Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

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6 Things I Have Learned from Those Who Suffer

I was first introduced to the concept of suffering as a vocation in R.C. Sproul’s 1988 book Surprised by Suffering. See my review of and 15 helpful quotes from the book here. Suffering can come in many ways – physical suffering, loss of a loved one or job, loneliness, etc. l have previously written about “Encouragement in the Midst of Loss” here).
Sproul’s purpose in writing the book was that Christians would not be surprised when primarily physical suffering comes into their life. He wanted us to see that suffering is not uncommon nor random. No, it is sent by our Heavenly Father, who is both sovereign and loving for our ultimate good. He also wants us to understand that suffering is a vocation, a calling from God, a concept that will be new to many.
In a fallen world, suffering is going to come to all of us. You may be suffering now, or you may be caring for someone who is. Sproul tells us that suffering is one of the most significant challenges to a believer’s faith. I often wonder how nonbelievers deal with suffering without the strength found in Christ, who Himself was called by God to greater suffering than anyone who has ever lived.
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The Best of Times; the Worst of Times…. A Caregiver’s Story by Don Lusk PART II

In January 2016, Angie was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia after having undergone treatment and surgery for the Breast cancer. Her treatment at Northwestern was about six weeks long. This treatment was followed by a stem cell transplant in April 2016 which was another 3 plus weeks.    Her doctors were fairly optimistic as she responded well to the transplant and we felt that our journey on the “worst of times” road was finally winding down. In fact, we were given permission to travel to our home in Barbados to visit her mum & other family.  This gave us a much-needed reprieve; AND we began to strategically plan our next steps in life…, which included my early retirement.

As we began to make the best of this smooth path on the “best of times” road, Friends, family and others celebrated with us!!  We traveled to visit my older brother who celebrated his retirement after 38 years in education; we attended the wedding of my best man in California; we had friends from England visit us in Bloomington in September 2016, where we began planning a couples’ tour of Australia & New Zealand in summer of 2017 after my planned retirement. Continue reading

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The Best of Times; the Worst of Times…. A Caregiver’s Story PART I

Our friend Don Lusk recently spoke at the Pray for the Cure Event on Sept. 6, 2018 in Bloomington, Illinois.  We thought his essay would encourage those battling difficult seasons of life and those caregivers that are walking by their sides.

Bill & Tammy Pence and Don & Angela Lusk enjoying the Ligonier Conference

The Best of Times; the Worst of times…. A Caregiver’s Story by Don Lusk  

English writer & social critic, Charles Dickens’s famous novel, “A Tale of Two Cities” is set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution. The story is set against the conditions that led up to the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror.  The novel’s opening statements set the stage:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—”

The opening chapters introduction summarizes my life over the past 25 years as the husband of my darling, Angela.  The best of times…. Yet, the worst of times as a caregiver.  Continue reading

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The House With a Clock In Its Walls, rated PG

The House With a Clock In Its Walls is a PG rated dark, mysterious, creative and a bit wacky fantasy film, with some content concerns for Christian parents. The film is directed by Eli Roth (Hostel) in his first film not rated “R”. The screenplay is written by Eric Kripke based on the 1973 young adult novel by John Bellairs.
The film is set in 1955 in the small town of New Zebedee, Michigan. Ten-year-old Lewis, played by Owen Vaccaro (Daddy’s Home, Daddy’s Home 2), is orphaned, his parents having died in a car accident. He is then sent to live in a mysterious Victorian mansion filled with clocks with his eccentric uncle Jonathan, played by two-time Golden Globe nominee Jack Black (Bernie, The School of Rock) who was excellent in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Lewis eventually finds out that his uncle he has never known is a warlock and his uncle’s best friend and neighbor Mrs. Zimmerman, played by two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine, The Aviator), is a witch.   Lewis asks his uncle to teach him magic, which he reluctantly agrees to. Continue reading

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FAITH AND WORK: Connecting Sunday to Monday

  • James Brown: Dedication to Christ in Every Sphere of Influence. On this episode of the BreakPoint Podcast, Warren Cole Smith interviews sportscaster and journalist James Brown.  Brown talks about taking his faith into every sphere of his life, from personal fitness, to athletics, to education, to journalism, to entrepreneurship.
  • Job Clubs: One Way Churches Can Implement “Economic Wisdom”. Amy L. Sherman writes “How can churches take steps to better integrate economic wisdom throughout their churches and neighborhoods? One method is through job clubs. A job club, or a gathering of job-seekers for mutual support and encouragement, often involves networking and some training — with the focus on effective job-searching skills.”
  • Three Guys, Three Chainsaws. Steve Graves writes “So do you want to hire great workers? Hire workers that work hard, smart, and productive. Want to unleash great workers? Give them purpose and meaning.”
  • Accelerating Culture, Part 2. On the September Andy Stanley Leadership podcast, Stanley concludes his conversation with Dave Katz, CFO of Coca-Cola Consolidated, about what it means to accelerate culture within your organization.
  • Matrix Design. Listen to this broadcast from iWork4Him with Patrick Bertsche and Ivette Franco of Matrix Design, located outside of the Chicago area. Matrix works closely with end users to develop, build and install robotic automation systems. Hear their faith backgrounds, and what they are up to now, and how they are furthering the Kingdom via business.
  • Kathy Peel writes “Despite efforts to create the illusion of a perfect home on Instagram or Facebook, there’s no such thing as a perfect home. But there is such a thing as a good home–a place where family members walk through the door and say, “Wow, it’s good to be home!” A place where family members help each other flourish personally and do the will of God.” Listen to Kathy’s interview on  iwork4Him.

Click on ‘Continue reading’ for:

  • More interesting article links
  • The Top 10 Faith and Work Quotes of the Week
  • My Review of Believe It: My Journey of Success, Failure, and Overcoming the Odds by Nick Foles with Joshua Cooley
  • My Review of Birds of Pray: The Story of the Philadelphia Eagles’ Faith, Brotherhood, and Super Bowl Victory by Rob Maaddi
  • Snippets from the book ‘The Economics of Neighborly Love’

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THIS & THAT: A Weekly Roundup of Favorite Articles, Cartoons & Quotes


  • The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel. John MacArthur and Doug Wilson are among the signers of this new statement on social justice and the Gospel.
  • The Injustice of Social Justice. John MacArthur writes “The message of social justice diverts attention from Christ and the cross. It turns our hearts and minds from things above to things on this earth. It obscures the promise of forgiveness for hopeless sinners by telling people they are hapless victims of other people’s misdeeds.”
  • The Gospel and Social Justice, Part 1. Russell Moore writes “I have had many people ask me recently about the issue of social justice. As Christians, we are called to live as a gospel people, and in light of recent cultural conversations on this topic some have wondered about the connection between the gospel and justice. In this episode of Signposts, I discuss this issue and consider the Bible’s instruction for Christians seeking to live faithfully in the world and in obedience to the gospel.” Here is Part 2.
  • Albert Mohler Answers Questions about Social Justice. Denny Burk writes “Albert Mohler had an open Q&A session with students as Southern Seminary and Boyce College today in which he answered a question about social justice. Later in the day, Dr. Mohler answered more questions along these lines on his podcast “Ask Anything Live.”
  • Is Social Justice a Gospel Issue? Kevin DeYoung writes “Is social justice a gospel issue? That depends on what we mean by “social justice” and what we mean by “gospel issue.”


  • Core Christianity. Here is the first episode of the “Core Christianity” podcast from Michael Horton. The topic is “How Should I Share My Faith With My Atheist Friends?”
  • How to Evangelize Your LGBT Neighbors. Rosaria Butterfield writes “The way to evangelize your LGBT neighbors is the same way the Smiths evangelized me: by reminding them that only the love of Christ is seamless. Not so for our spouses or partners. Only Christ loves us best. He took on all our sin, died in our place bearing God’s wrath, and rose victorious from the dead.”


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Coram Deo Celebrates 20 Year Anniversary

September marks the 20th anniversary of Coram Deo since beginning as a church newsletter in September 1998. A few things contributed to my wife Tammy and I starting Coram Deo. (See this article from R.C. Sproul about what Coram Deo means).
First, people in the church knew that we went to the movies each Friday night. They would often ask if a particular film was appropriate for their children, or themselves, to see as believers. Writing short reviews of the films was a way to get that information out.
Second, for years I used to do the weekly announcements at the beginning of our church’s worship service. A man who only got to church about half the time, expressed frustration to me that he missed important information that was announced but not available anywhere else. The newsletter gave us the vehicle for that information.
Third, we wanted to look at culture – books, movies, music, the issues of the day from a distinctly Christian worldview or perspective.
Our first issue in September 1998 was a combination of church specific information along with looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview, the latter of which we continue today with the blog. That first issue included a monthly article from our pastor entitled “Pastor’s Corner”, a church calendar that listed sermon titles, baby showers, local concerts, choir practice, member birthdays, etc. Originally just four printed pages, we later posted an electronic copy to the church website, and by the time we sunset the newsletter at the end of 2013, it had grown to thirty pages. In late 2013, we began offering both a blog and newsletter, and in 2014 we moved completely to the current non-church specific blog format.
We are still at the same PCA church and are blessed to have the same pastor after 20+ years.  But much has changed since our first issue. I returned to Covenant Seminary and graduated in 2014. I took early retirement in early 2018 after nearly 38 years at State Farm. But today we continue much of what was in that original issue 20 years ago. You can expect music, movie and book reviews. We’ll also have a focus on integrating faith and work, and I’ll share links to articles that I find interesting.
We hope you enjoy reading the blog as much as we enjoy putting it together for you. Please let us know how we can serve you better.

Bill and Tammy

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Unbroken: Path to Redemption, rated PG-13

Unbroken: Path to Redemption picks up the incredible true story of Louis Zamperini where Angelini Jolie’s disappointing 2014 film Unbroken left off. The new film is directed by Harold Cronk (God’s Not Dead), and written by Oscar nominee Richard Friedenberg (A River Runs Through It) and Ken Hixon, based on Laura Hillenbrand’s excellent 2010 book Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. If you have not read the book, I highly commend it to you. It’s one of the most amazing stories I’ve ever read – and it’s all true.
After a brief recap to acquaint us with Zamperini’s story (Olympic champion, World War II hero lost at sea for 47 days, rescued by the Japanese who then tortured him), the film picks up with Zamperini returning home to his family in his California hometown of Torrance. But we quickly see that Zamperini, who is portrayed well by Samuel Hunt, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and frequently has nightmares of being tortured by Japanese officer Mutsuhiro Watanabe, who was known simply as “The Bird”.

After drinking heavily on a tour to encourage the sale of war bonds, he is given a three-week vacation in Florida by his major, played by Bob Gunton (The Shawshank Redemption, Argo).  It is in Florida where he meets Cynthia, played by Merritt Patterson, and they quickly marry. Cynthia is a believer, and believes that Louis is an answer to her prayers, but she quickly finds out that Louis is tormented by his nightmares of “The Bird’ and begins to drink more heavily as he struggles to find a job. Because of his struggles, Cynthia delays telling Louis that she is pregnant. It is difficult watching Louis being tormented by his nightmares and their marriage failing, even after baby Cynthia ‘Cissy’ is born. Most of the film is about his dealing with PSTD, and refusing any help for it from Dr. Bailey, played by Emmy nominee Gary Cole (Veep) or his brother Pete, played by Bobby Campo.
Eventually Cynthia has had enough and tells Louis that she wants a divorce. Then, Lila, a friend played by Vanessa Bell Calloway, invites her to Billy Graham’s Los Angeles Crusade, and this changes her mind toward her husband and their marriage. Because of his suffering, Louis has been hardened against God, and initially refuses to go to the crusade with Cynthia, and when he does, he leaves when the invitation is given by Graham, played by Will Graham, Billy Graham’s real-life grandson. When he goes back on another night, the Lord saves him.
Zamperini’s life is immediately changed, and we see him pour out the secret bottles of alcohol he has hidden in their apartment and we are told that he never again suffered from nightmares about “The Bird”. The film ends with some archival footage of the real Louis Zamperini, who died in 2014, just months before Jolie’s movie of his life was released.
The movie includes adequate acting and production, although my wife thought it was the quality of a Hallmark/Lifetime movie. I would have liked to see more of Zamperini’s life after he became a believer. Most of the film takes us through his suffering from PSTD, and it ends too quickly after his conversion. “You Found Me”, a new song by Switchfoot written for the film, plays over the ending credits.

Content issues include a lot of drinking of alcohol and some scenes of anger. Themes include marriage, suffering, forgiveness and salvation.
Unbroken: Path to Redemption is an at times hard to watch film about the struggles Louis Zamperini faced as he returned from being tortured at a Japanese prison camp. It is ultimately a film about how he was forgiven by his heavenly Father and how he extended that forgiveness to those who tortured him.


Reflections on the Sing! 2018 Conference

My wife Tammy, our good friend Don (Choir/Worship Leader at our church), and I attended the second annual Getty Music Worship Sing! Conference at the beautiful Music City Center in Nashville, September 10-12. The conference exists to help pastors, musicians and leaders build a Biblical understanding and creative vision for congregational singing in their churches. Bringing together speakers and artists from many traditions and walks of life, their desire is to encourage churches towards a deeper, more dynamic view of theology, artistry and mission in congregational singing.

The five urgent goals of Sing! are:

  1. Teach everyone why and how we sing.
  2. Build deep believers through what we sing.
  3. Strengthen and encourage families to sing together.
  4. Build churches by singing together and to each other.
  5. Witness to our wider communities by our singing.

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Gardens and Abiding in Christ

Since leaving my primary vocation at the end of March, I’ve enjoyed spending a lot of time working in our garden this summer. Over that time, we added a lot of perennials, along with some evergreens and hostas. As I watered our plants and evergreens during a particularly hot and dry summer here in the Midwest, I pained over the few plants that did not survive.
My wife and I have just completed an eight-week discipleship class taught by a dear pastor friend. The class was titled “Abiding in Christ: For the Sake of Creation”.  Among other aspects, the class included teaching on John 15 and two visits to a seminary professor’s wonderful 5-acre garden. We enjoyed the beauty of the gardens and had time to spend in solitude and prayer.  As we were getting a tour of the gardens, Dr. VanGemeren told us that many of the trees and plants that he planted over the eleven years he has worked on the garden are no longer alive. Some healthy specimens he has had to remove because they were encroaching on other plants.  In addition, there are times that he needs to prune a plant or tree for the sake of the garden.
Gardens are mentioned often in the Bible, beginning with the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:8). There are fruit and vegetable gardens, gardens used for celebrations, spiritual retreat and burial places. In fact, Mary, who was the first to Jesus’ tomb on the third day after his crucifixion, didn’t recognize the risen Jesus, instead believing him to be the gardener (John 20:25)
I recently had to prune one of my favorite plants, a Bird of Paradise plant that I’ve had a number of years. There were some stalks and leaves that looked poorly.  In John 15, we read that Christ is the true vine and the Father is the vinedresser. We are told that believers are like branches who bear fruit but are pruned so that they may bear more fruit. What does it mean to be pruned as a believer?
In the MacArthur Study Bible, John MacArthur writes regarding pruning, that God removes all things in the believer’s life that hinder fruit bearing, just as the gardener removes anything on the branches that keep them from bearing maximum fruit. In a sermon on this passage, R.C. Sproul states that pruning can be looked at as a cleansing, a chastening, suffering, or the process of being made pure at the hands of the refiner’s fire.
Jesus tells us to abide in him and He will abide in us. Abide means to continue in a daily, personal relationship with Jesus. (A good short book on this subject is “The Practice of the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence.)
We cannot bear fruit by ourselves, but only as we abide in Christ. For apart from Christ we can do nothing.  (John 15:5)
Although the process of pruning sounds like it will be painful, it is something that as believers we need to experience so that we can be more fruitful. Have you ever thought of that?
As a diamond is cut and polished, it is transformed so that it brilliantly reflects light.  We are pruned and polished to reflect Jesus’ light and beauty.  A chunk of stone is chiseled by the Master to reveal the beautiful statue beneath.  In the words of Charles Spurgeon, “The balloon never rises until the cords are cut….The trials that come from God are sent to prove and strengthen our graces and immediately illustrate the power of divine grace, to test the genuineness of our virtues and to add to their energy. Our Lord in His infinite wisdom and superabundant love sets such a high value upon His people’s faith that He will not protect them from those trials by which faith is strengthened. You would never have possessed the precious faith that now supports you if the trial of your faith had not put you through the fire. You are a tree that never would have rooted as well if the wind had not rocked you to and fro and made you take a firm hold upon the precious truths of God’s gracious covenant.  While the wheat sleeps comfortably in the husk, it is useless to us; it must be threshed out of its resting place before its value can be known. Thus it is good that the Lord tests the righteous, for it causes them to grow rich toward God.”

Perhaps you’ve already experienced some pruning in your life.  Please share your stories with us.