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Sunday, July 14, 2019

"Seasoned Speech" (James E. Beitler III)

TITLE: Seasoned Speech: Rhetoric in the Life of the Church
AUTHOR: James E. Beitler III
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2019, (256 pages).

What has rhetoric got to do with Christianity? Is learning rhetoric a strategy of unholy manipulation? What can we learn from history with regard to Christian witness using rhetoric? According to author, James E Beitler III, we need more, not less "rhetorical reflection." In arguing for more of the training and theological reflection on rhetoric, he first debunks some myths surrounding the topic. For those who use the Bible to avoid the use of rhetoric, we learn that there is a place for right speech that uses the skills of  persuasion. He states: "Rhetoric and truth are not opposites;
rather, presentations of the truth are always rhetorical." Going through the list of rhetorical experts is in itself a treat: Plato's and Socrates' works on rhetoric; Cicero's five canons of rhetoric; Peter Ramus's modification of Cicero's; Aristotle's three rhetorical appeals; and several contemporary authors such as Kevin Vanhoozer, David Cunningham, and André Resner Jr. Then there are several theologians who offer theological backing for the study and use of rhetoric as "some of the most persuasive forms of Christian witness."

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

"The Practices of Christian Preaching" (Jared E. Alcántara)

TITLE: The Practices of Christian Preaching: Essentials for Effective Proclamation
AUTHOR: Jared E. Alcántara
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019, (256 pages).

What has a jazz musician got to do with a Christian preacher? Is there any connection between playing music and the preaching of the Bible? Yes there is, says author and professor Jared Alcántara. That one key word in common: Practice. Anticipating objections with regard to human-centered efforts in the ministry of the Word, the author makes a case for spiritual growth via spiritual practices and bearing fruit. He boldly claims that: "preachers who cultivate life-giving preaching habits through deliberate practice will enhance their proficiency, grow in their commitment, and flourish in their homiletical ministry." The reason for advocating constant practice is three-fold. First, without deliberate practice, no matter how skilled or knowledgeable one is, deterioration would happen over time. Second, talking about practice is different from actually doing it. Thus, the book is arranged in a practice-oriented approach. Third, there is a consistent focus on both the what and the how of preaching. Using the 5Cs to alliterate the practices of Christian preaching, Alcántara proceeds with using a chapter each to elucidate the practices.
  1. Preach Convictionally: to let our words reflect the truth of the Bible;
  2. Preach Contextually: to be faithful to the meaning behind the texts;
  3. Preach Clearly: to ensure our message can be easily understood;
  4. Preach Concretely: to remain connected with our listeners;
  5. Preach Creatively: to learn how to break through any barriers.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

"Faith is For Weak People" (Ray Comfort)

TITLE: Faith Is for Weak People: Responding to the Top 20 Objections to the Gospel
AUTHOR: Ray Comfort
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2019, (224 pages).

Not many Christians actively share the gospel. Some hide behind good works while others succumb to a climate of fear and intimidation. The Bible urges believers to be strong and courageous for if God is for us, who can be against us? Plus, there is no fear in love for perfect love casts out all fear. Why then are people afraid to speak up for God's Word and the salvation of the world? Perhaps, it is due to the hostility surrounding Christianity in society. It might also be linked to people feeling ill equipped to deal with objections, especially those questions that even Christians find it hard to answer. Bible teacher and apologist, Ray Comfort knows it from experience. He makes his point very clear. Some Christians roar like lions on social issues such as corruption, violence, poverty, drug abuse, and so on, but when it comes to the gospel, they squeak like mice. The way of salvation is not through good works but through the gospel of Jesus Christ. More importantly, love overcomes all manner of fear. After making a passionate plea for all believers to advance the gospel, Comfort challenges all to have a ready answer for 20 top objections. I have paraphrased most of them.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

"Labor With Hope" (Gloria Furman)

TITLE: Labor with Hope: Gospel Meditations on Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Motherhood
AUTHOR: Gloria Furman
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2019, (160 pages).

Brother Lawrence taught us about the spirituality of practicing the presence of God. Paul Stevens and others promote the spirituality of work and the marketplace. Mike Mason shows us spirituality of practicing the presence of people. Seminarians remind us about the spirituality of study and research. What about the spirituality of childbirth? Gloria Furman advocates the following: "Jesus has everything to do with everything, including our spiritual nourishment in pregnancy and childbirth." In this book, she not only describes the spiritual connection in the present, she also shows us how these "point us to eternal realities." These two aspects are expressed in every chapter. From the creative narrative in Genesis, Furman shows us how the human procreation act is derived from God's creative initiative. Men and women are image bearers of God, and children born are image bearers of their parents as well. All of us are called to be fruitful and multiply for this is the very character of God. Fertility reminds us of fruitfulness and how our endeavours point us to God's glory that is to come. On childbirth pains, we learn from Scripture that it is because of the curse of sin. When God said "I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing," we learn that it is not restricted to simply the birth moment. It is a part of the whole area of judgment because of sin. More importantly, it tells us our need for a savior. This is where the title of the book describes this paradox: Labouring in pain without losing hope. While recognizing the reality of pain, Furman also shows us the significance of hope. Like babies, we cannot deliver ourselves. In parenting, we learn how tough it is to bring up children. Even as we grapple with the seriousness of sin and evil, we also see the power of the gospel to deliver us from sin and death. Forgiveness through the gospel stretches far and wide, even to those who had undergone abortion.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

"Soaring Through the Bible" (Skip Heitzig)

TITLE: Soaring Through the Bible: A Travel Guide from Genesis to Revelation for Kids
AUTHOR: Skip Heitzig
PUBLISHER: Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2019, (224 pages).

The Bible is one big book to read through. Adults often have trouble even trying to understand what the Bible is saying. Many have spent years studying it and still find it mysterious. It is not easy to read the Bible cover to cover, partly because of its length and many genres. The ancient contexts are not easily understood. Thus, there are many commentaries, Bible dictionaries, and biblical helps for people wanting to know more about the Bible backgrounds. Many of these resources however are not easily translated into a manner suitable for kids. This book helps teachers, parents, and youth leaders in giving a Bible overview to kids. Using the metaphor of flying in an airplane and looking down on earth, author and Bible teacher Skip Heitzig gives us a bird's eye view of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. The main idea is this: "the higher up you go into the air and look down, the more you can see of the earth than you can from the ground." Heitzig takes us through a three part framework for every book of the Bible.

  1. Check Your Location (Context)
  2. Plot Your Course (Content)
  3. Enjoy Your Trip (Practice)

Thursday, June 13, 2019

"An Uncommon Guide to Retirement" (Jeff Haanen)

TITLE: An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God's Purpose for the Next Season of Life
AUTHOR: Jeff Haanen
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2019, (204 pages).

What do we do when we retire? For some, it is an extended vacation but the problem is affordability. Some go to other extreme by claiming they don't have enough money, and prefer to save up for the proverbial rainy day. Some Christians believe that the idea of an endless vacation is not biblical. Still others think that they need a bigger vision and purpose for retirement. Each of these options have their pros and cons. In this book, author Jeff Haanen challenges the typical views about what to do after retirement and argues that believers ought to resist fear, doubt, and uncertainty with a better sense of relationship and trust in God. He calls his counter-cultural views as "uncommon views." Many common topics are discussed. He looks at culture first, looking at the reasons why retirement is increasingly being talked about. He asks new questions of his own about work, finances, rest, family, calling, and purpose. He observes our shifting cultural climate that will have a greater proportion of aging Baby Boomers; increasing financial struggle; limited and uncertain pension plans; rising health care costs; and continued fear of the future. Haanen deals with each of these relevant matters thoughtfully with a gentle touch of realism.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

"Rogue Saints" (Jerry Herships)

TITLE: Rogue Saints: Spirituality for Good-Hearted Heathens
AUTHOR: Jerry Herships
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019, (114 pages).

His first book, "Last Call" was about his personal journey from an altar boy in Church to show business, gigs, bars, and various game shows to make ends meet. He returns to the ministry albeit with a difference: going out people who congregate at bars and pubs. He shares his story of "from serving drinks to serving Jesus." In this follow up book, Herships continues by giving us a closer look at what his unconventional ministry looks like. More importantly, he tries to help us find out our big purpose in life through connection and community. He tells stories of people who would be considered "misfits" in many churches. Just knowing that there are people with bigger problems than our complaints about life, will easily put our worries in perspective. In an uninhibited "in the face" manner, the author makes it clear that he does not stand for rules and restrictions about how to do ministry. He even admits to wanting to bash "shitty church." Preferring to let the ends justify the means, he kicks off by reminding us that our starting point for theology should not be "original sin," but "original blessing." We don't start off by thinking how bad we look but how good we have been created. We are created in the image of God. He does several counter-intuitive things such as labeling people as "heathens," choosing unbeliever to be part of his leadership team; even adding in cocktail mix at the end of each chapter. The objective of the book is to help us find a way to serve God through meaningful connections with the community around us, especially in the uncommon places.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

"The Pastor in the Secular Age" (Andrew Root)

TITLE: The Pastor in a Secular Age: Ministry to People Who No Longer Need a God
AUTHOR: Andrew Root
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019, (336 pages).

Some authors address youth concerns from a program-centered and activity standpoint. They address the symptoms of youth boredom well. Other authors analyze the challenges of youth ministry from an experiential standpoint. Still there are those who interviews youths in order to find a better fit between faith and life. Unfortunately, many of these efforts fail to get beyond the aesthetics. Questions need to be asked not just about what the young people or the next generation need, but why things are happening as they are. Contextual understanding needs to come before any attempt at solutions. In this deeply philosophical book, author and professor Andrew Root carries on his analysis of the culture affecting youthful minds with a concentration on the increasingly secularized society. All the efforts about engaging youths through authenticity, through authority, through activity, and others, cannot be sustained without a clear theological vision to guide us through a secular age, let alone any age. This is the crux of this book that peruses the historical past; probes the present context; and proposes a path forward for the future. The reason for the focus on youths is mainly because they are the ones most likely to "no longer need a God." Until we address this area of concern, youth ministries will continue to reach out merely at surface level. Root goes much more than mere youth ministries. He looks at how pastors are affected and ways to address their ministry concerns. These two concerns, one to young people and the other for ministers, drive the writing of this book.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

"Shepherding God's People" (Siang-Yang TAN)

TITLE: Shepherding God's People: A Guide to Faithful and Fruitful Pastoral Ministry
AUTHOR: Siang-Yang TAN
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019, (272 pages).

People have often called the pastoral vocation as a special kind of calling. Some even put it as a "higher calling." Some of my friends even joke about the reason for such a "higher calling" (aka high pressure workload and expectations with low or no renumeration). Whatever it is, shepherding a community of people is no easy feat. Working with machines, computers, and systems is far easier than working with people. Thankfully, there have been many who had entered the pastoral vocation and come out with much gratitude. At the same time, there are also rising concerns about the increasing number of people quitting the pastoral vocation. This is how author, professor, pastor, and clinical psychologist, Siang-Yang Tan begins the book. He notes that in a recent conference in Southern California, 90 percent of the pastors had "experienced fatigue and had thoughts of quitting ministry." There is a need to help one be faithful in the ministry and fruitful during the practice of pastoral ministry. This book aims at providing a biblical perspective of the church, on pastoral ministry, and on how to shepherd God's people.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

"The Promises of God" (Charles H. Spurgeon)

TITLE: The Promises of God: A New Edition of the Classic Devotional Based on the English Standard Version
AUTHOR: Charles H. Spurgeon
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2019, (400 pages).

"A promise from God is like a check payable to order." We accept it by faith. We trust that the promise will be received in God's time. We are reminded that we are not alone. Neither are we on our own. We belong to God and God keeps His Promises. Written by the "Prince of Preachers," Charles Haddon Spurgeon is a mighty preacher with a personal history of depression. If there is anyone who understands the need for God, it would be this man of God who battled emotional turmoils in his own quiet moments. The best way out of such troubles is to cling on to the promises of God. Just like the famous hymnal, "Standing on the Promises," Spurgeon's daily devotional is a daily encounter with God's promises. For God came not because we are good but because He is good; not because we are worthy but because Christ is worthy; not because we are holy but because the Holy Spirit is with us. Spurgeon shares his reflection on the truth of God's Word in his popular work, "Morning and Evening" now available online here. Updated for the modern reader, this work focuses on the hope we have in Jesus. We may feel down at times but not forever. We may be discouraged but God's Word encourages us. Having a wise counsel and guide in Spurgeon helps anyone gets through their toughest times. For Spurgeon has said in the preface: "Oh, that I might comfort some of my Master’s servants! I have written out of my own heart with the view of comforting their hearts." Guided by a daily verse, regardless of the state of the soul, Spurgeon anchors us on the truth of the Word and the promise of God with a single thrust of hope. Hope in spite of fallen humanity; in spite of war; in spite of suffering; in spite of poverty; in spite of loneliness; in spite of anything that hinders one from coming into the presence of God. A promise is a promise. Faith ushers us into the platform of promises that urges us to trust, to pray, and to hope.

Friday, May 24, 2019

"Images and Idols" (Thomas J Terry and J Ryan Lister)

TITLE: Images and Idols: Creativity for the Christian Life (Reclaiming Creativity)
AUTHOR: Thomas J Terry and J Ryan Lister
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2018, (160 pages).

We are created. Not only that, our calling is to be creative and to let our gift of creativity bless the world we live in. More importantly, our calling as created beings is to go back to the Creator, God our Father. For we are made in the image of God and everything we do is a reflection of God's grace to us. In a stirring book about letting our creativity become our act of worship, authors Thomas Terry and J. Ryan Lister come together to help us knit together the grand spectrum of creativity through art, beauty, and theology. Like all books that touch on Christian spirituality, the authors begin with God. Jesus has said that without Him, we can do nothing. For if God is the Creator of all things, surely the gift of creativity comes from Him! In the foreword, Jackie Hill-Perry says it well that creativity is "best understood in light of Him and not in spite of Him." Ditto that. What then is need is to "reclaim creativity" from warped definitions and erroneous implications. How is it reclaimed? Terry and Lister assert that reclaiming means:

Thursday, May 23, 2019

"Kingdom of the Cults" (Walter Martin)

TITLE: The Kingdom of the Cults: The Definitive Work on the Subject
AUTHOR: Walter Martin
PUBLISHER: Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2019, (800 pages).

We are living in an increasingly pluralistic, multi-cultural, multi-religious, and dizzying array of beliefs, sub-beliefs, and many alternative philosophies. Author Martin calls this the "kingdom of the cults." Since 1965, while the original version is somewhat outdated, the challenge remains the same: Learning how to answer the many cults on the outside or the fringes of mainstream Christianity. It is important to note that the author uses the word "cult" not as a derogatory way but to spell out their differences from traditional Christianity. This is particularly so when many of them insist that they are the one true religion. In the Early Church, there were already heresies that attempt to call themselves Christian. The Church fought many theological battles, leading to the gathering of the bishops' council to meet at places in Chalcedon, Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus, and others. Backed by able theologians such as Athanasius, Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, the Church Fathers, the Cappadocian Fathers, and many more, the Church held fast. This book may not be in the same position as the creeds of old but it showcases the differences of the various cults from Christianity. Martin gives us many historical analyses for us to understand the background; theological evaluation and comparison; and the way we could respond through "apologetic contrast." The concern is that the Church at large is increasingly less able to discern the cults. Not only that, there are some who are openly embracing them, at the risk of compromising our beliefs. This is a concern.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

"Exegetical Gems from Biblical Hebrew" (H. H. Hardy II)

TITLE: Exegetical Gems from Biblical Hebrew: A Refreshing Guide to Grammar and Interpretation
AUTHOR: H. H. Hardy II
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019, (224 pages).

The inspiration for studying Hebrew could be summed up in the words of the author's professor of Hebrew: "One cannot have good theology without good morphology!" Some seminaries and Bible schools to their detriment are doing away with language studies. This book reminds us once again that the original languages are biblical treasures that we could constantly discover. Faith comes by the Word of God. Fruitful spiritual growth comes from an earnest study of the Bible. As one goes further into the book, one could easily feel the conviction of the author rising out of the pages. Using a basic second-year Hebrew syntax syllabus structure, we get a chapter by chapter treatment of nouns, verbs, pronouns, adjectives, prepositions, particles, and so on. The format is similar.
  1. Introduction
  2. Overview
  3. Interpretation
  4. Further Reading
At the beginning of each chapter, there is a Hebrew verse (without transliteration) taken from the Old Testament. As the author introduces the chapter, he shows us a couple of English translations to set the pace. Phrases are underlined to help us see the different renditions in the translations. It shows us how even the English translation is an interpretation in itself. The overview sections explains some basic exegetical tools to be used in the chapter. This is then followed by Interpretation which is probably the most technical part of each chapter. As I read the resources section, it is clear that the author wants readers to go further to use the example verse as a springboard to more exegesis work on our own. We learn about the "five-step method" of word studies. We are reminded of the differences in the way adjectives are understood between English and Hebrew. We have quick primers of verb conjugations, stems, prepositions, and many other grammatical structures.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

"A Long Obedience in the Same Direction" (Eugene Peterson)

TITLE: A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society
AUTHOR: Eugene Peterson
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2019, (220 pages).

This is one of the classics of the late Eugene Peterson. The book title has become one of the most popular in Christian circles promoting unity and commonality. The phrase originated from the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche's "Beyond Good and Evil." Peterson uses this to contrast the challenges of discipleship with the culture of instant gratification in our society. Twenty years later, when attempting to revise the book, he realizes that much of the content are still relevant. So changes were limited to things like the Bible translation used at the beginning of each chapter, and the addition of an epilogue to reinforce the essentials of prayer and Scripture in the field of spiritual direction. Readers will also learn that the use of Peterson's paraphrase of Ps 120-134 inspired the eventual translation of the MESSAGE translation. Convicted that people need to pray the psalms, he translates the Scriptures with the focus on vigorous engagement with the Word. His son, Leif summarizes Peterson's consistent message in his works: "good news always plays out best in relationships." This book is about centering our relationship with God and to relate better to people in Christ.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

"Discipling in a Multicultural World" (Ajith Fernando)

TITLE: Discipling in a Multicultural World
AUTHOR: Ajith Fernando
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishers, 2019, (288 pages).

Discipleship is more often talked about than walked. It is also seen more like a program rather than a lifestyle. It is more like a one-off activity instead of a continuing parenting relationship. These observations kick off a mind-blowing treatise on what it means to disciple people in an increasingly pluralistic and multicultural environment. At the heart of this book's message is spiritual parenting. Author Ajith Fernando asserts that discipleship is essentially helping "born again" believers to grow and mature into spiritual adulthood. The discipler looks after the disciple. This is a caring relationship rather than several one-off programs. Fernando recognizes early on from the experiences of some of the so-called discipleship programs in the past. One of them was the realization of a lack of knowledge over what happened to people who had finished the programs earlier. He was a beneficiary of Sam Sheppard's decision to nurture a group of leaders before embarking on any new Church programs. The driving force for change should be people rather than programs. I sense that one of the biggest threats to discipleship in the Church might very well be discipleship programs that substitute short-term curriculum for long-term cultivation of relationships. Care, conviction, and commitment are keys to ensuring that spiritual parenting is sustained over the long haul. The goal is not a certificate of attendance or a degree earned. The goal has to be Col 1:28 to present everyone mature in Christ. That is why discipling is a spiritual exercise. In fact, one of the main reasons why discipleship is not popular is not because it is not taught but because of the price of commitment. People give up after a while for different reasons.

There are many gems to keep in this book.
  • Major cause for burnout is due to insecurity in leaders. This is intimately related to the lack of relationship with God. (speaking out at using insecurity as a reason for doing discipleship)
  • "We must not ruin our health by having insufficient sleep" (speaking against restlessness)
  • "Discipling looks like an inefficient use of time" (speaking against the culture of efficiency and quick measurements of success)
  • "They openly share about themselves, but often in superficial relationships with people unwilling to pay the price of costly commitment to them." (speaking out against the fear of cultivating relationships)
  • "we evangelicals may have gone beyond that to view salvation as something individualistic." (speaking out against individualism that pushes against true discipleship)
  • "The comfort of friends is one of the great antidotes to bitterness." (speaking about support and not some self-service exercise)
  • "Christianity, then, is a religion of postponed honor." (speaking about the cost of discipleship)

Monday, May 6, 2019

"When Church Conflict Happens" (Michael Hare)

TITLE: When Church Conflict Happens: A Proven Process for Resolving Unhealthy Disagreements and Embracing Healthy Ones
AUTHOR: Michael Hare
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2019, (256 pages).

People don't like conflict. Some would choose either to fight it or to take flight. As long as there are people, it is only a matter of time before differences of opinion would turn into conflicts. If we could not avoid it, the next best thing that we could do is to prepare for it. According to author Michael Hare, conflicts are opportunities in disguise. Learn to ask for help when needed. Learn how to navigate conflict and to use them as opportunities for learning about people and the Church. This book shows us how to:

  1. Understand the problem and avoid common mistakes
  2. Create a functional model to analyze and resolve conflicts
  3. Use various tools to evaluate and implement the conflict resolution model.

Note the title of this book. It is not "Why" or How to prevent conflicts, but to prepare oneself or one's Church on what to do when conflicts happen. Part One of the book covers the three common approaches many churches adopt whenever there is a conflict. The "Peace at any price" approach recognizes conflict as the worst possible condition, and they would do all they can to avoid it. The "firefighter" approach sees all conflicts as fires to be put out as quickly and as quietly as possible. The "spiritual problem" approach equates all conflicts as attacks by the devil. All of these three approaches regard all conflicts negatively and they all sought to extinguish all forms of conflict. Instead of such negative perspectives, Hare proposes a more positive model, that seeks to change the way we view conflict; to understand the various positions; and to find a constructive path forward. For even the most healthy of churches have conflicts from time to time. Instead of dismissing all conflicts, why not understand them so that we could work out the knots and kinks and prevent future occurrences. They could teach us wisdom and self-control; greater understanding and teamwork; and to develop relationships at deeper levels. We learn of relationships at five levels.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

"Suffering is Never For Nothing" (Elisabeth Elliot)

TITLE: Suffering Is Never for Nothing
AUTHOR: Elisabeth Elliot
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2019, (128 pages).

Her first husband was killed by Auca Indians in Ecuador. Her second husband, Addison Leitch died of cancer three and a half years after she remarried. Not only that, she has to endure the cruel jokes about her being a jinx when it comes to marriage. Life is hard. Through her life, she has heard stories of other missionaries who were martyred for their faith.  These stories include a five-year-old girl physically abused; those paralyzed after and accident; natural disasters; etc. Such pain illustrate the puzzle of suffering. How do we understand the meaning of suffering? With great empathy and wisdom, author Elisabeth Elliot gives six lectures that share her journey and learning about the complex issue of suffering. Is there every a meaning for suffering? Here is where Elliot treads sensitively and compassionately. Having been through the paths of anguish and grief, she knows exactly how not to belittle the pain of suffering. Saying there is a precise "meaning" would question the ethics and morals of a Divine God. Avoiding it would pooh-pooh the reality of suffering. So Elliot plumps for the learning perspective. What could we learn out of the lesson of suffering? Is suffering ever that meaningless? Even Job Himself learned something through his personal trials.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

"The New Elder's Handbook" (Greg R Scharf and Arthur Kok)

TITLE: The New Elder's Handbook: A Biblical Guide to Developing Faithful Leaders
AUTHOR: Greg R Scharf and Arthur Kok
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2018, (186 pages).

Leaders are hard to find. There is no such thing as a ready leader. Some would claim inadequacy. Others would shun leadership because it seems too daunting. Those who might be willing might not be ready as well for various reasons. The truth is, leaders are more easily farmed than found. It is more practical to prepare a leader and equip that person from the ground up instead of waiting for the perfect leader to appear from somewhere. I suspect that is one reason why we are exhorted to equip and prepare mature and godly leaders instead. One of the most prominent positions in any Church is the elder. This is not merely a title but a position of responsibility and maturity. They are the go-to persons for spiritual wisdom and guidance. While not every Church has an official office or name of "elder," the role is pretty clear: Elders are mature individuals who could be depended upon for Church leadership and spiritual guidance. This underlines the convictions of the authors in this book, that leaders can be raised up among us, and if called, we can be trained up to be an elder too. After all, Paul's exhortation to Timothy in 1 Tim 3:1 says "The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task." "Anyone" means any one of us. Whether we are trained or not, we all have the potential to become an elder. God could call anyone. At the same time, this book is written to enable readers to support and to encourage their own church's elders.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

"Untangling Emotions" (J. Alasdair Groves & Winston T. Smith)

TITLE: Untangling Emotions: "God's Gift of Emotions"
AUTHOR: J. Alasdair Groves & Winston T. Smith
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019, (240 pages).

Why are we feeling what we are feeling? More often than not, we don't know the answer. Some like Jen or Angie are easily swayed by all kinds of emotional ups and downs. Others cannot make sense of what or why we do things. Still, there are those in the help industry wanting to speak wisdom and guidance into the lives of people in emotional turmoil. Over and above all of these situations, authors Groves and Smith believe that emotions are gifts to us and they desire to help us deal with emotions in the way God intended for us. They assert these fundamental truths.
  1. God has made us in His Image and emotions help bear that image;
  2. Jesus is our model to follow;
  3. It is about love.
In untangling emotions, the authors teach us first to understand emotions in general and to engage our emotions in particular. The final part is to learn to deal with emotions that are beyond the ordinary. I appreciate the way they say that they don't just want us to know the difference between handling emotions well or badly, but to "do things that make a difference" in both the lives of others and ours. Christians sometimes are prone to either being too suspicious of positive emotions or too weary of negative feelings. We need to learn to embrace both of these and to recognize that the Bible is full of characters who possess all of these emotions. Elijah was depressed. Jonah was afraid. Sarah was anxious. Peter was brash. Barnabas was encouraging. Judas Iscariot was disillusioned. Joshua was bold. Biblical characters have displayed a wide spectrum of emotions. We are no different. 

Friday, April 12, 2019

"Inspired" (Rachel Held Evans)

TITLE: Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again
AUTHOR: Rachel Held Evans
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2018, (240 pages).

One of the most debated issues in the Christian world is about the infallibility of the Bible. How we we understand the way Christians are convicted about the Bible being inerrant and inspired? How do we know when to read things literally and when not to? For theologians and scholars, one word that has become quite notorious for many conservatives is the word "myth." How could anyone who call themselves Christians dare label the stories in the Bible as "myths?" After all, there are many who struggle to understand things like:

  • How could a serpent deceive Adam and Eve? (Gen 3:2)
  • How could so many animals fit into an ark? (Gen 7:1-3)
  • Is it possible for a donkey to speak? (Numbers 22:28)
  • Did Lot's wife literally turn into a pillar of salt? (Gen 19:26)
  • How could Jonah survive in a big fish for three days and three nights? (Jon 1:17)
  • How do we make of God saying that man could only live up to 120-years age? (Gen 6:3)
  • Is it really true that the sun stood still for a whole 24 hours? (Joshua 10:13)
  • How about contradictions in the Bible?
  • Can a Christian believe in evolution?
  • ...
The way forward: Nuances.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

"A Glad Obedience" (Walter Brueggemann)

TITLE: A Glad Obedience: Why and What We Sing
AUTHOR: Walter Brueggemann
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019, (230 pages).

One of the consequences of sin is rebellion. Constant rebellion. Whether it is squabbling or dissent; reaction or retaliation; in a world of different voices and mindsets, it is easy for relationships to break down quickly even after years of goodwill. How is it that human beings do not get along as well as they ought to? In Christian Theology, sin has essentially cut ourselves loose from desiring to worship God. This in turn has led to a breakdown in human relationships. It is all connected. How do we fix this? Turn our hearts from reluctance to acceptance; from sadness to gladness; from rebellion to obedience. Even believers too must guard against hidden resistance and unbelief. For example, one might not understand why we sing certain songs during Sunday worship. Without an appreciation of the meaning behind the songs or the message behind the hymn, we lose out on the rich history and theological significance of the songs. In this book, Walter Brueggemann helps us bridge the gap from ignorance to understanding. We learn about framing songs around joyful truth of the gospel. We examine Scripture using the music and songs from various angles. We cultivate creative imagination to let the Word of God speak to us from different angles. We learn also to pay attention to context and to let songs stretch our faith.

Inspired by the 2013 hymnal, "Glory to God: Hymns, Psalms, and Spiritual Songs," the author focuses on two key questions:
  1. Why We Sing?
  2. What We Sing?

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

"Run With the Horses" (Eugene Peterson)

TITLE: Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best
AUTHOR: Eugene Peterson
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2019, (232 pages).

This is one of Eugene Peterson's best books. Based on the life of the biblical prophet Jeremiah, Peterson gives us a counter-cultural view of what "life at its best" means. We live in a world that measures success by all the wrong variables. We think that becoming rich and famous would lead us to happiness. We devour non-stop programs and busy ourselves with all sorts of activism to try to get a sense of fulfillment but to no avail. We think of excellence based on the wrong standards of measurements. At the root of our restlessness is our unsettled soul. By refusing that ordinary and normal is good enough, we embark on all kinds of projects to intensify our search for self-accomplishment. Peterson turns it all around to say that "excellence comes from a life of faith, from being more interested in God than in self, and has almost nothing to do with comfort or esteem or achievement."

Not only that, as Peterson had alluded to how the world influence us, we are reminded about how our quest for excellence had become ambitions clouded with all manner of selfishness and worldliness. So he goes back to an Old Testament prophet who experienced emotional turmoil and discouragement at critical junctures on his time. It was in one of these moments that God challenged him:
"If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country,how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?" (Jer 12:5)

Monday, March 25, 2019

"And Social Justice For All" (Lisa Van Engen)

TITLE: And Social Justice for All: Empowering Families, Churches, and Schools to Make a Difference in God's World
AUTHOR: Lisa Van Engen
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2019, (335 pages).

We may have heard about social justice. We know the importance of doing the right thing in a world that has gone terribly wrong. For some, social justice may simply be something we may talk about but lack the opportunity or knowledge to do something about it. Better still, start early. Start young. This is where this book comes in. By creating awareness at an early age, it is hoped that the next generation will their their part in ensuring social justice for all. Writing from hindsight, author Lisa Van Engen shares how she relates to the story of the "Princess and the Pea." Seeing life as a collection of personal stories, many of us will never truly know someone until we peel away the mattress layers. The impact of knowing social justice issues such as poverty, human trafficking, and even clean water could not be over-emphasized. The main idea in this book is essentially education about 14 global justice issues. These are:
  1. Clean Water and Sanitation
  2. Creation Care
  3. Disabilities
  4. Education
  5. Fair Trade
  6. Families
  7. Health Care
  8. Human Trafficking
  9. Hunger
  10. Immigration and Refugees
  11. Peace
  12. Poverty
  13. Race
  14. Changemakers

Friday, March 22, 2019

"The Church on Mission" (Craig Ott)

TITLE: The Church on Mission: A Biblical Vision for Transformation among All People
AUTHOR: Craig Ott
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019, (160 pages).

What is the mission of the Church? There is a narrow view and a broad view. For the narrow view (or some would prefer to call 'focused view'), some like Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert would say that it is the Great Commission. When that is the case, as far as the Church's mission is concerned, the Great Commission is primary, and everything else is secondary. This perspective is important for any Church that is becoming confused about how their programs and activities work toward a single goal. In the broad view, one might even claim that everything they do will be based on their mission statement. That is usually more theoretical than practical. Many churches have already invested in many ministries that do not translate into such mission purpose. Just like what Stephen Neill once said: "If everything is mission, nothing is mission." That is to say that if we don't have a proper focus, then we are not aiming squarely at anything at all. In other words, if we are too broad, we could become all things to all people making the Church's mission overly diluted with different emphases. Author and professor Craig Ott has looked at a variety of mission definitions and focuses and proposes a new way of understanding the mission of the Church. He puts it as "to glorify God by multiplying transformational churches among all people."  The rest of the book is to look at this central statement from six perspectives.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

"The Art of Hard Conversations" (Lori Stanley Roeleveld)

TITLE: The Art of Hard Conversations: Biblical Tools for the Tough Talks That Matter
AUTHOR: Lori Stanley Roeleveld
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2019, (240 pages).

It has been said that talk is easy. It's the walking that's hard. Truth is, there are times in which talk is hard. How do we open up a conversation in times of trouble? There are significant barriers that come up during such moments. Why then is it hard? Author Lori Stanley Roeleveld writes that: "Barriers arise around tough talks because our enemy knows they're a spiritual front line." By calling it the "art" rather than the science, we get a glimpse of where the author is coming from. We may have all the techniques and strategies on approaching talk conversation. That may work for computers and straight-talk with the direct. However, emotions change. People change. Circumstances change. That is why we need a variety of ways in which to approach different situations which carry various levels of difficulties. This art includes many different aspects. As a language art, we work with words, silence, timing, and body language. As a martial art, we learn that conversations are key ways to deal with conflict, growth, relationships, and people to people communications. As a sacred art, we see conversations as a way to channel our attention to God. Roeleveld gives us ARTwork:
  • Answering a thought question;
  • Reading relevant Scripture
  • Trying a new conversational tool.
The way to begin is to understand the place of perspectives and personalities. People have different perspectives that come up at different situations and emotional moments. Sometimes, it takes a shocking opening line like what the author did with her father. At all times, we need to discern what the thought question is and how to reframe an appropriate opening line. After an introduction to the conversational idea and concept, we get a chance to practise the art. Each unit of study contains three to five lesson plans to guide us through. Lessons such as the three different types of communication styles. The "Swooping Hawks" style reminds us to be "praying people" instead of "preying people." The "Retreating Turtles" style shows us that we could easily retreat from tough conversations, but when it comes to tough talk, sometimes the most loving thing to do is to stick out necks out. The "Camouflaged Chameleons" modify their styles without compromising the message. Throughout the book, the author uses these three animals to describe the different characteristics and approaches to resolving hard conversations. They all possess different kinds of walls. Understanding their personalities would greatly aid in building communication bridges. Failure to do so would make any hard conversation even more difficult.

Each lesson begins with a biblical passage to set the stage for illumination and reconciliation. We learn that the key to a good start is to know who we are dealing with. More importantly, it is to know ourselves and our own heart's motives. One big reason why hard conversations never really take off is because of the lack of hope in seeing success. A huge tip the author provides is the list of six questions.

  1. What’s my point?
  2. What do I know about the other person?
  3. What emotions may be involved in this conversation?
  4. What biblical guidelines exist for this conversation? (Is it based in truth?)
  5. Is this conversation grounded and timed in love?
  6. What’s my plan for following up either success or rejection?  

She follows up with a detailed description of each question to help us understand ourselves prior to entering any difficult conversations. In the final part of the book, we get a lot of helpful examples on how to put these things to practice.

My Thoughts
We live in a world where most people would either choose to fight to win or take flight to avoid losing. The former puts one's agenda more important over others while the latter avoids any confrontations altogether. Fighting is good but one needs to know how to fight fair and to fight well. Taking flight may sometimes be necessary but not all the time. We need to find a way to navigate the in-betweens, and to know how to engage well and constructively. Fighting without loving could damage relationships. Fleeing without engaging could make us miss out on an opportunity to be salt of the earth. In this book, we find the way of art to engage people in the most challenging situations of life. We need such guidance all the time. Otherwise, we would forever be living superficially with superficial relationships in a superficial world.

Talk may be easy, but constructive conversations take a lot of hard work. This book shows the way in learning to build up one another. In a Church, this is an important exercise to keep practicing. In fact, the most powerful witness a Church could ever have is to cultivate a community of truth-telling. One that learns to tell the truth in love. One that is able to deal with disagreements in a mature manner. We need more testimonies of how we could all be so different, yet be able to live and accept one another as we are. Christians are called to be peacemakers and increasingly in a globally connected world, we have more opportunities to do just that. If there is any one reason to pick up this book and read, it would be from Proverbs 25:11: "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver." May this book encourage us to do just that.

Lori Stanley Roeleveld is author, speaker, and calls herself a "part-time giant slayer." She received her education on Biblical Studies and Psychology from Barrington Christian College. Her website is here.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


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