“Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ” 1959 & 2016

Having gone to see the 2016 version this last weekend and then watching the 1959 version two days later (to confirm/deny what we thought was different), I have to say that it’s hard not to write an old man’s review. However, since there is no way that wouldn’t be a spoiler at some level I hesitated.

Then I saw a Facebook post that asked us to name our favorite ‘Jesus’ actor. My answer was ‘whoever portrayed Jesus in the 1959 version of Ben-Hur’. I couldn’t recall the actor’s name. I since looked it up and it was an actor named Claude Heater and it was an ‘uncredited’ role, whatever that meant at the time. I wouldn’t be surprised of other Facebook readers wondered if I was operating with a full deck upstairs, especially if they knew that Jesus’ face is never seen in the 1959 film. One review I read had this to say about the different portrayals of Jesus:

“Where Wyler (1959 Director) drew haunting power from keeping Jesus a faceless and voiceless figure, like a rumor of deliverance shadowing the hero’s moral struggle, here we get walking, talking son-of-God face time, and the effect is oddly diminishing, turning Jesus into a religious-movie animatronic, spouting greatest-hits scripture.”

Although that might sound a bit harsh, I tend to agree. The Jesus of the 1959 film never said a word, but other characters repeated teachings they had heard with reverence and awe, as if no one had ever taught that way before. They marveled at Jesus’ teachings. The 2016 Jesus has a face and actually speaks, ‘spouting greatest-hits scripture’ and in one scene sounds a bit like Rick Warren, telling Judah Ben-Hur “God has a plan for you.”

At first it didn’t seem too awfully important to me, but then I realized something. That same difference is I think symptomatic of the church as a whole! Having been brought up in a Christian environment, schooled in the Lutheran Catechism (where we learned about a great big God), and having attended many a Sunday morning service where majestic hymns were played and sung, in which sermons were delivered that spoke of man’s great sin and God’s great mercy, and where people wore their ‘Sunday best’ out of respect for whose ‘house’ we were in, it’s easy for me to see the difference. Those whose church experience has been theologically vacuous contemporary choruses, all about ‘me’ purpose driven, seeker friendly, man centered sermons delivered by jeans/rumpled khaki clad preachers with their shirts hanging out have been seriously deprived.

The result is a generation or two of ‘children of a lesser God’ and a Jesus who inspires very little reverence or awe and who never comes across as the redeemer who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the ‘great exchange’, taking all of our sin and giving us his righteousness. A Jesus who died just so we could be happy and obtain our best lives now could never inspire reverence and awe.

Such is the state of most of the church today. That might mean that most of today’s young evangelicals will give the 2016 ‘Ben-Hur’ rave reviews while some of us older folks will expel a heavy sigh or two.

By the way, I also bought the original novel. Folks just don’t write like that anymore!

100% Successful Evangelism

We tend to think that ‘successful’ evangelism means a sinner makes a decision for Christ after we share the gospel. If the decision is based on sincere repentance from sin and belief in Christ, it was. However, no all decisions are based on repentance and faith, but on other things, some of which represent material gain and some of which are based on all sorts of supernatural shenanigens we can experience.

On the other hand, I suggest that the Soverein reign of God over the salvation of sinners absolutely guarantees a 100% success rate for all of our human efforts at evangelism. Jesus WILL save all whom he came to save. The angel who spoke to Joseph in Matthew 1:21 told him, concerning the child in Mary’s womb, “. . . He WILL save his people from their sin, not that Jesus would only make salvation ‘possible’ for everyone who ‘makes a decision for Christ’.

Food for thought early on a Tuesday morning.

If a personal word of prophecy spoken over you fails, it’s YOUR fault!

In an article published 11 August at the ‘Jennifer LeClaire Ministries’ website titled “Why Some Would-Be Life-Changing Prophetic Words Don’t Come to Pass” (also published in Charisma Magazine and via the Chrisma podcast), Jennifer LeClaire has this to say to us concerning the ‘prophetic word(s)’ over our lives:

At the end of the day, it really does boil down to this: There is a war over the prophetic word over your life. Sometimes that war comes from the wicked one. Sometimes that war comes from our own carnal nature that wars against the Spirit (Gal. 5:17). Either way—and whether in Scripture or via prophecy judged accurate—we must fight the good fight of faith so we can walk in the fullness of God’s promises.”

I see a couple of problems with the above declaration. First of all it assumes that extra biblical ‘prophetic words’ over our lives are part of ‘the fullness of God’s promises’. Of course, as Jennifer tells us concerning these prophetic words, “you need a certain maturity to walk out the word by faith”. In other words, your spiritual immaturity could cause these ‘prophetic words’ to fail. Neither of these two points is taught in Scripture, but must be read into the text.

What is her scriptural support for this? What is the Biblical text into which Ms. LeClaire tries to fit her assertions? The parable of the sower, the seed, and the different types of ground upon which the seed falls (Matthew 13:3-23)! Jennifer tells us (prophetically?) that “In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus explains some spiritual truth about the Word of God. But it can also apply to prophecies that come straight from His heart.” (emphasis mine). In other words, the ‘prophetic words’ that others can speak over us, that we can speak over ourselves, or that we can receive in dreams (more about that in a bit), are straight from Jesus’ heart. So how do we know that a ‘prophetic word’ is from Jesus’ heart or an imperfect and still sinful human heart? I have no idea and Jennifer doesn’t explain that one.

Then we have the ‘spiritual warfare’ that takes place in the spiritual realm and/or in our own flesh that can thwart that the parable describes (because Jennifer says so, of course):

“When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the one who received seed beside the path” (Matt. 13:19-20). It’s important you understand exactly what God is saying prophetically. Many people miss it on the interpretation or application, especially in the dream realm. Of course, some prophecies are hard to misinterpret, especially ones about having babies or operating in some spiritual gift.”

Jennifer’s concluding advice is this:

“Continue to declare the prophetic word over your life. Remember, the enemy doesn’t really care about you. He hates you, yes, but ultimately he just doesn’t want the prophetic word to come to pass because, when it does, God’s will comes to the Earth.

If you are in a season of waiting and warring, hold on. Keep in mind it was at least 15 years between David’s prophetic anointing and David’s kingship. And it was about 13 years in between Joseph’s dream and his promotion to Egypt’s prime minister.

Chances are, it won’t take that long for you to see the first fruits of life-changing prophetic words spoken over your life. But even if it does, don’t give in to the enemy’s strategies. Ultimately, this is the Lord’s battle. Declare the prophetic word over your life and keep fighting the good fight of faith.”

Really? What the bible tells us about the possibility of genuine prophecies failing seems to disagree with Jennifer:

“If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him” (Deut. 18:22).

Not surprisingly, Jennifer never touches that passage, nor can she without suffering a huge loss of credibility, at least with the Biblically literate among us.

Furthermore, the penalty for prophesying falsely, in the name of the one true God or any other false god, was death (Deut 18:20). Period. End of story.

Ms. Leclaire, as well as other false prophets among us would have far fewer followers, not to mention ‘students’ at their “Schools for Prophets” (they’re out there) if God’s true word concerning claiming to speak directly for Him were read and heeded. While we don’t actually see false prophets being executed at the hand of man, or God for that matter, they will all face judgment. Perhaps if one were to drop dead, perhaps at a ‘prophecy open mic night’ (they are out there too), some of their mouths would quickly become silent as they repented and begged God for mercy. That is not the case however.

What can we do to stem the advancing tide of false prophets claiming to speak directly from God’s lips to our ears? If the spiritual tsunami of apostasy lead by false teachers and lying prophets is part of the end times great delusion, maybe nothing. It could get worse and worse. We can however, stand up for truth and the sufficiency of scripture for all things in our lives. We can expose the lies and falsehoods out of a love for God’s revealed word, a burden for lost souls, and the spiritual welfare of believers we know who have bought into the lie.


The Jennifer LeClaire Ministries article can be read here. The same article is in Charisma Magazine here. I mention Charisma Magazine because Ms. LeClaire is a Senior Editor at CM, which is the ‘flagship’ publication for Charismatics everywhere. I also have Christian friends who are Charismatic/Pentecostal and for whom I care deeply. I used to be one.

As a final note, Chris Rosebrough over at Pirate Christian Radio Episode addressed the same article/issue in a recent ‘Issues, Etc.’ podcast you can listen to here. It was listening to the podcast that led to more research. It was hard to believe that someone would twist scripture as badly as Ms. Leclair (I’m thinking giant pretzel).

Which Flavor or Ice Cream Do Atheists Prefer?

clip_image002If morality is relative and based on personal preference, as atheists claim, then their moral judgments of others carry no more weight than if they told you which flavor of ice cream they prefer.

There is an inconsistency here. To claim to know what’s right for everyone requires universal moral absolutes. So every time moral relativists declare how other persons OUGHT to believe or behave they are demonstrating their underlying belief in God (because they are appealing to universals we ALL SHOULD believe in) and their simultaneous suppression of that truth (since they claim there is no God) Their beliefs, therefore, betray the confession of their lips.
In moral relativism there are no universal “shoulds” or “oughts” to abide by. If there were it would no longer be relativism.

As an atheist you can be a morally upright citizen but you could also be a morally debauched rapist or murderer – in both cases you are being consistent with atheism. Good or bad are equally evanescent and equally valid expressions of atheism. But atheists often tell me they will do what is best for human flourishing … but another atheist will do what is harmful to human flourishing. What is the difference? Both are being consistent atheists … in equal measure. There is no better or worse in moral relativism.

Do I have any examples of atheists espousing moral absolutes?

If you read any atheists online a very significant number of them argue against Christianity by explaining to us how immoral and wrong it is for us to believe it. … that God is a “moral monster” etc… That we and others ought to reject it because, they claim, God is morally debased. The irony is, in that making this argument, they deny moral relativism and reveal they really do believe in universals — not just a personal preference, but it is WRONG for OTHERS to believe it too. The irony should not be missed. Such atheists also have affirmations, denials and a missionary force.

Sun, 07/31/2016 – 14:58 — john_hendryx


“God Made Me for China” — Eric Liddell Beyond Olympic Glory

– Albert Mohler

Online Source


Olympic glory abounds in Rio as the 31st modern Olympiad is well underway. This time, the event is living up to its hype, especially for Americans, who are likely drawn to the pomp and ceremony as much as the athletic competition.

The medal ceremonies represent both climax and catharsis, with athletes awarded the coveted gold, silver, and bronze medals placed around their necks.

It was not always so.

When Eric Liddell, “the Flying Scot,” won the 400 meter race and the gold medal at the 1924 games in Paris, there was no awards ceremony. Back then, the medals were engraved after the games and mailed in a simple package to the victors. But, even without the medal ceremony, there was glory. Liddell instantly became a hero to the entire United Kingdom and was recognized as one of the greatest athletes of his age.

Americans of my generation remember Eric Liddell largely because of Chariots of Fire, the 1981 British film written by Colin Welland, produced by David Puttnam, and directed by Hugh Hudson. The film was a surprising success in both Britain and the United States, winning four Academy Awards including Best Picture. The musical score for the film by Vangelis won another of the Oscars, and its theme is still instantly recognizable to those who have seen the movie.

To its credit, Chariots of Fire recognized Eric Liddell’s Christian faith and testimony. His story is inseparable from the drama of his refusal to compete on Sunday, believing it to be a breaking of God’s commandment. Though this determination was well-known before the 1924 Olympics, it became internationally famous when heats for Liddell’s best race, 100 meters, were scheduled for Sunday.

The dramatic plot of Chariots of Fire presented a personal competition between Liddell and Harold Abrahams, another top runner who had experienced the agonies of anti-Semitism as a student at Cambridge. When Liddell withdrew from the 100 meter event, Abrahams won, bringing Britain glory. Liddell had become a figure of ridicule, with everyone from athletic officials to British leaders unable to persuade him to sacrifice his moral convictions for the Olympic glory he was promised.

Liddell was left to run the 400 meter race, an event for which he was not favored and to which he knew he brought liabilities in terms of his racing form. But run he did, and he ran right into the history books, winning the gold medal with a personal story that shocked the world, even in the 1920s. His intensity of Christian conviction was already out of style and often ridiculed, but Eric Liddell became one of the most famous men in the British Empire and the larger world of athletics.

Those who have seen Chariots of Fire well remember how it ends, with the magnificent and sentimental music of Sir Hubert Parry’s anthem “Jerusalem” and William Blake’s famous words: “Bring me my Bow of burning gold; Bring me my Arrows of desire: Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold! Bring me my Chariot of fire!”

Then the screen fills with these words in text: “Eric Liddell, missionary, died in occupied China at the end of World War II. All of Scotland mourned.”

The end.

But in those few words was the real story of Eric Liddell. Yes, he was one of the most famous athletes of modern times and the Olympic glory of Scotland. He was also a Christian who refused to compete on Sunday and refused to compromise. Unquestionably, Eric Liddell was made to run. And yet, more than anything else, Eric Liddell believed that “God made me for China.”

Many Christians are proud to quote Liddell’s most famous lines from Chariots of Fire: “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.” God did make Eric Liddell fast, and he ran for God’s glory, but those words were not actually from Liddell. They were written by Colin Welland and put in the voice of Liddell, as played by actor Ian Charleson.

What Liddell did say, and more than once, was that God made him for China. This is what the viewers of the movie never learned. Liddell was born in Tientsin, China to missionary parents in 1902. James and Mary Liddell were in China under the commission of the London Missionary Society. As Duncan Hamilton, author of a very fine new biography of Liddell explains, as a young boy Eric Liddell simply considered himself to be Chinese.

Later, Eric and his brother would be sent to boarding school near London and would know their parents only through correspondence and brief visits. But China was always on Liddell’s heart. As a student at the University of Edinburgh, Liddell became very well known as both a runner and a preacher. He was especially powerful as a preacher to young men. Liddell spoke passionately but conversationally, explaining that the best preaching to young men took the form of a simple talk, in Duncan Hamilton’s words, “as if chatting over a picket fence.” But Liddell’s clear biblical and evangelical message came through, and powerfully.

He preached before, during, and after his Olympic glory. He returned to graduate from the University and Edinburgh shortly after the 1924 Paris games and made preparation to go to China as a missionary, also under the direction of the London Missionary Society.

He taught school, preached, and eventually found a wife, Florence. With her he had three daughters, though he was never to see the third. After decades of internal warfare and turmoil, China was thrown into the horrors of Japanese occupation during World War II.

Those horrors are still unknown to many Americans, but much of China was submitted to massive rape and murder by the occupying Imperial Japanese forces. Liddell eventually sent Florence, then pregnant with their third child, and their two daughters to Canada for safety. It was just in time.

Along with members of the China Inland Mission and many others, Christians and non-Christians alike, Eric Liddell was forced into a foretaste of hell itself in the Weihsien Internment Camp. He would die their shortly before the end of the war. In the concentration camp, Liddell became legendary and his witness for Christ astounded even many of his fellow Christians.

As Hamilton writes: “Liddell can sound too virtuous and too honorable to be true, as if those who knew him were either misrepresenting or consciously mythologizing. Not so. The evidence is too overwhelming to be dismissed as easily as that. Amid the myriad moral dilemmas in Weihsien, Liddell’s forbearance was remarkable.” He became the moral and spiritual leader of the horrifying reality with that camp.

Chariots of Fire was released when I was a seminary student. Like so many other young Christians, I saw the movie and was greatly moved by it. But, even then, I wondered if Liddell could really have been what so many others claimed of him.

Not long thereafter, a professor assigned me to read Shantung Compound by theologian Langdon Gilkey of the University of Chicago Divinity School. Gilkey was in many ways the opposite to Liddell. Gilkey was a theological liberal whose father, famously liberal, had been the first dean of the chapel at the University of Chicago. Langdon Gilkey had gone to China to teach English after graduating from Harvard. He found himself interred with Eric Liddell.

In Shantung Compound, Gilkey analyzed what happens when men and women are put under extraordinary pressure. He argued that the worst moral dilemmas in Weihsien came not from their Japanese captors, but from the prisoners themselves. His point was that, for many if not most of the captured, the experience brought out the worst in them, rather than the best. He changed the names of those inside the camp when he told their stories.

There were a few moral exceptions. Gilkey wrote of one exceptional individual, a missionary he named “Eric Ridley.” Gilkey wrote: “It is rare indeed when a person has the good fortune to meet a saint, but he came as close to it as anyone I have ever known.” Gilkey described how Liddell had largely single-handedly resolved the crisis of a breakout of teenage sexual activity in the camp. In the midst of a moral breakdown, with no societal structures to restrain behavior, few even seemed to want to help.

Gilkey made this observation: “There was a quality seemingly unique to the missionary group, namely, naturally and without pretense to respond to a need which everyone else recognized only to turn aside. Much of this went unnoticed, but our camp could scarcely have survived as well as it did without it. If there were any evidences of the grace of God observable on the surface of our camp existence, they were to be found here.”

Gilkey had renamed individuals as he wrote about them, but he described “Eric Ridley” as having won the 400 meter race at the Olympics for England before going to China as a missionary. Eric Ridley was Eric Liddell, and Langdon Gilkey was writing of a man he has observed so closely as a living saint. I realized that Langdon Gilkey had told the most important part of Eric Liddell’s story long before Chariots of Fire.

Gilkey closed his words about Erid Liddell with these: “Shortly before the camp ended, he was stricken with a brain tumor and died the same day. The entire camp, especially its youth, was stunned for days, so great was the vacuum that Eric’s death had left.”

Liddell indeed died of a brain tumor, suddenly and unexpectedly. The cause of his death only became clear after an autopsy. Eric Liddell died in the nation where he had been born. Indeed, he has sometimes been listed as China’s first Olympic medalist. He never saw his third daughter.

“God made me for China.” Eric Liddell lived his life in answer to that calling and commission. As Duncan Hamilton explains, Liddell “considered athletics as an addendum to his life rather than his sole reason for living it.”

Eric Liddell ran for God’s glory, but he was made for China. He desperately wanted the nation he loved to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ and believe. David J. Michell, director for Canada Overseas Missionary Fellowship, would introduce Liddell’s collected devotional writings, The Disciplines of the Christian Life, by stating simply that “Eric Liddell’s desire was to know God more deeply, and as a missionary, to make him known more fully.”

As Olympic glory shines from Rio, Christians must remember that Olympic glory will eventually fade. There will be medalists for all to celebrate in Rio. But, will there be another Eric Liddell? At the very least, his story needs to be told again. The most important part of his story came long after his gold medal arrived by mail.

What About Free Will?

imageI ’m currently reading a book called “What about Free Will?: Reconciling Our Choices with God’s Sovereignty” by Scott Christensen. In the book,

“Christensen explains two views that acknowledge God’s sovereignty and its relation to human responsibility: compatibilism and libertarianism. Providing cogent, biblical answers, Christensen argues for compatibilism and shows how it makes sense of evil, suffering, prayer, evangelism, and sanctification. You will gain a deeper understanding of both arguments, as well as a greater appreciation for the significant role that choices play in God’s work.” – Amazon summary

The book explains a lot of what I’ve already come to believe from the text of scripture in ways that are easily understood. Whether you are already a compatibilist, libertarian,  somewhere in between (not sure how that works), or don’t know even  what those terms mean, It’s a great read.

I’m over half-way through the book and decided not to wait to recommend it as a great read! The Amazon.com link is here.


USA Divers Acknowledge Christ at the Olympics

As reported by Townhall.com,

“A golden moment took place alongside the Rio Olympic diving boards Monday night. The Chinese team of Chen Aisen and Lin Yue may have taken first place, but U.S. divers David Boudia and Steele Johnson stole the spotlight in their NBC interview by giving all the glory to God after their silver medal-winning performance.”

I watched the Olympic event, listened to the interview, and I think it’s great that these athletes spoke of their identities in Christ when interviewed after winning their silver medal! At the same time, the headline at the Townhall article could have been more accurately written. Here’s the headline:

“USA Divers Tell NBC Reporter They Won Silver Medals Thanks to Their ‘Identity in Christ’”

That title seems to say that they won because of their identity in Christ, which is a different issue than what I actually heard. David Boudia, in a recently released book, expressed the pair’s sentiment during the interview:

“It’s totally freeing when I stay in tune with scripture,” Boudia said. “I don’t have to worry if I miss a dive. I go into competition and it’s like, ‘Praise God no matter what.’ If I do well, that’s awesome. I praise Him. If I don’t do well, praise Him even more. Competition looks way different now.”

The pair’s prevailing sentiment wasn’t that they won because they are Christians, which the article’s title can be interpreted to say. Rather, they said that self-identity ‘in Christ’, is more significant for them than their identities as Olympic medal winners. Ultimate significance is tied to our identity in Christ, not in being world class athletes or any other great achievement in this life. That’s the truth of the matter, as I see it.

Sometimes the ‘demonstrations’ of star athletes gives the impression that God somehow ‘made sure’ one of His kid’s took the medal, made the great play or touchdown, etc. I don’t think that we as Christians should be communicating that sort of message. There are plenty of ‘wolves in sheep suits’ out there that preach exactly that, that if you are a believer, you ought to be the best of the best at whatever you do.

The point I am making is that David Boudia and Steele Johnson communicated something of far greater significance than the title of a Townhall article suggested, and that’s important.

Food for thought.