Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of BEN IS BACK

Ben is Back, rated R
** ½ 

Ben is Back is an intense and emotional film about the love of a mother for her drug addicted son. The film is directed and written by Oscar nominee Peter Hedges (About a Boy), and features a strong cast.
The film opens with Holly, played by Oscar winner Julia Roberts (Erin Brockovich), and three of her children pulling into their driveway near Younkers, New York on Christmas Eve. They are returning from a rehearsal for Christmas Eve Mass.  As she pulls in, Holly has to slam on the brakes when she sees her 19-year-old son Ben, played by Oscar and Golden Globe nominee Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea, Boy Erased), son of the film’s director/writer, standing nervously in the yard. Ben, an opioid addict, and has been sober for 77 days. Ben says that he is home for Christmas, courtesy of a pass from his sponsor, though we don’t know if that is true or not. Ben’s return is sudden and unexpected, catching the family off guard. This may be Holly’s Christmas miracle, and her two young children are thrilled, but Ben’s teenage sister Ivy, played by Kathryn Newton (Big Little Lies, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), thinks accepting Ben back will be a mistake, having seen the damage Ben’s addiction has done to the family in the past. But Holly tells her that this time it will be different. Continue reading

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7 Suggestions for Your Devotional Reading in 2019

There are a number of excellent resources available for our daily devotional reading as a part of our daily worship. I try to do my reading early in the morning, usually while riding my exercise bike. Although the resources I use change from time to time, below are seven resources that I would commend to you:

  1. The Bible. I read through the Bible chronologically, reading a chapter a day. Recently, I’ve been using the new Spurgeon Study Bible, edited by Alistair Begg, for the daily reading, and using the Reformation Study Bible, General Editor, R.C. Sproul, for book introductions.
  1. Tabletalk Magazine. Tabletalk has been a consistent daily companion of mine since I became a believer. While the monthly magazine from Ligonier Ministries includes many great articles each month, here I’m referring to the daily readings. Each year, the readings follow a theme. The 2018 readings were from the Gospel of John.

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My Review of THE UPSIDE

The Upside, rated PG-13
*** ½

The Upside is an enjoyable film based on a true story about the friendship between two men, one in a wheelchair and the other his caregiver. The film is directed by Neil Burger (Divergent, The Illusionist). The screenplay is written by Jon Hartmere based on the 2011 French film Les Intouchables directed by Eric Toldedano and Olivier Nakache. The film features a strong cast, including an Oscar winner and an Oscar nominee and was shot in Philadelphia.The film is set in New York City. Dell, played by Kevin Hart (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), is an African American, street smart, ex-con. He has been kicked out of his apartment after failing to provide for his ex-girlfriend Latrice, played by Aja Naomi King (The Birth of a Nation), and their teenage son. He has all but given up hope in finding a job. Continue reading


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My Review of BEAUTIFUL BOY

Beautiful Boy, rated R
*** ½

Beautiful Boy, showing now on Amazon Prime, is a well-written and acted film based on the real-life heartbreaking relationship between a father and his teenage son, who is battling drug addiction. The film is directed by Felix van Groeningen (The Broken Circle Breakdown), who wrote the screenplay with Oscar nominee and recovering addict, Luke Davies (Lion), based on the books Beautiful Boy by David Sheff and Tweak by Nic Sheff. Because of this, we experience the story from both of their perspectives.
David Sheff, played by Oscar nominee Steve Carell (Foxcatcher, The Office) is a writer who lives in San Francisco. The film opens with him meeting with Dr. Brown, played by Oscar winner Timothy Hutton (Ordinary People), trying to find out more about meth addiction. The film then flashes back a year, a technique used often in the film to tell the backstory of David and now 18-year-old Nic Sheff, played by Oscar nominee Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name, Lady Bird), who received a Golden Globe nomination for his performance.  Nic had been a happy and high performing high school student who enjoyed to read and draw. But now he is dealing with a dark hole, fed by his addiction to drugs and alcohol. We see in flashbacks that he and his father had shared a marijuana cigarette in the past, and that Nic’s drug addiction, which started with marijuana, has now progressed to include LSD, heroin and meth.
David is divorced from Vicki, played by Oscar nominee Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone, The Office). He now lives with second wife Karen, played by Golden Globe winner Maura Tierney (The Affair, The Office), and they have two adorable young children Jasper, played by Christian Convery, and Daisy, played by Oakley Bull.
David and Karen convince Nic to enter into an inpatient rehab program. The head of the rehab facility gives David hope, but is not honest about the success rate of curing meth addicts. This begins Nic’s ongoing battle to beat meth addiction, a battle that completely consumes his caring but controlling father, who for the most part is not present for Karen and their two young children. David desperately wants to help his son beat his addiction, wonders what he could have done differently, and at times both he and Nic’s mother Vicki, in frustration, blame each other for his troubles.
Themes include family, and specifically the relationship between a father and son, drug and alcohol addiction, recovery and relapse, trying to save someone, hope, pain and disappointment. Content concerns include a large amount of adult language, realistic depiction of addiction and the impact on an individual and their family, and one scene of sexuality (no nudity).
The cinematography is by Ruben Impens (The Broken Circle Breakdown). The title of the film comes from John Lennon’s song “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)”. David Scheff had interviewed Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1980, just months before Lennon was murdered. Music is an important aspect in the film, not only in the music that Nic and his father liked, but also in the musical score.
The film features some excellent acting performances, led by Chalamet and Carell. Tierney is strong in the difficult role of Nic’s stepmother, and Ryan is solid in a smaller role as Nic’s mother. Nic’s addict girlfriend Lauren is played by Kaitlyn Dever (Last Man Standing, Justified), and his rehab sponsor Spencer is played by Andre Royo (Empire).
Beautiful Boy is a heart-breaking and emotional film that features some excellent acting performances. The film also includes some content concerns and is certainly not an easy film to watch, but I believe is an important film depicting the impact of addiction on an individual and their family.


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Thank God for Your Losses, As You Do for Your Wins

All of us are familiar with the athlete who thanks Jesus after a big win or championship, or the movie star who thanks God in their Academy Award acceptance speech. I don’t see anything wrong with that. But what about thanking God or Jesus when you miss the last second shot or your name isn’t called when the winner is announced for an award? It’s not very often that we see someone praise God after a loss. Most of life is not lived in those moments of glory. But what a witness it would be to the watching world if we did praise God for our losses as well as our wins.
In his book The Hand of God: Finding His Care in All Circumstances, Alistair Begg writes that for most of us, most of the time, it’s true that more spiritual progress is made through failure and tears than through success and laughter. It’s the former situation in which Cody Parkey publicly praised God after a very public loss on January 6 when he missed a field goal he was expected to make that would have won the NFL Wild Card game for his Chicago Bears over the Philadelphia Eagles.  Instead, his surprising miss ended the Bears season.
Everything was pointing to the Bears coming back and winning the game in a thrilling manner. After Nick Foles led the Eagles to a go-ahead touchdown, the Bears responded with an excellent kickoff return, setting up the team well for a final winning drive. The Bears quickly moved into field goal position, well within kicker Cody Parkey’s range.
With 10 seconds left in the game, and Chicago trailing 16-15, kicker Parkey came on to attempt a 43-yard field goal that would have given the Bears a victory. Parkey actually made the field goal, but it didn’t count because Eagles coach Doug Pederson called a time out to “ice” Parkey at the last minute. After the timeout, Parkey’s next kick, which was tipped by an Eagles’ player, drifted left, hit the upright, bounced off the cross bar and fell back toward the field – no good. Parkey and Bears fans at Soldier Field, were stunned, and Parkey was disappointed that he had let his team down. He then pointed to the sky and then joined both Eagles and Bears in prayer at mid-field. Parkey was then booed by his hometown crowd as he left the field.
Parkey didn’t have a good season. He finished near the bottom of NFL kickers in missed field goals, and probably won’t be back next season as the Bears placekicker. But at his lowest point, he praised God by raising his finger to the sky and then thanked God with other players in prayer at mid-field.
Could we do the same if we were in that situation? Cody Parkey missed the field goal to win a playoff game for his team, but demonstrated character by how he responded to adversity. Alistair Begg tells us that the center of God’s will may take us into the eye of a storm, which is where Cody Parkey found himself. We should not seek, therefore, to confirm God’s will by the absence of adversity. He tells us that there is no ideal place to serve God except the place in which He has set you down. No matter what happens in Cody Parkey’s NFL career moving forward, he showed many of us the proper response in adversity – to praise and thank God.
 
17 Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength.

Habakkuk 3:17-19


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My Review of ESCAPE ROOM

Escape Room, rated PG-13
** ½

Have you ever participated in the team building activity ‘Escape Room’? I have done it twice, once with family members, and once with a work team. When I did Escape Room with my Atlanta team, I enjoyed seeing each member of the team demonstrate their leadership skills, resulting in us solving the mystery before the one-hour time period elapsed. This intense thriller is based on that activity, but with some real life and death consequences. The film is directed by Adam Robitel (The Taking of Deborah Logan) and the screenplay is written by Bragi F. Schut and Maria Melnik. In this era of mammoth movie budgets (The budget for Aquaman was $160 million), this film’s budget was just $9 million.
The film follows six strangers in Chicago who receive an invitation to participate in an Escape Room experience. They don’t know who the mysterious invitation is from, but they are told that if they solve the puzzle and get out of the room, they will win $10,000. The six strangers are Zoey, played by Taylor Russell (Lost in Space), Ben, played by Logan Miller (Love, Simon), Amanda, played by Deborah Ann Woll (True Blood, Daredevil), Mike played by Tyler Labine (New Amsterdam), Jason, played by Jay Ellis (Insecure), and Danny, played by Nik Dodani (Murphy Brown). As the film progresses, we see a brief glimpse into their backstory, which reveals a common connection. What we don’t know is why they specifically were chosen to play the game, or who invited them to play. Whoever it is, knows things about the history of each of the participants. We quickly see that this is not going to be your usual Escape Room experience.
This is an exciting thriller that builds in suspense and will keep you on the edge of your seat. Each of the rooms are different, and have challenges for the group. The musical score from two-time Emmy nominee Brian Tyler (Sleepy Hollow, Last Call), and John Carey (Crazy Rich Asians) helps create the tension and suspense (though you will never listen to Petula Clark’s “Downtown” ever the same again).  Content concerns include adult language, several abuses of God’s and Jesus’ names, violence and extremely intense situations. Themes include helping others through sacrifice and teamwork vs. looking out for oneself (survival of the fittest).
The cast was solid, and the film started strongly as the six strangers worked well together. As time goes on, the true character of each of the strangers becomes clear. The film could have ended stronger and it definitely set things up for Escape Room 2.   
Escape Room is an exciting thriller with some good plot twists, but has some significant content concerns and the ending wasn’t as good as the first two thirds of the film.


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Options for Your Daily Bible Reading in 2019 – Tolle Lege!

 Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.  James 4:8

Many Christians want to faithfully read the Bible, but they don’t really know how to begin. Here I’m talking about daily reading, not an in-depth study of a book of the Bible. Some will decide that they want to read the Bible from beginning to end. That is an excellent goal, as you will see God’s grand story (creation, fall, redemption and consummation) displayed from Genesis to Revelation. Those who commit to this usually make a good start with the oftentimes familiar historical narratives found in the books of Genesis and Exodus, but then run into Leviticus, get frustrated, and many just give up.
Some prefer to read through the New Testament, ignoring the Old Testament, but that’s a mistake. It would be like reading just the last 25% of a great novel or mystery.  Others may choose to read through the Psalms of the Old Testament or the Gospels of the New Testament. Some, like me, will choose to read through the Bible from beginning to end, and when finished with Revelation, go back and start again in Genesis. The scriptures are so rich, you will never get tired of reading God’s word. A lifetime of reading the Bible is not enough to mine all of the riches in its pages. Continue reading