Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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BOOK REVIEW: Leaders Made Here by Mark Miller

Leaders Made Here by Mark Miller. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. 130 pages. 2017
****

In his latest book, Mark Miller writes that you ensure you’ll have the needed leaders to fuel your future success when you build a leadership culture. A leadership culture exists when leaders are routinely and systematically developed and the organization has a surplus of leaders ready for the next opportunity or challenge. The author states that he wrote the book primarily for those who can see the value in a strong bench of capable leaders but lack the strategic framework to make it so.
As is his custom, the author teaches through an entertaining fable, much like those of Patrick Lencioni and Ken Blanchard. We meet Blake, the new CEO in a mid-sized firm in a slow-growth industry. Not only is the firm not growing, but it sustained a recent tragedy (explosion) on Blake’s first day on the job, in which six employees were killed. Although the accident was attributed to human error, Blake said that it was actually due to leadership error. Leadership failed and people died.
Blake tells his senior leadership team (minus one, as the head of Human Resources decided to retire about being injured in the explosion), that they need to build a leadership bench, which is not a term they are familiar about.
Blake decides to seek out his mentor Jack, who we met in the author’s previous book Chess Not Checkers. Jack suggests that Blake appoint an interim or hire a consultant to help with the leadership bench issue. Blake decided to reach out to Charles, a rock star in the human resources world to help him out and also to help identify a new head of Human Resources. Although Charles is going through his own personal issues, he agrees to take on the short-term assignment.
As Charles and his team begin their task, they develop a charter, conduct interviews with members of the senior leadership team, and do some benchmarking with leading firms that have built a leadership culture. They want to build a culture where they can say with integrity that leaders are made here. They eventually come up with five commitments of a leadership culture.
I’m fortunate to work in an organization that has a leadership culture. Much of what I read in this book reminded me of my organization. For those who work in organizations that do not currently have a leadership culture, this book would be an excellent first step to take toward building one.


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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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Book Review: Making Sense of God by Timothy Keller

book_review
Making Sense of God, An Invitation to the Skeptical – Tim KellerMaking Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical by Timothy Keller. Viking. 336 pages. 2016
****  

This book is considered to be a prequel to Tim Keller’s excellent 2008 book Reason for God. The author wrote the book to bring secular readers to a place where they might find it even sensible and desirable to explore the extensive foundations for the truth of Christianity. He compares the beliefs and claims of Christianity with the beliefs and claims of the secular view, asking which one makes more sense of a complex world and human experience. He challenges both the assumption that the world is getting more secular and the belief that secular, nonreligious people are basing their view of life mainly on reason. He then compares and contrasts how Christianity and secularism seek to provide meaning, satisfaction, freedom, identity, a moral compass, and hope—all things so crucial that we cannot live life without them.
Who is the book written for? The author states that if you think Christianity doesn’t hold much promise of making sense to a thinking person, then the book is written for you. In addition, if you have friends or family who feel this way, the book will be of interest for you and them as well.
He gives us two reasons to read the book. The first is practical. He first states not whether religion is true, but only to make the case that it is by no means a dying force. The second reason is a personal one. He writes that if you are experiencing unquiet and dissatisfaction in your life, they may be signs of a need for God that is there but which is not recognized as such.
This is a weighty read, not one that you will read through quickly. Of the many topics that he covered, the two that I got the most out of were his discussions of identity and particularly the problem that morals pose for secular people.
The author includes a list of five books for further reading that will give readers a good overview of Christian beliefs presented in the context of most contemporary arguments for and against their validity.
This was one of the best books I read in 2016, and I highly recommend it.  Click on this link to read more reviews of Tim Keller’s books. Continue reading


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My Review of “Explore by the Book”

explore-by-the-book-90-days-in-john-14thru17-romans-and-james-by-timothy-keller-and-sam-allberryExplore by the Book: 90 Days in John 14-17, Romans & James by Timothy Keller and Sam Allberry. The Good Book Company. 192 pages. 2017
***

Explore by the Book looks at John 14-17, with verse by verse readings/commentary written by Sam Allberry, Romans, written by Tim Keller, and James, written by Allberry. The 90 devotionals included in this book are taken from the Explore Quarterly devotional.  The book is referred to as an “open Bible devotional”, in that you will need to keep your printed or digital Bible open as you use these studies. You’ll be asked questions throughout so that you think about the text. While it is commendable to provide a product which will have you interact with the Scriptures such as this, I feel it was a major misstep to not include the actual Scripture text (or at least a hyperlink to the passage in the e-book edition), being discussed in the book. I read almost all of my books in the Kindle version. As I read the book, I had to constantly exit the book and look up the passage in my Kindle version of the Bible. This decreased my devotional experience with the book.

It is suggested that you set aside a half an hour a day for 90 days to work through these studies, and to respond to the questions that are provided. Each study has sub-sections of the passage covered. After each small chunk of teaching there will be questions to address, and one or both of the headings Apply, and Pray. You are to use these sections to turn what you have read in the Bible and speak back to God.

This book, which features excellent content, would best be read in the hardback edition, which comes with ribbon marker and space for journaling.  It is suggested that before you read each study that you read the passage and then include several things:

  • The Highlight: the truth about God that most struck you.
  • The Query: the questions you have about what you have read (and your best attempt at answering them).
  • The Change: the major way you feel the Spirit is prompting you to change either your attitudes, or your actions, as a result of what you have read.

After you have completed each study, record:

  • One sentence summing up how God has spoken to you through his word.
  • A short prayer in response to what you have seen.

Explore by the Book is a wonderful concept that is best used with the hardback edition of the book and a physical copy of your Bible open. I would not recommend the e-book format, due to the concerns expressed above.


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

book reviews
alexander-hamiltonAlexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. The Penguin Press. 818 pages. 2004
****

This detailed and well-written biography of an important figure in the founding of our country inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda’s highly successful (11 Tony Awards, Grammy Award and Pulitzer Prize for Drama) musical Hamilton.  I read the book to find out more about Alexander Hamilton and to better understand the musical, which I will be seeing soon.
Hamilton was born in the West Indies, the exact date not known, with the author using the year 1755. Hamilton was around slavery growing up, and the theme of slavery comes up throughout the book. As his parents were not married, he would forever be referred to as a bastard by his enemies, such as second President John Adams. Hamilton’s experienced difficulties early on with his father abandoning the family, his Mom dying of a sudden illness and the first cousin he and his half-brother would go to live with committing suicide.
Hamilton was self-taught, and his Christian faith was strong early in his life, waning in the middle years, and becoming strong again late in his life. He wrote poems, the first of which was published in a newspaper in 1771. This would lead to being given the opportunity to go to America for an education, eventually landing at Kings College (now Columbia University).
Hamilton excelled in his speeches and writing. One of the things that impressed me about Hamilton was his voluminous writing.  He would also excel in military service, becoming a Captain the Battle of New York. George Washington would ask him to join his staff as his secretary, with a rank of Lt. Colonel, serving more as what we would know as a Chief of Staff.  The author states that it is difficult to conceive of their careers apart from each other. They would have a mutual respect which grew even stronger late in Washington’s life.    The author takes us through the events leading to the development of our nation, beginning with the Boston Tea Party.
Hamilton would leave Washington’s staff, frustrated that since he was so valuable to Washington, the president had blocked several possible other opportunities for him.  He would become an attorney, as did Aaron Burr, whose grandfather was the great theologian Jonathan Edwards. Several times the author will show how Hamilton’s and Burr’s lives intersect.
Hamilton would be instrumental in founding the Bank of New York, the oldest stock still being traded on the New York Stock Exchange, and later a new Federalist newspaper, the New York Evening Post, the oldest continuously active paper.
Hamilton would marry Elizabeth (Eliza) Schuyler, a Dutch Reformed Christian, and they would have eight children. By this time, Hamilton had drifted from the faith of his youth, and he would never have a church affiliation.
Women were attracted to Hamilton, and this would later lead to one of his major failures, a long-time affair with Mariah Reynolds, a married woman. This would lead to blackmail payments to her husband. Hamilton was suspected of financial collusion with Mariah Reynolds’ husband. James Monroe would later be involved in making the documents of Hamilton’s affair public, something Hamilton would never forgive him for, and would later lead to both threatening a duel.
The author shows Hamilton “warts and all”. He was against slavery, but may have owned a few household slaves. He made an ill-advised 6 ½ hour speech at the Constitutional Convention, wrote a long pamphlet about his affair and another long one against Adam’s presidency. He also had a long time association with William Dewars, a man of questionable character.
I enjoyed reading about how our government was put together (Congress, Supreme Court, Electoral College, Bill of Rights, Coast Guard, our financial system, etc.), so long ago and yet relatively unchanged in 2017. The controversial Alien and Sedition Act brings the current day issue of immigration into the story. Hamilton wrote the majority of the Federalist Papers, with help from Madison and a little from John Jay.
Hamilton would become Treasury Secretary and have conflict with Madison over the debt issue. He would also have ideological differences with Thomas Jefferson, who was Secretary of State under President George Washington.
The French Revolution plays prominently in this story. We read of the Jay Treaty protest in New York City, where Hamilton’s temper got the best of him and he threated to resort to violence.
Washington chose not to serve a third term as president, leading to the first contested presidential election. Adams was elected, but felt that Hamilton was disloyal to him. Adams would take many low blows at Hamilton, and would become another of his political enemies.
Hamilton would speak out against Vice President Burr’s quest to become the Governor of New York in 1804, leading to murderous rage in Burr, which eventually led to their duel and Hamilton’s death. Ironically, the author states that without their political rivalry, the two lawyers could have been good friends.
This fascinating book contains a number of recurring themes such as slavery, Aaron Burr’s role in Hamilton’s life, Hamilton’s political relationships – positive (Washington) and negative (Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Clinton and Burr), his affair with Mariah Reynolds, his poor judgment regarding William Dewars and the faith of Hamilton and wife Eliza.
Reading this book really helped me to be able to follow and understand the excellent Original Broadway Cast recording of the musical Hamilton. Recently, the Hamilton Mixtape was released, executive produced by Hamilton creator/composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, and featuring performances of some of the songs from the musical by popular artists such as Alicia Keys, Kelly Clarkson, Usher, John Legend, and the Roots. Both releases contain adult language, though a “clean” version of the Hamilton Mixtape is available. Continue reading


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

My Devotional Books for 2017

voices-from-the-pastVoices from the Past: Puritan Devotional Readings. Edited by Richard Rushing. Banner of Truth. 428 pages. 2009
****

The author writes that over the past fifty years there has been a great resurgence of interest in the writings of the Puritans.  I was personally introduced to the Puritans about twenty years ago by my pastor through the wonderful Puritan reprints of Dr. Don Kistler and also via The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions. Richard Rushing has developed this book of daily readings extracted from some of his favorite Puritan authors (a second volume was recently published). His prayer is that these readings will stimulate the reader to explore further the writings of these spiritual giants.

Each of the short readings (approximately 350 words), begins with a Scripture verse. The author selected the verse according to the theme of the reading. While some of the devotions appear almost as written, others have been condensed by the author so that several pages form a single devotional reading. At the end of each reading is the Puritan author and a citation from where Richard Rushing pulled the reading.  I plan to use this wonderful resource as a part of my devotional reading for 2017.

60-days-of-happiness60 Days of Happiness: Discover God’s Promise of Relentless Joy by Randy Alcorn. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. 304 pages. 2017
****

Respected author Randy Alcorn states that our problem isn’t that we want to be happy. Rather, our problem is that we keep looking for happiness in all of the wrong places. He writes that this new book, drawn from selected portions of his acclaimed 2016 book Happiness, will take you to God, the primary source of happiness in the universe. The book then connects the secondary sources of happiness back to the God who created them and graciously gives them to us.

The author has reworked the material from Happiness to present it here in a fresh and different way. I have not yet read Happiness, which is nearly 500 pages in length, though have read his small God’s Promise of Happiness, which encouraged me to read this medium sized book. For this book, the author and editor have selected subjects that most lend themselves to personal growth and worshipful meditation on God and his Word, which will be an excellent way to start 2017. Each of the 60 daily readings begin with a scripture verse and an inspirational quote (Tim Keller, Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, etc.), and end with a prayer. I am using the book for daily devotional reading, though it can certainly be read straight through as you would a regular book. Whether you have read the larger Happiness and would like to return to the subject in a devotional format, or whether you haven’t read Happiness but want to learn what God and his people have said about the subject of happiness throughout the centuries, I think you will enjoy and be blessed by this new book. Continue reading


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

book reviews

A Peculiar Glory by John PiperA Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness by John Piper. Crossway. 304 pages. 2016
****

This is Piper’s first major work since 2011’s Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian. His objective is to answer the questions of how are we to know that the Scriptures are the word of God, how can we trust the Bible, and what do the Scriptures claim for themselves. Piper’s main passion has been toward the non-scholarly. He asks how the common (non-seminary trained, non-scholar) Christian has a well-grounded trust in Scripture. How can they know for certain that the Bible is confirmed by the peculiar glory of God?

He begins with his own biographical story about the Bible. He asks the reader ‘on what do you stand?’ He writes that God was holding onto him by making the view compelling. Piper didn’t just hold a view of Scripture, he was held by His glory through His Word. He tells us that he went from being a teacher of the Bible in Bible College to a preacher of the Bible for 33 years at Bethlehem Baptist Church.

He then looks at what the Scriptures claim for themselves, and how we can know such claims are true. His concern is the Bible’s self-attestation, or the internal witness of the Holy Spirit. He then looks at what books make up the Scriptures. From there he looks at what the Scriptures claim for themselves through the Old Testament, Jesus and the Apostles. Piper writes that he believes in the inerrancy of the original manuscripts, though we do not have the original manuscripts at our disposal.

He then addresses the main questions that are listed above. He concludes the book with six chapters on how the Scriptures are confirmed by the peculiar glory of God.

Piper contends that God’s Glory and His Word are inseparable. He draws heavily from Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin, the Apostle Paul (specifically 2 Corinthians 4:3-6) and Westminster Larger Catechism question 4 to address the questions the book poses. He argues that the Bible exposes us to the glory of God and in that way gives us complete confidence that it is, indeed, God’s own word.

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