Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS


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

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

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

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

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MY 2017 FAVORITES

As has been my practice for a number of years, I am sharing some of my favorites from 2017 in a variety of categories.  What about you? What were some of your favorites in these categories?

Television Series

Top Pick: Victoria

Others that I’ve enjoyed, in no particular order were:

  • This is Us
  • The Man in the High Castle
  • Broadchurch
  • The Crown

Podcasts

Top Pick: Albert Mohler’s The Briefing. Each weekday morning, Albert Mohler hosts a podcast providing worldview analysis about the leading news headlines and cultural conversations. This is required listening for me. Check out Dr. Mohler’s website here.

 

Blogs

Top Pick: Tim Challies’ Ala Carte. This is required reading for me each Monday through Saturday. Challies includes helpful Kindle deals, links to a good variety of helpful articles and a quote. Check out Tim’s website here.

Recommended Resources

Top Pick: The Whole Christ – Sinclair Ferguson

Other new resources released in 2017 that I would recommend are, in no particular order:

Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer.  See my review of this excellent new documentary.

Dispatches from the Front. Episode 10: The Fourth Man. See my review of this excellent resource here.

The Lord’s Prayer by Albert Mohler. In this twelve-part series, Dr. Albert Mohler shows that the pattern of prayer Jesus provides is few in words, yet massive in meaning. His prayer reflects true theology and proper doxology – a perfect guide in our lives. I listened to this series as our book club at work was reading and discussing Tim Keller’s book Prayer.

Conference  

Top Pick: Ligonier Ministries National Conference: The Next 500 Years. Watch or listen to all of the messages here.

Ministry Highlights

  • Speaking on faith and work at the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly in Greensboro, North Carolina.
  • Speaking on faith and work at the Lexington Community Church By the Way Conference in Lexington, Illinois.


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How I Spent Spring Break: 9 Reflections on the 2017 Ligonier National Conference

Almost every year since 1997, my wife Tammy and I have left the cold of the Illinois winter to head down to the sun and warmth of Central Florida to attend the annual Ligonier Ministries National Conference. This year’s conference, held March 9-11, was their 30th National Conference. It had a theme of “The Next 500 Years” and was being held on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Thus, many of the speakers referred to Martin Luther and his influence in their addresses. The conference was held in the wonderful facilities of the First Baptist Church in Orlando where it has been held most years, sold out months in advance, and featured an excellent lineup of speakers, including John MacArthur, Alistair Begg, Albert Mohler, Sinclair Ferguson, R.C. Sproul, Michael Horton and more.

As Ligonier President and CEO Chris Larson told the attendees at the beginning of the conference, “Pace Yourself”. The three-day conference can be exhausting. In total, there were 26 sessions you could attend, in addition to a prayer session, two mini-concerts, and a bookstore tour. I always purchase copies of the messages and listen to them multiple times in the months after the conference. Here are the daily highlight posts that Ligonier posted about the conference:

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Here are 9 reflections I have from this year’s conference: Continue reading


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My Book of the Year: Devoted to God by Sinclair Ferguson

Devoted to GodDevoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification by Sinclair Ferguson. Banner of Truth. 296 pages. 2016
****

Every once in a while, a book comes along that is truly special. Hearing that Sinclair Ferguson whom R.C. Sproul calls his favorite theologian was writing a book on sanctification, I knew this book had the potential to be special. As I read the book, which is my top book of the year, I knew that it had delivered on that promise.

Dr. Ferguson writes in the “Introduction” that the book has a goal of providing a manual of biblical teaching on holiness developed on the basis of extended expositions of ten foundational passages in the New Testament that serve as biblical blueprints for building an entire life of holiness. These passages (which are printed in Appendix 5), create the possibility for exponential growth in our understanding of what sanctification is, and how it is nurtured.  Each chapter in the main portion of the book focuses on one of these passages, which the author recommends we meditate on, and even memorize them.

The passages focus on teaching that is given in the indicative, rather than the imperative mood – passages that describe sanctification, rather than passages that command it. As such, this is not so much a “how to” book but a “how God does it” book. It is not dominated by techniques for growing in holiness.  He states that the book is a manual written to encourage those who read it to “strive….for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord”. (Hebrews 13:14).

The author writes that holiness is unreserved devotion to the Lord. He tells us that the biblical teaching on holiness, a life devoted to God, is simply an extended exposition of 1 Corinthians 6: 1-20.

Holiness means belonging entirely to him. He tells us that from beginning to end being a Christian and being holy are virtually synonymous. Sanctification is the fruit of the Spirit’s ministry and likeness to Christ is the ultimate goal of sanctification. Sanctification is holiness, and therefore the ultimate fruit of being devoted to God.

As there has been some controversy regarding justification and sanctification in recent years, he writes that justification (God counting us as righteous in Christ) and sanctification (God making us more and more righteous in ourselves) should never be confused. Nor is the former dependent on the latter.  He states that we are not justified on the basis of our sanctification; yet justification never takes place without sanctification beginning.

Themes covered in this wonderful book include union with Christ, sin, God’s grace, election, the Trinity, flesh and Spirit, putting to death the old and putting on the new, and the Christian and the Law.

The 5 appendices included in the book nicely supplement the main text, which is bathed in Scripture. And as with all of his books, the author often quotes from old hymns of the faith.

I cannot recommend this book too highly.

30 Wonderful Quotes from Devoted to God:
Blueprints for Sanctification
by Sinclair Ferguson

This year I’ve read many excellent books but this is my favorite book of the year. Here are 30 quotes from the book that I wanted to share with you:

  1. Sanctification is God setting us apart for himself. As saints we have already been sanctified by him. Then he gradually transforms us so that we begin to reflect his attributes and attractiveness. Jesus Christ’s life begins to be mirrored in our lives and personalities.
  2. Divine election is the foundation of sanctification – not the other way around. Everything depends upon God taking the initiative.
  3. If God has committed himself to changing our lives, to sanctifying us, then wisdom – not to mention amazed gratitude – dictates that we should be committed to that too. Otherwise God’s will and my will are in competition with each other.
  4. The whole Trinity cooperates in bringing me to the goal. The Father, the Son and the Spirit co-operate with one another, but they also co-operate with me in order to make me more like Christ.
  5. Holiness is not only the desire of the Trinity, it is a specific command.
  6. Those who are becoming holy will always have a two-fold impact on those around them. On the one hand there will be the irresistible attraction of the beauty of holy-love showing what life in the presence of God really is – life as it was meant to be lived. On the other hand, this holy-love, so attractive in itself, also involves loving-holiness that will offend those who are repelled by God’s holiness and live in rebellion against him. It cannot be otherwise.
  7. Sanctification is the fruit of the Spirit’s ministry.
  8. If we are to understand the nature of sanctification and successfully pursue it, we must immerse ourselves in appreciating the grace of God expressed to us in Jesus Christ and applied in us by the Holy Spirit.
  9. Sanctification – being devoted to God – is always the fruit of his setting us apart in and through Christ.
  10. God’s grace transforms us through our union and communion with Jesus Christ.
  11. Believers are so united to Christ that all he is and has done for us becomes our possession too.
  12. Our lives are transformed only when our minds are renewed.
  13. For Paul, the “big idea” of the gospel is that the believer is “in Christ”.
  14. Romans 6: 1-14 are among the most important verses of the New Testament. It is not claiming too much to say that the church is still trying to fully understand some of the details of his teaching in Romans 6. So there is room here for a lifetime of reflection.
  15. Exhortations to be holy are always derived from an exposition of what God has done and provided for us in Christ and through the gift of the Spirit. Indicatives are always the foundation for imperatives even if they appear in the reverse order. God has been or done this – therefore you should be or do that. Or, be this, or become that – because this is who God is and what he has done.
  16. The Christian life involves us in an ongoing, lifelong conflict. The gospel therefore calls us to live under the reign of the Spirit in a world dominated by the flesh.
  17. Living in the Spirit therefore means a daily commitment to please Christ and not to please self.
  18. There can be no other way to live the Christian life than by (1) Putting to death the old, and (2) Putting on the new.
  19. Many young believers are shocked to discover that indwelling sin seems to be like an onion in the soul; the unraveling of one layer simply reveals the next – on and on continue the painful revelations of our sinfulness.
  20. The key test of any formula for sanctification is: Does this enable me to overcome the influence of sin, not simply in my outward actions but in my inner motivations? And, in particular: Does it increase my trust in and love for the Lord Jesus Christ?
  21. Success in the Christian life never means that we live for ourselves or see ourselves as superior to others. No, the real success the gospel effects releases us from our self-obsessions and self-interests, so that at last we are free in Christ to love and serve others.
  22. Growing in holiness, enjoying closer fellowship with God, brings with it an ongoing and very painful revelation of layers of sin that have been subtly hidden in our hearts but rarely if ever exposed.
  23. The Christian life has both seed-time and harvest. We therefore need to take a long-term view. If I sow to the flesh I will always reap from the flesh corruption; sow to the Spirit and I will enjoy a spiritual harvest in eternal life. That is an unchanging law in the kingdom of God.
  24. For what we think about and love will have a determinative influence on our character. What fills our minds will shape our lives. We become what we think!
  25. The law-maker became the law-keeper, but then took our place and condemnation as though he were the law-breaker. Now the requirements of the law have been fulfilled in him, its prescriptions fully obeyed, its penalties finally paid. All that remains is for this to be imputed to us in justification and imparted in us in sanctification through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
  26. Sin has a way of knitting itself into the very fabric of our being, into our character and personality, into our propensities and our weaknesses and, yes, even into our strengths – sometimes especially into our strengths. It becomes my distinctive sin.
  27. It is always a shock to our pride when we discover that we are sinners – and not merely people who occasionally sin.
  28. Those who experience the grace of God in justification want to experience his grace in sanctification too. That involves strenuous activity on our part.
  29. Jesus himself is the litmus test for all of our attitudes. His example is to be the driving force in our devotion. He never sought to please himself. If we are his we too are called to live in the same way.
  30. Union with Christ means that we come to participate not only in his death but also in his weakness. This weakness is not something from which union with Christ delivers us, but into which union with Christ brings us.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

book reviews

Core ChristianityCore Christianity: Finding Yourself in God’s Story by Michael Horton. Zondervan. 192 pages. 2016
****

The purpose of this new book by Westminster Seminary California professor and theologian Michael Horton is to help the reader understand the reason for their hope as a Christian so that they can invite others into the conversation.  He wants believers to know what they believe and why, a phrase those familiar with Horton will have heard often on his long-running radio program The White Horse Inn. 

Horton, who has also written larger works of theology (The Christian Faith and Pilgrim Theology), offers an apologetic or defense, for the Christian faith, covering the essential and basic beliefs that all Christians share. It is written in an easily understandable manner, and as such, could be read by a relatively new believer. It is theologically spot-on, as you would expect from Horton.

Horton begins by asking the question why is doctrine important? Why can’t we just love Jesus? For the framework for the book, he uses the following “four “D’s”:

  • Drama
  • Doctrine
  • Doxology
  • Discipleship

He writes that oftentimes we hear Christians tell their story and how God is a part of it. But that’s an incorrect way of looking at things. It‘s not so much that He is a part of our stories, but that we are a part of His.

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MY BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

book reviews

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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