Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My 2018 Mid-Year Favorites

It’s hard to believe that we are at mid-year already. As I have in the past, I wanted to share with you my favorites from the first half of 2018 in a variety of categories. Except for books, these are all items that were released or took place in 2018. For books, I include my favorite books that I’ve read thus far during 2018. Enjoy!  Please let me know what you think of my list, and also share some of your favorites.

Movies

Best: Tie ~ Black Panther and Paddington 2

Other movies I’ve enjoyed, in no particular order, were:

  • Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
  • Incredibles 2
  • Peter Rabbit
  • Calvinist
  • The Post
  • I Can Only Imagine
  • Avengers: Infinity War
  • Isle of Dogs
  • Ready Player One
  • Ant-Man and The Wasp

Worst:  Below are the worst, or at least the most disappointing, films I’ve seen, in no particular order:

  • Hostiles
  • Phantom Thread
  • The 15:17 to Paris
  • God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness
  • First Reformed

Music

Best: Resurrection Letters: Prologue/Resurrection Letters Vol. 1 – Andrew Peterson
  
Other music I’ve enjoyed, in no particular order, were:

  • You’re Driving Me Crazy – Van Morrison and Joey DeFrancesco
  • Let the Trap Say Amen – Lecrae and Zaytoven
  • Surrounded – Michael W. Smith
  • Into the Night – Social Club Misfits
  • One More Song – Ashley Cleveland

Top Songs

Best: Is He Worthy? – Andrew Peterson

Other songs I’ve enjoyed, in no particular order, have been:

  • Take Me to the Water/Cool Down by the Banks of Jordan – Ashley Cleveland
  • I Can’t Lose – Lecrae and Zaytoven
  • Everyday I Have the Blues – Van Morrison and Joey DeFrancesco
  • The Holy Grail – John Fogerty
  • Bridges Burn by NEEDTOBREATHE
  • Better Than I Used to Be by Mat Kearney
  • Don’t Know by Paul McCartney

Books

Best: The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row – Anthony Ray Hinton

Other books I’ve enjoyed, in no particular order, were:

  • Developing the Leader Within You 2.0 – John Maxwell
  • Servant Leadership in Action – Edited by Ken Blanchard
  • The Gospel According to God – John MacArthur
  • The Gospel Comes with a House Key – Rosaria Butterfield
  • How to be a Perfect Christian – Babylon Bee
  • How to Get Unstuck – Matt Perman
  • Take Heart: Christian Courage in the Age of Unbelief – Matt Chandler
  • Immanuel Labor: God’s Presence in Our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work – Russell E. Gehrlein
  • The Gospel at Work: How the Gospel Gives New Purpose and Meaning to Our Jobs(Updated and Expanded Edition) – Greg Gilbert and Sebastian Traeger
  • Paul Simon: The Life – Robert Hilburn
  • Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music? Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock – Gregory Alan Thornbury
  • Wooden on Leadership: How to Create a Winning Organization – John Wooden and Steve Jamison

Blogs

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

Podcasts

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

Honorable mention goes to the third season of Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent podcast Revisionist History. On each episode, Gladwell goes back and reinterprets something from the past: an event, a person, an idea. Something overlooked. Something misunderstood.

Television

Best: Victoria

  • The Resident
  • This is Us
  • The Profit
  • The Blacklist
  • The Crown

Concerts

Best: U2 – Experience and Innocence Tour in St. Louis

Honorable Mention: John Hiatt and the Goners, featuring Sonny Landreth. Slow Turning 30th Anniversary Reunion Tour in Bloomington, Illinois

New Resources

Best: Messages from the 2018 Ligonier National Conference which had the theme “Awakening”.

These are my mid-year favorites in a variety of categories. How about you? What were some of your favorites?

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What Does the Bible Say About Work?

It may surprise you that the Bible has a lot to say about work, both God’s work and our work. Here are just a few passages for you to consider:

The “Creation Mandate”

  • And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)

God is a worker

  • And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 2:2-3)

Jesus is a worker

  • Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? (Mark 6:3)
  • I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. John 17:4

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Coram Deo and the Integration of Our Faith and Work

This blog has been named Coram Deo since it originally started as a monthly church newsletter way back in September, 1998. The phrase means so much to me that my license plate is CORMDEO!
I first became aware of the Latin term “Coram Deo”, sometimes associated with Martin Luther, years ago at the end of the daily teaching studies of Ligonier Ministries’ monthly magazine Tabletalk. R.C. Sproul, the founder of Ligonier Ministries, has written that the big idea of the Christian life and its essence is coram Deo.  He writes that the phrase literally refers to something that takes place in the presence of, or before the face of, God. To live coram Deo is to live one’s entire life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, to the glory of God. He tells us that to live in the presence of God is to understand that whatever we are doing and wherever we are doing it, we are acting under the gaze of God. God is omnipresent. There is no place so remote that we can escape His penetrating gaze.
Dr. Sproul tells us that the Christian who compartmentalizes their life into two sections of the religious and the nonreligious has failed to grasp the big idea. The big idea is that all of life is religious or none of life is religious. He tells us that to divide life between the religious and the nonreligious is itself a sacrilege.
Sproul then addresses coram Deo and our callings and vocations, and this is what I want to bring your attention to. He states that if a person fulfills their vocation as a steelmaker, attorney, or homemaker coram Deo, then that person is acting every bit as religiously as a soul-winning evangelist who fulfills his vocation.
That makes sense, doesn’t it? As we carry out our vocations we do so coram Deo, in the presence of, and before the face of God. Knowing this has provided me a direct line of sight between my faith and my work.
What about you? Do you divide your life between the religious (church, spiritual disciplines, etc.) and the nonreligious (work, household chores, raising your children, etc.)?  Or, do you carry out your vocations and callings coram deo, in the presence of, and before the face of a holy God?


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FAITH AND WORK: Connecting Sunday to Monday

Faith and Work News ~ Links to Interesting Articles

  • Finding Dignity on the Assembly Line. Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra writes “Vermeer makes large-scale farming and industrial equipment—things like balers, directional drills, and compost turners. The place is run by a family that’s serious about faith and work and has been puzzling over how to fill those job openings.”
  • My Daily Fight at the Hospital. Kelly Mott writes “My job involves serving, showing value, and loving well, especially in times of loss. I don’t believe I could endure this job without my Christian faith. I would be crushed by the weight of lament. I am better at my job when I feel a deep sense of purpose and connection in my relationships with my patients. Braving pain, showing value, and choosing connection are ways I express my faith at work. I show families through my time, actions, compassion, and therapy that their loved one is important, special, valuable, and cared for.”
  • How a Mortgage Company Is Loving its Neighbors. Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra writes “Movement is trying to take Sunday to Monday, for both believers and unbelievers.”

  • How Do I Find God’s Will for My Life? In this episode of the “Ask Pastor John” podcast, John Piper answers the question “It would be helpful to know what God has for me, but I don’t even know where to begin this process, other than to pray. How can I discover God’s calling over my life? Where do I even begin?”
  • What is Your Calling? Charles Spurgeon writes “Therefore do not be discontented with your calling. Whatever God has made your position or your work, remain in that, unless you are quite sure that He calls you to something else. Let your first concern be to glorify God to the best of your ability where you are.”
  • Stuck in the Wrong Job? Five Practical Tips from a Biblical Perspective. Hugh Whelchel writes “The reality is that some people, whether recent graduates or not, do indeed get stuck in the wrong job and need guidance. Most people would tell them to quit and go find something else. But depending on the job market, that may not be easy, or even possible. There are many reasons people may not be able to leave their current job: a tough economy, family commitments, or limited opportunities in their field. So, what do you tell someone who is stuck in the wrong job?”
  • If Work Matters to God, What About Vacation? David Leonard writes “Instead of working in order to play, the order gets reversed: we seek out rest and leisure to prepare ourselves for work.”

RETIREMENT:

  • How to “Refire” After Retirement. Luke Bobo and Lawrence Ward write “Retirees reflect God by working, even after weekly compensated work ends. Many retirees are not following the often advertised narrative of enjoying bountiful leisure and rest. Many retirees desire to do meaningful work. Yet, retirees are often not part of the faith, work, and economic wisdom conversation, but they have much to offer us.”
  • Reframing Retirement: Living with Purpose After Your Career. Paul Akin writes “Today, unprecedented opportunities abound for retirees (all of ages) to engage meaningfully in God’s mission. I would argue that retirees, not millennials, are positioned and poised to make the greatest impact for the Great Commission in the next two decades.”

Click on ‘Continue reading’ for:

  • More interesting article links
  • The Top 10 Faith and Work Quotes of the Week
  • My Review of Spiritual Leadership: Principles of Excellence for Every Believer by J. Oswald Sanders
  • Snippets from the book ‘The Economics of Neighborly Love’

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My Review of ANT-MAN AND THE WASP

Ant-Man and the Wasp, rated PG-13
*** ½

Ant-Man and the Wasp, the twentieth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is an exciting, action-packed summer film with plenty of humor. It is the sequel to 2015’s Ant-Man. The film is directed by Payton Reed (Ant-Man). It is written by Paul Rudd (Ant-Man), Chris McKenna, (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle; Spider-Man: Homecoming) Erik Sommers (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle; Spider-Man: Homecoming), Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari. Christophe Beck, who composed the music for Ant-Man, again handles the music. The cost of the film was approximately $150 million.
Paul Rudd (Ant-Man) returns as ex-con Scott Lang. He is starting his own security business in San Francisco and is under monitored house arrest by FBI agent Jimmy Woo, played by Randall Park, for secretly helping Captain America in Captain America: Civil War. The creator of the Ant-Man suit Hank Pym, played by Michael Douglas (Oscar winning producer for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and best actor in Wall Street), and his daughter Hope, played by Evangeline Lilly (Ant-Man, The Hobbit, Lost) have gone into hiding from the FBI, and are using an office building as their secret lab.
For thirty years, Pym’s wife Janet, played by three-time Oscar nominee Michelle Pfeiffer (The Fabulous Baker Boys, Dangerous Liaisons, Love Field) has been lost in the Quantum Realm. Hank raised his daughter Hope with the assumption that Janet was dead. But when Scott receives a message from Janet in a dream, there is hope that she is actually alive.
Meanwhile, Scott is trying hard to balance his responsibilities as father to Cassie, played by the adorable Abby Ryder Fortson (Ant-Man), with that of being a super hero. His ex is Maggie, played by Judy Greer (Ant-Man), who is married to Paxton, played by two-time Emmy winner Bobby Cannavale (Will & Grace, Boardwalk Empire).
Hope needs a part to complete the tunnel needed to reach Janet. She agrees to buy it from Black Market technology dealer Sonny Burch, played by Emmy nominee Walton Goggins (Justified). But Burch double-crosses her and wants to sell Hank’s lab.  Ava/Ghost, played by Hannah John-Kamen (Black Mirror), also wants to steal the lab as a cure to relieve her constant pain resulting from a childhood accident.
Oscar nominee Laurence Fishburne (What’s Love Got to Do With It?)  plays Dr. Bill Foster, Hanks’s estranged former S.H.I.E.L.D. colleague. Lang’s “X-Con” security crew team Kurt, played by David Dastmalchian (Ant-Man), Dave, played by T.I. (Ant-Man), and Luis, played by the hilarious Michael Pena (Ant-Man), provide comic relief.
The film is visually appealing, especially with the size changes of the Ant-Man, Wasp and secret lab. This leads to some good laughs as well. There are some exciting car chases, which feature excellent scenes of San Francisco.
A key theme in this film is the importance of family. We see that with Scott and Cassie, and also with Hank, Hope and Janet.
Content concerns include some completely unnecessary adult language, including the abuse of God’s and Jesus’ names, as well as some super-hero violence.
Ant-Man and the Wasp is a pretty-much self-contained Marvel film. After the depressing ending of Avengers: Infinity War, I found this film to be a fun and exciting experience.
As with all Marvel films, don’t forget to sit through the ending credits.


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THIS & THAT: A Weekly Roundup of Favorite Articles, Cartoons & Quotes

VIDEOS and PODCASTS:

  • Should I ‘Let Go and Let God’? Watch this brief clip from an “Ask R.C.” event in 2014, R.C. Sproul debunks the idea that Christians are sanctified by ‘letting go and letting God.’
  • The Great Commission Ought to be Ordinary. In this short video clip from his teaching series The Great Commission, Burk Parsons explains that what Christ calls Christians to do in the Great Commission ought to be ordinary.
  • Open Book Podcast. Open Bookis a new podcast about the power of books and the people they’ve shaped. Listen to season one, in which host Stephen Nichols discusses with R.C. Sproul books that influenced him.
  • What 40-Year-Old David Platt Would Say to 20-Year-Old Self. This episode of the “Ask Pastor John” podcast features a conversation with David Platt, who will turn 40 years old soon.
  • William Cowper. In this episode of the podcast “Five Minutes in Church History”, Stephen Nichols looks at the hymn writer William Cowper, who you may be familiar with from the lives of John Newton and William Wilberforce.

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My Faithful Pastor

I don’t know the average length of time a pastor stays at a church these days. I remember reading David Wells’ excellent 1993 book No Place For Truth: Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology, in which he wrote that it was about three years at that time. I’ve read some statistics indicating that by 2016 the average tenure for a pastor had increased to about six years. What if I were to tell you that my lead pastor has been faithfully serving our church for 25 years? That is almost unheard of these days, and quite a blessing to our church. Just last Sunday our congregation celebrated that milestone, thanking God for His faithfulness and that of His servant Pastor Bob Smart and his wife Karen.
My wife Tammy and I started attending our church in December, 1994, the year after Pastor Smart began serving there. We were a very small church at the time, with about 80 in attendance each Sunday. We met in rental property in a business park that included a rock radio station on the floor above us. In fact, a large boom box that the radio station used at events was parked in the parking lot that we shared. As you can imagine, that probably raised some eyebrows of first time visitors to the church.
At that time, Pastor Smart did it all – from wearing a headset to answer the phone (there was no full-time secretary), to emptying dirty diapers out of the nursery, to preaching on Sunday. There were no associate pastors, just a few faithful elders and deacons to help Pastor Smart lead the church. Over the years our church has seen steady growth, resulting in our move to a beautiful new church building in 1999 and the addition of a few associate pastors to help Pastor Smart lead the church.
Pastor Smart, who has encouraged many to pursue seminary education over the years, continued to grow himself, achieving a PhD. He has authored or edited several books, regularly teaches his Identity in Christ material, has taught pastors internationally and gone on a number of missions’ trips. Through it all, for 25 years, he has remained faithful to the local church.
Day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year he has been faithful. Last Sunday was not only our church celebration, giving God thanks for the Smarts, but it also marked another milestone. Pastor Smart preaches through books of the Bible, first a book in the New Testament, then a book in the Old Testament. Back and forth, preaching through all 66 books of the Bible, until this past Sunday when the last sermon, in the last book of the Bible (Nehemiah) that he was preaching through, was preached.
The calling of a pastor is hard. It is not flashy or glamorous, but ordinary, as Michael Horton has written. There are no established hours, and a pastor is always on call, even on their days off. A pastor rejoices with those who rejoice and weeps with those who weep (Romans 12:15). Pastor Smart has faithfully prayed for his people, studied and preached, taught and counseled. His focus has consistently been on Word and prayer. He has preached the word in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2) and is worthy of double honor (1 Timothy 5:17).
Pastor Smart is also a very humble man, never wanting the attention on himself, but all glory to be given to his Savior. So that’s how I’ll end, praising God for using His servant for 25 years at our church.

Soli Deo Gloria!