Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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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.

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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
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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

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BOOK CLUB ~ The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur
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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

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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
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BOOK CLUB ~ The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur
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Inexpressible: Hesed and the Mystery of God’s Lovingkindness by Michael Card. IVP Books. 176 pages. 2018
****

Respected musician, Bible teacher and author Michael Card has been working on this book about hesed for ten years.  It is a word that many will not be familiar with, but which he writes that it is tempting to say is the most important word in the Hebrew Scriptures. Though a book that he thought would take one year to write took much longer, he tells us that understanding hesed is actually a lifelong journey, and that none of us will ever get to the end of it in this life.
He first encountered the word hesed while working through the laments of the Old Testament. He describes hesed as being an untranslatable, three-letter, two-syllable word. Early in the book he gives us what he describes as an initial, ever-incomplete working definition of hesed:

When the person from whom I have a right to expect nothing gives me everything.

In this book, which I thoroughly enjoyed, he looks at the word hesed in its immediate context in a number of passages and tries to understand what the meaning was for the author at that particular point in time. He states that a good case can be made for the claim that hesed has the largest range of meaning of any word in the Hebrew language, and perhaps in any language. It occurs nearly 250 times in the Hebrew Bible throughout all of the three major divisions—the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings, with the majority of occurrences (127) in the Psalms. He tells us that the vast range of hesed is also made evident by the staggering number of English words translators employ in their effort to render it (which he details in an appendix). For example, the King James Version of the Bible uses fourteen different words for hesed. He tells us that a single word is rarely enough in a given context to express all that hesed means, so Bible translators are forced to pile on adjectives.
The author tells us that the purpose of this journey is not to become preoccupied with a single word. Instead, he wants us to hesed as a key that can open a door into an entire world—the world of God’s own heart, the world of loving our neighbor and perhaps even our enemies.

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BOOK REVIEWS ~ More of this review and reviews of
~ The Daring Mission of William Tyndale
by Steven J. Lawson
~ With All Due Respect: Defending America with Grit and Grace
by Nikki Haley
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BOOK CLUB ~ The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur
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The Meaning of Marriage: A Couple’s Devotional: A Year of Daily Devotions by Tim Keller and Kathy Keller. Viking 392 pages. 2019
****

This is Tim Keller and Kathy Keller’s third devotional book, with previous books on the Psalms (The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms) and Proverbs (God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Book of Proverbs), both of which were excellent and I used as a part of my devotional reading.
The Kellers wrote The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God in 2011. In the “Introduction” of this new devotional, Kathy Keller indicates that it is not necessary to have read the earlier book in order to benefit from this new devotional. She then recaps some of the basic themes of The Meaning of Marriage, such as:

  • The main problem every marriage faces is the self-centeredness in both spouse’s hearts, and
  • The essence of marriage is a covenant, a binding promise.

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BOOK REVIEWS ~ More of this review and reviews of:

  • Live in Grace, Walk in Love: A 365-Day Journey by Bob Goff
  • Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon, wife of Charles H. Spurgeon by Ray Rhodes Jr.

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BOOK CLUB ~ The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur
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