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Saturday, November 01 2014 @ 03:18 AM EDT

From "Last Temptation" To Transformation

I was working today on scripting new episodes of Together thru the Bible. In one of the episodes about God's nature I tell a story from my early days with KLYT in Albuquerque when I got involved in the controversy over the showing of the movie Last Temptation of Christ to a group of high school students. I got involved in the controversy as a result of a case of mistaken identity. A radio announcer on another station was publicly criticizing the teacher on his morning show. A journalist from the Albuquerque Journal got wind of it, and for some unknown reason assumed that I was that personality. This was back in the day when my interest in politics and society amounted to how far I could keep them away from me.

The journalist called me, fired off some questions I unwisely answered about something I knew nothing about, and then the next day my name figured prominently in a front page article. I was such a dork. But that case of mistaken identity lead to a meeting with the teacher and school principal, a guest shot on my show, multiple follow-up discussions, and a complete change in my career for the next four years into politics and activism. In hindsight I look back and ask myself, "What was I thinking?" How did I let a case of mistaken identity sidetrack my career for so long? What a dope.

No matter.

As I was writing the introduction to my Bible study program I recalled my interactions with the teacher who showed the movie, Joyce Briscoe. The controversy surrounding us got pretty hot for a short while and I got painted in the media with the usual broad brush stroke that often goes with the "right-wing, crazy Christian" moniker. I don't remember all of the details of my interactions with Mrs. Briscoe, but there was one thing she said that I've kept close to me to this day.


During my last discussion with Mrs. Briscoe she said, "I have to tell you something. You're not the person the media has made you out to be. You've treated me fairly, and I appreciate the way you've discussed this situation with me."

As I said, I got to thinking about Mrs. Briscoe as I was writing my intro and wondered whatever became of her. Did she continue teaching for long? Did she eventually come to a different conclusion about Jesus rather than the honestly mistaken view she held? So I decided to do an online search.

Sadly, I discovered that Mrs. Briscoe was killed in a car accident in 2006. She was 56. What a terrible tragedy.

I read a few sites that had some kind words to say about her, noting that she spent her final years as a volunteer for the ACLU. From that alone it's probably safe to assume she didn't have a change of heart about the historical Jesus.

As I read the sad news of her death, the irony of my brief experience with her suddenly hit me.

As a result of a case of mistaken identity I got involved in, and ending up leading a protest over a school's use of a film about a false Jesus as history. I can't help but wonder what kind of effect that has had on the kids (now adults) who received that kind of "religious instruction" in their history class?

I talked to Mrs. Briscoe in depth about why she chose to use Last Temptation of Christ. "If you wanted to use a movie to teach about the beginning of Christianity," I asked, "then why not use one that is at least more historically accurate?"

Her response to me was, "If I had used King of Kings or some other film, do you know what kind of controversy that would have caused?"

Seriously.

The really ironic thing—and I want to be careful here because I don't want this to read like I'm trying to pat myself on the back—is that I was trying to convince Mrs. Briscoe to present something to her history class that was as factually accurate as possible. But she refused.

Now, its 17 years later and one of my chief responsibilities is to oversea our Steppe-by-Steppe project that uses multiple, historically accurate Bible movies to educate Mongolians nationwide about Christ and the Bible. In addition to birthing the project, part of my role has been to develop the teaching material we use in conjunction with the movies.

The impact of using accurate (or perhaps I should say, "mostly accurate") Bible movies is dramatic. We see hundreds, even thousands of lives changed. To add to the irony, the month that Mrs. Briscoe was tragically killed is the same month we launched our first presentations and began seeing lives transformed.

Just this morning I read 40 testimonies by people who have watched the movies and begun to have their lives changed—including the testimony of a young woman and her father:

"My name is Jugderkhorloo. As I watched these movies there was very special change in my life. I watched movies about Joseph and Moses. My father who is not Christian watched all these movies and then threw away his idols that he worshiped. These idols were an inheritance from his family. The movie about Moses is very important. As a new Christian, I thought about going back [to idols]. But now I learned that following Christ faithfully to the end is important."

Her father said:

"I kept all idols that I worshiped before and did not throw them away. But yesterday I watched the movies and I realized that there are no other gods except Him and all these idols are useless! So I threw away all those idols. As I watched the movie about Joseph I learned how to forgive and treat others. I think these movies are very understandable and they touched my heart."

This is what the real story, the real history presented in the Bible can do for a person.

I may be 16 months late, but I was truly saddened to read of Mrs. Briscoe's fate. What a terrible tragedy. And yet I can't help but wonder what kind of impact she might have had as a talented teacher if she had come to grips with the reality of Jesus Christ instead of a film maker's fantasy. Almost no one regards Last Temptation as a film of any artistic or historic merit. Nor is it a valuable teaching tool in history classes today. If my experience with Mrs. Briscoe and with our field ministry has reinforced anything it is this: Fantasy fails, but truth transforms.

I'll never forget Mrs. Briscoe's kind words to me during our last interview. It's too bad there could not have been more friendly exchanges between us. Yet I'm also humbled and thankful that the Lord has seen fit to use even me as a teacher, using movies, to change people's lives.

God is the God of irony.

What a gracious, gracious God we serve.

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