Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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THIS & THAT and Favorite Quotes of the Week

 

  • My Seminar at the PCA General Assembly. If you are attending the Presbyterian Church in America’s (PCA) General Assembly in Greensboro, North Carolina, I’d like to invite you to stop by my seminar (Helping Our People Connect Their Faith to Their Work and Callings) at 8:00 am on Wednesday, June 14 in the Sandpiper Room. Check a description of all of the seminars here.
  • ChristianAudio.com’s FREE Audiobook of the Month: The King James Version has continued to this day to be one of the most beloved and widely sought after translations of the Bible into the English language. Now over 400 years old, the King James Version has been shaping Christians for centuries with its majesty and solemnity.  Narrator David Cochran Heath brings his voice of clarity and warmth, making listening an experience the hearer will want to return to again and again.

  • How Do I Disciple Someone? Watch this eight-minute video in which David Platt sits down with Francis Chan to discuss the practical aspects of disciple-making.
  • What If I Don’t Feel Forgiven?C. Sproul writes that there is an important difference between guilt and guilt feelings.
  • Sticks, Stones and Words…Can Cut Me Deeply. Scott Sauls writesWords transform. They heal. And they can “hurt me.”
  • Can Self-Forgetfulness Make Us Happier? Randy Alcorn writes “What we need is to be so gripped by Jesus and His grace, so lost in His love, that we truly forget about ourselves.”
  • Are Lukewarm Christians Saved? Watch this three-minute video clip of an interview with Francis Chan.
  • The Real Root of Sexual Sin. Jon Bloom writes “The most powerful weapon against sexual impurity is humility. Patterns of sinful thought and behavior are fruits of a deeper root. If we want to stop bearing bad fruit, we must aim our primary attack against the root. And the root of sexual sin is not our sex drive; it’s pride.”
  • In Defense of the Unspoken Prayer Request. Russell Moore writes “The unspoken prayer request is fully in line with how the Scripture calls on us to pray.”
  • Is Body Image My Idol? In this episode of the “Ask Pastor John” podcast, John Piper states “The discipline of the pursuit of physical fitness becomes sinful self-glorification when it is no longer pursued as a means of, one, overcoming our own sin, two, serving others, three, glorifying Christ.”
  • What does the Bible teach about abortion? Jesse Johnson shares eight biblical truths about abortion.
  • Six Words to Say Through Tears. Nancy Guthrie writes “When the grief is fresh and intense, we might take some wild ideas for a test drive, but to move toward healing and return to joy requires that we press this one idea deeply into our souls until it begins to impact us at the level of our feelings: “I can trust God with this.””
  • If I Have Enough Faith, Will God Heal Me? Randy Alcorn writes “In a conversation with Pastor Todd Wagner of Watermark Church, she answers the question, “If you have enough faith, will God heal you?” I encourage youto watch and listen carefully to this interaction between two people who, over the years, have both become my friends. You’ll be glad you did. Todd asks great questions, and what Joni says is gold.”

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My Review of U2’s The Joshua Tree Tour and Album

 Last Friday, U2, my favorite band, marked the 30th anniversary of their 5th studio album, 1987’s The Joshua Tree, with the release of a reissue, available in several formats. I picked up the digital version of the Super Deluxe edition, containing 49 tracks. Incredibly, The Joshua Tree was listed as the top album of 1987 by two publications as diverse as CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) magazine, and Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone ranked it #27 on their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list.
The following evening on Saturday, June 3, we attended The Joshua Tree 30th Anniversary Tour, my 8th U2 concert; a sold-out show in Chicago at Soldier Field along Lake Michigan with 60,000 of our closest friends. The average age of the crowd was about 45.  My nephew saw the Houston show on an earlier tour stop and called it, “a religious experience”. U2 has always been so much more than just a band. After all, it was how U2 brought their faith to their music that attracted me to them in the first place. And of course the band, particularly front man Bono, is very active and outspoken on social and political issues.
My love affair with the band began when as a new believer, I bought their 1983 War album, featuring songs such as “New Year’s Day”, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “40”, a musical version of Psalm 40. The first time I saw U2 in concert was on their 1992 Zoo TV Tour at the then World Music Theatre in Tinley Park, Illinois. Fast forward 25 years on a beautiful warm June evening in downtown Chicago, the band played The Joshua Tree in its entirety, bookended by some of the most beloved songs, for a total set of 21 songs.

Photo courtesy of the Chicago Tribune

There were many highlights for me, beginning with Larry Mullen Jr. pounding out the first beats to the opening song “Sunday Bloody Sunday” on a small stage at the end of a runway built in the shape of a Joshua tree. Watch them perform the song here.  After the opening set, they moved to the main stage to perform The Joshua Tree album in song sequence order, beginning with “Where The Streets Have No Name”. Watch them perform the song here.  Throughout the concert, video images would be projected on the large screen behind the band, with the band occasionally portrayed on the screen as well. I was surprised that, given the large stadium that the concert was being held in, the band didn’t provide constant video of the band.
After completing The Joshua Tree, the band came back for a six-song encore. Here is the complete setlist. My two favorite songs were “Elevation” and the closing “I Will Follow”.
The band is still going strong more than 37 years since their 1980 album Boy. Incredibly, they have had no band member changes in all that time. Bono is still an incredible performer, on vocals, harmonica and band spokesman, at age 57, and he is backed by perhaps the world’s tightest band, with Edge on guitar and keyboards, Adam Clayton on bass and Larry Mullen on drums.
Throughout the evening Bono, sensing the divide in our country, tried to bring people together, saying it didn’t matter who you voted for, all were welcome at the show. The band took a not so funny shot at President Trump, using what looked like an old western film. After all, it was U2, who after completing their Songs of Experience album, said in January that they were delaying it and reconsidering it in light of Trump’s election.
During the encore, Bono used the song “Miss Sarajevo” to highlight the Syrian refugee crisis and dedicated “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” to women, with images of many women portrayed on the large screen behind the main stage. Why Angela Davis was among those women I can’t tell you. During this time Bono asked pastors not to be judgmental, perhaps due to his open support of two women he recognized that had just gotten married. It was about that time that I heard someone say, “Just shut up and sing Bono”. But that’s just what you get from Bono. He’s not just a rock star, but an activist. You may not agree with all of his views, and I don’t, but that’s who he is, love him or not.
This wasn’t the best of the eight U2 shows I’ve seen, and it wasn’t the worst. After a very strong start, the show lost some momentum during the performance of “side two” of The Joshua Tree, and in my opinion when Bono “got political”. But it was still an excellent concert. And a nice unexpected addition to the evening was seeing a long fireworks show from nearby Navy Pier near the end of U2’s main set.
I’ve read Greg Kot’s music reviews in the Chicago Tribune for many years. Check out his review of the concert.
The show was opened by the Lumineers, who came on stage more than a half an hour late. I wasn’t familiar with their music, which reminded me a bit of NEEDTOBREATHE, but I enjoyed their set, especially their more upbeat songs. My favorites were “Ho Hey” and “Stubborn Love”. Here is their setlist.
For U2 fans who already have the 2007 remastered Deluxe edition of The Joshua Tree (which I do), purchasing the 2017 Super Deluxe edition will present a decision. Knowing that we would be going to the concert the following day, I decided to purchase it.
The Super Deluxe edition contains the original 11-song 1987 album, outtakes and B-sides, using the same versions from the 2007 Deluxe edition. Of the 49 tracks on the Super Deluxe edition, the only thing that will be “new” for those who have the 2007 Deluxe edition will be an excellent 17-song 1987 concert recorded at Madison Square Garden, six new remixes and two previously unreleased songs – Steve Lillywhite’s alternate version of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and Brian Eno’s 2017 “One Tree Hill Reprise”. The other 24 tracks have been previously available. 
Now, I’m not a huge fan of remixes, or live albums for that matter. To me they are kind of like seeing a movie in 3D; usually not worth the cost. The six songs here are new mixes by producers familiar to U2 fans, such as Daniel Lanois, Steve Lillywhite and Flood. One remix that really stood out for me was Lillywhite’s “Red Hill Mining Town”, which I thought was outstanding in how it effectively brings horns into the mix. The band used that version in their June 3 concert in Chicago.
Picking up The Joshua Tree in one of these available formats and catching them on this tour is a great way to celebrate one of the greatest rock bands and their timeless album.


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BOOK REVIEW: Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith by Michael Reeves

BOOK REVIEW:  Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith by Michael Reeves. IVP Academic. 135 pages. 2012
****  

I was introduced to the author at the 2016 Ligonier National Conference, and then again at the 2017 Conference. He writes that this book will be about growing in our enjoyment of God and seeing how God’s triune Being makes all His ways beautiful.  He tells us that it is only when we grasp what it means for God to be a Trinity that we really sense the beauty, the overflowing kindness, the heart-grabbing loveliness of God.
He writes that Christianity is not primarily about lifestyle change; it is about knowing God. To know and grow to enjoy Him is what we are saved for.  He tells us that the triune nature of God affects everything from how we listen to music to how we pray: it makes for happier marriages, warmer dealings with others, better church life; it gives Christians assurance, shapes holiness and transforms the very way we look at the world around us.
He writes that the word “Trinity” does not appear in the Bible. But he aims to show us in this wonderful book that through and through, the Trinity is a scriptural truth. He does this in a very readable manner, including helpful sidebar articles and artwork, taking us through meditations on the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He tells us that with our God, we are dealing with three real and distinct persons, the Father, the Son and the Spirit.
He writes that the Father is who He is by virtue of his relationship with the Son, and that the Son would not be the Son without his Father. He has His very being from the Father.  He tells us further that the Father, Son and Spirit, while distinct persons, are absolutely inseparable from each other.
Why is it important that we understand the Trinity? Reeves writes, “What is your Christian life like? What is the shape of your gospel, your faith? In the end, it will all depend on what you think God is like. Who God is drives everything.”
Studying the Trinity can be difficult. Reeves gives us an excellent introduction to the subject. Highly recommended!


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BOOK REVIEW: Parables: The Mysteries of God’s Kingdom Revealed Through the Stories Jesus Told by John MacArthur

BOOK REVIEW:  Parables: The Mysteries of God’s Kingdom Revealed Through the Stories Jesus Told by John MacArthur. Thomas Nelson. 288 pages. 2015
****

Previously, the only book that I had read on the parables was in seminary when I read Craig Blomberg’s book Interpreting the Parables. In one of his most recent books from John MacArthur, MacArthur teaches the reader about the parables of Jesus, “the master storyteller”, who used parables to reveal the Kingdom of God to those who had ears to hear.  He begins with background information about the biblical genre of parables. He states that the method and message of Jesus’ parables are often misunderstood. He writes that in every parable there is a central lesson. They are not open to endless interpretations.  In the Appendix of the book he writes about the importance of propositional statements and that truth is objective.
Parables illustrate a truth for those with ears to hear, while at the same time hiding the truth from those who didn’t believe.  This goes against the perhaps common notion that Jesus used parables to make his teaching easy for all.
He writes that faith, prompted and enabled by the Holy Spirit, is the pre-requisite for understanding parables.  A parable uses illustration and comparison to teach a spiritual lesson. Jesus’ parables were illustrative of gospel facts. MacArthur states that a parable is an “ingeniously simple word picture illuminating a profound spiritual lesson.
He tells us that today, some believe that sermons should be comprised only of stories, rather than doctrine.  MacArthur very much disagrees with this approach.   He also tells us not to mingle/mix details of the various parables, though some of the stories might have some similarities.
There came a point in Jesus’ second year of ministry in which he began teaching in parables when confronted by the Pharisees about the Sabbath.  This book looks at a dozen of the most notable parables by Jesus, of the approximate 40 (some estimates are different) he taught. The book does not cover the parable of the prodigal son, as he had written a complete book on that one – A Tale of Two Sons – perhaps my favorite book by MacArthur.
Each chapter of the book looks at a theme of Jesus’ parables and the parable that goes with that theme. MacArthur looks at these dozen parables in detail, looking at the context in which it was delivered and what truth it taught about God and his kingdom.
This is a serious book about serious teaching of our Lord. One of MacArthur’s gifts is to be able to communicate in such a manner that the layperson can understand and benefit from. This book is no exception.


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My Review of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, rated PG-13
***

Captain Jack Sparrow and the gang return in a pleasing fifth episode in the Pirates of the Caribbean series.
Six years after 2011’s On Stranger Tides, one of my favorite film series returns. Truth be told, Johnny Depp had me in from the very beginning as he cruised into shore, doing his best drunken Keith Richards’ impersonation in 2003’s The Curse of the Black Pearl, a role for which he received a “Best Actor” Oscar nomination.
The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is the twelfth highest grossing franchise ever, with more than $1 billion in sales in the U.S. alone and about $3.75 billion in ticket sales worldwide. Three-time Oscar nominee Johnny Depp returns as Captain Jack Sparrow, and leads an outstanding cast in this film directed by the Norwegian directing team of Joaquim Ronning and Espen Sandberg. The film was written by Jeffrey Nathanson (Catch Me If You Can).  The budget of the film has been estimated to be in excess of $350 million and is projected to gross about $80 million in the U.S. over the Memorial Day holiday.  The music is handled well by Geoff Zanelli.
Brenton Thwaites portrays Henry, the grown son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom, Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit films) and Elizabeth Swann (two-time Oscar nominee Keira Knightley), who briefly return after missing episode four in the series.  Henry partners with Carina Smyth (Kaya Scoderlario, The Maze Runner), an orphan astronomer who is accused of being a witch. Henry has been seeking the Trident of Poseidon, a magical object that supposedly holds power over the seas, so that he can free his father from the curse of the Flying Dutchman.  While looking for Captain Jack Sparrow to get his help in finding the trident, Henry ends up in the Devil’s Triangle, where he encounters the zombified Spanish Captain Salazar, portrayed by Oscar winner Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men). Salazar has a history with Captain Jack and is seeking revenge.
Henry eventually finds the down on his luck Captain Jack and his magical compass; Jack agrees to help him find the trident, thinking it will lead to a great treasure.  Carina has a book that she received from her father that has clues as to the location of the trident.
Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech) again portrays Captain Hector Barbossa. Paul McCartney portrays Captain Jack’s Uncle Jack in a brief scene. Uncle Jack is heard singing “Maggie Mae”, which was included on the Beatles final album, 1970’s Let It Be.
I thoroughly enjoyed this film. All of the main characters deliver and it is a good story. The film does include some intense (and scary for young children) violence. The dialogue was sometimes hard to hear, especially the drunken Captain Jack Sparrow. Disney throws everything but the kitchen sink into this film, and it was almost too much. The film features some excellent messages about the importance of fathers, and has the theme of sacrificial love.
DON’T FORGET TO WAIT UNTIL AFTER THE CREDITS FOR A SPECIAL SCENE!


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BOOK REVIEW: Deserted by God? by Sinclair B. Ferguson

BOOK REVIEW:  Deserted by God? by Sinclair B. Ferguson. Banner of Truth Trust. 2013 edition. 182 pages.
****

Sinclair Ferguson is one of the most respected Reformed theologians of our day. He has been a pastor and seminary professor in churches and seminaries around the world. Among other roles he has currently, he is a Teaching Fellow for Ligonier Ministries and a regular speaker at their conferences where I have seen him speak several times. I’ve also read several of his books.
In this book, he addresses the issue of people having the sense that God has deserted them. He writes that the subject is deep and in many respects mysterious, belonging to the darker side of spiritual experience.  But he believes it is a subject of greater importance than we often care to acknowledge and it seems that more and more people struggle spiritually. He writes that the psalmists were our brothers in affliction, and his prayer is that the consolation God has brought to many others through their words may be as real for us today as it was for them.
Dr. Ferguson writes that the book discusses what our forefathers in the Christian church called ‘spiritual desertion’, the sense of God having forgotten us that leaves us feeling isolated and directionless. He believes that many Christians know what it is to feel at the end of their rope. The book will not remove all of their difficulties, but it may be a helping hand on the way and provide encouragement.
The format that the author uses, studies in the Psalms, is not accidental. Each chapter draws attention to experiences that did, or could, lead one to feel that God had deserted him. The Psalms show us how the people of God have grappled with their questions, doubts, desertions, and how God lifted them up and brought them into new light and joy.
As I was reading this book I was also reading through the Psalms and also using a devotional on the Psalms from Tim and Kathy Keller; it was a perfect time to read this wonderful book. Many themes – such as repentance, purity and contentment – are included in its pages.


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BOOK REVIEW: A Camaraderie of Confidence: The Fruit of Unfailing Faith in the Lives of Charles Spurgeon, George Müller, and Hudson Taylor (Swans Are Not Silent) by John Piper

BOOK REVIEW:  A Camaraderie of Confidence: The Fruit of Unfailing Faith in the Lives of Charles Spurgeon, George Müller, and Hudson Taylor (Swans Are Not Silent) by John Piper. Crossway. 128 pages. 2016 
****

This is John Piper’s seventh book in his popular biography series entitled The Swans Are Not Silent. This time the swans he looks at are Charles Spurgeon, the greatest preacher of the nineteenth century, George Müller, the great lover of orphans and supporter of missions, and Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission. Piper writes that some of the things that bind them together are that they were “all contemporaries, based in England, knew each other, encouraged each other, and took inspiration from each other’s lives.”
Piper states that all three were clearly nineteenth-century men. All three of these men were part of British culture. He states that the mark of evangelicalism that linked the three most clearly to their age was their activism. He states that in addition to the depth of their theology and spirituality, all three were consummate doers. All three rejected debt as a way of running any Christian ministry.
Spurgeon loved Müller as a close comrade in ministry and as one of his heroes. Müller preached occasionally in Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle. Spurgeon’s praise for Müller was unparalleled for any man in his day. Perhaps only slightly less was Spurgeon’s admiration for Taylor.
Piper looks at each of his three subjects in separate sections of the book. He writes that theirs was a camaraderie of confidence in the goodness, glory, and power of God.  He states that the glory of God was always the preeminent issue in their lives.
If you are looking for short biographical sketches of some of the great heroes of the faith, I highly recommend each of Piper’s seven volumes in his Swans are Not Silent series.  Piper states that the series title comes from the story of Augustine’s retirement as the bishop of Hippo in North Africa in AD 426. He tells us that Augustine’s successor, Eraclius, contrasted himself with Augustine by saying, “The cricket chirps, the swan is silent.” When Piper says that the swans are not silent, he means that there are voices from church history that are still heard, and should be heard, in the ongoing history of the church. This series gives voice to some of those swans.