Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview



Why I Love the Apostle Paul by John Piper: 30 Reasons. Crossway. 208 pages. 2019

In his latest book, in thirty short chapters divided into seven parts, John Piper gives us not a comprehensive overview of the Apostle Paul’s thought, but a highly personal book. No one has taken the author deeper into the mysteries of the gospel than Paul, who wrote thirteen books of the Bible, and much of the book of Acts is about his ministry. After the Lord Jesus himself, no one has won the author’s appreciation and admiration more. His aim in the book is to commend the Apostle Paul as a trustworthy witness. He wants us to be deeply and joyfully persuaded that he is admirable and trustworthy and that what he writes is true.
Over the thirty chapters, the author tells us about the profound impact the Apostle Paul has had on his life and ministry. Among the topics included are suffering, love, contentment, killing sin, Christian freedom, community, Gospel accuracy, God’s sovereignty, imperfection, cancer, joy, the poor and Romans 8:32. You can read the book through like a normal book, or choose to read it devotionally, covering a chapter a day for thirty days.

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BOOK REVIEWS ~ More of this review… and reviews of:

  • Them: Why We Hate Each Other – And How to Heal by Ben Sasse
  • The New Man: Becoming a Man After God’s Heart by Dan Doriani

BOOK NEWS ~ Links to Interesting Articles
BOOK CLUB ~ The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur

I highlighted a number of passages in this book. Below are 20 of my favorite quotes:

  1. If we are going to live and die for Jesus, we must see his glory with the eyes of our hearts.
  2. I would rather see a man die abruptly, on his way to one last conquest, than to see him drift off course into the comforts of old age.
  3. I am drawn to people who suffer without murmuring. Especially when they believe in God but never get angry with him or criticize him.
  4. It seems to me that not murmuring is one of the rarest traits in the world. And when it is combined with a deep faith in God—who could alter our painful circumstances, but doesn’t—it has a beautiful God-trusting, God-honoring quality that makes it all the more attractive. Paul was like that.
  5. The truth that Paul believed about his suffering—no matter how severe—was that it came ultimately with God’s purpose, and the purpose was that Paul would trust himself less and trust God more, every moment of his life, especially as death approached.
  6. Christ is shown to be magnificent in our dying when we experience him as more satisfying than all the pleasures that life in this world could give.
  7. Paul said that Christ is magnified not instead of my being satisfied in him, but by means of my being satisfied in him.
  8. You cannot glorify God in your heart if your heart does not find God more satisfying than everything else.
  9. Genuine, Christ-exalting, Spirit-empowered, sacrificial love for people is the overflow of joy in God that expands by meeting the needs of others.
  10. No follower of Jesus has said more important or more explosive things about race and ethnicity than the apostle Paul.
  11. Jesus himself—knowing him in all his inestimable worth—was his highest glory and joy. Achievements were secondary. Jesus himself, known and enjoyed, was primary.
  12. God’s decisive, sovereign rule in the world and in our lives is not a hindrance but a help in doing what he calls us to do.
  13. What we want to see in others, and have in ourselves, is a kind of wholeness that can be blunt and forceful and corrective when necessary, but that also has a peaceful pattern of encouragement and affirmation and kindness.
  14. Paul embraced and expressed the sovereignty of God over all historical events and in people’s lives. And he embraced the lost world with compassion and longing.
  15. If God were not compassionate, he would not want to save us. If God were not sovereign, he would not be able to save us. But he is both. And because of Jesus we are saved.
  16. It is not essential in this life that we know how to explain the way God’s sovereignty and our responsibility fit together. It is enough to know that they do.
  17. Joy originates in God. It comes through Jesus his Son. And it is the fruit of his Spirit. Those who embrace Jesus as their Savior and treasure, by the power of the Spirit, for the glory of the Father, enter into that Trinitarian joy.
  18. My love for Paul rises not only because his joy stood firm through all his sufferings, but even more because he saw his whole ministry as a project of bringing others into the joy that he had in knowing Jesus Christ.
  19. Nevertheless, in spite of all this success, Paul did not boast in himself. He boasted in Christ.
  20. Of all the places in the Bible that provide a solid place to stand when all around you is shaking, this has been my foundation stone more than any other: He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom. 8:32)

Them: Why We Hate Each Other – And How to Heal by Ben Sasse.  St. Martin’s Press. 287 pages. 2018.

While you may know Ben Sasse as a Republican United States Senator from Nebraska and that he is a huge University of Nebraska football fan, you may not know that in 1995-96, he worked with theologian Michael Horton’s CURE (Christians United for Reformation), and ACE (Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals), and that he attends a Presbyterian Church in American (PCA) church in Freemont, Nebraska, where he was born and raised.
In his second book, Sasse tells us that in the midst of extraordinary prosperity, we’re also living through a crisis. Our partisan tribalism is statistically higher than at any point since the Civil War. Americans have less and less in common, and that has day-to-day costs. Most Americans don’t have community cohesion like we used to. We don’t feel that we’re connected to our neighbors in any meaningful ways. We don’t feel like we’re part of something bigger. Our communities are collapsing, and people are feeling more isolated, adrift, and purposeless than ever before. We’re richer and better-informed and more connected—and unhappier and more isolated and less fulfilled. We are in a period of unprecedented upheaval. Community is collapsing, anxiety is building, and we’re distracting ourselves with artificial political hatreds. That can’t endure—and if it does, America won’t.
He covers a wide variety of subjects in this book, including our rootlessness and loss of community, the impact of the digital revolution on our jobs and families, cable news networks, smartphones and social media, politics and civics, and ultimately solutions to our problems.
The first third of this book is about the collapse of the local tribes that give us true, meaningful identity—family, workplace, and neighborhood. The second part discusses some of our cultural fights and the third part of the book asks what we can do about it.
The author served as a college president for five years, but he doesn’t believe that a college education is necessary for a thoughtful, meaningful, or happy life. However, he states that there is an increasingly clear correlation between a college diploma and being among the “winners” in contemporary America. He references the “Success Sequence” (finish high school, get a job, and get married before having children—in that order), which if you follow, you won’t be poor. But if you fail to follow the “Success Sequence”, it’s 50/50 that you (and your kids) will be poor.
He writes that the primary form of social capital is family. A particularly formidable knot of challenges for America’s future involves the rapidly growing number of children whose fathers are only intermittently present, or absent altogether. He tells us that If we are going to make any lasting difference in the lives of our neighbors struggling in poverty—or wrestling with loneliness—we must tell the truth about the irreplaceable role of family.
A key part of the book is our lack of permanence, in where we live, how long we stay at our jobs, etc. He tells us that community can be difficult, messy and it doesn’t fall into place like on the sitcoms. But in community, unlike on Netflix, you can put down the roots that will help to give life meaning and richness. He tells us that the only community that exists is this one, here and now. But we have to choose to embrace it.
One reason for our ever-growing chasm is that almost all of us are convinced that our position is 100 percent right, and the other side is 100 percent wrong. People work hard to confirm their biases, not to challenge them. He tells us that we are more interested in coherence—or internal consistency in our worldview—than to correspondence with the facts we encounter in the world beyond our heads. In simple terms he tells us that we are biased. He writes about “motivated reasoning,” which describes our tendency to accept what we want to be true much more easily than we accept apparent new “facts” that we don’t want to be true. He states that many among us on both sides of the aisle now demand not factual accuracy but partisan loyalty. It’s us versus them, they believe. It’s Fox News versus MSNBC.
He writes that we yearn to belong. We want to be part of a tribe, to have roots. We’re meant to be for things and people, but absent that, most of us will choose to be against things and people, together, rather than to be alone.  Not only do Americans no longer know their neighbors, but in many cases, they simply don’t know many people who aren’t like them. Our isolation has deprived us of healthy local tribes with whom we share values and goals and ways of life that uplift us, and so we fall into “anti-tribes,” defined by what we’re against rather than what we’re for.
He writes about the media, indicating that there is among many of his constituents a deep sense that the national media no longer represents them. He writes of “polititainment”, an example of which is the Sean Hannity model of stoking outrage, and tells of Hannity at first endorsing him as a candidate, and then three years later, going on the air to announce that he was rescinding his endorsement. Hannity called supporting Sasse one of the biggest mistakes of his career. Sadly, that author he writes that Vladimir Putin loves cable news and the divides it helps to solidify in the American soul.
He writes about technology disrupting an industry and the impact on jobs. Most jobs will begin to look significantly different in the future. The digital revolution is calling for a reordering. In addition to impacts on housing, higher education and job retraining will also be restructured amid shorter-duration freelance jobs; retirement will be rethought as people look for second mountains to climb as life expectancy arcs upward. He tells us that we need to begin now to build the arrangements—and the habits—adequate to a mobile world.
He writes that a significant quantity of research demonstrates that smartphones and social media are making us considerably lonelier and, consequently, less happy. Our new technologies are enabling us to live wider but shallower—with more at our fingertips, but with less enduring meaning.
He writes that we will never understand why our opponents act the way they do if we refuse to listen—really listen—to their arguments. Deep, enduring change does will not come through legislation or elections. Meaningful change comes as individual minds are persuaded and hearts changed. He asks what if those people we dislike so much are more like us than we care to admit? And what if there’s a higher-order bond that connects us that’s prior to and more important than the lower-order schisms that divide us? He suggests that we try to persuade each other, not silence each other as that is how people committed to dignity treat each other. He writes that we must approach our opponents in these debates as people created with dignity—and we must demand that both we and they dig in as sincere, fellow countrymen, rather than as enemies to be trolled.
He writes that the good news is the American idea can be renewed. But it won’t happen unless enough of us decide to abandon the path we’re on. We have plenty of actual enemies looking to harm us, so we don’t need to add to their ranks. What is needed is for people from both sides to agree that political and policy divides are not our primary identities or our primary divides. As Americans, we need to agree first on the universal dignity of all people, before we descend to the more divisive but less important debates about the prudential use of the levers of government power. He tells us that ultimately, it’s not legislation we’re lacking, it’s the tight bonds that give our lives meaning, happiness, and hope. It’s the habits of heart and mind that make us neighbors and friends.
I highlighted a number of passages as I read this thought-provoking book. Below are 10 of my favorite quotes:

    1. It doesn’t matter whether a person is a CEO with her corner office or a server with his name embroidered on the restaurant-issued apron, a job gives us a place in the world.
    2. Work, properly understood, is the sacred practice of offering up our talents for the service of others.
    3. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat didn’t create our darker impulses; they simply revealed them.
    4. Humility is a universal American calling.
    5. The fact that college campuses, once the cornerstone of free expression and open debate, are now among the most intellectually intolerant spaces in America should concern us deeply.
    6. Nothing here on earth will be fully satisfying. But to the degree that we’re going to find anything that satisfies on this side of the afterlife, it’s going to be in the relationships with the people with whom we share work, experiences, suffering, and love.
    7. We should stop holding the candidates on “our side” to lower standards than we expect from our opponents. This shouldn’t be hard. Lying matters, and truth matters.
    8. Be skeptical of any politician whose statements frame our primary struggle in terms of one group of Americans versus another.
    9. One of the core problems with our public life together is that we’re constantly failing to distinguish between politics and civics. Politics is about the use of power—how it is acquired and who wields it. Obviously, politics matters. But civics matters more. Civics is about who we are as a people.
    10. Our identity cannot be found in anti-tribes. It cannot be found in politics.

The New Man: Becoming a Man After God’s Heart by Dan Doriani. P&R Publishing. 280 pages. 2015

This is a revised and updated edition of the 2001 book The Life of a God-Made Man: Becoming a Man After God’s Heart by a respected pastor and seminary professor. In this book, he tells us that he will spend more time exploring Bible texts than typical men’s books do. He also will focus on character over technique and law. Instead of starting with rules and guidelines for godly living, he begins the book by considering the nature of God.
The author tells us that it is important, at this moment in Western culture, to know what it means to be a man and to act like one. He tells us that beyond doubt, Scripture instructs men to act like men, to act in ways that fit their gender. He discusses four models of masculinity, and then proposes God himself as the model of godly masculinity. God’s person and work is the model for the book as the author looks at man in marriage, fatherhood, work, leadership, friendship, etc. The author tells us that the man after God’s heart lives by grace, not laws; by character, not techniques; in short, by the pattern of the living God.
The book includes helpful “Discussion Questions” at the end of each chapter, making this a good book to read and discuss with other men.
This is a serious book about what it means to be a man after God’s own heart. It is not one that will give you “5 Tips to Be a Better Husband”, for example. Read it slowly and ponder the wisdom on its pages.
Below are some of my takeaways from the book:

A Man and His Marriage: Companionship

  • God designed marriage to be the prime source of companionship for adults.
  • The root of the decline of marriage is the loss of a Christian concept of love.
  • A healthy marriage will manifest three faces of love, labeled by the Greek words agape, philia, and eros.
  • The family is a society of sinners. A Christian marriage is the union of two redeemed sinners, not two angels.
  • Godly husbands see Christ’s love as their pattern.

A Man and His Children

  • “Successful” parenthood depends on who you are, more than the techniques you know.
  • A man can master every method, but without love, he will fail as a father. Conversely, if a father loves his children, he can commit many minor managerial mistakes and succeed at parenting.
  • God is the source and model for every family, every form of “fatherhood”
  • Every aspect of God’s character teaches fathers how to live, but some are weightier than others. Love is certainly paramount
  • Alongside love, justice, mercy, and faithfulness form the core of godly parenthood.
  • To develop the spiritual life of their children, parents must first develop their own.
  • Our supreme hope lies in the grace of Christ, not parenting techniques.
  • The Bible is pro-child and consistent Christians must be pro-child.

A Man and His Friends

  • First, everyone needs companionship. Second, the friendship of God manifests helpful presence and self-disclosure. These are the core of friendship.
  • On the whole, women form more constructive friendships than men, for they care about them more. Men, by comparison, are careless about friendships, forming them almost accidentally.
  • Since men enter into friendships through a shared task, their relationships are typically one-dimensional.
  • Genuine friendship may begin as a one-dimensional relationship. But something happens and the next dimension opens.
  • If we refuse friendships with the opposite sex, we cut off the insights, skills, and excellence of half the human race.
  • God has ordained, blessed, and modeled friendship as part of a good life.

A Man and His Work

  • We cannot see the results of our work, but God can and he gives us roles that let us serve our neighbors.
  • All honest work is dignified if we love our neighbors and strive to serve God in it.
  • We must not think that “sacred” work—church work—pleases God more than “secular” work.
  • The Lord is pleased with faithful work in every calling.
  • Because God works and intended mankind to work, even before sin entered creation, we should have a guarded optimism toward labor.
  • Work is not burdensome when you do what you love, for people you love.
  • The noblest thing we can do is to serve the Lord faithfully in the place God assigns us.
  • Before God, the highest position anyone can hold is the one to which God gifted and summoned him.
  • Every job has its burdens, but we tolerate them if we spend most of our time using our chief gifts.
  • There are good reasons to work hard: rare skills, love of the work itself, or love of the cause it serves. But all too often our overwork is sinful, driven by slavery to false gods.

A Man as Leader

  • Jesus demonstrated that true leaders serve—and suffer.
  • Like Jesus, leaders will be blamed for things they did not do wrong.
  • Leaders suffer pointless envy and irrational hate.
  • Leadership is hard. The work never ends.
  • Beside its interest in servant leadership, the Bible stresses character-based leadership. The key text for that is 1 Timothy 3, Paul’s description of a church elder.
  • Good leaders are strongest in times of testing. They are ready to fight where the battle rages. They engage the issues of the hour. When crises arise, they lead the way when others get lost.
  • Leaders prove themselves publicly by their exemplary character.
  • When people know their leaders are willing to put them first, it becomes easier to follow.
  • The best way to find new leaders is to locate people who are already leading quietly but effectively in a little noticed corner.
  • Because Christians claim a higher standard, our leaders must have a good reputation.
  • What an elder needs most is the desire to serve.
  • Gifts are important, but for the Christian leader there is no substitute for godliness and a willingness to work just where the work needs to be done.

A Man and His Wealth

  • A day of reckoning, before God, will arrive. We will account for the use of our material wealth as well as our God-given capacities—of mind, energy, and skills.
  • Our vision of the good life owes more to society than to Scripture.
  • The cure for the malady of materialism is generosity toward God, starting with the heart, then moving to actions.
  • More than laws, we need godly goals for our careers. We should offer our work to God, governing our corner of creation for him, using the gifts he bestows. One day we will stand before the Lord and render an account.
  • We must guard against overwork, organizing our life and career so we have time for family, friends, church, and godly pleasures. We must refuse to work endlessly, simply to support expensive tastes.
  • People who live to get rich love this world, not God.
  • If our gifts and efforts lead to riches, more or less by accident, praise God. But we should not choose a career just to get rich (James 4:1–4; 1 Tim. 6:6–10).
  • Generous people love to give. They taste the splendor of Christ’s kingdom, its world-changing power. They see Jesus restraining the work of the evil one. They delight to support God’s work in areas where money can make a difference.
  • This age keeps its eye on money, but the man after God’s heart keeps his eye on God and his kingdom.
  • Beyond the tithe, he sets the generosity of Jesus as his model.

A Man and His Body: A Proper Concern for Our Flesh and Blood

  • God wants us to enjoy bodily life.
  • The principle for the right use of God’s bounty is simple: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31 ESV).

A Man and His Body: Living Faithfully in Our Skin

  • Scripture doesn’t require fitness, but bodily strength is good and it is normal and wise to pursue it.
  • The right use of the body includes the right use of sleep.

A Man and His Play

  • Play has many lessons to teach us, but that is not why we play. We play for the fun of it.
  • While the Lord’s Day remains first a day of worship and rest, it also becomes a good day to play.
  • Play, like rest, is a divine gift.

The Glory and the Misery of Man

  • The hunger for excellence, even glory, rests deep in our hearts.
  • The drive to excel testifies that God designed us for glory.
  • God prizes faithfulness, not success.
  • The essence of Christian living is knowing God, trusting him, and conforming to him, not rule keeping.

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

The Gospel According to Jesus: What is Authentic Faith? by John MacArthur
We are reading through John MacArthur’s classic book The Gospel According to Jesus. What did Jesus mean when He said, “Follow me”?  MacArthur tackled that seemingly simple question and provided the evangelical world with the biblical answer.  For many, the reality of Jesus’ demands has proved thoroughly searching, profoundly disturbing, and uncomfortably invasive; and yet, heeding His words is eternally rewarding. The 20th anniversary edition of the book has revised and expanded the original version to handle contemporary challenges.  The debate over what some have called “lordship salvation” hasn’t ended—every generation must face the demands Christ’s lordship. Will you read along with us?

This week we look at Chapter 6: He Opens Blind Eyes. Below are a few takeaways from the chapter:

  • Salvation always results because God first pursues sinners, not because sinners first seek God.
  • Faith is the necessary complement to the sovereignty of God.
  • There is no way to recognize Jesus Christ for who He is apart from a miracle of God to open spiritually blind eyes.
  • Spiritual sight is a gift from God that makes one willing and able to believe.
  • The result of spiritual sight is a surrendered, worshiping heart. The result of spiritual blindness is more blindness, more sin, and ultimately certain doom.
  • The only hope for those locked in the darkness of spiritual sightlessness is a miracle of God to open their eyes.
  • Salvation is a supernatural, divine transformation — no less than a miracle that takes place in the soul. It is a true work of God, and it must make a difference in the life of the one whose eyes have been opened.

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.

2 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

  1. I’ve had Sasse’s book sitting on my book shelf for quite awhile now, hopefully I will get to it soon!

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