“Messiah” on Netflix: Use discernment ⚠️

Messiah – Season One
Produced by Michael Petroni, Mark Burnett, and Roma Downey
Featuring Mehdi Dehbi, Michelle Monaghan, Tomer Sisley, and John Ortiz
Netflix, 2020, Ten episodes

3 Stars

A fellow-blogger recently re-blogged a cautionary post about a new Netflix series called, “Messiah.” Curious, I did a little digging and discovered the new series is about the rise of the end-times messiah, er, or is it the end-times anti-Christ? I’m not big into eschatology, but decided I would give this new series a spin. My wife and I watched the ten episodes of the series in successive evenings, an anomaly when it comes to me and television. The summary below by necessity leaves out a lot of details.

Plot (spoiler alert)

A young man (Dehbi) miraculously brings peace to war-torn Syria and then treks to Israel with his growing group of followers. On the steps leading to Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the enigmatic al-Masih (“the Messiah”) announces he is going to usher in an era of peace into the world. The CIA becomes concerned about this religious rabble rouser and a top agent, Eva Geller (Monaghan), begins to investigate. Al-Masih next shows up in Texas, seemingly saving a church from a tornado. The pastor (Ortiz) is convinced the reticent al-Masih is the second coming of Jesus. Seekers from across the nation flock to Texas to get a glimpse of the messiah. Pastor Felix leads al-Masih and a caravan of credulous followers to Washington D.C.. Al-Masih subsequently shocks the city and the nation when he seemingly walks on top of the water of the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Monument. The President of the U.S. consults with al-Masih who advises him to withdraw all military personnel throughout the world as part of the new era of peace. CIA agent, Geller, isn’t buying al-Masih’s schtick. She discovers he is actually an Iranian named Payam Golshiri, whose dossier includes an apprenticeship as a magician, studying in college under an anarchist professor, and being treated at a psychiatric facility for a “messiah complex.”

Just when al-Masih is to appear on national television, he is abducted by a Shin Bet (Israeli internal intelligence) agent (Sisley). Simultaneously, a White House official who fears the President is falling under al-Masih’s spell leaks the CIA’s classified dossier on Payam Golshiri to the media. Feeling he’s been duped, the disillusioned pastor Felix returns to Texas and burns down his church. The plane bringing al-Masih to Jerusalem crashes, but the enigmatic young man “miraculously” survives. Viewers are left to wonder whether al-Masih is the genuine Messiah, the anti-Christ, or a self-deluded megalomaniac. The cliff-hanging ending is served up as incentive to watch a (possible) second season.

Comments

Christians who know their Bibles will know right away that the al-Masih character has no connection with the Scripture prophecies regarding the second coming of Jesus Christ:

“For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” – Matthew 24:27

We know that the Bible foretells the coming of the anti-Christ at the end times, but many do not know that Islam also teaches the coming of al-Masih ad-Dajjal, a false messiah who will eventually be defeated by Jesus Christ. This series seems to incorporate elements from both the Bible and Quran regarding the anti-Christ.

There was some initial concern among both Christians and Muslims as to the identity of the mysterious al-Masih character. The show’s producers and Netfilx were banking on the uncertainty to generate interest. Some Muslims jumped the gun and mounted a petition calling for subscribers to boycott Netflix for its provocative “anti-Islamic propaganda.” After watching the series, it’s clear the show’s creators don’t intend for the al-Masih character to be Jesus Christ returned because it’s revealed that he’s actually Iranian Payam Golshiri with an unflattering past. So the question is whether he’s the anti-Christ or a mentally-unbalanced imposter. The show is interesting because it does demonstrate how the anti-Christ could possibly rise up and gain the allegiance of people worldwide, including both nominal (c)hristians and Muslims.

I don’t think Gospel Christians need to be overly alarmed by this series, but we should be discerning. One of the producers, Roma Downey, is a Roman Catholic New-Ager who, with her husband, Mark Burnett, has given us such Biblically-challenged television series as “Touched by an Angel,” “The Bible,” and “A.D.” We definitely shouldn’t be getting our theology from Downey and must remain ever-cautious and discerning, but we can view this series strictly as entertainment material and, yes, even use it as an opportunity to evangelize. Our unbelieving oldest son who lives here in town would not be caught dead reading the Bible, but he’s expressed interest in watching “Messiah.” We’ve already had a few discussions with him about the series and the coming anti-Christ.

When the “brand” becomes the THING

A couple of weeks ago, I was ending another day by lying in bed and channel surfing, as is my habit, when I came across an episode of “The Profit” television show with host, Marcus Lemonis (photo left). The premise of the show is that no-nonsense Marcus tries to help small business owners grow their enterprise.

In this particular episode, Marcus was down in Miami working with Ana Quincoces (photo right). Ana and her small company were producing a variety of flavorful sauces/marinades under her “Skinny Latina” brand name, but weren’t making much headway into the already over-crowded and competitive sauce/condiment market.

Marcus could see right away that one of Ana’s biggest problem was the labeling on the sauce bottles. There were a couple of issues:

  • The labels prominently featured the brand name “Skinny Latina,” and an illustration of the “Skinny Latina” character. The name and character closely resembled the wildly-popular “Skinnygirl” name and logo used by television personality, Bethenny Frankel, for her products.
  • Customers falsely assumed from the prominent “Skinny Latina” brand name that the sauces were low-calorie when that was not the case.

Marcus (and the viewer) could immediately see the problems with the labeling, but Ana could not. She was deeply invested in and loyal to the labeling. Marcus then asked a marketing focus group to critique the “Skinny Latina” products. Sitting behind a two-way mirror, Marcus and Ana observed as the group of objective consumers gave enthusiastic thumbs-up to the sauces, but also confirmed the problems with the labeling. However, Ana continued to dig in her heels.

Marcus then tapped a marketing firm to design labels that nicely drew attention to the product and toned down the aforementioned “Skinny Latina” distractions. They did a nice job, but Ana still would have none of it. She was devoted to her brand and her labels even though they were hindrances rather than helps.

It’s not apples and apples, but some spiritual applications came to mind from this frustrating story. Lost religious people are blindly loyal and committed to their “faith tradition” brand even though it is opposed to the Gospel of grace. I think of my Roman Catholic family and friends, but this can apply to any false religion. Roman Catholics are generally baptized as infants and brought up in their religion with its impressive array of laws, rituals, and ceremonies. They are proud of their church and its traditions, but they aren’t trusting in Jesus Christ as their Savior. They resist the Gospel. They resist salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. They cling strongly to their religious “brand,” even though it is a detriment and a danger. They resist the Physician and cling to the disease. They prize the oyster shell and discard the pearl.

“And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’” – Luke 5:39

How a Yankee New Yorker became a fan of Bluegrass Music

A couple of weeks ago, I threw a birthday bash for my wife and after everybody left, I crawled into bed and aimlessly surfed the cable channels as is my nightly custom. When I got to PBS, I saw they were broadcasting a documentary about the history of Bluegrass music. Are you kidding me? I love Bluegrass music! I watched the show for about thirty-minutes until I started to fall asleep, but caught the entire thing via on-demand the next day. Great stuff! If you’re a fan of Blugrass, you’ll really enjoy this documentary:

Big Family: The Story of Bluegrass Music
Produced by Kentucky Educational Television
PBS premier, August 30th, 2019, Length: 1 hr 58 min
To view online see here.

So how does a person born and raised in Western New York become a fan of “hillbilly” Bluegrass music?

While I was growing up in the suburbs of Rochester, N.Y. in the 1960s, my older sisters always had their Beatles records blasting from the family phonograph. Having a mind of my own, I eventually adopted the Byrds* as my favorite band, but other musical forms piqued my interest as well. I can clearly remember hearing the opening theme music of “The Beverley Hillbillies” television comedy when it premiered in 1962 and being absolutely fascinated by the lightning-quick banjo picking of Earl Scruggs (accompanied by guitarist, Lester Flatt). Flatt and Scruggs caught my attention again, as well as the rest of the nation, when their Bluegrass tunes were featured in the 1968 film, “Bonnie and Clyde.” Then there was the popular “Dueling Banjos” song featured in the 1972 movie, “Deliverance.” No, I didn’t have any Bluegrass records yet, but I definitely liked the sound.

Chris Hillman started out very young as a Bluegrass mandolin player, but was drafted into rock and roll as the bassist for the Byrds in 1964. With Hillman on board, the Byrds did take some notable excursions into country music, but he quit the group in 1968 andCapture14 attempted to combine rock and roll, rhythm and blues, and country music with his new band, the Flying Burrito Brothers. The experiment, documented by three studio albums, was artistically brave and noteworthy, but a commercial failure. Hillman and the FBBs ended their four-year run with the release of the live LP, “The Last of the Red Hot Burritos,” in 1972. The latter-day Burritos had begun including a Bluegrass set within their concerts and this album featured three Bluegrass performances, “Dixie Breakdown,” “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down,” and “Orange Blossom Special.” I loved it. I mean, really loved it. No, I didn’t run out and buy a bunch of Bluegrass albums, but I definitely had an affinity for the music. Hmm. Do I sense an album review coming up in the near-future?

Years passed by and as I was walking through Borders Book Store in 1995, a new CD wasCapture15 being played through the store’s sound system; “Now That I’ve Found You: A Collection,” a retrospective of the early recordings of Bluegrass artist, Alison Krauss. Wow! Great music! I bought that CD and eventually also bought Krauss’ five-album back catalog and stayed current with her new releases.

Over the years, I’ve gotten to know many of the artists and some of the history of the Bluegrass genre. Bill Monroe (1911-1996) is credited with taking various strains of Appalachian roots music and melding them into Bluegrass beginning in the 1930s. In Bluegrass, you’ll often hear songs with Gospel themes. Hillman has continued to feature Bluegrass on his solo albums. I generally don’t buy CDs anymore, but I will make an exception for a new Krauss album (although she’s sadly been crossing over into mainstream music more and more). Mandolinist, Sierra Hull, is pretty good, too.

So, that’s how a Yankee, born and raised, improbably became a fan of Bluegrass music.

*The lead guitarist of the Byrds, Roger McQuinn, came from a folk background. He didn’t know any better and multiple-finger picked his twelve-string Rickenbacker guitar like he had his banjo, creating a unique, “jingle-jangle” sound that became the band’s signature.

Bookworm tidbits and toxic TV

I’ve been a bookworm since my grammar school days. One of my simple pleasures used to be frequenting the many independent bookshops in Rochester. They’ve all gone out of business over the years, victims of the large chains like B. Dalton, Borders, and Barnes and Noble. But the predators became the prey and the last of the giants, B&N, is fighting to stay alive as Amazon continues to tighten its stranglehold. The latest news is that B&N is attempting to sell itself, but who would buy a failing company with no apparent future? See the article below.

Barnes & Noble could soon be putting itself up for sale

We have a B&N near us and I stop in every 2-4 weeks to check out the new offerings, but I rarely purchase anything. I’d much rather get my reading material for free fromCapture71 the library or by purchasing an inexpensive used copy from an Amazon third-party seller. Kindle is always another less-expensive option (Is it me or are those Kindle prices creeping higher and higher?). In my excursion to B&N last week, I did see a new book on the shelf, “Escaped Nuns: True Womanhood and the Campaign Against Convents in Antebellum America.” As you can imagine, that’s a “must read” for me (even though the book examines the topic from a pro-Catholic perspective). I drove home and checked the local library’s on-line catalog (I don’t have a smart phone), but they didn’t have a copy. I checked Amazon and found that it was actually cheaper to buy the book from B&N with my 10% membership discount than it was to order it from Amazon with free Prime shipping. So I drove back to B&N and bought a copy. Review to follow in a few weeks.

We also have a (c)hristian bookstore close to us, but I rarely visit anymore. I have all of the Bible study aids I need and just about all of the rest of the books they stock are written by TBN prosperity gospelers.

I recently ordered John MacArthur’s latest book, “Christ’s Call to Reform the Church: Timeless Demands From the Lord to His People” directly from Grace to You. It’s based on the seven churches in Revelation. Review to follow.

Capture72

Television notes: I had thought about reviewing each episode of CBS’s new comedy, “God Friended Me,” but changed my mind after watching the pilot episode because I could see the nebulous deity of the show had no connection to the God of the Bible. One of the main messages of last Sunday’s show was the promotion of same-sex relationships. In other television news, this past Tuesday at 8PM I began to watch “The Connors,” which is the “Roseanne” show without Roseanne. In one scene, 10-year-old Mark, who prefers to go to school dressed in skirts rather than pants, asks his grandfather, Dan, for his opinion on who the best choice would be between two candidates for a boyfriend. Dan is initially uncomfortable with the question, but gradually overcomes his “ignorant prejudices” and tries to help Mark make a good choice. Argh! That’s what’s on TV at 8PM, primetime family viewing? This is a good example of where the world is headed.

“God Friended Me” – Review of pilot episode

I finally got around to watching the pilot episode of CBS’s new religious-themed show…

God Friended Me
Pilot Episode – Originally broadcast Sunday, 9/30/18 on CBS
Featuring Brandon Micheal Hall, Violett Beane, and Suraj Sharma
Directed by Marcos Siega and written by Steven Lilien & Bryan Wynbrandt

Plot

Miles Finer (Hall) is a young single living in New York City and working at an internet security firm by day while attempting to interest Sirius Radio in his New Atheism podcast diatribes. He begins receiving mysterious Facebook friend requests from god, which he initially dismisses as a hoax. (g)od then directs him to save John Dove, who just broke up with his girlfriend and attempts to commit suicide by walking in front of a subway train. (g)od then directs Miles to Cara Bloom (Beane), an internet magazine writer. Persistent Miles enlists Cara in helping him determine who is at the bottom of this Facebook god sham. Miles’ computer software-savvy friend, Rakesh (Sharma), traces god’s IP address to a house in New Jersey, but Miles and Cara find nothing there except for a porch swing similar to the one she used to sit on as a child waiting for her absent mother to return home.

Back at Miles’ apartment, a photo mysteriously appears on his laptop, that of his deceased mother while she was in the hospital, surrounded by family and medical staff, which sends Cara exiting in a tizzy. Miles had become embittered against God when his mother was cured of breast cancer, but subsequently died in a car accident on the way home from the hospital. Oy! With help from his estranged minister father, Miles determines the nurse in the photo is Cara’s mother, who had abandoned her as a child. We find out that Cara had tracked her mother to NYC, but is ambivalent about contacting her. Miles encourages her to meet with her Mom, but when the reunion goes sour, Cara frantically dashes across a nearby street and is hit by a car. As she lies in the street, very close to death, a driver gets out of his car and comes to her aid, saving her life. The driver just happens to be….you guessed it….John Dove, the gentleman Miles had saved at the start of the show. Dove also just happens to be a doctor. As Cara recovers in the hospital, her Mom visits and they reconcile. Miles then reconciles with his minister father.

Comments

As expected, the god that’s presented in this show is the same feel-good deity presented in previous shows such as “Highway to Heaven” and “Touched By An Angel,” a god who is mainly concerned with fixing broken temporal relationships. The God of the Bible was not presented and neither was the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, Jesus was not mentioned throughout this entire pilot episode. Followers of most any religious stripe could watch this show with its generic deity and not be offended, which is obviously by design. The Facebook tie-in is a none-too-subtle gimmick to hook millennial viewers. In an awkward effort to demonstrate that the god of “God Friended Me” is not some kind of a “Puritanical prude,” Rakesh takes a brand new female acquaintance to Miles’ apartment for sex and god seems to be quite fine with that because the occasion is “providentially” used to disclose information vital to the happy ending (i.e., the photo of of Miles’ and Cara’s mothers).

The god of this show is a far cry from the God of the Bible. After watching the pilot, I doubt if I’ll be watching and/or reviewing any more episodes.

Postscript: My wife is much more of a “glass half-full” type of person, and she insists that this show, even with its very faulty theology, is better than having no shows about God on the big three networks. Comments?

“God Friended Me” debuts this Sunday, 9/30/18

Several months ago, I had posted that CBS had improbably planned another religious-themed television series, even after cancelling its disastrous “Living Biblically” show. The pilot episode of new series, “God Friended Me,” will be debuting this Sunday at 8 PM Eastern.

The show launches with Brandon Micheal Hall as Miles Finer, an outspoken atheist who receives several Facebook friend requests from God and subsequently has his world turned upside down.

I certainly don’t expect this show to present the God of the Bible and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Rather, I do fully expect that the (g)od of “God Friended Me” will be the same feel-good, faux deity portrayed in Michael Landon’s “Highway to Heaven” and Roma Downey’s “Touched By Angel.” You know the one. No sin, no repentance, no salvation in Jesus Christ by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, just a lot of Oprah-style religious cotton-candy that will appeal to the all-good-people-go-to-Heaven crowd.

But can the Lord use something like “God Friended Me” to draw a person to Jesus Christ? Absolutely He can! So with that thought in mind, I’m hopeful.

If you’d like to watch the pilot episode before Sunday evening, just click here.

Reviews of each episode to follow.

TBN’s Rogues’ Gallery

I don’t watch a lot of television, but when I channel surf, I usually scoot right past channel 50, Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN). The cable channel is a cesspool of heterodoxy with its stable of prosperity gospel and Rome-friendly televangelists. The other day, I got the idea in my head to list all of the TBN “entertainers,” so using my limited Microsoft Excel spreadsheet skills, I copied and sorted all of the shows scheduled on the cable channel during a week’s time span and came up with the list below. Based upon my own knowledge and/or with a little Google research, I categorized each televangelist as to whether they were propagators of the prosperity gospel and/or supporters of ecumenism with Rome. A “Y” means Yes, an “N” means No, and a “?” means I could not determine the status. Generally, prosperity gospelers are too busy picking out their next Mercedes or airplane to care about doctrinal differences with Rome. There are also several on the list who, while not flagrant prosperity gospelers themselves, make a habit out of hanging out in prosperity gospel circles.

A quick glance reveals this list of TBN’s 60 televangelists is heavy with prosperity, word-of-faith shysters and Rome-friendly ecumenists. BTW, Father Cedric on the list is, in fact, Roman Catholic priest, Cedric Pisegna. There are only a few on this list who I could recommend, like Charles Stanley and Ray Comfort. Several I have never heard of.

This listing is obviously not set in stone so any challenges or help with the “?”s will be appreciated. Forgive the wide columns, but incorporating an Excel spreadsheet into a WordPress post is a little messy.

Prosperity Ecumenical
Mark Batterson ? ?
Irvin Baxter ? ?
Reinhard Bonnke Y Y
John Bradshaw ? Y
Jonathan Cahn Y ?
Christine Caine Y Y
Ron Carpenter Y ?
Alicia Britt Chole ? Y
Ray Comfort N N
Kenneth Copeland Y Y
Gregory Dickow Y Y
Creflo Dollar Y ?
Jesse Duplantis Y Y
Tony Evans N Y
Karl Faase ? Y
Jentezen Franklin Y Y
Steven Furtick Y ?
Louie Giglio ? Y
Billy Graham N Y
Jack Graham ? Y
John Gray Y Y
John Hagee Y ?
Allen Jackson ? ?
T. D. Jakes Y Y
Robert Jeffress N Y
David Jeremiah N Y
Mark Jeske ? ?
Daniel Kolenda Y ?
Greg Laurie ? Y
Hal Lindsey ? ?
Max Lucado N Y
James MacDonald ? ?
Guillermo Maldonado Y ?
James Merritt ? ?
Joyce Meyer Y Y
Beth Moore ? Y
Robert Morris Y ?
Joel Osteen Y Y
Father Cedric N Y
Fred K. Price Y ?
Joseph Prince Y ?
David Rives ? ?
Pat Robertson Y Y
James Robison Y Y
Samuel Rodriguez Y Y
Sid Roth Y ?
Rabbi Kirt Schneider Y ?
Bobby Schuller ? ?
Jay Sekulow Y ?
Priscilla Shirer ? Y
Kerry Shook N N
Erick Stakelbeck ? ?
Charles Stanley N N
Perry Stone Y ?
Tommy Tenney ? ?
Holly Wagner ? Y
Don Wilton N ?
Andrew Wommack Y Y
Ed Young Y Y
Michael Youssef N ?

The improbable “return” of Jimmy Swaggart

Disclaimer: I do not endorse Jimmy Swaggart Ministries (JSM). I offer this posting strictly as a summary of my recent observations.

Back when I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior in the early 1980’s, (c)hristian television was pretty bad, just like today with all of the shenanigans going on at TBN. The biggest name in (c)hristian television back then was Jim Bakker, who preached a nascent prosperity gospel with his flamboyant wife, Tammy Faye, on their PTL network. Another big-name televangelist at the time was Jimmy Swaggart. It was Swaggart who helped bring down his fellow-Pentecostal, Bakker, when financial improprieties and sexual scandals began coming to light in 1987. But Swaggart wasn’t immune from scandal himself. Just a year later, in 1988, he was caught with a prostitute, and again in 1991. Swaggart should have resigned, but he had a mini-empire down there in Baton Rouge and kept the wheels rolling. Defrocked by the Assemblies of God, Swaggart faded into semi-obscurity.

Flash forward to 2018. My wife and I just purchased a new mattress with an adjustable base. Wowza! It’s a fine thing to recline in bed with my head and feet raised up. Ahhh! I usually wind down my day by aimlessly channel surfing in bed until I turn out the lights, but lately I’ve been pausing on Jimmy Swaggart’s SonLife Network (SLN) cable channel. Jimmy Swaggart? Is he still around? Yes, brother Swaggart is now 83-years-old, and has actually revived his once very-troubled ministry with the help of his son, Donnie, and grandson, Gabriel.

I’ve watched the SLN channel irregularly for about a month and I do have a few observations:

  • Pretty much forgotten after his scandals, Swaggart’s ministry was deep in the dumps – Sunday attendance at his 7000-seat Family Worship Center was only a couple of hundred in the early aughts – until he improbably revived the enterpri$e through his SLN cable network. Read the amazing story here.
  • Swaggart is a Pentecostal and I am a cessationist in regards to the apostolic gifts of the Spirit. Jimmy and his associates refer to glossolalia and healings quite a bit, but I take all of that with a grain of salt, no offense intended to my Pentecostal and charismatic brethren.
  • Swaggart does preach the genuine Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, but he delivers it packaged as “The Message of the Cross,” a slogan he uses repeatedly. A viewer gets the impression that he’s had the phrase trademarked, he uses it so often. For every time Jesus’ name is mentioned by Swaggart, “the cross” is mentioned ten or fifteen times. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not not saying we should never mention what Jesus Christ accomplished for us on the cross, it’s just that the cross is given a strange preeminence at JSM.
  • Swaggart constantly hawks his “Expositor’s Study Bible,” in which his commentary in red lettering is intermixed with Scripture instead of being placed as footnotes. That’s just wrong.
  • Speaking of hawking, during the program breaks, JSM materials are constantly promoted by Jimmy, Donnie, and Gabe. It also seems like there’s a never-ending plethora of telethons for the support of JSM and SLN.
  • To his credit, Swaggart indirectly refers to his past failings with remorse.
  • The prosperity gospel is not pushed hard by the Swaggarts compared to televangelists like Copeland, Dollar, or Meyer, but it’s still a part of the message. A young Donnie Swaggart notoriously rebuked prosperity preachers twenty years ago (see video here), but he’s now saying financial prosperity is part of the believer’s inheritance in Christ.
  • Speaking of financial prosperity, the Swaggarts do not divulge any of JSM’s financial records. If you’re sending your money to JSM, you have no idea if it’s going towards ministry or Donnie’s new Rolex. The Lord commands us to be good stewards. If a ministry refuses to allow its financial records to be scrutinized, we shouldn’t contribute one red cent.
  • The other night, I was listening to Donnie praising the work of the Holy Spirit in regards to the proliferation of the manifestations of the Pentecostal gifts of the spirit throughout the world. He specifically mentioned the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR) movement as an example. Donnie makes my point for me. One-hundred and sixty-million Catholics, including tens of thousands of priests, belong to CCR. They still strongly believe in Catholicism’s false gospel of sacramental grace and merit, yet Pentecostals and charismatics embrace them as believers because they manifest the requisite gifts. To be fair, many cessationist evangelicals also embrace Rome.
  • The music/worship segments that are broadcast are generally very enjoyable. Swaggart employs some talented singers and musicians and ol’ Jimmy can still tickle the ivories. You won’t hear any Hillsong music during one of Swaggart’s worship segments. I imagine many Christians who otherwise would not devote any time to Swaggart tune in for the music segments.
  • All of the shows on SLN are slick. There’s nothing amateurish about the production quality. The operative word here is slick. Jimmy, Donnie, and Gabe are exceptional communicators and entertainers. If they were selling cars, they would have the most profitable dealership in Louisiana.

Final thoughts: I wouldn’t recommend that anyone get their teaching from Jimmy or the other Swaggarts. As I mentioned previously, Jimmy should have resigned from the ministry following his scandals. However, there is “some” good information that does comes through SLN. I imagine some people have genuinely accepted Christ after listening to the Swaggarts give out the Gospel. But a believer definitely needs to be cautious and discerning while watching SBN and must be constantly engaged in “chewing on the meat and spitting out the bones.”

Postscript: A couple of months after writing the above post, I happened to catch a telecast of a “classic” (pre-scandal) telecast from the Family Worship Center and I was amazed to see a mammoth balcony stretching across the auditorium filled with people. The balcony is still there but current telecasts of services at the FWC purposely limit the camera angle so as not to expose the empty balcony.

Going, going, gone! Living Biblically 13

This review is for the thirteenth and final episode of CBS’s cancelled sit-com, “Living Biblically.” The premise of series was that the main character, Chip, a Roman Catholic and self-professed “good” person, desired to be an “even better” person by following the Bible literally. The show is in sync with the “good people go to Heaven” philosophy and at odds with the Biblical message of man’s total depravity and the Good News! of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

Living Biblically
Episode 13, “David and Goliath”
CBS, originally aired 7/21/18

Plot

Chip (Jay R. Ferguson) hangs out with his pregnant wife, Leslie (Lindsey Kraft), and his “God Squad” spiritual advisers, priest Gene (Ian Gomez) and rabbi Gil (David Krumholtz), down at the local watering hole and wrings his hands over the upcoming financial challenges the couple will soon face with a child.

The next day at his newspaper office, Chip and his peers find out their boss, Ms. Meadows, was fired by Mitch, a company big-shot, as part of a corporate cost-cutting measure. When Chip meets with his God Squad again, he expresses his frustration about not being able to help Ms. Meadows. The clergymen advise Chip that he’s not powerless. Just as young David brought down the Philistine giant, Goliath, with a slingshot, they suggest his writing talent is also a potent weapon.

Chip hatches a plan and writes an article about how corporate greed is destroying people’s lives as in the case of Ms. Meadows with the intention of sneaking it into the newspaper. Chip and co-workers, Vince (Tony Rock) and Cheryl (Sara Gilbert), surreptitiously enter the workplace at night and load the anonymous article into the paper’s computer feed for the next edition.

Chip’s article makes the front page of the newspaper and causes a city-wide outrage, including protests in front of company headquarters. Mitch determines that Chip is the author and immediately fires him. However, the “big boss,” Mitch’s father, advises him via a phone call to avert any future bad press by immediately rehiring Chip. Sensing his favorable bargaining position, Chip imposes upon Mitch to also rehire Ms. Meadows.

Back at the local watering hole, everyone celebrates Chip’s improbable victory including a grateful Ms. Meadows. In anticipation of a second season, the show’s writers end the episode with Leslie revealing she is carrying twins, prompting Chip to inform his “God Squad” that he’s going to need twice the amount of their spiritual guidance going forward, much to their chagrin.

Commentary

I don’t have much to say about this final episode. There really wasn’t much of anything noteworthy to glean from it.

After this final installment, I can finally say goodbye to this sorry comedy series, which claimed to be about “Living Biblically,” but which had absolutely no trace of the Good News! of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. What the series did accomplish was to demonstrate fairly well Catholicism’s false gospel of sacramental grace and merit and its “good guys go to Heaven” philosophy.

Postscript: I recently read an online review of this works-righteousness-themed series that smartly commented that it would have been more accurately named “Living Levitically.”

Living Biblically, Episode 12: “It’s Better to Give Than to Receive”

Today, we’re going to review the next-to-last episode of the cancelled CBS sit-com, “Living Biblically.” The premise of the series is that the main character, Chip, a Roman Catholic and self-professed “good” person, desires to be an “even better” person by following the Bible literally. The show is in sync with the “good people go to Heaven” philosophy and at odds with the Biblical message of man’s total depravity and the Good News! of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

Living Biblically
Episode 12, “It’s Better to Give Than to Receive”
CBS, originally aired 7/14/18

Plot

Chip’s boss, Ms. Meadows, calls the staff at the newspaper together to kick-off the annual charity effort, “Koaster Rides 4 Kids,” at a Six Flags amusement park, the idea being that employees sign up sponsors to donate a dollar amount for every time they ride the roller coaster. What a sacrifice! Chip meets with his “God Squad” at the local tavern to enlist their support, but priest Gene and rabbi Gil balk at such a cheesy concept. Priest Gene suggests instead that the newspaper staff help fix up a family residence in his parish that was damaged by fire. Chip pitches the idea to his workmates and they grudgingly accept.

Saturday morning, everyone shows up at the worksite, but their enthusiasm wanes quickly due to the hard work involved. They decide a day at Six Flags would be more enjoyable and stage a walkout, leaving behind Chip and his wife Leslie, Gene, and Gil. Priest Gene was hoping the family would be able to move back into the repaired house on Sunday, but the walkout foils those plans.

At Six Flags, the deserters begin to have second thoughts about their selfish behavior. The story ends on a happy note as everyone returns back to the house to continue repairing the structure.

Comments

The Bible says even our good deeds, including our charitable efforts, are like filthy rags.

“But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.” – Isaiah 64:6

Everything we do is tainted by sin, even our charitable giving. For example:

  • We contribute to charities for a tax write-off.
  • We’ll contribute to charities if we receive some kind of recognition such as having our name published alongside other benefactors so others can see how generous we are. Catholic churches and organizations often publish the names of contributors in the parish bulletin and diocesan newspaper as incentive for giving.
  • When we give we often expect some kind of reciprocation.
  • We give because it makes us feel better about ourselves.

There’s a gentleman who made quite a fortune in the Rochester area who has contributed massive amounts of money to the construction of several new educational and medical buildings in town. Not surprisingly, all of the buildings bear his name.

This episode does an interesting job of examining people’s less-than-altruistic motives behind their charitable efforts, but it leaves out the most important spiritual lesson. We are all depraved sinners in need of the Savior, Jesus Christ. We can’t reform ourselves unto salvation. All of us are sinners and fall short of God’s glory. Repent of your sin and accept Jesus Christ as your Savior by faith alone.