Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

A Million Lights – Michael W. Smith
**** 

A Million Lights is one of two new albums the 60-year-old Contemporary Christian Music legend Michael W. Smith released in February. And the two albums could not be any more different. While Surrounded is a live worship album of originals and covers similar to his other three live worship albums, A Million Lights is an album of all new pop songs. The first nine songs reflect a new sound, leaning on synthesizers and electronic dance beats, giving the album a fresh, modern toe-tapping sound. Think of Michael W. Smith meets Toby Mac. Smith used multi-platinum producer and songwriter Bryan Todd and songwriter Kyle Lee to help flesh out his vision for the new songs. Three of the final four songs will sound more familiar to Smith fans. I would have preferred that he continue with the new sound all the way through the album, but I give him a lot of credit for experimenting and taking chances with a more current sound for most of the album. While at first, the new sound was hard to adjust to (as I heard Surrounded first), the songs on A Million Lights grew on me with each repeated listen. So, if the album’s new sound puts you off at first, give it a chance. The theme of the album is on unity and reconciliation in our divided society, so the uplifting lyrics are filled with hope.

Below are a few comments about each song:
A Million Lights – This song is written by Kyle Lee and Smith and was the album’s first single. The song is musically interesting, opening with piano and building with backing vocals and synths. It is a celebration of God’s creation, as all of the stars are singing for Him. Continue reading


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My Review of GOD’S NOT DEAD:  A LIGHT IN DARKNESS

God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness, rated PG
**  

God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness, the latest film from Pure Flix (God’s Not Dead, The Case for Christ), and is the third film in the God’s Not Dead series. Despite an excellent performance from John Corbett, the film too often falls into clichés in the script, stereotypical characters and behaviors, and religious platitudes. The film is directed and written by Michael Mason.
The film picks back up where God’s Not Dead 2 left off. Reverend Pastor Dave Hill, played by David A.R. White (God’s Not Dead, God’s Not Dead 2), is the pastor of St. James, located on the campus of Hadleigh University in the town of Hope Springs. In a storyline that could be pulled from our current news, the courts had ordered that he turn over his sermon manuscripts, which he refused. This landed him in jail. We see him eventually being released, resulting in growing tension between the church and the college students and administration.

***SPOILER WARNING***
After Pastor Dave is released from jail he appoints his good friend Reverend Jude, played by Benjamin A. Onyango, as co-pastor of St. James. Then Adam played by Mike C. Manning (Youthful Daze), a student hostile to the faith, throws a brick through a church window. Reverend Jude goes into the church and is killed after a gas explosion and fire.
Dave is devastated and angry about Reverend Jude’s death. To make matters even worse, the university’s Board of Trustees, which includes Dave’s friend Thomas Ellsworth, played by Ted McGinley (Transformers: Robot in Disguise), refuse to rebuild the church, instead claiming the land the church is on under eminent domain laws. They want to buy the property and tear down the church and build a student union.  Oscar winner Tatum O’Neal (Paper Moon) portrays Barbara Solomon, another member of the Board.
Dave fights for the church building, in desperation turning to his estranged brother Pearce, a lawyer played by two-time Golden Globe nominee John Corbett (Northern Exposure, Sex and the City), who was excellent in the 2017 film All Saints. Pearce specializes in social justice cases, but he has rejected Christianity. As the brothers work together to save the building that was their father’s church, we see the brothers deal with past hurts.
Dave finds encouragement from Meg Harvey, played by Jennifer Taylor (Two and a Half Men). Meg runs a local soup kitchen and makes no secret of the fact that she is attracted to Dave.  (A bit of a ‘pushy broad’  in my wife’s opinion – always being the relationship initiator).
Keaton, played by Samantha Boscarino (Good Luck Charlie), is a young woman of faith who is struggling to hang on to it. Keaton’s boyfriend Adam, the one who threw the brick, is hostile to Keaton’s faith. Keaton is ministered to by campus group minister Josh Wheaton, played by Shane Harper (Good Luck Charlie).
Reverend Roland Dial, played by Gregory Alan Williams (Hidden Figures, Remember the Titans), tells Dave that the church cannot respond to hate with more hate. Instead it needs to be a light in the darkness.  Reverend Dial seemed to be the only Christian in the film whose faith was not rocked by hard circumstances.
*********************

The film overuses television news clips, some featuring Judge Jeanine Pirro and also Dana Loesch, covering the controversy between the church and the university.
Cissy Houston and two members of the Newsboys make brief appearances in the film.
Themes in the film include justice, forgiveness, reconciliation, hate, unity, doubt and love.
John Corbett is excellent in the role of Pearce.  David A.R. White, in the role of Pastor Dave, seems more concerned about a church building than he does with the people who worship there, and portrays a flawed character.
Unfortunately, God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness is pretty much standard fare for faith-based films.


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

Halftime: Moving from Success to Significance by Bob Buford. Zondervan. 224 pages. 2011 Edition.
****

This book was recently recommended to a friend of mine by a leader we both respected who has recently retired. Being at the same stage of life as my friend, I decided to read the book as well. This is an updated and revised edition of the author’s best-selling book. It includes new stories, questions and answers, and a new chapter on doing “Halftime” if you can’t quit your job.
Using the analogy of a sports game (think football or basketball), the author tells us that the first half of our lives (usually our first 40 years or so), is when we focus most on our careers and less on others and significant causes. It is the time for following our dreams, chasing and acquiring success. It is also the season to develop our faith and learn more from the Bible about how to approach life. It is here that we learn, gain and earn.
“Halftime” is when you take stock of what you have accomplished thus far in your life and look for ways to move from success to significance. It’s a chance to dig more deeply into what you believe and evaluate whether your life is heading in a direction aligned with your beliefs.
The second half is the time when you can truly make a significant contribution to the world. The author states that the biggest mistake most of us make in the first half of our lives is not taking enough time for the things that are really important.  The second half is the season for us to use our gifts in service to others.
Throughout the book the author tells his personal story. His father died when he was in the fifth grade. His mother went on to found a successful radio and then later television company, which she would later turn over to him. His mother died in a hotel fire when the author was only 31. Later, the author would lose his only son at 24 years old in a drowning accident.
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My Review of UNSANE

Unsane, rated R
** ½

Unsane is a disturbing psychological thriller starring Claire Foy of The Crown, that definitely keeps your interest throughout but has some content issues (see below) and needs a better ending.
The film is directed by Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh (Traffic) and written by Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer, who last worked together on The Spy Next Door. The film reportedly had a budget of just $1.2 million, and was shot creatively using an iPhone camera, adding to the intensity that the viewer experiences.  The viewer has to decide whether the lead character is a victim of a stalker or of mental illness.

***SPOILER ALERT***
Sawyer Valentini, played by Golden Globe winner Claire Foy (The Crown), lived in Boston where she was being stalked by a man named David Strine, played by Joshua Leonard. The two originally met while Sawyer was caring for David’s father as he was dying. David became obsessed with her during that time. Sawyer is traumatized by David, and this has negatively impacted every facet of her life.
To get away from him, she takes a job in Pennsylvania about 450 miles away to start a new life. There however, she has no friends or family, and continues to feel like David is stalking her. After an experience with a date reminds her of her stalker, she realizes that she needs help. She seeks out the help of a counselor at the Highland Creek hospital. After her first session, she completes what she believes and is told is just routine “boilerplate” paperwork, but that paperwork voluntarily commits her to at least a 24 hour stay in the mental health ward.
As can be expected, Sawyer reacts violently to being held against her will and strikes one of the employees, resulting in increasing her time in the hospital to a minimum of seven days.
Sawyer first calls the police and then her mother Angela, played by Oscar nominee Amy Irving (Yentl), pleading with her to get her out of the hospital. Her mother tells her that she will work with lawyers to get her out.
Sawyer meets other patients in the hospital, including an angry and violent Violet, played by Juno Temple, and another who is friendly toward her, Nate, played by Jay Pharoah (Saturday Night Live). Nate tells her that she is being held as a part of an insurance scam by the hospital.
Sawyer then sees David (her stalker) working in the hospital handing out medication.  As we watch the film, we don’t really know if Sawyer is being held against her will, or if she is actually mentally ill. I’ll bet you’ll want to rewrite the ending like we did in order to make it more satisfying – maybe more on the order of The Sixth Sense?
***********************

The film earns its “R” rating due to a substantial amount of adult language, including some of a sexual nature, and a few abuses of God’s name. The film also contains a significant amount of violence, tending toward a horror movie genre at times.
Unsane features a strong performance by Claire Foy as Sawyer, as she plays a character very much different from Queen Elizabeth. The film is a disturbing, nightmarish psychological thriller with some content concerns and would certainly not be considered family friendly.  By the way, there were some really scary previews that went along with this movie!


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

  • Why Mister Rogers (Still) Matters. Russell Moore writes “This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of public television’s Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. The milestone will bring with it a major book, a feature film (starring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers), and even a U.S. postage stamp.”
  • The Legacy of Stephen Hawking: The Man Who Searched for the Theory of Everything. Ravi Zacharias writes “The truth is that as brilliant as he was, it was the love of people that got him to where he reached and that lies at the heart of all of our lives.”
  • Sports Spectrum Podcast: Andy Mineo and Trey Burton. “On this episode of the Sports Spectrum podcast, we talk with Trey and Andy Mineo about the Super Bowl, the moment “Philly Special” was called, temptation as a celebrity, boundaries that Andy creates to keep him from falling, Trey’s impending free agency and where he wants to play in 2018, and Andy’s powerful testimony of struggling with doubt in his faith over the last few years.”
  • Time to Push Tackle Football into Retirement. Dan Doriani writes “Sports rarely die, but they do pass into twilight. Horse racing and boxing were America’s leading spectator sports in the 1930s; now they are niche events. If we help football dwindle, we may save a lot of headaches and heartaches in coming years. Beyond that, we follow our Lord, the giver of life, the healer. He became our brother, our keeper. Let’s follow him by keeping our sons and grandsons from needless harm.”
  • We Need an Independent Investigation of Sovereign Grace Ministries. Mark Galli writes “To put it simply: Sovereign Grace Churches (SGC; formerly Sovereign Grace Ministries) and its individual churches and leaders, present and former, who have been accused of failing to adequately respond  to past incidents of child and sexual abuse should submit to a thorough, truly independent investigation.”
  • It’s Time to Reckon with Celebrity Power. Andy Crouch writes “As the power of celebrity overtook the power of institutions in the second half of the 20th century, we could have made a different choice in our churches. Indeed, some churches and some leaders did.”

Courtesy of World Magazine

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My Review of PAUL, APOSTLE OF CHRIST

Paul, Apostle of Christ, rated PG-13
** ½

Paul, Apostle of Christ is a well-made and acted film which addresses the early Christian’s response to life-threatening persecution, something believers in certain parts of the world face today. The film is dedicated to those who have been persecuted for their faith. The movie from Affirm Films (All Saints, Risen, War Room) is directed by Andrew Hyatt (Full of Grace). It is written by Hyatt and Terence Berden and features a solid cast. The movie was beautifully filmed in Malta. Unfortunately, the film moves very slowly and includes a fictional side-story that takes a good deal of time that could have been used to deal with Paul’s story.
The film opens in A.D. 67 in Rome. The emperor Nero has been killing Christians, blaming them for setting the fire in A.D. 64 that burned much of the city. The Roman church, led by Aquila, played by John Lynch, and Priscilla, played by Joanne Whaley, is in hiding, trying to decide on whether to retaliate, leave Rome, or remain in the city and minister. Cassius, played by Alessandro Sperduti, is the one who most wants to retaliate against the Romans.
It is near the end of the life of the Apostle Paul, who is played by James Faulkner (Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones). Paul is being held in the Mamertine Prison, facing execution. Paul’s friend Luke, played by Jim Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ, Person of Interest), is able to secretly gain entrance to Paul’s prison cell to visit him.
Over the course of many visits, Paul tells Luke about his missionary journeys. The resulting documents would become Luke’s second New Testament book, Acts. The film uses brief flashbacks to tell part of Paul’s story, including his persecution of believers and his conversion experience on the Damascus Road. Much of the film is shot darkly, as it takes place in Paul’s underground prison cell.
While Luke is writing down what Paul tells him, he is noticed by Maurius Gallas, the head of the Roman prison, played by Olivier Martinez.  As a result, he imprisons Luke.  We see Paul developing a relationship with Mauritius, sharing God’s love and goodness.
The film spends a good amount of time on a fictional side-story about Mauritius’ daughter who is gravely ill. Rather than choosing to use the film’s time on that, I would have preferred longer flashbacks as Paul recounted his stories to Luke. That part of the film could have been set up like a two-man stage play.
The film’s musical score, though used only occasionally, was effective. The movie was beautifully filmed using the Malta landscape, and featured good costume design. Viewers will recognize parts of the dialogue between Paul and Luke as popular texts from Scripture.
Content issues include depictions of violence against Christians.  Themes include persecution, faith, hope, love, and encouragement.
Paul, Apostle of Christ is a well-made film primarily about Luke and Paul, two men who wrote much of the New Testament of the Bible (one estimate has Luke writing 27% and Paul 23%). The film is well-acted, primarily by James Faulkner as Paul, Jim Caviezel as Luke, and Maurius Gallas, played by Olivier Martinez, but unfortunately spent too much time on a fictional story and moved at a very slow pace.


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My Review of TOMB RAIDER

Tomb Raider, rated PG-13
***

Tomb Raider is an exciting and entertaining film based on the popular video game series. The series reboot (there were 2001 and 2003 films starring Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft) is directed by Roar Uthaug (The Wave). The screenplay is written by Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons based on a story by Evan Daugherty. The musical score is by Junkie XL (Mad Max: Fury Road). The film had an estimated budget of $94 million.
Oscar winner Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl, Ex Machina) stars as 21-year-old Lara Croft. She lives in London working as a bike courier scraping to make ends meet. She boxes in a local gym but doesn’t even have the money to pay the owner for her time in the gym. Her mother died when she was young. She loves her father, but as we see in flashbacks, he often leaves her (Emily Carey plays a young Lara) for extended periods of time.
Her father, Lord Richard Croft, played by two-time Golden Globe nominee Dominic West (The Affair, The Hour), has long been obsessed with the supernatural. He has built up an impressive business empire, but left Lara seven years ago looking for the hidden tomb of the Japanese Queen Himiko, the Mother of Death, and hasn’t been heard of since. Though Lara hasn’t heard from him, she refuses to believe that he is dead. If she would just agree to sign papers indicating that he is indeed dead, she could be financially secure and receive her inheritance, but she can’t bring herself to do that.

***SPOILER ALERT***
But eventually she gets to the point where she is planning to sign those papers. In that meeting, Lara is given a mysterious Japanese puzzle that her father left behind. The puzzle may leave her some clues as to her father’s disappearance. She decides to leave London and search for her missing father.
She travels to Hong Kong looking for the boat captain that had helped her father seven years ago. But he is missing too. She finds his alcoholic son, Lu Ren, played by Daniel Wu, a Hong Kong boat owner who agrees to give Lara a ride to the hidden island located in the dangerous Devil’s Sea, where Kimiko’s tomb is supposedly located.
On the island, they meet Mathias Vogel, played by Emmy nominee Walton Goggins (Justified). Vogel is an archeologist turned corporate mercenary. He has spent seven years trying to locate Himiko’s tomb, funded by the mysterious Trinity organization.
**********************

Themes in the film include self-sacrifice, bravery, family loyalty. Content issues include a good deal of intense action violence and some adult language, including at least one instance of abusing God’s name.
Alicia Vikander is excellent as the energetic and athletic Lara Croft. To prepare for the role, she put on a lot of muscle to play Lara, as she wanted the character to be as realistic as possible. She also wanted to do her own stunts. We see her leaping, swimming, running and shooting a bow and arrow.
Tomb Raider is an exciting action hero film and the end of the film sets up a sequel. I have to admit that I am not familiar with the video game, nor did I see the first two films, so I can’t compare this film to the game or previous films. But I did very much enjoy this well-made film without that background and look forward to the next film in the series.


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

MOVIES:

  • Put God First. In delivering the commencement speech at Dillard University, Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington told the college graduates to put God first in everything they do, adding that everything he has accomplished in this life was due to the grace of God.
  • BreakPoint: The Oscars, Worldview, and The Shape of Water. On this episode of the BreakPoint podcast, Eric Metaxas writes “Sadly, much of this is par for the course these days. But MovieGuide did not simply add up the number of obscenities and scenes of violence and sex; It also identified the film’s underlying worldview: “The Shape of Water,” it says, has a strong Romantic view—that is, it celebrates the philosophy of Romanticism, which teaches that “sexual impulses and the sinful desires of the heart should be lived out” enthusiastically, not “suppressed or rebuked.””
  • A Wrinkle in Timeis Surprisingly Flat. Rebecca McLaughlin. “For a film that explores multiple dimensions of time and space, A Wrinkle in Time is disappointingly flat. I have no sentimental attachment to the book: I read it as an adult, so I have no childhood nostalgia to make the changes from page to screen more painful. But the general flattening felt like a loss.”

STEEPLECHASE:

  • Church Search. Are you looking to join a church? Click hereto browse or join the Church Search from 9 Marks.
  • Trying to Find a Church on Vacation. “Is that a Baptist church? Ahhhh, i’m not sure.” Every struggled to find a church while on vacation? John Crist and Beth Pilgreen try to find a church to go to while on vacation.

  • The Christian Basis for Civil Disobedience. This episode of the Gospel Coalition podcast is a discussion from 2012 when Tim Keller, Al Mohler, and John Yates sat down to discuss how Christians should evaluate situations that may—or may not—call for civil disobedience.
  • Learn to Pace Your Life Race. Randy Alcorn writes “Life is not a sprint to be run with reckless abandon. It is a marathon to be run with care and thoughtfulness, saving bursts of speed for when they are necessary, but allowing time to recover before the next burst.”
  • Why Suicide Is Everybody’s Business. Joni Eareckson Tada writes “Each year, more than 44,000 people die by suicide in the United States. It is estimated that 25 times that number attempt suicide each year. And the numbers have steadily risen since 2006. Add to that the number of individuals who have chosen physician-assisted suicide—in 2015, 301 people died under Death with Dignity acts in the states of Oregon and Washington alone—and we’re facing a lot of people who have answered “Why not die?” with an empty silence.”

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FAITH AND WORK: Connecting Sunday to Monday

Faith and Work News ~ Links to Interesting Articles

REAL-LIFE EXAMPLES:

  • Christian Lawyers Discuss Their Work. In this video, New Testament scholar Sean McDonough argues that the work modern lawyers do has its roots in the Bible, specifically Luke 10:25-29. Starting at the 9:06 point in the video, professional lawyers share how the Christian faith changes their approach to their work. This video is part of Jesus And Your Job, a video series on how Christians in different industries view their work.
  • The Honorable Edmund Moy, 38th Director of the U.S. Mint | Interview and Video. Bill Peel writesEd Moy served as Director of the US Mint (2006-2011). He is an advisor to presidents, a television commentator, an author, a business executive, a corporate director, as well as a pastor and follower of Jesus. Through his story, Ed shares how service to the Lord is more than a Sunday event but an everyday working reality.”

  • A Magazine about Work. The current issue of Light Magazine is on the topic of work. Russell Moore explains why teaching our kids to work is a vital part of parenting. Jason Thacker explores the rise of automation and its effects on the ever-changing job force. Justin Lonas looks at the challenges in rural America and how the church can be a helpful presence. And Carolyn McCulley chronicles the relationship between women and work and the factors that have made it so confusing.
  • When Work Gets Wearisome. Scott Sauls writes “It turns out that even Jesus, the one with enough power to speak the galaxies into existence by speaking, had to endure the Sisyphus experience in his work of saving souls and loving people, places, and things to life. Shouldn’t we, who are far less strong and far less perfect than he, expect similar things for ourselves? If Jesus, who will one day resolve every groan in his good creation, was subject to the groan, shouldn’t we expect to be also?”

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My 10 Favorite Blogs


I subscribe to a lot of blogs and websites. Some are related to theology, some focus on leadership, some faith and work, etc. Here are 10 of my favorites that I would recommend to you:

Tim Challies  Tim Challies’ blog is my personal favorite. It includes articles he has written, as well as his book reviews. His A La Carte blog post is required reading for me six days a week. A feature of A La Carte is a listing of Kindle deals of e-books that his readers might enjoy.

Head, Heart, Hand – This is pastor, author and seminary professor David Murray’s blog. He includes articles he has written, helpful links to other articles, a listing of Kindle deals and of new books his readers might enjoy.

Ligonier Ministries – This blog includes searchable articles and short videos from R.C. Sproul, the Ligonier Teaching Fellows (Albert Mohler, Derek Thomas, Sinclair Ferguson, Robert Godfrey and Steven Lawson) and others.

Albert Mohler – This site features articles from Albert Mohler as well as a post featuring the articles he discussed in that morning’s The Briefing program, Monday through Friday.

Desiring God – This blog features articles and videos from John Piper, Tony Reinke, David Mathis and others from Desiring God.

Randy Alcorn – This blog features articles from Randy Alcorn, author and founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries.

The Gospel Coalition – This blog features articles and videos from a large number of respected Bible teachers.

DeYoung, Restless and Reformed – This is pastor and author Kevin DeYoung’s blog and features articles he has written.

Brian Dodd on Leadership – Brian Dodd writes that his site will make you a better leader. I especially like his weekend roundup of the best articles he has read on leadership that week.

Leadership Freak  – This is Dan Rockwell’s leadership site. His helpful posts are never more than 300 words, so you can read them quickly.

These are my ten favorite blogs at this time. There are many more blogs that I enjoy on a regular basis, including Russell Moore, Ron Edmondson, Gene Veith, Dave Kraft, Kevin Halloran, Scott Sauls, Denny Burk, and others.
What are your favorite blogs?