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Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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book reviews
The Dawn of Indestructible Joy by John Piper

The Dawning of Indestructible Joy: Daily Readings for Advent by John Piper. Crossway. 96 pages. 2014.

John Piper released this short book of devotions in 2014. My wife and I used them last year and benefitted from them in our preparations to celebrate the birth of Jesus. I commend them to you as well to aid you in your preparations.

Piper wrote this little book of Advent devotional readings to stir us up or awaken us – it is a book of reminders and stirrings. He states that we usually don’t need brand-new teaching. No, what we need are reminders about the greatness of old truths, or to say an old truth in a fresh way.

Piper titled the book The Dawning of Indestructible Joy, because the joy Jesus was bringing into the world was like no other kind in history. He aims to awaken and stir up our affections for the greatest wonder of all – the arrival of Jesus.

May you be richly blessed by this book this Advent season.

The Songs of JesusThe Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms by Timothy Keller, Kathy Keller. Viking. 375 pages. 2015

I’m always excited to see a new book from Tim Keller. This is the second book that he has written with wife Kathy, the first being the excellent The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God.

The authors write that theologians and leaders of the church throughout history have believed that the Psalms should be used and reused in every Christian’s daily private approach to God and in public worship. They state that we are not simply to read psalms, but are to be immersed in them so that they profoundly shape how we relate to God. The psalms are the divinely ordained way to learn devotion to our God. The psalms are written to be prayed, recited, and sung—to be done, not merely to be read.

They tells us that most of all the psalms, read in light of the entire Bible, bring us to Jesus. The psalms were Jesus’s songbook. This book is a daily devotional that takes the reader through every verse of the book of Psalms in 365 days, with each devotional providing the reader with a daily reading from a psalm. It also gives the reader a brief meditation on the meaning of the psalm and a prayer to help the reader to actually use it in our heart and as a way to approach God. The authors ask us to look at the prayers as what they call “on-ramps,” not as complete prayers. They ask us to follow the trajectory of the prayers and keep going, filling each prayer out with personal particulars, as well as always praying in Jesus’s name (John 14:13).

They write that the book is structured so that it can be used in three different ways:

  1. The simplest way is to read the psalm and the meditation slowly, and then use the prayer to begin praying the psalm.
  2. The second way is to take the time to look up the additional scriptural references that are embedded in the meditation and sometimes in the prayer.
  3. The third way is to get a blank journal to use along with it. Read the psalm portion twice slowly. Then ask three questions and write out our own answers:
  • Adore—What did you learn about God for which you could praise or thank him?
  • Admit—What did you learn about yourself for which you could repent?
  • Aspire—What did you learn about life that you could aspire to, ask for, and act on?

Once we have answered the above questions, we have our own meditation on the psalm. They state that we should then read the meditation in the book and incorporate its insights into our journal notes.

Lastly, we should turn our meditation—already categorized as adoration, confession, and aspiration—into personal prayer, using the provided “on-ramp” prayer as well. This will take us into the deep level of wisdom and insight the psalms can provide.

Watch Tim Keller’s two-minute video about the book here.

I’m using this in my daily worship. I encourage you to do so as well.

book news

  • Reformation Study BibleReformation Study Bible (RSB) E-Book Edition. After much delay (the book edition was released at the Ligonier National Conference), the e-book edition of the newly revised and updated RSB English Standard Version, was released on November 30. If you purchase the book edition you get $400 worth of Ligonier resources, including the e-book edition of the RSB. The e-book edition includes user-friendly navigation, allowing you to move effortlessly between Scripture and study notes without losing your place. It includes the ability to increase/decrease font size, add highlights, and add your own notes for later reference. This will be the Bible I used daily for reading and study.
  • Tim Keller’s Bookshelf. See what Tim Keller is reading these days and also some of his favorite books.
  • The Book Tim Keller’s Read Every Month for 20 Years. Matt Smethurst interviews Tim Keller about his new book The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms, a book I’m using for my daily devotional reading.
  • Do More Better by Tim Challies. I’m excited to hear about Tim Challies’ new book on productivity Do More Better. As his blog is required reading for me each day, I can’t wait to read this new book.
  • Books for Which I Am Thankful. Rick Phillips lists some excellent books that you may want to check out. I’m currently reading, and being blessed by, Lloyd-Jones The Sermon on the Mount.
  • Don’t Follow Your Heart. Jon Bloom’s new book is Don’t Follow Your Heart. You can download the e-book free from Desiring God.
  • Meaning of Marriage Group Study from Tim and Kathy Keller. Collin Hansen talks about the new six-session DVD Study Guide recently released based on Tim and Kathy Keller’s excellent book on marriage.
  • A Charlie Brown Religion. Tim Challies reviews A Charlie Brown Religion by Stephen J. Lind, calling it “as interesting a biography as I have read this year.”
  • Seven Sentimental Lies You Might Believe. Matt Reagan shares “seven of the most egregiously assumed truth-claims in popular culture today, with a biblical check for each one.”
  • Child in the MangerBest Quotes from The Secret of Teams. I’ve enjoyed a few of Mark Miller’s books and his blog. Here are a few quotes from his book The Secret of Teams.
  • Matt Chandler’s Bookshelf. See what Matt Chandler is reading these days and also some of his favorite books.
  • Child in the Manger. One of my favorite authors/preachers, Sinclair Ferguson’s new book will be published by Banner of Truth in early December.

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 8 – The Prayer of Prayers:

  • None of our three master teachers of prayer, Augustine, Luther, and Calvin, developed their instruction primarily based on their own experiences. In each case, what they believed and practiced regarding prayer grew mainly out of their understanding of the ultimate master class in prayer—the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9–13, in the heart of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
  • In this chapter we will look at the Lord’s Prayer through the insights of our three master teachers, thereby drawing out the fullness of their wisdom—and the depths of Jesus’ prayer itself—on this subject.
  • The Lord’s Prayer may be the single set of words spoken more often than any other in the history of the world. Jesus Christ gave it to us as the key to unlock all the riches of prayer. Yet it is an untapped resource, partially because it is so very familiar.
  • Jesus is saying, as it were, “Wouldn’t you like to be able to come face-to-face with the Father and king of the universe every day, to pour out your heart to him, and to sense him listening to and loving you?” We say, of course, yes. Jesus responds, “It’s all in the Lord’s Prayer.”
  • How do we overcome the deadly peril of familiarity? One of the best ways is to listen to these three great mentors, who plumbed the depths of the prayer through years of reflection and practice.

“Our Father Who Art in Heaven”

  • Calvin explains that to call God “Father” is to pray in Jesus’ name. “Who would break forth into such rashness as to claim for himself the honor of a son of God unless we had been adopted as children of grace in Christ?”
  • Luther also believed the address was a call to not plunge right into talking to God but to first recollect our situation and realize our standing in Christ before we proceed into prayer.
  • Calvin agrees that “by the great sweetness of this name [Father] he frees us from all distrust.”

“Hallowed Be Thy Name”

  • A seeming problem of logic, expressed by Luther. “What are we praying for when we ask that His name become holy?
  • Luther, who joins Augustine when he says it is a prayer that God “be glorified among all nations as you are glorified among us.”
  • To “hallow” God’s name is not merely to live righteous lives but to have a heart of grateful joy toward God—and even more, a wondrous sense of his beauty. We do not revere his name unless he “captivate[s] us with wonderment for him.”

“Thy Kingdom Come”

  • This is the cause of all our human problems, since we were created to serve him, and when we serve other things in God’s place, all spiritual, psychological, cultural, and even material problems ensue. Therefore, we need his kingdom to “come.” Calvin believed there were two ways God’s kingdom comes—through the Spirit, who “corrects our desires,” and through the Word of God, which “shapes our thoughts.”
  • This, then, is a “Lordship” petition: It is asking God to extend his royal power over every part of our lives—emotions, desires, thoughts, and commitments.
  • We are asking God to so fully rule us that we want to obey him with all our hearts and with joy.
  • To pray “thy kingdom come” is to “yearn for that future life” of justice and peace.

“Thy Will Be Done”

  • Unless we are profoundly certain God is our Father, we will never be able to say “thy will be done.”
  • Only if we trust God as Father can we ask for grace to bear our troubles with patience and grace.
  • This is the one part of the Lord’s Prayer Jesus himself prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, under circumstances far more crushing than any of us will ever face. He submitted to his Father’s will rather than following his own desires, and it saved us. That’s why we can trust him.
  • Calvin adds that to pray “thy will be done” is to submit not only our wills to God but even our feelings, so that we do not become despondent, bitter, and hardened by the things that befall us.
  • The beginning of prayer is all about God. We are not to let our own needs and issues dominate prayer; rather, we are to give pride of place to praising and honoring him, to yearning to see his greatness and to see it acknowledged everywhere, and to aspiring to full love and obedience.
  • First, because it heals the heart of its self-centeredness.

“Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread”

  • Augustine reminds us that “daily bread” is a metaphor for necessities rather than luxuries.
  • For Luther, then, to pray for our daily bread is to pray for a prosperous and just social order.

“Forgive Us Our Debts as We Forgive Our Debtors”

  • The fifth petition concerns our relationships, both with God and others.
  • In the presence of God everyone must duck his head and come into the joy of forgiveness only through the low door of humility.
  • If regular confession does not produce an increased confidence and joy in your life, then you do not understand the salvation by grace, the essence of the faith.
  • Jesus tightly links our relationship with God to our relationship with others.
  • Unresolved bitterness is a sign that we are not right with God.
  • It also means that if we are holding a grudge, we should see the hypocrisy of seeking forgiveness from God for sins of our own.

“Lead Us Not into Temptation”

  • Temptation in the sense of being tried and tested is not only inevitable but desirable. The Bible talks of suffering and difficulty as a furnace in which many impurities of soul are “burned off” and we come to greater self-knowledge, humility, durability, faith, and love. However, to “enter into temptation,” as Jesus termed it (Matt 26:41), is to entertain and consider the prospect of giving in to sin.

“Deliver Us from Evil”

  • Calvin combined this phrase with “lead us not into temptation” and called it the sixth and last petition. Augustine and Luther, however, viewed “deliver us from evil” as a separate, seventh petition.
  • This seventh petition is for protection from evil outside us, from malignant forces in the world, especially our enemies who wish to do us harm.

“For Thine Is the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory Forever”

  • Augustine does not mention it because it was not in most earlier manuscripts of the Bible or in the Latin Vulgate. Luther does not treat it.
  • Calvin, while noting that “this is not extant in the Latin versions,” believes that “it is so appropriate to this place that it ought not to be omitted.”
  • After descending into our needs, troubles, and limitations, we return to the truth of God’s complete sufficiency.

“Give, Forgive, and Deliver—Us”

  • Like Luther in A Simple Way to Pray, Calvin insists that the Lord’s Prayer does not bind us to its particular form of words but rather to its content and basic pattern.
  • The Lord’s Prayer is a summary of all other prayers, providing essential guidance on emphasis and topics, on purpose and even spirit.
  • Prayer is therefore not a strictly private thing. As much as we can, we should pray with others both formally in gathered worship and informally. Why? If the substance of prayer is to continue a conversation with God, and if the purpose of it is to know God better, then this can happen best in community.
  • By praying with friends, you will be able to hear and see facets of Jesus that you have not yet perceived.
  • Lewis thinks, that the angels in Isaiah 6 are crying, “Holy, Holy, Holy” to one another. Each angel is communicating to all the rest the part of the glory it sees.

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 14: The Salt of the Earth:

  • We now come to a new and fresh section in the Sermon on the Mount. In verses 3–12 our Lord and Savior has been delineating the Christian character. Here at verse 13 He moves forward and applies His description. Having seen what the Christian is, we now come to consider how the Christian should manifest this. Or, if you prefer it, having realized what we are, we must now go on to consider what we must be.
  • There are certain senses in which we can say that this question of the function of the Christian in the world as it is today is one of the most urgent matters confronting the Church and the individual Christian at this present time. It is obviously a very large subject, and in many ways an apparently difficult one. But it is dealt with very clearly in the Scriptures.
  • It is put perfectly by our Lord when He says, `Ye are the salt of the earth.’ What does that imply? It clearly implies rottenness in the earth; it implies a tendency to pollution and to becoming foul and offensive. That is what the Bible has to say about this world. It is fallen, sinful and bad. Its tendency is to evil and to wars. It is like meat which has a tendency to putrefy and to become polluted. It is like something which can only be kept wholesome by means of a preservative or antiseptic. As the result of sin and the fall, life in the world in general tends to get into a putrid state. That, according to the Bible, is the only sane and right view to take of humanity.
  • What does this have to say about the Christian who is in the world, the kind of world at which we have been looking? It tells him he is to be as salt; `ye, and ye alone’-for that is the emphasis of the text-‘are the salt of the earth’. What does this tell us? We are to be unlike the world.
  • The Christian is not only to be different, he is to glory in this difference. He is to be as different from other people as the Lord Jesus Christ was clearly different from the world in which He lived.
  • It seems to me that the first thing which is emphasized by our Lord is that one of the Christian’s main functions with respect to society is a purely negative one.
  • Salt’s main function, therefore, is surely negative rather than positive.
  • I wonder how often we conceive of ourselves in this way, as agents in the world meant to prevent this particular process of putrefaction and decay.
  • There are those who say that the Christian should act as salt in the earth by means of the Church’s making pronouncements about the general situation of the world, about political, economic and international affairs and other such subjects. Undoubtedly in many churches, if not in the vast majority, that is how this text would be interpreted. Now, as I see it, that is a most serious misunderstanding of scriptural teaching.
  • I suggest to you, therefore, that the Christian is to function as the salt of the earth in a much more individual sense. He does so by his individual life and character, by just being the man that he is in every sphere in which he finds himself. He can do this, not only in a private capacity in his home, his workshop or office, or wherever he may happen to be, but also as a citizen in the country in which he lives.
  • As Christians we are citizens of a country, and it is our business to play our part as citizens, and thereby act as salt indirectly in innumerable respects. But that is a very different thing from the Church’s doing so.
  • The primary task of the Church is to evangelize and to preach the gospel.
  • I think it is true to say that during the last fifty years the Christian Church has paid more direct attention to politics and to social and economic questions than in the whole of the previous hundred years. But what is the result? No-one can dispute it. The result is that we are living in a society which is much more immoral than it was fifty years ago, in which vice and law-breaking and lawlessness are rampant.
  • Though the Church makes her great pronouncements about war and politics, and other major issues, the average man is not affected. But if you have a man working at a bench who is a true Christian, and whose life has been saved and transformed by the Holy Spirit, it does affect others all around him. That is the way in which we can act as salt in the earth at a time like this. It is not something to be done by the Church in general; it is something to be done by the individual Christian.

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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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