Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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A PRAYER FOR ADVENT

Advent is what we call the season leading up to Christmas. Each year, Advent begins four Sundays before December 25. This year it will be December 2 to December 24.  Advent means the coming of Christ.  It is the celebration of the first advent of Jesus, and the anxious awaiting of His second. During the next four weeks we will be preparing our hearts to remember the first coming of Jesus through reading, music, teaching, etc., while at the same time looking forward in eager anticipation to His promised second coming. The season is a time for remembering and rejoicing, watching and waiting, and a time to reflect upon the promises of God and to anticipate the fulfillment of those promises.
How are you going to prepare your hearts this Advent season when there is so much pressure – shopping, Christmas events (parties, concerts, etc.), sending Christmas cards or writing family Christmas letters, gifts buying, travel, family gatherings, house decorating – and on and on. We can get exhausted and defeated even thinking about it. Without a doubt, there are many things that can distract us from what most matters during this season.
My wife Tammy and I love the Christmas season. Over the past few years we’ve made it a practice to choose a book of Advent devotional readings each year. In year’s past we have read John Piper’s The Dawning of Indestructible Joy: Daily Readings for Advent and his Good News of Great Joy: Daily Readings for Advent, Nancy Guthrie’s Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room: Daily Family Devotions for Advent, and last year we chose Paul Tripp’s Come, Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional. This year, we will read Sinclair Ferguson’s new book Love Came Down at Christmas: Daily Readings for Advent.  We also both love to listen to Christmas music, both Christian and traditional holiday favorites. My favorite Christmas song is “O Holy Night”. Songs such as that truly draw our hearts to the Lord.
Let’s pray:
Father in Heaven, we pause this morning as we begin the Advent season. We are so thankful for the sacrifice of your only Son, Jesus Christ. He willingly came to earth to humble himself by becoming a man and pay the price for our sins.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21

We are thankful for the price being paid once and for all.
Jesus paid it all
All to Him I owe
Sin had left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow

Help us to focus on Christ this Advent season when there are so many things, even good things, that can distract us from Him and why He came to this earth.  He came once to save us from our sins and He will come again to gather His people into His Kingdom.
We pray that many – family, friends, neighbors, co-workers – will be drawn to Jesus this season. Prepare our hearts to remember His first coming as we anxiously wait for His promised final return.

In Jesus name,
Amen.


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

  • Thanking God for His Love. In this short video, Thabiti Anyabwile reflects on a moment when the reality of God’s love in the work of election became evident to him.
  • My Soul Is Too Far Gone. Francis Chan writes “No soul is too far gone for God to bring back. No heart is too hard for God to soften. No son or daughter is too lost for God to rescue. Keep praying for God to do what only he can”.
  • Convictions and Consequences. Sophia Lee writes “When Isabella Chow, a student senator at the University of California, Berkeley, decided to abstain from a pro-LGBT vote and instead explain her Christian views, she knew she’d have to weather a storm. She just didn’t expect that storm to involve a torrent of F-bombs and demands for her resignation.”
  • “Broken”, “Authentic”, “Surrender”: The Problem of Christian Jargon. Dan Doriani, who I enjoyed two classes with at Covenant Seminary, writes “Let us strive to use the right words in the right way, for the sake of Christ and his church. I don’t ask that everyone guard their every word, but I do propose that leaders draw our language—words and meanings—from Scripture as much as possible, seeking to take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5)”.
  • Your Lord’s Day Might Be Someone Else’s Way of Escape. Rosaria Butterfield writes “Radically ordinary hospitality begins when we remember that God uses us as living epistles—and that the openness or inaccessibility of our homes and hearts stands between life and death, victory and defeat, and grace or shame for most people.”

OUR HEARTS ARE IDOL FACTORIES:

  • 20 Signs You’ve Made Politics an Idol. Our friend Kevin Halloran writes “We’ve given politics and government a role they were never meant to play: solver of all our problems, provider of security, happiness, equity, and meaning. In other words, god.”
  • Are We Really in Danger of Making an Idol of the Family? Kevin DeYoung writes “The conjugal family—one man and one woman whose covenant union produces offspring—is profoundly good, a necessary and foundational element of God’s creational design. But it is not ultimate.”

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Two New Excellent Advent Resources to Help You Prepare Your Hearts for Christmas

There are two excellent resources that have recently been released that I want to recommend for your use this Advent season. They are Sinclair Ferguson’s new book Love Came Down at Christmas: Daily Readings for Advent and Matt Maher’s new album The Advent of Christmas. Below are my reviews of each.
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My Review of CREED II

Creed II, rated PG-13
*** ½

Creed II is an exciting film that takes us back to 1985’s Rocky IV. The film is a sequel to 2015’s Creed, and is the eighth overall film in the Rocky series. The film is directed by Steven Caple Jr., who replaces Ryan Coogler, who was working on Black Panther when this film was set to begin filming. Coogler is listed as an executive producer for the film. The screenplay is written by three-time Oscar nominee Sylvester Stallone (Rocky, Creed), and Juel Taylor. The film boasts a solid cast.
Adonis “Donnie” Creed is played by Emmy nominee Michael B. Jordan (Fahrenheit 451, Black Panther, Creed, Fruitvale Station). He is the son of boxing champion Apollo Creed, who died in a boxing match with Ivan Drago, played by Dolph Lundgren, in 1985’s Rocky IV. He wasn’t born until after his father died, but has now followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming the World Heavyweight Champion.
Ivan Drago, again played by Lundgren, is training his son Viktor, played by Romanian boxer Florian Munteanu, also known as Florian “Big Nasty” Munteanu. Ivan, who was knocked out by Rocky in Rocky IV, costing him much in his life in Russia, including his wife Ludmilla, played by Brigitte Nielson who appears in this film, is looking for revenge. Boxing promoter Buddy Marcelle, played by Russell Hornsby (The Hate U Give, Fences), travels to Russia and watches Viktor brutally knock out opponent after opponent. He returns to the U.S. and challenges Adonis to avenge his father’s death by taking on the son of the man who killed his father in the ring. Ivan also tries to convince Rocky to influence Adonis to take the fight. Adonis’ father had died in Rocky’s arms in the middle of the ring.

*** SPOILER ALERT***
Rocky is against this fight versus the vicious Viktor, but Adonis goes against Rocky’s advice and decides to fight Viktor.
Adonis proposes to his long-time girlfriend and aspiring singer, Bianca Porter, played by Tessa Thompson (Creed, Thor: Ragnarok). They move to Los Angeles, close to Adonis’ stepmother Mary Anne, played by three-time Emmy nominee Phylicia Rashad (A Raisin in the Sun, The Cosby Show), where Adonis prepares for his upcoming fight with Viktor. Donnie and Bianca soon find out that they will be having a child.
Adonis recruits Tony “Little Duke” Burton, son of his father’s trainer, played by Wood Harris, as Rocky’s replacement, and they begin training for the fight. Will Adonis be able to beat the brutal Viktor with all that is on the line for both sides?
Meanwhile, Rocky, out of Adonis’ life, is facing challenges of his own. He has not talked to his estranged son Robert Jr. played by two-time Emmy nominee Milo Ventimiglia (This is Us, Rocky Balboa), for years and has never even met his grandson.
***************************

Themes in the film include family, reconciliation, fathers and sons, motivation, legacy and revenge. Content concerns include some adult language, the expected boxing violence and a brief scene of pre-marital sex (no nudity).
The acting performances in the film are good, particularly Stallone as the aging mentor. Jordan and Thompson have excellent chemistry on screen. The musical score from Ludwig Göransson (Black Panther, Creed, Fruitvale Station) is outstanding. The film did get slow in periods and could have been shorter than the two hour and ten minute length.
Creed II is an enjoyable and emotional film, the eighth in the Rocky series. It looks back to 1985’s Rocky IV for its emotional connection.


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Living a Life of Thankfulness


I’ve read a lot of books about prayer, including a few about “The Lord’s Prayer”. Probably the best book I’ve read on prayer is Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God by Tim Keller. In that book Keller states that there are many different ways to organize our prayers. I often use the ACTS method for my prayers. In ACTS, the “A” stands for adoration, “C” stands for confession, “T” stands for thanksgiving and “S” stands for supplication, or request. Many times I’ve found that our prayers jump right to supplication. I like the ACTS model because it starts with adoration.
I want to address the “T” in ACTS – thanksgiving. The Bible tells us to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). I think being thankful is an aspect of prayer that we (or at least I) tend to overlook. I think thankfulness and contentment tend to go together, when we are thankful we are also content. What would it look like if we lived a life of thankfulness? Here are five great verses from the Bible about being thankful:

  • Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever! 1 Chronicles 16:34
  • And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Colossians 3:15
  • And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Colossians 3:17
  • Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. Colossians 4:2
  • Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6

I recently enjoyed spending some time thinking about what I am thankful for, the blessings in my life. Here are a few of them:

  1. Being saved through Christ (salvation).
  2. My immediate family – wife, parents, brother, sister, and my extended family.
  3. State Farm for a nearly 38-year career and all of the wonderful people I worked with.
  4. Our dog Molly, an Alaskan Malamute.
  5. Our church, pastors, elders and deacons.
  6. Covenant Seminary.
  7. Our home.
  8. The Bible and other good books to read.
  9. Music to listen to.
  10. Watching movies.
  11. Good health.
  12. Friends.
  13. St. Louis Cardinal baseball.
  14. Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul.
  15. God’s creation.

Take some time and reflect on what you are thankful for in your life and click on ‘Leave a comment’ to let us know.


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A Prayer for Thanksgiving Day


Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to Him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods

Psalm 95: 2-3

 

Heavenly Father, we have once again come to the holiday season, beginning with Thanksgiving Day. As I get older, it’s incredible how fast time flies. And I’ve been told by many that life will just continue to move faster and faster! Help me to live each day for You and enjoy each day, not always looking to what is next.
For some, Thanksgiving Day is all about a few days off of work, eating turkey, watching football and stores opening early for “Black Friday” deals. Just thinking about all of the work to prepare a large meal, and the idea of all of the responsibilities and activities of the Christmas season ahead can be quite overwhelming. Help us Father to focus on those things that are most important, and not get pulled into all that the world expects of us during this time of year.
For some, there will be the joy of hugging beloved family members that we only get to see a few times a year. We pray for great celebrations as we share stories of what You are doing in our lives. For others, however, thinking of seeing family members may be stirring up feelings of anxiety because of past hurts and pain. We pray for renewed and healed relationships that only You can facilitate.
And yet for others, Thanksgiving may be a sad and lonely day because loved ones are gone and the day will be spent by yourself. We pray that they can reach out to other lonely people in kindness.  We acknowledge Father, that for some of us, the holidays are the best time of the year, and yet for others they are the absolute worst, and we can’t wait for them to be over. We pray for those for whom Thanksgiving and the Christmas season will be sad and lonely, and ask that You would provide divine opportunities for us to bless others during this time of the year.
For Christians, we know that we have much to be thankful for. At the top of that list is the gift of Your Son, who You sent to save us. May we use this season to prepare our hearts to celebrate his birth.
We are thankful for all that you have blessed us with, including our families and friends, health, jobs and homes.

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
Psalm 9:1

Thank you, Father, for all that You have blessed us with. We pray for safe travels for the many who will be traveling to see family over the coming days.
Please cultivate in our hearts a spirit of gratitude and contentment.
In Jesus’ precious name we pray, Amen.

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through Him.  
Colossians 3:17


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20 More Great Quotes from ‘The Prodigal Prophet’ by Tim Keller

The Prodigal Prophet is quite simply the best book I’ve read this year. I recently shared my review and 20 of the best quotes from the book. Below are 20 more great quotes from the book:

  1. To work against social injustice and to call people to repentance before God interlock theologically.
  2. When you say, “I won’t serve you, God, if you don’t give me X,” then X is your true bottom line, your highest love, your real god, the thing you most trust and rest in.
  3. When Christian believers care more for their own interests and security than for the good and salvation of other races and ethnicities, they are sinning like Jonah. If they value the economic and military flourishing of their country over the good of the human race and the furtherance of God’s work in the world, they are sinning like Jonah. Their identity is more rooted in their race and nationality than in being saved sinners and children of God.
  4. We are reading and using the Bible rightly only when it humbles us, critiques us, and encourages us with God’s love and grace despite our flaws.
  5. We learn from Jonah that understanding God’s grace—and being changed by it—always requires a long journey with successive stages.
  6. As long as there is something more important than God to your heart, you will be, like Jonah, both fragile and self-righteous. Whatever it is, it will create pride and an inclination to look down upon those who do not have it. It will also create fear and insecurity. It is the basis for your happiness, and if anything threatens it, you will be overwhelmed with anger, anxiety, and despair.
  7. Jesus is the prophet Jonah should have been. Yet, of course, he is infinitely more than that.
  8. Christian identity is received, not achieved.
  9. Here we see God’s righteousness and love working together. He is both too holy and too loving to either destroy Jonah or to allow Jonah to remain as he is, and God is also too holy and too loving to allow us to remain as we are.
  10. One of the main reasons that we trust God too little is because we trust our own wisdom too much. We think we know far better than God how our lives should go and what will make us happy.
  11. Life in the world is filled with storms—with difficulties and suffering—some of which we have directly brought on ourselves but many of which we have not. In either case, God can work out his good purposes in our lives through the storms that come upon us (Romans 8:28).
  12. There’s love at the heart of our storms. If you turn to God through faith in Christ, he won’t let you sink. Why not? Because the only storm that can really destroy—the storm of divine justice and judgment on sin and evil—will never come upon you. Jesus bowed his head into that ultimate storm, willingly, for you.
  13. A God who suffers pain, injustice, and death for us is a God worthy of our worship.
  14. One of the main concerns of the book of Jonah is that believers should respect and love their neighbors, including those of a different race and religion.
  15. Individual Christians can and should be involved politically, as a way of loving our neighbors. Nevertheless, while individual Christians must do this, they should not identify the church itself with one set of public policies or one political party as the Christian one.
  16. Jonah resents God’s mercy given to racial “others.” His race and nation have become not merely good things that he loves but idols.
  17. It is common for us to insist that everyone “respect difference”—allow people to be themselves—but in the very next moment we show complete disrespect for anyone who diverges from our cherished beliefs. We sneer at people more liberal than us as social justice warriors; we disdain those more conservative than us as hateful bigots.
  18. What makes a person a Christian is not our love for God, which is always imperfect, but God’s love for us.
  19. To ground your identity in your own efforts and accomplishments—even in the amount of love you have for Jesus—is to have an unstable, fragile identity.
  20. When you become a Christian you don’t stop being Chinese or European, but now your race and nation don’t define you as fully as they did. You do not rely on them for worth and honor in the same way. You are a Christian first and Chinese or European second.


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MUSIC REVIEWS and NEWS


Holy Roar by Chris Tomlin
****

This is Chris Tomlin’s first album since 2016’s excellent Never Lose Sight, which was my top album of that year. Holy Roar is another gift to the church from Tomlin, containing songs that will be sung in churches around the world.
Below are a few comments about each of the songs:

Click on ‘Continue reading’ for:

  • More of this review; The Elements by Toby Mac and Happy Xmas by Eric Clapton
  • Music News
  • Music Quotes
  • Song of the Week Lyrics

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My Review of INSTANT FAMILY

Instant Family, rated PG-13
***

Instant Family is a pro-family movie inspired by a true story that has some content issues. The film is directed and co-written by Sean Anders (Daddy’s Home, Daddy’s Home 2), and is based on his families’ story of adopting three children out of the foster care system. John Morris (Daddy’s Home, Daddy’s Home 2) co-wrote the film with Anders. The film features a strong cast.
Pete, played by two-time Oscar nominee Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter, The Departed), and his wife Ellie, played by two-time Golden Globe nominee Rose Byrne (Damages), earn a good living by buying and flipping houses.  They don’t have any children, but enjoy their life, which includes playing golf and enjoying Meatball, their Bernese Mountain dog. After a comment by Ellie’s brother in law, Ellie and Pete both look at foster children on a website, and their hearts melt. They decide to look into fostering an older child in hopes of adopting them.
Pete and Ellie work with a pair of social workers, the straight-laced Sharon, played by Emmy nominee Tig Notaro (Tig Notaro: Boyish Girl Interrupted) and the free spirit Karen, played by Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (The Help). Sharon and Karen teach an eight-week foster care certification course that Pete and Ellie attend. Others in the class are an infertile Christian couple, a homosexual couple, and a single woman who wants to adopt an African American boy who might play in the NFL.
Pete and Ellie end up interested in the feisty 15-year-old Latino, Lizzy, played by Isabela Moner, only to find out that Lizzy has two younger siblings: a sensitive boy named Juan, played by Gustavo Quiroz, and a young temperamental girl named Lita, played by Julianna Gamiz. Lizzy has practically raised her younger siblings since they have a drug-addicted mother, who is now in jail. Eventually, Pete and Ellie decide that they need to foster all three.
At first, during the “honeymoon period”, things go well with the new family, but that doesn’t last long. Pete and Ellie decide that this is going to be much harder than they ever imagined, as they share and hear from others in their foster parent support group.
Three-time Emmy winner Margo Martindale (The Americans, Justified) plays the likeable Grandma Sandy, Pete’s mother.  Julie Hagerty (Airplane films), plays Jan, Ellie’s mother. Two-time Oscar nominee Joan Cusack (In & Out, Working Girl), plays Mrs. Howard, a kind neighbor of Pete and Ellie’s in a small role.
Themes include family, love, adoption, and faith (there are a few prayer scenes in the film), and a Christian couple wanting to foster a child.
Content concerns unfortunately include a significant amount of adult language, including several abuses of God’s and Jesus’ names. The language was not necessary, and the film could have been much more family friendly if it had not been included. There are also some sexual references in the film.
Instant Family is an entertaining film, at times funny and at others touching and very serious.  It is inspired by a true story, is somewhat predictable, and has some content concerns, most notably a significant amount of adult language. The film may encourage some to consider serving as foster parents and possibly adopting, though as the film points out, the objective of the foster care system is the preservation of the family, not adoption.


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My Review of FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, rated PG-13
*** ½

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is the second installment of a planned five film Fantastic Beasts series. The new film is exciting, intense and darker than the first. It picks up in New York, shortly after the first film ended where the evil wizard Grindelwald, played by three-time Oscar nominee Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street; Finding Neverland; Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl) has been captured and is being transferred back to the British Ministry of Magic. The film is directed by Emmy nominee David Yates (The Girl in the Café, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and four Harry Potter films).  The film is written by J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books. The film had a production budget of $200 million. The story takes place with beautiful views of New York City, London, Paris and Austria.
The film begins with an exciting and explosive scene in which Grindelwald escapes from detention while being transferred from a New York prison. In London, Newt Scamander, the “magizoologist”, played by Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything), is forbidden from leaving the country. His brother Theseus, played by Callum Turner tries to work things out for Newt, but Newt is not willing to do what is needed. Theseus is engaged to Leta Lestrange, played by Zoë Kravitz.
Newt is contacted by a young Dumbledore, played by two-time Oscar nominee Jude Law (Cold Mountain, The Talented Mr. Ripley), to help track down Credence Barebone, played by Ezra Miller (The Perks of Being a Wallflower). Credence is an Obscurial, a wizard who has repressed his magical abilities. Grindelwald is consolidating his power and has plans for wizards to take over the world. It is suspected that Credence will be recruited by Grindelwald to join his side. Newt is aided in the mission to find Credence by sidekicks returning from the first film, baker Jacob Kowalski, played by Dan Fogler, and magical Goldstein sisters Queenie, played by Alison Sudo, and Porpentina, known as Tina, played by Katherine Waterston. The battle for Credence takes place in Paris, and forms the main plot of the film, with several other subplots, included. Another major plot is to find out the true identity of Credence.
The film is visually stunning; the CGI, beasts, costumes, set design. The soundtrack by eight-time Oscar nominee James Newton Howard (Defiance, Michael Clayton, The Village) was outstanding.
The film introduces many new characters and revealed some of the backstory about some already known characters of the Harry Potter series. The film sets things up for the forthcoming films in the series. The movie also has a surprise ending.
The film has a strong cast, and there were several excellent acting performances, in particular Law, Depp, Kravitz and Redmayne, though the latter is not the main character as he was in the first film.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is an entertaining film that lovers of the Harry Potter films will enjoy, particularly scenes that take place at Hogwarts. It is intense and darker than the first film, and will be too scary for children under 10 years of age.