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Thursday, October 30, 2014

"Household Gods" (Ted and Kristin Kluck)

TITLE: Household Gods
AUTHOR: Ted and Kristin Kluck
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2014, (176 pages).

It is culturally accepted. It is a familiar refrain. It is what most hardworking adults would say, "I love my family" or "I loved to spend time with my family." Yet, is it possible that we can love our family too much? Can we turn them into an idol? Are we keeping "household gods" in our cherished homes? For the authors, they assert that "family is a prominent household god." Whether we want to use Tim Keller's definition that idolatry is that something we deem more important than God; or the authors' friend Pat who sees idolatry as what we feel we have a "right to have," or things we cannot be happy without, the crux of the matter is that if we find shelter, security, safety, and all manner of significance only in our family, we have a "household god" in the making. Ted and Kristin notes:

"In the midst of a Christian subculture that idolizes the family, an evangelical history that overcelebrated it, and a secular culture that overprograms it, it is easy for well-meaning Christians to cross over the line into family idolatry."

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"A Reflection of God" (Joanna Tulloch)

TITLE: A Reflection of God: Poems, Meditations, Prayer Resources
AUTHOR: Joanna Tulloch
PUBLISHER: Leicestershire, UK: Matador - Troubador Publishing, 2014, (160 pages).

There are many books that purport to be Christian and talks about how to do spirituality and theology about God. They tell us the steps to live well. They describe the points of certain Christian doctrines. They even show us the details behind the theology and the practices from which the theology can inform.What about having the theology and the practice working together more closely? What about letting the informing and the doing supplement each other through reflections? What about letting 101 poems, prayers, and reflections help us to see more of God, as we long to let God reflect us to Him? This is what the book tries to accomplish.

A Methodist lay preacher and a poet for many years, Joanna Tulloch puts together her years of personal devotions and meditations in this self-published book. Right from the start, she invites readers to journey with her in spiritual reflections of faith and hope. This reflection is like a dog that refuses to give up on the bone in the mouth. Part One is "Glimpses of Grace" that comprises thirty poems. The poems urge one to "go forward" without fear; to sing the songs of joy; to respect the beauty of silence; to enter the garden of spirituality to discover hope amid fear of darkness; to learn contentment; to question the purpose of coincidence; to reflect inward matters as well as to be open to God's speaking; and so on.

Monday, October 27, 2014

"Beat God to the Punch" (Eric Mason)

TITLE: Beat God to the Punch: Because Jesus Demands Your Life
AUTHOR: Eric Mason
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B and H Publishing, 2014, (114 pages).

What a strange title. How can anyone be faster or better than God? How can anyone simply beat God to the punch? In a provocative title, lead pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania uniquely shows us what it means by God's grace, where mercy is quenches God's wrath; grace overwhelms works; and where God does not come to batter us into pieces but to better us into whole people. For grace will lead us to the very place that no other works of human efforts can ever reach. Only in Christ can God's perfect demands be met. Only in Christ can holiness be achieved. Only in Christ can we beat God to the punch.

According to Mason, God swings three punches at us in the form of "His wrath, justice, and judgment." On our own, we will be knocked out not by punching back but by quenching them "under the weight of the cross." The law helps us see God's righteousness and holiness. Grace helps us see mercy and love. The rest of the book articulates this bout of law vs grace and eventually lands on a grace saturated eternity.

Friday, October 24, 2014

"From Whom No Secrets are Hid" (Walter Brueggemann)

TITLE: From Whom No Secrets Are Hid: Introducing the Psalms
AUTHOR: Walter Brueggemann
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014, (224 pages).

I have learned that the Psalms do three things to us. They orientate us. They disorientate us. They then re-orientate us. All these are necessary in order to reveal our true selves to God, and for God to be revealed to us. For Brueggemann, the Psalms open us up. Those who really want to understand Psalms, cannot simply approach it via a liturgical ritual, a psychological insight, or an intellectual exercise. They need to be honest and to let Psalms tease the fearful selves within us out toward an awesome God. This idea is succinctly described in the title of the book, which was inspired from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer,
"ALMIGHTY God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen."

Thursday, October 23, 2014

"For the Glory of God" (Daniel I. Block)

TITLE: For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship
AUTHOR: Daniel I. Block
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014, (432 pages).

What comes to mind when we think about worship? I suppose many of us would be thinking of music styles, Church services, and of course the age-old distinction between traditional vs contemporary songs debate. Edith Humphrey criticizes the modern rendition of worship in five ways. They are 1) too much about feelings; 2) too human-centered; 3) too lacking in the focus on the Word of God; 4) too emotional and experiential oriented; 5) too market-driven. Author and Professor of Wheaton College agrees and this book not only expands on what Humphrey had written, but focuses on recovering the biblical understanding of worship. The writing of this book was inspired by the basic question: "What does God think of what we are doing?" Christians ought to do that too.

The Format
The book comprises 13 chapters, all arranged topically. Broadly speaking, the first three chapters set forth three fundamental questions:
  1. What is worship according to the Scriptures?
  2. Who is the object of true worship?
  3. Whose worship is acceptable to God?
Two chapters are dedicated to how worship can be practiced in daily work and family life. This is followed by four chapters that deal with ordinances, the use of the Word, prayer, and music in worship. The last three chapters work on the drama, the design, the theology, and the role of leaders to cultivate genuine worship. These 13 chapters provide at least 13 different ways in which biblical worship can be understood and practiced. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"52 Little Lessons from Les Miserables" (Bob Welch)

TITLE: 52 Little Lessons from Les Miserables
AUTHOR: Bob Welch
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2014, (208pages).

The musical has been seen by more than 65 million people in over 42 countries. Written by Victor Hugo in 1862, it continues to fascinate and enthrall audiences the world over. In 2012, it even won a Golden Globe award for best picture. The question, is there something more than simply a show? Are there important lessons to learn from as far as lay people are concerned? Are the lessons in the 19th Century story still relevant for today? Welch gives an emphatic YES! Fifty Two of them.

For Les Miserables is not simply a brilliant play that entertains. It is also a story that is big on spiritual themes, life struggles, and according to author, speaker, and adjunct professor of journalism at Eugene's University of Oregon, it contains "52 little lessons" that we can all learn from. What makes the writing of this book interesting and challenging is to be able to select only 52 out of a very complex tale of betrayal, mystery, joy, forgiveness, despondency, suffering, political and social reforms, and many others. For us as readers, we can enjoy the fruits of the author's labour, with the many stories of the characters, the places, the plots, the history and many other interesting settings. Most of the lessons are spiritually inclined because the author feels that the novel is spiritual in nature.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"Atlas Girl" (Emily T. Wierenga)

TITLE: Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look
AUTHOR: Emily T. Wierenga
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014, (288 pages).

This book is a three-in-one memoir. It is a travelogue that journals the author's travels across several continents. It is a personal memoir that describes the ups and downs; the hurting and healing; the break-up and reconciliation; the joys of pregnancy and sorrows of miscarriage; and the surprising twists of life. It is also a spiritual journal that gives intimate details about the author's faith and doubt; belief and unbelief; despair and hope; personal and impersonal relationships with God. In a nutshell, that is Emily Wierenga, a journalist, a wife, a mother, an artist, blogger, writer, and so much more. Calling herself an "atlas girl" which is also the title of this book, at first the book appears a little bit like Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat Pray Love" that became a bestseller across three continents as well. Although the countries visited are different, Wierenga's story stands unique from the rest.

Each of the forty chapters in the book is summarized with a theme and a country location. Although each chapter is dated, it is not arranged in chronological order. Part of the reason is because the book was started in 2007 when Wierenga started her blog when she returned to Canada to take care of her mum. What is really captivating about this book is the depth of honesty and authenticity the author fills throughout the book. She questions whether her dad actually cared for her. She rebels against her parents' rigid faith. She struggles to make sense of death, disease, and dying. Other setbacks include her eating disorder, miscarriage, and the death of her mum's nanny. At the same time, she shares about the joys of children, the beauty of family, the power of reconciliation, and the reality of hope. Parts of the book contain her mum, Yvonne's writings which made this book a shared work.

Monday, October 20, 2014

"James the Just: Presents Applications of the Torah" (Dr David Friedman)

TITLE: James the Just: Presents Applications of the Torah
AUTHOR: David Friedman
PUBLISHER: Clarksville, MD: Messianic Jewish Publisher, 2012, (152 pages).

There are many commentaries on the New Testament book of James but very few from a Messianic perspective. Come to think of it, it does take one to know one. If James is Jewish, the context of the book is Jewish, would it not be appropriate to have a Jewish commentary on the book of James (Ya'akov)? That is exactly what the author of this book aims to do. He does it historically, culturally, grammatically, and also contextually. The author is a Jewish Rabbi, scholar, and author. In this book, he argues that:
  • the book of James is consistent with a specific style of Rabbinic writings
  • it is collected by his disciples and distributed to believers beyond
  • it is about applying the Torah to everyday life.
  • Most English translations miss the Jewishness of the letter
  • James reflects upon the subjects covered in Leviticus 19-22
Friedman asks three chief questions. 
  1. Who was Ya'akov?
  2. Is this book a "rabbinic yalkut'?
  3. What are the main points?

Friday, October 17, 2014

"Made in the USA" (Alisa Jordheim)

TITLE: Made in the U.S.A.: The Sex Trafficking of America's Children
AUTHOR: Alisa Jordheim
PUBLISHER: Oviedo, FL: HigherLife Publishing, 2014, (288 pages).

The problem is not overseas. The problem is very much closer to home. In fact, it is right at our backyard! If we do not see the vulnerability of children to sex exploitation, traffickers will anyway. This is the underlying concern that leads to a passionate fight against a global epidemic: Sex Trafficking, Exploitation, and Child Abuse. From Asia to Europe, Africa to the Americas, the problem is the same that cuts across racial, ethnic, gender, and all classes. Right from chapter 1, readers will be shocked by the African, East European, Asian children coerced into the sex trade at a very early age. Gradually, the problem moves closer to home where young girls are lured into the sex industry as pimps and traffickers use their expert hunting skills to rein in the vulnerable. Jordheim does not mince her words. In fact, page after page, the message screams out that the problem is right at our door step, so much so that according to one, the only way to miss out is not to look for it. According to Founder and Executive Director of Justice Society, Alisa Jordheim, there has been lots of attention given to overseas concerns, but little toward domestic areas. She writes with this in mind, beginning with descriptions of the sex trafficking problem far away, and then drawing readers to recognize the problem close by. She highlights the problem in a highly sexualized culture that blurs the line between adults and children, and makes commercializing sex seems ok. She blasts the rise of pornography, the sexually explicit materials in public, loose language, that these simply grooms the local culture to become very similar to what is happening elsewhere. In fact, Jordheim maintains that the problem at home is no smaller than the problem far far away.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

"The Psalm 119 Experience" (John Kramp)

TITLE: The Psalm 119 Experience: A Devotional Journey You Will Not Forget
AUTHOR: John Kramp
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing, 2014, (256 pages).

It is the longest psalm in the Bible. It is also the longest book in the entire Bible. Comprising 176 verses divided into 22 sections, this psalm is one of the world's most loved and most quoted and has William Wilberforce repeating the psalm by heart in great comfort. According to author John Kramp, it is possible to remember all 176 verses in the psalm. More importantly, it will be an unforgettable "a devotional journey." He notes that Ps 119 is based on the 22-alphabets of the Hebrew language. Each eight-line section would be linked to the next via a literary device "bridge." It needs to be simple with memory tunes. Very soon, for the busy executive, one song leads to five, then twelve, then fifteen, and soon covering the entire psalm. Themes start to form and the ancient psalm becomes very relevant, very enriching, and deeply personal. He is experiencing what the Psalmist then was experiencing. What started as a song stuck on as a powerful instrument of faith. Each chapter comprises five days of devotions followed by a review of the particular section of the Psalm called "Lyrics." There are themes of righteousness, seeking to live purely, appreciating the Word, Truth, joy, the goodness of God, faith and faithfulness, and many more.