Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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Prepare to Celebrate the Christ of Christmas with these Three Wonderful New Books

Over the past year three of my favorite authors – Tim Keller, Sinclair Ferguson and Alistair Begg – have written wonderful books about the true meaning of Christmas. Enjoy my reviews of these books below – better yet read these books! – as you prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior.

Hidden Christmas, The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ by Tim KellerHidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ by Timothy Keller. Viking. 154 pages. 2016
****

Tim Keller states that the ideas expressed in this short book were forged not in writing but in preaching. Each chapter represents at least 10 or so meditations and sermons on each biblical text that he delivered in Christmas services across the decades.

He tells us that Christmas is a Christian holy day that is also a major secular holiday, resulting in two different celebrations, each observed by millions of people, which brings some discomfort on both sides. His fear is that the true roots of Christmas will become more and more hidden to most of the population. In this book he aims to make the truths of Christmas less hidden. He looks at some passages of the Bible that are popular because they are read each Christmas.

In the first chapters of the book, looking at the Gospel of Matthew, we learn about the gifts God gave us at Christmas. In the following chapters, looking at the Gospel of Luke, we consider how we can welcome and receive those gifts.

Through the Christmas story, Keller tells us about the Gospel. This is a book that I recommend you read and discuss with others, which I am doing with friends in a book club at work. Keller says many things about Christmas and the Gospel that I appreciated. A few of them are:

  • To accept the true Christmas gift, you have to admit you’re a sinner. You need to be saved by grace.
  • Christmas is not simply about a birth but about a coming.
  • Christmas shows us that Christianity is not good advice. It is good news.
  • Christmas means that God is working out his purposes. He will fulfill his promises.
  • Christmas tells us that despite appearances to the contrary, God is in control of history, and that someday he will put everything right.
  • Christmas means that for those that are believers in Christ, there is all the hope in the world.
  • The doctrine of Christmas, of the incarnation, is that Jesus was truly and fully God and truly and fully human.
  • No one is really neutral about whether Christmas is true. If the Son of God was really born in a manger, then we have lost the right to be in charge of our lives.
  • Christmas means that the King has come into the world. But the Bible tells us that Jesus comes as King twice, not once.
  • Christmas means that race, pedigree, wealth, and status do not ultimately matter.
  • Christmas means illumination and spiritual light from God; it means reconciliation and peace with God by grace; it means God taking on a human nature.
  • Christmas means the increase of peace, both with God and between people.
  • The manger at Christmas means that, if you live like Jesus, there won’t be room for you in a lot of inns.
  • Christmas means that salvation is by grace.
  • Christmas means you can have fellowship with God.
  • Christmas and the incarnation mean that God went to infinite lengths to make himself one whom we can know personally.
  • The incarnation, Christmas, means that God is not content to be a concept or just someone you know from a distance.
  • The joy that Christmas brings, the assurance of God’s love and care will always reinvigorate you no matter the circumstances of your life.

Child in the MangerChild in the Manger: The True Meaning of Christmas by Sinclair B. Ferguson. Banner of Truth. 216 pages. 2015 
****

This book was published just before Christmas 2015. Sinclair Ferguson is one of our day’s best Reformed theologians. I have read many of his books and heard him speak many times at the Ligonier National Conference. He has been a pastor and seminary professor in numerous churches and seminaries throughout the world, and is also a Ligonier Teaching Fellow. I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed and was blessed by this new book.
Dr. Ferguson writes that this book sets out to explore the question of the real meaning of Christmas. He tells us that when we find the answer we realize that it isn’t only for the Christmas season. He states that at the center of history stands the person of Jesus Christ. He does so because he is at the center of God’s story. Christ who is the creator of all things has entered his own creation in order to become our Savior. That is what gives Christmas meaning. It is what gives history and our lives meaning too.
He writes that the heart of the Christmas message is a baby bound in swaddling bands and lying in a wooden manger, who is destined to be bound again later in life and laid upon wood on the cross of Calvary. He tells us that the meaning of Christmas is this: the Light of the world has come into the darkness of the world, in order to bring light into the darkness of our hearts, and to illuminate them with the grace of forgiveness. He tells us that Christmas is not coming, but it has already come. The Word already has been made flesh. He already has lived, bled, died, and risen again for us. Now all that remains is to receive him. For Jesus is the meaning of Christmas.
He tells us that Philippians 2:5-11, which he calls a bold, even a daring passage, tells the inside story of Christmas. As we mature as Christians, we begin to count others as more significant than ourselves. This is what the Christmas gospel does. Or to state it differently, this is what the Christ of Christmas does. But he does so only when we discover the true meaning of Christmas.
The author tells us that the New Testament does not obligate Christians to celebrate Christmas. However, he writes, the wisdom of the church throughout the ages suggests that if we do not celebrate the incarnation of Christ deliberately at some point in the year we may be in danger of doing it all too rarely, perhaps not at all.
In his writing and speaking, Dr. Ferguson has a wonderful way with words. Here is an example as he writes of the birth narrative: “The one who populated the forests with trees lies within the bark of one. The one who has always been face to face with his Father now stares into the face of his teenage mother. The one whom the heavens cannot contain is contained within a stable. He who cradles the universe is himself cradled in an animal’s feeding trough.”
Today, most people in the United States celebrate Christmas. The author states that they love to hear Christmas music, even to sing the familiar Christmas carols. But, he tells us, their hearts seem to go cold when they hear about the true meaning of Christmas, that Jesus came into the world to save sinners. The response is then, whether they say it or not, “Let’s sings the songs, but don’t talk to us about being saved from sin!” Let us enjoy Christmas without Christ!”
Finally, Dr. Ferguson tells us that the true meaning of Christmas is seeking, finding, trusting, and worshipping the Lord Jesus Christ.
I so enjoyed reading this book just a few weeks before we celebrate the birth of the One who came to save us from our sins. Ferguson writes about Jesus, “The heart of the Christmas message is a baby bound in swaddling bands and lying in a wooden manger who is destined to be bound again in later life and laid upon wood on the cross of Calvary.”

Christmas Playlist, Four Songs That Bring You to the Heart of Christmas – Alistair BeggChristmas Playlist: Four Songs That Bring You to the Heart of Christmas by Alistair Begg. The Good Book Company. 80 pages. 2016
****

This new book is about Christmas songs, but not necessarily Christmas songs you might have anticipated. Alistair Begg, Senior Pastor for 33 years at Parkside Church in Cleveland, looks at four songs of the first Christmas, which were heard before, during and after the birth of the baby who lies at the heart of the real Christmas.  This is a “playlist” that helps us to prepare for Christmas properly, and to celebrate Christmas joyfully.

In this short book which reads like an extended sermon, he looks at the following four songs:

  • Mary’s Song. This is a song inspired by her role in the events of the first Christmas, but in which she doesn’t sing about herself, but about God. The author writes that it is the first Christmas song in history.
  • Zechariah’s Song. The author writes that Zechariah is singing about the truth that God has turned up. And he has turned up to redeem us—to pay the price, bear the cost of freeing us and restoring us so that we can know him and live with him again, forever.
  • The Angel’s Song. The angel’s choir declares what this baby will achieve: “On earth peace.” The peace of God that invades a life is based on the discovery of peace with God.
  • Simeon’s Song. Simeon was a devout believer in God who was patiently waiting for the promises God had made to be fulfilled. The Holy Spirit had told him that he wouldn’t die until he saw these promises begin to unfold. About his song the author writes “And this is why the wooden food trough led to the wooden cross, and why you will never get to the heart of Christmas if you don’t grasp the meaning of Easter. Christianity is not good advice about what we should do. It is the good news of what Christ has done. Christianity does not proclaim that you are worth saving or able to save yourself. It announces that God is mighty to save.” He goes on to write that between the events of the first Christmas Eve and the first Easter Sunday, Simeon’s words had come true.

This is a book about four songs that tell about the gift of redemption through faith in Jesus, the Son of God. The author writes that Christmas provokes a decision. At that first Christmas, Jesus came to you. Now you must decide whether you will come to him.  This would be an excellent book to give a non-believer to read and discuss together.


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

book reviews
Child in the Manger Child in the Manger: The True Meaning of Christmas by Sinclair Ferguson. The Banner of Truth Trust. 203 Pages. 2015.
****

Sinclair Ferguson is one of today’s best Reformed theologians. I have read many of his books and heard him speak many times at the Ligonier National Conference. He has been a pastor and seminary professor in numerous churches and seminaries throughout the world, and is also a Ligonier Teaching Fellow. I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed and was blessed by this new book.

Dr. Ferguson writes that this book sets out to explore the question of the real meaning of Christmas. He tells us that when we find the answer we realize that it isn’t only for the Christmas season. He states that at the center of history stands the person of Jesus Christ. He does so because he is at the center of God’s story. Christ who is the creator of all things has entered his own creation in order to become our Savior. That is what gives Christmas meaning. It is what gives history and our lives meaning too.

He tells us that the meaning of Christmas is this: the Light of the world has come into the darkness of the world, in order to bring light into the darkness of our hearts, and to illuminate them with the grace of forgiveness. He tells us that Christmas is not coming, but it has already come. The Word already has been made flesh. He already has lived, bled, died, and risen again for us. Now all that remains is to receive him. For Jesus is the meaning of Christmas.

He tells us that Philippians 2:5-11, which he calls a bold, even a daring passage, tells the inside story of Christmas. As we mature as Christians, we begin to count others as more significant than ourselves. This is what the Christmas gospel does. Or to state it differently, this is what the Christ of Christmas does. But he does so only when we discover the true meaning of Christmas.

The author tells us that the New Testament does not obligate Christians to celebrate Christmas. However, he writes, the wisdom of the church throughout the ages suggests that if we do not celebrate the incarnation of Christ deliberately at some point in the year we may be in danger of doing it all too rarely, perhaps not at all.

In his writing and speaking, Dr. Ferguson has a wonderful way with words. Here is an example as he writes of the birth narrative: “The one who populated the forests with trees lies within the bark of one. The one who has always been face to face with his Father now stares into the face of his teenage mother. The one whom the heavens cannot contain is contained within a stable. He who cradles the universe is himself cradled in an animal’s feeding trough.”

Today, most people in the United States celebrate Christmas. The author states that they love to hear Christmas music, even to sing the familiar Christmas carols. But, he tells us, their hearts seem to go cold when they hear about the true meaning of Christmas, that Jesus came into the world to save sinners. The response is then, whether they say it or not, “Let’s sings the songs, but don’t talk to us about being saved from sin!” Let us enjoy Christmas without Christ!”

Finally, Dr. Ferguson tells us that the true meaning of Christmas is seeking, finding, trusting, and worshipping the Lord Jesus Christ.

I so enjoyed reading this book just a few weeks before we celebrate the birth of the One who came to save our sins. Ferguson writes about Jesus “The heart of the Christmas message is a baby bound in swaddling bands and lying in a wooden manger who is destined to be bound again in later life and laid upon wood on the cross of Calvary.”

Reformation Study BibleReformation Study Bible (ESV)
****

The Reformation Study Bible first appeared in 1995 as the New Geneva Study Bible. It was initially released in the New King James Version (NKJV), and later in the English Standard Version (ESV). Earlier this year a significantly updated and revised edition of the Reformation Study Bible (ESV) was released. The updated and revised edition in the NKJV is due to be released in February, 2016.

The updated version includes more than 20,000 new, revised, or expanded study notes from 75 distinguished scholars. There are new theological notes from R.C. Sproul, the General Editor, new topical articles and expanded introductions to each book. In addition, historical creeds and confessions, new maps, concordance, etc. are included.

I read nearly all of my books on my Kindle device. The e-book edition of The Reformation Study Bible was recently released. It includes user-friendly navigation, which allows the reader to easily move between the text and the study notes. Like any other e-book on your Kindle, you can adjust your font size, add highlights and notes. This is the Bible I will use for my daily reading.

book news

  • 10 Christian Books to Give (or Ask for) This Christmas Season. I enjoyed this helpful list of books from our friend Kevin Halloran.
  • Top 25 Christian Classics. Gene Veith shares this list of Christian classics originally published by Christian History magazine. What others would you add to the list?
  • Reflections on the Top 25 Christian Classics. Keith Mathison writes about Christian History’s recent list of the top 25 Christian classic books “There are several titles that I would add to the Top 25 list. My inclusion of these is based on the meaning of the word “influential.” These are all works that, in one way or another, profoundly influenced the thinking of subsequent generations of Christians. I should also note that influence can be either good or bad, so my inclusion of the following titles does not necessarily mean that I endorse the theology.”
  • Top Ten Books of 2015. I love reading people’s top books of the year lists. Here’s one from one of my favorite bloggers/authors Kevin DeYoung.
  • Top Ten Books I Read in 2015. Sean Lucas gives us his list of top books for the year, including two of his own (in the “Honorable Mention” section).
  • Tim Challies’ Top Books of 2015. I love reading “Best Books” lists. Here’s one from my favorite blogger Tim Challies.
  • Top 10 Books in 21 Categories. David Murray shares a very helpful list of books in 21 different categories.
  • Two New Christian Books on Productivity. Jason Dollar writes “Joining in the voices calling for better time management and higher levels of productivity are two Christian leaders with new books. Matt Perman and Tim Challies are not interested in ways to increase earnings or respect through disciplined time management; rather, they are concerned with instructing Christians on how to be more productive for the sake of serving others and the glory of God.”
  • Do More BetterDo More Better Review. Eric Davis reviews Tim Challies’ new book on productivity Do More Better.
  • Another Do More Better Review. David Murray reviews Tim Challies’ new book on productivity Do More Better. I’m currently reading the book and have signed up for Tim Challies’ “10 Days of Productivity”. Why don’t you as well?
  • The Truth About Employee Engagement. Patrick Lencioni has re-titled and re-released one of his books, The Three Signs of A Miserable Job. The new title is The Truth About Employee Engagement, and other than the title, the content is exactly the same. He writes “The reason we decided to re-title is because we learned that a book with the words “miserable job” in the title might have been perceived as more negative than it is.”
  • Best Leadership Books of 2015. Paul Sohn offers this infographic. Interestingly, I haven’t read any of these books.
  • On My Shelf: Life and Books with Trevin Wax. Matt Smethurst interviews Trevin Wax about the books he is reading.
  • Female Brains and the Bestsellers List. Aimee Byrd reviews Beth Moore’s bestselling book Audacious.
  • The 2016 Reading Challenge. Tim Challies writes “Do you love to read? Do you want to learn to love to read? Do you enjoy reading books that cross the whole spectrum of topics and genres? Then have I got something for you! Whether you are a light reader or completely obsessed, this 2016 Reading Challenge is designed to help you read more and to broaden the scope of your reading.”
  • Plan Your 2016 Devotions with a Bible-Reading Calendar. Tim Challies has prepared a selection of Bible-reading calendars that may help you. The wall calendars display the entire year and show every day’s reading. There are 3 versions available, each of which will guide you through the entire Bible over the course of the year.

Studies in the Sermon on the Mount BOOK CLUB – Won’t you read along with us?

Studies in the Sermon on the MountStudies in the Sermon on the Mount by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

This book made a significant impact on my wife Tammy when she read and discussed it with friends thirty years ago. When I picked up my diploma the day after graduation ceremonies from Covenant Seminary last year I was given a copy of this book. After enjoying Lloyd-Jones book Spiritual Depression (and the sermons the book was taken from), I couldn’t wait to read this book, which is the printed form of sermons preached for the most part on successive Sunday mornings at Westminster Chapel in London. This week we look at

Chapter 16, Let Your Light So Shine

    • The first thing to consider is why we as Christians should be like salt and light, and why we should desire to be so. It seems to me that our Lord has three main arguments there. The first is that, by definition, we were meant to be such.
    • But let us come to the second argument, which seems to me to be that our position becomes not only contradictory but even ridiculous if we do not act in this way. We are to be like `a city that is set on a hill’, and `a city that is set on a hill cannot be hid’. In other words, if we are truly Christian we cannot be hid.
    • They are more outside, in a sense, than the man who is entirely worldly and makes no claim or profession, because he at least has his own society. Of all people, then, these are the most pathetic and the most tragic, and the solemn warning which we have in this verse is the warning of our Lord against getting into such a state and condition.
    • God give us grace to take this solemn warning unto ourselves. A mere formal profession of Christianity is something that will ultimately always suffer that fate.
    • Perhaps we can sum it all up in this way. The true Christian cannot be hid, he cannot escape notice. A man truly living and functioning as a Christian will stand out. He will be like salt; he will be like a city set upon a hill, a candle set upon a candlestick.
    • The true Christian does not even desire to hide his light. He sees how ridiculous it is to claim to be a Christian and yet deliberately to try to hide the fact.
    • These comparisons and illustrations, then, are meant by our Lord to show us that any desire which we may find in ourselves to hide the fact that we are Christian is not only to be regarded as ridiculous and contradictory, it is, if we indulge it and persist in it, something which (though I do not understand the doctrine at this point) may lead to a final casting out.
    • That is the first statement. Let us now come to the second, which is a very practical one. How are we to ensure that we really do function as salt and as light?
    • Am I sure that I have the oil, the life that which the Holy Spirit of God alone can give to me? The first exhortation, then, must be that we must seek this constantly.
    • We so often tend to think that these gracious invitations of our Lord are something which are given once and for ever. He says, `Come unto me’ if you want the water of life, `Come unto me’ if you want the bread of life. But we tend to think that once and for ever we come to Christ and thereafter we have this permanent supply. Not at all. It is a supply that we have to renew; we have to go back and receive it constantly. We are to live in contact with Him, and it is only as we constantly receive this life from Him that we shall function as salt and as light.
    • But, of course, it not only means constant prayer, it means what our Lord Himself describes as `hungering and thirsting after righteousness’.
    • The second essential is the wick. We must attend to this also. To keep that lamp burning brightly the oil is not enough, you must keep on trimming the wick. That is our Lord’s illustration.
    • What does this mean in practice for us? I think it means that we constantly have to remind ourselves of the Beatitudes. We should read them every day. I ought to remind myself daily that I am to be poor in spirit, merciful, meek, a peacemaker, pure in heart, and so on. There is nothing that is better calculated to keep the wick in order and trimmed than just to remind myself of what I am by the grace of God, and of what I am meant to be. That, I suggest, is something for us to do in the morning before we start our day.
    • But not only are we to remind ourselves of the Beatitudes, we are to live accordingly. What does this mean? It means that we are to avoid everything that is opposed to this character, we are to be entirely unlike the world.
    • We are to be humble, peaceable, peacemaking in all our talk and behavior, and especially in our reactions to the behavior of other persons.
    • The last principle is the supreme importance of doing all this in the right way.
    • In other words, we are to do everything for God’s sake, and for His glory. Self is to be absent, and must be utterly crushed in all its subtlety, for His sake, for His glory.
    • It follows from this that we are to do these things in such a way as to lead other men to glorify Him, and glory in Him, and give themselves to Him.
    • In other words, in all our work and Christian living these three things should always be uppermost. We shall always do it for His sake and His glory. We shall lead men to Him and to glorify Him. And all will be based upon a love for them and a compassion for them in their lost condition.
    • We are to live in such a way that, as men and women look at us, we shall become a problem to them. They will ask, `What is it? Why are these people so different in every way, different in their conduct and behavior, different in their reactions? There is something about them which we do not understand; we cannot explain it.’ And they will be driven to the only real explanation, which is that we are the people of God, children of God, `heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ’. We have become reflectors of Christ, re-producers of Christ. As He is `the light of the world’ so we have become `the light of the world’.

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