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Monday, October 31, 2011

Book Review: "The Radical Disciple"

TITLE: The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling
AUTHOR: John Stott
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2011.

This is the last book published by the late Rev John Stott. After many decades of faithful ministries, teaching and guiding believers young and old toward the path of discipleship, Stott crystallizes his experience and insights into this final book of 'neglected aspects of our calling.' In this book, he lists 8 such aspects:
  1. Nonconformity
  2. Christlikeness
  3. Maturity
  4. Creation Care
  5. Simplicity
  6. Balance
  7. Dependence
  8. Death
He begins the book with a question of whether believers in Christ ought to be called 'Christians' or 'disciples.'  For Stott, it is a no-brainer. The word 'Christian' is only used three times in the New Testament, while 'disciple' is used frequently. For Stott, discipleship means three things: Wholehearted, radical, and non-selective.
  1. "Genuine discipleship is wholehearted discipleship." (15)
  2. Radical discipleship is deeply rooted, where one's opinion 'went to the roots' and is 'thoroughgoing' in commitment. (15)
  3. It is a discipleship that is non-selective, that it is God who picks and chooses, not us.
With these, Stott goes on to dedicate a chapter to each of the eight aspects of radical discipleship. On nonconformity, Stott lists 4 major secular trends that the radial disciple cannot conform to: Pluralism, materialism, ethical relativism, and narcissism. On Christlikeness, he writes about the disciple having a laserlike focus on becoming like Christ. This is done by incarnation, service, love, patient endurance, and mission. At the same time, the path to Christlikeness cannot be allowed to be derailed by suffering and any resistance to evangelism. The radical disciple cannot serve on the basis of one's own strength without the help of the Holy Spirit. On maturity, Stott lists physical, intellectual, moral, emotional maturity, and spiritual maturity as areas to look at. He pays special attention to spiritual maturity, that one's relationship with Christ needs to grow deep.

"To be mature is to have a mature relationship with Chrsit in which we worship, trust, love, and obey him." (42)

On creation care, Stott points out three fundamental relationships God has made right from the beginning.
  • Relationship with God
  • Relationship with one another
  • Relationship with creation
The earth 'belongs to God by creation,' and to mankind by 'delegation.' He adds three key points with regards to creation care. Firstly, we must avoid making nature a god. Instead of revering, we learn to respect. Secondly, we cannot exploit nature. Thirdly, we learn to cooperate with God on the overall care of creation.

On simplicity, Stott deals with the issues of money and possessions, primarily through the "Evangelical Commitment to Simple Lifestyle.' Such a lifestyle aims at becoming the new community in God, a personal lifestyle of simple living without the frills, international development to reduce world poverty, participating in positive change in justice and politics, responsible witness and evangelism, and serving the least among us till Christ returns. On balance, the radical disciple grows on the right diet, becomes living stones, and holy priests. He uses six images for growth (97-98).
  1. as newborn babes we are called to growth;
  2. as living stones, we are called to fellowship
  3. as holy priests, we are called to worship
  4. as God's own people, we are called to witness;
  5. As aliens and strangers, we are called to holiness;
  6. As servants of God, we are called to pilgrimate and citizenship.
On dependence, Stott uses the Lord's prayer to show 6 kinds of petitions that express our dependence on God. The first three expresses our dependence on God, (His Name, His Kingdom, His Will). The next three is dependence on God's grace (daily bread, forgiveness, deliverance from evil). Using his own frailty as examples, he shows us how he learns to depend on others in a very personal way.

On death, he presents to readers an interesting paradox where for the Christian, in dying to self there is life in Christ. There are six ways that demonstrate this. Firstly, in salvation, Christ died for us that we may live. Secondly, in discipleship we are called to die to self and live in Christ. In mission, suffering is a given as Stott uses martyrdom to explain the calling to die as a 'means to a life of fruitfulness.' In persecution, as we are aware of physical mortality, we are also acutely aware of spiritual immortality in Christ. The last two is martyrdom and mortality.

My comments

This book can only be written by a man who has gone through the school of tough discipleship and disciple making. Admittedly, this book may not be as theologically profound as some of Stott's earlier books. Yet, considering the frail condition that he is in during the final years before he died, this book is simply amazing. This book is a lot more personal to Stott, and also incorporates a lot of editorial assistance, contributions from others, a well as professional editing. While the book has Stott's name, the style of the book appears like it has been pieced together by others. Certainly the ideas resemble the conventional Stott. The convictions are still strong. Just the theological design is not the normal Stott.

Nevertheless, this book is a wake up call and a wise counsel from a very wise man. Let us not continue to neglect these aspects of calling when we are still young. Let us live as radical disciples, now.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Review: "Work Matters"

TITLE: Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work
AUTHOR: Tom Nelson
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011, (213 pages).

The dichotomy between work and faith continues to be a challenge for many. Pious Christians go to Church each Sunday to worship and to rest from work. When Monday comes, how does that act of faith influence the rest of the week? Sadly, many people throughout the world struggle to make the connection. Often, people see weekends as a needed break from dreary work. This book attempts to provide some answers to two big questions:
  • Is our faith making a difference in our work?
  • Is our work making any difference in the world?
The core conviction of the book is: "Work matters. A lot." Using Os Guinness descriptions of primary calling (to Christ) and secondary calling (to our work), Nelson deals the various aspects of this particular calling. We are created by God with work in mind. Through work, we continue to the productivity in the world. We steward what is given to us. Through work, we worship God.

Unfortunately, sin and the fall of man has disrupted the nature of work. Thus, work can be painful, discouraging, distorted. Some of us work too hard (workaholic). Others work too little (sloth).  For Christians, they differentiate secular work from sacred work, leading to a dualism that is unhealthy. Nelson introduces the idea of the gospel lived out in our work. When redeemed, work is not just satisfying, it transforms self and others. Nelson makes this poignant observation that if the future is bright and glorious, surely present work is more meaningful and purposeful. The key is to grasp the way our present work fits with the future vision.

"I believe Jesus' parable of the talents not only encourages us to gospel readiness, but also encourages us to more seamlessly connect our Sunday faith with our Monday work." (70)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Book Review: "The Bible in World History"

TITLE: The Bible in World History: How History and Scripture Intersect (Illustrated Bible Handbook Series)
AUTHOR: Stephen Leston
PUBLISHER: Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour Publishers, 2011, (274 pages).

Expansive. Illuminating. Colourful. With clear diagrams, pictures, and photos strategically placed throughout, this book is a pleasure to behold. Unlike some encyclopedias, dictionaries, atlases, or similar survey of biblical history, this book packs a wallop without becoming too bulky to carry. Convenient to carry around, the reader will be captivated by the beautiful illustrations, and the clear point by point explanation of the Bible in history. The author's main purpose is to understand world history through the Bible. Leston's conviction is:

"Only a Christian view of history truly addresses the issues that drive mankind, and thus only a Christian worldview can give us what we need to understand the world around us." (2)

I will review the book in three ways. Firstly, I want so see how well it has demonstrated the strengths of the Christian worldview. Secondly, how has the book allowed the Bible to speak for itself? Thirdly, why should you read this book?

1) Has the book demonstrated the strengths of the Christian worldview?

Leston highlights the 6 Christian beliefs that make up the Christian worldview.

  1. It is a recognition that God is the Creator of the world. 
  2. It is an affirmation that in the end, God's Kingdom reigns forever. 
  3. The Bible is God's revelation to man, through the 66 books of the Bible. 
  4. God is the Redeemer of the world.  
  5. Judgment for the evil ones who refuse to repent.
  6. All creation will acknowledge the Glory of God. Eventually.

I must say that the author does a great job in constantly comparing the Bible event with a major world event. Using the Bible as a backdrop, he then weaves in archaelogical research from all other cultures and summarizes it side by side. Each chapter ends with a 2-column comparison of Bible history and world history. With the Bible as reference, the whole book looks firm. All understanding and learning needs to be based on a solid reference point. The Bible is that reference point, and it makes the reading of the book readable and the flow logical. In fact, the history of the non-biblical world has enhanced and illuminated the Bible passages. Thus, it is not the Bible that is lending a framework to world history, but world history enriching and illuminating many parts of Scripture. I like the way the histories of other cultures have been introduced. The link between the history in the biblical world and the non-biblical world is largely based on the timescale, rather than any political alliances or direct historical interaction between the biblical world and the non-biblical world. For example, on China, there is no direct relationship between the Chinese authorities and the Israelites at that time. The basic links are essentially by themes. Like war and suffering; or religious development. My conclusion is that the biblical worldview makes sense for two reasons. Firstly, there is a lot of archaelogical research and evidence that supports the Christian worldview. Secondly, the Bible is a unifying document, considering that despite the thousands of years of history, the Bible uniquely points to a common God consistently.

2) Has the Bible been fairly portrayed?

Mostly yes. The historical overview gives Bible readers a fresh understanding of the contexts of the biblical text. It informs, enhances, and gives readers a lot of incentive to read the Bible more. While the outline of the biblical material is logical, the book has to be seen as one that attempts to interpret world history from the biblical standpoint rather than an atlas or encyclopedia of the Bible. That said, for the purposes of this book, the Bible has been fairly portrayed.

I like particularly the three-fold emphasis throughout the book. Firstly, the sacred history uses the biblical view as a basis for reading world history. This is consistent with the way the world uses the BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini) notations when referencing time periods. Secondly, the secular history is not forcibly merged into the Jewish historical context but compared in parallel, albeit geographically distant. Thirdly, the redemptive history demonstrates a hope for the future. This is great because unlike some history books that live in the past, this book adopts history with an optimistic hope for the coming kingdom of Christ.

3) Why you should read this book?

If you are new to biblical history, this book benefits you because of its clear overview of the contexts of the bible lands. This book enhances our understanding of history, culture, and people throughout history. If you are a preacher or a teacher, this book is a wonderful resource to teach beginner classes about biblical history.  Unlike books that are wordy, this book combines the best of storytelling, archaelogical research, and some history of non-Jewish culture. It will give readers in the Western world a better glimpse of ancient cultures outside the Western hemisphere. Even non-Christians can benefit from the reading of this book.

In summary, I believe this book enhances our understanding of the Bible as well as an appreciation of the world history according to the Bible.

Ratings: 4 stars of 5.


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

Friday, October 28, 2011

Book Review: "Chaos and Grace"

TITLE: Chaos and Grace: Discovering the Liberating Work of the Holy Spirit
AUTHOR: Mark Galli
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011, (203 pages).

When Mark Galli writes, he makes me ponder. Most importantly, he has the ability to rummage through my comfort zones and to rake up any leaves of comfort and complacency. This book is no different. In "Chaos and Grace," Galli points his guns at our human tendency to want to control our lives. When men tries to control their lives or the lives of other people, they will be tempted to even try to control God. The result is emotional chaos and spiritual pandemonium. Until one learns to submit to the Holy Spirit prompting us to relinquish control to God, we will learn to see grace and to live in freedom to God.

Galli argues rightly that Christianity is more than a religion, more than inspiration, more than programming, and more than a 'religion of comfort and encouragement' (17).  He writes:

"But this God seems addicted to risk rather than religion, to freedom rather than control, to love rather than law." (33)
Going through the Old Testament and New Testament, Galli breezes through the beginning of the Bible with an insightful look at the intentional way God injects chaos in his creative act of revealing his goodness. He points out the deteriorating level of human control addiction from Adam/Eve to Shinarian's Tower of Babel; from Abraham's trying to control his future and yet unable to control his offsprings. In the New Testament, Galli describes how sin is essentially a refusal to trust God. He says:

"Sin is fundamentally a desire for order where God does not want order and to control that which God does not want us to control." (75)
The second part of his book goes into specific applications with regards to how we can learn to relinquish control from ourselves, to release control to God. This is true freedom, where the Holy Spirit will be free to act, and human beings free to obey.  Galli provides at least eight ways to do just that.

  1. We need to move away from the 'horizontal' focus on the needs of people, to the 'vertical' focus of what Christ has done, is doing, and will be doing.
  2. We need to move from our self-centered versions of justice, reasoning, and controlling to the Holy Spirit's act of grace.
  3. We need to move from wilful optimism of our human wisdom to a sharp hope on the Resurrection of Jesus.
  4. We are not called to be 'Christian marketers' but we are to be 'witnesses for Christ.'
  5. We need to get away from enslaving ourselves with trying to manage our spiritual lives, to letting God manage us.
  6. We need to move away from a fear-driven control that tries to hide our human shame, TO an obedience that is laced with 'risk-filled' commands.
  7. We need to move away from the seductions of power to live simply on the simple promise of God.
  8. We need to snap out of worldly imagination of utopia to a godly embrace of church.
My Comments

Galli shines in his critique of the controlling disposition of many church people. With his keen understanding on contemporary church life, and deep awareness of the prevailing American context of comfort, security, and control, Galli tries hard to wake the Church up. He does a brilliant job to remind readers not to be too one-dimensional in their Christian living and thinking. Living a Christian life cannot be limited only to the human emotions of good feeling, great preaching, or professional programming. He is spot on about the nature of human addiction to control. Using powerful stories from the Bible, he argues convincingly that God often use 'chaos' to rough us up, in order to bring us back to God. In fact, while many believes that mercy, peace, and blessings continue to be seen as evidence of God's grace, Galli is wise to point us about the other dimension. Chaos can also be seen as a grace of God. This particular insight is certainly worth the price of the book. The Grace of God is present even when Chaos Reign or Grace Shines.

Ratings: 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".

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Book Review: "The Road to Missional"

TITLE: Road to Missional, The: Journey to the Center of the Church (Shapevine)
AUTHOR: Michael Frost
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011.

'Missional' seems to be the word in fashion these days, especially among churches that want to jazz up their Christian mission and evangelism strategies. As Alan Hirsch in the preface puts it, 'if everything becomes missional, then nothing becomes missional.' Well said.

Frost makes a passionate plea to Christians not to confuse missional with evangelism or missionary zeal that focuses more on the strategies of conversion and numbers of converts. Missional is much more than that. For Frost, missional is both an announcement of the reign of God, and a demonstration of the love of Christ. It is alerting people to become more curious and interested in the gospel, just like movie trailers make people interested to want to see the movie.

  • "Mission is not primarily concerned with church growth. It is primarily concerned with the reign and rule of the Triune God. If the church grows as a result, so be it." (24)
  • "It is our automatic response to God's reign and rule, proven through Christ, revealed through the Spirit. Therefore, any collective of believers set free from the disorder of this present age, who offer themselves in service of the mission of their God to alert people to the new unfolding order of things, can rightly be called a missional church." (38)
Missional is not about evangelism, It is not about sending, but being sent. Missional is like slow cooking, where disciples incarnate deeply within the communities they are in or called to be in. No quick fix. No rush to pile up numbers of conversions. No snappy 'four spiritual laws.' Frost helpfully tells us what evangelism is and what it is not (46). 

Neither is 'missional' about adapting to the market requirements, where membership numbers and strategies to attract church attendance are key. Frost warns us about the dangers of turning missional into another marketing technique where consumerism tastes become primary. There is also a danger of adapting the church strategies to worldly capitalistic ideas. There is also a section of five fatal capitalistic flaws so well articulated by Michael Schluter.

Thankfully, Frost does not just do a good job at debunking the myths and erroneous ways to be missional. He points out basically three ways where missional truly reflects the reign of God in the world we are called to be. Firstly, missional is about the cause of Christ, in the Cross that is humiliated but triumphant. Through the cross, disciples reveal Christ in their identity and their works. Secondly, it is about 'breathing shalom' where the peace of God, hope in Christ, drives us toward bringing justice and reconciliation to a broken world. Thirdly, it is imitating the example of Jesus who 'moved into the neighbourhood' to live among the lost. 

My Comments

This is a very important book for all churches to learn from. Missional is not simply a concept, a marketing technique, or a programme on the church calendar. It is a way of life. It is a journey to the cross, through the cross, and from the cross. As churches continue to try to 'spice up' their outreach efforts with newer strategies, invariably, the idea of 'missional' will become a means to their ends. Frost has the foresight to use this book as a guide to help churches avoid being derailed from the true meaning of missional. I love the way Frost debunk the two major misunderstandings of missional thinking, that missional is neither a upgraded form of 'evangelism' nor a marketing gimmick to increase church membership. It is most crucially a lifestyle that flows out of the reign of God in each and every disciple of Christ.

The metaphor of a movie trailer is brilliant. I appreciate the list of applications toward the end of the book that provides ideas to kick start our creative department. Well-researched, this book is poised to make a big impact in the area of missional thinking, planning, and living in churches and Christian communities everywhere. If you have a Church library, this book is a must have.

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 Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group".

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Book Review: "The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace"

TITLE: The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People
AUTHOR: Gary D. Chapman and Paul E. White
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2011.

It seems like "The 5 love languages" first made popular by Dr Gary Chapman has moved from relationships in couples, friends, and loved ones, to relationships in the office. In this latest version, Chapman lets his 5 love languages be applied to the research of his co-author, Paul White about the workplace. The key thesis of the book is described by the authors as follows:

"We believe that people in the workplace (whether a paid or volunteer position) need to feel appreciation in order for them to enjoy the job, do their best work, and continue working over the long haul." (27)

Instead of 'love' which brings connotations of office romance, or weirdness to a supposedly businesslike office environment, the terminology has been changed to '5 languages of appreciation.' The key ingredient in the book is 'appreciation.' Briefly, the five languages are:

  1. Words of Affirmation
  2. Quality Time
  3. Acts of Service
  4. Tangible Gifts
  5. Physical Touch
The book is structured in four sections. In Section One, the foundations basically consist of an explanation of the 'MBA' (Motivation By Appreciation). It makes a few observations as follows:

  • "The number one factor in job satisfaction is not the amount of pay but whether or not the individual feels appreciated and valued for the work they do." (13)
  • That every individual has a primary, a secondary, as well as a tertiary language of appreciation
  • "Each of us wants to know that what we are doing matters." (22)
  • "For recognition and appreciation to be effective, it must be individualized and delivered personally." (23)
  • "appreciation needs to be viewed as valuable to the recipient in order to have an impact." (23)
  • "Employees are more likely to burn out when they do not feel appreciated or emotionally supported by their supervisors." (23)
  • "When leaders actively pursue communicating appreciation to their team members, the whole work culture improves." (25)
Using the Return on Investment (ROI) terminology, it is worthwhile to focus on appreciation as staff turnover can be very costly for an organization as it directly impacts the bottom line. The five greatest challenges for managers are:
  1. "Discouragement
  2. Burnout
  3. Feeling overwhelmed
  4. losing the positive corporate culture built over the years
  5. how to encourage employees with few financial resources available. " (34)
The key finding in the research is:

"Going to work in an environment where there is a sense of appreciation for what we contribute is more enjoyable than doing the same tasks (for the same money) and not feeling valued by those around us." (42)
The authors then describe in great detail about each of the five MBA languages in Section Two. In 'Words of affirmation,' one demonstrates appreciation through praise for accomplishments, affirmation of character, understanding personality traits, and knowing how and when to affirm. In 'Quality Time,' one demonstrates MBA through precise listening, really value employee comments, or simply spending meaningful time at various activities like an occasional coffee chat, an outing, dinner with the family, and playing hard as well as working hard. In 'Acts of Service,' one builds community through teamwork, volunteering to help others while maintaining one's responsibility well, having a positive attitude, and to provide a positive part in culture building. In 'Tangible Gifts,' one needs to identify what is the right gift, and who the right person is. One needs to know what gifts are valued and that gifts need to be thoughtful. Of course, it is also important to know that certain other gifts may have negative connotations. It can also be in kind like time off, or volunteering. In 'Physical Touch,' it needs to be done in a culturally acceptable and socially appropriate manner, like a handshake, a good pat on the back, or a nice high-five. At all times, be sensitive about sexual harassment matters. If in doubt, always ask.

Section Three describes the inventory list of questions and procedures to discover the MBA languages. Section Four brings everything together by listing some common obstacles to a successful MBA exercise. I like the top 10 easiest ways to do the MBA.
  1. Give a verbal compliment
  2. Write an email to encourage
  3. Stop by to see how a colleague is doing
  4. Do something WITH your co-worker
  5. Do a small task for someone spontaneously
  6. Stop by anytime to ask if they need help
  7. Buy them coffee or snacks
  8. Get a magazine for them to read
  9. Give a high-five after every milestone
  10. Warmly greet one another.

My Comments

This is overall a very positive book. I am surprised by the simplicity and effectiveness of the concept. I particularly like the way the authors make a distinction between 'recognition' and 'appreciation.'

  • Recognition emphasizes on performance; while MBA is on the value of the employee
  • Recognition benefits only a few; MBA can reach many
  • Recognition is more top-down; MBA can be from any direction
  • Recognition can be costly; MBA is affordable
The authors are also very thoughtful to include the non-profit sections of society. This is most important as appreciation in such organizations tend to presume that people CHOOSES to be in the organization in the first place, as they are not usually paid. I will even say that appreciation for the non-profit workplace is even more crucial. The biggest costs to such organizations is again, staff turnover. Better to invest well through appreciation right from the start. I too like the appendices which contains lots of resources and helps.

Perhaps, in closing, the biggest risk of MBA is NOT to do any appreciation exercise. This I believe is the most important idea to take home. Great book.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is supplied to me free, courtesy of Moody Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. The comments above are freely mine.

Friday, October 21, 2011

"Close Enough to Hear God Breathe"

TITLE: Close Enough to Hear God Breathe: The Great Story of Divine Intimacy
AUTHOR: Greg Paul
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2011.
REVIEWED BY: Conrade Yap

This book is packed with loads of stuff. If there is one word to describe this book, it will be the word 'intimate.' He begins each chapter with a passage from the Bible to let the Word set the tone for the reflection.  After trying to live out the ancient contexts, he almost immediately transitions back to our modern world with a close-up view of people he has met and got to know in his ministry. He then lets biblical reflection rejoin his ministry outreach before concluding with an intimate embrace, not of men seeking God, but God seeking men.

In order to know each story intimately, two things are necessary: "I must be quiet and I  must be close." (28)

In fact, the title of the book is inspired when he is rocking his only daughter, Rae, to sleep. The book contains many stories and Paul manages to weave them together through the framework of God's relationship with human people.

Part One - The Heart of the Matter
Part Two - Creation
Part Three - The Fall
Part Four - Redemption
Part Five - Consummation

There are rich and humbling stories of how the world has largely discarded and disregarded the marginalized, the poor, the weak, and the largely unnoticed lower echelons of society. There is the homeless like Rob, whom the author finds sprawled, almost dead. There is Chris, the alcoholic and heroin addict, who despite his lifestyle exhibits an amazing mind that stumps even the best doctors in the country, teaching the medical professionals the negative reaction of the liver to the prescribed drug. In his ministry to prostitutes, he discovers that when walking the slums and the dark streets, the danger lies not in the outside, but from within: Sinfulness. There is even a story of the author failing to find acceptance in his former church that he simply had no choice but to leave. Page after page, there is a story being told. Stories of brokenness as well as redemption. Stories of how damaged society is, and how God loves despite the errors of the world. Stories of the author's personal family struggles, as well as how God in the Bible has struggled with the people of Israel.

I must say that this is a very special book that cannot be read quickly, otherwise the intimacy will be lost through speed reading. There is no heavy theological treatise, but heavy heart-to-heart treatment. The best part of the book is how the author reminds the reader that in spite of the brokenness of the world, it is still possible, to come close to God, to hear Him speak.


Ratings: 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".

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Review: "Community"

TITLE: Community: Taking Your Small Group off Life Support (RE: Lit)
AUTHOR: Brad House
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011.

This is a manual for building and re-building community groups from the ground up. Filled with clear tables, vivid diagrams, real-life examples, and practical steps, House provides the Church a clearly written document for building up gospel-centered community groups. Missional in outreach, and transformational for inner living, the idea of community groups is basically one that is centered on the Word, leading to love of God and neighbour.

What the Book is About
Beginning with a critical diagnosis of many modern small groups, House notices that far too many groups are trying to 'do more' instead of to 'be more' (17). Many churches are sleepy or dying simply because they lack the vital community groups. Most of them are basically on 'life-support,' where there is over-emphasis on one or a few key leaders. In a culture that looks more like a collection of disconnected individuals, House wants to encourage the formation of connected communities that knits every member bearing the common identity of the people of God.

Part One works on the foundational blocks of community groups. Based on biblical principles, a community group has a clear sense of identity in being the image of God. They recognize their calling to be a community, to glorify God. They are inspired and empowered by the vision of God's glory and kingdom. They learn that community is not an option but a must have lifestyle. Biblical groups see themselves as the Body of Christ, reflecting the values of the Church. They practice the three key distinctiveness of community groups: Pastoral Care, Discipleship, and Mission. Community groups are essentially people who have a sense of ownership of the group.

Part Two redefines the health of community groups. He contrasts the differences between the poor and the good kinds of groups:

  • Poor groups focus on pragmatic approaches; Great communities begin with convictions;
  • Poor groups react; Good communties are led to vision and envision;
  • Poor groups focus on programs and products; Good communities focus on purpose
  • Poor groups ask about 'what we do'; Good communities work from 'who they are'
  • Poor groups focus on events; Good communities on lifestyle
  • Poor groups tend to be 'life-taking;' Good communities are 'life-giving'
  • Poor groups conform; Good communities are creative
  • Poor groups see meeting up as an obligation; Good communities see meeting up as a blessing.

Part Three talks about effecting change in community groups. Beginning with repentance, the author works through meticulous details to ensure that groups can rebuild well. There is a chapter on 'boot-camp' to give churches and small groups a leg up in reforming their groups, and to take them off life-support.

My Comments

As a believer of community groups, I believe this book is required reading for all pastors, elders, and church leaders. In fact, every church member ought to read this and be convicted about being part of the church. Chapter 4 is worth the price of the book. Filled with powerful comparisons of the poor and the good kinds of community groups, it presents much food for thought for leaders. I enjoy the way the author leads the reader through the weaknesses of traditional life-support groups, to glimpse what biblical groups are made of. The key point is worth emphasizing. The Church is simply not one that contains small groups or collection of individuals for some program or event. It is not one that people gather for the sake of gathering. When groups come together and are united in the name of Christ, they become Church.

Ratings: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free courtesy of Crossway Publications and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. The comments above are freely given.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Book Review: "40 Days to Better Living - Depression"

TITLE: 40 Days to Better Living--Depression
AUTHOR: Scott Morris
PUBLISHER: Uhrichville, OH: Barbour Publishing, 2011.

Six individuals. Forty Days. 2 additional days for reflection. This colourful brochure-cum-recovery manual for individuals coping with depression is an invitation to journey with six persons who have experienced the lowest of emotions. Collected from the ministry of Church Health Center in Memphis, Dr Scott Morris brings together six persons who have gone through the steps to recovery. It is a testimony of a church bringing healing to people who feel down and out. It gently reminds us that one can be down, but not necessarily out.

This is a six week program. Each week, one individual shares about his/her depression condition, and the process that leads to their recovery. Each day begins with an evening meditation, a listing of the medication needed for the day, and some tips on exercise, balance, and specific therapy. There are guidelines to the use of the computer, talk, exercise, medication, support of friends and family, Scripture reading and many more.

On each page, there are encouraging words to urge the reader to move forward constructively. Questions are given to aid reflection and recovery. The daily practices are intentionally made simple and easy to follow. I like the way prayer and Bible is integrated into the healing routine. The day often ends with an affirmation of self-worth, and love of God.

I appreciate the different colours and the space allocated in the book for writing down thoughts and reflections. Meant to be interactive, readers will benefit more if the book can be worked upon together with another person.


This book is provided to me free by Barbour Publishing and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. Comments given are freely mine.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Book Review: "7 Toxic Ideas Polluting Your Mind"

TITLE: 7 Toxic Ideas Polluting Your Mind
AUTHOR: Anthony Selvaggio
PUBLISHER: Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2011.

Amazing. Once in a while, we get a book that speaks frank and direct about what is right and what is wrong. As our world becomes more interconnected, with pluralism and widespread acceptance of everybody regardless of lifestyles, Selvaggio brings clarity without mincing words. The key concern in his book is that toxic ideas will lead to idolatry. Slowly but surely.

A 'toxic idea' is anything that changes a worldview. The author writes:

"The consequences of ideas become even more powerful when these ideas morph into a comprehensive ideology, or worldview. When an idea becomes a worldview, it can alter the entire course of a civilization." (14)

The Seven Toxic Ideas

They are technopoly, neophilia, egalitarianism, individualism, materialism, consumerism, and relativism. The danger of technopoly is due to the uncritical acceptance of technology which leads to 'disengagement, distraction, and disembodiment.' The danger of Neophilia is the uncritical acceptance of all things new, that leads to a disregard for history, choosing progress over preservation, and choosing the new simply because they are 'new' and discarding the old simply because they are 'old.' The danger of egalitarianism is the total disregard for order and hierarchy, placing equal authority on everybody, leading to an inability to discern good from bad, fostering in kids the arrogance of equal rights regardless of how capable they are. The danger of individualism is the way it encourages narcissism, self-indulgence, which ultimately leads to self-destruction. The danger of materialism is that it leads one to subtly reject the fact of man being created by God, that we are of no spiritual significance, and that man can perfect himself. Worse, it can lead man to think that he is God. The danger of consumerism is the tendency to worship our 'stuff' that we live to consume more and more stuff. Pointing out the dangers of the prosperity gospel, and how Church has also been infected by consumerism, the author urges the reader to reject consumerism. The danger of relativism is that it assumes that everything is relative, even God. It projects two errors. Firstly, that it is not possible to know the truth, and secondly, it is possible to avoid truth.

In dealing with all of the toxic ideas, Selvaggio defines what it is. He points out the tricks of the adversary. He lists the dangers in the culture at large, and the insidious dangers when it infects the church. He then goes through some biblical principles before ending with a call to reject such worldliness including the pulpit and at all levels of the church.

My Comments

This is a tough book to read for people who are already steeped in the toxic ideas. Like the proverbial frog in the kettle, the longer we are in the warming waters of the kettle, the less sensitive we are to changes. Selvaggio supports his ideas with frequent references to scholars and influential writers. For instance, the word 'technopoly' is borrowed from the fame cultural critic, Neil Postman. He affirms Marva Dawn and Albert Borgmann's ideas about the dangers of accepting technology uncritically. He quotes DA Carson rather frequently, with thoughts critical of the emerging church movement that tends to adopt too quickly the 'newness' in terms of 'relevance' and jazzy technosavvy programs.  I thought his chapter on egalitarianism is particularly poignant. In an age where many societies are preferring to fight for their rights rather than to discharge their responsibilities, many people base their opinions not because it is right or wrong, but simply because they have a right to say something. The sad thing is that egalitarians may refuse to accept correction arguing that any attack on his ideas constitute an infringement on his rights! Now, that is toxic!

Some may critique the book for being too 'fundamentalist' or too 'rightist.' I prefer to see otherwise. The book is basically a warning against the wholesale integration of these worldly ideas that masquerades themselves in becoming all things to all people. I believe this book is an important contribution to the frog in the kettle syndrome all over the world, even in the church. We need to wake up and stand up for the truth. We need to be bold to correct one another gently in love. We need to grow deep roots in God. We need wisdom to know, and discernment to choose. We cannot let toxic ideas continue for it becomes even more toxic over time.

Ratings: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is supplied to me free, courtesy of P&R Publishing and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All comments given are freely mine.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Book Review: "Move"

TITLE: Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal about Spiritual Growth
AUTHOR: Greg L. Hawkins with Cally Parkinson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.

Back in 2007, one of the biggest news in evangelical circles is the confession of the MegaChurch pastor, Bill Hybels about the weaknesses of their Willow Creek Church. That day, after a 3-year long research, Hybels admits publicly about some problems with their Church growth model. Despite their numerical growth, their wonderful programming, and the powerful international ministry, the level of spiritual growth among their members and adherents are weak, even static. Growth in numbers or programs does not equal spiritual growth. The three 'shocking' facts are as follows:
  1. "Increased participation in church activities by themselves barely moved our people to love God and others more;"
  2. "We had a lot of dissatisfied people;"
  3. "We had a lot of people so dissatisfied that they were ready to leave." (18)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Book Review: "Change Agent"

TITLE: Change Agent: Engaging your passion to be the one who makes a difference
AUTHOR: Os Hillman
PUBLISHER: Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2011.

Os Hillman is most famously known for his daily devotionals, TGIF (Today God is First). Since the early years, he has moved from simply marketplace ministry and work-faith integration to a larger domain. This new domain is a call to believers in the marketplace to engage not only business but to reclaim 7 mountains of cultural influences. They are business, government, media, arts & entertainment, education, the family, and religion. The 7-mountain idea is adapted from his own pastor, Johnny Enlow's series of sermons entitled: "The Seven Mountain Strategy." Basically, the key idea is:

"The more liberal and ungodly the change agents at the top, the more liberal and ungodly the culture. The more godly the change agent at the top, the more righteous the culture will be. It doesn't matter if the majority of the culture is made up of Christians. It only matters who has the greatest influence over that cultural mountain. And the mountain of family must undergird all other cultural mountains."  (9)

The book begins with biblical foundations. The author uses a six stage framework from his own experience and equates them to Old Testament characters like Moses, David, Joseph, Daniel and Esther. The six stages of a change agent are as follows:
  1. Divine circumstances: Sudden call
  2. Character development: Solidify person's faith
  3. Isolation period: Separation from worldliness
  4. Personal cross: suffering
  5. Problem solvers: solving real needs
  6. Networks: spreading
After describing the process of development of a change agent, Hillman dives right into the 7-mountain strategy. Each mountain begins with a definition of what it is, followed by a diagnosis of why the mountain is worldly and needs to be recaptured. With many illustrations and testimonies of well-known names of corporations, groups, and individuals, he shows the way to tip the balance in favour of Christians for the Kingdom of God. He ends each mountain category with an exhortation to claim the mountain in God's name, with practical steps. At the same time, he lists down in vivid detail how a successfully claimed mountain looks like.

My Comments

I read this book with mixed emotions. Hillman starts off well by sharing about how various individuals have been talking about conquering several spheres of culture. Francis Schaeffer, Billy Graham, and many prominent names were mentioned to raise interest. There are many familiar names, powerful figures, and intriguing stories to keep the reader interested. His concern is genuine, and the message is filled with a conviction that the world can be won, and that there is a good chance for change agents to bring about the kingdom of God through conquering the seven mountains. He also acknowledges that these seven mountains are not the only mountains, sharing about Loren Cunningham who suggests a seventh (science) and eighth mountain (technology). The practical applications are easy to follow. The stages described are appealing. The examples given are indeed very captivating.

My biggest problem with the book is its weak ecclesiology (Theology of the Church). For all its wonderful convictions and knowledge of the culture, the theology of the church is sadly lacking. This runs contrary to Jesus's words to Simon Peter about God using the Church to build his kingdom (Matt 16:18). Granted that the church is a community of believers gathered in Jesus' Name, a called out people (ekklesia),  the role of the church is unfortunately relegated to the last chapter, instead of 'undergirding' every attempt to conquer any mountain. Even if I were to give Hillman the benefit of the doubt, that he meant the people of God to be the church, it is not clearly emphasized. It is true that one needs passion to become a change agent to make a difference. It is also true that one needs to be convicted about conquering the mountains in society. However, it needs to be done through the church and in the Power of the Holy Spirit. Another concern is the overwhelming focus on the 'top.' What about the rest? Mind you, God can choose to use anyone, anywhere. 

In summary, this book has a noble purpose. It shines in giving examples even though some of the names given are not as credible over time. It also excels in terms of engaging readers through sections of easy to read stages and illustrations. Ultimately, it disappoints because of a weak theology of the church. It is a para-church implementation of the 7-Mountain strategy that is unsettling.

Rating: 3 stars of 5.

This book is supplied to me, courtesy of Charisma Publishing House without any obligation for a positive review. The comments made are freely mine.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Book Review: "The Hour That Matters Most"

TITLE: The Hour that Matters Most: The Surprising Power of the Family Meal
AUTHORS: Les & Leslie Parrott (with Stephanie Allen and Tina Kuna)
PUBLISHER: Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2011.

This unique book combines three features in one. Firstly, it is a book about family values. Secondly, it is a book about restoring the lost art of relationships over the dinner table. Thirdly, it is a cookbook! What is really good is the way the authors have managed to sew all three aspects and consolidate them all in one volume.

For the 4 authors, this book is not simply another publishing project. It is a collective calling to bring back the lost art of a 'home-cooked meal.' It is not only something for the stomach, but for the soul. It is not merely the eating, but the conversations. It is not the hassle of food preparation, but the continued learning and practice of hands on work in the kitchen which can be enjoyable. Each chapter talks about a certain aspect of food, both relational, physical, emotional as well as spiritual. Each chapter contains an easy to follow recipe. Interwoven throughout the book are insights captured over the years by each author. The research data and studies provide the book additional credibility on top of an already powerful work.

My Comments

Reading this book is like entering into a conversation among the 4 friends. There is humour and wit. There are insights and practical applications. There are tips about starting a conversation and sustaining open communications. This book is a clarion call to families to stop living a "Gobble-Gulp-and-Go" lifestyle. It repeats the mantra that the dinner table is a sacred place that has no room for TV, technological gadgetry, and anything that distracts us from having a good family conversation. It recognizes the distractions of the world that threatens to tear the fabric of society apart, and to make the dinner time a safe haven for every family member to find common time and common space simply to talk, and build relationships.

I appreciate the thorough treatment by the authors. There are tips not only in the kitchen, but also on table setup, dinner etiquette, purposeful conversations, instilling values, and many more. My favourite is Chapter 5, "How to listen so your kids talk." It is so true that adults tend to ask questions badly. Listening is an active disposition that requires clarification and empathy. I especially appreciate the three components of active listening, especially the part about clarifying before making any form of conclusion or judgment. This is particularly true in the example of 'reflection,' where one paraphrases in such a way that communicates an understanding, as well as a bridge to further the conversation. It is a way of saying:

"I am with you and want to understand you better." (65)

The wide range of topics in the book essentially gives us a clue that nearly everything can be a conversation starter or topic at the table. The truth is that when the relationships are good, any topic is fun and loving. Written wisely, communicated wittingly, the book encourages (and enables) busy people to make full use of one of the day's most precious gift: Dinner time.

Ratings: 4.5 stars of 5.


Tyndale House Publishers has provided me with a complimentary copy of this book without any obligation for a positive review. The review above are freely mine.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Review: "The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction"

TITLE: The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction
AUTHOR: Alan Jacobs
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2011, (176 pages).

Reading is increasingly being threatened, especially with the intrusion of technology into our everyday lives. Is it still possible to read well in an age of technological distractions? Is reading a lost art? How does one read well even as one sees the increase in reading in an electronic media. These are some of the questions Alan Jacobs, an English Professor tries to address.

People are reading less. Some do not read, and even those who try hardly ever finish a book. Beginning with  reference back to a classic how-to-read-a-book manual by Mortimer Adler and Charles van Doren, Jacobs tries to update some of the ideas in that book by introducing some observations of technology, evolving culture, as well as new skills needed to read a book.

He begins by listing out some of the feedback he has been hearing as a Professor at Wheaton College.
  • The current cohort as belonging to the 'dumbest generation'
  • Challenge of multitasking
  • Short and erratic attention span
  • Unsustained Online reading
  • 'People don't read anymore.'
Recognizing the modern challenges of reading, Jacobs proposes a radical way to read: "Read at whim!" This is best described as the kind of reading that is out of love, pleasure and joy of reading. Taking the side of CS Lewis and Harold Bloom, he advocates:
"Read what gives you delight - at least most of the time - and do so without shame." (23)

Jacobs then dives into the cognitive aspects of brain behaviour, where reading behaviour is a way of understanding oneself and others. While reading-at-whim may not 'cover all the bases' of reading, it is at least a foundational start. Here the author distinguishes between 'whim' and 'Whim.' The former is a 'thoughtless, directionless preference' that leads one toward 'boredom or frustration or both' (41). However, the latter is a guide to discernment, something that Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book fails to educate people in. In arguing for slower, intentional, and patient reading, reading is very profitable. Jacobs writes:

"Such work strengthens our minds, makes us more capable of concentration, teaches us patience - and almost certainly a touch of humility as well, ..." (50)

Jacobs recommends interrupting one's reading with the use of questions for two reasons. Firstly, it sharpens one's attention, and secondly, it helps one to remember (57). He has a few tips for ebook readers as well, saying that the Kindle/Nook/eReaders are best for reading sequential fiction and novels. Slow reading aids comprehension and attentiveness. That, however is not the chief goal. The aim is to let slow and concentrated reading lead the reader toward a stage of being 'lost' in the book. It is like entering into the land of Alice in Wonderland, not just reading the story but LIVING in the story.

Jacobs is critical of Adler's and van Doren's threefold advice of reading, about people distinguishing their kinds of reading into "reading for information, reading for understanding, reading for entertainment" (98). Regardless of categorization, the aim of the reader is to be 'rapt,' the stage where any distinctions become irrelevant. He is also supportive of both 'hyper attention' and 'deep attention,' that BOTH can be cultivated, plainly because the human brain is intelligent enough to do both, to pay attention to one, as well as many. He acknowledges that 'deep attention' is the domain of a minority. In the modern culture of Wikipedia, technology, and rapid skimming of online materials, Jacobs believes that 'skimming and concentration can and should coexist' (112). Thus, scanning and skimming help to navigate the mass of information. Discernment helps decide which to focus. In other words, the author feels that it is more important to know when to skim, and when to focus. Discernment again.

Jacobs also makes a distinction between 'hoarding data' and 'strip-mining relevant data' in a Google age, vs real constructive reading. For instance, good reading is not a matter of uploading content speedily. These are possible only for some genres like cookbooks. For such cases, rapid reading leads to rapid boredom.  He acknowledges some of the challenges of multitasking:

  • "no one actually multitasks; instead, we shift among different tasks and give attention to only one at any given time;
  • the attempt to multitask results in a state of 'continuous partial attention.
  • those who believe they are skilled multitaskers tend to be worse at it than others." (83)

He suggests:

"Shut down the computer; put aside the cellphone. If the temptation to check email or texts or Twitter is too strong, then take yourself somewhere where the gadgets aren't. Lock them in the car before you enter the coffee shop with your book; give them to your spouse or partner and request that they be hidden, and then go into a room with a comfortable chair and close the door behind you. It's not hard to come up with handy-dandy practical suggestions; what's hard is following them - or rather, even wanting to follow them." (84)

Still, there is deep virtue to undistracted reading. Jacobs suggests silence based of one's self-awareness. Go to a quiet room. Turn off the WiFi. Read aloud. A reading silence.

My Comments

This book is a pleasure to read. It contains so much information that one can learn something from any page. The book itself is written like a novel, that one can go from cover to cover. There is a stark absence of a Table of Contents. One can literally read this book at whim. This book while is about reading in an age of distraction is multidisciplinary as well. It touches on cognitive learning, on technology, psychology, social sciences, literature, spirituality, inspiration, and many others. It encourages one to read hyperactively as well as concentrate, in solitude as well as in good company, in silence as well as reading aloud. Ultimately, it aims to take the stress and tensions of conquering the book, and substitute it with the joy and delight of simply enjoying the book.

Jacobs does not overestimate the virtues of concentrated reading. Neither does he undermine the benefits of scattered reading. He does a good job in keeping all of these reading tendencies as nice reading bedfellows. This book is a useful corrective to those of us overly critical of the technological distractions around us. Perhaps, we can be encouraged to read another book soon, regardless of medium. It is a lot of fun to read Jacobs's confession of his reading struggles amid the many distractions. He demonstrates once again, that once we can overcome the fear of reading, it is not only good for reading per se, reading at whim can help us read well.

Perhaps, another title for this book is: "The Joy of Reading in the 21st Century."

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Review: "Deepest Thanks, Deeper Apologies"

TITLE: Deepest Thanks, Deeper Apologies: Reconciling Deeply Held Faith with Honest Doubt
AUTHOR: Stephen Shortridge
PUBLISHER: Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing, 2011.

Is it possible to reconcile one's deeply held faith with honest doubts? Stephen Shortridge says yes, but through the eyes of art, creativity, love, and God.

This journey to God's love is all that Stephen Shortridge tries to address in this book. The author is a self-confessed poet, a painter, as well as a paradoxical writer. He writes:
"In my life of faith, I prefer impressionism to realism, trusting God in mystery rather than my own understanding. That preference puts me at odds with those Christians today who seem to imagine there are no mysteries about God. Which is quite a mystery, at least to me." (xi)

This paradox of faith and doubts, is then described through a journey and framework first taught by St Bernard of Clairvaux's "Four Stages of Love." Shortridge describes the purpose of this book as follows:

"Deepest thanks, deeper apologies is the difference between who I am and who I am becoming, as well as who I'm not and possibly never will be. Gratitude (deepest thanks) and regret (deeper apologies) measure the distance between who I am now and who I will one day be." (xviii)

This journey of bridging the gap is made through the four stages:

  • Stage 1 - "I love myself for my sake."
  • Stage 2 - "I love God for my sake."
  • Stage 3 - "I love God for God's sake."
  • Stage 4 - "I love myself for God's sake."

The rest of the book then describes the author's personal journey through this stages, using his paintings, his poetry, and his own life reflections. In Stage 1, the author admits that his own effort to love God and people is not enough. He suggests a paradox of needing to go through certain human sinful states before appreciating God. He describes a need to know foolishness (in order to know wisdom); pride in order to know humility, despair in order to find hope; loss in order to find gratitude; and risk in order to find faith (11). He even calls the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 as 'God's Manifesto of Paradox' (33).

Stage 2 is a recognition that free choice is both a 'blessing' as well as a 'curse' (40).  When selfishness comes in, man starts to use God for his own ends. While his first response to God's love is gratitude, his second response is 'selfish hope' (41). Remaining in this stage is a form of self-sabotage, and makes one guilty of self-righteousness. His paradox theme comes out again that before one appreciates gratitude, one needs to suffer loss (53). He brilliantly questions:

"We all struggle with our desire for balance, that place of imagined security. We all admire balance; we even envy it when we perceive others are living a more balanced life than we. But this balance we see and the balance we desire, is it from God? Is it from a need for God? Or is it personal, prideful gymnastics?" (60)

He then discovers the paradox of finding God in a state of imbalance.

"Eventually, in exhaustion, God offers me merciful futility. I fall down. Gratefully defeated. There is an unbalanced balance that pleases God. You see it throughout the Bible. It's only when I accept my imbalance and acknowledge how weak and crippled I am, that I become dependent on God. That's where I find the paradox of balance, leaning totally on Him." (61)

In Part three, the author shares about his transformation from self-awareness to God awareness. This is his 'second repentance' (76). This is the stage where hope overwhelms doubt, reality over fantasy, patience over demands, and more of God. He then goes through 7 hurdles:
  1. Joy through sorrow;
  2. Brokenness through betrayal;
  3. Sacrifice through selfishness;
  4. Peace through fear
  5. Repentance through sin
  6. Forgiveness through forgiving
  7. Love in God.
He then calls Art the signature of man. This act of creation creates us. He learns to love himself. This prepares him for the final stage 4, to love self for God's sake. This kind of love is not self-love, but the self shrouded in God's love. It is in letting God love man. The pressure to perform is lowered. One triumps over the greatest foe: Self.

My Comments

This is a book that is destined to be a classic. It borrows from the classical four stages of love from Bernard of Clauvaux. It learns from the wit of GK Chesterton. It faces not only the highest love of God, but also the lowest sinfulness of man. Through deliberate use of images, prose, poetry, and prayer, the book is an invitation to readers to join in the journey to true love of God. It may be difficult reading for those who are not familiar to Bernard's Stages of Love. Readers used to how-to books may struggle to apply the lessons from the book. This is because readers need the help of the Spirit to understand and to practice the steps in the book. There is only so much that the author can share. The rest is up to the Spirit leading the reader along the stages of love. Only the reader's willingness can enable the progression toward the highest stage.

I appreciate Shortridge's personal application of Bernard's stages. In embracing mystery, one is less frustrated by the constant need to solve life. In embracing doubt, one learns faith. In accepting the paradox of life, one learns about how God can accept man in order to love. In creative art, one becomes more in tune with what one is created for, instead of constantly wanting to perform something that is not what we are made for. In moving toward God, one learns to overcome many obstacles, chief of all, the self.

Ratings 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Worthy Publishing and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. The comments above are freely mine.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Review: "Faces of Hope 10 Years Later"

TITLE:Faces of Hope 10 Years Later: Babies Born on 9/11
AUTHOR: Christine Pisera Naman
PUBLISHER: Deerfield Beach, FL: Heath Communications, 2011.

This book is a pleasant collection of 10-year-old kids from all over the 50 states in the United States. Comprising a mixture of boys and girls, all born on the fateful September 11th, in 2001, it presents a portrait of hope expressed in a smiling photo, an illustrated picture, and words of hope for the future. Each child is a September 11 child. Each represents the state from which they were born. Put together, they all represent the face of America, that there is no need to feel remorse or despair about what had happened at the height of the terrorist attacks in America. In fact, the main thrust of the book is to remind everyone that there is hope. There is hope after terrorism. There is hope in the young. There is hope, as long as we all learn to maintain a positive outlook that promises to change the world.

This book may not be a conventional novel or a non-fiction how to do it yourself book. It is an invitation to readers to take the time to browse the hopes of young children during our modern uncertain times. It is a moment for us to take a snapshot of where we are in our respective life journeys, and to recall our own hopes when we are children. It is also a time for us to slow down amid a busy world, reminding ourselves about what we are busy about and why we are rushing all over the place. Perhaps, in some special way, the simplicity of this book can ignite in readers a spark to bring a light of hope to the world, beginning with where we are.


This ebook is sent to me free from HCIbooks and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. The comments above are freely mine.