Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS


The Range Bucket List: The Golf Adventure of a Lifetime by James Dodson. Simon & Schuster, 321 pages. 2017
****

James Dodson is my favorite golf writer. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed his previous golf books, and had been meaning to read this one, which he says is his “little love letter to the game of golf”, for some time now. He tells us about recently finding a small old notebook of his that contained a list of eleven “Things to Do in Golf.” From there, he developed his “Range Bucket List”, populated with things he still hoped to do in golf.
The book is filled with the joys and sorrows he experiences on his journey, as he tries to tie up some loose ends, completing a personal circle of sorts. He writes of a friend telling him that the game of golf is always waiting for us to return.
We read about his trip with his father to England and Scotland, working with Arnold Palmer as they wrote Palmer’s autobiography – the two most challenging and enjoyable years of his book writing life, and the start of a friendship he could never have imagined as a kid – and then later sharing his emotional last visit with Palmer before he died. We get introduced to his new wife Wendy, or his “golf wife” as he took to calling her. He writes of living in Pinehurst, his strange encounter with Donald Trump, and the story behind how CBS got the TV contract for the Masters tournament. You’ll read about Opti the Mystic (his father), living One-Derr, Grumpy, Glorious Goat Farms, and so much more.
I thoroughly enjoyed this delightful book. It is one of those books that you hate to see end.

Click on ‘Continue reading’ for:
BOOK REVIEWS ~ A Shelter in the Time of Storm: Meditations on God and Trouble by Paul Tripp and The Apostles’ Creed: Discovering Authentic Christianity in an Age of Counterfeits by Albert Mohler
BOOK NEWS ~ Links to Interesting Articles
BOOK CLUB ~ The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur
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A Gentle Answer: Our ‘Secret Weapon’ in an Age of Us Against Them by Scott Sauls. Thomas Nelson. 224 pages. 2020
****

A Gentle Answer is Scott Sauls’ fifth book. I’ve read them all, and been both blessed and challenged by them. In this timely book, he tells us that whatever the subject may be—politics, sexuality, immigration, income gaps, women’s concerns, race, or any other social matters over which people have differences—angst, suspicion, outrage, and outright hate increasingly shape our response to the world around us. He states that this feels like a culture of suspicion, mistrust, and us-against-them. On the other hand, Jesus is a God of reconciliation and peace, not a God of hate or division or us-against-them. He is the God of the gentle answer. Jesus renounced outrage and advanced the power of a gentle answer throughout his ministry.
The author tells us that in our current cultural moment, outrage has become more expected than surprising, more normative than odd, more encouraged than discouraged, more rewarded than rejected. We form entire communities around our irritations and our hatreds. For our generation, hate has been commodified. It has been turned into an asset. His challenge to us is to decide whether we take offense and strike back, or instead, do we seek to extend kindness and offer a gentle answer? His hope is that because Jesus Christ offered a gentle answer instead of pouring out punishment and rejection for our offensive and sinful ways, we can offer gentle answers to those who behave offensively and sinfully toward us.
The book aims to answer the question, “What must happen in and around us so that we become the kind of people who offer a gentle answer?” The book is as much about what must happen to us and inside us (how to be angry and not sin, how to accept criticism, not to seek retaliation, etc.), as it is about what must be done by us to engage faithfully in a world of us-against-them.

Click on ‘Continue reading’ for:
BOOK REVIEWS ~ More of this review and reviews of Can Science Explain Everything? by John Lennox and Have No Fear: Being Salt and Light Even When It’s Costly by John C. Lennox
BOOK NEWS ~ Links to Interesting Articles
BOOK CLUB ~ The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur
I’M CURRENTLY READING…. Continue reading


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS


Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success by Phil Jackson. Penguin Books. 386 pages. 2013
****

I read this book when it was first published in 2013, and decided to read it again as I watched ESPN’s excellent documentary on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, The Last Dance. I read the book this time specifically to examine Jackson’s leadership, as he describes the eleven NBA Championships (rings) he won as the Head Coach of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers.
Jackson has been incredibly successful in professional basketball, winning two NBA Championships as a player with the New York Knicks, six as the Head Coach of the Chicago Bulls and five as the Head Coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. The book includes some biographical information and takes us through his career as a player, coach and as the book ends, his at that time new role as the President of the New York Knicks, the one role in his career that he was not successful in. He played his college basketball at the University of North Dakota, where he was coached by future NBA Head Coaches Bill Fitch and Jimmy Rodgers. In a bit of trivia, way back in March, 1967, Jackson and North Dakota played in the NCAA College Division Midwest Regional Tournament at Horton Field House, hosted by Illinois State University, just down the street from where I live in my hometown of Normal, Illinois.
Jackson was raised by parents who were both pastors, but he describes his childhood as a time when he was “force-fed religious dogma by my parents” who were both Pentecostal ministers. As an adult, he began to search for spiritual practices that might work for him. In the book, he refers to his “deep-seated aversion to organized religion”. He speaks extensively in the book about Zen Buddhism, quoting teachers, and discussing aspects of Zen have been critical to him as a leader.
Regarding his leadership, Jackson points to the book Tribal Leadership, by Dave Logan, John King, and Halee Fischer-Wright, which lays out five stages of tribal development, which they formulated after conducting extensive research on small to midsize organizations. In order to shift a culture from one stage to the next, Jackson tells us that you need to find the levers that are appropriate for that particular stage in the group’s development. Throughout the book, Jackson refers to his various teams and the tribal development stages they were in at the time.

Click on ‘Continue reading’ for:
BOOK REVIEWS ~ More of this review and a review of Final Word: Why We Need the Bible by John MacArthur
BOOK NEWS ~ Links to Interesting Articles
BOOK CLUB ~ The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur
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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS


Coronavirus and Christ by John Piper. Crossway. 112 pages. 2020
****

John Piper has written this book as the world is facing the global pandemic known as the coronavirus, or technically, “coronavirus disease 2019” (abbreviated COVID-19). The short book has two main parts:

Part 1: The God Who Reigns over the Coronavirus
Part 2: What Is God Doing through the Coronavirus?

In Part 1, he writes that rather than playing the odds (that we don’t get the virus, suffer and possibly die), there is a better place to put our hope. We can stand on the Rock of certainty, rather than the sand of probabilities. That Rock is not fragile, nor is it sand. This book is the author’s invitation for the reader to join him on the solid Rock, Jesus Christ. His aim is to show why God in Christ is the Rock at this moment in history—in this pandemic of the coronavirus—and what it is like to stand on his mighty love. His prayer is that all who read this book would share the experience of the prophet Jeremiah: “Your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jer. 15:16).
He writes that the same sovereignty that could stop the coronavirus, yet doesn’t, is the very sovereignty that sustains the soul in it. God is all-governing and all-wise. He is sovereign over the coronavirus. He tells us that saying that God is all-governing means he is sovereign. His sovereignty means that he can do, and in fact does do, all that he decisively wills to do. When he decides for a thing to happen, it happens. Everything happens because God wills it to happen. The sovereignty of God is all-encompassing and all-pervasive. He holds absolute sway over this world.
He tells us that the coronavirus was sent by God. This is not a season for sentimental views of God. It is a bitter season. And God ordained it. God governs it. He will end it. If he wills, we will live. If not, we won’t. If we try to rescue God from his sovereignty over suffering, we sacrifice his sovereignty to turn all things for good. God is holy and righteous and good. And he is infinitely wise. Nothing surprises him, confuses him, or baffles him.

Click on ‘Continue reading’ for:
BOOK REVIEWS ~ More of this review and a review of “Where is God in a Coronavirus World?” by John Lennox
BOOK NEWS ~ Links to Interesting Articles
BOOK CLUB ~ The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur
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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS


Pray Big: Learn to Pray Like an Apostle by Alistair Begg. The Good Book Company. 112 pages. 2019
****

The author, a respected pastor, writes that he wants to pray bigger, and better, and he wants his readers to enjoy praying like that too. To do that, we need to discover how to pray as the Apostle Paul did, which means we need to learn to believe what Paul did. Paul was a man who knew to whom he was praying. The author focuses on Paul’s prayers for his friends in the church in Ephesus, which he recounts to them in Ephesians 1: 15-23 and 3: 14-21. Paul wrote the letter to the Ephesians from prison. The truths that underpin and shape Paul’s prayers will motivate us to pray, and they will help us know what to say.
To pray is an admission and an expression of dependence. Real prayer is from a dependent person to a divine Person. Our conversation with others declares what is on our minds, but our conversation with God in private reveals what is in our hearts. Prayer reminds us who we are, and who our Father is. We come to a loving Father, but we do not come as his equal. The author mentions a few times that all that matters may be brought before God, but what we bring before God is not always what matters most.
The book is organized around five great qualities for which Paul prays for his Ephesian brothers and sisters.  They are:

  • Pray for Focus
  • Pray for Hope
  • Pray for Riches
  • Pray for Power
  • Pray for Love

The author asks how might our prayer life be transformed if we used the headings of this book to shape our prayers.

Click on ‘Continue reading’ for:
BOOK REVIEWS ~ More of this review…and reviews of
 ~ Saving the Reformation: The Pastoral Theology of the Canons of Dort by W. Robert Godfrey
 ~ Sanctification: God’s Passion for His People by John MacArthur
BOOK NEWS ~ Links to Interesting Articles
BOOK CLUB ~ The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur
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New Life in Christ: What Really Happens When You’re Born Again and Why It Matters by Steven Lawson. Baker Books. 224 pages. 2020
****

In this book, pastor Steven Lawson considers the new birth by looking at Jesus’s well-known encounter nighttime encounter with Nicodemus in John 3. I have seen the author preach on numerous occasions, and as Sinclair Ferguson writes in the “Foreword”, you may, as I did, hear his voice preaching as you read this book, which reads like one of his preaching series, and is a nice companion to his Ligonier Ministries teaching series The New Birth.
What does it mean to be born again? The author tells us that being born again means that God implants divine life within our spiritually dead heart. He tells us that there are two sides of the entrance into the kingdom of God. On one side is the person’s activity. The other side involves God’s activity. God must cause a person to be born again, which, in turn, produces saving faith. It is the new birth that enables us to receive Jesus Christ into our life. Similarly, R.C. Sproul would often say that “regeneration proceeds faith”.

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BOOK REVIEWS ~ More of this review… and reviews of
~ Making a Difference: Impacting Culture and Society as a Christian by R.C. Sproul and
~ I Still Believe: A Memoir of Wreckage, Recovery, and Relentless Love. Russ and Tori Taff with Mark Smeby
BOOK NEWS ~ Links to Interesting Articles
BOOK CLUB ~ The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur
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Book ReviewsPraying the Bible by Donald Whitney. Crossway. 114 pages. 2015
****

In this short book, the author, a respected seminary professor, writes that Christians often don’t pray simply because they do not feel like it. And he states that the reason they don’t feel like praying is that when they do pray, they tend to say the same old things about the same old things. He tells us that the problem is not us, but our method of prayer. The method of most Christians in prayer is to say the same old things about the same old things. Prayers without variety eventually become words without meaning. He writes that it’s normal to pray about the same old things because our lives tend to consist of the same old things. His solution to this problem is that when we pray, we should pray through a passage of Scripture, particularly a Psalm. He states that God gave the Psalms to us so that we would give the Psalms back to God, and that no other book of the Bible was inspired for that expressed purpose.
He suggests that we pick a Psalm (he provides us a method for determining which psalm to choose each day when he discusses “Psalms of the Day”), and simply go through the passage line by line, talking to God about whatever comes to mind as we read the text. By following this method, we will never run out of anything to say, and, best of all, we will never again say the same old things about the same old things. What we will be doing is taking words that originated in the heart and mind of God and circulating them through our heart and mind back to God. The author tells us that by this means God’s words become the wings of our prayers. When we pray through a passage of Scripture, we won’t be praying empty, repetitive phrases. If we pray in this way, in the long run our prayers will be far more biblical than if we just make up our own prayers. Without the Scripture to shape our prayers, we are far more likely to pray in unbiblical ways than if we pray the thoughts that occur to us as we read the Scripture.

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BOOK REVIEWS ~ More of this review and reviews of:

  • For a Continuing Church: The Roots of the Presbyterian Church in America by Sean Michael Lucas
  • The Hand of God: Finding His Care in All Circumstances by Alistair Begg

BOOK NEWS ~ Links to Interesting Articles
BOOK CLUB ~ The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur
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BOOK REVIEW ~ Win Every Day: Proven Practices for Extraordinary Results by Mark Miller

Win Every Day: Proven Practices for Extraordinary Results by Mark Miller. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. 143 pages. 2020
****

Win Every Day is Mark Miller’s fifth, and final, book in his High Performance Series. This book focuses on execution, the hallmark of all high performance organizations. As the book begins, Blake, the CEO, becomes aware of a nightmare for his organization. A very bad customer experience involving a previously loyal customer has gone viral. A video has been viewed by more than a million people in just twenty-four hours.
Blake goes to Ashley, the new head of Production for some answers. She tells him that the organization’s execution has been slipping for several years, but has seemed to level off. It’s obvious that changes need to be made. But first, she states that leadership has to determine if performance is “good enough”. After all, they have been successful against their current competition. But the organization will need to decide how great they want to be.
Blake is also the chairman of the local school board. In that role, he encounters a similar problem with the school’s football team. They have been good, but not great, winning about 60% of their games over the past several years. Is that good enough? It is ultimately decided that it is not, and they decide to hire a new coach. Continue reading


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Why I Love the Apostle Paul by John Piper: 30 Reasons. Crossway. 208 pages. 2019
****

In his latest book, in thirty short chapters divided into seven parts, John Piper gives us not a comprehensive overview of the Apostle Paul’s thought, but a highly personal book. No one has taken the author deeper into the mysteries of the gospel than Paul, who wrote thirteen books of the Bible, and much of the book of Acts is about his ministry. After the Lord Jesus himself, no one has won the author’s appreciation and admiration more. His aim in the book is to commend the Apostle Paul as a trustworthy witness. He wants us to be deeply and joyfully persuaded that he is admirable and trustworthy and that what he writes is true.
Over the thirty chapters, the author tells us about the profound impact the Apostle Paul has had on his life and ministry. Among the topics included are suffering, love, contentment, killing sin, Christian freedom, community, Gospel accuracy, God’s sovereignty, imperfection, cancer, joy, the poor and Romans 8:32. You can read the book through like a normal book, or choose to read it devotionally, covering a chapter a day for thirty days.

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BOOK REVIEWS ~ More of this review… and reviews of:

  • Them: Why We Hate Each Other – And How to Heal by Ben Sasse
  • The New Man: Becoming a Man After God’s Heart by Dan Doriani

BOOK NEWS ~ Links to Interesting Articles
BOOK CLUB ~ The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur
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To Seek and to Save: Daily Reflections on the Road to the Cross by Sinclair Ferguson. The Good Book Company. 162 pages. 2020 
****

This book, by one of our most respected theologians, will remind readers of his excellent 2018 Advent devotional Love Came Down at Christmas: Daily Readings for Advent. In that book, the author took readers through 1 Corinthians 13. In this new book, he takes us through Luke’s Gospel, beginning with chapter 9, verse 51, in which Luke records all the events in Jesus’ life in the form of a journey to Jerusalem. This travelogue eventually brings us to Calvary and to the empty tomb. In his travelogue, Luke describes Jesus’ encounters with a wide variety of individuals and groups of people. The author tells us that there was something they all had in common: they were either drawn to him in their need, or repelled from him by their pride. No one was neutral.
In this series of short reflections for Lent, the author lets us listen in on most of these conversations. Each encounter will build up a picture of the journey’s real purpose; for, as he tells one man he meets along the way, Jesus is “the Son of Man [who] came to seek and to save the lost” (19:10). The key issues for all of those who encounter Jesus in Luke’s Gospel are these:

  • Do they know why he is on the road in the first place?
  • Will they follow him as his disciple?

The author tells us that this Lent, Jesus asks those same questions of us.
These readings will fit nicely in with your daily devotional readings. They will be equally helpful in preparing your heart for the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus, or really at any other time. If you choose to use it for the former, you will start the readings on “Ash Wednesday”, which falls on February 26 in 2020. After each reading is a “Reflect” section with questions, and a time to “Respond” to what you have read.
I recommend this book for your personal or family devotional reading.

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BOOK REVIEWS ~ More of this review… and reviews of
~ The Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love & Learning, Worship and Work by Steven Garber
~ The Missionary Fellowship of William Carey by Michael A.G. Haykin
BOOK NEWS ~ Links to Interesting Articles
BOOK CLUB ~ The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur
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