Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Unstoppable: A Review

Why do bad things happen to good people?  Kirk Cameron's new movie, Unstoppable, answers this age old question both Biblically and beautifully. 

The movie is Biblical, using the scope of redemptive history as an explanation of how God is in the business of redeeming the world from the curse.  In that process, He has reversed the curse of death at the cross and paraded it in the resurrection.  This process is "unstoppable".  What Adam failed to do in the Garden of Eden (crush the head of the serpent that came to deceive Eve in his role as care taker of the Garden) Jesus did at the cross (Genesis 3:15) when He crushed satan's head on behalf of His Bride.  

What this means for people passing through tragedy and suffering is significant.  It means that when we bury a loved one who is in Christ it is not the end.  For them, it is the beginning. 

This is an old story.  In fact, it's 2,000 years old.  You might have heard of it.  It's the Gospel. 

What makes this film unique is the beauty in which this story is told.  The movie is visually striking.  So striking, that I will venture to say it is the most beautiful movie that I have ever seen out of a Christian production company.  There are moments in the movie that take your breath away--the depictions of Adam and Eve in the garden, the depiction of Cain killing Abel, and some of the b-roll footage.  Simply put, it's art.  This movie has raised the bar for documentary type films and not just for Christian documentaries.  Hollywood may not recognize it but if Christian producers can consistently make documentaries as visually pleasing as this one, Hollywood's opinion will be irrelevant.  In fact, Hollywood itself will be irrelevant. 

The inspiration for the movie is the death of a teenager who Cameron met through his Camp Firefly ministry.  His sincere depiction of the illness and death of this young man as well as the reaction of the family to his death (including footage from the funeral) is a powerful testimony to the truth that Cameron lays out in the film.  It is part of what makes the film beautiful; a glimpse into the life of a family who has faced tragedy head-on and triumphed because of Jesus Christ and His Gospel. 

My wife, Kim, wept through much of the movie.  We are coming up on the one year anniversary of the death of my mother-in-law.  She succumbed to melanoma cancer on October 9, 2012.  As a family we are all dealing with the inevitable sadness which comes when you face such an anniversary.  Additionally, we have been passing through a difficult season this past month as we have received news of the moral failures of a couple of friends in ministry. 

Unstoppable has been a great reminder about the triumph of the gospel.  In spite of our personal loss and personal pain--and perhaps because of it--the Lord is redeeming this world unto Himself. 

Go see Unstoppable.  A second showing is scheduled for October 3rd. 


Monday, July 1, 2013

Copperhead: The Movie

Last night my wife and I went out to a small theater in Manlius, NY to watch the latest Ron Maxwell film (Gettysburg, Gods and Generals) on the Civil War.  When we got there we were surprised to learn that the screen writer for the movie (Bill Kauffman) was there and going to do a Q&A afterwards.  This isn't Hollywood, this is central New York State.  What in the world was he doing in Manlius? 

Local Interest

It turns out that Copperhead is set in 1860's Oneida County, NY.  It turns out that the book, The Copperhead, was written by Harold Frederic (author of The Damnation of Thereon Ware) who was a resident of Utica, NY.  And it turns out that the screen writer, author Bill Kauffman, is from Batavia, NY and currently lives in Elba, NY.  (In fact, when I told him that my hometown is Oakfield, NY (four miles west of Elba) he asked me my last name.  When I told him, "Speed", he said that he used the name of a distant cousin of mine who was quite elderly when I was young, Anson, in the script to give it some local flavor.  The Speeds settled in the Oakfield\Elba area in 1850.)

So, this movie has more than the usual historical interest for me.

I had always hoped that the next Ron Maxwell film I would see would be the film version of The Last Full Measure, the conclusion to the Civil War trilogy by Michael and Jeffrey Shaara.  Rumor has it that we'll never see that since Ted Turner, the financier of those projects, was less than impressed by Maxwell's honest depiction of Stonewall Jackson in Gods and Generals.  After all, he is depicted as a somewhat eccentric but a very much Christian man.  Since the movie bombed at the box office, he was probably even less impressed.  Nevertheless, movies that are actually good artistically regularly bomb at the box office.  You cannot trust American movie-going sensibility to define art.  Since making epic films requires epic money, we will probably have to be content to read the book. 

Not the Status Quo Civil War Flick


 This movie is different than any Civil War movie you have ever seen.  The reviews that are out right now, just a couple of days since the release, are critical because the movie starts slow.  This was intentional on the part of the producer.  You are about to watch a movie set in Oneida County, NY in 1862.  The pace of life in general is slower than 21st century America.  One of the great things about independent films is that they are not bound by Hollywood restrictions on art.  Copperhead is a beautiful film and the pace is part of what makes this art and not a mere blockbuster. 

What you see in Copperhead is the effect of the War on a northern community which is divided over the Constitutionality of the Civil War.  Abolitionism was strong in this part of the state.  It's not depicted in the movie, but Auburn, NY would become the home of Harriet Tubman.  Frederic Douglass was based in Rochester, NY, as was Susan B. Anthony.  Gerrit Smith, one of the financial supporters of John Brown's (of North Elba, NY) Harper's Ferry raid was from Peterboro.  Obviously northern support was strong in this northern region, but there were Democratic (as in the party, not the ideology) dissenters named Copperheads.  They were so-called because they were considered dangerous, like the snake.  They embraced that label and began wearing the Liberty symbol clipped from copper pennies on their lapels.  They did not necessarily support slavery, but they opposed Lincoln's unconstitutional measures during the Civil War (recruiting young boys to fight, the draft, unilaterally declaring the slaves free without support from Congress). 

For anyone who has grown up in this part of New York State, this movie is a bit of a shock to the system.  We were taught that Abraham Lincoln was a hero.  We believed that the abolitionists were always level headed and right thinking activists.  Our known Underground Railroad sites are the pride of historical societies in every upstate county.  I took pride in the fact that a man named Joshua Speed (no direct relation that I can trace) was Abraham Lincoln's best friend.  Copperhead shows that the ugly side of human nature can manifest itself even in righteous causes.  These causes can lead believers to forget one of the most basic teachings of Jesus.  The theme is repeated by a couple of the characters: "Whatever happened to 'love thy neighbor'?"

I hate reviews that give away plot details so I am going to refrain from doing that here.  I do want to make some comments on an issue that is parallel to 19th century American slavery.  I've been giving this some thought lately. 

Parallels

I am co-producing a film with Crown Rights Media called Babies Are Murdered Here.  The film is a documentary on one of the great evils of our day: abortion.  Over the last couple of years there have been many in the pro-life movement who have seen the parallels between abortion and American slavery and have found inspiration in the abolitionists.  I, and many others, are unequivocal in our goal: we want to see abortion end.  We make no apologies for that and work tirelessly toward that end by producing media that will accomplish that goal.  Why?  Like the abolitionists of the 19th century, we believe that it is immoral to rob the defenseless of life.  We believe the Bible has clearly spoken about the value of human life in the womb and that to take it is premeditated murder, "with malice aforethought."  We believe that abortion should be criminalized. 

Not a popular message, to be sure.  My family and I have been threatened, cussed out, and otherwise harassed.  A popular leader IN the pro-life movement threatened to call the FBI on myself and Crown Rights Media.  Churches have opposed us.  What many do not realize is that even in the pro-life world, few are willing to take an unequivocal stand.  Most are incrementalists who believe, as many did in the case of 19th century slavery, that abortion ought to be gradually phased out using legislation that limits abortion but not ends it.  We do not believe that murder should be phased out any more than anyone believed that the Nazi Holocaust should have been gradually phased out. 

As you might imagine, we're kept on the fringe of the pro-life movement and that is as we would have it.  We don't identify as pro-life.  We identify as anti-abortion. 

But here's the problem.  What does it say about my Christianity if I am so passionate about ending abortion that I am willing to forget the second greatest commandment to love my neighbor as myself?  Now we will quickly point out that we ARE loving our neighbor enough to call them to stop murdering their babies.  And that is true. 

But what about:

  • the pro-lifers who I don't agree with?
  • the churches and other believers who have actively opposed what we do?
  • the abortionists and their staff?
  • the men and women who are brazen in their pursuit of abortion?
Do I love them?  Do they know it?  If I do love them they will know it. 

In Copperhead, you see activism on both sides run amok.  You see activism's potential to destroy families, communities and churches. 

I will continue to stand in front of abortion clinics with signs that warn, Babies Are Murdered Here.  I will continue to preach the gospel to abortionists and the mothers and fathers who are paying them to murder their own sons and daughters.  I will continue to call the pro-life world to repentance over its pragmatism.  But if I cannot do it with genuine care for those who oppose me, I should stop. 

The Bible still says, "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing." (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). 

To take it a step further, am I willing to forgive those who oppose me?  Jesus said, "but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:15).  Am I willing to forgive the abortionists who have swerved their cars at me and my children?  Am I willing to forgive the pro-life leader who threatened to call the FBI?  Am I willing to forgive the pastor who told me that I cannot use his church's parking lot to park my car as I stand in front of the abortion clinic across the street from his church?  By God's grace, and only by God's grace, I am. 

That may chafe a little bit with some of my friends.  Remember this.  While Jesus was being nailed to the cross, He repeated over and over again, "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23:34).  While they were nailing Him to the cross!   Those Roman soldiers were not repentant at that moment.  Jesus' attitude was still forgiveness even though He did not grant it without their repentance.  


Copperhead ought to be a sober reminder to all of us who wish to abolish abortion that the commands of Scripture are full orbed and not limited to our cause celebre. It is a reminder that while we ought to be very passionate about abolitionism we cannot let it consume us to the degree that we allow it to override our love for our own families, our love for our neighbors and even our love for our enemies. This is a MUST watch.

Whether this movie IS a sober reminder or not will depend on whether or not you will seek it out or just keep paying for super heroes and teenage vampires. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Culture Shifts and a Wake Up Call

Christian: if you find yourself surprised by the culture shift that has made Biblical Christianity passe and bordering on illegal, I have two words of exhortation for you. You might want to jot this down. Are you ready? Here they are....

WAKE UP!!!

What have you been doing for the last twenty years? No one flipped a switch or pushed a button to get this culture to go into immorality and relativism overdrive. We've been too busy with building programs. Church softball leagues. Gathering men together to get in touch with their inner child\man\woman\extra terrestrial. Gathering women together to get inner healing. Gathering children and teenagers together for pizza and a movie. Trying to prove the Bible. Ecumenical worship services with heretics and apostates. And on and on, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Man up. Pastors, it may not be too late. A dark age may yet be avoided. Teach your people to study the Bible, yes. And then teach them to not only live it in their home, family, job, etc., but in the public forum. Show them how to engage the postmodern thinking of our day with truth. Get a spine. Get up out of the study for an hour or two each week and go to your local college campus. Talk to students about the gospel. Go to the abortion clinic. Tell people not to murder their baby. Offer them help. Go to a gay pride parade and talk to the people there. Give them the gospel. Bathe the whole thing in prayer. Pray. Call your church together to pray. Start up that archaic Wednesday night prayer meeting again. Read. Read the Bible on your knees. Read Ravenhill. Tozer. Lloyd-Jones on revival. Iain Murray on revival. Jonathan Edwards. Whitefield. The Puritans. Bonhoeffer.

Repent. Stop waiting for a rapture because "look how bad everything is" and start preaching and living as if Jesus is the King He says He is.

Do it, not to save our culture, but because it's what we should have been doing all along.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Is Rocky Your Convert, Pastor?



Is Rocky your convert, pastor?

Consider this:

1. Rocky believes that she is a sinner.

2. Rocky believes that Jesus died for her.

3. Rocky believes that Jesus is God.

4. Rocky was baptized.

Conclusion: Rocky would be considered saved and could be a member at most evangelical churches.

Also consider:

1. Rocky drops the f-bomb several times every 60 seconds, among other things.

2. Rocky is a homosexual.

3. Rocky is either drunk or high or both.

4. Rocky has had an abortion and is proud of it.

Question: When someone gets saved, does it make any difference in their lives at all? Or is this what the true gospel produces? My Bible says that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. My Bible still says that if any man is in Christ he is a new creature. Why have I caught flack from evangelicals on this? Because it exposes the results of their easy believism. I could crank converts out like this all day long but since I have to answer to God, I won't.

P.S. We have an interview that we have not aired yet with Rocky that we did about 20 minutes later where she listened to the gospel, took a gospel tract with my email on it, and actually listened. So before anyone passes judgment on me or any other street preacher for being too harsh, you might want to get the whole story. More importantly, you might want to evaluate your own theology which created Rocky and countless millions like her.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

You Don't Have to be Nice to Be Effective, part 1

The Doctrine of Niceology

The evangelical Christian culture has believed for the last few decades that in order to be effective you have to be nice.  The basis for a whole genre of Christian publishing on friendship evangelism (in the eighties and nineties) which has been replaced with another genre on "missional living" (popular in the so-called Young, Restless and Reformed movement and anyone who does church planting) reinforces the doctrine of Niceology.  The seeker sensitive church movement has taken this doctrine and made it an essential of the faith. 

This is why almost every seeker sensitive church (and many that are not) trains people to be nice to you when you visit so you will come back.  It's called "the welcome center."  You will invariably walk away from it thinking, "Wow, those people were nice.  They gave me coffee, showed me where to dump off my kids so I don't have to look at them during the service, and they are well groomed.  This guy (or gal) is my new best friend!  I wonder if they are married?"  Just don't ask yourself the obvious question: why don't I ever see that nice person ever again unless I see them at the welcome center?   Don't forget the follow-up question, "Why didn't anyone else in this church say hello to me?" 

Niceology says that nice equates with "love."  The Bible says that love is part and parcel with sacrifice.  It also commands us to speak the truth with love.  It's pretty easy to make the case that if you are not speaking the truth you do not love. 

And there is the rub.  In our culture that views the slaughter of the unborn as a form of birth control, views homosexual marriage as just another option for couples, and is becoming more and more post-modern (and therefore more and more atheistic) if you speak the truth you will violate the fundamental tenet of Niceology: "Whatever you do, don't say something that could offend someone." 

The second tenet is like it: "Do not act as if you know the truth and someone else does not."  On these two laws hang all of the doctrine of Niceology.  We will refer to these two tenets as the "fallacy of nice."  It is a logical fallacy which states, "If you want to bring someone to Jesus you have to be nice."

Nice and Culture Do Not Mix

In our culture you will have to say things that are considered "not nice" in order to communicate truth that can either save someone from Hell or confront them in their sin or bad thinking.  This may involve the unpleasant term "sacrifice": as in you may have to sacrifice your reputation as a nice guy.  Or you may have to sacrifice a friendship.  Ironically, that may be the most loving thing you could do.  Jesus made Himself of no reputation in order to sacrifice Himself for our sins.  No one would accuse Jesus of being unloving, but He said some pretty direct things to those who opposed the truth as well as those who He brought to salvation. 

Was Jesus "nice" when He told the woman at the well that she had had five husbands and that the man she was currently living with was not her husband? 

Was Jesus "nice" when He called the Pharisees whitewashed tombs full of dead men's bones? 

Was Jesus "nice" when He drove the money changers out of the temple? 

How "nice" was it of Jesus to tell the rich young ruler that he needed to sell everything he had and give it to the poor to enter the Kingdom?  All the poor guy wanted was to follow Jesus!  As Kirk Cameron said in an old episode of Way of the Master, maybe Jesus would have benefited from a class in friendship evangelism!

The Fallacy of Nice in Action

I have seen the fallacy of nice play out on my Facebook wall.  Here's what you need to know about my FB profile:  I don't use my FB profile to post pictures of kittens, fortune cookie quotes, what I am having for dinner or comments on my favorite reality TV show (for the record I don't have one).   I have more than 2700 friends, many of whom are people who bought my book on evangelism or are into street evangelism, a few family members, and some unbelievers I have either known personally or who I have met on FB.  I use FB to address cultural and doctrinal issues with the truth. 

So here's how it works: some friend of mine who is a Christian sees something controversial that I have posted as a status update (BTW, this has happened more than once so if you think I am talking about you I suppose I might be, but it's happened enough times now that I might not be).  I get a private message from the Christian friend who: 1) is concerned that I am going to drive unbelievers away with such outrageous behavior, 2) thinks what I am doing is unBiblical, and 3) suggests a teaching or their own opinion on what an effective Christian does in evangelism. 

The essence of what they are saying is this: I know a better way than you do and for proof, here is an experience that I have had which proves you wrong, a verse or two taken out of context to prove you wrong, and\or a book from another evangelism expert that proves you wrong.  Apparently my experiences, Scriptures in context and my own book mean nothing.  The whole thing is tied up with a bow when they make (my personal favorite) the Westboro Baptist fallacy, comparing what I do to the Westboro Baptists who protest at military funerals and host websites and carry banners that say that God hates fags. 

Are They Right?

Of course not.  I have never received a private message like this from the unbelievers on my FB profile.  Bear in mind that I have had post-abortive women, gay rights activists, Mormons, atheists, Muslims, liberals and so on on my wall for years.  This explains why some of the threads run to more than 100 comments.  Many of these I know from face to face interaction (much like the Christians who criticize plain speaking).  Do you know what they say in private conversation? 

"I don't agree with what you say, but I respect your bravery." 

"Hey, I just moved across country and the people who were supposed to help me and my parents unload the truck aren't here.  Can you find someone to help us?" 
This one came the same day I was catching flack from a believer from the town that this person had moved away from on a different issue.  We had contacted them to get this person help with food assistance but they never did it.  And I am the one who is not loving enough?   By the way, we found a group of believers who unloaded the truck in a couple of hours and left this family with the gospel. 

"If you Christians are so loving and all that, why don't you help me with some food?"  This came from a homosexual rights activist who we met at a gay pride event.  We raised $800 in a few days and bought her a couple of months worth of groceries.  It gave us the opportunity to buy her dinner, share the gospel with her for a couple of hours, and then continue an ongoing relationship that has lasted a few years where we've been able to share the gospel with her again. 

"I know you are a man of God.  Would you pray for my wife?  She has a rare cancer and is not expected to live.  Maybe God will hear your prayers."  Not much to comment on here since just typing this makes me tear up.  I cannot imagine.  Pray for Scott and Marilyn. 

"Would you read this paper I just wrote?  I would like your feedback."  I have had this a few times and haven't always been able to do it.  These requests have come from Mormons and atheists.

Many of these folks, and others, will private message me with specific questions about the gospel and cultural issues.


Perhaps the most recent example comes from an incident that happened just two weeks ago.  I was preaching on Hollywood Boulevard after we did some "man on the street" video interviews for our upcoming documentary on abortion called Babies Are Murdered Here.  We ran into one of the stars from the reality TV show, Bad Girls Club.  Rocky Santiago began heckling me as I preached the gospel and we dove into the issues of sin, hell, homosexuality and abortion.  A couple of videos circulated of our confrontation and I began to be labelled as a hateful preacher in a few places. 

What they did not see was the interview she granted us about ten or fifteen minutes later.  In that interview she began sharing about her rough upbringing and her desire to change her life.  I gently shared the gospel with her, she listened and even took a gospel tract with my email address on it.  We've not released this interview yet because we have plans for it on the documentary, but it proves the point.  Rocky respected me, probably because I was willing to take her abuse for a few minutes over the issues of the gospel.  And probably because she's not used to a man who will listen to her and tell her the truth rather than abuse her.

The Lies of Experts

Here's the deal: Christians have been lied to by the experts.  They have us believing falsely that confrontation and effectiveness are diametrically opposed to each other.  They say it cannot work.  What I have discovered is the exact opposite.  When you speak the truth in love--backing up the hard hitting truth with acts of love--people in our culture appreciate it because they cannot find too many Christians who will shoot straight with them.  They know we believe in sin, in Hell, in a God of wrath as well as a God of love.  They have seen too many Christians dance around the issues for fear of offending.  Do you know how they interpret that jitterbug around the truth?  They do not see you as loving.  They might think of you as nice.  But they will see you as nice in an insincere way.  They're not really sure that you believe what you claim to believe because in some cases they know what you believe better than you do.


In the meantime, I expect that as long as I keep posting things about our ministry at abortion clinics, the issue of homosexual marriage, calling out false teachers for their false teaching, and calling out the heresy of Roman Catholicism, I will be attacked by the Christians as being irrelevant.  From now on, I am going to ignore it.  I know what I do, what the Scriptures say and how this works. 

In part two, I will provide the Scriptural evidence for this approach.