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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Light Up The Darkness

On this first night of Hanukkah I wanted to share with you the message that I gave at Gateway Church in Dallas at their Messianic service earlier this month. It was such an honor and joy to be apart of their service.  I spoke about Hanukkah and how we can “Light Up The Darkness.” It’s a perfect message for us tonight (Dec. 16th) and for the week of Hanukkah. Don’t be afraid of the Darkness. Light Up the Darkness!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Meaning, Mission & Values of Restoration: A Messianic Synagogue in Seattle

At Restoration, a Messianic Synagogue in Seattle, we want to do our part so that God may show Himself to all people. Paul, writer of most of the New Testament, who was a trained Rabbi and devout Jew, wrote in his letter to the Romans, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” (Romans 1:16).

The simple explanation of the Gospel is that God sent His son, Yeshua, to offer Himself as a sacrifice that would pay the penalty for humanity’s sins. Yeshua, after being put to death, rose from the dead three days later, and defeated death as a punishment for sin. If one believes in Yeshua, they can find the forgiveness of their sins and the ability to live with God forever after they die. God’s desire is for every human being on planet earth to understand this message.  

Our synagogue’s mission is to lead people to become fully devoted followers of Yeshua.

Yeshua is not just a good teacher, Rabbi or Jew who said wise things. He is the “visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15) and we want to follow Him and the things He has asked us to do. The word “become” is very important because it speaks to the never-ending process of developing into better followers of Yeshua, along with learning and understanding the things of God. The name of our synagogue, Restoration, speaks to the idea that God is always, consistently, calling people to return to their Creator and find restoration in all that God has made them to be, both Jews and Gentiles.  This is reflected in a three-step process that we want to lead everyone through: Worship. Connect. Serve. 

We believe that God is One and yet three-in-one: Father God, Yeshua the Son, and the Holy Spirit— and He alone is worthy of all adoration, veneration and honor. You were made to worship the One True God. Worship is recognizing who God is and who you are in Him. Worship is the first step in becoming a disciple of Yeshua. We worship Him together on Shabbat, during the holidays and in every event. 

Everyone belongs in the family of God. Part of belonging is connecting to community. We believe you can’t do life alone and that you need community around you during the week to thrive. 

Serving in the congregation and using our gifts and talents is important for every follower of Yeshua.  One way we demonstrate God’s love is through volunteering in our synagogue and in our community. 

This three-part process is just that, a process. As we gain more understanding, we then lead others through the same process. We are always learning more about what it means to worship God, connect with others, and serve our community.

Every congregation has values that make them distinct. Restoration is not in competition with other Messianic synagogues or Bible-believing churches in Seattle. We are on the same team with any congregation that is leading people to Yeshua and believes that He is the way, the truth and the life, and that no one can get to God expect through Him.  We have six core values and they are what we care about most at Restoration. 

We Reflect the Jewishness of Yeshua
We choose, to reflect the Jewishness of our Messiah, Yeshua. We are unapologetically a synagogue and unapologetically worship in a Jewish context. As a synagogue we worship on Shabbat, meet for Biblical Festivals, keep varying degrees of Kosher, and sing in Hebrew and English. Some wear kippot and Talliot.  We do not believe that we are right about everything and that everyone else is wrong, or that others are in sin for not being more like us. We partner with other Messianic synagogues and churches that share a love for Yeshua and people finding Yeshua.

Everyone Belongs in the Family of God
Really, everyone. Jew and Gentile, male and female. Everyone. The family of God is big and God put us in our physical families so that we can find His family. All of us belong to the same family and worship God together. At Restoration, Jews are Jews and Gentiles are Gentiles. There is no need for Jews to become Gentiles or Gentiles to become Jews. Every person, with their family background and history, is called to be a representative of their people in the Family of God. God wants people from every nation, every tribe, every language and we mean to reflect that in our synagogue.

Every Setback is a Chance to Comeback
We are all sinners and all fall short of the glory of God. That is the power to the story of Yeshua. His love is not measured by your goodness. Every time we sin, every time we fall short, every time we have a setback, is an opportunity for us to return to God. This is reflected in the Biblical idea of Return. God is always calling people to return to Him, Our Creator. We run, we turn away, we fall into sin and things that are opposed to God, but in His grace and mercy He says, “Comeback, return to me!” (Hosea 14:1, Joel 2:13, Zechariah 1:3). 

We Are Irrationally Generous with Our Resources
We realize that, for many, giving seems irrational. God has given us so many resources, including money, gifts, talents, and time. We believe it all belongs to God and that He wants us to be irrationally generous with those resources. For us, we give of our money because God gave it all to us and it really all belongs to Him. 
We believe everyone should tithe to the community that they belong to. Tithe literally means “a tenth” and above our tithe is called offerings. In the Scriptures, the definition of offering is what you give after you tithe. You cannot give an offering unless you already tithe. 

Restoration currently gives 11% out to non-profits in Seattle and Israel, and we plan to increase our giving. Because we want as many people as possible to hear the message of Yeshua in its Jewish context, we give it away! Our sermons will always be free. Our Restoration App for smartphones and tablets (iOS, Android, Windows, Kindle Fire) will always be free. 

We Demonstrate God’s Love Through Service
God’s love for us is demonstrated in the giving of His son’s life for ours. As an expression of God’s love we want to serve our synagogue community, Seattle (our city), America (our county), Israel (Homeland of the Jewish people), and the world. We give of our time and talents to our synagogue because we believe together we can change the world.

You Can’t Do Life Alone
Actually, you can do life alone, but it is not a part of our original design. We were made for community. Contrary to the typical American dream, our lives are not just about us. Our lives were designed by God to be shared with others. We choose to live in community with others. We choose to not do life alone. We choose to let others into our journeys, into our hurt, and into the joys of life. We choose to share this messy life with others. And we believe that God wants to speak into our lives through community. 

Want to know more, visit us at!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Radical Islam Is Not Islam: A Rabbi's Call For Less Ignorance

Radical Islam and Islam are two very different religions. The blowing up, shooting rockets, and suicide bombers are not practitioners of Islam. They are radicals. Much like the Jew who killed Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin does not represent Jews and Judaism. Much like the Christians who bomb abortion clinics do not represent Christians and Christianity. 

Please, if you love God, stop showing pictures of Hamas (and any organization like it) with a sarcastic caption like, I thought Islam was a religion of peace?!”  Out of the estimated 1.6 billion Muslims in the world there is a small minority (Gallup says 7%) that preach hate and blow people up intentionally (check this video out). They get a lot of press but they are not representatives of Islam.

As a Messianic Jew, someone well equipped to understand persecution for my heritage and my faith, I am pleading for education and less ignorance. I am grateful to Professor Larry Poston at Nyack College for helping me to understand people and their beliefs before we make judgments on them. Radicals of any kind are simply radicals.

People can use any religious text to support their radical beliefs. Take your pick of the issues: Slavery in America, hatred of homosexuals, killing Jews, destroying Israel, hating Arabs, Apartheid in South Africa, aborting babies. People have- and will- continue to twist passages in the Bible, the Quran, and any other religious text to support anything they want.  Those people are often radicals.

Critics will say, What about the passages in the Quran that teach about Jihad and violence?As a Jew, I will answer that question with a question, What about the passages in the Bible where God tells Israel to eradicate its enemies?”  

Dont be a radical and dont judge an entire people group or a religion based on radicals who want to dominate the conversation. They dont. They cant.

I love Israel and I love Palestinians. Being Pro-Israel does not mean you have to be anti-Palestinian and being pro-Palestinian human rights doesn't mean you have to be anti-Israel. Friends, we need to be sensible and less ignorant because the world needs Yeshua (Jesus). If we don't represent Him well, the world is not going to find Him. Especially on social media.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Honoring Both Sides of History

Messianic Judaism has an identity problem. From the late 1800’s until the 1970’s, the most used term was Hebrew Christian. People then shifted to a newer, more theological name: Messianic Judaism. Both terms represent an attempt to bridge a gap between two histories—Jewish history and Christian history.

Over the past 2000 years, Jews and Christians have been on opposite sides of history. Persecution, pogroms, forced conversions, and the Holocaust have all contributed to a rift between the two world religions. There are still many that believe Adolf Hitler considered himself a Christian, and many Jewish people think that Hitler was a follower of Jesus (See God & Hitler by CBN).  This misconception is so common that Jews for Jesus produced a video for YouTube called “That Jew Died For You.”  On the website,, Jews for Jesus explains that, “Jesus has often been wrongly associated with the perpetrators of the Holocaust. In reality, he is to be identified with those who were the victims. As a Jew, if he were in Europe at the time, Jesus may well have suffered the same fate of the six million who perished in the concentration camps.”

I, along with many other Messianic Jewish leaders, often hear from people that we are no better than Hitler and are contributing to the destruction of the Jewish people. While I understand the pain in statements like this, the world needs to know that Messianic Judaism attempts to do the very opposite of destroying the Jewish people. The goal of Messianic Judaism is to call our Jewish people, and all people, back to The One who created all of us: The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 

In our Messianic Jewish attempt to distance ourselves from the last two thousand years of Christianity, we have unintentionally caused a very real identity problem. In our desire to make a safe place for Jewish followers of Yeshua, we have made statements like “we are not Christians.”

Understand, I am a Jew.

My mother is not Jewish and for many Jewish people this disqualifies me from being Jewish.

My father is a Jew. 

According to the Torah, that puts me in awesome company. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jacob’s twelve sons, Moses, Joshua, Obed (grandfather of King David), and Solomon— to name a few— all had a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother. While the Rabbis will say each of these women converted to Judaism, that is not something that can be supported by the text of Scripture.

In my own life, because of my parents and heritage, I have often said that I am both one hundred percent Jewish (from my dad) and one hundred percent Italian (from my mom). People would always tell me I am half, or twenty five percent this or that, but I could never figure out which parts of me where Jewish and which parts Italian. So, I just claim the whole thing for both. As luck would have it, both Jews and Italians are often olive skinned with dark hair, very loud, and as the philosopher Derek Zoolander once put it, “really, really, really, ridiculously, good looking.”  

My mixed background got me thinking how do I let both sides of my family speak into my life and life of my children? Certainly, as a Rabbi, my life is wrapped in Jewish practice. As an Italian, my life is wrapped in food (mostly pasta with butter and parmesan cheese).  

There has to be more than that.

Then, in all seriousness, I had this revolutionary thought: I am tied to both sides of history, the persecuted and the persecutor.  The poor and the rich. The Jew and the Gentile. I am a part of both sides of history that will ultimately lead to all flesh seeing, together, The One True God who created us all (Zechariah 14:9).

As a Messianic Jew, I have responsibility not to distance my self from either side of history. While, I don’t typically refer to myself as a Christian, on February 20th, 2014, I posted on Facebook, “If by calling me a Christian you mean Christ follower, I'm good with that. If by calling me Christian you mean non-Jew, that I cannot receive.” I am a Jew. I am a Yeshua follower. You can call me whatever you want. But I take on the weight of Jewish-Christian history as my own.

Not distancing myself from both sides of history means I regard works like Pirkei Avot and the Westminster Catechism as equally important. I don’t agree with everything in either, but both of these texts were written by “fathers” of my faith. 

Fathers come in many forms and Messianic Judaism must come to the place where we recognize people like Rambam (Moses Maimonides) and Martin Luther as fathers. Both said great things. Both said not so great things. Sometimes fathers say terrible things. Still, they remain fathers.

Popes, rabbis, priests, nuns, evangelical Christians, liberal Christians, Catholics, Protestants, Calvinists, Arminiests, Conservative Jews, Reformed Jews, Orthodox Jews, Messianic Jews. 

One crazy history. 

All family. 

We are family for different reasons; some by faith, some by blood. Some are family by birth, some through adoption. Some by heritage, some enter in via marriage. Some with different eternal destinies.  All in need of Yeshua.

All family.

What if instead of trying to avoid the crazy parts of history, Messianic Judaism embraced them? What if instead of worrying about what people may (or may not) think of us—because of our relationship to one side or the other –we just own all of it?  What if we sang Adom Olam and Great is They Faithfulness during the same service?  What if we embraced the messy parts of history and of being Messianic?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Loving Yeshua in life as much as Sean Trank did in death

Sean Trank, a missionary with Jews for Jesus, lost his fight with lung cancer on July 2, 2014. Sean was an incredibly gifted and passionate man of God.

Sean never shied away from controversy when it came to presenting Yeshua to our people. He helped Jews for Jesus develop the controversial, That Jew Died For You video and and created one of my favorite video channels on YouTube, Parsha in 60 seconds.

Sean describes his work and heart for Parsha in 60 seconds here:

In a great act of courage Sean, with his brother Aaron, even decided to document his battle with lung cancer in the hope that people would be inspired to know and walk with Yeshua. See it here:

Pray with me for Sean's family and his extended family at Jews for Jesus. The loss of Sean is a big hit for the whole messianic movement.

But, God knows what He is doing.

He wants to push us.

He wants to encourage us.

He wants Sean's life to be living reminder of the life, death and resurrection of Yeshua.

He wants us to blog better. Use social media smarter. Make videos. Tell stories. He wants us to find new ways to make the name of Yeshua famous among our Jewish people and every nation on this earth.

At the memorial service for Jhan Moskowitz, my dad encouraged his generation of leaders to fill the void that Jhan's death left. 

In my generation nobody has been better than Sean at using technology and social media to make the case that Yeshua is our Messiah. We, our generation, will all have to fill the void that Sean's passing has left us. To work harder and find more creative ways to use the tools of this generation to reach this generation for Yeshua.

It's our turn. To honor the memory of this great servant of Yeshua by giving glory to The One Sean loved the most, Yeshua, Jesus, the Jewish Messiah.

I want to love Yeshua as much in my life as Sean Trank did in his death. In Judaism we say, "zikhrono livrakha" or "May his memory be a blessing."

May Sean Trank's name and memory continue to lead our Jewish people to Yeshua, who died so that we may find life.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Passover: The Season of Our Freedom

It's about that time again.  Spring is coming.  New life springs up.  Flowers bloom. The sun shines (only for a few days in Seattle).  And Passover arrives.  It has always been my favorite time of year (except when Passover falls on my birthday and I can't have cake)!  Of course Passover is the retelling of Israel's exodus from Egypt; it is about freedom from slavery and oppression. Passover is also a reminder every year that God's promise to never leave or forsake His people, Israel, remains intact. 
One of the traditional names for Passover in the Hagaddah is z’man cheruteinu, the “season of our freedom.”  I love the word "our".  Judaism is very much about "us" not "I". It is about "we" not "me".  What God does for one, He does for all.  What God offers His people, He offers to Kalal Yisrael (all of Israel).  The focus is on the corporate experience of the people and the God we call "Our God".  Traditionally we are encouraged to treat Passover and the exodus from Egypt as our having personally been there.  For us, it is not just something that happened in the past.  But it is about freedom that we have been given and that has been experienced by "us", together.  As we left Egypt together, we also followed the very presence of God, a cloud by day and fire by night, through the wilderness, together.  
This season of freedom is a concept heard in Exodus 6:6-8 when God promises to free us from Egyptian slavery:
6 “Therefore, say to the people of Isra’el: ‘I am Adonai. I will free you from the forced labor of the Egyptians, rescue you from their oppression, and redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. 7 I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am Adonai your God, who freed you from the forced labor of the Egyptians. 8 I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Avraham, Yitz’chak and Ya‘akov — I will give it to you as your inheritance. I am Adonai.’” (CJB)
During our seder (meal/celebration) we say a blessing over four different cups (one cup, filled four times).  The four cups come from verses six and seven:
  • The Cup of Sanctification – based on, “I will free you”
  • The Cup of Plagues (Deliverance) - based on, “I will rescue you”
  • The Cup of Redemption – based on, “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm”
  • The Cup of Praise – based on God’s statement, “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God” 

As a Messianic Rabbi and Jewish follower of Yeshua (Jesus), these four statements are seen with deeper significance in light of all that Yeshua did during Passover when He was thirty-three years old.  As an observant Jew Himself, Yeshua was in Jerusalem for Passover.  It is during this "season of our freedom" that Yeshua has a meal with His disciples (a Passover seder). He is betrayed, arrested, put on trial, sentenced, put to death, and rises from the dead.  All of this is during the preparation for and the celebration of Passover! 
Of course, none of this is a replacement of the original context of Passover; rather it is an amplification of how awesome the God of Israel is!  God is so invested in our freedom and in giving us new life that He has done everything He can to clear the way for us.  It is why God's name receives an addition following the story of Passover.  In the giving of the ten commandments at Mt Sinai (exodus 20:1), the first commandment is "I am Adonai your God, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the abode of slavery."  God freeing us from physical slavery and bondage becomes a part of His actual name.  In the rest of the Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures), God refers to Himself as "The God who brought you out of the land of Egypt." What He did becomes a part of Who He is or at least how His people recognize Him.  
In the same way, John says of Yeshua, "Behold, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). In 1 Corinthians, Paul writes:
"Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Messiah, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." (1 Cor. 5:6-8, NIV)
In Yeshua, Who God is and what He has done are one in the same.  During this awesome season of freedom God has given us the opportunity to be free from sin and death itself.  And this not just for the Jewish people, but it is for everyone and anyone who calls on the name of Yeshua our Messiah.  For Yeshua, our Passover Lamb, offered Himself freely as a sacrifice so that we can live with Him forever -- even past this life on earth and into the rest of eternity.  That is a free gift that should not be passed over!

Chag Pesach Sameach! (Happy Passover!) May you come to know the One who formed you in your mother’s womb so that you could experience the freedom that only knowing Him brings!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

I Should Be Ashamed of Myself

I am embarrassed of myself.  Many of my issues in my youth came from the fact that I never experienced embarrassment. When dared to do something, I would simply do it. And most of the time I was never embarrassed. And seriously, in many cases, I really should have been.

At 35 years old, I am embarrassed by some behavior, thoughts, actions and speech that I find in myself. I have written before about what God is doing with me in terms of no longer believing that my version of Messianic Judaism is the right one. I used to believe that everyone should live like me. I used to believe that if people really understood the Bible they would see it the way I do. I have realized that there is so much more to agree on than disagree on and that a lot of the issues I thought were non-negotiable are actually negotiable. So, I have moved from the realization of these attitudes in my own life to a place of embarrassment. 

I am not saying there are not things that are right. Truth is truth and there are some issues of theology and belief that should be agreed upon for those who say they love the God of Israel and the Bible.  The Bible is the perfect, inspired, final authority of God. There is only One God. The One God is the creator and sustainer of everything that exists.  The One God exists in three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God made promises to Israel (a.k.a., the Jewish people) that He will never break. Yeshua, the son, is both fully man and fully God. Yeshua physically died, in our place, for our sins. Yeshua physically rose from dead after three days. Yeshua is the judge of the living and the dead. Apart from believing in Yeshua there is no salvation only eternal judgement. Yeshua will return to earth for those who trust in Him. Jewish people are born a part of the family of God but need Yeshua to live with God into eternity. Gentiles join the family of God by believing in Yeshua and equally need Yeshua to live with God into eternity. These are non-negotiable.

Scripture is careful to point out what is clean and unclean, sin and not sin, holy and profane.  These issues are considered non-negotiable as well. There is so much more that is negotiable and can vary depending on interpretations.  How we interpret certain texts of the Bible should not keep us from treating people who believe the same non-negotiable’s as brothers and sisters.  Yet, we fight, argue, divide and become embarrassed by some family members who read scriptures with a different interpretation. If fact, we don’t even want to claim some people as family members at all because they are so embarrassing.  We don’t want people to think we are like them. We believe they give “us” a bad name because of their choices.  We believe that the people we are trying to reach with the message of Yeshua will not turn to Yeshua if they are exposed to these people.

The Truth is no one has cornered the market on Truth. I am embarrassed that it has taken me so long to not think so highly of myself and that other peoples interpretations failed to match mine in importance. I love Jews for Jesus, Chosen People Ministries and Jewish Voice Ministries International. I love the other Messianic congregations in Seattle, Beit Tikvah and Beit HaShofar and their Rabbis. I love the MJAA, and the UMJC. I love FFOZ and Lederer. I love Jewish believers who are a part of churches rather than Messianic synagogues. I love what makes us all different and yet all the same. I love the Church too. I love North Seattle Alliance Church, Cedar Park Church, Mars Hill Church and The City Church. I love Rick Warren, Andy Stanley, Jud Wilhite, Mark Driscoll, and Judah Smith. I love Catalyst and The Global Leadership Summit.  I love that I am a part of something so much bigger than myself. We are not in competition with other Messianic synagogues or churches in Seattle. We are all working toward the same goal: to see Yeshua glorified and worshiped the way He deserves in our City. God uses all kinds of crazy things, events, conversations and people to reach all kinds of people!

I want the Lord to take away my embarrassment and give me a sense of awe and joy because I belong to the family of God. The One God who created the heavens and the earth knows my name. He is not embarrassed of me or my brothers and sisters in the family of God. There is so much more at stake than me and my reputation. I am not the defender of Messianic Judaism, Christianity, the Church, Israel or the body of Messiah. It’s God's reputation that matters. And my embarrassment of my brothers and sisters in Yeshua only hurts His reputation and I want to make Him famous!

For more on this listen to my message called Connect from the series The Reality of Restoration.

Restoration has it's own app for smartphone's. Download it here for iOS, Droid, and Windows.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Rabbi Who Loved The Noah Movie

I love movies.  The only kind of movie I don’t love are horror movies because they scare me.  A great epic is  at the top of my list and that's what the Noah Movie is: Epic! I loved it. It's ok with me if you didn't love it. I just hope your reason for not loving it is better than "it wasn't Biblically literal."

Of course it is not Biblically accurate. Everyone knows that by now. In so many ways the director made some really interesting choices regarding the interpretation of the Biblical text. Some of those choices left me wondering what the heck he was thinking.  So many religious (I mean that in a good way) people have posted many opinions about the movie and that my friends, is really the point.  Talking, discussion, relationship. There are not many things out there these days that give us a wide open door to share God with people.  The Noah Movie is a great opportunity for discussion with those in your life who are often not that interested in things regarding the Bible or God. 

I have never been one to shy away from what other followers of God condemn; particularly those who condemn movies (books, articles, preachers, etc.) that they have not even seen. I like to read and see for myself and then form an opinion.  If you are looking for a literal biblical Noah story this probably isn’t your jam.  Speaking of "literal", I have never seen the Ark look so awesome and well, literal. I have also never seen the brutality and horror of the judgment of God played out for what it actually was. Scary. Sad. Unsettling. Just.

God is love, most people know that. But, He is also full of wrath and judges justly, as the Bible says. Noah shows that for real. Underneath all of the weird choices and odd things (yes the rock monsters) I think the underlying concept of the story of Noah comes through the movie. The core question of the movie is this, "is mankind worth saving?" To which God's answer is "Yes!" The fact that he decided to start over with Noah, his family, and all the animals is mercy, love, grace, hope and restoration all wrapped up in one story. 

The end of all things, according to the Bible, will not be so different than the re-creation of the Noah story. Love is real but wrath is real too. God didn't just leave us to be judged in His wrath. He did something about it. He gives us a choice. Trust Him or not. They both come with consequences in this world and in the world to come. 

People who hate religion love to point to Noah as a story of a nasty, mean, unloving creator. Many followers of God have condemned the movie because the writers messed up the story or worse were blasphemous. The real Bible story and the movie present a God who judges and loves this complex creation he created and loves to give people another chance.

See the movie. Talk about it with people. Read the real story in the Bible, Genesis chapters 5-9. Talk about it with people and not to make a point about what you liked or didn't like about a movie, but to point people to the God of all creation who loves His creation and more importantly loves you.

And I'm pretty sure God loves movies, too!