Tag Archives: spirituality

The Shack: A Story On Suffering and Hope

Last Friday evening I watched the film The Shack directed by Stuart Hazeldine. This film is based on the 2007 novel of the same title by William P. Young. Having read the book, I wanted to see the film too. Like most film adaptations of a book, the movie loses some of the dialogue. Nevertheless, it’s still a good movie to watch.

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In fact, here is the little response I posted on Facebook after watching the movie:

“I just returned from watching #TheShack at the theater. Though the movie, and the novel of the same title it’s based on, is fictional, it tells a wonderful story and powerful truth about God and life, love and forgiveness, faith and hope. Having buried my oldest son, Kenny, nearly fifteen years ago, there is so much I resonate with. From the question of suffering to the hurt and anger that ultimately inflicts more harm on one’s soul to the conflict and encounter with God, I resonate. The thought I had when the movie was over was a reminder that though I have sinned in life, made many mistakes, and often judged both God and people when that is not my business, God still loves me, is at work for the good in my life, and how much I just want to love others and be a part of that Good which God is bringing about in Jesus Christ.”

As you can tell, I resonate with so much of the drama because of the tragic loss of my own son. However, that doesn’t mean I abandoned my theology hat when I watch the film. So from a pastoral-theological standpoint, I also liked the movie.

Of course, some are quite critical of the movie. Some of those critics are Christians who are concerned about the doctrine and theology of the film, like this review by Al Mohler (or for a much more balanced critique, see the review by Focus on the Family). But this really misses the point of the film in my opinion.

First, sometimes it seems like some Christians almost go looking for something to disagree with. In that’s our objective, we’ll find that something in almost everything we do. It’s even more frustrating when a minor issue is made into a bigger issue than it really is. Are their some elements of the dialogue in this film that I question from a theological standpoint? Of course, there is but I didn’t watch the film to get bogged down in little particular details and miss the major point of the film.

The beauty of this film is its journey into the world of suffering where there is brokenness and deep pain along with doubt and uncertainty that evokes a crisis of faith for anyone unfortunate enough to be on this journey. I have and still an on this journey, though I have learned how to walk along this way. This film is about the healing that everyone suffering needs. This is a healing that comes knowing that God still loves them, that the grace of God is still for them, and that they can trust in God again even though they don’t always understand.

And I’m telling you, as one who has suffered, there are people you meet every day who are dying from the inside out. Maybe they’ve buried a child, been through a divorce, been sexually abused, are drowning in drugs and alcohol… they’re the broken and what they need is not a lesson in the fine particulars of Trinitarian theology but a reminder that God the Father, Son, and Spirit love them and long to redeem them. That’s what The Shack reminds us of. So don’t get lost in the details and miss the big story, for if you can hear the big story then you just might be better equipped at helping someone who is dying on the inside find life again.

Lastly, I don’t normally recommend books I haven’t read but since I know this author and trust his judgment, I’ll recommend his book as a companion read. John Mark Hicks, Meeting God at The Shack: A Journey Into Spiritual Recovery, 2017. Besides being an apt theologian, Hicks has traveled on the road of suffering and so I believe you’ll bennefit from his perspective.

Happy New Year!

You may not realize it but Sunday will mark the beginning of the new year. So… Happy New Year!

According to the Christian calendar and in keeping with our historical Christian tradition, this Sunday is the beginning of the new year. And not only the new year but it’s the first Sunday of Advent, where we become mindful of the coming of God.

The reason this may be unfamiliar is that some groups of Christians have paid little attention to Christian history with its tradition, including the Christian calendar. If that’s the case, where does that leave us? Without the Christian calendar, the only calendar telling us the seasons and dates is the secular Western calendar which our lives are oriented around more than we realize. In terms of Christian or gospel formation, without the Christian calendar we are formed only by secularism as it pertains to how we live in response to the seasons of the year.

The late Charles Taylor described Western society as so enmeshed in secularism that a transcendent reality can only be seen like rays of light peeking through a cloud. Perhaps then it’s of little surprise that people, Christians included, have become so oriented around consumerism, nationalism/tribalism, and technology. All the more reason why we must give more attention to the Christian Calendar and to the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, and Ordinary Time or what some refer to as Kingdom Time.

Does this mean that our secular calendars are all bad or without value? Of course not! There are days on the secular calendar worth remember, like Thanksgiving which we will celebrate tomorrow. However, giving our attention to the Christian Calendar allows God to form our imaginations and worldview even more so around the gospel story as told throughout the biblical narrative. One way of doing this is reading the scripture readings that are listed in the Revised Common Lectionary for every week of the Christian Calendar.

So I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. More importantly though, Happy New Year! Advent is upon us, so let us turn our attention to the coming of God. For our God, who became flesh and dwelt among us in the person of Jesus, will one day come again and make all things new!

Violence: The Issue We Must Face

As details of the terrific shooting in Newtown, Connecticut began to surface on the news last Friday, I began to feel angry.  While I was and still am deeply saddened and grieved for everything that has happened, I’m also angry.

I’m angry at the assailant for killing all of these people.  However, I’m also angry at society for the problem of violence we all own together.  It’s not just the mass shootings and other acts of murder that happen every day.  Violence is all around us and in many ways it’s glorified and even justified when we convince ourselves that it serves a noble end.  Even in the holiday season when we are to be of good will and cheer, it has become routine to hear of people getting trampled and assaulted during a Christmas “Black Friday” shopping frenzy (that now begins on Thanksgiving).

So I’m angry because violence has in many ways become our way of life.  What I want to know is why are we so violent?  Yet this seems to be a question that people want to evade.  When mass shootings happen the conversation quickly turns political as some people begin talking about the need for more gun control in America, as though stricter gun laws will curb the violence.  Those opposed to more gun-control measure seem to respond by suggesting that a few more well-armed citizens would prevent such murderous rampages from happening.  But neither sides gets it: the problem of violence is neither the lack of gun control nor the lack of well-armed citizens!  So while the question of more regulations on the use and ownership of guns or on the establishment of more armed security officers in public schools may be necessary, it is a question that evades the bigger and deeper issue.

Why Are We So Violent?

So let me explain a bit more.  When I was in college I worked for a addiction treatment facility that served teenage boys and one of the underlying beliefs of the treatment center was that drugs and alcohol were not the problem, they were a symptom of the problem.  So get to the real issue and address that problem.  That makes sense and I believe it makes sense with violence as well.  Violence is only the surface problem which is, in fact, just symptomatic of the bigger and deeper issue.  This larger issue is neither social, psychological, nor political, though it impacts everyone of those arenas.  The underlying issue that is at the heart of our violence is a spiritual issue.

I don’t believe it is coincidental that after the first recorded sin of Adam and Eve, the very next story we read of in the Bible is the story of Cain killing his brother Able.  There is something about sin that allows us to justify all sorts of actions, including even killing our brothers (and sisters).  You and I may never personally fire a gun and kill someone but that something that drives some to kill is also what drives others, like ourselves, to commit other unjust and unrighteous or immoral and unethical deeds… sin.

The something I am speaking about is what the Bible calls sin.  When the rule of God is denied, which is exactly what Adam and Eve did, we become self-serving.  That self-serving philosophy is as nearly as old as humanity and it is why people, either as individuals or as nations and tribes, will trample upon others and even kill if necessary.  Until we deal with this self-serving spiritual-sin issue that is championed in America by our values of consumerism and American individualism (or the American dream), we will continue to plunge into an abyss of moral depravity that is expressed in violence as well as many other terrific and unfortunate maladies – including the suffering of innocent people.

It’s A Spiritual-Sin Issue!

As an unapologetic believer in Jesus Christ, I believe Jesus is our only hope from this problem we face.  However, I don’t believe Jesus comes to save us only from the consequence of sin (death).  I believe Jesus also comes to save us from sin itself by teaching us how to live a selfless life in which we love God and neighbor as humble servants of good deeds.  Maybe it is time we give Jesus another hearing…and that includes us Christians too, who also seem more and more apprehensive about actually following Jesus as a way of life.

Come, Lord Jesus!  We need you more than ever!

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Here is the message I shared before the Columbia Church of Christ on Sunday, December 16th titled “Get Serious About Jesus” and from Hebrews 3:1-6.  It really speaks to why Jesus has come (Advent) in light of the tragedy in Connecticut and the larger spiritual problem of violence that grips our society.  It is 20 minutes in length if you would like to listen.

https://kingdomseeking.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/hebrews-3_1-6-_get-serious-about-jesus_.mp3