Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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Redeeming Your Time: 7 Biblical Principles for Being Purposeful, Present, and Wildly Productive by Jordan Raynor

Redeeming Your Time: 7 Biblical Principles for Being Purposeful, Present, and Wildly Productive by Jordan Raynor. WaterBrook. 240 pages. 2021
****

Like me, you may have already read a few books about productivity. I’ve read good books by Tim Challies and Matt Perman, and recently read Redeeming Your Time by Jordan Raynor (Called to Create, Master of One), which I commend to you.
Raynor tells us that the solution to our struggle with time management is found in Jesus Christ. He tells us that Jesus offers us peace before we do anything, and also that Jesus shows us how God would manage his time. Because he was infallible God, we can assume that Jesus managed his time perfectly, providing us with the ideal model to follow.  As far as what makes this book different from other time management/productivity books you’ve read, the author tells us that this book:

  • Accounts for how the Author of time managed his time.
  • Seeks to collect and connect the previously disconnected pieces of the time management puzzle.
  • Attempts to strike a unique balance between the theological, the theoretical, and the tactical. 

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When Prayer Is a Struggle

When Prayer Is a Struggle: A Practical Guide for Overcoming Obstacles in Prayer by Kevin Halloran. P&R Publishing. 160 pages. 2021
****

To prepare to write this practical guide on prayer, the author examined his own struggles with prayer, and surveyed about a hundred other believers to learn theirs. He searched the scriptures, read many books on prayer and researched enduring practices for growing in prayer. The multiyear process transformed him. This book is the fruit of that process.
In the book he includes quotes and stories from believers, past and present, to show how they have overcome their struggles and grown in their love for God. He concludes each chapter with a prayer and helpful Questions for Reflection.
He begins this book by looking at each petition of the Lord’s Prayer. Among the other subjects covered in the book are ways for Scripture to guide us in prayer, guilt, steps for cultivating a gospel mindset in prayer, sinful motives in prayer, methods that can help us focus better in prayer, being intentional in taking advantage of the gift of prayer, simple systems to help you pray more faithfully, God-given ways to fight anxiety in prayer, and tactics for prayer in our busy lives.
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“Searching for Grace” Book Review

Searching for Grace: A Weary Leader, a Wise Mentor, and Seven Healing Conversations for a Parched Soul by Scotty Smith and Russ Masterson. Tyndale Momentum. 256 pages. 2021
****

Russ Masterson was a 35-year-old pastor who had just planted a church, and was attempting to keep his life under control. He was asking “How did I get here? and “How does this get better?” He attended a retreat and heard Scotty Smith speak, and Scotty’s words pierced his soul.
As his church grew, Russ’s questions and anxiety continued to grow as well. A year and a half after that retreat, Russ wrote Scotty and asked if he would mentor him, which Scotty agreed to. Russ tells us that Scotty came into his life at the intersection of head knowledge of the gospel and his anxious heart. As they met, Russ would take notes in his journal about what Scotty told him. During their monthly conversations, Russ would ask questions, and as Scotty and Russ talked, it was like time stood still. These were holy moments for Russ.
Russ wanted others to hear what he was hearing from Scotty so that they could live more peaceful lives. Learning how to live in the peace of God, through these seven conversations, is what this book is all about. Continue reading


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Book Review of CRUSH YOUR CAREER by Dee Ann Turner

Crush Your Career: Ace the Interview, Land the Job, and Launch Your Future by Dee Ann Turner. Baker Books. 208 pages. 2021
****

Dee Ann Turner worked at Chick fil-A for thirty-three years where she served as a senior leader. In this her third book following “It’s My Pleasure” and “Bet on Talent”, she provides a road map to navigate your way to finding a job, keeping a job, and growing a career. Beginning with developing your resume and maximizing your online presence, all the way through leading others and thinking about retirement, the author gives valuable advice you would expect to receive from a trusted coach or mentor. She writes that the expertise in the book was born somewhat of successes, but more so in the failures as we learn much more by our mistakes than we do by our successes.
Among the subjects that the book addresses that I found most helpful were our purpose, mission and core values, character formation, how to ace the interview, building solid relationships, growing trust, listening, giving and receiving feedback, preparing for an opportunity, resilience, mentors, responding to change, self-development, growing as an emerging leader and problem solving. Continue reading


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Yours, Till Heaven: The Untold Love Story of Charles and Susie Spurgeon

Yours, Till Heaven: The Untold Love Story of Charles and Susie Spurgeon by Ray Rhodes Jr. Moody Publishers. 224 pages. 2021
****

I was looking forward to reading this book as I had previously enjoyed the author’s 2018 book Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon; Wife of Charles Spurgeon. This new book will be enjoyed by those who love the ministry of Charles Spurgeon and the author’s previous book, as well as those who enjoy reading books about positive examples of marriages.
The title of the book comes from how Charles would sometimes end his letters to Susie “Yours, till Heaven, and then”. As you will read, their love for each other was truly a love “till Heaven, and then.” In this well-researched volume, the author tells how their love weathered the storms of tragedy, controversy, affliction, separation, and the death of family members and friends, and finally their own roads parting with Charles’s death preceding Susie’s.
Susie, who was raised in London, was not initially impressed by Charles, a young pastor, who was raised in country towns. Charles’ initial concern was for Susie’s salvation. But just months later, they were engaged.
By the time of their marriage, Charles was a very popular Baptist pastor in London. The newlyweds honeymooned in Paris. In their first year of marriage, the couple had twin boys, Charles Jr. and Thomas, their only children in their thirty-six-year marriage. Continue reading


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50 Great Quotes on Leadership from John Wooden

Wooden on Leadership: How to Create a Winning Organization by John Wooden and Steve Jamison. McGraw-Hill Education. 321 pages. 2005.
****

I’ve long respected John Wooden for the values he brought to leadership as one of the greatest coaches of all time. For example, over a twelve-year period at UCLA, Wooden won an incredible ten NCAA national basketball championships, including a record seven in a row.  I’ve rarely highlighted as many passages in a book as I did with this one.

The book is divided into three main sections:
Part 1: The Foundation for My Leadership. In this section he covers the 15 fundamental values that were the blocks for his Pyramid of Success. He writes that he believed that they are prerequisites for a leader and an organization whose goal is to perform at the highest level of which they are capable.

Part 2: Lessons in Leadership. This is the section that I most appreciated and where I highlighted a large number of leadership quotes. After each teaching by Wooden there would be a helpful “Suggestions to Lead By” and an “On Wooden” section by some of Wooden’s former players and coaches.

Part 3: Lessons from My Notebook. This section was my least favorite of the book, having the least application for general (non-basketball) leadership. What was most interesting to me was that this section included pages or excerpts of pages from notebooks he used through the years in his teaching—notes, observations, reminders, suggestions, and lists of relevant goals and how to achieve them.

As I mentioned, I highlighted a large number of passages as I read the book. I’ve eliminated many of them to get down to 50 of my favorite quotes from the book:

  • I believe that’s what leadership is all about: helping others to achieve their own greatness by helping the organization to succeed.
  • I believe leadership itself is largely learned.
  • Whatever coaching and leadership skills I possess were learned through listening, observation, study, and then trial and error along the way.
  • It’s the quality of your effort that counts most and offers the greatest and most long-lasting satisfaction.
  • The joy is in the journey of pushing yourself to the outward limits of your ability and teaching your organization to do the same.
  • Effort is the ultimate measure of your success.
  • I do not judge success based on championships; rather, I judge it on how close we came to realizing our potential.
  • Reputation is what others perceive you as being, and their opinion may be right or wrong. Character, however, is what you really are, and nobody truly knows that but you. But you are what matters most.
  • A strong leader accepts blame and gives the credit. A weak leader gives blame and accepts the credit.
  • Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to stay there.
  • Practice moderation and balance in all that you do.
  • The best leaders understand that to successfully compete at any level requires continuous learning and improvement.
  • The best leaders are lifelong learners; they take measures to create organizations that foster and inspire learning throughout.
  • The most effective leaders are those who realize it’s what you learn after you know it all that counts most.
  • Character—doing the right thing—is fundamental to successful leadership
  • For me, a good explanation of character is simple: respect for yourself, respect for others, respect for the game, whether it’s basketball, business, or anything else.
  • A leader with character attracts talent with the same.
  • Who you are inside—what you believe—is important, but what you do means more, much more. Actions trump words, and your values must be visible if they are to have an impact on those you lead or hope to attract as part of your team.
  • Character counts and values matter. And you, the leader, set the standard for both in your organization.
  • For me, leadership is a sacred trust.
  • I believe you must have love in your heart for the people under your leadership. I did.
  • For a good leader, the team is nothing less than extended family.
  • Team members wouldn’t be treated the same or alike; rather, each one would receive the treatment they earned and deserved.
  • I believe effective leaders are, first and foremost, good teachers.
  • Your own personal example is one of the most powerful leadership tools you possess. Put it to good use: Be what you want your team to become.
  • A leader who is through learning is through.
  • A leader who is ruled by emotions, whose temperament is mercurial, produces a team whose trademark is the roller coaster—ups and downs in performance; unpredictability and un-dependability in effort and concentration; one day good, the next day bad.
  • Sharing credit is a surefire way of improving the performance results for any organization.
  • Little things, done well, make big things happen for you and your organization.
  • A casual approach to executing the details of a job ensures that the job will be done poorly.
  • I fully understood that the success of my leadership was directly linked to using time wisely.
  • I came to the conclusion that when choosing between the carrot and the stick as a motivational tool, the well-chosen carrot was almost always more powerful and longer lasting than the stick.
  • Each member of your team has a potential for personal greatness; the leader’s job is to help them achieve it.
  • I believe that personal greatness is measured against one’s own potential, not against that of someone else on the team or elsewhere.
  • Personal greatness for any leader is measured by effectiveness in bringing out the greatness of those you lead.
  • Don’t worry about being better than someone else, but never cease trying to be the best you can become.
  • Are you holding your team back with misconceived notions and false limitations? Identify and then eliminate them. Seek solutions rather than excuses.
  • I believe one of the requirements of good leadership is the ability to listen—really listen—to those in your organization.
  • I believe that you must have people around you willing to ask questions and express opinions, people who seek improvement for the organization rather than merely gaining favor with the boss.
  • Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.
  • The most productive leaders are usually those who are consistently willing to listen and learn.
  • Success is more often attained by asking “how?” than by saying “no.”
  • Contentment with past accomplishments or acceptance of the status quo can derail an organization quickly.
  • Assume improvement is always possible and force yourself—and others—to find out how.
  • New ideas and perspective from those under your leadership are essential for achieving and maintaining a competitive edge.
  • If your word is nothing, you’re not much better.
  • A leader whose promise means something is trusted. Trust counts for everything in leadership.
  • Things turn out best for those who make the best of the way things turn out.
  • A good leader never stops learning. A great leader never stops teaching.
  • Past achievements for any leader or organization will occur again in the future only with equal, or greater, effort.


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Why the Reformation Still Matters by Michael Reeves and Tim Chester

Why the Reformation Still Matters by Michael Reeves and Tim Chester. Crossway. 224 pages. 2016
****

The authors write that at the heart the Reformation was a dispute about how we know God and how we can be right with him. Our eternal future was at stake, a choice between heaven and hell. For the Reformers there was no need more pressing than assurance in the face of divine judgment, and there was no act more loving than to proclaim a message of grace that granted eternal life to those who responded with faith. Though many will tell you that the Reformation doesn’t matter or even was a bad idea, the authors tell us otherwise. They state that the Reformation still matters because eternal life still matters. In addition, the Reformation still matters because the debates between Catholics and Protestants have not gone away.

The authors outline some key emphases of the Reformation and explore their contemporary relevance. Subjects covered by the authors include the sacraments, the preaching of the Word, sin, grace, the cross, union with Christ, the Holy Spirit, the church, vocation, Purgatory, indulgences, justification, and the authority of scripture in comparison with the authority of the church and tradition. Continue reading


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BOOK REVIEW: Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith by Michael Reeves

BOOK REVIEW:  Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith by Michael Reeves. IVP Academic. 135 pages. 2012
****  

I was introduced to the author at the 2016 Ligonier National Conference, and then again at the 2017 Conference. He writes that this book will be about growing in our enjoyment of God and seeing how God’s triune Being makes all His ways beautiful.  He tells us that it is only when we grasp what it means for God to be a Trinity that we really sense the beauty, the overflowing kindness, the heart-grabbing loveliness of God.
He writes that Christianity is not primarily about lifestyle change; it is about knowing God. To know and grow to enjoy Him is what we are saved for.  He tells us that the triune nature of God affects everything from how we listen to music to how we pray: it makes for happier marriages, warmer dealings with others, better church life; it gives Christians assurance, shapes holiness and transforms the very way we look at the world around us.
He writes that the word “Trinity” does not appear in the Bible. But he aims to show us in this wonderful book that through and through, the Trinity is a scriptural truth. He does this in a very readable manner, including helpful sidebar articles and artwork, taking us through meditations on the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He tells us that with our God, we are dealing with three real and distinct persons, the Father, the Son and the Spirit.
He writes that the Father is who He is by virtue of his relationship with the Son, and that the Son would not be the Son without his Father. He has His very being from the Father.  He tells us further that the Father, Son and Spirit, while distinct persons, are absolutely inseparable from each other.
Why is it important that we understand the Trinity? Reeves writes, “What is your Christian life like? What is the shape of your gospel, your faith? In the end, it will all depend on what you think God is like. Who God is drives everything.”
Studying the Trinity can be difficult. Reeves gives us an excellent introduction to the subject. Highly recommended!


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BOOK REVIEW: Parables: The Mysteries of God’s Kingdom Revealed Through the Stories Jesus Told by John MacArthur

BOOK REVIEW:  Parables: The Mysteries of God’s Kingdom Revealed Through the Stories Jesus Told by John MacArthur. Thomas Nelson. 288 pages. 2015
****

Previously, the only book that I had read on the parables was in seminary when I read Craig Blomberg’s book Interpreting the Parables. In one of his most recent books from John MacArthur, MacArthur teaches the reader about the parables of Jesus, “the master storyteller”, who used parables to reveal the Kingdom of God to those who had ears to hear.  He begins with background information about the biblical genre of parables. He states that the method and message of Jesus’ parables are often misunderstood. He writes that in every parable there is a central lesson. They are not open to endless interpretations.  In the Appendix of the book he writes about the importance of propositional statements and that truth is objective.
Parables illustrate a truth for those with ears to hear, while at the same time hiding the truth from those who didn’t believe.  This goes against the perhaps common notion that Jesus used parables to make his teaching easy for all.
He writes that faith, prompted and enabled by the Holy Spirit, is the pre-requisite for understanding parables.  A parable uses illustration and comparison to teach a spiritual lesson. Jesus’ parables were illustrative of gospel facts. MacArthur states that a parable is an “ingeniously simple word picture illuminating a profound spiritual lesson.
He tells us that today, some believe that sermons should be comprised only of stories, rather than doctrine.  MacArthur very much disagrees with this approach.   He also tells us not to mingle/mix details of the various parables, though some of the stories might have some similarities.
There came a point in Jesus’ second year of ministry in which he began teaching in parables when confronted by the Pharisees about the Sabbath.  This book looks at a dozen of the most notable parables by Jesus, of the approximate 40 (some estimates are different) he taught. The book does not cover the parable of the prodigal son, as he had written a complete book on that one – A Tale of Two Sons – perhaps my favorite book by MacArthur.
Each chapter of the book looks at a theme of Jesus’ parables and the parable that goes with that theme. MacArthur looks at these dozen parables in detail, looking at the context in which it was delivered and what truth it taught about God and his kingdom.
This is a serious book about serious teaching of our Lord. One of MacArthur’s gifts is to be able to communicate in such a manner that the layperson can understand and benefit from. This book is no exception.


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BOOK REVIEW: Deserted by God? by Sinclair B. Ferguson

BOOK REVIEW:  Deserted by God? by Sinclair B. Ferguson. Banner of Truth Trust. 2013 edition. 182 pages.
****

Sinclair Ferguson is one of the most respected Reformed theologians of our day. He has been a pastor and seminary professor in churches and seminaries around the world. Among other roles he has currently, he is a Teaching Fellow for Ligonier Ministries and a regular speaker at their conferences where I have seen him speak several times. I’ve also read several of his books.
In this book, he addresses the issue of people having the sense that God has deserted them. He writes that the subject is deep and in many respects mysterious, belonging to the darker side of spiritual experience.  But he believes it is a subject of greater importance than we often care to acknowledge and it seems that more and more people struggle spiritually. He writes that the psalmists were our brothers in affliction, and his prayer is that the consolation God has brought to many others through their words may be as real for us today as it was for them.
Dr. Ferguson writes that the book discusses what our forefathers in the Christian church called ‘spiritual desertion’, the sense of God having forgotten us that leaves us feeling isolated and directionless. He believes that many Christians know what it is to feel at the end of their rope. The book will not remove all of their difficulties, but it may be a helping hand on the way and provide encouragement.
The format that the author uses, studies in the Psalms, is not accidental. Each chapter draws attention to experiences that did, or could, lead one to feel that God had deserted him. The Psalms show us how the people of God have grappled with their questions, doubts, desertions, and how God lifted them up and brought them into new light and joy.
As I was reading this book I was also reading through the Psalms and also using a devotional on the Psalms from Tim and Kathy Keller; it was a perfect time to read this wonderful book. Many themes – such as repentance, purity and contentment – are included in its pages.