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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)