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Friday, July 3, 2020

"The Art of the Lie" (Marcel Danesi)

TITLE: The Art of the Lie: How the Manipulation of Language Affects Our Minds
AUTHOR: Marcel Danesi
PUBLISHER: Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Group, 2020, (256 pages).

Lying is one thing. Choosing to continue to believe in the lie pushes the hypocrisy to a whole new dimension. Written by an internationally renowned linguist and semiotician, this book asserts the following: "that lying is the most destructive of all types of deportment." This is a cancer that if not eradicated, should at least be neutralized. We need to be able to recognize them. By calling the lie as a form of art, author Danesi shows us the many different faces of the lie. The Trojan horse story is a powerful example of the art of deception, of how people could be deceived. Lies and lying are nothing new. From Lucifer as the "Prince of lies" to political leaders of today who tell half-truths in order to manipulate public opinion, we learn of this disease infecting our society in more ways than we know. Some would say there is a difference between a black vs a white lie. Others would claim that a lie is a lie, regardless of the colour. Regardless of justification, there is a sense of manipulation whenever lies are used, and this is where the problem begins. Danesi gives us a laundry list of these manipulators. From swindlers to con-artists; scammers to tricksters; cunning characters in literature to political figures in real life, all of these are ways that Lucifer, the prince of lies has influence in. The author calls this problem perfectly defined as according to George Goebbels: "Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it." Sadly, this has become pervasive throughout society. By showing us the different faces of such lies, author Marcel Danesi reminds us to be on our guard against two things: Being manipulated, and becoming a manipulator.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

"Beyond Burnout" (Amy O’Hana)

TITLE: Beyond Burnout: What to Do When Your Work Isn’t Working for You
AUTHOR: Amy O’Hana
PUBLISHER: Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2020, (208 pages).

Even in the most enjoyable jobs we do, once we over-exert ourselves, we experience exhaustion leading to burnout. What then can we do about that? How do we sustain our energy levels without wearing ourselves out? As one who has experienced what burnout means, even writing a dissertation about it, there is much to learn from Amy O'Hana. In order to keep us all on the same page, she begins with a description of what burnout is. Externally, it means physical and mental exhaustion. Internally, it involves questions surrounding "meaning, fulfillment, and passion." For Christian ministry workers, the expectations are higher because of the desire to want to please God (and people!). Realizing a wide variety of material and resources in the market that prescribe solutions to burnout, O'Hana wants to help us begin a conversation about the things that really matter to us. Generally speaking, the three types of burnout are physical exhaustion, emotional exhaustion, and loss of meaning. Most people would have a combination of the three that change at different stages of our life experiences. Before we spiral out of control into a crash-and-burn scenario, it is important to take heed by being self-aware and to take steps toward self-care. This is different from selfishness or ego-centric behaviours. It is about caring for the caregiver in us, that we may continue to serve and help others. As the saying goes, "too much of a good thing is not good." For all our good intentions, we can become lost in the busyness of good works. We need a way to be rested. Otherwise, we will become entangled in an unhealthy cycle of "performance, disconnection, and renewed fervor" to do more. We are to remember that we are human beings, not human doings. Through a five-step intentional process, O'Hana teaches us to grow beyond burnout toward spiritual connection with God.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

"Everyday Faithfulness" (Glenna Marshall)

TITLE: Everyday Faithfulness: The Beauty of Ordinary Perseverance in a Demanding World (The Gospel Coalition)
AUTHOR: Glenna Marshall
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020, (176 pages).

People often use words like faith, faithful, and faithfulness to describe their beliefs and religious purposes. When we ponder about them, what do they actually mean? How do they play out in the real world? In our fast-paced world of infused with expectations of immediate gratification, it is particular challenging to practice the spiritual life in a world of speed. Author Glenna Marshall calls it a "demanding world." Unfortunately, as far as spirituality is concerned, it is a form of speed thrills but kills. We cannot think of spirituality in terms of microwave or Internet speed. The world is used to things fast and easy. Spirituality works slowly and more challenging in many aspects. Marshall's observation is spot on: As far as spirituality is concerned, we need to think like a farmer. From seeding to weeding, watering to pruning, sowing to harvesting, spiritual growth is essentially doing our best while letting God do the rest. A farmer mentality refuses to be rushed but plods consistently, plows regularly, and believes faithfully. That means being able to stay the spiritual course regardless of what happens. Out of her own struggles, Marshall manages to take a hard look at the reality of the world challenges. As she places these challenges alongside the need for faith, she shows us the meaning of everyday faithfulness. For her, everyday faithfulness means:

Friday, June 26, 2020

"The Basics of Christian Belief" (Joshua Strahan)

TITLE: The Basics of Christian Belief: Bible, Theology, and Life's Big Questions
AUTHOR: Joshua Strahan
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2020, (240 pages).

What do people believe? Why do they believe that manner? In understanding people, culture, and faith, it is essential to talk about the contexts of their beliefs. This is another way of saying that what they believe is linked to their worldviews. For Christians, understanding the basics of faith is tied to the biblical or Christian worldview. In order to ensure greater clarity, author Joshua Strahan uses two worldviews: Atheism and the Lord's Prayer to compare, contrast, and illuminate the basics of Christian faith. For Atheism, worldview is anchored on the belief that there is no god. Thus, everything is seen through this lens. This is of no surprise when atheists prefer naturalist explanations. The author writes, "when we take away the supernatural or spiritual, all that’s left is the natural." More often than not, such a view would gravitate toward a personal view, one that elevates self-professed worldview as the supreme view. Such a worldview is too liquid as it almost always moves from conscious thinking to feelings and biased reactions. What is necessary is for a foundational truth center. What the author aims to do are:
  1. Acknowledge we are thinking beings only in part;
  2. Discover any disconnect between what we think and how we live;
  3. Let the biblical metanarrative inform how we should live and believe.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

"How Sweet the Sound" (Laura L. Smith)

TITLE: How Sweet the Sound: The Power and Promise of 30 Beloved Hymns
AUTHOR: Laura L. Smith
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Our Daily Bread Publishing, 2020, (256 pages).

Music has a strange power to move us. It helps us remember thoughts and words written way back in the past. It also brings back memories of our experiences of old. It also creates new experiences as the music connects our being with words that reflect how we feel. Hymns are one of the most visible and audible signs of a Christian community. Regardless of the traditional vs contemporary worship wars, most of us would recognize the unique place of hymns. We may not sing them as often in some modern churches, but we do appreciate how they have impacted Christian communities but also society at large. Hymns such as "Amazing Grace," "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," and "Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee" have been used even in secular places and situations such as funerals and weddings. If you want to know the stories behind these popular hymns, how the hymn speaks to people then and to us now, and the reasons why the hymns are considered "beloved," this book answers all of that curiosity. The "Doxology" is a hymn of unity. Praises help us express gratitude. Hymns are infused with Scripture to point us back to God through the Word. Singing hymns enable us to declare our hope and security in Christ. They stir us to action. They give us words and music to express our emotions. They bring us peace and joy; hope and humility; assurance; and many more. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

"Writing For Life and Ministry" (Brandon J. O’Brien)

TITLE: Writing for Life and Ministry: A Practical Guide to the Writing Process for Teachers and Preachers
AUTHOR: Brandon J. O'Brien
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2020, (128 pages).

There are many content creators. There are even more content consumers. When the launch of iPads and tablets, the rate of digital consumption has risen astronomically. While the distribution medium has been shifting from paper to digital, the content provider process remains the same. Some still use ink while others are using computing devices to do the same. The writing may be on the wall for some of the more archaic methods of content creation, but that does not mean writing is a lost practice. We need more, especially good content. Along with that, we need more good (and confident) writers. The purpose of this book is to encourage writers and writers to be to be a better writer. We learn from the author about tools, processes, and best practices for writing. Some of the special attributes in this book are:
  • Personal: Identifying our uniqueness
  • People: Know our audience
  • Process: Planning, Drafting, and Revising
  • What things to write about?
  • Know our passions and desires.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

"Diary of a Pastor's Soul" (M. Craig Barnes)

TITLE: Diary of a Pastor's Soul: The Holy Moments in a Life of Ministry
AUTHOR: M. Craig Barnes
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2020, (240 pages).

[Update Correction: This is a fictional account of the life of a pastor. The review should be read as that. Thanks Craig!]

What goes on in a pastor's life? For most people, they tend to see the pastor praying or preaching on stage every Sunday. They don't really know what happens on the other days. While most people would describe their lives as being defined by some crisis or sensational event, the challenge is to learn to pay attention to the ordinary. This is where pastor Craig Barnes manages to share with us, his daily ordinary work in the midst of a busy ministry. In this book, Barnes shares wittingly often with humour about his life as a pastor. 

Right off the bat, he recalls the challenge of dealing with older parishioners who are resistant to change. Some tend to view God's mission in terms of preserving the "temple," such as physical assets like building, structure, facilities, and so on. He understands what it means for pastors to serve anonymously and faithfully. His sharing about his own wife would easily debunk anybody dreaming that pastors' wives are perfect! I believe pastors appreciate that others not put their spouses on the "holier-than-thou" pedestal. Only God is holy. I appreciate how Barnes differentiate "expectations" from "expectancy." The former presumes some intention that is somewhat negative, while the latter removes all such presumptions and be ready to listen. He talks about the reality of loneliness where it is hard to distinguish between pastor and friend with a member of the Church. His sense of calling is essentially about serving all, regardless of whether they are for or against you. His sharing about Mac the custodian is a touching story of how people of good intentions clash with one another, and how there is that need for forgiveness and redemption in a broken world. 

Thursday, June 4, 2020

"Able Soul" (Lucy Goncalves)

TITLE: Able Soul: Empowering God's Spirit Within
AUTHOR: Lucy Goncalves
PUBLISHER: Vancouver, BC: Able Soul Wheel Press, 2019, (90 pages).

Many of us take our physical freedom and mobility for granted. Those who lack the use of any part of the body would be labeled either "disabled," "handicapped," or the more politically correct phrase, "physically challenged." For many people, this would pretty much define our outlook in life. As the saying goes, it takes one to know one. What about a book where we can see life from the eyes of those who are physically challenged? This book is a beautiful example of one who has multiple challenges. Speech impairment and the inability to walk may restrict one's lifestyle choices, but the most crippling of them all, is a broken and downhearted spirit. Such a mood would easily break down one's enthusiasm for life. Lucy Goncalves discovers this early, that the biggest barrier is put up by oneself. She writes with honesty that she's "the one who puts up the barriers" with her negative emotions and unwillingness. Her story challenges us to pray in spite of helplessness; to press on in spite of weakness; and to persevere on in spite of challenges. She shares twenty personal reflections on God, faith, life, and lessons. Each time she compares and contrasts what she lacks with what she receives from God, family, friends, and the kind things that are visible to her when she is willing to see it. I like the way she credits the writing back to God, that the books was "birthed in prayer." This is the essence of all books written about spirituality.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

"The Dark Side of Our Digital World" (Andrew Weiss)

TITLE: The Dark Side of Our Digital World: And What You Can Do about It (LITA Guides)
AUTHOR: Andrew Weiss
PUBLISHER: Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2020, (272 pages).

We live in a world of information technology. Almost everything in the world has a digital counterpart. One of the signs of the digital revolution is the impact of e-Commerce and the way we are living our lives. We are slowly moving from snail-mail to email; from texting to social media; and from face-to-face communications to video conferencing. Looking at the way technology stocks had usurped the top positions of traditional bricks and mortar companies, we know that the world of digital is here to stay. Our world has changed forever and there is no going back to the slow-paced world of yesterday.  For all the fascination and the optimism that comes with digital platforms, a few people are not content in simply consuming these stuff as they come along. They question. They critique. They look outside the box to try to challenge conventional ways of thinking. One such explorer is Andrew Weiss, a librarian and cultural observer who recognizes the dark side of the digital world, which is what this book is all about. It is essentially learning to use digital tools wisely while being aware of the insidious dark side. Written in four parts, the first three parts deal with the awareness while the final part offer steps toward redemption. 

Friday, May 29, 2020

"Courageous" (Dr Robert Jeffress)

TITLE: Courageous: 10 Strategies for Thriving in a Hostile World
AUTHOR: Dr. Robert Jeffress
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2020, (272 pages).

What are we afraid of? What do we do when our faith is under attack? What strategies can we adopt when living in a hostile world? Can we live beyond simply surviving toward thriving? In this book, author and pastor Robert Jeffress gives us ten practical "survival tips" which are actually a disguise for helping us to thrive instead. These ten tips are:
  1. Don't panic
  2. Gain situational awareness
  3. Take inventory
  4. Develop a victor, not a victim mindset
  5. Trust your training
  6. Bend, don't break
  7. Beware of celebrating the summit
  8. Learn from the past
  9. Help others
  10. Do the next right thing.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

"When Did We Start Forgetting God? "(Mark Galli)

TITLE: When Did We Start Forgetting God?: The Root of the Evangelical Crisis and Hope for the Future
AUTHOR: Mark Galli
PUBLISHER: Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2020, (256 pages).

Evangelicalism is in a crisis. The original movement that has united believers in all things Bible, all things Cross-centered; all things conversionism to Christ; all things Christian activism is now deeply divided. Many believe that the chief reason is politics and the way evangelicals align their identities according to which political power they support. Thomas Kidd of Baylor University has singled this factor out, saying that historically this has never been the case. It is no longer about biblical doctrine but about political allegiances. Journalist and cultural critic, Mark Galli takes this a little further toward spirituality. He notes that evangelicalism has lost its soul because it has forgotten God. In order to find out how to restore hope for the future, we need to go back to the root of the problem to ask the question: "When Did We Start Forgetting God?" Thus, the title of the book is the author's quest to understand the background behind the escalating divide of the different camps, and the deteriorating spiritual climate of the movement. This has led to many evangelicals who think they are devoted Christians when they are actually "practical atheists!" In fact, Christians can easily continue to live with the label outside but on the inside, they are far from the spiritual being they were perceived to be. The heart of the question is this: Are we more in love with God, or are we more in love with ourselves? The lack of congruence between these two is the source of our crisis. This single factor has precipitated other crises such as family, social justice, evangelism, racism, theology, and many more. If only we can get back to restoring our desire for God, things will get better. Much better for the Christian witness.

Friday, May 22, 2020

"Exploring the Bible Together" (David Murray)

TITLE: Exploring the Bible Together: A 52-Week Family Worship Plan
AUTHOR: David Murray
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020, (224 pages).

With the ongoing coronavirus crisis, families have been stuck at home. Parents work from home. Kids are homeschooled with teaching staff engaging them online. Families are cooped up together inside their homes. They watch TV or stream movies on their mobile devices. Whether it is YouTube or Facebook; social media or mainstream media, many people are consuming digital content more than ever. If we were to graph out time spent on the Bible and time spent on other things, what would our pie chart look like? Whatever the shape, it is hoped that this book would help us chart it with a greater slice of our time dedicated to Bible reading together. This book provides the following:

  • Daily readings;
  • Journeys from Genesis to Revelation via selected passages;
  • Short Bible passages give us time to read slowly and deliberately;
  • Gives a roadmap at the beginning of each chapter;
  • Colourful pictures to illustrate the theme;
  • Provides snapshot verses and prayer pointers
  • Easy to understand questions to answer and to discuss
  • Prayer for personal application.
  • Brief.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

"Truth and Hope" (Walter Brueggemann)

TITLE: Truth and Hope
AUTHOR: Walter Brueggemann
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2020, (265 pages).

In an ideal situation, truth speaks to power. Truth overcomes everything every time. Truth reigns supreme. However, the world we live in is imperfect and unjust. Power often tramples any rising heads of truth. As a result, those who are weak, vulnerable, and powerless would be abused and disadvantaged. As author Brueggemann points out, none is as stark as what happened to Jesus on the way to the cross. Jesus spoke truth but the world spewed violence and inflicted wounds on Him. In spite of the grievous injustice, Christ rose again from the dead, giving all believers the reason to hope. In what is thought to be the last piece of work by the esteemed Old Testament professor, this book is a call for believers to rise up in spite of unjust and cruel trampling of the truth. With an eye on present day politics in America, a growing divide between the haves and have-nots; the powerful and the weak; and the deepening fission across all sectors of society, Brueggemann calls for an audacity to engage society boldly. It begins with Scripture. It continues with reflections on how some spiritual voices in the past have spoken up on the ills of society. It concludes with Brueggemann's exhortation for believers to stand up and be counted as contemporary voices who will be fearless in truth-speaking and Christ-bearing. He calls it a witness resembling the "prophetic tradition of Jeremiah."

Friday, May 15, 2020

"John" (Brian Chung, Bryan Ye-Chung, & Jan Johnson)

TITLE: John (Alabaster Guided Meditations)
AUTHOR: Brian Chung, Bryan Ye-Chung, & Jan Johnson
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020, (116 pages).

This is a whopping eBook with a tonne of illustrations on the gospel of John. Filled with incredibly beautiful photos and pictures of daily life, it brings to life the gospel of John by inviting us in via the spiritual practice of lectio divina. For those who don't know what that is, the authors of this book make use of the classic definition of lectio divina by St John of the Cross: "Seek in reading and you will find in meditation; knock in prayer and it will be opened to you in contemplation." The authors expand this by incorporating a 4-step process: Read; Reflect; Respond; and Rest. By pairing photos with the gospel of John, the hope is that it will not only illuminate Scripture in a unique way, but also evoke an inner response within our hearts. That as we read the gospel, the photos will prompt us to reflect on the words and to respond accordingly. This is followed by a gratitude in rest. Each guided meditation not only gives us the steps, it shows us the way to read, to reflect, to respond, and to rest. The reader is never left to figure things out alone.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

"The Attributes of God Vol 1" (A.W. Tozer)

TITLE: The Attributes of God Volume 1 with Study Guide: A Journey Into the Father's Heart
AUTHOR: A.W. Tozer
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2020, (112 pages).

Who is God? What is God like? What are the attributes of God? This is the focus by a beloved and well-respected author and pastor. It is also one of Tozer's best known books in his spiritual pursuit of God. This endeavour is lifelong, and his books all reflect this common desire: To know Christ more and to make Christ known more. Collected from ten of his sermons, this book comprises ten attributes of God:

  1. God is Infinite
  2. God is Immense
  3. God is Good
  4. God is Just
  5. God is Merciful
  6. God is Grace
  7. God is Omnipresent
  8. God is Immanent
  9. God is Holy
  10. God is Perfect

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

"Double Blessing" (Mark Batterson)

TITLE: Double Blessing: How to Get It. How to Give It.
AUTHOR: Mark Batterson
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah, 2019, (240 pages).

This is a surprisingly good book. I was thinking if this is another of those self-help writings inclined toward the health and wealth gospel angle. Coming from Mark Batterson, no way I thought, and I was right. With vivid storytelling and creative illustrations, the author takes a biblical theme of blessings and doubles the space for deeper understanding. The message is simple. Blessings are there to be received. They are also there to be given. The biblical mandate given to Abraham is that he will be blessed to be a blessing to many nations. This unconditional covenant continues to be active in our world today. He starts with a story of "Ariadne's Thread" which in itself could teach us multiple meanings. The key point is that many people in search of blessings tend to be like those who rush into the labyrinth of personal wants, only to be trapped inside. We need the other part, which is the thread to escape this labyrinth, in order to continue the process of blessings, lest we commit the error of James 4:3, which warns us about praying with the purpose of self-gratification.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

"How to Read Daniel" (Tremper Longman III)

TITLE: How to Read Daniel (How To Read Series)
AUTHOR: Tremper Longman III
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020, (190 pages).

This is the sixth book of the "How to Read" commentary series. Bible books of the apocalyptic genre are generally more challenging for the layperson to read and to comprehend. There are visions, dreams, and multiple symbols that pose some level of difficulty when it comes to interpretation. What can we make of these ancient visions? What do they mean then and now? How can we understand the message of Daniel for today? These questions and more are covered in this volume. Part One deals with the literary structure of the book such as the genre, the structure, the language, history, background, and the main theological messages. In Part Two, readers could dive into the six stories and four visions; and the lessons Daniel had experienced from. In Part Three, we read Daniel to learn about applications for our modern context.

Some people avoid the apocalyptic books simply because they think it is too difficult to understand. They might have thought about studying it but shy away for lack of guidance and background information. Others study it but due to the lack of foundation about biblical theology, they might miss the forest for the trees. For both categories, this book can fill in the gaps. It is easy to read as far as the layperson is concerned. While not as technical as some other commentaries, this book can provide compelling guidance for scholars and seminarians. In other words, this book is not too difficult but do not let the simplicity of the language used deceive us. Some of the terminology and concepts used in the book are what biblical scholars would be most familiar with. "Apocalyptic" is one. "Chiasm" and the interpretation of numerology are others. These are however kept to a minimum.

The author leaves no chapter unturned. Through helpful citations and interesting observations throughout, readers will not find this book dull at all.

Monday, May 4, 2020

"Aging" (Will Willimon)

TITLE: Aging: Growing Old in Church (Pastoring for Life: Theological Wisdom for Ministering Well)
AUTHOR: Will Willimon
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2020, (192 pages).

One of the world's biggest concerns is a growing aging population. As people live longer, world leaders are increasingly concerned over the costs of medical care and the rising infrastructure requirements to take care of the elderly. In many societies, the aged are no longer net contributors to the economy. It costs the state more money to take care of them. Of course, it can be argued that during their younger days, the aged have done their fair share to bless the economy. Retirement benefits are a way in which the state show appreciation for their past contributions. However, if the aging numbers continue to dwarf all other age groups, it does pose not only a financial concern, but many other issues as well. Projected numbers by various research groups show that if the trends continue, many aged will be living in abject poverty. Measured on such a scale, it can be downright depressing. Author Will Willimon writes that many people in this age group, "unaffordable health care, poverty, housing insecurity, and painful dislocation will fill their last years with anxiety and fear." This is indeed a major concern. For the Church, financial matters are not the main concern. They need to help address the spiritual and emotional side of aging as well. More importantly, we need to ask the question: "Where is God leading me in this time of life?" Willimon aims to help us do just that. This is also something crucial to the author's ministry as the average age of his large Church denomination is 62!