Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS


Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Timothy Keller. Penguin Books. 332 pages. 2014.
****

This is perhaps the best book on prayer that I’ve read, and I’ve read several. I’ve already read and discussed it with others on two occasions. Our discussions would move slowly, as there is so much rich material on prayer in the fifteen chapters in this book. This book will challenge you and your prayer life.
Keller writes that prayer is both conversation and encounter with God. He tells us that these two concepts give us definition of prayer and a set of tools for deepening our prayer lives. He tells us that prayer is both awe and intimacy, struggle and reality. These will not happen every time we pray, but each should be a major component of our prayer over the course of our lives.
He writes of wanting a far better personal prayer life. As a result, he began to read widely and experiment in prayer. In his pursuit of a deeper prayer life, he deliberately avoided reading any new books on prayer. Instead, he went back to the historical texts of Christian theology that had formed him and began asking questions about prayer and the experience of God.
In addition, he made four practical changes to his life of private devotion. First, he took several months to go through the Psalms, summarizing each one. The second thing he did was always to put in a time of meditation as a transitional discipline between his Bible reading and his time of prayer. Third, he did all he could to pray morning and evening rather than only in the morning. Fourth, he began praying with greater expectation.

Click on ‘Continue reading’ for:
BOOK REVIEWS ~ More of this review and a review of Embracing Your Identity in Christ: Renouncing Lies and Foolish Strategies by Robert Davis Smart
BOOK NEWS ~ Links to Interesting Articles
BOOK CLUB ~ The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur
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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

book reviews

The Blessing of HumilityThe Blessing of Humility: Walk within Your Calling by Jerry Bridges. NavPress. 144 pages. 2016
****

This is the final book written by Jerry Bridges, who died on March 6 at the age of 86. His books have meant a great deal to me over the years, from The Pursuit of Holiness to this final volume.

Bridges writes that the real value of this book (on the Beatitudes taught by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount), comes as you read each chapter reflectively and prayerfully. He suggests that we ask God to help us see ourselves as we really are in the light of each of the character traits covered in the eight Beatitudes. Then, ask God to help us grow in the areas where we see ourselves to be most needy. The character traits in the Beatitudes, which constitute the major portion of this book, are all expressions of what Bridges calls “humility in action.”

Bridges writes that the character trait of humility is the second-most frequently taught trait in the New Testament, second only to love, and that all other character traits, in one way or another, are built upon love and humility.  He looks at the Beatitudes as expressions of Christian character that are a description of humility in action.  He states that all Christians are meant to display these characteristics, and that a life of humility is not an option for a believer to choose or reject. It is a command of God.  He tells us that if we want to apply the Bible’s teaching to our daily lives, we cannot ignore the call to live our ordinary lives in a spirit of humility.

In the eight short chapters of the book, Bridges looks at how humility expresses itself in the different circumstances and people we encounter as we live out our daily lives in a broken and sin-cursed world. The Beatitudes offer a portrait of humility in action, something which God commands and which God promises to bless. He states that it is impossible to truly walk in humility without to some degree appropriating the truth of the gospel every day, which he refers to as “preaching the gospel to ourselves every day”.

The book includes a helpful Discussion Guide, with questions developed by Bob Bevington.  This would be a wonderful book to read and discuss with others in a book club setting.

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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

book reviews

The Faith of Christopher HitchensThe Faith of Christopher Hitchens by Larry Alex Taunton. Thomas Nelson. 224 pages. 2016
****

The attraction of this fascinating book is not so much that it is a biography of one of the “New Atheists”, Christopher Hitchens – though the author, an Evangelical Christian and Founder of the Fixed Point Foundation, does provide us with a biographical sketch of Hitchens – but rather it is the author’s personal recollections of their unlikely friendship. Taunton paints Hitchens, who died of esophageal cancer in 2011, as a man of contradictions, who kept “two sets of books” – one being his private life and the other his public life. In his private book, which Taunton was privileged to know, Hitchens was open to discussing spiritual issues with him, including studying the Gospel of John on two road trips they took late in Hitchens’ life. They were unlikely friends who respected each other.

The author tells us that Hitchens had little respect for his father, and a contentious relationship with his brother, Peter, who left atheism for Christianity. His mother had abortions both before and after Christopher was born, and eventually committed suicide with a boyfriend.

He writes of Hitchens being a man of contradictions.  On the one hand, being a socialist, having homosexual encounters and protesting against the Vietnam War, but undergoing significant changes after the 9/11 attacks in which he recognized real evil. He would then be supportive of President Bush’s “War on Terror” and invasion of Iran and Afghanistan, and also become pro-life.  He became a U.S. citizen in 2007.

The publication of his 2007 book God is Not Great: How Religion Spoils Everything, would ironically start Hitchens on a type of spiritual journey, as he offered to debate anyone taking an opposing view as a way to promote the book. He would debate Christians such as Doug Wilson and John Lennox. This is how the author came to know Hitchens, as he would coordinate the debates and eventually the two would debate each other.

The author writes of their friendship, and by far the best part of the book is his recounting of their two road trips – one through the Shenandoah Valley and the other through Montana and Yellowstone Park. Both of the trips took place after Hitchens was diagnosed with cancer and he knew he was dying. It was on these trips that the two would read and study the Gospel of John together. Hitchens was attracted to Marcionism (accepting some parts of the New Testament but denying Christ’s corporality and humanity and condemning the Creator God of the Old Testament).

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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

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Simply My Window by P.K. Hodel. Xulon Press. 396 pages. 2016simply my window by pam hodel
****

Rarely have I been moved by a book as I was with this one by P.K. Hodel. This eloquently written poetic autobiography is open and at times almost painfully honest as she tells her story. It is written in such a manner that you really feel you know this incredible woman when you get to the end as she shares the amazing life that she and her husband and three children have lived to date.  Although she shares some very difficult times in her life, the book is ultimately hopeful.

Hodel effectively uses the metaphor of a window to describe each season of her life story. She tells us that the book is simply her interpretation of what she has seen from the windows of her life. I enjoyed her use of “Beauty” for God and “Ugly” for Satan. In addition, the names of her husband, children and some others in the book are changed for a variety of reasons. She offers poetic “Lessons Learned” at the end of each chapter.

Each chapter of the book takes the reader to a different place and time in the author’s story, beginning with Wapello, Iowa where she grew up. She tells us that joy in sorrow and alone in happiness would be a primary window of her life, a life that would be marked by early losses where she would find herself in the front bench of the church. She writes “The reality is, we take turns here on the front bench of funeral services. We have a few turns here on the front bench, several to many in the succeeding benches, and then one in the casket. It’s just how it works.”

Her seven year-old brother Teddy died of leukemia and her mother, who never got over the loss of Teddy, died of cancer at only forty-nine, both in the same Burlington, Iowa hospital. Her mother lived for a year after being diagnosed with cancer, a year in which the author writes that her mother taught her to “live one day at a time, living each day to the fullest, simply because we have it to live”.  P.K.’s father would live to marry two more times, women that P.K. loved.

She writes of the church environment in which she was raised, one with Anabaptist roots and a separatist, self-contained Christian culture. She writes that visiting other churches, for example “was questioned, even frowned upon by our church culture. I remember hearing it referred to as ‘spiritual adultery.’”

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MY BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

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There have been several wonderful articles about Jerry Bridges since his death on March 6. Here are a few of them from Tim Challies, Bob Bevington, Justin Taylor, Robert Brady, Randy Alcorn and Tony Reinke. Justin Taylor also shared the entire memorial service for Bridges.

God Took Me by the Hand: A Story of God’s Unusual Providence by Jerry Bridgesjerry bridges. NavPress. 192 pages. 2014.
****

Jerry Bridges, who passed away on March 6, was one of my favorite authors. A few years back, my pastor asked if we could bring him to our church to speak. Unfortunately, by that time, he had made the decision only to accept speaking engagements with those he had already had a relationship with. I was blessed to see him speak at a Ligonier National Conference some years back however.

In this, his last book released while he was alive, written at age 84, he tells his life story in light of the doctrine of the providence of God. Bridges originally intended to have this become a published book explaining and exalting the providence of God. But the more he worked on it, the more he sensed it was too personal to become a book, so he changed his mental audience to family and close friends. However, some people at NavPress read the story and thought it could be useful to a larger audience. Bridges’ prayer is that this book will be helpful to his readers to see how the providence of God can work in the life of a very ordinary individual.

Bridges states that the purpose of the story is to explain, illustrate, and exalt God’s providence. Bridges intends his life story is meant to be only a backdrop and a series of illustrations of specific acts of the invisible hand of God so that many believers will come to recognize and appreciate more of God’s work in their own lives.

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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

book reviewsJ.I. Packer

J.I. Packer: An Evangelical Life by Leland Ryken. Crossway. 432 pages. 2015
****

This is a well-written and researched portrait of the great evangelical theologian J.I. Packer, written by Leland Ryken, who teaches at Wheaton College. Throughout the book, which is divided into three major sections, Ryken calls out his personal connections to the 89 year-old Packer (teaching, writing, the Puritans), calling them kindred spirits. He writes about Packer, warts and all, with a great deal of affection, calling him a “modern day Puritan”.

Ryken approaches the significant task of writing about Packer’s life and accomplishments by dividing the book into sections looking at his life, Packer the person and life-long themes. Some, especially those who have read Alistair McGrath’s 1998 J.I. Packer: A Biography (which Ryken writes that he is indebted to and often references of which I have also read) will be familiar with the biographical details of Packer’s life. I was most interested in the controversies in Packer’s life (which Ryken details in the final section on lifelong themes), especially those which led to a breaking of fellowship with Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and R.C. Sproul, two of my theological heroes. Both of those controversies were related to Packer’s ecumenism. Packer looks to the great preacher George Whitefield as his role model for ecumenism. Packer’s split with Lloyd-Jones came after his participation in the book Growing into Union. I didn’t know previously that the two had planned to meet in 1981, but Lloyd-Jones died before that meeting could take place. Packer’s split with Sproul, which is ongoing, was over his participation in the Evangelical and Catholics Together (ECT) effort in 1994.

Packer sees his role as the General Editor of the English Standard Version Bible Translation Team as his most significant accomplishment. He has long been a member of the Anglican Church, having faced controversy in that church in England and Canada.

Ryken writes about the providential circumstances of Packer meeting his future wife, a nurse. Surprisingly, Packer’s wife is mentioned relatively little in this 432 page book.

Although Packer has had many roles, he sees his primary calling as theological education. He is best known for his 1973 book Knowing God. He moved to Canada and Regent College in 1979. He began a role with the magazine Christianity Today in 1958. He was evicted as a minister in the Canadian Anglican Church for his stance against homosexuality.

In part two on Packer the person, Ryken talks about Packer’s generosity, being a champion for the ordinary person, a traditionalist and a latter day Puritan. I enjoyed the insights about the lesser known Packer, including his love for jazz music and murder mysteries.

In part three on lifelong themes, Ryken looks at themes such as the Bible, the Puritans, writing, Anglicanism, theology, preaching and controversies.

The book ends with an Afterword from Packer himself.

This significant book is a detailed and respectful look at the life, work and person of one of the most significant evangelical figures of our lifetime. Ryken offers helpful summaries at the end of each major section.

Can I Lose My Salvation by R.C.Can I Lose My Salvation? (Crucial Questions) by R.C. Sproul. Reformation Trust. 46 pages. 2015
****

This is the 22nd and newest entry into the excellent Crucial Questions series from R.C. Sproul, Ligonier Ministries and Reformation Trust Publishing. These small books/booklets are available free in the Kindle version, and most are available for a small cost in paperback editions. Sproul writes that the key question in this small book is “Can I lose my salvation?” This is the doctrine of eternal security, also known as the perseverance of the saints, or the “P” in the famous Calvinist acronym TULIP. I was glad to see this book as Christians are divided on the issue of whether a true believer can lose their salvation.

Sproul writes that to fall into apostasy means to reach a position, but then to abandon it. To say that someone has become apostate, we are saying that they have fallen from the faith, or at least have fallen from their first profession of faith. Is it possible to become apostate? Sproul states that there are many texts in the New Testament that warn about this possibility.

He writes that Scripture has many examples of true believers who truly fall away, who fall into gross sin and, on some occasions into protracted periods of impenitence. Sproul calls this a serious fall. All Christians are subject to serious falls. But is someone who commits a serious fall eternally lost? Sproul states that church discipline attempts to keep a serious fall from turning into a total fall. Sproul writes that the challenge is to distinguish between a true believer in the midst of a serious fall and a person who has made a false profession of faith.

He addresses the concept of the “unforgiveable sin”, a sin that will in fact not be forgiven by God, not because God can’t do it but because He won’t. He states that the fact that people are wrestling with the fear that they have committed this sin actually gives significant evidence to the reality that they are not in such a state.

He then takes a detailed look at the difficult passage of Hebrews 6:1–6, which many point to as textual proof that a Christian can lose their salvation. After that, he looks at the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, preferring to use the description preservation of the saints, as God preserves His own. At the same time, we are called to work hard to persevere.

Another concept he looks at is that of the carnal Christian. This is a person who is a Christian, but whose life is still dominated by carnality. He writes that there is actually no totally carnal Christians, just as there are no totally spiritual Christians.

He concludes the book by writing about the intercession of Christ, our Great High Priest. This is the foundation for our confidence when it comes to our perseverance.

He writes “We persevere because we are preserved, and we are preserved because of the intercession of our Great High Priest. This is our greatest consolation and our greatest source of confidence that we will persevere in the Christian life.” Amen!

This is an excellent treatment of this important topic, one that many struggle with. The Crucial Questions books/booklets are excellent tools to give to and discuss with unbelievers or new believers. You get the excellent Bible teaching of R.C. Sproul presented in a very easy to understand manner, one of the things I have most enjoyed about Dr. Sproul’s ministry over the years.

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BOOK CLUBS – Won’t you read along with us?

Tim Keller's New Book on PrayerPrayer BOOK CLUB

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Tim Keller

Christians are taught in their churches and schools that prayer is the most powerful way to experience God. But few receive instruction or guidance in how to make prayer genuinely meaningful. In Prayer, renowned pastor Timothy Keller delves into the many facets of this everyday act. Won’t you read along with Tammy and me? This week we look at Chapter 11: As Encounter: Seeking His Face

  • We must not settle for an informed mind without an engaged heart.
  • What kind of experience should be expected and how should it be sought?
  • At one level, Christians have these things. At another level, they haven’t experienced them. It is one thing to know of the love of Christ and to say, “I know he did all that.” It is another thing to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.
  • What is common to all these moments is that you sense the power of what you have been given in Christ so that your attitudes, feelings, and behavior are altered.
  • You may have many specific problems and issues that need to be faced and dealt with through various specific means. Yet the root problem of them all is that you are rich in Christ but nevertheless living poor.
  • We may mentally assent to the idea of Jesus’ love for us, yet our hearts are committed to finding love through popular acclaim. In such a case the inner being has not been affected by what the mind believes. The Spirit must prepare it to be reshaped and formed by the truth.
  • He asks that the Holy Spirit will sensitize our hearts so that we taste these truths, spiritually speaking, or—as he says in Ephesians 1:18, when he prays that “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened”—that we see them, spiritually speaking.
  • Another aspect of communion with God is a deeper understanding and the appropriation of our family relationship with the Father.
  • Part of the mission of the Spirit is to tell you about God’s love for you, his delight in you, and the fact that you are his child. These things you may know in your head, but the Holy Spirit makes them a fiery reality in your life.
  • When the Holy Spirit comes down on you in fullness, you can sense your Father’s arms beneath you. It is an assurance of who you are. At a minimum this means joy, and a lack of fear and self-consciousness.
  • If Jesus Christ died on the cross so that you are saved by grace alone, then my love is infinitely wide. It is wide enough for you.”
  • Paul says to the Christians, everybody he is writing to at Philippi, “I am convinced…..that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Not “may.” Will. His love is infinitely long.
  • God put his love on you in the depths of time, and he will never remove it from you. Why? Because salvation is by grace. It is not by works. It is not given to you because of what you do. It has begun in the depths of time and will last into eternity. It is infinitely long.
  • The reason that the love of God in Christ is infinitely wide and infinitely long is because it is infinitely deep.
  • Because of the gospel, you can know that God’s love is infinitely wide and infinitely long because it was infinitely deep.
  • God’s love is also infinitely high.
  • Spiritual experience consists of luminous truth and profound assurance of God’s fatherly love.
  • To seek God’s face is not to find some place in space where God is located. Rather, it is to have our hearts enabled by the Holy Spirit to sense his reality and presence.
  • Because of his shed blood and forgiveness, we can have a nearness to God that was not possible before. Jesus’ person and work is the breakthrough for any who want to draw near and seek God’s face.
  • Throughout Owen’s writing, he returns continually to the subject of what has been called the beatific vision. The term describes the direct sight of the glory of God. This is what the redeemed will have in heaven fully, by sight, and what believers have now on earth partially, by faith and not yet with our literal eyes.
  • Meditating upon the beatific vision is a vital practice for all Christians to cultivate,” because “our Christian life and thinking should be oriented toward the hope of the beatific vision, and shaped by the foretaste we receive of it here and now.”
  • Owen held that, unless you learn how to behold the glory of Christ, you are not actually living a truly Christian life in this world.
  • When Paul spoke of beholding Christ’s glory, he could not be talking of mere belief that Jesus was glorious. Rather, “the affecting power of it upon our hearts is that which we should aim at. . . . Doth it not fill and satiate. . . with joy, rest, delight…. and ineffable satisfaction?
  • To behold the glory of Jesus means that we begin to find Christ beautiful for who he is in himself.
  • He reasoned that if the beauty and glory of Christ do not capture our imaginations, dominate our waking thought, and fill our hearts with longing and desire—then something else will. We will be “continually ruminating” on something or some things as our hope and joy.
  • Prayer became not just a time of going through his list of requests but also a time of adoration, confession, and simply enjoying God.
  • If we want to be sure to experience this vision by sight hereafter, we must know it by faith now. If we want freedom from being driven by fear, ambition, greed, lust, addictions, and inner emptiness, we must learn how to meditate on Christ until his glory breaks in upon our souls.
  • Owen promotes what could be called a radically biblical mysticism. It comes through meditation on Scripture, on theological truth, on the gospel—but it must break through to real experience of God.
  • If doctrinal soundness is not accompanied by heart experience, it will lead eventually to nominal Christianity—that is, in name only—and eventually to nonbelief.
  • The irony is that many conservative Christians, most concerned about conserving true and sound doctrine, neglect the importance of prayer and make no effort to experience God, and this can lead to the eventual loss of sound doctrine.
  • Owen believes that Christianity without real experience of God will eventually be no Christianity at all.
  • It is possible to use techniques of meditation and imagination to create changes in consciousness that are not tied at all to the reality of who God is.
  • Owen argues that wordless prayer, while sometimes occurring, is never prescribed or seen as an ideal. In Luke 11, Jesus told his disciples to use words. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul urged Christians to “pray with the mind” in words. That’s a remarkable thing for a Puritan to say. If we are going to be imbalanced, better that we be doctrinally weak and have a vital prayer life and a real sense of God on the heart than that we get all our doctrine straight and be cold and spiritually hard.
  • With this in mind, I think Protestants who find the biblical mysticism of a John Owen or a Jonathan Edwards appealing should read the medieval mystics with appreciation but also plenty of caution.
  • Nevertheless, (Carl) Trueman says of the medieval mystics, “There is a sense of God’s holiness and transcendence in these works that is significantly absent from much modern writing and thinking about God.

Studies in the Sermon on the MountStudies in the Sermon on the Mount BOOK CLUB

Studies 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 24: Christ’s Teaching on Divorce

  • Our Lord’s purpose was to correct the perversion, the false interpretation of the law which was being taught to the people by the Pharisees and scribes.
  • The first principle He emphasizes is that of the sanctity of marriage. Marriage is not a civil contract, or a sacrament; marriage is something in which these two persons become one flesh. There is an indissolubility about it, and our Lord goes right back to that great principle.
  • Because of the hardness of their hearts, God made a concession, as it were. He did not abrogate His original law with regard to marriage.
  • The first principle leads us to the second, which is that God has never anywhere commanded anybody to divorce.
  • The next principle is one which is of the utmost importance. There is only one legitimate cause and reason for divorce-that which is here called `fornication’.
  • There is only one cause for divorce. There is one; but there is only one. And that is unfaithfulness by one party.
  • Nothing is a cause for divorce save fornication. It does not matter how difficult it may be, it does not matter what the stress or the strain, or whatever can be said about the incompatibility of temperament.
  • It is this question of the `one flesh’ again; and the person who is guilty of adultery has broken the bond and has become united to another. The link has gone, the one flesh no longer obtains, and therefore divorce is legitimate.
  • Our Lord says that if you divorce your wife for any other reason you cause her to commit adultery.
  • We can say not only that a person who thus has divorced his wife because of her adultery is entitled to do so. We can go further and say that the divorce has ended the marriage, and that this man is now free and as a free man he is entitled to re-marriage. Divorce puts an end to this connection, our Lord Himself says so.
  • Even adultery is not the unforgivable sin. It is a terrible sin, but God forbid that there should be anyone who feels that he or she has sinned himself or herself outside the love of God or outside His kingdom because of adultery. No; if you truly repent and realize the enormity of your sin and cast yourself upon the boundless love and mercy and grace of God, you can be forgiven and I assure you of pardon.

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MY BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

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book reviews
A Doctor in the HouseA Doctor in the House by Candy Carson. Sentinel. 213 pages. 2016
***

Although Candy Carson has worked with her husband Ben (acclaimed neurosurgeon, author and Republican Presidential candidate), on a few recent books, this is the first book that she has written on her own. It is a loving tribute to Ben, who she first met when they were both attending Yale University in the early 1970’s. She writes that she liked Ben the day that she met him, and has loved him for more than forty years. She states that their life hasn’t been easy, but it’s been worth it. Together, they have been through poverty, tragedy, disappointments, joy, successes, and wealth. Although I knew Ben Carson’s story well from his books, I learned a lot of things about him and his family in this book that I didn’t know previously.
In this book, Candy talks about her early life – She had an alcoholic father who changed after attending Alcoholics Anonymous when she was two years old, never taking another drink after that; her baby sister Sinena died in a fire; her mother was a teacher and Candy was gifted in music – as well as telling Ben’s life story.
While at Yale, she began attending Ben’s Seventh Day Adventist Church, where she sang in the choir, as well as Bible Study (Sabbath School) and church on Saturday. She writes that it was pretty clear to anyone who knew Ben in college that he was special. She indicates that some might wish that she point out Ben’s flaws from those early years to balance out his virtues, but other than his constant teasing of her, she can’t think of anything.
Ben would go to Medical School at the University of Michigan after graduating from Yale and they scheduled their wedding for the summer after Candy graduated from Yale. They married at Ben’s church in Ann Arbor, Michigan in a simple ceremony. After that Ben was accepted for residency at Johns Hopkins, where he was the first black neurosurgery resident. She writes that in those days the average workweek for a neurosurgery resident was 130–140 hours. In 1983, the couple left for Perth, Australia to serve there for a year before returning to Johns Hopkins as attending surgeon and later the director of pediatric neurosurgery, working twelve to twenty hours a day. This put a lot of pressure on Candy as she managed their growing family.
Early on the couple was committed to helping other young people get good educations and realize their potential. They continue that commitment today with their Carson Scholar Fund organization.
Candy writes that Ben’s favorite book of the Bible is Proverbs. He reads from that book each morning and evening. She states that it helps him to focus and gives him a sense of peace.
She tells of how his address at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast (his second invitation to speak there) with his ideas about America energized people and led to a campaign for him to seek the presidency.
Candy includes tributes of Ben from others (family members, co-workers, his mentor, etc.). She writes that he has “blessed others, in his family, at work, and abroad, and has truly been blessed in return. His bosses, subordinates, friends, and former “enemies” alike praise his character, confirming that the man I see at home is the same man everywhere he goes.”
I enjoyed this quick read about Dr. Ben Carson as seen through the loving eyes of his wife Candy.

a more perfect union by ben carsonA More Perfect Union: What We the People Can Do to Reclaim Our Constitutional Liberties by Ben Carson, MD with Candy Carson. Sentinel. 256 pages. 2015.
****

In this new book, Dr. Ben Carson provides a layman’s introduction to the Constitution. As I had not studied the Constitution for many years, I found it to be very helpful. Throughout the book Carson weaves in stories from his own experiences and also uses it as an opportunity to share his opinions about how to improve the future of the United States.

Carson writes that unlike many of the lengthy and complex bills that are passed by Congress today, the Constitution, not counting the twenty-seven amendments, is less than seventeen pages long. He states that one of the outstanding features of the Constitution is its lack of details. He states that it is also relatively simple and easy to understand, simple enough to be understood by anyone with a basic education.

Dr. Carson states that many Americans have never read the Constitution and are unaware of the liberties it guarantees and the procedures it has set up. He shares about the history of the Constitution and about its framers. He tells the reader about the Constitution’s governing principles as they are laid out in its preamble and the structure of the Constitution. Most importantly, he states, the reader will learn what they can do to defend it.

He suggests that every American memorize the preamble and keep its principles in mind while voting, thinking that if we elect only officials who understand the Constitution and its goals, America’s future will be safe. He writes that once we understand the Constitution and our rights, we must be vigilant to make sure our leaders uphold those rights.

He ends the book with “A Call to Action”. He asks “Are we willing to stand up against the PC police? Are we willing to educate ourselves and others? We the people must be knowledgeable about our Constitution and brave enough to act upon our values, principles, and convictions.”

The complete text of the Constitution is included in the Appendix.

Although this could be looked at as a dry and boring book, I found it to be anything but that. Read this book and become familiar with what the Constitution really says. I believe it will be time well spent.

Killing ReaganKilling Reagan: The Violent Assault that Changed a Presidency by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. Henry Holt and Co. 320 pages. 2015
****

I have enjoyed all of the books in the Killing series by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard – Lincoln, Kennedy, Jesus, Patton and now Reagan. The books are written in the form of a fast moving novel, and until this book Bill O’Reilly had done a wonderful job reading the audiobook edition. For this book he reads only a brief Prologue and Last Word.

What you think of this book will most likely be based on how you think the authors support their thesis that John Hinkley Jr’s attempted assassination of the 40th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, then 70 years old, in 1981 could have played a pivotal role in his mental decline. Reagan died at age 93 in 2004, after ten years of decline as a result of Alzheimer’s disease.

Reagan graduated from nearby Eureka College in 1932, and about once a week I see the sign on Interstate 74 about twenty minutes from my home, touting that Eureka College was Reagan’s college home. As they do with the previous books, they not only tell us Reagan’s life story, but also that of Hinkley until their lives converge in 1981.

Reagan was a Hollywood actor who married Jane Wyman. Her career took off and his went into decline. They had a daughter (Maureen) and adopted Michael. The couple would lose an infant daughter (Christine). Wyman’s filing for divorce traumatized Reagan and led to much bad behavior on his part with many women.

Reagan increasingly showed an interest in political activism, crusading against communism in Hollywood. The authors tells us about a bitter Screen Actors Guild (SAG) strike, in which communists wanted to take over Hollywood.

Reagan would marry a pregnant (with Patti) Nancy Davis, an actress, who had lived a life of privilege. Throughout the book Nancy is portrayed as controlling, leading her (and the president’s) lives by the guidance of astrologers. The Reagan family and children are portrayed as dysfunctional.

Reagan was a Democrat who voted Republican for the first time in the 1960 Presidential election. He despised John F. Kennedy, even going forward with a planned dinner party the evening that JFK was assassinated. He would deliver a landmark speech for Barry Goldwater titled “A Time to Choose” that put him on the political map. He would later serve two terms as the Governor of California.

The authors speak much of Reagan’s strong relationship with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who ironically would end her life in mental decline. Her video-taped message at Reagan’s funeral in 2004 was her last major public address.

Reagan challenged Gerald Ford for the GOP nomination in 1976, losing a close fight. He made a powerful speech at the convention, leading, according to the authors, many Republicans to realize that they had picked the wrong candidate.

John Hinkley was obsessed with Jodie Foster who appeared in the 1976 movie Taxi Driver, which he watched numerous times. He stalked Foster during her freshman year at Yale University in 1980-1981.  

Hinkley had planned to kill President Jimmy Carter to impress Foster. He joined the Nazi Party and was arrested in an airport when they found guns. But amazingly the judge let him off with a $50 fine and court costs. He was a free man, and didn’t show up on any FBI lists of those who posed a threat to the president. Reagan was elected to the first of two presidential terms in 1980, when he defeated incumbent Jimmy Carter.

Hinkley didn’t know whether he would kill himself or Reagan to demonstrate his love for Foster. As it turns out, he was able to fire six shots from just ten feet away, hitting Reagan, and three others. Reagan at first didn’t realize he had been shot. He thought his ribs had been broken when thrown into the car. He actually walked into the hospital and then collapsed and passed out. As it turned out he nearly died, and lost half of his blood supply. Hinkley would be found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Prior to the assassination attempt the Reagans rarely went to church. He would draw closer to God after surviving the attempt.

The authors discuss Reagan’s two terms in the White House, with successes and controversies. They talk about an assessment that he was not mentally fit to be president and the possible need to invoke the 25th Amendment. They write that the White House was out of control with chaos at all levels. They write of Reagan not being engaged in permanent decline and visibly frail, napping frequently. They write that Nancy was considered to be the most powerful person in the White House (the authors give her credit for the firing of Don Regan, the president’s Chief of Staff), and consulting astrologist Joan Quigley in San Francisco regarding the president’s schedule.

After leaving the White House, Reagan was thrown from a horse in 1989 which could have accelerated his Alzheimer’s disease. He attended Richard Nixon’s funeral in 1994, where he was seen to be in physical and mental decline. This would be his last major public appearance. After that, it was primarily the family who saw him, outside of his caregivers. At the end, he didn’t recognize Nancy, his wife of 50 years, who is still alive at the age of 94.

The book ends with an update on all of the major characters in the book.

I enjoyed the book, but was not fully convinced by the authors that the failed assassination attempt started Reagan’s mental decline.

BOOK CLUBS – Won’t you read along with us?

Tim Keller's New Book on PrayerPrayer BOOK CLUB

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Tim Keller

Christians are taught in their churches and schools that prayer is the most powerful way to experience God. But few receive instruction or guidance in how to make prayer genuinely meaningful. In Prayer, renowned pastor Timothy Keller delves into the many facets of this everyday act. Won’t you read along with Tammy and me? This week we look at Chapter 10: Prayer as Conversation: Meditating on His Word

  • If prayer is to be a true conversation with God, it must be regularly preceded by listening to God’s voice through meditation on the Scripture.
  • The Psalms are the prayer book of the Bible, but it is noteworthy that the first Psalm is not a prayer per se but a meditation.
  • There is a “middle ground,” however, between prayer and Bible study, a kind of bridge between the two. While deep experiences of the presence and power of God can happen in innumerable ways, the ordinary way for going deeper spiritually into prayer is through meditation on Scripture.
  • While deep experiences of the presence and power of God can happen in innumerable ways, the ordinary way for going deeper spiritually into prayer is through meditation on Scripture.
  • According to Psalm 1, meditation promises at least three things. The first is stability. The person experienced in meditation is like a tree rooted so that wind cannot blow it away.
  • Meditation, then, is what gives you stability, peace, and courage in times of great difficulty, adversity, and upheaval.
  • Meditation also brings the promise of substance, of character.
  • Persons who meditate become people of substance who have thought things out and have deep convictions, who can explain difficult concepts in simple language, and who have good reasons behind everything they do.
  • Meditation bears fruit, which in the Bible means character traits such as love, joy, peace, patience, humility, self-control (Gal 5:22ff). Real meditation, then, does not merely make us feel “close to God” but changes our life.
  • Finally, meditation brings blessedness—a very fulsome idea in the Bible. It means peace and well-being in every dimension. It means character growth, stability, and delight (Ps 1:2). Meditating on the law of the Lord, the Scripture, moves us through duty toward joy. The biblical promises for meditation are enormous.
  • There is no better way to meditate on a verse and draw out all the aspects, implications, and richness of its meaning than to memorize it.
  • Meditate is to ask yourself questions about the truth, such as: “Am I living in light of this? What difference does this make? Am I taking this seriously? If I believed and held to this, how would that change things? When I forget this, how does that affect me and all my relationships?” In every case, meditation means to use the mind intensely.
  • Meditation means to use the mind intensely.
  • Meditation on a text of the Bible assumes that, through study and interpretation, you already know something about what the text means. You can’t reflect on or enjoy what you don’t understand.
  • To understand a section of Scripture means answering two basic questions about it. First, what did the original author intend to convey to his readers in this passage? Second, what role does this text play in the whole Bible; how does it contribute to the gospel message and move along the main narrative arc of the Bible, which climaxes in the salvation of Jesus Christ?
  • Unless you first do the hard work of answering those questions about a text, your meditations won’t be grounded in what God is actually saying in the passage.
  • A great number of books advise “divine reading” of the Bible today, and define the activity uncarefully as reading “not for information but to hear a personal word of God to you.” This presents a false contrast.
  • Biblical meditation is founded on the work of sound biblical interpretation and study.
  • Meditation is spiritually “tasting” the Scripture—delighting in it, sensing the sweetness of the teaching, feeling the conviction of what it tells us about ourselves, and thanking God and praising God for what it shows us about him. Meditation is also spiritually “digesting” the Scripture—applying it, thinking out how it affects you, describes you, guides you in the most practical way. It is drawing strength from the Scripture, letting it give you hope, using it to remember how loved you are. To shift metaphors, meditation is taking the truth down into our hearts until it catches fire there and begins to melt and shape our reactions to God, ourselves, and the world.
  • The British theologian John Owen believed there are three basic movements or stages within meditation. It is distinguished from the study of the word, wherein our principal aim is to learn the truth, or to declare it unto others; and so also from prayer, whereof God himself is the immediate object. But . . . meditation . . . is the affecting of our own hearts and minds with love, delight, and [humility].
  • The first stage, which is selecting and getting a clear view—“fixing the thoughts”—of a truth from the Bible:
  • There are many traditional ways to get such a clear view of a text. One is to read the biblical text slowly, answering four questions: What does this teach me about God and his character? About human nature, character, and behavior?
  • One is to read the biblical text slowly, answering four questions: What does this teach me about God and his character? About human nature, character, and behavior? About Christ and his salvation? About the church, or life in the people of God?
  • Another fruitful approach to meditation is to ask application questions. Look within the passage: for any personal examples to emulate or avoid, for any commands to obey, for any promises to claim, and for any warnings to heed.
  • Another approach to meditating on the Scripture, especially with a short passage, is to take one crucial verse and think through it by emphasizing each word. Ask what each word uniquely contributes to the meaning of the text, or what meaning would be lost from the statement if that particular word were removed.
  • Another way to fix the mind on the truth of the passage is to paraphrase the verse in your own words. Read the verse(s) and close the Bible and try to restate it. Then look back at the passage and you will see how much you missed. Do this until you are satisfied with your paraphrase. This kind of meditation forces you to think more deeply about the text than you would otherwise. Paraphrase the verse in your own words. Read the verse(s) and close the Bible and try to restate it.
  • A final way to meditate on a text is to memorize it.
  • After engaging the mind, John Owen says the second part of meditation is inclining the heart. After engaging the mind to clearly see what we are being taught about God, Christ, salvation, eternity, and our own state, we must then seek to incline the heart until its hope and joy more fully rests in those things.
  • It means seeing how God’s truth should be affecting you, your life, and all your relationships—and then pleading and preaching to your heart until it connects to the truth and begins to turn away from its false hopes and to change its attitudes, feelings, and commitments.
  • How do you do this practically? One way is Martin Luther’s approach. After fixing the truth in the mind as instruction, he asks how it shows you something about the character of God for which you can praise him, something wrong about yourself for which you can repent, and something that is needed for which you can petition him. In each case, Luther is working the truth into his relationship to God, to himself, and to the world.
  • Another way of discerning how a truth can change you is to look more deeply at yourself.
  • A final way you can discern how a scriptural truth should change you is by considering the timing of your insight. Why might God be showing this to you today? What is going on now in your life to which this would be relevant?
  • What, then, is the third stage of meditation?
  • It may be that the heart senses the presence of God and the realities of his salvation in a moving way. Owen calls us, then, to stop and savor it.
  • He admits that sometimes, no matter what we do, we simply cannot concentrate, or we find our thoughts do not become big and affecting, but rather we feel bored, hard, and distracted. Then, Owen says, simply turn to God and make brief, intense appeals for help. Sometimes that is all you will do the rest of your scheduled time, and sometimes the very cries for help serve to concentrate the mind and soften the heart.
  • Meditation means analyzing the truth with the mind; bringing it into the feelings, attitudes, and commitments of the heart; and then responding to the degree to which the Holy Spirit gives illumination and spiritual reality.
  • Meditation is thinking a truth out and then thinking a truth in.
  • Jesus is supremely the one also on whom we meditate, because he is the meditation of God. He is God’s truth become “real,” made concrete, and applied. He is the one who enables us to stand in the Judgment Day. He is the one who gives us the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22). We must both meditate on him and with him, and then, not only will Psalm 1 come to life in new ways, but we will become unshakable trees, as he was.
  • Meditate on the righteousness we have in Christ through his sacrificial death.
  • Meditate on Jesus, who is the ultimate meditation of God. Look at him loving you. Look at him dying for you. Look at him rejoicing in you. Look at him singing over you (Zeph 3:17). Look at all that, and he will be a delight to you, and then the law will be a delight to you, and you will be like a tree planted by streams of water. You’ll bear your fruit in season, and no matter what will happen, your leaf will not wither.

Studies in the Sermon on the MountStudies in the Sermon on the Mount BOOK CLUB

Studies 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 20: The Letter and the Spirit

  • He expounds the relationship of the Christian to the law in two respects. He gives us His own positive exposition of the law, and He also contrasts it with the false teaching of the scribes and Pharisees. Indeed, there is a sense in which it can be said that the whole of the remainder of this Sermon, from verse 21 right through to the end of chapter seven is nothing but an elaboration of that fundamental proposition, that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees if we are indeed to be citizens of the kingdom of heaven.
  • In V.21-48, then, our Lord is concerned mainly to give a true account of the law. He does this by putting forward a series of six particular statements.
  • I do not hesitate to suggest that our Lord was really more concerned about these common principles than He was about the particulars. In other words, He lays down certain principles and then illustrates them.
  • The first thing we must consider is the formula which He uses: `Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time’. What our Lord is really doing here is showing the true teaching of the law over against the false representations of it made by the Pharisees and the scribes.
  • We must also consider this other extraordinary statement: ‘I say unto you’. This is, of course, one of the most crucial statements with regard to the doctrine of the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. He does not hesitate here to set Himself up as the authority. He claims to speak as God.
  • Everything we have in this Sermon on the Mount must be accepted as coming from the Son of God Himself.
  • Let us once and for all get rid of the idea that our Lord came to set up a new law, or to announce a new code of ethics. It is not meant to be a detailed code of ethics; it is not a new kind of moral law which was given by Him.
  • Now it is characteristic of human nature that we always prefer to have things cut and dried rather than have them in the form of principles. That is why certain forms of religion are always popular.
  • But it is not at all like that under the New Testament dispensation. However, we still tend to like this sort of thing.
  • If you take the Sermon on the Mount with these six detailed statements and say, `As long as I do not commit adultery-and so on-I am all right’, you have entirely missed our Lord’s point. It is not a code of ethics.
  • The gospel of Jesus Christ does not treat us like that. It does not treat us as children. It is not another law, but something which gives us life. It lays down certain principles and asks us to apply them. Its essential teaching is that we are given a new outlook and understanding which we must apply with respect to every detail of our lives.
  • Our Lord’s chief desire was to show the true meaning and intent of the law, and to correct the erroneous conclusions which had been drawn from it by the Pharisees and scribes and all the false notions which they had founded upon it. These, I suggest, are the principles. First, it is the spirit of the law that matters primarily, not the letter only.
  • That does not mean of course that the letter does not matter; but it does mean that we must put the spirit before it and interpret the letter according to the spirit.
  • Now take a second principle, which is really another way of putting the first. Conformity to the law must not be thought of in terms of actions only. Thoughts, motives and desires are equally important. The law of God is concerned as much with what leads to the action as it is with the action itself.
  • The scribes and Pharisees were concerned only about the act of adultery or the act of murder. But our Lord was at pains to emphasize to them that it is the desire in man’s heart and mind to do these things that is really and ultimately reprehensible in the sight of God.
  • The next principle we can put in this form. The law must be thought of not only in a negative manner, but also positively. The ultimate purpose of the law is not merely to prevent our doing certain things that are wrong; its real object is to lead us positively, not only to do that which is right, but also to love it.
  • The fourth principle is that the purpose of the law as expounded by Christ is not to keep us in a state of obedience to oppressive rules, but to promote the free development of our spiritual character.
  • That, in turn, brings us to the fifth principle which is that the law of God, and all these ethical instructions of the Bible, must never be regarded as an end in themselves. We must never think of them as something to which we just have to try to conform. The ultimate objective of all this teaching is that you and I might come to know God.
  • The one test which you must always apply to yourself is this, `What is my relationship to God? Do I know Him? Am I pleasing Him?’
  • `Has God been supreme in my life today? Have I lived to the glory and the honor of God? Do I know Him better? Have I a zeal for His honor and glory? Has there been anything in me that has been unlike Christ-thoughts, imaginations, desires, impulses?’
  • Examine yourself in the light of a living Person and not merely in terms of a mechanical code of rules and regulations.
  • Discipline in the Christian life is a good and essential thing. But if your main object and intent is to conform to the discipline that you have set for yourself it may very well be the greatest danger to your soul.

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