Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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NEW BEGINNINGS

Spring is a time of new beginnings as we transition from the long, cold and dark winter.  Where I live in the Midwest, while the calendar may show that it is Spring, the weather has not yet made that transition. In fact, just a few weeks ago we had our biggest snowfall of the season.
Some can get down, or even depressed, during long winters. But Jon Troast, a talented singer/songwriter I recently saw in concert, said about a period of depression that he experienced “The Lord is more concerned about our faith than our comfort.” Unlike C.S. Lewis’ Narnia, where the White Witch cast a spell decreeing that it must always be winter but never Christmas, we know that God is faithful to bring Spring and new beginnings in our lives.
Locally, farmers have not yet been in the fields to plant. My wife and I always enjoy seeing the “little green rows” of the corn and soybeans as they quickly come up out of the fertile Illinois soil. Life can come from death. Jesus himself, in speaking of the resurrection of the body, said that what you sow does not come to life unless it dies. (1 Corinthians 15:36).

I like this short poem from author Eric Metaxas, titled “Renaissance”, which speaks to new beginnings in the Spring:
“Glory, glory,” said the bee.
“Hallelujah”, said the flea.
“Praise the Lord,” remarked the wren.
At springtime all is born again.

A few weeks ago, Christians celebrated the new beginning of Jesus’ resurrection. For the believer, Easter is a wonderful time of new life and new beginnings. Shortly after Easter, I, and many of my friends and co-workers, transitioned from our long-time employer as the organization goes through a massive transformation. For many, this was very unexpected and equally unwelcome. It was like a death, and some became depressed in the months leading up to our final days. Now we are experiencing new beginnings. Some will retire, but many are looking for new jobs, new beginnings. The loss of a job, or even retirement can feel like a death. But life comes out of death. Think of how many funerals you have gone to where someone is soon to, or recently had a baby.
One of my favorite hymns is “Great is Thy Faithfulness”, with lyrics by Thomas Obediah Chisholm. It speaks to God’s faithfulness each day:
Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy faithfulness!”
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
“Great is Thy faithfulness,” Lord, unto me!

For those of you that are currently in the winter season of your life, look up! Take heart. God is faithful. The sun will rise after a dark night and spring will follow winter. Look for those little green rows of refreshment. Hope and trust in the Lord and not in your circumstances.  (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

If music refreshes you, is a balm for your soul or raises your religious affections, take a listen to Andrew Peterson singing RISEN INDEED.  Here’s an excerpt:

And so the winter dies with a blast of icy wind
Like a mournful cry—it’s giving up the ghost again
Another sheet of snow melts away to gold and green
Just look at Peter go, he’s racing to the tomb to see

Where has my Jesus gone?
He is not dead; he is risen, risen indeed

And now the flowers bloom like a song of freedom
Behold the earth is new, if only for the season
And so the seed that died for you becomes a seedling
Just put your hand into the wound that bought your healing

And let your heart believe
He is not dead; he is risen, risen indeed

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3 Free E-Books from R.C. Sproul

Here are the last three Crucial Questions booklets from R.C. Sproul that were published before his death in December.

How Can I Be Right with God? (Crucial Questions No. 26) by R.C. Sproul. Reformation Trust Publishing. 69 pages. 2017
****

The late Dr. R.C. Sproul writes that the gospel tells us how we can be right with God. In this short book looking at the doctrine of justification. That doctrine explains how we, as unjust people, can be reconciled to a just and holy God. Justification takes place when God declares a person to be just in His sight.
The author tells us that the good news of the gospel is that we don’t have to wait until we become perfectly righteous before God will consider us and declare us righteous. We are made and declared righteous by virtue of God’s imputing to us the righteousness of Christ. Christ’s righteousness and merit are attributed to us while we are still sinners.
God declares us just, not because He looks at us and sees our righteousness, but because He sees the righteousness of Christ. God counts the righteousness of Christ for us, and does not count our own sins against us.
The author compares the Reformed view and the Roman Catholic views. In the Reformed view, the righteousness of Christ is imputed by faith to the believer. In the Roman Catholic view, the righteousness of Christ is infused into someone via the sacraments. That person must then cooperate with this infusion of grace in order to become truly righteous.
We are told that faith is the instrument by which we are linked to the righteousness of Christ. Faith is the conduit through which His righteousness is given to us. The instant someone has true faith, God declares them justified and imputes to them all of the merit of Christ, so that all that Christ is and all that He has accomplished becomes his.
The author tells us that throughout, the Bible describes the relationship between a holy God and unholy people as a relationship of estrangement. However, when we are justified, we have peace with God that is forever.

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My 10 Favorite Blogs


I subscribe to a lot of blogs and websites. Some are related to theology, some focus on leadership, some faith and work, etc. Here are 10 of my favorites that I would recommend to you:

Tim Challies  Tim Challies’ blog is my personal favorite. It includes articles he has written, as well as his book reviews. His A La Carte blog post is required reading for me six days a week. A feature of A La Carte is a listing of Kindle deals of e-books that his readers might enjoy.

Head, Heart, Hand – This is pastor, author and seminary professor David Murray’s blog. He includes articles he has written, helpful links to other articles, a listing of Kindle deals and of new books his readers might enjoy.

Ligonier Ministries – This blog includes searchable articles and short videos from R.C. Sproul, the Ligonier Teaching Fellows (Albert Mohler, Derek Thomas, Sinclair Ferguson, Robert Godfrey and Steven Lawson) and others.

Albert Mohler – This site features articles from Albert Mohler as well as a post featuring the articles he discussed in that morning’s The Briefing program, Monday through Friday.

Desiring God – This blog features articles and videos from John Piper, Tony Reinke, David Mathis and others from Desiring God.

Randy Alcorn – This blog features articles from Randy Alcorn, author and founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries.

The Gospel Coalition – This blog features articles and videos from a large number of respected Bible teachers.

DeYoung, Restless and Reformed – This is pastor and author Kevin DeYoung’s blog and features articles he has written.

Brian Dodd on Leadership – Brian Dodd writes that his site will make you a better leader. I especially like his weekend roundup of the best articles he has read on leadership that week.

Leadership Freak  – This is Dan Rockwell’s leadership site. His helpful posts are never more than 300 words, so you can read them quickly.

These are my ten favorite blogs at this time. There are many more blogs that I enjoy on a regular basis, including Russell Moore, Ron Edmondson, Gene Veith, Dave Kraft, Kevin Halloran, Scott Sauls, Denny Burk, and others.
What are your favorite blogs?  


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Three Books from R.C. Sproul That Were Foundational to My Spiritual Growth

In the 1980’s as a new believer there were three books by R.C. Sproul, my spiritual mentor, that were foundational to me – Holiness of God, Chosen by God and Pleasing God. Dr. Sproul died on December 14, 2017.  Since then I have gone back and re-read these three books and wanted to share my reviews of each book with you.

The Holiness of God by R. C. Sproul. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2nd Revised, Expanded Edition. 240 pages. 2000
****

The Holiness of God was the first book of R.C. Sproul’s that I read back in the mid-1980’s. I have since gone back and read it multiple times, and prior to his recent death heard him speak about this material several times. This book, and Sproul’s ministry, has had a profound impact on my spiritual growth. Here’s some of the most significant parts of the book.
He tells us that the one concept, the central idea he kept meeting in Scripture, was the idea that God is holy. He states that how we understand the person and character of God the Father affects every aspect of our lives.
The author tells us that only once in Scripture is an attribute of God elevated to the third degree, and mentioned three times in succession. The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy.
He uses Isaiah’s experience in Isaiah 6 to show that for the first time in his life Isaiah really understood who God was. At the same instant, for the first time Isaiah really understood who Isaiah was.
He waits awhile before defining what he means by the word holy. He tells us that when the Bible calls God holy, it means primarily that God is transcendentally separate. God is so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us. To be holy is to be “other,” to be different in a special way. He tells us that when we call things holy when they are not holy, we commit the sin of idolatry. To worship an idol involves calling something holy when it is not holy. What God does is always consistent with who God is. He always acts according to His holy character.
A famous quote of Sproul’s is that sin is cosmic treason. It is an act of supreme ingratitude toward the One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself.
Many believe that there is an inconsistency between a harsh God in the Old Testament and a loving Jesus in the New Testament. But Sproul disagrees, indicating that far from being a history of a harsh God, the Old Testament is the record of a God who is extremely patient. He tells us that the most violent expression of God’s wrath and justice is actually seen in the New Testament, in the Cross.
The author writes that one of our basic problems is the confusion of justice and mercy. He states that it is impossible for anyone, anywhere, anytime to deserve grace. Grace by definition is undeserved. We will receive only justice or mercy from God. We never receive injustice from His hand. He tells us that the struggle we have with a holy God is rooted in the conflict between God’s righteousness and our unrighteousness. He states that God is just, and we are unjust. This tension creates fear, hostility, and anger within us toward God.
He writes that to be a saint means to be separated, but more than that. The saint also is to be involved in a vital process of sanctification. We are to be purified daily in the growing pursuit of holiness. Saints are people who are at one and the same time just, yet sinful. He tells us that God counts the believer as righteous even when in and of ourselves we are not righteous, and that this is the gospel.
He writes about the wrath of God, stating that a loving God who has no wrath is no God. Instead, he is an idol of our own making as much as if we carved Him out of stone.
He states that the failure of modern evangelicalism is the failure to understand the holiness of God. Helpless sinners can survive only by grace. We can love Him only because He first loved us.
Throughout, Sproul explains theological concepts in a way that is easy to understand. He also utilizes his gifts of story-telling and humor. This edition of the book includes helpful questions at the end of each chapter to help you reflect on what you have just learned.

Chosen by God by R. C. Sproul. Tyndale House Publishing. 196 pages. 2001 edition.
****

Chosen by God was the second book of R.C. Sproul’s that I read back in the mid-1980’s, following his classic The Holiness of God. This book has been used to convince many that the Reformed view of election is indeed the biblical view. The great Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon famously stated that Reformed theology is just a nickname for biblical Christianity.
John Calvin did not invent the doctrine of predestination. The author states that predestination is a doctrine that is plainly set forth in the Bible (Romans 8:28-30; Ephesians 1:3-11), and that virtually all Christian churches have some formal doctrine of predestination. The question is which view of predestination to embrace. This book asserts that the Reformed view of predestination is the biblical view.
The author writes “The Reformed view asserts that the ultimate decision for salvation rests with God and not with man. It teaches that from all eternity God has chosen to intervene in the lives of some people and bring them to saving faith and has chosen not to do that for other people. From all eternity, without any prior view of our human behavior, God has chosen some unto election and others unto reprobation. The ultimate destiny of the individual is decided by God before that individual is even born and without depending ultimately upon the human choice.”
When we speak of divine sovereignty we are speaking about God’s authority and about God’s power. Human freedom and evil are under God’s sovereignty.
Grace is undeserved. God always reserves the right to have mercy upon whom he will have mercy. God may owe people justice, but never mercy. The saved get mercy and the unsaved get justice. Nobody gets injustice.
The author states that in the Reformed view of predestination God’s choice precedes man’s choice. We choose him only because he has first chosen us. He encourages us to not merely assume that you are not elect, but to make your election a matter of certainty.
He states that no true believer ever loses his salvation. To be sure, Christians fall at times seriously and radically, but never fully and finally. We persevere, not because of our strength but because of God’s grace that preserves us.
The author covers such weighty topics as man’s free will, sin, evil, grace, original sin, the Fall, double predestination and TULIP (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and the Perseverance of the Saints), all in his characteristic easy to understand manner.
The final chapter of the book is comprised of questions about predestination. Each chapter ends with a concise summary of the main points from the chapter as well as scripture verses for further study.

Pleasing God: Discovering the Meaning and Importance of Sanctification by R. C. Sproul.  David C. Cook, 210 pages. 2012 edition
**** 

Pleasing God was the third book of R.C. Sproul’s that I read as a new believer back in the 1980’s, following his classic books The Holiness of God and Chosen by God. Pleasing God is intended as a practical guide for Christian living, an attempt to provide help for the struggle in which we are involved.
While regeneration, the act of grace by which our eyes are opened to the things of God is an act that only God can perform and is instantaneous, our sanctification is takes place in stages. Regeneration is the beginning of our Christian journey. Sanctification is a process, a gradual process. Rebirth is instantaneous. Justification is instantaneous. But sanctification is a lifelong process. This growth in pleasing God is called sanctification, and that is what this wonderful book is about.
The author states that for Christians to make progress in sanctification, in learning to please God, they must have a clear idea of their goal. The goal, as Jesus stated it is “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). Seeking the kingdom and righteousness are the priorities of the Christian life.  To be righteous is to do everything that God calls us to do.
The author covers a number of topics in this book. He first looks at Martin Luther’s threefold battle in the Christian life – the Christian’s battle with the world, the flesh, and the Devil. Other topics covered in this volume include forgiveness, guilt, assurance, repentance, fruit bearing, a discussion on “carnal Christians”, pride, dishonesty, slothfulness, the importance of sound doctrine, and the role of the Holy Spirit.
The author writes that regeneration is the beginning of a journey. That journey is filled with successes and failures, with growth amid stumbling. He tells us that at times, the progress seems painfully slow, but progress is there. All Christians make progress that is made by the indwelling Holy Spirit, who refuses to allow us to stand still.
I always appreciated how Dr. Sproul could take difficult theological topics and communicate them in a very clear and easy to understand manner. This is a very readable book about the doctrine of sanctification.

If you are not familiar with Dr. Sproul’s ministry, I would recommend starting with these three books that were foundational for me.


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8 Upcoming Books That I’m Excited About

Here are 8 upcoming books, and a brief description of them, that I’m looking forward to:

The Affectionate Theology of Richard Sibbes by Mark Dever
To be published March 1.
From Amazon’s description:
“In a time of political turmoil and religious upheaval, Richard Sibbes sought to consistently apply the riches of Reformation theology to his hearers’ lives. He emphasized the security of God’s covenant, the call for assurance of salvation, and the place of the heart in the Christian life. In The Affectionate Theology of Richard Sibbes, Dr. Mark Dever gives readers a penetrating look into the life and theology of this fascinating figure.”
This book is a part of the Long Line of Godly Men series, edited by Steven Lawson.

Servant Leadership in Action: How You Can Achieve Great Relationships and Results. Edited by Ken Blanchard and Renee Broadwell.
To be published March 6.
From Amazon’s description:
“We’ve all seen the negative impact of self-serving leaders in every sector of our society. Not infrequently, they end up bringing down their entire organization. But there is another way: servant leadership. Servant leaders lead by serving their people, not by exalting themselves. This collection features forty-four renowned servant leadership experts and practitioners–prominent business executives, bestselling authors, and respected spiritual leaders–who offer advice and tools for implementing this proven, but for some still radical, leadership model. Edited by legendary business author and lifelong servant leader Ken Blanchard and his longtime editor Renee Broadwell, this is the most comprehensive and wide-ranging guide ever published for what is, in every sense, a better way to lead.” I’m reading an advance copy of this book now. It includes contributions from some of my favorite leadership authors such as Ken Blanchard, Patrick Lencioni, Dave Ramsey, Mark Miller, Henry Cloud, Stephen M.R. Covey, Simon Sinek. It’s a wonderful book for those who want to lead like Jesus did.

Take Heart: Christian Courage in the Age of Unbelief by Matt Chandler
To be published March 20.
From Amazon’s description:
“The Christian culture that has underpinned Western society for centuries has been eroded. We’re now at the point where to disagree with people on issues such as marriage and sexuality, is seen as hateful. Christians are no longer seen as honorable, but as bigots. But history testifies that the more people try to destroy Christianity, the more it grows. So, we are entering an exciting period of time because we’re back in the place where Christ’s church can thrive – at the margins of society. In this stirring, passionate book, Matt Chandler shows us we need Christian courage like never before, and how to live with compassion and conviction, able to look around positively and reach out confidently. It encourages us not to be thwarted by fear, but to depend on God and have confidence that Christ will build his church, despite continual marginalization. A must-read for any Christian who wants to understand how to stand firm and walk forwards in an increasingly secular culture.” Continue reading


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MY 2017 FAVORITES

As has been my practice for a number of years, I am sharing some of my favorites from 2017 in a variety of categories.  What about you? What were some of your favorites in these categories?

Television Series

Top Pick: Victoria

Others that I’ve enjoyed, in no particular order were:

  • This is Us
  • The Man in the High Castle
  • Broadchurch
  • The Crown

Podcasts

Top Pick: Albert Mohler’s The Briefing. Each weekday morning, Albert Mohler hosts a podcast providing worldview analysis about the leading news headlines and cultural conversations. This is required listening for me. Check out Dr. Mohler’s website here.

 

Blogs

Top Pick: Tim Challies’ Ala Carte. This is required reading for me each Monday through Saturday. Challies includes helpful Kindle deals, links to a good variety of helpful articles and a quote. Check out Tim’s website here.

Recommended Resources

Top Pick: The Whole Christ – Sinclair Ferguson

Other new resources released in 2017 that I would recommend are, in no particular order:

Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer.  See my review of this excellent new documentary.

Dispatches from the Front. Episode 10: The Fourth Man. See my review of this excellent resource here.

The Lord’s Prayer by Albert Mohler. In this twelve-part series, Dr. Albert Mohler shows that the pattern of prayer Jesus provides is few in words, yet massive in meaning. His prayer reflects true theology and proper doxology – a perfect guide in our lives. I listened to this series as our book club at work was reading and discussing Tim Keller’s book Prayer.

Conference  

Top Pick: Ligonier Ministries National Conference: The Next 500 Years. Watch or listen to all of the messages here.

Ministry Highlights

  • Speaking on faith and work at the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly in Greensboro, North Carolina.
  • Speaking on faith and work at the Lexington Community Church By the Way Conference in Lexington, Illinois.


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In Appreciation of R.C. Sproul: How the Lord Used His Ministry in My Life

It’s hard to put into words the impact that R.C. Sproul, who died today, has had on my life. I was introduced to Dr. Sproul’s ministry more than 30 years ago when Dr. John Shively gave me one of Dr. Sproul’s teaching series on cassette tape. I believe it was titled Objections Answered, though I can’t be 100% sure. We listened to the messages on those tapes in the car on the way back from Lafayette, Indiana. I was amazed. Here was someone who took difficult theological concepts and communicated them in a way that I could understand them.  From cassette tapes to CD’s to digital podcasts, that was one of R.C.’s greatest gifts.

The first of R.C.’s books that I read was his 1985 classic The Holiness of God. That book had a profound impact on me. I was hooked. Since then, the Lord has used R.C.’s ministry in a powerful way in my life. We began subscribing to TABLETALK  magazine, and saw him speak many times in conferences, the first being in Wheaton, Illinois in the 1980’s. We attended Ligonier Ministries Regional conferences in St. Louis, Missouri, Lexington, Kentucky and Grand Rapids, Michigan and Detroit, Michigan. Since 1997, we rarely missed Ligonier’s National Conference in Orlando. Attending the National Conference always felt like experiencing a little taste of Heaven for me. I most enjoyed the “Question and Answer” sessions at those conferences. R.C. was gifted with an incredible mind and he used it to defend the Gospel from false teaching and the heresy of the hour. I also loved his stories, some of which I’ve heard dozens of times, as well as his laugh.

At almost every conference we attended, I would stand in line and have R.C. sign his latest book for me. A few times I mentioned how much I appreciated his ministry. It was clear that he was uncomfortable with what could be perceived as hero worship, and wanted all glory to go to God. And that’s how I will end this tribute, by giving all glory to God for equipping R.C. Sproul, and positively impacting me, my wife and hundreds of thousands of others who will miss him, his ministry and teaching deeply.  We are happy that he is now in the presence of his Savior, greeted with “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).

Let’s remember Dr. Sproul by watching this two-minute video of him preaching the Gospel throughout the years.