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Friday, July 29, 2016

"The Christian Book of Mystical Verse" (A.W. Tozer)

TITLE: The Christian Book of Mystical Verse: A Collection of Poems, Hymns, and Prayers for Devotional Reading
AUTHOR: Collected by A.W. Tozer
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2016, (176 pages).

The late A.W. Tozer is well known for many of his insightful and challenging books about Christian living and faith. Some of his most popular books are the Pursuit of God; The Knowledge of the Holy; Man the Dwelling Place of God; The Root of the Righteous; and many more. In fact, so powerful are his writings that books have been written based on compilation of the best of his insights. Not as many people know that the former Chicago pastor is also a deep reader. According to the publisher, Tozer has intentionally put together poems, hymns, prayers, and spiritual writings from across the spectrum of Christian writers and evangelicals through the ages. Meant more for the worshiper rather than a student, this book arranges the works in theological themes.

  • Adoration of the Godhead (God and Trinity)
  • Devotional Meditations on the Cross of Christ (Atonement)
  • Penitential Reflections on Our Sins (Compunction)
  • Rejoicing in Forgiveness and Justification (Repentance)
  • Yearning for Purity of Heart (Sanctification)
  • Aspirations After God (Spirituality)
  • Delighting in God's Presence (God's Omnipresence)
  • The Raptures of Divine Love
  • The Rest of Faith 
  • Spiritual Warfare
  • Victory Through Praise
  • The Prayer of Quiet
  • The Bliss of Communion
  • Joyous Anticipation of Christ's Return
  • Immortality and the World to Come

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

"Healing the Wounded Heart" (Dan B. Allender)

TITLE: Healing the Wounded Heart: The Heartache of Sexual Abuse and the Hope of Transformation
AUTHOR: Dan B. Allender
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2016, (288 pages).

This world is more broken than some of us may have thought. For all the nice commercials and happy faces on social media, there is a hidden world of pain and despair due to shame and abuse. As the saying goes, hurt people will tend to hurt other people. Healed people will help others along their own paths of healing. If that is the case, then there are lots of incentives to be agents of healing. If we want to change the world, we start by touching one life at a time. In order to do this, we need to recognize the wounded and to be empowered to travel the healing path.

Dan Allender is Professor of Counseling Psychology and Former President of Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. Fifteen years ago, he wrote The Wounded Heart which gave many readers the vocabulary and language needed to express their pain of being victims of sexual abuse. This book is a sequel that not only updates the new face of sexual abuse, it also contains more material on what it takes to move from hurting to healing. Using his own pain of being hit by a drunken driver, which left him with permanent scars mentally and physically, he gained a unique perspective of being able to listen into the hurts of those who suffered from sexual abuse. Such abuses include rape, unwanted sexual approaches, molestations, groping, date rape, sex while intoxicated, sexual harassment, and so on. Working with the Allender Center for Abuse and Trauma, Allender has come across many cases of people suffering and struggling with the whole matter of abuse. As the culture and environment changes, the types of abuses also changes.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

"Impossible People" (Os Guinness)

TITLE: Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization
AUTHOR: Os Guinness
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2016, (240 pages).

When Os Guinness writes, it is always a challenge not simply to sit down and read but to rise up and do something. Filled with biblical conviction and a faithful desire to be obedient to God's calling, Guinness harnesses his years of experience and knowledge of our culture to raise a battle cry for Christians to take their stand. There are four major challenges not only to the Christian faith but to Western civilization. First, the challenge of being weakened. The Judeo-Christian faith has been weakened and overrun by secularism and modernity. Second, the challenge of internal splits which has two post-Christian forces that threaten to move society toward nihilism on one side and extreme humanism on the other side. Third, the challenge of two major external forces. With a weakened Christian perspective, Western civilization becomes more vulnerable to aggressive secularism and radical Islam. Fourth, the need for courage and bold witness in the light of such obstacles. Can Christians rise up to these challenges?

Guinness compares this present challenging age to the first three centuries clash with the Caesars and the sixteenth Century threats from the Ottomans. He coins the "four infamous S factors" as Secularism; Secularization; Separationism; and Statism. In order to survive against the grand showdown, we need to take a leaf from history. Be reminded about how Daniel and his friends stood up against the idolatry of Nebuchadnezzar; how the early Christians would rather die than deny their faith; and how Athanasius fought the heretics of old. The tragedy of many mainstream WWII German Christians is how easily they cave in to the political ambitions of Hitler. Will the West today commit a similar error of omission? Instead of reforming from within, many are becoming more accepting of the outside world, even compromising their biblical principles.

Monday, July 25, 2016

"When There Are No Easy Answers" (John S. Feinberg)

TITLE: When There Are No Easy Answers: Thinking Differently About God, Suffering and Evil, and Evil
AUTHOR: John S. Feinberg
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2016, (160 pages).

Another book on suffering? Do we really need people to tell us what to do when bad things happen to us? Maybe, not everyone of us will need to be reminded how suffering and evil are real. Some people choose to avoid it. Others see it as something unavoidable that can be ignored for the time being. Still, suffering can have a numbing effect as long as feelings of helplessness remain. This is not an academic book that argues about theodicy or philosophy of suffering. Neither is it like CS Lewis's A Grief Observed, D.A. Carson's How Long O Lord?, or Nicholas Wolterstorff's Lament For a Son. It is a personal testimony of how Professor and Pastor John Feinberg journeys through the valley of the shadow of suffering and pain. In a book that resembles the title of Rabbi Harold Kushner's seminal bestseller about pain and suffering, Feinberg tells us about how he grapples with matters up close and personal. In 1987, his wife was diagnosed with an incurable genetically transmitted disease. At that time, distant theology and personal experience cross each other. Feinberg is not simply philosophizing or theorizing about the question of suffering. He feels it deep down inside. He wrestles with questions instead of answers. He knows what it means to be in a place where there are no easy answers.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

"What Do You Seek?" (Michael J. Buckley, SJ)

TITLE: What Do You Seek?: The Questions of Jesus as Challenge and Promise
AUTHOR: Michael J. Buckley, SJ
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2016, (160 pages).

Questions set us on a path of learning. They help us discover new things. They are more intriguing than mere answers. They keep the doors of learning open. In fact, Scriptures are full of questions to help us ponder and to wonder about the things of God. Honing on the questions of Jesus, author Michael J. Buckley leads us through a series of 14 questions asked by Jesus in the gospels. These questions if left unanswered can be seen as a direct challenge to rebel against Jesus. If one tries to answer, Jesus often points us to the promise and greater things that are to come. Jesus uses questions like a surgical knife to slice open our stubbornness, and to probe deeper into us on our true motives and true needs. Buckley puts it well:

"A question as such may not provide new instruction, new facts, or new data, however much it might incite a desire for these. The question may actually turn human beings reflexively back upon
themselves—upon the experiences and commitments and beliefs that are taken to be there already but that cry out for understanding and meaning, upon a store of habits, convictions, data, decisions, and challenges. The question takes up what has been a challenge, what has been a sacred charge from the most ancient wisdoms: “know yourself.” For the question asks what is there already, even if unnoticed and unexplained."

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

"The Wired Soul" (Tricia McCary Rhodes, PhD)

TITLE: The Wired Soul: Finding Spiritual Balance in a Hyperconnected Age
AUTHOR: Tricia McCary Rhodes, PhD
PUBLISHER: Colorado Spings, CO: NavPress, 2016, (216 pages).

Technology is now everywhere around us, with us, and following us. For many people, it is quickly rewiring our brains and changing the way we talk, think, travel, and traipse. While positively, we get more and better information in ways quicker and more efficient than ever before, there are negative consequences as well. People tend to remember less, choosing to let their phones and digital devices record or save all their personal details. They are more forgetful and less willing to learn the old school way. Many choose to simply Google their information, as if the first try is the answer to their questions. While finding content is easy, discerning is not so easy. Where are our reference points? On what basis do we decide which is right, which is wrong, and which is appropriate? We live in a technologically connected world. According to author and professor Tricia Rhodes, we are living in a "hyperconnected age." Contrasting her own carefree escapades in the past, she compares what it was to live then and now. Her children are digital natives but she is not. She calls herself a 'digital immigrant' and is poised to see how the digital world is changing not only the way we live but the people we are. Her key thesis is that our digital habits have direct link to our formation into Christlikeness. On lifestyle, we are asked what the first thing we do when we get up. On habits, we are asked about our reaction when we hear our phone beeps. On reading, how has our attentiveness be sustained in a world of WiFi and Internet connectivity? On prayer, how is our level of patience and waiting been changed? On presence, how have our ability to connect with people been affected? On information overload, we wonder why we are so tired in the first place. These and many more are the negative consequences of technology manhandling us and we allowing it free reign on our lives. This has let to our brains been re-wired by technology. A key discovery in brain plasticity research is that "cells that fire together, wire together." Such brain cells are fired up together when one uses technology. If that is the case, technology is directly influencing the way our brains function. Thankfully, we do not need to be sucked in by the technological whirlpool. Rhodes propose a way not only to counter the negative effects of technology but to intentionally work toward Christlikeness. She updates the spiritual discipline of lectio divina and applies them in this book for a technological age. Briefly, the four disciplines are:

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

"The Ten Greatest Struggles of Your Life" (Colin S. Smith)

TITLE: The 10 Greatest Struggles of Your Life: Finding Freedom in God's Commands
AUTHOR: Colin S. Smith
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2016, (208 pages).

The Beatles sing the classic song "All you need is love" as some kind of a catchall solution for the world's problems. "Make Love Not War" is another of those clever cliches to remind people not to fight. Often, such phrases are simplistic darts flung into a sea of relentless splashing waves. Who can adequately capture the essence of the world's problems? Only the Creator of all creation can do that. From the beginning of time, God has known what the world's struggles are and would be. He has given all mankind the Law not to enslave us but to liberate us. One of the most powerful ways that we are enslaved is when we give in to wrong desires, sinful ways, and revel in activities that we tend to blame on 'human nature.' We are not as 'innocent' as we think. We are also not as perfect as we would like to be. Just as the meaning of sin is to 'miss the mark,' sin makes us think off the mark when we look at ourselves, our own capabilities, and our own understanding. The great writer, George Orwell, once wrote that "Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear." There are many things people do not want to hear. That is why they struggle. The Ten Commandments given in the Old Testament remain very relevant today. There are laws in every society against the ills of theft, of murder, of adultery, of perjury, and so on. While the first few commandments to worship God and honour God's Name have become diminished in secular environments, it still presents a struggle at a deeply spiritual level. The truth is, whenever there is tension, where there is a direct pushback against what God says, there will be a struggle. This is Smith's attempt to paraphrase the Ten Commandments in the light of real world struggles, how we combat one or more of these temptations on daily basis. The Ten Struggles as described by Smith are:
  1. Struggle With God
  2. Struggle With Worship
  3. Struggle With Religion
  4. Struggle With Time
  5. Struggle With Authority
  6. Struggle For Peace
  7. Struggle For Purity
  8. Struggle For Integrity
  9. Struggle With Truth
  10. Struggle With Contentment

Monday, July 18, 2016

"Missional Motherhood" (Gloria Furman)

TITLE: Missional Motherhood: The Everyday Ministry of Motherhood in the Grand Plan of God
AUTHOR: Gloria Furman
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016, (224 pages).

Motherhood is not just taking care of children. It is essentially part of the mission of God. Motherhood is a gift to be cherished. It is for every woman, biological or spiritual. By expanding the concept of motherhood as something beyond "just a mother," the author tries to show readers that motherhood is part of the biblical responsibilities and privileges. Mothering is more significant than some of us may think. It is a gift. It is a mission to nurture young lives. It is a way to participate in the calling to worship God. The author summarizes the whole book in this way:

"Jesus invites women to missional motherhood: to follow his
pattern, to trust his promises, and to nurture others by the
power he provides."

As the title suggests, motherhood is not simply a state of being. It is a mission. It is intentional. It is targeted from God's Word and aimed at how the entire vocation of motherhood can reflect the glory of God. Furman even supplies an application framework through thinking of motherhood in terms of 'head, heart, hand, and mouth.'

  • Head: How does the truth renew the mind in the truth?
  • Heart: How does the truth thrill one to love Jesus?
  • Hand: How does the truth strengthen one's hands for sacrificial service?
  • Mouth: How does the truth open one's mouth to share the gospel?

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

"Unparalleled" (Jared C. Wilson)

TITLE: Unparalleled: How Christianity's Uniqueness Makes It Compelling
AUTHOR: Jared C. Wilson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2016, (240 pages).

Aren't all religions about the same? What is wrong with being spiritual but not religious? What is so different about the God of the Bible? Isn't Jesus basically a good teacher? These questions and several more form the gist of what this book is all about. Part theological, part apologetic, and part Christian Education, popular speaker and author Jared Wilson helps us see that Christianity is unique from other religions in at least ten ways. On Theology, God is bigger than any of the other religions combined. In the light of recent controversies over whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God, Wilson says that as long as one does not worship Jesus as God, the path is already different. On the Trinity, the God that Christians worship is also Triune Godhead, which is precisely why community is such a big thing in Christianity. That is because God is already in a divine community and desires for us to share in the same love and fellowship. He highlights the Christian perspective of humanity as one that is most optimistic not on the basis of what they can or cannot do, but on the basis of them being created in the image of God. This is the Christian doctrine of Humanity. He describes the doctrine of sin (Hamartiology) by calling the sinful generation as "broken mirrors" in which we do not realize how broken we are, and how loved we are. On Christology, Wilson writes about the uniqueness of Christ and how Jesus is the only way to salvation, this grace being offered to all. The doctrine of the atonement is explained in "winning by dying," how Jesus himself lived counter-culturally and triumphed eternally. He explains the Resurrection plainly by saying that it is this great historical event that has no parallel. On the doctrine of salvation (soteriology), he reminds us that it is grace that leads us home. The last two topics cover the Great Commission and the last days. From the supremacy of Christianity, Wilson moves on to focus on the supremacy of Christ.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

"Relational Children's Ministry" (Dan Lovaglia)

TITLE: Relational Children's Ministry: Turning Kid-Influencers Into Lifelong Disciple Makers
AUTHOR: Dan Lovaglia
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (272 pages).

As far as children are concerned, the Bible has been very consistent. The Bible has said in Psalm 127:3 that "Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from Him." We are blessed to have children in our midst. I remember how children light up the mood in any room. At the same time, we need to look at what it means to practice Proverbs 22:6 to "Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it." Even in the New Testament, children are specifically told to obey their parents. That is one main reason for children's ministry. We want to reach children for Christ, to groom them to be God-fearing individuals, and to help them live a life honouring to God and to people. In the words of Dan Lovaglia, author and Director of Leadership Development at Awana International, children's ministry must be relational. He wants to equip leaders to move from "kid-influencers into lifelong disciple makers" and in doing so to help children do the same when they grow up. Such leaders include not only ministry workers, volunteers, and pastoral staff. Most importantly, it is about reaching and equipping parents by coming alongside them, supporting, encouraging, and guiding them. All of these are best done through relationships. With skill and care, Lovaglia helps us through three main stages.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

"A Doubter's Guide to the Ten Commandments" (John Dickson)

TITLE: A Doubter's Guide to the Ten Commandments: How, for Better or Worse, Our Ideas about the Good Life Come from Moses and Jesus
AUTHOR: John Dickson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (224 pages).

Can we be good without God's laws? Are the laws and ethics of today original and independent from the Ten Commandments? How extensive is the impact of the ancient Torah in contemporary times? These questions and more are covered in various degrees as author and historian John Dickson writes a guidebook for skeptics, doubters, and unbelievers. An honorary Fellow of the Department of Ancient History at Macquarie University in Australia, Dickson is also an Anglican minister a well as a multi-media think tank. He contends that our world of today has benefitted greatly from the Ten Commandments in more ways that we have ever imagined. There are no equivalent list that has impacted our lives more than these commandments. He gives three examples. The Code of Hammurabi, a Mesopotamian king in the 1700s BC contains nearly 300 laws, but not many people knew about Hammurabi. The 6th Century Greek's "Maxims of Delphi" contains "147 pithy imperatives" but its knowledge is largely restricted to historians and researchers of ancient history. Even Richard Dawkins's secular "Ten Commandments" do not gain much traction. Comparing these three humanistic lists with the Ten Commandments, the former pales in comparison. Dickson goes on further to point out that the Ten Commandments do not simply instill fear of punishment or rewards for obedience. It goes much further as these very commandments reflect the Personhood of God. They are personified in the Person of Jesus Christ. They connect the relationship vertically with God, and horizontally with fellow people. More importantly, they liberate rather than enslave one toward being the people they have been created to be.

Friday, July 8, 2016

"What Christians Ought to Believe" (Michael F. Bird)

TITLE: What Christians Ought to Believe: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine Through the Apostles' Creed
AUTHOR: Michael F. Bird
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (240 pages).

Wonderful! A book of theological truths based on the Apostles Creed. Theology is more important than what the average Church goer may think. Rather than plowing through thick volumes of theological textbooks on systematic theology, or buy individual books on various theological topics, we have in our hands a book that expounds on the essence of the history, the core theological issues, and the crucial doctrines every Christian ought to know. The Apostles Creed is an excellent choice because it is still the most unifying creed for all (if not most) Christian communities. The Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, Protestants, Evangelicals, Non-Denominationals, Bible, Independents, and many others are pretty united when it comes to this ancient creed. Even fringe groups will very likely profess the same creed with certain disclaimers. Whether one agrees with the creed fully or not, the scope of coverage is wide enough to give the Church a pretty decent theological syllabus. Author and New Testament Professor Michael Bird has done exactly that and has written this book for the masses.

He begins by making a case for the Apostles Creed as an important syllabus for beginners. Not only is it biblical, it gives us a basic summary of what the Early Church held, what traditions are, and how they inform our theological education. Creeds are part of the way God has used to teach us. From the Old and New Testaments, we get the life of Jesus, the Apostolic teachings, the Rule of Faith, and the Creeds. Creeds are used in worship; in promoting unity and fellowship with other believers; in reminding us about our faith. They also form a key part of our devotional lives. The rest of the book deals with a particular part of the creed.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

"People to be Loved" (Preston Sprinkle)

TITLE: People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality Is Not Just an Issue
AUTHOR: Preston Sprinkle
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015, (224 pages).

There is little doubt that the topic of homosexuality has split Christians and churches in many parts of the world. Every denomination has their controversial splits. Every theological institution has members, faculty, and students with strong views on both sides. Many books have been written from both sides. Some try to take the middle ground and received criticisms. Others advocate their views strongly and receive equally strong push backs. Along with the various authors views, there are multiple support and opponents from publishers, readers to casual commentators. Many try to see the matter as simple and clear cut as possible but to no avail. Instead of a polemical approach against either side, author Preston Sprinkle decides to build bridges through understanding and honest appreciation of each view. He points out the strengths and weaknesses of both sides and the ways they interpret the biblical passages. In doing so, he turns what is potentially a contentious issue into a conversational style engagement without coercing anyone from compromising their stand. Calling homosexuality not just an "issue," Sprinkle highlights the greater importance: People. In reading this book, we learn that it is not the answer but the search for truth and more importantly, the way we argue out our views that represent the better way forward.  There is no point in winning any argument and losing our friends (or foes).

Monday, July 4, 2016

"You Are What You Love" (James K.A. Smith)

TITLE: You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit
AUTHOR: James K.A. Smith
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2016, (224 pages).

We worship what we love. Out of what we love, we worship. This relationship is tight and indispensable. It has implications for what it means to be human, and reflects what exactly we do want. Author and professor James K.A. Smith observes in the gospels how Jesus is more interested in what the disciples want rather than what they believe or know. Smith believes that many people have become stuck in Descartes-style of "I Think Therefore I Am" to the detriment of the lack of holistic living. Interestingly, he does not argue for less but more knowledge and learning that pulls together holistic living and learning. We need to cultivate a lifestyle of living and loving, of learning and labouring toward a model of centering our behaviour according to the heart of loving. Out of this identity arises our true motivation for thinking; for spirituality; for calling; for discipleship; worship; and spiritual formation. Describing the heart as our center of spiritual gravity, Smith also tells us that this goes way beyond the head. The virtues of love in the heart form our "erotic compass."  He believes that it is possible to acquire such virtues through imitation and practice. This book is about the latter that uses habit as the way to cultivate and to calibrate this compass.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

"Student Ministry Essentials" (Steve Vandegriff and Richard Brown)

TITLE: Student Ministry Essentials: Reaching. Leading. Nurturing.
AUTHOR: Steve Vandegriff and Richard Brown
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2015, (256 pages).

Student ministry is crucial not only for the future of the Church but also for the relevant disciple needs of young people. All if not most of us will be a student. For the Church, whether it is a parachurch or a Church-based student ministry, the goal is the same: Equipping and Discipling the young to grow in Christ and to be effective stewards of God's gifts to them. Yet, the years in school are supposedly limited and brief. Apart from the busy academic work expected, there is also the challenge of balancing one's time and resources against the many competing needs and conflicting distractions. In a book that aims to reach, to equip, to lead, and to nurture student leaders, authors Steve Vandegriff and Richard Brown have come together to share their knowledges and wisdom about practical discipleship development; leadership skills; partnership strategies; visions and dreams. The three big thrusts in this book are:

  1. To reach out to students and leaders by knowing their needs
  2. Toward inspired leadership with a knowledge of the culture, the environment, and the fit
  3. To nurture one another with a better knowledge of what student ministry is, means, and needs.