Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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How I Spent Spring Break: 9 Reflections on the 2017 Ligonier National Conference

Almost every year since 1997, my wife Tammy and I have left the cold of the Illinois winter to head down to the sun and warmth of Central Florida to attend the annual Ligonier Ministries National Conference. This year’s conference, held March 9-11, was their 30th National Conference. It had a theme of “The Next 500 Years” and was being held on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Thus, many of the speakers referred to Martin Luther and his influence in their addresses. The conference was held in the wonderful facilities of the First Baptist Church in Orlando where it has been held most years, sold out months in advance, and featured an excellent lineup of speakers, including John MacArthur, Alistair Begg, Albert Mohler, Sinclair Ferguson, R.C. Sproul, Michael Horton and more.

As Ligonier President and CEO Chris Larson told the attendees at the beginning of the conference, “Pace Yourself”. The three-day conference can be exhausting. In total, there were 26 sessions you could attend, in addition to a prayer session, two mini-concerts, and a bookstore tour. I always purchase copies of the messages and listen to them multiple times in the months after the conference. Here are the daily highlight posts that Ligonier posted about the conference:

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Here are 9 reflections I have from this year’s conference: Continue reading


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10 Recommended Books on Prayer

prayerOver the years I’ve read a number of good books on the subject of prayer. Each come from a slightly different approach.  I’m always glad I’ve read the book, but also come away thinking my prayer life is not nearly what it should be. Is that the way you tend to feel after reading a book on prayer?
Here are 10 books on prayer that I’ve read and would commend to you:Tim Keller's New Book on Prayer

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Tim Keller
My wife Tammy and I read and discussed this book over a period of months.  You can see the passages from the book we highlighted as we went through this helpful book here.

prayerPrayer: A Biblical Perspective by Eric Alexander
Eric Alexander was a wonderful preacher who I was blessed to see at a few theology conferences several years ago. His chief concern in this short book is to remind Christians that prayer is fundamental and not supplemental, both in the individual and in the corporate lives of God’s people. This book has the feel of individual sermons that were delivered on prayer put into book form.

A Praying LifeA Praying Life by Paul Miller
I’ve read this book twice (thus far). I first read the book a few years ago after our church hosted one of the author’s A Praying Life seminars, and again last year after we had a providential encounter with the author and his wife Jill in a cable car high above Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland. Reading this book gives you the feel of sitting down with the author to talk about prayer as he shares many interesting and helpful stories – biblical and about his family, particularly about his special needs daughter Kim – to illustrate his teaching on prayer.

prayerDoes Prayer Change Things by R.C. Sproul
This booklet is part of R.C. Sproul’s excellent Crucial Questions series (which are free in the Kindle edition). I recommend all of the booklets in this series. In this booklet on prayer, Sproul asks: Does prayer make any difference? Does it really change anything? He looks at the place, purpose, pattern, practice, prohibitions and power of prayer.

the-chief-exercise-of-prayer-by-john-calvinThe Chief Exercise of Faith: John Calvin on Prayer
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. There is much wisdom from Calvin about the subject of prayer in these pages.

a-simple-way-to-pray-by-archie-parrishA Simple Way to Pray: The Wisdom of Martin Luther on Prayer by Dr. Archie Parrish
R.C. Sproul has written “No book has done more to revolutionize my personal prayer life than this little book by Martin Luther. I would recommend it for every Christian’s library.” The description of the book from Ligonier states:
Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther’s barber asked him for advice on how to pray. Luther responded with a 34 page booklet showing a simple but effective way to structure a life of devotion. In it, he illustrates prayers through the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Apostles’ Creed.
This book, edited by Dr. Archie Parrish, contains Luther’s booklet and offers other helps for structuring your personal prayer life. Dr. R.C. Sproul, who wrote the foreword, considers this to be among the top fifteen Christian works that have most shaped his life and ministry.”

the-barber-who-wanted-to-pray-by-r-cThe Barber Who Wanted to Pray by R.C. Sproul
This is a children’s book by R.C. Sproul which is related to Archie Parrish’s book above. Ligonier’s description of the book is:
“This imaginative tale from R.C. Sproul, based on a true story, begins one evening with Mr. McFarland leading family devotions. When his daughter asks him how she should pray, Mr. McFarland shares a 500-year-old story about a barber and his famous customer.  Master Peter is a barber well-known to all in his village. One day, when Martin Luther the Reformer walks into his shop, the barber musters up the courage to ask the outlawed monk how to pray. Luther responds by writing a letter to the barber. The barber’s life and many others’ are changed as they encounter a model for prayer by using the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Apostles’ Creed.pray
Sproul’s beautifully illustrated story will delight children and help them learn to pray according to the Bible. The full text of the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Apostles’ Creed will make this a treasured book to be returned to time after time.”
This resource is also available as a short audiobook read by the author.

augustine-on-prayerAugustine on Prayer – Thomas A. Hand
Several years ago, a friend and I read and discussed this book, which is a compilation of the thoughts, words and prayers of Saint Augustine.  The author collected more than 500 of Augustine’s texts about prayer for this book, which addresses questions such as: What is prayer? Why should we prayer? For what and from whom should we pray? How should we pray? I don’t recall where I heard about the book originally, but I do recall that reading and discussing it with my friend was a wonderful experience.

prayerThe Prayer of the Lord by R.C. Sproul
In this short book by R.C. Sproul, he notes that Jesus’ own disciples deemed their prayer lives inadequate, so they turned to their Teacher for help. It was on that occasion that Jesus gave them what we know as “the Lord’s Prayer.” Sproul writes “Jesus’ intent was to give His disciples a model prayer, an example to follow, one that would teach them transferrable principles for conversation with God.”

lord-teach-me-to-pray-by-john-macarthurLord, Teach Me to Pray – John MacArthur
In this short book, John MacArthur provides us with a short primer on prayer, hoping that the book will awaken a renewed passion in us for prayer. He looks at the basics of prayer and when and how often we should pray. He then examines what the content of prayer should be. Finally he looks at some of the sins that will hinder our prayers and how to overcome those sins.

These are 10 books on prayer that I’ve read and can recommend to you. Have you read any of these? What books on prayer have you read and can recommend?


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Why I Would Recommend You Don’t Go See the Movie “The Shack”

the-shackKnowing that I enjoy going to the movies, I’ve already had many friends ask me if I was planning to see the upcoming film adaptation of William P. Young’s best-selling 2007 novel The Shack. When I tell them that I’m not going due to serious theological issues in the book, they usually respond that they don’t know or care too much about theological issues, they just loved the book.

Several years ago, when it seemed like everyone I talked to was reading the book (the book has sold an incredible 22 million copies to date), I decided to read it myself. I wanted to see why it was resonating with so many people, even some of my friends who didn’t regularly attend church. And while the book can speak to those who have experienced a tragedy or lost a loved one, I had serious concerns about the way the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) were portrayed.

To help you be discerning as you consider whether or not to watch the film or read the book (as interest in the book has been rekindled with the release of the film), I offer the below perspectives from three respected Christians teachers.

  1. Tim Keller. In this article Tim Keller writes “But here is my main problem with the book. Anyone who is strongly influenced by the imaginative world of The Shack will be totally unprepared for the far more multi-dimensional and complex God that you actually meet when you read the Bible.”
  2. Tim Challies. In this article (which also links to his lengthy review of the book), Tim Challies writes “The Shack presents God in human flesh. It makes the infinite finite, the invisible visible, the omnipotent impotent, the all-present local, the spiritual material. In its visual portrayal of God it diminishes, it obfuscates, it blasphemes, it lies. Even though I would watch the film to help others interpret it and to bring correction to error, I would still be subjecting myself to a false, blasphemous portrayal of God. I cannot allow myself to watch it even for that purpose. I cannot and will not watch or review it.”
  3. Randy Alcorn. Randy Alcorn writes “Unfortunately, increasingly few people these days are well grounded in the Word and have both the knowledge and the discernment to filter out the bad while embracing the good. That means that some people, perhaps many, will fail to recognize the book’s theological weaknesses, and therefore be vulnerable to embracing them, even if unconsciously. Sadly, I personally know some who have been led down a path of universalism through their understanding of the book and what they have heard the author say, either publicly or privately.”

I know these comments won’t be popular with many. Please seriously consider them when making your decision about whether you will see this film. And if you disagree with what is written here, please let me know and why.  Also, if you need good materials that address the topics in the movie such as “Where was God when I lost my loved one?” I would be glad to give you some recommendations.

Blessings!


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My Review of Bryan Chapell’s book UNLIMITED GRACE

unlimited grace by bryan chapellUnlimited Grace: The Heart Chemistry That Frees from Sin and Fuels the Christian Life by Bryan Chapell. Crossway. 192 pages. 2016
****

Bryan Chapell, was the President of Covenant Theological Seminary for most of the time I attended the school. He served there for three decades in teaching and administration. He is now the Senior Pastor at Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois, where Tammy and I were married years ago. Unlimited Grace is his latest book and it’s a gem, perhaps my top book of the year, right up there with The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson.

Chapell writes of how he has been on a journey together with the people of Grace Presbyterian Church to discern how the grace of the gospel can transform a church by freeing people from sin and fueling their lives with new hope and joy. He states that this book is an effort both to reflect what they have learned together and to teach the values that he hopes will guide those who join on this gospel endeavor.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part takes the reader on a journey to discover how grace not only frees us from the guilt and shame of sinful lives but also provides daily fuel for the joy that is the strength of Christian living. The second part explains how preachers, teachers, counselors, mentors, parents, and all others who share God’s Word can find grace in every portion of Scripture. And the final part attempts to answer the common questions people ask about how to find grace, and how to keep from abusing its blessings. The author states that the aim of the book is to identify not only how these truths of grace affect our understanding of God’s acceptance at the end of our lives, but also how they empower our efforts to honor God every day of our lives.

Dr. Chapell states that the essence of grace is that God provides for us what we could not provide for ourselves. In this book he addresses many helpful concepts such as legalism, our identity, performance, behavior, holiness and motivation towards obedience, God’s acceptance of us, sin and repentance, the distinction between justification and sanctification, biblical fear of God and His judgement.

It took me longer than usual to read this book because of the number of passages I highlighted. I highly recommend this book. Read it and share the wonderful message of God’s grace with others.

bryan-chapell65 Wonderful Quotes from
Unlimited Grace by Bryan Chapell

  1. New obedience and daily living in harmony with Christ’s standards may enable us to experience God’s forgiveness, but we never earn it.
  2. God’s great grace toward us fosters such love for him that we want to please and honor him. His mercy toward us stirs such overwhelming thanksgiving in us that we desire to live for him. Love compels us.
  3. A Christian for whom love of God is the highest priority is also the person most motivated and enabled to serve the purposes of God.
  4. We will inevitably focus our resources of heart, soul, mind, and strength on what or whom we love the most.
  5. Grace draws the one to whom it is extended closer to the One expressing it.
  6. We are ultimately controlled by whatever we love the most.
  7. Real change—real power over seemingly intractable patterns of sin and selfishness—comes when Christ becomes our preeminent love. When that happens, all that pleases and honors him becomes the source of our deepest pleasure, highest aim, and greatest effort.
  8. When his delight is our greatest joy, we give our lives in fullest measure to his purposes.
  9. Since God is entirely holy, we cannot earn his approval based upon our efforts.
  10. Those who try to make themselves acceptable to God by their own efforts are comparable to someone trying to clean a white shirt with muddy hands.
  11. Because he is just, there’s no double jeopardy or double punishment with God. Once the penalty has been paid, it doesn’t have to be paid again. And because he is gracious, God determined that all who confess that they need and want Jesus’s punishment to serve as a substitute for their own will have no more penalty to pay—now or ever (Heb. 9:22–26).
  12. What happens if we ignore Christ’s provision? Then we will face a judgment day on which people will have to explain why they didn’t believe they needed Jesus. They will have to prove that they are as holy as God requires for an eternity with him.
  13. Grace not only promotes grateful devotion but also derails self-serving pride.
  14. While everyone should be concerned about whether his or her behavior pleases God, the Bible makes it clear that our behavior does not determine his acceptance. His mercy does (Titus 3:4–5).
  15. The reason our good works or intentions are inadequate is not that there is no good in them, but that they are not sufficiently good.
  16. Good behavior doesn’t get you into heaven or out of hell. That’s game changing for people banking on their goodness to get God’s acceptance. But does that mean what we do doesn’t matter to God? No. It means that good behavior has to be motivated by something other than a presumed payment or feared penalty for our performance.
  17. But what else is there to motivate us to good deeds if our relationship with God cannot be purchased by them? The answer is the relationship itself.
  18. Who we are in loving relationship with God is not determined by what we do; rather, what we do is determined by who we are.
  19. God’s grace motivates our behavior; our behavior does not manufacture his grace.
  20. God’s gracious claim on us is our greatest cause for serving him.
  21. What we do must not determine who we are, but who we are by God’s grace should determine what we do.
  22. Grace justifies guilty sinners so that they have Jesus’s guiltless status before God.
  23. Though our sin pollutes us, we are sanctified by God’s grace so that he can use us for his holy purposes.
  24. Because we know that God expects us to make progress in our sanctification—to grow in personal holiness—we can begin to think that our status is determined by our progress. We begin to base our justification (being okay with God) on our progress in sanctification (how we are doing with regard to personal holiness). This line of thought basically leaves us evaluating whether God loves us based on whether we are being good enough to satisfy him.
  25. We must remember that our justification (being okay with God) and applied sanctification (being a pure child of God) are never determined by what we do but, rather, by faith in what Christ has done.
  26. God expects personal works of holiness as a loving response to his grace, but not as a way of gaining it. If we had to earn grace at any time in our Christian lives, it would not be grace.
  27. The heart stirred by God’s justifying and sanctifying grace will long to serve him. In contrast, one who believes that God will love us only when we are good enough may serve him with vigor but will struggle, and almost inevitably fail to love him.
  28. Holy identity comes before holy imperatives. This order never varies in Scripture: imperatives are based on our identity.
  29. Obedience is always a response to God’s grace, and not a way of gaining it.
  30. Our identity determines what we do; what we do does not determine our identity. The imperatives we honor are based on the identity we have, and the order is not reversible. The practical implications of this simple truth will change every relationship of those who determine to live in patterns consistent with the gospel.
  31. Jesus does not love any child (young or old) because the child is good. Jesus loves his children because he is good.
  32. The message that Jesus loves us because we are good denies that the cross was either necessary or sufficient.
  33. Our obedience does not determine who we are. His grace does.
  34. The greatest blessing of the indwelling Christ is our new identity. We are as good as dead in terms of being able to satisfy God by our human efforts. But Jesus is alive in us by his Holy Spirit. So we have his identity.
  35. God will not love me more because I do better. He will not love me less because I stumble. His love is based not on my behavior but on my union with his Son—a union built on trust in his grace, not my goodness. Through that union, I have the identity of Christ and cannot be loved more, because I am already loved as infinitely as he. And because of that union, I will not be loved less, since Christ’s life, not mine, is the basis of God’s love.
  36. The power to obey our Lord requires that we know what honors him. We cannot do our Savior’s will if we do not know what he wants.
  37. The kind of teaching that puts God’s law and his grace in opposition to one another doesn’t actually understand how the Bible’s heart chemistry works. While it is true that our obedience to God’s law is not the basis of his love for us, that does not mean that God’s standards are bad, irrelevant, or to be ignored.
  38. Even if there are no tangible benefits in this life, we obey God because his standards reflect his own righteous and holy character. By living for God in situations where there is no apparent gain for us, we demonstrate our devotion to him.
  39. Our eternal relationship with God is a consequence of trusting in Christ’s death and resurrection—plus nothing.
  40. Duty and doctrine dispensed without grace can create only two possible human responses: pride and despair.
  41. We sin not because we don’t love Christ at all but because we don’t love him above all.
  42. Since the life source of sin is our love for it, we defeat sin when we deprive it of our affection—or displace it with a greater affection.
  43. When our love for Christ is preeminent (first above all things), it drives out love for sin and spurs our devotion to him (Col. 1:18).
  44. If our reason for reading the Bible is so God won’t get mad at us, or will be nice to us, then we are implicitly trying to buy his goodness with ours.
  45. The ultimate purpose of the Christian disciplines is to fill our hearts with love for Christ so that all other loves are displaced and diminished in power.
  46. If we truly love Jesus, we love what and whom he loves.
  47. His grace gets us into his kingdom, maintains us in the kingdom, and secures us for the kingdom.
  48. Every text relates some aspect of God’s redeeming grace that finds its fullest expression in Christ.
  49. The Bible actually seems intent on tarnishing the reputations of almost all its heroes. That’s because we are supposed to recognize there is only one true hero. His name is Jesus.
  50. Teaching people to be like a noble person in the Bible without dependence upon the grace that person needed to be noble only creates pride (in those who think they can) and despair (in those who know they can’t).
  51. Jesus loves us not because we are good but because he is.
  52. To teach that our goodness will get us to God apart from his grace is not simply sub-Christian (saying less than needs to be said); it is actually anti-Christian (teaching what is contrary to the Christian faith).
  53. Striving for godliness in response to God’s grace pleases our Savior. Trying to be good enough for his acceptance apart from his grace insults him.
  54. In its essence, legalism teaches that we are made right with God by what we do. The essential message is that good behavior gets us to God.
  55. The gospel is not a balance between law and grace. It is the good news of grace that results in grateful lives of godliness.
  56. While teaching (or implying) that obedience can merit grace is certainly unbiblical and damaging, not teaching what God commands is equally unbiblical and uncaring.
  57. True obedience is always a loving response to God’s grace, rather than a vain attempt to earn it.
  58. When we love God above all, fulfillment of his purposes is our greatest reward.
  59. Punishment intends to inflict harm on the guilty in order to impose a deserved penalty for wrongdoing. Discipline intends to turn a person from harm, to restore, and to mature.
  60. Biblical fear is not simply cowering before God’s power and majesty or bowing before his love and mercy. It is a proper regard for all that we know about God’s character and care.
  61. To motivate genuine holiness, hell must first be perceived as the just destiny of those who have broken the righteous standards of God. Those standards must also be seen as rooted in the holiness of God, and their transgression as deserving an eternal penalty. When all this is understood, then the mercy of God that saves us from the just penalty of hell, more than hell itself, is what generates love for him.
  62. The more we repent, the more we remove barriers from our fellowship with Christ, and the more we experience the joy of the forgiveness he has already secured for us.
  63. Forgiveness is not the same thing as pardon. Forgiveness is the provision of grace that obliterates relational barriers between us and God. Pardon is the removal of the consequences of sin.
  64. All believers will experience eternal pardon for their sin, but grace now requires that consequences sometimes be allowed in this life to turn us from greater sin and harm
  65. Our repentance does not earn his favor; it expresses our sickness over our own sin and our desire to turn from it into a closer walk with him.


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5 Helpful Resources to Help You Learn More About Yourself

buckingham-quote

I have benefited greatly by completing personality assessments, as well as implementing the work of Marcus Buckingham on strengths and Susan Cain on the power of being an introvert. All of these resources have helped me to not only better understand myself, but my team, those I mentor, family and friends as well.

Here are five resources that have helped me the most and you can find of value as well:

1. Discover Your Strengths/Strengthsfinder – Marcus Buckingham, Donald Clifton and Tom Rath

now-discover-your-strengths-copystrengthsfinder-copy
I was first introduced to the modern “Strengths Movement” when I saw Marcus Buckingham speak at a learning conference several years ago. I had initially looked forward to seeing Jack Welch speak at that conference. When he had to cancel due to a health issue, Buckingham was a last minute wonderful replacement. The long-time best-selling Strengthsfinder assessment (which has now been used by more than five million people), was first included in Buckingham’s and Donald Clifton’s 2001 book Now Discover Your Strengths. I continue to find the Strengthsfinder assessment to be valuable in learning about myself and others, and have used it at work and we have used it as a church leadership team.  My top five Strengthsfinder themes are Belief, Responsibility, Learner, Harmony and Achiever.

  1. go-put-your-strengths-to-work-copyGo Put Your Strengths to Work – Marcus Buckingham

Buckingham’s strengths concepts really came alive for me with this 2007 book. The learning organization that I was a member of hosted Buckingham’s book tour for this book, and I have read and discussed this book with several groups. This book helped me to understand the concept of activities that “strengthen” or “weaken” me and others. This encouraged me to find work for my team members that would strengthen them. The book also introduced the concept of strength and weakness statements. When I look back on business books that have had a positive impact on me this one would be near the top.

 

  1. standout-copyStandOut – Marcus Buckingham

As I mentioned, Buckingham and Clifton developed the original Strengthsfinder assessment. Buckingham states that the purpose of that assessment was to be descriptive and affirming. He and Clifton wanted to provide a way to describe the best of us and to make us feel good about our style. Buckingham states that the challenge is that once you have a positive language to describe yourself, what do you do with it?

What careers should you pursue? What techniques should you call upon to capitalize on your strengths and outperform your competitors? What should you share with your manager to help him or her help you do your best work?

In recent years, Buckingham has focused less on measurement and more on what could be done to increase employee engagement, strengths and performance.
StandOut, published in 2011, was based on extensive research, statistical testing and analysis of the world’s top performers.

Where Strengthsfinder was descriptive and affirming, StandOut is prescriptive and innovating. The new StandOut assessment (an updated version StandOut 2.0 was published in 2015), measures you on nine strengths roles, and reveals your top two. My top two are Creator and Equalizer.

  1. myers-briggs-mbfMyers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). There are many personal assessments available. Although I have not completed it, many in my church have benefited from the Enneagram assessment. In the organization I work at, the PACE Palette assessment was very popular a few years back. I still find it as an excellent tool to use with a team.

The assessment that I have found most helpful is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment. There are many free versions online you take. Here is one free version.

The MBTI offers 16 types that are referred to by an abbreviation of four letters. My type is INTJ, meaning that I test as an introvert. The first time I took the assessment several years ago I remember being very concerned that the analysis included with the short online version of the assessment I took indicated that those who hold my profile are not equipped to be good leaders. As with any assessment, keep the results in perspective.

  1. Quiet (2)Quiet by Susan Cainquiet-power

Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking was an eye-opener for me. Like the other resources mentioned in this article, it helped me to better understand myself and others.  If you are an introvert, work with or are married to an introvert or have children who are introverts, I highly recommend you read this book. It includes insights that are equally helpful on and off the job. Although I have not read it yet, Cain has recently published a version of Quiet for kids and teens, entitled Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts.  

These are five resources that I have found to be helpful in learning more about myself and others. What resources have you found to be valuable?


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My 2016 Favorites

these-are-a-few-of-my-favorite-thingsAs I have for the past several years, I want to share with you some of my favorites from 2016 in a variety of categories. These are all items that were released or took place in 2016 except for books; I include my favorite books of the 62 that I’ve actually read during 2016.  My top 20 books include three each by Sinclair Ferguson and Tim Keller and two by Bryan Chapell.  Enjoy, and please let me know what you think of my list and share some of your favorites.

Never Lose Sight - Chris TomlinFavorite Music Album:  Never Lose Sight by Chris Tomlin. Here’s my review.

Here are the rest of my top 20 favorite albums, listed in order:

  1. Where the Light Shines Through – Switchfoot
  2. Church Clothes 3 – Lecrae
  3. Keep Me Singing – Van Morrison
  4. Spirit – Amos Lee
  5. All at Once – Phil Keaggy
  6. American Prodigal – Crowder
  7. The Waiting Room – Trip Lee
  8. These Christmas Lights – Matt Redman
  9. Fallen Angels – Bob Dylan
  10. Facing a Task Unfinished – Keith and Kristyn Getty
  11. Hard Love – NEEDTOBREATHE
  12. Wow to the Deadness (EP) – Steve Taylor and the Danielson Foil
  13. This Time Around (EP) – Tedashii
  14. Blue and Lonesome – Rolling Stones
  15. Hymns II – Michael W. Smith
  16. Worship and Believe – Steven Curtis Chapman
  17. I Still Can – Eric Clapton
  18. Stranger to Stranger – Paul Simon
  19. Acoustic Christmas – Neil Diamond

yes-and-amen-chris-tomlinFavorite Song:  Yes and Amen by Chris Tomlin

Here are the rest of my top 10 favorite songs, listed in order, along with one bonus song from Trip Lee:

  1. Running Out of Time – Amos Lee
  2. My Victory – Crowder
  3. Jumped Out the Whip – Tedashii
  4. Float – Switchfoot
  5. My Worth Is Not In Not In What I Own – Keith and Kristyn Getty with Fernando Ortega
  6. Testify – NEEDTOBREATHE
  7. Children Go Where I Send Thee – Neil Diamond with the Blind Boys of Alabama
  8. I’m Good – Tedashii
  9. I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine – Eric Clapton

Bonus song: Clouds – Trip Lee

chris-tomlinFavorite Artist of the Year: Obviously Chris Tomlin is my top artist for the year. He has my top album – Never Lose Sight – and song “Yes and Amen” and his song “Good Good Father”, though released in October, 2015, still topped 2016’s Billboard’s Christian Digital Songs chart.

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My Book of the Year: Devoted to God by Sinclair Ferguson

Devoted to GodDevoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification by Sinclair Ferguson. Banner of Truth. 296 pages. 2016
****

Every once in a while, a book comes along that is truly special. Hearing that Sinclair Ferguson whom R.C. Sproul calls his favorite theologian was writing a book on sanctification, I knew this book had the potential to be special. As I read the book, which is my top book of the year, I knew that it had delivered on that promise.

Dr. Ferguson writes in the “Introduction” that the book has a goal of providing a manual of biblical teaching on holiness developed on the basis of extended expositions of ten foundational passages in the New Testament that serve as biblical blueprints for building an entire life of holiness. These passages (which are printed in Appendix 5), create the possibility for exponential growth in our understanding of what sanctification is, and how it is nurtured.  Each chapter in the main portion of the book focuses on one of these passages, which the author recommends we meditate on, and even memorize them.

The passages focus on teaching that is given in the indicative, rather than the imperative mood – passages that describe sanctification, rather than passages that command it. As such, this is not so much a “how to” book but a “how God does it” book. It is not dominated by techniques for growing in holiness.  He states that the book is a manual written to encourage those who read it to “strive….for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord”. (Hebrews 13:14).

The author writes that holiness is unreserved devotion to the Lord. He tells us that the biblical teaching on holiness, a life devoted to God, is simply an extended exposition of 1 Corinthians 6: 1-20.

Holiness means belonging entirely to him. He tells us that from beginning to end being a Christian and being holy are virtually synonymous. Sanctification is the fruit of the Spirit’s ministry and likeness to Christ is the ultimate goal of sanctification. Sanctification is holiness, and therefore the ultimate fruit of being devoted to God.

As there has been some controversy regarding justification and sanctification in recent years, he writes that justification (God counting us as righteous in Christ) and sanctification (God making us more and more righteous in ourselves) should never be confused. Nor is the former dependent on the latter.  He states that we are not justified on the basis of our sanctification; yet justification never takes place without sanctification beginning.

Themes covered in this wonderful book include union with Christ, sin, God’s grace, election, the Trinity, flesh and Spirit, putting to death the old and putting on the new, and the Christian and the Law.

The 5 appendices included in the book nicely supplement the main text, which is bathed in Scripture. And as with all of his books, the author often quotes from old hymns of the faith.

I cannot recommend this book too highly.

30 Wonderful Quotes from Devoted to God:
Blueprints for Sanctification
by Sinclair Ferguson

This year I’ve read many excellent books but this is my favorite book of the year. Here are 30 quotes from the book that I wanted to share with you:

  1. Sanctification is God setting us apart for himself. As saints we have already been sanctified by him. Then he gradually transforms us so that we begin to reflect his attributes and attractiveness. Jesus Christ’s life begins to be mirrored in our lives and personalities.
  2. Divine election is the foundation of sanctification – not the other way around. Everything depends upon God taking the initiative.
  3. If God has committed himself to changing our lives, to sanctifying us, then wisdom – not to mention amazed gratitude – dictates that we should be committed to that too. Otherwise God’s will and my will are in competition with each other.
  4. The whole Trinity cooperates in bringing me to the goal. The Father, the Son and the Spirit co-operate with one another, but they also co-operate with me in order to make me more like Christ.
  5. Holiness is not only the desire of the Trinity, it is a specific command.
  6. Those who are becoming holy will always have a two-fold impact on those around them. On the one hand there will be the irresistible attraction of the beauty of holy-love showing what life in the presence of God really is – life as it was meant to be lived. On the other hand, this holy-love, so attractive in itself, also involves loving-holiness that will offend those who are repelled by God’s holiness and live in rebellion against him. It cannot be otherwise.
  7. Sanctification is the fruit of the Spirit’s ministry.
  8. If we are to understand the nature of sanctification and successfully pursue it, we must immerse ourselves in appreciating the grace of God expressed to us in Jesus Christ and applied in us by the Holy Spirit.
  9. Sanctification – being devoted to God – is always the fruit of his setting us apart in and through Christ.
  10. God’s grace transforms us through our union and communion with Jesus Christ.
  11. Believers are so united to Christ that all he is and has done for us becomes our possession too.
  12. Our lives are transformed only when our minds are renewed.
  13. For Paul, the “big idea” of the gospel is that the believer is “in Christ”.
  14. Romans 6: 1-14 are among the most important verses of the New Testament. It is not claiming too much to say that the church is still trying to fully understand some of the details of his teaching in Romans 6. So there is room here for a lifetime of reflection.
  15. Exhortations to be holy are always derived from an exposition of what God has done and provided for us in Christ and through the gift of the Spirit. Indicatives are always the foundation for imperatives even if they appear in the reverse order. God has been or done this – therefore you should be or do that. Or, be this, or become that – because this is who God is and what he has done.
  16. The Christian life involves us in an ongoing, lifelong conflict. The gospel therefore calls us to live under the reign of the Spirit in a world dominated by the flesh.
  17. Living in the Spirit therefore means a daily commitment to please Christ and not to please self.
  18. There can be no other way to live the Christian life than by (1) Putting to death the old, and (2) Putting on the new.
  19. Many young believers are shocked to discover that indwelling sin seems to be like an onion in the soul; the unraveling of one layer simply reveals the next – on and on continue the painful revelations of our sinfulness.
  20. The key test of any formula for sanctification is: Does this enable me to overcome the influence of sin, not simply in my outward actions but in my inner motivations? And, in particular: Does it increase my trust in and love for the Lord Jesus Christ?
  21. Success in the Christian life never means that we live for ourselves or see ourselves as superior to others. No, the real success the gospel effects releases us from our self-obsessions and self-interests, so that at last we are free in Christ to love and serve others.
  22. Growing in holiness, enjoying closer fellowship with God, brings with it an ongoing and very painful revelation of layers of sin that have been subtly hidden in our hearts but rarely if ever exposed.
  23. The Christian life has both seed-time and harvest. We therefore need to take a long-term view. If I sow to the flesh I will always reap from the flesh corruption; sow to the Spirit and I will enjoy a spiritual harvest in eternal life. That is an unchanging law in the kingdom of God.
  24. For what we think about and love will have a determinative influence on our character. What fills our minds will shape our lives. We become what we think!
  25. The law-maker became the law-keeper, but then took our place and condemnation as though he were the law-breaker. Now the requirements of the law have been fulfilled in him, its prescriptions fully obeyed, its penalties finally paid. All that remains is for this to be imputed to us in justification and imparted in us in sanctification through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
  26. Sin has a way of knitting itself into the very fabric of our being, into our character and personality, into our propensities and our weaknesses and, yes, even into our strengths – sometimes especially into our strengths. It becomes my distinctive sin.
  27. It is always a shock to our pride when we discover that we are sinners – and not merely people who occasionally sin.
  28. Those who experience the grace of God in justification want to experience his grace in sanctification too. That involves strenuous activity on our part.
  29. Jesus himself is the litmus test for all of our attitudes. His example is to be the driving force in our devotion. He never sought to please himself. If we are his we too are called to live in the same way.
  30. Union with Christ means that we come to participate not only in his death but also in his weakness. This weakness is not something from which union with Christ delivers us, but into which union with Christ brings us.