Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Shack

I read The Shack earlier this year and was impressed enough to buy a number of discounted paperbacks to give away. Yet I also made it clear that my endorsement was not in toto, and some readers have asked why. A few critics have also asked how I can endorse a book that distorts God (the Holy Spirit is consistently presented as female), and the ecclesiology in the book is abominable. So, I offer the following few thoughts....

Sometimes it is hard for us to comprehend how much God loves us. This is especially hard when we are faced with horrible things in this world. The age-old question is: Why is there evil if God is all-powerful and all-good?

This is an incredible book in the way it brings the reality of God’s presence into a tangible setting that we can understand. Yet, keep in mind that no book gets everything right (except the Bible). Someone has said a person is most often right in what he affirms and most often wrong in what he denies. The affirmations in this book are mostly right-on; the denials in this book are best skimmed over. And for all its power, one should read this remembering it is fiction (when “God” is talking, it’s really the author of the book). The author gets a lot of things right; the author gets some things wrong.

Still, the overall message of The Shack is powerful and we need good vehicles for understanding God’s presence and activity in our lives. So, please read it.... with all this in mind, but most of all with a heart that cries, “Lord, let me know you more fully.”

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


I know that many of my readers are close personal friends; others are people far beyond any normal circle of relationships. But whether you are “close” or “far,” I pray for you a wonderful Christmas filled with the peace that only our Lord can give.

Part of The Office of Readings in this morning’s Liturgy is from a sermon by Saint Augustine. The following words by this long-ago Father of the Church are still powerfully true:

You would have suffered eternal death, had he not been born in time. Never would you have been freed from sinful flesh, had he not taken on himself the likeness of sinful flesh. You would have suffered everlasting unhappiness, had it not been for this mercy. You would never have returned to life, had he not shared your death. You would have been lost if he had not hastened to your aid. You would have perished, had he not come.

Let us then joyfully celebrate the coming of our salvation and redemption. Let us celebrate the festive day on which he who is the great and eternal day came from the great and endless day of eternity into our own short day of time.

For what greater grace could God have made to dawn on us than to make his only Son become the son of man, so that a son of man might in his turn become son of God?

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 15, 2008


The Christmas season is a time when the consumerism that surrounds us tries to make new inroads into our souls through its tools of greed, covetousness and envy. This is a time for Christians to be especially vigilant. We are to trust God and remember that “things” do not give what they can appear to promise.

In the Taoist literature of ancient China is a story of a wise man who had many wonderful horses. There was one horse which was so strong, fast and beautiful that the man's neighbor was envious. But one day this horse escaped from the barn and ran away into the hills. The neighbor's envy changed to pity, but the wise man said, "Who knows if I should be pitied or if I should be envied because of this?"

The next day the horse returned to the wise man leading a herd of fifty equally beautiful wild horses with him. The neighbor was once again filled with envy and once again the wise man said, "Who knows if I should be pitied or if I should be envied because of this?" Shortly after he said this, his only son tried to ride one of the wild horses, fell off of it and broke his leg. The neighbor's envy once again changed to pity, but the wise man responded by saying, "Who knows if I should be pitied or if I should be envied because of this?"

The next day an officer of the emperor's army came to draft the man's son for a dangerous mission, but since the son's leg was broken, he could not be recruited for the assignment which meant almost certain death. The neighbor, whose own son was taken in the place of the injured young man, envied the wise man — and once again the wise man said, "Who knows if I should be pitied or if I should be envied because of this?"

The story goes on and on with similar twists that shift the neighbor's feelings from envy to pity and then back again. The wisdom of this man makes it clear that things are not always what they seem to be, and that what we desire is as likely to bring us pain and trouble as happiness and contentment. How many times do we see people destroyed by the very traits we admire and perhaps covet? How often do we encounter people who are too attractive or wealthy or talented for their own good because they have not learned discipline and humility?

God invites us to believe that none of the ways we exalt ourselves among ourselves matters. God invites you to believe that He loves you simply because He is God and you are you. And when we believe that, there is an effect: we begin to believe that our wholeness and our happiness is not dependent on what other people have. If you think that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, it is probably because you are not properly caring for the grass on your own side. Jesus promises to be with those who invite Him into their lives, and He then promises to let His life so blossom within us that we will not need to worry about what others have and what they are doing.

Monday, December 8, 2008


Like Tevya in The Fiddler on the Roof, my thought processes usually go “on the one hand.... on the other hand....”

Some of my past posts have juggled dynamics between: Truth and Humility, Head and Heart, God’s Will and My Will, Small and Big, Security and Trust, Time and Eternity, Struggle and Surrender....

The past few weeks have been an ongoing exercise of juxtapositions. We have decorated (mildly, as opposed to extravagantly) our home in the spirit of Advent going into Christmas. In the midst of this I received word from one of my long-time close friends that the area where he lives has erupted in violence with radical Muslims burning churches and homes as well as physically assaulting people (and with “Christians” retaliating in the same spirit of anger and ugliness). The death toll has not yet been determined. My friend has opened his home for scores of people, squeezing refugees into every available floor space for sleeping and feeding as many as a hundred per meal. Meanwhile, I still live in a society whose biggest concern seems to be the amount of discretionary consumer items that will be sold over “the holidays.” I wonder how many people give serious thought to the news headline from last week that national security experts say it is “likely” that terrorists will successfully accomplish either a nuclear or biological attack on the U.S. within five years.

We have local friends whose eighteen-year-old daughter became suddenly ill two weeks ago and died within a few days. We have other friends whose eighteen-year-old son suddenly felt ill and vomited blood; he is in the hospital as I write this. At the same time I am aware of young adults whose minds are consumed with everything from jobs and houses to video games and big-screen TVs — the “stuff” that fills their world apart from tragedy.

Some Christian friends send me reading material which is obsessed with threats implicit in the coming Obama presidency. Sometimes there is even a vitriolic spirit toward other Christians who do not explicitly denounce Obama. These materials come alongside the Christmas greetings for peace and love, most of which are quite clear about “keep[ing] “Christ” in Christmas.”

In the Old Testament, temporal good was a sign of God’s blessing on His faithful people even as curses were threatened to fall on people who lived contemptuously of God’s ways. Yet the ancient OT book of Job shows it is not that simple. In the New Testament Jesus said Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions (Lu 12:15)and Christians are warned that all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2Tim 3:12).

I know we can’t fully avoid living as Americans in our consumer culture, but Christians can model compassionate awareness by not turning a blind eye to all the suffering around us and in the world beyond our own. Just because our society offers a multitude of distractions does not mean we must embrace them in a way that smothers us. Another response to so many complex issues is the principal of being expressly thankful for our many pleasantries, and staying surrendered and humble before our Lord in the face of what we see as both good and bad.

Christian Faith affirms that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28). Yet we need to remember that the “pleasant” is not always “good,” and the “good” is not always “pleasant.” Good finds its definition in God, and God says my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways (Isa 55:8).

How, then, are we to understand the complexity of things that whirl around and through our lives in a given day? On the one hand.... on the other hand.... But encompassing both hands is our God and our hearts must be fixed on Him.

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