God’s Not Dead

not deadI haven’t been impressed by a lot of Christian films.
Sometimes the theology within the story can be dodgy, as can the acting. However I recently enjoyed these three.

The first of the “trilogy” has Josh, a young student forced to defend his belief in God to his philosophy class, when he refuses to give in to the lecturer’s demand that they all sign a statement declaring that God is dead.

By doing so, the lecturer claims the class can leave aside vain discussion of religious thought and move straight on to the “valid” aspects of philosophical ideas.

Facing opposition from friends and family, Josh takes on the challenge despite the likelihood, no matter how strong a case he makes, that he will be failed for that course, undermining the desired direction of his education.

not dead 2The second film has a couple of overlapping characters from the first film giving a continuity between the two.

This time a high school teacher finds herself in court because she quoted Jesus when answering a student’s question in history class; despite the fact that the questioner brought up Jesus in a discussion of Ghandi and Martin Luther King.

For some reason the student’s parents see the court case as a means of advancing their daughter’s educational future, if only through the financial gain they hope to receive as compensation.

The student herself is appalled by her parent’s choice, but due to her age is prevented from having a say in the matter.

Within this film, several real life Christian experts are called upon to give evidence regarding the historical facts of Jesus’ existence, as well as the validity and reliability of the gospel accounts as reliable historical documents.

After watching this film, viewers need to wait until the end of the credits where a post-credit scene sets up the story of the third film.

not dead lightDuring the third installment of the series, on-going character Pastor Dave, finds himself at odds with the law when the ongoing survival of his church building is threatened.

The building is currently on part of a school campus, having in the past being associated with the school, originally built on church land, which was ultimately sold to the educational institution.

A tragic act of vandalism sets up circumstances to enable the school board of to demand the church be demolished so they can make use of the cleared land.

Pastor Dave has been a familiar character across this series of films, usually a minor role, in this one he takes prominence as his faith is challenged. He is faced with choices that will determine how his faith will be lived and demonstrated to those around him.

Each of the films has a different approach to a common theme: to what extent is Christian faith being opposed by an increasingly antagonistic secular culture.

While the films themselves are fictional representations, the situations portrayed are inspired by real life cases where Christians found themselves in courts having their right to believe and practice their faith opposed. In the credits of the first two films, lists of more than twenty (I lost count after that) actual cases are provided.

I had only one or two small quibbles with content of the films, but those minor objections probably reflect the reality of Christian expression (religious clichés, the constant citing of bible verses in everyday conversation), so those issues are more about the way Christians often speak or act than with the films themselves.

Across the films the Christian band The Newsboys make appearances of various lengths and importance. In the first one they have a more dominant role in the story, and of course, the film’s titles come from one of  their songs.

Overall the three films were entertaining, informative and challenging, and they have made me aware of some potentially interesting resources to follow up from some of the writers who played themselves within the films. So far I’ve tracked down two books I’m looking forward to reading in the next week or two.

mmmcold case

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Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus is the testimony of former Muslim, Nabeel Qureshi.

I’d come across Qureshi several times over the past year or two, mainly seeing that he had some YouTube videos. For some reason I didn’t pay any attention to him or his videos when I was looking for testimonies of Muslims turning the Jesus.

seeking findingThe book is excellent. It covers his early life growing up as a Muslim, his attempts to prove the truth of Islam to a Christian friend, and then how his own studies led him to consider the truth of Jesus.

He faced a difficult struggle before he could finally turn away from his life-long religion to embrace and accept the gospel, but God was patient and revealed Himself to Qureshi, over time.

I don’t think I’ve come across anyone else’s testimony in which they spent years of diligently searching and studying everything they could to try to find the truth.
While he started out trying to prove the Islamic  “truth” he’d been raised to believe, ultimately his desire for THE truth led him to recognise Jesus.

But there is so much more within the book than just one man’s experience.

While it may not have been intended, I found the book showed how many Christians aren’t very different to Muslims regarding the reason they believe.

It seems that Muslim belief tends to be passed on from authority figures instead of being gained from a personal interaction with their “scriptures”.
I’d suggest that most professing Christians do exactly the same thing – relying entirely on the teachings of others instead of seeking, finding and understanding the certainty of truth for themselves. If we follow that approach how can we be sure that our beliefs are any more valid than those of the Muslim, the Buddhist, the atheist or anyone else?

Qureshi’s early experiences of Christians tended to show that their knowledge of the basics of what they believed (and why) was mostly lacking, and thereby hindering their ability to communicate the gospel.

Sadly in September 2017 Qureshi died after a struggle with stomach cancer. The edition of his book that I’ve been reading has some additional chapters in which his wife and his friends remember his legacy.

One of those friends says this about Nabeel, something that addresses the issue of loving the truth enough to seek it (Him) out:

Proverbs 1:7 says “fools despise wisdom and instruction” but Nabeel loved both, even when they challenged his long-held beliefs. Like any of us, he didn’t enjoy finding out he was wrong, but he was not willing to blindly perpetuate hand-me-down ideas. He had to know that what he believed, what he built his life on, was based on reality, not speculation or tradition.

 

 

Fleeing ISIS, Finding Jesus (2)

fleeing finding.jpgIn my previous post about this book I mentioned my initial disappointment when it didn’t seem to fulfill my expectations regarding testimonies of Muslims coming to faith in Jesus.

Then I recognised that “finding Jesus” wasn’t only applicable to new converts fleeing their old religious affiliation, but it also applied to professing followers of Jesus who would find a deeper relationship with Him when they faced unimaginable adversity.

My initial expectation was eventually fulfilled, but the hoped for evidence of Muslims finding the truth of Christ was often closely related to existing believers finding that deeper faith, as the security of their past was stripped away.

“For me as a believer, life is even better now than it was before ISIS. There are new opportunities and open doors to speak out loud about Jesus, to talk about Islam. A lot of Muslims are questioning who is God, and you only need to look on the Internet to see so many Muslims saying ‘if that’s God, I don’t want Him anymore.'”

Through the upheaval caused by the brutaility of ISIS and the resulting flight of those in their path, previously insular groups were brought together with a common plight.

…one of the themes that has come out of this displacement is the fact that Christian, Muslim, and Yazidi communities are no longer living in enclaves, isolated from the villages around them.

The brutality of ISIS forced everone to leave their homes and engage with people they had previously avoided…

How easy it is to sit here in the “west” and choose to read a book about Muslims coming to faith in Jesus in the Middle East, being turned against the religion of their birth by the evils they see in ISIS and other extremist groups who claim to embody Islam; as well as the stories of Muslims being pointed towards the truth of Jesus through dreams and visions.
Testimonies like that are encouraging, a joy to read and hear.

What isn’t so easy is taking the time to consider the other part of the story – the part about perecuted Christians, about followers of Jesus losing everything they had, being driven from their homes by the very same ISIS.

And yet those Christians, stripped of material security, play an important part in the aspect of the story we find so encouraging. If we REALLY consider the changes experienced by those believers, and if we considered their experience in light of scripture, and what Jesus said about those who follow Him; we ought to see how closely they fit the biblical descriptions, and how we in the west don’t.

If we could take a step back and dispationately compare the two vastly different Christian experiences which would we see as the most authentically and effectively lived, Christian witness?

“I look at the west and wonder if Satan uses our affluence to limit the growth of the church. I wonder whether his tactic for keeping God out is by providing comfort, by giving so many riches and so much wealth that people feel like they don’t need God.”

“When real persecution happens, you’re not afforded that. You have to call on God multiple times a day. Can you imagine what it does to your faith when you don’t know where the next meal is coming from or if you’re an Iraqi that’s lost a million dollars and two homes and a couple of cars and are sitting in a tent freezing in winter? Maybe that’ll be the first time in your life that you find yourself really calling out to God.”

Most of us here in the west won’t face the loss and tragedy being experienced elswehere, where  evil forces like ISIS, or their inevitable successors, express hatred through killing, stealing and destroying on a massive scale.

But we ought to meditate on the question of our own response if we did have to experience what so many have already faced elsewhere in the world. Would we be able (or willing) to trust God if those things we’d considered to be His blessings were torn away from us?

One thing that makes me think we in the prosperous West might find it difficult to summon up that willingness is the evidence of how even Western “believers” have responded to the plight of those who have been through the experience of losing home, possessions and family through the violence of others elsewhere in the world.

As they flee from the violence, seeking sanctuary in the west, they have ben rejected, shut out, pushed away in fear. Our fear. Fear of the disruption and cost that so many needy refugees would create to our comforatble, established lives.

Towards the end of the book the authors quote an interview related to their topic.

“I think there’s a lot of Christians who, rather than go and fulfill the Great Commission, they said, ‘I think I’ll stay home and pray for the Great Commission.’ And God said, ‘I want you to be part of it, so I’m going to bring the Great Commission to you'”

David Garrison

What has been the reaction of many when God brings the Great Commission to us?

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Faithfulness and Disowning

If we disown him,
he will also disown us;
if we are faithless,
he remains faithful,
for he cannot disown himself

(2 Tim 2)

The proponents of “Once Saved Always Saved” like to use part of the above section of scripture to support their view.
They overlook the bit about disowning and highlight the part about God’s faithfulness.

They must read this as if it means faithlessness on our part towards Him doesn’t matter because He will remain faithful towards us regardless.

But that interpretation is undermined by the preceding statements about disowning, and the reality that the latter part of the quote is about God’s faithfulness to HIMSELF (clue is in “he cannot disown himself”).

So no matter how much He desires to see everyone saved, He cannot grant salvation if doing so compromises the righteous aspect His character.

People always prefer to recognise God as love – but aren’t as keen to balance that with His righteousness.
The tension between those two parts of His character is the reason why God’s love for the world was expressed in the giving of His Son and NOT in the giving of salvation without the sacrifice of His Son.

God’s righteousness made it necessary for His love to be costly to HIM.

Covenant and Controversy part 3

We need to interpret the modern return to the land of Israel and the constitution of this modern phenomenon called the State of Israel.

We need to view this not as the fulfilment of eschatological prophecy, but we need to view it as the preliminary requirement that sets in motion the fulfilment of eschatological prophecy. Meaning that now they are in the land, these events can unfold. Now that they’re in the land these things can take place.

Because how do you flee Jerusalem if you are not in Jerusalem?
How can you be banished from Israel, if you’re not in the land of Israel?
There’s all of these verses about eschatological, apocalyptic expulsion and exile from the land that presuppose a Jewish presence in the land. (Dalton, Thomas, Covenant and Controversy part 3)

This is the third of a series of three videos. The other two parts have been posted previously.

The videos can also be accessed and downloaded via the vimeo site by clicking on the “vimeo” logo at the bottom of the video.

I have downloaded the films from that site onto a USB stick, I find that format makes it easier for me to watch half an hour at a time rather than have to find time to watch it all at once.

I think the films are very well written and produced and I highly recommend them.

Covenant and Controversy part 2

 

This is the second of a series of three videos. Part one has already been posted. The other part will be posted later.

The videos can also be accessed and downloaded via the vimeo site by clicking on the “vimeo” logo at the bottom of the video.

I have downloaded the films from that site onto a USB stick, I find that format makes it easier for me to watch half an hour at a time rather than have to find time to watch it all at once.

I think the films are very well written and produced and I highly recommend them.