Mark Burnett and Roma Downey had a ‘bit of a freak out’ remaking ‘Ben-Hur’

Roma Downey poses with husband Mark Burnett  as she receives her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Hollywood, California on August 11, 2016. ..(Photo: Alex J. Berliner/ABImages)

Roma Downey poses with husband Mark Burnett as she receives her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Hollywood, California on August 11, 2016. ..(Photo: Alex J. Berliner/ABImages) (© ABImages)

When Roma Downey and Mark Burnett first considered the idea of remaking the epic drama “Ben-Hur,” they knew if they were to go ahead, they would have big sandals to fill. After all, the 1959 version of the film, starring Charlton Heston as Judah Ben-Hur and Stephen Boyd as Messala, ran three hours and 22 minutes and won 11 Academy Awards.

“Initially we had a little bit of a freak out,” said Downey, who is an executive producer on the Paramount Picture, along with her husband. “Perhaps the only thing that might have been even more frightening would have been to undertake a remake of ‘Gone With the Wind.'”

But the couple prayed on it and, then, when they asked their kids about it, and they responded, “Ben who?” they knew it was time to bring the story of Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston), a prince who was falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother Messala (Toby Kebbell) in Jerusalem during the time of Jesus Christ, to the 21st century.

It all begins with the script, and for the 2016 version, screenwriters Keith Clarke and John Ridley, who won an Oscar for “12 Years a Slave,” went back to the source material, “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ,” a novel by Lew Wallace originally published in 1880, to tell the story.

As a result, the story they are telling differs from the 1959 film, which is a story of revenge. The 2016 story of the two brothers includes the drive for revenge — hence, the chariot race, but it is also one of forgiveness and reconciliation that feels more relevant to the times that we’re living in.

“It’s such a dangerous, fearful, chaotic world I think that we need stories like this now more than ever,” Downey tells FOX411.

Burnett agrees, adding that while the film gets across the message of faith, it is still entertaining. “This is an action movie. It can be a fanboy movie, and it’s has all the elements of a summer blockbuster. But very few of those movies have reconciliation and forgiveness by the protagonist and antagonist at the end of the movie. There’s something really important about that.”

Of course, no film about Ben-Hur and Messala would be complete without the aforementioned chariot race, and this one doesn’t disappoint. The race, which in most part was driven by the two actors, was designed by director Timur Bekmambetov, who studied Formula One and NASCAR to get a sense of where to place the camera to build the most exciting race possible.

“You feel not just that you’re watching from your theater chair, but you almost feel like you’re in the race. You can almost taste the dirt in your mouth it’s so incredible,” Downey says.

Downey and Burnett, who have produced five faith films “The Bible,” “Son of God,” “A.D. The Bible Continues,” “Dovekeepers,” and now “Ben-Hur,” in the past four years plan to continue making movies that illuminate the darkness. Their plan, though, is to bring them into the 21st century, so they are contemporary stories, rather than set in biblical times.

But first, they have this one final sword-and-sandal film with the release of “Ben-Hur” on Friday.

“I think hundreds of millions of people will see this version of ‘Ben-Hur’ over the next 30 years,” Burnett says. ‘This will be shared. Certainly within the Christian communities, this will be shared as an example of it doesn’t just need to be a Sunday School story to have that feeling. There’s other ways of doing it. It is really good to be involved in doing things a little differently.”

“Ben-Hur” also stars Morgan Freeman, Nazanin Boniadi, Pilou Asbæk, and Rodrigo Santoro as Jesus. It hits theaters Aug. 19.

Michael Phelps Says Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life Saved Him From Suicide

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

American swimmer Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, revealed that he suffered a crisis of identity two years ago, which led him to consider ending his life, but it was Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life that gave him hope.

ESPN reported that Phelps was “struggling to figure out who he was outside the pool” in 2014, which led him to heavy drinking and wondering whether his life was worth living.

“I thought the world would just be better off without me,” Phelps admitted. “I figured that was the best thing to do — just end my life.”

The 22-time medal winner, who is also set to compete at the Summer games in Rio, said in a seperate interview with NBC’s “Today” that his DUI arrest in 2014 led to a “downward spiral” that left him feeling the lowest he had ever been.

It was the Olympic swimmer’s second DUI arrest in 10 years, which along with his numerous splintered relationships, prompted him to seek outside help.

Phelps found hope in October 2015 when he entered The Meadows, a psychological trauma and addiction treatment center in Arizona.

There, Phelps turned to Warren’s bestseller The Purpose Driven Life, which uplifted him so much so that he was nicknamed “Preacher Mike” by fellow patients, since he would often read to them from the book.

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Religious service attendance tied to longer life

People pray after learning of the newly elected Pope Francis at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, California

People pray after learning of the newly elected Pope Francis at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, California (Copyright Reuters 2016)

Women who attend religious services frequently may live longer than women who don’t, new research suggests.

Over the 16-year study, religious service attendance was linked to a substantial reduction in mortality, Tyler J. VanderWeele, of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, told Reuters Health by email.

VanderWeele and colleagues analyzed data collected every four years between 1996 and 2012 from nearly 75,000 women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study. Most were Catholic or Protestant.

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As reported in JAMA Internal Medicine, about 14,000 of the women attended religious services more than once a week, about 30,400 attended once a week, about 12,000 less than once a week, and nearly 18,000 never attended.

Women who attended religious services regularly were 33 percent less likely to die during the study period, compared with women who never attended services. Once-a-week attendees were 26 percent less likely to die, and those attending less than once a week were 23 percent less likely to die.

Overall, frequent religious attendance was associated with a 27 percent lower likelihood of dying from cardiovascular disease and a 21 percent lower risk of death from cancer. Frequent attendance was also associated with significantly less risk of breast cancer and colorectal cancer.

“Although attendance at religious services was associated with lower cardiovascular mortality and cancer mortality, attendance was not significantly associated with incidence of breast cancer or cardiovascular disease,” the researchers wrote.

So-called observational studies like this one can’t prove cause and effect, VanderWeele said. But, he added, “That we had data on both service attendance and health repeatedly over time helps provide evidence about the direction of causality.”

Dr. Dan German Blazer, of Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, who wrote an accompanying commentary, told Reuters Health by email, “Though we do not know the mechanisms, research and especially this study, emphasize the importance of religious service attendance to health.

Because the study only included middle-aged and older professional women, “we do not know whether the results would hold for men or for younger persons,” Blazer said. “We need to continue to chip away at a better empirical understanding of cause and effect and refrain from either over-generalizing these results or dismissing them as impossible to better understand.

Court-martialed for expressing faith? Court hears ex-Marine’s religious freedom case

NOW PLAYINGHow does religious freedom apply to servicemembers?

A federal appeals court on Wednesday weighed the case of a former Marine court-martialed in part for expressing her Christian faith while on the job – though the Marine’s lawyer faced tough questions from judges who suggested she was “thumbing her nose at a superior” with her actions.

Monifa Sterling, while with the Marines, had posted biblical verses at her desk, despite orders from a superior to remove them. At issue in Wednesday’s case is the extent to which a federal law on religious freedom protects members of the Armed Forces like her.

The central issue of free speech on government property, especially within a military context, has made this case closely watched. But several judges hearing the case at a 45-minute oral argument seemed skeptical Sterling had done enough to assert her right to post the messages.

“The military is a structured society,” said Chief Judge Charles Erdmann of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. “How can we hold the military at fault when no request for an accommodation was made?”

“They are supposed to be neutral” on matters of religion, said Judge Scott Stucky. “Does throwing a cloak of religion over this case excuse it from a court-martial?”

Sterling, who was a lance corporal stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C., was court-martialed for various offenses relating to separate incidents — including disrespecting a superior officer, disobeying lawful orders and failing to report to an assigned duty. She was reduced in rank, was given a bad-conduct discharge, and has since left the service.

Part of the broader case against her stemmed from a personalized version of the biblical phrase from Isiah 54:17: “No weapon formed against thee shall prosper.” Sterling taped the verses in three spots on her workspace, including her computer.

Court testimony said Sterling’s superior ordered her on several occasions to remove the signs, saying at one point, “I don’t like the tone.” She refused to remove them, so her superior on two occasions took them down and put them in the trash, after Sterling had simply reprinted and reposted the messages.

Her lawyer admitted Sterling did not ask for permission to post or repost the verses, or assert her rights before the court-martial.

She did not comment on the case for Fox News, since this is an ongoing legal matter. Her lawyers say military members deserve the same First Amendment protections enjoyed by civilians.

“This is a historic moment for military religious freedom,” said Mike Berry, an attorney with First Liberty Institute, a religious liberty advocacy group told Fox News. “This case will determine whether our service members’ constitutional right to practice their faith will be protected by the law as they serve in the Armed Forces.”

A key issue for the judges will be interpreting a 1993 federal law known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, requiring the government to seek the “least burdensome” and narrowly tailored means for any law that interferes with religious convictions.

The Supreme Court has already ruled individuals, as well as some companies, churches, and universities, are protected under RFRA, with limitations.

The appeals court considering the Sterling case is expected to issue a decision in coming months, and it then can be reviewed by the Supreme Court.

The lawyer for the military also was peppered with questions from the five-judge appeals panel.

Several judges wondered whether the military gave enough respect to Sterling’s religious rights, when they were asserted at her court-martial.

Judge Kevin Ohlson on several occasions suggested Sterling — who represented herself at the court-martial — had properly demonstrated a “substantial burden” on her constitutional rights, an important legal hurdle to make a claim under the RFRA law.

The case is U.S. v. Sterling (15-0510/MC).

Pope to youth: Happiness can’t be downloaded like an app

  • Youths rest as as they wait for the arrival of Pope Francis to celebrate a mass for the Youths Jubilee, part of the Holy Year activities, in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, Sunday, April 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

    Youths rest as as they wait for the arrival of Pope Francis to celebrate a mass for the Youths Jubilee, part of the Holy Year activities, in St. Peter’s Square, at the Vatican, Sunday, April 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)(The Associated Press)

Pope Francis has told teenagers happiness can’t be downloaded like a cellphone app.

Francis used the reference to connect to faithful aged 13-16 who are converging on Rome for a Holy Year weekend for teenagers.

During his homily Sunday in St. Peter’s Square, he told a crowd of 100,000 that “happiness has no price” and is “not an app that you can download on your phones, nor will the latest update bring you freedom and grandeur in love.”

A day earlier, in a video message to the teens’ rally in a Rome stadium, Francis likened being out of contact with God through lack of love to being where there’s no cellphone reception.

After Mass, dozens of white-robed priests surrounded Francis, many snapping selfies with him.

Group of teenagers get opportunity to confess sins to Pope Francis

April 23, 2016: Pope Francis shakes hands with a young faithful after confessing him, during Youth Jubilee at Saint Peter square in Vatican.

April 23, 2016: Pope Francis shakes hands with a young faithful after confessing him, during Youth Jubilee at Saint Peter square in Vatican. (Angelo Carconi/ANSA via AP Photo)

Sixteen teenagers have gotten an unexpected opportunity to confess sins to Pope Francis.

The pontiff made a surprise appearance late Saturday morning in St. Peter’s Square, where thousands of Catholics faithful, ranging in age from 13 to 16, were participating in a special Holy Year youth day, including confession near the famed Colonnade of Bernini.

Francis and each of the 16 teenagers sat face-to-face in simple chairs set up in pairs for him and many others hearing confessions in the square. The teenagers seemed at ease, with Francis shaking hands warmly with the youths. In all, the pope spent more than an hour in the square.

He has dedicated the Holy Year to two central themes of his papacy: mercy and reconciliation.

Fired for preaching: Georgia dumps doctor over church sermons

Courtesy First Liberty

Courtesy First Liberty

Bi-vocational pastors be warned – what you say from the pulpit on Sunday could get you fired from your public sector job on Monday.

Dr. Eric Walsh, a renowned public health expert who also serves as a lay minister, has filed a federal lawsuit against the Georgia Department of Public Health alleging he was terminated for delivering sermons on issues ranging from homosexuality to evolution.

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“No one in this country should be fired from their job for something that was said in a church or from a pulpit during a sermon,” said First Liberty attorney Jeremy Dys.

First Liberty, one of the nation’s largest law firms defending religious liberty, is representing the Seventh Day Adventist lay minister.

They contend that the Georgia Department of Public Health assigned workers to investigate sermons Dr. Walsh delivered on health, marriage, sexuality, world religions, science and creationism. He also preached on what the Bible says about homosexuality.

“He was fired for something he said in a sermon,” Dys told me. “If the government is allowed to fire someone over what he said in his sermons, they can come after any of us for our beliefs on anything.”

First Liberty has accused the government agency of religious discrimination and retaliation.

“I don’t believe I did anything wrong,” Dr. Walsh told me in an exclusive interview. “This has been very painful for me. I really am a strong believer in the Constitution. But now I feel like maybe all these ideals and values that I was raised to believe – the ideals they country was founded upon – no longer exist.”

A spokesperson for the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) did not return telephone calls nor did they respond to email inquiries.

First Liberty said Walsh was hired as a district health director on May 7, 2014. A few days later, DPH officers and other government workers began investigating his religious activities.

“DPH officers and other employees spent hours reviewing these and other of Dr. Walsh’s sermons and other public addresses available online, analyzing and taking notes on his religious beliefs and viewpoints on social, cultural and other matters of public concern as expressed in the sermons and other public addresses,” the lawsuit states.

The behavior of the DPH was so egregious that its own counsel twice warned them on May 15 that “under federal law Dr. Walsh’s religious beliefs could play no role in any employment decision by DPH.”

But on May 16, the DPH announced it had rescinded the job offer that Dr. Walsh had already accepted.

“Today’s action by the department follows a thorough examination of Dr. Walsh’s credentials and background as well as consultation with the six local boards of health which comprise the district,” spokesman Ryan Deal said in a news release.

And the Department of Public Health wasn’t the only organization concerned about the pastor’s sermons.

The Georgia Voice reported that the Health Initiative, an Atlanta-based group committed to LGBT health issues, strongly opposed Welsh’s hiring.

“Dr. Walsh’s public displays of anti-gay propaganda and religious rhetoric will become symbols of the department and will further isolate an already vulnerable population. We believe this hire is detrimental to the wellbeing of our community, as well as to the effectiveness of the Department to conduct meaningful outreach to LGBT Georgians,” Executive Director Ellis told the publication.

Based on documents First Liberty obtained through a FOIA request, it is clear there was some internal concerns about how Dr. Walsh had been treated.

In spite of the DPH’s internal witch hunt against Dr. Walsh, at least one unnamed staffer wrote a memo warning that the entire controversy had been blown “impossibly out of proportion.”

“Not only is there no smoking gun, there is every reason to believe, even from his detractors own words, that he is the excellent health director we believed he would be,” the staffer wrote in a document obtained by First Liberty through a FOIA request.

“If we do not hire this applicant on the basis of the evidence of job performance and disqualify him on the basis of discrimination by those who seek to advance their own agenda and do him harm, I believe we are no better than they are,” the staffer concluded.

The unnamed staffer’s concerns were ignored and Dr. Walsh was terminated.

Dr. Walsh was catapulted into the national spotlight earlier in 2014 when he was invited to deliver the commencement address at Pasadena City College in California.

Walsh, who was then the director of the city’s public health department, came under fierce scrutiny from LGBT activists and students. He backed out of the speaking engagement. But critics persisted and he was forced to resign his post – after reaching a financial settlement with the city.

Dys tells me that what happened to Dr. Walsh should give every American the chills.

“The idea of those government employees dividing up the sermons is unthinkable,” he said. “Religious liberty means we should be able to find sanctuary in our own sanctuary.”

In recent days, the state of Georgia has become a battleground over religious liberty.

Governor Nathan Deal, a Republican, vetoed legislation that would have provided protection for pastors and other faith-based organizations from attacks by LGBT activists. The veto was levied under fierce pressure from big business bullies like Disney and Coca-Cola.

It’s unclear whether such a law would have protected Dr. Walsh.

“Any law a state passes that helps protect religious liberty – especially a law that allows pastors the right to preach and not lose their jobs – is a law we would certainly apply in this case,” Dys said.

It’s becoming clear to me that people of faith – people like Dr. Walsh — will not find safe refuge in the state of Georgia.

First, they silenced the sheep – and now they are trying to silence the shepherds.

Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary, heard on hundreds of radio stations. His latest book is “God Less America: Real Stories From the Front Lines of the Attack on Traditional Values.” Follow Todd on Twitter@ToddStarnesand find him on Facebook.

In-N-Out threatens to sue model who filmed ‘sexually suggestive’ burger video


In-N-Out Burger takes its wholesome family image seriously. (AP)

Lawyers representing In-N-Out Burger have sent a cease and desist letter to producers who filmed an unauthorized video featuring a model using the chain’s food in “sexually suggestive” ways, reports TMZ.

In March bikini clad Abigail Ratchford– a Los Angeles-based model  with 4 million Instagram followers– appeared in a “lunch-break” themed clip where she is seen drizzling an In-N-Out vanilla milkshake over her barely-clothed body, flicking fries to the camera, and bouncing up and down while touching herself.

The clip, which has racked up over 1.5 million views on Facebook alone, was not sanctioned by the West Coast burger chain, which is known for espousing Christian values. Soda cups at the chain sport bible verse passage John 3:16 while burger wrappers point to Revelation 3:20.

TMZ says that In-N-Out has been inundated with customer complaints since the video’s release due to the “various sexually suggestive acts” performed in the clip with the chain’s signature items.

In the model and her producers, Live Rich Media, fail to take down the video, the chain will likely file a lawsuit against all parties involved in the clip’s production.

Though In-N-Out’s conservative philosophy may not jive with busty, shake-covered models, the video is very similar to Carl’s Jr. ads that have featured Kim Kardashian, Kate Upton, Charlotte McKinney and other women in sexually suggestive spots to promote its food.

In-N-Out burger was founded by Harry and Esther Snyder in 1948 and continues to be fully owned and operated by the conservative Christian clan. The chain does not franchise so they exert control over product packaging throughout all locations.

Bible charity vows to continue translation work after murders of four employees

Extremists recently busted into a secret office in the Middle East and killed four translators working for Wycliffe Bible Translation.  The non-profit is dedicated to bringing the gospel to hundreds of obscure languages.

Extremists recently busted into a secret office in the Middle East and killed four translators working for Wycliffe Bible Translation. The non-profit is dedicated to bringing the gospel to hundreds of obscure languages.

The murders of four translators working to bring the Bible to obscure languages in the Middle East earlier this month won’t stop the charity behind the effort from its work, officials said.

The four unidentified translators, who worked secretly for Wycliffe Associates, a Florida non-profit dedicated to bringing the gospel to hundreds of obscure languages, were killed by suspected Islamist militants at an undisclosed location,Wycliffe officials said in a statement.

“They shot and destroyed all the equipment in the office,” read the statement. “The invaders burned all the books and other translation materials in the office.”

“Even when tragedy strikes, as in this case, the testimony of Christ is loud and clear…”

– Bruce Smith, Wycliffe president

The work is so dangerous that Wycliffe President Bruce Smith will not even say what country the office was in or give the names of those killed. He did say the attackers shot two workers to death and beat two more to death with emptied guns as they used their bodies to shield a senior translator who survived.

Officials for Wycliffe said hard drives containing the translation work for eight different language projects may be salvageable.

“The remaining translation team has decided to re-double their efforts to translate, publish, and print God’s word for these eight language communities.”

The attack highlights the recent wave of genocide against Christians in places like the Middle East and Europe.

“The attack on translators shows how dangerous it is for Christians,” Ryan Mauro, a national security analyst for the Clarion Project, told

“Translators know the language and are usually familiar with the territory and population. Yet, even they are at high risk of death simply for being Christian. There is no how-to guide for survival that a Christian can follow.”

Wycliffe has been in existence for over 70 years, helping Christians throughout the world by working towards translating Bibles into nearly 2,000 different languages. They often set up offices in the areas where a new translation is needed, working on the ground level in places like Asia, Africa and South America as well as the Middle East using a method of translation called “Paradigm 3.0,” which focuses on local translators and local control.

Smith said the work simply cannot be done in the relative safety of the U.S.

“The simple answer is that the Church prefers to do translation where the people are,” Smith said. “Paradigm 3.0 Bible translation is all about church engagement from beginning to end. Dislocated translations delay and dilute the impact to the local communities.”

Officials for Wycliffe say that those who survived the attack have committed to finishing the projects in an effort to recover the work lost. They are in the process of setting up a new secret location and have even asked for the public’s help in raising emergency funds.

“Even when tragedy strikes, as in this case, the testimony of Christ is loud and clear,” Smith also said in his statement to “Yes, there is a tremendous cost. But as Tertullian, an early Church father, said – the blood of martyrs are the seeds of the church.”

Perry Chiaramonte is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at@perrych

The Tetra Scroll Biblical and Historical Timeline-Amazing!

Our good friends at have created a magnificent historical study tool. The Tetra Scroll merges timelines of biblical and historical events into a cohesive and meaningful outline. You will be amazed at the intersections.

Here is a summary of what you will find.


The Tetra Scroll


The Tetra Scroll presents the entire Bible in a non-denominational, visual timeline, and places it in the context of highly recognized historical figures and secular events. Seeing God’s Word unfold in one place helps us grasp it like never before.

The name Tetra Scroll was chosen to honor the Grand Creator whose name in Hebrew is represented by the four letters YHWH, rendered Yahweh when the vowels are added. These four Hebrew letters, when combined together, is known as the Tetragrammaton and is featured at the top of the scroll.

The Tetra Scroll is thick, aged, stained, and torn, and has the charm and appeal of an ancient treasure map. Its rich texture invites touch and interaction. The scroll measures twenty-eight inches wide—including its wooden rods—by seventy-five inches long, and comes wrapped with a rope and decorative tassel. It also arrives in an aged carrying case.

The Tetra Scroll is divided into three major sections: Before Time, Creative Days, and Events from Genesis to Revelation. Approximate dates and scriptural reference are noted for each line of text. The Tetra Scroll is beautifully illustrated with artwork and images from the preceding two millenniums


Individual Life Lines                                           Thousand-year Benchmarks

World Powers                                                        Bible Writers

Judges                                                                     Prophets

Kings of Israel and Judah                                    Rival Nations

Important People and Secular Events               The Top Ten Religions of the World

Future Events from Revelation


Perfect for home, school, and church settings.

Visit or email

Bible Scrolls International  808-722-5738


Gregorian and Hebrew Dates Internal Calculations Pale Horse Red Horse Scriptures - Years - World Powers Tower of Babel White Horse Assyria Babylon Birth and Death Lines Book of Life Dark Horse Events up till Modern Times