Hating on “The Shack”?

shack  For the record, I’ve read “The Shack.” And no, I don’t believe it’s heresy… as many of my church-going Facebook friends do and re-post often.

Most of them haven’t read the book or seen the movie. Yet, their advice is to avoid it like the plague. My seminary-trained nephew compared suggesting he actually read Shack to my asking him to drink spoiled milk. To hear him expound on his reasoning, you’d think I was asking him to drink poison.

To be clear, I’m a Christ-follower. I’m also someone who made a living as a writer. As such, I appreciate people taking the time to read my work before forming an opinion. Accepting someone else’s translation of my words doesn’t do it justice.

(I suggest Bible critics do the same thing: read the Bible with an open mind before arguing about it. A lot of what you’ve heard is in there is missing, misquoted or misconstrued.)

The Shack is a novel aka a work of fiction. It’s the story of a man’s grappling with God, or rather God reaching out to him, after an unspeakable tragedy touches his family. I’m not going to be a spoiler and give away the details. If you want an overview, go to: http://www1.cbn.com/books/whats-so-bad-about-the-shack

Evidently, some critics expected a solidly Christian message and/or gospel presentation given the story deals with “biblical” issues. The Shack, however, goes outside the box to depict Father God as an African-American woman, the Holy Spirit as an Asian woman and Christ as a way to God, but maybe not the only way.

Presenting the Trinity in a multi-body, gender-bending form is in stark contrast to Scripture which teaches that God is spirit, that “in Christ is all the fullness of the godhead bodily”  and that Jesus plainly says “I am the way” to the Father.

Why expect fiction to rightly represent non-fiction? Does it matter if the author is Christian (or maybe a universalist, depending your point of view)? Does being Christian mean a writer is bound only to write strictly chapter-and-verse equivalent texts? Does being creative mean being heretical?

I hope not. I’ve written about serial killers; contractors who cheat; corporate deceptions and outright liars who purported to be Christian. Does daring to pen their stories make my relationship with God suspect?

I think the outcry over The Shack misses the point of the novel, which is very clear to me: No matter how tormented and terrorized by life we may be, God loves us and He cares. He is willing to meet us in the middle of our mess, restore our souls and make our lives into something beautiful. All He asks of us is to respond to His call.

Seems biblical to me: Christ came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). We didn’t choose Him, He chose us. (John 15:16)

We modern-day Christians are in danger of becoming irrelevant with our knee-jerk rejection of everything with which we disagree.

Yes, we must know the genuine to spot the counterfeit, which means knowing what the Bible teaches so that we can separate truth from error. But what is the good of knowing the Truth if we are so objectionable that we never get to share Him?

I believe that Christ has left us in the world so that we might engage the culture in a way that brings people to God. Jesus calls this being His witnesses.

So if we think the devil is in the details of The Shack, why not do what Scripture teaches: “Examine all things; hold fast that which is good.” (I Thessalonians 5:21) It’s a good place to start building bridges instead of erecting walls.

Call me a heretic, but I think we serve a big God and limit Him with our little minds. One day we are going to be surprised by the tools He used to draw people closer to Himself, maybe even an unorthodox book like The Shack.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)

 

 

 

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Do you have access?

  I arrived at work, entered the lobby and realized I’d left my badge at home. The badge grants me access. It’s a sign of relationship. Only people with established relationship enter: employees, new hire candidates, vendors, contractors.

No badge. No entry.

Controlled access is a standard security measure. We routinely swipe badges or cards to enter buildings, swipe again to enter elevators.

We respect controlled access at work. But when it comes to God, some people seem to think anyone can march into the presence of a holy God and get their prayers answered.

At least that’s the impression I got from a young Brit on Facebook. He posted a discussion about the existence of God and invited opinions. It turned out to be an excuse for a diatribe against God.

I replied that I believe God “is” and that He can be known. He promptly replied: “bullsh*t!” And he didn’t use an asterisk.

In the ensuing conversation, he accused me of being brain-washed, compared belief in God to a brain virus and offered so-called proof that God is a myth: he had prayed and God had not answered. “You might as well be talking to a vase.”

I get it. He knocked at God’s door and believes God ignored him. Access denied. I think he wanted, still wants, to believe. He is hurt, angry, disappointed.

I say here what that wounded soul wasn’t willing to hear. Just because somebody prays doesn’t obligate God to answer. There is no access without relationship. And God knows our hearts, whether we want a relationship or we just want what we want.

Relationship starts with belief. Those who come to God must believe that He is, and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6) Scripture says of Christ, “through Him you believe in God” (1 Peter 1:21)

God loves the world, and He has established the way the world gets access to Him. Jesus is the Way. (John 14:6)

God has protocol. In Old Testament times, one guy, a priest, could enter into the Holy of Holies one time a year to offer sacrifices for sin, his and the people’s.

One guy, one day a year. (Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 16)

If that guy didn’t come into God’s presence in the prescribed manner, he dropped dead and had to be pulled out. God didn’t allow anyone to come get him. That, beloved, is controlled access.

In New Testament times, Paul writes in the book of Hebrews:

Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)

Who is “us”? The letter to the Hebrews is addressed to brethren, to partakers of Christ, to those to whom the gospel was preached and they believed. Paul is writing to members of the family of God.

To have access, we have to have relationship.

Lots of people pray who have no relationship with God.  I would not say that God doesn’t respond.

Acts 10 tells of Cornelius, a devout man who feared God, gave to the poor, fasted and prayed. He certainly seems to be seeking God. And God noticed. One day, while Cornelius prayed, an angel appeared and told Cornelius to send for a man who would tell him what he should do.

That man was Peter, who preached the gospel of Christ to Cornelius “that through His name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins.” (Acts 10:43)

God works on the basis of relationship. To get to Him, we must come through Jesus. He alone restores access.

Thought Catalog: Think About It

One of my children passed along a recent Thought Catalog installment entitled “Why I’m Not a Christian,” http://thoughtcatalog.com/2013/why-i-am-not-a-christian/.

It’s the story of a self-described obedient, church-going adolescent who became a Bible-reading college student and decided to “renew his faith by ‘praying the prayer’” through Campus Crusade for Christ and to give his life to God.

Life was good, but he had an overriding desire: a wife. Wives, after all, are a good thing. (Proverbs 18:22) This is where the story takes a turn.

Overwhelmed with desire but realizing sex outside marriage is outside God’s plan, this young man struggled. He eventually fell into a cycle of Internet pornography, masturbation and guilt. He says he still prayed, believing God for the wife of his dreams.

While working at a Christian group home, he was convinced he’d found his wife, working right alongside him. Problem was, she wasn’t interested.

A year passed. The 25-year-old virgin met a woman on MySpace and flew from South Dakota to Alabama to meet her. They were “naked just hours after meeting at the airport.” The girl, however, was remorseful. By the time his flight landed back home, she had left him a phone message saying: 

 “what we were doing. It just wasn’t right. I need a man who is going to be a spiritual leader. He shouldn’t be going to bed with me so easily.”

That was the decisive blow. He now considers himself an atheist. He was a good boy, delighting himself in God. (Psalm 37:4) God didn’t meet his expectations, so He must not exist.

My child wanted to know what I thought about this. My answer: Everyone wants a Savior; nobody’s looking for a Lord. Jesus Christ, however, is both Savior and Lord. It’s a package deal.

If we accept Jesus as Savior, He also becomes our Lord. That means He decides what we need, when we need it and how we receive it. His goal is not necessarily to make us happy, healthy and wealthy. God is focused on making us holy, conforming us to the image of His Son. (Romans 8:29)

Our role is to submit to His will, out of love and trust, choosing to humble ourselves. It’s not a one-time event. Committed Christians make that choice over and over again, one decision after another for a lifetime. It can be tough to do, even for the most dedicated souls.

God sometimes asks us to submit to things we don’t like: denying a natural desire for sex until He provides the right mate; working for a jerk when we might be more capable; walking through chemo and radiation while knowing God has the power to miraculously heal without human intervention.

He sometimes allows us to be disappointed, to suffer. And He doesn’t always explain why. He doesn’t have to. He is God. He suffered much more on the cross to save us than we ever will in obeying Him.

We humans rebel against all this. We naturally resent any and all authority. We don’t want anyone telling us what we can and cannot do. We want to be equal partners in a neat “religion” where I do my part and God does His. Even seasoned saints can struggle deep down with believing we know what’s best for us: who we should date or marry, what job suits us etc. We get angry when God doesn’t follow our script and quietly accuse Him of “not meeting our needs.”

Like the Thought Catalog guy, we can make an idol out of our unmet needs. I know. I’ve been there, done that more times than I’d like to admit. I’m thankful that God forgives when we repent; and He grants “do overs.”

It may be hard to accept, but God is not in the business of granting wishes. He is about transforming us. (Romans 12:2). He molds; He shapes; He whittles – working all of it for our good. (Romans 8:28)

Consider these possibilities:

  • Suppose the Thought Catalog guy really didn’t want a wife as much as he wanted sex?
  • Suppose God “failed” to produce a wife on his time schedule because he wasn’t ready for one?
  • Suppose the wait was meant to reveal his need to grow in the fruit of the Spirit which is self-control or self-discipline? (Galatians 5:23)
  • Suppose the woman he quickly bedded was God’s choice for a wife had he been able to exhibit that self-control?

People who truly love God don’t serve Him for what we can get but because of what He already has given: Himself. Through Christ, our sins are forgiven and we are granted fellowship and communion with God, total access with an open invitation to come boldly to the throne of grace and find mercy and help when we need it. (Hebrews 4:16)

God Himself is our “exceeding great reward.” (Gen 15:1) Not a wife, not a husband, not a job or any other dream come true. That stuff is extra, like whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles topping a good mocha latte.

 When we’re in a relationship, it all comes down to love. Did the Thought Catalog guy – do we – really love God? Jesus says to His followers, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15). “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24 NLT)

Christianity is a love relationship, not an obligatory transaction. (John 3:16) God is love, but He doesn’t assume love on our part. He says, If we love and If we want to follow. It’s our choice.

When we choose to go our own way, like the Thought Catalog guy, what we’re really saying is we just don’t love Him enough.

Think about it.

Beg Your Pardon

When was the last time you apologized?

I don’t mean the last time you choked out an “I’m sorry” after somebody confronted you with what you’d done wrong.

I’m not talking about the last time you “apologized” for something that actually was not your fault just to keep peace with someone you knew would be angry for days if you didn’t take responsibility.

I’m asking when you last sincerely owned up to having been truly wrong without first being confronted with that fact by another human being? In other words, when did you last respond to the Holy Spirit unmistakably showing you your wrong and prompting you to apologize for it?

Last week, last month, last year?

We are all guilty of sometimes saying the wrong thing, or maybe the right thing but in the wrong way, at the wrong time, in the wrong tone.

Most of us know when we’ve done wrong. But we are loathe to actually go to the human being we wronged and own the fact with six simple words: “I am sorry. Please forgive me.”

You’d be surprised how many hurt feelings, broken relationships and lawsuits could be solved with those words.

Our problem, Christians included, is that we are too filled with pride to admit that we have made a mistake. Oh, we will own that “Nobody’s perfect.” We don’t mind admitting that “We all make mistakes.”

But we draw the line at getting specific about the wrong we have done and actually going to the person we hurt, looking them in the eye and saying, “I did this. I was wrong.” In the age of remote communication, we are even too proud to tweet, text or email the equivalent apology.

Instead, we go on just as if nothing happened. We mouth hymns seated beside the person we wronged. We talk about other things over lunch. We don’t apologize. We move on. But the people we hurt do not. They may not say a word, but the wounds we caused are real and lasting.

I am reminded of the Bible’s recounting of Absalom’s concealed hatred of Amnon after he raped their sister Tamar. Amnon never confessed the wrong he’d done. Absalom never forgave him but bided his time to avenge the matter, waiting two full years to have Amnon murdered. 2 Samuel 13

Resentment, bitterness and hatred grow between people when there is  unconfessed sin and a refusal to forgive.

The Bible says, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (James 5:16)

Confession brings healing to the soul that has wronged another.  Forgiveness brings healing to the soul that is wronged. Even when a wrongdoer won’t confess and repent, true believers have an obligation before God to forgive them.

The Lord taught us to pray, “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” (Luke 11:4a)

Biblical Christianity is not for wimps. Christians suffer many wrongs and cheerfully put up with a lot of crap. We do this out of love for God, entrusting ourselves to him.

“So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” (1 Peter 4:19)

We all wrong people. If you are the wrongdoer, admit it. If you are wronged, forgive. Pride goes before destruction; and life is too short to hold a grudge.

What Do You Like?

Facebook is one of those places where I occasionally learn very surprising things about people I thought I knew.

A number of my Friends, for example, “Like” Mitt Romney and have declared their intention to support his candidacy for President of the United States in the November election.

This is a rather curious revelation, given that these people are quite fundamental in their Christianity. Romney, you may recall, is a Mormon. And there is some controversy about whether Mormons are Christians at all. 

Generally speaking, I like Mitt Romney, too. He seems like a clean-cut, family guy, John Q. Citizen. He’d probably make a great neighbor.

Yet, it strikes me as incongruous that Bible-believers “Like” a guy whose religion may not even line up with the Bible. Mind you, these are people who have made religious positions a litmus test for determining a candidate’s suitability for office.

That said, let me make a couple of things clear.

  •  I don’t hate Mormons. I’ve had Mormon family members. My children’s Mormon school friends have slept-over at my house and vice versa.
  • I don’t fault Mitt for being a Mormon. We have religious freedom in this country. We are free to practice any religion we choose or no religion at all. That’s the American way.

The real issue is this: For Christians, Christianity is supposed to inform our politics, not the other way around. My Facebook friends seem to have put their “Like” of Romney’s politics ahead of their love of traditional Christian belief, which contradicts core Mormon tenets.

Consider three points of disparity, corroborated by the official site of The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints:

Baptism in the Bible is said to depict our identification with Christ’s atoning sacrifice, signifying our death to sin and resurrection to new life in Christ.

  • Salvation: Can we choose to follow Christ after death? Mormonism teaches that after death and judgment “those who never learned about Christ’s teachings or received his ordinances will have an opportunity to do so.” (see Postmortal life (Afterlife) topic).

The Bible teaches the decision to accept Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice for sin must be made on this side of  the grave. “Now is the day of salvation, now is the accepted time.” (2 Corinthians 6:2) After death, our fate is sealed. “It’s appointed to man once to die and then the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27)

  •  Marriage: Mormons believe that temple marriage “seals” families for eternity. In contrast, Jesus considered marriage temporal. Confronted with a woman who had married seven husbands, Jesus was asked whose wife she’d be in the resurrection. He said the question revealed error and ignorance of Scripture and God’s power.

For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven.” 

We Americans are free to support the political candidates of our choice. Christians, however, have dual citizenship and a higher allegiance. Our responsibility, as Christ’s ambassadors, is not to represent ourselves but to “Like” what Jesus likes — even on Facebook.

 

Forever in Blue Jeans?

My house is filled with teenagers who ask a lot of questions. Consequently, there’s a lot of discussion around what I call “the culture wars,” modern-day controversies that clash with historic Christian teaching.

I recently edited an article for someone regarding a May 8 vote on NC Amendment 1, which would amend North Carolina’s state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. The subject came up at home. Finally able to vote in an election, one of my children stated their position. Then came the question: what do you think?

My husband and I are about to celebrate a silver wedding anniversary, telegraphing that I favor church-sanctioned marriage for a man and a woman. I view marriage as a picture of Christ and His Bride, the church. That said, I have no quarrel with civil union, which has nothing whatever to do with the church as far as I’m concerned. It merely provides legal standing regarding property rights, hospital visits as “family” and the like. I see no point in enshrining a same-sex marriage ban into the state constitution. Same sex marriage already is illegal in North Carolina.

A hail-storm of questions ensued: Is it “fair”? How can a loving God just reject people and consign them to hell because they “love” someone of the same sex?

We humans tend to accept some things as a natural part of life, of what is. We consider other things, spiritual things in particular, negotiable, open to question or outright challenge.

Quick example: My employer has a dress code. I can wear denim on Fridays only, but not all Fridays. On Fridays when special guests are on property, business attire is required. Sleeveless arms, Capri pants, sling back pumps, mules and exposed-toe shoes are taboo every day of the week.

As far as I know, no one ever has challenged the code. Acceptance of employment includes submission to the company’s dictates regarding what can and cannot be worn on site. Their property, their rules. No question.

In that way, the company gets more respect than God who provides the air we breathe. Something inside us insists on the right to challenge everything about Christianity that goes against the grain of personal preference or popular culture. I’m guilty. I have a sin nature just like everyone else on the planet. Compliance is not my first response.

On Facebook, the nation-sized online community that’s poised to go public, young and old freely post what they are thinking, reading, watching on YouTube or listening to on Ipods, Spotify, Pandora or Rhapsody. There I find a pervasive embrace of peace, love and inclusion that is devoid of biblical perspective. Historic Christianity is widely viewed, even by professing Christians, as narrow, dogmatic and intolerant of other faith systems that proclaim other ways to God, many paths to enlightenment.

Seems to me that most of us fail to grasp the real meaning of Christianity. It’s not a democratic system in which we vote on what we like, majority wins and rewrites everything to suit us. We are not running things. God is Sovereign. Christ is the Head of the Church, the body of Christ. As members of His body, we are blood-bought Company men and women, governed by our relationship with Him. He rules in love, but He does rule.

In its simplest terms, Christianity is a holy God’s offer of rescue to sinful mankind. It’s John 3:16.  He alone is God. We come to Him on His terms, His way. Dogmatic? Absolutely.  It is an offer. Like an offer of employment, we can accept or not. But once we accept, we wear His robes of righteousness. No wardrobe changes.

I encourage my children to question. My husband and I clearly do not have all the answers. The answers we do have from Scripture don’t always satisfy. Young people are much more attune to culture speak on issues of gay marriage, pluralism and so on than they are to historic church doctrine. Modern-day paganism seems so much hipper.

Still, I’m of the opinion that an unexamined faith is not much faith at all. Christianity can hold its own in the marketplace of ideas. God can handle questions. The real issue is our willingness to accept answers we don’t want to hear and then to do what we otherwise would not.

When it really matters, we can develop a willingness to conform. Today is Friday. I’ll be wearing jeans to the office. Big decision: Gap, Liz Claiborne, Calvin Klein or Levi’s?