Manchester by the Sea: No Hope of Redemption?

“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” (Revelation 4:21)

The academy awards come up Sunday. I recently saw one of the movies which will be considered for best picture. I saw it mostly by accident. I don’t see many first run movies anymore due to both limited time (I have seven children) and often inclination.  My wife and I were away for the weekend in a seaside town in Washington state celebrating our 23rd anniversary. 

There was not much to do in the evening. But there was an old-fashioned movie theater with one selection. The ticket taker smiled when telling us that they didn’t take credit cards, but said she was glad we had some cash that way she didn’t have to let us in for free.  The film playing that night was Manchester by the Sea. I had heard a little about the movie (which turned out to be mostly wrong), but I thought what could be more delightful than to attend a thought provoking movie about relationships in a small seaside town while in another small seaside town on the other side of America.

I would have walked out and never looked back about 30 minutes into the movie had not been for the peer pressure of sitting in the front of the theater. I would have had to walked past 100 grey headed retirees who had thicker skin than I did. The language was awful, the relationships lacked any sort of gentle affection, and the view of was sex pathetically low. However, ultimately I am glad I didn’t leave, because in the end I thought that writer and director Kenneth Lonergan, had made a brutally honest movie about a world where there is in essence no God. 

The plot is relatively simple. The main character has committed a tragic and accidental act to those he loves the most. This act was driven by substance abuse and it cannot be undone. In a series of tragedies, interspersed with subtle humor, he tells a young man whom he has now become the legal guardian, “I can’t beat this.”  He cannot overcome and make peace with his awful mistake. It haunts him, and he has become a shell of the man he once was.

Manchester by the Sea, in its slow moving gritty blue-collar New England world, brings out the one key things that can never occur in a world without God. In a world where there is no God there is no chance for redemption. There is no removal for eternity of the damage that our sin does to others and ourselves.

Most of us, never get to see that deep behind the curtain. We never get to see the whole picture of our sins of commission and omission and their effects on those around us. God knows most of us could never handle it. The protagonist here, in a world where the beauty of the ocean side scenery given to us by God himself is the backdrop for mankind’s failings, understands the pain of sin. He realizes there is no fixing it. There is no undoing it. 

Even though many these days have trouble distinguishing fiction from reality, we can be glad that Manchester by the Sea is a fictional story. The good news is that in the world of reality there is redemption. Odd it may be that many try to pass off this good news as fiction despite overwhelming evidence of its truth, and they would rather find themselves lost in the created world of movies and video games.

But in Jesus Christ we have redemption. God himself takes the pain and punishment we deserve for our tragic mistakes. And in his heaven, God washes away the suffering and makes each person new. When we glimpse this now, it is the beginning of genuine healing of the effects of our mistakes and sin no matter how aweful our mistakes are. However, there must be an active trust in God for that to happen. Jesus cannot help us if we reject him. We must call out on his name.

In a world where there is no God, the honest writer can only come to the conclusion given to us by this movie. There can be a little kindness, a little friendship, a little improvement but there is no brand new. There is nothing really to break us out of the darkness. In the end, there is only death.

That is why Jesus said he did not come into the world to condemn the world. But that world would be saved.  

It may be nice despite its crudeness that Manchester by the Sea wins the Academy Award for best picture. I think we sometimes put too much of a covering on the effects of sin. The world doesn’t like the truth. I won’t be watching the academy awards. But I will be pondering this great hymn written by Edward Mote over 200 years ago. That in the real world; we can stand faultless before the throne of Jesus Christ. That is the amazing in life. That is the magnitude of the greatness of real love. We see that here in the last stanza.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found,
Clothed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne!
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

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Peace Through Prayer (Part IV)

We are going to finish our study on Peace and Prayer (Philippians 4: 4-13) by addressing some key issues that are easy to overlook. I hope at the end we will arrive at our goal of understanding the very sweet and precious context of, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

An issue we have not addressed yet when it comes to prayer is opposition. Our prayers can be delayed because of opposition from those who oppose Christ. We need to look no further than the life of one of the greatest men ever to have lived. That is Jewish captive and ancient Babylonian leader Daniel who faced incredible opposition to his life of prayer. It is also needed to realize who our opposition is. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:12

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (NASB)

There is a pivotal point we need to address in Philippians 4:8. It is the million-dollar difference in how we look at “the whatevers.”   How we approach these verses that encourage correct focus on what is good, true, pure etc., and how they relate to prayer will determine if we have peace or frustration.

Paul encountering Jesus

We will finish our four week study looking at the life of the apostle Paul and ask why it matters. Often we ask WWJD (What Would Jesus Do)? This is not a bad question, but the only problem with it is that we are not God and Jesus was. This sometimes may lead us into a self-dependency that we are not able to fulfill. Never- the-less, we can always ask what would Paul do? (This is not for cowards. The world hated Paul in the year 60 AD and it still hates Paul today. We talk about why.) Paul is the example we need. His example of prayer and action as set forth in scripture is the route to peace beyond understanding as he encourages us to follow Christ in doing all things through Christ who strengthens us.

 

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Peace Through Prayer (Part Three)

This week we talk about how God responds to prayer and get to the core of just what is the “peace beyond understanding” that the apostle Paul talks about. First, we are going to start off reviewing how Jesus told us to pray. He gave us instructions that are in some ways counter intuitive. (See Overcoming Barriers to Prayer). There is an unexpected heavy emphasis on forgiving and an ultimate goal of not necessary getting what we want but being delivered from evil.

We will address some reasons why our prayers may not be answered as we would like them. This is humbling and requires self-examinations of our motives. (Yes, we are still part of the faithless and perverse generation though we work hard to cover it up.) We will look at just how in specific ways God answers prayer. 

Even though there is a good case for miracles, the vast majority of miracles as we think of them are not miracles in the true sense of the word. Most are Gods amazing work of providence or circumstances. However, God’s greatest work is not in miracles, but in the day in and day out work of providence relating to the salvation and sanctification of us.

We will also touch on a different kind of unanswered prayer: The good kind. We take a look at the best extra biblical text I know of to make the case that this is often God’s most loving response.  (It is from an unlikely and “low” place.) In the end however, the result of our prayers according to Paul in Philippians will be peace beyond understanding. Just what is this peace? We will try to give an answer. 

 

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Peace Through Prayer (Part Two)

Now that we are broken of our self-reliance and are coming to the feet of Jesus. This week we are going to dive specifically into what some of the key elements Paul talks about when we pray.

One key element that is often overlooked is the asking. This is something that we would think would be obvious and easy to us, but if often isn’t especially for those of us do-it-yourself types who never want to admit that they need some help. We hope to give some encouragement that all of us would not be afraid to courageously ask.

Paul gives us another key component that we should have in our prayers and that is thanksgiving. We will take a look at some examples of just how we can and should be thankful.

We also then examine a third important factor involved in prayer and that is faith. But just what is faith? We will look at some definitions and encouraging examples of faith from the life of King David and Joseph where we define faith as an “active trust in God even when we don’t know where we are in the story.”   

 

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Peace Through Prayer (Part One)

In our busyness, the Bible is best place to go to find peace. Over the next four weeks we are going to look specifically at Paul’s letter to the Philippians chapter 4 verses 4-13 in search of this peace. This is the first of a series of four talks given at Cornerstone Bible Church out by the Cascade Mountains in Washington State.

In this first of four sections, we are going to look at the following and more.

The importance of rejoicing. God call us to rejoice. One of the great examples of this is King David (2 Samuel 6) as he dances when bringing up the ark to Jerusalem and how and Michal reacts with embarrassment and jealousy to this rejoicing.

The call to be anxious for nothing. Anxiety has been a curse on mankind and God calls us not to worry.  In fact, to not be afraid is Jesus number one negative command. But it is a significant problem for a lot of us and we fall short of following through on this command. Anxiety has caused numerous health issues from causing lack of sleep to heart disorders. The world has given us many tips on how to put off worry. They are helpful and important, but they often end up giving only momentary relief. There is only one way to really start to get rid of worry and that is to show up broken at the feet of Jesus in prayer.

We should ultimately be encouraged by the word of God.   Let us know if we can answer any questions.You can reach us at prayer@aquietwater.com.

 

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Writing a Wonderful Book of People

Let me ask an easy question? Do you care about your friends and family? The answer, of course, is yes!  Let me ask the question another way? Do you care enough about your friends and family to pray over them? Most of us will answer again with a yes. At least, we care about them enough to intend to pray about them. But do we actually do it? Most of us are well intentioned but overcommitted, sometimes unorganized, and forgetful by nature. We often don’t get to non-emergency prayer because it seems to be an easy thing to push off.  Here is an idea how you might be able to change that.

You are about create a book. Not just any old book to sit on a shelf to gather dust with the millions of titles in the bookstores today, but you are going to write a wonderful book—A Wonderful Book of People. This is a book about the people in your life that you can go through and pray over daily or weekly. You are going to be what the enemy of God deeply desires you would not be— an intercessor making a delightful aroma to God.

Here are two simple ways to get started…

1. Don’t throw away those Christmas cards or old photos. The simplest, old fashioned way to start, is just to take pictures (old Christmas cards work great) and tape or glue onto paper, three hole punch them and put them in a binder. Alternatively, download your picture right on a word document or web page writing some notes about each person. (Email me at doug@aquietwater.com and I will send you very basic template for this.)

2. Buy a journal. Go through your address book or and on each page write the person’s name down on the top page and keep doing this until you run out of pages or people. If you are creative, draw a picture of the people you are praying for.

Some things to consider for your book.

1. This doesn’t have to be time consuming though it is worth the time. Designate as little as two days a week (Tuesday and Thursday) to create a new page.  At a minimum, in one year you will have 104 pages of wonderful people in your life to pray over.

2. They don’t have to all be friends or family. A favorite pastor of mine once said that after he had been in a dispute with a particular person or ministry he would donate money to their cause. This would make him soften toward them. Jesus tells us to love our enemies. One of the best things we can do when there is need for reconciliation is regularly pray for those who need reconciliation with.  At the least, it will soften our own hearts. At best, God may answer our prayer as we most desire.

3. Include those you may want to know better. Do you feel that you could use more friends? Maybe include people that are acquaintances at this moment that you would like to make friends.

4. Don’t forget to include those closest to you! We should never take for granted our spouse and children. They need our prayers daily or maybe even hourly. You will probably want to make a special section just for them that is referred to every day.

Let us know how this works for you. We will pass on your good ideas to others.

 

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What does God say about “time management”?

Clock4

Does God say anything about time management? When you have seven children and run an office that is responsible for one third of America’s land mass, this is the type of question that intrigues you. Can I get better use of my time? The answer is not as easy as you may think.

One of the world’s most renowned experts in time management once called time management an oxymoron. That is the concept itself is a contradiction in terms.  A well known pastor, whose church is located in the heart of America’s technology world in Silicon Valley, once told his congregation that if there was any group of people smart enough to manage time to do all they wanted to do; they would be sitting in the congregation in front of him.  That being the case, he guessed there was not anyone capable of doing it.

We all, in one degree or another, can better organize ourselves. But no one is smart enough to manage time.  Psalms 103 says, “As for man, his days are like the grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone.” We can read a lot of good books, go to seminars, listen to CD’s and podcasts, and the information provided by the best Sunflowers 2advisers and consultants will usually always boil down to one thing. We are only able to be wise enough to eliminate things from our lives that are not worthwhile and prioritize what remains.

Here are just a few things God says that may be worth considering when it comes to prioritizing the use of our time.

1)      Put God first (Exodus 20:3)

“You shall have no other gods before me.”

2)       Don’t waste your time looking at things that are worthless  (Psalms 101)

“I will set no wicked thing before my eyes.”

3)      Count the cost before beginning  (Luke 14:28)

“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’?

4)      Know that things won’t go as planned (James 4:14)

“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow.”

5)      Be good stewards (Titus 1 7-9)

For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain,  but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.  He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

6)      Read your Bible (Matthew 4:4)  

“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

If you want to manage time God’s way.  There is no way to squeeze your relationship with God into your other priorities. You must bow your other lessor priorities to Him.  Ask that the Holy Spirit would fill in the blanks and make your desires and hopes more effective.

 

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Five Christmas Misconceptions and One Prayer

Christmas is the biggest yearly event in the world. But it is full of myths and misunderstandings. Here are five common misconceptions about the Christmas celebration and one prayer asking for God’s help in celebrating it with real purpose.

Misconception #1 Christmas is just another of many winter holidays and a takeoff of the ancient roman celebration of Saturnalia. Author Gerry Bower makes a well documented case in his book Christmas in the Crosshairs that the reason that Christmas was organized by the early Christian church was in order to emphasize the legitimacy of the Biblical narrative and the virgin birth which the Gnostic’s (people with special knowledge) were promoting doubt about. Today, this still remains the main and greatest mission of Christmas. 

Misconception #2 A Visit from St. Nicholas commonly known as Twas the night before Christmas is just a cute little poem for kids. Yes, it was a poem written for Clement Clark Moore’s children, but it became much more. It turns out to be arguably the most influential poem ever published in the United States. (You may be able to find a more noble American poem and a more noble author but not a more influential one.) Effects from this poem and conjunctive works by Washington Irving were major reasons Christmas was transformed from a raucous party and a time of “misrule” to a family focused affair. In a very odd and indirect way, it was a small precursor to the prophesy in the book of Malachi. That is the turning of the fathers toward their children and children to their fathers. 

Misconceptions #3 A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens was a topping off or an “add on” to a great writing career. In fact, his career was suffering at the time he wrote A Christmas Carol and Christmas was at one of its lower points in its popularity. The book reignited both Christmas and Dickens career and placed a greater emphasis on charity and giving. A Christmas Carol helped make Christmas what it is today. It was not just one more story thrown into the mix but was a story that helped redefine the celebration.

Misconception #4 The wise men showed up with the shepherds at the birth of Jesus. Although it makes for a great story and painting, it isn’t true. The birth of Jesus is by far the most fictionalized part of the Bible many times over, the wise men absolutely did not show up at the birth and most likely showed up a year and a half to two years later. God often works slower than our fictionalized minds can bear.

Misconception #5 All Christians celebrate Christmas. Though it is rare to find a few these days, the Puritans and many of the Reformers did not celebrate Christmas because at the time it was seen as just one more of the many saints days promoted by the corrupt Catholic church. The emphasis was more on drinking and extortion of gifts than Jesus. When Christmas became more of a family celebration due to social changes, even in New England where Thanksgiving had reigned supreme, Christmas picked up steam and most Christians dropped their concern an adopted the day to celebrate Christ and family with believers all around the world.

A Prayer 

I pray that we would enter Christmas with the joy and amazement that the shepherds must have shown that first night in Bethlehem. I pray what really excites each of us this Christmas is that when we walk through the Grocery store and hear the hymns playing it warms our hearts and encourages us more than the price and quality of the goods for sale. That hearts of the families would be turned to their children and hearts of their children would be turned into toward their families during this season and for the rest of the year. I pray that believers in Jesus Christ would unite all around the world to proclaim the amazing arrival of the incarnate Christ and understand its impact and importance. I pray in our hearts that what is amazing to us is that God himself came to rescue us from our own self destruction as a baby born in poverty who overcame, transcended, and will eventually crush the greatest powers of this world.

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We Gather Together (A Thanksgiving Prayer for Freedom)

valerius_aThe Dutchman Adrianus Valerius wrote in 1597 what is now known as the Thanksgiving hymn “We Gather Together” to celebrate the freeing of the Dutch people from the oppressive rule of the Spanish. It was redone in English by American Theodor Baker in 1894 and became popular in the 1930’s. It is about two things that are worth celebrating: the ability to gather together as God’s people and the freedom from oppression and the opportunity to worship as the Bible directs.

How precious it is to intertwine two of the most important battles for religious freedom. The Dutch against the inquisition, and the English separatists known as Pilgrims, against the state controlled church in England. One of the most undersung events in the great battle for liberty and religious freedom was the battle fought by William of Orange who gave up a life of relative ease to save the people of God in Holland. These brave Dutchman were willing to seek out God despite the oppression of Spain, who had distorted word of God for self-gain and political power, keeping God’s word separated from the people and oppressing them in what is today known as the Catholic Inquisition. It was a time when the devil literally ran the church. A time when families were burned to death for merely “gathering together” and reading the Bible.

spanish-inquisitinForty years later, another group seeking liberty and religious freedom had fled England to Holland. These were the separatists that are known today in America as the Pilgrims. After arriving in Holland from England, they found religious freedom but a difficult life. They found the Dutch culture by that time had become worldly. Those who were able to leave made the famous and harrowing journey on the Mayflower to the accidental location of what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts. Here they created the Mayflower Compact and beginning one of the greatest experiments in liberty, faith in God, bravery, and perseverance the world had yet to see.

Today, faith seems to be growing most in the third world, but a small but significant remnant of Americans, and others in the western world hold steady to this faith. That the beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord, that the word of God or the Bible written through inspired men over 1500 years should be the basis of law and dictate how we should live, that our greatest focus in life should be the sharing and spreading of the Good News of Jesus Christ and repentance of sin. That the great news is that we are not helplessly in bondage to sin. In repentance, and through faith in Jesus Christ, we can gather together today and celebrate that the Lord has made us free in many ways.

hith-pilgrims-eLet us first give thanks this season for those who have sacrificed greatly to give us what is still a large amount of liberty and freedom. We thank you Lord for William of Orange and the Dutch who gave their lives in the reformation. We thank you Lord for the small band of English Separatists, of whom over half died on the first winter alone, to worship you. We thank you Lord for the hundreds of thousands who have given their lives to protect freedom from oppression against a multitude of oppressors including the German fascists, the Marxists, and radical Islam. We thank you Lord for those who still today who stand up against mockery in the western world, and risk prison and death in 3rd world countries, to proclaim the word of God.

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Can we go from zero prayer to daily prayer?

brokenWhat if we aren’t praying? What if we just can’t seem to do it? Is it possible to go from zero prayer to daily prayer? The answer to that question lies in our desire. Ultimately, it is a change in motivation first and technique a distant second.

Step One

Get rid of other Gods. What is standing between us and daily communion with the triune God of the Bible is another god. This other god could be something trivial or large. But something else is more important. Lip service is easy to give while time isn’t. We give our time to what we truly value.

Step Two

Ask for the help of the Holy Spirit? We woefully overestimate our own abilities to self-help ourselves and change. We need to ask God for this help. And he says he will send help, and that helper is the Holy Spirit.

Step Three

No more amateur hour. Christianity has never worked well as a half-hearted endeavor. It is an all or nothing thing. God says he spits out the lukewarm of us. Approach God with the serious attention as you would to the most important job or task.

Step Four

Make a leap into reality. We tend to take two wrong forks in the road when it comes to prayer. We tend to make prayer a fluffy extra because we deeply doubt the power of God. Or because of pride, we tend to save it for last ditch effort when nothing else has worked. We fall on either end of the spectrum because we are suspicious in some degree its effectiveness.

Step Five

Learn something about God. Some of us pray to God having no idea who God is. Go over what the Bible tells us who God is and the guideline for prayer shown to us by Jesus in the sermon on the mount in Matthew 6:9-13.

Step Six

Have a plan and keep it simple. Pick a time you like and intentionally pray at that time each day if possible. Mark it on the daily schedule. First thing in the morning works best for most people but not all. Have some sort of pre-designed idea of things to pray about. Here are three basic steps.

1) Have a list. Here is one unique idea to do that

2) Have a journal. Write down at the top of your journal each day. In that journal write down at the top of the page each day.

  • Am I having other gods yes or no?
  • Am I approaching God professionally in effort?
  • Am I believing God to be real?
  • Am I studying God’s word?

3) Have prayer cards that you can take with you and when you have a spare moment go over them.

Prayer is much more than a step by step process. It is an intimate relationship with great tenderness and nuance. But any desire to pray more, any book on the subject, will include these type of basic elements. Techniques only matter in that they give structure and outline to our intentions. Can a little over 600 words change your life and open the door to a universe of the infinity and glory of communing with God? Yes, they can. If you desire to know and communicate with God, nothing can stop you.

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