Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of LEAVE NO TRACE

Leave No Trace, rated PG
*** ½

Leave No Trace is a well-acted, written and directed PG rated film about an Iraq War veteran and his daughter. The film is directed by Oscar nominee Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone). The screenplay is written by Granik and two-time Oscar nominee Anne Rosellini (Winter’s Bone) based on the novel My Abandonment by Peter Rock. The film has the rare distinction of having a 100% rating from critics on the movie review site RottenTomatoes.com.
Will, played by Ben Foster (Hell or High Water) and his teenage (13 or 14-year-old) daughter Tom, played by Thomasin McKenzie, are homeless and live in a heavily wooded government owned park outside of Portland, Oregon. They live primitively, sharing a tent, collecting rain water to drink and growing their own vegetables. Will’s wife has apparently died, though we are not told anything about her, just that Tom misses her. In fact, we are not told any of Will and Tom’s backstory (how did they become homeless and for how long?) Will is a veteran who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He gets meds for the PTSD from the Veteran’s hospital, but sells the meds to others who live in the park, using the money to purchase groceries.  Will has raised Tom to be a kind, polite and thoughtful girl who is self-sufficient. Continue reading


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My 2018 Favorites


As I’ve done for a number of years, I wanted to share with you my favorites from 2018 in a variety of categories:  movies, music, books, etc. Except for books, these are all items that were released or took place in 2018. For books, I include my favorite books that I read during 2018, regardless of when the book was published. Enjoy!  Please let me know what you think of my list, and also share some of your favorites.
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DOES GOD TEMPT US?

Could it be possible that we have gotten this wrong all these years? The prayer known as “The Lord’s Prayer”, the most popular of all Christian prayers, appears in both Matthew 6:13 and Luke 11:4. Many of today’s most popular versions of Scripture (King James Version, English Standard Version, New International Version, New King James Version), translate the text in Matthew 6:13 as “Lead us not into temptation”. But now comes news that “experts” that have been studying the text for 16 years have concluded “from a theological, pastoral and stylistic viewpoint” that our historic English translation of the text is incorrect. According to these “experts”, the text should be changed from “lead us not into temptation” to “abandon us not when in temptation”. But Deuteronomy 31:6 and Hebrews 13:5 tell us that “He will not leave you or forsake you.”  Christ secured that promise for us when He was forsaken on the cross so that we would never be abandoned or forsaken.
The group’s proposal to change the text has been submitted to Pope Francis and he is expected to approve it.  Last year, Pope Francis made news by indicating that “A father does not lead into temptation, a father helps you to get up immediately”. He also added that “lead us not into temptation” is not a good translation because it speaks of a God who induces temptation.  What are we to make of this? Does God tempt us?  No, he certainly does not, but He may put us through times of testing.
Dr. R.C. Sproul in his book The Prayer of the Lord, wrote that nothing could be farther from the realm of possibility that God would entice anyone to sin. Albert Mohler in his book The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down: The Lord’s Prayer as a Manifesto for Revolution, writes that The Lord’s Prayer might seem to imply that there are times when God does in fact lead us into temptation. Yet when we let Scripture interpret Scripture, we find that God does not tempt his people.” He tells us that while God will never tempt us, he may sometimes test us in order to strengthen our faith, and that we must never allow God’s tests to lead to temptations. James settles the issue for us when he writes in James 1:13 “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one.”
Sproul writes that enticement and temptation to sin arise from within us. External temptations also come from others and from Satan. But God Himself does not engage in temptation to sin. He tells us that God will put His people through a trial, test or ordeal ultimately for their own benefit, and sometimes for other reasons not always understandable to us.
God does not tempt people to sin. However, in permitting our temptation, He does test us. The Lord established a test for Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden when He forbade them from eating of the forbidden tree, but He did not tempt our first parents. Satan did (Gen. 3). Similarly, the Lord tested Job by allowing Satan to interfere in his life and tempt him to curse God, but our Maker did not introduce temptation into Job’s life.  What was meant for evil by Satan, God uses for our good.
Jesus himself was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested as in “to test one’s mettle.”  Although the Spirit put Jesus there to be tested, Satan’s activity was intended to tempt him. To tempt someone is to entice them to commit an evil act. Dr. Sproul tells us that it would be completely out of the character of God to entice someone to sin.
So how should we take this petition of “The Lord’s Prayer”?  Sproul tells us that in this petition Jesus is saying that we should pray that the Father will never cause us to undergo a severe test of our faith or of our obedience. Jesus is not only teaching us to pray for deliverance from testing but is teaching us to seek divine protection from the wiles of Satan.
Have you been confused or troubled about all of the recent confusion about the petition “Lead us not into temptation”? Fear not, though God may test us, He will never tempt us.


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A Prayer for Christmas Day


Father in Heaven, on this Christmas morning, we thank you for Jesus, your only, and beloved, son. The busy period leading up to Christmas is now over. The decorating of our homes, the gift buying and wrapping, the sending of cards, the parties with friends, special programs at church, etc. The sound of Christmas music has been filling the air, sharing the gospel in music with some who would not normally hear it.
We’ve been looking forward with joyful anticipation during Advent to celebrating Jesus’ birth, His first coming. This is indeed good news of great joy.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:11
We hear many in our culture talk about the “true meaning of Christmas”. Some say the true meaning of Christmas is peace, and indeed we are told that the angels praised God saying that there will be peace on earth among those with whom He is pleased (Luke 2:14). Tim Keller tells us that Christmas means the increase of peace, both with God and between people. Isaiah prophesied about Jesus that He would be the Prince of Peace:
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6
Others say that Christmas is about light and hope.  Father, we know that there would be no Christmas at all without Jesus, who came to earth as a sacrifice for us.   He is our only hope and The Light of the World.
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 know that the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is You, O God, substituting yourself for man.  We are so glad to read in 2 Corinthians 5: 19 where Paul says “that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them”.  Mark 10:45 tells us that Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.
He took the punishment we deserve and gave us His perfect life in its place so we can be reconciled with You.  Love came down at Christmas. That’s the meaning of Christmas.
Father, be with us today. Help those who will be with family and friends to enjoy the wonderful time together. For those who will be alone today, and perhaps missing loved ones, please help them to feel the presence of your Holy Spirit.   May we share this good news of great joy with everyone.  May we live this day and every day for your glory.
In Jesus precious name,
Amen


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CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS

I love the holiday season, and especially Christmas, when we get to celebrate the birth of our Savior and spend time with family and friends. When I was young, it was all about the presents I would receive at Christmas. But as I’ve gotten older the emphasis has shifted. I now get much more joy from the gifts we give than the ones I receive. Even more so, it’s about spending time with family members, some of whom have now moved away and we don’t get to see very often. Several years ago, a friend of mine from work talked about the importance of “making memories” over the giving of gifts. There is a lot of wisdom in that.
Our family has many Christmas traditions. When my Mom was alive, we always celebrated on Christmas Eve at my parent’s house, the house I grew up in. Although this will be our 23rd Christmas without Mom since she passed away in 1996, I remember like it was yesterday walking up to their front door on a cold evening, the front windows steamed up due to the cold temperatures outside and the fragrance of the prime rib meal being cooked inside. Continue reading


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My Review of MARY POPPINS RETURNS

Mary Poppins Returns, rated PG
****

Mary Poppins Returns is a delightful live-action/animated film free of any content issues that the entire family can enjoy. It’s one of my favorite films of the year (and my wife’s favorite!) The film is released 54 years after 1964’s Mary Poppins, which won five Oscars. The new film is directed by Oscar nominated Rob Marshall (Chicago). The film is written by Marshall, two-time Oscar nominee David Magee (Life of Pi, Finding Neverland), and two-time Emmy winner John DeLuca (Tony Bennett: An American Classic), based upon Mary Poppins stories by P.L. Travers. The film’s cast includes two Oscar winners – Colin Firth and Meryl Streep – and three Oscar nominees – Angela Lansbury, Julie Walters and Lin-Manuel Miranda. The all-new music is by five-time Oscar nominee Marc Shaiman (Sleepless in Seattle, Patch Adams, The First Wives Club, The American President, Hairspray) and three-time Emmy nominee Scott Wittman (Smash, The 82nd Annual Academy Awards, Hairspray). Cinematography is by Oscar winner Dion Beebe (Memoirs of a Geisha). Marshall chose to use hand drawn animation in the film to go along with the live action sequences.  The film has received four Golden Globe nominations – best performance by an actress, best performance by an actor, best picture and best original score.  The film had an estimated budget of $130 million. Continue reading


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My Review of Springsteen on Broadway

Springsteen on Broadway, not rated (would be rated R for language)
****

The film Springsteen on Broadway, showing on Netflix, is a powerful and emotional mostly one man show, featuring the storytelling and music of Bruce Springsteen. The audio version album of the same name debuted at #1 on the iTunes top albums chart. The two-and-a-half-hour show was a part of his Tony Award winning sold-out run at the Walter Kerr Theatre, that began in October 2017 and wrapped up December 15, with its 236th and final performance. Springsteen on Broadway is Springsteen telling us about key moments and people in his life through extended song introductions and sixteen of his songs. If you have read his excellent autobiography Born to Run (see my review here), you’ll be familiar with some of the stories he tells. Continue reading


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13 Books I’m Looking Forward to in 2019

I read books in a number of different genres – theology, sports, biography, Christian living, professional development, leadership, faith and work, etc. As I look ahead to 2019, there are 13 books I’m looking forward to:

The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek. To be published December 31.
From the Amazon description:

“The leaders who embrace an infinite mindset, in stark contrast, build stronger, more innovative, more inspiring organizations. Their people trust each other and their leaders. They have the resilience to thrive in an ever-changing world, while their competitors fall by the wayside. Ultimately, they are the ones who lead the rest of us into the future. Any worthwhile undertaking starts with Why – the purpose, cause or belief that inspires us to do what we do and inspires others to join us. Good leaders know how to build Circles of Safety that promote trust and cooperation throughout their organizations. But that’s not enough to help us chart a course through the unpredictable, often chaotic landscape of today’s marketplace.
I now believe that the ability to adopt an infinite mindset is a prerequisite for any leader who aspires to leave their organization in better shape than they found it. Continue reading


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My Review of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, rated PG
***½

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a visually stunning, creative and intense animated film that the entire family can enjoy. The film is directed by first-time director Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey (Rise of the Guardians), and five-time Emmy nominee Rodney Rothman (Late Show with David Letterman). The screenplay is written by Rothman and Emmy nominee Phil Lord (The Last Man on Earth, The Lego Movie). The film is dedicated to the memory of Spider-Man co-creators, Steve Ditko, who died on July 6 and Stan Lee, who died on November 12. The film has already received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture – Animated. The film, which had a budget of $90 million, features a strong cast of voice actors to bring the many characters in the film to life.
Miles Morales, voiced by Shameik Moore (Dope), is a Brooklyn teenager who unhappily transfers to an elite boarding school. He is the son of hospital worker Rio Morales, voiced by Luna Lauren Velez (Dexter), and police officer Jefferson Davis, voiced by two-time Emmy nominee Brian Tyree Henry (Atlanta, This is Us), who doesn’t like Spider-Man. Miles is close to his uncle Aaron, voiced by Oscar winner Mahershala Ali (Moonlight). When uncle Aaron takes him to an abandoned subway tunnel to paint his graffiti art, Miles is bitten by a radioactive spider, changing his life forever.
Crime lord Wilson Fisk, aka Kingpin, voiced by six-time Golden Globe nominee Liev Schreiber (Ray Donovan, RKO 281), has built a particle accelerator to access parallel universes so that he can reconnect with his wife and son who had died in a car accident. Spider-Man, voiced by Emmy nominee Chris Pine (SuperMansion, Star Trek), tries to disable the accelerator, battling the Green Goblin and the Prowler. Spider-Man is wounded when the accelerator malfunctions, but before he is killed by Fisk, he is able to give Miles a key to disable the accelerator. Unfortunately, Miles inadvertently damages the key beyond use.
As Miles is dealing with the changes in his body after the spider bite, he meets an older and overweight Peter B. Parker, voiced by Jake Johnson (Jurassic World).     Peter has been brought into Miles’s world by the accelerator and needs to return home fast or he will die. He agrees to train Miles after they break into Fisk’s research facility to gather information about the accelerator. There, they encounter the dangerous Dock Ock, voiced by Emmy nominee Kathryn Hahn (Transparent).
Soon, Miles and Peter meet other versions of Spider-Man from other dimensions who are brought into Miles world by Kingpin’s machine:  they are Gwen Stacy/Spider-Woman, voiced by Oscar nominee Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), Spider-Noir, voiced by Oscar winner Nicolas Cage (Leaving Las Vegas), Penni Parker, voiced by Kimiko Glenn (Orange is the New Black), and the pig Peter Porker/Spider-Ham, voiced by two-time Emmy winner John Mulaney (John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous at Radio City, Saturday Night Live).  Mary Jane is voiced by Zoe Kravitz (Big Littles Lies, Fantastic Beasts), and Peter’s Aunt May is voiced by Oscar nominee Lily Tomlin (Nashville). Miles must work with these other versions of Spider-Man to save New York City from the Kingpin.
Content concerns include intense fight scenes that will be too much for very young viewers. Themes in the film include family, especially the relationship between a father and his son, sacrifice, good vs. evil, doing the right thing and working together as a team.
Everything about this film was well-done – storyline, characters, the animation (hand-drawn, digital, still frames and text panel) with vibrant colors, the music by two-time Golden Globe nominee Daniel Pemberton (Gold, Steve Jobs), humor, etc. There are also several visual recreations from previous Spider-Man films that Spider-Man fans will enjoy.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is an entertaining and intense animated film that the entire family (age 10 and above) can enjoy together. (Note:  my wife thought the film was manically paced and was a visual and audio overload.)  It’s one of the most creative animated films I’ve seen. And don’t forget to stay for the post-credits scene.


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Three New Christmas Albums That I Recommend

I love Christmas music and have a large collection. I’ve made a “Christmas playlist” in my iTunes library, and it currently includes more than 250 songs. New Christmas albums are released every year. Below are three new Christmas albums that I can recommend to you.

The Gift: A Christmas Compilation – 116
****

The Gift is the third overall studio album from 116, and their first Christmas collection. Noticeably missing from the Reach Records group is Andy Mineo and KB, but there are some surprise guests including Derek Minor on the album. Adam Grason did the cover art, which merges the look and feel of vintage Christmas with traditional hip-hop elements. The album debuted at #1 on iTunes Hip-Hop and Rap chart.

I really enjoyed this album and getting exposed to some artists I was not familiar with, as well as hearing some of my favorites such as Lecrae, Trip Lee and Tedashii.
Below are a few brief comments about each song: Continue reading