Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Book Review: The Message of Samuel (2004) by Mary J. Evans

The Message of Samuel: Personalities, Potential, Politics, and Power (2004)
by Mary J. Evans

This is how I study the Bible and how I use commentaries. Let say I want to study 1 Samuel 2:1-11 about Hannah's prayer, first I will: #1 If possible I read the whole 1 Samuel and/or just read chapter 1; then #2 I read chapter 2 slowly and highlight Hannah's feelings and thinking, and what she said about God, who God is to her; #3 I also will read various Bible translations to understand the text better; only then #4 I write my early outlines and draft lessons/points. In the meantime, #5 I listen to an audiobook and/or sermons (two of my favorites are David Pawson and Skip Heitzig) to help me to see and point out something that I might be missed. Only then, #6 I will use Bible commentary such as this one. Afterward, I review and finalize my lessons/points. Bible commentary, in my opinion, should be the last step in Bible Study (or, at least, it shouldn't be in the first). By the way, prayer and meditation are very important parts of the Bible Study process.

What is a Bible commentary? It is an explanation of the biblical text by someone (usually a scholar) who has immersed himself or herself in the language, context, and form of biblical texts. The Bible commentator delivers to us details that we simply don't have by the simple reading of Scripture, like archaeological discoveries, historical details, linguistic particularities, and details about geography and culture. For a serious student of the Bible, good commentaries are indispensable. I recommend wholeheartedly The Bible Speaks Today Series because it aims to expound the biblical text with accuracy, it relates to contemporary life, and very readable. The contributors to this series are convinced that "God still speaks through what he has spoken, and that nothing is more necessary for the life, health, and growth of Christians than that they should hear what the Spirit is saying to them through his ancient – yet ever modern – Word."

Okay, about this book… The Old Testament historical books of 1 and 2 Samuel (in the Hebrew Bible, 1 & 2 Samuel are actually one book, Book of Samuel) contain well-known stories about Hannah, Samuel, Saul, David, Absalom and many more, which have been fruitful sources for innumerable Sunday service sermons and Bible Studies. Here, Mary Evans engages with these books in the conviction that they are a vital part of God's Word, full of teaching that is dynamically relevant for all Christ believers. Exploring how we should interpret and respond to the stories today is both challenging and exciting. This accessible and stimulating study takes us into the narratives, creatively brings out their application and provides questions for further reflection.

Readers will come away "with an increased awareness of what the books of Samuel are ‘all about,' of their reality as the Word of God, and with a richer, more instructed love of them," writes Alec Motyer, OT editor for this series. Now I appreciate the Book of Samuel more. Wow!


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Men Who Finished Strong: John Bisagno (Or Only 1 In 10), Part 2

John Bisagno has been pastoring First Baptist of Houston for a number of years. John was just about to finish college, he was having dinner over at his fiancĂ©e’s house one night. After supper, he was talking with his future father-in-law, Dr Paul Beck, out of the porch. Dr Beck had been in ministry for years, and that was inevitably the subject toward which the conversation turned.

John, as you get ready to enter the ministry, I want to give you some advice,” Dr Beck told the young man. “Stay true to Jesus! Make sure that you keep your heart close to Jesus every day. It’s a long way from here to where you’re going to go, and Satan’s in no hurry to get you.”

The older man continued. “It has been an observation that just one out of ten (1-out-of-10) who start out in full-time service for the Lord at twenty-one are still on track by the age of sixty-five. They’re shot down morally, they’re shot down with discouragement, they’re shot down with liberal theology, they get obsessed with making money… but for one reason or another nine out of ten (9-out-of-10) fall out.”

The twenty-year-old Bisagno was shocked. “I just can’t believe that!” he said. “That’s impossible! That just can’t be true.”

Bisagno told how he went home, took one of those blank pages in the back of his Scofield Reference Bible and wrote down the names of twenty-four young men who were his peers and contemporaries. These were young men in their twenties who were sold out for Jesus Christ. They were trained for ministry and burning in their desire to be used by the Lord. These were the committed young preachers who would make an impact for the Lord in their generation.

Bisagno relates the following with a sigh: “I am now fifty-three years old. From time to time as the years have gone by, I’ve had to turn back to the page in my Bible and cross out a name. I wrote down those twenty-four names when I was just twenty years of age. Thirty-three years later, there are only three names remaining of the original twenty-four.”

In the Christian life, it’s not how you start that matters.
It’s how you finish.

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Saturday, July 28, 2018

Men Who Finished Strong: Billy Graham, Part 1

Chuck Templeton, Torrey Johnson, and Billy Graham

"Truth is heavy, so few men carry it"
(Jewish Proverb)

You've heard of Billy Graham. But what about Chuck Templeton or Bron Clifford? Have you ever heard of them? Billy Graham wasn't the only young preacher packing auditoriums in 1945. Chuck Templeton and Bron Clifford were accomplishing the same thing – and more. All three young men were in their mid-twenties. One seminary president, after hearing Chuck Templeton preach one evening to an audience of thousands, called him "the most gifted and talented young man in America today for preaching."

Templeton and Graham were friends. Both ministered for Youth for Christ. Both were extraordinary preachers. Yet in those early years, "most observers would probably have put their money on Templeton." As a matter of fact, in 1946, the National Association of Evangelicals published an article on men who were "the best used of God" in that organization's five-year existence. The article highlighted the ministry of Chuck Templeton. Billy Graham was never mentioned. Templeton, many felt, would be the next Babe Ruth of evangelism.

Bron Clifford was yet another gifted, twenty-five-year-old fireball. In 1945, many believed Clifford the most gifted and powerful preacher the church had seen in centuries. In that same year, Clifford preached to an auditorium of thousands of Miami, Florida. People lined up ten and twelve deep outside the auditorium trying to get in. later that same year, when Clifford was preaching in the chapel at Baylor University, the president ordered class bells turned off so that the young man could minister without interruption to the student body. For two hours and fifteen minutes, he kept those students on the edge of their seats as he preached on the subject, Christ, and the Philosopher's Stone.

"At the age of twenty-five, young Clifford touched more lives, influenced more leaders, and set more attendance records than any other clergyman his age in American history. National leaders vied for his attention. He was tall, handsome, intelligent, and eloquent. Hollywood invited him to audition for the part of Marcellus in ‘The Robe.' It seemed as if he had everything."

Graham, Templeton, and Clifford.

In 1945, all three came shooting out of the starting blocks like rockets. You've heard of Billy Graham. So how come you've never heard of Chuck Templeton or Bron Clifford? Especially when they came out of the chutes so strong in '45.

Just in five years later, Templeton left the ministry to pursue a career as a radio and television commentator and newspaper columnist. Templeton had decided he was no longer a believer in Christ in the orthodox sense of the term. By 1950, this future Babe Ruth wasn't even in the game or no longer believed in the validity of the claims of Jesus Christ.

What about Clifford? By 1954, Clifford had lost his family, his ministry, his health, and then… his life. Alcohol and financial irresponsibility had done him in. he wound up leaving his wife and their two Down's syndrome children. At just thirty-five years of age, this once great preacher died from cirrhosis of the liver in a run-down motel on the edge of Amarillo. His last job was selling used cars in the panhandle of Texas. He died, as John Haggai put it, "unwept, unhonoured, and unsung." Some pastors in Amarillo took up a collection among themselves in order to purchase a casket so that his body could be shipped back East for a decent burial in a cemetery for the poor.

In 1945, three young men with extraordinary gifts were preaching the gospel to multiplied thousands across this nation. Within ten years, only one of them was still on the track for Christ.

In the Christian life,
It's not how you start that matters.
It's how you finish.

[Taken from Steven Farrar, Finishing Strong: Going the Distance for Your Family (1995), page 14-15]
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Jesus' Leadership #28 He Empowered Women to Become Leaders

I believe wholeheartedly that women can and should be in the leadership roles – both in the church and especially in the marketplace.  Although in church headship, I'm convinced by my reading of the Scripture that offices such as elder, bishop, pastor, and senior pastor are reserved only for men. All are permissible for women except bestowing spiritual authority over adult men (this is a highly debatable statement, so, I won't discuss this matter further). Men and women are equal with respect to dignity and worth and yet different with respect to role and responsibility. With that being said, women must be given equal opportunity to become leaders. In fact, many great leaders I know are women! But unfortunately, too many churches and organizations still fail to recognize, acknowledge or see the potentials and talents of women. Some still discourage and even forbid women – nonverbally and culturally – from taking leadership roles.

Jesus Christ, my Lord, apparently thought differently. Although He first called twelve men to become His close-disciples, His first appearance after His death was to a group of women (see Matthew 28:1, 9) with the instruction to go and convince Peter and others of His resurrection! Before the birth of the Saviour, God through His angel spoke to young Mary about a magnificent plan (Luke 1:30-33), which she was able to keep secret until the appropriate time. Wealthy women economically among the followers supported Jesus and His disciples while they were on their mission (Luke 8:3). Mary Magdalene, Martha, Joanna, Salome, and Susanna were among Jesus' female disciples that played significant roles during His earthly ministry. Paul, one of Jesus most faithful apostles, enlisted women to be among his colleagues in the ministry such as Prisca, Phoebe, Chloe, Euodia, Syntyche, etc. So, in the beginning, and at the end of the gospel story – even throughout the Old and the New Testament – God gave primary leadership roles to women.

Men, churches, and organizations who fail to acknowledge women as leaders often suffer for their ignorance. For examples, Pontius Pilate's wife tried to warn him not to be involved in the trial and execution of Jesus by saying, "Leave this innocent man alone. I suffered through a terrible nightmare about him last night" (Matthew 27:19). Pilate ignored her and since then get himself into trouble for the rest of his life; Nabal was struck to death because he didn't act wisely like his wife Abigail (1 Samuel 25); Deborah became known as great military leader and deliverer of Israel because Balak don't want to take the lead (Judge 4:8-10).

 Jesus said to both women and men: "The Kingdom of God is already among you" or "is within you" (Luke 17:21). He delegated equal power and authority to anyone who asked. In the Kingdom of God, there is neither rich nor poor, free nor bond, male nor female, all are equally the sons and daughters of God. We are equal in dignity, worth and are called to lead. Jesus empowered women to become leaders. Are you?

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Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Book Review: Manuscript Found in Accra (2013) by Paulo Coelho

Manuscript Found in Accra (2013) by Paulo Coelho

Since I first read The Alchemist, I've always loved Paulo Coelho's books. I think this book is the most spiritual of all. No doubt you can sense Catholic influence in all of his writings (he once attended Jesuit school); New Age mystical and philosophical ideas in every sentence; and obvious syncretistic* beliefs permeated in his narrations [*combining or blending all religious belief systems into a new system or doctrine]. With this awareness, as an evangelical Christian, I read this novel as frictional, fantasy and to some extend – inspirational. A solid Biblical (Christian) worldview is needed to filter some of these ‘unbiblical’ ideas and a gift of discernment should be applied when reading this book.

There are two things that I don’t like about this book. Let me tell you up front: 1) Some of the languages is too spiritual and mystical – too deep – that I couldn’t really comprehend what Coelho is really saying. I feel the same way when I read Henri Nouwen’s works. Sometimes I think I’m too worldly-minded and logical. And 2) Syncretistic belief is really confusing. I couldn’t pinpoint what Coelho really believes about God or god, Love, and Humanity. But these two reasons don’t stop me from liking this book. I love his concept of question-and-answer that he borrowed from the Greek method of learning. I appreciate his brieflessness and simplicity. I admire his ability to capture the imagination of his readers, his wisdom and story-telling power. Officially, Paulo Coelho is one of my favorite novelists together with James Rollins and Nicholas Sparks. Oh yeah!

About his book: In the year 1099, the people of Jerusalem awaits the invasion of the crusaders who have surrounded the city’s gates. There, inside the ancient city’s walls, men and women of every age, race and faith gathered together to hear the wise words of a mysterious man known only as the Copt. He has summoned the townspeople and the religious leaders around him and said: “None of us can know what tomorrow will hold, because each day has its good and its bad moments. So, when you ask your questions, forget about the troops outside and the fear inside. Our task is not to leave a record of what happened on this date for those who will inherit the Earth; history will take care of that. We will speak, therefore, about our daily lives, about the difficulties we have had to face…” With that, the people begin asking questions and the Copt answers them kindly and briefly.

There is no chapter division, so, I will divide this book into topics and include quotes that I underline throughout the pages of this book:

#1 Defeat. “Does a young man, rejected by his first love, declare that love does not exist? The young man says to himself: ‘I’ll find someone better able to understand what I feel. And then I will be happy for the rest of my days’… Ever since he fell in love for the first time and was rejected, he has known that this did not put an end to his ability to love. What is true in love is also true in war”; “Only he who gives up is defeated. Everyone else is victorious”; “Learn three important things: Wait patiently for the right moment to act. Do not let the next opportunity slip by you. Take pride in your scars”; “I here to tell you that there are people who have never been defeated. They are the ones who never fought”; “Woe to those who were never beaten! They will never be winners in this life.”

#2 Solitude. “If you are never alone, you cannot know yourself”; “In solitude, they will learn that saying ‘No’ does not always show a lack of generosity and that saying ‘Yes’ is not always a virtue”; “At life’s most significant moments we are always alone”; “Just as Love is the divine condition, so solitude is the human condition.”

#3 Usefulness. “Don’t try to be useful. Try to be yourself: that is enough, and that makes all the difference”; “A life is never useless. Each soul that came down to Earth is here for a reason”; “The people who really help others are not trying to be useful, but are simply leading a useful life. They rarely give advice, but serve as an example”; “Do one thing: live the life you always wanted to live.”

#4 Change. “It’s nice to dream… [But] dreaming carries no risks. The dangerous thing is trying to transform your dreams into reality”; “The angles say: ‘Now!’… Nature is telling us: ‘Change!’; “The Unwanted Visitor visits those who don’t change and those who do. But those who did change can say: ‘My life was an interesting one. I didn’t squander my blessing.’ And those who believe that adventures are dangerous I say, Try routine: that kills you far more quickly.”

#5 Beauty. “People always say: ‘It’s inner beauty that matters, not outer beauty.’ Well, that’s not true. If it were, why would flowers put so much energy into attracting bees?... Because nature longs for beauty, and is only satisfied when beauty can be exalted. Outer beauty is inner beauty made visible, and it manifests itself in the light that flows from our eyes”; “Beauty is present in all creation, but the dangerous fact is that… we allow ourselves to be influenced by what other people think”; “The world is what we imagine it to be”; “Beauty exists not in sameness but in difference.”

#6 Direction or Guidance. “Like the sun, life spreads its light in all directions… But, if we want to make a fire, we have to focus all the sun’s rays on one spot”; “He focuses not just on the goal to be reached, but on everything happening around him. He often has to stop because his strength fails him… Rest a little, but as soon as you can, get up and carry on. Because ever since your goal found out that you were travelling towards it, it has been running to meet you; “Only the person who accepts God’s plan with humility and courage knows that he is on the right road.”

#7 Love. “True Love, however, is the love that seduces and will never allow itself to be seduced”; “Love is an act of faith, not an exchange”; “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”; “Love is only a word, until we decide to let it possess us with all its force. Love is only a word, until someone arrives to give it meaning”; “Don’t give up. Remember, it’s always the last key on the key ring that opens the door.”

#8 Choice. “I am going to think of this day as the first day of my life”; “I will look at everything and everyone as if for the first time, especially the small things that I have grown used to, quite forgetting the magic surrounding them”; “For the first time, I will smile without feeling guilty, because joy is not a sin.”

#9 Sex. “Sex goes far beyond pleasure”; “For most people, generosity consists only in giving, and yet receiving is also an act of love. Allowing someone else to make us happy will make them happy too”; “See sex as a gift, a ritual of transformation”; “[In sex] time will cease to exist, because in the land of pleasure-born-of-true-love, everything is infinite.”

#10 Respect. “Respect those who grew up and learned alongside you. Respect those who taught you”; “You will only be loved and respected if you love and respect yourself. Never try to please everyone; if you do, you will be respected by no one.”

#11 Elegance. “Elegance lies not in the clothes we wear, but in the way we wear them”; “What is simplicity? It is the coming together of true values of life”; “Elegance transforms complex thoughts into something that everyone can understand.”

#12 Work. “A poet: I fell asleep and dreamed that life was only Happiness; I woke and discovered that life was Duty; I did my Duty and discovered that life was Happiness”; “There are two types of work… The first is the work we do because we have to… The second type of work we call the Offering… The person making the Offering is always rewarded. The more he shares out his affection, the more his affection grows”; “The Offering is a wordless prayer. And like all prayers, it requires discipline – not the discipline of slavery, but of free choice.”

#13 Success. “People who seek only success rarely find it, because success is not an end in itself, but a consequence”; “Real success means: enriching your life”; “What is success? It is being able to go to bed each night with your soul at peace.”

#14 Miracle. “Each time we see the humble exalted and the arrogant humbled, we are witnessing a miracle”; “Miracles do not go against the laws of nature; we only think that because we do not know nature’s laws”; “Give us this day, Lord, our daily miracle.”

#15 Anxiety. “Anxiety was born in the very same moment as mankind. And since we will never be able to master it, we will have to learn to live with it – just as we have learned to live with storms”; “Although anxiety is part of life, never let it control you.”

#16 Future. ‘Our soul is governed by four invincible forces: love, death, power and time”; “When you are going through difficult times, remember: you may have lost some major battles, but you survived and you’re still here”; “What the future holds for you depends entirely on your capacity for love”; “The greatest gift God gave us is the power to make decisions.”

#17 Royalty. “What was broken will never be the same again”; “Royalty can never be imposed by force, fear, insecurity or intimidation”; “Where there is loyalty, weapons are of no use”; “True here is not the man who was born for great deeds, but the one who has managed to build a shield of loyalty around him out of many small things”; “The most terrible of all weapons is the word, which can ruin a life without leaving a trace of blood, and whose wounds never heal.”

#18 Enemies. “We will always meet rivals in everything we do, but the most dangerous are those we believe to be our friends”; “Beware of anyone who tries to please you all the time”; “Only fight with a worthy opponent…”; “Your enemies are not the adversaries who were put there to test your courage. They are the cowards who were put there to test your weakness.”

There are more topics that Coelho (or ‘the Copt’, the main character) covered in this book. But these 18 topics are the most obvious ones. Do you like these quotes? If you do, don’t settle with my summary-review – buy the book!


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Sunday, July 22, 2018

Book Review: Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frankl

Man’s Search for Meaning (2014, first published 1946) by Victor E. Frankl

Every year I will have my own personal retreat for a week – alone. But this year I’m going with a team to Ba’kalalan, the Lun Bawang settlements in the northern highlands of Sarawak. I’m at the crossroad of my life-vocation now, so I choose Frankl’s Man Search for Meaning (formerly known as From Death-Camp to Existentialism) as my reflection book together with selected Scripture verses. Why I choose the book title is obvious but why I choose to read memoir-history on holocaust I’m not so sure. Maybe I was influenced by another holocaust survivor memoir Ellis Weasel’s Night, or maybe by The Diary of a Young Girl’s Anne Frank, or perhaps it was Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place, maybe it was by the fact that I’m interested in real-life stories. Whatever influenced me, I’m glad and happy with my choice.

If you're in pain, suffering and depressed – read this book. If you're scared, read this book. If you are lost, read this book. Even if you are happy right now, read this book. If you have time, read this book. If you don't have time, read this book (slowly). Read this book if you’re in search for meaning in your life. “One should not search for an abstract meaning of life,” write Frankl, “Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfilment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it.” In other word: live intentionally.  As a Christian, I find my meaning ultimately in Jesus Christ, my Lord and Saviour of my life. But I also find that this book is helpful and thought-provoking – even inspiring – in discovering the meaning of life.

Viktor Frankl, an Austrian Jew, studied neurology and psychiatry with a focus on depression and suicide years before being arrested and deported by the Nazis in 1942. He defied odds by lasting three years in concentration camps such as Auschwitz, Dachau, etc. He lost his parents and brother and his wife, who was pregnant. As doctors were in short supply in the camps, Frankl, after working as a slave labourer for some time, was able to work as a physician until his liberation. As his work prior to his time in the concentration camps had focused on depression and the prevention of suicide, he turned his focus to his own survival story and the people with whom he interacted in the camps. Why did some survive and others perish? What gave people the will to live? What gives life meaning? He often asked his patients who suffer from a multitude of torments this question: “Why do you not commit suicide?” From their answers Frankl can often find the guideline for his psychotherapy, namely, “In one life there is love for one’s children to tie to; in another life, a talent to be used; in a third, perhaps only lingering memories worth preserving.” Frankl believes that these slender threads of a broken life should be weaving into a firm pattern of meaning and responsibility.

Here are five (5) great lessons that I learned from this book:

#1 Start With Why. Frankl observes: “Nietzsche’s words, ‘He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how,’ could be the guiding motto for all psychotherapeutic and psychogenic efforts regarding prisoners. Whenever there was an opportunity for it, one had to give them a why – an aim – for their lives, in order to strengthen them to bear the terrible how of their existence. Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He was soon lost. The typical reply with which such a man rejected all encouraging arguments was, ‘I have nothing to expect from life anymore.’ What sort of answer can one give to that?” Throughout the book, the author speaks deeply about his own ‘why’ and its power to help him endure his situation. He also speaks of many prisoners who had completely lost their ‘why’ and quickly lost their life as a result. There are three ‘whys’ that stand out from Frankl’s writing: Love, Work, and Dignity in suffering. For this first lesson alone it is worth reading this book!

#2 Love is Powerful. One way of how Frankl endured the camps was by thinking constantly of his wife who had been separated from him long ago and sent to a female camp (he didn’t know that she already been killed through gas chamber). Even in the harshest parts of the day, exhausted, sleep-deprived, overworked, underfed, Frankl found salvation in the love that he had for his wife: “[My mind] clung to my wife’s image, imaging it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.” Frankl learned that love really does conquer all and it was an antidote to his pain. “I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way – an honourable way – in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfilment.”

#3 Human are Tough. Frankl talks of the terrifying things happened in the concentration camps. How he and his fellows were stripped and shaved completely. How all of their documents and personal possessions were confiscated and burned, including his life’s work of papers. They had everything taken away from – even their names! They were given and called by numbers, not names, which were tattooed onto their skin (“We were treated like animals”). In camps, if you looked weak, you went straight to the gas chambers or to be executed or working to death. Families were separated. And there were other horrible things happened to them physically, mentally and emotionally. “The medical men among us learned first of all: ‘Textbooks tell lies!’” said Frankl, “Somewhere it is said that man cannot exist without sleep for more than a stated number of hours. Quite wrong! I had been convinced that there were certain things I just could not do: I could not sleep without this or I could not live with that or the other. The first night in Auschwitz we slept in beds which were constructed in tiers. On each tier (measuring about six-and-a-half to eight feet) slept nine men, directly on the boards. Two blankets were shared by each nine men.” Who would have thought humans could actually endure hells as harsh as Auschwitz?

#4 I’m Not My Environments. Frankl argues in this book that we are not bound to our environments. The environment can be a harsh determiner of our actions but it is not fate or fixated. We do have a choice: “The experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action. There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress.” Frankl saw the lowest parts of humanity while in the camps. He saw brutality, inhuman and evil deeds. But he also saw individuals rising up like saints above it all: “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way.” This last sentence is my favourite! You may not have a choice in your circumstances and environment but you always have a choice in how you react and respond to it.

#5 Suffering Can Be Meaningful. Frankl believes that there is great meaning in suffering. Suffering does not automatically make one’s life void of meaning but can actually offer meaning: “An active life serves the purpose of giving man the opportunity to realize the values in creative work, while a passive life of enjoyment affords him the opportunity to obtain fulfilment in experiencing beauty, art, or nature. But there is also purpose in that life which is almost barren of both creation and enjoyment and which admits of but one possibility of high moral behaviour: namely, in man’s attitude to his existence, an existence restricted by external forces. A creative life and a life of enjoyment are banned to him. But not only creativeness and enjoyment are meaningful. If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.” How can suffering be meaningless if it is so intricately bound to life itself? We all can choose that which we wish to “designate meaningful.” Suffering can be meaningful if we want it to be…

There is a lot to learn from Man’s Search for Meaning, not just five (5) lessons. Get this book and savour it in your heart and mind. Love!


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Monday, July 16, 2018

Good Faith: Being A Christian When Society Thinks You're Irrelevant and Extreme (2016) - Book Review

Good Faith: Being A Christian When Society Thinks You're Irrelevant and Extreme (2016)
by David Kinnaman & Gabe Lyons

The moment I saw the cover of this book – with Kinnaman and Lyons as its authors – I grabbed it (bought 3 copies) and proceed to the counter (BookXcess always have the lowest price). Why? Because I've read their previous remarkable book, unChristian (2007), and was greatly helped by their insights, interviews, research studies, and Biblical understandings. With this one, I'm not disappointed! "I love this book," recommend Francis Chan, "It is a timely reminder that Christians don't have to conform in order to survive. It encourages those of us with deep convictions not to cower but to boldly speak truth with wisdom and love. Radical followers of Jesus can be relevant." Oh yeah!

From the first chapter, this book aims to address these questions: "What does the future hold for people of faith when people perceive Christians as irrelevant and extreme? In what ways can faith be a force for good in society? How can people of faith contribute to a world that, more and more, believes religion is bad?" From the outset, Kinnaman and Lyons convincingly show that many people increasingly view religion—any religion—as "extreme" and "irrelevant." This forces "good faith" Christians to be more intentional and prepared in their interactions with the world. Although the future becomes more hostile, faith can be good in society through ongoing mercy-care and the Gospel proclamation. Both authors also say that Christians can contribute to this world by holding firm to their confession and convictions while striving to live peaceably with all. In essence, Good Faith = How Well We Love + What We Believe + How We Live.

The way forward, they suggest, centers on good (yet difficult) conversations around those areas that people identify as "extreme" and "irrelevant" characteristics of Christianity. The book focuses on four areas: (1) Neighborliness and intolerance in public life; (2) Relationships; (3) Sexual ethics; and (4) Church and religion. Each area has multiple chapters devoted to it and is spangled with personal anecdotes from Kinnaman and Lyons's life accompanied by the wealth of data they've acquired over the years. It makes for a compelling, easy and enjoyable read. There are a lot of commendable aspects of this book but I'll focus on only two of them:

Firstly, this book does not give readers with false hope. Kinnaman and Lyons are men of faith but also very realistic. They are not suggesting that if Christians could just be nicer and more winsome and more engaging the world would like us more and everything will turn out good. They know how the world treated Jesus, and what He said about the world treating His disciples. They write, "It's not enough to be nice… it's no longer sufficient for Christians to be winsome. Being winsome is not bad. It's good. But aiming for niceness as our ultimate goal can give us a false sense of making a difference… Nice doesn't overcome the perception that Christians are crazy." The world will hate us no matter how nice we are. That's not an excuse for us to be compromise or uncaring but it does call us to be winsome while remaining unwavering in our confession and convictions.

Secondly, this book appeal for Christians to admit our failures. This is by no means a major thrust of the book, but it is there... The church should be the leaders in the world to show the "good faith." After all, Jesus came into the world to save sinners. There are plenty of sins to confess. It's of no use to scream about the speck in someone else's eye without removing the plank from our own eyes first. Has the church always been a place of grace for those who have had abortions? Same-sex attractions? And those who suffered unspeakable racial injustice? Not as a whole. The church has, at times, been too slow to speak and act, and complicit in abuse and shame. Instead of saying, "yeah but" as justification for the Christian's sins of commission and omission, we should confess our sins and God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. "We must be the people of God who, rather than being defined only by what we are against, are also defined by what we are for."

There a lot more you can learn about our ever-changing culture that may affect you and me as Christians in the world today as presented in this book. No matter where you are (although the context and research studies of this book are mainly from America), Good Faith is a great place to start. The book is helpful and insightful on the cultural front. You may disagree with some of their antidotes, you may experience differently, you may dislike their approach – but you'll be encouraged to "led by love, grounded in biblical belief, and ready to live as counterculture for the common good, we trust that our good faith will be used by God to renew the world.

This book is divided into 3 parts:

Part 1: Understanding Our Times

Chapter 1: Bad Faith, Good Faith
Chapter 2: Irrelevant
Chapter 3: Extreme
Chapter 4: The Tension We Feel and Why

Part 2: Living Good Faith

Chapter 5: Love, Believe, Live
Chapter 6: The Right Questions
Chapter 7: Who Will Lead?
Chapter 8: Assimilate or Accommodate
Chapter 9: After the Revolution
Chapter 10: Marriage, Family, and Friendships
Chapter 11: Life, Death, and Disability
Chapter 12: Race and Prejudice
Chapter 13: The Gay Conversation
Chapter 14: We Can't Live without Intimacy
Chapter 15: Five Ways to Be Faithful

Part 3: The Church and Our Future

Chapter 16: Firm Center, Soft Edges
Chapter 17: Church in a New World
Chapter 18: Faithful in Exile

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Sunday, July 15, 2018

John C. Maxwell on Leadership #25 Good Leaders Are Good Navigators

Is Jack Sparrow a good leader-navigator?

Nearly anyone can steer the ship, but it takes a leader to chart the course
. Before leaders take their people on a journey, they become navigators and go through a process in order to give the trip the best chance of being a success:

Navigators Draw on Past Experience: Most natural leaders are activists. They tend to look forward – not backward – make decisions, and move on. But for leaders to become good navigators, they need to take time to reflect and learn from their experiences.

Navigators Examine the Conditions Before Making Commitments: Good navigators count the cost before making commitments for themselves and others. They examine not only measurable factors such as finances, resources, and talents, but also intangibles such as timing, morale, momentum, culture, and so on.

Navigators Listen to What Others Have to Say: No matter how good a leader you are, you yourself will not have all the answers. That’s why top-notch navigators gather information from many sources.

Navigators Make Sure Their Conclusions Represent Both Faith and Fact: Being able to navigate for others requires a leader to possess a positive attitude. You’ve got to have faith that you can take your people all the way. On the other hand, you also have to be able to see the facts realistically. If you don’t go in with your eyes wide open, you’re going to get blindsided.

[Taken from The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You (1998) by John C. Maxwell]

Have you taken the time to chart the course
for the people you’re leading?

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Learn Manhood from David #5 Every Man Needs A Man Friend Like Jonathan

"After David had finished talking with Saul, he met Jonathan, the king's son. There was an immediate bond between them, for Jonathan loved David"
(1 Samuel 18:1, NLT)

"There are ‘friends' who destroy each other,
But a real friend sticks closer than a brother"
(Proverbs 18:24, NLT)

Doing Bible Studies on the life of David is very interesting. From 1 Samuel chapter 8 onward, David acquired a best friend and a worst enemy at the same time [It just seems to happen that way, right? Jesus had dear Peter but He also had traitor Judas. Paul had faithful Timothy but he also had worldly Demas]. Saul became David's worst enemy, hunting him down like a hunter with a gun looking for a deer. On the other hand, Jonathan, Saul's son, became the friend who "sticks closer than a brother." Jonathan even took a spear from his own father to defend his friend David against Saul. Jonathan was also the friend who challenged David to do the right things, helped him in ways no one else could, and provided a listening ear when David was in despair. Jonathan had witnessed David's victory over Goliath and saw David as someone he admired and wanted to know.

At the same time, Jonathan knew intuitively that David was destined to replace his father on the throne. "You are going to be the king of Israel…" said Jonathan to David (see 1 Samuel 23:17). He knew that he himself would not be the one to rule Israel, yet he didn't wait to start serving the next-king. Like David, Jonathan was bold and he maintained a strong relationship with God (see how Jonathan displayed his courage and bravery in 1 Samuel 14:1-15 just like how David showed his' when he fought Goliath. Both believe and relied on God's strength!). No wonder the Bible tells us that their hearts were chained together (see 1 Samuel 20:42)!

The friendship between Jonathan and David is one of the strongest man-to-man relationships recorded in the Bible. The bond between them was rooted in their faith and commitment to God. It grew stronger when tested, and it could not be broken by circumstances or even the threat of death. Until the end of his life, David honored his covenant with Jonathan. You see, even though David was a man after God's own heart (Acts 13:22), God still wanted him to have friendships with others. God is enough, He is all. But He still chooses to use others to speak to us, comfort us, and guide us. In a sense, God revealed Himself to David through his friend, Jonathan. Did David really need Jonathan? Absolutely! Tough times require close friends close by.

Since this article is for men and to encourage men to be men, I want to share this truth: Down deep at the core, every man needs a man friend and a brother to lock arms with. Michael E. McGill observed, "To say that men have no intimate friends seems on the surface too harsh, and it raises quick objections from most men. But the data indicates that it is not far from the truth. Even the most intimate of friendships (of which there are few) rarely approach the depth of disclosure a woman commonly has with other women… men, who neither bare themselves nor bear one another, are buddies in name only." Patrick Morley, author of The Man in the Mirror said that while most men have so-called friends, "hardly anyone has a friend he can call at 2.00 A.M." So, how can we find a friend like David? What makes your soul knit to the soul Jonathan? Stu Weber, author of Tender Warrior, list out four (4) principles of masculine friendship:

#1 Share Values. "You have many friends in the course of your life, but you will never have a soul mate who does not walk with your God… David and Jonathan were committed to the same God. They loved the same kingdom. They marched to the same tune… They didn't necessarily have the same skills or values or talents or bends. But they had the same values. That's at the core of all meaningful friendships, particularly man-to-man. At the core level, at the passion level, at the vision level, they were the same."

#2 Unselfish Love. "I want you to notice something else in this David-Jonathan friendship. Something that isn't there. It's conspicuous by its absence. Jonathan stripped himself of his royal robe and gave it to David along with his sword, bow, and belt. What's missing from this picture? What's not there? Jealousy. There is none. There is absolutely no competition or comparison between the two men… Friends stand by unselfishly, and we draw strength from that."

#3 Deep Royalty. "Jonathan's loyalty was so deep he was even willing to defend his friend when face-to-face with his father, the king. Loyalty is absolutely essential to a friendship… A man-to-man friendship says I'll never walk out on you. Barring unrepentant sin against the Lord God, you'll never be able to do anything that will repulse me or break our fellowship."

#4 Real Transparency. "David and Jonathan were not ashamed to embrace and weep together. They were that genuine with one another. They were that unconcerned with their ‘image.' They expressed their emotions with utter and total transparency… What defines our friendship is the telling of ourselves… Boys do need to learn to be men. But being a man does not mean concealing your emotions. Part of being a man is real transparency."

Share Values
Unselfish Love
Deep Royalty
Real Transparency

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Friday, July 13, 2018

Finishing Strong: Going the Distance for Your Family (1995) by Steve Farrar - Book Review

Finishing Strong: Going the Distance for Your Family (1995) by Steve Farrar

After I finished reading Stu Weber's great book Tender Warrior, I proceed to read this one. I was pleased when I read Stu Weber's comment: "Of all men's books available today, Finishing Strong is the one most encouraging to me at this mid-stage in my life." Edwin Louis Cole, the author of Maximized Manhood (first book that gets me interested in Biblical manhood), also comments, "It is a gold mine of truth, the treasure of which is almost invaluable to anyone who wants to finish life strong." These comments fuel my curiosity, enough to spark the desire in me to read it – after I ‘taste' the first chapter – I was hooked and I love it! "In the Christian life," emphasized Farrar, "it's not how you start that matters. It's how you finish."

He starts the book with a story of three men: Billy Graham, Chuck Templeton, and Bron Clifford. In their mid-twenties, around 1945, these three young preachers were very active in evangelism. One seminary president, after hearing Templeton preach one evening to an audience of thousands, called him "the most gifted and talented young man in America today for preaching." Graham and Templeton were friends. In those early years, Templeton was the most famous and called by a local newspaper as a man who "best used of God." Clifford was yet another gifted and powerful preacher "the church had seen in centuries.” It was said of him that young Clifford had "touched more lives, influenced more leaders, and set more attendance records than any other clergyman his age in American history." But as you read this review, I bet some (if not, most) of you know and heard about Billy Graham. So – the question is – how come you've never heard of Chuck Templeton or Bron Clifford?

Steve Farrar writes, "Templeton left the ministry to pursue a career as a radio and television commentator and newspaper columnist. Templeton had decided he was no longer a believer in Christ in the orthodox sense of the term… By 1950, [he] no longer believed in the validity of the claims of Jesus Christ." How about Clifford? Farrar continues, "By 1954, Clifford had lost his family, his ministry, his health, and then… his life. Alcohol and financial irresponsibility had done him in. he wound up leaving his wife and their two Down's syndrome children." He died at the age of 35 from cirrhosis of the liver. He died, as John Haggai puts it, "unwept, unhonoured, and unsung." In 1945, these three young men – Graham, Templeton, and Clifford – with extraordinary gifts were preaching the gospel to multiplied thousands in America and beyond. Within 10 years, only one of them – a faithful man of God, Billy Graham – was still on track for Christ. Only one finishing strong. In Christian life, it's not how you start that matters. It's how you finish.

Steve Farrar also told a story of John Bisagno and his father-in-law, Dr. Paul Beck having a conversation. Dr. Beck advised young Bisagno like this: "Stay true to Jesus! Make sure that you keep your heart close to Jesus every day… It has been my observation that just one out of ten who start out in full-time service for the Lord at 21 are still on track by the age of 65. They're shot down morally, they're shot down with discouragement, they're shot down with liberal theology, and they get obsessed with making money… but for one reason or another 9 out of 10 fall out." The 20-year-old Bisagno was shocked! I was shocked when I read it. Farrar continues the story of how Bisagno went back that night and wrote down names of 24 young men who were his peers and contemporaries, who "were sold out for Jesus Christ… trained for ministry… committed young preachers." Bisagno recalled: "I'm now 53 years-old. From time to time as the years have gone by, I've had to turn back to that page… and cross out a name. I wrote down 24 names when I was just 20-years-old. 33 years later, there are only 3 names remaining of the original 24." In Christian life, it's not how you start that matters. It's how you finish.

One more story and I'm done. Steve Farrar told a story of John MacArthur Jr. (my favorite author and preacher) when he was approached by a man after his preaching service in Scotland. The man asked, "Is your father named Jack MacArthur?" John said yes. The man then continues telling him how his father and two other men impacted his life and ministry. He asked John, "Where is your father now?" John told him that his father was preaching and pastoring. The man then asked, "Is he still faithful to the Word?" "Yes, he is still faithful and still standing." "What happened to the other two men who were ministering with your father?" the man finally asked. John replied, "I'm sorry to report that one has denied the faith and the other died an alcoholic." Only 1 out of 3 was stilling standing strong (If you read the Book of Numbers chapter 13, there you will also find only 2 out of 12 men – Joshua and Caleb – finished strong!). In Christian life, it's not how you start that matters. It's how you finish.

I have to say that not every man should read this book. It's a dangerous book. If you don't keep it, you'll lose it; if you take hold of what Farrar taught in this book, you'll be a rare, exceptional, teachable man of God. And that's the danger… statistically, only one man in ten will finished strong. Let me put it this way: (only) men who are tired of the status quo and (only) men who desire to be faithful and finishing strong should read this book. The desire is a great motivation to read this book. If you have that longing, it doesn't matter how you start – you can always finish strong. The danger is you have to make tough choices and an experience or two of personal brokenness. There is a price of finishing strong and only a few will make it. But I tell you – IT'S WORTH IT. One way to finish strong, one that Farrar emphasized over and over again, is this: “We finish strong by fixing our eyes on Jesus." But practically, how? Read this book.


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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

FREE BOOK OF THE MONTH: Good Faith by David Kinnaman & Gabe Lyons

"May we be the kind of good faith Christians who shape the future by asking the right questions and then confronting what is wrong, clarifying what is confused, celebrating what is good, and creating what the world is missing"

"Faith has implications for all of life, not just for the hour or two a week when like-minded believers gather to worship and pray"

It is easy to feel overwhelmed as we try to live faithfully in a culture that seems increasingly hostile to the Christian faith. With a growing backlash against religion and people of faith, it's harder than ever to hold onto our convictions while treating friends, neighbors, co-workers, and even family members who disagree with respect and compassion.

Based on ground-breaking research, this timely book by the bestselling authors of unChristian (I love this book!) explores politics, sexuality, race, gender, and religious freedom, helping you:

  • Respond with compassion, clarity, and confidence to the most toxic issues of our day
  • Discover the most significant cultural trends that are creating both obstacles and opportunities for Christians
  • Know what you believe and why it doesn't make you a judgmental or extreme person
  • Stop being afraid to talk about what you believe and start having meaningful conversations about tough issues
  • Understand the heart behind opposing views and learn how to stay friends across differences

Even though this book is based on research and Christianity in America, I find that the content, the challenge, and the encouragement in this book can help any Christians around the world especially when we (slowly) feel that we "are no longer part of the majority."

This month of July, I'm giving away TWO (2) BOOKS entitled Good Faith. To get this book for FREE, all you have to do:

1) Write a comment (below) on this blog post:
"I want to read Good Faith because........"

2) Share an article (from this blog) on your social media such as Facebook, Twitter, etc.

3) Send to me your home (or recent) address for me to post the book. You may do it through my FB Messenger or if you know me personally, through WhatsApp or SMS.

For Malaysians ONLY
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Friday, July 6, 2018

Book Review: Coping With Depression (1995, 2004) by Siang-Yang Tan & John Ortberg

Coping With Depression (1995, 2004) by Siang-Yang Tan & John Ortberg

To depress something is "to move it from a higher level to a lower level." Ask depressed people how they're feeling and there's a good chance they will respond, "Low." When you're depressed, you find yourself struggling for energy. Your food seems to lose its flavor, tasks, and relationships that used to energize you now feel so draining as not to be worth the effort, and you feel as if you can hardly drag yourself through the day. Tasks as simple as choosing a menu at a restaurant or writing an email (or assignment) feel as though they would require superhuman effort. Watching TV/movie/anime or scrolling mindlessly on social media is as far as your ambition goes – if it goes as far as getting out of bed.

You tell yourself to snap out of it. You remind yourself to be strong. You resolve to pray more, read the Bible more, think positive, etc. You go to sleep, hoping that tomorrow will be better… but nothing changes. You resolve that tomorrow you will be back to your old self… but nothing happens. Pray… but the heaven silent. Depression has a spiral quality to it as if it were feeding on itself. You feel guilty about the fact you're depressed. You think you're alone. As Christian, you might think that depression is an indication of a lack of faith, and you argue that if you simply had as much faith as a ‘normal' Christian you wouldn't be depressed. Instead of motivating and empowering change, this only worsens your conditions. Do you feel any of these?

Depressed mood
Decreased interest in life
Decreased appetite
Suicidal tendencies
Decreased ability to concentrate
Decreased energy
Insomnia or hypersomnia
Decreased sense of self-worth or well-being

So, how to cope with depression? "Although it can be hard to capture in a sentence," writes Tan and Ortberg, "depression can generally be effectively diagnosed." In this book, they shed light on the topic of depression and the causes of it. The mix of spiritual sensitivity, scientific research and practical methods in this book much helps for those who struggle with depression and those who would seek to understand and help them (like me). I read so many time that both authors say pointedly, "You are not alone" – and it's true.

In the Bible, Prophet Elijah once asked for his life to be taken away; Prophet Jonah was deeply depressed and despaired after God didn't destroy Nineveh as he had prophesied; Prophet Jeremiah lamented the day he had been born; Job wishes that he had never been born; even Lord Jesus sweats blood in the garden of Gethsemane. Politicians like Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, and John Quincy Adams were battling depression. Christian leaders such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Charles Spurgeon suffered from depression too. "One of the great mysteries of depression is that it seems to be no respecter of persons," they write. "People who appear to have everything to live for – career advancement, personal attractiveness, and financial security – are as likely candidates as those on the lowest rungs of the ladder of success."

After explaining what is depression, types of depression, and causes of depression, the authors introduce the ABCs methods of coping with depression (notice, it is how to "cope" not "cure"): A stands for "activating events or antecedents – the situations that happen to you"; and C stands for "the consequences, in terms of both feelings and behaviours." Generally, people feel as if C (consequence) is caused by A (event), that the way they feel is caused by what happened to them. However, in between A and C is B – "your beliefs about what it is that has happened to you. In this case, the Bs consist of your automatic thoughts… So it's not the As that cause the Cs after all. The As trigger specific Bs, or beliefs, which in turn lead to the Cs." In summary – let me try – ABCs, the human three major dimensions consist of A stands for effect (feelings), B for behavior (actions), and C for cognition (thinking). When you are depressed, you feel depressed (that's A), you behave in depressed ways (B; for instance, you stay in bed or watching YouTube most of the day), and you think in negative ways (C). Most people think depression as only being about feelings, but "it also equally about the way you behave and the way you think – no part of life is untouched." So, "it is important to deal with all three dimensions" [Note: The authors also warned that not all depression caused by physical, biological and emotional factors, there are also spiritual factors such as personal sin, demonization, and God-sent trails. So, it is important to identify the root cause(s) and seek help].

This book content eight (8) chapters:

Chapter #1 A Snapshot of Depression: The "Common Cold" of Emotional Life
Chapter #2 Understanding Depression
Chapter #3 Coping with Depression: Know Your ABCs
Chapter #4 Affect: How Are You Feeling?
Chapter #5 Behaviour: What Are You Doing?
Chapter #6 Cognition: How Are You Thinking?
Chapter #7 Beyond Self-Help: Using Other Resources
Chapter #8 A Case Study

There are a lot of juicy quotes from this book. I wanted to write at least a page summary for each chapter, but if I do, it will not be a review – it's going to be an essay! Suffice it to say that this book really helped me to understand depression better (watching an interview on depression by Indian actress entitled Deepika Padukone's Story was very helpful too. Besides, there are lots of TED talks on this issue too. Check it out). If you're suffering from depression, don't afraid to seek help. You're not alone. "Depressed people tend to isolate themselves, and so deprive themselves of caring precisely when they have the greatest need for it," said both authors. For this reason, you must seek help and be involved with others. Take the initiative. Fight the urged to keep it quiet. Ask and tell those close to you, near you. When you are depressed, you don't feel like doing anything, but when you don't do anything, it makes you feel more depressed. So, do something (good, positive) about it. You're not alone. Don't feel ashamed about it. I like how Tan and Ortberg end this book: "Above all, remember that God is with you and that the deepest depression cannot put you beyond the reach of his love." Yes!

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