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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.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"Persuasive Preaching" (R. Larry Overstreet)

TITLE: Persuasive Preaching: A Biblical and Practical Guide to the Effective Use of Persuasion
AUTHOR: R. Larry Overstreet
PUBLISHER: Wooster, OH: Weaver Book Company, 2014, (312 pages).

Is there a place for persuasion on the pulpit? How is that not manipulation of minds? What about the risks of preachers using the pulpit to sway minds on politics or social matters favouring a particular party? Is not preaching primarily about teaching the Bible and its meaning? What about the ethics of preaching?

Since 1970, the author had been thinking about the issues surrounding persuasive preaching. He laments the modern state of preaching that lacks giving congregations a call to action. Persuasion involves doing everything we can to preach God's Word and to let God's Word be proclaimed in outward actions. Overstreet, an Adjunct Professor at Piedmont International University has been pastor of churches in Michigan and Indiana for 17 years. He knows the importance of the pulpit and the need for God's Word to go beyond mere Sunday listening pleasure. This book comprises four parts where Overstreet will:

1) Identify the Issues Facing Persuasive Preaching;
2) What is the Biblical Basis of Persuasive Preaching;
3) How to Structure Persuasive Messages;
4) How to Apply Persuasion?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

NIV First-Century Study Bible

TITLE: NIV First-Century Study Bible: Explore Scripture in Its Jewish and Early Christian Context
AUTHOR: Zondervan Team, with notes by Kent Dobson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014, (1888 pages).

Any form of Bible study would require an understanding of contexts. If you have been attending Bible studies, you would be familiar with this phrase: "What's the context of the Bible passage?" For twenty-first century readers trying to make sense of ancient texts, it would be a big challenge if we try to use only the Bible to determine the backgrounds of every book in the Bible. This Bible contains notes that shed light on the contexts, the cultures, the chronological sequence of events, and the unique perspectives from the Jewish and Christian lens form the first century. Rather than trying to understand the ancient Scriptures from our Internet Age, or trying to reach too far to the ancient times, perhaps, we can look at how first century people understand the Bible. That would shave off about 2000 years to bring us closer to the original meaning of the contexts. For four years, the Teaching Pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan wrote historical notes, word studies, articles, and together with the Zondervan publishing team, have put together a study Bible that tries to do just that. Questions that occupy their minds were:
  • What were the rabbis thinking?
  • How did the disciples understand the Old Testament?
  • What are the cultural nuances in both Jewish minds and the Early Church?
  • How do they make sense of the Bible?

Monday, November 10, 2014

"Losers Like Us" (Daniel Hochhalter)

TITLE: Losers Like Us
AUTHOR: Daniel Hochhalter
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2014, (236 pages).

What does it mean to live as failures, rejects, outcasts, and in Hochhalter's words, "losers?" Not many people would be willing to tell of their failures. Most would prefer to parade their successes, their accolades, multiple achievements, and symbols of progress the world looks up to. It is much easier to trumpet our highlights and successes than to tell of our lows and failures. This is an "upside-down theology" that works pretty well in a book entitled "losers like us." In 2008, after seven years of hard work, expensive fees, big sacrifices, and high hopes, Daniel Hochhalter failed his oral defense, was denied of a PhD, and kicked out of the doctoral program with an unnamed British University. Devastated and stunned about the unexpected turn of events, this single event drastically changed the life of Hochhalter, who had dreamed of a career in teaching and academia. The words "underachiever" defines how he feels. Yet, these feelings of personal doubt and distress mark the beginning of his journey to "redefining discipleship" and how it feels to be a "social outcast" in the world, but still completely accepted by God. God loves losers too.

Friday, November 7, 2014

"The Art of Social Media" (Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick)

TITLE: The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users
AUTHOR: Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Portfolio Penguin, 2014, (208 pages).

Many of us are users of social media. It is quite straightforward to set up a Twitter or a Facebook account. With simple instructions to follow, one can be connected very quickly to friends both new and old, near and far, and best of all, free of charge. Even businesses are quickly getting into the fray, promoting their products and services through this new media. What about the rest of us? What about those who want to learn beyond the basics? How can one maximize the power of social media? This book reveals many tips in twelve chapters. Meant primarily for people already familiar with social media tools, this nook aims to provide "power tips for power users." Tips such as attracting greater attention with catchy profiles as well as something as basic as creating an avatar. Or providing ways to "feed the content monster." Kawasaki teaches us about content creation as well as content curation. The former is about our own works while the latter is about sharing worthy works of other people. He guides us through the planning, the use of Excel spreadsheets to plan, how to reshare posts, using aggregation services and so on. He acknowledges tips from others as well. More importantly, Kawasaki exposes readers to a whole lot more besides the titans of social media.  He teaches us how to create content well. I like the way he points out the four forms of good stuff: Information, Analysis, Assistance, Entertainment.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

"Urban Apologetics" (Christopher W. Brooks)

TITLE: Urban Apologetics: Answering Challenges to Faith for Urban Believers
AUTHOR: Christopher W. Brooks
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2014, (176 pages.)

It is already hard enough for the majority to try to fix things. For democratic societies in which the majority usually gets their way, the challenges for fixing the problems in society still exist. If such is the case, then what hope is there for minority groups? Worse, how can well meaning Christian groups (in the minority) bring meaning and encouragement to share the gospel of truth in a difficult secular climate? Senior Pastor of the Evangel Ministries in Detroit, Christopher Brooks believes otherwise. Focusing on the urban Christian and the apologetics student, three things are essential for what Brooks call, "Urban Apologetics" or standing up for the gospel in the city. Firstly, it is not a mere intellectual issue that requires belief but demands practice. It must mean something to the contemporary realities and challenges of every age. Such a intellectual-practice will be necessary for deal with the "dual challenges" of society: Connecting and Conversing. Secondly, we must engage culture and not be easily buried by the apathy and aggression non-Christian groups aim at gospel people. The Church simply cannot remain indifferent or discouraged. Thirdly, they must recognize the opportunities to present the truth and reality of the gospel in a world that is seeking it. Arguing for a strategy of "One Message, Diverse Methods," the way to counter postmodernity is to go beyond didactic approaches or scientific arguments. Try what Brooks called, "preacher-poets" where the gospel is embodied in what we say and do, but also in what we can incarnate the gospel by not giving easy glib answers, not surrendering to the tough questions of life, but to embody the reason and hope of the gospel. This book is essentially about how Brooks go about presenting the gospel in meaningful ways in an urban culture.

First things first, before making major decisions, one needs to consult God. One needs also to consult one's spouse in discerning the will of God. One needs to be convicted that the gospel is not something intellectualized but incarnated. The big question Brooks gives us is this: "Is Christ still relevant in our urban centers?" He points out a new category of people called the "apatheist," that asserts nothing and denies nothing. It is a modern expression of indifference. The problem is the disconnect between how people view the Bible and how they see it relate to the issues of our age. He shares about the gospel story of three travelers: the priest who represents the religious establishment; the Levite who represents the race of people; and the Samaritan who was despised by both Jews and the religious establishment. Yet, it was the third that did something good. Truth must be accompanied by love. It is not enough to convince a person. One needs to relate to the person about his/her struggles.

Readers are reminded that apologetics and evangelism are two sides of the same coin: The Great Commission. Apologetics try to clear the rubble and the barriers to belief. Evangelism gives it "meaning and direction." The key to effectiveness is to learn to answer the questions people raise, but to relate to people where they are, and not from our ivory tour positions of arrogance. I like the three B's of relational evangelism: 1) Boulevard strategy that learns and understands the unique inroads of a person's spiritual life; 2) Beliefs strategy that gets people to talk about themselves to go beyond labels; 3) Barriers strategy that combines both apologetics and evangelism to deal with why people are stuck against Christianity in the first place. Brooks show us that there are many ethical issues in our world in which Christian principles can speak into, even when the relativist, the postmodernist, and groups tend to be dismissive of Christianity. The urban apologist must stand their ground, not to be easily deterred but to remember that most unbelievers reject not the Christian Message but the lifestyle of imperfect messengers of the gospel. The Christian needs to know that true ethics is grounded in the gospel.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

"The Making of an Ordinary Saint" (Nathan Foster)

TITLE: The Making of an Ordinary Saint: My Journey from Frustration to Joy with the Spiritual Disciplines
AUTHOR: Nathan Foster
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014, (208 pages).

One of the most influential books on spiritual disciplines is Richard Foster's "Celebration of Discipline." That was more than 30 years ago, where four inward, four outward, and four corporate disciplines took the Christian world by storm. The book also propelled Richard Foster, the author's father to fame. At that time, Nathan was a little boy below ten years of age. Fast forward to 2014, we have a grown up Nathan Foster, an associate professor of social work and theology at Spring Arbor University in Michigan. If Richard Foster's book is a didactic description of the 12 major Christian disciplines, this new book is a personal journey of how the son puts the disciplines into practice, one that is uniquely Nathan Foster.

I read this book with my old dog-eared copy of "Celebration of Discipline" next to me. While both books still described the 12 spiritual disciplines, there is no longer the three-fold distinction of "inner," "outer," and "corporate" disciplines. Instead, Nathan mixes the 12 disciplines, beginning with "submission" instead of "meditation," and ending with the toughest one he personally encountered, "celebration." He realized from his dad that the fruit of spiritual disciplines is joy, not chore.  Neither is it a toilsome labour that is boring or plain impersonal. For me, at the risk of being oversimplistic, if Richard Foster's book is about the theory, Nathan's book expands it not only with theory but also with practice, personally that is.

Monday, November 3, 2014

"Expecting with Hope" (Teske Drake)

TITLE: Expecting with Hope: Claiming Joy When Expecting a Baby After Loss
AUTHOR: Teske Drake
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2014, (240 pages).

It takes one to know one. Just the other day, I came across this quote of the day: "The first to help you up are the ones who know how it feels to fall down." This essence is expressed well in this book about hoping once again after a miscarriage, a fertility challenge, stillbirth, infant loss, or a devastating birth defect. Whatever it is, losing a child is a deeply painful experience. The author is a mother who had lost three babies, two to miscarriages and one soon after birth. Each journey through the pain of loss is different but they all plumb the deep emotions of grief. Through her pain, she reaches out to other mothers also going through trials and suffering. Through her ministry, she encourages others with her testimony and her faith. Through her writings, she brings us pages of hope and how one can keep getting up each time one falls. "Expecting with Hope" is written specifically for mothers to be who are fearful about their pregnancies. Her key conviction is that one can be hopeful even when the clouds of despair seem big and overwhelming.

With deep honesty and understanding, Drake, who holds a PhD in Human Development and Family Studies from Iowa State University, speaks more from her own experience of pain and loss, rather than her area of expertise. It is hard to find any scholarly references simply because it is a book wrapped with personal experiences and her ministry with others.  In each chapter, Drake declares upfront the specific kind of hope we have in God. She describes either her own loss or her struggling mother, and invites us into the hard areas of fear and uncertainty. She ends with a "pregnancy prayer" to help bring the thoughts and the feelings together in God. It is common to read huge chunks of Scripture being used to accompany the process of hope.

As President of Mommies with Hope, Drake is filling a specific need, mothers who are fighting fear and struggling to stay hopeful. If you are a mother, this book will bring about much comfort. If you know of a mother having fears about miscarriages or the potential death of her child, this book teaches us not to be too quick to speak or to judge, but to be slow to speak, quick to listen, and always being ready to offer a word of encouragement. So that mothers will encounter more and more moments of "expecting with hope." Thanks Drake for your valuable role in this ministry.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


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

Saturday, November 1, 2014

"Soul Feast, Newly Revised Edition" (Marjorie J. Thompson)

TITLE: Soul Feast, Newly Revised Edition: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life
AUTHOR: Marjorie J. Thompson
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014, (200 pages).

This book is a potpourri of spiritual food that invites hungry guests to come and feast. Even if one is not hungry in the first place, it would certainly whet the appetite. Such is the beauty and inspirational of a classic published nearly 20 years ago and is still making a powerful impact. Now in its newly revised edition (third), while the contents remain very much the same, there is an additional foreword by renowned preacher, Barbara Brown Taylor who calls this book full of "effective sermons" and ranks Marjorie Thompson in the same category as the Catholic writer, Henri Nouwen. In the original foreword, Nouwen calls Thompson's work a "clear, concise way the essence of her ministry." Indeed, my appetite was more than whetted just on the basis of these two honoring forewords and captivating topics of spiritual disciplines. More importantly, it is not a book that teaches to invite ourselves into spiritual disciplines. It initiates us into the Christian spiritual practices that are historic yet relevant; grounded in Presbyterian traditions and yet ecumenical; old ideas and yet very fresh for the soul. Thompson notes that in the 90s, there was an acceleration of interest in spiritual formation matters which led many clergy toward Roman Catholic centers. Toward the end of the twentieth century, there was a surge of resources about Christian living, with particular focus on the spiritual life. The author also notes the rise of the "Nones" or the religiously unaffiliated group in this era, as well as a resurgence in the "spiritual but not religious" wave, first observed in the 60s. Amid the changes, Thompson reminds us once again that if we learn to "dwell in trust," we can be confident in God, who is the One who "creates, renews, and fulfills all things" and I believe that includes the use of spiritual practices that are evergreen and deeply satisfying, in God. Her encouraging tone throughout the book injects hope even in the midst of discouraging news about cultural resistances toward the gospel. This book is an attempt to bring back inspiration and fascination to a world inundated with spiritual information and fears of religious fanaticism. Also, the rise of technology also means people are able to search out other religions with much ease and depth. The downside is the rise of distractions and inattentiveness as well, something that the spiritual practices in the book aptly addresses. The brief notes below will demonstrate why this book is a spiritual feast.