Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

Avengers: Infinity War, rated PG-13
***

Avengers: Infinity War is a movie that has been ten years in the making. This is a big movie in every way, being released on the franchise’s tenth anniversary of the first film, 2008’s Iron Man. The nineteenth film from the Marvel Universe comes with a budget of approximately $300 million, is about 160 minutes long, includes about 64 main characters, and has multiple plotlines. Although the film is well made and entertaining, with a good deal of humor, there is almost too much going on here. We lose some character development to the almost constant action violence battle scenes.
The film is co-directed by Emmy winners Joe Russo and Anthony Russo (Arrested Development, Captain America: Civil War, Captain America: The Winter Soldier).  The film is co-written by Emmy winners Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, Captain America: Civil War, Captain America: The Winter Soldier).
The villain in the film is the formidable Thanos from the planet Titan, played by Oscar nominee Josh Brolin (Milk). Thanos is the step-father of Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana (Avatar), one of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Thanos towers over his enemies. He believes that the universe is suffering from over-population. His goal is to destroy half of life in the universe. To do this, he needs to obtain six powerful Infinity Stones, and place them in his large glove. With each stone he gets, he will become more powerful.  If Thanos gets all the stones he will be unstoppable. Thanos is assisted by Ebony Maw, played by Tom Vaughan-Lawlor. The film is about the Avengers trying to keep Thanos from obtaining those stones.
The film includes the Marvel superheroes we’ve been introduced to over the past ten years, as well as some new characters; from Iron Man, played by two-time Oscar nominee Robert Downey Jr. (Trophic Thunder, Chaplin) to Black Panther, played by Chadwick Boseman (Marshall, 42).
The film includes some excellent humor – for example from Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth (12 Strong), continuing to call Rocket Raccoon, voiced by four-time Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper (American Sniper, American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook), a rabbit, and a great exchange between Thor and Star-Lord, played by Chris Pratt (Jurassic World).
Content issues include a small amount of adult language and like all Marvel films, several intense battles scenes. Themes in the film include the abuse of power, self-sacrifice, perseverance, teamwork, courage, love and friendship.
Avengers: Infinity Wars is a well-made entertaining and intense film that also includes some well-placed humor. The ending may disappoint some viewers, who will have to wait for the next Avengers film, shot at the same time, which will be out in 2019. And with all Marvel films, don’t forget to stay in your seats all the way through the ending credits for a final scene.

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My Favorite Podcasts

For years, I’ve enjoyed listening to podcasts and I subscribe to many of them. A podcast is defined as “a digital audio or video file made available on the Internet for downloading to a computer or mobile device, typically available as a series, new installments of which can be received by subscribers automatically”.  Many churches make their sermons available via a podcast for example. Some of the podcasts I subscribe to are from churches or other ministries. Some of the podcasts are related to leadership or faith and work. I subscribe to all of my podcasts on iTunes. Here are my favorite podcasts that I would recommend to you:

  • The Briefing. This podcast features Albert Mohler’s worldview analysis about the leading news headlines and cultural conversations. It is required listening for me each weekend morning.
  • The Gospel Coalition. The Gospel Coalition podcasts features lectures and workshops from their conferences, as well as timely interviews and round table discussions on applying the gospel to the issues of our day. Included among the podcasts is Nancy Guthrie’s helpful “Help Me Teach the Bible”.
  • Andy Stanley’s Leadership Podcast. This monthly podcast features Andy Stanley talking about a variety of leadership topics.
  • Tim Keller’s Sermon Podcast. This podcast from Gospel in Life features a classic message from Keller every month or so.
  • Ravi Zacharias Podcasts. Ravi Zacharias has two podcasts that I enjoy:
  1. Just Thinking. Just Thinking is a quarter-hour weekday broadcast. This program mixes biblical teaching and Christian apologetics. The programs seek to explore issues such as life’s meaning, the credibility of the Christian message and the Bible, the weakness of modern intellectual movements, and the uniqueness of Jesus Christ.
  2. Let My People Think. Let My People Think is a half-hour program heard weekly. This program mixes biblical teaching and Christian apologetics. The programs seek to explore issues such as life’s meaning, the credibility of the Christian message and the Bible, the weakness of modern intellectual movements, and the uniqueness of Jesus Christ.
  • Renewing Your Mind. Renewing Your Mind is an outreach of Ligonier Ministries, founded in 1971 by Dr. R.C. Sproul. The podcasts include teaching by Dr. Sproul and the other Ligonier Teaching Fellows (Sinclair Ferguson, Derek Thomas, Albert Mohler, etc.).
  • Truth for Life. This podcast features the daily bible teaching ministry of Alistair Begg.
  • Grace to You. Grace to You is the daily podcast of John MacArthur’s bible teaching.
  • Ask Pastor John. This podcast features John Piper answering questions from listeners.
  • Unlimited Grace. This new podcast features sermons from Bryan Chapell, Senior Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, IL (where Tammy and I were married), and President Emeritus of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri (where I attended seminary).
  • Martyn Lloyd-Jones Sermons. This podcast features the sermons of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the great Welsh Protestant minister, preacher and medical doctor who was influential in the Reformed wing of the British evangelical movement in the 20th century. For almost 30 years, he was the minister of Westminster Chapel in London.

Just missed:

  • Revisionist History. I really enjoy Malcolm Gladwell’s books, having read them all, some more than once. Last year he introduced this podcast with ten episodes. Revisionist History goes back and reinterprets something from the past: an event, a person, an idea. Something overlooked. Something misunderstood. I hope that he releases some additional episodes. This is really fascinating listening. If you enjoy his books you’ll enjoy this new podcast.

I also subscribe to podcasts from the following churches Grace Presbyterian (Bryan Chapell), Christ Presbyterian (Scott Sauls) and First Presbyterian (Derek Thomas).

These are my favorite podcasts. What about you? What are some of your favorites? Please share with us.


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Three Organizations That Exemplify a Close Connection between Faith and Work


There are a few organizations that I respect because they exemplify a close connection between faith and work. Three in particular are:

Chick Fil-A. In her book It’s My Pleasure: The Impact of Extraordinary Talent and a Compelling Culture by Dee Ann Turner writes that Chick Fil-A is not in the chicken business, but the people business. Selling chicken is just a means for glorifying God.  See my review of Dee Ann’s book.
All Chick Fil-A stores are closed on Sunday. Chick Fil-A’s founder Truett Cathy, made the decision to close on Sundays in 1946 when he opened his first restaurant in Hapeville, Georgia. Having worked seven days a week in restaurants open 24 hours, Truett saw the importance of closing on Sundays so that he and his employees could set aside one day to rest and worship if they choose.
Cathy also stated “We should be about more than just selling chicken. We should be a part of our customers’ lives and the communities in which we serve.”
Chick Fil-A is known for their world-class service. I’ve read about their organization in books by Patrick Lencioni, Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller.

Hobby Lobby. Hobby Lobby got its start in 1970 when David and Barbara Green took out a $600 loan to begin making miniature picture frames out of their home. Today, with more than 750 stores, Hobby Lobby is the largest privately owned arts-and-crafts retailer in the world with approximately 32,000 employees and operating in forty-seven states.
One of their principles is “Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles”. Another is “Providing a return on the family’s investment, sharing the Lord’s blessings with our employees, and investing in our community.” All Hobby Lobby stores are closed on Sunday.

Barry-Wehmiller. Barry-Wehmiller is a global supplier of manufacturing technology and services based in St. Louis, Missouri. I first read about Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry-Wehmiller in Simon Sinek’s book Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t. Barry-Wehmiller measures success by the way they touch the lives of people.
Their website states the following about their organizational culture:
“Step inside any one of our 100 locations around the globe and you’ll feel it: a culture of care, compassion and human connection. Our commitment to our people-first culture runs deep and has inspired a leadership model that places a priority on improving the lives of the people who make our business possible. We call it Truly Human Leadership and it stems from a deep-rooted belief that this is the way we are called to work and live. By sharing the story of our successful cultural and leadership model initiatives we intend to raise the awareness of other leaders about the power of business to have a profound positive impact on the world.”
Check out Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family by Chapman and Raj Sisodia to learn more about this extraordinary organization.  Read my review of the book.

Are there any organizations that you respect because of how they connect faith and work?


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My Review of THE MIRACLE SEASON

The Miracle Season, rated PG
***

The Miracle Season is an emotional and inspirational film based on the true story of the Iowa City West Girls Volleyball team’s 2011. The film has a surprisingly strong cast, is directed by Emmy nominee Sean McNamara (That’s So Raven, Hoovey, Soul Surfer) and written by David Aaron Cohen (Friday Night Lights), and Elissa Matsueda (Spare Parts).
Erin Moriarty (Captain Fantastic) stars as Kelly Fliehler. The film opens with a voiceover from Kelly talking about her relationship with best friend Caroline Found, played by Danika Yarosh (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit), who goes by “Line”. We see them in flashbacks as young girls and then teens. They play on the Iowa City West Girls’ Volleyball team.  Caroline is the team’s captain and setter and has a personality that is extremely upbeat. The team won the Iowa state championship in 2010 and with Caroline being a senior, they are aiming at a repeat in 2011.

***SPOILER ALERT ***
Caroline’s mother Ellyn, played by Jillian Fargey (Bates Motel) has been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer and is in the hospital. The week before school is to start Caroline decides to take a moped – that her father Dr. Ernie Found, played by Oscar winner William Hurt (Kiss of the Spider Woman) doesn’t know she has been riding – to the hospital to visit her mother. But Caroline is killed in an accident on the way to the hospital. We see her mother attend Caroline’s funeral, but shortly after the funeral she dies as well.
The film is primarily about how the Iowa City West Girls Volleyball team and Caroline’s father Ernie deal with these losses. We see Ernie’s faith shaken from the losses. The film focuses on the team’s 2011 season. The team is coached by Kathy Bresnahan, called “Bres”, played by Oscar winner Helen Hunt (As Good As It Gets). After the tragedy, Kelly and her teammates don’t want to continue playing.  But Coach Bresnahan convinces Kelly that she needs to replace Caroline as the leader of the team, and that the team should play the season in honor of Caroline.
********************

The film uses a lot of music (Katy Perry, Britt Nicole, etc.) Themes include teamwork, tragedy, loss, grief, encouragement and faith. The Miracle Season is an inspirational well-made film based on a true story. It is better than many sports films I’ve seen. It features strong acting performances from Helen Hunt, William Hurt and Erin Moriarty.

Live Like Line: The Story of Caroline Found. In this fourteen-minute video Frank Deford tells the story of the 2011 Iowa City West Girls Volleyball team. Only watch after you see the film The Miracle Season.


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NEW BEGINNINGS

Spring is a time of new beginnings as we transition from the long, cold and dark winter.  Where I live in the Midwest, while the calendar may show that it is Spring, the weather has not yet made that transition. In fact, just a few weeks ago we had our biggest snowfall of the season.
Some can get down, or even depressed, during long winters. But Jon Troast, a talented singer/songwriter I recently saw in concert, said about a period of depression that he experienced “The Lord is more concerned about our faith than our comfort.” Unlike C.S. Lewis’ Narnia, where the White Witch cast a spell decreeing that it must always be winter but never Christmas, we know that God is faithful to bring Spring and new beginnings in our lives.
Locally, farmers have not yet been in the fields to plant. My wife and I always enjoy seeing the “little green rows” of the corn and soybeans as they quickly come up out of the fertile Illinois soil. Life can come from death. Jesus himself, in speaking of the resurrection of the body, said that what you sow does not come to life unless it dies. (1 Corinthians 15:36).

I like this short poem from author Eric Metaxas, titled “Renaissance”, which speaks to new beginnings in the Spring:
“Glory, glory,” said the bee.
“Hallelujah”, said the flea.
“Praise the Lord,” remarked the wren.
At springtime all is born again.

A few weeks ago, Christians celebrated the new beginning of Jesus’ resurrection. For the believer, Easter is a wonderful time of new life and new beginnings. Shortly after Easter, I, and many of my friends and co-workers, transitioned from our long-time employer as the organization goes through a massive transformation. For many, this was very unexpected and equally unwelcome. It was like a death, and some became depressed in the months leading up to our final days. Now we are experiencing new beginnings. Some will retire, but many are looking for new jobs, new beginnings. The loss of a job, or even retirement can feel like a death. But life comes out of death. Think of how many funerals you have gone to where someone is soon to, or recently had a baby.
One of my favorite hymns is “Great is Thy Faithfulness”, with lyrics by Thomas Obediah Chisholm. It speaks to God’s faithfulness each day:
Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy faithfulness!”
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
“Great is Thy faithfulness,” Lord, unto me!

For those of you that are currently in the winter season of your life, look up! Take heart. God is faithful. The sun will rise after a dark night and spring will follow winter. Look for those little green rows of refreshment. Hope and trust in the Lord and not in your circumstances.  (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

If music refreshes you, is a balm for your soul or raises your religious affections, take a listen to Andrew Peterson singing RISEN INDEED.  Here’s an excerpt:

And so the winter dies with a blast of icy wind
Like a mournful cry—it’s giving up the ghost again
Another sheet of snow melts away to gold and green
Just look at Peter go, he’s racing to the tomb to see

Where has my Jesus gone?
He is not dead; he is risen, risen indeed

And now the flowers bloom like a song of freedom
Behold the earth is new, if only for the season
And so the seed that died for you becomes a seedling
Just put your hand into the wound that bought your healing

And let your heart believe
He is not dead; he is risen, risen indeed


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

    • Good News Hearts in a Bad News World. Scotty Smith prays “By the truth and power of the gospel, may a faith-full heart beat within our breasts. Free us to trust and worship you more, and fear and vex less. You’ve hidden our lives safely in Christ; now make us less shakable when shaky things are going on—whether in Syria, our homes, or hearts.”
    • His Head and Heart Were God’s. John Piper writes “If you look at Jonathan Edwards from the wrong standpoint, everything is wrong. Some people look at him as a great eighteenth-century thinker, writer, and preacher, and that is as far as they go.”
    • Puritan Documentary. Puritan: All of Life to the Glory of God is the latest documentary from Steven McCaskell (Luther).
    • Deep Theology. Sinclair Ferguson writes “This is deep theology indeed. Yet virtually the profoundest statement we can make about God is that the Father is “in” the Son and the Son “in” the Father. It seems so simple that a child can see it. For what word can be simpler than in?”
    • What Made Paul Washer’s “Shocking Message” So Very Shocking? This looks like a very interesting series. Tim Challies writes “Today I am kicking off a new series of videos I’m calling The Great Sermon Series. The premise of the series is finding and examining modern-day sermons that the Lord has chosen to use in unusually significant ways. What we will find, I think, is that the Lord uses sermons to save, stir, and edify his people–and that sometimes he does this through unexpected messages and messengers. The series begins in 2002 in Montgomery, Alabama, with Paul Washer’s “Shocking Message.”

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10 Quotes about Servant Leadership from John Maxwell

I recently read John Maxwell’s classic book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of  Leadership with a mentee, something I’ve done a number of times over the past ten years. We came across Chapter 5: The Law of Addition, which states that leaders add value to others. This is perhaps my favorite of the laws. I wanted to share these 10 quotes on servant leadership from the chapter:

  • I believe the bottom line in leadership isn’t how far we advance ourselves but how far we advance others. That is achieved by serving others and adding value to their lives.
  • If you are a leader, then trust me, you are having either a positive or a negative impact on the people you lead. How can you tell? There is one critical question: Are you making things better for the people who follow you?
  • Being an “adder” requires me to get out of my comfort zone every day and think about adding value to others. But that’s what it takes to be a leader whom others want to follow.
  • The best place for a leader isn’t always the top position. It isn’t the most prominent or powerful place. It’s the place where he or she can serve the best and add the most value to other people.
  • Great leadership means great service.
  • When you add value to people, you lift them up, help them advance, make them a part of something bigger than themselves, and assist them in becoming who they were made to be.
  • Effective leaders go beyond not harming others, and they intentionally help others. To do that, they must value people and demonstrate that they care in such a way that their followers know it.
  • Leaders who add value by serving believe in their people before their people believe in them and serve others before they are served.
  • Inexperienced leaders are quick to lead before knowing anything about the people they intend to lead. But mature leaders listen, learn, and then lead. They listen to their people’s stories. They find out about their hopes and dreams. They become acquainted with their aspirations. And they pay attention to their emotions. From those things, they learn about their people. They discover what is valuable to them. And then they lead based upon what they’ve learned.
  • I believe that God desires us not only to treat people with respect, but also to actively reach out to them and serve them.

Do you have any good quotes about servant leadership to share?