About This Blog

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

"The Great Wall of China and the Salton Sea" (Russell Rathbun)

TITLE: The Great Wall of China and the Salton Sea: Monuments, Missteps, and the Audacity of Ambition
AUTHOR: Russell Rathbun
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2017, (198 pages).

I know about the Great Wall of China. I have read about astronauts saying that the only visible man-made object from space is the Great Wall. What about the Salton Sea? What is the Salton Sea? What makes these two objects so fascinating for the author? He sums it up as follows:

"There are only two man-made objects you can see from outer space. One is the Great Wall of China, and the other is the Salton Sea. One is the result of the work of hundreds of thousands of laborers over two thousand years, and the other is the result of a gigantic mistake."

For over twenty years, these sentences have occupied the author's mind. The key thought revolves around God's creation and man's folly. God creates man and desires for him to have fellowship, but man bungled it big time. In the process, there is alienation. There is lostness. There is illusion. There are big messes throughout history, and messes that continue to occur. Both the Great Wall of China and the state of the Salton Sea were man-made. The Great Wall was built to prevent invaders from entering China. The Salton Sea was created by accident. The Salton Sea was a result of a failure of a project that tried to irrigate desert lands by re-directing water from the Colorado River. Both failed to achieve the original purposes. Looking from space, while both man-made structures and accidents are visible from the sky, they symbolize the mistakes and vulnerabilities of human intelligence. Moving forward, Rathbun poses a modern dilemma about our technological world: Have we allowed technology to reform us into an image we do not yet recognize? Does the Digital Revolution offer more hype than promise? Are we re-inventing the wheel of disaster?

Monday, January 30, 2017

"Bible Studies on Mark" (William Boekestein)

TITLE: Bible Studies on Mark
AUTHOR: William Boekestein
PUBLISHER: Grandville, MI: Reformed Fellowship Inc, 2016, (218 pages).

The gospel of Mark is the shortest gospel in the Bible and arguably the most popular. Written with brief and pulsating manner, it has also been labeled as the earliest gospel to be written. Just like the way the gospel of Mark was written, the author here keeps pace with 21 chapters that follows chronologically the movement of the sixteen chapters of Mark.  The key to this study is to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. Know that the narratives are pointers to Christ. The gospel is good news, prophetic, and is a witness for Christ. According to Boekstein, the uniqueness of this gospel includes:

  • A Focus more on works rather than words
  • Jesus is a doer
  • Mark emphasizes Jesus' Passion
  • The suffering nature of discipleship
  • Preaching of the Kingdom
  • Service and Sacrifice
  • ...

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

"Belonging and Becoming" (Mark and Lisa Scandrette)

TITLE: Belonging and Becoming: Creating a Thriving Family Culture
AUTHOR: Mark and Lisa Scandrette
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2016, (240 pages).

Ask anybody what is the most important thing in their lives, and there is a good chance that it would be this: Family. Who doesn't want to have a closely knit loving family? Who would give anything for their families to thrive? Speaking of family is one thing. Achieving it is another. In fact, many people who wanted to have start a family begin well but spluttered along the way. Perhaps, we just need some help and mentoring to get our own families on track toward thriving instead of mere surviving.  For Mark and Lisa Scandrette, their journey started when they stopped to reflect about choices that they could make for the sake of the family. They took the time to intentionally explore new possibilities. They also resolve to take steps to make that into reality. In two words, they bring out the essence of what it means to thrive: Belonging and Becoming. Give children a sense of belonging and empower them toward becoming the best they could ever be. They define the thriving family as follows:

"A thriving family is a place of belonging and becoming, where each person feels safe, cared for and loved, and is supported to develop who they are for the good of the world."

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

"Essential Worship" (Greg Scheer)

TITLE: Essential Worship: A Handbook for Leaders
AUTHOR: Greg Scheer
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2016, (304 pages).

Worship is essential for anyone who claims to believe in God. For if God is really God, He is to be worshiped not just with our best but with our all. All over the world, churches gather each week to worship together as a community of God. Regardless of instruments or not, music is a big part of it. What is the theology of worship? What are the do's and don'ts in the ministry of worship leading? What does the novice need to know? How do we lead from the Bible and let the Bible do the leading? Where does liturgy fits into all of these? This book contains many answers to the basic questions about all things worship. It has four emphases:

  1. It is first and foremost based on biblical principles
  2. It draws from the rich tradition of worship through history
  3. It is primarily for worship directors
  4. It is personal.

Friday, January 20, 2017

"Preaching Old Testament Narratives" (Benjamin H. Walton)

TITLE: Preaching Old Testament Narratives (Preaching with Excellence)
AUTHOR: Benjamin H. Walton
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2016, (256 pages).

What does it mean to preach with biblical authority? How do we preach in a manner that relates to modern life? What is biblical preaching and expository preaching? This comes from sound exegesis and hermeneutics, followed by an appropriate rhetoric. Beginning with the stories of three pastors trying to preach biblically and with relevance an Old Testament narrative, this book compares the differences between Old and New Testament narratives. We are advised against adopting a "monkey-see-monkey-do" method of interpretation. He teaches us terms like:

  • Complete Unit of Thought (CUT)
  • Original-Theological Message (OTM)
  • Take-Home Truth (THT)
He cautions us from ways of misapplying the Bible: like springboarding; universalizing plot lines; and ways in which we fail to consider properly a CUT; a OTM; and a THT. Walton shows us the way through the following steps:
  1. Selecting a CUT
  2. Identifying the Theological and Historical contexts
  3. Studying the Plot
  4. Discovering the OTM
  5. Crafting the THT

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"Four Views on Christianity and Philosophy" (Paul M. Gould, Richard Brian Davis, Stanley N Gundry, et al - editors)

TITLE: Four Views on Christianity and Philosophy (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology)
AUTHOR: Paul M. Gould, Richard Brian Davis, Stanley N Gundry, et al (editors)
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (240 pages).

What is the relationship between Christianity and Philosophy? Though textbooks tell us that philosophy is about the love of wisdom, many believe it is much more as it deals with wonder, with topics beyond the reach of normal sciences and various other disciplines. It could be a way of thinking or a manner of interpreting the world. Theological textbooks are full of philosophical thoughts. Philosophy studies are rarely discussed without referring to Christian thought and historical theology. There are many ways in which we can enter the study of philosophy. We could venture in via famous names like the Greek philosophers (Aristotle, Epicurus, Plato, Socrates, etc); Romans (Augustine, Cicero, Plotinus, Ptolemy, Seneca, etc); Modern era, contemporary, and Eastern philosophers. We could compare between Eastern and Western thought; or philosophical thought through various eras. In this book, the approach is more focused in comparing directly the Christian faith and philosophy. Four views are discussed. When it comes to seeking greater truth, the Conflict model argues that philosophy is superior to Christian thought. The Covenant model argues the reverse. The Convergence view asserts that Philosophy and Christianity need each other as they complete the meaning of philosophy. The Conformation model views the need for philosophy to be shaped in the Christian thought. The usual format for this counterpoints series is for each contributor to first state the position followed by respondents from others. This way, the views can be enlarged, sharpened, and strengthened for the benefit of the readers in terms of learning and understanding.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

"The Happiest Kids in the World" (Rina Mae Acosta and Michele Hutchison)

TITLE: The Happiest Kids in the World: A Stress-Free Approach to Parenting_the Dutch Way
AUTHOR: Rina Mae Acosta and Michele Hutchison
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: The Experiment, 2017, (272 pages).

Happy children makes for good children. This is the underlying philosophy of this book. Based on a 2013 UNICEF report that rated Dutch children as the 'happiest in the world,' authors Rina Mae Acosta and Michele Hutchison have come together with their personal testimonies of how true this is for them. They compare Dutch children in general with their American counterparts and found that Dutch babies are contented; easier to soothe; more restful; happier at play; and enjoy simple pleasures. They are quick to point out that 'happier' does not mean always jumping for joy but a kind of greater self-awareness; loyal; loving; and respectful of adults. They are less arrogant and more mature. While most of the world tend to see the Netherlands as a place of liberal living; free sex; and all kinds of drugs and alcohol over-consumption, they fail to see the heart of the society is a home-loving family. For them, success begins with an assumption of happiness not a hope for happiness. It begins with what we have rather than what we do not have. One reason is the amount of time spent in an enviable work-life balance: Parents work 29 hours a week and spend a day each for time with children and time for themselves. They let kids do things for themselves and both mum and dad are willing to switch roles without guilt. British and American parents still see their own specific roles and when the roles are changed, guilt and discomfort easily set in. When compared with their American counterparts, Dutch children:

Thursday, January 12, 2017

"The Forgotten Ways" (Alan Hirsch)

TITLE: The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating Apostolic Movements
AUTHOR: Alan Hirsch
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2016, (384 pages).

Why is the Church in general struggling with growth? Where is the passion for a movement for Christ? Have churches spent too much time defending traditions and their ecclesiastical rituals to the point of forgetting their biblical ways? Have they unwittingly based their ecclesiology on the medieval European model of Christendom instead of the first-century model of New Testament Christianity? Have we forgotten that the Church is the 'ekklesia' a 'called-out people of God?' According to author Alan Hirsch, the contemporary challenges of doing Church has an upside because "it forces us to think and act like our original founders and pioneers thought and acted." When we know that there is no "Plan B," we will pray desperately, spend frugally, live passionately, and reach out fervently. The key question for readers in this book is this: "Have we forgotten about the mission of the Church?" He affirms that our greatest truths are not invented or newly discovered. They are remembered. Key to this book remains the mDNA paradigm (gospel-fluency, discipleship, incarnational mission, innovation and risk, multiplication, APEST, etc.) which the author admits could be designed as several standalone books. He hopes to wake up sleeping people and sleepy churches with the revelation of God's ways which somehow had been forgotten.

Monday, January 9, 2017

"Rhythms of Rest" (Shelly Miller)

TITLE: Rhythms of Rest: Finding the Spirit of Sabbath in a Busy World
AUTHOR: Shelly Miller
PUBLISHER: Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2016, (224 pages).

A lot have already been written about the Sabbath but the need far outstrips the supply. What is the Sabbath? What makes this book unique compared to the other books? For author Shelly Miller, the first thing with regard to taking a rest is her mantra: "I Don't Do Guilt." There is no need to be guilty about taking a day off per week, or to rest where needed. Sabbath rest is about receiving a gift and not an excuse for guilt. While the world teaches us to rely on ourselves and our own abilities, taking a rest is in effect an acknowledgement that things will take care of themselves even as we rest. It requires surrender and deep trust. The way forward is not simply an obligation to force a weekly sabbath but to joyfully discover rhythms in which we can rest well. Sabbath is a gift. It is a reflection of God's creativity. It is an opportunity for us to demonstrate to others that rest is not only possible, it is beneficial. Miller goes beyond simply taking a break. Sabbath is a time in which we commune with God in an intentional space. It is an invitation to intimate conversation, unhurried by the hustle and bustle of the world. It is a way in which we say to the world: "You shall have no hold on me."

While the benefits are many, there are also myths and deceptions that threaten to derail our pursuit of Sabbath rest. That is why Miller spends time dispelling myths like doing Church as a form of Sabbath. She writes:

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

"Counter-Culture, Revised Edition" (David Platt)

TITLE: Counter Culture: Following Christ in an Anti-Christian Age
AUTHOR: David Platt
PUBLISHER: Carol Stream IL: Tyndale-Momentum, 2017, (320 pages).

The world we live in is increasingly anti-Christian. Many of the traditional beliefs are being challenged. Literal understanding of the Bible is being pushed back by liberal inclinations. Same-sex marriages are not only becoming a right for many, some circles even see it as the norm and marriage as something less than ideal. It creates a false impression that what is termed legal is legitimate. Those who hold on to orthodox beliefs are becoming ostracized and ridiculed for being old-fashioned. How do we speak the truth in love? What does it mean to live as believers in an increasingly unbelieving world? What do we do with split opinions and old paradigms being overturned with erroneous thinking? For author David Platt, following Christ is increasingly becoming a call to live counter-culturally. Concerned with the tendency of many believers to flee or take flight of challenging circumstances, he exhorts us to risk it because it is worth it. Platt writes that this book is about:

"helping us think through how to live out that gospel in our lives, families, and churches in an age of sexual confusion, legal abortion, rampant materialism, violent racism, escalating refugee crises, diminishing religious liberties, and a number of other significant social issues. This book is about refusing to retreat from these realities, instead choosing to face them with a fearless faith that is full of hope in Christ and free to love even those who would belittle Christian belief."

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

"Liturgy of the Ordinary" (Tish Harrison Warren)

TITLE: Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life
AUTHOR: Tish Harrison Warren
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2016, (192 pages).

Spirituality is not just something for the clergy or the spiritualists. Neither is it reserved only for the retreat centers and extraordinary circumstances. It is in fact very practical and can be implemented in ordinary spheres of life. It does not have to be difficult in terms of complicated rituals or requiring great theological training. Covering a 24 hour cycle, author Tish Harrison Warren shows us the way to instilling spiritual sensitivity through our daily activities. She helps us turn work into opportunities for worship. In doing so, she helps us avoid dichotomizing the sacred from the secular. She gives us eleven ordinary activities that we do going through the 24-hour clock framework. We begin with waking up in the morning after a night's sleep. She compares this with the act of baptism, how we are birthed from old to new. Each morning begins with dew of freshness. We see the world from this perspective and to realize that God is constantly forming us as new people each day to see fresh perspectives amid the routine and mundane. We avoid the tendency to cut out life and focus only on the exciting and sensational. Warren is convinced that theology practiced in the ordinary is essentially what the Christian life is about. Our ritual of making the bed reminds us that the things we do so regularly are habit forming. Just like many people whose lives have been changed by technology. They wake up and the first thing they check is their social media updates; their emails; or their messages from various apps. While convenient and fast, such digital devices have subversively lowered our tolerance for boredom. Just today, I read about the talk of a new law in France that gives workers the right not to connect or be contacted by their bosses during their break time. I think there is increasingly a need for some of us who tend to hog the digital waves. In brushing teeth, we learn about maintaining cleanliness and the way Christianity teaches the importance of caring for our physical selves. As we prepare to leave our houses, many of us drive. In our rush, there is always a chance of losing something such as our keys. We retrace our steps. We blame our carelessness. We get frustrated when the search is prolonged. Then and only then do we embark on prayer. It is a powerful reminder of how we take God for granted, leaving God out until we most desperately needed Him. We have such a patient and magnanimous God!

Monday, January 2, 2017

"Light When It Comes" (Chris Anderson)

TITLE: Light When It Comes: Trusting Joy, Facing Darkness, and Seeing God in Everything
AUTHOR: Chris Anderson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2016, (181 pages).

We often rush through life and miss the moments of beauty. From rushing from one appointment to another, or dealing with one issue one after another, we are caught in a non-stop conundrum of problem solving and people managing. In a world full of competing demands, beeping cell-phones and electronic gizmos, more are demanded of us than ever before. In our busyness, we tend to miss things. The purpose of this book is to help us remember the precious moments of our lives, to embrace them, to believe in them, and to share them. Using the prayer of examen as a guide, readers are introduced to St Ignatius's classic prayer of conscience to help us discover the light of God in the moments of life.The key to growth is remembrance: Remembering the light that brings us joy; remembering the darkness is a way we can listen for the call of God that we may follow the call; Remembering that God is with us.

Written in three parts, Part One is "Trusting Joy" which Anderson calls, 'moments of light.' Listening is key. If we spend more time listening and reflecting instead of judging and analyzing, we will receive a deeper fullness of God speaking to us. For each time we attempt to over-analyze something, there is a tendency toward reductionism. If God intends to expand our understanding, should we not let God speak to us in His way? Be quick to listen and slow to analyze. Be aware of our need for human experience. Seeing the light means letting God's light into us and shining from within us. At a spiritual retreat, Anderson first practiced the examen and in the process discovers more of himself. He learns the work of the examen: to face the darkness head-on; and to follow the light and hanging-on. Faith is like a seed. When we plant that seed, we need to surrender to God who gives the increase in His time. He admits that this trust can be difficult at times. During times of sadness, we are urged to remember that we are loved in spite of circumstances. Learn from St Teresa of Avila who encourages us to do whatever most that kindles that love in us. Anderson shares about a time when he was helping his father move a piano down a flight of stairs. When he slipped at the top end, he relied on his dad to support it all at the bottom. In a similar light, at times we simply had to surrender it all to God to carry us through our darkest and loneliest times. Listen to love is a key advice. When we recognize the love in the light that we sense, we can follow the light. Believe that it is not the negative that will cancel out the positive. It's the other way round. That's what hope is about. Depression and confusion are not something we should afraid of. Recognize them but do not give in to them.