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Faith, Media & Culture

Faith, Media & Culture

Ted McGinley reflects on faith, the meaning of the Cross and playing a pastor in “Do You Believe?”

posted by John W. Kennedy

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

These are Happy Days for Ted McGinley. Pure Flix’s newest faith film, Do You Believe? debuted at No. 6 at the box office last weekend. With an estimated weekend gross of $3.6 million dollars, and a release to over 1,300 theaters nationwide. While not quiet matching the B.O. returns set last year by the company’s unexpected hit God’s Not Dead, I’d say that’s still not bad — especially when you consider the positive audience reaction on social media. In my view, in terms of quality, Do You Believe?, which expand to about 100 additional theaters for Easter weekend,  is actually better than its predecessor in terms of storytelling, acting and production quality.

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For those of you unfamiliar with the film, Do You Believe? is about a group of people whose lives unexpectedly intersect in a way in which they all must individually answer the question of whether or not they believe in the power of the cross of Christ. The ensemble cast includes Mira Sorvino, Cybill Shepherd, Lee Majors, Sean Astin, Alexa PenaVega, Brian Bosworth, Andrea Logan White, musician Shwazye,  UFC star Mavrick Von Haug and, tying it all together, Ted McGinley as a pastor forced to question the depth of his own faith.

I recently had the opportunity to interview McGinley — best known for his regular roles in iconic TV series like Happy Days, The Love Boat and Married…with Children about his role in Do You Believe? and about his own quiet-but-real Christian faith. I was joined in the interview by Jeannie Law of Breathcast.com.

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JWK: You’ve spoken very lovingly and respectfully about your upbringing that was far from the world of show business — about your mother being a rock of the family while your father was busy working to put on the food on the table. What did your father do?

TED MCGINLEY: He sold cardboard boxes and, at one point, sold corrugated egg cartons. When I was a kid I couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t president of the company…I was angry at them (the company) forever. He was in sales and he’d have to take these guys out. He was always taking them places that I thought “Well, why can’t we go there?!” He had to take these people and I couldn’t understand what was wrong with the company that they wouldn’t make him the president. But, that’s me. I’m wired to want to be the president. I don’t know that he was. I have no idea where he came down on that deal.

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JEANNIE LAW: What was the appeal for you and the other actors to be a part of such an overtly Christian film?

TM: (Producer) David AR White called me and said “Hey, I think I got something for you.” He sent me the script and when I read it there were four parts that I wanted to play. That never happens, right? So, I thought this is pretty interesting. Right away, just the script alone was enough to pull you in…The story, the writing was everything. The script comes first. If that isn’t good enough, you know it’s gonna be a long ride. So, I was pulled into that. And..,to have the opportunity to play the pastor and sort of marry one of those fantasies of mine as a kid (to be a pastor) to your real life, that’s pretty cool.

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JL: Not that you would really know, but what do you think drew the other actors?

TM: There’s always a part, as an actor, where you just take it because it’s a gig. Billy Bush…(asked) is that a gig or is that a passion project? I said both — how lucky. So, for some actors it is just a gig. Maybe there were some in their (because) it’s just work. But, I think what happens on a film like this — now that they’re seeing it — is now (they) realize the full scope of a project like (this). You can’t work on a film like (this) without being changed in some way.

JWK: Did you and the cast get along well? .

TM: Yes.

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JWK: Considering the subject, it would seem natural that you and the other cast members might talk a bit about the subject of faith. Did you talk about faith with any of the cast?

TM: Well, I certainly did with (Tracy Melcior who plays my wife) on the (film) and the director (Jon Gunn). Most of my scenes were just with them — with (an) exception (being) my interaction with Delroy Lindo (in) the beginning. That was it. But, really, I had to cover it with my (screen) wife and with Jon Gunn. We talked about it quite a bit in the beginning. Brian Bosworth talked about it. The guy who gets hit by the car with the tattoo on his face, Mavrick (Von Haug), he’s a UFC fighting champion but he’s a born-again, out-there, proud (Christian). He talks about it. That’s all he talks about. He’s very cool, a very, very interesting guy. He’s frightening to look at. You think he’s gonna eat you.

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JWK: You mentioned that you have thought about being a minister? Have you ever played one before this film?

TM: Somebody else asked have you played one before and I said “I can’t even remember” half the shows that I’ve done.

JWK: You’ve mentioned that you’re a little shy about talking about your faith — but playing a pastor in this film has, in a way, forced you to open up about your faith. Have you found that to be cathartic?

TM: Yeah, absolutely. I’m very proud of my faith. So, it’s not so much (being embarrassed by it). It’s just it is really personal. It’s not one of those things I’m willing to compromise. I don’t have to bounce it off other people. I’m not willing to take judgment on what I believe — and I would hate to not live up to it. That’s just not fair.

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JWK: In the sense that the film has given you a reason to talk about your faith, have you found that to be at all liberating ?

TM: Yeah, absolutely, for sure.

JL: Because the Cross is so important in the film, I’d like to ask you if you could summarize in one sentence what the Cross means to you?

TM: It means forgiveness. It means everlasting life. I believe it is the Way and it is the Truth. When I say that in the film, that wasn’t…the script. I meant that. I believe it’s the Truth. I think what it really means to me personally is that I’m never alone and that, as a man, as you go through your life, there’s no way anybody gets through this life without being bloodied along the way.  It’s rough. We’re human. It’s hard. So, the truth is that in my deepest, darkest moments, I realize that I’m not alone. I feel bad for people who (don’t have) faith because they don’t have that blanket of comfort…If I’m going out on stage, I always say a prayer right before I go out. Whatever it is. Before I take off on a plane. There’s just always this connection…God knows. I know. That’s all I need. That’s how it works for me.

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JWK: Have there been any films that you’ve seen that have been particularly inspirational to you?

TM: Off the top of my head, I would say Schindler’s List. For me, I think it is the most powerful movie I’ve ever seen. I’m always amazed…that someone would be willing to risk their life for the lives of others.  That’s the truest statement there is, that kind of courage. That one sticks with me.

And the film-making aspect of that is the highest level there is. No matter what category — if it was costume making, if it was lighting, whatever — they were the best of the best. It was a masterpiece (to) me. Hard to watch. I couldn’t speak afterwards.

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JWK: Getting back to Do You Believe? what did your wife think when she saw it?

TM: She loved it. I didn’t let her see it…until I saw the film. So, I watched it but I wouldn’t let her watch it with me because I wanted her to see it at the premiere so that I could really get that experience — and she loved it. She was very, very moved — (to) tears. And that’s fun (to experience it that way with her).

Note: In July Pure Flix will release its next film, Faith of Our Fathers, in theaters. In May the studio is set to begin production on God’s Not Dead 2 which is scheduled for theatrical release next Easter.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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Coming Attractions: “Holderness Family” on TV + “Brother’s Keepers” and “War Room” in theaters

posted by John W. Kennedy

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

TV: The Holderness Family airs on UP TV tomorrow night (Thursday, 3/26) @ 10:00 PM (ET).

Synopsis: Billed as the “first family of viral video,” The Holderness Family is a reality show that follows the eponymous husband-and-wife filmmakers Penn and Kim as they go about their everyday lives in Raleigh, North Carolina while producing musical parodies with titles like Xmas Jammies and their recent Super Bowl anthem It’s Sunday Night. The videos often involve their two kids (eight-year-old Lola and five-year-old Penn Charles) who certainly seem to be enjoying the process. 

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The family’s online videos have been viewed by about 33 million people to date and have been featured across diverse platforms, including Today, Buzzfeed.com, USA Today and US Weekly. They’ve even been parodied on SNL. The series will premiere with back-to-back episodes following the special one-hour season finale of Bringing Up Bates which is UP’s highest-rated series ever. The show is produced by Figure 8 Films (which also produces Bates and TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting) and Greenroom Communications which is the Holderness’ literally in-house production company with commercial clients that include Hidden Valley Ranch, Weight Watchers, the children’s clothing store Chasing Fireflies and Hasbro’s Monopoly.

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Mini-Review: There’s no doubt that Penn, Kim and their kids have great chemistry and seem to genuinely have fun doing the program and their show may very well be a success for UP. After all, how can you go wrong with funny videos featuring kids?  And, I must say, their music has catchy tunes and witty lyrics. The back-and-forth between Penn and Kim is also often quite clever. While some of the some of the relentless aren’t-we-having-fun? banter can seem a little forced, if you like happy family reality shows you may very well enjoy this one.  The bottom line is that The Holderness Family is probably a good business and programming gambit by UP. My only question is why is such a family-friendly show is airing at 10:00 PM?

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Theaters: Brother’s Keeper opens nationwide on May 29th.

Synopsis: Brother’s Keeper follows the story of two orphaned identical twins, Pete and Andy.  As their high school graduation nears, Pete plans to marry Maggie, the love of his life, and head off to school to become a preacher. Andy, who wants nothing to do with God, has no plans, no direction and seemingly no future. In a cruel twist of fate—orchestrated by a rival for Maggie’s heart—Pete finds himself locked away in prison on trumped-up charges. The brothers must decide if they will seek vengeance on those whose corruption and deceit have taken that freedom away.
While revenge may seem sweet, Brother’s Keeper co-director Josh Mills sees the story  as a powerful reminder that only forgiveness can truly heal. He says “The film addresses multiple themes and shows the raw emotion of how truly difficult it is to forgive in extreme circumstances, It captivates the audience into feeling both deep-seeded anger and compassion for the characters…This film will surprise audiences, forcing them to reevaluate what is most important in their own lives.” He adds “The movie grapples with several themes throughout the story, including: reconciliation, second chances, salvation, forgiveness and sacrifice.”

Brother’s Keeper
is a Desert Wind Films production.  Executive Producer Steven Camp helped to secure the rights to The Gift & Giver, the original story that inspired the film.  The movie is directed by Josh Mills and TJ Amato and stars Alex and Graham Miller, Daniel Samonas (iCarly, Wizards of Waverly Place), Michael Rooker (Guardians of the Galaxy) MacKenzie Mauzy (Into the Woods),  Ray Wise (How I Met Your Mother), W. Earl Brown (True Detective), Noell Coet, Robyn Lively and country music artist Travis Tritt.
Brother’s Keeper will be released through the movie ticket reservation platform and film distribution company SEATZY which allows moviegoers to participate in the process of supporting the films getting ticket reservations in early and assuring the film will play in the theater closest to them. It also allows moviegoers all across the country the opportunity to bring the movie to their city if the movie is not playing nearby.

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In the fall of 2013, the film was shown at eleven select locations as part of a “sneak peek” week long release. With sold out showings, Brother’s Keeper boasted a successful opening weekend at the box office averaging over $11,000 per screen (including SEATZY presales), beating out national films including Ender’s Game, About Time, Last Vegas and Free Birds.

Theaters: War Room opens nationwide in theaters August 28.

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Synopsis: From the award-winning creators of Fireproof and Courageous comes War Room, a film drama that explores the  power that prayer can have on marriages, parenting, careers, friendships and every area of our lives.

Tony and Elizabeth Jordan have it all—great jobs, a beautiful daughter, and their dream  house. But appearances can be deceiving. Tony and Elizabeth Jordan’s world  is actually crumbling under the strain of a failing marriage. While Tony basks in his    professional success and flirts with temptation, Elizabeth resigns herself to increasing  bitterness. But their lives take an unexpected turn when Elizabeth meets her newest  client, Miss Clara, and is challenged to establish a “war room” and a battle plan of  prayer for her family. As Elizabeth tries to fight for her family, Tony’s hidden struggles  come to light. Tony must decide if he will make amends to his family and prove Miss  Clara’s wisdom that victories don’t come by accident.

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Writer-director Alex Kendrick (who also acts in the movie) says “We made this film to inspire, challenge and motivate viewers to fight the right kind of battles and to fight them the best way.”

Others in the cast include T.C. Stallings (Courageous), comedian Michael Jr., Karen Abercrombie,  Alena Pitts and New York Times bestselling author and Bible teacher Priscilla Shirer in her film debut. Christian speaker Beth Moore has a cameo role.  her first acting role. War Room is directed by Alex Kendrick and produced by his brother Stephen Kendrick and Gary Wheeler.  The Kendrick brothers also co-wrote the script. AFFIRM Films and Provident Films partnered with the Kendricks on the film which was  filmed in and around Charlotte, N.C.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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Muslim actor Haaz Sleiman on portraying Jesus in NatGeo’s “Killing Jesus”

posted by John W. Kennedy

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

A Muslim perspective on Jesus. I attended the red-carpet event for Killing Jesus at Lincoln Center last night. The film, shot in Morocco and based on the bestselling book by Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, focuses on the political intrigue leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus. The film premieres on National Geographic Channel this Sunday (Palm Sunday) at 8:00 PM (ET). The cast includes Stephen Moyer as Pontius Pilate, Kelsey Grammer as King Herod, John Rhys-Davies as Annas, Rufus Sewell as the high priest Caiaphas and, quite interestingly, the Islamic actor Haaz Sleiman (Covert Affairs).

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Muslims, of course, believe Jesus to be a great prophet but not to be the Son of God. I had the opportunity to talk briefly with Sleiman, who projects a very warm and kind demeanor, about the reaction he has received from both the Christian and Muslim communities.

He replied by saying that from both sides he has received “so much support, beautiful support.” He adds “You know, there are few here and there from both sides that were just either not happy about it or had their opinions and I love that — because that means we are doing the right thing. Whenever you create some sort of disturbance in the air, there’s an awakening that happens, an opportunity for a conversation, an opportunity to build bridges, specifically, an opportunity to connect different groups that typically wouldn’t connect with one another…For me, a wonderful example is when you see a rabbi sitting with a priest sitting with an Islamic (cleric) and they only have love. They’re  coming from a place of love of one another and respect even if they disagree about certain things that are fundamental in their beliefs.”

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The UAE-born actor who grew up in Lebanon is busy this TV pilot season with a role in ABC’s Biblically-themed saga Of Kings and Profits that’s shooting in South Africa.

I’ll post my review of Killing Jesus on Friday.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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Film event explores the history and possible theological significance of “Four Blood Moons”

posted by John W. Kennedy

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

Rising in theaters for one night only tonight (3/23): Four Blood Moons

Four Blood Moons is playing in about 700 locations across the country tonight only. The film starts at 7:30 PM local time. Following the closing credits, a panel discussion will feature several participants the film (i.e. an astrophysicist, an historian, a rabbi) talking deeper about the subject matter. For information on finding a theater near you, click here.

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Synopsis (from the film’s website) FOUR BLOOD MOONS is a theatrical one night event exploring a rare lunar phenomenon that over the centuries has accompanied both tragedy and triumph for the Jewish people. From Pastor John Hagee’s New York Times best-selling book of the same name (750,000 copies in print from Worthy Publishing)…

…“The heavens are ‘God’s billboard.’ He’s been sending signals to earth, and we haven’t been picking them up,” Hagee says. “Two blood moons, in 2014 and 2015, point to dramatic events in the Middle East and, as a result, changes in the whole world.”…

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…FOUR BLOOD MOONS combines scripture, science, history and big-screen live action spanning centuries, including previous similar lunar occurrences and the earth-shaking changes around them. It also examines our current four blood moon cycle—and its possible meaning for Israel, the Middle East and the world.

An array of historians, religious scholars and commentators appear in FOUR BLOOD MOONS and offer their insight—filmmaker, speaker and author Dinesh D’Souza; radio host and author Dennis Prager; and noted author and historian David Barton to name just a few.

Details: So what is a Blood Moon?

According to EarthSky.org, a lunar tetrad (aka blood moon) is defined as  four successive total lunar eclipses, with no partial lunar eclipses in between, each of which is separated from the other by six lunar months (six full moons).

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John Hagee, the sometimes controversial senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas,  notes that only three times in the past 500 years have four blood moons (or tetrads) occurred back to back and on major Jewish holy days.

1493 – Spain’s rulers had expelled all Jews and Columbus had discovered America, an eventual haven for the Jewish people.
1948-49 – The founding of Israel.
1967-68 – Following the Six-Day War, Jerusalem rejoins the state of Israel.

The fourth tetrad, he says, began April 15, 2014, on Passover. In October last year, the second blood moon appeared on the Feast of Tabernacles (also known as Sukkot). Blood moons in 2015 land on the same holy days.

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Talking with…Four Blood Moons producer Rick Eldridge

All interesting stuff. I haven’t actually previewed the film — and I’m wary of trying to predict the future based on signs — but I did have the opportunity to talk with its producer Rick Eldridge — whose noteworthy previous credits include the 2006 faith-themed drama 2006’s The Ultimate Gift and its 2013 sequel The Ultimate Life. A third film in the Ultimate trilogy (The Ultimate Legacy) will begin filming this summer.

JWK: Unlike the drama The Ultimate films, which I previously interviewed you about, this film is a documentary — albeit with dramatic reenactments. So, this is a bit of a change of pace.

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RICK ELDRIDGE: It is.  I did Running the Sahara many years ago which was a documentary with Matt Damon and I’ve done some shorter things too that were of a documentary nature. But it’s definitely a departure from some of the dramatic things, although we had quite a few dramatic reenactments in this film that really were quite cinematic and worked really well. We’re very pleased with them.

JWK: How did the movie come about?

RE: Pastor Hagee and his group had been working with a management team that actually had done some marketing and that kind of work for me over the years. When they kind of came up with the idea of making a movie, they contacted me and asked if I would be interested. I kinda felt the same way as we just talked about. I was kind of like “Wow, that’s a departure for me.” But I met with them and just felt very strongly about the subject matter after I read it. I didn’t know Pastor Hagee before this but it’s certainly been a great experience. It’s been fantastic to get to know them and understand a little more of their work and ministry. I think the subject matter is very compelling.

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JWK: In your own words, what is the significance of the “blood moon” as it pertains to science, history and theology?

RE: If you look at the calendar, there are quite a few points in history where we talk about blood moons, the difference to me is the tetrad — which is four blood moons in succession. We actually have an astrophysicist in our movie that kind of explains that a little bit. It is a rare phenomenon. When you look at it as a believer — and you put a Biblical perspective on it — it’s even more of a phenomenon because it falls in each case on high holy days on the Jewish calendar. If you look back in history, that’s happened only three other times in the last several hundred years…It usually ushered in significant change in the Middle East and, specifically, as to Israel and God’s chosen people. So, that’s some of the correlations that Hagee came up with. After looking at that, I said “This is really interesting.”

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JWK: I will say the correlations are interesting. 1493 was around the time Columbus found America which, as noted in the press material, became an eventual haven for Jewish people. In 1948, Israel became  a country and in 1967 the famed Six-Day War led to Jerusalem becoming a part of Israel. So, it seems to me, the blood moon has been associated with positive events for the Jewish people.

RE: Generally, it has — although it’s brought about a lot of heartache and destruction. War is never a good thing. There’s been a lot of that.

I guess I heard in the news about the blue moon that happened in April of last year but this was way before I was considering the movie or anything like that. You look at right after that…and you’re thinking “Wow, the blood moon happened in April and then we had the ISIS issue, we had the ebola issue, we had the conflict in the Gaza Strip area. With all of this going on, it does seem significant.

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The thing I wanted to do was not really to predict a date and a time and a place for anything. I don’t think that’s appropriate and it’s not what we wanted to do — but I think it’s certainly something we should look at and something we should pay attention to and come to some kind of terms as to how we process that ourselves. As Hagee says, things are about to change and I think we’re seeing that already in our world.

JWK: Certainly there are lots of things going on currently regarding Israel — including Prime Minister Netanyahu’s reelection and the American administration’s response to that. And, of course, add on to that the nuclear talks with Iran. It does seem like a lot of things are converging.

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RE: It really does. In the (film), we clearly state as well about the Biblical Scripture that says “Those who bless Israel will be blessed and those who curse Israel will be cursed.” That’ s spoken to. There’s a really big piece of the movie that discusses the relationship that the United States — from its foundation — has with Israel and with the Jewish people. It’s fascinating and, I think, enlightening and, hopefully, inspirational. It’s also tough to really look at and understand too.

JWK: So, I’m glad to hear you say that you’re not taking it upon yourself to make a prediction about the end of the world or anything like that — but that it is an interesting phenomenon to look at.

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RE: It is. (Our) narrator Joe Pags did a phenomenal job. He actually does a lot of work with Glenn Beck…When we wrote the narrative around the story — which, basically, walks you through the whole movie — we said “You know, we want this to be inquisitive.” We want to ask questions. We want to lead the audience in the direction of our story but we don’t want to lead the audience in the direction of a response or an answer. We just want to inform them. He does that in a really fantastic way. He takes a very middle-of-the-road approach which is exactly what we wanted to do.

One of the things that we really hope happens out of this is that it creates a lot of opportunity for conversations. After the movie, people can go have a cup of coffee and talk about it and begin to dig deeper as to what they really do believe.

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JWK: I’m not trying trying to generate controversy but I am interested in your response to a WorldNetDaily report about an alleged dispute between Pastor Hagee and Mark Biltz, pastor of El Shaddai Ministries in Bonney Lake, Washington. The report claims that Pastor Hagee pretty much ripped off his blood moons research from Pastor Biltz.

RE: I know Mark. I actually met Mark through the process of making the movie. In fact, if you look at the beginning of Hagee’s book, he credits Mark with being the person that brought to his attention the whole thing about the blood moon. Of course, Pastor Hagee went and did a lot of his own research and came up with his own determinations about that…I think they’re friends. Hagee’s organization (is) Christians United for Israel. Mark is a northeastern representative of that. So, they work very closely together. I think that, certainly, Pastor Hagee, when he heard about the research that had been done by Mark, went and did his own…He thinks quite a bit of Mark (and) Mark’s in the movie.

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JWK: That’s interesting — because, according to the WND report, he was interviewed for the film but his participation was left o the cutting room floor.

RE: That’s not true. I haven’t read the whole article but I know a little bit about it. It just came out. I think that’s a little bit misconstrued because, I can tell you this, Mark was very gracious to us. He came and did the interview. He gave us some fantastic sound bites and spoke very highly of Pastor Hagee. He had a high degree of respect for Pastor Hagee as Hagee did for him. I had never met him but when we discussed who needs to be a part of the movie, he was top of the list…So, I think that article kind of misleads you a little bit as to the controversy. There’s not really one. And Mark is not on the cutting room floor. In fact, he has multiple sound bites in the movie.

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JWK: So, the idea that he was cut out of the movie is just flat-out wrong?

RE: Yeah.

JWK: The WND article also claims that Hagee gets some dates wrong. 

RE: This is kind of funny, in a way. Everybody knows that Columbus made his first journey (to the New World)  in 1492. The blood moon was 1493. We cover that in the movie. 1493 is the Spanish Inquisition. That’s when Columbus sailed again with 17 ships that were mostly full of a lot of people that had been cast out of Spain because of their faith. 1493 is the corrected date but ’92 is that period of unrest that kind of began that process of discovering the New World. So, it’s actually ’92-’93. The blood moon happened in ’93. I don’t think there’s a day and a date and a time that we want to put on things. It’s not like on September 12th, 1492 this happened. I think it ushered in a period of time in history when that first blood moon hit in ’93 that carried through — again a tetrad of four blood moons — that happened and created great promise for the world and for the Jewish people who came and flourished in America.

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(Update: In a WND article published since our Thursday conversation, Biltz seems to back away from fanning controversy, saying “Yes I am in his movie. I most certainly am. And to me the important thing is getting the message out because I want the whole world to wake up.”)

JWK: It’s kind of interesting that you talk about an instance of four blood moons in 1493 and then we fast forward to 1948, 1967 and this year. That’s a large gap between the first and the latter three which are clustered pretty closely together.

RE: It is. Obviously, this is all based on the heavens and how it happened. Nobody scheduled these things — except our Lord. If you look at the NASA Lunar Calendar you can see, in context, how these things happen…There have been a lot of other blood moons and a lot of other sequences you can refer to to but none that are tetrads. That’s the rarity — four in a row. And then the fact that we as believers look at the references (to) a Jewish holy day, that again is just an incredible coincidence, if you want to call it that.

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I think it is God speaking to us. It you look in The Bible, many, many times (it) talks about (God) speaking through the stars and the heavens. We, as Christians, even look at the star over Bethlehem (which led to) the Baby Jesus. So, many times in Scripture it’s referenced that way. It’s worth looking into.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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