Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Midweek Meditation: Another New Year Beckons

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

Monday, December 29, 2014

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Midweek Meditation: Christmas 2014

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

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

Have a Blessed Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2014

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


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

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Midweek Meditation: The Problem with Professionalism

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

Monday, December 15, 2014

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

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

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

A) Vision

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

B) Vocation

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

C) Virtues

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

D) Vessels

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

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

Wonderful book!


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Monday, December 08, 2014

BookPastor >> "Praying Backwards" (Bryan Chapell)

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


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

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

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

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

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

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

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


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