Our church’s senior pastor covered the opening verses of Paul’s letter to the Philippians in our summer series this past weekend and prompted me to do some thinking back with one of his suggested applications.

In the greeting to what many call his “favorite church” Paul writes in verse 3, “I thank my God every time I remember you” (NIV). Another rendering “Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God” (NLT). Underscoring Paul’s example, our pastor encouraged us to “remember the people who have given you joyful memories.”

Last night and today I have spent some time thinking back with joy about the many people who impacted me in terms of my Christian life and over 45 years of vocational ministry. There’s no way I can remember and list all of them, but I would like to list several whom God used to make a significant impact upon me.

Charles Carter, a young minister of a small church who welcomed my brother and me and baptized us into Christ.

John Russell, our first and only youth minister at that same church until I graduated from high school. No one has had a greater impact on me than John.

Most of the elders at Forest Dale Church of Christ during my junior high and senior high years; and Harvey Bream who was a member at our church and later president of Cincinnati Christian University.

Royce Cheeseman and Paul Lowry, elders at Northeast Christian Church in Columbus, Ohio, where I served as a youth minister intern the summer of 1970.

Jim Irby, minister, and the elders of Bridgetown Church of Christ in Cincinnati, Ohio, where I served for almost five years as youth minister.

Jim Smith and Jack Cottrell, professors at Cincinnati Christian Seminary.

Charly Williams, Jerry Finnie, and Jim Tyler who served as elders during my nine years as minister of Delaware Valley Church of Christ in the Philadelphia area, and Hugh Thomson who was a great friend and father figure to me.

Bruce Metzger, who was Professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary and one of the smartest and kindest teachers I ever sat under.

Floyd Strater, Ralph Dornette, LeRoy Lawson, Ben Merold, Larry Winger, and Joe Grana – all area leaders in Southern California who welcomed me and encouraged me during my 30 years there.

Max Whiteman, Don Funkhouser, Greg Miller, Joe Anderson, Joe Bunker, Greg Flannery, Dave Hahn and other Vision Planning Team Members and elders who served in leadership with me during my 30 years at Discovery Christian Church.

As I continue to think back I know others will come to mind, but this list is a good beginning point of those who made a difference in my life and ministry and whom I remember today with great joy and gratitude.

As I review this list I am aware that I have not included any women. It isn’t because I don’t remember any women with joy or that I am a chauvinist. My life and ministry would not have been as joyful, productive, and enriched as it has been without the support of and care from many wonderful Christian women who made a difference in my life. I thank God for them, the men I have listed, and many others God has used to bless my life.

Following Paul’s example, and taking our pastor’s challenge, as I think about these and remember them with joy I thank God. Maybe this will encourage you to do some reflecting as well.

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Since I still teach a variety of Bible classes, as well as have significant personal interest, I see most movies that are about the Bible and/or Christianity. Some are better than others, and some are simply bad — not just filling in details absent in the biblical account, but contradicting what is there. My take on “Paul, Apostle of Christ” is that it is pretty good.

The New Testament book of Acts ends with Paul waiting in Rome for two years for a hearing before Caesar (Acts 28:30 and 31). Primarily following reliable tradition, the movie picks up where the New Testament account ends and tells the story of the Apostle Paul from there through his martyrdom.

The tradition is that Paul was released at the end of the two years, did more evangelism and ministry, and was arrested again when persecution of Christians intensified under Nero. The movie is set during the time when Christians in Rome are being persecuted because Nero blamed them for the great fire in Rome (which most people thought Nero set himself).

In addition to Paul, key characters in the movie that are in the New Testament are Luke and the husband and wife team of Aquila and Priscilla. In the Bible Luke was a physician, a traveling companion with Paul in his ministry, and the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. The movie gets it right in terms of Luke, except we do not know from the Bible if Luke visited Paul in prison as the movie depicts. Aquila and Priscilla are also in the New Testament book of Acts, and in the movie are the leaders of Christians in Rome staying out of sight so as not to be killed.

There are three key players in the movie’s story that are not mentioned in Acts or in tradition. A key figure is Mauritius, the overseer of the prison in which Paul and other Christians are being held, and his wife and daughter are also important to the story.

As would be necessary and expected in any biblically based film, some of the characters and story are no doubt fictional. While Aquila and Priscilla were certainly real in the book of Acts, we do not know if they had a role during Nero’s persecution of Christians in Rome. In the movie their leadership with the Christians in hiding is creative and contributes to the story.

The situation of Mauritius and his family also makes a significant contribution to the story being told. I won’t say more about the situation so as not to ruin it for readers who want to see the movie, but it is not hard to imagine something taking place like the movie shows.

If you are inclined to see “Paul, Apostle of Christ” I encourage you to do so. I think you will enjoy it as well as be challenged and encouraged. Remember, a lot of the movie is fiction, but a lot of it also is biblical and based on reliable tradition. At first I was disappointed because my expectations were too high, but I did enjoy it and am glad I went.

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