Wednesday, October 18, 2017

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

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

Monday, October 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

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

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

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


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

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

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






Monday, October 09, 2017

BookPastor >> "Guardrails" (Alan Briggs)

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

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

A THANKSGIVING PRAYER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George Hebert (1593-1633)

Monday, October 02, 2017

BookPastor >> "Paradoxology" (Krish Kandiah)

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

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

(Word Publishing, 1998)

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

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

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

Monday, September 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

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

(Word Publishing, 1998)

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 11, 2017

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Ask Me" (William Stafford)

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

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

(William Stafford, 1914-1993, American Poet)                        

Monday, September 04, 2017

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

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

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


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


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


  • It needs a measurable and efficient system


  • It must include genuine care


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


  • Politics play a big part in healthcare policies


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


  • Healthcare also requires vulnerability and trust; and acceptance.



  • Wednesday, August 30, 2017

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

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

    Monday, August 28, 2017

    BookPastor >> "Reading Your Life's Story" (Keith R. Anderson)

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

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    TITLE: Reading Your Life's Story: An Invitation to Spiritual Mentoring
    AUTHOR: Keith R. Anderson
    PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2016, (224 pages).

    We are relational people. We grow best in a nourishing environment of friendship and honesty. Friendly and open with others; honest and bold about ourselves. We cannot grow on our own. We need others to guide us. We need spiritual direction. We need to be mentored in our own journey of life. Learning to read our life story remains one of the most crucial things we need to do. Unfortunately, this is also one of the most neglected. Some of the most important questions are often either not asked or ignored. This book attempts to boldly ask and to gently illuminate. It is an introductory book on the art of spiritual direction. It tells us about the importance of mentoring, what it is, what it looks like, and how we can go about establishing a mentor-mentee relationship. It shows us ways to:

    • start and sustain a dialogue
    • cultivate an honest and healthy curiosity about life stories
    • appreciating human relationships
    • desiring to deepen intimacy with God and others
    • learning to tell one another’s stories
    • being authentic through honest discovery

    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)

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