The Shack–A Review and Reaction

As promised in my previous post, here is a review of the book I just finished reading. I was describing my reaction to someone the other day and used the words ‘simple, but profound’ in how I felt about the book. It was almost like God had opened blinders that had been over my eyes. Before I get any comments stating the obvious, let me tell you that I am aware it is a Christian fiction book. Fiction, as in not being true. I do understand this. I think though that the story itself is a picture of what God would like for our relationship to be with Him. He wants us to talk to Him, to talk to Him about everything. The good times. The bad times. The in-between times. In other words, talk to Him about our lives.

And to be honest, I think theology gets in the way of that. We talk about the benefits of accepting Christ when our lives here are over. John 3:16 is a good example. “For God so loved the world that he gave His only son; that whosoever believes shall not perish, but have everlasting life.

We talk about the rules we need to follow. The Ten Commandments and any other verse of Scripture that states what appears to be a rule are all good examples.

But, we don’t do a good job of modeling what a RELATIONSHIP with God should look like now. We don’t teach how we can talk to God and how we can listen for His still, small voice. We don’t form relationships ourselves with new believers so they can see what this looks like in our lives. ¬†We just clap them on the back and move on to the next person.

This isn’t what God wants. He wants us to be in community with each other and share life with each other–the good and the bad. I think Christians have problems with this for two reasons. One, they never learned what a relationship with God is supposed to be themselves, and the other, well, the concept of grace is something they never learned about either. Their relationship with God, and I use that word loosely, is full of rules, legalism, and distance with a hope they might get it right and might get to heaven.

Others reject God because of the bad things that have happened in their lives including the main character of this book. Yes, I bet you were wondering when I’d finally get to the review portion of this post. ūüôā ¬†Mackenzie Phillips (or Mack as he likes to be called) has suffered a tremendous loss which has affected his relationship with God. He states that his wife, from the onset, had a deeper relationship with Papa, as she calls God, than he did. So, when this tragedy happened , it makes sense that his relationship with God distanced.

When the book begins, it has been 3 1/2 years since the kidnapping and probable murder of his youngest daughter Missy, and something he calls The Great Sadness has settled over him and over his family. They were still functioning as a family, but I’m not sure it would really be called living, more of a state of grieving than anything else. Mack finds a note from Papa (aka God) in his mailbox inviting him to spend the following weekend at the shack. This throws him for a loop because the shack is where the evidence of Missy’s probable murder was found. He first thinks the note is somewhat of a joke and doesn’t think it is serious at all, but then decides he doesn’t like where he has been stuck and decides to go. I won’t give away the entire story, but let’s just say the meeting doesn’t go entirely as he expected, and his life completely changes because of what happens there. He learns what a relationship with God is supposed to look like, and it is unlike anything he had ever been taught, in church, in seminary, or anywhere for that matter.

I want that kind of relationship with God–an ease of talking and listening like I have with my good friends here. An acceptance of the grace Jesus has already given us and knowing that we are worth everything to Him; worth enough that He died for us on the cross, and that no matter, no matter what anyone else says, we are His sons and daughters for eternity.

Wishing that kind of relationship for all of us today!

Relationship, not Theology

Over the past four years, the journey of my restoration of faith has involved learning about the relationship God wants to have with me. There are many reasons I don’t feel worthy to have this relationship which I feel is a common occurrence in many people who come to faith. This is why we as Christians have such a hard time understanding the concepts of grace and unmerited favor and instead retreat into theology, judgment, and condemnation. Christians can judge in many ways and can feel quite righteous in doing so. If we have a way to see ourselves as better than someone else, we think, ‘Now¬†God will love us.’

It’s not that way at all though. God loves ALL of us no matter what we¬†wear, what our past has involved, or what we bring to the relationship. He loves us despite our wounds of which I have many. He loves us despite how broken we are.

It’s taken me a long time to realize this. When I was younger, theology was more important. Following all of the rules was more important. Showing others¬†I was a “great” Christian was more important. Inevitably though, when I failed at following the rules, I was condemned for not being a good enough Christian. I think that’s why I ended up leaving the church for as long as I did. I didn’t understand it was more about relationship than about theology. I didn’t understand the true meaning of community.

My understanding of all of it though has been turned upside down during the last four years. This is despite the fact that I’ve been through a few bouts of depression, a lot of insecurity and fear from my own background, and working through sadness and grief from my miscarriage four and a half years ago. Couple that with being there for other family members who were going through illnesses and unemployment, and I¬†had my hands full.

I was committed, however, to working through the process. Of learning I didn’t have to be afraid of God and could talk to Him with complete honesty. Of learning I could cry about whatever was going on, and He didn’t care. I always had companions when I was in the pit, and it was nice to feel that comfort for the first time in my life. I’ve learned to have freedom with my faith, to worship God with an abandon that I had never been able to do before.

The challenge though was taking what I learned and working it into the threads of this community that God wants us all to have. Because, you see, once I had learned that God wants a relationship with us first and foremost, that part became easy for me. Interacting with and being a part of a community was the hard part. Community is messy, and I had faced judgment and condemnation before which had caused me to leave the church. In fact, a lot of my background involves being judged or condemned. If I was to be honest, that would be my biggest fear.

But recently, through reading a particular book, ¬†I realized that was a fear I hadn’t given to God. I knew I wouldn’t be judged by Him. but I was afraid of being judged by others. I also knew through reading this book that God wanted to turn my life upside down and bring His relationship with me to a deeper level. The book was popular a few years ago, but the reason I hadn’t read it was because people made comments about its theology which made me think it was something I didn’t need to be reading. I now know those were thoughts I shouldn’t have listened to. I’m not done with the book yet, but I’m planning on reviewing it when I am. God is using it and the people in my life to deepen my relationship with Him and to know without a doubt that my faith involves a relationship with Him first and not following a set of rules.

May your lives be changed by a relationship with Him today!

Enduring Hope

Every summer, my church chooses a theme for Wednesday nights, and all of the speakers relate their stories to this theme. I’ve learned a lot about my faith and about my brothers and sisters every summer since being at this church. ¬†God does mean for us to learn from Scripture, but He also means for us to learn from each other.

So, this summer the theme is enduring hope, and I thought I would try, this morning, to speak to this topic. The first thing I did was to type the term into my You Version search engine to see if I could find some Scripture. I wasn’t optimistic about finding any kind of match because I had never seen these two words linked anywhere in Scripture. At least, I didn’t think I had.

God surprised me though. There were two verses that had both of those words written in them. The first was Romans 15:4.

“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”

The second was from I Thessalonians 1. Verse 3 says, “We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

I don’t know if either of these verses was referenced when deciding on the theme, but I liked finding these nuggets from God’s Word which have encouraged me this morning. These verses have taught me a lesson I think God needed me to hear. Our hope is not fleeting! That is what enduring hope means to me. Through each storm, through each trial, through each tribulation, through each tear, God’s hope is always with us. Always. Sometimes we don’t act like it. Sometimes we don’t feel it or even believe it because we think it is fleeting. Life can overwhelm us, and we take our minds off where they need to be. But, the enduring hope of God is not fleeting and is not a fairy tale. It is something that lasts. May that knowledge be revealed to you as a deep certainty this morning!

God’s blessings on all of you today!