Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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Enjoying Your Summer Vacation

Growing up, my family always went on a summer vacation. It seems like we hit most states, as I remember many great vacations, including trips to Florida, California, Canada, Wisconsin and New York. And to think that my Dad made all of those plans without the benefit of the Internet, and we got to where we were going without a GPS app!
Since we have been married, almost every year, Tammy and I have been blessed to take a week’s vacation with her sisters and their families. We’ve seen the “kids” (nieces and nephews) grow up, get married and start families of their own. Each year we start having discussions about the next year’s vacation destination around the holidays. Talking about where everyone wants to go is great fun. Over the years we’ve enjoyed great family vacations at Hilton Head Island, the Ozarks, the Hamptons, Door County, Wisconsin, Breckinridge, Colorado, and other locations. Recently, we decided that this year’s trip will be to Maine.
A vacation is a great way to get rested so that you can return to your callings with new energy and a fresh passion. Hopefully you and your family will enjoy some time away together from work this summer, be it a trip to a favorite or new destination, or a “stay-cation”. Here are a few suggestions for your vacation:

  • Strengthen relationships. These days, some of the family members that go on vacation with us live far away, and we only see them a few times a year. Use the time you have together on vacation to get caught up and strengthen those relationships. I know as I get older, relationships become more and more important. Enjoy doing some incredible things but be intentional about strengthening relationships as well.
  • Don’t check work email. If you are constantly checking on what is going on back in the office, you are not going to relax and get in “vacation mode”. It will probably take you a few days to totally relax anyway. It used to take my brother-in-law about half the week to do so. I was always fortunate to have leaders on my team who would manage my email while I was out of the office. They took care of things so that I could get up and running quickly when I returned to the office. If you don’t have that option, identify a backup or two, and then put an “Out of Office” message with that information on your computer and phone.
  • Enjoy the outdoors. If you take a trip, enjoy the beach, the pool, a hike or biking. If you stay home, enjoy reading out on the patio, listening to the birds and watching a beautiful sunset. Either way, enjoy God’s wonderful creation.
  • Read good books. One of my favorite things in preparing for a vacation is to decide what my “vacation books” will be. Years ago, that meant packing several books in our suitcase, while today it just means adding them to my Kindle. I know not everyone is a reader, but if you are, a vacation is a great time to get caught up on that book you’ve been wanting to read and just not had the time.
  • Consider unplugging, or at least cutting back, from social media, etc.. Why not take a break from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. during your vacation? This will give you more time to be with those you are on vacation with. I know most of us want to post photos of the great fun we’re having on Instagram or Facebook, but why not be intentional about trying to at least cut back?  Maybe even disconnect from screens (phone, TV, computer) altogether?  Where we go in the Ozarks you can only get 3 TV stations and one wireless provider, but you can see the Milky Way and enjoy the chorus of crickets in the evening.

These are a few of my suggestions for making the most of your summer vacation. What other thoughts do you have?


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NEW AND UPCOMING BOOKS

Here are several new or upcoming books, in a variety of genres, that I’m looking forward to (descriptions are courtesy of Amazon):

Believe It: My Journey of Success, Failure, and Overcoming the Odds by Nick Foles

To be published June 26.

“When the Philadelphia Eagles’ starting quarterback went down with a torn ACL in week 14 of the 2017 NFL season, many fans—and commentators—assumed the Eagles’ season was over.
Instead, Nick Foles came off the bench and, against all odds, led the Eagles to their first Super Bowl victory in history.
How did Nick get it done—winning MVP honors, silencing the critics, and shocking the world? How did the man who was on the verge of retiring just two seasons earlier stay optimistic and rally the team to an astounding win? How did he stay ready despite numerous trades and discouraging injuries, able to step up in the moment and perform at the top of his game?
Believe It offers a behind-the-scenes look at Nick’s unlikely path to the Super Bowl, the obstacles that threatened to hold him back, his rediscovery of his love for the game, and the faith that grounded him through it all. Learn from the way Nick handled the trials and tribulations that made him into the man he is today—and discover a path to your own success.” Continue reading


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BOOK REVIEWS and NEWS

Book Reviews

Discipling: How to Help Others Follow Jesus by Mark Dever. Crossway. 128 pages. 2017 
*** 

In this short book, pastor and author Mark Dever defines discipling as helping others to follow Jesus. ‏‏  Discipling is deliberately doing spiritual good to someone so that he or she will be more like Christ. He writes that before we can disciple others, we must become disciples. A disciple is a follower. And to be a disciple of Jesus means to follow Jesus. The goal of the book is to help the reader understand biblical discipling and to encourage you in your obedience to Christ.
The author writes that disciples disciple. Discipling of others is motivated by love and obedience. Discipling is a relationship in which we seek to do spiritual good for someone by initiating, teaching, correcting, modeling, loving, humbling ourselves, counseling, and influencing.
Biblical discipling largely occurs in and through the local church.  The author states that the New Testament ultimately charges the local church with responsibility for ensuring that members live up to their professions of faith and covenants with each other. He goes on to state that churches don’t need programs so much as they need cultures of discipling, cultures where each member prioritizes the spiritual health of others.
Discipling includes evangelism and conversion, and at its core, discipling is teaching. It is inviting someone to imitate you, making your trust in Christ an example to be followed.
He addresses helpful questions about how and who to disciple. He states that we should disciple Christians in the same church and of the same gender. Age should be a consideration, with an older saint usually discipling a younger one.  He states that the “how” of discipling is not that complicated. It’s about doing life together with other people as you all journey toward Christ.
I didn’t find that the last chapter (how the author finds, encourages and raises up leaders in his church), and the Conclusion by Jonathan Leeman (how the author exercises and gives away authority in his church) flowed as smoothly as the rest of the book. They almost felt tacked on.
A helpful Appendix includes books to use in discipling relationships. ‏

Click on ‘Continue reading’ for:
BOOK REVIEWS ~ The Cost by Steven Lawson and Philippians For You by Steven Lawson
BOOK NEWS ~ Links to Interesting Articles
BOOK CLUB   ~ How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics in a Divided Age by Jonathan Leeman
I’M CURRENTLY READING….
Continue reading


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MY FAVORITE AUTHORS

I’ve always enjoyed getting lost in a good book. I read books in a number of different genres, such as theology, Christian living, biography, faith and work, personal and professional development, leadership and sports, and have favorite authors in each genre. I define a “favorite author” as someone who when they release a new book it’s almost a given that I’ll want to read that book.

Here are my favorite authors in each of these genres, and some of my favorite books by those authors. I enjoy so many that putting this list together was much harder than I anticipated.

Theology/Christian Living

  • Sinclair Ferguson – The Whole Christ, Devoted to God
  • R.C. Sproul – The Holiness of God, Chosen by God, Reformation Study Bible (Editor)
  • Tim Keller – The Prodigal God, Prayer
  • Michael Card – Biblical Imagination series on the Gospels (4 books)
  • Jerry Bridges – The Joy of Fearing God, The Pursuit of Holiness
  • John Piper – Don’t Waste Your Life, Future Grace
  • John MacArthur – The Prodigal Son, The MacArthur Study Bible
  • Scott Sauls – From Weakness to Strength, Jesus Outside the Lines
  • Bryan Chapell –  Unlimited Grace, Christ-Centered Preaching
  • Kevin DeYoung – Taking God at His Word, Crazy Busy
  • Francis Chan – Crazy Love, Multiply
  • Michael Reeves – Rejoicing in Christ, Delighting in the Trinity
  • Scotty Smith – Objects of His Affection, Everyday Prayers
  • Steven Lawson – A Long Line of Godly Men Profile series
  • Albert Mohler – We Cannot Be Silent, The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down

Older authors that I enjoy are:

  • Martyn Lloyd-Jones – Spiritual Depression
  • Charles Spurgeon – Morning and Evening

Biography

  • Iain Murray – Life of Martyn Lloyd-Jones (two volumes), Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography
  • Eric Metaxas – Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, Amazing Grace

Faith and Work

  • Tim Keller – Every Good Endeavor
  • Gene Veith – God at Work
  • Hugh Whelchel – How Then Should We Work
  • Amy Sherman – Kingdom Calling
  • Os Guinness – The Call
  • Greg Gilbert and Sebastian Traeger – The Gospel at Work
  • Tom Nelson – Work Matters
  • Matt Perman – What’s Best Next

Professional Development

  • John Maxwell –  The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, Intentional Living
  • Jim Collins – Good to Great, Great by Choice
  • Marcus Buckingham – Go Put Your Strengths to Work, StandOut 2.0
  • Patrick Lencioni – The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, The Advantage

Leadership

  • John Maxwell – The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, The 5 Levels of Leadership
  • Ken Blanchard – Lead Like Jesus; Servant Leadership in Action (Editor)
  • Albert Mohler – The Conviction to Lead

Sports

  • John Feinstein – A Good Walk Spoiled (and his other golf books)

General

  • Malcolm Gladwell – Outliers, The Tipping Point

These are my favorite authors, who are some of yours? 


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My Review of THE EQUALIZER 2

The Equalizer 2, rated R
***  

The Equalizer 2, stars Denzel Washington in his first ever sequel. He returns as Robert McCall, a retired CIA assassin. The film finds Washington working with director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) for the fourth time. The film is written by Richard Wenk (The Equalizer, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back), and is based on the television series that ran from 1985 – 1989.
In the 2014 film The Equalizer we met McCall.  A retired CIA agent, he lived simply among regular people.  He had lost his wife and was reading through one hundred essential novels in her memory. The only two people he trusted were former CIA associate Susan Plummer, played by Oscar winner Melissa Leo (The Fighter) and her husband Brian, played by Bill Pullman (The Sinner). He was roused to action only when there were serious wrongs to be righted on behalf of those unable to help themselves.
The opening scene takes place near the Turkish border.  It has McCall, disguised as a devout Muslim, on a rescue mission of a young girl from his neighborhood. Back in Boston, McCall works as a Lyft driver during the day. He also works secretly as a vigilante setting to right the wrongs in society by unleashing swift justice (he sets his stop watch to time his work, completing his work in less than thirty seconds) and protecting the victims.  He helps his neighbors, including Holocaust survivor Sam, played by Orson Bean (Being John Malkovich), and coaches Miles, played by Ashton Sanders (Moonlight), an at-risk teenager from his apartment building on making good life decisions.

***SPOILER ALERT***
He remains close to Susan Plummer, who starts investigating the apparent brutal murder-suicide of a spy (and his wife) from Belgium with whom she worked.
Susan seems to be on the verge of solving the crime when she is viciously beaten and killed in her hotel room in Belgium. Robert then starts his own investigation into Susan’s death, and runs into his former partner, Dave York, played by Pedro Pascal, who thought McCall was dead but was working with Susan on the case. They team up together again to solve the crime, but all is not as it appears.
*******************

Throughout the film we have the constant warnings that a storm is coming. That culminates in the thrilling and action-packed final scene in which the characters have to deal with the hurricane conditions.
Content concerns include a significant amount of violence and adult language.
Themes include vengeance, kindness, deception and betrayal.  In the film we are led to believe his vengeance and violence is justified, as compared to the neighborhood gang violence.  But is it?
The Equalizer 2 is a thrilling, intense and extremely violent film that contains a significant amount of adult language. Washington is excellent as Robert McCall, and Ashton Sanders plays a significant role as Miles.


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NEW AND UPCOMING MOVIES

My wife Tammy and I love to go the movies. The new Movie Pass app has made that much more affordable for frequent movie goers. Below are 12 new and upcoming movies that look interesting.   The plot summaries are courtesy of IMDb.

July 20 ~ The Equalizer 2, rated R

Robert McCall serves an unflinching justice for the exploited and oppressed, but how far will he go when that is someone he loves?

Directed by Antoine Fuqua and stars Denzel Washington, Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo.

Continue reading


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My Review of SKYSCRAPER

Skyscraper, rated PG-13
** ½

Skyscraper is an action packed, intense and entertaining summer film that will remind some of The Towering Inferno and Die Hard. It features a father who will do anything to save his family. The film is written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber (Dodgeball) and had a budget of approximately $125 million.
The film begins with a flashback from ten years ago. Will Sawyer, played by Dwayne Johnson (Jumanji), is a Marine and a member of the FBI Hostage Rescue Team. We see a hostage negotiation that goes badly, resulting in Will losing his left leg below the knee. Ten years later Will, who wears a prosthetic leg, is happily married to Sarah, played by Neve Campbell (Scream films). Sarah is a combat trained surgeon who has done a few tours in Afghanistan. She can also speak multiple languages. The couple has twins: Georgia, played by McKenna Grace and Henry, played by Noah Cottrell. Will started a small security firm run out of his garage.
A former FBI teammate has given him an opportunity that may turn things around for his small firm. He connects him with Chinese billionaire Zhao Long Ji, played by Chin Han, who has built the world’s largest building in Hong Kong. The high-tech building, named the Pearl, is three times the size of New York’s Empire State Building.  Only the first 90 stories are occupied, but after getting Will’s security review and the necessary insurance, the remaining floors will open. Will knows more about the security features of the Pearl than anyone. So, Will and his family head to Hong Kong, and he makes a pitch to Long Ji for the security consultant business.
What Will doesn’t know is that Long Ji has something that three crime syndicates want. And they, led by Kores Botha, played by Roland Moller, are willing to burn the $6.5 billion-dollar structure down to get it from Long Ji. Unfortunately, they set the 96th story on fire not knowing that Sarah and the children are in the building. The rest of the film is a battle for the villains to get what they want from Long Ji while Will fights against time to save his family trapped in the burning structure and avoid the police who are pursuing him thinking he set the fire.
The film is intense. The stunts performed by Johnson are incredible and the CGI (computer-generated imagery) of the building on fire are well done. I especially appreciated Neve Campbell’s portrayal of Sarah as a strong woman.
Content concerns include a significant amount of violence and some completely unnecessary adult language, including an abuse of Jesus’ name.
Themes include courage and doing anything, including sacrificing your own life for your family.
Skyscraper is an intense, thrilling and action-packed film. Sure, the stunts aren’t very realistic, and it’s not a great movie by any means (don’t look too closely at the plot details), but it makes for a fun time at the theatre.


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My 2018 Mid-Year Favorites

It’s hard to believe that we are at mid-year already. As I have in the past, I wanted to share with you my favorites from the first half of 2018 in a variety of categories. Except for books, these are all items that were released or took place in 2018. For books, I include my favorite books that I’ve read thus far during 2018. Enjoy!  Please let me know what you think of my list, and also share some of your favorites.

Movies

Best: Tie ~ Black Panther and Paddington 2

Other movies I’ve enjoyed, in no particular order, were:

  • Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
  • Incredibles 2
  • Peter Rabbit
  • Calvinist
  • The Post
  • I Can Only Imagine
  • Avengers: Infinity War
  • Isle of Dogs
  • Ready Player One
  • Ant-Man and The Wasp

Worst:  Below are the worst, or at least the most disappointing, films I’ve seen, in no particular order:

  • Hostiles
  • Phantom Thread
  • The 15:17 to Paris
  • God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness
  • First Reformed

Music

Best: Resurrection Letters: Prologue/Resurrection Letters Vol. 1 – Andrew Peterson
  
Other music I’ve enjoyed, in no particular order, were:

  • You’re Driving Me Crazy – Van Morrison and Joey DeFrancesco
  • Let the Trap Say Amen – Lecrae and Zaytoven
  • Surrounded – Michael W. Smith
  • Into the Night – Social Club Misfits
  • One More Song – Ashley Cleveland

Top Songs

Best: Is He Worthy? – Andrew Peterson

Other songs I’ve enjoyed, in no particular order, have been:

  • Take Me to the Water/Cool Down by the Banks of Jordan – Ashley Cleveland
  • I Can’t Lose – Lecrae and Zaytoven
  • Everyday I Have the Blues – Van Morrison and Joey DeFrancesco
  • The Holy Grail – John Fogerty
  • Bridges Burn by NEEDTOBREATHE
  • Better Than I Used to Be by Mat Kearney
  • Don’t Know by Paul McCartney

Books

Best: The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row – Anthony Ray Hinton

Other books I’ve enjoyed, in no particular order, were:

  • Developing the Leader Within You 2.0 – John Maxwell
  • Servant Leadership in Action – Edited by Ken Blanchard
  • The Gospel According to God – John MacArthur
  • The Gospel Comes with a House Key – Rosaria Butterfield
  • How to be a Perfect Christian – Babylon Bee
  • How to Get Unstuck – Matt Perman
  • Take Heart: Christian Courage in the Age of Unbelief – Matt Chandler
  • Immanuel Labor: God’s Presence in Our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work – Russell E. Gehrlein
  • The Gospel at Work: How the Gospel Gives New Purpose and Meaning to Our Jobs(Updated and Expanded Edition) – Greg Gilbert and Sebastian Traeger
  • Paul Simon: The Life – Robert Hilburn
  • Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music? Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock – Gregory Alan Thornbury
  • Wooden on Leadership: How to Create a Winning Organization – John Wooden and Steve Jamison

Blogs

Best: Tim Challies’ Ala Carte. This is required reading for me each Monday through Saturday. Challies includes helpful Kindle deals, links to a good variety of helpful articles and a quote.  Check out Tim’s website here.

Podcasts

Best: The Briefing – Albert Mohler. Each weekend morning, Albert Mohler hosts a podcast providing worldview analysis about the leading news headlines and cultural conversations. This is required listening for me. Check out Dr. Mohler’s website here.

Honorable mention goes to the third season of Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent podcast Revisionist History. On each episode, Gladwell goes back and reinterprets something from the past: an event, a person, an idea. Something overlooked. Something misunderstood.

Television

Best: Victoria

  • The Resident
  • This is Us
  • The Profit
  • The Blacklist
  • The Crown

Concerts

Best: U2 – Experience and Innocence Tour in St. Louis

Honorable Mention: John Hiatt and the Goners, featuring Sonny Landreth. Slow Turning 30th Anniversary Reunion Tour in Bloomington, Illinois

New Resources

Best: Messages from the 2018 Ligonier National Conference which had the theme “Awakening”.

These are my mid-year favorites in a variety of categories. How about you? What were some of your favorites?


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What Does the Bible Say About Work?

It may surprise you that the Bible has a lot to say about work, both God’s work and our work. Here are just a few passages for you to consider:

The “Creation Mandate”

  • And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)

God is a worker

  • And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 2:2-3)

Jesus is a worker

  • Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? (Mark 6:3)
  • I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. John 17:4

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Coram Deo and the Integration of Our Faith and Work

This blog has been named Coram Deo since it originally started as a monthly church newsletter way back in September, 1998. The phrase means so much to me that my license plate is CORMDEO!
I first became aware of the Latin term “Coram Deo”, sometimes associated with Martin Luther, years ago at the end of the daily teaching studies of Ligonier Ministries’ monthly magazine Tabletalk. R.C. Sproul, the founder of Ligonier Ministries, has written that the big idea of the Christian life and its essence is coram Deo.  He writes that the phrase literally refers to something that takes place in the presence of, or before the face of, God. To live coram Deo is to live one’s entire life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, to the glory of God. He tells us that to live in the presence of God is to understand that whatever we are doing and wherever we are doing it, we are acting under the gaze of God. God is omnipresent. There is no place so remote that we can escape His penetrating gaze.
Dr. Sproul tells us that the Christian who compartmentalizes their life into two sections of the religious and the nonreligious has failed to grasp the big idea. The big idea is that all of life is religious or none of life is religious. He tells us that to divide life between the religious and the nonreligious is itself a sacrilege.
Sproul then addresses coram Deo and our callings and vocations, and this is what I want to bring your attention to. He states that if a person fulfills their vocation as a steelmaker, attorney, or homemaker coram Deo, then that person is acting every bit as religiously as a soul-winning evangelist who fulfills his vocation.
That makes sense, doesn’t it? As we carry out our vocations we do so coram Deo, in the presence of, and before the face of God. Knowing this has provided me a direct line of sight between my faith and my work.
What about you? Do you divide your life between the religious (church, spiritual disciplines, etc.) and the nonreligious (work, household chores, raising your children, etc.)?  Or, do you carry out your vocations and callings coram deo, in the presence of, and before the face of a holy God?