Friday, October 23, 2015

Finally a movie Christians can be proud of

I think we all understand the power of the media and entertainment industry has to shape culture.  
So it is not surprising to see more and more movies coming out today with a strong Christian message. We have finally come to realize the potential and started putting money into projects and movies but many faith-based movies are still made on limited budgets and are not accepted by the mainstream critics or attended by much of anyone but believers. Most of those that I've seen, the message was just too in your face or the production way below the multi million dollar standards of the major movies today. Many seem to do the cause of Christ more harm than good.

That is why I was blown away by one movie that is now showing.  Woodlawn is definitely the exception, by far the best movie I've ever seen in a long time.  It is a well produced "Christian" movie without any compromise on the quality or message.  And guess what? The critics actually like it! Over 90% of critics and 91% of audience give it a thumbs up on Rotten Tomatoes.  When has a movie with a strong Chritian message gotten high marks from the mass critics?  

There are several reasons why this movie may be a model for future Gospel centered films.
  • Woodlawn is very well done, a quality production, well acted with well known actors including Jon Voight as Bear Bryant and Sean Astin (Lord of The Rings).  The money was spent to produce a movie that would rival top box office films knowing that if they could produce a movie that was in the top 25 of the year, it would be seen all over the world and thereby its message would be communicated to hundreds of thousands of people.
  • Its message is one that is very relevant to today (Overcoming racial violence and hatred).  Woodlawn sheds light on the turmoil during the integration of an all white high school in Birmingham, Alabama in 1973. It tells the story of how a football team and a chaplain helped unite a team, school and city.  We see history through the eyes of Tony Nathan, a young black student struggling to overcome racism to prove himself on the school's football team. (Tony goes on to become a successful running back for the Miami Dolphins.)
  • The drama is compelling and the story is uplifting.  Woodlawn will move you, inform, entertain, but most of all inspire you, because it is a story of how a team, school and city united to overcome racism and bigotry in the south.   
  • Although Gospel centric, it avoids taking any particular political side.  It tells the story and lets the events speak for themselves, trying to portray historical figures accurately. Therefore it does not alienate half of its potential audience. 
  • The story is true.  The movie is directed by Jon and Andrew Erwin. Their father Hank Erwin was the team chaplain portrayed by Sean Astin in the movie.  The characters are real and the story is factual and often times in God's kingdom, truth is more amazing than fiction. That is the case with Woodlawn. 
Take your family and friends (older children), go see it with your Life group, and take an unbeliever. It's message is one that we all need to hear, one that can transform our hearts and heal our nation!  

Watch the trailer here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Real God-sized Vision Coming To Fruition

I've met and read about many Christians who have accomplished amazing things like starting a church, opening an orphanage, bringing the Gospel to and transforming a neighborhood, many in the most difficult of places, wonderful deeds that could have been accomplished only with God's power. But this vision, to bring a source of clean water to every man, woman and child in an African country, along with the Gospel, within a few years, now that is a real God-sized vision! And not just any country, but to one of the most corrupt and impoverished countries in the world at that, by an outsider with little or no connection to the country, any government agency or large source of funding. Sound crazy?

But guess what, this wild, implausible God-sized idea is on the verge of being fulfilled! What most people thought a pipe dream, a crazy idea of a idealistic Christian, is close to halfway to becoming a reality and should be realized by 2020.

Liberia, a country on the west coast of Africa, established by Americans in the early 1800's, is the country.  Todd Phillips, a Texas pastor, is the man with the vision of bringing "living water" by the year 2020 to this African country plagued by water borne diseases because of internal wars, poverty and corruption.
I attended the premier of a movie entitled Thirst: Mission Liberia, Sunday night in Austin that documents Todd's vision and the incredible story of how this is being accomplished through Todd's non-profit organization, The Last Well. I'm especially excited about the project because of my connection to Todd, which goes back to 1994 just after he committed his life to Christ and moved from Colorado to Austin. I was the Minister to Single Adults at Hyde Park Baptist at the time, and had the privilege to mentor and disciple him during the first years of his Christian life.
A couple of years after Todd moved to Austin I was working with other Christian leaders in the area to get a singles city wide weeknight gathering started in Austin. We needed a speaker but could not settle on anyone. I saw something in Todd, a passion for Christ, charisma and a drive. He was a young Christian so there was a hesitancy to hand him the leadership. But he had started a Bible study at Dell and had grown it to over 40 people, so I thought we'd give it a go with Todd as our speaker. We began on a Thursday night with 12 people and within a couple of years with Todd's leadership and speaking, grew to over 700 single adults meeting every Tuesday night. 

Phillips went on to pastor a young adult church for several years in the Washington D.C. suburbs where his God-sized vision of bringing water to a whole nation was birthed. He explained that these young adults were inspired by the movie Amazing Grace and wanted to achieve a "William Wilberforce accomplishment" - something akin to ending the slave trade in England.  So with prayer and inspiration they came up with the idea of providing clean water and the Gospel to an entire nation, one that is on the list of the most needy countries in the world.
I was truly inspired by Thirst: Mission Liberia following the trials, obstacles and setbacks that Todd and his organization have had to overcome and the incredible victories. Through it all, you can see the hand of God every step of the way as they have already provided clean water wells (over 1,000 to date)  and the Gospel to almost half of Liberia and are well on their way to bringing "living water" to the entire country by his goal of 2020.

Besides being amazed at the scope of the task, these are some of the takeaways I received from the film: 
  • I often settle for good when God can accomplish much greater things through me. Ephesians 2:10
  • You can not accomplish great things without God and without others. You must make connections and develop relationships. 
  • God uses the most heartbreaking and discouraging events to help us accomplish His tasks. When you get discouraged, take heart that the trial you face may actually be the path to victory. 
  • Don't get distracted from God's calling. There are a lot of needs in the world and Africa, but Todd has stayed firm to accomplishing the two things he feels called to do in a specific place, knowing many other good things will follow if these are accomplished.
  • You never know the impact you will have on those whom you mentor and disciple. The one you lead to Christ might be the next Billy Graham. 
Watch the trailer here. Thirst: Mission Liberia 


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