Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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Golf as a Metaphor for the Christian Life


As our weather finally warms up – Spring was long in coming for us this year in central Illinois – I’m looking forward to playing more golf than I have in the past several years. I’ve often thought of how a game of golf is like the Christian life.
I used to play a lot of golf by myself. With a season’s pass, in the summer after dinner I would frequently head around the corner to the local course to get in as many holes as possible before dark, hopefully 9. Stepping to the first tee, there was excitement and optimism, kind of like we felt as a new believer. Back then, everything was fresh and new as we read our bibles, prayed, and devoured Christian books and sermons.  As I stood on the first tee I knew I was in for a journey. Over the course of the 9 holes my emotions would ebb and flow depending how I was playing.
I remember far too clearly playing these same first few holes many years ago in college, back before I was a believer. I sliced the ball a good deal. Oh yes, and since I play left-handed, there is out of bounds on the left side the first three holes. Back then I’m sad to admit that I had quite the temper. More times than I would like to recall, I walked back to the clubhouse – sometimes after throwing my driver in the cornfield after a drive sailed out of bounds on one of these opening holes.  And once as a teenager, I broke an entire set of golf clubs while on vacation with my family… but that’s a story for another time.
So, as I played that first hole I begin my journey. Perhaps I would start out poorly, with a double-bogey, or worse. Think of that as your Christian life. A bad hole is like sin. We didn’t want that to happen, but it did. Emotionally we are upset, but there is no time to rest. What’s done is done, we can’t change it. You’ve got to calm yourself to tee it up on that second hole. In the Christian life we need to confess and repent of our sin, and then move on.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  1 John 1:9

Sometimes you’ll be reminded of past sins, and they can lead you off course – Satan is definitely an accuser and will bring them to mind.  So here’s Satan sitting on my shoulder… “Oh, you’re on the first tee – remember how you’ve lost your temper so many times on this hole and are off in the cornfield?  Just quit and walk off the course.”  Just remember Revelation 12:10: “And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.”
Over the course of the next few hours, you proceed around the golf course (and in life), having successes, such as a good hole, or growth in our Christian life, or failure/falling into sin – hitting the ball out of bounds, three-putting or hitting the ball in a pond.   Neither golf, nor life, will ever be all good or bad. But we must persevere, pray and ask for the help of the Holy Spirit.   Maybe even find joy in the journey!  Although John Feinstein (a golf author) called the game of golf ‘a good walk spoiled’.
Doesn’t it seem like you’ll be cruising along, hitting the ball exactly where you want it, and then all of a sudden your game falls apart and you’re wondering what in the world happened?  Same as in the Christian life – being on the mountaintop can quickly lead to being humbled and off in the rough once again.  Remember the prophet Elijah? Here was a man who was able to call down fire from heaven to prove Yahweh’s preeminence (1 Kings 18:1–40). But when the Lord seemed to leave him all alone while Jezebel sought his death, Elijah could only flee to a cave and complain that God had not been with him to bless his ministry and keep him safe (19:1–10).
Golf also requires you to be a person of integrity and character.  Character can be defined as doing the right thing when no one else is looking (I know, God is always watching – hence the Latin phrase Coram Deo!)  Temptation to make yourself and your scorecard look good is always riding along with you in the cart.  “Oh, just take a mulligan.”  In the woods?  Use that foot wedge or drop that extra ball in your pocket and give yourself a clear shot.  Being a good loser and a humble winner is important – knowing you played your best and counted every stroke.
There’s even lessons about showing courtesy to others – let others play through if you’re playing slowly, don’t step on other players’ putting paths, take turns, etc.  The game of golf can be a delight or a drag – it can tempt you to vent your frustrations (a nice way of saying swearing or throwing your clubs).
Billy Graham said golf (and life) is a game about recovery.  It’s not about the man who doesn’t make mistakes, but has the courage and skill to overcome his errors.  Recently at the Masters a player had a shot onto the green that could tie him with the leader.  Instead he put it in the water and it cost him a number of strokes; not just on that hole, but on the remaining holes.  He couldn’t take his thoughts ‘captive’, (2 Corinthians 10:5), and he allowed his failure to get him off track.  It takes maturity, concentration and discipline to make a double bogey and then birdie the next few holes.  The Christian life is not about shooting a perfect par on every hole.  Have you lost your temper with your wife?  Take her by the hand and ask for her forgiveness and continue your walk together.

So dear ones, be encouraged, and keep persevering and pressing on in your Christian life. In theological terms, this is called progressive sanctification.

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 3:14

Do you have any more examples of how the game of golf is like the Christian life? Please share your thoughts. As I’ve learned from the book Pilgrim’s Progress, playing through this game of life is easier when you have friends walking beside you to help in your Christian journey.

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John Newton and William Wilberforce: One of My Favorite Illustrations of Integrating Faith and Work


I always enjoy hearing and reading about people who demonstrate a good connection between their faith and their work. For example, I heard about this all of the time from the participants in the Friday morning book club I was part of in my organization.
One of my favorite illustrations about someone integrating their faith and work comes from the life of William Wilberforce. Many of you will know who William Wilberforce was, perhaps from the 2007 movie Amazing Grace, or from Eric Metaxas’ book of the same name. I also read about him in Jonathan Aikten’s book John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace, which is where this illustration comes from.  
John Newton was a one-time slave trader, and later pastor and writer of the much loved hymn “Amazing Grace”. As a pastor in London, Newton’s advice was sought by many influential figures, among them the young William Wilberforce. Wilberforce was a Member of Parliament and a new convert to Christianity. He was contemplating leaving politics – his vocation, for the ministry, to focus on “full-time Christian work”. But Newton encouraged him to stay in Parliament and “serve God where he was”.
Wilberforce took his advice, and spent the rest of his life working towards the abolition of slavery, which he achieved in 1833 when slavery was abolished in the British Empire.  Wilberforce may have had a profound impact as a pastor, for example, but by taking Newton’s advice, he changed history by integrating his faith and work.
What are some good examples of individuals integrating their faith and work that you could share?


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6 Recommendations for Your Devotional Reading

There are any number of resources available for what has become known as our daily devotional reading as a part of our daily worship. I try to do my reading early in the morning. Although the resources I use change from time to time, below are six recommended resources that I would commend to you:

  1. Tabletalk Magazine. Tabletalk has been a consistent source for me since I became a believer. While the monthly magazine from Ligonier Ministries includes many great articles each month, here I’m referring to the daily readings.
  2. The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms by Tim and Kathy Keller. This relatively new book is a daily devotional that takes the reader through every verse of the book of Psalms in 365 days, with each devotional providing the reader with a daily reading from a psalm. It also gives the reader a brief meditation on the meaning of the psalm and a prayer to help us to actually use it in our heart and as a way to approach God. The authors ask us to look at the prayers as what they call “on-ramps,” not as complete prayers. They ask us to follow the trajectory of the prayers and keep going, filling each prayer out with personal particulars, as well as always praying in Jesus’s name (John 14:13).
  3. The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions by Arthur Bennett.The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions by Arthur Bennett.   Arthur Bennett (1915-1994), was an English-born minister, tutor, and author who loved to study the Puritans. He has drawn the prayers in this much loved modern-day spiritual classic from what he refers to as the largely forgotten deposit of Puritan spiritual exercises, meditations and aspirations. He states that this book of Puritan prayers has a unity not often found in similar works. The title of the book comes from Isaiah 22:1 “The oracle concerning the valley of vision….” The book was first published in 1975. The research for this book took years to complete, most likely done in the mid-1960’s through the early 1970’s.Bennett’s desire is that the publication of these prayers will help to introduce people of today to the Puritans and their writings. It is a wonderful resource to read in daily devotions, which is how I use it. Bennett states that the book is not intended to be read as a prayer manual. He writes that the soul learns to pray by praying. Thus, the prayers should be used as aspiration units, with the Puritan’s prayers becoming springboards for our own prayers. A final section of the book has been added for occasions of corporate worship.

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My Review of FOREVER MY GIRL

Forever My Girl, rated PG
** ½

Newly out on video, Forever My Girl, based on the novel by Heidi McLaughlin, is a well-acted film that has several positive messages, but is a bit predictable. The film is directed and written by Bethany Ashton Wolf.
The film is set in St. Augustine, Louisiana, referred to by the locals as just “Saint”, not far from New Orleans. The film begins on the wedding day of Josie, played by Jessica Rothe (La La Land, Happy Death Day) and Liam Page, a pastor’s son and country music singer, played by Alex Roe (The Fifth Wave).

***SPOILER ALERT***
Josie is very excited about getting married to her high school sweetheart, but then every bride’s nightmare happens – she is left at the altar by Liam.
She hears nothing from Liam over the next eight years as Liam travels the world as a country music superstar, playing to huge arenas of adoring fans. We hear some of his music in the film. We see him drinking a lot, being rude to his manager, and having one-night stands with groupies.
Not only has Liam left Josie and St. Augustine behind, but he has had no contact with his father, Pastor Brian played by Emmy nominee John Benjamin Hickey (The Big C, The Good Wife), even when his father pursued him. It’s obvious that Liam has hurt in his life, but we don’t know what it is. It is only after Liam hears about the tragic death of his best friend from high school who was to have been one of his groomsmen, being killed by a drunk driver, that he returns to his home town for the funeral.
Josie eventually moved on and bought a nice little flower shop in town. Life is going fine for her and her seven-year old daughter Billy, played by the delightful Abby Ryder Fortson (Ant-Man), until Liam unexpectedly shows up for the funeral. He badly hurt Josie, and to say he is greeted with a cool breeze by Josie, her brother and the entire community, is an understatement. But things get complicated when Liam realizes that Billy is actually his daughter.  Josie tells him that she didn’t find out that she was pregnant until after the date of their planned wedding.
This is when the film gets interesting. Can Josie forgive Liam for hurting her so badly, especially when he never explained why he stood her up at the altar? And how do things change between the two now that he knows that they have a daughter?
**************

The film has a solid supporting cast (Josie’s brother, Liam’s manager and his publicist), and country music star Travis Tritt, who appears in a cameo as Walt, a singer in a bar.
Content concerns involve sexual activity (nothing explicit is shown) and excessive drinking.
Themes include forgiveness, fatherhood, second chances, and the return of a prodigal son.
Forever My Girl is a well-acted PG-rated romance with significant Christian content and several positive themes, even if it is a bit predictable.


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My Review of 25 in 24

25 in 24
****

The film 25 in 24 documents a crazy dream. It was the dream of Christian band Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman. His dream was to play 25 concerts in 24 hours in his hometown of San Diego. The film is directed by Melody League and is beautifully filmed with many scenes of the San Diego area.
Foreman loves to play music. He is able to connect with people through his music. After Switchfoot concerts, he will meet fans outside the venue to play solo impromptu acoustic concerts.
As he released four Wonderlands EPs – Sunlight, Shadows, Darkness and Dawn a few years ago, he came up with a crazy dream. He would play 25, 3-song concerts in his hometown of San Diego in 24-hour period.  There was much to coordinate, and many variables (musicians, transportation, traffic, weather, etc.). Could he remember all of the lyrics to 75 songs playing for 24 consecutive hours? Could he pull off this ambitious project? He tells us that a beautiful dream is worth chasing, even if you fail.
At 10:00 am on October 24, Foreman started out in his van beginning the realization of his dream, an entire day of song. This film follows Foreman as he fulfills his dream, embracing community one song at a time.
I enjoyed watching Foreman and his fellow musicians (only the cellist played all 25 shows) playing in a variety of locations in San Diego – Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park (with Foreman’s mother Jan), Fidel’s Mexican Restaurant with a Mariachi Band, at Rady’s Children’s Hospital with a high school orchestra, singing “Your Love is Enough” at a wedding reception for the first dance for the bride and groom, on the roof of Ironsmith Coffee Shop, a blistering “Resurrect Me” in show 24, etc. Highlights for me were the concert on Mount Soledad, where they watched the sunrise afterwards, the show at Rady’s Children’s Hospital, and the final show on Swami’s beach, where Foreman went into the Pacific Ocean to surf immediately afterwards.
As the evening went on, people began following them from show to show. When it got late into the evening, the crowds became smaller and the shows more intimate. In the midst of it all, Foreman’s van breaks down.
As Foreman and the musicians finished show 25, it was a celebration of family, friendship and community. This was an event that made people come alive.
Foreman tells us that many times it’s the chase that we are looking for. He was chasing after wonder, looking for his Maker, one song at a time. He stated that journey is where life happens. Not in control but in the chaos.
The film is available online where movies are sold (Amazon Prime, iTunes, etc.). Music fans – Switchfoot and Jon Foreman fans in particular – will appreciate this film.


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My Review of OVERBOARD

Overboard, rated PG-13
** ½

Overboard, is a surprisingly entertaining gender-reversed remake of the 1987 film which starred Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. The film was directed by three-time Emmy winner Rob Greenberg (Frazier), and written by Greenberg and Bob Fisher (Wedding Crashers), adapted from Leslie Dixon’s original story.
Anna Faris (Mom) plays Kate, a single mother of three young girls living in Elk Cove, a small Oregon coastal town. She delivers pizzas and cleans carpets to try and make ends meet while also studying for a nursing exam. She is assigned to clean the carpets on a huge yacht owned by Leonardo Montenegro, played by Eugenio Derbez (Instructions Not IncludedHow to Be a Latin Lover). Montenegro is a playboy billionaire and heir of the third richest man in the world. Leonardo is obnoxious and has never worked a day in his life. He denies Kate her pay, insults her looks, and pushes her and the $3,000 carpet cleaning equipment she was using overboard.  On top of having to repay the cost of the carpet cleaning equipment, Kate receives an eviction notice from her home.
Later we see Leonardo himself go overboard and wash up on the beach with amnesia. He has no knowledge of his identity. When Theresa, Kate’s boss at the pizza shop ~ played by Golden Globe nominee Eva Longoria (Desperate Housewives) ~ hears about this, she tells Kate she has a plan to get back at Leonardo by making him work for her while she studies for her exams. Kate talks to the girls about their plan and they reluctantly agree. We then see Kate go to the hospital where she pretends to be Leonardo’s wife of 15 years. Leonardo is stunned to see that he is poor, sterile and works construction, where his soft hands earn him the nickname of “Lady Hands”. Quickly, Kate has “Leo” learning how to cook the family’s meals. He is told to sleep on a cot in the shed. He is told that he’s a recovering alcoholic, so no more alcohol or sex for now. Most of the above can be picked up from the film’s trailer. But what happens after Leo gets settled in the home is what makes this film worth seeing.
A side plot has Leonardo’s father Papi, played by Fernando Lujan near death. With Leonardo apparently dead, his sister Magdalena played by Cecilia Suárez tries to gain control of the family business.
Some of the dialogue is in Spanish, with sub-titles.  Content concerns include brief rear male nudity (played for laughs) and Leonardo’s partying with young women in bikinis.  There is some adult language and several abuses of God’s name.
Themes include deception, positive messages about family, hard work, friendship and responsibility.
Overboard is not a great film, but it was surprisingly entertaining and included some good messages about family, particularly the importance of a father.


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

Music Review:
Abide with Me – Sara Groves

****

Sara Groves follows her acclaimed 2015 album Floodplain with her thirteenth studio album. She has stated that her previous album found her on the floodplain reflecting on the kind provision that comes when she finds herself in a place where she cannot rescue herself. Abide with Me is a collection of hymns and songs that were with her on the floodplain. The album was recorded in a 105-year old church (the construction of which is shown on the album cover photo), that the Groves purchased in 2011 and converted into Art House North, a creative community for the common good, in the West End of Saint Paul, Minnesota. Groves has stated that it was appropriate that the album was recorded in a space built for congregational singing. The album was recorded with her long-time bandmates, Aaron Fabbrini (bass, pedal steel) and Zach Miller (drums), produced by John Mark Nelson and mixed by Ben Gowell. The album includes songs carefully selected from Groves’ personal list of hymns. Each song has provided a source of healing and comfort to her throughout the years. Groves’ husband first came up with the idea of a hymns album about fifteen years ago and has been compiling possible songs for inclusion since then.

The album is recorded simply and sparsely and may underwhelm on initial listen. However, I encourage you to give these hymns additional listens and the project will grow on you with each listen. I would also recommend you have the lyrics to these hymns in front of you as you listen to this beautiful recording.

Below are a few comments about each of the eleven songs: Continue reading