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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!

Monday, November 20, 2017

"God is Stranger" (Krish Kandiah)

TITLE: God Is Stranger: Finding God in Unexpected Places
AUTHOR: Krish Kandiah
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2017, (352 pages).

Who is God like? Is He friendly that we could hang out a beer like a buddy? Is He like what some Christians like to call "Daddy" affectionately like a little kid hugging his father after a birthday party? Do we look at external signs of God before letting our guard down? Things like seeing God's character based on our encounters with different people on earth. Like if we mix around with people who say that God is always harsh and merciless, we might end up with a perspective of God being judgmental all or most of the time. If we see God drawn as one giving teddy bears to kids, we might say Jesus is a warm and loving man who cares for little children. Truth is, many of us prefer to see the softer and kinder side of God more than anything else. The big question before us would be: Who is God as described in the Bible? For author Krish Kandiah, God is often stranger than we might think. Familiarity breeds contempt especially when it clouds our sense of discernment, letting our presumptuous past define what we see or perceive. There is mystery. God appears to people when they least expected it and turned their world upside down. Quoting Dennis Covington, this book revolves around this statement: "Mystery is not the absence of meaning, but the presence of more meaning than we can comprehend."

Thursday, November 16, 2017

"Making All Things New" (David Powlison)

TITLE: Making All Things New: Restoring Joy to the Sexually Broken
AUTHOR: David Powlison
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2017, (128 pages).

Human Sexuality are huge matters in our culture. Whether it is about registering for some government procedures, school programs, club activities, or even the use of restrooms, we are asked about gender types all the time. If we are happy about ourselves, references to our sexuality would not really bother us. What if we had a dark sexual past? What if we had been hurt before and our sexuality damaged? What if we have been betrayed by our spouses or partners? Author describes such betrayals like a clean rag soaking up dark and dirty stains. Can the rag be made clean? What does it take to make people new again? This is the key purpose of this book. Powlison sets forth three orienting realities for us:
  1. Faithfulness: Christian faith revels in Sexual Fidelity
  2. Honest: Christian Faith is Candid about Sexual Wrongs
  3. Regeneration: Christian Faith brings Genuine Transformation
Even though God created sex good, sin has corrupted it. By the grace of God, sex has been redeemed and human sexuality made new. Working through the paradoxes of how suffering could be a chance for growth, and how sexual brokenness affects both all genders, readers are guided with this constant prompting, that God will not only make all things new, what He started, He will also complete it. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

"Long Before Luther" (Nathan Busenitz)

TITLE: Long Before Luther: Tracing the Heart of the Gospel From Christ to the Reformation
AUTHOR: Nathan Busenitz
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2017, (256 pages).

October 31st, 2017 is the 500th Anniversary of that great moment when the famous reformer, Martin Luther boldly challenged the Roman Church establishment to a theological debate. Out of this event arose the five solas of the Reformation: Sola Scriptura; Sola Christus; Sola Fide; Sola Gratia; Sola Deo Gloria. While these fundamental tenets of the Christian faith have been elevated as the Reformation Creeds by many, is it really true that the Reformation started all these? Absolutely not, so argues author Nathan Busenitz. In fact, it all began in Scripture itself with pre-Reformation figures already talking about it long before Luther, hence the title. Put it another way, Christianity did not just began 500 years ago. Its origins are over 2000 years ago starting with Christ and several church fathers.

Using "sola fide" as an example, it does not begin with Luther. It began with Christ. He differs sharply from the renowned theologian Alister McGrath by arguing that "sola fide" began 2000 years ago, and not after the Reformation. In this book, Busenitz is essentially arguing against McGrath's three views of justification:

Friday, November 10, 2017

"Blessed are the Misfits" (Brant Hansen)

TITLE: Blessed Are the Misfits: Great News for Believers who are Introverts, Spiritual Strugglers, or Just Feel Like They're Missing Something
AUTHOR: Brant Hansen
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2017, (256 pages).

We all like to think of ourselves as unique individuals. In wanting to be accepted, we often reveal only those part of us that appear to align with general opinion. In truth, many of us struggle with projecting our true selves only when we feel safe. At other times, we hide. We keep our innermost thoughts and feelings to ourselves. Lest someone finds out and we risk becoming a misfit, a pariah, a marginalized member of any community. Many years ago, I came across a book by John Powell entitled, "Why am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am?" His basic argument is that people are afraid to reveal their true selves because they fear rejection if they do so. People may not like their honesty and they fear being put aside if their feelings or thoughts do not match the majority view. The truth is, many of us if we truly reveal ourselves, we might even be classified a "misfit." This is not something to be ashamed about. In fact, author Brant Hansen writes to such people that they are blessed. In doing so, Hansen is telling us that it is ok to be ourselves, even though the world around us seemed unable to fit us into its mold. The fear of being left out is more common than we may think. Fears that include:

  • Not having figured out what we want in life;
  • Unsure about our faith in God or whether God still loves us;
  • Uncertainty whether people will accept us for who we are;
  • Being sidelined when our views are in the minority;
  • Holding unpopular opinions;
  • Having doubts but afraid to share them aloud;
  • Inability to deal with awkwardness when there are opportunities to share the gospel;
  • Feelings of being a spiritual failure;
  • ...

Monday, November 6, 2017

"Still Christian" (David P. Gushee)

TITLE: Still Christian: Following Jesus Out of American Evangelicalism
AUTHOR: David P. Gushee
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017, (214 pages).

He has been on both sides of the divide. Raised as a Catholic, he became a member of Providence Baptist Church toward conservative Southern Christianity. Although he graduated from the liberal Union Theological Seminary, he was called to be a minister and an academic for the fundamentalist Southern Seminary. His years there became one of his most painful periods of ministry. Certain issues became hot potato issues that refuse to go away. Issues such as women ordination and pastoral leadership which became embroiled in power shifts amid strong convictions from all sides. Soon, he became disillusioned due to the infighting and how the events affected his marriage and family. Thankfully, he has mentors such as David Dockery who on several occasions offered him a way out of the struggles, and opens doors to various opportunities such as a different school to teach in and editing opportunities in Christianity Today. He sees firsthand the difficulties in trying to maintain a core fundamentalist stand while trying to stretch the limits of academic excellence. He has seen the worst behaviors from all sides. He became a "center-left evangelical ethicist." Soon people start to call him "every liberal's favourite evangelical." Then his own views on the LGBT debate shifted and he became "every evangelical's least-favorite liberal." His book "Changing Our Mind" about his changing stance would render him unpopular with evangelical circles. No matter how he tries to nuance his views, the evangelical camp isolated him. Speaking engagements were withdrawn. Publishers pulled his books. He learned first hand what it means to be taking an unpopular position.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

"Martin Luther - A Biography for the People" (Dyron B. Daughrity)

TITLE: Martin Luther: A Biography for the People
AUTHOR: Dyron B. Daughrity
PUBLISHER: Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 2017, (320 pages).

This year is the 500th Anniversary of Reformation Day, that eventful moment that changed the Church and the world. Despite having many volumes already written about this plucky and intelligent German monk, more remain to be said and written. This is probably due to the single greatest impact to the Church at large and how a single man stood against the huge Roman Church aristocracy. The impact of the resistance was so strongly felt that he emboldened many other early reformers to do the same for their jurisdictions leading to a multi-faceted Protestant movement. This book attempts to help us re-visit the story of Martin Luther, cementing its importance, and helping us be grateful for the faith and passion of this man, whose life and work should inspire us to keep standing up for the truth in the eras we are living in. Part of the inspiration for this book is to write for the masses instead of for ivory tower audiences. According to author Dyron Daughrity, this is not just a Protestant movement. It opened the floodgates for the dawn of the modern age; redefining religious freedom; modern capitalism; individualism; secularization; and the courage to change the world. It is also part of the author's personal journey in studying this important historical figure. By writing this work in a language for the common people, the author hopes to replicate the impact of what happened 500 years ago, when the common people stood up against the excesses of the Roman Church regime. It is storytelling of Luther's life and teachings.

Monday, October 30, 2017

"The Mentoring Church" (Phil A. Newton)

TITLE: The Mentoring Church: How Pastors and Congregations Cultivate Leaders
AUTHOR: Phil A. Newton
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Ministry, 2017, (240 pages).

For any mentoring to be successful, it must begin with the leaders. Jesus did that with the Twelve. Paul mentored churches through his letters and personal visits. The Early Church community provided the environment for the growth of communities that cared for each other and shared with one another. Going through a historical survey from Jesus’ time to the modern era, readers get a feel of some of the different aspects of mentoring through well-known personalities. In the 16th Century, we read about the great reformers, John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli. They stressed training in biblical exegesis; preaching; sound doctrine; and godly pastoral examples. The 17th and 18th Centuries are shaped by the Puritans, the German Pietists; and Colonial American Baptists. We come across names like Philip Jacob Spener, John Gano, and how they manage to mentor leaders in the midst of their faithful labor. By the 19th and 20th Centuries, new leaders emerge in the form of Charles Spurgeon and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Both remained committed to the ministry of the Word and the training of disciples. Contemporary figures mentioned include Mark Dever (Capitol Hill Baptist Church); JD Great (Summit Church); Scott Patty (Grace Community Church); and Al Jackson (Lakeview Baptist Church). After surveying the historical developments of mentoring and learning pointers from each era, Newton proposes four different models for us to consider adopting.

Friday, October 27, 2017

"Faith Formation in a Secular Age" (Andrew Root)

TITLE: Faith Formation in a Secular Age: Responding to the Church's Obsession with Youthfulness (Ministry in a Secular Age)
AUTHOR: Andrew Root
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017, (240 pages).

We live in a secular world, or some may say, an increasingly secular society. For religious people, it is a concern because of the lack of faith formation. Young people are leaving their churches in droves. With the non-affiliated group (NONES) rising rapidly, many leaders are concerned that their existence are under threat. Without the youths and youthfulness, the churches will not only decline but will eventually lose their relevance. So many churches embark on programs for the young, hire youth workers, pour huge sums of money to build up infrastructure to make their churches attractive for younger people, so that they would stay and remain in their churches. This is not simply a problem about young people leaving the church. Neither is it about the lack of relevance and programming by many churches around the world. It is simply a challenge of faith formation in a secular age.

The author begins with the classic statement of the Canadian philosopher, Charles Taylor: “Why was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in, say 1500, in our Western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy, but even inescapable?” In other words, 500 years ago, it is difficult not to believe. Now, it is difficult to believe. This book is essentially an expanded response to Taylor’s work, “A Secular Age,” using his understanding of secularism as a way for us to understand the context of faith formation in an increasingly challenging secular climate. Due to this secular age, churches are fighting a losing battle when they fight the wrong enemy. Without understanding the underlying currents of the secularizing effect, they launch themselves into energy sapping programs in order to attract the uninterested, the unimpressed, and the uninitiated.  For adults, they gravitate toward programs that reflect the MTD coined by Christian Smith, that Christian communities are buying into moralistic, therapeutic, and deistic beliefs and seeing them as more relevant that faith itself. Root indicts our modern church programs by saying:  “The problem with our faith-formation programs is our oversimplified contention that plugging the drain will retain the faith of our youth. Yet, as we saw in Part 1, our issue is much deeper.” Deeper because the modern realities are no longer the same as historical facts. We have given in to a culture of fear, a fear of losing our young; a fear of losing our present shape; and a fear of not doing enough to retain people. When we give in to such fears, we become more interested in people retention rather than faith formation. Of course, some people may say we need both, especially those who argue that retention must exist before formation could happen. Yet, these efforts seem doomed to fail later, if not sooner.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

"Eyes to See" (Compassion Canada)

TITLE: Eyes to See -Reflecting God's Love to a World in Need
AUTHOR: Compassion Canada
PUBLISHER: London, ON: Compassion Canada, 2017, (152 pages).

One of the greatest biblical indictments about the human race is this: People have eyes but not see. Used frequently in the Old Testament judgments of a rebellious people of Israel, prophets have constantly railed against the disobedience of the Israelites. The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah had frequently reprimanded the Israelites for their insensitivity to the call of God. Jesus also rebuked the religious leaders in the first century about their stubborn hearts and closed minds. For many of us in modern world, sometimes we get compassion fatigue where we see so many needs around us that we simply got overwhelmed to the point of inaction. Others presume good intentions are enough. Others deem themselves too small and unable to do anything helpful at all. Poverty is real. Some images of poverty may guilt-trip us into action. Yet, we need something far more substantial in order to make some difference in the world. This is where this book enters in. Rather than simply rely on random images of poverty or TV commercial to jiggle our heart strings, this book provides a six week journey to sharpen our vision and our compassion for people in need. At the end of the 30-days exercise, it is hoped that readers will not only develop eyes to see but hands and feet that are ready for action.

Monday, October 23, 2017

"Calling All Years Good" (Kathleen A. Cahalan & Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore)

TITLE: Calling All Years Good: Christian Vocation throughout Life's Seasons
AUTHOR: Kathleen A. Cahalan & Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids. MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2017, (208 pages).

What is calling? Is a person called only with regard to a particular career or vocation? If that is so, what about people who have retired? What about those who are unable to work for some reason? Do they not have a calling as well? Addressing this is a powerful expansion of calling to address this conventional lopsided understanding of calling. We tend to think of vocation as some kind of a question that could be answered once and for all. Whether it be a Full-Time ministry engagement or a particular career work, people have tended to restrict their understanding of vocation only in one particular part of their life. What about transitions in between vocations? What about life stages? What about retirement? Is there a different calling for each life stage? Or is there only one calling for all of life? These questions are boldly dealt with in this collection of articles that reflect on six phases of life: Childhood; Adolescence; Younger Adulthood; Middle Adulthood; Late Adulthood; and Older Adulthood. No one phase should be allowed to define one’s whole life, for each phase comes with unique challenges and specific contexts. Questions asked during one phase would either be asked differently or be irrelevant altogether in another phase. The key question being asked “What would a lifelong perspective do to our understanding of vocation?”

Monday, October 9, 2017

"Emotionally Healthy Relationships Day by Day" (Peter Scazzero)

TITLE: Emotionally Healthy Relationships Day by Day: A 40-Day Journey to Deeply Change Your Relationships
AUTHOR: Peter Scazzero
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017, (272 pages).

Brother Lawrence teaches us to practice the presence of God in the midst of work and doing our daily chores. Advocates of the marketplace ministries assert that Christian living need not be restricted to just Sundays or weekends. Benedictine monks through the centuries have practiced the daily office and liturgy of the hours so that they could saturate the day of work with prayers and praises. All of these are ways to instil a sense of being mindful of God's presence in all of our daily lives. Strictly speaking, the "Daily Office" is about fixed time prayers throughout the day, where prayers and devotions are the first work of the day, and interspersed at regular intervals for the rest of the day. St Benedict structured eight daily offices so that the community could order their lives around it. Using this ancient spiritual practice, author Peter Scazzero has creatively arranged his bestselling "Emotionally Health" themes to help us grow in emotional health within a 40-day period.  This is spread out in eight weeks to parallel the eight daily offices.

  • Week One: Take Your Community Temperature Reading
  • Week Two: Stop Mind Reading and Clarify Expectations
  • Week Three: Genogram Your Family
  • Week Four: Explore the Iceberg
  • Week Five: Listen Incarnationally
  • Week Six: Climb the Ladder of Integrity
  • Week Seven: Fight Clean
  • Week Eight: Develop a Rule of Life to Implement Emotionally Healthy Skills

Friday, October 6, 2017

"Spiritual Maturity" (J. Oswald Sanders)

TITLE: Spiritual Maturity: Principles of Spiritual Growth for Every Believer (Sanders Spiritual Growth Series)
AUTHOR: J. Oswald Sanders
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2017, (288 pages).

We grow not because of our efforts and programs. We grow because of God's grace and mercy. More importantly, we grow according to the holy character of God Himself in the Triune Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The key thesis in this book is that spiritual maturity is about growing in holiness according to God the Father; growing in conformity to the image of Christ; and growing in obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Written in three parts, each part is devoted to describing the unique ways we can grow in accordance to God's Personal Character.

In Part One, we learn about trusting in God's providence; revering in God's holiness; gratitude about God's Perseverance; accepting of God's disciplines; hoping in God's ultimate deliverance; and looking forward to God's ultimate promises in time to come. Part Two reveals to us the vision of God in Christ; the humble sacrifice of Christ as Lamb; the way Christ prayed for us; the costs of discipleship; the personal pleas for us to follow Him; and learning to live victoriously in Christ. Part Three is about the ways of the Holy Spirit through the transforming power; the purging fire; the powerful outworking of God's will in gifts and signs; and the evangelization of the world. Each chapter begins with a Bible verse followed by a passage to be read. Sanders then launches into a devotional cum reflection on the Character of God as described in the passage. With vivid illustrations and powerful images of God's Personhood, Sanders does not simply show us the light to spiritual growth, he lets God be illuminated through the pages to teach us the ways of God and the path toward spiritual maturity.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

"Meditations on the Trinity" (A.W. Tozer)

TITLE: Meditations on the Trinity: Beauty, Mystery, and Glory in the Life of God
AUTHOR: A.W. Tozer
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2017, (320 pages).

The doctrine of the Trinity is most foundational to the Christian faith. All cults, heresies, and alternative religions differ from orthodox Christianity on this point alone. There is beauty, mystery, and glory of the Triune God. Instead of following the many theologians and scholars who have covered the doctrinal and theological basis of the Trinity, Tozer shows us both the theological and devotional aspect. The Christian life begins with God, and our Christian living begins with reflections on the character of God and how we are to live according to how God had revealed himself. This is the key purpose of this book.

There are four parts to the book. The first comprises reflections on God the Father. It points out God being in existence right from the beginning; that He is Creator; He is Immanent; and eternal; Immortal; and all the fine divine attributes believers often talk about. The second describes God the Son, His humanity; His divinity; His Personhood; Relationship with people; the gospel; the Passion; the Cross; etc. The third is on the Holy Spirit; His Presence; Pentecost; Comforter; Indweller; etc. The fourth part brings all of these together to emphasize the unity of God.

All the articles are brief reflections and could be used as daily devotionals. They begins with a verse from the Bible followed by a brief description of God, ending with a prayer. Do not let the brevity of the chapters deceive. Tozer has a gift of conveying profound thoughts of God through brief notes. Coupled with his pastoral experience, he not only describes God through the interpretation of Scripture, but what ignorant and feeble human souls need. As I read the pages, I sense a gentle persuasion toward worship and rightly so. Any theology cannot remain in theory form, but must lead to doxology.

A.W. Tozer was formerly a pastor at Southside Alliance Church in Chicago. He was a prolific writer and his books continued to impact many believers in their Christian walk.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


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

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

"The Magnificent Story" (James Bryan Smith)

TITLE: The Magnificent Story: Uncovering a Gospel of Beauty, Goodness, and Truth (Apprentice Resources)
AUTHOR: James Bryan Smith
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2017, (192 pages).

The Bible has sometimes been referred to the Story of stories. It tells of a Big Story that we are all part of. Stories have a way of revealing life as they are without the need to explain every little detail. Stories are less about facts but more about life as they are. They could be dissected and analyzed but stories go beyond the dimensions of exegesis and analysis. They are pregnant with meaning and spiritual significance. For author James Bryan Smith, these stories are also opportunities for spiritual formation. According to Smith, there are four ways to use these stories individually. We can prepare a notebook with empty pages to be ready to answer questions. We can read each chapter thoroughly to let the content seep into our hearts. We can do the weekly soul training exercises. We can journal our reflections on the notebook. He encourages us to use the content to interact, to encourage, and to connect with others to make the writing of our own stories as part of our communities. We cannot do this on our own. The best way forward is to be formed into the likeness of Christ, which is what the magnificent story is all about. This magnificence is described in three ways. It is beauty magnified; goodness magnified; and truth magnified. These are the "three transcendentals" to help us live out the divine story of our lives.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

"Anatomy of an Affair" (Dave Carder)

TITLE: Anatomy of an Affair: How Affairs, Attractions, and Addictions Develop, and How to Guard Your Marriage Against Them
AUTHOR: Dave Carder
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2017, (192 pages).

From time to time, it has become common sight to see powerful ministry leaders being brought down by affairs and marital breakdowns. While it is theologically correct to attribute the whole thing to sin, practically, we can still do something to prevent the whole breakdown from happening. This calls for wise stewardship of our potential and limitations in ministry work; gentle nourishment of our own marriages; and genuine relationships with fellow co-workers, especially with members of the opposite sex. Guard our marriages. Guard our ministries. Guard our hearts. All these three are possible. Author and marriage counselor, Dave Carder has listened to many stories of unfaithfulness and adultery. Many of the signs are terribly similar. The key to preventing any such affairs is simply recognition of these signs and a commitment to flee from these temptations. When there is a fire, remember that we are like wood. This book is about the recognizing smoke signs before it ever becomes an impending fire. In brief, according to Carder, there are four phases of how adultery happens. It begins with a "growing attraction" which usually begins innocently but gradually becomes more intimately and emotionally connected. While these encounters are often not by choice, temptations tend to pile up one thing after another. After the infatuation comes the "entanglement" in which the wrong thing to do becomes entangled with self-justification and self-denial. The third phase is the destabilization of the relationship where confusion and complications reign. Finally, the couple would have entered the "termination and resolution" phase which could be played out in so many different scenarios. Sex without commitment is guaranteed to fail. Carder continues on by describing the five different types of extra-marital affairs. The "one-night stand" is an immediate gratification which does not last. The "entangled affair" begins gradually and lasts typically 1-2 years. The "sexual addiction" type may go into years but could involve multiple partners. The "add-on affair" is a continual relationship that tries to fill in the gaps of existing couples. Finally, the "reconnection" is for those old-flames or old infatuations that could be unpredictable. Filled with stories of people having entered these stages, Carder is able to highlight the risks at every level and to show us the signs and potholes ahead, so that we can avoid falling into them. Knowledge is power. Awareness is added security against self-deceptions. It is Carder's way to help us flee from such blatant temptations.

Friday, September 15, 2017

"The Dawn of Christianity" (Robert J. Hutchinson)

TITLE: The Dawn of Christianity: How God Used Simple Fishermen, Soldiers, and Prostitutes to Transform the World
AUTHOR: Robert J. Hutchinson
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2017, (352 pages).

It has been said that history is a retelling of a story from a particular perspective. In that sense, there is no one way to learn history. This means whatever that happened in the past can always be summarized and retold in present day contexts. This makes the study of history a fascinating subject. In this book, author Robert Hutchinson retells the stories of the Early Church and the powerful movements of the Early Church. The greater the acts of the disciples, the more curious one becomes in asking: "What did Jesus do and say, in as little as one year and a maximum of three years, that could possibly have had such an impact?"

Hutchinson masterfully shows us the many different sources that point to the life of Jesus as well as the evidence that prove the events of the Early Church. He does not just retell stories, he defends the reliability of the New Testament with well-researched materials and the latest scholarship. He addresses skeptics like Bart Ehrmann who had left the faith and spent his time trying to debunk Christianity. He takes pains to show how the many sources overwhelmingly prove Jesus' presence and ministry; His crucifixion and resurrection; the rise of the Church; and the growth of Christianity throughout the world. This "kingdom movement" began with Jesus followed by Peter and the disciples. Through flashbacks to the gospel events, Hutchinson brings the gospel stories to life by showing us the relevance to modern culture. He takes us on a quest to examine the facts and to ponder on the questions surrounding specific events in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the outermost parts of the world. Describing the facts leading up to the crucifixion and the eyewitness events to the resurrection, Hutchinson guides us to the momentous events in the Early Church, the persecutions, and the background behind the martyrdoms of the early centuries. The chapter on the Martyrdom of Stephen, the first martyr is captivating as the author shares about the cultural backgrounds, the pattern of violence, and the tensions surrounding the growing religious conflicts. Amazingly, in spite of powerful persecution and hardship, the faith continues to grow.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

"One by One" (Gino Dalfonzo)

TITLE: One by One: Welcoming the Singles in Your Church
AUTHOR: Gino Dalfonzo
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2017, (240 pages).

Church, we have a singles problem. Not the singles, but the Church perception of singles. This is the single biggest theme in this very needed book about how we have tended to ignore singles in our preoccupation toward families, marriages, and children. In doing so, we are ostracizing the single folks unconsciously when we fail to welcome them as they are, regardless of age or gender. Often, it is not the fault of the individual for being single. Some honestly couldn't find a right soulmate. Others for various reasons are unable to commit to any relationship. In general, we must learn to accept people regardless of their marital status. This book goes deeper into the sociological and theological aspects of this issue of singlehood and acceptance. There are many types of singles. Some are divorced or widowed. Others are separated. Author Gina Dalfonzo, a life-long single, focuses on those who are singles all their lives. She shares and critiques various writers and teachers about the issue of singleness. She points out the unfortunate situation of singles being a stigma in themselves. Married people are relatively more well regarded. That is not the issue. The issue is how some teachers have unfairly blamed the problem of singleness on singles themselves. For instance, if someone is not married, they are too career-minded. They are too individualistic. They are way too uninterested in starting families, and so on. Singles can also be treated as pariahs when they are placed on a lower level of importance. They can also be seen as projects to be worked on or problems that needed a solution. All of these stem from an unhealthy perception of singleness. We need to learn to treat them as real people who are equally important as everyone else. Dalfonzo shares painful stories of many singles, even as she identifies deeply with their predicament. The many testimonies and words bring home a powerful angle and perspective that many of us who are married are unable to appreciate. In some cases, there is a sad case of women reserving themselves for sex after marriage and in the process missed the boat with men who demanded sex before marriage. Is that fair for the women who remained single out of their desire to honour the marriage institution? The problem lies in the infatuation of a happily-ever-after picture of a married couple with kids. That is not all. She also critiques a subculture made popular by Josh Harris' "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" for having hurt many people in their thinking and relationship building. It is an overly conservative approach that seems out of touch with reality that really hurts many people. In a culture where people are "courtship crazy," such a teaching makes it difficult for well-meaning Christians to find their potential soulmate. It makes me wonder whether there is such a thing as "biblical courtship." Other poignant observations include:

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

"An Asian Harvest" (Paul Hattaway)

TITLE: An Asian Harvest: An Autobiography
AUTHOR: Paul Hattaway
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Monarch Books, 2017, (320 pages).

Many of us have heard about the sensational book, the Heavenly Man. It powerfully describes the amazing miracles and testimonies of Brother Yun, a Chinese believer who suffered much persecution and hardship, and was able to testify God's work in his life. In spite of the horrific opposition to his preaching of the gospel, he persevered. The world have come to know his story, but the truth is, there are many other stories remain hidden, untold, and forgotten. We need more brave souls to uncover these stories to show the world that many believers have been unjustly and mercilessly persecuted by the local powers of the land. We need people to uncover these testimonies. One such person is Paul Hattaway, a native New Zealander who helped carry Bibles into restricted countries in the past and is now leading Asia Harvest, an outreach ministry to Asia. After telling the stories of Brother Yun (Heavenly Man) and experiencing the powerful testimonies of faith as he ventured into various countries, it is time to tell his own story as well. This book is an his autobiography.

Monday, September 11, 2017

"The Tech-Wise Family" (Andy Crouch)

TITLE: The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place
AUTHOR: Andy Crouch
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2017, (226 pages).

Whenever there is anything latest and greatest, not only will there be hype, there will also be concerns about how it will affect relationships both present and future. Some would harp back at the "good old days" and dismiss the vogue of the day. Others would do the reverse, committing the error of what CS Lewis has called as "chronological snobbery," where the newest trends are deemed better than the past. Both are poor responses to changing cultural forces. The way forward is neither abandonment or careless acceptance. It is wisdom. This wisdom includes the appropriate ways to work with rather than abandon technology. It means putting technology in its proper place instead of letting it set our pace. It is knowing about what the new movements are, what are the sources, and how best we can respond. In Culture Making, Andy Crouch critiques the two conventional approaches of culture. The first is unwitting acceptance while the second is unnecessary rejection. He then argues for the path of creative culture making. This book follows up on such a mindset. Instead of totally embracing or rejecting technology in our digital world, we need to learn to be wise in our use of technology. In a survey of parents with regard to the difficulties of modern parenting, technology tops the list of parenting concerns.

Crouch writes:

Friday, September 8, 2017

"Forgiveness and Justice" (Bryan Maier)

TITLE: Forgiveness and Justice: A Christian Approach
AUTHOR: Bryan Maier
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Ministry, 2017, (160 pages).

Much have been written about forgiveness. Yet, the world is in deep need for more forgiveness. In fact, one might say that we don't need more theories about forgiveness, only more practice. In the eyes of author Bryan Maier, there is still a lack of  "clear, consistent, theologically informed" materials on forgiveness. In order to understand what forgiveness entails, one needs a biblical grounding of what forgiveness is. Putting it another way, we have a lot of materials on the therapeutic aspect as well as the theological. The key contribution in this book is to answer the question: "Can forgiveness, according to its contemporary brands, coexist with justice?" 

A key note would be Maier's assertion that for any corporate levels of forgiveness to be authentic, it must first occur at a personal level. He highlights the case of George and Ellen's extra marital affairs of getting back at each other to show us how difficult forgiveness can be in the midst of hurt, shame, and betrayal of trust. He lists the four common conclusions of forgiveness literature as well as the pros and cons of Enright's and Worthington's models. He helps us along by understanding that there are the therapeutic forgiveness (helping the victim); theological-forensic forgiveness (from the Bible); and relational forgiveness (for the sake of the relationship). How then do we choose? Here is where Maier's expertise shines. Instead of rushing for solutions, he guides readers toward a sharper understanding of the essence of forgiveness. He sets three boundaries on the meaning of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a response to a moral violation. It is not an alternative perspective. It is more than empathy. He then prepares to bring in the topic of justice by showing our innate desire for equity and fairness. Every act of forgiveness produces in a person some kind of "relational ambivalence." On the one hand, one forgives. On the other hand, one does not quite feel satisfied or fair. Yet, what is impossible with humans is possible with God. The Christian model of forgiveness is based on what Christ had done for us. If there is anyone who deserves to keep score, it would be God. If not, why do we hang on to grudges and resentment? Maier takes us through trusting God to deliver justice. He shows us how to use the imprecatory psalms to direct our attention. He reminds us once again that forgiveness is other-centered and must be actively initiated. Maier comes back to the story of George and Ellen to show us how he would help them approach reconciliation and forgiveness.