Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

Life After Death – TobyMac
****

Life After Death is 57-year-old TobyMac’s eighth studio album, and his first since 2018’s The Elements and the 2019 death of his 21-year-old son Truett from an accidental drug overdose. The 15-song album is the best I have heard this year.
Eight of the fifteen songs were released prior to the official album release date. The songs, which date from 2020’s “21 Years” and “I’m Sorry (a lament)”, include themes of loss, lament, hope, racial equality, the goodness of God, relationships, living for Christ and rest. Toby has said that there is life after death, and that the album chronicles the journey he has been on over the last two years. And somehow, through it all, he has experienced the goodness of God.
There are several collaborations on the album, including with Blessing Offor, Tauren Wells, Sheryl Crow, Zach Williams, and former DC Talk bandmates Michael Tait, and Kevin Max. Musically, the songs feature excellent, catchy melodies and beats, and the production is top notch. In other words, exactly what you would expect from a TobyMac album.

Below are a few comments about each song:

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  • More of this review
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  • Song of the Week Lyrics

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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

Lessons from the Upper Room: The Heart of the Savior by Sinclair Ferguson. Ligonier Ministries. 237 pages. 2021
****

In this book, respected theologian Sinclair Ferguson, in his distinctive warm writing style, takes us through chapters 13 through 17 of John’s gospel, John’s description of events in the upper room on the evening before Jesus’ crucifixion. In five chapters, 155 verses, and less than four thousand words we are given what the Puritan writer Thomas Goodwin called “a window into Christ’s heart.” Ferguson tells us that in some ways, chapters 13–17 are a gospel within the gospel; in fact, they reflect the shape of the whole.
I had previously benefitted from Ferguson’s twelve message teaching series Lessons from the Upper Room that was released by Ligonier Ministries in 2014. This book contains significantly more content than the original teaching series, though Ferguson tells us that the book is by no means a complete exposition of John 13–17.
Ferguson invites us to climb the stairs leading to an upper room on a house in Jerusalem. Here we can eavesdrop on what transpired during the late afternoon and evening of the day before the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. He tells us that thirteen men have come together for a Passover meal. One will leave early on a mission of betrayal. The remaining twelve will later make their way to the garden of Gethsemane. From there they will be scattered. One will be taken by force on a nightmare journey. By this time tomorrow, Friday, the lifeless body of Jesus of Nazareth will be carried to a garden tomb.  But this is not the end, just the end of the beginning. For early on Sunday morning, He will rise again from the dead. He now lives forever as a Prince and Savior.

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BOOK REVIEWS ~ More of this review…
BOOK NEWS ~ Links to Interesting Articles
BOOK CLUB ~ Providence by John Piper
I’M CURRENTLY READING…. Continue reading


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A Prayer for Advent


Note: Advent is what we call the season leading up to Christmas. It begins four Sundays before December 25, sometimes in the last weekend of November, sometimes on the first Sunday in December. This year it will be November 27.

Our Father in Heaven,
As we begin this Advent season, a time of celebrating the first coming of your Son – the incarnation, when Jesus came to earth, to be born of a virgin in a manger – and waiting and preparing with hope for His second coming, we take a moment to consider just what that means for us, and the world. Continue reading


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A Prayer of Thanksgiving


Father in Heaven,

As we celebrate another Thanksgiving Day, perhaps others, like me, are thankful but weary. Life circumstances have gotten them down and taken a mighty toll on their lives.

I’m thankful for songs such as “My Heart is Filled with Thankfulness” by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty:

My heart is filled with thankfulness
To Him who bore my pain;
Who plumbed the depths of my disgrace
And gave me life again.

Father, as I pray for what I am most thankful for, the gift of salvation given to me by Your Son, the one who bore my pain is at the top of the list. Nothing else compares to this greatest of all gifts. During difficult times, I have felt the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit:

My heart is filled with thankfulness
To Him who walks beside;
Who floods my weaknesses with strength
And causes fears to fly.

Father, I am thankful for the people you have placed into my life – a godly wife, loving parents, a dear brother and sister, in-laws that raised my wife in the faith, and a wonderful extended family.

Father, you have also provided my wife and I many other things for which we are thankful – a good home, a church that has been our home for more than 28 years, a career that was enjoyable and fulfilling and now retirement, good friends , Clara my sassy canine companion, the joy of a good ballgame, the beauty of Your creation in fall colors and so much more.

I thank you for all of these blessings and more, this day and every day:

For every day I have on earth
Is given by the King.
So I will give my life, my all,
To love and follow Him.

In Jesus’ precious name I pray,
Amen


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How to Grow Spiritually: 10 Suggestions

We all want to grow spiritually. We don’t want to be in the same place in our Christian growth that we were this time last year. But how do we do that? Here are 10 suggestions in no particular order:

  1. Stay up to date with what is going on in the culture. One way I do this is by listening to Albert Mohler’s The Briefing podcast each Monday through Friday. In the 25-minute program, Mohler looks at and analyzes the important news that Christians should be aware of.
  2. Learn from sermons, podcasts, and blogs. These days, with apps and the internet, you can access a tremendous amount of excellent Christian teaching. I enjoy the free Ligonier Ministries app, the Desiring God website, and Tim Challies A La Carte blog, along with many more on a regular basis.
  3. Read good books. I read books in a number of different genres – theology, Christian living, biography, sports, professional and personal development, leadership, integrating faith and work, etc. You can find more than 350 of my book reviews on Goodreads here.
  4. Participate in book clubs. In addition to reading good books, I find that I grow spiritually by participating in book clubs in which we read and discuss good books.
  5. Read the Bible. There are a number of good Bible reading plans, and translations of the Bible available. Personally, I prefer the English Standard Version (ESV). For my reading, I read through the Bible, and when I complete Revelation, I start back with Genesis.
  6. Devotional Reading. In addition to your daily Bible reading, reading a good devotional book will help you in your spiritual growth. My favorite devotional book of the past few years has been New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional by Paul Tripp.
  7. Church attendance. A key to spiritual growth is regular attendance at a good church. As you know there are many church denominations and non-denominational churches you can choose from. Choose a church that faithfully preaches and teaches the scriptures. My wife and I have been members of a church in the Presbyterian Church in America denomination for more than 25 years. At church you can benefit from the means of grace of baptism and gathering together with others for the preaching of the Word, the Lord’s supper and bible study.  Iron definitely sharpens iron!  The church is also a great way to find ways to serve others and love your neighbors.
  8. Join a Small Group at Church. Joining a small group will not only help you in your spiritual growth, but it is an excellent way to build strong relationships with people from your church. Some small groups may do a Bible study. Our small group discusses that morning’s sermon and its applications, along with praying for one another.
  9. Mentoring/discipling others. I’ve always enjoyed mentoring or discipling others. In addition to sharing from my experiences, I find I learn from those that I mentor/disciple. These relationships can take different forms, but at times they have included reading and discussing a book, or a book of the Bible.
  10. I’m not sure that I’ve met a Christian who is satisfied with their prayer life. I know I’m not. Don’t worry about it, just begin. There are a number of different methods people use for prayer, such as keeping a list, prayer cards, a prayer journal, etc. Choose what you are most comfortable with. I use the ACTS method for prayer:

A – Adoration
C – Confession
T – Thanksgiving
S – Supplication (requests)

Using this method of praying assures that I will put the adoration of God, the confession of my sins, and thanksgiving for the blessings he has given me ahead of any requests I bring to God.

These are just 10 suggestions on how to grow spiritually. There are many more. What would you add to my list?


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THIS & THAT: A Roundup of Favorite Articles and Quotes

  • How to Survive a Cultural Crisis. Mark Dever shares seven principles for surviving the very real cultural shifts we’re presently enduring.
  • Is Abortion a Woman’s Right? In the discussion about abortion, questions are often raised about the rights of women. In this video clip, R.C. Sproul uses Scripture to illustrate the distinction between how civil law often defines “rights” and how God, as the author of life, defines them.

  • Friend, You Can Be Ready to Die. Two Ways to Prepare Now. Ray Ortlund writes “Among the many ways to prepare for death — like buying life insurance, making a proper will, and so forth — here are two truths that can help you prevail when your moment comes. Both insights come from an obscure passage near the end of Deuteronomy.”
  • Reconstructing Faith: Christianity in a New World. Tim Keller writes “Christians in our cultural moment will have to rethink their faith, but at the same time they must learn to ‘doubt their doubts.’ They must deconstruct not only their tacit, mistaken beliefs and their secondary beliefs that pose as primary, but also just as importantly, the cultural narratives that are offered as the alternatives to Christian faith.”

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  • Favorite Quotes of the Week

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FAITH AND WORK: Connecting Sunday to Monday

Faith and Work News ~ Links to Interesting Articles

  • The Value of Your Work Isn’t Attached to a Dollar Sign. Courtney Reissig writes “In my effort to bring value to the unpaid work of the home, I don’t want to diminish the need to pay people a fair wage for the work they do. But it is important for us to see work as a contribution, and not always with a dollar sign attached to it. We must walk a fine line between valuing unpaid work and providing people with the compensation they deserve for their work.”
  • Work is Very Good. Howard Graham writes “How do you view your work? Do you see work as good, a broken mess, or an opportunity to make things better? If you are thinking “all three” you are practically and theologically correct.”
  • Transformed Podcast: Tony Dungy and Lauren Dungy. Tony Dungy and Lauren Dungy join Jade McCarthy on the Transformed podcast to talk about their new book Uncommon Influence.
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    • More links to interesting articles
    • The Top 10 Faith and Work Quotes of the Week
    • My Review of Russell Rules: 11 Lessons on Leadership from the Twentieth Century’s Greatest Winner by Bill Russell with David Falkner
    • Quotes from the book You’re Only Human: How Your Limits Reflect God’s Design and Why That’s Good News by Kelly Kapic

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As a Leader, You Don’t Need to Have Many Rules


My brother stopped by while we were playing with our then four-month-old Alaskan Malamute puppy Clara. After he heard me tell her “Stop biting”, “quit jumping”, “don’t pull so hard”, etc., his response was “Too many rules!” I hadn’t thought about it before he said that, but when you are raising a puppy, there has to be a lot of rules, especially when they are between eight and sixteen weeks old, when they are very impressionable. For example, they need to have rules about where they are to go to the bathroom (and where they aren’t), what rooms of the house they can go into, etc.
But at work when you are leading your team, after you communicate your expectations, you don’t need many rules. Continue reading


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Reviews of 4 New Christmas Music Releases – Part 2

Here are reviews of new holiday releases that you might be interested in.

Sing: Christmas Songs – Ellie Holcomb

*** ½

I was introduced to Ellie Holcomb at the Getty’s Sing! conference. Her 2021 album Canyon was one of my favorites last year. You can read my review of Canyon here.
Holcomb is back with a six-song Christmas EP Sing: Christmas Songs, which accompanies her latest children’s book Sounding Joy. The EP, which will be enjoyed by all ages, features three new original songs as well as her interpretation of traditional carols and holiday favorites. The book and album were inspired by the song “Joy to the World” by Isaac Watts, and the album is an invitation to sing about the hope we have. The album was produced by Christmas music legend Brown Bannister.

Here are a few brief comments about each song:
Sounding Joy – This was the first song released from the project, and was written by Holcomb and Nathan Dugger. The song begins with church bells, and features drums, bass, guitar, and a children’s choir.
Key lyric:
God sent His Son to make heaven our home
So, every Christmas, every girl, and each boy
Could lift up their voice and repeat sounding joy Continue reading


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Reviews of 4 New Christmas Music Releases – Part 1

Since listening to the Andy Williams Christmas Album that my mom would play as we were going to sleep as a young boy, I’ve loved Christmas music, and am always looking for new releases to add to my collection. Here are reviews of four new holiday releases – from Crowder, Michael W. Smith, Ellie Holcomb and Switchfoot – that you might be interested in.

Milk & Cookies: A Merry Crowder Christmas – Crowder 
***

Crowder follows up his previous Christmas release, the David Crowder Band’s 2011’s Oh For Joy EP, with Milk & Cookies: A Very Crowder Christmas. The title is a nod to Crowder’s excellent 2021 album Milk & Honey. The project features four interludes narrated by Crowder “Burl Ives’ style”, ten songs, including festive and sometimes humorous originals, re-imagined classics and creative collaborations. It will be a nice collection to your Christmas music collection.

Below are a few comments about each song:
Prelude: It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
– After the narration, there is a brief version of “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”, written by Edmund Sears.

Thanks Giver – This is an mid-tempo song about God turning one into a thanks giver, was written by David Crowder, Jeff Sojka and Ben Glover. The song features guitar, drums, bass, piano, backing vocals, and a guitar solo.
Key lyric:     
You make joy out of simple
And ordinary things
You fill life up with stories
I’d never think to dream
So this holiday I wanna praise
The One who’s making a saint
Out of this sinner
The One who’s turned me into this thanks giver
Continue reading