Wednesday, March 29, 2017

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

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

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

Monday, March 27, 2017

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

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


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

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

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Humility" (Richard Rohr)

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

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

Monday, March 20, 2017

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

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


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

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

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "Lectio Divina" (Maria Lichtmann)

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

Monday, March 13, 2017

BookPastor >> "Student Ministry Essentials"

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


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

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

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

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Midweek Meditation: Words by Ken Medema

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

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

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

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

(Ken Medema)

Monday, March 06, 2017

BookPastor >> "The Wired Soul" (Tricia McCary Rhodes)

This review was first published on July 20th, 2016 at Panorama of a Book Saint.


TITLE: The Wired Soul: Finding Spiritual Balance in a Hyperconnected Age
AUTHOR: Tricia McCary Rhodes, PhD
PUBLISHER: Colorado Spings, CO: NavPress, 2016, (216 pages).

Technology is now everywhere around us, with us, and following us. For many people, it is quickly rewiring our brains and changing the way we talk, think, travel, and traipse. While positively, we get more and better information in ways quicker and more efficient than ever before, there are negative consequences as well. People tend to remember less, choosing to let their phones and digital devices record or save all their personal details. They are more forgetful and less willing to learn the old school way. Many choose to simply Google their information, as if the first try is the answer to their questions. While finding content is easy, discerning is not so easy. Where are our reference points? On what basis do we decide which is right, which is wrong, and which is appropriate? We live in a technologically connected world. According to author and professor Tricia Rhodes, we are living in a "hyperconnected age." Contrasting her own carefree escapades in the past, she compares what it was to live then and now. Her children are digital natives but she is not. She calls herself a 'digital immigrant' and is poised to see how the digital world is changing not only the way we live but the people we are. Her key thesis is that our digital habits have direct link to our formation into Christlikeness. On lifestyle, we are asked what the first thing we do when we get up. On habits, we are asked about our reaction when we hear our phone beeps. On reading, how has our attentiveness be sustained in a world of WiFi and Internet connectivity? On prayer, how is our level of patience and waiting been changed? On presence, how have our ability to connect with people been affected? On information overload, we wonder why we are so tired in the first place. These and many more are the negative consequences of technology manhandling us and we allowing it free reign on our lives. This has let to our brains been re-wired by technology. A key discovery in brain plasticity research is that "cells that fire together, wire together." Such brain cells are fired up together when one uses technology. If that is the case, technology is directly influencing the way our brains function. Thankfully, we do not need to be sucked in by the technological whirlpool. Rhodes propose a way not only to counter the negative effects of technology but to intentionally work toward Christlikeness. She updates the spiritual discipline of lectio divina and applies them in this book for a technological age. Briefly, the four disciplines are:

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Midweek Meditation: "What to do when Praying?" (Sister Wendy)

A Quote from Sister Wendy on Prayer

It is one of the most frequently asked questions: What should I do during prayer? How eagerly people long to be told the answer! For that would make me safe, well protected: I would know what to do! But the answer is of the usual appalling simplicity: stand before God unprotected, and you will know yourself what to do. I mean this in utter earnest. Methods are of value, naturally, but only as something to do "if I want to," which in this context of response to God means "if He wants me to." I may feel drawn to meditate, to sing to Him, or to stay before Him in, say, an attitude of contrition or praise.

But we cannot say prayers at all unless we know also the prayer of silence. In silent prayer, there are no words and hence no thoughts. We are still. This silence is nothing to be afraid of. Five or ten minutes, whatever can be spared. You are just there to stand in His presence and let Him take possession of you.

Whether you are aware of that presence does not matter. God is there, whatever your feelings, just as Jesus knew God was there even when He felt abandoned on the cross. What pure praise of the Father's love; to feel abandoned and yet stay content before Him, saying, "Father, into your hands . . . " We cannot sufficiently emphasize to ourselves that prayer is God's concern, and His one desire is "to come and make His abode with us." Do we believe Him or not? Of course, I can cheat. If I choose not to be there for Him (and since I am not yet transformed into Jesus, to some extent I always do protect myself against the impact of His love), then that is cause for grief. But it is creative grief. It drives us helpless to Jesus to be healed. We say to Him: "If you want, you can make me clean." But He answers, "I do want to --- but do you?" That wanting is ever the crux of the matter.

(Sister Wendy Beckett, Sister Wendy on Prayer, NY: Harmony Books, 2006, p43-45)

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