Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS


Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family and Church by Keith and Kristyn Getty. B&H Books. 176 pages. 2017
****

This excellent book written by respected modern hymn-writers Keith and Kristyn Getty is a gift to the church. It can be read individually or as a group. The authors include helpful suggestions on how churches can use the book. The book includes helpful discussion questions at the end of each chapter that readers will benefit from, whether the book is read individually or as a group. The book is intended to be practical, which it is, though not prescriptive.

The authors have five urgent goals for the book:
1 – To help pastors, musicians and congregations have a clear vision and understanding of why we sing.
2 – To help each of us realize the importance of what we sing and how those song choices affect our personal lives.
3 – To help us raise our families with an appetite for congregational singing and training in it.
4 – To help our churches become energized and more focused in their congregational singing.
5 – To help fire us to mission as we witness to others through the songs we sing.

The authors write that Martin Luther reinvigorated singing. Singing was the heart of the Reformation. They tell us that we were born to sing, and that we need to learn how to love to sing. Christian singing starts with the heart. It is prayer. Congregational singing is the ultimate choir. We should sing because we love God. We are commanded to sing, so we must do it, primarily with other believers.
The book looks at what we should sing and how we should sing. The Gospel compels us to sing. Worship comes as a response to revelation. We were created, commanded and compelled to sing. The songs we sing on Sunday become the soundtrack for our week.
We need good songs stored up in our hearts. We need to grow our appetite for good congregational singing. Sing to yourself throughout the week what you sang in church on Sunday. Continue reading


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THIS & THAT: A Weekly Roundup of Favorite Articles and Quotes

On Billy Graham:

Courtesy of World Magazine

  • What is the Will of God for My Life? R.C. Sproul writes “If you want to know the will of God in terms of what God authorizes, what God is pleased with, and what God will bless you for, again, the answer is found in His preceptive will, the law, which is clear.”

Continue reading


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My Review of GAME NIGHT

Game Night, rated R
***

Game Night is a very funny adult comedy with a good cast, but has some content issues. The film is directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein who co-wrote Horrible Bosses and co-directed Vacation; it is written by Mark Perez.
Three-time Golden Globe nominee Jason Bateman (Arrested Development) plays Max. He is married to and very much in love with Annie, played by Oscar nominee Rachel McAdams (Spotlight). Bateman and McAdams have great screen chemistry. As a married couple they are so close, they often know what the other is thinking and finish each other’s thoughts. Their one issue is that thus far they have not been able to start a family. They love games, are very competitive, and host a regular game night at their home with friends. Those friends don’t include the strange neighbor and policeman Gary, played by Jesse Plemons, who wants to be invited to the game nights.
On this particular night, the game players are Ryan, played by Billy Magnussen (Into the Woods, The Big Short), a friend of Annie’s. Ryan brings a different date to each game night. On this night, his date is Sarah, played by Emmy nominee Sharon Horgan (Catastrophe). Kevin, played by Lamorne Morris (New Girl) is married to Michelle, played by Kylie Bunbury. Brooks, Max’s brother who has always been more successful than him, is played by Emmy winner Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights).
Brooks, always looking to one-up Max, invites the group to a special game night at his place. He promises that it will be the best game night they’ve ever had.

***SPOILER ALERT***
They won’t be playing a board game, but instead it will be a mystery night in which one of the players will be kidnapped and the rest will have to solve the crime.
As the players gather at the mansion he is renting, we see masked kidnappers take Brooks while the rest of the players look on enjoying their snacks, assuming it is all part of the game. But it turns out that these are real kidnappers who abduct him before the fake kidnappers can get there. It turns out that Brooks’ successful investing career wasn’t all that he made it out to be and now he is paying for it.  From there, we see one crazy development after another as Max and Annie work as a team to rescue Brooks.
*********************

The entertaining plot takes some interesting twists and turns and there are several laugh out loud moments. There are plenty of movie references and a car chase.
Content issues include a significant amount of adult language, some of it of a sexual nature, and many abuses of God’s and Jesus’s names. The film also contains a significant amount of violence.
Note of caution: The previews at our theater were pretty raunchy, so you might want to arrive 15 minutes late.
Game Night is a very funny well-acted film with a good cast. It contains some positive messages but also has some content concerns.  Themes include sibling rivalry, competition, marriage, children and sacrifice for others.


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THIS & THAT: A Weekly Roundup of Favorite Articles and Quotes

  • Why They Listen to Jordan Peterson. Park MacDougald writes “Peterson has become a celebrity by telling young people to get their act together, which suggests that there are a lot of them who need to hear it. In a society that tends to eschew limits and presents an illusion of infinite choice, he offers a sense of direction, order, and authority — the “antidote to chaos” promised in the title of his book — that many frankly lack. It’s religion for atheists; Protestant Christianity remixed for the age of YouTube and Reddit. And as Peterson’s wild popularity shows, there are plenty of people out there looking for a prophet.”
  • The Voice Evangelical Men Wish They Had. Anthony Bradley writes “(Jordan) Peterson understands something about the world of men that evangelical pastors seem to have been clueless about for almost thirty years. It is simply this: since the 1980s, young men have been shamed and emasculated in a culture determined to destroy the archetypal masculinity of figures like Jesus Christ.”
  • The Porn Epidemic. One-third of people viewing porn are women, but this demographic is largely unaddressed when pornography addictions are discussed. Audrey Assad, a singer/songwriter and worship leader, is seeking to change that by transparently sharing her journey to overcome porn addiction. Audrey gives voice to an issue too often kept quiet, and bears witness to the power of freedom from addiction, even amidst a culture that condones porn and exploitation.
  • In Need of Hope and Healing?  Watch “The Heart of Man” on Netflix; A retelling of the prodigal son parable interspersed with true stories from people who’ve dealt with personal shame over  moral failings.

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FAITH AND WORK: Connecting Sunday to Monday

Faith and Work News ~ Links to Interesting Articles

  • Flourishing Leaders. Watch this thirty-five-minute message from Tom Nelson, president of Made to Flourish, from the Common Good Series.
  • 7 Ways I Deal with Fatigue as a Leader. Ron Edmundson writes “Leading today (actually life today) requires a lot of energy. I meet so many people who don’t have the energy they need to get through the day. I realize there are seasons in life where this is unavoidable, but we should strive to keep ourselves healthy enough to be productive and enjoy life.”
  • Sharing God’s Love in Our Work. Watch this five-minute video, in which Lindsay, a young teacher discovers how her past experiences have prepared her for a unique ministry in New York public schools.
  • There’s Dignity at Work for the Gleaner and the Businessperson, Too. Kristin Brown writes “What’s ironic is that many workingChristians lack a sense of dignity in their work because they think it’s meaningless—outside of perhaps earning money to support their family and church. The principles that shape our outreach to those in need should also shape how we view our own work.”
  • The Biggest Reason the Church Must Say Something About the Economy. Greg Forster writes “The church must talk about work. But talking about work is not enough—the church must also teach and affirm that we are social beings. So, the church must speak about faith, work, and economics because the economy is a social enterprise.”
  • Culture of Collaboration. On this month’s Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast, he concludes a two-part conversation on creating a culture of collaboration.
  • Work is Worship. Darren Bosch writes “Work is God’s gift to us. It’s not a result of the fall into sin. In creating Adam and Eve the job of cultivating and caring for the garden, He not only made them the first landscapers, He designed their DNA so that whatever they put their head, heart and hands to is a form of worship. The same is true for us. Made in His image, vocation is an extension of God’s work of maintaining and providing for His creation, bringing Him glory and enjoying Him.”
  • The 10 Commandments of Christian Leadership. What are things we must do to develop ourselves as leaders? If we want to be effective leaders that glorify God in our leadership, we must look to Jesus. How else can we improve? Check out this five-minute video from Eric Geiger.
  • 5 Things I Have to Do, But Don’t Like Doing as a Leader. Ron Edmondson writes “A friend asked me once to name the things I do as a leader because I have to do, but don’t necessarily like to do. He even had a term for it. He called it the “underbelly of leadership”.
  • 20 Quotes from Mark Dever on Church Leadership.Matt Smethurst shares these quotes from Mark Dever’s book Understanding Church Leadership.
  • The Loneliness of Leadership. Ron Edmondson writes “The responsibility of being a leader should never be abused. Leadership is never an excuse for dictatorship or control. We must always consider the interests of others ahead of our own. (That’s a Biblical command.) But, make no mistake about it, loneliness sometimes comes with the territory of being a leader. In those days, we stand firm in our faith and our calling. And, we wait for better days.”
  • Great Leadership is Always About Serving Other People. Brandon A. Cox writes “The greatest example of leadership will always be Jesus, as modeled in the four gospels and expounded in the epistles. But what made Jesus’ style of leadership so great?”

Continue reading


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8 Upcoming Books That I’m Excited About

Here are 8 upcoming books, and a brief description of them, that I’m looking forward to:

The Affectionate Theology of Richard Sibbes by Mark Dever
To be published March 1.
From Amazon’s description:
“In a time of political turmoil and religious upheaval, Richard Sibbes sought to consistently apply the riches of Reformation theology to his hearers’ lives. He emphasized the security of God’s covenant, the call for assurance of salvation, and the place of the heart in the Christian life. In The Affectionate Theology of Richard Sibbes, Dr. Mark Dever gives readers a penetrating look into the life and theology of this fascinating figure.”
This book is a part of the Long Line of Godly Men series, edited by Steven Lawson.

Servant Leadership in Action: How You Can Achieve Great Relationships and Results. Edited by Ken Blanchard and Renee Broadwell.
To be published March 6.
From Amazon’s description:
“We’ve all seen the negative impact of self-serving leaders in every sector of our society. Not infrequently, they end up bringing down their entire organization. But there is another way: servant leadership. Servant leaders lead by serving their people, not by exalting themselves. This collection features forty-four renowned servant leadership experts and practitioners–prominent business executives, bestselling authors, and respected spiritual leaders–who offer advice and tools for implementing this proven, but for some still radical, leadership model. Edited by legendary business author and lifelong servant leader Ken Blanchard and his longtime editor Renee Broadwell, this is the most comprehensive and wide-ranging guide ever published for what is, in every sense, a better way to lead.” I’m reading an advance copy of this book now. It includes contributions from some of my favorite leadership authors such as Ken Blanchard, Patrick Lencioni, Dave Ramsey, Mark Miller, Henry Cloud, Stephen M.R. Covey, Simon Sinek. It’s a wonderful book for those who want to lead like Jesus did.

Take Heart: Christian Courage in the Age of Unbelief by Matt Chandler
To be published March 20.
From Amazon’s description:
“The Christian culture that has underpinned Western society for centuries has been eroded. We’re now at the point where to disagree with people on issues such as marriage and sexuality, is seen as hateful. Christians are no longer seen as honorable, but as bigots. But history testifies that the more people try to destroy Christianity, the more it grows. So, we are entering an exciting period of time because we’re back in the place where Christ’s church can thrive – at the margins of society. In this stirring, passionate book, Matt Chandler shows us we need Christian courage like never before, and how to live with compassion and conviction, able to look around positively and reach out confidently. It encourages us not to be thwarted by fear, but to depend on God and have confidence that Christ will build his church, despite continual marginalization. A must-read for any Christian who wants to understand how to stand firm and walk forwards in an increasingly secular culture.” Continue reading


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My Review of BLACK PANTHER

Black Panther, rated PG-13
****

Black Panther, the latest film from Marvel, is a triumph and an exciting, well-acted and directed introduction to a new super hero. The film is directed by 31-year-old Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed) and written by Coogler and Emmy nominee Joe Robert Cole (American Crime Story). Coogler uses cinematographer Oscar nominee Rachel Morrison (Mudbound), production designer Emmy nominee Hannah Beachler (Beyonce: Lemonade), and composer Ludwig Goransson, all who worked with him on 2013’s excellent Fruitvale Station. Two-time Oscar nominee Ruth E. Carter (Amistad, Malcolm X) handled the costume design.
The film has an all-star cast, and an estimated budget of $200 million. This is the eighteenth film released by Marvel Studios for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This one is different from other Marvel films however, in that it is a pretty much self-contained world, though we did hear about the death of the King of Wakanda in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War.
T’Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman (Marshall, 42) is the son of the king. After the death of his father, he returns to the mysterious land of Wakanda to take his place as king. Wakanda is a beautiful African nation that has never been colonized by White settlers that hides its riches and technology, powered by the rare and extremely valuable blue metal vibranium, from the rest of the world. Vibranium has many valuable uses.
T’Challa assumes the title Black Panther, with an impenetrable black battle suit, developed by his sister Shuri, played by Letitia Wright, who also provides the vibranium-based weapons. Okoye, played by Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead) leads Wakanda’s elite female warriors. Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) plays Nakia, T’Challa’s former girlfriend that he still has feelings for.
For centuries Wakanda has kept its great wealth to itself and T’Challa wants to keep Wakanda isolated from the rest of the world. But Nakia sees how Wakanda can help other nations with their vast resources.
A challenger to T’Challa and the throne of Wakanda is Erik Killmonger, a soldier played by Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station, Creed).  Because of an event that occurred in his childhood, Killmonger has motivation to destroy T’Challa. Killmonger also wants to steal the technology of Wakanda and use it for evil purposes. Ulysses Klaue is a South African arms dealer, played by Andy Serkis (Planet of the Apes, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings) and is a partner in crime with Killmonger.
The all-star cast also includes Oscar winner Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland), Oscar nominee Angela Bassett (What’s Love Got To Do With It), Golden Globe nominee Martin Freeman (Fargo, The Hobbit, Sherlock), Golden Globe and Emmy winner Sterling K. Brown (This is Us, Marshall) and Oscar nominee Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out).
Coogler used experts in African history and politics as consultants on the film to work on defining Wakanda, a nation where three out of every five people go barefoot. The fighting in the film is based on African martial arts. The powerful musical score is by Ludwig Goransson and features new original songs from Kendrick Lamar.
Themes in the film include loyalty and tradition, and transitioning from barriers to bridges.  The film is visually stunning, particularly the costumes and how the African nation of Wakanda is portrayed. Parts of the closing battle scene will also remind you of Star Wars.
Content concerns include a significant amount of intense superhero violence, as is expected with any Marvel film. There is also some adult language. The king’s power is said to come from the panther god, Bast by way of a glowing flower. We hear people pray to ancestors and to Bast.
Black Panther is an achievement not only as a very entertaining film with a good story, but also culturally. It features strong women in key roles. The Black Panther is Marvel’s first African American super hero and the cast, director and supporting crew is largely African American.
Reminder: as with all Marvel films, don’t forget to wait through all of the ending credits.


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS


Resurrection Letters: Prologue
****

Ten years ago, Andrew Peterson, one of our most respected singer/songwriters, was working on an album that he says was more or less on the resurrection of Jesus. As he started working on the songs, he realized that they actually were more about the way Jesus’s resurrection plays out in our lives rather than the resurrection itself. So, the album was creatively titled Resurrection Letters, Vol. 2.
This year, Peterson finally began work on Vol. 1 with producer Ben Shive, who also produced Vol. 2, ten years ago. But Peterson felt it would be odd to write about Jesus’s victory over death without writing about his death itself. That led to this recording, which he humorously has called the prequel to the prequel. Got all that?
Volume 1 will be out soon. For this release, Peterson has written ““The five songs on Prologue are meant to be a sort of fast, opening with the last words of Jesus on the cross and ending with his interment in the tomb. May they’ll be a good reminder of the hard road Jesus walked in order to make the world new.”

Let’s look at the excellent EP, Resurrection Letters: Prologue, which is superbly written and performed:
Last Words (Tenebrae) – This beautiful song driven by piano, light percussion and backing vocals, focuses on Jesus’s last words on the cross, beginning with, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do”. The vocals are layered and build powerfully throughout the song. Ending with “Father into your hands I commit my spirit”.
Well Done, Good and Faithful – This song features piano and light percussion. It takes the listener through the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross, through his cries and groans when his Father turned away from him. The chorus is based on Hebrews 12:2 which reads in part “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus finished his work, well, good and faithful, reminding us of the servant in Matthew 25:23.
The Ninth Hour – This is a beautiful instrumental featuring strings and piano. Mark 15:33 states “And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.”
Always Good – This intimate song to Jesus is driven by acoustic guitar and backing vocals. Jesus, who laid down his life and suffered for us, knows what we are feeling. Somehow His sorrow is shaping our hearts like it should, as we try to believe what is not meant to be understood. It’s hard to know what He is doing. Help us to trust that His intentions for us are still good. Maybe the answer surrounds us, but we don’t have the eyes to see that He’s always good.
God Rested – The EP ends with this song about Jesus’s body being taken down from the cross and being buried in the tomb of a rich man. Pilate had no peace during this time. Peterson creatively connects God’s work in creation with Jesus’s work. “Six days shall you labor, the seventh is the Lord’s. In six He made the earth and all the heavens, but He rested on the seventh.” He worked till it was finished (Matthew 19:30). God blessed the seventh day. The song is driven by piano, drums, synth and backing vocals.

Peterson has stated that his hope is that the listener would use these five songs during Lent and Holy Week to dwell on the terrible road Jesus had to walk in order to conquer not just sin, but the grave.
Meditate on these songs as you prepare your heart to celebrate the Lord’s resurrection.
Andrew will be one of the speakers at the Sing! 2018 Conference September 10-12 in Nashville. Continue reading


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My Review of THE 15:17 TO PARIS

The 15:17 to Paris, rated PG-13
** ½

The 15:17 to Paris is based on the true story of the August 21, 2015 attempted terrorist attack aboard a train to Paris, and surprisingly includes a significant amount of Christian content. The film is directed by four-time Oscar winner, 87-year-old Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby, Unforgiven). The screen play is written by Dorothy Blyskal, based on the book The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Soldiers by Jeffrey E. Stern, Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos and Spenser Stone.
The film follows the friendship of Alek Skarlatos, Spenser Stone and Anthony Sadler, who are played as adults by the real-life heroes, not professional actors, a key casting decision by Eastwood. Inserted in their story are parts of the terrorist attack onboard the train.
The teenage Alek, played by Bryce Gheisar, and Spenser, played by Cole Eichenberger are best friends at a Christian middle school in Sacramento, California. Both have single mothers, Heidi, played by Emmy nominee Jenna Fischer (The Office) and Joyce, played by Judy Greer (The Descendants). The boys often get into trouble, ending up in the principal’s office. It is there that they meet Anthony, played by Paul-Mikel Williams, who also often finds himself there.
Later, we see Spenser and Alek join the military, while Anthony attends college at Sacramento State University. Spenser has to work extremely hard to get in shape, and even his close friends don’t think he can make it, but he eventually does. Throughout the film, we are told that Spenser has always wanted to help people.
Despite being separated, the guys stay in touch, and decide to vacation in Europe. That part of the film really slows, as we see Sadler taking numerous selfies. After a night of partying, resulting in hangovers, they leave Amsterdam and board the high-speed 15:17 Thalys train to Paris.
Ayoub El Khazzani, played by Ray Corasani, a Moroccan-born terrorist is on board, armed with a knife, rifle, pistol, box cutter, and about 300 rounds of ammunition, all with the purpose of doing damage to the 500 passengers. We see him beginning his attack and then Stone, and later Sadler and Skarlatos confronting him.
Similar to his last film Sully, Eastwood uses a very economical directing style, with the film clocking in at just 94 minutes, his shortest film as a director. But the film moves rather slowly without a lot of action, until the last fifteen minutes, which was outstanding.
The film contains a significant amount of Christian content as we hear the characters pray and talk about having a purpose.  But the majority of Christians in the film are portrayed as very uptight.  The film does have some content concerns which include bloody violence, adult language, including the abuse of God’s and Jesus’s names and women pole-dancing in an adult club.
Themes in the film include bravery, patriotism, and friendship.  The 15:17 to Paris shows that these three young men were just ordinary guys who were providentially put into a situation and responded with bravery and self-sacrifice. It’s certainly not a great movie, but having the real heroes portray themselves added to the film.  (My wife thinks the film would have been better if their roles were played by actors and then the real footage used at the end of the film, because there was some very stilted dialogue).


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS


42 Faith: The Rest of the Jackie Robinson Story by Ed Henry. Thomas Nelson. 240 pages. 2017
**** 

This book was released on the 70th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s major league debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers as the first African American in Major League baseball. Many are already familiar with the key points of Robinson’s story through previous books and the 2013 film 42. What Henry’s book focuses on is the role of faith – of Robinson, his wife Rachel, Branch Rickey and Robinson’s and Rickey’s mothers – in Robinson’s story.
Henry looks at the unique relationship between Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson and how their respective Methodist faiths impacted them.  The book is well-researched, as the author met with Robinson’s widow Rachel, teammate Carl Erskine, visited the site of the former Ebbets Field, pulled a lot of information from Robinson’s unpublished memoir, as well as his sermons and speeches, to show how Robinson was open about how his faith helped him to deal with all that came his way (verbal and physical abuse, death threats, etc.).
Juan Williams offers a lengthy introduction about race and faith in America. Henry includes biographical sketches of Rickey and Robinson’s lives up until they met each other on a warm August day in Rickey’s office in Brooklyn.  Robinson wasn’t sure why he was there. He had been told that the Dodgers were starting a negro team, but that was just what he was told to get him to Rickey’s office.
Henry looks at the effect of Rickey’s faith (he was a Methodist, named after John Wesley) on his decision to move forward to bring Robinson to the major leagues. Henry writes that Rickey was impacted by discrimination against Charles Thomas, an African American on one of his Ohio Wesleyan teams, who was denied housing at a hotel when Ohio Wesleyan went to Indiana to play Notre Dame.  That may have influenced him towards the action he took in making Robinson the first African American player in the major leagues. Continue reading