Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Midweek Meditation: "Anticipation"

"We therefore live in anticipation, not fulfilment. Experiences which we have on earth can thus be seen as hints of something greater which is yet to come. If our real destiny lies with some good which lies beyond this world, we should expect to encounter hints of this goodness in this world. They will only be hints - yet they will be real, conveying to us something of what lies tantalizingly beyond us.

The overwhelming sense of joy that comes from achieving something worthwhile can thus be seen as a hint of something even more wonderful that is yet to come.On earth, such joy is transient, fading away with a speed which can frighten us as much as disappoint us. It seems so transient and brief. If we were to pursue such earthly joy for its own good, we would be doomed to frustration and bitterness. But what if such experiences of joy are not to be seen as things to be captured before they fade away, but as hints of a joy which we have yet to experience, something which awaits us?" (Alister McGrath, An Unknown God, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999, p28-9)


Monday, May 25, 2015

BookPastor >> "Created for Community" (Stan Grenz)

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


TITLE: By Stanley J. Grenz Created for Community: Connecting Christian Belief with Christian Living (3rd Third Edition) [Paperback]
AUTHOR: Stanley J. Grenz and Jay T. Smith
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014, (308 pages).

The word 'Theology' sometimes does not get a fair hearing. In some circles, just mentioning the words "theology," "Bible school," or "theological studies" would lead to sarcasm and skeptical remarks about theology being too intellectual and impractical for daily living. I have heard of opponents who drop names of various famous people who never attended Bible school. Names like AW Tozer who had such great influence but never had formal theological training, sometimes pop up that downplays the need for theological education. Of course, the face of theological education has been represented (or misrepresented) by theological publications that seem so intellectually challenging or difficult to understand. Some professors who speak at churches fail to speak at the level of the congregation. Books have also come from the direction of an ivory tower to the common man in the street. No wonder people tend to have a mistaken idea of theology and theological education. In this book, the late systematic theologian Stanley Grenz seeks to buck the trend by talking about theology from a common man in the street perspective. He makes three assertions.
  1. Theology enables us to affirm orthodox doctrine. Believers can then distinguish right doctrine from wrong.
  2. Theology helps us to teach doctrine and Christian truths. Believers can be grounded in the faith.
  3. Theology helps us learn about God and God's purposes. Believers can understand what the Bible teaches about God and God's will.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Midweek Meditation: "Are We Missing the Signposts of Life in Our Search?"

"My experience of thirst does not mean there is water nearby. Yet it certainly points to my need for water if I am to survive physically. Is not thirst a natural sign of our need for food? So might not our sense of longing for something profound and satisfying also be a natural sign of a real human need - and a sign that something exists with the potential to satisfy that need?" (Alister McGrath, An Unknown God, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999, p22)

"Christianity affirms that God created humanity. What if we are meant to want to relate to God?Might our sense of emptiness and lack of fulfilment be intended to point us to something or someone who could fulfil it? Might Augustine, perhaps the greatest Christian writer of late antiquity, have been right when he penned the following words as a prayer to God: 'You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you'?'" (Alister McGrath, An Unknown God, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999, p25)


Monday, May 18, 2015

BookPastor >> "Understanding Media" (Marshall McLuhan)

TITLE: Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man
AUTHOR: Marshall McLuhan
PUBLISHER: Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1994, (368 pages).

This is a classic by the late Marshall McLuhan, whose most famously coined the influence of media on society as: "The Medium is the Message." First published in 1964, this book has been republished several times due to the relevance and powerful insights McLuhan has on understanding the nature of media and its effects on people. Born in Edmonton, Alberta Canada, he was a former Director of the Center of Culture and Technology at St Michael's College, the University of Toronto. Influenced by the writings of GK Chesterton, he converted to Catholicism in 1937. His work on media and its effects on culture has become a standard reference in universities offering courses on media ethics and technology influences upon culture. The key conviction lies in studying the culture by studying the influences of media.

"Examination of the origin and development of the individual extensions of man should be preceded by a look at some general aspects of the media, or extensions of man, beginning with the never-explained numbness that each extension brings about in the individual and society." (6)

Comprising of two parts, McLuhan in Part One lays the theoretical foundations of his thesis. Beginning with the now famous chapter, "The Medium is the Message," he contrasts the electric bulb as "pure information" and "medium without a message" versus other mediums that essentially "shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action. Mediums like movies that shape public opinions; paintings that enchant people; and technologies that compel people to behave in "uniform and continuous patterns." He argues:

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Midweek Meditation: "Searching for the Land of Dreams"

"Deep down, many of us long for something that is really worthwhile. We are looking for something that really matters. There seems to be something about human nature that makes it want to long for something life-changing. While many people are troubled by the thought of dying, others are disturbed by a much more profound anxiety - that we may die without having really begun to live." (Alister McGrath, The Unknown God, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999, p12)

The Scripture says,
"And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions." (Joel 2:28)

(Photo Credit: Addicted to Fries link)


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Powerful Testimony - John Volken

John Volken is a Canadian philanthropist and a humanitarian aiming to make this world a better place where he is. The headlines are pretty captivating like the VanCity Buzz's "Meet John Volken: The man who donated his entire personal wealth to charity ($150 million!)" or the Vancouver Sun's "Philanthropy has been John Volken’s hardest and most rewarding job." Founder of the John Volken Academy, a safe house created to give recovering alcoholics and drug addicts to rehabilitate and a second chance at life, Surrey-based Volken has given away millions of his personal wealth to humanitarian causes not only in Canada but other parts of the world. He is also an astute businessman, building up United Furniture Warehouse to more than 150 stores with $200 million in annual sales.   He sold his business in 2004 in order to concentrate on helping various areas of social neglect by setting up a John Volken Foundation. In doing so, he channels his personal assets and uses them to fund his many social help initiatives. From John Volken Academy (Formerly WelcomeHome) in Surrey to LiftTheChildren in Kenya, Volken continues to be active in both humanitarian and charitable causes, so much so that he has been voted Immigrant of the Year 2014.

See his story here.


Monday, May 11, 2015

BookPastor >> "Community" (Brad House)

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


TITLE: Community: Taking Your Small Group off Life Support (RE: Lit)
AUTHOR: Brad House
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2011, (256 pages).

This is a manual for building and re-building community groups from the ground up. Filled with clear tables, vivid diagrams, real-life examples, and practical steps, House provides the Church a clearly written document for building up gospel-centered community groups. Missional in outreach, and transformational for inner living, the idea of community groups is basically one that is centered on the Word, leading to love of God and neighbour.

What the Book is About
Beginning with a critical diagnosis of many modern small groups, House notices that far too many groups are trying to 'do more' instead of to 'be more' (17). Many churches are sleepy or dying simply because they lack the vital community groups. Most of them are basically on 'life-support,' where there is over-emphasis on one or a few key leaders. In a culture that looks more like a collection of disconnected individuals, House wants to encourage the formation of connected communities that knits every member bearing the common identity of the people of God.

Part One works on the foundational blocks of community groups. Based on biblical principles, a community group has a clear sense of identity in being the image of God. They recognize their calling to be a community, to glorify God. They are inspired and empowered by the vision of God's glory and kingdom. They learn that community is not an option but a must have lifestyle. Biblical groups see themselves as the Body of Christ, reflecting the values of the Church. They practice the three key distinctiveness of community groups: Pastoral Care, Discipleship, and Mission. Community groups are essentially people who have a sense of ownership of the group.

Part Two redefines the health of community groups. He contrasts the differences between the poor and the good kinds of groups:

  • Poor groups focus on pragmatic approaches; Great communities begin with convictions;
  • Poor groups react; Good communties are led to vision and envision;
  • Poor groups focus on programs and products; Good communities focus on purpose
  • Poor groups ask about 'what we do'; Good communities work from 'who they are'
  • Poor groups focus on events; Good communities on lifestyle
  • Poor groups tend to be 'life-taking;' Good communities are 'life-giving'
  • Poor groups conform; Good communities are creative
  • Poor groups see meeting up as an obligation; Good communities see meeting up as a blessing.

Part Three talks about effecting change in community groups. Beginning with repentance, the author works through meticulous details to ensure that groups can rebuild well. There is a chapter on 'boot-camp' to give churches and small groups a leg up in reforming their groups, and to take them off life-support.

My Comments

As a believer of community groups, I believe this book is required reading for all pastors, elders, and church leaders. In fact, every church member ought to read this and be convicted about being part of the church. Chapter 4 is worth the price of the book. Filled with powerful comparisons of the poor and the good kinds of community groups, it presents much food for thought for leaders. I enjoy the way the author leads the reader through the weaknesses of traditional life-support groups, to glimpse what biblical groups are made of. The key point is worth emphasizing. The Church is simply not one that contains small groups or collection of individuals for some program or event. It is not one that people gather for the sake of gathering. When groups come together and are united in the name of Christ, they become Church.

I like the way House manages to provide not only the teaching behind each idea but also some models to kick-start planning. The evolution of the "community group expectations" is a useful model to use. With the Bible as core, caregiving as practice, and outreach as an extension of the small group, such a community will be beneficial within the group as well as outside the group. There are appendices on group plan, leadership, neighbourhood outreach plan, community group replication plan, and other job descriptions to help readers get off the mark.

Good read.

Ratings: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free courtesy of Crossway Publications and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. The comments above are freely given.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Happy Mother's Day 2015 - Touching Tributes

This is a really touching video clip about showing our love and appreciation for our mothers. It is a project done by Jurong Point officials who set up a booth to ask shoppers at random to call their mums. Many of us would be able to identify the universal expression of love.

Make this Mother's Day a really special one.


Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Midweek Meditation: "A Spiritual Hunger"

Starting this week, I will be sharing from the work of Alister McGrath, "The Unknown God," a book on searching for spiritual fulfillment. It comprises several reflections by McGrath on how the world and people at large search for some kind of fulfilment and at the same time having to contend with the paradoxes of life. Today's meditation is on spiritual hunger.

"A noted philosopher once commented that when people had plenty to eat they turned their minds to thinking great thoughts. The point he was making is simple. You need to make sure of your physical survival before you can do some serious thinking. Yet one of the most curious things about serious human thought is that it often focuses on the theme of emptiness. Having satisfied their physical hunger, people become aware of a deeper kind of hunger - a longing for something that will really satisfy." (Alister McGrath, The Unknown God, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999, p7)

Jesus said: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled." (Matthew 5:6)


Monday, May 04, 2015

BookPastor >> "Why Revival Tarries" (Leonard Ravenhill)

This review was first published at "A Book Pastor Recommends" on May 2nd, 2011. It is one of the best books on revival and a wake up call for sleepy believers, or those who ever thought they were true believers.


AUTHOR: Leonard Ravenhill
PUBLISHER: Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2004.

This book is a classic book on prayer and revival.Written back in 1959, it has gone through many reprints by different publishers. That era boasts of fiery preachers like A W Tozer. They preach without compromise. They teach without fear of offending the world. Leonard Ravenhill's is a gift to the evangelical world to call them to the fundamentals of revival: Prayer and Unction from the Holy Spirit.

Throughout the book, the author blasts prayer apathy. He attacks the prayerlessness in churches. He lambasts the preachers who get by the pulpit with their own manmade intelligence rather than the spiritual power of God. Above all, why revival tarries is because people do not pray well. Preaching needs the unction of the Holy Spirit. Eternity needs to be grasped. People need the fullest vision of hope in the midst of helplessness, holiness of heaven despite the hellishness of hell. The Church needs strong men of God. All of these are necessarily tied to prayer and prayerfulness. Without prayer, one depends more on self instead of on God.

Prayer precedes all manner of Christian work. Without prayer, preaching is but a place to showcase one's oratorical talent. Without prayer, preaching turns from soul-hot to dead-cold. Without prayer, bones remain dry. Prayerlessness breeds unbelief. Prayerlessness douses courage. Prayerlessness builds empire for self rather than God.

This is perhaps one of the best books to stir us to pray more, and to depend on God. It is a laserlike focus to rev the Church to take God more seriously in prayer. As I read this book, I feel the temperature in my heart rise. It is not a book to be trifled with. If you pick this book up and read, be prepared to be changed. Be prepared to be moved. Most importantly, be prepared to pray.

Ratings: 5 stars of 5.


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