Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Nouwen on Discernment 4"

TITLE: Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life

Discernment as "Being Seen"

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

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

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

Monday, July 24, 2017

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Nouwen on Discernment 3"

TITLE: Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life

Discernment as "Seeing Through"

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

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

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

Monday, July 17, 2017

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 14, 2017

"A Common Destiny" (Justin Unger)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Nouwen on Discernment 2"

TITLE: Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 10, 2017

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Nouwen on Discernment 1"

TITLE: Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life

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

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

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

Monday, July 03, 2017

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

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

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

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

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


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