Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Midweek Meditation: The Three Silences

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

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


Monday, October 28, 2013

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great book!

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


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

Friday, October 25, 2013

Two Questions About Joy

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

1) Have you found joy in your life?

2) Have your life brought joy to others?

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


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Power of Words

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


Monday, October 21, 2013

BookPastor >> "Why Not Today?"

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


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

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

A) The Discomfort

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

B) The Energized Convert

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

C) The Continuing Effort

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

So What?

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

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

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


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

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Midweek Meditation: Learn to Read Well

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


Monday, October 14, 2013

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


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

Friday, October 11, 2013

What Would You Do If Money Were Not An Object

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


Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Midweek Meditation: "Thanksgiving Song"

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


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

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

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

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


Monday, October 07, 2013

BookPastor >> "#lightwebdarkweb"

TITLE: Lightweb Darkweb: Three Reasons To Reform Social Media Before It Re-Forms Us
AUTHOR: Raffi Cavoukian
PUBLISHER: Homeland Press, 2013, (192 pages).

As social media becomes mainstream media of communications and interactions, many are hyping up the merits and power of the new web media. From Facebook to Twitter, Google+ to apps on our smartphones, people communicate quickly and frequently, putting their whole lives on digital media at the expense of privacy and self revelation. In the recent case of the suicide of BC girl, Amanda Todd, bullying has taken on a cyber dimension. It takes a perceptive individual to start asking questions:
  • How do these new phenomena affect people, especially children?
  • Is it safe to share anything on social media, even with privacy filters?
  • What are the pros and cons of a digital lifestyle?
  • What can be done to guide children and young people on the Internet offerings and the seductions that come with them?
  • Is "free" really free?
  • What does it take to use digital media to help create a peaceful society, a sustainable earth, and a caring people?
These questions and many more are covered in this book cleverly titled, "Lightweb Darkweb."  Several months ago, Amanda Todd made headlines in Canada as a victim of cyberbullying. The author begins the book with a simple dedication to Amanda Todd. He then wastes no time to question the rising obsession with all things social media, and why people are so free to share everything about what they do, how they live, and what they are feeling at any time. As one who has lived through a "banana phone" and now embracing a smartphone, Cavoukian, a song writer, a ecology advocate, an entrepreneur, as well as a recipient of the prestigious Order of Canada asserts three reasons for reforming the current social media climate before it is too late.

First off is Safety. The unpublished letter to Facebook from the author and others, touches on the problem of the high cost of the free use of Facebook.
"Known security gaps in a proliferating host of mobile applications have converted mainstream social media sites into highly effective devices for predators and abusive bullies. And in what can only be described as the cruelest irony, Youtube now sells advertising on Amanda's desperate video cry for help, while in a well-documented trend, her Facebook memorial page was desecrated. Facebook has become a brand feared by parents, when it should be one they can trust. We appeal to you . . . . to lead industry-wide adoption of systemic security to block predators and abusers from accessing kids on major social media platforms, starting with Facebook itself." (15)
Amid the conveniences and efficiencies of social media, the problems are many. What about unintended audiences accessing our private information? What about unsupervised use by minors? What about the peer pressure that arises out of using or not using Facebook? For these, Ann Cavoukian sets forth seven foundational principles which deserve our reflection.
  1. Proactive not reactive; Preventative nor remedial;
  2. Privacy as the default;
  3. Privacy embedded in the design;
  4. Full functionality: Positive-Sum, not Zero sum;
  5. End to End Lifecycle Protection;
  6. Visibility and Transparency
  7. Respect for User Privacy.
Safety concerns also applies to cell phone usage, physical health as well as long term behavioural effects.

The second reason to start doing something about social media is Intelligence. When it comes to learning, we need to understand the difference between "healthy individuation" vs "unhealthy enculturation." Cavoukian borrows from many researchers critical of the way social media is changing the new generation. Sherry Turkle warns against the inability to experience solitude in an always ONLINE lifestyle. Nicholas Carr criticizes the deteriorating ability of people in "deep reading and comprehension" as they delegate learning to machines. Dr Dimitri Christakis highlights the negative aspects of prolonged stimulation of brains. Neil Postman gently reminds us that there is a cost in everything. The Internet gives us something, it also takes away something. Do we know what we gain and what we lose when we use the Internet? Other observations include:
  • widespread lack of critical thinking and motivation to learn among University students;
  • statistics showing more and more people wishing Facebook had not existed;
  • compulsive sharing of private information online;
  • recording and sharing everything;
  • loose language on social media that cannot be easily censored;
  • social media selling private information for profit;

The third reason is sustainability. It has to do with the conservation and wise use of earth's resources and social responsibility. For every iPhone or smartphone gadget, we need to remember the high cost of cheap goods. What about cheap labour by people living in the harshest and inhumane conditions to produce our modern technological toys? Are manufacturing facilities hurting the environment? Are there ways to stay green even as we advance our technologies? What about recycling programs and the reuse of electronic goods?

Thankfully, after expounding on the dark side of the Internet and technologies, Cavoukian gives some helpful tips on the light side. Here is a short list that I find helpful.
  1. Safety
    1. Data protection of information of minors
    2. Default setting of privacy information to be closed rather than opened
    3. Limiting; Unplugging on a regular basis; 
  2. Intelligence
    1. Using online media to promote offline activities
    2. Coordinated learning with school groups or community teams
    3. Learn the pros and cons of new media on a regular basis.
  3. Sustainability
    1. Ask questions about the devices we use
    2. Support your local organization that fights for free and fair labour and sustainability projects
    3. Vote with our bucks

I concur with Cavoukian that we need to reform social media before it reforms us.


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