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Christmas Comes Early

Last week I expressed my desire to fully enjoy November before plunging into Christmas festivities, while acknowledging that many are already partaking in decorating and seasonal music. Well…things have changed a bit. The beautiful fall leaves have been falling. Santa arrived at our mall (presumably so families can have photos taken for Christmas cards). And, I have attended a Christmas production complete with a performance of The Christmas Song.

Let me explain. While I was a senior at Upper Sandusky High School, my government teacher used a few class hours to show us the 1946 movie It’s A Wonderful Life starring Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey. Mr. Baker told us that while the movie didn’t have anything to do with government, it had everything to do with life. The heartwarming story made an emotional impact on me (and explained why older students had spoken of a swimming pool under the gym floor). It’s a Wonderful Life has remained my favorite movie through the decades.

As the second weekend of November approached, I noticed a promotion in our newspaper for a college production of Merry Christmas, George Bailey. My husband read the story of how the students were to present a live radio performance of the adaptation of It’s a Wonderful Life and agreed that it would be worth our time to see it. Was it ever! The young adults did an excellent job of voice acting the various characters and creating old fashioned sound effects with such things as a box of corn starch and a carousel of playing cards. Students took turns playing the piano, adding a live soundtrack. The program was a joy to watch and did justice to the movie that I’ve loved for so long.

Franciscan University is located in Steubenville, Ohio. Tickets are $4.

I won’t assume that everyone has seen It’s a Wonderful Life, or that you know where the movie originated (I didn’t). Movie director Frank Capra based the production on Philip Van Doren Stern’s short story, The Greatest Gift. The story and movie give us glimpses into the life of a man who dreams of accomplishing large things in glamorous places, but is consigned to remain in his hometown running his father’s Savings and Loan. The villain is a rich, selfish man who seeks to run the S&L out of business and own the town. At his lowest point, George Bailey (the dreamer) believes that he is worth more dead than alive and considers suicide. I’ll save a little something for those who haven’t seen the movie and just say that an angel* jumps into George’s life and works to convince him that life is the greatest gift, and that George’s humble life has been very successful. In fact, many lives had been saved or positively affected by George’s self-sacrificing actions. Cue the happy ending – and more Christmas music.

Christmas sneaked in a little early again last evening. As Dave and I watched our local news report, a story was told of Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes being given early to 250 kids who lost their homes and school two months ago during Hurricane Irma. The joyful sounds and smiles of the kids opening the boxes were amazing. You can see pictures here. And then the story got better. The boxes were packed and provided by a church in Texas where Hurricane Harvey had destroyed the pastor’s home. Noting that Pastor Mark Brumbelow and his wife are experiencing their own difficulty, the interviewer asked him about the ambitious Shoebox project. He told her that “You feel better when you help someone else.” He has discovered that it’s a wonderful life when you give.

Perhaps you have an opportunity this week to pack an OCC Shoebox. We did. I rounded up school supplies, hygiene items and books. My husband got involved by deflating a soccer ball and fitting it and a pump into each box. If you’d like to give a box, but can’t get out to shop, you can pack and pay for a box online.

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*Clarence (Angel Second Class) is an entertaining character in It’s a Wonderful Life who wears funny clothes because he’s behind the times, having died many years earlier. He accepts his assignment from Heaven to help George in his distress and succeeds in showing George the value of his life. I, for one, am grateful to God that He does send his angels as ministering spirits to believers in Jesus. (Hebrews 1:14) I remember thinking early in life that people become angels after they die and go to Heaven. However, the Bible makes it clear that angels are separate creations than humans. Luke 20:36 says that in some ways, we will be like the angels, but elsewhere we are taught that our bodies will be raised and glorified to be like the imperishable body of Jesus. You can read more about this at https://www.gotquestions.org/become-angels.html.

I’m even more grateful to God for His Son who dived into the sinful world as a baby to show us an incomprehensible love by dying in our place and reconciling us to our Father God. That truth makes my life worth living and secures the greatest gift, eternal life with God.

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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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