Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

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book reviews

The Blessing of HumilityThe Blessing of Humility: Walk within Your Calling by Jerry Bridges. NavPress. 144 pages. 2016
****

This is the final book written by Jerry Bridges, who died on March 6 at the age of 86. His books have meant a great deal to me over the years, from The Pursuit of Holiness to this final volume.

Bridges writes that the real value of this book (on the Beatitudes taught by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount), comes as you read each chapter reflectively and prayerfully. He suggests that we ask God to help us see ourselves as we really are in the light of each of the character traits covered in the eight Beatitudes. Then, ask God to help us grow in the areas where we see ourselves to be most needy. The character traits in the Beatitudes, which constitute the major portion of this book, are all expressions of what Bridges calls “humility in action.”

Bridges writes that the character trait of humility is the second-most frequently taught trait in the New Testament, second only to love, and that all other character traits, in one way or another, are built upon love and humility.  He looks at the Beatitudes as expressions of Christian character that are a description of humility in action.  He states that all Christians are meant to display these characteristics, and that a life of humility is not an option for a believer to choose or reject. It is a command of God.  He tells us that if we want to apply the Bible’s teaching to our daily lives, we cannot ignore the call to live our ordinary lives in a spirit of humility.

In the eight short chapters of the book, Bridges looks at how humility expresses itself in the different circumstances and people we encounter as we live out our daily lives in a broken and sin-cursed world. The Beatitudes offer a portrait of humility in action, something which God commands and which God promises to bless. He states that it is impossible to truly walk in humility without to some degree appropriating the truth of the gospel every day, which he refers to as “preaching the gospel to ourselves every day”.

The book includes a helpful Discussion Guide, with questions developed by Bob Bevington.  This would be a wonderful book to read and discuss with others in a book club setting.

I Used to Be LittleI Used to Be Little by Donna Marie England
****

I first met the author many years ago when she was a nurse at the organization that I still work at. In fact she writes that her career path into nursing may have been influenced by the second-grade program she and her classmates participated in as polio vaccine pioneers. I’ve gotten to know her more as the years have gone on as we attend the same church.

The book is a collection of true stories from the author’s childhood, mostly up to age 7, though she does share about getting a bicycle at age ten and later learning to drive a car. The author originally wrote the stories out by hand and was going to share them with each of her grandchildren. After her husband read them, he suggested that they put them into book form to be shared more widely. Their granddaughter, a recent university graduate in art and design, designed the book cover.

The author was born in 1946 to John Courtland Ranson and Elsie Marie Wachs in Evansville, Indiana. She writes that toys were few, but always special.  She writes about both happy and sad events during this season of her life.

The author includes photos that go along with many of the stories, adding to the reader experience. The stories show the foundations of the author’s strong Christian faith. She writes “Now it was not long after this that in our kitchen a conversation occurred in which I was told by Mother that I, even I, was a sinner. I went to Sunday school, got pins and paper for attendance and for the life-of-me did not understand this sudden pronouncement. I count that time as the real start of my journey to get to know Jesus. Mother knew Him well. And all who got to know her got to know Him too.”

In these stories originally intended for her own grandchildren, of her own grandparents her fondest memory was looking for them one evening to say good night and finding them on their knees in prayer beside their bed in their small bedroom. She write that it was then that she realized those many church attendance pins they had collected represented their allegiance and faith in God.

I could relate to her story about draining transistor radio batteries by falling asleep to rock and roll music and the battery being dead in the morning, though for me it was listening to St. Louis Cardinal baseball games, promising my Mom that I would definitely turn off the radio before falling asleep.

The author has a gift for storytelling. I hope she continues with a further volumes in her story.

The Cardinals WayThe Cardinals Way: How One Team Embrace Tradition and Moneyball at the Same Time by Howard Megdal. Thomas Dunne Books. 304 pages. 2016
****

Although most will see this as a sports book, it’s really more of a leadership book about how to run and transform an organization that happens to be a sports team.  I was interested in it because I’m a big St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan. I was impressed at the access that the author had to key personnel, including the team’s managing partner and chairman (Bill DeWitt Jr.) and General Manager (John Mozeliak).  Megdal’s writing style reminded me positively of the writing of John Feinstein, as he does an excellent job in helping you to get to know the characters involved. If I had a criticism, it would be that he sometimes goes into too much detail, especially leading up to and during the 2014 draft, that some readers may not care about. But that’s a minor criticism.

Although the Cardinals have been a very successful franchise over the past twenty years, the author shows that the values of the franchise have been in place for a much longer time. In fact, he states that the phrase “The Cardinals Way” comes from a manual, written originally by George Kissell, a coach whom the Cardinals employed from 1940 until his death in 2008. The author’s main point is that the Cardinals of today are both the manifestation of a vision Branch Rickey had a hundred years ago, and how much of the team’s current business model both fits what Rickey envisioned and is practiced by direct followers of Rickey himself. The book details how it happened – “from Rickey and DeWitt to DeWitt and Mozeliak. Here’s how it happened, from George Kissell’s insight and training to Jeff Luhnow’s, Sig Mejdal’s and Michael Girsch’s revolution to Dan Kantrovitz and Gary LaRocque’s implementation. And here’s how it works in practice, as seen through the eyes of players and coaches, scouts and analytics experts, operating the Cardinals Way at all levels of the farm system right now.”  He writes that although “The Cardinals Way” is almost a hundred years old, both the deep connection with young players and reliance on new data doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.

The author begins by looking at Branch Rickey, best known for his role in bringing Jackie Robinson to the major leagues, as the inventor of the farm system. Rickey spent twenty-five years with the Cardinals from 1917 to 1942. Megdal states that the foundation for how the Cardinals, and ultimately, every major league team acquired and developed talent came from Rickey himself.  During his time with the Browns, Rickey, in need of an administrative assistant, hired a thirteen-year-old peanut vendor at Sportsman’s Park to be his new assistant: Bill DeWitt Sr. He would ultimately become the first “farm director” in Major League Baseball history.

Another key figure in this story is George Kissell. Rickey signed Red Schoendienst and Kissell. The two men taught generations of Cardinals’ players and coaches who are helping the Cardinals win to this day.

Another key figure in the story is Jeff Luhnow, who was at the time hired by the Cardinals as a business-consulting specialist.  The organizational change that he would bring to the club, supported by DeWitt, around the marriage of analytics and scouting would sharply conflict with the proven ways of General Manager Walt Jocketty.  Luhnow, the General Manager of the Houston Astros, worked for the Cardinals in their scouting department from 2003 through 2011. The organizational conflict would eventually result in Jocketty being fired in 2007, after having just won the World Series in 2006, during which the organization was operating on parallel, often contradictory tracks.

The author briefly touches on an investigation by the F.B.I. and Justice Department into Cardinals’ personnel hacking into an internal network of the Houston Astros to steal information about players. The book went to press while that story was still developing.

The author points out the adaptability of the organization in that over the past twenty years, the Cardinals have had one owner, two general managers, and two managers. They don’t believe they’ve figured out anything that won’t require continual innovation to stay ahead of the competition. During that time they have won with the twentieth-century model, under Walt Jocketty, and the twenty-first-century model, under John Mozeliak. They won with an older, experienced field manager in Tony La Russa, and a young manager in Mike Matheny.

This book will most likely primarily be of interest to baseball fans, specifically Cardinal fans. But I would also recommend it to leadership interested in leading and transforming organizations.

book news

Making Sense of God by Tim KellerHidden Christmas by Tim Keller

  • Two New Tim Keller Books! A new Tim Keller book is always good news, but how about two of them? Making Sense of God, a Reason for God prequel, will be out September 20. Hidden Christmas will be out October 25. Happy reading!
  • Albert Mohler’s Summer Reading List.  Albert Mohler writes “My summer reading stack has multiplied into stacks, but in this list I share ten that I have found particularly interesting, timely, and worth the investment of summer hours. As usual for this annual list, the books are non-fiction and tilted toward history.”
  • When a Black Man Cries “We Suffer”, He Must Not Be Dismissed. Here is an excerpt from Scott Sauls’ contribution to the new book Heal Us Emmanuel.
  • Center for Faith and Work Summer Reading Recommendations. Check out these summer reading recommendations, including Os Guinness’ The Call and Paul Miller’s The Praying Life.
  • Core Christianity. Tim Challies reviews Michael Horton’s excellent new book Core Christianity. He writes “Core Christianity immediately takes its place as one of my favorite introductions to the Christian faith. It is one I will recommend often and distribute widely. Scot McKnight observes that it is fit for today’s generation in much the way John Stott’s Basic Christianity was fit for his generation. I couldn’t agree more.”
  • Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes. My friend Kevin Halloran reviews Nancy Pearcey’s book Finding Truth. He writes “Not many books impact me like Finding TruthFinding Truth drove me to worship as I contemplated the infinite wisdom of God and drove me to prayer as I thought about the spiritual warfare and bondage behind faulty worldviews.”
  • Book Briefs. Kevin DeYoung shares a few comments about some of the books he’s been reading over the past couple months, including John Piper’s excellent new book in his Swans are Not Silent series A Camaraderie of Confidence: The Fruit of Unfailing Faith in the Lives of Charles Spurgeon, George Muller, and Hudson Taylor.
  • Two Fantastic Books on Leadership. Dave Kraft provides an overview of A Passion for Leadership by Robert Gates and Work Rules by Laszlo Bock.
  • For the Glory. Tim Challies reviews the new book entitled For the Glory: Eric Liddell’s Journey from Olympic Champion to Modern Martyr by Duncan Hamilton. He writes that despite a few minor quibbles, it is “otherwise a brilliant book—one of 2016’s must-read biographies.”
  • Wisdom for You Summer: Best Books of 2016. J.D. Greear shares these recommendations from books that he has read the past six months.
  • Rescuing the Gospel. Tim Challies reviews the new book Rescuing the Gospel: The Story and Significance of the Reformation.by Erwin Lutzer. He writes “Rescuing the Gospel is an excellent introduction to the Reformation—easily one of the best I’ve read.”
  • Summer Reading Suggestions. David Murray shares a selection of his non-fiction summer reading over the past few years.
  • A Peculiar Glory. John Piper’s A Peculiar Glory is on my summer reading list. Watch this interview with Michael Reeves (who I was first introduced to at the 2016 Ligonier National Conference) about the book.
  • The Faith of Christopher Hitchens. Tim Challies reviews the new book The Faith of Christopher Hitchens by Larry Taunton. He writes “The Faith of Christopher Hitchens is a fascinating exploration and explanation of a very important figure. It describes and models the kind of friendship that Christians can and should have even with the most formidable opponents of their faith. It is a story worth telling and one that Taunton tells with great skill.”
  • On My Shelf: Life and Books with Scott Sauls. Matt Smethurst talks to Scott Sauls about what’s on his nightstand, books that have shaped him, his favorite fiction, what he’s learning, and more.
  • Must-Read Books for the Summer. Steve Graves shares the books he plans to read this summer.

What books do you plan to read this summer?
Click on ‘Leave a Comment’ and share them with the rest of us!

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 complete our review of this excellent book by looking at

Chapter 15: Practice: Daily Prayer

  • Paul said we should “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17), meaning that we should, if possible, do everything all day with conscious reference to God. This kind of spontaneous and constant prayer during the day should be a habit of the heart. We will never develop it, however, unless we take up the discipline of regular, daily prayer.
  • In the 1930s and ’40s, British and Australian evangelical leaders produced a short booklet entitled Quiet Time: A Practical Guide for Daily Devotions. At the heart of the most practical part of Quiet Time is a summary of some of the prayer practices of George Mueller (1805–98), a well-known German Baptist minister and founder of orphanages, who lived most of his life in England.
  • He had a set of questions that he asked of a text, which echoed Luther’s own. Quiet Time listed them prominently: Is there any example for me to follow? Is there any command for me to obey? Is there any error for me to avoid? Is there any sin for me to forsake? Is there any promise for me to claim? Is there any new thought about God Himself?
  • After Bible study and meditation, prayer is outlined as first approaching God in confession of our sins, then responding with thanks and praise for our salvation via the cross. After praise comes intercession for others and finally petition for our own needs.
  • Many have found the traditional evangelical Quiet Time—with its emphasis on interpretive Bible study and petitionary prayer—to be too rationalistic an exercise. In response, and with desire for greater experience of God, many Protestants have turned to more Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions, including lectio divina, contemplative prayer, and fixed hours of liturgical prayer.
  • No reader of this book will be surprised by now to hear me say that I think we could learn more from the prayer practices of Protestant theologians of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. If we look back to those writers as we have been doing throughout this book, I see several important changes to make.
  • I believe prayer should be more often than the classic once-daily Quiet Time.
  • To frame the day, there seems to be unanimity from the Christian past in all its branches that we should turn our thoughts to God at set times more than once during a twenty-four-hour period. I agree with most Protestant churches that twice a day is good, though we cannot be too insistent on one schedule. I personally find morning and evening prayer the best for me, but I also try to sometimes practice a brief, midday “stand-up” time of focused prayer to reconnect to my morning prayer insights.
  • I believe daily prayer should be more biblical, that is, more grounded in systematic Bible reading and study and in disciplined meditation on passages.
  • Systematic, consecutive reading of the Bible should precede or accompany prayer.
  • Daily prayer in private should be more interwoven with the corporate prayer of the church. Many churches today, especially those with what is called contemporary worship, give congregants almost no help with prayer at all in this way. This means that many Christians today will have to search out such prayers, and that is where Cranmer’s matchless “collects” as well as other resources, such as Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours or Arthur Bennett’s The Valley of Vision, can be helpful.
  • Finally, daily prayer should include meditation, not just Bible study, and in general we should be much more expectant of experience in the full range.
  • The most practical question of all, then, is “How do you actually spend time in prayer?” I suggest this framework—evocation, meditation, Word prayer, free prayer, and contemplation.
  • To evoke means “to bring to mind,” though it also can include invocation, calling on God.
  • To respond to God in prayer, we must listen to his Word. This means taking time to meditate on some portion of the Bible as a bridge into prayer.
  • For those starting out in the Christian life, therefore, it would be best to set aside some regular time—apart from daily prayer—for serious study of the Bible. That way the Bible gradually becomes less and less of a strange, confusing jumble of ideas, and it becomes easier to read and meditate on it every day.
  • The actual order in your daily devotion would then be like this: first evocation, then Bible reading and meditation, and then on to prayer.
  • Word prayer. From Martin Luther we get an important step in daily prayer that is often overlooked. After meditating on the Scripture, Luther takes time to “pray the text” before
  • Use Luther’s approach to meditation—discovering something in the text as a basis for praising, repenting, and aspiring.
  • “Praying the Psalms” is an important and time-honored way to do Word prayer.
  • Luther’s favorite way to pray a text of Scripture has been treated earlier. He advises that the person praying take the Lord’s Prayer and paraphrase each petition in his or her own words, filling it out with the concerns on his or her heart that day. I believe this is perhaps the single best way to bridge from the Word into prayer because, of course, the Lord’s Prayer is Jesus’ own comprehensive model. I advise doing this at least once a week as part of this step in your daily prayer pattern.
  • Free prayer. Free prayer means simply to pour out your heart in prayer. Nevertheless, nearly all sound guides remind us to give thought to balance our prayers among the three forms—adoration and thanksgiving, confession and repentance, petition and intercession.
  • Do not rapidly run down a “grocery list” but instead lift each cause to God with theological reasoning and self-examination.
  • Edwards described contemplation as times when we not only know God is holy, but when we sense—“see” and “taste”—that he is so in our hearts. Luther described it as a time in which he finds himself getting “lost” in some aspect of God’s truth or character.
  • [So] if the Holy Spirit should come and begin to preach to your heart, giving you rich and enlightened thoughts . . . be quiet and listen to him.
  • Take the best thought we received about God, then praise and thank him for it and for who he is, and finally ask God sincerely to come near and show us his face in his good time.
  • What follows are two plans for daily prayer, one more full and challenging and one simpler for those starting out. Don’t be intimidated by these plans. Follow the steps in the outline—approaching (evocation), meditation, Word prayer, free prayer, contemplation—without feeling the need to do all the specific proposals or answer all the questions within each part. Prayer will grow and draw you in.
  • From earliest times, the Christian church adopted the Psalms of the Old Testament to be its prayer book.
  • What does it mean to pray the Psalms or turn them into prayer? There are innumerable ways to do it, but here are some methods that have profited many. One has been called verbatim praying. Many of the Psalms are already written as prayers direct from the author to God, so we can simply “pray the words as they lay.”
  • The second, perhaps most common way to pray, is to paraphrase and personalize the Psalm.
  • A third basic kind of Psalm praying is sometimes called responsive praying.
  • In this method we take themes and statements and let them stimulate adoration, confession, and supplication.
  • Learn to pray the Psalms with Jesus in mind. Remember that Jesus would have actually sung and prayed the Psalms through his entire life.
  • There are a number of very obviously Messianic Psalms that give us particularly rich views of Christ.

Next, we’ll be looking at Scott Saul’s fine book Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides. Won’t you join us?

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 One from Volume 2, Living the Righteous Life

  • We come now to quite a new section, and it runs right through this sixth chapter. Here we have what we may well call a picture of the Christian living his life in this world in the presence of God, in active submission to God, and in entire dependence upon Him. Or, to put it in another way, this section presents a picture of the children in relationship to their Father as they wend their way on this pilgrimage called life.
  • The chapter reviews our life as a whole, and it considers it under two main aspects. The first is what we may call our religious life, the culture and nurture of the soul, our piety, our worship, the whole religious aspect of our life, and everything that concerns our direct relationship to God. The second picture is that of the Christian in his relationship to life in general, not so much as a purely religious being now, but as a man who is subject to `the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’, a man who is concerned about food and drink, clothing and shelter, who may have a family and children to bring up, and who therefore is subject to what is called in the Scriptures `the cares of this world’.
  • Those are the two great divisions of this chapter, the directly religious part of the Christian life, and the mundane.
  • There is no greater fallacy than to imagine that the moment a man is converted and becomes a Christian, all his problems are solved and all his difficulties vanish. The Christian life is full of difficulties, full of pitfalls and snares. That is why we need the Scriptures. They would have been unnecessary but for that.
  • I sometimes think that it is one of the most uncomfortable chapters to read in the entire Scriptures. It probes and examines and holds a mirror up before us, and it will not allow us to escape. There is no chapter which is more calculated to promote self-humbling and humiliation than this particular one.
  • He goes on to give us three illustrations of that principle, in the matters of almsgiving, praying and fasting. There, ultimately, is the whole of one’s religious life and practice.
  • Let us consider this in the form of a number of subsidiary principles. The first of these is this-the delicate nature of the Christian life. The Christian life is always a matter of balance and poise.
  • Let us never forget this, the Christian at one and the same time is to be attracting attention to himself, and yet not attracting attention to himself.
  • The second subsidiary principle is that the ultimate choice is always the choice between pleasing self and pleasing God.
  • According to our Lord it comes to this: man by nature desires the praise of man more than the praise of God.
  • That brings us to the next subsidiary principle which perhaps is the most important of all. The supreme matter in this life and world for all of us is to realize our relationship to God.
  • The second thing which we have to remember in this connection is that we are always in the presence of God. We are always in His sight. He sees our every action, indeed our every thought.
  • The next subsidiary principle concerns rewards. Here He indicates that it is quite right to seek the reward which God gives.
  • Concern about rewards is legitimate and is even encouraged by the New Testament. The New Testament teaches us that there will be a `judgment of rewards’.
  • The second thing about rewards is this. There is no reward from God for those who seek it from men. This is a terrifying thought but it is an absolute statement.
  • Let us now consider briefly what our Lord has to say about this particular matter with respect to almsgiving. The wrong way to do this is to announce it. Do not announce to others in any shape or form what you are doing. That is obvious. But this is less obvious: Do not even announce it to yourself. That is difficult.
  • How is this to be done? There is only one answer, and that is that we should have such a love for God that we have no time to think about ourselves. Let us keep our eyes upon the ultimate, let us remember that we are always in the presence and sight of God, and let us live only to please Him.

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Author: Bill Pence

I’m Bill Pence. I’m married to my best friend. I’m a St. Louis Cardinals fan, a manager at a Fortune 100 company, a graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary, and in leadership at my local church. I am a life-long learner and have a passion to help people determine their callings, develop to their fullest potential and to utilize their strengths more fully. My favorite book is the Bible, and some other favorite books are Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper, The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul and Crazy Love by Francis Chan.

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