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Sunday, December 28, 2014

"Every Valley"

TITLE: Every Valley: Advent with the Scriptures of Handel's Messiah
AUTHOR/EDITOR: Jessica Miller Kelley
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014, (160 pages).

The world famous Handel’s Messiah is not simply a musical concert to be enjoyed. It contains a lot of biblical prophecy, theological truth, historical richness, and pastoral depth. Focusing on the Advent theme, the Messiah is about anticipating the coming of Christ. The musical setting and the various “tonal paintings” come together to offer us an engaging experience with fascinating insights into the two comings of Christ. Forty reflections helm the whole book. Comprising of meditations from various contributors found in Feasting on the Word, edited by David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor’s and published by the same publisher, readers will be thrilled to know that the book is not simply for the Advent season of 40 days, but a window to the rest of the year, in celebration of the Incarnation of Christ. Jesus did not simply appear at Christmastide and disappear the rest of the year. Jesus is not simply the reason for one season, but the reason for ALL seasons. The reflections are divided into three parts.
  • Part One – Christ’s Birth and Its Foretelling (16 meditations)
  • Part Two – Christ’s Passion and Resurrection (16 meditations)
  • Part Three – Christ’s Eternal Reign (8 meditations)

Not only does the book tell the entire story of the Incarnation, the Resurrection, and the Eschatological Anticipation of Jesus’ Second Coming, it enables the musical movements to accentuate key parts of Scripture. I really like the way the book challenges us to reflect and to respond on the significance of the Advent.

“Is our Advent devotion about entertainment or edification? Diversion or direction? Amusement or awareness?” (15)

Each chapter begins with a brief chorus, a passage from Scripture, and a brief devotional. I appreciated the various reflections on the very simple impressions that provide for us the contexts from which Christ had come. Like the significance of lowliness when the angel of the Lord appeared to mere shepherds, unpopular and people considered of lower esteem in society, who were just going about their daily business. There is also the counter-intuitive manner in which Christ would come; where the lame would leap, a people who walked in darkness would see light, and how Jesus would come and not just suffer for us, He suffered with us. Blended with the musical, the whole work would come across as a magnificent hymn of praise to God and a rendition of heartfelt gratitude for Jesus. 

This devotional is not about entertainment or a distraction from the worries and cares of this world. It is about questioning our present lifestyles and the presuppositions we hold in our daily lives. Not only does it illuminates us of the reality of Christ, it helps the Word penetrate into our souls to remind us of purification, our depth of belief in the promise of God, and the passion of Christ. We are forced to reckon with the differences between worldly expectations of a military might versus the humble anticipation of the Christ-child. Let us not kid ourselves. We all harbor dreams of a mighty king frequently according to our terms rather than God’s. This is perhaps one of the biggest barriers, if not the biggest in our spirituality of faith. Stripped to our bare essentials, we will realize that the One who redeems us is One who comes in the Spirit’s power. Period. 

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

"Social and Economic Life in Second Temple Judea" (Samuel L. Adams)

TITLE: Social and Economic Life in Second Temple Judea
AUTHOR: Samuel L. Adams
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014, (256 pages).

What was daily social life like in the ancient world? Was it better than our modern fast-paced lifestyle? What kind of taxes did they pay? What kind of socioeconomic concerns were there between 532 BCE to 70 CE? How could the history of the Judean culture increase our understanding of the biblical narratives and bible interpretation in general? Were the economic struggles and social lifestyles very different from our modern world? The answers are fascinating as the Samuel L Adams helps open windows of understanding for modern readers into that of the ancient world.
Using the markers when the temple was first restored (532 BCE) till the destruction of the second temple (70 BCE), Adams is inspired by the global financial crises of 2008 that affected many people economically, socially, and personally. Five major categories are covered.

  1. Family Life and Marriage 
  2. Status of Women and Children 
  3. Work and Financial Exchanges 
  4. Taxation and the Role of the State 
  5. The Ethics of Wealth and Poverty

Starting with the family as the basic unit of society, Adams points out the difference between “household” and “family,” saying that they were not “synonymous” as the latter was basically related by kinship while the former means living together in one place. Thus, a servant or slave in the house would be considered a member of the household. Often based on the hierarchical structure where the father was the head of the family, young females were married into and lived with the household of their husbands. The demographics before the exile period shifted from “house of the father” to “house of the fathers” showing a greater solidarity among the Judeans, while they were ruled by their foreign masters. In other words, the people were more cohesive after the exile experience, in contrast to the original clans instituted after Moses’ leadership. Even so, the structures were more complex as economics often determined household formation. The rich would have their own household structures intact while the poor who could not afford land or property would serve their richer bosses in exchange for lodging and basic needs. We also see how the Sabbath helped kept families together as they observe a common celebration each week. Three-generation households were unlikely as often the economics determined the size. In the pre-exilic period, many kings did not live beyond their forties. Often, the powerful determined the way trade was conducted. Persians dominated maritime trade (539 – 450 BCE). Many Judeans went back to agrarian work. Living together was more a matter of economics which was why many poorer households remained small.   The rich often had larger households simply because they could afford it. Marriages were directly affected by economic motivations where financial stability could be secured via betrothal and marriage. There were also tensions related to intermarriages where economic practicalities can trump the concerns over the corruption of the “holy seed.” For instance, Adams points out the cruel acts in Ezra 10:3 where economic concerns took priority. Such economics were such a big concern that marriages, dowries, even divorces, had major implications.

Monday, December 22, 2014

"The Hardest Peace" (Kara Tippetts)

TITLE: The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life's Hard
AUTHOR: Kara Tippetts
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2014, (192 pages)

Life is hard. For some, life can be even harder despite being children of peace. For Kara Tippetts, mother of four young children, her journey through life seems to comprise of more valleys than mountains. In a title that is very revealing about how hard life can be, Tippetts shares openly about her childhood, her challenges in marriage, her encounter with fire, and her unending spates of illnesses.

Right from the onset, Tippetts share about her childhood where the highs were very high and the lows very low. As a young victim of anger, and a "witness to so much pain," Tippetts sought out solace through childhood rebellion in beer, marijuana, and boys. When she found Jesus, she knew that there was a lot of her past that she needed healing from. Then, there was the marriage where she and her husband Jason needed to learn how to fight fair and to use kindness as a way to save their marriage. As a wife who supports her husband in ministry, the whole family uprooted themselves from North Carolina to go toward Colorado springs. Their step of faith required an even bigger step. Like the fire that threatened to derail their plans, but instead taught her about the value of relationships over things.

Perhaps, the hardest of it all would be the series of painful ailments and devastating illnesses that would occupy the bulk of the book. It all started on that fateful day of July 23rd, 2012 when she was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic cancer. It was terminal and spreading. Not knowing how long she will get to live, she decided to spend the rest of her life to cherish her family and friends, to live with faith in God and hope for a future promised in Christ. The book is drenched with her personal struggles against physical pain. Yet, it is soaked in that gentle assurance that God is present in her suffering. Much of the book is drawn from her blog, "Mundane Faithfulness," and pieced together in 8 chapters. There is a gradual surrender that it was not going to be her will but God's. There is also that conviction of how she is dying to self each day. Tippetts is real, both in her pain as well as in her hope. This fighting spirit and authentic self have captured the hearts of many people. Tippetts's blog, an online cancer journal is widely followed. She has contributed to many articles in several Christian sites and widely reported in mainstream media, especially after her touching open letter to another dying patient, Brittany Maynard, who took her own life on November 1st, 2014.

It is not easy to be open and honest about something so personal and private. Yet, Tippetts have found courage to tell her story and to share her life not only with her circle of friends but with the public. This is testimony of her strength amid suffering. Her story is her unique rendition of what it means to be struggling in this world and at the same time, maintaining a firm conviction that the day will come, when God will wipe away every tear, erase all suffering, and embrace His children.

I appreciate the way Tippetts end the book with a letter to her husband Jason, and a reply from Jason, expressing the age old phrase: "Love never fails." Life is hard, but it is also beautiful. For Tippetts, seen from the eyes of love and faith, beauty is everywhere.


This book is provided to me courtesy of David C. Cook Publishers and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

"Raised?" (Jonathan Dodson and Brad Watson)

TITLE: Raised?: Finding Jesus by Doubting the Resurrection
AUTHOR: Jonathan Dodson and Brad Watson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014, (112 pages).

There are many non-Christians who readily doubt the reality of the Resurrection. Some Christians too but do not make it so pronounced. They simply choose to shove the doubts under the carpet and deal with them on another day. Working collaboratively, two pastors have come together to author a book that addresses the doubts of both believers and non-believers on the topic of the resurrection of Christ. Non-believers are urged not to be afraid to question because anything worth believing is first worth questioning, for the express purpose of finding the truth. Believers are encouraged not to settle for "pat proofs, emotional experiences, or duty-driven religion." Based on the premise that the Resurrection is the foundation of the Christian faith, anyone seeking to know the truth will not fear questions to help one find out more. The authors believe so much in the historical fact of the Resurrection and the Truth of Jesus risen from the dead, that they have no fear about challenges. Challenges like:
  • How can lowly man ever crucify a High God?
  • Skeptical accounts of the Resurrection
  • How can such a supernatural event happen in the natural world?
  • Disputes over the afterlife
  • If Jews and Greeks find the Resurrection "implausible" then, why not others?
  • Was it a delusion?
  • Are the witnesses then reliable?

Monday, December 15, 2014

"Kingdom Conspiracy" (Scot McKnight)

TITLE: Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church
AUTHOR: Scot McKnight
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2014, (304 pages).

In this book, McKnight continues to offer up counter intuitive ideas about basic Christian beliefs and practices. Like what he had done for gospel and evangelism, he is doing the same for Kingdom and the mission. In his earlier book, "King Jesus Gospel," he critiques with vigour the faulty evangelistic models that reduce the gospel to a series of spiritual laws, salvation culture, or merely saying the sinners' prayer. Likewise, McKnight offers up a critique of some common usage of the word "kingdom." After studying the various approaches by "skinny jeans kingdom people," he summarizes their understanding of kingdom as, "Kingdom means good deeds done by good people (Christian or not) in the public sector for the common good." In other words, kingdom work means social justice, world peace, good works with a tinge of Biblical principle. That is not all. McKnight takes to task the "Pleated Folks" perspective that is incorporated into two statements:
  1. Kingdom as present and future
  2. Kingdom as rule and realm
These two statements make it seem like kingdom is everywhere, nowhere, anyhow, and anywhere. After clearing the decks, McKnight presents what he calls "returning to the radical mission of the local church." The clue is to bring together the practical helps of the "Skinny Jeans" and the concept of "Pleated Folks" to tell the two stories of the kingdom, the CFRC and the ABA. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

"Churchless" (George Barna and David Kinnaman)

TITLE: Churchless: Understanding Today's Unchurched and How to Connect with Them
AUTHOR: George Barna and David Kinnaman
PUBLISHER: Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Momentum, 2014, (224 pages).

As churches in the West continue to shrink, one begins to wonder which group then is growing? Answer: The unchurched person. For every one person who stops attending any church, it adds one more to the growing pool of people called the "unchurched" or according to Barna and Kinnaman, the "churchless." Simply put, a churchless person is one who is not connected at all to any church. The statistics are grim. Out of people who call themselves Christians, only 47% are actively a part of a Church, which means they go to Church on a regular basis on the minimal. A whopping 53% are the unchurched, of which about 35% are de-churched; 12% purely unchurched; and 8% minimally churched. If we analyze the terms closer, the mood is depressing.
  • "Actively churched" are those attending church at least once a month
  • "minimally churched" are those attending church several times a year
  • "de-churched" are those currently taking a break from going to church
  • "purely unchurched" are those who have never gone for a church service.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

"Worship Ways for the People Within Your Reach" (Thomas G. Bandy)

TITLE: Worship Ways For the People Within Your Reach
AUTHOR: Thomas G. Bandy
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2014, (216 pages).

First it was the segregation of worship by time, distinct times in the morning, afternoon of evening services. Then it became separated by generational preferences, between traditional, youth, middle-age, etc. It then evolved into differences over worship styles, contemporary vs traditional, and so on. These brings up the core question: Why worship?

What is the point of worship? Does it really matter what kinds of worship ways we adopt? For an increasingly disenchanted communities and fragmented world, worship seems meaningless. Church consultant and leadership coach, Thomas Bandy then asks this revealing question:

"If worship were simply cancelled and Sunday morning ceased to become the centerpiece of church experience, what would happen?"

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, Second Edition: Revised and Expanded (Donald K. McKim)

TITLE: The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, Second Edition: Revised and Expanded
AUTHOR: Donald K. McKim
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014, (352 pages).

In order to understand theology, there is no running away from terminology, vocabulary, and theological words and phrases. Indeed, McKim says it very well: "Words are the building blocks for Christian theology." With nearly 7000 theological terms drawn from over 21 theological disciplines, McKim has provided brief 1-3 statements to describe each of them. The first edition drew from the following areas: "Bible, American church history, church government, general church history, ethics, evangelicalism, feminist theology, fundamentalism, general religion, liberation theology, liturgical theology, Lutheran theology, ministry, philosophical theology, Protestant theology, Reformed theology, Roman Catholic theology, social-scientific terms, spirituality, theology, Wesleyan theology, and worship." The second edition adds additional terms from the areas of contemporary and postcolonial theology.

Listed in alphabetical order, the dictionary of terms packed in terms described very clearly and concisely. Where appropriate, the word origins are described. It does not take long for any reader to adopt a posture of language humility, knowing that the English language today owes a lot to the Latin, the Greek, the Hebrew, German, Spanish, and others. Not only is the book ecumenical, it also incorporates some religious terms from other cultures and religious beliefs. I realize then that the book is not specifically about "Christian Theology" but about theology in general. Like the words "Tao," "New Age Movements," and terms used by non-Christian and the secular world. Due to the brevity and the page limits, some terms leave much to be desired. For example, the differences between "assistant pastor" and "associate pastor" are not easily discernible. More needs to be said in order to enable the terms to be more useful. Having said that, the purpose of the terms is basically a primer to spark greater interest and heighten the awareness of the meaning of the term. Thus, it is not to give in-depth coverage of each term, but to give an initial nudge for one to do further research. Personally, I find the volume very engaging as it helps me link many areas of theology and the doctrines together. At the same time, it is a convenient reference where I can refresh my understanding of terms learned in the past. For theological students, this volume will be a life saver to give them a handle on some of the more difficult theological texts they have at seminaries.

I deeply appreciate the annotated bibliography that gives students a list of theological resources, one-volume commentaries, biblical criticism, Church history, theological dictionaries, and the various works cited. Moreover, with an increasingly online world, the websites for theological research will only continue to grow. I suspect that the web listing will grow longer in future editions.

Incredibly extensive, this volume leaves me gasping for more.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Monday, December 8, 2014

"Experience the Impossible" (Bill Johnson)

TITLE: Experience the Impossible: Simple Ways to Unleash Heaven's Power on Earth
AUTHOR: Bill Johnson
PUBLISHER: Minneapolis, MN: Chosen Books, 2014, (256 pages).

In faith, we are connected with the Divine. In hope, we joyfully anticipate good things from God. In love, everything is changed. Using the three themes of faith, hope, and love as ways to experience God and the things that appear impossible with man, Pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, California, Bill Johnson provides 79 reflections to help us experience heaven's power on earth.  Each chapter begins with a short devotional on faith, hope, or love, and ends with a prayer and confession. The titles of each chapter alone is often appropriate for a thought a day. Like the first chapter on faith, where Johnson describes faith as not coming from striving but from surrender. It is a contrast between faith in surrender versus the striving via works. He helps us along by stringing together thoughts about faith throughout the Bible. For hope, Johnson describes the positivistic aspects like the cultivation of gratitude and hunger so that one will increase desire for God; the revelation of God's promises to draw us closer; and how hope is the "soil" for our faith to grow on. Beautiful. Many aspects of hope are also introduced in a manner of warnings such as the tendency to be obsessed with failures; how resentful people attract more complaints; how the size of our problems grow larger if we let our minds be filled with them; how those without hope can expect the worst; how it is terrible to live with regret; and so on. On love, he encourages us that the "heart to hear God" is more important than the "ability" to hear God's voice; Jesus understands our losses for He himself had experienced personal suffering and death; how love is warped when people without love tried to interpret the Bible; how important it is for Christian leaders to have passion in leadership; learning to let love silence fear; and many more.

As I leaf the pages of the book, I find fresh insights coming through with regards to the themes of faith, hope, and love. Written pastorally, Johnson is able to connect the promises of heaven with the disappointments often encountered on earth, to motivate a "can do" perspective for readers. That is what he means by "experience the impossible." Underlying the book is the constant reminder that it is the Holy Spirit that enables the fruition of faith, hope, and love. Christian people can be discouraged from time to time. When the cares and worries of this world overwhelm us, we can easily lose sight of the promises of God. We let the world get to us more than we get ourselves to the world. For the battle needs to be fought first inside our souls. This is the battleground that only in the Holy Spirit can we be victors. In order to experience the impossible, we need faith to believe, hope to long for, and love to live and belong together. In a strange way, believers who allow God to work will realize that unleashing the power of heaven is not about what we do. It is about the willingness to let God use us to do what He deems best.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


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

Friday, December 5, 2014

"It's a God Thing Vol 2" (Don Jacobson and K-Love)

TITLE: It's a God Thing Volume 2: When Miracles Happen to Everyday People
AUTHOR: Don Jacobson and K-Love
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2014, (216 pages).

We often read about miracles in the Bible. Miracles like people being healed; water turned into wine; food getting multiplied; and miraculous signs and wonders from both the Old and New Testament. Are miracles real? Do they still occur today? This volume sings out 46 stories of miraculous events happening to ordinary people. The author himself is one living testimony. In 1980, Jacobson accidentally shot himself in the woods with a 12-gauge shotgun. For nine hours, he bled and death appeared imminent. Until he was miraculously found. This event spawned a desire to search and to collect miracle stories to remind us that God is still present today. Don Jacobson was formerly President and owner of Multnomah Publishers, and is well known in the Christian publishing world.

With the success of the first volume about miracle stories happening to everyday people, together with K-Love radio network, this second volume continues the stories. The miracles cover all walks of life, many different situations of dire needs, and the amazing results of how God works. Like how Steve managed to escape from a runaway truck; how Kellie White managed to retrieve a lost "special thing" for a stranger; Steve Nestor's story of being healed from Stage IV Hodgkin's Lymphoma; the inexplicable disappearance of cancer from a patient; about a Vietnamese refugee fleeing the Communist regime on land and surviving pirates in dangerous waters; and even the sight of "three perfect sunflowers" that amazing appeared to touch a special moment for people in grief.

Often told in the first person, the stories read like a "Chicken Soup" series of stories to encourage the weary and the discouraged. The difference is the way the stories are told. All the stories are seen human impossibility in sight. All occurred when individuals seemed to be in their wit's end. Then the impossible happened. Just like the moment in Mark 10:27 when Jesus said to the disciples after his saying about a camel entering the eye of a needle: "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God."

Let this book accompany the many stories through the ages of how God works. For those feeling a bit down and almost out, this book may give them a fresh dose of hope and faith. For those who are skeptical of the stories, learn to give the storytellers the benefit of the doubt. After all, miracles defy natural reasoning. Rationale and logic do not add up to explaining all the things in this world, let alone the unknown universe. As Christmas approaches, it is good to be reminded of what the Christian story is about. Quoting CS Lewis,

"The Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, came into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him. It is precisely one great miracle. If you take that away there is nothing specifically Christian left." (CS Lewis, "The Grand Miracle" in God in the Dock, Eerdmans, 1970, p80)

May these stories point us more toward the God of the Universe, the Grand Miracle of miracles, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of the publisher and Shelton Interactive in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

"Handbook of Religion" (various authors)

TITLE: Handbook of Religion: A Christian Engagement with Traditions, Teachings, and Practices
EDITORS: Terry C. Muck, Harold A. Netland, and Gerald R. McDermott
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014, (832 pages).

Is it really possible for Christians to talk about other religions, and to bring in their theology into a book such as a "Handbook of Religion?" Well, the answer can also be asked in another way. Is it possible for anyone NOT to bring in their opinions, their philosophies, and their religious values into any book?  In other words, everybody brings in something into any discussion. There is no perfect book in which nobody gives zero opinion or neutral slant. Having said that, most of the contributors in this compendium are Christians, and they openly admit how they are approaching the topic of religion. Bringing together three editors, fifty-five contributors, the book contains a total of 134 articles and 239 study aids. All the three editors are evangelicals and professors of religion at graduate schools. As the the rest of the contributors, the editors had invited not only Christians but several from other faith traditions as well. The majority of the essays from parts 2-4 are primarily descriptive in nature. In places where Christian engagements are made, the editors explicitly say so.

The purpose of this book is to introduce the various religious traditions of today and to look at some major issues between these religions and Christianity. Meant primarily for Christians wanting to understand non-Christian religions and beliefs,  the editors hoped to address four needs:
  1. Need for Basic Information of other religions
  2. Need for Seeing the Big Picture of the Religious World Today
  3. Need for Understanding how Radically Differentiated the World of Religious Beliefs Had become
  4. Need for Understanding the Dynamics behind Identity and Religious belief

Monday, December 1, 2014

"21 Things the Devil Cannot Do" (Duane Vander Klok)

TITLE: 21 Things the Devil Cannot Do
AUTHOR: Duane Vander Klok
PUBLISHER: Bloomington, MN: Chosen Books, 2014, (176 pages).

Too many believers have lived in fear and insecurity when they start to focus on what the devil can do instead of what the devil cannot do. As a result, people are deceived and forget that the devil is not as formidable as these deceptions paint him to be. "Know your enemy" seems to be the focus of lead pastor and author, Duane Vander Klok. The underlying exhortation in this book is this: Don't overestimate the power of the devil and underestimate the reality of the truth. Like many preachers and teachers of the pentecostal traditions, Klok begins by telling us the importance of rightly sizing up our enemies. Don't over or underestimate his ability. For Colossians 1:11-14 reminds us that believers are already rescued, freed from bondage, and empowered to be victors in God's kingdom. Knowing the enemy means learning the truth about the devil and what spiritual warfare entails. In three chapters, he listed all 21 things that the Devil cannot do. This is followed by 12 signs to uncover the devil's tactics. Finally, Klok comes back with a "cure," that says only Jesus can save. He conveniently lists all the 21 things and 12 signs toward the end of the book for readers' convenience. I suspect this chapter alone would be thumbed through most often by readers.

Friday, November 28, 2014

"The Social Executive" (Dionne Kasian-Lew)

TITLE: The Social Executive: Winning In The Multi-Trillion Social Economy
AUTHOR: Dionne Kasian-Lew
PUBLISHER: Dugdale-Woolf Publishing, 2014, (92 pages)

This small book champions the use of social media for business in this fast-paced social media world. Offered primary as an ebook format, it is brief and to the point about the many business advantages of using social media. It is a brief primer on social media culled from her bigger work of the same name. The three main concerns Kasian-Lew are highlighted as:

1) Most executives know the potential and impact of social media
2) They also know they needed to do something with it
3) They needed to know how to go about doing it.

Written for busy executives, Australian trainer, coach, and CEO of "The Social Executive," Kasian-Lew puts her thoughts in point form through 18 short chapters about how executives can use the power of social media to drive their business. She begins with a passionate call for leaders to let the size of the opportunity sink in.

  • It's a multi-trillion dollar economy
  • It's growing more than 10% every year
  • It's too big for executives to ignore

Thursday, November 27, 2014

"The Grave Robber" (Mark Batterson)

TITLE: The Grave Robber: How Jesus Can Make Your Impossible Possible
AUTHOR: Mark Batterson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014, (288 pages).

Miracles are not restricted to the past. They exist in both the present as well as the future. In Batterson's words, "sometimes God shows up. Sometimes God shows off." Based on the famous seven signs recorded in the Gospel of John, Batterson asserts once again that each of these signs point to the Person of Jesus Christ. These stories reveal the power of God not only for the people then, but also for us. We are all urged not to miss the miracle. John's signs are meant to stretch our faith. Every miracle does its part to build up a grand picture of Jesus coming to earth as a humble baby, and rising up to heaven in glory and honour. All in the power of Almighty God.

The first sign showed us that the miracle at the wedding in Cana was no mere coincidence. Every water molecule was converted to wine. In fact, it foreshadowed the Last Supper where wine was the blood of the Lamb. Batterson describes how Mary nudges Jesus and reminds us of Hebrews 10 that nudges us toward good works. We read of how a bridegroom's potentially worst embarrassment can become a beautiful moment to bless the guests. The One who made it all possible? Jesus.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

"Slowing Time" (Barbara Mahany)

TITLE: Slowing Time: Seeing the Sacred Outside Your Kitchen Door
AUTHOR: Barbara Mahany
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2014, (208 pages).

For the racer, speed is king. For the high achiever, quick results means efficiency. For the impatient, any time saved is never really good enough. As a result, the world spins faster and faster turning life into a giant rat race. Many of us have become so accustomed to such a lifestyle that "fast-paced," "busyness," and "quickly" have become norms in our culture. As the task grinds on, and as exhaustion wears one down, work increasingly looks more like a chore. The clock runs ceaselessly pulling people in and breaking people up. Something must change. We cannot live on speed forever. Machines may be light-speed capable, but man is very much "life speed." Life is about telling a story not rushing a storybook to meet a human deadline. The big question is how. If everybody is so busy, who would have time to look at the slower things in life? Enters author Barbara Mahany, who knows what the benefits of slowing down are.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

"What's Best Next" (Matthew Perman)

TITLE: What's Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done
AUTHOR: Matthew Perman
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014, (352 pages).

Not too long ago, there was a bestselling productivity book that helps us manage our time and achieve our best use of resources. Entitled, "Getting Things Done," author David Allen shows us the way to live "stress-free" as we practice the art of "do it, delegate it, defer it, drop it" rule and so on. What about a similar book but written from a Christian perspective? Like many well meaning Christians, it is easy to talk about ideas and generate tonnes of them. When it comes to putting ideas to work and finding workers to do them, the ideas and suggestions remain pieces of paper to be shoved somewhere in the building. Then there are also myths that are far too often been brandished as facts. Dispelling myths first is like getting a person to stop doing wrong before starting to do right. Halt the rot and begin the recovery. I summarize Perman's initial 12 myths as follows:
  1. Productivity is less about efficiency but more about effectiveness;
  2. Productivity is less about having the right tools and techniques but more about character and right decisions;
  3. Productivity is less about man helping himself but more about stewarding God's gifts to us;
  4. Productivity is less about how productivity forms us but more about how God reforms us;
  5. Productivity is less about tightly managing people and ourselves but more about engagement, motivation, and unleashing our best;
  6. Productivity is less about achieving peace of mind but more about serving people for the good of others and for the glory of God;
  7. Productivity is less about succeeding for self but more about putting others first;
  8. Productivity is less about getting everything under control but more about letting the gospel drive everything;
  9. Productivity is less about to-do lists to be made and accomplished but more about appreciating time and space as "support material" for our activities;
  10. Productivity is less about achieving "tangible outcomes" but more about intangibles like "relationships developed, connections made, and lessons learned."
  11. Productivity is less about the amount of time spent working but more about results we get;
  12. Productivity is less about concerns for work stuff but more about concerns for all areas of our lives (work, home, community, church, etc);

Monday, November 24, 2014

"Preaching by Ear" (Dave McClelland)

TITLE: Preaching by Ear: Speaking God's Truth from the Inside Out
AUTHOR: Dave McClelland
PUBLISHER: Wooster, OH: Weaver Book Company, 2014, (176 pages).

Preaching is not only about giving a sermon. It is also about preparing the preacher. This two step process is critical, but it needs to begin at the heart. For once, the heart is right, we have one foot firmly on solid ground. As for the other foot, we will need an "orally based model of preaching." This two-part preaching process is taught in this book, with a very intriguing title, "preaching by ear." I have heard of "playing it by ear" by musicians, as a way in which experienced persons "wing it" or let the spirit flow. In social circles, when people say, "Let's play by ear," it can also mean staying flexible to decide the right moves later. More importantly, in preaching by ear, one preaches out of something rich and full "because the preacher and the sermon are inextricably linked," so says Dave McClellan, Pastor of the Chapel at Tinkers Creek in Ohio. With a PhD in Rhetoric and Communications from Duquesne University, McClelland is well equipped to show us how to move sermons from paper into the preacher's heart, and then to the audience. For the author, preaching by ear is a movement from literary sermon to "the orally driven sermon." The former streams off from the written text while the latter springs from the impressed heart. Preaching by ear carries with it an aura of vulnerability and risk. How do we cultivate a heart that leads to the ability to preach by ear?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

"Faith" (various contributors)

TITLE: Faith: Essays from Believers, Agnostics, and Atheists
AUTHOR: Various contributors (edited by Victoria Zackheim)
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Atria Books, 2014, (288 pages).

What is faith? Is it possible not to have faith? Is faith some kind of a mysterious force or a misplaced belief? What is the meaning of faith for both believers as well as non-believers of any religion? In a remarkable book that brings together believers, agnostics, and atheists, two questions were plainly asked of 24 contributors of different religious or non-religious inclinations:
  1. What do you feel?
  2. What do you believe?
Tamim Ansary, an Afghan-American author writes about a "secular mystic" who believes that this world is more meaning than material, with individual parts all connecting up to one big whole. Growing up in a religious environment, he base his own living on doing good and reasoning well. Most of all, when we help one another, we do what it takes to be human. Anne Perry, a New York Times bestselling author based in Los Angeles tackles the question of faith from major influences on her life: her grandfather, father, and mother. It was the death of her mum that haunted her most. Believing in the power of faith, especially in the potential of goodness for humanity to love one another, she holds firmly that at the end of it all, one needs to be still and know that there is God. David Corbett in "Love and Insomnia" writes about his difficult childhood, his battle against insomnia, and his early exposure to Catholicism and belief in God. His views on faith are shaped more by his therapist training in two ways. The first is that perfection is the enemy of the good, which is a learning not to let the drive for perfection destroy one's faith in imperfect humanity. The second is unconditional love. Corbett was also deeply shaken when his wife who was diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer die within four months. Instead of faith in God, he found faith in a Buddhist teaching of impermanence: the wisdom of letting go while not caring less. Accomplished author Beverly Donofrio finds her own sense of faith shaken down after being raped by a serial rapist in Mexico. With steely calm, she was still able to pray a "Hail Mary" which freaked out her assailant. She constantly reflects on the Virgin Mary, finding comfort in the words "Do not be afraid" during moments of light as well as darkness. For Amy Ferris in "Ah. Yes," her light-bulb moment comes when she realizes faith in the eyes of love, of being herself rather than doing all kinds of good outside. Love is not selfish but deep awakening of who she truly is. Sylvie Simmons wonders if there was a "viagra for faith" describing her need for a personal God in spite of feeling distant from Him. Pam Houston, an educator in creative writing hates holidays.  wonders about faith from both an agnostic and atheistic angles.

Friday, November 21, 2014

"The Church According to Paul" (James W. Thompson)

TITLE: The Church according to Paul: Rediscovering the Community Conformed to Christ
AUTHOR: James W. Thompson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014, (304 pages).

There are many books about Church growth, and how to have a great Church ministry. Whether it is emergent Church, or the Progressive movements, missional or the latest trends in doing Church, it is easy to overplay the word 'relevance' into our Ecclesiology. What about being relevant first to the original intention of Church? What about asking the fundamental questions like:
  • What is Paul's perspective of Church?
  • What is his original intent?
  • What is the original vision of Church?
  • Can we re-discover the Church according to Paul?
James W Thompson believes so. In fact, he feels that the most basic questions about Church are often not asked. Beginning with a rather depressing observation about the state of the Church, with dwindling memberships in the West and vacant Church buildings in Europe, it is common for people to say that the Church today is in crisis. The fastest growing group are those who are not affiliated to any Church. On top of that, modern perceptions of Church are increasingly negative and the word "church" is often treated pejoratively. Thompson gives us some possible explanations like secularism, individualism, capitalism, and especially the politicization of the Church. Instead of the Church as a community like people of God, he laments how the Church has become more like social clubs, entertainment centers, corporations, theaters, associations, and so on. He even criticizes the emergent church model that becomes so open that it lacks a doctrinal foundation; and the missional church movement that are so focused on the doing that it risks losing its own identity and message of the Church. His big idea is that the Church according to Paul is two-fold. a) Absence of politicization and power; b) Church as a community where everyone participates. Thompson is convinced that Paul's model of Church in the first century can be implemented in our era. In other words, the first century Church may be different in form, it is however similar in essence of identity in Christ being formed in community. The main sources Thompson draw from are the Old and New Testament Scriptures. This is supplemented by the Apocryphal works, the Pseudepigrapha, some later Greek and Latin works from Aristotle to Josephus, from Plato to Philo. As usual, there are lots of inputs from modern scholars too. Throughout the book, there is a strong and consistent emphasis on the Church as a people of God; the community of believers; communion of saints; the work of the Holy Spirit; all of which point to Thompson's conviction that the Church identity is corporate, not individual.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

"Invitation to Philippians" (Donald R. Sunukjian)

TITLE: Invitation to Philippians: Building a Great Church through Humility (Biblical Preaching for the Contemporary Church)
AUTHOR: Donald R. Sunukjian
PUBLISHER: Wooster, OH: Weaver Book Company, 2014, (124 pages).

Based on a popular preaching textbook (Invitation to Biblical Preaching) used by many students of preaching, author Donald Sunukjian continues with this new volume of sermons on biblical preaching for the contemporary Church. In this edition, readers will find fourteen sermons that were originally preached before a congregation, and slightly edited to fit readers instead of hearers. Currently a homiletics professor at Talbot School of Theology, with doctorates in communications and theology, Sunukjian has both the academic credentials and the pastoral experiences to teach us the art of biblical preaching. The big idea in this book is how the Apostle Paul helps to build a "great Church through humility." The Church at Philippi was the only one that had supported Paul financially. They were dear people in his heart. He encouraged the Philippians for their faithfulness and their resilience in the midst of trials. By structuring the whole letter in a chiastic fashion, readers will find the central characters of humility and self-sacrifice in the examples of Timothy and Epaphroditus.

Sunukjian's Chiastic Structure of Philippians

With the above as the preaching framework, readers are set to learn from one of the best preachers in the evangelical world. Each sermon begins with a catchy story to highlight the problem at hand. It is quickly followed up with a contextual description behind the passage. Interweaving flashbacks to the past and relevance to the present, Sunukjian expounds the biblical texts with clarity and with purpose. He typically ends with a call to the good news as expressed in Paul's letter.

Readers may ask: How is humility demonstrated in this book? Frankly, that is the essence of Philippians in the first place. For the uninitiated, Sunukjian brings in elements of love, obedience to Scripture, posture of gratitude, letting God be first, perseverance in spite of trouble, salvation and deliverance, and many more.

How do we read this book? For those of us who are students of homiletics and preaching, this book needs to be used in conjunction with the main textbook, "Invitation to Biblical Preaching" by the same author. This book complements by putting the principles introduced in that book into practice. Second, learn the way Sunukjian bridges the ancient and the modern with stories, everyday language, and of course, the biblical picture. Finally, the casual reader will have a lot to benefit too, as the sermons not just teach us, but show us the way to learn humility in Christ.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Weaver Book Company and Cross-Focused-Reviews in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

"Culture Shock" (Chip Ingram)

TITLE: Culture Shock: A Biblical Response to Today's Most Divisive Issues
AUTHOR: Chip Ingram
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014, (256 pages).

"The Church is losing its commitment and courage to believe and stand for what Jesus and our forefathers in the faith have given their lives for." So laments Senior Pastor of Venture Christian Church in Los Gatos, California, Chip Ingram. With a book aimed squarely at Christians, he criticizes the lack of meaningful engagement with society's most divisive issues. Many remain silent when there is a need to speak up. When they do speak up, they fail to interact well from a biblical standpoint and straddle along with individual opinions and personal choices. Worse, some have compromised or abandoned absolute truths. Enters this book where Ingram first points out the modern scene about the loss of conviction about absolute truth. Society is not getting any better, judging from the rising suicide rates, adultery, premarital sex, drugs, and other ills of the culture. Accompanying these moral declines are the relativitizing of truth matters. By definition, truth is absolute. What the world deem as relative truth is essentially about wanting to be left alone to do what they please.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

"From God to Us" (Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix)

TITLE: From God To Us Revised and Expanded: How We Got Our Bible
AUTHOR: Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2012, (416 pages).

Ever wonder how we got our Bibles? How did we end up with only 39 books of the Old Testament and 27 in the New? Are we being shaped by the modern stories about the Bible as mere myth? Are we more influenced by how the Da Vinci code book portrays the Bible as a conspiracy? Or are we aware of how the Bible we have today had gone through many years of inspiration by God, faithfulness of God's people, recognition and consistency of tradition and practice, and plain simple divine guidance? Imagine over 2000 years with multiple authors across many centuries, and yet, the Bible books point to that one God. The best human efforts cannot replicate such divine flow of beauty, consistency, and truth telling.  This primer on how we get the Bible has been called a "classic" because of the depth of coverage, the clarity of thought, the conviction of the inspiration of the Spirit, and the excitement of plain story telling of a old old story.

Patiently and with understanding of the curious mind, Geisler and Nix, both professors who had taught at various evangelical seminaries offer us a new expanded edition of the 1972 classic. There are four parts to this book. Part One covers the Inspiration of the Bible, what is inspiration; how the Bible is structure; comparing orthodox views with others;  theories of revelation and inspiration; objective evidence of inspiration; and others. Part Two describes the canonicity process and criteria, covering both the Old and the New Testaments in detail. Simply put, there are three steps in canonization: Inspiration, Recognition, and Preservation. The authors answer questions about:
  • What is canonicity and how it came into being?
  • What are the differences between canonizing and categorizing?
  • What are the differences between the development of the Old and the New Testaments?
  • What about the Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha?
  • Which books are cited by the Early Church fathers?
  • What about other gospels and letters? Why are they not as inspired?

Monday, November 17, 2014

"A Passion for the Fatherless" (Daniel J. Bennett)

TITLE: A Passion for the Fatherless: Developing a God-Centered Ministry to Orphans
AUTHOR: Daniel J. Bennett
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2014, (240 pages).

Experts estimate the number of orphans globally stands at 163 million. In the United States alone, there are 425,000 of which 115,000 are waiting to be adopted. We may shudder at the numbers or be horrified at the huge quantity of fatherless. What about our compassion? Is it not God's will for us to care for the poor, the weak, the vulnerable, widows and orphans? Bennett believes that it is not only what God wanted the Church to do, it is also a very powerful "apologetic" when believers stand together to support the fatherless. Whether it is fostering, adopting, mentoring, or simply supporting, the transformation can go much more. Not only will orphans be reached and cared for, the ones who reached out will also be transformed.

Daniel J. Bennett is Senior Pastor of Bethany Community Church in central Illinois whose passion for orphans accelerated after his stint as a Family Pastor in 2005. He has adopted a child too. He notes how people caring for foster children are able to open up conversations about God as well. He describes his convictions as follows.

"My compassion for orphans flow from the fact that I know God and know that he passionately cares for the fatherless. I love orphans because I love God. If I did not have this theological understanding, my passion for orphans would be commendable but ultimately worthless." (19)

Friday, November 14, 2014

"The Drama of Living" (David Ford)

TITLE: The Drama of Living: Becoming Wise in the Spirit
AUTHOR: David F. Ford
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2014, (240 pages).

In his earlier work, the Shape of Living, Ford talks about the need to live wisely amid three guidelines to help us deal with the "overwhelming" forces in life. He calls it the NDA: Name-It; Describe-It; and Attend-to-it. This book continues the flow which I call as "Live-It." In this sequel, Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge, Dr David Ford continues with another trio of Bible, poetry, and life. The operative words in this book are "drama," "improvisation," and "wisdom."

On the Bible, Ford focuses on the gospel of John, calling it the "most dramatic book of the New Testament." The first chapter of the book tells us what the book is about. Using the same name as the title, Ford observes how Jesus' public life intersects with the lives of ordinary people, and how Jesus shaped them. He then ponders on the question of how our own lives are shaped by noting the need for patient listening to truth matters, and gentle entering into the brokenness of this world. Public drama influences us in more ways than one. In a world crowded with famous people, we can be influenced by what they say or do. We need to be selective on which character we allow to influence us. More importantly, we need a better grip of the ordinary, and not to be easily swayed by popular persons or fads that do not last. He praises the ordinary because it is a great environment to promote "promises, commitments, habits, disciplines, and routines." This calls for an "ongoing improvisation in the Spirit," something that is about embracing Jesus' love, following after Jesus, and manifesting his love in daily living.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

"Storm" (Jim Cymbala)

TITLE: Storm: Hearing Jesus for the Times We Live In
AUTHOR: Jim Cymbala
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014, (208 pages).

The name of the book may suggest it. The picture that accompanies it may show a physical storm approaching. However, the book is more than twisters, tornadoes, or typhoons. Though it began with a story of how Superstorm Sandy affected the author's city of residence, it struck three warning signs for the Church at large. First, the Church is not as large as they thought. Second, not many Christians have been transformed in Christ. Third, there is an alarming decline of biblical literacy. Instead, people mimic the world more than Christ. They buy into fads and trends that are more worldly than biblical. They incorporate modern management techniques to drive Church attendance. Entertainment programs fill worship halls to drive numbers. The message focuses more on relevance rather than preaching the power of the Cross. As the Pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle Jim Cymbala puts it, there is mostly "icing but no cake." He counters the approaching storms with a call to storm heaven with prayer. Like the biblical Hannah who prayed amid her struggles with dark moments, the author shares about his desperate prayers at a time where his Church only numbers at most twenty people; low on funds; located in a broken inner city neighbourhood; and he and his wife needed second jobs to make ends meet. The big spiritual problem facing churches is actually not external but internal: like the lack of prayer. Other problems include the rising social problems in our vicinities. In the story of Avril, Cymbala tells of how God can turn the mess of life into a ministry for life. For God's call is not only for people overseas but also for the poor and vulnerable near our neighbourhoods.