Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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Contentment  

Contentment. It’s something that I’ve needed to work on for some time.

Contentment

How about you? Are you like me, always looking forward to the next (you fill in the blank) – vacation, concert, movie, book, album, dinner at your favorite restaurant, etc.? Are you not content with your current vocation, relationship(s) you are in, or the church you are attending? How about the discontent with your house, car or version of iPhone that you have, or even  the number of blog followers or Facebook friends that you have? Does the grass always look greener somewhere else? Is it someone else receiving the promotion that you deserve? Do you look forward to the quitting time, the weekend and ultimately retirement?

As a Christian, I know I should be fully content in what God has provided for me, mainly Him! Short of that, a life of discontentment is a sin, a lack of thankfulness for what we have already been provided.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and study on the subject of contentment of late. And sometimes, God just puts something on a subject you are studying before you without you specifically looking for it. For example, I came across this section of a prayer entitled “Fullness” in the wonderful book of Puritan prayers The Valley of Vision:

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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

Dylan -Fallen AngelsFallen Angels – Bob Dylan
****

Bob Dylan’s 37th studio album is his second volume of songs that he has recorded that have been mostly sung by Frank Sinatra. In fact, of the twelve songs here that were personally picked by Dylan, only “Skylark” was not recorded by Sinatra.

The album was primarily recorded at the same time and with the same core band as 2015’s acclaimed Shadows in the Night, which reached the top ten in seventeen countries and debuted at number one in the U.K. So Shadows could have been a double album. Should we consider Fallen Angels an album of songs not good enough to be included on Shadows and only released because of the success of the initial release? Are these the leftovers? No, this album is a triumph, a masterpiece, from an artist that never fails to surprise.  Dylan, who will turn 75 four days after this album is released, has done something like this before with two albums of folk covers, 1992’s Good As I Been to You and 1993’s World Gone Wrong.

The low-key arrangements of the songs, with Dylan being backed by his excellent touring band, with great work by Donny Herron on pedal steel guitar, acoustic guitar and light drum, puts Dylan’s weathered but effective voice up front and center. It was self-produced by Dylan using his Jack Frost pseudonym. As with Shadows, his voice sounds the best it has in years.  If you enjoyed Shadows you’ll enjoy this excellent new album.

Here are a few thoughts about each of the twelve songs:

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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

book reviews

The Faith of Christopher HitchensThe Faith of Christopher Hitchens by Larry Alex Taunton. Thomas Nelson. 224 pages. 2016
****

The attraction of this fascinating book is not so much that it is a biography of one of the “New Atheists”, Christopher Hitchens – though the author, an Evangelical Christian and Founder of the Fixed Point Foundation, does provide us with a biographical sketch of Hitchens – but rather it is the author’s personal recollections of their unlikely friendship. Taunton paints Hitchens, who died of esophageal cancer in 2011, as a man of contradictions, who kept “two sets of books” – one being his private life and the other his public life. In his private book, which Taunton was privileged to know, Hitchens was open to discussing spiritual issues with him, including studying the Gospel of John on two road trips they took late in Hitchens’ life. They were unlikely friends who respected each other.

The author tells us that Hitchens had little respect for his father, and a contentious relationship with his brother, Peter, who left atheism for Christianity. His mother had abortions both before and after Christopher was born, and eventually committed suicide with a boyfriend.

He writes of Hitchens being a man of contradictions.  On the one hand, being a socialist, having homosexual encounters and protesting against the Vietnam War, but undergoing significant changes after the 9/11 attacks in which he recognized real evil. He would then be supportive of President Bush’s “War on Terror” and invasion of Iran and Afghanistan, and also become pro-life.  He became a U.S. citizen in 2007.

The publication of his 2007 book God is Not Great: How Religion Spoils Everything, would ironically start Hitchens on a type of spiritual journey, as he offered to debate anyone taking an opposing view as a way to promote the book. He would debate Christians such as Doug Wilson and John Lennox. This is how the author came to know Hitchens, as he would coordinate the debates and eventually the two would debate each other.

The author writes of their friendship, and by far the best part of the book is his recounting of their two road trips – one through the Shenandoah Valley and the other through Montana and Yellowstone Park. Both of the trips took place after Hitchens was diagnosed with cancer and he knew he was dying. It was on these trips that the two would read and study the Gospel of John together. Hitchens was attracted to Marcionism (accepting some parts of the New Testament but denying Christ’s corporality and humanity and condemning the Creator God of the Old Testament).

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THIS & THAT and Favorite Quotes of the Week

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CURRENT EVENTS a.k.a. “Let’s Talk Toilets”:

Courtesy of World Magazine

                      Courtesy of World Magazine

CHRISTIAN LIVING:

  • Your Sin Is Not What You Think. John Piper writes “My definition of sin is this: any feeling or thought or action that comes from a heart that does not treasure God over all other things. The bottom of sin, the root of all sins, is such a heart—a heart that prefers anything above God; a heart that doesn’t treasure God over everything else, and everyone else.”
  • Covenant eyesA Covenant with My Eyes. Chuck Lawless writes “It happened again this week – I talked with another man who is losing the war with pornography. If you’re losing this battle, too, maybe this covenant (“I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman”—Job 31:1) will help you.”
  • What is the Prayer of Faith? Sinclair Ferguson writes “This, then, is the prayer of faith: to ask God to accomplish what He has promised in His Word.”
  • May I Help You Discern Your Calling? John Piper writes “Is God calling you to cross-cultural missions for the sake of the global glory of Jesus Christ?”
  • When We’re Feeling a Bit Anxious. Here’s our prayer of the week from Scotty Smith.
  • Arguments for Why You Should Be Anxious Today and How the Bible Responds. Justin Taylor offers some helpful thoughts regarding the temptation to fret and worry and be anxious and unsettled, rather than acting in joyful, confident, restful faith.

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My Review of the Movie ~ The Meddler

The MeddlerThe Meddler, rated PG-13
**

Oscar winner (for Dead Man Walking), and four-time Oscar nominee Susan Sarandon portrays Marnie and Rose Byrne is her daughter Lori. The film is based on writer/director Lorene Scararia’s real-life experiences with her mother after Lorene’s father died.   Scararia has stated in interviews that the goal was to capture Marnie’s side of the story, and that empathy was a key theme in the film which is set in Los Angeles two years after Marnie’s husband Joe’s death. Joe left her enough money that she doesn’t have to work. Lori is a screenwriter that has relationship issues and is devastated by her break-up with an actor Jacob, played by Jason Ritter.

Marnie just can’t resist meddling in her daughter’s life.   As the film begins we see Marnie constantly calling, texting and dropping by unexpectedly to see Lori. At a time when Marnie really needs Lori, Lori is not very nice to her. But we must remember that each of us go through loss differently.  She needs to set boundaries with Marnie.  Lori loves her Mom, but needs her space as she works through the loss of her father. Both mom and daughter see the same therapist, Diane, played by Amy Landecker.

When Marnie is turned away by her daughter, she seeks to build relationships with others (Freddy, a young man played by Jerrod Carmichael, who works at the Apple Store who helps her and she in turn encourages to go to college; Lori’s best friend, Jillian, played by Cecily Strong, who is a young lesbian mom who desires for the wedding she didn’t have and who needs a babysitter; and a lonely old woman in the hospital). At times she shows her love by spending extraordinary amounts of money, out of place given that she hardly knows the people. Is she trying to buy their friendship?  She also strangely seems to care for these strangers more than her husband’s wonderful Italian family back east, who only want a headstone for Joe, or half of his ashes, neither of which Marnie responds to them about.

Marnie is pursued by two divorced men, Oscar nominee Michael McKean as Mark and Oscar winner (for his outstanding performance in Whiplash) J.K. Simmons as the likeable Zipper, a retired policeman, who also has relationship issues with a daughter. Ironically, even though Marnie craves her daughter’s attention, she is uncomfortable with male attention due to her difficulty dealing with her husband’s loss.

Sarandon is excellent in this role as the meddling mother and the grieving wife, as was J.K. Simmons as the low-key and comfortable-in-his-own-skin Zipper. Moral content issues in the film include the support of the lesbian wedding, sex outside of marriage and a strange comment from Lori about abortion. According to Scararia, in real-life, her mom (the Marnie character) was a person of faith, and that faith helped her through her loss. Unfortunately, the film shows none of Marnie’s faith.  And despite a cast that includes Sarandon and Simmons, the film was pretty slow, and in many ways depicted what John Piper would refer to as a wasted life.


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FAITH AND WORK: Connecting Sunday to Monday

Faith and Work News ~ Links to Interesting Articles:

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THIS & THAT and Favorite Quotes of the Week

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GENDER:gender

  • God Made Us Male and Female, and That’s a Good Thin Scott Sauls writes “Whether through marriage or friendship, the coming together of the genders is so significant that it becomes the top metaphor in the Bible to illustrate God’s relationship with his people.”
  • Federal Government Issues Letter on Transgender Policy to America’s Public Schools. Joe Carter writesOn Friday, May 13, the Obama administration sent a letter to all public schools in America notifying teachers and administrators of the regulations they must comply with in regards to their students’ “gender identity. The letter states that, to comply with Federal law, policies concerning students must be based on their gender identity and not on their biological sex.”
  • What the Transgender Bathroom Debate Means to You. Russell Moore writes “The truth is that the male/female sex difference is objectively real. Biological science is built off of this reality. More importantly, the mystery of Christ tells us that the male/female binary points us beyond nature to the gospel itself (Eph. 5). We must tell the truth about this. John the Baptist lost his head for saying that Herod could not have his brother’s wife. Some now will be targeted as culturally unacceptable because they tell Herod he can’t be his brother’s wife. That will take courage and compassion and, above all, it will take Christ.”
  • 7 Troubling Questions About Transgender Theories. Trevin Wax writes “We believe God’s design of male and female to be structurally good, but we also understand gender dysphoria to be another symptom that reminds us we live in a fallen world. For this reason, we must extend love and compassion to anyone who experiences this kind of distress, even as we reject society’s efforts to establish a fluid understanding of personhood.”

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25 Great Quotes from What’s Best Next by Matt Perman

What's Best NextI recently completed a wonderful study of Matt Perman’s excellent book What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms The Way You Get Things Done, with some friends in a faith and work book club at work. It was the second time I had read the book since its release in 2014.

There is so much of value in the book that it is extremely difficult to pick out just a few favorite quotes, but here are 25 that I found particularly helpful. I would highly recommend that you read this book on “Gospel-Driven Productivity”.

  1. True productivity is not first about efficiency — doing things right and doing them quickly — but effectiveness — doing the right things.
  2. Productivity is about making a contribution and giving more than we get so that God gets the glory (not us).
  3. A radical concern for others is to be at the heart of our productivity and at the heart of everything we do every day.
  4. Being productive is not just about getting things done. It’s about being a useful person, making a contribution, and leaving things better than you found them.
  5. Generosity is to be the guiding principle for our lives. This is both the right thing to do and the way to be most productive. It is the surprising, counterintuitive key to productivity.
  6. The overarching principle of the Christian life is that we are here to serve, to the glory of God. According to the Bible, a truly productive life is lived in service to others.
  7. If our works are to be truly productive — that is, affirmed by God at the final judgment and last forever — they need to be done with a love for God at the center. Anything else is ultimately idolatry
  8. One of the best forms of generosity in our work is excellence. Excellence matters not only because it is right and exciting in itself, but even more significantly because it is a way of serving people.
  9. The fundamental way to know what’s best next — to make good decisions in an age of unlimited options — is to be a person of character
  10. Discernment based on love is the way to know what’s best.
  11. The core principle of effectiveness is to know what’s most important and put it first.
  12. The ultimate foundation of your mission is not your character or even correct principles. It’s what God has done for you in Christ and the fact that, if you believe in Christ, God is now your Father.
  13. The purpose of life is to know God, enjoy God, reflect his glory back to him in the pursuit of justice and mercy in all things, and do this in community with others through Jesus Christ.
  14. Your mission is the ultimate reason for your existence — forever. It is your chief why. Your life goal is the concrete what. It is the chief way that you seek to fulfill your mission.
  15. You need to have an overarching, passionate, God-centered aim to your life — an overarching goal and message that flows from your mission and directs the priorities of your life.
  16. Your roles are all callings from God and thus avenues of worship. You can serve him just as fully in the “secular” areas of your life as you can in the spiritual areas.
  17. God designed the world so that there will always be more things for us to do than we are able to do. This isn’t just so we learn to prioritize; it’s so that we learn to depend on one another. And that’s what delegation enables us to do.
  18. Put first things first, and stop doing second things. The fundamental ways to reduce are through delegating, eliminating, automating, and deferring (DEAD).
  19. Multitasking seems like a way to save time but actually costs more time and is, in fact, impossible. It is inefficient because it makes both tasks take longer. But it is also impossible because you cannot literally multitask. The human brain simply cannot focus on two things at once. God is the only multitasker.
  20. Ask in everything: How can I build others up? This brings us back to the fundamental principle behind everything: You are here to do good for others, to the glory of God. All productivity practices, all of our work, everything is given to us by God for the purpose of serving others.
  21. Since Gospel-Driven Productivity is about putting our productivity practices — and all that we have — in the service of God’s purposes, that means we will put our productivity practices in the service of fighting large global problems and bringing the gospel to all nations.
  22. See everything you do, in all areas of your life, as means of serving God and others.
  23. It is in our vocations that we take our faith into the world and the gospel spreads most fully. Whatever your job is, wherever you are, it is both meaningful in itself and a means of advancing the gospel. It is through your work that God changes the world.
  24. We can go even farther and say that non-ministry vocations are the key to the spread of the gospel globally, because our vocations are the chief way we bring our faith into the world. The gospel spreads through our vocations.
  25. We must have a robust doctrine of work if we are going to reach the nations with the gospel.

To find out more about Matt’s ministry and check out some helpful resources, go to his website.


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Movie Review ~ A Hologram for the King

A Hologram for the KingA Hologram for the King
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In this screen version of Dave Eggers’ book directed and written by Tom Tykwer, Tom Hanks stars as Alan Clay. Alan was once a successful salesman, but things aren’t going so well these days. As a member of Schwinn’s Board of Directors, Alan made the decision to outsource American jobs to China, a decision that didn’t turn out well. He has recently gone through an ugly divorce, and is on his way to Saudi Arabia to try to sell holographic IT systems to the king for a massive new development in the middle of the desert that will include 1.5 million people by 2025. We see the project in various stages of construction with no working going on, but this is never explained to the viewer.

Alan is under heavy pressure from his boss to close the deal, who checks in with him several times a day. We get the idea that the deal is a must for Alan to keep his job. He also needs to make the deal to pay for his daughter’s college education.  Despite being divorce, Alan has a very good relationship with his daughter Kit, played by Tracey Fairaway. She encourages him in the job he is in Saudi Arabia to do, unlike his father who is a discourager.

Unfortunately for Alan, nothing goes right once he gets to Saudi Arabia. He is badly jet lagged, oversleeps every morning, (never setting an alarm – duh!), and repeatedly gets drunk (in a country where alcohol is illegal). Things don’t go much better for Alan and his team as they try to get an audience with the king to make their sales presentation.

Since he oversleeps each morning, Alan needs a driver to get him to the king’s development an hour away. Alexander Black, as Yousef, is a likable driver, who eventually bonds with Alan.  We enjoyed Yousef’s music he played in the car and the beautiful scenes of Saudi Arabia. Yousef, and Muslims in general, are portrayed sympathetically; not as terrorists or as folks that treat women as second-class citizens, but mostly just as ordinary people in this film – though there is a passing reference to public executions that take place in the city Alan is staying in. Muslims are often portrayed praying in this film.

Eventually we realize that Alan is depressed. He develops a medical condition that is meant as a metaphor for his depression. When he seeks medical attention, he runs into Dr. Zahra Hakem (Sarita Choudhury), a rare female physician, and even rarer still is that she is in the presence of a man alone in a Muslim country as she treats Alan.

As the film goes on, we see Alan beginning to gain more confidence.  However, it largely takes place in a slow moving film that doesn’t have much of a plot. There is some humor sprinkled in, but watching the film, I felt I was living through the same depressing nightmare that defined Alan’s life. As a result, I cannot recommend this film to you; instead I’m recommending that you wait for Hanks’ upcoming film entitled Sulley, directed by Clint Eastwood.

Hanks’ performance is fine, but certainly nothing special. The best part of the film is the opening scene in which Hanks talk-sings “Once in a Lifetime” by the Talking Heads.

This is the second collaboration between Hanks and Tykwer, the first being 2012’s Cloud Atlas, a film we did not see. It seems a strange vehicle for Hanks, as it is based on a book that has gotten very mixed reader reviews on Amazon.

The film is rated R for some adult language and unnecessary female nudity.


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Book Review: Living in the Light: Money, Sex and Power by John Piper

Living in the LightLiving in the Light: Money, Sex and Power by John Piper. The Good Book Company. 144 pages. 2016    
****

This book was birthed from conference messages that the author delivered in 2015. Piper states that the main thesis of this book is that money, sex, and power, which began as God’s good gifts to humanity, have become dangerous because all human beings have exchanged the glory of God for images. In addition, money, sex, and power will be restored to their God-glorifying place by the redemption that God brought into the world through Jesus Christ. He approaches his subject with a strategy to define, defeat and deploy. He gives us definitions and foundations, dangers and how to defeat them, potentials and how to deploy them.

In defining money, he tells us that money is the symbolic representation of quantities of value. It becomes a moral issue because of the rightness or wrongness of what we pursue with this gift God has given us. We can pursue good, and we can pursue evil. We can use it to show that we value money more than Christ; or we can use it to show that we value Christ more than money.  He tells us that there is no link between having much money and knowing much happiness in this life—or the next.

In defining “sex” he means experiencing erotic stimulation; seeking to get the experience, or seeking to give the experience. He tells us that sex is a good gift from God in all those ways. He writes that our sexual sinning is rooted in the fact that we don’t treasure the glory of God as supremely desirable over all things. Jesus, Peter, Paul, John and the writer to the Hebrews all sound the note of danger that lies ahead for those who do not repent of sexual sin. He tells us that when it comes to our sex lives, the issue is this: Do we see the glory of God? Do we treasure the glory? Are we deeply content?

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