Friday, September 30, 2016

Simple Book Review: On Writing; A Memoir of the Craft

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2000) Stephen King

This is a non-fiction book on the subject of writing or more accurately, a personal stories of how the King ‘become’ the king of fictional novelist – the good, the bad and the ugly. It is an instruction manual for both aspiring and seasoned writers alike, and it is also an autobiographical account of King's life. He who has sold more than 54 books of fictions. If you’re not a reader, probably you’re movie-goer who may have watched some of his novels turned movies such as The Mist, Stand by Me, The Shawshank Redemption, Carrie, The Green Mile, etc. If not, how about TV series such as Under the Done and Mr. Mercedes? If none of the above, then you probably have heard his name, at least… please…

This is a short book,” writes King for his second forward of his 297 pages book (short?!), “because most books about writing are filled with bullshit. Fiction writers, present company included, don’t understand very much about what they do – not why it works when it’s good, not why it doesn’t when it’s bad. I figured the shorter the book, the less bullshit.” I have fun reading this book because of his casualness and conversational tone in writing it. One particular part when he told the story of how he struggled to finish ‘The Stand’ is quite interesting: “For weeks I got exactly nowhere in my thinking – it all just seemed too hard, too fucking complex. I had run out too many plotlines, and they were in danger of becoming snarled. I circled the problem again and again, beat my fists on it, knocking my head against it… and then one day when I was thinking of nothing much at all, the answer came to me. It arrived whole and complete – gift-wrapped, you could say – in a single bright flash. I ran home and jotted it down on paper, the only time I’ve done such a thing, because I was terrified of forgetting.” [P.s: Forgive his language in these quotes]

At the end of this book, Stephen King advices: “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy. Some of this book – perhaps too much – has been about how I learned to do it. Much of it has been about how you can do it better. The rest of it – and perhaps the best of it – is a permission slip: you can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will. Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.” Good book.


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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Jesus' New Apostle: Who Was? Who's Next? (Acts 1:16-22)

“[Prayer meeting] went on for several days. During this time, on a day when about 120 people were present, Peter stood up and addressed them as follows: ‘Brothers, it was necessary for the Scriptures to come true concerning Judas, who betrayed Jesus by guiding the mob to him… So now we must choose someone else to take Judas’ place and to join us as witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection. Let us select someone who has been with us constantly from our first association with the Lord – from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us into heaven
(Acts 1:16, 21-22, The Living Bible)

Judas’ life was very tragic. Judas was “chosen to be an apostle” (v.17) but he betrayed Jesus. After he “bought a field with the money he received for his treachery,” he then “falling headlong there, he burst open, spilling out his bowels” (v.18). But Matthew 27:5-7 explained that Judas “threw the money onto the floor of the Temple and went out and hanged himself… the chief priests talked it over and finally decided to buy a certain field…” Is this a contradiction account? No, I think when Judas hanged himself, his dead body fell headlong (head first). And when the Scripture said Judas bought a field it was actually the chief priests who bought it using Judas’ treacherous money because they cannot take back the ‘blood money.’ So, technically, the field bought by and belong to Judas. No contradiction. The point is: Judas betrayed Jesus, he then hanged himself, and his money was used to buy a field.

The apostle Peter realized that someone should be appointed to take the place of Judas, who had fallen into sin, and committed suicide. He remembered two verses in the book of Psalms and one particularly says “Let his work be given to someone else to do” (Acts 1:20, Psalms 109:8). Interpreted as someone should take Judas’ place as an apostle. For me, it is a terrible thing to do works for God in the beginning but because of sin – continuous sin without really repenting from it – God rejected him and have another take it over. May this will not happen to us!

So the apostles lead by Peter selected two men who had also been with the Lord Jesus from the beginning and were witnesses of His baptism, death and resurrection. Their names were Joseph Justus (also called Barsabbas) and Matthias (v.23). Then they “prayed for the right man to be chosen: ‘O Lord, you know every heart; show us which of these men you have chosen as an apostle to replace Judas the traitor, who has gone on to his proper place” (v.24-25). Then they cast lots and the lot fell on Matthias, who was therefore numbered with the apostles [although we never hear of him again]. Casting lots? No, we don’t need to do that anymore. Now that the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures has been given, we don’t need to cast lots to know God’s will. But we do need to know these, as a conclusion:

#1 Being an ‘apostle’ or as Christ’s follower in general, doesn’t guarantee good ending. Don’t be like Judas, who betrayed Jesus in the end. We need to keep believing in Him; #2 God already chose who would become our leader. It doesn’t mean we don’t need to pray but all the more this should encourage us to pray so that God’s will become our will’s [Note: Many people nowadays claim to be an ‘apostle’, these are the qualifications outline by Peter: 1) He must be someone who have accompanied the apostles all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among them; 2) He must be someone who are there beginning from Jesus’ baptism to the day when He was taken up to heaven; and 3) He must be someone who witnessed Jesus’ resurrection. Now, are the self-claimed ‘apostles’ today fulfilled these criteria? Fyi, I believe in apostolic ministry] and; #3 Though you might not be the chosen leader, like Joseph Justus, in Christ you are chosen of God! Amen.


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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Jesus Unites Us: Why Prayer Meeting is Very Important? (Acts 1:12-14)

Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers
(Acts 1:12-14,

Lord Jesus ascended to heaven (1:9) from the Mount of Olives, near Bethany. After the angels told the apostles that He would surely come again, they returned to Jerusalem, about 5/8 mile or about 1 kilometre (my NIV note) away. They stayed there as Jesus had commanded (1:4) and spent the days in “constant prayer” in an upper room. I noticed that Jesus’ disciples had a habit of praying together. This was part of Jesus’ legacy to them. Remember when they asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1)? Jesus examples of constant prayer had influenced His disciples all over the world. Prayer is a wonderful privilege and every true Christian should seek the Lord’s face in prayer every day.

If you count how many of the apostles left after Jesus’ ascension, you’ll find out that there is one person missing – Judas Iscariot. He wants his own agenda and political version of messiah, thus rejected Jesus as the Suffering Messiah. He also loved money rather than Jesus, fall into temptation by listening to Satan’s lies and sold Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. When Judas realised what he had done, he didn’t repent but went out and killed himself. Both Peter and Judas denied Jesus. But as for Peter, he quickly repented of his sins and was restored with the apostles and become their leader again. Others who were praying in the upper room were “the women” who had loved and followed Jesus faithfully. One of them was “Mary the mother of Jesus,” and with her were “his brothers” [Jesus’ step-brothers, refer to Mark 6:3 for their names]. These brothers did not believe in Jesus at first (John 7:5) but after His death and resurrection, they realized that He was truly the Son of God, the Saviour of the World.

Now, imagine this with me: imagine the different kind of people gathered in the upper room (Close your eyes first, and imagine). Let me just select few of them here – Peter was very impulsive and acted cowardly, but after this he became bold and courageous; James was selfish, conceited, vengeful and fiery, but after that he became committed apostle for Christ and courageous even to the point of death; John was like his brother, James, very judgmental and power-craze but after that he became bold, loving and compassionate; Thomas was so doubtful and inquisitive but then he became courageous and faithful to the end; Simon was a Zealot, which means he was very patriotic and loyal to the nation but he became a changed man, passionate and sacrificial in his service for Christ; Judas (or Jude) and James, the brothers of Jesus, were very sceptical of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God soon became leaders of Jerusalem church and both authored the Epistle of James and Epistle of Jude; among “the women” was Mary Magdalene, who has been identified as a sinful women (perhaps a prostitute) and was possessed from seven demons, now became a faithful follower of Jesus and being listed as having a leadership role among the women.

All of them “joined together constantly in prayer” (1:14). This is very encouraging to me – and I hope to you too. Their Lord and Master is one, Jesus; their common faith and love is one, Jesus; their uniting power is one, Jesus. Even though we come from difference sets of background, gender, race, ideology and status like Jesus’ disciples – in Christ – we are one. Praying together (or prayer meeting we called it today), have the power to unite us together. As we pray, we wait for God to act among us. Oh yes!


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Sunday, September 25, 2016

Jesus' Ascension: Between Heavenly and Earthly Visions (Acts 1:9-11)

It was not long afterwards that [Lord Jesus] rose into the sky and disappeared into a cloud, leaving them staring after him. As they were straining their eyes for another glimpse, suddenly two white-robed men were standing there among them, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why are you standing here staring at the sky? Jesus has gone away to heaven, and some day, just as he went, he will return!’”
(Acts 1:9-11, The Living Bible)

In John 1:14 we read that the Word became flesh and dwelt among men. In John 16:28 Jesus said that He had “came from the Father into the world and will leave the world and return to the Father.” Jesus came a long journey into this world to do His Father’s will. Here Jesus is going back to heaven, to His Father. Jesus loves His Father and we know that the Father loves His Son. This love exchange should make us very glad because indeed, God is love!

The apostles were so surprised that they stood there staring in amazement up into heaven. So two angels (two white-robed men, no doubt were angels) appeared to them and told them plainly that this very same Jesus would come back again in the same way as He had gone into heaven. “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (NIV). What can we understand from this passage? I want to quote John R. Stott commentary in The Message of Acts (1990) here:

First, Jesus will come again. “He has gone, and they must let him go; he will return in his own good time, in the same way… There will be important differences between his going and his coming. Although his coming will be personal, it will not be private like his ascension. Only the eleven apostles saw him go, but when he comes ‘every eyes will see him.’ Instead of returning alone (as when he went). Millions of holy ones – both human and angelic – will form his retinue. And in place of a localized coming (‘There he is!’ or ‘Here he is!’), it will be ‘like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other’” (page 50).

Secondly, the angles implied, until Jesus comes again, the apostles must get on with their witness, for that was their mandate. “There was something fundamentally anomalous about their gazing up into the sky when they had been commissioned to go to the end of the earth. It was the earth not the sky which was to be their preoccupation. Their calling was to be witnesses not stargazers. The vision they were to cultivate was not upwards in nostalgia to the heaven which had received Jesus, but outwards in compassion to a lost world which needed him… First, Jesus returned to heaven (Ascension). Secondly, the Holy Spirit came (Pentecost). Thirdly, the church goes out to witness (Mission). Fourthly, Jesus will come back (Parousia)” (page 51).

Obviously for us today, we must remember these 2 important truths: #1 Heavenly vision: Our hope is sure! Jesus is alive and He will come back again to unite us to have fellowship with the loving Father.  And #2 Earthly vision: Between Jesus’ going and coming, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we must go into the world for Jesus! Amen.

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Simple Book Review: The Art of Thinking Clearly

The Art of Thinking Clearly (2013) by Rolf Dobelli

First of all, I wants to say that I’ve been reading this book on and off about 6 month’s period. This book is very interesting and also very informative that I can’t simple read all of it in one sitting without really processing on what I’ve just read for days. The author shows how we are all guilty of cognitive biases (or assumptions or illusions or errors) we make in our thinking and decision-making processes in personal relationships and social interactives everyday of our lives. In writing this book, Dobelli wishes that “If we could learn to recognize and evade the biggest errors in thinking – in our private lives, at work, or in government – we might experience a leap in prosperity. We need no extra cunning, no new ideas, no unnecessary gadgets, no frantic hyperactivity – all we need is less irrationality.” We are prone to make mistakes because humanly speaking: #1 we paid off more on activity than reflection, #2 our brains are designed to reproduce rather than search for the truth, and #3 we often make decisions intuitively, even if they lack of logic, rather than rational reasoning.

There are major events in my life where I have to think critically, reasonably and rationally because of the possible consequences are large (i.e. important personal decisions, God’s calling in my life), and there are times – most of the time – when I minimize my rationalizations and let my intuition take over (i.e. Ron95 or Ron97, mineral or drinking water). Since major decision-makings are important [obviously!] it is good for me to minimize or avoid tripping on cognitive errors as explained in this book. “Eliminate all errors,” explained Dobelli, “and better thinking will follow.” In other words, eliminate or minimize our thinking errors, clear thinking will take over.

Since I reading this book, I recognized many fallacies in how we (I, particularly) think and make decisions. For example, we always try to solve a particular problem by linking it to our own areas of expertise where they don’t belong (“deformation professionelle” bias), or we tend to follow others in term of fashion, trends, hobbies and diets without even thinking about it because conformity is attractive (“social proof” bias), or we bought a 70% discount t-shirt impulsively because it was only five days last chance offer (“fear of regret” bias), or we make reckless decision because we supposed majority consensus is the best thing even though we might disagree with it or don’t want to be ‘troublemaker’ in the team (“groupthink” bias), and more. There are 99 biases explained briefly but sufficiently in this book. I recommend this book wholeheartedly, especially to thinkers out there.

[There are many biases, errors, and assumptions in Christian cultures today too that we need to have clear thinking, discernment from the Holy Spirit and uncluttered theology of the Scripture in order to identify truth and false, principle and assumption, orthodox and tradition]


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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Jesus is Alive > Kingdom is Here > Holy Spirit will Come (Acts 1:1-8)

During the 40 days after [Jesus’] crucifixion he appeared to the apostles from time to time, actually alive, and proved to them in many ways that it was really he himself they were seeing. And on these occasions he talked to them about the Kingdom of God
(Acts 1:3, The Living Bible)

Since Jesus is the Son of God, it would be quite unbelievable that if anyone said that He remained in the grave. We can be sure that Jesus did rise from the dead because there are many witnesses who saw Him during forty days after He had risen and before He went back to heaven. Some of these men, for example, Matthew, John and Peter have written books which tells us about Jesus rising from the dead (In 1 Corinthians 15:6, “[Jesus] was seen by more than five hundred Christian brothers at one time”). The Bible is our external witness, the Holy Spirit is our internal witness that Jesus is alive!

Before Jesus went back to heaven, He commanded His disciples “not to leave Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came upon them in fulfilment of the Father’s promise” (Acts 1:4, see also Luke 24:49). I’m thinking, maybe the disciples at this time wanted to go back home and get to work with their fishing nets again. Or maybe they wanted to start right out and tell everybody about the Lord Jesus, how He had died for our sins and rose again (I might to this). In fact, Jesus had already told them to go into all the world and preach the gospel to everyone, everywhere (Mark 16:15). But the time for this had not yet come, and so He tells them to WAIT for a while. Key word here is WAIT. The disciples surely know about the Father’s promise [theologically], but they don’t know how or in what way the Holy Spirit would come upon them [practically]. So they need to WAIT. Sometimes we want to do something for the Lord in a hurry before the right time comes, but we should do what and when He wants us to do it. So WAIT.

Then Jesus promised them the most wonderful of all gifts: “[You] shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit in just a few days” (1:5). He said that although they could not know when the Kingdom of God would fully come to earth (for the Kingdom of God is here already but not yet), yet they would receive in a few days’ time the Spirit of God to abide with them forever! Jesus said, “[When] the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power to testify about me with great effect, to the people in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, about my death and resurrection” (1:8). The disciples obeyed the command of the Lord here. And so, if you read Book of Acts chapter 1-7, they witnessed in the city of Jerusalem; chapter 8-12, they witnessed in the land of Judea and Samaria; and after that, chapter 13-28, they preached everywhere!

I would like to recommend, after you read the Book of Acts by Luke (maybe read the Gospel of Luke first), read Foxe’s Book of Martyrs by John Foxe. This book shows that the word of Jesus in verse 8 was fulfilled and are being fulfilled day by day. I’m excited that the Book of Acts is not finish yet, for we all have great parts in fulfilling Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15-18 and Acts 1:8 in this world. Remember: Jesus is alive, we are His witnesses; the Kingdom of God is here, we preach the Good News; the Holy Spirit is with and in us, now go!

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Monday, September 19, 2016

This Is the Beginning of Missionary Movement and Our Faith-History (Acts 0)

The Book of Acts is a very important book because it tells how the church started and grew. It all began from the life and death of Jesus Christ, and that, when He arose again, He told His disciples to go everywhere and preach the gospel (see Matthew 28). Acts tells us how the disciples obeyed the Lord in spreading the gospel and how all other early churches were started. Many people have called it the Acts of the Apostles, but to me it’s not so much about the actions of the apostles but Christ, the Acts of Christ. And beyond that, since there are about 70 times reference of the Holy Spirit in this book, I suggests it should be called the Acts of the Holy Spirit. After all, He is the One who acting in and through the apostles. Christ promised that the Father would send the Holy Spirit (1:8) and this promise was fulfilled a few days later (2:4). What God promises He will empowers.

By the way, who wrote the book? #1 God. It was God who lead and inspired the writer what to put down when he wrote it (2 Timothy 4:16-17; 2 Peter 1:21). #2 Luke. He was a doctor by profession (Colossians 4:14) and a missionary by calling. He always travelled with the Apostle Paul on some of his long journeys. If you noticed, Luke like to use words such as “he”, “they” and “we.” He is a first-hand witness! So who wrote the book? #3 God through Luke.

Why this book were written? First of all, Acts is part two of the Gospel of Luke. It was clearly written to an important man called Theophilus (because the name means “loved by God” or “friend of God” some scholars suggest that it was written to a group of Christians). It told the story of “Jesus’ life and teachings and how he returned to heaven after giving his chosen apostles further instructions from the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:1). It told the story of what Jesus continued to do and teach, after His resurrection and ascension. I heard many people speak of Jesus’ finished work on the cross – it’s true in term of appropriation of the blood of Christ – but we must never forget that Jesus is still working the “unfinished” work today in heaven, praying for us, leading and guiding, and working with and in us. Luke wanted to tell us about this part of Jesus’ “unfinished” work.

Jesus told the disciples in Acts 1:8 that “[When] the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power to testify about me with great effect, to the people in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, about my death and resurrection.” This is one of the keys verses in the Book of Acts. Jesus told the disciples to witness for Him first right where they are (Jerusalem), then in their home land (Judea). Then they must go to their near neighbours (such as Samaria) even though they did not like them. But then they were to spread out all over the whole world and tell people about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This was how we – Malaysians and other part of the nations – get to know Jesus as Lord and Saviour. This is the beginning of a worldwide missionary movement. To understand the Acts is to understand the joy and risk of spreading the Good News and to understand our own faith-history. Even though the Book of Acts is finished written long time ago, but the impact and influence of it is continue until this very day!

Are You Ready to Explore the Book of Acts?
Come with me and discover it together.

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Sunday, September 18, 2016

Simple Book Review: Sting in the Tail (The Parables as Oriental Stories)

Sting in the Tail: The Parables as Oriental Stories (1998) by Dr. Kim Tan

The Gospel stories are eternal and Jesus’ parables are timeless, speaking to all people in all ages and cultures. But one thing is important, very important to understand that: Jesus was Jewish, born in the land of Israel, and bound to Middle Eastern cultures. What Dr Kim writes here is a superb introduction to the parables of Jesus which can be greatly understood (or make much sense) when we read it in their oriental setting.

Because most of my personal reading on commentaries on the Bible are mainly written by Western scholars and theologians, I noticed sometime that the examples and the way the parables were interpreted are a bit off from the oriental background. I’m an Iban and Dr. Kim is Chinese, so the background was somewhat quite familiar to us Asians. This book “is an oriental interpretation with many fresh insights into the social background against which they were originally told,” writes David Pawson. “Kim Tan has succeeded in sharpening the point of these stories with a sting in the tale, making them real and relevant to East and West today.” I agree! I gained new insights especially on Luke 11 and Luke 16.


1. The Two Debtors (Luke 7)
2. The Good Samaritan (Luke 10)
3. The Friend at Midnight (Luke 11)
4. The Banquet (Luke 14)
5. The Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin (Luke 15)
6. The Lost Sons (Luke 15)
7. The Prudent Steward (Luke 16)
8. The Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16)
9. The Judge and the Widow (Luke 18)
10. The Talents (Luke 19)
11. Zacchaeus (Luke 19)

Dr Kim Tan grew up in Malaysia but lives in the UK. He is a biochemist, writer and Bible teacher [I met him once at SIB KL during his preaching as guest speaker]. I also like his interview in a book by John Ng and Alvin Foo’s Heart to Heart with Asian Leaders (2016) entitled The Failed Again Leader (page 130). He is a humble man. I recommend this book.

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Sunday, September 4, 2016

Simple Book Review: A Force in the Earth: The Charismatic Renewal and World Evangelism

“A Force in the Earth: The Charismatic Renewal and World Evangelism” (1989) 
by David Shibley

This book is re-subtitled to “The Move of the Holy Spirit in World Evangelization” (1997). First thing I have to say is that it is a passionate and challenging book which point readers the way forward for charismatic Christians in mobilizing for world mission. “World evangelization can never be accomplished by charismatics alone,” writes Shibley, “Neither can it be accomplished without us.” The author are focusing on the charismatic movement, evangelism and mission to the world. C. Peter Wagner, founder of New Apostolic Reformation, recommend Shibley as a charismatic milieu but he “does not say that to win the world you should be like us or do it our way. Instead he says that noncharismatics will not do it well without charismatics; neither will charismatics do it well without noncharismatics.”

In Jesus’ ministry and in the ministries of the early disciples, some kind of “power encounter” often verified their Spirit-anointed gospel proclamation. What is power encounter?  It is “a visible, practical demonstration that Jesus is more powerful than the false gods or spirits worshiped or feared by a people group.” For examples, the author showed that Jesus saw miracles or power encounters in Matthew 11:4-5 as the verifying credentials of His ministry; Philip was not only preaching Christ but also doing a deliverance ministry and miracles so that people were not only hear, but they “hearing and seeing” the gospel (Acts 8:5-8); and Paul most of the time not only preached the Word but also “in word and deed” and “signs and wonders” (Rome 15:18-21).  Shibley rightly observed that in missionary strategy, evangelicals have emphasized proclamation (Word), the mainline denominations have stressed the social implication of the gospel (Work), and the Pentecostals and charismatics have given high profile to signs and wonders (Spirit). We all must employ all three!

Basically I like this book, but not without my evangelical theology biases. Shibley sometimes can be too optimist that may – in my opinion – pushing too much on the Word to fit the charismatic doctrines, especially in the area of prophesies. For example, he believes that the task of Great Commission will be completed by A.D. 2000. Now is 2016! Nevertheless, since I’m living in Sarawak where the population of Christian is almost 50% and mostly are charismatics, I find that this book is helpful in so many way. I see it as a positive calling of unity among the Evangelical and Charismatic churches in the world missions.

[P.s: This book remind me of David Pawson’s “Word and Spirit Together: Uniting Charismatics and Evangelicals.” To be honest, I think that Pawson have greater points that Shibley. And I also would like to recommend two books by John MacArthur on issues against (troublesome) Charismatic movements, namely, “Charismatic Chaos” (1992) and “Strange Fire” (2013)]

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