Wednesday, April 27, 2016

My Top 20 Recommended Biographies/Autobiographies: Read for Inspiration, Not Imitation

For more Books recommendations, click here: My Top Book Lists

He that walketh with the wise men shall be wise
(Proverbs 13:20)

Philip Brooks, preacher and author, said, “A biography is, indeed, a book; but far more than a book, it is a man… Never lay the biography down until the man is a living, breathing, acting person to you.” We who are in the ministry – of all people – ought to read biography. We minister to real people, and the better we understand great men and their times, the better we can minister to our people in our times. A truly good biography of a great person “has a universal quality about it that makes it touch life at many points” writes Warren W. Wiersbe.

But I have to warn us (and to remind myself) that after reading a biography of a great man we must never try to merely imitate him. To be honest, today there are many pastors and preachers who are carbon copies of great men, who try to be someone else but themselves. I’m convince that God wants each one of us to be ourselves. There is no need for us to imitate others – yes, to imitate their faith and passion for Christ; but no, to imitate their ministries and gifts – when God has a work for each of us to do in His own special way. Again, Brooks’ advices, “The object of reading biography… is not imitation but inspiration.” Oh yes, for inspiration!

Here are my 20 top biographies and autobiographies at this writing. The possibilities of Christian biography/autography are limitless, and obviously I only read as much as I can from the vast library of great biographies out there. My purpose of sharing my ‘top’ list of books are to get you, the reader, to start discovering Christian biography for yourself by giving you suggestions of what books to read, in other word, to inspire you to read book. And to cultivate your passion for great literatures. By the way, here are my lists:

1)    Walking with the Giants: A Minster’s Guide to Good Reading and Great Preaching (1976) by Warren W. Wiersbe. This book covers 18 great preacher-authors such as Samuel Rutherford, F.W. Robertson, Alexander Maclaren, R.W. Dale, Joseph Parker, J. Hudson Taylor, Charles H. Spurgeon, Phillips Brooks, Alexander Whyte, W. Robertson Nicoll, Charles E. Jefferson, A.C. Gaebelein, B.H. Carroll, G. Champbell Morgan, J.D. Jones, George H. Morrison, Frank W. Boreham, A.W. Tozer, and W.E. Sangster. I read this long time ago, need to read it again.

2)    More than Conquerors: Portraits of Believers from All Walks of Life (1992) edited by John Woodbridge. This book covers about 69 great men and women of God. I like reading particularly about George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis, Hudson Tailor, Jim Elliot, Amy Carmichael, Ken Taylor, D.L. Moody, Sadhu Sundar Singh, Billy Sunday, John Sung, Billy Graham, C.H. Spurgeon, A.W. Tozer, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, J.I. Packer, etc.

3)    Spurgeon, A New Biography (1988) by Arnold Dallimore. What can I say, this is very inspiring book about Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834 – 1892), a great Baptist preacher and writer. My favourite!

4)    Charles Spurgeon: The Prince of Preachers (1997) by Dan Harmon, under Barbour Publishing Heroes of the Faith series.

5)    John Calvin: Father of Reformed Theology (2001) by Sam Wellman. Heroes of the Faith Series.

6)    John Wycliffe: Herald of the Reformation (?) by Ellen Caughey. Heroes of the Faith Series

7)    Jonathan Edwards: The Great Awakener (?) by Helen K. Hosier. Heroes of the Faith Series

8)    Martin Luther: The Great Reformer (1995) by Edwin P. Booth. Heroes of the Faith Series

9)    William Tyndale: Bible Translator and Martyr (?) by Bruce Fish. Heroes of the Faith Series

10) God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (1998) by John Piper. The first part of this book tells the story of Jonathan Edward’s life.

11) A Could of Witnesses: The Great Christian Thinkers (1990) by Alister McGrath. He covers the life and theology of Athanasius, Augustine of Hippo, Anselm of Canterbury, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Karl Barth, and C.S. Lewis. Wonderful!

12) Five Leading Reformers: Live at a Watershed of History (2000) by Christopher Caterwood. This book covers five most influencial reformers who shape the theology and thinking of the Reformed. They are Martin Luther, Thomas Cranmer, John Calvin, John Knox and Ulrich Zwingli.

13) Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light (2007) by Brian Kolodiejchuk. This work reveals the inner spiritual life of Mother Teresa and her private writings.

14) The Confessions (actually written in Latin between AD 397 and 400) by Saint Augustine. This is his autobiography in a form of prayer to God to tell about the conflict of good and evil in his life and of how he found spiritual growth and unshakeable faith in Christ alone.

15) Tortured for Christ (1969) by Richard Wurmbrand. This is an autobiography about a Romanian pastor who physically torture for his faith, who constantly suffer from hunger and cold, and who went through anguish brainwashing and mental cruelty and yet survived to tell the story. Very touching and inspiring!

16) The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun (2002) by Paul Hattaway and Brother Yun. A dramatic autobiography of one of China's dedicated, courageous, and intensely persecuted house church leaders.

17) Sadhu Sundar Singh: A Biography of the Remarkable Indian Disciple of Jesus Christ (1992) by Phyllis Thompson. He is one of the most influence Indian preacher.

18) Revolution in World Missions: One Man's Journey to Change a Generation (2009) by K. P. Yohannan. I fully recommend this book. Period.

19) 50 People Every Christian Should Know (2009) by Warren W. Wiersbe. This book combined stories of fifty faithful men and women in Christian history. Very simple, short and compact.

20) Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (1950) by Ronald H. Bainton. You’re not really Luther’s follower if you haven’t read this book. As it was said that this book is “a vivid portrait of Martin Luther, the man of unshakeable faith in God who helped bring about the Protestant Reformation.” I will read it a second time this year.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Jesus is Not "My Buddy" but My Righteous Friend and Loving Judge (Mark 11:12-21)

The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard him say it
(Mark 11:12-14, NIV).

There are a lot we can learn from Mark 11:12-26 but I just want to focus on our Lord Jesus Christ. Here Mark sketches two quick portraits of Jesus in a role we sometimes fail to see when we read the Bible. These verses do not show the ‘meek and mild’ Jesus of our childhood stories and our adult imaginations. Rather we see here Jesus the Judge – standing firm against the unrighteousness and executing judgment on offenders of God’s law.

The first incident shows Jesus coming to a fig tree with the intention of picking and eating some fruit from it. In His humanity, He was hungry. However, the tree had leaves only but no fruit. Seeing this, Jesus uttered a statement of judgment as His disciples listened: “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” When Jesus and the disciples passed by the fig tree the next day it was completely withered (Mark 11:20-21). Most scholars see the fig tree cursing as an object lesson parable. The fig tree represents Israel, barren because her devotion to God had grown cold by Jesus’ day (in connection with “the temple courts” incident on Mark 11:15-18). The curse in verse 14 meant that Israel the nation through which God intended to bless the world, was about to be set aside because she had rejected Jesus as the Messiah.

The second incident shows Jesus in the Temple area expelling those who were desecrating the “house of prayer” (v.17). If we were to imagine ourselves inside the Temple areas, what could we see? Geoff Treasure writes: “Far from a place of prayer, there very buildings had taken on the character of a den of thieves. You were aware of them as soon as you entered the part of the temple reserved for Gentiles. The money changers confronted you… They exacted a high fee for exchange and an even higher one if you wanted change as well as exchange… Their profit was enormous… Others had set up in business with one eye on the profits and the other on their pockets. These were the animal sellers… These merchants had a man-made monopoly, for no animal could be offered to God unless it had been passed as acceptable by the priests. The regulation was an open sesame for self-aggrandizement.”
In short, the atmosphere was anything but worshipful! Jesus the Judge saw the sacrilege and injustice with which the people had polluted the Temple, and He executed judgment on them. In what must have been an impressive display of authority, Jesus turned these “den of robbers” (v.17) upside down as he cleared the courtyard of the Temple of the distractions to prayer.

This is a facet of Jesus that we don’t look at very closely (your preachers might skipped this sermon). Youthful Christians particularly like to call Jesus as “my buddy” or “my pal.” He laughs at our jokes and overlooks our pranks. Sure, Jesus is the most emotional person I ever knew: He smiled, He laughed, He cried, He loved, He angered and serious. Sure too, Jesus is our Friend. But He is also a righteous and loving Judge. Jesus is not looking for buddies to pal around with, but men and women who will live lives of righteousness. As apostle Peter expressed it, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favouritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right” (Acts 10:34-35).

Friend and Judge? Yes, Jesus is both. He is the perfect blend of love and justice. His love forgives our sins but His justice confronts us with the task of clearing sin out of our lives and replacing it with righteousness. Friend and judge; love and justice. You can’t have one without the other. Amen.

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Saturday, April 23, 2016

Jesus' Game Plan of Redemption is still Continue, Are You In? (Mark 11:1-10)

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’’ They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, ‘What are you doing, untying that colt?’ They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go
(Mark 11:1-6, NIV).

God the Father and the Son planned the Saviour’s visit to planet earth before the world was created. The Plan is foretold and recorded in the Old Testament centuries before the Saviour was born. Over 300 specific prophesies about the Saviour-Messiah are found in the prophetic writings of the Old Testament – prophecies concerning the place of His birth (Micah 5:2), the virginity of His mother (Isaiah 7:14), the place of His ministry (Isaiah 9:1-2), His rejection (Isaiah 53:3), death (Isaiah 53:12) and resurrection (Psalm 16:10). This is God’s game plan (God’s will).

Mark 11:1-11 describes the beginning of the most agonizing week of Jesus’ game plan. As you read on until Mark 15, it was the week of rejection, suffering and death (that Jesus had told His disciples about so openly). Ironically, the week began with an event that looked anything like the beginning of a week of suffering: Jesus’ triumphant ride to Jerusalem! Jesus’ entrance on a donkey was another event in the game plan that God previewed in the Old Testament Scriptures. The prophet Zechariah wrote: “Rejoice greatly, Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah (9:9). The fact that Jesus called for a colt on “which no one has ever ridden” was very significant to God’s plan as in Jewish tradition, an unbroken animal was often associated with sacred use.

The people, however, misunderstood Him as a political saviour who would cast out the Roman government from their holy city. They cried out, “Hosanna!” (Mark 11:9) which mean “Save us now, we pray!” It was a plea for political liberation. The people also shouted, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (v.9-10). The people imagined that Jesus would use His miracle-working power to fulfil their prayer for political salvation. They wanted a liberator, a freedom fighter but God’s game plan called for a King on a lowly donkey. They were deaf to prophesies of the Old Testament and blind to Jesus’ game plan. The suffering and the death of Saviour was not on their lists of God’s plan. When it became obvious that Jesus was not going to fulfil their hopes and expectations, many turn against Him.

Dear readers, the focus of God’s game plan is redemption. Total redemption, yes; but first – the most important of all – our spiritual redemption. Jesus the Saviour paid the death penalty for our sin in order to redeem us back to God.

Now, even though God’s game plan was completed with the death and resurrection of Jesus (see John 17:4, 19:30), the play continues. For the redemption that Jesus secured for all people must be offered individually by each person. The Lord is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).  So as long as there are those who have not heard the redemption of Christ, God’s plan continues. Just as Jesus used two disciples (and a donkey!) to carry out His game plan, so He uses people today to carry out the game plan of redemption. He still looks for willing followers who will obey His Word trustfully like the two disciples. Most people like to follow their own expectations of how God’s plan work, but as for us, we must follow His plan as written in the Scriptures and through the leading of the Holy Spirit in us. As Christians, we are already in the Game. The question is: Are you actively participating in God’s game plan or just sitting being an audience only?

All the Scripture will be fulfilled.
God’s game plan will continue with or without you.
Are you participating in the Game?
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