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Monday, December 19, 2016

"Guardrails" (Alan Briggs)

TITLE: Guardrails: Six Principles for a Multiplying Church
AUTHOR: Alan Briggs
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2016, (192 pages).

Growing churches is a desire among many Christian leaders. Whenever there is a huge increase in the number of attendees, people get excited. They rev up their engines to make Church run as efficiently as possible. They go on hyperactive mode to ensure that all the respective departments are up and running, able to meet the needs of all age groups. The moment the number drops, worry rises. Giving drops and panic rises. The focus then shifts overwhelmingly to one concern: How do we grow the Church? Here lies one of the biggest misconceptions in Church growth. Numbers do not necessarily reflect a healthy Church. The key to Church health is not numbers but discipleship. Author Alan Briggs provides four chapters on foundations and six principles to execute the way of discipleship. The key is how to start a movement and not simply a one-off project. Briggs looks at some movements in history and notes the need to avoid models in favour of principles.  We also need to avoid the three obstacles of kingdom building:

  1. Tendency to build kingdoms for self
  2. Tendency to build idols of security for self-preservation
  3. Tendency to think only for the present moment

Friday, December 16, 2016

"Teaching the Next Generations" (Terence D. Linhart)

TITLE: Teaching the Next Generations: A Comprehensive Guide for Teaching Christian Formation
AUTHOR: Terence D. Linhart
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016, (352 pages).

It has been often said that the young is the future of our society. In churches all over the world, the young are also the future of the leadership of the Church. How the children and formed when young often becomes the way they help lead the Church in the future. What then are the factors to guide them? How can the leaders of today help the formation of the leaders of tomorrow? How can we navigate the complex realities today for an unknown tomorrow? If adults are already facing difficult challenges, how can we expect the young to tackle their generational challenges if we do not lead by example? This book's premise is that teaching Christian Formation is an imperative, not an option. We need to help them understand spiricual formation and that learning happens at all ages. We need to be guided by important theologies and appropriate theories. We need a repertoire of creative methods and to be committed to the spiritual disciplines like prayer, and spiritual transformation. We need to teach not merely to download information but to work toward spiritual transformation and growth. This means working toward maturity and be anchored in Christ. It also means discipleship. The book is subdivided into five sections.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

NIV Faith & Work Bible

TITLE: NIV, Faith and Work Bible, Hardcover
AUTHOR: Various Contributors
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (1632 pages).

One of the most common concerns among Christians is the lack of understanding how faith plays out in the world of work and in the jobs we have. Some have called it a Sunday-Monday divide while others have simply wondered how relevant is Sunday faith with regard to the other six days. While there are many books already written on the integration of faith and work, and many seminaries offering workplace ministries and marketplace theologies, this new study and application Bible offers a biblical look and varied applications about how the Bible speaks into the world of faith and work. With a foreword from renowned preacher and teacher Tim Keller, four thought-provoking essays from David Kim, Richard Mouw, Nancy Ortberg, and Jon Tyson, this study Bible presents a combination of doctrine, application, and ways to cultivate community. Keller begins by describing Christians in terms of the "gathered church" and the "scattered church." The people of God are Church together on Sunday and also a Church going out into the world on the other six days. He is convinced that the Bible speaks a lot about faith and work. David Kim adds by pondering what it means to see the gospel changing everything. He sees it as three redemptions: 1) Our motivations; 2) Our Relationships; and 3) Our world. Through redemption of our motivations, we are given a fresh vision of why we work. Through redemption of our relationships, we appreciate how the gospel transforms relationships. Through redemption of our world, knowing that God cares for our world will give us added impetus to do whatever we can to bless and to make this world a better place for all. Some features of this application Bible includes:

Monday, December 12, 2016

Paradoxology (Krish Kandiah)

TITLE: Paradoxology: Why Christianity Was Never Meant to Be Simple
AUTHOR: Krish Kandiah
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2017, (288 pages).

Life is viewed like a paradox because of our limited perspectives. Every situation has multiple interpretations. Every interpretation is subject to changing contexts. When we view life as a paradox, it keeps us humble and open to different understanding. This is what author Krish Kandiah has done for us. By looking at key characters in the Bible, he helps us to learn the nuances of Christian teachings throughout the ages. Simply put, there are no simple answers to the difficult questions we encounter through time. Take suffering for example. Can we explain it or understand why it happens? For if we can understand all the things of God, surely, we will be God. The author begins with the following definition of a paradox: "A paradox, just to be clear, consists of true statements that lead to an apparent or real contradiction in logic or intuition." The key thesis in this book is this:

"Paradoxology makes a bold claim: that the paradoxes that seem to undermine belief are actually the heart of our vibrant faith, and that it is only by continually wrestling with them – rather than trying to pin them down or push them away – that we can really worship God, individually and together."

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

"Networked Theology" (Heidi Campbell and Stephen Garner)

TITLE: Networked Theology: Negotiating Faith in Digital Culture (Engaging Culture)
AUTHOR: Heidi Campbell and Stephen Garner
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016, (192 pages).

Digital devices have become ubiquitous throughout the world. It has redefined how we communicate, how we interact, and how we live. For many people, technology has become so integral that one cannot live without it. An outage could easily shift people to panic mode. Its attractiveness can become an addiction in itself. In faith matters, digital media and technology has not only redefined how we practise our faith, it is taking us on a whole new direction. This means we need to learn how to engage this new environment wisely and appropriately. This new digital era has invaded and affected the way we learn, do outreach, teach Christian Education, do Church, and share faith concerns. This is why we need to take the technology seriously and to think of constructive ways to engage with it, about it, and through it.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

"Jesus' Terrible Financial Advice" (John Thornton)

TITLE: Jesus' Terrible Financial Advice: Flipping the Tables on Peace, Prosperity, and the Pursuit of Happiness
AUTHOR: John Thornton
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2017, (128 pages).

Our society runs mainly for gains and for profits. From balancing the budget to increasing annual revenues, organizations are constantly looking at ways to stay in the black. Public listed companies would use monetary devices to measure the profitability of a company. The key financial advice is to make more money. This is the default mode. Even non-profits like churches are on a constant lookout for funding and for donations to run their organizations. Here's the shocker. What many churches teach about money are often at odds with what Jesus teaches. In fact, the teachings of Jesus would rip apart our thinking; expose our lack of faith; and reveals our deepest fears. For Jesus has called us to turn the other cheek; to let others take our shirt as well; and to give to all who asks. Many of us prefer to take exceptions rather than wholehearted acceptance of such teachings. There are many reasons why.

Monday, December 5, 2016

"When There Is No Miracle" (Robert L. Wise)

TITLE: When There Is No Miracle: Finding Hope in Pain and Suffering
AUTHOR: Robert L. Wise
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2016, (168 pages).

Many people have tried to answer it. Many have provided it. Yet, the questions keep coming. At all times, through the centuries, and probably throughout the future as well. The question of pain, evil, and suffering continues to be asked in spite of the many answers. Why is that so? Perhaps, the most plausible explanation is that suffering is in itself a complex and unique one. Complex because there are no easy answers. Unique because every suffering is different from all the rest. Even the same person encountering suffering will have different moments of inexplicable pain, all of which are unique in themselves. Yet, the fact remains that even when suffering cannot be easily understood, one can still share about the experiences and difficult lessons learned.

For author Robert Wise, this question still grips him. First published 40 years ago, this book covers personal encounters with the pain of seeing a friend die of brain cancer. It also includes 40 years of reflections about the wars around the world, unjust killings, and the mayhem occurring all the time at different places. It launches Wise on a quest for answers to look for hope in the midst of pain and suffering. Instead of answers, he discovered something better: Working with the best answer during the crucial stages of our lives. In a nutshell, when there is no miracle, take what we know, and move from there. What we do not know we wait. What we cannot know, we trust. This book is essentially about his periods of discernment after each episode of pain and suffering. He begins with a personal description of what miracles mean and how God is absolutely free to work through both miracles, divine interventions or other means. He addresses the question posed in the book's title directly by urging readers to avoid any forms of self-deception that artificially covers the reality of pain and suffering. He summarizes the whole point of the book through his professor's words: "Rather, each of us takes the best answer we can find at the moment and just lives with it. As years pass, what can't really be explained has a way of working down into one's life pattern, bringing the unacceptable into some order of sanity and propriety. If we are blessed, we find a grace that will assure us that what couldn't ever be really explained was in the end redemptive." (30)

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

"On the Block" (Doug Logan)

TITLE: On the Block: Developing a Biblical Picture for Missional Engagement
AUTHOR: Doug Logan
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2016, (202 pages).

What good is a Church mission if missions are only delegated to a subcommittee or a few gifted individuals who say they are called? How sustainable is any mission endeavour without the support of a Church backing? How can a Church witness Christ in the neighbourhood if there is no outreach? In this book about missions in the urban context, author and pastor Doug Logan believes that both the church (ecclesiology) and missions (missiology) need to be simultaneously practiced with Christ as the foundation and purpose of it all. The Church does not exist for itself and Missions cannot be isolated from the Church. The Church has a mission and this mission needs the Church. Logan puts it this way: "Our Christology drives us to be missiological ecclesiologists and ecclesiological missiologists." In other words, when we are in Christ, we live out as Church in mission. He uses four persons as examples to set the stage for this biblical engagement. Since the time of Adam, when Adam sinned, God had already set in motion a redemption plan in Gen 3:15. The story of Nehemiah is not simply about a man but a whole people of God called to build the temple. In Jesus, we see what it means to put the Word into action and to live in the world as people of God. In Paul, we learn about the five ways of addressing the culture of the world.

  1. Unveiling the customs and superstitions of the world
  2. Unveiling the true character of God
  3. Exposing the emptiness of worldliness
  4. Revealing the emptiness of culture
  5. Revealing the truth of Christ's resurrection.

Monday, November 28, 2016

"God is Not Fair and Other Reasons for Gratitude" (Daniel P. Horan)

TITLE: God Is Not Fair, and Other Reasons for Gratitude
AUTHOR: Daniel P. Horan
PUBLISHER: Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2016, (144 pages).

This is a Christian book with a strange title. Using a counterintuitive title to draw curiosity, it is also about learning not to see things from the eyes of individualism but through God's eyes. As long as we wear personal subjectivity and egoistical lenses, we will accuse God of being unfair for the most part. The key thesis of this book is that we need both open minds and open hearts in order to grow in faith. Gratitude is that key to cope with the harsh realities of life; the complex cultures around us; and to unlock the mystery of faith. Through a series of reflections from cultural symbols to modern icons of the world, readers are invited to reflect on what it means to live in a world that seems so unfair. For Christians, it is about living in an intersection of theology, scripture, culture, and relationships. Part One focuses on the Christian faith in the modern world. What do we make of the movie depictions of zombies and World War Z? In a world flooded by negative media depiction of priests, can we still find dignity in the priesthood? What are we going to do about slavery? Can nonviolence and the abolishment of capital punishment bring about greater good in the world of violence and evil? What about failures? Who and what is a saint all about? These issues and more are looked at from the eyes of faith.

Friday, November 25, 2016

"Pursuing Health in an Anxious Age" (Bob Cutillo, MD)

TITLE: Pursuing Health in an Anxious Age (Gospel Coalition (Faith and Work))
AUTHOR: Bob Cutillo, MD
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016, (208 pages)

What is health for? With more advanced medical technology and world-class healthcare, should we not be happier people? Not really. In fact, there are some disturbing trends that are happening in our era. There are many top quality tests but there is a lack of accuracy in diagnosis. There are many different branches of healthcare but they are more fragmented than ever. There are also that disturbing lopsided orientation toward cure rather than care. With the experience of hindsight and the genuine concern for holistic healthcare, author Bob Cutillo summarizes his concerns and gives insights on what good healthcare looks like as follows:
  • It must be scientifically competent and comes with well-informed choices
  • It needs a measurable and efficient system
  • It must include genuine care
  • There are lots of areas that health insurance often leaves out, which means we need to taper our expectations accordingly.
  • Politics play a big part in healthcare policies
  • Healthcare must involve not only the curative but also the preventative aspect
  • Healthcare also requires vulnerability and trust; and acceptance.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

"From the Editor's Desk" (John M. Buchanan)

TITLE: From the Editor's Desk
AUTHOR: John M. Buchanan
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016, (208 pages).

For evangelicals, the flagship magazine is "Christianity Today." Pentecostals would be familiar with "Charisma." For Roman Catholics, popular magazines include "Catholic Herald," "National Catholic Register," and "First Things." For many mainline Protestants, it is the "Christian Century." Originally formed as a "Disciples of Christ" journal, it was renamed "Christian Century" among various attempts to revitalize the floundering publication. Whatever public opinion may be, former publisher John Buchanan prefer to see this magazine as an advocate for "thinking critically and living faithfully." It aims to be open to the world and generous to the Church. The magazine was founded in 1884 as "The Christian Oracle" and has featured contributions from past well-known personalities like Gerald Ford, Karl Barth, Martin Luther King Jr, Paul Tillich, Reinhold Niebuhr, Karl Menninger as well as more modern writers such as Thomas Long, Barbara Brown Taylor, Eugene Peterson, Marcus Borg, and so on. A key mission of the periodical is to analyze and advocate for issues of the age according to the conscience of the church. For instance, it takes a pacifist position as international conflicts mount. It fights against human rights violations. It focuses on civil rights for all, being the first periodical to publish in full Dr Martin Luther King Jr's "A Letter from the Birmingham Jail." Looking at the title of the periodical can be embarrassing as one remembers how the century has been tainted by the Holocaust, Hiroshima, and 9/11. Reflecting as a grandfather, author John Buchanan sees a new wave of hot button issues on the horizon.

Friday, November 18, 2016

"Create vs Copy" (Ken Wytsma)

TITLE: Create vs. Copy: Embrace Change. Ignite Creativity. Break Through with Imagination.
AUTHOR: Ken Wytsma
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2016, (192 pages).

Be willing to change. Be excited about creativity. Exercise our imaginations. Let innovation and passion for new ideas lead the way. Leadership is essentially learning to lead in creative ways. This is the key message in this book, that to create is far better than to copy. Moreover, a creative new idea excites while an imitation tends to bore. Wytsma is not just passionate about intentional creativity, he longs to share this with many and this book is one way he is doing just that. He helps us go back to the basics.

In thinking about creativity, we are reminded that creating is very much a part of our relationship with creation. It is also a direct result of our relationship with God our creator. We learn more about God through our acts of creativity. This includes simple ideas in the head, various products on the shelves, memories of the past, recipes in the kitchen, sculptures in the art studio, sports and strategies, prayer meetings, campaigning, and many more. As long as we are kept creative, there is always something new to begin with. That is why as far as creativity is concerned, there is no end point. For God is constantly creating. It is also redemptive in the sense that creativity expands horizons and presents opportunities for growth. Moreover, the world we live in are constantly changing. If we fail to adapt and to change, we would be left behind. Wystma shares a powerful story of what it means to reach out to poorer countries like Africa. Some African countries have leapfrogged the communications technology moving directly from no-communications to wireless communications. Unlike many places in the US that are still dependent on fixed line infrastructures, such wireless advancements have accelerated the pace of progress in these African countries. No longer is it about white people sending white resources to Africa. Instead, it is about empowering African communities with new infrastructure that excites and motivates them to help themselves! Looking back to the culture state-side, Wytsma notes how modern sustained stress can negatively impact creativity. He then supplies four ways in which we can practice and facilitate creativity.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

"Joyful Witness in the Muslim World" (Evelyne A. Reisacher)

TITLE: Joyful Witness in the Muslim World: Sharing the Gospel in Everyday Encounters (Mission in Global Community)
AUTHOR: Evelyne A. Reisacher
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016, (188 pages).

We live in an increasingly dangerous world. Since 9/11, Islamophobia has reared its ugly head. The recent US elections have on its campaign highlighted the problem of terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism happening in the world. We are not living in a safer place at all. From shooting in schools to bombings in public places, there is a lot of reasons to be afraid. This has increased tensions between people of all walks of life and of various religions, in particular between Muslims and the rest of the world. Some secularists blame all religions. Many Non-Muslims tend to shun the Muslim community. Inter-religious harmony seem so rare. Some Christians even see Islam with lots of suspicion. How then can we get along? If the gospel is for all people, surely that includes Muslims too.

Evelyne Reisacher is Associate Professor of Islamic studies and cultural relations in the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary. Having spent a decade working with a Paris-based Christian organization that facilitates relationships with North African immigrants, she is convinced that witnessing to Muslims is not only possible but can be a joyful endeavor. This is because gospel joy is anchored on the Triune Godhead. Joy emanates from God and resonates with transformed believers. Such joy is for sharing and it amplifies vibrant communities. If that is so, should it not also impact outreach to Muslims?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

"Faithful Presence" (David E. Fitch)

TITLE: Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines That Shape the Church for Mission
AUTHOR: David E. Fitch
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2016, (256 pages).

How do we manifest Christ's love in a world of brokenness and pain? Is there something Christians can do to counter the social injustice and poverty disparities? Can the Church do more than mere handouts? If there is a genuine desire to be part of the solution, how then do believers go about doing it? According to author David E. Fitch, the answer is in the title of this new book entitled, "Faithful Presence." He defines it as follows:

"Faithful presence names the reality that God is present in the world and that he uses a people faithful to his presence to make himself concrete and real amid the world’s struggles and pain. When the church is this faithful presence, God’s kingdom becomes visible and the world is invited to join with God. Faithful presence is not only essential for our lives as Christians, it’s how God has chosen to change the world. In this book I aim to describe what this faithful presence looks like."

Monday, November 14, 2016

"Full" (Asheritah Ciuciu)

TITLE: Full: Food, Jesus, and the Battle for Satisfaction
AUTHOR: Asheritah Ciuciu
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2017, (240 pages).

We eat a lot. For some of us living in affluent countries, we eat several meals per day. Food can be plenty of satisfaction but it can also give us a false sense of security. We can feel full to the stomach but empty in the soul. We can pile up the calories and still feel hungry. We can spend all the money we have on food and still fail to get any sense of accomplishment. Food is an important aspect of life but it needs to be put in proper perspective. For fullness comes not from a bloated stomach but a devoted heart. For author, Asheritah Ciuciu, "Our problem is not really what we eat. It's why we seek fullness in something that will never satisfy." In other words, it is not the what we fill ourselves with but the why we do that. We are warned against "food addiction" that can turn into "food fixation." Our food problem is not the lack of food but the lack of satisfaction. This book is about deciphering our inner search for satisfaction, to arrest the ways of dissatisfaction that we can pay attention fully to the things that truly satisfy.

Ciuciu meticulously exposes the various ways in which we can possess an unhealthy fixation on food. We try to lose weight and spend a disproportionate amount of time trying to design the best diet for our bodies. We research on the best foods available to fit our menus. We comb supermarket brochures for the best deals. We even cut coupons in order to lower our food costs. From low-fat recipes to cholesterol worries, organic to natural foods, food networks and Youtube ways of cooking, we spend a lot of time thinking about food. We use food as a way to relieve our stress. Food therapy tends to be preferred than prayer and fasting. Perhaps, we need to put on the armour of God to deal with the food of idolatry! Ciuciu lists top ten lies we can tell ourselves about food, that we either deserve it or need it.

Friday, November 11, 2016

"Church Planting in the Secular West" (Stefan Paas)

TITLE: Church Planting in the Secular West: Learning from the European Experience (The Gospel and Our Culture Series (GOCS))
AUTHOR: Stefan Paas
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2016, (300 pages).

Most people would already know how secular North America has become. From Canada to the Southern Bible belt of the US, the reputation of the Church have not only taken a beating but the atheist and secular influences continue to dumb down all things religious. The Church has become more irrelevant as the days go by. The thought of planting churches tend to be a phenomena for churches in Asia, South America, and Africa. For North America, the Church is generally seen to be in a decline for the past few decades. This gloomy scene is nowhere near the state of the Church in Europe. If anyone thinks that Church planting in North America is tough, the idea of even planting a Church in Europe is quickly dispelled. In other words, as far as planting churches in Europe is concerned, tough is an understatement. Having said that, there are ways in which it is still possible to plant churches in the secular Europe. According to author Stefan Paas, "most if not all church planting in secular Europe is inspired by confessional motives, growth motives, and innovation motives." While defending church planting per se, he also has criticisms for all of the above approaches. In this book, Paas aims to look at all of these approaches from a missiological perspective with regard to the relevance of the Church with her neighbours. The second manner is to look at Europe in the present Western secular context after WWII. He also uses the definition of secular mainly as "non-religious" and boldly tackles what it means to reach out to people living in a highly secularized society where religion is increasingly irrelevant and obsolete.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

"A Different Kind of Happiness" (Larry Crabb)

TITLE: A Different Kind of Happiness: Discovering the Joy That Comes from Sacrificial Love
AUTHOR: Larry Crabb
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2016, (256 pages).

Is there a difference between happiness and joy? How many kinds of happiness are there? How can happiness ever last? Is happiness something so temporal that Christians should not pursue it? Is it ok to seek happiness? How can we be happy when things do not turn out our way? Where does true happiness actually come from? These questions are dealt with in this very insightful book about the search for happiness via relationships. In a very personal book that probes deep into the human psyche and the spirituality of happiness, the key message in this book is about how to obtain a happiness that is true and can be sustained. He points out three kinds of path toward happiness. The first group are those struggling in perpetual unhappiness owing to difficult circumstances. They see the world as unjust, cruel, and unfair. They find it hard to even have a glimpse of happiness. The second group see happiness linked to blessings received. The problem is, when the blessings disappear, so do the happiness. For the third group, true happiness comes through a celebration of relationships and sustained through a thirst and hunger for God.

Monday, November 7, 2016

"Icons: The Essential Collection" (Sr. Faith Riccio, CJ)

TITLE: Icons: The Essential Collection
AUTHOR: Sr. Faith Riccio, CJ
PUBLISHER: Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2016, (120 pages).

In our familiar technological world, the word 'icon' has been usurped by computer designers who create graphical icons to represent object oriented programming images. Using what has become known as WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get), the computer icons have become clickable for users to activate various functions on the computer. They also open up a new window of applications for the user to work on. For all their creativity and innovation, they have simply borrowed the term from its original use: Spirituality.

Calling it an essential collection, author Sister Faith Riccio has put together twenty-eight icons to invite us to go beyond what we see. The word 'eikon' has appeared in Genesis 1:26 that refers to man made in the likeness of God. As far as the author is concerned, there are several reasons why these icons are useful for meditations and for gazing into the Person of God.

  • They can soothe and comfort us
  • Their symbolism stirs our imagination
  • They help gather our attention to help us focus on God
  • They guide our desires toward spiritual things
  • They aid our prayers
  • They remind us of the faithfulness of the saints of old
  • They express spiritual realities
  • They challenge our busyness and help us to unwind
  • They enable us to rest and to start the process of healing
  • ...

Thursday, November 3, 2016

"The Music Architect" (Constance M. Cherry)

TITLE: The Music Architect: Blueprints for Engaging Worshipers in Song
AUTHOR: Constance M. Cherry
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016, (288 pages).

In churches around the world, music and song are common ways in which we honour God in worship and praise. Many people serve in this ministry but not many are trained. Musicians come with deep talents but the understanding of worship may not be as deep. This is where this book comes in. The dual objectives are to:

  1. Learn about thoughtful and holistic worship
  2. Disciple worshipers in song.
This book is Volume 3 of the "The Worship Architect" series of book designed to help churches and worship leaders plan their worship flow and program. The first volume is about planning. The second volume looks at principles of preparing specific worship segments and special events. This volume covers more specifically the area of music. In all of the three books, the aim is to maintain a consistent philosophy of worship; to unite worship and practice; and to provide a resource that is helpful across denominations. On top of these, there is a pastoral element infused into the teaching. The key thesis is "who we are" is a greater impact than "what we do." This is why the author starts with defining the meaning of a "Pastoral Musician" who is essentially one who embraces the Christian faith, growing in spiritual maturity, using one's spiritual gifts, participating in community, and accountable to God and others. Worship must be relevant to God while connecting to people. There is a biblical element that guides the understanding of worship. The historical perspective is not static but dynamic, which means we ought to let worship practices throughout all generations be rendered in a manner that is meaningful. In terms of spirituality, worship forms worshipers. Thus, the title of "pastoral musician" simply tells us that worship involves lots of music but is much than music. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

"Getting to Know the Church Fathers" (Bryan M. Litfin)

TITLE: Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction
AUTHOR: Bryan M. Litfin
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016, (288 pages).

One of the most interesting things about Church history is to study the characters who have shaped the Church and Christian thought through the centuries. There have been great accomplishments as well as terrible tragedies. Tracing the way Christianity has developed over the years will reveal many important lessons of gratitude as well as warnings. We show gratitude for our forefathers for their faithfulness and determination to uphold the truth. We learn that each generation has to fight their own theological battles and we should also do the same for our own generations. This book highlights twelve examples of courage and true allegiance to the faith. It teaches a love of history and the powerful encouragement to hold on to the tenets of our faith, many of which our ancestors have bled and died for.

As an introductory text, the author takes nothing for granted and spells out the meaning of the standard terminology. He defines the 'Church Father' like a regular father who guides his children and teaches the way in wisdom and spiritual thought. This terminology includes females like "Church mothers" as well. He highlights the misconceptions and tells us why they are wrong. He then lists the reasons why we should study the Church Fathers.

Monday, October 31, 2016

"Home" (Elyse Fitzpatrick)

TITLE: Home: How Heaven and the New Earth Satisfy Our Deepest Longings
AUTHOR: Elyse Fitzpatrick
PUBLISHER: Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2016, (240 pages).

Recently, there has been a spate of books about miracles and near-death-experience about what heaven is like. One was involved in a road accident. Another with an incurable illness was badly injured but experienced a miraculous healing. Still another claimed to have been to heaven and came back alive! All of them have this common theme: Heaven is real from the perspective of those who have been there (or claimed to be). Looking it from the perspective of people longing for home, theologians have spent countless hours coming the Bible and examining historical evidence about the place Jesus had prepared for believers. Some stayed with the scholarly and more academic theological treatment. Others tried to make it more palatable for popular reading. This book is one of the latter but unique in several ways. The most significant way is how the author puts into words our true longings for something far better than what earth can provide. It is way more desirable than any bucket list we could ever put together. Beginning with a personal description of tragedy and loss, Elyse Fitzpatrick helps us ponder upon the following questions:

  • What will heaven be like?
  • What about the biblical New Earth?
  • What happens when we die?
  • How will I spend eternity?
  • What about our loved ones who had died?

Friday, October 28, 2016

"Discipline That Connects With Your Child's Heart" (Jim & Lynne Jackson)

TITLE: Discipline That Connects With Your Child's Heart: Building Faith, Wisdom, and Character in the Messes of Daily Life
AUTHOR: Jim & Lynne Jackson
PUBLISHER: Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2016, (320 pages).

Parenting is tough. Dealing with kids with particular challenges can increase this difficulty a couple of notches. How can overwhelmed parents cope with the flurry of active growing children? Recognizing the challenges and frustrations of modern parenting, authors Jim and Lynne Jackson shares out of their over twenty years of experience that discipline can be wise and gentle. This is made better if we can indeed connect with the heart of the child. The way to do this is to remember and to practice the four actions and four messages.
  1. Foundation: "You are SAFE with me,"
  2. Connect: "You are LOVED no matter what."
  3. Coach: "You are CALLED and CAPABLE."
  4. Correct:  "You are RESPONSIBLE for your actions."
The foundational message is important for the entire book, that the child feels safe with the parents. In order to reach the heart, parenting must be based on love, that engaging the misbehavior must also be accompanied by affirmation of the child's identity. Putting it another way, discipline not out to control but out to condition a child. Discipline a child not out of our own baggage of problems. Recognize our own weaknesses and emotional struggles and not let that become reasons to take out our frustrations on our kids. Learn to be a calmer parent through trust in God's Word and obedience even to instructions that we don't like. "Slow, low, and listen" are some practical steps to take when preparing to discipline a child. Learn to parent out of a relationship with God and God's love.

Following these foundational chapters, we move on to the three stages of Connecting; Coaching; and Correcting. In "Connecting," we affirm the child with our love regardless of what the child had done. See misbehavior as moments for affirming our unconditional love. This calls for appropriate timing for any form of discipline. Loving a child cannot be done only when in good times. It needs to be demonstrated at ALL times. This is how unconditional love can be powerfully shown. Recognize the connection between fear and anger and replace it with self-control and a gentle trust in God.

In "Coaching," we are encouraged to find opportunities to build positives at all times. This means learning to look beyond the surface of any misbehavior. Remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solutions. Aim for long-term goals and motivation, and align that with God's kingdom focus. Recognize the hidden gifts of children and help them discover and develop them. By identifying the use of proper words, planning a discipline strategy, considering the natural impacts, and delaying gratification, and learning how to deal with the twelve common misbehaviors like (talking back; yelling; stubbornness; strong-willed; lying; stealing; irritable; insecure; impulsive; whining; complaining; and defensive). There is a suggested response to each of these misbehaviors which parents in general would find helpful.

In "Correcting," we come back to the biblical principle of discipline, which is to restore the person. Help children to learn from the natural process, to enable them to find solutions to their own problems instead of parents giving them all the answers. Being safe is not only about physical but very much emotional and spiritual. Through rebuilding, reconciliation, and restoration, the path of correction will be more helpful for the child in the long run.

So What?
This book powerfully structures the key thesis of enabling children to feel safe with their parents, regardless of what happens. Through the processes of connecting, coaching, and correcting, the relationship between parents and children is anchored on a firm and strong foundation of love. The Jacksons make it a constant effort to point readers back to the Source of Love: God. Every chapter is written with a practical application in mind. Explanations are kept simple and vibrant through many real-life examples of parenting difficulties. They encourage readers to do a personal response at the end of each chapter so that the concepts can be internalized and applied where possible. I enjoy the part about "Kid Connection" which offers case examples and illustrations that would encourage parents to do something.

As the book is written from a Western or North American perspective, we should not be too quick to assume that it can be applied to all cultures. Readers will still have to contextualize their own understanding of their cultures using the book as a guide. The key motivation is to be connected with our children. This means learning to connect as parents to God, our Spiritual Parent. As we enjoy the way God loves us, we can take a leaf of God's attributes of benevolence, love, patience, and self-sacrifice, and to bless our children accordingly. This book indeed is a gift to help us do more of that.

Authors Jim and Lynne Jackson are founders of "Connected Families" ministry based in Minnesota. They coach parents, conduct seminars, and engage online regularly. They are parents to three children and ministers out of their over twenty years of experience and knowledge.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Bethany House Publishers and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

"Reading Your Life's Story" (Keith R. Anderson)

TITLE: Reading Your Life's Story: An Invitation to Spiritual Mentoring
AUTHOR: Keith R. Anderson
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2016, (224 pages).

We are relational people. We grow best in a nourishing environment of friendship and honesty. Friendly and open with others; honest and bold about ourselves. We cannot grow on our own. We need others to guide us. We need spiritual direction. We need to be mentored in our own journey of life. Learning to read our life story remains one of the most crucial things we need to do. Unfortunately, this is also one of the most neglected. Some of the most important questions are often either not asked or ignored. This book attempts to boldly ask and to gently illuminate. It is an introductory book on the art of spiritual direction. It tells us about the importance of mentoring, what it is, what it looks like, and how we can go about establishing a mentor-mentee relationship. It shows us ways to:

  • start and sustain a dialogue
  • cultivate an honest and healthy curiosity about life stories
  • appreciating human relationships
  • desiring to deepen intimacy with God and others
  • learning to tell one another’s stories
  • being authentic through honest discovery

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

"NKJV Word Study Bible" (Thomas-Nelson)

TITLE: NKJV Word Study Bible, Hardcover: 1,700 Key Words that Unlock the Meaning of the Bible
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2016, (1760 pages).

There is a lot of study Bibles out there in the market. Not only are publishers trying to promote their Bible translations, they are constantly finding ways to encourage more to read and to study the Bible. Even with the advancement in computer software, nothing beats the feel and experience of having a printed study Bible. This particular study Bible focuses on word studies while at the same time maintaining a fluent and smooth reading of the Bible. It throws light on more than 1700 Hebrew/Aramaic/Greek words in the Bible to enable readers to dig deeper into the meaning not just of the words but the contexts as well. Using the New King James Version translation, the English words to be studied are first underlined to help us pause for a word study or for a reference to be aware of in the following verses. Here are some other features of the Bible.

There are indexes that help one to locate the specific words alphabetically; in chronological order according to the Bible books; according to Strong's numbering system, first in the Hebrew and then in the Greek. There is a concordance that lists key passages by English words plus helpful introductions of all 66 books of the Bible. There are colour maps, NKJV translators' notes, as well as cross-references to enlarge our understanding of the contexts of the passage. The publisher has also listed several resources for students to dig into. The translation used is the New King James Version that updates the English language for modern readers while maintaining a faithfulness to the beauty and style of the classic King James Bible. The translators are all scholars who subscribed to their belief in the "verbal and plenary inspiration of Scripture" plus the "inerrancy of the original autographs." While the old words like "Thou, Thy, Thee, and Thine" were once used for references to the Divine, it has been replaced by the more common "You, Your, and Yours" while maintaining the capitalized when referring to God. Translation can also be difficult with regard to deciding between contextual vs literal meaning. With regard to the New Testament manuscript, the translators have opted to retain the use of the Textus Receptus, while keeping an eye on the Critical and Majority Text. About 85% of the New Testament texts are similar and where there are variant readings, full explanations are given to give readers an appreciation of the decision making process.

Monday, October 24, 2016

"All Creation Waits" (Gayle Boss)

TITLE: All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings
AUTHOR: Gayle Boss
PUBLISHER: Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2016, (112 pages).

The season of Advent will be upon us very soon. While there are many themes based on the gospel narratives and the stories of nativity, this book is unique as it offers 25 meditations based on animal woodcuttings. Each chapter offers a description of a winter creature, its lifestyle, eating habits, habitat, unique behaviours, and special characteristics. The turtle prepares to go into hibernation in what is one of nature's wonderful survival strategies. The Muskrat knows exactly where the fresh food are when the ice cold winter freezes up. The Chickadee tweets happily amid the solemn winds of winter. The whitetail deer and her bucks huddle together for warmth. Honeybees survive by choreographing their wing movements to generate heat enough for the whole colony. Other animals include the frog, the racoon, the chipmunk, the black bear, the opossum, bat, turkey, and many more. There is something common in all of these animals. They prepare for the coming harsh winter. Waiting is not simply a virtue but a necessary survival tactic. With wild nature as their habitat, they are able to adjust their bodies to tackle the freezing weather. It is a mystery of how creation waits and sleeps out the dark and gloomy winter. Activities are reduced to the minimum so as to conserve heat. It is a time to hibernate.

Gayle Boss is a lifelong lover of animals and nature. She is a poet, a writer, and an avid naturalist. Graphic artist David Klein contributes one illustration for each chapter, bringing to life the very creature written about. The red fox on the front cover is from the chapter on the red fox, elegant and beautiful. I am amazed at the powers of observation by the author which really demonstrates her love for animals and nature. With great understanding of the animal and powers of observation, she is able to make the woodcuttings come alive with literary movement and imagination. Readers will find in each chapter a very insightful look about the nature of the animal, its eating habits, how it moves, its survival instincts, how it takes care of the young, and so on. After 24 chapters of descriptions of the wonders of each winter creature, the last chapter is what we happen to be waiting for: Christmas! It is a vivid display of all creation waiting for the revelation of God in Christ.

I must say that this is a very unique book to prepare ourselves for the advent. It gives me a fresh appreciation of the winter animals that exist in our backyard of backcountry. Some of them I have not even aware they exist! Yet, God knows each and every one of them.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Paraclete Press without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.