Monday, June 30, 2014

BookPastor >> "Journey Toward Justice" (Nicholas Wolterstorff)

We have often fought for human rights and versions of justice from a Western angle. What about making a journey to the South to learn of a different perspective of justice? This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on May 28th, 2014.


TITLE: Journey toward Justice: Personal Encounters in the Global South (Turning South: Christian Scholars in an Age of World Christianity)
AUTHOR: Nicholas Wolterstorff
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013, (272 pages).

Called a "biographical journey" rather than an academic treatise on justice, renowned author Nicholas Wolterstorff shares about what it means to begin justice from the "perspective of the wronged" instead of a distant concept about rights. Recalling his first time in South Africa in 1975, a country in the throes of apartheid, the author was stunned about how injustice can happen so blatantly. In the Middle East, he faced the problems of the Palestinians, in particular 150 Palestinians crying out for justice. "Self-perceived benevolence" can become an "instrument of oppression." What turned the nail on its head is how Wolterstorff saw the way the oppressed responded not directly to the small injustices inflicted on them, but how they yearn for a larger form of justice. Wolterstorff coins the former as "reactive justice" while the latter as "primary justice." Reactive justice is permission given for those who have been wrongfully bullied or abused. In other words, the one wronged automatically has the "permission rights" to seek amends. This is most evident in the author's trip to Honduras where despite the laws set in place, the enforcement is sorely lacking. Primary justice on the other hand goes much farther. It is about stopping the primary injustice and undoing the effects of the injustice. The two-pronged approach of stopping primary injustice and promoting primary justice are two sides of the same coin. Wolterstorff sees a strong emphasis on primary justice for the Afrikaners and the Palestinians.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Midweek Meditation: "Inspiring Others" + "Opportunity"

Here is a gem from the late Stephen Covey.

"I have always taught that the first imperative of a leader is to inspire others. When you realize that 'inspire' means to breathe life into another's dreams, and that the opposite, 'expire' means to cease to breathe, those words come to life. By learning to use words that inspire, you enable others to achieve their dreams. Conversely, by using words that expire, you disable others' hopes and aspirations.

Another example is 'opportunity.' I believe that effective people are not problem-minded; they're opportunity-minded. The root of opportunity is port, meaning the entryway by water into a city or place of business. In earlier days, when the tide and winds were right and the port opened, it allowed entry to do commerce, to visit, or to invade and conquer. But only those who recognized the opening could take advantage of the open port, or opportunity." (Stephen Covey writing in Foreword of the book by Kevin Hall, Aspire, New York, NY: William Morrow, 2010, xii)


Monday, June 23, 2014

BookPastor >> "Letters to a Young Pastor" (Calvin Miller)

TITLE: Letters to a Young Pastor
AUTHOR: Calvin Miller
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2011, (256 pages).

This book comprises 35 letters that flow out of the life of an experienced pastor, who personally learned through the school of hard knocks. In discipling a young pastor, he covers five key areas any budding pastor ought to learn, especially at the onset of ministry. The first words in the book, "Walk with me" is an invitation for the young pastor to continue the journey of learning. Graduating from seminary or Bible school does not constitute the end of a theological education. It marks the beginning of how one puts theory to practice, to hone not just the skills needed for pastoral work but to grow as a person. As a wise guide, Miller, a Professor as well as a respected pastor teaches with humour without becoming too "preachy."

First and foremost is the question of identity. Beginning with a story of how one preacher prefers to clothe himself with copied sermons and duplicated mannerisms, one must be authentic. In other words, authenticity means that even after peeling away the layers of a person, the very core inside reflects the same outside. The failure of many pastors begin in the failure to love. In fact, that is what grieving the Holy Spirit is all about, according to Francis Schaeffer. One is called to a congregation regardless of its size. With the call, there is a need for passion. For example, one preaches not because one have to, but because one loves to. The love to preach is a call in itself. Whether one's Church or ministry is significant or not is not how the world sees it but how God sees it. Reputation is key as as it is linked to behaviour. Discouragement, depression, and despondency are the threats to effective pastoral ministry. Learning to be honest and open is crucial. He also addresses the issue of eros and agape warning about temptations of the sexual kind. The role of a pastor goes beyond the Church. It includes being a father-priest at home to one's children.

The second theme is about one's parish. In terms of size, is it the small Church or is it like what John Wesley famously said: "The world is my parish?" In administration, pastors need to learn to look at ministry as a team. Some things are best learned by serving, like changing diapers. One serves not hooked on the narcotic of success. One serves together as a community in spite of failure. Take time to differentiate between putting resources into building up a fragile image versus creating and building a vision for the future. The chapter on "never resign till Tuesday" is a fascinating chapter about limiting one to a six-day workweek. Use Mondays to process Sundays. If there be any drastic activity, do it on a Tuesday instead. It is also important to get rid of "safe and sameness" mentality. In relationships, Miller shares about a very difficult time when he was planning to resign. A wise counsel from a friend was a act of saving grace that enabled his parish to grow in the pastor-parish relationship.

The third theme is about discipleship and to learn to work in teams. He gives tips about how to avoid getting stuck in the rut; avoiding the success syndrome; and building trust, even with the most difficult people.

Section Four touches on the preparation, the delivery, and the homiletics of sermons. Telling stories, tailoring brevity, and cultivating listen-ability are the three hallmarks of a good delivery. He provides tips on avoiding potholes that can stumble a young pastor.

Finally, the key to spiritual health is to be conformed to Christ. The problem with conforming to the world or human preferences is the restrictions that come with it. He addresses four demons that hem us in. The demon of ignorance tempts one to look for answers in all the wrong places. The demon of heredity locks one into an archaic view of self. The demon of age lets our youth gets in the way of maturity. The demon of inferiority keeps us from taking a bold step of faith.

The 35 short letters are written with wit and wisdom. Readers will find a lot of frank comments as if Miller is speaking directly to us. The humour within and the personal stories make this book up close and personal. Though some of the ideas are unconventional, it reminds me of 1 Timothy 1:5.

"The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." (1 Timothy 1:5)

That is the spirit of the letter, from a wise pastor to a young pastor. In fact, one does not need to be a pastor to benefit from the book. One can simply be an apprentice to learn about ministry and the unique challenges that come with it. Maybe, it can help readers learn how to pray for their pastors.

Great book!


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Midweek Meditation: "When I Was Young ... "

On his deathbed, an old Rabbi once said:

"When I was young, I set out to change the world. When I grew older, I perceived that this was too ambitious, so I set out to change my state. This too, I realized, as I grew older, was too ambitious, so I set out to change my town. When I realized I could not even do this, I tried to change my family. Now as an old man, I know that I should have started by changing myself. If I had started with myself, maybe then I would have succeeded in changing my family, the town, or even the state – and who knows, maybe even the world.

Wisdom indeed. It also reminds me of something else that needs to grow. Love in 1 Corinthians 13:11 which says: "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me."


Monday, June 16, 2014

BookPastor >> "Adventures in Churchland" (Dan Kimball)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on September 8th, 2012.

Let me share a quote from the book that is particularly helpful in looking at Church.

"It doesn’t matter what size our church is—tiny, small, medium, large, mega, multimega — they all are messy. For those who say that we need to get back to the pure, New Testament house church model, we find that there were some big messes there as well. Just read the New Testament letter of First Corinthians and you’ll find prejudice, sexual immorality among family members, drunkenness, pride, and false teaching. It can seem romantic to go back to another time and envision the church then as the perfect church, but the fact is the church has always been messy in all of its forms. We make mistakes because we are fallible human beings. Every time Christians point at the church and say it is messed up, we point at ourselves. are part of the problem because are the church." (Dan Kimball, Adventures in Churchland, Zondervan, 2012, p192-3)


TITLE: Adventures in Churchland: Finding Jesus in the Mess of Organized Religion
AUTHOR: Dan Kimball
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012, (224 pages).

This book is a personal journey of the author's trip to Christianity. Before his eventual discovery of grace in the Christian faith, he has to navigate the treacherous terrains of "organized religion" and negative perceptions of Church.The author's key dilemma is that he like Jesus but not the Church. Like the musical plays, much of Christianity in churches appear to be play-acting, artificial, or does not manifest the true spirit of Christianity the way Jesus has represented from the beginning. There is a messy spiritual climate in churches simply because people are messy. Worse, many are simply content in the present state of mess. Kimball is determined to change that, and to use his own personal journey to do something about it, and to bring hope and encouragement to those who may be traveling the same paths he has trod. In a nutshell, it is POSSIBLE to find grace in Jesus even in messy organized religion. Kimball shows us the way, several ways. His passion is as follows:

"I wrote this book to offer them hope that there is more to the church and Christianity than they have seen or experienced. I wrote this book to encourage them not to give up on the church. I will be encouraging you to join in (if you haven’t already) and be part of the change so that we can truly represent Jesus to the world with passion, integrity, humility, creativity, and love." (14)
Written in three parts, Kimball works through his reactions to popular versions of Church and Christianity. He begins with a humourous retelling of his experience in a church musical, how he get embarrassed about the play-acting scenario. He shares plainly how uncomfortable and weird he feels in his first encounter with an evangelism experience, where the focus seems to be on hell, salvation, and avoiding punishment. The strong sense of judgmentalism continues to haunt his perception of certain strands of Christianity. His core dislike happens to be in the Church itself. His three main peeves surround the way Church is presenting, or misrepresenting the gospel of Jesus. Firstly, new people feel a sense of being a misfit when they are not able to fit into the subcultures of evangelical churches. Secondly, many of the practices appear "weird" to people unfamiliar to church. Thirdly, and most disappointingly, churches tend to avoid tackling the difficult questions of life, even the Bible. From "creepy pastors" to difficulties in understanding the ancient cultures in biblical texts, there are many things that are downright uncomprehensible. If only churches and Christian people are able to address them honestly and intentionally.  Despite his discomfort, Kimball offers us a way forward, that the church despite all its flaws, is still worth our time and attention, and our love.  

The second part begins his path of recovering from his weirdness and confusion through finding the beauty of Christ amid all the mess. Being judged by others is a horrible feeling. Seeing hypocritical behaviour among Christians is equally horrible. Yet, the Bible speaks out against such things and behaviours. What makes all the difference is to be able to recognize that we fall short ourselves, and we need forgiveness more. If we are to judge, we need to be up in arms against any forms of hypocrisy. More importantly, church people need to judge themselves first and foremost, before any criticisms from outside the church. When this is addressed, the Church is ready to be a positive agent of change for the world beyond. Instead of condemning the church practices, Kimball offers a different path, an alternate way to see the church. In his take about "organized religion," Kimball plumbs the Internet audience about perceptions of organized religion. The common strand is the church being seen as a place that tries to control people. Such a thinking is more often a misunderstanding of church people. Kimball does some research and points to differences between the early church and the modern church. In fact, the biblical church has a rich history and diversity. The modern flavour of the church does not necessarily represent the biblical church. This will immediately dispel concerns from people that to be a Christian, means to follow exactly all the modern church dictates. No. Being a Christian is in following Jesus according to what the Bible says, not what the church subcultures or the worldly culture dictates. If churches are able to continue to let the Bible influence their subcultures, there is hope. Some of these influences include:
  • Freeing people in worship
  • Not segregation but unity and beauty in worship
  • Not judgment but forgiveness and grace
  • Humility in theology and practice
  • Boldly confront pet answers for the purpose of seeking truth
  • Good "organized religion" serves God through people.
  • Good "organized religion" extols the hope of God in Jesus.
Part Three expands on this renewal of "organized religion." There is no substitute for reading the Bible and practicing it from the inside out. We need to substitute the negative perceptions of churchland with the positive renditions of graceland. In order to avoid being trapped in churchland, we need to constantly manage our time with one another. Make sure that we spend adequate time with non-church people too. We need to grow in the knowledge and love of Jesus, and not simply being content with superficial readings of Jesus. We are not to put our faith in ideas about Christianity. We put our faith in the person of Jesus.  After working through the fantasies and fallacies of churchland, Kimball begins to piece together a hopeful picture of a Church living in the grace of Jesus. Church is a gathering of God's people. It is impossible to "go to church." Instead, we become a church as we come together in the name of the Lord. He makes it clear through a comparison on page 184 about the differences between "go to church" and "be the church."

My Thoughts

Kimball has done the church a favour by taking the church to task first.  Having Christians admonishing fellow Christians is far better than having non believers judging and condemning Christian people. We are called to bring out the best of fellow believers, and in the process, also become a witness to the world. The way Kimball does it is admirable because he does not come across as a "fire and brimstone" preacher who speaks down on us. He shares his own personal story and battle. He invites us to see from his point of view. He offers us hope and a different perspective to see Church. Most of all, learns to see "organized religion" and "judgmental" churches from the eyes of grace. That is something we can all learn from. It is far too easy to condemn and to criticize churches and the way they practise their Christianity. It is more difficult to admonish them in grace and in humility. The church is messy because people are messy in the first place. We are hypocrites by nature. We are judgmental by nature. It is only when we allow ourselves to be changed from the inside out by the Holy Spirit through the gospel of Jesus Christ, that we are able to be the church that God has called us to be.

For many, this book may be an excellent opportunity for some of us to re-think the way we do church. It is also a reminder for us not to insert modern concepts or to modify the Church into a Hollywood facade. It is an invitation for us to go back to the Bible, to build the church from biblical ways. Let that be an adventure of grace.

Ratin: 4 stars of 5.


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

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Midweek Meditation: "God's Plan vs Our Plan"

This graphic display shows us the difference between our own plans and God's plans. It definitely gives us a clearer insight into Jeremiah 29:11.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

(Credit: Multiple sources Internet)


Monday, June 09, 2014

BookPastor >> "No Perfect People Allowed" (John Burke)

TITLE: No Perfect People Allowed: Creating a Come-as-You-Are Culture in the Church
AUTHOR: John Burke
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005, (336 pages).

Is there such a thing as a perfect Church? No. Then why are some people Church shop in such a way as if they are actually looking for one? I have often advised people who are looking for a perfect Church with the following advice: "Don't. If you ever find a perfect Church, do NOT join it, because if you do, you will render it imperfect." If there is no perfect Church, surely we need to learn to accept imperfect people as we ourselves are imperfect people. That is why we need to create a culture of acceptance, so says John Burke, author and pastor of Gateway Community Church in Austin, Texas. Burke calls it the cultivation of a "come as you are" culture which is vital if the Church is going to grow and to survive through this postmodern environment. He begins with some honest and painful assessment of the current skepticism of Culture, Church and Christianity. He calls the Church in modern America as "First Corinthian Church" living in a culture which is pluralistic, messy, and suspicious of anything religious. At the same time, five major impediments are hurting the acceptance of Church and Christianity. The first is the high lack of trust that Church is any helpful or meaningful. Second, there is a growing demand for tolerance from a Church that is increasingly unable to shake off its judgmental label. Third, the struggle for truth in a relativist culture is pervasive. Fourth, many live broken lives one way or another, and this contrasts sharply with Christians, especially those who live as if their lives are perfect. Fifth, the level of aloneness has reached new heights. All five of these challenges are dealt with before the author proposes a model for creating a culture of acceptance.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Father's Day 2014 - A WestJet Special

This special video made me tear up. I like the way it ends: "Sometimes the best thing of being a dad is just being able to be a dad."


Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Midweek Meditation: What and How to Pray?

How do we pray? Here is a nice piece of advice from pastor, Craig Groeschel.

"Pray about whatever is on your mind. When you find out your grandfather has cancer, pray that God would heal him. If your boss drives you crazy, talk to God about her. If you have headaches, tell God when it hurts. If your marriage is in bad shape, ask God to help. If you are considering replacing an older car, ask God for wisdom. Before starting on your term paper, pray for direction......But even when you don't see the results of your prayers around you, you may still sense God's loving presence as you grow to know Him. I've learned that any genuine communication to God may or may not change what God does, but your prayer will often change your heart or perspective. Prayer reminds you that you're not in control and keeps you close to the one who is." (Craig Groeschel, The Christian Atheist, Zondervan, 2010, p79-80)


Monday, June 02, 2014

BookPastor >> "Learning for the Love of God" (Donald Opitz and Derek Melleby)

This review was first published on March 13th, 2014 at Panorama of a Book Saint. Recommended for all students and people who call themselves learners.


TITLE: Learning for the Love of God: A Student's Guide to Academic Faithfulness
AUTHOR: Donald Opitz and Derek Melleby
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2nd edition, 2014, (144 pages).

In the Christian world, many people have been advocating for a deeper faith in the workplace or integrating faith in the marketplace. While at school, we learn how best to put our faith to the test. What about our schools and educational environments? Are they not marketplaces in themselves?

From the most boring lectures to the most interesting classroom lessons, this book shows us that every class matters. In the words of the authors, two words summed up the whole book: "Academic Faithfulness." The authors have a common heritage: Geneva College with Opitz a professor and Melleby an alumnus. They begin with two erroneous expectations of college students. The first is the "beer and circus" which on the outside looks like fun and partying, but on a deeper level, is a distraction from academic faithfulness. The second is the "grades and accolades" expectation that sees academic success and recognition as idols. What is needed is a way for students to be renewed in mind and transformed at heart.

Then there is the need to beware of "deceptive philosophies and traditions" in the college arena. One key warning is to avoid swallowing the pill of "education for upward mobility" at the expense of "education for responsible action." The subject of worldview is examined, and readers are encouraged not to buy into a "seeing is believing" mindset, but also to learn faith without seeing. Students ought to appreciate life as a story rather than some disconnected things or disjointed ideas. "Fish-eyed learning" needs to be put aside in favour of a Christian mind that is relationships aware, biblically based, and ideologically sound, instead of being sucked into ideological confusion. Opitz and Melleby string together  the four part Biblical narrative (Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation) with the four Is (Integration-Idolatry-Investment-Imagination) to help us connect the dots of learning. We are reminded that while learning is important, being changed from the inside out is equally (if not) more important. Some great advice are given, such as looking for a mentor; getting involved in care groups; volunteering in the community; engaging people of other faiths. Knowing includes a big part of listening.

So What?

Now in its second edition, this book is an important contribution to Christians, particularly those involved in educational circles in some way. It can be teachers or students, parents or educators, leaders or community decision makers, and so on. The idea of "academic faithfulness" needs to be expanded beyond the circles of the academy. Without a proper worldview, students will be caught up in a world of varying ideas that can easily sweep them away. In this manner, it is like building a house on the sand of disconnected and disjointed philosophies rather than the rock of divine reality. Human philosophies and fabricated ideas will not stand up against the rock of the Creator, the Great Storyteller, the Sovereign Ruler of all.

Though this book is aimed at a Christian audience, the general thrust of the book is to help us get a bigger picture of the purpose of education. I appreciate the way the authors describe the two erroneous expectations of most students: "beer and circus" and "grades and accolades." Education is not mere fun or fabulous grades. It needs faith. Lest we produce individuals who simply straddle through college to become aimless graduates, or a generation of people who can score perfect As but still flunk the school of life. Read this book. Buy it for your children or college students. For a student who is trained in "academic faithfulness" through college will stand a better chance of godliness and vocational integrity through the journey of life.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


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

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