Category Archives: Sermon Response

The Shack: Is Seeing Believing?

Did you see the movie, The Shack?

The book just blew me away. Reading it a few years back, I marveled at the creative expression its author, William Young, used to tease out the three Persons of the Holy Trinity and their unique rolls in ministering to one of their beloved when tragedy strikes. The thing is, for me, reading is rarely believing. It may inspire me, but that doesn’t last long. But if you engage my other senses with sights, sounds, camera and action, things get real-er.

That’s what I was hoping for when I shelled out the small fortune to see The Shack on the big screen. And man, that scene at the lake didn’t disappoint. Even though I know what is coming, I am praying it won’t happen. And when it does, I feel it in every fiber of my body.

It’s amazing how this happens when we empathize with characters on the screen. Our bodies react physically as if it were happening to us. The tragic scenes evoke this for me; then I’m hooked. I’m right there with Mack Phillips in his rage, his pain, his depression, and his plight. This is no longer simply a story or a performance by an actor, it feels real.

Now, the tone is set for God, in three Persons, to do what only God can do. The novel did this magnificently. I’m expecting big things from the movie. I’m pulling for Mack and the transformation I know he has coming to him. With him, I sit at the crossroads of perhaps the #1 question we all have for God: why? Why, do you let terrible things happen? With everyone else in that theater, I’m waiting to be convinced by a good answer.

But honestly, I am not.

samworthington shackIt seems to me (and I’m no film critic) that main character, Mack Phillips, has reverted to human husband and father, actor Sam Worthington. And Sam, asked to forgive the unforgivable, just can’t. Who could? He delivers dialogue asking the right questions, demanding answers and explanations, and confronting God for the truth, all as I surely would. I believe him. But, in the pivotal moment, he tosses down his backpack (apparently symbolic for giving up the burden he is carrying) and complies. I just don’t believe him. His facial expression and his body language are just acting, way more like a teen tantrum than a surrender to God.

I’m so disappointed. I had hoped this movie – which had drawn accolades in pre-screening for Christian crowds – could reach would-be believers with the sure message that a compassionate and just God dearly loves them and can be trusted, even in the face of terrible injustice. I had hoped people on a spiritual quest for God would leave affirmed on their journey. Instead, it felt like the main character was still doubtful.

Thank you for the important reminder, Papa God, that we can’t just pretend to have faith and expect people to believe us.

“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” ~ Romans 10: 9-10

And… I guess we shouldn’t be relying on Hollywood to do the job we’re meant to do. If we don’t believe in our hearts before we profess with our mouths, we’re just actors, and all the world’s a stage.

Funny thing, when I googled Mr. Worthington, I found a brief interview he did about The Shack and his preparation for this role. He has a young family, and it is clear that the story cut him deeply. He also has a wicked-strong Australian accent. I felt a bit foolish falling for his portrayal as Mack Phillips, All-American dad. But that’s his job; actors are trained to trick us into believing in them.

God’s not like that, thank goodness. He/she/they are in the truth business.

Into the Desert

The sea has parted forming a wall of water on both sides and a commanding voice booms, “You may paaasss.” That’s how I have always pictured the scene as the ancient Israelites marched, en mass, through the red sea on their way out of Egypt. I imagine Moses at the helm, smiling triumphantly, exuberantly and perhaps a little relievedly as his magic staff actually accomplished what God had told him it would: Let my people go!

Yet, according to the book of Exodus, the Israelites were none too sure about things, Red Sea parting or not:

As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” ~ Exodus 11:10-12 

“Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?” Ironically, this was the phrase that overtook me as I encountered the actual desert for the first time. The Sahara of North Africa was stark, dry, and barren; sand upon sand as far as the eye could see.

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I had been looking forward to this family excursion for months. The trip was planned, a guide secured, preparations made, clothing purchased, and accommodations booked. All was made ready for our travel to Morocco. This day’s journey was the trip’s crown jewel: riding camels through the desert to a campsite where we would spend the night in tents under the expanse of a night sky, completely unspoiled by ambient light of any humankind. We would be alone with the stars in the desert. What bliss…

But first, the desert. Just mounting my camel was a bit harrowing as she lurched forward and then backward to achieve her standing, but as the guide led our small family group toward the dunes, I settled into the clippety-clop rhythm of my ride. I even loosened my death grip on the saddle slightly as we started up the first dune.

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The setting was like nothing I’d ever seen. It was the purest expression of two complimentary colors: an infinity in grains of carmelized sand piled against an inestimable expanse of sky blue. The line separating them as if a kindergartner had drawn it with a crayon. The scene was miraculous, both breathtakingly beautiful and ominously frightening.  Fear and awe all at once.

No greenery. No trees. No water. Only sprigs of dried grasses. Hardly a sign of life of any kind. And we were setting out into it. All I could think was: Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?  Those Israelites had a point. Just imagine being led away from everything you ever knew, all supply, all solace, and all resources into a promised land that looked anything but promising. My judgment of those Israelites was premature. I forgive them their doubt.

And yet, the awe and beauty was palpable in its simplicity, quiet, and tranquility as we upped and downed the dunes. Silent movement. Slow trudging progress toward… How did our guide know which way to go with no landmarks and no visual cues? Everything looked exactly the same to me. The occasional brave pebble rolled downward, displaced by our camels’ hooves, but a brief gust of sultry wind would wipe away the footsteps and remove all evidence that we were here.

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We had placed our well-being in the hands of our guide, a mere teenager. He was a member of a nomadic tribe whose family had lived and loved this land for generations. He didn’t speak our language and we didn’t speak his. Still, we let ourselves be guided and came to trust our sturdy rides – up and over, out and around, over and back, side hill and downhill – as one does the mule who carries you along the switchbacks overlooking the Grand Canyon. They don’t often lose people on these trips, I told myself.

IMG_5927When the campsite came within view, I confess I exhaled a relieved sigh. Light was growing dimmer and all of me could use a rest. It had cooled off from the daytime 105 degrees to an evening “low” in the upper 90’s. As evening fell and stars appeared overhead, we trudged up the nearby dune to get a closer look. Laying back and resting on the fine, dry Sahara sand, we looked up at the stars – the same ones that overlooked all the earth’s inhabitants and the very same that accompanied the ancient Israelites; these still they twinkled down at us. I was completely entranced.

IMG_7118The miraculous always astounds me. With reverence, we set off to see and understand and experience on holy ground. Then we come before God in complete awe and He reminds us of his promise to Abraham and his son Isaac, and through them, to us.

 “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.” ~ Genesis 22:17

Now, it seems odd that the Lord spoke of the sand on the seashore to a people in the desert. Perhaps, he had in mind to part the sea.

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Wendy, the author, and her trusty camel, Rosy.

How Long Does it Take to Grow Up?

Stephanie LeBolt sr banquetMommy, when you are a hundred, will you be as tall as the clouds?

This, my little daughter asks me from her seat on the swing in our backyard. Her sweet up-turned face looks past me to the billowing clouds overhead. To her, growing up means growing taller so she can reach the monkey bars unassisted and ride all the rides at the theme park. Surely 100 years should be enough to reach those clouds, she concludes.

While our growing taller comes to an end during our teens and early twenties, our growth doesn’t stop then; it merely goes undercover. Throughout our lives, our bodies are busy reshaping, remodeling and renewing themselves, not only to heal after injury or illness but as a regular practice. Cellular turnover is part of our programming.

This notion always came as a surprise to the students in my anatomy class who, though quite a bit more advanced than my small daughter, generally assumed that once they stopped growing up they started growing old. Actually, there’s a whole lot of reconstruction going on.

Even our bones, which seem the deadest of things thanks to archaeological excavations and Halloween decorations, are active and changing our whole lives long. Even when they aren’t growing longer, they’re growing stronger in response to the pushes, pulls and pressures they endure. It’s the beauty of weight-bearing exercise. We’re designed to fortify ourselves. What breaks down gets rebuilt, only stronger, given sufficient time, good design and quality building materials. We are always undergoing renovation.

We call this maturation, and I’m pretty sure it’s meant to be a total make-over of body, mind and soul.

Kids think that once they’ve grown up they’re grown-ups, figuring they may have some “filling out” to do but otherwise they’re ready to take on the world. We, who have spent some time in the maturing phase, know that the growing never stops. Though we’re not getting any taller, we’re always remodeling and reorganizing: filling in gaps, replacing old notions, and fortifying things in light of new information.

We who have reached our full height are meant to be filling in: building spiritual muscle, agility and fortitude as God reshapes it along with our minds, hearts and souls. We are clay in the hands of the potter, teaches Jeremiah 18. A contemporary retelling might call us plastic, hardened at room temperature, but pliable at God-temperature.

God’s not done with us yet. That’s such very good news. God’s continually defining and refining, affirming and growing us, inside out, as we will let Him. That’s not just for our own good, but for the good of all of our relationships, including the precious ones we have with the generations to come.

They’re sure to ask us in Sunday school or confirmation class, around the dinner table or after ball practice, on their graduation day or on their wedding day, “Mom and Dad, do your think you’ll ever be able to touch the sky?” They ask, not because they really think we will, but because they want to. And they can’t see ever doing it without us.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. ~ 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 

Oh my yes, little girl, there’s every chance I will reach those clouds because, thanks to God, we’re both still growing.

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