Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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Why I Would Recommend You Don’t Go See the Movie “The Shack”

the-shackKnowing that I enjoy going to the movies, I’ve already had many friends ask me if I was planning to see the upcoming film adaptation of William P. Young’s best-selling 2007 novel The Shack. When I tell them that I’m not going due to serious theological issues in the book, they usually respond that they don’t know or care too much about theological issues, they just loved the book.

Several years ago, when it seemed like everyone I talked to was reading the book (the book has sold an incredible 22 million copies to date), I decided to read it myself. I wanted to see why it was resonating with so many people, even some of my friends who didn’t regularly attend church. And while the book can speak to those who have experienced a tragedy or lost a loved one, I had serious concerns about the way the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) were portrayed.

To help you be discerning as you consider whether or not to watch the film or read the book (as interest in the book has been rekindled with the release of the film), I offer the below perspectives from three respected Christians teachers.

  1. Tim Keller. In this article Tim Keller writes “But here is my main problem with the book. Anyone who is strongly influenced by the imaginative world of The Shack will be totally unprepared for the far more multi-dimensional and complex God that you actually meet when you read the Bible.”
  2. Tim Challies. In this article (which also links to his lengthy review of the book), Tim Challies writes “The Shack presents God in human flesh. It makes the infinite finite, the invisible visible, the omnipotent impotent, the all-present local, the spiritual material. In its visual portrayal of God it diminishes, it obfuscates, it blasphemes, it lies. Even though I would watch the film to help others interpret it and to bring correction to error, I would still be subjecting myself to a false, blasphemous portrayal of God. I cannot allow myself to watch it even for that purpose. I cannot and will not watch or review it.”
  3. Randy Alcorn. Randy Alcorn writes “Unfortunately, increasingly few people these days are well grounded in the Word and have both the knowledge and the discernment to filter out the bad while embracing the good. That means that some people, perhaps many, will fail to recognize the book’s theological weaknesses, and therefore be vulnerable to embracing them, even if unconsciously. Sadly, I personally know some who have been led down a path of universalism through their understanding of the book and what they have heard the author say, either publicly or privately.”

I know these comments won’t be popular with many. Please seriously consider them when making your decision about whether you will see this film. And if you disagree with what is written here, please let me know and why.  Also, if you need good materials that address the topics in the movie such as “Where was God when I lost my loved one?” I would be glad to give you some recommendations.

Blessings!


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My Favorite Books on Faith and Work, Calling and Productivity

I have a passion for integrating my faith and my work and talking to others about how to do it. Over the past few years, I’ve read a number of helpful books in the faith and work, calling and productivity genres. Below are my favorites:

Five Books on Integrating Faith and Work

  • Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work by Tim Keller with Katherine Leary. Keller helps to illuminate the transformative and revolutionary connection between the Christian faith and the workplace. He encourages believers to think about their work through the lens of a Christian worldview. He structures the book around three questions: Why do we want to work? Why is it so hard to work? How can we overcome the difficulties and find satisfaction in our work through the gospel? This book introduced me to Redeemer Presbyterian Church’s Center for Faith and Work, something I would like to model in my community.
  • Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work by Tom Nelson. Nelson looks at Os Guinness’ discussion of our primary and secondary callings in his excellent book The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life and focuses on our secondary calling (to do a specific work) in this book. He looks at work through a biblical lens in the first section of the book and focuses on how God shapes our lives in and through our work in the second section.  The author, who is a pastor, includes helpful “Questions for Reflection and Discussion” and a “Prayer for Our Work” at the end of each chapter. He mentions that the Center for Faith and Work at Tim Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church (mentioned above) has been a catalyst for his church to think more intentionally about equipping their congregation in vocational mission.
  • God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life by Gene Edward Veith. This book is an exposition of the doctrine of vocation and an attempt to apply that doctrine in a practical way to our life in the twenty-first century. He first looks at the nature of vocation: the purpose of vocation, how to find our vocation, how God calls us to different tasks and how He is present in what we do in our lives. Then he looks at specific vocations (as a worker, in the family, as a citizen, and in the church), and specific problems common to them all.
  • Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good by Amy L. Sherman. This is a book about vocational stewardship that is primarily written for pastors and ministry leaders, particularly those already committed to leading missional churches (those that seek to follow King Jesus on the mission of making all things new). It would be an excellent book for these leaders to recommend to those they lead to help them integrate their faith and work.
  • Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good by Steven Garber. The author invites the reader to “come and see” that the vision of vocation he writes about is being lived out by men and women who are committed to a faith that shapes a vocation that in turn shapes culture. He writes that there is not a more difficult task that human beings face than to know the world and still love it. A recurring question that he asks throughout the book is “Knowing what I know, what will I do?” This book is best read slowly as he weaves in stories to illustrate his points.

Two Books on Calling

  • The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life by Os Guinness. The author writes that there is no deeper meaning than to discover and live out your calling. He states that there is no calling without a Caller, and if there is no Caller, there are no callings, only work. He states that it is never too late to discover your calling, which is deeper than our jobs, our career, and all of our benchmarks of success. He discusses our primary and secondary callings and the two distortions (Catholic and Protestant) that have crippled the truth of calling. An excellent abridged version of this book is available entitled Rising to the Call.
  • The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do by Jeff Goins. This book is an excellent introduction to the subject of calling. It’s easy to read, interesting and practical. The book is organized into three major sections – Preparation, Action and Completion. In those sections he covers seven overlapping stages of calling – Awareness, Apprenticeship, Practice, Discovery, Profession, Mastery and Legacy. In each stages he uses interesting stories to illustrate the stage. In the Appendix, he includes a summary of the seven stages, seven signs you’ve found your calling and seven exercises to complete. He also includes questions for discussion that will be helpful if you’re reading and discussing the book with others.

Two Books on Productivity

  • Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity by Tim Challies. This new book is an extremely efficient, well-organized, easy to read and practical book. The author’s aim is to help the reader do more of what matters most and do it better. He writes that our productivity depends to a good degree on identifying and using the best tools (management, scheduling and information), for the job and then growing in your proficiency with them. He also discusses concepts such as a “Weekly Review” and includes helpful “Action Steps” at the end of each section.
  • What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done by Matt Perman. The author states that the book is about getting things done and making ideas happen with less friction and frustration from a biblical perspective. He helps the reader think about productivity as Christians. He aims to help us live the life that God has called us to live and live it with maximum effectiveness and meaning. He introduces us to the concept of Gospel Driven Productivity, which looks at not only what the Bible has to say about getting things done, but also learns from the best secular thinking. He uses the DARE Model – Define, Architect, Reduce, and Execute.

These are my favorite faith and work, calling and productivity books. Do you have others to add to the list?


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Faith and Work ~ Quotes on Productivity

Do More Better20 Quotes from Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity by Tim Challies

Here are 20 helpful quotes from Tim Challies new book Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity:

Productivity—true productivity—will never be better or stronger than the foundation you build it upon.

Productivity is not what will bring purpose to your life, but what will enable you to excel in living out your existing purpose.

  • The simple fact is, you are not the point of your life. You are not the star of your show. If you live for yourself, your own comfort, your own glory, your own fame, you will miss out on your very purpose. God created you to bring glory to him.
  • Productivity is effectively stewarding your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God.
  • You are responsible before God to excel in productivity.
  • Although we complain about being busy, we also find that it validates us, as if we have only two choices before us: doing far too little or far too much. We somehow assume that our value is connected to our busyness.
  • Busyness and laziness are both issues that arise from within. They are deficiencies in character that then work themselves out in our lives.
  • Busyness may make you feel good about yourself and give the illusion of getting things done, but it probably just means that you are directing too little attention in too many directions, that you are prioritizing all the wrong things, and that your productivity is suffering.
  • The absence of productivity or the presence of woefully diminished productivity is first a theological problem. It is a failure to understand or apply the truths God reveals in the Bible.
  • You have limited amounts of gifting, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm, but unlimited ways of allocating them. For this reason productivity involves making decisions about how to allocate these finite resources.
  • Your primary pursuit in productivity is not doing more things, but doing more good.
  • You rely on tools to do work you cannot do yourself or to do tasks better than you could otherwise do them.
  • We are committed to productivity and to a distinctly Christian understanding of it. Productivity is effectively stewarding your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God. The reason we use these tools is that they enable us to be most effective in that calling.
  • Doing good to others and bringing glory to God is not something you can possibly think about every moment of every day, even though it is what you are called to every moment of every day.
  • A productivity system is a set of methods, habits, and routines that enable you to be most effective in knowing what to do and in actually doing it. An effective system involves identifying, deploying, and relying on appropriate tools. When functioning together, these tools enable you to operate smoothly and efficiently, dedicating appropriate time and attention to the most important tasks.
  • Getting things done is not only a matter of managing time, but also a matter of managing energy.
  • You do not exist in this world to get things done. You exist to glorify God by doing good to others. Remind yourself often of this important truth.
  • Your responsibility is to plan, organize, and execute to the best of your ability, but to realize that circumstances and providence may interrupt and delay even your best laid plans.
  • Prayer is an indispensable part of biblical productivity, because it causes us to acknowledge that God is sovereign over all of our plans, and it pleads with God to help us make wise and God-honoring decisions.
  • As Christians we are called to serve God by serving others. In each of our areas of responsibility we are to serve and surprise. As we turn to our weekly checklist, we will work toward this question: How can I serve and surprise in the week ahead?


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FAITH AND WORK: Connecting Sunday to Monday

Faith and Work News ~ Links to Interesting Articles

  • contentmentContentment and Ambition: Friends, Not Enemies. Dave Kraft writes “I want to learn how to be content and, at the same time, be ambitious for God and his purposes and plans. I see a solid understanding of true biblical contentment and true biblical ambition to be wonderful friends–not dangerous enemies.”
  • Serving the Church and Selling Mattresses. Carey Anne Bustard interviews Jeremy Rhoden, co-owner of a small business and a trustee at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary about his work.
  • Staying Godly in a Godless Workplace. Rick Segal writes “Very few, if any, awake one morning and decide all of a sudden, “Today is the day I’m going rogue. Enough with all that honesty stuff. From now on, I’m all about corruption.”
  • How I Work: An Interview with Daniel Patterson. Joe Carter interviews Daniel Patterson, Chief of Staff at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, about his work.
  • 6 High-Yield New Year’s Resolutions Every Leader Should Make. Carey Nieuwhof writes “You will have some resolutions that are specific and personal to you—which is great. But there are some goals that every leader could benefit from accomplishing.”
  • 6 Ways to Win in 2016. In this “Tuesday Tip”, Dr. Alan Zimmerman writes “If you want to ensure your place among the winners, if you want to make next year the best year of your life and career, there are six little strategies you can use.”
  • The Exponential Leadership Goal for 2016. Dan Rockwell writes “Successful leadership pivots on developing leaders. Leaders, who don’t develop leaders, become bottlenecks.”
  • The First Step of Highly Successful People. Dan Rockwell writes “The ability to try one more time – in new ways – propels you forward. If you can’t begin again in new ways, frustration and irrelevance await.”
  • How to Boost Your Energy. In this episode of the This is Your Life podcast, Michael Hyatt and Michele Cushatt discuss how to boost our energy.
  • Tim Challies QuoteGoals. In this “Minute from Maxwell”, John Maxwell encourages us to be growth-oriented, rather than goal-oriented.
  • Three Indicators Your Email Should Have Been a Meeting. Eric Geiger writes “Some meetings could have been an email, but some emails should be meetings. There are times that people, in attempts to handle things efficiently, resort to an email when a meeting would have been more effective.”
  • A Leader You Can’t Live Without. Dan Rockwell writes “The greatest test of leadership is what happens when you’re gone.”
  • Excuses. In this “Minute with Maxwell”, John Maxwell says that it’s easier to go from failure to success than from excuses to success, and that excuses just don’t fit into a leader’s life.
  • My Five Favorite Personal Productivity Tools. Eric Geiger shares the five productivity tools he uses most often.
  • The Hardest Thing Leaders Have to Do. Dave Kraft writes the hardest things for leaders to do are “Learning how to get along with many different kinds of people, starting with those who misunderstand you, often followed by those criticizing you, judging you, labeling you, questioning your motives, questioning the authenticity of your walk with Jesus; sometimes questioning everything and anything. It always hurts and it’s always painful on multiple levels.”
  • Work Redefined. Why do we work? What is the purpose of our work, which can take so many hours in our day? This reflective illustration shows how we are divinely placed, wherever we work. It is our opportunity to worship the God who made us by the excellence of our endeavors. Watch this less than two-minute video from the folks at the Work as Worship Network.
  • Myths of Bold Leadership. In this video, Andy Stanley debunks the myths of bold leadership and states that very leader has the potential to lead with boldness.
  • Five Reasons a Team Lacks Joy. Eric Geiger writes “A joyless team harms the people on the team and those the team serves. Here are five common reasons joy eludes a team.”
  • Three Differences Between Busyness and Productivity. Eric Geiger writes “Busyness can give the allusion of productivity as people are doing things, as meetings are happening, and as emails are being sent and read. But not all busyness is valuable. In fact, busyness can mask a lack of productivity.”
  • 16 Tips for Getting 90 Percent of Your Work Done Before Lunch. Neil Patel writes “You can get 90 percent or more of your work done in the morning. Around the time people are groping for the next shot of caffeine, you’re shutting down your Macbook and chilling out.”

Book Review:

Do More BetterDo More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity by Tim Challies. Challies. 120 pages. 2015
****

There is much of value in this small book written by popular blogger and author Tim Challies. It is extremely efficient, well-organized, easy to read and practical. He states that he wrote the book because he wants his readers to do more of what matters most and to do it better. He writes that readers will get the most from the book if they read, observe, and imitate—at least at first. As time goes on, they can incorporate those tips they find especially helpful and discard the others.

The author begins by helping the reader to think about their God-given purpose and mission. He writes that there is no task in life that cannot be done for God’s glory, and that God saved us so that we could do good works and in that way bring glory to him. He states that productivity is effectively stewarding our gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God. Productivity, and the book, are about doing good to others.

He looks at three productivity thieves: laziness, busyness, and what he refers to as the mean combination of thorns and thistles. He states that busyness and laziness are both issues that arise from within. They are deficiencies in character that then work themselves out in our lives.

He writes that while the book will emphasize tools and systems and other important elements of productivity, nothing is more important than our own holiness and godliness.

He begins by having the reader create a list, using a productivity worksheet you can download at a web site provided in the book, of each of their areas of responsibility, targeting five or six categories, with no more than nine. He helpfully shares his own list. He then asks the reader to list the roles, tasks, or projects that fall under each area of responsibility. He has the reader define their mission for each area of responsibility. The primary purpose here is to guide us week by week as we schedule our time and make decisions about where to spend our time.

He states that you can do more good for others if you have fewer roles and projects than if you have more. He considers goals to be to be a helpful, but optional component of productivity.

He then discusses tools, indicating that many people try to be productive with tools that are poorly suited to the task. He tells us that our productivity depends to a good degree on identifying and using the best tools for the job and then growing in your skill in deploying them. He states that effective productivity depends upon the below three tools and the relationship between them.

  • Management tool. A task management tool enables you to capture and organize your projects and tasks. He recommends Todoist (todoist.com) as the task management tool. Todoist will capture, organize, and display your projects and tasks while notifying you about the most urgent ones.
  • Scheduling tool. A scheduling tool enables you to organize your time and notifies you of pending events and appointments. He recommends Google Calendar (calendar.google.com) as the scheduling tool. Google Calendar will hold and display your important events, meetings, and appointments and, through the notifications function, alert you ahead of any pending meetings or appointments.
  • Information tool. An information tool enables you to collect, archive, and access information. He recommends Evernote (evernote.com) as the information tool. Evernote is a powerful piece of software that enables you to capture almost any kind of information.

The principle that he uses in organizing our productivity systems is: A home for everything, and like goes with like.

The author tells us that these three tools work together to help plan your day, and the tools work together to help you get things done throughout the day. Thus, your day has two phases: planning and execution. He calls his planning phase his Coram Deo, a Latin phrase that means in the presence of God, and one that I use as the title of my blog.

He states that there are always a few things that are undeniably high priorities and a few things that are undeniably low priorities. But the majority will fit somewhere in the middle, leaving you to make difficult decisions. He also writes about things we should stop doing because they don’t fit into our priorities, much like Jim Collins “stop doing” list.

He discusses the concept of a Weekly Review, in which he looks at the question: How can I serve and surprise in the week ahead? Whereas the daily planning session is tactical, a weekly review is strategic. He writes that that our system will function well when we make time for this review and it will begin to sputter when we do not.

Two helpful bonus chapters are included:

  • Tame Your Email-6 Tips for Doing More Better with Email.
  • 20 Tips to Increase Your Productivity

He includes helpful “Action” steps after each section. For example “Choose at least one habit other than productivity that you will pursue as you read and apply this book.”

If you are looking to increase your personal productivity, check out this book. It’s a quick read and if the concepts are applied it can reap huge dividends.

Visit http://www.challies.com/do-more-better for worksheets and bonus material to help you get started.

10 Favorite Faith and Work Quotes of the Week

  • John Wooden QuoteLord, since it is you who feed us and you who meet our needs, ordinary human labor such as farming, cooking, knitting have great dignity. They are means by which you love your creation. Help me to sense that dignity so I can do the simplest of tasks to your glory. Tim and Cathy Keller
  • We’re not going to have the impact we want if we don’t manage our energy. Michael Hyatt
  • Work is not, primarily, a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do. It is, or should be, the full expression of the worker’s faculties, the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental, and bodily satisfaction, and the medium in which he offers himself to God. Dorothy Sayers
  • Work is rearranging the raw materials of a particular domain to draw out its potential for the flourishing of everyone. Tim Keller
  • Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming. John Wooden 
  • Vocation is the specific call to love one’s neighbor. Martin Luther
  • Work is the expenditure of energy (manual or mental or both) in the service of others, which brings fulfillment to the worker, benefit to the community and glory to God. John Stott
  • All honest work is worth doing for the glory of God, and we may find ourselves called to do any honest work that we’re fitted for. J.I. Packer
  • No one wakes up wanting to be managed. We wake up wanting to be led. Brad Lomenick
  • Real work is a contribution to the good of all and not merely a means to one’s own advancement. Tim Keller

Faith and Work Book Clubs – Won’t you read along with us?

Don't Waste Your LifeDon’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. Crossway. 192 pages. 2003  

Other than the Bible, this small book by John Piper has had the most influence on my life. It played a key role in my returning to seminary after ten years in 2005. I have read it almost each year since it was published in 2003. Listen to John Piper describe the book in this less than two-minute video.

This week we look at Chapter 4: Magnifying Christ Through Pain and Death

  • Suffering with Jesus on the Calvary road of love is not merely the result of magnifying Christ; it is also the means.
  • The normal Christian life is one that boasts only in the cross—the blazing center of God’s glory—and does it while bearing the cross.
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a gift to my generation of students. I pray that his costly message will be rediscovered in each generation. The book that set fire to the faith of thousands in my generation was called The Cost of Discipleship. Probably the most famous and life-shaping sentence in the book was, “The cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise God-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Bonhoeffer’s book was a massive indictment of the “cheap grace” that he saw in the Christian Church on both sides of the Atlantic. He did not believe that the faith that justifies could ever leave people unchanged by the radical Christ they claim to believe. That was a cheap response to the Gospel.
  • A life devoted to making much of Christ is costly. And the cost is both a consequence and a means of making much of him. If we do not embrace the path of joy-laden, painful love, we will waste our lives.
  • The Calvary road is costly and painful, but it is not joyless.
  • If Christ is not made much of in our lives, they are wasted. We exist to make him appear in the world as what he really is—magnificent. If our life and death do not show the worth and wonder of Jesus, they are wasted.
  • What you love determines what you feel shame about.
  • Paul’s all-consuming goal in life was for Christ to be magnified. Christ was of infinite value to Paul, and so Paul longed for others to see and savor this value. That is what it means to magnify Christ—to show the magnitude of his value.
  • But how are we to magnify Christ in death? Or to put it another way: How can we die so that in our dying the surpassing value of Christ, the magnitude of his worth, becomes visible?
  • If you experience death as gain, you magnify Christ in death.
  • That is what death does: It takes us into more intimacy with Christ. We depart, and we are with Christ, and that, Paul says, is gain. And when you experience death this way, Paul says, you exalt Christ. Experiencing Christ as gain in your dying magnifies Christ.
  • Death makes visible where our treasure is. The way we die reveals the worth of Christ in our hearts.
  • The essence of praising Christ is prizing Christ. Christ will be praised in my death, if in my death he is prized above life.
  • If we learn to die like this, we will be ready to live. And if we don’t, we will waste our lives.
  • Daily Christian living is daily Christian dying. The dying I have in mind is the dying of comfort and security and reputation and health and family and friends and wealth and homeland. These may be taken from us at any time in the path of Christ-exalting obedience. To die daily the way Paul did, and to take up our cross daily the way Jesus commanded, is to embrace this life of loss for Christ’s sake and count it gain.
  • The way we honor Christ in death is to treasure Jesus above the gift of life, and the way we honor Christ in life is to treasure Jesus above life’s gifts.
  • We are always on the lookout for ways to justify our self-protecting, self-securing, self-pleasing ways of life.
  • The greatest joy in God comes from giving his gifts away, not in hoarding them for ourselves.
  • God’s glory shines more brightly when he satisfies us in times of loss than when he provides for us in times of plenty.
  • No one ever said that they learned their deepest lessons of life, or had their sweetest encounters with God, on the sunny days. People go deep with God when the drought comes. That is the way God designed it.
  • Christ aims to be magnified in life most clearly by the way we experience him in our losses.
  • When everything in life is stripped away except God, and we trust him more because of it, this is gain, and he is glorified.
  • But when all is said and done, the promise and design of God for people who do not waste their lives is clear. “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).
  • What a tragic waste when people turn away from the Calvary road of love and suffering.


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Book Reviews, News and More

The Next Story by Tim ChalliesThe Next Story: Faith, Friends, Family and the Digital World by Tim Challies. 224 pages. Zondervan. 2015 edition.
****

Tim Challies is a pastor and a popular blogger at Informing the Reforming, which is required reading for me each morning. In this book he looks at how the digital explosion has reshaped our understanding of ourselves, our world, and, most importantly, our knowledge of God. He writes: “If technology is a good gift from God, with the potential to help us fulfill our God-given calling and purpose, why does it so often feel like we are slaves to our technology, like we are serving it instead of demanding that it serve us?”

He explores suggestions and ideas for how Christians can live in this new digital world with character, virtue, and wisdom. He examines how we can respond to these revolutionary changes as followers of Christ, and how we can learn to live faithfully as the next story unfolds.

In the first part of the book, Challies looks to theology, theory, and experience. In the second part he looks at areas of application specific to the Christian life. He shows how we can live with wisdom and virtue in a digital world, using our technologies without being used by them.

He writes that it is not the technology itself that is good or evil, but instead the human application of that technology. Every technology brings with it both risk and opportunity. He includes a helpful digital history that includes discussion of the impact of the steam engine, telegraph, telephone, television, computer and mobile devices.

He states that the average adult now spends nearly nine hours per day in front of some type of screen (desk top/laptop/tablet computer, phone, gaming devices, television). He writes that soon we will be spending more time in the glare of a screen than we spend outside of it.

He discusses that the way we read online differs from the way we read printed material. He states that studies show that, at best, Internet users skim text rather than read it. Skimming has now become the dominant form of reading.  He encourages readers to seek to understand how a technology will change and shape us before we introduce it to our lives.

In discussing whether something has become an idol in our lives he writes: “One possible sign of idolatry is when we devote an inordinate amount of time and attention to something, when we feel less than complete without it. Clearly, cell phones have the potential to become an idol, determining our behavior and creating patterns of addiction in our lives.”

He writes a lot about how the digital explosion has brought distractions into our lives. He states that with these ever-present distractions “….we are quickly becoming a people of shallow thoughts, and shallow thoughts will lead to shallow living”.

Challies states that the challenge is clear: “We need to relearn how to think, and we need to discipline ourselves to think deeply, conquering the distractions in our lives so that we can live deeply. We must rediscover how to be truly thoughtful Christians, as we seek to live with virtue in the aftermath of the digital explosion”.

A section I found particularly interesting was his discussion of Wikipedia and Google. With Wikipedia he shows how truth in a digital world often comes to us by consensus. And search engines such as Google incline us to associate truth with relevance.

An interesting observation that Challies offers is “The strange reality that we crave both privacy (example: our data) and visibility (example: social media) in this new digital reality.” He discusses our “data trails”, and asks, “What does your data trail say about you? Would you be willing for your spouse to see it? Your parents? Your pastors?”

In the chapter added for the paperback edition of the book, he helps the reader practically apply the book’s principles to the Christian home and family via his Digital Family Plan. Again, I feel that this single chapter is worth the price of the entire book. The plan has three broad goals:

  1. To teach and train children to use the Internet and their devices responsibly.
  2. To guard children from seeing or experiencing what they do not know exists.
  3. To prevent children from seeing or experiencing what they may desire once they learn that it exists.

The plan has four phases: Plan, Prepare, Meet, and Monitor.  This is an important and challenging book for Christians as we consider what it is to live in the new digital age.

A related resource is Tim’s excellent message “Purity in a Digital Age” from the 2015 Ligonier Ministries National Conference.

I read this book when it was first published in 2011. The recently published updated and expanded paperback edition features a new chapter that is worth the price of the book. The book also features a helpful application section and questions for reflection at the end of each chapter, making it a good book to read and discuss with others.

Book News

Christianaudio’s Free Book of the Month. The May free audiobook of the month from Christianaudio is The Advocate by Randy Singer, an ECPA 2015 Christian Book Award Finalist. The Advocate revolves around the life of Theophilus, a young assessore in the Roman aristocracy. Beginning with the trial of Christ, and continuing through to the trial of Paul, he is lawyer and witness to the incredible trials and circumstances surrounding the first century church. David Cochran Heath narrates this audiobook.

  • You Must Read: Books That Have Shaped Our Lives. Banner of Truth has released this this book with contributions from Joel R. Beeke, Alistair Begg, Jerry Bridges, Mark Dever, J. Ligon Duncan, R. Albert Mohler, Jr., John MacArthur, Stuart Olyott, R. C. Sproul , Derek W. H. Thomas, Geoffrey Thomas, and many others.
  • When the Wicked Seize the City. Todd Pruitt writes about the book When the Wicked Seize a City by Chuck and Donna McIlhenny, quoting the Foreword from Dr. Jay Adams who states It is one of a kind; it should be read by every thinking Christian”.

 David Platt BookReading Together Week 9

Counter Culture: A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture in a World of Poverty, Same-Sex Marriage, Racism, Sex Slavery, Immigration, Abortion, Persecution, Orphans and Pornography by David Platt.

David Platt, author of Radical, has written an important new book. So important, I believe, that rather than doing one book review, I’m going to review the content chapter by chapter. Note, all of Platt’s royalties from this book will go toward promoting the glory of Christ in all nations.

Each chapter concludes by offering some initial suggestions for practical requests you can pray in light of these issues, potential ways you might engage culture with the gospel, and biblical truths we must proclaim regarding every one of these issues. These suggestions will also direct you to a website www.counterculturebook.com/resources, where you can explore more specific steps you might take.

This week we look at Chapter 9: Christ in the Public Square: The Gospel and Religious Liberty

  • Followers of Christ are the most widely persecuted religious group in the world. According to the US Department of State, Christians face persecution of some kind in more than sixty different countries today.
  • Religious liberty is a rare commodity in the world, and one which is increasingly uncommon in our own culture.
  • The cardinal sin of our culture is to be found intolerant, yet what we mean by intolerant is ironically, well, intolerant.
  • Tolerance implies disagreement. I have to disagree with you in order to tolerate you.
  • It would be wise and helpful for us to patiently consider where each of us is coming from and why we have arrived at our respective conclusions. Based upon these considerations, we can then be free to contemplate how to treat one another with the greatest dignity in view of our differences.
  • Toleration of people requires that we treat one another with equal value, honoring each other’s fundamental human freedom to express private faith in public forums. On the other hand, toleration of beliefs does not require that we accept every idea as equally valid, as if a belief is true, right, or good simply because someone expresses it. In this way, tolerance of a person’s value does not mean I must accept that person’s views.
  • I lament the many ways that Christians express differences in belief devoid of respect for the people with whom we speak. Likewise, I lament the many ways that Christians are labeled intolerant, narrow-minded, and outdated whenever they express biblical beliefs that have persisted throughout centuries. Nowhere are these twin realities more clear than in the current debate over marriage.
  • On the whole, an average of one hundred Christians around the world are killed every month for their faith in Christ (and some estimates have this number much higher. Literally countless others are persecuted through abuse, beatings, imprisonment, torture, and deprivation of food, water, and shelter.
  • (Matthew 5:10-12, Matthew 10:16-18, 22). Even a cursory reading of Gospel passages like these reveals that the more we become like Jesus in this world, the more we will experience what he experienced. Just as it was costly for him to counter culture, it will be costly for us to do the same.
  • It is only when a Christian is public about his or her faith, applying faith in the public square and even proclaiming Christ that persecution will inevitably occur. In other words, as long as our brothers and sisters around the world sit back and accommodate the culture around them, they can avoid suffering. It’s only when they stand up and counter the culture around them with the gospel of Jesus Christ that they will experience suffering.
  • Moreover, in a country where even our own religious liberty is increasingly limited, our suffering brothers and sisters beckon us not to let the cost of following Christ in our culture silence our faith. May we not sit back and accommodate our culture in relative comfort while they stand up and counter their culture at great cost.

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2015 Ligonier Ministries National Conference

coronado-springs-resort2.jpg

Nearly every year since 1997, my wife Tammy and I have experienced a taste of Heaven each February or March as we make the trek from the frigid Midwest to sunny Orlando, Florida to attend the Ligonier Ministries National Conference. It is the home of the “Happiest Place on Earth” after all. For the second year in a row we enjoyed the conference with fellow elder Don Lusk and his wife Angela.

First Baptist Church of Orlando, the usual host of the conference, was not available due to renovation work (though the 2016 conference will return there February 25-27). As a result, the conference was held this year at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort, a beautiful location, where we enjoyed the beauty of the lakes, landscaping, wildlife and several walks during the five days we stayed there.Reformation Study Bible

The conference was highlighted by the release of the newly revised and updated Reformation Study Bible, which R. C. Sproul served as the General Editor. Go to http://reformationstudybible.com/ to find out more about this important new resource.

Glory to the Holy OneAnother highlight of the conference was the release of the new album of sacred hymns Glory to the Holy One from Jeff Lippencott (music) and R.C. Sproul (lyrics). Lippencott is an Emmy-nominated composer. See http://www.scphilharmonic.org/aboutjeff.html to find out more about Jeff and his accomplishments.

The album was presented in full at Saint Andrews Chapel the night before the conference with full orchestra and choir. In addition, four songs from the album were performed at the conference on Friday evening. Go to http://www.ligonier.org/blog/glory-holy-one-announcing-rc-sprouls-new-sacred-hymns-project/ to find out more about this powerful new release. The album includes R.C.’s song “Clothed in Righteousness”, which has become one of my favorite hymns sung at Ligonier National Conferences and Saint Andrews Chapel the past few years.  The hymn singing with such a huge crowd of believers is a highlight for my wife, only topped by the singing of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah at the end of the conference.

This year’s conference began with a pre-conference event, kicked off by Tim Challies, who spoke on “Purity in the Digital Age”, a very helpful message that everyone needs to listen to. All conference messages can be watched free at http://www.ligonier.org/learn/conferences/after-darkness-light-2015-national-conference/.

Tim’s message was followed by the inspirational story of Rosaria Butterfield, as she detailed her journey as a lesbian professor in the English Department and Women Studies Program at Syracuse University. Her academic interest was focused on feminist theory, queer theory and 19th century British literature. She achieved tenure in 1999, the same year that she converted to Christianity and ultimately became a pastor’s wife. I picked up Rosaria’s book The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, and will be reading it shortly. She recommended the book, The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside your Door by Jay Pathak. She said that the GLBT community values hospitality and applies it with skill, sacrifice, and integrity; something the Christian community could learn from. Peter Jones gave the final message in the pre-conference, and a “Question and Answer” session (always among my favorite sessions) closed out the pre-conference.

Sinclair Ferguson, one of today’s most respected Reformed theologians, opened the formal conference with “Christ’s Message to the Church”, from Revelation 2:1-7, the message that most impacted me. This is a message that all church leaders should listen to. This was such a powerful message, Tammy and I listened to it again on the way to Saint Andrews for worship the day after the conference ended.

Other highlights for me were Alistair Begg’s “No Place for Truth”, “Whatever Happened to Sin?” from Russell Moore and Do Not Love the World” from Kevin DeYoung. Other conference speakers were Steven Lawson, R.C. Sproul Jr., Robert Godfrey, Stephen Nichols and R.C. Sproul. Another highlight was a session we attended Friday night in the conference bookstore in which Sinclair Ferguson described a number of books that he recommended we read.

All of the messages were strong. The messages and the question and answer sessions challenged and encouraged me. I left the conference with a greater desire to read and study the Bible and to pray.

Below are the daily recaps of the conference from Ligonier.org:

http://www.ligonier.org/blog/2015-national-conference-day-1/
http://www.ligonier.org/blog/2015-national-conference-day-2/
http://www.ligonier.org/blog/2015-national-conference-day-3/Saint Andrew's Chapel

We ended our conference experience by attending Sunday worship at Saint Andrews Chapel in Sanford, where we sang hymns accompanied by their beautiful pipe organ.  Sinclair Ferguson filled the pulpit and preached (in his Scottish brogue) on “The Gospel in Four Propositions” from Galatians 2:20 in the morning and evening services.
Aaaahhh…. Another taste of Heaven.

If you get an opportunity to attend the 2016 Ligonier National Conference I would highly recommend it.