Last Friday, my father and I had a chance to see Director Andrew Hyatt’s “Paul, Apostle of Christ.” If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, then you know that I don’t often write movie reviews and if I do, it’s usually because the movie was a depraved piece of soul-melting, mind-numbing garbage. In other words, I’m usually trying to warn you to steer clear of most of what Hollywood excretes these days. Just visit my “Entertainment” category tag and see for yourself.
Thankfully, this is not the case for “Paul, Apostle of Christ.” The movie is arguably one of the most powerful and inspiring biblical films to date, right behind Mel Gibson’s 2004 blockbuster “The Passion of the Christ.” It’s also helpful that fans of “The Passion” are reintroduced to beloved actor Jim Caviezel, who steals the show, this time as the physician and apostle Luke. Indeed the movie could have very well been titled “Luke” or even “Luke and Paul: Apostles of Christ.” The latter title certainly would’ve made more sense, given that much of the story revolves around Luke writing down a historical account of Paul’s life and ministry, which will eventually become the Acts of the Apostles, known to Christians today as the Book of Acts. Luke also visits with many persecuted Christians, treating their wounds and offering encouragement.
Actor James Faulkner brilliantly portrays the sick and aging apostle Paul, who spends most of the film locked in a dank, dark Roman prison, where he awaits his forthcoming execution for preaching the “The Way” — the Gospel of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
The film certainly isn’t perfect by any stretch. Viewers interested in seeing Paul’s detailed story and background are only given brief flashback sequences. However, it is still quite an exceptional addition to the genre. Of course, it will undoubtedly be nitpicked by elitist Hollywood critics, most of whom have no understanding of biblical history, much less a personal love of the source material.
In other words, this is a movie that will resonate predominantly with Christ-followers. If you’re not a believer, you may find it to be slow or boring. There is very little action or edge-of-your-seat intensity. It’s not “The Avengers” or “Pirates of the Caribbean.” You might appreciate its cinematic artistry and musical score, but don’t expect this one to win any Oscars. Much of the spoken dialogue in the film is taken straight from the Book of Romans and other various excerpts of Scripture. The depth of these lines will likely only impact those who have a deep relationship with the Bible’s indescribable significance, eternal value and ongoing relevancy.
Speaking of relevancy, that’s what makes this film — and the story of Paul and Luke — so beautiful for Christian viewers in particular: It’s relatable and engaging. When you see how intensely Paul regrets his former life as Saul of Tarsus — the prominent persecutor and murderer of Christians — you can’t help but be moved by the immeasurable grace and forgiveness that God poured out upon him on the Damascus road. (Acts 9) Although this conversion moment in Paul’s life is only shown briefly in the film, it still reminds us that no Christ-follower is perfect. We all have a past. We all sin and fail. (Romans 3:23) But, when we repent from our wickedness and seek Christ, we can be forgiven through His work on the Cross. (Romans 3:24-26)
Paul is often theorized by many scholars and theologians to be the anonymous author of the Book of Hebrews. In the latter verses of chapter 10, he exhorts us to “…stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together….” Later in the movie, we meet Priscilla and Aquila — the First Century missionary couple who were close friends with Paul. They graciously open up their home and allow small groups of Christian brothers and sisters to huddle together for prayer, encouragement and support, doing precisely what the text from Hebrews commands us to do today. I was moved by the passion with which these men and women clung to their faith. These were some of the earliest church Sunday school classes and Growth Groups. And they managed to meet together without using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, text-messages, websites or Starbucks. Moreover, they did it all while risking certain death if discovered by Roman guards.
I mentioned earlier that there was little action and intensity. This is only true to an extent, as the film’s PG-13 rating reflects the graphic persecution and torture many Christ-followers endured while in Rome. For me, this was perhaps the most relevant and important aspect of the movie. As the maniacal Emperor Nero is ordering the city reduced to ashes, Christians are crucified and their lifeless corpses are burned on crosses to be used as torches to light the streets at night. Some are shackled and drug into the Roman coliseums where they’ll be devoured by lions and killed for sport (not actually shown.) Another scene depicts the slaughtering of a woman’s family off-camera. However, viewers do later see this mother covered in the blood of her dead children.
While the film certainly isn’t as violent or gory as “The Passion of the Christ,” it is still shocking enough to make its ultimate point: Christians were brutally persecuted and murdered for their faith in Jesus Christ and for preaching the Gospel. It’s no wonder that many of them spend most of the movie panicking in fear, debating whether or not they should remain in Rome as a light in the darkness or flee to another city where they could avoid oppression.
Here, the movie certainly begs the question: What would you do in the face of persecution for your faith? As American Christians, I don’t think we confront this question as often as we should. And that’s what I left this movie pondering. Would I be willing to lay down my life for my faith just like Paul, Luke and those early Christians? If I'm being honest, I have to answer: "I don’t know." I would hope so.
But, I do know this: We have no concept of true persecution. Most of us are hardly willing to taint our reputation at work or amongst our friends by revealing that we believe in Jesus. Would we really endure physical pain or even death for our Savior? Would we sacrifice our own lives so that Christianity could endure? The lives of our children? Our loved ones?
Ask yourself these deep questions. Reflect. Pray. Then go see this movie.
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This post is one that probably won't resonate as strongly for many of you, but I’m going to share it anyway because — as my loyal readers and subscribers — you’ve been a part of this journey all along, even if you were utterly oblivious to this fact.
As of right now, this site averages over 12,000 views from about 3,100 unique visitors — people just like you — on a monthly basis. It also rakes in even higher amounts of readership due to cross-traffic from my official Facebook page, where I’m able to do Live videos, post daily commentary and generally spew out my egotistical thoughts on whatever political, cultural and religious issues I choose to address. I admit that when I first started this blogging venture, I never imagined that I’d see such an increase in page hits and followers over the years. All I knew is that I loved to write. I’ve loved it since high school, where all of my English teachers told me I that I was “already writing on a college level,” whatever that meant.
When I finally did go to college, I figured that I might as well get a degree in this whole “writing thing,” so I earned a Bachelors in Journalism and minored in English. I’ve been published in a couple of local magazines, but I never thought that anyone would actually want to listen to my personal opinions. You’ve all proven me wrong and I’m eternally grateful. Every comment, share, retweet, e-mail, compliment, Facebook message, insult and death threat is immensely appreciated.
Anyway, as some of you know from my bio, I also juggle a full-time digital media position at my church and serve on the worship team as lead acoustic rhythm guitarist. And up until November 11 of last year, I was working part-time for Old Navy Clothing Co./GAP Inc.
I say “was” because I’ve officially been out of the sales world for about four months now. It’s still a strange sensation. After all, I had been a retail peasant since 2003. Fourteen years. It was familiar. It was safe. It was comfortable. For a long time, it was the only form of paid employment that I knew.
Unfortunately, the high-stress environment ultimately took a toll on my epilepsy last year and started triggering my seizures (which had been dormant from childhood to 23-years-old) more frequently. I prayed, sought God’s face and had conversations with my parents. After much deliberation, we decided that the most optimal decision for my health was for me to leave my job. I could do part-time yard client work with my dad to earn extra cash during the week. Besides, it’s not like I was making a fortune folding ugly jeans and running a cash register five days a week. My parents graciously offered to help cover some of my medical expenses.
As much as I detested my actual job, it wasn’t easy to walk away from the customer service industry. I spent most of my formative young adult years in that world. I had been molded by it. I gained some independency there. I had met people and made friends. I’ve also never been much of a risk-taker. Ask anyone in my family. I don’t do well with unpredictable circumstances, particularly when it comes to finances. But, here I am now — living on the edge of the unknown — cutting grass, blowing leaves, trimming hedges, teaching guitar lessons, proofreading high school students’ research papers and whatever it takes to earn enough money just to get by, hoping that everything will somehow work out, wishing I didn't have to depend on my parents for money or my family for transportation.
So why am I telling you all of this?
Fast-forward to present day.
This certainly isn’t the life I thought I’d have at 32-years-old. It isn’t the life I want. But, guess what? I still have dreams, hopes and goals. One of those goals is this website and its content. Over 3,000 people read what’s published here every month according to my analytics dashboard. I don’t know why, but they do. This month I might even exceed 4,000. That’s certainly a far cry from the authors and nationally-syndicated columnists who have millions of readers. But, it’s progress. So, I’m going to keep writing, posting and publishing and let God handle the rest. That’s all I can really do. It’s all any of us can do. Maybe I’ll get picked up by a Christian media outlet or conservative digital publication. Maybe I’ll get hired by a Christian author, speaker, church or organization. Who knows? Only God does. And that’s half the fun.
There’s certainly nothing special about my site. It doesn’t boast a slick, modern design (although this may change eventually.) It doesn’t have any fancy gizmos or gadgets. No flash animation or impressive apps. My web design professors from college would probably give me a “C” at best.
Likewise, there’s nothing special about me. I’m just a guy with seizures who writes how I feel about stuff. For some reason, people seem to like what I say, so they read it and leave comments and sometimes they even share it on Facebook and Twitter. I don’t have a particularly climactic, breathtaking or emotional story. At the same time, I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth and my journey hasn’t always been one full of happiness, fun and success. Indeed, there are parts of my story that have been difficult, dark, terrifying and challenging.
In spite of all that, there are some risks worth taking in life. This writing venture is that sort of risk. I honestly have no idea where it will lead or if it will lead anywhere at all. God could have something else in mind altogether. All I know is that — for the foreseeable future — I’ll still be writing and posting as often as possible. I’ll be doing videos more often. I’ll also be submitting some of my work to well-known sites, publishers and authors. Pray with me that this whole process goes smoothly.
Of course, I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without you. My readers have brought me this far. You’ve shared my articles, left comments, promoted my blog online and by word-of-mouth. You’ve left my cards at local restaurants and coffee shops. I hope you’ll continue to read and engage with my content.
I also hope you’ll be just as adventurous with your ambitions and aspirations. Don’t let fear and all the “what if’s” cripple what you could be doing, especially if you’re still young and single with your entire life ahead of you. Do whatever it takes.
Now isn’t the time to be making excuses, creating safety nets or devising some sort of fallback plan for yourself. I don’t say this because I’ve mastered the art of living life. In fact, I say it because I haven’t. I’m still trying to figure this all out. But, one thing is certain: nothing worth achieving ever came without hard work, sacrifice, sweat, failings, dedication and passion.
Perhaps that’s my ultimate point, if I even have one at all. Like I said, there’s not much to me. I’m just an average dude who writes stuff and puts it on the Internet and on social media. So, if you’re reading this right now, thank you. It means more than you know. Stay tuned for future additions to the website and how you can be engaged and get involved even more.