Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Midweek Meditation: "The Second Circle-Pray Hard" (Mark Batterson)

Following last week's first circle, we move to the second circle of Batterson's exhortation: Pray Hard.

"The parable of the persistent widow is one of the most pixilated pictures of prayer in Scripture. It shows us what praying hard looks like: knocking until your knuckles are raw, crying out until your voice is lost, pleading through until your teats run dry. Praying hard is praying through. And if you pray through, God will come through. But it will be God's will, God's way.

The phrase used to describe the widow's persistence, 'she is wearing me out,' is boxing terminology. Praying hard is going twelve rounds with God. A heavyweight prayer bout with God Almighty can be excruciating and exhausting, but that is how the greatest prayer victories are won. Praying hard is more than words; it's blood, sweat, and tears. Praying hard is two-dimensional: praying like it depends on God, and working like it depends on you. It's praying until God answers, no matter how long it takes. It's doing whatever it takes to show God you're serious.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and there is no more desperate act than praying hard. There comes a moment when you need to throw caution to the wind and draw a circle in the sand. There comes a moment when you need to defy protocol, drop to your knees, and pray for the impossible. There comes a moment when you need to muster every ounce of faith you have and call down rain from heaven. For the persistent widow, this was that moment.

While we don't know what injustice took place, we do know that the persistent widow wouldn't take no for an answer. That's what made her a circle maker."

(Mark Batterson, The Circle Maker, Zondervan, 2011, p81-82)

Monday, October 24, 2016

BookPastor >> "Living God's Word" (J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Nov 24th 2012.


TITLE: Living God's Word: Discovering Our Place in the Great Story of Scripture
AUTHOR:  J. Scott Duvall and  J. Daniel Hays
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012, (320 pages).

We learn best from stories because stories shape our thinking and our living. If we can find God in the story, and subsequently see our place in the story, we are in for an exciting time of learning and living. This is the premise of this book. For those of us who loves to "walk" through the Bible and see the big story, this book helps us to do just that. Through their teaching experience at Bible schools, the authors encounter two major problems. Firstly, students are not sure how the stories in the Bible fit in the overall Story. Secondly, students need help on how to read the Bible for themselves. Riding on the success of their first book, "Grasping God's Word," Duvall and Hays have come up with a complementary edition that focuses on the overall story of the Bible. The earlier book was written to enable readers to read, to interpret, and to apply the teachings of the Bible. This new book is intended for readers to survey the whole Bible, and to enable readers to discover the riches of the Bible for themselves. Using the letter C as an alliteration device, the authors comb the 66 books of the Bible to tell the story in 20 chapters. The first half tells the great story of God's creation leading all the way to the final and perfect Redemption of the world. Beginning with creation, there is the unfortunate fall of man. God enters the picture again with a redemption plan, to redeem Israel through the Abrahamic call. Israel fails terribly and soon, God enters the picture with a relationship with the people through the Mosaic covenant and the commandments. Israel fails miserably again despite their conquests and their requests for a king. As Israel crumbles and goes into captivity, despite the multiple warnings given by prophets and priests, kings and soothsayers, God's people continue their rebellion, and the Old Testament ends without much good news as far as the Israelite behaviour is concerned. This is followed by a chapter that describes the time of silence. I find this chapter very illuminating as it stands between the first and the second testaments, in a neither beginning or end state. Readers are left pondering "What happened?" as they reflect on the Old Testament events. They are also left to grapple with the next questions:

  • What does it all mean?
  • What is going to happen next?
  • Is there hope?

Enters God again in the New Testament. The New Testament is broadly described in three segments: Christ, Church, and Consummation. Like creation, God is the Initiator again. Man cannot save himself. God can. By sending Christ, to enter our world, to teach the world, and to be crucified and sacrificed for the sake of the world. After His resurrection, Christ commissions his disciples to continue the mission. He promises the Holy Spirit who will lead the Church to do great things for God, in distributing the salvation message. The Consummation represents a happy ending to a great story. Each chapter begins with a hook to get the reader interested. There are stories like toddler and the electrical outlets, spiders in a truck, a wedding vow, Superman's cape, and many more to grab the attention of the contemporary reader. The reader is then urged to read or listen to a few key passages of the Scriptures that describe the story more explicitly. The contexts, the characters, and the contents are introduced, followed by some basic themes.

My Thoughts

There is an intentional story-telling emphasis in the whole book. In order to tell the story of stories, one needs to be utterly familiar with the whole Bible. This is where the authors shine in their comprehension and their familiarity with modern learners. Like good teachers, they give readers a clear overview of the book. I love the way they put the chapter headings so concisely. Reflecting on the chapter title alone already gives us a good idea where the authors are heading. For me, it is a powerful learning key. The twenty learning keys are like handrails to guide readers through all 66 books of the Bible. They all lead toward a great climax of the story. They all build upon previously established steps or story endings. They all progress in a direction. While the authors do not give an individual book-by-book approach, they provide a thought-by-thought progression that makes great story-telling. In fact, preachers can also use the book as material for 20 sermons too. The frameworks are excellent ways to tell stories and to bring out the biblical themes clearly. I like the many summaries that we need reminding from time to time. For example, the summary of the Ten Commandments, the maps of Palestine and Israel to give readers an idea of the contexts of the land, the comparison of narratives in Kings as well as Chronicles, and many more. The blue-boxed out summaries are refreshing and make for great Powerpoint slides. The bibliography at the end of each chapter is intentionally short so as not to make research too intimidating.

That said, there are some weaknesses in the approach taken by Duvall and Hays. Let me mention three. First, there is some amount of straitjacketing going on. Everytime we use a alliteration device, we try to force our story to reflect the C-word we choose. It is one thing to let the Bible inform the story. It is yet another to let a certain interpretation inform how one reads the Bible. For this reason, I recommend the book for beginner to moderate level readers. Those who are trained theologically will know that there are many more nuances associated with each of the 66 books. While the story flow is true, we cannot presume that these are the only stories worth telling. Second, there is some reductionism going on? Why only 20 chapters? Perhaps, brevity is a concern. Maybe, the book is designed more for popular reading. That said, it is important to remember that this is the authors' way of communicating truth in a readable manner. In fact, there can be 30 chapters or even 40 chapters, depending on how we want to frame our story. It is a reminder that the book is a summary, and readers are to remember that summaries do result in some reductionism. If readers understand that, it is ok. Third, this book in itself is already an interpretation of the Bible story.  For readers who are keen to do inductive studies, this book is not for you. Supplement this book with others. However, if the book can encourage Bible literacy, to motivate readers to read the Bible with more enthusiasm, it is still a very good thing.

If I can use my own learning acronym for this book, it will be F.U.L.L.
  1. Finding the story (Discovery)
  2. Understanding the story (Delight)
  3. Learning the story (Deepen)
  4. Living the story. (Do)
This book helps us to do that very well. I recommend this book for the beginner student, as well as the layperson wanting to read the Bible from the eyes of story telling. If you have read "Grasping God's Word," you will love this book too.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Zondervan and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Midweek Meditation: "The First Circle - Dream Big" (Mark Batterson)

Following the introduction last week, we move to the first circle of Batterson's exhortation: Dream Big.

"Drawing prayer circles often feels foolish. And the bigger the circle you draw the more foolish you'll feel. But if you aren't willing to step out of the boat, you'll never walk on water. If you aren't willing to circle the city, the wall will never fall. And if you aren't willing to follow the star, you'll miss out on the greatest adventure of your life.

In order to experience a miracle, you have to take a risk. And one of the most difficult types of risk to take is risking your reputation. Honi already had a reputation as a rainmaker, but he was willing to risk his reputation by praying for rain one more time. Honi took the risk - and the rest is history.

The greatest chapters in history always begin with risk, and the same is true with the chapters of your life. If you're unwilling to risk your reputation, you'll never build the boat like Noah or get out of the boat like Peter. You cannot build God's reputation if you aren't willing to risk yours. There comes a moment when you need to make the call or make the move. Circle makers are risk takers. 

Moses had learned this lesson well: If you don't take the risk, you forfeit the miracle."

(Mark Batterson, The Circle Maker, Zondervan, 2011, p46)

Monday, October 17, 2016

BookPastor >> "The Future of Our Faith" (Ron Sider and Ben Lowe)

This review was published on March 31st, 2016 at Panorama of a Book Saint.


TITLE: The Future of Our Faith: An Intergenerational Conversation on Critical Issues Facing the Church
AUTHOR: Ronald J. Sider and Ben Lowe
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2016, (240 pages).

We have all heard of the generation gap. Between the old and the young, there are differences in opinion, perspectives, and ideas. Put them altogether under one roof and we are in for some inter-generational challenges on many different issues. Whether it is about old, hanging on to traditional and proven ideas, or about the young, eager to try new methods and innovative projects, in order to help all get along, there need to be a wider sphere of understanding of each other. Every generation will have their own set of challenges. Each generation will have lessons to be shared with the others. Two of the best things that two generations can do for each other are to educate each other graciously and to engage each other constructively. In this book, we see nine different scenarios of of engagement and honest sharing of opinions from a Baby-Boomer generation and a Millennial. Billed as an inter-generational dialogue on eight critical issues, authors Ronald Sider and Ben Lowe share the same common faith and passion for the Church. The issues may be important but it is the learning of how each generation approach the same issue that is even more important. With greater understanding comes lesser tensions. With greater willingness to learn from each other means sharing resources so as to lay the groundwork for blessing the generations of the future.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Before the Computer...

Before the computer

An application was for employment
A program was a TV show
A cursor used profanity
A keyboard was a piano!

Memory was something that you lost with age
A CD was a bank account!
And if you had a broken disk,
It would hurt when you found out!

Compress was something you did to garbage
Not something you did to a file
And if you unzipped anything in public
You'd be in jail for awhile!

Log on was adding wood to a fire
Hard drive was a long trip on the road
A mouse pad was where a mouse lived
And a backup happened to your commode!

Cut--you did with a pocket knife
Paste you did with glue
A web was a spider's home
And a virus was the flu!

I guess I'll stick to my pad and paper
And the memory in my head
I hear nobody's been killed in a computer crash
But when it happens they wish they were dead!

Source: Unknown

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Midweek Meditation: "The Circle Maker"

In the book, The Circle Maker, Mark Batterson shows us the way to pray without ceasing. Using the circling metaphor, he seeks to encourage us to circle ourselves with prayer, constant prayer. Based on the first-century Jewish sage, Honi, whose faith was expressed in fervent prayer, he describes three types of circles. For the next five weeks, we will be dealing with the topic of prayer according to the Circle Maker.

"God has determined that certain expressions of His power will only be exercised in response to prayer. Simply put, God won't do it unless you pray for it. We have not because we ask not, or maybe I should say, we have not because we circle not. The greatest tragedy in life is the prayers that go unanswered because they go unasked.

Now here's the good news: If you do pray, all bets are off. You can live with holy anticipation because you never know how or when or where God is going to answer, but I promise you this: He will answer. And His answers are not limited by your requests. We pray out of our ignorance, but God answers out of His omniscience. We pray out of our impotence, but God answers out of His omnipotence. God has the ability to answer the prayers we should have prayed but lacked the knowledge or ability to even ask." (Mark Batterson, The Circle Maker, Zondervan, 2011, p16-7)

Monday, October 10, 2016

BookPastor >> "Four Views on Hell"

This review was first published on March 26th, 2016 at Panorama of a Book Saint.


TITLE: Four Views on Hell: Second Edition (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology)
AUTHOR: Preston Sprinkle, Denny Burk, John G. Stackhouse Jr., Robin Perry, and Jerry Walls
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (224 pages).

The topic of hell and eternal damnation has been a controversial topic recently. Since Rob Bell's Love Wins, which is essentially a book that not only rejects the existence of eternal hell but advocates the position of universalism, many Christians are caught in a bind about what exactly does the Bible teach about hell. A number of outspoke critics railed against Bell. A popular Christian pastor, Francis Chan was so upset about Bell's universalist approach that he responded with Erasing Hell. The chief editor of ChristianityToday publication wrote God Wins to counter Bell's ideas. While these books appeal at a popular readers' level, there are some people who would like a more in-depth treatment of the topic of hell, damnation, and eternal suffering. Enters this book which is part of Zondervan's Counterpoints series. Four different perspectives are provided not simply for readers to pick-and-choose but to be understood and to learn from. If not everybody have the whole truth, surely, together, we can all draw a bigger picture that we can learn from. Each view comes with three responses. The main purpose of this book is to lay out the different views of hell for the purpose of instruction and illumination, so that there will be bridges of understanding of all sides. This book is not new. The first edition was published in 1996 with the literal view (John F. Walvoord), the metaphorical view (William Crockett), the conditional view (Clark H. Pinnock), and the purgatorial view (Zachary J. Hayes). This second edition has been updated with four new contributors.

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