Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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Much to Be Thankful for This Thanksgiving Season


Let’s face it, there is much to get down about these days. All you have to do is to turn on a cable news channel on any given evening to get you depressed or fearful about any number of things. For months there has been discussion about the upcoming mid-term elections. It seems that we are experiencing more frequent and severe hurricanes. As I write this, the top stories on all news networks is about a number of pipe bomb devices and suspicious packages delivered to those who align on the liberal side of politics and a caravan of thousands making their way to the U.S. border. 11 Jewish people were killed in a synagogue and many others injured.  And the list goes on. It will be something else tomorrow and the next day.
But we don’t have to look at national or global issues. Each of us has things that concern or worry us as well. You may be worried about a key relationship in your life. Perhaps you are worried about losing your job, or maybe you already have. Finances, children, health issues for you or a loved one, the list is almost endless.
So, as we approach the last two months of the year and enter into the holiday season once again, and Thanksgiving in particular, why don’t we take some time to focus on all we have to be thankful for.

Here are a few of the things we can be thankful for:

  1. For believers this list has to start with God and the gift of salvation He has provided for us through His son, Jesus. Even with life’s storms raging in your life, you can hang on to your faith and know that ultimately everything is going to be fine (Romans 8:28). We’re thankful the sun comes up every morning, and His mercies are new with every day dawning.  Lamentations 3:22-23 (quite ironic this uplifting verse is found in the midst of lament!)
  2. Family and Friends. Our families and friends come next. I know that certainly not everyone has had a pleasant experience with their family. Some have a difficult time embracing a heavenly Father when their earthly father was abusive, for example. I was blessed to be raised by wonderful parents who taught me values and made sure I went to church each Sunday. I have a brother and sister that I love dearly. God blessed me with a godly wife, and now I get to enjoy time with an incredible extended family. As an introvert, I’ve never had many close friends. But in my career, I had the opportunity to work with hundreds of wonderful people, many of whom developed into friends.
  3. Our churches are something else to be thankful for. My wife and I have been blessed to be a part of a Bible believing and Christ honoring church now for nearly 24 years. And believe it or not, we have had the same lead pastor for all of those years! A church is another place in which you can make some wonderful life-long friends.
  4. Our Callings. Another thing to be thankful for are the callings God has provided us. Each of us have a portfolio of callings. This would include not only our jobs, but would also include such things as being a spouse, uncle, grandparent, son, etc. We are each uniquely gifted by the Father.

There are many other things that we can be thankful for, not only during this time of year, but each and every day. For example, I’m thankful for good health, finances to provide for my family, God’s creation, Cardinal baseball and our dog Molly. The point of this article is not to ignore the very difficult issues we are facing, but for us to stop, take a breath, and think of the things that God has blessed us with and thank Him for those things.

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A Prayer for the Discouraged

Heavenly Father, as we start a new week, I pray that it will be better than last week. I know that bad things happen each day in your world. People get diagnosed with, and die of cancer. Marriages break up. People turn away from you, Friends move away. People lose jobs, or don’t get an offer for a job they just interviewed for. People suffer from terrible pain without any hope for relief. But, knowing this intellectually, last week still seemed to be a particularly difficult one.
In the middle of the week came the news that pipe-bomb like devices had been sent to several prominent public figures. This went on for a few days, with additional devices being discovered, before law enforcement arrested a suspect.
The week ended with a shooter opening up fire in a Pittsburgh synagogue, killing eleven. In between these events, my wife and I came up a truck that had turned over on its side, the second truck we had seen like this in two days. This one was different however, as we saw a red tarp covering the truck cab. We knew what this meant, and had it confirmed later than a man had died in the accident.
Father, it’s easy to get down and downright cynical about all the bad things that happen in your world. Some will even just dismiss it and say “Same “stuff”, different day”. But You are sovereign. You are in charge of everything that happens in this world. Everything. This is your world and there are going to be bad things happen every day, whether they make the news or not. We trust you, and long for the day when your son, Jesus, returns to make all things new. Until then, Father, we long for the comfort of your Holy Spirit. Encourage us. Give us the strength to go on. Let your word comfort us with these scripture verses about your sovereignty:

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.

Isaiah 55: 8-9
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
  For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Psalm 46:1
God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.

Psalm 24:1-2
The earth is the Lord‘s and the fullness thereof,
    the world and those who dwell therein,
  for he has founded it upon the seas
    and established it upon the rivers.

Psalm 27:1
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
    of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 135:6
Whatever the Lord pleases, he does,
    in heaven and on earth,
    in the seas and all deeps.

Proverbs 16:4
The Lord has made everything for its purpose,
    even the wicked for the day of trouble.

Colossians 1:17
 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Job 12:10 
In his hand is the life of every living thing
and the breath of all mankind.

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.

 What verses about the sovereignty of God bring you comfort, and keep you from being discouraged in the midst of life’s storms?


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My Review of THE OLD MAN & THE GUN

The Old Man & The Gun, rated PG-13
***

The Old Man & The Gun is a well-acted film that is “mostly true” about the real-life bank robber Forrest Tucker. The film is directed and written by David Lowery and is based on David Grann’s 2003 article in the New Yorker titled “The Old Man and the Gun”. The film is set in 1981, and is shot by cinematographer Joe Anderson on Super 16 mm film. The musical score is by Daniel Hart.
Oscar winner Robert Redford (Ordinary People), now 82 years old, portrays 76-year-old Forrest Tucker, a man who has lived a life of crime from age 13 when he stole a bicycle until we meet him as a bank robber. Tucker is also known for escaping from jail or prison, having done it 16 times. Tucker is seen as a gentleman bank robber, dressing nicely and being very courteous as he and his “Over the Hill Gang” rob bank after bank without ever shooting their guns.  The Gang consisted of Teddy, played by four-time Emmy nominee Danny Glover (Freedom Song) and Waller, played by Oscar nominee Tom Waits (One From The Heart). In fact, we never even see the Gang or Tucker’s guns – just a flash of his suitcoat in the banks. Tucker was known to have robbed as many as 80 banks, taking in excess of $4 million in his career as a gentleman bank robber.
As the film begins, Tucker has robbed a small Texas bank. To elude the police who are pursuing him, he stops to assist Jewel, a widow played by six-time Oscar nominee and winner for Coal Miner’s Daughter, Sissy Spacek, whose truck has broken down along the side of the road. The two strike up a friendship in a diner, with Forrest initially telling Jewel that he is a travelling salesman.
Oscar winner Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea) plays Dallas Police detective John Hunt, who has just turned 40, seems depressed, and doesn’t seem to like his job very much. But Hunt is revived when he starts putting together that a string of bank robberies is related, and he takes the lead on the case.
Themes include crime and deception. Content concerns include some adult language and a small amount of violence. In addition, this is one of those films in which the filmmaker wants you to cheer for those that are committing the crimes, as opposed to the police who are pursuing them.
It’s interesting that Tucker only seems to be happy when he’s robbing banks. On the other hand, Hunt, comes alive only when he’s pursuing Tucker, not before or after.
The film is getting some extra attention as Robert Redford has indicated that this will be his last film as an actor. The film deviates from the real story of Tucker on several points, as is summarized in this article.
The Old Man & The Gun is a well-acted film as Redford, Spacek and Affleck deliver excellent performances. Redford has good chemistry with both Spacek as a love interest and Affleck as his pursuer.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7rlUe-Thvk


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My Review of FIRST MAN

First Man, rated PG-13
** ½

First Man is a film about astronaut Neil Armstrong, leading up to and including his historic trip to the moon. The film was highly anticipated as it was directed by three-time Oscar nominee and winner for La La Land, Damien Chazelle, who also directed the excellent Whiplash, and written by Oscar winner Josh Singer (Spotlight) based on the book by First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James R. Hansen. The film tries to be as historically accurate as possible, with Armstrong’s sons working with the filmmakers.
The film has a solid cast led by two-time Oscar nominee Ryan Gosling (La La Land, Half Nelson) as Neil Armstrong. The film is not just about the Apollo 11 mission, and Armstrong being the first man to walk on the moon. It delves deeply into Armstrong’s strained relationship with his wife Janet, played by Golden Globe winner Claire Foy (The Crown).

***SPOILER ALERT***
After their young daughter Karen dies, Neil becomes distant and throws himself into his work at NASA. A very high percentage of marriages can’t survive the loss of a child, and the Armstrongs were not an exception, as they divorced in 1994 after 38 years of marriage. Armstrong was a hero, one that his family referred to as a reluctant American hero. He died in 2012.
The film follows Armstrong from his early days as a pilot, joining NASA, time on the Gemini program, including the near fatal Gemini 8 mission, and through the historic 1969 Apollo 11 mission with Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. The film conveys how dangerous being an astronaut was, as we see or hear about several astronauts dying, including Armstrong’s friend and neighbor Ed White, played by Jason Clarke (Chappaquiddick).
The film shows that not everyone in the country was in support of the space program with its cost and danger, while the country was facing many problems at the time.
***********************

The film is visually stunning thanks to cinematographer Oscar winner Linus Sandgren (La La Land), especially the scenes on the moon, which were controversial because they do not depict Armstrong planting the American flag on the moon.
Themes include patriotism, family, dedication to work at the expense of family, grief following the loss of a child and friends, and danger. Content concerns include some adult language and the death of astronauts.
First Man was in some ways brilliant, notably when it gives the viewer a feeling of what the rocket blast-off was like, as the screen shook and the camera pans over to the bolts (will they hold?). I don’t like even the slightest bit of turbulence when flying, but this film, perhaps better than any other, gives us a feeling of what the experience in the cockpit of a rocket would be like. The acting was excellent, not only by Gosling and Foy, but also by the solid supporting cast. But in other ways, the film was much too slow, including a final drawn out scene between Gosling and Foy as they meet for the first time upon his return from the moon, and a good twenty minutes too long.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSoRx87OO6k


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When Our Heroes Let Us Down

Among the dictionary definitions of a hero are:

  • Legendary figure, often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability.
  • A person admired for achievements and noble qualities.
  • One who shows great courage.
  • The central figure in an event, period, or movement.

I think it’s completely allowable for Christians to have heroes, though I agree with Iain H. Murray who writes in his book Heroes, “There is a danger of thinking and writing too highly of men I do not deny”. The Apostle Paul himself encouraged us to model him when he wrote, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ”. (1 Corinthians 11:1). I’ve had many heroes in the areas of theology, sports and music. But we’ve probably all experienced being let down, disappointed, and even embarrassed by our heroes.
Recently, I’ve been shocked and disappointed by two of my musical heroes. First, in May, the band U2, my current favorite band, mostly made up of professing Christians, came out in favor of abortion by encouraging their fans to support a referendum legalizing abortion in Ireland. More recently, Paul McCartney, former Beatle, my all-time favorite band, and the writer of such iconic songs as “Yesterday” and “Let it Be”, released a disappointing single entitled “Fuh You”, which is pretty much explains what he wants to do to the person he is singing to.
Growing up, I enjoyed following baseball, basketball and football. But I could hardly have done a worse job picking my heroes. In baseball, it was Mickey Mantle, a womanizer and alcoholic, who fortunately had a death-bed conversion to Christ. In basketball, it was Wilt Chamberlain, who claimed to have had had sex with more than 20,000 different women. And if you think that is bad, my football hero was one O.J. Simpson. Seriously. I can’t make this stuff up.
Recently we have heard about the moral failings at Willow Creek Community Church in the Chicago area. Failings not only of their founding and former lead pastor, but of the church leaders who either helped cover-up the situation and/or didn’t listen to the women who brought abuse concerns to the leadership team. Bill Hybels is certainly not the first high profile pastor to have fallen. Sadly, we’ve unfortunately heard of many over the past few years. And scripture tells us of a certain king who was a man after God’s own heart who was both a murderer and adulterer.
Martin Luther and the Puritans are among my theological heroes. Luther, the great Protestant Reformer displayed anti-Semitism in some of his writings. Sadly, some of the Puritans, including Jonathan Edwards, owned slaves. A few of the lyrics from Propaganda’s song “Precious Puritans” address this:
Hey Pastor, you know it’s hard for me when you quote Puritans
Oh, the precious Puritans
Have you not noticed our facial expressions?
One of bewilderment, and heartbreak, like “Not you too, Pastor”
You know they were chaplains on slave ships, right?
and,
How come the things the Holy Spirit showed them
In The Valley of the Vision
Didn’t compel them to knock on their neighbor’s door
And say “You can’t own people!”

What are we to make of the failures of our human heroes? Years ago, I heard Alistair Begg say (and he was quoting someone else), “The best of men are men at best”. That’s good for us to remember. Our human heroes – leaders, pastors, government officials, etc. – will always let us down. But there is one who will never let you down. John Piper writes:
“There is one hero, and only one, who will not let you down – Jesus Christ. All other heroes fail us, and the reason they do is to point us to Christ. There is no one more admirable, and more worthy of our praise.”
So, yes, it is OK to have heroes. But remember, they will ultimately let you down. They are not worthy of your ultimate trust and allegiance. Only Jesus is. He will never let you down.

Have you had any of your heroes let you down?


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Developing Leaders in the Local Church

Just like any organization, a church needs to be continually developing future leaders to plan for succession. As leaders get older, retire and/or move away, you need to have other leaders ready to step in. These would most often be candidates for the office of deacon or elder, but it could also be someone who may want to be a pastor, church planter, missionary or worship leader. In order to have a steady supply of leaders, a church needs to be intentional about leadership development. But how do you do that effectively?
I have previously written about leadership development in the workplace. There are some similarities, but also some key differences between leadership development in the workplace and within the church. In their book Designed to Lead: The Church and Leadership, Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck write that God has designed his people to lead and that the church should be the epicenter of leadership development as God has designed the church to develop leaders in all spheres of life – the church, workplace, home, community and world.

Here are four steps for developing leaders in the local church:

  1. Identify candidates. First, the Bible lays out clear qualifications for the offices of elder and deacon. Qualifications for elders are found in 1 Timothy 3:2-7 and Titus 1:6-8, while qualifications for the office of deacon are found in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. The church leadership team (pastors and elders) should meet on a regular basis (semiannually would be ideal), to discuss potential future leaders and getting them into the leadership pipeline. This is similar to what a workplace organization would do with their leadership talent.
  2. Candidates mentored/discipled by existing leaders. Once candidates have been identified, they should be paired with an existing pastor or elder in a mentoring/discipling relationship. These relationships can all look a bit different. In some cases, you might want to do a Bible study, or read and discuss a book you are both interested in. You might want to have meals, spend time in a coffee shop or take long walks. The mentor will get to know the mentee well to find out about how they lead their families (if applicable), their attention to spiritual disciplines, and whether there is anything in their life that would disqualify them for church leadership. This period is critical. It may help to confirm a leadership calling. On the other hand, it may confirm that the individual is not suited for leadership, or not interested or ready at this particular time.
  3. Do the work of a leader. One of the ways to identify a potential leader (see Step 1) is to observe those who are actually doing the work of a leader now, without the title or office. For example, who are the individuals who regularly show up at the church work days? Who are those who are volunteering to serve in different ministries within the church? Who are those quiet servants? Who is leading a small group, teaching a Sunday School class, or discipling others? In the same way, doing the work of a leader, and getting feedback from your mentor, is an excellent way to develop as a leader.
  4. Intense training on theology and beliefs. In the church I attend, this training is done by the senior pastor. Time is spent on our confession (Westminster Confession of Faith), to assure the candidate’s beliefs are in line with Scripture, the denomination and the church. There is also discussion to determine whether it is the right time of life for the individual to go into leadership. For example, if the individual has a number of small children at home, he may not have the time to devote to this new calling. Over the years, there have been individuals who made the decision during this training that now is not the right time to pursue leadership in the church. However, if all goes well in this training, the senior pastor makes the recommendation to the rest of the leadership team to bring the individual before the church as a new elder or deacon.

These are four steps that I’ve found to be helpful in developing leaders in the local church. What other things have you found to be helpful?


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My Review of GOSNELL: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer

Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer
*** ½

Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer is a film based on the investigation and trial of Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell. It is an important film, but also a very difficult one to watch. The film is directed by Nick Searcy, who also plays one of the major roles in the film. The film is written by Andrew Klavan based on the book Gosnell: The Untold Story of America’s Most Prolific Serial Killer by a married couple of investigative journalists from Ireland Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney.
In 2010 Philadelphia detectives James Wood, played by Dean Cain (Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman), and his partner Starks, played by Alfonzo Rachel, obtain a warrant to search Dr. Gosnell’s clinic regarding an illegal pharmaceutical drug business being run out of the clinic. The DEA and FBI are also investigating the clinic for the same reason. What they find at the clinic is disgusting, a house of horrors. The clinic is filthy, and we see bags containing dead babies and jars of aborted babies’ feet. Cats run freely through the clinic, adding to the terrible smell inside. In the midst of the raid, Dr. Gosnell, played convincingly by Earl Billings, calmly feeds his pet turtles.
As the detectives interview clinic workers, they find out that patients were given anesthesia by untrained clinic workers, some of those workers being as young as 15 years old. One patient died at the clinic from an anesthesia overdose. Abortions were performed at the clinic past the state’s legal limit of 24 weeks. There were many babies that were born alive. In those instances, Dr. Gosnell cut their spinal cords with scissors.
Concerned with what he has seen at the clinic, Detective Wood contacts Assistant District Attorney Lexis McGuire, played by Sarah Jane Morris (Brothers & Sisters), about getting a search warrant for Dr. Gosnell’s home, as it appears that he has recently moved some files from the clinic. District Attorney Dan Molinari, played by Michael Beach, is concerned about the political ramifications of bringing murder charges against an abortion doctor, telling McGuire that it could damage her career aspirations.       
Dr. Gosnell hires defense attorney Mike Cohan, played by the film’s director Nick Searcy.  An investigative blogger, Molly Mullaney, played by Cyrina Fiallo, plays a key role in the case against Dr. Gosnell. The Mullaney character is a composite of JD Mullane and Mollie Z. Hemingway. The film uses actual transcripts from the two-month trial. Three-time Golden Globe nominee Janine Turner (Northern Exposure) plays Dr. North, an abortion doctor called to the stand during the trial who explains in painful detail the procedures she and her clinic have performed.
The film is difficult to watch not so much for what is shown on the screen, but for what is left to the imagination. Christine Wechsler (on whom Morris’ character is based) and the real-life Wood, served as consultants on the film, which also relied “very heavily on actual court transcripts” and “dozens of hours of interviews with Kermit Gosnell” himself.
The film tells us that despite concerns about the deplorable clinic conditions that were brought to their attention, the Philadelphia Department of Health refused to inspect Dr. Gosnell’s clinic based on orders from a past Pennsylvania governor. As a result, Gosnell’s clinic had not been inspected for several years.
Themes include abortion, murder, justice, sanctity of life. Content concerns include bags containing dead babies, aborted babies’ feet in jars and some adult language.
The film features a solid cast, led by Billings portrayal of Dr. Gosnell. It focuses on the facts of the story, so there is not a lot of character development. Real-life police photos are displayed over the ending credits.
Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer is a film that almost all top critics have refused to review, despite the film finishing in the top 10 its opening weekend while only being shown in just 673 theatres (the top film Venom is showing in 4,250 theatres). Facebook banned ads for the film in May 2018 saying it was “political speech”. The film’s producers raised $2.3 million in 45 days from nearly 30,000 people to fund this film.
It’s an important film. Go see it. Here is a current list of theatres where the film is showing.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qENMr_9xzWc