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Living Out Your Faith in Today’s Culture

Living Out Your Faith in Today’s Culture

Television producers Mark Burnett and his wife, Roma Downey, discuss their desire and efforts to create high quality, biblically-themed movies and TV shows that promote faith-based values and the message of God's love. The couple highlights their new film Resurrection, a dramatic retelling of Jesus Christ's crucifixion and rise from the dead.
Original Air Date: March 26, 2021

Excerpt:

Roma Downey: Before we would shoot that, um, scene Jim, we, we would join hands and we would pray that, um, you know, that the Holy Spirit would move through us and would go out from us or through the camera and touch people’s lives. And I just feel so privileged that I have been used in that way.

End of Excerpt

John Fuller: That’s Roma Downey, she’s an award-winning actress and producer, and she’s describing how her faith in God has been an integral part of everything she does and how she lives. Today on Focus on the Family, Roma Downey and her husband, Mark Burnett are with us. Uh, they’re going to encourage you to live out your faith in the same kind of way with courage and authenticity. Thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller and your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly.

Jim Daly: John, we’re one week away from Easter, the most significant day of the year, commemorating, uh, when Jesus Christ rose from the dead and literally transformed the world. As Christians, I don’t think we can understate the importance of the resurrection because it fulfills all the promises of God. That he loves us and cares for us, and that he wants to wash away our sins. I mean, these are wonderful truths that Jesus fulfilled and of course the best truth of all, that we get to spend eternity with him. I get excited about that. It is not just the good news, it’s the great news for humanity. And it’s easy for that message sometimes to get lost in this popular culture and all the materialism that we have, et cetera. We tend not to think about things of faith. Well, we’re going to concentrate on that today.

John: And that’s why we have Mark and Roma with us. Um, they have a release of a new movie called Resurrection, which comes out on Discovery Plus this weekend. And it really is inspiring.

Jim: It is. And I’m looking forward to talking with them about it. Mark and Roma, welcome back.

Roma: Oh, hello. It’s so great to see you guys and be with-

Mark Burnett: Yeah, we miss you Jim. Honestly, seeing you now on the screen, I just wish you were walking in the front door today. We really miss you.

Jim: Well, that is so sweet. And we appreciate it. And, uh, man, tell us, just give us that quick overview of Resurrection. Then I’m going to ask you some questions about the culture, and then we’ll get back to this release of the greatest truth ever told, but what inspired you to do Resurrection?

Roma: Well, listen, we’re all just coming through one of the worst years that we’ve ever experienced with the COVID pandemic, and Mark and I, in conversation with each other said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we were able to release a film that told the story of hope?” And surely there’s no greater hope story in the world than the story of the resurrection. So we, we rushed with our editors to put this beautiful film together. We thought around Christmas time that perhaps we would have still had the opportunity to get it into theaters, but it became clear that that wasn’t going to happen, uh, because of pandemic. And so, we’re delighted to being able to partner with Discovery Plus, which is a brand-new platform, very family friendly platform.

Jim: Excellent.

Roma: And the movie will start on the 27th of March.

John: Well, we are so glad for that opportunity for our listeners to be able to see that. And, um, I should mention Mark Burnett is… I didn’t give your bio. I’m so sorry for that. We got rolling here. (laughing) So Mark Burnett is chairman of the MGM worldwide television group. He’s executive producer of a number of major TV shows, you know them, Survivor, Shark Tank, The Voice, he’s produced more than 3,200 hours of television programming, which regularly airs in more than 70 countries worldwide. Roma Downey is a producer. As I mentioned earlier, she’s an actress, author, and is the president of Lightworkers Media, which is the faith and family division of MGM studios. And probably best known still for her role in Touched by an Angel, and together they’ve done so many different faith-based programming, uh, ventures, including the Bible mini-series, uh, the son of God and the mini-series A.D. the Bible Continues, which we’ve talked about before, Jim.

Jim: Yeah. So, let’s go to this question. What motivates the two of you to do this? I mean, I know you have a strong faith, but you’re working in Hollywood, you probably think, “I got to keep our, my head low,” but you don’t. You say, “Okay, we’re going to use the best resources, the best actors, and we’re gonna do this well.” And we’re so proud of you for what you’ve done there. And you do it in such gracious ways. It’s not a finger wagging way in any sort of way. What motivates you to speak about your faith the way that you do?

Mark: Well, part of it is we get to work together on these projects, you know, and shoulder to shoulder, side by side. And it really gives us a good feeling. It feels good. We have fun doing it, and it’s important. And we believe. Someone, Jim, said to us once, two things, first of all, “Don’t do it together as a married couple, your marriage won’t survive the rigors of a foreign production.” That was wrong because not only did we survive, we thrive, right? And there was a said, “Your careers are very good in Hollywood. You’re very successful. Making Bible-based stuff would diminish your careers.” In fact, the opposite happened. We thrived again. So literally giving ourselves to this has improved our marriage, our family, our lives and our careers. And so, there’s a supernatural element to that. We know that. We don’t always understand, we don’t need to completely understand how all these things happen, but we know that by giving ourselves to this, this happens.

Jim: You know Mark and Roma, what’s so great about that, that applies to anybody doing anything, right? If you have that faith in Christ, um, go for it. Don’t hold back and trust him to give you that peace in that comfort, but be out there for him, right?

Roma: Yeah, absolutely. And we do, we are out there for him. I mean, I think I learned back in my years, Jim, working on Touched by an Angel, um, and that little clip that you played at the beginning reminding me that Della and I, Della Reese and myself, we would always pray before we would do the central scene, which was, we called it the angel revelation scene. And, um, it was the moment that we would let the person know we weren’t undercover nurses or teachers or whatever we’d been pretending to be. We were in fact, angels we’d been sent by the Almighty, and we had a message. And the message was always the same, that there is a God that he loves you and that he wants to be part of your life. And over 25 million people would tune in every week for that message. And our prayer was less of me, more of you, less of me, more of you. And so, Mark and I have taken that prayer also into the work that we’ve created under Lightworkers, that there would be less of us and more of God. And that same message that there is a God that he loves us, that he wants to be part of our lives is embedded into all of these projects. And so, you’ll feel the energy of that coming out of the movie, Resurrection. Because if ever we were reminded that there is a God and he loves us, is seeing the story of Jesus play out on the screen to see Him crucified, which is the start of our movie. But more importantly to see him rise and show that He was who He said He was.

Jim: Yeah. And that’s what we celebrate. That’s what is so amazing about Easter. Mark, let me ask you, you’re kind of known as a risk taker obviously. And there was a quote I came across that I think is so you. You said, “Not making a significant contribution or not stepping up when given the chance is the thing you fear the most.” You know, so many of us need to hear that. Not to shrink back in the moment that God gives us, again, whatever the platform might be. And I just want to hear directly from you that idea that you sometimes feel that if you’ve ended up short on that, that you’re disappointing, perhaps the Lord. What do you say about it?

Mark: Yeah. And very briefly, it’s role driven by two things. Either you’re running towards pleasure or running away from pain. And you decide, what is your motivator? Everyone’s different, everyone’s different. And mine was running away from pain, but what was that pain? Is it a greater pain to me to fail and look stupid or greater pain to me to look back 30 years later in full regret, “I wasn’t brave enough.” And I decided I was willing to fail continually and look stupid if, if that was the case, far better than to get into my old age and look back up, “I knew I could have done that. I should have done it.” That has driven me completely. I’ve had lots of shows, I’ve been highly successful, and other ones that haven’t worked. Putting ourselves on the line for the Bible and for this movie, Resurrection, you really putting yourself out there to have people throw stones at you. You really are. But that’s okay. We’ll deal with that. We’ll deal with that far better though, we can look back in old age and say, “You know what? We went for it.”

Jim: Yeah. And it’s such refreshing kind courage. And Roma, maybe I can direct this to you. When you’re working in Hollywood, a lot of Christians, those convectional Christians were getting the feeling that we’re being beat up and people don’t appreciate what we stand for, but I can’t think of a couple that does this better than the two of you. And I mean that sincerely. Your graciousness, the fruit of the spirit that comes out of you, love, joy, peace, goodness, mercy. It’s kind of sad that we as Christians don’t use the tools of the Lord more often. And I think the question I have for you really is just, how do you go about doing that on a daily basis in an environment like Hollywood that doesn’t really express appreciation for what you believe? How do you generate that kindness, that generosity toward people that, you know, don’t agree with you?

Roma: Well, gosh, I don’t know. I mean, I do know like in my own daily practice, Jim, I like to start my day in prayer, you know, and really, I love nature. I love like being able to see the sky or the ocean or, you know, some greenery. And so I do my best praying outside if the weather permits, and I really just try to center myself in that at any given day. You know, one of my favorite parables is the good Samaritan. It’s funny you should mention, you know, how do we move through the world? So it always inspires me that the guy that was helped with sort of the enemy guy, not of the same tribe, and that extension of kindness was Christ-like, like he, you know, and so we sometimes fall short in that, but we do our best to try to be those people and that they would know us by our love. Not that they’re going to know us by our finger pointing. We’re not preachers. I’m not, it’s not my job to tell somebody off, or, you know, to judge somebody. It’s just our job to love and to try to be gracious and to try to be kind. And, um I have found really in Hollywood that people are more accepting than you might think. You now, I think that kindness can really disarm somebody, more so than anything else, you know? More so than a tackle. Somebody says something and you meet it with kindness. You just see, you know, people will back down if they were going to come at you.

Jim: Yeah.

Mark: In the cancel culture that exists, there’s a little bit of a safety because people are very unlikely to publicly criticize you being Christian right now, because that will be just as bad as criticizing someone for being gay, for being of a different race, from a different, uh, political party. The culture right now, people have to be a lot more careful. So, I’m really feeling people are less likely to boldly go out there and say anything negative about Christianity or Christians. And so that’s just a byproduct of the time that has gone by, and we love doing what we do. And I told you before, there is a supernatural elements of this is. I used to try and figure out when I first really found the Lord, and I’ve learned, you’re not supposed to figure it out. It just is. That’s what faith is. I’ve really realize that, and so just go along with it and know that, how do people find our movies? What does it bring people to the Lord? It just does. One thing we have done though, Jim, you know, our movies about Jesus are all for real characters. So, in Resurrection, this movie, you can feel the fear and the terror of the disciples. They didn’t really think Jesus would get killed and crucified. And he, he was. Peter, the leader ran away and denied him three times. Only John was even there with Jesus’ mother, Mary Magdalene at, at the cross. And so that shame, that feeling, we can all feel that we’ve all made mistakes. We’re not always as brave as we should be. And that’s what you really see in this movie. These real people, I think people who’ve never been to church or never really read the Bible, on watching Resurrection could see themselves, that these are real characters.

Jim: And that’s an outstanding part of it. And actually, Mark, that was my next question to you because you’re a former, uh, military guy, Special Forces. I mean, that’s a man’s job, a man’s man’s job. I’m thinking of Peter in the garden and you both do such a beautiful job portraying the disciples in human ways. And there’s been some criticism about that, but I think you’ve captured it beautifully, those normal human shortcomings, which in the garden with Peter, you know, he straps on to go up against those coming against the son of God. And, you know, I don’t think he was going for the man’s ear, by the way. I mean, I’ll ask you as a Special Forces guy, do you think Peter was really going for his ear? But you can really feel what they’re feeling in that moment. And you’ve done a brilliant job with that.

Mark: Yeah. Well, as you know, it says in the New Testament that, if you wrote down everything Jesus said, it would fill all the books in all the world. And so, we have retrude scripture and we add feelings, as you said. For example, you know, that time in the upper room, in this movie, when they all get together, and how terrified they are, and, you know, really what they want, they believe. I mean, Simon the Zealot in the movie says, “let’s go to Galilee. Get out, dodge, get out of Jerusalem. They kill him, they’re going to kill us. We’re next, they’re looking forward to let’s go.” And luckily, they stay the three days. And of course, as we know, he resurrects. And the tension in that. On the other side, you’ve got Pilate and Caiaphas the high priest, they don’t believe He’s resurrected. They think that the disciples have stolen the body. And there’s a great scene. Caiaphas though, isn’t sure. And so, he decides to give money to the temple guards to lie, to say that the disciples stole the body of Christ. And it wasn’t really resurrected, which as you know, is in John. So, this moment, this tension of what’s going on, this is the craziest time ever in Jerusalem. They killed Jesus, who they think is going to solve the problem, but he comes back and then it’s game on. Everything changes. And in this movie, we cover Pentecost. Not many times you see Pentecost in these kind of movies. And the moment when they pray and the Holy Spirit comes, the flames come, and they speak in tongues is absolutely amazing.

Roma: Oh, it’s fabulous, Jim, because with the special effects, you know, I mean, this is what we can do in full Technicolor with a great special effects apartment and the circles of flames around their heads. And suddenly they’re speaking languages they didn’t even know they knew, and they tumbled into the street and now they’re ready to do what he asked them to do, which is to go tell everyone, you know, spread the gospel everywhere, spread the good news, as you said, spread the great news. And you know, in our own way, I mean, we’re filmmakers, you know, but we’re trying to do what he asks us to do through film, which is to spread the gospel. And there’s another way, you know, some people learn better, or things anchor more in their souls when they see it. I myself, I’m a visual learner. And when I take the images, uh, and the characters from the movies that we’ve made, and I go back into scripture, I find some ways that it, like it has brought it to life in a new way. You know, it’s like I pay attention to different things that I hadn’t even realized when I first read it. So that’s been very exciting.

Jim: Yeah. And I, you know, one of the things is you do a brilliant job of people feeling that we can see our own humanity in your storytelling, and that’s what hooks people.

John: Yeah. There’s an accessibility to the work that Mark Burnett and Roma Downey do. They’re our guests today on Focus on the Family. We’re talking, uh, about faith and the culture, and we’re talking about their new film, uh, Resurrection, which is available this weekend on Discovery Plus, and we’ve got some details for you at our website and some resources as well as we turn the corner and enter this final week of the Easter season.

Jim: Roma, let me come back to you. There’s something that you and I both share, and that was the death of our mothers at a very young age. And I, I love that scripture that says, “God is close to the brokenhearted and saves those crushed in spirit.” And I think one of the things that is so refreshing about you as a high-powered couple is your humility about this, um, the, the way you’re expressing it. God’s given us a platform we’re going to use it for him. And it’s so of, I think refreshing just to see people achieve a high level, but give it right back to God. And I think if I can be so bold to say, I think that’s because of your brokenness. You didn’t go from mountain top to mountain top and speak to that reality of humanity that this life is full of suffering.

Roma: Yes, it is indeed. I mean, when my mother died, Jim, I was only 10 years of age and she was in her late forties. And she hadn’t even been sick or anything. She just dropped dead of a heart attack. And so it was just the utter shock of it, you know, it was like the lights were turned out and the music stopped. And if it hadn’t been for my faith, I don’t know how I would have endured, honestly, I really don’t know. So the promise that the resurrection offers us is the hope that I have held onto my whole life. That you and I, Jim and everybody else will get to be reunited once again with our loved ones, and what a day that will be. And I decided back then as a little girl that I wanted to live my best life to honor my mom. Then my dad died when I was in college. And, um, so death visited our home too early and too often. But I think you’re right, I think it’s the very thing that has hurt you, the wound that you have, that your capacity for compassion grows, I think. Maybe your compassion for empathy of others may not often thought in all my years on Touched by an Angel, that those were the very gifts that the angel I played needed. And, you know, you can’t help but think, “Isn’t God amazing,” like of all the roles and all the world that I would have ended up with that role, where I was actually able to use the hurts that had visited me to minister to other people.

Jim: Yes, it’s beautiful. And I, I think that’s so hard now with, I guess the selfishness that we have in the culture that when we experience that kind of suffering, we don’t see how God might use it for his good. And, you know, it makes Romans very difficult to understand when it says, “He uses all things for his good.” I mean that, that’s hard for us to believe, but look at your own life and it’s proven so true. Um, let’s turn to Resurrection specifically, when you look at the casting, the shooting of it, all of that you’ve done as John alluded to you, A.D. the Bible story, et cetera. Speak to the Resurrection and the production quality of it, what you were trying to hit.

Roma: Well, we, um, you know, we’ve often said that just because a film, uh, has faith content and just because a film is well intentioned, the film also has to be excellent quality. And I think in the past, perhaps in our Christian community, we’ve had movies come out and we’ve been approached, “Can you support this film?” And we see the film, we know that it was well-intended, but the quality of the film just doesn’t, isn’t up to snuff you know?. And we just don’t think that’s acceptable anymore. There’s this movie Resurrection coming out of Hollywood has to be as good as any Marvel movie or Lord of the Rings. We just wanted that. We brought a marvelous team together, Jim. You know it takes a village to do anything. And we have a wonderful cast, wonderful crew, a wonderful set decorations and costume designs and, and all enhanced by the Hans Zimmer, Lauren Bell score and the collective experience, It’s just a… it’s a gritty movie. It plays out like a thriller; it’s filled with drama and tension. And ultimately, it’s your heart source. It’s completely inspirational. And it is our hope that families maybe we’ll start a new tradition, uh, for Easter, from the comfort and safety of your own home to gather together, to watch this beautiful Easter offering, um, to maybe talk with your family afterwards over a meal. And it’s a great entry point for kids, you know, and we’re just hoping maybe it’s the beginning of an annual tradition to watch Resurrection for Easter.

Jim: And again, what a great reminder, uh, to let the culture know that, that Jesus is the greatest story ever told, and his resurrection is the greatest gift that we could imagine from God. Right at the end here, Mark and Roma, I think that the two of your, your attributes Mark, I think of you that bold person that’s out there. And Roma, “Don’t forget Mark, let’s love everybody.” And I love that. You both do that so well, and it’s such a wonderful combo that you both, as a couple bring to the story. Your boldness and Roma, that loving kindness that you have, when you look at the outcome on the other side of Easter, what would you hope for that people will walk away with after watching Resurrection?

Roma: Well, I think, you know, we’ve come through this terrible year. And if you imagine for a minute that when we were locked in our homes, it was kind of tomb like, and we’re all hoping for that resurrection. You know, like, what will that feel like when we finally are able to get back, who will we be when we finally are able to get back? Because we will have to start unpacking that. I think we’re all going to be very different. Um, I think it’s given us time all to reflect and to really prioritize what’s important in our lives. We’re hoping that when people see this film, you know, there’s a lovely ending to the film, not a spoiler alert. I’m sure your listeners all know this story, but we remind the audience at the end of the film, that what began with just 12 people or a handful of followers really has now grown to over two and a half billion believers today.

Jim: Wow.

Roma: And there’s something I think so extraordinary, to be reminded that we’re part of such a huge, large, you know, a big, big, big family. And to remember that we belong to each other and there’s just something so uplifting and comforting in that to me.

Jim: Well, Mark and Roma, you guys again, I just so love and appreciate you. I wish I was walking through the front door so we could spend a little time together. And I just, I feel such a kindred spirit with what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, the way you love people. Um, it’s an inspiration and I’m telling, uh, you each and every listener, I mean, this is living out your faith right in the boldest way possible with the most love that you can express to people. It is the message of the gospel, what Mark and Roma do each and every day right there in Hollywood. Rather than, uh, cast dispersions for that group, that community, why don’t we pray for them? Pray for the effectiveness that Mark and Roma could have in that community as influencers for Christ. And most of all, let’s watch the movie. I mean, go to Discovery Plus, and, uh, we’ll post a link there at our website.

John: We’ll link people to it, yeah.

Jim: Where people can connect. So Mark and Roma, thank you so much again for being with us, uh, for your bright smiles and for what you do everyday in the name of the Lord. Thank you.

Mark: Thank, thank you, Jim. And Jim, really, when you’re ready to travel, please come and visit us again. We love having you in our home. You’re a great guest and you’re always such fun.

Jim: Well, I appreciate that.

Roma: Yes, and bring Jean too, Jim. Please.

Jim: She’d love to come. All right. God bless you guys.

Roma: God bless you too.

Mark: God bless you too.

Roma: Thank you.

Jim: And remember, He is, He is Risen, right?

Mark: Yes.

Roma: Hallelujah.

Mark: Thank you.

Jim: Bye bye.

Roma: Bye.

John: And as Jim said, we’re going to link over to some details about that Discovery Plus release of the movie, Resurrection by Mark and Roma. And you can also call us if you’d like our numbers 800, the letter A in the word FAMILY or stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.

Jim: John, let me also mentioned that we have a free, uh, booklet. You can download it as well called Coming Home. It really explains what it means to become a Christian. And here at Easter, that is the greatest, uh, meaning of the whole moment. And we would love for you to consider if you don’t have a relationship with Jesus Christ, start the discovery process, find out why, ask questions, what is this about? What were the claims of Christ? And this booklet will help answer some of those questions and get you started in that relationship for eternity, with Jesus.

John: Yeah. Tens of thousands of people have gotten this book or read it online. And again, our website where we’ll link over to the coming home booklet is focuseonthefamily.com/broadcast. We hope you have a great weekend with your family and your church family too. And join us again on Monday for practical tips about making your marriage more joyful.

Teaser:

Dr. Marcus Warner: You think about it, uh, friendship is the foundation of a really good marriage. You want to be good friends, and if you’re not playing together, are you really friends? You know?

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