The reason we’re here: To touch a life

I scroll past the vast majority of memes I see online because they are shallow and often untrue. They are easily misunderstood. I speak from experience; I comment on them occasionally, and have been told I missed the point.

But this one caught my attention. For one, I hadn’t seen it before. For two, I like the message it presents.

I actually like it.

… touch the past, touch a rock

My wife and I recently spent a weekend at the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum in northern Kentucky. We touched rocks, and other things.

creation 5

Both attractions were designed and built by Answers in Genesis, an organization that “advocates Young Earth creationism on the basis of its literal, historical-grammatical interpretation of the Book of Genesis,” according to Wikipedia. While there, I bought a book, “A Flood of Evidence; 40 reasons Noah and the Ark still matter” by Ken Ham, who founded Answers in Genesis in 1994, and Bodie Hodge, his son-in-law.

They use the Bible to prove itself.

If you believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, which I do, that’s fine, but I don’t see this book convincing anyone of its truths who doesn’t accept the Bible’s inerrancy. That eliminates most Americans.

The book, the Ark and especially the Creation Museum use rocks to explain how fossils formed quickly when plants (mostly) and animals died. Plants and animals that die naturally don’t fossilize; they decay. It took a quick catastrophic event, such as Noah’s Flood, to bury plants and animals in a hurry, allowing them to fossilize.

Noah’s Flood also formed the Grand Canyon. That masterpiece of God’s creation was not formed over millions of years by a tiny river. The book and museum discuss this too.

And they mention Mount St. Helens which, when it erupted in 1980 and again in 1982, made rock formations in hours and days that scientists previously thought took millions of years.

Rocks, as this meme indicates, are a window to the past. We interpret the rocks differently, depending on what we’re looking for.

But the past is gone. We can’t change it. We interpret it and try to re-interpret it (are some people truly trying to say the Holocaust never existed, or that man never walked on the moon?). We study the past to learn how best to live today. Or, that should be why we study the past.

… touch the present, touch a flower

I’ve been on a weeding kick recently. Our yard and gardens are full of them, unfortunately. It seems like it’s a never-ending battle. Weeds choke off plants and flowers.

flowers

I’m not an expert on flowers, but I see them bloom for a time, then disappear. Annuals bloom for one season, then die. Perennials bloom year after year, going dormant during the winter, then re-emerging in all their beauty in the spring.

I think this is what the meme is trying to say. Flowers are beautiful today. We enjoy them in the present. We’d better, because tomorrow they’re gone.

Even perennials don’t live forever. They have to be replaced with other flowers eventually, if you want to keep your garden colorful.

A sunset. A rainbow. Sparkling ripples on a slow-moving lake or river. A fall color tour. A gentle breeze.

Such beauty. Nature can be so wonderful.

Then, it changes. The beauty is gone.

Night. The storm that precedes the rainbow. Crashing waves. A frigid winter snow. No breeze at all in 90-degree heat.

We endure, hoping for the touch of a flower once again.

… touch the future, touch a life

People matter. We so often forget this.

If you’ve read this far, hopefully I have touched you at some level.

But touching a life involves so much more than words on a printed page.

wcws 2

I volunteer at a food pantry twice a week. I’ve met an 18-year-old girl who is head of household for her family of six. Her mother passed away a year ago, and now she’s in charge at home. At 18.

We at the food pantry can help her for a day or two. What then?

I also volunteer at a once-a-week after-school pick-up basketball ministry that our church youth director organizes. After playing for a couple of hours on a recent Thursday, one of the young men told us how he’s trying to build a life for himself and lead his teenage brother down the right path, even though both of their parents – who are separated – are drug addicts.

Can we make a difference in the lives of either of these families? Are we touching the future when we connect with young people at these events?

I come home to a nice house in a decent neighborhood. No one is forcing me to touch a life.

Actually, that’s not true.

Since I call myself a Christian, and since I try to live by the Bible, God Himself commands in that Bible that I must connect with other people at some level.

You are watching. I know you are. If I call myself a Christian, what do you see?

I must serve.

Far too many “Christians” use the Bible to try to justify sinful lifestyles. Jesus was crucified for saying exactly this. The apostle Paul was stoned, flogged and beaten for saying exactly this.

What does it mean to touch a life?

It’s not about me, trying to justify myself at all. That’s an easy way to identify “fake Christians.” What’s our motive? Is it to serve others? Is it to touch a life?

This will be our legacy. If we want to touch the future, we MUST touch a life. That life will continue on after I’m gone.

Already, I’ve lived in South Euclid, Ohio; Bloomfield Hills, Mich.; New Kensington, Pa.; East Lansing, Mich.; Ridgewood, N.J.; Pickford, St. Ignace and Saginaw, Mich.; Rockford, Ill.; and Elyria, Ohio.

I touch people, and I’m gone. You touch me, and I leave. I take part of you with me wherever I go.

Because you have touched my life.

Thank you.

I hope I am worthy of your time. I hope I have helped you get just a little closer to God because I was there.

Don’t be too hard on me when I let you down. I try not to criticize when I see others fall. We’re in this life together.

The future will change because both of us are here in the present. That’s a given.

How will the future change? For good or evil?

May the rock and the flower guide us as we learn how to touch a life. No matter where our lives take us.

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Why faith matters, and the reason it often doesn’t

From right, Ren Dejun, Liao Qiang, Peng Ran and Ren Ruiting follow a hymnbook during a Sunday church service in Taipei, Taiwan.

That day (when Stephen was martyred) a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria … Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word.

Acts 8:1,4

 

A few minutes after I read those words in my morning devotion, I opened the local newspaper I subscribe to. I was stunned to read an article on religious persecution happening as we speak, and another article from this country explaining that most Americans don’t care about faith issues.

“Christian family details crackdown on church in China,” the Page A2 headline read.

Liao Qiang, 49, had to flee China with five family members, including his 23-year-old daughter, Ren Ruiting, after “living under constant surveillance for the past seven months after authorities detained them and dozens of other members of their prominent but not government-sanctioned church in December.”

China’s ruling Communist Party has carried out a widespread crackdown on all religious institutions in recent years – not just Christian churches, but institutions of all faiths. It has bulldozed churches and mosques, the article states, and incarcerated more than 1 million members of Islamic ethnic minorities in what are termed “re-education centers.”

Qiang and his family fled to nearby Taiwan, where they are free to worship as they choose. They attended a public worship service this week for the first time in seven months.

Persecution forces church growth

In the book of Acts and in China, persecution forced the church to scatter.

While the government leaders in both circumstances were trying to suppress faith, and especially Christianity (in Acts), the opposite happened. Faith spread.

Sometimes it takes persecution to grow our faith.

We often ask why bad things happen to good people. We wonder why we struggle in various parts of our lives. We wonder whether God has abandoned us.

Actually, God may be drawing us closer to Him through our struggles. We don’t really know what persecution is in this country – not to the point where believers are martyred or active churches are bulldozed.

Perhaps that day is coming.

Apathy kills the church

The other article I read in the local paper? On Page A5: “Poll: Americans tend to go it alone (Most don’t seek clerical advice)”

That poll blames technology for many Americans’ choice not to seek advice. Since we can Google information on literally any subject, this article says, we don’t see the need to seek advice from clergy (or anyone else, for that matter).

The poll also blames the sex abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church for reducing clergy interaction with that institution.

“At the same time,” the article concludes, “more Americans describe religion as unimportant in their lives, and church membership and service attendance have declined. Gallup polling shows about half of Americans said they attended religious services within the past week in the mid-1950s, while just about a third say they did now.”

Our response

What does faith mean, anyway? Is it worth dying for, as Stephen did? Is it worth being forced from home to parts unknown, as happened to the early New Testament Church and is still happening in China and other parts of the world today?

For U.S. residents, faith in God costs very little. Perhaps that’s the main reason why it doesn’t mean much to most of us.

Every so often I ask myself, “Do I have to hit rock bottom before I can find God?”

I’ve never done drugs or been arrested. I grew up in a stable home. I’ve always had at least a little money in the bank. I’ve always been healthy.

And yet …

When our family made an out-of-state move before my ninth-grade year, I discovered that I was missing something emotionally. I had a low self-esteem and nothing to lean on.

Eventually, I discovered that Jesus Christ could – and did – fill that void in my life.

So, in a sense, yes, I did hit rock bottom. Not outwardly, not materially, but spiritually, I did.

As with the early disciples and the family in China, I was forced to make a decision. My physical life wasn’t at stake, but my spiritual life was.

If something important to you is forcibly taken away, how would you respond?

When a loved one dies or an emergency strikes, how do you respond?

Do you blame God, or do you turn to Him?

That’s not a theoretical question.

Places where faith grows

Perhaps that’s why most people who accept Christ as their Lord and Savior do so as children. Young people – age 15 and younger – are still searching for meaning in life. Their values aren’t set yet. If you grow up in a Christian home you have a better chance to accept that faith yourself. There are exceptions, of course. And if you didn’t grow up in a Christian home, you can find such a faith in other places as well.

Perhaps a catastrophic event will force your hand. Perhaps that’s what it must take.

That’s why Christianity’s growth is explosive in China and Africa, but not the United States.

 

Christianity’s ‘explosive growth’ in China – and the official pushback

https://www.inkstonenews.com/china/christianity-protestant-church/article/2133812

Christianity is not illegal in China, but it has faced a long history of suppression and official distrust ever since missionaries began arriving with European and American merchants hundreds of years ago.

 

Christianity’s future lies in Africa

https://sojo.net/articles/christianitys-future-lies-africa

The continent (Africa) has become the epicenter in the fight against extreme poverty and inequality, housing over half of the world’s people who are living in the quicksand of extreme poverty. Conflict, corruption, illicit financial flows, gender-based violence, exploitation, the impacts of climate change, among other challenges, have long stunted Africa’s growth and suffocated human flourishing …

Less than 20 percent of evangelical pastors have received seminary training, which poses both a challenge and an opportunity … But a revitalized and more vibrant evangelical church that is increasingly committed to both evangelism and holistic transformation will be an essential force in overcoming these and other challenges.

Our impersonal, judgmental lives

Is the United States becoming a Third-World country? Extreme poverty, conflict, corruption, illicit financial flows, gender-based violence, exploitation, climate change … These topics dominate discussion boards today, don’t they?

But how much of these discussions are personal? We talk in the third person all the time. Most of us don’t know what extreme poverty looks like. Corruption: have we experienced it personally? Climate change? Illicit financial flows?

These issues matter, of course, but until they become personal, they remain debate topics and nothing more.

After all, Americans prefer to live alone. We can take care of ourselves, thank you very much.

Just don’t ask me to think deeply about any subject.

The good stuff is coming, oh yes

Are there rewards for following Jesus Christ with your whole heart?

Oh, yes.

The Christian life is no picnic on Earth. Great things happen, but suffering does too. We know this.

As Christians, however, we look beyond Earth. We’re here 70 or 80 years, give or take, and then we die. Guaranteed.

What then?

That’s when it gets good.

I’m studying the book of Revelation – the last book of the Bible – with three friends this summer. Near the beginning of the book, Jesus gives seven messages to various churches. Each discourse includes good things the church has done, bad things the church has done, a warning if the church doesn’t get its act together, and a reward if the church does change.

Without getting too theological, those messages apply to Christians today as well. If we “conquer,” as my translation (New Revised Standard) puts it, we will receive some awesome rewards.

Let’s look beyond ourselves, beyond Earth even, to see what’s in store for us.

 

“To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.”

Rev. 2:7

 

This is stunning. We first see the tree of life in the Garden of Eden, along with the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:9). After Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3:6), God kicked the sinning couple out of the garden. Why? Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” … (Gen. 3:22)

The tree of life would have allowed Adam and Eve to never die. This is the way we were created, to live forever. But because we rebelled against the living God, our lives were shortened.

Until the very end of time. Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.” (Rev. 22:14)

Once we enter the city of God, we will live forever in paradise.

 

“Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death.”

Rev. 2:11

 

All of us will be harmed by the “first death,” which is the death of our physical bodies on this Earth. What is the second death? But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death. (Rev. 21:8)

The second death, then, is separation from God. Permanently. We get to choose which “spiritual death” we will face – living in paradise with God, or separation from Him in the lake of fire.

There’s no third option, by the way.

 

“I will give a white stone, and on the white store is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it.”

Rev. 2:17

 

Whoa. A new name. Given to each of us by the living God. That name will define who we are. We can only guess what this means, however. Gotquestions.org offers this explanation:

The best theory regarding the meaning of the white stone probably has to do with the ancient Roman custom of awarding white stones to the victors of athletic games. The winner of a contest was awarded a white stone with his name inscribed on it. This served as his “ticket” to a special awards banquet. According to this view, Jesus promises the overcomers entrance to the eternal victory celebration in heaven. The “new name” most likely refers to the Holy Spirit’s work of conforming believers to the holiness of Christ (see Romans 8:29; Colossians 3:10).

 

“To the one who conquers I will also give the morning star.”

Rev. 2:26

 

Who or what is the morning star? It’s Jesus Himself. “It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” (Rev. 22:16)

We will live with Jesus Christ, the morning star, forever.

 

“If you conquer, you will be clothed like them in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life; I will confess your name before my Father and before his angels.”

Rev. 3:5

 

What is the book of life? This, along with books that describe our lives on Earth, will be opened on the Judgment Day. What happens if our names are not in the book of life? I saw the dead great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. (Rev. 20:12, 15)

Instead, Jesus will confess our names before his Father and his angels. Our works aren’t good enough to stand on their own; we need Jesus to advocate for us on our Judgment Day.

He promised that He will do that for us. If we conquer.

 

“If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it. I will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.”

Rev. 3:12

 

A pillar in the temple of God could refer to eternal life. The city of God is the “new Jerusalem,” which is described in Rev. 21:9-26. It will be a huge city, and beautiful beyond description. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Rev. 21:26)

These rewards are all related. And they are only for those of us who conquer.

 

“To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.”

Rev. 3:21

 

We will enjoy royal status. We will not be subjects, employees, homeless, malnourished or mistreated in any way. We will be forgiven, pure, holy and one with God.

The older I get, the closer I am to this day. When I get discouraged with the way things are going on Earth, all I have to do is look up. A better day is coming.

A day worth waiting for.

A day worth dying for.

A celebration for conquering.

 

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.

Romans 8:18-19

About vines and branches

Many of you offered your thoughts on my most recent post, in which I said that life does not revolve around us. God created us, so God gets to set the rules and guidelines for us to flourish as human beings. Your thoughts and comments were enlightening and wonderful.

https://billcornishwordpresscom.wordpress.com/2019/02/27/a-united-methodist-divide/

In that vein, I’d like to show you what I mean.

God speaks to us in many ways – most directly through His Word. We can interact with it, but we can’t explain it away.

In that vein, here’s one discourse from Jesus to his disciples on the night before he was crucified. He describes what it means to be a Christian, using an illustration that’s easy to understand.

My pastor preached for 2.5 years on the book of John, so there’s all kinds of commentary on these few words. I’ve given you just a few thoughts that I’ve learned along the way. Here goes:

 

From John 15, Jesus speaking (I speak in italics):

 

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. (v. 1)

 

God is the one who gives the tree life. I do not. As we’ll see in a minute, you and I are small but significant parts of the tree, but we depend on God for sustenance – not the other way around.

Also, Jesus calls himself the “true” vine. He said in the previous chapter that he is the only way to God, because he is God. If you call yourself a Christian, this is not open for discussion.

 

He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. (v. 2)

 

My Father does what a father should do: He disciplines me. Even as an adult.

If there’s a branch in my life that’s dead, God prunes it. He gets rid of it. That leaves the branches that are growing, alive, thriving – so they can flourish.

I’m not a green thumb but I am a homeowner. I’m not afraid to take my pruning shears to a plant or tree in the yard with dead stalks or branches. This gets rid of ugly dead stuff, and allows the leafy or budding limbs to grow fuller.

This process works in nature, and it works with humans, too.

Pruning is painful by definition, but in the long run, it improves my health, as it improves the life of a plant or tree in nature.

Therefore, I submit to the process. Most of the time, anyway.

 

You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. (v. 3)

 

A footnote in my Bible says that “the same Greek root (word) refers to pruning and cleansing.” So, when God prunes me, that means he is cleansing me as well. Washing me clean. Purifying me. Improving my condition, inside and out.

 

Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. (v. 4)

 

Ah, here’s the heart of John 15 – which is Jesus’ heart. According to my Webster’s dictionary, “abide” has a couple of meanings:

  • To endure without yielding, to bear patiently, to accept without objection
  • To remain stable; to continue in a place, sojourn

I may not understand God’s discipline, his pruning, but I accept it. I don’t fight God. I continue in his presence; I don’t leave him behind.

This is hard. I know people who have left the church, and others who have compromised their Christian values, because abiding in God is very hard.

I’m in an Old Testament Bible study at the moment where we’re studying the life of David. Despite all the ups and downs of his life – and there were many of both – David finished his life well. He finally got the parenting thing right after a lifetime of screwups by preparing Solomon for his upcoming reign. David finished his life on a high note.

This is what it means to abide. He kept at it. He reached the finish line bloodied and bruised, literally, but by remaining in the vine, his branch bore much fruit.

David is a good example to follow. Not for his parenting skills, but for his perseverance and faith in the living God.

 

I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. (v. 5)

 

This is how nature works, and this is how God works. When the branches remain connected to their food source, they thrive. When they are removed by pruning (or in a storm, ie, the storms of life), they die.

 

Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. (v. 6)

 

After every windstorm, I walk through my yard and pick up dead branches and twigs. They go in the yard waste bin, to be thrown away.

Without connection to our source of life, we die. Our source of life is Jesus Christ. He said so himself, right here.

 

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (v. 7)

 

The Bible does not teach a “prosperity gospel.” God will not grant our wishes unless our wishes line up with God’s wishes. We learn what those are by abiding in him – that is, spending time with him, sojourning with him.

 

My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. (v. 8)

 

Here are three results of abiding in the vine: God the Father is glorified, we bear fruit, and we become Jesus’ disciples. These three results go together.

Over time, our branches will flourish. These results are not one-time events. Branches grow slowly. Leaves die, and are renewed every spring. The branch grows larger and stronger, with more leaves and fruit.

When trees come to life this time of year, we get excited. We love new life. We all do. God wants this for us too. Are we not worth more than nature?

 

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. (v. 9)

 

This is what love is. Pruning. Abiding. Nourishing. Growing. Showing fruit. All of it. We can’t circumvent the process.

 

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. (v. 10)

 

You and I have some responsibility here. We have to make an effort to keep Jesus’ commandments – all of them. If our hearts are pursuing Jesus, we will abide in his love. Jesus showed us how to do this by the way he loved his Father while living on Earth.

 

I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. (v. 11)

 

Joy is a gift from God when we abide in him. Joy isn’t the same as happiness, which is a feeling that comes and goes depending on our circumstances. Joy remains. It’s constant. It’s an inner peace that comes from knowing God intimately. And it’s available to anyone who asks for it – if we are willing to abide in his love.

 

This is what it means to be a Christian. It’s unpredictable, it’s an adventure, it’s never dull. My life is very different than it was even six months ago.

It’s never too late to connect, or re-connect, to the vine. This is exciting stuff! I hope and pray that you are, and will remain, connected to the one true vine.

Around the bend, a waterfall

Power. Beauty. Change, often slowly. Calm, eventually.

A meandering stream, gentle and pure. Strength and sound as the river transforms into a waterfall. Then, a peaceful near silence as the river continues on.

Each waterfall is different. Some are wider, some taller, some roar, some are gentle.

As different as we are as people.

A river follows the path of least resistance, heading downhill, away from its source. Sometimes over an unexpected waterfall.

It never remains in the same place.

A big splash

The river of my life flowed smooth for many years. A great job, a healthy family with three growing boys, purpose in life, community involvement, some recreation and exercise … it seemed too good to be true. It was easy, too easy, to just coast through life, engaging but only to a point, then pulling back before wounds were exposed.

cascade park 2

Until a huge waterfall changed the course of my river.

Losing a job I’d had for 24 years will do that.

I’ve written about that before, several times. We’re coming up on the 10-year anniversary of that event this spring. It feels like a lifetime ago, with the river of my life twisting and turning repeatedly. Many of you experienced this as well, in varying degrees.

My life sometimes feels out of control, emotionally anyway, heading downstream to an eternal destination that features “the river of the water of life” (Rev. 22:1). It’s easy to get caught up in the struggles of this world and lose sight of what it’s all about.

Shortly before we left Rockford, Ill., I visited the Anderson Japanese Gardens there. It was peaceful, with meandering streams and soothing water formations that the Japanese love. It provided a momentary calm in the months before we moved to Elyria, Ohio, during the last polar vortex five years ago.

In Elyria the stream of my life has taken a couple more abrupt turns. After my 24-year job ended, I never held a job more than 2.5 years (twice). One job lasted eight weeks. I’m now retired, although it still seems funny to say that because I’m “only” 58 years old. (My dad retired younger than that, actually, so maybe it’s not so unusual.)

Hard to see the future

days dam 2

I took one waterfall photo through trees.  I should have known the camera would focus on the branches and leave the waterfall blurry. I thought about going back there and re-taking the photo, but decided not to.

Sometimes the storms of life are blurry, aren’t they? We don’t see them coming. We don’t know why. We feel the fall, then the hard splash of the river as it crashes into the pool at the base of the waterfall.

We submerge, and wonder if we will ever resurface.

We eventually do, don’t we?

But we resurface in a new place, a different place. We are changed.

We didn’t ask for change, but it came anyway.

Some changes are exciting. Some are not. Some are big and powerful. Others are more languid.

Each of us experiences the wide range of powerful and calm, the river always moving, always going somewhere, never static, never staying in the same place.

Some of us travel farther than others do, but all of us travel.

That’s what rivers do.

Can any of us see where we are going? Really see?

I don’t think so.

The greatest adventure

mill stream run 1

Yes, we see heaven, for those of us headed that way. (It’s a destination worth pursuing for everyone.)

But on Earth, the journey to get there … we often can’t see around the next bend.

I hear sermons and speeches sometimes that say the Christian journey should be the most exciting path to travel.

It should be. Jesus offers adventure like no one else does. Serve orphans and widows. Take our faith to different lands, or to the next-door neighbor. Meet the needs of others. Pray. Worship. Don’t accumulate worldly possessions for their own sake, but to share with others. And so on.

So often the waterfalls in our lives aren’t those types of adventures. We tend to fall over them, rather than willingly jump into them. If we would jump into a waterfall of our own volition, perhaps it wouldn’t be such a tall one, with such a painful landing.

How prepared are we for life’s falls, twists and turns? They’re inevitable, so why does no one help us navigate them?

O but the Bible does. It’s all in there, really.

I still fall hard because my faith isn’t what it should be. Just because I read the Bible doesn’t mean I’m prepared for life’s waterfalls, big or small, clear or blurry. What do I do with the information I learn? In the words of a preacher, how do I apply it?

During this week’s polar vortex here in Ohio, a friend who has school-age children collected food for dozens of children who might otherwise go hungry because they get their best meal of the day in school. She organized that food collection in her kitchen spur-of-the-moment, and gave groceries to more than a dozen families as well. Not for her own self-satisfaction, but because she saw a need and decided to fill it.

That’s adventure. That’s faith in action.

If the world saw more Christians doing stuff like that, perhaps we’d be more likable, more believable, more like a river worth jumping into.

Even in the middle of winter.

Quick to judge, except for the third group

Black Hebrew Israelites are in the news after a January 18 video showed members of an unidentified sect interacting with students from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

 

White Catholic teenagers and a Native American have received the lion’s share of publicity from Friday’s confrontation by the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

But a third group participated as well.

Indeed, the third group started the whole thing.

Social media has blown up with the dispute between MAGA hat-wearing teens, in town for the pro-life March for Life, and Nathan Phillips, in town for the Indigenous Peoples March the same day.

Social media rushed to judgment about the motives of both sides, and missed badly, as we know now.

I’m impressed that no violence took place. Dancing, drum music, stares, chants, vulgar words and invading of personal space all did occur. But no one from any of the groups crossed the line into physical violence.

If anything positive happened there, it’s probably that.

The instigators?

But who is the third group in this scenario, the one in the background, apparently, but the ones who taunted both the Native Americans and then the young Catholic students?

They call themselves Black Hebrew Israelites.

The “Israelites” were quoting Bible passages claiming that they are the true descendants of Israel. On a nearly two-hour video that has gone viral, they said Native Americans don’t know God. They told the students when they first arrived on the scene that white people are not descendants of Israel and therefore are not God’s chosen people – only people of color are. At that point, the students walked away, if only temporarily.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t3EC1_gcr34&feature=youtu.be

In the words of the New York Times:

Interviews and additional video footage suggest that an explosive convergence of race, religion and ideological beliefs — against a national backdrop of political tension — set the stage for the viral moment. Early video excerpts from the encounter obscured the larger context, inflaming outrage.

Leading up to the encounter on Friday, a rally for Native Americans and other Indigenous people was wrapping up. Dozens of students from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky, who had been in Washington for the anti-abortion March for Life rally, were standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, many of them white and wearing apparel bearing the slogan of President Trump.

There were also black men who identified themselves as Hebrew Israelites, preaching their beliefs and shouting racially combative comments at the Native Americans and the students, according to witnesses and video on social media.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/20/us/nathan-phillips-covington.html?module=inline

In a statement on Sunday, Nick Sandmann, the boy in the initial video, argued that the Hebrew Israelites instigated the incident and that his classmates “wanted to drown out the hateful comments that were being shouted at us.”

The Black Hebrew Israelites, meanwhile, have said that they are being used as a scapegoat for the students’ behavior.

Vox offered this on the background of the group:

The Black Hebrew Israelites are an offshoot of a broader religious movement scholars often call Black Israelism, which dates back to slavery and Reconstruction, if not earlier.

Writing for the Washington Post, journalist Sam Kestenbaum explains that Black Israelism is “a complex American religious movement” whose various sects are loosely bound by a belief that “African Americans are the literal descendants of the Israelites of the Bible and have been severed from their true heritage.”

https://www.vox.com/identities/2019/1/22/18193352/black-hebrew-israelites-covington-catholic-phillips-maga

The Black Hebrew Israelites

The Gospel Coalition lists nine attributes of the group:

  1. Black Hebrew Israelites (also called African Hebrew Israelites, Black Jews, Black Hebrews, Black Israelites, or Hebrew Israelites) is an umbrella term for various religious sects and congregations that believe that people of color, usually African Americans, are descendants of a lost tribe of ancient Israelites.
  2. From the 17th to 20th century, African-Americans’ identification with Judaism was informed, as Edith Bruder and Tudor Parfitt say, “by the social and political orientations of black people in the United States and was often embedded in response to discrimination.” But in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, certain African Americans began not only to identify spiritually with the ancient Israelites but also to claim they were their direct physical descendants. This led to the creation of several factions of Black Hebrew Israelites (hereafter BHIs) that spread across America, and later to Africa and Israel.
  3. BHI groups do not align themselves with Judaism. Instead, as Jacob S. Dorman explains, they “creatively manipulate traditions and ideas gleaned from a wide range of sources: Holiness/Pentecostal Christianity, the British Anglo-Israelite movement, Freemasonry, Mind Power, Theosophy, Judaism, the occult, and African American Christianity’s deep association with the Hebrews of the Old Testament.”
  4. BHI groups tend to define an Israelite as a descendant of the biblical patriarch Jacob, a “Hebrew Israelite” as the modern descendants of the ancient Israelites, and a Jew as a person who practices the religion of Judaism. Many BHI groups do not consider Jews to be true descendants of “Hebrew Israelites.” However, they also do not consider all people of color to be part of the “lost tribe” either. As one BHI website explains, “Israel is just one black nation that exist among many. The Egyptians, Canaanites, Ethiopians, babyloians etc [sic] were black skinned but they were not Israelites. . . . To say all black skinned people are Israelites is like saying all Asians are Chinese, or All Europeans are French.” BHIs also believe that the trans-Atlantic slave trade was prophesied in Deuteronomy 28:68(rapper Kendrick Lamar makes reference to this belief in his lyric, “And Deuteronomy say that we all been cursed”), which accounts for why so many “Hebrew Israelites” are found in America.
  5. While there are some common beliefs shared by BHIs, the groups themselves vary widely in their connection to Judaism and Christianity. In a 1973 article for Christianity Today, historian James Tinney suggestedthe classification of the organizations into three groups:
  • Black Jews, who maintain a Christological perspective and adopt Jewish rituals.
  • Black Hebrews, who are more traditional in their practice of Judaism.
  • Black Israelites, who are most nationalistic and furthest from traditional Judaism.
  1. Many BHI organizations around today sprang up in the late 19th century and early part of the 20th century or are offshoots of those original groups.
  2. Many BHIs who include elements of Christianity affirm the King James Version (1611) of the Bible as their only rule of faith and practice, D.A. Horton says. Some groups accept some books of the New Covenant (New Testament), yet many reject Paul’s writings on the idea they were used often by white masters during the American slavery years, Horton adds.
  3. Most, if not all, BHI groups deny the Trinity and the deity of Christ. As one BHI congregation explains, “We believe that there is a distinction between God and Jesus of Nazareth. In particular, we believe that God is THESupreme Being in the universe and that Jesus was merely a human being; a noteworthy prophet (see St. Matthew 21:11), but a human being nonetheless.” [emphasis in original]
  4. The public interaction with BHI groups usually occurs in large cities, where more radical members often stand on streets and sidewalks, debating and berating passers-by.

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/9-things-you-should-know-about-black-hebrew-israelites/

Did we learn anything?

Three very diverse groups clashed at the Lincoln Memorial, but because all three profess to be peaceful, they restrained themselves from violence. Social media overlooked this, too.

Perhaps the lack of violence is the second-greatest lesson from the confrontation. Yes, we were far too quick to judge, especially the Catholic teens. We weren’t fair to Nathan Phillips. And we’ve virtually ignored the third group.

All three groups have a right to exist – indeed, to thrive – in this country. Discussion leads to truth. Perhaps we can agree to disagree on some issues.

I saw where President Trump invited the Catholic teens to the White House. He should have invited the other two groups to the White House as well.

Trump is the president of all three groups, whether he realizes it or not. (I don’t think he does.)

Trump is the president of all three groups, whether each group realizes it or not. (I don’t think they all do.)

Did we as a nation learn anything this week?

There’s just enough truth in nearly every viewpoint to make all of us dangerous

How do you think your religion is perceived by others who are not part of the faith?

A friend needed a few people to answer a 10-question survey for a community college religion course she is taking this fall. I figured, why not, I’ll give it a shot. I wondered what direction a “religion” survey would go.

Religion

Question 1: What does religion mean to you?

My response: Religion is a generic term for any belief in God or a higher power. It might be personal, or it might not be.

Question 2: Is there a difference between faith, religion and spirituality?

My answer: “Faith” is my personal belief in God, who is unseen, but who affects my life deeply. “Spirituality” is a hot-button term that means different things to different people. Spirituality includes the supernatural, which may or may not include God.

How am I doing so far? Would you agree?

I have no idea how other people answered these questions, nor does that concern me, because I’m not the one taking the religion class.

“Faith” is something my “religion” talks about often. “Spirituality” is one of those words I try to avoid, because I may try to connect spirituality to my faith, but you may connect spirituality with something else completely. Like the paranormal. Or astrology. Or a different religion. Or crystals. Or New Age thinking. Or palm reading. Or …

Perceptions

Question 9 is the one at the top of this column. Those of you who have a different faith, or no faith at all: How do you perceive Christianity, which is the “faith” I live by?

I tried to put myself in your shoes. Here’s what I came up with:

Many people equate Christianity with a judgmental Republican viewpoint, since some vocal Christians promote that. It’s hard, because the God of the Bible is not like that. Others see it as a list of do’s and don’t’s and are afraid they’ll have to give up fun things if they “convert.”

A judgmental Republican viewpoint. I actually wrote that.

I had a discussion earlier this week with another friend over the immigration issue. He’s a staunch supporter of President Trump, and vociferously defended his keep-the-illegal-immigrants-out policy that Trump advocates.

I responded that while I support most of Trump’s positions, I see immigrants as real people. Most illegal immigrants are fleeing for their lives, literally, I said, and the citizenship process is long and cumbersome. That’s the real issue, I argued. Let’s make it easier to become a U.S. citizen.

My friend didn’t buy that argument. He said for the first time ever, immigration laws are being enforced.

Both of us have a deep faith in Jesus Christ. How can we hold opposing views on such a vital issue?

Many of my more liberal friends also support immigrants, legal and illegal, going so far as to encourage sanctuary cities and support churches that are willing to host illegals to protect them from deportation.

Jesus did not take a stand on such issues. He was not a politician. The people of his day, like many people today, wish he was political. That’s why they shouted “Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday. Hosanna is a political term. The crowds were looking for a “savior” to overthrow the oppressive Roman government.

As soon as the crowds realized Jesus wasn’t going to do that – he had a different, much higher, purpose in mind – they abandoned him. And crucified him, almost immediately.

While Republican values generally are more in line with the Bible than Democratic values are, the lines are not that clear. There are exceptions, both ways.

Immigration, in my opinion, is one of them.

Neither side is willing to reason with the other on this, or any, issue.

So we get a judgmental Republican (or Democratic) viewpoint.

Reality

Question 4: What appeals to you about your religion?

It gives meaning to my life. The God of the Bible wants the best for me and for all humankind. No other religion’s leader can claim that.

This is why I struggle with politics. Trump said this week that the published death toll of nearly 3,000 from last year’s hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico was not even close. He said Democrats were trying to make him look bad.

Trump cares only about his reputation. Puerto Ricans are pawns to him. “Nobody is singing his praises because we all saw what happened,” San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz told The Associated Press.

GOP activists blame the media for distorting Trump’s record. But The AP is about as impartial as media get.

If you reject published reports and photos of the devastation, then there’s nothing anyone can say to you. Information has never been more widely disseminated. If we pick and choose what to “believe” (the drugstore tabloids don’t count, but that’s my opinion), then we are choosing our own reality, instead of trying to understand what’s truly going on in the world and responding accordingly.

Jesus did not have this attitude at all. Instead, he defended the outcast every time: the Samaritan woman at the well, lepers and other physically sick people, the prodigal’s son, a woman who gave her last penny in taxes, even a demon-possessed caveman. And many others.

I wish Americans thought and acted like that. Many do, often outside the political landscape.

Benefits

Question 8: What benefits to society do you think your religion or religion in general presents?

When lived correctly, Christianity accepts all people. That doesn’t mean Christians agree with other faiths or viewpoints, but we “love the sinner, hate the sin.” That’s a real thing. We promote family values, which overcomes drug abuse, teen sex/abortion, addictions, hate/anger, etc. – ie, looking for love in all the wrong places.

There’s just enough truth in nearly every viewpoint to make all of us dangerous. It’s easy to twist “truth” to fit our own agendas.

The church I attend has a three-point mission statement: Love God, love people, live surrendered. We spend the most time talking about the last point. What does surrendering to God and the Bible look like?

Each of us will answer that question differently. But each of us must surrender to God. Not my will, but yours be done, on Earth as it is in heaven, according to the Lord’s prayer.

That’s the key. Not the Republican way. Not the Democratic way.

God’s way.

The God of the Bible’s way.

That’s what faith means to me.

Making enemies inevitable

‘Linda never had one enemy’.

That headline awhile ago in our local paper jumped out at me. Linda was a homicide victim in a robbery gone bad.

The headline (and the story) indicated that she was a friend to everyone she met.

That got me thinking: Is that a goal worth striving for?

I don’t want to antagonize anyone. I’m sure most people don’t. Many of us want to get along with everyone we meet.

Getting the job done

Work is a good place to practice that. The boss hires a variety of people in the same office to do the same or related jobs. We have no choice but to work together. Whether we become best buddies outside of work is irrelevant, really. We depend on each other to get the job done.

Certainly, we shouldn’t make enemies at work. That destroys morale, and makes working together nearly impossible. There are ways to solve disagreements.

Not knowing the full story

We say or do things for a reason. I may not know why you said or did that. Even if I’m upset or angry with you, I don’t know your full story. Perhaps you have a very good reason for your reaction. (Perhaps not. I don’t know.)

But does that mean right and wrong don’t exist? Is there ever a time when making an enemy or two is acceptable?

I never met Linda, so I don’t know her story at all. But if she never made an enemy, I wonder whether she got involved in anything in the community. If she did anything meaningful. Or if she just slid through life being nice, never causing a ripple, never standing up for herself.

Say something, do something

Because if she did share an opinion or take a stand – about nearly anything – she’d make an enemy somewhere along the line.

Common courtesy says don’t discuss politics or religion in public. There’s a reason for that. Many people have strong opinions on either or both of those subjects, and rarely change their minds.

enemies 2

Did Linda have any type of faith, or did she have political views? If so, she must have kept them to herself.

Otherwise, she would have had an enemy or two.

While I try to get along with everyone I meet, I don’t always succeed. I have de-friended a few people on Facebook, and I have been de-friended more than once as well. I de-friend or un-follow people when their politics turns to hatred. A few of you on the very far left or the very far right cross that line.

Do my politics or faith create enemies?

Possibly.

Social issues and faith

My blog page is titled “the liberal conservative.” How’s that for being offensive? I get involved in certain social issues, which is my liberal side. My faith tells me the Bible is the inspired word of God and every word in it is true (not always literal, but true). That’s my conservative side.

They go together.

Jesus was very involved in social issues. He healed people and talked about justice. He gave women more respect than any other man in His time period did.

Jesus also challenged the religious leaders of His day, calling them blind guides and hypocrites for the ways they imposed their own rules, not God’s rules, on their congregations.

Because of that criticism, Jesus made enemies of a few very powerful people. He didn’t intentionally make enemies, but He didn’t back down when confronted with tough issues either. Those powerful people eventually killed Him.

We Christians often forget that. We want a calm, peaceful, placid faith that gets along with everyone.

Hell is a real place. Jesus talked about it.

Mercy requires a decision

Jesus was very much misunderstood, then and today. Everyone faces judgment. Jesus offers mercy to all. Not all of us accept God’s mercy, but it’s available to anyone who is willing to receive it. That was, and still is, His message.

But accepting Jesus’ mercy means we follow His way of life – which is the best life we can possibly have. That means we will have to change our allegiance from the other things we worship.

Many people aren’t willing to do that, and get angry when Jesus and His followers say things like: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

You either believe that or you don’t. There’s no nice guys third option.

No wonder Jesus had enemies. No wonder Christians are being persecuted and killed across the world in record numbers today.

https://www.newsweek.com/christian-persecution-genocide-worse-ever-770462

Do I have enemies? None that want me dead, at least to my knowledge, here in the United States where I live.

But when I say I follow Jesus, I’m also saying that I don’t follow any other religion’s leaders. I’m also supporting a certain lifestyle, instead of other lifestyles. Christianity is true, and other religions aren’t. There’s no middle ground. (Other religions don’t leave room for Christianity either if you truly follow one of them, so it works both ways.)

Take a stand

When the headline says ‘Linda never had one enemy’, I’m not sure that’s a good thing. That tells me she never took a stand for anything meaningful.

If we stand up for something – anything – we will make enemies. Do you support the Cleveland Indians’ Chief Wahoo logo? Other people don’t. Do you support spanking children? Many people oppose you. Do you support how your local government spends its budget? Not everyone does.

We must pick our battles. Some people fight too many battles – they oppose every issue that comes up, it seems. I ignore them, for the most part. They aren’t credible.

Think through an issue before you take a stand. Tell me why you oppose it. Or support it.

If I disagree, at least I will respect you for your thoughtfulness and thoroughness. And you will force me to think the issue through to defend my stance.

If we engage with life at all, we will have enemies. That’s pretty much a given.

Don’t let that discourage you.

Stand up for what you believe in.

But again, pick your battles. Don’t fight all your enemies. Many of them aren’t worth the effort.

Hamilton on religion: Belief in God as moral authority

One in a series on Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow. On July 18, we discussed his views on central government vs. states’ rights:

https://billcornishwordpresscom.wordpress.com/2017/07/18/hamilton-early-lessons-still-apply/

Today, we see his views on religion.

 

At the end of his life, Hamilton sought out a religious experience more deeply than he did earlier on. As he lay dying after Aaron Burr shot him in a duel, “he made it a matter of urgent concern to receive last rites from the Episcopal Church.” (p. 706)

Hamilton asked for the Rev. Benjamin Moore, rector of Trinity Church in New York City and the Episcopal bishop of New York. Moore balked at giving Hamilton holy communion for two reasons: “He thought dueling an impious practice and did not wish to sanction the confrontation with Burr. He also knew that Hamilton had not been a regular churchgoer.” (p. 707)

hamilton mug

Hamilton then turned to a close friend, the Rev. John M. Mason, pastor of Scotch Presbyterian Church, near Hamilton’s home in New York City. Mason said he could not administer communion to Hamilton because “it is a principle in our churches never to administer the Lord’s Supper privately to any person under any circumstances.” (p. 707)

Hamilton then returned to Moore. Hamilton’s friends pressured the bishop to grant the dying man’s last wish. Moore eventually agreed, and gave holy communion to Hamilton. (p. 708)

 

Hamilton repeated to Bishop Moore that he bore no malice toward Burr, that he was dying in a peaceful state, and that he was reconciled to his God and his fate. (p. 708)

 

While he professed faith throughout his life, it wasn’t a deep-seated tenet of everything he said and did.

 

Like Adams, Franklin and Jefferson, Hamilton had probably fallen under the sway of deism, which sought to substitute reason for revelation and dropped the notion of an active God who intervened in human affairs. At the same time, he never doubted God’s existence, embracing Christianity as a system of morality and cosmic justice. (p. 205)

 

Deism, according to an online dictionary, is “belief in the existence of a supreme being, specifically of a creator who does not intervene in the universe. The term is used chiefly of an intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries that accepted the existence of a creator on the basis of reason but rejected belief in a supernatural deity who interacts with humankind.”

https://www.google.com/search?q=deism&oq=deism&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l5.1471j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

I see a similar thread across the United States today. According to Gallup, 89 percent of Americans say they believe in God, although that number is declining. http://www.gallup.com/poll/193271/americans-believe-god.aspx At the same time, also according to Gallup, 75 percent of Americans identify as Christian, a number that also is declining. http://www.gallup.com/poll/187955/percentage-christians-drifting-down-high.aspx

A vast majority of us today believe in God’s existence, as Hamilton did. Do we believe He intervenes in human affairs? Many say yes but wish He wouldn’t, saying things, for example, like: Why do bad things happen to good people?

Hamilton, however, believed in an impersonal God who just lets life happen. He saw the Bible “as a system of morality and cosmic justice” that transcends humankind.

 

For Hamilton, the French Revolution had become a compendium of heretical doctrines, including the notion that morality could exist without religion … (p. 463)

 

Yet for most of his life, religion could go only so far, in his view.

 

Like other founders and thinkers of the Enlightenment, (Hamilton) was disturbed by religious fanaticism and tended to associate organized religion with superstition. … Like Washington, he never talked about Christ and took refuge in vague references to “providence” or “heaven.” (p. 659)

 

His wife, Eliza, on the other hand, had a very strong Christian faith throughout her life. She rented a pew at Trinity Church, “increasingly spoke the language of evangelical Christianity,” (p. 659) and likely would not have married a man who did not share her faith to some degree (p. 660).

 

(Eliza) was a woman of towering strength and integrity who consecrated much of her extended widowhood to serving widows, orphans and poor children. (p. 728)

 

Alexander Hamilton also doted on his children – he and Eliza had eight – when he had the time, which wasn’t often because of his extremely busy public life. And he and Eliza off and on also hosted orphans and other non-family members in their home, a sensitivity that Alexander had because he was an orphan while growing up in the West Indies.

 

But Alexander Hamilton “lived in a world of moral absolutes and was not especially prone to compromise or consensus building.” (p. 509)

 

This hurt him politically many times throughout his life. As we mentioned last week, he did not value the opinions of common people, but felt the federal government should dictate right and wrong to them. “This may have been why (James) Madison was so adamant that ‘Hamilton never could have got in’ as president.” (p. 509)

Hamilton wore his emotions on his sleeve. Often without decorum, he shared his opinions – in private letters or public pamphlets – that garnered plenty of attention. He had many detractors because of this.

 

“Hamilton was incapable of a wise silence.” (p. 534)

 

He frequently felt the need to defend his honor, even when his closest friends told him he didn’t need to do that. He wrote two pamphlets that severely damaged his reputation while he lived, one defending himself over a one-year affair he had with a married woman who was blackmailing him while he was treasury secretary, and the other criticizing then-president John Adams over their political differences (even though they were both members of the Federalist party).

 

“Rather than make peace with John Adams, he was ready, if necessary, to blow up the Federalist party and let Jefferson become president.” (p. 615)

 

While Hamilton held strong opinions on many subjects, including moral judgments, often to his own detriment, his views on religion softened in his later years, as evidenced by his deathbed pleas for holy communion.

Overcoming the Great Sadness

I think deeply, but I do not feel. I buried my feelings deep inside my heart a long time ago.

This is my escape, my way to conceal pain. I can’t remember the last time I cried. Seriously. I rarely laugh. I’ll share my thoughts, but rarely my longings and deep desires. It’s too much to expect that my deep desires might ever come true.

This is my Great Sadness.

And this is why I was moved by The Shack, showing in theaters now, based on the book by the same name (which I own).

Some Christians are bothered by the theology presented in the film. I think that misses the point. The main character in the movie suffers a horrible tragedy not of his doing. There’s a bad guy to blame. It’s totally unfair. The main character, Mack, has a right to be angry. Doesn’t he? Let the bad guy burn in hell!

The author calls the tragedy a Great Sadness.

Do you have a Great Sadness? The Shack is for you.

Returning to the scene of the crime

Mack’s Great Sadness is a dramatic event that most of us cannot relate to personally. But I’m sure each of us can point to “unfair” events in our lives.

Mack is drawn back to the shack, where the horrible crime was committed. He had to face his anger and bitterness head-on, in the very place where the anger began. Author John Eldredge, who wrote “Wild At Heart,” calls this re-entering your wound. Every man (and woman) has a deep wound in his life. To overcome that wound, we must re-enter it and let God heal it, Eldredge writes.

This is difficult. I haven’t figured out how to do that yet in my own life.

God as a woman?

While at the shack, Mack meets God. This is where the theology gets interesting. God is portrayed as a black woman. Jesus is a Middle Eastern-looking guy, an accurate representation, actually. The Holy Spirit is a tall, thin Asian woman.

Is representing God as a woman sacrilegious? I don’t think so. The Bible says “God created humankind in his image … male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27, emphasis added)

God has femaleness in Him. Otherwise, He could not have created women. We rarely acknowledge that.

For most of the movie, Mack needed a mother’s touch to face his deep wound. This is why God appeared to him as a woman. There’s one scene where God appears as a white man, because the lesson Mack needed to learn at that point required a man’s point of view. In the movie, then, God appears as a woman and a man, depending on the circumstances and the lesson Mack was being taught.

Can God not do this for us as well? The Bible calls God Father many times, but never specifically calls God “mother.” Does God have maternal qualities? Certainly. There’s no doubt.

As a man, it’s easy for me to bury my feelings deep in my heart. I’d rather do something than speak it. It’s the way I’m wired. Do I need maternal leadership to help me discover my feelings and share them? I’m sure I do.

Jesus did things in the movie that He would have done in real life as well. In the movie as in the Bible, He was a carpenter. He had a shed and built something (you’ll have to see the movie to find out what it was). He walked on water – there’s a pond behind the shack. Mack walked on water, too. Except when he tried to do it on his own; then he sank. “It works better if we do it together,” Jesus told him. Um, yes. The real Jesus would say something like that, too.

Finding justice

Jesus led Mack across the pond to meet another person, called Wisdom. This is a powerful scene that describes justice – real justice – better than I’ve seen or heard it described anywhere else. Life is not fair. How do we deal with the Great Sadness in our lives when it shows up unexpectedly? Where is God in the midst of pain and suffering? Why does God allow awful things to happen to us?

God hears us when we ask these deep questions, even if we ask in anger, sorrow and/or frustration. And we must re-enter the wound at its source to get the full answer.

The Holy Spirit tended a garden, which was a beautiful mess. Mack agreed with that assessment as he walked through it. The Spirit told Mack the garden represented his heart. You’ll have to watch the movie to see what the Holy Spirit does with that garden.

Finding forgiveness

When God appears to Mack as a man, He helps Mack forgive the evil man who caused the Great Sadness in his life. Whether the evil man deserves forgiveness or not is irrelevant. Whether the evil man accepts Mack’s forgiveness also is irrelevant.

Forgiveness is a decision Mack must make on his own.

Which he can’t, of course. That’s why God had to meet him at the shack and show him how to forgive.

Forgiveness does not reverse tragedy. It acknowledges that the Great Sadness is very real, but that the Great Sadness does not have to define who we are. By the hand of God, we can overcome it.

This takes time. It’s not a one-time deal, and the movie makes this clear. God gets it. He is patient, and helps us along this journey.

This message is so timely today. I see so much anger around me. I daresay many of us have a Great Sadness in our hearts, something unfair that happened that angers us and that it’s easy to blame God for. Even if He didn’t cause it, He allowed it, right?

See the movie. Take that question directly to God.

The God of the Bible will answer it. You and I both will find healing as we talk honestly with God, and follow His lead.

I haven’t figured it all out yet. I’m still a work in progress.

Finding healing

There’s hope. There is healing. It happens all the time. But our hearts have to be ready for it. God will not force His hand. He gave us free will; we can push Him away if we want to.

There are consequences for that, one of which is that we will miss out on so many blessings that God wants to give us.

One of His biggest blessings is joy, which comes when the Great Sadness is defeated in our hearts.

This is what I saw in The Shack. If you are analyzing the movie with your head only and not your heart, you’ll miss the big picture. Just as you’ll miss the big picture of life itself.

It’s not about judgment. It’s about forgiveness.

That’s the only way the Great Sadness disappears.