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.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Pride and Charity" (CS Lewis)

"In the passage where the New Testament says that every one must work, it gives as a reason "in order that he may have something to give to those in need." Charity-giving to the poor-is an essential part of Christian morality: in the frightening parable of the sheep and the goats it seems to be the point on which everything turns. Some people nowadays say that charity ought to be unnecessary and that instead of giving to the poor we ought to be producing a society in which there were no poor to give to. They may be quite right in saying that we ought to produce that kind of society. But if anyone thinks that, as a consequence, you can stop giving in the meantime, then he has parted company with all Christian morality. I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc, is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them. I am speaking now of "charities" in the common way. Particular cases of distress among your own relatives, friends, neighbours or employees, which God, as it were, forces upon your notice, may demand much more: even to the crippling and endangering of your own position. For many of us the great obstacle to charity lies not in our luxurious living or desire for more money, but in our fear-fear of insecurity. This must often be recognised as a temptation. Sometimes our pride also hinders our charity; we are tempted to spend more than we ought on the showy forms of generosity (tipping, hospitality) and less than we ought on those who really need our help." (CS Lewis, The Essential C.S. Lewis, Touchstone, 1996, p317-8)

Monday, May 01, 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, April 26, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Redefining Lostness" (Tim Keller)

Which brother do we see ourselves in the parable of the Lost Son? Keller redefines what it means to be lost.

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TITLE: The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith
AUTHOR: TIM KELLER
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Dutton Press, 2008, (144 pages).

"The elder brothers of the world desperately need to see themselves in the mirror. Jesus aimed this parable primarily at the Pharisees, to show them who they were and to urge them to change. As we said, the younger brother knew he was alienated from the father, but the elder brother did not. That's why elder-brother lostness is so dangerous. Elder brothers don't go to God and beg for healing from their condition. They see nothing wrong with their condition, and that can be fatal. If you know you are sick you may go to a doctor; if you don't know you're sick you won't - you'll just die.

The younger brothers of this world also desperately need to see this. When we see the attitude of the elder brother in the story we begin to realize one of the reasons the younger brother wanted to leave in the first place. There are many people today who have abandoned any kind of religious faith because they see clearly that the major religions are simply full of elder brothers. They have come to the conclusion that religion is one of the greatest sources of misery and strife in the world. And guess what? Jesus says through this parable - they are right. The anger and superiority of elder brothers, all growing out of insecurity, fear and inner emptiness, can create a huge body of guilt-ridden, fear-ridden, spiritually blind people, which is one of the great sources of social injustice, war, and violence.

It is typical for people who have turned their backs on religion to believe that Christianity is no different. They have been in churches brimming with elder-brother types. They say, 'Christianity is just another religion.' But Jesus says, no, that is not true. Everybody knows that the Christian gospel calls us away from the licentiousness of younger brotherness, but few realize that it also condemns moralistic elder brotherness.

Our big cities are filled with younger brothers who fled form churches in the heartland that were dominated by elder brothers.  When I moved to New York City in the late 1980s to begin a new church, I thought I would meet many secular people who had no familiarity with Christianity at all. I did, but to my surprise I met just as many people who had been raised in churches and in devout families and had come to New York City to get as far away from them as possible. " (66-8)

Monday, April 24, 2017

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

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on July 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, April 19, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Two Ways to Find Happiness" (Tim Keller)

Comparing the two sons in the Parable of Luke 15, author Tim Keller draws a parallel to the two ways of seeking happiness. One the rigid, diligent, and need for reward. The other shrouded in a posture of forgiveness and need for grace.

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TITLE: The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith
AUTHOR: TIM KELLER
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Dutton Press, 2008, (144 pages).

"Jesus uses the younger and elder brothers to portray the two basic ways people try to find happiness and fulfillment: the way of moral conformity and the way of self-discovery. Each acts as a lens coloring how you see all of life, or as a paradigm shaping your understanding of everything. Each is a way of finding personal significance and worth, of addressing the ills of the world, and of determining right from wrong.

The elder brother in the parable illustrates the way of moral conformity. The Pharisees of Jesus’s day believed that, while they were a people chosen by God, they could only maintain their place in his blessing and receive salvation through strict obedience to the Bible. There are innumerable varieties of this paradigm, but they all believe in putting the will of God and the standards of the community ahead of individual fulfillment. In this view, we only attain happiness and a world made right by achieving moral rectitude. We may fall at times, of course, but then we will be judged by how abject and intense our regret is. In this view, even in our failures we must always measure up.

The younger brother in the parable illustrates the way of self-discovery. In ancient patriarchal cultures some took this route, but there are far more who do so today. This paradigm holds that individuals must be free to pursue their own goals and self-actualization regardless of custom and convention. In this view, the world would be a far better place if tradition, prejudice, hierarchical authority, and other barriers to personal freedom were weakened or removed.

These two ways of life (and their inevitable clash) are vividly depicted in the classic movie Witness. In that story, the young Amish widow Rachel falls in love with the decidedly non-Amish policeman, John Book. Her father-in-law, Eli, warns her that it is forbidden to do so and that the elders could have her punished. He adds that she is acting like a child. 'I will be a judge of that,' she retorts. 'No, they will be the judge of that. And so will I . . . if you shame me,' he says, fierce as a prophet. 'You shame yourself,' Rachel replies, shaken but proud, and turns away from him." (29-30)

Monday, April 17, 2017

BookPastor >> "Leading Kids Ministry" (Pat Cimo and Matt Markins)

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

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TITLE: Leading KidMin: How to Drive Real Change in Children's Ministry
AUTHOR: Pat Cimo and Matt Markins
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2016, (176 pages).

How do we drive real change? What does it take to be a change agent in children's ministry? Is it about following the latest trends about children's work? Is it about trying to maintain relevance in a sea of changing expectations? Is it about attractive programs? No. It starts with being a change agent for God. In order to be change agents, we must first be changed. In order to be part of God's ministry to drive change, we must be transformed by God and be renewed in our hearts and minds. In order to lead kids ministry, we must be led. In order to be part of real change in ministry, we must be changed from the inside out. This is the key thesis in this book that aims to encourage and empower leaders and leaders to be in kids ministry.

We first need to get ministry right by recognizing that change is a process. It is not an isolated one-time event. We need to be clear about what we want to happen and what we need to do. It is about gaining perspective and to communicate it clearly to our co-workers. It is about gaining self-awareness. This can be facilitated with various tools to help us find our strengths and weaknesses. Leaders in Kids Ministry need to be empowered by senior leaders, something that this book also describes later. The chapter on "Running Toward Your Problem" is a crucial test of our willingness to face up to our challenges. Are we running away or toward? Are we humble enough to ask for help and feedback? Are we able to partner with other volunteers, senior leadership, parents, and others? Truth is, far too many kids ministry leaders do it alone. In order to reverse this trend, the authors propose nine steps toward healthy partnership.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Dramatic Celebrations" (Tim Keller)

Today, we reflect on the homecoming of the lost son, who repented and was utterly stumped by the generosity and graciousness of his own father.

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TITLE: The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith
AUTHOR: TIM KELLER
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Dutton Press, 2008, (144 pages).

"We come to the dramatic third and final scene of Act 1. The younger son comes within sight of the house. His father sees him and runs--runs to him! As a general rule, distinguished Middle Eastern patriarchs do not run. Children might run; women might run; young men might run. But not the paterfamilias, the dignified pillar of the community, the owner of the great estate. He would not pick up his robes and bare his legs like some boy. But this father does. He runs to his son and, showing his emotions openly, falls upon him and kisses him.

This almost surely would have taken the younger brother by surprise. Flummoxed, he tries to roll out his business plan for the restitution. The father interrupts him, not only ignoring his rehearsed speech but directly contradicting it. 'Quick!' he says to his servants. 'Bring the best robe and put it on him!' What is he saying?

The best robe in the house would have been the father's own robe, the unmistakable sign of restored standing in the family. The father is saying, 'I'm not going to wait until you've paid off your debts; I'm not going to wait until you've duly groveled. you are not going to earn your way back into the family. I am going to simply take you back. I will cover your nakedness, poverty, and rags with the robes of my office and honor." (22-3)

Monday, April 10, 2017

BookPastor >> "NIV Zondervan Study Bible" (Edited by DA Carson)

TITLE: NIV Zondervan Study Bible, Hardcover, Full Color, Free Digital: Built on the Truth of Scripture and Centered on the Gospel Message
AUTHOR: Bible Translated by NIV Translation Team with D.A. Carson as General Editor
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015, (2912 pages).

This is an excellent Zondervan study Bible based on the NIV translation. With Dr D.A Carson as the general editor, more than 60 contributors from the evangelical world have come together to create a study Bible packed with study tools, maps, notes, color diagrams, and commentaries centered on a biblical theology. The 28 articles are written by well known persons such as Kevin DeYoung, Tim Keller, Andreas J. Kostenberger, Douglas Moo, Andrew David Nasalli,  Moses Silva, etc. Commentaries are drawn from experts such as TD Alexander, Craig L. Blomberg,  Richard S. Hess, Tremper Longman III, Mark Strauss, Douglas K. Stuart, Robert W. Yarbrough, alongside Regent College professors, Rikk E. Watts, V. Philips Long, and Bruce K. Waltke. With nearly 3000 pages of commentaries, notes, maps, pictures, photos, introductory material, and extensive footnotes, every page is filled with information for the avid student to ponder and to learn.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "The Prodigal God" (Tim Keller)

For the month of April, I will be sharing snippets from Tim Keller's excellent book, "The Prodigal God." Today, I am amazed at how Keller links the normal understanding of this parable about the two sons to the two audiences.

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TITLE: The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith
AUTHOR: TIM KELLER
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Dutton Press, 2008, (144 pages).

"Most readings of this parable have concentrated on the flight and return of the younger brother - the 'Prodigal Son.' That misses the real message of the story, however, because there are two brothers, each of whom represents a different way to be alienated from God, and a different way to seek acceptance into the kingdom of heaven.

It is crucial to notice the historical setting that the author provides for Jesus' teaching. In the first two verses of the chapter, Luke recounts that there were two groups of people who had come to listen to Jesus. First there were the 'tax collectors and sinners.' These men and women correspond to the younger brother. They observed neither the moral laws of the Bible nor the rules for ceremonial purity followed by religious Jews. They engaged in 'wild living.' Like the younger brother, they 'left home' by leaving the traditional morality of their families and of respectable society. The second group of listeners was the 'Pharisees and the teachers of the law,' who were represented by the elder brother. They held to the traditional morality of their upbringing. They studied and obeyed the Scriptures. They worshiped faithfully and prayed constantly." (7-8)

Monday, April 03, 2017

BookPastor >> "Conscience" (Andrew David Naselli and J.D. Crowley)

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

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TITLE: Conscience: What It Is, How to Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ
AUTHOR: Andrew David Naselli and J.D. Crowley
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016, (160 pages).

It is not often that the Church talks about conscience, let alone sermons. What is the meaning of a "clear conscience?" How relevant is conscience for Christian living? What is the role of conscience with regard to Church unity? What does bringing our conscience under the lordship of Christ really mean? These questions are covered in this unique book about the inner workings of a person with regard to critical issues of life, relationships, and faith. In this book, authors Andrew Naselli and JD Crowley aim to bring back the topic of conscience to the Church, believing that such awareness will bring about greater church unity, empowers evangelism and missions, improves relationships, and minimizes misunderstandings among servants. It is also hoped that this book on conscience can even strengthen our spiritual maturity.

In chapters 1 and 2, the authors show us what conscience is and is not. In it, we learn that conscience is more than shoulder angels/demons. Animals do not have a conscience. Our consciences reflect the image of God and for us is very personal. Two simple principles apply. First, God is lord of conscience and second, we need to obey our conscience. The word conscience in the New Testament is "syneidesis" which occur 39 times in the Greek New Testament. It is used positively in two ways and negatively in six ways. Positively, it means being blameless and clean. Negatively, it means being weak, wounded, defiled, emboldened to sin, guilt, and seared. Conscience can lead us to witness, to judge, and to act upon. With such powerful links between conscience and behaviour, Naselli and Crowley highlights four challenges to be covered in the later chapters.

  • What do we do when our conscience condemns us?
  • What does it take to calibrate our consciences with God's will?
  • How do we relate to people whose conscience clash with ours? 
  • What about clashes between consciences and cultural differences? 


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Midweek Meditation: On Hope (J.I. Packer)

"Living between the two comings of Christ, Christians are to look backward and forward; back to the manger, the cross, and the empty tomb, whereby salvation was won for them; forward to their meeting with Christ beyond this world, their personal resurrection, and the joy of being with their Savior in glory forever. New Testament devotion is consistently oriented to this hope: Christ is 'our hope' (1 Tim 1:1) and we serve the 'God of hope' (Rom 15:13). Faith itself is defined as 'being sure of what we hope for' (Heb 11:1), and Christian commitment is defined as having 'fled to take hold of . . . this hope as an anchor for the soul' (Heb 6:18-19)." (James Innell Packer, Concise Theology, Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1993, 183)

"An ethic of hope pervades the New Testament. It is an ethic of pilgrimage: one should see oneself in this world as a stranger traveling home (1 Pet 2:11, Heb 11:13). It is an ethic of purity: everyone who really hopes to be like Jesus when he appears 'purifies himself, just as he is pure' (1 John 3:3). It is an ethic of preparedness: we should be ready to leave this world for a closer relationship with Christ our Lord at any time when the summons come (2 Cor 5:6-8; Phil 1:21-24; cf Luke 12:15-21). It is an ethic of patience: 'if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently' (Rom 8:25; cf. 5:1-5, where the Greek word for 'patience' is translated 'perseverance' to bring out the nuance of stubborn persistence in face of pressures). And it is an ethic of power: the hope gives strength and confidence, energizing effort for running the race, fighting the good fight, and enduring the 'light and momentary troubles' (2 Cor 4:17) that still remain before we go home (Rom 8:18;15:13; 2 Tim 4:7-8)." (183-4)

Monday, March 27, 2017

BookPastor >> "You are What You Love" (James K.A. Smith)

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

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TITLE: You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit
AUTHOR: James K.A. Smith
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2016, (224 pages).

We worship what we love. Out of what we love, we worship. This relationship is tight and indispensable. It has implications for what it means to be human, and reflects what exactly we do want. Author and professor James K.A. Smith observes in the gospels how Jesus is more interested in what the disciples want rather than what they believe or know. Smith believes that many people have become stuck in Descartes-style of "I Think Therefore I Am" to the detriment of the lack of holistic living. Interestingly, he does not argue for less but more knowledge and learning that pulls together holistic living and learning. We need to cultivate a lifestyle of living and loving, of learning and labouring toward a model of centering our behaviour according to the heart of loving. Out of this identity arises our true motivation for thinking; for spirituality; for calling; for discipleship; worship; and spiritual formation. Describing the heart as our center of spiritual gravity, Smith also tells us that this goes way beyond the head. The virtues of love in the heart form our "erotic compass."  He believes that it is possible to acquire such virtues through imitation and practice. This book is about the latter that uses habit as the way to cultivate and to calibrate this compass.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Humility" (Richard Rohr)

"The only people who grow in truth are those who are humble and honest. This is traditional Christian doctrine and is, in effect, the maxim of Alcoholics Anonymous. Without those two qualities—humility and honesty—we just don’t grow. If we try to use religion to aggrandize the self, we will end up just the opposite: proud and dishonest. Humility and honesty are really the same thing. A humble person is simply someone who is naturally honest about their own truth. You and I came along a few years ago; we’re going to be gone in a few more years. The only honest response to such a mystery is humility.

Growth in the spiritual life takes place not by acquisition of something new. It isn’t like the acquisition of new information, which some call “spiritual capitalism.” In reality our growth is “a treasure hidden in a field” (Matthew 13:44). It is only discovered by the release of our current defense postures, by letting go of fear and our attachment to self-image. Then the inner gift lies present and accounted for! Once our defenses are out of the way and we are humble and poor, truth is allowed to show itself. God could not risk giving truth to proud and power hungry people; they will always abuse it. Truth shows itself when we are free from ideology, fear, and anger." (Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs, Crossroad, 2003, 120-121)

Monday, March 20, 2017

BookPastor >> "Slow Kingdom Coming" (Kent Annan)

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

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TITLE: Slow Kingdom Coming: Practices for Doing Justice, Loving Mercy and Walking Humbly in the World
AUTHOR: Kent Annan
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2016, (149 pages).

Just like the action movies, our busy lifestyles and activities that we do make us look like people constantly on the move. If we are not putting anything in motion, we may even be accused of idling. For believers who want to let their faith make a difference in their lives, the pressure is on to do something quick, lest we be accused of hypocrisy. If we open our ears and eyes to see what is before us and what is beyond us through the news and media, we will know that the injustice in the world far outstrips the amount of justice we see. Maybe, the bad news receive greater publicity than the good. There is so much to do that we do not know where or how to start. There are racial discrimination all over the world with the rich and poor often separated by privileges both explicit and implicit for certain people groups. There is human trafficking that despicably enslaves women, children, and vulnerable people. There is violence; violation of human rights; lack of basic resources; and immoral practices throughout the world. Besides that, there are needs closer to home, like the lonely people in our neighbourhood, people experiencing unjust treatment; and the ever growing rich and poor divide. How can we see God's kingdom come when the world seems to be heading toward greater brokenness? Where is the healing and the shalom of God? When we pray "Thy Kingdom come and Thy will be done," where are the results? The key thesis of this book is that the most effective way to ensure the long-term development of developing societies is when we spend time and resources defending, promoting, and cultivating their freedom and their rights.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Lectio Divina" (Maria Lichtmann)

"For these early monks, reading became a technology of the spirit, part of the toolkit for contemplation. Reading was rhythmic; the monk would read a verse of Scripture, then 'sit' with it, pausing to reflect or pray spontaneously. He would resume reading until another word, phrase, or line would kindle the heart and imagination. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke gives a description of a person practicing the rhythm of lectio divina in a more secular context: 'He does not always remain bent over his pages; he often leans back and closes his eyes over a line he has been reading again, and its meaning spreads through his blood.'  Lectio divina is the kind of reading that frustrates the urge to get through, to get anything, but instead places the reader in slow time, where all the moves are God's. A person doing sacred reading has to resolve to waste time, a terribly countercultural, counterproductive move in this media- and Web-saturated culture." (Maria Lichtmann, The Teacher's Way: Teaching and the Contemplative Life, Paulist Press, 2005, p22)

Monday, March 13, 2017

BookPastor >> "Student Ministry Essentials"

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

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TITLE: Student Ministry Essentials: Reaching. Leading. Nurturing.
AUTHOR: Steve Vandegriff and Richard Brown
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2015, (256 pages).

Student ministry is crucial not only for the future of the Church but also for the relevant disciple needs of young people. All if not most of us will be a student. For the Church, whether it is a parachurch or a Church-based student ministry, the goal is the same: Equipping and Discipling the young to grow in Christ and to be effective stewards of God's gifts to them. Yet, the years in school are supposedly limited and brief. Apart from the busy academic work expected, there is also the challenge of balancing one's time and resources against the many competing needs and conflicting distractions. In a book that aims to reach, to equip, to lead, and to nurture student leaders, authors Steve Vandegriff and Richard Brown have come together to share their knowledges and wisdom about practical discipleship development; leadership skills; partnership strategies; visions and dreams. The three big thrusts in this book are:

  1. To reach out to students and leaders by knowing their needs
  2. Toward inspired leadership with a knowledge of the culture, the environment, and the fit
  3. To nurture one another with a better knowledge of what student ministry is, means, and needs.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Midweek Meditation: Words by Ken Medema

Ken Medema (Musician)
Teach me to stop and listen,
Teach me to center down.
Teach me the use of silence,
Teach me where peace is found.

Teach me to hear Your calling,
Teach me to search Your Word.
Teach me to hear in silence,
Things I have never heard.

Teach me to be collected,
Teach me to be in tune,
Teach me to be directed,
Silence will end so soon.

Then when it's time for moving,
Grant it that I might bring,
To every day and moment,
Peace from a silent spring.

(Ken Medema)

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