About This Blog

Thursday, October 31, 2013

"Finding Your Heart's Desire" (R. T. Kendall)

TITLE: Finding Your Heart's Desire: Ambition, Motivation and True Success
AUTHOR: R. T. Kendall
PUBLISHER: Minneapolis, MN: Chosen Books, 2013, (192 pages).

Is it wrong to have ambitions? Can Christians seek success in this world? What does the Bible say about ambition? What is the purpose of ambitions? These questions and more are ably dealt with by renowned Bible teacher, RT Kendall. The author's key thesis is that ambition is not a bad desire but is something that God can use to motivate us toward fulfillment of our calling in life. His book revolves around Martin Luther's words: "God uses sex to drive a man to marriage, ambition to drive a man to service, fear to drive a man to faith." In laying out his arguments for holy ambition, he points out seven purposes in this book:

  1. Everyone can be motivated to enjoy God's joy and praise regardless of our results;
  2. That we be self-aware about our motives;
  3. That we measure ourselves objectively, including knowing why we do what we do;
  4. That we learn to think well;
  5. That we learn patience with others;
  6. That we channel our ambitions toward pleasing God;
  7. That we get a vision of God's inheritance for us in the joy of God.
Kendall makes a crucial distinction between worldly competition like the Olympics and heavenly ambition. The former has only one winner while in the latter, everyone can win. Godly ambition is one that pursues God's will, to live with integrity, to work toward holiness, to finish well, to serve, and to be fruitful. For those who feel meek and even discouraged, Kendall gently shows how God can come to our level and begin his work right there. Just like Abraham's faith that begins slowly, proceeds surely, and matures finally. We can also learn from Moses's whose journey of faith undergoes great suffering amid the great anointing God has given him.

Kendall also goes to the roots of unholy ambition and points out sin and how the devil tries to appeal to human pride to stumble them. He also tries to link ambition with desiring the greater spiritual gifts, the fruit of the Spirit, and the need to sanctify any forms of motivation. He closes with an application on money and ambition, success and finishing well. The take home for the whole book is to see ambition as a holy desire seeking after one thing: God's approving words: "Well done! Good and faithful servant."

Simple, fresh, and heartwarming, Kendall manages to help differentiate the different perspectives of ambition, saying that it is something everyone can win and can achieve. There is no shame in seeking after God's will. There is no need to be guilty about succeeding or doing all we can to win. The main thing is to make sure that it is in line with God's will, that it is done with integrity, that it is demonstrated in love for God and neighbour, that it seeks the ultimate prize: God's approval. If you are confused or need clarification about ambition and the question of whether Christians should or should not seek after success while on earth, this book is a fresh breeze that blows away the smog of confusion.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Chosen Books and Graf-Martin Communications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Centering Prayers (Peter Traben Haas)

TITLE: Centering Prayers: A One-Year Daily Companion for Going Deeper into the Love of God
AUTHOR: Peter Traben Haas
PUBLISHER:  Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2013, (304 pages).

Prayer is essentially a relationship. People who pray only when they have a need are obviously ignorant of what prayer is all about. They will be swimming in shallow waters of spirituality, getting only their feet wet in terms of spiritual growth, only to leave the pool when nothing substantial needs to be prayed for or about. When the next need arises, such people will step back into the waters. Without realizing that prayer is a relationship, such people will not venture beyond to deeper waters, and learning how to seek God and to depend on God totally. For Presbyterian minister Dr Peter Traben Haas, centering prayers are to assist people to go deeper into the love of God. A brief prayer is offered each day for a full year, all of them designed to help one cultivate this relationship with God. Each month begins with a brief spiritual meditation. January is about one being known by God. February exhorts the seeking of Truth. March is an invitation to cultivate the relationship with God. April prepares one to focus on the crucifixion, the death, and the resurrection of Christ. May reminds one about being liberated toward gracious living. June shows one the light and presence of God. July guides one toward accepting God as our spiritual companion. August teaches us to listen and practise awareness of our surroundings.  September teaches us that God is true wisdom and we ought to seek Him whenever we need wisdom. October invites one to connect with God more as the Autumn season commences. November builds trust. December tells us to wait, watch, and wonder at the marvelous love of God through Christ who dwells among us.

There are three things I like about this book. Firstly, it is the brevity of the daily prayers. It reminds me that prayers need not be long and unwieldy. Short prayers help us to remember what we pray. It allows us to focus. It allows us to use the least number of words to maximize our spiritual sensitivities.  Although on some days in which prayers are longer, the idea is simple and often centered on a main theme. Despite the additional words, readers will be able to sense that there is a big idea in each of these long prayers. Take hold of this big idea and center our prayers accordingly. Second, there is usually one single thought of God's character each day. The prayers are directed with a focus on the character of God. Rather than coming to God with a full laundry list of our requests for quail and manna, it focuses on growing the awareness of God's presence in our lives. Far too often, people pray without settling themselves down to listen. The prayers enable us to focus and listen for God's character to reflect back to us. Thirdly, each prayer is an attempt to help readers use the prayers to connect with God. This is the biggest reason to buy this book. With regular praying, one's ability to connect with God will be strengthened each day. For human beings are creatures of habit. Once they embark upon a year long program to center their prayers toward a relationship with God, their prayer life will be transformed. Indeed, when this happens, people will want to pray more and more. Then, one will no longer be contended with anything that is "pray to get" but a joy exuberant from one who "gets to pray."

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Paraclete Press in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"Church History, Volume One from Christ to Pre-Reformation" (Everett Ferguson)

TITLE: Church History, Volume One: From Christ to Pre-Reformation: The Rise and Growth of the Church in Its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political Context
AUTHOR: Everett Ferguson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013, (544 pages).

Use the knowledge of the past to help navigate the present toward the future. This is the underlying conviction of authors of history books and historians at large. This comprehensive Church history textbook, now into its second edition, is no different. Ferguson is Distinguished Scholar at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas as well as an author of numerous books especially on Church history. As an experienced historian, he wisely advises students to adopt these perspectives which I paraphrase as follows:
  • Big Picture Understanding: Know the data and details, but notice more the religious life of the people and the perspectives during that era;
  • Imitating the Good: For the periods and moments of faithfulness in the past, rejoice and reaffirm the imitation of them;
  • Avoid Repeating the Bad: For the periods and moments of unfaithfulness, learn from them and avoid repeating mistakes of the past;
  • Storying the Greatest Event in History: That Church history is to be studied because it is about the greatest thing ever to happen to mankind through the coming of Christ;
  • Compass for the Road Ahead: With historical consciousness of the past, one is better equipped to deal with the present and the future.
Like many Church history textbooks, most of the "narrative thread" in this book will be on Western Christianity. Compressing the time of Christ to the Pre-Reformation means trying to frame nearly 1400 years into a 544 pages volume. This is a tough mountain to climb but having climbed it, Ferguson provides readers a bird's eye view from the summit. He sets the stage by helping readers appreciate the contexts in the Roman world, the Jewish world, and the Greek world, calling them the "three concentric circles of influence" for early Christianity. He brings readers through the life, the ministry, and the death of Jesus Christ, plus constant emphases on key doctrinal beliefs and theologies. On the Early Church, he begins with Antioch and slowly makes his way through the many churches mentioned in the book of Acts. He points out the many tensions that existed among the Christians in the first two centuries. There were the ritual disputes between the Hellenistic and Jewish believers; the battle against Gnostic influences; the persecutions that seemed to grow unabated from early Pharisaic challenges to brutal Empire executions. If the first century was marked by persecutions and executions, the second century was notable through heresies and schisms. Ferguson helpfully highlights the lessons learnt through both good and bad times. For example, Ferguson poses the question of whether our doctrines and orthodoxy has been shaped by the presence of heresies. The conclusion is that orthodoxy was already present prior to any heretic beliefs. When the heresies came up, Church leaders were forced to ratify or to put down the Orthodox beliefs in writing.

Monday, October 28, 2013

"The Golden Years" (Christopher Bogosh)

TITLE: The Golden Years: Healthy Aging and the Older Adult
AUTHOR: Christopher Bogosh
PUBLISHER: Yulee, FL: Good Samaritan Books, 2013, (136 pages).

By 2030, the aged population (above 65 years of age) in the United States is set to rise from its current 13% to 20%. It is common knowledge that many governments around the world are grappling with their aging populations. In some countries, medical care and insurance costs become extremely expensive with some insurance companies charging a very high premium to insure aged people. One of the problems is the lack of understanding by society on the needs of the older generation. While the young often have the older adults to guide them, the same cannot be said for the aged, who are reaching the end of their lives on earth. It can be depressing and meaningless, especially when society seems to be focused on the young and the economically active. Enters Christopher Bogosh, a registered nurse as well as an experienced caregiver to the older adult group and hospice care. Bogosh also has both a medical qualification as well as a pastoral heart. The book is carefully written to help readers appreciate the perspectives for the older generation and how we as a society can contribute to the care of this very important group of people in their golden years. How does Bogosh go about doing this? By taking aim at the three major issues facing older adults: health literacy, financial resources, and lack of motivation.

Before tackling the above three issues, Bogosh grounds his book on the wisdom established in the Bible. In Ecclesiastes 12, readers are reminded of the two-fold awareness of God as Creator and Judge. He shares some of the symptoms of old age, like fewer cells, greater dehydration, weakening effects on the muscles, neurocognitive systems, respiratory, circulatory, and the spiritual aspects. Some of the emotional challenges include the loss of one's spouse and peers. Good health means wholistic health. Do things in moderation. A healthy lifestyle honours God. Proper diets, nutrition, and supplements can help. Exercise, fitness activities, rest, vaccinations, and other simple healthcare can go a long way in helping one to age well.

Bogosh also argues for Preventive healthcare, explaining the merits of Medicare in the US, and other affordable care programs being worked out in Washington DC. It is also important to understand the different kinds of specialists to help the aged in healthcare. There are the geriatricians who are well trained and equipped to deal with medical needs of the aged, 65 years and above. There are the pharmacists who know a lot about medications, their complications, and who can educate people on the proper way to use them. There are the social services both public and privately funded. There are religious institutions like churches who can render their assistance.

Chapter 5 is a particularly important chapter as it contains guiding principles for uniquely complicated situations. The "Patient Self Determination Act" puts the medical decisions smack in the hands of the patient himself, instead of depending on the government, or members of the family. The author shares some incredible stories of how a son makes all the medical decisions miles away on behalf of his dying father, and all the time never even appearing at the bedside of the father. When costs spiral upward, ethical complications ensue. The guiding principles from Bogosh are golden.

  1. Distinguish between prolonging life and addressing symptoms;
  2. Christians can take heart that death is a transition into life in Christ;
  3. Often, our greater need is spiritual healing in Christ, and our appropriate response is to trust God's physical healing in due time. 
  4. Loving one's neighbours means two things: a) using public resources responsibly and wisely, understanding that the whole hospital does not exist just for one person; b) knowing that age problems will eventually come, prepare for it.
Bogosh gives other practical tips on healthcare agents, living wills, Do-Not-Resuscitate-Orders, and life planning, hospice care, common health problems like cognitive deficits, loss of hearing, sight, incontinence, and so on, with the aim of educating people that it is better to be prepared than to be caught unprepared. 

Another important aspect of this book deals with people going through chronic health conditions. For such cases, the focus is on education, preventative treatment, disease management, and assistance to caregivers. The number of challenging issues highlighted range from cardiovascular disorders to mental problems like dementia. Pain is also managed on two levels: acute and chronic.

So What?

Bogosh does a good job of sharing the wide range of challenges affecting the older adult generation. His knowledge of the different levels of healthcare needs is impressive. At the same time, the book does not come across as overly technical or bogged down by sophisticated concepts. Very readable and highly informative, this book basically highlights the most important aspects of the golden years. The practical advice provided is often supplemented by biblical wisdom. In fact, in several cases, the biblical wisdom drives the practical guidelines. For example, the part on the treatment of pain pulls all of these factors together.  Pain in itself can be a complex issue altogether. Seeing that medical sciences have their limitations, and that human wisdom can only do so much, eventually, many will be forced to grapple with pain, suffering, and what is means from a spiritual angle. Ultimately, the way to live is to be educated about what aging is and means; how to be wise with resources in managing aging problems; and finally to see that the final years are golden not simply because it sounds nice, but because of the promised glory of God that will be revealed, especially for God's children. 

If you care for the aged, or if you like to be more informed on this topic, this book will be a good resource to have and to learn from. 

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Good Samaritan Books and Cross-Focused-Reviews in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Friday, October 25, 2013

"Sunshine and Storms" (Susan Lenzkes)

TITLE: Sunshine and Storms: Devotions to Encourage and Comfort
AUTHOR: Susan Lenzkes
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, 2012, (224 pages).

Life is like the weather. There are times of sunshine and times of rain. There are also cloudy days as well as stormy days. It is a good metaphor for life at large. In this book, Susan Lenzkes, a speaker and Bible study leader shares how God leads her through personal storms and sunshine. Sixty devotions are offered, with half on the sunshine of life and the other half on the need to stand firm during the storms. Each devotion begins with a quotation to prepare readers for what is to come. Grounded in life on earth but pointed at hope in heaven, Lenzkes reflects on how everyday life with their ups and downs, is something to be lived through, appreciated, and encouraged. She wonders aloud how Jesus living in perfect glory is willing to come down to imperfect earth and to suffer with us, and died for us that we may be "a family of shining realists." Combining some of her best devotions written and published before, this book groups the devotions in two categories. The first is about life through "Shining Like the Sun." There are lots of optimism and realistic acceptance of life. One is heavenly minded and earthly grounded, surrounded by a profound sense of realism. There are thoughts about how to name a fear and to remove the masks that prevent us from facing the truth. There is a sensitively written reflection of pain and grief for victims over the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Kenzkes meanders with readers through wounds and hurts; joys and sorrows; hurts and loss. She has a sense of life not being perfect and yet at the same time offers a way of perfect hope. She understands what it means to deal with life's pressures, enduring broken and painful relationships, and many other facets of life. The thirty devotions in the first part show readers how and what it means to continue shining in hope by investing in the promises of God through the Word.

The second part of the book takes the journey deeper a few notches. Adversity can come at anytime. Even the lack of progress can bring about moments of despair. Hurts can be very personal and deeply painful. During those times, the best way is not to read a get-fixed-fast manual, but to lament through poems, songs, and prayers. That is exactly what Lenzkes has often done in the compilation of the devotional materials. There are chapters in which the brevity itself carries a deep echo of emotions that reverberate through the day and night. It helps one wonder at the earthly situation and ponder at the heavenly hope. Readers are encouraged to cry without shame, to lament without guilt, and to cling on the the Name of Jesus. It is this second part that Lenzkes shines as a comforting guide for the discouraged and heavy-ladened. I like the way she puts it: "There is no timetables on grief," as well as the way she shows us how questions may not be answered but still be lived. She shows us how to recover hope which is often the first word dropped from the bags of the discouraged.

Perceptively written with a gentle voice, Lenzkes is able to reach out to the needy heart and walks with the readers through words of encouragement and hope. Beginning with a frank assessment of life and concluding with the birth of Christ, "Sunshine and Storms" shows us that with God all things are possible. It reminds us again that in times of trouble, we need not helplessly look at the mountains of difficulties or the abysses of pain and grief. Instead, we look to the One who is able to move mountains, blow away dark clouds of gloom, sweep the abysses of darkness with the light of Jesus. For Jesus is the True and Living Light who has come and will come again. The Word declares it. The Son lives it. The Resurrection proves it.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Discovery House Publishers and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

"Embracing Shared Ministry" (Joseph Hellerman)

TITLE: Embracing Shared Ministry: Power and Status in the Early Church and Why It Matters Today
AUTHOR: Joseph Hellerman
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2013, (320 pages).

What can we learn from the book of Philippians with regards to Christian leadership in the modern era? How is ancient literature still applicable to modern ministry contexts? What happens when churches grow and their pastors do not?  In the light of a plurality of leadership, what are the appropriate roles for the senior pastor and leader and their subordinates? Why do some promising seminary graduates with high ideals so be easily set aside by the "American trinity of efficiency, growth, and pragmatism"? These questions and many more are dealt with in this incisive, frank, no-holds-barred ministry guide to help us be emotionally well-balanced, relationally healthy, spiritually humble, and willing to use power and authority the way Jesus uses power and authority. Leaning on Philippians 2:6-11, Hellerman demonstrates throughout the book that the letter to the Philippians is Paul's Christology lived out through an ecclesiological agenda. While the book is birthed conceptually via a 2005 academic monograph called "Reconstructing Honor in Roman Philippi," it accelerates in intensity and purpose when Hellerman discovers with alarming frequency, how many of his young seminarians have been hurt, abused, and utterly discouraged by the mistreatment and abuse of junior staff by senior leaders in churches all over the country. He comes up with a "cruciform" perspective of ministry which is essentially about self-denial, sacrificial service, and our lives be shaped after Christ's image of living and dying.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

"To Live is Christ To Die is Gain" (Matt Chandler and Jared C Wilson)

TITLE: To Live Is Christ to Die Is Gain
AUTHOR: Matt Chandler and Jared C Wilson
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook Publishers, 2013, (224 pages).

This book begins with the question: "Are you growing?" Are we aware of the Apostle Paul's single purpose in life to live and to die for Christ? In the authors' words, "The Gospel absolutely drove Paul." Paul's infectious faith influenced Lydia the intellectual businesswoman from Thyatira. His faith liberated the slave girl from demons. Even in prison, he evangelized to the tough looking Roman prison guards. Caged in, he wrote with passion many letters to encourage believers to hang on to Jesus. There is a worthy cause to live for, shouts Paul. With Philippians 1:21 as the anchor verse, this book is a series of sermons on urging believers to live boldly and passionately without fear. The maturing Christian is one who is filled with "gospel courage" more and more. Such a courage will enable one to overcome all manner of insults, persecution, pain, suffering, and various obstacles. In fact, these persecutions are even seen as "gifts." Why? It is because to be opposed because of our faith is a blessing because it is a sign of our salvation. When one has found the pearl of priceless truth, he will sell all he possess to purchase the very field that holds this truth.

The four chapters of the letter to the Philippians are covered. At the heart of the gospel courage lies the element of godly fear, which is essentially reverence and awe. Such a godly fear will do nothing out of conceit or selfish ambition. It dethrones the self. It receives mercy. It accept lowliness. Such a humble servant, the Lord will exalt. Chandler reminds us again that the rich and the famous will find it most challenging to be lowly and humble. For the cross means pursuing Christ unhindered from the material cares and worries of this world. It means passionate pursuit regardless of the costs. Page after page, the message is clear. Christ desires our all, our everything, our full attention. For He wants to give us everything we need.

In order to do so, one needs to do two things. First, one cannot care for things of the world too closely, otherwise the cares will hold on to our hearts. For example, Chandler mentions how sports can emotionally grab one's heart to the point that one's mood gets completely ruined when the sports results fail our expectations. We must watch out for things that we try to own, to be aware that if we are not careful, these very things will eventually own us and render us slave to them. Second, one needs to be taken hold by God's grace and love. It brings back to our theological understanding that we love because Christ first loved us. We serve because Christ first served us. We live because Christ is risen.

So What?

Matt Chandler has a way to nuance a simple message with so many different explanations. With a single focus on the one big idea of living purposefully and passionately for Christ, everything else will fall into place. In twelve chapters written with absolute conviction, Chandler traces the way of Paul, and how living or dying does not matter anymore, as long as Christ is glorified. Suffering or rejoicing is not the main thing. It is knowing that Christ is his main concern. Whatever the cost, whatever it takes, whatever the circumstances, nothing is going to separate him from pursuing Christ.

When I read about the passion of Paul, I cannot but feel embarrassed at the way some people have tried to cling on to life because of our fear of death. Some with terminal cancer are prepared to risk their entire inheritance just to buy themselves a cure in some advanced medical facility somewhere in the world. Some even sacrificed their own savings for their families so that they can live a few months longer. Some would stop at nothing until all their financial resources are depleted. The question is this: For people who are infatuated about living a longer life, what is the purpose of it all? For those who want to cling on to life despite the pain and the suffering, is there a higher purpose in doing that? I think Philippians 1:21 is very instructive for Christians, that whatever conditions of life that they face, if they are surrounded by fear and of death, they will implode with self-centered concerns and worries. If they are surrounded with great faith and sacrificial love, they will explode with infectious passions and a single purpose. For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain!

Let me close with this quote which reminds us again that because of some witnesses who are fearless for Christ in proclaiming and preaching the gospel, we have the precious word of God delivered to us. Is it about time we pass our passions on to the next generation by living with passion?

"I live in Dallas, Texas. Do you know how the gospel got to Dallas, Texas? If you trace it back, the gospel got here because the apostle Paul went into Philippi, went into Ephesus, went into Corinth. If the gospel can do that, it can certainly stir up your affections for Him. Certainly it can captivate your mind and speak into your heart. If the gospel can transform the world and holds in its powerful reach the promise of eternal life, certainly it can transform you this very day, and day by day, until that ultimate day you join with the saints to receive the supply of all your needs according to God’s riches in glory with Christ Jesus." (Matt Chandler)

Rating:: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of David C Cook Publishers and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Monday, October 21, 2013

"Becoming Myself" (Stasi Eldredge)

TITLE: Becoming Myself: Embracing God's Dream of You
AUTHOR: Stasi Eldredge
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook Publishers, 2013, (256 pages).

Do we want to be changed by circumstances or by self-grit? Perhaps, the question is not what we are being changed into, but who is changing us.What is change? How does one really change? Does anyone ever really change? These questions drive popular teacher and conference speaker, Stasi Eldredge on a quest for our dreams of life and of God. The key is not change per se, but who we are being changed into. It is not changing for the sake of change, but changed by the love of God. It is not us changing ourselves or our circumstances, but us being changed by God through the circumstances. This distinction becomes clearer and clearer the more one leaves through the pages of this book.  Beginning with some observations of the struggles of many women, she points out two unhelpful agents of change. The first is the use of "shame" which basically guilt trips and demotivates oneself. The second is the other extreme which sees oneself in terms of one's ability to keep up with the disciplines. The first paralyzes one into non-action. It constantly cries out a desire to be fixed. The second drowns oneself in non-stop activities that never seem to be enough. It struggles to fix oneself. Both have one thing in common. It lacks the understanding of what God's love for us means.  It enslaves one with chains that say: "Fix It or be Fixed." "Becoming Myself" is not about fixing. It is about faith. It is about hope. It is about love, in particular, God's love.

Eldredge then invites us to meander with her through the events that shaped us. Like how our childhood memories can be a blessing or how we can look back at our high school years on how we long for acceptance by others and self-acceptance. With frank assessment of our hurts comes an honesty that points toward healing and the Healer. In “Lanscape of our lives,” Eldredge provides a metaphors of change through a woman’s life comparing the physical bodies of women with the four seasons of nature: Preadolescence and rapid development (growing); Menses and child-bearing (busyness); perimenopause and irregular cycles (struggles with end of mothering period); and menopause (great opportunities for self-growth and acceptance) . As a woman, she laments about the external forces that impact women at large, such as violence and becoming victims of sex trade. On mothers, she reflects on the four vital roles of mothers that all communicate self-worth: nurturing, protecting, preparing, and most importantly, initiating. For any mother to be able to help initiate another toward the fullest expression of womanhood, one needs to be initiated herself in the first place. If a mother wants to give love, she needs to receive love. If a mother wants to provide care, she needs to learn what it means to be cared for. If a mother wants to embrace life, she needs to be embraced by the Giver of Life, God Himself. This triggers the transformation of a woman away from fearing life toward desiring God; away from petty expectations about friends toward grace and forgiveness; away from drowning in life’s challenges toward bold swimming in rough waters of life. As one begins to see life from the eyes of God, one will gradually learn about true freedom both outside and especially inside. For true freedom will make us less judgmental about people. It can free us from shaming ourselves. It can free us from spiritual lies and bondage. Most of all, it liberates us toward greater freedom to be ourselves as we cling on the Giver of all Freedom: God. Slowly but surely, Eldredge affirms that the full expression of womanhood is in becoming a woman of faith, a woman of worship, and a woman who is true to her name and her calling. Most importantly, one is most fully herself when one is fully God's. This is the beautiful paradox of life.

So What?

Eldredge has written a powerful book to help women discover themselves. In order to appreciate how she comes to her conclusion, it is necessary to journey with her through the many different emotional struggles through life. Like her use of the metaphor of the seasons of nature, women would probably appreciate the physical and emotional changes through each stage of life. Readers who are looking for a quick and easy solution about solving the problems of life will be disappointed. There are no quick and easy solutions in this book. There is simply an invitation to ride the rocky waves of life, to understand the unique challenges of women, so that one can learn how to relate better with them at different stages of life.

Is this book only for women? Not necessarily. Men can also learn about the unique natures of a woman and in doing so, learn to exercise greater understanding and patience so that they can encourage them appropriately. Husbands too can find this book helpful as they seek to relate more intimately with their wives. One of the most powerful chapters are the ones on motherhood. It reminds me of my mother and her many self-sacrificial acts of love to prepare, to nurture, to protect, and to help us children grow into adulthood.

If you are in a position of spiritual leadership in a group or community where both genders are present, this book will certainly equip you with this key idea: "The more God's you become, the more yourself you become."

Eight Session Study Guide

There is a group study guide that readers may be interested to know. It follows closely the main book and provides brief summaries of the main points in the book followed by questions for discussion. This study guide is a practical way to explore the issue of change and negative thoughts, and how to be transformed into freedom in God. The eight lessons are entitled as follows:
  1. Does anyone really change?
  2. Looking back with mercy / the landscape of our lives
  3. Our mothers, ourselves
  4. From accepting to embracing / From fear to desire
  5. The company of women / Beauty forged in suffering
  6. Stumbling into Freedom
  7. Becoming a woman of faith and worship
  8. Becoming our true name / take heart.
The main book itself invites readers to pray "Come for us, Jesus. Come where we did not know any such thing. Come for our hearts." The study guide invites readers to act: "Let us come to you, Jesus. Let us embrace You more, as we let You embrace us all."

If you are planning to buy, do include the study guide as it summarizes very succinctly the main points.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by David C Cook Publishers and Graf-Martin Communications without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Friday, October 18, 2013

"Tools for Rebuilding" (Michael White and John Corcoran)

TITLE: Tools for Rebuilding: 75 Really, Really Practical Ways to Make Your Parish Better
AUTHOR: Michael White and John Corcoran
PUBLISHER: Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2013, (320 pages).

Whether it is tooling or retooling, making or remaking, building or rebuilding, every organization needs a refresh from time to time. After writing their book called "Rebuilt" about a year ago, Roman Catholic priest Michael White and his lay associate John Corcoran have come together again to offer practical information of what works and how to grow their parish community. Through 75 axioms or assertions, they believe that to be successful at building, one needs to know the parish (building site), the purpose (building project), and the plan to build ekklesia (living stones), and not kirche (blocks of stone).

Strategically, the first thing is to be still before God to gather a sense of where one is, instead of rushing off toward a people-pleasing program-based work. There is a need to focus on preparing the people of God by building up the Body of Christ. Know the vision and the mission of the Church. Have a big sense of God's vision for the world. Find consensus among the people. Let gratitude and enthusiasm motivate the building. Rather than compete with other attractions like sports to get attention of people, focus on excellence as a hallmark of ministry.

Facilities wise, White and Corcoran insist on proper maintenance and care of the building, even refusing to share the facilities with others. In their opinion, just because one has the space does not necessarily mean one needs to rent it to any organization who comes asking to rent or lease space. This is because the staff does not need added stress of trying to keep the place tidy. More importantly, it is to remain focused on the mission of the organization, and not be sidetracked by acts of charity that do not seem to help the Church's overall goal. This does not mean shutting out people altogether. The Church can still keep an open door for the needy through clear signs and opening hours, through welcoming atmosphere, and other hospitality matters.

In terms of office tools and limited staff resources, the authors remind readers that the needy will always be needy, and resources are to be carefully used so that the Church can respond to exceptional requests when called upon. This means being actively stewarding our resources through humble living, and avoiding piling up junk that affects our efficiency.

Communications are big building blocks of a Church community. This means not allowing others to turn our church bulletins into non-essential advertising of goods and stuff. It means regular updating of the Church's public face, like the website. It also means connecting with the community and neighbourhood. One test of the Church's effectiveness is when it closes down, how much does it affect the community? Will neighbours know it or will they be impacted significantly?

Other tools include the actual Sunday worship itself. From the designing of the worship service to the pulpit ministry, from the sacraments to the outreach ministries, the authors leave very few stones unturned in trying to galvanize the Church toward growing through building the various ministries of Church.

I like the way the authors focus on "building" Church rather than "doing" Church. The former sounds more progressive while the latter tends to suggest some kind of a maintenance mentality. It may just be semantics but it is a good reminder anyway.

For Churches that have been around for ages and are not growing, perhaps, this book can spark some creative ideas and energies to start renovating, rebuilding, or revitalizing congregations both old and new. The old needs an injection of fresh impetus to change or to grow. The new needs a regular input of ideas and creativity to spur the vitality of growth.  It is apt for the authors to remind us that we ought to stop trying to get people to "go to Church." Instead, we ought to try to improve, to build, and to live out a vibrant community life so that people will want to come. While it is not exactly trying to make Church 'work' for people that is the point. The point is, we let God use us to make Church work for God. In doing so, people will then come to Church for reason of worshiping God, rather than to be entertained or amused by nice programs. Perhaps, God can do both?

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Ave Maria Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Brim (Suzanne Castle and Andra Moran)

TITLE: Brim: Creative Overflow in Worship Design
AUTHOR:  Suzanne Castle and Andra Moran
PUBLISHER: St Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2013, (128 pages).

Like riding a bicycle, there is only so much theory can teach. Only through practice, one learns the art and science of riding a bicycle. The same goes for worship. We can have all the right theologies and all the right teachings about the how, the what, the who, the why, the when, and so on, without practical use, they remain in the intellectual realm. With this book, we get both; a short devotional about what worship is, and many practical helps and tips on what it takes to lead a meaningful worship service. Much thought has gone into explaining the reason for the title of the book. It can mean brimming with joy and uplifting spirit as one comes to worship. It can mean ideas that overflows. It can mean how Jesus works the brims of society, reaching out to the marginalized. For the purpose of this book, brim is about a "creative overflow in worship design." Written by two seasoned worship leaders, Moran and Castle have teamed up to offer reads and interested worship leaders to infuse the arts, technology, and various audio-visual "multi-sensory experiences" into the worship service. They even have a website to spur further discussion here. Honour God with the creativity that He has endowed upon us. That is the motivation for the book.

There are several convictions the authors have set forth. Let me highlight just a few of them to give you a gist.

First, they emphasize the importance of planning. For them, it is as much as six months in advance to plan the themes and worship series. Such planning includes recruitment, idea-storming, prayers, visual arts integration, and other pertinent details. The list of things to plan for is pretty meticulous. For example, in building the worship team, they suggest the need for at least six roles: team captain, designer for the sacred space, prayer person in charge, technologist, art person, and clergy. It is because worship is serious business, planning is critical.

Second, they embrace an inclusive form of worship format. Thus, they are free to choose from ancient or traditional forms of terminology, contemporary use of language, choosing not only hymns or choruses, but also popular music that adds to the overall worship focus. The "worship supply closet" is a great reminder that symbols and various props can enhance and make the worship more meaningful for all. For example, the authors peruse thrift stores and various garage sales regularly so as to help design the worship environment a more meaningful atmosphere.

Third, they believe in preserving and respecting what has been handed down to us. The chapter on "hand-me-downs" is something that I feel some worship leaders may have unwittingly ignored. Tradition is not merely some old old story or idea. It is about stewarding the gift and inheritance of our forefathers and those who have faithfully walked the path before us. It is about being thankful for all we have been receiving on a silver platter. It is in recognition of how God has blessed the past with much vigour and goodness. Traditional when seen in the light of faithful past, will remind us that the traditional vs contemporary debate is altogether a silly comparison altogether. There is meaning in both. Do not throw away something that is traditional simply because it is old. Neither dump the contemporary simply because it is newer. Embrace whatever is appropriate in our individual Church contexts.

Fourth, they believe that there are plenty of resources to jiggle the worship leader's creativity. Thus, the resources they provide are plentiful. For example, the playlist of songs suggestions is helpful as a starting list in preparing for worship. I know of worship leaders who struggle each week thinking of what songs to choose. The playlist does have a theme. The many different flows of worship, ideas for individual services, and many different ways to do worship present to readers a wealth of resources for worship. 

Fifth, they believe that practical use will aid learning. Thus, the ten worship service designs have been fully laid out for worship leaders to learn and to lead through examples. Tested and tried in their own worship communities, the list of ideas remind me once again that worship is more than just singing songs. It is about the whole experience. This reminds me of Leonard Sweet's EPIC acronym for designing worship services in a postmodern environment. While I list the following, it does not necessarily mean I endorse them. They are listed for information purposes.

E =  Experiential
This means worship services in the postmodern culture need to relate to the hunger for experiencing life. Believing and experiencing are the same side to the expression of faith. 

P = Participatory
 In an age where there are rising suspicions on authority and institutions, many modern folks are interested in being able to participate and to have their voices or opinions heard. Thus, in worship services, if the participatory element is in place, it makes it more meaningful.

I = Image-Driven / Image-Rich
People nowadays learn more from images and symbols more than abstract concepts or words. Using a picture, a portrait, or a prop, worshipers will find it more helpful to reflect and ponder on things diving with images. 

C = Communal  / Connective
We live in a age where people not only want to be connected, they want to feel connected. Thus, any programs or processes in Church needs to have this consideration in place.

The choice of the word "Brim" in itself is fascinating. I remember in seminary studies where my friends tell me a core ministerial trait is to serve God not out of our limited abilities, but to serve God fully out of an overflow of HIS goodness, HIS ability, HIS resources, and HIS love. Brim is pointing and accelerating my awareness of this. Great worship resource!

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Chalice Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

"Transforming Church Conflict" (Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger & Theresa F. Latini)

TITLE: Transforming Church Conflict: Compassionate Leadership in Action
AUTHOR: Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger and Theresa F. Latini
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013, (184 pages).

All communities over time will experience conflicts. Churches too. It is not about whether conflicts will occur or not. It is a question of when. Knowing this fact of life, perhaps, since conflicts are going to happen anyway, why not learn how to positively deal with it? Rather than let conflicts deform and destroy relationships, why not use them as opportunities to transform people and the Church community? This calls for compassionate leadership. Based on their experience and knowledge of "Non-Violent Communications," developed by Marshall Rosenberg, the authors learn of eight ways in which NVC can be used to transform Church conflicts. Below is my paraphrase.

  1. From Criticisms to Opportunities for Greater Understanding;
  2. From Disengagement to Dialogue;
  3. From Hurting to Healing;
  4. From Dismissive to Meaningful Expressing of Oneself;
  5. From Nonchalance to Compassion for People;
  6. From Anger to Healthy Application of Such Emotions;
  7. From a Distant Observer to a Mediating Brother;
  8. From Indifference to Authenticity.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"Occupy Spirituality" (Adam Bucko and Matthew Fox)

TITLE: Occupy Spirituality: A Radical Vision for a New Generation (Sacred Activism)
AUTHOR: Adam Bucko and Matthew Fox
PUBLISHER: Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2013, (288 pages).

This book is an invitation to "occupy your conscience." Finding solidarity in a radical display of standing up for what is right, protests, sit-ins, peaceful demonstrations, and standing up for justice and peace are the open expressions of "occupy spirituality." Based on the common values of food, justice, equality, and freedom, this book speaks about a new generation who are vociferous about these values, famously (or some say infamously) demonstrated in the Occupy movements. Spiritual Theologian Matthew Fox and youthful activist Adam Bucko have come together to issue a call for the new generation to take charge, assuming that the older, Baby Boomer generation has largely taken a back seat in common concerns.

The authors notice a fresh, young, and energized younger generation who are no longer content with sitting back and do nothing. This generation wants to make a difference in this world. It admires the spirit of youthfulness that is able to channel its energies toward worthy causes and charitable purposes. One of the problems with the Occupy movement so far is that it lacks a proper spiritual or moral motivation. Many younger people are ready to take action. They are willing to give up the comforts of the past and deal with the problems of the present. They are prepared to tough it out to create a brave and more promising new future. What they lack is spiritual guidance. This is where Fox and Bucko come in, where the book can be a place where the young and the rest dialogue sensibly and passionately. Spirituality is not about hiding in some obscure monastery or place of refuge. It is about open engagement with a loving heart. Such engagement includes:
  • addressing the problem of rising unemployment;
  • Why educated graduates with advanced degrees are living on food stamps?
  • High price of Education;
  • Inequitable pay and company profits
In order to make a difference, first, one has to "get mad." Second, one needs to be angry with the situation. Finally, one needs proper guidance on how to channel this madness, and anger toward something constructive. This book shows the way through marrying activism and spirituality. The former get things done. The latter provides the reasons, the motives, and the proper attitude in getting things done.

Radical spirituality is one that harnesses moral imagination. While Fox uses the opportunity to flesh out his favourite "Four Paths of Creation Spirituality," Bucko shares five pointers with regards to radical spirituality. Firstly, it is deeply "ecumenical, inter-spiritual, and post-traditional." The authors also argue that the "spiritual but not religious" movement is a reawakening rather than a decline in religious awareness. Secondly, it is "contemplative and experience based" though the authors also acknowledge that one can be addicted to experience. As long as the experienced has a conceptual backing, that would be more solid. Thirdly,  practice must proceed from contemplation. Fourthly, spirituality must breed action. Fifth, there is the action that arises out of a calling that brings out joy, celebration, and aliveness. Sixth, it is more than mere democracy, but authenticity and heart connections. They also have a word for the Church, that the Church who lives for itself will die. The Church must get back to the path of serving everyone outside apart from inside.

Bucko shares his story in chapter 3, where recognizing his own life song will help him play the melodies of living. Born in Poland in 1975, he remembers a happy childhood amid a violent public environment. Initially, he found solace in religion. Soon, he moves to a radical fight against totalitarianism. By the age of 14, he was already a part of the "anarchist youth movement." After coming to the United States, he started small through busking. In interacting with homeless people in the cities, he begins his search for meaning and spirituality. His discovery of his own vocation began when he lived with a community to work with suffering people. One touching story was how when trying to help a prostitute get out of prostitution, he learns that existing systems are not sympathetic to her plight. He summarizes his story through a poem: "My God Lives On The Street."

Fox acknowledges that his own vocation is an evolution over time. Formerly a Dominican priest, he lets his own spiritual learning takes priority even when it meant being kicked out of the Roman Catholic Church. One of his spiritual mentors was the late Thomas Merton who helped him find his own vocation, and eventually come up with the Four Paths of Creation Spirituality. His own spiritual paths include fighting dualism, patriarchy, homophobia, denominationalism, fascism, and even the Church's doctrine on "original sin." Instead, Fox proposes "original blessing" as the way to go. He ends with "Twelve Principles of Creation Spirituality."

The rest of the book continues dialogues about discovering one's calling, putting spiritual and practice together, seeking common ground among different generations, and building up a new community that is anchored on ecumenism and inter-spiritual identities. It concludes with an affirmation of "spiritual democracy" and that "any one religion is just as good as another."

So What?

The last quote in the previous paragraph straightaway raises alarm bells. Anyone who says that are not really respecting the uniqueness of each religion. They are at best trying to be nice, and at worse, ignorant of the fundamental tenets of faith of each religion. The point is, religions have their own sacred creeds and doctrines that cannot be denied. Each of them have their own versions of truths, and to equalize them with others will be doing injustice to all. In fact, "spiritual democracy" may very well be a new religion trying to "lord over" all other religions. Fox can only speak for Creation Spiritualists. He cannot claim to speak for other branches of Christianity. Likewise, Bucko speaks mainly from his own contexts and backgrounds, and cannot speak for the rest of the world. That said, they are doing some things right, especially with the call to put faith and practice together, and to work together with people of different faiths and spiritualities.

That said, there are some things that merit consideration. I may disagree with the theologies the author bring forth. However, I recognize that many of the interviews and the interactions with the younger people reported in the book are real and reflect the mood of the new generation. This is the single biggest reason to maintain a listening ear and a readiness to support the cause regardless of different religious persuasions. Stay in touch with their emotions and passions. Do not belittle their energies. Empathize with them. For example, some naysayers complain about the Occupy Movements as a waste of time and resources. A truck driver angrily shouts aloud" "Why don't you all get a job!" will get a reply, "Yes we would, but there are no jobs!" Indeed, that is the reality of our modern world. We may not agree with the protests but we must agree that there are many pressing issues that all of us need to work together to find a solution. Young people are feeling abandoned and ladened with huge debts. With no jobs or societal backing, many are left to fend for themselves. For Fox, courage and generosity are the two key traits necessary for this new generation, and to wake up other sleepy generations. The courage to tackle greedy titans of society, and the generosity to help the marginalized and the helpless.

I think the intent of the authors is good. They marry a lot of diverse opinions and choose not to be critical about any one religious view. There are a lot of commendable actions that arise out of the broken systems of the world. That said, I find the spirituality they propose grossly inadequate. The problem with spiritual democracy and uncritical embrace of ecumenism is that it is a very shaky foundation for building any "Occupy Spirituality." At best, it will be tolerance. At worse, it will be biding time before the next controversy. Actions can only do so much. Experiences can only be valid for a season. After a while, the spirituality will break down due to vague identities of what they truly stand for. Unless of course, Fox and Bucko can convert more people to a new religion called "Occupy Spirituality."

Rating: 3.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of North Atlantic Books and SpeakEasy Book Reviews in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Friday, October 11, 2013

"The Psalms" (Andrew Schmutzer and David M. Howard Jr.)

TITLE: The Psalms: Language for All Seasons of the Soul
AUTHOR: Andrew Schmutzer and David M. Howard Jr. (editors)
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2013, (288 pages).

How do we read Psalms? Are they more to be sung or simply read? Can we study them analytically? How do we appreciate the poetic structures in it? In seeing God in the Psalms, is there a way we can discover our identity in God? Eighteen highly esteemed and learned scholars from across the evangelical community across North America and Europe have come together to share of their perspectives about the Psalms and how they can be read, studied, or used in worship. There are four purposes that these contributors want to achieve. First, they want to celebrate the spirit of the Psalms, and how the Psalms continue to impact the Christian community. Second, they want to crystallize the many insights learned through the years. Third, they desire to connect together the "theological, literary, and canonical" themes in Psalms. Fourth, they want to consolidate the material and learning into one book for the use of pastors, teachers, and lay leaders. The essays began out of the Evangelical Theological Society's "Psalms and Hebrew Poetry Consultation" section, which was established back in 2009. As a result nineteen essays are collected and set forth clearly in five parts.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

"Worship for the Whole People of God" (Ruth C Duck)

TITLE: Worship for the Whole People of God: Vital Worship for the 21st Century
AUTHOR: Ruth C Duck
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, (358 pages).

Worship is something many people do every week. Worship leaders all over the world will spend hours preparing for worship. There are many people who think that worship is just about "throwing a few songs together." Wrong. Worship is much more than that. This book shows the way.

Without pinning readers down to any one way of doing worship, the author invites meaningful reflection on the diversity of worship, both individually and together as a congregation. With historical background, theological breadth, and practical ideas, Ruth Duck writes from a rich teaching background nourished by years of experiencing worship in a diverse environment. As a professor at a United Methodist seminary, this book is exemplary of the four-fold Wesleyan tradition of using Reason, Experience, backed by Tradition and Scripture. At the heart of it all is to help discover or re-discover the riches of integrating the Word, the sacraments, the preaching, the community, and the overall practice of worship. Duck has several concerns which she wants to address. Firstly, worship and liturgies must be "decentered" from mere White, European, or Western kind of liturgies. In other words, one needs to recognize that worship is much more than that. Secondly, worship needs to be led with theological reflection, care, and pastoral sensitivity. Thirdly, she wants to contribute to vibrant worship that is anchored on liturgical faithfulness. Finally, she wants to reach out to a variety of people of different backgrounds, even sexual orientations, and to remind all that worship is for all people to participate in. This book is thus designed to reach out the congregations at large on many fronts.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

NIV Integrated Study Bible - A New Chronological Approach

TITLE: NIV Integrated Study Bible: A New Chronological Approach for Exploring Scripture
EDITOR: John R Kohlenberger III
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013, (1472 pages).

This Bible is called NIVISB for short. Using the NIV 2011 translation, the books of the Bible are arranged in chronological order according to the publisher's best estimate of the time occurrences. This is done through seven major historical sections:
  1. Creation through the Patriarchs (Genesis; Job);
  2. Exodus to Conquest (Exodus-Deuteronomy; Psalm 90);
  3. Conquest through the United Kingdoms (Joshua- 1 Kings 11; 1 Chronicles 10 - 2 Chronicles 9; 129 Psalms; Proverbs; Ecclesiastes; Songs);
  4. Divided Kingdoms and Exile (1 Kings 12-2 Kings 25; 2 Chronicles 10-36; Isaiah-Daniel 9; Hosea; Amos-Zephaniah; Psalm 102, 137)
  5. Return to the Land (1 Chron 1-9; Ezra-Esther; Daniel 10-12; Haggai; Zechariah; Joel; Malachi; 18 Psalms)
  6. The Life of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke John)
  7. The Early Church (Acts to Revelation)
There are introductions and timeline charts for each of the sections, except for the first two which share a combined introduction and chart. As far as possible, the NIVISB uses the Bible as its own interpreter with regards to the time approximations. Meant to help readers read with time sensitivity, the NIVISB enables readers to situate themselves as modern readers in the unfolding of the ancient biblical drama.Let me give some of my observations on each of the seven sections.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

"Surviving an Affair" (Willard F Harley Jr and Jennifer Harley Chalmers)

TITLE: Surviving an Affair
AUTHOR: Willard F Harley Jr and Jennifer Harley Chalmers
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2013, (224 pages).

Is it possible for a marriage to survive an affair? How can one ever recover from infidelity? Statistics show that life will never be the same again, with many choosing the divorce option. This topic is not something that any couple getting married will ever thought of reading. After all, hardly anyone entering into marriage will ever think they will commit adultery. Affairs are deadly to marriage relationships. It break not only the marriage, but also other secondary relationships. More than one family will be affected. More than one person will be hurt. More than one emotion will be strongly felt.

It is also a taboo topic. For some, just thinking of a recovery is something of bad taste. After all, what's the point of continuing the moment the marriage bed has been defiled? Infidelity is one of those things that are painful, hurtful, and even shameful for the families involved. In fact, affairs are one of those things that spike high in the territory of anger, depression, guilt, shame, loneliness, betrayal, and all negative emotions. The marriage bond has been broken. The trust has been destroyed. Despite all of these, there is hope. As far as the authors are concerned, it is possible for affected couples to get back together again. It is possible for recovery. It is worth it to try again. Harley and Chalmers believe that it is a worthy cause to bring about action plans and tips to help affected couples not only to recover from infidelity, but also to protect he marriage even more. As psychologists and marriage counselors, they have encountered many situations of infidelity that tend to become a one-way track to divorces. That is not necessary so, insists the authors. Amid the gloom, there is hope for the marriage to survive, but the path is very narrow. This book is written to help affected couples and their supporters to traverse this narrow path.

Monday, October 7, 2013

"40 Days of Grace" (Rich Miller)

TITLE: 40 Days of Grace
AUTHOR: Rich Miller
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Monarch Books, 2013, (256 pages).

Grace is one of the most beautiful virtues in the Christian faith. Unfortunately, it is talked about often but not equally lived out. When applied to one's relationship with God, the gulf widens. Miller is President of Freedom in Christ Ministries, founded by Dr Neil T Anderson, who also wrote a foreword for this book. One of the best demonstrations of grace is freedom. Freedom to give and the freedom to receive. For the author, there are two things that is critical to freedom in life and in love. First there needs to be grace. He describes grace as follows:

"Grace is like the clean, oxygen-rich atmosphere we breathe. It is necessary for life, for health, for growth. When you are surrounded by grace you flourish; when you're not, you gasp for air. You feel like you are being smothered. Graceless living is like choking pollutants in the air - or worse, like carbon monoxide. You may not realize it is killing you spiritually until it is too late." (13)

It is the way we relate with God. The second thing is truth from which all grace builds upon. Truth is the "solid ground" that grace stands firmly upon. So Miller aims to help readers discover both grace and truth through an exercise called the "40 days of grace." It is not a race course but a grace course. Spread out in six weeks, each week deals with a particular expression of grace. In Week One, "Amazing Grace" is introduced as the beginning of an exciting life. We discover from Scripture that God is gracious. From knowing God, readers will be prompted to reckon grace in their lives, apply it outward to others, and live it out as an expression of love. Week Two begins a journey of being rescued from the "spiritual quicksand" of the lack of grace. Grace is not about how we feel. It is about the person of Christ. The way to grace is through Christ. We need to be reminded about our own need for grace as we ponder on our sinful nature. In forgiveness, we learn to receive with humble hearts the grace of God. On Week Three, we begin the journey from "ungrace to grace." We move away from shame. We are given a second chance. We are accepted by God. For Week Four, we learn to beware of the oppositions to grace. Guilt, shame, fear, and trickery can derail our path to God's grace. As we learn to depend more on God's approval, we will reduce our dependence on human approval. Week Five continues with the "Power of Humility," where living for God essentially means humble service and fighting pride. Week Six leads to the culmination of it all, where one get a better glimpse of what a "Grace-Rest" life looks like.

This book can be used as a 40-Days personal devotional. There are biblical references fully printed out for ease of reading and meditating. Following a brief writeup, readers are given a Thought to chew on, a Truth to remember, a Question to mull over, and Talking with God. At the final day, that is, Day 40, readers are to provide their own TTQT.  Like many things in life, there is no guarantee how an exercise regime or a time-based project will pan out. Here, I remember the words of Alfred Lord Tennyson who writes:

"It's better to have tried and failed than to live life wondering what would've happened if I had tried."

If you do not have a plan at all, and are intending to start on one, why not try out this book?

Rating: 3.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Monarch Books and Kregel Publications without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

"Ministering to Problem People in Your Church" (Marshall Shelly)

TITLE: Ministering to Problem People in Your Church: What to Do With Well-Intentioned Dragons
AUTHOR: Marshall Shelley
PUBLISHER: Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2013, (208 pages).

Previously published under the title, "Well-Intentioned Dragons," this book has substituted the rather controversial word "dragons" with a slightly more palatable phrase "problem people." Such people have the best intentions but often leave behind the most negative impressions of people, Church life, and even faith. According the the author, Editor of Leadership Journal publication for church leaders, such "dragons" are way too common. He base his observations on research by Christianity Today about 80% of pastors needing help with difficult people in their congregations. Containing stories of leaders who have both succeeded as well as failed, Shelley writes this book to help pastors and leaders to deal with such difficult people and situations.

Beginning with several stories of people in churches, he shows readers that conflicts by themselves can be very complex. From selling DVDs in Church to responding to sermons preached each week, anything can be a spark to a complicated debate. This is particular so when the matter boils over among leaders in the church. Shelley helps to highlight some of these "problem people."

  • "The Bird Dog" are people who seems to have made all the judgment already, fully expecting the pastor to execute their conclusions.
  • "The Wet Blanket" are those who basically neutralizes any enthusiasm for any initiative;
  • "The Entrepreneur" always wants to use Church connections to further his business interests;
  • "The Drill Instructor" orders people around as if he is commander in chief;
  • "The Anonymous Blogger" tries to air dirty laundry in public without disclosing who he or she is;
  • "The Financial Fickler" uses financial resources to dictate Church direction;
  • .. and several others.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

"The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good" (Peter Greer)

TITLE: The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good
AUTHOR: Peter Greer
PUBLISHER: Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2013, (192 pages).

What is the problem with doing good? Why should there be any objections in the first place? Are we not expected to do all the good we can? Then why the spiritual danger? What kind of dark sides are we talking about for people involved in charitable work and noble ministries? If these questions bother you, maybe you will also be bothered by the statistics that only one-third of people seeking out to do good, finish well. What about the other two-thirds? Well, some burned out. Others become disappointed with people. Still, some blame God for not intervening. In a nutshell, this book is a description of the many faces of "Christian Karma." For Peter Greer, there are sixteen warning signs for readers to take note of.

Firstly, beware of the erroneous philosophy of "Christian karma." The underlying belief is that as long as we do good, good will return to us. Such a philosophy tempts people to base their own worth on what they do, rather than who they are.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

"Take Charge of Your Emotions" (Linda J Solie)

TITLE: Take Charge of Your Emotions: Seven Steps to Overcoming Depression, Anxiety, and Anger
AUTHOR: Linda J Solie
PUBLISHER: Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2013, (272 pages).

Healthcare is a huge industry. From physical to mental well-being; from emotional to spiritual care; from the visible to the invisible signs or symptoms, more people are acknowledging that the holistic approach to medicine and personal health is key to a healthy life. Yet, the science of holistic medicine remains largely untapped. Medical professionals are well trained with regards to recognizing and treating symptoms of ailments and illnesses. When it comes to curing and enabling recovery, they require a lot of help from others such as psychological support, mental health counselors, spiritual guides, psychiatrists, medical technologists, and human care. In fact, self-care is also a critical component in the general well-being of a person. In this book, Dr Linda Solie, a licensed psychologist in Minnesota with 30 years of hands-on cognitive and behavioural experience, shares with readers about how one can learn to cultivate self-awareness and self-care, taking charge of one's emotions. Instead of not knowing what to do, this book is a guide for the perplexed, a breath of fresh perspective on understanding oneself, and wise steps to enable one to respond positively during times of depression, anxiety, and anger. Instead of using medication and antidepressants as a first step, Solie recommends it on the basis of three kinds of relationships:
  1. Relationships with our ownselves (mentally, emotionally, behaviorally);
  2. Relationship with Jesus (spiritually);
  3. Relationship with others (socially).