Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Midweek Meditation: "This is My Prayer For You"

This week, I like to share a song about praying for others. The best gift we can ask for is Jesus.

Here are the words of this simple but lovely song.

Monday, December 28, 2015

BookPastor >> "The Practice of Pastoral Care" (Carrie Doehring)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on July 28th, 2015.


TITLE: The Practice of Pastoral Care, Revised and Expanded Edition
AUTHOR: Carrie Doehring
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015, (232 pages).

Pastoral care is a critical part of any Church ministry. The word "pastor" is synonymous with "shepherd." Unlike some places that sees the pastor as the leader-CEO, the true biblical basis of a pastor is to shepherd the flock. How we practice pastoral care however have changed, partly because of changing needs. In this book, the way is to adopt a "postmodern approach" toward the practice of pastoral care. Calling it an "intercultural approach," pastoral care in this book means not just listening to the stories of the people but also to create meaning of them. It means learning to piece together the broken pieces of life. It means learning to help people tell their stories. It means cultivating trust. For Carrie Doehring, it is the heart of pastoral care where people are willing to open up their lives to caregivers. It is about creating opportunities for "care conversations" and relating real-life to theological truths and biblical principles. Doehring goes a step further to advocate for a care that brings back individuals from a de-centered sacred bearings due to suffering and painful circumstances. How can one show compassion and understanding toward those questioning their faith and religious values? This calls for a "theological, cultural, and psychological expertise" that can help care for parishioners and people in such need, what Doehring refers to as "the compassionate art of intercultural care." Carers essentially enter into the lives of others, sharing in their pain, walking with them in the valley of questions and celebrating with them in the answers of joy. It is about intermingling one's lives with another so as to build a bridge that aids integrative moments and shared stories. It is collaborative exploration of new and strange emotional territories. The author attempts to use a "trifocal lens" which comprises of a precritical, a modern, and a postmodern approach.  As a first-order language, a precritical lens looks at the world from a divine perspective. The modern lens is a second-order language that adopts "text critical methods" and social sciences to include empirical analysis and rational judgment of knowledge. The postmodern approach is the third-order language that nuances all of these in the light of present contexts. This approach involves the meaning making and the response of individuals to the earlier two orders of language. She summarizes the book's structure in six parts.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Midweek Meditation: "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day"

This is still my favourite rendition of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Christmas carol, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day."

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day Their old familiar carols play, And wild and sweet the words repeat Of peace on earth, good will to men. 
I thought how, as the day had come, The belfries of all Christendom Had rolled along the unbroken song Of peace on earth, good will to men. 
And in despair I bowed my head: "There is no peace on earth," I said, "For hate is strong and mocks the song Of peace on earth, good will to men."
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: "God is not dead, nor doth he sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, With peace on earth, good will to men." 
Till, ringing singing, on its way, The world revolved from night to day, A voice, a chime, a chant sublime, Of peace on earth, good will to men!

Monday, December 21, 2015

BookPastor >> "Walking Backwards to Christmas" (Stephen Cottrell)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on November 26th, 2015.

Have a Blessed Christmas.


TITLE: Walking Backwards to Christmas
AUTHOR: Stephen Cottrell
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2015, (128 pages).

We have all heard of the Christmas story. We watch children perform nice plays on it. We sing carols about it. We see the beautiful Christmas lights and festivities all over town. Many popular images of Christmas include scenes like:
  • The three wise men offering gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to baby Jesus
  • Animals surrounding baby Jesus at a stable
  • Shepherds seeing the bright star that lights up the night sky
  • Joseph and Mary cuddling the little baby
  • and so on..
Many of us are also familiar with the stories of Christmas, the signs in Isaiah, the prophecy of Zechariah, the angel before Mary, and the events leading to the birth of Jesus Christ. Most of the time, these are forward movement stories, meaning, they start sometime way back in history and progress to the birth of Christ as the climax. What if we look at a picture and start telling a story backward? What if we let our imaginations fill in the blanks of the biblical story, of how we can uncover the many plots, motives, and the associated responses to the Christmas story? Like some movies that begin with a dramatic finish and then offer viewers a flashback of "Seventy years ago," "Eight months before," or "Seven days back," Stephen Cottrell gives a fascinating first-person storytelling backwards. Without compromising on the biblical information we have, narrating the events and responses of the various movements can be informative and insightful.

Friday, December 18, 2015

What's Your Christmas Bucket List?

As many people embark on the annual shopping craze, it is timely to check out what the true Christmas bucket list is. 

What will be your "grown up Christmas list?"


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Midweek Meditation: "Renewal of Prayer" (J.-P. Dubois-Dumée)

In this spiritual renewal, I believe that one can detect among other things:

  • a need for permanence in a civilization of transience;
  • a need for the Absolute when all else is be- coming relative;
  • a need for silence in the midst of noise;
  • a need for gratuitousness in the face of unbelievable greed;
  • a need for poverty amid the flaunting of wealth;
  • a need for contemplation in a century of action, for without contemplation, action risks becoming mere agitation;
  • a need for communication in a universe content with entertainment and sensational- ism;
  • a need for peace amid today’s universal outbursts of violence;
  • a need for quality to counterbalance the increasingly prevalent response to quantity;
  • a need for humility to counteract the arrogance of power and science;
  • a need for human warmth when every- thing is being rationalized or computerized;
  • a need to belong to a small group rather than to be part of the crowd;
  • a need for slowness to compensate the present eagerness for speed;
  • a need for truth when the real meaning of words is distorted in political speeches and sometimes even in religious discourses;
  • a need for transparency when everything seems opaque.

Yes, a need for the interior life . . (J.-P. Dubois-Dumée, “Renewal of Prayer,” Lumen Vitae 38, no. 3, 1983: p273–274)

Monday, December 14, 2015

BookPastor >> "Mudhouse Sabbath" (Lauren Winner)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on August 6th, 2015.


TITLE: Mudhouse Sabbath: An Invitation to a Life of Spiritual Discipline - Study Edition
AUTHOR: Lauren Winner
PUBLISHER: Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2015, (224 pages).

Christianity have roots in Judaism. They read the Torah or Pentateuch. They celebrate the Tehillim, (songs of praise), also known as Psalms.  Like the Proverbs and Jobs, the Psalms are part of the wisdom writings called the Ketuvim. As a convert to evangelical Christianity, the author often reflects back on her Jewish upbringing and fondly cherishes the rituals, the rules, and the meaning behind the Jewish spiritual practices. Out of that fond reflection comes the writing of this book which gives her a chance to revisit the riches of the Old Testament practices and how many of them can be appreciated in our modern world. In this updated edition, Winner adds in a greater awareness of pursuing God's justice in this world on top of just enjoying our spiritual life. She helps us reflect on how fasting can be related to caring for the poor, and how Sabbath keeping is to be integrated into the whole week by virtue of Sabbath not being at the beginning or end of the week, but the middle. She weaves into this book her own personal journey through experiencing her mum's passing, her broken marriage, a little older and wiser too. Having moved from Virginia to North Carolina, she has also moved from outside coffee shops to having coffee at home instead. In a way, this book is about moving from one place to another, in particular from Judaism to Christianity, and in the process trying to make sense of the commonality between the two. Perhaps, it is to expand the common space of understanding and to help those of us without a Jewish background to better appreciate the practices of Sabbath keeping and other important rituals. It helps us to go beyond the outer display of religiosity toward an inner appreciation of the essence of Jewish spirituality. The "study edition" format is about a twelfth chapter scattered throughout the other eleven in the form of study questions. For me, reading through this book is like eavesdropping the author's appreciation of her Jewish heritage from a Christian perspective.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Midweek Meditation: "Genuine Prayer" (David Steindahl-Rast)

"Private prayers" is a misleading phrase. First of all, true prayers are never private. If prayers are private, they are not truly prayer. Whatever is private excludes someone. A private club has an exclusive membership; if a road is private, all but the owners are deprived of its use. But genuine prayer comes from the heart, from that realm of my being where I am one with all. It is never a private affair. Genuine prayer is all-inclusive. A great teacher of prayer in the Jewish tradition expressed this well: “When I prepare myself to say my prayers I unite my- self with all who are closer to God than I am so that, through them, I may reach God. And I also unite myself with all who may be farther away from God than I am, so that, through me, they may reach God.

Christian tradition calls this the communion of saints. Whenever we pray, we pray in community. This is why some prefer to speak of "personal" rather than "private" prayers. But that won't get us far. What is the alternative to personal prayer? Impersonal prayer? Let us hope that there is no such thing. Still, we do need to distinguish between praying together with others and praying by ourselves. I will call these two areas prayers together and prayers alone. 

(David Steindl-Rast, Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer, NY: Paulist Press, 1984, p51-52)

Monday, December 07, 2015

BookPastor >> "The Emotionally Healthy Leader" (Peter Scazzero)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on August 14th, 2015.


TITLE: The Emotionally Healthy Leader: How Transforming Your Inner Life Will Deeply Transform Your Church, Team, and the World
AUTHOR: Peter Scazzero
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015, (336 pages).

The author of the popular "Emotionally Healthy Church" has come up with another book on the same themes of healthy emotions that lead to healthy Christian lives. This time, instead of dealing with Church-related matters, he targets the leader's inner and outer lives. Scazzero is the founder of New Life Fellowship Church, based in Queens, New York. A popular speaker, he has influenced many with his "Emotionally Healthy" series of books. This book is no different. He begins with a personal retelling of his own journey to unhealthy leadership. Arranged in four dramatic conversions, he talks about how he first became a zealous Christian after being touched by God in his teens. He went for theological training and learned Spanish. He started his own Church called New Life Fellowship Church and was soon busy with the daily grind of Church work, developing leaders and planting churches. For all the external successes, he was ignoring his internal recesses of the heart. His second conversion is about his awareness of the need to address his emotional health more seriously. He wondered about the shape of things, whether it is ok for others to be cared for spiritually while his own spirituality was suffering. The crisis came to a hilt when his own wife, Geri quit the Church. Thankfully, he recovered only to be faced with a third conversion: "From busy activity to Slowed-Down Spirituality." Influenced by the teachings and writings of the Monastic movement, he began to work more with contemplative spirituality, to let God work him from the inside out. One significant result of that conversion was his publishing of the bestselling book, "Emotionally Healthy Spirituality." Learning about spirituality and teaching about it is one thing. Connecting them all with one's life is totally another. As a result, he skimmed through many essential duties instead of paying adequate attention to them. He needed a fourth conversion: "From Skimming to Integrity in Leadership."  This book is a result of this fourth conversion. The key motive in this book is to change the world with the gospel, not through the many activities and strategies to be employed, but with a transformation of the inner self. Something must happen first inside in order to be fruitful and faithful outside. The first part of the book deals with the Inner Life while Part Two deals with the Outer Life.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Merry Christmas TearJerker

This well made commercial by Germany's largest grocery chain, EDEKA, is worth a watch. It reminds us the importance of priorities in our lives, that there are things more important than our businesses and our daily rushes over chores.

Some people may criticize the film's main lead for being dishonest. Yet, if we are able to look beyond this deed, it is a good reminder that we need to cherish the people we loved while we still have time.


Friday, December 04, 2015

Think of Others (Mahmoud Darwish)

Mahmoud Darwish was a Palestinian poet who had won numerous literary awards for this writings.

Mahmoud Darwish (1942-2008)

As you prepare your breakfast, think of others.
           Don’t forget to feed the pigeons.

As you conduct your wars, think of others.
           Don’t forget those who want peace.

As you pay your water bill, think of others.
           Think of those who only have clouds to drink from.

As you go home, your own home, think of others
           Don’t forget those who live in tents.

As you sleep and count the planets, think of others
           There are people who have no place to sleep.

As you liberate yourself with metaphors think of others
           Those who have lost their right to speak.

And as you think of distant others
           Think of yourself and say
“I wish I were a candle in the darkness.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Midweek Meditation: "20 Mission Quotes"

Here is a list of 20 quotes which are worth pondering about. The ones I particularly liked are in bold.

  1. “Lost people matter to God, and so they must matter to us.” – Keith Wright
  2. “Let my heart be broken with the things that break God’s heart.” – Bob Pierce
  3. “To belong to Jesus is to embrace the nations with Him.” – John Piper
  4. “We must be global Christians with a global vision because our God is a global God.” – John Stott
  5. “The Lord did not tell us to build beautiful churches, but to evangelize the world” – Oswald J. Smith
  6. “No one has the right to hear the gospel twice, while there remains someone who has not heard it once.” – Oswald J. Smith
  7. “Go, send, or disobey.” – John Piper
  8. “If the Great Commission is true, our plans are not too big; they are too small.” – Pat Morley
  9. “A congregation that is not deeply and earnestly involved in the worldwide proclamation of the gospel does not understand the nature of salvation.” – Ted Engstrom
  10. “Today Christians spend more money on dog food than missions.” – Leonard Ravenhill
  11. “Every Christian is either a missionary or an impostor. – Charles Spurgeon
  12. “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.” – William Carey
  13. “The mark of a great church is not its seating capacity, but its sending capacity.” – Mike Stachura
  14. “Sympathy is no substitute for action.” – David Livingstone
  15. “The reason some folks don’t believe in missions is that the brand of religion they have isn’t worth propagating.” – unknown
  16. “I don’t know how your theology works, but if Jesus has a choice between stained glass windows and feeding starving kids in Haiti, I have a feeling he’d choose the starving kids in Haiti.” – Tony Campolo
  17. “If we love God’s fame and are committed to magnifying His name above all things, we cannot be indifferent to world missions.” – John Piper
  18. “Any church that is not seriously involved in helping fulfill the Great Commission has forfeited its biblical right to exist.” – Oswald J. Smith
  19. “The gospel is only good news if it gets there in time.” – Carl F. H. Henry
  20. “Here am I. Send me.” – Isaiah

(Credit: Quotes extracted from Mike Livingstone's blog post here)

Monday, November 30, 2015

BookPastor >> "Understanding Prophecy" (Alan S. Bandy and Benjamin L. Merkle)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on August 21st, 2015.


TITLE: Understanding Prophecy: A Biblical-Theological Approach
AUTHOR: Alan S. Bandy and Benjamin L. Merkle
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2015, (272 pages).

What is prophecy? Is it only something limited to the biblical prophets? Do prophets still exist today? What do we make of the unconditional, conditional, and unfulfilled prophecies in the Bible? How do we understand prophecy in the first place? In this book, two authors, one holding a Premillennial disposition and another an Amillennial perspective come together to describe the common themes in interpreting biblical prophecy. At the same time, their diverse background allows them to interact constructively without necessarily compromise their respective theological stands. Alan Bandy is Professor of New Testament at Oklahoman Baptist University while Benjamin Merkle is Professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Arranged in three parts, the book covers the basics and keys of understanding biblical prophecy (Part 1); followed by an application on Old Testament prophecies (Part 2); and the same for the New Testament (Part 3).  Closely related to prophecy is the word "eschatology" which is often perceived as foretelling the future. Readers will learn how the word can be nuanced in at least seven ways: Individual; Historical; Consistent; Realized; Existential; Comprehensive; and Teleological. For the authors, they use "eschatology" as an all-encompassing term to denote the "cosmic, spiritual, and historical realities" fulfilled in the Person of Jesus Christ. Prophecy needs to be understood within the confines of the Bible and the redemptive narrative. It is to be understood in terms of Gospel-Centric and Christo-Centric.  Most important is the need to read prophecy with "contextual sensitivity to the history, literature, and theology of an individual writer, book, and passage." This is then interpreted in line with the larger biblical narrative. Prophecy is also understood as "progressive revelation" where certain things were partially revealed to the people in the old Testament, and fully realized in the future. One use is to see the New Testament as fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. Readers are cautioned not to use the Bible as proof texts of some precise prediction, just like the Left Behind series of books and film. Others avoid prophecy totally and lose sight of the role of prophecy altogether. With a biblical, theological, and christological approach, we will be able to approach biblical prophecies with expectancy and much encouragement of God's purpose for us.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Midweek Meditation: "Do Not Judge"

When trying to understand Jesus' teaching on DO NOT JUDGE (Matthew 7:1), remember that it means "hypocritical" or "self-righteous" kind of judgment. Eugene Peterson's explanation is superb when talking about such self-righteousness.


Monday, November 23, 2015

BookPastor >> "40 Questions About Creation and Evolution" (Kenneth D. Keathley and Mark F. Rooker)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on March 9th, 2015.


TITLE: 40 Questions About Creation and Evolution (40 Questions and Answers Series)
AUTHOR: Kenneth D. Keathley and Mark F. Rooker
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2014, (432 pages).

Is there a conflict between science and faith? Is there a way to understand both? When is the beginning of the world? What is the origin of the human species. How did the world come into existence? These questions have challenged people through the centuries. From archaeology to philosophy; humanistic thought to theology, the questions about the beginning of the world and man continue to fascinate. In this book, forty questions are posed with regards to creation and evolution. All of the questions are categorized in 6 major parts.

Part 1 - Doctrine of Creation
Part 2 - Creation and Genesis 1-2
Part 3 - Days of Creation
Part 4 - Age of the Earth
Part 5 - Fall and the Flood
Part 6 - Evolution and Intelligent Design

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Midweek Meditation: "Prayer at the End of Pilgrimage" (Stephen Doyle)

Often associated with a journey, the Christian life is a familiar one with ups and downs. This prayer gives thanks to God as one is at the end of a pilgrimage. Written by Stephen Doyle, it also reminds us that the end of one journey also prepares us for the start of the next one.

"Father, we have walked in the land where Jesus walked,
We have touched the soil and rocks where the seed falls.
We have seen the lilies of the field and heard the birds of the air.
We have been warmed by the sun that warmed Him and
      cooled by the breezes that touched His face.
We have been to the sea where He walked,
      and to the river where He was baptized.
We have felt the presence of the Holy Spirit where He first
      sent it, and anguished at the spot where He gave Himself for us.
We have rejoiced at the emptiness of the tomb and the
      fulness of His love in our hearts.
Be with us, as we continue our earthly pilgrimage to the new
     Jerusalem where every tear will be wiped away,
     and we will be with You,
     Your Son and the Holy Spirit, forever.

(Stephen Doyle, OFM)

Monday, November 16, 2015

BookPastor >> "Help My Unbelief" (Barnabas Piper)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on May 22nd, 2015.


TITLE: Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not the Enemy of Faith
AUTHOR: Barnabas Piper
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2015, (176 pages).

Doubt is not the enemy of faith. Unbelief is not necessarily bad. In fact, for author Barnabas Piper, it is necessary for authentic faith. As a son of the famous evangelical, John Piper, Barnabas is no stranger to the Church or all things evangelical. Go to Church. Join the Sunday School. Have faith. Be baptized. Pray. Obey your parents. Believe in the Bible. Be well behaved, especially when you are a pastor's kid! Growing up in such an environment, there is a strong tendency to dumb down doubts so as to raise up the level of faith. It may work for kids, but as kids grow into young adults, they will start to be more inquisitive, to probe, and to question the norms. Looking at the famous words of Mark 9:24, which the book's title had borrowed from, Piper moves beyond the "Lord I believe" toward the "Help my unbelief" phase of life. He eases readers toward the tension of faith and doubt; belief and unbelief; the ups and downs of the spiritual life. There are parts of the Bible that are very clear to us, and parts that are mysterious. The reason for the tension is because both sides shed light on truth. The Bible does not simply spout out answers to life, it raises questions too. Asking questions does not mean a lack of faith. It simply means wanting to know the truth at a more profound level. It is acknowledging the mystery without giving up our faith. Such an attitude brings us back to what faith and belief is about. Knowledge without experience is incomplete.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Worship - I Will Go For You

Loved this.

我願為祢去 (D)
          D        A7         Bm                  G          D      Em    A7
          D        A7         Bm                  G          A7   D
          D        A7         Bm                  G          D      Em    A7
          D        A7         Bm                  G          A7   D

                D        F#      Bm               G   D     Em  A7    
                        G        D        F#m          Bm    Em        A7     D     





神聖的愛 融化我
神聖的火 熬煉我
神聖的使命 佔有我
神聖的靈 引領我




Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Midweek Meditation: Compassion

The refugee crisis is reaching unprecedented proportions as many Syrians fleeing the wars in their home country are flooding the shores of Europe. It is a reminder for all believers:

"If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?" (1 John 3:17)

Here's a moving video from Samaritan's Purse organization.


Monday, November 09, 2015

BookPastor >> "Blind Spots" (Collin Hansen)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on March 27th, 2015.


TITLE: Blind Spots: Becoming a Courageous, Compassionate, and Commissioned Church (Cultural Renewal)
AUTHOR: Collin Hansen
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2015, (128 pages).

Whether one's Church is growing or declining, young or old, large or small, there will be blind spots from the leadership level down to the ordinary member. It is simply human nature to have blind spots. Noting the hostility that the Church is increasingly facing, Hansen has written this straight-forward book that categorizes three types of Christians as "Courageous" (Prophet), "Compassionate" (Priest), and "Commissioned" (King). Each group focuses on a specific gospel thrust but often at the expense of other equally important initiatives.

The "Courageous" group is passionate about truth and wants to stand up boldly in defending and proclaiming the truths of the faith. It is about courage to stand up for the truth even when the stand is unpopular. This is necessary for the endurance of the faith. Especially when the world is facing a crisis in Syria and Iraq with ISIS threat. Bold moves and decisions need to be made before more innocent lives are sacrificed. The blind spot for such Christians is the tendency to fear the future and bemoan our present situations. They tend to remember the past so much that they belittle the present and the future. What is necessary is for these Christians to be consistent in their practice of courageous standing, not only for issues of marriage and sexuality, but also for justice, for compassion, against racism, and against war. Hansen believes that courage is more about challenging culture rather than plainly saying no to them. By praying for our enemies, and seeking to reach out in love, we avoid falling into our blind spots. Courage flows from humility and care for humanity.

Friday, November 06, 2015

"The Other Letter"

With Christmas approaching, many people will be busy shopping once again. In a twist to the holiday spirit of buying and accumulating, children were asked to write two letters. The first was a conventional one to Santa Claus or the Three Wise Men for a gift. The second was to parents. This is a powerful wakeup call to parents.Watch the powerful Ikea video here.


Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Midweek Meditation: "Abandoning Ourselves to God" (Charles de Foucauld)

This prayer is a deeply personal commitment of faith in God, made to God. Made by Charles de Foucauld who lost his faith when young, he came back to God after a powerful spiritual experience when in his 20s. His faith led him to the people in the Sahara. Born to an aristocratic family in France, he was eventually assassinated when the country he was in had an uprising against all things French. The words of this prayer showed his abandonment of himself to God completely.


Charles de Foucault (1858-1916)
Father, I abandon myself into Your Hands;
Do with me what You will.
Whatever You do I thank You.
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only Your Will be done in me,
As in all Your creatures,
I ask no more than this, my Lord.
Into Your Hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to You, O Lord,
With all the love of my heart,
For I love You, my God, and so need to give myself,
To surrender myself into Your Hands,
Without reserve and with total confidence,
For You are my Father. 
(Prayer by Charles de Foucauld, 1858-1916)

Monday, November 02, 2015

BookPastor >> "What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality?" (Kevin DeYoung)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on April 20th, 2015.


TITLE: What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?
AUTHOR: Kevin DeYoung
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2015, (160 pages).

Many people claim that the Bible speaks specifically about homosexuality by simply quoting the few popular verses. Not many offer to begin by asking the fundamental question, "What does the Bible really teach about everything?" This is what author and pastor, Kevin DeYoung did. He goes back to the beginning of creation, the Fall, the land, the temple, the coming Messiah, and the expectant future of a new heaven and new earth. He points out that the Bible is not about God giving us a lecture about homosexuality. Rather, it is learning to see what the Bible really focus on before we even talk about homosexuality. Having said that, he makes this statement about the book, that it is a "Christian book, with a narrow focus, defending a traditional view of marriage." In other words, DeYoung is writing from a Christian point of view. He is exploring the way the Bible verses talk about homosexuality. It is about defending the traditional view of marriage as between a man and a woman. Aware of the contentious subject, he addresses three groups of potential readers. The first group is the already convinced where he aims to remind them to argue respectfully and appropriately. This means learning to recognize one's sinfulness and imperfections too. The second group are the skeptics or contentious, where he hopes will argue strictly on biblical grounds rather than on charged up emotions. The third group are the confused or those who just do not know how to respond.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Midweek Meditation: "Marks of a Spiritual Man" Part II (A.W. Tozer)

An Excerpt from "The Very Best of AW Tozer, Baker, 1978, p63-4"

(4) Again, a Christian is spiritual when he sees everything from God’s viewpoint. The ability to weigh all things in the divine scale and place the same value upon them as God does is the mark of a Spirit-filled life. God looks at and through at the same time. His gaze does not rest on the surface but penetrates to the true meaning of things. The carnal Christian looks at an object or a situation, but because he does not see through it he is elated or cast down by what he sees. The spiritual man is able to look through things as. God looks and think of them as God thinks. He insists on seeing all things as God sees them even if it humbles him and exposes his ignorance to the point of real pain.

(5) Another desire of the spiritual man is to die right rather than to live wrong. A sure mark of the mature man of God is his nonchalance about living. The earth loving, body-conscious Christian looks upon death with numb terror in his heart. But as he goes onto live in the Spirit he becomes increasingly indifferent to the number of his years here below, but increasingly careful of the kind of life he lives while he is here. He will not purchase a few extra days of life at the cost of compromise or failure. He wants most of all to be right, and he is happy to let God decide how long he shall live. He knows that he can afford to die, now that he is in Christ, but he knows that he cannot afford to do wrong, and this knowledge becomes a gyro- scope to stabilize his thinking and his acting.

(6) The desire to see others advance at his expense is another mark of the spiritual man. He wants to see other Christians above him and is happy when they are promoted and he is overlooked. There is no envy in his heart; when his brethren are honored he is pleased because such is the will of God and that will is his earthly heaven. If God is pleased, he is pleased for that reason, and if it pleases God to exalt another above him he is content to have it so.

(7) The spiritual man habitually makes eternity-judgments instead of time-judgments. By faith he rises above the tug of earth and the flow of time and learns to think and feel as one who has already left the world and gone to join the innumerable company of angels and the general assembly and church of the First-born which are written in heaven. Such a man would rather be useful than famous and would rather serve than be served.

And all this must be by the operation of the Holy Spirit within him.

Monday, October 26, 2015

BookPastor >> "Introducing World Missions" (A. Scott Moreau, Gary R. Corwin, and Gary McGee)

Missions is not just for missionaries. Everyone has a role to play. This book is a gem of resources, packed with everything people need to know about world missions. This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on June 30th, 2015.


TITLE: Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey (Encountering Mission)
AUTHOR: A. Scott Moreau, Gary R. Corwin, and Gary B. McGee
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015, (336 pages).

Recently, the wife of a modern missionary, Jim Elliot, passed away. She was passionate about missions. She experienced it, spoke, about it, and died with missions very much in her heart. The world has lost another missionary but the work of missions continue. What are contemporary missions? How has it changed over the years? This textbook provides a comprehensive introduction to what world missions is about. Aimed not just at missionaries to be, the authors want to share not only the importance of missions but also to educate more about this important work of the Church. The first of a series of eight books on missions from an evangelical perspective, this book covers a broad overview of:
  • Missions Primer
  • Missions in Scriptures
  • Missions in History
  • Missionary Candidates
  • Being Sent Out and becoming a Sender
  • Missions in the Contemporary World
The eight volumes of the "Encountering Missions" series are:
  1. Introducing World Missions (2004, 2015)
  2. The Changing Face of Missions (2005)
  3. Encountering Missionary Life and Work (2008)
  4. Christianity Encountering World Religions (2009)
  5. Encountering Theology of Mission (2010)
  6. Developing a Strategy for Missions (2013)
  7. Effective Intercultural Communication (2014)
  8. To be confirmed.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Midweek Meditation: "Marks of a Spiritual Man" Part 1 (A.W. Tozer)

An Excerpt from "The Very Best of AW Tozer, Baker, 1978, p63-4"

(1) First is the desire to be holy rather than happy. The yearning after happiness found so widely among Christians professing a superior degree of sanctity is sufficient proof that such sanctity is not indeed present. The truly spiritual man knows that God will give abundance of joy in His own time, after we have become able to receive it without injury to our souls. But he does not demand it at once. John Wesley said of the members of one of the early Methodist societies that he doubted that they had been made perfect in love because they came to church to enjoy religion instead of to learn how they could become holy.

(2) A man may be considered spiritual when he wants to see the honor of God advanced through his life, even if it means that he himself must suffer temporary dishonor or loss. Such a man prays, “Hallowed be Thy name,” and silently adds, “at any cost to me, Lord.” He lives for God’s honor by a kind of spiritual reflex. Every choice involving the glory of God is for him already made before it presents itself. He does not need to debate the matter with his own heart; there is nothing to debate. The glory of God is necessary to him; he gasps for it as a suffocating man gasps for air.

(3) The spiritual man wants to carry his cross. Many Christians accept adversity or tribulation with a sigh and call it their cross, forgetting that such things come alike to saint and sinner. The cross is that extra adversity that comes to us as a result of our obedience to Christ. This cross is not forced upon us; we voluntarily take it up with full knowledge of the consequences. We choose to obey Christ and by so doing choose to carry the cross. Carrying a cross means to be attached to the person of Christ, committed to His lordship and obedient to the commandments of Christ. The man who is so attached, so committed, so obedient is a spiritual man.

Monday, October 19, 2015

BookPastor >> "God's Battle Plan for the Mind" (David W. Saxton)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on March 2nd, 2015.


TITLE: God's Battle Plan for the Mind: The Puritan Practice of Biblical Meditation
AUTHOR: David W. Saxton
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2015, (142 pages).

There are people who manage to take time to look at the Bible but not read it. Using the metaphor of looking and smelling food without eating it, a Christian life without meditation is like superficial reading of the Word without actually understanding it. David Saxton, senior pastor of Hardingville Bible Church in Gloucester County, New Jersey believes that modern Christianity is in trouble because "it has become thoughtless, superficial, and self-absorbed." Using the Word of God and the necessity of experience with God, this book focuses on Christian meditation, what it is, what it is not, how to meditate, the reasons for meditation, and anything related to this spiritual practice.

Saxton has brought a into sharp focus the very antidote we need for our spiritual lives. On the outside, believers are bombarded by worldly distractions and daily struggles. On the inside, they are threatened by fear, worries, and common anxieties. In such an unstable spiritual state, personal devotions and Bible reading have become cursory browsing. They spring to action on their own strength instead of depending on the Spirit to lead us through the Word of God. That is why Saxton is convinced that the battle is first and foremost for the mind. Meditation is that giant anchor to keep us from flailing thoughts and anxious behaviours. In contrast to days of old where people were hungry for a personal Bible, today's generation is spoilt for choices of many versions, translations, and electronic options. They have everything, many free choices as well. The trouble is, they are not really studying or reading it as much. If this is the case, what more about meditation?

Friday, October 16, 2015

How to Smile After Two Tragedies (Jaden Hayes Shows the Way)

Jaden Hayes is no ordinary boy. He is also no ordinary orphan. At the age of four, his father died. Two years later, his mum died in her sleep. Any orphan would have been devastated. Yet, Jaden does the unexpected. As he got sick and tired of sadness and people looking down whenever they saw him, he decided to embark on a campaign of "Toys for Smiles." This moving video shows the power of the human spirit.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Midweek Meditation: "What Does it Mean to Care?" (Henri Nouwen)

"What does it mean to care? Let me start by saying that the word care has become a very ambivalent word. When someone says: “I will take care of him!” it is more likely an announcement of an impending attack than of a tender compassion. And besides this ambivalence, the word care is most often used in a negative way. “Do you want coffee or tea?” “I don’t care.” “Do you want to stay home or go to a movie?” “I don’t care.” “Do you want to walk or go by car?” “I don’t care.” This indifference toward choices in life has become commonplace. And often it seems that not to care has become more acceptable than to care, and a carefree life-style more attractive than a careful one.

Real care is not ambiguous. Real care excludes indifference and is the opposite of apathy. The word “care” finds its roots in the Gothic “Kara” which means lament. The basic meaning of care is: to grieve, to experience sorrow, to cry out with. I am very much struck by this background of the word care because we tend to look at caring as an attitude of the strong toward the weak, of the powerful toward the powerless, of the have’s toward the have-not’s. And, in fact, we feel quite uncomfortable with an invitation to enter into someone’s pain before doing something about it.

Still, when we honestly ask ourselves which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not-knowing, not-curing, not-healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is the friend who cares." (Henri Nouwen, Out of Solitude, Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2004, p25-6)

Monday, October 12, 2015

BookPastor >> "Counter Culture" (David Platt)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on March 18th, 2015.


TITLE: Counter Culture: A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture in a World of Poverty, Same-Sex Marriage, Racism, Sex Slavery, Immigration, Abortion, Persecution, Orphans and Pornography
AUTHOR: David Platt
PUBLISHER: Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015, (288 pages).

We are living in a culture where popular opinion speaks louder than truth. So says pastor and author of this new book about countering the cultural forces and principalities of today. Without guidance, many Christians are unwittingly letting their silence be a sign of weakness that they are indifferent to the major social issues of today. In fact, Platt takes to task those Christians who are lopsided in their lobbying, shouting on some issues but ignoring other equally if not more important matters. Sometimes, when Christians are being slammed by non-Christians for taking a biblical stand, the rest of the Christian community remain largely silent for fear of being slammed as well. In preferring to take a nonchalant posture, one asks where then is Christian conviction? Where is the courage to speak up? Where is the compassion to work through those victims of social injustice?

The nine issues highlighted are poverty, same-sex marriage, racism, sex slavery, immigration, persecution, abortion, orphans, and pornography. On Poverty, Platt was shocked to see the seriousness of cholera, and other debilitating diseases that the poor were unable to get treatment due to the lack of money. Contrast that with the wealthy part of the world that seems to turn a blind eye to the needs of the poor. The gospel is clear. We are called to do our part to distribute and share the wealth we have with those in need, and not to hoard it for our own consumption. For God, through Jesus has been extravagant in his time and care for the poor and needy. Why are we not following Christ's example? We are then called to live simply, give sacrificially, help constructively, and invest eternally. On Abortion, we need to avoid seeing it as a political issue but a biblical one. For life is sacred. Platt calls abortion a modern holocaust where 42 million unborn babies are terminated each year. He claims that abortion is an "affront to God's sole and sovereign authority" as Creator. Who gives man the right to kill? How can we terminate the creation of God in such a manner? Who gives us the right to determine which baby to live and which to die? He tackles some popular objections like free choice, privacy, and selfish motives.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Midweek Meditation: "Prayer of Dietrich Bonhoeffer"

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)
"O God, early in the morning I cry to You.
Help me to pray
And to concentrate my thoughts on You:

I cannot do this alone.
In me there is darkness,
But with You there is light;

I am lonely, but You do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with You there is help;
I am restless, but with You there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with You there is patience;
I do not understand Your ways,
But You know the way for me...

Restore me to liberty,
And enable me to live now
That I may answer before You and before me.

Lord, whatever this day may bring,
Your Name be praised." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1906-1945)

Monday, October 05, 2015

BookPastor >> "Lectio Divina" (Enzo Bianchi)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on April 1st, 2015.


TITLE: Lectio Divina: From God's Word to Our Lives (Voices from the Monastery)
AUTHOR: Enzo Bianchi
PUBLISHER: Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2015, (128 pages).

We have many books on theology and Christian living. What about how to read the Bible devotionally? According to the Enzo Bianchi, a Catholic layperson who founded a monastic community in Italy, he believes that reading the Bible well is the central part of discipleship. The author is founder of the Bose Community, an ecumenical monastic community of 80 brothers and sisters in Magnano, Italy.

We need to be caught up in Bible reading. We need to be absorbed by the Word. We need to commune with God in the Word. Writing from his experience with a group of believers to surround their whole lives around the Word of God, Bianchi's overriding passion is to encounter Christ as he reads the Word of God. This is the method of lectio divina which helps us avoid some of the pitfalls of humanistic reading. Pitfalls such as:
  • Reading for simple emotional experience
  • Rigid fundamentalism that keeps the letter but ignores the spirit of the letter
  • Ignoring the traditions and histories of the Word
  • Using the Word of God as a polemic or literary weapon against one another
Set in two parts, Part One of the book is "Bible and Spirit" which is about entering the rooms in the Bible with the Holy Spirit holding the keys to usher us in. The third century Church father, Origen explains it as "Scriptura sui ipsius interpres" (Scripture is its own interpreter).This means that the Bible is a unity that does not contract itself. It also means the Spirit teaches us. The Bible is not merely an objective document to analyze and study. It is a subjective living Word that puts us as the object as willing servants and God as the Person revealed to us. We read in faith, desiring the truth instead of impatiently demanding answers to our needs. The Bible calls us to be personally involved in the Word instead of an impersonal stance to see things from a distance. We need to be open to what the Bible is saying and be open to what the Bible is not saying. It needs to be read, studied, and understood in the Spirit. Bianchi is also aware of how the Bible can be read in an "overly spiritualized, allegorical, literal, or fundamentalist" manner. The way to avoid that is to keep the Bible central in liturgy, preaching, theology, and Christian living, not just Bible study time. He advocates "spiritual exegesis" which is an approach to the Bible that believes God is found in the Word. It goes beyond methods or mere applications. It engages the whole person that the reading of the Word results in a transforming of one's life. Spiritual reading means reading the Bible as a single book on Christ. I like what Hans Urs von Balthasar's comment about the four senses of Scripture:
The four senses of scripture are celebrating a hidden resurrection in today’s theology. The literal sense appears to be analogous to the historical-critical approach, the spiritual sense to the kerygmatic, the tropological to the existential, and the anagogical to the eschatological.
The first sense is the literal sense which is how we exegete the Word, do word studies, and practice sound interpretation. The second sense is the spiritual in which we move to the tune of the Holy Spirit helping us to interpret and understand the meaning and significance of the Word for us today. The third sense is the tropological which is the moral interpretation of the story. Some would use the word allegorical to describe it. The fourth sense is anagogical which is to read Scripture with the view of the future coming Kingdom of God. Thus, reading the Bible transcends time as it embraces all the past, the present, and the future. Read the Bible over and over again until we are connected to God in love and adoration. We understand the Bible according to how we live it. Reading it involves two more elements: life of the Church and what it means to be human. The trouble with people is that they hardly read the Word and then complain about the lack of God's presence when we are in trouble. He connects the Bible as sacramental with the Eucharist as Christ's presence. In all, there is a stress on unity and the community of God.

Reading the Bible involves listening as well for the Bible is dialogical and relational. We listen to God and sense God listening to us. Obedience is listening in faith. Listening in faith means learning to move from letter to spirit, to let the Spirit guide our understanding of the ancient texts to the practice of modern living. Soon, Bianchi launches into the four levels of lectio divina.
  1. Historical-Literary level (lectio)
  2. Glimpsing Christ (meditatio)
  3. Dialogue that engages and interacts (oratio)
  4. Seeing God face to face (contemplatio)
Part Two of the Book deals with Lectio Divina in the Church. It is an interpretive trip down historical lane. We note how the Old Testament books interpret each other. We learn about the Jewish midrashic as well as the Church Fathers' use of allegorical methods. Different eras tend to focus on different senses of Scripture at any one time. Some good tips are as follows:
"Lectio divina, whether by ourselves or in community, requires a context of faith and prayer. We start in silence, confessing our faith that the Lord is speaking to us today through the biblical page. We invoke the Holy Spirit and open ourselves in humility to his action, because insight into the text is a Spirit-led event, not an intellectual pursuit." (90)
One chapter is dedicated to the foundations and practices of lectio divina and two chapters on the challenges of doing lectio divina. We learn about setting aside time and space intentionally, to enter into a place of solitude and silence. We cultivate our listening skills and discernment. We go through the exercises of lectio, oratio, meditatio, and contemplatio. Though brief, it offers readers a quick glimpse into what the exercises entail. Sometimes, brevity is golden as we can be quick to jump into the Word rather than to plow through pages and pages of instructions that can easily numb our enthusiasm.  Other practical tips include:
  • Daily reading of the Word
  • Planting God's Word in the hearts of people
  • Avoid the temptations of extremes
So What?

In some societies, reading is fast becoming a lost discipline. This is particularly so for an increasingly digital generation where people skim web pages instead of reading; browsing instead of meditating; and clicking various apps and links instead of beholding the Word before us. The medium we use is important and can affect the way we do lectio divina. We need to learn the four senses of Scripture simply because the Word of God cannot be hemmed into any one dimension. Just as we know that the Bible has many genres, so too we need to be sensitive to the Word in their original contexts. At the same time, the Spirit of God can lead us to discern what it means then and for us now. 

When I started to read this book, I thought it was a book that is about the practice of lectio divina. Instead, it is a book that lays the foundations of what Scripture is about first. It then shows us reading the Bible has to be done God's way, not human methods. Sometimes, an overly sola scriptura mindset risks reading the Word in humanistic ways. We need to go back to the sources, and be willing to be led by the Spirit to teach us as we participate humbly as a community of God.

If the book can have more examples and illustrations on various passages of Scripture, it would be wonderful.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


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

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