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FIRST-PERSON: Films that helped my spiritual walk

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (BP)–While today’s cineplex is seldom the place to find biblical truths, upon occasion a movie will reinforce what I’ve learned in Bible classes. Films such as “Les Miserables,” “Stars in My Crown,” “The Next Voice You Hear,” “A Man Called Peter,” “The Hiding Place” and “Dead Man Walking” are perfect parables concerning faith, God’s love and the need for spiritual growth. Here are a few of my favorites.

— “Saint Maybe.” When a ne’er-do-well finds himself the cause of his brother’s death, he seeks a reason for his life. He stumbles upon a church gathering and quickly turns his life around, living for others. This affecting Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation presents several meaningful messages, none of which overpowers the entertaining drama. What a delight to find a film where Scripture is quoted, the Christian lifestyle is not mocked, prayers are spoken and the Gospel message is put into practice.

“Jesus of Nazareth.” This Franco Zeffirelli epic production of the life of Christ is considered by many as the best film about Jesus. Acclaimed for its thorough biblical and historical research, it is a moving and spiritual experience with many memorable performances. Robert Powell heads an all-star cast.

“Cotton Patch Gospel.” A musical comedy/drama placing the Gospel of Matthew in modern-day Georgia, this stage play is perfectly suited to video. Funny, moving and inspirational, it is a great treatment of the New Testament, effective for both teens and adults. Not easy to find –you may need to ask your Christian bookstore manager to order it.

“Babette’s Feast.” This 1987 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film is a beautiful tale of devotion and sacrifice, as well as a healing allegory where quarreling friends and acquaintances are brought together once they shed their pious austerity. The film urges us to put our faith into action.

“Places in the Heart.” A literate script presents a determined widow (Sally Field) bent on saving her farm during the ’30s Depression. It features the greatest film climax this buff has ever seen. A repentant adulterer is finally forgiven when his wife, moved by the pastor’s sermon, takes her husband’s hand during the service, signifying the restoring of a relationship through Christ’s love. And just as we put our hankies away after that moving moment, another symbolic healing occurs. I won’t give that one away, but it’s powerful!

“The Fourth Wiseman.” This made-for-TV drama is based on the Henry Van Dyke tale of a good magi (Martin Sheen) seeking the birthplace of Jesus. Because of his duty to others, however, he is delayed in the desert for 33 years, only to see the Savior from afar as He is being crucified. He has spent his life searching for the Messiah in order to give Him valuable treasures. But one by one the godly man has sold his priceless possessions in order to help others. It is a story of a man of faith putting his beliefs into practice.

“Signs.” In M. Night Shyamalan’s sci-fi thriller, the writer/director uses invading aliens as a metaphor for our fears of the unknown and our struggles with life’s injustices. Rather than merely using the supernatural to scare us, Shyamalan incorporates emotion and humanity into his parable, giving us a drama that suggests the importance of faith during life’s journey. “Signs” is about finding our way — or finding our way back.

“It’s A Wonderful Life.” Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey considers suicide until he is given the chance to see what life for others would be like if he had never been born. Perhaps the most important film Hollywood has ever produced because it reminds us that we touch so many lives and can have a sincere influence on those souls.

In Ecclesiastes 3 we are told there is a time to laugh and a time to dance. I believe that means entertainment is an elemental part of life. But the Word of God also is clear about what we should put in our heads (Philippians 4:8) and what we should avoid (Psalms 101). The key words to keep in mind while movie hunting, as in any aspect of living: discretion and discernment. Seek to know before you go.
Phil Boatwright publishes The Movie Reporter, a film guide from a Christian perspective. A full review of each film listed here is posted at www.moviereporter.com.

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  • Phil Boatwright