Saturday, February 27, 2016

Faith Films

Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: Feb 27th, 2016

The Oscars will be held this weekend. With glittering stars and dazzling movies, it is that one time each year that awards be given to film directors, notable actors and actresses, special effects, and all kinds of recognition of great movie work. Even faith films are in town.

If you check out Faith Films, you would see some movies due to be launched this year in Canada. The movie "Risen" has already been launched. As the title has suggested, it is about the eyewitnesses take on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Dramatized from the eyes of a non-believer, a member of the powerful Roman military establishment, the story revolves around the tensions after Jesus was crucified.

Another film that will be coming out on March 11th is a film called, "Miracles from Heaven." The story is about an incredible series of miracles that started with the discovery of an incurable disease in a 10-year-old girl named Anna. It sparks off a mad search for a cure, a doomed diagnosis, an accident, and a turn to faith. In real life, the making of the movie has impacted the lead actress, Jennifer Garner, so much that she has now made a point to take her own real life daughters to Church regularly. This is a dramatized version of a young girl who in 2011 was amazingly healed after a near death experience.  It is a powerful movie about family, based on a book written by Anna's mother, Christy Beam. Poised to be a hit with family and Christians, this movie is a tear-jerker that forces viewers to come face to faith with the supernatural, faith, and how it impacts our day to day living. I am looking forward to this film release.

This week, I watched a preview of "Young Messiah," a movie that focuses on the life of young 7-year-old Jesus and his intimate relationship with his parents. Based on a novel written by Anne Rice, the storyline revolves around the dangerous journey taken by Joseph and Mary during the tumultuous time of King Herod, the Jewish rebellion, and the dangers faced by Jews in the midst of harsh Roman rule. Filmed on location, the film is set in beautiful scenery. Since the Bible has very little description on the life of young Jesus, there is a lot of imagination and dependence on Rice's "Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt" to fill in the gaps.

What about consumers? What can we make of faith films? Are they real enough to be believed? Are they too fiction for comfort? Are they simply another Hollywood movie under the guise of a Christian label? Let me offer three thoughts this week about faith films.

First, every movie is a director's perspective. Like many of the movies, they are all dramatized versions and fictional retelling of a basic historical aspect of Jesus' life and the Christian faith. There is no need to go on a witch-hunt to determine how true is one film over the other, and how accurate it is in depicting the truth of the Bible. The key thing is that all the films are interpretations of a part of the Bible story from the lens of the movie makers. They are all made with the modern viewers in mind. The flurry of faith films that is coming out of Hollywood tells us that more and more directors are aware of the huge market in religion and spirituality. The spending power of Christians in churches around the world cannot be underestimated. Any business with a megachurch in town will surely do well to target this segment of spenders. The movie, "Heaven is For Real" may have been based on the story of the boy, Colton, but the story was told from the perspective of the father, Todd Burpo. Like any retelling, there is always a personal perspective infused into the storyline. While we may not be able to distinguish exactly what parts of the movie are on whose perspective, it is good to keep at the back of our heads that this is just one particular perspective.

Second, criticism of movies and the storylines is legitimate but do not let criticisms overwhelm the intent of the movie makers. The movie website "Rotten Tomatoes" is a popular place where people dish out their two cents worth of reviews about each movie released into the marketplace. Like real life situations where people throw tomatoes at horrible performances on stage, reviewers often throw all kinds of criticisms on movies that fail to meet certain expectations. Sometimes, the measurements can be quite ambiguous. Is the number of tomatoes thrown equal to the quality of the movie? Not really. Sometimes, a controversial movie may trigger a barrage of emotions that do not necessarily reflect on the true performance of a movie.

Third, enjoy the story. Whether it is a feel-good movie like "Miracles From Heaven" or a shocking rendition like the gory scenes of "The Passion of the Christ," going to the movies is essentially about the experience. Appreciate the movie for what it is, but let the questions drive us on our own personal research or discovery of the truth. Just like what I call a good Bible Study session. A good Bible study for me is not about the number of answers that one can derive after the study but the lingering questions that keep one's curiosity going. Getting one answer may be good after one session. However, leaving with questions can lead us onto more than one answers that enrich our learning experience.

As an avid movie-goer, I appreciate faith films although many of them still do not match the standards of a modern Hollywood offering. Fortunately, things are changing. More movies are now been made, thanks in part to successful launches by initiatives by Sherwood Pictures (Fireproof, Courageous, War Room). In fact, while I support faith films, I think it is more important to go to the movies with a Christian worldview to interpret the film and not become vulnerable to the shaping tendencies of movies. Like a measuring tape that has absolute boundaries in metric or imperial units, our worldview enables us to discern what is good and what is not. Personally, I find movies with vulgar language and excessive violence very off-putting. Generally, I would switch off and avoid such movies. This is one reason why I find faith films more acceptable. I understand modern movies try to be as "realistic" as possible about contemporary culture. Yet, I feel that we should not be "educated" by vulgarity or violent behaviours. We should stand up for what is right, what is beautiful, and what is holy. The perspective we bring into films is equally important.

Be aware. Be critical where needed. At all times, learn to enjoy the movie and not be stuck on criticisms. After all, going to the movies is more about an experience, not a school research project.

THOUGHT: "What's hard for Christian films is we're presenting to them [people], 'here's what a Godly, good, happy, loving marriage can look like, or here's what forgiveness looks like, or here's how God does answer prayer.' So to the world that may feel inauthentic to them because they've never experienced that before. They may say 'well that's cheesy' but we say 'No! That's real life, we're introducing you to something you've never experienced in your own personal life.'"(Alex Kendrick)


Copyright by SabbathWalk. This devotional is sent to you free of charge. If you feel blessed or ministered to by SabbathWalk weekly devotionals, feel free to forward to friends, or to invite them to subscribe online at . You can also send me an email at for comments or inquiries. Note that views expressed are personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any person(s) or organization(s).

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Miracles or Strength?

SCRIPTURE: Hosea 11:1
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: February 15th, 2016.

"When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son." (Hosea 11:1)
What do you do when a loved one gets very ill? What happens when we are helpless and totally dependent on others for a good outcome? What goes through our minds when we seek comfort and assurance in the midst of a difficult time? For Christians, one of the things is prayer.
  • "I'll pray for you."
  • "Keeping you in prayer."
  • "Keep seeking God!"
  • "Get well soon. Praying for the doctors to be attentive to details."
  • "I'm praying for a miracle."
The last one is particularly poignant. Suppose I summon up all my knowledge and my determination, filled with all passion and emotion, and I boldly claim the promise of God for healing. In such a disposition, there is no room for doubt; no room for discouragement; and no room for debilitating thoughts. Surely God is Almighty Physician and Healer. He can choose to heal. If He can make the blind to see; the lame to walk; and the dead to life, surely He can do anything He wills. Some Christians, intent on seeing miracles would venture far to engage spiritualists and miracle healers, like the efforts of the woman with a tissue of blood trying to touch the tip of God's cloak and obtain healing in the process. 

In her book, "A Place for Healing," Joni Eareckson Tada shared about an encounter with a visitor named David on a Sunday morning at a church parking lot. Seeing her, David said that he had been praying for Joni, a quadriplegic who had been on wheelchair for over 40 years.  For all his zeal, he was trying to point out Joni's problem of sin, being the cause of her illness. Having met many people in her years of disability, Joni was familiar with them all. Patiently she listened, until David came to a passage about how the passage of Luke 5:18-19 described Jesus healing the man on a stretcher lowered down from the rooftop. All the time, David was convinced that Joni had not enough faith; not enough prayer; and not enough repentance for her sin. Gently, Joni pointed out verse 20.

"When Jesus saw their faith, he said, 'Friend, your sins are forgiven.'" (Luke 5:20)
Joni turned the tables around. The Luke passage that David pointed out is about the faith of the friends, not the disabled person. She then went on to say:

Don’t you see? He didn’t require anything at all of the disabled man. What He was looking for was faith in those men who had lowered him through the roof. God doesn’t require my faith for healing. But He could require yours. The pressure’s off me, David. If God has it in His plan to lift me out of this wheelchair, He could use your faith! So keep believing, friend; the pressure’s on you!” (Tada, Joni Eareckson, A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God's Sovereignty, David C. Cook: 2010, p17)
When we pray, if our focus is on healing, then we are not really focused on God. Our focus is on the outcome. In order to pray in the will of God, we need to acknowledge that we are not in charge. We are weak and powerless in ourselves. We need help. In prayer, we acknowledge that only God can do whatever we want. When we pray, we need help to come to that state of peace to be comforted by God's presence more than divine presents.

Perhaps, we can pray for strength. Strength to overcome the hard times rather than to ask God to pamper us by removing the hard times. The deepest virtues are often manifested through difficult moments of life, just how we detect who are our real friends. Will our true friends forsake us? No.

Perhaps, neither miracles or strengths should be our primary focus. Our primary focus must be Christ. Whatever it is, whether healing or strength, we give thanks. Whatever it is, whether strengthened or wearied, we submit to God's wisdom. Whatever it is, whether good news or bad, we remember that in Christ, God's answer is always yes. The passage from Hosea tells us of God's memory of Israel, that God calls Israel as a son. Even when Israel was suffering in Egypt due to the harsh enslavement, God calls out to the heart of the people, amid the pain and torment they were facing. God could have sent angels to lift each and every one of His people out, but He didn't. He could have used heavenly chariots to rescue the people, but He didn't. Instead, He called them. Many ways, He called, using Moses, Aaron, and even using many signs to assure them. Eventually, Israel was delivered. People celebrated, but only for a time.

When the going gets tough, it is not easy to say, "The tough gets going." If we wear the "miracle" hat, we would be praying with all our passion and might for the "tough" to be removed. If we put on the "strength" hat, we would press on with grit and determination to finish the race. Between the two, "strength" is almost always the preferred prayer request. This is something that enabled Joni Eareckson Tada to found her ministry of hope (Joni and Friends) for the disabled. This is something that kept Paul going even as he wrestled with the thorn (2 Cor 12:7). From Hosea 11, there is a clue that tells us of a third thing: Praying to understand the heart of God.

This is something not many people would do. It is common to pray for miracles. Next on the list is to ask for strength. Yet, asking to understand the heart and Person of God is not very common. Perhaps, it is time to do just that. Our prayers if centered on our will and desires will always be fixated on human needs and matters. If we want to pray in the will of God, we must have a spiritual breakthrough just like the words of Jesus:
27Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? 28“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Matthew 6:27-34)

It's good to pray for healing. It's better to pray for strength. It's way way better, to seek after God's heart. This is spiritual direction. As we give up our agendas for God, and to adopt God's agenda instead, strangely, we find our prayers becoming more liberating.

THOUGHT: "The great challenge is living your wounds through instead of thinking them through. It is better to cry than to worry, better to feel your wounds deeply than to understand them, better to let them enter into your silence than to talk about them. Understanding your wounds can only be healing when that understanding is put at the service of your heart." (Henri Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love, Image books, 1998, p107)


Copyright by SabbathWalk. This devotional is sent to you free of charge. If you feel blessed or ministered to by SabbathWalk weekly devotionals, feel free to forward to friends, or to invite them to subscribe online at . You can also send me an email at for comments or inquiries. Note that views expressed are personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any person(s) or organization(s).