Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Free film: The Making of a Martyr

Documentary
58 minutes, 2005
Rating: 7/10




In 2004, a 15-year-old boy was driven to an Israeli border checkpoint with a bomb wrapped around his body. He was supposed to blow himself up, taking as many Israelis as possible. But instead the boy gave himself up. Fear, and thoughts of his family, made him rethink his murderous goal.

His apprehension made for dramatic TV. Soldiers, at a distance, ordered him to undo his bulky coat, uncovering the explosives wrapped around his waist. The boy's round face, and short stature made him look even younger. Anyone watching the news that night couldn't help but wonder wow this child ended up in this situation. What was he thinking? Where were his parents, his family, his friends? And who encouraged him to do it?

These were pressing questions because, while Hussam Abdu decided not to blow himself up, many other children are. As The Making of a Martyr notes almost 20 per cent of Palestine suicide bombers are now children.

To get answers the two journalists/producers of this documentary headed to Palestine. They got access to all the key figures, and uncovered the way children are being recruited – through their friends, via money, and with children's television programming – to offer their lives to the cause of Jihad.

For those who are squeamish I'll warn you there are some brief gory scenes – images of bloodied bodies. This is not suitable for young children. However these scenes total no more than 30 seconds, so, while disturbing, it shouldn't stop older teens and adults from watching.

This documentary is well worth seeing. Even if you regularly read about Israel and Palestine in the papers or hear about them on the TV news you really can't understand the conflict. Those media outlets don't offer you any depth. But in The Making of a Martyr we get to follow along as two dogged journalists seek out the answers to questions hardly any one else is asking. You'll get an understanding of the underlying problems Israel faces, and the way the Palestinian people have been manipulated by their leadership. And you'll see child after child describe how they, too, would like to be martyred.

The film offers no solution, but does a very good job of showing how deep-seated the problem is – these children worship a God these delights in them blowing themselves up, so long as they kill Israelis too.

This, then, is a good film to see to understand the problem. But it is sad to see just how far they are from the only possible solution – turning to the real God, who made both Palestinians and Israelis in his own Image.

You can watch the whole film for free by playing the video above.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Flight: the Genius of Birds

Documentary
63 minutes, 2013
Rating: 9/10

I watched this with my three-year-old daughter and we had the exact same reaction: “Wow!” Flight takes a look at the design of birds and focuses particularly on hummingbirds, starlings and artic terns.

All three have their wow moments:
  • the hummingbird with how its tongue works
  • the starlings with how thousands of them can come together in giant, flexing living clouds – this was awesome! 
  • the artic terns in how they can migrate from one end of the planet to the other every year
I was thinking about not including the trailer with this one, because the trailer manages to make this remarkable film look almost boring (you can find the trailer below). That just isn't so – this is amazing, a documentary you will watch again and again!


While the hour-long film did tax the interest of my daughter - about half way through she returned to her Lego - the next day she was asking to see the rest of it. The impressive computer graphics, and the continuous close-up, slow-motion, and wide-angle shots make this a visual feast. It is intended for adults, but suitable for, and enthralling for, children too – unlike some nature documentaries, this has no violence; no predator and prey shots, so it really is child-friendly. I really can’t imagine anyone not loving this.

The thesis of Flight is that the intricacies involved in birds’ ability to fly gives evidence of a Designer. But the producers don’t specifically name the Designer; they don’t specifically give God the credit He is due. But what the producers don’t do, viewers are sure to – you can’t watch this without praising God!

You can buy it at Amazon.com by clicking here.


Monday, August 12, 2013

it's a girl

Documentary
63 minutes, 2012
Rating: 7/10

This must be the first documentary that I and feminism’s flagship publication, Ms. Magazine, have both recommended.

It covers the topic of gendercide – the killing of unborn baby girls just because they are girls – and it begins with a smiling Indian mother explaining how she strangled every one of her eight newborn girls. Her casually murderous ways are not unusual in India, where women are greatly devalued. There is a saying in southern region that, “Rearing a daughter is like watering a neighbor’s tree.” The thought is that girls are of no benefit to the family they are born into; they are only of benefit to the family they marry into.  Why? Because of dowries. Though the practice is illegal, the giving of dowries is still common in much of India. And because this money has to be paid by the bride’s family to the groom, it is profitable to have sons, but a financial burden to have daughters. So families value daughters-in-law, but not daughters.



The film begins with India, but, about midway through, transitions to China where they have also devalued women, though it has nothing to do with dowries. Instead the culprit is the country’s one-child policy. Traditionally, it is sons who care for their parents so if a couple can have just one child, they want it to be a boy.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Christian biographies for children - 3 from The Torchlighters

"The Torchlighters" is a series of animated films created by Voice of the Martyrs to teach children from 8-12 about the many people who have been persecuted for their love of God. The animation is consistently solid, and while the topic matter – persecution – is somber, the depictions of torture are quite age-appropriate (though, as I note below, some 12-year-old children may well find The Jim Elliot Story too much).

The three recommended here are highly educational, and reasonably entertaining, or to put it another way children should see these, won't mind seeing them, but likely won't want to watch them again and again. So they are excellent resources for Christian schools, but not ideal for the family video library.

I should note this isn't a blanket recommendation of the series. Several of the other films in the series depict Jesus talking to one of the characters (Augustine, Perpetua) which skirts uncomfortably close to the Second Commandment, and in other cases the biographical target has significant troubling aspects to their theology (the Arminian John Wesley, for example). But these three are well worth watching – the persecution of their Christian brothers and sisters is a topic the Western Church does not pay enough attention to, or pray enough about, so teaching our children is an important step in the right direction.

You can find a preview of these films at their website www.torchlighters.org.

The William Tyndale Story
32 min; 2005
Rating: 6/10

The strength of this film is in its simplicity. The vast cast of characters featured in the live-action version is, in this animated retelling, cut down to only the half dozen most important. So now even children will be able to follow the story and learn about how Tyndale translated the Bible into English at the cost of his own life.


The Jim Elliot Story
30 min; 2005
Rating: 6/10

In 1956, Jim Elliot and his four friends seek out a group of Ecuadorian natives who have never heard the gospel. The missionaries are murdered for their efforts. Years later, when the men’s wives also seek out the natives, and forgive them, their example serves as a powerful testimony to the truth and power of the Good News, and many of these same natives are then converted. Though this is a cartoon it should definitely be previewed by adults as some scenes – specifically when the missionaries get speared – will be too intense for some children (I would say this is for kids 10 or older)

The Richard Wumbrand Story
30 minutes; 2008
Rating: 6/10

I knew of Richard Wurmbrand as the man who founded Voice of the Martyrs, an advocacy group for the millions of Christians being persecuted around the world. But before he began speaking out for the persecuted, Pastor Wurmbrand was tortured himself, in his homeland of Romania. The Communist government intimidated other Christian leaders into silence or complicity. They wanted Wumbrand to go along too, but at a government-sponsored event Wurmbrand took the opportunity to publicly denounce the state's suppression of the Bible and their denial of God. His stand buoyed up the courage of many other Christian leaders in attendance. It also landed him in jail. As the film makes clear, what he had to endure was dreadful – physical torture and long stretches of solitary confinement – however there too God provided him the strength he needed.

We in the West have no idea what Christians in other parts of the world have to endure, and, because we haven't been so sorely tested, we also have little idea of how God provides all that we need. Of the three films here this is the one I most want to show my own children... when they get a bit older. I want them to see how this man relied on God, and could trust God to provide him all he needed, even in the most desperate of situations.

Monday, July 15, 2013

On Flywheel

The folks over at Kuyperian Commentary lament the Kendrick brothers for making films that are sermons (Flywheel, Courageous, Fireproof, Facing the Giants). It is an accurate diagnosis, but it also points out that it is best to appreciate something as it is intended. The Kendrick brothers are trying to do precisely that: they are trying to make films that are sermons, so if we don't pretend they are great art, but instead appreciate them for what they are - sermonizing films - we can appreciate them as pretty good sermonizing films.

But the reviewer also notes that film can also be a pretty powerful medium for the Christian messages that aren't sermons, as we see in some bits and pieces of the Narnia Chronicles. It is an article well worth reading, and you can find it here:

www.kuyperian.com/flywheel-eustace-and-redemption/

Thursday, July 4, 2013

How to Answer the Fool

Documentary
85 minutes, 2013
Rating: 8/10

“Why should I believe in God?”

That might seem the first, most obvious question we would have to know how to answer if we were going to hit the streets to tell people the gospel truth. But Romans 1 tells us otherwise. There we read that on some level everyone knows God exists – God has made Himself known through his creation. So, then, spending our time trying to argue for God’s existence simply isn’t fruitful. We are flattering the sinner, treating his ridiculous claim as if it was serious. As the apologist in this film, Sye Ten Bruggencate explains, if someone were to come up to us and say they didn’t believe in words, would we believe him? No, we would treat his foolish claims as just that.

So while some Christians do try to give reasons to believe in God and believe in the Bible, in How to Answer the Fool, Sye Ten Bruggencate wants to teach us how to skip right past that and instead talk to the unbeliever about how it is only by acknowledging God, and the Bible as his Word, that the world makes any sense.

This is a “presuppositional” approach to defending our Christian faith – an approach that starts with the Bible. It is the way Pastor Douglas Wilson also does apologetics, as demonstrated in the documentary Collision, but whereas Wilson focuses on morality – demonstrating that an atheist has no basis on which to complain about anything being wrong – Bruggencate focuses on the issue of reason here. He shows some rather bright atheistic university students that they have can’t justify their belief in reason. He makes his case so well that the students give up on reason, and start to argue that they actually know nothing. Sye attempts to guide the student into realizing how very foolish – how downright comical! – it is for a person paying thousands of dollars a year to learn to deny that they have ever, or could ever learn anything. He encourages them, to instead acknowledge the God who makes reason possible.

The mix of on the street exchanges, examples of famous evangelists doing evangelism wrong, and one on one clips/interviews with the “star” of this film, Sye Ten Bruggencate make this both entertaining and incredibly challenging. The only caution I would give for it is that while some approaches to evangelism flatter the sinner by treating his foolish claims as legitimate, presuppositional apologetics runs the risk of “flattening the sinner.” Sye shows how we can demolish foolish arguments, and we are indeed called to demolish these foolish arguments. But we must do so in love, and loving demolition is a tricky task, and one that must be taken on with care. I would recommend this film as the best instructional film on presuppositional apologetics, and Douglas Wilson's Collision as the better example of doing it winsomely.

It is a must-see film – one that should be used in all our schools, and one that should be seen by every member of our churches, though preferably in a setting where the film can be discussed, and the very real risk of “flattening the sinner” considered.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Who says it has to be itsy bits?

A swimsuit designer, on the evolution of the swimsuit, and how immodesty impacts the way men look at women. Her swimwear is available at www.reyswimwear.com. (There is nothing immodest or alluring in this video.)


Friday, May 17, 2013

Counterfeit Counseling

A comparison of counseling philosophies
Lecture
60 minutes, 2012 
Rating: 8/10

A good friend with a bad father was, as a young man, sent by his church to a local Christian counseling center to get help controlling his anger. But instead of addressing what he could do about his anger, the counselor had my friend talk again and again about how bad his father was. There might have been some need for the counselor to get a basic understanding of my friend's history, but there was no need for the counselor to encourage him to repeatedly rehash the sins of his father. This was a violation of the fifth commandment and something that simply should not have been part of any Christian counseling.  But as Bard Bigney explains in this DVD lecture, most of what goes by the name of Christian counseling is nothing but secular psychology baptized with a few Bible verses. 

Many years ago, after planting a church, Bigney was overwhelmed by the number of people who needed help with their problems. So he went looking for a good counseling center he could partner with.
I went to the YellowPages.... picked out a dozen or 15 Christian counseling ministries.... And I made myself a list of good questions..... "What is your understanding of man's condition, from birth?" You would be shocked at what Christian counselors were saying! Why? Because they've been trained more in psychology and Freud and Maslow and Skinner than God's Word.... And they would say, "basically good." I'd say, "Basically good? That's not what the Bible says!"

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Best of YouTube: You've Got Thumbs

Douglas Wilson does a rendition of "You've Got Thumbs"

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Heart of Texas

Documentary
60 min, 2009
Rating: 8/10

Online reviews this documentary are exasperatingly vague: "an astonishing true story of tragedy and forgiveness" "a beautiful story of how God wants us to... forgive even what seems to be unforgivable." But what is it about? Most reviewers seem determined to leave it a mystery, explaining that if you go in without knowing what to expect, the emotional impact will be all the greater.

However I am going to divulge what's at the heart of The Heart of Texas because, even though this is a wonderful film, I know some will find it too hard to watch.

It is about a family that lost their 4-year-old daughter to a hit and run driver. That is tragic and the nightmare of every parent. But what happens next is amazing. Grover Norwood, the little girl's father, forgives the man who killed his daughter. And he not only forgives him, he empathizes with this man, Ulice Parker, who had no idea he had hit a person. Grover Norwood is concerned about the guilt the man is feeling. So he invites Mr. Parker to the funeral and seats him in the front row, right next to himself and his wife. The forgiveness he shows is absolute, beautiful, and almost unbelievable. As the IMDB.com synopsis puts it: "one man chooses an extraordinary and far-reaching path of forgiveness that the world has never seen."



But is this forgiveness the like of which the world has never seen? No. As Grover Norwood makes clear, what he has done is only a reflection, a shadow of what God has done for us. And that is why this is such a powerful film – this is a man trying to be Christ-like in circumstances in which we might excuse him for displaying the worst sort of behavior towards Mr. Parker. Instead, even as he grieves the loss of his daughter, he reflects God's grace and mercy in reaching out to Mr. Parker.

This is a remarkable story, and a well-produced film. It is important to say again that this is a documentary – it is a true story, not some made for Hallmark script. It is also important to note that these are not Reformed Christians, and some of what is said has an Arminian underpinning to it. So some minimal discernment is needed to evaluate what is expressed here verbally. But you are not likely to see Christ-life forgiveness demonstrated better in action. What God enables Grover Norwood and his wife to do is stunning, awesome, and so very beautiful.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Amazing Grace: The History and Theology of Calvinism

Documentary
257 minutes, 2004
Rating: 8/10

This particular documentary surpasses most every other we have in quality and depth, but also in length too. It could make a great resource for a small group of friends who want to spend two or three evenings together exploring the wonder of God’s grace.

CONTENT

Eric Holmberg, a one time Arminian, hosts this discussion of the roots and theology of Calvinism. Production values are astonishing, and the people Holmberg chooses to interview are top notch – D. James Kennedy, R.C. Sproul, Kenneth Talbot, Walter J. Chantry and others. He manages to get them to distill huge ideas and dynamic concepts in only a few short sentences at a time.

CAUTION

This focuses on TULIP Calvinism, to the exclusion of any other dimensions. So it is a good introduction to Calvinism, but only an introduction.

CONCLUSION

It is brilliant, but at over 4 hours long it takes some endurance to make it all the way through. This is a valuable study resource for anyone but particularly for the average Reformed believer who was raised as in the Church and may never have had Calvinism systematically presented to him or her. It is a beginners' introduction to Calvinism that has enough depth to it that long-time Calvinists will still learn a lot.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Best of YouTube: Purity matters

In this 1:30 video the folks as the Apologetics Group make a crystal clear point about one of the more practical reasons sex in marriage is better. And they do it in a very striking, entirely G-rated way.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

There's Something Funny In the Water

Animated, Children
Rating: 8/10
27 minutes, 2005

Life at the Pond is a series of five videos that have a lot in common with the VeggieTales. Both combine simple animation with sophisticated humor – these are children's videos that parents can appreciate too. Both teach moral lessons that line up with what God teaches.

But while many of the VeggieTales videos "sanitize" familiar biblical stories (ex. David's descent into murder and adultery is turned into a story about wanting someone else's rubber ducky) The Pond steers clear of any disrespectful treatment of Scripture by setting their stories in the present day.

The location is, of course, a pond, and the four stars are all aquatic:

Bill the Duck is a regular joe; we are Bill the Duck
Tony the Frog fills the role of wisecracking comic relief
Floyd the Turtle is the most child-like, and often the straight man setting up Tony's zingers
Methuselah the Alligator is older, and a voice of biblical wisdom

In the first video, There's Something Funny In The Water, we get two 15 minutes stories. Bill the Duck hides the fact that he is afraid of heights, because he doesn't want to be made fun of, and, in the second story, Bill, Tony and Floyd all learn that it is important to keep promises, even when they cut into our fun. These are stories kids can relate to, and they are told with humor that parents will enjoy too. One example: the video begins with the familiar FBI warning against copying the film and Bill and Tony walk in from the sides to take a look.

Bill: Has the video started?
Tony: No it's just the FBI warning.
Bill: And after this, what? CIA warning? FDA? NRA?
Tony: The NRA puts up a warning, I pay attention!

One caution that should be mentioned: while this first video, and the one that follows it, The Little Things, Trust Starts Small, are gentle enough for even three year olds, the last three – The Alligator Hunter, The Rise And Fall of Tony The Frog, and Big Mouth Bass – are more intense. My three year-old didn't like Big Mouth Bass, because this fish was mean at the beginning. Even though she turned nice by the end it didn't matter – she was mean, so that made her scary. However what's scary for a three-year-old won't be for a five or six-year-old, so the whole series is well worth checking out.

You can find a trailer for The Little Things below and you can but a copy at Amazon.com by clicking here..

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Privileged Planet

Documentary
60 minutes, 2005
Rating: 8/10

CONTENT

This hour long documentary makes a compelling case that we live on a privileged planet. Were Earth a different size, in a different location, or were the moon’s orbit to shift ever so slightly, many of the most important scientific discoveries we’ve made about space could never have happened. It’s clear, then, that not only has Earth been designed for life, it has also been equipped for those living on it to discover all that is going on around them.

CAUTION

The only downside to this “Intelligent Designer” presentation is that our triune God is never specifically given his due credit as that Designer.

CONCLUSION

Stunning graphics accompany a strong argument. This is a superior documentary that will appeal to anyone interested in the way God has designed the solar system, the Milky Way, and our planet Earth.

You can watch this for free online (in 12 parts) below, or buy a copy at Amazon.com by clicking here.