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Book Reviews

the-chief-exercise-of-prayer-by-john-calvinThe Chief Exercise of Faith: John Calvin on Prayer (From The Institutes) by John Calvin. 84 pages. 2016

This small book is an excerpt of Henry Beveridge’s 1845 translation of John Calvin’s classic work Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 20. The book is broken down into 52 individual sections. As an example, Section 2 is on prayer defined, its necessity and use.

Calvin covers many aspects of prayer in this short but exhaustive book on prayer. Here are ten of the topics or thoughts from Calvin that I highlighted as I read the book:

  1. The true object of prayer is to carry our thoughts directly to God, whether to celebrate his praise or implore his aid.
  2. God is to be invoked only in the name of Christ. We pray to God in the name of Christ alone.
  3. The Lord’s Prayer contains everything that we can or ought to ask of God.
  4. The rules of prayer. Let the first rule of right prayer then be, to have our heart and mind framed as becomes those who are entering into converse with God.
  5. One of the requisites of legitimate prayer is repentance.
  6. The suppression of all pride. He who comes into the presence of God to pray must divest himself of all vainglorious thoughts, lay aside all idea of worth; in short, discard all self- confidence, humbly giving God the whole glory, lest by arrogating anything, however little, to himself, vain pride cause him to turn away his face.
  7. The laws of prayer. It is also of importance to observe, that the four laws of prayer of which I have treated are not so rigorously enforced, as that God rejects the prayers in which he does not find perfect faith or repentance, accompanied with fervent zeal and wishes duly framed.
  8. Christ is the only Mediator between God and man. It is manifest sacrilege to offer prayer to others.
  9. The principle we must always hold is, that in all prayer, public and private, the tongue without the mind must be displeasing to God.
  10. An exposition of the Lord’s Prayer, which is divided into six petitions. Subdivision into two principal parts, the former referring to the glory of God, the latter to our salvation.

There is much wisdom from Calvin about the subject of prayer in these pages. Highly recommended.

Andrew Fuller by John PiperAndrew Fuller: Holy Faith, Worthy Gospel, World Mission by John Piper. Crossway. 64 pages. 2016

Over the years I’ve enjoyed reading John Piper’s biographies of figures from church history, be they in his excellent Swans are Not Silent series or in short standalone books such as this one. Many of these biographies would have their roots in Piper’s addresses at his annual Pastor’s conference.

Andrew Fuller’s primary impact on history has been the impetus that his life and thought gave to modern missions, specifically through the Baptist Missionary Society’s sending of William Carey to India in 1793. This was with the support of Fuller, the society’s first secretary. The sending of William Carey and his team to India was the beginning of the modern missionary movement which Piper calls the most important historical development in the last two hundred years.

Fuller died on May 7, 1815, at the age of sixty-one. He had been the pastor of the Baptist church in Kettering for thirty-two years. He had no formal theological training but became the leading theological spokesman for the Particular Baptists in his day.

During his forty years of pastoral ministry in Soham and Kettering, Fuller tried to raise a family, pastor a church, engage the doctrinal errors of his day, and function as the leader of the Baptist Missionary Society, which he founded with others. Fuller was the primary promoter, thinker, fund-raiser, and letter writer of the society for over twenty-one years.

Piper writes that it was Fuller’s controversial and doctrinal writing that served the cause of world missions most. Fuller was a Calvinist. He battled hyper-Calvinism (or what he more often called High Calvinism), what Piper refers to as “church-destroying, evangelism-hindering, missions-killing doctrine of High Calvinism”.

Fuller’s greatest theological achievement was to see and defend and spread the truth that historic, biblical Calvinism fully embraced the offer of the gospel to all people without exception.  Fuller also battled Sandemanianism, which taught that the nature of saving faith is reduced to mere intellectual assent to a fact or proposition.

Piper states “We should learn the vital link between the doctrinal faithfulness of the church and the cause of world missions. The main impulse of our day is in the other direction.” He states that “getting Christian experience biblically right and getting the gospel biblically right are essential for the power and perseverance and fruitfulness of world missions”.

It’s important to know who Andrew Fuller was and what his contributions were to Christian history. Piper does a good job in this short biography covering why we need to know who Fuller was.

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BOOK CLUBS – Won’t you read along with us?

Jesus Outside the LinesJesus Outside the Lines BOOK CLUB

Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides by Scott Sauls

This is a book I’ve been wanting – and not wanting – to read for a while. I’ve wanted to read it because I enjoy Scott Sauls’ blog posts and I’ve heard a lot of good things about the book. He’s a pastor in the same denomination I serve in, he served with Tim Keller at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, graduated from Covenant Seminary and is a St. Louis Cardinals fan. What’s not to like about the guy?

I’ve not wanted to read the book because I think it’s going to challenge me to get out of my comfortable box. How about reading along with Tammy and I?

This week we look at highlights from Chapter Three: Personal Faith or Institutional Church?

  • They have left not to get away from God but in search of a richer, more authentic experience of God that for some reason they have been unable to find within the institutional church.
  • As a church, are we living out the biblical vision for worship, community, and mission?
  • The “revolutionary” phenomenon is not a fringe movement. The number of Christians opting out of church is on the rise.
  • The local church was God’s idea. The Bible knows nothing of Christians who relate to God as isolated individuals or who see the local church as optional to their faith experience.
  • Even when the local church has become less than it should be, the biblical vision is to reform the church, not to abandon it.
  • Church is family.
  • Membership in a local church means joining your imperfect self to many other imperfect selves to form an imperfect community that, through Jesus, embarks on a journey toward a better future . . . together.
  • Though they are messed up now, Jesus has a plan to transform them into people who are glorious and guiltless.
  • Part of the Christian experience is learning to love difficult people just as Jesus loves us when we are difficult. This includes actively moving toward people we don’t naturally like or enjoy. For churchless Christians, this central emphasis of Christian discipleship is rare. Why? Because, as Rick Warren says, The local church is the classroom for learning how to get along in God’s family. It is a lab for practicing unselfish, sympathetic love. As a participating member you learn to care about others and share the experiences of others. . . . Only fellowship and experience the New Testament truth of being connected and dependent on each other.
  • But is retreat really an option? Can we be in relationship with God while opting out of relationship with people—even difficult people—whom he loves?
  • We don’t get to choose our family. Our family is chosen for us, and we make the very best of it
  • As troubling as it may be to the individualist in each of us, God and the church come to us as a package deal.
  • When he calls us to himself, he calls us into community.
  • Family is the chief metaphor that the Bible uses when it talks about the church.
  • Community will happen when people come together with varying perspectives, personalities, cultures, and experiences.
  • The local church functions as God’s fertile soil for growing us beyond mere tolerance toward true expressions of love and unity.
  • Having been united with Jesus, we have also been united to one another through him.
  • God has this magnificent way of working through our differences to bring out the best in each of us.
  • What I am suggesting is that it would be beautiful, if not truly revolutionary, if the revolutionaries would consider joining Jesus in his mission to love Corinth back to life, versus the alternative of writing Corinth off.

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 5: Prayer: Adoration

  • We come now to the next division of the Lord’s Prayer which is that which deals with our petitions.
  • The first three-‘Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven’-have regard to God and His glory; the others have reference to ourselves.
  • That is the vital point-the order of the petitions, not the number. The first three are concerned about and look only to God and His glory.
  • Not only must our desires and petitions with regard to God come first, but we must notice, too, that half the petitions are devoted to God and His glory and only the remainder deal with our particular needs and problems.
  • Before we begin to think of ourselves and our own needs, even before our concern for others, we must start with this great concern about God and His honor and His glory. There is no principle in connection with the Christian life that exceeds this in importance.
  • Let us look now at the first petition: `Hallowed be thy name’. The word `Hallowed’ means to sanctify, or to revere, or to make and keep holy.
  • The purpose of the petition is to express this desire that God Himself may be revered, may be sanctified, that the very name of God and all it denotes and represents may be honored amongst men, may be holy throughout the entire world.
  • It means a burning desire that the whole world may bow before God in adoration, in reverence, in praise, in worship, in honor and in thanksgiving. Is that our supreme desire? Is that the thing that is always uppermost in our minds whenever we pray to God? I would remind you again that it should be so whatever our circumstances. It is when we look at it in that way that we see how utterly valueless much of our praying must be.
  • The second is `Thy kingdom come’. The kingdom of God really means the reign of God; it means the law and the rule of God.
  • The kingdom can be regarded in three ways. InTop of Form one sense the kingdom has already come. It came when the Lord Jesus Christ was here.
  • The kingdom of God is also here at this moment in the hearts and lives of all who submit to Him, in all who believe in Him.
  • But the day is yet to come when His kingdom shall have been established here upon the earth.
  • When we pray, `Thy kingdom come’, we are praying for the success of the gospel, its sway and power; we are praying for the conversion of men and women; we are praying that the kingdom of God may come today in Britain, in Europe, in America, in Australia, everywhere in the world. `Thy kingdom come’ is an all-inclusive missionary prayer.
  • It is a prayer which indicates that we are `Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God’ (2 Peter iii. 12).
  • The third petition, `Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven’ needs no explanation. It is a kind of logical consequence and conclusion from the second, as that was a logical conclusion from the first. The result of the coming of the kingdom of God amongst men will be that the will of God will be done amongst men.
  • Our innermost and greatest desire should be the desire for God’s honor and glory.

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Author: Bill Pence

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

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