Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

music-reviews-tape
Never Lose Sight - Chris TomlinNever Lose Sight – Chris Tomlin (Deluxe Edition)
****

Chris Tomlin is one of my favorite artists. We get the benefit of his music on the annual Passion releases as well as his solo albums. His worship songs are sung by an estimated 30 million people in churches around the world each week, leading some to refer to him as America’s worship Leader. This highly anticipated release is his eleventh studio album and first album of all new non-Christmas songs since 2014’s excellent Love Ran Red.  Tomlin has stated that joy is at the heart of the album because of what Jesus has done for us.

Every well-crafted and performed song on this album is excellent, resulting in what most artists would be proud to have as a “Greatest Hits” collection. It will most likely (short of an unexpected release), be my favorite album of the year.

Below are a few comments on each of the songs on the Deluxe Edition of the album:

Good Good Father – This song was written by Pat Barrett and Tony Brown, and has been recorded by a number of artists, including Housefires. It is probably the most popular song that Tomlin has ever recorded, winning the 2016 Dove Award for song of the year. The single was released a year ago and is still near the top of the Christian charts. The song was also the inspiration for the children’s picture book of the same name co-written with Pat Barrett. 
Jesus
– Written with Ed Cash, this was the second single released from the album. This is a straight forward worship song about our Savior:
Who walks on the waters
Who speaks to the sea
Who stands in the fire beside me
He roars like a lion
He bled as the lamb
He carries my healing in his hands
Jesus

Impossible Things – Danny Gokey, a third place finalist on the eighth season of American Idol, joins Tomlin on this song. He recently won the Dove Award for Christmas album of the year for his album Christmas is Here. The songs starts an infectious beat with Tomlin singing over acoustic guitar and drum. Gokey joins him on verse 2 which is from Psalm 23. Our God is with us, we will fear no evil because He does impossible things. This joyful song will be wonderful to sing in a worship service.
Home – Written with Ed Cash and Scott Cash, this song is about longing for Heaven, our ultimate home and where we belong. This is an upbeat, joyful song that opens with hand claps and is instantly likeable. It is based on Revelation 21 and will sound great in concert or a worship service.  
God Of Calvary
– Written by Tomlin, Jonas Myrin and Matt Redman, this is Tomlin’s favorite song on the album. The song takes us from the cross to the resurrection. It begins with what takes place on the cross at Calvary and then moves into a triumphant chorus. We are set free by His wounds and redeemed by His blood. Christ crossed the great divide for us. Redman provided the bridge, from which Tomlin takes the title of the album. He will never lose sight of the cross and Christ. The song then moves to Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

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MOVIE REVIEW ~ PRICELESS

pricelessPriceless, rated PG-13
** ½

This film is truly a family effort from the Australian born Smallbone family. Directed by Ben Smallbone and starring brother Joel Smallbone, who along with another brother Luke comprise the two-time Grammy winning Christian music duo For King & Country. I was familiar with the duo for their work with Lecrae on his song “Messengers” from his 2014 album Anomaly, for which they won a Grammy. Some may recall Christian singer Rebecca Saint James, who is a sister of the above mentioned brothers. Luke James and father Dave act as producers of the film. The film is written by Chris Dowling and Tyler Poelle.

The film was inspired by director Ben Smallbone’s work on a documentary that followed a former pimp who rescued people from human trafficking, and by the band For King & Country’s emphasis on respecting women.  The main character is James Stevens (Joel Smallbone). At one time, life had been going well for James. He had a wife and small daughter, Emmy (Sierra Rose Smith). But then his wife dies (we aren’t given the details) and he isn’t able to hold onto a job. Eventually, he loses custody of his daughter, who goes to live with his mother.

Hoping to get custody of his daughter again, James needs work. He agrees to drive a box truck across country for cash. He doesn’t know what he is hauling and he is told not to ask questions. His only stipulation is that he won’t haul drugs. However, before reaching his destination, he finds out that he is transporting two frightened sisters Antonia (Bianca Santos) and her younger sister Maria (Amber Midthunder), who are unaware of what is awaiting them at the seedy Motel 12 in an unnamed Southwest community at the end of their journey. James builds a relationship with the girls over the rest of the trip and then is horrified at what becomes of them. He immediately decides that he has to make right what he had a hand in.

He meets the likeable Dale (David Koechner, who usually plays comedic roles), who manages a motel. Dale has a personal reason for helping James to rescue the girls. Both Dale and James are willing to risk their own lives to try to save the lives of Antonia and Maria.

Some estimates about human trafficking indicate that it is a $32 billion a year industry that enslaves more than 20 million people worldwide. Many of the victims are young girls between the ages of 12 and 14. Although a horrendous subject matter, the filmmakers are able to communicate the horrors of human trafficking without showing anything in explicit detail, and as a result raise awareness of trafficking. Still, this is not a film for children.

The film was surprisingly well made for what I assume to be a relatively low-budget movie that as filmed in and around Albuquerque, New Mexico in only 17 days. I was impressed with Joel Smallbone’s performance in the lead role. The film includes For King & Country’s song “Priceless” as the closing credits roll. Watch the lyric video for the song here.


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FAITH AND WORK: Connecting Sunday to Monday

Faith and Work News ~ Links to Interesting Articles

YOUR WORK MATTERS TO GOD

your-work-matters

  • God’s Work; Our Work. Amy Sherman writes “In the midst of the tedium that inevitably accompanies any job (in varying degrees), it can be easy to wonder at times whether our work really matters. One way of battling the temptation to believe the lie that our work doesn’t matter is to see the connections between what we do each day and what God is doing from day to day.”
  • Tent-Making Is Not Second-Class. Tom Nelson writes “A closer look at 1 Thessalonians reveals that one connecting thread flowing from Paul’s inspired pen is a robust understanding and affirmation of Christian vocation. Indeed, vocational diligence is one of the letter’s main literary themes.”
  • Vocation is Integral. Steven Garber was the speaker at my Covenant Seminary graduation. “Many people today see their job as nothing more than a paycheck. But is one’s calling more than that? Steven Garber says yes. He says there is an intimate connection between one’s faith, vocation, and culture. “Vocation is integral,” he says, “not incidental to the missio Dei.” Steven explains how most of what God is doing in the world happens in and through the vocations of his people.”
  • On Calling, Ambition and Surrender. “Many of us struggle to discern our role in God’s bigger plan for the world; some of us even struggle to see God’s plan at all. We’re unsure of our purpose, or uncertain of how we can use that purpose to bring renewal to our communities. Pete Richardson helps executive, church, and cultural leaders hone in on their life purpose and perspective. He reveals some of the questions we need to ask ourselves, and the results we can expect when we respond to God’s very personal assignment for each of us.”
  • Working for God’s Glory. I’m looking forward to Michael Horton’s session on the doctrine of vocation at the 2017 Ligonier National Conference. Here’s a description of the session “Reformation extends to all matters of life, including theology, church, home, and society. This session will outline the doctrine of vocation and explain how it relates to other doctrines such as the priesthood of all believers, with a view toward encouraging greater faithfulness, innovation, and productivity in the workplace and beyond. It will consider why glorifying God in our callings is vital to the kingdom of God for future centuries.”vocation
  • Why Do People Work? Anne Bradley writes “You are created uniquely and have something to offer to the world.  You have a real contribution to make through your work and that contribution can have lasting significance for the Kingdom of Christ, even if you are flipping burgers.”
  • Connecting to a Higher Purpose – Especially at Work. Hugh Whelchel writes “Understanding our calling is not just about finding purpose in our work but finding purpose in everything we do – understanding that we are on a mission for God.”
  • The Fruit of the Spirit and Your Work. Matt Perman writes “And, this also helps us see why our work matters. For when we are doing our work, we aren’t just doing work. We are engaging in an opportunity to display the fruit of the Spirit and manifest the character of God all day long, right here in the concrete realities of everyday life.”
  • Your Work Matters. Watch this sermon from John MacArthur from 2 Thessalonians 3: 6-15.
  • Five Aims in Vocation. Amy Sherman writes “while it’s difficult to say with precision what career a particular Christian should take up, it is possible to suggest some overarching vocational aims to pursue. Here are five—each with a story to illustrate.”
  • Discovering the Reformation View of Work. Hugh Whelchel writes “It was initially through Martin Luther’s efforts that the 16th century Reformers began to recover the biblical doctrine of work. They began to recognize that all of life, including daily work, can be understood as a calling from God.”
  • The Historical Influences of the Sacred-Secular Divide. Hugh Welchel writes “Finding significance in our work requires that we once again overcome the sacred-secular divide and embrace a biblical view of work.”

REAL-LIFE EXAMPLES:

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THIS & THAT and Favorite Quotes of the Week

this.n.that-small

NOW THAT’S A GOOD QUESTION!questions

  • Why Does God Regret and Repent in the Bible? In this episode of the “Ask Pastor John” podcast, John Piper states “One of the great implications of all of this is that when God makes a promise to us, he does it with complete foreknowledge of all the future circumstances and is, therefore, never caught off guard by anything. And so, his promises will stand according to his infinite wisdom.”
  • Is a Belief in Hell Incompatible with the Truth That God Is Love? Randy Alcorn writes “I personally have studied the doctrine of Hell in the hopes of being able to come either to a position of universalism, or at very least the doctrine of annihilation. Unfortunately, I have not been able to do so and stay true to the Scripture I see.”
  • Struggling with Insecurity and Assurance of Salvation?  C. Sproul writes “Real assurance rests on a sound understanding of salvation, a sound understanding of justification, a sound understanding of sanctification, and a sound understanding of ourselves. In all these matters we have the comfort and assistance of the Holy Spirit who illumines the text of Scripture for us, who works in us to yield the fruit of sanctification, and who bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.”
  • Do You Set an Example in Your Conduct? Tim Challies, writing to younger Christians in their teens or twenties, writes “But did you know that you are also to stand as an example of Christian character and maturity before other Christians, even when those Christians are older, wiser, and godlier than you? That is a scary thought, an intimidating challenge.”
  • What Does It Mean to Fear God?C. Sproul writes “We need to make some important distinctions about the biblical meaning of “fearing” God. These distinctions can be helpful, but they can also be a little dangerous.”
  • Does The Local Church Really Matter? Tim Challies writes “What is the church? Why has God called us into these little communities? Does the local church really matter? It does! The local church is foundational to God’s plan for his people.”
  • The State of Theology: Who Is the Christ We Are Following? Stephen Nichols writes “In “The State of Theology” study for 2016, which we (Ligonier) undertook with Lifeway Research, we focused two of the 47 statements on the identity of Christ.”
  • Should Christians Feel Guilty All The Time? Kevin DeYoung writes “I’m convinced most serious Christians live their lives with an almost constant low-level sense of guilt.”
  • What is Grace? Bryan Chapell, who was President of Covenant Seminary during most of my time there, offers this short excerpt from his excellent new book Unlimited Grace “Ultimately, grace is God providing for people who cannot provide for themselves.”

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What are You Willing to Compromise?    

compromise

A compromise doesn’t have to be something negative. For example, we compromise when a dispute is settled by mutual concession. But a compromise can also be when we accept standards that are lower than desirable. It is that latter definition that I want to explore here – those situations in which we compromise our character, values, beliefs or integrity. James 4:17 tells us “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin”.

I got to thinking about this recently when we were discussing the chapter on missions from John Piper’s book Don’t Waste Your Life in our faith and work book club at work. One of the members of our group asked what we would do if our employer put strong restrictions on how we lived out our faith at work. One way of looking at this issue is by looking at R.C. Sproul’s quote about obeying the government. Sproul stated that we should obey the government unless it prohibits us from doing something that God commands, or commands us to do something that God prohibits.

I thought about the concept of compromise again a few days later when I heard that the Chicago White Sox baseball team had hired Rick Renteria as their new manager. Renteria had been the manager of the rebuilding crosstown Chicago Cubs, and assured that he would be returning for the 2015 season until Joe Madden, arguably one of the best managers in the game, became available. Then Cubs president Theo Epstein went back on his word to Renteria. Epstein didn’t skirt the issue at the time, stating “We saw it as a unique opportunity and faced a clear dilemma: be loyal to Rick or be loyal to the organization. In this business of trying to win a world championship for the first time in 107 years, the organization has priority over any one individual. We decided to pursue Joe.”  So the Cubs, who on Saturday night advanced to the World Series for the first time in 71 years, and will face the Cleveland Indians to try to win it for the first time since 1908, compromised their promise to their manager, so that they could sign another manager that could lead them to a championship. That is what the Cubs were willing to compromise on – winning a championship became more important than keeping their word. And so that my Cub fan readers won’t think I’m picking just on them, many St. Louis Cardinals fans felt that the Cardinals organization compromised a few years back when they signed infielder Jhonny Peralta who had been caught and punished for using performance enhancing drugs.  How about you? In what areas are you willing to compromise?

There are an endless amount of other situations we could look at regarding compromise. This year’s presidential election gives us many examples. I’ll consider just two. What about Mike Pence, an Evangelical who agreed to be the running mate of Donald Trump, a man of questionable principles? Or how about Tim Kaine, a Roman Catholic, who agreed to be the running mate of Hillary Clinton and run on a pro-abortion platform, which is contrary to his Catholic faith?

The Bible gives us both positive (Daniel) and negative (David) examples as far as compromise. In what areas of life do we face compromise today? There are many, and here are just a few possibilities:

  • As a leader, do you take credit when things go well, but blame your team when things don’t?
  • Or do we shade the truth at work to put ourselves in a positive light, perhaps by taking credit for work that we didn’t do?
  • Are we dishonest when completing our tax returns?
  • Do we visit Internet sites that we know we shouldn’t because nobody is watching?
  • Do we handle our business dealings with integrity?
  • Do we share information with others when we’ve been asked not to? (Even under the guise of praying for someone).
  • As a leader, are you known for doing whatever it takes to help you achieve your career goals for advancement, mowing over people and leaving “dead bodies” in your wake?
  • Do we compromise our marriage vows by carrying on an affair, even an affair of the heart, with a co-worker?
  • Do we tell others that we will be praying for them to make ourselves look good, but then not pray for them?

As Christians, we don’t want to be people who compromise our character, values, beliefs or integrity. It’s easy to find plenty of examples about others who have compromised, but harder to look at ourselves. What other examples of compromise can you think of?


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MOVIE REVIEW ~ Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

jack-reacher-never-go-backJack Reacher: Never Go Back, rated PG-13
***

This film, the second in the Jack Reacher film series starring Tom Cruise as Reacher, is based on the eighteenth book in Lee Childs’ Jack Reacher series. In the books, Reacher has a 50 inch chest, is 6’5” and weighs 250 pounds. Cruise is just 5’7″ and weighs less than 200 pounds.

Child actually appears in the film as a TSA agent who overlooks the fact that Reacher doesn’t match the stolen ID he is using to board a plane. The film is directed by Oscar winner Edward Zwick (Shakespeare in Love). Zwick also co-writes the $68 million film with Marshall Herskovitz (as they re-wrote Richard Wenk’s script).

**SPOILER ALERT!**

Reacher is a former Major in the Military Police. The film opens with a scene familiar to those who have seen the excellent trailer (see below), where Jack partners with the Military Police to take down a corrupt sheriff and his deputies. Afterwards as he travels by hitch-hiking around the country, he begins having occasional phone conversations with Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders, Agent Maria Hill from The Avengers films and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television series). They joke about having dinner together the next time Jack is in Washington D.C. However, when Jack actually shows up he finds Colonel Morgan (Holt McCallany) in Susan’s office. Colonel Morgan tells him that Major Turner has been arrested for espionage. She might also be responsible for the murder of two of her own people in Afghanistan. In addition to that Jack is told that he has a now 15 year-old daughter that he doesn’t know about named Samantha Dayton (Danika Yarosh). And on top of all that (talk about a bad day!), even though he is no longer a Major in the Military Police, as he mentions several times in the film, Colonel Morgan finds a loophole that allows them to hold Reacher in MP custody.

Jack suspects a conspiracy from the start and is able to break Susan out, with both of them now becoming targets of a military contractor called Para Source, and their assassin credited as “The Hunter” (Patrick Heusinger). Jack, intrigued at the idea that he may actually have a daughter, tracks Samantha down. Before long, Jack, Susan and Samantha are all targets of The Hunter, with things culminating in New Orleans.

Cruise, Smulders and Yarosh have good chemistry as they seek to evade The Hunter and get to the root of the conspiracy so that they can clear Major Turner’s name. I found myself caring about these characters and also wondering if Samantha was really Jack’s daughter as they begin to build a father-daughter bond. Turner is tough as nails, in many ways a female Reacher, and yet also shows a motherly-side towards Samantha.

The film has at times over the top violence that earns its “PG-13” rating, and certainly pushes the “R” rating boundary. There are no sexual content issues to be concerned about, which was refreshing, and the adult language is less than we would experience in a film of this genre, though God’s and Jesus’ names are both abused multiple times in this film as they are in almost every film in theatres these days.

Cruise was excellent in the role of Jack Reacher, and I hope we see more films with him as Reacher. Smolders, who did all of her own stunts in the film, spending eight weeks training in various martial arts to prepare for the role, was a good partner to Cruise as Major Turner.

I enjoyed the film, but would caution potential viewers of the at times brutal violence portrayed.


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

music-review

American Prodigal CrowderAmerican Prodigal (Deluxe Edition) – Crowder
****

After a successful sixteen-year run leading the David Crowder Band that ended in 2012, David Crowder, now known simply as Crowder, released Neon Steeple in 2014, one of my favorite albums of that year. He returns now with American Prodigal, and what he calls “swamp pop”. The album features recurring themes of sin and forgiveness, chains, freedom, being a prodigal and Heaven.  Below are a few thoughts about each of the songs on the Deluxe edition of the album:

American Intro – This brief minute and a half opener features Crowder with a simple piano backing. He wants Heaven to be opened and all of the angels of Heaven to sing along Come on Hallelujah!

Keep Me – This is a prayer to the Lord to keep him walking as the devil keeps calling him back. But the Lord keeps calling him home. It features a foot-stomping, hand-clapping, heavy beat, banjo, fiddle, good backing vocals and even some rapping from Crowder.  The chorus reminded me a bit of Toby Mac’s “Move (Keep Walkin’).

Run Devil Run – The first single, this is a rousing toe-tapping rocker. He sings that he has something that’s going to make the devil run. He has three (the Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and the devil has none. We have revival. A song that will really be fun in concert.

My Victory – Was included on the Passion album Salvation’s Tide is Rising. This is a great song that will be sung in churches around the world. It features more of a Passion band sound than Crowder’s usual “folktronica” sound. It starts slow and then builds to a powerful chorus and the line “A cross meant to kill is my victory”. Amen! One of my favorite songs of the year.

Prove It – This song features Christian rapper KB. It has a foot-stomping, driving beat. It’s about freedom. He sings that if you’re free, prove it. If not, loose the chains on your soul.    

All Your Burdens – This song opens with banjo and then goes into a driving rocker with excellent guitar and drums. He sings that all his burdens weigh him down, but the chains will be broken and we shall overcome and have victory.

Back to the Garden – This song is from the perspective of Adam. He sings that he was born to be royal and made for glory, but was torn from the garden when the devil lied to him.  It starts slow and builds powerfully. He longs to go back to the garden when he walked in the presence of God. The song features a blazing guitar solo.

Forgiven – A powerful worship song that begins with guitar and piano, then builds with banjo and drums. He sings that he was the one who held the nail, hid in the garden and denied Jesus with his lips. Despite this, we can receive God’s unconditional love and find freedom by falling to our knees and receive forgiveness from our sins.

Promised Land (Glory, Hallelujah) – This is a triumphant worship song featuring Crowder’s swamp sound. Who has the power (to save, heal, raise the dead, make me whole, etc.)? It’s his sweet Lord. He’s longing for the Promised Land. It features a rap from Christian rapper Tedashii, who will be touring with Crowder.

All My Hope – This song has the feel of an old-time gospel song. It opens with piano, and builds slowly with light drums and finishes with a great backing choir. He’s been held by the Savior. All his hope is in Jesus. All of his sins are forgiven. He’s been washed by the blood. The chains are removed, he’s freed and forgiven.  One of my favorites on the album.

Shouting Grounds – This song features the swamp pop sound. He should be dead but he’s alive. He’s a prodigal, who was lost but now is found. He wants to be taken to shouting grounds, where it’s going to get loud. No grave is going to hold him down. This is a triumphant, victory song.  Features some Native American chanting toward the end of the song.

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