Wednesday, August 23, 2017

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

"My child, as it is written, 'all of our Scriptures,' both old and new, 'are divinely inspired and useful for instruction' (2 Tim 3:16). But to those who devote themselves to it with special care, the Book of Psalms merits very close attention. It is true that every book of the Scriptures enjoys the ministry of its own particular message. The Pentateuch speaks of the beginning of the world, of the deeds of the Patriarchs, of the exodus of Israel from Egypt, and of the giving of the Law. The Triteuch (Joshua, Judges, Ruth) describe the allotment to the tribes of Israel, the acts of the Judges and the genealogy of David, the books of Kings and Paralipomenon (Chronicles) record the deeds of the kings, and the book of Esdras (Ezra), the deliverance from the captivity, the return of the people, and the building of the temple and the city. The prophets foretell the coming of the Savior, to call to mind the commandments, rebuke sinners, and deliver prophecies to the Gentiles.

However, the Book of Psalms, like a blessed garden bearing many different fruits, contains the themes of the other books in its songs, while at the same time its own particular ministry is clearly demonstrated alongside of what it sings of the others." (St Athanasius in a letter to Marcellinus on the Interpretation of the Psalms)

Monday, August 21, 2017

BookPastor >> "Its Complicated" (Jack Haberer)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on June 23rd, 2016.

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TITLE: It's Complicated: A Guide to Faithful Decision Making
AUTHOR: Jack Haberer
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016, (180 pages).

Seeking God's will is not as simple as saying, "It's all in the Bible." The more sweeping or simplistic a person says, the less satisfying it becomes, especially for earnest seekers. If we are honest with ourselves, we are sometimes guilty of some or all of the following. We give simplistic answers to issues that are inherently complex due to the many different factors and scenarios. Our answers in turn become reductionistic as we cut the real problem down to our size, just because we are unable to appreciate the extent of the real problem. In turn, we betray the trust that others have placed on us. Better to say we don't know or to put down some disclaimers first. In a nutshell, life's issues are often more complex than we think, more ambiguous than our own past experiences, more intricate and impossible to predict. If theory is a pretty portrait, practice will take potshots at it. In this book, pastor and author Jack Haberer aims to do three things. First, he lists the varioius popular questions asked and puts them in a single framework while pointing out the many ambiguities that come with it. He then leads us through a biblical journey of how the various biblical characters hear from God. Finally, he brings us back to our modern era and gives us an interpretive framework for discerning God's will for our times. The two basic questions that face us are:

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Spiritual Reading" (Jean-Pierre de Caussade)

Jean-Pierre de Caussade 1675-1751
"If you are to get from it all the good I anticipate, you must not throw yourself greedily upon it or let yourself be drawn on by curiosity as to what comes next. Fix your attention upon what you are reading without thinking about what follows. I recommend you primarily to enter into the helpful and sure truths you will find in this book, by cultivating a taste for them rather than speculating about them. Pause briefly, from time to time, to let these pleasant truths sink deeper into your soul, and allow the Holy Spirit time to work. During these peaceful pauses and quiet waiting, he will engrave these heavenly truths upon your heart. Do it all without stifling your interests or making any violent efforts to avoid reflections. Simply let the truths sink into your heart rather than into your mind." (Jean-Pierre de Caussade)

Monday, August 14, 2017

BookPastor >> "Calling in Today's World" (Kathleen A. Cahalan & Douglas J. Schuurman)

Ever thought about what calling means from other worldviews? Perhaps, this book can give you a better idea. This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Oct 18th, 2016.

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TITLE: Calling in Today's World: Voices from Eight Faith Perspectives
EDITORS:  Kathleen A. Cahalan & Douglas J. Schuurman
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2016, (238 pages).

What do people in generally think about calling? Is it only something that Christians ask? Surely, the Buddhists, the Muslims, and the secularists in society would have their own perspectives too. In fact, according to the editors of this book, many students and colleagues have been asking the same question: "What do other people think about calling?" or "Is there an equivalent concept in your religion or belief?" So they went forth to ask various individuals whether they can contribute to the overall understanding of what calling means according their faith perspective. They found eight! According to Cahalan and Schuurman, their purpose for this book is to help "build a better, more humane world" by establishing bridges of understanding of one another's beliefs. Apart from that, Christians reading this book would be able to revisit their own understanding of what calling means in their own tradition. They can dispel any notion that calling is merely for the ministry or church related endeavors. They can avoid limiting calling to only supernatural matters, but to be inclusive of all matters. They can look at calling more in terms of freedom of choice rather than some strict "blueprint" we have to adhere to. In a conversational approach, each of the eight contributors are given an opportunity to talk about what calling means.


Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Prayer of Mathe Robin"

"May God take my memory and all it remembers,
Take my heart and all its affections,
Take my intelligence and all its powers;
May they only serve your greatest glory.
Take my will completely,
for always I empty it out in yours.
No longer what I want, O my sweetest Jesus,
but always what you want!
Take me … receive me … direct me.
Guide me! I surrender and abandon myself to you!
I surrender myself to you as a small sacrifice of
Love, of praise and Gratitude, for the Glory of your Holy Name,
for the enjoyment of your Love, the triumph of your Sacred Heart,
and for the perfect fulfillment of your Designs in me and around me." 

(Marthe Robin, 1902-1981)


Monday, August 07, 2017

BookPastor >> "Word by Word" (Marilyn McEntyre)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Sep 5th, 2016.

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TITLE: Word by Word: A Daily Spiritual Practice
AUTHOR: Marilyn McEntyre
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2016, (224 pages).

As the title suggests, this book is a patient meditation on the Word using ordinary words as entry points into the spiritual practice of meditation. Words are ways in which we describe our inner longings accurately and clearly. Readers are invited to do the same using single words used in "seven different ways and seven different phrases." This is following the ancient practice of 'lectio divina' which enables us to let the power of a single word usher us into the beauty of the Word of God. Used together with centering prayer, not only does it aids our meditations, it helps us in our prayers. The purpose of it all is to slow down our hectic pace in order to keep in step with our natural speed. In a world of multitasking and distractions, these verbs used are samples for us to be creative about our own set of words. Using her own morning Scripture readings, McEntyre shares with readers her method of spiritual reading. Using verbs to guide each chapter, she lists seven ways per verb (one per day) to practice letting the words train our minds. Readers get to listen in our how the author practices the daily routines. With reflections from the Bible, she meanders through a wide range of experiences and illustrations. We learn about prayerful listening. We receive with an eye to bless. We let God's work of creation lead us toward enjoyment. We let go of control so as to appreciate God's sense of timing and direction. We watch God's timing and accept God's way of grace. We resist the ways of the world's seductions and intentionally build in good spiritual habits. We learn to be still so as to develop a sense of clarity in us. We follow the nudging of God, something which is increasingly difficult in a world of distractions. As readers approach the end of the book, it is hoped that there is a pattern that readers can learn of, so as to develop their own set of verbs to be used likewise.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Nouwen on Discernment 5" (Exercises)

TITLE: Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life

Exercises for Deeper Discernment


  1. Discernment is about seeing, knowing, and being known. Do you want to be seen by God? Do you want to be truly known, with all your inner thoughts and outer activities laid out before an all-seeing, all-knowing God? Write a personal letter to God openly and honestly looking at the areas of life you are not sure you want God to investigate. Of course, God knows these things already. This is an exercise for you to see what areas of your life you might want to keep private. Once you identify them, pray that God will help you see yourself (and these tender areas) fully as God sees you.
  2. People who are "reborn from above" (John 3:7) are those who seek to do what is pleasing to the Spirit of God. Make a list of all the activities and desires of your heart that you believe are pleasing to God. Try to write a poem or hymn of praise or gratitude for all God's goodness that overflows into your life.
  3. Define your spiritual community. Who is allowed to know you and hold you accountable? If you have identified people who know you at a soul level, take a moment to write them a note of thanks for their role in your life. If you did not identify persons who have free range in your life to lift you up and encourage you, begin to pray about who to cultivate as a spiritual companion and how to do it. Discernment performed alone often can become delusion. We need each other.
  4. What shared practices (meditation, prayer, songs, Eucharist, silence, service in the world) are your most natural pathways to listening to God in your daily life? Reflect on the times when you discerned God's presence. What were you doing? Where were you? What insight might these reflections give you about your need for sacred time and sacred space?

(Henri Nouwen, on "Embracing the Practice in Solitude and Community" in Discernment, New York: NY, HarperOne, 2013, 18-19)

Monday, July 31, 2017

BookPastor >> "Eschatology: Biblical, Historical, and Practical Approaches" (Editors: D. Jeffrey Bingham and Glenn R. Kreider)

Ever thought about the last days? What does the Bible teach?

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Sep 2nd, 2016.

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TITLE: Eschatology: Biblical, Historical, and Practical Approaches
EDITORS: D. Jeffrey Bingham and Glenn R. Kreider
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2015, (528 pages).

What is the Second Coming about? Is the Doctrine of the Future better left to the future? What has Eschatology got to do with our present life? What does it mean when people say God's Kingdom is coming? Is Revelation primarily about telling the future?

This book that comprises a series of articles on Eschatology in the past, present, and future has been published to honour the life and work of Professor Craig Blaising on the occasion of his 65th birthday. Currently a provost with Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Blaising has served as president of the Evangelical Theological Society in 2005. The many articles written in this book have been written to reflect the same way Blaising has approached Scriptures: contextually; biblically; theologically; and practically with an eye on ministry work. As past students, editors Bingham and Kreider have come together with 29 other contributors to revere the Scriptures the same way Blaising has done.


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Nouwen on Discernment 4"

TITLE: Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life

Discernment as "Being Seen"

"I am struck by the way Jesus 'saw' Nathanael under the tree in the Gospel of John. Even before meeting him, Jesus said of Nathanael: 'Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!' When the two men met on the road, Nathanael asked Jesus with amazement: 'How do you know me?' Jesus answered him, 'Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.' Jesus's seeing through Nathanael under the fig tree was such a powerful act of discerning what was in his heart that it caused Nathanael to proclaim: 'Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!' To which Jesus remarked, 'You believe this because I told you I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these. . . You will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man (John 1:47-51)

This wonderful story about seeing through to the heart of things raises a deeper question: Do I want to be fully seen by Jesus? Do I want to be known by him? If I do, then a faith can grow that will open my eyes to heaven and reveal Jesus as the Son of God. I will see great things when I am willing to be seen. I will receive new eyes that can see the mysteries of God's own life, but only when I allow God to see me, all of me, even those parts that I myself do not want to see."

(Henri Nouwen, on "Embracing the Practice in Solitude and Community" in Discernment, New York: NY, HarperOne, 2013, 7)

Monday, July 24, 2017

BookPastor >> "Adoptive Youth Ministry" (Chip Clark)

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

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TITLE: Adoptive Youth Ministry: Integrating Emerging Generations into the Family of Faith (Youth, Family, and Culture)
AUTHOR: Chap Clark
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016, (400 pages).

What is adoption? What does "Adoptive Youth Ministry" mean? How is it different from conventional youth ministries? According to the editor of this book, to be adopted means becoming a full member of a nonbiological family. When applied to youth ministry, it means one, more, or even all of of the following "four foundational premises."
  1. Recognizing that in every Church and organization, there are insiders as well as outsiders.
  2. Reminding that we are adopted into God's family as a child with other children.
  3. We are vulnerable but Jesus has his eyes on us.
  4. That we as well as outsiders are called to the gathering.
Chap Clark, editor of this book of articles compiled from 20 different contributors says:
"Adoptive ministry is vital because we are witnessing the fact that in Christ God has invited those who 'believed in his name' to 'become children of God' (John 1:12). This is the message of the good news. Therefore our message—in our lifestyle, service, and word—is adoption."

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Nouwen on Discernment 3"

TITLE: Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life

Discernment as "Seeing Through"

"By exercising spiritual understanding, we come to see more clearly and hear more deeply the mysterious interconnectedness of all things (what the desert fathers called theoria physike - a vision of how things hang together). Discernment allows us to 'see through' the appearance of things to their deeper meaning and come to know the interworkings of God's love and our unique place in the world. Discernment helps us come to know our true identity in creation, vocation in the world, and unique place in history as an expression of divine love.

Perceiving, seeing through, understanding, and being aware of God's presence are what is meant by discernment. Opening the heart to what is really and truly 'there' is a fruit of contemplation and spiritual practice. Those who practice discernment are often more contemplative than those who are so active that they do not take the time to reflect on the inner meaning of appearances. The most interesting things in life often remain invisible to our ordinary senses, yet are visible to our spiritual perception. In large measure they can very easily be overlooked by the inattentive, busily distracted person that each of us can so easily become."

(Henri Nouwen, on "Embracing the Practice in Solitude and Community" in Discernment, New York: NY, HarperOne, 2013, 6)

Monday, July 17, 2017

BookPastor >> "Hearing God in Conversation" (Samuel C. Williamson)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Aug 22nd, 2016.

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TITLE: Hearing God in Conversation: How to Recognize His Voice Everywhere
AUTHOR: Samuel C. Williamson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2016, (216 pages).

Is God still speaking to us today? What if we don't hear an audible voice? What if we try and try but keep hearing echoes of silence? Is it a problem with God not speaking or is it more a problem of us not hearing? According to author and founding director of "Beliefs of the Heart" ministry, Samuel Williamson, God is always speaking. We just need to learn how to listen, but learn to tune our spiritual ears to hear Him everywhere.  This book shows the way beyond mere rationalism or emotionalism. If God is always speaking, we need to learn as many ways as possible to connect with God. The key point in this book is that "conversation is the point." For if Christianity is indeed a relationship between God and us, we will know the key things that define a relationship. Vivid interaction is preferred to constant direction. Who wants to have a relationship with people always telling what to do? A relationship is a two-way street and not a one-directional highway. It allows us to be comfortably ourselves. It is more about each other rather than the things to be talked about. The amazing thing is that our God communicates with us in multiple ways. In conviction, we have God impressing on our hearts the things we did, whether it is good or not. In insight, we get sudden bursts of inspiration. In revelation, we hear clearly what God wanted to say to us. It can be from books or the Word of God. It can be from our daily devotions. It can also be from an impression that is unmistakably God's.

Friday, July 14, 2017

"A Common Destiny" (Justin Unger)

This beautiful song speaks of our common destiny of our faith.

A COMMON DESTINY
There’s a place for us we know
Where all pain and sorrows cease
A place where tears will never flow
A home that’s filled with joy and peace

[Chorus]
Soon we’ll see Jesus, and when He sees us
We will be like Him, and our eyes will finally see
We have God’s guarantee, for all eternity
To be with Christ, Is our common destiny

No troubled heart that we must face
For he said “Believe in me.”
A home beyond all time and space
We have a common destiny

[chorus]
Soon we’ll see Jesus, and when He sees us
We will be like Him, and our eyes will finally see
We have God’s guarantee, for all eternity
To be with Christ, Is our common destiny

We have a promise sure and true
Of a life that never ends
And when our time on earth is through
That’s when our life really begins

[chorus]
Soon we’ll see Jesus, and when He sees us
We will be like Him, and our eyes will finally see
We have God’s guarantee, for all eternity

To be with Christ, Is our common destiny 
To be with Christ, Is our common destiny 

Video

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Nouwen on Discernment 2"

TITLE: Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life

"Whoever or wherever you are in your life, as I see you in front of me in prayer, I feel very close to you, not in any sentimental way, but as a man who has lived your lives interiorly and knows about the pain and joy you hold in your hearts. As I let my eyes look deeply into my own heart and yours, I am increasingly aware of how lost we are. Those of us who are wealthy and successful are no less lost than those of us who are poor and experience life as a failure. Those of us who are healthy and strong are no less lost than those of us who are frail and weak. Those of us who are priests and ministers are no less lost than those of us who are lawyers, doctors, or business people. Those of us who are active in the church and society are no less lost than those of us who have resigned ourselves to passive waiting for the end of life. Those of us who are excited about new projects or full of energy to bring about changes here and there are no less lost than those who have become skeptical or cynical about the possibility of a better world.

Apart from the love of God in our lives, we are people lost at sea, without anchors. We stand alone without supporting walls, without a floor to walk on, without a ceiling to protect us, with-out a hand to guide us, without eyes that look at us with love, without a companion to show the way.

Dear friends, we have to know the darkness to be able to search for the light. We first must come to know our lostness if we want to find meaning, purpose, and direction in life. What I want to share with you is a way out of the darkness, a way to find the light.

The way of discernment begins with prayer. Praying means breaking through the veil of existence and allowing yourself to be led by the vision that has become real to you, whatever you call that vision—“the Unseen Reality,” “the Numen,” “the HigherPower,” “the Spirit,” or “the Christ.” Our prayers are directed not to ourselves but to Another, who wants to turn us around, who longs to be present, and who is able to guide us. The one who prays to God pierces the darkness and senses the source of all being. "

(Henri Nouwen, on "When There is Darkness, Light" in Discernment, New York: NY, HarperOne, 2013, xxvii-xxix)

Monday, July 10, 2017

BookPastor >> ""Kingdom Ethics" (David P. Gushee and Glen H. Stassen) 2nd Edition"

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Aug 4th, 2016.

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TITLE: Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context
AUTHOR: David P. Gushee and Glen H. Stassen
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2016, (550 pages).

What does it mean to follow Jesus in our contemporary world? Is the Old Testament law still relevant for today? Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount asserts that the Word of God is not only relevant for the world today, it is a way in which we live out God's kingdom as a people of God. The original purpose of the authors is to emphasize Christian living based on the Rock of the Christian faith, Jesus. When the book was published back in 2003, the authors were amazed at how little resources there were on recovering the way of discipleship according to Jesus. They believe that the way to understand Christian ethics is to ground ourselves on kingdom reign of God. Since the passing of Glen Stassen in April 2014, this book has been updated by a few previous students of Stassen, together with the other co-author. There is more gender-inclusive language and more global perspectives. Every chapter has a set of discussion questions. More background knowledge are supplied to help beginner readers. The glossary of key terms at the end of the book has been greatly expanded. The book remains focused on the ethic of Jesus; thoroughly biblical; fuller understanding of the Hebrew contexts; and more inclusive of wider range of readers. One key idea in the writing of this book is to set out how the kingdom perspective contrasts with the powers and seductions of the world. Instead of the former seven sections, this book is divided into two parts. The first part looks at the methodology that follows more closely the Sermon on the Mount. It anchors the starting point of ethics on kingdom coming in Jesus. In proclaiming the reign of the kingdom of God, the authors list the seven marks of God's reign: deliverance/salvation, justice, peace, healing, restoration/rebuilding of community, joy, and the experience of God’s presence. All of these need to be adhered to because these are the things that are important to Jesus. We learn about how the beatitudes echo Isaiah 61. We learn about the sources of moral authority, including a brief overview moral authority from a few renowned Christian traditions. There is also a philosophical take as well in the four levels of moral norms, from basic convictions to particular judgments. The authors also contrast the situation ethics and legalism, carefully highlighting the merits of each and where they fall short. I appreciate the visual diagrams that Aaron Hedges, former student of Stassen, includes in some chapters. Readers will be impressed with the depth of coverage of the various ethical methodologies.  Central to the thesis of "Kingdom Ethics" is the list of The "Key Method Elements (KMEs) for Christian Ethics." These KMEs are introduced in Part One will be applied widely in Part Two. They are as follows:
  1. Thinking in Concrete Kingdom Terms
  2. Reading Jesus from the Underside of History
  3. Character as a Lens for Ethics
  4. Sources of Authority for Christian Ethics
  5. Four Levels and Three Modes of Moral Norms
  6. Making the Sermon on the Mount Central
  7. Transforming Initiatives
  8. Love as a Cardinal Ethical Norm
  9. Justice as a Cardinal Ethical Norm
  10. Sacredness as a Cardinal Ethical Norm
  11. Four-Box Diagram of Dimensions of Moral Agency (Analytical)
  12. Four-Box Diagram (Prescriptive)

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Nouwen on Discernment 1"

TITLE: Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life

"Henri emphasized that Christian discernment is not the same as decision making. Reaching a decision can be straightforward: we consider our goals and options; maybe we list the pros and cons of each possible choice; and then we choose the action that meets our goal most effectively. Discernment, on the other hand, is about listening and responding to that place within us where our deepest desires align with God's desire. As discerning people, we sift through our impulses, motives, and options to discover which ones lead us closer to divine love and compassion for ourselves and other people and which ones lead us further away.

In Henri's sermons and retreats, as well as in his thirty-five books, he highlighted a distinctive vision of Jesus Christ that was thoroughly grounded in Scripture and Catholic theology. To understand what Henri meant by discernment, it's important to repeat that for Henri the name of Jesus meant the eternal presence of the one who is God's continuing incarnation in human form. Henri was interested in the timeless dimension of Jesus Christ, the life that the crucified and risen Jesus shares with us now. According to Henri, the historical life of Jesus opened a new frontier in human experience so that the incarnation of Christ - which has no beginning and no end - could become an ongoing event for all human beings and, indeed, for all creation. Eventually, we can learn to discern the face of Christ everywhere and at all times. Henri's view often reminded me of the medieval Dominican friar, Meister Eckhart, who advised, 'Expect God evenly in all things.'"

(Robert A. Jonas, on "Henry's Way of Discernment" in Discernment, New York: NY, HarperOne, 2013, xvii)

Monday, July 03, 2017

BookPastor >> "Claiming Resurrection in the Dying Church" (Mary Olson)

In an age where many churches in the West are shrinking and dying, is there hope for the future of the Western Church? The author of this book thinks so, even as the numbers continue to dwindle. This review as first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Aug 1st, 2016.

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TITLE: Claiming Resurrection in the Dying Church: Freedom Beyond Survival
AUTHOR: Anna B. Olson
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016, (134 pages).

The Church in the West is deteriorating. The mainline churches are dying. More and more churches are diminishing in size and influence. These are often supported by statistics that show a consistent decline through the years. In a rapidly graying population, young people are also leaving churches in droves. As buildings echo out and going to Church is no longer a regular weekend activity, what is the future of the Church? Are we nearing the end, or for some, at the end? Amid such bad news, how can the Church proclaim good news when it does not look like good news at all to the health and numbers of the Church? In what the author calls a "love letter to the dying Church," Anna Olson writes a compassionate and understanding book to encourage the weary and to comfort the discouraged. In such times, it is so easy to throw in the towel and close down the Church. She gently reminds us that God is not finished with the Church yet. There is still work to be done. She writes:

"Giving up does not have to mean locking the doors and going
home. If God is not finished, we are not either. There is more for us: more life, more hope. But we are freed from knowing the shape it will take. We are freed from the daunting task of birthing the new with only our own waning strength. We begin to face the future with freedom and faith rather than fear and the weight of failure. Giving up on success frees us. We are free to measure the fruits of our ministry not by the marks of longevity, affluence, and popularity but rather by the mark set by Jesus: love of God and neighbor."


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Prayer and Church" (Adrian Hastings)

British Theologian (1929-2001)
"Without prayer and its grounding in faith. . . the human city and its politics remain irredeemable. Selfishness and the corruption of sectional interests are too strong. But without politics prayer becomes a selfish ego-trip, an escape from that burden of secular reality for which every one of us is inherently responsible. A way to God which is not a way back hour by hour to our neighbour on the streets of Sarajevo is the way to a God who does not deserve either to be worshipped or exist."

"For better or for worse, the worlds sets the Church's agenda, and in so far as the Church ignores that fact, it must become irrelevant and marginal."

Monday, June 26, 2017

BookPastor >> "Relational Children's Ministry" (Dan Lovaglia)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Feb 12th, 2016.

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TITLE: Relational Children's Ministry: Turning Kid-Influencers Into Lifelong Disciple Makers
AUTHOR: Dan Lovaglia
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (272 pages).

As far as children are concerned, the Bible has been very consistent. The Bible has said in Psalm 127:3 that "Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from Him." We are blessed to have children in our midst. I remember how children light up the mood in any room. At the same time, we need to look at what it means to practice Proverbs 22:6 to "Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it." Even in the New Testament, children are specifically told to obey their parents. That is one main reason for children's ministry. We want to reach children for Christ, to groom them to be God-fearing individuals, and to help them live a life honouring to God and to people. In the words of Dan Lovaglia, author and Director of Leadership Development at Awana International, children's ministry must be relational. He wants to equip leaders to move from "kid-influencers into lifelong disciple makers" and in doing so to help children do the same when they grow up. Such leaders include not only ministry workers, volunteers, and pastoral staff. Most importantly, it is about reaching and equipping parents by coming alongside them, supporting, encouraging, and guiding them. All of these are best done through relationships. With skill and care, Lovaglia helps us through three main stages.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Seeking More of God" (Henry Alford)

Henry Alford (1810-1871)

O Lord, give us more charity, more self-denial, more likeness to thee. 
Teach us to sacrifice our comforts to others, and our likings for the sake of doing good. 
Make us kindly in thought, gentle in word, generous in deed. 
Teach us that it is better to give than to receive, better to forget ourselves than to put ourselves forward, better to minister than to be ministered unto. 

And to thee, the God of love, be all glory and praise, now and forever.

Amen.

Monday, June 19, 2017

BookPastor >> "Impossible People" (Os Guinness)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on July 26th, 2016.

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TITLE: Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization
AUTHOR: Os Guinness
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2016, (240 pages).

When Os Guinness writes, it is always a challenge not simply to sit down and read but to rise up and do something. Filled with biblical conviction and a faithful desire to be obedient to God's calling, Guinness harnesses his years of experience and knowledge of our culture to raise a battle cry for Christians to take their stand. There are four major challenges not only to the Christian faith but to Western civilization. First, the challenge of being weakened. The Judeo-Christian faith has been weakened and overrun by secularism and modernity. Second, the challenge of internal splits which has two post-Christian forces that threaten to move society toward nihilism on one side and extreme humanism on the other side. Third, the challenge of two major external forces. With a weakened Christian perspective, Western civilization becomes more vulnerable to aggressive secularism and radical Islam. Fourth, the need for courage and bold witness in the light of such obstacles. Can Christians rise up to these challenges?

Guinness compares this present challenging age to the first three centuries clash with the Caesars and the sixteenth Century threats from the Ottomans. He coins the "four infamous S factors" as Secularism; Secularization; Separationism; and Statism. In order to survive against the grand showdown, we need to take a leaf from history. Be reminded about how Daniel and his friends stood up against the idolatry of Nebuchadnezzar; how the early Christians would rather die than deny their faith; and how Athanasius fought the heretics of old. The tragedy of many mainstream WWII German Christians is how easily they cave in to the political ambitions of Hitler. Will the West today commit a similar error of omission? Instead of reforming from within, many are becoming more accepting of the outside world, even compromising their biblical principles.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "A Prayer for Forgiveness" BCP

Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from Your ways like lost sheep. 

We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. 

We have offended against Your holy laws. 

We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; 

and we have done those things which we ought not to have done; and there is nothing good in us. 

O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. 

Spare those, O God, who confess their faults. 

Restore those who are penitent; according to Your promises declared unto men in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

Grant that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life; to the glory of His name. Amen 

(Book of Common Prayer)

Monday, June 12, 2017

BookPastor >> "What Christians Ought to Believe" (Michael F. Bird)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on July 8th, 2016.

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TITLE: What Christians Ought to Believe: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine Through the Apostles' Creed
AUTHOR: Michael F. Bird
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (240 pages).

Wonderful! A book of theological truths based on the Apostles Creed. Theology is more important than what the average Church goer may think. Rather than plowing through thick volumes of theological textbooks on systematic theology, or buy individual books on various theological topics, we have in our hands a book that expounds on the essence of the history, the core theological issues, and the crucial doctrines every Christian ought to know. The Apostles Creed is an excellent choice because it is still the most unifying creed for all (if not most) Christian communities. The Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, Protestants, Evangelicals, Non-Denominationals, Bible, Independents, and many others are pretty united when it comes to this ancient creed. Even fringe groups will very likely profess the same creed with certain disclaimers. Whether one agrees with the creed fully or not, the scope of coverage is wide enough to give the Church a pretty decent theological syllabus. Author and New Testament Professor Michael Bird has done exactly that and has written this book for the masses.

He begins by making a case for the Apostles Creed as an important syllabus for beginners. Not only is it biblical, it gives us a basic summary of what the Early Church held, what traditions are, and how they inform our theological education. Creeds are part of the way God has used to teach us. From the Old and New Testaments, we get the life of Jesus, the Apostolic teachings, the Rule of Faith, and the Creeds. Creeds are used in worship; in promoting unity and fellowship with other believers; in reminding us about our faith. They also form a key part of our devotional lives. The rest of the book deals with a particular part of the creed.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Four Responsive Calls to Worship"

Starting this week, I will be sharing a few responsive prayers that we can use for each Sunday of the Church year. Here are some calls to worship.

For Epiphany:
Leader: You are here for us, O God;
All: You give us security in an uncertain world.
Leader: You encourage us to sing new songs
All: You joyfully set us free to worship You
Leader: You challenge us as we go on the journey of life
All: It is Your gracious love that leads us on the paths of righteousness
Leader: You lead us in worshiping You in Spirit and in Truth.
All: We will worship You in Spirit and in Truth

For Pentecost Sunday
Leader:Holy Spirit, come among us!
All: Inspire our worship, and strengthen our faith
Leader:Holy Spirit, lead and guide us
All: Direct our worship, and sharpen our focus
Leader: Holy Spirit, draw us nearer to God
All: We will worship and sing praises unto God
Leader: Holy Spirit work in us
All: That we may lift up the Name of Jesus, to glorify the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Trinity Sunday
Leader: Gracious God, You are Creator of the Universe; Giver of all Things; and Source of all life
All: We want to worship You
Leader: Jesus Christ the Son is the chosen One to reign forever more
All: We will reign with Him in accordance to Your Word
Leader: Holy Spirit, inspire us to worship and praise You
All: We will worship You in Spirit and in Truth.

Any Sunday
Leader: Our Heavenly Father is God of Love
All: We praise our Heavenly Father for His great and mighty Love
Leader: Our Lord Jesus Christ is our Shepherd and the Light of our salvation
All: We praise our Lord Jesus for guiding us and showing us the way
Leader: Our Comforter and Counselor, the Holy Spirit is dwelling among us
All:  We praise the Holy Spirit for living in us, for walking with us, and dwelling among us.
Leader: Let us worship the Triune God together
All: We will worship the Divine Triune God.

Feel free to use these calls to worship. Just credit it back to this site.

Conrade

Monday, June 05, 2017

BookPastor >> "The 10 Greatest Struggles of Your Life" (Colin S. Smith)

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

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TITLE: The 10 Greatest Struggles of Your Life: Finding Freedom in God's Commands
AUTHOR: Colin S. Smith
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2016, (208 pages).

The Beatles sing the classic song "All you need is love" as some kind of a catchall solution for the world's problems. "Make Love Not War" is another of those clever cliches to remind people not to fight. Often, such phrases are simplistic darts flung into a sea of relentless splashing waves. Who can adequately capture the essence of the world's problems? Only the Creator of all creation can do that. From the beginning of time, God has known what the world's struggles are and would be. He has given all mankind the Law not to enslave us but to liberate us. One of the most powerful ways that we are enslaved is when we give in to wrong desires, sinful ways, and revel in activities that we tend to blame on 'human nature.' We are not as 'innocent' as we think. We are also not as perfect as we would like to be. Just as the meaning of sin is to 'miss the mark,' sin makes us think off the mark when we look at ourselves, our own capabilities, and our own understanding. The great writer, George Orwell, once wrote that "Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear." There are many things people do not want to hear. That is why they struggle. The Ten Commandments given in the Old Testament remain very relevant today. There are laws in every society against the ills of theft, of murder, of adultery, of perjury, and so on. While the first few commandments to worship God and honour God's Name have become diminished in secular environments, it still presents a struggle at a deeply spiritual level. The truth is, whenever there is tension, where there is a direct pushback against what God says, there will be a struggle. This is Smith's attempt to paraphrase the Ten Commandments in the light of real world struggles, how we combat one or more of these temptations on daily basis. The Ten Struggles as described by Smith are:

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Gratitude" (Adele Ahlberg Calhoun)

How to we cultivate more gratitude? Perhaps, the following spiritual exercises can help.


  1. Begin a gratitude journal by keeping a record of the 'abundances' God has given you. Next to each abundance write what it means to you to have a God who interacts and intervenes in your life. Notice what you have been given that you did not deserve. What you you want to say to God about these things?
  2. End every day by saying thank you to God for at least one thing. Then tell God what that one thing meant for you.
  3. Write a letter of thanks to someone who has touched your life in the past year, the past month, the past week.
  4. Get a current hardship firmly in mind. How do you feel about the hardship? Tell the truth to God. Where is the evidence of God's presence in this hardship? Is there anything you can be thankful for? If you cannot find God in your hardship, spend some time with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. What does he want to tell you?
  5. What sorts of things tend to encourage you in thankfulness? Praise songs? Worship? Time spent with friends? Giving and receiving presents? Plan ways of incorporating the things that encourage thankfulness into your life on a regular basis.
  6. Hold a thank-you party. Invite the people you want to honor with a thank you.
  7. Create a thank-you scrapbook. Besides photos and pictures, write your prayers of thanksgiving.
  8. Notice your tendency to make comparisons that result in feelings of dissatisfaction or entitlement. Practice abstaining from comparative statements about what you don't have. Instead give thanks for what you do have.
(page 31)

Monday, May 29, 2017

BookPastor >> "Money and Possessions" (Walter Brueggemann)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Sep 23rd, 2016.

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AUTHOR: Walter Brueggemann
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016, (384 pages).

Money is a touchy subject for many people. That is why many preachers avoid talking about it because it has become so 'sensitive.' Yet, Jesus talks a lot about money and possessions. Preachers ought to get the hint, simply because the influence of money and the impact on possessions are profoundly pervasive in many societies. Wars have been fought on many fronts just to gain a foothold on the fountains of monetary gains. In this book, renowned author and theologian, Walter Brueggemann has gone beyond the gospels to take a look at what the entire Bible speaks about money and possessions. Put it another way, if the Bible is about God, it is also warning us about the dangers of idolatry.

Unlike commentaries that are inductive in nature, examining the Scriptures for what it is saying, this Interpretation series of resources are more topical in nature. They look at what the entire Bible has to say about certain important topics through the ages, from the biblical era to modern times. In this book, Walter Brueggemann expands, explains, and expounds on the application of money and possessions on a whole range of societal matters. Through both the Old and New Testaments, he identifies relevant areas of applications and points out the pervasiveness of this particular are of our life and contrasts that with what it means to live as a believer in a culture of individualism, materialism, and consumerism. If there is one word to describe Brueggemann's understanding of the Bible, it would be two words: "Counter Culture."


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Desire and Discipline"

Christian Disciplines have been much talked about whenever we deal with the health or spiritual growth of a Christian. Many Christian communities have at least these four disciplines:

  • PRAYER: A desire to deepen our praying lives
  • BIBLE: A desire to deepen our knowledge of God's Word
  • FELLOWSHIP: A desire to deepen our connections with one another in the community
  • SHARING: A desire to share the gospel both inside and outside of the Church

Disciplines alone can only carry us so far. Something else needs to inspire us toward doing these disciplines. This is called desire. Adele Ahlberg Calhoun observes the centuries of connections between Discipline and Desire. An important reminder is this. It is not the discipline that make us more like Christ. It is the Holy Spirit of God that prompts us to be more Christlike, using the disciplines as tools to help us along.


TITLE: Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun (19-Oct-2005) Paperback

"From its beginning the church linked the desire for more of God to intentional practices, relationships and experiences that gave people space in their lives to 'keep company' with Jesus. These intentional practices, relationships, and experiences we know as spiritual disciplines. The basic rhythm of disciplines (or rule) for the first believers is found in Acts 2:42: 'They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching [a practice] and to the fellowship [relationships], to the breaking of bread [an experience], and to prayer [another practice].

The desire to know God and love God fueled these disciplines. But as the early Church community ran into new situations of want, conflict, temptation, and persecution, they wanted and needed help to persevere in keeping company with Jesus. The book of Acts recounts a variety of ways the first-century believers made space for God as they faced difficulties:

  • Acts 3 - the discipline of compassion
  • Acts 4 - the discipline of witness, intercession and detachment
  • Acts 7 - the discipline of service
  • Acts 3:1, 10:9 - the discipline of fixed-hour prayer
  • Acts 14:23 - the discipline of fasting
  • Acts 15 - the discipline of discernment.
...

Ask yourself, How do I want to or need to be with God? Circle the letter in WORSHIP that most catches your attention.

Worship God
Open myself to God
Relinquish the false self and idols of my heart
Share my life with others
Hear the Word of God
Incarnate Christ's love for the world
Pray to God." 

(Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, Downers Grove, IL:  IVP, 2005, p17, 21)

Monday, May 22, 2017

BookPastor >> "Seated with Christ" (Heather Holleman)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Sep 27th, 2016.

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TITLE: Seated with Christ: Living Freely in a Culture of Comparison
AUTHOR: Heather Holleman
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2016, (192 pages).

Admit it. We are all guilty of comparing ourselves with others. The difference is in the degree of comparison. In our rush to get things done, sometimes we need a reminder to just pause, perhaps, take a seat, have a cup of coffee, and take stock of where we are. Perhaps, we have given in to the temptations to take charge, to maintain primary control, and to let human wisdom predominate over all. In doing so, we become enslaved to our own wishes. We work as if our salvation depends on what we do or not do. We struggle for the best academic result as if our life's qualifications depend on our efforts. We try harder, serve harder, publish harder, and strive harder in our various earthly pursuits. In focusing upon the verbs within our abilities, we unwittingly sidestepped what Christ had done for us. Expounding on the essence of Ephesians 2:6, the author provides a spiritual snapshot of what it means to be seated with Christ. With creative renditions of how these verbs personify the anxieties of the human heart, Holleman pulls out four strands of the essence of what it means to be seated in Christ.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Midweek Reflection: "Knowing When to Connect/Disconnect"

We live in a new era. While wireless waves free us from cables and hardwired connections, they enslave us to the digital device. What's troubling is not how the technology pulls us away from our human interactions but how much we gravitate toward the technology even without the device asking for us! No longer must we contend with the external prompts and ringing interruptions we get from time to time. There is a more formidable contestant. This contestant is inside, not outside; not externally-driven, but internally propelled; not unwillingly but willingly. That is none other than ourselves.

Check out the following from the book by Catherine Steiner-Adair, Disconnect.


TITLE: The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age
AUTHOR: Catherine Steiner-Adair
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2013, (378 pages).

"In my interviews and focus groups with children as young as four years old, kids have told me how disheartening it is to have to vie for their parents' attention and often come in second. They describe feelings of isolation, loneliness, anger, and sadness around the waiting game. Or a parent's routine multitasking through bedtimes, mealtimes, and playtimes that were promised as 'mommy and me' or 'daddy and me.' Now tech makes three, and most of the children couldn't remember a time when it wasn't that way at home.

Alex, the father of a three-year-old and two older children, quit his executive-level job for less pay and less pressure when he realized that the continuous multitasking demands of his job made uninterrupted time with his children impossible."

I could look them in the eye and have a conversation, but I realized that I was not having that conversation with my whole head. It was like 2 percent of it because I was thinking about the next email coming in or the other things I needed to do, and was so addicted . . . I was 0 percent present, really. I could see it in their eyes. They knew I wasn't realy there with them. It was awful, but I got so used to it. I'd say, 'I'm sorry' and I'd take a call or get up midgame to check my email.
(Catherine Steiner-Adair, The Big Disconnect, HarperCollins, 2013, p114-5)

Monday, May 15, 2017

BookPastor >> "Word by Word" (Marilyn McEntyre)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Sep 5th, 2016.

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TITLE: Word by Word: A Daily Spiritual Practice
AUTHOR: Marilyn McEntyre
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2016, (224 pages).

As the title suggests, this book is a patient meditation on the Word using ordinary words as entry points into the spiritual practice of meditation. Words are ways in which we describe our inner longings accurately and clearly. Readers are invited to do the same using single words used in "seven different ways and seven different phrases." This is following the ancient practice of 'lectio divina' which enables us to let the power of a single word usher us into the beauty of the Word of God. Used together with centering prayer, not only does it aids our meditations, it helps us in our prayers. The purpose of it all is to slow down our hectic pace in order to keep in step with our natural speed. In a world of multitasking and distractions, these verbs used are samples for us to be creative about our own set of words. Using her own morning Scripture readings, McEntyre shares with readers her method of spiritual reading. Using verbs to guide each chapter, she lists seven ways per verb (one per day) to practice letting the words train our minds. Readers get to listen in our how the author practices the daily routines. With reflections from the Bible, she meanders through a wide range of experiences and illustrations. We learn about prayerful listening. We receive with an eye to bless. We let God's work of creation lead us toward enjoyment. We let go of control so as to appreciate God's sense of timing and direction. We watch God's timing and accept God's way of grace. We resist the ways of the world's seductions and intentionally build in good spiritual habits. We learn to be still so as to develop a sense of clarity in us. We follow the nudging of God, something which is increasingly difficult in a world of distractions. As readers approach the end of the book, it is hoped that there is a pattern that readers can learn of, so as to develop their own set of verbs to be used likewise.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Worship" (Ten Quotes)

1. “For when we cease to worship God, we do not worship nothing, we worship anything.” (GK Chesterton)

2. "May the Son of God who is already formed in you grow in you - so that for you He will become immeasurable, and that in you He will become laughter, exultation, the fullness of joy which no one can take from you." (Isaac of Stella)

3. "Worship is an it-is-well-with-my-soul experience." (Robert Webber)

4. "Seeing that we humans were once created in the image of God and that we have by our sin fallen into a state of spiritual blindness and mortality, I would rather be a serious-minded dolt concerned about eternal life than to be an overpaid jester with nothing better to do than to make men laugh and forget that they must die and come to judgment." (A.W. Tozer)

5. "Worship changes the worshiper into the image of the One worshiped." (Jack Hayford)

6. "Just as worship begins in holy expectancy, it ends in holy obedience. If worship does not propel us into greater obedience, it has not been worship." (Richard J. Foster)

7. "I can safely say, on the authority of all that is revealed in the Word of God, that any man or woman on this earth who is bored and turned off by worship is not ready for heaven." (A. W. Tozer)

8. "Christian worship must contain both the cross and the crown. Sing of majesty, and sing of mercy." (Matt Redman)

9. "To worship God in truth is to recognize Him for being who He is, and to recognize ourselves for what we are." (Brother Lawrence)

10. "“God created us for this: to live our lives in a way that makes him look more like the greatness and the beauty and the infinite worth that he really is. This is what it means to be created in the image of God.” (John Piper)

Monday, May 08, 2017

BookPastor >> "Reading for the Common Good" (C. Christopher Smith)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Sep 15th, 2016.

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TITLE: Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish
AUTHOR: C. Christopher Smith
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2016, (179 pages).

What has reading got to do with community? A lot! So says the author and editor of The Englewood Review of Books, Christopher Smith. This co-author of Slow Church continues on the tread of learning to pace ourselves in our reading and our connecting. While his previous bestselling book was on things Church and community, this book is about the general practice of reading and books and how they can cultivate neighbourliness. Smith uses the Church as a "learning organization" as a way to enter the discussion. From reading about DIY manuals to instructions about things essential for daily living, reading can be opportunities to build bridges and to share knowledge of things that matter to our community. For reading is both learning and action. Both must be held together. Learning without action is mere knowledge that does not relate to everyday life. Action without learning will have their superficiality eventually found out. Smith lists the other reasons on how reading can be used for the common good:
  • It forms us into a compassionate and faithful people who build bridges;
  • It calls us to know God in His Word;
  • It guides us to understand the brokenness of the world and how we can be a positive force for good;
  •  It helps us discern and develop our gifts and talents.

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