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Monday, February 19, 2018

"The Gospel According to Star Wars" (John C. McDowell)

TITLE: The Gospel according to Star Wars, Second Edition
AUTHOR: John C. McDowell
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017, (224 pages).

The latest Star Wars installment is in theaters everywhere. It has solidified its reputation as a top-selling movie franchise. With its popularity, many are renewing their love for characters such as Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, as well as the newer characters like Rey and Kylo Ren, and many more. It is amazing how the 70s franchise had lasted till now, where each of the episodes had sold-out crowds on their opening days. Beyond the entertainment aspect, is there a hidden message in the Star Wars saga? Is it more than simply a movie written for kids? How did such a movie franchise grow to be so popular? If there is a secret message, how do we make sense of it without misrepresenting the original storyteller's intentions? For those who say no, they would probably not even bother to pick up this book. For those who say yes, they have to sieve through the many complex interpretations, symbolism, religious undertones, and cultural understanding. For those who are unsure, perhaps, this book would offer not just an alternative look at the SW stories but invites them to consider the religious and spiritual messages hidden within the movies.


Sunday, February 18, 2018

"Immeasurable" (Skye Jethani)

TITLE: Immeasurable: Reflections on the Soul of Ministry in the Age of Church, Inc.
AUTHOR: Skye Jethani
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2017, (224 pages).

How do we measure how our organizations are doing? What are the best practices we can learn from others? How can leaders manage an increasingly diverse community in a world of complex needs? These are common questions which would be familiar to those of us in management and corporate circles. What about churches? Chances are, many church leaders would use some form of popular management paradigms and best practices to run their churches. However, are those appropriate for Church ministry? How Christlike are those strategies? Have we incorporated worldly values into our Church? Perhaps. This is something that should make every church leader sit up and ponder. In trying to make things more visible, more tangible, and more measurable, they have unwittingly missed out their focus on the invisible, the intangible, and the immeasurable things. One can truly become so materially rich but spiritually poor. Thankfully, we have this book to remind us of an alternative. We have many resources teaching us about the 'how' but relatively few on reflections on the 'why.' With the infatuation over success and worldly measurables like numbers, efficiency, visible presence, and other signs, we have fallen prey to letting the world define our ministry. Jethani reminds us of Richard Halverson's words:

"In the beginning, the church was a fellowship of men and women centered on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome, where it became an institution. And, finally, it moved to America, where it became an enterprise."


Thursday, February 15, 2018

"Make a List" (Marilyn McEntyre)

TITLE: Make a List: How a Simple Practice Can Change Our Lives and Open Our Hearts
AUTHOR: Marilyn McEntyre
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2018, (208 pages).

One of the important things we do to help us remember is to make a list. We have shopping list; book list; grocery list; stationery list; school list; homework list; blog list; name list; and so on. Once we have the necessary items on the list, we would be assured that even if we forget some items in our heads, we have a dependable list written down somewhere. Most of the time, these lists are simply to help us remember stuff. What if the lists could do more? What if the lists:
  • Mirror something about us;
  • Works as an educational device;
  • Help us listen to ourselves;
  • Enable us to love;
  • Teach us how to let go of anxieties;
  • Facilitate our practice of prayer;
  • and many other uses?
What's really interesting is how the author is able to turn such an ordinary list activity into a device to practice spirituality. Part One is about the purposes and pleasures of making lists. This is the part that we are most familiar with. McEntyre takes us through the process and teaches us to discover small little opportunities for personal growth. She brings together a list of ideas with regard to the use of list making. Besides the practical lists, there are also lists to help us express our emotions. Why are we upset? What are the things we need to let go of? Why am I afraid of? What makes forgiveness so hard? What gives me joy? What could I pay more attention to? What are the risks worth taking? What are the things to do when down? Lists could even work out as a better "punching bag."


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

"The Way to Brave" (Andy McQuitty)

TITLE: The Way to Brave: Shaping a David Faith for a Goliath World
AUTHOR: Andy McQuitty
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2018, (224 pages).

It is no secret that Christians nowadays live in a hostile world. As society becomes more secular and religions being seen as nothing more than simply motivation for good works, it is harder for Christians to live in this pluralistic culture. If we are content to just get-along with anything and everything in our culture, we would be left alone. What if we decide to stand up for our historical faith, the biblical principles and truth of Jesus? It would be an uphill task, given the way atheism and secularism had taken hold of all parts of society. Public schools forbid any talk about religion. Businesses generally discourage any discussions about faith matters. Any hint of religion in the public square would trigger push-backs from skeptics and secularists everywhere. The example of Russ Vought being ridiculed before the US Senate Committee for his Christian position is a case in point. On the other hand, violent programming and the sexually charged entertainment options continue to go unabated. Will Christians have courage to stand up against the tide of hostility? What can believers do in the midst of many obstacles that seemed so insurmountable? What does it take to shape a "David faith for today's Goliath World?" That is the crux of the book, which begins with a paraphrase of the biblical story of David vs Goliath in 1 Sam 17. The author writes this book hoping to encourage Christians not only to be courageous in a big way, but to do it in the right way and for the right reason. Courage don't just happen. They are strengthened with challenges. They go through a period of preparation. They stem from the conviction that God is love and God's love overcomes all.


Monday, February 12, 2018

"They Were Single Too" (David M. Hoffeditz)

TITLE: They Were Single Too: Eight Biblical Role Models
AUTHOR: David M. Hoffeditz
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2018, (160 pages).

Should I get married or remain single? Is it ok to be single? How do we live in a culture where being single seems to be some kind of a social stigman? What has the Bible got to say about singleness? Though there is no single chapter or specific reference that talks about the topic of singleness, (although 1 Corinthians 7 come close), the Bible does describe the lives of many single people. In this book, author David Hoffeditz highlights eight biblical role models of single people. Paul is the popular New Testament model of a single man, who taught about the gift of staying single, so that one can be focused on God's ministry. His key teaching is for us to be content with whatever state we are in, and also to learn how to value others who are single, without diminishing or belittling their roles in any way. Singleness also applies to widows like Anna, who had to deal with social inadequacies in the early century Jewish culture. Although not much was written about her in the Bible, the author manages to use her story as a way to teach us how a single person could still rest in God and serve God joyfully. Then there is Martha who has sometimes been vilified for the way she demanded Mary to help her. Using her example, we are warned about the dangers of distraction; a "God-needs-me atttitude," self-sufficiency, etc. More importantly, singles may try to escape from the stigma of singleness by immersing themselves into work and busy activities. Such things may work for a while but over time, reality bites. Instead, focus on resting in God. The prophet Jeremiah is a great example of one fully dependent on God for all his life, or for the most part. Instead of asking why, he prays "How Long, O Lord?" Instead of running after solutions from the world, he prays to God. In the midst of shattered dreams, Ruth is a classic example of trusting in God as her source of strength. In a world where women are treated as second class, she continued to be obedient to God in faith. Then there is Joseph who remained true to God in the midst of temptation and Nehemiah who truly felt alone when thrown into a multitude of fierce opposition. Finally, there is John the Baptist who was martyred. If there is anyone who would feel most alone, it would probably be John the Baptist.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

"Leaving Mormonism" (Corey Miller, Lynn K. Wilder, Vince Eccles, and Latayne C. Scott)

TITLE: Leaving Mormonism: Why Four Scholars Changed their Minds
AUTHOR: Corey Miller, Lynn K. Wilder, Vince Eccles, and Latayne C. Scott
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2017, (320 pages).

Mormonism has been in the news in the recent past. Some years ago, a presidential hopeful garnered the support of many evangelicals, even though he was a Mormon. Some say that his faith is just another denomination. Others prefer to call it a cult, or some other name to dissociate it from Christianity. With arguments flowing back and forth, it is easy to accuse people who are not Mormons to shut up until they know what they are talking about. While it is one thing to know the theologies,  it is yet another to experience it. In order to have some measure of credibility, a few criteria would need to be met.
  • They have deep knowledge of Mormon doctrines and practices at an academic level. (Knowledge)
  • They have experienced what it means to be a Mormon at a personal level. (Experience)
  • They have critically, passionately, and lovingly engaged the faith and are able to explain rationally why they left Mormonism. (Truth in love)
  • They have voices from both "left-brained" and "right-brained" perspectives. (Diversity)
  • A bonus would be all of them hold academic PhDs!

Friday, February 2, 2018

"Awaiting the King" (James K.A. Smith)

TITLE: Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology (Cultural Liturgies)
AUTHOR: James K. A. Smith
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017, (256 pages).

What has theology got to do with politics? What has Church got to do with State? Is there a better way forward in public engagement without having to police the boundaries of such relations? For author James K A Smith, it is essentially about societal and human flourishing. Whether it is in the political or public sphere, we need to redeem them. Borrowing heavily from Oliver O'Donovan's works and Augustine's thoughts on "City of God," Smith seeks to present a Christian approach to active engagement in the public square, to see it as a calling and not simply something to be shunned or be afraid of.

The political arena today is strewn with bipartisan politics not just in Washington DC but also in various theological circles. What is the relationship today between Christ and Culture? The Church herself is a cultural center that could influence the world. With this in mind, in a nutshell, it is about cultivating a posture of theological engagement rather than policy formulation. Calling it "part diagnosis and part prescription," Smith believes that the Church plays that very vital role in adopting "Augustinian principles for public participation." At the same time, using O'Donovan's works on a "missionary order," which is putting the needs of society before government, we are able to develop a series of postures to help us think, re-think, and reform our public theology. Our main posture is patience and optimism in the coming kingdom. Let me try to summarize some of the postures advocated by the author.


Monday, January 29, 2018

"Joy" (Edited by: Christian Wiman)

TITLE: Joy: 100 Poems
AUTHOR/EDITOR: Christian Wiman
PUBLISHER: New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017, (232 pages).

Joy is not just essential for life. It is crucial. Imagine a life without joy. It would be meaningless. For all the wonderful things we can say about this fascinating and needful emotion to have, people still feel conflicted about what it means, especially for them. Editor Christian Wiman notices this in her introduction to the book of poems. While dictionary definitions provide a starting clue about what joy is, truth is, joy is more than a definition. It is an intimate part of life that could be elusive to many, but highly sought after. It could not be scientifically manufactured lest the product comes forth as artificial. Even the word 'faith' needs healing before seekers can actually enter into a deeper comprehension of it. Truth is, joy can be found in more places than mere ecstasy or human happiness. It does not appear in one long climax but manifests itself in unique moments of life. Poetry is a powerful way to examine and experience these precious moments. Dictionaries can highlight the academic meaning of joy, but poetry tills it, massages it, evokes its essence in ways that typical prose and scientific manuals cannot do. Frogs jump for joy without even having to make an indepth study of their leaping experience. It comes in expectancy of freedom like a moth ready to take its first flight. It can be like a grand return to home after a long and weary expedition. It is a "catalyst" that leads us to other things, such as seeing life with a more positive viewpoint. Sometimes, joy is not simply described but played out through music. People sing and shout out loud.


Monday, January 22, 2018

"Mending Broken Branches" (Elizabeth Oates)

TITLE: Mending Broken Branches: When God Reclaims Your Dysfunctional Family Tree
AUTHOR: Elizabeth Oates
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2017, (240 pages).

Marriages break up. Divorces happen. Children suffer the consequences. Can we escape from our past? Maybe. Will we be free to live well in the present? That depends on how we are healed. In spite of the high place of family in society, these are some of the modern struggles family go through. It pretty much describes the landscape of the cliché: “No family is perfect.” While that is true, it is also true that some families are more imperfect than others. This is often what society means when they say “dysfunctional families.” Writing from her own broken background and a determination to heal from her wounds, author Elizabeth Oates uses the planting metaphor to help us make sense of our past, our present, and our future. The purpose in this book is three-fold. First, we are given the space to grieve our past. Second, we learn to be equipped to deal with our present circumstances. Third, we are encouraged to build a healthy and hopeful future.

Part One helps us work through our past to find our true significance in Christ instead of the “transactional relationship” with Santa Claus. Readers will learn about being bold to open the dreaded Pandora’s Box of any shame in the past. Oates uses a familiar plant model to craft out our past. There is the root of the problem which is a failure to find our significance in Christ alone. There is a need for pruning, where we tackle head-on the heavy baggage from the past. Our family of origin is not to be blamed or praised but accepted. The sprouting willows and branches are like opportunities and spaces for us to acknowledge our past. Just like a branch that can grow in any direction, once we are safely anchored on a trunk, we grieve with all the space we need. We need not feel alone because we are not the only ones that have baggage from the past. Every family do. Slowly but surely, we learn to let go and move forward. Whether it is shame or lost childhood; failed dreams or broken realities; the positive thing to do is to acknowledge our various stages of grief. Here, Oates uses Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief model. It would have been better if the author had acknowledged this in a footnote but I suppose the model is popular enough for most people. This journey to the past ends in the embrace of the Heavenly Gardener, God Himself.

Friday, January 19, 2018

"Everything Happens for a Reason" (Kate Bowler)

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

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


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

"The Perfect You" (Dr Caroline Leaf)

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

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


Monday, January 15, 2018

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

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

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

Thursday, January 11, 2018

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

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

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


Monday, January 8, 2018

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

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

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


Thursday, January 4, 2018

"Vindicating the Vixens" (Sandra L. Glahn)

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

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

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


Monday, January 1, 2018

"Bearing Fruit" (Robert Gallaty)

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

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

Friday, December 22, 2017

"Reading People" (Anne Bogel)

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

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

Thursday, December 21, 2017

"The Dawning of Indestructible Joy" (John Piper)

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

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

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


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

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

Rating: 4 stars of 5.

conrade

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.