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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.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

"On Bended Knee" (Crickett Keeth)

TITLE: On Bended Knee
AUTHOR: Crickett Keeth
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2019, (192 pages).

Another book on prayer? What does this book offer that other books had not? Two things. It shows us how to pray and it gives us space to pray. Many people pray the Lord's Prayer by heart. That is a good thing. Author Crickett Keeth gives us many more examples of prophets, priests, kings, and pilgrims whose prayers we could profit much from. Designed to be used for the season of Lent, each chapter can be treated as a daily workbook of prayer. Like a working devotional, readers and participants could look forward to four sections each day.

  1. Looking to God's Word (meditation)
  2. Looking Upward (discussion)
  3. Looking Deeper (understanding)
  4. Looking Reflectively (application)

Through daily devotional use and consistent application, we grow our praying muscles. The key to learning is not about technique. It is about patterning ourselves personally to people who had prayed well in the past. From Jesus, we learn the basics of the Lord's Prayer to move from ritual to relationship. We learn about worship, surrender, supplication, confession and forgiveness, etc. From Paul, we learn the spirituality of intercession. We see how he prays for others to grow spiritually. He wants the believers to grow to love God more. Many of us want to grow spiritually. Have we also prayed for others to do the same? Perhaps, this is the single biggest lesson to learn from Paul's praying stance. From Job, we learn about another dimension of prayer: In times of despair. We need lots of trust in the midst of fog. We learn to trust in times where there are lack of answers in the sea of questions. It is a time of waiting and humbling. From Hannah, we learn about prayer as longing which gives us another dimension of waiting and trusting. Does God know how we feel? What if God had missed us out? How long must we wait? From David, we learn about the psalms of lament, which reflect David's heartfelt need for comfort, for protection, for strength, for thanksgiving, praise, and complaint. From Asa, we learn the importance of starting and finishing well. From Jehoshaphat, we learn the prayer of dependence and from Nehemiah, to pray boldly when the odds are stacked against us.

Monday, March 11, 2019

"Insurgence" (Frank Viola)

TITLE: Insurgence: Reclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom
AUTHOR: Frank Viola
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2018, (448 pages).

The gospel of the kingdom is inherently radical. The early Church is radical in their love and faith. Unfortunately, the modern church have largely lost the necessary conviction and passion of old. What is needed is a renewal of conviction and a revelation of the Kingdom of God. How do we do that? Create an insurgence to reclaim the  gospel of the Kingdom of God. For the grand narrative of the whole Bible is about declaring the Kingdom of God having come and will be coming soon.  In order to do that, we need to clear the decks. We have to distinguish between worldly wisdom and heavenly wisdom. We need to proclaim the Kingdom of God over all else. We need a vision of the beauty of the Kingdom so that we can proclaim with passion our freedom in Christ and glory of God. Author Frank Viola writes in six parts to do just that. The six parts are titled as follows:

  1. Three Different Gospels
  2. Unveiling the King's Beauty
  3. The Gospel of the Kingdom
  4. Entering and Enjoying the Kingdom
  5. Our Glorious Liberty
  6. Advancing the Kingdom

Thursday, March 7, 2019

"Always On" (Angela Williams Gorrell)

TITLE: Always On: Practicing Faith in a New Media Landscape (Theology for the Life of the World)
AUTHOR: Angela Williams Gorrell
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019, (208 pages).

The new media is defining us in more ways than one. This is not just social media. It is a new age of media technology and people interactions that revolutionizes the way we work, play, and live. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have changed the way we communicate with one another. People express themselves using online platforms such as YouTube and Instagram. Consumers buy and sell on sites such as eBay and Amazon while many play online Internet games with people they have never met face to face. This is the face of the new media. Like any phenomenon or change of social landscape, there are plus and minus aspects. It has the potential to communicate and to bring about a lot of good in brand new ways. Unfortunately, the downsides are also huge. In order to ensure we have a healthy kind of hybrid, that is, to maximize the positive and minimize the negative, it would be a great way forward. This could be done through "interested conversations" that enables meaningful dialogue that are both "theologically reflective" as well as "Spirit-guided." Author Angela Gorrell brings us through a fascinating journey through the new media terrain. It is an ambitious attempt to connect ancient faith with modern media. Like our modern multimedia folks, the early church communicate with one another through many senses such as "written, oral" and "reading and singing." The common theme is communicating. The difference is the specific ways we communicate the written, the spoken, and the various dialogue avenues. While that might be true, it is also true that social media has been mixed with fake news and "empty and shallow" talk. This is a legitimate concern but the potential for Christians to influence worldviews is too big to be ignored.

Monday, March 4, 2019

"Bible Workbook Vol 2 New Testament" (Catherine B. Walker)

TITLE: Bible Workbook, Volume 2 -- New Testament
AUTHOR: Catherine B. Walker
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2019, (72 pages).

For those who have used the first volume on the Old Testament, this workbook brings a familiar look and feel. Like the predecessor, this workbook was written for high school Bible classes that meet every day for a semester. Thus, the workbook can be used as a common text to help students work through the New Testament and learn its major themes. Readers ought to pay attention to the first page "Note to the Teacher" so as to know how to optimize the use of this workbook. Walker gives us a good idea on what parts of the New Testament to begin with and when to go more in depth. The purpose is to urge students to read the Bible more regularly and frequently. Highlights include:

  • Author;
  • People;
  • Occasion;
  • Theme;
  • Outline;
  • Key Verse(s);
  • Things for you to do;
  • Reasons for Studying the Bible book;
  • Things to Watch For.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

"Our Daily Bread Bible Sourcebook" (Dave Branon)

TITLE: Our Daily Bread Bible Sourcebook: The Who, What, Where, Wow Guide to the Bible
AUTHOR: Dave Branon
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, 2019, (280 pages).

Ever wanted a quick interesting snapshot not just of the whole Bible? What about having a concise introduction to every book in the Bible? That would be great isn't it? Many people know of interesting stories like the sacrifice of Isaac at Mount Moriah, the great exodus, the mighty king David, the wisdom of King Solomon, the parables of Jesus, and many more. Do we know exactly where they come from? Who were the authors? Why were the books written? When and where were they written? These questions are dealt with in this one volume called the "Bible source book." The word "source" should clue us in on what the book is trying to achieve. It is to help us go back to the origins of the Bible and to help us appreciate the ancient contexts better. By doing so, we will be more equipped with background information as we open up each book of the Bible for study or for discussion. For each Bible book, the author gives:
  • A short title to summarize the theme;
  • A Top Ten list of interesting facts;
  • WHO wrote the book;
  • WHAT the book is about;
  • WHEN the events took place;
  • WHY the book was written;
  • WOW to show us the impact of the book in culture and society both in the past and after;
  • Worth Remembering is about popular verses that inspire;
  • Wonders from the past show us the archaeological discoveries.