shows us that this prayer is essentially spiritual formation, turning pilgrims from people uttering prayers to prayerful persons. What really catches my attention are the words of Evelyn Underhill, the 20th Century English mystic.

"Again and again in public and private devotion the Lord's Prayer is taken on hurried lips, and recited at a pace which makes impossible any realization of its tremendous claims and profound demands. Far better than this cheapening of the awful power of prayer was the practice of the old woman described by St Teresa, who spent an hour over the first two words, absorbed in reverence and love." (Evelyn Underhill)

Firstly, we learn about intimacy. The two words, "Our Father" is one of the most personal address of God anyone can start with. It is drawing near to God. It is being confident of the approachability of God. It is just enjoying being in the presence of God. It is also being reminded that we are coming to God, as children of God.

Secondly, we learn about expectancy. The key thought behind the words "in heaven" is that it is less about place, and more about the meaning. The place matters less as the meaning takes on more significance. It shows us the transcendence of God, and that we can be reconciled to God there in Christ. We move from mere natural to a supernatural domain. This is precisely what happens, for when we prayer the heavenly prayer, we get lifted out of our puny earthly worries, and to glimpse the heavenly kingdom, which in turn, puts all of our earthly concerns in perspective.

Thirdly, we adopt a position of reverence as we pray "Hallowed be Thy Name." It is because God's name represents God himself, we need to honour, to revere, to hallow that name in worship. White gives the example of the Old Testament story of Araunah's threshing floor. When King David offered to pay for the property, Araunah flatly refuses to accept payment. Amazingly, as I reflect on this story, Araunah gives away his threshing floor freely, and David freely chooses to pay the full price for it. Reverence frees us and one another in a way that we let love and honour rise above obligations and rights.

Fourthly, we learn submission as we pray, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."The trouble with many people running on circles around themselves, and coming out empty is simply because they are more concerned with self-will rather than God's will. Taking a leaf from Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's five stages of grieving, White shows readers what it means to die to self. Stage One is about denial where our loss of our own will and dreams seem suicidal. Stage Two is anger as we start to ask "How long" or questions God about our state. Stage Three comes bargain, in which we serve or love God more conditionally than we thought. Stage Four is where we experience depression, in which God's will to us seems more like death than life. Stage Five is acceptance, where we learn that as our human will send, our spiritual will begins. White suggests a Stage Six where one moves from acceptance to worship, where we start to enjoy the pursuit of God to heaven and in heaven.

Before moving to the fifth aspect, White pauses to show us the need to pray less about ourselves or our world, but to ready ourselves for something bigger.

Fifthly, we learn dependence on God for "Our Daily Bread." White observes that the hardest thing to ask for sometimes is for the most ordinary and mundane stuff. Through this phrase, we learn what is necessary. We learn to be content with what we need, and not be distracted by non-essentials. God will provide. Sometimes, I wonder about those of us who are genuinely praying this prayer. If we get to the bottom of this, we will be less concerned with our plenty, and more concerned with the lack of others.

Sixthly, we learn honesty as we pray "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." Debt is a Jewish way to talk about sin. This prayer shows us the need to be honest, to practise the golden rule of relationships. Just like bread is necessary for the body, so is forgiveness for the soul. The key to closeness with God is intricately connected with our closeness to one another. In forgiveness, we learn this connection in ways no other methods can provide.

Finally, we learn to be humble as we pray, "and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." We cannot depend on ourselves in spiritual warfare. We are vulnerable and easily tempted. We need to be delivered from sin. We need God. This particular prayer is an admission that without God, we are helpless.

White has a section on a common question regarding unanswered prayer. He provides three answers: God hears, God cares, and God answers. It is how God answers is the thing that concerns us. When we truly learn the Lord's Prayer as above, we will learn to handle unanswered prayers better. We learn that God is someone who knows what is best, when is best, and in what manner is best.

This is a great book to add to your prayer resource library.


Friday, July 05, 2013

Good End of Life

I was inspired when I watched this TED Talk by Judy MacDonald Johnston. With only a sample size of two persons that she had the privilege of walking and sharing life with, she lets us in on the five practices we can all adopt in preparing for an end of life. After all, we will all die one day. The only difference is when.

She begins with "What would be a good end of life?" What are the chances of dying well? For Johnston, it is about taking seriously both living well, as well as dying well. The five practices are:

  1. Make a Plan
  2. Recruit Advocates
  3. Be Hospital Ready
  4. Choose a Place and Caregivers
  5. Discuss Last Words
This video is well worth watching. Johnston has said it very well. We all are mostly concerned about "living well." We will also need to be more open and be ready to talk about "dying well."

Johnston has set up a website for anyone wanting to learn what it means and what it takes to die well.


Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Midweek Meditation: "An African Martyr's Prayer"

This moving prayer was found among the belongings of a Rwandan Christian, forced to renounce his faith when enemies sacked his village. He was murdered in 1980. The prayer has been preserved and published in 1995 in Bob Moorehead's book, "Words Aptly Spoken." Believing faith is not simply saying a big prayer. It means letting ourselves be willing participants to God's bigger plan to bless the world.

I'm a part of the fellowship of the unashamed. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I'm a disciple of His and I won't look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed. My present makes sense. My future is secure. I'm done and finished with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, mundane talking, cheap living, and dwarfed goals. 
I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don't have to be right, or first, or tops, or recognized, or praised, or rewarded. I live by faith, lean on His presence, walk by patience, lift by prayer, and labor by Holy Spirit power. 
My face is set. My gait is fast. My goal is heaven. My road may be narrow, my way rough, my companions few, but my guide is reliable and my mission is clear. 
I will not be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded or delayed. 
I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice or hesitate in the presence of the adversary. I will not negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.
I won't give up, shut up, or let up until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, and preached up for the cause of Christ. 
I am a disciple of Jesus. I must give until I drop, preach until all know, and work until He comes. And when He does come for His own, He'll have no problems recognizing me. My colors will be clear!

I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ…(Romans 1:16).


Monday, July 01, 2013

BookPastor >> "Discipleshift" (Jim Putman and Bobby Harrington)

This review was first published at "Panorama of a Book Saint." The book is one of the best books I have read on making disciples.


TITLE: DiscipleShift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples (Exponential Series)
AUTHOR: Jim Putman and Bobby Harrington
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013, (240 pages).

Most of us will be familiar with the phrase: "Paradigm shift." It represents an out of the box or a seismic transformation of thinking and doing, in order to bring the purpose of an organization or a movement forward. It has to do with a change of mindset. It requires boldness and an openness for fresh and effective approaches.   Joel Barker first popularized the notion of a "paradigm shift" back in the 70s. Since then, the idea has been used in many different places. Before one shifts at anything, one needs to recognize the need to shift. Beginning with a critical observation of spiritual lethargy and how little discipleship is happening in churches, Putman and Harrington observe that many leaders have approached church ministry wrong at the onset. They look at numbers driven strategies. They search for a one-size-fits-all solutions. They seek to apply wholesale programs thinking as if the program is the magic for church growth. Those attending conferences and training tend to look for "silver bullet" solutions. At the core are two issues at stake. What is the destination? This is followed by "What kind of leadership style is needed to move toward this?" Effectiveness is keenly sought after. That is not all. What concerns the authors is that Christians not only fail to practice discipleship making, Christians are also becoming more worldly in their approach and their lifestyles. They separate Church from daily living. They dichotomize responsibility sharply between the clergy and the lay. They fail to make disciples.

We are reminded to distinguish a change of style versus a change of purpose. The former can change. The latter does not change. The methodologies and strategies can vary. The objective of making disciples remains the same. In this book, the authors Jim Putman and Bobby Harrington try to do both, by homing on the big idea of helping disciples make disciples, through five different shifts. It is hoped that through each shift, doing church can be more effective as Church people moves toward "relational discipleship" that is biblical and effective. In sum, the two words to consider are: "Focus" and "Methodology." Right focus and right methodology makes for a powerful discipleship strategy.

Briefly, I have summarized the five shifts as follows:
  1. From Reaching to Making.
    FROM: Discipleship is understood in terms of reaching out to bring converts.
    TO: Discipleship is about making disciples to be disciple-making disciples.
  2. From Informing to Equipping.
    FROM:  Discipleship is understood more of a transference of information.
    TO: It is about making disciples through equipping, educating, teaching, and creating an environment for making disciples.
  3. From Program to Purpose.
    FROM:  Haphazard programming
    TO: Meetings and programs that accomplish a purpose, whether building relationships or demonstrating Christlike discipleship, through Share, Connect, Train, and Release.
  4. From Activity to Relationship.
    FROM: Discrete ministries and programs that do not have an integrated focus
    TO: Cultivating a culture of relationship building and ministries that are aligned toward Disciplemaking
  5. From Accumulating to Deploying.
    FROM: Measuring success based on buildings, budgets, bodies.
    TO: Developing and Releasing people to let them serve inside and outside; using a blueprint of share-connect-minister-disciple.
This book is powerful in at least three ways. Firstly, it provides a guide for discipleship drawn from real life experiences. Readers will be quick to notice that there are many stories that backed up the ideas and strategies mentioned. There are real people. Their stories add to the reality of ministry. There are frequent flashbacks on traditional methods that have led many churches to become stagnant and die. There are also warnings to wake people up from the sleepiness of ministry to the wakefulness of discipleship. The biblical mandate is weaved throughout the book.  Secondly, the book is written with practice in mind. Many books on discipleship tend to be heavy on the theoretical portion, but relatively light on the implementation aspect. Not this book. Putman and Harrington energize readers to take the plunge as soon as possible through practical steps, logical flows, memorable visuals, and exciting ideas. The discipleship strategies, phases, and movements are diagrammed clearly through a circle chart. Four concentric circles summarize the gist of the shifts needed in any Church. You can read them from the outside in.
  • First Circle: Moving from Sharing -> Connecting -> Training -> Releasing (SCTR for short);
  • Second Circle: About the scope of relational ministry based on SCTR;
  • Third Circle: About the Stage of Spiritual Condition (Dead - Infant - Children - Young Adult - Parent)
  • Fourth Circle: Identifies the language and behavioural traits of each spiritual condition.
Thirdly, the book contains lots of focus on actively equipping and engaging the people of God more. It does not throw away the old completely, though it points out that old models of a superman minister cannot be sustained. It concentrates on the biblical model of a humble minister, serving out of love and building a relationship of people helping people. The church is about people ministering to people. It is about a many-to-many ministry, not a top-down or a one-to-many ministry. It is about everyone serving one another in the name of Jesus.

The examples help readers know that the ideas have been tested and tried. That is not all. The authors close each chapter with a summary of the key points so that readers can be refreshed and are able to use the summary as a reference index in future. Those who have read the whole book, and have been impressed by it, will appreciate this summary to enable them to get back in quickly. Each chapter includes a "Ask Dr Coleman" section, which is an interview with the famous master-teacher of evangelism and discipleship. In fact, these interviews are alone worth the price of the book. I savour every page of this book and appreciate the candour of the authors and the real-life implementation strategies. With this book, Churches will certainly be equipped with a powerful tool to aid their design and strategy of a discipleship culture for their churches. If your church does not have a discipleship strategy right now, or are in need of a refresher, or a re-start, why not begin with this book? For all we know, what we need is not simply a new idea about discipleship. What we need is to re-ignite a passion for discipleship, a purpose in discipleship, and a growing desire to make disciples on all people, nations, and beyond, beginning with ourselves. The following sums up very well what discipleship is about.
  • Demonstration: I do. You watch. We talk.
  • Assistance: I do. You help. We talk.
  • Delegation: You do. I help. We talk.
  • Observation: You do. I watch. We talk.
  • Spreading: You do. Another watches. We talk.

One more thing. If you want to have a good night's sleep, do not read this book before bedtime. It can make you jump up and want to start putting it into practice. This is one of the best books on practical discipleship I have read.

Rating: 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.

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