Wednesday, April 30, 2008

"The Shack" - Part One of a Review

Let me begin by asking you a question: What would you do if you were invited to spend a weekend with God? This is not a question we are often asked. I don't know how you would answer it, but even in thinking about it as I write this blog, I struggle with my own answer. In his powerful best-selling novel, William P. Young - he likes to be called Paul - describes how Mack Mackenzie had such an experience. The book is titled, "The Shack" (published in 2007 by Windblown Media in Los Angeles, CA).

This book has had some rave reviews. Eugene Peterson - the author of "The Message" - wrote, This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress" did for his. It's that good!" Michael W. Smith, one of today's leading Christian recording artists, stated, "The Shack" is the most absorbing work of fiction I've read in many years. My wife and I laughed, cried, and repented of our own lack of faith along the way. "The Shack" will leave you craving for the presence of God."

Is this book as great a piece of literature as "Pilgrim's Progress?" Remember, that book is the most translated book in the world, second only to the Bible itself. And, that book is nearly 400 years old. Is "The Shack" in the same league as "Pilgrim's Progress?" Absolutely not! Nor can it be compared to the fictional writings of C. S. Lewis or J. R. R. Tolkein. But I found it to be a book worth reading, and over the next several weeks I want to share an extended review of the book for your own consideration.

I want to begin with some background information from the author. The main story line of "The Shack" focuses upon Mack MacKenzie whose youngest daughter was kidnapped and murdered while on a family camping trip in the mountains of Oregon. Mack is filled with anger at the one who perpetrated the crime, at himself for not being there to protect Missy, and at God for allowing it to happen. In many ways, Mack's attitude is reflective of our own. How many times do we cry out in our pain pleading with God for some type of explanation of why things happened as they did. I sadly confess that I have done this on more than one occasion. Like the prophet Habakkuk of old, I want to blame God for the problems.

The author, Paul Young, in an interview found at, shared that through a six-month period his 18 year old brother was killed, his mother-in-law suddenly died of a massive coronary at age 59, and his 5 year old niece was killed the day after her 5th birthday. Originally the story was written for his own children to help them through this time of increased grief.

The book focuses upon suffering, not unlike what we find in the story of Job. However, unlike Job, Mack Mackenzie does engage God in a conversation about why Missy's life was taken so tragically. Along the way he learns much about himself, about repentance and forgiveness, and about God.

In the interview, the author is asked if he considered this to be an "emerging church" book? He answered the question with a resounding "no!" He had no agenda for writing this book other than for his own six children.

Here are some questions to reflect upon before our next time together. Given the knowledge now of the background of the writing of this book, and given the premise that God could and would invite us to spend a weekend with Him, what would you want to share with God? What do you think God would share with you? Those questions will guide our thoughts the next time we meet at "The Shack."

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Middle East - Two Recent Visits of Importance

The Middle East continues to be a fascinating corner of the globe. The clash of cultures, ideologies, and religions continues unabated. The alignment of powers grows. Yet overshadowing all of the clashes and alignments is the hand of a sovereign God.

Two events in the past couple of weeks demand our attention. First, on April 17 Russian President Vladimir Putin made an historic visit to Libya and its radical leader Moamer Kadhafi. The announced purpose of the visit was to create a strategic alliance between the two nations and to negotiate a $2.5 billion arms sale to Libya. Now a person familiar with prophetic scripture immediately recognizes a relationship with Ezekiel 38. There, in verse 5, we read: Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya with them; all of them with shield and helmet (KJV). The "them" in verse 5 is Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal (verse 3). Historically Meshech and Tubal have been interpreted as Russia and her satellite nations. So, in the 6th century BC, the prophet Ezekiel is describing some type of last days alliance between Russia, Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya. We already have witnessed the relationship between Russia's Putin and Persia's (Iran's) Ahmadinejad. Now there is an alliance between Russia and Libya. What I found interesting was that this visit garnered no attention from Western media sources. I believe the Russian bear is beginning to stir from its hibernation of the past 20 years. Putin has a plan. But so does God. And after reading Ezekiel 38 and 39, I know whose plan succeeds.

The second event was the visit to the Middle East by former President Jimmy Carter. What attracted so much attention was the meeting of Carter with the exiled leader of Hamas Khaled Mash'al in Damascus. Carter had been warned by the American and Israeli governments not to meet with the acknowledged leader of this terrorist organization. But Carter ignored those warnings. Afterwards, Carter announced that Hamas was ready to accept the reality of a state of Israel. Does this mean that Hamas has changed its charter? Does this mean that Hamas terror brigades, operating within Gaza, will cease firing rockets into neighboring Israeli towns like Sderot? Does this mean that Hamas terrorist groups will suddenly turn in all weapons to authorities? It is easier to believe that those of us living in Minnesota will experience a snowstorm in May than that those events will occur. Hamas's stated intent is the destruction of the State of Israel. They will not stop until the Palestinian flag flies over all Israeli territory.

These people may play verbal games with America. They know what words will sound correct in our hearing. However we must remember that "actions always speak louder than words." Thousands of Kassam rocket attacks later, I think it is safe to define what Hamas's intent is. It is sad that a former President has willingly been used to convey a false message.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Saturday at sunset marks the first day of the Jewish Passover celebration. This is one of the most joyous and most holy of Jewish celebrations. The Passover celebration lasts for a week, thus affording many Israelis an opportunity to travel, most to warmer climates. It is a time for celebration with family. It is a time to remember God's miraculous deliverance of ancient Israel from the bondage in Egypt. As Christians we see many images of Christ and His ultimate sacrifice within the Passover seder and celebration.

Passover was one of three so-called "pilgrimage feasts" described in the Old Testament as being a time when Jewish males would travel to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices on behalf of themselves and their families. Passover also marks the beginning of the Jewish religious calendar. You will remember that God told Moses that the 15th of Nisan would be the beginning of months to Israel. And, it was at Passover that Jesus was crucified, thus fulfilling the prophecy of John the Baptist who had declared, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." (John 1:29).

This year marks a significant Passover. I am not sure if you read or heard that on Sunday, April 6, a year-old male lamb was sacrificed upon an altar on the Mount of Olives. This was the first animal sacrifice since the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD by the Romans. The sacrifice was not a ritual sacrifice, that is, it had no truly religious benefit. However, it was a sacrifice in anticipation of a third Temple being built upon Mount Zion. We could rightfully say that this was a practice sacrifice. Dozens of young men are presently preparing themselves to become priests when that third Temple is built. And part of their preparation is to know how to offer a sacrifice in the proper manner. Thus this sacrificial exercise on April 6.

Friends, what I find interesting is the continued emphasis upon the part of the religiously orthodox Jews in looking for a Messiah to come in the very near future. This practice-sacrifice is just part of that emphasis and anticipation. Now, if they have those expectations, how much more excited should you and I be as we look for and long for the coming of Jesus Christ, our Savior and King?

As part of the Passover seder, a place is set for Elijah at each table. During the dinner, one of the members of the dinner party goes to the door in hopes that Elijah will come. So far, Elijah has not come. Perhaps, this will be the year that Elijah (Jesus Christ, I believe) will come. We can pray with enthusiasm, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus!"

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

To Whose Voice are You Listening?

Recently I visited a local Christian bookstore. I enjoyed browsing the shelves, noticing titles, and reading portions of those books that I might have a further interest in. I noticed a number of books that had either the word "deceive" or "deception" in the title. The authors of these various books were doing their best to warn Christians of the deceptive practices and teachings that are beginning to find a root within many local churches. Some of the common deceptive teachings include: there are more ways to God than just through Jesus Christ, so we need to stop being so narrow-minded; salvation is something that is obtainable through our own efforts; and truth is only what is valid for me, so I must stop proclaiming any sense of absolute truth for everyone.

This morning I was reading from a familiar passage in John 10 - you know, the passage about Jesus being the Good Shepherd. I was struck with a truth in verse 5 I had not focused upon before. The verse reads: But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize the stranger's voice. The verse immediately preceding this one states that followers of Christ know His voice and can follow Him.

In this age of deception, how does a person distinguish between the voice of Jesus Christ and the voices of those who claim to be Jesus - the ones Jesus describes as being the hirelings or thieves and robbers? It is easy to say that a person should listen for the references from the Bible; but many of the deceivers today also proclaim Scripture. So, how are we to know for sure? I believe the answer goes back to the Scriptures. Those teaching deception are very astute at "cutting and pasting" passages to fit their deceptive teachings. Our enemy also knows the Scriptures - remember he quoted Scripture to Jesus during the temptations in the wilderness.

The key is to have the attitude of the Bereans (Acts 17:11). It is time that we begin searching the Bible, not necessarily looking for proof-texts for our favorite doctrinal teaching, but diligently seeking out truth. And, I believe, as we begin to know God's truth then we will also know God's voice and will turn and flee away from those who would seek to lead us astray.

Friends, I strongly challenge you to begin your own study of the Word of God. Start digging more deeply uncovering nuggets of truth that will alert you to doctrinal errors. In this way you are truly hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

An Invitation into the Boat

One of the most familiar of stories of Jesus is of His walking upon the waters of the Sea of Galilee. It is recorded in Matthew 14:22-33, Mark 6:47-51, and John 6:16-21. The account in Matthew focuses primarily upon Peter's obedience in walking upon the water as well, then nearly drowning as he took his eyes off Jesus, focusing upon the waves.

But I want to share a truth from John's account that I had not seen before. It is found in verse 21: Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading. In order to grasp the significant truth of that verse we need to be reminded of the background. After the feeding of the 5,000 Jesus had left the disciples and went upon a mountain to pray. Many mountains or high hills dotted the landscape around the Sea. When evening came, the disciples got into a boat and set off to cross the Sea. Remember that some of the disciples were experienced fishermen and knew the Sea best during the nighttime hours. The waters became rougher as the men rowed into a strong wind. Mark's account states that they strained against the oars. It was tough going. Suddenly, in the distance, there appeared a figure of a man walking upon the waters of the sea. Terror overtook them, but Jesus quieted their hearts with these words, It is I; don't be afraid.

Then appears that telling statement from John: Then they were willing to take him into the boat. When we confront Jesus there are only two courses of action we can take. Either we can invite Him into our boats or we can continue struggling against the wind and the waves and let Him pass us by. Because of their fear the disciples could have kept Jesus outside the boat. Or because they did not understand how a person could walk on water, they could have let Him walk by. So often we are paralyzed by either our fears or our lack of understanding. But, they willingly allowed Jesus to climb into their boat.

The question God was asking me as I read this passage was: Have you willingly allowed me to enter the boat of your daily experience? I know Jesus is in my life. I recall inviting Him in when I was just a young boy. But, everyday, I need to invite Jesus to enter into my daily experiences. Yes, I need to willingly invite Him into my boat. It is only then that I can reach the shore safely.