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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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