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Friday, December 22, 2017

"Reading People" (Anne Bogel)

TITLE: Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything
AUTHOR: Anne Bogel
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2017, (224 pages).

Why do people behave in a certain way? How can we understand another person based on their behaviour? How can we better understand others and ourselves? Enter personality tests. These help us learn more about ourselves and give us a snapshot of who we are at any particular time. Many of these are based on scientific data and research. With choices lie a new challenge: Of the many  many personality tests out there, how do we choose? What are the differences between them? How do they stack up against one another? Here is where author Anne Bogel can help us navigate the potpourri of models. She talks about how the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (16 personality types) help her understand her own unique characteristics, how it explains her marital relationship and understanding herself. She dwells on Carl Jung's famous introvert/extrovert temperaments and takes it beyond just human people but church structures. For instance, she observes that most denominational churches have programs that appeal more to extroverts, which becomes a challenge for the introvert. Looking at Elaine Aaron's "Highly Sensitive Person," we become more aware of how sensitive our nervous systems are to various stimulus. This is particularly useful for parents dealing with highly sensitive children. Then there is the popular "Five Love Languages" by Gary Chapman that essentially deals with our primary language that would stir us up emotionally. Kiersey's four basic temperaments are the Artisans (SP); Guardians (SJ); Idealists (NFs); and Rationals (NTs). Bogel goes into detail the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, showing us what we need to know about the eight cognitive functions (combinations of extrovert/introvert perceptive (sensing or intuiting) and judging (thinking or feeling) functions. She takes time to explain what each of the eight cognitive functions mean and gives us three reasons for persisting in this self-analysis. First, it helps us to be confident of our own MBTI Type. Second, it helps us understand people. Finally, it helps us in our relationship as we adapt ourselves to adapt to the respective persons we deal with. She covers the "Clifton Strengthfinder" and confesses how this tool helps her love reading in the first place. Listing the 34 strengths, we learn about themes in executing; influencing; relationship-building; strategic-thinking; etc. The Enneagram is a personality framework that "fosters self-awareness and self-examination" to help us understand our spirituality. It is based on Evagrius Ponticus's eight or nine vices that impede our relationship with God. She then summarizes all the models and shares about the uniqueness and challenges of personality change vs behavioral change. While the results for us change over time, our core temperaments remain consistent. The more important questions are:

Thursday, December 21, 2017

"The Dawning of Indestructible Joy" (John Piper)

TITLE: The Dawning of Indestructible Joy: Daily Readings for Advent
AUTHOR: John Piper
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2014, (96 pages).

This is the season of Advent, where Christians are preparing their hearts to celebrate Christmas. One way to help us retain our sense of focus and attention on Jesus is through daily devotionals. Christmas is a time of joy. There is no need, no excuse, and no necessity to be glum about things. The eternal fullness of God's joy makes our temporal struggles on earth insignificant. Piper admits that he tends to be "dull, spiritually drowsy, halfhearted, lukewarm" and this book is partly a personal stirring up of the soul to wake up to the dawn of joy. For we don't need a lot of new stuff. We need a timely reminder about the reason for joy. This book is a 30-day reminder. Reminders such as:

  • How Jesus came on a "search-sand-save mission" that we be beneficiaries of His atoning work of grace
  • How we can be set free from the tyranny of money and power to embrace the One who is above all powers
  • Christmas is not about giving presents but receiving all of Christ, that we may learn the heart of all giving, and forgiving
  • Christmas proclaims the Truth of God's love, and this lasts forever and ever
  • Our truest treasure is far beyond anything we could ever imagine
  • We are reminded about the joy of Christian service
  • The promises of God will always be fulfilled, in God's time.


My Thoughts
December is often filled with tempting jingles and sounding music at malls and shopping centres. Marketers are very adept at coming up with enticing sales and seductive product offerings to make us think about consumerism in an already saturated materialistic society. Like the old hymn: "This world is not my home," Many conservatives would shun enjoyment of things on earth and to constantly think of heaven. Piper believes otherwise, that both heaven and earth are to be embraced. In fact, he admits that his "Desiring God" platform is an unabashed form of "Christian Hedonism" as described by "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him." This book about joy is Piper's unique way of learning to experience the fullness of God's joy on earth when we have that heavenly joy in us. For most of us, we simply need reminders. We need to be awakened to the beauty of joy. We need historical truth to be brought alive to existential reality. After all, Christians of all people, ought to be the happiest and joyful people in this world. Come Christmas, let all believers sing and shout for joy, knowing that the Lord has come, and the Lord will come again.

Dr John Piper is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.

conrade

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

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

"Preaching with Cultural Intelligence" (Matthew D. Kim)

TITLE: Preaching with Cultural Intelligence: Understanding the People Who Hear Our Sermons
AUTHOR: Matthew D. Kim
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017, (288 pages)

There are many books on preaching. Some of the classics include ; Martin Lloyd Jones's "Preaching and Preachers"; the late Dr Haddon Robinson's "Biblical Preaching" that highlights the single big idea preaching; Charles Spurgeon's "Lectures to My Students"; Fred Craddock's "Preaching" and more recently, Thomas Long's "The Witness of Preaching" and Tim Keller's "Preaching." Continuing Gordon-Conwell's tradition of innovation and development in the art and craft of preaching, associate professor of GCTS Matthew Kim has given us a book that focuses on the recipients and contexts of sermon delivery. This book grows out of the author's elective courses, "Cultural Exegesis for Preaching" and "Preaching to Culture and Cultures" which explore how hermeneutics, preaching, and cultural contexts intersect. Beginning with the story of giraffes (majority culture) and elephants (minority culture), Matthew Kim observes that our churches are increasingly non-homogeneous. There are diversities lurking behind every supposedly distinct areas. No longer is it about ethnicities because there are intermarriages. Neither is it about similar backgrounds because generation gaps exists. With increased cross-cultural interactions, mindsets are constantly changing. In other words, do not build our houses with solely giraffes or elephants in mind. Acknowledge the increasing diversity of not only elephants and giraffes but others as well. Lest we preach to a congregation that no longer exists!


Thursday, December 14, 2017

"It's All Relative" (A.J. Jacobs)

TITLE: It's All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World's Family Tree
AUTHOR: A. J. Jacobs
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2017, (352 pages).

Why can't we all get along better? In a world where everyone constantly clamour for peace, people seem to be growing further apart. Calling the divisions as "primitive tribalism," author and humorist A.J. Jacobs's new foray is in the form of the history of human relationships. Spurred by an email to him from an "eighth cousin" from nowhere, he learned of someone having a database of 80000 relatives of his. Coupled with his recent thinking about family and the possibility of many long-lost relatives, he beings his search for his family identity that probes several angles. He researches genealogy, DNA evidence, online databases such as ancestry.com, an annual genealogy convention, and also some interesting connections with Barack Obama! Jacobs connects all sorts of things. He talks about newspaper articles that often triggers off a flood of ideas, such as the NYT's report about a besieged Connecticut family of an "unorthodox group-home" being chased out of their home. He probes the meaning of family. He wonders how related he is to ex-Presidents like George HW Bush, even managing to eat lunch together with the famous president's home in Kennebunkport, Maine, posing a picture with the former First Couple with a sign that reads: "I am a Cousin." He reflects upon sex, pondering about how many times our ancestors had their passionate embraces.  Other ventures include historical links during the American Revolution; celebrity cousins; name research; Mormons and Donny Osmond; and even an encounter with Harry Potter actor, Daniel Radcliffe. One must be amazed to see how persuasive the author must have been to connect with strangers and distant 'cousins' in such a way. All in all, there is a sense that we all come from two ├╝ber-grandparents in Adam and Eve. For all the wit and humor in the book, there is a sense of the author making some real journeys. I sense three journeys.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

"Godspace" (Keri Wyatt Kent)

TITLE: GodSpace: Embracing the Inconvenient Adventure of Intimacy with God
AUTHOR: Keri Wyatt Kent
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Faithwords, 2017, (208 pages).

This is a book about spiritual practices. More specifically, it is about making space for God in our supposedly busy lifestyles. Some try retreats or some faraway places to get away from the hustle and bustle so as to attain some level of peace and serenity. Others try to find it in Churches or religious communities that try to practice the spiritual disciplines. Some read books while others attend seminars. Some would try out some new initiatives or special one-off projects to engage their spiritual side of things. Unfortunately, as long as we reserve only specific time and space for us to enter into God's presence, we miss out on the rest of our lives. What about the busy moments at work or study? How can we be holy in the midst of babysitting or housekeeping? Spiritual writer Keri Wyatt Kent knows what it means to be caught in the whirlwind of busy activities and expectations in a modern world. Having written books about Sabbath keeping, rest, devotions, spiritual listening, and spiritual practices to attend to the soul, Keri has consolidated many of them for the busy individual struggling to find space for spirituality. It is an invitation for all to live in the grace of God with our whole selves, rather than compartmentalize our lives into different parts. Truth is, when we desire intimacy with God, we will intentionally find space wherever we can. We may have the best tools or most creative techniques with us, but if we have no desire, these things are nothing. However, when we have the desire to want to meet God always, we will find creative ways to make space. This is what this book is about: Making space for God in all of our life. For Kent, it is about seven practices that could be used to make space for God.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

"Come, Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional" (Paul David Tripp)

TITLE: Come, Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional
AUTHOR: Paul David Tripp
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2017, (160 pages).

"The Christmas story is the story of stories." So asserts author and pastor Paul David Tripp. Why? While it is important to tell and re-tell this story, there is a danger of becoming too familiar until we don't appreciate the story anymore. We become too superficial about it. We brush aside details because we assume we already know it all. What we used to be ecstatic about no longer attracts us as much. How do we prevent the familiarity-breeds-contempt mentality? Do a deliberate journey through a daily devotional. This is exactly what this book is about: Helping us go from familiarity to adoration. With specific daters for each chapter, readers could follow along from the beginning of December right through to the end of the month, a 31-journey devotional in all. Each chapter kicks off with a thought for the day. This big idea is then expanded with some personal reflections about the Christ child and the gospel. There is then some scripture passages for further study as well as a brief instructions for parents to instruct their children about certain aspects of what the Advent means. There are many different themes woven into this devotional. We are reminded about the sinful nature of the world and the human heart. Why is it necessary for Jesus to come down to earth? What is the gospel about? What about hope and joy? How could we meaningfully teach our children about Christmas and Jesus?

Let me give three thoughts about this book. First, I think it is a good change to have the scripture passages after the initial description and meditation. As one who has used many other devotionals such as "Our Daily Bread," I notice there is a tendency for people to jump straight into the reading instead of the Bible passage. Some might even skim through the Bible mechanically before zooming into the devotional, making the whole reading very rushed. By reversing this, by the time readers finish the devotional, he would have been more ready to let Scripture confirm or challenge our understanding. Second, regularity is crucial. The value of the devotional is not in simply the reading but the consistency in reading through it. Just like many who eat bread or drink coffee for breakfast, the regularity helps us form a habit that would hopefully instil in us a discipline to spend time reflecting with God. If we could remember our morning coffee, or our daily meals, why not spiritual food? Christmas is a particularly busy time for most people. With a devotional like this, we can challenge the cultural influences and to be able to discern what is best for us and our loved ones. Third, Tripp is spot on when he noticed the dangers of being too familiar with the Christmas story. We tend to skip over certain fundamentals, skim over important details, and miss out on the meaning of Christmas ourselves. Weird isn't it? For I know of certain people becoming caught up in the mundane battles of Christmas. Many still try to fight semantic battles of "Merry Christmas" vs "Happy Holidays." Others echo the tired cliches such as "Jesus is the Reason for the Season," "Season's Greetings," "Christmas magic," "The Spirit of Christmas," and so on. There is no need to parrot what the world is doing. We need Christmas to begin in the heart. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. With devotionals like this, we certainly can cultivate our heart to be ready.

Dr. Paul David Tripp is a pastor, event speaker, and a best-selling and award-winning author. With more than 30 books and video series on Christian living, Paul’s driving passion is to connect the transforming power of Jesus Christ to everyday life. His website is at www.paultripp.com

Rating: 4 stars of 5.

conrade

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

Friday, December 8, 2017

"The God Guarantee" (Jack Alexander)

TITLE: The God Guarantee: Finding Freedom from the Fear of Not Having Enough
AUTHOR: Jack Alexander
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2017, (226 pages).

Every generation, people would say that their era is tougher than their predecessors. There is not enough time to do all they wanted to do. There is not enough people to do what the community need to do. There is not enough resources for us to give, to live on, or to help others with. There are anxieties of lacking what we need. There are also uncertainties that surround our future. Most damning of them all is the fear that prevents us from exercising our fullest potential and to live out our faith. According to author and motivational speaker, Jack Alexander, all we need to change our paradigm of lack to contentment. There is no need to fear about not having enough. The root of an ungenerous heart is fear. Thus, Alexander helps us to change this perspective and to understand and practice biblical generosity. I like the way Tim Keller explains in the foreword that this is not a "self-help" nor a "stewardship" book, nor a "devotional," but a book that would "send you to your knees." I like that.

Alexander dispels the scarcity mentality that paints us as victims needing more. He writes: "All the money in the world can't uncover a deeply embedded sense of scarcity." That is so true. If our hearts are not at peace, no amount of encouragement or serenity can change us. So, the author shows us that God has created us and provided for us in more ways than we could ever imagine. We doubt because we are too engrossed in independence and self-sufficiency. We doubt because of lack of faith in God. By taking on Jesus's practice of taking the bread, blessing it, breaking it, and giving it, Alexander gives us a framework to hone our contentment in God and to develop our conviction in generous giving. First in CAPACITY, we discover capacity as we take stock of what we already have. Second in CONSECRATION, as we bless God and be thankful for them, we invite God in to work in us. Third in CHALLENGES, we re-order our lives as we breaks the old set paradigms. Fourth in COMMUNITY, we give and provide for others.


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

"Mending the Divides" (Jon Huckins and Jer Swigart)

TITLE: Mending the Divides: Creative Love in a Conflicted World
AUTHOR: Jon Huckins and Jer Swigart
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2017, (192 pages).

Sometimes, in our daily conversations, we would say things like "Someday it will all be well," "Let us all love," "Why don't everybody just get along?", or "If only this world could be a better place?" The list could easily include world affairs, national politics, family squabbles, and personal conflicts. For all the good intentions and statements about peace, little has been said about peacemaking initiatives, or even better, becoming active peacemakers wherever we are. This hits home for authors Jon Huckins and Jer Swigart as they listen to stories of terrorism, wars, and conflicts that degenerate out of control over time. For all the talk about love, peace, and goodwill, how is that evident in what we do or are doing? How many friends do we have that are different from us ethnically, nationally, and culturally? Even our North American neighbourhoods have experienced the presence of violence. The authors met as students at Fuller Theological Seminary, both passionate for the work of peace, justice, and reconciliation. They asked questions about peace, peacemaking, effective practices, and what peacemaking has got to do with following Jesus. Thus began the "Global Immersion Project" which seeks to equip and activate the American Church for peacemaking initiatives. Huckins and Swigart are upfront about their own backgrounds, admitting that even as they write in general, they are middle-aged white males; focusing on the importance of gender-sensitive; and believing we need to actively contend for peacemaking.