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Thursday, December 29, 2011

"Just a Minute" (Wess Stafford)

TITLE: Just a Minute: In the Heart of a Child, One Moment ... Can Last Forever
AUTHOR: Wess Stafford with Dean Merrill
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2012, (224 pages).

This is a book of inspiring stories about how a minute can change the life of a person forever. It stems from the author's basic conviction about the value of every child.
"I have become convinced that if God stands a child before you, for even just a minute, it is a divine appointment." (14)
It is one thing to see a child as an ordinary child. When seeing from God's perspective, every child is extraordinary. As the President of Compassion International organization, Stafford travels far and wide all over the world, to reach out to ordinary people, especially children. Bringing together many touching stories of hope, faith, and love, he strings together the stories to highlight the importance of one minute that can change a child's life forever. He tells of how children are physically rescued, and allowed that moment to change them and to rescue others as well. He talks about inculcating self-worth in children, so that they can develop a healthy self-esteem, especially in a world that puts children down. He mentions powerful stories of successful individuals like Colin Powell, Tony Dungy, Zig Ziglar, Abraham Lincoln, and many others to show us how these people have been formed from a very young age. Encourage them and assist them when young, and they will become big influences to help others next time.

Stafford brings together not only personal stories, but from the individual testimonies from biographies, sharing, and popular books in the market. What distinguishes Stafford's collection of stories is that it helps us trace the beginning of a successful person back to the very beginning state of a child. There are many valuable lessons on integrity, ethics, generosity, gratitude, and good moral upbringing. In fact, anyone can inspire a child. A parent, a teacher, a music professional, or simply a stranger can encourage and touch a child's life.

This book is high on story-telling.  What a book to prepare for the start of a New Year!

Rating 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Moody Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. The opinions offered are freely mine.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

"Kicking at the Darkness" (Brian J. Walsh)

TITLE: Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination
AUTHOR: Brian J. Walsh
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2011, (222 pages).

A friend of mine once said that there is no such thing as 'Christian music' or 'non-Christian music.' Instead, there is only 'good' or 'bad' music. After reading this book, I believe that my friend's preference for the good/bad music paradigm does not go far enough. Good music has to be creative, authentic, and reflective of life. This book is a fascinating commentary cum theological engagement with one of Canada's most celebrated musician and Christian thinker, Bruce Cockburn.

Brian Walsh has offered the literary world an profound work that engages our modern world with biblical insights, through the works of Bruce Cockburn. The title of the book is extracted from the lyrics of one of Cockburn's most popular songs, called 'Lovers in a Dangerous Time.' Walsh uses four main questions to helm his reflective interactions (21).

  1. "Where are we? What is the nature of the world in which we find ourselves?"
  2. "Who are we? What does it mean to be human?"
  3. "What's Wrong? What is the source of brokenness, violence, hatred, and evil in life?"
  4. "What's the remedy? How do we find a path through this brokenness to healing? What is the resolution to the evil in which we find ourselves?"

Walsh is generous with his praises. He calls Cockburn a modern 'psalmist,' 'prophet,' as well as a man with a 'certain storied perspective.' His music and lyrics stem from his strong Christian worldview, one that is able to grapple with the issues of the world with a theological imagination that does not diminish or dismiss the world with escapist music. Instead, Cockburn engages the culture, politics, postmodern paradigms, pluralism, and religion, with his brand of literary and musical prowess. This is how Walsh describes Cockburn as an artist.

"The artist engages the world, sees something there, and finds just the right words and music to put that experience into a three-minute moment that somehow captures things for us, somehow give voice to what we had intuited but didn't quite have the words for it. The artist opens our eyes so that we see and experience the world anew, more deeply, and maybe in a way that brings some kind of healing for us." (26)

Of Cockburn's prophetic voice in ' Lovers in a Dangerous Time,' Walsh writes:

"Here is art that achieves an awakening prophetic power, an art that bears witness to the mystery of lovers open to the thrust of grace, a song that can nurture, nourish, and evoke an alternative consciousness to the dominant ideology. Here is a song that can liberate our imaginations both by naming our time as a time of darkness and by embracing love as a subversion of that darkness, an anticipation of the light. And here is a song that not only calls forth interpretation but also invites appropriation." (39)

Like a biker negotiating a row of traffic cones, Walsh snakes through the different musical pieces in Cockburn's impressive array of achievements to highlight themes surrounding creation, the fall, the doctrine of man, ecological concerns, the plight of darkness in sin, the hope of light in Christ, the ugly pains of the world, and the corresponding joy in God. Some of Cockburn's music contains political commentaries as well.

This book is clearly Walsh's tribute to an artist who has been influenced heavily by his Christian convictions. It is also a commentary and a respectful engagement of Cockburn's theological themes as well as an appreciation of Cockburn's insight of the world we are living in. Walsh sees Cockburn's worldview through 'small windows.' 'Lamp-warm windows' allows the spotlights of this world in. 'Grimy windows' represents an imperfect world. 'Prophetic windows' point to some kind of hope toward the horizon. 'Prayer windows' enable one to admit one's dependence on Someone Divine.

Closing Thoughts

As I read through the book, I ask myself whether the themes in the book are Cockburn's or Walsh's. At one point, I begin to wonder if the cover photo is that of the author or of the musician. (It's Bruce Cockburn!) It is thus helpful to be reminded of Walsh's four theological assumptions in his interpretive framework (33-34), to remind us that the author is still Walsh.  The way Bruce Cockburn has infused his theological understanding with the music he writes, is almost the same way that Walsh knits his theological knowledge with his interpretation of Cockburn's works. In other words, just as Cockburn's theology and music are integrated as one, Walsh's sustained reflection on Cockburn seems to suggest that both Walsh and Cockburn are dancing to the same tune. Whether that is true or not, only Cockburn can tell. I like the way Walsh summarizes the nature of art.

"Art cannot save us, but it can shed a light. It can open our eyes." (190)

As readers, this book will give us a way to build Christian imagination. A new way to understand home, hospitality, theology, and of course, music and art.

"For Cockburn, home is neither an accomplishment nor a possession, but a gift to be received with an open hand. AS a gift, home cannot be secured with a tight, self-protective grasp. We must loose our grip and open our hands to an embracing hospitality. Only with such a stance can we sing with confidence, 'one day I shall be home.'" (85)

In a world of human drivenness, achievement-oriented technological world, and management strategies on how to get things done according to human ways, this book is an opportunity for humans to move from consumerism to appreciation of the world. This book is not an easy read. Those who dare to swim through it will reap rich dividends. I think I am going to really love Bruce Cockburn's music.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group".

Monday, December 26, 2011

"Going Deep" (Gordon MacDonald)

TITLE: Going Deep: Becoming A Person of Influence
AUTHOR: Gordon MacDonald
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2011, (386 pages).

The world does not need more clever or people of more good intentions. The world's greatest need is for deep people, or people with influence. This is the key message throughout this book. Beginning with his reflections on the mission statement of the famed West Point US Military Academy, he gives his thoughts about how Christians can become deeper people of influence through some 'high-priority leadership training' (v).

Over two calendar years, MacDonald (also known affectionately as Pastor GMAC by his Church in New England), reveals his thoughts and growing convictions about what the Church needs most. He repeats his emphasis of leadership being first and foremost about 'character' rather than charisma or competence. Deep people are those who are purposeful, being cultivated for God regardless of good or bad circumstances, quiet and devoted, visionaries, helpers, prayerful, caring, able to teach and mentor, and all exercising their spiritual gifts everywhere they go. This book picks up from the previous book, "Who stole my Church?" In that story, MacDonald talk about new ways of doing church, and about the need for change in the midst of a new era. This book shifts from the breadth of change, to cultivate the depth of change agents: Deep People.

MacDonald shares about his journey of learning the language of corporate culture, especially the 'elevator story.' He shares about how a conversation with a high school principle who helps him to deepen his desire to equip and train a few good people, 'more deliberately and more vigorously' (45). One conversation leads to another as he connects the dots of intentional ministry in order to crystallize this conviction about creating deep people of influence.

Rather than a systematic teaching of listing the steps to becoming an effective deep-person, MacDonald adopts a sharing mode, using the pages of his journal to kick start a conversation for readers to listen in. This method makes the whole process very personal, and intimate. He thinks out aloud for readers to hear his thoughts. He reflects on biblical truth and connects biblical principles with the contemporary needs. He meets regularly with his staff and church leaders to finetune his ideas as well as to share his passions about a new way of doing church: Discipleship through developing deep people of influence, or Cultivating Deep People (CDP). From conversations to interviews, meetings and email communications, MacDonald brings everything together by demonstrating how he does CDP. Instead of telling people what to do, he shows us. Toward the end of the book, he lets his convictions show through preaching, teaching, and continued sharing. For instance, he wears his teaching hat in several places, like when he is ministering to a CDP group by inviting them to reflect and to ask themselves probing questions (318). He even uses modern technology like Facebook for his CDP ministry!

The essence of change is evident in this book. MacDonald departs from his normally teaching style by adopting a more sharing format. He shows us how he does ministry instead of preaching to us. Perhaps, this in itself is a clue to how to cultivate deeper people. Like much of education, learning matters, especially leadership is more 'caught' than 'taught.' MacDonald has shown us that deep leaders are people of influence when they first learn how to be influenced by others. Leaders must be eager and passionate learners themselves. In order to appreciate this book better, we cannot dive too quickly into it. We need to tread gently at the beginning. Wade toward the middle. Take a deep breath, and swim intentionally and purposefully. With constant practice, we will find ourselves able to swim deeper and deeper.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, December 22, 2011

"Different Dream Parenting" (Jolene Philo)

TITLE: Different Dream Parenting: A Practical Guide to Raising a Child with Special Needs
AUTHOR: Jolene Philo
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, 2011, (336 pages).

This book is an excellent resource for parents of children with special needs. It is specially arranged to aid the readers from birth to death. Section 1 deals with the shock and trauma when a child has been diagnosed with some physical ailments. Called 'Diagnosis,' it gently encourages parents to move from a state of being 'ambushed' by the news to becoming 'advocates' for their child. Section 2 covers the various aspects of life when the child has to spend time in the hospital. Called 'Hospital Life,' it attempts to guide parents to move from 'confused' state of lostness, to a more 'confident' stance of knowing what to do in the midst of the emotional anguish. Section 3 is entitled 'Juggling Two Worlds' which is a brilliant section of the book that attempts to bring some state of calm to families wherever they are. The author sensitively and meticulously works through the different aspects of life that needs to be calmed. For instance, activities and programs are suggested on how to bring calm to the family, to extended family, at work, and at other places. Section 4 moves on to 'Long Term Care Conditions' which tries to move readers from trepidation about the future to a victorious spirit of triumph. Section 5 is a difficult section that deals with the loss of a child. I find this section particularly touching and hard to go through. Thankfully, the book is sensitive to provide time to reflect, and at the same time, offer readers the freedom to move forward boldly. It uses extensively Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's stages of grieving model. Section 6 is called 'Raising a Survivor' which gives hope to people to be fearless at life.

Throughout the book, the chapters follow a strategic pattern. Typically, it begins with a Bible passage and a short quip from someone who has gone through the particular stage. Several stories are printed to give readers an idea of some real life examples of parents of special needs children. It points out possible traps that prevent parents from moving toward a healthy direction. It provide medical tips, help resources, web references, community links, professional advice as well as spiritual comfort. There are many moments in which the reader is invited to ponder a particular question about the meaning of it all, and calms the reader down with biblical promises. Adding to the already excellent resources are some prayer helps to guide readers through the different stages of difficulty.There are prayer guides for dependence, during hospital stays, praying for families, for educators, therapists, grieving families, children, and their character.

This book is so comprehensive that it is a must-have in the bookshelves of health professionals, counsellors, chaplains, ministry workers, and many help personnel.  One can wait until a problem arrives before reading this book. Even for those of us who have not encountered a parenting challenge that requires 'different dream parenting,' there are at least two powerful reasons to read this book. Firstly, it enables us to appreciate your children even more. Secondly, we learn to be more sensitive to parents with special needs children. If you are a Christian, I add in a third reason.God can use you to help others, and share hope.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Discovery House Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. The comments offered are freely mine.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"What Does the Lord Require?" (James C. Howell)

TITLE: What Does the Lord Require? - Doing Justice, Loving Kindness, Walking Humbly
AUTHOR: James C. Howell
PUBLISHER: Louisvilled, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012.

This is a book about the Old Testament book, Micah 6:8. It explores the person of Micah. It explains the biblical contexts. It touches on how listeners perceive the message then, and its relevance for modern readers. Most of all, it looks to the God that the prophet Micah is pointing to. Obedience to God will lead to true fulfillment and will satisfy one's deepest desires.

"He has showed you, O man, 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." (Micah 6:8)

Micah is a man more in tune with God, compared to the religious leaders of that day. What stands Micah apart was his boldness to denounce the greed and bullying happening during that time, as well as his boldness to point people to hope in God. It is essentially an exposition of the verse. It goes through each of the three verbal emphases: 'Do justice; Love Kindness; and Walk humbly.'

Before jumping into the three things, Howell tells us that God has shown us what is good BEFORE asking us to do good. This pattern is so consistent with the nature of God, where He shows us the way so that we know the way to obey. He patiently points out the essence of 'require.' In Hebrew, the word is darao, which is a continual longing, a desire that grows and grows to do the three things.

An insight comes forth quickly, that the three things are actually one and the same act of love. Justice needs loving kindness. Kindness is needed in humility. Humble living goes hand in hand with justice. The author calls the line between the three as 'blurry.' This is important for it helps us to see the whole verse as one verse. It enables us to practice all together.

Justice is something  that is 'done' rather than talked about. The word 'mishpat' is actually the law. Contrary to modern conceptions of desiring to be free from following laws, there is a risk of missing the opportunity to obey the laws that lead to a happier and more liberating life. True obedience to laws lead to freedom, not bondage.

The third thing that Howell talks about is the nature of 'walk humbly.' 'Hatzneia' means the opposite of pride and arrogance. It is aiming toward a 'downward mobility' of lesser greatness for self. It is an attitude that is so focused on God, that one does not have time to inflate the self.

The book concludes powerfully by stressing how the three things required of Israel is actually a reflection of God's character as well. This book may be small, but I advise the reader to take time to drink from the well of wisdom and the exposition of the Word. It comes also with discussion questions which should double up as a book cum Bible study materials. There is also a leaders guide.

Great book!

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is supplied to me free by Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. The comments given are freely mine.

Monday, December 19, 2011

"A Marriage Carol" (Chris Fabry & Gary Chapman)

TITLE: A Marriage Carol
AUTHOR: Chris Fabry & Gary Chapman
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2011, (144 pages).

Many of us associate Christmas time as a happy and joyous occasions with family and friends. Yet, it is also known that the festive season can also bring about many heartaches and painful memories. Memories of the loss of loved ones, broken relationships, and missed opportunities of love. This book is set on Christmas Eve, the day where Marlee and Jacob are about to sign their divorce papers. As they try to get to their solicitor's office as quickly as possible, their short-cut turns into a long and treacherous fight for survival. The real battle is actually for their marriage.

Marlee stumbles upon a remote marriage retreat center and has an unusual encounter with a mysterious man called Jay. Through three pots, Marlee manages to see in her marriage, her past joys, her present disappointments, and her future hopes. She returns from this experience a changed person.

This little story is a wonderful attempt to tell readers that marriage is worth fighting for.  It is realistic to recognize that there are some marriages where love has died. What is necessary is not to make it worse, but to bring life back. The authors admit that it is easier said then done. Having said that, divorce can very well make it even worse. This book is not just a nice story. It is a necessary reminder for us to note that marriage is not about making good or bad investments. It is about investing in a marriage for better or for worse. Don't fight one another. Fight FOR one another.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


A Marriage Carol Trailer from River North Fiction on Vimeo.

This book is provided to me free of charge by Moody Press and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. Comments provided are freely mine.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

"Gospel-Powered Humility" (William P. Farley)

TITLE: Gospel-Powered Humility
AUTHOR: William P. Farley
PUBLISHER: Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2011, (224 pages).

This is a timely book. In a no-holds barred critique on modern culture's penchant for self-love, nice words, and puffed up self-esteem, Farley poses a remarkable insight about the great paradox: ". . the proud man thinks he is humble, but the humble man thinks he is proud." (26)

The fact of the world is that there is a great tendency among people in general to have so high a view of themselves, that they are guilty of possessing a low view of God. The main concern of the author is this.

"My contention is that the church is most apt to fulfill its God-given purpose when we preach the gospel in such a way that it produces a faith that humbles sinner and saints alike." (12)

Thus begins a book that touches on the topic of humility in three parts. In Part One, Farley hits hard at the state of pride in man's heart. Two chapters essentially drive home the point that pride is very much alive and thriving in the world today, even within the church. The sick person needs to be convinced that he is sick.

"Pride is the opposite. It is spiritual blindness. It is a delusional, inflated view of self. It is unreality on steroids. And the scary part is this: The thing to which we are most blind is our pride. A demonic Catch-22, pride causes us to chase our spiritual tails. We cannot see pride - even though it is our most grievous, disabling sin - because its very nature is blindness, and the first thing to which it is blind is its own existence." (26)

The four reasons why humility matters. It is necessary for conversion, for sanctification, for seeing clearly what God is doing, and for producing a humble faith. Thankfully, instead of just barking up the tree of condemnation and disgust, the author has gently ushered in the good news, that humility is essentially not a 'negative view of self' but an ability to see ourselves as God sees. Farley then brings out examples from social research to show us that the pride is everywhere in our society.

Part Two talks about the true gospel that humbles us in at least five ways. Firstly, we are humbled by the wrath of God simply because saving faith always humbles one initially. Secondly, we are humbled by the final judgment through two guarantees of God's justice together with God's love. Thirdly, we are humbled by the sinfulness of sin. Farley distinguishes the biblical usage of sin (singular) to denote the presence of sinful attitude, and sins (plural) to denote the presence of sinful acts. The former drives the latter, which is why it is critical to attack the root of vice: Pride. Fourthly, we are humbled by Faith Alone. Using the analogy of a bankrupt person, prideful people are unaware of their own spiritual bankruptcy, and cannot comprehend why they need to repent. Fifthly, we are humbled by the history of preaching. The preachers of old refuse to bow down to the fear of man, and is able to preach the full gospel due to their fear of God. In order for the good news to be preached and to take root in the hearts of people, the bad news have to be preached.

Part Three is most helpful as it brings together the gospel-powered humility that we all need to grow. Fighting pride is a major spiritual battle. This is highly important because this battle is not external but very much internal.

Closing Thoughts

Even though there are already other books written on humility, the continual presence of pride makes this book a necessary write and a compulsory read. There is too much pride that it is filling the church with puffed-up superiority that makes the church look hypocritical and downright ugly in the eyes of the public. This book is a humble and honest attempt to burst this bubble.

Every Christian ought to read this book. Every leader ought to practice this book. Every preacher ought to preach this message. Pride is that one gaping hole in our vessels that will drain out whatever goodness we fill into them. Humility more than patches up this hole. Humility in Christ heals and renders our hearts whole.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free of charge by P&R Publishing and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. The comments given above are freely mine.

Friday, December 16, 2011

"The Christian Writer's Market Guide 2012" (Jerry B. Jenkins)

TITLE: The Christian Writer's Market Guide 2012 - Your comprehensive guide for getting published.
AUTHOR: Jerry B. Jenkins
PUBLISHER: Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2011, (556 pages).

This is both a resource as well as a reservoir for anyone interested or involved in the Christian publishing market.  It is comprehensive as it covers the A to Z of Christian publishing. Though written with the American Christian publishing market in mind, it is an extremely useful resource to help any budding writer or anyone interested to know about Christian book publishing market. Part One covers a huge list of resources for book publishing. Part Two contains lots of useful information on periodical publishers. Part Three dives into the 'Specialty Markets' like greeting cards, DVDs, games, software, and other things not covered in the book or periodical list. Part Four is a useful compendium of resources for budding writers as well as established authors, or simply anyone interested in writing. It gives a list of Christian writers' workshops throughout the United States, with a small list of Canadian-based writing organizations or writing clubs. The book is filled with contact information about literary agents, publisher addresses, email contacts, and very specific niches each organization offers.

Every Christian writer serious about getting published needs to get this book. With more than 380 publishers, 550 periodicals, and plenty of contacts for literary agencies, and so on, this is the encyclopedia of Christian publishing for North America. What makes this edition stands out is not only the updated contacts of the players in the Christian publishing market. There is market analysis of how each publisher is doing broken down into how many books have been published per year. This enables the reader to discern which publisher is the one to choose. There is a helpful listing of current topics popular with publishers. This helps the reader to gather a snapshot of trends in writing.

Even with the rising popularity of ebooks, and the continued rumors that publishing is going to be dead sooner than later, this book proves once again that publishing is very much alive. The electronic age has not diminished the traditional ways of publishing. It has only altered the WAY publishing is done.

As a quick reference, this book gives me access to information super fast. As a collection of current market trends, this book gives me ideas about which are the popular topics that I can write about. At the same time, it gives me an idea of what topics have not been covered.The main peeve I have is that the softcover tends to be easily worn out. Apart from this, this book is a treasure house of information. Not only does it give a huge array of choices, both large and small publishers, it gives anyone with a writers' block lots of ideas how to kick start and progress the writing journey.

This book makes an excellent Christmas gift for people whom you know loves to read, to write, to blog, or simply to get ideas for literary appreciation.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is supplied to me free by Tyndale House Publishers without any obligation for a positive review. The comments provided above are freely my own.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"Power in Prayer" (Andrew Murray)

TITLE: Power in Prayer - Classic Devotions to Inspire and Deepen Your Prayer Life
AUTHOR: Andrew Murray
PUBLISHER: Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2011, (172 pages).

For those of us familiar with Christian literature, when we think of THE MESSAGE, we think of Eugene Peterson. If we think of the PURPOSE-DRIVEN LIFE, we remember Rick Warren. When it comes to prayer, even in our modern settings, many of us will probably think of Andrew Murray, the 19th-20th Century Scottish prayer giant. He has authored many devotional books on the Christian life but his books on prayer remain very much on the bestseller category.

Extracted from more than 18 books on prayer, Bethany House has compiled more than 150 devotionals in one volume, to be used as both a devotional as well as prayer help. If you are familiar with the popular daily devotional booklet, OUR DAILY BREAD, published by Radio Bible Class, you will be quite comfortable with the way this book is laid out. With a focus on prayerfulness rather than prayer itself, each chapter begins with a Scripture passage on which the reflection will be based upon. The first part normally begins with a small description on what prayerfulness actually is. For example,

  • Prayer is the fullest expression of one's spiritual dependence: "All the things of faith, all the pleadings of desire, all the yearnings after a fuller surrender, all the confessions of shortcoming and of sin, all the exercises in which the soul gives up self and clings to Christ, find their utterance in prayer." (11)
  • Prayer is Unselfish Intercession: "In true, unselfish prayer there is little thought of personal need or happiness. If we would be delivered from the sin of limiting prayer, we must enlarge our heart for the work of intercession." (13)
  • Prayer is a Path of Obedience: "We are apt to think of absolute obedience as a principle, that obedience unto death is a thing that can only be gradually learned in Christ's school. This is a great mistake. What we have to learn, and do learn gradually, is the practice of obedience to new and ever-increasing commands. But as to the principle, Christ wants us from the very entrance into His life to vow complete obedience. This is the reason why there are so many unanswered prayers with regard to God making His will known. " (17)
  • Prayer is Unity: "United prayer is a great privilege, and its power waits to be experienced. If the believing couple knew that they were joined together in the name of Jesus to experience His presence and power in united prayer; if friends believed how effective two or three praying in concert could be, what blessing might come? If in every prayer meeting faith in His presence and expectation of an answer were foremost, in every church united prayer was regarded as one of the chief purposes for which Christians come together - the highest exercise of their power as a church, how might the church be empowered for ministry?" (24)
  • Lack of Prayer is the Root of Discouragement: "We must not comfort ourselves with thoughts of standing in a right relationship to the Lord Jesus while the sin of prayerlessness has any power over us. But if we first recognize that a right relationship to the Lord Jesus above all else includes prayer, with both the desire and the power to pray according to God's will, then we have reason to rejoice and rest in Him. Discouragement is the result of self-effort, and so blocks out all hope of improvement or victory." (78)

The book covers a wide range of matters affecting the Christian life. There is Bible meditations, praying for various human conditions like sinfulness, prayerlessness, illness, patience, relationships, and many more.

My Comments

I remember walking by a rocky beach where tiny crabs scatter and hide amid the small rocks on the seashore. Every stone I overturn reveals some tiny crustaceans. This book is the same. Every page I turn reveals some wonderful revelation of prayerfulness. Murray's words are written simple enough for the layperson to appreciate. It is insightful enough for the most astute theologians. It is also very quotable. Reading this book makes me want to pray more before I work. Pray more and worry less. Pray more to know God and His will rather than to use God to do my will. Every page is a prayer burner. Every prayer is a soul mover. Like what the subtitle of the book suggests. This book is a precious collection of devotionals that will help to 'inspire' and to 'deeper' one's prayer life. I think it does much more. It draws one to want to know God better. This book demonstrates to us, again and again,  that we can bring everything to God in prayer. If there is power in prayer, there is more power in prayerfulness when the True Power above moves.

I believe Murray will be more than pleased if we say that his books have not only helped us in our prayer walks, it has drawn us closer to God, and God closer to us. I appreciate the efforts of the publisher to bring together in one volume that highlights the prayerfulness and spiritual vitality of Andrew Murray. Great book!

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Book: "A Twitter Year"

TITLE: A Twitter Year - 365 days in 140 characters
AUTHOR/COMPILER: Kate Bussman and Fellow Twitterers
PUBLISHER: Bedford Square, London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2011, (286 pages).

This is the first published book of its kind. The basic idea is to bring together in one book a list of 'tweets' that covers a range of issues around the world. Recognizing the prominent place in which Twitter has become in terms of news dissemination, this book may be the beginning of a new breed of authors and publishers. According to the book's research, the number of tweets per day range from a low of 65 million (June 2010) to a high of 230 million in September 2011. According to Twitter, there are more than 100 million twittering accounts. What makes Twitter the place to go to is the speed in which information is being updated. A number of years ago, the defacto place to go for breaking news is the TV. Following the TV is the speed of Internet updates on various news websites. Now, the crown is being given to the two forerunners of social networking: Twitter and Facebook.

A number of months ago, the author, Kate Bussman very courteously asks me if she could use my tweet in this book. I gladly agreed, not simply because it is nice to share my tweet, but also because of the manner in which Bussman and the publisher handled the request. They promised me this book, which they duly delivered the week the book gets published. Here is my snapshot of what they sent me, (including my tweet).

Apart from seeing my tweet published, I marvel at how Bussmann is able to distill the millions of tweets into the various categories. There are 7 major sections where the tweets are classified. These include 'politics and current affairs,' 'royalty and religion,' 'celebrity,' 'science and nature,' 'sport and leisure,' 'arts, culture & media,' and a miscellaneous section entitled, 'a tweet a day.'

Three things stand out for me. Firstly, the book is able to provide the positive and negative tweets to provide a balanced presentation of tweets for each issue. One can easily thumb through the categories with the convenient tabs provided. Secondly, this book itself gives us a snapshot of the world in the past 365 days, simply by using Twitter. It tells me how the world has changed in terms in information sharing. Not only is it free, it is also fast. Thirdly, the careful selections of tweets mean that a lot of tweets have to be excluded from publication. This means a conscious decision on the part of the author and publisher to choose. This is no easy feat, considering the tonnes of data coming through each day. This book is an excellent example how social networking, self-publishing, and traditional book publishing and printing can be combined into one handy volume.

Thanks for selecting my tweet, Kate!


This book is provided to me free, courtesy of the author and Bloomsbury Publishing without any obligation for a positive review. The comments above are offered freely mine.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

"The Names of God Bible"

TITLE: The Names of God Bible
EDITOR: Ann Spangler
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2011.

Based on the English translation of the Bible, God's Word, this study Bible expands on a literal rendition of the Name of God through both the Old and the New Testaments. In the Bible, especially the Old Testament, names are of a great significance when used. Many of the Patriarchs have names that is key to the identity and context of the person's birth. Even in the New Testament, how Jesus is called reflects importance to learning more about Him. If that is so, how much more of God? [There is a great article on the 'Names of God' by J. Hampton Keathley III here.]

As a study Bible, this book lists a reading plan to aid the reader of 'God's Word.' The layout is clear and uncluttered. Each bible book comes with a brief introduction on the context and purpose of the text, followed by a quick list of the Names of God so that readers will take special notice. Instead of the traditional red-letter texts used for the words of Jesus, the words that mention God's Names directly are brown-lettered. Each Name mentioned comes also with a biblical promise associated with the Name. For example:

  • RUACH - means 'Spirit' in Hebrew, where the promise is of God manifesting His Presence through the Spirit
  • EL, ELOHIM - means 'God' in Hebrew, where the promise is of God giving the blessings to creation and His people.
  • YHWH ROI - means 'The LORD my Shepherd' in Hebrew, where the promise is God's caring and leading.
  • YESHUA - used for 'Jesus' in the New Testament, where the meaning is on Jesus as the Savior.
  • CORNERSTONE, used in Luke 20:17, where God is the Rock where believers put their trust in.
  • ....
There are at least 121 names (or titles of God) listed. The beginning and the end pages of the Bible are packed with great study material and references. There is a selected bibliography, a prayer index guide, and even a list of frequency of each Name of God used. Total number of Names mentioned: 10054. Wow!

Closing Thoughts

I enjoy this study Bible for its clear and broad layout of the biblical texts. For instance, the Songs of Solomon clearly demarcates who is speaking the words. The way the paragraphs are arranged in the Bible give due regard to God speaking. By highlighting the Name of God in bold color, readers are able to pay special attention so that they can better grasp the purpose and meaning of the text. Take Job for example. Words of poetry are laid out line by line to stress the building up of emphases. Words of God are paragraphed based on the contexts and thought-for-thought translations. With subtitles and headers, it aids the layperson in understanding what the texts are talking about. Best of all, I find this Bible a great way to pray through the Scriptures. Knowing the Names of God does not just improve the way we read the Bible. It helps the praying process to know God, and to make God known. Beginning with us, the reader.


"Bible has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.  Available at your favourite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group".

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

"Nearing Home" (Billy Graham)

TITLE: Nearing Home - Life, Faith, and Finishing Well
AUTHOR: Billy Graham
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2011, (182 pages).

Astounding! At 93, this man of God continues to exercise his influence through his golden years. In his latest addition to his huge collection of writings and teachings, 'Nearing Home' is perhaps his most personal and retrospective work so far. Written with an eye on God's heavenly kingdom, he dishes out many nuggets of wisdom. While many past their prime years attempt to shun away from even thinking about death and dying, Graham adopts the attitude of 'running toward home.' He reflects on his life and is able to encourage us to age gracefully simply because there is a much brighter future for believers in Christ.

Graham's grasp of biblical texts is masterful. He zooms in on lesser known characters of the Bible, like Barzillai, as an example for being faithful despite being old. He traces the lives of Noah (more than 500 years old), Enoch (365 years) and Methuselah (969 years), and the way they walk with God through their old age. His point is that God still uses people even in their aging years. As he reflects on his failing eyesight, he ponders:

"I often wonder if God, in His sovereignty, allows the eyesight of the aged to cast a dim view of the here and now so that we may focus our spiritual eyes on the ever after." (15)
A Treasure Chest of Wisdom

There are pages after pages of collected wisdom over the years. Wisdom such as understanding. He is especially able to identify with the struggles of people in this age group.
"Loneliness, loss of purpose, depression, feelings of worthlessness, anxiety, fear of the future - these and a host of other emotions are common among retirees. Sadly, some find themselves unable to cope with their new situations, and a surprisingly large number of retirees succumb to illness only a year or so after they retire." (30)
One example is about a retiree whose death certificate says he died from a stroke. While medically that was correct, the truth is that the deceased died due to a broken heart.

Wisdom also of cultural awareness. He recalls some of the cultural expectations of retirement and exhorts us never to retire from life, making a difference between retiring from work vs retiring from life. Instead, he offers this wise counsel all of us, especially the older generation.

"As the older generation we should be mindful of our responsibility to pray for others. Retirement should not put us on the shelf. We should use this time in our lives to rest from our labors but lift up others who are carrying heavy loads." (28)

Wisdom of hope and thankfulness. If we approach life with a thankful heart, that will make all the difference. Each chapter is filled with reasons why as one nears the end of life, there are more reasons to hope and be excited about. He encourages those who are retired that there are ample opportunities to pray, to volunteer, and to share wisdom.

Wisdom to plan. It is also never too late to plan for retirement. Here he makes a distinction between investing our lives to please people and investing our lives to please God. The former may mean 'continued fellowship' with our friends and loved ones. The latter means honouring God first.

Wisdom also of rightly placing our trust in heavenly things. He does not limit himself only to making positive exhortations. He warns us about erroneous thinking. He makes a case for all to put money in its right place.
"Our society places too much emphasis on money, implying that financial achievement is the main measure of a person's true success in life." (59)
He argues against putting too much hope in a 'retirement dream.' For example, many who have set aside their nest egg, investing in a vacation bungalow and a life of doing nothing on a secluded beach, after a few weeks, when the novelty wears off, one may start getting depressed. He also provides practical tips surrounding writing a will, avoiding unnecessary expenditures, legal matters, and other practical stuff. He is keenly aware of health issues. As always, he ends his exhortations with a clear reference to the Bible, and a call for trust and obedience to God.

Wisdom also of being aware of the perils of aging. Despite his failing strength physically, his spiritual vitality remains strong.
  • Fear of uncertainty
  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Intense Loneliness
  • Self-Absorption
Perhaps, the greatest wisdom he imparts to us is the constant focus on Christ that enables one to finish strong. The author has many insights on contemporary culture too. For instance, he observes that our culture is fascinated by things that are latest and greatest, which by themselves can be very deceitful. He writes:
"Youth, however, are accustomed to discarding one possession for another that might look the same but possess something unseen: more memory. In a world already drowning in the information flood, tech companies are constantly increasing memory capacity, and users are thrilled at forgetting the old to make room for the new. Meanwhile the older generation is hanging on for dear life to the memories we have accumulated during our lifetimes, fearful we might forget the anchors that stabilized, the lighthouse that directed, and the Word of God that calmed the treacherous waters." (144)
When one is rooted in Christ, one will learn to look back with thanksgiving and look forward to the heavenly kingdom.

Closing Thoughts

I am amazed by this man's spiritual strength and mental fortitude. It takes a strong inner man to overpower a frail outer body. Page after page, I see a man who is reflective about his own life and instructive about the way the world is going. He shares his wisdom with stories that are not just practical but impact-ful. Never shy to share the word, even in his twilight years, Graham continues to shine a beam on Scripture. It has been said that the words of a dying man contains a concise summary of his life and his learning. For Graham, even as he nears home, he will be remembered for his brilliant and exemplary life, an encouraging faith, and an energy to finish well. Personally, it will be difficult for this book to be dislodged from being ranked #1 in my Top 10 books for 2011.

Buy this book for your aged friends. Recommend this book for the fellowship. If anyone wants to plan for retirement, this book is certainly a great way to begin.

Ratings: 5 stars of 5.


"Book has been provided courtesy of Thomas Nelson and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Thomas Nelson".

Sunday, December 4, 2011

"King's Cross" (Tim Keller)

TITLE: King's Cross - The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus
AUTHOR: Timothy Keller
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Dutton Press, 2011, (240 pages).

Tim Keller has a gift for words. He has an ability to weave in a keen understanding of Scripture. Backed by word studies in Greek and Hebrew, he brings the nuances of the original gospel contexts alive to the English speaking world. He has a passionate desire to bring God's people closer to Jesus. Brilliantly, he joins the ancient world with contemporary culture, the Hellenistic texts in the light of modern contexts, and holds together the need for relevance without compromising on biblical truths. This book is another example of this masterful teacher and eloquent preacher.

About the Book

Keller chooses the book of Mark to give readers a deeper insight into how Jesus changed the world by entering into the life of the world. The first part of the book deals with Jesus as King. By focusing on the action-packed gospel of Mark, one sees less of Jesus' 'teaching' and more of Jesus' 'doing.' One recognizes Jesus' identity as King over all things (Mark 1-8). In Part Two, Keller points to the need for Jesus to go to the Cross, highlighting the purpose of Jesus' coming (Mark 9-16). This twin focus of identity and purpose constitutes Keller's interpretation of the gospel of Mark. Together, he exhorts us to 'seriously consider the significance' of the life of Jesus in our own lives. Interestingly, Keller calls the Bible as the book that understands us.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

"Well-Being" (Tom Rath and Jim Harter)

TITLE: Well-Being: The Five Essential Elements
AUTHOR: Tom Rath and Jim Harter
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Gallup Press, 2010, (232 pages).

How do we measure well being? What are the factors to determine the quality of life? Do these vary over different continents and countries? What makes life worthwhile? These are the questions that drive the Gallup survey, the global interviews, the data analyses, and the quest that culminates into five essential elements of well-being. The purpose of this research is to enable readers to 'enjoy each day, get more out of life in general,' and to 'boost the wellbeing' of our friends, our family, our colleagues, and our community members.

The five 'essential elements' are Career, Social, Financial, Physical, and Community. Most of the results reveal about 66% thriving in one of the elements. The authors assert that in order to maintain a wholistic wellbeing, all five needs to be thriving. The biggest hurdle is not external but internal: ourselves.

Career Wellbeing is about what we do every day, our work and our workplaces. Social is about the impact of our close relationships on our lives. Financial talks about how our overall happiness with regards to money. Physical is about general health matters, our diets, our wakeful activities, our sleep. Community is about relationships. For each wellbeing factor, the authors include three sets of recommendations to help one thrive. They conclude the book with a call for 'positive defaults.'
Any time you help your short-term self work with your long-term self, you have an opportunity. You can intentionally choose to spend more time with the people you enjoy most and engage your strengths as much as possible. You can structure your finances to minimize the worry caused by debt. You can make exercise a standard part of your routine. You can make healthier decisions in the supermarket so you don't have to trust yourself when you have a craving a few days later. And you can make commitments to community, religious, or volunteer groups, knowing that you will follow through once you've signed up in advance. Through these daily choices, you create stronger friendships, families, workplaces, and communities. (112)

It is interesting to note that the authors arrange the factors in order of importance, for the average person.  It is also representative of the quantity of time spent. Due to this, there is a finding that workers perform best when their supervisors invest in the wellbeing of their employees.
  1. Career: "People with high Career Wellbeing wake up every morning with something to look forward to doing that day. They also have the opportunity to do things that fit their strengths and interests." (153)
  2. Social: "People with high Social Wellbeing have several close relationships that help them achieve, enjoy life, and be healthy. They are surrounded by people who encourage their development and growth, accept them for who they are, and treat them with respect." (154)
  3. Financial: "People with high Financial Wellbeing manage their personal finances well and spend their money wisely. They buy experiences instead of just material possessions, and they give to others instead of always spending on themselves." (154)
  4. Physical: "People with high Physical Wellbeing manage their health well. They exercise regularly, and as a result, they feel better. They make good dietary choices, which keeps their energy high throughout the day and sharpens their thinking. They get enough sleep to process what they have learned the day before and to get a good start on the next day. " (155)
  5. Community: "People with high Community Wellbeing feel safe and secure where they live. They take pride in their community and feel that it's headed in the right direction. This often results in their wanting to give back and make a lasting contribution to society. " (155).
(Data from Gallup Research, 2010)
There are so many ways to interpret the data.  These rankings are averaged based on three factors, namely 'thriving,' 'struggling,' and 'suffering' factors. The data is obtained from 150 countries where 1000 respondents are gathered from each country. That means a 150,000 statistical pool. This is not large, considering the population of the world. Thus, this is at best a snapshot of a segment of the population. For a country to score high in the wellbeing table, it needs a high THRIVING and a low SUFFERING. In some countries, the data is not as accurate due to 'authoritarian governments.'

If you are interested in social research, this book is a wonderful resource. If you are interested in improving your general well-being, this book offers generous tips on how to improve. Even if you are not convinced by the research methodology or the results, you can still benefit from learning about the way to improve the general wellbeing for yourself, your family or the community you live in.


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Review: "Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job"

TITLE: Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job: How the Oldest Book in the Bible Answers Today's Scientific Questions
AUTHOR: Hugh Ross
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011, (240 pages).

This book uncovers a lot of stuff. It also covers a wide range of reasons surrounding the biblical perspective of the world. It deals with scientific discoveries. It works through the reasons to believe, and that faith is in fact very reasonable. Through Job, Ross leads the reader to engage the Bible in a whole new way on natural history, timeless questions of God's existence, the creation of the earth, suffering, angels, and many more. He makes an assertion that the book of Job is essentially a gathering of the best minds in the world, through the persons of Job, Bildad, Eliphaz, Zophar, and Elihu. He argues that the book of Job itself speaks against the 'basic tenets of naturalism and deism, evolutionalism and young-earth creationism' (54). He explains that the 'Big Bang Universe' itself needs to be held together by an Intelligent Being who makes sure that life is not 'too fast' or 'too slow' (56-57). He goes through the seven days of creation, and instead of letting Genesis defend itself, he says that Job itself complements Genesis by authenticating the first 12 chapters of Genesis. He argues for the unique place of humans in that they are the only creatures with the capacity to 'think, gain understanding and discern what's wise' (107). Man is much more than apes and animals. Much much more. Nearly six chapters are devoted to distinguishing man and animal, that while man rules over animals, the animals do provide wonderful lessons for humans. Animals can teach humans about God, about ourselves, and about relationships too! Of dinosaurs and Jurassic Park, Ross suggests that such creatures are created on the Fifth Day in Genesis, that animals are there not just for our 'survival,' but also for our 'pleasure, joy, and quality of life' (185).

Finally, and thankfully, Ross deals with the age old topic of suffering. He concludes that Job teaches us not about our suffering or our responses to suffering. It is about God's 'gracious intervention' (200). It is also about how Job's 9 steps in discerning God's redemptive plan, and Elihu's 7 steps in understanding how God redeems.

Closing Thoughts

It is nice to discover a piece of hidden treasure. It is nicer still to realize the treasure is largely undiscovered. As many scientists, philosophers, and theologians continue to dig away at Genesis, few has actually taken the time to dwell in the book of Job. Perhaps, there is a stigma of pain and suffering associated with Job. Perhaps, Job has been largely dismissed as a book of debates between God and the Devil in the heavens, and Job with his friends on earth. Perhaps, there is too much poetry in the book of Job that many living in a scientific and technological world tend to avoid. I am glad that Ross has provided a refreshing contribution to the understanding of creation and the world from the perspective of the Bible, besides Genesis. I find the subtitle of the book overly ambitious. It may lead one to think that Job has been written to answer scientific questions. Far from it. The last part of the book clarifies this by saying that the overall thrust of Job is not about suffering, or about answering scientific questions. Neither is it a text for apologetics. It is about human redemption, how God redeems the world, Job and his friends, and promises that God has consistently asserted throughout the Bible. God's grace and redemption from beginning to end. This message is the greatest treasure that Ross has dug up in this book.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.  Available at your favourite bookseller from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group".

Monday, November 28, 2011

Review: "Engage" (Nelson Searcy & Jason Hatley)

TITLE: Engage: A Guide to Creating Life-Transforming Worship Services
AUTHOR: Nelson Searcy and Jason Hatley
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011, (224 pages).

This is a guide book on crystallizing a philosophy of worship, a plan in preaching, a guide to planning and conducting the weekly Sunday service, a range of evaluation methods, and above all, a practical help for engaging the whole church to worship God in Spirit and in Truth. Extremely readable. Wonderfully practical. Clear and understandable. This book fills in the gap between theology of worship and the practice of it during the worship service. The core belief in the book is that the weekly Church service is never meant to be something that is mundane, boring, stressful, or simply an unthinking matter-of-fact way of life. Instead, it can be managed well. Once a system of planning, preparation, practice, and prayer has been established, the entire worship service can take on a life of its own. When this happens, the worry and stress will not fall upon any one person. It becomes the responsibility of the whole worship team, church leaders, and pastoral group to listen to God and to listen to others.

Part One talks about the PHILOSOPHY of worship. Here, the authors remind readers to take time to work out a unique philosophy for their church. WORSHIP is an acronymn to help describe 7 principles of 'life-transforming worship.'

  • W = 'Work as a Team'
  • O = 'Outline Your Preaching Calendar'
  • R = 'Repentance is the Goal of Worship'
  • S = 'Sunday Matters'
  • H = 'Honor God through Excellence'
  • I = 'Invite People to Take the Next Steps'
  • P = 'Planning Honors God'

Part Two is most relevant to those involved in the preaching ministry. The important point is the planning via a preaching calendar. Apart from the practical steps, several ideas are introduced. For instance,

"The key to planning your preaching for maximum impact is to layer your attraction, growth, and balance series strategically over the natural attendance patterns of your yearly calendar." (71)

The authors provide 13 tips and warn of 3 temptations on preaching.

Part Three brings all the planning together through execution and implementation. Here, planning takes a backseat. The authors keep the overarching purpose of worship again.

"If the goal of your preaching is to connect God's truth to real life in a way that leads to transformation, then it's safe to infer that your overarching goal will be to create a life-transforming worship service each Sunday." (96)

There is the awareness of timelines in the planning. One needs to note the message series as well as the specific Sunday timeline. There is also the suggestions of three different kinds of worship formats. The first is the 'simple worship order' which simply allows the singing to form the first part, and the preaching to comprise the next. Second, the 'split' service modifies the simple format by having a singing-preaching followed by a second set of singing-preaching format. Third, there is the 'salsa worship order' which essentially mixes the worship, the preaching, the announcements in creative ways. Chief to the overall worship service is the need to have clear communications among all worship participants.

Part Four deals with the evaluation and the improvement aspect. There is always something to learn and to improve.

Closing Thoughts

I can summarize the key to the weekly service as follows.

  • Before the service: Plan and pray
  • During the Service: Practice and pray
  • After the Service: Prepare again and pray
This book enables the busy pastor, church leader, or lay persons interested in improving and designing the weekly Sunday service to be life-transforming. There are plenty of ideas shared from the experiences of the authors. They are not rocket science, but are highly practical. I appreciate the way the authors provide examples throughout the book, and in the appendix.  I believe this book can reach out to many different quarters in any church.  For the new reader, it gives an idea that a worship service is a team effort. For the more laid-back, it reminds one not to take the worship team, the pastor, or those serving each week for granted. For the stressed out and tired ones, this book shows us that through planning, such anxiety and stress can be minimized. For the pastor, it is a reminder again that the church belongs to God, and prayer is a demonstration of that trust. For the easily worried, this book is an encouragement on why we need not worry.

Nevertheless, I am a little disappointed that the book does not have a chapter or two that specifically deals with how to choose songs for worship, grooming worship leaders, the use of hymnals, the instruments used, or the nitty-gritty of setting up the music. Perhaps, future editions can incorporate this important aspect.

In summary, one is reminded again, that behind the regular Church service, the seemingly smooth execution of worship and preaching, there is a ton of activities, planning, praying, and communicating going on during the other six days. When you are feeling stressed out or running out of ideas, pick up this book. Engage is worth the read. For the weary, it will lift your sagging spirits.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group".

Saturday, November 26, 2011

"Pastor's Handbook" (John Bisagno)

TITLE: Pastor's Handbook
AUTHOR: John Bisagno
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2011, (400 pages).

This book updates the classic, "How to Build an Evangelistic Church' published in 1971.  Filled with snippets of wisdom and practical tips about the pastoral ministry, the book is basically a general manual for ministry. Divided into 12 parts, 160 chapters, and a massive 400 pages of advice, this volume attempts to give pastors, ministry leaders, and church workers a reference for most conceivable areas of church or parachurch ministries. Part One sets the stage by tackling the fundamental make-up of the Church. It is God's ministry, ran by God's servants through a leadership structure, and governance. Parts Two affirms the place of the pastor's calling. Parts Three and Four deals with leadership matters. Part Five details the ministry of preaching. Part Six and Seven are about Church worship services and various ministries. Part Eight with staff relationships and part Nine with financial matters. Parts Ten to Eleven are other related matters that may seem mundane but essential for proper administration and wise management. Finally, Part Twelve contains 20 helpful advice about contemporary issues that are common in this modern era.

The way the book is arranged represents an intentionality that begins with God, continues in leadership, and exercised through the various avenues of ministries inside and outside of the church. It takes an experienced pastor to be able to pack so much information into one volume. This book is more than a quick reference for the busy pastor or minister. It is a guide for anyone fresh in the pastoral ministry. It is another one of those books that fit into the category of stuff that seminaries do not explicitly teach. It is brief but not lacking in comprehensiveness. It is simple but not simplistic. It is a large compendium but can be read and appreciated in a piecemeal manner. If you have just enough money to spend on a reference book for practical pastoral advice, this is the one to invest in.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free of charge by B&H Publishing and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered are mine.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Review: "The Church Leader's Handbook"

TITLE: The Church Leader's Handbook - A Guide to Counseling Families and Individuals in Crisis
AUTHOR: William R. Cutrer
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2009, (171 pages).

Pastoral care is a huge area of ministry in any church. The needs are so wide-ranging that it is impossible for pastors to meet the needs of every member. One can practise pastoral care without the need to bear the title of 'pastor.' Anyone in leadership can exercise care for the congregation. Thus, the title of the book is more inclusive, lest anyone thinks that it is only for pastors. As a physician, a minister, as well as a seminarian, Cutrer brings a holistic perspective to equipping members in the church for crisis care. For the author, 'crisis care is simply love in action' (9).

Whether it is grief, tragedy, crisis pregnancy, sudden illness, sexual abuse, suicide, infertility, marriage, and so on, the author holds five main requirements for ministry in crisis.

  1. It recognizes that 'value' of a Spirit-filled person who enters into the pain of another person.
  2. It requires consistent prayer before, during, and after the visitation.
  3. It requires patient listening and measured words.
  4. It requires a humble dependence on the Lord.
  5. It requires community where the resources of the church body is part of the solution.

Ministry in love can come forth in at least four strategic ways.

  1. Be present and available
  2. Be aware of the history of the person as much as possible
  3. Be focused on the present situation
  4. Be willing to come alongside the person(s).

Cutrer goes into very specific details about how to show care for different situations. What I find helpful is way the author weaves his training and experience together. For example, his model for biblical counseling includes relational models (as minister to show care), psychodynamic and physiologic models (as physician to show understanding), and prognosis (as seminarian to bring hope). At the end of the book, there are ten case studies that cover the wide ranging crisis situations.

This is a very practical book for ministry. The tips are easy to understand but challenging to practice at an emotional level. I recommend this book highly for anyone doing pastoral care and any layperson wanting to demonstrate love in action, especially during a crisis. This book is helpful before, during, and after any crisis.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Review: "Christianity" (Jonathan Hill)

TITLE: Christianity: How a Despised Sect from a Minority Religion Came to Dominate the Roman Empire
AUTHOR: Jonathan Hill
PUBLISHER: Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2011, (256 pages).

This is a brief survey of the early Church and the beginnings of Christianity during the first 400 years. Part One summarizes concisely the life of Jesus and His disciples, and how the early Christians spread the gospel at the risk and payment of their own lives. Setting the first century in the context of the Jewish culture, it tells us that the early believers begin victorious in faith, and die bravely in martyrdom. Each persecution leads to a bigger charge of faith. From the first apostles in the rural areas, to Paul and the Galileans in big cities, the Christian faith means everything to these believers to the point that they are willing to give up their lives for the preservation and dissemination of the good news of Jesus. Through oral traditions, through the written word, and through their living testimonies, external threats fail to diminish the movement.

The next 2 centuries (Part Two and Three) deal with a bigger threat: Inner dissensions and false teachings. Here, the author gives readers an insight into the troubled relationships inside the churches, their conflicts between Christian and Jewishness, roles of men and women, the infiltration of worldliness in the church, and the writing of John's Revelation to encourage the Church to look forward to hope in the midst of a difficult time during the Roman era. The internal threats are many: Sexual immorality, theological errors, disunity within the church, and many other petty quarrels that lead to divisions. This period also sees the bright sides of the faith. From this era we have many brilliant theologians and philosophers who fight boldly for the truth, preach Christ passionately, and are unwavering in their convictions. Much of modern philosophy owes its beginnings to philosophers like Origen, Plato, Socrates, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Cyprian of Carthage, etc. The third century ends with perhaps the highest and most intense phase of persecutions ever known in the history of the Church.

This brings us to the final part. It begins with the fourth century, most notably with the Edict of Milan in AD323. Here, the threats have turned into inner complacency and corruption. With official sanctioning of Christianity as the official religion of Rome, troubles begin almost immediately. The sudden increase in size raises the question of how 'Christian' are believers. Hill describes the predicament as follows:

"Just how 'Christian' were these new congregations? It is easy to imagine that many might have joined the religion because they thought it politically or socially expedient, or simply because it was fashionable." (178)

Then comes the monastic era which essentially saves not just the Christian Church, but the entire civilization of Europe.

Closing Thoughts

The title of this book is a little misleading. The subtitle clarifies it a little more, but does not go far enough. I believe a more accurate title will do better justice to this very good survey of the first 400 years. That aside, this book is brilliant for its clarity and focus on what it means to be a Christian throughout the different eras. We can all learn something from each era. From the Early Church, we learn that the Christian faith has not come to us cheap. It costs our predecessors their lives. The Synoptic Gospels also reveal to us about the gospels written to believers who have an 'impoverished lifestyle' (40). (Contrast that to modern prosperity gospel thinking.)  The Roman Edict of Milan tells us that political recognition does not mean a better image for Christianity. It brings along more confusion about what true Christianity is all about. It also tells us that external threats are not the only dangers to the Church. The internal threats need to be constantly met by theological defenses, resilient morality, and spiritual unity. These threats are still present today.

I commend this book especially to anyone new to Church history. Who says history is boring? Definitely not when you read this book.

Rating: 4.5


Friday, November 18, 2011

Review: "The Love and Respect Experience"

TITLE: The Love & Respect Experience: A Husband-Friendly Devotional that Wives Truly Love
AUTHOR: Emerson Eggerichs
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2011, (295 pages).

This is one of the best couples' devotional available in the market right now. In a market where couples' devotionals tend to appeal more to women, this devotional seeks to correct the tilt by presenting the material that meets BOTH sexes. It is based on the best selling "Love & Respect" book about a simple idea: husbands to learn to love their wives, and wives to respect their husbands. It practices the three cycles, and hones in on the Pink and Blue lenses of couples. The Crazy Cycle says:
"Without love, she reacts without respect. Without respect, he reacts without love."
The Energizing Cycle asserts:
"His love motivates her respect. Her respect motivates his love."
The Rewarded Cycle promises the ultimate goal:
"His love blesses regardless of her respect. Her respect blesses regardless of his love."
One way to consistently put these cycles into practice is by adopting the COUPLE (for women) and the CHAIRS (for men) acronyms. With 52 devotionals, one per week, the author encourages couples to work at it freely without couples coercing the other to do it. There is no need to do the same devotional at the same time. In other words, couples can work on a different devotional each week with a simple promise to discuss it at some point in the journey. The key thing is to let the devotional help the husband to see from the 'pink' perspective by using the COUPLE method, and the wife to see from the 'blue' perspective by adopting the CHAIRS method. As a devotional, the chapter is intentionally brief so that the reader can consider the insight and the questions in a more reflective manner.

COUPLE = Closeness; Openness; Understanding; Peacemaking; Loyalty; Esteem.

CHAIRS = Conquest; Hierarchy; Authority; Insight; Relationship; Sexuality.

My Thoughts

It is very tempting to be dismissive of such books saying: "I've heard that before." or "There is nothing new in it." I beg to differ. While there is not much novelty or great revelations to the individual, it is not so when worked upon together by husbands and wives. Those with 'pink' lenses may say 'I see,' when she understands the male perspective. Those with 'blue' lenses may think, 'Oops!' when he discovers the female point of view.

The result is a surprisingly effective marriage relationship manual cum devotional. It reminds me again that the most effectual stuff are those that are simple and easy to apply. This book meets the grade. The look and feel of the book cover tells us that the book is meant to be used frequently, perhaps to be shared by many. That is why the quality of the cover pages are of a higher quality. Kudos to the publisher for their thoughtfulness. Complete with a suggested prayer and a probing question, the chapters are written to be understood easily and practically. After all, a devotional should be free of theological jargon or excessive details, so that couples can browse casually through the book at bedtime. More importantly, they should be spending more time talking to each other instead of focusing on the book. The appendices at the back of the book are extremely helpful as they summarize the main ideas of L&R, and provide additional discussion questions and resources. I highly recommend this book for all couples, both married and unmarried. The price of this book is far cheaper than marital counselling. Perhaps, it can even save a marriage!

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


Book has been provided courtesy of Thomas Nelson and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.
Available at your favourite bookseller from Thomas Nelson.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Review: "Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism"

TITLE: Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology)
EDITORS: Collin Hansen & Andrew David Naselli
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011, (224 pages).

Many people call themselves 'evangelicals' by name, but disagree among themselves more often than not. Whether in the academy, in both denominational, independent or non-denominational churches in  evangelicalism, scholars, pastors, teachers and laypersons, it is hard to find a united front when it comes to what evangelicals actually believe. Part of the problem is basically the lack of understanding of another fellow brother or sister's version of belief. Another problem also stems from one's lack of understanding of what one believes. Throughout this book, there is a sense of openness with pockets of strongly worded beliefs. The very nature of the discussion encourages the frank sharing, hence the no-holds-barred tone of the book conditioned by moments of charitable words for one another. Collin Hansen describes the problem as follows:

"Evangelicals recognize that Scripture trumps every human authority, yet they do not agree on the extent and nature of biblical authority. They do not regard every theological issue as equally clear-cut or crucial, yet they do not agree on which doctrines should be of first importance." (16)
The editors invite all the four scholars to both commend their respective movements at their best and to critique them honestly at their worst. At the same time, three important questions are broached.
  1. How do they view 'Christian cooperation?'
  2. What do they think about open theism?
  3. What is their understanding of 'penal substitutional atonement?' (or what they mean about Christ taking on God's wrath against sinners) 
The first person, Kevin T. Bauder represents the 'Fundamentalism' perspective whose 'primary motive is the unity and fellowship of the church' (21).

The second contributor, Albert Mohler represents the 'Confessional Evangelicalism' position which is basically defined based on 'historical, phenomelogical, and normative' contexts (70). All these three contexts are to be held together in order to maintain such an identity of a confessional evangelical. He tries to be as inclusive as possible by pointing to a larger task of evangelical being 'centered' on the love of Christ and 'bounded' by set of beliefs that reflect that love.

The third participant is Regent-College's John Stackhouse Jr, who stands for the oddly named 'Generic Evangelicalism' position which comprises two definitions. The first is a hybrid of two scholars: David Bebbington's popular 4 criteria of evangelicalism and George Marsden's transdenominationalism of uniting for a common concern. The second refers to evangelicalism as a 'movement' that contains a 'cluster of convictions.' (123)

The result is a six-criteria summarized by 'crucicentric,' 'biblicist,' 'conversionist,' 'missional,' 'transdenominational,' followed by a trinity of ortho-terms: Orthodoxy, Orthopraxy, and Orthopathy.

The fourth is Roger Olsen who represents the Postconservative Evangelicalism perspective.  He blows away any need to classify boundaries of evangelicalism, choosing instead to say that unlike an organization, evangelicalism is a movement that has 'no definable boundaries and cannot have them' (163).

My Thoughts

I can sense the struggle each contributor has about asserting what they believe, and at the same time, not condemning alternative points of view. This is also evident through their own awareness about differences of opinion from within their domestic movement. Hence, there are frequent qualifiers in each of their statements. They are scholars after all, and while they are able to quote other works, it is also important that they do not misquote another person. The latter is made a lot easier in honing, correcting, or clarifying the views through the immediate interactions of the other contributors with each of the four positions. I admit that the discussion will appeal more to the theological community rather than the general layperson. It is most likely suitable for any seminary courses on evangelicalism, and to a limited extent, Christian Education courses in churches. I like the graciousness and the thoughtful perspectives of the writers including the editors.

Here is my verdict. The intent of this book is to 'help correct' any misperceptions and to encourage a 'better understanding' of the different views of evangelicalism. Somehow, I feel that this book does a better job at 'correcting' rather than 'understanding' one another. More specifically, and understandably, the four main contributors do a better job at 'correcting' while the two editors do an excellent job at 'understanding.'

Four Views of Evangelicalism is more an initiative to encourage conversation rather than blatant conversion of each other. This in itself is a mark of scholarship. One does not need to agree with any one perspective in order to talk. Good talk begins with charitable hearts, something that Stackhouse shines in this book. I like the clarity of Mohler and Bauder, and the openness of Roger Olsen. One can let the different opinions open up new ground for understanding, and perhaps deeper cooperation between the different groups. In the end, the four contributors seem more passionate about defending their distinctive positions than to answer the three questions laid out. It takes the Andrew David Naselli's summary to bring together all the viewpoints in his closing summary. Given the mood of the discussion, I will not be surprised if some (even all) of the four scholars take issue with Naselli's observations. So, which view am I more inclined toward? At the risk of appearing biased, after considering the four views, I find that I have more points of agreement with my seminary professor.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Zondervan and NetGalley without any obligation of a positive review. Opinions offered above are mine.