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Tuesday, June 30, 2020

"Everyday Faithfulness" (Glenna Marshall)

TITLE: Everyday Faithfulness: The Beauty of Ordinary Perseverance in a Demanding World (The Gospel Coalition)
AUTHOR: Glenna Marshall
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020, (176 pages).

People often use words like faith, faithful, and faithfulness to describe their beliefs and religious purposes. When we ponder about them, what do they actually mean? How do they play out in the real world? In our fast-paced world of infused with expectations of immediate gratification, it is particular challenging to practice the spiritual life in a world of speed. Author Glenna Marshall calls it a "demanding world." Unfortunately, as far as spirituality is concerned, it is a form of speed thrills but kills. We cannot think of spirituality in terms of microwave or Internet speed. The world is used to things fast and easy. Spirituality works slowly and more challenging in many aspects. Marshall's observation is spot on: As far as spirituality is concerned, we need to think like a farmer. From seeding to weeding, watering to pruning, sowing to harvesting, spiritual growth is essentially doing our best while letting God do the rest. A farmer mentality refuses to be rushed but plods consistently, plows regularly, and believes faithfully. That means being able to stay the spiritual course regardless of what happens. Out of her own struggles, Marshall manages to take a hard look at the reality of the world challenges. As she places these challenges alongside the need for faith, she shows us the meaning of everyday faithfulness. For her, everyday faithfulness means:

Friday, June 26, 2020

"The Basics of Christian Belief" (Joshua Strahan)

TITLE: The Basics of Christian Belief: Bible, Theology, and Life's Big Questions
AUTHOR: Joshua Strahan
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2020, (240 pages).

What do people believe? Why do they believe that manner? In understanding people, culture, and faith, it is essential to talk about the contexts of their beliefs. This is another way of saying that what they believe is linked to their worldviews. For Christians, understanding the basics of faith is tied to the biblical or Christian worldview. In order to ensure greater clarity, author Joshua Strahan uses two worldviews: Atheism and the Lord's Prayer to compare, contrast, and illuminate the basics of Christian faith. For Atheism, worldview is anchored on the belief that there is no god. Thus, everything is seen through this lens. This is of no surprise when atheists prefer naturalist explanations. The author writes, "when we take away the supernatural or spiritual, all that’s left is the natural." More often than not, such a view would gravitate toward a personal view, one that elevates self-professed worldview as the supreme view. Such a worldview is too liquid as it almost always moves from conscious thinking to feelings and biased reactions. What is necessary is for a foundational truth center. What the author aims to do are:
  1. Acknowledge we are thinking beings only in part;
  2. Discover any disconnect between what we think and how we live;
  3. Let the biblical metanarrative inform how we should live and believe.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

"How Sweet the Sound" (Laura L. Smith)

TITLE: How Sweet the Sound: The Power and Promise of 30 Beloved Hymns
AUTHOR: Laura L. Smith
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Our Daily Bread Publishing, 2020, (256 pages).

Music has a strange power to move us. It helps us remember thoughts and words written way back in the past. It also brings back memories of our experiences of old. It also creates new experiences as the music connects our being with words that reflect how we feel. Hymns are one of the most visible and audible signs of a Christian community. Regardless of the traditional vs contemporary worship wars, most of us would recognize the unique place of hymns. We may not sing them as often in some modern churches, but we do appreciate how they have impacted Christian communities but also society at large. Hymns such as "Amazing Grace," "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," and "Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee" have been used even in secular places and situations such as funerals and weddings. If you want to know the stories behind these popular hymns, how the hymn speaks to people then and to us now, and the reasons why the hymns are considered "beloved," this book answers all of that curiosity. The "Doxology" is a hymn of unity. Praises help us express gratitude. Hymns are infused with Scripture to point us back to God through the Word. Singing hymns enable us to declare our hope and security in Christ. They stir us to action. They give us words and music to express our emotions. They bring us peace and joy; hope and humility; assurance; and many more. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

"Writing For Life and Ministry" (Brandon J. O’Brien)

TITLE: Writing for Life and Ministry: A Practical Guide to the Writing Process for Teachers and Preachers
AUTHOR: Brandon J. O'Brien
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2020, (128 pages).

There are many content creators. There are even more content consumers. When the launch of iPads and tablets, the rate of digital consumption has risen astronomically. While the distribution medium has been shifting from paper to digital, the content provider process remains the same. Some still use ink while others are using computing devices to do the same. The writing may be on the wall for some of the more archaic methods of content creation, but that does not mean writing is a lost practice. We need more, especially good content. Along with that, we need more good (and confident) writers. The purpose of this book is to encourage writers and writers to be to be a better writer. We learn from the author about tools, processes, and best practices for writing. Some of the special attributes in this book are:
  • Personal: Identifying our uniqueness
  • People: Know our audience
  • Process: Planning, Drafting, and Revising
  • What things to write about?
  • Know our passions and desires.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

"Diary of a Pastor's Soul" (M. Craig Barnes)

TITLE: Diary of a Pastor's Soul: The Holy Moments in a Life of Ministry
AUTHOR: M. Craig Barnes
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2020, (240 pages).

[Update Correction: This is a fictional account of the life of a pastor. The review should be read as that. Thanks Craig!]

What goes on in a pastor's life? For most people, they tend to see the pastor praying or preaching on stage every Sunday. They don't really know what happens on the other days. While most people would describe their lives as being defined by some crisis or sensational event, the challenge is to learn to pay attention to the ordinary. This is where pastor Craig Barnes manages to share with us, his daily ordinary work in the midst of a busy ministry. In this book, Barnes shares wittingly often with humour about his life as a pastor. 

Right off the bat, he recalls the challenge of dealing with older parishioners who are resistant to change. Some tend to view God's mission in terms of preserving the "temple," such as physical assets like building, structure, facilities, and so on. He understands what it means for pastors to serve anonymously and faithfully. His sharing about his own wife would easily debunk anybody dreaming that pastors' wives are perfect! I believe pastors appreciate that others not put their spouses on the "holier-than-thou" pedestal. Only God is holy. I appreciate how Barnes differentiate "expectations" from "expectancy." The former presumes some intention that is somewhat negative, while the latter removes all such presumptions and be ready to listen. He talks about the reality of loneliness where it is hard to distinguish between pastor and friend with a member of the Church. His sense of calling is essentially about serving all, regardless of whether they are for or against you. His sharing about Mac the custodian is a touching story of how people of good intentions clash with one another, and how there is that need for forgiveness and redemption in a broken world. 

Thursday, June 4, 2020

"Able Soul" (Lucy Goncalves)

TITLE: Able Soul: Empowering God's Spirit Within
AUTHOR: Lucy Goncalves
PUBLISHER: Vancouver, BC: Able Soul Wheel Press, 2019, (90 pages).

Many of us take our physical freedom and mobility for granted. Those who lack the use of any part of the body would be labeled either "disabled," "handicapped," or the more politically correct phrase, "physically challenged." For many people, this would pretty much define our outlook in life. As the saying goes, it takes one to know one. What about a book where we can see life from the eyes of those who are physically challenged? This book is a beautiful example of one who has multiple challenges. Speech impairment and the inability to walk may restrict one's lifestyle choices, but the most crippling of them all, is a broken and downhearted spirit. Such a mood would easily break down one's enthusiasm for life. Lucy Goncalves discovers this early, that the biggest barrier is put up by oneself. She writes with honesty that she's "the one who puts up the barriers" with her negative emotions and unwillingness. Her story challenges us to pray in spite of helplessness; to press on in spite of weakness; and to persevere on in spite of challenges. She shares twenty personal reflections on God, faith, life, and lessons. Each time she compares and contrasts what she lacks with what she receives from God, family, friends, and the kind things that are visible to her when she is willing to see it. I like the way she credits the writing back to God, that the books was "birthed in prayer." This is the essence of all books written about spirituality.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

"The Dark Side of Our Digital World" (Andrew Weiss)

TITLE: The Dark Side of Our Digital World: And What You Can Do about It (LITA Guides)
AUTHOR: Andrew Weiss
PUBLISHER: Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2020, (272 pages).

We live in a world of information technology. Almost everything in the world has a digital counterpart. One of the signs of the digital revolution is the impact of e-Commerce and the way we are living our lives. We are slowly moving from snail-mail to email; from texting to social media; and from face-to-face communications to video conferencing. Looking at the way technology stocks had usurped the top positions of traditional bricks and mortar companies, we know that the world of digital is here to stay. Our world has changed forever and there is no going back to the slow-paced world of yesterday.  For all the fascination and the optimism that comes with digital platforms, a few people are not content in simply consuming these stuff as they come along. They question. They critique. They look outside the box to try to challenge conventional ways of thinking. One such explorer is Andrew Weiss, a librarian and cultural observer who recognizes the dark side of the digital world, which is what this book is all about. It is essentially learning to use digital tools wisely while being aware of the insidious dark side. Written in four parts, the first three parts deal with the awareness while the final part offer steps toward redemption.