I Can Only Imagine – a Review

I just returned from an advanced screening of the new movie the latest film from the Erwin Brothers, also known for the movies Woodlawn and October Baby (the latter of which I truly enjoyed). I went as much curious about the movie’s billing as basically the back-story that led to the writing of the group Mercy Me’s breakout hit and now top-selling Christian single of all-time by the same name, as I went to attempt to discern if it was a movie I could recommend in good conscience. This is the review that resulted.

I Can Only Imagine begins in a studio with an interview of some sort of Bart Millard

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(played by J. Michael Finley in his screen debut)who is asked about the song I Can Only Imagine. He responds that it took all of about 10 minutes to write the lyrics and about the same to write the music. The interviewer then says that no – the song took a lifetime to write…

Finley does a really good job, not demonstrating the typical over-acting of an actor with a Broadway background – but actually giving a believable and heartfelt performance. Of special note – he really did sing in the film!

The interview mentioned above opens a scene in rural Texas and launches our storyline. One filled with drama, pain, and broken dreams, but also a story of redemption and forgiveness.

Normally, I am not terribly impressed when a movie presses the emotion side – and this gets particularly frustrating with many films marketed to evangelicals and billed as “Christian” – as these often drum up truckloads of emotion with a terribly formulaic “ask Jesus into your heart” easy-believism that actually cheapens what Christ accomplished on the cross.

Thankfully, the emotion in this film does not lead to a call to such a “prayer”, but instead is totally appropriate as it helps to tell the story. The gospel is implied, though not glaringly thrown into the mix.  The film doesn’t have a “Courageous“-like bold challenge to a decision, yet at the same time is quite challenging – and does convict, resulting in some deep thoughts of our own relationships that need forgiveness and restoration.

There is a secondary storyline of a long-time (from childhood) love, yet even this is only a decoration on the bigger picture, that only serves to reinforce the underlying themes of the film

Of particular pleasure is learning the back-story of this song.  It is a pleasure, yet simultaneously is the main need for a box of tissue!

I was a bit concerned when I saw Priscilla Shirer’s name in the opening credits, as she always sends up red caution flags for me – I’m not sure if it is her popular efforts to be a “pastor” to the masses, or her dangerous mystic/borderline heretical beliefs she sells to sold-out audiences (contemplative prayer being one of the most obvious, but also the related belief that God is still audibly, verbally, giving new revelation today), or maybe it is her proclivity to twist Scripture way out of shape to make it fit her own dangerous theology. But whatever the reason, my “shields” were up, but I took them down somewhat when I realized that her role in the move was a rather minor role, and not one that contributes any real theological material. She is simply a music teacher in a high school, and appears all of a couple of minutes.

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One surprise for me, cast wise, was Dennis Quaid who plays Bart’s father.
Quaid actually nearly steals the show with what is probably one of his best acting performances of his lifetime.

 

If I did have to pick something out to complain about, it would be the tidal wave of materials for sale based on or tied to this film. It always concerns me when there is a ton of merchandise (and profit being sought by it) along with a movie that otherwise has positional to be a real life-changer for many. Some will complain that the gospel is not presented boldly enough, or clearly enough. If someone (or a church) thinks that using any film alone as an evangelism tool is sufficient, they are already approaching the call to make disciples the wrong way!  Look at this movie first as an encouraging film, good entertainment, and a message of the need for restoration and forgiveness – and as a solid film that many outside of evangelical christianity likely would be interested in. Go to enjoy knowing the back-story to this popular song. Take a friend because they need to heard the same message – and maybe it will open the door to you filling in the rest of the details of the Gospel.

“The redemption story is great-if the Gospel could change that dude, the Gospel can change anybody!”

~Bart Millard, Mercy Me

If you are looking for a story of redemption and forgiveness – and already love the song I Can Only Imagine, then this movie would be one to add to your schedule. I am seriously thinking about organizing a group from church to go see it.

Here is a link to the trailer for the film: I Can Only Imagine

I Can Only Imagine opens March 16, 2018

The Blame Game, Agendas, and Reality

After a troubled night of sleep, much prayer, and time in God’s Word, I am still struggling with the events yesterday Sutherland Springs, Texas. I’m struggling with what could drive a person to commit such a horrific act. I struggle with my own family and their safety – especially after the news that the pastor of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs (who was out of town) lost his daughter in this mass murder.

And then I turned on the news this morning. Sadly, after recent programming change in our service, the only news network we have right now is CNN – so that definitely slants the reports coming out. And not surprisingly, the talking heads are already speculating and laying blame in every direction except on the real root issue in this case.  Indeed, it doesn’t take a degree in psychology, law enforcement, or in criminal investigation to know the real cause, but I will address that later in this post.

Of course, the first blame is being “aimed” at guns. Those evil guns, along with the wild and clueless rush to identify specific kinds of guns.  CNN’s anchor used the identification “AR556” – later to discover it was apparently the Ruger version of the popular AR-15 sporting rifle. Later reports say that he had a Glock handgun and some other .22 caliber handgun in the vehicle he was in.

Within hours of the shooting, the former President tweeted a mostly good tweet, but had to insert his own political agenda into the atmosphereobamatweet.png

I’m all about reducing violence, but not by capitalizing on the grieving hearts of people who have lost entire families. But the very last part is rather ironic in this snappy attempt to use this tragedy for political gain is the bit about wisdom to reduce “weaponry in our midst”.   Why do I call this ironic? It now appears that this shooting was stopped by the neighbor who lives across the street from this church – who pulled his own AR-15 firearm to engage the church shooter. It was the very kind of firearm so hated by the political Left that was used to STOP this attack.

Guns are not the problem.  Research, documentation, and statistics all verify that. Indeed, additional laws do nothing but take away firearms from the very kind of guy who stopped this mass murderer.  And I’m going to really stir the pot: no-one has ever been killed BY a gun of any kind!  Many people over the history of firearms have been killed WITH a firearm. Guns are tools – tools for sporting purposes, tools for recreation, tools for hunting, and tools for self-defense (as well as defense of our nation from tyranny – as our Founding Fathers indicated – the primary background to the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution).  Mankind has always had the proclivity to kill, using whatever tool or method is available. It is a problem that has existed nearly as long as mankind has walked the earth (see Cain slaying his brother Abel). But again – this is a hint to the real cause…

Gun laws? The shooter in Texas purchased several firearms, despite a military criminal history and apparent dishonorable discharge that SHOULD have prevented him purchasing said firearms. The Pentagon/Air Force apparently hasn’t or doesn’t reported military crimes and convictions to the NCIS system. Laws not followed don’t help.

But some of the laws being proposed – would have disarmed the guy who is now being hailed as a hero for confronting the shooter with his own weapon.

Do we blame beer for drunk drivers? There were drunk drivers when the USA had prohibition. Indeed, it is speculated that alcohol abuse actually increased under prohibition! No – drunk drivers kill – because they made a series of bad decisions that included the alcohol.

There are many now pointing to mental health failures and the possibility of anti-psychotic drugs that have become so prevalent, though there are no indications of a diagnosed mental disorder in this case. Indeed, even if there was a diagnosis for the shooter, contrary to popular opinion, mental disorders still do not address the actual cause.  Mental disorders don’t kill people, people kill people. Anti-psychotic drugs do indeed play “Russian Roulette” with brain chemistry – and are also probably over-used. Has anyone really taken an honest look at the INCREASE in violent crime, including these mass casualty attacks and the vast expansion of the use of these drugs to “treat” the perpetrators? A quick scan of previous cases show a terrifying number of shooters who used or had used these chemicals. But again – drugs don’t kill, but they might open the channels for what is inside to emerge and carry out what one might not normally do.

No – laws, and rules will not make us safer. Additional restrictions to Constitutional rights for law-abiding citizens is counter-productive. All the pontificating on mental health seems to only lead to more excuses for tragic behavior. We must address the core issue at hand.  These acts are carried out by people who have a heart of sin. A heart that is evil. A heart that is not filled by the Holy Spirit. Humanity stands condemned because we all are sinners. But when one still has their heart of stone that comes with the natural man, you tend to do what the natural, unregenerate do – and that is sin, including beating your wife and child (as the shooter in this case was convicted of while in the Air Force). An unregenerate heart  leaves open the door to seeking out others to commit harm to other people.  A sin-filled, evil heart, refuses to see the value in human lives. A broken, twisted, unregenerate heart isn’t changed by anti-depressants or anti-psychotic drugs.  The only cure for the kind of heart that we all begin life with – is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I will not deny that there are cases where some people have chemical disorders in the brain that CAN be aided by some medications – but without the Gospel, they still have the sin-filled, violence-prone heart.  Why is it that the most successful drug treatment programs and criminal rehabilitation efforts all are founded on faith-based, Christ-centered efforts that begin with the Gospel, then deal with the other issues.

And the ultimate “fix” for all the evil that is so pervasive in our world is the same: Jesus.  The Gospel is God’s answer. I pray daily for a great spiritual awakening to seep our nation – beginning with hearts being regenerated and drawn to Christ. But if that isn’t to be, then I pray for the return of Christ as was promised. when Jesus comes, guns, drugs, and other things will no longer even figure in to the situation. All things will be made new –

But as a side-note.  I have heard several things that have been encouraging in this otherwise horrific and dark event. First is the neighbor of the church who picked up his AR-15 and engaged the shooter at the church, apparently wounding him and causing him to drop his rifle and flee. Add to that, another driver picked up this neighbor to give chase and keep law enforcement eyes until they could arrive.

I was also encouraged by the family members of victims in the church who spoke boldly of faith, of turning it all over to Christ -and the need to cling to Jesus in all of this.

 

Who Is Jesus (Deity of Christ) Part 3: Seeking the the Real Jesus – My Lord, My God!

 I cannot help but be blown away by the words of “doubting” Thomas in his confession of faith found in John 20:28 – “My Lord and my God!”  Thomas didn’t just express Jesus’ position above him (“Lord” – κύριος – literally “supreme authority”), but he also called Jesus God (θεός – Deity/Supreme Divinity).
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Colossian church a description of Jesus that doesn’t mince words: “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily”Colossians 2:9. Paul made qualms that he saw Jesus as, quite literally – God.
 
Further, in answering questions about Jesus – and the highly irregular claims that Jesus was God – Paul wrote to the Philippians:
 

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Equality with God? But there is only one God, correct?
The writer of Hebrews recorded something extremely interesting:
Hebrews 1:8  But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.” (A direct quote from Psalm 45:6)
If we were to ignore the first phrase, this verse would not be controversial – yet the writer specifically wrote “But of the Son (that’s Jesus), he says…” OF Jesus. The writer directly calls the Son… God.
To label anyone, other than God Almighty, as “God” would be blasphemy. So our conclusion must bend to what the inspired biblical writers penned.
Installment #4 will come next week – “Who is to be worshiped but God alone?”

Glorious Day, Yet Grieving…

Today will go down in history, at least in my own little world, as a radical rollercoaster. We had an incredible day at First Baptist Church, Cave Springs today, including the addition of a new church member and a discussion with another couple who expressed their intent to join next week.

We had a fabulous lunch fellowship and then the crowning time of the day – the ordination of my brother in Christ, friend, and servant-minded man Roger Meredith to the deacon ministry (my first such service to lead). It all was quite wonderful!  Yet while all of this was unfolding in our little neck of the woods, in Sutherland Springs, Texas – a young man, Devin Kelley carried out a horrific and apparently planned attack on the First Baptist Church in that small community.  A church with just over 100 members, and an average Sunday attendance around 50…  Reports so far are that at least 27 are dead and possibly 20 others wounded/injured.  The victims at this point range as young as 5 years old.  And particularly heartbreaking for me – the pastor’s daughter, Annabelle, only 14 years old, was among those murdered. In fact, this particular detail is the one that kicked me in the stomach the hardest – bringing this story FAR too close to home…

At the same time – while I grieve for Pastor Frank Pomeroy and his wife as they have to struggle to come to grips with the loss of their youngest daughter – maybe this extremely ugly, evil, and sad event serves as a bit of an illustration. You see – this morning, preached a message from Luke 9:57-62 titled “No Excuse Faith” (should be posted on the church Facebook page in the next 24 hours or so). The basic message in a nutshell – Jesus wants followers who have a a No Excuse Faith – who step up and follow Him TODAY- because we really don’t know what tomorrow may hold – or even if we will HAVE a tomorrow.  It shadows Paul’s statement to the Corinthians that “TODAY is the day of salvation!”

How many who were gathered together for worship with FBC Sutherland Springs had a clue that today would be their last? How many put off decisions the Lord had been leading them towards? How many went to their grave having shrugged off the conviction of the Spirit?  How many had a conflict with a brother or sister in Christ – that they carried to the grave because they thought they would deal with reconciliation “tomorrow”?

How many of the young victims among them didn’t hear their mom or day tell them they loved them this morning? How many forgot to tell their spouses how much they loved them? Who among them possibly put off turning to Jesus until a “tomorrow” that, for them, won’t come?

The reality is – today is the day to take a step of faith to follow Christ with everything you have in you – to trust in Him, because you may never find  another opportunity.

The same goes for our loved ones – have you hugged your wife/husband’s neck and simply told them “I love you”? Do you sometimes skip telling your kids the same? Take the opportunity you have right now to tell those you love just how much you do!

Stop making excuses – make the most of today, because we are not guaranteed a tomorrow. It’s a shame we sometimes have to be reminded by such shocking events.

Make a difference today!

Who Is Jesus (Deity of Christ) Part 2 Who Is I Am?

Originally published by the author on his old blog.

Part 2: Who is “I AM?”

This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. John 5:18

I often hear said that “Jesus never claimed to be God”. While in a very limited and literal sense, Jesus didn’t use that exact phrase to describe Himself, between the above actions that the Jews were complaining of were understood in their time and context as laying claims to being “equal” with God – Yet there is non other. There is none like God.

“I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he* you will die in your sins.” John 8:24

(*of note – in the original language, there is no personal pronoun “he” there. Rendering literally “believe that I am”.)

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” John 8:58

Compare this direct statement by Jesus to Exodus 3:14

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’.”

Or in John 10:30-33, when Jesus said “I and the Father are one”, The Jews picked up stones again to stone him.
Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?”
The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.”
 
To lay any claim to being God or equal TO God would be a brazen sin – Yet Jesus is commended for the claim.
Jesus identified Himself with the name/title of “I Am”, which is one of the most powerful names God revealed of Himself.

Filled With Joy

As I sit here on our couch, after spending nearly all day at First Baptist Church Cave Springs, I sit in wonder, awe, and with tears…

Today has been a blessed day for the memory book in so many ways.

From our services this morning, with the LORD filling my head in an amazing way, to the incredible hands and hearts of love by “my” church family…

To the Spirit-filled Worship…

Even to the meeting with our deacons and elders to plan out next week’s ordination service for our newest deacon candidate…

To this evening’s SINGSPIRATION! 5th Sunday singing and spoken word worship…

To the brotherly love-filled fellowship time afterward.

Oh, and I didn’t even mention the silent auction bake sale quickly organized this week to help with my mission trip expenses for next April with the Arkansas Master’Singers to Ukraine.

I am just humbled, overwhelmed, and filled with joy. Seeing church members step up in service to God through serving their brothers and sisters and other.  There is just so much to fill this “Lonely Pastor’s” heart.  All I can do is praise God for leading us here!

To serve God in a church that has a sincere desire to hear the Word of God, who gives me the freedom to speak the truth, to proclaim what is right, to call sin what it is – sin, and to not feel pressure to skip the uncomfortable parts of the Word, is a set of blessings that many pastors don’t have.

I firmly believe, the Lord has great things in store for FBC Cave Springs. He is moving among us, in us, and with us for His Kingdom! Praise be to God!

Oh – and I didn’t even mention that after all the blessings this day already poured out, I got a call from my mom to let me know she believes she has finally found a church she feels called to be an active part of –  a church where she can serve and be in a real church family!

Yes – my heart is filled with Joy! It might even be hard going to sleep tonight!

Who Is Jesus (The Deity of Christ) Part 1

Originally published on the author’s old blog.
Among the great theological debates that rage regarding Jesus and who He is, the greatest is whether or not Jesus IS God. There are some who would profess Jesus to be something less than fully God. They claim faith, yet in “who” are they believing? This short piece is designed simply to answer this incredible question – “Is Jesus God?” Further, to briefly answer the question of “why is this so important?”
 
Simply put, only the pure, holy, and completely uncorrupted by sin blood could possibly atone for sin. The blood of countless animals and birds never paid the sin debt for Israel. Only the pure, spotless Lamb could pay that sin debt.
And who but God is totally pure and righteous?
 
To that end, I am going to post a series of entries that deal with Scripture passages that, when taken all together, present a beautiful picture of the real Jesus, who is fully God.
Some say that Jesus never claimed to be God. Others rely on creative translation of selected verses to shore up their claim that Jesus is not God (or Yahweh/Jehovah). Yet a simple review of the Bible reveals a pattern that cannot be dismissed, a pattern that clearly makes the case for Jesus Christ as God.
 
Over the next few days, I plan to post a series of passages and a bit of comment on each in an effort to stitch together the greater picture of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who IS the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is worthy of all praise and worship. My challenge to the reader – read them, ponder on them, and pray about it, particularly as you accumulate these passages, who is Jesus?
 
We begin with one of the most clear, yet still controversial passages pointing to the deity of Jesus Christ.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1

Now, some like to move the comma, or add the word “a” based on the lack of a “definite article”, yet the original language gives NO convincing reason to do either. In fact, there are several examples elsewhere that do not create controversy where there is a lack of a definite article. Yet the preponderance of Christian history and understanding agrees that the reference to “the Word” is a reference to Jesus as having the same quality as God the Father.

All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. John 1:3

What we see here, is that the reference back to “The Word” here is clearly identifying Jesus as the Creator of all, which in the Old Testament is 100% identified as God/Jehovah.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:3

And to further reinforce this idea, let us thing a bit about one of the most powerful names God used in the Old Testament to reveal Himself – “I Am”. This will be the subject of Episode 2 in this series.