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)

Latest Posts