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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

"Invitation to Retreat" (Ruth Haley Barton)

TITLE: Invitation to Retreat: The Gift and Necessity of Time Away with God (Transforming Resources Set)
AUTHOR: Ruth Haley Barton
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2018, (144 pages).

Many of us know the importance of going away on a retreat. Many don't know what to do with it. In fact, going away for a vacation may very well a busy and stressful time. Leisure time is not a retreat. Entertainment options are not necessarily the right ingredients for rest. Taking a summer break cannot be equated to a retreat. Until we learn to deal with the inner restlessness in each of us, we will continue to be addicted to the twin buddies of busyness and exhaustion. Everywhere we go, people are either busy doing something or take pride in being busy. At the end of the day, they get tired which affects everything else. In a culture infatuated with a 24/7 always available mindset, we become enslaved to external stimulants like the ping on our cell-phones or social media prompts. Some turn to alcohol or drugs to escape from the spinning world of problems and non-stop challenges. Even on leisure Sundays or vacation days, we don't really know what to do with our time, save for more activities that feed the restless soul in us. Dallas Willard says it well about setting a time intentionally to retreat from our usual stuff: "If you don't come apart for a while, you will come apart after a while." Retreat leader and popular speaker Ruth Haley Barton invites us to a time away from our everyday activities to go to a quiet place to discover ourselves and to experience God. This spiritual guide helps us not only to plan for a retreat, it offers us what to do and what not to do during a retreat. If we don't address the restlessness in each of us, any activity, including a retreat, may become another occasion for work and busyness. Quoting Emilie Griffin, a retreat is essentially a "generous commitment to our friendship with God." Beautifully put. Yes! A retreat is not something that we do for God or something we plan to do in the Name of Jesus. It is about that personal time with God and seeking to know more of the One we want to serve. A retreat is about doing something different from what we are used to do. It is about making that space with God and enjoying it. It means being generous with our time with God, and not just a pittance number of minutes we deem "devotional time." A retreat is very much counter-cultural. Barton highlights several Rs for us to get a fuller picture.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

"The Lifegiving Parent" (Clay and Sally Clarkson)

TITLE: The Lifegiving Parent: Giving Your Child a Life Worth Living for Christ
AUTHOR: Clay and Sally Clarkson
PUBLISHER: Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2018, (256 pages).

Children are God's gift to parents. Lifegiving is a two-way path. Whether it is the struggle through challenges, enigma of choices; joy of chuckles; or grappling with changes; parents will always be parents, albeit, evolving roles. What is Christian parenting? How can parents continue their role of giving life after each growth phase? Is Christian parenting more than simply giving faith? Having written books and given conferences to Christian mothers, author Sally Clarkson has teamed up with her husband Clay to provide answers to both sets of parents. This third book in the "Life giving" trilogy addresses parents and shows us what it means to be lifegiving parents. In a nutshell, lifegiving parenting is not just about giving children the faith in Christ but giving the life of Christ. Sharing their personal stories of parenting amid tumultuous career and personal upheavals, they tie in their faith victories with powerful parenting lessons of wisdom. These lessons are marinated with both successes and failures. The key theme of this book is that parenting is less about what we do and more about who we are. That is why the authors spend the bulk of the book talking about the eight "heartbeats of parental lifegiving." The logic is simple. We parent out of who we are.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

"Sacred Signposts" (Benjamin J. Dueholm)

TITLE: Sacred Signposts: Words, Water, and Other Acts of Resistance
AUTHOR: Benjamin J. Dueholm
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2018, (176 pages).

Are the Church practices of old no longer relevant in our new era? Should we still observe them or should we abandon them in favour of new rituals? How should we adapt to a post-Christian world? Should we resist adapting and maintain the historical approaches to the rituals? Right from the start, author Benjamin Dueholm shows us the tensions between the old and the new; the traditional and the modern; the liberal and the post-liberal; etc. He tries to use inclusive languages pertaining to God, using "cultural idioms" we are familiar with. He marries the two by letting authors of old keep the gendered identities as they had used while he adopts a more inclusive or more neutral language. Put it simply, historically and theologically, he tries to keep to traditions. Practically, he is less strict, even though he claims to stick to his professed traditions. In doing so, Dueholm carefully meanders between the two sides of the ritual divide to show us how "holy possessions" the Church has received from the past can still be relevant for the present times. In other words, these six "sacred signposts" still matter. He claims that "historic preservationism can make people authoritarian, reactionary, and defensive," while "dumpster diving" makes us "diffuse and marginal, light in commitment and ready to claim any enthusiasm in the world for Christ." What we should do instead is to "renew our focus" on these six rituals of Words, Water, Meal, Confession and Forgiveness, Ministry, and Worship. If we can do this well, these holy possessions would:

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

"Moral Leadership for a Divided Age" (David P. Gushee & Colin Holtz)

TITLE: Moral Leadership for a Divided Age: Fourteen People Who Dared to Change Our World
AUTHOR: David P. Gushee & Colin Holtz
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2018, (384 pages).

What is moral leadership? Why is it so needed today? Some books tackle the above with a list of best leadership practices or some leadership attributes. Others deal with the leaders in terms of what they do and how they do it. For David Gushee and Colin Holtz, it is about examining the lives of notable leaders, specifically, 14 persons who displays leadership that unite followers toward a common goal. They invite people to join with them in pursuing a common cause. They have moral impact, moral character, and moral purpose in what they do. The test of moral leadership is when the leaders leave, they leave the world in a better shape than before. In fact, for the authors, moral leadership is a far better way to learn ethics than ethical studies per se. This is because it encompasses both theory and practice; concepts and applications; ideas and practicality. Moral leadership is more essential because the world:
  • is increasingly dominated by people moving toward radical extremes
  • is dominated by people trying to make their culture or cultural stance superior to others
  • the world is increasingly being torn apart, divided.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

"Honest Worship" (Manuel Luz)

TITLE: Honest Worship: From False Self to True Praise
AUTHOR: Manuel Luz
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2018, (224 pages).

Why do we worship? What is the meaning of worshiping God i Spirit and in Truth?  How do we do away with any pretense in the house of God? How do we worship? In this impassioned plea for honesty and integration of heart, mind, soul, and strength, we are challenged to lay down our masks and artificial ways and take up the cross of sacrifice and service. We are challenged to let go of self and see God for Who He is, so that we can see ourselves for who we truly are, from God's perspective. Worship is not just about music and songs. It's about truth. It's not just about us. It's about God. It's not just about feelings. It's about honesty from us to God, and of God toward us. Beginning with an observation about smoke, techniques, and drama in a modern worship setting, author and worship pastor Manuel Luz reflects on his journey from "false self to true praise." With state of the art audio-visual systems, it is easy to let the externals wow our fleshly senses to the point of ignoring our spiritual needs. All this is because of the influence of the culture over us. As we let the externals dictate the way we worship, we become tempted with sensational techniques and expensive technological tools to feed the fleshly desires rather than authentic worship. As the late AW Tozer has said it so aptly that:

"Worship is no longer worship when it reflects the culture around us more than the Christ within us."