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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

"The Unreformed Martin Luther" (Andreas Malessa)

TITLE: The Unreformed Martin Luther: A Serious (and Not So Serious) Look at the Man Behind the Myths
AUTHOR: Andreas Malessa
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publishers, 2017, (168 pages).

One of the catch phrases this year is the use of the phrase "fake news." With the rise of social media and the free expression of all kinds of ideas on the Internet, it is increasingly challenging to distinguish the truth from falsehood. Scholars misattribute quotes. Casual users never bother to check sources before forwarding all kinds of stuff to their friends and colleagues. Rumours and untruths spread fast, especially news that seem sensational and attention grabbing. Famous people often get misquoted or had stories misattributed to them. The great German reformer, Martin Luther is definitely among the most famous people in the Christian world. Come October 31st this year, Christians would celebrate 500 years of that great Reformation statement that begun with Luther's famous nailing of the 95 theses on the doors of Wittenberg.  Sometimes, being famous means one can get quoted not only for the things he had said or written. One can also get quoted for things he did not say. Author Andreas Malessa says it well: "There are 2585 letters that Luther wrote and 926 letters that were written to him. There are so many texts that one could prove almost anything about Luther as well as furnish the respective counterargument with quotes from his contemporary friends and enemies." So Malessa tries to present an "unreformed Martin Luther" by giving a light-hearted look at this reformer and from the wit presents a humourous look at the man, the truths behind his directness, and the insights of the faith.

Friday, August 25, 2017

"All Saints" Movie Review

AUTHOR: Based on a book by John Corbett
PRODUCER: Affirm Films / Providend / Sony Pictures 2017

All Saints Episcopal Church is a historical Church that has became a pale shadow of its heydays with only a dozen aging members left. Like many churches in the West, this Church was about to be shut down for good, her assets sold, and the members given the freedom to move to other churches. Enters a salesman-turned-pastor by the name of Michael Spurlock (played by John Corbett) whose first call is to assist in selling the Church. At his ordination, he was asked to pledge obedience to the church authorities even when he may disagree with the policies or decisions. Everything seemed going to plan according to the powers above until he meets a refugee community. He finds ministering and providing shelter and hope to them a lot more fulfilling than to sell the Church using his knowledge and skills as a salesman. After all, his first calling is to God rather than to fetch the best price for the land. Slowly but surely, the story is about how Michael manages to persuade the church authorities not to sell the Church; how he gathers the congregation to work together as a community; and how he ministers to the refugees looking to build their lives anew in Smyrna, Tennessee. It is a powerful story of hope in the midst of great difficulties. Together with his wife Aimee (played by Cara Buono) and his young son Atticus (played by Myles Moore), he begins the journey of saving the Church through farming. Honestly, the farming is just the cover for something more important: The restoration of hopes and dreams.

Let me share Seven thoughts. [Warning: Spoilers ahead]

Thursday, August 24, 2017

"Progress in the Pulpit" (Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix)

TITLE: Progress in the Pulpit: How to Grow in Your Preaching
AUTHOR: Jerry Vines and Jim Shaddix
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2017, (240 pages).

Every preacher needs to progress in his preaching.  As a follow up to "Power in the Pulpit" which is about the strategies of preaching, this book is more about the preacher rather than the preaching. It is especially for seasoned preachers or those wanting a dose of freshness in their pulpit ministry. In short, good preachers require good preachers. Growth in pulpit ministry requires growth in spirituality. Each author contributes about half of the book. They combine to help us redefine what a sermon actually is; how to do a fresh development of the sermon process; and ways to improve sermon delivery. They remind preachers about the fundamental approach: Expository preaching, and defines it as opening the biblical text in such a way that "biblical text in such a way that the Holy Spirit’s intended meaning and attending power are brought to bear on the lives of contemporary listeners." It is common to have preachers straying away from the Word over time. This reminder helps us get back on the biblical track and to make the Bible primary, and all other things secondary. They are aware of the many pastors and preachers from all denominations who had fallen into some immoral trap. Maintain a strong devotional life. Be separate from the influences of worldliness. Take ministerial ethics seriously. Do not underestimate the importance of purity. Don't be too quick to conclude we don't have a word from God when there are 66 books of the Bible open to us. An interesting idea lies in "pulpit discipleship" where the authors advocate the use of preaching to disciple people. They share two models of preaching. The first is a fascinating picture of the "concentric circles of discipleship" which integrates the ministry of preaching with discipleship. With the Word of God as core, the first circle is to the commissioned, the second circle is community, and the outermost circle is the crowd. Preach to the commissioned. Progress to spiritual conversations in community. Proclaim the gospel far and wide to the crowd just like Jesus. The second model is that of "incarnational preaching" which also utilizes the three concentric circles of Christ as core; persuading the Conscience in the commissioned, preparing the Conduct in community; and promoting Community in the crowd.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

"Just Capitalism" (Brent Waters)

TITLE: Just Capitalism
AUTHOR: Brent Waters
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017, (352 pages).

Words like globalization, capitalization, or internationalization have all been demonized in recent years. People point to the increasing rich-poor divide and the unfair distribution of food and power throughout society. Can there really be justice in a capitalist world? As far as author and professor Brent Waters is concerned, capitalization is more needed than before. In fact, he contends that "globalization is the only credible means at present for alleviating poverty on a global scale." Arguing against "naive anticapitalism," he asserts that capitalism has become the unfortunate "bogeyman" for all the problems in the world economy. Whether it is poverty or unemployment, income equality or environmental concerns, people are quick to point a finger at greedy executives, big-box companies, and the money politics that have corrupted many corners of the world. Thus, Waters tries to distance himself from such presumptions, choosing instead to see the solutions capitalism can offer, and to look at how it can create wealth for all. This is a bold move that would ruffle many conventional feathers. Fully aware of this, the author lists three levees to stem the likely tsunami of protests.
  1. Complexity Problem: Capitalism is not the main culprit for world poverty nor greed. Instead, it is a complex set of factors that are preventing individuals from productive contribution and equitable distribution of resources.
  2. Contextualization Problem: It is too simplistic to blame the problem in the rich-poor divide. Instead, there is insufficient contextualization and understanding of the circumstances surrounding the challenges in each region's market situation. 
  3. Ideological Problem: Where conventional thinking often puts blame on globalization and capitalization as the bogeymen for economic problems of the world.

Monday, August 21, 2017

"Sacred Mundane" (Kari Patterson)

TITLE: Sacred Mundane: How to Find Freedom, Purpose, and Joy
AUTHOR: Kari Patterson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publishers, 2017, (216 pages).

Stress is very much a part of our lifestyle. For many of us, the question is not whether there is stress or not. It is a question of how much and how we can manage it. Conventional wisdom would teach us that stress is less about the pressures imposed on us but our responses. What about the spiritual perspective of life? What about how we can live free and flourish well? Are we too caught up with the temporal that we fail to take notice of the eternal? Perhaps, we are thinking that we need a retreat to some faraway place in order to find some sanctity in our busy lives. What if we don't have to? What if we can live sacred lives not only in the present but in our daily mundane lives? As far as author Kari Patterson is concerned, not only can we bring a fresh perspective of the mundane, we can be empowered not in doing but in becoming. It is in recognizing that God is interested in all of our lives, not just Sundays or special moments. Moments such as Naaman despite being a leper was mightily used by God show us that hangups limit our potential by hijacking our identity. This recognition will set us free toward finding freedom, purpose, and joy in God. We are invited to live unstuck in order to live out the calling we are created to be.

Friday, August 18, 2017

"Play the Man" (Mark Batterson)

TITLE: Play the Man: Becoming the Man God Created You to Be
AUTHOR: Mark Batterson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2017, (224 pages).

There was a time in which people were talking about what it means to be a man. Not anymore. Now, many are more interested in pandering to cultural expectations, elevating human rights, and blurring the lines between tradition sexuality. With more confusing philosophies and conflicting opinions about gender matters, the meaning of manhood, womanhood, or other variants of sexuality no longer commands the same level of interest as before. For author and pastor Mark Batterson, he fears that modern culture has not only forgotten what it means to be a man, it has lost it. It has become  a literal 'no man's land' where people do not know who they are anymore. Batterson presses the cultural reset button to go back to the Bible. Using powerful stories of the early century martyrs as a springboard toward spiritual conviction and biblical principles, he advocates the seven virtues of true manhood. Men as fathers are to disciple their children, not the youth pastors. They are not merely to pile up "resume virtues" just to make a living. Instead, they are called to leave behind "eulogy virtues" to make a life, starting with their own. True manhood wins the heart of God. Batterson shows the way with the seven virtues. First, it is about "tough love." They are tough on bullies and injustice, but soft when it comes to compassion and care for the vulnerable. They take up the cross and will stand up for the truth. Real man do cry. The second virtue is about "childlike wonder" in which he deals with the root meaning of the Greek word for "disciple" which is a learner. Childlikeness means having a curious capacity to learn; being wowed by the beauty and wonder of God; and to recognize one is small in a very large world. The third virtue of a man is "will power" in which one learns to take responsibility for his actions. He also responds in righteous living and able to resist temptations. He keeps his integrity intact. The fourth virtue is "raw passion" where one is urged not to be spectators but participants in life. He walks in faith instead of dwelling in doubt. He fights apathy. He resists lust. He is more focused on meeting his wife's needs rather than self. Fifth, a real man would display "true grit" who does not shy away from challenges but to persevere with a belief at conquering himself, heart, mind, and soul. He is resilient and does not easily settle.  The sixth virtue is "clear vision" where he has a specific focus and vision about what he want to do in life. He takes regular retreats to take stock of his life and lives forward in a balanced manner. Finally, there is the virtue of "moral courage," something that is most needed in our troubled times. He speaks out against evil. He models himself for the young to see. He is bold to confess sins and thrives in the kingdom.

Friday, August 11, 2017

"Spiritual Discipleship" (J. Oswald Sanders)

TITLE: Spiritual Discipleship: Principles of Following Christ for Every Believer (Sanders Spiritual Growth Series)
AUTHOR: J. Oswald Sanders
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2017, (240 pages).

In the New Testament, the word "Christian" occurs three times; "believers" only twice; but the word "disciple" appears 269 times. Shouldn't that make us sit up about the importance of discipleship? The Greek word for disciple is also called "learner." It is both about the learner and how he is following after Jesus. For author J Oswald Sanders, famous for his book "Spiritual Leadership," he raises the bar to go beyond mechanics of discipleship toward the standards of discipleship. This is what makes this book shine as a needed bar to determine what is discipleship and what it looks like. Sanders uses the beatitudes to describe the ideal disciple. Calling it the "four passive personal qualities" and the "four active social qualities," the ideal disciple must manifest all eight of them. In a no-holds-barred exhortation on courage and conviction, he lissts the three main conditions of discipleship:

  1. Unrivaled love for God (the heart)
  2. Unceasing Cross-bearing for Christ (the conduct)
  3. Unreserved Surrender to God (the personal possession).

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

"Movies are Prayers" (Joshua P. Larsen)

TITLE: Movies Are Prayers: How Films Voice Our Deepest Longings
AUTHOR: Joshua P. Larsen
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2017, (208 pages).

According to the Motion Picture Association of America, global box office revenue for films released in 2016 reached $38.6 billion and $11.4 billion in US/Canada markets. The numbers continue to grow especially with the rising popularity of online streaming mechanisms and more affordable data plans. Movies too are increasingly being used as a platform for self-expression and a general reflection of cultural nuances. Author Josh Larsen believes that movies are actually prayers in disguise. This may seem surprising for some people. After all, aren't prayers something religious that are covered only in Christian films or Church-based activities? How can movies in secular society be considered prayers? The key belief is that underneath the various movies expressions, if we look carefully enough, we can find the deep yearnings of the human heart expressed in various aspects of the movie. By combining film criticism and theological reflection, we get what Larsen calls: "Movies are Prayers."

Without ignoring the profit-making nature of movie making, the hype that surrounds huge stars, and the rotten tomato ratings, Larsen helps us probe inside, dig deep, float up, and reveals how movies contain many different forms of prayers. Taking a leaf from the psalms, prayers are essentially the different expressions of the human longing for a relationship with the divine. No matter how we may try to hide it, prayers are something so natural in us that they will come out of us sooner or later in life. In this book, we learn about how movies are increasingly popular platforms to bare the longings of the human soul. We learn of nine different such longings:

  1. Prayers as Praise
  2. Prayers of Yearning
  3. Prayers of Lament
  4. Prayers of Anger
  5. Prayers of Confession
  6. Prayers of Reconciliation
  7. Prayers of Obedience
  8. Prayers of Meditation and Contemplation
  9. Prayers as Journey