Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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4 Ways to Assure You Have Better Meetings

Patrick Lencioni Quote on MeetingsAttending poorly organized and managed meetings “weakens me”. The bad news is I’m in a lot of meetings each day at work, and I also attend meetings at church and with the professional IT organization in which I’m involved. Marcus Buckingham defines an activity that weakens us as one that drains us, bores us and is something on our calendars that we don’t look forward to.

Author and blogger Michael Hyatt shares this same weakness with me. He writes that he is weakened by long meetings of any kind. He states that he can focus intently for about two hours at the maximum. Then his attention begins to wander and he has to move on to something else or he actually becomes a distraction.

So what can we do to avoid creating meetings that weaken others? Here are 4 simple suggestions to help you have better meetings:

  1. First, identify a clear leader of the meeting. This is the person who is accountable for planning and leading a well-managed meeting.
  2. Second, have a clear purpose for the meeting. Everyone is busy and should know why the meeting needs to be held in the first place. I work with a leader who will often ask, “What problem are we trying to solve here?” That’s a great question and one we should keep in mind when planning meetings. If you don’t have enough content to cover in the meeting or the communication can be done via email, cancel the meeting and respect your attendees by giving them the time back to focus on other priority items.
  3. Next, develop an agenda for the meeting. This would include a clear starting and ending time. Request agenda topics ahead of time, including the specific person assigned to that topic, and the amount of time they will need for their topic. If in the meeting you find that a topic is going to take longer than expected, adjust the agenda (not the length of the meeting) to accommodate the need for additional time. You may have to delay discussion on some topics so that you can devote time to the topics that have the higher priority. At times, you may also have to make the decision to take discussions that will need more time, off-line.
  4. Finally, recap items agreed on. How many times do you leave a long meeting and not really know what the outcome was, or what the next steps were? I think that happens a lot. Patrick Lencioni helpfully suggests that at the end of every meeting take a few minutes to ensure that everyone is walking away with the same understanding about what has been agreed to and what they are committed to.

These are just a few suggestions I have to help you run better meetings. Meetings are necessary for many reasons, so let’s make the ones we run the very best. What suggestions do you have to add to this list?

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Movie Review ~ Spotlight

SpotlightSpotlight, rated R
****

This powerful film is directed by Tom McCarthy and co-written by Josh Singer and McCarthy (who has an Oscar nomination for writing Up), and is about the Spotlight team from the Boston Globe. They are an investigative reporting arm of the Globe who won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the Roman Catholic Church’s cover-up of the sexual abuse of children by priests in Boston. The film opens with a brief scene from 1976 where we see a priest being whisked away in a long black car. The film then fast forwards to 2001 when Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), who is Jewish, becomes the new editor of the Globe in the predominantly Catholic city. He asks Water “Robby” Robinson” (Michael Keaton, in his follow-up to his Oscar nominated performance in 2014’s Birdman), the editor of the Spotlight team, to look into the archdiocese’s handling of child abuse cases.

Robinson’s excellent Spotlight team consists of Michael Rezendes (two-time Oscar nominee Mark Ruffalo in another Oscar worthy performance), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James). They are fully committed to this story, to the point that they don’t really have any personal lives. But this story is not just about a few priests, or even 87 priests who have abused children, but an entire church organization/system led by Cardinal Law (Len Cariou). That’s why Baron pushes Globe Managing Deputy Editor Ben Bradley Jr. (John Slattery), Robinson and the Spotlight team – to pursue and prove Cardinal Law’s knowledge and cover-up of the abuse.

Along the way we meet a few of the abuse victims and their recollections which are at times graphic and always heartbreaking. We also meet attorneys on both sides of the issue Eric Macleish (Billy Crudup) and Mitchell Garabedian (Oscar nominee Stanley Tucci) who are aware of what has been going on. Jim Sullivan (Jamey Sheridan) and Pete Conley (Paul Guilfoyle) are part of the church machine that strongly encourages Robinson to look the other way. We are told of the significant power the Catholic Church has in Boston including the close relationship the church has with the legal, law enforcement and media, highlighted by an uncomfortable “meet and greet” Cardinal Law has with Baron.

What makes this film significant is the story – the cover-up that the Globe successfully exposed in more than 600 stories. What makes the film great are the strong acting performances, led by Ruffalo. McCarthy’s direction and the excellent script from McCarthy and Singer keeps things moving and I found myself emotionally pulled into the story and injustice that had been allowed to go on. Along the way we see what the abuse and cover-up does to the Catholic faith of Rezendes and Pfeiffer.

The film ends with a list of the cities in the world in which significant abuse has been uncovered, including one 45 minutes from my home.

The film is rated “R” for adult language and the subject matter of sexual abuse of children. It is quite simply one of the best films of 2015.


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Christmas Traditions

Billy at ChristmasI love the holiday season and especially Christmas, when we get to celebrate the birth of our Savior and spend time with family and friends. When I was young, it was all about the presents I would receive at Christmas. But as I’ve gotten older the emphasis has shifted. I now get much more joy from the gifts we give than the ones I receive. Even more so, it’s about spending time with family members, some of whom have now moved away and we don’t get to see very often.

Our family has many Christmas traditions. When my Mom was alive we always celebrated on Christmas Eve at my parent’s house, the house I grew up in. Although this will be our 20th Christmas without Mom since she passed away in 1996, I remember like it was yesterday walking up to their front door on a cold evening, the front windows steamed up due to the cold temperatures outside and the fragrance of the prime rib meal being cooked inside.

My Dad may be in the Guinness Book of World Records for most Christmas packages wrapped! Each year, the gifts that he wrapped would be stacked high on the beds in the room at the back of the house that my brother and I had shared when we were young. We would head back there and just be amazed at the number of gifts he had wrapped.

Here are a few of our current Christmas traditions:

Christmas Program at Church. My wife Tammy loves to sing in our church choir and we have a wonderful program each year. Since Christmas Eve is also when my Dad’s wife has traditionally celebrated with her family, we now rotate celebrating on Christmas Eve. On the off year, Tammy gets to participate in the Christmas program at church, which is a wonderful experience for all.

Christmas Lights. We love to drive around our community and look at the beautiful Christmas lights that people have put up. Our local newspaper lists the homes with the best decorations in the community and we make sure to check those out.

Fraser Fir Christmas Tree. Many people these days put Casey's at Christmasup artificial Christmas trees, rather than live ones. They are less messy and probably a better overall investment than buying a fresh one each year. But we still get a live Fraser Fir from our friends at Casey’s Garden Shop here in town. We love the great “Christmas tree” smell that you get from a Fraser Fir. One of our favorite traditions is to pick out our tree at Casey’s over the Thanksgiving weekend so that we can put it up and enjoy it until Christmas.

_Andy_Williams_Christmas_Album_coverChristmas music. I’ve loved Christmas music since my Mom would put on the 1963 classic Andy Williams Christmas Album as we went to sleep as kids. Each year, I listen to almost nothing but Christmas music between Thanksgiving and Christmas (and sometimes start even before Thanksgiving). We have a large Christmas music collection, and add to it each year, including new releases from Chris Tomlin and Keith and Kristyn Getty this year. Some of my favorite Christmas albums are by Andy Williams, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, Michael McDonald, Nat King Cole, James Taylor, Russ Taff, Michael W. Smith, Elvis Presley, Steven Curtis Chapman, A Charlie Brown Christmas by Vince Guaraldi, Tony Bennet, Bruce Cockburn, Chris Tomlin, Keith and Kristyn Getty and Perry Como.

Time with Family. As I mentioned, my family’s tradition was to gather on Christmas Eve to exchange gifts and have a prime rib dinner. Tammy’s family’s tradition is to gather on Christmas morning to exchange gifts and have a delicious brunch of country ham and biscuits & gravy. Some family members, particularly my Mom, are no longer with us. I treasure the time we have with family, especially as I mentioned above that many have moved away and we only get to see them a few times each year.

These are just a few of the Christmas traditions that our family enjoys. How about you? What are some of your favorite Christmas traditions?


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Have a Blessed and Happy Thanksgiving!

thanksgiving-verses-14A Puritan Prayer from the book “The Valley of Vision”:

O My God, Thou fairest, greatest, first of all objects, my heart admires, adores, loves thee, for my little vessel is as full as it can be, and I would pour out all that fullness before thee in ceaseless flow.

When I think upon and converse with thee ten thousand delightful thoughts spring up, ten thousand sources of pleasure are unsealed, ten thousand refreshing joys spread over my heart, crowding into every moment of happiness.

I bless thee for the soul thou hast created, for adorning it, for sanctifying it, though it is fixed in barren soil;

for the body thou hast given me, for preserving its strength and vigour, for providing senses to enjoy delights, for the ease and freedom of my limbs, for hands, eyes, ears that do thy bidding;

for thy royal bounty providing my daily support, for a full table and overflowing cup, for appetite, taste, sweetness, for social joys of relatives and friends, for ability to serve others, for a heart that feels sorrows and necessities, for a mind to care for my fellow-men, for opportunities of spreading happiness around, for loved ones in the joys of heaven, for my own expectation of seeing thee clearly.

I love thee above the powers of language to express, for what thou art to thy creatures. Increase my love, O my God, through time and eternity.


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Movie Review ~ The Hunger Games: The Mockingjay – Part 2

Hunger Games The Mockingjay Part 2The Hunger Games: The Mockingjay – Part 2, rated PG-13
***

This is the final film based on the best-selling The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, with the second book unnecessarily being divided into two films which were filmed at the same time. And other than this film being too long at 137 minutes, I enjoyed it. It has an interesting story, with some twists, and some strong acting performances.

The series has boasted a strong cast, featuring performances by five actors or actresses who have been nominated for a total of fifteen Oscars – Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone, Silver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle), Woody Harrelson (The People vs. Larry Flynt and The Messenger), Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights, The End of the Affair, The Hours, Far From Heaven, and Still Alice), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote, Doubt, Charlie Wilson’s War, and The Master), and Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones). Seymour Hoffman won for Capote (2005), Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook (2012), and Moore for Still Alice (2014).

This film is directed by Francis Lawrence, who also directed 2014’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One and 2013’s The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. The moving soundtrack features original music composed by James Newton Howard, who previously scored the first three films in the series. The script is written by Peter Craig and Danny Strong.

Jennifer Lawrence, one of my favorite actresses and already a three time Oscar nominee at age 25, portrays Katniss, the Mockingjay. She is courageous and is the people’s leader/warrior in the battle against President Snow and the Capitol.

The film picks up where Part 1 leaves off, with Katniss recovering from an attack by the Capitol brainwashed Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), Katniss’s fellow District 12 tribute and fiancé. Katniss’s aim is to kill President Snow (Donald Sutherland) in order to bring peace to the war-torn Panem. She states “I’m going to kill Snow. He needs to see my eyes when I kill him.”

Members of Squad 451 are Gale (Liam Hemsworth), competing love interest for Katniss with Peeta, Finnick (Sam Claflin), Cressida (Natalie Dormer) and the soldier Boggs (Mahershala Ali). They are under the leadership of President Coin (Julianne Moore), and Plutarch (Phillip Seymour Hoffman in his last screen performance, having died of a drug overdose in February, 2014 at age 46).

Squad 451 brings Peeta, who is struggling with memory loss and is emotionally unpredictable, on their way to President Snow’s mansion. Along the way they have to avoid a series of secret, frightening and deadly pods that surround the mansion. These scenes, especially the mutts, will be too scary for young viewers.

This film is based on a young adult novel, but it is not appropriate for young children. There is significant war violence and much killing, including of small children, in this film.


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

Neon Porch Extravaganza - CrowderMusic Review:  Neon Porch Extravaganza (EP) – Crowder
****

This surprise new live recording available exclusively from iTunes from Crowder features six songs, five of them from his excellent 2014 release Neon Steeple (one of my favorites from last year), plus a video of one of them. The songs were recorded on the front porch of Crowder’s home church, Passion City Church in Atlanta, where Louis Giglio is the pastor. The songs came off so well Crowder decided to release them on iTunes. The album cover art features Kenny Rodgers, the Artic Fox, Crowder’s touring sidekick.

The album features excellent live high-energy versions of “My Beloved” (watch this video of the song being performed. Note: the video is not included on the EP), “I Am”, “Come As You Are”, and “Hands of Love” from Neon Steeple. It also features Crowder’s cover of Drake’s “Hold On We’re Going Home”. That’s right, Crowder covers a Drake song. Although Drake sings it to a girl, in his interpretation, Crowder sings to the Lord and to believers:

I got my eyes on you
You’re everything that I see
I want your high love and emotion endlessly
I can’t get over you
You left your mark on me
I want your high love and emotion endlessly

So just hold on we’re going home (going home)
Just hold on we’re going home (going home)
It’s hard to do these things alone (things alone)
Just hold on we’re going home (going home, going home)

Also included is a new version of “Lift Your Head Weary Sinner (Chains) featuring a powerful rap from Tedashii. A video of this performance is also included.

All in all, you get a lot of value (six songs, including the video) and 25 minutes of music for just $4.99 on iTunes. Can’t wait for the next studio release from Crowder.

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musicnewsCaroline. Watch Jon Foreman perform his song “Caroline” from his The Wonderlands: Sunlight EP as he tests out the Fender Acoustic SFX amplifier.

Go Tell It On the Mountain. Watch this video of “Go Tell It On The Mountain” from Keith and Kristyn Getty’s new Christmas album Joy: An Irish Christmas LIVE.

Noel. Watch the video of Lauren Daigle performing “Noel” from Chris Tomlin’s new album Adore: Christmas Songs of Worship.

Music Quotes:

  • It’s better to create something that others criticize than to create nothing and criticize others. Lecrae
  • Is it just me or are newer iPhones jetting worse at spellunking wurdz? Matt Maher

Song of the Week

Clothed in Righteousness – Jeff Lippencott and R.C. Sproul

This week we begin our countdown to our annual “My Favorites” listing with our #5 song of the year. The words are by theologian R.C. Sproul and the music by Jeff Lippencott. It is from the sacred music album Glory for the Holy One. It’s a hymn I sang a few times at Ligonier National Conferences and in worship services at Saint Andrews Chapel before this album was released. You can listen to the song here.

Fallen race in Eden fair
Exposed and full of shame
Fled we naked from Thy sight
Far from Thy holy Name

RefrainGlory to the Holy One

Clothe us in Your righteousness
Hide filthy rags of sin
Dress us in Your perfect garb
Both outside and within

Sent from the garden in the east
Outside of Eden’s gate
Banished there from Thy pure light
Were Adam and his mate

Scarlet souls are now like snow
By Thy atoning grace
Crimson hearts become like wool
For Adam’s fallen race

Refrain

No work of ours is good enough
For evil to atone
Your merit, Lord, is all we have
It saves, and it alone

Refrain

Next week we’ll look at our #4 song of the year.


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

Book Reviews
Kevin Halloran BookWord + Life: 20 Reflections on Prayer, the Christian Life, and the Glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ by Kevin Halloran. Word + Life. 79 pages. 2015
****

Over the past year or so I’ve become familiar with Kevin Halloran’s ministry, through his blog and the articles he has written for other blogs. This, his first book, was intended as he writes “To do what a ‘Greatest Hits’ record does for a band: (1) to introduce new people to the best of the blog and (2) catch current fans up on quality content they have missed.” His heartbeat for the book for “God to plant us beside streams of living water, and for our roots to soak up the encouragement and hope the Scriptures offer us in Christ.”

The articles included flow from Halloran’s personal Scripture reading, struggles in faith, struggles in life, and professional work with both Unlocking the Bible (a radio and online ministry) and Leadership Resources International (a missions organization that equips pastors to faithfully exposit the Scriptures).

Similar to the prayers from The Valley of Vision, Halloran includes a few prayers mixed in with the articles adding to the devotional experience.

I highlighted many passages in my copy of the book. As I revisit those passages they include themes of prayer, anxiety, faith and work, materialism and contentment, battling sin, how Jesus relates to the Old Testament, social media, leadership, persecution and how to read the Psalms.

The author also includes a few recommended resources at the end of the book, which can be read in one sitting, or devotionally, reading one article a day. I highly recommend this short book as an introduction to Kevin Halloran and his ministry. He is a young man who is already doing great things for the Kingdom.

pitch by pitchPitch by Pitch: My View of One Unforgettable Game by Bob Gibson & Lonnie Wheeler. Flatiron Books. 256 pages. 2015
****

Bob Gibson, who will turn 80 in early November, is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. He played seventeen seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals. During that time he won two Cy Young Awards and pitched for two World Series champs. In this book he takes the reader through each pitch of game one of the 1968 World Series against the Detroit Tigers.

Gibson was coming off of a record-setting season in which he had an earned run average of an incredible 1.12. His opponent in the October 2 game was Denny McLain, who won an unbelievable 31 games for the Tigers. So we had two pitchers at the top of their games going in game one on a warm October afternoon in St. Louis.

I really enjoyed Gibson’s insights on each pitch. He takes the reader through his thought process on what he was planning to throw and how it turned out. In between, he tells some very interesting stories about his Cardinal teammates and the Tigers he was facing. As a baseball fan and a Cardinal fan I loved every page of this book.

One story in particular was of personal interest. He tells of Cardinal Curt Simmons getting Hank Aaron out on change-up pitches. He writes “When Aaron finally timed one of Simmons’s slowballs and clubbed it over the fence, he was called out for stepping on the plate.” The fascinating thing about that story is that I was at that August 18, 1965 game in St. Louis as an 8 year old boy with my family when that took place.

Gibson writes in a confident manner about racial issues, his pitching “The slider was next; and it was perfect, if you don’t mind my saying so,” catcher McCarver “Tim has since confessed that he can’t think of a single intelligent thing he ever pointed out to me in our little mid-inning visits,” his roommate Curt Flood’s challenge of major league baseball’s reserve clause, and much, much more.

Gibson would break Sandy Koufax’s World Series strikeout record in the game and the Cardinals would win, but ultimately lose the series.

If you are a baseball fan, and in particular a Cardinals fan, you’ll love this book.

Rejoicing in ChristRejoicing in Christ by Michael Reeves. IVP Academic. 135 pages. 2015
****

Michael Reeves writes that most of our Christian problems and errors of thought come about by forgetting or marginalizing Christ. As a result, this book aims for something deeper than a new technique or a call to action. He calls for us to consider Christ so that he might become more central for us, that we might know him better, treasure him more and enter into his joy.

I thoroughly enjoyed this short, but theologically rich book about Christ. Reeves writes that the Christian life and Christian theology must begin and end with Jesus Christ, our Savior and our Goal. This is a book that you can use in your devotional reading. It contains several short meditations on many aspects of Christ (divinity, humanity, life, death, resurrection, return, etc.). Among the many things I appreciated about this book were his writings on sonship, Christ being the second (or last) Adam, Christ’s loving relationship with the Father, our union with Christ, and the marriage between the church (bride of Christ) and our groom (Christ).

I was not familiar with Reeves until I saw that he was one of the speakers at the 2016 Ligonier National Conference in February. I read this book and am glad that I did as it helped me to know and love Christ even more. He complements his meditations on Christ with historical artwork depicting Jesus, which stimulates the mind as well as the heart. This is one of my favorite books of the year.

book news

  • J.I. Packer An Evangelical LifeJ.I. Packer: An Evangelical Life. Tim Challies reviews J.I. Packer: An Evangelical Life by Leland Ryken. He writes “My few frustrations aside, I was still glad to read it and glad to have encountered its subject within its pages. I thank God for J.I. Packer.”
  • Transforming Homosexuality Interview. Denny Burk was recently interviewed on the “Fire Away!” podcast about his new book Transforming Homosexuality.
  • The Forgotten Quotes of Charles Spurgeon. Read some of these amazing quotes from a book that doesn’t really exist (but it sure is fun thinking of the great preacher saying these things).
  • 10 Serious Problems with Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling Book. Tim Challies writes “Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling is a phenomenon that shows no signs of slowing down. According to publisher Thomas Nelson, it “continues to grow in units sold each year since it was released [and] has surpassed 15 million copies sold.” Yet it is a deeply troubling book. I am going to point out 10 serious problems with Jesus Calling in the hope that you will consider and heed these warnings.”
  • Killing Reagan’s Reputation. Gene Veith writes “Bill O’Reilly is considered a conservative, but he is challenging one of American conservatism’s biggest icons.  In his bestselling book Killing Reagan, O’Reilly maintains that the assassination attempt 69 days into his presidency caused Reagan to be mentally impaired for the rest of his terms in office.”
  • Intentional Living Book Review. David Murray reviews John Maxwell’s new book Intentional Living, stating what he likes about the book, as well as a missing opportunity and a missing question.
  • The Songs of JesusThe Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms by Tim and Kathy Keller. In Kevin Halloran’s review of this highly anticipated new devotional he writes “The Songs of Jesus are a rich collection of devotionals that are clear and straight to the point, getting to the heart of each Psalm and helping readers think through them practically and prayerfully. Diligent readers and those who journal through it will feast on the richness of the Psalter and rejoice as they behold and commune with the Savior who so faithfully embodied the psalms.”
  • 6 Reasons You Need the Songs of Jesus. Here’s an excerpt from Tim and Kathy Keller’s new book The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms.
  • What I’m Reading. Russell Moore shares a very diverse list of books that he is reading.
  • A Theological Earthquake with Evangelicals Caught Flat-Footed. Denny Burk writes “These two books are laying the groundwork for evangelicals to abandon the male/female binary that is taught in scripture. Defranza’s book challenges the idea that Genesis 1 defines a binary norm for human beings—that God’s creation of “male and female” is God’s paradigm for humanity. Yarhouse’s book is challenging the notion that male/female biological differences define normative role distinctions between men and women.”

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 7: Rules for Prayer

  • Perhaps the most distinct part of Calvin’s treatment is what he calls “the rules for prayer.”
  • Calvin’s first rule for prayer is the principle of reverence or the “fear of God.”
  • Calvin calls Christians first of all to have a due sense of the seriousness and magnitude of what prayer is. It is a personal audience and conversation with the Almighty God of the universe.
  • We must instead come to prayer “so moved by God’s majesty” that we are “freed from earthly cares and affections.”
  • What, then, should a Christian be afraid of regarding God? Think of it like this. Imagine that you suddenly are introduced to some person you have always admired enormously—perhaps someone you have hero-worshipped. Your joyful admiration has a fearful aspect to it. You are in awe, and therefore you don’t want to mess up.
  • Because of unutterable love and joy in God, we tremble with the privilege of being in his presence and with an intense longing to honor him when we are there. We are deeply afraid of grieving him.
  • Calvin says that this sense of awe is a crucial part of prayer. Prayer both requires it and produces it.
  • Calvin’s second rule for prayer is “the sense of need that excludes all unreality.” Calvin is here referring to what could be called “spiritual humility.” It includes both a strong sense of our dependence on God, in general, and a readiness to recognize and repent our own faults in particular.
  • We should come to God knowing our only hope is in his grace and forgiveness and being honest about our doubts, fears, and emptiness. We should come to God with the “disposition of a beggar.”
  • Calvin is simply telling us to drop all pretense, to flee from all phoniness.
  • Crucial to true prayer, then, is confession and repentance. Again, prayer both requires and produces this humility. Prayer brings you into God’s presence, where our shortcomings are exposed. Then the new awareness of insufficiency drives us to seek God even more intensely for forgiveness and help.
  • To the degree you can shed the “unreality” of self-sufficiency, to that degree your prayer life will become richer and deeper.
  • Calvin’s third and fourth rules for prayer should be paired and considered together. His third rule is that we should have a submissive trust of God. “Anyone who stands before God to pray . . . [must] abandon all thoughts of his own glory.” We are to trust in him even when things are not going as we wish them to go.
  • One of the purposes of prayer is to bring our hearts to trust in his wisdom, not in our own. It is to say, “Here’s what I need—but you know best.” It is to leave all our needs and desires in his hands in a way that is possible only through prayer.
  • The fourth rule is just as crucial and must be kept beside the third. We are to pray with confidence and hope.
  • If God’s will is always right, and submission to it is so important, why pray for anything with fervor and confidence? Calvin lists the reasons. God invites us to do so and promises to answer prayers—because he is good and our loving heavenly Father. Also, God often waits to give a blessing until you have prayed for it. Why? Good things that we do not ask for will usually be interpreted by our hearts as the fruit of our own wisdom and diligence. Gifts from God that are not acknowledged as such are deadly to the soul, because they thicken the illusion of self-sufficiency that leads to overconfidence and sets us up for failure.
  • Finally, Calvin argues that these two balancing truths are not only not contradictory but are complementary.
  • There are many goods that God will not give us unless we honor him and make our hearts safe to receive them through prayer. But on the other hand—what thoughtful persons, knowing the limits of their own wisdom, would dare to pray if they thought God would invariably give them their wishes?
  • God will not give us anything contrary to his will, and that will always include what is best for us in the long run (Rom 8:28). We can, therefore, pray confidently because he won’t give us everything we want.
  • If we hold Calvin’s third and fourth rules together, it creates enormous incentive to pray.
  • Don’t be afraid that you will ask for the wrong thing.
  • Finally, where you do not get an answer, or where the answer is not what you want, use prayer to enable you to rest in his will.
  • After Calvin expounded his four rules for prayer, he added an extended “coda” so significant that most readers understand it as a fifth rule. The fifth rule is actually a major qualification of the very word rule.
  • Calvin’s fifth rule is the rule of grace. He urges us to not conclude that following any set of rules could make our prayers worthy to be heard. Nothing we formulate or do can qualify us for access to God. Only grace can do that—based not on our performance but on the saving work of Christ.
  • Only when we see we cannot keep the rules, and need God’s mercy, can we become people who begin to keep the rules. The rules do not earn or merit God’s attention but rather align our prayers with who God is—the God of free grace—and thereby unite us to him more and more.
  • For as soon as God’s dread majesty comes to mind, we cannot but tremble and be driven far away by the recognition of our own unworthiness, until Christ comes forward as intermediary, to change the throne of dreadful glory into the throne of grace.
  • Praying in Jesus’ name, then, is not a magic formula. We must not think it means that only if we literally enunciate the words “in Jesus’ name” will our prayers be answered.
  • To pray in Jesus’ name means to come to God in prayer consciously trusting in Christ for our salvation and acceptance and not relying on our own credibility or record. It is, essentially, to reground our relationship with God in the saving work of Jesus over and over again. It also means to recognize your status as a child of God, regardless of your inner state. God our Father is committed to his children’s good, as any good father would be.

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 look at Chapter 13: Rejoicing in Tribulation

  • There are three principles with regard to the Christian which emerge very clearly from what our Lord tells us here. They are quite obvious; and yet I think that often we must all plead guilty to the fact that we forget them. The first is once again that he is unlike everybody who is not a Christian. The gospel of Jesus Christ creates a clear-cut division and distinction between the Christian and the non-Christian. The non-Christian himself proves that by persecuting the Christian.
  • The second principle is that the Christian’s life is controlled and dominated by Jesus Christ, by his loyalty to Christ, and by his concern to do everything for Christ’s sake. If we are truly Christian, our desire must be, however much we may fail in practice, to live for Christ, to glory in His name and to live to glorify Him.
  • The third general characteristic of the Christian is that his life should be controlled by thoughts of heaven and of the world to come.
  • Let us look first of all at the way in which the Christian should face persecution. We can put it first of all negatively.
  • The Christian must not retaliate. Furthermore, not only must he not retaliate; he must also not feel resentment.
  • The third negative is that we must never be depressed by persecution.
  • Now let us ask a second question. Why is the Christian to rejoice like this, and how is it possible for him to do so? Why then does he rejoice in it? Why should he be exceeding glad? Here are our Lord’s answers. The first is that this persecution which he is receiving for Christ’s sake is proof to the Christian of who he is and what he is.
  • Or, take the second argument to prove this. It means, of course, that we have become identified with Christ. If we are thus being maligned falsely and persecuted for His sake, it must mean that our lives have become like His. The second cause of rejoicing and of joy is, of course, that this persecution is proof also of where we are going.
  • Let us look at it in this way. According to this argument, my whole outlook upon everything that happens to me should be governed by these three things: my realization of who I am, my consciousness of where I am going, and my knowledge of what awaits me when I get there.
  • The Christian is a man who should always be thinking of the end.
  • What is this reward? Well, the Bible does not tell us much about it, for a very good reason. It is so glorious and wonderful that our human language is of necessity almost bound to detract from its glory. But it does tell us something like this. We shall see Him as He is, and worship in His glorious presence.
  • Unmixed joy, and glory, and holiness, and purity and wonder! That is what is awaiting us. That is your destiny and mine in Christ as certainly as we are alive at this moment. How foolish we are that we do not spend our time in thinking about that. How often do you think of heaven and rejoice as you think of it?

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