While the team here at City on a Hill Productions is, for the most part, a bunch of creative and artsy-fartsy folks, we understand that sound theology has to be the bedrock foundation of everything we do. Articulating the scriptural message we’re trying to convey is always step #1 of every project. Only then can we craft effective story content to support that truth. For our upcoming film, TV miniseries, and small-group study, we wanted to explore the problem of pain. Why do bad things happen to good people? If God Himself is so good, why does he allow such suffering in the world. Tough questions indeed.
To explore that issue, we’re forging a relationship with another well-known minister, Pastor Bob Russell. At twenty-two years of age, Bob became the pastor of Southeast Christian Church, a small congregation of 120 members. By the time he retired in 2006, it had become one of America’s largest churches, with 18,000 in attendance each weekend. An accomplished author, Bob has written over a dozen books, and now focuses on mentoring pastors while teaching and speaking around the country. He’s excited to partner in his first project with City on a Hill Productions, offering insight and hope by sharing the story of Joseph – his favorite figure from the Old Testament. Bob believes that Joseph provides us the clearest Biblical example of how to persevere through all manner of suffering, and ultimately find God’s purpose in pain.
Just like past City on a Hill efforts, the broadcast miniseries and small-group video series for this project are a combination of dramatic content and straightforward teaching. To see how Bob Russell’s approach for helping us experience God’s support through suffering, and his purpose in pain, plays out episode-by-episode, keep reading after the break:
It’s impossible to live in this fallen world without experiencing pain. Jesus warned us, “In this world, you will have trouble.” And through suffering, most of us share a common question: Why? Addressing this critical question head-on, Pastor Bob Russell teaches that to get from the problem of pain to experiencing the purpose of pain, we must all take a journey…a journey of faithfulness.
Episode One – The Problem of Pain:
Teaching – While pain can certainly be the self-inflicted results of our own sin, it all too often seems to come to us completely undeserved. The sins of others can come crashing into our lives, bringing uninvited pain. Worse, seeming “acts of God” can bring indiscriminate suffering through disease or disaster. What are we to make of a God who allows this? As Bob Russell introduces us to the story of Joseph as found in the book of Genesis, we see that the Bible is not silent on the problem of pain…it points to a purpose.
Drama – Sarah and Becca spend the evening helping Tracy pick a new cancer wig, then head for home. Garrett spends the evening celebrating his company’s latest conquest, and heads out in search of the next party. They collide in a rainy intersection – an event that ties six hurting souls together in their struggle with faith, with meaning, and with God.
Episode Two – Faithful Despite Betrayal:
Teaching – Joseph initially seems blessed by God, but is hated by his brothers and sold into slavery. In his story, we recognize that the issue of betrayal is at the heart of the problem of pain. While betrayal from family, friends, or institutions may deeply wound, our deepest pain often comes from feeling like we’ve been betrayed by God.
Drama – Sarah has followed God all her life, and he has repaid that by taking her husband and daughter? Tracy has a husband and family who need her, and yet God lets her get cancer? Rita begs God to bring her husband home safe from Afghanistan, but her husband comes home a broken man? Why would a good and loving God seem to bring nothing but suffering?
Episode Three – Faithful Under Temptation:
Teaching – A Christian’s ongoing battle to resist temptation is grueling under the best of circumstances. But when we’re weak, when we’re suffering, when we feel betrayed by God…the false comfort that sin offers can seem irresistible. Joseph is betrayed by his family, and is living a life of slavery that seems
far from what God promised him. And then, temptation strikes.
Drama – While Steve is in Afghanistan, Rita finds God. Overwhelmed and terrified, he becomes her strength and her anchor. Even better, God answers her prayers, bringing Steve home safe and sound – or so it seemed at first. But Steve is tormented by the ghosts of war, too paralyzed with PTSD to be a husband and father. Crushed by disappointment, despairing at the future, the e-mail Rita gets from an old flame comes at just the wrong time…
Episode Four – Faithful Through Adversity:
Teaching – Joseph serves with diligence and honor as a slave, and then resists sexual sin through the strength of his commitment to God. His reward? Prison. This gives voice to the painfully familiar question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” But Joseph’s response to ongoing adversity suggests that that’s the wrong question to ask if we really want to discover the purpose of pain and experience intimacy with God.
Drama – For David, trusting God was always a struggle. As a neurosurgeon, he saw so much tragedy that believing in a loving God always was a stretch. Joining Sara’s husband Blake in ministry, and helping to start an orphanage in Mexico, Steve finally feels that light is overcoming darkness. But when seeming “acts of God” claim both his friend and the orphanage, Steve crumbles. How can he hold onto his faith when tragedy after tragedy snuffs out all hope?
Episode Five – Faithful in Blessing:
Teaching – Joseph receives a dramatic change of fortune, going from a forgotten prisoner to the second most powerful man in the world. For most people, this seeming blessing would actually be the most insidious temptation of all. It’s much easier to depend on God when you know he’s all you have. But when our wealth and power seem to meet all our needs, what does it look like to remain steadfastly faithful to God?
Drama – Garrett has it all. Self-made man, successful entrepreneur with a booming company, the most prominent businessman in town. He’s his own god – until he discovers he doesn’t have the power to save himself. On the other hand, Tracy has nothing but a brain tumor and a few months to live. Yet she sees herself as immeasurably rich and incomparably blessed, and leans on the God who can truly save and sustain.
Episode Six – Faithful to Forgive / The Purpose of Pain:
Teaching – Standing at the head of the nation of Egypt, Joseph can finally make sense of the many painful paths God led him down. But faced now with the brothers who sold him into slavery, Joseph must again put faith into action. In Joseph’s example, we see forgiveness as the most Christ-like act of faithfulness – and the act in which we see God’s providence most clearly.
Drama – Sarah sits in the witness stand, facing the man who killed her daughter. In the courtroom, Steve, Tracy, David, and a packed house wait to hear her words of pain and condemnation. Garret sits broken, paralyzed with remorse, resigned to his fate. But with one simple act of forgiveness, Sarah unknowingly brings healing to many, salvation to Garrett, and God’s provision to thousands.
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So what do you think about that journey? Does that spark any ideas for the perfect name for this film? If you’d like to earn a full library of City on a Hill Productions resources, then leave your name submissions in the comments below!