Testimonies


“The Shack” by William Young has proven to be one of the most controversial books to hit Christian bookstores in the last several years and even more mind-boggling is that it’s fiction.  Our purchase was accompanied by a warning letter issued by Lifeway urging caution while reading and countless colleagues have dismissed it as theological garbage.  I cannot say that I agree with every part of the book as I felt that Young sides too often with human free will as it relates to God’s sovereignty such that it flirts too close to open theism for me.   However, I must admit that given all the theological furor that accompanied “The Shack,” I was hyper-sensitive to its theology and most people would probably not notice some of the things that startled me.  The most glaring theological trouble spot for many is Young’s depiction of the Trinity, with the Father being personified as an African-American woman and the Holy Spirit as an Asian woman.  I personally do not have trouble with the depiction primarily because it is fiction.  I would have a great deal of difficulty if some new theology text made such assertions as I would find them antithetical to Christian Scripture and tradition.  Yet, because it is a work of fiction we must understand that Young is simply trying to make a point about the fact that in our deepest need God is there meeting it in whatever form necessary.  The main character, Mack Phillips, needed the form of God he encountered to overcome the brutal death of his child.  If we were honest with ourselves sometimes we too would say that sometimes we need to feel God’s paternal discipline and sometimes we need God’s maternal love.  Jesus alluded to this just before His crucifixion when he said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!”  I personally thought the depiction of the Holy Spirit was dead on and particularly helpful in allowing the average Christian to grasp such an important concept given so many misconceptions about the person and work of the Spirit.   The turmoil the depiction has stirred exposes a serious problem in Evangelical Christendom regarding the arts.  So many parts of our society have become so fact driven that we fail to see the arts as a means to enhancing our understanding of our faith and our world.  Our artistic ignorance has caused us to lose a valuable witnessing tool as the world we seek to evangelize is actively engaged in the arts but will not read our Scriptures.  We must learn to use every tool at our disposal for the sake of the Gospel.  Joseph told his brothers that they meant their actions toward him for evil, but God meant it for good that many might be saved.  Have we become so legalistic that we have made God incapable of doing the same with the arts?  “The Shack” has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 92 weeks.  Can you imagine the number of lost people who have read it and had numerous questions about God fill their soul?  Can you imagine the impact on our world if there were Christians who used someone reading “The Shack” as a means of embarking on a conversation that brought another soul into the Kingdom?  I would recommend reading “The Shack” from that perspective alone and hope that it would stir within you a desire to use the arts as part of your witness.

Peace be with you.

I was intrigued by this article on ESPN’s website about some of the basketball coaches in Conference USA.  I would not trade anything for having Roy Williams as Carolina’s basketball coach, but I still have a soft spot in my heart for Matt Doherty.  I think that Matt could have succeeded if he had moved a little slower in his changes and had a less toxic team to coach.  I cannot imagine the pain he endured as the Carolina family turned their backs on him and threw him to the dogs.  I felt the same way about Indiana’s Mike Davis, particularly after I learned all that he had overcome due to a speech impediment to become the Hoosier coach only to be cast aside as well.  It appears that Conference USA is the place where these coaches are getting their second chance and proving themselves once again.  I wish that more churches would act in the same manner.  We are to take the broken and bruised of our world and point them to Christ and redemption such that they can find their second chance.  Instead, we point to the bruises and only begrudgingly offer the necessary salve far too often.  I find it beyond amazing that churches are to be the gathered people of a God who forgets our iniquities and yet we continue to harbor memories of the sins of those around us.  Do we really think it necessary to drag up the past of someone who God forgave decades ago?   Secondly, I wish churches would be more nurturing to their pastors.  I have friends who have been beaten senseless by their churches and they move on to their next church with these open wounds that need healing only to find another church ready to shadow box.  Why aren’t we fighting sin with such abandon?  I do not know of many other professions or callings that beat their leaders the way churches do.  Did not our Lord command us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us?  How do we expect pastors to be nurturing if churches do not act in kind?  I heard recently that 5 years removed from their seminary studies, 50% of ministers quit the ministry entirely.   The percentage increases to 80, 10 years after completing their studies.  Only 5% of those graduating seminary right now will retire from the ministry.  I am so glad these coaches have found some healing and did not quit a profession they loved.  I think they have many life lessons to pour into these young men’s lives that they need to hear, because life will knock you down and you have to get back up.   I know a lot of pastors who have the same lessons to offer churches.  Maybe it’s time the Church started acting a little more like Conference USA.

Peace be with you.

      So, as you can see, it snowed in Enfield this weekend.  In fact, we had to cancel services Sunday for only the second time in my pastorate .  I love it when it snows.  The whole world becomes a vast sea of white and when the sun comes out, it’s brillant reflection is so incredibly pure.  I have been reminded continually during this current winter wonderland of God’s message to Isaiah.  “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”   The Scriptures recount that Moses’ countenance  glowed after he had been in the presence of God, much like the reflection of freshly fallen snow I would suspect.  Is it possible that the reason why people are not drawn to our faith is that we lack such reflection?  Furthermore, could our lusterless faith be the result of a lack of reasoning with God?  When was the last time we felt the washing through of complete repentence?  I realize the difficuly of such questions in my life, yet I know that God desires to make my soul as pure as newly fallen snow.  I pray that as the snow melts away we would allow the vulgarness of our souls to melt with it as we experience afresh the sweet peace of God’s forgiveness.

Everyone seems to have an opinion as to why the earthquake in Haiti happened.  Pat Robertson foolishly stated that the earthquake was a direct result of a Haitian pact with Satan over 200 years ago.  I recognize that voodoo is still practiced in some parts of Haiti, but does he really think this to be the cause of the earthquake?  It would behoove the Reverend Robertson to remember the words of a fellow Virginian almost 250 years ago when Thomas Jefferson stated,

For in a warm climate, no man will labour for himself who can make another labour for him. This is so true, that of the proprietors of slaves a very small proportion indeed are ever seen to labor. And can the liberties of a nation be through secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?  That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?  Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just:  that his justice cannot sleep for ever.

The intolerable cruelty of slavery and the de facto slavery of Jim Crow are not sins that we can simply wash away in course of a few years, no matter how brutal the Civil War may have been, or even a few decades.  The simple fact that Scripture was twisted to further these practices would, I believe, necessitate the judgment of God and as Jefferson so pointedly stated, such justice “cannot sleep for ever.”   We should at least acknowledge our own sins before we go off and declare God’s wrath on someone else’s, a fact that Robertson evidently forgot.  I truly wish the Pat Robertsons of American Christianity would think before they speak and recognize that their statements often cause more damage to the Kingdom of God than they strengthen it.

The anti-Christians use this and other fodder to declare our God feckless and undeserving of worship.  They point to the fact that if God actually was as full of grace and mercy as we declare Him to be, then certainly He would not have allowed such devastation to occur.  The fact that people are in pain somehow negates the existence of God.  My question is why it does not also negate our humanity?  If we remove God from the equation then the next most superior power would be humans.  How did we not cause the devastation in Haiti then?  Why did the world not cry out for someone to go and build substantial buildings in Haiti and teach the Haitian people better ways to live?  Why did the leading Hollywood ethicists not demand telethons before the earthquake to provide better housing?  Why have we not heard the entertainment industry say that they will give all profits from their movies to aid Sudanese refugees.  I read yesterday that “Avatar” had surpassed “Titanic” as the all-time number one movie.  Can you imagine how much good could be done in the lives of thousands if not millions of African AIDS orphans if Avatar’s profits went to their aid?  Those who cast aspersions on our God would do well to examine themselves first, for if they were truly as righteous and noble as they desire us to believe, they would have already taken these actions.

Let’s be honest and recognize that we live in a fallen world where earthquakes, pestilences, and pain do occur.  The Biblical witness does show that God does use such calamities, but we most hold such accounts in tension with Jesus’ teaching on the tower in Siloam.  People die, it’s a fact of life, and we should prepare for that eventuality.  However, we should also understand that it is within our power to prevent a great deal of the world’s suffering and do something about that.  Yes, it will mean that we abandon comfort and ease while embracing sorrow and pain, but is that not the heart of the Gospel?

Peace be with you.

So, I ran across this recently and had a hard time deciding whether to feature DW or Greg Ellis.  My love of NASCAR is great, but it doesn’t compare to my thoughts for Chapel Hill.  So, here’s a fellow alum and powerful testimony. If you would like to see more of these powerful testimonies you can check it out at www.iamsecond.org.

Peace be with you.