Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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

SOCIAL JUSTICE:

  • The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel. John MacArthur and Doug Wilson are among the signers of this new statement on social justice and the Gospel.
  • The Injustice of Social Justice. John MacArthur writes “The message of social justice diverts attention from Christ and the cross. It turns our hearts and minds from things above to things on this earth. It obscures the promise of forgiveness for hopeless sinners by telling people they are hapless victims of other people’s misdeeds.”
  • The Gospel and Social Justice, Part 1. Russell Moore writes “I have had many people ask me recently about the issue of social justice. As Christians, we are called to live as a gospel people, and in light of recent cultural conversations on this topic some have wondered about the connection between the gospel and justice. In this episode of Signposts, I discuss this issue and consider the Bible’s instruction for Christians seeking to live faithfully in the world and in obedience to the gospel.” Here is Part 2.
  • Albert Mohler Answers Questions about Social Justice. Denny Burk writes “Albert Mohler had an open Q&A session with students as Southern Seminary and Boyce College today in which he answered a question about social justice. Later in the day, Dr. Mohler answered more questions along these lines on his podcast “Ask Anything Live.”
  • Is Social Justice a Gospel Issue? Kevin DeYoung writes “Is social justice a gospel issue? That depends on what we mean by “social justice” and what we mean by “gospel issue.”

EVANGELISM:

  • Core Christianity. Here is the first episode of the “Core Christianity” podcast from Michael Horton. The topic is “How Should I Share My Faith With My Atheist Friends?”
  • How to Evangelize Your LGBT Neighbors. Rosaria Butterfield writes “The way to evangelize your LGBT neighbors is the same way the Smiths evangelized me: by reminding them that only the love of Christ is seamless. Not so for our spouses or partners. Only Christ loves us best. He took on all our sin, died in our place bearing God’s wrath, and rose victorious from the dead.”

COURTESY OF WORLD MAGAZINE

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Coram Deo Celebrates 20 Year Anniversary

September marks the 20th anniversary of Coram Deo since beginning as a church newsletter in September 1998. A few things contributed to my wife Tammy and I starting Coram Deo. (See this article from R.C. Sproul about what Coram Deo means).
First, people in the church knew that we went to the movies each Friday night. They would often ask if a particular film was appropriate for their children, or themselves, to see as believers. Writing short reviews of the films was a way to get that information out.
Second, for years I used to do the weekly announcements at the beginning of our church’s worship service. A man who only got to church about half the time, expressed frustration to me that he missed important information that was announced but not available anywhere else. The newsletter gave us the vehicle for that information.
Third, we wanted to look at culture – books, movies, music, the issues of the day from a distinctly Christian worldview or perspective.
Our first issue in September 1998 was a combination of church specific information along with looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview, the latter of which we continue today with the blog. That first issue included a monthly article from our pastor entitled “Pastor’s Corner”, a church calendar that listed sermon titles, baby showers, local concerts, choir practice, member birthdays, etc. Originally just four printed pages, we later posted an electronic copy to the church website, and by the time we sunset the newsletter at the end of 2013, it had grown to thirty pages. In late 2013, we began offering both a blog and newsletter, and in 2014 we moved completely to the current non-church specific blog format.
We are still at the same PCA church and are blessed to have the same pastor after 20+ years.  But much has changed since our first issue. I returned to Covenant Seminary and graduated in 2014. I took early retirement in early 2018 after nearly 38 years at State Farm. But today we continue much of what was in that original issue 20 years ago. You can expect music, movie and book reviews. We’ll also have a focus on integrating faith and work, and I’ll share links to articles that I find interesting.
We hope you enjoy reading the blog as much as we enjoy putting it together for you. Please let us know how we can serve you better.

Blessings,
Bill and Tammy


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My Review of UNBROKEN: PATH TO REDEMPTION

Unbroken: Path to Redemption, rated PG-13
***

Unbroken: Path to Redemption picks up the incredible true story of Louis Zamperini where Angelini Jolie’s disappointing 2014 film Unbroken left off. The new film is directed by Harold Cronk (God’s Not Dead), and written by Oscar nominee Richard Friedenberg (A River Runs Through It) and Ken Hixon, based on Laura Hillenbrand’s excellent 2010 book Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. If you have not read the book, I highly commend it to you. It’s one of the most amazing stories I’ve ever read – and it’s all true.
After a brief recap to acquaint us with Zamperini’s story (Olympic champion, World War II hero lost at sea for 47 days, rescued by the Japanese who then tortured him), the film picks up with Zamperini returning home to his family in his California hometown of Torrance. But we quickly see that Zamperini, who is portrayed well by Samuel Hunt, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and frequently has nightmares of being tortured by Japanese officer Mutsuhiro Watanabe, who was known simply as “The Bird”.

***SPOILER ALERT***
After drinking heavily on a tour to encourage the sale of war bonds, he is given a three-week vacation in Florida by his major, played by Bob Gunton (The Shawshank Redemption, Argo).  It is in Florida where he meets Cynthia, played by Merritt Patterson, and they quickly marry. Cynthia is a believer, and believes that Louis is an answer to her prayers, but she quickly finds out that Louis is tormented by his nightmares of “The Bird’ and begins to drink more heavily as he struggles to find a job. Because of his struggles, Cynthia delays telling Louis that she is pregnant. It is difficult watching Louis being tormented by his nightmares and their marriage failing, even after baby Cynthia ‘Cissy’ is born. Most of the film is about his dealing with PSTD, and refusing any help for it from Dr. Bailey, played by Emmy nominee Gary Cole (Veep) or his brother Pete, played by Bobby Campo.
Eventually Cynthia has had enough and tells Louis that she wants a divorce. Then, Lila, a friend played by Vanessa Bell Calloway, invites her to Billy Graham’s Los Angeles Crusade, and this changes her mind toward her husband and their marriage. Because of his suffering, Louis has been hardened against God, and initially refuses to go to the crusade with Cynthia, and when he does, he leaves when the invitation is given by Graham, played by Will Graham, Billy Graham’s real-life grandson. When he goes back on another night, the Lord saves him.
Zamperini’s life is immediately changed, and we see him pour out the secret bottles of alcohol he has hidden in their apartment and we are told that he never again suffered from nightmares about “The Bird”. The film ends with some archival footage of the real Louis Zamperini, who died in 2014, just months before Jolie’s movie of his life was released.
The movie includes adequate acting and production, although my wife thought it was the quality of a Hallmark/Lifetime movie. I would have liked to see more of Zamperini’s life after he became a believer. Most of the film takes us through his suffering from PSTD, and it ends too quickly after his conversion. “You Found Me”, a new song by Switchfoot written for the film, plays over the ending credits.
**********************

Content issues include a lot of drinking of alcohol and some scenes of anger. Themes include marriage, suffering, forgiveness and salvation.
Unbroken: Path to Redemption is an at times hard to watch film about the struggles Louis Zamperini faced as he returned from being tortured at a Japanese prison camp. It is ultimately a film about how he was forgiven by his heavenly Father and how he extended that forgiveness to those who tortured him.


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Reflections on the Sing! 2018 Conference

My wife Tammy, our good friend Don (Choir/Worship Leader at our church), and I attended the second annual Getty Music Worship Sing! Conference at the beautiful Music City Center in Nashville, September 10-12. The conference exists to help pastors, musicians and leaders build a Biblical understanding and creative vision for congregational singing in their churches. Bringing together speakers and artists from many traditions and walks of life, their desire is to encourage churches towards a deeper, more dynamic view of theology, artistry and mission in congregational singing.

The five urgent goals of Sing! are:

  1. Teach everyone why and how we sing.
  2. Build deep believers through what we sing.
  3. Strengthen and encourage families to sing together.
  4. Build churches by singing together and to each other.
  5. Witness to our wider communities by our singing.

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Gardens and Abiding in Christ

Since leaving my primary vocation at the end of March, I’ve enjoyed spending a lot of time working in our garden this summer. Over that time, we added a lot of perennials, along with some evergreens and hostas. As I watered our plants and evergreens during a particularly hot and dry summer here in the Midwest, I pained over the few plants that did not survive.
My wife and I have just completed an eight-week discipleship class taught by a dear pastor friend. The class was titled “Abiding in Christ: For the Sake of Creation”.  Among other aspects, the class included teaching on John 15 and two visits to a seminary professor’s wonderful 5-acre garden. We enjoyed the beauty of the gardens and had time to spend in solitude and prayer.  As we were getting a tour of the gardens, Dr. VanGemeren told us that many of the trees and plants that he planted over the eleven years he has worked on the garden are no longer alive. Some healthy specimens he has had to remove because they were encroaching on other plants.  In addition, there are times that he needs to prune a plant or tree for the sake of the garden.
Gardens are mentioned often in the Bible, beginning with the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:8). There are fruit and vegetable gardens, gardens used for celebrations, spiritual retreat and burial places. In fact, Mary, who was the first to Jesus’ tomb on the third day after his crucifixion, didn’t recognize the risen Jesus, instead believing him to be the gardener (John 20:25)
I recently had to prune one of my favorite plants, a Bird of Paradise plant that I’ve had a number of years. There were some stalks and leaves that looked poorly.  In John 15, we read that Christ is the true vine and the Father is the vinedresser. We are told that believers are like branches who bear fruit but are pruned so that they may bear more fruit. What does it mean to be pruned as a believer?
In the MacArthur Study Bible, John MacArthur writes regarding pruning, that God removes all things in the believer’s life that hinder fruit bearing, just as the gardener removes anything on the branches that keep them from bearing maximum fruit. In a sermon on this passage, R.C. Sproul states that pruning can be looked at as a cleansing, a chastening, suffering, or the process of being made pure at the hands of the refiner’s fire.
Jesus tells us to abide in him and He will abide in us. Abide means to continue in a daily, personal relationship with Jesus. (A good short book on this subject is “The Practice of the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence.)
We cannot bear fruit by ourselves, but only as we abide in Christ. For apart from Christ we can do nothing.  (John 15:5)
Although the process of pruning sounds like it will be painful, it is something that as believers we need to experience so that we can be more fruitful. Have you ever thought of that?
As a diamond is cut and polished, it is transformed so that it brilliantly reflects light.  We are pruned and polished to reflect Jesus’ light and beauty.  A chunk of stone is chiseled by the Master to reveal the beautiful statue beneath.  In the words of Charles Spurgeon, “The balloon never rises until the cords are cut….The trials that come from God are sent to prove and strengthen our graces and immediately illustrate the power of divine grace, to test the genuineness of our virtues and to add to their energy. Our Lord in His infinite wisdom and superabundant love sets such a high value upon His people’s faith that He will not protect them from those trials by which faith is strengthened. You would never have possessed the precious faith that now supports you if the trial of your faith had not put you through the fire. You are a tree that never would have rooted as well if the wind had not rocked you to and fro and made you take a firm hold upon the precious truths of God’s gracious covenant.  While the wheat sleeps comfortably in the husk, it is useless to us; it must be threshed out of its resting place before its value can be known. Thus it is good that the Lord tests the righteous, for it causes them to grow rich toward God.”

Perhaps you’ve already experienced some pruning in your life.  Please share your stories with us.


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Squirrels and Weeds: Frustration and Perseverance


I spend a good amount of time reading and writing on our patio. My wife and I both enjoy watching the birds come to the feeders that we have installed just off the patio a few years ago. What I don’t enjoy are the squirrels who help themselves to the food intended for the birds. But try as I might, I can’t keep them out of the feeders. Last year, we bought a baffle. All that did was provide a nice seat for the squirrel to rest on while feasting on the bird food. I tried using Vaseline on the feeder pole, and that didn’t work either. More than a few times (and I just did it again as I wrote this), I’ve chased a squirrel away from the feeders and followed him as he took refuge in a nearby tree.
This year it’s even gotten worse as chipmunks have joined in the fun of frustrating me. Not only do the chipmunks join in eating the bird food, but they also dig in my potted plants on the patio. And recently, either a chipmunk or squirrel took a chunk out of a ripening tomato on one of my mother-in-law’s plants, and they consistently eat the small berries on our strawberry plants. All of this is very frustrating. Though I’m not having much success against these scoundrels, I’m trying to persevere.
The frustration continues with weeds in our lawn and flower beds. Despite putting down a preemergent in the spring, weeds still come up. There is a curse on work due to the Fall, and that curse impacts all of our work.  After Adam and Eve sinned, in Genesis 3:17, God told Adam that he would curse the ground, with thorns and thistles. I persevere by using Roundup, but I know that more weeds will soon be up. It’s a never-ending battle. Tim Keller says that the Fall means we should expect to be regularly frustrated in our work.
Now those are somewhat humorous examples but isn’t this representative of the Christian life? Think of some of the frustrations you run into:

  • Learning a new skill
  • Overcoming that familiar sin in your life
  • Growing in the Christian life
  • Learning a new job
  • Raising your children
  • Resolving conflict at work or in a key relationship

To achieve any worthy goal, you will have to go through frustration. I believe Michael Jordan was the greatest player ever to play basketball. But it’s his famous quote about failure that is relevant here:
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
What does the Bible say about dealing with frustration and persevering? Here are 10 verses to encourage you:

John 16:33 – I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.
Isaiah 41:10 – Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Joshua 1:9 – Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Proverbs 3: 5-6 – Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
Galatians 6:9 – And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
James 1:12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
Romans 8:28 – And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Romans 12:12 – Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
2 Thessalonians 3:13 – As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.
Ephesians 6:11 – Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.

We all deal with frustration. How do you persevere and endure in the midst of these frustrations?


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Thoughts on God’s Amazing Creation

Since taking early retirement a few months ago, life has certainly slowed down for me. One of the many joys I’ve had during this time has been an increasing appreciation for God’s amazing creation. Instead of attending meetings, coaching and mentoring people (which I loved), I’m getting a lot of time to spend outdoors, something that I hadn’t done very much for years.
Though it took a while to warm up in central Illinois (and we wondered if it ever would), it finally did. That allowed me to work on our lawn, putting a down a weed preventer and also some grass seed. Then I hoped for rain, but watered when we didn’t get rain. When some of the local garden shops had some sales, we stocked up on perennials for our garden, which over the past few years had not gotten much attention. Then I hoped for rain, and watered when we didn’t get much. Later, we had some evergreens, hosta’s and daylilies planted during a very hot period. Again, I hoped for rain, and watered when we didn’t get any.
I’ve enjoyed some wonderful time reading and writing on our patio (or what my wife Tammy has come to call my “outdoor office”). I also enjoy watching the birds at our feeders just off the patio, though at the rate they are emptying the feeders (daily), I joke that I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to continue to afford to feed them.
This summer, Tammy and I completed an eight-week discipleship class led by a pastor we love, who recently left our church to take a call at a church about a half an hour away. The class is on “Abiding in Christ for the Sake of Creation”, and included two sessions at a beautiful nearby five-acre garden owned by a dear seminary professor and his wife. While at the garden, we enjoyed opportunities to commune with God in solitude. The class has given me a greater appreciation for how God is revealed in creation.
Theology distinguishes between special revelation (the Bible) and general revelation, which includes God’s creation. Keith Mathison tells us that “General revelation is referred to as “general” because it has a universal content and is revealed to an overall audience. “Through general revelation to all men, God communicates His existence, His power, and His glory, such that men are left without excuse.” Theologian Robert Godfrey adds “General revelation, properly speaking, is God’s clear display of His glory and power in the works of creation and providence. As the Scriptures explain: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge” (Psalm 19:1-2). He goes on to state that “All nature, all the time, shouts out the existence, power, and splendor of God.”
Do you enjoy God’s creation? Not just the majestic oceans and mountains, but the trees, butterflies, and yes, even those squirrels who eat your bird food? Do you see how through general revelation creation reveals God’s existence to all?