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Friday, October 31, 2014

"The Foundation of Communion with God" (Ryan M. McGraw)

TITLE: The Foundation of Communion with God: The Trinitarian Piety of John Owen
AUTHOR: Ryan M. McGraw
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014, (136 pages).

Hailed as one of the most prominent and important theologians in the 17th Century, widely respected as a Puritan Zealot, and author of several highly regarded works on purity and religious thought, Owen is a giant when it comes to defending reformed views of the Trinity. He believes that in order to know God, one must know theology. In fact, there is no difference between knowledge and experience. They belong together. True theology must not only enrich the person's mind but with the help of the Holy Spirit, also grip the person's heart. That is why Owen wrote one of the classic books entitled, "Communion with God" which talks about our communion with the Triune God. McGraw guides us through some of Owen's theological thoughts.
  • Trinity: Believers fellowship with the Father in love, the Son in grace, and the Spirit in comfort, each representing a special way in which the distinct personality of God informs the relationship of the believer with God. 
  • Communion: With worship as the highest expression of fellowship, Owen believes that communion with God is linked closely with the religious ordinances in public worship.
  • Scripture: Worship must be biblical, especially the recognized ordinances used in the Church service.
  • Heaven: Cultivate true affections for God in worship, engaging the heart toward God.
  • Covenant and Church: Covenant of redemption is rooted in the doctrine of the Trinity and servants of God come to bring people into communion with all three members of the Triune Godhead.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

"Household Gods" (Ted and Kristin Kluck)

TITLE: Household Gods
AUTHOR: Ted and Kristin Kluck
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2014, (176 pages).

It is culturally accepted. It is a familiar refrain. It is what most hardworking adults would say, "I love my family" or "I loved to spend time with my family." Yet, is it possible that we can love our family too much? Can we turn them into an idol? Are we keeping "household gods" in our cherished homes? For the authors, they assert that "family is a prominent household god." Whether we want to use Tim Keller's definition that idolatry is that something we deem more important than God; or the authors' friend Pat who sees idolatry as what we feel we have a "right to have," or things we cannot be happy without, the crux of the matter is that if we find shelter, security, safety, and all manner of significance only in our family, we have a "household god" in the making. Ted and Kristin notes:

"In the midst of a Christian subculture that idolizes the family, an evangelical history that overcelebrated it, and a secular culture that overprograms it, it is easy for well-meaning Christians to cross over the line into family idolatry."

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"A Reflection of God" (Joanna Tulloch)

TITLE: A Reflection of God: Poems, Meditations, Prayer Resources
AUTHOR: Joanna Tulloch
PUBLISHER: Leicestershire, UK: Matador - Troubador Publishing, 2014, (160 pages).

There are many books that purport to be Christian and talks about how to do spirituality and theology about God. They tell us the steps to live well. They describe the points of certain Christian doctrines. They even show us the details behind the theology and the practices from which the theology can inform.What about having the theology and the practice working together more closely? What about letting the informing and the doing supplement each other through reflections? What about letting 101 poems, prayers, and reflections help us to see more of God, as we long to let God reflect us to Him? This is what the book tries to accomplish.

A Methodist lay preacher and a poet for many years, Joanna Tulloch puts together her years of personal devotions and meditations in this self-published book. Right from the start, she invites readers to journey with her in spiritual reflections of faith and hope. This reflection is like a dog that refuses to give up on the bone in the mouth. Part One is "Glimpses of Grace" that comprises thirty poems. The poems urge one to "go forward" without fear; to sing the songs of joy; to respect the beauty of silence; to enter the garden of spirituality to discover hope amid fear of darkness; to learn contentment; to question the purpose of coincidence; to reflect inward matters as well as to be open to God's speaking; and so on.

Monday, October 27, 2014

"Beat God to the Punch" (Eric Mason)

TITLE: Beat God to the Punch: Because Jesus Demands Your Life
AUTHOR: Eric Mason
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B and H Publishing, 2014, (114 pages).

What a strange title. How can anyone be faster or better than God? How can anyone simply beat God to the punch? In a provocative title, lead pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania uniquely shows us what it means by God's grace, where mercy is quenches God's wrath; grace overwhelms works; and where God does not come to batter us into pieces but to better us into whole people. For grace will lead us to the very place that no other works of human efforts can ever reach. Only in Christ can God's perfect demands be met. Only in Christ can holiness be achieved. Only in Christ can we beat God to the punch.

According to Mason, God swings three punches at us in the form of "His wrath, justice, and judgment." On our own, we will be knocked out not by punching back but by quenching them "under the weight of the cross." The law helps us see God's righteousness and holiness. Grace helps us see mercy and love. The rest of the book articulates this bout of law vs grace and eventually lands on a grace saturated eternity.

Friday, October 24, 2014

"From Whom No Secrets are Hid" (Walter Brueggemann)

TITLE: From Whom No Secrets Are Hid: Introducing the Psalms
AUTHOR: Walter Brueggemann
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014, (224 pages).

I have learned that the Psalms do three things to us. They orientate us. They disorientate us. They then re-orientate us. All these are necessary in order to reveal our true selves to God, and for God to be revealed to us. For Brueggemann, the Psalms open us up. Those who really want to understand Psalms, cannot simply approach it via a liturgical ritual, a psychological insight, or an intellectual exercise. They need to be honest and to let Psalms tease the fearful selves within us out toward an awesome God. This idea is succinctly described in the title of the book, which was inspired from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer,
"ALMIGHTY God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen."

Thursday, October 23, 2014

"For the Glory of God" (Daniel I. Block)

TITLE: For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship
AUTHOR: Daniel I. Block
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014, (432 pages).

What comes to mind when we think about worship? I suppose many of us would be thinking of music styles, Church services, and of course the age-old distinction between traditional vs contemporary songs debate. Edith Humphrey criticizes the modern rendition of worship in five ways. They are 1) too much about feelings; 2) too human-centered; 3) too lacking in the focus on the Word of God; 4) too emotional and experiential oriented; 5) too market-driven. Author and Professor of Wheaton College agrees and this book not only expands on what Humphrey had written, but focuses on recovering the biblical understanding of worship. The writing of this book was inspired by the basic question: "What does God think of what we are doing?" Christians ought to do that too.

The Format
The book comprises 13 chapters, all arranged topically. Broadly speaking, the first three chapters set forth three fundamental questions:
  1. What is worship according to the Scriptures?
  2. Who is the object of true worship?
  3. Whose worship is acceptable to God?
Two chapters are dedicated to how worship can be practiced in daily work and family life. This is followed by four chapters that deal with ordinances, the use of the Word, prayer, and music in worship. The last three chapters work on the drama, the design, the theology, and the role of leaders to cultivate genuine worship. These 13 chapters provide at least 13 different ways in which biblical worship can be understood and practiced. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"52 Little Lessons from Les Miserables" (Bob Welch)

TITLE: 52 Little Lessons from Les Miserables
AUTHOR: Bob Welch
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2014, (208pages).

The musical has been seen by more than 65 million people in over 42 countries. Written by Victor Hugo in 1862, it continues to fascinate and enthrall audiences the world over. In 2012, it even won a Golden Globe award for best picture. The question, is there something more than simply a show? Are there important lessons to learn from as far as lay people are concerned? Are the lessons in the 19th Century story still relevant for today? Welch gives an emphatic YES! Fifty Two of them.

For Les Miserables is not simply a brilliant play that entertains. It is also a story that is big on spiritual themes, life struggles, and according to author, speaker, and adjunct professor of journalism at Eugene's University of Oregon, it contains "52 little lessons" that we can all learn from. What makes the writing of this book interesting and challenging is to be able to select only 52 out of a very complex tale of betrayal, mystery, joy, forgiveness, despondency, suffering, political and social reforms, and many others. For us as readers, we can enjoy the fruits of the author's labour, with the many stories of the characters, the places, the plots, the history and many other interesting settings. Most of the lessons are spiritually inclined because the author feels that the novel is spiritual in nature.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"Atlas Girl" (Emily T. Wierenga)

TITLE: Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look
AUTHOR: Emily T. Wierenga
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014, (288 pages).

This book is a three-in-one memoir. It is a travelogue that journals the author's travels across several continents. It is a personal memoir that describes the ups and downs; the hurting and healing; the break-up and reconciliation; the joys of pregnancy and sorrows of miscarriage; and the surprising twists of life. It is also a spiritual journal that gives intimate details about the author's faith and doubt; belief and unbelief; despair and hope; personal and impersonal relationships with God. In a nutshell, that is Emily Wierenga, a journalist, a wife, a mother, an artist, blogger, writer, and so much more. Calling herself an "atlas girl" which is also the title of this book, at first the book appears a little bit like Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat Pray Love" that became a bestseller across three continents as well. Although the countries visited are different, Wierenga's story stands unique from the rest.

Each of the forty chapters in the book is summarized with a theme and a country location. Although each chapter is dated, it is not arranged in chronological order. Part of the reason is because the book was started in 2007 when Wierenga started her blog when she returned to Canada to take care of her mum. What is really captivating about this book is the depth of honesty and authenticity the author fills throughout the book. She questions whether her dad actually cared for her. She rebels against her parents' rigid faith. She struggles to make sense of death, disease, and dying. Other setbacks include her eating disorder, miscarriage, and the death of her mum's nanny. At the same time, she shares about the joys of children, the beauty of family, the power of reconciliation, and the reality of hope. Parts of the book contain her mum, Yvonne's writings which made this book a shared work.

Monday, October 20, 2014

"James the Just: Presents Applications of the Torah" (Dr David Friedman)

TITLE: James the Just: Presents Applications of the Torah
AUTHOR: David Friedman
PUBLISHER: Clarksville, MD: Messianic Jewish Publisher, 2012, (152 pages).

There are many commentaries on the New Testament book of James but very few from a Messianic perspective. Come to think of it, it does take one to know one. If James is Jewish, the context of the book is Jewish, would it not be appropriate to have a Jewish commentary on the book of James (Ya'akov)? That is exactly what the author of this book aims to do. He does it historically, culturally, grammatically, and also contextually. The author is a Jewish Rabbi, scholar, and author. In this book, he argues that:
  • the book of James is consistent with a specific style of Rabbinic writings
  • it is collected by his disciples and distributed to believers beyond
  • it is about applying the Torah to everyday life.
  • Most English translations miss the Jewishness of the letter
  • James reflects upon the subjects covered in Leviticus 19-22
Friedman asks three chief questions. 
  1. Who was Ya'akov?
  2. Is this book a "rabbinic yalkut'?
  3. What are the main points?

Friday, October 17, 2014

"Made in the USA" (Alisa Jordheim)

TITLE: Made in the U.S.A.: The Sex Trafficking of America's Children
AUTHOR: Alisa Jordheim
PUBLISHER: Oviedo, FL: HigherLife Publishing, 2014, (288 pages).

The problem is not overseas. The problem is very much closer to home. In fact, it is right at our backyard! If we do not see the vulnerability of children to sex exploitation, traffickers will anyway. This is the underlying concern that leads to a passionate fight against a global epidemic: Sex Trafficking, Exploitation, and Child Abuse. From Asia to Europe, Africa to the Americas, the problem is the same that cuts across racial, ethnic, gender, and all classes. Right from chapter 1, readers will be shocked by the African, East European, Asian children coerced into the sex trade at a very early age. Gradually, the problem moves closer to home where young girls are lured into the sex industry as pimps and traffickers use their expert hunting skills to rein in the vulnerable. Jordheim does not mince her words. In fact, page after page, the message screams out that the problem is right at our door step, so much so that according to one, the only way to miss out is not to look for it. According to Founder and Executive Director of Justice Society, Alisa Jordheim, there has been lots of attention given to overseas concerns, but little toward domestic areas. She writes with this in mind, beginning with descriptions of the sex trafficking problem far away, and then drawing readers to recognize the problem close by. She highlights the problem in a highly sexualized culture that blurs the line between adults and children, and makes commercializing sex seems ok. She blasts the rise of pornography, the sexually explicit materials in public, loose language, that these simply grooms the local culture to become very similar to what is happening elsewhere. In fact, Jordheim maintains that the problem at home is no smaller than the problem far far away.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

"The Psalm 119 Experience" (John Kramp)

TITLE: The Psalm 119 Experience: A Devotional Journey You Will Not Forget
AUTHOR: John Kramp
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing, 2014, (256 pages).

It is the longest psalm in the Bible. It is also the longest book in the entire Bible. Comprising 176 verses divided into 22 sections, this psalm is one of the world's most loved and most quoted and has William Wilberforce repeating the psalm by heart in great comfort. According to author John Kramp, it is possible to remember all 176 verses in the psalm. More importantly, it will be an unforgettable "a devotional journey." He notes that Ps 119 is based on the 22-alphabets of the Hebrew language. Each eight-line section would be linked to the next via a literary device "bridge." It needs to be simple with memory tunes. Very soon, for the busy executive, one song leads to five, then twelve, then fifteen, and soon covering the entire psalm. Themes start to form and the ancient psalm becomes very relevant, very enriching, and deeply personal. He is experiencing what the Psalmist then was experiencing. What started as a song stuck on as a powerful instrument of faith. Each chapter comprises five days of devotions followed by a review of the particular section of the Psalm called "Lyrics." There are themes of righteousness, seeking to live purely, appreciating the Word, Truth, joy, the goodness of God, faith and faithfulness, and many more.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

"Abraham" (Charles R. Swindoll)

TITLE: Abraham: One Nomad's Amazing Journey of Faith
AUTHOR: Charles R. Swindoll
PUBLISHER: Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2014, (288 pages)

The Bible is not a book of fairy tales or ideal characters. It is very much a book about reality and real life. Right from the first patriarch of Israel, we learn about a biography that is not simply showing the positive sides of a person, it reveals warts and all. The popular writer, Charles Swindoll uses the story of Abraham to drive home four points about a good biography.
  1. That they translate truth into life
  2. That they develop "closer kinship" between people then and people now
  3. That they offer modern readers a closer identification with the characters in the story
  4. That they help us maintain a "divine perspective on life." 

Monday, October 13, 2014

"Gospel Centered Teaching" (Trevin Wax)

TITLE: Gospel-Centered Teaching: Showing Christ in All the Scripture
AUTHOR: Trevin Wax
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing, 2013, (128 pages).

In Churches and Christian communities around the world, many groups meet together as Bible study groups. In order to sustain and to enable these groups to flourish, the leader is critical. Whether one calls this person a facilitator, a Bible study leader, or a coordinator, the fact remains that one or more persons are needed in order to lead the discussion. Recognizing this, author Trevin Wax has put together a guide to enable such leaders to lead in a "gospel-centered" way.

Five chapters comprise this guide to "Gospel-Centered Teaching." The first points out the deficiencies happening in many groups. There are groups that are so inward-focused in their studies that Wax calls them, "missional apathy." Such groups do not give members a sense of mission toward outside causes. There are also those that smack of "biblical illiteracy" in which even after years of Bible study, members do not seem to grow. This leads to a third concern which is "shallow" Bible studies. Wax also makes an interesting observation about how young kids in Sunday School learn all the "do's" and when they reach high school levels, they start learning all the "don'ts." The cry for depth sometimes lead people to think that it is more information or more application. Wax disagrees. It is actually more of the gospel. This is further developed in chapter 2 which moves away from Bible studies that focus on information gathering or theological discussions that one misses out the Person of God. I like how Wax summarizes what the Bible is about via a particular Baptist leader's words.

"The Bible has one central theme: God’s redemptive purpose. It has one central figure: Christ. It has one central goal: God supreme in a redeemed universe. The Old Testament sounds the messianic hope. The Gospels record Christ’s incarnation. Acts relates His continuing work through the Holy Spirit. The Epistles interpret His person and work. Revelation proclaims His final triumph and glory. The Bible points forward to Christ, backward to Christ, and again forward to Christ in His glorious return and reign. Forward, backward, and forward. Everywhere you turn, there is Christ."

Friday, October 10, 2014

"Vanishing Grace" (Philip Yancey)

TITLE: Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News?
AUTHOR: Philip Yancey
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014, (304 pages).

Evangelicals are taking a bad rap nowadays. Just like the first century believers, the name "Christian" is being used more as a derogatory term. It is label that some people would even utter in the same breath with words like "bigot," "hypocrite," "intolerant," "homophobic," "anti-science," and other nasty terms. Of course, this is a sweeping statement that unfairly generalizes the Christian community. For the author who wrote one of the most popular books about grace, the question is: What happened? Why is the Church failing in her mission in dispensing grace? Are Christians who are supposed to be bearers of good news becoming stumbling blocks that prevent others from hearing about God's grace? These questions and more are tackled by one of evangelicalism's favourite author, Philip Yancey.

This book is a compilation of four short books. The first is a survey of the current attitudes against Christianity in general. What is most disconcerting is that Christians are perceived more and more unfavourably rather than good news bearers. He shares about how a fellow book club member said Christians being "anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-women - probably anti-sex" and so on. This is not helped by the exodus of young people out of the Church. What shocks Yancey more is the dramatic shift of perceptions between the West and the rest of the world. In his travel to Africa, Asia, and South America, Christians were generally seen respectfully as doctors, lawyers, pastors, teachers, nurses, helpers of various sorts. When he returned to North America, Christians seemed to be judged very harshly, so much so that Yancey felt he had to write this book to diagnose the problem; to reflect on the past journeys of pilgrims, activists, and artists; to ponder about the theological, the sociological, and the human issues surrounding the perceptions of grace; and proposes a way forward. At the heart of his concern is this: "How can we communicate truly good news to a culture running away from it?" He uses the Quaker saying aptly: "An enemy is one whose story we have not heard." Spot on!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

"Vision Map" (Joël Malm)

TITLE: Vision Map: Charting a Step-by-Step Course for Your Biggest Hopes and Dreams
AUTHOR: Joël Malm
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014, (112 pages).

What is life all about? What does God want me to do with my life? The first question is a quest for significance. The second is a desire for meaning and purpose in life. This book affirms the point that there is nothing more rewarding to see God's will be done in our own lives. Recognizing the many people who struggle with their self identity as well as their purpose in life, Malm brings us back to the drawing board to help us discover and draw out our vision maps. Do not be deceived. Mapping is only the first step. There are other elements needed such as time, diligence, tweaking from time to time, and "total dependence" on God. Malm comes from the standpoint of an ordinary guy, just like you and me. It must first begin with the assumption that God had given each one of us some purpose, message, or vision in life. This vision needs a captivating "one-liner" that is clear, concise, and communicable, that tells us what our destination is. It also needs time and patience to formulate it. If necessary, find advisors who are knowledgeable and who can assist through asking good questions and provide guidance. Then comes the mapping or the visualizing of the message, which essentially tells us HOW to get there. Drawing out the plan becomes interesting when the details are slowly fleshed out. What makes it more exciting is to see ourselves being in the part of God's overall picture. This means prayer and more prayer in order to discern the whole journey and to be alert about how it meanders through the ups and downs of life. His section about "Big Asks" is risky but is also considered a big step of faith. It rides on the mantra: "Fortune favours the bold." I like that.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

"Dangerous Passions, Deadly Sins" (Dennis Okholm)

TITLE: Dangerous Passions, Deadly Sins: Learning from the Psychology of Ancient Monks
AUTHOR: Dennis Okholm
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2014, (240 pages).

The latest psychological advances are not rocket sciences. In fact, they are based on principles already discovered previously in ancient practices. Modern psychotherapies are not new. They are based on fundamental truths discerned and practiced long time ago. This is the key point of this new book that argues against what CS Lewis has labeled "chronological snobbery," a term that describes the modern infatuation with all things latest and greatest. Here, Okholm shows us that things new are often not as new as people boast them to be, especially in the realm of modern psychology.

Taken from presentations given to Churches and universities, plus articles published at American Benedictine Review, books like Care for the Soul, and interactions with other travelers in spirituality matters, Azusa Pacific University Professor of Theology, and ordained Presbyterian minister, Dennis Okholm takes a look at the traditional seven deadly sins. He argues just like how John Cassian and Evagrius saw it, that the list of cardinal sins are all connected in more ways than one. Evagrius categorized the sins into three fundamental thoughts: "gluttony, avarice, and vainglory." Cassian connected the vices in pairs, like gluttony/lust; anger/envy; and so on. How serious is each vice depends on the context. Recognizing the way these saints of old had connected the vices with the associating passions, Okholm pounces on the key idea that our modern psychology of linking science with sociological behaviour may not be rocket science. In fact, rather than researching forward (that is, predicting a future discovery), go back to the ancients to learn how they had first discovered this link. This book expands on this by showing readers how a "deadly sin" is connected to a "dangerous passion," or what the author also called a "specific pathology or addiction."

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

"Citizen" (Rob Peabody)

TITLE: Citizen: Your role in the alternative kingdom
AUTHOR: Rob Peabody
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Monarch Books, 2014, (192 pages).

What does it mean to be a citizen of the Kingdom of God? Is it simply a label to denote our citizenship status? Is there something more to simply being called "citizens?" For pastor Rob Peabody, director of the Awaken movement in Northeast London, it means a fundamental change from awakening to passionate living. It means not simply possessing a citizenship certificate but to be seized with an urgency of God's call and a fervency to live in accordance to the hope we have in Jesus. Anyone who reads this book will be re-awakened to the beauty and power of Christ, and what it means to live in Jesus. For Peabody, the Damascus moment was in Jerusalem in a hotel balcony on March 2008. Gripped with a "holy discontent," dismayed at a "Golden Ticket Theology," and awakened to the reality of Kingdom citizenship, Peabody lets loose his convictions in a 192 pages book filled with stories, historical flashbacks, biblical injunctions, and personal testimonies of what the gospel means when we begin living in an alternative kingdom. From mere citizenship, we begin to appreciate how the Early Church and believers were persecuted and forced to live as colonies. Being awakened means not becoming stuck in a colony but to continue to grow toward Christlike communities that help one another discover the beauty of God and one another. Such communities are not restricted to Christian circles divided by race, ethnicity, or cultural distinctivenesses. It means learning to let Jesus the King be all our our attention that whatever differences we may have would seem so small compared to the unifying power of the Cross of Christ and citizens of the Kingdom of God.

Monday, October 6, 2014

"Abundant Living" (E. Stanley Jones)

TITLE: Abundant Living: 364 Daily Devotions
AUTHOR: E. Stanley Jones
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2014, (384 pages).

E. Stanley Jones (1884-1973) was a Methodist missionary to India. Soaked in biblical wisdom and powerful experiences in the mission field, Jones has written widely and wisely about the Christian life. Unfortunately, Jones himself admits that this book is probably his least successful book as no one paid any attention to it. Until the late Dr Martin Luther King Jr referred to it. It was E. Stanley Jones's friendship with Mahatma Gandhi and his writings that spurred the late civil rights leader to shape his protest movement.

Designed to be read systematically on a daily basis, readers will quickly notice the continuity of thought while leafing through the pages. Grounded with deep awareness of the human psyche and the cultural nuances that we all face from day to day, Jones is a wise guide to anticipate the questions that we have, and to lead us gently to discover the weaknesses of our own strengths, that we may realize our deep need for God. Each page looks initially like "Our Daily Bread" devotional. Unlike ODB, the devotionals are all written by Jones himself, filled with lots of personal experiences on the mission field, followed by spiritual insights to accompany the observations. It ends with a prayer in bold italics to help us refocus back on God. Jones is passionate about the defense of the Christian faith against worldly philosophies such as psychiatry that is too lopsided toward the science and missing out the moral values; or the complete lack of understanding of what science can offer and erroneously dismissing all things as spiritual problems. Jones is not only theologically astute, he is down to earth. His brand of apologetics is rather unique in that he does not simply argue against the non-Christian religions, he shows what he means. For example, in the "Calling the Roll of Life Strategies," Jones shows us the emptiness of Fascism and Capitalism, and reminds us that life's supreme choice will determine how one will live. Spiritual warfare is also big in Jones's agenda. He lists the fifteen seed enemies of the faith that not only threatens the spiritual life but the whole person. He offers tips for deliverance and to show us the way of self discipline. Toward the end of the book, one can see a greater emphasis on kingdom matters,

The devotions all have abundant living as a theme. Overcoming sins, debunking erroneous philosophies, correcting theological flaws, and living for God are all consistently taught. Readers will find that as they reflect upon the convictions of Jones and the writings that show forth the need for God, they will find more to agree with than anything else. This devotional is spiritual dynamite! Don't read this book at night. You may be too excited even to sleep.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


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

Friday, October 3, 2014

"NIV Essentials Study Bible"

TITLE: NIV Essentials Study Bible: Easily Grasp the Fundamentals of Scripture through Lenses from 6 Bestselling NIV Resources
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013, (1728 pages).

Based on the New International Version (2011),  this study Bible brings together many of the best study notes, photographs, timelines, contextual background, provocative discussion questions, charts and maps, plus other resources to help the eager student of the Bible study the Scriptures better. These study helps are drawn from six other NIV resources:
  • NIV Study Bible
  • NIV Quest Study Bible
  • NIV Archaeology Study Bible
  • NIV Student Bible
  • The Great Rescue Bible
  • The Essential Bible Companion
With Zondervan publishing so many different types of study Bibles, it is only a matter of time before some people would ask for a summary of the best resources out there to be packed in one single volume. This study Bible is the answer to that need.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

"The People, The Land, and the Future of Israel" (Darrell L Bock and Mitch Glaser)

TITLE: The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel: Israel and the Jewish People in the Plan of God
AUTHOR: Various contributors (edited by Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser)
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2014, (352 pages).

The Middle East continues to be a hotbed of violence, terrorism, and war. Central to the ongoing conflicts is the nation of Israel. In an increasingly unfriendly Arabic neighbourhood, coupled with direct declaration of war by various Islamic terrorist groups, Israel walks a fine balance between defending their people and their land, and inflicting damage on their neighbouring countries. At the same time, people wonder whether there is more to learn about the people of Israel, the land and the future of Israel. In the West, watching the news sometimes leaves one feeling a bias toward the Palestinian causes, and how Israel often appears to be the bully and instigator of violence. What if the present state of rising violence in the Middle East had all been predicted in the first place? What if Israel is more important than simply a nation that several radical organizations and countries are seeking to exterminate? What if God's plan for Israel remains vital for the Middle East situation? Is there a biblical perspective of the Palestinian issue? For the eighteen scholars, theologians, professors, pastors, and authors, the answer is a firm yes. With so many different perspectives, several top theologians and scholars, both in the USA and Canada have come together to offer the public what they deemed as the biblical perspective of Israel and how the biblical prophecy is being fulfilled. These scholars affirm several things:
  • God loves both Israel and people in Palestine; Arab countries
  • People often fail to examine what the Scriptures say about the ongoing Middle East crisis
  • The Iranian nuclear threat is real
  • Biblical prophecies (not only Ezekiel 37) do speak into the present climate of hostility and promise
  • Many Jews continue to differ in their perspectives of the Person of Jesus
  • There are many reasons for hope
  • The Church is called to embrace the whole house of Israel as well as their neighbours in love

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

"Mercy and Melons: Praying the Alphabets" (Lisa Nichols Hickman)

TITLE: Mercy & Melons: Praying the Alphabet
AUTHOR: Lisa Nichols Hickman
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2014, (208 pages).

Many people believe wholeheartedly that prayer is important. Some memorize the Lord's Prayer. Others religiously go through set times of prayer. Some pray through the Bible, while others pray with personal concerns in mind. What about the ancients? How do they pray? In the Old Testament, the Hebrew people often pray using a system that is easy to remember. One such method is acrostic structure, just like Psalm 119 which are all laid out according to the Hebrew alphabets. That way, people can remember with ease and to pray with systematic convenience. In our Western culture, we often use literary devices such as acronyms, alliterations, assonance, or other ways in which to remember how and what to pray. Sometimes, all we need is a way to trigger and bring out our prayers. For author Lisa Nichols Hickman, it is about praying the English Alphabet, to let them become "prompts for prayer." She works through each alphabet creatively looking not only at how the letter spawns a thought or an object, but also how the alphabet is a metaphor for life. Like the letter "A" in which she notices the ascend on one side and a descend down the other. She keeps an open eye on how each alphabet links not only what we see but also what we hear. Like a spiritual thesaurus, concordance, and dictionary, she lets her flow of thought weaves in daily occurrences with biblical references; normal activities with ancient events; contemplating the present and at the same time anticipating the future.

I was curious about how M eventually became the title of this book. Why of all the 26 alphabets did Hickman decides upon using M? It turns out that it was simply an "earworm" she was having where the words simply remained in her head so much that even when she walked, the "melons and mercy become the rhythms" of her feet. Be warned that this "earworm" can creep into readers too. Toward the end, Hickman gives us several more suggestions on how to begin to pray more creatively. Lest readers misunderstand, this is not a book about techniques or methods. It is simply a way to spur prayer moments by using the simplest circumstances available to us. It may not be a like Brother Lawrence's Practice of the Presence of God. Neither is it a prayer manual like the Anglican Church's Book of Prayer. It is also not a book that describes the particulars of prayer and praying like Andrew Murray or Richard Foster. It is simply a prayer that uses literary devices to guide one's prayer life.

For me, I find the book very refreshing and non-intrusive to our everyday lives. We should not be restricted to praying only at our rigid times or specific places, though those arrangements are good. Hickman's book is like a companion walking alongside us as we busy ourselves with our daily activities. By using the letters as prompt pointers, Hickman shows us how we can disentangle ourselves from the complicated essays of life, not to be sidelined by the paragraphs of our life plans nor the sentences of our work. We can learn not to be saddled with the demands of words and where to place our punctuation marks. Instead, we are encouraged to go back all the way to the first alphabet, to begin with a clean slate. That is precisely what many people would need in a busy, multitasking, and easily distracted world. Maybe, this book is more than mercy and melons. It is grace and gentleness. I suppose if the author decides to write another book of the same theme, she can easily come up with another series of alphabets and words. That is what prayer is. It is creative, refreshing, and very life-giving because prayer is not about a series of words or what to say. It is also about listening to the voice of God and learning know when to speak and when to remain silent.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


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