God Shows Up Even on Television



Not long after his appointment as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Newton Minow famously delivered a keynote speech at the annual convention of the National Association of Broadcasters.

He challenged the television executives gathered in the convention hall “to sit down in front of your own television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you.

Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off,“ he said. “I can assure that what you will observe is a vast wasteland. You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons.”

Minnow spoke those words all the way back in 1961. And since then, television has become an even more vast wasteland.

Indeed, the game shows of yesteryear have been supplanted by reality shows that celebrate decadence and depravity, like E! network’s “Keeping Up With the Kardasians,” whose star, Kim, is know for her explicit sex tape, her 72-day marriage to a pro jock, and her recent out-of-wedlock birth to a daughter whom she cleverly named North (because her baby’s father’s surname is West. Get it?). 

The formula comedies about totally unbelievable families have given way today to sitcoms glorifying dubious families like the homosexual couple with an adopted child on NBC’s “The New Normal.”

The blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism and murder that appeared on the small screen in 1961 has been ramped up a half-century later with such popular shows as AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” Showtime’s “Dexter,” CBS’ “Criminal Minds” and Fox’s “The Following.”

And the benign cartoons of a generation ago have been replaced with today’s decidedly unwholesome cartoons, like FOX’s “Family Guy,” which regularly caricaturizes both God and the Son of God in the most offensive ways.

Yet, the Christian faithful should not entirely despair of what appears on television. Because the Lord often shows up on TV, when and where least expected. And His light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.

We’re not referring here to Christian television, like Trinity Broadcasting Network, Christian Broadcasting Network or Daystar.

We’re not talking about the television ministries of such pastors as Joel Osteen, John Hagee, David Jeremiah and Charles Stanley.

Nor about programming specifically targeting people of faith, like “The Bible,” the miniseries produced by the Christian couple Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, which  aired on “History” channel this past spring.

No, what we’re talking about are the instances when God shows up on mainstream TV. When He sends a shout-out to a television audience that is not expecting Him; when He reveals his ominpresence those with eyes to see, and ears to hear.

Like last week, when ABC’s “Good Morning America” aired a segment on Leon Harris, longtime news anchor at the network’s local affiliate in Washington, D.C., who recounted his recent near-death experience.

“On two days,” said Harris, “I died,” only to be miraculously revived by an otherworldly force. “God kicked my butt out of heaven twice,” Harris told Claire Shipman, who interviewed him for GMA. “So,” he said, “I’m supposed to be here.”

God similarly showed up unexpectedly last week on the season finale of “Jungle Gold,” the reality show that airs on the Discovery Channel. The show chronicled the travails of George Wright and Scott Lomu, who left their homes in Utah to mine for gold in the African nation of Ghana.

They stuck a deal with Dave Thomas, a British expatriot, who makes Ghana his home and somehow controls the rights to 70 square miles of prime gold-bearing ground in the country’s Ashanti region.

The way Thomas was portrayed on the show made it appear he was trying to take advantage of the Yanks to enrich himself (notwithstanding that Thomas agreed to give  Wright and Lomu a 70 percent split of a gold stake worth an estimated at $2.5 million).

Not until the season finale did we learn that Thomas is a man of faith; that he and his wife have planted a church in the Ghana town of Accra; and that he plans to use the money gleaned from gold mining to grow the ministry to the glory of God.

The Almighty seems to have a thing for the Discovery Channel. Because the network recently re-aired the documentary, “Life Before Birth,” narrated by actress Courtney Cox.

“The journey from conception to birth is miraculous and mysterious,” said Cox, who may be a Hollywood liberal, but sounded very much like a pro-life conservative in the film.

Indeed, she said, a mere two weeks after conception, “miraculous changes have taken place. The embryos are developing the germ of a brain and a spinal cord. And, just a few days later, a tiny heart, no bigger than a poppy seed, begins to beat.”

That the actress used such words as “miraculous,” and such New Testament references as “poppy seed,” suggests that she secretly shares common cause with Christians who believe that life begins at conception.

Many others who appear on television are unabashed in their promotion of the Gospel.

Like the kids on season 7 of FOX’s “American Idol,” who delivered a powerful rendition of the well-know praise and worship song “Shout to the Lord.” Like Nik Wallenda, who tight-roped across Niagra Falls, calling upon the name of the Lord the entire way. And like Phil Robertson, patriarch of Louisiana family that stars in A&E’s “Duck Dynasty,” who pays homage to the Lord before every on-screen family meal.

Who knows? God just might show up on TV this evening at the Miss America Pageant. We understand that Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail, is not just the first contestant to publicly display a tattoo, she also has publicly professed that she is a Christian. 

Wouldn’t it be something if she turned out to be a pageant finalist?

Hollywood Christian Couple Brings “The Bible” to TV



My wife and I enjoyed a special blessing yesterday. We sat in the front row at Saddleback Church in SoCal where Pastor Rick Warren played host to Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, husband and wife producers of the new ten-part miniseries, “The Bible,” which premiers tonight on the History Channel.

Mark has brought such well-known reality shows to television as “Survivor,” “Celebrity Apprentice,” “The Voice,” “The Job” and “Shark Tank.” Roma is best known for her role as Monica, on the popular television series “Touched by an Angel.”

Many, I imagine, had an inkling that Roma might be a Christian. After all, she played an angel – lovingly and joyfully so – for the better part of a decade. But hardly anyone suspected Mark of being a Christ follower. I know I didn’t.

Mark and Roma told the Saddleback faithful yesterday that they believe they were called by the Lord to bring “The Bible” to the small screen. To shine a light in dark places, said Mark. To share the Good News of Jesus Christ, said Roma.

Pastor Rick is convinced that the miniseries, two parts of which will air every Sunday between now and Easter, will prove as epic as “Roots,” the eight-part miniseries that aired in 1977, that won nine Emmy Awards and remains today the third-highest rated television program in U.S. history.

“The Bible” is, arguably, the most ambitious cinematic adoption of the Good Book in Hollywood history.

More so than “The Ten Commandments,” Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 retelling of the book of Exodus, in which the estimable Charlton Heston starred as Moses (and also happened to provide the voice of the Burning Bush).

More than “Ben Hur,” the 1959 epic directed by William Wyler and also starring Charlton Heston, which won a record 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture (an achievement unmatched until “Titanic” in 2007).

More than “King of Kings,” “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” “Jesus of Nazareth” and “The Passion of the Christ,” all of  which painted, in their own way, powerful cinematic portraits of the Messiah.

That’s because Mark and Roma’s labor of love does not cover a single period of Bible history, but brings to the small screen the stories of both the Old Testament and New Testament, from Genesis to Revelation.

The husband and wife producers do not retell all 66 books of the Bible. (I’m sure they would lose much of their audience if they devoted, say, an hour to the retelling of the book of Numbers).

Instead, their narrative was driven by the stories of the Bible’s major figures, showing how the arc of Biblical history ultimately led to the arrival of Christ the Lord, whose life, death and resurrection gave meaning to everything that came before Him and everything that has followed.

Mark and Roma caution that their miniseries is not a documentary. It takes some artistic license. For instance, it refers to Simon Peter simply as Peter. And to Saul of Tarsus as Paul, before his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus.

Those minor details in no way detract from “The Bible.” In fact, it probably makes the ten-parter more accessible to those who do as yet count themselves as Christians, who are not intimately familiar with Scripture.

Among the many stories Mark and Roma shared yesterday about the making of “The Bible,” the one that filled me with the Spirit concerned their filming of a scene involving the actors playing Jesus and Nicodemus. It occurred on a still night in the Morocco desert, without a breath of wind.

Jesus, played by actor Diego Morgado, explains to Nicodemus, played by actor Simon Kunz, that he must be “born again.” By that, says Jesus, He is not speaking of physical rebirth, but spiritual. And he likens the Holy Spirit to the wind. It blows where it pleases. No one knows where it comes from or where it is going.

At that very moment in the filming, a sustained wind blue through the set, as if on cue. Mark and Roma felt it was supernatural.

Roma said that it brought to mind some of the occurrences that took place during the nine seasons she appeared on “Touched by an Angel.” She and her fellow cast members used to say “Coincidences are God’s way of staying anonymous.”

Well, I think it no coincidence that Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, Hollywood’s leading Christian couple, have brought “The Bible” to television. I believe God chose them for this Kingdom building work for such a time as this.

NBC’S ‘The New Normal’ is Anything But


So I tuned in last night to a preview of the new NBC sitcom, “The New Normal,” which officially debuts tonight. I wanted to see why USA Today TV critic Robert Bianco was so giddy about the show that he gave it not one, but two fawning reviews in the space of four days.

Well it’s not because “The New Normal” is destined to go down in TV history as one of the all time greatest sitcoms, alongside, say, “Seinfeld” or “M.A.S.H” or “All in the Family” or “The Honeymooners.”

No, the only reason it is generating favorable buzz is because of Bianco and other “progressive,” agenda-driven TV critics who hope the gay-themed show furthers the mainstreaming of homosexuality.

“The New Normal’s” main characters are two gay men who want to have a baby, who hire a single mom (who already has a daughter of her own) to be their surrogate. The gays, the surrogate, the daughter are all so sweet. The show’s baddy is the surrogate’s “outspoken, bigoted mom,” as Bianco describes her, played by actress Ellen Barkin.

At least one NBC affiliate – KSL-TV in Salt Lake City – didn’t think “The New Normal” appropriate for its audience. It was something about two men lying in bed, kissing, and whispering sweet nothings to each other.

Of course, Bianco and other TV critics, along with gay “rights” groups accused the station of homophobia.

But the same station previously decided that it wouldn’t air the NBC’s “The Playboy Club.” Yet neither Bianco or his fellow TV critics accused the station’s management of being bunnyphobic.

NBC learned last year that the mass of Americans really didn’t want to see a show on primetime network television that was, in the words of the conservative Parents Television Council, “so inherently linked to a pornographic brand that denigrates and sexualizes women.”

Indeed, the “The Playboy Club” premiered to low ratings, which steadily declined over its next three episodes before NBC finally pulled the plug.

“The New Normal” probably won’t suffer as quick an exit as “The Playboy Club” because of all the hype the show has gotten from Bianco and other TV critics who are determined that “The New Normal” will be the homosexual version of “The Cosby Show.”

But while any and every family with traditional values could identify with “the Cosby Show,” only a small percentage can identify with “The New Normal’s” gay couple who want to bring an innocent child into their ungodly lives.

That may be “normal” at 30 Rock, where NBC execs green-lighted the gay-themed sitcom. But it’s still decidedly abnormal to most Americans.

Jeff Foxworthy Hosts New Bible-Themed Game Show


I’ve never cared much for TV game shows. Sure, I’ve caught Pat Sajak on “Wheel of Fortune” and Alex Trebek on “Jeopardy” and Howie Mandel on “Deal or No Deal.” But neither those, nor any other such game shows, were must-see TV for me.

Then, last night, while flipping through channels, I happened upon “The American Bible Challenge,” which made its debut on GSN, the Game Show Network.

Hosted by popular comedian Jeff Foxworthy – whom I didn’t know was such a devoted Christ follower – the show pits three teams of three persons each in a competition in which the team that answers the most Bible trivia is the victor.

It’s exciting, said Foxworthy, “to be hosting a show about the best-selling book of all time.”

His new Bible-themed game show has great production values, with a set and lighting and dramatic background music on a par with such shows as “Deal of No Deal” and “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.”

But unlike “Deal” and “Millionaire,” and every other game show I’ve every seen, the contestants on “American Bible Challenge” compete not to enrich themselves personally, but to win cash for their designated faith-based charity.

There are other ways in which “ABC” – as I choose to refer to my favorite new game show – does things differently than garden-variety game shows.

Like going to each commercial break with praise and worship music, performed by a live choir. And like giving the competing teams 10-minutes of Bible study on the the topic of the  “Final Revelation” round (last night, it was “Women of the Bible”), after which the victorious team is crowned.

I frankly don’t expect “ABC” – “Great Fun With the Good Book, it promises viewers” – to find much of an audience among those who don’t have a faith-life. They’ll continue to catch Sajak, and the still-lovely Vanna White. Or Mandel, and his bevy of suitcase-toting models.

But that’s okay. Because there are nearly 250 million Christians out there in viewerland – 43 percent of whom regularly attend church, according to a Gallup poll – who represent a huge potential audience for Foxworthy and “The American Bible Challenge.”

I’m praying that the new Bible-based game show proves successful. For it would further prove to TV executives that there is profit in producing positive, Godly programming.

ABC’s ‘GCB’ Makes Christian Women a Laughing Stock


I first fell in like with Kristin Chenowith when she was a cast member on “Pushing Daisies,” the charming comedy-fantasy series that aired on ABC for three seasons. I liked her even more when she came out as a Christian, an affirmation, she says, that carries “a bad connotation” in Hollywood.

That’s why I am disappointed to see her starring in the new ABC comedy-drama, “GCB,” that is not nearly as charming as “Pushing Daises.” In fact, the new show, which debuted yesterday, which is based on the scurrilous book “Good Christian Bitches,” is an over-the-top insult to the majority of the Christian women I know who are imperfect, but who strive to follow faithfully after their Lord and Savior.

Chenowith’s character, Carlene Cockburn, is the Queen B of the GCBs. When an old high school classmate, Amanda Vaughn, returns to theDallasneighborhood where the GCBs live and behave in a decidedly un-Christ-like manner, they conspire to make her life hell.

They gossip about the circumstances of her return to Big D; how her husband died after driving off a cliff with his mistress, with whom he was in the midst of a sex act. They feel justified in their gossiping, in their mean-spiritedness because Amanda actually gossiped about them, was mean to them when they were all back in high school.

I have no doubt there are church-going Christian women just like the GCBs – judgmental, unforgiving, scandal-mongering. But my experience is that such Christian women are the exception, not the rule.

Many, if not most, non-Christians may feel otherwise. And a television series like GCB, although entirely make-believe, only reinforces their negative views of Christians, the “bad connotation” Chenowith notes.

What particularly troubles is that Chenowith somehow thinks it perfectly fine to star in a sitcom that denigrates Christian women because she counts herself a Christian, as does show creator Bob Harling.

Harling “wouldn’t do anything that steps over the line,” said Chenowith, adding, “and neither would I.”

Well, it remains to be seen what constitutes stepping over the line for Harling and Chenowith. The debut episode of GCB is not very encouraging.

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