Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

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Bill’s 2014 Favorites

Here are my favorites from 2014 in a variety of categories along with some input from friends and family. I’d be interested in what you think, and what some of your favorites were. Enjoy!

Television Programs
#1 – St. Louis Cardinal Baseball on Fox Sports Midwest (of course)
#2 – The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon
#3 – Duck Dynasty
#4 – Blacklist
#5 – Downton Abbey
#6 – Castle
#7 – The Profit

Radio Station
Hot 95.9 (Orlando, Florida) You can listen online!

Books These are my favorite books I read this year, some of which were published prior to 2014.
1. Everyone’s a Theologian – R.C. Sproul
2. What’s Best Next – Matt Perman
3. The Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen – Sinclair Ferguson
4. John: The Gospel of Wisdom – Michael Card
5. Taking God at His Word – Kevin DeYoung
6. Ordinary – Michael Horton
7. Romans for You Chapters 1-7 – Tim Keller
8. 41: A Portrait of My Father – George W. Bush
9. The Gospel at Work – Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert
10. Visions of Vocation – Steven Garber

Other books I enjoyed this year:
Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In – Louis Zamperini
God Took Me by the Hand – Jerry Bridges
Killing Patton – Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard
Not By Sight – Jon Bloom
The Evangelistic Zeal of George Whitefield – Steven Lawson
Good Leaders Ask Great Questions – John Maxwell
You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity – Francis Chan and Lisa Chan
Quiet – Susan Cain
How then Should We Work? – Hugh Whelchel
The Five Love Languages – Gary Chapman
A Godward Heart – John Piper
Michael Jordan: The Life – Roland Lazenby
The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams – Ben Bradlee Jr.
Wooden: A Coach’s Life – Seth Davis
God at Work – Gene Veith
The Noticer – Andy Andrews
God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines. – Edited by R. Albert Mohler Jr.
Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig – Jonathan Eig
Good Call – Jase Robertson
Recovering Redemption – Matt Chandler
One Nation – Ben Carson
Joy, Inc.: How We Built a Workplace People Love by Richard Sheridan
Miracles – Eric Metaxas


We usually see at least one movie a week. Here are my top ten and then a few others in no particular order:

1. The Good Lie
2. Unbroken
3. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
4. Whiplash
5. Edge of Tomorrow: Live, Die, Repeat
6. St. Vincent
7. Chef
8. Into the Woods
9. Guardians of the Galaxy
10. The Judge

Other movies I enjoyed were (in no particular order):
Big Hero 6
Ernest and Celestine
The Hundred Foot Journey
The Railway Man
The Amazing Spider Man

Mom’s Night Out
Magic in the Moonlight
And So It Goes
Ride Along


Artist of the Year: Lecrae – Anomaly and Owner of Reach Records (KB, Andy Mineo, Trip Lee and Tedasi Releases)

Many of my favorite artists released albums this year. Here are my top ten and then a several others I enjoyed in no particular order:
#1 – Songs of Innocence Deluxe Edition – U2
#2 – Anomaly – Lecrae
#3 – Goliath – Steve Taylor and the Perfect Foil
#4 – Rise – Trip Lee
#5 – Love Ran Red – Chris Tomlin
#6 – Neon Steeple – Crowder
#7 – Fading West/The Edge of the Earth – Switchfoot
#8 – Rivers in the Wasteland – NEEDTOBREATHE
#9 – John: The Misunderstood Gospel – Michael Card
#10 – The Spirit of Christmas – Michael W. Smith and Friends

Other music I enjoyed (in no particular order):
20 – Jars of Clay
The Greengrass Sessions – Keith and Kristyn Getty (EP)
High Hopes – Bruce Springsteen
Peter Furler Christmas featuring David Ian
Terms of My Surrender – John Hiatt
All the People Said Amen – Matt Maher
Sovereign – Michael W. Smith
Hymns – Michael W. Smith
Never Land – Andy Mineo (EP)
Sun and Shield – Peter Furler Band
Crimson Cord – Propadanda
Below Paradise – Tedashii
Obsession – Jim Gaffigan

#1 – At the Cross (Love Ran Red) – Chris Tomlin

Other songs that I enjoyed this year:
Shweet – Trip Lee
A Life Preserved – Steve Taylor and the Perfect Foil
Because He Lives – Matt Maher
Detroit Made – Bob Seger
Coulda Been Me – Trip Lee
Say I Won’t – Lecrae featuring Andy Mineo
Invisible – U2
Every Breaking Wave (Acoustic Sessions version) – U2
Almost There – Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant
All is Well – Michael W. Smith and Carrie Underwood
Something in the Water – Carrie Underwood
100 – KB
Daywalkers – Propaganda with Lecrae
I Am – Crowder
Come as You Are – Crowder
All I’ve Ever Done – Michael Card (vocal by Ginny Owens)
The One that Really Matters – Michael W. Smith and Kari Jobe
Christ Be All Around Me – Michael W. Smith
Terms of My Surrender – John Hiatt
If You Love Her – Jars of Clay

We saw more concerts this year than we have for several years. Here are my top two and then the others are not in any particular order:
1. Paul McCartney at the United Center in Chicago
2. James Taylor at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park
Fernando Ortega at First Baptist Church in Pekin
Chris Tomlin and Brandon Heath at US Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington
Michael Card at East White Oak Church in Carlock
Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis
Toby Mac and Matt Maher at Braden Auditorium at Illinois State University
Keith and Kristyn Getty at Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria

#1 – The Briefing (Albert Mohler) – essential listening every morning.
#2 – The Andy Stanley Leadership podcast

Informing the Reforming (Tim Challies) – essential reading every morning.

Teaching Series
1. Lessons from the Upper Room – Sinclair Ferguson
2. The Pilgrim’s Progress: A Guided Tour – Derek Thomas
3. A New Identity: The Gospel of Matthew – Michael Card

#1 – 2014 Ligonier Ministries National Conference in Orlando
#2 – Mathew: The Gospel of Identity (Biblical Imagination Conference) at Christ Church in Normal, Illinois

And Just for Fun…

• Home Run Inn – Chicago
• Tobin’s – Bloomington, Illinois
• Agatucci’s – Peoria
• Imo’s – St. Louis
• Giordano’s – multiple locations, favorite being just outside Downtown Disney in Orlando

Ice Cream
• Ted Drewe’s – St. Louis
• Wilson’s – Ephraim, Wisconsin (Door County)
• Kilwin’s – multiple locations, favorite being Celebration, Florida

Fast Food
• Chick Fil-A
• Five Guys Burgers and Fries

• Original Pancake House – multiple locations, favorite being Chesterfield, Missouri

Place to Visit
• Orlando
• St. Louis

Date Night
• Dinner and a good movie

2014 Favorites of Family and Friends


Tammy Pence (my bride and founding member of the Friday Night Movie Club)
The Good Lie
Edge of Tomorrow

Mom’s Night Out

Mike Pence (Brother)
Magic in the Moonlight
The Judge
Big Hero 6
That Awkward Moment

Julie Pence (Sister in Law)
1. Guardians of the Galaxy
2. The Judge
3. Gone Girl
4. Chef
5. Begin Again

Al Williams (brother in law)
Movies He’s Glad He Saw:
A Most Wanted Man
Begin Again
The Hundred Foot Journey

Teri Williams (Sister in Law)
Begin Again
The Equalizer

Jason Halm (long-time work colleague and a huge movie fan)
1. Snowpiercer (favorite script and execution of the script this year)
2. Grand Budapest Hotel (Ralph Fiennes was my favorite performance of the year)
3. Whiplash
4. Guardians of the Galaxy
5. Birdman
6. Interstellar (favorite special effects)
7. Boyhood
8. The Theory of Everything
9. X-men: Days of Future Past
10. Life Itself

Honorable Mention: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – this is a great tie-in to Marvel movies. Look for Netflix TV shows that will supplement the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Worst TV show and Movie:
1. The Following: Season 2. I watched the whole thing after feeling lukewarm about Season 1. I’ll not be watching Season 3.
2. The Other Woman (simply horrible – worst movie that I’ve seen all year)

Jeff Haab (friend)
Best Comedy Record:
Mandatory Fun by Weird Al Yankovic

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Movie Review ~ Unbroken

UnbrokenUnbroken, rated PG-13
*** ½

On Christmas Eve 2010 I had Fox News on. Tammy was with her niece in Peoria as she was trying on wedding dresses. Fox was running a story on a guy named Louis Zamperini and the book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. I had not heard of either, but the incredible story I was hearing caused me to tear up as I heard about Zamperini’s unbelievable story. I couldn’t wait to read the book, but had to complete my January term class at Covenant Seminary before doing so.

After completing my class I got the audiobook version of the book and heard all of Zamperini’s story. I didn’t want to turn the book off. I tell people that if a novel was submitted of Zamperini’s life it would be rejected because it wasn’t believable. I remember thinking that his life story would make a great movie (and found out recently in Zamperini’s final book – Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In – sent to the editors just two days before his death in July, that there has been talk of a movie of his life for several years, with Tony Curtis at one time scheduled to portray Zamperini back in the late 1950’s). Zamperini was thrilled that Angelina Jolie was finally going to make a film about his life. He developed a close relationship with Jolie, who spoke at his memorial service in July.

Jack O’Connell stars as Zamperini in this film. He is outstanding in the role, and I think worthy of consideration for a Best Actor nomination. Zamperini’s story is well known by now, as Hillenbrand’s book has sold about 4 million copies since its release in 2010.

Zamperini got into a lot of trouble as a young boy until his brother Pete (played by Alex Russell) convinces him to run track. He was very successful at track, nicknamed the “Torrance Tornado”, and ran in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, meeting Hitler briefly. He then served in World War II as a bombardier. But Zamperini’s old and unreliable plane (the Green Hornet) crashes in the Pacific Ocean while on a search and rescue mission. Only Zamperini and Phil (Domhnall Gleeson) and Mac (Finn Wittrock) survive the crash. After 47 days and drifting some 2,000 miles, they are captured by the Japanese and taken to a Japanese Prisoner of War camp, where Louis is tortured by Mutsushiro Watanabe, known to the prisoners as “The Bird”. Louis hates that Bird and wants to kill him. The film version ends with the end of the war and Louis arriving back home.

But that’s not where his story ends as everyone who has read the book knows. As Franklin Graham stated on the excellent Fox News special Louis Zamperini: Journey of Faith, director Angelina Jolie did an excellent job bringing to the screen Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, but she didn’t take the story far enough. Christians know that Louis’ life is changed after attending Billy Graham’s meetings in Los Angeles when his life was falling apart (drinking heavily, his wife Cynthia filing for divorce, terrible nightmares about The Bird).

The title of Hillenbrand’s book is Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. What Jolie’s excellent film misses is the “Redemption” aspect. As the film ends, Jolie includes a few brief notes on the screen about how the change in Zamperini’s life led him from revenge to forgiveness. Watch the Fox News special to see what happened to Zamperini after Jolie’s film ends (it will be rebroadcast on December 31 at 7pm ET and on January 1 at 7 pm ET.).

Although Christians will be disappointed about how Zamperini’s Christian faith post-war is handled in the film, his son Luke has indicated that his father loved the way the film handled the subject of his Christian faith. Luke wrote on

“Dad, you see, survived the horrors of war physically unbroken, but returned to the states emotionally shattered. Suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome), he tried to kill the pain with alcohol and was consumed by visions of murdering his chief Japanese tormentor, a sadistic man nicknamed “The Bird” by inmates. It was only when, at the urging of my mother, he attended a Billy Graham crusade in 1949 and surrendered his life to Jesus Christ that my father truly became unbroken. The nightmares stopped. So did the drinking. And he dedicated the rest of his life to serving others. The film version of Unbroken does not spend a lot of screen time on his Christian conversion—detailing it in a series of text cards before the closing credits. And that is exactly the way my Dad and our entire family wanted it. … [His] greatest hope for the film version of Unbroken [was] not that it would be applauded by fellow Christians, although he certainly would have been honored and humbled by their appreciation; but that it would be seen by non-Christians drawn to a rousing epic about the indomitable human spirit who, when the credits have finished rolling, might just discover there’s a whole lot more to his story than that.”

I think Jolie does an excellent job telling Zamperini’s story through his return to America after the war. The film is well-made beginning with the opening scene as Louis, Phil and Hugh “Cup” Cuppernell (Jai Courtney) fly through enemy fire to drop bombs in a frightening and exciting scene. I felt like I was in the plane with the men. The scenes on the raft adrift at sea are also incredible, as Louis, Phil and Mac battle hunger, thirst, sharks and weather issues to survive.

The film is difficult to watch at times, especially when Zamperini is tortured by “The Bird”. There is a small amount of adult language and brief nudity when Louis and Phil are forced to strip and kneel before their captors.

NOTE: If you didn’t see it when aired on December 27, check out the one-hour presentation on Fox News featuring Franklin Graham, Greta Van Susteren and an airing of the new documentary: Louis Zamperini: Captured by Grace. The Fox News special, Louis Zamperini: Journey of Faith, will re-air at 7 p.m. on December 31 and January 1.

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Movie Review ~ Into the Woods

Into the WoodsInto the Woods, rated PG
*** ½

This delightful and very entertaining film, is based on Stephen Sondheim’s 1987 stage production that brings a new twist to some of the most popular of the Brother Grimm’s fairy tales of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Jack and the Beanstalk in a musical setting. It is directed by Rob Marshall, who was nominated for Best Director for Chicago in 2002. The film features a strong cast, led by one of our greatest actresses, Meryl Streep, as the Witch.

The film begins with the Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt). They have just given Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) a lot of free bread and sweets, to take to her grandmother in the woods, or so she says. They are closing up shop, when the Witch appears. The Baker and his wife long to have children, but have not been able to. The Witch finally tells them that they have not been able to because she put a curse on them as a result of something the Baker’s father did years ago. However, if they can gather three four things over the next few days – “a cow as white as milk, a cloak as red as blood, a slipper as pure as gold, some hair as yellow as corn”, and bring them back to the Witch, she will lift the curse and grant them a child. And thus the Baker and his wife set off into the woods on a search for these four items.

It is in the woods that the lives of Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf (Johnny Depp), Jack (Daniel Huttlestone, who was the street urchin Gavroche in the 2012 film Les Miserables), and his mother (Tracey Ullman), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) and her stepmother (Christine Baranski) and stepsisters, and the Prince (Chris Pine) and Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy) all converge.

The woods change those who enter them. Of the woods, critic Susan Wloszczyna writes: “It’s a scary place where many of the characters lose their bearings, both morally, ethically and otherwise, and danger regularly lurks”.

We are told that “right and wrong don’t matter in the woods, only feelings” and “You decide what’s right, you decide what’s good”. There are also positive messages about being there for your children.

This film had excellent music (much singing), and very impressive sets and costumes. There was also some good humor slipped in throughout. I did feel that it ran a bit long at 125 minutes and could have been tightened up. Overall, it was one of the best films I’ve seen this year.

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Love Came Down at Christmas


David Crowder Band - Oh for JoyMusic Review: Oh For Joy – David Crowder BandJohn Owen book

I’m Currently Reading

Book Review: The Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen by Sinclair B. Ferguson

I read most of this wonderful book (one of my favorites of the year), by one of my favorite authors sitting along the Saluda River in Cleveland, South Carolina over the Thanksgiving weekend. We were in the area for the marriage of our nephew Mark and his bride Tiffany. We had rented two cabins on the Saluda River, located a few miles Table Rock State Park. It was an incredible setting to read this book about the Trinity – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.cabinSaluda River Photo


  • One of our favorite annual traditions is to see It’s a Wonderful Life starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed at the Normal Theater in town. This is a theatre that opened in 1937, and after being restored, has now been open for 20 years, showing classic, independent and foreign films ( It’s a great feeling to be in the jam packed theatre seeing friends from church and the community. Although Tammy tells me that she thinks she knows how it is going to end, I have to go each year to see if Clarence earns his wings.


  • Should Christians Celebrate Christmas? John MacArthur gives his response.
  • Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?  R.C. Sproul writes “I can’t think of anything more pleasing to Christ than the church celebrating his birthday every year.”
  • What Does the X in Xmas Mean?  R. C. Sproul writes “There’s a long and sacred history of the use of X to symbolize the name of Christ, and from its origin, it has meant no disrespect.”
  • Christmas Past: Ignatius. Stephen Nichols writes “Ignatius led the church to a faithful understanding of the doctrine of the incarnation.”
  • Christmas is the Greatest Mystery. David Mathis of Desiring God shares three important lessons that the incarnation reveals.
  • Alistair Begg Preaches on Luke 2 and Christ’s Birth. Watch this recent sermon from Alistair Begg.
  • The Incarnation: What We Celebrate at Christmas. In this excerpt from R.C. Sproul’s video series “What Did Jesus Do?” Sproul reminds us what we really celebrate at Christmas—the incarnation of God Himself.
  • The Dark Side of Christmas. John Piper reads his poem “The Innkeeper”.
  • God in a Manger. John MacArthur writes “The enemy must love the world’s Christmas celebration. He must revel in the blatant sin and blasphemy and rejection of Christ—all by people who suppose they are celebrating His birth! He must glory in the way people inoculate themselves against the truth of Christ by commemorating His birth with lip service while ignoring the point of it all—that Jesus is almighty God.”

King Size Bed


  • Please Don’t Give Them Porn for Christmas. Tim Challies provides a warning to parents regarding the electronic devices that parents will be giving their children for Christmas this year. Tim will speak on “Purity in a Digital Age” at the 2015 Ligonier Ministries National Conference in Orlando on February 19.
  • Top 14 Posts of 2014 at Desiring God. The number one article for 2014, and now all-time at Desiring God, was “Why Homosexuality is Not like Other Sins”.
  • 10 Marks Of True Conversion. From a sermon by John MacArthur, David Murray provides a summary of the ten effects of true conversion in a Christian’s life.
  • Overcoming the World Conference Messages. As I prepare my heart and mind for the 2015 Ligonier Ministries National Conference to take place in February, 2015, I’ve been listening to the messages from the 2014 conference, which had a theme of “Overcoming the World”.  You can listen and watch all of the conference messages. Of all these wonderful messages, I will commend one to you in particular. It is Derek Thomas’ message “How Then Shall We Live in This World?” using 1 Corinthians 6: 9-11 as his primary text.
  • 20 Recommended Daily Devotionals. Here is a helpful list from Kevin Halloran.
  • Editor’s Choice: The Best of 2014. Collin Hansen, Executive Director of the Gospel Coalition has compiled a list of his ten favorite 2014 Gospel Coalition resources.




  • iTunes I have 968 albums (or 42.4 days) of music in my iTunes library. I’ve recently started putting my favorite songs in playlists. For example, I have my favorite 100 (and growing) Christian hip-hop/rap songs in a playlist and have built playlists for many of my favorite artists from Amos Lee to Toby Mac. This year I built a Christmas music playlist. We usually pick up a few new Christmas albums each year and so we have quite a collection after 34 years of marriage. It was a lot of fun to build the playlist, which currently has 212 songs in it after adding four songs from the David Crowder Band’s Oh for Joy album. Using playlists is a great way to build your own “Greatest Hits”.
  • Christmas Carols: Joy to the World. Randall Van Meggelen writes “This famous hymn is one of my favorite carols because it faithfully conveys the resounding message in Psalm 98 that Jesus saves.”
  • “Say I Won’t” Video. The new single from Lecrae featuring Andy Mineo.
  • Because He Lives. I saw Matt Maher perform this incredible new song in a recent concert, in which he appeared with Toby Mac. He told a nice story about contacting Bill Gaither when writing the song, because, well, Bill Gaither wrote the classic song “Because He Lives”. This is a great song and it’s now available on iTunes. Check out the video for the song.
  • New Third Day Single. The band has released “Soul On Fire”, the first single from their new worship album Lead Us Back: Songs of Worship, which will be released March 3, 2015. The single is available on iTunes.
  • Casting Crowns in Concert. Casting Crowns will be in concert at the U.S. Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington, IL at 7:00 pm on February 26.
  • USA Today names Taylor Swift’s 1989 Top Album of 2014.Well, I guess everyone has their opinion.



Courtesy of World Magazine

Courtesy of World Magazine

Beyond the Ark by Doug Michael

Beyond the Ark by Doug Michael


Favorite Quotes of the Week ~ 12.22.2014

• Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you’re the Charlie Browniest. Linus
• Your most irritated, impatient, uncaring self didn’t separate you from God’s love today; it made you a target of his love. Scotty Smith
• Aimless, unproductive Christians contradict the creative, purposeful, powerful, merciful God we love. John Piper, (from Don’t Waste Your Life)
•Salvation is not a reward for the righteous, but a gift for the guilty. Steven Lawson
•If you didn’t earn your salvation how are you going to un-earn it? Tim Keller
• Ironically, the insistence that doctrines do not matter is really a doctrine itself Tim Keller.
• What is the deepest root of your joy? What God gives to you? Or what God is to you? John Piper
• Sometimes we emulate the Pharisees more than we imitate Christ. RC Sproul
• Why couldn’t North Korea have found “Left Behind” offensive? Barnabas Piper
• We’re far worse than we ever imagined, and far more loved than we could ever dream. Tim Keller
• The question is not, “Why is there only one way to God?” but “Why is there even one way? R.C. Sproul
• Lay your burdens of self-contempt, cynicism, and shame at the feet of Jesus tonight. He welcomes them, and you. Scotty Smith
• When it comes to understanding and appreciating grace, our biggest problem is our so-called goodness…not our self-perceived badness. Tullian Tchividjian
• You pursue excellence when you care about something other than your own excellence. Michael Horton
• Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are. John Wooden
• Christmas is telling you that you could never get to heaven on your own. God had to come to you. Tim Keller
• If you want to know God as your Father, you need to know Jesus Christ as your Savior. Kevin DeYoung.
• In heaven I’ll be shocked by those who aren’t there, those I didn’t think would be there but are. And the fact I’m there at all. Lecrae
• We live in a culture where the truth claims of Christianity are not only rejected, they are ridiculed. R.C. Sproul
• Faith is quenching the soul’s thirst at the fountain of God. John Piper
• Before crawling between the sheets tonight, preach the gospel to your heart and forgive whoever you possibly can. Scotty Smith
• Having hope is hard; harder when you get older. Wendell Berry
• Worry is a waste of energy. It can’t change the past. It can’t control the future. It only makes today miserable. Tullian Tchividjian
• What greater value could you possibly have than to be delighted in and sacrificed for by the Maker of the universe? Tim Keller
• When I find my justification in Christ alone, I am free to love and serve others in ordinary and unheralded ways. Michael Horton

integrating faith and work

 Faith and Work Book Clubs – Won’t you read along with us?Visions of Vocation

Visions of Vocation Book Club

Steven Garber was the commencement speaker at my graduation from Covenant Seminary in May. Tammy and I have been reading and discussing this book for the past few months. This week we look at Chapter 8: Learning to Live Proximately.

Generous JusticeGenerous Justice Book Club

Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just by Tim Keller

In the recommended reading for developing a vision for your life section of Matt Perman’s excellent book What’s Best Next, Matt suggested Tim Keller’s book Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just. I have read the book before but with the reminder from Matt, and in light of the recent decisions about the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, Tammy and I have decided to read and discuss it again at this time. This week we look at the Introduction.

God at Work Book ClubGod at Work

God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life by Gene Edward Veith Jr.

When we recently visited St. Andrews Chapel where R.C. Sproul is one of the pastors, this book was the church’s “Book of the Month”. I’m excited to read it. We’ll look at a chapter each week – won’t you read along with us? This week we cover Chapter 8: Your Calling in the Church.

Christian Christmas header


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Movie Reviews ~ The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies and Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

The HobbitThe Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, rated PG-13
*** ½
We saw this film in 3D, on the giant screen theatre at the new Peoria Riverfront Museum (–2). We’ve been wanting to see a film there for some time and this one was a great one to see there. The picture was filmed incredibly clear, and this is one film you want to see on a big screen in 3D.

Last year’s Hobbit film, The Desolation of Smaug, based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien, the second in Peter Jackson’s trilogy, was my top movie of 2013, and I went into this film thinking the final chapter could top my list again for 2014. The film is good, very good in fact, but the overly long battle scene, taking about a third of the film, while well done, gets a half star taken off of the film’s rating, and thus it won’t be my top film of the year. Unbroken and Into the Woods still have a shot at coming in at #1 however.

This film picks up where Desolation left off, with the dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), flying high above Laketown spewing fire across the town as their occupants, including the greedy coward Master of Laketown (Stephen Fry), attempting to flee. It’s an amazing opening scene of destruction, beautifully filmed. Bard (Luke Evans), with one final spear available, and the assistance of his son, finds the one vulnerable spot on Smaug and strikes him down dead.

Although the remaining residents (many of them wounded), of Laketown are spared, their city is destroyed. Bard leads them to the crumbling walls of Dale, near the gates of Erebor and Lonely Mountain, home to incredible treasures of gold. Food is in very short supply and they need assistance to survive.

Thorin (Richard Armitage) king of the dwarves has arrived at the mountain and the gold has changed Thorin. He barricades the dwarves inside the mountain, refusing to help the people he had given his word to. He would rather fight than share the treasure. We see greed overcome Thorin. Tolkien termed this “dragon-sickness”.

All of this builds to a great battle, as five armies come to the mountain from all sides. The battle includes men, elves, dwarves, eagles, Orcs, wargs, bats, trolls, goblins, etc., engaging in brutal combat of swords, arrows, etc. The violence is significant enough that you will want to consider what age of children you want to expose to it. Bad nightmares could certainly result. There is one incredible scene in which Thorin and the head Orc battle on a sheet of ice near a frozen waterfall.

The film boasts a strong cast. Back for this film are Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), and Thranduil (Lee Pace). Saruman (Christopher Lee) and Galadriel’s (Cate Blanchett) return for a short scene that doesn’t seem to connect with the overall story.

I’ve really enjoyed the Hobbit trilogy by Peter Jackson. This is a very satisfying and well done ending.

Night at the MuseumNight at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, rated PG-13
I’ve enjoyed the two previous Night at the Museum films, and was looking forward to this one. I wasn’t disappointed in this fun, family-friendly film, which features two performers (Robin Williams and Mickey Rooney) who have died since filming this movie. The film moves quickly with sharp writing, some good special effects, stunts and a strong cast.

Ben Stiller returns as Larry Daley, the one-time night watchman of New York’s American Museum of Natural History. Ricky Gervais plays Dr. McPhee, the museum director. As we know by now, after dark the animals and statues in the museum are brought to life. What makes this happen is a golden Tablet of Akmenrah, a magical artifact from Egypt. The new film opens by taking us back to the discovery of the tablet in the 1930’s. But the tablet is now starting to lose its power, signaling the end of the magic for Larry’s museum friends. Larry needs to take the tablet to the British Museum of Natural History in London, home of Akmenrah’s mummified parents.

So Larry and some of the gang, among them Robin Williams as Teddy Roosevelt, Rami Malek as Ahkmenrah, Owen Wilson as Jedediah Smith, Steve Coogan as Octavius, Crystal the Monkey and Stiller himself as Laaa – head to London. There they encounter Dan Stevens as Sir Lancelot and Ben Kingsley as Ahkmenrah’s father Merenkahre. We also meet Tilly, hilariously played by Rebel Wilson. Mickey Rooney, Dick Van Dyke and Hugh Jackman all appear in short cameos, adding to the fun of the film.

It does seem that every Hollywood film has to add some objectionable content. In this case, it is the overtly same-sex attraction of Steve Coogan’s Octavius. However, it probably went over the head of the majority of kids in the theatre that we enjoyed hearing laughing throughout this enjoyable film.

Another more sobering note was the ending scene with Robin Williams. I won’t spoil it for you, but it was almost prophetic.

All in all, I really enjoyed this film and think you would too.

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Naughty or Nice?

Our Son is God cartoon


 Book Review: Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World by Michael Horton

 I’m Currently Reading

 toby mac 2Concert Review: Toby Mac, Matt Maher and Ryan Stevenson at Braden Auditorium – Dec. 11

INTEGRATING FAITH AND WORK: Connecting Sunday to Monday

Favorite Quotes of the Week




Beyond the Ark by Doug Michael

Beyond the Ark by Doug Michael




  • FREE! Tenth Avenue North Concerts in Peoria. The group behind the hit songs “By Your Side” and “Hold My Heart” will perform three free concert services at Northwoods December 27 & 28.
  • The Modern Hymnal: An interview with Keith Getty.I think you’ll enjoy this interview with Keith Getty, perhaps today’s best modern hymn writer.
  • Carrie Underwood sings “Something in the Water” on The Tonight Show – one of my top songs of the year.
  • New Paul McCartney Song “Hope for the Future”. Watch the video here which turns the former Beatles into a singing hologram and plunges him into the video game ‘Destiny.’
  • Bob Dylan Shadows in the NightNew Dylan Album. 73 year-old Bob Dylan will release Shadows of the Night on February 3. You can pre-order it now on iTunes, and receive the song “Full Moon and Empty Arms”. The album is expected to be an album of cover songs, many of them recorded by Frank Sinatra. Go figure. Another song that is included on the album is “Stay with Me”. Dylan never fails to surprise. Here’s a live recording from October 26 of “Stay with Me”, another song from the album which Dylan has been closing his live sets with recently. Dylan commented, “It was a real privilege to make this album. I’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time but was never brave enough to approach 30-piece complicated arrangements and refine them down for a 5-piece band. That’s the key to all these performances. We knew these songs extremely well. It was all done live. Maybe one or two takes. No overdubbing. No vocal booths. No headphones. No separate tracking, and, for the most part, mixed as it was recorded. I don’t see myself as covering these songs in any way. They’ve been covered enough. Buried, as a matter a fact. What me and my band are basically doing is uncovering them. Lifting them out of the grave and bringing them into the light of day.”

Favorite Quotes of the Week ~ 12.15.2014

  • By definition, the big difference between mercy and justice is that mercy is never ever obligatory. -RC Sproul
  • Good people don’t go to Heaven, forgiven people do. -Lecrae
  • Grace does not make sin safe. But grace does make sinners safe. -Matt Chandler
  • Forgetfulness of God’s grace is one of the greatest tools in the enemy’s war against our souls. -Mark Dever
  • Christianity is not “Jesus is our example.” Christianity is “Jesus is our substitute.” – Tullian Tchividjian
  • The Christian is the most contented man in the world, but he is the least contented with the world. -C.H. Spurgeon
  • You pursue excellence when you care about something other than your own excellence. -Michael Horton
  • Are you living to justify yourself, or are you living because you are justified? -Tim Keller
  • When you look at the Cross, what do you see? You see God’s awesome faithfulness. -Sinclair Ferguson
  • When sin lets us alone we may let sin alone. -John Owen
  • The utter destruction of our culture isn’t just around the corner. It has been here for some time. -R.C. Sproul Jr.
  • What is the deepest root of your joy? What God gives to you? Or what God is to you? -John Piper
  •  We don’t merely need the money from work to survive. We need the work itself to survive and live fully human lives more than money. -Tim Keller
  • The cross is the place where the Judge takes the Judgment.Tim Keller
  • The desperate addict is closer to the heart of grace than the devout moralist. – Tullian Tchividjian
  • Jesus may ask of you far more than you planned to give, but He can give to you infinitely more than you dared ask or think. -Tim Keller

integrating faith and work

  • Everything you need to know about leadership in a single verse. Dave Kraft shares leadership principles from Exodus 32:34.
  • Characteristics of an Antiquated Leader. Ron Edmundson writes “Leadership principles and practices have had to change because organizations and people have changed.”
  • New Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast Episode. This month Andy continues to explore the idea of Keystone Habits through an interview conducted with Charles Duhigg.
  • 5 Surefire Ways to Sharpen Your Skills. John Maxwell provides five suggestions on how to sharpen our skills in a strength area. He also mentions his new book JumpStart Your Leadership, a 90-Day Improvement Plan, which releases on December 16.
  • Proactive. Check out what John Maxwell has to say about this word in this “Minute with Maxwell” video.
  • Interview with Joy, Inc. Author Richard Sheridan. He recently appeared on the EntreLeadership podcast.
  • Seven virtues of Christian managers: Lessons from Romans 12-16. Gregory F. Augustine Pierce writes “There are many Christian virtues that managers can practice. I define a Christian virtue as “a habit based on a long-standing belief that God is love.” Here are seven such virtues, with a quote for each from the Letter to the Romans as translated by Eugene Peterson in The Message.
  • The Fitting Job for You. An excellent devotion I recently read in Ligonier Ministries’ TableTalk Magazine.
  • Visiting with Mary and Martha: What about the work? Ann Boyd writes “Mary “chose the better part,” and I do appreciate that — but what about the work Martha was doing? Even after sitting with Jesus, the dishes are still there. How can we resolve this tension?”
  • When Hope is Gone. Dan Miller writes about a time a few years ago when he and his wife did a presentation at the Tennessee Prison for Women: “It gave me a new perspective on how easily we can complain about our “circumstances.” It also reminded me that often when fewer options are available, hope seems to be more present. Believing that all hope is gone is a personal choice. Circumstances do not dictate that – only we can choose to believe that.”
  • Serving a Generation in Search of Meaningful Work. Bethany Jenkins interviews Gregory W. Carmer, who among his other responsibilities directs the Christian Vocation Institute, a collection of programs, including the Elijah Project, which helps students explore the theological underpinnings and practical out-workings of vocation.
  • 7 Ways to Thrive with a Bad Boss. Dan Rockwell writes “If you don’t have a bad boss now, you’ll have one soon.” He gives us seven ways to thrive under that bad boss.
  • The heart behind “Why you hate work”. Brian Gray writes “Christians must embrace the biblical vision of work which claims that all work which is not sinful can be sacred. In God’s economy of spirituality, what we do is far less important than why we do it, how we do it, and who we are and are becoming as we engage our work.”
  • We Were Made to Work. Chris Armstrong writes “At the very beginning of Genesis, God shows himself as a working God, who creates valuable things. And then right away we see that we ourselves as made in his image, also to work.”

 Faith and Work Book Clubs – Won’t you read along with us?

What's Best NextWhat’s Best Next Book Club

What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done by Matt Perman

We continue with our overview of this new book on productivity from a Christian perspective. This week we conclude the book.

God at WorkGod at Work Book Club

God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life by Gene Edward Veith Jr.

When we visited St. Andrews Chapel where R.C. Sproul is one of the pastors, this book was the church’s “Book of the Month”. I’m excited to read it. We’ll look at a chapter each week – won’t you read along with us? This week we cover Chapter 7: Your Calling as a Citizen.


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Movie Review ~ Exodus: Gods and Kings

ExodusExodus: Gods and Kings, rated PG-13
** ½

How I look at this film has a lot to do with my expectations of it. The director of the film, the acclaimed Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, Thelma and Louise, all of which he received Oscar nominations for) is an outspoken atheist. So I was certainly not expecting his portrayal of the Exodus story to be biblically accurate. On top of that, Christian Bale’s recent quote about Moses “I think the man was likely schizophrenic and was one of the most barbaric individuals that I ever read about in my life,” didn’t give me much confidence about how Moses would be portrayed. And much like Darren Aronofsky’s Noah from earlier this year, those expectations were met. Given that, how are believers to look at this film? We could choose to stay away from it, or we could see the film and then critically engage with it, knowing that it is not going to be biblically accurate.

First, what I did find was in many ways a well-made and entertaining Hollywood film with a strong cast, including Christian Bale as Moses and the always outstanding Ben Kingsley as Nun. We also see some outstanding special effects, especially around the plagues and the Red Sea scene (more of a low tide than a parting) that only a big budget film ($140 million) can provide. The overall story of the Exodus is in the film, which I would describe as being loosely based on the biblical account. The primary storyline of the film is not necessarily the exodus, but the relationship between Moses, who the Pharaoh Seti (John Turturro) raised as his adopted son, and his own biological son Ramses (Joel Edgerton).

What you may hear about, and also what most concerned me about the film is how our sovereign God was portrayed, beginning with the burning bush scene. In what reminded me of how God is portrayed as a large African American woman in The Shack by William P. Young, God (he is credited as Malak, a Semitic word for angel), is portrayed as a preteen British boy, played by 11 year old Isaac Andrews. Is Malak a messenger, or is he God? He either is God or speaks directly for Him. When asked who he is he responds “I AM”. The character, and thus God, is portrayed as “a self-centered brat” (Gabe Hughes’ review), “a petulant, willful child” (Paul Asay’ review), or as “an impish British schoolboy” (Christy Lemire’s review). Moses and Malak are portrayed as having a contentious relationship throughout the film.

At two and a half hours, the film is much shorter than Cecile B. DeMille’s four hour The Ten Commandments from 1956. As such, the film focuses on the events in the story at the expense of character development. The costumes, jewelry, architecture, etc. that Scott uses in the film were quite good. Scott dedicates the film to his late brother and fellow filmmaker Tony, who committed suicide in 2012.