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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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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…through the Bible, currently in Proverbs (using the Reformation Study Bible, ESV)


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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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MY BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

book reviews
Everyday PrayersEveryday Prayers by Scotty Smith: 365 Days to a Gospel-Centered Faith. Baker Books. 386 pages. 2011.
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I’ve enjoyed the writings of Scotty Smith since reading his first book Objects of His Affection. I was blessed to have two classes with him at Covenant Theological Seminary a few years ago. Since its release, this book and his daily prayers you can receive via email have been an encouragement to me.

He writes that this is a book that had been writing him, as he documented an entire year’s worth of his longings, struggles, and hopes. He tells us that he started by opening up his Bible, turning on his laptop, and began praying through a few of his favorite verses. Writing his words as he prayed forced him into a slower pace and helped his concentration. After a few weeks this became a new discipline for him that he continues to this day as he “prays the gospel”.

He began to share some of his prayers with friends who were going through some of the same heartaches and difficulties as he was. As the word got out, others began asking for the prayers. He then starting sharing with his church, and started a small distribution list, which has now grown to thousands of people around the world.

He writes that the book is “a whole year’s worth of groaning and growing in grace—365 prayers that reflect a lot of gospel lived through a lot of stories and circumstances, joys and sorrows, theological propositions and ongoing questions.”

One of my final assignments in seminary was to revisit some of my previous classes and assignments. My favorite class in seminary was Scotty’s “Disciplines of Grace”. One evening in early 2014 we enjoyed a wonderful phone call looking back at the class. As our time was ending, Scotty asked “Can I pray for us?” So I was able to hear him pray just as you will through this wonderful book. Why not join me in making this book part of your daily devotional reading in 2016. Each reading/prayer takes only a few minutes, and you will be amazed how many times they address something that you too have been dealing with.

The Valley of VisionThe Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions. Edited by Arthur Bennett. The Banner of Truth Trust. 223 pages. 1975
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Arthur Bennett (1915-1994), was an English-born minister, tutor, and author who loved to study the Puritans. He has drawn the prayers in this much loved modern-day spiritual classic from what he refers to as the largely forgotten deposit of Puritan spiritual exercises, meditations and aspirations. He states that this book of Puritan prayers has a unity not often found in similar works. The title of the book comes from Isaiah 22:1 “The oracle concerning the valley of vision….” The book was first published in 1975. The research for this book took years to complete, most likely done in the mid-1960’s through the early 1970’s.

Bennett writes that the Puritan Movement was a religious phenomenon of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but its influence continued at least to the time of the great Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834–92), who may be regarded as the last of the great Puritans. Bennett composed the first prayer himself. He tells us the authors and books he is quoting – from the works of Thomas Shepard, Thomas Watson, Richard Baxter, John Bunyan, Isaac Watts, William Williams, Philip Doddridge, William Romaine, David Brainerd, Augustus Toplady, Christmas Evans, William Jay, Henry Law and Charles Haddon Spurgeon – but he doesn’t tell us which works or author is associated with each individual prayer.

Bennett’s desire is that the publication of these prayers will help to introduce people of today to the Puritans and their writings. It is a wonderful resource to read in daily devotions, which is how I use it. Bennett states that the book is not intended to be read as a prayer manual. He writes that the soul learns to pray by praying. Thus, the prayers should be used as aspiration units, with the Puritan’s prayers becoming springboards for our own prayers. A final section of the book has been added for occasions of corporate worship.

This is a wonderful resource that I cannot recommend too highly to include as a part of your daily worship.

Then Sings My SoulThen Sings My Soul Special Edition: 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories by Robert Morgan. Thomas Nelson. 310 pages. 2010
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Many young people in the church today are not aware of the wonderful hymns that preceded the praise and worship songs they sing today. We can be thankful to Robert J. Morgan for this book (and the additional volumes that followed this one) in which he introduces the reader to the stories of 150 of the greatest hymns.

I read this book several years ago and was blessed by it. In 2016, my wife (who loves the great hymns of the faith) and I will use this as part of our daily devotional reading. I plan to read the individual selection, which includes a scripture verse, and a story about the hymn. Then, my wife will sing the hymn, using the music and lyrics included. It should be a wonderful addition to our family worship time.

book news

  • The Knight's MapNew R.C. Sproul Children’s Book. R.C. Sproul will release his next children’s book, The Knight’s Map, on March 1. This is the story of a knight who undertakes a perilous journey full of bad advice and wrong turns. In the end, he must decide whether or not he will trust the map provided by the King.
  • Why I Wrote a Book about the Marrow Controversy. Of the book, Sinclair Ferguson writes “It is an extended reflection on theological and pastoral issues that arose in the early eighteenth century, viewed from the framework of the present day.”A Peculiar Glory by John Piper. A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness, to be released March 31, explores why Christians have declared the Bible to be the Word of God. Piper unpacks what Scripture teaches about itself from Genesis to Revelation, its unique “self-authenticating” nature, and its unparalleled ability to showcase God’s peculiar glory. In it you’ll find a solid foundation for Christians’ unshakable confidence in the Bible.
  • You Are What You Read. Listen to this workshop with Rosaria Butterfield from The Gospel Coalition 2014 Women’s Conference.
  • The ISIS Apocalypse. Tim Challies offers two suggested books for those wanting to find out more about ISIS. He writes “My recommendation is to begin with Black Flags since it is the easiest to read and is very engaging. The ISIS Apocalypse nicely supplements it with its deeper examination and more formal tone. Between the two, you will receive a crash course on one of the world’s most pressing, brutal concerns.”
  • Alive to Wonder: Celebrating the Influence of C.S. Lewis. Alive to Wonder: Celebrating the Influence of C. S. Lewis is a collection of extended excerpts from John Piper’s writings where Lewis’s fingerprints are most vividly seen, including a significant introduction from Piper specially written for this project. You can download the e-book version free.
  • 15 Resolutions for Christian Readers. As an avid reader, this article from our friend Kevin Halloran really resonated with me.
  • Monergism Reading Guide. This is a helpful list of books for all reading levels – from introductory to advanced.
  • The One Must-Read This Year. John Piper shares seven reasons to read and meditate on the Bible every day in 2016.

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 9: The Touchstones of Prayer

  • Calvin wrote more theologically, drawing out the implications of the doctrines of God, of sin, of Christ, and of the gospel for the pursuit of prayer. Luther’s teaching on prayer is highly practical, because he was writing to a simple man who was asking for a concrete way to pray. Augustine came at prayer from the most existential perspective, focusing most on the motives of the heart.
  • If our prayers are not done with dependence on Jesus (John 16:24–26) or with faith (James 1:6)—if they are done with selfish motives (James 4:3), or if we try to pray while willfully disobeying God in some area of life (Ps 66:18)—then our prayers may not be “powerful and effective” (James 5:16).
  • Twelve touchstones by which we can judge the relative strength or weakness of our prayers for honoring and connecting us to God. I have grouped them into four clusters of three each.
  • What Prayer Is Work—Prayer Is a Duty and a Discipline Prayer should be done regularly, persistently, resolutely, and tenaciously at least daily, whether we feel like it or not.
  • We should pray even if we are not getting anything out of it.
  • Prayer must be persevering.
  • Prayer is striving. This means sticking with prayer through the ups and downs of feelings.
  • Prayer also tends to have cumulative effect.
  • Prayer is always hard work, and often an agony. We sometimes have to wrestle even in order to pray.
  • Prayer in Jesus’ name and the power of the Spirit is the restoration of that single most precious thing we had with God in the beginning—free communication with him.
  • There are two ways of understanding prayer as a dialogue. The first is to understand prayer as responding to God’s voice discerned subjectively within the heart. The other way is to understand God as primarily speaking to us through the Scripture.
  • Packer’s own practice is “reading Scripture, thinking through what my reading shows me of God, and turning that vision into praise before I go further [into prayer].” He adds that this is a vital means for “knowing God.”
  • The Lord’s Prayer and the Psalter, the Bible’s prayer book, show that all these “grammars,” or dimensions of prayer, are crucial to use. However, none of these forms of prayer should be preferred to any other.
  • All these ways of praying to God should be present, interactive, and balanced when we pray.
  • Jesus’ name is shorthand for his divine person and saving work. While it is not at all improper to address the Son or the Spirit, ordinarily prayer will be addressed to the Father with gratitude to the Son and dependence on the Spirit.
  • Packer uses an interesting rule of thumb. “I pray to the Father through the mediation of the Son and the enabling of the Holy Spirit.
  • We know that the heart should be “engaged” in prayer. Prayer must not be only a recitation of words.
  • One important sign of an engaged heart is awe before the greatness of God and before the privilege of prayer.
  • “Loving awe” conveys that we should approach God with neither a sentimental or casual familiarity nor a stilted, remote formality.
  • Prayer and helplessness are inseparable.
  • Such prayer is just an outworking of gospel faith, because only the one who confesses complete spiritual bankruptcy can receive Christ’s salvation.
  • Many people get into situations where they feel so destitute and helpless that they don’t want to pray. Prayer, however, is made for those who have no other recourse, no other resort.
  • In short, if you want to pray, you don’t have to be anxious about whether God will listen.
  • What Prayer Gives Perspective—Prayer Reorients Your View toward God Prayer in all its forms—adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and petition—reorients your view and vision of everything. Prayer brings new perspective because it puts God back into the picture. Prayer brings perspective, shows the big picture, gets you out of the weeds, and reorients you to where you really are.
  • Prayer is the assimilation of a holy God’s moral strength. He tells believers to put on spiritual “armor.”
  • The basic idea is that all the benefits of Christ’s salvation—pardon, peace, God’s love for us—that have been objectively secured for us must be personally appropriated for daily life.
  • Prayer is the way that all the things we believe in and that Christ has won for us actually become our strength. Prayer is the way that truth is worked into your heart to create new instincts, reflexes, and dispositions.
  • Through prayer our somewhat abstract knowledge of God becomes existentially real to us.
  • In prayer you can come into the presence of God.
  • We have already noted that prayer cannot begin without humility. Prayer, however, must eventually take us beyond a mere sense of insufficiency into deep honesty with ourselves.
  • Honesty in prayer before an omniscient God would seem to be obvious, but instead we often mouth prayerful platitudes without taking the time or making the effort to expose to God and ourselves our deepest fears, hurts, flaws, and sins.
  • It is a simple fact that the nearer we get to supreme beauty or intelligence or purity, the more we are aware of our own unsightliness, dullness, and impurity.
  • We cannot truly know God better without coming at the same time to know ourselves better. It also works the other way around. If I am in denial about my own weakness and sin, there will be a concomitant blindness to the greatness and glory of God.
  • If we are not open to the recognition of our smallness and sinfulness, we will never take in his greatness and h
  • The final thought of every prayer must be for the help we need to accept thankfully from God’s hand whatever he sends in his wisdom.
  • Though we must always end prayers with “nevertheless, thy will be done,” our prayers should nonetheless begin with great striving with God.
  • Prayer is not a passive, calm, quiet practice. A balance between these two required attitudes—restful trust and confident hope—is absolutely crucial.
  • If we overstress submission, we become too passive.
  • However, if we overstress “importunity,” if we engage in petitionary prayer without a foundation of settled acceptance of God’s wisdom and sovereignty, we will become too angry when our prayers are not answered. In either case—we will stop praying patient, long-suffering, persistent yet non-hysterical prayers for our needs and concerns.
  • We must avoid extremes—of either not asking God for things or of thinking we can bend God’s will to ours. We must combine tenacious importunity, a “striving with God,” with deep acceptance of God’s wise will, whatever it is.
  • A commitment to put God first and love and follow him supremely is necessary before God can grant our prayers without harming us.
  • You should not begin to pray for all you want until you realize that in God you have all you need.
  • That is, unless we know that God is the one thing we truly need, our petitions and supplications may become, simply, forms of worry and lust. We can use prayer as just another way to pursue many things that we want too much. Not only will God not hear such prayers (because we ask for things selfishly to spend on our lusts [James 4:2–3]), but the prayers will not reorient our perspective and give us any relief from the melancholy burden of self-absorption.
  • Prayer—though it is often draining, even an agony—is in the long term the greatest source of power that is possible.
  • Work: Prayer is a duty and a discipline.
  • Word: Prayer is conversing with God.
  • Balance: Prayer is adoration, confession, thanks, and supplication. What It Requires
  • Grace: Prayer is “In Jesus’ name,” based on the gospel.
  • Fear: Prayer is the heart engaged in loving awe.
  • Helplessness: Prayer is accepting one’s weakness and dependence.
  • What It Gives Perspective: Prayer reorients your view toward God.
  • Strength: Prayer is spiritual union with God. Spiritual Reality: Prayer seeks a heart sense of the presence of God. Where It Takes Us Self-Knowledge: Prayer requires and creates honesty and self-knowledge. Trust: Prayer requires and creates both restful trust and confident hope. Surrender: Prayer requires and creates surrender of the whole life in love to 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 19: Righteousness Exceeding That of the Scribes and Pharisees

  • First, His teaching is in no way inconsistent with that of the law and the prophets; but, secondly, it is very different from the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees.
  • We have seen, too, that our attitude towards the law, therefore, is most important. Our Lord has not come to make it easier for us or to make it in any sense less stringent in its demands upon us. His purpose in coming was to enable us to keep the law, not to abrogate it. So He emphasizes here that we must know what the law is, and then must keep it: we must obviously be clear in our minds as to what the law is, and what it demands of us. We have seen that that is the biblical doctrine of holiness. Holiness is not an experience that we have; it means keeping and fulfilling the law of God.
  • The first and, in a sense, the basic charge against them is that their religion was entirely external and formal instead of being a religion of the heart.
  • The kingdom of God is concerned about the heart; it is not my external actions, but what I am inside that is important.
  • The second charge which our Lord brought against the scribes and Pharisees was that they were obviously more concerned with the ceremonial than with the moral; and that, of course, always follows upon the first.
  • The next charge which our Lord brings against them, however, is that they were clearly primarily concerned about themselves and their own righteousness, with the result that they were almost invariably self-satisfied. In other words the ultimate object of the Pharisee was to glorify not God, but himself.
  • The ultimate condemnation of the Pharisee is that there is in his life a complete absence of the spirit delineated in the Beatitudes. That is the difference between him and the Christian. The Christian is a man who exemplifies the Beatitudes.
  • In the last analysis our Lord condemns these Pharisees for completely failing to keep the law.
  • The test of sanctity is your relationship to God, your attitude to Him and your love for Him. How do you stand up to that particular test?
  • The trouble with the Pharisees was that they were interested in details rather than principles, that they were interested in actions rather than in motives, and that they were interested in doing rather than in being.
  • Our Lord did not come to teach justification or salvation by works, or by our own righteousness.
  • Some of the most vital questions that can be asked, then, are these. Do you know God? Do you love God? Can you say honestly that the biggest and the first thing in your life is to glorify Him and that you so want to do this that you do not care what it may cost you in any sense? Do you feel that this must come first, not that you may be better than somebody else, but that you may honor and glorify and love that God who, though you have sinned against Him grievously, has sent His only begotten Son to the cross on Calvary’s hill to die for you, that you might be forgiven and that He might restore you unto Himself? Let every man examine himself.


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

book reviews
The Dawn of Indestructible Joy by John Piper

The Dawning of Indestructible Joy: Daily Readings for Advent by John Piper. Crossway. 96 pages. 2014.
****

John Piper released this short book of devotions in 2014. My wife and I used them last year and benefitted from them in our preparations to celebrate the birth of Jesus. I commend them to you as well to aid you in your preparations.

Piper wrote this little book of Advent devotional readings to stir us up or awaken us – it is a book of reminders and stirrings. He states that we usually don’t need brand-new teaching. No, what we need are reminders about the greatness of old truths, or to say an old truth in a fresh way.

Piper titled the book The Dawning of Indestructible Joy, because the joy Jesus was bringing into the world was like no other kind in history. He aims to awaken and stir up our affections for the greatest wonder of all – the arrival of Jesus.

May you be richly blessed by this book this Advent season.

The Songs of JesusThe Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms by Timothy Keller, Kathy Keller. Viking. 375 pages. 2015
****

I’m always excited to see a new book from Tim Keller. This is the second book that he has written with wife Kathy, the first being the excellent The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God.

The authors write that theologians and leaders of the church throughout history have believed that the Psalms should be used and reused in every Christian’s daily private approach to God and in public worship. They state that we are not simply to read psalms, but are to be immersed in them so that they profoundly shape how we relate to God. The psalms are the divinely ordained way to learn devotion to our God. The psalms are written to be prayed, recited, and sung—to be done, not merely to be read.

They tells us that most of all the psalms, read in light of the entire Bible, bring us to Jesus. The psalms were Jesus’s songbook. This book is a daily devotional that takes the reader through every verse of the book of Psalms in 365 days, with each devotional providing the reader with a daily reading from a psalm. It also gives the reader a brief meditation on the meaning of the psalm and a prayer to help the reader to actually use it in our heart and as a way to approach God. The authors ask us to look at the prayers as what they call “on-ramps,” not as complete prayers. They ask us to follow the trajectory of the prayers and keep going, filling each prayer out with personal particulars, as well as always praying in Jesus’s name (John 14:13).

They write that the book is structured so that it can be used in three different ways:

  1. The simplest way is to read the psalm and the meditation slowly, and then use the prayer to begin praying the psalm.
  2. The second way is to take the time to look up the additional scriptural references that are embedded in the meditation and sometimes in the prayer.
  3. The third way is to get a blank journal to use along with it. Read the psalm portion twice slowly. Then ask three questions and write out our own answers:
  • Adore—What did you learn about God for which you could praise or thank him?
  • Admit—What did you learn about yourself for which you could repent?
  • Aspire—What did you learn about life that you could aspire to, ask for, and act on?

Once we have answered the above questions, we have our own meditation on the psalm. They state that we should then read the meditation in the book and incorporate its insights into our journal notes.

Lastly, we should turn our meditation—already categorized as adoration, confession, and aspiration—into personal prayer, using the provided “on-ramp” prayer as well. This will take us into the deep level of wisdom and insight the psalms can provide.

Watch Tim Keller’s two-minute video about the book here.

I’m using this in my daily worship. I encourage you to do so as well.

book news

  • Reformation Study BibleReformation Study Bible (RSB) E-Book Edition. After much delay (the book edition was released at the Ligonier National Conference), the e-book edition of the newly revised and updated RSB English Standard Version, was released on November 30. If you purchase the book edition you get $400 worth of Ligonier resources, including the e-book edition of the RSB. The e-book edition includes user-friendly navigation, allowing you to move effortlessly between Scripture and study notes without losing your place. It includes the ability to increase/decrease font size, add highlights, and add your own notes for later reference. This will be the Bible I used daily for reading and study.
  • Tim Keller’s Bookshelf. See what Tim Keller is reading these days and also some of his favorite books.
  • The Book Tim Keller’s Read Every Month for 20 Years. Matt Smethurst interviews Tim Keller about his new book The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms, a book I’m using for my daily devotional reading.
  • Do More Better by Tim Challies. I’m excited to hear about Tim Challies’ new book on productivity Do More Better. As his blog is required reading for me each day, I can’t wait to read this new book.
  • Books for Which I Am Thankful. Rick Phillips lists some excellent books that you may want to check out. I’m currently reading, and being blessed by, Lloyd-Jones The Sermon on the Mount.
  • Don’t Follow Your Heart. Jon Bloom’s new book is Don’t Follow Your Heart. You can download the e-book free from Desiring God.
  • Meaning of Marriage Group Study from Tim and Kathy Keller. Collin Hansen talks about the new six-session DVD Study Guide recently released based on Tim and Kathy Keller’s excellent book on marriage.
  • A Charlie Brown Religion. Tim Challies reviews A Charlie Brown Religion by Stephen J. Lind, calling it “as interesting a biography as I have read this year.”
  • Seven Sentimental Lies You Might Believe. Matt Reagan shares “seven of the most egregiously assumed truth-claims in popular culture today, with a biblical check for each one.”
  • Child in the MangerBest Quotes from The Secret of Teams. I’ve enjoyed a few of Mark Miller’s books and his blog. Here are a few quotes from his book The Secret of Teams.
  • Matt Chandler’s Bookshelf. See what Matt Chandler is reading these days and also some of his favorite books.
  • Child in the Manger. One of my favorite authors/preachers, Sinclair Ferguson’s new book will be published by Banner of Truth in early December.

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 8 – The Prayer of Prayers:

  • None of our three master teachers of prayer, Augustine, Luther, and Calvin, developed their instruction primarily based on their own experiences. In each case, what they believed and practiced regarding prayer grew mainly out of their understanding of the ultimate master class in prayer—the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9–13, in the heart of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
  • In this chapter we will look at the Lord’s Prayer through the insights of our three master teachers, thereby drawing out the fullness of their wisdom—and the depths of Jesus’ prayer itself—on this subject.
  • The Lord’s Prayer may be the single set of words spoken more often than any other in the history of the world. Jesus Christ gave it to us as the key to unlock all the riches of prayer. Yet it is an untapped resource, partially because it is so very familiar.
  • Jesus is saying, as it were, “Wouldn’t you like to be able to come face-to-face with the Father and king of the universe every day, to pour out your heart to him, and to sense him listening to and loving you?” We say, of course, yes. Jesus responds, “It’s all in the Lord’s Prayer.”
  • How do we overcome the deadly peril of familiarity? One of the best ways is to listen to these three great mentors, who plumbed the depths of the prayer through years of reflection and practice.

“Our Father Who Art in Heaven”

  • Calvin explains that to call God “Father” is to pray in Jesus’ name. “Who would break forth into such rashness as to claim for himself the honor of a son of God unless we had been adopted as children of grace in Christ?”
  • Luther also believed the address was a call to not plunge right into talking to God but to first recollect our situation and realize our standing in Christ before we proceed into prayer.
  • Calvin agrees that “by the great sweetness of this name [Father] he frees us from all distrust.”

“Hallowed Be Thy Name”

  • A seeming problem of logic, expressed by Luther. “What are we praying for when we ask that His name become holy?
  • Luther, who joins Augustine when he says it is a prayer that God “be glorified among all nations as you are glorified among us.”
  • To “hallow” God’s name is not merely to live righteous lives but to have a heart of grateful joy toward God—and even more, a wondrous sense of his beauty. We do not revere his name unless he “captivate[s] us with wonderment for him.”

“Thy Kingdom Come”

  • This is the cause of all our human problems, since we were created to serve him, and when we serve other things in God’s place, all spiritual, psychological, cultural, and even material problems ensue. Therefore, we need his kingdom to “come.” Calvin believed there were two ways God’s kingdom comes—through the Spirit, who “corrects our desires,” and through the Word of God, which “shapes our thoughts.”
  • This, then, is a “Lordship” petition: It is asking God to extend his royal power over every part of our lives—emotions, desires, thoughts, and commitments.
  • We are asking God to so fully rule us that we want to obey him with all our hearts and with joy.
  • To pray “thy kingdom come” is to “yearn for that future life” of justice and peace.

“Thy Will Be Done”

  • Unless we are profoundly certain God is our Father, we will never be able to say “thy will be done.”
  • Only if we trust God as Father can we ask for grace to bear our troubles with patience and grace.
  • This is the one part of the Lord’s Prayer Jesus himself prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, under circumstances far more crushing than any of us will ever face. He submitted to his Father’s will rather than following his own desires, and it saved us. That’s why we can trust him.
  • Calvin adds that to pray “thy will be done” is to submit not only our wills to God but even our feelings, so that we do not become despondent, bitter, and hardened by the things that befall us.
  • The beginning of prayer is all about God. We are not to let our own needs and issues dominate prayer; rather, we are to give pride of place to praising and honoring him, to yearning to see his greatness and to see it acknowledged everywhere, and to aspiring to full love and obedience.
  • First, because it heals the heart of its self-centeredness.

“Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread”

  • Augustine reminds us that “daily bread” is a metaphor for necessities rather than luxuries.
  • For Luther, then, to pray for our daily bread is to pray for a prosperous and just social order.

“Forgive Us Our Debts as We Forgive Our Debtors”

  • The fifth petition concerns our relationships, both with God and others.
  • In the presence of God everyone must duck his head and come into the joy of forgiveness only through the low door of humility.
  • If regular confession does not produce an increased confidence and joy in your life, then you do not understand the salvation by grace, the essence of the faith.
  • Jesus tightly links our relationship with God to our relationship with others.
  • Unresolved bitterness is a sign that we are not right with God.
  • It also means that if we are holding a grudge, we should see the hypocrisy of seeking forgiveness from God for sins of our own.

“Lead Us Not into Temptation”

  • Temptation in the sense of being tried and tested is not only inevitable but desirable. The Bible talks of suffering and difficulty as a furnace in which many impurities of soul are “burned off” and we come to greater self-knowledge, humility, durability, faith, and love. However, to “enter into temptation,” as Jesus termed it (Matt 26:41), is to entertain and consider the prospect of giving in to sin.

“Deliver Us from Evil”

  • Calvin combined this phrase with “lead us not into temptation” and called it the sixth and last petition. Augustine and Luther, however, viewed “deliver us from evil” as a separate, seventh petition.
  • This seventh petition is for protection from evil outside us, from malignant forces in the world, especially our enemies who wish to do us harm.

“For Thine Is the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory Forever”

  • Augustine does not mention it because it was not in most earlier manuscripts of the Bible or in the Latin Vulgate. Luther does not treat it.
  • Calvin, while noting that “this is not extant in the Latin versions,” believes that “it is so appropriate to this place that it ought not to be omitted.”
  • After descending into our needs, troubles, and limitations, we return to the truth of God’s complete sufficiency.

“Give, Forgive, and Deliver—Us”

  • Like Luther in A Simple Way to Pray, Calvin insists that the Lord’s Prayer does not bind us to its particular form of words but rather to its content and basic pattern.
  • The Lord’s Prayer is a summary of all other prayers, providing essential guidance on emphasis and topics, on purpose and even spirit.
  • Prayer is therefore not a strictly private thing. As much as we can, we should pray with others both formally in gathered worship and informally. Why? If the substance of prayer is to continue a conversation with God, and if the purpose of it is to know God better, then this can happen best in community.
  • By praying with friends, you will be able to hear and see facets of Jesus that you have not yet perceived.
  • Lewis thinks, that the angels in Isaiah 6 are crying, “Holy, Holy, Holy” to one another. Each angel is communicating to all the rest the part of the glory it sees.

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 14: The Salt of the Earth:

  • We now come to a new and fresh section in the Sermon on the Mount. In verses 3–12 our Lord and Savior has been delineating the Christian character. Here at verse 13 He moves forward and applies His description. Having seen what the Christian is, we now come to consider how the Christian should manifest this. Or, if you prefer it, having realized what we are, we must now go on to consider what we must be.
  • There are certain senses in which we can say that this question of the function of the Christian in the world as it is today is one of the most urgent matters confronting the Church and the individual Christian at this present time. It is obviously a very large subject, and in many ways an apparently difficult one. But it is dealt with very clearly in the Scriptures.
  • It is put perfectly by our Lord when He says, `Ye are the salt of the earth.’ What does that imply? It clearly implies rottenness in the earth; it implies a tendency to pollution and to becoming foul and offensive. That is what the Bible has to say about this world. It is fallen, sinful and bad. Its tendency is to evil and to wars. It is like meat which has a tendency to putrefy and to become polluted. It is like something which can only be kept wholesome by means of a preservative or antiseptic. As the result of sin and the fall, life in the world in general tends to get into a putrid state. That, according to the Bible, is the only sane and right view to take of humanity.
  • What does this have to say about the Christian who is in the world, the kind of world at which we have been looking? It tells him he is to be as salt; `ye, and ye alone’-for that is the emphasis of the text-‘are the salt of the earth’. What does this tell us? We are to be unlike the world.
  • The Christian is not only to be different, he is to glory in this difference. He is to be as different from other people as the Lord Jesus Christ was clearly different from the world in which He lived.
  • It seems to me that the first thing which is emphasized by our Lord is that one of the Christian’s main functions with respect to society is a purely negative one.
  • Salt’s main function, therefore, is surely negative rather than positive.
  • I wonder how often we conceive of ourselves in this way, as agents in the world meant to prevent this particular process of putrefaction and decay.
  • There are those who say that the Christian should act as salt in the earth by means of the Church’s making pronouncements about the general situation of the world, about political, economic and international affairs and other such subjects. Undoubtedly in many churches, if not in the vast majority, that is how this text would be interpreted. Now, as I see it, that is a most serious misunderstanding of scriptural teaching.
  • I suggest to you, therefore, that the Christian is to function as the salt of the earth in a much more individual sense. He does so by his individual life and character, by just being the man that he is in every sphere in which he finds himself. He can do this, not only in a private capacity in his home, his workshop or office, or wherever he may happen to be, but also as a citizen in the country in which he lives.
  • As Christians we are citizens of a country, and it is our business to play our part as citizens, and thereby act as salt indirectly in innumerable respects. But that is a very different thing from the Church’s doing so.
  • The primary task of the Church is to evangelize and to preach the gospel.
  • I think it is true to say that during the last fifty years the Christian Church has paid more direct attention to politics and to social and economic questions than in the whole of the previous hundred years. But what is the result? No-one can dispute it. The result is that we are living in a society which is much more immoral than it was fifty years ago, in which vice and law-breaking and lawlessness are rampant.
  • Though the Church makes her great pronouncements about war and politics, and other major issues, the average man is not affected. But if you have a man working at a bench who is a true Christian, and whose life has been saved and transformed by the Holy Spirit, it does affect others all around him. That is the way in which we can act as salt in the earth at a time like this. It is not something to be done by the Church in general; it is something to be done by the individual Christian.

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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

Book Reviews
Kevin Halloran BookWord + Life: 20 Reflections on Prayer, the Christian Life, and the Glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ by Kevin Halloran. Word + Life. 79 pages. 2015
****

Over the past year or so I’ve become familiar with Kevin Halloran’s ministry, through his blog and the articles he has written for other blogs. This, his first book, was intended as he writes “To do what a ‘Greatest Hits’ record does for a band: (1) to introduce new people to the best of the blog and (2) catch current fans up on quality content they have missed.” His heartbeat for the book for “God to plant us beside streams of living water, and for our roots to soak up the encouragement and hope the Scriptures offer us in Christ.”

The articles included flow from Halloran’s personal Scripture reading, struggles in faith, struggles in life, and professional work with both Unlocking the Bible (a radio and online ministry) and Leadership Resources International (a missions organization that equips pastors to faithfully exposit the Scriptures).

Similar to the prayers from The Valley of Vision, Halloran includes a few prayers mixed in with the articles adding to the devotional experience.

I highlighted many passages in my copy of the book. As I revisit those passages they include themes of prayer, anxiety, faith and work, materialism and contentment, battling sin, how Jesus relates to the Old Testament, social media, leadership, persecution and how to read the Psalms.

The author also includes a few recommended resources at the end of the book, which can be read in one sitting, or devotionally, reading one article a day. I highly recommend this short book as an introduction to Kevin Halloran and his ministry. He is a young man who is already doing great things for the Kingdom.

pitch by pitchPitch by Pitch: My View of One Unforgettable Game by Bob Gibson & Lonnie Wheeler. Flatiron Books. 256 pages. 2015
****

Bob Gibson, who will turn 80 in early November, is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. He played seventeen seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals. During that time he won two Cy Young Awards and pitched for two World Series champs. In this book he takes the reader through each pitch of game one of the 1968 World Series against the Detroit Tigers.

Gibson was coming off of a record-setting season in which he had an earned run average of an incredible 1.12. His opponent in the October 2 game was Denny McLain, who won an unbelievable 31 games for the Tigers. So we had two pitchers at the top of their games going in game one on a warm October afternoon in St. Louis.

I really enjoyed Gibson’s insights on each pitch. He takes the reader through his thought process on what he was planning to throw and how it turned out. In between, he tells some very interesting stories about his Cardinal teammates and the Tigers he was facing. As a baseball fan and a Cardinal fan I loved every page of this book.

One story in particular was of personal interest. He tells of Cardinal Curt Simmons getting Hank Aaron out on change-up pitches. He writes “When Aaron finally timed one of Simmons’s slowballs and clubbed it over the fence, he was called out for stepping on the plate.” The fascinating thing about that story is that I was at that August 18, 1965 game in St. Louis as an 8 year old boy with my family when that took place.

Gibson writes in a confident manner about racial issues, his pitching “The slider was next; and it was perfect, if you don’t mind my saying so,” catcher McCarver “Tim has since confessed that he can’t think of a single intelligent thing he ever pointed out to me in our little mid-inning visits,” his roommate Curt Flood’s challenge of major league baseball’s reserve clause, and much, much more.

Gibson would break Sandy Koufax’s World Series strikeout record in the game and the Cardinals would win, but ultimately lose the series.

If you are a baseball fan, and in particular a Cardinals fan, you’ll love this book.

Rejoicing in ChristRejoicing in Christ by Michael Reeves. IVP Academic. 135 pages. 2015
****

Michael Reeves writes that most of our Christian problems and errors of thought come about by forgetting or marginalizing Christ. As a result, this book aims for something deeper than a new technique or a call to action. He calls for us to consider Christ so that he might become more central for us, that we might know him better, treasure him more and enter into his joy.

I thoroughly enjoyed this short, but theologically rich book about Christ. Reeves writes that the Christian life and Christian theology must begin and end with Jesus Christ, our Savior and our Goal. This is a book that you can use in your devotional reading. It contains several short meditations on many aspects of Christ (divinity, humanity, life, death, resurrection, return, etc.). Among the many things I appreciated about this book were his writings on sonship, Christ being the second (or last) Adam, Christ’s loving relationship with the Father, our union with Christ, and the marriage between the church (bride of Christ) and our groom (Christ).

I was not familiar with Reeves until I saw that he was one of the speakers at the 2016 Ligonier National Conference in February. I read this book and am glad that I did as it helped me to know and love Christ even more. He complements his meditations on Christ with historical artwork depicting Jesus, which stimulates the mind as well as the heart. This is one of my favorite books of the year.

book news

  • J.I. Packer An Evangelical LifeJ.I. Packer: An Evangelical Life. Tim Challies reviews J.I. Packer: An Evangelical Life by Leland Ryken. He writes “My few frustrations aside, I was still glad to read it and glad to have encountered its subject within its pages. I thank God for J.I. Packer.”
  • Transforming Homosexuality Interview. Denny Burk was recently interviewed on the “Fire Away!” podcast about his new book Transforming Homosexuality.
  • The Forgotten Quotes of Charles Spurgeon. Read some of these amazing quotes from a book that doesn’t really exist (but it sure is fun thinking of the great preacher saying these things).
  • 10 Serious Problems with Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling Book. Tim Challies writes “Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling is a phenomenon that shows no signs of slowing down. According to publisher Thomas Nelson, it “continues to grow in units sold each year since it was released [and] has surpassed 15 million copies sold.” Yet it is a deeply troubling book. I am going to point out 10 serious problems with Jesus Calling in the hope that you will consider and heed these warnings.”
  • Killing Reagan’s Reputation. Gene Veith writes “Bill O’Reilly is considered a conservative, but he is challenging one of American conservatism’s biggest icons.  In his bestselling book Killing Reagan, O’Reilly maintains that the assassination attempt 69 days into his presidency caused Reagan to be mentally impaired for the rest of his terms in office.”
  • Intentional Living Book Review. David Murray reviews John Maxwell’s new book Intentional Living, stating what he likes about the book, as well as a missing opportunity and a missing question.
  • The Songs of JesusThe Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms by Tim and Kathy Keller. In Kevin Halloran’s review of this highly anticipated new devotional he writes “The Songs of Jesus are a rich collection of devotionals that are clear and straight to the point, getting to the heart of each Psalm and helping readers think through them practically and prayerfully. Diligent readers and those who journal through it will feast on the richness of the Psalter and rejoice as they behold and commune with the Savior who so faithfully embodied the psalms.”
  • 6 Reasons You Need the Songs of Jesus. Here’s an excerpt from Tim and Kathy Keller’s new book The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms.
  • What I’m Reading. Russell Moore shares a very diverse list of books that he is reading.
  • A Theological Earthquake with Evangelicals Caught Flat-Footed. Denny Burk writes “These two books are laying the groundwork for evangelicals to abandon the male/female binary that is taught in scripture. Defranza’s book challenges the idea that Genesis 1 defines a binary norm for human beings—that God’s creation of “male and female” is God’s paradigm for humanity. Yarhouse’s book is challenging the notion that male/female biological differences define normative role distinctions between men and women.”

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 7: Rules for Prayer

  • Perhaps the most distinct part of Calvin’s treatment is what he calls “the rules for prayer.”
  • Calvin’s first rule for prayer is the principle of reverence or the “fear of God.”
  • Calvin calls Christians first of all to have a due sense of the seriousness and magnitude of what prayer is. It is a personal audience and conversation with the Almighty God of the universe.
  • We must instead come to prayer “so moved by God’s majesty” that we are “freed from earthly cares and affections.”
  • What, then, should a Christian be afraid of regarding God? Think of it like this. Imagine that you suddenly are introduced to some person you have always admired enormously—perhaps someone you have hero-worshipped. Your joyful admiration has a fearful aspect to it. You are in awe, and therefore you don’t want to mess up.
  • Because of unutterable love and joy in God, we tremble with the privilege of being in his presence and with an intense longing to honor him when we are there. We are deeply afraid of grieving him.
  • Calvin says that this sense of awe is a crucial part of prayer. Prayer both requires it and produces it.
  • Calvin’s second rule for prayer is “the sense of need that excludes all unreality.” Calvin is here referring to what could be called “spiritual humility.” It includes both a strong sense of our dependence on God, in general, and a readiness to recognize and repent our own faults in particular.
  • We should come to God knowing our only hope is in his grace and forgiveness and being honest about our doubts, fears, and emptiness. We should come to God with the “disposition of a beggar.”
  • Calvin is simply telling us to drop all pretense, to flee from all phoniness.
  • Crucial to true prayer, then, is confession and repentance. Again, prayer both requires and produces this humility. Prayer brings you into God’s presence, where our shortcomings are exposed. Then the new awareness of insufficiency drives us to seek God even more intensely for forgiveness and help.
  • To the degree you can shed the “unreality” of self-sufficiency, to that degree your prayer life will become richer and deeper.
  • Calvin’s third and fourth rules for prayer should be paired and considered together. His third rule is that we should have a submissive trust of God. “Anyone who stands before God to pray . . . [must] abandon all thoughts of his own glory.” We are to trust in him even when things are not going as we wish them to go.
  • One of the purposes of prayer is to bring our hearts to trust in his wisdom, not in our own. It is to say, “Here’s what I need—but you know best.” It is to leave all our needs and desires in his hands in a way that is possible only through prayer.
  • The fourth rule is just as crucial and must be kept beside the third. We are to pray with confidence and hope.
  • If God’s will is always right, and submission to it is so important, why pray for anything with fervor and confidence? Calvin lists the reasons. God invites us to do so and promises to answer prayers—because he is good and our loving heavenly Father. Also, God often waits to give a blessing until you have prayed for it. Why? Good things that we do not ask for will usually be interpreted by our hearts as the fruit of our own wisdom and diligence. Gifts from God that are not acknowledged as such are deadly to the soul, because they thicken the illusion of self-sufficiency that leads to overconfidence and sets us up for failure.
  • Finally, Calvin argues that these two balancing truths are not only not contradictory but are complementary.
  • There are many goods that God will not give us unless we honor him and make our hearts safe to receive them through prayer. But on the other hand—what thoughtful persons, knowing the limits of their own wisdom, would dare to pray if they thought God would invariably give them their wishes?
  • God will not give us anything contrary to his will, and that will always include what is best for us in the long run (Rom 8:28). We can, therefore, pray confidently because he won’t give us everything we want.
  • If we hold Calvin’s third and fourth rules together, it creates enormous incentive to pray.
  • Don’t be afraid that you will ask for the wrong thing.
  • Finally, where you do not get an answer, or where the answer is not what you want, use prayer to enable you to rest in his will.
  • After Calvin expounded his four rules for prayer, he added an extended “coda” so significant that most readers understand it as a fifth rule. The fifth rule is actually a major qualification of the very word rule.
  • Calvin’s fifth rule is the rule of grace. He urges us to not conclude that following any set of rules could make our prayers worthy to be heard. Nothing we formulate or do can qualify us for access to God. Only grace can do that—based not on our performance but on the saving work of Christ.
  • Only when we see we cannot keep the rules, and need God’s mercy, can we become people who begin to keep the rules. The rules do not earn or merit God’s attention but rather align our prayers with who God is—the God of free grace—and thereby unite us to him more and more.
  • For as soon as God’s dread majesty comes to mind, we cannot but tremble and be driven far away by the recognition of our own unworthiness, until Christ comes forward as intermediary, to change the throne of dreadful glory into the throne of grace.
  • Praying in Jesus’ name, then, is not a magic formula. We must not think it means that only if we literally enunciate the words “in Jesus’ name” will our prayers be answered.
  • To pray in Jesus’ name means to come to God in prayer consciously trusting in Christ for our salvation and acceptance and not relying on our own credibility or record. It is, essentially, to reground our relationship with God in the saving work of Jesus over and over again. It also means to recognize your status as a child of God, regardless of your inner state. God our Father is committed to his children’s good, as any good father would be.

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 13: Rejoicing in Tribulation

  • There are three principles with regard to the Christian which emerge very clearly from what our Lord tells us here. They are quite obvious; and yet I think that often we must all plead guilty to the fact that we forget them. The first is once again that he is unlike everybody who is not a Christian. The gospel of Jesus Christ creates a clear-cut division and distinction between the Christian and the non-Christian. The non-Christian himself proves that by persecuting the Christian.
  • The second principle is that the Christian’s life is controlled and dominated by Jesus Christ, by his loyalty to Christ, and by his concern to do everything for Christ’s sake. If we are truly Christian, our desire must be, however much we may fail in practice, to live for Christ, to glory in His name and to live to glorify Him.
  • The third general characteristic of the Christian is that his life should be controlled by thoughts of heaven and of the world to come.
  • Let us look first of all at the way in which the Christian should face persecution. We can put it first of all negatively.
  • The Christian must not retaliate. Furthermore, not only must he not retaliate; he must also not feel resentment.
  • The third negative is that we must never be depressed by persecution.
  • Now let us ask a second question. Why is the Christian to rejoice like this, and how is it possible for him to do so? Why then does he rejoice in it? Why should he be exceeding glad? Here are our Lord’s answers. The first is that this persecution which he is receiving for Christ’s sake is proof to the Christian of who he is and what he is.
  • Or, take the second argument to prove this. It means, of course, that we have become identified with Christ. If we are thus being maligned falsely and persecuted for His sake, it must mean that our lives have become like His. The second cause of rejoicing and of joy is, of course, that this persecution is proof also of where we are going.
  • Let us look at it in this way. According to this argument, my whole outlook upon everything that happens to me should be governed by these three things: my realization of who I am, my consciousness of where I am going, and my knowledge of what awaits me when I get there.
  • The Christian is a man who should always be thinking of the end.
  • What is this reward? Well, the Bible does not tell us much about it, for a very good reason. It is so glorious and wonderful that our human language is of necessity almost bound to detract from its glory. But it does tell us something like this. We shall see Him as He is, and worship in His glorious presence.
  • Unmixed joy, and glory, and holiness, and purity and wonder! That is what is awaiting us. That is your destiny and mine in Christ as certainly as we are alive at this moment. How foolish we are that we do not spend our time in thinking about that. How often do you think of heaven and rejoice as you think of it?

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