Monday, August 29, 2011

Book: "Caring for Creation"

TITLE: Caring for Creation - Biblical and Theological Perspectives
EDITED: John Stott
PUBLISHER: Elsfield Way, Oxford: Bible Reading Fellowship, 2005.

CARING FOR CREATION Biblical and theological perspectivesWe need to be reminded of our calling to take care of the earth, not exploit and abuse it. We need to repent from wasteful and careless ways in depleting earth resources. For believers and all, we need to be reinforced in biblical and theological understanding that caring for creation is a God-given responsibility. With climate changes and global warming fears, companies like A Rocha are seeking to counter the trend by advocating responsibility in conservation.

Why this book?
The news media has been pretty successful in telling us about global warming and the fears of a day where earth resources will be fully depleted. Unfortunately, other than the scientific approach, it fails to offer something more substantial apart from fear mongering, and worrying the public at large.

"Caring for Creation" offers more. It weaves together the biblical teachings about redemption, hope, and how man can be more responsible. Based on five core commitments of A Rocha (Christian, Conservation, Community, Cross-Cultural, Cooperation), more than 20 committed Christians offer inputs with regards to creation, time, God, caring for animals, God's earth convenant, Sabbath, land, wisdom, Incarnation of Christ, hope of the Resurrection, mission, community, and many more. The end result is a collection of diverse views about similar concerns.

My Comments
This book fills a void in the Christian literature pertaining to caring for creation. There are three ways in which the book can be beneficial for the reader. Firstly, it is a book that describes God's teachings with regards to the need to care for creation. It is our duty to be good stewards of the land and resources. We need to learn to resist exploiting finite land for infinite purposes. We need to learn to see the world from God's perspective rather than from personal greed. In caring for creation, we learn to see God, and His purposes for creating the land as they are.

Secondly, it is a book that tells us the opportunities open to us in the present. We cannot turn a blind eye to endemic species, or to watch them die from a distance without any emotion. We need wisdom to see creation for what it is, not what we want. We need to let nature speak its natural voice, rather than to force it to become what it is not.

Thirdly, it is a book that points readers toward an eschatological hope. There is a bright future ahead. It is possible to care for the land, because there is hope. Just as we have been redeemed in Jesus, we can be agents to help redeem the earth.

I like the holistic aspect of this book. Caring for creation is also a community endeavour. Alone, we can only travel so much. Together, we can journey farther.

"If God commands us to care for the earth and its creatures responsibly (as every chapter in this book argues), we should do so from obedience, whether or not God should later choose to destroy them." (123)

The best way to benefit from this book is read the book individually, and then to work through the discussion questions with a small group.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Book: "Sabbath Keeping"

TITLE: Sabbath Keeping
AUTHOR: Donna Schaper
PUBLISHER: Boston, MA: Cowley Publications, 1999.

Sabbath KeepingThis little book essentially works on the theme: "Less is more." Calling the Sabbath keeping as an attitude reflected through a 'way of living,' Schaper's central thesis is this:

".... more is less. Keeping Sabbath is a conscious choice to restrict input. It is a decision not to work in all the available time, but rather intentionally to play in some of the time we have. Keeping sabbath is a method for focus, rest, and play in a life otherwise dominated and tyrannized by scatteredness, fatigue, and work." (xii)

Schaper begins by describing the Sabbath in terms of setting time aside for God. She acknowledges that Sabbath keeping is difficult, especially because it needs intentionality, and are often counter-cultural. Without being legalistic about it, Schaper understands that different people have different needs.Keeping Sabbath is also like music, where one flows with the beat, or the heartbeat of the Sabbath routine.

"People find music precious. When they cannot rest any other way, when they cannot find God any other way, they can find God through music." (24)

She has lots to say about de-cluttering, and distinguishes it from mere abstinence.

"Decluttering is not austerity. It is not getting rid of everything so that we have space for God. It may be rearranging things so that they are in right relationship to God, so that 'tidying' is not our life's work but rather an opening to God. We open in Sabbath deeply enough and often enough so that we can return, refreshed, to a messy room or an undone project." (36)

With other practical helps such as slowing down, prayer, doing things to remember by paying attention to people we love, Schaper makes Sabbath keeping not a chore but a delightful activity to participate in. Some of her insights are refreshing.

  • "Any physical activity, including sex can help us keep Sabbath to the degree that it is about self-forgetfulness." (72)
  • "Sabbath makes sure the page breathes. It gives us the time to ask questions of God. 'What do you want from me today, God? What must I do? What can I let go? What is the true shape of my life - not the distortion, but the true shape? Who draws me? Isn't it you and me? If so, how much space do I take up on my page? How much is for you?'" (78-79)
  • "Without time set aside for God and God's directing our lives, we become the prisoners of each other. We do what we think others want us to do rather than what God wants us to do." (80)
  • "We keep Sabbath by making these boundaries and sabbath is kept in the maintenance of these boundaries." (80)
  • "Sabbath is a gift that comes when God enters our time and our time becomes God's time, not when we calibrate our own comings and goings with more precision. Keeping sabbath is much more than a personal discipline: It is an act of faith and an act of resistance - or better, an act of faithful resistance. We resist the small gods of culture on behalf of the true God." (81)
  • "The best way to keep the Sabbath is to slow down." (85)
  • "In a culture that demands more and more, faster and faster, Sababth is a spiritual form of civil disobedience. Our marching orders are to speed up. Instead, we slow down. We do so out of love for God our Creator, and out of respect for our creation. We were not made to march fast. We were made to live and love and be. These things take time." (85-6)
  • "Consider housekeeping as a way to slow down. We can keep a house too clean, and we can let a house go. We can tidy at the time when we should be letting be, and we can let be when we should be tidying. We can fail to appreciate the beauty of a messy table, with leftover joy from the night before. Or we can enter Christmas with the bittersweet still hanging and arrive at Easter with the mistletoe still up." (91)

This is a great book to learn practical steps toward Sabbath keeping, and at the same time grow our spiritual awareness of God, and how we are to grow toward him.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Book: "Everything Must Change" (Brian D. McLaren)

TITLE: Everything Must Change - Jesus, global crises, and a revolution of hope
AUTHOR: Brian D. McLaren
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2007, (332 pages).

Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of HopeThe world is in terrible shape. There are more questions than answers, more problems than solutions, and more crises than opportunities. McLaren shares his more than 20 years of struggle through 2 key preoccupying questions.

1. What are the biggest problems in the world?
2. What does Jesus have to say about these global problems?

Key to McLaren's thesis is to change our 'framing story.' A framing story is like a framework used to view how the world is functioning. Our current world model of economics and globalization policies are launching the world into three major crises.

A 'prosperity crisis' in which our current global economic model is not only unsustainable, it is environmentally hazardous. It is also a model that is very poor in wealth distribution.

A 'equity crisis' highlights the problem of the growing rich-poor divide, that causes the 'poor majority to envy, resent, and even hate the rich minority.' This in turn creates an equal and opposite reaction from the rich. (5)

A 'security crisis' is a result of not adequately addressing the resentment and fear that arises out of the first two.

Finally, the 'spirituality crisis' represents the failure of the world's religions to do anything about it. In comes Everything Must Change. McLaren boldly calls for a new framing story to 'give people direction, values, vision, and inspiration by providing a framework for their lives.' (5)

McLaren believes that in Christ, everything can change. For the sake of the world, everything must change. He invites all to see Jesus's life and teachings not stuck in our personal spiritual closets, but as formative to the transformation of the world.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Book: "First Things First"

TITLE: First Things First
AUTHOR: Stephen R. Covey / A Roger Merrill / Rebecca R Merrill
PUBLISHER: NY: Simon & Schuster, 1994.

First Things FirstThis book challenges us to break away from old paradigms, which are no longer effective. It calls us to adopt a new 4th generation approach of using the compass rather than the clock. Putting ‘first-things-first’ is a neat little way to remind us that our priorities in life should be reflected in the way we manage our lives. It has very practical organizational models like the Quadrant II ‘way of thinking’, which forces one to put the more important things ahead of others (101). This is an important little detail, lest the reader assumes that following the method or using the tool is the way to achieve first things. Instead, it delves into one’s philosophy, which ought to underline one’s way of living and behaving.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Book: "Life Together" (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

TITLE: Life Together
AUTHOR: Dietrich Bonhoeffer
PUBLISHER: London: SCM Press, 1954.

Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works) (v. 5)This spiritual classic is a must read for those keen on community living. Martyred in 1945, this German war hero, Protestant Pastor, and theologian has been widely quoted and stands among one of the most widely recognized theologians in the evangelical world.

1) Community
Bonhoeffer asserts that being in community is an immense privilege to have. He writes:

"It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God's Word and Sacrament." (8)

Chief reason for being in community is that we are one in Christ. A Community is a divine reality and and an ideal that can never be established. Even if humans cannot form an ideal human community, it is spiritually possible. When one encounters spiritual love, humans will be transformed from hate to love.

2) The Day With Others

Bonhoeffer spends quite sometime in dealing with how one can celebrate community together. With rich references to the Bible, he deals with prayer, the psalter, scripture reading, worship in song and singing, fellowship and the communion table. All of these activities are desired components of a spiritual community. He highlights 3 types of table fellowship, which reflects his present and forward looking spirituality.

"daily fellowship at table, the table fellowship of the Lord's Supper, and the final table fellowship of the Kingdom of God." (49)

3) The Day Alone

Here, Bonhoeffer reminds us that a healthy community requires healthy individuals. Silence and solitude are important spiritual practices that need to be regularly practiced. He warns:

"Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. He will only do harm to himself and to the community. Alone you stood before God when he called you; alone you had to answer that call; alone you had to struggle and pray; and alone you will die and give an account to God. You cannot escape from yourself; for God has singled you out." (57)

In solitude, one can practice silence, meditation, reading, prayer, and intercession. He teaches us to begin the day with God, and through the fullness of fellow-shipping in God, to enrich the community with one's spiritual vitality that God has given.

4) Ministry

In a section marked out for Christians desiring to serve, Bonhoeffer leaves the reader with wise tips. One can only serve well if one is conscious of a looming spiritual warfare. All in all, Bonhoeffer's concern centers around how one's ministry benefits the community. Firstly, ministry in community need to be mindful of one's tongue.

"Often we combat our evil thoughts most effectively if we absolutely refuse to allow them to be expressed in words. It is certain that the spirit of self-justification can be overcome only by the Spirit of grace;" (70)

Secondly, service needs to be done in meekness, to think little of ourselves, and to serve others self-sacrificially.

"Finally, one extreme thing must be said. To forgo self-conceit and to associate with the lowly means, in all soberness and without mincing the matter, to consider oneself the greatest of sinners. This arouses all the resistance of the natural man, but also that of the self-confident Christian." (74)

Thirdly, one serves best in cultivating better listening skills.

Fourth, one can participate in helpfulness, and fifthly, to bear one another's burdens. The last two aspects of ministry centers around proclaiming and ministering the authority of Christ for the sake of the Kingdom.

5) Confession and Communion

This final chapter strings together all that Bonhoeffer has said. He calls this the 'final breakthrough.' In confession and communion, one breaks through to the community, toward the cross, to new life, and to absolute certainty. The act of confession cannot fall upon any one person. The community is needed. He ends with this remarkable vision.

"The day of the Lord's Supper is an occasion of joy for the Christian community. Reconciled in their hearts with God and the brethren, the congregation receives the gift of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and, receiving that, it receives forgiveness, new life, and salvation. It is given new fellowship with God and men. The fellowship of the Lord's Supper is the superlative fulfillment of Christian Fellowship. As the members of the congregation are united in body and blood at the table of the Lord so will they be together in eternity. Here the community is complete. The life of Christians together under the Word has reached its perfection in the sacrament." (96)

Every Church, especially leaders ought to read this book.