Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Midweek Meditation: "A Prayer of Erin Lane"

Almighty God,

You created us that we might live in you. 
You rescued us from sin and death,

And made us alive with Christ,

Joined to him as our head 
And to one another as his body. 

Yet we move through the world as if we were alone, 
Forgetting that we are joined to Christ, 

That our life is found in him.

Thinking that we can know and love the Lord
Apart from the fellowship of the Church.
And so our schedules and anxieties swirl around our own 
Self-evaluation and opportunities 

Instead of your call to the Church. 

When we do gather with your people,
We do not bear with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. 
Instead we interact with each other out of fear. 

We allow differences in personality or age,
Culture or education, to obscure the unity of the Spirit.
We fail to believe that you have given gifts to everyone to build up your Church. 

So we envy the talents of others.
We deny your generosity toward us,
Focused on self-doubt rather than grateful service.
And so we fail to see your goodness to the least among us, 
Accustomed to division

And immaturity in your Church,

Instead of seeking to grow up in your love. 

Forgive us, Lord, for sins that divide us 
From one another

And from you.

Grow us up into the knowledge of your Son 
And in submission to him. 


(Erin S. Lane, Lessons in Belonging, IVP, 2016, p167-8)

Monday, December 26, 2016

BookPastor >> "Strong and Weak" (Andy Crouch)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on April 29th, 2016.


TITLE: Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing
AUTHOR: Andy Crouch
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2016, (192 pages).

What are we meant to be? If where we are now and where we ought to be are so far apart, what's the reason? These two questions dominate the discussion of this book about the paradox of life. The first question deals with our self-understanding while the second talks about the gaps between who we are and where we ought to be. Essentially, it is about great hopes, great regrets, the human condition, and how one can flourish. The author's key thesis is this: "Flourishing comes from being both strong and weak. Flourishing requires us to embrace both authority and vulnerability, both capacity and frailty — even, at least in this broken world, both life and death."

Andy Crouch is executive editor of Christianity Today and has served for ten years as campus minister with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Harvard University. With his keen interest in Christianity and culture, he has previously written books like Culture Making which deals with the Christian in modern culture, and more recently, Playing God which is about the stewardship of power. If "Culture Making" is about the broader engagement of Christians in their existing culture; and "Playing God" about the engagement of Christians in their use of power; this book is about Christians in their personal and honest assessment of strengths and weaknesses, with an eye on personal calling and identity.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

"It's Christmas Time" - City on a Hill

This is one of the best Christmas songs released not too long ago. It brings together some of the most memorable carols combined with beautiful melodies. You can listen to it here, here, and here.

Lyrics In the city on the hill
Hear the bells chime
Peace on earth good will
Its Christmas time

Glad tidings we will bring
of Christ the new born king
And with the angels sing at Christmas time

Its Christmas time
Its Christmas time
Its Christmas time
Its Christmas time
Its Christmas time

In a town of Bethlehem
See the stars shine
Fall down and worship Him
It's Christmas time
Glad tidings we will bring
of Christ the new born king
And with the angels sing at Christmas time
In exelcis Deo...

In the city on the hill
Hear the bells chime
(Peace on earth)
Peace on earth good will
(Its Christmas time)
Its Christmas time
Glad tidings we will bring
of Christ the new born king
And with the angels sing at Christmas time

Glad tidings we will bring
of Christ the new born king
And with the angels sing at Christmas time

Its Christmas time (10x)

In the city on the hill
Its Christmas time

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Midweek Meditation: "A Simple Way to Pray" Part 6 (Martin Luther)

Last week, we touched on the the fifth and sixth petitions on Martin Luther's teaching on prayer, based on his letter to his good friend and barber, Peter Beskendorf. We will continue with a series of meditations on the Lord's Prayer on the seventh and eighth petitions.


The Seventh and Eighth Petitions

The seventh petition. "But deliver us from evil." Say: "O dear Lord, God and Father, this wretched life is so full of misery and calamity, of danger and uncertainty, so full of malice and faithlessness (as St. Paul says, "The days are evil") that we might rightfully grow weary of life and long for death. But thou, dear Father, knowest our frailty; therefore help us to pass in safety through so much wickedness and villainy; and, when our last hour comes, in thy mercy grant us a blessed departure from this vale of sorrows so that in the face of death we do not become fearful or despondent but in firm faith commit our souls into thy hands. Amen."

Finally, mark this, that you must always speak the Amen firmly. Never doubt that God in his mercy will surely hear you and say "yes" to your prayers. Never think that you are kneeling or standing alone, rather think that the whole of Christendom, all devout Christians, are standing there beside you and you are standing among them in a common, united petition which God cannot disdain. Do not leave your prayer without having said or thought, "Very well, God has heard my prayer; this I know as a certainty and a truth." That is what Amen means.

Additional Words
You should also know that I do not want you to recite all these words in your prayer. That would make it nothing but idle chatter and prattle, read word for word out of a book as were the rosaries by the laity and the prayers of the priests and monks. Rather do I want your heart to be stirred and guided concerning the thoughts which ought to be comprehended in the Lord's Prayer. These thoughts may be expressed, if your heart is rightly warmed and inclined toward prayer, in many different ways and with more words or fewer. I do not bind myself to such words or syllables, but say my prayers in one fashion today, in another tomorrow, depending upon my mood and feeling. I stay however, as nearly as I can, with the same general thoughts and ideas. It may happen occasionally that I may get lost among so many ideas in one petition that I forego the other six. If such an abundance of good thoughts comes to us we ought to disregard the other petitions, make room for such thoughts, listen in silence, and under no circumstances obstruct them. The Holy Spirit himself preaches here, and one word of his sermon is far better than a thousand of our prayers. Many times I have learned more from one prayer than I might have learned from much reading and speculation.

Monday, December 19, 2016

BookPastor >> "The Feast of Christmas" (Joseph F. Kelly)

TITLE: The Feast of Christmas
AUTHOR: Joseph Kelly
PUBLISHER: Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2010, (126 pages).

Christmas is just around the corner. Unlike the season of Lent where there is an emphasis on fasting, when it comes to the Advent and Christmastide, feasting is more the nature of the celebrations. With the modern symbols of the Christmas and the commercialization of this meaningful end of the year event invading the Church, even Christians can be confused about the true meaning and symbols of Christmas. What does turkey has to do with Christmas? How does Christmas trees and lighting fit into the picture? Do the Early Church celebrate Christmas at all? What about the Middle Ages? What is the origins of Christmas? How do we make sense of what is religious and what is secular when it comes to the Christmas season? One of the ways to understand this is to look back at history and let the unfolding events of the past guide and teach us on the true meaning of Christmas.

This is where this book comes in. Beginning with "Christianity without Christmas," Kelly looks at the tensions throughout history between the religious and secular thought surrounding Christmas. Though most of the Western world had selected December 25th as the day for Christmas, no one really knows exactly how and when that happened. The Russian Orthodox Church chose January 7th as their Christmas Day. The best estimates was that December 25th was chosen sometime in AD335 in Rome with the title "dies natalis Christi" (birth day of Christ). In fact, the early Christians do not pay much attention to Christmas at all. Only the gospels of Matthew and Luke recorded the Christ birth events which Kelly attributes to the anticipation of the world coming to an end quickly at that time. The gospel of Mark bypasses the birth narrative and hurriedly tells of Jesus works and ministry. The reason why Matthew and Luke included the birth narrative is to emphasize the fact that God recognized Jesus as His Son, and that the birth of Christ was a direct fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. Matthew focuses on the similarities between Moses and Jesus on how their lives were in danger at very early age. While Matthew writes to Jews, Luke focuses on Gentiles. Matthew's genealogy traces back to Abraham while Luke goes all the way to Adam. Luke meticulously records the birth narratives both before and after the birth of Christ, which makes the gospel of Luke a favourite Advent sermon choice. The feasting for Christmas is linked to the fabulous feast and spread of the Roman culture, where the secular Romans celebrated the pagan festival called Saturnalia, between Dec 17-23. This involved much eating, drinking, and celebrating. This would influence the way Christmas will be celebrated.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Beautiful Rendition of "All is Well"

This is my favourite Christmas song this year.

All is well all is well
Angels and men rejoice
For tonight darkness fell
Into the dawn of love's light
Sing A-le
Sing Alleluia
All is well all is well
Let there be peace on earth
Christ is come go and tell
That He is in the manger
Sing A-le
Sing Alleluia

All is well all is well
Lift up your voices and sing
Born is now Emmanuel
Born is our Lord and Savior
Sing Alleluia
Sing Alleluia
All is well

Words: Michael W. Smith

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Midweek Meditation: "A Simple Way to Pray" Part 5 (Martin Luther)

Last week, we touched on the the third and fourth petitions on Martin Luther's teaching on prayer, based on his letter to his good friend and barber, Peter Beskendorf. We will continue with a series of meditations on the Lord's Prayer on the fifth and sixth petitions.


The Fifth and Sixth Petitions

The fifth petition. "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." Say: "O dear Lord, God and Father, enter not into judgment against us because no man living is justified before thee. Do not count it against us as a sin that we are so unthankful for thine ineffable goodness, spiritual and physical, or that we stray into sin many times every day, more often than we can know or recognize, Psalm 19. Do not look upon how good or how wicked we have been but only upon the infinite compassion which thou hast bestowed upon us in Christ, thy dear Son. Grant forgiveness also to those who have harmed or wronged us, as we forgive them from our hearts. They inflict the greatest injury upon themselves by arousing thy anger in their actions toward us. We are not helped by their ruin; we would much rather that they be saved with us. Amen." (Anyone who feels unable to forgive, let him ask for grace so that he can forgive; but that belongs in a sermon.)

The sixth petition. "And lead us not into temptation." Say: "O dear Lord, Father and God, keep us fit and alert, eager and diligent in thy word and service, so that we do not become complacent, lazy, and slothful as though we had already achieved everything. In that way the fearful devil cannot fall upon us, surprise us, and deprive us of thy precious word or stir up strife and factions among us and lead us into other sin and disgrace, both spiritually and physically. Rather grant us wisdom and strength through thy spirit that we may valiantly resist him and gain the victory. Amen."

Monday, December 12, 2016

BookPastor >> "How to Preach and Teach the Old Testament for All Its Worth" (Christopher J.H. Wright)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on April 16th, 2016.


TITLE: How to Preach and Teach the Old Testament for All Its Worth
AUTHOR: Christopher J.H. Wright
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (288 pages).

Christians who believe in the authority of the Bible will have no problem about the importance of the Old Testament. However, when it comes to communicating the truths and the nuances of the biblical texts for the general audience, it becomes more challenging because of the ancient contexts, the archaic languages used, and how it is relevant for contemporary cultures. Author Christopher Wright has seen it all. He knows how infrequent preachers use the Old Testament for their Sunday sermons. Even those who teach prefer to use the New Testament as it involves less work for the teacher and less intense for the students. Yet, the difficulty should not be the reason for not studying the Old Testament. Despite the title of the book, there is a progression of why first before the how. This is important.

Part One of the book is about the WHY we need to preach and teach the Old Testament. Part Two reveals the HOW.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Five of My Favourite Songs from the 70s

Here are some of my favourite songs from the 70s.

1) Gilbert O'Sullivan: "Clair"

2) Bee Gees: "How Deep is Your Love"

3) James Taylor: "You've Got a Friend"

4) Roberta Flack: "Killing Me Softly"

5) Carpenters: "Yesterday Once More"


Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Midweek Meditation: "A Simple Way to Pray" Part 4 (Martin Luther)

Last week, we covered the second petition of Martin Luther's teaching on prayer, based on his letter to his good friend and barber, Peter Beskendorf. We will continue with a series of meditations on the Lord's Prayer on the third and fourth petitions.


The Third and Fourth Petitions

The third petition. "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Say: "O dear Lord, God and Father, thou knowest that the world, if it cannot destroy thy name or root out thy kingdom, is busy day and night with wicked tricks and schemes, strange conspiracies and intrigue, huddling together in secret counsel, giving mutual encouragement and support, raging and threatening and going about with every evil intention to destroy thy name, word, kingdom, and children. Therefore, dear Lord, God and Father, convert them and defend us. Convert those who have yet to acknowledge thy good will that they with us and we with them may obey thy will and for thy sake gladly, patiently, and joyously bear every evil, cross, and adversity, and thereby acknowledge, test, and experience thy benign, gracious, and perfect will. But defend us against those who in their rage, fury, hate, threats, and evil desires do not cease to do us harm. Make their wicked schemes, tricks, and devices to come to nothing so that these may be turned against them, as we sing in Psalm 7 .""

The fourth petition. "Give us this day our daily bread." Say: "Dear Lord, God and Father, grant us thy blessing also in this temporal and physical life. Graciously grant us blessed peace. Protect us against war and disorder. Grant to our dear emperor fortune and success against his enemies. Grant him wisdom and understanding to rule over his earthly kingdom in peace and prosperity. Grant to all kings, princes, and rulers good counsel and the will to preserve their domains and their subjects in tranquility and justice. Especially aid and guide our dear prince N., under whose protection and shelter thou dost maintain us, so that he may be protected against all harm and reign blessedly, secure from evil tongues and disloyal people. Grant to all his subjects grace to serve him loyally and obediently. Grant to every estate-townsman or farmer-to be diligent and to display charity and loyalty toward each other. Give us favorable weather and good harvest. I commend to thee my house and property, wife and child. Grant that I may manage them well, supporting and educating them as a Christian should. Defend us against the Destroyer and all his wicked angels who would do us harm and mischief in this life. Amen."

Monday, December 05, 2016

BookPastor >> "Answering Jihad" (Nabeel Qureshi)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on April 14th, 2016.


TITLE: Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward
AUTHOR: Nabeel Qureshi
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (176 pages).

What does it mean to say that Islam is a religion of peace? Is this understanding the same for both Western and the Middle-Eastern minds? What is Jihad? How does a religion cause a person to become radicalized? What is the meaning of Islam and its origins?

Spurred by the rising anxiety of terrorism from Islamic radicals and the confusion surrounding religious truth and ideology, Nabeel Qureshi shares honestly and passionately about what Islam stands for, what Jihad essentially means, and how we can respond or relate to Muslims. Qureshi is a former Muslim who when young, was very pious about all things Islam. He has previously shared about his conversion from Islam to Christianity in a book entitled, "Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus."

Some of the clarifications he have made in the book include his study, experience, and analysis of the history of Islam and the teachings of the Quran.
  1. The Western understanding of Islam as a religion of peace is different from the Muslim's understanding of peace. Islam means "surrender," a peace that comes only after all the enemies of Islam have surrendered. Violence may be necessary in order to bring about such peace. 
  2. The word 'Jihad' means 'struggle,' and is sometimes referred to as the sixth pillar of Islam. While the word sometimes is used in the Quran in a spiritual sense, it more often than not refers to a physical struggle for a spiritual goal.
  3. Each time anyone attempts to go back to the origins of the Islamic faith, violence is part and parcel of the struggle in the faith. A vast majority of Muslims have not bothered to go back to the roots of the religion. In order to understand the Islamic religion, one must also understand the contexts of the religion. 
  4. The history of the prophet Muhammad is replete with violence; both offensive and defensive forms of jihad. (Example, in Quran 9:29, there is a command to fight Jews and Christians because of belief, not aggression)
  5. "Sharia" literally means "path to water" but the interpretations of Shariah law varies tremendously due to "abrogation" where there are verses the some say are no longer relevant but others insist on its relevance.
  6. The expansion of Islam involves the use of the "sword" whether directly or indirectly.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Five of my Favourite Male-Band Songs

I thought I would put together a list of five of my top favourite songs by male-bands.

1) Savage Garden: "I Knew I Loved You."

2) Take That: "Back For Good"

3) One Direction: "Night Changes"

4) Backstreet Boys: "I Want It That Way"

5) Boyz II Men: "End of the Road"


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