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A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to go to a special pre-screening of the movie “Breakthrough”. It’s a movie that there is great interest around here in our area due to the local nature of the story happening right here in our community. So many movies you see that are based on a true story have no personal connection to you or your area, whereas this one definitely does. Even beyond the story being local, it’s a story of faith and God doing the miraculous.

The story of “Breakthrough” took place in 2015 right here in St. Charles County. The Smith family’s lives were changed on January 19 when their son John and 2 other friends fell through the ice on Lake St. Louise. Lake St. Louise is a smaller lake right next to Lake St. Louis. John and his friends struggled to get out of the icy water. While his friends made it out, John’s body shut down and he sank to the bottom of the lake. He spent at least 15 minutes underwater before a Wentzville fireman, Tommy Shine, amazingly found him at the bottom of the lake. John had no pulse at this point and they rushed him to St. Joseph’s West Hospital where they tried to revive John for quite some time. By the time his mother, Joyce arrived, the doctor’s had all but given up hope. When mom goes in to be with her son, she begins to pray loudly and as she prayed John’s pulse returned. That was the beginning of an incredible story of hope and faith. A story where we saw a mom fight for her son’s life, keeping the faith that God could do the miraculous in an uncharted medical situation. The story follows him to Cardinal Glennon where miracle after miracle takes place ultimately leading to John recovering.

Anytime I see a “Christian” movie or at least one intentionally based on Christian themes, one of my greatest concerns is the level of cheesiness, especially when it comes to the acting. It’s not out of the ordinary for us to joke about some of the acting or actors involved in Christian movies. When I went to see “Breakthrough”, I had similar fears despite what appears to have been strong casting. As the movie began and they were trying to establish some of the characters at the beginning, my cheesiness meter was rising. Thankfully, once the story got going the acting and storyline picked up and produced a high quality movie experience. You’ll recognize some of the main actors like Chrissy Metz from “This Is Us”, Josh Lucas, Dennis Haysbert and Topher Grace. For you Christian music fans, I’m pretty sure you’ll spot Lecrae and Phil Wickham in the movie as well. Don’t write the movie off in the first ten minutes, keep watching as you’ll be rewarded with the acting of a great cast!

One of the other concerns when you see a movie with Christian themes and are trying to decide whether to recommend it or not is how well does it portray biblical concepts, the gospel, and denominational distinctives. The other aspect I consider is does it feel forced when they do try to interject the gospel or some biblical agenda. Let me first say that I never felt like they were forcing anything extra into the story, it never felt like there was this side plot going on with some religious agenda trying to run parallel to the actual story. At the same time as I say that, there is no doubt that the biblical concepts of faith, hope, and prayer are very evident. Those themes were just part of the story, not a subplot, not an extra forced interaction…just beautifully interwoven into the movie. There were times when they could have easily gone down a path of some forced interaction that could have easily taken away from the story, but never once did I feel that was the case. This isn’t a movie you’re going to go see and hear a clear gospel presentation. Actually if you’re looking for a movie about Jesus and what He does, then you’re going to be disappointed. What this movie will do for your lost friends is show them that through a relationship with God, there is hope in the worst of times and that God can do all things. It’s a great springboard for a conversation over a cup of coffee or dinner where you can take it a step further to talk about the gospel.

There are a few things to consider as you prepare to go see the movie or invite someone else. In some of the character development, it felt like they were trying to establish both the pastor and John Smith as punks to an extent as they use some phrases that are unfortunate at the very least. While they are present, it wasn’t necessary for the movie to use a “Hell no” or a “Hell yea” in the movie. That was unfortunate, but to a far greater extent, I was disappointed by the use of “Oh My God”. I know culturally its very common, even among some Christians, but it’s still using God’s name in vain. I could only count a handful of phrases or words I wish they had not included, so it’s not like the whole movie and story is ruined by any stretch, but I’d be remiss to not at least mention it. Secondly, if you go expecting to see all the local places represented in the original story, you will be disappointed. It’s actually filmed somewhere else, but you will see familiar touches like the SSM logo, Wentzville Fire on the firetrucks, etc. It won’t look familiar totally, but it was neat to see the places we know represented with familiar graphics/clothing/logos on buildings etc. The last thing, they warned us before it started to grab our tissues. I’m not much of a go to the movies and cry person…but I cried during this one. The themes of faith, family, and watching a child go through something so traumatic and hopeless definitely plays with your emotions. If you’re looking for a lighthearted and fun movie to go see…just be warned. If you enjoy that sort of emotional movie…take your tissues and enjoy!

Breakthrough will be in theaters starting tomorrow, April 17. Overall it’s a quality movie with some strong themes portraying faith and hope! Given the wide array of disgusting content portrayed in movies today that we could spend our money on, this is one worth spending your money on. Consider it a great opportunity to have a conversation with friends and neighbors talking about the hope that is found in faith in Christ using a story that’s anchored in our local community.

Posted by Jeremy Shirley with
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Ten days from today Christians around the world will remember the day we now call Good Friday, and twelve days from today we will rejoice as we once again reflect on the resurrection of Jesus, the empty tomb and all that Jesus accomplished us. This is, or should be, a really big deal. As a parent and as a follower of Jesus I have struggled over the years to find ways to keep my heart focused on the reason for this season. I’m just being honest. Christmas presents a similar struggle, but the truth is, especially when it comes to teaching our children, it is emotionally easier to deal with a stable full of animals, shepherds and angels, and a brand new baby (even though we pretty that up way too much to be reality) than it is to look hard at the last week of Jesus’ earthly life. I think that might be a big part of the reason that we tend to just skip right to the Resurrection. Jump to the part where Jesus is victorious. After all, it is so wonderful and joyful and amazing, right?!?

I have found that it is very important for me to not avoid looking at the hard part. My heart just isn’t ready to truly celebrate and appreciate Easter without it. I need to remember. God’s Word is full of instructions for his people to look back and remember what He has done. He has designed us to need these backwards glances in order to continue into the future with clarity and gratitude and joy. Over the past several years I have intentionally set out to find ways to make this season meaningful and, along with my husband, teach our children to as well.

I started with taking a look at Lent. While many Protestant churches do not observe Lent, there are also many that do. Before I threw it out as a legalistic period where I was to “give up” something I enjoyed to punish myself (like Chocolate or Facebook) and head to all of the local fish frys on Friday nights I wanted to know what it was all about. What a marvelous time we live in, with the ability to search the internet and in an instant have information at our fingertips! I don’t want to get off track here and write a thousand words about how Lent came to be – you can Google that for yourself.

To give you a very brief and not all-inclusive summary: Lent is observed in the days leading up to the celebration of Easter. Traditionally there are 40 days which are modeled after the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness. It is intended to be a somber season of reflection, prayer, fasting, and giving. There are many ways those things play out in the lives of Believers of differing denominations, but I could certainly agree that those are all things that Scripture addresses and, when not done with legalistic motives, are good things. (Done because I want to, not because I HAVE to. Sound familiar?)

I have chosen this year to observe Lent in a way unique to me. After praying for God’s guidance I adopted the following (which I share with you NOT for you to emulate, but as food for thought and an encouragement for you to take these remaining days a create your own season of preparation. I know there aren’t 40 days left, but I can assure you that you can experience a very meaningful time with the Lord in the 10-12 days you have. I can only imagine the joy we can all experience on Easter Sunday with hearts that have spent time preparing. Here is my personal plan.

I began with asking God to reveal to me any areas where sin has taken root in my heart and to be the masterful gardener and pull those weeds OUT. I prayed Psalm 139:24 "Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” NLT I have continued to ask God to examine my heart and show me anything that needs to go.

As a sacrifice, I have chosen to get up 30 minutes earlier than my normal morning routine requires and spend that time in prayer and in the Word, journaling. I have been reading a Lenten devotion series that has no commentary but simply gives a different passage every day to read and reflect on. I have had the pleasure of doing this “with” a dear friend – she is reading the same passages and we share our thoughts with one another. This is different than my normal “quiet time”, it is an intentional time of focusing on Jesus through the Word and also the weeding of my heart.

My husband and I have chosen to have rice and beans for dinner on Wednesday nights to intentionally remember the huge numbers of people who are poor and needy and don’t have the access to food that we do. It is very humbling. We talk about this with our children, and the need to feed the hungry. This is not fasting, it is simply an exercise in compassion and gratitude. We got the idea (which we adapted) from a devotion series that we are doing with our kiddos that is pushing us to really see others and their needs, and stop living selfish lives. It is called 30 Days of Heartwork, and it’s on the brown bible app. I don’t know its real name. (That is just a little extra!)

My husband and I have also chosen to incorporate actual fasting into this season. For us, it has looked like skipping lunch one day a week for three weeks, breakfast and lunch on that day for two weeks, and we intend to fast a whole day on the last week. We intend to use that time when we would be eating in prayer. I’ll be completely transparent, the fasting itself is easier than taking the time to be intentional in prayer. And also, I get cranky. Just being completely real. We aren’t giving up, though. We know that the Lord looks at our hearts and our motives and we are a work in progress. Don’t get discouraged if you make a plan and it doesn’t work out exactly as you thought it would. Fasting isn’t a part of our normal spiritual lives, but we know that it is all over the Bible.

The last part of my plan, other than to give to the Annie Armstrong offering, and perhaps celebrating Passover, was to find a way to bring somberness and appropriate seriousness to Good Friday. I had been looking around trying to find something, and many churches do have services that evening. In fact, I just learned that Pastor Ralph will be showing “The Passion of the Christ” in our worship center that evening. Friday, April 19 at 6:30p.m. If you have not seen it, please be aware it is very intense and you will need to make a determination if it would be appropriate for your children.

Please hear my heart. I am nothing special and I certainly do not believe I have created the perfect plan to prepare for Easter. If you have been encouraged to prepare your own heart over the next 10-12 days, and I hope you have, the Holy Spirit will guide you in how to do it. My ideas are meant to be a springboard, but they are what the Lord knew would speak to me.

One more thing, if you come to my home, you will see bunnies and eggs and when it comes to Starburst jelly beans I think I have a serious problem that might need an intervention. We have fun with all the springtime “stuff” this time of year. That stuff, as wonderful as it is, just isn’t what Easter is all about. I don’t want to miss what matters most. I don’t want to forget the price Jesus paid for me. I want to look hard into his suffering so that I can appreciate it all the more, and so that I can continue to grow a distaste for my own sin that I may be willing to get rid of it. Then, on Easter Sunday, I will celebrate with joy. I pray that you will, too.



Posted by Denise Woodliff with

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