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Monday, April 30, 2018

"In His Image" (Jen Wilkin)

TITLE: In His Image: 10 Ways God Calls Us to Reflect His Character
AUTHOR: Jen Wilkin
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2018, (176 pages).

This book makes an audacious claim, that after reading this book, we will never have to ask what God's will is for us in the conventional way. Instead of "What should I do?" ask the better questions: "What should I be?" Knowing what we ought to become would guide all of our questions pertaining to our goals, our future, and our desire to honour God. This simple but highly effective paradigm shift puts us on a whole new path forward as far as seeking God's will is concerned. It is essentially following that narrow way, the kingdom road, the path of God's character. We turn our search for something outside of ourselves into an awareness of an inner need for change. We become less interested in spiritual information and look toward spiritual formation. We follow less in the ways of the world and more in the way of Christ.  Ways like being holy to be more like God. Being more loving to grow beyond human limited love toward spiritual freedom that loves beyond limit. We learn about God's goodness that we could aspire to emulate. That light is not just about doing good things. It's about reflecting Christ's goodness. We learn about just law, just discipline, just wrath, and just character. We learn mercy, graciousness, faithfulness, patience, truthfulness, and wisdom, all of these attributes are exactly what we need and all could be found in God. The goal is to become better people ourselves. The way is to reflect Christ's character. Turn away from the world. Turn toward Christ. Move forward to become more and more like Christ each day. The 10 ways that Wilkin has listed can help kickstart our journey to become more like God.

Friday, April 27, 2018

"Seven Practices for the Church on Mission" (David E. Fitch)

TITLE: Seven Practices for the Church on Mission
AUTHOR: David E. Fitch
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2018, (144 pages).

Is there a relationship between Church and Mission? Many had said that the primary purpose of the Church is to exist for the sake of her non-members. Put it another way, she must be missional in all of her activities. The moment the Church becomes inward-looking, it is the beginning of the end. What does it mean to live for the sake of others? In one word: Mission. In fact, for author David Fitch, there are specifically seven ways to do just that. These seven practices are:

  1. Being shaped for mission through the practice of Holy Communion
  2. Being reconciled to one another is a key message of unity in a world of division and disunity
  3. Proclaiming the Gospel means we first know what the gospel is and let the gospel speak through us in word, thought, and deed.
  4. Being with the 'least of these' is about being Christ to the people in need.
  5. Being with children is about not paying lip-service to the importance of children in our lives but to involve them in our lives and decision making.
  6. Five-Fold Gifting of Apostles; Prophets; Evangelists; Pastors and Teachers; that put giftings above hierarchy. It is a powerful reminder of what it means to let the Bible (not the world) to show us the way to lead. 
  7. Kingdom Prayer as foundation for all other practices. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

"A Woman God's Spirit Can Guide" (Alice Mathews)

TITLE: A Woman God's Spirit Can Guide: New Testament Women Help You Make Today’s Choices
AUTHOR: Alice Mathews
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, 2017, (224 pages).

One big question that often pops up for anyone is this: "What is God's will for my life?" In evangelical circles, one might have heard people say things like: "I heard God spoke to me" or "God told me this" or "God told me that" and so on. We are not sure exactly how those conversations between the divine and the human transpire. We are not even given a lot of details when we read Scriptures talk about how God communicated with Moses, David, Samuel, Mary, and the Early Church. Yes, there are cases of angels and voices from heaven. How can we listen more intently; hear more clearly; and understand more succinctly? Even if we have heard God's tones through various circumstances, what does it take to sustain this level of spiritual sensitivity? How could we verify the authenticity of such voices? Is there a biblical pattern we can learn from? How does God guide the New Testament women? Writing particularly to women as the audience, experienced Bible teacher Alice Mathews fills in some guidelines as to how God could guide, in a world of noise, distractions, and deceitful attractions. She helpfully distills over 12 different examples of how God leads women in the Bible. Along the way, readers would learn about women in ministry leadership; through both their abilities and disabilities; strengths and weaknesses; and especially their obedience; one step at a time.

Friday, April 20, 2018

"Surprise the World!" (Michael Frost)

TITLE: Surprise the World: The Five Habits of Highly Missional People
AUTHOR: Michael Frost
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2018, (132 pages).

We have heard of the popular "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People." That bestseller by Stephen Covey has spawned a host of other books about systematic ways of self-improvements. What about being missional? What about good habits to cultivate in spreading the good news about the kingdom of God? Author and leading missional advocate Michael Frost calls it the "Five Habits of Highly Missional People." Just to be clear, missional is not some updated version of conventional missions. Neither is it program to train missionaries. Being missional is about being Christ wherever we go. It is a refreshing new paradigm in understanding how to evangelize and to share the gospel.

Frost distinguishes the two different kinds of evangelism. The first is the gifted evangelists who are able to proclaim the gospel without fear or intimidation. It is a common misunderstanding of evangelism that every believer as an evangelist. While everyone are called to evangelize, not all are gifted with the gab of evangelism. After all, Paul does mention in his letter that evangelism is one of the gifts. At the same time, there are some who are gifted evangelists who could boldly proclaim clearly the gospel without fear or intimidation. The second kind is for the rest of us,where we are to be "evangelistic believers." By this distinction, believers who don't feel like they have the gift of evangelism need not be guilt-trip every time the word evangelism is mentioned. Instead, they could be encouraged to do whatever they can in the direct or indirect declaration of the gospel. This second group learns how to provide "gracious answers" to questions posed by unbelievers. Remarkably, this two-fold approach to evangelism helps us not to behave as if we must but to do whatever we can in the task of evangelism. Those who are gifted are urged to be faithful to exercise their gifts to the fullest potential. Those who are not given such gifts are encouraged to be faithful in other ways that helps spread the gospel creatively. This book is written more for this group. Frost introduces his BELLS model as the five habits of highly missional people.
  1. BLESS (Value Generosity): People who would live generously by blessing three people each week.
  2. EAT (Value of Hospitality): Those who practice hospitality by eating with others frequently
  3. LISTEN (Value of Spirit-Led): Those who learns to listen to the Holy Spirit
  4. LEARN (Value of Christlikeness): Those who learn to live more like Christ
  5. SENT (Value of Missional): Those who see themselves as missionaries in the making first to our neighbourhoods and then beyond.
Frost allocates one chapter to each of the five values. After describing each habit, he lists the reasons for it and draws up the limitations of each habit. With biblical support and illustrations along the way, he builds upon each habit with a call to go forth and practice. He concludes by reminding readers not to treat these habits as a short-term project but a longer term lifestyle. If the former is true, he would have subtitled the book as "Five Effective Steps of Highly Missional People." Instead, he uses the word "habit" which needs to be intentional; regularly practiced; and adopted as a way of life. Frost wants us to "inculcate these habits as a central rhythm" of our lives. He ends the book with practice pages for the individual and follow-up discussions for the group.

My Thoughts
1) I am pleasantly surprised at the simplicity of the model. The BELLS acronym is such a clever way to help readers recall the five habits. This showcases how effective the author is as a communicator and author. Simplicity is the key to revolution. We live in a "Too Long Didn't Read" (TLDR) world where many lack the patience to read beyond a certain number of paragraphs. Communications for the new generation must cut straight to the chase. This is even more important in a world inundated by busyness and constant distractions of being connected. Simplicity is the key to effect communication.

2) I like the way the habits unfurl the missional values of generosity; hospitality; Spirituality; Christlikeness; and Missional Living. The active verb used in BELLS are supported by biblical values which are timeless and applicable everywhere. The practice of even one value would be a large step in the long obedience in the missional direction. Readers are free to apply any of these habits in any way. There is no compulsion to follow them in the order it is presented in the book. While it is always good to read from cover to cover to get a sense of the big picture, when it comes to applications, one can begin anywhere, preferably from the habit that we feel strongest first. Depending on how God guides, we can optimize all of them in appropriate ways.

3) Finally, as the author suggest, the building of a habit takes time. Thus, we should not pick up this book and be too quick to put it back on the bookshelves. Practice it regularly. Memorize the BELLS model and remember the individual missional values for a time. Until we can remember it easily, it will be hard to practice it. That is why the instructions at the end of each chapter is an important exercise. Whether we do it in 40 days more or less, we need to do it actively. Then and only then can we move BELLS from print to the head; from the head to the heart; and from the heart to the hands.

Though this book is also available as an ebook across the Internet, I would recommend using a printed copy so that we can write our own notes in it, especially the accountability pages toward the end of the book.

Michael Frost is a leading voice for the missional movement. His books have been well-received by churches, seminaries, and schools. He is founding principal of Morling College and co-founder of Forge International Mission Training Network. He is author of the bestselling book, "The Shaping of Things to Come."

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of NavPress, Tyndale Publishing House, and Graf-Martin Communications without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

"Only One Way" (Michael L. Johnson and Richard D. Phillips, editors)

TITLE: Only One Way: Christian Witness in an Age of Inclusion (Best of Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology)
AUTHOR: Michael L. Johnson and Richard D. Phillips, editors
PUBLISHER: Phillipsburg, NJ: P and R Publishing, 2018, (176 pages).

Why must Christianity be so exclusive? Aren't we supposed to create an inclusive culture with equal rights and equal treatment of people? Isn't it too arrogant for some Christians to insist that only they have the truth? These questions on the exclusivity of Christ as stated in John 14:6 is the main focus in this book. Containing materials given at the 2005 Philadelphia conference on Reformed Theology, it aims to "promote clarity and conviction about the great evangelical truths of the gospel and to proclaim these truths powerfully into our contemporary context." No easy feat, considering how liberal our society is increasingly becoming. For in our world of free expression and freedom of beliefs, everyone insist on their version of truth in a world filled with fake news and deception. Even the dissemination of falsehood can hide under the guise of freedom of expression. For Christians, truth is not an abstract theory nor some weird beliefs. It is the Person of Jesus Christ. How do we communicate this in our Christian witness? Gradually, according to the editors of this book. In moving from one to many, individual pieces have been arranged to shine light on the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ. Before one starts to accuse the individual contributors of bigotry, consider their arguments. David Wells reminds us that God has not changed. It is we who have changed. Truth has become individualized, and Christ has become simply one of many choices, similar to the situation that Paul encountered in Acts 17 at Mars Hill. Like Paul's Athens, our society too are urbanized, experienced "coerced civility" and are highly idolatrous.  Wells shows us the powerful apologetic from Paul in his three missionary addresses, and focuses on arguments based on God as Creator; God as Sovereign; and God as Judge. He concludes that we in the postmodern culture ought to wake up and work hard at "tough intellectual slogging" in understanding our culture; convicted in our beliefs; and if necessary pay the price for our faith.  Albert Mohler joins in with the proclamation of "One Gospel" going back to Romans 1 passage to describe how dark the world is and the importance of proclaiming the gospel without being ashamed. Even when he continues on the exclusive claims, he is spot on in saying that God is not against the rest of the world. In fact, He loved us, forgave us, and even died for all. It is not about the exclusive claims but about our relentless rejection of Him that is the problem. Peter R. Jones goes back to God as Creator under "One God" in an age of polytheism and plural beliefs. The challenge is to address the increasing worldview that insists on a future without God. Jones makes a very interesting observation that "the very denial of God is one of the chief obstacles to our preaching the gospel today." If we do not recognize this and choose instead to focus on the content of our arguments instead of the contexts, we would be trapped in an endless cycle of cynicism and stubborn disbelief. The challenge is not just atheism or secularism. It is paganism and polytheism. His warning on paganism and neo-paganism is apt:

Friday, April 13, 2018

"Interpreting the Wisdom Books" (Edward M. Curtis)

TITLE: Interpreting the Wisdom Books: An Exegetical Handbook (Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis)
AUTHOR: Edward M. Curtis
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2018, (208 pages).

One of the challenges of interpreting the Bible is to recognize the literary genres the each book belongs to. Without understanding of genre, we would risk starting on the wrong path. Genre interpretation gives us a clearer perspective that nuances the essence of each book more succinctly and accurately. This is at least far more effective than mere literal interpretation which could render awkward understanding. There are at least eight different genres: Narrative; Law; Poetry; Wisdom; Prophecy; Gospels; Letters; Apocalypse. This handbook treats the wisdom books as Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs. Very often, we need background information and context in order to better appreciate the proverb or the associated verses that try to highlight a theme. It can be quite a challenge to read the Bible alone as a 21st Century reader, let alone interpret them. Thankfully, we have formidable scholarship, archaeological studies, and historians who could fill in such gaps. This handbook stems from a conviction that the Bible is best studied when we approach the original languages as closely as possible. Aimed at an intermediate to advanced level of seminarians, students, and trained pastors, this handbook follows a familiar six-chapter format:

Monday, April 9, 2018

"Rethinking Sexuality" (Juli Slattery)

TITLE: Rethinking Sexuality: God's Design and Why It Matters
AUTHOR: Juli Slattery
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah, 2018, (224 pages).

Gary Thomas once confessed: "One day it dawned upon me. We have been sexually discipled by the world." Indeed, we have been taken for a ride by the world. It is time to take back the reins of education to be God's people for all. It is time to renew our understanding of our calling in this world. It is time to rethink sexuality. That is the purpose of this book: Rethinking our sexuality from the ground up, beginning with our relationship with God; our honesty with self; and our relationship with others. Written for a wide group of people including parents, teachers, pastors, lay leaders, and Christians, this book is about addressing the current state of confusion surrounding sexual issues such as loneliness, shame, addiction, intimacy, disagreement, pornography, sexual abuse, cohabitation, masturbation, sexual orientation, and much more. Slattery makes the assertion that sexuality is "not a problem to be solved but a territory to be reclaimed." Thus, conventional sexual education and purity abstentions do not work. For the former, educational model tends be too reductionist. For the latter, it is to reactive to the excesses of sexuality. The author claims that the way forward is "sexual discipleship." For too long, our answers to the sexual questions of the day tend to be based on how our cultures would respond. For instance:

  • Cultural approaches to sexuality tend to be humanistic or postmodern which jettisons the notion of right and wrong; in favour of whatever we feel appropriate
  • Transgender rights insist on the freedom of experience based on a postmodern philosophy of gender identities according to what we want
  • Doing simply because everybody else is doing it!
Sexual discipleship means we exalt Christ above all, including our sexuality. Slattery gives us several reasons why we need to talk about sexuality. For individuals, we need to find hope. For churches, we need to grow up and relate to the new generation. We need not feel like Adam and Eve who were ashamed about themselves and their nakedness. Part One of the book deals with one's relationship with God. Using the 5Ps as alliteration, Slattery lists as follows:
  • The Premise: What you think about sex begins with what you believe about God.
  • The Purpose: The gospel is written within your sexuality.
  • The Problem: Someone wants to destroy holy sexuality.
  • The Pandemic: We are all sexually broken.
  • The Promise: Jesus came to redeem broken sexuality.  

Part Two is more introspective as we learn to live our beliefs. In doing so, we need to face three primary conflicts: 1) our flesh vs our spirituality; 2) Our public vs Private selves; 3) Love vs Truth. Spiritual discipleship is essentially about dealing with these conflicts so as to ensure that Christ is honoured. Part Three applies spiritual discipleship to our wider relationships: Our personal relationships and as a Church. Some of the questions she pose includes:

  • What can we do in a destructive relationship?
  • Should we attend a gay marriage ceremony?
  • What if our spouse has no desire for sex?
  • How modern TV programmes and movies affect our sexual perspectives? 
  • How do we interact with transgenders?
  • What to do with Christian leaders with moral failures?
  • ... and several more.

My Thoughts
First, this is a needed book in a culture full of confusing sexual messages and corrupt images. Hollywood and popular TV stations tend to opt for programming that appeals to the widest audiences. Their positions are are pretty much amoral. Where the money is, there they would go. After all, educating the public is not their primary responsibility. Profit making is. With the pervasiveness of the Internet, it is increasingly impossible to control what our kids and out young people see. In the past, we can switch off the TV or limit the programming through parental controls. Nowadays, even if we were to turn off our WiFi at home, children can surf the net using their cellphones and tablets running on generous data plans.

Second, sexual discipleship seems like a very big word which might scare off ordinary lay persons. This is not the style of this book. The term may look intimidating, but the contents and the way Slattery has written appeals to the general reader. In fact, she has includes a lot of her personal counseling and teaching experiences with real-life people that carries an authenticity that is beyond theory and facts. She relates well and understands the profound struggles of many.

Finally, sexual discipleship is spiritual warfare. I am grateful for Slattery's reminder of the three primary challenges of the world on the biblical perspective. One of the reasons for the lack of Christian responses to the world prescriptions for sex and sexuality is because of the lack of Christian witnesses in this area. Being Christian is not about taking the purity pledge or some abstention of sexual activity. It is about honouring God in all things we do. This book shows us exactly how to do just that. We need a biblical response more than ever. We need a more holistic view of sexuality. We need to stop letting the world lead the way in learning about sexuality.

Dr. Juli Slattery is a popular clinical psychologist, author, speaker and broadcast media professional. She is the president and co-founder of Authentic Intimacy. She hosts Java With Juli on Moody Radio, where she answers tough questions about relationships, marriage, spiritual, emotional and sexual intimacy. She has authored books such as Passion Pursuit, Finding the Hero in Your Husband, No More Headaches, and Guilt-Free Motherhood. She and her husband, Mike, have been married since 1994 and have three children.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


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

Friday, April 6, 2018

Movie: "The Miracle Season"

TITLE: The Miracle Season
DIRECTOR: Sean McNamara
STARS: Helen Hunt, Erin Moriarty, William Hurt, Danika Yarosh
PRODUCER: LD Entertainment (Released Apr 6th, 2018)

Sports movies remain one of the most powerful ways to inspire people. This latest faith-based movie is no different. What makes it even more powerful and inspirational is that it is based on a true story of what a high school girls' volleyball team had to go through amid a tragedy.  Showing us the emotional highs and lows, viewers would be captivated by the sheer determination to succeed against all odds. Driven by a passionate reminder of a young life who gave her all, it inspired the whole team, the whole school, the whole town, and even the entire state to rise up and cheer. Even though Caroline was no longer with them, their memories of her and the dedication to her cause remain etched in their minds and hearts.

With award winning actress Helen Hunt anchoring the whole cast, not only was she a firm and tough force to glue the shaky volleyball team, her presence provided immense stability to the many younger and less experienced actors in the movie.

The Synopsis:
Iowa's West High School Girls Volleyball team had just won the 2010 State Volleyball Championship. Led by their star player, who was also the captain of the team, Caroline "Line" Found, the entire school had never been so energized as they look to repeat their feat in 2011. No school had ever done that before and West High was set to break that duck. Caroline was full of energy, full of love, and full of pure fun. She was able to lift up the sagging faces of discouragement with her pure joy and laughter. In short, she possesses boundless energies to galvanize anyone who knows her. Until a terrible road accident took her life and the rest of the movie focuses on how the whole family, the entire school, and especially the girls volleyball team led by Caroline's best friend, Kelley, rose from the ashes of discouragement to unimaginable heights. There are many themes we could draw and learn from. Here is a short list.

Monday, April 2, 2018

"The Case for Miracles" (Lee Strobel)

TITLE: The Case for Miracles: A Journalist Investigates Evidence for the Supernatural
AUTHOR: Lee Strobel
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018, (320 pages).

Is there such a thing as a miracle? If something cannot be proven by science, does that make it false? How do we make sense of miracles? Can we believe something that we cannot explain? After a successful foray into the publishing world with “The Case for Christ” where the author describes his journey from doubt to faith through investigative journalism, he has since written many books based on this investigative theme of “the case of.” Last year, his bestselling book was made into a movie which has been very well received. This book is important not only from a faith perspective but also from a skeptical outlook. While one could criticize the Christian faith for their beliefs in miracles and supernatural events, one needs to examine the reasons for rejecting any in the first place. More often than not, there are skeptics would would never believe regardless of the evidence presented. This book is thus written to Christians; to skeptics; and to everyone else in between.