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Thursday, June 28, 2012

"Love Without Walls" (Laurie Beshore)

TITLE: Love Without Walls: Learning to Be a Church In the World For the World (Leadership Network Innovation Series)
AUTHOR: Laurie Beshore
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012, (160 pages).

This book tears down vertical walls and builds horizontal bridges. It erases the mental barriers of "I can't" by replacing them with "In God, we can." Instead of trying to make needy people feel needier and dependent on handouts, Beshore argues powerfully for a change of "giveaway" mindset toward an empowering mentality. Far too many churches have adopted a "giveaway" culture that essentially disempowers the poor and the needy from helping themselves. The major disconnect is often the helpers, despite their good intentions, seeing people as problems to be solved rather than as people to relate with. This is the crux of a walled outreach. Such outreaches more often than not puts one's ministry and one's mission primary, and everyone else becomes secondary.  As a result, many church outreach programs feed into a "culture of poverty" which unfortunately causes a "lack of a sense of self-fulfillment, and a lack of a sense of hope or a sense that things can get better." Thankfully, Beshore goes on to provide renewed understanding of how outreach can make sense to the helpers and the people to be helped. One such initiative is the four-step "development funnel."

The first step is "Expose" where volunteers are need to take a fresh look at the usual excuses for not doing any outreach. When the convictions are there, busyness is not an excuse. Neither is lack of qualifications, or uncertainty about what to do. When one knows the whys, one will creatively find out the hows.

The second step is "Enfold." This means partnering with a member of the people we are trying to help. Not only is it able to help churches and ministries gain a deeper first hand understanding of the real needs and solutions, it gives churches a chance to build relationships and disciple the leading members of the community.

The third step is "Engage." This means that volunteers learn how to engage and when to disengage. When engaging, one learns to take ownership in learning and in relating. In disengaging, one learns how to let the people learn to help themselves. Through encouragement and engaging, one connects with the community meaningfully.

The fourth step is "Empower." This remains the key purpose of any outreach program. We cannot simply sit back and relax after firing a bullet of goodwill. We cannot behave like bombardier pilots who instead of "Bombs away," call out "Food and clothing dumped away!" Empowering people requires a sharing of biblical principles of why we do what we are doing. It is a process of learning, of giving, and of sharing.

My Thoughts

I am all praise for this book. It is small enough to read through quickly but my advice is "Don't." The book is soaked with much painful experience and valuable tips for outreach that we need to spend time soaking in learning experience. Patience is needed to understand the communities we are trying to help. Leadership is needed to navigate the highs and lows of outreach efforts, of recruiting people, and of training future leaders.

The constant refrain I am hearing is this. Outreach is not about programs. It is about people. That is why we must place relationships before any giveaways, involving people up close and personal instead of isolating them as Me-Giver, You-Receiver relational dichotomy. It takes a change of attitude to say that we, the potential givers, are actually the biggest beneficiaries of outreach. This ought to humble us to build more bridges, and at the same time tear down our walls of isolation. Only then, can we truly say our love is true. Outreach is about building bridges with planks of love. We cannot look at the gulf before us and get discouraged into non-action. Instead, we need to realize how deep God's love is for miserable old me, so that we can share the love of God, as one beggar showing another beggar where to find food.

Beshore's book needs to be read by anyone interested in outreach. For that matter, if a Church is made for the benefit of others, I believe it is required reading for anyone who is a leader in any Church. My praises for this book are not only filled to the brim, it is overflowing with gratitude to Beshore and the powerful ministry of Mariners Church.

Rating. 5 stars of 5.


This book is part of a blog tour with EngagingChurchBlog that runs from 25-29 June 2012, and is provided to me free by Zondervan without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Monday, June 25, 2012

"The Humble Leader - John Stott" (Julia Cameron)

TITLE: John Stott: The Humble Leader (Trailblazer)
AUTHOR: Julia Cameron
PUBLISHER: Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus Publications, 2012, (ebook).

This book is an attempt to piece together the life of the late Rev Dr John Stott using fictional storytelling with facts gleaned from his life. From childhood, his early exposure to Christianity, his beginnings in Christian ministry, and the opportunities he were given and how he managed to become one of the world's most powerful evangelical leaders, the book gives readers an intimate look at the ups and downs of the humble man.

Recognized by Time magazine as one of the top 100 most influential persons, awarded six honorary doctorates, well-loved by the evangelical communities all around the world, Stott remains humble about it all. Born in 27 April 1921, he has a special fondness for little animals. At a young age, he loves to write, especially about birds. This hones his literary skills, and forms the bedrock of his communicating skills later on. What is remarkable is that at a young tender age, he is not only a curious little boy, he is gentle. Well liked by his teachers and friends, he is also a competitive person. He admits that what stood out for him in his childhood is his meeting with John Bridger and Eric Bash just before he turns 17. Stott has admired Bridger for his "clear and confident faith." Bash challenges the young Stott to either "reject" Christ or to "follow" Christ. There is no such thing as "neutral." Stott made a choice that changed not just his own life, but many others too.

Stott goes on to Cambridge University and joins the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union. Bash continues to encourage and disciple the young Stott through prayer and giving Stott an opportunity to serve as Camp Secretary. Stott does well in his studies, and was soon studying theology at Ridley Hall in Cambridge.  He is a very disciplined person, making the best of his time to study, to read, to manage his life methodically. Stott is a Pacifist, and refuses to endorse war. For him, it is clear that Jesus is first and State a distant second. Instead of simply saying no to war, he assures his family of his commitment to be loyal to the family and to do the best he can in other matters. After WWII, Stott gets ordained at All Souls Church in Langham Place. It is at this place, Stott serves faithfully, blessing the Church community, students at campuses all around the world, and evangelicals everywhere.

There are several reasons in the book on why Stott is a humble leader. Firstly, he hardly boasts about his own skills. Instead, recognizing his family privileges and good background, he is particularly sensitive to the plight of the poor and the marginalized. Once, he reaches out to the local children by personally taking them camping, taking care of their camping details, borrowing tents, shopping for food, etc, all for the sake of stretching the minds of the young boys. Secondly, he learns willingly. For example, he is always having an eye on how best to do evangelism, learning from those with new ideas for evangelism. Thirdly, he ministers among the poor by living like a poor. Once, he avoids shaving and cleaning, so that he can walk through the streets to be among the beggars on the streets, personally experiencing what it means to live like the poor. Sometimes, he will offer up his own bed and sleep on the couch instead.

Stott's most lasting legacy is his knowledge and exposition of the Bible. He believes, "We need to give time to understanding ideas. Ideas shape the way we think, and the way we think shapes the way we behave."

My Thoughts

It is always a pleasure to read about John Stott. Even though the book is put together by another person, it presents to readers the many highlights of the great evangelical leader. The world may have lost the powerful preacher and gifted teacher, but memories of his  life and influence will be etched in the hearts and minds of many, for a long time. May God raise up more men like Stott.


This book is provided to me free by Christian Focus Publications as part of the blog tour from 25-29 June 2012, without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

"All is Grace" (Brennan Manning)

TITLE: All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir
AUTHOR: Brennan Manning
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2011.

This book is the most intimate, painful, honest, and personal autobiography to come from the influential spiritual leader and communicator. Intimate because of the tender details with regards to his childhood, his vocational discernment, and married lives. Painful because of the  traumatic childhood, the difficult bouts of alcoholism, divorce, and the ins and outs of the Church ministry. Honest in terms of the highlights of his achievements and the low moments of his career. He calls himself a "ragamuffin," which he aptly describes in a prayer, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner." He is like a crooked stick which God uses to draw straight lines. He has been a priest and an ex-priest, a married and then divorced, a highly sought after speaker and a suddenly shunned indivisual. At various parts of the book, he shares openly with readers about his constant discerning process.

In between the autobiography, the work is sandwiched by multiple endorsements from Max Lucado, Michael Card, Larry Crabb, and many others, and encouraging letters of affirmation and gratitude from personal friends. Manning has also generously provided personal photographs to share with readers his life, as well as people from the "Notorious Sinners" recovery group.  I like the way he ends his book with a poem, with a title similar to the book's title.

Now there’s no more crowds and no more lights, still all is grace.
Now my eyes are wrapped in endless night, still all is grace.
Now I pace the dark and sleep the day yet I still can hear my Father say— “all is grace.”
It was easy as a younger man To squander in the far off land
Where sin was sin, like black is black.
But older brother sin is white, this doubt that creeps me up at night
— “does Jesus love me still?”
Now I take my meds and hear the game, still all is grace.
Now old friends drop in and bless my name, still all is grace.
Now a prodigal I’ll always be yet still my Father runs to me.
All is grace.

This book is Manning's version of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, with him as the main protagonist.

My Thoughts

A book like this is not easy to write, given the deeply personal contents. Not many people are courageous enough to be open about their down times. Indeed, it takes a person with a certain level of inner security to be open with both the highs and the lows of one's life. The details offered to readers ensure that the sharing is specific, that the words are incarnated with real openness about his weaknesses and strengths. Reading through Manning's struggles with alcoholism teaches us that no one is immune from addictions. It reminds me again that often, the peaks of success are immediately threatened by the valleys of disappointment and distress. What I particularly appreciate is how Manning shares with readers his discernment of God's calling for his life. There are many points of learning. He remembers and reflects actively about how he has been affirmed about his gift of writing, of communicating, of teaching, and of spiritual guidance. Through his failures, he learns about the power of grace. Through his successes, he gains insights about the temptations that lurk behind each high. Above all, he learns about the true power of friendship, and of learning to grow and to recover within the confines of a loving and open community of faith.

If you read this book, be prepared for your heart to be moved.


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

Thursday, June 21, 2012

"The Way" Bible (NLT)

TITLE: The Way
AUTHOR: Mark Oestreicher, General Editor
PUBLISHER: Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2012.

This is a Bible that is targeted at younger population. It attempts to supplement an already very readable Bible Translation (New Living Translation), with real life applications, photos, people, and life in general. It updates the original "The Way" Bible back in the 70s, that was cool at that time, for the modern teenager. What is most distinct is the introduction which aims to connect ancient texts with modern contexts, through illustration, stories, and real life examples. It begins with a bird's eye view of the Old and New Testament showing readers how it is God revealing Himself to us. In a nutshell, if the Old Testament is about God's promises to Israel and the world, the New Testament is the fulfillment of those promises.

There is an introduction to each of the 66 books of the Bible. Each introduction starts with a real life application, followed by the purpose of the book. There is a website for readers to connect to through the computer. Users with a mobile device with a camera can easily snap the QR code. At this website, readers can read extended descriptions of the themes referred to by the book. Sprinkled throughout the NLT Bible are stories of faith, short writings by pastors, teachers, leaders, as well as testimonies with thought provoking issues openly discussed. What is most powerful is that the stories and the introductions build bridges with the modern reader to understand ancient texts. This is especially when reading the Old Testament. The snippets and short articles within the book/Bible anticipates reader questions. raising them at various times, and invites readers to read the Bible once more with new perspectives.  For instance, the book of Leviticus has long been seen as a rather dry book of laws and regulatory instructions. It explains the need of these rules at that time because it is about revealing the holiness of God. Gradually, the attention is given to Jesus who has fulfilled the complete law, and invites us to be joined to Him. The often difficult to understand prophetic books are given a refreshing overview, and readers are more comfortable and intentional when reading them. I appreciate the use of photos and pictures that enriches the text and enhances readability.

The clarity and the readability extends to the New Testament as well. In fact, readers will not only find their way around more purposefully, the markers and guides throughout the book provides convenient "handrails" to guide even the most novice reader. Toward the end of the book, there is a bible verse finder that brings together some of the most common issues young people face. There is also a "features index" for readers to locate articles pertaining to references and articles within the book.

My Thoughts

I give this Bible a high rating on the basis of its clarity and strength of the introductions. The NLT has always been one of my favourite thought-for-thought Bible translations. I find it extremely readable, and often use it to supplement my study Bibles or my Greek and Hebrew texts.

As a critique, I have to say that the danger is always the tendency to read the articles more than the Bible itself. Sometimes, in wanting to increase readability and to make the Bible more attractive to readers, people may miss the real gem: The Word of God itself. This is why I am cautious when it comes to introducing any new flavours of the Bible. The editors and contributors have done a great job with trying to bring ancient contexts alive for modern eyes. However, that becomes a liability especially when they distract readers from actually reading the Word itself.

The second critique I have is the soft cover. If The Way is meant for long term usage, I strongly suggest purchasing either the hardcover or the leather bound format. For electronic versions, I am still a little reticent. This is because there is nothing that can beat the look and feel of a Bible that can be opened flat out, dog-eared, scribbled or highlighted, without worrying the battery will run out.

Good Bible.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


Advanced Reader's Copy of the Bible has been provided courtesy of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Tyndale House Publishers, Inc

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

"1000 Days: The Ministry of Christ" (Jonathan Falwell)

TITLE: 1,000 Days: The Ministry of Christ
AUTHOR: Jonathan Falwell
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2012, (240 pages).

This book provides us an intense look at the life, the ministry, and the teachings of Christ. From the moment I read the passion of the mountain climber, I was hooked. The mountain climbing is a metaphor for much of life that is all about restlessness and the effects of it. The purpose of the book is to "showcase the life of Jesus during his 1000-day intensive ministry leading up to the real-life scene where He lays down His life, a life that was characterized all the way through by radical love" (62).

The author, son of the famous right wing preacher, has given readers a powerful motivation to learn more about Christ. Each chapter is passionately written and points consistently to the Person of Jesus, that there is no true rest unless one rests in God. Falwell invites us to read Jesus' life more closely through the gospels, showing us:

  • Jesus' deep concern for the poor, the broken-hearted, the captives, the blind, and the marginalized in society;
  • Jesus' zeroing in on the ordinary person even as the world tends to focus on the rich, the powerful, and the influential;
  • Jesus' calling of ordinary men to be disciples;
  • Jesus' beatitudes are not secrets to happiness, but pointers to live like Christ;
  • Jesus' paradox of life being both going through the storm as well as being calm during the storm;
  • Jesus' radical love that guides His ministry;
  • Jesus' firm criticism of hypocrisy and legalism;
  • Jesus' teachings on heaven and hell, pointing out that hell is eternal separation from God, and that hell is not imposed on people but is freely chosen by people, to their own detriment;
  • Jesus' life that demonstrates after a spiritual highlight, there lurks temptation;
  • and many more....
There are many teaching moments too, with regards to the seven messages from the cross, the teachings on prayer, and many areas of the Christian Life that will edify the disciple of Christ. Each chapter ends with a series of questions for individual reflection or small group discussion. If that is insufficient, there is a more comprehensive "Bible Study Guide" for small groups to use. 

My Thoughts

The thrust of the book is three-fold. First, we need to recognize the futility of climbing the mountain of worldliness. Second, we need to turn around and seek the right mountain. Third, we climb the path of seeking God, through Jesus. This book is a preacher's delight, a unique guidebook to the life of Jesus, and an immensely encouraging way to persuade readers to move from restlessness in the world to restfulness in God. Jesus shows us the way intensely through 1000 days. Falwell shows us a glimpse of how powerful and satisfying it is to let our natural restlessness inside us, drive us to seek God more and more, in Christ.

Written at a lay level, this book is easy to read but challenging when it comes to practice. I recommend this book highly for small groups to use as they reflect, remember, and refresh their passion for Christ, and to be impassioned to witness for Christ.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


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

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

"Stories from Ancient Canaan" 2nd Edition

TITLE: Stories from Ancient Canaan, Second Edition
AUTHOR: Michael D. Coogan and Mark S. Smith
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012, (160 pages).

Written by two experts in the studies of Ugaritic literature, this book offers readers a unique insight into the world of the Ancient Near East (ANE) and biblical times, in particular, in the Old Testament contexts. After three decades since the first edition, the editors and translators have updated this book with more new material and improvements. The main additions have been the last two chapters, "The Lovely Gods" and "El's Drinking Party." These labels seem to be a marked departure from ancient languages denoted in the earlier chapters. For instance, there is "Aqhat" written on three tablets that tell the story of the son of Danel. Three tablets tell the story of "Rephaim" which relates the inter-relationships between the living and the dead. The story of "Kirta" tells of a king's urgent search for a successor, an heir, and gives precious insights into the frenetic focus on fertility and the rites that accompany it. Six tablets tell the story of the military god, "Baal," on the power struggles between Baal and Death, El's son. One is given a fascinating insight into the world of gods and goddesses in Canaanite lands. In "The Lovely Gods" which is written in one tablet, and comprises a prescriptive part (rituals) as well as a mythic (stories) part. There are stories of feasting among the gods, rituals of death, song, and even a part on cooking! What is interesting is how one feast brings together all the different deities. Through the feasting, there are allusions to over-consumption, famine, and the dangers of infertility and lack of food. The final chapter on "El's Drinking Part" is admittedly very fragmented. It shows the difficulty not only on translating ancient texts, but trying to interpret them accurately. Finally, the glossary and the glossy pictures provide another way for readers to appreciate the ancient literature.

My Thoughts

Ancient literature like the Ugaritic types are often written in tablets of clay. Due to the age of the tablets, not everything is legible. Much of the content has been lost and unable to be deciphered. It makes me more appreciative of the modern technologies that we have, and how easy it is to preserve, to duplicate, to distribute, and to study modern literature. Despite the best technology, we are still dependent on human interpretation to make sense out of ancient literature like the Ugaritic texts. Here, we rely heavily on the expertise of the editors to make the best sense out of it. I see three benefits in reading this book.

First, it gives Bible readers a fresh insight into the Old Testament times, and how the Israelites live in Canaan land. There are several passages of Scripture that the authors identified, and used the Ugaritic background to illuminate the meaning of Scripture, For instance, Baal's battle with Death makes Baal paranoid about windows (cf: Jeremiah 9:21).

Second, the book shows us how closely the ANE use the stories of gods and goddesses to reflect human living. Kings at that time are synonymous with a central figure of not only political and social leadership, it is also religious. Kings have a special way to interact with the gods, making them extremely powerful and influential in the lives of the people.

Third, the overwhelming interest in fertility rites helps us to understand why there is a highly acute survival instinct of people in the ANE. People fight hard to survive. They take agricultural and fertility rites very seriously. They know that food and heirs are keys to survival not only of their families, but for their civilization. The Ugaritic literature contains something that we in the modern world have frequently taken for granted.

There are a lot more lessons to learn. It goes to show how nuanced the stories can be. Perhaps, one of the biggest lessons learned is this. During the time of the ANE, people see the political, social, technological, the religious, and all walks of life as one unit, undivided. We in the modern world have dissected life into far too many components under the principle of secularization. While the Ugaritic literature may appear in fragmented forms, perhaps, the modern world may want to consider whether our world is even more fragmented, albeit in different ways.

This very unique book will supplement studies of ancient texts.

Ratings: 4.75 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.

Monday, June 18, 2012

"The Sacrament of Evangelism" (Jerry Root / Stan Guthrie)

TITLE: The Sacrament of Evangelism
AUTHOR: Jerry Root and Stan Guthrie
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Press, New Edition, (288 pages).

For many people, evangelism is like seeing a fog and letting fear get the better of us by retreating back to our comfort zone. This book is a great fog removal. The main message in this book is that evangelism is neither a series of do's and don'ts, nor pushing a Christian agenda on an unsuspecting non-believer. It is essentially a ministry of presence with people. It is manifesting the presence of God in one's work, be it social concerns, daily interactions with people, or outright sharing of the gospel in words. Evangelism is both kingdom words and kingdom works. It is building relationships. It is obedience to God in spite of the challenges. It is being fruitful, and let our fruits shine the way for Jesus. "Sacrament" is a place where God is present.

The authors have structured the book in four parts. Part One deals with the preliminaries by sweeping away any notion of evangelism being only something for the trained, the capable, the experienced, and confident. Such a thinking isolates evangelism into those who know and those who do not know. Worse, it is too self-focused, self-conscious, and self-seeking that any evangelistic efforts miss out on the power of the Holy Spirit. Evangelism is also not a "later" event, but an always "now" activity. Evangelism begins not out there, but very much in prayer. Through prayer, one becomes more conscious of knowing the target audience, knowing the appropriate method, and building a culture of evangelism. The Great Commission is both words and works. Part Two strengthens the need to abide in Christ to do Christ's work. Through discovering how much God loves us, we are then able to respond by sharing of God's love. Through the Spirit's presence, we are empowered to be present with people, knowing that God is present in every evangelistic situation. Through the cultivating of character, one grows four habits of the heart, namely, virtue, temperance, justice, and wisdom. As a practitioner of the sacrament of evangelism, one will learn to not merely experiencing God but also reflecting God's character to people around. One needs to manifest love through good works, cultivate awareness of God through presence in care, and to share the gospel through words. Part Three introduces additional points of connection with a focus on spiritual longing. Using Evelyn Underhill's references to three basic human longings wandering as a pilgrim, human longing for love, and a spiritual desire for holiness, one soon realizes that all of these longings can only be fulfilled in God. The evangelist needs to acknowledge that he himself needs God. Part Four presents the most practical side of the book. The authors remind readers of the nature of humanity, and the challenging world at large. Several evangelism methods are introduced for initiating communications. The book contains follow up suggestions and concludes with a chapter on "reproducing reproducers."

My Thoughts

By calling evangelism as a "sacrament," the authors have managed to argue the case that evangelism is being present with people, by manifesting God's love in our works and words, practical, pastoral, and seeing Christ bring new life to people beginning with ourselves. I like the way the authors challenge readers to adopt the "now" instead of "later" mindset, to see evangelism more as presence rather than presenting a perfect message. It weaves together strands of personal holiness, spirituality, human longing, evangelism tips, and many more. Most of all, I appreciate the way the authors instill a "can do" mentality. This book emboldens the timid, encourages the weary, humbles the proud, and lifts up the fog of fear. We are all called to obey God in taking the gospel to the world. Such efforts if focused on ourselves will hardly make a dent on the world. If focused on God, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and initiated by wise minds, willing hearts and available hands, the sacrament of evangelism will usher in Gods' presence powerfully.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


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

Saturday, June 16, 2012

"Five Secrets Great Dads Know" (Paul Coughlin)

TITLE: Five Secrets Great Dads Know
AUTHOR: Paul Coughlin
PUBLISHER: Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2010, (64 pages).

In preparation for Father's Day tomorrow, here is a brief review of one little book that is packed with wisdom. It is suitable for the busy person who does not have much time to read. The author, a father of three talks about the importance for fathers to manifest and to cultivate character traits in their children. He starts the book by emphasizing the need for fathers to know their role, that is unique and different from mothers. Men and women differ physically, emotionally, psychologically, and behave in distinct ways. Raising good kids who are active, innovative, confident, courageous, virtuous, are some of the values great dads will take responsibility in. The book is arranged in "five secrets."

#1 - Great Dads are Good Guys, not Nice Guys

Here Coughlin confesses that at the beginning, he thinks that a good Christian is a "Christian Nice Guy" (CNG). By focusing on things that one should or should not do, men have largely missed the point. One needs to be intentional about being a "Christian Good Guy" (CGG). This means courage, love, and discipline. It means being able to see the world for what it is, not to be worldly, but to know the contraints of the world. Otherwise, children grow up soft, immature, and incapable of facing the tough real world. Masculinity means assertiveness, and not mere aggressiveness.  It means respectful treatment of all, not rude questioning of everything. Great dads cultivate good self-control and self-worth.

#2 - Great Dads Have 'Thumos'

The Greek word "Thumos" is not either head or heart. It means the convergence of the head and the heart that leads to action.  It means courageous faith.

Thumos (Greek): Courageous faith. Guts (blue collar definition). A vital capacity for life: an expression, a movement, an action, and living that's right here and right now. A container of spiritual heat and spiritual juice. A pugnacious yet playful drive; an attribute that separates the men from the males." (27)

With thumos, men can shake off fear and stand up in courage, willing to make sacrifices when necessary, maintaining fortitude in perseverance, and always mindful of others.

#3 - Great Dads Love and Protect Their Kids

It is important not to abandon our children. It is equally important not to make them feel abandoned. This means being present for the children. It means protecting them.  It means helping kids grow up well. It means affirming them with brave and loving words. Lead them well and pave the way.

#4 - Great Dads Give Their Kids Wings

This means gradually moving their children from dependence to independence. Great dads do not aim at quick and easy fixes, but enable their kids to have a long term, resilient, and to tough it out when necessary. This may even mean that at times, kids are allowed to fail, and learn to be gracious about it all. Let not fear drive development. Instead, let courage and love lead the way. Coughlin reminds us the difference between protection and over-protection. The former allows children to take risks and accept any result. The latter prevents kids from facing their own troubles.

#5 - Great Dads Raise Confident, Adventurous Kids

This means training children to grow up to confront fear without shirking back, danger without being afraid, uncertainty and intimidation without losing one's sense of worth. Courage is more caught than taught. Great dads will live out the values of courage, virtues of honour, dignity, and humility. Going on adventures can develop children's confidence and courage.

These five secrets are not rocket science knowledge. They are everyday values that children need. I am aware that some dads offer up excuses like, "I have never been brought up well, so how can I be a great dad?"

The answer is, the moment you know, you have the opportunity to do something about it. What has happened in our past need not enslave us in our present and future. Let God help us be great dads. Let God free us from the tyranny of the past. Let God equip us to be the best dads we can be.

Happy Father's Day to all fathers!


This review is based on my personal copy of the book, a Kindle version.

Friday, June 15, 2012

"Love Does" (Bob Goff)

TITLE: Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World
AUTHOR: Bob Goff
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2012, (224 pages).

This book is pure adrenaline. It does not simply motivates, it inspires. If one story is not enough, how about the more than 31 stories to let love move the soul. With wisdom and wit, honesty and earnestness, Bob Goff weaves together stories of his life and the people he meets with in a paperback filled with energy and excitement. Driven by passionate zest for people, for life, and for love, Goff relates the many ways in which love does everything.

There is the story of Randy who sacrifices his own time with his bride, just to be present with Goff. Doug's infectious love for life is stimulating enough to move a culture who likes to play-it-safe to a risk-it-all mentality. Using Ryan's romantic love as a metaphor, Goff asserts that love does not just happen. Love makes it all a reality. Of course, not all stories are feel good ones. Some are sad or downright hilarious. Goff shares about his embarrassing time as a waiter, where he lost his job because of an involuntary fart! Yet, he is able to encourage readers by saying that sometimes the best things to happen to us are failures. Goff learns about the beauty of dependence in a world that prides independence. He shares about his insights of the love between his wife, Sweet Maria and him, and how it points to the greatest love of all in God. Goff's consistent message to readers is that life is real, and we need to live real. There is no need to give in to fear by playing it safe. There is no need to hide our true selves in order to avoid being damaged accidentally. Fake versions are not worth it. The authentic version, bruised or dirtied is far more valuable. Risk is better. Dare is better. Love makes both happen.

My Thoughts

A book like this is hard to come by. Once it does, grab it, write on it, highlight it, and make noise about it. If we want to live a fruitful life, we cannot hide away from the rains or sunshine. Without these elements, there is no way we can grow or be fruitful. Braving the elements not only exposes us to the nature, it enables us to grow and to live life to the full. Far too many people are unwilling to take risks, preferring to play it safe. Goff's book reminds me of the nature of faith. Faith is investing willingly in the lives of people. Faith is stepping out into the unknown territories. Faith is walking not by sight, but by trusting God will provide all things. The Bible says that there is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear. Goff has demonstrated this with his life stories as well as the many testimonies of people.

I find myself saying "wow!" from time to time as I turn the pages, marking out key passages of wisdom and learning. For anyone who is bored with life, uncertain about what to do about their daily routines, try reading this book to see how ordinary lives can be supercharged in extraordinary ways. What makes this book really special is how an ordinary world can be incredibly exciting. It takes one who has taken risks to see opportunities out of ordinariness. Bob Goff is one such person. "Love Does" is guaranteed to move you to action.

Ratings: 5 stars of 5.


"Book has been provided courtesy of Thomas Nelson and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Thomas Nelson".

Thursday, June 14, 2012

"Date Your Wife" (Justin Buzzard)

TITLE: Date Your Wife
AUTHOR: Justin Buzzard
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012, (160 pages).

This book is a direct call to men to take their wives seriously and date them. Buzzard starts off by making a distinction between a "religious" approach vs a "gospel approach" to marriage. The former works hard at gaining approval. The latter gives freely and willingly, independent of open approval.  A grace approach is not dependent on reciprocating acts of love. It gives without expectation. It gives without reciprocation. It gives and gives. Freely. It challenges men to date their wives frequently and freely. Men are called to take the lead to love their wives, regardless of how they have been treated.

In Section One, "The Good," Buzzard reflects back on the beginning of his marriage: The prayer of his mum for his future wife. Instead of conventional methods of finding a wife with a date and a dream, the Christian needs to begin in prayer. When it comes to a date, it begins not in the future but today. Buzzard challenges men to think about the "dream" that will drive them to continually want to date their wives. God invented marriage, and men are called to remember that in marriage, they are essentially giving away themselves to the woman they love. Unfortunately, far too many men have forgotten that.

In Section Two, the author makes three diagnoses on why many marriages have gone terribly wrong. Firstly, too much advice have been concentrated on changing women, or attempts to change wives in order to change marriages. Buzzards argues that the way to change marriages is to change the man first. Too many men begin erroneously by blaming their wives, when they ought to be changing themselves. This initiative is given by God. Secondly, Buzzards asks men if they have done their duty to protect, to guard, to cultivate, and to help their wives flourish as a person love of God? Thirdly, men often make the mistake of pursuing hard after their women before marriage, and then steps off the accelerator after marriage. Men's mission in marriage is to continue this pursuit even more.

In Section Three, Buzzard highlights three things for men to make things right, and three things to dream about. The first three are efforts in dating their wives, and the next three are to enable their wives to flourish. Date challenge #1 is to recognize that wives are the husbands' primary responsibility on earth. Men are often the one at fault, simply because they have substituted responsibility with misguided sense of power. Responsibility is actually man's response to God's ability. Cool!

Date challenge #2 is for men to measure themselves not on the basis of success in his mission, but on the basis of God's word about them. The true value of a man is what God says about him, not how successful or what a man has achieved. This is possible in Christ. Date challenge #3 is to remember that we are all sinners saved by grace, forgiven by God, and freed to love our wives as we are loved by God. The gospel makes all things new, including our marriages.

Then Buzzard brings in three initiatives for men to develop their love for their wives. Dream initiative #1 is about having husbands to be big dreamers on how best to cultivate and enable their wives to flourish. He challenges men to write that dream and do something about it. The author then uses the military conquest strategies of first applying the "air war" followed by the "ground war." Dream initiative #2 is the "air war," to remember our vows, to speak them, and to put them into practice. An "air war" is simply special occasions on celebrating the marriage. Buzzard helpfully provides action plans for men to use at each stage of their marriages. From the first year of marriage, to marriage with children to the empty nest years, date ideas are given for immediate application. Dream initiative #3 is the "ground war" which is the ordinary time, the day to day living out of marriages. It can be special husband and wife love talk, regular time together, having a schedule together, and so on.

Section Four continues to hone in the idea of relentlessly pursuing after our wives. There is no stopping till death do they part. It is not only to prepare the wife for the earthly glory, it is to prepare the wife to be glorious in heaven as well. This is the eschatological (end times) equivalent for marriages.

My Thoughts

This book is unapologetic about calling men to take up their God-given responsibilities as husbands. Buzzard fires point blank at men, pointing out the need for men to take the initiatives to take charge to love and not dominate, to give and not insist, to cherish and not abuse, to lead and not shrink back, to date their wives continuously. As I read, I find Buzzard's overwhelming blame and focus on the men to take charge and to take action a little too dramatic. Marriage requires both husbands and wives to take charge according to their respective gifts, talents, and skills. While it is good for men to take the initiative to love their wives, I feel that it can be misunderstood by the women folks. Women may become suspicious about any ulterior motives husbands have. Only over time can we tell truth from falsehood. One thing is for sure. When the Holy Spirit moves men, men will be freed to love their wives. At the same time, the Holy Spirit can also move wives. For this reason, I feel that this book is incomplete without an equivalent volume for wives.

Having said that, I feel this book is a great wake up call for husbands everywhere! "Date your wives!" , Buzzard shouts. I ditto that.

Rating: 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 or implied.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

"Peace Be With You" (David Carlson)

TITLE: Peace Be with You: Monastic Wisdom for a Terror-Filled World
AUTHOR: David Carlson
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2011, (288 pages).

Terrorism and September 11 has occurred. Reactions have been many, and the most visible form is a retaliation. Yet, is that the best kind of response? Has the opportunity to instill peace, goodwill, and alleviate suffering been lost? For David Carlson and many of the people he has interviewed, the answer is yes. The opportunity has not only been wasted, it has been lost. Instead of trying to find out answers on how to respond to terrorism and 9/11 from the world of politics, military, sociology, or cultural experts, Carlson opts to learn from the monasteries. Three door knocks over a period of time started the author's quest for a more meaningful response to 9/11.

Two questions drive the author's quest in this book.
  1. What the monastic community did in the aftermath of terrorism and 9/11?
  2. What would the monastic community have done in the aftermath of terrorism and 9/11, in particular?

Part One of the book is a reflection on a series of interviews conducted with monks and nuns in different monasteries, spread out across the nation. In "Voices from the Desert," there is one common refrain, that the West has largely lost the opportunity to learn how to respond appropriately to violence. The formula of violence for violence, a tooth for a tooth has not only failed to stop terrorism, it has made the world a more dangerous place. Interview after interview, the monks repeatedly say that 9/11 could have been better used as a way to learn, a way to forgive, and a way to work toward true lasting peace. From Katy, the author learns that love is more a discipline of the mind rather than a feeling. The words "hope, peace, and love" have long being misunderstood by the world at large. Most people use religions more like an "X-Ray" to solve problems rather than a drummer calling people toward a higher purpose, in this case, peace.  According to one Father John, the answer to the world's void lies not in answers to the "what" question, but the "who." This and many more points readers to the key theme of peace. Peace is not found outside, but needs to begin inside us, manifested through acts of love and peace. An interesting thought is that some of the best teachings we can ever learn from are from enemies.

Part Two dives deeper into this idea of inner peace leading toward outer lasting peace. Carlson spends a considerable amount of time and space trying to lend some relevance of Thomas Merton's spirituality to the modern world of violence and terrorism. Even though Merton has died many years ago, his teachings still live. One of which is the idea of heaven and hell being in one and the same place. The difference lies in our own choice.

"We cannot choose the time in which we live, but we must choose between heaven and hell in life."

Wisdom continues to shine bright from the clear minds of the monks. One Abbot Damien reflects on why we tend to focus too much on our retaliation instead of asking ourselves, "Why are we attacked?" Instead of using violence upon violence, maybe the way is to learn humbly about the reasons behind the attacks, and to make adjustments to our own lives. The big question is: "How do we counter hate?" One Brother Christopher warns:

"When our gospel is reduced to patriotism and political payback and we're the instruments of violence and retribution that God lights on the world, give me a break. That's a simplistic, easy way out, and I think  that when we take that bait. . we forfeit the power of the gospel, the radicalism of the gospel, and Jesus is very sorry, very sad."

Prayer. Forgiveness. Humility. Charity. These are elements of love that continue to be the common response of the monastic community.  Part Three is one short chapter to bring together a possible way to readjust our sails. Comparing man's response to 9/11 to the Cross, there is much to learn. How did God respond to the violence done to Christ?

My Thoughts

This is a bold book that touches on a sensitive topic of 9/11 and the need to forgive one's enemies. I can already hear the public retort: "Easier said than done!" I agree. It is easier said than done. Having said that, it makes me curious why the monastic community are so united in that this way of peace and forgiveness is the better way. Even the Amish community practices forgiveness. I remember the Lord's Prayer that forgiveness remains at the very core of the prayer. Yet, even those of us Christians in the world, have more often than not agreed with the war proponents, the negative public sentiment with regards to Islam and terrorism, the trigger-happy leaders that prefer to use bullets and bombs over all other approaches.

It reminds me all over again how dangerous the world is. One wrong move leads to another. One bad retaliation leads to another. One act of violence breeds more violence. Is peace really possible? With man it is not. Only with God. This is my conclusion after reading this book. May readers be convicted, that the ways of God cannot be done by the strengths of man. The ways of God has to be done in God's strength. Only in God's strength, can we authentically say, "Peace be with you."

Rating: 4.8 stars of 5.


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

Saturday, June 9, 2012

"The Search for God and Guinness" (Stephen Mansfield)

TITLE: The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World
AUTHOR: Stephen Mansfield
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2009, (276 pages).

Do you know....

  • That the water used for the world famous Guinness stout beer comes not from the Liffey River in Dublin, but from the mountains of Wicklow, south of Dublin?
  • That Arthur Guinness started the first Sunday School in Ireland?
  • That Guinness Stout is also a health beverage?
  • That workers at Guinness receive some of the best wages in the world, and benefits extend generously to their dependents as well?
  • That Guinness has strong Protestant roots and still thrives in a largely Roman Catholic land?
  • That Guinness is a household name in Ireland?
  • ....

He has written about the two most powerful persons in the world (George W Bush and Barack Obama), a top religious figure (Pope Benedict XVI), as well as the extraordinary men in history like Winston Churchill and George Whitefield. He has also written about healing from Church hurts. Now, Mansfield continues his journey through one of the most recognized icons in the beer industry: Guinness Stout.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

"Belieber" (Cathleen Falsani)

TITLE: Belieber!: Fame, Faith, and the Heart of Justin Bieber
AUTHOR: Cathleen Falsani
PUBLISHER: Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing, 2011, (229 pages).

This is a biography of a teen pop star with a difference. It is written from a perspective of faith, by a journalist, using materials harnessed from the teen sensation's movies, interviews, social media, and the press. The storytelling is vivid. Tracing Justin Bieber's rise to stardom, Falsani gives readers an intimate look at the faith of Bieber, often weaving in the lives of the people closest to him, and their influences. Born in 1994 in Ontario Canada, Bieber has become one of the hottest stars in the music world. His meteoric rise has its humble beginnings since 2007. With support and strong encouragement of his mum, Pattie, the hard work of his manager, Scooter, and the power of social media like Youtube and Twitter, Bieber's career is unprecedented.

What is most valuable in this book is the perspective of faith, of how God has helped Pattie hold her life together, despite her traumatic childhood. It also tells of how much Jesus has meant to Justin Bieber. From an unknown bathroom singer to a world famous performer, Bieber has become one of the hottest superstars in this social media age. The book details the timeline of Bieber's rise, and how he and his mum has relied on prayer and on their faith in God to help them through. It also makes reference to the never-say-die effort of Scooter, who diligently seeks to give Bieber a chance at stardom. Falsani brings us many details about the lives of Pattie, Scooter, and his close friends. There are multiple stories and quips of how many individuals, especially the younger generation becomes curious about the faith of Justin Bieber. Although the author did not manage to interview Bieber personally for this book, this book is by itself an engaging enough read. The questions at the end of the book enables readers to asks themselves questions about faith too. It can be a good way to introduce Justin Bieber and his faith to beliebers everywhere.

If you want to know more about the faith of Justin Bieber, this book is a great start, from an outsider's perspective. After all, most of us are ordinary folks trying to peep or to look into the lives of famous stars. From a distance. This book is one of those that bridges the distance exceptionally well.


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

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

"Soul Detox" (Craig Groeschel)

TITLE: Soul Detox: Clean Living in a Contaminated World
AUTHOR: Craig Groeschel
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012, (240 pages).

"I didn't realize how unhealthy my home was until ....."

This experience of how unhealthy one's inner environment was sets the stage for the mood of the whole book, how to make our insides clean? The road to spiritual purity begins with a confrontation with spiritual pollution. The author proposes to do this in three ways. Firstly, one needs to deal with "toxic behaviors," that include self-deception, gossip, and flattery. These take the form of  false beliefs, lethal words, and hidden sins.

Secondly, one needs to deal with "toxic emotions," especially resentment and bitterness. These are dangerous and eats a person from the inside out. In order to counter that, healing and grace is needed. Groeschel uses three chapters to describe the seriousness of such toxic emotions through three applications; envy, anger, and fear.

Finally, Groeschel turns his guns on "toxic influences." This is a natural flow in which, after cleaning our inner behaviours and emotions, if we do not take care, the external pollution will easily mess one up all over again. External pollutants like materialism, non-stop acquisition, false promises of happiness, and spiritual idols. He suggests practical ways to deal with these, such as sensitivity to modern media profanity, violence, and debased sexuality. Do not underestimate the negative influences of these popular media. The points of entry also need to be addressed. What are we feeding ourselves? What are we exposing ourselves to? The key is to learn to let the Bible help us to test everything. Toxic influences can also come through bad relationships or bad company. He highlights the "toxic trinity" as the "chronic critics," the "controller," and the "tempter." Thankfully, the author uses cutting off all relationships as a last resort, saying that the more mature we are, the more unlikely we are to end any relationship, preferring to remain on a posture of discernment without disconnection. Like Jesus. Groeschel leaves the most intriguing part to the last, the part about bad religion. He critiques legalism and bad religion as those that focuses more on external rather than internal, and internal pride. He brings readers back to the three foundational truths of the gospel.

  1. The way to God's acceptance is never through the law.
  2. The law exposes our need for a Saviour.
  3. Righteousness in God is through Jesus.

The way to counter toxic religion is the pure gospel. The way to effective soul detox is immediately, not later.

My Thoughts

Written primarily to the lay person, this book is a great reminder to Christians at large who have grown too accustomed or comfortable to toxic influences around them. Worse, they have become spiritually polluted. This book reminds us that the world we live in is not a spiritually friendly place. We need to be vigilant against such toxic externals. It also warns us about the dangers of letting our inner souls being polluted and us not doing anything about it. This book reminds me of Anthony Selvaggio's "7 Toxic Ideas Polluting Your Mind." While Selvaggio deals with seven ideas and worldliness, Groeschel prefers to deal with behaviors, emotions, and influences.  Selvaggio's treatise has a heavier academic content while Groeschel focuses on lay ministry. After all, the former is a professor while the latter is a pastor. If I have a critique, I feel Groeschel could have incorporated something about technology or social media. That, Selvaggio has done excellently.

This book can be a good wakeup call for the complacent or lukewarm Christian. It is a fitting reminder that this world is still a very dangerous place to be in. The moment we let this worldliness inside us, we make this world even more dangerous. Very readable and clear, Groeschel has given us a timely warning.

Rating: 4.25 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.

Monday, June 4, 2012

"Leading Life-Changing Small Groups" 3rd ed. (Bill Donahue)

TITLE: Leading Life-Changing Small Groups-paperback
AUTHOR: Bill Donahue
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012, 3rd edition (208 pages).

This best selling small group guidebook is now in its third edition. Filled with great ideas and teachings about small group leadership, it is not only a resource for teaching, it is a practical ready to use tool for growing the small group ministry. Written to be used intuitively, with ready answers to anticipate reader questions, this book shines in terms of clarity, comprehensiveness, and creativity.

Chapter One sets out some biblical principles, with the conviction that beliefs precede actions. The essence of growth is relationships through community living. This is where small groups shine. Being a disciple means learning how to live and grow together. This leads to the group developing a group mission, meeting, and practice.

Chapter Two looks at the area of leadership. It provides four biblical principles of leadership that are, Christ centered, servant-led, shepherd-style, and cooperative leadership. The author talks in depth about the qualities of leadership and the selection process. It is also practical in which leaders are encouraged to cultivate active listening, learning, loving, leading people, and leaning upon the support of a leadership community. There is also a wonderful segment on spiritual practices for leaders which I feel is critical for leaders to adopt.

Chapter Three stresses the need for leaders to develop new leaders. This can be done by sharing the leadership role, through cultivating values.

Chapter Four reminds us about the purpose of small groups: Growth greenhouse style and not factory style. This is done using three essentials, namely the process of living, the basic structures like ground rules and behaviour expectations, and a strategy for growth. Of particular help is the framework for identifying the stage any group is in. If there are in the "forming stage," people need time to get to know one another. In the "norming stage," ground rules and expectations can be established. In the "storming stage," differences of opinions need to be appropriately handled. This part frequently determines how a group learns to live together. In the "performing stage," groups learn to look beyond themselves to grow other groups or to reach out to other communities.

Chapter Five touches on the actual small group meetings, the skills needed, and a guide to structure a good group meeting. It brings together four desired outcomes:

  • HEAD: "What do I want the group members to learn?"
  • HEART: "What I hope to help members experience?"
  • HANDS: "What can members do together or individually?"
  • HOMEWORK: "What assignments are needed in between meetings?"

Chapter Six measures the health and progress of the group. It is a good chapter to check how well the group is doing. Using feedback, qualitative and quantitative measurements, readers are invited to ask what works and what does not work. At the same time, the search for reasons will enable greater understanding of the dynamics in each group.

Chapter 7 shows how leaders can care for members.  The primary vehicle is through encouragement and support.

Chapter 8 deals with mission and outreach. It even contains four ways to launch new groups.

My Thoughts

I love this book. Not only is it very practical, it is highly readable. The practical tips and advice are easily worth the price of the book. Whether you are a leader, an apprentice, or just a participant, this book promises not only to give a sense of purpose and direction to any group, it energizes one to cultivate care and growth within the group as well as outreach beyond the group. Kudos again to Zondervan for coming up with this excellent resource. A must have for anyone leading or concerned about small groups in their various faith communities.

I highly recommend this book.

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.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

"Come, Sit, Stay" (Ellen Vaughn)

TITLE: Come, Sit, Stay: An Invitation to Deeper Life in Christ
AUTHOR: Ellen Vaughn
PUBLISHER: Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing, 2012, (272 pages).

This book is an expository journey through one of Jesus' most famous words in Matthew 11:28.

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28)

I like the overall progression of coming to grace, sitting in attention, the staying to obey, culminating in a rest that is filled with trust and blessing themes. It begins with the author's personal struggles with burdens, exhaustion, desperation, and a sense of hopelessness. For some reason, Ellen Vaughn becomes fixated on the words of Jesus, and instead of jumping forward to the next verse, she pauses at that verse. With intense concentration, she begins to take the verse word by word, meaning by meaning, and move intentionally toward meditating, chewing, and praying over it. As she finds her soul refreshed and encouraged, she shares the whole process. This book is about that process.

Part One is about the coming to Jesus just as we are. It is a royal summon that we simply cannot resist. It is an urgency to come to Jesus. It is recognizing that the Master is calling. The people that Jesus spoke to during that time are extremely tired. Our culture is not very different from then. Vaughn helpfully puts down four kinds of burdens. The burden of sin, of shame, of shoulds, and of suffering. These four burdens are essentially things that wear us down and there is no way in which we can escape these burdens on our own.

Part Two is about the discipline of sitting and waiting, in contrast to the temptation of touching and going in a rushed mode. Jesus calls us to pay attention in contrast to the world's distractions. The question posed to us is why are we so easily tempted by the world? Why are we having an ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder)? Being able to sit at Jesus' feet is an intentional decision toward a deep and rich spiritual life in Jesus. It helps us to be still. It helps us to be still in all circumstances, even when the hurricanes of life storm in. In sitting down to count the costs, one gains the right frame of mind in Jesus. We learn life on Jesus' terms, not our terms nor the terms of the world.

Part Three comes naturally from sit. No longer distracted, one is able to stay and linger in the presence of God. Staying is active, not passive. Stay in anticipation of a great love. Vaughn brings in the Johannine image of abiding in Christ. Enter and remain. Abide in Jesus and letting Jesus abide in us. When one recognizes true freedom, one is free then to be unleashed. One learns that the Christian life is not about rules but about relationships. The amazing change of heart is that one begins to feel less of Jesus wanting us to remain and sit with him, and MORE of wanting Jesus to be with us. It is a happy desire that refuses to let Jesus go. Jesus has become a friend that we long for more and more.

Part Four talks about the true rest, the fruit and the delight of all the actions. Rest is not a spiritual 'neutral' but an active joy. If the first rest is offered by God, the second rest is found by the believer. This is where the moment of Shabbat comes in. References are made to Hebrews 4 on the heavenly rest.

Further Thoughts

This book is an excellent guide to helping believers become more restful in God. Too often, Christians have paid lip service to the promise in Matthew 14:28 that they are unable to truly rest, themselves being easily distracted by the cares of the world. Ellen Vaughn, like a masterful spiritual guide gives us a simple method that is biblical and practical for the layperson to practice. She provides steps for readers to follow, stories to illuminate the points, and multiple references to reflecting on God's promises in Jesus.

If I have one criticism, it will be the title itself. The words "come, sit, and stay" are common commands that are used to instruct dogs. There is even a website in Denver (www.comesitstay.com) that is dedicated to the care and love of dogs. Even the cover has a picture of a dog! While dog lovers may appreciate the image of a dog and the message of rest, not everyone appreciate the application of a dog image to human matters.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


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

Saturday, June 2, 2012

"Sacraments and Worship" (Maxwell E. Johnson, ed.)

TITLE: Sacraments and Worship: The Sources of Christian Theology
AUTHOR: Maxwell E. Johnson, editor
PUBLISHER: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012, (408 pages).

This book brings together many relevant sources of sacramental-liturgical traditions through the lenses of historical development, liturgical varieties, as well as its theological practices. It is an introduction to liturgy, sacraments, worship, tradition, and the theological nuances of the practice of such. Using lots of primary sources as well as ecumenical influences, Maxwell's primary conviction is that worship that shapes the church and its doctrinal stand, produces sacraments that reflect very much a tradition that results from geographical, historical, and traditional contexts. In other words, there is no single linear development of sacraments of worship. Different forms come out of different contexts, appropriated for the time-frame that let the Word shape the flesh and meaning of worship.

In worship, we understand how heresy is kept at bay, how the faith is defended and affirmed, how doctrines are shaped, and how orthodoxy and orthopraxy is done. This in turn "form people into believers and disciples." Written in seven parts, Maxwell brings together materials and resources about the meaning of sacraments, liturgical theology, rites, the Eucharist, the Word, penance, reconciliation, marriage, baptism, and even time. Each topic comes with a rich historical spread and traditions.

Part One lists some of the understanding of sacraments from the early theologians in the first 1500 years like Augustine, Hugh of St Victor, Peter Lombard, Thomas Aquinas, and others. From the Reformation time, there is Martin Luther, the Augsburg Confession, Zwingli, Calvin, and several Catholic Reformation scholars. This is followed by the Puritan and modern era, with key figures like Edward Schillebeeckx, Karl Rahner, Immanuel Kant, and James F. White among others. Key to understanding the movement through the centuries is to see the primary thrust of the Word gets continually incarnated through the sacraments, putting any efficacy or effectiveness of sacraments as a secondary concern.

Part Two talks about the relatively new area called "Liturgical Theology." It begins by stating that liturgical theology is essentially a "theological source of doctrine and faith." It gives a theological statement of the meaning of the sacraments. In the early centuries, liturgical theology is a primary instrument to battle heresy. During the Medieval times, it becomes a way to prevent clerical abuses. The final part about contemporary theologians describes an ecumenical "Who's who" of liturgical theologies. This part is rich with all kinds of perspectives. I am amazed at the many nuances modern theologians are able to come up with. It ends with a profound statement of how "worship makes us."

Part Three dives into the intricacies of sacraments and rites of initiation. Adopting the three era framework again, (the Early, the Medieval, the Modern), Maxwell compiles sources that describe rites such as baptism, the Eucharist, and ministry in the Church, like Confirmation.

Part Four is a dedicated portion to the Eucharist, or the Lord's Supper. It is called the "culmination" of rites and sacrament. It describes vividly the different views and why it comes to be held by their proponents. The history of the progression of eucharistic thought is a worthwhile read.

Part Five shines light on the way the Word has been used in worship. It describes the reverence and the detailed rituals that incarnates the Word into the worship structure. Through reading, singing, meditating, contemplating, preaching and proclamation of the Word, there is a clear call for renewed and refreshed emphasis on the Word in every era.

Part Six deals with the other four rites like penance, anointing of the sick, marriage and ordination. Offered more for completeness rather than a necessary part of sacraments in any one tradition, here we read of how intent the early Church fathers, the medieval theologians and leaders in shaping theology and doctrines through rites and sacraments.

Part Seven is an interesting portion about time. It is perhaps the most personal or devotional part in this book. There are teachings surrounding daily prayers, the annual liturgical calendar, and how increasingly privatized worship has become, moving from the old to the new age.

My Thoughts

Reading through the volume gives me a sense of how our worship and our view of the sacraments have changed over the years. In the first 1000 years, we read about how the early Church leaders battle false teachings, and as a result, instituted detailed teachings and meticulous rites to ensure that believers know what to believe and how to believe. In the Medieval period, the shifts move from external threats to internet threats like inner corruption, power abuses, and clerical disunity that leads to the Reformation both in the Protestant as well as Catholic churches. In the Modern era, there is a visible spawning and openness to multiple types of faith traditions. Moving from persecution of the Early Church, oppression by heretics, from repression in the middle ages to expression in the modern era, this book is a fascinating first hand look at the way sacraments and worship is practiced as a result of incarnating the Word according to the period's contexts. As a reference, this book is useful for teachers and students to refer back frequently when teaching about history, theology, the sacraments, and the very important area of worship. As a guide for the weekly Church service, this book can point readers to appreciate the deeper meaning behind our oft taken for granted rites. For the general layperson, this book may seem daunting at first, but if one is patient enough to appreciate the three era movement, one goes away feeling a sense of gratitude and appreciation for what our forefathers have done. In addition, readers will give thanks for Maxwell's efforts to bring together many different sources, many of them not easily accessed by the novice.

This is one of the best resources for worship and understanding the meaning behind our sacraments.

Rating: 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.