Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

Music Review:

Glory Song – Matt Redman
****

Two-time Grammy Award winner and writer of many wonderful worship songs for the church including “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)”, Matt Redman follows his excellent 2016 Christmas album These Christmas Lights, with this album recorded at the famed Capitol Studios in Los Angeles. Prior to the Christmas release, his three prior albums had been recorded live. The album was co-produced by Jeremy Edwardson and Jeremy SH Griffith. He intentionally tried to bring more of a gospel sound to the album, including Tasha Cobbs Leonard, Kierra Sheard and a gospel choir. I can’t tell you how much I was blessed and encouraged by this album – it’s one of my favorites.

Below are a few comments on each song on the album:
All Glory – This song was written by Jonus Myrin and Redman, and features vocals from Kierra Sheard (who also appears on Lecrae’s new album), and a gospel choir. The chorus is an adaptation of the Gloria Patri.  Key lyric: All glory to the Father, all glory to the Son, all glory to the Spirit.
The Spirit of our God. As it was in the beginning, and will be in the end. All glory to Your everlasting name
.
Gospel Song – This song blends familiar Redman elements with an excellent beat and even some rap from Guvna B. It starts slowly with piano, then builds with catchy beat, gospel choir, guitar and organ about the joy of singing the gospel song. You’ll hear bits of John 3:16 in here too. I liked him stepping out of his norm.
Greatest Hallelujah – This song is written by Jonas Myrin and Matt Redman. It will remind you of some of Redman’s most-loved worship songs. It features a choir and some shouts. A highlight. Key lyric:  From this breath to my last, then forever and a day, I’ll pour out my heart, I’ll pour out my soul
My greatest hallelujah.  

Gracefully Broken – This song was written by Tasha Cobbs Leonard and Redman and was the first single released ahead of the album. It features a gospel choir and strong vocals from Leonard, who also includes a version of the song on her album Heart. Passion. Pursuit. The song starts slow and builds to the worshipful chorus. It will be a wonderful song for congregational singing. Key lyric: Here I am, God                 Arms wide open, pouring out my life, gracefully broken
One Day (When We All Get to Heaven) –  This song, which incorporates the hymn “When We All Get to Heaven”, is written by Eliza E. Hewitt, Beth Redman, Leonard Jarman and Redman. It features a strong Redman vocal with a piano and later organ backing. Again, this is different from the usual Redman song, and I really liked it.
Redemption Ground – This song is written by Nick Herbert, Sam Bailey and Redman. It starts slowly with guitar and then builds with drums and backing vocals from female vocalist Madison Cunningham. On this redemption ground he’ll stand with all the saints. It features a nice guitar solo.
Key lyric: Who can count the souls of all who have been found here on redemption ground.  

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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 Review of ALL THE QUEEN’S HORSES

All the Queen’s Horses, not-rated
****

All the Queen’s Horses is a well-made documentary about the largest municipal fraud ever committed in the U.S. It is also a warning to businesses, non-profits and churches that the same could happen to them, and it probably already is, just on a smaller scale. A statistic they posted was that 50-70% of business failure is due to fraud.  This is the first film directed by Kelly Richmond Pope. Pope is an associate professor in the School of Accountancy and MIS at DePaul University.
Dixon, Illinois is less than two hours west of Chicago. It is the hometown of President Ronald Reagan, and has a population of just over 16,000. In the film, Dixon appears to be a very pleasant small town. In 2011, Dixon City Clerk Kathe Swanson noticed some suspicious and very large dollar amount entries on some bank statements. Swanson had reported to Rita Crundwell, the town’s Treasurer and Comptroller, for twenty years. Swanson reported her concerns to Mayor Jim Burke, who in turn notified the FBI. The investigation took a full six months before Crundwell was arrested and charged with embezzling a staggering $53.7 million over a period of 20 years.
Over the years Crundwell had established a reputation as one of the world’s leading breeders of quarter horses. She used that business to launder significant amounts of money. At the same time, Crundwell laid off city employees and cut essential city services all the while funding her lifestyle. As she built a lavish lifestyle, the city suffered and went into significant debt.
Pope uses interviews with townspeople, those who worked with Crundwell, members of the FBI, etc., to tell the story. We might wonder how this fraud could have taken place in such a small community. Pope uses simple, at times humorous, and easy to understand graphics to explain how Crundwell, who was trusted in the community, could get away with this over 20 years without being caught.
The film addresses who should have been responsible for detecting the fraud in Dixon. Should it have been the mayor, the city council, the people of Dixon, the city’s auditors, the bank the city used, etc.?
As the film shows, the city had little or no financial controls. Virtually everything pertaining to the city’s finances was controlled by Crundwell. My wife is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), just as Kelly Richmond Pope is. She has handled the finances for our church, a local business and a non-profit. For years I have heard her stress the importance of good financial internal controls. The result of a lack of financial controls in the city of Dixon is sadly demonstrated in this film.
The city of Dixon filed a suit against their auditors and bank, winning a total of $40 million, in addition to selling Crundwell’s property. Of that amount however, a significant amount of the award went to the attorneys and for debt payment. The remaining amount went to the city’s infrastructure. We are told that the city’s new finance director has implemented good financial controls.
The film stresses that this type of greed and fraud is prevalent in organizations. It is a warning to all that good accountability and oversight need to be in place.  As Ronald Reagan said, “trust but verify”.
Rita Crundwell declined to be interviewed for the film. She was found guilty and sentenced to 19 years and 7 months, and will be released in 2030, at which time she will be 82 years old.


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THIS & THAT and Favorite Quotes of the Week

Starting the New Year:

  • 4 Christian Principles for Making New Year’s Resolutions. Burk Parsons writes “We would therefore do well to consider (Jonathan) Edwards’ prefatory remarks as we seek to glorify God and enjoy Him forever in our churches, our homes, and our hearts.”
  • Bible Reading Plans for 2018. Nathan W. Bingham has compiled a list of helpful Bible reading plans for you to choose from.
  • Get a Basic Overview of the Bible. R.C. Sproul writes “Virtually every Christian at some point has resolved to read the entire Bible. If we believe the Bible is the Word of God, it’s natural not to want to miss a word of it.”
  • 7 New Year Resolutions That Could Change Our World. Ron Edmondson writes “Whether or not you do New Year resolutions, we could all stand to improve some things in our life. And, if we do, I’m confident we could also improve the life of others.”
  • Keep Technology in Its Proper Place in 2018. Andy Crouch writes “The proper place for technology won’t be exactly the same for every family, and it isn’t the same at every season of our lives. Figuring out the proper place for technology in our particular family and stage of life requires discernment rather than a simple formula.”
  • Ask God to Rebuild What is Broken. Marshall Segal writes “If God can rebuild a relationship with us ripped apart by sin, and replant and revive souls like ours dead in sin, what new thing could he do in your life this year — in your family, in your workplace, in your neighborhood, in our nation, in you?”
  • A Gospel-Shaped 2018. Scotty Smith prays “Heavenly Father, whether or not 2018 is going to be a “happy” New Year, remains to be seen. But as in 2017, there won’t be a day this year you’ll fail to send us new mercies and give us sufficient grace. You’ll steadfastly delight in us, and rejoice over us with singing, no matter the happenstance, circumstances, or providences. Because of Jesus’ finished work, your love for us is irrepressible, immeasurable, and inexhaustible. That will be the most predictable and reliable truth in 2018. Hallelujah!”
  • New Year, New Beginnings: The Importance of Considering Our Ways. Melissa Kruger writes “There’s something refreshing about beginning a new year. It’s a time to reflect on the past year and refocus our goals for the upcoming year. I find it helpful to get away for an hour or two and spend some time in prayer, asking the Lord to guide me as I consider the time he’s given.”
  • A New Year, A New Bible Reading Plan. In this episode of the “Ask Pastor John” podcast, John Piper responds to the question Can you make a case for the discipline? Name the plan you use. Explain why you like it. Explain the pace of reading. And maybe what you’ve learned after doing this for so many years.”
  • Marry the Bible This Year. David Mathis writesMarrying the Bible is not a sequestering pursuit. As God fills us with the spiritual life and joy He imparts to us through His word, He will put a word in our mouth and make our meal all the more filling as we pass it around to others. The dominoes will begin falling as the word of God comes into its central, initiating, energizing place in our souls.”
  • Another New Year Knocks. Marshall Segal writes “The reason many of us feel so insecure and anxious at the end of another year is that we’ve taken gifts meant to lead us to God, and looked to them for the strength, hope, clarity, and purpose only God can give.”
  • On New Year’s Resolutions, Slow Progess, and the Grace of God. Scott Sauls writes “So, perhaps the first thing to do, then, is to begin doing what Jesus taught all of us to do—to ask our Father in heaven to give us the Spirit (Luke 11:13).”
  • Should Christians Make New Year’s Resolutions? In this four-minute video Hershael York believes it is right to make New Year’s Resolutions about the way that they intend to live.

Courtesy of World Magazine

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My Review of PADDINGTON 2

Paddington 2, rated PG
****

Paddington 2 is a funny, entertaining, and delightful family friendly film.  The film is well-written, features an excellent cast, and may be the rare sequel that improves on the first (2014) film. The film is directed by Paul King (Paddington) and written by King and Simon Farnaby, based on characters created by the author Michael Bond. The film is dedicated to Bond, who died in 2017 at the age of 91.
The film opens with a flashback that takes us “Many bears ago” in “darkest Peru”. We see a young Paddington, digitally animated and wonderfully voiced by Ben Whishaw, and the kind older bears that raised him. He remains dedicated to both Aunt Lucy, voiced by Oscar nominee Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake) and Uncle Pastuzo, voiced by Golden Globe nominee Michael Gambon (Path to War), even though he now lives far away in the Notting Hill area of London with the Browns.  In the Brown family home are parents Henry, portrayed by Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey) and Mary, portrayed by Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine). Their children have grown up since we’ve last seen them. Steam engines are no longer cool for Jonathan, played by Samuel Joslin, who now wants to be known as J-Dawg. Daughter Judy, played by Madeleine Harris, after a broken relationship, has now started a newspaper on her own printing press.  Mrs. Bird is portrayed by two-time Oscar nominee Julie Walters (Billy Elliot, Educating Rita).
Paddington fits in well with the Brown family and the neighborhood, and is loved by all, except for the hostile neighbor Mr. Curry, played by Oscar winner Peter Capaldi (Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life).
Oscar winner Jim Broadbent (Iris) plays Paddington’s friend, the kind antiques dealer Mr. Gruber.  He has a rare pop-up book in which Paddington’s beloved London comes to life, thanks to production designer Garry Williamson.

***SPOILER ALERT***
Paddington sees the book as the perfect birthday present for his dear Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday, who had always planned to come to London, but never got the opportunity. But the book is rare and expensive, and Paddington doesn’t have the money to purchase it. So, he decides to get a job to earn the money to purchase the book. We see him work at washing dogs, as an attendant in a barber shop, and when that doesn’t work out so well, he decides to go into a window washing business.
The pop-up book is also desired, for other reasons, by the film’s villain Phoenix Buchanan, well portrayed by Golden Globe winner Hugh Grant (Four Weddings and a Funeral). Buchanan, a former star actor, is now more well-known for doing dog food commercials. He finds out about the book from Paddington when the two meet at a local carnival that Buchanan has been hired to open. Grant leads a strong cast and is excellent as the villain Buchanan, taking on multiple disguises.
When Buchanan breaks into Gruber’s shop to steal the book, Paddington pursues him, but when Buchanan disappears, Paddington finds himself arrested, and soon after sent to prison, for the theft. In prison, we see Paddington befriend prisoners, such as the crusty cook Nuckles McGinty, played by three-time Golden Globe nominee Brendan Gleeson (In Bruges). Meanwhile, the Brown family, who knows Paddington has been falsely accused, tries to solve the mystery of who stole the book from Mr. Gruber’s shop so they can free Paddington.
*********************

King creatively uses slapstick, animated sequences, and plenty of funny moments in this enjoyable film. I also loved the many scenes of London portrayed in the film. The film has many positive themes including the importance of family and friends, hard work, thinking of others before yourself, and seeing the best in everyone.   Paddington lives his life thinking about what his Aunt Lucy would do in various situations, and often sharing something that he was taught by her, such as “If we’re kind and polite, the world will be right”. A good thought indeed.
Content concerns are minimal in this delightful film, with just a brief indication that an unmarried couple has spent the night together.  This might have been included to get the PG rating vs. a G rating.  When other children’s films stoop to including double entendres, sexual innuendo, swearing and bathroom humor for cheap laughs (seen in the preview for the upcoming film ‘Sherlock Gnomes‘), this film is well-written and includes great messages.
I can’t remember when I’ve had more fun watching a movie. Paddington 2 is that rare film that will be enjoyed by both adults and children. Highly recommended!


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FAITH AND WORK: Connecting Sunday to Monday

Faith and Work News ~ Links to Interesting Articles

JOY!

  • How to Experience Joy in Your Work. Bill Peel writes “But joy also comes from employing the gifts God gave us. When we use our God-given abilities, we engage God’s creative power that He embedded in our soul. There is no deeper satisfaction than doing what God desires. His energy flows through the gifts He gave us and our soul knows this intuitively and responds in joy when our gifts are engaged.”
  • Joy is the Leading Indicator. Patrick Lencioni writes “I’ve come to the conclusion that the first sign of trouble on the horizon is a decrease in joy. Yes, joy. When people who work in an organization lose their sense of enjoyment and enthusiasm, it’s time to start making some changes.”
  • How to Find Joy in Your Work. Jon Bloom writes “The more we think about the whole first chapter of Genesis, the more glorious things we see regarding how God views hiswork, and the wonderful, liberating implications it has on how we are to view our

IN THE CHURCH:

  • Working for God’s Glory. This episode of The White Horse Inn features an address given by Michael Horton at the 2017 Ligonier National Conference. It addresses How are we to think about the church’s relationship to the secular world? Are believers called to be so heavenly minded that they completely avoid worldly activity? Or are we called to be salt and light as we love and serve our neighbors around us?” On this special edition of White Horse Inn,Michael Horton discusses these issues and more as he unpacks the distinction between The Great Commandment and The Great Commission.”

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9 Ways You Can Help Those in Your Churches to Integrate Their Faith with Their Work ~Part 1

So what can we do to help those within our churches to see the value of their work and callings, whether it is in a paid or non-paid vocation? Here are 4 practical suggestions for church leaders. Next time I’ll follow-up with 5 more suggestions.

  1. Celebrate vocations within our churches. Tom Nelson writes “Our local church is becoming more intentional about celebrating the broad diversity of vocations within our congregation. In our Sunday morning services, congregational members periodically give short and timely vocational testimonies, either live or via video, regarding their faith at work. At times the video testimonies will be shot on location at their particular workplaces.”

One way we have celebrated vocations in our church is by holding four men’s ministry sessions in which a total of fifteen men, serving in different callings and vocations, shared what it was like for them to do their work for the glory of God. We had sessions with those in the medical field, college professors working at a local university, senior leaders in large organizations, business owners, those in the insurance and financial services field and others. They shared how they are being salt and light in their workplaces.  

The questions I asked our presenters were:

  • What is your name and your primary vocation?
  • Please share what it’s like to be a believer in your particular vocation?
  • Do you feel that your vocation is something that the Lord has called you to?
  • How do you approach your vocation differently than a non-believer in your organization might?
  • Has your faith ever caused problems for you in the workplace?
  • Have you ever been asked to do something in your role that you felt conflicted with your beliefs?

Below are a few reflections from these four sessions:

  • Diversity of experiences. As one man, who was both a presenter and also attended each of the sessions stated, the experiences of each group of presenters were very different. For example, the first group included those from the medical field (doctors and a dentist). There was an openness expressed on how their faith came through. For example, the doctors expressed that they would often pray with their patients, invite them to Christian events or to church. The dentist, who is also a business owner, plays Christian music in the office, and sees leading his 12 employees as a ministry. On the other hand, senior leaders in large organizations were more limited on what they could express about their faith in the workplace, feeling as if they had to express “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas” unless they knew that the recipient of the greeting was a believer, for example.
  • A sense of calling. The vast majority of the presenters felt that their current jobs were a calling from the Lord. They clearly saw how what they did Monday through Friday in the workplace was serving the Lord. It was also wonderful to hear the men share their stories about how the Lord has directed their paths, and worked in their lives to bring them to the positions they are in now.
  • Sometimes, living by faith in the workplace has consequences. One speaker, who is in sales, spoke about business he lost because he had the booklet The Story in his lobby. A client told him that he didn’t want to do business with someone who was so narrow-minded. After a phone call explaining how his faith helped him to provide better service and care for his clients, the relationship ended up OK, but the client still chose to take his business elsewhere.

Most of us spend much more time in our workplaces than we do with our families. Talking with others about how to do that in a way that pleases the Lord would seem to be time well spent.  I would encourage you to hold similar sessions with both men and women in your churches.

  1. Preach a sermon series on callings and vocations, or connecting faith and work. I’ve seen some good examples of this, including Scott Sauls’ “Leave it Better: Faith, Vocation & The Mission of God” at Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and Bryan Chapell’s “Mission at Work” at Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois.

I realize that doing this would be an exception for pastors who preach through books of the Bible rather than topical sermon series. However, I feel that this issue is so important I would ask those pastors to consider making an exception and preaching a series about calling, vocation and work.  Or perhaps this could be a good Sunday night series.

  1. Lead a Faith and Work Book Club. Start a faith and work book club with people from your church, and consider holding it at their workplace. Consider holding book clubs with stay-at-home Moms, using Courtney Reissig’s new book Glory in the Ordinary: Why Your Work in the Home Matters to God, and others who are pursuing non-paid callings, such as volunteers.
  2. Ask individual people in your church about their work and callings. When you meet with members of your church be more intentional about asking about their vocations. This will help you to understand the significance of what they do throughout the week. Show them that you value what they do between Sundays.

In my church, Bob Smart, my senior pastor for more than 22 years, has for years taught a Spiritual Formation class, which helps the participants with their Identity IN Christ, their Calling TO Christ, Living Intentionally FOR Christ and Leaving a Legacy FROM Christ. The course is held one evening a week for six weeks.

What others suggestions do you have for church leaders to help those within their churches to see the value of their work and callings? Next time we’ll look at 5 more suggestions.