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.

"Down-to-Earth Spirituality: Encountering God in the Ordinary, Boring Stuff of Life" by R. Paul Stevens

Pastor Brian Morgan, of Peninsula Bible Church - Cupertino, was my Old Testament 1 professor for one semester, his last Old Testament class at Western Seminary. He had a way of making the Old Testament poetry come to life, and he had a real knack for bringing us students into the Old Testament narrative, specifically the story of Jacob.

In fact, one of our assignments was to write a "Jacob Poem". I decided to compose a poem called "My Two Dads" based on Jacob's own father and father-in-law, transposed with my own relationship with my father and father-in-law (copied at the bottom).

One of the required textbooks that Brian Morgan assigned to us was "Down-to-Earth Spirituality" by R. Paul Stevens.

I have to say that "Down-to-Earth Spirituality" surprised me. I've read books on the Spiritual Disciplines before and usually they are pretty formulaic and point-by-point practical. Stevens offered a thematic approach to the disciplines that married the narrative of Jacob's story with such topics as "Birth - the Story of Rebekah", "Courting - the Story of Rachel", "Work - the Story of Laban", "Conversion - the Story of the God-Man" and "Death - the Story of Ephraim".

In "Sex - the Story of Dinah", Stevens writes:

"Males or females by themselves, whether married or single, are not the image of God but only males in relation to females and females in relation to males. We are like God in our need to be people-in-communion without losing our identities. The sexual desire expresses something godlike within us...Intercourse is a powerful symbol of this [communion] - the mutual penetration of persons. I emphasize persons because we do not have sex with bodies but with whole persons." (119).

Chew on that for a while!


and here's my Jacob Poem

My Two Dads: Faith of Our Fathers

If Kiyosaki’s best-seller had its way
I would be a businessman
Not a preacher
I would have real estate of my own
And not dwell under the tents of my in-laws
I would call the shots
And not be slaving for the Man and the Establishment

My inheritance would shine as gold
My eyes would shun poverty
And I would know the tricks of the trade
The tricks…the trade

Nevertheless, I still have two dads
Neither one a rich nor a poor man
Neither one a sage nor a fool

One fathered three sons
This one gave me a home to grow up in
Free from need
Well fed and well bred

The other fathered two daughters
This one gave me his first-born
His precious pearl to call my bride

Both immigrants
Self-made men, strong, sometimes silent
Sacrificial, almost to a fault

In the land of Buddhas and Confucius
They learned to honor ancestors and avoid shame
They learned the importance of family and saving face
They learned to leave home

In the land of Hippies and Capitalism
They learned to speak
They learned to save
They learned to earn
…and they learned to love

Such love is ours, my bride’s and mine

But they were not our chosen tour guides
On this narrow road we’ve sojourned
To the Cross
Yet sovereign grace and divine mercy
Have taken hold of the steering wheel
Now we are the arrows for them

And a little child shall lead them
And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children
And the hearts of the children to their fathers…or else…

Was this dream of theirs for me - for us -
A curse? The deceiver’s kiss?
False skin and hair? A meal we did not prepare? Leading no where?

Or is this lot that I’ve been given - that we’ve been given - a blessing in disguise?
The angel’s touch? A broken hip?
An altered name?
An altar for God’s fame?

So often it’s been sung
About the faith of our fathers

Where is that faith found?
In our accomplishments and glory?
Achieved by merit and prosperity?
Or is the faith of our fathers
Still unraveling in the story
Penned by the Father and Author
The Perfector of faith
Who erases our former names
Even our own fathers’ names
From history’s log
And scrawls our new names into the Lamb’s book of life
(c) 2008 Pira Tritasavit

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"Lessons In Leadership: Fifty Respected Evangelical Leaders Share Their Wisdom About Ministry" ed. Randal Roberts

Current President of Western Seminary Randal Roberts gathered 50 of the "Who's Who?" of Evangelical Christianity in 1999 for "Lessons on Leadership: Fifty Respected Evangelical Leaders Share Their Wisdom About Ministry" a compilation of wit and wisdom. I was assigned this book by Dr. Matthew Lea for a class called "Discovering and Developing Your Ministry Potential" - yes, a long class title, but an important class nonetheless.

Among the contributors to "Lessons In Leadership" were former Western Seminary presidents Earl Radmacher & Bert Downs, alongside other notables like Walt Kaiser, Moishe Rosen [founder of Jews for Jesus] , Bill Bright [founder of Campus Crusade for Christ], Carl Henry, Gerry Breshears, and Luis Palau.

Of particular interest was the late Moishe Rosen's chapter entitled "Learning That There Is No Such Thing as a Comfortable Cross". On p. 259 he writes: "...spiritual stamina only comes from abiding in Christ and His abiding in us. True cross bearing is not merely enduring the pain and unpleasantness. It is the way to enter into the resurrection joy that all believers can have, even while they are just enduring."

As a student and staff member of Western Seminary, I am particularly thankful for the leadership of Randal Roberts, especially as we strive to live out our seminary's motto of "Gospel-Centered Transformation".

Just wondering: Which 50 leaders might you ask to contribute to a book like this in the year 2010?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Beginning a Book Blog

With 8 months left before I graduate from seminary, God-willing, I wanted to start a book review blog to capitalize on the opportunity afforded me through the past 3 years to read, discern, be challenged by, and process ideas by some great and famous authors, as well as many not so famous (and some not so great) authors.

From the very first semester when my Hermeneutics professor at Western Seminary, Dr. Gary Tuck, assigned Mortimer J. Adler's book simply titled "How to Read A Book", I've become a voracious reader, a speed reader, a critical reader, an appreciative reader, a discerning reader, and a skeptical reader. I read for main ideas (big pictures). I read for fun facts (quirky details). I read for pleasure. I read for assignments.

Last night, while at Green Apple Bookstore, I picked up a children's book called "It's a Book" by Lane Smith, a commentary on the various forms of technological communication (texting, instant messaging, blogging, etc.) that have overtaken contemporary readership.

I laughed at the very last line (won't give it away) because it was a reminder that even the simplicity of holding an actual book in your hand, flipping page after page, reading line by line, is such a lost art in today's emailing/blogging/texting/tweeting/posting lifestyle.

Since graduation is on the horizon, I figure it would be a good way to revisit some of the books I've read, and to share quotes, zingers, highlights, and big-picture thoughts that have rocked my world for the Glory of God! Maybe you'll even pick 'em up for yourself along the way and join me in remembering the simple joy of reading actual books again.