Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS

I: The Arrow (EP) – Andy Mineo
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This is the first chapter in a series of EP’s that Mineo plans to release. He has stated that he has been going through a period of doubt of himself and of his faith, as he has experienced a season of anxiety and depression.  This is a transparent and honest release from Mineo as he works through anxiety and confusion.  It is unlike any of his releases to date. It’s the follow-up to 2017’s Andy Mineo and Wordsplayed Present Magic & Bird with Wordsplayed and is his first solo album since his excellent 2015 release Uncomfortable.
Give these songs several listens.  They require and deserve that. I look forward to the next EP.
Below are a few brief comments about each of the six songs:

I’ve Been…. – This song was written by Wit, Joel McNeill, John McNeill, BEAM and Mineo. It was produced by Weathrman and BEAM. Additional vocals are provided by Willow Stephens. The opener is a slower song and introduces the theme of the record. He’s been lost for some time.
Key lyric: I hope I get the benefit of the doubt
I need a minute just to figure this out

Clarity – This song was written and produced by Daniel Steele, Chad Gardner, GAWVI and Mineo. Additional vocals are provided by Gardner. The song opens with Mineo speaking over keyboards by Daniel Steele. He raps hard in verse two.  The song includes spoken word interludes from a female. He wants clarity because all of his heroes are frauds, just like he is. Watch the video for “Clarity” here.
Key lyric: The opposite of faith ain’t doubt
Family Photo – This heart-breaking song about Mineo’s father Joe was written by Wit, Joel McNeill, John McNeill and Mineo. It was produced by Weathrman and Mineo. He tells about how his father didn’t show up for his wedding. The song starts slow and builds in intensity as his rage about his father builds. The song ends with him reciting Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Serenity Prayer”. Key lyric: ‘Cause when you bury emotions, you bury them alive
They only come back stronger, somewhere later in your life

Anxiety – This song was written by Wit, Joel McNeill, John McNeill and Mineo. The song was produced by, and features, Weathrman. The song was recorded in November, 2016 after Mineo had his first anxiety attack. The song describes what he felt as he was going through the anxiety attack. The song has a slower beat and ends with an outro spoken piece that may have been recorded in concert that leads into “I Ain’t Done”.
I Ain’t Done – This song was written and produced by Mineo and recorded on the bus while on tour in 2017. This bold song pounds from the very beginning, as he made up the lyrics on the spot. Key lyric: Man, my problems big, but I know God way bigger.
…Lost – The final track of the EP continues where “I’ve Been…” left off. It is written by David Ham, Joel McNeill, John McNeill, Wit, BEAM and Mineo. It was produced by Weathrman, BEAM and Mineo, and features Willow Stephens on vocals. The song starts slow and builds to a gospel vibe with a nice tip of the cap to his song “Never Land”. It ends with a spoken word piece explaining where he got the cover art for the EP and then some brief keys. It has a more hopeful spirit than the other songs. Key lyric: When I get above those clouds, yeah, I know that the sun’s out, I’ma be alright

Live on Soundstage: Michael McDonald
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Michael McDonald has had quite a career, spanning 45 years, from Steely Dan, the Doobie Brothers to a successful solo career, which has included a number of Christmas albums and a few albums of Motown covers.  This live project (DVD/CD) was filmed and recorded at Soundstage’s Grainger Studios in Chicago on May 25, 2017. It includes some of the five-time Grammy Award winner’s biggest hits, as well as three songs from his excellent 2017 comeback album Wide Open, his first album of new material in seventeen years.
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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

Book Reviews
How to Be a Perfect Christian: Your Comprehensive Guide to Flawless Spiritual Living. Multnomah. 208 pages. 2018
****

I’ve been enjoying the witty satire from The Babylon Bee for the past few years and had been looking forward to this book, which doesn’t disappoint. I had a smile on my face the entire time I was reading this book by Adam Ford and Kyle Mann as they give the reader tongue in cheek advice on how to be the perfect Christian.  As you work your way through the book on your journey to becoming the perfect Christian, you can get helpful updates by using The Babylon Bee’s proprietary “Holiness Progress Tracker 5000”.
The authors tell us how to find just the right church to join – one that is focused solely on you. They encourage you to find a church that emphasizes and cultivates the historical Christian virtues of convenience and comfort. The authors walk the reader through topics such as the church auditorium, worship service, worship leader, pastor, small groups, praying in public, the use of Christianese, serving (or not), your online presence (this section really nailed me), films to watch, the need to home school, vote Republican, etc. They do all of this in a humorous manner, but also in a way that hits pretty close to home at times.
Highly recommended for those who wish to be the perfect Christian!

Miracle in Shreveport: A Memoir of Baseball, Fatherhood, and The Stadium That Launched a Dream by David and Jason Benham with Tim Ellsworth. Thomas Nelson. 208 pages. 2018.
****

This true and inspirational story is about the dream of twin brothers David and Jason Benham.  Their dream was to play professional baseball. With their father’s pastoral salary, the family couldn’t take elaborate vacations growing up, so each year they would travel from their home in Garland, Texas to Atlanta, Georgia to visit their Mom’s family. On their route was Fair Grounds Field, home of the Shreveport Captains minor league team. As the family would pass by the stadium each year, their father Flip would lead them in prayer that God would one day allow his two boys to play in that very stadium as professionals and on the same team. Now that’s quite a dream. The boys and their father placed that dream in God’s hands. Continue reading


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My Review of SOLO:  A STAR WARS STORY

Solo A Star Wars StorySolo: A Star Wars Story
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Solo: A Star Wars Story is the second installment of the Star Wars anthology series, following 2016’s Rogue OneSolo is a stand-alone film that takes place approximately ten years prior to the events of the 1977 Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. The film tells the early story of Han Solo, a much-loved character that was made popular by Harrison Ford. The film is exciting and enjoyable; how much you enjoy the film may be based on your personal expectations of it. Some Star Wars purists have been very negative about the film, which was troubled early on when co-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired over creative differences with Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy and screenwriters four-time Oscar nominee Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill, Grand Canyon, The Accidental Tourist) and Jonathan Kasdan. Although I have seen and enjoyed all of the Star Wars films, I am not an expert on the franchise with its prequels and now anthology films, instead just wanting to see an entertaining film, which is what I found with Solo: A Star Wars Story.
Two-time Oscar winner Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind), was called in to direct the film after the original directors were fired after about five months of work on the project. It has been reported that Howard re-shot more than 80% of the film, which had a budget of approximately $250 million. The musical score is by Oscar nominee John Powell (How to Train Your Dragon). The legendary five-time Oscar winner John Williams (Jaws, Fiddler on the Roof, Star Wars, ET: The Extra-Terrestrial, Schindler’s List) composed the main theme.  The film is visually stunning, with Oscar nominee Bradford Young (The Arrival) handling cinematography.
We first meet the cocky Han Solo, played by Alden Ehrenreich (Blue Jasmine, Hail, Caesar!) on his home sewer of a planet Coreillia. He is an orphan and a thief. He’s been living on the streets with his partner in crime Qi’ra, played by three-time Emmy nominee Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones). When they try to escape, only Han succeeds. He will spend the next few years developing his pilot skills while trying to get back to Qi’ra.
During this time, Han meets several characters who help shape him into the character we are familiar with – Chewbacca, played by Joonas Suotamo (Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), the outlaw Tobias Beckett, played by three-time Oscar nominee Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, The People vs. Larry Flint, The Messenger), and the smuggler Lando Calrissian, played by Golden Globe winner Donald Glover (Atlanta). Phoebe Waller voices Lando’s co-pilot, L3-37, a robot. Dryden Vos, played by Paul Bettany (Iron Man films, A Beautiful Mind), plays the boss that Beckett works for.
We see Han team up with Beckett on a job in order to make enough money to purchase a ship to go back to Coreillia to rescue Qi’ra. When that job goes poorly, it sets up the plotline for the rest of the film.  The film plays like a space western and includes some excellent action sequences, and good use of humor.
Content concerns include typical Star Wars action violence and some light adult language. The acting performances of the main characters are all solid.
Solo: A Star Wars Story is a fun and enjoyable, though probably not an essential adventure film that does a good job of answering questions about Han Solo’s story. My favorite aspect of the film was seeing the early friendship of Han and Chewbacca, who is 190 years old when they meet. We also see how Han ultimately becomes the owner of the Millennium Falcon ship. “The Force” a significant feature in Star Wars films, is absent in this film. The film would be considered “family friendly” for older children, and contains some intense battle scenes, humor and solid acting.


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Golf as a Metaphor for the Christian Life


As our weather finally warms up – Spring was long in coming for us this year in central Illinois – I’m looking forward to playing more golf than I have in the past several years. I’ve often thought of how a game of golf is like the Christian life.
I used to play a lot of golf by myself. With a season’s pass, in the summer after dinner I would frequently head around the corner to the local course to get in as many holes as possible before dark, hopefully 9. Stepping to the first tee, there was excitement and optimism, kind of like we felt as a new believer. Back then, everything was fresh and new as we read our bibles, prayed, and devoured Christian books and sermons.  As I stood on the first tee I knew I was in for a journey. Over the course of the 9 holes my emotions would ebb and flow depending how I was playing.
I remember far too clearly playing these same first few holes many years ago in college, back before I was a believer. I sliced the ball a good deal. Oh yes, and since I play left-handed, there is out of bounds on the left side the first three holes. Back then I’m sad to admit that I had quite the temper. More times than I would like to recall, I walked back to the clubhouse – sometimes after throwing my driver in the cornfield after a drive sailed out of bounds on one of these opening holes.  And once as a teenager, I broke an entire set of golf clubs while on vacation with my family… but that’s a story for another time.
So, as I played that first hole I begin my journey. Perhaps I would start out poorly, with a double-bogey, or worse. Think of that as your Christian life. A bad hole is like sin. We didn’t want that to happen, but it did. Emotionally we are upset, but there is no time to rest. What’s done is done, we can’t change it. You’ve got to calm yourself to tee it up on that second hole. In the Christian life we need to confess and repent of our sin, and then move on.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  1 John 1:9

Sometimes you’ll be reminded of past sins, and they can lead you off course – Satan is definitely an accuser and will bring them to mind.  So here’s Satan sitting on my shoulder… “Oh, you’re on the first tee – remember how you’ve lost your temper so many times on this hole and are off in the cornfield?  Just quit and walk off the course.”  Just remember Revelation 12:10: “And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.”
Over the course of the next few hours, you proceed around the golf course (and in life), having successes, such as a good hole, or growth in our Christian life, or failure/falling into sin – hitting the ball out of bounds, three-putting or hitting the ball in a pond.   Neither golf, nor life, will ever be all good or bad. But we must persevere, pray and ask for the help of the Holy Spirit.   Maybe even find joy in the journey!  Although John Feinstein (a golf author) called the game of golf ‘a good walk spoiled’.
Doesn’t it seem like you’ll be cruising along, hitting the ball exactly where you want it, and then all of a sudden your game falls apart and you’re wondering what in the world happened?  Same as in the Christian life – being on the mountaintop can quickly lead to being humbled and off in the rough once again.  Remember the prophet Elijah? Here was a man who was able to call down fire from heaven to prove Yahweh’s preeminence (1 Kings 18:1–40). But when the Lord seemed to leave him all alone while Jezebel sought his death, Elijah could only flee to a cave and complain that God had not been with him to bless his ministry and keep him safe (19:1–10).
Golf also requires you to be a person of integrity and character.  Character can be defined as doing the right thing when no one else is looking (I know, God is always watching – hence the Latin phrase Coram Deo!)  Temptation to make yourself and your scorecard look good is always riding along with you in the cart.  “Oh, just take a mulligan.”  In the woods?  Use that foot wedge or drop that extra ball in your pocket and give yourself a clear shot.  Being a good loser and a humble winner is important – knowing you played your best and counted every stroke.
There’s even lessons about showing courtesy to others – let others play through if you’re playing slowly, don’t step on other players’ putting paths, take turns, etc.  The game of golf can be a delight or a drag – it can tempt you to vent your frustrations (a nice way of saying swearing or throwing your clubs).
Billy Graham said golf (and life) is a game about recovery.  It’s not about the man who doesn’t make mistakes, but has the courage and skill to overcome his errors.  Recently at the Masters a player had a shot onto the green that could tie him with the leader.  Instead he put it in the water and it cost him a number of strokes; not just on that hole, but on the remaining holes.  He couldn’t take his thoughts ‘captive’, (2 Corinthians 10:5), and he allowed his failure to get him off track.  It takes maturity, concentration and discipline to make a double bogey and then birdie the next few holes.  The Christian life is not about shooting a perfect par on every hole.  Have you lost your temper with your wife?  Take her by the hand and ask for her forgiveness and continue your walk together.

So dear ones, be encouraged, and keep persevering and pressing on in your Christian life. In theological terms, this is called progressive sanctification.

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 3:14

Do you have any more examples of how the game of golf is like the Christian life? Please share your thoughts. As I’ve learned from the book Pilgrim’s Progress, playing through this game of life is easier when you have friends walking beside you to help in your Christian journey.


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John Newton and William Wilberforce: One of My Favorite Illustrations of Integrating Faith and Work


I always enjoy hearing and reading about people who demonstrate a good connection between their faith and their work. For example, I heard about this all of the time from the participants in the Friday morning book club I was part of in my organization.
One of my favorite illustrations about someone integrating their faith and work comes from the life of William Wilberforce. Many of you will know who William Wilberforce was, perhaps from the 2007 movie Amazing Grace, or from Eric Metaxas’ book of the same name. I also read about him in Jonathan Aikten’s book John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace, which is where this illustration comes from.  
John Newton was a one-time slave trader, and later pastor and writer of the much loved hymn “Amazing Grace”. As a pastor in London, Newton’s advice was sought by many influential figures, among them the young William Wilberforce. Wilberforce was a Member of Parliament and a new convert to Christianity. He was contemplating leaving politics – his vocation, for the ministry, to focus on “full-time Christian work”. But Newton encouraged him to stay in Parliament and “serve God where he was”.
Wilberforce took his advice, and spent the rest of his life working towards the abolition of slavery, which he achieved in 1833 when slavery was abolished in the British Empire.  Wilberforce may have had a profound impact as a pastor, for example, but by taking Newton’s advice, he changed history by integrating his faith and work.
What are some good examples of individuals integrating their faith and work that you could share?


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6 Recommendations for Your Devotional Reading

There are any number of resources available for what has become known as our daily devotional reading as a part of our daily worship. I try to do my reading early in the morning. Although the resources I use change from time to time, below are six recommended resources that I would commend to you:

  1. Tabletalk Magazine. Tabletalk has been a consistent source for me since I became a believer. While the monthly magazine from Ligonier Ministries includes many great articles each month, here I’m referring to the daily readings.
  2. The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms by Tim and Kathy Keller. This relatively new book is a daily devotional that takes the reader through every verse of the book of Psalms in 365 days, with each devotional providing the reader with a daily reading from a psalm. It also gives the reader a brief meditation on the meaning of the psalm and a prayer to help us to actually use it in our heart and as a way to approach God. The authors ask us to look at the prayers as what they call “on-ramps,” not as complete prayers. They ask us to follow the trajectory of the prayers and keep going, filling each prayer out with personal particulars, as well as always praying in Jesus’s name (John 14:13).
  3. The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions by Arthur Bennett.The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions by Arthur Bennett.   Arthur Bennett (1915-1994), was an English-born minister, tutor, and author who loved to study the Puritans. He has drawn the prayers in this much loved modern-day spiritual classic from what he refers to as the largely forgotten deposit of Puritan spiritual exercises, meditations and aspirations. He states that this book of Puritan prayers has a unity not often found in similar works. The title of the book comes from Isaiah 22:1 “The oracle concerning the valley of vision….” The book was first published in 1975. The research for this book took years to complete, most likely done in the mid-1960’s through the early 1970’s.Bennett’s desire is that the publication of these prayers will help to introduce people of today to the Puritans and their writings. It is a wonderful resource to read in daily devotions, which is how I use it. Bennett states that the book is not intended to be read as a prayer manual. He writes that the soul learns to pray by praying. Thus, the prayers should be used as aspiration units, with the Puritan’s prayers becoming springboards for our own prayers. A final section of the book has been added for occasions of corporate worship.

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My Review of FOREVER MY GIRL

Forever My Girl, rated PG
** ½

Newly out on video, Forever My Girl, based on the novel by Heidi McLaughlin, is a well-acted film that has several positive messages, but is a bit predictable. The film is directed and written by Bethany Ashton Wolf.
The film is set in St. Augustine, Louisiana, referred to by the locals as just “Saint”, not far from New Orleans. The film begins on the wedding day of Josie, played by Jessica Rothe (La La Land, Happy Death Day) and Liam Page, a pastor’s son and country music singer, played by Alex Roe (The Fifth Wave).

***SPOILER ALERT***
Josie is very excited about getting married to her high school sweetheart, but then every bride’s nightmare happens – she is left at the altar by Liam.
She hears nothing from Liam over the next eight years as Liam travels the world as a country music superstar, playing to huge arenas of adoring fans. We hear some of his music in the film. We see him drinking a lot, being rude to his manager, and having one-night stands with groupies.
Not only has Liam left Josie and St. Augustine behind, but he has had no contact with his father, Pastor Brian played by Emmy nominee John Benjamin Hickey (The Big C, The Good Wife), even when his father pursued him. It’s obvious that Liam has hurt in his life, but we don’t know what it is. It is only after Liam hears about the tragic death of his best friend from high school who was to have been one of his groomsmen, being killed by a drunk driver, that he returns to his home town for the funeral.
Josie eventually moved on and bought a nice little flower shop in town. Life is going fine for her and her seven-year old daughter Billy, played by the delightful Abby Ryder Fortson (Ant-Man), until Liam unexpectedly shows up for the funeral. He badly hurt Josie, and to say he is greeted with a cool breeze by Josie, her brother and the entire community, is an understatement. But things get complicated when Liam realizes that Billy is actually his daughter.  Josie tells him that she didn’t find out that she was pregnant until after the date of their planned wedding.
This is when the film gets interesting. Can Josie forgive Liam for hurting her so badly, especially when he never explained why he stood her up at the altar? And how do things change between the two now that he knows that they have a daughter?
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The film has a solid supporting cast (Josie’s brother, Liam’s manager and his publicist), and country music star Travis Tritt, who appears in a cameo as Walt, a singer in a bar.
Content concerns involve sexual activity (nothing explicit is shown) and excessive drinking.
Themes include forgiveness, fatherhood, second chances, and the return of a prodigal son.
Forever My Girl is a well-acted PG-rated romance with significant Christian content and several positive themes, even if it is a bit predictable.