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Friday, May 30, 2014

"When Sorry Isn't Enough" (Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas)

TITLE: When Sorry Isn't Enough: Making Things Right with Those You Love
AUTHOR: Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Northfield Publishing, 2013, (176 pages).

No one's perfect. Neither should we behave in such a way as if we expect people to be perfect. Yet, that happens all the time. Even the best of relationships will fall into bad and difficult times, especially when one's loved one is hurt. What if the offense is repeated? What if the expectation is more than a mere apology? Then what should we do?

Previously released under the title, "The Five Love Languages of Apology," Chapman understands the intricate connections needed for going beyond mere sorry. When authentic apology meets understanding among all, we have genuine forgiveness. The authors assert that because "people are incurably moral," not only do they seek to do right, they are inclined to try righting any wrongs. The key is to learn how to do that. The five types of apology are as follows:

  1. "I'm Sorry" - expressing regret
  2. "I was wrong" - accepting responsibility
  3. "How can I make it right?" - Making restitution
  4. "I want to change" - Genuine repentance
  5. "Can you find it in your heart?" - requesting forgiveness.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

"Journey Toward Justice" (Nicholas Wolterstorff)

TITLE: Journey toward Justice: Personal Encounters in the Global South (Turning South: Christian Scholars in an Age of World Christianity)
AUTHOR: Nicholas Wolterstorff
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013, (272 pages).

Called a "biographical journey" rather than an academic treatise on justice, renowned author Nicholas Wolterstorff shares about what it means to begin justice from the "perspective of the wronged" instead of a distant concept about rights. Recalling his first time in South Africa in 1975, a country in the throes of apartheid, the author was stunned about how injustice can happen so blatantly. In the Middle East, he faced the problems of the Palestinians, in particular 150 Palestinians crying out for justice. "Self-perceived benevolence" can become an "instrument of oppression." What turned the nail on its head is how Wolterstorff saw the way the oppressed responded not directly to the small injustices inflicted on them, but how they yearn for a larger form of justice. Wolterstorff coins the former as "reactive justice" while the latter as "primary justice." Reactive justice is permission given for those who have been wrongfully bullied or abused. In other words, the one wronged automatically has the "permission rights" to seek amends. This is most evident in the author's trip to Honduras where despite the laws set in place, the enforcement is sorely lacking. Primary justice on the other hand goes much farther. It is about stopping the primary injustice and undoing the effects of the injustice. The two-pronged approach of stopping primary injustice and promoting primary justice are two sides of the same coin. Wolterstorff sees a strong emphasis on primary justice for the Afrikaners and the Palestinians.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"Four Views on the Historical Adam" (Matthew Barrett and Ardel B. Caneday)

TITLE: Four Views on the Historical Adam (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology)
AUTHOR: Matthew Barrett and Ardel B. Caneday
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013, (288 pages).

Why should anyone bother about Adam as a historical person? If that is not complicated enough, what about four different perspectives of the first created person in the world? If that is not challenging enough, what about having eight intellectuals engaging one another on the various views? For some of us, that is a lot of ivory tower discussion. Unlike the first dispute over worship between Cain and Abel, this discussion is not centered around opposing for the sake of opposing. It is definitely not about murdering one another for their stand! Instead, it is about learning to appreciate the diversity of views with regards to a fundamental theological concern: Truth must be upheld even in the midst of conflicts and controversies. Learning how to agree and disagree lovingly is a mark of a mature Christian community. In any quest for truth, conflicts are inevitable. It is how Christians learn to engage one another constructively and humbly that will lead to greater learning and appreciation of the truth for all. Like any debates, we need moderators to help keep the discussions respectful and within the boundaries of the topic of interest.

Monday, May 26, 2014

"Living Whole Without a Better Half" (Wendy Widder)

TITLE: Living Whole Without a Better Half
AUTHOR: Wendy Widder
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2014, (192 pages).

This is a book about singlehood written by a single. Having waded through tonnes of resources about singleness and also evaded the darts of inquisitive questions about why she is still unmarried, Widder no longer plays the role of a victim. She has become a voice for the singles.

She has three graduate degrees; years of teaching experience with elementary school children; many friends, but no husband. After years of waiting, hoping, and wondering, she begins to see beyond the need for a spouse toward the recognition of singleness as a gift. With tough personal lessons learned, author Widder addresses her fear of singleness with faith in God. She learns to adopt a sense of identity based on affirming herself in God more than simply marital status. The most pertinent question is "whose am I?" After attacking two common lies about singleness, Widder goes on a journey on learning from 14 Old Testament characters. Even though many of the characters are not single, there are principles in which singles can learn to live without the need to get married.

Friday, May 23, 2014

"The Return of the Kosher Pig" (Rabbi Itzhak Shapira)

TITLE: Return of the Kosher Pig
AUTHOR: Rabbi Itzhak Shapira
PUBLISHER: Clarksville, MD, Lederer Books, 2013, (334 pages).

The title is provocative, even offensive to some. The idea is intriguing at best, but also controversial especially to Judaism. The book is food for thought on many levels. In a passionate plea for Jews to consider Yeshua as the Messiah, Rabbi Itzhak Shapira brings together the concepts of kosher and unkosher, clean and unclean, and applies the understanding to the Person of Yeshua, or Jesus as the Messiah. For centuries, Jews have accused both Christians and Messianic Jews as unkosher, unclean, and to be put together under the same category as pigs. The author knows the negative sentiments firsthand, as he himself was once so paranoid about pig and pork, that any other meat placed next to pork, he would not even touch.

His main focus in this book is to build bridges between Jews and Gentiles; Jews in general and the Messianic Jews. How successful he is will be arguable but the intent is honourable. He begins with the Jewish historical and cultural understanding of Jesus, which many Jews brand Jesus as "Yeshu" which is an acronym for "may his name be blotted out." In Jesus, Jews will readily consider him the greatest of all uncleanness. It is all because of an incorrect interpretation of the Old Testament Scriptures in the first place. Incorrect interpretation had shaped the understanding of Jesus. Shapira gives a list of false Jewish prophets who then misjudged Jesus. He points out the legitimacy of Jews who accepted Jesus as Divine Messiah. He highlights primary Jewish sources like the mitzvot, the Brit HaChadasha, and the development of the Rabbinic Literature. He relates the secondary literature such as the Talmud, the Targums, and others that influence the Jewish understanding of Jesus. He builds a bridge between Messianic Jews and other Jews saying that they hold in high regard as well, people such as Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, Abraham Ibn Ezra, Rabbi David Kimhi, Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon, Rabbi David Altshuler, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, and others.

The phrase "kosher pig" has more to do with the interpretative framework. Eventually, pigs will be kosher. At the end, the most unkosher and "offensive" person in Jewish mind, will be made kosher and clean in the minds of people. That is why the return is anticipated and this return understood in the person of Jesus as the Divine Messiah, the very person that many Jews had rejected in the first place. The author digs deep into Jewish literature. He argues for the case of God being One. He affirms that Jesus is the One having Full Authority as God in Heaven.  Quoting Scripture extensively, he argues that there is no contradiction of Jesus claims to be Divine. The Son of God is "Yeshua" (Mishlei 30:4).

Shapira continues with evidence provided through case studies, that Judaism anticipates a Divine Messiah. Slowly, he brings in New Testament evidence too, that God is Creator, Redeemer, Messiah, and Divine. It is densely populated with Jewish commentaries, teachings of top Rabbis, interpretations, contextual analysis, and other Jewish evidence that urges readers to consider again that Jesus is not to be blotted out as many insist on. Finally, Shapira concludes with a plea for the people of Israel not to form conclusions based on faulty interpretations in the past. Weigh the evidence carefully. See how Moses and the prophets spoke of the Messiah beautifully. For the "pig" will return to Israel, and when that happens, do not case him out again. This pig is not an unclean creature. It is a symbol of reconciliation between God and man. Let truth shine forth. Let no prejudice blindfold us.

Boldly written, this book is filled with Jewish literature that argues the salvation of man is through Judaism, in particular the person of the Divine Messiah, Yeshua. He is Redeemer and comes with the full authority of God. The casual reader may be overwhelmed by the piles of Jewish documents and references. Those familiar with Judaism and the principles of Jewish interpretation will be tempted to read the arguments. While primarily written for Jewish minds and ears, Christians who are not familiar with Judaism may find this book a little hard to read or understand. The main point is that, it is an apologetic, a plea for Jews to re-consider the path of grace, to move from seeing Jesus as "Yeshu" to see Jesus as "Yeshua," the Divine Messiah.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


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

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Mission Drift

TITLE: Mission Drift: The Unspoken Crisis Facing Leaders, Charities, and Churches
AUTHOR: Peter Greer & Chris Horst
PUBLISHER: Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2014, (224 pages).

Every organization is prone to drifting. It is basically a matter of time. The original mission will always be threatened with change as the years go by. Authors Peter Greer and Chris Horst have come together to tackle this "unspoken crisis facing leaders, charities, and churches." This crisis has affected Ivy Leagues, Franciscan Food Banks, the YMCAs, mainline churches, and other charities. Why? Two basic reasons:
  1. Personal Drift as leaders fail
  2. Institutional Drift as organizations become distracted
In both these drifts, the basic answer is humility and accountability.  The first step is to recognize the problem. The second step is to revisit one's original calling and mission, and to determine the identity that started it all. The third step is to work toward becoming "Mission True" people and organizations. With remarkable insight and wise guidance, Greer and Horst points the way forward. Unlike books that tend to bash us black and blue throughout, this book has more to say about what it means to be "Mission True." Only two chapters out of fifteen are dedicated to bashing the drifting that is happening in many places. Packed with riveting observations about modern charities and churches, the authors sensitively highlight the challenges of how atheism had infiltrated the typical religious mindset, like the way the YWCA has become more secular than Christian. They bring back the importance of focusing on character rather than credentials. They question the lack of purpose in organizations that have stayed too long in their comfort zones. They provide directions for board members. They list some key performance measures that are more consistent with the mission of the organizations. They suggest a new performance scorecard that helps focused ministry. It is one thing to be all things to all people. It is yet another to be an organization that is true to its values and to let God bless as many people as possible through faithful working out of this mission.

This is indeed an act of faith. When we stay true to our mission, we are asking that God lead us to do what matters to God. We are then asked to trust God to do the rest. It is one thing to try to take everything in our own hands. It is yet another work out the things God had given us, and to put the rest in the hands of God. 

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


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

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

"Autopsy of a Deceased Church" (Thom S. Rainer)

TITLE: Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive
AUTHOR: Thom S. Rainer
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B and H Publishing, 2014, (102 pages).

Spurred by the popularity of his blog post of the same title, the author and President of Lifeway Christian Resources in Nashville, Tennessee has put together a whole book on church autopsy.

Gruesome? Not really. For the churches Rainer are talking about are already dead in the first place. Like a Church version of CSI, examining the evidence of the deceased church will bring hope and life to existing ones, especially those that are exhibiting all the marks of a dying church. In doing so, Rainer has helpfully identified 11 marks of a dying church and 12 ways to go about reversing the seemingly inevitable with 12 ways that say: "Not so fast."

The stories in the book are real, although masked in order to protect the real persons. The author based his research on 14 deceased churches. Deceased churches can possess one or more of the following 11 factors:
  1. Lost her vision
  2. Gradual erosion that members fail to see
  3. Over-clinging to the past
  4. Me-First mentality
  5. Inward-Looking Budgets
  6. Great Omission
  7. Personal Preferences Driven
  8. Frequent Pastoral Turnovers
  9. Poor Prayer Attendance
  10. No Clear Purpose
  11. Obsession with Facilities

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

"The Book of Not So Common Prayer" (Linda McCullough Moore)

TITLE: The Book of Not So Common Prayer: A New Way to Pray, A New Way to Live
AUTHOR: Linda McCullough Moore
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2014, (176 pages).

There are some people who claim that liturgical prayers and no longer necessary as they say things like, "I say grace. I pray and work at the same time. I pray on the fly just like Brother Lawrence." Those who say this will be badly mistaken. Brother Lawrence is not just a man who prays when he works. He also participates in liturgy and prayers 8 times a day. This is what "unceasing prayer" looks like. We pray whether we work, rest, or performing religious liturgies. The "Practice of the Presence of God" is not just for those who work and work. It is also for all other moments when we are not working or doing something. In our modern world of technology, gadgets, and mobility on the go, praying is increasingly becoming an after-thought or a spiritual flash in the religious pan. How then do we cultivate a prayerfulness amid a busy lifestyle we live in? Bill Hybels claims that our society has made us think we have become too busy to pray. That is why he counters by saying it is "too busy not to pray." Moore, an accomplished writer hopes that more will not only know how to pray, but want desperately to pray.

She begins with her own musings about how prayer is essentially what we were made for. Realising that it is quite challenging to schedule prayer times during the day, she looks beyond mere time toward posture. She tries out intentional Bible reading as prayer. She involves her whole body to reflect a posture of prayer. She examines the set times of prayer Jesus often takes and questions the very notion of speedy prayers that many modern teachers suggest. While it is true that short prayers are better than not praying, the overuse of short prayers in our prayer life will mean the loss of spiritual disciplines. Moore writes:

"The reason we do not spend one of those hours every day in prayer is because we do not want to, and we do not want to because we have not spent an hour there." (p10)

It is a matter of the will, not about the deficiencies of the flesh. Do we desire God more or do we want to gratify self more? She points out whether our use of time has unwittingly become a reflection of the god we worship. "Time is a thermometer" of our spiritual passions. She falls back to the conventional ACTS paradigm of prayer to begin with: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. She talks about how art can infuse a prayerfulness. She looks at Confession and sees it not as a negative in terms of pouring out our sins, but as a positive in terms of how it frees us from burdensome sinful past. Good prayers are those with a concentrated gaze on God. I like that.  Prayer is also about prayer for all people, those we love and the strangers that come to mind.

Other uncommon prayer habits include the need to understand how time impacts our praying. Many people have a tendency to schedule our prayer time without much thought. Some prefer the start of day while others prefer either the evening or the midday. With the constant struggle between praying first or work first, all of us need to find our own rhythms through the day. Moore likens the need to find time to pray to the need for finding time to write. Gently, she encourages readers to move beyond mere praying times toward seeking to find God at all times. She looks at self-discipline and notes how similar it is to habits. The illustration about how one breaks the habit of using the TV remote control within the first seven seconds of sitting on a couch is instructive. Likewise, in cultivating prayer as a discipline, we can take concrete steps to remove the distractions of our daily life, so as to be intentional about keeping the important thing the main thing.

I ask myself: "What's so uncommon about the prayers in this book?" Actually, it is about small paradigm shifts. It is what I call habitual jiggling to renew our love for God through prayer. It aims to turn unceasing prayer that grows beyond mere set times toward loving God and neighbour in the ministry of prayerfulness. Moore writes in a manner that ranks her in the same category as Anne Lamott and to some extent Anne Dillard. Some readers may question whether she is qualified to write spiritual works as she has no theological degree or some Christian teaching credentials. I would answer by simply saying, one does not need a degree to talk about religious stuff. One needs to be a believer. As believers, we are all called to pray, and Moore is essentially using her gift of writing to encourage more to pray.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


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

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Deeper Life (Daniel Henderson)

TITLE: Deeper Life, The: Satisfying the 8 Vital Longings of Your Soul
AUTHOR: Daniel Henderson
PUBLISHER: Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2013, (272 pages).

It is easy to enter into faith. It is not easy to sustain a life of growth. Likewise, it is easy to talk about spiritual renewal, but it is not as easy to demonstrate what exactly that means. Using eight measurables, senior pastor Daniel Henderson brings together his wealth of experience with churches and believers, and produces a resource book for anyone seeking spiritual direction and wanting to be more intentional in their spiritual growth. Knowing how easy it is for anyone to be distracted, hurried, and needing more intentional guidance, Henderson proposes the following in spiritual warfare:

Worship + Integrity + Nonconformity = WIN.

Worship is essentially about who we live for, and the "FUEL for a deeper life." Henderson defines it as "the response of all I am to the revelation of all God is." Nice.

Integrity is defined as "the fiber of a deeper life." The more we clarify and apply the biblical truths of "identity, purpose, values, priorities, goals, and others," the more integrated we become.

Nonconformity is about the FRUIT of a deeper life, that as we resist the wiles of the evil one, and the temptations that often attack us, we will be more prepared to conform ourselves to Christ. The eight longings in this book are targeted to meeting the above three goals of worship, integrity, and nonconformity.

The eight longings are described as follows:

#1 - Who Is God? Knowing God Fully (Theology)
#2 - Who am I? Knowing Self Truthfully (Identity)
#3 - Why Am I Here? Knowing Our Role on Earth (Purpose)
#4 - What Really Matters? Knowing Our Values (Value)
#5 - What Shall I Do? Knowing Our Activity Order (Priorities)
#6 - How Shall I Do It? Knowing Our Goals (Goals)
#7 - When Shall I Do It? Knowing Stewardship (Time)
#8 - How Will I Finish? Knowing how to Finish (Legacy)

For each longing, Henderson begins with a thought provoking quote followed by a contemporary illustration. He brings in his own stories, highlights the advantages for exercising these longings, and provides easy to understand tests and practical tips to cultivate growth in that longing. This is supplemented by discovery exercises that readers can use for their own benefit, or for teachers to adopt in their Christian Education classes. The Appendices are valuable resources too. With many creative acronyms, clear frameworks, and supported by real life experiences, Henderson is a gentle guide and a wise teacher. 

I think Bethany House Publishers have hit on a winner. For anyone who feels lethargic or lacking some spiritual direction, this book may very well be the spark to ignite your spiritual flame. I recommend this book highly.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


"Book has been provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications and Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

"Get Your Teenager Talking" (Jonathan McKee)

TITLE: Get Your Teenager Talking: Everything You Need to Spark Meaningful Conversations
AUTHOR: Jonathan McKee
PUBLISHER: Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, (176 pages).

"How's your day today?"

If you get one word answers like, "Fine," "same-old," "whatever," or simply a shrug of "ok," you are probably dealing with a teenager. Indeed, getting this age group to talk is like opening clamshells. The default mode is shut. Only their peers can get them to open up. How then do parents and concerned adults connect with this group of people?

Even though parents and adults were once teenagers, it can be really difficult for intergenerational communications. Youth culture guru Jonathan McKee has put together five quick tips on how to get teenagers to open up, plus 180 examples called "conversation springboards." The five tips are:

  1. Ask open ended questions
  2. Avoid asking dull questions
  3. Plan and think ahead
  4. Use controversy
  5. Observe first, speak later

These five tips are essential to avoid turning conversations into boring monologues into active dialogues. The rest of the book makes use of a combination of these five tips to help sustain a meaningful conversation with the teenager. Each "conversational springboard" begins with a spark of contemporary topic or interesting scenario. A few follow-up questions are quickly suggested to sustain the small flame of interest. Exceptionally brief and equipped with pithy statements, each springboard is easy to use and cleverly stirs anyone not just to respond but want to say something about it. Here are some notable springboards:

  • Career guidance: "If you could have any occupation in the world, what would you want to do, and why?" (#17)
  • Self-Esteem: "Name an Accomplishment you are most proud of." (#30)
  • Family: "Who do you admire the most in our immediate family?" (#45)
  • Companionship: "If you got lost in a foreign country for a few days, who would you want with you, and why?" (#53)
  • Maturity: "Where do you realistically see yourself in ten years?" (#82)
  • Knowledge/Reflection: "Of all the books you have read, what has been the most impactful?" (#85)
  • Introspection: "Fast-forward thirty years. What is the best compliment someone could give you about your children?" (#137)
  • ...

These and many more are essential tools to help spark meaningful conversations with teenagers. That said, it really takes someone who knows teenagers to come up with such a long list of ideas. At the same time, every teenager is unique, and uniquely different from one another. What works for one may not work for another. The key is that anyone using the book need to be as discerning as well. For example, the questions on cartoons may seem a little childish. The one about books may not appeal to those who do not like to read. The one on remembering a deceased may come across as too painful. Thus, having the book alone does not mean one has all the answers. Discernment and care need to be used to ensure that we be sensitive to the feelings of teenagers.

Perhaps, for parents who are exasperated about their clammed-up teenager, as long as one springboard question can begin the conversation, the book would have worth every cent. Those working or are interested in all things youth will certainly benefit from this book.

Rating: 4.24 stars of 5.


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

Friday, May 16, 2014

"The Manual to Manhood" (Jonathan Catherman)

TITLE: Manual to Manhood, The: How to Cook the Perfect Steak, Change a Tire, Impress a Girl & 97 Other Skills You Need to Survive
AUTHOR: Jonathan Catherman
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2014, (288 pages).

What does it mean to be a man? What is manhood? What does it take to be a gentlemen? What about the path from boys to men? This book addresses all of these through 100 tips that range from developing skills within the house and outside. Call it survival skills or common knowledge, the author Jonathan Catherman believes that moral character needs to be supplemented by basic skills of fixing stuff, appropriate behaviour, personal grooming, financial management, relating to people, dating, and any conceivable things that a young man needs to learn. In doing so, the hope is that there would be more gentlemen who exudes confidence and cultivates a character that is consistent with the nature of manhood that God has created man to be. There are ten categories described.

  1. Women and Dating
  2. Social Skills and Manners
  3. Work and Ethics
  4. Wealth and Money Management
  5. Grooming and Personal Hygiene
  6. Clothes and Style
  7. Sports and Recreation
  8. Cars and Driving
  9. Food and Cooking
  10. Tools and Fix-It

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

"Interpreting the General Letters" (Herbert Bateman IV)

TITLE: Interpreting the General Letters: An Exegetical Handbook (Handbooks for New Testament Exegesis)
AUTHOR: Herbert Bateman IV
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2013, (320 pages).

There are eight letters in the New Testament called the "General Letters." What are they for? How do we understand them? What applications do such ancient letters have for modern readers? What is the background and theology behind them? These questions and many more are ably dealt with in this exegetical handbook, written by a meticulous scholar and lover of the Word. Indeed, it takes a lover of the Word to be so meticulous about the details of the Word.

Before any proper interpretation, one needs to understand the contexts, the history, the nuances of the texts, and the background of the origin of the texts concerned. Scanning contemporary sources, biblical and extra-biblical texts, Jewish texts like the Qumran, New Testament scholar Herbert Bateman IV has used his wide expertise and knowledge to put together a handbook for us to study and to learn the General Epistles in greater depth and breathtaking detail.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

"Models for Biblical Preaching" (various)

TITLE: Models for Biblical Preaching: Expository Sermons from the Old Testament
AUTHOR/EDITORS: Haddon Robinson and Patricia Batten
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014, (208 pages).

If we survey the number of Church sermons, chances are the number of sermons on the New Testament will outnumber those of the Old Testament. In a culture that tends to gravitate toward most things new, some may even consider the Old Testament too archaic and irrelevant for contemporary times.  While biblical scholars and theologians are able to describe a lot of what the ancient contexts mean, preachers trying making a bridge to connect the ancient to the present day can still find it extremely challenging.  This book of expository preaching from the Old Testament demonstrates 11 ways on how to expound the Old Testament passages in such a way as to aim at the minds of listeners, and empower the hearts of believers.

Based on the Big Idea sermon philosophy credited largely to Dr Haddon Robinson, all the sermons are from former students of the popular professor at both Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Denver Seminary. If Robinson's "Biblical Preaching" is about the theory, this book is essentially about the practice of it.  The first ten sermons are expository sermons while the final one is an evangelistic one. All of them are given using Old Testament texts as their primary preaching texts. Pastor Bryan Wilkerson kicks off with Genesis 22:1-19, looking at how Abraham's faith was demonstrated at Mount Moriah, that the test was not about Abraham's love for his son, but more of his faith in God. Pastor Eric Dokken expounds on Exodus 20:7, the third commandment's significance of not misusing the name of God. For in treasuring the name of God, we are treasuring God himself. Pastor Steve Mathewson tackles the difficult topic in Judges 3:12-30, of how a dark and gloomy book that tells of a seemingly hopeless situation, can have a sudden turnaround of God's deliverance. Patricia Batten, co-author of the book, preaches from Psalm 73 that whenever we doubt God's goodness, we need to learn to seek God in order to restore hope and trust in His goodness. Professor Sid Buzzell uses Proverbs 22:1 as a parting word to graduates, to learn to distinguish the sounds from the noises of this world, in order to know what are true riches of life. Dr Scott Wenig explores Ecclesiastes 3:9-15 to show us that only God is the center of all life. Ramona Spilman deals with the major prophet Isaiah 43:1-3a, and preaches in the voice of a character, and to allow the audience to eavesdrop into the narrative. Professor Kent Edwards preaches Jeremiah 1 on the topic of calling, how God had called Jeremiah to ministry, and what it means for us in modern days. Pastor Torrey Robinson unpacks Daniel 4 to challenge people on giving. He speaks in the first person of Nebuchadnezzar, using the insanity motif to drive home the message of stewardship. Professor Matthew Kim studies the character of Jonah, looking at Jonah 1-4 to highlight the need for Christians to care for what God cares about. Finally, Chris Dolson gives us an evangelistic sermon to show us that God is not simply All-Love, He is also Justice. 

Every contributor to this book was interviewed with several questions about the entire sermon preparation process. Other than the sermons, these interview questions provide readers a spectrum of insights and ideas of how good preachers prepare their messages. Some preach with notes while others preach without them. Some use the conventional first person approach while others narrate as a first person perspective. Some are pastors while others are professors. All of them have managed to develop their unique styles and preparation methods. They even have tips for the young aspiring preacher. For me, the interviews are very assuring. It tells me that there is no one way to prepare for the sermon. In fact, there is a sense of diversity around unity of the Big-Idea preaching philosophy. This is another powerful reason why Dr Robinson's preaching method is so popular. It is simple enough to allow individuals to remain focused on one main message. It is flexible enough to permit sophistication and varieties of preaching styles.  As a preacher myself, I continue to learn new ways on how to improve and make my sermons better for the sake of the gospel and the audience. Use this book as a way to hone your own skills. If it can shed a light into our unique preaching abilities, it would have worth every cent.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


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

Thursday, May 8, 2014

"Replant" (Darrin Patrick and Mark Devine)

TITLE: Replant: How a Dying Church Can Grow Again
AUTHOR: Darrin Patrick and Mark Devine
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook Publishers, 2014, (176 pages).

Three men. Three cities. Three pastors. Two churches. One goal to redeemed a congregation that is shrinking, despairing, and fading. The first person is Mark, a seminary professor by day and an interim pastor by night. The second person is Kevin, a reluctant church planter who shuns a spanking new building for fear of it becoming a distraction to his calling. The third person is Darrin who lives 250 miles away from the new Church. The Church concerned is First Calvary Baptist Church, established in 1840 with 18 members. At her height, she boasts of a size around 600 worshipers. However, by 1994, the Church has become just an old place for a handful of worshipers, a far cry from the heydays. Even though one may claim that the Church is not about buildings or judged according to numbers, true spiritual health does mean a growth in numbers to some extent. Mark observes that some churches tend to put on a bold rhetorical front of growing in spiritual health especially when their numbers are shrinking. Darrin points out some signs of churches needing rebirth. Signs such as frequent pastorate changes; short pastoral tenures; deteriorating worship centers; power concentrated on a few; and an inability to adapt to changes in the culture and neighbourhood over time.Other signs include the control of power by a few individuals as well as inhibiting the roles of lead pastors to do what they are called to do.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

"People Raising" (William P. Dillon)

TITLE: People Raising: A Practical Guide to Raising Funds
AUTHOR: William P. Dillon
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2012, (240 pages).

Fund raising again? If you are familiar with non-profits, you will be familiar with the constant request for money and donations by various organizations who call themselves non-profits. From educational institutions to ecological interest groups; school functions to various altruistic purposes, fund-raising is a necessary evil to some but a critical source of survival for many. For all the great plans and powerful visions, the mission will fail if there is no fuel to sustain its activities. For many Christian organizations, just the word "fund-raising" would lead to a 50% decline in interest both ways. For the one raising funds, it seems more like a chore. For the prospect being approached, it appears to be another of those money-seeking requests in the name of charity.

That is why this book is such an important contribution to change our mindsets, our motivational skills, and our master strategies to help fulfill the bigger picture of any non-profit organization or group. William Dillon is a founder and president of an organization called "People Raising." This group provides guidance and training to help non-profits, especially Christian organizations to raise support for their work. In an aptly named book, raising funds is secondary. Raising people is primary. This book is now into its second edition aims to show us that money should not be the key focus. The key focus must be to build people up for the kingdom of God.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

"The Gift of Love" (Amy Clipston)

TITLE: The Gift of Love: One Woman's Journey to Save a Life
AUTHOR: Amy Clipston
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013, (224 pages).

It begins with an accident that unleashes story after story of a family whose lives have been turned upside down by the struggles of life. Written from the narrative view of the author, a wife, a mother, as well as an organ donor, Clipston's story will touch readers of how she managed to endure hardship and trials, seeking help where help is needed, offering solace where comfort is needed, and giving ardent support to people even when their lives appear to be falling apart. As a fiction author, Clipston reveals the highs of being given her first book contract, which was quickly followed by the lows of medical bills that practically wiped out her earnings. As a wife, she endures long moments of watching her husband giving up his full-time job due to a chronic kidney condition, of seeing him suffering immense pain through dialysis treatments, and of fearing that her husband would suffer even more if no suitable kidney transplant can be done. As a mother, Clipston suffers miscarriages which not only tests her resolve but threatens to unravel her emotionally as well.

This book gives us the details of the tough journey of Clipston, and through it all, she learned the preciousness of family, the importance of family bonds, the support of her extended family, and the many kind strangers along the way. The life that Clipston was seeking to save is primarily her husband, Joe. Along the way, she receives terrible news about her dad's sudden stroke which completely changed him from a brilliant man to a man seeking to die. Along the journey, she experiences what it means to lose a dad, and what it means to lose a child to miscarriage, and very nearly what it means to lose her own life to an accident. Page after page, readers will be wondering how a woman can possibly deal with so many burdens and demands. The struggles are not just physical health and financial matters. The struggles include times of depression, many moments of frustrations and fears, disappointments at how one transplant failed and the fear of a second one failing. Yet, that is not all that the book is about. The book is also about faith, hope, and love. It is the faith that gives Clipston an anchor to bank her life upon. Right from the very start as she describes her own accident, she already knew that someone was looking out for her. Even after her miscarriages, she was able to deliver two healthy boys. That is not all, she finds her own life enriched through mutual giving, as her donation of her own kidney under the paired donor program, blesses not just her own family but helped saved another as well.

This book is indeed a gift for the down and crestfallen. If you feel that you are struggling with issues that you cannot handle, or discouragement that seems to make you feel as if you are the greatest victim in the world, why not dive into this book and to discover a friend in Clipston's story. A story that weaves together the faith in God, the hope in God's faithful providence, and the magnificent flowering of love unlimited, as one gives so that another can have life. That more if not all, can have life to the fullest.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


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

Friday, May 2, 2014

"60 People Who Shaped the Church" (Alton Gansky)

TITLE: 60 People Who Shaped the Church: Learning from Sinners, Saints, Rogues, and Heroes
AUTHOR: Alton Gansky
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014, (320 pages).

At bookstores all over the world, especially in North America, self-help sections continue to be major draws for people wanting some tips on how to live better. Good bookstores will have a special section about biographies and personal memoirs. Imagine having sixty books in one easy to leaf over binder. This is exactly what Alton Gansky had done for us, choosing saints and significant figures through history, who have shaped the formation of the Church in some way. One of the best ways to teach history is to tell stories. Gansky, author of 24 novels and 8 non-fiction books has chosen to tell the story of 60 "sinners, saints, rogues, and heroes" of the Church.

He begins with the Apostle Peter, his early life and subsequent ministry, and how his contributions have been positively matched by the Apostle Paul in the spreading of the gospel. Besides Peter and Paul, he also highlights the powerful lives of other martyrs like Polycarp and Justin Martyr. Broadly speaking, one can frame the sixty people through four periods of time.

  • Period 1 (0-500)
  • Period 2 (501-1000)
  • Period 3 (1001-1500)
  • Period 4 (1501 - present)
Period 1 comprises of the martyrs, the theological battles against gnosticism, the religious and political mergers that commenced during the reign of Constantine, and the growing influence of the bishops and doctors of the church such as Athanasius, Augustine, Ambrose of Milan, John Chrysostom, to name a few. These movers and shakers fought heresy, elevated the preaching of the Word, defended Orthodoxy, and paved the way for the flowering movement of Medieval spirituality at the end of the sixth century. Period 2 is relatively quiet, with only one "Venerable Bede" who is described as a historian and theologian. Bede's contribution is to raise the level of religious scholarship, even introducing the commonly accepted dates of BC and AD.

Period 3 is the pre-Reformation stage, with significant figures such as Anselm, Francis of Assisi, Thomas Aquinas, John Wycliffe, and the astronomer, Copernicus. These people shaped the Church through helping to propagate the availability of the Bible for the masses, and how the Christian life can be lived in our daily lives. It is also a period that prepares the Church for the coming Reformation and the Dark Ages. 

When readers arrive at Period 4, there will be a lot more familiar names from Wesley to Whitefield, Pascak to Newton, Wilberforce to Carey, hymn writer Fanny Crosby, pastoral writings of Oswald Chambers, novelists like Dostoyevsky and TS Eliot, philosophers like CS Lewis, GK Chesterton, and evangelists like Billy Sunday and Billy Graham.

So What?

Let me offer five observations of this mini-biography of these sixty people. Firstly, the book is Period 4-heavy. With more than half the book dedicated to individuals from the Reformation to the modern evangelical world, I think this book ought to be retitled to reflect this. Instead of going so far back to Peter and Paul in the first century, why not just bring in 60 characters from the years 1500 to the present. I am certain there are many to choose from. Secondly, I find Period 2's lack of individuals rather disturbing. Maybe, it is like the proverbial calm before the storm. What about the Islamic conquests of Europe and the religious wars fought during the seventh century? Where is Charlemagne? What about the significance of All Saints Day? These are some of the snippets of significant events happening in Period 2. Thirdly, this book is overly ambitious that it loses its cutting edge. Granted it is trying to give us a sweep of history through the lives of sixty people. Yet, there is a sense of an anti-climactic end toward the end of each character that leaves readers wanting more. In this regard, perhaps it would have been better to include some resources at the end of each chapter, for those who want to read more about the person. Fourthly, I am curious about why only sixty people. Why not 50 or 25, and so on? Understandably, any number chosen would have prompted the same question as well. It would be useful for the author to at least say something about the choice of the number, as well as his criteria for choosing the sixty people. Finally, let me give a few scattered observations. I appreciate the table of contents, which includes a short overview of each person to be described. This annotation doubles up as an index for readers to use as a reference guide as well. What about pictures and diagrams? Surely, each person merits a photo or a sketch of how he or she looks like.

All in all, the effort by the author to bring together sixty significant characters is commendable. However, for reasons above, I think Gansky could have just focused on less with more.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


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