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When you’re “not getting fed” by the pastor’s sermons

BoringSermon

Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

A few days ago, an employee at the hospital where I work as a chaplain stopped me to complain about his pastor’s sermons. He said, “I’m thinking about leaving my church. I’m not getting fed.” It’s a common complaint about sermons, but what exactly does it mean? I decided to ask him. “What is he preaching?” I asked.
The man said, “He is going through the Gospel of Mark, one chapter each week, and he reads it and explains it.” Then he repeated his complaint, “I’m just not getting fed.”
I said, “Wait a minute! You just told me that he is preaching the Bible, and then you say you’re not getting fed? You have a responsibility to eat the food that is put in front of you!”
As I asked him more about the pastor’s sermons, it turned out that the real issue was that he thought the sermons were boring, because the pastor didn’t add illustrations or personal application. I encouraged him to talk to the pastor privately, thank him for preaching the Bible, and ask if the pastor could add some illustrations and application to help him understand it better. I urged him to conclude the private meeting by praying for his pastor.
When I told this story to my wife, she said that I should also have encouraged him to take notes on the sermon. Her advice reminded me of an episode in my own life. I visited a certain church when I was out of town, and I went to lunch, feeling that the sermon was boring. But as I prayed about it, God reminded me that the sermon was directly from the Bible. So I returned to the evening service with a pen and paper, and took notes on the evening message. It was amazing how much better the same pastor preached was when I came with a different attitude.

Not every preacher can be as eloquent as Charles Spurgeon, but I’d rather have a boring preacher who preaches the Bible than an interesting one who simply entertains. Jim Jones was an interesting preacher, but in 1979, he led 900 people to Guyana and they committed mass suicide following him.
So if you feel you aren’t getting fed by your pastor’s sermons, let me ask you a question: Is he preaching the Bible? If so, are you bringing a fork?

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Book review: “A House Put in Order”

HousePutInOrder

A House Put in Order, by J. Brian Broome, is an entertaining paranormal novel of a prison chaplain who must deal with the disaster in his prison just before Halloween, when a Wiccan inmate summons an evil spirit to get revenge on the deputy warden.
Although the book depicts a Christian chaplain responding to evil spirits, the book is not preachy. In fact, he is very respectful toward other religious faiths. That is not to say that he doesn’t include some enlightening insights, such as the comment in chapter 11, “When a man is beaten down by his pain, well, let’s just say pain doesn’t know religious affiliation.”
The author is a retired prison chaplain, and anybody who has spent time in the prison system will recognize how realistic his descriptions are. His characters are also realistic, and at times, humorous. (For example, in chapter 17, the chaplain reflects on an inmate who argued that since he was a new person in Christ, he should be set free from prison. The chaplain’s brilliant reply was to remind him that Jesus said to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s, and added, “Your soul may belong to God, but right now your body belongs to Caesar.”)
After setting up characters and building the plot early in the book, the plot picks up pace and rushes straight to a ending that will keep you reading. Some might say the plot is a bit predictable toward the end, or at least it goes the way the reader would hope, although not entirely; you will certainly want to keep reading to find out how it ends. This book would make a great summer read, and a fantastic read around Halloween.

Four key pieces to the Middle East puzzle

Map.MiddleEast

Copyright by Bob Rogers.

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, country singer Alan Jackson wrote a hit song, asking, “Where were you when the world stopped turnin’ that September day?” One line in that song expressed how little most Americans understand the Middle East:
I’m just a singer of simple songs
I’m not a real political man
I watch CNN, but I’m not sure I can tell you
The diff’rence in Iraq and Iran.”
So how does one piece together the puzzle of the Middle East? There are four important pieces to the puzzle that are key. Fit these four pieces in place, and you will get a good picture of why there is conflict in the Middle East:
1. Muslims are not all alike. Most Americans assume that all Muslims are the same. In fact, there are two major branches of Islam: Sunni and Shiite. They have different doctrines, and a long history of bitter conflict. On the Shiite side is Iran, southern Iraq, rebels in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Bashar al-Assad, dictator of Syria. On the Sunni side is most of the rest of the Muslim world, including northern and western Iraq, the government in Yemen, the Islamic State (ISIS), the majority of Syria, and such large nations as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey. You do the math.
2. Middle Easterners are not all Arabs. Most Americans assume all Middle Easterners are either Arabs or Jews. In fact, there are three other major ethnic groups in the Middle East that speak different languages and have different cultures: Turks, Kurds and Persians. Jews dominate Israel, and most of the southern part of the Middle East is Arab, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but as one goes north, there are other ethnicities. Turks are the majority in Turkey, but some 20% of Turkey are Kurds. Iran is primarily Persian. There are also ethnic groups like the Coptic Christians of Egypt, Druze in Lebanon, Assyrian Christians in Iraq, and Yazidis in Iraq (who are Kurds but not Muslim).
3. Many of their national boundaries were forced on the Middle East. Before World War I, the Ottoman Empire ruled a vast area that included what is now Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, and Saudi Arabia (even Egypt was subject to the Ottoman Empire). The Ottomans sided with Germany in WWI, and lost everything but Turkey after the war. Europeans, who didn’t understand the region, drew new national boundaries to create many of the nations we now have in that region, most notably splitting up the region inhabited by 25 million Kurds into parts of Iran, Turkey, Iraq and Syria. Thus the Kurds have been a mistreated minority in their own homeland. Kurds who fight for independence are considered freedom fighters by Kurds but considered terrorists by surrounding nations, especially Turkey. Watch the news, because the Kurds in northern Iraq (who already run their own affairs there) plan to vote for national independence in September 25, 2017, an independence that Iraq will not recognize but may be powerless to stop.
4. There are two sides to the story in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Before World War I, the population of Palestine was about 90% Arab. The Ottoman Empire turned over Palestine to British rule after WWI, and the British encouraged Jews, who had no homeland, to move to Palestine. Jews immigrated there in such massive numbers, buying up the best land, that by World War II, the Jews were nearly equal in number to Arabs. Palestinians deeply resented this, which they saw as an invasion of their homeland. After the Nazi holocaust of World War II, many more Jews fled to Palestine. Britain tried to divide the nation between the Palestinian Arabs and the Jews, but this just led to war, which the Jews won, establishing the state of Israel in 1948. Feeling disenfranchised, Palestinians have resorted to riots and terrorism ever since then.
This is only a simplified summary of the Middle East. There are many other pieces to the puzzle, and other complicating factors. But if you understand these four key pieces above, you will have a much clearer picture of the Middle East puzzle.

(Dr. Bob Rogers has a Th.D. in Church History, and has taught History of the Middle East at The Baptist College of Florida.)

The HCSB is now the CSB. What’s the difference?

 

In 2003, Holman Bible Publishers, which is owned by Lifeway Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, released a completely new translation of the Bible, called the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), which was used in all of LifeWay’s literature, including its Sunday school curriculum. The HCSB was nearly as readable as the popular New International Version (NIV), yet closer to the New American Standard Bible in accuracy. When Zondervan revised the NIV in 2011, making it more accurate in some ways but gender neutral in reference to mankind, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention publicly condemned the revision, and some pastors who were using the NIV, myself included, switched to the HCSB. Now the HCSB is no more.

In 2017, Holman released a radical revision of the HCSB, under the new name, the Christian Standard Bible (CSB). It is now the translation used in LifeWay literature instead of the HCSB. So what’s the difference? Basically, the CSB has become very similar to the English Standard Version (ESV), except that it is almost as gender-neutral as the NIV.

1. The CSB is more gender neutral.

Interestingly, the CSB follows the gender neutral trend of the NIV far more than the HCSB did. Even the HCSB had begun to use “people” instead of “men” in places where the text clearly refers to people in general, like Matthew 4:19 where it refers to Jesus teaching His disciples to “fish for men.” But the CSB goes much further. In Proverbs 27:17, the CSB says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens another.” (The HCSB has “men.”) One may argue that the context implies all people there, although men’s groups have often equated it to masculinity. A more significant change is the constant reference to the believers in the church in the New Testament letters as “brothers” in the HCSB. The CSB changes this to “brothers and sisters.” So we read in Romans 16:14, “Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brothers and sisters who are with them.” Again, the reasoning for this is that the apostle must have had in mind all members of the congregation, both male and female (although all of the Greek names in Romans 16:14 happen to be male).

To be fair, the CSB avoids the extremes examples of gender neutral language found in the NIV. The NIV goes so far as to translate the Hebrew ab, father, as “parent” in Malachi 4:6, and in Hebrews 12:7 it says “God is treating you as children,” although the Greek word is “sons.” The CSB does not goes this far; in both of these passages, the CSB uses the masculine word, and the CSB is consistent in always referring to God with the masculine pronoun (as is the NIV).

2. The CSB is more traditional.

The HCSB broke translation tradition in several ways, including the frequent, but inconsistent use of the literal “Yahweh” instead of the traditional “LORD” in all capital letters to translate the Hebrew name for God, Yahweh. The HCSB also translated the Greek christos as “Messiah,” since many people did not understand that Christ and Messiah are Greek and Hebrew words for the same title, Anointed One. In contrast, the CSB has returned to more traditional wording. The CSB uses “LORD” in the Old Testament for Yahweh and often uses “Christ,” for christos in the New Testament, although the CSB does use “Messiah” in some places where a declaration of faith is made about Jesus, such as John 11:27: “I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God…”

3. The CSB is more literal.

A good example of how the CSB is more literal than the HCSB would be Psalm 1:1, which the CSB translates literally: “How happy is the one who does not walk in the advice of the wicked or stand in the pathway of sinners or sit in the company of mockers.” The HCSB paraphrased the “walk, stand, sit” poetry of Psalm 1:1 this way: “How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers!” (Notice again, however, that the HCSB uses “man,” while the CSB uses the gender neutral “one.”)

4. The CSB no longer capitalizes pronouns referring to God.

A fourth major revision of the CSB is that it dropped the capitalization of pronouns referring to God. The HCSB showed reverence to God by capitalizing all pronouns that referred to God, as does the New American Standard Bible (NASB). The CSB does not (nor does the KJV or ESV). The CSB translators reasoned that it is not always clear in the context if the reference is to God. Thus we see the difference in  John 15:26, a passage which refers to all three persons of the Trinity. This verse is translated by the HCSB: “When the Counselor comes, the One I will send to you from the Father– the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father– He will testify about Me.” But John 15:26 is translated this way in the CSB: “When the Counselor comes, the one I will send to you from the Father– the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father– he will testify about me.”

No translation is perfect, as they are made by imperfect people, and language is constantly changing. I’m sure that the translators of the CSB are pleased with their new translation. Personally, with this radical revision, I see little difference now between the CSB and ESV, except for more gender neutral language in the CSB. For that reason, I hope that the HCSB will still be available for those who want something different. Each person will need to make his (or her) own choice, and never forget that the Author is God, not man (or humanity).

Why we can’t be disciples of Christ without the church

Fellowship

Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

Many people say that they believe in Jesus but don’t believe in the church. Yet I submit that it is impossible to be a disciple of Christ apart from the church. Why do I say that?

1. We can’t use our spiritual gifts without the church. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts to all believers, but it is always in the context of the church. It says in 1 Corinthians 12:7-12 that every believer is given a spiritual gift for the common good, because we are all part of the body of Christ.

2. We can’t show we are disciples without the church. Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). I may know I’m a disciple but I can’t show I’m a disciple if I sit at home alone and don’t show love for fellow believers.

3. We can’t experience God’s greatest presence without the church. Matthew 18:19-20 tells Christians to agree together in prayer, and where two or three are gathered that way, God is there.

4. We can’t take communion without the church. By definition, the Lord’s Supper is meal of Christians gathered together to remember the body and blood of Christ given for us upon the cross. In 1 Corinthians 11:17-26, the apostle Paul continually uses the phrase “come together” to describe observance of the Lord’s Supper. Since we cannot take communion without expressing unity with the church, it follows that refusal to express communion with the church is a refusal to express communion with Christ.

Christ died for the church. Christ is the builder of the church. Christ is the head of the church. Christ is the shepherd of the church. Christ is the groom for His bride, the church. Christ is coming again for the church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against His church!

Guest post: Does a pastor have soft hands?

BillHurt

Copyright 2017 by Bill Hurt

(Dr. Bill Hurt is the senior pastor of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, Columbus, Mississippi. When he posted the following thoughts on Facebook, I found them so profound that I asked his permission to share it as a guest blog post, and he graciously agreed.)

The other day I shook hands with an individual and they commented on the softness of mine. They went on to say: “I bet those hands have never seen a hard day’s work.”
In some ways that statement is true, and it got me thinking about these hands of mine. They’ve never overhauled an engine on a car. Never plowed a field. Never hoed a garden. Never worked on an assembly line.
There are a lot of hard working activities these hands have never done, but they have taken a lifeless baby from the arms of a broken mother. They have taken a gun out of the hand of a man about to end his life. They have taken a bottle from an individual who was drinking their life away. They have raised and lowered children and adults in the baptismal waters. They have written numerous sermons. They have joined couples in matrimony. They have built churches on foreign soil. They have held the hands of the dying. They have received strangers into the Kingdom. They have dedicated and blessed countless babies. They have wiped the tears from grieving parents, spouses, and children. They have shaken the hands of the upper, middle, and lower class of society. They have held the hands of those who have prayed to receive Christ. They have removed debris from the rubble of destroyed churches. They have welcomed the homeless and offered them a place to sleep. I’m no different from any other preacher out there. Our hands are used quite frequently to serve. The endurance and strength to do these things come from another set of hands which happen to be nail pierced. After all, we’re called to be his hands and feet. I guess these hands are soft, but they are forgiven and ready for service.
Godspeed.


			

8 ways to deal with difficult people

Copyright 2017 by Bob Rogers.

Your child is wronged by another child, and when you try to talk to her parents, they tell you off. A friend gets angry with you and refuses to talk to you. A fellow worker never shows you respect, always going over your head. How do you deal with difficult people? My grandfather loved to answer this dilemma with Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

This verse recognizes two important facts about dealing with difficult people: 1) we should live at peace with people, and 2) it’s not always possible. In fact, Romans 12 gives us four ways to deal with difficult people when peace is possible, and four ways to deal with them when peace is not possible.

When peace is possible

Romans 12:14-16 gives us some practical ways to live at peace with difficult people.

1. Be a blessing (v. 14)

Paul says, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” This statement, like several others here, refer back to Jesus’ word in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus told us, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

Paul must have remembered his own past with this statement, for many years before, Paul was the young Pharisee named Saul who held the coats of those who stoned to death the first Christian martyr, Stephen. Acts 7:60 records that as he died, Stephen said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

2. Be empathetic (v. 15)

In verse 15 he adds, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” This is more than sympathy; it is empathy. It is identifying with those who hurt.  This is a critical response to a difficult person, because when we can identify with them and understand why they act the way they do, then we will be much better at relating to them.

3. Be agreeable (v. 16a)

Verse 16 begins, “Live in harmony with one another.” Literally, the Greek means to “have the same mind toward one another.” We can disagree in substance and still be agreeable in spirit.

4. Be humble (v. 16b)

Sometimes the reason that the other person is so difficult to deal with us because the problem is within ourselves! Thus Paul reminds us, “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” As Proverbs 3:7 says, “Do not be wise in your own eyes.”

When peace is impossible

Paul said in verse 18 to live at peace “if it is possible” and if “it depends on you.” He was recognizing that there are times when it is impossible for us to bring about peace in our own power. So what do you do when there is no peace? What do you do when it’s out of your hands?

1. Do not seek personal revenge (v. 17a, 19a)

Although I have listed this under the category of “when peace is impossible,” it probably fits under both categories. This is a principle that goes both ways.

Verse 17 says, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil…” Verse 19 says, “Do not take revenge, my friends…” Jesus also taught the same thing in the Sermon on the Mount. He said, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also…If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (Matthew 5:39, 41). Jesus was not talking about social injustice; He was making reference to personal insults. As Proverbs 12:16 says, it is wise to ignore an insult.

2. Do what is right (v. 17b)

We do not need to let the meanness of another person drag us down to their level. Thus verse 17 continues, “Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.” We must decide that even when the other person refuses to do what is right, that we will do what is right. Even when we cannot keep the peace, we can keep our integrity.

3. Let God avenge (v. 19b)

Verse 19 begins by saying, “Do not take revenge” but the verse goes on to say, “leave room for God’s wrath.” That is, we do not take revenge for personal insults and injuries, but we do make room for God to work his vengeance, particularly against social injustice.

When the Hebrews fled across the Red Sea and Pharaoh chased them, God allowed the Egyptians to drown in the sea, and Exodus 15 records the song of rejoicing that Moses sang at their defeat. Proverbs 11:10 says that “when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy.” While it is a virtue to overlook a personal insult, it is not a virtue to overlook a social injustice. The former is gracious; the latter is gross negligence.

4. Overcome evil with good (v. 20-21)

Paul says, “’If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ [A quotation of Proverbs 25:21-22.] Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

We can read Romans 12:20-21 on two levels: On a personal level, “kill him with kindness.” If your enemy is hungry, feed him. Let his evil be in such contrast to your goodness, that evil will be conquered by good. You may change his heart. On a social level, God will bring about the vengeance, often by using the judicial system, law enforcement and the military to bring about justice. In this way, you are leaving room for God’s wrath.

To sum up, how do you deal with difficult people? If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with them. If possible, be a blessing, be empathetic, be agreeable, be humble. Respond to their personal insults with personal kindness. And if none of those things are possible, you may just need to walk away and let God deal with them.

How does God want you to deal with your difficult person?

What happens to those who never hear the gospel?

HinduWorship

Copyright 2017 by Bob Rogers

Many people wonder, “If a person lives in an unevangelized area and never hears the gospel of Jesus Christ, do they go to hell?”
On the one hand, John 14:6 says that Jesus is the only way to heaven, yet we know that millions of people have never heard about Jesus. It seems unfair for God to send them to hell, especially since 2 Peter 3:9 says that God does not desire that anybody perish, but desires all to come to repentance and faith in Christ.
Some Christians try to solve this dilemma by thinking that God just gives people a pass if they haven’t heard. But if that’s true, then they’re better off not hear the gospel at all, because once we tell them about Jesus, we doom them to hell if they refuse! But we know that can’t be right, because the Bible commands us to share the gospel with all people.

We find some answers in Acts 17. It says Paul preached to a group of people who had never heard the gospel before, and Paul says something that can help us understand this dilemma. He noticed that they had worshiped what they called an “Unknown God,” and then he told them what they call “unknown” he wants to make known to them: Jesus Christ. Then he says this:
“From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:26-27, 1984 NIV)
Notice three things in this passage that helps us understand the fate of those who have never heard the gospel:

I. God knows where we live (Acts 17:26)

People say it is unfair that God sends somebody to hell because they happened to be born in a land or culture where they don’t hear the gospel, but Paul says almost the direct opposite. He says in verse 26 that God determined the exact time and place where every human should live. Verse 27 even says that God did this so that men would seek Him!
Could it be that God put people who are less likely to seek Him in strongly evangelical areas, and He put people who are more likely to seek Him in non-Christian areas? I used to pastor in one of the most evangelized areas of the world, in Mississippi, where there is a church on every corner. But I can also tell you that many of the unchurched people that I met were some of the most hardened to the gospel and hardest to witness to that I had ever met. Yet when I went to an unevangelized area of Mexico and shared the gospel, hundreds of people responded.
So don’t think it is an unfair accident that some people live in areas where the gospel is rarely preached. God didn’t make some mistake. He knows exactly where He put every person, and God is revealing Himself. Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

II. God knows our hearts (Acts 17:27a)

Paul goes on to say in verse 27, “God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him…”
God knows our hearts. God knows who is going to seek Him.
In Romans 4, Paul discusses this with the illustration of Abraham. Abraham believed what God revealed to him. Jesus had not yet come, but Abraham had faith in everything He saw, and God accepted that faith as righteousness. Apparently God even revealed Jesus to Abraham, because in John 8:56 Jesus says, “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” Notice the words “he saw it.” Jesus was saying that somehow, God allowed Abraham to see and understand about Jesus.
Cornelius was another example. Acts 10 says Cornelius was a God-fearing Roman centurion. He had not heard the gospel, but he had heard about the God of Israel, and he sought the Lord, even giving generously to the synagogue and praying regularly. Acts 10:4 says an angel appeared to Cornelius and said, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.” Then God sent Peter to Cornelius to share Jesus with him, and when Cornelius heard about Jesus, he believed.
God knows our hearts. If people live in lands where the gospel is not preached, but they seek God, then God will respond to them. If they come to the light they are given, God will give them more light!

III. God is available to us (Acts 17:27b)

Finally, notice what Paul says in the end of verse 27: “He is not far from each one of us.”
God is available. He is not far away. He can be found.
Romans 1:20 says that God has revealed Himself through creation, so that all people are “without excuse.” Everybody has been given the revelation of God’s existence through creation. When we pay attention to the light that God gives us, then God gives more light. Deuteronomy 4:29, (HCSB) says to “search for the Lord… you will find Him when you seek Him with all your heart…”
The International Mission Board reports that around the Muslim world, Christian workers report an increasing openness and turning to Christ — often preceded by dreams or visions of him among potential converts. Several examples of such phenomena were detailed by National and International Religion Report:
— Thousands of North African Muslims wrote to a Christian radio service asking for information. Many reported a similar dream: Jesus appears and tells them, “I am the way.”
— In Nigeria, Muslims savagely beat a Christian convert from their tribe. As he lay dying, they heard him asking God to forgive them. That night two Muslim mullahs who participated in the attack saw visions of Christ. Both repented and took 80 followers to a Christian church to hear the gospel. (“Analysis: To Muslins with ‘love, prayer, tears and blood,’ IMB Connecting, http://www.imb.org. Adapted from The Commission, January 8, 1997).
Each of these stories illustrate the truth, that God is available, no matter where a person lives, and even people who live in areas where the gospel has rarely been heard, are hearing and coming to Christ.
Really, the question should not be, “Why did God put them in places where the gospel is rarely preached?” The question should be, “Why are we not taking the gospel to them?”

Movie review: “The Shack”

theshackmovie

My wife and I saw the sneak preview of the new motion picture, The Shack. I posted a review earlier of the bestselling book (click here to read it) of the same title by William Paul Young, so I wanted to follow up with this review of the movie.
The plot
The Shack is a deeply emotional film about a man named Mack Phillips, played by Sam Worthington, who is angry at God because of the abusive and tragic circumstances he experienced as a child and as an adult. The film tells the story of a deeply personal tragedy that occurs at a shack in the woods, and how Mack gets a letter from God, inviting him to return to the shack and deal with his pain. Mack returns, and there meets God in three persons, who engage him in experiences and conversations that allow him to rediscover the goodness of God. After he resolves these issues and learns to accept forgiveness and give forgiveness, Mack returns to his family a changed man. The plot uses flashbacks to tell about the tragedies in his life. Much of the story is framed as a visionary dream, which is a major departure from the plot of the original book. The plot moves well at the beginning and the end, although it may seem a bit long in the middle, if you are not engaged in the conversations.
The characters
Octavia Spencer plays “Papa,” a character representing God the Father, who appears to Mack as an affectionate African-American woman. She explains that since Mack could not relate to God as a father, due to his childhood experiences with an abusive father, Papa has chosen to appear as a mother figure. In fact, all three persons of the Trinity are there. The Son, representing Jesus, is a Middle Eastern man, played by Abraham Aviv Alush, and Sarayu (the Spirit), played by Sumire Matsubara, is represented by a young Asian woman who glows and shines and sometimes just disappears. Although God is represented as three different persons, they act in unison, as one person continues a conversation with Mack that he had earlier with the other person.
The message
The movie deals powerfully with the question of why God allows suffering. Papa, The Son, and Sarayu do not offer easy answers, but they help Mack to get a bigger picture of how God loves, forgives and redeems. For example, when Mack angrily tells Papa that Papa could not be good and allow the Son to suffer on the cross, Papa shows nail scars in her own wrist, and says with tears, “Don’t think that I wasn’t also there when my Son died.”  In another scene, Jesus sends Mack on a path to a cave where he meets a female called Wisdom, who lets Mack sit in the judgment seat of God and see what it is like to be a judge, an experience that overwhelms him, reminding him that no human should try to play God, and also hinting at the reason Jesus had to die for our sins. Unfortunately, the emphasis on God’s love is so strong, that a balanced statement about God’s holiness is lacking. God reminds Mack that sin has consequences, but when Mack bluntly asks Papa about God’s wrath, Papa could have said that God is holy and offended by sin, but instead only emphasized God’s goodness and love.
The film quality
This is a quality film production. There are breathtaking nature scenes, scenes filled with color and light, darkness and drama. The music is engaging, but not distracting. The main actors and supporting cast are all convincing in their roles. Octavia Spencer exudes love and kindness as Papa, and Sam Worthington explodes with emotion and pain as Mack. Country singer Tim McGraw does a good job as a supporting actor, playing Mack’s friend, who becomes a narrator of the story.
Comparisons with the book
Fans of the book will probably also like the movie, and some critics of the book may like the movie better than the book. I don’t remember hearing any profanity in the movie, although the book has some profanity. The portrayal of God the Father as a woman is explained sooner and more clearly in the movie than in the book. There were several passages in the book that critics accused of teaching universal salvation (that all people will go to heaven), particularly some conversations Mack had with the persons of the Trinity. Most of those controversial conversations do not occur in the movie, although the movie does repeat the words of Jesus that He is not a “Christian” (which came across as humorous to me both in the book and film.) The movie puts more emphasis on God’s love than on God’s judgment, although it it reminds the viewer that God does make judgments of heaven and hell and that sin does have consequences. After the movie was over, I asked my wife, who has not read the book, if she thought the movie taught universal salvation, and she said, “Not at all.”
Spoiler alert: If you have read the book, you will notice that the movie ends a little differently. It makes the whole encounter at the shack into a visionary dream, and while the book has Mack actually finding his daughter’s body and giving it a proper burial, the movie shows that happening as part of his dream. Then the movie focuses at the end on Mack going to church with his family and having a new faith in God. The movie added the friend as a narrator of the story at the beginning and end, which I thought was a good framing device for the story.
Conclusion
I liked the original book, despite its flaws, but I liked the movie even more. What I like the most is that it deals with the important issues of pain, suffering, the redemption God offers through Jesus Christ. I wept several times as I thought about my own sin and need for forgiveness, and it moved me to want to be more forgiving towards others. My wife commented that the story touches nearly every person at some level in their lives. This film offers a vivid story that can open up discussions with our friends and neighbors about how our hope is found, not in an old rustic shack, but on an old rugged cross.

Book Review: “The Shack”

theshackmovie

The Shack is a motion picture being released on March 3, 2017. It has a Christian message, yet some Christians are calling the movie heresy. What’s going on?
The movie is based on the bestseller of the same name by William Paul Young. (This is a review of the book. You can read my review of the movie by clicking here.) It is a deeply emotional story about why God allows suffering. The main character, Mack, gets a note from God, asking him to return to the shack where his young daughter had been murdered. Mack goes, and finds answers to his questions and doubts about God’s goodness. Sounds inspiring, doesn’t it? Then why the controversy?

Negative elements in the book
Many people are bothered by the portrayal of the Trinity in the book. God the Father appears as a black woman who goes by the name “Papa,” Jesus appears as a Middle Eastern man, and the Holy Spirit appears as an Asian woman named Sarayu (Sanskrit for “wind”) whom you can see through. Although they appear as three persons, they are shown as completely one, as they answer Mack in unison from time to time, and whenever he has a conversation with one of them, they always continue the conversations he had with the others. “Papa” reminds Mack that God is spirit, and since Mack had a poor relationship with his own father, he chose to reveal himself to Mack as a woman to get around his resistance. In fact, (spoiler warning: don’t read this next statement if you don’t want to know too much about the novel’s plot…) at the end of the book, after Mack is reconciled to his own father, “Papa” appears to Mack as a man.
Some people will be put off by a few uses of profanity in the book in the dialogue. There is one use of S.O.B., and a few other milder profanities spoken mostly in passages where the speaker is angry.
The most troubling part of the book occurs on page 182. Jesus is talking to Mack, and he says, “Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions…” At this point, Jesus appears to be teaching universalism, that everybody will be saved. It appears that Jesus is saying that He has taken people from any background and transformed them. Notice the next words that William Young has “Jesus” speak:
“…I have followers who were murderers and many who were self-righteous. Some were bankers and bookies, Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians. I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my Beloved.”
“‘Does that mean,’ asked Mack, ‘that all roads will lead to you?’
‘Not at all,’ smiled Jesus as he reached for the door handle to the shop. ‘Most roads don’t lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.'”
Perhaps this is universalism, or perhaps it means that Jesus is the only way, but He will do what it takes to reach us. The only thing that is clear is that it is left unclear.

Positive elements in the book
The book does a beautiful job of showing that following Jesus is more a matter of relationship than religion. It illustrates how suffering cannot be understood because we cannot understand all of God’s purposes, thus we simply must trust God.
(Spoiler warning: skip this paragraph if you don’t want to know too much of the plot…) Perhaps the most powerful part of the book is when Mack is asked to “play God” and decide which three of his children will go to hell and which two will go to heaven. Mack’s reaction to this awful choice helps him see how God works through suffering.
There are several good quotations in the book:
“Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors.” (p. 185)
God says, “I am a verb. I am that I am. I will be who I will be. I am a verb! I am alive, dynamic, ever active, and moving. I am a being verb.” (p. 204)
God says, “Forgiveness is about forgetting, Mack. It is about letting go of another person’s throat.” (p. 224)

Conclusion
This is a review of The Shack, the book. The movie has several differences, so see my follow-up review of the actual film by clicking here. The movie has no profanity, and has fewer implications of universal salvation, as some of the above conversations that imply universalism are not in the film. Also, the depiction of God the Father as a woman is explained earlier and more clearly in the film.
Whatever your opinion about the depiction of the Trinity and other controversial elements in the book, it is an inspiring message of how God works through suffering that reminds us how we ultimately find hope not in the shack, but in the cross.