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Friday, January 19, 2018

"Everything Happens for a Reason" (Kate Bowler)

TITLE: Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I've Loved
AUTHOR: Kate Bowler
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Random House, 2018, (208 pages).

Is it true that God rewards the good when they do good and punish them when they do bad? Is it also true that there is absolutely a reason for everything that happens to us? Must well-meaning Christians always do something for those who are going through tough times? What about things such as as direct blessings or curses? Is it true that God blesses us when we are good and curses us when we are bad? By the way, is there a cancer cure for those who seek God hard enough, or when we pray fervently enough? Having gone through personal struggles and doubts over past pet beliefs, author Kate Bowler emphatically says no. In a nutshell, there is no such thing of a spiritual guarantee for some earthly cure from heavenly realms. Having written "Blessed," one of the most in-depth studies and research on the prosperity gospel, Bowler shares her inner thoughts and feelings about the promises and perils of believing in the prosperity gospel in the midst of extreme pain and cancer. In a frank and open manner, Bowler reveals how her stomach pains and frequent discomfort led to a shocking diagnosis of an advanced stage of colon cancer.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

"The Perfect You" (Dr Caroline Leaf)

TITLE: The Perfect You: A Blueprint for Identity
AUTHOR: Dr Caroline Leaf
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2017, (320 pages).

Is there such a thing as a perfect person? What happened to the common phrase: "There's no perfect person?" Before we dismiss this book on the basis of the title, perhaps we could begin with the cultural use of the word 'perfect.' In our everyday conversations, sometimes we would respond to the question: "How's your day going on?" with the answer: "Perfect!" This book is neither about semantics nor cultural cliches. Instead, it is about helping us become the best version of ourselves. It is about identity and what we can do to unleash our deepest potential. Most importantly, it is about recognizing the perfection is not about us but about the Perfect God who had designed us and made us. Our key to unlocking this is understanding how we are wired. It begins with God and the blueprint provided in this book will bring us closer to seeing this beauty of God in us. Combining theology, science, philosophy, and practical checklists, Dr Caroline Leaf helps us to discern how we think, feel, and choose. Based on neuroscience, she is convinced that our minds control our brains. Based on her research and practice, she believes that individual choice plays a bigger role. She defines the "Perfect You" as "how you uniquely and specifically think, how you uniquely and specifically feel, and how you uniquely and specifically choose." It is essentially the intersection of mind, heart, and will that makes up the framework of this key thesis. She redefines success as being able to transform our community and to bring heaven to earth. Instead of searching for some potential out there, we are urged to consider developing the potential that is in us.

Monday, January 15, 2018

"Avoiding the Greener Grass Syndrome" (Nancy C. Anderson)

TITLE: Avoiding the Greener Grass Syndrome: How to Grow Affair-Proof Hedges Around Your Marriage
AUTHOR: Nancy C. Anderson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2017, (152 pages).

Getting married is easy. Staying married is the hard part. What about preparation to stay married? This is where this book fills in the gap. In other words, don't wait until the crisis before doing something about our marriages. Nourish and prepare for the challenges in the road ahead. For all marriages will be challenging in one way or another. Popular author, Nancy Anderson believes that it is possible, even though she had admitted cheating on her husband before. That was then. Having survived infidelity, she is back on a mission to use her story to help others build affair-proof hedges around their marriages. For Anderson, it takes years of rebuilding after that momentary fling with sexual temptation and adultery. Readers will not find lots of theories or concepts about marriage. Instead, they will be witnessing the sudden fall from grace and the long road to recovery. Written in two parts, Part One describes the author's betrayal of her marriage vows; confession of her affair; and the difficult journey of restoring her broken marriage. Each chapter is about what happened in her life that leads to her poor decisions. Before the confession, there was confusion about what was the right thing to do. Would she let her feelings rule the day, or will she return to the fundamental meaning of the marital vows. Plus, how does one apply biblical principles of truth and reconciliation in this complicated web of betrayal and distrust? So, before Anderson and her husband press the divorce button, they realize that recovery is possible. All it takes is commitment and determination to make things right. In starting over, she learns many lessons and takes the time to share these lessons with us. The rest of the book is about her experience and how we can avoid falling into the pitholes of temptations. How to plant and build hedges around one's marriage? Anderson goes through eight whole chapters on how to do just that. Each chapter springboards out of a biblical verse. Anderson uses HEDGES as an acronym for action:
  • H = Hearing
  • E = Encouraging
  • D = Dating
  • G = Guarding
  • E = Educating
  • S = Satisfying

Thursday, January 11, 2018

"Stay in the City" (Mark R. Gornik and Maria Liu Wong)

TITLE: Stay in the City: How Christian Faith Is Flourishing in an Urban World
AUTHOR: Mark R. Gornik and Maria Liu Wong
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2017, (95 pages).

There was a time in which many Christians flood the suburbs as the city becomes either too expensive or over-populated. Some see the city as too secular for their comfort. Others deem the city a lost cause due to the rising levels of crime and social ills. For young families, it is also increasingly difficult to afford to live in cities where the cost of living rises each year. Yet, the city continues to hold a strange attraction for many. Going downtown or uptown is also a popular choice among young people. What if all Christians vacate the city? Where then would gospel witness come from? Even in an age of Internet and social media connections, there is still a need for face to face interactions and communications. The authors of this book believe that Christians have a calling to stay in the city as a gospel witness. They provide encouraging stories of the many creative witness happening in major cities such as the City of Refuge in Brooklyn that offers refuge for the homeless. Over in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, a terribly expensive city, a young couple made their home so hospitable that teenagers loved to pop in for a snack and where parents could drop off their kids for a few hours. Other stories of hope and mercy fill the pages of this very engaging book about how Christians are making a difference in the cities. This book is a companion volume to "Sense the City." The latter goes more in depth about the skills and the practical things needed. This book shows forth the stories and the reasons why Christians ought to continue to be engaged in the work of the gospel in the city. Why? There are many reasons. More and more people are living in cities. Much of the need for the gospel are in cities and urban areas. In fact, cities are creeping into suburban lands and not the other way round. Cities are also hubs of opportunities, given the many resources and growth activities in them. There is also global migration to keep track of.

Monday, January 8, 2018

"A History of the Church in 100 Objects" (Mike Aquilina with Grace Aquilina)

TITLE: A History of the Church in 100 Objects
AUTHOR: Mike Aquilina with Grace Aquilina
PUBLISHER: Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2017, (424 pages).

How do we study history? For most of us, we would hit the books or listen to some historians explain the stories of the past. Others would go deeper into the science of archaeology or ancient artifacts. Modern technology gives many of us a way to search for information about the past. For author Mike Aquilina, "stuff" matters because they all tell a unique story. More specifically, the history of the Church could be traced through the examination of objects. These objects are then situated in seven eras:
  1. The First Century Church (Apostles and Martyrs)
  2. The Roman Empire (First to Third Centuries)
  3. The Dark Ages (4th to 8th Century)
  4. The Middle Ages (5th to 15th Century)
  5. The Renaissance and Reformation (16th to 17th Century)
  6. The Age of Revolutions (18th to 19th Century)
  7. The Global Village (Our Modern 21st Century World)
The key idea is that these objects tell a story. Beginning with the first century Church right through to modern era, readers get to see real stuff being used as pointers to the past. The silver star in Bethlehem's Basilica of the Nativity confirms what the ancients had seen prior to the birth of Christ. Not only does it represent eye-witness accounts, it affirms the story as depicted in the Bible. We read about paving stones, wooden posts, ancient amulet, catacombs, and many fascinating events in history. The chains of Peter show us how the apostle Peter was imprisoned, even tortured. As we move on to the Roman era, the monuments like the Colossus bring us back to the times of persecutions and political chaos prior to the Edict of Constantine. Even soil in Jerusalem's Basilica of the Holy Cross were used to remind us about the purpose why they were there in the first place.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

"Vindicating the Vixens" (Sandra L. Glahn)

TITLE: Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized Women of the Bible
AUTHOR/EDITOR: Sandra L. Glahn
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2017, (304 pages).

In our modern age of gender equality, human rights, feminist and egalitarian movements, many have accused the Bible of being overly patriarchal and even sexist. Why must women play second in a male-dominated culture? Didn't God create both male and female and made them equally chosen to be blessed? Moreover, there are many instances in the Bible where women tend to be depicted in a derogative manner. Does that make the Bible less relevant for our age? Is God being fair to the female gender? What about those 'bad' girls in the Bible? People such as Eve who persuaded Adam to eat the forbidden fruit; like Sarah who bullied Hagar; Tamar and Rahab the prostitutes; Bathsheba whose affair with King David led to the downfall of a powerful leader; and many more. Instead of simply going with these flows, this book offers to take a fresh look at these women, the ones listed in Jesus' genealogy in Matthew; and various vilified women in the Old and New Testament. The underlying conviction in this book about these women is that: They are not what they seem to be. Editor Sandra Glahn gives three additional reasons:

  1. Ensure that one's re-look is grounded in the Word of God
  2. Take seriously what God says about nearly 50% of the earth's population
  3. New information has come to light about the way the Bible describe women.

Monday, January 1, 2018

"Bearing Fruit" (Robert Gallaty)

TITLE: Bearing Fruit: What Happens When God's People Grow
AUTHOR: Robert Gallaty
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2017, (144 pages).

We all want to grow in maturity and fruitfulness. The question many would ask is how? What is fruitfulness? What are the impediments of such fruitful works? Making a distinction between one's status (unchanging) and one's standing (varies), we could navigate appropriately the constant tensions between being saved and the levels of our good works. The author believes that true believers will bear fruit. Based on John 15, he identifies seven places in the New Testament that contain the word 'fruit.' He describes it as follows:
  1. The Fruit of Repentance (John 15:1)
  2. The Fruit of Ministry (Romans 1)
  3. The Fruit of Sanctification (Romans 6)
  4. The Fruit of Righteousness (Philippians 1:9-11)
  5. The Fruit of Good Works (Colossians 1:11-12)
  6. The Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-17)
  7. The Fruit of Praise
In Repentance, we learn about what it means to abide in Christ, depending on Jesus to help us grow by letting him tend us, nurture us, and prune us. He concludes with a comparison of Martha and Mary, urging us to live like Mary in terms of allowing God to work. Bearing fruit goes beyond mere believing toward ministry and comes through as burdens for God's ministry to people. It means recognizing the sin in us and taking steps toward escaping sin. This is well described in a powerful Warren Wiersbe quote: "The answer to the problem of sin is not simply determination, discipline, reformation, legislation, or any other human endeavor. Victory comes through crucifixion and resurrection." For one to bear fruit on all cylinders, the barrier of sin has to be overcome. Gradually, we move forward and here, Gallaty hones on a common cliche which has prevented people from growing. People often advised having consistent prayer time, Bible reading, and so on. The sad reality is that the advice are not often taken to heart. As a result, people don't grow. The key reason is a lack of direction and purpose. Growing is simply a direction closer toward God in maturity. A mature believer will live out works of righteousness not because he has to, but because he wants to. Moving deeper, Gallaty highlights the fruit of good works through perseverance and patient endurance. A key thought is the difference between taking things for granted vs taking things with gratitude. It is the latter that shines forth with spiritual fruit. The author goes on to compare and contrast the spiritual fruit vs vice in Galatians 5, reminding us that bearing fruit is a slow growing process. This is so true in an age of instant results and quick expectations. He writes: "The slowest-growing trees sometimes bear the sweetest fruit."  I concur. That is perhaps a major reason why the Bible describe the need to abide in Christ. It is not a question of whether we can do it fast or slow, to bear fruit well or not. It is a question of abiding in God, trusting in God's timing to sow, plant, water, and tend, while waiting for fruition. The climax of all fruitfulness is praise and worship.

Friday, December 22, 2017

"Reading People" (Anne Bogel)

TITLE: Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything
AUTHOR: Anne Bogel
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2017, (224 pages).

Why do people behave in a certain way? How can we understand another person based on their behaviour? How can we better understand others and ourselves? Enter personality tests. These help us learn more about ourselves and give us a snapshot of who we are at any particular time. Many of these are based on scientific data and research. With choices lie a new challenge: Of the many  many personality tests out there, how do we choose? What are the differences between them? How do they stack up against one another? Here is where author Anne Bogel can help us navigate the potpourri of models. She talks about how the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (16 personality types) help her understand her own unique characteristics, how it explains her marital relationship and understanding herself. She dwells on Carl Jung's famous introvert/extrovert temperaments and takes it beyond just human people but church structures. For instance, she observes that most denominational churches have programs that appeal more to extroverts, which becomes a challenge for the introvert. Looking at Elaine Aaron's "Highly Sensitive Person," we become more aware of how sensitive our nervous systems are to various stimulus. This is particularly useful for parents dealing with highly sensitive children. Then there is the popular "Five Love Languages" by Gary Chapman that essentially deals with our primary language that would stir us up emotionally. Kiersey's four basic temperaments are the Artisans (SP); Guardians (SJ); Idealists (NFs); and Rationals (NTs). Bogel goes into detail the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, showing us what we need to know about the eight cognitive functions (combinations of extrovert/introvert perceptive (sensing or intuiting) and judging (thinking or feeling) functions. She takes time to explain what each of the eight cognitive functions mean and gives us three reasons for persisting in this self-analysis. First, it helps us to be confident of our own MBTI Type. Second, it helps us understand people. Finally, it helps us in our relationship as we adapt ourselves to adapt to the respective persons we deal with. She covers the "Clifton Strengthfinder" and confesses how this tool helps her love reading in the first place. Listing the 34 strengths, we learn about themes in executing; influencing; relationship-building; strategic-thinking; etc. The Enneagram is a personality framework that "fosters self-awareness and self-examination" to help us understand our spirituality. It is based on Evagrius Ponticus's eight or nine vices that impede our relationship with God. She then summarizes all the models and shares about the uniqueness and challenges of personality change vs behavioral change. While the results for us change over time, our core temperaments remain consistent. The more important questions are:

Thursday, December 21, 2017

"The Dawning of Indestructible Joy" (John Piper)

TITLE: The Dawning of Indestructible Joy: Daily Readings for Advent
AUTHOR: John Piper
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2014, (96 pages).

This is the season of Advent, where Christians are preparing their hearts to celebrate Christmas. One way to help us retain our sense of focus and attention on Jesus is through daily devotionals. Christmas is a time of joy. There is no need, no excuse, and no necessity to be glum about things. The eternal fullness of God's joy makes our temporal struggles on earth insignificant. Piper admits that he tends to be "dull, spiritually drowsy, halfhearted, lukewarm" and this book is partly a personal stirring up of the soul to wake up to the dawn of joy. For we don't need a lot of new stuff. We need a timely reminder about the reason for joy. This book is a 30-day reminder. Reminders such as:

  • How Jesus came on a "search-sand-save mission" that we be beneficiaries of His atoning work of grace
  • How we can be set free from the tyranny of money and power to embrace the One who is above all powers
  • Christmas is not about giving presents but receiving all of Christ, that we may learn the heart of all giving, and forgiving
  • Christmas proclaims the Truth of God's love, and this lasts forever and ever
  • Our truest treasure is far beyond anything we could ever imagine
  • We are reminded about the joy of Christian service
  • The promises of God will always be fulfilled, in God's time.

My Thoughts
December is often filled with tempting jingles and sounding music at malls and shopping centres. Marketers are very adept at coming up with enticing sales and seductive product offerings to make us think about consumerism in an already saturated materialistic society. Like the old hymn: "This world is not my home," Many conservatives would shun enjoyment of things on earth and to constantly think of heaven. Piper believes otherwise, that both heaven and earth are to be embraced. In fact, he admits that his "Desiring God" platform is an unabashed form of "Christian Hedonism" as described by "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him." This book about joy is Piper's unique way of learning to experience the fullness of God's joy on earth when we have that heavenly joy in us. For most of us, we simply need reminders. We need to be awakened to the beauty of joy. We need historical truth to be brought alive to existential reality. After all, Christians of all people, ought to be the happiest and joyful people in this world. Come Christmas, let all believers sing and shout for joy, knowing that the Lord has come, and the Lord will come again.

Dr John Piper is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Crossway Publishers and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

"Preaching with Cultural Intelligence" (Matthew D. Kim)

TITLE: Preaching with Cultural Intelligence: Understanding the People Who Hear Our Sermons
AUTHOR: Matthew D. Kim
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017, (288 pages)

There are many books on preaching. Some of the classics include ; Martin Lloyd Jones's "Preaching and Preachers"; the late Dr Haddon Robinson's "Biblical Preaching" that highlights the single big idea preaching; Charles Spurgeon's "Lectures to My Students"; Fred Craddock's "Preaching" and more recently, Thomas Long's "The Witness of Preaching" and Tim Keller's "Preaching." Continuing Gordon-Conwell's tradition of innovation and development in the art and craft of preaching, associate professor of GCTS Matthew Kim has given us a book that focuses on the recipients and contexts of sermon delivery. This book grows out of the author's elective courses, "Cultural Exegesis for Preaching" and "Preaching to Culture and Cultures" which explore how hermeneutics, preaching, and cultural contexts intersect. Beginning with the story of giraffes (majority culture) and elephants (minority culture), Matthew Kim observes that our churches are increasingly non-homogeneous. There are diversities lurking behind every supposedly distinct areas. No longer is it about ethnicities because there are intermarriages. Neither is it about similar backgrounds because generation gaps exists. With increased cross-cultural interactions, mindsets are constantly changing. In other words, do not build our houses with solely giraffes or elephants in mind. Acknowledge the increasing diversity of not only elephants and giraffes but others as well. Lest we preach to a congregation that no longer exists!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

"It's All Relative" (A.J. Jacobs)

TITLE: It's All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World's Family Tree
AUTHOR: A. J. Jacobs
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2017, (352 pages).

Why can't we all get along better? In a world where everyone constantly clamour for peace, people seem to be growing further apart. Calling the divisions as "primitive tribalism," author and humorist A.J. Jacobs's new foray is in the form of the history of human relationships. Spurred by an email to him from an "eighth cousin" from nowhere, he learned of someone having a database of 80000 relatives of his. Coupled with his recent thinking about family and the possibility of many long-lost relatives, he beings his search for his family identity that probes several angles. He researches genealogy, DNA evidence, online databases such as ancestry.com, an annual genealogy convention, and also some interesting connections with Barack Obama! Jacobs connects all sorts of things. He talks about newspaper articles that often triggers off a flood of ideas, such as the NYT's report about a besieged Connecticut family of an "unorthodox group-home" being chased out of their home. He probes the meaning of family. He wonders how related he is to ex-Presidents like George HW Bush, even managing to eat lunch together with the famous president's home in Kennebunkport, Maine, posing a picture with the former First Couple with a sign that reads: "I am a Cousin." He reflects upon sex, pondering about how many times our ancestors had their passionate embraces.  Other ventures include historical links during the American Revolution; celebrity cousins; name research; Mormons and Donny Osmond; and even an encounter with Harry Potter actor, Daniel Radcliffe. One must be amazed to see how persuasive the author must have been to connect with strangers and distant 'cousins' in such a way. All in all, there is a sense that we all come from two ├╝ber-grandparents in Adam and Eve. For all the wit and humor in the book, there is a sense of the author making some real journeys. I sense three journeys.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

"Godspace" (Keri Wyatt Kent)

TITLE: GodSpace: Embracing the Inconvenient Adventure of Intimacy with God
AUTHOR: Keri Wyatt Kent
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Faithwords, 2017, (208 pages).

This is a book about spiritual practices. More specifically, it is about making space for God in our supposedly busy lifestyles. Some try retreats or some faraway places to get away from the hustle and bustle so as to attain some level of peace and serenity. Others try to find it in Churches or religious communities that try to practice the spiritual disciplines. Some read books while others attend seminars. Some would try out some new initiatives or special one-off projects to engage their spiritual side of things. Unfortunately, as long as we reserve only specific time and space for us to enter into God's presence, we miss out on the rest of our lives. What about the busy moments at work or study? How can we be holy in the midst of babysitting or housekeeping? Spiritual writer Keri Wyatt Kent knows what it means to be caught in the whirlwind of busy activities and expectations in a modern world. Having written books about Sabbath keeping, rest, devotions, spiritual listening, and spiritual practices to attend to the soul, Keri has consolidated many of them for the busy individual struggling to find space for spirituality. It is an invitation for all to live in the grace of God with our whole selves, rather than compartmentalize our lives into different parts. Truth is, when we desire intimacy with God, we will intentionally find space wherever we can. We may have the best tools or most creative techniques with us, but if we have no desire, these things are nothing. However, when we have the desire to want to meet God always, we will find creative ways to make space. This is what this book is about: Making space for God in all of our life. For Kent, it is about seven practices that could be used to make space for God.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

"Come, Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional" (Paul David Tripp)

TITLE: Come, Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional
AUTHOR: Paul David Tripp
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2017, (160 pages).

"The Christmas story is the story of stories." So asserts author and pastor Paul David Tripp. Why? While it is important to tell and re-tell this story, there is a danger of becoming too familiar until we don't appreciate the story anymore. We become too superficial about it. We brush aside details because we assume we already know it all. What we used to be ecstatic about no longer attracts us as much. How do we prevent the familiarity-breeds-contempt mentality? Do a deliberate journey through a daily devotional. This is exactly what this book is about: Helping us go from familiarity to adoration. With specific daters for each chapter, readers could follow along from the beginning of December right through to the end of the month, a 31-journey devotional in all. Each chapter kicks off with a thought for the day. This big idea is then expanded with some personal reflections about the Christ child and the gospel. There is then some scripture passages for further study as well as a brief instructions for parents to instruct their children about certain aspects of what the Advent means. There are many different themes woven into this devotional. We are reminded about the sinful nature of the world and the human heart. Why is it necessary for Jesus to come down to earth? What is the gospel about? What about hope and joy? How could we meaningfully teach our children about Christmas and Jesus?

Let me give three thoughts about this book. First, I think it is a good change to have the scripture passages after the initial description and meditation. As one who has used many other devotionals such as "Our Daily Bread," I notice there is a tendency for people to jump straight into the reading instead of the Bible passage. Some might even skim through the Bible mechanically before zooming into the devotional, making the whole reading very rushed. By reversing this, by the time readers finish the devotional, he would have been more ready to let Scripture confirm or challenge our understanding. Second, regularity is crucial. The value of the devotional is not in simply the reading but the consistency in reading through it. Just like many who eat bread or drink coffee for breakfast, the regularity helps us form a habit that would hopefully instil in us a discipline to spend time reflecting with God. If we could remember our morning coffee, or our daily meals, why not spiritual food? Christmas is a particularly busy time for most people. With a devotional like this, we can challenge the cultural influences and to be able to discern what is best for us and our loved ones. Third, Tripp is spot on when he noticed the dangers of being too familiar with the Christmas story. We tend to skip over certain fundamentals, skim over important details, and miss out on the meaning of Christmas ourselves. Weird isn't it? For I know of certain people becoming caught up in the mundane battles of Christmas. Many still try to fight semantic battles of "Merry Christmas" vs "Happy Holidays." Others echo the tired cliches such as "Jesus is the Reason for the Season," "Season's Greetings," "Christmas magic," "The Spirit of Christmas," and so on. There is no need to parrot what the world is doing. We need Christmas to begin in the heart. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. With devotionals like this, we certainly can cultivate our heart to be ready.

Dr. Paul David Tripp is a pastor, event speaker, and a best-selling and award-winning author. With more than 30 books and video series on Christian living, Paul’s driving passion is to connect the transforming power of Jesus Christ to everyday life. His website is at www.paultripp.com

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Crossway Publishers and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Friday, December 8, 2017

"The God Guarantee" (Jack Alexander)

TITLE: The God Guarantee: Finding Freedom from the Fear of Not Having Enough
AUTHOR: Jack Alexander
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2017, (226 pages).

Every generation, people would say that their era is tougher than their predecessors. There is not enough time to do all they wanted to do. There is not enough people to do what the community need to do. There is not enough resources for us to give, to live on, or to help others with. There are anxieties of lacking what we need. There are also uncertainties that surround our future. Most damning of them all is the fear that prevents us from exercising our fullest potential and to live out our faith. According to author and motivational speaker, Jack Alexander, all we need to change our paradigm of lack to contentment. There is no need to fear about not having enough. The root of an ungenerous heart is fear. Thus, Alexander helps us to change this perspective and to understand and practice biblical generosity. I like the way Tim Keller explains in the foreword that this is not a "self-help" nor a "stewardship" book, nor a "devotional," but a book that would "send you to your knees." I like that.

Alexander dispels the scarcity mentality that paints us as victims needing more. He writes: "All the money in the world can't uncover a deeply embedded sense of scarcity." That is so true. If our hearts are not at peace, no amount of encouragement or serenity can change us. So, the author shows us that God has created us and provided for us in more ways than we could ever imagine. We doubt because we are too engrossed in independence and self-sufficiency. We doubt because of lack of faith in God. By taking on Jesus's practice of taking the bread, blessing it, breaking it, and giving it, Alexander gives us a framework to hone our contentment in God and to develop our conviction in generous giving. First in CAPACITY, we discover capacity as we take stock of what we already have. Second in CONSECRATION, as we bless God and be thankful for them, we invite God in to work in us. Third in CHALLENGES, we re-order our lives as we breaks the old set paradigms. Fourth in COMMUNITY, we give and provide for others.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

"Mending the Divides" (Jon Huckins and Jer Swigart)

TITLE: Mending the Divides: Creative Love in a Conflicted World
AUTHOR: Jon Huckins and Jer Swigart
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2017, (192 pages).

Sometimes, in our daily conversations, we would say things like "Someday it will all be well," "Let us all love," "Why don't everybody just get along?", or "If only this world could be a better place?" The list could easily include world affairs, national politics, family squabbles, and personal conflicts. For all the good intentions and statements about peace, little has been said about peacemaking initiatives, or even better, becoming active peacemakers wherever we are. This hits home for authors Jon Huckins and Jer Swigart as they listen to stories of terrorism, wars, and conflicts that degenerate out of control over time. For all the talk about love, peace, and goodwill, how is that evident in what we do or are doing? How many friends do we have that are different from us ethnically, nationally, and culturally? Even our North American neighbourhoods have experienced the presence of violence. The authors met as students at Fuller Theological Seminary, both passionate for the work of peace, justice, and reconciliation. They asked questions about peace, peacemaking, effective practices, and what peacemaking has got to do with following Jesus. Thus began the "Global Immersion Project" which seeks to equip and activate the American Church for peacemaking initiatives. Huckins and Swigart are upfront about their own backgrounds, admitting that even as they write in general, they are middle-aged white males; focusing on the importance of gender-sensitive; and believing we need to actively contend for peacemaking.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

"Celebrating Abundance" (Walter Brueggemann)

TITLE: Celebrating Abundance
AUTHOR: Walter Brueggemann
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017, (90 pages).

The Advent season is here. After the traditional Thanksgiving Thursday followed by a crazy Black Friday commercialization, we enter into a cultural period of shopping madness. People hype up virtues of celebrating, giving, gratitude, and festive pleasantries. Christians sing carols and Christmas hymns. Radio stations play Christmas tunes. Film-makers churn out predictable Christmas plots that center around family, friendship, and all kinds of chicken soup for the Christmas movie soul. What about the reasons for giving? What about the heart of the meaning of Christmas? What about the Person behind it all? In a compelling four-week devotional before Christmas and a list of prayers for twelve days after Christmas, renowned author and retired professor Dr Walter Brueggemann looks at the topic of abundance. It is about the abundance of God who poured out His Spirit on us. God will not only resolve the problems we have of today. He promises to give a new heaven and a new earth. Jesus demonstrated His bountiful blessings via the feeding of the 5000; multiple works of mercy and goodness; a catalog of newness; a continued offer of mercy for our repentance; the far reaching grace and faithfulness of God; culminating in the greatest gift of all: Jesus.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

"Good Arguments" (Richard A. Holland Jr and Benjamin K. Forrest)

TITLE: Good Arguments: Making Your Case in Writing and Public Speaking
AUTHOR: Richard A. Holland Jr and Benjamin K. Forrest
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017, (144 pages).

The word "argument" often has negative connotations. Many people see it as something to be avoided. Such a reaction is due to a misunderstanding of what arguments mean. Authors Holland and Forrest have come together to redeem the word and to assert that good arguments reflect God's character. As far as good arguments are concerned, three things are essential. First, ensure that all the essential elements are there (conclusion, premise, and claims). Second, state the claim upfront. Third, connect the premise(s) to the conclusion. They then show us the two types of reasoning: Deductive and Inductive. The former presents direct evidence to support the conclusion. By having all the evidence reasoned out to be true, the conclusion will then be true. For the latter, even if the premises are true, the conclusion is still uncertain. There is a lot more openness as far as inductive reasoning is concerned. This book is a primer for how we can present our case well. We learn of the laws of identity, the law of noncontradiction, and the law of the excluded middle.They show us about fallacies, which is essentially defective reasoning. They distinguish between belief, fact, and opinion, which is a refreshing reminder that while all of us are entitled to our own opinion, not all of us are right. There are Subjective claims vs Objective statements. They show us the importance of understanding and defining our terms, for often, different terms mean different things to different people. In fact, the authors point out an important observation: "Dictionaries do not define words. Rather, for any word, the dictionary simply tells us what the definition is. The distinction is this: words are defined by those who use them." How true indeed. Words and terms are meaningless until they are put together by users. They need a context to be meaningful. By proper definition of terms we are able to communicate them clearly in our statements and arguments. Sometimes, we need analogies or other literary devices to help us achieve that.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

"God in the Movies" (Catherine M. Barsotti and Robert K. Johnston)

TITLE: God in the Movies: A Guide for Exploring Four Decades of Film
AUTHOR: Catherine M. Barsotti and Robert K. Johnston
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2017, (304 pages).

The movie industry continues to be a very vibrant one. It is one of the most popular forms of entertainment for people of all ages. In recent years, more movies have been released with the theme of faith. The quality of Christian movies have improved and due to a sizeable chunk of Christians who watch movies, several movie production companies have set up divisions to target these audiences. Truth is, there are already many movies that have the themes of faith and religion. Underlying the stories of many movies is a search for meaning, for significance, and for God. This book seeks to reveal the presence of such themes and how we can learn to watch movies intelligently and with discernment. In one of the most ambitious projects of this kind, authors Catherine Barsotti and Robert Johnston comb four decades of films ('80s, '90s, '00s, '10s) and highlight forty movies to show us that we do see God mentioned both explicitly and implicitly.

What makes this book readable is through popular movies that many people have already seen or heard. Some of the movies like "Chariots of Fire," "The Elephant Man," "American Beauty," "Life of Pi," "Dead Man Walking," "Wall-E," "12 Years a Slave," "Zero Dark Thirty" have either won oscar nominations or received critical appeal for its entertainment and artistic creativity. Reading the synopsis often brings back memories of the first time I watched it. At the same time, I marvel at how much I missed in terms of seeing the themes of faith and God in the movies. This book powerfully equips us with the lens of watching movie intelligently. It is interesting that the hit series STAR WARS are not given much coverage other than a one-line mention. I would have thought that the entire saga has deeply spiritual themes as well. I suppose the authors had two other hidden reasons. First, they want to highlight the relatively lesser known movies. Second, by the time we are halfway through the book, we would have gotten some skills in analyzing the movies ourselves!