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Concerning The Shack

By the time I read William Paul Young’s The Shack nearly a decade ago, criticisms had been voiced concerning the content of the novel.  At the same time, some Christians were saying that they loved the book and that everyone should read it.  I was curious.  While I don’t read many novels, I added it to my summer reading list.

As I headed out onto my deck with The Shack, I picked up a notepad and pencil so I could jot down inaccurate representations of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ if I noticed any.  The tale Young told drew me in and I kept turning pages despite the emotional difficulty of the tragic story.  Nearly half of the book sets up the protagonist’s encounter with God.  I was 101 pages in when some statements made by the character representing God started sounding unusual to me.  I suspect, though, that had I not been intentionally attentive to the theology of the book (there is some), I might have read past some Biblical inaccuracy and taken it for creative writing.

The female representation of father God had already been revealed, so I put that aside and continued to document dialogue between Mack and the members of the Trinity that seemed to contradict God’s revelation of himself in the Bible. By page 184, I had noted thirteen suspicious statements.  The most troubling to me related to authority (not God’s intent), God’s punishment of sin (not necessary), and the way(s) to salvation. And then there was the strangeness of Mack’s encounter with the Holy Spirit character, another woman who teaches him about fractals (?) and, if I remember correctly, introduces him to Sophia, a personification of God’s wisdom.

I’m taking some time to think and write about The Shack because a movie version will release later this week.  People are picking up the book again and, I fear, are embracing an attractive, but deceptive picture and description of God and His ways. I checked out what the folks at Got Questions had to say about The Shack. I appreciate the respectful way inquirers’ questions are addressed and the biblical references that are provided with each statement made.  In this case, Young is commended for his good intentions in writing about the love of God, however his confused theology is refuted by Scripture.  I hope you’ll read this Got Questions article if you’re planning to see the movie.

I then dug a little further into what has been said about The Shack and who has been saying it.  I found interesting information on the Lighthouse Trails Research website which links “fractal theory” to New Age teaching.  The researcher describes Young’s writing as “New Age thought and Eastern Mysticism interspersed with some Christian terms”.

My husband read the novel and, as I did to some degree at the time, dismissed it as fiction.  Got Questions makes a good point though, saying, “if you’re going to have God as a character in your fiction, then you must deal with God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture.  By using the Trinity as characters, The Shack is clearly indicating that it’s talking about the God of Christianity.”  Reviewer Tim Challies stated, “Despite the great amount of poor theology, my greatest concern is probably this one:  the book has a quietly subversive quality to it.  Young seems set on undermining orthodox Christianity.”

Our challenge as believers in Jesus Christ is to know what the Bible reveals as truth and to keep alert to the subtle lies that have sought to undermine God’s word since Eve was deceived in the Garden of Eden.  It’s not an easy task, but truth is worth pursuing and defending.  I can only recommend one book that everyone should read – the Bible.

 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,  and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  Ephesians 6:13-17

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Out With the Old?

I don’t like to throw things away.  At Christmas, we received a new Coffeemaker and an Electric Skillet.  While the old ones look old and barely work, I didn’t feel right pitching them in the garbage. So with two items that someone else might squeeze some use out of, I began planning this year’s garage sale!  Over the years, my husband has been amazed to watch people purchase and carry off what he would have thrown away.  And the end of each sale, he helps me discard or donate the left-overs rather than store them for the next time.  I appreciate that help.

Preparing for a garage sale entails countless hours of work and innumerable decisions about what to keep, sell, donate, recycle or throw away.  It means revisiting possessions that I held onto before and determining whether this is the time for them to go.  Clothes are easy to deal with. If I don’t wear them and they’re not stained or worn through, they get donated.  A few get kept even though I don’t wear them – a formal dress that I made for a fancy event, shirts with original designs by son Kyle, and a couple of pep band shirts from high school and alumni band days  (it may be time for them to go).

When we run out of hangers, it’s time to purge!

Books are hard to part with, but new ones are coming in, so some have to go the sale box.  I will scrounge up a few more kitchen items to accompany the outgoing skillet and coffeemaker.  One day I’ll feel motivated to work through my “craft closet” again to throw away a few things, designate some to the sale, and reorganize the rest.  (The “craft closet” has been a prerequisite of every house we have purchased.)

Closets and drawers might hold a few treasures that will catch someone’s eye.  Will I really ever exercise on that Denise Austin foam step again?  Is it worth keeping sofa pillows that I’ve already replaced?  What about music CDs, cookbooks, and jewelry?  An upcoming garage sale inspires a pretty major purge that I feel is necessary when one lives in the same house for more than a decade.

In 2015, during the season of Lent, I came across 40 Bags in 40 Days on Facebook.  40 Bags is a challenge to declutter one area of your house each day until Easter and to bag or box up items to be removed from your home to the curb, to someone else who can use them, or to a garage sale.  I enjoyed my first 40 Days journey and used it to work through not only my stuff, but many of our sons’ possessions that have remained in our house.  Sifting through the memory-laden projects, toys, and memorabilia begins a sentimental journey that rivals last week’s peek into Eric’s baby book (See Three Good Men – Part 3).  It seems more difficult for me to part with 4-H projects and works of art than it is for them to do so.

One box of treasures leads to another, and I may even find myself looking through my own keepsakes from school, our wedding, and my days as Sunday School director.  I won’t find any garage sale items of course, but there may be some papers or seashells that can go into a recycling or garbage bag.  It wasn’t that long ago that I disposed of the unopened can of Tab that we brought back from our Mexican Honeymoon in 1984!

This year, I’m doing a more casual 40 Bags type clean out – not charting every accomplishment, but seeking to part with Christmas decorations, extra towels –  whatever is taking up space and unlikely to be used.  Not even my old crocheted projects are safe.  Eric and Kyle don’t need to worry about the penguin and giraffe pillows that I made for them when they were kids. But yesterday I became aware that a favorite organization, Warm Up America (more on them another day) is collecting handmade afghans for kids in Eastern Kentucky who will soon be receiving newly built beds.  With no time to crochet one by the deadline and my heart aching for kids in Appalachia that sleep on cold, hard floors, I prayed.  Jesus, the lover of children, reminded me that stashed in closets and under our beds were four of my crocheted blankets.  Certainly I could part with one of them and take this opportunity to bless a child.  The Red, White, and Blue afghan was stitched twenty five years ago during Operation Desert Storm, but had only been displayed – perfect.  Before I could change my mind, I washed and dried it, put it in a box, and shipped it off to Warm Up America.

It still looks new!

Now lets see…what’s next?

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THREE GOOD MEN – PART 3

On February 17, 1986, my husband and I found out whether our first child was Michelle or Eric.  That morning, our 8 lb. 9 oz., 21 1/2 inch Bundle of Boy took his first breath.  They tell new moms to rest and sleep during the hospital stay, but who could sleep when the most amazing thing ever had just occurred?!  My mind kept replaying the entire event during those first nights.  When Eric was born, my first words were, “He’s so big!”  Today I dug out his baby book to find his first word – duck.

Opening that book began a sentimental journey that was surprisingly eye-opening. The many little stories, facts, and quotations from Eric’s earliest years hinted at the personality, interests and talents which resulted in the Good Man he is today.

  • By age three, Eric was using words like “particular” and “actually” correctly and impressing the oral hygienist by being so “articulate”.  He went on to deliver the commencement speech at both his high school and college graduations.
  • At 22 months, Eric was learning and singing songs, and by age three he was determined to be a drummer.  He completed his college degree in Percussion Performance and has been leading worship in churches and teaching music in camps since his teen years.

  • Speaking of leading, my notes in Baby’s Milestones indicate that Eric was a born leader.  In play, it seems that he like to make the rules and expected the other kids to follow them.  The world needs Good Men with God-given leadership skills to be great husbands, fathers, employees, employers, etc.
  • When we took our toddler out, he exhibited keen interest in other people.  During his first trip to the zoo, he gave some notice to the elephants and giraffes, but mostly watched people.  To this day, I am impressed with how much interest Eric has in what is going on in the world.  He has concern, like many in his generation, for the well-being of those who are oppressed and keeps a close watch on goings-on in the news.
  • My accounts of Eric’s early Christmas celebrations reminded me that by age three he was curious about Jesus.  Nativity sets at churches or in yards fascinated him.  He loved singing Christmas songs and now plans and leads Christmas Eve services, along with weekly worship music.  I also made note of the fact that at age four, Eric was in Sunday School and wanted to go every week so he  could earn an attendance pin.  As he grew older, his interest in church only intensified, and we began having what we call our “deep theological discussions”. He has been dedicated to studying the Bible for many years. As Eric celebrates his 31st birthday, he is in his first year of seminary studies with the goal of becoming a pastor.    Our discussions are getting deeper and I learn something every time.

I am proud of  my son.  I know that many people, events, and trials have shaped him and that God has been working out His plan for Eric from before his birth.  When adversity has come, I have admired how he came through it with deeper faith, maturity, and compassion.  I appreciate his viewpoints and advice, and look forward to what these next years will bring. And I celebrate with him as he anticipates his marriage to sweet Amanda.

So there you have it!  Three Good Men – Part 1, Three Good Men – Part 2, and Three Good Men – Part 3.  All of them are men of integrity who love God and fill my life with joy.

“But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom,and continues to do this,

not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does.”  James 1:25

 

 

 

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Train Them Up

My ambition in 1978 was to become an elementary teacher.  At age 17, I headed off to Bowling Green State University as an education major.  While I never lost respect for the profession, after four quarters and some life changes, I decided to pursue a different degree.  As someone who has tremendous admiration for professional teachers and a deep desire to see children well-educated, I am finding current public concern about our public schools interesting enough to collect a few thoughts on the topic.

This week I have learned of the confirmation of the new education secretary for the United States, seen Facebook comments ranging from celebration to despair, and also been reading Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance.  Vance, an Ohioan in his early 30s, explains in great detail the serious disadvantages of his life and what it took to overcome them and succeed. I highly recommend this book.  It is giving me insight into the lives of people who live around me and reinforcing some of my deepest held beliefs.

I am a product of public education.  My husband was educated in Catholic and public schools.  Our two sons attended and graduated from public schools with honors.  We all went on to finish college, and our oldest has made a good start toward his master’s degree.  I believe there are several factors that account for these accomplishments.  I hope to present them with humility.

  • All four of us were raised by hardworking fathers and mothers who saw raising their kids and being a home maker as their honor. Being available during school hours enabled me to volunteer in our sons’ schools, pick them up after school, prepare dinner, and have time and energy to help with homework or read together in the evening.
  • We were involved in church.  Speaking for myself and, I believe, for Eric and Kyle, our involvement in Sunday School, youth groups, and church service  was as integral in our education as was our schooling.  Dave’s Catholic upbringing laid a solid foundation of integrity and strong family values.
  • Good personal choices in life regarding time management, earning and spending money, and health kept us on track.   While I don’t deny that each of us has a good measure of God-given ability, I wholeheartedly agree with author J.D. Vance that effort leads to success.  In Hillbilly Elegy, he explains that the feeling that our choices don’t matter needs to be overcome.

Vance also discusses his mixed opinions about whether students should be provided with government vouchers that enable them to attend private schools, escaping failing public schools,  or whether the money should be poured into the public schools to improve their effectiveness.  In truth, no amount of funding or teaching expertise can overcome the sad and sometimes dangerous home life that many students endure. Without encouragement, discipline, and security in the family, the kids face an uphill battle.

My heart aches for broken and struggling families.  I’d love to see all of our communities and students thriving.  There’s not an easy fix, but here are 10 ways in which we members of the public can help:

  1. Vote for your local school levies.
  2. Take an interest in your local school board and vote for people you believe will serve well.
  3. Support and show appreciation for your child’s teachers.
  4. Show up for parent/teachers conferences.
  5. Be committed to your child’s well being, seeing that they get enough sleep, good nutrition, and time with you.
  6. Make reading at home a priority.  Read to them.  Listen to them read.  Perhaps, like Dr. Ben Carson’s mother, you should limit TV viewing and require your kids to read two books a week and write a report on each.
  7. Volunteer at a school.  See if your Ohio elementary school has a Project MORE program in which volunteers spend one-on-one time reading with kids who are struggling. Help out with field trips or parties.  Attend your child’s evening programs and sporting events.  Ask what you can do!   (My own part is making weekly visits to two 1st grade classes to share lessons from Winners Walk Tall about responsibility, respect, honesty, etc.  The Winners Walk Tall program was developed by a grandfather in Cincinnati to help keep kids out of gangs.)
  8. Support or start programs such as our church’s Bountiful Backpacks ministry that provides weekend food for needy kids.
  9. Donate books to your school’s library.
  10. Pray for teachers and administrators.

All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.  Proverbs 14:23

 

 

 

 

 

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