Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

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Movie Review ~ Kung Fu Panda 3

Kung Fu Panda 3Kung Fu Panda 3

In this third film in the Kung Fu Panda series, Jack Black returns as Po, the Dragon Warrior leader of the Furious Five (Tigress, Monkey, Mantis, Crane and Viper), who get little screen time in this film. As the film begins, Po’s master tells him that he has taught him everything he can, now Po is to teach others. But we quickly see that is a disaster, shattering Po’s confidence.

We are then taken to a spirit world, where we see Po’s former master Oogway relaxing in bliss when he is confronted by a supernatural entity Kai, who he defeated five hundred years ago. Kai wants to rule the world and needs Oogway’s chi (an Eastern spirituality concept defined as the force that sets the world and everything in it into motion. It is also the force that sustains all things once they are created). When Kai gets Oogway’s chi, he then returns to the mortal world with a goal of taking Po’s chi so he can rule the world. Got all that straight? And this is a fun animated children’s film about a dumpling loving fat panda?

Meanwhile, Po is suffering through an identity crisis. All of this is complicated when his biological father Li shows up and takes him back to a Secret Panda Village, much to the chagrin of Po’s adopted father Mr. Ping, who has raised him for twenty years. Li tells Po he was sent by the Universe (another Eastern religion/philosophy concept). Po will need to save the world against the evil Kai.
The film includes a lot of Eastern religion/philosophy content (chi, universe, ying and yang, etc.). It was not nearly as fun or entertaining as the previous two films. Although there were a lot of children in the theatre, we didn’t hear a lot of laughter during the film, and one wonders what they make of concepts such as chi, universe and ying and yang.

Several scenes seem included just to show off 3D. Overall, we were very disappointed in the film, despite excellent animation and the stellar cast that provides the voices for the characters – returnees Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Seth Rogen, Lucy Lui, Jackie Chan, David Cross and newcomers J.K, Simmons, Bryan Cranston and Kate Hudson. The film is directed by Alessandro Carloni and Jennifer Yuh and written by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger.

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Movie Review ~ Brooklyn

BrooklynBrooklyn, rated PG-13

This excellent film, which has been nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture, is based on Colm Toibin’s 2009 novel “Brooklyn”. It is directed by John Crowley and the screenplay is by Nick Hornby, who has been nominated for an Oscar for his work here. Hornby wrote a different ending for the film than included in the book.

The film stars Saoirse Ronan (Atonement) as Eilis Lacey. Ronan delivers an excellent performance, and has been nominated for Best Actress for her portrayal of a young Irish Catholic woman who lives with her mother (Jane Brennan) and sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) in Enniscorthy, Ireland in the early 1950’s. (Note: in real life Ronan was born in The Bronx, but raised in Ireland by her Irish parents). She works for a mean shopkeeper Miss Kelly, played by Brid Brennan.

There is not much of a future for Eilis in Enniscorthy, so Rose contacts Father Hood (a very likeable Jim Broadbent, Oscar winner for Iris), an Irish priest in Brooklyn, who finds her a place to stay in a boarding house for young women in Brooklyn run by Mrs. Kehoe (two-time Oscar nominee Julie Walters), and a job at an upscale department store.

After Eilis arrives in Brooklyn, after getting violently ill on the ship between Ireland and New York, she is terribly homesick, missing her mom and sister. Each letter from home drives her to tears. As time goes on however, she slowly begins to settle in, and with Father Hood’s financial support, starts to attend college classes in the evening, with a goal of being an accountant. Over humorous dinner scenes at the boarding house we get to know Mrs. Kehoe and the other boarding house residents.

At a church dance she meets a handsome Italian plumber Tony (Emory Cohen from The Place Beyond the Pines), who immediately falls for Eilis. All of this happens a little too quickly for Eilis, but she eventually tells Tony that she loves him too. A favorite scene is when Tony takes Eilis to meet his family. Eilis’ boarding house friends teach her how to properly eat spaghetti (she’s never eaten any Italian food). Tony’s eight-year old brother Frankie (James DiGiacomo) steals the scene.

But then something happens back home and Eilis decides she needs to go back to Ireland for a month. Tony is terribly afraid that she won’t ever return. It is a much more mature and confident Eilis that returns to Enniscorthy. It is there she meets Jim (Domhnall Gleeson, Bill Weasley from the Harry Potter films, where ironically Julie Walters played his mother), from an upscale family.

This is a beautiful film, thanks to Yves Belanger’s cinematography. The film captures the look of Brooklyn and Enniscorthy and the costumes of 1952. It is a romance that features some very strong acting performances, led by Ronan. This is a film that you will want to see in the theatre if possible.

The film is rated PG-13 for a brief scene of sexuality and some brief adult language early in the film.

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steve taylorWow to the Deadness – Steve Taylor and the Perfect Foil

Steve Taylor has been one of my favorite artists since his 1983 EP I Want to Be a Clone. I was a new believer, and his witty, honest and creative way of expressing his beliefs and the hypocrisy he saw in the church really resonated with me, and still does. Since that time, I’ve purchased all of his music (solo, Chagall Guevara, Perfect Foil), and seen him in concert several times. Hey, I was even a member of his Clone Club!

In addition to being a singer and songwriter, he is also a film director (The Second Chance, Blue Like Jazz), songwriter (Newsboys), producer “Kiss Me” by Sixpence None the Richer, and record company owner (Squint). Taylor’s excellent 2014 album Goliath, with the Perfect Foil (consisting of Peter Furler, Jimmy Abegg and John Mark Painter), was his first since 1993’s Squint. So it is a joy that Wow to the Deadness comes just two years later.

To support Goliath, Taylor and the Perfect Foil toured with Danielson. I was not familiar with Danielson. Danielson’s Wikipedia article describes them as an American rock band that plays indie pop gospel music led by Daniel Smith.

The friendship resulted in this collaborative effort as they entered the Electrical Audio studio in June 2015 with engineer Steve Albini (Nirvana, Foo Fighters) using strictly analog gear. This EP, with cover art by Smith, is the result, which Albini described as being “really raucous and really great”. Smith states the recording rocks, but also moves around a bunch. He has stated “It can be delicate, but it’s rare. It mostly demands much, but it’s very inclusive and would really appreciate some singing and clapping along.”

The resulting product is something different from what Taylor’s fans may be accustomed to. But, we know that he has always been creative and pushed boundaries (who can forget the stir over the cover art on I Predict 1990 or the concern over his song “I Blew Up the Clinic Real Good”?

According to Taylor, their only rule was that if it sounded like something they’d already done, they would throw it out. He felt that they ended up with a recording that is not easily classifiable and hopefully doesn’t sound disposable.

Below are a few of my thoughts about each of the six songs after listening to each several times. Taylor handles most of the lead vocals with Smith handling some of them, plus backing vocals.

Wow to the Deadness – Begins with acoustic guitar before it takes off. Smith wrote most of the lyrics. Smith sings a response “We have a winner”, to Taylor’s lines. For example:

It was a battle to bring me around
We have a winner
Suddenly lilies appeared in the ground

Favorite lyric: Water seeps through these red flags right or wrong  

Wait up Downstep – This one also begins with an acoustic guitar. Smith sings a recurring Wait and Step and Wait.

Favorite lyric:

Give me joyful liberty
Transcending up in awe of
How you go, oh can I know
Let us be known by our love

The Dust Patrol – Opens with a blistering guitar. The drums lead into Taylor’s lead vocal. The song slows down in the middle, with Smith taking over, before some great guitar work turns it back over to Taylor’s machine gun like delivery.

Favorite lyric: We’re gonna roll your thunder. (Could this be a nod to Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue?)

Nonchalant – Again opens with acoustic guitar. This is a mid-tempo rocker, slowing things down a bit after the previous song.

Favorite lyric: Turn the cheek that bruised, til’ the purple drains

A Muse – This is a scorching rocker with great drums, guitar and Taylor’s defiant vocals.

Favorite lyric:

It’s my party you’re lucky to be here
You’re no Dylan so don’t make me laugh

Drats – The song features more of Smith’s vocals than any on the EP as he and Taylor share lead vocals.

Favorite lyric:

Be still and speak
Day by day
My delight
My delight    

And just like that, this unexpected collaboration is over. Here’s hoping it’s not the last we hear of Steve Taylor and the Danielson Foil. I’d love to hear these songs in concert.

You can pre-order the EP, to be released February 5, at Amazon here.

Here is the promo video for the EP. You can watch the video of Wow to the Deadness here. (Apologies for the bad word in the article).
music news


  • They say “Crae, you sold your soul, man” For real? Who bought it? “Let the Spirit take control, man” I don’t go nowhere without Him.  Lecrae
  • Moments of weakness are opportunities for God to show Himself strong. Lecrae
  • Neither Death nor Hope know any boundaries in this life. Breath is a fragile thing: a gift not an obligation. Jon Foreman

Song of the Week Freedom by Lecrae, featuring N’Dambi

This week’s song of the week comes from Lecrae’s new mixtape Church Clothes 3. Watch the video here.

They out here prostitutin’ kiddos
Fill they pockets with dinero
Pedophiles, pitiful
Sell a child to centerfold
Take they innocence, put in on the internet
Purities tainted, dignities shaken
Enslavin’ the soul of all of these babies
And freedom got a price nobody payin’
Makin’ money, American dream ain’t it, nah!
It’s a nightmare, don’t fight fair for white here
Benjamin Franklins, killin’ we hate for him
Write a song justifyin’ the lies we take for him, hold up
They ain’t with me, I’m willin’ to wait for ’em
Lil’ me sat up on the porch, thinkin’ dolla bills
Stomach filled from another meal that my momma killed still
I can’t keep still
I’d probably steal to keep a couple of Nike checks on the back of my heels
Grab my back on and pills
I need a stack of them bills
They say we slaves to the money
I guess we back in the field
I’ma go pursue my happiness, they told me it was free
But I’m still payin’ for it, I’m indebted to this thing
Heard a prophet say the profit, don’t focus on makin’ change
Just focus on tryna be it and maybe you’ll make a gain
Maybe you’ll free the slaves, maybe you’ll bring a change
The destinations are different but everyone’s on the train

Freedom isn’t free
But I still, I still believe in my freedom
So my mind can see
Please let me be free, please let me

I’m out here chasin’ this freedom
They out here choppin’ my feet off
And if they catch me I’m Toby, but I ain’t ’bout to believe it
King Kunta, king of coonin’, or Kenan & Kel
Rather rot in a jail cell than be up in hell, well
Well done, is you cookin’ or is you hearin’ your Father say, “Well done”?
Is He lookin’ at all your honors?
Modestly I’ll be honest, I’m hangin’ onto that promise
Cause honestly I ain’t really been everything that I oughta
Oughta be on my Harriet, bury me next to Honest Abe
Here’s lies another man murdered for tryna free the slaves
I gave Chief Keef my number in New York this summer
I told him, “I could get you free”, I’m on my Nat Turner
Back burner, cookin’ up a fat burger
While we shuck and jive to a song about a crack murder
Know we need a change but we threw it on the stage
Got some money and a soul and neither one of us saved
Slaves, get free

Freedom, it isn’t free
But I still believe, I still believe in our freedom
So my mind can see
Please let me be free, please let me be free

Freedom, freedom, freedom

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Book Reviews
The Gospel According to DanielThe Gospel According to Daniel by Bryan Chapell. Baker Books 226 pages. 2014

Dr. Bryan Chapell was the President of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis during most of my time there. He wrote the notes for the book of Daniel in the Gospel Transformation Bible, and recently completed a preaching series on Daniel at Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois, where he is senior pastor. You can download the sermons from their website. Usually, a book based on a sermon series is published after the sermons are preached. In this instance, over a period of months, I enjoyed listening to the sermon of each chapter in Daniel, and then reading the corresponding chapter of this theologically rich book, which includes helpful, practical illustrations.

The author writes that he desires to help others see the presence of the gospel throughout all of Scripture. Some may not feel that Christ is present in the Old Testament. Dr. Chapell aims to show where every text stands in relation to the ultimate revelation of the person and/or work of Christ.

He tells us that in the first half of the book of Daniel (largely biographical), we are tempted to make Daniel the object of our worship (“be like Daniel”). But by doing so, we neglect Daniel’s own message that God is the hero. The second half of the book which contains prophetic content can also lead to error if we make Daniel primarily the subject of our debates of end-times issues. Again, the author tells us, that if we do that we neglect Daniel’s message that God will rescue his people from the miseries of their sin by the work of the Messiah.

The author skillfully leads the reader through both the well-known biographical first half of the book and also the sometimes hard to understand prophetic second half. I thoroughly enjoyed studying the wonderful book of Daniel with Dr. Chapell and highly recommend his book to you.

OnwardOnward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel by Russell Moore. B&H Books. 240 pages. 2015.

Russell Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He is one of the leading young voices in evangelicalism today. In this important book, one of my favorites for 2015, he writes that the shaking of American culture isn’t a sign that God has given up on American Christianity. Rather, it may be a sign that God is rescuing American Christianity from itself. Moore is optimistic, indicating that pessimism is for losers. He admits that the American church faces difficulties, but also unprecedented opportunities. He writes that the message of the Kingdom is to “Make way for the coming of the Lord”. He states that now is the time for the church to reclaim its mission.

He writes that our culture was at one time more closely aligned with Christian values, if not necessarily the Christian Gospel. We are no longer the “Moral Majority”, if we ever really were. Our beliefs (sexual ethics, for example), are now very strange to our culture. He admits that in the short term we have lost the culture war on sexual and family issues. He states that we were never given a mission by Christ to promote values (as in “family values”), but to speak instead of sin, righteousness and the judgment of Christ and His Kingdom.

He writes that we must put our priorities where Jesus put them. He states that increasingly, the American culture doesn’t see Christianity as the real America. But the church needs to be salt and light to the culture. A worldly church, or an “almost gospel” is no good for this world. He states that the Kingdom of God should shape our vision of what and who matters, indicating that both left and right wing Christians can equally distort the Gospel. He writes of balancing evangelism and discipleship with justice, indicating that human dignity is about the Kingdom of God.

He writes about Jesus being a “gentle steamroller” as he called people to repentance. He discusses a manner of culture engagement that involves convictional kindness. He states that kindness should not be confused with niceness. Kindness doesn’t avoid conflict. Rather, it engages conflict with a goal of reconciliation.

The book lays out a plan for engaging a culture that is not only indifferent to Christianity, but at times openly hostile to it. It is written with convictional kindness and with a pastor’s heart. Highly recommended.

book news

  • Why We Should Read Books. Aimee Byrd writes “For anyone who doesn’t read many books anymore or who thinks we have all we need on the Internet, I wanted to share a few reasons why we should still read books.”
  • Unashamed. Pre-order Lecrae’s first book, Unashamed, which will be released May 3.
  • Alistair Begg’s Endorsement of Child in the Manger. Watch this short video of Alistair Begg’s endorsement of this excellent book by Sinclair Ferguson.

Ian Hamilton Quote

Studies in the Sermon on the MountStudies in the Sermon on the Mount BOOK CLUB – Won’t you read along with us?

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 21: Thou Shalt Not Kill

  • Verses 2I-26 we have the first of this series of six examples which our Lord gives of His interpretation of the law of God over and against that of the scribes and Pharisees.
  • The contrast, therefore, is not between the law given through Moses and the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ; it is a contrast, rather, between the false interpretation of the law of Moses, and the true presentation of the law given by our Lord Himself.
  • He presents us with six contrasts, each of which is introduced by the formula: `Ye have heard it was said by them of old time… but I say unto you.’
  • The Pharisees, by putting these two things together in juxtaposition, had reduced the import of this commandment `Thou shalt not kill’ to just a question of committing actual murder. By immediately adding the second to the first they had weakened the whole injunction.
  • The second thing they did was to reduce and confine the sanctions with which this prohibition was associated, to mere punishment at the hands of the civil magistrates.
  • That was their full and complete interpretation of the great commandment which says: Thou shalt not kill. In other words they had evacuated it of its truly great content and had reduced it merely to a question of murder. Furthermore, they did not mention the judgment of God at all. It is only the judgment of the local court that seems to matter.
  • It is possible for us to face the law of God as we find it in the Bible, but so to interpret and define it, as to make it something which we can keep very easily because we only keep it negatively. So we may persuade ourselves that all is well.
  • The first principle is that what matters is not merely the letter of the law but the spirit.
  • The true way of understanding `Thou shalt not kill’ is this: `Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.’
  • Anger in the heart towards any human being, and especially to those who belong to the household of faith, is, according to our Lord, something that is as reprehensible in the sight of God as murder.
  • Not only must we not feel this causeless anger; we must never even be guilty of expressions of contempt.
  • Contempt, a feeling of scorn and derision, is the very spirit that ultimately leads to murder.
  • Killing does not only mean destroying life physically, it means still more trying to destroy the spirit and the soul, destroying the person in any shape or form.
  • Our anger must only be against sin; we must never feel angry with the sinner, but only full of sorrow and compassion for him.
  • Our Lord’s anger was always a righteous indignation, it was a holy anger, an expression of the wrath of God Himself.
  • God hates evil. God’s anger is displayed against it, and His wrath will be poured out upon it.
  • The holier we become, the more anger we shall feel against sin.
  • We must never feel angry with a person as such; we must draw a distinction between the person himself and what he does.
  • Let us now go on to the second statement. Our attitude is meant to be not negative, but positive. Not only are we not to harbor murder and evil thoughts in our heart against another; but the commandment not to kill really means we should take positive steps to put ourselves right with our brother.
  • We have to reach the stage in which there shall be nothing wrong even in spirit between our brother and ourselves.
  • In the sight of God there is no value whatsoever in an act of worship if we harbor a known sin.
  • We must not only think in terms of our brother whom we are offending, or with whom there is something wrong, we must always think of ourselves before God.
  • His terms are very easy. They are just this, that I face and acknowledge this sin and confess it utterly and absolutely, that I stop any self-defense or self-justification, though there was provocation from this other person. I must just confess and admit it without any reservation to God. If there is something in actual practice that I can do about it I must do it at once. Then He will tell me that all is right.

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THIS & THAT and Favorite Quotes of the Week

Ben Carson Quote

  • Can I Be Forgiven If I’ve Had an Abortion? R.C. Sproul writes “Forgiveness is one of the marvels of God’s grace. Its healing power is magnificent. If a woman has been involved in abortion, God does not require that she spend the rest of her life walking around with a red “A” on her chest. He does require that she repent of her sin and come to Him for the cleansing of forgiveness. When God forgives us, we are forgiven. When God cleanses us, we are made clean. That is a cause for great celebration.”
  • What Shall We Call the Unborn? Kevin DeYoung writes “What shall we call the child in the womb? A fetus? A mystery? A mistake?”
  • How Pro-Life Christians Honor a Pro-Choice President. John Piper writes “How can we as pro-life Christians honor President Barack Obama when he supports the right to kill unborn children for any reason up through the age of viability?
  • 18 Reasons Why the Abortion Industry is Losing Its Support. George Grant writes “One scandal after another has hit the abortion industry, its medical personnel, its educators, its researchers, its lobbyists, and its administrators. As a result, its “Teflon” reputation is starting to wear a little thin and its “grand illusion” has begun to lose its luster.”
  • Free Abortion-Related Resources from Ligonier Ministries. Ligonier Ministries is offering a free course via Ligonier Connect and also (through January 31), R.C. Sproul’s ebook Abortion: A Rational Look at An Emotional Issue. 



  • Wheaton College and the Courage of Being Confessional. Trevin Wax writes “Whatever happens next, it’s clear that Hawkins has shown courage in sticking to her beliefs, even if it results in her firing. But Wheaton College has also shown courage in seeking to more clearly articulate its foundational principles, even if it results in cultural shame and mockery.”
  • Three Proposals for Racial Reconciliation in the PCA. As an elder in the PCA, I found this article by Rick Phillips of interest. He writes “Perhaps the biggest issue going into this year’s Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly will be the racial reconciliation overtures that are starting to come in from the presbyteries.”
  • Steve Taylor Talks Bill Pohlad’s Love & Mercy. Steve Taylor writes “But the Academy Award for Most Difficult Achievement in a Motion Picture would go to director Bill Pohlad’s Love & Mercy, a complex and deeply felt tribute to the genius of Brian Wilson made even more remarkable by the fact that nothing about this venture looked promising on paper.
  • Box of Lies with Adele. Did you see Adele play Box of Lies with Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show?

World Magazine Cartoon


Doug Michael Cartoon

             Doug Michael’s Cartoon of the Week

 Favorite Quotes of the Week

  • Jesus, as our King, you rule over presidential races and weather fronts. As our Savior, your name is Redeemer and your grace is enough. Scotty Smith
  • There is nothing more important in the Christian life than to realize that our union with Christ is a vital one. It is a living thing. It is not something mechanical or conceptual; it is not a thought or an idea; it is really a vital, spiritual union. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
  • The most dangerous place in the United States for a human being is inside the womb of a woman. R.C. Sproul
  • Longing indeed for that day when all are judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. Albert Mohler
  • What makes sin sin, what makes it so vile, what gives it its horrific transcendental vileness, is that it’s sin against God. D.A. Carson
  • Character is manifest in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones. Darrin Patrick
  • God relentlessly offers his grace to people who do not deserve it, seek it, or appreciate it after they have been saved by it. Tim Keller
  • Real contentment, as the Apostle Paul discovered, isn’t contingent on finances, status, or possessions. Francis Chan
  • The gospel does not exhort us to do certain things, but announces what God has done in his Son. Michael Horton
  • All who go to hell, go because of their own free will. All who go to heaven, go because of God’s sovereign will. Steven Lawson
  • Kids who grow up with legalistic pharisaism and then rebel aren’t rebelling against Christianity but against a false religion. Burk Parsons
  • If you could lose your salvation, you would. John MacArthur
  • Tolerance helps us agree to disagree but it doesn’t require us to love. Jesus commands what tolerance doesn’t, provides what tolerance can’t. Zack Eswine
  • If any man is not sure that he is in Christ, he ought not to be easy one moment until he is sure. Charles Spurgeon

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FAITH AND WORK: Connecting Sunday to Monday

Faith and Work News ~ Links to Interesting Articles

ON LEADERSHIP: Serving Leader Quote


  • 11 Ways to Think Better Thoughts. Check out this infographic of 11 ways of thinking outlined by John Maxwell from his latest book JumpStart Your Thinking that will give you a starting point to thinking better thoughts, making better decisions and, ultimately, succeeding more often in your life and work. Your thoughts are the starting place for success.
  • The Biblical Call and Plan for Productivity. Listen to this interview with Tim Challies on his excellent new book Do More Better.
  • Does God Care about Efficiency? Matt Perman writes “As with God, so also with us. Care about efficiency. But care about beauty and service most of all.”
  • jazzHow Jazz Music Teaches Us to Trust God. Bethany Jenkins interviews John Raymond, a jazz trumpeter, composer and educator about his faith and work.
  • Trust: Better to Give Than Receive. Bob Chapman writes “To get trust, you have to freely give it. This is a tough concept for many people. It’s the opposite of what we normally think. We think of trust as something to be earned. We’ll trust someone when they give us proof that they can be trusted.”
  • Calling and Work. Mark McConnell writes “You might not be a pastor, you might not be a missionary, you might not be in so-called full-time Christian service, but God has called each of us: to glorify Him in all that we do, to serve Him in all that we do, and to witness to His love and grace in Christ Jesus.”
  • 3 Ways to Make Difficult People Less Difficult. Dr. Alan Zimmerman writes “what can you do with the difficult people in your life, starting right now? After all, you may not be able to avoid all the difficult people. And you may not be able to turn every difficult person around. But there’s quite a bit you can do to make these encounters less upsetting.”
  • Four Questions to Spot the Difference Between Healthy Tension and Unhealthy Conflict Eric Geiger shares some information about tension and conflict that are in line with what Patrick Lencioni writes in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, one of my favorite business books.
  • Development. In this “Minute from Maxwell”, John Maxwell discusses development, a word that signifies improvement, making progress, growth, etc.
  • 7 Signs You’ve Become Too Busy for Your Own Good. Alli Worthington writes “But there are signs our body gives us if we’re paying attention, signs that may look different for each of us. For some the warning signs may be emotional. For others they might be physical, relational, or spiritual. But rest assured, if you are over capacity, you will soon find out— the hard way.”
  • The Secrets of Success, Week One: Health. John Maxwell begins a new series looking at “three critical decisions that impact everything else in your world. If you can win these three each day, you are on your way to living life successfully.” He begins by looking at the area of our health.
  • How to Avoid Life’s Flat Tires. In this short video, Dave Ramsey shares the seven areas of life in which you need to set goals this year . . . and every year in your future. Use the Wheel of Life as a guide for keeping your life balanced and flat-tire free.
  • Strategies for When Life Seems Aimless. In this episode of “Ask Pastor John”, John Piper addresses a question about waiting when life seems to be aimless and going nowhere, specifically when it comes to a career.

favorite quotes

  • Rise to every occasion, give our best effort, and make those around us better as we do it. John Wooden
  • The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away. Pablo Picasso
  • If your purpose hasn’t been fulfilled, that means the most important part of your life is still to come. Persist without exception! Andy Andrews
  • Celebrate and recognize your colleagues as they do things right. You can make a difference in their lives! Ken Blanchard
  • You want to do large things famous and fast. But most things that truly matter need small acts of overlooked love over a long period of time. Zack Eswine
  • Your greatest leadership moments will probably be ones that nobody else sees. Private faithfulness leads to public impact. Brad Lomenick
  • Serve God with integrity, and if you achieve no success, at least no sin will lie upon your conscience. Charles Spurgeon
  • The Bible says that our real problem is that every one of us is building our identity on something besides Jesus. Tim Keller
  • The leaders who get the most from their people are the leaders who care most about their people. Simon Sinek

Patrick Lencioni Quote

The Gospel Goes to WorkThe Gospel Goes to Work: God’s Big Canvas of Calling and Renewal by Stephen R. Graves. KJK Publishing. 168 pages. 2015

I have read a number of books about integrating our faith with our work. I enjoyed some of the unique perspectives to this issue that the author brought forward in this new book.

He tells us that the book is about work and the gospel. Not ministry work only, but every kind of work. He aims to focus on the question: What more can you and I do to engage the gospel through our work? He introduces the reader to what he calls the four-act gospel, which provides a comprehensive grid of meaning for our lives, including our work. He states that work itself is a service to God. He argues that the message about the gospel’s integration with work is needed as much now as it ever has been, if not more so.

He provides a different way of looking at the integration of faith and work. He first talks about a lowest-common-denominator application of the gospel that is relevant to all workers and all workplaces. This is what he calls the Baseline. Then, there are individualized applications of the gospel for each of us in our particular wiring and for our particular organizations. He calls this the Blue Sky.

He tells us that The Baseline is the starting point or universal minimum for all people in all environments, regardless of their personality, title, age, background, and other particulars. The Blue Sky represents the boundless horizons of what could be when someone personalizes any idea or insight.

He tells us that the gospel going to work will look different depending on where we work and what we do. He tells us that when we merge the baseline/blue sky pair with the individual/organizational pair, you get The Gospel Goes to Work Grid. It covers the whole range of workplace expressions of the gospel. He then looks at each quadrant in detail as well as four foundation stones. The four foundation stones are:

      • Foundation Stone 1: You give evidence of your calling
      • Foundation Stone 2: You display character on the job
      • Foundation Stone 3: You deliver skill consistently
      • Foundation Stone 4: You model service to others

I found his list of a “Gospel 500” (think of the Fortune 500) to be of interest. He lists organizations that would make his list in each of four regions of the Blue Sky. Among those listed that you may be familiar with are Chick Fil-A and Hobby Lobby.

He writes that we all must ask and answer, “How does the gospel go to work in my industry and especially in my particular organization?” He feels that this is the most penetrating question anyone can ask in his or her faith and work. It requires vulnerable personalization. And it demonstrates a mature faith that depends on God doing His work His way. He writes that the gospel is intended to penetrate, permeate, and alter the way we consider our work and do our work.

I enjoyed this book and its unique approach to the important issue of how we integrate our faith and work and recommend it to you.

Faith and Work Book Clubs – Won’t you read along with us?

Don't Waste Your LifeDon’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. Crossway. 192 pages. 2003  

Other than the Bible, this small book by John Piper has had the most influence on my life. It played a key role in my returning to seminary after ten years in 2005. I have read it almost each year since it was published in 2003. Listen to John Piper describe the book in this less than two-minute video.

This week we look at Chapter 7: Living to Prove He Is More Precious Than Life

  • If we walk away from risk to keep ourselves safe and solvent, we will waste our lives.
  • If we look like our lives are devoted to getting and maintaining things, we will look like the world, and that will not make Christ look great. He will look like a religious side-interest that may be useful for escaping hell in the end, but doesn’t make much difference in what we live and love here.
  • Why don’t people ask us about our hope? The answer is probably that we look as if we hope in the same things they do.
  • Jesus loves faith-filled risk for the glory of God.
  • If we want to make people glad in God, our lives must look as if God, not possessions, is our joy.
  • Sometimes I use the phrase “wartime lifestyle” or “wartime mind-set.” It tells me that there is a war going on in the world between Christ and Satan, truth and falsehood, belief and unbelief. It tells me that there are weapons to be funded and used, but that these weapons are not swords or guns or bombs but the Gospel and prayer and self-sacrificing love (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). And it tells me that the stakes of this conflict are higher than any other war in history; they are eternal and infinite: heaven or hell, eternal joy or eternal torment (Matthew 25:46).
  • One of the marks of this peacetime mind-set is what I call an avoidance ethic. In wartime we ask different questions about what to do with our lives than we do in peacetime.
  • If we are going to pay the price and take the risks it will cost to make people glad in God, we move beyond the avoidance ethic. This way of life is utterly inadequate to waken people to the beauty of Christ. Avoiding fearful trouble and forbidden behaviors impresses almost no one. The avoidance ethic by itself is not Christ-commending or God-glorifying. There are many disciplined unbelievers who avoid the same behaviors Christians do. Jesus calls us to something far more radical than that.
  • The better questions to ask about possible behaviors is: How will this help me treasure Christ more? How will it help me show that I do treasure Christ? How will it help me know Christ or display Christ? The Bible says, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). So the question is mainly positive, not negative. How can I portray God as glorious in this action? How can I enjoy making much of him in this behavior?
  • Oh, how many lives are wasted by people who believe that the Christian life means simply avoiding badness and providing for the family.
  • Television is one of the greatest life-wasters of the modern age. And, of course, the Internet is running to catch up, and may have caught up.
  • The greater problem is banality. A mind fed daily on TV diminishes. Your mind was made to know and love God.
  • Oh, that young and old would turn off the television, take a long walk, and dream about feats of courage for a cause ten thousand times more important than American democracy—as precious as that is. If we would dream and if we would pray, would not God answer? Would he withhold from us a life of joyful love and mercy and sacrifice that magnifies Christ and makes people glad in God? I plead with you, as I pray for myself, set your face like flint to join Jesus on the Calvary road.

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Influences that are at the Core of Integrating Faith and Work for Me

You may be familiar with the adage “Anything worth doing is worth doing well”. That quote is attributed to Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield, and a British statesman who lived from 1694-1773. I have always taken that sentiment to heart, whether it be in very routine things (making the bed, ironing my clothes, styling my hair, etc.) or more significant things like doing my job, loving my wife, or writing a paper at seminary. But my wife Tammy sometimes gets frustrated with me for this exact thing. For example, I always need to practice by hitting a bucket of balls before I play golf. She asks “Why can’t you just go out and have fun?” Well, unless I feel like I’m able to do my best, and feel that I am prepared to do just that, I can’t.

Right or wrong, that’s just the way I’ve always been wired. I’m certainly not trying to sanctify the way I make the bed, etc. I’ve just always tried to do my best at whatever the task is. It wasn’t until I started growing in my faith that two verses became particularly important and foundational for me as I strive to integrate my faith and work:

I have also been greatly helped by John Piper’s article “Lord-Focused Living at Work” that I first read in his 1997 book A Godward Life.  It really reflects exactly how I want to approach my work. I used to keep that article in my notebook at work (back when we carried them), and have shared it with many people that I have worked with over the years.

Piper uses another verse to illustrate his points:  Rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man,  knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. Ephesians 6:7-8

What have my two core verses and Piper’s article taught me in integrating my faith and work?

  1. I should do my work heartily. Paul says that we are to do our work “heartily”. What does that mean? Matthew Henry, a pastor and author who lived from 1662-1714, wrote about this passage that we (servants), should “Do their duty, and obey their masters’ commands, in all things consistent with duty to God their heavenly Master. They must be both just and diligent; without selfish designs, or hypocrisy and disguise.” When doing our work, we should “do all with diligence, not idly and slothfully; cheerfully, not discontented at the providence of God which put them in that relation.” I want to be diligent and content in my work, not slothful, or lazy, realizing that God has put me in the job I’m in. That’s the first reason.
  2. I should do my work to the best of my ability. Christians should be the best workers in whatever situation we are in. Why? Because we are doing our work for the Lord and what we do reflects on Him. That should be motivation enough. Piper writes that Christians should ask “How would the Lord like this done?” We should then do it in that manner to the best of our ability.
  3. I should do my work for the Lord and not for men. Let’s face it, we all have had unfair or bad supervisors from time to time. We all don’t receive the recognition and raises that we think we deserve.   Paul says that whatever we do should be done as for the Lord, and not for us. Similarly, Piper writes that all our work should be done as work for Christ, and not for any human supervisor. He states that what we are asked to do by a supervisor should generally be viewed as an appeal from the Lord. I’ve found that to be a good perspective to have.  Matthew Henry’s advice “Not discontented at the providence of God which put them in that relation” – now that’s a hard one when you have a lousy boss. Our contentment is in God as our provider, not in our circumstances.
  4. I should do my work for the glory of God. Each morning on the way to work, I pray that I would be able to effectively represent Christ and use the platform He’s given me at work. Piper writes that we should look at our work and ask “What effect will this have for the Lord’s honor?” We should do our work so that He gets the glory, not us. Piper writes that “Jesus said that when we let our light shine men will see our ‘good deeds’ and give glory to our Father in heaven. Lord-centered living does good deeds for the glory of the Lord.” May we all approach our work from a Lord-focused or Lord-centered perspective!

What about you? What verses or other resources are key for you as you do your work heartily, with quality and for the glory of God?

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Movie Review ~ Room

RoomRoom, rated R

This film is based on Emma Donoghue’s 2010 book Room: A Novel, which according to the author is not based on any specific real-life case. Donoghue also wrote the screenplay. In many ways, this is a story of a mother “Ma” (or Joy), played by Brie Larson, and her five year old son Jack, played by Jacob Tremblay.

The film is directed by Lenny Abrahamson and has been nominated for four Oscars (Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Writing and Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published), Larson has already won the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama. This is one of the better films we have seen recently, right up there with The Big Short, Spotlight and The Martian.

Room is the story of “Ma” who was kidnapped at age 17 by “Old Nick” (which throughout history has at times been a name used for the devil), played by Sean Bridgers. Since then, she has been imprisoned in a small (about 11’ x 11’) shed on “Old Nick’s” property in suburban Ohio for seven years. Ma gave birth to Jack during this period and has tried to escape at least once. The film is seen primarily through Jack’s eyes.

As the film begins, Jack is celebrating his fifth birthday. In those five years, he has never been outside of “Room”. His only outside connection is with an old television set that gets poor reception and a small skylight. In Room we also see a few tables, a bathtub, bed, toilet, pictures and books. Ma has taught him how to read and about a world she wants him to know, not all of which is true. Ma still breastfeeds Jack. To Jack, Room is reality and TV is make believe. Despite their terrible circumstances, he seems genuinely happy (he knows no other life), and has a very close relationship with his mother.

“Old Nick” comes by in the evenings to bring them groceries and to rape Ma, while Jack hides in the closet, pretending to be asleep. We don’t see the rapes, and only slightly hear the bed creaking.

Jack has never seen “Old Nick”, but one night he comes out and looks at him sleeping in the bed with Ma. When “Old Nick” wakes up and wants to touch Jack, Ma starts screaming and lashing out at “Old Nick”, who then grabs her by the throat, badly bruising it. To punish her, he turns off the power to the shed, to the point that Jack can see his breath in the air.

Seeing that “Old Nick” is getting increasingly dangerous, Ma begins to think of how she can get Jack out of Room. She also begins to tell Jack more about the real world that he doesn’t know even exists. Jack struggles to understand and believe that there is a world outside of Room.

To tell you any more about the plot would ruin it for you. Suffice to say, Larson, and even more so the now 9 year old Tremblay, deliver incredible performances     here. I felt that this was an incredibly powerful film experience.

The film is rated “R” for adult language and themes included such as sexual slavery, depression, suicide and physical and psychological struggles. It includes abuses of God’s and Jesus’ names. Despite the themes included in the film, it is a touching story of a mother and her young son. Still, it is a film best suited for mature teens and adults.

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book news

book reviews
A Doctor in the HouseA Doctor in the House by Candy Carson. Sentinel. 213 pages. 2016

Although Candy Carson has worked with her husband Ben (acclaimed neurosurgeon, author and Republican Presidential candidate), on a few recent books, this is the first book that she has written on her own. It is a loving tribute to Ben, who she first met when they were both attending Yale University in the early 1970’s. She writes that she liked Ben the day that she met him, and has loved him for more than forty years. She states that their life hasn’t been easy, but it’s been worth it. Together, they have been through poverty, tragedy, disappointments, joy, successes, and wealth. Although I knew Ben Carson’s story well from his books, I learned a lot of things about him and his family in this book that I didn’t know previously.
In this book, Candy talks about her early life – She had an alcoholic father who changed after attending Alcoholics Anonymous when she was two years old, never taking another drink after that; her baby sister Sinena died in a fire; her mother was a teacher and Candy was gifted in music – as well as telling Ben’s life story.
While at Yale, she began attending Ben’s Seventh Day Adventist Church, where she sang in the choir, as well as Bible Study (Sabbath School) and church on Saturday. She writes that it was pretty clear to anyone who knew Ben in college that he was special. She indicates that some might wish that she point out Ben’s flaws from those early years to balance out his virtues, but other than his constant teasing of her, she can’t think of anything.
Ben would go to Medical School at the University of Michigan after graduating from Yale and they scheduled their wedding for the summer after Candy graduated from Yale. They married at Ben’s church in Ann Arbor, Michigan in a simple ceremony. After that Ben was accepted for residency at Johns Hopkins, where he was the first black neurosurgery resident. She writes that in those days the average workweek for a neurosurgery resident was 130–140 hours. In 1983, the couple left for Perth, Australia to serve there for a year before returning to Johns Hopkins as attending surgeon and later the director of pediatric neurosurgery, working twelve to twenty hours a day. This put a lot of pressure on Candy as she managed their growing family.
Early on the couple was committed to helping other young people get good educations and realize their potential. They continue that commitment today with their Carson Scholar Fund organization.
Candy writes that Ben’s favorite book of the Bible is Proverbs. He reads from that book each morning and evening. She states that it helps him to focus and gives him a sense of peace.
She tells of how his address at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast (his second invitation to speak there) with his ideas about America energized people and led to a campaign for him to seek the presidency.
Candy includes tributes of Ben from others (family members, co-workers, his mentor, etc.). She writes that he has “blessed others, in his family, at work, and abroad, and has truly been blessed in return. His bosses, subordinates, friends, and former “enemies” alike praise his character, confirming that the man I see at home is the same man everywhere he goes.”
I enjoyed this quick read about Dr. Ben Carson as seen through the loving eyes of his wife Candy.

a more perfect union by ben carsonA More Perfect Union: What We the People Can Do to Reclaim Our Constitutional Liberties by Ben Carson, MD with Candy Carson. Sentinel. 256 pages. 2015.

In this new book, Dr. Ben Carson provides a layman’s introduction to the Constitution. As I had not studied the Constitution for many years, I found it to be very helpful. Throughout the book Carson weaves in stories from his own experiences and also uses it as an opportunity to share his opinions about how to improve the future of the United States.

Carson writes that unlike many of the lengthy and complex bills that are passed by Congress today, the Constitution, not counting the twenty-seven amendments, is less than seventeen pages long. He states that one of the outstanding features of the Constitution is its lack of details. He states that it is also relatively simple and easy to understand, simple enough to be understood by anyone with a basic education.

Dr. Carson states that many Americans have never read the Constitution and are unaware of the liberties it guarantees and the procedures it has set up. He shares about the history of the Constitution and about its framers. He tells the reader about the Constitution’s governing principles as they are laid out in its preamble and the structure of the Constitution. Most importantly, he states, the reader will learn what they can do to defend it.

He suggests that every American memorize the preamble and keep its principles in mind while voting, thinking that if we elect only officials who understand the Constitution and its goals, America’s future will be safe. He writes that once we understand the Constitution and our rights, we must be vigilant to make sure our leaders uphold those rights.

He ends the book with “A Call to Action”. He asks “Are we willing to stand up against the PC police? Are we willing to educate ourselves and others? We the people must be knowledgeable about our Constitution and brave enough to act upon our values, principles, and convictions.”

The complete text of the Constitution is included in the Appendix.

Although this could be looked at as a dry and boring book, I found it to be anything but that. Read this book and become familiar with what the Constitution really says. I believe it will be time well spent.

Killing ReaganKilling Reagan: The Violent Assault that Changed a Presidency by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. Henry Holt and Co. 320 pages. 2015

I have enjoyed all of the books in the Killing series by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard – Lincoln, Kennedy, Jesus, Patton and now Reagan. The books are written in the form of a fast moving novel, and until this book Bill O’Reilly had done a wonderful job reading the audiobook edition. For this book he reads only a brief Prologue and Last Word.

What you think of this book will most likely be based on how you think the authors support their thesis that John Hinkley Jr’s attempted assassination of the 40th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, then 70 years old, in 1981 could have played a pivotal role in his mental decline. Reagan died at age 93 in 2004, after ten years of decline as a result of Alzheimer’s disease.

Reagan graduated from nearby Eureka College in 1932, and about once a week I see the sign on Interstate 74 about twenty minutes from my home, touting that Eureka College was Reagan’s college home. As they do with the previous books, they not only tell us Reagan’s life story, but also that of Hinkley until their lives converge in 1981.

Reagan was a Hollywood actor who married Jane Wyman. Her career took off and his went into decline. They had a daughter (Maureen) and adopted Michael. The couple would lose an infant daughter (Christine). Wyman’s filing for divorce traumatized Reagan and led to much bad behavior on his part with many women.

Reagan increasingly showed an interest in political activism, crusading against communism in Hollywood. The authors tells us about a bitter Screen Actors Guild (SAG) strike, in which communists wanted to take over Hollywood.

Reagan would marry a pregnant (with Patti) Nancy Davis, an actress, who had lived a life of privilege. Throughout the book Nancy is portrayed as controlling, leading her (and the president’s) lives by the guidance of astrologers. The Reagan family and children are portrayed as dysfunctional.

Reagan was a Democrat who voted Republican for the first time in the 1960 Presidential election. He despised John F. Kennedy, even going forward with a planned dinner party the evening that JFK was assassinated. He would deliver a landmark speech for Barry Goldwater titled “A Time to Choose” that put him on the political map. He would later serve two terms as the Governor of California.

The authors speak much of Reagan’s strong relationship with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who ironically would end her life in mental decline. Her video-taped message at Reagan’s funeral in 2004 was her last major public address.

Reagan challenged Gerald Ford for the GOP nomination in 1976, losing a close fight. He made a powerful speech at the convention, leading, according to the authors, many Republicans to realize that they had picked the wrong candidate.

John Hinkley was obsessed with Jodie Foster who appeared in the 1976 movie Taxi Driver, which he watched numerous times. He stalked Foster during her freshman year at Yale University in 1980-1981.  

Hinkley had planned to kill President Jimmy Carter to impress Foster. He joined the Nazi Party and was arrested in an airport when they found guns. But amazingly the judge let him off with a $50 fine and court costs. He was a free man, and didn’t show up on any FBI lists of those who posed a threat to the president. Reagan was elected to the first of two presidential terms in 1980, when he defeated incumbent Jimmy Carter.

Hinkley didn’t know whether he would kill himself or Reagan to demonstrate his love for Foster. As it turns out, he was able to fire six shots from just ten feet away, hitting Reagan, and three others. Reagan at first didn’t realize he had been shot. He thought his ribs had been broken when thrown into the car. He actually walked into the hospital and then collapsed and passed out. As it turned out he nearly died, and lost half of his blood supply. Hinkley would be found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Prior to the assassination attempt the Reagans rarely went to church. He would draw closer to God after surviving the attempt.

The authors discuss Reagan’s two terms in the White House, with successes and controversies. They talk about an assessment that he was not mentally fit to be president and the possible need to invoke the 25th Amendment. They write that the White House was out of control with chaos at all levels. They write of Reagan not being engaged in permanent decline and visibly frail, napping frequently. They write that Nancy was considered to be the most powerful person in the White House (the authors give her credit for the firing of Don Regan, the president’s Chief of Staff), and consulting astrologist Joan Quigley in San Francisco regarding the president’s schedule.

After leaving the White House, Reagan was thrown from a horse in 1989 which could have accelerated his Alzheimer’s disease. He attended Richard Nixon’s funeral in 1994, where he was seen to be in physical and mental decline. This would be his last major public appearance. After that, it was primarily the family who saw him, outside of his caregivers. At the end, he didn’t recognize Nancy, his wife of 50 years, who is still alive at the age of 94.

The book ends with an update on all of the major characters in the book.

I enjoyed the book, but was not fully convinced by the authors that the failed assassination attempt started Reagan’s mental decline.

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 10: Prayer as Conversation: Meditating on His Word

  • If prayer is to be a true conversation with God, it must be regularly preceded by listening to God’s voice through meditation on the Scripture.
  • The Psalms are the prayer book of the Bible, but it is noteworthy that the first Psalm is not a prayer per se but a meditation.
  • There is a “middle ground,” however, between prayer and Bible study, a kind of bridge between the two. While deep experiences of the presence and power of God can happen in innumerable ways, the ordinary way for going deeper spiritually into prayer is through meditation on Scripture.
  • While deep experiences of the presence and power of God can happen in innumerable ways, the ordinary way for going deeper spiritually into prayer is through meditation on Scripture.
  • According to Psalm 1, meditation promises at least three things. The first is stability. The person experienced in meditation is like a tree rooted so that wind cannot blow it away.
  • Meditation, then, is what gives you stability, peace, and courage in times of great difficulty, adversity, and upheaval.
  • Meditation also brings the promise of substance, of character.
  • Persons who meditate become people of substance who have thought things out and have deep convictions, who can explain difficult concepts in simple language, and who have good reasons behind everything they do.
  • Meditation bears fruit, which in the Bible means character traits such as love, joy, peace, patience, humility, self-control (Gal 5:22ff). Real meditation, then, does not merely make us feel “close to God” but changes our life.
  • Finally, meditation brings blessedness—a very fulsome idea in the Bible. It means peace and well-being in every dimension. It means character growth, stability, and delight (Ps 1:2). Meditating on the law of the Lord, the Scripture, moves us through duty toward joy. The biblical promises for meditation are enormous.
  • There is no better way to meditate on a verse and draw out all the aspects, implications, and richness of its meaning than to memorize it.
  • Meditate is to ask yourself questions about the truth, such as: “Am I living in light of this? What difference does this make? Am I taking this seriously? If I believed and held to this, how would that change things? When I forget this, how does that affect me and all my relationships?” In every case, meditation means to use the mind intensely.
  • Meditation means to use the mind intensely.
  • Meditation on a text of the Bible assumes that, through study and interpretation, you already know something about what the text means. You can’t reflect on or enjoy what you don’t understand.
  • To understand a section of Scripture means answering two basic questions about it. First, what did the original author intend to convey to his readers in this passage? Second, what role does this text play in the whole Bible; how does it contribute to the gospel message and move along the main narrative arc of the Bible, which climaxes in the salvation of Jesus Christ?
  • Unless you first do the hard work of answering those questions about a text, your meditations won’t be grounded in what God is actually saying in the passage.
  • A great number of books advise “divine reading” of the Bible today, and define the activity uncarefully as reading “not for information but to hear a personal word of God to you.” This presents a false contrast.
  • Biblical meditation is founded on the work of sound biblical interpretation and study.
  • Meditation is spiritually “tasting” the Scripture—delighting in it, sensing the sweetness of the teaching, feeling the conviction of what it tells us about ourselves, and thanking God and praising God for what it shows us about him. Meditation is also spiritually “digesting” the Scripture—applying it, thinking out how it affects you, describes you, guides you in the most practical way. It is drawing strength from the Scripture, letting it give you hope, using it to remember how loved you are. To shift metaphors, meditation is taking the truth down into our hearts until it catches fire there and begins to melt and shape our reactions to God, ourselves, and the world.
  • The British theologian John Owen believed there are three basic movements or stages within meditation. It is distinguished from the study of the word, wherein our principal aim is to learn the truth, or to declare it unto others; and so also from prayer, whereof God himself is the immediate object. But . . . meditation . . . is the affecting of our own hearts and minds with love, delight, and [humility].
  • The first stage, which is selecting and getting a clear view—“fixing the thoughts”—of a truth from the Bible:
  • There are many traditional ways to get such a clear view of a text. One is to read the biblical text slowly, answering four questions: What does this teach me about God and his character? About human nature, character, and behavior?
  • One is to read the biblical text slowly, answering four questions: What does this teach me about God and his character? About human nature, character, and behavior? About Christ and his salvation? About the church, or life in the people of God?
  • Another fruitful approach to meditation is to ask application questions. Look within the passage: for any personal examples to emulate or avoid, for any commands to obey, for any promises to claim, and for any warnings to heed.
  • Another approach to meditating on the Scripture, especially with a short passage, is to take one crucial verse and think through it by emphasizing each word. Ask what each word uniquely contributes to the meaning of the text, or what meaning would be lost from the statement if that particular word were removed.
  • Another way to fix the mind on the truth of the passage is to paraphrase the verse in your own words. Read the verse(s) and close the Bible and try to restate it. Then look back at the passage and you will see how much you missed. Do this until you are satisfied with your paraphrase. This kind of meditation forces you to think more deeply about the text than you would otherwise. Paraphrase the verse in your own words. Read the verse(s) and close the Bible and try to restate it.
  • A final way to meditate on a text is to memorize it.
  • After engaging the mind, John Owen says the second part of meditation is inclining the heart. After engaging the mind to clearly see what we are being taught about God, Christ, salvation, eternity, and our own state, we must then seek to incline the heart until its hope and joy more fully rests in those things.
  • It means seeing how God’s truth should be affecting you, your life, and all your relationships—and then pleading and preaching to your heart until it connects to the truth and begins to turn away from its false hopes and to change its attitudes, feelings, and commitments.
  • How do you do this practically? One way is Martin Luther’s approach. After fixing the truth in the mind as instruction, he asks how it shows you something about the character of God for which you can praise him, something wrong about yourself for which you can repent, and something that is needed for which you can petition him. In each case, Luther is working the truth into his relationship to God, to himself, and to the world.
  • Another way of discerning how a truth can change you is to look more deeply at yourself.
  • A final way you can discern how a scriptural truth should change you is by considering the timing of your insight. Why might God be showing this to you today? What is going on now in your life to which this would be relevant?
  • What, then, is the third stage of meditation?
  • It may be that the heart senses the presence of God and the realities of his salvation in a moving way. Owen calls us, then, to stop and savor it.
  • He admits that sometimes, no matter what we do, we simply cannot concentrate, or we find our thoughts do not become big and affecting, but rather we feel bored, hard, and distracted. Then, Owen says, simply turn to God and make brief, intense appeals for help. Sometimes that is all you will do the rest of your scheduled time, and sometimes the very cries for help serve to concentrate the mind and soften the heart.
  • Meditation means analyzing the truth with the mind; bringing it into the feelings, attitudes, and commitments of the heart; and then responding to the degree to which the Holy Spirit gives illumination and spiritual reality.
  • Meditation is thinking a truth out and then thinking a truth in.
  • Jesus is supremely the one also on whom we meditate, because he is the meditation of God. He is God’s truth become “real,” made concrete, and applied. He is the one who enables us to stand in the Judgment Day. He is the one who gives us the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22). We must both meditate on him and with him, and then, not only will Psalm 1 come to life in new ways, but we will become unshakable trees, as he was.
  • Meditate on the righteousness we have in Christ through his sacrificial death.
  • Meditate on Jesus, who is the ultimate meditation of God. Look at him loving you. Look at him dying for you. Look at him rejoicing in you. Look at him singing over you (Zeph 3:17). Look at all that, and he will be a delight to you, and then the law will be a delight to you, and you will be like a tree planted by streams of water. You’ll bear your fruit in season, and no matter what will happen, your leaf will not wither.

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 20: The Letter and the Spirit

  • He expounds the relationship of the Christian to the law in two respects. He gives us His own positive exposition of the law, and He also contrasts it with the false teaching of the scribes and Pharisees. Indeed, there is a sense in which it can be said that the whole of the remainder of this Sermon, from verse 21 right through to the end of chapter seven is nothing but an elaboration of that fundamental proposition, that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees if we are indeed to be citizens of the kingdom of heaven.
  • In V.21-48, then, our Lord is concerned mainly to give a true account of the law. He does this by putting forward a series of six particular statements.
  • I do not hesitate to suggest that our Lord was really more concerned about these common principles than He was about the particulars. In other words, He lays down certain principles and then illustrates them.
  • The first thing we must consider is the formula which He uses: `Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time’. What our Lord is really doing here is showing the true teaching of the law over against the false representations of it made by the Pharisees and the scribes.
  • We must also consider this other extraordinary statement: ‘I say unto you’. This is, of course, one of the most crucial statements with regard to the doctrine of the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. He does not hesitate here to set Himself up as the authority. He claims to speak as God.
  • Everything we have in this Sermon on the Mount must be accepted as coming from the Son of God Himself.
  • Let us once and for all get rid of the idea that our Lord came to set up a new law, or to announce a new code of ethics. It is not meant to be a detailed code of ethics; it is not a new kind of moral law which was given by Him.
  • Now it is characteristic of human nature that we always prefer to have things cut and dried rather than have them in the form of principles. That is why certain forms of religion are always popular.
  • But it is not at all like that under the New Testament dispensation. However, we still tend to like this sort of thing.
  • If you take the Sermon on the Mount with these six detailed statements and say, `As long as I do not commit adultery-and so on-I am all right’, you have entirely missed our Lord’s point. It is not a code of ethics.
  • The gospel of Jesus Christ does not treat us like that. It does not treat us as children. It is not another law, but something which gives us life. It lays down certain principles and asks us to apply them. Its essential teaching is that we are given a new outlook and understanding which we must apply with respect to every detail of our lives.
  • Our Lord’s chief desire was to show the true meaning and intent of the law, and to correct the erroneous conclusions which had been drawn from it by the Pharisees and scribes and all the false notions which they had founded upon it. These, I suggest, are the principles. First, it is the spirit of the law that matters primarily, not the letter only.
  • That does not mean of course that the letter does not matter; but it does mean that we must put the spirit before it and interpret the letter according to the spirit.
  • Now take a second principle, which is really another way of putting the first. Conformity to the law must not be thought of in terms of actions only. Thoughts, motives and desires are equally important. The law of God is concerned as much with what leads to the action as it is with the action itself.
  • The scribes and Pharisees were concerned only about the act of adultery or the act of murder. But our Lord was at pains to emphasize to them that it is the desire in man’s heart and mind to do these things that is really and ultimately reprehensible in the sight of God.
  • The next principle we can put in this form. The law must be thought of not only in a negative manner, but also positively. The ultimate purpose of the law is not merely to prevent our doing certain things that are wrong; its real object is to lead us positively, not only to do that which is right, but also to love it.
  • The fourth principle is that the purpose of the law as expounded by Christ is not to keep us in a state of obedience to oppressive rules, but to promote the free development of our spiritual character.
  • That, in turn, brings us to the fifth principle which is that the law of God, and all these ethical instructions of the Bible, must never be regarded as an end in themselves. We must never think of them as something to which we just have to try to conform. The ultimate objective of all this teaching is that you and I might come to know God.
  • The one test which you must always apply to yourself is this, `What is my relationship to God? Do I know Him? Am I pleasing Him?’
  • `Has God been supreme in my life today? Have I lived to the glory and the honor of God? Do I know Him better? Have I a zeal for His honor and glory? Has there been anything in me that has been unlike Christ-thoughts, imaginations, desires, impulses?’
  • Examine yourself in the light of a living Person and not merely in terms of a mechanical code of rules and regulations.
  • Discipline in the Christian life is a good and essential thing. But if your main object and intent is to conform to the discipline that you have set for yourself it may very well be the greatest danger to your soul.

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Music News:NTB with Alan Rickman

  • NEEDTOBREATHE with Alan Rickman. Alan Rickman died last week at the age of 69. He was best known for his role as Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films. Here he is in a 2006 photo with NEEDTOBREATHE.
  • Wow to the Deadness. I’ve been enjoying listening to the new EP Wow to the Deadness from Steve Taylor (long one of my favorite artists), and the Danielson Foil. It should be available on iTunes and other outlets in February.
  • “Warrior” by Steven Curtis Chapman. Here’s the video of “Warrior”, which Steven Curtis Chapman wrote for the film War Room.
  • New Switchfoot Website. As the band works on their tenth album, they’ve launched a new website. Check it out.

Song of the Week God and God Alone by Chris Tomlin

This new song from Chris Tomlin is from the new Passion album Salvation’s Tide is Rising. Watch him perform it at the 2016 Passion Conference.

One Church, one Faith, one anthem raised
God and God alone
One cross, one grace, one name that saves us all
All praise to You belongs
All praise to You belongs

We lift You higher, higher, God and God alone
Your name be louder, louder than any other song
You are forever seated on Your throne
You are forever God and God alone

Who else can wash our sin away?
God and God aloneGod and God Alone
Who else can raise us from the grave?
All praise to You belongs
Jesus, all praise to You belongs

We lift You higher, higher, God and God alone
Your name be louder, louder than any other song
You are forever seated on Your throne
You are forever God and God alone

And what could separate us from this amazing love?
What could say it’s greater than our God?
Every knee will bow down oh
And what could separate us from this amazing love?
What could say it’s greater than our God?
Every knee will bow down, every knee will bow down

We lift You higher, higher, God and God alone
Your name be louder, louder than any other song
You are forever seated on Your throne
You are forever God and God alone

And what could separate us from this amazing love?
What could say it’s greater than our God?
Every knee will bow down oh
And what could separate us from this amazing love?
What could say it’s greater than our God?
Every knee will bow down, every knee will bow down