Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

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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.

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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.

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Squirrels and Weeds: Frustration and Perseverance

I spend a good amount of time reading and writing on our patio. My wife and I both enjoy watching the birds come to the feeders that we have installed just off the patio a few years ago. What I don’t enjoy are the squirrels who help themselves to the food intended for the birds. But try as I might, I can’t keep them out of the feeders. Last year, we bought a baffle. All that did was provide a nice seat for the squirrel to rest on while feasting on the bird food. I tried using Vaseline on the feeder pole, and that didn’t work either. More than a few times (and I just did it again as I wrote this), I’ve chased a squirrel away from the feeders and followed him as he took refuge in a nearby tree.
This year it’s even gotten worse as chipmunks have joined in the fun of frustrating me. Not only do the chipmunks join in eating the bird food, but they also dig in my potted plants on the patio. And recently, either a chipmunk or squirrel took a chunk out of a ripening tomato on one of my mother-in-law’s plants, and they consistently eat the small berries on our strawberry plants. All of this is very frustrating. Though I’m not having much success against these scoundrels, I’m trying to persevere.
The frustration continues with weeds in our lawn and flower beds. Despite putting down a preemergent in the spring, weeds still come up. There is a curse on work due to the Fall, and that curse impacts all of our work.  After Adam and Eve sinned, in Genesis 3:17, God told Adam that he would curse the ground, with thorns and thistles. I persevere by using Roundup, but I know that more weeds will soon be up. It’s a never-ending battle. Tim Keller says that the Fall means we should expect to be regularly frustrated in our work.
Now those are somewhat humorous examples but isn’t this representative of the Christian life? Think of some of the frustrations you run into:

  • Learning a new skill
  • Overcoming that familiar sin in your life
  • Growing in the Christian life
  • Learning a new job
  • Raising your children
  • Resolving conflict at work or in a key relationship

To achieve any worthy goal, you will have to go through frustration. I believe Michael Jordan was the greatest player ever to play basketball. But it’s his famous quote about failure that is relevant here:
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
What does the Bible say about dealing with frustration and persevering? Here are 10 verses to encourage you:

John 16:33 – I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.
Isaiah 41:10 – Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Joshua 1:9 – Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Proverbs 3: 5-6 – Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
Galatians 6:9 – And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
James 1:12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
Romans 8:28 – And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Romans 12:12 – Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
2 Thessalonians 3:13 – As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.
Ephesians 6:11 – Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.

We all deal with frustration. How do you persevere and endure in the midst of these frustrations?


Thoughts on God’s Amazing Creation

Since taking early retirement a few months ago, life has certainly slowed down for me. One of the many joys I’ve had during this time has been an increasing appreciation for God’s amazing creation. Instead of attending meetings, coaching and mentoring people (which I loved), I’m getting a lot of time to spend outdoors, something that I hadn’t done very much for years.
Though it took a while to warm up in central Illinois (and we wondered if it ever would), it finally did. That allowed me to work on our lawn, putting a down a weed preventer and also some grass seed. Then I hoped for rain, but watered when we didn’t get rain. When some of the local garden shops had some sales, we stocked up on perennials for our garden, which over the past few years had not gotten much attention. Then I hoped for rain, and watered when we didn’t get much. Later, we had some evergreens, hosta’s and daylilies planted during a very hot period. Again, I hoped for rain, and watered when we didn’t get any.
I’ve enjoyed some wonderful time reading and writing on our patio (or what my wife Tammy has come to call my “outdoor office”). I also enjoy watching the birds at our feeders just off the patio, though at the rate they are emptying the feeders (daily), I joke that I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to continue to afford to feed them.
This summer, Tammy and I completed an eight-week discipleship class led by a pastor we love, who recently left our church to take a call at a church about a half an hour away. The class is on “Abiding in Christ for the Sake of Creation”, and included two sessions at a beautiful nearby five-acre garden owned by a dear seminary professor and his wife. While at the garden, we enjoyed opportunities to commune with God in solitude. The class has given me a greater appreciation for how God is revealed in creation.
Theology distinguishes between special revelation (the Bible) and general revelation, which includes God’s creation. Keith Mathison tells us that “General revelation is referred to as “general” because it has a universal content and is revealed to an overall audience. “Through general revelation to all men, God communicates His existence, His power, and His glory, such that men are left without excuse.” Theologian Robert Godfrey adds “General revelation, properly speaking, is God’s clear display of His glory and power in the works of creation and providence. As the Scriptures explain: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge” (Psalm 19:1-2). He goes on to state that “All nature, all the time, shouts out the existence, power, and splendor of God.”
Do you enjoy God’s creation? Not just the majestic oceans and mountains, but the trees, butterflies, and yes, even those squirrels who eat your bird food? Do you see how through general revelation creation reveals God’s existence to all?

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Forever On Your Side (Niles City Sound Sessions) – NEEDTOBREATHE
*** ½

This EP contains four songs that the band recorded over a few weeks while they were in Fort Worth, Texas with the producer trio Niles City Sound. The EP gives us a good idea where the constantly evolving band is now. Below are a few comments about each of the new songs:
Bridges Burn – This was the first song released from the EP. It opens with piano and hand-clap. Bear Rinehart sings that it’s time for moving on as there are some things you can’t forget. He wants to watch all his bridges burn and dance in the light of a lesson learned. He wants to leave everything that hurts and never go back to the way they were. The mid-tempo song builds gradually over a passionate vocal.
Key lyric:  I need to find somewhere I can believe. I need to know there’s a chance we can be.

Darling – This beautiful song has Bear singing over acoustic guitar. He is singing to his wife, wanting to talk to her on the phone while he’s on the road and she’s at home. He just wants to be home with her, the only thing that carries him through. He acknowledges that it’s hard for her to be at home, taking care of the house on her own. As the song builds, light instrumentation, including some horns and backing vocals supplement Bear’s vocals. Key lyric: I don’t wanna do this alone.

Bullets – This song opens with guitar, and then moves into a rock beat, with drum, organ, horns, keys and backing vocals. The song is about how you can’t put the bullets back into a gun, can’t undo what we have done or said, which is a tough lesson we have to learn.  Musically, it’s the most interesting song on the collection.
Key lyric: Don’t let your heart be stone, don’t be the bitter one.

Forever On Your Side – The closing song was the only song that hadn’t been released prior to the full EP being released, and it’s my favorite song on the EP. It features husband and wife duo Johnnyswim (Amanda Sudano and Abner Ramirez) on backing vocals. The band has indicated that this song was written for their fans who have been with them since the very beginning. The song begins with guitar and then builds with drums and banjo. The lyrics are uplifting and encouraging. We don’t know what’s around the bend but love knows no end and he’ll be forever on her side. Like Jesus, he will carry her every time because he’s forever on her side. With Johnnyswim joining the band on tour, this song will sound amazing live.
Key lyric:  Take my hand when you can’t see the light, ‘cause I’m forever on your side.

Click on ‘Continue reading’ for:
 Reviews of Nobody Loves Me Like You by Chris Tomlin and My New Moon by Amos Lee
 Music News
 Music Quotes from Keith Getty
 Song of the Week Lyrics
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Gay Girl, Good God by Jackie Hill Perry. B&H Books. 208 pages. 2018

Jackie Hill Perry is a 29-year-old writer, speaker and artist, who was born in St. Louis. She writes that she has written this book out of love for what a good God has done for her – loving her and giving her new life and a new heart. She tells us that what God has done to her soul is worth telling. It is to invite us into her worship.
The book is broken into three parts.
Part 1: Who I Was
The author tells us that she was attracted to girls before she knew how to spell her name. After discussing what took place in her second-grade classroom, she writes that in 2006 she was asked by a girl at a high school dance if she wanted to be her girlfriend. She said “no” at the time, but really wanted to. But when she thought of the girl she would think of spending eternity in hell. Her heart was saying “yes” but her conscience was saying “no”. Eventually she gave in, however. Satan told her to do what felt good. She trusted herself more than she trusted God. Sin was better than submission.
The author’s mother and her father, an employee at her mother’s restaurant met at an East St. Louis club in 1988. This would eventually lead to a pregnancy. The author’s mother considered aborting the child. The relationship between Jackie’s mother and father didn’t work out, and Jackie grew up without a father at home. He rarely visited and she was convinced that he didn’t love her. Jackie writes of him dying unexpectedly at a relatively young age.
Jackie was sexually abused by a teen-age family member in a dark basement. As she grew up, her experiences with men in her life were an absentee father and a sexually abusive relative.
As a lesbian, Jackie was manly, and her girlfriend wanted her to play the role of the stud in their relationship. She would have at least one other girlfriend.
At that time, Jackie was an enemy of God. But God was using her conscience. He was, as she called it, ‘hunting her’. In addition, a family member prayed for her. She realized that she would have to choose between God and her girlfriend. She writes about being saved in her room.

Click on ‘Continue reading’ for more of this book review and:
BOOK REVIEWS ~ How Should I Think about Money? by R.C. Sproul
Morning and Evening: A New Edition of the Classic Devotional by Charles H. Spurgeon
BOOK NEWS ~ Links to Interesting Articles and Free Audiobook!
BOOK CLUB ~ How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics in a Divided Age by Jonathan Leeman
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