Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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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.


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BOOK REVIEW: A Camaraderie of Confidence: The Fruit of Unfailing Faith in the Lives of Charles Spurgeon, George Müller, and Hudson Taylor (Swans Are Not Silent) by John Piper

BOOK REVIEW:  A Camaraderie of Confidence: The Fruit of Unfailing Faith in the Lives of Charles Spurgeon, George Müller, and Hudson Taylor (Swans Are Not Silent) by John Piper. Crossway. 128 pages. 2016 
****

This is John Piper’s seventh book in his popular biography series entitled The Swans Are Not Silent. This time the swans he looks at are Charles Spurgeon, the greatest preacher of the nineteenth century, George Müller, the great lover of orphans and supporter of missions, and Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission. Piper writes that some of the things that bind them together are that they were “all contemporaries, based in England, knew each other, encouraged each other, and took inspiration from each other’s lives.”
Piper states that all three were clearly nineteenth-century men. All three of these men were part of British culture. He states that the mark of evangelicalism that linked the three most clearly to their age was their activism. He states that in addition to the depth of their theology and spirituality, all three were consummate doers. All three rejected debt as a way of running any Christian ministry.
Spurgeon loved Müller as a close comrade in ministry and as one of his heroes. Müller preached occasionally in Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle. Spurgeon’s praise for Müller was unparalleled for any man in his day. Perhaps only slightly less was Spurgeon’s admiration for Taylor.
Piper looks at each of his three subjects in separate sections of the book. He writes that theirs was a camaraderie of confidence in the goodness, glory, and power of God.  He states that the glory of God was always the preeminent issue in their lives.
If you are looking for short biographical sketches of some of the great heroes of the faith, I highly recommend each of Piper’s seven volumes in his Swans are Not Silent series.  Piper states that the series title comes from the story of Augustine’s retirement as the bishop of Hippo in North Africa in AD 426. He tells us that Augustine’s successor, Eraclius, contrasted himself with Augustine by saying, “The cricket chirps, the swan is silent.” When Piper says that the swans are not silent, he means that there are voices from church history that are still heard, and should be heard, in the ongoing history of the church. This series gives voice to some of those swans.


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BOOK REVIEW: Heaven, How I Got Here: The Story of the Thief on the Cross by Colin S. Smith

BOOK REVIEW:  Heaven, How I Got Here: The Story of the Thief on the Cross by Colin S. Smith. Christian Focus Publications. 96 pages. 2015   
****

Scripture doesn’t tell us a great deal about the repentant thief on the cross. In this creative telling of the gospel message from the perspective of the thief, Colin Smith speculates about his life up to his final day on earth.
The thief tells us that how he got to Heaven is still amazing to him, but he is telling his story so that we can share the joys he has found.  He tells us that as he looks back on what happened on his final day on earth he can now see so much more than he was able to grasp at the time, and the more he discovers, the more staggering and wonderful the whole story becomes.
As he recounts his day it begins at 6:00 am when he awoke in his cell knowing what awaited him that day – torture, humiliation and a long, slow descent into death on a cross. He intersperses the story of his life, indicating that his story began in an ordinary home. He tells us that he had accepted what his mother taught him about God until his early teens, when he began to have questions about God and about authority in general. He tells us that after years of stealing, lying and taking advantage of others, the consequences of his lifestyle finally caught up with him, and led him to the cell where he began the last day of his life.
The thief takes us throughout his last day as he prepared for crucifixion and the excruciating pain he suffered. Shortly before noon he writes that a strange stillness came over his soul, and for the first time, he began to consider what lay ahead. That leads him to believe in Jesus and he asks him to save him. Jesus tells him “I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
The thief tells us that we can take it from him – a believer passes immediately from the end of his life on earth to the beginning of his life in heaven. There is no waiting. There are no delays. You will not be investigated outside the pearly gates. To be away from your body is to be at home with the Lord.
Through the words of the thief, the author communicates the basics of the gospel message. Heaven does not depend on what you do for Christ but on what He has done for you. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
The thief’s story proves that getting into heaven depends on Jesus, and on Jesus alone. It’s Jesus who gets you in. He opens the door for people who believe His Word and entrust themselves to Him.
He tells us that we shouldn’t expect it to be easy. Our faith will be tested, as his was. You may experience days of great darkness. You may go through times when you feel that God is far from you. You may experience great pain in your body, as he did, or great pain in your soul. But His presence is with you and the strength He gives will get you through.
The book ends with a brief Q&A with the author who tells us that the inspiration for the book is there is hope for every person in Jesus Christ. That’s what we learn from the thief. Amen and Amen!


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BOOK REVIEW: Between Heaven and the Real World: My Story by Steven Curtis Chapman with Ken Abraham

BOOK REVIEW:  Between Heaven and the Real World: My Story by Steven Curtis Chapman with Ken Abraham. Revell. 448 pages. 2017
****

Steven Curtis Chapman has been one of the most successful Contemporary Christian Music artists, with 11 million records sold and 48 #1 Christian radio songs. He and his wife Mary Beth have also experienced the loss of a child, of which he writes that 95% of marriages don’t survive.  In this book, Chapman takes the reader on a journey of God’s grace and His faithfulness through the mountains and valleys of his life. Throughout the book he is very open about the struggles he and Mary Beth have experienced in marriage, serving as a testament to others that marriage is worth fighting for and persevering in.
The now 54-year-old Chapman was born in Paducah, Kentucky. He has one brother (Herbie) who was actually conceived before his parents were married. His parents struggled early in their marriage and decided to have another child (Steven) to try to help their marriage. Chapman’s parents would eventually divorce.
Although Steven has a very good relationship with his father, he writes of words that his father spoke to him when Steven broke the pool skimmer, that still damage him today.
A revival at their church was an important time in the Chapman’s lives as his father and brother Herbie confessed Christ and Mom rededicated her life. A few months later, at age 8, Steven confessed Christ.
The first song he wrote was based on Jesus’ parable of the talents. Dallas Holm was an early influence. Early on, he would often play music with brother Herbie as the Chapman Brothers. Herbie was the better singer and was the lead, with Steven on guitar. He would eventually get a publishing deal with Bill Gaither, and had his songs recorded by the Imperials, White Heart and Sandi Patti.
He met his future wife Mary Beth Chapman, while they were both at Anderson College, where they shared a mailbox. On their first date, he showed up two hours late because a concert he was giving ran late. When he did show up, he greeted her with a big kiss.
Throughout the book, Chapman is open and transparent about his and Mary Beth’s struggles in marriage. She was used to order and structure growing up, and his life as a musician was anything but that. Mary Beth would become pregnant 8 months into their marriage.
He recorded First Hand, his first album in 1987 and his first single was “Weak Days”. His first number one song was “His Eyes”.
Many of Chapman’s songs come from his real-life experiences and God’s grace. He wrote “I Will Be There” for Mary Beth around the time of his parents’ divorce.
As success (awards, sales, etc.) continued to come, Chapman was conflicted between the adulation he received and ministry.
He writes of Mary Beth’s depression and the positive influence in his life of his pastor Scotty Smith and best friend and fellow music artist Geoff Moore.
The Chapmans would adopt three girls from China to go along with their three biological children.  They would later begin an adoption ministry Show Hope.
He writes of the night and circumstances in which he wrote his classic song “Cinderella” about his daughters.
He writes of daughter Maria wanting to go to God’s Big, Big House (after learning the song by Audio Adrenaline in school). She and her sister Stevie Joy professed faith in Christ at age 4 on February 20, 2008. Just three months later, Maria would die after an accident that took place in the driveway of the family home on May 21. Chapman writes of the dark days that followed Maria’s death for the family, including marriage counseling from Larry Crabb and Dan Allender. Later, they would introduce Maria’s Big House of Hope, a medical care center in China that provides health care to orphans with special needs.
Chapman’s story is one of God’s grace in his life through the good times and the dark times. This is a powerful read, certainly difficult at times, but one that I highly recommend.


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BOOK REVIEW AND 15 HELPFUL QUOTES FROM ‘SURPRISED BY SUFFERING’ BY R. C. SPROUL

BOOK REVIEW:

Surprised by Suffering: The Role of Pain and Death in The Christian Life (revised and expanded) by R. C. Sproul. Reformation Trust Publishing. 2010
****

The author states that his purpose in writing this book is that the reader would not be surprised when suffering comes into their life. He wants us to see that suffering is not uncommon nor random. It is sent by our heavenly Father, who is both sovereign and loving and for our ultimate good. He also wants the reader to understand that suffering is a vocation, a calling from God, which may be a new concept for many readers.
I first read this book when it was published in 1988. This 2010 edition features a new chapter on God’s sovereignty in relation to suffering, as well as new Scripture and subject indexes.
Dr. Sproul says that contrary to what we often hear people say, the promise of God is not that He will never give us more weight than we want to carry. Rather, the promise of God is that He will never put more on us than we can bear. He states that to suffer without Christ is to risk being totally and completely crushed. He has often wondered (and me as well), how people cope with the trials of life without the strength found in Him.
He states that we must accept the fact that God sometimes says “no” when we pray for relief from suffering. Sometimes He calls us to suffer and die even if we want to claim the contrary.
A statement that could be surprising, or even shocking, is that for anyone who believes in the God of providence, ultimately there are no tragedies. He writes that those who understand God’s sovereignty have joy even in the midst of suffering for they see that their suffering is not without purpose.
He goes on to tell us that the chief concern of Scripture is how we will die. When Scripture speaks of the “how” of death, the focus is on the spiritual state of the person at the time of their death, and this is reduced to only two options. We either die in faith or we die in our sins. According to Christ, the worst possible thing that can befall us is to die in our sins.
The author states that the Bible teaches three states of human life. There is life as we know it on earth. There is the final state of our future resurrected bodies. And there is what happens to us between the moment of our deaths and the final resurrection. This period is known as the intermediate state. He goes on to describe the New Jerusalem from Revelation 21.  He tells us that our divine vocation is not ultimately to suffering, but to a hope that triumphs over suffering. It is the hope of our future inheritance with Christ.
The author tells us that the hope of eternal joy in the presence of Christ, a hope that sustains us in the midst of temporary suffering, is the legacy of Jesus Christ. It is the promise of God to all who put their trust in Him.
This is a practical book about our vocation of suffering and the hope of the believer to spend eternity with God in His Heaven. The book includes a helpful appendix of questions and answers related to the topic.

15 HELPFUL QUOTES:

  1. Suffering is one of the most significant challenges to any believer’s faith.
  2. What is difficult to bear without Christ is made far more bearable with Christ. What is a heavy burden to carry alone becomes a far lighter burden to carry with His help.
  3. It is when we view our suffering as meaningless-without purpose-that we are tempted to despair.
  4. No one was ever called by God to greater suffering than God’s only begotten Son.
  5. If I hope in anything or anyone less than the One who has power over suffering and, ultimately, death, I am doomed to final disappointment. Suffering will drive me to hopelessness.
  6. We say that we believe that God is sovereign, but when we wrestle with events in our lives that are troublesome, bad things that happen to us, tragedies that befall us, we begin to question either the sovereignty of God or the goodness of God.
  7. The day of death is the greatest day that a Christian can ever experience in this world because that is the day he goes home, the day he walks across the threshold, the day he enters the Father’s house. That is the day of ultimate triumph for the Christian in this world, and yet it is a day we fear and a day that we postpone as long as we possibly can because we don’t really believe that the day of our death is better than the day of our birth.
  8. The bottom-line assumption for anyone who believes in the God of providence is that ultimately there are no tragedies. God has promised that all things that happen-all pain, all suffering, all tragedies-are but for a moment, and that He works in and through these events for the good of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28).
  9. Those who understand God’s sovereignty have joy even in the midst of suffering, a joy reflected on their very faces, for they see that their suffering is not without purpose.
  10. When God issues a call to us, it is always a holy call. The vocation of dying is a sacred vocation. To understand that is one of the most important lessons a Christian can ever learn. When the summons comes, we can respond in many ways. We can become angry, bitter, or terrified. But if we see it as a call from God and not a threat from Satan, we are far more prepared to cope with its difficulties.
  11. The goal of the vocation of death is heaven itself. But there is no route to heaven except through this valley.
  12. If we love people, we will warn them of the consequences of dying in their sins.
  13. The great lie is the one that declares there is no last judgment. Yet if Jesus of Nazareth taught anything, He emphatically taught that there would be a last judgment.
  14. Paul spoke of death as gain. We tend to think of death as loss. To be sure, the death of a loved one involves a loss for those who are left behind. But for the one who passes from this world to heaven, it is a gain.
  15. Our divine vocation is not ultimately to suffering, but to a hope that triumphs over suffering. It is the hope of our future inheritance with Christ.


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My Book Review ~ The 1997 Masters: My Story by Tiger Woods

The 1997 Masters: My Story by Tiger Woods with Lorne Rubenstein. Grand Central Publishing. 256 pages. 2017
****

On this Masters weekend, I thought it would be good to share my review of Tiger Woods new book which commemorates the 20th anniversary of his record-breaking win at the 1997 Masters. Like I have the past few years, I spent some priceless time watching a part of yesterday’s second round with my Dad. But Tiger was not among the participants in this year’s Masters; injuries have once again kept him from participating in a tournament. At only 41 years of age the injuries have taken their toll: his first knee surgery occurred back in 1994 while at Stanford. Between 1994 and 2016, he went through four knee surgeries and three back surgeries, along with other procedures. He admits that he probably came back too early from some of the surgeries, due to his desire to compete and his need for competition.  Perhaps prophetically, towards the end of this book he writes “Still, I don’t know how much longer I’ll play.”
Over the years I have had three favorite golfers – Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman and Tiger. If they were playing in a tournament, that would be enough for me to tune in to the telecast. Yes, Tiger has had major moral failings – and he writes about the pain that caused his family in this reflective book – but his presence in a tournament will still cause me to take notice. Unfortunately, those instances are becoming fewer and fewer.
In this book he takes the reader through his record-breaking win at Augusta National in the 1997 Masters tournament in which he actually shot a 4 over par 40 on the front nine of his first round. At that time, Tiger’s caddy was Mike “Fluff” Cowan and his coach was Butch Harmon. But this book contains much more than a detailed look at the 1997 Masters.
He talks about his relationship with Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. Palmer died in 2016. Tiger has won the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill eight times. He writes that he will never forget their friendship and Palmer’s counsel to him over the years.
He writes of his father Earl, “Pop”, who died in 2006. Earl had a triple bypass only a month and a half before the 1997 Masters. Despite that, he flew to Augusta to stay at the same house as Tiger during Masters week. Tiger writes that he had so many good times with his father on the course, just the two of them, when he was a kid.
Tiger writes of watching Jack Nicklaus win the 1986 Masters on television. After that, he made sure he watched the tournament every year. He first played the Masters in 1995 qualifying because he’d won the U.S. Amateur the year before. He writes about his first time playing in the tournament and his feelings about the tournament’s and the club’s history with blacks.
Tiger writes about stopping at an Arby’s on the way home from the course, a ritual he and his friends would superstitiously do each day of the tournament. He writes about greeting Lee Elder after he had signed his winning scorecard. He thanked him for his sacrifices, what he meant to the game, and how hard he fought to make it to the Masters as their first black player in 1975. Tiger told him that his win was all about the black golfers who had come before him, what they had done for him, and that he wasn’t a pioneer. They were the pioneers.
He writes that he had hoped his win would open some doors for minorities. His biggest hope was that we could one day see one another as people and people alone. He wanted us to be color-blind. Twenty years later, he sadly reflects that this has yet to happen.
He briefly writes about his career after the 1997 Masters, including changing his swing. He writes about the changes that have been made to Augusta National and what he thinks about them. Tiger had averaged 323.1 yards off the tee at the 1997 Masters, an amazing twenty-five yards longer than the next guy. He states that after major changes came along for the 2002 Masters it wasn’t as much fun to play the course anymore.
He writes about today’s golf equipment and how far today’s ball flies. He writes “It probably makes me sound like an old-timer saying things were better back in the day, but I don’t see how anybody could say it’s a good thing that the ball is going so far, and that it doesn’t curve as much because it doesn’t spin.”
He writes about his children and their mother Elin, stating that he betrayed her and that his dishonesty and selfishness caused her intense pain. He states that his regret will last a lifetime. He writes that he and Elin have become best friends now as they care for their children. He writes that not a day goes by that he doesn’t think about his father, who he admits would have been disappointed in his son’s poor personal decisions.
What are Christians to think of Tiger? He’s had serious moral failings, but writes of his regrets. He has been known to use adult language on the course. He doesn’t talk much about his beliefs in this book, but does write of going to the Buddhist temple where he learned how to meditate. Woods is also one of the greatest golfers of all time. It’s this that attracts me to him, and it’s why I hope that he’s able to get healthy enough to play competitively again. He states that “compete” remains his favorite word, and probably always will.


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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.