Wednesday, December 13, 2017

"Making Sense of God 6a" (Tim Keller)


TITLE: Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical
AUTHOR: Tim Keller
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Viking Books, 2016, (330 pages).

Who am I? Who are you? Often, the answer depends on our upbringing, our links to certain institutions, or our roles and titles. In non-Western cultures, people are identified through their connections with their communities. In Western cultures, this is reversed via "expressed individualism." While it may be overly simplistic, this offers us a glimpse into the differences in mindset that contrasts "self-sacrifice" from "self-assertion"; Keller even points out the hit movie Frozen's song that affirms the latter in Western culture. With secularism, the image of the modern man has become incoherent, illusory, crushing, and fracturing.

Question 6a: "The Problem with the Self: Question of Identity"
On Incoherent:
"First of all, our contemporary approach is incoherent. If you look into your heart to find your deep desires, you certainly will discover many of them. And you will discover something else - that they contradict one another. You may very much want a certain career, but then you fall in love with someone whom you also want very much. Because of the particular nature of both the career and the relationship, you realize you won't be able to have both. What you you going to do? You might insist that one of these desires - for career or love - must be deeper and more 'you,' but that's naive. Why assume that your internal desires are arranged in such an orderly way? Francis Spufford writes that you are 'a being whose wants make no sense, don't harmonise: whose desires, deep down, are discordantly arranged, so that you truly want to possess and you truly want not to, at the same time. You're equipped. . . for farce or even tragedy more than you are for happy endings.

.....

Not only do your desires contradict, but they also are elusive. 'What are the wants of the self?' Bellah asks. 'For all its unmistakable presence and intensity on occasion, the experience of feeling good, like being in love, is so highly subjective that its distinguishing characteristics remain ineffable.'

And besides being contradictory and elusive, our desires constantly change. As I have said, part of having an identity is having a stable, core sense of who you are, day in and day out, in different settings and times. That is why the traditional way of forging an identity through connection with something solid outside the individual self made sense. But if your identity is just your desires, they are going to be changing all the time. If in every situation you seek your own self-interest responding in ways that get the approval and control you want at the moment, then identity essentially disappears. 'In the work of Erving Goffman. . . [comes the view that] there is no self at all. What seems to be a self is merely a series of emphasis on 'being yourself' apart from fixed social roles results in there being no sustained 'you' left, which is common to all situations." (123-4)


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Monday, December 11, 2017

BookPastor >> "Belonging and Becoming" (Mark and Lisa Scandrette)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Jan 25th, 2017.

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TITLE: Belonging and Becoming: Creating a Thriving Family Culture
AUTHOR: Mark and Lisa Scandrette
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2016, (240 pages).

Ask anybody what is the most important thing in their lives, and there is a good chance that it would be this: Family. Who doesn't want to have a closely knit loving family? Who would give anything for their families to thrive? Speaking of family is one thing. Achieving it is another. In fact, many people who wanted to have start a family begin well but spluttered along the way. Perhaps, we just need some help and mentoring to get our own families on track toward thriving instead of mere surviving.  For Mark and Lisa Scandrette, their journey started when they stopped to reflect about choices that they could make for the sake of the family. They took the time to intentionally explore new possibilities. They also resolve to take steps to make that into reality. In two words, they bring out the essence of what it means to thrive: Belonging and Becoming. Give children a sense of belonging and empower them toward becoming the best they could ever be. They define the thriving family as follows:

"A thriving family is a place of belonging and becoming, where each person feels safe, cared for and loved, and is supported to develop who they are for the good of the world."


Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Making Sense of God 5" (Tim Keller)


TITLE: Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical
AUTHOR: Tim Keller
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Viking Books, 2016, (330 pages).

Freedom is a much cherished right in the West. The progress of a society is intricately linked to the freedom to what whatever one pleases. Anything that infringes on such a freedom would be blasted as evil. If one elevates freedom to the highest importance, all others will have to play second fiddle to this sacred right. Truth is, is this workable? What if the exercise of one's freedom infringes on another person's expression of freedom? Is there a limit to free-will?

Question 5: "Why Can't I Be Free to Live as I See Fit, as Long as I Don't Harm Anyone?"
"If you see a large sailboat out on the water moving swiftly, it is because the sailor is honoring the boat's design. If she tries to take it into water too shallow for it, the boat will be ruined. The sailor experiences the freedom of speed sailing only when she limits her boat to the proper depth of water and faces the wind at the proper angle. In the same way, human beings thrive in certain environments and break down in others. Unless you honour the givens and limits of your physical nature, you will never know the freedom of health. Unless you honor the givens and limits of human relationships, you will never know the freedom of love and social peace. If you actually lived any way you wanted - never aligning your choices with these physical and social realities - you would quickly die, and die alone.

You are, then, not free to do whatever you choose. That is an impossible idea and not the way freedom actually works. You get the best freedoms only if you are willing to submit your choices to various realities, if you honor your own design." (103)

"In their book Bellah and his colleagues show that much of the health of a society depends on voluntarily unselfish behavior. Being honest, generous, and public spirited - being faithful to your spouse and children - regularly infringes on your personal happiness and freedom. If people stop doing these things and (as Haidt says) put personal fulfillment above commitment and relationship, the only alternative is a more powerful and coercive government. Bellah and his colleagues made this case in their original 1985 study. Their case was that the culture's emphasis on personal freedom over commitment to community could undermine democractic institutions. In 1996 and 2008 the book was reissued with a new preface written by Bellah, and each time he pointed out that our situation was worsening.

Let's bring this down to a practical level. Just as a sailboat is not free to sail unless it confines itself in significant ways, so you will never know the freedom of love unless you limit your choices in significant ways. There is no greater feeling of liberation than to feel and be loved well. The affirmation that comes from love liberates you from fears and self-doubts. It frees you from having to face the world alone, with only your own ingenuity and resources. Your friend or mate will be crucial to helping you achieve many of your goals in life. In all these ways love is liberating - perhaps the most liberating thing. But the minute you get into a love relationship, and the deeper and the more intimate and the more wonderful it gets, the more you also have to give up your independence." (107)

One of the most powerful links between God, love, and freedom is written by John Newton as follows:

"Our pleasure and our duty, though opposite before;
Since we have seen his beauty, are joined to part no more...
To see the law of Christ fulfilled, and hear his pardoning voice
Changes a slave into a child, and duty into choice."


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Monday, December 04, 2017

BookPastor >> "God is Not Fair and Other Reasons for Gratitude" (Daniel P. Horan)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Nov 28th, 2016.

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TITLE: God Is Not Fair, and Other Reasons for Gratitude
AUTHOR: Daniel P. Horan
PUBLISHER: Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2016, (144 pages).

This is a Christian book with a strange title. Using a counterintuitive title to draw curiosity, it is also about learning not to see things from the eyes of individualism but through God's eyes. As long as we wear personal subjectivity and egoistical lenses, we will accuse God of being unfair for the most part. The key thesis of this book is that we need both open minds and open hearts in order to grow in faith. Gratitude is that key to cope with the harsh realities of life; the complex cultures around us; and to unlock the mystery of faith. Through a series of reflections from cultural symbols to modern icons of the world, readers are invited to reflect on what it means to live in a world that seems so unfair. For Christians, it is about living in an intersection of theology, scripture, culture, and relationships. Part One focuses on the Christian faith in the modern world. What do we make of the movie depictions of zombies and World War Z? In a world flooded by negative media depiction of priests, can we still find dignity in the priesthood? What are we going to do about slavery? Can nonviolence and the abolishment of capital punishment bring about greater good in the world of violence and evil? What about failures? Who and what is a saint all about? These issues and more are looked at from the eyes of faith.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Making Sense of God 4" (Tim Keller)


TITLE: Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical
AUTHOR: Tim Keller
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Viking Books, 2016, (330 pages).

Keller continues to invitation to a discussion with the next chapter about happiness and true contentment. He skillfully dissects the four key strategies secular people use to smother their underlying levels of discontent. He critiques firstly the strategies of youth where one thinks that by getting the right job, the right love partner, the right qualifications and so on, one would be happy. Truth is, these are basic distractions from the true pursuit of meaning. Secondly, we complain about the barriers preventing us from getting at our perceived goals of happiness. Thus we resent and believe that our path to happiness is to eliminate these barriers. This too is temporary. Thirdly, we become driven people to accumulate all kinds of possessions and accomplishments. Unfortunately, this is like that running on a treadmill where we have a lot of activity but does not progress in terms of physical distance. Like the physical treadmill, once we tire, we stop. Fourthly, we may adopt the strategy of despairing in which we no longer blame others but ourselves.

Other religions try to resolve such discontent through altruism (just keep doing good no matter how empty we feel); or cynicism (hardening one's heart about the non-existence of good meaning and purpose); or detachment (to escape). Keller then produces a powerful argument for God and love.

Question 4: "How Can We Be Happy?"
"There is another powerful dimension to this reordering of loves. Paul Bloom, in his book How Pleasure Works, argues that what matters most for pleasure is not the simple impact on our senses but what it means in relationship to other persons who matter to us. A painting that we think is an original by an admired artist gives less pleasure when we find out it is not. A chair may be comfortable, but if it is our mother's favorite chair from her sitting room, it will give us even more pleasure. To use theological language, 'we enjoy things most when we experience them as a sacrament - as carriers of the presence of another.' " (93)

"Here, then, is the message. Don't love anything less; instead learn to love God more, and you will love other things with far more satisfaction. You won't overprotect them, you won't overexpect things from them. You won't be constantly furious with them for not being what you hoped. Don't stifle passionate love for anything; rather, redirect your greatest love toward God by loving him with your whole heart and love him for himself, not just for what he can give you. Then, and only then, does the contentment start to come. That is the Christian view of satisfaction. It avoids the pitfalls of both the ancient strategy of tranquillity through detachment and the modern strategy of happiness through acquisition. It both explains and resolves the deep conundrum of our seemingly irremediable discontent." (94)

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Monday, November 27, 2017

BookPastor >> "The Forgotten Ways" (Alan Hirsch)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Jan 12th, 2017.

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TITLE: The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating Apostolic Movements
AUTHOR: Alan Hirsch
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2016, (384 pages).

Why is the Church in general struggling with growth? Where is the passion for a movement for Christ? Have churches spent too much time defending traditions and their ecclesiastical rituals to the point of forgetting their biblical ways? Have they unwittingly based their ecclesiology on the medieval European model of Christendom instead of the first-century model of New Testament Christianity? Have we forgotten that the Church is the 'ekklesia' a 'called-out people of God?' According to author Alan Hirsch, the contemporary challenges of doing Church has an upside because "it forces us to think and act like our original founders and pioneers thought and acted." When we know that there is no "Plan B," we will pray desperately, spend frugally, live passionately, and reach out fervently. The key question for readers in this book is this: "Have we forgotten about the mission of the Church?" He affirms that our greatest truths are not invented or newly discovered. They are remembered. Key to this book remains the mDNA paradigm (gospel-fluency, discipleship, incarnational mission, innovation and risk, multiplication, APEST, etc.) which the author admits could be designed as several standalone books. He hopes to wake up sleeping people and sleepy churches with the revelation of God's ways which somehow had been forgotten.


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Making Sense of God 3" (Tim Keller)


TITLE: Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical
AUTHOR: Tim Keller
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Viking Books, 2016, (330 pages).

Continuing the excerpts from Keller's very wise take on secularism and religion,

Question 3: "Is Meaning in Life Without God Practically Possible?"
A growing number of skeptics are insisting on the freedom to think and believe in anything they choose. With such a heavy reliance on humanistic thinking, the question Keller poses the question of meaning and God, beginning with a possible yes before concluding with a larger no. Note how Keller inserts the word 'practically' into the question.

"So is meaning in life without God practically possible? Public discourse is filled with loud religious voices insisting that life without God is inevitably pointless, bleak, and unworkable. On the other side there are plenty of secular people who insist that they not only have satisfying meaning in life but also have a kind of freedom that religious people do not. Who is right? Can we have meaning in life without any belief in God at all? To be fair to all, I would argue that the answer is both yes and no.

I say yes because both by our definition and by lived experience secular people can certainly know meaning in life. We defined 'meaning' as having both a purpose and the assurance that you are serving some good beyond yourself. If you decide that the meaning of your life is to be a good parent, or to serve a crucial political cause, or to tutor underprivileged youth, or to enjoy and promote great literature - then you have, by definition, a meaning in life. Plenty of secular people live like this without being tortured or gloomy in the manner of a Camus. It is quite possible to find great purpose in the ordinary tasks of life, apart from knowing answers to the Big Questions About Existence.

But I also say no. Secular people are often unwilling to recognize the significant difference between what have been called 'inherent' and 'assigned' meanings. Traditional belief in God was the basis for discovering, objective meaning - meaning that is there, apart from your inner feelings or interpretations. If we were made by God for certain purposes, then there are inherent meanings that we must accept.

The meanings that secular people have are not discovered but rather created. They are not objectively 'there.' They are subjective and wholly dependent on our feelings. You may determine to live for political change or the establishment of a happy family, and these can definitely serve as energizing goals. However, I want to argue that such created meanings are much more fragile and thin than discovered meanings. Specifically, discovered meaning is more rational, communal, and durable than created meaning." (64-65)

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Monday, November 20, 2017

BookPastor >> "Rhythms of Rest" (Shelly Miller)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Jan 9th, 2017.

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TITLE: Rhythms of Rest: Finding the Spirit of Sabbath in a Busy World
AUTHOR: Shelly Miller
PUBLISHER: Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2016, (224 pages).

A lot have already been written about the Sabbath but the need far outstrips the supply. What is the Sabbath? What makes this book unique compared to the other books? For author Shelly Miller, the first thing with regard to taking a rest is her mantra: "I Don't Do Guilt." There is no need to be guilty about taking a day off per week, or to rest where needed. Sabbath rest is about receiving a gift and not an excuse for guilt. While the world teaches us to rely on ourselves and our own abilities, taking a rest is in effect an acknowledgement that things will take care of themselves even as we rest. It requires surrender and deep trust. The way forward is not simply an obligation to force a weekly sabbath but to joyfully discover rhythms in which we can rest well. Sabbath is a gift. It is a reflection of God's creativity. It is an opportunity for us to demonstrate to others that rest is not only possible, it is beneficial. Miller goes beyond simply taking a break. Sabbath is a time in which we commune with God in an intentional space. It is an invitation to intimate conversation, unhurried by the hustle and bustle of the world. It is a way in which we say to the world: "You shall have no hold on me."

While the benefits are many, there are also myths and deceptions that threaten to derail our pursuit of Sabbath rest. That is why Miller spends time dispelling myths like doing Church as a form of Sabbath. She writes:

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Making Sense of God 2" (Tim Keller)


TITLE: Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical
AUTHOR: Tim Keller
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Viking Books, 2016, (330 pages).

Continuing the excerpts from Keller's very wise take on secularism and religion,

Question 2: "Isn't Religion Based on Faith and Secularism on Evidence?"
Keller puts his finger on this common misconception and argues that it is not an absolute truth that secularism is a search for truth and empirical evidence. In fact, secularism has a profound level of dependence on faith that is often not highlighted. He argues that Christianity is both faith and reason. It is highly arrogant of secularists to insist that only their way of thinking is rational.

"Twentieth century thinkers such as Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Ludwig Wittgenstein have argued that all reasoning is based on prior faith commitments to which one did not reason. . . .

For example, American philosopher C. Stephen Evans writes, 'Science by its very nature is not fit to investigate whether there is more to reality than the natural world.' Because science's baseline methodology is to always assume a natural cause for every phenomenon, there is no experiment that could prove or disprove that there is something beyond this material world. For example, there would be no way to empirically prove that a miracle has occurred since a scientist would have to assume, no matter what, that no natural cause had been discovered yet. If there actually had truly been a supernatural miracle, modern science could not possibly discern it." (Keller, 34-35)

"The Christian believer is using reason and faith to get to her beliefs just as her secular neighbor is using reason and faith to get to hers. They are both looking at the same realities in nature and human life, and both are seeking a way to make the best sense of them through a process that is rational, personal, intuitive, and social. Reason does not and cannot operate alone. Contemporary secularity, then, is not the absence of faith, but is instead based on a whole set of beliefs, including a number of highly contestable assumptions about the nature of proof and rationality itself." (41)

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Monday, November 13, 2017

BookPastor >> "Liturgy of the Ordinary" (Tish Harrison Warren)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Jan 3rd, 2017.

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TITLE: Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life
AUTHOR: Tish Harrison Warren
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2016, (192 pages).

Spirituality is not just something for the clergy or the spiritualists. Neither is it reserved only for the retreat centers and extraordinary circumstances. It is in fact very practical and can be implemented in ordinary spheres of life. It does not have to be difficult in terms of complicated rituals or requiring great theological training. Covering a 24 hour cycle, author Tish Harrison Warren shows us the way to instilling spiritual sensitivity through our daily activities. She helps us turn work into opportunities for worship. In doing so, she helps us avoid dichotomizing the sacred from the secular. She gives us eleven ordinary activities that we do going through the 24-hour clock framework. We begin with waking up in the morning after a night's sleep. She compares this with the act of baptism, how we are birthed from old to new. Each morning begins with dew of freshness. We see the world from this perspective and to realize that God is constantly forming us as new people each day to see fresh perspectives amid the routine and mundane. We avoid the tendency to cut out life and focus only on the exciting and sensational. Warren is convinced that theology practiced in the ordinary is essentially what the Christian life is about. Our ritual of making the bed reminds us that the things we do so regularly are habit forming. Just like many people whose lives have been changed by technology. They wake up and the first thing they check is their social media updates; their emails; or their messages from various apps. While convenient and fast, such digital devices have subversively lowered our tolerance for boredom. Just today, I read about the talk of a new law in France that gives workers the right not to connect or be contacted by their bosses during their break time. I think there is increasingly a need for some of us who tend to hog the digital waves. In brushing teeth, we learn about maintaining cleanliness and the way Christianity teaches the importance of caring for our physical selves. As we prepare to leave our houses, many of us drive. In our rush, there is always a chance of losing something such as our keys. We retrace our steps. We blame our carelessness. We get frustrated when the search is prolonged. Then and only then do we embark on prayer. It is a powerful reminder of how we take God for granted, leaving God out until we most desperately needed Him. We have such a patient and magnanimous God!


Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Making Sense of God 1" (Tim Keller)

Starting this week, I will be sharing a few excerpts from Tim Keller's recent book, "Making Sense of God."

TITLE: Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical
AUTHOR: Tim Keller
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Viking Books, 2016, (330 pages).

In New York, almost everybody seem to be talking about Tim Keller and Redeemer Presbyterian Church. One reason for his success with many people, both believers and non-believers is his ability to connect with people living in a secular and skeptical age, yet maintaining his commitment about faith, hope, and God. Recently retired, he continues his ministry largely through writing.

Question 1: "Isn't Religion Going Away?"
Absolutely not. In a striking counter-observation of the presumed rise of secularism, Keller notes two reasons why secularism itself is shrinking.

"Why? There are two basic reasons. One has to do with the trends of retention and conversion. Many point to the rising percentage of younger adult 'nones' in the United States as evidence for the inevitable shrinkage of religion. However, Kaufmann shows that almost all of the new religiously unaffiliated come not from conservative religious groups but from more liberal ones. Secularization, he writes, 'mainly erodes . . . the taken-for-granted, moderate faiths that trade on being mainstream and established.' Therefore, the very 'liberal, moderate' forms of religion that most secular people think are the most likely to survive will not. Conservative religious bodies, by contrast, have a very high retention rate of their children, and they convert more than they lose.

The second main reason that the world will become more religious is that religious people have significantly more children, whereas the more irreligious and secular a population, the less often marriage happens and the smaller the families. This is true across the world and holds within every national group, within every educational level, and within every economic class. So, for example, it is not the case that always 'the more children, the better.' Columbia economist Jeffrey Sachs has argued well that overpopulation and exorbitant birthrates are major contributing factors to world poverty. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to think there is no opposite problem. Cultures that do not have a replacement-level birthrate die out as they are displaced by other populations and cultures. As Kaufmann and others show, the most secular societies are maintained through the immigration of more religious peoples.
...

It turns out, then, that the individualism of modern culture does not necessarily lead to a decline in religion. Rather, it leads to a decline of inherited religion, the sort one is born into." (Keller, 24-27)

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Monday, November 06, 2017

BookPastor >> "On the Block" (Doug Logan)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Nov 30th, 2016.

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TITLE: On the Block: Developing a Biblical Picture for Missional Engagement
AUTHOR: Doug Logan
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2016, (202 pages).

What good is a Church mission if missions are only delegated to a subcommittee or a few gifted individuals who say they are called? How sustainable is any mission endeavour without the support of a Church backing? How can a Church witness Christ in the neighbourhood if there is no outreach? In this book about missions in the urban context, author and pastor Doug Logan believes that both the church (ecclesiology) and missions (missiology) need to be simultaneously practiced with Christ as the foundation and purpose of it all. The Church does not exist for itself and Missions cannot be isolated from the Church. The Church has a mission and this mission needs the Church. Logan puts it this way: "Our Christology drives us to be missiological ecclesiologists and ecclesiological missiologists." In other words, when we are in Christ, we live out as Church in mission. He uses four persons as examples to set the stage for this biblical engagement. Since the time of Adam, when Adam sinned, God had already set in motion a redemption plan in Gen 3:15. The story of Nehemiah is not simply about a man but a whole people of God called to build the temple. In Jesus, we see what it means to put the Word into action and to live in the world as people of God. In Paul, we learn about the five ways of addressing the culture of the world.

  1. Unveiling the customs and superstitions of the world
  2. Unveiling the true character of God
  3. Exposing the emptiness of worldliness
  4. Revealing the emptiness of culture
  5. Revealing the truth of Christ's resurrection.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "The Five Solas"

It's Reformation Day! Here are the five classic solas that have became the hallmarks of the Reformation. I enclose some brief thoughts from Matthew Barrett's

1) Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)
"Without 'Scripture Alone' the other solas are in danger of being lost."

2) Sola Christus (Christ Alone)
"Christ Alone means we not only need Christ's death but His life as well."

3) Solas Fide (Faith Alone)
"Faith alone is not an exemption from good works."

4) Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)
"Grace alone has just as much to do with the past as the present."

5) Sola Deo Gloria (For the Glory of God Alone)
"God's Glory alone is more than a salutation."

Let these thoughts reverberate and help us appreciate more of the powerful work of God through the Reformation movement.

Monday, October 30, 2017

BookPastor >> "The Reformation" (Stephen J. Nichols)

TITLE: The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World
AUTHOR: Stephen J. Nichols
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007, (160 pages).

Most people remember the last day of October as the night to celebrate Halloween. It is a popular event where people wear costumes and kids dress up in cute attire out of fun. Going around trick-or-treating has become an accepted way of soliciting free candies and chocolates from neighbourhoods. Unfortunately, this "All Hallows' Eve" event has overshadowed a more significant event in Church history: The Reformation.

On October 31st, 1517, Martin Luther alone challenged the Roman Church establishment by nailing 95 theses on the door of Wittenberg. He was essentially forcing the Roman Church leaders to a theological debate, something that Luther had spent years analyzing, studying, and being convicted about. That day is now referred to as Reformation Day.

This book gives a very good overview of the effects of that day. It gives:

  1. Reasons why the Reformation still matters today.
  2. How Luther Inspired the German and Lutheran Reformation
  3. How Ulrich Zwingli Led the Swiss Reformation
  4. How the Anabaptists Rise Up 
  5. The Influence of John Calvin
  6. The Anglican Movement and the British Reformation
  7. The Puritans
  8. Others...
It is a delightful read, with lots of historical background of Luther and others, plus a list of powerful words from the reformation leaders. Nichols has also conveniently placed a list of texts, confessions, catechisms, prayers of the Reformation toward the end of the book. I must say, the Reformation is more worth celebrating. Dr. Stephen J. Nichols is president of Reformation Bible College, chief academic officer for Ligonier Ministries, and a Ligonier teaching fellow. 

More information can be obtained at www.monkandmallet.com

Monday, October 23, 2017

BookPastor >> "Networked Theology"

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Dec 7th, 2017.

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TITLE: Networked Theology: Negotiating Faith in Digital Culture (Engaging Culture)
AUTHOR: Heidi Campbell and Stephen Garner
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016, (192 pages).

Digital devices have become ubiquitous throughout the world. It has redefined how we communicate, how we interact, and how we live. For many people, technology has become so integral that one cannot live without it. An outage could easily shift people to panic mode. Its attractiveness can become an addiction in itself. In faith matters, digital media and technology has not only redefined how we practise our faith, it is taking us on a whole new direction. This means we need to learn how to engage this new environment wisely and appropriately. This new digital era has invaded and affected the way we learn, do outreach, teach Christian Education, do Church, and share faith concerns. This is why we need to take the technology seriously and to think of constructive ways to engage with it, about it, and through it.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "The Undiscouraged Perseverance of God" (J. Oswald Sanders)

"Our God knows no unfinished task. He completes what He begins. Though Israel balked and thwarted Him at every turn, He persisted in His gracious disciplines until His purposes were realized, and in the Hebrew nation all the peoples of the earth were blessed. When one approach failed, He adopted another. If one generation refused to respond, He patiently began again with the next. Time and again succeeding generations of Israel turned to idolatry until at last the chastening of their final captivity in Babylon forever taught them its folly and futility. Never since has the Jewish nation worshiped idols." (J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Maturity, Moody, 1994, p34)

Monday, October 16, 2017

BookPastor >> "Teaching the Next Generations" (Terence Linhart)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Dec 16th, 2017.

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TITLE: Teaching the Next Generations: A Comprehensive Guide for Teaching Christian Formation
AUTHOR: Terence D. Linhart
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016, (352 pages).

It has been often said that the young is the future of our society. In churches all over the world, the young are also the future of the leadership of the Church. How the children and formed when young often becomes the way they help lead the Church in the future. What then are the factors to guide them? How can the leaders of today help the formation of the leaders of tomorrow? How can we navigate the complex realities today for an unknown tomorrow? If adults are already facing difficult challenges, how can we expect the young to tackle their generational challenges if we do not lead by example? This book's premise is that teaching Christian Formation is an imperative, not an option. We need to help them understand spiricual formation and that learning happens at all ages. We need to be guided by important theologies and appropriate theories. We need a repertoire of creative methods and to be committed to the spiritual disciplines like prayer, and spiritual transformation. We need to teach not merely to download information but to work toward spiritual transformation and growth. This means working toward maturity and be anchored in Christ. It also means discipleship. The book is subdivided into five sections.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Names of God - THE I AM"

Lester Sumrall's "The Names of God
In many English translations of the Old Testament, the Name of God has been capitalized as LORD. Jews deemed the Name so holy that they dare not pronounce it. For Christians, they are free to pronounce it without the need to adhere to Jewish laws and practices. The main thing is to do so reverently and respectfully. In this regard, many in the Christian world would refer to God as YHWH or YAHWEH. The Name JEHOVAH is a carry-over from the Septuagint. For the next few weeks, we will reflect on the Name of God as used in the Bible. For this week, we look at the way the LORD referred to Himself as the I AM. We can only know God as He reveals Himself to us.

Surely, if we cannot understand the world and the events that are happening in the world, why do we have the nerve to question God about all things?


"God was never created by some greater power. He was never conjured up by some human mind. He depends upon no one and nothing to continue living; He will live forever. One Bible commentator, Francis Davidson explains it this way: 'I AM THAT I AM signifies that He is self-sufficient, the only real being and the source of all reality; that He is self-sufficient.'" (Lester Sumrall, The Names of God, New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 1982, p36)

"Despite all the insights that we can discern through examining God's name YAHWEH, we must admit that we still do not understand everything about God's character. God's nature is far more mysterious than our minds can completely comprehend. Referring to the title YAHWEH, Davidson says "The Name preserves much of His nature hidden from curious and presumptuous enquiry. We cannot by searching find Him out. (cf Proverbs 30:4).

And so it must always be with God. The more of Himself that He reveals to us, the more remains hidden from our view. I'm sure that when Moses withdrew from that burning bush, slipped back into his sandals, and returned to Jethro's flocks, he still had many unanswered questions about God. God promised to go with Moses and his brother, who would act as his translator, when they went back to Egypt. However, there was very little more Moses knew about this One who spoke admidst the flame. But Moses acted on what he did knew and obeyed God." (44)






Monday, October 09, 2017

BookPastor >> "Guardrails" (Alan Briggs)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Dec 19th, 2016.

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TITLE: Guardrails: Six Principles for a Multiplying Church
AUTHOR: Alan Briggs
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2016, (192 pages).

Growing churches is a desire among many Christian leaders. Whenever there is a huge increase in the number of attendees, people get excited. They rev up their engines to make Church run as efficiently as possible. They go on hyperactive mode to ensure that all the respective departments are up and running, able to meet the needs of all age groups. The moment the number drops, worry rises. Giving drops and panic rises. The focus then shifts overwhelmingly to one concern: How do we grow the Church? Here lies one of the biggest misconceptions in Church growth. Numbers do not necessarily reflect a healthy Church. The key to Church health is not numbers but discipleship. Author Alan Briggs provides four chapters on foundations and six principles to execute the way of discipleship. The key is how to start a movement and not simply a one-off project. Briggs looks at some movements in history and notes the need to avoid models in favour of principles.  We also need to avoid the three obstacles of kingdom building:
  1. Tendency to build kingdoms for self
  2. Tendency to build idols of security for self-preservation
  3. Tendency to think only for the present moment

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "A Thankful Heart" (George Herbert)

A THANKSGIVING PRAYER

Thou that hast given so much to me,
Give one thing more, a grateful heart.
See how thy beggar works on thee
By art.

He makes thy gifts occasion more,
And says, If he in this be crossed,
All thou hast given him heretofore
Is lost.

But thou didst reckon, when at first
Thy word our hearts and hands did crave,
What it would come to at the worst
To save.

Perpetual knockings at thy door,
Tears sullying thy transparent rooms,
Gift upon gift, much would have more,
And comes.

This not withstanding, thou wenst on,
And didst allow us all our noise:
Nay thou hast made a sigh and groan
Thy joys.

Not that thou hast not still above
Much better tunes, than groans can make;
But that these country-airs thy love
Did take.

Wherefore I cry, and cry again;
And in no quiet canst thou be,
Till I a thankful heart obtain
Of thee:

Not thankful, when it pleaseth me;
As if thy blessings had spare days:
But such a heart, whose pulse may be
Thy praise.

George Hebert (1593-1633)

Monday, October 02, 2017

BookPastor >> "Paradoxology" (Krish Kandiah)

I've always enjoyed Krish Kandiah's writings. This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Dec 12th, 2016.

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TITLE: Paradoxology: Why Christianity Was Never Meant to Be Simple
AUTHOR: Krish Kandiah
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2017, (288 pages).

Life is viewed like a paradox because of our limited perspectives. Every situation has multiple interpretations. Every interpretation is subject to changing contexts. When we view life as a paradox, it keeps us humble and open to different understanding. This is what author Krish Kandiah has done for us. By looking at key characters in the Bible, he helps us to learn the nuances of Christian teachings throughout the ages. Simply put, there are no simple answers to the difficult questions we encounter through time. Take suffering for example. Can we explain it or understand why it happens? For if we can understand all the things of God, surely, we will be God. The author begins with the following definition of a paradox: "A paradox, just to be clear, consists of true statements that lead to an apparent or real contradiction in logic or intuition." The key thesis in this book is this:

"Paradoxology makes a bold claim: that the paradoxes that seem to undermine belief are actually the heart of our vibrant faith, and that it is only by continually wrestling with them – rather than trying to pin them down or push them away – that we can really worship God, individually and together."

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "On Remarriage" (Hot Potato #3)

(Word Publishing, 1998)

TITLE: 20 Hot Potatoes Christians are Afraid to Touch (Paperback) - Common
PUBLISHER: Dallas, TX: Word Publishing, 1998, (240 pages).

"Needless to say, there can be no condemnation of those who are pushed out of marriages through no decisions or no desires of their own. There is some evidence that the apostle Paul went through such rejection. We know that Paul was once married, because the Bible tells us that he was once a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of Jewish society, and membership in the Sanhedrin was contingent upon being married. Paul, who was definitely unmarried by the time he wrote the epistles to the Church at Corinth, may have been widowed. But there are many scholars who suppose that when he went through his radical conversion from zealous Pharisee to committed Christian, he alienated his one-time wife. It has been suggested that she left this man who, because of his spiritual transformation, had become a complete stranger to her." (Tony Campolo, "Is it ever ok for Divorced Christians to Remarry?" p198)

"I believe that when we are married, we are married until death do us part. To me that means that when people take the wedding vows, they make a commitment to care for each other for the rest of their lives. Thus, even if these people cannot live with each other (which seemed to have been the case for such a notable Christian as John Wesley, the founder of Methodism), the obligation to provide for the care and well-being of one's mate remains a firm requirement. Even after a marriage is legally ended, Christians are not divorced from looking after their former spouses. Thus, care for former marital partners is viewed as a responsibility to be carried out regardless of what the other person does. For Christians, a marital breakup does not mean a divorce from loving concern and service. I know this is not a widely held view, but it seems to me that such obligations are wrapped up with the marital vows and that even divorce does not end them." (199-200)

Monday, September 25, 2017

BookPastor >> "The Music Architect" (Constance M. Cherry)

This is one of my favourite books about the ministry of music and worship. The review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Nov 3rd, 2016.

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TITLE: The Music Architect: Blueprints for Engaging Worshipers in Song
AUTHOR: Constance M. Cherry
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016, (288 pages).

In churches around the world, music and song are common ways in which we honour God in worship and praise. Many people serve in this ministry but not many are trained. Musicians come with deep talents but the understanding of worship may not be as deep. This is where this book comes in. The dual objectives are to:
  1. Learn about thoughtful and holistic worship
  2. Disciple worshipers in song.
This book is Volume 3 of the "The Worship Architect" series of book designed to help churches and worship leaders plan their worship flow and program. The first volume is about planning. The second volume looks at principles of preparing specific worship segments and special events. This volume covers more specifically the area of music. In all of the three books, the aim is to maintain a consistent philosophy of worship; to unite worship and practice; and to provide a resource that is helpful across denominations. On top of these, there is a pastoral element infused into the teaching. The key thesis is "who we are" is a greater impact than "what we do." This is why the author starts with defining the meaning of a "Pastoral Musician" who is essentially one who embraces the Christian faith, growing in spiritual maturity, using one's spiritual gifts, participating in community, and accountable to God and others. Worship must be relevant to God while connecting to people. There is a biblical element that guides the understanding of worship. The historical perspective is not static but dynamic, which means we ought to let worship practices throughout all generations be rendered in a manner that is meaningful. In terms of spirituality, worship forms worshipers. Thus, the title of "pastoral musician" simply tells us that worship involves lots of music but is much than music. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "On Homosexuality" (Hot Potato #2)

(Word Publishing, 1998)

TITLE: 20 Hot Potatoes Christians are Afraid to Touch (Paperback) - Common
PUBLISHER: Dallas, TX: Word Publishing, 1998, (240 pages).

"I am not asking that Christian people gloss over biblical teachings or ignore their conviction that homosexual acts are sin. I am not asking that we make a case to justify homosexual behavior. I am simply reminding Christian people that we are supposed to love people - even those people who offend us. I am calling on Christians to reach out and show kindness and affection toward their homosexual neighbors. If we Christians cannot love these neighbors as we love ourselves, then we are violating the command of Jesus (Matt 19:19) and ought to cease calling ourselves His followers. Loving people is more than trying to generate some mushy sentimental emotions. Loving is a commitment to treating people as Jesus would treat them if He were in our places." (Tony Campolo, "Does Christianity Have Any Good News For  Homosexuals?" p109)

"It is very important that all of us distinguish between homosexual orientation and homosexual behavior. Homosexual orientation is an inclination to desire sexual intimacy with members of the same sex. Homosexual behavior is 'making love' or seeking sexual gratification through physical interaction with members of the same sex. The first is desire. The second is action. The first is temptation. The second is yielding to temptation." (110)

"Please remember that I do think that homosexual behavior is contrary to the will of God. But I do not think the Scripture should be made to speak in ways which are not in accord with how it was intended to speak in order to make my case. It is too easy for any of us out of intense emotion to use Scripture in inexact ways to affirm what we believe to be right or to condemn what we believe to be wrong. While there is no doubt in my mind that homosexual behavior has always been unacceptable to Christians, I find it interesting to note that the New Testament does not give as much space or attention to this sin as it does to others, such as neglect of the poor or lack of love for others. Actually, Jesus never alludes to homosexuality in His teachings. The fact that homosexuality has become such an overriding concern for many contemporary preachers may be more a reflection of the homophobia of the church than it is the result of the emphasis of Scripture." (115)

Monday, September 18, 2017

BookPastor >> "Faithful Presence" (David E. Fitch)

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

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TITLE: Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines That Shape the Church for Mission
AUTHOR: David E. Fitch
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2016, (256 pages).

How do we manifest Christ's love in a world of brokenness and pain? Is there something Christians can do to counter the social injustice and poverty disparities? Can the Church do more than mere handouts? If there is a genuine desire to be part of the solution, how then do believers go about doing it? According to author David E. Fitch, the answer is in the title of this new book entitled, "Faithful Presence." He defines it as follows:

"Faithful presence names the reality that God is present in the world and that he uses a people faithful to his presence to make himself concrete and real amid the world’s struggles and pain. When the church is this faithful presence, God’s kingdom becomes visible and the world is invited to join with God. Faithful presence is not only essential for our lives as Christians, it’s how God has chosen to change the world. In this book I aim to describe what this faithful presence looks like."


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Answering the Challenge of AIDS" (Hot Potato #1)

(Word Publishing, 1998)
Two thousand years ago, when Jesus was physically present among us, He reached out to lepers. He touched the untouchables. He showed special compassion toward those who had been treated in such a cruel manner by the people around them. His willingness to lovingly lay hands on those who society deemed unclean should set an example for all of us who sing, "I Would Be Like Jesus."

There are some notable examples of Christians who have heeded the challenge which the victims of AIDS have posed for us all. In San Diego, there is a lovely Christian woman who has organized her church friends to start a hospice for those who are dying of AIDS. Realizing that AIDS victims need special love and care which may not readily be available, she has gotten together both the material and the human resources to provide a place where AIDS patients can live out their last days in the context of Christian love. What better way to witness for Christ than to touch the untouchables and to care for those whom the world rejects? What better opportunity to tell the story of God's salvation through Jesus Christ than as good Samaritans?

I believe the AIDS epidemic has provided Christians with a unique opportunity. We have always claimed to "hate the sin and love the sinner" - here is our chance to show them that we love them. By setting up hospices and serving the thousands who are expected to die as a consequence of this disease, we can demonstrate that we are people who love not only in word, but also in deed - which is what true love always does. (Tony Campolo, "How Do We Answer the Challenge of AIDS?" p17)

Monday, September 11, 2017

BookPastor >> "Create vs Copy" (Kem Wytsma)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Nov 18th, 2016.

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TITLE: Create vs. Copy: Embrace Change. Ignite Creativity. Break Through with Imagination.
AUTHOR: Ken Wytsma
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2016, (192 pages).

Be willing to change. Be excited about creativity. Exercise our imaginations. Let innovation and passion for new ideas lead the way. Leadership is essentially learning to lead in creative ways. This is the key message in this book, that to create is far better than to copy. Moreover, a creative new idea excites while an imitation tends to bore. Wytsma is not just passionate about intentional creativity, he longs to share this with many and this book is one way he is doing just that. He helps us go back to the basics.

In thinking about creativity, we are reminded that creating is very much a part of our relationship with creation. It is also a direct result of our relationship with God our creator. We learn more about God through our acts of creativity. This includes simple ideas in the head, various products on the shelves, memories of the past, recipes in the kitchen, sculptures in the art studio, sports and strategies, prayer meetings, campaigning, and many more. As long as we are kept creative, there is always something new to begin with. That is why as far as creativity is concerned, there is no end point. For God is constantly creating. It is also redemptive in the sense that creativity expands horizons and presents opportunities for growth. Moreover, the world we live in are constantly changing. If we fail to adapt and to change, we would be left behind. Wystma shares a powerful story of what it means to reach out to poorer countries like Africa. Some African countries have leapfrogged the communications technology moving directly from no-communications to wireless communications. Unlike many places in the US that are still dependent on fixed line infrastructures, such wireless advancements have accelerated the pace of progress in these African countries. No longer is it about white people sending white resources to Africa. Instead, it is about empowering African communities with new infrastructure that excites and motivates them to help themselves! Looking back to the culture state-side, Wytsma notes how modern sustained stress can negatively impact creativity. He then supplies four ways in which we can practice and facilitate creativity.


Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Ask Me" (William Stafford)

Photo Credit: Poetry Foundation
Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

(William Stafford, 1914-1993, American Poet)                        

Monday, September 04, 2017

BookPastor >> "Pursuing Health in an Anxious Age" (Bob Cutillo)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Nov 25th, 2016.

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TITLE: Pursuing Health in an Anxious Age (Gospel Coalition (Faith and Work))
AUTHOR: Bob Cutillo, MD
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016, (208 pages)


What is health for? With more advanced medical technology and world-class healthcare, should we not be happier people? Not really. In fact, there are some disturbing trends that are happening in our era. There are many top quality tests but there is a lack of accuracy in diagnosis. There are many different branches of healthcare but they are more fragmented than ever. There are also that disturbing lopsided orientation toward cure rather than care. With the experience of hindsight and the genuine concern for holistic healthcare, author Bob Cutillo summarizes his concerns and gives insights on what good healthcare looks like as follows:


  • It must be scientifically competent and comes with well-informed choices


  • It needs a measurable and efficient system


  • It must include genuine care


  • There are lots of areas that health insurance often leaves out, which means we need to taper our expectations accordingly.


  • Politics play a big part in healthcare policies


  • Healthcare must involve not only the curative but also the preventative aspect


  • Healthcare also requires vulnerability and trust; and acceptance.



  • Wednesday, August 30, 2017

    Midweek Meditation: "On the Psalms II" (Athanasius of Alexandria)

    "For just as one can find the themes of all the other books in the Book of the Psalms, so, too, what is special to this book is found often in the rest of the Scriptures; that Moses writes a song, that Isaiah sings, that Habakkuk prays with song and in the same way in every book we see the prophecies, lawmaking, and histories. The same Spirit is over all, and each book ministers and fulfills the grace given to it according to what is apportioned to each by the Spirit, to whom all these diverse gifts belong, and yet who is indivisible by nature. So that while the disclosures accord with the variety of gifts of the Spirit in relation to the ministry which each enjoys, yet the whole Spirit is in each book. Frequently, then, each one, in dependence on the Spirit, ministers the word as the need arises; thus, as I said before, Moses at one time or another makes laws, prophecies, or sings, and the prophets while engaged in prophetic utterance at times give commands: 'Wash, make yourselves clean' (Isa 1:16); 'Wash away the evil from your hearts, Jerusalem.' (Jer 4:14). At other times, they record history, as in the Book of Daniel, we read about Suzanna (Dan 12), while in the Book of Isaiah, we read of Rab-shekeh and Senacherib. (Isa 36:22, 37:21 LXX)" (St Athanasius in a letter to Marcellinus on the Interpretation of the Psalms)

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