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Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

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book reviews
Everyday PrayersEveryday Prayers by Scotty Smith: 365 Days to a Gospel-Centered Faith. Baker Books. 386 pages. 2011.

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

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

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.