Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Reflections of the 2019 Gospel Coalition National Conference

Last week my wife Tammy and I attended the 2019 Gospel Coalition Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. This was the first time we had attended this particular conference and it was a wonderful experience. Logistically, there are a number of hotels nearby the Indianapolis Convention Center (ours and others had walkways from the hotel to the convention center) and more than 200 restaurants in the surrounding area. About 7,200 people from around the world attended the conference, which had a theme of “Conversations with Jesus”. Each of the main messages was from a passage in the Gospels in which Jesus was interacting with people.   The video of all main sessions, and audio of all other sessions are available for FREE here:  https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/conference/2019-national-conference/

There was definitely an international flavor to the conference, as it was emphasized that the Gospel Coalition is not just a U.S. organization. There was a conference bookstore with thousands of titles at discounted prices (check out the Gospel Coalition’s new online bookstore), and an exhibit hall with in excess of 100 exhibitors representing ministries from around the world. A conference app was valuable in helping us to navigate the convention center and conference sessions.

The conference started with pre-conference sessions on Sunday evening and Monday morning, with the first main session beginning Monday afternoon. In addition to the eight main sessions, there were three breakout sessions you could sign up for. In addition, there were auxiliary events early morning, during meal breaks and late in the evening. Needless to say, we were pretty tired when we returned to our hotel each evening.

In addition to the excellent teaching, a highlight was the worship led by Matt Boswell.
We also enjoyed running into a lot of friends (from our presbytery, from ministries we support and one of my former professors from Covenant Seminary).
It was a great experience and we can’t wait for the 2020 Gospel Coalition National Conference.
Here are some of my favorite quotes from some of the sessions I attended. Continue reading

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6 Books I Recommend on Marriage

There are many good books that have been written for Christians on the subject of marriage, and more are being written all the time. I’ve read many of them over the years. Below are 6 of them that I can recommend to you:

The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God by Tim Keller with Kathy Keller

From the Amazon description:
“This book shows everyone—Christians, skeptics, singles, longtime married couples, and those about to be engaged—the vision of what marriage should be according to the Bible. Timothy Keller, with insights from Kathy, his wife of thirty-seven years, shows marriage to be a glorious relationship that is also misunderstood and mysterious. The Meaning of Marriage offers instruction on how to have a successful marriage, and is essential reading for anyone who wants to know God and love more deeply in this life.”

Here’s my review of the book. Continue reading


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

Coach Wooden and Me: Our 50-Year Friendship On and Off the Court by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Grand Central Publishing. 321 pages. 2017
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This heartfelt book is about a friendship between two people who were in some ways very different from each other. The author, one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the game, writes of his nearly fifty-year friendship with John Wooden, arguably the greatest basketball coach ever, who died in 2010 at the age of 99. Wooden was white, a Midwesterner and a devout Christian, while Abdul-Jabbar is Black, from New York City and a devout Muslim.
The author states that Wooden was much more than a basketball guru. He was also his teacher, his friend, and, though he never told him, his role model. Their relationship had been born over basketball, but eventually that became the least important aspect of it. The author writes that among those things that he and Wooden had in common was the belief that playing basketball wasn’t the end, but rather the means to make our lives more fulfilling.  He states that their legacy as friends would be one of the most important and rewarding accomplishments of his life.

Click on ‘Continue reading’ for:
BOOK REVIEWS ~ More of this review and a review of Shaped by God: Thinking and Feeling in Tune with the Psalms by John Piper
BOOK NEWS ~ Links to Interesting Articles
BOOK CLUB ~ How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics in a Divided Age by Jonathan Leeman
I’M CURRENTLY READING…. Continue reading


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS


Some Pastors and Teachers: Reflecting a Biblical Vision of What Every Minister is Called to Be by Sinclair Ferguson. Banner of Truth. 824 pages. 2017
****

Sinclair Ferguson is one of today’s most respected Reformed theologians. In fact the late R.C. Sproul called him his favorite theologian. Anytime Dr. Ferguson publishes a new book it is going to get my attention. This eight-hundred plus page volume is no ordinary book, and will be a welcome addition to any pastor’s library.
The book, which covers many of the themes and tasks of Christian ministry, is broken into five major sections, which include 39 chapters. The major sections are:

  1. Pastors and Teachers: Three Johns
  2. John Calvin: Pastor-Teacher
  3. Puritans: Pastors and Teachers
  4. The Pastor and Teaching
  5. The Pastor and Preaching

The title of the book comes from Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:11. The author tells us that many of these chapters were first published in relatively obscure places in the context of busy pastoral ministry. Now, he sees how the essays seem to self-select and rearrange themselves into a coherent whole. He hopes that these pages will encourage other pastors to stretch themselves beyond their normal pulpit or lectern preparation and accept invitations to study, speak and write on subjects outside of their norm.
He encourages pastors and teachers to utilize their gifts for fellow pastors. He sees this book as representing some of the gifts that the Lord has given him for others who have an interest in and a concern for the ministry of the gospel.
Although this is a massive volume, each chapter is an entity on its own. The author states that readers can enter and leave at any point they choose as no chapter is completely dependent on the previous chapter or any other chapter in the book. Though a seminary graduate, I’m a ruling elder not a preaching pastor. The arrangement of this book will allow me to focus on those sections that focus on teaching, rather than preaching, for example.
I look forward to benefiting from the wisdom contained in these pages for many years. This would be an excellent addition to any minister’s library. Continue reading


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Living Dangerously in Retirement

Are you still working? When are you going to retire? I hear that often these days when I see people I worked with in the past but haven’t seen for a while, or from friends or members of my extended family. And the truth be told, many people that I have worked with have retired over the past few years. It’s hard to believe; one day you are the youngest on the staff and then seemingly in no time, you are the oldest.
But I’m not one who has ever counted down the years, weeks or days until retirement. I still love my job and the people I work with, and that makes a big difference. But I know that some people hate their jobs and can’t wait to retire, the ultimate “Is it Friday yet?”
How should Christians think about retirement? Is it all about taking it easy, traveling and playing golf? Or perhaps taking a part-time job and doing some volunteer work? John Piper has been helpful in shaping my thoughts on retirement. Here are three ideas for you to consider based on his writings in his little book entitled, Rethinking Retirement: Finishing Life for the Glory of Christ:

  1. The Bible doesn’t explicitly talk about retirement. We don’t, for example, read about Moses or the Apostle Paul retiring at age 65. Piper writes: “Finishing life to the glory of Christ means resolutely resisting the typical American dream of retirement.” I know this will be unpopular with some readers and some will object to this concept, feeling that they deserve a life of leisure after working in jobs for perhaps fifty years. But I believe that this thinking is culturally based and ultimately unbiblical. Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not?
  2. Finish strong. I want to finish strong, and be like Paul when he wrote in II Timothy 4:7 “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”. I long to hear my Savior say, “Well done, good and faithful servant”. On the occasion of his death not long ago, I wrote about Art Moser, my model for finishing strong. In my Divine Design Assessment completed in Dr. Douglass’s class at Covenant Seminary, I wrote about Art as one of the people in ministry I most admire. I served for years as an Elder with Art. I appreciated many things about him including his ability to finish strong. Well into his 80’s he was still mentoring young men, reading books and writing book reviews and articles for our church newsletter, which preceded this blog. May I say that Art “didn’t act his age”, and I mean that in the most positive and respectful way. Art modeled finishing strong for me – may I be like him as I finish my race.

Piper writes that finishing life to the glory of Christ means finishing life in a way that makes Christ look glorious. How about you? How do you plan to spend your final years to make a difference for Christ?

  1. Don’t Waste Your Retirement. John Piper’s excellent book Don’t Waste Your Life is one of my favorites, and one that I have read often. In that book Piper writes: “I will tell you what a tragedy is. I will show you how to waste your life. Consider a story from the February 1998 edition of Reader’s Digest, which tells about a couple who “took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30-foot trawler, play softball and collect shells.”  At first, when I read it I thought it might be a joke. A spoof on the American Dream. But it wasn’t. Tragically, this was the dream: Come to the end of your life—your one and only precious, God-given life—and let the last great work of your life before you give an account to your Creator be this: playing softball and collecting shells.  Picture them before Christ at the great Day of Judgment: ‘Look, Lord. See my shells.’ That is a tragedy. And people today are spending billions of dollars to persuade you to embrace that tragic dream. Over against that, I put my protest: Don’t buy it. Don’t waste your life.”

If we retire in our late 50’s or early to mid-60’s, hopefully we will have many years before our physical and mental powers fail. Piper challenges us to live those final years for the glory of Christ. If you are retired, or within a few years of retiring, how do you plan to live them in such a way as to show that Christ is your highest Treasure?
Lord willing, I hope to not waste my retirement. Completing my seminary education served to equip me theologically. In God’s providence, I hope to serve my Jesus and my church through teaching, mentoring and discipling during my retirement for as long as I am physically and mentally able.
Piper charges us to: “Live dangerously for the one who loved you and died for you in his thirties. Don’t throw your life away on the American dream of retirement.”  How do you plan to live dangerously in your last season of life for Christ?


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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 
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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 REVIEWS and NEWS

book reviews

A Peculiar Glory by John PiperA Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness by John Piper. Crossway. 304 pages. 2016
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This is Piper’s first major work since 2011’s Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian. His objective is to answer the questions of how are we to know that the Scriptures are the word of God, how can we trust the Bible, and what do the Scriptures claim for themselves. Piper’s main passion has been toward the non-scholarly. He asks how the common (non-seminary trained, non-scholar) Christian has a well-grounded trust in Scripture. How can they know for certain that the Bible is confirmed by the peculiar glory of God?

He begins with his own biographical story about the Bible. He asks the reader ‘on what do you stand?’ He writes that God was holding onto him by making the view compelling. Piper didn’t just hold a view of Scripture, he was held by His glory through His Word. He tells us that he went from being a teacher of the Bible in Bible College to a preacher of the Bible for 33 years at Bethlehem Baptist Church.

He then looks at what the Scriptures claim for themselves, and how we can know such claims are true. His concern is the Bible’s self-attestation, or the internal witness of the Holy Spirit. He then looks at what books make up the Scriptures. From there he looks at what the Scriptures claim for themselves through the Old Testament, Jesus and the Apostles. Piper writes that he believes in the inerrancy of the original manuscripts, though we do not have the original manuscripts at our disposal.

He then addresses the main questions that are listed above. He concludes the book with six chapters on how the Scriptures are confirmed by the peculiar glory of God.

Piper contends that God’s Glory and His Word are inseparable. He draws heavily from Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin, the Apostle Paul (specifically 2 Corinthians 4:3-6) and Westminster Larger Catechism question 4 to address the questions the book poses. He argues that the Bible exposes us to the glory of God and in that way gives us complete confidence that it is, indeed, God’s own word.

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