Posted in Book Review, Poetry, Sermon

Decoded by Jay-Z

9780812981155_custom-e0f9d3c36af9afb2eee8798548eee54697c35692-s6-c30.jpegWhat does hip-hop got to do with preaching?  This was my initial reaction the minute I learned from Helen Riley — United Bookstore manager, who Jay Z is.  My ignorance is pardonable, I suppose, because I came all the way across the Pacific Ocean and I am not a musician.  Stories fascinate me though and nothing captivates my undivided attention than a storyteller.  Jay-Z decided to tell a story and it opened me into a world completely different from my own.

It is a hip-hop world — a world where poetry and music collide.  It is a highly competitive world where only the toughest survive.  Jay-Z advocates hip-hop as poetry (235), therefore it is an art — structured yet free.  The minute he told himself “I could do that” (5) — after watching Slate do the rhymes, he did not stop until he reached the top.  His passion got hold of him until he mastered the craft and now reigns as the “king of hip-hop”.

It is a world of stories.  The second reason why Jay-Z wrote Decoded is to tell a little bit of the story of his generation (235) — a fatherless generation.  This generation was forced by their circumstances to mature early.  The streets became their playground, their workplace, their home, their graveyard.  It was a tough world out there — survival of the fittest.  The irony of it all though, is that the streets taught them how to dream and gave them a voice through an art form that expanded the musical horizon.  Hustling and rapping molded Jay-Z’s character and it is fascinating how the streets — regardless of the chaos and hostility toward skin color, contributed in making him a stronger and a better person (87).  His story and the collective stories of hustlers and rappers on the streets of New York and elsewhere in the United States at that particular time in history, convey how the society missed the gold mine — that is, the African American race.

It is a relatable world.  Though in varying degrees, violence and injustice exist in every culture and society.  Every person or race, in time, develops both coping and defense mechanisms.  Hip-hop, as I observed it from Jay-Z’s narratives, has become the creative culture of resistance against these atrocities — and it is understandable.  It channels the frustration, anger, pain, hopes, and dreams through an art form that has the potential the change mindsets and attack the source of one’s malady without being physically brutal or violent.

I commend Jay-Z for his honest, bold, yet fearless revelation of his life and passion.  I never knew him until I got hold of his book Decoded.  I was impressed about the strength of his character and as a preacher, I was challenged to evaluate my preaching skill.  There are several things that ran through my mind while reading the book but I will mention only two.  First, preaching is an art — an art to be mastered.  Jay-Z has a riveting commitment to his craft.  He did not learn it overnight because rapping has a beat and a flow.  He “honed over hundreds of hours of practice and work” since he was nine (141).  Jay-Z is driven by his passion to be excellent for his race and for the next generation.  I wonder if preachers — including myself, have the same level of dedication and commitment.  Am I practicing enough?  Do I exegete enough?  Do I pray enough?  To borrow Jay-Z’s words, do I have that “dead serious discipline” to the talent that I possess (143)?  Second, preaching has a story to tell — in fact, it is the greatest story every told.  Jay-Z’s fearless revelation of his experiences gained my respect both for him and his craft.  He was not ashamed of his story — of being a rapper and a hustler.  I really do not know much about hip-hop but when Jay-Z began telling the stories behind every song, I was drawn to check every song through he internet and listened to them while I read through the lyrics.  Though most of the words and slangs are foreign and quite vulgar for me, I came to accept the culture for what it is and I was led to a place where pain breeds love and hope.  If one knows the context, then acceptance and understanding would not be too hard and too slow to come by.  I have observed that boldness in preaching the Gospel of Christ is fast becoming a rarity.  Most messages today are too careful — no longer sharp as they used to.  Is it because, we as Christians, have already conformed to the patterns of this world?  Or, is it because we no longer have enough testimonies about the saving love and grace of God?  Jay-Z is preaching to me — without him intending to, but indeed, “truth is always relevant” (279) and “being offensive is not a crime” (163).  Preachers know the truth of the Gospel of Christ and it is still relevant and they know that the Word of God is like a two-edged sword — an offensive tool, but it is God’s story and it should be preached.

Decoded is an eye-opener for me — as strange as it may sound.  God, in His wisdom and love, placed small pockets of truth and wisdom all over the pages of this book.  It hit me hard.  Since its inception, rap was built on the question, “What is the meaning of life?” and it remains to be its subject (256).  There was a generation that asked that question and every generation that followed it asked the same.  Christians are supposed to know the answer and preachers are supposed to preach about the answer.  God has given the voice and the platform for preachers to make a difference in the lives of people — young and old.  The challenge is, are we going to let another generation come and go without letting them encounter the Answer to their ultimate question?  There are more Jay-Z’s out there who are just waiting to hear from the Father, are we ready to speak on God’s behalf?

Now, what does hip-hop got to do with preaching again?


Book on review:  Decoded by Jay-Z

Posted in Book Review, Church History

Pia Desideria

85748f32991f7c5734f5b20f2aac6eb4Pietism began with Philip Jacob-Spener and Pia Desideria is an encapsulation of his yearning for renewal and better conditions for the church.  Such desires can be easily understood when juxtaposed with the prevailing situation at the time.  Spener witnessed the final decade of the Thirty Year’s War (1618-1648) — a product of religious intolerance between the Protestants and the Roman Catholics, and grew up knowing the atrocities and destruction it caused to Germany and the church in general.  Towards war’s end, Germany was divided into three hundred territories which were governed by princes or rulers (3).  These political rulers also had ecclesiastical control which somehow limited the church’s movement or any plans of reforms.

Spener got acquainted also with Arndtian and Puritan piety and theology aside from Lutheranism, which served as a lens that magnified the defects of the church and society.  The deeper he allowed himself to be influenced by them, his desire for renewal further intensified.  He was then educated at the University of Strassburg in 1651 and was ordained in 1663.  In 1666, he became the pastor and senior ministerii at Frankfurt am Main for twenty-years (Snyder, 76-77).  As a pastor, he organized collegia pietatis where members studied the Bible and had devotion because he believes that the laity should be equipped and empowered.  Five years after establishing these groups, in 1675, he published Pia Desideria as a preface to Arndt’s Postil but eventually became the “fundamental charter of Pietism.” (Gonzales, 259-260).  Pia Desideria served as a manual for the development of a pious life.

The Pia Desideria was reprinted as a separate book upon request of quite a number of people.  The book has three parts.  The first part talks about how Spener laments the church’s spiritual misery or corruption — which is far worse that the atrocities brought about by the war, famine, and pestilence.  This misery is expressed in the persecution and expulsion of faithful ministers proclaiming the true doctrine of the church, the abuse of papal powers, and by the fact that “everywhere there is something wanting in the church” (40-42).  He then mentions specifically about political and ecclesiastical defects of the civil authorities, clergy, and the common people which taints their Christian witness — therefore nullifying their call.  Such defects include nominalism, abuse of powers, and drunkenness.  These corruptions insult the Jews who were living amongst them, the heretics (the papists), and the godly people whose watchful eyes were all around (39-75).

Part two of the book talks about Spener’s aspiration for better conditions of the church.  For him, it is possible to achieve the better state, though cannot be fully perfected but there are things that can be done in order to move towards it (76-86).  Part three reveals his proposals on how this can be achieved.  Spener has six proposals on how the church’s situation can be alleviated.  First, Spener believes that the Word of God must be extensively in the homes to produce more faith.  Second, lay spiritual priesthood must be established and exercised.  Third, Christians must live righteously as a witness to their salvation.  Fourth, Christians should know how to conduct themselves properly on religious controversies.  Fifth, those who are called to the ministry must be equipped and educated at reformed schools and universities.  Lastly, preaching and sermons must be practical and clear enough to be understood so as to produce faith and bear much fruits (87-122).

Pia Desideria was written at a time when the church needs it the most.  The church suffered a great blow during the Thirty Year’s War and moral degeneration was seen everywhere — even within the church, corruption was evident.  Spener’s cry for renewal as reflected in his book was his attempt to bring the needed change.  He, perhaps, realized that with the existing corruptions, the church leadership or hierarchy cannot do it alone — that it takes a whole church to birth out change.  This change is possible when the Word of God is brought to the homes and people are exposed to it so that they can live sanctified lives.

This, of course, was met with criticisms particularly with the orthodox leadership because Spener’s views and ways (small groups) were considered “radical and threatening” (81).  Among the things that were considered radical during his time are: 1) the priesthood of all believers which is upgrading the role of the laity.  It can be viewed as an attack to civil authorities and the clergy; 2) the collegium presbyterium (council of elders), which he felt was needed by the church as pastoral support but seen as introducing some Calvinistic element to Lutheranism; 3) the use of collegia pietatis or small groups, were seen as threats to divide the church (81).

Though met with a lot of criticisms, Spener brought the tides of change in Protestantism — a change that was necessary to wake up the church in its slumber.  Any change is not comfortable and someone has to suffer and receive the blows from critical people.  Spener started a movement that if one will see through the 21st century lens would realize that he advocated for discipleship, lay leadership, sanctification, and church renewal.  These things are actually the language of our times and like Spener, we are faced with the same defects and desires for a better church.  Perhaps we can use the same programs he endorsed — only adjusting them to our own context.


Book on Review:  Pia Desideria by Philip Jacob Spener.  Translated and edited by Theodore G. Tappert. Fortress Press, 1964.


  1. Gonzales, Justo L. The Story of Christianity:  The Reformation to the Present Day, Vol. II. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010.
  2. Snyder, Howard A. Signs of the Spirit: How God Reshapes the Church. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1997.



Posted in Book Review, Sermon

The Choice: Living Your Passion Inside Out

the-choiceThough The Choice is set up to be a collection of sermons with backstories, it is to me a journey — walking with Frank Thomas through the pages of his life and ministry.  It is an honest assessment of one’s inner core and the courage to break out from the mold and be the person that God intended you to be.  I like the book for a lot of reasons.  First, it reminds me to view myself always from the inside out and not outside in.  This is listening to your inner voice and toning down the different voices around you — until only God’s voice fill up the room of your inner self and you become comfortable and accepting of who and what you were created to be.

Second, it is a healthy marriage of homiletics and psychology.  I like the dynamics.  Preaching becomes therapeutic, touching not just the spirit but the soul — I believe healing even of the body.  The sermon language is simple, honest, and connects to the people — it connected to me.  The words can strike a chord and I believe listeners could easily relate to them.  Third, the backstories give the sermons the soul.  I appreciate the fact that Thomas included the backstories for with them I was able to journey with him and understand his theology.  Great preaching is when a preacher is undetached from his sermon.  Sermons are powerful when they are drawn from the preacher’s experiences of the divine and how s/he translates those divine experiences into his human relationships.

Fourth, it is a voice for those who are rethinking their ministry.  I commend Thomas’ honesty about his inner desire to leave pastoral ministry and be a homiletic professor.  As a pastor, admittedly, I am forced to do things that I know I was not called/gifted to do but do it anyway because I love the Church and the ministry.  Most of the time, pastors choose not to reveal what they really feel out of respect for their position and ministry.  This book is a breath of fresh air — a voice of one calling in the wilderness.  There was an instance, when I came across Thomas’ desire to start a preaching center, that I thought I was reading about myself.  I knew from the start I will not remain in the four corners of the Church and do pastoral ministry.  I knew that God is leading me to establish a special ministry and it has something to do equipping the next generation of preachers in my country.  After 18 years of pastoral ministry, I am now taking the necessary steps towards my PhD in Homiletics and then go back to the Philippines to open a preaching center — preaching clinic as I call it.

Fifth, it reveals that preaching has different styles and methods.  I observed that Thomas used different methods in his sermons.  Though most of them utilized the point method in preaching, some are narrative and have the flow.  I like how the theme sentence — sometimes the sermon title, is repeated throughout the sermon.  This style makes sure that the message is clear and can be easily grasp by the listeners.  Finally, it teaches readers or any person in ministry how to gracefully exit.  I appreciate the program that was adopted to transition the church to its new chapter.  Change is almost always uncomfortable.  It breaks the status quo.  However, because the church followed a transition guideline, the Church and Frank Thomas were able to let go without severing the relationship.  I would recommend the same to any church.

Overall, the book has been of great help to me.  It gave me a new perspective of myself and my ministry.  It solidified my resolve to pursue my dream that God has placed upon my heart — to equip the next generation of preachers in my country.

Boon on review:  The Choice: Living Your Passion Inside Out  by Frank A. Thomas