Saturday Sounds

Another find of some good acapella music. Visit the artist’s site here.  I suspect other selections will appear in this space in the months ahead.

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Movie Report: Paul, Apostle of Christ

Went to see the above-named movie with several Paul_387x580banner_nowintheaters-387x580friends from church Saturday evening.  It’s well worth your time and the price of admission.  A caution: much like the movie Passion of the Christ, this is not escapist entertainment.  It makes you think.  As with that other movie, I noticed there was very little conversation as people left the theater.

Several things impressed me about this production.  First, much of what Paul says is drawn from the various letters he wrote in the New Testament — either verbatim or by paraphrase.  You get the sense his dialogue is intended to be close to the spirit and heart of the man being depicted.  Second, while the movie is nowhere near as graphic as the Passion of the Christ, it does not shy away from highlighting the very real persecution and martyring of the Church in the time of Nero.  (The PG-13 rating is a good guide for age appropriateness.)  But it does so in a way that provides a reminder of the encouragement we have in Christ even when facing death at the hands of others.  A closely related third, the Christians of Rome are not cardboard saints.  They wrestle with how to respond to such wanton evil being inflicted on them.  Without giving spoilers, I’ll say it was refreshing to see that not everyone made perfect “Sunday School” choices.

Which brings me to a final point.  A pitfall of many “Christian” movies is a desire to tie everything up neatly: the antagonist repents, there is miraculous deliverance, and so forth.  This movie manages to avoid that.  I won’t get more specific so as not to ruin it for others, but suffice to say while the film concludes in a very appropriate manner for the story it is telling, it leaves open the question of how some characters’ futures resolve.

The best compliment I can give the movie is to note that before we went separate ways Saturday evening, our group agreed it could drive some discussion in our Bible study Sunday morning.  (I should note we’ve been in Paul’s letters for a while now, so the movie’s release was very timely).  Much like the Visual Bible films of a few years ago, this movie provides a way to look at familiar scripture through a different lens than the written word alone.  I find myself hoping more such thought-provoking films will be made — movies that demonstrate a respect for scripture even while carefully filling in historical blanks.

This one is worth your support.

Gone home

“Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it!  I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”  — Billy Graham

And so he has:

The world’s best-known evangelist, the Rev. Billy Graham, has died. He was 99.

From the gangly 16-year-old baseball-loving teen who found Christ at a tent revival, Graham went on to become an international media darling, a preacher to a dozen presidents and the voice of solace in times of national heartbreak. He was America’s pastor…

Presidents called on Graham in their dark hours, and uncounted millions say he showed them the light. He took his Bible to the ends of the Earth in preaching tours he called “crusades.” Even now, anywhere a satellite, radio, TV, video or podcast can reach, his sonorous voice is probably still calling someone to Christ…

His reputation was untouched by sex or financial scandals. When anti-Semitic comments came to light as transcripts of conversations with Richard Nixon surfaced, Graham was promptly and deeply apologetic.

He never built a megachurch, set up a relief agency, launched a political lobby or ran for office. Yet he redefined American Protestant life by popularizing Christianity’s core message — Christ died for your sins — downplaying denominational details and proclaiming the joys found in faith…

In 1996, when he and Ruth were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, he once more shared his faith in God with some of the most powerful men on Earth:

“As Ruth and I receive this award, we know that some day we will lay it at the feet of the one we seek to serve.”

That day is today.  I can only imagine the joy of him hearing “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

“You sure keep it simple
And you sure preach it plain
And, Billy, I just wish
More would preach it just the same

The “niceness” handicap

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this article is very much worth your attention:

I have long observed that an alarming swath of public evangelicals seems to be driven by a consuming desire to be liked by the world. ((note: link added to excerpt by me))

Now, that is my characterization, not theirs. To their minds, they are trying to be good representatives of Jesus. They are focusing on “kingdom” issues. They eschew evangelicalism’s past mistakes of tying itself to various moralistic fads such as outlawing alcohol or opposing nylons and lipstick. They want to be sure that unbelievers know that they love them, that the GOP is not the Kingdom of God. They want to be seen as scholarly, cautious, nuanced, careful, measured, and helpful. They shrink from the thought of being seen as dogmatic, triumphalistic, or narrow.

Are those bad motivations? As stated and as far as they go, most of them are not.

However, I’ve come to fear that they mask fatal flaws. For starters,  these sorts are willing to let their motivations be judged and dictated by the reactions of unbelievers…

I can’t say it any better.  Read the whole thing here.

Is the Pope Catholic?

As I’ve written before, the Pontiff has made some very unorthodox (and unBiblical) statements.  Here’s the latest, as part of an interview:

– The fear of accepting migrants is partly based on a fear of Islam. In your view, is the fear that this religion sparks in Europe justified?

Pope Francis: Today, I don’t think that there is a fear of Islam as such but of ISIS and its war of conquest, which is partly drawn from Islam. It is true that the idea of conquest is inherent in the soul of Islam. However, it is also possible to interpret the objective in Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus sends his disciples to all nations, in terms of the same idea of conquest.  (emphasis added)

With all due respect, there is simply no such comparison to be made, and any attempt at moral equivalence between the Gospel and Islam is simply a slanderous lie from the deepest pit of hell, no matter who is saying it.  Whereas the founder of Islam clearly taught the temporal spreading of that religion by the sword, Christ had a much different take toward the spreading of the Gospel:

  • Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”  (John 18:36)
  • …Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him.  (Luke 22:48-51)

The Gospel of Christ and the message of Mohammed were spread by very different means, and as Christ said, “the tree is known by its fruit.”  In its first century, the Christian Gospel spread in no small part through the martyrdom of its adherents.  By contrast, in the first century after Mohammed’s death, Islam spread rapidly through the violent conquest and forced conversion of its neighbors — including martyring many Christians in North Africa, once a center of Christian intellectual life under great minds like Augustine.

Despite the abuses of the trappings of Christianity by the later Roman emperors and medieval Popes to sanction actions Christ would never have condoned, the essence of the Gospel remains the same: a personal decision to place one’s confidence of salvation in the sacrifice of Christ, and to commit one’s life to honoring that sacrifice through willing obedience and discipleship.  This is not something that can be externally coerced.  Islam, on the other hand, likes to confuse the issue by deceitfully reducing the Koranic concept of jihad to what many would consider a similar inward struggle for holiness.  Yet its history shows it is instead a violent force that compels at least outward obedience, on pain of social sanctions or death.  This is the Islam the Pope obliquely acknowledges as the inspiration of ISIS and al Qaeda.  Whereas the Reformation returned the Christian church to the core, essential doctrines of Christ, Grace, Faith, Scripture and the Glory of God, the modern movements to return Islam to its roots are clearly producing very different results.  Those who closely follow the example of Christ and those who closely follow the example of Mohammed will lead very different lives–and will impact those around them in very different ways.

I get that an atheist might want to simply lump all religions together as troublemaking mythology.  But that the head of the Catholic Church would indulge such lack of discernment is highly disturbing.  Not only is Pope Francis giving his parishioners ample reason to doubt the Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility; his very elevation to head of that church shows a substantial portion of its leadership has been ensnared by many of the teachings of this world, from marxist liberation theory to moral equivalency and an overemphasis on ecumenicism.

Nobody–not the West, nor Muslims, nor the Christian brothers and sisters currently persecuted by Islamic fundamentalists–is edified by such careless comparisons.