Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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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.


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13 Reformation Resources to Help You Prepare for the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation  

On Sunday, October 29, churches around the world will celebrate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the Wittenberg Church door, signaling the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. To prepare you for Reformation Sunday, below are 13 Reformation-related resources:

What Reformation resources do you have to add to this list?


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“We Sure Could Use a Little Good News”


Last week I talked to a long-time friend at work.  She mentioned the anxiety and worry many were feeling about significant organizational changes in our workplace, two major hurricanes (Harvey and Irma), the recent death of the daughter of a teammate, but most of all the terrible murder/suicide that involved two people who I knew and worked with.  This tragic news stunned and saddened our workplace and community.  Feeling weighed down, she said, “we sure could use a little good news”.

Life is hard and there are times when it seems like there are more bad things happening than at other times. I felt that way earlier this year as I thought about a number of recent losses in my life. Read my article “Encouragement in the Midst of Loss”.  We worry about many things, such as our vocations (jobs), health (ours and others we care for), relationships, finances, the spiritual lives of those we care about, etc. In addition, many families, including ours, have been shattered by the suicide of a loved one.

Last year, as I looked back in the rearview mirror at certain key events in my life and my wife Tammy’s life, I saw how the Holy Spirit has used terrible, difficult and painful experiences for good toward our journey in being conformed to His image. Read my article “Looking Back at Life Through the Lens of Romans 8:28”.   I believe that we may not know all of the reasons why some things happen to us in this lifetime, but we can rest in knowing God is using them for our good and His glory.

I’m writing on a Sunday afternoon after hearing a wonderful sermon from my pastor entitled “God is Glorified in Afflictions”.  It was the beginning of a new series on 2 Corinthians. Chapter one of the book addresses how affliction among Christians is redemptive when we don’t waste it. That’s an interesting concept that you may not have thought of. The entire sermon is worth listening to. You can check it out here:   http://christchurchpca.org/sermons

So in the midst of your worries and suffering, listen to the words of Jesus from John 16:33 ~ “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace. In the world you have tribulation and distress and frustration and suffering, but take courage [be confident and certain, be undaunted, be filled with joy]; I have overcome the world.” [My conquest is accomplished, My victory abiding.]

The ultimate good news we all need is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  About the Gospel, R.C. Sproul writes:

“The gospel is called the ‘good news’ because it addresses the most serious problem that you and I have as human beings, and that problem is simply this: God is holy and He is just, and I’m not. And at the end of my life, I’m going to stand before a just and holy God, and I’ll be judged. And I’ll be judged either on the basis of my own righteousness–or lack of it–or the righteousness of another. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus lived a life of perfect righteousness, of perfect obedience to God, not for His own well-being but for His people. He has done for me what I couldn’t possibly do for myself. But not only has He lived that life of perfect obedience, He offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice to satisfy the justice and the righteousness of God.”

I’ll let R.C. Sproul have the final words of good news:
“The only way you can receive the benefit of Christ’s life and death is by putting your trust in Him–and in Him alone. You do that, you’re declared just by God, you’re adopted into His family, you’re forgiven of all of your sins, and you have begun your pilgrimage for eternity.”

When you put your full trust in Jesus Christ, will you experience less suffering?  No.  But He has promised that your suffering will not be in vain, and He will give you eternal Hope!  He is faithful to give you His courage, strength, comfort and peace as He walks difficult roads alongside you.  I would appreciate any thoughts you have. Blessings to you, and thanks for reading.


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Confessions of a (Recovering) Elder Brother

Growing up, when I would read Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son (in Luke 15:11–32), it was always the younger brother, the prodigal son, that I felt was the focus of the story. After all, that was the title of the parable, right? But that all changed when I read two excellent books on this parable in 2008 – A Tale of Two Sons (later retitled as The Prodigal Son), by John MacArthur, and The Prodigal God by Tim Keller.
MacArthur tells us that the lesson of the elder brother, who symbolizes the Pharisees in the parable, is often overlooked in many popular retellings. And yet it is, he states, the main reason Jesus told the parable.  He tells us that there’s good reason this short story pulls at the heartstrings of so many hearers – we recognize ourselves in it. This is true whether we are believers, conscious of our own guilt but still unrepentant, sinners coming to repentance, or unbelievers.  This parable, and MacArthur’s and Keller’s books resonate with me so much because I unfortunately see the potential for too much of the elder brother in me. After attending Scotty Smith’s “Disciplines of Grace” class at Covenant Seminary a few years back, in which he used Rembrandt’s painting The Return of the Prodigal Son (see above), I kept a poster of the painting in my office at work, and would often look up at the condemning elder son.
Here are a few ways in which I have seen myself demonstrate the traits of the elder brother:

  • Doctrinal Pride. Tim Keller writes that what elder brothers pride themselves above all is their right religion. He states that if a group believes God favors them because of their particularly true doctrine, ways of worship, and ethical behavior, their attitude toward those without these things can be hostile. I believe doctrine is important, very important. I don’t apologize for that. However, I often find myself being intolerant of believers who don’t adhere to the conservative, Reformed theology that I do. And I can be pretty critical (see next paragraph) about worship styles that are different from my preferences. What about you? Are you willing to respect the views of fellow believers that don’t align exactly with yours?
  • Critical or Judgmental Spirit. In Rembrandt’s painting, the elder brother is standing on a platform, elevated above his father and repentant younger brother. He looks down with a condemning spirit. Keller states that elder brothers have an unforgiving, judgmental spirit. Unfortunately, I find that I too often have a critical or judgmental spirit. This is something that I have to continually hold myself accountable for.
  • Duty and Compliance over Joy. Keller states that another sign of those with an elder brother spirit is joyless, fear-based compliance. He tells us that the elder brother shows that his obedience to his father is nothing but duty. There is no joy or love, and no reward in just seeing his father pleased. The elder brother is a perfect emblem for the Pharisees. He had no appreciation for grace because he thought he didn’t need it. Elder brothers live good lives out of fear, not out of joy and love. Notice in the three parables in Luke 15 that something was lost, something was found, and friends, neighbors and family are called together to celebrate and rejoice.
    I am a very compliant and obedient person. One of my top five Strengthsfinder themes is responsibility.  At times, I have to check my motivation for doing things. For example, why do I read the Bible each day? Is it a duty, or do I do it to learn more about God, so that I can love Him more?  Do you also at times struggle with compliance and duty over joy?I don’t want to be the elder brother, but unfortunately, at times I display some of his traits.  Do you find that you do so as well?


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Living Dangerously in Retirement

Are you still working? When are you going to retire? I hear that often these days when I see people I worked with in the past but haven’t seen for a while, or from friends or members of my extended family. And the truth be told, many people that I have worked with have retired over the past few years. It’s hard to believe; one day you are the youngest on the staff and then seemingly in no time, you are the oldest.
But I’m not one who has ever counted down the years, weeks or days until retirement. I still love my job and the people I work with, and that makes a big difference. But I know that some people hate their jobs and can’t wait to retire, the ultimate “Is it Friday yet?”
How should Christians think about retirement? Is it all about taking it easy, traveling and playing golf? Or perhaps taking a part-time job and doing some volunteer work? John Piper has been helpful in shaping my thoughts on retirement. Here are three ideas for you to consider based on his writings in his little book entitled, Rethinking Retirement: Finishing Life for the Glory of Christ:

  1. The Bible doesn’t explicitly talk about retirement. We don’t, for example, read about Moses or the Apostle Paul retiring at age 65. Piper writes: “Finishing life to the glory of Christ means resolutely resisting the typical American dream of retirement.” I know this will be unpopular with some readers and some will object to this concept, feeling that they deserve a life of leisure after working in jobs for perhaps fifty years. But I believe that this thinking is culturally based and ultimately unbiblical. Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not?
  2. Finish strong. I want to finish strong, and be like Paul when he wrote in II Timothy 4:7 “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”. I long to hear my Savior say, “Well done, good and faithful servant”. On the occasion of his death not long ago, I wrote about Art Moser, my model for finishing strong. In my Divine Design Assessment completed in Dr. Douglass’s class at Covenant Seminary, I wrote about Art as one of the people in ministry I most admire. I served for years as an Elder with Art. I appreciated many things about him including his ability to finish strong. Well into his 80’s he was still mentoring young men, reading books and writing book reviews and articles for our church newsletter, which preceded this blog. May I say that Art “didn’t act his age”, and I mean that in the most positive and respectful way. Art modeled finishing strong for me – may I be like him as I finish my race.

Piper writes that finishing life to the glory of Christ means finishing life in a way that makes Christ look glorious. How about you? How do you plan to spend your final years to make a difference for Christ?

  1. Don’t Waste Your Retirement. John Piper’s excellent book Don’t Waste Your Life is one of my favorites, and one that I have read often. In that book Piper writes: “I will tell you what a tragedy is. I will show you how to waste your life. Consider a story from the February 1998 edition of Reader’s Digest, which tells about a couple who “took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30-foot trawler, play softball and collect shells.”  At first, when I read it I thought it might be a joke. A spoof on the American Dream. But it wasn’t. Tragically, this was the dream: Come to the end of your life—your one and only precious, God-given life—and let the last great work of your life before you give an account to your Creator be this: playing softball and collecting shells.  Picture them before Christ at the great Day of Judgment: ‘Look, Lord. See my shells.’ That is a tragedy. And people today are spending billions of dollars to persuade you to embrace that tragic dream. Over against that, I put my protest: Don’t buy it. Don’t waste your life.”

If we retire in our late 50’s or early to mid-60’s, hopefully we will have many years before our physical and mental powers fail. Piper challenges us to live those final years for the glory of Christ. If you are retired, or within a few years of retiring, how do you plan to live them in such a way as to show that Christ is your highest Treasure?
Lord willing, I hope to not waste my retirement. Completing my seminary education served to equip me theologically. In God’s providence, I hope to serve my Jesus and my church through teaching, mentoring and discipling during my retirement for as long as I am physically and mentally able.
Piper charges us to: “Live dangerously for the one who loved you and died for you in his thirties. Don’t throw your life away on the American dream of retirement.”  How do you plan to live dangerously in your last season of life for Christ?


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Think Before You Sing ~ Part III

Revelation 7:9-10

Remember that question in Part I of Think Before You Sing (read Part I and Part II) I wanted you to mull over…  What is the purpose of worship?
Is it to give us an emotional impact by replicating stadium-style worship concerts?  Is it to bring young people into the church or brand our church?

Try this answer on for size:  We are to worship God how God wants us to worship Him.  Worship should first and foremost be designed to please God.

Worship must not be designed to please the unbeliever for evangelistic purposes or the believer to raise emotional fervor. The nineteenth-century pastor Charles Spurgeon said, “The devil has seldom done a cleverer thing than hinting to the church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the people, with a view to winning them.”  Entertainment can stir the emotions, but God uses the means of grace to change our affections. Yes, worship also raises our religious affections.  So who would have guessed that Jonathan Edwards from the 1700’s would write about religious affections?  A stuffy stodgy old Puritan?  I dare you to read more about it: https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/evangelical-history/2016/09/21/the-religious-affections-by-jonathan-edwards-a-qa-on-an-evangelical-classic/

Jesus taught the most basic principle for worship—“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Zeal of the heart is not sufficient to make our praise pleasing in God’s sight. One of the most enthusiastic worship services in history was the worship of the golden calf, and that did not end well for the worshipers (Ex. 32). Praise from the heart is not enough to please the Lord if we are not worshiping the true God, and so we must prize truth alongside ardor when we praise our Creator.   We must emphasize both heartfelt praise of our Creator and worship that is structured according to His Word.

Are you a Spectator on Sunday Morning?  I agree with modern hymn writer Keith Getty ~ Worship should also be the congregation singing to each other the goodness of the Lord; singing the Bible (Eph. 5:19Col. 3:16) and joining with the voices of Christians over thousands of years in singing timeless truths.    It’s time to tear down the performance-oriented/concert-style stage, make the Word and the pulpit central again, turn down the volume of the instruments, turn up the houselights and enjoy singing alongside and hearing our Christian brothers and sisters sing of God and His glory accompanied by a variety of instruments.  Can I get an Amen?

PSALM 150

1 Praise the LORD! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! 
2 Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! 
3 Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! 
4 Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe!
5 Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! 
6 Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!