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Thursday, June 30, 2016

"Leading Kids Ministry" (Pat Cimo and Matt Markins)

TITLE: Leading KidMin: How to Drive Real Change in Children's Ministry
AUTHOR: Pat Cimo and Matt Markins
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2016, (176 pages).

How do we drive real change? What does it take to be a change agent in children's ministry? Is it about following the latest trends about children's work? Is it about trying to maintain relevance in a sea of changing expectations? Is it about attractive programs? No. It starts with being a change agent for God. In order to be change agents, we must first be changed. In order to be part of God's ministry to drive change, we must be transformed by God and be renewed in our hearts and minds. In order to lead kids ministry, we must be led. In order to be part of real change in ministry, we must be changed from the inside out. This is the key thesis in this book that aims to encourage and empower leaders and leaders to be in kids ministry.

We first need to get ministry right by recognizing that change is a process. It is not an isolated one-time event. We need to be clear about what we want to happen and what we need to do. It is about gaining perspective and to communicate it clearly to our co-workers. It is about gaining self-awareness. This can be facilitated with various tools to help us find our strengths and weaknesses. Leaders in Kids Ministry need to be empowered by senior leaders, something that this book also describes later. The chapter on "Running Toward Your Problem" is a crucial test of our willingness to face up to our challenges. Are we running away or toward? Are we humble enough to ask for help and feedback? Are we able to partner with other volunteers, senior leadership, parents, and others? Truth is, far too many kids ministry leaders do it alone. In order to reverse this trend, the authors propose nine steps toward healthy partnership.


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

"How to Read Water" (Tristan Gooley)

TITLE: How to Read Water: Clues and Patterns from Puddles to the Sea
AUTHOR: Tristan Gooley
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: The Experiment, 2016, (368 pages).

Water is everywhere around us. They are visible in the clouds and the rains; the rivers and the streams; the lakes and the oceans. We use it to hydrate our gardens; to cook our meals; to wash our premises; and many other aspects of life. Just as water has many uses, if we take the time to consider what we are looking for, water can be interpreted in both philosophical as well as practical ways. Rather than to reduce it to the level of meaning only according to the eyes of the beholder, the author believes that with wisdom and intuition, there is more to water than the physical images that meet the eye. Several things move Tristan Gooley on her quest for discovering the meaning of water. First, knowing how to read the clues in puddles and streams can give us a good idea of what it happening underneath them. Second, it is easier to learn about water when our feet is on firm ground. Third, reading water is a unique navigational skill. Four, there is a mystery about water that can deepen the wonder and appreciation of this precious resource.


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

"The Inevitable" (Kevin Kelly)

TITLE: The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future
AUTHOR: Kevin Kelly
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Viking Books, 2016, (336 pages).

With the rising pace of technology, what is going to happen in the next 30 years? What are the ways technology are going to shape our future? What are the evidence that suggest such forces and how can we prepare for it? In a book that looks forward to the next 30 years, author and futurist Kevin Kelly has put together a compelling overview of 12 technological forces that will shape the kind of world we live and will be living in. Calling it "the inevitable," he tells us that we need to embrace the changes that are coming. We need to brace ourselves for changes that are going to be faster, paradigm shifting, and massively different from our traditional models. For example, mass copying will be coming. The traditional gates against plagiarism will crumble. Tracking, surveillance, and the erosion of privacy will continue. Instead of resisting the changes, we need to learn the underlying forces that are same. The author believes that once we understand the digital nature of change, we can deal with the change per se.


Monday, June 27, 2016

"The Game Changers" (Dr. Jean Chamberlain Froese & Patricia Paddey)

TITLE: The Game Changers
AUTHOR: Dr. Jean Chamberlain Froese & Patricia Paddey
PUBLISHER: Ancaster, ON, Canada: SaveTheMothers.org, 2016, (225 pages).

Mothers are more important than we think. Protect and empower mothers and we will see how the culture and society improve by leaps and bounds. Without downplaying the role of fathers, the fact is mothers general play a bigger role in a child's development more than anything else. From childbirth to nursing; and from caring at home to making a living for the children, mothers have a specific position which no father can honestly replicate. Right from conception, every child is already intimately connected with the mother. After all, a baby generally spends 38 weeks developing inside the mother's womb. Granted, in places in the West, medical care, children's welfare, and healthcare infrastructures are readily available, the same cannot be said for other developing countries like East Africa. According to reports, about 303,000 women and girls die needlessly from preventable causes., particularly pregnancy related situations. According to obstetrician Jean Chamberlain Froese, 99% of all pregnancy related deaths occurred in developing countries. If the poverty index and survival rates of people are already low, it is even worse for women and young girls. The three critical areas that lead to such fatalities are the three delays, which Froese calls, the "Foundational Triad" are:
  1. Delay in Decision-making
  2. Delay in Transportation
  3. Delay in Medical care

Thursday, June 23, 2016

"It's Complicated" (Jack Haberer)

TITLE: It's Complicated: A Guide to Faithful Decision Making
AUTHOR: Jack Haberer
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016, (180 pages).

Seeking God's will is not as simple as saying, "It's all in the Bible." The more sweeping or simplistic a person says, the less satisfying it becomes, especially for earnest seekers. If we are honest with ourselves, we are sometimes guilty of some or all of the following. We give simplistic answers to issues that are inherently complex due to the many different factors and scenarios. Our answers in turn become reductionistic as we cut the real problem down to our size, just because we are unable to appreciate the extent of the real problem. In turn, we betray the trust that others have placed on us. Better to say we don't know or to put down some disclaimers first. In a nutshell, life's issues are often more complex than we think, more ambiguous than our own past experiences, more intricate and impossible to predict. If theory is a pretty portrait, practice will take potshots at it. In this book, pastor and author Jack Haberer aims to do three things. First, he lists the varioius popular questions asked and puts them in a single framework while pointing out the many ambiguities that come with it. He then leads us through a biblical journey of how the various biblical characters hear from God. Finally, he brings us back to our modern era and gives us an interpretive framework for discerning God's will for our times. The two basic questions that face us are:

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

"Slow Kingdom Coming" (Kent Annan)

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

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


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

"Love in the Face of ISIS" (Lorraine Marie Varela)

TITLE: Love in the Face of ISIS: Seven Prayer Strategies for the Crisis in the Middle East
AUTHOR: Lorraine Marie Varela
PUBLISHER: Minneapolis, MN: Chosen Books, 2016, (160 pages).

With news of terrorism activities coming at us on a daily basis, it is natural to feel fearful about terrorists and the unending threats of violence. The killings and bombings do not simply occur in the Middle East troubled spots. Even in countries like France, Turkey, Belgium, Germany, the United States, and Thailand, the spread of ISIS is getting increasingly global. Mention ISIS and people would gravitate toward fear and uncertainty. Thus, many countries have come together to ally themselves against such terrorist organizations. From airports to border checks, from Internet chatrooms to Twitter messages; governments from all over the world are accelerating their monitoring of activities by terrorist groups such as ISIS. In such a climate, it seems like loving them is totally counter-culture. How can anybody love a group that kills innocent people? More importantly, what can Christians do in the face of such evil and violence? For author and professional photographer, Lorraine Marie Varela, the right response for all of us is prayer. The gospel of Jesus Christ is stronger, more powerful, and more effective than any strategies of man. For God wins through love. For in prayer, we will learn that what is impossible with man is possible with God. Now are these glib words uttered only by people in nice and safe places? Definitely not. For Varela has seen the pain and suffering of people through her many visits to the Middle East. The more suffering and impossible situations she saw, the more she had to cling to Christ. Out of the depths of helplessness and the heights of recognizing God's sovereignty, she shares with us seven strategies to live in the gap. All of them had to do with the Name of God. Briefly, the seven strategies are:

Thursday, June 16, 2016

"A Commentary on the Psalms Vol 3 (90-150)" (Allen P. Ross)

TITLE: A Commentary on the Psalms: 90-150 (Kregel Exegetical Library)
AUTHOR: Allen P. Ross
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2016, (1024 pages).

This is the third volume of a huge undertaking by Professor Allen P. Ross that despite confessing that "no work on the Psalter can be said to be complete," still proceeds to give the rest of us a glimpse of the beauty and the difficulty of the work. It is one thing to admit the limitations. It is yet another to do one's best and I am happy that Ross has done the latter for the benefit of the rest of us. So this volume gives us the rest of the 60 psalms.  Pledging to strike a balanced between being too technical and being too popular, he shares about his early learning process about preaching Psalms. He would first do the heavy lifting of exegesis before engaging in an expository style of preaching from the Psalter. Under the guidance of Dr Bruce Waltke and Haddon Robinson, Ross has grown in his treatment of the psalms to develop a method that combines the best of exegesis and exposition. This method is described in this commentary. The general format of each chapter is:
  • A Summarized Title shows us the big idea of the entire Psalm.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

"Finding God in the Ruins" (Matt Bays)

TITLE: Finding God in the Ruins: How God Redeems Pain
AUTHOR: Matt Bays
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2016, (256 pages).

Doubt is a part of life and we can either let it strengthen our faith or weaken it. Often, it is in the ruins of life that we find the power of living, and more importantly, the grace and presence of God. Yet, when we feel down and almost out, how can we do that? Is it not something that is often easier said that done? While the topic of pain, suffering, and doubt is nothing new, it is still being asked regardless of which era we live in. This contemporary age is no different. We live in an age of skepticism and an increasingly anti-Christian climate. Even among believers, the challenge is to make sense of God in the midst of dark pain. Questions like:

  • Where is God when disasters come?
  • What can we do with problems we cannot seem to solve?
  • Is the world any better without Jesus?
  • How can we believe that God still love us in the midst of tragic events?
  • What do we do when we encounter health dangers?
  • Stories of heartaches, tragedies, suicide, etc.
  • What does it mean by "God's higher ways" when we feel down in the pits?
  • How do unexpressed doubts become toxic?
  • .....

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

"The Justice Calling" (Bethany Hanke Hoang and Kristen Deede Johnson)

TITLE: The Justice Calling: Where Passion Meets Perseverance
AUTHOR: Bethany Hanke Hoang and Kristen Deede Johnson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2016, (210 pages).

There are many instances where things are easier said than done. With compassion, people usually want to do the right thing. With passion one can press on to do the right thing. Put it another way, our talk and our walk must match each other every step of the way. The prayer to God to help us be the same person in thought, in word, and in deed is very applicable here. According to the famous Micah 6:8 passage, we are reminded:
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
Why is there a need to call for justice in the first place? That is because injustice still reigns in many difficult parts of the world. How do we persevere in our quest and practice of compassion and justice? We need to go back to the source of all Justice. We must be anchored on solid ground, and in this book, the solid Rock is Jesus, the Person who embodies the full character of God. The authors do this by giving an overview of God's character from Genesis to Revelation through six movements of Scripture and five key words of God's character.

Friday, June 10, 2016

"Conversion and Discipleship (Bill Hull)

TITLE: Conversion and Discipleship: You Can't Have One without the Other
AUTHOR: Robert W. Hull
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (256 pages).

What is discipleship? For Dietrich Bonhoeffer, it is dying with Christ as described in his famous words: "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." For the late Dallas Willard, he laments that modern evangelicalism lacks a "theology of discipleship." For many of us, we seem to treat discipleship as a separate thing from conversion. Is conversion different from discipleship? Yes. Can we have one and not the other in order to be a Christian? No. Summing up his life's passion about discipleship, Bill Hull asserts right from the start that the Christian faith requires one to have BOTH. Challenged by the late Dallas Willard to develop a theology of discipleship, Hull aims to build on his previous three other books about discipleship. This time, he is more conscientious about developing a theology of discipleship that encompasses the gospel, the call, salvation, Holy Spirit, ways & means, Church, the pastor, and the end times. It is a full treatment of essential theological subjects.

Some of us may have known Hull for his work and writings on discipleship. Hull has been a champion on all things discipleship. It is not surprising that he has even extended his passion to deal with conversion as well. Hull makes a few propositions which should make readers sit up and listen:

Thursday, June 9, 2016

"Unchurching" (Richard Jacobson)

TITLE: Unchurching, Christianity without Churchianity
AUTHOR: Richard Jacobson
PUBLISHER: Independent, 2016.

What is the Church? How is the Church of today different from the Church in the book of Acts? Has Christianity been replaced by Churchianity? These are questions which author and ex-pastor Richard Jacobson attempts to answer. Creator of the original "Church Anarchist," the website of "Christianity without Churchianity" is now called "Unchurching." Beginning with his experience of a "crisis of faith," he gives several reasons for his disillusionment with the modern Church. He quits his position as a pastor in 2003 due to such a "crisis" and especially because of the way Church is done. Like worship taking place mainly in buildings rather than other gathering places; or activities that seem to be disconnected from biblical imperatives; and authoritarian structures that seem most human centered rather than God-centered. So he sets out to "deconstruct" the existing institutional church in the hope that he can arrive closer to the original church. At the root of it all is his assertion that the Church of today has totally lost its resemblance to the Early Church.


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

"Tell Someone" (Greg Laurie)

TITLE: Tell Someone: You Can Share the Good News
AUTHOR: Greg Laurie
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing, 2016, (138 pages).

Ninety-Five percent of Christians have never led a person to Christ. If we do not share our faith, it may even be considered an "actual sin." It's a "travesty" not to obey the Great Commission. Believers who share the gospel with others tend to be happy people. These arresting statements kick off this book about evangelism and how we can effectively share the gospel. For if we do not share the gospel at all, we are effectively no different from non-believers. Greg Laurie has this conviction: If we want to share the gospel, begin with care. As the Father cares, so must we. We share the faith because we love Jesus and because Jesus desires to draw more people to His saving grace and loving embrace. We are called to preach the gospel everywhere and wherever we are. The gospel is to be preached and also lived. Going through the Who-What-When-Where-Whys of evangelism, Laurie shows us the how-tos that are more tact rather than mere facts. Like the woman at the well where Jesus gently highlighted the need of the woman or the way Jesus spoke with Nicodemus in the middle of the night. Love is a powerful draw of the gospel. In a nutshell, we share because we care. We care because God cares. The five steps Laurie proposes for preachers are:

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

"Paradox Lost" (Richard P. Hansen)

TITLE: Paradox Lost: Rediscovering the Mystery of God
AUTHOR: Richard P. Hansen
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (224 pages).

What are we to do with mysteries and strange phenemonon of life? How do we live with paradox? What about biblical paradoxes? Is it worth the effort to try to fit everything into one box? In this fascinating book about the perceived contradictions of biblical ideas, we find an honest and bold attempt to accept that we are limited in our understanding of the things of God. The best way forward is not to reject or to blindly accept the paradoxes we encounter, but to embrace the Sovereignty of God. Contradictions such as:

  • Free will of man vs the Holy will of God
  • Humanity vs Divinity
  • Visible things vs Invisible things
  • Exaltation vs Humility
  • Foolishness vs Wisdom
  • Living vs Dying
  • Knowing God vs inability to fully comprehend God
  • ..
Richard Hansen, pastor and former missionary professor at Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia writes this challenging book about how we can deal with the mysteries and the paradoxes of life. He first compares it with the Person of God, reminding us of the paradox of the Trinity, the Incarnation, the salvation, and many aspects of theology. He argues that these "tensions must not be resolved" because of the dangers of falling into various aspects of heresy. History has taught us that. Thus begins a book about the extent in which we can address mysteries and the way we solve problems. The appropriate response to problems is due diligence to do whatever we can to resolve it. The appropriate response to mysteries is awe and wonder. We need both. More importantly, Hansen teaches us that if we want to experience the mystery of God, we must learn to "reclaim and embrace biblical paradoxes." He goes on to explain that in four parts.

Monday, June 6, 2016

"The Dusty Ones" (A. J. Swoboda)

TITLE: The Dusty Ones: Why Wandering Deepens Your Faith
AUTHOR: A. J. Swoboda
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2016, (226 pages).

I remember a friend telling me that there are three types of people in this world. The first group are those who make things happen. The second group wait for things to happen. The third group are those who wondered what happened. After reading this book, I believe there is one more group: Those who are wandering as and when things happen. For God's people throughout history have been known as a people wandering toward the Promise Land. That is one reason why the Christian life has often been compared to the journey metaphor. We travel from one point to another. We experience God more and more. We in our imperfection is on a journey toward the Perfect God. Jesus has said in Matthew 5:48 to "Be perfect for the heavenly Father is perfect."

Just like his earlier two books, Swoboda does not shy away from mystery or the less illustrious parts of spirituality. He sees from the darkness as opportunities for learning. He sees wandering as a way to grow spiritually. In his first book, Messy, he sees the positive sides of struggles and challenges. In his second, A Glorious Dark, he reflects on the day of silence between the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus and calls it "glorious." In this book, he offers to readers "a description of and hopeful vision for the wandering Christian experience."


Thursday, June 2, 2016

"After 50 Years of Ministry" (Bob Russell)

TITLE: After 50 Years of Ministry: 7 Things I'd Do Differently and 7 Things I'd Do the Same
AUTHOR: Bob Russell
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2016, (224 pages).

It has been said that success depends on making the right decisions. The right decisions come from experience. Experience comes from making wrong decisions. Ministry is basically all of that. In a book that reflects on his 50 years of ministry that spans from a small community Church of 120 members to over 180000-sized Church today,  veteran pastor and leader Bob Russell shares of fourteen lessons he has personally learned. Seven of them he would do differently while the other seven he would continue the same.  Briefly, the seven things he would keep on doing the same are:

  1. Priority and Preparation for Expository Preaching
  2. Not to Underestimate the Demands of Ministry
  3. Incorporate Humour
  4. Disciple New Leaders
  5. Avoid the Celebrity Temptation
  6. Maintain the Course with the Tried and Proven without being distracted by the latest fads
  7. Longevity in Church service in one place

The other seven things he would do differently are:

  1. Ministry more by faith rather than fear
  2. Watch less television
  3. Pay less attention to criticism
  4. Be kinder and more attentive to his wife
  5. Stop comparing himself with other preachers and other churches
  6. Be generous inside and outside
  7. Do not attempt to cover up a moral failure of fellow staff member.


Monday, May 30, 2016

"Reaching Millennials" (David Stark)

TITLE: Reaching Millennials: Proven Methods for Engaging a Younger Generation
AUTHOR: David Stark
PUBLISHER: Bloomington, MN: Bethany, 2016, (176 pages).

The news is grim. The statistics are not encouraging. The Church in the West are largely shrinking. The conventional belief now is that a growing number of the younger generation, especially the Millennials (Born between 1978-1998) are no longer going to Church. Is it too late to reach them? Can we stem the outflow of believers to an increasing number of "Nones" (Non-Affiliated; Non-Church-Going; and non-committal) group of people? In a book that offers to push back against the tide of dismay and discouragement, David Stark offers this book not just as a life-buoy but a firm call to re-think, to re-assess, to re-imagine, and to rebuild. Before that can happen, two things need to be done: 1) Change the Mindset; 2) Re-work the Methodologies.

In changing the Mindset, Stark studies the gospels and the Acts of the disciples to discover the way Jesus and the early believers reach out to others. He looks at the ways of evangelism; the wisdom and patterns used; the questions posed to unbelievers; and the need for cultural awareness. At the least, do not make it hard for unbelievers to come to Christ.  He shows us five ways in which we can streamline the process of changing mindsets, beginning with ours.


Friday, May 27, 2016

"Lessons in Belonging" (Erin S. Lane)

TITLE: Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going Commitment Phobe
AUTHOR: Erin S. Lane
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2015, (208 pages).

Far too often, when we talk about young people and the Church, it seems like strange bedfellows where there are often more suspicions than trust. Sometimes we have cross accusations where the old would claim the young are uninterested while the young say the old are too archaic in their ways. It is easy to criticize the Church. In fact, people of all ages can say negative things about the Church. Yet, the truth is, we need one another. We need both the young, the old, and everyone else in between. In one word, this book is about "belonging." While that is the key point, what makes it most interesting is the way the author writes counter-culturally. She gives a refreshing perspective from the mindset of a Millennial. For instance, instead of seeing "disillusionment" as something chronically negative, how about seeing it in terms of a good thing, like having an opportunity to be free from our personal illusions? Not only can it free us from the castle of self, it enables us to reflect on what role we ought to play with regard to being a part of a community. Rather than pinning the blame on something less controllable, like the Church and how she should behave, it places the responsibility back on the individual. How do we trust people? What can we do to be a part of the enduring community? It is a call not only to accept messy living but to participate in a community no matter how messy it is.