Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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Coram Deo Celebrates 17 Year Anniversary!

Coram DeoSeptember marks the 17th anniversary of Coram Deo since beginning as a church newsletter in September 1998. It’s a church that we’ve attended since December, 1994 and I became an elder at in March, 1996. This was actually not the first newsletter that our young, small church had attempted. Earlier, a former pastor started one, but became frustrated and gave up after he wasn’t receiving many contributions.

A few things caused Tammy (my wife) and I to start Coram Deo. (See this article from R.C. Sproul about what coram Deo means). First, people in the church knew we went to the movies each Friday night. They would often ask if a particular film was appropriate for their children, or themselves, to see as believers. Writing short reviews of the films was a way to get that information out.

Second, for years I used to do the weekly announcements at the beginning of our church’s worship service. A man, who only got to church about half the time, expressed frustration to me that he missed important information that was announced, but not available anywhere else. The newsletter gave us a vehicle for that information.

Third, we wanted to look at culture – books, music, movies, the issues of the day, etc. from a distinctly Christian worldview or perspective.

Our first issue in September, 1998 was a combination of church specific information and looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview that we continue today with the blog. See the cover page of that first issue below:

Coram Deo Cover-page-001

That first issue included a monthly article from our lead pastor entitled “Pastor’s Corner”, a church calendar that listed sermon titles, baby showers, local concerts, choir practice, etc., member birthdays and anniversaries, upcoming concerts, movie and music reviews, etc. Originally just four printed pages, we later added electronic copies on the church website, and by the time we sunset the newsletter at the end of 2013 it had grown to thirty pages. In late 2013, we began offering both a blog and newsletter and as of 2014 we moved completely to a non-church specific blog format.

Much has changed since our first issue. I returned to Covenant Seminary in 2005 and graduated in 2014. But today we continue much of what was in that original issue 17 years ago. You can expect music, movie and book reviews. We’ll also have a focus on integrating faith and work, and I’ll share links to articles that I find interesting. We’ll also have occasional guest posts from Tammy and her sister Teri who is director of a local Pregnancy Center.

We hope you enjoy reading the blog as much as we enjoy putting it together for you. Please let us know how we can serve you better. And if you enjoy the blog please tell others about it and have them enter their email address to follow us via email.

Blessings,

Bill and Tammy


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FAITH AND WORK: Connecting Sunday to Monday

Links to Interesting Faith and Work Articles

  • 32 Leadership Books. Here is a diverse list of 32 leadership books recommended by Todd Adkins, Eric Geiger and Barnabas Piper on this episode of the 5 Leadership Questions Leadership Podcast. I’ve read nine of the books listed.
  • 12 Killers of Good Leadership. Ron Edmondson writes “It’s not that the person can’t continue to lead, but to grow as a leader — to be successful at a higher level or for the long-term — they must address these killers.”
  • Top 10 Ways Leaders Waste Time (And 10 Time Hacks to Help You). Cary Nieuwhof writes “Any idea what your time wasters are? And even if you do, any idea how to fix them? Here’s some practical help.”
  • 5 Leadership Questions about Public Speaking. In this episode of the 5 Leadership Questions podcast Todd Adkins, Daniel Im, and Barnabas Piper talk about leading and public speaking. What are good habits? Who are the best public speakers we’ve heard? How can someone improve at public speaking? What are the best resources to help someone improve?
  • 4 Ways Leaders Create Capacity in the Organization. Ron Edmondson writes” Leaders know the more capacity the organization has the more potential it has. And when the organization begins to exceed its capacity for too long things eventually staff. To spur growth – increase capacity.
  • Put Your Dreams to the Test. Last week, John Maxwell offered a special 5-part series on his daily “Minute with Maxwell”. Ownership. Passion. Pathway. Cost. Significance
  • Culture vs. Vision: Is it Really Either-Or? John Maxwell looks at how culture and vision work hand in hand.
  • Amazon: Easy to Critique, Easier to One-Click. Lisa Slayton writes “Healthy cultures are deeply intentional and develop over time when we implement values and invest in good people, processes, and environments. They needn’t be lavish, but they must value people for who they are, not simply what they do.”
  • Don’t Work Yourself to Death. Bill Peel writes “We all have periods when we need to move fast and work longer hours to meet deadlines. But these times need to be balanced with times when we slow down and rest—mindful that our welfare and success are always in God’s hands, not ours.”
  • 13 Multipliers that Elevate Average to Remarkable. Dan Rockwell shares how small multipliers can make service remarkable.
  • Faith & Work Ministries. More than a thousand ministries serve Christians in the workplace. These organizations offer an array of resources online, in print, and through personal interaction and mentoring. Here’s a helpful list compiled by the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University.
  • Embedding Faith’s Roots into Your Work. Andy Mills developed the following perspective on what the Bible says about work. These 9 points provide a practical foundation for Christians asking what the Bible says about how we should approach our work.
  • Working for Fairness and Transparency in Agribusiness. Jason Kong is the general chemistry laboratory supervisor for the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Read about how he integrates his faith and work.
  • How Introverts Succeed in an Extrovert World. As an introvert myself, I appreciated this article from Dan Rockwell.
  • Mentoring that Works. Mentoring that Works. Mark Miller shares ten helpful thoughts on mentoring
  • What Your Questions Reveal. In this video, Andy Stanley talks about three things your questions you ask will reveal.

book.reviews

Time for Every Thing by Matt Fuller. The Good Book Company. 144 pages. 2015
****

Time for Every ThingThis is another helpful book from the Good Book Company. The author is the Senior Minister at Christ Church, Mayfair in central London. Though I was not familiar with the author, over the years I’ve read several books about time management so this book caught my attention.

Fuller writes that many of us feel a famine of time, never having enough of it to accomplish our goals, constantly running from one thing to the next. He writes that obsessing about time, being burdened by a lack of time and feeling guilty all the time is bad. How we can get off this hamster wheel is what this book is about.

Fuller writes that time is a gift that we’re designed to enjoy. What needs to change is how our hearts view the 24 hours we are given each day.

In the first half of the book Fuller lays the foundation in terms of how we view time, busyness, and burdens. In the second half, he looks at how we use our time well (and avoid using it badly), in the areas of work, family, church and leisure.

He shares five helpful burdens that have been placed on us:

  • Religious rules
  • The need to prove ourselves
  • Striving to achieve respect
  • The expectations of others
  • The needs of others
  • Trying to be secure

He writes that feeling burdened is a sign that something is wrong in our view of life, because there is something wrong in our view of God. To deal with the above burdens that weary us, he looks at what Jesus is offering us. He tells us that only if we fully embrace what Jesus has done to win our salvation, and live out our status as someone who is saved—will we be able to take off the other burdens that he mentions.

Fuller looks at how to be busy, yet calm, by living our lives in dependence upon the Lord, rather than living functionally in independence from Him. He encourages us to live each day in trust, rather than with anxiety. He suggests two ways that we can waste our time – by being idle or easily distracted and by being focused on and dedicated to the wrong things. But Jesus has called us to make the most of the time that we have been given by him, to be used for him.

Fuller states that we need to look carefully at the competing demands upon our time and plan our time so that we don’t waste it. We need to consciously decide where we place boundaries on our use of time, or we will be at the mercy of others and boundaries will be imposed upon us.

The book ends with a number of examples of how people the author knows have chosen to use all their time in freedom in the area between neglect and idolatry.

He writes that we have to regularly make time to work out how best to use our time. All of our time belongs to the Lord. We must do all that we can to make the best use of our brief time here on earth. We do it trusting in him, serving him and following him, and looking forward to being with him.

I found this to be a helpful, theologically sound book on considering how to use the time we have been given by the Lord.

Kingdom Calling BOOK CLUB – Won’t you read along with us?

Kingdom CallingKingdom Calling: Vocational Calling for the Common Good by Amy L. Sherman

I first read this book in a “Calling, Vocation and Work” class with Dr. Michael Williams and Dr. Bradley Matthews at Covenant Seminary two summers ago. King Jesus is on a mission to bring restoration in every sphere of society and has invited His followers to join Him in this Kingdom-advancing work.  Learn to deeply, creatively and intentionally steward your vocational power in ways that advance foretastes of the coming Kingdom of shalom for our neighbors near and far.

It’s an excellent book, so let’s read it together. This week we’ll look at Chapter 3: Why We Aren’t the Tsaddiqim.

  • In many of our churches, our gospel is too small. While it is rightly centered on the vital atoning work of Jesus on the cross, it fails to grasp the comprehensive significance of his redemptive work. Consequently, it fails to direct Christ-followers into the righteous lifestyle of the tsaddiqim, who gladly join Jesus on his grand mission of restoration.
  • The glorious truths celebrated in this too-narrow gospel do not, in themselves, capture the full, grand, amazing scope of Jesus’ redemptive work. For Jesus came preaching not just this gospel of personal justification but the gospel of the kingdom. Jesus’ work is not exclusively about our individual salvation, but about the cosmic redemption and renewal of all things.
  • One of the ways the too-narrow gospel permeates evangelicalism is through contemporary worship music. The incomplete gospel is not only preached from pulpits but also sung by worship bands. Much of contemporary Christian music cultivates and reinforces a me-and-Jesus mentality. And that matters, because theological shortcomings in the music we hear on Christian radio or sing on Sunday mornings affect our beliefs.
  • Not only is the me-and-Jesus gospel reinforced in many popular worship songs, it also permeates a good deal of the most popular Christian books.
  • The best discipleship books often were marked by a kingdom gospel theology. The most popular Christian books typically focused on the individual Christian’s relationship to God.’° To oversimplify, the books strongest on a robust theology that could undergird the life of a tsaddiq are generally not the books being chosen by the highest percentages of Christian readers.
  • Just as much worship music does little to move us beyond the individualistic, narrow gospel, many “Christian living” books reinforce that me-and-Jesus mindset.
  • With a reductionist understanding of the good news, Sider wrote, too many believers think they can simply accept the gospel and then “go on living the same adulterous, materialistic, racist life” that they lived before.”
  • Dallas Willard. His 2006 book The Great Omission is based on the claim that, because the narrow gospel prevails in evangelicalism, we gain converts but not followers of Jesus.
  • This too-narrow gospel focuses believers missionally only on the work of “soul winning.”
  • It has little to say about Jesus’ holistic ministry or the comprehensive nature of his work of restoration. It focuses on the problem of personal sin only, thus intimating that sanctification is a matter only of personal morality (rather than that plus social justice). It focuses believers on getting a ticket to heaven, but doesn’t say much about what their life in this world should look like. Put differently, it focuses only on what we’ve been saved from, rather than also telling us what we’ve been saved for.
  • If the too-narrow gospel is the first reason we aren’t the tsaddiqim, the closely related second reason is our inadequate views of heaven.
  • Against the popular view of heaven as an ethereal existence on clouds, the biblical view is that God will remake both heaven and earth and join them together forever.
  • Distorted understandings of heaven and the afterlife have a corrosive effect on Christians’ thinking about how to live this life in our routine, workaday world. If we (mistakenly) believe that at the end, the earth will be completely destroyed23 and that just our souls will live on forever, it’s a bit hard to imagine being tsaddiqim who are passionate for such things as environmental stewardship or cultural reformation.
  • But these aren’t the only reasons we’re not the tsaddiqim. Another key reason is that the very positions of prosperity and power that make possible righteous stewardship that can advance justice and shalom also serve as sirens calling us away from kingdom sacrifice.
  • The siren songs of prosperity make it imperative that preachers in middle-class and wealthier congregations urge their members to join small accountability groups. There they can ask one another the hard questions about how they are managing the faith-eroding qualities of privilege, wealth and power.
  • The problem of isolation. Finally, beyond this issue of troubling temptations, Lindsay’s research identified another problem: the insulation of Christian professionals from people outside their socioeconomic class.
  • Today, in cities at home and abroad, many of God’s children continue to cry out for justice and shalom. Evangelical churches in America have innumerable opportunities to rejoice these communities. This will happen when our churches produce Christ-followers who live as the tsaddiqim.

Quotes about Faith and Work

  • We succeed at our very best only when we help others succeed. Jim Collins
  • It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task that will affect its outcome. Coach K
  • If it is important to you, you will find a way. If it’s not, you’ll find an excuse. Coach K
  • A life lived listening to the decisive call of God is a life lived before one audience that trumps all others – the Audience of One. Os Guinness
  • Before you tell me what you know, start by proving what you can do. Action builds credibility. Brad Lomenick
  • When I hear somebody say ‘I’m going into full time ministry’…I want to throw up…because it communicates…that there’s a part-time option, and there isn’t. R. Paul Stevens
  • We don’t build trust when we offer help. We build trust when we ask for it. Simon Sinek
  • To a man who lives unto God, nothing is secular, everything is sacred. Charles Spurgeon
  • Leading from the middle – celebrate those below you, collaborate with those beside you, and anticipate for those above you. Brad Lomenick
  • Leader, most likely you will control the lid on your leadership potential by how well you empower others. Ron Edmondson
  • Successful leaders have buckets of wisdom filled with things that didn’t work. Dan Rockwell


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MOVIE REVIEW ~ The End of The Tour

The End of The TourThe End of The Tour, rated R
***

This film is a fictionalized look at the story of the five-day interview between Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky and acclaimed novelist David Foster Wallace, which took place after the 1996 publication of Wallace’s groundbreaking epic novel, Infinite Jest. The film is directed by James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now) and Lipsky’s book Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace was the main resource used by the screenwriter Donald Margulies.

Most of the film takes place during the winter in my hometown of Bloomington/Normal, Illinois where Wallace taught at my alma mater, Illinois State University, though the film was actually shot in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Wallace had taken a teaching job at Illinois State University in 1993 while working on the final draft of Infinite Jest.

The film opens in 2008 as Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) hears that Wallace (Jason Segel) has died from suicide. He then pulls out the cassette tapes of his interviews with Wallace and we relive their time together twelve years earlier after Lipsky convinced his editor at Rolling Stone to send him to Bloomington to interview Wallace.

Wallace lives in Bloomington by himself with his two dogs. His life and his book speak of loneliness. He seems to be rather self-absorbed, to the point of it sapping his joy. About the only time we see him truly feeling joy is when he is dancing, at of all places a local Baptist church.

During their five days together Wallace tells Lipsky about his life, how he feels, what he thinks, what terrifies and fascinates and confounds him as they travel to St. Paul, Minnesota for the last stop on his book tour and then back to Bloomington. Wallace is always concerned about how he or his writings will be perceived by others, even down to the reason why he always wears a bandanna. Even with his newfound acclaim, he seems to always want to be seen as a regular guy. Throughout, Lipsky is recording Wallace and scribbling down notes for his article.

Joan Cusack portrays Patty, who escorts Wallace and Lipsky around St. Paul on the book tour. Mamie Gummer (Ricki and the Flash) portrays Julie, and Anna Chlumsky stars as Sarah, his former girlfriend from college. They hang out with Wallace and Lipsky in St. Paul eating and watching movies. But Patty, Julie and Sarah are just bit players in this film as the focus is squarely on Lipsky and Wallace in what could be a good stage play. And both actors deliver strong performances. I was particularly impressed with Segel, not having seen him in many films in the past.

I didn’t know anything about Wallace or his book despite the fact that he taught just down the street from our home, but the excellent acting performances in the film kept my attention and I found myself fascinated by the complicated and flawed Wallace.

Lipsky envies Wallace’s writing success and is looking for an angle for his article, perhaps something controversial, such as his rumored heroin use. In their short time together they develop a relationship, though Wallace can never truly relax around Lipsky, constantly being concerned with how he will be portrayed in the article Lipsky will be writing about him.

Wallace shares his bouts of depression and a time when he was on a suicide watch. We don’t find out anything specific about Wallace’s spiritual beliefs, but a quote from St. Ignatius of Loyola on the wall of his bathroom was of interest:

St. Ignatius

The film is rated R for language, including some sexual references. It is a good study in broken cisterns (Jeremiah 2:13). How we reach our goals and are at the pinnacle of success, but it still doesn’t satisfy; it doesn’t bring true joy. We’d love to hear your thoughts on the movie!

 


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4 Thoughts on Communications

Brian Tracy quote on communicationAs each day goes by I become more and more convinced of the importance of good communications in every facet of life. I hear every day at work how a lack of good communication impacts productivity and/or morale. Good communication is important in non-profit or church situations, and of course in family or personal relationships.  To be effective, we need to communicate effectively.

There is much to be said on this subject, and I’ll have additional articles in the future. For now, I want to share four initial thoughts:

  1. Know when communication should be face to face. Just as Gary Chapman writes about our “love languages”, I believe we also have a primary communication language. You’re probably aware of those people who don’t respond to your emails, but almost instantly respond when you send them a text message. Other people prefer to communicate verbally on the phone. My communication language is email. But surpassing what our communication preference is, is the means of communication required for a particular situation. If you’re dealing with a sensitive issue, or what is referred to as a “crucial conversation”, your communication should be face to face if possible. If that is not possible, the next best means would be a phone call. Sending an email may be easiest or most convenient, but it’s probably not the best means of communication in those situations. Have you had situations when you sent an email when you really should have met face to face, or if that wasn’t possible picked up the phone?
  2. Tone in electronic communications. Related to the above item, the tone of an electronic (email or text) communication is open to interpretation by those who receive them. The tone that the receiver interprets is often based on their relationship with the person who sent the communication. For example, if I have a great relationship with you and you send me an email, I may not think anything about it. However, if I receive the exact same email from a colleague that I’ve had conflict with in the past, I may take it completely differently. So use good judgement about when to use electronic communications. If you have to communicate in this manner, and if it is with someone that you have not had the best relationship with in the past, even if the communication is routine in your eyes, be careful of how the receiver may interpret it. After you write it, read it from their perspective. How might they receive it? Then edit it as necessary until you are comfortable with it. Have you found yourself “reading” in a tone that perhaps may not be there because of who the communication is from?
  3. Communication to clarify roles and responsibilities on a team. Over the past few months I’ve heard of a few situations in which team dysfunction could have been eliminated and team harmony increased if the leaders would have taken the time to clarify roles and responsibilities of the team. By not doing so led to conflict, suspicion and dysfunction. If you are a leader, remember to do this, especially with a new team or when new team members are added to an existing team. If you are team member and see that this is needed, press your leader to do so. Have you been on teams when the lack of communication about roles and responsibilities has negatively impacted the team?
  4. To be effective, communication must be timely. My aim is to provide information in a timely manner with those I work with. There may be times I receive feedback on, or need to provide feedback to, a team member. I try to share that feedback promptly, rather than waiting for our next scheduled meeting. In other situations, I will receive information that others need in order to perform their jobs effectively.  I owe it to them to get the information to them as soon as possible. There are many other situations in which it’s important to communicate in a timely manner. What are some examples that you can think of?

These are a few initial thoughts about good communications. More will come later in future articles. For now, what thoughts do you have on the subject of effective communications?


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A Few of My Favorite Things: 4 Recommendations for You

A Few of My Favorite Things
I want to share with you four things I regularly look forward to. Two are daily, one is weekly and one is monthly. Here they are:

  • Tim Challies’ blog. I start my day with reading Tim Challies’ Informing the Reforming blog and his Ala Carte post. This Monday through Saturday post includes Kindle deals that he recommends, interesting and helpful links and a quote of the day. This is required reading for me.
  • Albert Mohler’s The Briefing podcast. Each day Dr. Albert Mohler presents The Briefing, a podcast with daily worldview analysis about the leading news headlines and cultural conversations. This is required listening for me.
  • Ligonier Ministries’ $5 Friday. Each Friday, Ligonier Ministries (R.C. Sproul’s ministry) offers a selection of their resources for just $5 on their website for their $5 Friday promotion. I’ve gotten some excellent deals in the past and I check out their selection each Friday morning.
  • Christianaudio’s Free Audiobook of the Month. Each month, Christianaudio offers a free audiobook to be downloaded from their website. The new audiobook is available the first day of the month, and can be downloaded anytime during the month. I’ve gotten several outstanding resources for free from Christianaudio. They also offer occasional sales, so it’s a good idea to get on their mailing list so that you can hear about the sales.

These are a few things that I look forward to each month. Do you have others that you would like to share?

 


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

Ben Carson One NationOne Nation: What We Can All Do to Save America’s Future by Ben Carson, M.D. with Candy Carson. Sentinel. 256 pages. 2014
****

When Dr. Ben Carson was asked to speak at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast he was a little surprised. He had already spoken at the event once, and the only other person who had spoken there twice was Billy Graham. Carson includes the text of his speech in the book. Immediately after completing the speech he was told that he had offended President Obama with his comments and needed to apologize.

Carson didn’t feel that he had said anything that would have offended the President and thus he saw no need to apologize. Many people positively responded to the speech and Carson was asked to appear on several news programs. Some encouraged him to run for president. From that time, he became the candidate that I wanted to support. Of course now we know that he is running.

This book outlines Carson’s vision for America, which is one of common sense. He first writes about what is wrong with America (political correctness; special interest groups; our country’s debt; bullying; voters voting along straight party lines instead of informing themselves on the issues and candidates, etc.) and then offers solutions. He discusses the importance of education, which he states will affect your entire life; things we agree on, and things we can compromise on. He calls for Americans to work together, regardless of their political party affiliation. He shares his ideas on how to reform health care in America and on taxation, using the tithe model from the Bible. He writes about the importance of humility, taking care of our family members when they can’t and the importance of positive role models. In discussing morality, he asks how we determine what is right and wrong. For Christians, we get that from the Bible. He then looks at current issues such as abortion, homosexuality and evolution, and the position that Christians tend to take on those issues.

Throughout the book he quotes several passages from the book of Proverbs. The book includes helpful “Action Steps” at the end of each chapter, for the reader to build on what had been covered in that chapter.

Here are a few helpful quotes from the book:

• “Disagreement is part of being a person who has choices. One of those choices is to respect others and engage in intelligent conversation about differences of opinion without becoming enemies, eventually allowing us to move forward to compromise.”
• “Compassion, however, should mean providing a mechanism to escape poverty rather than simply maintaining people in an impoverished state by supplying handouts. By doing this we give them an opportunity to elevate their personal situations, which eventually decreases our need to take care of them and empowers them to be able to exercise compassion toward others.”
• “While wisdom dictates the need for education, education does not necessarily make one wise.”
• “If Americans simply choose to vote for the person who has a D or an R by their name, we will get what we deserve, which is what we have now.”
• “Our founders did not believe that our society could thrive without this kind of moral social structure. In fact, it was our second president, John Adams, who said of our thoroughly researched and developed governing document, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
• “Many well-meaning Americans have bought into the PC speech code, thinking that by being extra careful not to offend anyone we will achieve unity. What they fail to realize is that this is a false unity that prevents us from talking about important issues and is a Far Left strategy to paralyze us while they change our nation. People have been led to become so sensitive that fault can be found in almost anything anyone says because somewhere, somehow, someone will be offended by it.”
• “We all have choices in the way we react to the words we hear. Our lives and the lives of all those around us will be significantly improved if we choose to react positively rather than negatively.”
• “There is no freedom without bravery.”
• “When the vision of the U.S. government included guarding the rights of people but staying out of their way, America was an economic engine more powerful than anything the world had ever witnessed.”
• “Sometimes one has to be humble enough to start at the bottom with a minimum-wage job even if you have a college degree. Once you get your foot in the door, you can prove your worth and rapidly move up the ladder. If you never get in the door, it is unlikely that you will rise to the top.”
• “Wisdom is essentially the same thing as common sense, the slight difference is that common sense provides the ability to react appropriately, while wisdom is frequently more proactive and additionally encourages the shaping of the environment.”
• “The human brain has billions of neurons and hundreds of billions of interconnections. It can process more than two million bits of information per second and can remember everything you have ever seen or heard.”
• “If we are to put an end to division, people from all political persuasions will have to stop fighting one another and seek true unity, not just a consensus that benefits one party.”
• “Saul Alinsky advised his followers to level sharp attacks against their opponents with the goal of goading them into rash counterattacks that would then discredit them. To avoid falling into this trap, those of us who are interested in civil discussion should prepare ourselves to refrain from reacting in fear or anger to those who disagree with us or even attack us.”
• “If most of the people in the country believe that America is generally fair and decent, it becomes more difficult for Saul Alinsky types to recruit change agents and for those on the Far Left to undermine our Constitution. Hence the constant bad-mouthing of our nation to impressionable young people, preparing them to be ripe for manipulation at the appropriate time.”

Carson’s next book, A More Perfect Union: What We the People Can Do to Reclaim Our Constitutional Liberties, will be published October 6.

Openness Unhindered by Rosaria ButterfieldOpenness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield. Crown & Covenant Publications. 2015. 206 pages  
****

The title of the book comes from the last verse of the book of Acts. The author begins the book by briefly telling her story, which she describes as messy, for those not familiar with her, or who hadn’t read her first book, 2012’s Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith.

She writes that sin and sex go together like peanut butter and chocolate, and that sexual sin is a fruit of pride and lust. One of the audiences she writes the book for are those Christians with unwanted homosexual desires. She writes that she is willing to offend someone for the sake of their soul.

As she writes the book Rosaria is a 52 year- old pastor’s wife who homeschools their younger children. She writes with kindness, grace and humility, indicating that she has more questions than answers to share. The book is theologically sound, as she quotes from respected authors and theologians throughout.

Rosaria includes many topics in this book including our union with Christ, pride, repentance, our identity in Christ and sexual orientation, sanctification, original sin and temptation. She writes that temptation is not a sin in itself. Christ was tempted, but did not sin. We cross the line from temptation to sin. She offers some helpful thoughts from John Owen’s book on indwelling sin, that we should:

  • Starve sin
  • Call sin what it is.
  • Extinguish indwelling sin.
  • Vivify righteousness and walk in the Spirit.

In discussing the concept of sexual orientation, she writes that it is unstable, changing, and harmful to believers who struggle with unwanted homosexual desires. The concept was developed by Freud to separate sexuality from its biblical view. Freud was influenced by romanticism, which saw experience as truth. He rejected the concept of original sin.

Rosaria writes that her view is that marriage by God’s design is between a man and a woman. In discussing what it means to be gay, she states that the meaning of the word has changed over time. She addresses what it means to say that you are a gay Christian given that gay is a term of identity. She helps to clarify terms that we hear all the time such as sexual attraction, sexual affection, sexual orientation and sexual identity. She asks whether sexual sin is a moral or physical problem.

In a particularly interesting part of the book she shares correspondence between her and Rebecca, a friend who identifies themselves as a gay Christian. Rosaria believes using the word gay to modify Christian dishonors God. She writes that using wording such as “living chastity with unwanted homosexual desires” is a better way of describing Rebecca than is gay Christian.

Toward the end of the book Rosaria has a helpful discussion on hospitality and neighboring. I particularly took interest in her discussion about the art of neighboring, where she and her husband placed picnic tables and chairs in their front yard to encourage hospitality. Thursday nights at their home is a prayer open house and a neighborhood prayer walk. She also addresses the importance of church membership vows.

The Epilogue allows her to provide an update on her life since the time Secret Thoughts was written, including the national attention that same-sex marriage has received in the United States. This is an important book on issues that are important in our culture today, and I highly recommend it. I also recommend Rosaria’s first book Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith.

If you are not familiar with Rosaria’s story, watch her message “Repentance and Renewal” from the 2015 Ligonier Ministries National Conference here.

Listen to Carl Trueman, Aimee Byrd and Todd Pruitt discuss the book on their Mortification of Spin podcast.

Thanks to Matt Smethurst of the Gospel Coalition for compiling these helpful 20 quotes from the book.

One Thousand WellsBook News:

One Thousand Wells: How an Audacious Goal Taught Me to Love the World Instead of Save It. This new book by Jena Nardella, cofounder of Blood:Water, releases this week. It’s a book I plan to read soon.

BOOK CLUBS – Won’t you read along with us?

Tim Keller's New Book on PrayerPrayer BOOK CLUB

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Tim Keller

Christians are taught in their churches and schools that prayer is the most powerful way to experience God. But few receive instruction or guidance in how to make prayer genuinely meaningful. In Prayer, renowned pastor Timothy Keller delves into the many facets of this everyday act. Won’t you read along with Tammy and me? This week we look at:

Chapter 4: Conversing with God

  • We have learned that prayer is both an instinct and a spiritual gift. As an instinct, prayer is a response to our innate but fragmentary knowledge of God.
  • As a gift of the Spirit, however, prayer becomes the continuation of a conversation God has started.
  • Christian prayer is fellowship with the personal God who befriends us through speech. The biblical pattern entails meditating on the words of Scripture until we respond to God with our entire being, saying, “Give me an undivided heart, that . . . I may praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart” (Ps 86:11–12).
  • Timothy Ward’s book Words of Life argues that God’s words are identical with his actions. He quotes Genesis 1:3, “‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”
  • God’s words, however, cannot fail their purposes because, for God, speaking and acting are the same thing.
  • When the Bible talks of God’s Word, then, it is talking of “God’s active presence in the world.”
  • “Thus (we may say) God has invested himself with his words, or we could say that God has so identified himself with his words that whatever someone does to God’s words . . . they do to God himself. . . . God’s . . . verbal actions are a kind of extension of himself.
  • If God’s words are his personal, active presence, then to put your trust in God’s words is to put your trust in God. “Communication from God is therefore communion with God, when met with a response of trust from us.”
  • The conclusion is clear. God acts through his words, the Word is “alive and active” (Heb 4:12), and therefore the way to have God dynamically active in our lives is through the Bible. To understand the Scripture is not simply to get information about God. If attended to with trust and faith, the Bible is the way to actually hear God speaking and also to meet God himself.
  • We know who we are praying to only if we first learn it in the Bible. And we know how we should be praying only by getting our vocabulary from the Bible.
  • Our prayers should arise out of immersion in the Scripture. We should “plunge ourselves into the sea” of God’s language, the Bible. We should listen, study, think, reflect, and ponder the Scriptures until there is an answering response in our hearts and minds.
  • That response to God’s speech is then truly prayer and should be given to God.
  • Your prayer must be firmly connected to and grounded in your reading of the Word. This wedding of the Bible and prayer anchors your life down in the real God.
  • The Psalms reveal a great range in the modes of prayer.
  • We would never produce the full range of biblical prayer if we were initiating prayer according to our own inner needs and psychology. It can only be produced if we are responding in prayer according to who God is as revealed in the Scripture.
  • In every case the nature of the prayer is determined by the character of God, who is at once our friend, father, lover, shepherd, and king.
  • We must not decide how to pray based on what types of prayer are the most effective for producing the experiences and feelings we want. We pray in response to God himself. God’s Word to us contains this range of discourse—and only if we respond to his Word will our own prayer life be as rich and varied.
  • We should not decide how to pray based on the experiences and feelings we want. Instead, we should do everything possible to behold our God as he is, and prayer will follow. The more clearly we grasp who God is, the more our prayer is shaped and determined accordingly.
  • The lesson here is not that God never guides our thoughts or prompts us to choose wise courses of action, but that we cannot be sure he is speaking to us unless we read it in the Scripture.
  • David wanted to build God a house, but God said, “No, I will build you a house.”
  • David wanted to build God a place that displayed his glory. God said, in effect, that he had a counterproposal. He would establish David’s royal family line and it would ultimately reveal God’s glory in a more permanent, far-reaching, and universal way.
  • The Word of God created within David the desire, drive, and strength to pray. The principle: God speaks to us in his Word, and we respond in prayer, entering into the divine conversation, into communion with God.
  • One of David’s descendants will take up a kingdom and never relinquish it, because of the divine power of his indestructible life
  • We who believe in him will ourselves become God’s “house”—a temple of living stones indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
  • God’s Word of power “dwells richly” in all believers, giving them hearts to praise, sing, and pray to God with a joy and reality that neither David nor John the Baptist could know
  • David found the heart to pray when he received God’s Word of promise—that he would establish his throne and build him a house. Christians, however, have an infinitely greater Word of promise. God will not merely build us a house, he will make us his house. He will fill us with his presence, beauty, and glory. Every time Christians merely remember who they are in Christ, that great word comes home to us and we will find, over and over again, a heart to pray.

Studies in the Sermon on the MountStudies in the Sermon on the Mount BOOK CLUB

Studies in the Sermon on the Mount by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

This book made a significant impact on my wife Tammy when she read and discussed it with friends thirty years ago. When I picked up my diploma the day after graduation ceremonies from Covenant Seminary last year I was given a copy of this book. After enjoying Lloyd-Jones book Spiritual Depression (and the sermons the book was taken from), I couldn’t wait to read this book, which is the printed form of sermons preached for the most part on successive Sunday mornings at Westminster Chapel in London. This week we’re reviewing:

Chapter 2: General Views and Analysis

  • No part of this Sermon can be understood truly except in the light of the whole. The whole is greater than a collection of the parts, and we must never lose sight of this wholeness. Unless we have understood and grasped the Sermon on the Mount as a whole, we cannot understand properly any one of its particular injunctions.
  • Everything in this Sermon, if we treat it rightly, and if we are to derive benefit from considering it, must be taken in its setting; and, as I have just been emphasizing, the order in which the statements come in the Sermon is really of supreme importance. The Beatitudes do not come at the end, they come at the beginning, and I do not hesitate to say that unless we are perfectly clear about them we should go no further.
  • There is a kind of logical sequence in this Sermon. Not only that, there is certainly a spiritual order and sequence. Our Lord does not say these things accidentally; the whole thing is deliberate. Certain postulates are laid down, and on the basis of those, certain other things follow.
  • Never discuss any particular injunction of the Sermon with a person until I am perfectly happy and clear in my mind that that person is a Christian. It is wrong to ask anybody who is not first a Christian to try to live or practice the Sermon on the Mount. To expect Christian conduct from a person who is not born again is heresy.
  • We always tend to forget that every New Testament letter was written to Christians and not to non-Christians; and the appeals in terms of ethics in every Epistle are always addressed only to those who are believers, to those who are new men and women in Christ Jesus. This Sermon on the Mount is exactly the same.
  • The Sermon is divided up into general and particular. The general part of the Sermon occupies v. 3 to v. 16. There you have certain broad statements with regard to the Christian. Then the remainder of the Sermon is concerned with particular aspects of his life and conduct. First the general theme, and then an illustration of this theme in particular.
  • But we can sub-divide it a little further for the sake of convenience. In V. 3-10 you have the character of the Christian described in and of itself.
  • Then v. ii, 12, I would say, show us the character of the Christian as proved by the reaction of the world to him.
  • v. 13-I6 is an account of the relationship of the Christian to the world, or, if you prefer it, these verses are descriptive of the function of the Christian in society and in the world. There, then, is a general account of the Christian.
  • From there on, I suggest, we come to what I may call the particular examples and illustrations of how such a man lives in a world like this. Here we can sub-divide like this. In v. 17-48 we have the Christian facing the law of God and its demands.
  • Then we are told of his relationship towards such matters as murder, adultery and divorce; then how he should speak and then his position with regard to the whole question of retaliation and self-defense, and his attitude towards his neighbor.
  • The whole of chapter vi, I suggest,’ relates to the Christian as living his life in the presence of God, in active submission to Him, and in entire dependence upon Him.
  • Chapter vii can be regarded in general as an account of the Christian as one who lives always under the judgment of God, and in the fear of God.
  • Certain things always characterize the Christian, and these are certainly the three most important principles. The Christian is a man who of necessity must be concerned about keeping God’s law.
  • Again one of the essential and most obvious things about a Christian is that he is a man who lives always realizing he is in the presence of God. The world does not live in this way; that is the big difference between the Christian and the non-Christian.
  • The third thing is equally true and fundamental. The Christian is a man who always walks in the fear of God-not craven fear, because `perfect love casteth out’ that fear. Not only does he approach God in terms of the Epistle to the Hebrews, `with reverence and godly fear’, but he lives his whole life like that.
  • Let me now lay down a number of controlling principles which should govern the interpretation of this Sermon.
  • What is of supreme importance is that we must always remember that the Sermon on the Mount is a description of character and not a code of ethics or of morals.
  • The Christian, while he puts his emphasis upon the spirit, is also concerned about the letter. But he is not concerned only about the letter, and he must never consider the letter apart from the spirit.
  • If you find yourself arguing with the Sermon on the Mount at any point, it means either that there is something wrong with you or else that your interpretation of the Sermon is wrong.
  • If you criticize this Sermon at any point you are really saying a great deal about yourself.
  • Finally, if you regard any particular injunction in this Sermon as impossible, once more your interpretation and understanding of it must be wrong.
  • There was a time when the designation applied to the Christian was that he was a `God-fearing’ man. I do not think you can ever improve on that-a `God-fearing’ man. It is a wonderful description of the true Christian.
  • So we must not only take the injunctions of the Sermon seriously. We must also check our particular interpretation in the light of the principles I have given.
  • I maintain again that if only every Christian in the Church today were living the Sermon on the Mount, the great revival for which we are praying and longing would already have started.

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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

Music News:musicnews

Music Quotes:

  • Wendell Berry’s take on the Golden Rule: “Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.” Fernando Ortega
  • Modern worship leaders stand posed on stage, glorified by smoke and lights, then asked to point away from themselves to Jesus. Fernando Ortega

Song of the Week

At the Cross (Love Ran Red) by Chris Tomlin

Ever since first hearing this song from Chris Tomlin on the Passion: Take it All album in April, 2014, this has been one of my favorite songs. It has finally been released as a radio single and is getting the exposure it deserves. You can listen to an acoustic version of the song here.

There’s a place where mercy reigns and never dies,
There’s a place where streams of grace flow deep and wide.
Where all the love I’ve ever found,
Comes like a flood,
Comes flowing down.

[Chorus:]Love Ran Red by Chris Tomlin
At the cross
At the cross
I surrender my life.
I’m in awe of You
I’m in awe of You
Where Your love ran red
and my sin washed white.
I owe all to You
I owe all to You Jesus.

There’s a place where sin and shame are powerless.
Where my heart has peace with God and forgiveness.
Where all the love I’ve ever found.
Comes like a flood,
Comes flowing down.

Here my hope is found
Here on holy ground
Here I bow down
Here arms open wide
Here You save my life
Here I bow down
Here I bow down

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