Friday, January 13, 2012

Funny and Frank

Craig Groeschel's book "Love, Sex and Happily Ever After" is a funny, touching and instructive book filled with testimonies and practical teaching.

I have read many books on marriage and relationships and while Groeschel's book doesn't seem to bring anything brand new to the table, and he doesn't need to. His gift is that he's bringing the same truths in with his relevant language, humor and winsomeness.

For example, I don't know of any other pastor who has included an illustration of Napoleon Dynamite's quirky brother KIP and his love for LA FAWNDA. But Groeschel pulls it off and readers who get the joke LAUGH oUT LOUD!

Perhaps the best points he presents are about Friendship within marriage. In his chapter "THE FRIENDSHIP FOUNDATION" he writes: "Take things at God's pace. If at any time you know that the person you're with isn't God's best, do the right and wise thing, and gently end the relationship. If, on the other hand, you know that God is blessing your friendship toward marriage, then shift gears, following His pace and path, and enjoy the relational ride of your life." (pp. 51-52)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

IF GOD IS GOOD...By Randy Alcorn

Randy Alcorn's 500 page book is subtitleld "Faith in the Midst of Suffering". Tackling the age-old issue of "Why does a Good God allow suffering" and it's infinite spinoff questions, he ably and articulately addresses the existential questions of dead philosophers from yesteryear as well as the contemporary living anti-theists whose best-sellers continue to rail hard against the Christian worldview.

Surprisingly, one chapter is dedicated to the peeling back the arguments of "Christian-turned-atheist" Bart Ehrman. With reason and respect, Alcorn gives a solid rationale for Ehrman's false reasoning and even addresses Ehrman's "intellectual honesty" in contrast with CS Lewis.

Some standout quotes include:

"The gospel is God's cure for our disease. Jesus paid the ultimate price to heal us--but we wil not submit ourselves to the treatment if we deny our disease or bemoan its unfairness. Healing can come only when we recognize we are sinners in need of a Savior." (71)

"Non-theistic worldviews may not let God into the family room, but they habitually smuggle him in through the back door. They try to put something in his place to give life meaning, but God remains the primary reference point behind the secondary ones they recognize." (110)

"In the post-Enlightenment era Voltaire asked, "How can God be so cruel?" In the pre-Enlightenment Reformation era Luther asked, "How can God be so merciful?" (122)

IF GOD IS GOOD is a heavy read yet not too heady so as to delve into academic jargon far beyond the reach of the casual reader. I am grateful for this. Alcorn has a pastor's heart and weaves an abundance of scholarly research and distills it to make it accessible for average readers to understand.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

TAKING ON THE GODS: The Task of the Pastoral Counselor by Merle R. Jordan

Professor Norm Thiesen teaches Pastoral Counseling at Western Seminary and has assigned us 10 hours of reading from a variety of Christian and secular books on counseling. As I read Merle R. Jordan's "Taking on the Gods" this morning on my train ride to work, I was struck by this quote:

Howard Thurman tells of an idea impressed upon him by his beloved grandmother, who had been a slave on a southern plantation:

"The idea was given to her by a certain slave minister who, on occasion, held secret religious meetings with his fellow slaves. How everything in me quivered with the pulsing tremor of raw energy when, in her recital, she would come to the triumphant climax of the minister: 'You -- you are not niggers. You -- you are not slaves. You are God's children.'" (p. 23)

Amen to this amazing truth! An appropriate reminder during this month of February which also commemorates Black History Month.

...and woe to the rappers and modern day slave-makers who preach otherwise. Praise to the God who elevates us over the derogatory names and profanities and lies that the world spews and instead, gives us His name, His grace, and His identity in which we can fully rest!

Get the book "Taking on the Gods: The Task of the Pastoral Counselor" by Merle R. Jordan here:

Monday, December 27, 2010


“Becoming Who God Intended” by David Eckman was assigned by the author, who also doubled as our professor for the class Developing Strong Families. Eckman is an international speaker, author, and founder of BWGI ministries. He also teaches Hebrew at Western Seminary and the class Learning to Love God and Others. This is an adapted version of the book review paper I wrote about his book "Becoming Who God Intended".

56 – The point of Christianity is not knowing information about God but having the emotions of God! The most common emotion of Christ in the Gospels is compassion.

Having a good grasp of biblical theology is definitely important, but diving into the message of that biblical theology moves one from merely knowing about God, to intimately knowing God. To have the emotions of God, I’ve got to enter into the great story of God’s romance and embrace the compassion of Jesus Christ.

70 – God has not only come to deliver us from our sins and bring us home to heaven. God has come to make us happy. The three Persons of the Trinity experience joy, and they want to bring us into that circle of joy and love.

I hesitate to agree with this statement completely because of the idea of happiness as a goal. In fact, even later in the book, this statement appears: Blessedness is something profoundly greater than just being happy (p. 240)
I would probably agree more with the second statement than the first, though I know that happiness inside of the heart of the Tri-une God is an absolute guarantee. I suppose that I’ve also heard another phrase popularized over and over again: God is not here to make us happy, but to make us holy.
Perhaps there is room for balance, where holiness is definitely priority, happiness is a natural by product.

91 – God’s intent for the imagination is for us to use it to see the world the way He does.

I love the idea that as God is both Creator and re-Creator, we have the opportunity to join in His creation masterpiece with greater spectacles than a 3-D movie. We have His word and His Spirit to destroy the false images of our corrupted mentalities with the new images of His glory and purifying love. To see the world through God’s eyes is impossible without the Gospel-lens of Jesus Christ’s person and finished work.

148 – Adopted as the Firstborn: The judge said this adoption would be the happiest thing he did all day. With the smiling clerk looking on, he read us every word of the two-page adoption decree. He got to the words, “Andrew Brian Howard Eckman will be treated with all the rights and privileges of a biologically born child of Carol and David Eckman. To not do so is to defraud Andrew and invite the penalty of the law,” and as he read them, I was filled with deep emotion. That was exactly what I wanted to do, and hearing it expressed brought tears to my eyes.
That is what the Father has done for us. He is treating us like the firstborn Son, and He has shared with us the family history. He has done for us out of love what the law of man demanded Carol and I should do for our children out of obligation!

This very personal illustration of the official adoption ceremony was a great way to relate the way delights in choosing His adopted and dearly loved children. More than obligation and duty, God takes great joy in redeeming and rescuing His sons and daughters who were once orphaned by sin.

170 – A young woman who lived on the streets of San Francisco buying and selling drugs became a Christian and left that behind. She was interviewed by one of the major papers in the city, and they asked her how she could leave her past behind. She answered, “I am not the sum total of my past. I am the sum total of who God tells me I am.”

Amen to that. I am daily wrestling with the voices of my past and the Voice of my eternal future. May God turn up the volume knob of His voice, as I mute the volume knob of the liars and mockers of my yesterdays as this woman was so brave to do.

185 – The use of the word ahavah meant that God not only loved the people of Israel but intensely liked them.

It is true. If marriage is a parable for Jesus Christ and His bride, the Church, and if His ahavah means that He both loves and likes us, then I am living in the dance of ahavah with my bride, Venus. I love her intensely, but I also like her with as much intensity!

200 – “Have you shown the centerfolds to God?...That’s the whole problem…You don’t believe you can show the centerfold to God. He’s about the only one you can and should. Whether it is the centerfold in the magazine or the centerfold in your imagination, god the Father is the one you should show it to.”

Yikes, this is one I will have to keep in my tool belt for pastoral counseling. Praise God that the end result was the restoration of his marriage and that the man was healed of his addictions.

Monday, November 29, 2010


In a class titled "Practicing Prayer and Other Key Spiritual Disciplines" taught by Professor Steve Korch, I was assigned "CELEBRATION OF DISCIPLINE: The Path to Spiritual Growth" by Richard Foster, a book I had previously read but could probably revisit once a year and still glean amazing insights until the day I die.

I was first introduced to "Celebration of Discipline" during a college camp retreat back in the late 90s when a guest speaker named Jorge preached from various chapters of Foster's contemporary classic. I can't recall a single thing Jorge said, but I do remember that he kept encouraging us to get this book, so I did right away after that camp (bought it from Harvest Bookstore in SF...and you can too!). I was forever changed by the way Foster approached the idea of Christian spirituality.

What are spiritual disciplines? Foster categorizes 12 disciplines into three groups: Inward, Outward, and Corporate disciplines:

- Inward (meditation, prayer, fasting, study)
- Outward (simplicity, solitude, submission, service)
- Corporate (confession, worship, guidance, celebration)

The Spiritual disciplines are by no means supposed to become an effort-driven, legalistic, formulaic recipe for Biblical success. In fact, they are intended to remind and refocus our lives around the Lord in such a way that we become totally and utterly dependent and satisfied on Him alone.

In his chapter on Worship, Foster writes:

+ "Worship is the human response to the divine initiative" (158).

+ "Until God touches and frees our spirit we cannot enter this realm. Singing, praying, praising all may lead to worship, but worship is more than any of them. Our spirit must be ignited by the divine fire" (159).

+ Quoting A.W. Tozer, Foster writes: “The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him” (159).

+ "The divine priority is worship first, service second. Our lives are to be punctuated with praise, thanksgiving, and adoration. Service flows out of worship. Service as a substitute for worship is idolatry. Activity is the enemy of adoration" (161).

+ "When we are truly gathered into worship, things occur that could never occur alone. There is the psychology of the group to be sure, and yet it is so much more; it is divine interpenetration. There is what the biblical writers called koinonia, deep inward fellowship in the power of the Spirit" (164).

+ "Genuine worship has only one Leader, Jesus Christ…Christ is the Leader of worship in the sense that he alone decides what human means will be used, if any. Individuals preach or prophesy or sing or pray as they are called forth by their Leader. In this way there is no room for the elevation of private reputations. Jesus alone is honored. As our living Head calls them forth, any or all of the gifts of the Spirit can be freely exercised and gladly received" (165).

+ "There is nothing more quickening than Spirit-inspired preaching, nothing more deadening than human-inspired preaching" (166).

+ "If worship does not propel us into greater obedience, it has not been worship. To stand before the Holy One of eternity is to change" (173).

Sunday, November 7, 2010

"Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People's Hearts the Way Jesus Did" by Randy Newman

Dr. Dean Smith (Pastor of The Highway Community in Mountain View and Palo Alto) was the professor of my class "Practicing Evangelism & Apologetics" in the Fall of 2009. During that semester we were required to read three books:
1) "The Universe Next Door", by James Sire
2) "The Reason for God", by Timothy J. Keller
3) "Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People's Hearts the Way Jesus Did" by Randy Newman

The most practical of the three was Newman's "Questioning Evangelism" which helped take readers from merely filling up the head with information, explanations of varying worldviews and philosophies, and formulaic apologetic presentations, and move them towards the Rabbinical style of questioning, one that engages participation in conversations with skillful questions instead of setting up arguments that polarize communicators into defensive/offensive positions with propositional statements and emotionless facts.

Some of the book's standout chapters are:
"Why Are Questions Better Than Answers?"
"Why Are Christians So Intolerant?"
"Why Should Anyone Worship a God Who Allowed 9/11?"
"Why Are Christians So Homophobic?"
"If Jesus Is So Great, Why Are His Followers Such Jerks?"

The titles alone effectively grab the attention of readers who may or may not already hold preconceived answers, and Newman does a great job of unfolding the issues in a considerate dialogue while raising plausible structures for truth and reason, with a healthy balance of compassion and love.

During my early years as a Christian, I read popular apologetic materials like Josh McDowell's classic "More Than a Carpenter" and later Lee Strobel's "The Case for Christ" and "The Case for Faith". While there was and still is great value in the direct approach of the Q&A interview model found in these books, Newman (a Campus Crusade for Christ staff member himself) has taken more of the Rabbinical approach to asking questions, not so much with a direct Q&A approach (where the questions and answers are quick and succinct), but rather he suggests the kind of questioning styles that create opportunities to build relationships, earn trust, and allow ideas to grow instead of feeding them to others propositionally.

As Newman writes: "The goal of Questioning Evangelism is to help people know how to think about an issue than what to think...More important, though, readers will grow in confidence, knowing what to ask, because this book is about questions" (p. 15-16).

Monday, October 25, 2010

"An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach" by Bruce Waltke and Charles Yu

Another book that Professor/Pastor Brian Morgan assigned us was Bruce Waltke's Old Testament Theology which was heavier than my laptop backpack.

Waltke is much admired by theologians and scholars and I was very intimidated at the thought of reading the textbook. But Morgan encouraged us to just read and enjoy and absorb the material. We didn't have to take detailed notes, but rather respond to the big picture of the Gospel as it was being laid out by Waltke.

Also, I had to laugh because the first printing of the textbook had a blaring typo on the cover: "Exgetical" instead of "Exegetical". So even theological giants can trip up on the nitty, gritty details, too., we saved some money because the Rabbi (aka Pastor Morgan) bought up all the typo editions and sold 'em to us seminary students at a reduced price.