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Saturday, March 31, 2012

"Heroes and Monsters" (Josh James Riebock)

TITLE: Heroes and Monsters: An Honest Look at the Struggle within All of Us
AUTHOR: Josh James Riebock
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012, (304 pages).

Simply brilliant! In one book, Riebock pieces together his past, weaves in his relationships with his parents, his family and friends, reflects on faith through his interactions with a fictitious name 'Jack,' and treats readers to episodes after episodes of 'heroes-and-monsters' scenes of his own life. It is biographical as he details his childhood years to his dating attempts; his marriage and his near flirtation with a writer in a bar; and his foray into the field of writing. It is also reflective as he scans his own life's search for meaningful work. Having served as a youth pastor, then as a full-time writer/speaker, he blends in job search with his personal understanding of vocation, what he is called to do and to be. It is also deeply personal as he deals with the highs and lows of his life. Some of his traumatic experiences include the horror of seeing his house burned down, being in a car crash with his father in the corn field, and the fear of his sister's child getting a terrible illness. It is also a spiritual journal of sorts, that depends on a person by the name of Jack to guide him in his thoughts and living.

It is a book about his checkered relationships with his parents, especially his father, his past dates, his close encounter of the flirtatious kind that highlights the struggles that beset an ordinary guy. He talks about his job as a youth pastor as well as his foray into romance. He writes vividly with illustrations, dreams, and creative images. Some of his reflections are immensely quotable.

  • GRATITUDE OF RECEIVING: "We always think we need more than we do, and my dad has always given us more than we need." (14)
  • ENIGMA OF LIFE: "He says something is horribly wrong with the world, with life, and with people too. But then he says that the world and life and people aren't total horror. Jack says there is good in the world and good in people." (23)
  • HOARDING DESCRIPTION: "Of course, next came the task of finding a place to stick it all. This was a lot like playing Tetris - the strategic shifting and rotating of objects - and it became a greater and greater challenge as the years rolled by and the closer, shelf, and room space ran out." (29)
  • ON LOVE: "Love without communication is guessing. To love is to be intentional. To love is to innovate. Inventive love is divine. Without creativity, love doesn't exist. Every true lover is a creator. If I'm not creating, I'm not loving - " (105)
  • FRIENDSHIP: "A friend is someone who will die to keep us from becoming anyone else, someone who fights for us against a world that is constantly trying to shrink us into shelved canisters labeled 'how you're supposed to be.' A friend does everything possible to make sure we become who we are made to be - nothing less, nothing more." (124)
  • INTIMACY:  That intimacy happens in places where we most try to hide. (202)

There are enough twists and turns in the book to keep readers thirsting for more. The splicing together of the author's life stories is done so creatively that one marvels how an ordinary life can be told so spectacularly. This is due credit to a brilliant writer. If you want to be inspired to write your own stories better, learn from this book. If you want to practice honest re-telling of your own stories, savor this book. If you want to be encouraged by how God is able to accept us for who we are, warts and all, buy this book.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group".

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

"Glorious Mess" (Mike Howerton)

TITLE: Glorious Mess: Encountering God's Relentless Grace for Imperfect People
AUTHOR: Mike Howerton
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012, (208 pages).

There is an energetic plea in this book, a five-sided plea to let God take care of us, no matter what conditions we are in. The author, a young pastor previously associated with the famous Saddleback Church, is now pastor in charge of a thriving West Coast congregation in Redmond, Washington. Based on the messed up life of Jonah who found God's grace, and more importantly God Himself, Howerton shares with us his take on how all of us in various ways are in a mess. If we try to handle our daily mess on our own strength, we are in for a gory and sorry end. If we learn to let God take care of us, accept our condition, and receive God's grace, it becomes a 'glorious mess.'

In Act One, Howerton proposes the need to listen to God's voice via two main ways. Firstly, we need to learn to listen to the way God speaks. In this he gives 7 guidelines on how to hear God. Secondly, and more importantly, we need to cultivate a listening disposition. Here, Howerton gives practical tips on avoiding the barriers to hearing God.

In Act Two, we are all tempted to run away from God just like the biblical character Jonah. He tries to convince us that such running is futile, and only increases our need to have a 'theological chiropractic' exercise. Without God, our mess remains a mess, even a greater mess.

In Act Three, Howerton shows us the way out of our follies. Firstly, he helps to identify the four major messes in our lives, like relational, family, silliness, and spiritual messes. Secondly, he gives us two ways to get out of this, through recognizing the cost of the things we need to leave behind, and through embracing the rewards if we do so. Lest readers think it is a me-initiative, this act of rescue is more often than not, initiated by God.

In Act Four, we listen and notice God on how He rescues us. We marvel at how God gives us a second chance. We learn to go beyond mere happiness to holy joy. We embrace the wonderful grace of God in our ordinary life.

In Act Five, we enter into the promise of God, and the promise of what this book tries to lead us toward: Seeing the glory of God despite of our messes in life.

Closing Thoughts

This is not a difficult book to read, but for some people who feel they are living a messed up life, it is deeply encouraging. Howerton's use of the Jonah story is the framework that pulls the whole book together. The book is riveting through the many stories Howerton shares, just like pastors tells stories during their sermons. It is humourous too, although some of the quips that are funny to some may not go down well with others, especially the part about his ex-girlfriend he called 'Gelda.' The things he wrote about this girl is unnecessary. Howerton could have been more gracious about the whole thing. It is nice to be humourous, but not at the expense of 'Gelda.'

More importantly, this book reminds us that in God, we are never alone. We are all writing our own stories whether we feel we are in a mess or not. The book is more than simply a book of our mess. It is a story of life within the greater story of God's purpose. It is a calling to individuals to participate in the greater story of the Kingdom of God. It is a story of a relentless pursuit of people by a heavenly Father. Relentless love. Amazing grace. Eternal love.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group".

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"A-to-Z Guide to Biblical Prophecy and the End Times"

TITLE: An A-to-Z Guide to Biblical Prophecy and the End Times
AUTHOR: J. Daniel Hays, J. Scott Duvall, & C. Marvin Pate.
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012, (512 pages).

This book  is one of the clearest and most concise dictionary and guide for anyone interested in knowing all things associated with biblical prophecy and the end times. It is literally packed with detailed descriptions of two very important but least understood topics for Bible readers today. It is more than a dictionary that merely explains each subject. It is simple without being bogged down with difficult technical words. Even the big theological words are carefully explained to guide the layperson along. The illustrations and the diagrams are included to enable the reader to appreciate the concept better. For instance, the 'Already-Not Yet' biblical idea of the kingdom of God has been clearly diagrammed with Christ's two comings. On top of that, the precious implications are also marked to hone in the meaning of the two ideas. Every prophetic book are explained. The most popular positions surrounding prophecy are carefully dealt with fairly, without the authors pushing through their own views. This is truly a work of scholarship that is fair and gives room for readers to interpret and to make their own judgment.

There are articles on people, places, prophets, positions, and many more. The work is also comprehensive in dealing with the end times. The various positions are explained and within each explanation, the authors carefully compare and contrast how they are different from the other positions. For example, in explaining the Covenant theology and the dispensationalist views of the end times, the primary emphasis is to ensure that the readers understand the terms fairly on its own merit. The views of Amillenials, Premillenials, Postmillenials, and so on, are openly given with the purpose of reminding the reader that there are more than one view to the same topic. Such a pattern is repeated throughout this book. Three eminent scholars wanting to share what they know about bible prophecy and the end times, have done it in a way that is clear, concise, and comprehensive. This is what a good dictionary and guide looks like. Hays, Duvall, and Pate has not only given us a powerful reference for all students of the Bible, they have demonstrated what good educators should do. I am amazed at by the breadth of information but also by the depth of research to each article. I highly recommend this work for Bible teachers, students, pastors, seminarians and laypersons.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Zondervan and NetGalley without any obligation of a positive review. All opinions given above are mine unless otherwise stated.

Monday, March 26, 2012

"Thirty Days in the Land with Jesus" (Charles H Dyer)

TITLE: Thirty Days in the Land with Jesus: A Holy Land Devotional
AUTHOR: Charles H. Dyer
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2012, (256 pages).

This book is the work of an experienced traveler in the Middle East. Currently a Professor at large at Moody Bible College, he is well qualified to reflect on Jesus' life on earth throughout Jerusalem and the holy land. Each day, Dyer highlights a place, draws out some biblical insights from both the Old and the New Testaments, and invites readers to spend the day reflecting on the life of Jesus, and the significance of the places Jesus walked. The author has several purposes in the book:

  • Enable readers to locate the stories in the Bible with the original places;
  • See the profound meanings behind the contexts of each place
  • Encounter Jesus personally through the devotional and reflections
  • Understand more accurately the Bible as one tours the land
  • Loving the God of the Word more.

Beginning with the birthplace of Jesus, Dyer probes the humble beginnings of the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He magnifies the arduous physical conditions of the wilderness where Jesus was sorely and surely tempted. He links the Old Testament imagery as Jesus was driven out of Nazareth, on how Jesus painfully tries to speak into the hearts of a hardened people. He tour the mountains and the valleys, the buildings and the synagogues, the seas and the wilderness. In case readers miss out the finer details, Dyer helpfully provides a summary section to enable readers to reflect more thoughtfully. There are some places which are not as well known, such as Chorazin called the 'Capernaum with a view' and the ancient harbour at the small town of Gergesa. There is a day dedicated to the temple in which Jesus not once but twice drove out merchants hawking wares at the temple. There is the Upper Room reflection, in which Dyer dispels the Italian portrait made famous by Leonardo Da Vinci, and argues that the actual room and furniture are totally different from DaVinci's depiction. While many people use daVinci's Last Supper portrait to locate the individual disciples, Dyer depends on the text and his knowledge of the Upper Room designs in that area.

This book tells us a lot about the physical contexts during the days of Jesus. It takes one who loves the Bible in order to piece together the rich gospel stories, the history of Israel, and the lessons that we can learn from. If you are planning to tour the holy land, this book serves as an indispensable guide for your travel. For the rest of us who may not have the privilege to travel there, this book will enable us to appreciate Jesus and the people during the times of Jesus, leading up to the crucifixion and beyond. Yet, like Day 28's reflection on the road to Calvary, the commercialization and modernism of the world continues to hide the biblical significance of the physical locations. It takes the knowledgeable, the perceptive, and the reflective person to see the meaning behind the stones, the sand, and the seas of activity. Thanks to the scholarship and continued passions of people like Dyer, readers in lands far away from the Middle East have a treasure of information and biblical pictures to appreciate what it means to be a believer during the times of Jesus. Hopefully, through the devotion, we will come away not only with a better appreciation, but as people loving Jesus more each day.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Moody Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered are mine unless otherwise stated.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

"Honeycomb Kids" (Anna M Campbell)

TITLE: Honeycomb Kids: Big Picture Parenting for a Changing World and to Change the World!
AUTHOR: Anna M. Campbell
PUBLISHER: Nabiac, NSW: Cape Able Publisher Australia, 2012, (264 pages).

Big-Picture parenting. Using the honeycomb metaphor, the author tries to convince readers that it takes a village, or a community to build a good future for our kids. No one bee exists for itself. Neither does the queen bee lives for itself. One cell does not make a honeycomb. Together however, the whole community thrives. Every bee lives for others. The end result is a beautiful honeycomb that not only provides sweet honey and nutrients for the bee community, it brings great benefits through pollination, provision of food, and great contributions to the environment.

Written in two parts, Part One talks about the big issues that demand our attention. The author argues for greater attention to an explosive population growth that threatens to overwhelm our existing way of life. She lists climate change, natural disasters, water scarcity, food shortages, energy supply, price of oil, nuclear energy, healthcare, nutrition, pandemics, toxins, and genetic engineering, as threats we must all wake up to. With globalization, there will be social unrest, terrorism fears, and a squeeze on the struggling middle class in society. With technology, there is a temptation toward instant gratification, commercials that aim at innocent children, and many other risks. Nineteen words fill up the bad honeycomb.

Part Two brings in the key purpose of the book: Building Big-Picture Parenting through "cooperation, industriousness, shared decision-making, planning, determination to survive together, reverence for nature, yummy stuff, and a little bit of magic!" Nineteen words fill up the good honeycomb. We then have 24 chapters of ideas, tips, and creative activities to enable us to do BPP.
  1. Sense of Community, Citizenship, and Cooperation: we are urged to build community bonds within the local community and to support them whenever we can
  2. Smart Thinking: we are urged to think more for ourselves rather than simply soaking in what the media tells us, to develop an attitude of continuous learning, and wisdom.
  3. Building Hope and Resilience: builds self-esteem and confidence in life
  4. Competition vs Connection: explains the limits of competitive behaviour and the higher importance of connectivity.
  5. Fairness: Life is not just about grabbing and fighting for our needs or our rights. It is about putting things in perspective that there are many situations worse than our own sense of fairness.
  6. Healthy Life Choices: we tend to take good health for granted. Eating well starts by thinking the big picture advantages that go beyond costs, and what popular opinions tell us.
  7. Kitchen Garden: we need to learn to understand making good healthy food choices
  8. Getting Dirty: The garden teaches us more than simply industry and thrift. It teaches us to appreciate the goodness that it provides, something we often take for granted.
  9. Meaningful Work: Working for money is perhaps one of the most common but most meaningless activity. 
  10. Home is where the heart is: Buy a house sensibly, and not what the world promises, but what we need.
  11. Money cannot buy you love: Not everything will be ok if we have all the money in the world. Be measured in your focus on money-making, understanding the pros and cons. This chapter also provides tips on thrift and wisdom if how money can be spent.
  12. Nature knows best: Nature and humanity is connected in more ways than we know. If we see the connection more and more, we see our meaning of existence better each day.
  13. Laughter is the Best Medicine: Key to happy living.
  14. A Sense of Perspective: This is one of the most important factors in thinking big picture.
  15. Five R's (Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Recycle, Redistribute): Living well includes ecological, social, spiritual concerns. 
  16. Compassionate Consumption: Don't consume as if the whole world is meant to give you what you want. Consume in a manner that acknowledges what we need, not wasting on unnecessary stuff and how we can help others. There is also a section arguing against irresponsible marketing.
  17. Using time wisely: Have time to work, sleep and play.
  18. Rome wasn't built in a day: Do not live under the tyranny of instant gratification and rush to fulfill our superficial wants. Big picture parenting requires long term thinking.
  19. Unconditional love: When we give our children unconditional love, we prepare them for adulthood in advance.
  20. Home truths: Truth is most precious of them all. Better than toys, electronics, and many materialistic things the world offers.
  21. It's all in the delivery: We are all at different stages of our lives. The better we understand, the better we live.
  22. Facing the music: Learning to accept short term consequences for long term gains.
  23. You can do this: Inspiration when young is a great way to instill and prepare for future leadership.
  24. Zest for life: Joy is a powerful energy source for living.

This book is great advice, filled with wise tips and smart ideas for daily living. Many parents grow up without the privilege of learning all of these from their own parents. If the advice in this book can be shared more widely, it is a powerful way to inculcate good values in our children. 

For me as a Christian, this book falls short because it presupposes man knows what is best for man. Written for a secular audience, obviously this book avoids religious talk, other than a few quotes of spiritualists like Deepak Chopra, and a few others. I can also argue that those are religious positions as well, which should be excluded in any secular book. There is a bit of New Age philosophy in this book, especially the part of loving the earth. It is generally a good book and a great reminder for parents to parent with a big picture philosophy. Unfortunately for me, it does not go far enough. Man cannot survive on good advice alone.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided free by Cape Able and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered are mine unless otherwise stated.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

"Gospel Wakefulness" (Jared C. Wilson)

TITLE: Gospel Wakefulness
AUTHOR: Jared C. Wilson
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012, (224 pages).

What is gospel wakefulness? It is essentially the gospel waking us up to our calling. Our spiritual future depends on it. Our mission to change the world stems from it. In fact, how we all wake up to the gospel for our lives will prevent us from the futile path of becoming all things to all people. We will not be easily distracted by the presence or the absence of 'booming growth.' We will avoid the arguments about religions or non-religiosity. It is essentially allowing an unchanging gospel to change our perspective so that we can change the world. For the gospel is power. It is saving faith. It is not entertainment but transformation of ordinary lives like you and me.

For Wilson, gospel wakefulness is likened to how Eastern Europe wakes up to their potential with the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is beyond rhetoric toward an earth-shattering moment of truth. In fact, Wilson continues to describe this throughout the book. It comes through as salvation in Christ. It comes through a spiritual conversion. It comes alive through the many acts of Jesus in the gospels. Gospel wakefulness is about a spiritual orientation around Jesus, just like how the planets in the solar system circle the sun. He points out 11 factors that demonstrate an absence of gospel wakefulness.

  1. Lack of interest in the gospel;
  2. Taking everything personally
  3. Worrying about what others think
  4. Majoring on minors
  5. Impatience
  6. Trouble seeing fruits of the Spirit in us
  7. Little interest in God's Word
  8. Cannot forgive
  9. Too controlling
  10. Others are worse sinners than yourself
  11. Centrality of the gospel makes no sense.
On and on, Wilson drums in the nuances of gospel wakefulness.
  • It is being alive in worship, where good works and good worship inform each other
  • It is a zeal energized not by a desire to payback, but a desire to give joyfully.
  • It is not spiritual laziness due to fear of legalism in the law, but adopting spiritual rhythms in the demonstration of the fruit of the Spirit.
  • It is a journey toward sanctification
  • It recognizes that sometimes in our spiritual journey, we encounter deep depression and discouragement. In times like these, it is being able to see the bigness of God during the struggle.
  • It is being confident in the gospel, without being fearful of the world
  • It is beyond simply saying, "All I need is Jesus."

There are four reasons why the gospel needs to be central.
  1. We are easily forgetful people
  2. The gospel alone has the power to save
  3. The gospel is of first importance
  4. The gospel glorifies God

Indeed, the word 'gospel' has become such a familiar word that we take it for granted. We tend to assume that we know what it means and what it stands for. The truth is, we are less aware of what it is. Books like this is a reminder for all to take the gospel seriously, and to live it out powerfully without additives or gimmicks. The gospel is not merely the old story in a new world. It is a story and a powerful reality that continues to renew us and the community of God around the world. Finally, the gospel is something that happens to us, and not something for us to make it happen. Chances are, for many of us, we simply need to wake up our sleepy moods. There is much to be done.

Banish spiritual lethargy and sleepiness about gospel matters by reading this book. Learn again what it means to be awake to the gospel, and be awakened.

Ratings: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Crossway Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated.

Friday, March 23, 2012

"Four Views on Christian Spirituality"

TITLE: Four Views on Christian Spirituality (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology)
AUTHOR: Bruce Demarest (editor), Joe Driskill, Scott Hahn, Evan Howard, Bradley Nassif
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012, (240 pages).

Few books are able to capture so much with a small footprint. In a wonderful compilation of experts in the field of Christian Spirituality, readers are in for a spiritual feast that comprises scholarship, Church traditions, spiritual practices, and much more. In the foreword, Simon Chan summarizes the whole exercise as a way to instil evangelical fervour among Catholics and Orthodox believers, for evangelicals to come away with Catholic comprehensiveness, and for Progressive Protestants to learn from both. In the Introduction, Bruce Demarest describes the current culture of 'Walmart' kind of spiritual options, and argues that there is widespread spiritual hunger both inside and outside of the Church. He then points out 5 distinctive definitions of Christian Spirituality that form the purpose of the book.

  1. Spirituality as relationship inspired by the Spirit of God - as per Philip Sheldrake's definition
  2. Spirituality as lived experienced (as per Barry Callen's definition)
  3. Spirituality as conforming to Christ and communing with God and people (Michael Downey's definition)
  4. Spirituality as 'art of living' (as per Richard Foster's)
  5. Spirituality as a response to God's grace (as per Jeffrey Greenman)
Demarest does such an excellent job in summarizing the respective positions, that a few of the contributors have used them as starting positions in understanding the other traditions. Most of the contributions tend to be cordial and understanding. Negative responses are measured. In my brief review below, I have chosen to highlight some criticisms raised, not to pit them against one another, but more to magnify the points of differences for the purpose of understanding the nuances of each position.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

"Healing Your Church Hurt" (Stephen Mansfield)

TITLE: Healing Your Church Hurt: What To Do When You Still Love God But Have Been Wounded by His People
AUTHOR: Stephen Mansfield
PUBLISHER: Carol Stream, IL: Barna-Tyndale, 2012, (174 pages).

What does an author who has rubbed shoulders with the bigwigs of society, written extensively about George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Winston Churchill know about Church? Before you diss Stephen Mansfield, my advice is: Don't. There are a lot of valuable lessons and tips that we can learn from the book.

The book begins with a foreword by George Barna urging all of us, especially those concerned for the Church, to remain 'immersed in a community of faith.' After all, the Church is not a group of saints seeking sainthood, but a group of sinners seeking mercy from God and constant forgiveness of one another, as exemplified by the Lord's Prayer to forgive one another's trespasses. Mansfield begins the book through his personal sharing of the pains and hurts he have gone through. Through the example of his experience with a screaming boy, whose arms are stuck at a candy machine simply because the young chap refuses to let go, he affirms throughout the book that while we can be easily hurt for whatever reasons, there is no reason to continue to inflict self-hurts by us refusing to 'let go' of our pains, our bitterness, and any sense of unforgiveness. By letting ourselves wallow in the hurt, we are actually hurting ourselves in the long run. He talks about how many great leaders throughout the centuries who have been hurt, but persevered on in love. Like George Whitefield who remains focused on a higher cause, that he is able to continue to bless his buddy John Wesley despite feeling  hurt by Wesley. Stories of Patrick in the 4th Century, who after serving faithfully for the cause of Christ, gets betrayed by a friend. Then there is the story of Jonathan Edwards who was unceremoniously voted out of his own church!

One of the reasons why people struggle with hurts in Church is because they fail to recognize the reality of man being a combination of 'greatness and grief, of righteous might and disgusting sin.' The author contrasts how some Bible characters have actually dealt with the problems in a redemptive way. Like how Paul and Barnabas patch up their relationships, and how Jesus loves even those people who hated him. Mansfield gently reminds us:

"Christianity is not the absence of stupidity and hurt. Christianity is the message of a God who uses our stupidity and hurt to make us what we are destined to be." (57)

Refusing to acknowledge our hurt and to continue to love people in spite of the hurt is deepening the wounds. Speaking as one who has been badly bruised in the past, Mansfield poses 5 questions to probe any feelings of stubbornness and refusal to let go.If we fail to let go of our own hurts, we end up getting stuck in the journey called life. This leads to one of the best chapters in the book, where Mansfield draws out lessons from the original languages of the Bible. Like the Greek word for 'offense' is 'scandalon' which essentially means a trap. If we allow this offense to linger in our hurts, we are trapping ourselves in an endless cycle of hurt and despair. Two other words describe offense, like pikros for pungent, and miano for defilement by bitterness. Both devour the self. By dealing with forgiveness, one becomes free, like the Greek word 'aphiemi' which is to send away anything that entangles, 'aphesis' which is to release from prison, and 'charizomai' which is to extend mercy or bestow favour. All three words combine to give the various nuances of the face of forgiveness.

Mansfield goes on to share about how each hurt can easily lead to a 'poisoned soul' (10). Three principles are practiced:

  1. The author is playing the role of a 'coach' rather than a counselor or a spiritual guide.
  2. Anyone who is hurt, needs someone to get tough with them first, mainly to prevent any deterioration of the hurt
  3. We cannot wallow in our own vomit of personal hurts, and become hypocrites by refusing to love the Church or her people.
Closing Thoughts

This quote is particularly relevant for those of us hurt in any way in the Church. 
"When we think we are loving Jesus but hating his people, we are actually loving Jesus so little that his people don't matter anymore." (15)

Bingo! Followers of Christ need to remember that Jesus has been hurt real badly, even fatally, and yet he breathes a prayer of love and mercy for all. Can we choose otherwise? I believe this book is essential reading for anyone serving in the Church or planning to be part of Church ministry in any way. The fact of life is that it is only a matter of time before anybody gets hurt, misunderstood, taken for granted, or downright disappointed with Church. Sooner or later, we need to learn to deal with the situation, and most importantly to deal with our self-seeking tendency to wallow over failed relationships. Mansfield has given us at least 5 ways to deal with it, and to set ourselves on the path toward recovery and deeper love for God and for His people.

Firstly, we can learn from the great leaders throughout Christian history who have persevered. Secondly, we can recognize that humans are not perfect, and we need to set our expectations accordingly. Thirdly, we need to seriously work on the word, "Forgiveness," what it means for us. Fourthly, we need to check our own emotions and the condition of our souls, constantly probing and getting ourselves fixed on the larger cause of Christ. Fifth, we need to learn to be whole, and to recognize that on our own, we cannot succeed.

This book is painfully honest and humbly restorative. All of us need an Emmaus experience where we can be free from self-seeking emotions toward God honouring actions. The solution to hurts and pains experienced in the Church is not to fight back at the Church, or to brew poisonous hate within our hearts. The key is perseverance to love God and people through mercy, forgiveness, and grace. Learn to reserve our energies to fight the real enemies. Remember that the enemy is not the Church or her people. This book is soaked with wisdom and tough love. I encourage all people keen on healing and grace in the Church to read this book.

Rating: 4.8 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Tyndale House Publishers without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions are mine unless otherwise stated. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

"The God Box" (Mary Lou Quinlan)

TITLE: The God Box: Sharing My Mother's Gift of Faith, Love and Letting Go
AUTHOR: Mary Lou Quinlan
PUBLISHER: Austin, TX: Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2012.

This is a very nice little book that is part biography, part exhortation to establish a unique prayer routine. Beginning with stories of her late mother's passion to pray with little notes, the author shares her personal reflections about how the 'God-Box' represents her mother's love to people. Her mother, Mary Finlayson, diligently keeps all her prayer requests written and shared with God on behalf of her and her family. From personal health matters to praying for a cancer patient, Finlayson makes her prayers not only intimate, but exceptionally generous. Together with precious family photos, and pictures of the many messages written on papers of various shapes and sizes, the author is able to trace the ups and downs of her mother's time on earth. At the same time, it demonstrates the simple and personal faith of her mother.

Her mother is a 'hands on' person, regularly teaching it through actions.  The author praises her mum as one who 'could solve anything.' Anything that she cannot do on her own, or feels that she cannot do any better than God, goes right into the God Box. With God like a pen-pal, the little notes reveal the mother's deepest desires. It reflects her deep faith as she takes them to the Lord in prayer. It reflects her love, especially for her husband, reflected through her fierce care of him even during the untimely stroke that devastated his speech. Her compassion shines through as the box contains prayers for people far and wide, from praying for people to even 'pet friendly' little intercessions.

For me, this book paints a picture what simple faith and living prayer look like. It is a simple heart of belief put into practice with a simple idea of prayer notes in a box. Simple enough for anybody to do. Authentic enough for anyone to pour out their deepest desires to God in private. It reminds me of the verse in Psalms:

"Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart." (Ps 37:4)

Mary Finlayson turns the old hymn, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" into reality through her God Box. We do not need lots of knowledge about God or the world in order to talk to God. Neither do we need to be trained many years theologically in order to practice our faith. What we need is more heart, and Mary Finlayson shows us one way to do just that.

Be moved. Be warmed. Be encouraged to pray. The God Box is a very simple but highly creative way to take it to the Lord in prayer for everything that matters. For there is nothing too small that God cannot hear. There is nothing too big that God cannot solve. Little faith presented with a big heart to God will grow firm.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Greenleaf Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

"I Am Second" (Doug Bender / Dave Sterrett)

This review was first published on Yapdates on 5 Mar 2012.

TITLE: I Am Second: Real Stories. Changing Lives.
AUTHOR: Doug Bender and Dave Sterrett
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2011, (226 pages).

This is a book that brings together stories of ordinary people who experience the high of achievements in their respective areas of difference, and being cruelly brought down by the circumstances of life. Following the pain, the sorrow, and the torment of being thrown at the bottom of the pit, the protagonists in each chapter find hope, meaning, and purpose as they receive a second chance. More importantly, this second leash of life begins with a confident declaration that one is no longer a self-seeking 'I am first.' Instead, it is a brand new attitude that is not shy to say: "I am second."

The twenty stories in this book have essentially this message, that "I am second, because God is first." Through the pop singer Brian 'Head' Welch, we read about how Welch learns the futility of money, pleasure, and fame, and that these things do not really matter as much as he thought in the journey of life. Michelle Aguilar tells of how her parents' broken marriage affects her self-image, and subsequently her relationship with her mum. Even after winning the TV series, 'The Biggest Loser,' she is able to attribute her inner strength and motivation back to God. There is also a pastor struggling with a life of duplicity where he is a porn addict on one hand, and a pastor on the other hand. There is He confesses that his road to recovery begins when he confesses himself as a broken and needy person, and found support in an accountability group. There are stories of drug addictions, failed relationships, the futility of fame and riches, of recovery from racial hatred, war ethical dilemmas, marriages broken and healed, and others. One of the most visible stories is that of Bethany Hamilton whose bravery in coming back to the surfing scene despite losing her left arm to sharks has inspired the making of the movie, "Soul Surfer." There are many more well-known personalities who tell of their riches-rags-zero-newlife transformation. All of them have one thing in common, that God is first, and they are happily second.

Closing Thoughts

It is difficult not to be moved by the openness and honesty as each testimony speaks of the wonderful feeing of being #2 in a world that is crazy about being #1. The authors of the book have helpfully pointed readers to other similar stories on the Internet. Conveniently stored in the "iamsecond.com" website, there are videos, audios, and pictures to supplement the book. This book is powerful in at least three ways. Firstly, it reminds us of the futility of putting our hopes in the things of the world. Worldly things are temporal and will not last the length of time. Secondly, it reminds us that there is hope in God. The world picks and chooses what it deems suitable at that time, place and circumstances. God accepts people regardless of the ups and downs of life. Thirdly, it gives us a brand new meaning and purpose in life, which comes very powerfully when we declare "I am Second."

As I think about the white chair on the book cover, and how each person in the story sits to tell their testimonies, I see the symbolism the following way. An empty chair symbolizes that the invisible God is first sitting on the chair. It is the grace of God that invites individuals to come and sit with God, and to learn intimately that there is no shame in "I am second." All of us will have a chance to sit on the chair and to experience renewed hope and joy in our lives. Most importantly, these experiences are but glimpses of our eternal life in God. A life in Jesus that will last and last and last.

Rating: 4.5 of 5.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, March 15, 2012

"Flirting with the Forbidden" (Steven James)

TITLE: Flirting with the Forbidden: Finding Grace in a World of Temptation
AUTHOR: Steven James
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2012, (192 pages).

Things are important only because of the stories around them, so begins the author. Instead of things, Steven James re-tells several Bible stories around certain themes. Stories like Cain/Abel, Joseph and Potiphar's wife, Hannah's silent struggle, David/Bathsheba, Solomon, Naomi/Ruth, stories of Jesus, the wedding at Cana, Lazarus, Paul/Barnabas, and several others.

  • Through the story of Cain/Abel, we are reminded that the saints of old struggle with both ups and downs, joys and shortcomings.
  • The author uses the story of Potiphar's wife tempting Joseph, to highlight 5 ways to tackle temptations;
  • Hannah's silence due to her barrenness, is a reminder that one should never give up on God;
  • The story of David/Bathsheba is a reminder for saints and sinners that wallowing in guilt is a 'subtle form of pride.'
  • This is my favourite. On Jesus' healing ministry even on the Sabbath, the author reminds us that the Devil works through 7 ways (103-104);
  • On the retelling of the Lazarus story, the author reminds us that life has 4 components: 'Believe, Receive, Suffer, and Rejoice';
  • .. and many more.

Some readers may be wondering if the author has taken too much liberty with the Bible characters in the paraphrasing. The author freely acknowledges that, taking some 'creative license' and at the same time maintain respect and regard for the Bible stories. In doing so, the author has hoped that the re-telling will have made the Biblical scene more vivid and easier for modern readers to identify with. I think this is a very novel way of bridging the ancient texts for contemporary eyes. Positively, it brings the characters alive. Negatively, some parts are fiction, and new readers may not be able to tell the which parts are truly in the Bible or not. Paraphrasing has its limitations after all. Having said that, I think there is something more valuable apart from the re-telling of the stories. The small nuggets of wisdom and learning at the end of each chapter are clearly the gems readers must not miss out.

Initially, the book reads a little strange, as I find myself constantly comparing and contrasting what the author says versus what the Bible says. While some instances are fictional, there are certain areas which the author has helped to expand, which throws new light on an old story. For example, the conversations between Paul and Demas, prior to Demas forsaking the mission team and even the faith, is a worthy read. In summary, the first-person narrative makes the retelling of the story very much alive and enjoyable. The nuggets of wisdom set forth plenty of applications for the layperson.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group".

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

"What's Next?" (H. Norman Wright)

TITLE: What's Next?: Navigating Transitions to Make the Rest of Your Life Count
AUTHOR: H. Norman Wright
PUBLISHER: Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2012, (240 pages).

This book is about navigating transitions through each stage of our lives. From birth to young adults; from marriage to parenting; from retiring to dying, every stage comes with its different joys, despairs, hopes, and challenges. With skillful hands like a surgeon, the author sensitively identifies the ups and downs of each stage, helping readers to make some sense out of it before presenting suggestions toward making the rest of one's life count. The aim is to lead readers from broken-hearted to healing, from healing to whole-hearted living.

Wright is spot on in his categorization of the three broad stages of life.
  1. "I'm Needed by Others" stage which deals with phases of our lives in which we feel useful, independent, and able to give of our energies, resources, and ourselves
  2. "I'm no longer needed by others" stage where we experience loss of worth or purpose, as we let go of the previous state of independence.
  3. "I Need Others" stage where we increasingly become dependent beings as we grow physically more frail, and move past retirement phase.
The key question that Wright poses to readers of every phase is this: When is it time to "let go of, or start letting go of . .. ?" He begins with the Boomers, where children are showered lots of goodies, and then uses 9 tips from Kay Strom's Second Half Adventures to help readers plan their transitions at a post-Boomer phase. He covers the emotional intensities of parenting, brilliantly integrating Unell and Wyckokk's The Eight Seasons of Parenthood to enable readers to get a sense of their phase. On midlife, he identifies 8 traits of the mid-life crisis, and proposes 5 ways toward constructive perspectives. He asserts that it is very possible to progress positively as parents enter the 'empty-nest stage' of life. As a licensed marriage counselor himself, Wright shines in bringing out pertinent pointers with regards to the second half of marriage. He even have tips for parents encountering the 'Boomerang generation' when their adult kids return to stay with them. There are also chapters for learning to deal with losses, death, remarriage, retirement, aging, and the legacy we can leave. The final chapter is about dying and death, which is not a morbid thing, but taken in the light of hope in God through the Scriptures, it can be a beautiful phase of life.

Closing Thoughts

For a book that is less than 240 pages, this book is extremely dense in terms of practical tips and advice. More importantly, the book shines in its ability to identify key human feelings through each phase of life. It helps readers to make sense of where they are, and to point toward a future tomorrow that is hopeful and helpful. Wright has given us a wonderful resource unique enough for anyone to navigate through each phase of their lives, and common enough in terms of the familiar transitions we will all experience in a matter of time. If you are intending to use this book for many years, buy a printed copy, preferably a hardcover one that you can preserve. Mark it. Highlight it. Read it again and again. Not only will it prepare us to anticipate the various transitions of life, it keeps us looking forward with hope rather than to stumble back to always lament about the 'good old days.' After all, didn't Ecclesiastes warn us:

"Do not say, "Why were the old days better than these?" For it is not wise to ask such questions." (Eccl 7:10)

Instead, ask God to show us the timing and the excitement to ask: "What's Next?"

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Bethany House Publishers without any obligation for a positive review. Opinions furnished above are mine unless otherwise stated.

Monday, March 12, 2012

"Engaging Today's Prodigal" (Carol Barnier)

TITLE: Engaging Today's Prodigal: Clear Thinking, New Approaches, and Reasons for Hope
AUTHOR: Carol Barnier
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2012, (176 pages).

This book acknowledges that parenting is tough. It is getting more difficult as children grow into teens and subsequently into young adults who do not readily share parents' values as readily as hoped. What the author tries to do is to clear up 7 myths about parental guilt over their parenting. It lays out 12 tips of dos and dont's to guide parents on how to relate to their children constructively. Writing from her personal spiritual struggles, from faith to atheism to faith again, Barnier hopes that parents of this modern age will be able to adopt clear thinking, learn new approaches, and to maintain reasons for hope.

The 7 myths parents need to avoid are:
  1. Thinking that perfect parenting will automatically mean perfect children;
  2. Blaming oneself as if the Bible said so;
  3. Thinking that parents are able to rescue their children;
  4. Assuming that kids deliberately want to irritate their parents;
  5. Thinking that perfect words can correct the kids;
  6. Thinking that if kids feel parents' pain sufficiently, they will listen and turn back from their ways;
  7. Assuming that one's scars will damage children's lives forever.
Along with these myths, there are gems of wise advice dispensed. Such as:
  • differentiate between 'influence' and 'control';
  • Not to be too willing to accept responsibility instead of helping kids learn their responsibility;
  • To be balanced and that the leash should not be held too tightly or too loosely;
  • Kids can still make bad choices despite the best parenting efforts;
  • Reading the intention of Proverbs as truth sayings instead of absolute promises;
  • That one cannot save those who refuse to be saved;
  • to learn to save our energies for battles that we can actually win, instead of expecting children to feel something that they can never understand;
  • God can make something beautiful through our best/worst efforts.
I appreciate the 12 points in learning how to engage the new prodigals. 
  1. That parents learn not to badger their kids to submission, but advise them by the side;
  2. Learning to focus on boundaries instead of criticizing behaviours;
  3. Creating common places to connect;
  4. Learning to avoid quoting Bible as if kids accept its authority;
  5. Learning to sit down and listen;
  6. Recognizing courage in our kids;
  7. Loving our prodigals;
  8. Creating support system in our parenting efforts, with the help of a community;
  9. Remember our non-prodigals even as we are concerned for the prodigals;
  10. Learning to care for prodigals who are not our own children;
  11. Avoiding putting up a list of expectations when prodigals return;
  12. Not to lose ourselves or our sense of worth during the trying times.
While the first two parts deal with remedial efforts, Part Three looks toward preventative measures, that gazes at the future beginning now. Barnier urges readers to hold on to faith and hope. Using her own story, she tells of how she searches for God in all the wrong places, finally returning to God, after realizing that atheism is a dead end. Finally, she maintains that God is an artist who is able to weave all things together for good. 

Closing Thoughts

Barnier has a lot of good advice to give us. She gently dispels the myths that often pile up guilt, instead of releasing us in grace. This is important because many parents have a tendency to place wrong expectations on themselves and their children. She encourages readers to adopt new creative ways to communicate affirmatively with their children. Learning to say 'no' firmly and to say 'yes' openly. She boldly points us toward hope that everyone can look forward to. It can be a good reminder for parents who are tearing their hair out over their children who are no longer the same. It reminds us again that we need to learn when to hang on and when to let go. Only through wisdom and discernment, and gentle reflection on what has happened, can readers walk the fine balance of 'light and tight' parenting. This book gives us the balancing rod as we walk the tightrope.

As one who is constantly on a lookout for good materials to bridge the generational divide, this book is certainly an important resource for parents in this increasingly complex world.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Moody Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All views expressed are mine unless otherwise stated.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

"God's Thrifty Extravagance" (Jonathan Kopke)

TITLE: God's Thrifty Extravagance: Understanding What the Bible Says About Money
AUTHOR: Jonathan Kopke
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, 2011.

This book deal with one of the most important topics taught in the Bible: Wealth and Money. Kopke begins the book with a fascinating look at the paradoxes of life. Like a puzzle placed before mankind, there are statements from the Bible that appear at first look to contradict one another. One example is with regards to money and the handling of money. On the one hand, there are verses like Proverbs 10:22 that raise the happiness of having wealth. On the other hand, there is Jesus teaching us that with increased wealth comes increased difficulty in entering the kingdom of God (Matt 19:23). The key thesis for Kopke is that we need to learn to hold both truths TOGETHER. Both are true and are 'really two sides of the same coin.' What to man is paradox is from God a guideline to help man live.

He then applies this idea to five financial issues: owning, saving, borrowing, giving, and spending. At the end of each chapter, Kopke highlights some things that we can freely give in 'Loose Change' and how we can carefully steward the use of wealth through 'Negotiables.'


The amazing paradox is that even though God owns everything, he has given man dominion over all the earth! Such a thought should guide the way in which we own things lightly rather than tightly. We need to be trustworthy stewards of earth's resources. Kopke suggests that such a perspective can guide our fundraising efforts that are free from manipulative methods, to be wise in our budgeting, and to be ready to learn more about ourselves as money unmasks our true selves. Our idea of owning needs to be furnished with giving, simple living, and the cultivating of thankfulness.


The key point here is to adopt a balanced approach with wise savings on the one hand and generous giving on the other hand. We need to distinguish between hoarding and savings, for it is the attitude of the heart that is important. We save not for ourselves but for the good of the community. Being thrifty does not mean becoming cheap. Saving wisely needs wisdom from above. 


The main point is to learn how to practise biblically acceptable borrowing. It is important to see how the rich rules over the poor over money matters. How can one avoid borrowing beyond one's ability to pay back? Debt management is an increasingly important matter. Is usury a Christian thing to do?  Is debt evil? Kopke makes an interesting word study on the Latin word 'exculpatory loan' which is the biblical idea of loans. For example, this can be understood through the combined use of 'mortgage' and 'home loan.' In a home loan, the bank loans the money. The mortgage acts as an agreement to use the house as a collateral to guarantee the payback of the home loan. This makes the borrowing biblically acceptable. There are other issues which are not so clear cut, like borrowing money to pay medical bills, etc. Such things are deemed 'desperate borrowing' which can be an exception. Kopke provides ideas regarding thrift, self-restraint, reasonable interest rates, and co-signing a loan.


Why give to God when God already owns all things? This is because God cares about us and about how money can easily take a hold on us. God wants to free us from the tyranny of materialism. Through giving, we rein in money taking over our lives. Money is 'always barking orders' for us to buy stuff.  Giving enables us to use money to serve God, and to live free of the control of money. What makes giving most honourable is cheerful giving. This is the key to giving. We can learn to give in several ways, one of which is tithing. Kopke spends quite a lot of time on this. In the Old Testament, tithing is not just a one time giving, but involves several tithes.  In the New Testament, we are taught to give freely and cheerfully. Give whatever we can is the guideline. Application wise, Kopke deals with some questions about tithing which is very helpful. The tip is this:

".. bringing God the first of everything is to bring him the best of everything." (92)


Here, Kopke uses the story of the three little pigs to teach biblical spending and lifestyle choices. He urges us to avoid the excesses of the House of Bricks and the House of Straw, by learning to settle on the moderate ground: House of Sticks. More importantly, he draws us back to Jesus, that Jesus is not talking about money and possessions per se, but the kingdom of God. This means that we spend in a way that glorifies and expands the kingdom of God. Distinguish needs from wants. Check our motives. Trace backward to motives, and forward to ministry opportunities. 

Closing Thoughts

This book is big on applications and strong in tackling the questions surrounding the use of money and wealth. It does not delight on bashing the rich or ridiculing the poor. What it does is to highlight the different perspectives of truths so that we can appreciate all of them as one whole. We are urged to use money freely without guilt, owning in moderation, borrowing responsibly, saving wisely, giving with joy, and spending with caution. We are free to do all these. This is where Kopke leaves us. This attitude of freedom is aptly described by the Dutch theologian, Eberhard Arnold.
"The drifting balloon is not free. There is no freedom in being stirred by every opinion, steered by every spirit of the times, governed by every urge of instinct. Freedom is there only where a holy moral imperative and a mature will can show us the way we must steer our lives." (130-1)

We are free to own, to save, to borrow, to give, and to spend. This is because God has given us freedom to live. The best way we can glorify God and to express our deepest gratitude is to use money for the glory of God, instead of possessing money for the glory of man or the gratifying of the flesh.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Discovery House Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered are mine unless otherwise stated.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

"Upside-Down Leadership" (Taylor Field)

TITLE: Upside-Down Leadership: Rethinking Influence and Success
AUTHOR: Taylor Field
PUBLISHER: Birmingham, AL: New Hope Publishers, 2012, (192 pages).

As stated in the title, this book is about turning conventional ideas about leadership upside down. The author introduces a new term called the 'unleader,' as a way to describe people practicing the upside-down leadership. Simply put, upside-down leadership is antiprinciples. Using Judson Adoniram as an example, Field highlights the diligence of Adoniram to persevere through struggles and sufferings, unlike this world that measures success based on minimum risks and maximum results. This idea of -anti-principles' essentially holds together two seemingly opposing principles, truths, or paradoxes in order to demonstrate that the way of the world is not necessarily the way of the Word. The author makes a point to go through the process of unlearning the old, in order to learn the new.

  • What the world deems useless, God deems useful
  • Get the first button right, instead of simply rushing to begin
  • Leadership needs to be measured based on what God wants, rather than what the worldly goals are
  • We cannot let results define our identity or our leadership; Rather, leadership is about service. 
  • Leadership has less to do with external results, but more to do with internal formation of character.
  • Measuring success is linked to timing. When is the best time to measure success? If God is eternal, and man is mortal, what is failure now may be success tomorrow?

The 10 principles that Field proposes are as follows:

  1. Stop Leading: The key question is not about whether one is born a leader or not, but about God. This is because man's tiny little goals are nothing if we do not appreciate that there is a Bigger Plan of God, much bigger than our world.
  2. Forget Results: We are often very myopic in our goal setting, and results measuring, thinking as if we control time and eternity. Results are God's prerogatives, not man's.
  3. Make No Plans: We place too much emphasis on plans that we often begin with man rather than God. How can we plan as if we know ourselves without seeking God first?
  4. Think Small: Big does not mean strong, and small does not mean weak. God often works through smallness to remind us that with Him, ANYTHING is possible. It is our way of acknowledging how small we are, and to see God work mightily. God uses the 'foolish' to confound the wise.
  5. Associate with Losers: We like to associate with successful people, but we can unwittingly miss out on opportunities to learn from those who have failed. For instance, the former president Franklin Roosevelt once spent time with polio victims to understand their plight. This helped him appreciate the difficulties of people who suffered extraordinary things. Reminds me of Jesus spending time with the lame man, the blind, the outcasts in the gospels.
  6. Get Off the Cutting Edge: The race to get the latest and the greatest is not necessarily good. It can make people lose their way. He contrasts one minister's continued push and stress to be relevant with the world, versus one monk who seems at peace without having to be relevant. As I think about it, for the discontented, new will always be overtaken by the next new thing. For the contented, the old is new every morning.
  7. Don't just Do Something, Stand there: This is a twist on the popular phrase of getting things done. Rather than telling us to be idle, Field reminds us of the need to observe a certain type of diligence that is not 'violent' but 'gentle.' Like Brother Lawrence who approaches life from a different perspective. People have been 'doing' things so much that they have failed to 'stand there' and observe God working. This is a little like having a Mary heart in a Martha world. Through this, we contemplate on God and remind ourselves that there is a higher purpose in what we do.
  8. Think Inside the Box: This continues the desire to be counter-cultural. Instead of assuming that being restricted is all-bad, Field highlights the freedom that comes from learning to live within our limits. 
  9. Become a nobody: When we truly know who we are, we are free to give it up. We relinquish our self-seeking ways to be free to pursue God. When we do not care who gets the credit, we are better equipped to be servants. We become heroes in the small things, letting glory belong to God. We will then not be easily tempted by pride.
  10. Embrace shame: While the world equates shame to weakness, we are reminded that there are things worse than shame. He shares about Bonhoeffer whose passion to do the right thing, also means living in shameful treatment by the evil authorities, the infamous Hitler. When we are able to embrace shame ourselves, we are better able to identify with the lowly, to show compassion to the shamed in society. 

Unleadership is essentially recognizing the futility of riches, fame, and power in the world in order to be living in humility. It is about counter-culture. It is about associating with the lowly even as the world gets infatuated with the rich, the famous, and the powerful. It is about cultivating an inner character without the need to yield to worldly expectations. It is about trusting God while the world is infatuated with worldly success. It is an encouraging book for those who are down and out, that while we may get an 'F' in this world, what matters more is to get an 'A' in God's eyes.

Upside down leadership is about God's timing. It is about God's perspectives. It is about the refusal to yield to the ways of the world. It is a bold call for us to live more as disciples of Christ rather than dictators who are schemed in the ways and wills of the world.

Be warned. This book will overturn your ideas about success and leadership. I think this book is best read in conjunction with the conventional materials on leadership. Used alone, this book can be confusing and may not make much sense. However, together with the other common leadership paradigms, the benefits shine. This book is most effective as a corrective to counter the excesses of modern leadership paradigms. After all, we need some understanding of a particular form of leadership before we can even turn them 'upside-down' right?

A wonderful book.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book has been provided free by New Hope Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All comments above are freely mine.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

"Indescribable (Illustrated Edition)"

TITLE: Indescribable (Illustrated Edition): Encountering the Glory of God in the Beauty of the Universe
AUTHOR: Louie Giglio and Matt Redman
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2011, (224 pages)

This book gives us visual glimpses of the beauty of Ps 19:1 which says:

"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands." (Ps 19:1)
Riding on the highly popular sermon series, this book puts into writing the powerful message and visual images that essentially moves people from analysis of facts to appreciation of beauty; from exploration to admiration of the cosmos. Man needs to learn to be humble before a Creator God, instead of constantly striving to become a god in himself.

Named after one of the songs popularized by Chris Tomlin, this book contains stunning images of the cosmos to remind us that the Universe is a glimpse of a Creator who is much bigger. The lyrics of the song goes like this.

"Indescribable, uncontainable,
You placed the stars in the sky and You know them by name. You are amazing God."

The images alone are enough to stir up worship and wonder in the hearts of the believer. The descriptions are kept to a minimal for obvious reasons. The beauty, the magnificence, the amazing horizon, the stars, the moon, the sun, and the wonders of creation cannot be measured in quantitative terms. Neither can they be understood in qualitative terms. In fact, man will quickly run out of superlatives to talk about the amazing Universe. This is exactly why the title of the book is so appropriate.

If man thinks that he is able to control and to box in all things, this book shows us why it is futile to do so. The mysteries are to be pondered. The skies are to be wondered. The beauty is to be enjoyed. Above all, man is to acknowledge the presence of a Higher Being, from whom all blessings flow.

I am at a loss at how to rate a book like this. There are no superlatives to measure it. Buy it. Hold it. Open it. Enjoy it. May this book lead readers to worship the Creator of all creation, the King of kings and the Lord of lords.


This book is provided to me free by David C Cook Publishing and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions furnished are mine, unless otherwise stated.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

"The Resignation of Eve" (Jim Henderson)

TITLE: The Resignation of Eve: What If Adam's Rib Is No Longer Willing to Be the Church's Backbone?
AUTHOR: Jim Henderson
PUBLISHER: Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2012, (320 pages).

Calling himself a 'spiritual anthropologist,' Jim Henderson writes this book to take on the tasks of probing the church at large about how they have been treating the women folks. He begins with a recognition of the roles of women as follows:

  • that women are very much the backbone of the church
  • that women during the Early Church bring spiritual vitality to the church even as the apostles are mainly men
  • that Jesus himself chooses women as witnesses of the kingdom
  • that it is foolish for any church leadership to take women for granted.
Henderson tells of 3 kinds of resignations, of which the first two are negative. Women can be resigned themselves to their positions, to resign from their roles in church, or to re-sign themselves back into active service. The author feels that he 'had to write this book' because of his strong sense of injustice being meted out at women at different quarters of the Church at large. If Jesus has empowered women, why are we not doing the same? 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

"The 5 Levels of Leadership" (John C. Maxwell)

TITLE: The 5 Levels of Leadership: Proven Steps to Maximize Your Potential
AUTHOR: John C. Maxwell
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Center Street, 2011, (296 pages).

As a leadership guru, John Maxwell has a way of putting important ideas into a very teachable format. Through what he calls the 5 levels of leadership, he enables readers to immediately hook on the intentionality of leadership. He says that the book is a result of more than 5 years of work, as well as his most popular request so far among all his leadership materials. The 5 levels of leadership in increasing order of influence are:

  1. POSITION - closely linked to your rights, where people follow you simply because they have to.
  2. PERMISSION - associated more with the level of your relationships, people follow you because they respect you.
  3. PRODUCTION - linked to results, people follow you because you are competent and delivers results.
  4. PEOPLE DEVELOPMENT - linked to reproduction, people follow you because you are a people developer based on what you have done for them.
  5. PINNACLE - linked to respect, people follow you because of what you represent and for the person that you are.

Following this model, Maxwell provides 10 insights to use with regards to the progression of leadership levels. Of course, one needs to move from Level 1 to the highest Level 5.
(John Maxwell, The Five Levels of Leadership, p6)

  1. You can move up a level but you never leave the previous one behind
  2. You are not on the same level with every person
  3. The higher you go, the easier it is to lead
  4. The higher you go, the more time and commitment is required to win a level
  5. Moving up levels occurs slowly, but going down can happen quickly
  6. The higher you go, the greater the return
  7. Moving farther up always requires further growth
  8. Not climbing the levels limits you and your people
  9. When you change positions or organizations, you seldom stay at the same level
  10. You cannot climb the levels alone.

It is tempting to think that there is nothing really new with regards to the author's way of explaining leadership. Yet, I admit it is amazing for Maxwell to be able to present his ideas in simple ways, packed with  witty advice, and concise applications. He gives a leadership assessment exercise for readers to immediately use and apply in order to determine their present levels. He explains each level in detail, complete with survey results, stories, experience, and humor. One of the pleasant finds in the book is the examples he used. For instance, the Chinese word,  has been explained through the following ways:

  • Ears (耳) - I hear what you say
  • Eyes (眼) - I see what you say
  • Heart (心) - I feel what you say
  • Undivided attention - I value who you are and what you say.
It is a simple word, but the explanation itself is compelling. While the concepts are really simple, I must acknowledge the brilliance behind the way the author is able to keep the readers engrossed in the book's stories. Learning is fun and educational! As a learning tool, the book is an excellent tool to motivate leaders to improve. It is easy to use and very entertaining as well. On the application side, things are not necessarily as neat as what Maxwell has painted it to be. Life is often more complex than the 5 levels of leadership. Perhaps, the best way to use this book is to have it as a rough map for one to determine leadership style and position. The true measure of one's leadership ultimately lies in the practice of leadership. Good teaching and good tools can only help one so far. There is the school of hard knocks. Both success and failure of leadership efforts are also teachers of leadership in their own ways. Powerful stuff this book may contain, do not be too myopic to limit your leadership learning only to this book. It is important for readers to use this book as one of their many resources of leadership.

That said, if you have not read any of John Maxwell's book before, I strongly recommend that you pick this book as your first. 


Monday, March 5, 2012

"Invitation to Biblical Interpretation"

TITLE: Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology (Invitation to Theological Studies Series)
AUTHOR: Andreas J. Kostenberger and Richard D. Patterson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2011, (896 pages).

This book is a gift to the theological community, seminaries, libraries, churches, and organizations that want to grow in learning to interpret the Bible better. With nearly 900 pages, this book packs in a lot of material. Primarily written for teachers and students, there is a lot for pastors, missionaries, teachers at various Christian organizations to benefit from. The key thesis of this book is the Hermeneutical Triad (HT) in which every interpretation needs to be done through a journey which incorporates three components: the historical contexts, the literary genres, and the theological implications. While the concept is not exactly new, the term HT is.

A) History

The authors dive in deep and wide. Not only do they mine the deep recesses of each biblical genre, they pull in the breadth of history in the Old Testament times (Primeval, Patriarchal, Monarchy, Divided Kingdom, Exilic, Persian, Maccabean, etc), the Early Church in New Testament era (Graeco-Roman, Jewish, etc), the Apostolic and Church fathers, the Alexandrian and Antioch schools of learning, Jerome, Augustine, the Monastic and the Medieval schools, the Reformation, the Enlightenment as well as Modernism. The authors recognize the lack of appreciation of history by people in this modern era, and are able to keep the reader on track through well demarcated section headings, illustrations, tables, and stories of the important characters in history.

They not only teach, they show the way to apply the teaching through sample exegeses, and guidelines. The study questions, assignments and bibliography will whet the most ardent students' appetite.

B) Literature

In this section, the authors brilliantly releases their deep passion for teaching hermeneutics and literary appreciation. They provide a deep level of details into how one ought to read the Law, the Prophets, the Writings. What kinds of laws are they and how are they to be read and applied? What are the guidelines to understand the Exodus and the Exile? Who is the Messiah? What are the important Old Testament themes?

In the New Testament, the authors guide readers through the gospels, Acts, the letters and the Apocalypse. From canon, the authors move to genre in which they link together the individual books so that it appears more and more like one story out of many. Even as they link the big picture to show how Revelation is connected to the entire Old Testament, they do not compromise on the importance of syntax, the linguistics, the semantics, and the figurative language so common  in the Bible.

C) Theology

After the heavy lifting of history and literature, the authors come to the 'third and crowning aspect' of the HT: Theology. In fact, it is the author's belief that a good grasp of the historical and the literary, equips the reader to understand the theological underpinnings of the interpretive process. For them, theology is not just 'biblical theology' which is mainly from the perspectives of the biblical writers. They are mindful that every school of biblical theology is an interpretive presupposition in themselves. Whether, tradition, personal preferences, experience or prejudice, different people interpret differently. The author suggests: 'patient, repeated study' as a way to close this gap. After going through a history of biblical theology, they provide 6 guidelines for biblical theology, 7 guidelines on how the New Testmanet interprets the Old Testament, and another 7 questions to let students ponder on the meaning behind biblical theology. This is the way in which the authors seek to enable the learners toward 'patient, repeated study.' In other words, good biblical theology is not about learning something right one time. It is about learning something right, and to keep learning something deeply right. 

D) Closing Thoughts

I like this book for its graciousness to the other previous two models highlighted, and its very clear manner in which it describes the triad of biblical interpretation. The authors are able to highlight the strengths of each 'geometric figure' without diluting their own model. In fact, they are spot on in saying that this proposed 'hermeneutical triad' framework does not mean it is necessarily 'superior' to the hermeneutical circle or spiral. It complements. Having said that, the authors are convinced that their hermeneutical triad of history, literature, and theology bears the following uniqueness:

  • In contrast to the Hermeneutical Spiral (HS), the hermeneutical triad (HT) moves from the specific to the general, which allows a more succinct application purposes;
  • Instead of beginning with word studies, HT begin with context;
  • Instead of beginning with genre-based interpretations, HT utilizes genre+canon; from syntax first to biblical discourse first; from semantics to meaning.
  • In history, HT enables the appreciation of how God reveals himself in history
  • In literature, HT looks at the Bible literary from three angles: canon, genre, and language.
  • In theology, HT summarizes the historical and the literary into a theological understanding. 
  • HT blends in interpretive task with methodical systems.
The system is designed for teachers and students to be trained in the Hermeneutical Triad. Using the journey metaphor, the authors guide the reader each step of the way, presenting a plan at the beginning of each chapter, filling in the blanks as one travels along, making observations and conclusions, and throughout the process, inviting the student and reader to maintain a stance of interpretation that keeps together history, literature, and theology as one whole. What I appreciate is that the authors take pains to ensure that interpretative and application comes hand in hand. It is not to be an afterthought but to be a constant thought. It is not to be relegated toward the end, but considered throughout the interpretive process. Even though there is a last chapter that is specifically called 'Application and Proclamation,' I suspect it is there simply because the general reader intuitively expects it to be there, much like one expects to pay for food after ordering the items. This final part deals with study preparations, sermon outlines, and the specific ways in which the various kinds of Bible books can be preached. The wealth of resources, Bible helps, both electronic and printed materials, are given toward the end of the book to enable the interested student to benefit from. The sermon tips are especially helpful because preaching is indeed one of the most powerful applications of any interpretive task. The guidelines for applications are especially helpful. Moreover, the book enables the systematic learning in parts as student, so that at the end of the journey, one will naturally be able to synthesize it back together again. This in itself is a valuable reason to read/buy this book!

My verdict: The serious student needs to read this book. Preachers will benefit from reading this book and learning its sermon outlines. Teachers will find this book a very good introductory textbook to use in their hermeneutics classes. Pastors will appreciate the many strands of historical, literary, and theological frameworks this book offers. The layperson will find that this book is very readable as it explains technical theological terms in simple language.

I am full of praise for this edition, and I believe that there will be many more editions and additions of material to come in the years ahead. The Hermeneutical Triad is the new landmark in the field of hermeneutics. If I am teaching hermeneutics, this book will definitely be my main textbook.

Ratings: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Kregel Academic without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered belong to me unless otherwise stated.