Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

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Western Stars – Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen returns with his 19th studio album, and first of all new, original material since his 2012’s Wrecking Ball. The 69-year-old Springsteen wrote all of the songs and co-produced the album with Ron Aniello, who produced 2014’s High Hopes and Wrecking Ball. The album, which draws inspiration from the Southern California pop music of the late ’60s and early ’70s, features guest appearances by more than 20 players, including multi-instrumentalist and composer Jon Brion, violinist and singer Soozie Tyrell and former E Street Band member David Sancious. Springsteen has said that the album is a return to his solo recordings, and features character-driven songs and sweeping, cinematic orchestral arrangements.
This album grew on me, sounding better with each repeated listening. The music is laid back and the lyrics are relatively simple. Here are a few brief comments about each song:

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  • More of this review and reviews of I Know a Ghost by Crowder, and Into the Night by Social Club Misfits
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The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby. Zondervan. 256 pages. 2019

This was a difficult book to read, as it should be. In his “Foreword”, Lecrae writes that the author challenges us to take history seriously and account for it. He warns us that the account we are about to read is sobering and challenging. I would add to this that it is heart-breaking. I believe that it is an account that all Christians should read, especially Christian leaders. It is a well-researched survey of racism in America, what the author refers to as more than 300 years of race-based discrimination. The author tells us that this history of racism and the church shows that the story is worse than most imagine. He states that the stories in the book tell the tale of racial oppression. It is up to the reader to determine whether the weight of historical evidence proves that the American church has been complicit with racism.  Although the entire history is essential to know, I focused on the author’s emphasis, that is, the role of the church in racism.
The author focus is primarily on Protestant churches, and when he talks about the “Religious Right”, he focuses on those white evangelicals that align with the Republican party. The book focuses on prominent figures, precipitous events, and well-known turning points in American history. He writes that, historically speaking, when faced with the choice between racism and equality, the American church has tended to practice a complicit Christianity rather than a courageous Christianity. Even if only a small portion of Christians committed the most notorious acts of racism, many more white Christians can be described as being complicit in creating and sustaining a racist society. Christians deliberately chose complicity with racism in the past, but the choice to confront racism remains a possibility today. The book is a call to abandon complicit Christianity and move toward courageous Christianity. The author tells us that it is time to practice courageous Christianity.

Click on ‘Continue reading’ for:
BOOK REVIEWS ~ More of this review…And reviews of Seven Leaders: Preachers and Pastors by Iain H. Murray, and How Can I Be Blessed? (Crucial Questions No. 24) by R.C. Sproul
BOOK NEWS ~ Links to Interesting Articles
BOOK CLUB ~ The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur
I’M CURRENTLY READING…. Continue reading

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My Review of TOY STORY 4

Toy Story 4, rated G

Nine years after the excellent Toy Story 3, the much-loved Toy Story series gets possibly its final chapter in this pleasing and heartfelt film, which is one of my favorite movies of the year thus far. I recommend the film for all ages, with the exception of very young children who could be frightened at times.
The film is directed by Oscar nominee Josh Cooley (Inside Out) in his directorial debut. The screenplay is written by two-time Oscar winner Andrew Stanton (WALL-E, Finding Nemo), and Stephany Folsom. There are many credits for the original story, including Oscar winner John Lasseter (Toy Story), in his last project with Pixar. The film had a budget of approximately $200 million.
The film opens 9 years ago, and we see how Bo Peep, voiced by Golden Globe nominee Annie Potts (Corvette Summer) became separated from the other toys. We then see Andy, voiced by John Morris, giving the rest of the toys to Bonnie, voiced by Madeleine McGraw. Woody, voiced by two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump, Philadelphia) is dealing with the fact that he is no longer the top toy, as we see Bonnie playing more with the other toys. When Bonnie has her orientation day for kindergarten, Woody sneaks into her backpack to look after her. At school, we see Bonnie, with Woody’s help, create Forky, voiced by two-time Emmy winner Tony Hale (Veep). Forky is made out of a spork, with popsicle stick feet, pipe cleaner arms. He feels that he is trash and thus belongs in a trash can. Fortunately, Woody, looking for purpose, continually rescues him from the trash.
We then see Bonnie and her family leave in an RV for a one-week vacation between the orientation and the start of kindergarten. Again, Woody has to rescue Forky, who jumps out of the RV. As they walk along the road, Woody tells Forky about the responsibility and loyalty of toys to their owners, and that each toy has a purpose.
While they try to catch up with Bonnie and her parents, Woody and Forky pass an antique shop, and Woody sees Bo Peep’s lamp inside the window of the shop. They enter into the shop and encounter some ventriloquist dolls that will be frightening for young children. They also encounter Gabby Gabby, voiced by six-time Emmy nominee Christina Hendricks (Mad Men), resulting in Forky being captured. As Woody goes to get help, he runs into Bo Peep at an amusement park. Later, Buzz Lightyear, voiced by Emmy winner Tim Allen (Home Improvement), leaves the RV to go search for Woody.
Will Buzz be able to find Woody? Will Forky be rescued? What about Bo Peep? Continue reading

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How is God Working in Your Life?

In our busy lives, it’s easy to just keep moving on to the next thing and not really think about how God is working in our lives. We might be thinking about the meetings scheduled for the next day, an upcoming doctor’s appointment, or an important conversation we need to have with someone.
For some time, I’ve tried to make it a practice of briefly reflecting on my day when I lay my head on my pillow at night – thanking God for the day. However, learning about a spiritual discipline called self-examination in a summer discipleship class my wife and I completed has allowed me to expand on my brief reflection of the day. As I apply self-examination to my life I look back at my day and focus on two things:

  • How God protected me (or others) through the day
  • How I sinned, and need repentance and forgiveness

Here are just a few examples from the past few weeks:

  1. How God protected me and others through the day. I have two examples here. First, after a recent family gathering to celebrate a birthday, I had gotten into the back seat of the car, forgetting that I needed to open the front door for my mother-in-law. Remembering this, I quickly opened the door and just narrowly missed hitting her – she walks with a cane. If the door had hit her, she would have fallen and could have been badly hurt.

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What We Learned from a (Mostly) Screenless Saturday

Have you ever lost the power to your home? Over the years this has occasionally happened to my wife and I. During those times I can’t tell you how many times I have found myself walking through the house flipping on the light switches, only to quickly remember that the power is out. In the Midwest, where we live, losing power can be either inconvenient – no air conditioning in the summer, or very serious – losing heat in the winter.
We have our phone (yes, we still have a landline), internet and television service all through one provider. Yesterday (as I write this), all three were down for the entire day, making for a very strange day indeed. We needed to call technical support, but had to look at a bill to get the phone number (instead of just googling it).  Where’s the old yellow pages when you need them!  On top of that, I couldn’t access my email on my phone, nor any of my apps. It was really a screenless Saturday!
My usual morning routine is to check email and social media, making a few posts on Facebook, Twitter and Linked In while having my morning coffee. It was when I tried to do that yesterday that I found out that our internet was down. So, I used that time to enjoy some nice time reading Steve Robinson’s excellent new book Covert Cows and Chick-fil-A: How Faith, Cows, and Chicken Built an Iconic Brand. Overall, throughout the day, I would get more than half of the book read. Later, I did my devotional and Bible reading as usual while riding our exercise bike.  My wife was studying the book of Judges – but couldn’t do any online research or use for various versions of the Bible and for commentaries.  Kindle to the rescue!
Our television being down created some other issues, as I wasn’t able to watch the third round of the U.S. Open golf tournament being played at the Pebble Beach Golf Club in California. My wife Tammy and I had attended the U.S. Open when it was played at Pebble Beach in 2010, and I enjoyed watching the first two rounds and the beautiful course we had walked. But there would be no U.S. Open for me on my screenless Saturday. I’m just glad that my favorite player, Tiger Woods, wasn’t in contention. If he had been, we would have had to find a place to watch the tournament. Of course, with the television being down, I didn’t get to watch the St. Louis Cardinals baseball game against the New York Mets either.
It was really strange to think about how our lives have come to revolve around our screens. I didn’t get any national news or Twitter updates throughout the day.  I didn’t check Facebook or Linked In. And you know what? I survived. When our internet came back on today, I saw that I really hadn’t missed anything. Although some people intentionally take a break from social media, my break wasn’t planned.
We ended up going to a movie (Men in Black International) and going to the local movie rental store (for the first time in years) and rented the DVD Blindspotting, neither of which we enjoyed all that much, so I guess our day wasn’t completely screenless.  We didn’t know what was happening in the news and the streets were very quiet.  We wondered if the rapture had happened (we need an app for that) and somehow we missed it (FOMO:  Fear of Missing Out).
God wants us to make good use of the time He has given us. There are many things in life that can distract us from what truly matters, and spending a lot of time on screens and social media would certainly be one of them.
So, what did I learn from our mostly screenless Saturday? I was given a new realization on just how dependent I have grown on technology (internet, apps, television, social media). We grew up just fine without any of them but have quickly become reliant on them.  I also learned that going back to a good old-fashioned book (even if it is read on a Kindle screen) might not be a bad way to compensate.
Perhaps you can do something similar this summer while on vacation. Consider going off social media and just enjoy spending time with the people you are with.
Have you done a social media sabbatical yourself? Why or why not?

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Music from the Soundtrack of My Life

On Tuesday, June 11, my wife Tammy and I and my brother Mike and his wife Julie made our way to the Taxslayer Center in Moline, Illinois for a stop on Paul McCartney’s Freshen Up tour. This would be the thirteenth time I had seen McCartney in concert, with the first being at the Rosemont Horizon (now Allstate Arena) with my brother-in-law Al in December, 1989. In addition to the recent concert in Moline, I have seen him in Chicago six times (Rosemont Horizon, Soldier Field, Wrigley Field and three times at the United Center), Indianapolis (at the old Market Square Arena and twice at Conseco Fieldhouse, now known as Banker’s Life Fieldhouse), Milwaukee (the old Country Stadium) and Summerfest, and St. Louis (the old Busch Memorial Stadium).  Five of the concerts have been held in outdoor stadiums, with the remaining in indoor arenas. None of them have been in as intimate a setting as the 12,000 seat Taxslayer Center.
It’s hard to over-emphasize how much of a part of my life that the music of the Beatles, and in particular McCartney, has been. Many of their songs take me back to great memories in my life. McCartney concerts always stir emotions in me that no other concerts can, as the songs are really from the soundtrack of my life. For example – I can remember my Aunt Linda screaming at the television in her parents’ (my grandparents) living room as the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. Later in that same home, my brother Mike and I first saw the Beatles Rubber Soul album in our Aunt Cindy’s room. Linda and Cindy both saw the Beatles in concert at Chicago’s Comiskey Park! My first single was the early 1964 Beatles’ two-sided hit “I Want to Hold Your Hand”/”I Saw Her Standing There”, with its black & white cover sleeve with the boys in their “Beatles suits” and McCartney holding a cigarette. (see below). Continue reading


Your Story Matters

Recently while at breakfast with a few friends, one of them was telling us about his mother- in-law’s estate sale that had taken place as a result of her move to an independent living facility. He was talking about all of the “things” that were in the sale, items accumulated throughout his mother and father-in-law’s lifetime, causing him to conclude that all these “things” just didn’t seem to matter since they were sold off or given away to strangers.
About the same time, another friend told us about his wife, Janice, who had been helping a few elderly people in a local senior living community to write their story using the Guided Autobiography process. The contrast couldn’t have been more apparent. On the one hand, there were “things” that had to be gotten rid of because a woman was needing to downsize. Although at one time those things were important to her and her husband, now they just needed to be disposed of. And on the other hand, there were the real-life stories of people, being put down on paper to be delighted in and shared with their friends and family. Continue reading

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The Biggest Little Farm, rated PG

The Biggest Little Farm is a delightful documentary from John Chester about his wife Molly’s dream to own and operate an environmentally friendly, traditional farm. Back in 2010, the Chesters lived in a small apartment in Santa Monica, California. John was a cameraman, working on documentary films, and Molly was a chef and organic food blogger. Molly had long dreamed of living on a farm and cooking what they grew on the farm. The Chesters adopted a rescue dog (Todd), but he barked all day long, resulting in complaints from neighbors, and eventually the Chesters being evicted from their apartment.
This was their opportunity to leave the urban life and buy a farm, but they had no money. They shared their vision with others, and eventually got investors, though the film does not tell us who they were or how much they funded the effort. It was enough for the Chesters to purchase and develop Apricot Lane Farms, a 200-acre farm, located in Moorpark, California, about an hour from Los Angeles.
What they found when they started to develop the farm however was that the soil was lacking in nutrients, and not conducive to building a thriving farm. They decided to hire an expert in this area, the rather eccentric, but likeable, Alan York. York told them that they needed to bring life back into the soil, with worms, cover crops, compost, etc. Then they needed to diversify what they planted on the farm, and they did, eventually ending up with about 10,000 orchard trees and over 200 different crops. The Chesters did not have any farming experience, but hired two men, one who had worked on the farm through five owners. In addition, many came to the farm to help from around the world in response to Molly’s internet pleas. Unfortunately, York, their mentor, died from cancer about halfway through their journey.
The film takes us year by year over eight years with the Chesters and the farm. We eventually see the land transformed from the dry barren farm we see in the beginning to a lush green thriving sustainable farm. In addition to Todd, we see many animals – chickens, Emma the pig and her best friend Mr. Greasy the rooster, sheep, sheep dogs, owls, etc. added to the farm, along with some unwanted animals – coyotes, snakes, starlings, gophers, etc. Interestingly, many of those animals that they believed to be hurting them, actually ended up helping them. We also see how the land is refreshed through death. Life (we see newborn piglets and sheep), coming through death is a theme in the film. Other themes are pursuing your dreams and hard work. Content concerns are minimal. We do see a number of dead animals, primarily chickens, as a result of disease and the coyotes.
We also see the Chesters deal with drought, California winds, wildfires and an 18-inch rain that washed away much of the good soil from their neighbors, but not theirs, due to their cover crops. The Chesters started out wanting to bring harmony to their lives and be in harmony with nature, and ended up in what they refer to is a comfortable disharmony with nature.
Today, Apricot Lane Farms is a successful business, supplying produce to some of Los Angeles’ finest restaurants. Their eggs sell out as soon as they are put on sale.
The documentary is beautifully filmed. For example, I enjoyed seeing close up slow-motion scenes of hummingbirds. It also includes some helpful animated sequences. The film, which includes some humor, is directed and narrated by Emmy winner John Chester (Super Soul Shorts), who wrote the film with Mark Monroe.
The Biggest Little Farm is a beautifully filmed documentary about John and Molly Chester’s environmentally friendly farm in California, and one of the best films I’ve seen this year.

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Father in Heaven,
Thank you for the season of summer, my favorite. Here in the Midwest, we get to experience all four seasons, which my wife loves. We had a hard, and sometimes brutal winter. Spring was very slow in coming. We’ve had a lot of rain and the farmers are struggling to get their crops planted – and it’s June already!  The corn won’t be knee-high by the fourth of July.  But You are faithful, and morning by morning I see new mercies coming from You. And finally, summer is here.
Summer brings to mind so many memories – of school ending (what a great feeling that was!), playing kick the can/ghost in the graveyard outside until the street lights came on, staying up late, warm temperatures, daylight until 9:00 pm, baseball, golf, family vacations, time at lakes, reading outside, gardening, canoeing, long walks, and so much more.
As we move into summer, Father, what will you teach me this season? I don’t want to waste my summer. I know I’m not guaranteed the next minute. I want to live each day with purpose. With retirement, you have given me time to focus on those things that are most important. When asked, Jesus said that the great and first commandment is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” He said that the second is like it, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” I want to take that to heart – to love You with all of my heart, soul and mind and love my neighbor as myself.
Are there relationships you want me to focus on this summer? Relationships that need to be mended, or relationships that have lapsed that need to be rekindled. How can I be a better husband, brother, son and friend? What is it from your Word that you want to teach me this summer? What books should I read to grow in areas that I need to grow in?  Help me to use the skills, talents and experiences you have provided me to serve you and others in any teaching or mentoring opportunities that will be pleasing to you.
Father, I look forward to a few vacations with family this summer. Some of these family members we now only see a few times each year. Thank you for the blessing of these vacations. May our time together be precious. May relationships be strengthened. May we grow closer and closer and may our travels be safe.
Help me be a blessing to others this summer. Help me to serve others in Your name. Help me to encourage others to know You better.  Father, I look forward to this summer and your continual guidance of my life.

In Jesus precious name I pray,

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A Prayer for One Who is Suffering Physically

Heavenly Father, thank you for this morning. As I pull back the drapes I can feel the warmth of the sun on my face. I didn’t sleep all that well last night due to the pain, but I am thankful for the sleep that you did give me. I pray for energy to get through this day. Father, I sometimes feel like I am such a bother to my loved ones and friends. Really, I think I’m ready to “go home” now, but you have told me “not yet”.
It seems like it wasn’t too long ago that my body allowed me to enjoy so many of the blessings that you provide for us – playing golf on a beautiful summer day, walking our dog, travelling with my spouse, or just taking a leisurely stroll in the neighborhood. Now my body is limited and I’m always in pain, and so afraid of falling.
I started out walking with a cane, and now it’s usually with a walker and at times I’m in a wheelchair. Someone once told me that the “’Golden Years’ aren’t so golden”, and I know that’s true for some. I sometimes laugh when I see how many pills I have to take each day just to get through the day. Isn’t that just for “old people”?
Draw me close to you Father. I ask for healing today, oh my Lord.  Sometimes you are silent, and so I choose to trust you in your lovingkindness; trust you in your wisdom; trust You in Your word that by your silence you are stretching my faith because you say, “when you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. “  I Peter 1:6-7
So help me to find my joy in you and your Word and wait upon You.
But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. Isaiah 40:31

“Oh grant me wisdom from above, 
To pray for peace and cling to love,
And teach me humbly to receive
The sun and rain of Your sovereignty.
Each strand of sorrow has a place
Within this tapestry of grace;
So through the trials I choose to say:
“Your perfect will in your perfect way.”
  (Keith & Kristyn Getty)

Help me to take my focus off of me and my pain and onto you and others. You know that my health doesn’t allow me to get to church or our small group as much as I would like, but I love my church and the members of my small group. Although I can’t be with them as much as I would like, I do pray for them. And Father, they are so kind to drop me notes, stop by for a visit, and even bring by dessert. I’m so thankful for them.
In this season of life, help me to find my purpose, my calling. My mind is still sharp, maybe I could lead a Bible Study in my home?  Show me how I can be a blessing to others, just as many have been a blessing to me.
In Jesus’ precious name, Amen