Friday, May 30, 2014

"Before the Morning" (Josh Wilson)

When we are down or distressed, we need a hand to guide us upward. We need hope to point us forward. We need to focus on the Risen One, who has promised us something far better than anything we can find on this earth: His Very Self.

This song is particularly encouraging as it does exactly that, to enable us to remember that darkness will never be forever. For the dark times we encounter, are but "before the morning." The dark night would never have the last say. It's the morning that will come forth. God's glory. Here the story behind the song here.

Before The Morning (Josh Wilson)

Do you wonder why you have to,
Feel the things that hurt you,
If there's a God who loves you,
Where is He now?

Maybe, there are things you can't see
And all those things are happening
To bring a better ending
Some day some how, you'll see, you'll see

Would you dare, would you dare, to believe,
That you still have a reason to sing,
'cause the pain that you've been feeling,
Can't compare to the joy that's coming

So hold on, you got to wait for the light
Press on, just fight the good fight
Because the pain you've been feeling, 
It's just the dark before the morning

My friend, you know how this all ends
And you know where you're going,
You just don't know how you get there
So just say a prayer.
And hold on, cause there's good for those who love God,
Life is not a snapshot, it might take a little time,
But you'll see the bigger picture

Would you dare, would you dare, to believe,
That you still got a reason to sing,
'cause the pain that you've been feeling,
Can't compare to the joy that's coming

So hold on, you got to wait for the light
Press on, you just fight the good fight
Because the pain you've been feeling, 
It's just the dark before the morning
Yeah, yeah,
Before the morning,
Yeah, yeah

Once you feel the weight of glory,
All your pain will fade to memory
Once you feel the weight of glory,
All your pain will fade to memory
Memory, memory, yeah

Would you dare, would you dare, to believe,
That you still got a reason to sing,
'cause the pain that you've been feeling,
Can't compare to the joy that's coming

Would you dare, would you dare, to believe,
That you still have a reason to sing,
'cause the pain that you've been feeling,
Can't compare to the joy that's coming

Com'n, you got to wait for the light
Press on, you just fight the good fight
Because the pain you've been feeling,
It's just the hurt before the healing

The pain you've been feeling,
Just the dark before the morning
Before the morning, yeah, yeah
Before the morning


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Midweek Meditation: Quote on Heaven

"I would not give one moment of heaven for all the joy and riches of the world, even if it lasted for thousands and thousands of years." (Martin Luther, 1483-1546)

Monday, May 26, 2014

BookPastor >> "iGods" (Craig Detweiler)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on February 12th, 2014.


TITLE: iGods: How Technology Shapes Our Spiritual and Social Lives
AUTHOR: Craig Detweiler
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2013, (256 pages).

"Technology is most effective when we fail to notice it, but our faith in technology is so pervasive it is often blind." This dramatic phrase kicks off a very perceptive study about how technology is shaping our spiritual and social lives. Dr Craig Detweiler is a well-known researcher and writer on media and the technological scene. Recognizing how pervasive and how so many people are consuming the technological offerings uncritically, he presents a warning for us to pause, to take a step back, and to ask how technology has been shaping us. Perhaps, we will recognize how much we have already been shaped. Detweiler says it well that we must be careful not to let our use of technology move from delight to devotion. Left on its own, we can very well be participants making "iGods" into our own image. Worse, without understanding the real threats of the misuse and abuse of technology, we can let something good turn into something very bad.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Aldersgate 2014

John Wesley is famously known as the founder of Methodism. A powerful preacher and a passionate discipler, he is a significant figure in social enterprise in the 18th Century. The Aldersgate experience is best summed up by his journal entry on May 24th, 1738.

"Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, I had continual sorrow and heaviness in my heart.

Wednesday, May 24.—I think it was about five this morning that I opened my Testament on those words, “There are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, even that ye should be partakers of the divine nature” [II Peter 1:4]. Just as I went out, I opened it again on those words, “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God” [Mark 12:34]. In the afternoon I was asked to go to St. Paul’s. The anthem was, “Out of the deep have I called unto Thee, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice. Oh, let Thine ears consider well the voice of my complaint. If Thou, Lord, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss, O Lord, who may abide it? For there is mercy with Thee; therefore shalt Thou be feared. O Israel, trust in the Lord: for with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is plenteous redemption. And He shall redeem Israel from all his sins.”
“I Felt My Heart Strangely Warmed” In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death. 
I began to pray with all my might for those who had in a more especial manner despitefully used me and persecuted me. I then testified openly to all there what I now first felt in my heart. But it was not long before the enemy suggested, “This cannot be faith; for where is thy joy?” Then was I taught that peace and victory over sin are essential to faith in the Captain of our salvation; but that, as to the transports of joy that usually attend the beginning of it, especially in those who have mourned deeply, God sometimes giveth, sometimes withholdeth, them according to the counsels of His own will. 
After my return home, I was much buffeted with temptations, but I cried out, and they fled away. They returned again and again. I as often lifted up my eyes, and He “sent me help from his holy place.” And herein I found the difference between this and my former state chiefly consisted. I was striving, yea, fighting with all my might under the law, as well as under grace. But then I was sometimes, if not often, conquered; now, I was always conqueror." (Journal of John Wesley, link)

May we all have our personal Aldersgate experience soon.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Midweek Meditation: "Ten Fashionable Things to Avoid"

Jesus said:

"13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. 14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:13-16)

Here is a list of ten "fashionable things" that we must recognize and be reminded about our calling. Comments in [ ] are mine.

(Adapted from "Tullian Tchividjian's Unfashionable, Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah, 2009, p1-2).

  1. You can look around at church and notice that everybody is basically the same age as you are, and they look and dress pretty much like you do. [Too Homogeneous]
  2. You think it's very uncool to sing a worship song that was 'in' five years ago - much less sing a hymn from another century. [Too restless for things new]
  3. It's being a long time since you disagreed with anything said by Oprah. [Too used to worldliness and new age]
  4. You've attended a 'leadership' conference where you learned more about organization and props (structural renovation) than proclamation and prayer (spiritual reformation). [Too focused on externals rather than internals]
  5. Your goal in spending time with non-Christians is to demonstrate that you're really no different than they are, and to prove this you curse like a sailor, drink like a fish, and smoke like a chimney. [Too ashamed of the gospel]
  6. You've concluded that everything new is better than anything old or that everything old is better than anything new. [Too time driven and less truth led]
  7. You think that the way Jesus lived is more important than what he said - that his deeds are more important than his doctrine. [Too lopsided in appreciating works over words]
  8. You believe that the best way to change our culture is to elect a certain kind of politician. [Too much politicking]
  9. The church you've chosen is defined more by its reaction to 'boring traditional' churches than by its response to a needy world. [Too reactive to perceive reactions instead of responsive to real needs]
  10. The one verse you most wish wasn't in the Bible is John 14:6, where Jesus says, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.' That's way too close minded! [Too afraid to accept Jesus for what He says]


Monday, May 19, 2014

BookPastor >> "The Christian Atheist" (Craig Groeschel)

TITLE: The Christian Atheist: Believing in God but Living As If He Doesn't Exist
AUTHOR: Craig Groeschel
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010, (256 pages).

Think about the following statements made by non Christians.
  • "I'm surprised you say you are a Christian?" 
  • "Huh? I never knew you were a Christian." 
  • "You are not as Christian as you ought to be."
  • "You a Christian? Don't kid me."
  • .....
These questions and their variants can often be hurled at people who call themselves Christians, but through their lifestyles, they deny the very faith they claim to profess. Is that not an oxymoron? That is why the title of this book essentially describes the contrasts of two seemingly opposite poles. How can one be a Christian and yet lives like an atheist? Craig Groeschel, senior pastor of, the same organization that has given us the highly popular YouVersion Bible app for smartphones, states emphatically that such "Christian Atheists" are everywhere. In a hard hitting book against hypocrisy in churches, Groeschel hopes to challenge all believers to start living out the faith exactly according to what they profess. Admitting his own journey from the Christian Atheist position, he points out ten key observations of what a Christian Atheist is.

First, such a person is one who believes in God but does not really know God. One can do a lot of work in Church, read a lot of Bible, mix with a lot of believers, say a lot of Christianese language, and still does not know God intimately. A person who knows God intimately will be increasingly aware of God's presence under all circumstances, acknowledges God's provision regularly, ride on God's power constantly, seeking out God's peace faithfully. Lest Christians become only a hollow label.

Second, the Christian Atheist tends to be ashamed of the past. They never grow beyond their confession of sin and shame. Instead, they wallow constantly in their weaknesses, unable to embrace a future of God's grace.

Third, the Christian Atheist is unsure of God's love. They prefer to hide under the shadow of "unloved" instead of basking in the sunshine of "beloved."

Fourth, the Christian Atheist don't really believe in praying. Believing in God must be synonymous with prayerful people. We pray because we have a living relationship with God. Not only that, Christians will choose to pray often and as regularly as possible. The Christian Atheist don't believe in the power of prayer and thus prayer is missing from their spiritual closet.

Fifth, the Christian Atheist don't trust God, thinking that God is unfair. They see the pain but fail to recognize God present with us in the pain. What they do not understand, they easily blame God.

Sixth, unforgiveness is a mark of the Christian Atheist. With this comes bitterness, hatred, rage, and revenge. Without believing a God of grace and forgiveness, one does not have the empowerment to do the same.

Seventh, the Christian Atheist do not think he can change. There is no hope. There is no possibility and thus no desire to change. Excuses and lies cloud the mind. They see their own problems being way too big for anyone (including God) to handle.

Eighth, the Christian Atheist is a classic worrier. Derived from the German word (wurgen) which is understood as "to strangle, constrict, choke," such people are so full of worries that they have no room to let God into their lives. As they worry, they try to take control and unwilling to let God help them. They distrust and despise God. They are unwilling and unwise.

Ninth, they are happiness fanatics.Their pursuit of happiness is their life's goal. They live such narcissistic lifestyles that if there is a God, such a God must help them be happy. They are unable to understand the true meaning of biblical happiness which is only in the Lord.

Tenth, money is their god. In their pursuit of wealth, they are unable to know the limits of making money. They are unable to understand the rationale of giving until it hurts. The idea of sacrificial giving is foreign to them.

Eleventh, the Christian Atheist does not share his faith. Evangelism and outreach are for others, not them. They are never ready to share the gospel, always ready to flee or find excuses to escape opportunities for witnessing Christ.

Twelfth, they say they believe in God but they shun the Church. Sometimes they even despise the Church. They forget that Church is not a group of successful and perfect people. Instead, they are discouraged to see imperfect people.

So What?
This book puts into words what many people are living in practice. It is a timely reminder that we need to let our faith do the talking and the walking. People say that Church has hypocrites. While it is true to some extent, it is high time to begin reducing the statistic. For the sake of the gospel of Christ and the Kingdom of God. Sometimes, books like this appear to be bashing the Church and Christians again. Do we need any tongue lashing? Aren't we already hard-pressed on every side by the worldly concerns and criticisms from an increasingly secular and sceptical world? How can such a book "Christian Atheist" be any helpful?

Perhaps, we can learn to approach it from the angle of humility. The first rule in the recovering person is to acknowledge one is powerless to help himself. One needs external assistance. More importantly, one needs God. See this book as an opportunity to do at least 3 things.

  1. Be reminded of our calling and identity as followers of Jesus. If we dare to call ourselves believers, dare ourselves to believe and to keep on believing. God is present whether we feel it or not. God is with us whether we know it or not. God is carrying us whether we are aware of it or not. 
  2. Be rebuked if we have not lived out our responsibilities. Love needs to be tough. When we are disobedient, we deserve to be reprimanded. Rather than taking a defensive stance, adopt a humble heart to learn, to improve, and to repent. 
  3. Be ready to start afresh. No point crying over spilled milk. What was done in the past cannot be undone. Do not wallow in past deeds but prepare to work on the future, beginning with the present.
One encouragement. The moment we repent and return to God, we are essentially killing two birds with one stone. A turn away from spiritual despondency toward spiritual dependency; from iniquity to intimacy; from fear to faith; and from rust to trust.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Midweek Meditation: On Church Membership

Here is a video clip to cause us to reflect about what it means to be a church member. Rather than to see it as something we have to do, look at it as a reflection on how we can see ourselves being a part of something bigger than ourselves. It is based on a book by Thom Rainer, entitled, "I am a Church Member."


Monday, May 12, 2014

BookPastor >> "I Am a Church Member" (Thom S Rainer)

This review was first published on July 10th, 2013 at Panorama of a Book Saint. 


TITLE: I Am a Church Member: Discovering the Attitude that Makes the Difference
AUTHOR: Thom S. Rainer
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B and H Publishing, 2013, (96 pages).

I know of a lot of people who would like to read more, but cannot seem to find the time to read. Moreover, many of the books out there in the market are either too tedious to finish, or too brief to make any significant mark. Thom Rainer, President of Lifeway Christian Resources, an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention, has a gift of cutting through the masses of information to bring out the profound truth in simple ways. While there are many books on Christian living and for Christian leadership, not many cover the area of what it means to be a Church member. Simply put, it is the attitude that makes the difference when we think about Church membership. Membership is a privilege. Beginning with the story of two Church members, Michael and Liam being great buddies who meet on a weekly basis. One day, Liam drops a bombshell about him and his wife leaving the Church. The reasons for leaving will sound very familiar to many of us.

“Lana and I went to the church to learn deep truths about the Bible, but Pastor Robert is just not feeding us. We’re not getting anything out of his messages. Sitting in the service on Sunday morning is just a waste of our time.”

It is a familiar chorus of people seeing Church as a means to their spiritual ends. Sometimes, Church leaders blame the declining Church membership on the secular culture, or negative perceptions of Church members. The truth is, the leadership can only do so much. What is equally important is for Church members to see membership as a privilege rather than a right; to see the Church as a place to give, more than a reserviour of resources they constantly take. See the Church as a spiritual depository with all members doing their part to enrich it for the kingdom of God. Be the Church member that we are ought to be, and then see how God works. In six brief chapters, Rainer drives home how we can be a responsible and respectful Church member.

First, one begins with a change of perspective, that members are not there to be served but to serve, to give more than receive. It means recognizing that each of us has a role to play, according to our gifts and talents. It means understanding that while we are all different, we can still work together, for we all have the same goal. Whatever we say or do is based on the foundation of God's love.  The biblical model of church membership is to "give abundantly and serve without hesitation." In fact, biblical church membership gives without qualifications and serves without hesitation. Pledge to give and to serve, willingly.

Second, unity is the core aim of Church membership. What makes a Church special is not because of some special people with super abilities or skills. What makes even the most average Church with most average people special is simply because they have learned to work together. Suppress all gossip or negative talk. Practice forgiveness regularly. Pledge to be a unifying force in the Church community.

Third, Church is not about me or my needs, or my personal preferences or desires. It is about servanthood. Truth is, when we join a Church, the biblical mandate is that we give up our preferences when we join. Like Jesus' teachings in Mark 9:35, that we who want to be first, must learn to be last among all, and to be a servant to all. With the words "servant" and "serve" appearing 57 and 58 times in the New Testament, we will soon learn that being a Church member is more about serving one another. In a survey, Rainer highlights ten key traits of largely self-serving church members, from worship wars to program driven; from petty budgets to crazy demands for pastoral care; and so on. Thus, the third pledge is about committing to set aside our petty preferences and to wear the apron of servanthood.

Four, being a Church member means we pray for our Church leaders regularly. It is no secret that the pastoral work is hard. That is primarily because it deals with relationships and people. Pray for his preaching and his handling of relationships. Pray for his family. Pray that the Lord protects him from temptation. Pray for his physical and mental health. Even if it is a few minutes a day, being a responsible Church member means to pray for leaders, not just the person with the title of "pastor."

Five, being a Church member means leading one's family members to be part of the Church life. Going to Church is not about taking and receiving, but more about serving and giving. Expanding the first pledge of serving and giving, Rainer applies it to the immediate family circle. We learn to be good spiritual fathers to our family, that we can be good servants in the Church community. Using the example of Bob, Rainer highlights a model of a responsible Church member who leads his own family to be responsible Church members. In doing so, there is a growing overlap between Church as family as well as one's organic family.

Six, remember that membership is a gift, not a right. This mentality is critical because it defines how we live as Church members. If we see Church as some kind of a club membership, we will begin to demand that our rights are exercised and our perceived needs be met. Biblically speaking, Church is not a club for us to insist upon our ways. Church is a body of Christ where every member needs to play their part, simply because they are a part of the body. Not wanting to be involved is a bad way to start. It stems from an erroneous understanding of what Church membership is all about.  It is because membership is a gift, we need to approach membership with gratitude and appreciation, rather than personal entitlements or expectations.

So What?

Every Church member needs to read this book. Being a responsible Church member has at least these six implications, and it all stems from the understanding that to be a Christian means to follow Christ. To be Christlike means to follow what Christ has done, ie, to serve instead of being served. In giving and serving, we start to understand like Rick Warren had said, "It is not about you." It is about God and our neighbours. In serving, we prefer the apron instead of demanding a napkin. We need to be united as one body. We need to share our gifts of family, from our family to the Church family. We need to be constantly praying for our leaders. We need to remember all the time that membership is a gift, a privilege given to us. In all of these, I think the most important is about recognizing we are all servants learning to serve one another.

The word "servant" is the underlying theme throughout the book. It undergirds all the six ways that Rainer has mentioned. That is indeed following Christ. Perhaps, we can all do a personal survey on our own churches. The more we see people adopting a heart of service, the less we see of people constantly complaining about their needs not met.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5


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

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Midweek Meditation: "Happiness is Contagious"

This is a reminder that parenting requires faith. It needs us to trust that our children will need to find their own way to grow. As Christians, we submit to God to help lead and guide our children. The best way is to be changed people ourselves. A wise sage once said, "Aim not to be a sage at the stage but a guide by the side."


Happiness is Contagious
"If you always compare your children's abilities to those of great athletes, entertainers, and celebrities, 
they will lose their own power. 
If you urge them to acquire and achieve, 
they will learn to cheat and steal to meet your expectations. 
Encourage you children's deepest joys, 
not their superficial desires. 
Praise their patience, 
not their ambition. 
Do not value the distractions and diversions 
that masquerade as success. 
They will learn to hear their own voice 
instead of the noise of the crowd. 

If you teach them to achieve 
they will never be content. 
If you teach them contentment, 
they will naturally achieve everything. 

We all want our children to be happy. 
Somehow, some way today 
show them something that makes you happy, 
something you truly enjoy. 
Your own happiness is contagious. 
They learn the art from you."

(William Martin, The Parent's Tao Te Ching, NY: Avalon, 1999, p5-6)

Monday, May 05, 2014

BookPastor >> "Mission Drift" (Peter Greer and Chris Horst)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on February 24th, 2014. 


TITLE: Mission Drift: The Unspoken Crisis Facing Leaders, Charities, and Churches
AUTHOR: Peter Greer & Chris Horst
PUBLISHER: Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2014, (224 pages).

Do you know that the original founding of great Ivy league institutions such as Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Dartmouth, Princeton, Cornell, Brown, Pennsylvania all had Puritan beginnings? Do you know that child sponsorship charity, ChildFund International had Christian roots? Yet, why do these organizations look so different over time? Why are so many of them unable to fulfill the original missions that they were founded upon? The reason: Every organization drifts over time.The scary thing is not about whether any well-intentioned organization will experience a drift in its mission. It is a matter of when.

From Churches to non-profits, the moment they stop emphasizing their mission, they are called to "drift." That is why authors Dr Peter Greer and Chris Horst, leaders of the non-profit, HOPE International, state upfront: "Without careful attention, faith-based organizations will invariably drift from their founding mission." The example of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton is a case in point. Founded in 1636, Harvard's original mission was to ground students on the foundation of the gospel for the work of Christ. As early as 1701, Christian clergymen sensed that Harvard had become overly secularized. Those concerned about such a drift founded Yale in 1718. Unfortunately, the same thing happened to Yale which led to the founding of Princeton in 1746. All the Ivy Leagues had Christian roots. Yet, the Ivy Leagues of today looked more secular than ever before. What happened? They drifted from their original mission. Why?

Comparing two organizations, the authors note how Compassion International stayed true to their mission roots while ChildFund International started to dumb down their own Christian emphasis. The former remains Mission True while the other becomes mission untrue. By interviewing dozens of prominent leaders and hundreds of hours listening to the many stories, Greer and Horst try to find out what it takes to stay Mission True and at the same time sound a warning to organizations that will eventually experience Mission Drift. Two key drifts are highlighted: Personal and Institutional. The former is the one that happens during our watch. The other is the drift that happens outside of our watch. Both require humility to recognize one's vulnerability and to make plans to address them. Two chapters are dedicated to describing what Mission Drift is and how pervasive it is to all organizations. Thirteen chapters, in fact the most part of the book, is dedicated to describing how to be Mission True organizations. Here are some of the characteristics of Mission True organizations:
  1. They are convicted that the Gospel is their single biggest asset
  2. They will do everything to protect and to propel their mission
  3. They will anticipate the dangers of drifting by building adequate safeguards
  4. They are very clear about their purpose
  5. They have top leaders who understand where their top priorities are
  6. They have leaders who set the tone for the whole organization
  7. They hire people based more on heart and character rather than knowledge and technical skills
  8. They partner with donors who believe in their core mission and values
  9. They regularly track metrics to know how their performance reflect their mission
  10. They understand that the Gospel demands excellence in their mission
  11. They are passionate about rituals and practices
  12. They regularly proclaim their core tenets so that they can remain Mission True and avoid drifting
  13. They recognize the importance of Church as the anchor of any thriving mission
Every chapter is filled with stories of real organizations. Each chapter maintains a set of tips and guidelines on how best to protect, to proclaim, and to propel organizations to be Mission True, and to be faithful to their original calling and purpose. This is a compelling book indeed, reminding us that there is no such thing as normal. Leaders and organizations must recognize that even when the waters are calm, that does not mean there is no danger underneath. A little wave, a tiny detour, or a small drift, can render any organization astray. Subsequently, they come up different and lead to a loss of identity. I appreciate the authors' three key points about Character, Competence, and Chemistry. The fact that Harvard's overwhelming emphasis on credentials over character that led to its mission drift is a stark contrast to Chick-Fil-A's strong cultural emphasis on these three Cs. 

Organizational leaders and board members ought to read this book. Those in key management positions too. Pastors and elders of churches will also benefit. Thanks to Greer and Horst, I am more sensitive to dangers that happen on the inside rather than the outside.  If an apple is damaged on the outside, we can easily see it and stop any decay as soon as possible. If the rot happens from the inside, because it is not easily seen, it will cause greater damage. Mission Drift is essentially about preventing any such rot from the inside. Put this book next to your library about leadership, visioning and mission statements.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Bethany House Publishers and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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