The Inspiring Pastor behind 'Courageous' (Part 2)

This is a continuation of the Heart Choices Today post (September 21, 2011) ~ my conversation with Michael Catt, executive producer of the new film, Courageous.

I know that Vance Havner and Manley Beasley influenced your life; they were your mentors. Can men become courageous without having strong mentors.

Catt: Some can, but I think it is our responsibility to mentor. Paul said to Timothy: “Stir up the gift of God within you.” Paul didn’t tell Timothy, “Let God stir up the gift.” He said, “You stir up the gift; you’re responsible, son, for what you do with your life.”

I’m trying to do it [to mentor]. I’m trying to encourage other guys to do it. I’ve got some guys who have surrendered to the ministry out of Sherwood [Baptist Church] . We made a decision—they’re all guys who are just turning 30—and we made a decision last year that we’re going to spend a week together every year, just guys; and we’re going to talk about ministry and about life.

And I give them books. I just gave them a biography on Leonard Ravenhill. And I say, “When you get through, I want a report. I want to know you read it.” And so now—I’m watching them—they’re sending Leonard Ravenhill quotes out on Twitter. So I got the point across. But they’re learning to have some backbone and to take a stand.

Me: How do you encourage men to change the culture?

Catt: To me, the only way we’re going to change the culture is revival. I mean, really, unless God sweeps across this land, we’re not getting it. I’m preparing a series right now called “Control: God’s in Control, You’re Not.” And in my first message, I went through tornadoes, floods, wildfires, tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes—you can’t do one thing to stop that. So God’s trying to say, “I’m rolling across this land in judgment, and everyone’s saying, ‘What’s going on? What’s going on?’ And God says, “I’m going on. I’m trying to get your attention.” He could cripple us without ever having another terrorist attack.

Part of being courageous is standing up in this culture and saying, “You don’t get it.” Until we give our lives wholeheartedly to God, were not really going to get it, because mediocrity and average Christianity and a lukewarm church is not going to address this culture. That already has almost shut our doors.

I sent a Tweet out last month, and I was kind of just sitting in my recliner at home on a Saturday, and I thought, “Hmmm... I’ll just send a Tweet out: 'What if a thousand pastors would start calling churches to cleansing, repentance, and revival?'” Within 20 minutes, I had about 25 pastors that follow me on Twitter for some reason—must not have anything else to do—and they said, “I’m in.”

So I’ve got this whole group of guys—at least a dozen guys—and almost everything they’re sending out on Twitter is related to revival. And they’re starting to have prayer times in their churches for revival. There are guys in some significant, established churches that have high influence that, I mean (snaps fingers)—one of the first ones that said, “I’m in.” Because I think we all know we’re in trouble.

Me: How have you been most courageous, Michael? What has God done in your heart to make you a more courageous man?

Catt: The first moment I had a glimpse of what it meant to be courageous was with Vance Havner, at the invitation when I surrendered to the Lordship of Christ. And when I realized that I didn’t want to be a typical preacher. I had a conversation with Warren Wiersbe one day, and I said, “Warren, I don’t feel like I fit. I don’t like going to conventions. I don’t like the politics. I’m a square peg in a round hole.” And Warren said, “Michael, it’s because you’re a maverick. There’s something about you that doesn’t worry about what people think about you.” But he told me to go and study church history, and I did. You see, everybody that God has used was a maverick. Monuments are not built to conformists. They’re built to mavericks. They’re built to people who say, “Not on my watch.”

And I had to be courageous at Sherwood. We had two backdoor revivals where we lost hundreds of people. We had a lot of carnality.

Me: There's a price you pay for courage, isn't there?

Catt: There is. We never split; we never had a church fight; but I just drew some lines and said, “We’re not going to be a legalistic church—you know? That’s wearing a fa├žade of religion. We’re going to start stripping away legalism." Some people don’t want to deal with that, and they started to leave. And when we started talking about what it takes to reach out across racial lines and to build bridges, we lost people that didn’t want to cross those lines. And so it was Blessed Subtraction.

And I’ve got a lot of people in town that just won’t even talk to me. I’ve got pastors in town that won’t speak to me. I tell people I’ve got scars on my back, but you don’t want me to take my shirt off! Those first few years were tough, but I decided I could either run and uproot my family, or I could stay and fight the battle for what I believe and sense the truth ought to be....

[Photo to the left, L to R: Alex Kendrick, Jim McBride, Stephen Kendrick, and seated, Michael Catt]

... and so, in the last seven or eight years, we’ve seen a wind of revival in our church. We’ve had more people at the altar than we’ve ever had before. People who have come who are like-hearted—we’ve had people who come who drive from 30 communities around us, some who drive 45 minutes to an hour to come, and this is on country roads, not highways like in Dallas. They come because they sense that God is doing something. God is bringing us the people to do what He’s calling us to do.

In fact, many of the people in Fireproof weren’t even in the church when we made Facing the Giants. People who are in Courageous weren’t even in the church when we made Fireproof. And you know whether they're coming because they want to be in a movie. They didn’t come to church because of the movies; they came to church because God drew them. They’re very sensitive, and you can hear it in their voices and see it in their servant spirit.

Me: When we talk about revival, it seems that women are always leading the church, so I'm excited to see this reaching out to men.

Catt: We’re seeing more men coming to the altar. We’re seeing more men bringing their children and their young people with them to the altar. We’ve got about 100 men right now who every Tuesday morning, at 6:00 in the morning (from 6:00 to 8:00), are going through Master Life, just learning how to walk with God. Most of them are under 40. Because they want to make a difference.

I’m seeing a whole new generation. I mean, I’ve got people who’ve been in my prayer group for years and they’re weak and frail, but I see this new generation of 30 year olds and early 40s, and they’re coming in and saying, “We’re going to make a difference. We’re not going to drop the ball.”

Me: That is so encouraging. Thank you, Michael, for all that you are doing to point individuals and families back to the truth of the Word of God. Your films are a powerful tool, and I appreciate your spirit and what you are doing.


The Inspiring Pastor behind 'Courageous' (Part 1)

How is courage related to revival? This is one of the questions I asked a pastor who is at the forefront in making Christian films.

As I attended the International Christian Retail Show in July, one of the highlights of my visit was time with Michael Catt. We sat down for an interview for Christian Examiner, but I also asked him more personal questions about his heart for revival, because I sat under his ministry a few years ago when he spoke to Life Action, a Michigan-based revival ministry.

Catt is the senior pastor at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, and the executive producer of Sherwood Pictures ~ the film producer of the independent movie hits "Facing the Giants" and "Fireproof." Their newest film, "Courageous" ~ which I screened in Atlanta ~ will be released on September 30th.

The film is about the need for men (and women) to step forward in courage to be the individuals, spouses, and parents God desires them to be; but knowing Catt's heart for revival, and his message about The Power of Desperation that leads to revival, I wanted to pursue more than a simple interview about the movie. The following is part one of our conversation:

Me: Is there a connection between desperation and courage?

Catt: Quite honestly, I don’t think the average person will ever have courage until they’re desperate, until they’re faced with a crisis. And then, ordinary people do extraordinary things. If there’s a family crisis, if there’s a church crisis, the people that rise up in those moments and show courage—it may have been hidden in them, and they may have even not known it. I mean, most of us, to be honest, are just average people. Crisis and tragedy make us desperate for God, and then God empowers us to be courageous.

When I think about Jesus—“Let not your heart be troubled; I’m going away”—you can imagine what they [the disciples] thought, because their security was in, “I can see him, touch him, feel him.” After He left and the Holy Spirit came, there was great courage. I mean, these guys that ran in the Garden of Gethsemane are suddenly standing up to the very people that could have killed them, too, and saying, “Repent.” You know? Peter was bold, but he didn’t have Spirit-filled courage. He had, sometimes, I-went-too-far courage. [Laughter]

Me: That's right. But I'm seeing that Courageous isn't just a movie. What is your long-term vision for the Courageous Project?

Catt: I think part of it is, the movie is the "event," a little like the movie Fireproof was. A couple leaves Fireproof and asks, “What are we supposed to do now? How do I do this? I mean, I don’t know anything.” Whether they're lost or saved. So Courageous is like, “I need to be a better dad. How do I do that?”

And so, we turned down dozens and dozens of products and said, “OK, what adds value to the ministry? What helps minister to people?” And so it was Alex and Steven Kendrick writing the Resolutions for Men, based on that resolution in the movie, and Priscilla Shirer writing Resolutions for Women—they’re companion books. And then Jim McBride—he’s our executive pastor—has written a book called Rite of Passage: A Father's Blessing; and it’s how to help your children grow up and become godly young men and women.

And then Courageous Living [Catt's book] takes a little bit of a broader path—how to live courageously in the various instances of life.

Me: Warren Weirsbe said, “Truth isn’t something to be learned, but to be practiced.” I’m wondering, how do they go home and practice it, every day? Can they practice courage day-by-day?

Catt: In the movie, you see men in various stages of their lives—some feeling like failures, some uncertain, one really working at being accountable—and they’re learning that it’s not good enough to be good enough. You know, they’ve got to be godly.

With Courageous Living, one of the things I try to do with that is—here is Abraham, and he has the courage to get up and leave his comfort zone. He’s got all the money, the house, the security, and he gets up and moves.

We have a generation of young people coming up that aren’t as much interested in money as they are purpose. They say, “I want to make a difference with my life.” So how do they walk away from the comfort that their baby boomer parents have provided for them, and say, “I just want to make a difference. It’s not about what I have; it’s about what I’m doing."

Me: So your book is more about pastoral teaching?

Catt: Yes, it’s a good resource for pastors who will want to do the Courageous Living curriculum. They’ll want to do the movie, and they’ll buy all the streams [movie pieces].

Me: Tell me about the curriculum.

Catt: The Courageous Living curriculum—Steven and I wrote that—has a four-week and an eight-week curriculum, and it uses movie clips from the movie and follows themes. We’ve got a purpose in every lesson. You can use it in a small group or you can use as a couple. You can use it a lot of different ways as an outreach to try to get couples in your neighborhood.

And then Alex asked me, “Do you think you could write a book—a broader book,” and I said, “Yeah, I think I can,” because I’d already preached on some of these characters. So I began to look at them and see how this could help a pastor. A pastor might say, "I can’t speak on fathers for eight weeks. Everyone else in the church would be going, 'Can we get on another subject?'" So I needed to speak on a broader issue.

There’s Abraham leaving his comfort zone, there’s Joshua—as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Caleb’s in there, and Moses’ parents who stood up to Pharaoh—I mean, the courage of parents to say, “I believe God’s got a purpose for my kids.” And because they did not fear Pharaoh, they raised a son that didn’t fear Pharaoh. Because they were willing to risk their lives, he was willing to go back and risk his to deliver God’s people.

And there's Nehemiah who faced criticism. We live in a culture that’s trying to push Christians to the margins and to silence the voice of God in the culture, and so, how do we face the criticism? We get, “Oh, Christians are narrow.” I think we’re incredibly not narrow. I think we’re as broad as God is and the love of God is. But I get criticism, and some people just can’t take that. But if you’re moving forward, there’s friction. You have to expect it. But Nehemiah said, “I’m not going to come down. I’ve got too great a work to do. I don’t have time to argue. I’ve got a wall to build.”

I often use this phrase, “We’ve got to be on mission.” And that’s going to take courage. And it’s going to take average people doing it. I don’t think we’ll ever see another Billy Graham–somebody of that stature, that when he speaks, he speaks for the whole Christian community. I think that those days are probably over for a variety of reasons. But where are the individual pastors, where are the churches, where are the dads, where are the coaches?

(Continued in Part 2, September 28)


You'll Always Need Four Legs

Jennifer Rothchild's book Self Talk, Soul Talk spoke volumes to me about my need to identify negative self talk and replace it with biblical "soul talk."

"The truth is," she wrote, "our self talk actually begins to shape the life we live, affecting our very destiny.... Words are extremely powerful ~ even the ones you speak to yourself." (p. 13) Rothchild uses the analogy of a "Thought Closet," and how the thoughts we allow to hang there may not "fit" us as a child of God. She admits, "what I had been storing in that closest wasn't good at all: shelves and racks and bins full of hidden thoughts, secret insecurities, lies, illusions, and reminders of former failures." (p. 14)

Without her consent, her mind reached into the dark corners of that closet and retrieved boxes with ugly labels ~ "You're not good enough" ... "Nobody really cares," etc. I'm thankful for her transparency, because we all talk to ourselves, and sometimes our self talk is destructive.

I have spoken ugly, destructive words to myself since childhood. Words like "stupid" and "clumsy" float around my mind... phrases like "you're a nobody." It's been an ongoing struggle to be "transformed by the renewing of my mind" (Romans 12:1-2), and to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) to myself!

Rothchild reminds readers that our soul talk ~ telling ourselves the truth based on the Word of God ~ helps us blossom into the creatures God intended for us to be. Words of hope, peace, gratitude, perseverance, and other beautiful, edifying truths.

A favorite chapter is Chapter Six ~ Look Up: Hope in God, My Soul. Rothchild says to the reader, "Imagine with me" that you are a table with four legs. If even one leg is loose or damaged, the whole table becomes shaky and imbalanced, and "unable to perform its appointed tasks." Likewise, if one of the areas of our lives is loose, damaged, neglected, or removed, we will be shaky and imbalanced. "A damaged table can't possibly bear any extra weight, so when the stress and the load piles up, we wobble, lean, or just collapse," Rothchild said.

It's a simple-but-profound word picture, a reminder for us to keep our lives in balance. We come in all shapes and sizes, with different personalities and gifts ... but we are all "tables," and we need to keep our four legs strong.

So what are these four legs?

First, there is the Emotional Leg. Left to themselves, they enslave and deplete us, Rothchild said, so we need a thought closet well stocked with timeless truth, "or we will clothe ourselves with the feelings of the moment."

"Our problems usually have less to do with our circumstances than the way we choose to feel about them," she writes. So we need to be sure that we have the facts, that we think things through based on the scriptures.

Next, there is the Physical Leg. We need to be wise stewards of our body. "Never discount the impact of physical well-being on our souls' wellness," Rothchild said. "Feelings of despair might really be our bodies' signal that we need to meet some basic needs."

We need to discipline ourselves to get needed rest, healthy food, and moderate exercise.

And then there is the Mental Leg. "You have a power plant right between your ears. It's called your brain," Rothchild says. This often-neglected leg need to be challenged. We need to strengthen them with positive things to do, or they will create things to do that might not be so constructive. Our mental leg is weakened through boredom, a martyr complex, over-analysis, and other negatives; but fresh thoughts, especially biblical thoughts, can stimulate us and change our perspective.

Last, there is the Spiritual Leg. "A deep longing resides in each of us that only God can meet," Rothchild wrote. "Neglecting this longing doesn't make it go away. It will only continue to grow, and left untended, it leads to a sort of melancholy of the soul. You begin to feel homesick for places you have never been!"

The spiritual leg seems to be invisible, but "it is really the weight-bearing leg of the table," she said. "When this one leg wobbles, the whole table trembles."

Are you missing a leg? Is there a leg that needs to be repaired or replaced?

Rothchild encourages women who feel they "don't have a leg to stand on." It's a book filled with positive, powerful choices and it speaks to the subtle despairing of the soul. This woman who has found her hope in God offers hope to others, giving them a firm foundation in the Word.

Jennifer Rothchild, Self Talk, Soul Talk: What to Say When You Talk to Yourself
(Harvest House Publishers, 2007), pp. 13-14, 86-87, 91


'Father' God, Rejected by the UCC

I always begin my prayers with the words "Father God."

In doing so, I acknowledge two things ~ I humbly acknowledge that God is my Sovereign, my Master; and I express gratitude that God is my Heavenly Father.

Apparently, the United Church of Christ (UCC) would not be comfortable with my prayer.

According to a report from Eric Anderson on the denomination's website, delegates to the UCC's "General Synod 28" met in Tampa, Florida in July and agreed to a series of proposed amendments to their constitution and bylaws that included a deletion of a reference to God as "heavenly Father." (The tally of the vote was 613 in favor of the changes, 171 against, and 10 abstaining.)

In Article V, in reference to local churches, the constitution previously included this statement: "A Local Church is composed of persons who, believing in God as heavenly Father and accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and depending on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are organized for Christian worship, for the furtherance of Christian fellowship, and for the ongoing work of Christian witness." This language has been intact since the UCC's founding in 1957.

The new language, which was slated for review before regional ratification, would be changed to say, "A Local Church is composed of persona who, believing in the triune God, accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and depending on the guidance of the Holy Spirit."

While not all male references have been removed from the UCC ~ the traditional language "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" is still used for baptisms ~ the shift in the primarily liberal denomination is toward speaking of God in gender-neutral terms.

UCC spokeswoman Barb Powell told World New Daily (July 9) the change was made because the "heavenly Father" reference was too restrictive. "In the UCC," she said, "our language for God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit is preferred to be more open for different expressions of the Trinity. Heaven Father is just one vision."

The UCC is changing traditional language to "more inclusive" language, she said. Some of the denomination's pastors refer to God with terms like "Creator" or "Father and Mother" God. "There are a lot of people who decided, if God still is speaking to us, there is more light and truth to break forth," she said.

David Runnion-Bareford, a leader in a group within the UCC ~ the Biblical Witness Fellowship (BWF) ~ criticized the change. "Rejecting God as Father in an age of fatherlessness is unthinkable," he said. "God acted toward us in amazing grace when He offered to be our Father through the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ, who offers us life in His name. This is not something we humans made up in some other time.

"Rejecting our Father is [an] act of arrogant rebellion in the name of cultural conformity that only further alienates members, churches, but more importantly, God Himself."

Runnion-Bareford also noted that the language in the original constitution, including "Heavenly Father," helps to keep churches "affiliated who are otherwise alienated by the denominations very liberal agenda;" and he warned the UCC to be careful since it is "the leader among Protestant denominations in member loss."

The UCC, "having rebelled against the Word of God, is on sinking sand ~ with our members, churches, historic witness, and identity in Christ washing away before our eyes," he said.

While I tend to say, "come out from among them" and be consecrated unto biblical truth, I am thankful for groups like the BWF that push back against denominational decline. Runnion-Bareford said the group was formed "in alarmed response to decades of continued denominational decline that has resulted from the UCC's theological surrender to the moral and spiritual confusion of contemporary culture."

The UCC ~ the denomination from which Chicago pastor Jeremiah Wright issues his racist statements ~ is also encouraging ordination of those who choose "alternative" lifestyles (homosexuality, bisexuality, and sexual activity outside of marriage). The UCC embraces moral relativism, exalting human experience above the authority of scripture. Runnion-Bareford is also concerned about the "ambivalence" in the denomination regarding core Christian beliefs, such as the resurrection and Lordship of Christ.

The truth of God as Father has been part of Christendom from its earliest years in its documents and statements ~ for example, The Apostles' Creed states, "I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth...."and the Nicene Creed begins, "We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty ...."

More than that, the teaching of God as Father is biblical. Certainly, God was Jesus' father (Psalm 2:7; Acts 13:32-33; Isaiah 9:6), but Jesus also encouraged us to pray to God, "Our Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 6:6-9). We are to glorify our "Father who is in heaven" and live in holiness before Him now (Matthew 5:16; 5:48); and someday, the just will shine in "the kingdom of their Father" (Matthew 13:43).

Many other scriptures in the Bible speak of our Father in Heaven. How can anyone, any group, faced with this clear reality ~ this doctrinal truth ~ simply write him out of their constitution?

I note with interest that this intimacy with a Father God is a special part of Christian and Jewish faith. Islam's god is never described as a "Father." The relationship is more of a slave and master, with obedience being the primary motivation for acceptance. In Islam, it is not in God's nature to be a father (see "Islam Has No Father").

I'm glad to know the Father's love. "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!..." (1 John 3:1a).

How grateful I am that I can pray, "Father God...." and know that He, in His goodness gives good gifts to His children (Matthew 7:9-11).