Personal Favorites

If You're Hurting, Read this Scottish Preacher's Amazing Story

Originally published on Rocking God's House.

Note: Usually I write a movie review for Fridays. This week I decided to hold off on the review and publish this instead, an old post that I’ve been saving — something that I believe will encourage you.

George Matheson was a Scottish preacher from the late 1800s. At the age of twenty, he was engaged to be married. Suddenly, he began to go blind and eventually lost his sight completely. When the doctors declared that the blindness was irreversible, his fiancee abandoned him. She refused to go through life married to a blind man.

The joy of Eros’ true love so glorified by humanity failed George in his greatest time of need.

He was heart-broken.

Years later, when he attended his sister’s wedding, the event brought back the tragic memories of his lost love who forsook him, and his heart broke all over again. In those moments of great sorrow re-kindled, he penned one of the most beloved hymns of his generation, O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go. I have pasted the words to this hymn below.

But first, I’d like to share an amazing quote written by this man of God:

‘Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress’ Psalms 4:1.

This is one of the grandest testimonies ever given by man to the moral government of God. It is not a man’s thanksgiving that he has been set free from suffering. It is a thanksgiving that he has been set free through suffering:

‘Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress.’

He declares the sorrows of life to have been themselves the source of life’s enlargement.  And have not you and I a thousand times felt this to be true? It is written of Joseph in the dungeon that “the iron entered into his soul.”

We all feel that what Joseph needed for his soul was just the iron. He had seen only the glitter of the gold. He had been rejoicing in youthful dreams; and dreaming hardens the heart. He who sheds tears over a romance will not be most apt to help reality; real sorrow will be too unpoetic for him. We need the iron to enlarge our nature.

The gold is but a vision; the iron is an experience.

The chain which unites me to humanity must be an iron chain. That touch of nature which makes the world akin is not joy, but sorrow; gold is partial, but iron is universal. My soul, if thou wouldst be enlarged into human sympathy, thou must be narrowed into limits of human suffering. Joseph’s dungeon is the road to Joseph’s throne. Thou canst not lift the iron load of thy brother if the iron hath not entered into thee. It is thy limit that is thine enlargement. It is the shadows of thy life that are the real fulfillment of thy dreams of glory.

Murmur not at the shadows; they are better revelations than thy dreams. Say not that the shades of the prison-house have fettered thee; thy fetters are wings. The door of thy prison-house is a door into the heart of the universe. God has enlarged thee by the binding of sorrow’s chain. –George Matheson

And now here is his hymn:

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
that in thine ocean depths its flow
may richer, fuller be.

O Light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
my heart restores its borrowed ray,
that in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
may brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
and feel the promise is not vain,
that morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
and from the ground there blossoms red
life that shall endless be.

When God Confirms We're On the Right Course: My Interview with Singer Jordan Feliz

(This article originally appeared on RockinGodsHouse.com)

Jordan Feliz and I have something in common: we're both from the Central Valley in California -- he from Fresno, me from Shafter. Even many people in the Central Valley haven't heard of my small town where I grew up, but Jordan, to my shock, new Shafter.

So it was easy for me to imagine the beginning of his journey from California to Nashville: speeding down the road with the wide panorama of the mythic, John Steinbeck-ian Central Valley looming behind -- an adventurous drive across the country that he and his wife made completely by faith. They only had enough money to get to Phoenix, AZ, and yet they both felt without a doubt that God was calling them to move to Nashville so that Jordan could put his musical talents to work in the Christian music industry.

And when I heard the rest of the story -- how God actually got them to Nashville -- my jaw dropped. (And you'll have to read the interview below to find out why.) The story will be deeply encouraging for anyone in the midst of a scary faith journey.

It's a great example of how God uses events in our lives to confirm we're on the right course.

And the way that God has provided for Jordan and his family, even during the leanest of times, reminds me of Abraham's journey of faith and the journeys that many of us take when God calls us to leave behind the familiar and jump headfirst into the unknown. An awareness of this miraculous provision and of the true riches of Christ permeate Jordan's music. And thanks to the success of his smash-hit single "The River," which reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot AC/CHR Chart, millions of people are getting exposed to those riches of faith that Jordan has found in Christ.

Jordan and I spoke recently over the phone about his new album Beloved that is turning a lot of heads in the music industry, his new single "The River" and the meaning behind it, and, most importantly, his inspiring faith journey:

In your bio I noticed you're from Central California. I'm from a town called Shafter, near Bakersfield. So I just had to ask.

Yeah, I know Shafter!

You do? Wow that's crazy. So what is Nashville like compared to our neck of the woods in Central California.

Man. It's better. (laughs) 

I bet! [And I said that because we Central Valley dwellers are known for being self-effacing about some of the less than desirable qualities of the Central Valley -- like its soul-crushing heat in the summer.]

Yeah, it's better. It's really green which is something I never used to see. It's also just a totally different dynamic with the people. It's almost like you have to get used to it. The people of Nashville are just so welcoming and very communal. Everybody wants to be your friend and hang out. It's just awesome, really great.

That makes me want to visit Nashville. Though I do get kinda homesick when I'm away from Central California. You kinda get used to John Steinback-like vast plain of agriculture.

Oh, totally dude. There are definitely things I miss. But the "miss" doesn't outweight the things we have out here. But I completely agree. I find myself every time I think about a restaurant over there or my coffee place I get a little homesick.

I love the imagery of the song "The River," and I was curious what inspired you to use that imagery?

This song stems from John 7:38 and the verse says, "Whoever believes in Me will have rivers of living water flow from within them." So the imagery got kinda drawn out of that verse. The song is an invitation. That's what it's written to be -- an invitation to everyone, maybe someone who feels like they've lived their entire life by the books or someone who is maybe on the opposite side of that who feels like they have so much baggage that they're just too ashamed to bring that to the Cross. More than anything it's the opportunity to go down in amazing grace and rise up being made new.

That's awesome. It just has that communal feel. "Let's all go down to the river." It has a warmth to it besides that powerful theology. Very cool.

It's funny because some people have taken it as a baptismal kind of vibe. Essentially it's kinda like that, but really the song is -- those rivers of living water -- that is the Holy Spirit. That's what the verse is talking about. So let's go down. It's almost funny, so yes, it's about the river but it's about the river inside of you. It's about the Spirit flowing inside of you and going down into that and being made new from that.

Reading your bio I was really inspired by your journey of faith. It kinda reminded me about how God called Abraham out -- a calling to go into the scary unknown -- because of how God called you out on this crazy trip to Nashville. I was just curious; what gave you the sense that God was moving you to Nashville? Or how did God help you make that decision?

I took a job as a worship leader for a year after the band I was in broke up, and in that year I had a really, really close friend of mine (who actually is now my manager), but he reached out to me. He used to be in a band that played with my band. He was talking to me about how he would love for me to come to Nashville. Around that time I was really feeling like God kept giving me revelations and ideas for songs. So I was just like, wow, that's weird that Adam calls me, and then God is giving me these song ideas. That's weird. So I felt like I wanted to explore it.

So I flew out to Nashville. I just felt like God's hand was over the entire trip like, "this is something you need to pursue." I came back home, talked to my wife about it. We prayed about it for about a year. We both felt like we had made a couple trips to Nashville. We both felt that every time we left it felt like home. It felt like we were going back somewhere that wasn't our home. We just really felt like God was just "go."

It's really interesting because sometimes you want to know, and it's really hard, there's so much wondering in your journey as a human being. You're like, "Am I just saying this to myself? Am I the one speaking this into my life or is this God?" Our journey w
as just a testament to God's abundance in our lives. It was really amazing to see Him and His hand over us in our journey.

That's incredible. I think it is awesome how God will confirm things with external signs that you know you couldn't have invented on your own. And that brings me to my next question about your amazing story of how you actually made it across the country, somehow getting shows along the way. Could you fill us in on how that happened?

In that year of planning and praying I started putting together some kind of tour so that we would basically not have to feel the financial weight of the move and the costs and the gas to get to Nashville because my wife -- I mean, I'm a musician and a worship leader; it's not like we're really rolling in it. [laughs] It was kinda one of these things where I put all these things together. I've always been that way, just a planner and I want to take control of things and just kinda do it.

Two weeks before we decided to move everything fell apart. Everything fell apart. All the shows got canceled. I was just like, "oh my gosh how are we going to make it?" My wife and I were both kinda looking at each other like, "Is this God saying don't go?" Is this Him saying you've been misinterpreting this the whole time? There was much confusion. We just really, we prayed together every night for the next two weeks. We really felt like God was still telling us to go. So we hopped in my van and trailer that had everything we owned, and I just starting calling. I mean the day we left, the first day, I didn't have a show, so I called and ended up getting a show in San Bernadino, California. That show paid to get us to Phoenix, which is where my wife's family is from. So we stayed there as a home base for a couple days while we tried to get a couple more things kinda figured out.

Basically that became the trend: calling, just cold calling people I've never met before like "hey, do you need a worship leader today? or for anything?" It was crazy because all of a sudden we're making like literally just enough money to get us to the next place, and it's just like "oh my gosh God you're providing." I'm seeing all these things, and then we're driving through Texas, and I'll never forget it because I felt like all of a sudden we're running out. We're just not going to make it. There's just no way. I'm calling everyone, like can I get a show in Oklahoma City? I don't know anyone there. We have nothing else. I've called hundreds of people in a matter of like seven days.

I end up calling a friend from Dallas, and I say, "Dude, by any chance do you have any connection in Oklahoma City?" And he says, "Actually, yeah, I do. Let me text you his number and see if you can work something out." So I call him, and the guy goes, "Oh man that church doesn't even exist anymore." I'm like great, great, that's awesome. Thanks. He goes, "But honestly though, I have a buddy of mine who just started a church in his backyard in a barn. I'm thinking, yeah that sounds about right. Yeah, send me his phone number.

So I called this guy, his name is Tony, he's amazing. A super awesome guy. We end up going there. He's like, "I can pay you a hundred bucks if you want to come in." I'm all, "Hey, it's better than nothing." So I go in and this is just total proof that God is way bigger than anything we could ever imagine. So I go in on the day of the Oklahoma City Bombing Marathon, and so their entire church is participating in it, so I played to 26 people in two services. So I don't know how, but I ended up making like $1,500 from a church with 26 people. There was a guy who literally wrote me a check for $300 and just told me, "I don't know why, but when you were up there God told me to give this to you." [Jordan pauses on the phone for a moment] Dude, I have goosebumps right now. Everytime I talk about it, it's just crazy. The only answer to it is just the fact that God's provision is such that He wants much more for us than we even want for ourselves. Because I was striving just to get to Nashville, and I ended up making money moving to Nashville. It's just proof that His ideas for us are much bigger than we even have for ourselves. 

Incredible. I knew there was a story in there, but I didn't know it was that awesome. [laughs] Thank you for sharing that. Just hearing that story is going to keep me encouraged for the rest of the week. Wow. My next question ties into all of that. What advice would you give to a Christian who feels God is calling them to do something big and scary but they're really not sure they can pull it off?

Man. Even though it's terrifying and I've been there, done that legitimately the thing is is that if God is calling you to do it no matter what comes out of it because even when we've been in Nashville there have been things that God has asked me to do that have not ended up in the moment really being a good idea. You're like why am I doing this? And all of a sudden three months later you're like, oh that's why I did that. So I say, go, jump headfirst. You know what I mean? Dive into it. Ever since that move my wife and I have been living our lives like that. Of just saying, "God we trust You. Do what you have to do." I mean we have been provided for in moments that you would have though how are they going to make it there's no way that's going to happen and we have. The moment you abandon all your earthly fears and all these things that weigh you down and that is a lot harder than you think it is, I still struggle with it. But the moment that you run from them is the moment that you see God doing some amazing things in your life that you would have never though you would have happened because it's totally true that He wants so much more for you than you want for yourself.

Wow. [pauses] Yeah, I'm just kinda absorbing that right now. That's really awesome, thank you so much for that, it's really encouraging. Are there any tour plans or anything you want people to know about that's coming up?

I'm going to be home all fall. Being a family man, being a dad. Being a husband. I'm writing for my next record. But in the spring I'm starting, well, I guess it's late winter in January, I'm starting a tour with Big Daddy Weave and Plumb. It's called the "Beautiful Offerings Tour." So keep your eyes pealed and hopefully we will be able to hang out.

***

Check out the official Jordan Feliz website to learn more about his music and to stay up-to-date with the latest news.

Is the Shroud of Turin Evidence for Christ's Resurrection?

(This article was originally published on RockingGodsHouse.com)

Have you ever wondered about the Shroud of Turin--whether it's authentic? Is it really the burial cloth of Christ?

Well, one of the world's leading experts on the Shroud, Mark Antonacci, wondered the same thing too once, and it changed his life. Antonacci, a lawyer by trader, has not only discerned evidence that the cloth is authentic and is the burial shroud of Christ, but he has recently released an astonishing hypothesis: the Shroud also bears evidence that the body wrapped in it was resurrected.

So when I had the chance to interview him about the Shroud, I jumped at the chance. Besides hearing about the remarkable facts about the Shroud that led to his hypothesis, we hear how God used the Shroud to bring him to Christ.

But before we jump into the interview, here is the latest press release about him and his new book TEST THE SHROUD:

Author and one of the leading experts on the Shroud of Turin, Mark Antonacci, continues his pursuit for the authenticity of Christ’s burial cloth with his new book, Test The Shroud. Following over 34 years of studying the garment, Antonacci is convinced that additional testing at the atomic and molecular levels could easily prove that the crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection of Christ were actual events in history. Antonacci maintains that the marks on the cloth are those of a dead human body and were made with particle or neutron radiation that wasn’t discovered until the 20th century. The radiation accounts for more than 30 unique and remarkable features on the body image that includes still-red blood stains and the pre-mortem and post-mortem wounds that were inflicted upon Jesus. Test The Shroud presents illustrations to help explain the proposed testing, while the writing style is easy to understand and can be enjoyed by everyone.

Test The Shroud describes advanced scientific testing techniques that have become available and can demonstrate if a miraculous event occurred, when it happened, where it happened, the actual age of the garment and the identity of the corpse. Antonacci is petitioning the Vatican to allow this new scientific examination to take place, and his theory is being supported from other scientists around the world.

•    “…convincing line of reasoning that the Shroud of Turin is the authentic burial cloth of Jesus Christ.” – Art Lind, Physicist

•    “Test The Shroud is a gold mine of information on the controversial Shroud of Turin.” – Joe Marino, Theologian, Sindonologist

•    “A fascinating read – highly recommended.” – Robert A. Rucker, PE, Nuclear Engineer

•    “…many interesting details of the most important relic of Christianity, both from the scientific and historical points of view.” – Giulio Fanti, Associate Professor of Mechanical and Thermal Measurement, University of Padua, Italy.

 

For my first question, I want to hear more about your story before we get into the Shroud. How did you get interested in the Shroud? And how did it lead to your faith in Christ?

I stumbled on the subject by accident as a result of an argument with an old girlfriend almost 35 years ago. The argument was over the fact that she was a Christian and I was an agnostic and it was kind of a threat to the relationship, which was just beginning. I didn't want to sit around all weekend and let it bother me so I decided to go in and do some work on a Saturday, when there's no deadlines hanging over your head or nothing like that--there's no court on Saturday morning.

As a result of the argument I go into work and I can't get anything done there either so I decided, "Well, I'll just take some lunch." It was a Saturday and the paper that I stopped to get didn't even stay in business much longer after that and it had been in business for decades, but I never read that particular paper, but on Saturday the weekend sports edition came out in that paper so that was one of the few times in my life I grabbed that paper. It had a review of an article about a new book that came out on the Shroud of Turin summarizing the findings from the first initial examination of the cloth. In fact, it's still the only examination of the cloth. If it wasn't for the argument I never would have came across the article or the paper and if I had come across the article I wouldn't have paid any attention to it. But this actually irritated and bugged me because it reminded me of the argument and this is what I was trying to forget.

You couldn't get away from it!

I literally sat there eating lunch and there was a byline at the top of the paper on the weekend edition and they had a picture of the man on the shroud. You know how a picture looks like it's looking at you? The thing kept looking at me out of the corner of my eye when I'm trying to read the sports page, and I pushed it away a couple times. Finally I picked it up and said, "All right, I'll read the blankity-blank article." Then I find myself back at the apartment where I started out and I'm pacing back and forth and this is the key. I feel threatened and a lot of people feel threatened by new, objective and independent evidence on a subject that is almost as personal as you can get--your religion. But I was very attracted to it because I'm an attorney and it's very unique evidence, unlike anything you've ever seen before.

Finally, I'm pacing a couple hours and finally in mid-step it hits me, I go, "Wait a minute, what are you worked up about? If this, if there is evidence of the Passion, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, what's bad about this? This could be good news, idiot." So I thought, "Well, okay, I'll look at it all ... " Boy was it interesting, it was just astounding. But a lot of people can't get over that first hurdle and I admit, having a long-legged brunette was a real incentive to reach an accommodation here. [laughs] But after we more or less put that issue behind us we found other things we could argue about. Everybody thinks, "Oh, it has a happy ending and you marry her and you live a wonderful Christian life together." I do live a Christian life, but I didn't marry her. I married somebody else 10-12 years later.

So it's almost as if God set up these little things that prodded you in the right direction.

Yes, we were to meet and to know each well for a short while. I still talk to the gal once in a while, we went to school together but we were three years apart so you didn't have any contact with each other in those days. That's how I got started and I really do think it was very important because it's hard to get yourself to look at it, to overcome your preconceived notions, whatever they are. I was agnostic but you could have been an atheist, you could have been a Hindu, a Buddhist, you could have been anything. It's hard for people to think, jimminy, there might actually be scientific, medical, and archaeological evidence that corroborates the accounts of the greatest historical sources in the world, the Gospels and the New Testament.

It has been pretty astounding just to read through your material. One of the things that jumped out to me about the Shroud was where it says that there are approximately 130 blood marks, and there are many unique features have never been duplicated in any age. Can you maybe talk a little about that?

These blood marks appear in cloth in the same shape and form as they would have on the body. They formed and flowed, they coagulated and first of all it's hard to get coagulated blood off of your skin and onto cloth, it's just hard to get it off your skin in the same shape that it was in on your skin. They're not only on the cloth, they're embedded in the cloth with serum around the edges and you can see them on both sides of the cloth.

The outer side of the cloth has always had a backing cloth on it for support but when you take the backing cloth off and you look at it, they're in almost the same shape and form on the outer side of the cloth as they are on the inside of the cloth that wrapped the body, the dead body. The blood still has a reddish color to it, tint is a better word for it. If the blood is from the Middle Ages it wouldn't have been red after a few days. I don't know if you read that part in the book but if you irradiate blood with neutrons and then subsequently expose it to sunlight or ultra violet light, it will maintain a reddish color and it will even look more red than it does in natural light, in sunlight. It will look even more red than in a room or something. It's something about the combination of neutron radiation initially and then ultraviolet light subsequently, but no forger could have irradiated it with neutrons in the middle ages, of course, neutrons aren't discovered until the twentieth century.

That touches on one of the things that really stuck out to me the most, your discussion about how it's been irradiated with particle radiation and the more I read about that it seemed to create this amazing image of basically Christ's body--evidence of the resurrection. Is that what you're pointing to? Is this particle radiation showing that something really supernatural happened here?

Oh, yes. This could only have been a miracle. It appears, and of course we'll want to test this, but it appears that particle radiation emanates from the length and width and depth of the dead body that's in rigor mortis, and it's after he suffered all the wounds. This is a miraculous event. Scientists can't do that in the 21st century, although they discovered particle radiation, protons and neutrons, they can't make it come from your little finger let alone the length and width and depth of your body--a dead body on top of it.

That's incredible.

It captures all the indicators of a prior event. This guy has been crucified, he's got all the signs of it, he's had a bundle of sharp pointed objects, or thorns, put over his entire head, which is consistent with the types of crowns that were used in the east in the first century. He's been scourged with a Roman instrument, he's had a rough, heavy object across the back of his shoulders. He's fallen down, he's got a postmortem wound in his right side in the perfect location that they would have never known of back then, from which blood and a watery fluid flows, just as the Gospel of John describes, on Jesus. His legs aren't broken, unlike the thieves--they're legs and all other crucifixion victims were broken--but this guy was already dead, as indicated by the postmortem side wound and the lack of broken legs.

They're all captured by this, what we think is a miraculous event that happened and if it's particle radiation it will leave unique proof that this event occurred, but it will even tell you when it occurred and where it occurred and, at that point, the identity would be pretty simple. But the clincher of who it was would be the miraculous event. No other such miraculous event under all these same circumstances [has happened]--that only exists for the historical Jesus. It doesn't exist for somebody else. What gets me is the evidence is simply unfaceable. Collectively, it's unfakeable. You can fake a few aspects of the images, though I've never come across anyone who's duplicated one of the blood marks let alone 130 of them. The blood marks are not broken on the edges and they simply don't know how any of this happened, and my book hypothesizes that after the radiating event occurs, the body also disappears. If you hypothesize that the disappearance occurs at the time of this radiating event you can account for all the primary and secondary body image features, as well as its off-image features such as this radiocarbon dating or the excellent condition of the cloth, and if there are things like coins and flowers on there you can explain those as well by this event.

The evidence is definitely overwhelming and, like you said, it's a thread to an amazing path to joy if people are willing to accept it. I know your desire is to have the shroud tested, do you see any progress in having that happen, is there resistance to that? Have you been trying to petition for that to happen?

There is resistance to that, a lot of people don't know the first thing about the subject and when they hear it, when you talk about that they just think it's preposterous and they have no idea what the evidence indicates. All they know is it's carbon dated to the Middle Ages and that's that. Even a lot of Christians will think, or even people who study the Shroud will think, "You can't risk doing these tests because what happens if they fail?" Well, you're just in the same situation you already are in. It wouldn't mean anything except that my hypothesis is wrong. You'd still have to explain all the features on the body images and the blood marks.

Is it the Catholic Church that has the authority to have it tested? Is that really the main one that you have to petition or is it more complicated than that?

Certainly you would have to convince them but you'd have to convince the people who have influence with them--say in Italy, various scientists and that probably have more influence.

It's just so fascinating. Thanks for writing this book and sharing all of that. I'm praying that it actually does come to fruition, that it does get tested. I really think that could lead to many, many more people like you who found Christ through the Shroud.

Listen, your prayers are very valuable, don't think they're not. They help more than anything. I find myself all the time praying about this. If the public's aware of it you can get a response from the Vatican even if the present conduits to the Vatican never do believe in it themselves. I'm not limiting myself just to those conduits. They're good people, it's just I don't think they have a good grasp of [it], and they're afraid of what other scientists might think.

But this is very detailed out in peer-reviewed, scientific literature--the hypothesis is out there, as well as in the book. The hypothesis is testable and there's no reason it shouldn't be tested. The technology should be developed more and perfected before it's ever applied to the Shroud itself. The technology exists now for limestone but it needs to be developed and perfected for linen and blood, which are the most important things to test. We don't know for sure whether Jesus's burial tomb, the reputed locations, we don't know if one of them really is the tomb. The most likely one is the Holy Sepulcher, by far, in my opinion, but we don't know for sure if that's the case or not. I think even they questioned this very strongly back 1600 years ago.

It's just amazing that we have the Shroud. I think that's definitely a sign, I think God intended that as another way to advance the Gospel during these difficult times of humanity. It's amazing to see all this come to fruition. I'm excited to see how it develops.

Think of all the wars and conflicts that are going on now where religion is at the heart of these disputes or certainly an underlying element or a long-established basis for such centuries-long conflict. Why can't we decide this question based on logic and evidence instead of who can outgun the other one, who can conquer the other one? It doesn't work on these kind of issues. You can't. Any victories you have are temporary and it just makes the bitterness and the combativeness. It just ingrains it and gives people a more recent reason to fight even harder and to start another war. It's time these things were answered on the basis of evidence, like we try to do on every other issue. You try to get the evidence, the objective evidence to guide your opinions. It's too bad we can't do this on politics as well.

***

For more information on Test The Shroud visit online at www.testtheshroudonline.com.

About Mark Antonacci

Mark Antonacci is the founder and president of the Test the Shroud Foundation, one of the world’s leading authorities on the Shroud of Turin. He gave the keynote address at the international conference held in Italy in conjunction with the Shroud’s exhibition in 2010. As an attorney, he has spent over 30 years studying all aspects of the evidence relating to the Shroud of Turin and released his first book on the topic,The Resurrection of the Shroud, in 2000. The project received coverage from such high-profile outlets as the Chicago Sun Times, Dallas Morning News, Tulsa World News, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Trinity Broadcasting Network, and the nationally syndicated radio program Coast to Coast AM. Antonacci practices law and lives with his wife outside of St. Louis.

My Interview with Christian Band 'For King and Country'

(This article originally reappeared on RockingGodsHouse.com)

After living in Brisbane, Australia for a summer, I've always been a fan of Aussies in general--everything from their awesome accent to their laid-back culture (which suits me to a tee). So recently, when my phone rang and I heard the relaxed and friendly Aussie voice of Luke Smallbone from the band For King and Country, I had to smile. We had a great conversation about how he made the leap from music to film and about the amazing true story that inspired "Priceless." He and his family have made a lasting contribution to the music world, and now the Smallbone brothers--Ben, Luke, and Joel--are making a splash in the film industry with their new feature film "Priceless" that has all the thrills and drama of a legit major studio Hollywood feature.

Of course, your first thought might be, "Wait, some rock and roll guys made a movie? Did they shoot it on their phone and make one of those found-footage movies? Is this a 'real' movie or is it an amateurish indie film?"

Nope, "Priceless" is the real deal. It was bought by major Hollywood distributor Roadside Attractions--a company that has distributed everything from the recent Tom Hanks film "A Hologram for the King" to the critically acclaimed Beach Boys biopic "Love & Mercy" to the sleeper hit "Mr. Holmes" starring Ian McKellen. As "Variety" reported in August, "Priceless" has some notable names attached to the project:

Roadside Attractions has acquired U.S. distribution rights to the Smallbone brothers drama “Priceless” and set an Oct. 14 release date, Variety has learned exclusively.

It’s the feature debut for Joel and Luke Smallbone, who comprise the Christian band For King and Country....Ben Smallbone directs from the script by Chris Dowling and Tyler Poelle. The film was produced by Steve Barnett (“300”). David Smallbone and Luke Smallbone serve as executive producers, and Jacob “Cubbie” Fink is a co-producer.

The story centers on a man who finds himself at a crossroads following the tragic death of his wife and losing custody of his little girl. Unable to hold down a steady job, he agrees to drive a box truck on a one-time trip cross country for cash — no questions asked — but when he discovers what he is delivering, he is faced with a life-changing choice.

Before I share my interview with Luke Smallbone, who was one of the film's producers, let me share my quick one-paragraph, mini-review of the film:

"Priceless" impressed me with its painstaking production quality, its careful, thoughtful pacing, and its sobering, moving glimpse of a frightening underside of America. It really was the real deal--a high quality feature film with a production value that stands its ground with any major studio Hollywood release. It's a compelling story that sucks you in from the opening frames as it begins with a troubled soul driving a beat up moving truck through the New Mexico landscape along the I-40 (a stretch of road that any road warrior who enjoys traveling America will know well and be happy to see on the big screen); and from there it plunges head-first into the desperate world of poor souls caught in the nightmare of human trafficking. Star Joel Smallbone and the supporting cast--Bianca Santos (“The Duff”), Amber Midthunder (“Longmire”), Jim Parrack (“True Blood”), and David Koechner (“The Goldbergs”)--all delivered plenty of believable tension and intrigue to the story. Movie fans will recognize actor David Koechner immediately. He has been in many high profile projects, including a major role in the "Anchorman" films. It was nice to see David Koechner display a different side of his impressive acting chops. In "Priceless" he plays a gritty, serious, noble character--a striking contrast to the raucous comedies he's been known to do. Whenever actors become stamped as "comedy" actors, I always suspect there is a serious, tragic, Shakespearean side to their acting skills hiding beneath the easy sheen of mainstream comedies. Koechner's performance in "Priceless" is a classic example. He brings a real gravity to his performance, and it adds a lot of salt and flavor to the story--a nice complement to Joel Smallbone's skilled performance.

Best of all (in my book), "Priceless" is a deeply edifying film. Yes, it is intense in some places and shows some gun violence worthy of its PG-13 rating, but there's nothing gratuitous in this movie like you see in so many other PG-13 movies that push the limits of that rating as far as it can go. I recommend this film to any teenager and adult. It will inspire and move you.

Without any further delay, my interview with Luke Smallbone:

You're known for your band For King and Country and your music. How did you get into the film industry?

One of the things that we strive to do is to make the best art possible. And one of the things you realize is that today's generation is being discipled by two things: they are discipled by what they hear in their headphones and also by what they see on-screen--their mobile phone's screen or computer screen or movie theater screen, whatever it might be. So we want to be in those spaces. My brother Ben is a film director, and we've been talking about this Priceless movement for a number of years, and so about two years ago we said to Ben, "Hey man, we're just scratching the surface of this, what would you think about directing a film?" And he loved the idea, and so we started working on that part about two years ago and here we are today. Not sure if we should've entered the film world just because of how much work it is [laughs]--I don't think any of us had any idea how much work it would be. But we're so thrilled with how it came together, it's a film we're really proud of, and so far the response we've been getting has been overwhelming--something we're very thrilled about.

Can you tell us a little bit about the Priceless movement and why it's important to you?

We started about five, six years ago saying to women, "Hey, the culture says that you're cheap, but we believe that there's a God who says that you're priceless, and hey guys it's time for us to treat ladies with respect and honor, time for us to stand up and stand out and be different in this world, not just going with the status flow," and it was all such a big deal when we started talking about it. Before our music hit the radio or anything that's what people were talking about. They were like, "You know, that message that you said in the middle of your concert that, that resurrected me..."

Wow.

That's kind of how we got to this thought of even doing a film [because] of how powerful that had become [the cheapening of women in culture] and how we were seeing it. It was kind of an epidemic and people needed to be reminded of their value.

How did you stumble upon the story of James Stevens and what made you want to make this story into a movie?

My brother Ben was working on a documentary about seven or eight years ago, and he stumbled upon a dude that is in Brazil and he had been working at one point in his life kind of on the other side of the law. He was a criminal, and he radically changed and he decided to start on the things that he knew, [saying] "Hey, how can I work against the system and take everything I learned from being a criminal and use it for good," and we were really inspired by that. And so we kind of interjected those stories and those things into our film and what's crazy is that man, we don't even know his name, we never saw his face. Even the documentary that my brother Ben did hid his face, and it's kind of cool because we never got to interview him yet this guy that we don't even know, he inspired a whole movement and, in a roundabout way, is coming out in this film. So this guy's not going to know that, in fact, he is having a worldwide impact.

Wow. That's incredible. If you ever actually do meet this guy, what would you say to him if you ran into him in the street one day?

Man, I'd say thank you for being bold enough to change, that you've actually been bold enough to have your life radically changed, and then saying, "Yeah, I've been a part of a problem for so long. I need to do something to help solve these problems." I mean, that takes a lot of courage. Not many people that I know do that and obviously this guy has helped inspire this film of ours--so just being able to thank him for the creativity that he has inspired that he never even knew he was a part of.

A large part of the story deals with human trafficking, which is obviously becoming an epidemic in our nation and in other places. Why did you include this element in the plot?

When I look at us talking about a female life in particular being priceless--and honestly I believe that all lives are priceless, but in this story it's particularly about female lives--I look at what is the opposite of a priceless life. The antithesis of that is somebody whose life can be bought. And so that's how we feel we can best illustrate this story, and so we put [human trafficking] in there and the other thing is this: the human trafficking side of things is a dark dark world and one of the best ways to bring about change is to shine a really really bright light on it, and a film is one way that you can do that. And I think people are now finally becoming aware of it and not so scared of something that is so dark so that they're actually starting to say, "What can I actually do about it?" rather than just turning a blind eye to it.

It really is kind of a freaky thing to think about, the idea of just being abducted one day, and then suddenly you're a slave.

Yeah, yeah, it's not comfortable, but I think God does some special things in uncomfortable places, and if we always did everything that was easy and comfortable I don't think we would ever have what it takes. And we want to be people who are highlighting real issues, real topics and actually doing something--not necessarily making a film about how we think life should be but actually making a film about life as it really is.

I definitely think that's important to not sugar coat things, so that's awesome you're doing that. What could you tell us about the movie without giving too much away?

The film follows a character whose name is James Stevens. He's kind of a down and out character who's lost his wife to a tragic accident, and then he ends up losing his daughter as he goes through this kind of grieving and mourning period. He lost his job, he doesn't have any way to provide, [and he needs] kind of a way out, so he takes on a transportation job saying, "Hey, no questions asked, go from here to there and you get paid really well," and he says to himself, "I just want to figure out a way to break this cycle of life that I've gotten into," and he does it, and then on the way he opens up the back of his truck realizing it's not what he's carrying but who he is carrying back there.

Wow.

The rest of the story is about what he's going to do with that situation--is he going to do anything? Is he not going to do anything?--what that's going to look like.

How can men show the women in their lives their priceless worth? What kind of advice would you give to men about that?

I think talk is cheap, so you've got to actually show it. There's got to be actions that actually show how valuable we think the women are in our lives, so I actually think it's real simple. If you really love your wife and you want to show her respect, then you're going to turn off the football game and really talk to her and ask, "How was your day? What was it like?" And whether or not it's your daughter or your sister or your girlfriend or whatever, we have to be people who [value them] not when we think, "Oh you know what, I'm going to put this on display and show everybody else a show." It takes place when you don't want to get up in the middle of the night and go change a diaper so your wife [doesn't have to]. That's what actually making change. Talk is cheap.

Right, we need to take action, even if it gets messy. [laughs]

Yeah, my parents always say, "Actions speak louder than words," and so I can say that I love my wife all the time, but if I'm not doing anything to invest in that relationship or, you know, saying it in an interview but not living it, then I actually don't really love my wife.

Right, exactly. It's easy just spitting out some words. I'm married, so this is a good reminder to hear these things!

Yeah, man, yeah.

"Priceless" hits theaters October 14. Where can people go to find out more information or to purchase tickets?

Go to pricelessthemovie.com and you got everything: you got the trailer there, all the information, what theater it's going to be at and what that looks like. It also has some of our social--"Priceless the Movie" Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. We really want people to rally behind us--especially talk about the film and help us get the word out. That's one of the most cost-effective ways that we could do that, and obviously in our world we have limited amount of resources, so word-of-mouth is the greatest way that we can spread information.

To close, I just want to say thank you for being a voice in our culture. It is the kind of voice that I've been praying God would raise up. God's definitely been raising up some voices in awesome ways to speak life to our culture, and it's great to hear your voice, so I hope you keep speaking!

Thank you very much for saying that and taking the time to hang out with us, we really appreciate it!

***

Check out the film at pricelessthemovie.com or dive into the film's social media stream at any of these locations and hashtags:

Facebook: /pricelessthemovie

Twitter: @PricelessMovie @4kingandcountry @JoelSmallbone @LukeSmallbone @Bianca00Alexa @Parrack120 @DavidKoechner

Instagram: #PricelessTheMovie

Youtube Channel for Priceless

My Interview with 'Moana' Supervising Animator Mark Henn about Faith, Gratitude, and Disney's New Animated Epic

I had the chance to chat with Mark Henn, supervising animator of "Moana," about faith, gratitude, and what amazing things are in "Moana." I was surprised by his answer to this question:

"Is there a song in 'Moana' that will finally stop kids from singing 'Let It Go' from "Frozen?"

Read the whole thing here at RockinGodsHouse.com: http://bit.ly/2geRtr0 

When It's a Difficult 'Between the Straits' Season, and We're Leaning All Our Weight On the Sky

So many of us--actual people I know (not the royal "us")--are navigating very treacherous waters right now.

If that's you, I have a couple things to share with you, and I'll begin with a Facebook post I wrote earlier about the "between the straits" season:

In the Hebrew calendar, this time of year in the summer is called "between the straits"--i.e. when a ship is trying to sail through a really narrow, dangerous strait. It's marked by a three week period of fasting and it's associated with the difficult seasons of life. This year's "between the straits" ends this Sunday evening, the 14th.
To mark the occasion, I want to share a couple verses for anyone who feels like they are trying to navigate "between the straits." It's been that kind of season for me, I'll admit, but these two verses shed light in the darkness:
1) "Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you" (Psalm 55:22)"; and
2) "Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:6,7).
The second one was one of my mom's favorite verses. On a card she made a note next to the word "cast" and wrote that it means "with energy, with vigor." By this she meant that the Biblical meaning is very active, and the act of casting our cares on God is not passive or lazy or half-hearted. We pour our hearts out into His hands with all the strength we have, even if that strength is so small it feels more like weakness.

David in the Bible knew about these seasons between the straits very well. I often turn to his words during such times. Listen to what Psalm 31:24 has to say about it:

Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart,
All you who hope in the Lord.

I have found that this promise--"He shall strengthen your heart"--comes in the most unexpected ways. He is very creative with His work, and He does His work well. Our only task at the moment is the art of looking up--of leaning with all our weight toward the sky as we put our hope in Him moment by moment.