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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.