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Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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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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Author: Bill Pence

I’m Bill Pence – married to my best friend Tammy, a graduate of Covenant Seminary, St. Louis Cardinals fan, formerly a manager at a Fortune 50 organization, and in leadership at my local church. I am a life-long learner and have a passion to help people develop, and to use their strengths to their fullest potential. I am an INTJ on Myers-Briggs, 3 on the Enneagram, my top five Strengthsfinder themes are: Belief, Responsibility, Learner, Harmony, and Achiever, and my two StandOut strength roles are Creator and Equalizer. My favorite book is the Bible, with Romans my favorite book of the Bible, and Colossians 3:23 and 2 Corinthians 5:21 being my favorite verses. Some of my other favorite books are The Holiness of God and Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul, and Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. I enjoy music in a variety of genres, including modern hymns, Christian hip-hop and classic rock. My book Called to Lead: Living and Leading for Jesus in the Workplace and Tammy’s book Study, Savor and Share Scripture: Becoming What We Behold are available in paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon.

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  1. Greeat reading your blog

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