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Monday, April 30, 2012

"Dallas and the Spitfire"

TITLE: Dallas and the Spitfire: An Old Car, an Ex-Con, and an Unlikely Friendship
AUTHOR: Ted Kluck and Dallas Jahncke
PUBLISHER: Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2012, (190 pages).

This book brings us to a whole new understanding of discipleship beyond the four walls of the Church or the evergreen picture of a coffee-chat version of Christian discipleship. It tells us about authentic discipleship that is relational and ordinary, connectional rather than correctional, and above all, sharing the love of Christ in any circumstance. It shows us the way beyond mere coffee talk to carefree walk. It demonstrates to us how a genuine heart of care and concern can not only bridges the divide between the rich/poor, have/have-nots, fortunate/unfortunate, and  any human dichotomies, and enable us to have real authentic discipleship that happens BOTH ways. It is not a me-Discipler-you-Disciple, but a respectful living out of Christ in both directions.

It is a story of two man, one a pastor and the other a recuperating ex-con, with a common task: Fix an old convertible, and in the process help each other to be fixed by God's grace. The book is partly a car repair journal, a personal life journal, as well as a book of spiritual reflections. Firstly, as a car repair journal, it encourages the mostly car-users to know more about cars and the internals. It tells the beginning to the end of a car repair process, and ends with a wonderful picture of two happy man driving the car into the sunset, happy for a job well done.

Secondly, the book is also a personal life journal of Ted, who thinks back on his relationship with his dad, his family, and of course with his rugged friend, Dallas. It shows the emotional ups and downs of Dallas, the ex-con turned Christian, ministering in a ministry house, and struggling with both relationships and financial limitations. At the beginning, ministry appears to be one way, from Ted to Dallas. Toward the end, the process reverses. It tells of how important it is to be open to God, that God can use ANYBODY to help and encourage our life on earth.

Thirdly, it is a spiritual journal, mainly written from Ted's perspective. Each chapter ends with an affirmation of what God is speaking to Ted and also to Dallas. It comprises Scriptural references and thoughtful meditations on the hope and glory of Christ. In the process of practicing discipleship with an ex-convict, Pastor Ted ends up realizing that he is in fact the one being discipled through Dallas!.

This book is very likable. While it is not the ordinary kind of book about discipleship, it is authentic and enables readers to say: "Hey! I can do it too!" Discipleship is not a big word that is restricted only to holy people within holy walls of a Church building. It is to reflect Christ in every part of the world we are in. Ted and Dallas demonstrates this truth in their relationships, to show gratitude for the working, and to be humbled in the failed. In both cases, it draws the Christian to desire God more deeply and more wholly. In a nutshell, this is not simply a book about unorthodox discipleship. It is about two persons desiring to be more wholesome in their humanness, and more Christlike in their relationships, through a common vehicle: a broken down convertible. Imagine that. If two imperfect man can work wonders and bring a dead vehicle to life, what about God resurrecting the imperfections of human beings to perfection in Christ? This book recharges our battery of hope.

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 Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group".

Friday, April 27, 2012

"Renovating Your Marriage Room by Room" (Johnny C. Parker)

TITLE: Renovating Your Marriage Room by Room
AUTHOR: Johnny C. Parker
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2012, (192 pages).

This book is a delight to read. Using the metaphor of a house renovation, the author is meticulous about helping readers renovate their marriages from the foundation up, and the inside-out. Beginning with firm and correct foundations, Parker reminds us that marriage is not a "happily ever after" kind of a fairy tale ending. It is much more difficult to stay in marriage. One way to help one stay faithful in love is to renovate our marriage room by room.

A builder begins his project intentionally, not haphazardly. The costs are counted, and the workers build according to the blueprint of the house. Based on the author's personal marriage, each of the seven rooms represents a particular aspect of marriage that needs to be renovated. The seven rooms are the kitchen, the bathroom, basement, playroom, living room, sunroom, and the bedroom.

The author spends two whole chapters working out the foundations for the house of marriage. One chapter is about the dangers of wrong foundations such as hasty builds, preconceptions, misconceptions, and especially the five marital lies we believe. These lies are:

  1. We can change our spouses
  2. Marriage turns us from brokenness to whole
  3. Marriage solves our loneliness
  4. Our spouses are meant to meet our needs and our happiness
  5. A good marriage is one with good loving feelings
  6. Married people are naturally compatible
  7. We need not make adustments by just being who we are
  8. After settling down, life is supposedly easier
  9. Other people's marriage seems to be better than ours
  10. My spouse is supposed to be doing good for me
  11. Married people are automatically grown up
Following the eleven, Parker warns us about three dangerous personalities that can stifle any marriage: the smotherer, the distancer, and the controller. Parker then helps readers formulate 8 foundational bricks.

  1. Marriages are to be constantly nurtured
  2. Respect, value, and honour our spouses
  3. Encouragement is important
  4. Acceptance is crucial
  5. Grace is essential
  6. Truth needs to be present always
  7. Humility is the lubricant
  8. Commitment is key.
Backed by Scriptures such as 1 Corinthians 13, the foundations sets the stage to begin renovations.

The kitchen is about communications. The four-course communications streamline the talk both ways, from one spouse to the other. The appetizer talk prepares one for a heart to heart talk. The dessert talk comprises sweet talk. The main course is the conversational meal. The banquet talk allows each other to drink deep and eat wide. There are tips and good advice about good marital communications, with special notes unique to each gender.

The Bathroom is about showers of forgiveness. After all, it is only a matter of time before any one person hurts or do something careless to the other. Instead of worrying about avoiding hurts, the positive way is to encourage conciliation and forgiveness always. Thus, Parker introduces various management and understanding of conflict styles and resolution methods. This chapter is quite fun as readers are led through the styles of lions, ostriches, and porcupines.

The Basement is about processing any excess baggage from our past. Here, Parker hones his medical and psychological training to help readers make sense of their sins, their damaged past, and to help one another face wounds constructively.

The Playroom builds up the marriage in a fun way. Not only will it bring out the child in us, it strengthens trust in each other. Parker gives 18 ideas to do just that.

The Living Room is where the couple can spend good time relaxing and enjoying each other casually. In this room, couples celebrate their gender uniqueness as well as understand one another's differences in a loving manner. There are lots of gender specific information that makes readers feel as if there is too much stereptyping going on.

The Sunroom allows love and respect to flourish, through the husbands loving their wives while wives respect their husbands. There are tips on how to be a Christ follower, an enhancer, affirmer through T.A.L.K (Touch-Acknowledge-Lift-Keep).

The Master Bedroom is the place where intimacy grows in sex and love. Sex is good and to be enjoyed between the married couple. Dispelling seven myths, Parker introduces five truths like:

  1. Sex is for procreation
  2. Sex is for recreation
  3. Sex is for spiritual, emotional, and physical oneness
  4. Sex is for comfort
  5. Sex as protection against temptation

Key to this room is that sexual intimacy is for both parties. The key is to be other-centered, to "fore-pray," share private love codes, be creative, to appeal to all senses, and many more.

Finally, the new house needs to be protected with secured fences. TLC stands for Tender Loving Commitment, through the wall of fidelity, becoming a mentor couple to a younger couple, protecting one's purity through P.U.R.E (Prepare-Understand-Realize-Expose).

Closing Thoughts

This is a really great book to use for teaching, for equipping, and for encouraging married couples. It can also be used for couples intending to be married. The metaphor of a house is so powerful that this idea can be easily remembered and practiced. Buy two books. Keep one for self and give the other to your spouse. If this book can help improve a marriage, why not? If this book can save a marriage, why wait? This book can help renovate, refresh, and revitalize our marriages, go buy this book now!

Rating: 5 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 above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

"What is the Mission of the Church?"

TITLE: What Is the Mission of the Church?: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission
AUTHOR: Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011, (288 pages).

This book puts a laser-beam focus on a word that has become overused unto confusion, and misunderstood through careless use. The authors highlight the whole problem with Stephen Neill's provocative words: "If everything is mission, nothing is mission." What this brings up is that there is a great need for the Church and for Christians to understand what exactly is the nature of mission. Written in three parts, DeYoung and Gilbert first tries to put forth some definition of what exactly mission is. Secondly, they point out that mission is not to be confused with social justice, with peacemaking through shalom, and acts of mercy. Instead, the mission of the Church is exactly the Great Commission as pointed out in Matthew 28:18-20. It is the authors' conviction that Bible passages are not only to be understood, they need to be applied correctly. For example, the mandate to Abraham in Genesis 12 is not about being a blessing to the rest of the nations. It is about being the nation from which the Seed of God is eventually allowed to come and be among us. Another example is the use of Exodus 19 where Israel is often seen as playing the role of "kingdom of priests." Instead, the authors see the Exodus call to Israel as to be separated for God, be focused on being sanctified in God, and to keep the law. Each step of the way, the Scriptures remind us that we are to depend on God, and not to live so independently that we do not need God.

"the mission of the Church is to go into the world and make disciples by declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit and gathering these disciples into churches, that they might worship and obey Jesus Christ now and in eternity to the glory of God the Father." (241)

Why the Authors Emphasize "Great Commission = Mission?"

Five reasons are given. Firstly, The mission of the Church is not to be confused with the mission of God. Otherwise, the Church will be taking the entire Word of God as THEIR responsibility instead of God. God is more specific with regards to what He wants the Church to do. Secondly, the Church's theology of mission needs to come from the New Testament first because the Old Testament is more concerned with the nation of Israel. Thirdly, the mission of the Church needs to be tied to the person of Jesus Christ. Fourthly, the last words of Jesus are of significance as they are His parting message. Fifthly, the Great Commission conveniently sums up what the Church is to do.

The authors explain that the gospels, Acts and the Epistles describe the diversity of the GC. Matthew emphasizes discipleship, Luke-Acts emphasizes witnessing, John describes the theological nature of sending out, while Paul proclaims the gospel.

What About the Social Justice, Shalom, and the other Categories of Christian Witnessing?

The authors choose to tell the whole story of the Bible from Creation to the Fall, the Incarnation, the Redemption, Resurrection, right through to Revelation. One problem the Church falls into is that in trying to avoid making the gospel too small, they have made it too big until we miss out the true mission of the Church. Instead, proper categorization and priorities need to be established. Gospel can be used either in a narrow way or a broad way. No! There is only one gospel, and that is Christ. This is powerfully communicated through the unity of the message of the kingdom with the MEANS to enter the Kingdom, which is Jesus (110-113). The Mission of the Church will do both.

My Comments

This book is an important milestone resource for the Church to remember and to refocus on what is truly their mission. Too often, Christians confuse the things a Church should do vs what a Christian should be doing. Good works alone are not missions. Kind words and deeds are not mission. Teaching, baptizing, making disciples and teaching them to be more like Christ is the mission. Good works and deeds are to be part of the overall mission work, but not to be mistaken as a mission in themselves.

I appreciate the epilogue which puts together some basic advice for a young pastor who wants to start a missional movement. Some of the tips are priceless:
  • Things the Church do as a body collectively are different from what the body parts are doing individually.
  • Don't make a program out of every good deed. Instead equip people for ministry
  • Deal with people, not stereotypes
  • Major on the big principles, but minor on specifics
  • Don't use guilt to motivate. 
  • Doing justice and social help are but one part of the good work of the Church. They are not to be the main thing.
Sometimes, the problem readers may face is that the message is too simple to be true. How can the mission of the Church be reduced to only the Great Commission? As I read the book, I feel that this is not a reduction but a redemption of our understanding of what the Great Commission is. If we fail to see the GC in capital letters, and to give them major attention, that explains why the Church we are in are not missional enough. For the Word is life. This life needs to be shared (Go). It needs to be cultivated in the Church (Make Disciples) and outside the Church (Of All Nations). It needs to be affirmed in members (Baptizing), through understanding of the Triune God. It needs to be used in equipping (Teach), and in living (Obeying). Finally, it is to enable all of us to be aware of God's Presence. The Great Commission is one powerful verse. That is the mission of the Church, the mission of missions, the purpose of purposes for the Church. Miss that and we fail to be the Church God has called us to be.

Rating: 4.5 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 or implied.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

"Heaven is Now" (Andrew Farley)

TITLE: Heaven Is Now: Awakening Your Five Spiritual Senses to the Wonders of Grace
AUTHOR: Andrew Farley
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012, (224 pages).

If there are two words to describe this book, it will be the words, "already done." Farley states the promise of heaven and the kingdom not as some distant future entity, but in the present now. We simply need to wake up. Feel the kingdom within. Be attentive to the Spirit. Be convicted of the work of Christ, the witness of the Spirit, the experience of God's grace, and the goodness of the Lord. In a nutshell, the author proposes the five senses as follows:

  1. Feel the freedom of God's grace
  2. Hear the Spirit bearing witness
  3. See the finished work of Jesus
  4. Smell the fragrant aroma of Christ
  5. Taste the goodness of the Lord.
The first sense is to FEEL the freedom of living in grace. This is the antithesis of being enslaved by the duty to law. As long as we practice the law, we will be frustrated about not being able to perfectly keep it. Be freed from the focus on the law toward the presence of grace in Jesus. This freedom is the way to grow toward heaven. Under the law, there will be more struggling and more sinning. Under grace, it will be more living. We are already able to experience and feel this freedom.

The second sense is to HEAR the Spirit of God bearing witness on our behalf. We need to stop hearing the deceiving voice of the devil, and start listening to the truth of God's redemption, and our spiritual rebirth in Jesus' image. Sometimes it is hard to discern which voice is of the flesh, and which is of the Spirit, which is why we need the Spirit's help. We are already able to listen to the Spirit because the Spirit of God is in us.

The third sense is to SEE the truth of Christ's work, that we have been cleansed by the blood of Christ already. Instead of rushing around in the future tense of Christ's work, we need to be reminded that Christ has already completed what is needed.

"We are not people who can be forgiven or might be forgiven or will be forgiven. We are forgiven people, forever:" (111)

The fourth sense is to SMELL the fragrance of God to experience life, not religion, his divinity in our humanity, knowing and understanding that God meets all of our needs. This is possible because God is already present with us.

The fifth sense is to TASTE the goodness of God that we do not need to worry about searching for God, because we already have God among us. God's will has already been revealed in the Word.

My Comments

The cover of the book is telling. By showing the peeling of the front cover to reveal heaven, it is a visual image of what the five senses of grace can essentially uncover. Each sense is used to uncover a certain aspect of living heaven here on earth. The operative word is "awaken" our senses to embrace the reality of heaven now. The affirmative word is "already" where we live our Christian lives from the position of "done," "victory already" and "new beginning." Grace is all around us for us to experience with our heart, hear with our ears, see with our eyes, smell with our noses, and taste with our tongues. The most encouraging message to take home is to recognize the perfect work God has done for us, the ever presence of God being with us, and the promise that God will help us. Always. The work of grace is already done. All we need to do is to be awakened and embrace the wonders of grace.

I find the prayers in every chapter under "Heaven Speaks" very enlightening. Printed in light blue, it is followed by a personal response that readers can adopt. There are many Bible references for the interested reader to research and to meditate more on. At the end of the book, the discussion questions allow readers to work through the book in groups. The strongest part of the book is the way Farley is able to hone in the five senses with Bible references on pages 213-5.

As I read this book, I am reminded of a book published back in 1996 that promotes quite a similar idea. Tim Dearborn's Taste and See also deals with awakening our spiritual senses toward loving God. Dearborn's book focuses on knowing and loving God. Farley's version offers an opportunity to realize the grace that has been given to us. Dearborn is focused on spirituality. Farley is focused on Christian living, especially victorious Christian living. Dearborn's work is supplemented by deeper research while Farley's book contains minimal references to other works. Personally, I prefer Dearborn's version for it provides a better bridge from our human senses to the practice of spirituality. Having said that, Farley can be commended for writing this book that is encouraging and empowering for the layperson.

Rating: 3.75 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, April 24, 2012

"The Ben Ripple" (Lisa Elliot)

TITLE: The Ben Ripple - Choosing to Live through Loss with Purpose
AUTHOR: Lisa Elliot
PUBLISHER: Winnipeg, MB: Word Alive Press, 2012, (192 pages).

This book is a moving account of the life of Ben Elliot, whose one life of pain, loss, and grief, brings about many ripples of joy, hope, and love. Written by his mum, the daily "raw journal" was meant to help Lisa process her inner thoughts and turmoil surrounding the discovery of Ben's leukemia. It is a life changing experience not just for Ben but for many friends and loved ones who surround him. His story has also made waves on the social media front, especially the Facebook blog called "Prayer for Benjamin Elliot" or "The Ben Ripple." The first journal entry begins on Sunday, August 17th, 2008, and the last on August 18th, 2010.

The prayers express Lisa's helplessness with regards to Ben's condition, but hopefulness with regards to trusting God's hand to work according to God's time and will. It speaks of the deep desire to get back to a "normal" life, but only seems to become a "new normal" in which the whole family tries to make the best of Ben's remission, or whatever sense of normalcy the Lord allows for. It reveals the courage and love life of Ben: Sarah, and how the love of the family drives them to seek out a bone marrow transplant. Chemotherapy brings about a deeper emotional challenge amid the physical angst. If Ben was suffering physically, the rest of the family was enduring emotional stress. Christmas becomes more like "Christ"-mess. The much talked about faith becomes a real life journey of faith happening before their very eyes. Every hope of Plan A has been supported by thoughts of Plan B. Finally, after all the mad rush for cures and treatments, freedom and living begins when Ben simply seeks to be assured that any option does not matter, as long as the family will stand with him regardless. This is the beginning of the Ben ripple of hoping, of living, and of loving.

True enough, there lies pages and pages of gratitude and encouragement from Canada, and other parts of the world, from people who have been inspired by Ben's courage and purposeful living. When Ben died, the pain continues. So does the gratitude to God for Ben, and the trusting in God for the future.

There are many messages of encouragement and inspiration.
  • "Living in the moment doesn't live in the land of 'what if.' It doesn't forecast the future, in case seeds of worry, anxiety, and fear take root. Ninety percent of what we worry about never take place anyway, so it's a waste of time and energy that I don't have to spare right now." (20)
  • "Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass; it's learning to dance in the rain." (115)
  • Ben's final message to his Church is a moving tribute to many of his supporters. (118-120)

Closing Thoughts

With Ben-centric vocabulary such as "Ben-efit," "Benspective," and "Ben Ripple," the entire book essentially describes the ups and downs of living with the illness of Ben Elliot. The journal entries make the whole book looks like an unabridged version of telling the story as each day reveals itself. It is deeply personal, from the heart of a loving mum. It is intentional and can be used as a guide for others feeling pain and struggling in their own challenges of life. It is inspirational as we can read how one life can bring about hope and motivation to live. The photos in the book provide a visual impact to bring the words of encouragement alive through the smiles and the vibrant faith of Ben. It is a book that provides lots of biblical "lifelines" and many practical tips for anyone experiencing trying moments of their own. If you are down, and looking to be inspired, this book will very likely exceed your expectations.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


Book has been provided courtesy of Word Alive Press and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available now from your favourite bookseller.

Monday, April 23, 2012

"Viral Jesus" (Ross Rohde)

TITLE: Viral Jesus: Recovering the contagious power of the Gospel
AUTHOR: Ross Rohde
PUBLISHER: Lake Mary, FL: Passio-Charisma House, 2012, (224 pages).

Based on the principle of viral movements like wildfires and epidemics, the author essentially asks the question:

"Why is it that we will allow Satan to use movements to spread disease, lies, riots, fires, and immorality, but we tend not to tap into the principles of movement when it comes to the gospel and the kingdom of God?" (xii)

Thus begins the book about wildfire Christianity, or "Viral Jesus" forms of evangelism. By looking at the example of the early Church in Acts 2, the author pushes for a organic movement that has an "organic structure" of seeding the faith through networks and contagious enough to be "sneezable."

What the Viral Jesus Movement Looks Like?

Firstly, it looks like one that is intentionally fragile, so fragile and flexible that the Holy Spirit can use it.  The offices of Ephesians 11 are seen as "spiritual" rather than "positional" gifts. Secondly, it is supernatural and mystic. The author says that every time one becomes convicted of sin, one becomes a "mystic." Prophecy is also another sign of the mystical experience. Thirdly, the early Church is the first model of the Viral Jesus Movement. For Rohde, the aim is to build a bridge to bring the Early Church contagious movement into the 21st Century Church.

What Makes the Viral Jesus Movement Crumble?

Here, Rohde goes on the assault to bring the institutional Church to task, criticizing the hierarchical structures, civil religion, ordination, church buildings, political correctness, and others. Essentially, Rohde blames the structure of the Church, saying that the very nature of the institution is preventing the spread of any viral Jesus strain. Rohde then uses the example of the Church in China as a living example of how the viral Jesus concept has been embraced.

On Viral Discipleship

Here, Rohde continues his assault on the conventional ways of discipleship, saying that Christianity has been reduced to an "information only" faith, that Christianity has been reduced to training to do certain tasks, techniques, and talents. The positive is the leadership training he has received. For Rohde, the better way to do discipleship is:

  • Start with the new covenant on harnessing God's power (not human ability)
  • Continue with relating with God through Jesus and the Holy Spirit (not Bible or doctrinal facts)
  • Letting Jesus lead the discipleship process, with different process, that responds to God.
  • Letting the Spirit lead the discipleship process through the Holy Spirit via changed lives.
Rohde then uses Luke 10 as a model for church planting. He proposes five principles of effective evangelism:
  1. More communicators rather than more listeners
  2. That everyone lives like missionaries
  3. That God guarantees every believer the necessary resources
  4. To trust God to work spontaneously
  5. That believers are empowered.
My Comments

I find the initial ideas in the book commendable, especially the part about becoming a contagious Christian for God, to spread the gospel like wildfire. After chapter 1, the rest is downhill for me. I find it hard to accept the way Rohde defines mysticism. Instead of researching on the mystics of old, like St John of the Cross, Evelyn Underhill, Meister Eckhart, Julian of Norwich, St Teresa of Avila, and many more, Rohde opts for the common dictionary's definition!  Such a way is bad scholarship. The Medieval mystics themselves are intent on seeking God deeply toward union with God. They let their learning bless the people around them. 

There is also the problem of simplistic criticism of the institutional Church. Chapter 7 is especially bad.  If Rohde thinks that the way to instill his brand of "Viral Jesus" is through the dismantling of Church hierarchies and structures, he is way too naive. The problem with the Church is not the structure. The problem is sin, and the nature of man. A case in point is this. Even if Rohde and the movement he is proposing can tear down all conventional structures of Church, what is there to guarantee that the new organic, simple, or viral structure will NOT end up as such? His discipleship proposal looks good but lacks the concrete specifics.

In conclusion, I feel that the book's good idea is not well sustained through adequate research or plausible historical understanding of Church. In a nutshell, this book has a good idea, but fails for an overly simplistic view of the conventional church. Instead of doing more good, it has done itself a disfavour as well. I tried to read the book with positive eyes. I do not like to give negative reviews. However, given the overly simplistic way the book has waylaid the Church, I cannot recommend this book for general reading.

Ratings: 1.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Charisma House Book Publisher without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Friday, April 20, 2012

"Show Me How to Illustrate Evangelistic Sermons"

TITLE: Show Me How to Illustrate Evangelistic Sermons: A Guide for Pastors and Speakers (Show Me How Series)
AUTHOR: R. Larry Moyer
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012, (368 pages).

This is Book #2 of a series of Evangelistic Sermons by Larry Moyer. The review for book #1 was published yesterday here.

Moyer provides this companion volume to the first book that can be a useful reference for preachers, pastors, and teachers.  In a nutshell, illustrations need to be relevant, pertinent, sufficient, engaging, believable, understandable, and appropriate.  He then provides a library of illustrations that cover three major aspects of an evangelistic sermons: Sin, Substitution, and Saving Faith.

This book shows us the hows, the whats and the whys on using illustrations in sermons. It gives readers a one-volume collection of illustrations, checklist, and topics. What is most useful for me is the way in which the author guides readers on the use of each illustration, with "Possible Entrance" and "Possible Exit" like parenthesis of each illustration. That to me is in itself worth the price of the book.

My General Comments (Both books)

These two books form an important resource for all preachers and teachers. In fact, sermons ought to be evangelistic as the Word of God needs to be constantly preached to both believers and unbelievers. The latter needs to hear the good news. The former needs to be reminded of the gospel. I find the book useful for three reasons. Firstly, it shows us what expository preaching really is and that evangelistic sermons ought to be the staple of every Church. As a student of Dr Haddon Robinson, I find myself nodding my head at every page I turn. Moyer has applied Haddon's teachings in many ways, faithfully and diligently. Secondly, it reminds all preachers that preaching is hard work and not to be taken lightly. This hard work includes the need to continue to improve our speaking and communicating skills, the need to use fresh examples, and the need to continue learning and growing as students of the Word. Thirdly, this book is a resource that preachers can readily use when they preach. Although the title of the book refers to 'evangelistic sermons,' the illustrations are so good that they can be readily applied in many different kinds of messages. In fact, this book may very well encourage preachers to learn and to collect more illustrations from other sources, especially from a more personalized perspective. What I particularly like in this book is the way the author shows us 'possible entrance' and the 'possible exit' of each illustration. That easily is worth the price of the book.

That said, I have a few observations which I hope to see greater improvement. Firstly, it will have been better for the two books to be combined into one volume. For those of us with library of books, it is so easy to pick up one book and then misplace the other. Moreover, if not for the blog tour requirement, I will not have noticed that these two books are supposed to be purchased in pairs! Perhaps, the cover of the book can indicate something to show readers that there is a companion volume to the book.  Secondly, a preface or an introduction will be good for the prospective reader to get a map of where the author is going. In such an introduction, the author can also share with readers what the book is meant or not meant to achieve. Perhaps, share the philosophy behind the book clearly in the introduction. Thirdly, have a conclusion and a list of resources for the interested reader to look at.

As a preacher and pastor, I feel that these two books form an important resource for the sharing of the Word of God over the pulpit. Congratulations and thanks to Larry Moyer for sharing this wonderful resource and for serving the preaching community with books like these.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

"Grasping God's Word" (3rd edition)

TITLE: Grasping God's Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible
AUTHOR: J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, (3rd Edition), 2012, (496 pages).

This highly popular book is now into its third edition. With a very vivid cover image that shows a hand grasping a piece of rock, we can picture in our minds the desire of one who longs after God, by grasping the Rock, which is Christ. The writer of the foreward, Kevin Vanhoozer, a Professor of Theology at Wheaton College, makes five summary points about this book. First, it is a book that avoids twisting the biblical texts. Second, it is grasping via understanding what the text really says. Third, it helps readers move from literal understanding to practical application. Four, it encourages readers to hold on and to hang on to the text via relevant applications. Five, it is the way, the truth and the life in Christ. That is what the essence of the book is all about: Grasping God's Word, and letting the Word of God grasp our hearts that lead to action.

Five Step Interpretive Process Throughout

The latest edition also updates the bibliographies, illustrations, cultural references, since the last one in 2005. There are some slight differences. Rather than a literal reading approach, this edition aims to make the book closer to "God's great story." Instead of a four-step process for the NT and a five-step process for the OT, the authors have streamlined them and make it a five-step process for ALL biblical genres. These five steps are:
  1. SUMMARIZE ancient contexts for modern audiences;
  2. MEASURE the differences and similarities of Bible times and contemporary times
  3. LISTING of the theological principles in the passage
  4. CONSULTING the biblical map and how it fits into the overall story
  5. GRASP the text for our contemporary times for practical application.
The constant conviction is that all of these can only be done fruitfully if we learn to see the Bible and the reading of the Bible with an eye on God's overall story.

Reading, Interpreting, Applying

This book is a 'hands-on' attempt to help readers do three things:
  1. Reading
  2. Interpretation
  3. Applying
These three things are interwoven into the book's five parts. In Part One, the authors use five chapters to show readers how to read the Bible. It touches on an important area of Bible translations, in particular, English translations of the Bible. Due to the ever increasing offering of Bible translations in the market, this is a useful guide to understanding the different strengths and weaknesses of each translation, and what each seek to achieve. The authors make a special effort to explain how the Bible come into its current state. We read about the history of the translation process. We see several translations compared side by side. We learn about the main categories each translation lies. It also shows us the 'interpretive journey' needed with the tools such as using the biblical map, understanding the ancient world, and how to read the Bible in sentences, in paragraphs and in discourses, with an awareness of the genre written.

Part Two deals with extensive bridging of ancient cultures and modern times. Through questions, the authors show readers how to read the text with understanding. Like author's background, relationship with the readers, circumstances of the passage, and many more. There is also a chapter on how readers can unwittingly read their own circumstances into the text, something in which a student of hermeneutics will call 'redaction criticism' or 'reader response criticism.' I appreciate the gentle manner in which the authors are able to guide the reader in this respect.

Part Three moves into meaning and application, and sets into play the hard work done in Part One and Two. In fact, I assert that good due diligence in the initial reading and contextual understanding will make the interpretative and application process easier. Meaning is key in this part. The central issue is actually communication. Who is the writer writing for? What is God trying to tell them and us? What is the meaning in the text and the contexts? The authors really do a good job in making sure they cover as much ground as possible.

Parts Four and Five basically applies all the theory and teachings done in the first three parts of the bok. Part Four is devoted to the four genres of the New Testament, namely, the gospels, the letter, Acts, and Revelation. Part Five focuses on the five genres of the Old Testament, namely, the Law, the Narrative, the Poetry, the Prophets, and the Wisdom books.

That is not all. The appendices at the end of the book is a bonus for all readers, especially students. It has a chapter on the formation of the canon, dealing with inspiration and inerrancy matters as well. The authors make some good comments about some of the controversies generated by some modern books such as the Da Vinci code and Elaine Pagels's books on the gnostic gospels.

Closing Thoughts

This book is indeed a welcome addition to a needful area of learning to read the Bible well with an eye on handson approach. Some books tend to focus too much on the literal meaning of the text but lack the contemporary applications. Others are too practical oriented that they fail to help readers appreciate the historical and biblical worlds sufficiently. This book brings about a good balance of literal reading of the content, an insightful understanding of the contexts, and a bold application of the texts. I warmly recommend this book for Bible teachers, pastors, and leaders in the ministry of teaching and ministry.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


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

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

"You're Already Amazing" (Holley Gerth)

TITLE: You're Already Amazing: Embracing Who You Are, Becoming All God Created You to Be
AUTHOR: Holley Gerth
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2012, (224 pages).

From beginning to end, this book emanates an inspiration that warms the heart, calms the mind, and encourages the soul.  It begins with a 'dare' for readers, women in particular, to accept the following:

"You don't have to do more, be more, have more."

Beginning with a heart-to-heart talk, Holley Gerth reaches out to the inner emotions of women who tend to be overly driven toward perfection, anxiety or non-stop activities. Just like Philip Yancey's assurance about the grace of God for us, that we do not need to do more to get God's grace, or to worry that God will give us less grace if we do not perform, Gerth does the same with regards to accepting the person we are created to be. She works through this acceptance and assurance through nine fundamental questions.

  1. "Who am I, Really?"
    This deals with the question of identity. Gerth works through the STRENGTH acronym to enable readers to discover their personal strengths, skills, seasons, and areas in which they are called to be serving.
  2. "Why is it so hard to believe I'm amazing?"
    Here, Gerth helps to uncover five fundamental lies we tell ourselves; lies of perfectionism, comparison, self-esteem, misunderstanding of self-confidence, and letting others define one's identity. 
  3. "Why do I feel this way?"
    Gerth goes deep down at the emotional level to talk about six universal emotions, and to help readers discover their emotional style and not feel any guilty about it.
  4. "Where am I going?"
    Here, Gerth asks whether we are being driven by expectations or led by expression of our deepest gifts.
  5. "Who's with me?"
    This is about relationships and how women can relate to one another, to learn how to control their inner desire to run away due to insecurity, perfectionism or hurts.
  6. "How do I connect?"
    Gerth moves toward discovering how amazing one can be when the social strengths have been discovered. It is not whether one can or cannot connect that is the key. It is a question of HOW one connects.
  7. "What does God want me to do with my life?"
    Are we living a full life or simply living life to the full? This question talks about God's will, and how one can develop a personal vision statement and faith goal. Growing is better than simply changing one's lifestyle.
  8. "What are my next steps?"
    Gerth dives into something more specific. Using Wayne Cordeiro's illustration of 85-10-5, where 85% of the things anyone can do; 10% of the things we can train others to do, but 5% only we are able to do. It is this 5% that determines how amazing we are, to see that we are called specially to do. Gerth uses Hebrews 12:1-2 as a launchpad to enable one to put aside anything that hinders, or entangles, and to run the race of faith.
  9. "Is it okay to take care of myself?"
    This last question is about learning to sustain one's growth through guiltless self-care and tender soulcare. 

Throughout the book, there are multiple charts and exercises to give readers a chance to discover themselves as amazing creation of God. Gerth writes with special understanding of the female psyche. Chapter after chapter, she works on assuring readers that it is okay to take care of themselves. It is fine to embrace one as created to be. The Go-Deeper guide and discussion questions at the end of the book will be an exciting complement for women's Bible study groups.

Closing Thoughts

Three thoughts form the framework for this book. Inner assurance, emotional awareness, and inspirational application. I find myself eavesdropping into how women encourage women. Will I recommend this book to my Church womenfolks? Certainly. Will I recommend this book for men? Why not?

Gerth has done a great job in assuring women readers. Male readers can learn a tip or two from the way Gerth has written this book. There are pages after pages of assuring and re-assuring of the readers that it is okay, and it is alright. Just like wives regularly need to be assured that their husbands love them, Gerth constantly re-assures women readers that they are already amazing.

Maybe, all of us constantly need to be assured by God Himself, that we are loved and we are to share that love to all people. If we are already amazing, chances are, our neighbours are also amazing themselves! Let us bring that message of hope in God.


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, April 17, 2012

"Show Me How To Preach Evangelistic Sermons"

TITLE: Show Me How to Preach Evangelistic Sermons (Show Me How Series)
AUTHOR: R. Larry Moyer
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012, (256 pages).

As part of the Kregel Blog Tour this week, I have two books by the author to review. I have combined both books into one review in my main blog at YAPDATES here. In addition, I have decided to give each book a posting of its own at BookSaint, as I feel there is a lot of good things to take from these books. Remember that these two books go together.

The author starts off with a candid appraisal of his own humble beginnings. He shares about his early years of being corrected for not speaking clearly enough. With help from his seminary professor and a speech therapist, Moyer eventually hones his speaking skills and is able to let his passion drives his speaking. The book is arranged in two parts. In the first pare, he looks at the opportunity to learn to improve one's skills no matter how difficult it is. He clarifies what expository preaching is. He probes into the reasons why expository and evangelistic sermons are few and hard to find. He tackles the challenges of dealing with such topics. He warns preachers against 4 erroneous assumptions and provides 6 different ways to communicate an evangelistic message. While it is normal to expect preachers to prepare messages targeted at believers, Moyer makes a point to remind preachers how to design a message for unbelievers even in a non-evangelistic setting. This part essentially helps readers make the most of all the possible opportunities to bring about an evangelistic message, that evangelism is both to believers and non-believers; both good times and bad; both service and sermon; both expository and evangelistic, etc.

Part Two goes into the nitty-gritty of designing, preparing, and preaching an evangelistic sermon. Using a generous helping of stories, examples, and illustrations, Moyer shows us how to communicate seemingly simple terms such as 'sin' or 'sinner.' He makes a case for ensuring our message be simple enough and understandable not only by laypersons, but for non-believers. That means clarity and frequent explanation of terms. He points out the need to let grace and truth flow together as one body. Content-wise, it is critical for sermons to have good illustrations. Context-wise, it is important to understand the audience and the setting. In terms of method, repetition, humour, length of message are all crucial elements of an evangelistic sermon. Most of all, the message needs to aim at the hearts of men for the Spirit of God to touch.

The Appendices complement the book with an example sermon on John 3:16, Luke 19, and ways in which we can creatively ask questions of the audience.

I appreciate the authors frankness about his early humble experiences as a young preacher. I like the passion he shows through the books, largely from his experience in the ministry of EvanTell. This book can be used as a primer for new and young preachers, a reminder for older preachers, and a necessary resource for all pastors, preachers, and teachers.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Kregel Publications without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

"Lamentations and the Song of Songs"

TITLE: Lamentations and the Song of Songs: A Theological Commentary on the Bible (Belief: a Theological Commentary on the Bible)
AUTHOR: Harvey Cox and Stephanie Paulsell
PUBLISHER: Lousville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010, (298 pages).

At one look, one will have asked questions why both of these Old Testament books are lumped together. Lamentations are from the weeping prophet Jeremiah, while the Songs of Solomon are a joyous declaration of passionate love between two lovers. Lamentations sink deep into the mire of despair and depression while Songs attempt the heights of joyful love. One is a lament while the other is a song. Two seemingly contrasting books that are placed side by side makes this volume an interesting combination.

This book is intended to be a theological resource for the Church and believers at large. It is hoped that the commentary will complement and encourage diligent study of the Bible through informed reading that is appreciative of the contexts behind each book. Rather than making this commentary another historical treatise or an encyclopedia of the contexts behind the two books, it aims at a theological interpretation of Lamentations and the Song of Songs. Working with theologies laid out in hymns, Church creeds, and other resources, the authors aim at an interpretation of the book that understands the past, grapple with present issues, and to build a bridge for application and meaning for the now and the future. The list of references is formidable, with a collection of some of the best scholarship and academic authority available in the English speaking world.


Instead of calling it a commentary on Lamentations, the authors take on a "considered appreciation of a timeless masterpiece." Using the "ruined cities" imagery of the past, the authors invite readers to journey together to discover and to participate in lamenting the pains and sufferings mankind has faced through sicknesses, wars, injustices, and reasons to weep for the broken world. Three theological issues are considered, namely:
    1. God and the perceived absence of God
    2. Spiritual significance of memory
    3. The problem of evil / Theodicy
    The authors use these three theological issues to deal with six ethical matters (Rape, torture, exile, starvation, humiliation, pornography and war). In the final part, they provide commentary of what it means at a theological application level. Here they give us reflections on modern prosperity, community or the lack of it, revenge and reconciliation, healing, and the place of Jerusalem today. Interestingly, they conclude this part with thoughts on Hitler, the WWII Holocaust, 9/11, and pleads for readers to learn to use Lamentations not as a way to solve these issues, but to learn to experience pain and show solidarity with the suffering.


    It is not easy to find a theological understanding from what seems like love poems. Rather than hemming in the book into any one categories, the authors choose to go with the flow of appreciating each human emotion of love. The physical and the emotional blends together with any intellectual understanding. It is a book of emotion as it enables one to experience the heights of joy and happiness. It is a book of sensuality as it details the different ways in which the emotions are described in physical terms. It is a book of love relationships as we read of a love that is stronger than death. It is a book of devotion in the sense that we can use the Song of Songs to point us to the Great God of Love. Using imageries of Sabbath, Jerusalem, vineyards, the incarnation, and many more, the authors enable modern readers to learn to appreciate this rarely preached book. 

    This is a highly readable theological volume to accompany the teaching or the preaching of Lamentations and the Song of Songs. I find it extremely helpful not only in pulpit planning or course structuring, but also in terms of personal devotional reading. The theological underpinnings drawn out are by themselves worth the price of the book.

    Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


    This book is provided to me free by Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

    Friday, April 13, 2012

    "Your Church is Too Safe" (Mark Buchanan)

    TITLE: Your Church Is Too Safe: Why Following Christ Turns the World Upside-Down
    AUTHOR: Mark Buchanan
    PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012, (240 pages).

    This book is based on the idea first espoused in Buchanan's earlier work, "Your God is Too Safe," that we ought to step out of our comfort zone of deceptive safety toward a healthy zone of effective risk-taking for God. In that book, Buchanan talks about one's faith. In this book, Buchanan applies the same idea to faith and discipleship in the Church. Both are similar in terms of stepping out of safety toward risk taking. They are different in terms of the contexts of application.

    In this book, the context is the Church. More specifically, it is about people who chooses to be contented as mere believers instead of taking risks as radical disciples of Christ. Beginning with two words, "I'm Bored," the rest of the book raises the bar higher to show readers what the author wants all to do about it. Buchanan makes a strong case to show that things need not remain as boring, apathetic, or as helpless as they seem. One can resolve to go beyond the various barriers.

    • Like not praying enough or dwelling long enough in the presence of God. 
    • Like not learning to sing of heaven's love song that goes far beyond the battle of 'should the church be relevant' or not relevant to the world
    • Like worrying about radical actions that may very well 'shrink' our church base
    • Like learning to love radically
    • Like overcoming evil with good, instead of a tit-for-tat behaviour
    • Like choosing to keep a safe distance when we are called to radical risk taking for Christ
    • Like worrying whether we have enough resources to do the work of the kingdom instead of simply putting what we have to good use
    The key idea is that how we view God determines how we live out our faith. This book essentially blends together Buchanan's "Your God is Too Safe" with "Your Church is Too Safe" indicating that one cannot be separated from the other. Buchanan uses many stories from both his personal life as well as his fascination with the story of The Lord of the Rings. One of his best chapters come from the comparison between travelers and tourists. In 'Going to Mordor," Buchanan shows us why all Christians need to be reminded that they are travelers on a journey who take what God gives, and not tourists who pick and choose what they want to do for God. This particular idea is the most helpful point in this book. It calls one to a life of discipleship instead of remaining mere believers. 

    With regards to evangelism, the author draws us to the core of his message: Conviction of heart is far stronger than any training, any education program, or any forms of evangelistic strategies. When the person is convinced about how crucial it is to share the gospel, he/she will find out what it takes to do it. Far too often, the Church has taken a back seat and believing erroneously that evangelism comes first with training. No! Evangelism begins when the Spirit of God works in the hearts of people. Buchanan writes: "Belief, I said before, is a thing that we hold; conviction is a thing that holds us" (71).

    Closing Thoughts

    I find myself getting convicted with the message the more I read this book. Initially, it looks like "Your God is Too Safe" Part 2. Toward the middle, it looks a little more like another call to reach out to our neighbours, our First Nations community or the locals in our neighbourhoods, and evangelism 101. Toward the end, I can sense that Buchanan is trying to shake readers out of their comfort zone by inverting all their previously held beliefs. Using biblical examples of how God uses Abraham to be a blessing to people, Zechariah's style of using a community to reach a person, how the amazing reversal of the cleanliness paradigm where under the law, it is always the unclean that tarnishes the clean, but under grace, the clean redeems the unclean. Apart from the gospel stories and the ways Jesus overturns the stale tables of people's spiritual inventory, Buchanan gives a powerful example of how the Resurrection of Christ created a people of Acts that are so dynamic and full of conviction over the people in Hebrews who continue to need admonishment to live a holy life.

    This book certainly makes any reader excited about being a Christian. More importantly, it convicts the believer to move beyond mere believing, to become disciples earnestly seeking to make disciples through risk taking, through radical living, and through real faith marinated in God's love.

    Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


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

    Wednesday, April 11, 2012

    "Hope for Parents of Troubled Teens" (Connie Rae)

    TITLE: Hope for Parents of Troubled Teens
    AUTHOR: Connie Rae
    PUBLISHER: Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2012, (227 pages).

    This book gives excellent practical tips on a wide range of issues. It aims to bring hope and healing to families struggling with bringing up their children who are moving from adolescence to adulthood. It is common knowledge that parenting teens can be challenging. Instead of approaching the book on the perspectives of why teenagers are treating their parents this/that way, the book focuses on this main question:

    "How can I help this child find his/her way?"

    This question defines the overall mood of the book. Redemptive. Re-conciliatory. Rewarding. In twelve chapters, the author deals with acknowledging the children for who they are, their idiosyncrasies, the stages of the children's growth, husband/wives and parent/child differences, knowing our teens and our relationship with God, sex matters, peer pressure, communications, rebellion, drugs, and many more. Every chapter contains good practical advice that is not only clear but highly applicable. Even the most difficult issues are not sidelined. Instead, the author writes with understanding and with intentionality.

    I appreciate the way the author patiently deals with the 'getting to know your adolescent' through 8 tasks. She then anchors the entire relationship with a nice analogy of how God, parents, and children are positioned. Using the example of Archer-Bow-Arrow, God is like the Archer who determines the direction, the purpose, the strength, and the timing of the activity. The parents help to support the bow by creating an optimal environment for the children to flourish. The children are like the arrows. This reminds me of Ps 127:4 about the joy of having many children like a man with arrows in his hands.

    Packed with lots of good tips and parenting advice, this book provides lots of references to the many counseling materials, quips, and wisdom. Most importantly, the ideas in the book are not only enjoyable to read, they are doable. Each chapter ends with some doable activities and a prayer for God to help one accomplish the challenging tasks ahead. The ten guidelines for tackling rebellious behavior is certainly worth the price of the book.

    I highly recommend this book for anyone, not just parents. This is because any challenges with teenagers are not limited to parents. Teachers, friends of parents with teens, counselors, pastors, teachers, and students all have something to learn from in this book.

    Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


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

    Saturday, April 7, 2012

    "The Struggles of Caregiving" (Nell E. Noonan)

    TITLE: Struggles of Caregiving: 28 Days of Prayer
    AUTHOR: Nell E. Noonan
    PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Upper Room Books, 2012.

    Caregiving is hard work physically. It is also exhausting mentally as well as emotionally.  Many caregivers are unpaid, under-appreciated, and untiring in their care and love. Thank God for them! Unfortunately, one of the biggest problems among caregiver is that while they excel in caring for others, they are poorly equipped or unable to care for themselves. Recognizing the enormous toll and extreme challenges on caregivers, Nell Noonan has compiled a four week journey on the struggles of caregiving, and how caregivers can learn to pace themselves well. As the main caregiver for her husband, Noonan has since begun a ministry of encouraging caregivers who are weary and heavy-laden. The key thesis in the book is to enable and empower caregivers to carve out time and space to nourish their spiritual selves. This is where true strength comes from. In fact, her impetus for this book appears to come out of her interaction with a motivation speaker who tries to help listeners delay memory loss. Caregiving is not just a physical and emotional challenge. It is deeply spiritual.

    Week one recognizes the struggles and frustrations of caregiving and faith. Week two deals with the struggles with identity. Week three deals with guilt and week four tries to find some balance. In addition, the author acknowledges that for some caregivers, going to Church or other religious services may not be possible due to their caregiving responsibilities. She has helpfully included tips on "Sabbath time." Each day begins with a Bible passage. Noonan then invites readers to journey along as she shares the stories of her personal struggles as a caregiver. It closes with a prayer, and allows readers some space to write down specific prayer requests. Noonan shares a lot from her heart, often with reference to her caring for Bob, her ailing husband.

    The book is truthful to one's inner needs. It recognizes the lowest points and reminds readers that there is a higher point over time. If you are planning to be a caregiver, you will appreciate the tips and wisdom in this book. If you are a caregiver, you will appreciate this book even more.

    Ratings: 4 stars of 5.


    This book is provided to me free by Upper Room Books and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

    Friday, April 6, 2012

    "That We May Perfectly Love Thee" (Robert Benson)

    TITLE: That We May Perfectly Love Thee
    AUTHOR: Robert Benson
    PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Upper Room Books, 2011.

    What a fitting book for Holy Week! Maundy Thursday typically marks the beginning of the Holy Triduum, the three days leading up to Easter Sunday. On the night before Jesus was betrayed, the Lord Jesus broke bread and drank wine with the disciples at the Upper Room. Benson uses the words from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer to title this book on Holy Communion.

    Many different names have been used to describe this event. Some call it the Eucharist, others call it the Lord's Supper, or Holy Communion. Benson helps us understand that back in the early century, this is actually the 'Holy potluck.' Seven chapters frame the whole book. Beginning with a prelude to the Holy Meal in the first three chapters, Benson leads readers through an actual ritual in an Anglican Church in Nashville. It is about practicing a sabbatical mood of unhurried and intentional preparation to enter into the feast. It is about the reverent and quiet mood of the congregation that contrasts a busyness in the outside world with a serenity inside the sanctuary. It is about contrasting the ways of the world of consumerism, with the ways of Christ, to set apart all things that we may love God. In other words, the book is not just about Holy Communion. It is about preparing our hearts for Holy Communion, as the subtitle says. The motive reverberates throughout the book: "That we may perfectly love thee." From prayers of the priests to the prayers of the people; from the breaking of the bread and wine to the distribution of the elements; from the call to observe the silence, to a call to celebrate Christ, this book is spot on when it comes to understanding the Holy Communion for what it means to prepare our hearts. It is not just a meal. It is a celebration of a relationship. It is showing gratitude for God forgiving us. It is a time to confess our sins and recognize our sinfulness. It is both personal and corporate; remembrance and hope; fellowshiping and worshiping. The book also ends with a helpful small group guide to facilitate greater discussion among believers.

    As I read the book, I feel myself invited into the actual ritual of Holy Communion, and to be reminded of the words that I have uttered each Communion time. Along the way, Benson shows the human side of us through the side activities happening during the Holy Feast. A friend tapping on the shoulder, or people exchanging friendly smiles, or some recollections of past activities in the church. It is a reminder that many things are happening inside us even during the Holy Communion. Perhaps, the ritual itself is not a boring and monotonous set of activities after all. The intentional and repetitive manner of pointing our attention to Christ is a way of settling our unsettled minds and hearts. We need order in an otherwise disorderly world. We need to learn to rest. We need to observe moments of silence. Tradition is necessary in a world of untraditional thinking. Thankfully, Benson continues this tradition with a very thoughtful book. It reminds me that there are things we do in church that we may not understand when we are younger. Over time, we will appreciate it greatly.

    Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


    This book is provided to me free by Upper Room Books and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

    Wednesday, April 4, 2012

    "A Spirituality of Living" (Henri Nouwen)

    TITLE: A Spirituality of Living: The Henri Nouwen Spirituality Series
    AUTHOR: Henri J. M. Nouwen
    PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Upper Room Books, 2011.

    What makes Henri Nouwen's books compelling is its clarity, simplicity, and profound teachings. A friend of mine once told me that Nouwen spends countless hours re-writing his thoughts to make it more teachable and meaningful for readers. This book is a tribute to Nouwen's legacy of teaching and educating laypersons. His calling has been aptly described as follows:

    "Helping us recognize this God in the very fabric of our lives was the enduring passion of Henri's life and ministry." (iv)

    Combing Nouwen's collection of writings, the editors manage to distill and draw out helpful parts pertaining to five areas of spirituality.

    1. Discipline and Discipleship 
    2. Solitude
    3. Community
    4. Ministry
    5. The River (on Fruitfulness)

    Beginning with the reflection on the common strand of 'discipline' and 'discipleship,' Nouwen reminds us about our unnatural state of restlessness that keeps us occupied with doing things, and a constant preoccupation to be always on the move. He laments how we fail to discipline ourselves to be focused on the necessary things. Discipline is that attitude of creating space for us to listen to God.

    He places the order very clearly as SOLITUDE - COMMUNITY - MINISTRY. Far too often, we have reversed and mixed all of them up. The logic is simple. Without proper solitary time with God, how can we build community? Without a sense of community, ministry will not be effective and will drain out even the most pious and dedicated servant of God.

    Solitude lends itself through the four aspects: Communion, Listening, Forgiveness and Celebration. Again, there is a visible pattern where true communion involves a lot of listening to one another. After forgiveness comes celebration. This pattern of Nouwen's teaching continues to keep readers in the flow of learning.

    Community is not an organization but a way of living, insists Nouwen. In solitude, we become more aware of our status as sons and daughters of God. When that happens, true community occurs out of this truth, that we learn to cherish and to love one another as children of God.

    Ministry is not about doing stuff. It is about trusting. This key idea is perhaps the main reason to buy this book. Gratitude and compassion are the twin figures in authentic ministry. Writes Nouwen:

    "Ministry means we have to trust that. We have to trust that if we are the son or daughter of God, power will go out from us and people will be healed." (44)

    Indeed, that is so applicable. Ministry is not a matter of saying that we can do this or that. Ministry is learning to say that God can do it, and if necessary, through us.

    I have one word in three letters to say about this book: WOW!

    Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


    This book is provided to me free by Upper Room Books and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

    Monday, April 2, 2012

    "Pray for Me" (Kenneth H Carter Jr)

    TITLE: Pray for Me: The Power in Praying for Others
    AUTHOR: Kenneth H. Carter, Jr.
    PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Upper Room Books, 2012, (112 pages).

    This week is Holy Week. It is a week of watching and praying.  Reading (and praying) through this book reminds me of the importance of intercession in Bible times, as well as in our current era. The author is an ordained minister who has grappled with the topic of intercession in many different ways. Beginning with people who comes to him requesting for prayer, Carter aims to use this book to help readers be more prepared and more intentional about how to intercede for others. Using the bucket image, the intercessor is essentially a person with an empty bucket who by interceding, allows others to fill that bucket with prayer requests and burdens, and reflecting on Philippians 2:5-8 on how Christ emptied Himself for the sake of others.

    Carter makes some biblical references to the place of intercession in the life of the Christian. He uses the Old Testament examples of how Moses interceded for Israel; how Elijah pleads for God to intervene, and how the psalmists seek God in prayer. He reflects upon Jesus' teaching on prayer, and about the things that seem impossible to men are possible with God. In prayer, one gets familiarized with the rhythms of action/prayer, engagement/withdrawal, ministry/retreat, and service/solitude. Through the Pauline epistles, one learns to pray as a child of God. In Hebrews, James, and Revelation, one learns about Jesus being the bridge between man and God, the need for confession, intercession and healing, and worship.

    Intercession is a way for us to develop greater compassion for our fellow neighbour and friend. It is a way to develop and build community. It ushers one into the mysteries of life and in God. It reminds us again that even though we may not pray as well, the Holy Spirit is especially gracious in this area in helping us.

    Closing Thoughts

    I find this book highly practical and useful for basic teaching about prayer and intercession. It does not weigh the layperson down with heavy theological jargon. Neither are there difficult concepts to grasp. Instead, what we have is a book that can be used as a convenient guide to intercession and prayer. It is best used together with the Bible. It is hoped that this book will do three things. Firsly, for readers to allow the Bible to raise curiosity in us. Secondly, may this book raise exciting opportunities for various applications for us. Thirdly, for the Holy Spirit to raise up more prayer warriors in us. Perhaps, as we pray for others more and more, we sense more of the Holy Spirit praying more and more for us.

    Rating: 4 stars of 5.


    This book is provided to me free by Upper Room Books and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise implied.