Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Midweek Meditation: Big Picture Christianity

Are you caught up with small concerns? What about being stuck with petty issues that hem you in? Maybe it is time to see it differently not from the eyes of man but from the eyes of God.

What makes life worthwhile is having a big enough objective, something which catches our imagination and lays hold of our allegiance, and this the Christian has in a way that no other person has. For what higher, more exalted, and more compelling goal can there be than to know God?” (J.I. Packer, Knowing God, Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1973, p34)

Monday, July 27, 2015

BookPastor >> "Launch Your Encore" (Hans Finzel and Rick Hicks)

Many nations around the world are facing this big issue: An aging population. We need to encourage a re-launching of a person's sense of purpose. This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on May 11th, 2015.


TITLE: Launch Your Encore: Finding Adventure and Purpose Later in Life
AUTHOR: Hans Finzel and Rick Hicks
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2015, (208 pages).

In America, more than 76 million people are above 60 years of age. Some call it retirement phase. Others call it the golden years or the silver hair period of life. After many years of active working, this phase of life is often marked by slowdowns  physically, mentally, and emotionally. In such later years, what can these people do? They may retire from their jobs but they cannot retire from life altogether. Moreover, with more people living longer and the pace of society getting quicker, it can be very challenging for people in this age group to cope. Rather than to be shoved aside, the authors of this book believe that retirement is more an opportunity rather than an unwelcome phase of life. The premise is this.

"The word retirement should not be an exit sign, but a door into something fresh, new, and exciting." (17)

This "final act" may very well be this particular generation's "greatest contribution." How is it possible, one may ask. The authors frame the process in four parts.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Amazon Top 1000 Reviewer List (#989)

Wow! I made it to Amazon's Top 1000 Review list today. Never thought I'd get this far.


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Midweek Meditation: "Being Still to Perfectly Reflect Christ"

Who are we reflecting? In our rush from place to place, with our schedule filled with all kinds of activities, it is hard to be still. Yet, stillness and silence play an important part in spirituality. For spirituality is about our awareness of the presence of God and the movement of the Holy Spirit. Without the time to be still, it is hard to be able to catch the wind, and to reflect the glory of God.

Like the still waters below, it is only when the waters are perfectly still, that the surroundings can be perfectly reflected. It takes a still heart to reflect the quiet beauty of God.

Still waters reflect the beauty of the landscape. A soul stilled in Christ reflects the beauty of God's grace.

Castle Crags Wilderness, California (Credit: Cory Poole Photography)

Monday, July 20, 2015

BookPastor >> "Becoming Worldly Saints" (Michael Wittmer)

Is it possible to be a Christian and still enjoy life? 

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on May 8th, 2015.


TITLE: Becoming Worldly Saints: Can You Serve Jesus and Still Enjoy Your Life?
AUTHOR: Michael E. Wittmer
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015, (208 pages).

Is it possible to be a Christian and still enjoy life? How can we practice a faith that is both world-affirming as well as world-denying? What does it mean to live in this world and not be of the world? Simply put, just because we are Christian does not make us less human. Just because we are called to be saints does not mean we are no longer sinners. Just because we are heaven bound does not mean we ignore our life on earth. In fact, we are called to live out heaven on this earth.  In order to do this, author and Professor of Systematic Theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, Michael Wittmer affirms the joy that every believer can exhibit, whether serving, working, or enjoying this present life. We need a larger narrative that is able to embrace both the "high purpose of heaven" as well as the "normal pleasures of earth." When we do affirm both together, we are saying no to the extremes of naturalism and spiritualism. The former is fixated on things physical and existential while the latter tends toward an extreme version of supernaturalism.

Wittmer helps us appreciate the one biblical story through four aspects: Creation, Meaning, Fall, Redemption. In doing so, we are led through various aspects of life's paradoxes. We are liberated in Christ, yet are subjected to the Lordship of Christ. We are concerned about present human suffering but also mindful of the eternal suffering. Two distinctions are emphasized. The first is that of the natural and the supernatural. The second is the unique distinction of us being redeemed despite our fallen nature, which ought to inform our mission whether we are giving people a fish or teaching them how to fish. In much Christian humanitarian work, people tend to focus on doing things for people. However, the greatest need for all people is Christ. He offers two pieces of encouragement.
  1. It is impossible to do only what is important. We still need to do the routine and mundane stuff of life.
  2. There will always be a tension between what we do and what we ought to do, a tricky balance between earthly and heavenly mindedness.

Monday, July 13, 2015

BookPastor >> "The Ultimate Gift" (Jim Stovall)

TITLE: The Ultimate Gift (The Ultimate Series #1)
AUTHOR: Jim Stovall
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2007, (156 pages).

Red Stevens had died. He had also left a will that determines how his riches would be distributed. Eagerly, his family members gather around to hear what they would be getting from their rich relative through a lawyer friend, Theodore J. Hamilton. The will executioner holds a document that would decide how the $1billion inheritance would be discharged. Alas! The initial excitement for the family members became a disappointment when they did not get what they hoped to get. The last to depart from the disappointing meeting was Jason Stevens, the grand-nephew of Red Stevens. Just when he was about to leave, he was given a video tape. Inside this video contains instructions that essentially offers Jason a stark choice. He can either follow the instructions strictly to the letter or simply walk away. The condition is that over a period of a year, he would have to pass a test every month. He would need to pass each test before proceeding to the next. If any test had been either incomplete or unsatisfactorily done, Jason would receive nothing more. The rest of the book details how Jason character was changed at the completion of each assignment. Most remarkable was the lessons the came with each test. Below are snippets of lasting lessons that Jason had learnt in the process of completing the assignments.
  • Work: He who loves his work never labors.
  • Money: Money is nothing more than a tool. It can be a force of good, a force of evil, or simply be idle.
  • Friends: It is a wealthy person, indeed, who calculates riches not in gold but in friends.
  • Learning: Education is a lifelong journey whose destination expands as you travel.
  • Problems: Problems can only be avoided by exercising good judgment. Good judgment can only be gained by experiencing life’s problems
  • Family: Some people are born into wonderful families. Others have to find or create them. Being a member of a family is a priceless privilege which costs nothing but love.
  • Laughter: Laughter is a good medicine for the soul. Our world is desperately in need of more such medicine. Dreams: Faith is all that dreamers need to see the future.
  • Giving: The only way you can truly get more out of life for yourself is to give part of yourself away.
  • Gratitude: In those times when we yearn to have more in our lives we should dwell on the things we already have. In doing so, we will often find that our lives are already full to overflowing.
  • A Day: Life at its essence boils down to one day at a time. Today is the day!
  • Love: Love is a treasure for which we can never pay. The only way to keep it is to give it away.
Like the conditioning of the soul, and the blossoming of a person's character, Jason overcame each assignment with increasing determination. As his perspective changes from arrogance to humility, unappreciative to gratefulness, his wisdom to deal with wealth and riches also increases. This is exactly what the wise Red Stevens had in mind. The late billionaire had learnt how free handouts have often brought about the worst in people who never truly learn the more important things in life. This reminds me of the wisdom in Proverbs 28:6, "Better a poor man whose walk is blameless than a rich man whose ways are perverse."

We all need to be wise with what we have. For those of us who have been working and have accumulated a sizable amount of assets and wealth, one of the biggest concerns is how to go about distributing them. Do we give all of them to our children? How do we decide who gets what? What about grace in giving? How do we give away our wealth wisely? Not many books can offer brilliant advice with simplicity and with such powerful narrative. Though this novel is fictional, the things and virtues talked about in the book is very real. Pick up this book and read away. Then, buy a couple to give away, especially for those of us who know of wealthy people in their last phases of life.


Friday, July 10, 2015

Inspirational Video: "Light Rain"

This short video is an inspirational one for the weekend. Written by Bob Perks, it is a story of a group of people stranded because of the rain and it took a little girl to kick start a remarkable response. It reminds me of how we as adults have lots to learn from the innocence of little children. Interestingly, when adults try to teach children, they talk sense. When they try to live it themselves, they easily forget what they have taught their children.


Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Midweek Meditation: "Like a Precious Stone"

A monk in his travels once found a precious stone and kept it. One day he met a traveler, and when the monk opened his bag to share his provisions with him, the traveler saw the jewel and asked the monk to give it to him. The monk did so readily. The traveler departed, overjoyed with the unexpected gift of the precious stone that was enough to give him wealth and security for the rest of his life. However, a few days later he came back in search of the monk, found him, gave him back the stone, and entreated him, “Now give me something much more precious than this stone, valuable as it is. Give me that which enabled you to give it to me.” 
(Anthony De Mello)
Let our faith be like that of a pilgrim who gets enlightened to seek after the One who made the precious stone? As we pray for our needs in this world, remember not the gifts we seek after but the Giver who provides all that we need.


Monday, July 06, 2015

BookPastor >> "ESV Global Study Bible" (Free from Crossway)

TITLE: ESV Global Study Bible
AUTHOR: Crossway
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2012, (1984 pages)

This is a treat from Crossway Publishers. As of April 13th, 2015, the electronic version of the ESV Global Study Bible was made available for free. As a not-for-profit ministry, the motive is to encourage greater Bible literacy and for readers to put the principles into practice. Multiple platforms are supported, ranging from conventional computer platforms, Apple iPhones and iPads, to versions for various ebook readers. Comprising an international team of educators, pastors, scholars, theologians, mission agencies, and leaders from around the world, this study Bible contains the entire English Standard Version (2011 edition), and a host of other resources like:
  • Charts and diagrams
  • Maps and Tables
  • Illustrations and Timelines
  • Facts
  • Character Profiles
  • Overviews of each book
  • Global Perspectives
  • Many articles
The contributors hail from Africa (Cameroon, Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia), Americas (Canada, Jamaica, USA), Asia (India, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka), Europe (France, UK), and the rest of the world (Australia, etc). This one-volume study resource packs a punch for the unbeatable price of free, unless of course you want to get a hardcopy edition. Here is more from Crossway.

    - Complete ESV Bible text
    - 12,000 clear, concise study notes
    - The global message of each book
    - 14 new articles written by global Christian leaders
    - Introductions and timelines for each Bible book
    - Nearly 900 highlighted Bible facts
    - 120 Bible character profiles
    - More than 120 duotone maps and illustrations throughout
    - More than 80,000 cross-references
    - An extensive concordance
    - Glossary with concise definitions of key terms

As you download, say a prayer of thanks for the ESV team and the Global Bible Study contributors. They have worked a lot to simply give away their work. Maybe we can do some form of paying it forward?


Wednesday, July 01, 2015

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