Son of God grossed $26.5 million at the box office on its opening weekend,far surpassing predictions of $17.5 million. Yahoo fans gave the movie 4.5 stars; on March 4, it became the No. 1 fan-rated film on Fandango.
The film was adapted from the mega-popular miniseries, The Bible. It includes Jesus, his mother, his disciples, and his enemies. But one figure it excludes is Satan. Even though the devil tempted Jesus early in his ministry (Matthew 4:1-11) and again at Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16:23), even though he sought to destroy Peter and the other disciples (Luke 22:31) and led Judas Iscariot to betray our Lord (Luke 22:3-6), he appears nowhere in a movie about Jesus and his movement. Why?
Roma Downey produced Son of God with her husband, Mark Burnett, and played Mary in the movie. She explains their decision: when the devil appeared in the miniseries, some thought the actor playing his role looked like President Obama. The media reaction was global. She says that after that episode aired, "when I was sure everyone would be talking only about Jesus, they were talking about Satan instead."
She knew what was really happening: "It was just like Satan the narcissist to make it all about him and create division. I am sure he loved being the center of attention for even one day." So they excluded these scenes from the movie: "It gives me great pleasure to tell you that the devil is on the cutting room floor. This is now a movie about Jesus, the Son of God, and the devil gets no more screen time, no more distractions."
C. S. Lewis warned that we make two mistakes regarding the devil. One is to give him more authority than he deserves—then he can do what he wants. The other is to deny that he exists—then he can do what he wants. People today typically think of Satan as a symbol of evil, wearing red tights and a tail, the stuff of Saturday cartoons. He's just as happy to be ignored as to be feared.
But it's impossible to ignore his work—broken hearts and homes, abuse, disease and immorality. Even those who do not admit the reality of Satan must admit the reality of Satanism. In some places in America, the worship of Satan is growing ten times faster than any Christian church. In recent years, the Satanic Bible has outsold the Holy Bible in many university bookstores.
So let's leave the devil on the cutting room floor of our lives. How? The moment you are tempted, "flee temptation" (2 Timothy 2:22) by giving it immediately to Jesus. You cannot defeat the enemy in your strength, but Jesus can: "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8). So "submit yourselves to God, resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (James 4:7). Satan will tempt you today to do just the opposite, to submit to him and resist your Lord. The choice is yours.
An executive producer of Son of God says he has gone to Communion every day for the last 12 years. Why? "I go to Mass everyday not because I am a good person, but because I am a weak person and because I need Jesus in my heart." So do I. Do you?
Publication date: March 7, 2014
A lesbian walks into a Muslim's barbershop and requests a "businessmen's haircut." It sounds like the start of a bad joke, but it's a very real dilemma in Toronto. The Muslim doesn't believe in touching women other than his own wife. The lesbian doesn't like the haircuts at women's salons, and wants a man's hair style. So she appeals to the Human Rights Tribunal of Toronto, demanding that the Muslim give her a haircut. This conflict was quietly resolved, but attacks on religious liberty are making the news more frequently than ever.
A Christian baker in Colorado faces a year in jail for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The ruling party in Quebec wants to ban religious symbolsfrom public work places. As I noted last week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently claimed that "extreme conservatives who are right to life, pro-assault weapon, anti-gay . . . have no place in the State of New York."
One scholar estimates that 90 percent of all people killed around the world because of their religious beliefs are Christians. For instance, it has been reported that a Christian is killed, kidnapped, or abused every 2-3 days in Iraq. Now we're seeing a rising tide of oppression in the West as well. There was a day when the church was central to the culture—stores were closed on Sundays and political leaders almost always identified publicly with a church. In the 1960s, the church started becoming marginalized—God is not our King but our hobby.
Download for free Now!Now the church is being attacked as dangerous to society. The United Nations recently called on the Catholic Church to change its long-standing positions on abortion, homosexuality and contraception, claiming that these doctrines are harmful to the public. A group calling itself "Angry Queers" recently threw baseball-sized rocks through nine church windows in Portland's Mars Hill Church to protest the church's positions on sexual morality. After Rick Warren's mentally ill son took his life, someone tweeted: "I would've committed suicide if my dad was Rick Warren too." Richard Dawkins claims that "religion is the root of all evil."
Seven in 10 Protestant pastors now believe that "religious liberty is on the decline in America." I recently completed an in-depth study of this phenomenon and invite you to download Respected to Irrelevant to Dangerous: Does religion poison everything?. I conclude that persecution against believers is inevitable, as Jesus predicted: "you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake" (Matthew 24:9). So we are to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). And we are to trust that the God who redeems all he allows is using our faithful suffering for his glory and our good. Remember that "he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world" (1 John 4:4).
In 2010, Roman Catholic Cardinal Francis George of Chicago stated: "I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history." Will you pay any price to serve Jesus today?
Publication date: March 6, 2014
Seven words set off a Twitter firestorm: "First off I want to thank God." Not because it's radical to thank God in public (at least not yet), but because the person who did had just won Best Actor at the Academy Awards. And because he isn't a person known for public displays of religiosity.
Matthew McConaughey's statement in full: "First off I want to thank God, because he's the one I look up to, he's graced my life with opportunities which I know are not of my hand or any other human kind. He has shown me that it's a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates. In the words of the late Charlie Laughton, who said, 'When you got God you got a friend and that friend is you.'"
What was the reaction? Mostly silence from the Oscar audience, a fact several noted in their Twitter responses. Other viewers were more supportive of the actor's profession of faith. But many were angry: "Matthew McConaughey thanking god…….I hate him so much." Another responded: "I thought we could get through the Oscars without someone thanking god but no he had to ruin it, [Expletive deleted] you McConaughey."
What do we know about his faith? How is it relevant to us today?
Matthew David McConaughey was born on November 4, 1969 in Uvalde, a town in South Texas. He grew up there and in Longview, later graduating from the University of Texas with a degree in media. His mother was a kindergarten teacher and later a published author. His father once played in the NFL for the Green Bay Packers before becoming a gas-station owner.
His Methodist parents took his name from the New Testament. For this reason, he has never shortened it to "Matt." His wife, Brazilian model Camila Alves, was raised as a Catholic and attended a Catholic university. As a result of her faith commitment, they were married in 2012 in a private Catholic ceremony.
Now you know everything I could learn about Matthew McConaughey's faith. Here's what people seem to be missing in the controversy about his Oscar declaration: he articulated a profound theological sentiment. In quoting the late British actor Charlie Laughton, he was more right than he may know: "When you got God you got a friend and that friend is you." When we see ourselves as God sees us, we learn that he loves us for who we are, not for what we do. We are free to befriend ourselves, to treat ourselves as a true friend would, with unconditional grace and support.
The Lord of the universe considered your eternal life worth the death of his Son. Do you agree?
Publication date: March 4, 2014
Tanner Wendell Stewart is a professional photographer. He was in Sofia, Bulgaria when a Roma Gypsy man tried to sell his six-month-old son to him for $50, because Stewart said the baby was beautiful. That moment inspired Stewart to do something. He has now published a 365-day photo journal created to abolish human trafficking.
Called "Shoot the Skies," the book's photographs are stunning—a starry sky over snow-peaked mountains, a lightning storm over the plains, and other amazing moments in nature. Every dollar goes to The A21 Campaign, which exists to abolish injustice in the 21st century through awareness and education. There are an estimated 27 million slaves in the world today—A21 focuses on rescuing one victim at a time.
If you think human trafficking isn't a tragedy in America, consider these facts: the FBI states that 293,000 American youths are at risk of becoming victims of sex trafficking. It is estimated that 200,000 women are forced into the sex trade every year in the U.S.
Today is "Shine a Light on Slavery Day" in America. The END IT movement is working to end human trafficking and slavery. It is part of a coalition with World Relief, World Vision, International Justice Mission, and a number of other global organizations. What can we do to help?
It's simple: draw a red "X" on your hand. When people ask you what the "X" means, tell them about this initiative to end human trafficking. You can also post a picture of your "X" to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram using the hashtag #ENDITMOVEMENT, and download a free tool kit to help you tell the story.
Initiatives like this are vital to our witness today. The church was once the most respected institution in America. Today we are commonly seen as outdated and marginalized. God is not a king, but a hobby. "Truth" is subjective, and morality is personal. "You have no right to force your beliefs on me" is the mantra of our day. But when Christians show the relevance of our faith to a skeptical world, we earn the right to share God's love in ours.
And we obey God's clear word as well: "Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry" (Exodus 22:22-23). By contrast, "he who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done" (Proverbs 19:17). What we do for those in need, we do for Jesus (Matthew 25:40). When we refuse to help them, we refuse to help our Lord (v. 45).
The Lord said of King Josiah, "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" (Jeremiah 22:16). By this measure, how well do we know God?
Publication date: February 27, 2014.