Friday, June 28, 2013

Story of the Three Trees

This story has been going around the Internet for years. It is a good one, and is worth telling and retelling for this generation as well as generations to come. The take home for me is that we need to keep our dreams alive, and be ready to bear fruit for God when our time arrives. It does not matter how the world treats us. It matters more how we let ourselves be vessels for God. There is a Youtube video (20 mins) animation of this story.

Note that the story in the video is a little different, but the gist is pretty much the same.



Once upon a mountain top, three little trees stood and dreamed of what they wanted to become when they grew up. The first little tree looked up at the stars and said: "I want to hold treasure. I want to be covered with gold and filled with precious stones. I'll be the most beautiful treasure chest in the world!" 

The second little tree looked out at the small stream trickling by on it's way to the ocean. "I want to be traveling mighty waters and carrying powerful kings. I'll be the strongest ship in the world!" 

The third little tree looked down into the valley below where busy men and women worked in a busy town. "I don't want to leave the mountain top at all. I want to grow so tall that when people stop to look at me they'll raise their eyes to heaven and think of God. I will be the tallest tree in the world."

Years, passed. The rain came, the sun shone and the little trees grew tall. One day three wood cutters climbed the mountain. The first wood cutter looked at the first tree and said, "This tree is beautiful. It is perfect for me." With a swoop of his shining ax, the first tree fell. "Now I shall make a beautiful chest, I shall hold wonderful treasure!" the first tree said. 

The second wood cutter looked at the second tree and said, "This tree is strong. It's perfect for me." With a swoop of his shining ax, the second tree fell. "Now I shall sail mighty waters!" thought the second tree. "I shall be a strong ship for mighty kings!" 

The third tree felt her heart sink when the last wood cutter looked her way. She stood straight and tall and pointed bravely to heaven. But the wood cutter never even looked up. "Any kind of tree will do for me." He muttered. With a swoop of his shining ax, the third tree fell. 

The first tree rejoiced when the wood cutter brought her to a carpenter's shop. But the carpenter fashioned the tree into a feed box for animals. The once beautiful tree was not covered with gold, or treasure. She was coated with saw dust and filled with hay for hungry farm animals. The second tree smiled when the wood cutter took her to a shipyard, but no mighty sailing ship was made that day. Instead the once strong tree was hammered and awed into a simple fishing boat. She was too small and too weak to sail to an ocean, or even a river, instead she was taken to a little lake. The third tree was confused when the wood cutter cut her into strong beams and left her in a lumberyard. "What happened?" The once tall tree wondered. "All I ever wanted was to stay on the mountain top and point to God..." 

Many days and nights passed. The three trees nearly forgot their dreams. But one night, golden starlight poured over the first tree as a young woman placed her newborn baby in the feed box. "I wish I could make a cradle for him." Her husband whispered. The mother squeezed his hand and smiled as the starlight shone on the smooth and sturdy wood. "This manger is beautiful." She said. And suddenly the first tree knew he was holding the greatest treasure in the world. 

One evening a tired traveler and his friends crowded into the old fishing boat. The traveler fell asleep as the second tree quietly sailed out into the lake. Soon a thundering and a thrashing storm arose. The little tree shuddered. She knew she did not have the strength to carry so many passengers safely through the wind and the rain. The tired man awoke. He stood up, stretched out his hand, and said, "Peace." The storm stopped as quickly as it had begun. And suddenly the second tree knew he was carrying the king of heaven and earth. 

One Friday morning, the third tree was startled when her beams were yanked from the forgotten wood pile. She flinched as she was carried through an angry jeering crowd. She shuddered when soldiers nailed a man's hand to her. She felt ugly and harsh and cruel. But on Sunday morning, when the sun rose and the earth trembled with joy beneath her, the third tree knew that God's love had changed everything. It had made the third tree strong. And every time people thought of the third tree, they would think of God. That was better than being the tallest tree in the world. 

The next time you feel down because you didn't get what you wanted, sit tight and be happy because God is thinking of something better to give you.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Midweek Meditation: John Wesley's Covenant with God

John Wesley, Founder of Methodism
"I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
Put me to doing, put me to suffering;
Let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you;
Let me be exalted for you, or brought low for you;
Let me be full, let me be empty;
Let me have all things, let me have nothing;
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.

And now, O Glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
You are mine, and I am yours.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven.
Amen." (John Wesley, 1703-1791)

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

"Five Myths of Gay Marriage"

Today, I received an email about an impending court decision tomorrow in California for two cases on gay marriage. Many people will already know how courts, religious groups, and many communities around the world are grappling with both the pros and cons of gay marriage. As the issues are complex and wide-ranging, we often need to be reminded how myths can cloud reality. Pastor Rick McDaniel of Richmond Community Church in Richmond, VA has recently written about "Five Myths of Gay Marriage." In this article, I will briefly summarize what McDaniel has said. I will then give some of my comments on that.

Myth #1 - "Anyone Against Gay Marriage is Homophobic"

RM: "This message is completely false and highly offensive to people of faith."

I agree that this statement is false. It is highly unfair to put an equal sign to say that anyone who disagree with gay marriage is a gay-hater, or homophobic person. Such an equation only reflects a simplistic mindset bent on creating unnecessary tensions. Just because a person dislikes bananas does not mean he hates bananas. In the same light, just because I love coffee does not mean I hate tea.  Having said that, I think we need to recognize that there are "some" who are truly homophobic. Do not let this group taint the entire rest of the public. We need to stand up against people who simply have a personal vendetta against people who have expressed a sexual orientation against same-sex couples. While we can disagree on matters of marital policies, we can still agree that all of us are human beings trying to have a place in this world.

Myth #2 - "It is About Marriage Equality"

RM: "Homosexuals should have all the civil rights that allow them to be in a relationship with another person. They should not be discriminated against and should be treated equally as other groups. But that is not the same thing as being married. Redefining marriage from its historic, traditional understanding is a wholly different enterprise."

Indeed, marriage is a word not to be taken lightly. I have previously argued for a change in terminology, so that we do not confuse the term from the associated rights and privileges. In other words, gays wanting the rights and privileges of marriage should instead use a different word altogether for their unions. Those arguing for traditional marriage have a point here when it comes to preserving the understanding of marriage through the centuries. Can you imagine twisting the word "mother" or "father" to be something else other than our parents? Remove the word "marriage" and call it "civil union" or whatever. For the term "gay marriage" can make a mockery out of what marriage is all about. Those who argue that supporters of traditional marriage stay out of the turf of gay couples seeking civil unions, remember that by using "marriage" in their civil unions, they are already stepping into the turf of traditional marriages. 

Myth #3 - "The Majority of the People are For It"

RM: "What people may say in a poll is different than when they walk into a private booth to cast their vote."

I think we need to be aware that there are groups out there who are trying to influence public opinions. To be fair, I think both groups are guilty of trying to shape public opinion in their favour. I do not pretend not to. I believe in traditional marriage, and I still think the published statistics are more biased than anything.  My suggestion, do not try to generalize. In an age of the Internet, it is very easy to find information. It is even easier to find information that we WANT to find. 

Myth #4 - "It Won't Lead to Other Types of Marriages"

RM: "If you redefine marriage you open a huge door to other types of marriage. It is absurd to argue that people will marry their dog or horse but other marriage arguments can be made."

I am not too sure about this myth, but I concede that there is a possibility. This myth is not as strong, probably because gay marriage matters are still relatively new. So, the jury is still out there with regards to how pervasive a gay marriage will lead to. Again, that does not mean it will never happen. 

Myth #5 - "It is Just Another Kind of Family"

RM: "Only a marriage between a man and a woman can create a child. No same sex relationship can ever procreate."

I am not sure I can agree completely with this. What about adoption? What about surrogate parents? McDaniel's 5th myth is probably the weakest of the five. I know where he is coming from. In order for a child, you need a male and a female before the couple can procreate. However, we live in a society now where many children are born out of wedlock, and some couples do not even want to get married in the first place. What about couples who have fertility issues and cannot conceive?

In summary, I think Pastor Rick McDaniel has made some really good points against any court decision for gay marriage. That said, we must remember that one can win a battle and still lose the war. We need to learn to see beyond the courts toward the basic human longings to connect and to participate in life. While I may disagree with the whole idea of gay marriage, I am sympathetic to the predicament and injustice experienced by same sex couples. For example, I oppose the violence and abuses that some of them have suffered. I am angry at the way some of them have been taunted by some members of the public, or given unfair treatment or vicious labels that degrade them. Whether gay or straight, male or female, or whatever sexual orientation, they are still people of flesh and blood. I think the basic common denominator is our position as basic human beings. Speaking out against the idea of gay marriage does not make one a homophobic. Likewise, speaking for the rights of gay marriage does not make one a gay or gay lover. For to do so either way, makes one way too black and white for an increasingly grey looking world. I love apples, but please do not call me a tomato.


Monday, June 24, 2013

BookPastor >> "The Outsider Interviews"

This week's recommendation is an excellent book that gives us a glimpse into the thinking and perception of a new generation to Christianity. For anyone who is concerned about reaching out to the next generation, this book is essential reading. The review was first published in "Panorama of a Book Saint."


TITLE: Outsider Interviews, The: A New Generation Speaks Out on Christianity
AUTHOR: Jim Henderson, Todd Hunter, and Craig Spinks
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2010, (198 pages).

Do you want to have a strategy to reach the category of people called, "Young Adults?" Is your Church facing an exodus of young people? Are you baffled as to what is going on in this unique age group who grew up with you when young, and now preferred to grow up independently instead? If your answer is YES to all three, then you may want to consider this DVB, which is a clever label to denote a book and a DVD package. The DVD comprises videos of interviews conducted with young people in their 20s to 30s. Conducted with young people from four cities, the DVD shows the responses as they are, with questions from the audience as well as facilitation by some of the researchers. The book on the other hand presents the reflections on these interviews by three seasoned researchers on the Young Adult situation in the church today. Jim Henderson, Todd Hunter, and Craig Spinks give their take on the contexts of the new generation, the perception of Christianity having an image problem, the clash of tradition with modernity, the nature of diversity in a pluralistic environment and many more.

The authors are keen to find out the stories behind the grim statistics that show the demise of many churches' young adult groups. What I find most illuminating is the need for leaders to learn how to listen attentively, to learn humbly, and to love these people passionately. There are basically four cities that the interviews have been held, namely Denver, Kansas City, Phoenix, and Seattle. Generally, four persons are selected in each city location. Half of them profess the Christian faith while the other half are either atheist or agnostic. Care is also taken to have equal representation from both genders. What is lacking perhaps is the multi-racial component, as the interviews are based on people who are predominantly white, though there is a Muslim and a Jew somewhere in the mix. The topics covered are very wide. From homosexuality to same-sex marriage, internal Church conflicts to external perceptions of Christianity, from Republican to Democratic politics, hypocrisy to image problems, the young people highlight a diverse range of issues that cover culture, politics, social awareness, cultural nuances, and of course the Church. The DVD gives readers and viewers a first hand look at the actual interviews and feedback concerned. There is also a segment from the perspective of the authors.

In the book, the authors reflect on what they have heard and each of the three authors pick a topic to discuss in greater depth. As Jim Henderson is the main interviewer and facilitator, he contributes the most, covering at least six out of nine chapters. He presents the case for readers to take the initiative not just to talk about the gospel, but to live out the gospel of love through care. Some of the observations are as follows:

  • Christianity has an image problem
  • Many Christians do not listen to the inner longings of the young people
  • Many Christians tend to elevate doctrines and principles more than loving people.
  • There have been too much politicizing of Christianity in the political arena
  • Christians do not know how to handle differences maturely
  • One can to be intentional but not manipulative
  • Learn to notice people and care for them
  • Dialogue is actually easier than most people thought
  • Many young people do not just want to be invited to come. They like to serve.
  • ...
Finally, Craig lists six lessons to learn.
  1. Do not take things too personally. Most of the time, people just want to disagree rather than judge a particular belief;
  2. Give others the permission to be different.
  3. Speak less from absolutes and more from personal stories. For example, rather than saying "All churches are irrelevant," say "In my experience, the church I have attended has not been relevant."
  4. Debates are natural reactions to disagreements about something. Learn to turn debates to respectful dialogue
  5. Do not jump to conclusions. Do not be too quick to label people.
  6. Ask lots of questions.
Todd affirms that styles can change but evangelism boldness never goes out of style. Nice.

Henderson shares five take homes with regards to constructing a bridge between generations.
  1. Obtain a list of things to be researched, for clarity, and for understanding different viewpoints
  2. Obtain feedback all the time, in conversation and dialogue
  3. Adopt skills of bridge building
  4. Be open to changes to be made as each opportunity arises
  5. Do not be too easily intimidated by people questioning you on your lack of experience, or age, or anything.
Henderson's words are worth remembering.

"From my point of view, Boomers have an activist streak and Millenials an optimistic one. When these differences intersect, a unique force field is created that can facilitate the building of a bridge not only for themselves but for all the outsiders who are trying to find their way into the Kingdom. When intergenerational activists and optimists collaborate, innovative practices and unpredictable acts of love emerge." (165)

See the book video below or click the link here.

For more interviews, click here

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


Friday, June 21, 2013

Violence in the Old Testament (7-minute explanation)

This is an excellent 7-minute response video to the popular question: "Why is there so much violence in the Old Testament?" Dr Lawson Stone, Professor of Old Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary gives a very concise summary of the context of the Old Testament during those times.

Here are my brief notes of the seven points.

  1. Perspective: Jesus never complained about the Old Testament violence, the same way we are doing now. This should raise some bells in us. Does that mean we are more morally sensitive or superior in our modern times?
  2. Canaan a No Man's Land: Some people accuse Israel of stealing the land that is not theirs. The fact is, Canaan belongs to nobody. Thus it is not right to say that Israel invaded someone else's territory illegally. For Canaan contains many diverse cultures. It’s no man’s land.
  3. Israel not Outsiders: Adding to the above point, there is no real difference between Israelites or Canaanites. The Israelites lived in Canaan for centuries for thousands of years, before they resided in Egypt. No difference from how early American settlers displace the native Indians from their land. 
  4. Canaan Unstable physically and morally: In Joshua’s day, Canaan had suffered under a harsh political system. Pharaoh managed the land like a giant factory farm, producing small number of crops valued by few. As a result, the massive production exploited the land and ravished small villages and town. Egyptians took the best workers from Canaan into forced labour, and many young men ended up as forced slaves. Canaan having being emptied out, became unstable morally. By the time Joshua come, instead of being seen as a cruel conqueror, he might very well be bringing justice, order, and peace. In other words, the presence of Israel may in fact be putting the Canaanites out of their misery. As a small out of the box comparison, think of the ethical debates surrounding euthanasia, and perhaps we can get a shift in perspective. 
  5. Israel Not a Military Nation: It is one thing to enter another nation's land and conquer like Genghis Khan or Alexandra the Great. It is yet another to clumsily push their way in, at great military disadvantage. Even in the conquest story, Israel is not really prepared for battle at all.  They are not huge either. They simply do not have enough soldiers to wipe out people in Canaan. The Israelites were outnumbered, outmaneuvered, and outgunned. After Joshua, they had no central authority. Israel needed divine intervention just to survive. So it is not right to think that Israel is a giant bullying midgets.
  6. Israel is Poorly Armed: Warlike nations in Canaan gloried in their firepower. They like to show off. Not Israel. On the other hand, Israelites are poorly armed, having a gross lack of metal workers, and is not exactly a warrior nation. Poorly armed Israelites conquering great lands and larger armies simply mean that some divine grace rather than violence is happening. If you have trouble visualizing this, think of how a small group of rebel fighters in Star Wars saga manage to overcome the galactic Imperial empire. These rebels too were outnumbered and outgunned. Yet, who do we cheer for? 
  7. Gory and great violence: Canaan perpetuated in brutality and savagery. OT looks tame compared to modern.  ANE people even consider it normal to castrate dead corpses. If one thinks the Israelites are cruel, the rest of the people are worse. In fact, viewing from the culture of that time, the way the Israelites were asked to destroy the Canaanites looked rather tame compared to the norm at that time.
By the way, considering the violence of our modern times, the cultural revolution in China, the killing fields horror in Cambodia, and the Nazi Holocaust in Europe, I think the Old Testament violence is way too mild. Anyone who questions the Old Testament violence and gore, and at the same time, refuses to grapple with the modern tragedies, wars, and violence in our own century will be in danger of being a hypocrite. 


Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Simple Financial Diagnosis - Victoria Grant

This 12-year old girl created an Internet sensation when she first made this speech at a Rotary club. CBC reported this as "12 year old girl blasts Canada's banks." Her speech has also gone viral on Youtube, currently nearing a million hits. In the video, Victoria Grant first raises a few promising questions to generate some excitement among the audience. She then dissects the current problem of the financial system in Canada, even bringing up some of the past financial facts to back up her claim. Toward the end, she offers a simple solution that leaves the audience split but amazed at how a young girl can know so much and is able to present the problem cum solution in a clear and thoughtful manner. Hey! She even quotes Jesus and the money changers according to the gospels.

Some people question the source of her speech, with many pointing out that it was her dad who helps craft the speech. Others say that her diagnosis and theory is a re-hashed version of a similar idea broached a hundred years ago. Still, others consider her a child prodigy destined for a bright financial future. Whatever the stand, I think she deserves a lot of credit not just for understanding the financial debt market, but to be able to clearly articulate her understanding for a public audience. Whether she is right or wrong, whether the financial solutions she present is idealistic or realistic, we never really know. Come to think of it, modern financial systems are way too complicated now. There is no silver bullet solution. However, that does not mean we stop trying to find one.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Midweek Meditation: Desiring God Above All

This is a beautiful prayer by the mother of the famous John Wesley.


Monday, June 17, 2013

BookPastor >> "The Good Fight"

What makes a good marriage? Is it avoiding all kinds of conflicts or fights? Is it a happily-ever-after, and never-ever-fight scenarios? Obviously not. All marriages have their problems. The thing is to learn not to avoid but to engage, not to flee but to fight fair and well. The main purpose for married couples: We are in it together.  This book is a good read. The review was first published at "Panorama of a Book Saint" on April 24th, 2013.


TITLE: The Good Fight: How Conflict Can Bring You Closer
AUTHOR: Drs Les and Leslie Parrot
PUBLISHER:  Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing, 2013, (210 pages).

Is all conflict bad? Is there any benefit at all in fighting? When married couples quarrel, is it a sign of a crumbling marriage? In this book, two established marriage counselors give their take about the difference between conflict and resolution. In other words, "It's how you fight, not whether you fight" that is the key point. Dispelling the myth of good married couples as those who live happily ever after, psychologist Les, and family therapist Leslie, come together to help readers distinguish bad fights from good fights, enable couples to grow in authenticity with each other, and to cultivate resilience of the relationship amid adversity. Putting proper perspective in every kind of conflict, we learn how to measure our "conflict quotient" like distinguishing the trivial from the important, learning the rules of engagement, keeping the fight fair and honest, and even uncovering our own "fight" styles. Just like there are rules to any sports or games, the Parrotts put forth three rules for cooperation; two rules of ownership; two rules of respect; and two rules of empathy; as a way to help couples fight well. That is not all. Fighting well also produces another benefit: Learning more about our own selves. For instance:
  • Competitive Fighter: One who is high in expressiveness, and low in flexibility
  • Collaborative Fighter: One who is high in expressiveness, and high in flexibility
  • Conciliatory Fighter: One who is low in expressiveness, and high in flexibility
  • Cautious Fighter: One who is low in expressiveness, and low in flexibility.
In fact, knowing what kind of fighter we are is a tremendous asset in learning how to fight well. Using their knowledge and experience, the authors then teach readers on the various combinations of the fight styles, and subsequently apply them through five big applications: Money, Sex, Work, Parenting, and Housework.

On and on, the consistent message in the book is that fighting is not necessarily a bad thing. It can even save one's marriage like releasing steam to prevent the marriage kettle from blowing up. It creates a deeper intimacy between couples. Ultimately, it brings about greater peace, as couples learn more about each other, about themselves, and more importantly, about the simple things that matter more to any marriage. There is a whole chapter on dealing with anger, a critical aspect of any conflict resolution.

My Thoughts

Drs Les and Leslie Parrott have done it again. Not only have they brought together their own expertise and fighting experiences, they have structured a powerful resource to help all couples deal with their differences, their disagreements, and their disappointments, whenever married couples feel less than "happily ever after." Just because a marriage is not happy or funny, does not mean that it is not a good marriage. In fact, a good marriage is one that is filled with both laughter and tears, joys and sorrows, hugs and fights. It is a myth to think that good marriages are those that are without fights or conflicts. All marriages will have fights from time to time. It is how we deal with each fight as they come along. Avoidance can only make it worse. Untimely engagement will be unhelpful too. What is important is to recognize that when the fight comes, both couples are ready to deal with it fairly, promptly, appropriately, and most of all, lovingly. In keeping up with the times, the authors have also included a free app that can be downloaded and installed in the increasingly common smartphones we have.

This book does not make readers look forward to fights. It gives couples the freedom and the courage to tough it out together, knowing that behind every fight, is an opportunity to learn, to listen, to heal, to relate, to reconcile, and to understand each other better. After reading this book, readers will be reminded again the traditional marriage vow:

"I _____ take thee _____, to be my husband/wife, to have and to hold, for better or for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; .... till death do us part."

Fighting well, is actually within this vow. Remember that in each fight, if we hurt our spouses, we are also hurting ourselves, for couples are in it together. Thanks to Les and Leslie Parrott, we have a great resource to help us maintain a fuller view of what we have first promised our mates.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


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

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Midweek Meditation: "Be Still"

This video clip is awe-inspiring as it demonstrates the power of concentration and focus. It is one thing to be able to sense weight. It is another to be able to sense something quite weightless, like a feather. As I watch this, I am reminded of the power of concentration on God. It gives us a fresh look at the words of the Psalmist who says: "Be still and know that I am God." (Ps 46:10a)


Monday, June 10, 2013

BookPastor >> "NIV Quickview Bible"

Do you learn better visually? Will it be great if you can get a good overview of a particular Bible book or period with tables, charts, and colourful diagrams? What about illustrations that make you want to dig into the Bible for yourselves more? If the answers are yes, this Bible may be for you.

This review was first published at "Panorama of a Book Saint." 


TITLE: NIV QuickView Bible
AUTHOR: The Zondervan Quickview Bible Team
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012, (1110 pages).

This is one of those love-at-first-sight Bible resources to have. Included with the entire New International Version English Bible translation (latest 2011 version), the Bible is filled with vivid colours that are refreshing, and illustrations that bring out the Bible's truth with clarity and insights. Using more than 360 intelligent visual infographics, it makes navigating the Bible a richer and more exciting adventure. The Bible team recognizes that 83% of all human learning occurs visually. At the same time, the QuickView Bible brings a refreshing new perspective on the stories, the messages, the histories, and the ancient texts, making readers more excited to get into the text for themselves.  There are many visual eye-candies like:
  • Colour coding the ten different divisions of the whole Bible;
  • Simple explanation of how we get our Bibles;
  • Breakdown of Noah's 375 days in the Ark;
  • Life story of Jacob, Moses, and others clearly diagrammed;
  • Jewish Calendar and our modern equivalents;
  • Table of all the kings of Israel and Judah;
  • Contrast of Jesus' teachings about light and darkness
  • Paul's Teachings;
  • Spiritual Gifts;
  • Maps of Canaan, the Divided Kingdom, Palestine, Israel, and many more;
It is hard not to like this book. Old Testament laws are clearly laid out with the purposes of them weaved with the mercy of God. The gospels are also full of charts and diagrams to give readers a glimpse of the idea flow, which encourages the reader to read the text more carefully to check the biblical texts for themselves. There are three things which I really appreciate about this Quickview Bible. Firstly, it enhances the reading of the Bible with some brilliant bird's eye view of the Bible story. For instance, in the book of First Samuel, we read how the biblical author narrates the different characters who change their allegiances. There is also a highs and lows chart to show the erratic life of Saul, how he rises valiantly at the beginning, fumbles along in the middle, and ultimately kills himself at the end. Secondly, the maps are incorporated appropriately in the texts that help readers appreciate the geographical aspects of the texts being read. Normally, we will need a Bible atlas to accompany the study of the Bible. This Quickview Bible incorporates some of the most important maps within the Bible itself, enabling the reader to remain on the page without having to flip open another book to refer to the same thing. Thirdly, from a preaching and teaching perspective, the infographics are powerful ways to communicate the big ideas of the Bible. The colours are well used. The adjectives are carefully chosen. The placement of the infographics are sensitively placed to enable readers to read the texts with the big ideas in mind.

Having said that, there are some drawbacks with regards to using such a Bible. First, readers may unwittingly pay more attention to the infographics rather than the Bible itself. After all, if 83% of people learn better with visual material, will that also mean about 83% of the attention will be biased toward the infographics rather than the text? Second, the infographics are by themselves an interpretation. There is little explanation of why, how, and what are the facts leading up to the way the charts and illustrations are done. From a scholarship perspective, there is no way to cite any individual or individuals for each graphic. For example, what are the factors leading up to the declaration of the "Top 5 Reasons to Praise God in Psalms" on page 524? Where are the proof texts pertaining to the big ideas in the "Song of Songs" or Jeremiah? Third, the very idea of a "Quick view" can pose a problem for cultivating the spirituality of waiting and contemplation.  Some of the best spiritual exercises are only cultivated through patience. While it is quick as far as mental grasps of the facts are concerned, reading the Bible is not just about knowledge, but the application of such knowledge in wisdom and in discernment.

That said, I still consider this Quickview Bible a precious resource for learning and teaching. As long as readers understand the pros and cons of using such a resource. I highly recommend this as a learning supplement, not a full replacement of the reading of the Bible. If you like to check out some of the infographics, click here.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


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

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Our Bible Be Read (like we use our cell phones)

A dear brother in Christ shared with me this video that reflects our attachment to our cell phones. Many researches and surveys have pointed to the cell-phone as one of the most important possessions people can ever have. Losing one's cellphone can essentially mean losing a lot of personal information like photos, emails, text messages, contact lists, calendar, appointment schedules, and many more. Manufacturers have even made phones so light and fashionable that it can fit into any pocket, any purse, or any bag. With technologies like Bluetooth, there is no need to even pick up the phone to make calls. Some people can even feel lost or anxious when they are separated away from their prized possession.

What the creator of this video is essentially saying is: "What if we do to our Bibles what we do to our cellphones?"

  • Do we spend time looking after it and reading it?
  • Do we go to it first thing in the event of any emergency?
  • Is our relationship with God through the Bible more or less important with our relationship with our cell phones?
It may evoke some guilt feelings among those of us phone addicts, but if it can spur anyone to read more of the Bible, it is worth it. One more thing. I understand some readers will argue that they have downloaded Bibles into their cell phones, and so, when they take care of their cellphones, they are also taking care of the Bible. The cell phone is then a 2-in-1 device. I agree with that to a certain extent, except that, one then needs to ask how frequent they read their digital Bibles in the first place? I for one, have downloaded many versions of the digital Bibles, but compared to my printed copies, I do find myself reading less as the cellphones are so prone to distractions. For example, all it takes is one text message or an incoming phone call, and we can easily take the call, ignoring whatever we are reading.


Remember, it is the attitude of the heart that the video is urging us toward. An attitude that cherishes the Word of God, just like we cherish the ubiquitous cellphones we love.


Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Midweek Meditation: "Pass Me Not O Gentle Savior"

This hymn is one of my favourites by Fanny Crosby.

Pass me not, O gentle Savior,
Hear my humble cry;
While on others Thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.
Savior, Savior,
Hear my humble cry,
While on others Thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.
Let me at Thy throne of mercy
Find a sweet relief;
Kneeling there in deep contrition,
Help my unbelief.
Trusting only in Thy merit,
Would I seek Thy face;
Heal my wounded, broken spirit,
Save me by Thy grace.
Thou the spring of all my comfort,
More than life to me,
Whom have I on earth beside Thee,
Whom in Heav’n but Thee.


Monday, June 03, 2013

BookPastor >> "Insourcing" (Randy Pope)

Is your Church stuck on how to grow? Do you think that a super pastor is the one to help your Church grow? Maybe, programs and attractive offerings will bring people into your Church? How about simply let your Church go all out to help the poor? All of these may have advantages, but their disadvantages are many. Is there a way to do discipleship? According to Randy Pope, the answer lies in life-on-life discipleship. This review was first published at "Panorama of a Book Saint" on April 25th, 2013. 


TITLE: Insourcing: Bringing Discipleship Back to the Local Church (Leadership Network Innovation Series)
AUTHOR: Randy Pope
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013, (224 pages).

Do we really need another book on discipleship? Is there anything new to learn about making disciples? In our busy world, and the many complex ministry models, can we still have a discipleship model that is simple and clear, without being simplistic and impractical? There is one answer to all of these questions. Yes!

Randy Pope begins the book with a contemplative moment about his own Church ministry, Perimeter Church. With his Church on a growing path, with ministry pretty much cruising along, with general satisfaction that programs and people are already a part of the ministry, something still troubles Pope. What is the target? Yes, it is true that the ultimate target is the worship of God and glorifying the Heavenly Father. It is also true that people can worship God through the programs. The question is, is that enough? Is that what discipleship all about? After some struggle with the question of target, the author lands on two words that provide the thrust of his discipleship model: "mature and equipped." Discipleship is essentially about helping individuals in the community toward maturity and being equipped to worship God in every possible way. Pope starts off with a remarkable summary of three common models of ministry. The first model is the "Pastoral Model," which requires a "multi-talented, maintenance-oriented shepherd." If the Church is small, and the needs are few, this model generally suffices. The trouble is, the existing climate has become much more complex and needs have been more varied than before. The second model is that of an "Attractional Model." Beef up the message, boost up the music, and birth new methods so that more people will be attracted to the church. This model of relevance appeals to a consumeristic culture, and is strong in attracting people in, but weak in sending people out as witnesses. The third model is "Influential Model" which is high in social action and community influence. Unfortunately, it may result in churches and Christian organizations becoming another social help group without much of an identity. For Randy Pope, all of these models do not seem to prepare his Church as far as discipleship is concerned. By weaving together the positive elements of each model, and weeding out the rest, Pope focuses on a life-on-life model that essentially reflects the journey of a growing disciple. This life-on-life model is in turned based on a framework credited to Ken Blanchard. Blanchard's four stage leadership model moves as follows:

  1. Stage I - Direct
  2. Stage II - Coach
  3. Stage III - Support
  4. Stage IV - Delegate
An important note is that one cannot jump from stage I to stage IV. Each stage has to be covered. The same goes for the Life-on-Life discipleship model. Pope modifies the above using the acronym TEAMS to describe the five emphases of the model.
  1. Stage 1 - Truth
  2. Stage 2 - Equipping
  3. Stage 3 - Accountability
  4. Stage 4 - Mission
  5. Stage 5 - Supplication (not exactly a stage, but something that covers every stage)

The rest of the book condenses a three-year discipleship journey into six meetings via a fictional journey to incorporate the whole story. The appendices provide key resources for readers and leaders to jump start their own versions of discipleship based on this life-on-life model.

My Thoughts

The book's key emphasis is that every individual matters. Far too often, we have become distracted over programs, and our infatuation with numbers of people. By doing so, in desiring to be more relevant, churches are constantly inundated with greater and greater demands for more flashy and attractional programs that are not sustainable, they fail to equip and help members mature as a community of believers. At the same time, too much inward ministry toward meeting needs of people through chronic care can cause a ministry to implode into self-centered ministries. We are reminded that Jesus spends more than 90% of his time with his twelve disciples. There are no megachurches then. Jesus is focused on lives, one at a time. So should we. Every life counts. If our target is toward a mature community, we need to start working at helping individuals mature. If our target is to equip, we need to let the mission guide our strategies and resources to be used for the purpose of equipping people FOR the mission. It is not the ministry that determines the mission. It is the mission that determines the ministry, and it is a clear understanding of the target of the mission that determines the ministry models required. 

This is no ordinary book on discipleship. Richly insightful and downright practical, leaders will be pleased to have in their hands a book that is marinated with profound ideas and generous in real-life stories, filled with examples of what it means to journey together one-on-one. I like the way Pope reviews the old paradigms and takes care not to throw them all away. Instead, he learns the best from them, adapts where necessary, and infuses some new insights to make it all fresh and exciting. Note that every Church is unique. Every Church is different in its resources, it contexts, and its strategies. This book will not only help Christian organizations to take a critical look at their existing programs, and start making bold initiatives, to breathe life into the old, and to let God build something new out of it all. Great book on discipleship!

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


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

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