Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Midweek Meditation: Another New Year Beckons

"The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective." (C.K Chesterton)

Monday, December 29, 2014

BookPastor >> "The Traveler's Gift" (Andy Andrews)

As we close out the year, with gift giving and thanksgiving in the air, perhaps we can reflect on what are life's best gifts. This review was first published at "A Book Pastor Recommends" on April 6th, 2011.


TITLE: THE TRAVELER's GIFT - Seven Decisions that Determine Personal Success
AUTHOR: Andy Andrews
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2002.

I am reading this book largely because the author's latest book,"The Final Summit" makes regularly references to it. I am not disappointed. The many accolades and blurbs from famous names tempt any reader to want to read this book. Unlike some self-help books, that deals with step-by-step methodologies or philosophical treatises, Andrews cleverly combines historical fact with a creative narrative. At the same time, he weaves in seven motivational phrases by creating a character that many of us can identify with. The author captures the reader's imagination through the interactions of David Ponder, with people like Harry Truman, King Solomon, Joshua Chamberlain, Christopher Columbus, Abraham Lincoln, and Gabriel the Archangel. With each character comes seven decisions or life's lessons. The seven decisions are as follows:
  1. "The buck stops here. I am responsible for my past and my future."
  2. "I will seek wisdom. I will be a servant to others."
  3. "I am a person of action. I seize this moment. I choose now."
  4. "I have a decided heart. My destiny is assured."
  5. "Today I will choose to be happy. I am the possessor of a grateful spirit."
  6. "I will greet this day with a forgiving spirit. I will forgive myself."
  7. "I will persist without exception. I am a person of great faith."
The book is strong in its story-telling approach, linking a modern character we can identify with, to a specific historical person. It reminds us that our modern challenges are no bigger than the past. In fact, past giants have overcome greater things. We shall not linger around and whine about our problems. The down and out character, David Ponder, highlights the fears that the readers have. Fears about losing a job. Fears about not able to pay our monthly bills. Fears about high medical costs. Most of it, fears about not doing anything about our predicament. 

I like the individual decisions that one can make, in spite of formidable challenges in life. The two stories that touch me are the ones at Gettysburg, and the final story about faith as revealed by Gabriel the Archangel. Chapter 9 alone is worth the price of the book. I like the fact that Andrews brings history alive through this book. He can be a history teacher! I love this quote.

"But it is a fact that great leaders - great achievers - are rarely realistic by other people's standards. Somehow, these successful people, often considered strange, pick their way through life ignoring or not hearing negative expectations and emotions. Consequently, they accomplish one great thing after another, never having heard what cannot be done. That is precisely why one should never tell a young person that something cannot be done. God may have waiting centuries for someone ignorant enough of the impossible to do that very thing!" (Gabriel speaking to David Ponder, p150)

The story is heartwarming, but gives me an uncomfortable feeling about how 'real' it can be for us. For example, by giving David Ponder a glimpse that he will eventually be owners of a huge business empire, it unwittingly portrays success in terms of health and wealth. While I do not think that is the author's intention, the reader may perhaps be unwittingly convinced that success means monetary gains, wide fame, and a big name for oneself. 

This book is worth reading, especially when you feel down and out, that the whole world seems to be against you. Start with the first decision. "The buck stops here." No more wallowing. No more swallowing of sobs and tears. Make a decision to do something about it.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Midweek Meditation: Christmas 2014

"When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flock, the work of Christmas begins: To find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among brothers and sisters, and to make music in the heart." 

(Howard Thurman, 1899-1981, American Civil Rights Leader)

Have a Blessed Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2014

BookPastor >> "It's a God Thing Vol 2" (Don Jacobson)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Dec 5th, 2014.


TITLE: It's a God Thing Volume 2: When Miracles Happen to Everyday People
AUTHOR: Don Jacobson and K-Love
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2014, (216 pages).

We often read about miracles in the Bible. Miracles like people being healed; water turned into wine; food getting multiplied; and miraculous signs and wonders from both the Old and New Testament. Are miracles real? Do they still occur today? This volume sings out 46 stories of miraculous events happening to ordinary people. The author himself is one living testimony. In 1980, Jacobson accidentally shot himself in the woods with a 12-gauge shotgun. For nine hours, he bled and death appeared imminent. Until he was miraculously found. This event spawned a desire to search and to collect miracle stories to remind us that God is still present today. Don Jacobson was formerly President and owner of Multnomah Publishers, and is well known in the Christian publishing world.

With the success of the first volume about miracle stories happening to everyday people, together with K-Love radio network, this second volume continues the stories. The miracles cover all walks of life, many different situations of dire needs, and the amazing results of how God works. Like how Steve managed to escape from a runaway truck; how Kellie White managed to retrieve a lost "special thing" for a stranger; Steve Nestor's story of being healed from Stage IV Hodgkin's Lymphoma; the inexplicable disappearance of cancer from a patient; about a Vietnamese refugee fleeing the Communist regime on land and surviving pirates in dangerous waters; and even the sight of "three perfect sunflowers" that amazing appeared to touch a special moment for people in grief.

Often told in the first person, the stories read like a "Chicken Soup" series of stories to encourage the weary and the discouraged. The difference is the way the stories are told. All the stories are seen human impossibility in sight. All occurred when individuals seemed to be in their wit's end. Then the impossible happened. Just like the moment in Mark 10:27 when Jesus said to the disciples after his saying about a camel entering the eye of a needle: "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God."

Let this book accompany the many stories through the ages of how God works. For those feeling a bit down and almost out, this book may give them a fresh dose of hope and faith. For those who are skeptical of the stories, learn to give the storytellers the benefit of the doubt. After all, miracles defy natural reasoning. Rationale and logic do not add up to explaining all the things in this world, let alone the unknown universe. As Christmas approaches, it is good to be reminded of what the Christian story is about. Quoting CS Lewis,

"The Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, came into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him. It is precisely one great miracle. If you take that away there is nothing specifically Christian left." (CS Lewis, "The Grand Miracle" in God in the Dock, Eerdmans, 1970, p80)

May these stories point us more toward the God of the Universe, the Grand Miracle of miracles, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of the publisher and Shelton Interactive in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Midweek Meditation: The Problem with Professionalism

"Professionalism. That’s our greatest problem in the community. I have five sisters getting MD degrees, and far greater numbers getting RN, LPN, and MSW degrees. But a funny thing happens. They come back from their education and they are concerned about titles, offices, and parking privileges. So I take all of that away from them, and I send them to the Hospice of the Dying. There they hold people’s hands, pray with them, and feed them. After six months of that, they typically get things straight again, and they remember their vocation is to be a spiritual presence first and a professional presence second." (Mother Teresa)

Monday, December 15, 2014

BookPastor >> "Excellence" (Andreas J. Köstenberger)

TITLE: Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue
AUTHOR: Andreas J. Köstenberger
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2011, (272 pages).

Christians are not simply called to do good. They are to embark upon the pursuit of excellence. There is no better way than to begin with God. By reflecting on the character of God and the works that would honour Him, we will pursue excellence in whatever we do, based on a biblical and theological foundation that is integral to our Christian faith. This is what the author and professor had done. In this book about Christian scholarship, Köstenberger urges us to pursue excellence according to God's way. At the same time, he cautions Christians from becoming too "critical, unbelieving, or supposedly objective" in their academic pursuits, which may waylay their own faith and integrity in their scholarly work. Excellence in God must be in line with a scholarship of integrity. Christian scholars need to put on the mind of Christ. Let me review this book by summarising based on a series of Vs: Vision, Vocation, Virtue, and Vessels. The biblical basis for this book is based on the beautiful passage from 2 Peter 1:5-8.

A) Vision

According to the author, the vision is always about the character of God. For everything God does is excellent and perfect. This means we adopt God's pattern of work and rest in our pursuit of excellence. It means being must come first, and not doing.  This also means continuing to add on to the excellent work, and not presume we sit back like couch potatoes. For the notion of holiness is to become who we are originally created by God to be. As a scholar, we are called to pursue scholarship as "excellence in pursuit of truth on mission for God in the world." This means learning to let the Holy Spirit guide us, to actively apply the Word, to look for ways to share love, and to link scholarship to world mission. As far as the author is concerned, "genuine spirituality will result in academic excellence." (84)

B) Vocation

Whatever work we are called to do, we need to add diligence to our faith. This means obeying authorities, just like the Old Testament stories of obedience to God and kings. There are no short cuts. Track down sources. Be accurate in citations. Use proper styles and careful writing. Observe deadlines. Cultivate diligence for life. Adding to it is courage, which is the key motivation for the author's decision to write this book. Courage means learning to speak and work with conviction in spite of worldly opposition. Especially when students seek professors' approval in many areas, one needs to constantly ask: "Whose approval is key? God's or man's?" With courage, add passion. This calls for frequent self-examination that we are in pursuit of truth more than anything else. Then there is restraint, which is about learning to love and to be able to speak the truth in love. Being a Christian scholar also means being creative. Strive for eloquence too.

C) Virtues

For Köstenberger, moral excellence means exercising the virtues of integrity, fidelity, and wisdom. These three are added upon the earlier attributes of excellence. Integrity means learning to be our truth selves even when no one is watching. It means being faithful even to the little things. Fidelity means being truthful to God, to the Word, to the institution we serve in, and the ourselves.Interpret Scripture humbly and faithfully and teach the Word. By adding to it wisdom, we are compelled to come back to God once again, the Source of all wisdom.

D) Vessels

Continuing the ladder of excellence, Köstenberger encourages us to adopt relational excellence by becoming vessels of grace, humility, interdependence, and love. Grace can be expressed in thought, word, and deed. We as people saved by grace, ought to be the people filled most with grace. When we learn to be gracious in everything, we would become the best testimonies of God's grace to the world. Humility is that true greatness and will enable one to pursue the essence of truth in the right manner. Interdependence is an offshoot of humility, where we acknowledge we are not sufficient in ourselves. Learn to collaborate on projects. Appreciate the research done by other scholars. Be approachable to teach as well as to learn. Serve one another. Finally, love is the mark of genuine scholarship.

It is one thing to get excellent scores in our academic work or scholarship pursuits on paper. It is yet another to achieve that with footprints of grace and humility. While it is important for us to achieve our targets, it is equally, if not more important do so in a way that glorifies God and respectful of one another. This book is certainly a good reference for anyone in the academy, especially if they are people of the Christian faith. There is no excuse for shoddy work. There is also no excuse for shameless hypocrisy or ungracious behaviour when it comes to pursuing worldly excellence. After all, God's work must not only be done in God's way. It needs godliness with contentment.

Wonderful book!


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Monday, December 08, 2014

BookPastor >> "Praying Backwards" (Bryan Chapell)

This book was first published at my old blog, "A Bookworm Pastor Recommends" on April 11th, 2011.


TITLE: PRAYING BACKWARDS - transform your prayer life by beginning in Jesus' Name
AUTHOR: Bryan Chapell
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005, (208pp).

This book has an intriguing title. The main thesis of this book is that our prayers should begin, continue and end with Jesus's Name as our first concern. The way we usually end our prayers, should instruct us right from the beginning how we should pray.  We should seek God for God alone. We should seek God's purposes in any of our prayers first. We should let God's will be done whenever we pray. As we end in the name of Jesus, we should also begin with putting Jesus foremost and always through all of our prayers. Doing this corrects two common errors. First, we avoid limiting God through our human wisdom, thinking that we know best. We remind ourselves God knows best. Second, we do not use God's Name as some kind of a wishing well. We remind ourselves that it is God's purpose that is most important. Chapell adds:
"But when our routines have desensitized us to his priorities, then it's time to begin where we end. Praying backwards will inevitably turn our prayer priorities upside down. By saying 'in Jesus' name' first, we will more readily discern when our prayers go astray from his purposes, hijacked by our self-interest." (15)

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Midweek Meditation: "Proud & Defensive" vs "Broken & Vulnerable"

This chart is taken from Peter Scazzero's bestselling book called "The Emotionally Healthy Church." It is not meant to be scientific, only a few indicative statements to test our emotional inclinations. 

1. I am guarded and protective about my imperfections and flaws.
1. I am transparent and week; I disclose myself to appropriate people.
2. I focus on the “positive,” strong, successful parts of myself.
2. I am aware of the weak, needy, limited parts of who I am and I freely admit to failure.
3. I am highly “offendable” and defensive.
3. I am approachable and open to input.
4. I naturally focus first on the flaws, mistakes, and sins of others.
4. I am aware of my own brokenness. I have compassion and am slow to judge others.
5. I give my opinion a lot, even when I am not asked.
5. I am slow to speak and quick to listen.
6. I don’t get close to people.
6. I am open and curious about others.
7. I keep people from really seeing what is going on inside me.
7. I delight in showing vulnerability and weakness, so Christ’s power is seen.
8. I like to control most situations.
8. I can let go and give people the opportunity to earn my trust.
9. I have to be right in order to feel strong and good.
9. I understand that God’s strength reveals itself in admitting mistakes, weakness, and statements that “I was wrong.”
10. I blame others.
10. I take responsibility for myself and speak mostly in the “I,” not the “you” or “they.”
11. I often hold grudges and rarely ask forgiveness.
11. I don’t hold people in debt to me, and I am able to ask others for forgiveness as needed.
12. When I am offended, I write people off.
12. When I am offended, I ask questions to explore what happened.
13. I deny, avoid, or withdraw from painful realities.
13. I honestly look at the truth underneath the surface, even when it hurts.
14. I give answers and explanations to those in pain, hoping to fix or change them.
14. I am present with people in their pain and am comfortable with Mystery and with saying, “I don’t know.”
15. I have to prove I’m right when wronged
15. I can let things go.
16. I am demanding.
16. I assert myself respectfully and kindly.
17. I am highly self-conscious and concerned about how others perceive me.
17. I am more aware of God and others than the impression I am making.
18. I see people as resources to be used for God.
18. I see people as gifts to be loved and enjoyed.

[Peter Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Church, Zondervan, 2003, p114-5]


Sunday, November 30, 2014

BookPastor >> "Passion for the Fatherless" (Daniel J. Bennett)

When we look at Paul's letter to the Ephesians, especially chapter 1 verse 5, we would realize one thing: We are all adopted. Some have gone on to say that the very gospel thrust is about adoption and the Church ought to be the prime force behind adoptions. This review was first published on November 17th, 2014 at Panorama of a Book Saint.


TITLE: A Passion for the Fatherless: Developing a God-Centered Ministry to Orphans
AUTHOR: Daniel J. Bennett
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2014, (240 pages).

Experts estimate the number of orphans globally stands at 163 million. In the United States alone, there are 425,000 of which 115,000 are waiting to be adopted. We may shudder at the numbers or be horrified at the huge quantity of fatherless. What about our compassion? Is it not God's will for us to care for the poor, the weak, the vulnerable, widows and orphans? Bennett believes that it is not only what God wanted the Church to do, it is also a very powerful "apologetic" when believers stand together to support the fatherless. Whether it is fostering, adopting, mentoring, or simply supporting, the transformation can go much more. Not only will orphans be reached and cared for, the ones who reached out will also be transformed.

Daniel J. Bennett is Senior Pastor of Bethany Community Church in central Illinois whose passion for orphans accelerated after his stint as a Family Pastor in 2005. He has adopted a child too. He notes how people caring for foster children are able to open up conversations about God as well. He describes his convictions as follows.

"My compassion for orphans flow from the fact that I know God and know that he passionately cares for the fatherless. I love orphans because I love God. If I did not have this theological understanding, my passion for orphans would be commendable but ultimately worthless." (19)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Midweek Meditation: Gandhi's Advice to Christians

E. Stanley Jones, an American missionary to India, asked Gandhi what missionaries could do to make Christianity more accepted in India. He asked, “How can we make Christianity more naturalized in India, not a foreign thing, identified with a foreign government and foreign people, but part of the national life of India and contributing its power to India’s uplift? What would you, as one of the Hindu leaders of India, tell me, a Christian, to do in order to make this possible?”

Gandhi responded with great clarity and directness: “First, I would suggest that all of you Christians, missionaries and all, must begin to live more like Jesus Christ. Second, practice your religion without adulterating it or toning it down. Third, emphasize love and make it your driving force, for love is central in Christianity. Fourth, study the non-Christian religions more sympathetically to find the good that is within them, in order to have a more sympathetic approach to the people.

Monday, November 24, 2014

BookPastor >> "How to Think Theologically" (Howard W. Stone and James O. Duke)

TITLE: How to Think Theologically, 2nd Edition
AUTHORS: Howard W. Stone and James O. Duke
PUBLISHER: Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, second edition, 2012, (142 pages).

This is a primer for anyone starting theological studies. In fact, it is so useful that I would not hesitate to recommend it for any believer wanting to learn to think theologically. The authors believe that "all Christians are theologians" which form the basis of affirming that theology is not simply for the priests or professors, seminary students or professional theologians. Theology is for all people. For those who do not think so, this book will not only explain the central place of theology in Christian living, it shows us how. For thinking Christianly is about thinking theologically. Being Christian is about learning to apply living theology into everyday practice of truth and grace. The authors are professors who had been regularly asking their seminary students to give their theological perspectives on many issues. Over coffee one day, they began to spawn the idea of writing a guidebook to enable not only students, but all Christians to practice the art and science of thinking theologically: Through listening and questioning.

"To be a Christian at all is to be a theologian. There are no exceptions." (2)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Midweek Meditation: "Spiritual Disciplines Opens the Door" (Richard J. Foster)

"When we despair of gaining inner transformation through human powers of will and determination, we are open to a wonderful new realisation: inner righteousness is a gift from God to be graciously received. The needed change within us is God's work, not ours. The demand is for an inside job, and only God can work from the inside. We cannot attain or earn this righteousness of the kingdom of God; it is a grace that is given." (Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline, London, UK: Hodder and Stoughton, 1989, p6)

Monday, November 17, 2014

BookPastor >> "The Hope Quotient" (Ray Johnston)

A lot of attention has been put toward faith and the age-old topic of "love." Relatively speaking, "hope" is not touched on as much apart from mere mention in passing. The authors here show us that hope is a powerful way of life. This book was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on September 2nd, 2014.


TITLE: The Hope Quotient: Measure It. Raise It. You'll Never Be the Same.
AUTHOR: Ray Johnston
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2014, (240 pages).

Many believers say that faith is the only thing we need. Others echo along with it that "All you need is love." What about the other aspect of 1 Corinthians 13:13, Hope? Why is faith and love relatively more talked about that hope when hope is the very thing the world needs more and more? Founder and President of Thriving Churches International, Ray Johnston aims to up our "hope quotient" (HQ) and inject this necessary attribute for the world at large, and for people from all walks of life. Johnston, an inspirational speaker and life coach had spent seven years researching the material for this book. It all began with a conversation with his daughter who told him that the greatest thing she can ever have is to be encouraged. Johnston in turn saw through it all, and learned that the greatest gift indeed is the gift of hope. This is because hope liberates one from the past; motivates one to bounce back from despair; initiates one's freedom to dream; and activates the making of the world into a better place. On the opposite end of the spectrum is discouragement which Johnston calls a "disease" that discourages, depresses, and destroys. The main thesis of the book is: "Raising these Seven Factors raises Your Hope Quotient which creates Fresh Vision which unleashes a Whole New Future."

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Midweek Meditation: Objectivity?

I have often heard people telling me that we need to be more objective in life. Sometimes, even in emotional matters or feelings that cannot be easily resolved or explained away, they use such a hammer of "objectivity" simply because everything to them looks like a nail. Wisely, the French novelist, Jean D' Ormesson words it accurately that there are some things in life that simply cannot be objectively seen, but to be simply be seen doing things together. Today, there are two quotes. One on marriage and the other on group consensus building.

"The goal in marriage is not to think alike, but to think together." (Robert C. Dodds)

"Where opinions, morals and politics are concerned, there is no such thing as objectivity. The best we can hope for is that freedom will enable subjective points of view to meet and complement each other." (French novelist, Jean D' Ormersson)


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Lest We Forget - Nov 11th, 2014

Lest We Forget.
Wherever you are, on November 11th, at 11am, please take a moment to observe a minute's silence. Pray that the horrors and evils of war will never be repeated again, and that we and our descendants will do everything we can to promote goodness, peace, and well-being for all.

Remembrance Day around the world (link).


Monday, November 10, 2014

BookPastor >> "Know the Creeds and Councils" (Justin S. Holcomb)

There are many things we can learn from Church history. One of them is the history behind the creeds, the councils, the catechisms, and the confessions of faith. This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on September 19th, 2014.


TITLE: Know the Creeds and Councils (KNOW Series)
AUTHOR: Justin S. Holcomb
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014, (192 pages).

An anonymous person once said, "History repeats itself because no one was listening to it the first time." It is a way to say that if we do not learn well the lessons of history, we are poised to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. This is one motivation for us to learn history, and for Christians, to learn the historical settings and background to the majestic statements of tradition and faith. Four of such majors are ably dealt with in this book: Creeds, Confessions, Catechisms, and Church Councils. Episcopalian Priest, Professor, as well as author, Dr Justin Holcomb guides us through the historical background material, the theological challenges faced, the formation of councils, the interplay of powers in both Church and State, and most importantly, the reasons for the creeds and major theological statements made over the centuries. Some of the creeds mentioned are:
  • Apostles' Creed (ca 140)
  • Nicene Creed (325 AD)
  • Chalcedonian Creed (451 AD)
  • Athanasian Creed (400-500 AD)
  • ...

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Midweek Meditation: "Paradox of Our Time" (Bob Moorehead)

This note comes from Dr Bob Moorehead's "Paradox of Our Time."

We have taller buildings but shorter tempers; wider free- ways 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 judgment; 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.


Monday, November 03, 2014

BookPastor >> "Rising Above a Toxic Workplace" (Gary Chapman, Paul White, and Harold Myra)

If there is one word to improve any work culture and relationships in the workplace, it is summarized in one word: "Appreciation." This review was first published on August 12th, 2014 at Panorama of a Book Saint. 


TITLE: Rising Above a Toxic Workplace: Taking Care of Yourself in an Unhealthy Environment
AUTHOR: Gary Chapman, Paul White, and Harold Myra
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Northfield Publishing, 2014, (160 pages).

Ever encountered the boss from hell? What about irritating colleagues who absolutely ruin our day? Maybe, there is a negativity so heavy that going to the workplace no longer seems fun or exciting anymore. The fact is, there are many places that have a toxic environment that can discourage and turn off ordinary workers from discharging their best. According to a Gallup poll, seven in ten people work in toxic workplaces. A bad workplace also leads to stress and reduced productivity. Class tensions create divisions within organizations.

Then there is the toxic boss from hell. They cannot take no for an answer. Not only that, they can make life miserable for subordinates who are desperate to keep their job. Some bosses are so abusive that standing up to them may very well be worse off. Greed and envy are the toxic fumes in any workplace. Even those companies that shot to fame based on their ranking in "Best companies to work for" are not immune from toxic workplaces. For what is wonderful for now is no guarantee of the future.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Midweek Meditation: "Praying" (Mary Oliver)

Here is a reflection on prayer by the writer, Mary Oliver.

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

—Mary Oliver


Monday, October 27, 2014

BookPastor >> "Organic Mentoring" (Sue Edwards and Barbara Neumann)

Mentoring is a popular word in Christian circles nowadays. While many people use it freely and liberally, not many really understand what it mean. That is also why many mentoring ventures begin with a heightened wow only to fall hard down to earth with a thud. This book helps us appreciate what mentoring is and offers great examples and how-tos for women. Men need not be left out, as there are many lessons to take home too. After all, learning is gender neutral.


TITLE: Organic Mentoring: A Mentor's Guide to Relationships with Next Generation Women
AUTHOR: Sue Edwards and Barbara Neumann
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2014, (224 pages).

Imagine a community without women. Society would be impoverished. From non-profits to charitable organizations; from churches to various religious institutions; women form a sizeable portion of the community of care and help. Imagine further what an empowered community of women can do to change the world. That would be awesome indeed. Since the days of Jesus and the Early Church, women have played a critical role in society, both at home as well as in society. They have created an immense impact in many places. Yet, like so many things, past successes are no guarantee of the future. If women of the next generation can be mentored and discipled, society gains as a whole. This book is an effort to mentor and cultivate mentoring culture for the next generation.

The authors have a mentor-mentee relationship via a supervisor-student relationship where Barbara was a doctoral student and Sue her supervisor. Both had similar passions: to help bridge the modern and postmodern women through appropriate mentoring. Before introducing new ways, they point out the differences and the reasons why the outdated models and paradigms need to be changed. Based on their research about women and mentoring in a postmodern era, Edwards an Neumann make a compelling case for change, for adaptation, and for hope.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Midweek Meditation: "A-Z Prayer"

God, grant me the grace of a normal day, prays my wife. 

What would an alphabet of grace include? Acrobatic, blessed, calm, dignified, ecstatic, eternal, epiphanous, flowing, gentle, harmless, inexplicable, joyous, keen, lissome, momentous, near, oblique, opaque, peaceful, quiet, roomy, salvific, tireless, unbelievable, various, xpeditious, yearning, zestful. 

(Brian Doyle, Leaping: Revelations and Epiphanies, Chicago, IL: Loyola Press, 2013, p43)

Monday, October 20, 2014

BookPastor >> "Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus" (Nabeel Qureshi)

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


TITLE: Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity
AUTHOR: Nabeel Qureshi
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014, (304 pages).

Christians are not the only people who evangelize. Muslims do too. In many cases, Muslims are better trained in casting doubts on the Christian faith in order to influence more to believe in Islam. Sometimes, I have found Muslims to be relatively more prepared in winning any debate between the merits of Christianity vs Islam. Reading this book reminds me once again that Muslims are quite formidable in their religious heritage, in their arguments against Christianity, and in their knowledge of the New Testament. Sharing about his own religious search, Dr Nabeel Qureshi gives readers a glimpse about the inner workings of the upbringing of a Muslim child, the way Muslims are trained in their honor and authority observance, and the differences between the Eastern and Western perspective of things Islam, religion, and culture. After describing his pious upbringing and a background of devoutly seeking Allah, he reveals how he had a change of heart after being stumped on several occasions by his best friend David, who had not only defended key tenets of the Christian faith, but also exposed the fallacies of the anti-Christian arguments used by many Muslims. As his eyes become opened to the weaknesses of the "swoon theory" and the problems underlying the substitution explanation. More importantly, as he becomes open to the reality of the gospel, he soon takes on a new perspective: Finding Jesus. Qureshi turns from obstinate opponent to passionate proponent for the gospel of Christ. He notices that the arguments he had adopted, the apologetics used against Christianity were all "polemical," that is, they all started with a conclusion. He then attempted to use Western methodology with Eastern passion, and slowly discovers that Christianity is more water-tight than he had previously argued against. One by one, his walls of resistance crumbled.  He learned to see both sides of the picture. It was the Resurrection debate between the Muslim Shabir Ally against Michael Licona and Gary Habermas that tilted the balance. While Ally won the rhetoric and stage presence, Qureshi acknowledged that from the argument standpoint, Mike and Gary were far more convincing. With incredible detail of his journey from Islam to Christianity, Qureshi finds his initial resistance melts away, his doubts grow into faith, and his U-turn from skeptical disbelief to fervent faith.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Midweek Meditation: "A Franciscan Blessing"

May God bless you with discomfort,
At easy answers, half-truths, And superficial relationships So that you may live Deep within your heart. May God bless you with anger At injustice, oppression, And exploitation of people, So that you may work for Justice, freedom and peace. May God bless you with tears, To shed for those who suffer pain, Rejection, hunger and war, So that you may reach out your hand To comfort them and To turn their pain to joy And may God bless you With enough foolishness To believe that you can Make a difference in the world, So that you can do What others claim cannot be done To bring justice and kindness To all our children and the poor. Amen.

Monday, October 13, 2014

BookPastor >> "A Christian Survival Guide"

Are we surviving or thriving in our faith? Perhaps, we need a few survival tips before moving toward thriving Christian life. This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint.


TITLE: A Christian Survival Guide: A Lifeline to Faith and Growth
AUTHOR: Ed Cyzewski
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2014, (208 pages).

Some books skirt the important issues of faith. Others dig so deep and lose the audience. Still, there are those that managed to point out the key matters and raise important questions but fail to adequately address them. How then do we grow in the midst of questions and doubts about the Christian faith? When the facts of life conflict with the faith we profess, which goes? Refusing to give into easy doubt or simplistic answers, author Ed Cyzewski takes the bull of questions by the horns and helps readers join the doubts toward reasonable faith. Called a "lifeline to faith and growth," the freelance writer uses this guide to help us navigate the paths to various Christian theologies and practical working out of such beliefs. His core belief is that "surviving as a Christian depends on having the right beliefs, putting them into practice in community with other Christians, and most importantly, meeting with God regularly." After identifying the marks of two groups of Christians that falter (messy and happy), he goes on to list down what it takes to move from milk-to-meat Christians.

He tackles nine beliefs in Part One. Prayer is not a monologue but a dialogue. Even when we feel God is distant does not necessarily mean God is far away. He mentions the Bible and the various interpretive angles Christians groups have, such as the conservative/liberal, and how important it is to avoid letting our past experiences or knowledge twist the interpretation of the Bible. He helps us see the biblical context behind the "violent Bible stories." He highlights the problem of dealing with the "problem of pain and evil" saying that many of us fail to discern between hot and cold cognition when dealing with situations of pain and evil. That is, those suffering in pain (hot) do not want some kind of a theological or chilly (cold) explanation about the pain. On hell, we read about the tendency of our modern culture to "erase hell" and at the same time, bring back a nuanced understanding of the Bible's references to "sheol, gehenna, or hades" as well as four different "instances" in Jesus' use of hell. He addresses the objections to the reliability of the Bible. He shows us some cultural uniqueness of various biblical events. He affirms that part of growing up is to learn to let our doubts shine light on our growth journey. On Revelation, Cyzewski's view is that the last book of the Bible essentially points to events already happening at that time rather than a futuristic view of what is ahead. The way Christians can apply that is to learn how to live well each day rather than to worry about the apocalypse.

Part Two of the book comprises five chapters that deal specifically with our Christian life matters. The first is about addiction, how the seven deadly sins can unravel our spirituality. The author suggests that restraint from such addictions and a commitment to break free from sinful acts is key to survival. Second, we learn about money as an idol, and how we use money. Third, in looking at community, we read about what to do when caught in a "bad church" environment. He reminds us that when we point a finger at the "church," we must not forget that you and I are very much the church. Fourth, evangelism is much talked about but less acted upon. Why not try to "embrace, ask, and act" in sharing the gospel? Finally, he looks at spiritual gifts, the charismatic movement, and what it means to trust in the Holy Spirit.

So What?

Are we content to simply survive? Or are we looking forward to thrive? The title of the book bugs me initially as it seems to be simply helping us to stay afloat rather than to journey to a particular destination. Only after reading the introduction do I realize that the objective is to move from surviving to thriving. He begins with the basic assumption that our Christian living must not be content about mere survival although survival is crucial to staying alive in the first place. Instead, we need to survive first in order to go somewhere later. Written for a lay audience, for the general church member, Cyzewski is perceptive about the nagging concerns and typical struggles behind some basic beliefs and Christian practices. Underlying each question and answer is the sensitivity to the quest for authenticity and truth. Written in a very accessible manner, he hooks readers in with an initial explanation of the problem, before giving some brief examples of what we can do about it. As a guide, it asks questions that we feel but seldom ask. It gives us some perspectives to consider. Most of all, it affirms once again that our Christian faith is not some old-fashioned religion that is applicable only to ancient times, but is very much practical and relevant. While the book is not intended to give us all the answers, it does point us to various resources that we can refer to. The "For Further Reading" section is a useful guide for readers who want to know more about the different topics covered in the book.

If you do not know how to verbalize the inner questions that you have in your heart, perhaps reading this book can not only jiggle some inner concerns but also bring out more concretely the inner feelings that demand a biblical verdict.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Kregel Publications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Three Postures I Seek to Adopt

There is something that troubles me whenever I read posts on Christian forums or public debates that pit different groups against one another. Whether it is the AWARE debacle, the CHC trials, the prosperity gospel debates over Joseph Prince, or the most recent HCI social media storms on the FOTF session, I ponder over the many responses that appear tit-for-tat rather than listening and learning. Some debates turned into full blown attacks even on the personal scale, making it an ugly scene to encourage others to wade in constructive participation. What does it mean to speak the truth in love?

I like to suggest 3 postures to adopt. I write with myself as the primary audience, inviting you all to listen in. If it helps, that's great. If not, thanks for looking.

1) LISTEN. The New Testament reminds me to be quick to listen and slow to speak. In FB terminology, it means to be quick to understand and slow to respond. A pastor friend of mine once said that when he receives an email that hurts, he would take about 3 days to wait over it, to pray, and to ask how he should respond, if he needs to respond. I think that is helpful especially when tempers are high. Maybe we may not need 72 hours. Just ensure we set aside some time to cool off and to pray. The ancients taught us that Anger is a big inhibitor of prayer. The Quakers also have this saying: "The enemy is one whose story we have not heard." No wonder Quakers spend lots of time in silence, that they may listen. This attitude of listening is an act of grace. In our social media world, silence does not mean simply not speaking. It also means not typing our responses until we have understood any particular viewpoint in its entirety. Lord, teach me to listen well, (or simply ignore if appropriate), even to dissenting voices that are rude, or downright vicious.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Midweek Meditation: Seven Areas Christians Struggle With

According to a study by Christian Leadership consultant, Kent Hunter, the following are the seven areas believers struggle most with their Christian lives. They are listed in descending order. (least to most)
  1. Resisting temptation to morality
  2. Praying daily
  3. Being a good family member
  4. Loving everyone in a Christlike manner
  5. Reading the Bible daily (or having a strong devotional life)
  6. Seeking God's kingdom first, not worldly ways
  7. Being a witness for Christ (#1 struggle!)
Taken from CT 2012 (link)

Monday, October 06, 2014

BookPastor >> "A Heart for Freedom" (Chai Ling)

With the ongoing democracy protest movement going on in Hong Kong, perhaps we can learn a bit more about the Tiananmen square. Perhaps, that could help avert undesirable consequences. This review was first published on 16th September 2014 at Panorama of a Book Saint.


TITLE: A Heart for Freedom: The Remarkable Journey of a Young Dissident, Her Daring Escape, and Her Quest to Free China's Daughters
AUTHOR: Chai Ling
PUBLISHER: Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Publishers, 2011, (370 pages).

Mention Tiananmen Square and what comes to mind for most people? Yes. Despite the famous history and the memorable monuments there, Tiananmen Square will always be remembered infamously for the student protest movement in 1989. On June 4th of 1989, the world reeled in shock as they watched the mighty Chinese Red army tanks steamroll the entire student movement, crushing the bodies as well as hopes of many of protesters. In one day, the movement for greater democracy was dismantled. It is one thing for us to watch the pictures on TV and to listen to news reporters giving their observations. It is yet another to hear from someone who was at the heart of the movement, the heat of the crisis, and the head of the student organization leading the protests.  With high ideals and hopes for a better country, Ling and her associates are Chinese patriots who loved the people of China. They stood for Chinese ideals and share the vision of a greater and better China for all. This book gives us a bigger picture and a deeper understanding of the contexts leading to the uprising, the massacres, and the aftermaths of the whole movement. While it is a personal autobiography of Ling, it is also a lens in which outsiders can see the workings and complexities of a growing economic force.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Missing the Obvious

In the morning of January 12th, 2007, the Washington Post and a world famous violinist did an experiment on how many people would appreciate beauty in the ordinary. At 7:12am, Joshua Bell started playing his $3.5million violin free of charge, for nearly half an hour. Out of 1097 who passed him at the metro station, only 7 paused to listen. Although he collected $32.17 in donations for a 45 minutes performance, what is most valuable is the lesson that most people do not appreciate beauty in the ordinary. They fail to embrace the beauty we see day to day. (video) Years later, Bell would return to the same subway station but this time, the response was better.

When I read that most of the people who stopped were children, I remember how Jesus taught us to be like little children. Indeed, spirituality is about learning to see God in the most ordinary circumstances of life. Children do that act of wonder extremely well.

For the rest of us who call ourselves adults, we are guilty of missing the obvious. In doing so, we fail to embrace the beauty before us. What if Jesus is walking with us all along?


Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Midweek Meditation: On Missions

"The mark of a great Church is not in its seating capacity but in its sending capacity." (Mike Stachura)

Monday, September 29, 2014

BookPastor >> "Facing Leviathan" (Mark Sayers)

This review was first published on August 21st, 2014 at Panorama of a Book Saint. 


TITLE: Facing Leviathan: Leadership, Influence, and Creating in a Cultural Storm
AUTHOR: Mark Sayers
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014, (240 pages).

Mark Sayers is fast becoming one of my favourite authors. His "The Road Trip That Changed the World," has become my go-to book for cultural engagement and analysis. Now, this latest book will be my goto book for leadership in our rapidly volatile cultural climate. Using the biblical sea monster described in the Old Testament book of Job, Sayers crafts this leadership guide that shines light on the cultural changes of this age, but penetrates deep into the forces that make or break a leader. Readers will slowly but surely be forced at some point to deal with their own "Leviathans."

Using the French Revolution and Paris as a metaphor, Sayers shows us how a society of power and glamour in 19th Century Paris that looks good on the outside can spawn the rise of a cruel and wicked person like Adolf Hitler. He points out the two popular forms of leadership: Mechanical (Enlightenment values) and Organic (Romanticism values). The former is based on power, task-driven, traditional, conventional, etc, while the latter is based on creativity, radical, relational, spiritual, imaginative, etc. Sayers admits that for the most part of his life, he has tried to evolve from the mechanical to the organic form of leadership.Gradually, he gets swamped by "surprising fruitlessness," "cultural splits," as well as his own bipolar condition, making him even more determined to find out the root cause of it all. He begins by meeting the Leviathan and the dangers of the sea. He observes with much fascination how poets like Jules Verne live out the Mechanical style of leadership while Rimbaud represents the organic form. Both had one thing in common: Both abandoned their Christian faith. Both the cultures of Enlightenment and Romanticism grow out of a "society of the spectacle" where leaders become celebrities; activists become spectators; creators become consumers; focus gives way to distractions; etc. This calls for urgent encounters with the Word of God. The concern is that the worries and distractions of the world can tempt leaders to abandon God's calling and embrace the cultural deceptions of comfort, entertainment, distractions, sensuality, and rising disobedience. Leaders soon forget that obedience to God often means disobedience to self.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Midweek Meditation: On Evangelism

"Consider for a moment if it is not evangelism, but rather late-twentieth-century styles of evangelism that deserve our disdain and avoidance. What if evangelism is one of the things that our world needs most?

After all, most people want to talk about things that really matter -
          their sense of God,
          their experiences of meaning or transcendence,
          their attempts to cope with their own mortality,
          their struggles with guilt and goodness,
          their dreams and hopes and deepest longings.

They want to talk about these things because without them, all that is left in life is -
          re-runs and shopping,
          copulation and digestion,
          earning and savings,
          culminating in estate sales and probate."

(Brian McLaren, More Ready Than You Realize, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002, p13-14)


Monday, September 22, 2014

BookPastor >> "Finding Spiritual Whitespace" (Bonnie Gray)

What we need most is not more technology, more time, more work, or more stuff. What we need most is space to determine what all these mean and to discern when to do and when NOT to do them. This review was first published on August 1st, 2014 at Panorama of a Book Saint.


TITLE: Finding Spiritual Whitespace: Awakening Your Soul to Rest
AUTHOR: Bonnie Gray
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2014, (272 pages).

We are all busy. We all have our own things to do. Packed calenders, filled schedules, you name it, we are all stretched to maximize all of our time and to minimize wastage. We have become so proficient in filling up all of our spaces but often paying a heavy price: We do not know how to rest. As Sabbath beckons each week, sometimes, we wonder whether we are able to find a place and means to rest. We need help. we need a way to recuperate from the madness of busyness. In the words of Bonnie Gray, we need to find "spiritual whitespace" which is her way of saying "we need to find a place to rest."

Bonnie Gray has personally heard stories and experienced her own trauma about needing to find spaces to rest when the demands are high and the energy levels are low. With a constant drive to get things done, she allowed the demands of work to dominate, resulting in severe post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. Rather than a book that talks about rest from an expert, this book is about one person's journey of recovery from PTSD to restfulness. It comes out of a deep search for newer places of rest. It invites readers to come alongside and share the search process. It is a spiritual journey that breaks new ground for the author and hopefully for readers. More importantly, it reminds us that just because there is a blank space or empty schedule does not mean we need to straightaway fill it up. Some things are meant to be cherished as blank spaces so that it can spur creativity and beauty, not cluttering with work or accumulating stuff. Five "whitespaces" of rest are described.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Midweek Meditation: "On the Paradox and Power of Retreats"

Here is an excerpt from "The Retreat Leader's Manual" that contains powerful lessons on why we go on retreats.


"Guiding retreats requires trust and faith because retreats are counter-intuitive to so many messages of mainstream consumer culture that seem to have soaked into our very pores. It will likely take encouragement, confidence, and positive support from you to motivate participants to welcome the seeming paradoxes of faith. Some of the unexpected invitations retreats offer are include: receiving by letting go, moving closer by being still, hearing through silence, advancing by retreat, acting on God's behalf by resting, learning community from solitude and strangers, going away to become more present, finding abundance in producing less, embracing yourself by reaching out, listening to the language of nature, leading by being a servant of all, honoring diversity through simplicity, and loving your enemies.

Retreat experiences, these 'places apart to be together,' welcome persons into what long time camp and retreat leader, Ted Witt, calls 'a change of pace, place, and face.' In other words, participants enter an alternative cadence of living, while venturing to less familiar surroundings and leaving behind many roles that give them a sense of predictability and comfort. That is fantastic! Be sensitive and caring, however, while simultaneously simulating chances for positive transformations within the newness and nuances inherent in journeying away.

Retreat experiences ask folks to launch from their harbors into the unknown that characterize any adventure. All this produces powerful potential. As people move through their initial uncertainty, it opens a host of new horizons. Biblical stories are full of persons who encountered God or gained greatly expanded awareness through new situations and excursions. You are part of offering that opportunity!" (Nancy Ferguson and Kevin Witt, The Retreat Leader's Manual, Nashville, TN: Discipleship Resources, 2006, p16-17)

Monday, September 15, 2014

BookPastor >> "When Sorry Isn't Enough"

An apology is more than saying "sorry." It goes much farther than that. Popular author Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas show us at least 5 ways to do it. 

This review was first published on May 30th, 2014 at Panorama of a Book Saint. 


TITLE: When Sorry Isn't Enough: Making Things Right with Those You Love
AUTHOR: Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Northfield Publishing, 2013, (176 pages).

No one's perfect. Neither should we behave in such a way as if we expect people to be perfect. Yet, that happens all the time. Even the best of relationships will fall into bad and difficult times, especially when one's loved one is hurt. What if the offense is repeated? What if the expectation is more than a mere apology? Then what should we do?

Previously released under the title, "The Five Love Languages of Apology," Chapman understands the intricate connections needed for going beyond mere sorry. When authentic apology meets understanding among all, we have genuine forgiveness. The authors assert that because "people are incurably moral," not only do they seek to do right, they are inclined to try righting any wrongs. The key is to learn how to do that. The five types of apology are as follows:

  1. "I'm Sorry" - expressing regret
  2. "I was wrong" - accepting responsibility
  3. "How can I make it right?" - Making restitution
  4. "I want to change" - Genuine repentance
  5. "Can you find it in your heart?" - requesting forgiveness.

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