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Monday, December 31, 2012

My Top Books for 2012

A YEAR END REVIEW FOR 2012

It has come to another year of reviewing my reviews. This year is a record feat since the start of this book blog. It is also a record for the number of publishers that have been sending me their newest books for reviews. At the point of writing, I have published about 211 reviews for 2012 alone. Like most reviewers, trying to decide which book is best for each category is really difficult. In fact, if I am to re-do the list a few days later, I may even make more changes. That said, the books below have made some impact on my life. Many of them, I have shared with my Church and my friends through social media as well as personal communications. There are many more on this blog that you are free to browse through. Links have been conveniently provided for you to read.

Thanks again to all the wonderful publishers who have provided me the resources to do what I love. To read deeply and widely, and to promote the habit of reading more deeply and widely.


CATEGORY #1 #2
Apologetics
Biblical Studies
Understanding Biblical Theology
Church
Devotional
Invitations from God
(Adele Calhoun)
Discipleship
Evangelism & Mission
Marriage
Renovating Your Marriage Room by Room
(Johnny C. Parker, Jr)
Leadership
Prayer
Spiritual Formation
Faithmapping
(Daniel Montgomery/Mike Cosper)
Spirituality
Fresh Air
(Jack Levison)
Acceptable Words
(Gary Schmidt and Elizabeth Stickney, eds)
Miscellaneous
Toxic Charity
(Robert Lupton)
Endowed by Our Creator
(Michael Meyerson)



conrade


Many of the books above are provided to me free by their respective publishers and authors in exchange for an honest review. Without them, there will be no such blog. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

"The Conviction to Lead" (Albert Mohler)

TITLE: Conviction to Lead, The: 25 Principles for Leadership that Matters
AUTHOR: Albert Mohler
PUBLISHER: Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2012, (226 pages).

"Convictions are not merely beliefs we hold; they are those beliefs that hold us in their grip." Thus begins this book of leadership that is grounded on a firm belief and conviction, manifested through 25 principles that leaders need to maintain. This conviction is the center of gravity, the foundation stone, the distinctively Christ-focused and Christ-grounded life. Unabashedly Christian and firmly committed to the evangelical message,  the youngest President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in history shows readers what it means to let our convictions in Christ hold us in our leadership.  He begins by distinguishing the two cultures of modern leadership emphases. The first group are 'Believers' who are passionate in what they believe but are not ready to lead. The second group are 'Leaders' who are passionate about all things leadership, but lack a 'center of gravity in truth.' Mohler attempts to marry the two with a call for a 'conviction to lead.'
  1. True leadership is led by a purpose, not a plan
  2. True leadership is driven by beliefs that lead to action
  3. True leadership develops conviction and trains others to do the same
  4. True leadership draws followers into the bigger story
  5. True leadership shapes the followers' worldview
  6. True leadership that is driven by passionate beliefs will draw passionate followers
  7. True leadership trains one to think like a leader and the follower to do the same
  8. True leadership is an effective leader and master teacher within a learning organization
  9. True leadership leads to greater trust when they live in alignment with their convictions
  10. True leadership happens when character and competence are combined
  11. True leadership  is able to constantly communicate
  12. Leaders that read with conviction
  13. Leaders that recognize the limits of power
  14. Leaders that are managers
  15. Leaders that can give voice to conviction via a message
  16. Leaders that lead as stewards, not of themselves
  17. Leaders that  are able to decide
  18. Leaders whose leadership and moral behaviour are inseparable
  19. Leaders that knows how to deliver a message through the medium
  20. Leaders that knows how to deliver the written word
  21. Leaders that  understand that the digital world is real and the arena they are called to lead in
  22. Leaders that time is the great equalizer of humanity
  23. Leaders that know their goal is to endure
  24. Leaders that understand the mortality of life
  25. Leaders that  leave a lasting legacy.
These 25 leadership principles are individually described, a chapter for each, packed with stories, illustrations, and descriptions that are so Mohler. That is, it is a point blank rattling of strong convictions delivered with clarity and with firm conviction. So convinced is he on this aspect of leadership that he even labels the need to have 'convictional intelligence' which he believes all Christian leaders must have. His chapter on worldview shapers makes me a little wary of manipulative moments at work. To some extent, the forceful language does comes across as telling people to be manipulative of others. For this, I prefer to give Mohler the benefit of the doubt, that conviction does come with with this unfortunate baggage. Like someone who have encountered fresh water in a desert terrain, and is trying all means to get the ignorant traveler to get to the oasis. This is where communications and competence meets character. Building convictions to lead for Christ is a worthy cause.

Mohler tries to cover a lot of ground. He comments on the medium and the message, the digital world and the actual world, the difference between managers and leaders, the need to be teachable and to teach, to communicate well, to read widely, and to live with a single mind, a pure heart, and a dedicated soul to the cause of Christ.  The part about reading interests me a lot. He has some pretty good advice on that department. Those who leads with conviction must also read with conviction. Wow.

For me, reading 25 points of leadership is already a mouthful. That said, personally, I will have preferred the author to condense the points down to something more manageable, maybe 15 at the max. I guess the nature of conviction is not to be easily hemmed in, but to communicate in all possible ways. I suspect too that without any constraint, Mohler may even go above 25 principles. This is what conviction is all about. The most impactful part about this book is perhaps not the contents. It is the style and the manner in which Mohler communicates and harps upon that brings the plain word 'conviction' alive with colour and with power.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.

conrade

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.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

"Cold-Case Christianity" (J. Warner Wallace)

TITLE: Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels
AUTHOR: J. Warner Wallace
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2013, (288 pages).

How do we relate cold hard evidence to the claims of the gospel? Simply put, one learns to be like a detective, to examine the evidence before us, and to make an intelligent and reasoned case for faith.

Reading like a detective novel, Wallace begins with the basic quest to avoid assuming anything. Instead, wear the seeking disposition to move from "belief that" to "believe in." Section 1 the investigation stage, is where Wallace shares his methodology of how to be a good detective. Ten principles are listed and explained, why it is important for every "aspiring detective" (or disciple) to master.

  1. "Don't be a Know-It-All": Beware of presuppositions, and behaving as if one knows it all. There are skeptics who view Christianity with the lens of naturalistic philosophy, interpreting the non-scientific matters with scientific methods. This not only does injustice to the evidence at hand, but leads one along the wrong track to truth. The big challenge is not about us having our own opinions or perspectives. The big challenge is whether we are allowing our own presuppositions to colour our interpretations unfairly.
  2. "Learn how to 'Infer'": Sometimes, we inferred incorrectly especially when we fail to ask the right questions or to distinguish core evidence from the peripheral. In detective work, one makes a distinction between the 'possible' and the 'reasonable.' The former is more speculative while the latter is a critical part of 'abductive reasoning.' Wallace points out that for abductive reasoning, one needs to see truth as feasible, straightforward, exhaustive, logical, and superior. He then applies this to the Resurrection claims of Jesus, analyzing some of the possibilities and then making reasonable conclusions about the reasonableness of these with the evidence at hand. 
  3. "Think 'Circumstantially'": Is a piece of evidence leading us somewhere or nowhere? This is what detectives call 'circumstantial evidence,' where decisions can be derived from. Wallace applies this to test the case of creation vs evolution. Looking at the five cosmological arguments, the teleological, and the moral evidence, he makes the case that Christians do not need to be sidetracked by any statement that says 'only direct evidence needs to be considered.' Evidence is evidence, whether direct or indirect. 
  4. "Test Your Witnesses": The credibility of eye-witnesses is extremely critical. They can make or break the case. That is why grounds must be established to find out where the witnesses were at that time, their honesty and accuracy, their motives, and their circumstances. He applies these to the gospel writers and the Bible.
  5. "Hang on to Every Word": Sometimes the words of certain 'innocent' people can give them away. This calls for the art of forensic investigation, something we often see on TV CSI. He applies these to how Mark points to the character of Peter, and their evidence matches each other's personality and trait. 
  6. "Separate Artifacts from Evidence": What happens when there is too much data? It causes indigestion and inability to focus on the critical pieces. Wallace pits the evidence that seems to cast doubts on the credibility of parts of the gospel story, like that of the adulterous woman, or certain textual inconsistencies in the Bible. While it is true that there are some late additions to the textual evidence, the fact is that every crime scene has their share of 'artifacts' that lends nothing to change the original story. It could have been a late discovery of something that is totally unrelated to the story. When there is a contradiction, does it absolutely deny the truth or is it simply a passing piece of unrelated matter? Just like a murder scene on the road that happened a few hours ago, and a picture was snapped hours later of a pedestrian totally oblivious to the crime. Two cases of totally unrelated matters. There are reasons why certain texts are of later edition. 
  7. "Resist Conspiracy Theories": There are many popular conspiracy theories out there. The trouble is, many of them are pure speculation. In fact, many of them are difficult to pull off. Wallace provides five 'rules' on how to determine the truth behind such theories. He makes a case to dispel conspiracy theories that claim that the first Apostles fabricated the gospel story. 
  8. "Respect the 'Chain of Custody'": Just evidence alone is not enough. One needs to establish the 'chain of custody' in which the evidence has been placed. From first-hand retrieval to eventual submission to the court-room, care must be taken to ensure that the evidence is not tampered with, especially in a way that will hide the truth from being revealed. Wallace then connects this concept with how the evidence surrounding the life of Jesus is relayed through history.
  9. "Know when 'Enough is Enough'": In our world of excessive information, sometimes we do not know how much is enough. Where's the tipping point? In the light of overwhelming evidence, it is tempting to say 'we need more proof.' The truth is that while we can never get 100% of every single piece of information, that does not mean we can never determine the truth without all of them. It is not possible for anyone to get all the perfect information at one go. This also means that certain puzzles like the problem of evil can never be fully understood before one can believe in God. 
  10. "Prepare for an Attack": Even in the presence of 'overwhelming evidence,' there is always a chance for a counter-argument or an attack by the opposite party. As a prosecuting officer, the author has acknowledged that much can be learned from defense attourneys, in the sense that they make us sit up and do our homework to make sure our case is as watertight as possible. In other words, they push us to excellence. Yet, it is important to note the way they work, especially when they target the micro instead of the macro picture, how they attack the messenger, and how they can use idea of possibilities to discredit our case. Most dangerously, they often connect with the modern culture to justify their case. This is what skeptics and secularists have adopted to overturn the evidence for theism.

Though Part One has tackled a number of critical issues for defending the Christian faith, Part Two goes deeper to examine the evidence for faith. Wallace applies the evidence to five categories when he contends for the truth of the New Testament. Firstly, the gospel writers are credible eye-witnesses. Using the tests earlier, he debunks some of the common attacks by liberal scholars that the gospels being written late, that they are non reliable, or the anonymity of the gospel writers, or the plausibility of the miracles in the Bible.  Secondly, what the Bible says about itself is corroborated by external and internal evidence. Language, location, names of people used, as well as nonbiblical eyewitnesses authenticate the evidence set forth. He goes on to address some of the popular misconceptions that have dissuaded people from accepting the truth of the gospel. Thirdly, Wallace applies the test of accuracy, to the timing and reliability of the biblical texts.  With overwhelming evidence of how the traditions and the teachings are passed down from important and influential people through the centuries, coupled with the meticulous preservation by scribes, the texts are preserved in the best traditions of consistency and accuracy. The thousands of copies of the ancient documents actually help scholars to sieve through the material with greater conviction that the truth is clear. For example, any deviation from the original becomes very 'obvious' after one cross-references the available evidence based on where the evidence is obtained. With abductive reasoning, one is able to distinguish circumstantial evidence from mere facts. Fourthly, there is the question of motive. In a world where many are driven by greed, fame, power, and fortune, the Apostles and early Church have everything to lose in promoting the cause of Christ. Finally, when we view the evidence before us with reasonable doubt, we are persuaded that they are in fact reasonable faith. This calls for a dual decision. A believe that the evidence is truthful leads one to the next step: to believe in the gospel. With the reliability of the gospel witnesses, the verified evidence, accuracy of the texts, timeliness, and the attestation of the witnesses, one makes a case for faith.

My Thoughts

This is another contribution to the growing resource of Christian apologetics. What makes this interesting is the author's background as a homicide detective. While Josh McDowell is well known for his debates with the Muslim cleric, Ahmad Dedat, and Lee Strobel's legal strengths used in his investigation of the Christ's claims and the case for faith, this book weighs heavily on the meticulous process employed to seek out truth. With skill and practical steps on how to crack a case, Wallace integrates his detective learning with apologetics. He seeks out the truth and lets the truth guide his thinking and his convictions. Accompanying his analyses, he invites some well known experts and scholars and interacts with them to present to readers a case for which readers can make their own judgments and conclusions. This approach is fresh and very practical. The systematic way in which Wallace has analyzed and probed is something readers can benefit from when addressing some common objections to Christianity.

If there is one critique, I will ask about how readers are to know the limits of investigation, or the scientific mentality applied to the evidence per se. Are we allowing too much science to manipulate the understanding of the evidence? Where is the part where facts lead to faith, or where facts and faith inform each other? Is Wallace guilty of applying science on some non-scientific matters, the same argument he used earlier in the book?  Maybe. That again is a reminder that we cannot know all truth. There is no way any imperfect person can appreciate or compile all truth perfectly. We can only work with what we have and what we know. The rest is basically a journey of faith. All of us needs that. Just like any living person. How do we explain the existence of anyone? Sometimes, all we need to do is to believe, and when we believe, the truth reveals itself even more perfectly. For those of us interested in Apologetics, this is a book for your shelves.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5

conrade

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.

Friday, December 21, 2012

"Faithmapping: A Gospel Atlas For Your Spiritual Journey"

TITLE: Faithmapping: A Gospel Atlas for Your Spiritual Journey
AUTHOR: Daniel Montgomery and Mike Cosper
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013, (240 pages).

What is the big picture of the grand gospel? Essentially, it is one gospel manifested in three aspects, of the Cross of Christ, of the Sonship of Jesus, and of the Kingdom of God. This is also called the Gospel of the Kingdom, the Cross, and Grace. The Gospel of the Kingdom is the announcement of the reign of Christ in our hearts and minds. The Gospel of the Cross is the entire story of Jesus's life, death, and resurrection that offers salvation for the world and reconciliation with God. The Gospel of Grace reminds us that we cannot save ourselves. It is all grace. These three aspects held together, will counter the individualism, the phariseeism, the materialism, and the deceptive isms of this age. Using Tim Keller, John Ortberg, and Dallas Willard's spiritual teachings, faithmapping is about mapping our faith on the whole gospel, not just a part of it. It transforms us from the inside out when it answers the "Who am I" question. It pinpoints where we are.  It gives us an impetus to begin living as kingdom people. Our spiritual journey is essentially finding our identity and our positioning with regards to the whole Gospel, beginning with ourselves, together with the Church, and serving God in the world at large.

Written in three parts, one for each aspect of the Gospel, Montgomery and Cosper take pains to show us why all three aspects of the Gospel need to be held together. Sometimes, when too many people give their own theories and definitions about what the Gospel is, there tends to be a danger of over-reactions and over-corrections. If one emphasizes too much on kingdom only, we may end up becoming religious activists. If one reduces the Gospel to only Cross-focused, we may end up becoming overly dogmatic and rigid, even religious. If one reduces the Gospel to Grace-only, we may end up in circles of sentimentalism. The Gospels in the Bible asserts all three TOGETHER. So must we. Part One thus forms the foundations of the whole Gospel, complete and not reduced in any way.

Part Two builds upon the whole Gospel, and talks about the whole Church. Five aspects are mentioned, namely, the worshipers, family, servants, disciples, and witnesses. When we are accepted into the Kingdom, and we live as disciples of Christ, the Gospel makes us true worshipers and our lives reflect a life of worship to God. There are ample tips on how to run the Church worship service as well as responding in service. The Gospel makes us all children of God, which in turn means we are family. The Gospel also makes us servants in Christ, disciples of Christ, and witnesses for Christ.

Part Three looks at the purpose of our time on earth. It is because the whole world belongs to God, we need to be part of the redemptive story as redeemed people. We are not to live as people stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time. Instead, we are to be people of purpose and people of faith, serving one another, for the sake of the Gospel. The authors paint five dimensions of service.

  1. Begin with location, where we live
  2. Faithful with vocation, where we work
  3. Leisure in recreation, where we rest 
  4. Participate in restoration, where we fill a need
  5. Assist in multiplication, where we reproduce.


My Thoughts

Montgomery and Cosper are heavily influenced by Tim Keller's definition of the Gospel. They have contributed a well-balanced approach to treating the Gospel in its three aspects. Each aspect has been described with an eye on the other two. This is the strongest attribute of this book. The authors have written with clarity and conviction, and make sure that the reader maintains adequate awareness that all three aspects of the Gospel must be asserted together. It is also very Trinitarian influenced, in which God exists in the identity of the Triune God. These lead to the disciple of Christ, also projecting a three-fold understanding of the spiritual life. Firstly, the foundation of one's Christian life is the Gospel. Secondly, the living out of this identity is through the Church. Thirdly, the domain of influence for both the individual as well as the Church is the world at large. All of these are to be lived out together. In other words, one cannot be an individualistic Christian. Neither can one become so much a part of the Church that one forgets his very own identity and vocation. At the same time, the disciple of Christ is aware of the larger purpose of the Kingdom, the essence of the Gospel, and the life of Grace.

I find my understanding of the Gospel being refreshed and enlightened again by Montgomery and Cosper. They have given the Christian community a helpful treatise on what exactly is the Gospel, in a world of competing definitions and multi-variate understanding of the Gospel. Filled with examples, and references from scholars and reputed leaders, they compile the material in a readable manner. This is theology at work, simple but not simplistic, clear and concise. I highly recommend this book as a way to sieve through the many books and resources out there that claim to be Gospel-centered. If you want to get a head start on what Gospel-centered mission is, why not begin with this book? You will then have tools to understand and appreciate other books better.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.

conrade

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.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

"Jesus Pure and Simple" (Wayne Cordeiro)

TITLE: Jesus: Pure and Simple
AUTHOR: Wayne Cordeiro
PUBLISHER: Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2012, (210 pages).

Have we forgotten what being a Christian is all about? Are we loading too much excess and non-essential stuff in our small luggage bag of life? What if by working on all the steps of discipleship, or trying to fulfill all the important spiritual disciplines per se, that we have forgotten our main goal: Jesus? Indeed, the things we do reflect the primary goal of our activism. "Jesus: Pure and Simple" attempts to cut through all the flowery ribbons of busyness, to unwrap the paper covering the true identity in Christ, to open up the present of the gift of God, that is Christ Jesus, pure and simple. "It's time to get back to Jesus." No more multiple characteristics that define one's identity. No more steps to take in order to attain a certain security. No more seminars, conferences, talks, sermons, that only go to increase one's inadequacy. For only Jesus defines our identity, gives us security, and comfort us to know that Jesus is not just the answer to our mental faculties, but the Person who is our Guide for life. In order to do that, first we need to recognize and to move away from the two symptoms of Pharisaic lifestyle: self-righteousness and self-deception. Second, why choose the imperfect activism when we have the perfect Christ? Third, remember that while we are in the world, we are not of the world. This requires us to break away from the subcultures that hinder us, and to long for God in person. Four, before one can focus on Jesus, one needs to know who is this Jesus. Cordeiro helps us see the difference between getting answers and receiving promises. The former worries while the latter trusts. Such a trusting disposition is evident in our life through patient service, mature perspective, dedicated commitment, courageous endurance, regular discipline, and simple faith. Six, instead of worrying ourselves through multi-tasking activities, we can focus all our goals and efforts on just knowing God. On and on, Cordeiro goes through the Christian life from beginning to end, from knowing Christ to wanting to know Christ more. Through personal relationship, through sharing the gospel, and through living the life of a disciple.  The author ends with three challenges at the end.

  1. "Choose this day whom you will serve." - Decide whose side we are on. There is no middle ground.
  2. "Choose the posture you will take." - Choose to serve the Master.
  3. "How will you respond when tested?" - Stick to faithfulness in spite of trials.

Indeed, the saddest part about life is when we allow temporal things to fill up our prime time of life, and we only deal with the things of permanence with our leftover time, if any.

We have a choice. We can choose now.

The older we get, the more complacent we can become. Anyone who thinks that maturity comes about through the accumulation of years, think again. We are all so prone to the deceptions of the world that we can be sidetracked by the worries and cares of the world. We are easily tempted to try to take things on our own hands, turning good intentions into self-driven efforts to glorify oneself in the name of God. These things only add to our already complicated lifestyle. Cordeiro reminds us again that these things are the peripheral, not the fundamental. This book is an important antidote in a world infatuated with efficiency, productivity, and all kinds of spiritual progress that are not based on the gospel or the Person of Christ. We need to cut through all these and focus again on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith. This book is a powerful resource to help us do just that.

"Nothing is as refreshing as a cold glass of fresh orange juice, pure and simple. For that matter, anything that is pure and simple is refreshing in today's artificial world of sleek packaging and million-dollar marketing." (11)

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.

conrade

This book is provided to me free by Bethany House Publishers and Graf-Martin Communications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"Prayers for Today" (Kurt Bjorklund)

TITLE: Prayers for Today: A Yearlong Journey of Contemplative Prayer
AUTHOR: Kurt Bjorklund
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2011, (288 pages).

How do we pray? That most of us know. How do we pray well? Lesser people know. Instead of fumbling around for some creativity, or hurry our prayers through some self-concocted prayers that may seem too superficial, why not learn from the spiritual masters of old? Why not pray with the prayer warriors through the ages? Then, as we learn from the past saints of old, we not only integrate our own prayer concerns, but let our prayer lives be enriched to know God better and to make God known wider. This is exactly what Kurt Bjorklund has done. Subtitled as "A yearlong journey of contemplative prayer," Bjorklund compiles a number of excellent prayers said by the contemplative masters. From contemporary prayer warriors like Andrew Murray, William Temple, Mother Teresa, Henri Nouwen, and many others, to ancient creeds like the Apostles' Creed, traditional hymns, Augustine of Hippo, and many more, this book is a treasure chest of prayers to use for all occasions.

Bjorklund sees prayer as a journey through the mountains of praise, adoration, thanksgiving, renewal, and Christlikeness, to the valleys of confession, petition, despair, distress, discouragement. It is also an adventure of navigating through affirmations, wisdom, guidance, and intercession. The "yearlong" for Bjorklund is actually for the five days each week. That makes a total of 260 days of guided prayer, leaving the reader with at least 2 days a week for their own prayers. The way the prayers are arranged flow out of the pattern indicated in the Lord's Prayer.
  • "Our Father, Who is in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name," Prayer of Praise/Adoration
  • "Hallowed be They Name," Prayer of Surrender and Thanksgiving
  • "Thy Kingdom come," Prayer of Affirmation
  • "Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven," Prayer of thanksgiving         
  • "Give us this day our daily bread," Prayer of Petition and Intercession
  • "Forgive us our debts," Prayer of Confession
  • "as we forgive our debtors," Prayer of Christlike character
  •  "lead us not into temptation," Prayer of Wisdom/Guidance
  • "But deliver us from evil," Prayer of Renewal
The pages are undated and provided in day numbers. This actually frees the reader to begin freely according to one's spiritual journey and maintain a pattern of praying that involves all the different facets of prayer. A typical prayer day comprises of an initial Scripture passage to reflect on. A selected prayer is given with sources cited, followed by a personal "Prayer for Today." The Bible passage helps the reader to be centered on Scripture. The given prayer gives the reader an example to follow. The personal prayer section allows one to personalize the prayer accordingly. The theme given at the top of each page helps readers to choose the kind of prayer, whether it is thanksgiving and adoration, or plain confession and petition. It is a helpful way to help readers focus and keep their prayers on track. Otherwise, there may be a tendency to wander to all kinds of mental places that are unfocused and unspecific. 

I have long been a fan of prayer books. I have treasured prayer books like the "The Oxford Book of Prayer," the "Book of Common Prayer," Andrew Murray's books on prayer, and other treasuries of prayers. The author has helpfully compiled the prayers from themes. With theme-based prayer books, there is always a risk of trying to tell God what we need instead of letting God show us our needs. That said, what is there to prevent the Holy Spirit from moving our hearts to prayer beyond one theme per day? Nothing. May the Spirit guide the reader to pray more richly and passionately through the use of this book.

Highly recommended for Church groups, personal devotions, and of course, during Sunday service.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.

conrade

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

Monday, December 17, 2012

"The Handy Guide to the New Testament Greek" (Douglas S. Huffman)

TITLE: The Handy Guide to New Testament Greek: Grammar, Syntax, and Diagramming (The Handy Guide Series) (Greek Edition)
AUTHOR: Douglas S. Huffman
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2012, (112 pages).

This little guide is a handy reference book for introductory New Testament Greek. Written primarily for the second year student, and also for pastors and teachers, it contains a collection of Greek helpful tables and reference that most (if not all) first year Greek students of the New Testament use. Part One contains revisions on grammar usage, case endings, pronunciation helps, nouns, pronouns, verbs, participles, adjectives, and other language considerations. Part Two summarizes the Greek syntax on the use of the article, the case and time, verb tenses and moods, as well as guiding readers through the tricky participles. Diagramming is also utilized to help students of Greek NT to visualize their parsing activities. That is particularly helpful in terms of synthesis after the exegesis of the original language. The bibliography and resource list at the end of the book is a bonus for anyone, especially those beginning their studies in the fascinating ancient language called Koine Greek.

Many people who have studied Greek during their years in seminary or Bible school know that the less they use, the more they forget. Over time, some may totally lose whatever they have learned. This has led to some seminaries abandoning Greek studies totally. That is tragic, for there is value in learning at least 1 year of Greek. Just because many have the tendency to forget what they have learned, does not mean that learning the language is useless in the first place. It cultivates discipline. It helps students to treat the original texts with more reverence. It enables one to remember that the Word of God is not something to be analyzed and solved, but to be engaged meditatively, intentionally, and patiently. In fact, it may very well be an antidote for the quick and easy culture many of us have gotten used to. What is needed is not an abandonment of the Greek language, but a way to refresh, to revise, and to remember them. Guide books like this, and the growing number of electronic resources will help students with a little knowledge of Greek immensely. Those who have not studied any Greek at all, will find this book a little difficult to appreciate.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.

conrade

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

Sunday, December 16, 2012

"God in the Manger" (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

TITLE: God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas
AUTHOR: Dietrich Bonhoeffer
PUBLISHER: Lousville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012, (112 pages).

This book is a compilation of Advent reflections by the famed martyr and German pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The writings reflect very much the conviction of Bonhoeffer, where faith triumphs over religiosity, and fear of God must be above fear of man. In our weakness, God's strength is revealed even more. Four themes hold together this devotional over the four weeks of the Advent. The first theme is WAITING, where the Christian is urged to cultivate an attitude of waiting, waiting for the new heaven and new earth; waiting as a necessary struggle against impatience, waiting that is bearable, and waiting for God, even in silence. The second theme is that of MYSTERY. It urges us to retain a respect for things yet to be revealed, things that cannot be calculated or exploited. Things like the mystery of love. Cultivate wonder. Reflect on how greatly man has sinned. Think of the glory and power of the baby Jesus. Imagine how unfathomable are the mysteries of God. The third theme is on REDEMPTION. It describes how Jesus comes to earth to take our guilt, carry our sins, and suffer the judgment that we deserve, giving us a salvation that we do not deserve.  The fourth theme is INCARNATION which reflects on God whose Son Jesus gives up divine comfort to dwell in humble human inconveniences. How in Christ, we can become divine beings, because God first loved us. The last chapter represents 12 days of Christmas and Epiphany. Often, we have Advent series that tend to end at Christmas. In this book, the publisher goes farther, to help us maintain a focus on Christ, how mercy and peace, humility and joy, salvation and faith, prepares us to welcome in the secular New Year, with bright anticipation of God's work that is to come.

My Thoughts

Unlike Bonhoeffer's other books that tend to be heavier reading, this Advent devotional is relatively lighter. Still, it contains lots of scriptural references. There are references also to modern authors which are recent additions. Thus, this book is not exactly composed by Bonhoeffer himself at the onset, but compiled by the publisher, from the huge archives of Bonhoeffer's writings, sermons, speeches, and other sources.  Bonhoeffer does not mince his words. Like Karl Barth, he is very Christo-centric. Like Eugene Peterson, his writings marry spirituality with everyday life. Like a faithful disciple, even in the midst of a holiday period, Bonhoeffer's faith and theology does not take a holiday. There is no time for leisure and pleasure in the things of this world. We are very much in a war. Bonhoeffer lives and breathes the air of WWII, and the turbulent fight against the Nazi regime and the liberal Church. We too live and breath the air of postmodernism, and continue the spiritual warfare against materialism, individualism, consumerism, and boastful secularism.

This Christmas, remember the Christ child. Remember the purpose of Christmas. Remember the reason for the season. There is no greater way to celebrate Christmas by remembering the Christ who humbles Himself, takes up His cross, and follow after God's will. Fully. Obediently. Completely. The good news is this. Greater things we too can do. Christmas is that time, that we refresh our faith in Christ, that we recharge our hope for the coming Kingdom of God, and we renew our commitment, to be the people we have been called to be.


Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.

conrade

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.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

"The Peace Puzzle"

TITLE: The Peace Puzzle: America's Quest for Arab-Israeli Peace, 1989-2011 (Published in Collaboration With the United States Institute of Peace)
AUTHOR: Daniel C. Kurtzer, Scott B. Lasensky, William B. Quandt, Steven L. Spiegel, and Shibley Z. Telhami
PUBLISHER: Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2013, (352 pages).

Few places are more volatile than this region. Few countries in the world contain so much deeply held religious, social, cultural, and political baggages. That is right. I am referring to one of the world's most difficult puzzle to solve. The Middle East. For a world to work toward true peace, there are few who will argue that peace in the Middle East will set the pace for peacemaking all over the world. If it is indeed possible, that the Middle-East finally be at peace, it will be a model that can be heralded and profitably applied to other regions around the world. Four major developments have triggered this project. First, many existing documentation of the peacemaking process are flawed. Second, without proper literature and research, how can future leaders learn from the mistakes of old, let alone trying to build good success on the right moves? Third, it is an attempt to recapture some of the key turning and learning points from important leaders responsible for the peacemaking efforts through the years. Four, the peacemaking process is dangerously close to be unraveled, where years of good hard work are going to be wasted. Enters five passionate individuals who attempt to piece together the many broken fragments of efforts, to make some sense of of a puzzle that looks increasingly unsolvable. Yet, the call for peace remains a crucial piece of the human peacemaking dilemma. The facts remain depressing.
  • Only three US-assisted breakthroughs after so many decades
  • Not a single significant breakthrough for the past 20 years
  • Inconsistent Presidential led peace process
  • Much to learn from Henry Kissinger's peacemaking efforts, but have people learned?
  • Flawed data
  • Failure to learn from the past, well enough
  • Political squabbling and infighting that has threatened the peace process
  • Lack of unity within the US government and the legislature
  • ....

There is an interesting observation about the two concepts of US peacemaking since the 70s, the first transitional/incremental, and the second, the involvement or (non-involvement) of the PLO. Both of these have led to the present shortage of peacemaking breakthroughs. The US has largely failed to prevent both Israel and its neighbours from derailing any progress gained. There is also a perceived lack of resolve by the US to go much further. That in itself is puzzling. The book that goes on to describe the historical events, the three major breakthroughs by the US, and the circumstances and contexts that led to the deafening lack of progress in the past two decades.

Part One presents the puzzle upfront as something that contains ups and downs at the negotiations in Oslo and Madrid. After NATO's victory over Iraq in 1991, and the support of Kuwait, and many other Arab countries, George H.W. Bush's reputation and the US-led peacemaking efforts are presented with a golden opportunity to work toward more lasting peace. The Oslo-accord brings Israel and the PLO together. This first chapter is a bird's eye view of the Presidential peacemaking process from Bush to Clinton. Chapter Two tracks the peace process from 1993 to 2000, examining why it has failed badly. Chapter Three looks at the Camp David summit matters in 2000. Marked more by failures rather than successes, the US has been perceived at that time to be more on Israel's side rather than a peacemaker. Chapter Four looks at the peacemaking initiatives under President George W. Bush, where two decades of how the American Presidency has left needed work to the subordinates instead of himself taking a greater role. The events of September 11 only makes it worse. Chapter Five looks at Bush's second term as President and Chapter Six about Obama's peacemaking attempts.

The authors end with eleven recommendations as follows.

  1. Keep the peacemaking process firm and moving, even when the US continues to be perceived as pro-Israel;
  2. US needs to "coddle" both Israel and the Palestinians
  3. Ensure better transition when US Presidents change
  4. US needs to be extremely "agile and determined" to exploit all opportunities for peacemaking
  5. Simple slogans are unhelpful as the Middle-East peacemaking efforts are extremely complex. 
  6. Consult more, surprise less.
  7. Intense preparation needed, always.
  8. Believe that even the most difficult leader can be influenced for peace
  9. Do not "outsource" the peacemaking process. Remain a committed partner
  10. The US needs to be equally tough negotiator, like the Israelis and the Palestinians
  11. Domestic support, both in Congress as well as public.

My Thoughts

This book is a frank and scholarly assessment of what has gone right and what has gone wrong in America's efforts to broker peace in the Middle-East. Supported by the US Institute of Peace, five top researchers work on primary sources to study the role of the United States from the years 1989 to 2011. You can refer to more of the sources here. Through interviews, memoirs, workshops, as well as primary and secondary sources, this book is a culmination of a six year project, done mostly on the premises of the United States Institute of Peace, examining the different ways during the years of the different US Presidents, namely, Ronald Reagan (1981-89), George H.W. Bush (1989-1993), Bill Clinton (1993-2001), George W. Bush (2001-2009), and the current Barack Obama (2009-present).

If the world's superpower cannot solve one of the world's most difficult and distressing problem, can any one else do it? This is why future activists and peacemaking initiatives need to build on solid ground of well-founded documentation, research, and above all, the wisdom of peacemaking. Some puzzles may never be solved in one generation. Yet, the hope and a vision that one day it will, should be enough to keep our chins up, our hopes high, that we learn from the past, hope for the future, and work hard for peace in the present. We can all work toward peace in our neighbourhoods we live in. As far as the Middle-East peace process is concerned, maybe, we can support the US in their efforts to bring peace to the Middle-East by praying for them. Hopefully, knowing that the whole world has more to gain by the Middle-East at peace, may inspire more of us, to encourage our country's leaders to assist the US in cracking this peace puzzle. Together. This book may not have presented the magical solution. At least, it has uncovered some flaws in the previous documentation. It has also highlighted important learning moments as well as not repeating the mistakes from the past. More importantly, missed opportunities are not to be cried over. With time, there will be a new opportunity. This book can very well train our eyes and ears to see and hear the opportunities, and give us a new resolve to do something about it in the direction of peace.


Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.

conrade

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

Thursday, December 13, 2012

"Creation Sings His Praise"

TITLE: Creation Sings His Praise: 90 Devotions on Nature from Our Daily Bread
AUTHOR: Dave Branon, editor
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, 2012, (128 pages)

We all like to have devotions. Where do we start? How we we begin to sing our praises? Is there a way in which we can jump-start our devotional lives amid a land deluged with technological devices and modern landscapes? The solution: Return to nature. Reflect on creation. Refresh ourselves with a deeper appreciation of what God has done, what God is doing, and what God will be doing for us, and for the world around us. With 90 devotions that cover nature such as plants, animals, and scenes of natural beauty, readers are given an amazing spectrum of seeing ordinary creation with the eyes of faith and a heart of gratitude. Each devotion begins with a "Guidebook reading" from the Bible. A key passage is selected and printed for readers to meditate upon. Following that, a short devotion in the style of OUR DAILY BREAD is provided. In easy reading style, it gently helps readers to take a longer pause to see the wonders of creation. It invites readers to linger on, letting the beauty of nature be soaked in the riches of Scripture.Finally, a COMPASS POINT is a brief challenge for readers to think about. It is kind of a 'thought-of-the-day' statement where readers can easily remember and keeping pondering through the day. Of course, if one were to rush through it, one would miss important details and nuances of creation.

This is a delightful devotional book to quieten the soul from the oft-stated busyness of life. Drawn from the rich resources of the OUR DAILY BREAD publications over the years, it compiles devotions specifically with nature in mind. The high quality photographs alone are worth the price of the book. In fact, there is much to learn from the small call-out boxes that educate readers on some scientific or natural knowledge. For instance, about 20000 species of mantises worldwide, or how to keep a skunk, or the more than 80 animals that make Northern Minnesota their home. If you are a nature lover, this book will bring winsome smile often. If you are someone new to nature watching, this book can launch you forward. If you are feeling too rushed or busy, especially during this festive season, this book is a perfect gift not just for yourself, but also for people that you may know who needs to take a good break from work. Maybe, for those you know who are on social media too much, this book in printed form, is a great freshener that reminds us that life is more than simply being connected to the Internet.

Ratin: 4.75 stars of 5.

conrade

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

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

"Don't Stop Believin" (Robert K. Johnston, Craig Detweiler, Barry Taylor, editors)

TITLE: Don't Stop Believin': Pop Culture and Religion from Ben-hur to Zombies
AUTHOR: Robert K. Johnston, Craig Detweiler, Barry Taylor, editors
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012, (176 pages).

This book is a collection of commentaries on pop icons and various well-known symbols in the cultures from the 50s to the present. The title of the book is very similar to the pop group Journey who released this hit in 1981. Perhaps, it is chosen because 1981 is somewhere near the midpoint from the 50s to now. Probably, its very title represents a kind of an intersection of faith, pop culture, religion, and people. Maybe, the name of the pop group that produced the song is reflective of where culture is going. It is a journey of belief. Comprising articles written by an assortment of people from many different walks of life. It asks questions about what are the stories, the songs, and the symbols, and the messages they carry that remain valid or has evolved over time. Are there deep theological truths beneath them? What is the gospel according to Peanuts, or Twilight? Through 101 "theologically significant figures," the contributors in this book seek to make some sense out of them.They notice the trends pertaining to gender, sexuality, and religious views that have changed over time. There are lesser of traditional boundaries especially in an electronic age. There are also increasing limitations that we are only beginning to understand. Here is why.

The first 15 articles sketch out what the 50s are about. It is a time where families are more closely knitted, coming together to watch TV sitcoms like "I Love Lucy" and "Father Knows Best." It is time of growing awareness of a need for greater equality, especially race and gender. This gives rise to rebellious symbols such as JD Salinger's counter-cultural "Catcher in the Rye" or Elvis Presley's Rock and Roll against a culture of uptight, prim-and-proper Pleasantville atmosphere. In spite of his popularity, Johnny Cash succumbs to drugs, and fights a losing battle against addictions which led to his eventual suicide. Then, there is Walt Disney's whose vision of an entertainment empire for kids requires a storytelling style that is not linked explicitly to any church or religion. Yet, there is a message that things eventually will be made right. Godzilla the monster is also a chance "to show" the dangers of environmental carelessness, and "to warn" the consequences of nuclear bombs. Christians like Billy Graham and CS Lewis are also described. So are novelists like Alfred Hitchcock, and JRR Tolkien, and artists like Pablo Picasso and Marilyn Monroe.

The 60s is a continuation of the tensions that began in the 50s. With the Cuban missile crisis on the background, and the constant desire for happiness and contentment, John F. Kennedy brings needed leadership to America, and musicians like Bob Dylan and Aretha Franklin is a cry to belong, and a growing discernment of a need for people to connect with one another. Such as Franklin's rendition of the hit song, "Respect." Of course, there are efforts to help people perform some escape, like the Star Trek movies, Stan Lee's Marvel Comics heroes, and of course the dizzying popularity of the Beatles.

The 70s is a longing for "Happy Days." Sometimes dubbed the "Me" era, it is a time where narcissistic pursuits begin its climb. Clint Eastwood becomes the icon for challenging people to "Make my day." The Godfather movies brings together a complex combination of faith, family, and filmmaking. Billy Jean King's success in the tennis world gives her tremendous impetus in the championing of women's rights. Bruce Lee's fame and tragedy becomes another reminder of how the most successful martial arts exponent during that time can feel lonely and needy. Of course, there is Mother Teresa who provides a needed corrective to the world of success, by seeking to help the rest of the world through lowly and humble service. Star Wars provide a bridge to the 80s.

With the American hostage situation in Iran, the 80s is marked by social unrest and a deep longing for security. Star Wars provide a feel good ending to a seemingly hopeless war. Ronald Reagan's rise to Presidency gives many Americans hope and a feel good disposition. Calvin Klein's fashion ideas challenge conventional thinking and causes breakthrough in sexual freedom. The runaway success of the musical Les Miserables, is due to the clever and effective themes of hope/despair, legalism/grace, condemnation/redemption, etc. The Apple MacIntosh marks the beginning of computers gaining a foothold in popular culture.

The 90s is a time where spiritualism becomes more prominent. With Deepak Chopra, Dalai Lama, and other spiritualists entering the scene, people become more open to Eastern religion.  This is made easier with these Eastern gurus speaking and teaching widely in the West, using language and symbols to meet the hunger and thirst of many frustrated people living in the West. Goth represents anti-religious establishment. Ellen DeGeneres stands for pro-lesbian. Secularism is championed by Philip Pullman. Reacting to these, the Left Behind series of novels try to warn the culture at large that there is an impending judgment if people do not correct their steps. The Matrix movies attempt to marry all of these religious and social sentiments by combining all kinds of religion, postmodern thinking, and others into an entertainment vehicle. Games like SimCity empowers a young generation to take control of their own destiny through virtual gaming.

There are also many interesting thoughts on Twilight and Stephanie Meyer, Survivor reality shows, Harry Potter books and movies, sports icons like David Beckham and Tiger Woods, and the rising social media icons like Facebook.

The editors finally ask some questions about what these all means. Are the cultural icons merely trying to communicate something to us? How should Christians respond?  The first approach is to adopt a "traditional approach" where some either boycott the pop culture. The second is to plunder them so that we can extract the good, like what Os Guinness is advocating. The first approach tends to be overly dismissive and may commit the error of throwing away the baby with the bathwater. The second approach makes Christians guilty of superiority thinking. A third approach is suggested, that participates in the culture, and advocates for the gospel without being overly dismissive or carelessly embracing.

My Thoughts

Like it or not, the world that we live in are full of cultural symbols. This book of a mini-who's who enables a group of Christians to come together to reflect, to ponder, and to suggest steps in which we can be engaging and not enveloped by the culture at large. This calls for wise discerning of the underlying messages of these cultural icons. It calls for biblical perspectives and how Christians are to live counter-cultural when they is a need to, to support humanitarian, ecological, social reforms, or things common to the well-being of people. There are many crying out for help or for understanding. Are Christians hearing them? There are many seeking out some semblance of direction in life. Are Christians looking out for them? There are also many trying to make sense of what is life all about. Are Christians equipped to help them out? The editors of this book has been carefully chosen for their expertise. Robert K. Johnston is well-known for his work in the integration of theology and film. Craig Detweiler, with Barry Taylor do the same for the music scene, as well as celebrities, art, and cultural fashion.  Instead of having a book where theology or biblical insights inform the shape of the book, it takes on a two way interaction, where one observes, then reflects, and then pauses to make some sense of what the Bible is speaking and what the culture is saying. In doing so, one is careful not to dismiss all cultural icons are mere entertainment. Neither is one overly simplistic in trying to "baptize" everything with holy things. The latter attitude will reflect more of a secular/sacred divide, instead of a holistic view of things where all truth is God's truth. One's theological insight can be sharpened, regardless of whether the object has a "Christian label" on it or not.

There is a slightly heavier Californian influence among the contributors in the book. Many of them are associated with Fuller Theological Seminary, as well as churches and organizations in California, the land of Hollywood. I enjoy this book. In fact, there needs to be an expanded dictionary version, maybe online, so that the wider Christian community can benefit from this serious and yet fun engagement of culture from a Christian perspective. Don't stop believing, and don't stop engaging too.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.

conrade

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.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

"Share Christ in the Workplace" (R. Larry Moyer)

TITLE: Show Me How to Share Christ in the Workplace (Show Me How Series)
AUTHOR: R. Larry Moyer
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012, (192 pages).

Your presence in your workplace is not just a job, it's a ministry! So says the author of this book. Workplace ministry has been quite a popular topic in evangelical circles for quite a while already. Many seminaries are providing courses to equip students and ministry workers on how to actively live out our faith in the workplace. After all, if a person is only in Church once a Sunday, and at work for most of the other days of the week, the workplace is certainly a major opportunity for influencing others for God. Churches hold regular talks about the importance of evangelism and mission not just in social circles or in Christian events, but right inside our secular domains of work and business. In our increasingly secular West, and sometimes hostile anti-religious environment, the challenge is two-fold. First, how do we get past the initial hostility. Second, even if we can get the opposition forces to lower their resistances, what then do we do with the opportunity to share Christ? Step by step, R. Larry Moyer, a gifted evangelist and founder of EvanTell ministries does not simply tell us what to do. He shows readers the way to do it. With clear steps and concrete ideas, he declares that the workplace is the ministry, and the everyday worker who calls himself a Christian is to see that place as his full-time ministry and a calling to be the witness there. The whole book is based on seven systematic purposes for learning. For practice, it can be mixed and matched.

The first stage is Prayer. We pray for opportunities to share. We pray for boldness to speak. We pray for success, safety, and salvation. Before we can really talk to people about God, we need to talk to God about the people. We can discover the doors of opportunity. In regular prayer groups and Bible studies, one can create a consistent presence. Of course, any of these activities require an active application for approval by authorities. Even if one cannot hold the prayer meeting in the workplace, there is no law that bars one from holding a small gathering in a place elsewhere, like public park, etc.

The second stage is Lifestyle in the workplace, and in how we live. Through our behaviour and lifestyle, we are demonstrating Christlikeness to others around us. Be competent. Be consistently ethical. Be self-controlled.

The third stage is in our Speaking. If our speech be seasoned with grace, and flavoured with saltiness, we can win hearts and gain opportunities to share Christ.

The fourth stage is in knowing some basic truths of the Christian faith. What is truth? What is sin? Here, there is a need to be clear about our own faith, as well as knowing how to ask questions and to respond to the questions others may pose.

The fifth stage is Testimony time, where one needs to be prepared with one's life story of conversion. Three major areas often trigger interest. People like to hear about one's spiritual perspectives of family, job, and our own backgrounds. We move from the secular to the spiritual; from the spiritual to the gospel; from the gospel to the presentation of the Person of Christ. One effective method is the bad news/good news approach to enable people to understand the difference between the two.

The sixth stage is to use Public Speaking Opportunities. Learning to communicate well and clear is crucial.  Moyer gives some really good speaking tips here. Tips like learning to base our sharing on one big idea, to learn to speak and not preach, to be brief, to be clear, and to know when to stop. Practice is key.

Finally, Moyer shares some resources to equip readers on where to go from here. Learning is an ongoing process. From books to seminars, from speaking to learning from experience, there is a lot of ground we can cover when we take our own initiative.

My Thoughts

With a book like this, no one can give any excuse about not knowing what to do about workplace ministry. The steps are all clearly laid out and are easy to follow. The stages mentioned in the book are there for a guide, and not meant to be legalistically adhered to. After all, every workplace is different. Every individual has different gifts. Every opportunity presents itself quite differently each time. That is why being prayerful is one of the biggest ways we can equip ourselves with God as our Wise Guide. R. Larry Moyer has given the Christian community a great tool to use. He summarizes each chapter well by reminding readers the key points mentioned. Moyer himself is a good communicator. Many books are heavy in the theological aspects of workplace ministry. Others are too fluffy in terms of how best to share the gospel. Some others have many ideas but are not sharp enough to hit a big point home. This book is a good balance. It gives us the biblical basis for sharing, prepares us to equip ourselves first in God's strength and wisdom. Then it shows us how. The next step is obedience. If readers want to maximize the learning from this book, one needs to put the steps straightaway into practice. If the book can get you praying right away, it is already worth the price of the book.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.

conrade

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.

Monday, December 10, 2012

"The Greatness Principle" (Nelson Searcy)

TITLE: Greatness Principle, The: Finding Significance and Joy by Serving Others
AUTHOR: Nelson Searcy with Jennifer Dykes Henson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012, (112 pages).

What makes a great life? What does it take to move from mediocrity to exceptional? Many management gurus have consistently taught that success is only one part of the equation of life. There needs to be more. Like the late Stephen Covey, who has advocated a movement from success to significance, this book points to a similar direction. The greatness principle in the book is simply this: "When you bless others, God blesses you."

We all have a deep longing to do things that really matter, to be significant, to have a life that is beyond mere happiness or self-satisfaction. We want purpose. We desire to make an impact. The author begins by doing a quick survey of what makes the great men throughout history such great people. All of these point one toward the discovery of one "dominant guiding principle." This book is to encourage readers not only to discover that, but to live that out to the full. Greatness is not some coincidental happening or luck in action. It is the disciplined and intentional practice of one key personal principle. This can be discovered in the process of becoming more observant of life, in particular, to be more conscientious of opportunities, especially those that we can make a major contribution of impact. Simply put, if we are not noticing enough, we will be missing opportunities. Searcy points out six different ways Jesus teaches about noticing life.

  1. Hunger: opportunities to feed the hungry
  2. Thirst: opportunities to quench the thirst of others
  3. Stranger: Opportunities to show hospitality
  4. Naked: Opportunities to clothe others
  5. Sick: Opportunities to care
  6. Imprisoned: Opportunities to visit

Then there are the five primary ways to bless others.

  1. Give of one's time to others
  2. Sharing one's talents
  3. Investing one's treasures
  4. Encouragement
  5. Proclaiming one's testimony.
Then there is the practice of "positive expectation," one that expects God to work mightily, and bless richly. Then there is the affirmation that love is the highest motivation for good works. There is also an interesting Princeton "Good Samaritan" study that tracks the kinds of people who stopped to help a disheveled homeless man. The three groups of people have different levels of urgency on their assignments. It was found that 63% of people who had extra time in their presentation, stopped to help. Of those who had just enough time for their own assignments, 45% stopped to help. For the third group who were told that they were already late, only 10% stopped to help the man who pretended to be helpless and homeless. The study highlights how our self-interests tend to downplay the greater needs of others. 

Finally, Searcy gives a list of helpful practical steps to start with.
  1. How to encourage people?
  2. How to help someone in need?
  3. How to invite people to church?
  4. How to connect with our family?
  5. How to pray for others?
  6. How to serve our city?
  7. Why attending church is vital to growing the greatness principle?
My Thoughts

The book looks deceptively simple and small. Boy it packs a wallop in terms of practical steps to be more other-centered. There are many inspiring examples of people who have actually done that. It shows readers that it is possible. There are plenty of steps to do some good in our society. It gives readers no excuse about not knowing where to start or what to do. There are biblical bases for the teachings in the book. It gives readers the assurance that the book is biblical. There is an opportunity for everyone to be great according to what they have been created. It gives readers an encouragement to search for it. There is a great need in this world for more people to live significantly for others. It inspires readers to be that person.

Searcy has given us a quick start guide to awaken our sleepy lives into action. Far too many people are living either lives of desperation or simply going through lifestyles of mediocrity. Some of us need a kick start. Some of us need to kick ourselves. Yet, others may need a kick on their backside. This book provides that kick. It can be read in one sitting, because, when you read it, you cannot just sit there and do nothing. You want to get up and do something. Maybe, its small size is also meant not to bog down any reader into inaction, but to spur one to greater service for others.


Rating: 4 stars of 5.

conrade

This book is provided to me free by Baker Books and Graf-Martin Communications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

"Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent"

TITLE: Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent
AUTHOR: Enuma Okoro
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Upper Room Books, 2012, (128 pages).

The Advent comes from the Latin word 'Adventus,' which means 'coming,' or 'arriving.' It is a month-long expectation of the remembrance of the birth of Jesus Christ, the new born King. For many Christians, it is also the mark of a new liturgical year. Thus, technically, we can call the first Sunday of December as the New Year's Day for Christians.

Here in this book, the biblical characters of Zechariah and Elizabeth are revisited in the first two weeks. This is followed by Elizabeth, Mary, and John in Week 3, ending with a summary of community involvement in Week 4. 

What this book aims to accomplish is to help readers appreciate the way God has surprised the unexpected, silenced the faithless, and slowly but gradually turn despair to hope, barrenness to conception, doubt to trust, longing to belonging.  Arranged in daily readings, each day comprises a short title to hold one's thought, followed by a Bible passage. A short reflection is then read, followed by a call to prayer. At the end of each Advent week, there is a "Personal Reflection" to help readers pause and examine themselves about their own spiritual longings and positions. This seventh day contains more scripture passages and a "prayerful challenge" for readers to actively engage themselves with. There are also guides for small groups, as well as other Advent readings for congregational activities. 

Easy to use and pleasant to read, this book of Advent readings can be readily picked up and used by leaders in any Advent setting. This is a good book for the season.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.

conrade

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.