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.


TITLE: The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith
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.


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.


TITLE: The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith
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. 


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.


TITLE: The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith
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.


TITLE: The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith
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.


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? 

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