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Review of “The Shack” by William P. Young

I started reading “The Shack” by William P. Young and couldn’t get through the first few chapters. I didn’t think I wanted to wade through all the nightmare stuff.

So, I stopped reading after the first chapter or so. Then a couple of months later I heard people talking about it and decided to give it another try. Instead of reading it, I just scanned through the first 4 chapters enough to know what happened and then joined the story from chapter 5 on.

I find the story of the weekend to be quite compelling and love the emphasis on the Trinity and the relationship within the Godhead.

I am helped by several of the teaching aspects of the book — especially the constant message of God’s desire to have a relationship with people. I doubt I will ever forget that the Lord is especially fond of each of us. I also love the description of the “wastefulness of grace.”

I like the way Jesus is described. His manhood, humanness is very easy to connect to.

I like the good natured response of the Trinity to mistakes and misunderstandings and the powerful emphasis on grace.

Two things that make me somewhat uncomfortable:

1. The seeming universalism in the theology. I wish that at some point there is an acknowledgment that humans can ultimately and finally reject the love and grace of God. The presence of Mac’s father with no background on how that came to be seems to underscore the universalism message.

2. The encounter with Misty coupled with the funeral scene makes no mention of a bodily resurrection. We have Jesus, very human and much is made of that. Then we have Misty and the “night of lights” as though that is all there is to it. Even the funeral service contains no mention of resurrection.

So, I think I’ll subtract one point for the background story being unnecessarily disturbing and intense. I’ll take away another point and a half for the two theological issues I mentioned.

For me, that should give the book a score of 7.5 — however, my gut is that it has terrific potential to speak to people in compelling ways on the issues of human suffering, the nature of God, and the good will of God toward all human beings. The final rank, then, to me is more like a 9 or a 9.5. In other words: if you haven’t done so yet, you ought to read this book!

Christmas is a hard time for a lot of people

I have a sermon about Grinches that will steal our Christmas. I haven’t shared it in a couple of years but I’ve certainly been reminded recently of the Grinch of expectations.

Many of us have bought into Hollywood’s version of the “perfect” Christmas when the unexpected gift suddenly appears under the tree, the snow falls at just the right time, and some old hurt is wonderfully healed.

The fact is that not only is does this time of year have its fair share of unwelcome things but the expectations of the season serve as a magnifying glass on them, making them feel even bigger than they would normally.

Since this is, indeed, a “Season” we attach things more easily to it. If a loved one passed away unexpectedly in the summer we will associate it with that time of the year in a more vague way than if they passed away the “week of Christmas.”

In recent days I’ve been reminded of how people I care about are going through unwelcome things this year. There are surgeries, job loss, health worries, financial stress, and other things that take the luster off of Christmas for these good people.

The cure for this is a realization that we are real people and not actors on a Hollywood film stage. Magical things are not likely to happen and for us, life goes on, with both good and bad things coming our way.

The core of Christmas isn’t magic. Rather, it’s Christ. God loves me and sent his Son into the world to be my Savior. The glory of Christmas isn’t a lack of problems so much as it is the knowledge that God has come to be with me in all of life, including the unwelcome aspects.

I may not get the surprise gift of a fancy new car in the driveway on Christmas morning, and, in fact, I may deal with some bad news instead. Still, “Emmanuel” – “God with us” is true. That’s what makes life worth living not only at Christmas, but all the year through.

That “Still Small Voice”

I was listening to the radio as I drove home today. Being alone in the car, I had the volume up higher than usual so I could hear the bass really well.

As I slowed down to turn, I thought I heard a voice telling me to “turn left.” I smiled to myself that something on the radio plus my getting ready to turn combined to cause me to think I heard that.

Then, closer to home, I slowed to turn again and this time, I knew I heard it: “Turn Left.”

It was then that I remembered that I had put our little TomTom gps in the arm rest console. Somehow it had gotten turned on, and it’s last command was to take us “home.”

For a minute there I thought I had heard the “Still Small Voice” of the Lord and that I had made the theological discovery that God has a pleasant female voice!

Opening the service with Communion

In our church we generally observe Communion about midway in the worship service or at the conclusion of the service.

However, I’ve just finished re-reading Keith Drury’sThere’s no I in Church” and in the chapter on Communion he suggests sometimes starting the service with Communion.

So today, I did the call to worship and then explained that…
1. We believe Communion is a means of grace and that
2. Since we believe our Lord is present in the Communion, and that,
3. Since we want the presence of the Lord in all the worship service
…we were going to open the service by observing the Lord’s Supper.

We had a blessed Eucharist, and then went right into an enthusiastic worship service. As I began the message I remarked that I had just noticed that I could still taste the grape juice and that reminded me that the Lord was present, indeed, in that place.

I don’t know how meaningful it was for others, but I was blessed by observing the Lord’s Supper at the beginning of worship today and plan on doing it that way again sometime in the future.

“I don’t preach long – it only seems that way”

Anytime the length of my sermons comes up I always respond with a smile and say, “I don’t preach long – it only seems that way.”

Actually, I preached my first sermon while I was still a teen – I think it was 5 minutes long and in it I said everything I knew. Now, I’ve been in the ministry over 35 years and I can honestly say I never pay any attention what-so-ever to the time.

However, since nearly all my sermons are archived online, it is easy to check out the length of them and the time is amazingly consistent at between 23 and 33 minutes. I have a personal rule that when I get up to preach, I preach and when I finish I quit. I don’t do add on announcements before the message and I don’t rehash the message at the end.

Also, my style is almost completely expository. I’m not a story teller and I’m not a joke teller. There’s plenty of light-hearted stuff along the way and I try to illustrate points the best I am able, but I don’t have long drawn out stories to tell.

A few decades (no kidding!) ago when I spent a few months preaching in Australia, my friend John White (now gone to heaven) told me I didn’t preach like the famous American preachers who came to Australia – that I preached like Australian preachers who were less story prone and more “come now, let us reason together” in my approach. I think it was a compliment!

In fact, I think that is the major difference between most pastors today and the more famous preachers of my youth. The evangelists who came to our church were terrific story tellers who could make you laugh and cry at the same time. They preached 45 minutes to an hour, with about half of the time spent telling stories. There’s a big difference between that and an hour of more intense expository preaching.

Because of that, I think any question about sermon length has to be qualified as to the purpose and content of the sermon. Had some of those wonderful story tellers preached only 20 minutes people would have been very frustrated. In fact, to be fair, you almost have to subtract the “story time” in the sermons of great preachers like him and time the sermon only by the remainder of the content. If you do that (and I’m exaggerating) some of the “great” preachers of the past only preached 5 minute sermons (the other 55 minutes were great stories).

How I arrived at Open Theism

I arrived at Open Theism via the back door. I had never heard the term and had never heard the concept expressed. However, I was struggling in understanding how free will and God already knowing everything that was going to happen could possibly co-exist.

My first conclusion was to embrace paradox. That is, I concluded that God somehow blinded himself to the choices he already knew people were going to make and dealt with people accordingly. As you can imagine, that was not a very satisfying conclusion.

Meanwhile, I wrestled with the whole purpose of prayer. Was I just praying what God already knew I was was going to pray, in fact, what he intended me to pray since the creation of the world? Or, was I actually dealing with God? Did Abraham really intercede for the wicked cities, or did God orchestrate the whole thing?

Finally, I struggled with what appears to be a “learning God,” especially in the book of Genesis. God’s statement to Abraham that “now I know” was a real challenge to me. On one hand, I believed that he already knew everything, but I found several examples in Genesis of God learning something. I felt I was somehow being disrespectful of God to wonder if he could not know something at one point and then know it later on.

My conclusion to all this was pretty much kept to myself because I feared I had drifted from orthodoxy in concluding that God learns and adjusts how he deals with humanity based on what people do.

When I started hearing about Open Theism I realized that there was an approach to understanding God that allowed me to plug all this stuff in.

I don’t think any of this makes me a better Christian than I would be otherwise, but it does give me a handle on some of the more perplexing aspects of how God works in this world and in our lives.

Bring real in prayer

This from Andrew Murray’s “With Christ in the school of prayer.”

My prayer is not answered by God as a result of what I try to be when praying, but because of what I am when I’m not praying.

Seeking God more than his blessing

This from Andrew Murray’s “With Christ in the school of prayer.”

We seek God’s gifts, but God wants to give us Himself first. We think of prayer as the means of extracting good gifts from heaven, and we think of Christ as the means to draw ourselves up to God. We want to stand at the door and cry. Christ wants us to enter in and realize that we are friends and children.

It takes a thick skin to be a preacher

Some time ago I preached a Sunday morning sermon that seemed to be especially well received. I found out later, and second handed, that one lady went out and did some things in direct response to that sermon. Stuff like that is what keeps preachers going.

Recently, I experienced the other side of that coin. I had a sermon I really felt good about – and in all the right ways. I had sensed the leadership of the Lord as I prepared it. In fact, as do all a preachers best sermons, it had already ministered to me as I prepared it in my study through the week.

Many years ago the Lord taught me the valuable lesson of never preaching “at” anyone. Since I almost always preach expository sermons through books of the Bible, I just preach my way through books trying my best to honestly deal with the passage before me without any agenda concerning anyone.

Still, it isn’t unusual for me to identify people who I think a point will especially help. The very opposite of aiming a statement “at” someone is to be aware that a point is especially suited to help someone. An example from early in my ministry: a young lady asked me exactly why it was that Jesus had to die to be our Savior. As I prepared my sermon for that next Sunday, which happened to be Easter, her question came to mind. That Sunday, I didn’t preach “at” her but I preached with her question in mind.

Recently, as I prepared to preach the next sermon in a series, the passage spoke to my heart and I thought to myself, “I know some folks who will be especially helped by this sermon.”

Sunday morning came and I noted more empty seats than usual. Some were out of town, some were actually in the church building but for one reason or another didn’t make it into the sanctuary, others were, well, I don’t know where they were.

There’s almost no way a preacher can express disappointment about stuff like this without coming off sounding vain or petty. If the preacher does say anything, it is almost sure to be taken the wrong way.

So, what does the preacher do? All I know to do is grin and bear it, even as I grin and bear people telling me I only work an hour a week or that the special speaker the church had a few weeks ago “really knows how to preach” (yeah, I get my place in the comparison).

When you pour your heart into a sermon, giving it all you have, and when you know in all the right ways that some of your folks will truly be helped by it, and when those same folks decide to skip church for some reason…well, that’s when it takes a thick skin to be a preacher.

Book Review: Lamb Among the Stars Series by Chris Walley

The Lamb Among the Stars is a three book Christian sci-fi series that takes place in the distant future.

For ten thousand years the human race has expanded and lived in peace. It started with a great revival that ushered in a golden age of Christianity, and the symbolic millennium has proven to be at least 10 times longer than a mere thousand years.

On the most distant human planet Farholme, though, subtle changes are taking place. Even though it is known from history how evil influences people, they are ill prepared for a spiritual shadow that has fallen over them.

Book 1, Shadow and Night tells this story.

In Book 2, The Dark Foundations the storm clouds gather as both physical and spiritual enemies prepare an attack on the isolated Farholme. Not only are there physical battles to be fought, there are spiritual conflicts as well. The unseen is revealed as battles rage.

The final book of the series is The Infinite Day. The battle of the ages is drawing near and there is failure from unexpected sources. Humanity hangs in the balance.

Lamb among the Stars series

Edit to add: As Chris Walley pointed out to me, I neglected to include one important thing: my recommendation! I give this series two thumbs up.