Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Midweek Meditation: "The Hound of Heaven"

One of the most loved verses come from the Psalm 23, in particular, the last verse which says:

"Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever." (Ps 23:6, NLT)

Author Francis Thompson (1859-1907) captured this very eloquently in her world famous poem called, "The Hound of Heaven." Here is the reflection on how God pursues us.

I FLED Him, down the nights and down the days; 
  I fled Him, down the arches of the years; 
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways 
    Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears 
I hid from Him, and under running laughter. 
      Up vistaed hopes I sped; 
      And shot, precipitated, 
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears, 
  From those strong Feet that followed, followed after. 
      But with unhurrying chase, 
      And unperturbèd pace, 
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy, 
      They beat—and a Voice beat 
      More instant than the Feet— 
‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.’


Monday, August 25, 2014

BookPastor >> "Planted" (Leah Kostamo)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on April 14th, 2014. It is one of the best books I have read this year. 


TITLE: Planted: A Story of Creation, Calling, and Community
AUTHOR: Leah Kostamo
PUBLISHER: Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2013, (172 pages).

This is a beautiful book. Few books have managed to capture the essence of nature, the joys of community, and the affirmation of a simple calling like this one. Leah Kostamo, a wife, a former campus ministry worker, as well as a co-founder of the A Rocha ministry based in BC Canada, has shown us how good stories can be told with simplicity, with insight, and with humour. Combining her love for creation and conservation, her natural talent for observing details in ordinary things, her passion for community building, coupled with her eloquent use of words, this book is destined for greatness in the literary world. As a memoir, readers will be humbled at how the author and her husband Markku would give up lucrative careers, sell their house, and to pour all their assets into a non-profit ministry without guarantee that it would even survive its initial years. Yet, it did and it did so marvelously, blessing, teaching, and enabling thousands of visitors and volunteers at their farm facility. The ministry in Canada began as a seed back in 1996 at a Regent College course entitled, "Incarnational Mission" led by Peter and Miranda Harris, who had founded A Rocha in Portugal. Eight years later, the idea took root, and sprouted trunks and branches through personal investments as well as generous givers and loaners by those who expressed faith enough to walk with the Kostamos.

The book is also a mini-ecological guide. We learn about the threats of worldwide extinction of 13% of birds, 25% of mammals, and 41% of amphibians. We see how a tiny shrimp plays its microscopic role in a complex and delicate ecological environment, that benefits beavers, bears, and big trees. We read about invasive species, weeds, the birds, and even slugs. Along the way, Kostamo makes sure we do not get carried away in the natural world and forget about the technological world. With a deft touch of humour, she compares and contrasts pods of orcas with iPods! It can also be used as a primer in becoming more nature aware. We are encouraged to think about the tap water we have, to think about its source, its distribution channels, and all the resources poured into the whole system. We are challenged to think about the gardens, how the seasons impact life, the variety of birds and nature around us, and even rocks and minerals that seem so mundane for the busy individual.

It is also a guide for a deeper awareness of what eating entails. For those of us whose limited vocabulary of eating centered around restaurants, the food on our tables, or the kitchen, we get invited into a world of farming, of growing our own food, and the beauty of real food over processed stuff. Food is not just something to be consumed, but it can incorporate a work of art in itself. Beyond the feasting, we will appreciate the preparation beyond mere cook books, and to be respectful in the way we partake of God's providence for us. Slowly but surely, the book becomes a rallying point in the practice of Micah 6:8, that we learn to live justly, love mercy, and to walk humbly. Very aptly, the book closes with a relook at the biblical Sabbath, reminding us that working hard and doing good have their limits. Man can only do so much. Everything else totally depends on God alone. The keeping of the Sabbath is a powerful reminder that we by ourselves are limited. That is why Sabbath keeping enables us to be natural ourselves one day a week, as we busy ourselves with nature on the other six days.

This book is a rare find. More accurately, the book found me. When contacted to do this review, I promptly agreed because of curiosity in part, and to support a fellow Regent alum as well. Little did I know that I would be receiving a literary gem, a unique seed that germinates in me a greater appreciation of nature and creation. Most of all, I am humbled by how the Kostamos' passion-turned-reality have blessed people of all ages from all walks of life. There is a lot of material in this humble looking book. Open it up at any one page and you can easily find a point or two to learn from and to contemplate after.

I am full of praise of the quality of this book. I particularly appreciate the three points to show us the way forward, namely; 1) Practice Gratitude; 2) Practice Generosity; and 3) Practice the Sabbath Keeping. On all three counts, I say a hearty Amen! A clear best of the best so far in my 2014 stack of books.

Thank you, Leah Kostamo for letting me know that this book even existed.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


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

Friday, August 22, 2014

Movie Review: "When the Game Stands Tall"

FILM: When the Game Stands Tall, Special Movie Edition: The Story of the De La Salle Spartans and Football's Longest Winning Streak
PRODUCER: Mandalay and Affirm Films, Sony Pictures, 2014.

"It's not about you. It's about the person next to you." This is the underlying theme for this very touching film about honour, teamwork, camaraderie, dreams, perseverance, fearlessness, faith, and several other virtues.

When The Game Stands Tall is based on a true story of football coach, Bob Ladouceur, who accomplished what no one else had ever done before: Taking De La Salle High School Spartans to a record-breaking 151-game winning streak. With several actors openly Christian, the movie includes themes dealing with the importance of mentorship, team work, overcoming life challenges, family, dealing with fear, selflessness and determination.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Midweek Meditation: "How Children Learn"

One of the ways of the Christian life is to live as children of God. How does one live as a child of God? Maybe we do. Maybe we don't know how. Perhaps, even when we fail to experience the earthly love that we deserve, we can play a part to ensure that other children can benefit in some small ways. Here is a reminder from Dorothy Law Nolte (1924-2005), an American author and counselor whose famous poem below has touched many.

HOW CHILDREN LEARN (Dorothy Law Nolte)
If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.

If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.

If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.

If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.

If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.

If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.

If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.

If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.

If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.

If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.

If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.

If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.

If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.

If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.

If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.

If children live with fairness, they learn justice.

If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.

If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.

If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

Monday, August 18, 2014

BookPastor >> "Autopsy of a Deceased Church" (Thom S. Rainer)

The title of the book may sound a little gruesome, but the message is essentially one of saving the church before it is too late. Learn so that one does not fall into the potholes others have fallen into. This review was first published on May 21st, 2014 at Panorama of a Book Saint. 


TITLE: Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive
AUTHOR: Thom S. Rainer
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B and H Publishing, 2014, (102 pages).

Spurred by the popularity of his blog post of the same title, the author and President of Lifeway Christian Resources in Nashville, Tennessee has put together a whole book on church autopsy.

Gruesome? Not really. For the churches Rainer are talking about are already dead in the first place. Like a Church version of CSI, examining the evidence of the deceased church will bring hope and life to existing ones, especially those that are exhibiting all the marks of a dying church. In doing so, Rainer has helpfully identified 11 marks of a dying church and 12 ways to go about reversing the seemingly inevitable with 12 ways that say: "Not so fast."

The stories in the book are real, although masked in order to protect the real persons. The author based his research on 14 deceased churches. Deceased churches can possess one or more of the following 11 factors:
  1. Lost her vision
  2. Gradual erosion that members fail to see
  3. Over-clinging to the past
  4. Me-First mentality
  5. Inward-Looking Budgets
  6. Great Omission
  7. Personal Preferences Driven
  8. Frequent Pastoral Turnovers
  9. Poor Prayer Attendance
  10. No Clear Purpose
  11. Obsession with Facilities

Thursday, August 14, 2014

"What Can I Do With My Worry?" (Free RBC Booklet)

Worry is one of the most common emotions among people, especially high achievers. In fact, one of my most popular blog posts have to do with the subject of worry. It is entitled: "Is Worry a Sin?" Recently, I received a nice little booklet on Worry. It was written by an ex-RBC contributor David Egner, now retired. While recognizing that worry is a legitimate human concern, remaining in a perpetual state of worry can become a debilitating one. It impacts not only oneself but also others around us. In fact, worriers who call themselves "Christians" are not really demonstrating that they trust God. I like the way Egner concludes the article.

"When it comes to worry, at least two things help to distinguish us as followers of Jesus: what we are concerned about, and what to do with our fears. When the concerns of our heart show our love for others or bring us to our knees in a recognition of what only God can do, they help us (Ps 119:67; 2 Cor 11:28). But when our worries preoccupy us with ourselves or weaken our trust in the Lord, we are letting them work against us." (31-32)

He ends by saying: "Worry can either bring us to the Father in heaven, or it can drive us away from Him." Good reminder indeed.

It is a booklet filled with much wisdom and tenderness. Download or read it online today.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Midweek Meditation: "Jehovah is Love"

This is a beautiful rendition of Ps 23. The world says that everybody need a break from time to time. Christians do too, but not simply a break. They need the comfort and peace of the Shepherd.

Mandarin version (link)

Cantonese version (link)

Monday, August 11, 2014

BookPastor >> "Can We Still Believe the Bible?" (Craig Blomberg)

The Bible continues to be under attack both inside and outside the Church. One of the chief ways is to first cast suspicion, then provide "supporting" evidence, and finally dissemination of such misinformation so as to discredit the Bible further. This book addresses various of these attacks and to bring back a vigorous defense of the reliability of the Word of God. 

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


TITLE: Can We Still Believe the Bible?: An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions
AUTHOR:  Craig L. Blomberg
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2014, (304 pages).

Over the years, there has been a steady onslaught on the reliability of the Bible. From the existence of evil and suffering, to the suspicions over the authenticity and interpretations of the ancient manuscripts, time, culture, and intellectuals have continued to challenge the whether it truly is what it claims to be. Many have challenged the Bible on its exclusivity claims; progressive cultural interpretations; biblical ethics; and difficult issues such as genocide, violence, and the issues of myths. Describing all of the issues would have been a massive project. Blomberg has chosen six key issues with regards to the reliability of the Bible.

  1. Aren’t the Copies of the Bible Hopelessly Corrupt?
  2. Wasn’t the Selection of Books for the Canon Just Political?
  3. Can We Trust Any of Our Translations of the Bible?
  4. Don’t These Issues Rule Out Biblical Inerrancy?
  5. Aren’t Several Narrative Genres of the Bible Unhistorical?
  6. Don’t All the Miracles Make the Bible Mythical?

These six issues are those Blomberg deems as opportunities to show readers that the Bible is actually more reliable than we think. Based on new findings, on top of the historical evidence, Blomberg attempts to address these questions in a non-confrontational way, unlike some "handful of very conservative Christian leaders" who themselves have not really understood the implications of the new developments.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

A Mother's First Birthday (Moving Tribute)

Sometimes, the most touching moments come when we remember the small little things that truly matter. Love manifested in remembrance, gratitude, and outpouring of care will move hearts.

This is a heartwarming video that pays tribute to young mothers on their journey to the most important job in the world. I double-dare you NOT to cry. If you do, I understand.


Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Midweek Meditation: "Discipleship" (Oswald Chambers)

This excerpt is taken from Oswald Chambers' popular series: "My Utmost for His Highest." You can read the full devotional here that contrasts between impulsiveness and discipleship.


"Discipleship is built entirely on the supernatural grace of God. Walking on water is easy to someone with impulsive boldness, but walking on dry land as a disciple of Jesus Christ is something altogether different. Peter walked on the water to go to Jesus, but he “followed Him at a distance” on dry land (Mark 14:54). We do not need the grace of God to withstand crises—human nature and pride are sufficient for us to face the stress and strain magnificently. But it does require the supernatural grace of God to live twenty-four hours of every day as a saint, going through drudgery, and living an ordinary, unnoticed, and ignored existence as a disciple of Jesus. It is ingrained in us that we have to do exceptional things for God—but we do not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life, and holy on the ordinary streets, among ordinary people—and this is not learned in five minutes." (Oswald Chambers, 1874-1917)


Monday, August 04, 2014

BookPastor >> "Generous Spaciousness" (Wendy VanderWal-Gritter)

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


TITLE: Generous Spaciousness: Responding to Gay Christians in the Church
AUTHOR: Wendy VanderWal-Gritter
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2014, (288 pages)

Gay rights and homosexuality matters have become hotly contested issues in many societies. It has split large segments of society into more than two camps. One side is pro-gay while the other side oppose gay agenda. Even religious circles are not spared, with many Christian groups being torn into two over this very issue of homosexuality; the definition and re-definition of marriage; the rights to educate children about heterosexuality and homosexuality; the legal system surrounding this and so on. If anyone is looking for a silver bullet solution, I suggest look elsewhere. While the two groups representing the extreme ends of the homosexuality issue have been very vocal and active, there is a sizeable part of the population that toes the middle ground. This groups asks whether there is a place for both views. They question the pros and cons of both groups represented. They attempt to be as conciliatory as possible and at the same time avoid being misrepresented by others. Unfortunately, voices that offer alternative views apart from the two groups are not able to articulate their position as well. Wendy VanderWal-Gritter calls many of them as offering "proffered answers," which are unsatisfactory and not sufficiently inclusive. Thus, rather than offering another book of that kind, the author introduces this book more as "permission to confront the tensions and air the questions you should ask" so that one can participate in expanding the space for constructive engagement, interaction, and understanding. That is why this book is called "Generous spaciousness."

VanderVal-Gritter begins with a confession so as to clear the decks for open discussion. She admits that she is neither gay, ex-gay, or having any same-sex attraction tendencies. She openly states her belief in the traditional position of marriage being between man and woman. She also shares her experiences of being cornered, even threatened by gay advocates simply because of her stand, so much so that she has become tired of "triumphalistic" behaviours and bigoted attitudes from both sides. She is Executive Director of New Direction Ministries of Canada, a ministry that reaches out to gays and lesbians through understanding and appreciating the tensions they feel. Due to her moderate stance, she was even invited to give a keynote address at Exodus leadership conference, and her take on what it means to minister to ex-gays. Speaking to the conservative circles, she lists three distractions that prevent building bridges of understanding.
  1. Causation: where activists try to find the root causes of homosexuality
  2. Orientation Change: where groups try to focus on sexuality changes
  3. Political Involvement: where groups politicize the whole issue.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Two Cups of Tea: One for Me and One for the Wall

This is an amazing story of passing a good deed forward. Based on a true story.


Latest Posts