Huntington’s disease has been described as a culmination of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and ALS; all formidable challenges on their own. In addition, Huntington’s often develops in younger people who are in the prime of their life. “The Longest Journey,” is a documentary about Sharon Shaffer who began noticing the degenerative symptoms in her early 40’s. Sharon is an extraordinarily positive person and uses her energy to bring awareness to this little known disease. She is supported in her effort by her husband Renato, and her two daughters. The film chronicles their most ambitious Huntington’s disease awareness event; a bicycle race across the United States known as the Race Across America. In previous years, Sharon would take part as a crew member or navigator; however, in the race depicted in the film she is no longer able to take the week long journey and sends her family along with a group of friends to conquer the challenge.
This is a glorious example of how people who love each other will go the extra mile, and in this case it’s an extra 3000 miles. For a movie about a horribly debilitating disease this is a wonderfully uplifting film. Inter dispersed between the story of the bike ride across the country, Sharon’s doctor describes all the details about Huntington’s and what the outlook in the future might be. Sharon is also prominently featured discussing what it’s like to experience Huntington’s and how important the support of her friends and family is to her ability to cope.
“The Longest Journey,” is an inspiring way to learn about Huntington’s and a wonderful celebration of the power of family and friends. In the end, Sharon reveals the secret of her amazing positive attitude – love.
(The film has no overt Christian theme and there is some profanity.)
When Paul sent his first letter to Timothy who was serving in Ephesus, his main concern was the false teachers preaching for personal gain. He describes them this way in chapter 6 verse 5: “people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” How extraordinary it is to discover that this kind of thing started so early in the life of the church; and how sad it is to realize it continues to this day. We can all point fingers at men or women that we believe are sharing their version of the Bible purely for financial gain. Of course, there’s no way for us to know exactly what’s in the heart of anyone professing to be preaching and teaching God’s Word. This is why it is so critical to study the Bible yourself; so that you will know the difference between false teaching and the truth.
“If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing.” 1 Timothy 6:3-4 (NIV)
There are some very eloquent speakers who write compelling books, professing to be preaching and teaching God’s Word, who are actually twisting the truth to entice those unaware into supporting them financially. Some of these people may have started out with good intentions and after some success allowed the devil to push them in deeper. Great financial reward can send you down the wrong road and into a dark place: “Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (6:10). Everyone professing to be preaching and teaching God’s Word needs to be tested. Every follower of Jesus needs to take the time to carefully study the Bible from cover-to-cover so they will know truth from fiction.
“Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have departed from the faith.” 1 Timothy 6:20-21 (NIV)
Keep in mind, there isn’t any man or woman worthy of our worship. Even those who are the most gifted by God, who are faithfully preaching and teaching the Word of God, are not worthy of our worship. There isn’t any individual who holds all knowledge. It’s a wise practice to listen to many teachers and consider many points of view while diligently pursuing your own personal study of the Bible.
“God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.” 1 Timothy 6:15-16 (NIV)
Over 250 members of the Church That Matters in Sand Springs, Oklahoma, just outside of Tulsa, decided not to go to church on Sunday. Instead, they took part in the church’s annual “Don’t Go To Church Sunday,” community service project. They divided up into several teams and serviced the community in a variety of ways. Park cleanup, sorting donations for needy families, landscaping and light construction, were all part of the community wide effort. One team visited a local laundromat and passed out quarters, detergent, and softener along with an offer for prayer. You can read about their effort here.
In Ypsilanti, Michigan there are several churches doing various kinds of community outreach, including food distribution, providing clothing for those in need, working with incarcerated individuals and their families, and offering space for other community organization programs. When their services began to overlap, some of the pastors felt a need to begin coordinate their efforts. They felt it was important to understand they are not in competition, but they are all working for the same goal; to bring people to Christ. Working as a collaborative group they will be better able to serve the community. You can read more here.
In Sebastian County, Arkansas, several churches have been linked together through the CarePortal system, a computer program of the Global Orphan Project. This system is currently used by over 1,600 churches in 16 states and serves thousands of children. When the Department of Human Services finds families in need, they send out the request via the CarePortal. Those churches partnering in the system then seek a way to provide that need. The goal is to meet specific needs, offer mentoring, and prepare foster and adoptive families for the road ahead. You can learn more here.
Whitewater Crossing Christian Church in Cleves, Ohio, a church that’s been around since 1915, has developed a comprehensive community outreach program they call Solve 7. Their goal is to deal with seven issues that impede someone’s spiritual connection to God; food, clothing, family, education, health, slavery (in other parts of the world), housing. Whitewater encourages their members to participate in these programs, not simply donate money for their support. By taking this broad-based approach along with various community partners, Whitewater goes a long way toward creating a culture of service to God. Learn more here.
Your decision to follow Jesus is a decision to spend your life serving God. The teachings of Jesus are filled with ways to serve God. The foundation of your service to God is love.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35 (NIV)
For most of us our service to God starts with our family. Generally, these are the people we spend the most time with and it is for that reason some of them can become difficult to love. Perhaps the first test of your love for God and your devotion to serving Him will be the way you deal with a difficult family member. One of the best ways to serve God is to help a difficult person find Jesus. Your efforts in this regard should be at the top of your list.
“Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” James 5:20 (NIV)
Another of the many ways to serve God is to take charge of your attitude toward money. The world we live in wants us to believe money is the solution to all problems. Many believe that happiness revolves on the amount of money you have to spend on your desires. As a result, some become so fixated on accumulating money their lives are in service to that goal and not in service to God.
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Matthew 6:24 (NIV)
In the book of Matthew, Jesus tells a story to demonstrate who will be blessed when he returns. This story is a list of ways to serve God. He tells this story as though these things actually happened to Him but then clarifies that our service to others is equivalent to serving Him.
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Matthew 25:35-36 (NIV)
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40 (NIV)
Feeding the hungry, satisfying the thirsty, providing shelter, giving out clothes, helping the sick, and showing compassion for those in prison are all ways to serve God. Jesus tells us that when we help those in need we are actually helping Him. He then goes on to make a startling claim that should have us all thinking twice before we turn our back on service.
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” Matthew 25:45 (NIV)
We need to carefully consider the above passage of scripture. Jesus is clearly telling us that when we neglect an opportunity to serve others, we are neglecting Him. I would hope the last thing you want to do is neglect Jesus. Sometimes when we are looking for ways to serve God we see things that are far beyond our ability to resolve. The numbers of those in need can be staggering. We can’t neglect service to our family in order to serve the larger community. There is a balance that needs to be found for each individual. Through prayer and continued study of God’s Word, you will find your balance.
As a follower of Jesus, our lives need to be in constant service to God. We should wake up looking for ways to serve God. Our goal should be to follow in His footsteps and become as much like Him as we possibly can.
“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:43-45 (NIV)
The world we live in is full of distractions designed by the devil to turn us away from God. The devil tries to tell us money is the only thing that will solve our problems. The devil tries to tell us we don’t have time to serve others outside our family. The devil tries to keep us stressed and confused. We need to get in the devil’s face and tell him who our God is; then we need to get back to serving God with all our heart.
Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” Matthew 4:10 (NIV)
When the Apostle Paul wrote his second letter to the Thessalonians he was responding to their endurance during often violent oppression. The Christians were a minority in Thessalonica and were being persecuted for their beliefs; nevertheless, they remained faithful. It’s not uncommon for Christians to still face persecution in many places around the world today. Even living in a largely Christian country it is still possible to face persecution from those who are opposed to Christian faith. It may be more subtle but it can still be painful. In all cases, followers of Jesus have each other to lean on as well as the power of God through the Holy Spirit. Your faith in God is what will keep you safe and protected.
“We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing.” 2 Thessalonians 1:3 (NIV)
God is watching and taking note of your every action. As you walk with Jesus know that He is with you in all situations. Reach out and take hold of the hand of God when things get difficult. Find your strength in His Word. Find your strength in your faith in God.
“May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 (NIV)
Your faith in God is the assurance that all will be made right. In time, every wrong will be corrected. In time, all suffering will vanish. Jesus is on His way back and He will be looking for you when He returns. Be ready at all times by standing firm in your faith.
“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.” 2 Thessalonians 3:16 (NIV)
“Urban Disciples,” written by Janell Paris and Margot Eyring, is a wonderfully thoughtful workbook designed to build urban mission teams. Janell and Margot have years of experience in serving the inner city and share their knowledge and insights in this step-by-step guide to developing, growing, and maintaining a productive urban ministry. Each of the 24 lessons is comprised of Bible study, prayer, and specific application suggestions. All of this material is adaptable to small groups planning an urban mission experience, whole church short-term mission projects, colleges, or those planning their first long-term mission experience.
The lessons are designed to engage each individual participant, stimulate meaningful discussion, build relationships, plan, organize, and evaluate the progress of both the mission and the growth of those serving. An important point that is emphasized in this work is the simple fact that often mission volunteers report that they felt they have personally gained more than they gave. Sometimes, those going into a less fortunate neighborhood have the impression that they are in some way superior to those being served. The truth is we are all the same. It’s far more important to meet each individual as a partner rather than someone who is blessed by your service. In so doing, you will develop respect and open yourself up to growing personally as you serve.
If you’re not quite sure how you want to serve a particular community, this book is the perfect tool to gather a group together to explore the possibilities. Suggestions are offered as to how to engage a community, build relationships, and evaluate the needs you may be able to assist with. While this book is primarily directed to urban outreach, I see no reason why it could not be adapted to a suburban community outreach mission.
The book encourages discovery within yourself, within your group, and within in the community and people being served. Serving God by serving others is the absolute best way to move closer to God and “Urban Disciples” is an indispensable tool for achieving that goal in a major way.
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God wants you to be happy, full of joy, looking forward to your future, and celebrating your past. We reach this place in our lives when we turn from our sin and trust Jesus as our Savior. The primary way we please God is by following the teachings of Jesus. In the book of 1 Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul offers some specific examples of what the will of God is in our lives.
“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NASB)
There are a lot of times in our lives that we don’t feel like rejoicing. When things go wrong or tragedy strikes, our hearts tend to turn away from the tendency to rejoice. Yet God wants us to rejoice always. God can see beyond our difficulties to the new life He has planned for us. While we don’t have the advantage of seeing the future, we please God when we trust the vision He has shared with us in His Word. Regardless of our current circumstances, God wants us to continually rejoice knowing that He is ultimately in control and all of our pain will one day be overcome.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” Philippians 4:4 (NASB)
Our prayers should be continuously filled with thanks to God for all He has given us. In order to please God, we need to be thankful for all the good things that happen in our lives as well as the obstacles placed in our way. Jesus went through enormous pain to accomplish the greatest gift ever given to mankind. Our pain will one day be revealed as something to celebrate as well.
“Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” Hebrews 13:15 (NASB)
Finally, we need to take our rejoicing nature, our prayers, and our thankful heart and share with others. One of the best ways to please God is in service to others. Your connection to God is a powerful tool that needs to be put to work in the lives of those around you. Our mission as believers is to help others enjoy the same joyful spirit that has been given to us.
“And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Hebrews 13:16 (NASB)
When the apostle Paul sent his letter to the Colossians, he was trying to help them avoid the distractions of unbelievers who were pulling them in the wrong direction. His mission was to get the Colossians centered on the teachings of Jesus. Near the end of his letter he offered some fairly simple advice that essentially sums up what it means to be a Christian. The struggle of believers living in a largely unbelieving world isn’t much different today than it was back in Colossi. We are constantly bombarded by competing interests pushing us toward compromise in our walk with Jesus. We need to be flexible in some ways to survive, but in other ways we need to stand strong. Indeed, by sticking to Paul’s advice we will be made strong through the power of the Holy Spirit.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Colossians 3:12 (NIV)
Compassion means to care, kindness means to act on your compassion, humility means to set yourself aside, gentleness means to demonstrate sincere concern, and patience means you will trust God. These are all simple concepts, but in the real world taking on an attitude like this can become complicated. How can you have compassion for two people who are on opposing sides? How can you set yourself aside when the outcome might damage you personally? And it’s not easy to be gentle and patient when the devil’s demons are attacking.
Keep in mind, as a follower of Jesus you aren’t working without a net. In fact, you have something much better than a net that will catch you when you fall; you have the Holy Spirit living inside you that is energized by your willingness to follow Paul’s advice. Your honest effort to live in the manner described in the above Scripture will empower you with an ability to make the complex simple. Not in your own power; but through the power of God.
“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:13 (NIV)
Our undeserving reward granted by God through his Son Jesus Christ is something we need to duplicate every time we are wronged. Jesus died on the cross for our sins and we are thereby granted eternal life when we place our trust in Him. That amazing gift should transform our hearts in a way that dilutes our anger and allows us to understand those who bump and bruise us along the way.
“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:14 (NIV)
Christians are different. That difference is fueled by love. That difference should manifest itself in service to others with an understanding heart. Every encounter we have throughout our daily life is an opportunity to check ourselves against this metric; compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bounded together with love.
Faith is a talented teenage singer who solos in the church choir. She has two loving parents and lots of close friends. Faith is living a joyful life until the tragic death of her parents in a car crash. Now she has to leave her friends and move away to live with her aunt who loves her and her uncle who despises anyone with Christian faith.
At this same time another teenage girl in the same town where Faith’s aunt and uncle live, Jade, discovers she is pregnant. Jade lives alone with her father and when she shares the news with him he immediately kicks her out of the house. Jade is unable to find anyone who will take her in and is forced to live on the streets.
Faith struggles to fit in at her new school and finds it difficult because of a largely secular culture. In time, she makes friends with Michael who hears her sing and is impressed with her rare gift. Michael is so impressed he offers to promote a concert for her at school. Faith doesn’t think he can fill an audience for a Christian singer but Michael convinces her he can get it done.
Meanwhile, Faith’s uncle has turned to drinking to help him forget the daughter he lost at birth. Looking at Faith reminds him of his loss and in a fit of rage he tells Faith to get out of his house. Faith complies with his order and ends up in an encounter with Jade who is about to jump off a bridge to end her misery. Faith stops Jade from jumping and shares Jesus with her. After a meal together, Faith convinces Jade to call her father. Jade’s father is profoundly remorseful for the way he treated Jade and the two get back together.
In the end, Faith’s uncle realizes the error of his ways and seeks God. Michael comes through with the concert crowd and Faith takes the stage with three other talented singers for a joyous celebration to the Lord. Finally, Faith’s uncle welcomes her as a member of the family.
There’s a lot of good music in this film and it’s really worth watching for that alone. The story is actually fairly simple but has many moments of deep emotion. There are several important elements that prompt the viewer to carefully consider how a similar situation would impact their life. “Faith’s Song” is in some ways about how to survive in a secular world as a follower of Jesus and in other ways a story about how to work your way through tragedy by hanging on to God’s hand. Faith, played by Hayden Grace McCoy, is a warm and generous character that’s easy to like. This is a well-produced film that has a powerful impact.
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This film was written and produced by Jr. High and High School students from Indiana, assisted by filmmaker George Johnson. This was a church sponsored summer project with the goal of communicating the Gospel through film. With that in mind, the result is awesome!
“Two Steps from Hope” is the story of a typical teenage girl, Jamie, who is feeling disconnected from her family. In an effort to find herself, she begins hanging out with the wrong crowd even though her parents have warned her of the dangers. After sneaking out of the house to party her parents are angry and worried. When Jamie finally sends a text to her father to let him know she’s okay, he frantically reads the text while driving. The inevitable car crash follows and tragically takes the life of Jamie’s younger brother, Graham.
After Graham’s death Jamie’s family begins to fall apart. Jamie’s mother blames her father for reading the text while driving and her father blames her mother because she neglected to buckle in Graham’s car seat. Jamie blames herself since it was her text message that triggered the event.
Jamie is ready to take a handful of prescription drugs to end her misery when her friend Liam stops her. Liam tells Jamie that Jesus loves her and she is not to blame for Graham’s death. Jamie is not sure what to think about Jesus, but she is open to learning more and agrees to attend a church youth group with Liam.
Jamie’s parents continue to struggle with the loss of their son and are ready to split up over their anger for each other. Jamie reminds them that she still needs them and they should consider her before they consider divorce. In an effort to get away from the tension at home, Jamie agrees to attend church camp with Liam. At camp, Jamie makes some new friends and after a long talk with one, accepts Jesus as her Lord and Savior.
When Jamie returns home she finds her parents still at odds with each other and she storms out of the house to visit the grave of her brother Graham. Joined by her friend Liam who followed her to the cemetery, she lets him know how difficult things are at home. While they talk, Jamie passes out for an unknown reason.
When Jamie wakes up in the hospital it is revealed she has Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer that can appear without any symptoms. It is determined she is at stage four which means she will likely die. Jamie’s parents are devastated and turn to God even though both have had a distant relationship with him recently. After forgiving each other for the tragic death of their son, they both join an unresponsive Jamie at her bedside to pray for her. The story ends with a voice over from Jamie who reminds us all to hope for a miracle and we are left to understand that she lives on.
As student films go, this one is pretty unique. This film was made by kids mostly between the ages of 11 – 18. A feature film produced by collage age students is fairly common but this is Jr. High and High School students. I can honestly tell you this movie is better than many of those college film school movies. There is a younger perspective in the filmmaking that plays well with the story of a struggling teenage girl. I could give you a list of things that could have been done better in the telling of this story, but I could also make a long list of things that were done well. In the end, there are real emotions developed in this film that carry the story through to the end. You will come away from this movie having gone through tragedy with a young family that finds their way forward with faith, hope, and love. This is an amazing accomplishment for such a young production team.
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“Fireproof” is the story of a fire captain, Caleb, who is struggling through a difficult marriage. Caleb and his wife Catherine are constantly arguing and have become distant living separate lives while living in the same house. A major point of concern for Catherine is the fact that her mother needs expensive medical supplies to help with her stroke recovery but there is no money to cover the cost. Caleb has a twenty-four thousand dollar savings account set aside for a boat but is unwilling to offer any assistance for the medical supplies. When Caleb explodes in a moment of frustration with the deteriorating marriage, Catherine decides it’s time for divorce.
Initially, Caleb is also ready for divorce but his father convinces him to try one more time to make things right. Caleb’s father gives him a book called “The Love Dare” which is a forty day step-by-step process to rebuild the love that has been lost. Caleb agrees to the forty day effort because he loves his father, but he only makes a half-hearted effort to complete each daily task. Caleb goes through several days of being extra nice to Catherine, buying her flowers, doing the dishes, and preparing dinner for her but she turns her nose up at every attempt to rekindle the relationship. She also begins to flirt openly with one of the doctors at the hospital where she works as an administrator.
Halfway through the love dare, Caleb wants to quit but his father tells him they need to talk first. During their conversation Caleb’s father shares the gospel and Caleb, who is an agnostic, realizes he needs Jesus in his life to truly understand love. From this point forward Caleb puts his heart into the love dare but Catherine is still only suspicious of his changed demeanor and is still more interested in the doctor at work than Caleb.
When Catherine discovers the love dare journal, she is moved by Caleb’s effort but is still wounded by the difficult struggle they have been through. She tells Caleb she needs some time to think. In the end, when Catherine discovers Caleb has anonymously paid for her mother’s medical supplies with his boat savings, she is overwhelmed with gratitude and reconciles with him. She tells Caleb she is so impressed with the change in his life that she wants to know Jesus as well. They end up renewing their wedding vows in a ceremony that includes God.
Kirk Cameron, who plays Caleb, does an outstanding job portraying the angry and selfish husband who is transformed into the loving Christian husband. He is supported by Erin Bethea, playing his wife Catherine, who also turns in a fine performance. The story is likely familiar territory for anyone who’s married; most have gone through difficult times and been at odds with each other at some point. This film makes the point that a marriage isn’t something you allow to burn to the ground; you try to put out the fire and rescue the relationship. The love dare takes you back to what sparked the relationship in the first place and walks you back toward the lost love. Of course, the love dare is only part of the equation; this story also makes the point that the main ingredient in a marriage needs to be a love for God.
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This is the story of an extraordinarily successful investment banker, Jonathan Wright, who is promoted to Senior Vice President of business relations for a major banking firm. His future looks bright until he suddenly collapses on the golf course due to a serious brain aneurysm. During months of rehabilitation, Jonathan is tormented by the threat of a younger coworker, Scott, who is now scheming to take over his job. Jonathan believed Scott was his friend, but he rarely visited him during his illness. Instead, Jonathan was supported through this difficult recovery by another coworker, Paul, who is a Christian. Before his illness, Scott and Jonathan used to make fun of Paul’s Christian faith, but now Jonathan has a new perspective regarding who he can depend on. In addition, during his recovery, Jonathan has a dream the he comes before God and is told to follow him.
Throughout Jonathan’s recovery he begins attending Bible study with Paul and eventually accepts Jesus as his Savior and is baptized. When he finally returns to work, Scott tries to use Jonathan’s new found faith to drive a wedge between him and the head of the banking firm who, like Scott, is not a believer. When the firm goes through a merger, several people are laid off and Scott has so manipulated the boss he is the one who stays with the firm and Jonathan is let go.
Jonathan ends up struggling through a year unemployed and loses his contact with his spiritual mentor Paul. When they finally get back together, he is shocked to discover Scott has lost the firm’s biggest client, billionaire Berry Lawson. Things take a darker turn when he later learns Scott has died in a tragic car accident.
In the end, Jonathan gets an unexpected call from Berry Lawson. Lawson remembers Jonathan when he managed his account at his old firm, and he read an article that highlighted Johnathan’s conversion to Christianity. Lawson happens to be a Christian himself and he is now interested in starting a new financial firm with Jonathan as a partner. Jonathan’s wife and seven year old daughter have been impacted by his walk with Jesus and are baptized as the story closes.
This is an inspiring story of the secular world clashing with the spiritual world. Jonathan’s financial success is fragile and insecure while his new found spiritual connection is solid and secure. The message of the film seems to be if you depend on money rather than God, you are in deep trouble. This is a well-made film with quality acting and good production value. Some of the story structure is a little weak. A few story elements could have been better dramatized and told with more detail. Overall, it’s an uplifting story about a man who is chasing money and discovers it is far better to chase God.
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