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 Before introducing new ways, they point out the differences and the reasons why the outdated models and paradigms need to be changed.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)

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