“I’d rather stand with God and be judged by the world, than stand with the world and be judged by God” – Grace Wesley
God’s Not Dead 2 introduces us to Grace Wesley, (played by Melissa Joan Hart), a high school teacher, who refuses to apologize for her faith, even when the school board takes her to court after what they consider to be be proselytizing.
The incident that started it all was her response to a question from a student, Brooke Thawley, (played by Hayley Orrantia), in regards to how Martin Luther King and Gandhi’s non-violent approach to peace can compare to the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Much like God’s Not Dead, (which I reviewed here), this sequel revolves around the theme of standing strong for one’s faith and convictions. This time, instead of the teacher as the antagonist, the teacher is the persecuted. Instead of the class as jury, there is a real jury.
As we hear the arguments from both the plaintiff’s attorney (played by Ray Wise), and Grace’s attorney (Jesse Metcalfe), we are asked to consider one question: Is it faith at trial, or is our heroine?
Takeaways from the movie:
I think it is a timely movie with a timely message. Religious civil rights and freedoms are a big battleground right now. As such, God’s Not Dead 2 has been criticized as catering to a “persecution complex”, and in all honesty, I can see why people would say that. It is true that we as believers in the U.S. suffer very little for our faith compared to those in the Middle East. And yet, I believe that any awareness of the growing intolerance (as evidenced by 50 real life court cases at the end of the movie), is not crying wolf, but simply acknowledging written prophecy. (Matthew 10:22). It’s not as much about any present level of persecution, it’s about the gradual trend that society is taking, and recognizing it from the frame of reference of a Christ follower. Pastor Dave (played by David A.R. White) refers to this awareness when he said “If we sit by and do nothing, the pressure that we’re feeling today will mean persecution tomorrow”.
- I found the real-life witnesses used for the defense to be quite compelling, especially that of J. Warner Wallace, (Adjunct Professor of Apologetics at Biola University) who wrote “Cold Case Christianity”. In this work, he provides readers with ten principles of cold case investigations and utilizes these principles to examine the reliability of the gospel accounts. The approach of the defense was to prove the historic Jesus, logically and factually. Much was left with to audience to ponder, at least for this viewer.
- I could relate to the underlying theme of doubting one’s faith. Trisha LaFache is back to play the role of Amy Ryan, a reporter diagnosed with cancer. She is in remission now, but begins to wonder if her faith came about only because she was in crisis. There are two other characters in this film (played by Martin Yip and the aforementioned Hayley Orrantia) who are full of questions about faith. In light of the overriding courtroom drama, a parallel is drawn: Christ once asked the question, “who do you say that I am?”, and we must all answer it, both individually and as a society.
- I found the classroom conversation that brought the matter under question in the first place to be a bit far-fetched. A teacher gave a factual, historical answer to a student’s honest question. Even the scriptures quoted were done in context of a historical speech, and none of it even remotely sounded like proselytizing. It would have been more interesting to create a circumstance with more gray area, but I think we just need to take this movie as a caricature that was written to make a point; a simple sketch of real-life situations.
- At times, there were story lines that were incohesive and could have been developed more, or otherwise seemed to drop off for no reason. In one scene, Pastor David is threatened for not turning in his sermon transcript to city authorities. We never see what happens with that. God’s Not Dead 3 perhaps?
- While I don’t want to give away any spoilers, I will say that I found the closing argument to be confusing, in light of the no-nonsense approach of the previous arguments of the defense. It didn’t seem to fit into their decided strategy, and in my opinion unnecessary and probably not likely to be successfully had this been a real courtroom.
Have you ever been put in a position to defend your faith, even at the cost of your job, friends, or family?
Pretend with me that we are a forensic investigators, and we’ve been given the call to respond to a just-happened crime scene. We drop everything and rush to the location. From there, what do we do? If you’ve ever watched crime drama TV shows or real-life documentaries, you know that one of the first things we would do is carefully examine the scene. We would not just scan the area but carefully inspect how it was arranged. We’d consider the rules of time and space and science. From there, we would use our sense of logic to rule out different scenarios to reasonably, and many times without question come up with a conclusion of what happened. The evidence would speak for itself.
We are bound by this physical world we live in, so much so that there are many who believe that’s all there is. How then, do we explain one of the most hotly debated events of history, the resurrection of Christ?
I was reading about the resurrection the other day and I came upon the first investigation of exactly how His tomb appeared that morning. It is written by the disciple John, an eyewitness and one of the first sleuths on the scene, together with another one of Christ’s disciples, Peter.
John writes of himself, reporting in the third person: “He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there, but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’s head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen”. (John 20:5-7).
To understand the scene, we need to understand the mode of Jewish burial at the time. As was the custom, the deceased would be wrapped in linen bands and spices. A mixture of aloe, (a powdered wood like fine sawdust), and a gummy myrhh would be inserted between the folds of the linen to preserve the body.
Yet the body was missing. There were only three possibilities of how and why Jesus was no longer there:
1) The body was stolen,
2) Jesus got up on his own, resuscitated, having only swooned not really died), or
3) He rose from the dead.
First of all, it is significant that the burial cloth was there at all. If the body was stolen, the linen cloths that it was wrapped in would have been taken with the body. Not only were they still there, but they were undisturbed. The word that John uses for the word “lying” is “keimena”,* which refers to things that have been carefully placed in order. John noticed that there had been no disturbance in the tomb. Criminals (or the disciples themselves, as unbelievers would speculate), would not have had any time, to take the body apart from the graveclothes, and certainly not to fold the cloth that had been around his head.
Did Jesus merely wake up from a very bad beating? In that case, he would still be in a physical body and would have left behind evidence of a physical body freeing itself from the strips of linen. If so, they would have been displaced. Even if we can imagine that he got up and put everything back as if to appear that he rose from the grave, the spices used to preserve the body would have scattered and stained the floor.
The disciples saw none of these things. Jesus had risen, and in a resurrected body.
The Bible tells us that we who trust and believe in Him will be as He is:
“Buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection.” (Romans 6:5-6)
Our tired bodies that hurt and die will no longer give us grief and pain. Having taken the punishment for our sin, He gave us His righteousness in exchange. Because of that first Easter morning, because Christ has paved the way, we can know that physical death is not the end, and we’ve been given a glimpse of our eternal hope.
He is risen, He is risen indeed.
*The Gospel of John: Volume 5- Triumph through Tragedy, John 18-21, James Montgomery Boice, P. 1567
For the few of you, (two or three, or so it seems ) that are never tempted to worry in this day and age, please scroll right along. For all the rest of us, a timely reminder:
“Do not be anxious [do not worry] about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Phil. 4:6)
We could worry about a thousand things, yet this passage says do not worry about anything. I can’t think of a thing that wouldn’t fall under the category of anything. Additionally, we are to bring everything to God in prayer. There isn’t a circumstance that is outside of His care for us, nothing that escapes his sight. In fact, God’s word says that He knows our needs before we even ask Him. (Matthew 6:8)
To overcome anxiety, according to this passage, is to come to the Lord in the right understanding of who He is. The passage, as stated by the synonyms “prayer” and “supplication” all indicate a specific, direct petition to God.1 This is shown in a context of humility and not rebellion. It indicates an attitude as one would approach a loving Father, as One who is “an ever-present help in times of trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)
It also tells us to come to Him with thanksgiving. In “Anxiety Attacked”, John MacArthur points out the example of the prophet Jonah. Even when a great fish swallowed him, he prays:
“I called out of my distress to the Lord, and He answered me…while I was fainting away, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer came to Thee…Those who regard vain idols forsake their faithfulness, but I will sacrifice to Thee with the voice of thanksgiving…” (Jonah 2:2, 2:7, 2:8-9).
I have a long way to go in this area, but what helps me stay in a mindset of thankfulness is to keep a journal of answered prayer through tough times. It helps to show me how much worse a circumstance could have been, and it is a way to record an ongoing testimony that I can draw from in times when I need more faith.
God never promised us that He would eliminate pain from our lives, but He has promised His supernatural peace if we trust Him. Read the next verse in this passage:
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:7)
The word “guard” here is the transliteration “Phroureo”, which is a military term, implying the vigilant protection of our hearts and minds as a soldier might protect his own.2
The next time you are tempted to worry, ask God for this peace that is beyond you. Ask Him to protect your heart and mind by the promise of His diligent care.
Are you struggling with a specific care or worry? Why do you think it is so easy to hang on to? Take those specifics to Him. He already knows our every need.
What are some of the many mercies of God that you can draw upon in grateful prayer?
1. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary – Philippians, 283
2. Ibid, P. 284
I hope all of you have had a great start to this new year. Praise God in everything, especially if all is well in your world right now. However, if you happen to be in the midst of a difficult time, you may be facing 2016 with a sense of dread or uncertainty of what this new year holds. If you are, you are not alone. Given my last several months of 2015, I have at times wished time to stand still, so I don’t have to plunge back into the reality of what may lie ahead.
And yet the reality is that life does go on, whether it happens to be pleasant or not…and while I don’t know what 2016 will bring, I knew I had to write to share an insight that God has been bringing to my mind over and over:
Take one day at a time.
Simple, and yet so much easier said than done, at least for me.
Jesus addressed the issue with worry in the Sermon on the Mountain in Matthew 6:25-27, and Matthew 6:34, saying:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
He goes on to add: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”(Matthew 6:34)
What does it mean to worry? Well, when we worry, we are essentially saying we don’t trust God, because He already told us not to. While in this context, Jesus was referring to worry about the daily provision of life (worry about having enough food, clothing, and shelter), which was a common concern in that day. However, I believe we can apply the principle to our trials and concerns today.
Worry is like assuming the responsibility of catching all the snowflakes of tomorrow’s blizzard, and never once stopping to consider that the sun may come out and the blizzard may never even materialize.
I’m reminded to reflect on God’s faithfulness as demonstrated in His word. He Himself sustained the children of Israel with manna from heaven, just enough for that day and that day only, (Exodus 16). He is the same God today, yesterday, and forever. Just like they could look back and see how He sustained them on a day-to-day basis, can’t we as His children also look back and see how much He has already brought us through?
I’m not gonna lie. From the beginning looking forward, 2016 looks daunting to me. Yet it is my prayer for myself and anyone reading this that we can look back at this time next year and notice that God has brought us through the good times and the bad. May we see that many things we fret about often have a way of working themselves out, that there is more stress in the “what-ifs” of each tomorrow than the tomorrow itself.
In the next few days I want to focus on Philippians 4:6-7, which tells us how to pray in times of trouble. We can go to the Lord with our needs, but also balance it with a thankful attitude. And the outcome? He will supply us with an unexplainable peace when we do:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7)
May this next year be a year of unwavering trust in Him, that we may grow in faith and finish strong.
It’s good to plan and prepare for tomorrow, but where do you think the line is drawn between planning and worry?
Do you tend to over-think and fret? Do you have a testimony to share about how you have overcome this struggle through prayer and God’s word?
To pray specific scriptures concerning worry, check out this list from “Room to Breathe”.
Larry King, host of the former “Larry King Live” talk show, was once asked who in all of history he would most like to interview, if given the chance. King replied, “Jesus Christ.” Why? To ask Him one question: “Are you indeed virgin born?” The answer to that question, added King, “would explain history to me.”
A crucial question indeed, for the implications of the virgin birth as a historical fact would oblige the cynic to acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Son of God. You see, it is impossible to believe in Christ as the Son of God and not accept the virgin birth. For God to accept Christ’s death as payment in full, He had to be pure, unaffected by sin. That is what makes the virgin birth so miraculous.
To quote form D. James Kennedy’s book, “Solving Bible Mysteries”, the virgin birth is significant because:
- If Jesus were not born of a virgin, then He would have inherited sin like the rest of us.
- If Jesus were not born of a virgin, then He cannot be the divine Redeemer, because the sacrifice for sin must be perfect.
- If Jesus was not born of a virgin, we have no Savior.
- If Jesus was not born of a virgin, we have no hope after death.
The key here is that we can’t take one part of the life of Christ without the other. If we study His life, we see that He lived a perfect and sinless existence. It points back to verify His miraculous birth, (which, by the way, was foretold thousands of years earlier).
And the ultimate affirmation? The resurrection. Also according to Kennedy’s book, “The resurrection is the most firmly attested event of ancient history. Because we know that Jesus was truly raised from the dead, we know that His birth must have been just as miraculous”.
If God can create the universe and perform miracles in healing, in nature, in provision and rise from the dead, it is no problem to believe that He could perform the miracle of the virgin birth. This is a wonderful and great cause to rejoice for those who come to Him with saving faith.
“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel…” Matthew 1:23
May the wonder of Christ’s birth fill you with joy this Christmas season.
Do you believe that whenever God closes a door, He opens a window?
That is, do you believe that when we come upon a dead end in life, that it’s because there’s always a better opportunity around the corner?
I wish it was that simple, but we all know that there have been many times when crawling out of the only open window meant being caught outside in the cold, harsh world. You want to kick that slammed door back open, or at least crawl back through the window where it’s warm and cozy and just start over.
But to no fault of your own, you can’t. The door is shut, that ship has sailed.
It could be a job loss, a break-up, a misunderstanding, a disappointment, anything.
It could be losing something that you cherished and thanked God for every day, something that you knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that He gave you. So you cry out:
Lord, why did you take it away?
What if you knew from an early age that God set a purpose for you, only to find yourself on a roller coaster ride of extreme ups and downs, none of which made any sense?
Think you have problems? Take a look at the life of Joseph, the son of Jacob, as told in Genesis 37, 39 – 47. Here’s how all the highs and lows of his life played out:
- As a boy, he was his father’s favorite (high)
- He was hated by his brothers for it, and sold into slavery (low)
- After being delivered from slavery, (high)
- He rose to prominence in Potiphar’s (an officer of Pharaoh) palace (high)
- Then, he was wrongfully accused of rape (low)
- As a result, he was thrown into prison for years (low)
- In prison, he interpreted a fellow prisoner’s dream. After getting out of prison, this prisoner (a butler), promised to speak well of Joseph to get him out, too. (high)
- Yet Joseph was forgotten, and left in jail (low)
- Years later, the butler finally remembered Joseph. Joseph was taken out of prison to interpret Pharaoh’s dream. (high)
- From there, Joseph was elevated in rank right next to Pharaoh himself. (high)
- This put him in a position to forgive his brothers and save them from a famine in their land. (high)
If you ask me, that doesn’t look like an easy life of one progressive step of success to another, and for such a godly guy, you’d think life would be easier. Yet in the end, Joseph life came full circle. He looked back on it and the pieces finally made sense. It must have been such a soothing balm to his heart as he realized God’s hand in everything the whole time.
So back to that slammed door. Do I believe that God can open a window of greater opportunity?
Yes, He certainly can.
And He can use that slammed door, (that one that feels like it’s slammed right on our heart till we can’t breathe, yeah that one), as a blessing to immediately bring us to a bigger, better circumstance.
Or…He can bring about the good in your life through a series of shut and open doors. Either way, His love is cast upon His children to the point of no denial in the end.
If you know Jesus as your Savior, if you are His child, know this. He is FOR you and not against you. I’m glad to know that, so I hang on for what’s ahead. Sure, I pray for blessing. Who doesn’t? Yet in hope, there must be submission to His authority in this not-so-perfect world. We can make our plans, but it is the Lord’s purpose that presides.
Have you had a circumstance happen that left you absolutely baffled? Has someone handed you a raw deal? Have you come through it to see God’s ultimate purpose? I look forward to hearing your stories!
Who doesn’t like something new? Nobody, if you ask anyone in retail. There’s something about that new outfit with the price tag still on it, that new book with pages that have never been cracked open, that shiny-new grill that’s almost too pretty to use, that new iphone, or new whatever (you fill in the blank), that has kept the malls crowded and our pocketbooks depleted. Yet, we continue to go back to get more new stuff, since the new stuff that was once new is now old.
Take a look at kids on Christmas day. They tear into each present, paper flying everywhere, squealing with joy as they move from one gift to the next…till they realize there isn’t anymore, turn around and sadly ask, “is that all there is?”
I’m not sure there’s quite an exact synonym for the word “new”. Sure, there’s “novel”, or “fresh”, (according to my thesaurus) or even “latest” or “recent” but when we talk about something being “new”, it connotes a sense of hope… a “new” day, a “new” year, or a “new” outlook.
Newborns bring joy just by the fact that they are teeming with a life that’s just beginning. We love the idea of a new job or a new start. Heck, I always tell friends I feel like a new woman after just one day off!
When I think about newness, I reflect upon how desperately we need to be renewed. There’s a world of people who are in despair, caught in the same prison of the same old struggle with sin, whatever it may be. There are people who are sick of the constant gray cloud of depression, or abuse, or illness.
Even the physical world around us is tired. Nature groans in its turmoil on a daily basis. (Romans 8:22). Even as I write, we are under yet another flash flood warning as we are experiencing the remnants of Hurricane Patricia coming up from Mexico into Texas.
Maybe it’s that I’ve had a long week, watching a loved one struggle with age and all that comes with it. What I wouldn’t give to see him young and vibrant again, able to be the superman he always was.
Dear Lord, we are tired. We are weary, worn out, caught in between this trap of pain and the glory ahead…and yet we know that you do bring newness in this life. You have healed diseases and worked miracles.
We also know that even in these victories, You will bring the ultimate NEW. You have made the sinner pure and clean in your eyes. You have brought us new life, and there will come a day when You have promised to make ALL THINGS NEW. You will make a new Heaven, and a new Earth. We will have new bodies that will never grow sick or old. We will run, sing, laugh and worship You in a new forever.
And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new…” (Revelation 21:5)
As the song says, we’ve no less days to sing Your praise, than when we first begun.