Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of Passengers

passengersPassengers, rated PG-13
** ½  

Though mildly entertaining, and featuring some solid acting performances and visuals, Passengers doesn’t quite live up to the high expectations I had for this film. My recommendation is to save your money on seeing this film in the theatre, and wait for it to come out on video/streaming.

Passengers is directed by Oscar nominee (The Imitation Game) Morten Tyldum and written by Jon Spaihts (Doctor Strange). It features star power in Oscar winner (Silver Linings Playbook) Jennifer Lawrence as the writer Aurora Lane and Chris Pratt (Jurassic World, Guardians of the Galaxy) as the mechanical engineer Jim Preston. The film had an estimated budget of $110 million. Of that, Lawrence reportedly was paid $20 million and Pratt $12 million. However, reports were that reshoots for the film were scheduled as late as October, just two months before release, to correct story elements that were not working.

**SPOILER ALERT**

The film tells us about the Starship Avalon, which is transporting 5,259 people (5,000 passengers and 259 crew members), on a 120-year voyage from an overcrowded Earth to a distant planet known as the Homestead Colony. As the ship goes through a severe meteor shower just 30 years into the voyage, the ship is jarred and Preston’s hibernation pod is opened. (Note: the hibernation pods reminded me of those featured in the television series Wayward Pines).  We see Jim awake, and slowly realize that something has gone terribly wrong. He is the only one on the ship who is awake, and he has awoken nearly 90 years too early. We can feel his utter loneliness and helplessness as he wanders around the ship and even outside of it for more than a year, at one point contemplating suicide, as he realizes he will not be alive when the ship reaches its destination. We see his appearance deteriorate. His only companion is Arthur, an android bartender, my favorite character in the film, played by Michael Sheen (The Queen).

Jim then notices the beautiful Aurora asleep in her pod. As he begins to find out more about her by watching her videos, he longs to spend time with her. He is so lonely that he contemplates waking her up. He knows exactly what that would mean to her, and he seriously battles with that moral dilemma. But then we see him give in to the loneliness, and make the decision to wake her up.

But Jim isn’t honest with Aurora about why she woke up. We see their relationship grow, inevitably leading to them having sex a few times. We also see them work together to address mechanical issues that arise on the ship. The only other human that wakes up is Gus Mancuso, Oscar nominee (What’s Love Got to Do With It) Lawrence Fishburne.

******************

The film included some good, though not great visuals, especially the exterior views of the ship as it continued on its 120 year journey to the Homestead Colony. We saw the film in 3D, and though I didn’t feel it added much to the experience (except the additional $3 to the ticket price), there was one very impressive scene with a swimming pool when gravity was suspended.

The acting in the film was good. Pratt did an excellent job of portraying loneliness and hopelessness. It shows what Genesis 2:18 states “Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”

Lawrence, already a four-time Oscar nominee at age 26, brought her usual strong performance. The film includes some nudity (Pratt, when he is alone on the ship), and some sexual content. There is minimal adult language included, which was refreshing for a PG-13 film. The film in addition to the themes of loneliness, helplessness and disappointment, also shows self-sacrifice, courage and love.


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My 2016 Favorites

these-are-a-few-of-my-favorite-thingsAs I have for the past several years, I want to share with you some of my favorites from 2016 in a variety of categories. These are all items that were released or took place in 2016 except for books; I include my favorite books of the 62 that I’ve actually read during 2016.  My top 20 books include three each by Sinclair Ferguson and Tim Keller and two by Bryan Chapell.  Enjoy, and please let me know what you think of my list and share some of your favorites.

Never Lose Sight - Chris TomlinFavorite Music Album:  Never Lose Sight by Chris Tomlin. Here’s my review.

Here are the rest of my top 20 favorite albums, listed in order:

  1. Where the Light Shines Through – Switchfoot
  2. Church Clothes 3 – Lecrae
  3. Keep Me Singing – Van Morrison
  4. Spirit – Amos Lee
  5. All at Once – Phil Keaggy
  6. American Prodigal – Crowder
  7. The Waiting Room – Trip Lee
  8. These Christmas Lights – Matt Redman
  9. Fallen Angels – Bob Dylan
  10. Facing a Task Unfinished – Keith and Kristyn Getty
  11. Hard Love – NEEDTOBREATHE
  12. Wow to the Deadness (EP) – Steve Taylor and the Danielson Foil
  13. This Time Around (EP) – Tedashii
  14. Blue and Lonesome – Rolling Stones
  15. Hymns II – Michael W. Smith
  16. Worship and Believe – Steven Curtis Chapman
  17. I Still Can – Eric Clapton
  18. Stranger to Stranger – Paul Simon
  19. Acoustic Christmas – Neil Diamond

yes-and-amen-chris-tomlinFavorite Song:  Yes and Amen by Chris Tomlin

Here are the rest of my top 10 favorite songs, listed in order, along with one bonus song from Trip Lee:

  1. Running Out of Time – Amos Lee
  2. My Victory – Crowder
  3. Jumped Out the Whip – Tedashii
  4. Float – Switchfoot
  5. My Worth Is Not In Not In What I Own – Keith and Kristyn Getty with Fernando Ortega
  6. Testify – NEEDTOBREATHE
  7. Children Go Where I Send Thee – Neil Diamond with the Blind Boys of Alabama
  8. I’m Good – Tedashii
  9. I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine – Eric Clapton

Bonus song: Clouds – Trip Lee

chris-tomlinFavorite Artist of the Year: Obviously Chris Tomlin is my top artist for the year. He has my top album – Never Lose Sight – and song “Yes and Amen” and his song “Good Good Father”, though released in October, 2015, still topped 2016’s Billboard’s Christian Digital Songs chart.

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My Review of Fences

fencesFences, rated PG-13
****

It took 360 days into 2016, but I finally saw my hands-down top movie of the year!

Fences is based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play by the late August Wilson who is also credited with the screenplay. The play won a Tony Award in 1987 with James Earl Jones and Mary Alice in the lead roles, and had a 2010 revival on Broadway, starring two-time Oscar winner (Glory, Training Day) Denzel Washington as Troy Maxson and two-time Oscar nominee (The Help, Doubt) Viola Davis as his wife Rose. Washington directs the film version, his third overall, and first since 2007’s The Great Debaters. The film has received two Golden Globe nominations – for Best Performance by an Actor (Washington) and Actress (Davis).  Joining Washington and Davis from the 2010 Broadway revival of the play are Stephen Henderson as Troy’s longtime friend and co-worker Bono, Russell Hornsby as Lyons, Troy’s musician son from a previous marriage who Troy considers a freeloader, and Mykelti Williamson (Forrest Gump), as Troy’s brother Gabriel. Gabriel was badly injured in World War II. He has a metal plate in his head and walks throughout the neighborhood with his trumpet waiting to blow it for Saint Peter to open the gates of Heaven. In addition, Jovan Adepo stars as Troy’s youngest son Cory, who is a good high school football player being recruited by a university.

The film is set in Pittsburgh, and Washington does a good job showing us what a working-class Pittsburgh neighborhood in the 1950’s looked like. My wife loved the reminders of living in a tight-knit neighborhood where all the kids played outside together.  Much of the film takes place on Friday nights after work in the small backyard of the Maxson home where Troy and Bono enjoy some gin. Troy was a one-time Negro League baseball player who had once hoped for a major league career but now hauls garbage for the city.  Troy often goes off on monologues about injustices that have been done to him, often using baseball as a metaphor. He also touches on the importance of hard work, diligence and self-reliance.

The title of the film refers to the fence that Troy is building around the backyard, and that Cory and Bono occasionally help him with. Bono states that fences can both keep things out, and also keep things in.

**SPOILER ALERT**

Troy is a proud and bitter man. He is a good provider for his family (although later we find out it was Gabriel’s settlement payment for his injuries that paid for Troy’s home). He is also an ex-convict, who spent 15 years in the penitentiary for killing a man. Troy compares his father to the devil, never learned to read, has dialogues with death, and overall is very opinionated. Like all of us, his life is one of contradictions. He wants to be a good man, but makes some painfully bad decisions, reminding me of Paul, writing in Romans 7:15, when he states “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”   We see Troy reaping what he sows, and feeling the weight of the consequences of his decisions and actions.

Wife of eighteen years Rose is long-suffering. She is a person of faith and character, and we see her strength and wisdom throughout, especially the last part of the film.

Themes in the film include having and teaching a great work ethic, racism, secrets, lies, pride and guilt and the overall complex relationships Troy has with those around him.

The film features brilliant acting from Washington and Davis, the best I’ve seen this year. Both Washington and Davis should receive Oscar nominations for their roles here. They are joined by a strong supporting cast. I especially enjoyed Troy’s likeable friend and co-worker Bono played by Stephen Henderson who tries to warn him about things he is doing and tries to tell  him that the world is changing around him.

The film is rated “PG-13” for language (the “n-word” is used frequently) and adult themes.


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FAITH AND WORK: Connecting Sunday to Monday

Faith and Work News ~ Links to Interesting Articles

  • ImagoDeiThe Image of God at Work. In this one-minute video, Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, cites the Hoover Dam as an example of the enormous ability and industry that God imbued in humanity at creation. Pastors, he says, need to help their people connect the storyline of scripture with their work and economic lives.

integrating faith and work

  • What Are We Actually Talking About When We Say “Faith and Work”? Matt Rusten writes “While it may be impossible to bring everyone on the same page with a neat and tidy description of what “faith and work” is, there are categories that can help us communicate. David Miller has given one such taxonomy. He defines four different areas in which people integrate faith and work, and encourages us towards a more robust paradigm–that we might seek to understand and integrate them all.”
  • When Will the Church Overcome the Sacred-Secular Divide? Hugh Whelchel writes “Our response as Christians to our Heavenly Father should be unlimited, all encompassing, and comprehensive. It should not be limited to church on Sundays and some personal devotions during the week. It should appear in every dimension of our lives.”
  • Vocation is Integral. 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.
  • mark-miller-quoteLet’s Celebrate Those Who Rest. Courtney Reissig writes “Learning to praise the person who rests as much as the one who works will take some practice on our part, especially those of us who like productivity. But it’s necessary for our spiritual and physical health. We want to be faithful in our work, but let us also be faithful in our rest, living as his image-bearers, depending on him to work on our behalf, and resting in him who always finishes the work he starts.”
  • Quality.  In this “Minute with Maxwell”, John Maxwell states that what sets people and companies apart is the quality and excellence of the products or service that that they provide.
  • Glimpses of Great Joy: Our Good Shepherd-King. Our friend Kevin Halloran writes “One of the scary facts about life is that a bad leader can greatly damage to a nation and its people. People don’t want their lives in the hands of people who don’t know their needs and seem only out to help themselves!”
  • 6 Ways to Stop Being a People Pleaser. Dr. Alan Zimmerman shares six strategies to say “no” more effectively and put a stop to inappropriate people pleasing and start living a saner, more respectful life.
  • How Should a Christian Define Success? Scott Rodin writes “If we believe we were created to know God and enjoy him forever, then our daily passion is being conformed to His image and transformed by the renewing of our minds. This is success in terms of becoming a faithful steward.”
  • Do More Better, the Course. This course from Ligonier Connect, based on Tim Challies’ book, Do More Better, provides a short, practical guide to productivity. Whether you are a student or a professional, a work-from-home dad or a stay-at-home mom, it will help you learn to structure your life to do the most good unto the glory of God.
  • 8 Ways to Use Emotional Intelligence and Make Lasting Connections. Alan Zimmerman writesUnfortunately, the emotional intelligence researchers tell us that relationship skills are critical, but they don’t tell us how to do it. I suggest you start with the following connective communication skills.”
  • Seeing God’s Presence in Government Work. Russell Gehrlein writesNo matter what job we have, we are truly co-workers with God. We bring order out of chaos. We participate in fulfilling the creation mandate to fill, subdue, and rule the earth.”
  • 15 New Books I Recommend. Brad Lomenick recommends these books, three of which I’ve read (Designed to Lead, The Ideal Team Player and Living Forward).

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My Review of Sing

singSing, rated PG
***

This animated film with a budget of approximately $75 million is directed by Garth Jennings and Christophe Lourdelet. It has been nominated for two Golden Globe awards (for Best Animated Motion Picture and also for Stevie Wonder’s song “Faith” for Best Original Song).

Buster Moon (Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyer’s Club), a koala bear, owns a once grand theatre that has fallen on hard times. He can’t pay the stage hands or the mortgage, and is constantly being hounded by the bank. To help generate interest in the theatre and hopefully keep it from closing, he decides to hold a singing competition (think of American Idol), which is questioned by his best friend sheep Eddie (Oscar nominee John C. Reilly). The plan is to offer a $1,000 prize to the winner. But his elderly one-eyed iguana assistant, and my favorite character, Miss Crawly (Garth Jennings) mistakenly lists the prize amount on fliers as $100,000, rather than $1,000. Needless to say, this prize amount generates a lot of interest.

We meet the contestants, all of whom have dreams, and like American Idol we hear their backstories. Finalists include Johnny the ape (Taron Egerton, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Eddie the Eagle), Rosito (Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line) a stay at home mom to 25 little piglets, Ash (Golden Globe nominee Scarlett Johansson, Lost in Translation) a teen punk-rock porcupine, Oscar nominee Seth MacFarlane plays Mike a shady white mouse and Meena (Tori Kelly) is a shy elephant. Throughout the film, you hear bits of more than 85 songs, ranging from the 1940’s to the present day. The film builds to an excellent finale.

I really enjoyed this film. The writing was sharp, and the animation, while not spectacular, was good. While the film will interest children and they will enjoy the animals, some of the backstories were a bit heavy. A theme in the film is to always pursue your dreams. The importance of support from family was another theme.

The film includes a small amount of bathroom humor and some mild sexually suggestive content, such as three female rabbits dancing to Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda”, but overall is acceptable for all ages.


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THIS & THAT and Favorite Quotes of the Week

this.n.that-small

CORREGGIO Nativity (Holy Night) 1528-30

Nativity (Holy Night) by CORREGGIO

Christmas:

  • Must We Believe the Virgin Birth? Albert Mohler writes “This much we know: All those who find salvation will be saved by the atoning work of Jesus the Christ — the virgin-born Savior. Anything less than this is just not Christianity, whatever it may call itself. A true Christian will not deny the Virgin Birth.”
  • The Innkeeper. Watch this eleven-minute video of John Piper reading his classic Christmas poem “The Innkeeper”. The text of the poem is also included.
  • What Does the X in Xmas Mean?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.”
  • Christ’s Supremacy Before the Manger. John MacArthur writes “Christ’s supremacy over all things is what His incarnation ultimately put on display.”
  • Santa Claus: Harmless Fun or Tragic Distraction? In this episode of the “Ask Pastor John” podcast, John Piper addresses a question about Christian parents who allow their children to believe Santa Claus is bringing them gifts on Christmas. He states “My counsel is to give all your efforts to making your children as happy as they can possibly be with every kind of surprise that is rooted in the true meaning of Christmas. Let your decorations point to Jesus. Let your food point to Jesus. Let your games point to Jesus. Let your singing point to Jesus. Out-rejoice the world. Out-give the world. Out-decorate the world, and let it all point to Jesus. And if being Jesus-focused is a killjoy for your Christmas, you don’t know him well.”
  • Is There a “War” on Christmas? In this episode of the Signposts podcast, Russell Moore asks “Should Christians take offense when the signs say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”? If not, how can Christians cope with a rapidly secularizing public square? He talks about what is and what is not evidence of a transforming culture, and the right way Christians ought to respond to both.
  • Joseph, Did You Know? Nicholas T. Batzig writes “Why was it necessary for Jesus to have an earthly father if He didn’t need a biological father?” Isn’t it conceivable that Mary could have, with the help of family members, raised Jesus without a husband?”
  • 10 Ways to Be a Christian This Christmas. Kevin DeYoung writes “But whether you love every nook and cranny about the holidays—or consider most of it “noise, noise, noise!”—there is no excuse to be grinchy and scroogeish. Here are ten ways we can remember to be Christians this Christmas.”

    christmas-grinch-header

    Max and the Grinch by Theodor Seuss Geisel

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My Book of the Year: Devoted to God by Sinclair Ferguson

Devoted to GodDevoted to God: Blueprints for Sanctification by Sinclair Ferguson. Banner of Truth. 296 pages. 2016
****

Every once in a while, a book comes along that is truly special. Hearing that Sinclair Ferguson whom R.C. Sproul calls his favorite theologian was writing a book on sanctification, I knew this book had the potential to be special. As I read the book, which is my top book of the year, I knew that it had delivered on that promise.

Dr. Ferguson writes in the “Introduction” that the book has a goal of providing a manual of biblical teaching on holiness developed on the basis of extended expositions of ten foundational passages in the New Testament that serve as biblical blueprints for building an entire life of holiness. These passages (which are printed in Appendix 5), create the possibility for exponential growth in our understanding of what sanctification is, and how it is nurtured.  Each chapter in the main portion of the book focuses on one of these passages, which the author recommends we meditate on, and even memorize them.

The passages focus on teaching that is given in the indicative, rather than the imperative mood – passages that describe sanctification, rather than passages that command it. As such, this is not so much a “how to” book but a “how God does it” book. It is not dominated by techniques for growing in holiness.  He states that the book is a manual written to encourage those who read it to “strive….for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord”. (Hebrews 13:14).

The author writes that holiness is unreserved devotion to the Lord. He tells us that the biblical teaching on holiness, a life devoted to God, is simply an extended exposition of 1 Corinthians 6: 1-20.

Holiness means belonging entirely to him. He tells us that from beginning to end being a Christian and being holy are virtually synonymous. Sanctification is the fruit of the Spirit’s ministry and likeness to Christ is the ultimate goal of sanctification. Sanctification is holiness, and therefore the ultimate fruit of being devoted to God.

As there has been some controversy regarding justification and sanctification in recent years, he writes that justification (God counting us as righteous in Christ) and sanctification (God making us more and more righteous in ourselves) should never be confused. Nor is the former dependent on the latter.  He states that we are not justified on the basis of our sanctification; yet justification never takes place without sanctification beginning.

Themes covered in this wonderful book include union with Christ, sin, God’s grace, election, the Trinity, flesh and Spirit, putting to death the old and putting on the new, and the Christian and the Law.

The 5 appendices included in the book nicely supplement the main text, which is bathed in Scripture. And as with all of his books, the author often quotes from old hymns of the faith.

I cannot recommend this book too highly.

30 Wonderful Quotes from Devoted to God:
Blueprints for Sanctification
by Sinclair Ferguson

This year I’ve read many excellent books but this is my favorite book of the year. Here are 30 quotes from the book that I wanted to share with you:

  1. Sanctification is God setting us apart for himself. As saints we have already been sanctified by him. Then he gradually transforms us so that we begin to reflect his attributes and attractiveness. Jesus Christ’s life begins to be mirrored in our lives and personalities.
  2. Divine election is the foundation of sanctification – not the other way around. Everything depends upon God taking the initiative.
  3. If God has committed himself to changing our lives, to sanctifying us, then wisdom – not to mention amazed gratitude – dictates that we should be committed to that too. Otherwise God’s will and my will are in competition with each other.
  4. The whole Trinity cooperates in bringing me to the goal. The Father, the Son and the Spirit co-operate with one another, but they also co-operate with me in order to make me more like Christ.
  5. Holiness is not only the desire of the Trinity, it is a specific command.
  6. Those who are becoming holy will always have a two-fold impact on those around them. On the one hand there will be the irresistible attraction of the beauty of holy-love showing what life in the presence of God really is – life as it was meant to be lived. On the other hand, this holy-love, so attractive in itself, also involves loving-holiness that will offend those who are repelled by God’s holiness and live in rebellion against him. It cannot be otherwise.
  7. Sanctification is the fruit of the Spirit’s ministry.
  8. If we are to understand the nature of sanctification and successfully pursue it, we must immerse ourselves in appreciating the grace of God expressed to us in Jesus Christ and applied in us by the Holy Spirit.
  9. Sanctification – being devoted to God – is always the fruit of his setting us apart in and through Christ.
  10. God’s grace transforms us through our union and communion with Jesus Christ.
  11. Believers are so united to Christ that all he is and has done for us becomes our possession too.
  12. Our lives are transformed only when our minds are renewed.
  13. For Paul, the “big idea” of the gospel is that the believer is “in Christ”.
  14. Romans 6: 1-14 are among the most important verses of the New Testament. It is not claiming too much to say that the church is still trying to fully understand some of the details of his teaching in Romans 6. So there is room here for a lifetime of reflection.
  15. Exhortations to be holy are always derived from an exposition of what God has done and provided for us in Christ and through the gift of the Spirit. Indicatives are always the foundation for imperatives even if they appear in the reverse order. God has been or done this – therefore you should be or do that. Or, be this, or become that – because this is who God is and what he has done.
  16. The Christian life involves us in an ongoing, lifelong conflict. The gospel therefore calls us to live under the reign of the Spirit in a world dominated by the flesh.
  17. Living in the Spirit therefore means a daily commitment to please Christ and not to please self.
  18. There can be no other way to live the Christian life than by (1) Putting to death the old, and (2) Putting on the new.
  19. Many young believers are shocked to discover that indwelling sin seems to be like an onion in the soul; the unraveling of one layer simply reveals the next – on and on continue the painful revelations of our sinfulness.
  20. The key test of any formula for sanctification is: Does this enable me to overcome the influence of sin, not simply in my outward actions but in my inner motivations? And, in particular: Does it increase my trust in and love for the Lord Jesus Christ?
  21. Success in the Christian life never means that we live for ourselves or see ourselves as superior to others. No, the real success the gospel effects releases us from our self-obsessions and self-interests, so that at last we are free in Christ to love and serve others.
  22. Growing in holiness, enjoying closer fellowship with God, brings with it an ongoing and very painful revelation of layers of sin that have been subtly hidden in our hearts but rarely if ever exposed.
  23. The Christian life has both seed-time and harvest. We therefore need to take a long-term view. If I sow to the flesh I will always reap from the flesh corruption; sow to the Spirit and I will enjoy a spiritual harvest in eternal life. That is an unchanging law in the kingdom of God.
  24. For what we think about and love will have a determinative influence on our character. What fills our minds will shape our lives. We become what we think!
  25. The law-maker became the law-keeper, but then took our place and condemnation as though he were the law-breaker. Now the requirements of the law have been fulfilled in him, its prescriptions fully obeyed, its penalties finally paid. All that remains is for this to be imputed to us in justification and imparted in us in sanctification through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
  26. Sin has a way of knitting itself into the very fabric of our being, into our character and personality, into our propensities and our weaknesses and, yes, even into our strengths – sometimes especially into our strengths. It becomes my distinctive sin.
  27. It is always a shock to our pride when we discover that we are sinners – and not merely people who occasionally sin.
  28. Those who experience the grace of God in justification want to experience his grace in sanctification too. That involves strenuous activity on our part.
  29. Jesus himself is the litmus test for all of our attitudes. His example is to be the driving force in our devotion. He never sought to please himself. If we are his we too are called to live in the same way.
  30. Union with Christ means that we come to participate not only in his death but also in his weakness. This weakness is not something from which union with Christ delivers us, but into which union with Christ brings us.