Movie Review: The Shack (2017)

After being criticized on Facebook for disparaging the movie The Shack based on reviews without having seen it myself, I went and saw the movie this morning.  Most of my criticisms stand, although I did see a positive side as well.

The Positives

First, the positives.  The movie is definitely a “feel good” story.  It does a very good job of walking through the process of forgiveness.  The main character, Mack, learns to forgive the perpetrator of a horrific crime.  He learns to forgive himself for allowing the incident to happen.  And he learns to ask forgiveness from others.  The movie could be beneficial for a person who struggles with forgiveness of others, or with being forgiven by others.

For the most part, the movie portrayed Jesus Christ fairly well.  The Jesus character is portrayed as a middle-eastern man, which is much better than how Jesus is often portrayed in films as a blonde-haired, blue eyed Caucasian.  Jesus is shown as both fully human and as Creator of the Universe.  Jesus is also correctly portrayed as the Son of God, although this aspect is not well explained or emphasized.

The movie also does a good job of expressing the absolute love of God.  All three Persons of the Trinity are portrayed as omnibenevolent.   It shows how the love of God is unconditional and extended to everyone.  For a person who struggles with whether God truly loves them, this film might help them to begin to grasp God’s unfathomable love for each of us.

The Negatives

The positive aspects of the film are unfortunately greatly diminished by some extremely bad theology.

God the human woman

God the Father is portrayed as a black woman by the name of Papa, and the Holy Spirit is portrayed as a young Asian woman by the name of Sarayu.  Papa is the name Mack’s wife uses to refer to God.  The name Sarayu comes from the Sanskrit language, and means “air, wind, that which is streaming.”  In the Bible, neither God the Father nor the Holy Spirit take on human form; and neither are of them referred to a female.  Describing God as female is taken from any number of false religions, including the Canaanite goddess Asherah, the Roman Venus, the Greek Aphrodite, numerous Hindu goddesses, and modern Paganism.  Describing God as a human woman is to make Him into a false god, which is blasphemy.

God submits to human choices and wishes

Papa explains to Mack that the reason He appears to him as a woman is because Mack wasn’t ready for Him to appear as a man.  Later in the film, Papa changes to an older man, because Mack needed a father at this point in his journey.  The notion that God changes to meet our needs is unbiblical.  God is unchanging (Malachi 3:6).  The perfect, sovereign, holy God does not alter Himself to meet our needs.  He does not submit to us; rather, we are called to submit to Him.

God doesn’t judge sin

In The Shack, God never judges sin.  At one point, Papa tells Mack, “I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it.”  This contradicts one of the central themes of the Bible.  God judged Adam and Eve in Genesis 3.  He judged Cain in Genesis 4, and the entire world in Genesis 7.  Throughout the history of Israel, God judged many individuals and many nations, including Israel.  In Revelation, God judges all who do not have their names written in the Book of Life, and casts them into Hell with Satan and the demons.  Most importantly, God judged sin and placed it on Jesus Christ.  It is through the blood of Jesus that we are forgiven for sin.  To claim that God never judges sin is to deny the very foundation of the Gospel.

Universalism

Another major problem with The Shack is universal salvation.  Everyone gets saved.  Papa states that all people are her children.  This is unbiblical.  John 1:12 states that people become the children of God when they receive Him; 1 John 3:10 calls some people “children of the devil;” and Romans 9:8 declares that not all are children of God.  Because Papa doesn’t judge, she also doesn’t require repentance.  The biblical God does require repentance (Ezekiel 14:6, Matthew 9:13, Luke 13:5, Acts 2:38, Acts 3:19).  In the world of The Shack, everyone goes to Heaven.  There is no Hell.  Again, this is unbiblical and undermines the Gospel.

Love vs. justice

The Shack portrays Jesus, Papa, and Sarayu as being completely loving and accepting, to the exclusion of other attributes such as being holy, sovereign, and just.   God is limited by His love, and therefore cannot administer justice.  This is a false dichotomy.  It’s not a matter of either God is loving, or He is just.  He is perfectly both.  The Bible describes God as being unlimited by His love (Psalm 103:11), and perfect in His justice (Deuteronomy 32:4).  God’s love does not limit His justice.

Good vs. evil

One of the major themes of the film is the question of why God allows evil, suffering, and death.  Despite the centrality of this theme, the question remains largely unanswered.  Papa skirts the issue by explaining that evil is the result of human free will.  What is missing is the biblical explanation, that sin, pain, suffering, and death can be traced back to Adam’s sin in the Garden.  God created a perfect world, but sin brought the curse of evil.  Also missing is the role of Satan and the demons.  Because The Shack rejects God judging sin, it also rejects the role of original sin as the cause of evil and death.  Romans 5:12 tells us that “through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.”  This is completely missing in the film’s treatment of the issue of evil, leaving the question mostly unanswered.

 Other issues

  • In the movie, Papa has nail scars on her wrists, indicating that she was also crucified. This is not in the Bible.
  • Jesus tells Mack that he is “the best way any human can relate to Papa or Sarayu.” In the Bible, Jesus is the ONLY way to God (John 14:6), not just the BEST way.
  • The film uses the image of a garden with a tree in the center – an obvious allusion to Eden. But, instead of being perfection, the garden is in seeming disarray, representing Mack’s life.  And the tree symbolizes redemption, not the Fall.
  • At one point, the biblical God is equated with the Native American Great Spirit. Biblically, these are two entirely different entities, with the Great Spirit being a false god.

 Conclusions

My reaction to the film is influenced by my own personal faith journey.  I grew up believing in a god very much like Papa in The Shack.  The god I followed was completely loving, to the exclusion of justice.  My god would never send anyone to Hell, because my god loved everyone, and made us the way we are.  I believed that while Jesus Christ was probably the best way to god, all religions pointed to god.

What I didn’t understand was that my god wasn’t real.  I had created god in my own image.  My god was mostly there to make me happy.

When I met Jesus Christ as a college freshman, my life changed eternally.  I began to understand that God’s love and God’s justice are simply two sides of the same coin – that God’s holiness, sovereignty, and perfect love demand God’s perfect justice.  God’s love and justice can be summed up in one verse:  “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  Both God’s perfect love and His perfect justice were satisfied on the cross at Calvary.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

While I thought The Shack taught good lessons on human forgiveness, because of the theological train wreck that permeates the film, I cannot recommend it.  It points to a false god as our hope for peace and forgiveness.  For someone who struggles with forgiveness and whether God truly loves them, the film might give them some insight, but with a dangerous risk.  Embracing the false god of The Shack is a false hope.  Only the true God can offer eternal life through the blood of Jesus Christ.  A god like Papa can make a person feel good about themselves and others, but cannot save us from our sins.   And that is damnable heresy.

 

 

Over the Edge, Plunging Toward Destruction

I used to think that the United States was teetering at the edge of disaster.  I no longer believe this; we’ve deliberately jumped off the edge and are plunging toward destruction at the bottom.

Bush and Obama are not what caused this; they are merely symptoms.  And neither Trump nor Clinton can save us.

The United States was founded on Biblical principles.  For the most part, we followed Jesus Christ and built our values around the Word of God.  Although evil has always existed in America, we knew it was evil, and most of us worked to get rid of the evil.

Today, we’ve mostly rejected Jesus Christ.  We follow whatever we want to follow, and embrace evil as “diversity” or “protecting our rights.”  The American Church, for the most part, embraces behavior that the Bible clearly labels as sin, and claims it’s the only “loving” thing to do.

Although the prophet Isaiah was talking about Israel, he pretty much nails the situation in America today:  “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20).

As it was in Israel, so I believe it will be in the United States:

Therefore, as the fire devours the stubble,
And the flame consumes the chaff,
So their root will be as rottenness,
And their blossom will ascend like dust;
Because they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts,
And despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.
Therefore the anger of the Lord is aroused against His people;
He has stretched out His hand against them
And stricken them,
And the hills trembled.
Their carcasses as refuse in the midst of the streets.  (Isaiah 5:24-25).

This year’s Presidential election only confirms my belief.  We the people have selected the two most corrupt, evil candidates in American history as our Democratic and Republican nominees.  It doesn’t matter which one is elected; either way, we’re putting an evil person into the highest office in the land.  Many Christians are saying, “Yes, Hillary’s evil, but at least she’s not Trump,” or “Yes, Trump’s evil, but at least he’s not Hillary.”  And they’ll go on to talk about what will happen to the Supreme Court and Congress if their candidate isn’t elected.

I’ve got a news flash for you, Christian:  Either way, we put evil into the White House.  Either way, God is judging us for our lack of faith in Him.  Either way, we are plunging to our destruction.  And either way, nothing will stop the destruction other than repenting, and once again turning to Jesus Christ, rather than trusting in ourselves.

This election is not about whether Trump can save us from Hillary, or Hillary can save us from Trump.  It’s about whether we continue trusting our politicians to save us, or once again turn to Jesus Christ for salvation.

I fear America is about to crash and burn.  Then, out of the rubble, God can make us His people again, if we so choose.

Who Can Save America?

The United States of America is more divided than at any time I can remember.  We are divided by politics.  We are divided by income.  We are divided by religion.  We are divided by ethnicity.

The current campaigns for the Presidency exemplify this division.   Republican frontrunner Donald Trump has used the most divisive political rhetoric I’ve ever heard, and has drawn protests and threats from many different groups, from far-left liberals to far-right conservatives.  Other candidates are exploiting Trump’s rhetoric to further divide Americans.  It seems that all of the candidates are seeking to divide Americans into “us” versus “them,” although most do it far more subtly than Mr. Trump.  From Bernie Sanders, it’s the “have nots” versus the “haves.”  From Hillary Clinton, it’s women versus men and the white majority versus racial minorities.  From Donald Trump, it’s anyone who disagrees with him versus those who don’t.  And, from Ted Cruz, it’s anyone who supports the Democrats or Trump versus conservatism.  We have candidates who want to make us into a socialist state, who are being sued for fraud, and who are facing possible FBI indictment.  There have been protests, some with violence; threats against candidates’ families; and threats of more violence.

Trump-Protests

America is a mess.  The police have been accused of racially motivated killings.  Police officers have been assassinated.  Protests are becoming more frequent and more violent.  Terrorism and mass murders are becoming common.  The average household is becoming poorer, while the rich are becoming richer.  Abortion, homosexuality, divorce, pornography, and sex outside marriage are widely accepted, and pedophilia, polygamy, and bestiality are gaining acceptance.  Greed and power are considered to be virtues, and caring for others is considered less important than taking care of self.

Who can save America?

Depending on who is asked, the answer varies.  Many point to Trump, Sanders, Clinton, Cruz, or Kasich.  Others point to third-party candidates from the Libertarian, Green, or other parties.  Many point to ideologies, such as conservatism, liberalism, democratic socialism, or libertarianism.  Some point to the government; others point to the free enterprise system.  Others say that no one can save America, that the decline has become too great ever to overcome.

trump-clinton-sanders-cruz

In order to answer the question of who can save America, we need to look at what made America great in the past, and what changed to cause America to decline.

I contend that what made America great in the past was following Biblical principles, and what has caused its decline has been the rejection of those principles.

adultery_BibleThe United States was never a “Christian Nation,” whatever that means.  We were, however, a nation built on Biblical principles.  The Constitution and Bill of Rights were based on the Bible.  The vast majority of Americans were Christians, or, at least had a respect for Christianity and Biblical principles.  The principles found in the Ten Commandments and Sermon on the Mount were the foundation for American ethics and law.   We were never perfect; we allowed slavery, and we tried to exterminate indigenous peoples.  However, the opposition to both was led by Christians who decried the practices on Biblical grounds.  The concepts of individual responsibility and caring for others were both embraced.   And God blessed the United States because of our respect for Him and our commitment to Biblical principles of morality and law.

Americans no longer have this ideological foundation.  By and large, Americans have rejected Biblical principles.  We no longer accept individual responsibility for our actions, nor do we accept our responsibility to help the less fortunate.  God and the Bible are openly mocked; those who hold to Biblical morality are ridiculed and hated.  The laws are changing to permit and encourage sexual immorality, greed, and other ungodly practices, while penalizing those who follow Jesus Christ.  As in the days of the judges of Israel, everyone does what is “right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6).

Even the Church has largely rejected Biblical principles.  We pick and choose those bits of the Bible we like, while ignoring the rest.  Most of mainstream Protestantism and Roman Catholicism did this many years ago, but now, even much of Evangelical Christianity is doing the same.  The goats are leading the sheep (Matthew 25:31-46); we have become the Laodicean church (Revelation 3:14-22).  And God has cursed us (Galatians 1:6-9).

churchconstruction

Because we once respected and largely obeyed God, He blessed us; and because we have now rejected what we once knew to be the truth, God has now removed His blessing.  America is in decline, because we have rejected that which made us great in the first place – God’s blessing for obedience and respect.

Who can save America?  Not Obama, nor Trump, nor Sanders, nor Clinton, nor Cruz or Kasich.  No political leader can save us.  Only Jesus Christ can save America; and He will not save us unless we repent and turn to Him once more.

10 The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect.
11 The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
The plans of His heart to all generations.
12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
The people He has chosen as His own inheritance.
Psalm 33:10-12

 

 

 

Life is Tough…God is Good

Life is Tough…God is Good

As I have scrolled through my Facebook news feed for the last 24 hours, I have been struck by how tough life is. A good friend of mine has been moved to hospice as a result of complications from a lifetime of smoking. Another friend from childhood is losing a battle with cancer. A young mother from my church is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. My country is being divided by hatred, racism, terrorism, politics, ideology, and greed. Many people struggle to keep a roof over their heads and adequate food on the table. Good jobs are hard to find, and people that have them are in fear of losing them. People struggle with depression, fear, sickness, anger, hopelessness, and death. Life is definitely tough.

Where is God in all of this? It seems most people have given up on God. They see God either as a fairy tale or as uncaring and distant. Even many born-again Christians struggle with the feeling that they cannot live up to God’s expectations and fear that He is unhappy with them and punishing them.

The bad news is that our world is slowly being destroyed by sin. It began in the Garden with Adam and Eve, but like a cancer, it has continued to spread ever since due to the sin of each of us. It’s not God’s fault the world is crumbling; we have brought it on ourselves by our constant rebellion against the God who created everything “very good.” Our collective sin is what has brought on death, disease, poverty, racism, and hatred. And, there is nothing we can do to stop it. We’ve tried legislating morality, but it doesn’t work. We’ve tried religion, irreligion, education, indoctrination, love, hate, freedom, and tyranny, and none of it has done anything to slow the tide of self-destruction that grips our world. We are under a curse (Genesis 3). We’re headed for self-annihilation, and we cannot stop it. Life is tough.

The good news is that God has a plan, and you and I can be part of His plan, if we choose.

LifeIsToughShirtGod is good. Rather than letting us annihilate ourselves, God’s goodness, mercy, and love demanded that He give His Son, Jesus Christ, to take the punishment for sin on Himself. As the apostle Paul explains in Romans 5:8, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Sin is what has torn us away from our Creator, and sin is what tears us apart from each other. Sin is what has brought on disease, hatred, poverty, racism, and death. Paul again explains that, “through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). He continues: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Here’s the goodness of God: Despite the fact that we are destroying His creation by our sin, God has already begun the process of restoration. The restoration began with the cross of Jesus Christ. Individually, it begins when we accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Paul explains in Romans 10:9-10, “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” He develops this idea of personal restoration further in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

The goodness of God is not limited to individual restoration, however. The earth and humanity has been cursed because of our sin (Genesis 3). Paul writes, “the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now” (Romans 8:21-22). The apostle John explains that the curse will eventually be removed: “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away… And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:1, 4). He continues, “And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him” (Revelation 22:3).

Here’s the deal: For those who continue to reject Jesus Christ, there is no restoration, and no hope. Life stays tough, and eternity is a literal Hell. However, for those of us who turn to Jesus Christ, repent of sin, and make Jesus our Lord and Savior, the process of restoration begins immediately. The goodness of God begins to change us. The process begins immediately, but isn’t complete until we are with Jesus in eternity. God doesn’t want people to become religious or spiritual; He wants a restored relationship with us. God’s goodness has provided the means for restoration through Jesus Christ for all who are willing to receive it.

Life is tough, but God is good.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GcBBPbtfoI

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Soul SearchingWhile scrolling through my Facebook feed, I came across this web comic by Adam4d.com. The term “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” was new to me, so I did a bit of digging. What I found was that the concept describes very well what I believed before I came to know Christ.

What is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism?

The term “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” (or MTD) was coined by American sociologist Christian Smith in his 2005 book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. What Smith found was that many if not most self-identified Christian young people he surveyed did not hold to the traditional beliefs of any particular church or denomination, but their theology instead boiled down to a handful of beliefs he dubbed “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism:”

  1. A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

Smith concluded from his research that, when it came to the most fundamental questions of faith and beliefs, most adolescents reacted with, “Whatever.” Yet, they all seemed to have some vague, basic beliefs. Most believe in a moralistic god who wants people to be good; a therapeutic god who wants people to feel good about themselves; and a deistic god who is “out there somewhere” but not especially involved in people’s everyday lives.

Smith primarily identified MTD with youth in American churches, but, from my experience, it’s not just a youth thing. Many of the religious adults I know are Moralistic Therapeutic Deists. Most of so-called “liberal Christianity” is in reality a form of MTD.

Is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism the same as Christianity?

MTDgodMoralistic Therapeutic Deism is just a fancy name for religious humanism. It’s the theology of American liberalism, of Oprah and Joel Osteen. MTD denies fundamental Christian doctrines such as the Trinity, original sin, personal salvation, and Hell. To a Moralistic Therapeutic Deist, the Gospel is about how God loves everyone and wants us to be the good people he created us to be, rather than that “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). It teaches that good people who do good things go to Heaven, rather than that “by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

MTD is not Biblical Christianity. It cannot save a person from Hell. All it does is fools people into feeling good about themselves, without dealing with the reality that each of us is separated from God because of sin – a separation that can only be reconciled by the blood of Jesus Christ.

My personal conversion from Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

I grew up in a liberal denomination. A typical Sunday sermon was little more than a pep talk to go out and be a good person. I believed in God, but God was an impersonal spirit out there somewhere, who created everything good, and wanted everyone to love each other and get along. I cannot remember ever hearing in church that I am a sinner in need of salvation. Hell was a place reserved only for the truly evil people like Hitler if it existed at all. My religious purpose was to be a good person, to feel good about myself, and to help others be good and feel good. This, to me, was what Christianity was all about.

I remember during freshman orientation week in college taking a survey. The survey contained many questions about my political, religious, and social views. Two questions buried among the hundreds on the survey, I remember quite well: Do you consider yourself a Christian? Do you consider yourself a born-again Christian? I answered yes to the first, but no to the second. To me, being a Christian was about being moral, feeling good about myself and others, and belief in God. “Born again” Christians were legalistic nut cases.

In reality, my theology was extremely shallow. I gave very little thought to what I believed, and even less to why I believed it. “All you need is love” pretty much summed up my theology.

My theology (or lack thereof) was shattered by the simple question, “Who is Jesus?”

I realized that if Jesus was just a man, then the cross was nonsense. But, if Jesus is God in the flesh, then the cross was the most important event in history. If Jesus was just a man, then “all you need is love” is a nice sentiment, but nothing more. But, if Jesus is truly God, then “all you need is love” is just flat-out wrong.

I came to realize that my sin separated me from God and that only God in the flesh as Jesus Christ, dying on the cross, could pay the penalty for my sin. I placed my faith and trust in Jesus Christ. I came to realize that, while God does want people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, being good cannot get me into Heaven. My purpose in life isn’t to be happy and make others happy; it’s to know Jesus and point others to Him. God is only distant for people who don’t know Him. For those who are saved, the Holy Spirit lives in us and is intimately involved with every aspect of our lives.

I came to reject MTD and to embrace Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.

Why is any of this important?

“Why is all of this so tragic? Because MTD is not Christianity. It’s not even a version of Christianity.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is a false religion created by and for members of the most rich, catered, defensive, politically-correct, over-protected, over-nurtured, over-fed society the world has ever known, and the fact that it uses the name Jesus and various select Christian buzzwords allows it to be passed off as Christianity.

It has nothing to do with biblical Christianity. It’s not in the Bible. Jesus didn’t teach it. Paul wouldn’t recognize it.

And yet it calls itself Christianity and it’s taught every Sunday by pastors in church buildings all over the place.” adam4d.com/mtd/

How many of us have loved ones who subscribe to MTD? How many of our friends think they’re Christians, but aren’t, and are on the path to Hell?

What about yourself? Do you subscribe to the feel-good, do good distant god? Or do you know the God who sent His only begotten Son to die for your sin? Do you believe you’re basically a good person, or a sinner who needs a Savior?

Make sure you know the Truth. There are eternal consequences if you don’t.

Pine Ridge Mission Trip 2015 – Day 2

Tuesday, August 4 was our second full day at Pine Ridge. My daughter Stacey and I, along with about 20 other people from Fairfield First Baptist Church, were at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to serve the community by building and repairing homes, building relationships, and sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

NSM2015LOGOretinaWe worked through Next Step Ministries. We stayed at a Parks and Recreation facility north of the community of Wounded Knee, SD. Housing consisted of a couple large buildings with rooms holding about 8 guys or gals, sleeping on air mattresses or cots. At least we had heat and air conditioning, and the conditions were better than most of the homes on the Rez.

For breakfast, we had pancakes and sausages. As usual, we made sack lunches to take with us to our work sites. A couple of the students in my group made lunches to take to Tyson and Tyrell, the boys who live next to the home we were repairing. The morning was kind of chilly, and it sprinkled a little.

Me, holding a ladder

Me, holding a ladder

After coffee at Higher Ground, we headed to Candy’s house, and got to work. We put up more Hardie board, trimmed out windows and doorways, and caulked a lot of cracks. We found that one end of the trailer was going to be difficult to fix, because much of the framing was rotted out. Our Next Step leader, Rob, would need to do the work to replace the framing before we could begin work on the siding.

It was hot – in the low 90s – but a strong wind made the heat bearable. Rain threatened all day, but never came. While we worked, a few of us had a conversation about demonic activity on the Rez. Traditional Lakota religion is based around spirit worship. They believe in a Great Spirit or Creator, as well as other spirits. We discussed how, from a Biblical perspective, these spirits are demons. Followers of traditional Lakota religion use various rituals to keep the bad spirits away and placate the good spirits. The Sage plant is burned as incense to ward off evil spirits. Sage grows all over the place around Pine Ridge – we saw it at Candy’s house, John and Nadine’s house, and along the road between Pine Ridge and Wounded Knee. We talked about how Pine Ridge is a very spiritually dark place – many of the suicide notes mention a dark, shadowy figure who told the person to kill themselves. Candy, the owner of the home we were working on, is a Christian. She plays Christian music in her trailer 24/7, in the belief that it helps keep the evil spirits out.

A few minutes after this conversation, the wind blew down one of the ladders, barely missing one of the women from our group. This may be difficult for some people understand, but I’m convinced it wasn’t an accident. I personally had made sure the ladder was set correctly, and although the wind was blowing, it wasn’t gusting strong enough to blow down the ladder. I honestly believe the ladder was pushed by something demonic, in response to the conversation we had just finished. The Bible talks about spiritual warfare happening all around us, that we cannot see, and I felt something that kind of creeped me out just before the ladder fell – a sort of presence, like something was watching me. This is entirely consistent with numerous accounts from many other people about encountering evil spirits on the Rez. Coincidence? I suppose it’s possible, but I doubt it.

Putting up Hardie board

Putting up Hardie board

At lunch time, the teens in our group took the two lunches they had made for Tyson and Tyrell next door to give to them, but they weren’t home; the person who answered the door said they would give the lunches to them when they returned.

Later that afternoon, I went over and talked to Wilbert Jr. again. Wilbert was living in a tent in the front yard of his dad Wilbert Sr. while waiting for a teaching job on another reservation to begin later in the month. He had asked if Next Step could do anything to help repair his dad’s trailer before winter. I found out that Next Step has a 2-3 year waiting list for assistance, and that they weren’t even able to take applications at that time. So, Next Step wasn’t going to be able to do any work on the house. However, I told him that I would check to see whether we might be able to leave any left-over materials – Hardie board, nails, caulk, trim, etc. – at the end of the week, so he and his dad could make the repairs themselves.

That evening, we went to White Clay, Nebraska, for an evening at Lakota Hope. Lakota Hope is “a ministry serving the Lakota Nation – specifically the Risen Warriors (street people) of Whiteclay and Pine Ridge.” White Clay (population 14) is an unincorporated town two miles south of the center of Pine Ridge, just across the Nebraska/South Dakota border. The town consists of several liquor stores and a few homes. Until recently, the sale of alcohol on Pine Ridge Reservation was illegal, so the town of White Clay sprang up primarily to provide alcohol to the Lakota. The four liquor stores in White Clay, licensed by the State of Nebraska, sell the equivalent of 4.5 million 12-ounce cans of beer annually (12,500 cans per day), mostly to the Oglalas living on the Pine Ridge. Many of the Lakota who purchase alcohol in White Clay live in the streets, sitting or laying on the sidewalks or alleyways. It’s so common to see drunks on the side of the road, they actually show up in Google Maps Street View. Efforts have been made to shut down the alcohol sales, but the state of Nebraska and Sheridan County officials have taken little action.

Lakota Hope

Lakota Hope

The Lakota Hope Ministry was started and is run by Bruce and Marsha BonFleur, who came to White Clay in August of 1998. They had no formal training, little knowledge of Lakota history, complete ignorance of Lakota culture, and no idea why God had brought them there. They just had the desire to do what God called them to do – to “live among and serve God’s beloved Oglala Lakota Sioux people on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.” Bruce and Marsha built the Lakota Hope Center in White Clay, and have developed relationships with the street people, leading many of them to personal relationships with Jesus Christ.

Kevin Poor Bear

Kevin Poor Bear

During the summer months, Lakota Hope hosts an event on the grounds where the locals can get a free meal and local artists can sell their work to people visiting the Rez. There is usually a Christian band or singer, a speaker, and a chance for visitors to get to know the street people. On the night we visited, there was a Messianic Jewish band playing a very Israeli style of music, and probably around 30 local artists selling various items. One of my favorite artists was a guy named Kevin Poor Bear. Kevin is a Lakota, double-amputee, former alcoholic Christian with an amazing artistic talent. After his daughter was killed by a drunk driver, Kevin turned his life over to Jesus Christ and gave up drinking, and now uses his talent to bring glory to his Savior.

Several from our group took food out to the streets of White Clay, and gave it to the people they met on the sidewalks. Most spent quite a bit of time talking to those they met, listening to their stories, and getting to know them. Most Lakota are difficult to share the Gospel with, until they get to know you. Historically, churches were used to deliberately destroy traditional Lakota culture. Children were taken and placed in church-run schools, where they were forced to cut their hair, wear White American clothing, and learn English and American religion, while being forbidden to speak Lakota or practice their traditional beliefs. Most of

People at Lakota Hope

People at Lakota Hope

these so-called “Christian” churches weren’t made up of actual born-again followers of Jesus Christ, but rather, cultural Christians – Christians in name only. So, there is a lot of well-justified suspicion and distrust of people calling themselves Christian by the Lakota. The best way to share the Gospel – not just with the Lakota, but with most people – is to start by developing a relationship with them first. Many of the street people of White Clay opened up and shared their entire life stories to those who brought food to them – they were just happy that someone cared enough to listen. And, many from our group had a chance to share the good news of Jesus Christ one-on-one with someone who needed to hear. I’m not aware of anyone getting saved that evening, but many seeds were planted, and many people prayed with that evening.

I heard accounts of dark, shadowy figures walking the streets of White Clay after dark. Again, I believe there is real demonic activity on and around the Pine Ridge Reservation, and I heard far too many people describing the same sort of dark, shadowy figure to dismiss it. Many of the street people fear this figure, and Bruce BonFleur says he’s seen it as well. As a follower of Christ, I don’t fear such things, because Christ has defeated the Devil and his minions. However, Christians need to be aware that demonic activity is real, and remain diligent to pray against evil and for those who are oppressed by demons.

I didn’t join the group that took food to the street people. Instead, I had a long talk with John Bissonette, who had come out to Lakota Hope that evening with Nadine and two of their grandkids. I really wanted to get to know John, who I had been praying for for months. We talked a lot about the needs of the people in Pine Ridge, and about his and Nadine’s desire to help the people on the Rez, especially battered women and children. I asked him what kinds of resources Fairfield First Baptist Church and I might be able to provide, once we got back to Ohio. At first, he was reluctant to ask for any assistance, but with a bit of prodding, he listed the following:

  • Bibles (especially NKJV)
  • Bible DVDs
  • Blankets
  • Clothing
  • Coats and jackets
  • Shoes
  • Tools to fix cars
  • A decent chainsaw to cut fire wood

I’m hoping and praying that we will be able to get some of these things sent out to John and Nadine over the next few months.

Later that evening, we stopped at Big Bat’s again for F’reals. Some from our group met a homeless girl named Aimee, who was living in her car with 3 small children. It turned out she was the sister of Cody White Pipe, who many from the group had met last year, and whose story I will tell on another day. There seemed to be a lot of “coincidences” that occurred on this trip; however, I don’t believe they were actually coincidences. God has a way of orchestrating things to bring people and circumstances together for a purpose. Some of the people from our group bought her some groceries and diapers, which were very appreciated. Aimee had recently bought a trailer and some land near Porcupine for $400, but the trailer had been a former meth lab, and was completely uninhabitable. A few of the men from the group agreed to go out the next day to have a look at it, to see if it might be salvageable.

Back at the compound, I showered, and went to bed, very tired, yet very optimistic about the rest of the week to come.

Pine Ridge Mission Trip 2015 – Background

My daughter Stacey and I are planning to go on a short-term mission trip to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in NSM2015LOGOretinasouthwest South Dakota this August. The trip will be with about 20 other people from my church, Fairfield First Baptist, and is through Next Step Ministries. This is the first in a series of blogs I’ll be writing about the trip.

Pine Ridge Reservation is home to the Oglala Lakota tribe, and located in Oglala Lakota County (formerly Shannon County), South Dakota, which is the poorest county in the United States. Some statistics:

  • Pine Ridge has 8 times the United States rate of diabetes.
  • The alcoholism rate is estimated as high as 80%.
  • The median income on the Pine Ridge Reservation is approximately $2,600 to $3,500 per year.
  • The unemployment rate on Pine Ridge is approximately 83-85%, and can be higher during the winter months.
  • About 97% of the population lives below Federal poverty levels.
  • 1 in 4 infants is born with fetal alcohol syndrome or effects.
  • The suicide rate is more than twice the national rate.
  • Teen suicides occur at a rate of 4 times the national rate.
  • School drop-out rate is over 70%.
  • Teacher turnover is 800% that of the U.S. national average.
  • Infant mortality is three times the national rate.
  • Life expectancy on Pine Ridge is the lowest in the United States and the 2nd lowest in the Western Hemisphere. Only Haiti has a lower rate.
  • There are an estimated average of 17 people living in each family home (a home which may only have two to three rooms).  Some larger homes, built for 6 to 8 people, have up to 30 people living in them.
  • Over-all, 59% of the Reservation homes are substandard.
  • Over 33% of the Reservation homes lack basic water and sewage systems.
  • 39% of the homes on the Pine Ridge Reservation have no electricity.
  • At least 4,000 new homes are needed on the Reservation in order to combat the homeless situation.

History

LakotaThe Oglala are one of the seven subtribes of the Lakota tribe, who along with the Nakota and Dakota, comprise the Great Sioux Nation. Prior to the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804–1806, the Lakota had little contact with non-indigenous people, other than a few traders. At one time, the Lakota controlled a vast area of the Great Plains, including parts of Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana.

In 1851, the United States government negotiated the first Fort Laramie Treaty with the Lakota and several other tribes in order to secure the safety of travelers on the Oregon Trail. The Indians were to receive an annuity in the amount of fifty thousand dollars for fifty years. The U.S. Senate promptly adjusted the compensation from fifty to ten years, then failed to actually deliver most of the commodities promised as payment, and did not enforce other treaty provisions.

In response, the Lakota and others attacked settlers, causing public pressure on the US Army to punish them. A series of battles between the Lakota and the U.S. Army followed.

The 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie ended this war. The treaty established the Great Sioux Reservation, which comprised the entire western half of South Dakota, including the Black Hills. The Black Hills were (and are still) considered sacred by the Lakota. The treaty provided for hunting privileges in areas of Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota until the buffalo were gone, as well as for schools, clothing, blankets, and food rations. It also called for land allotments to be made to individual Indians.

SiouxreservationmapWhen gold was discovered in the Black Hills in 1872, the U.S. government refused to enforce provisions of the 1868 treaty keeping miners out.

Despite the fact that the 1868 treaty required that ¾ of all adult Lakota males had to approve any land deals, and that the Lakota overwhelmingly refused to sign the new treaty, the U.S. Congress ratified Indian Appropriations Act of 1876, which cut off all rations for the Lakota until they ceded the Black Hills to the United States, effectively stealing the Black Hills from the Lakota.

The government also began the systematic destruction of the buffalo herds that the Lakota relied on for food and shelter. This forced the Lakota onto the reservations in order to receive food allotments, or to starve. Once on the reservations, the government again ignored treaty provisions by reducing food allotments, causing widespread illness and death due to malnutrition.

The Dawes Act of 1887 forced the Lakota to divide the Reservation land into allotments for individual Indians, and to sell off “excess” lands to white settlers. It was designed to force the Lakota to become “civilized” by becoming farmers and abandoning traditional tribal structures and traditions. However, because the land was unsuitable for farming, and due to severe drought, the Lakota were reduced to near starvation.

In 1890, in part due to the desperation of the Lakota people, a religious movement known as the Ghost Dance arose. It was believed that the dance would reunite the Lakota with spirits of their dead ancestors, make the whites leave, and bring unity, prosperity, and peace. Unfortunately, many white settlers felt threatened by the movement, fearing it would lead to a new round of war with the Indians. The military was called in. On December 15, 1890, 40 Indian policemen tried to arrest Chief Sitting Bull, a supporter of the Ghost Dance, killing him in the process. After Sitting Bull’s death, about 200 members of his followers, fled and joined Chief Spotted Elk, and attempted to travel to Pine Ridge for protection. On the way, they were met by a 7th Cavalry detachment under Major Samuel M. Whitside. On December 29, 1890, while camped next to Wounded Knee Creek, the military attempted to disarm the Indians. After a scuffle, a shot was fired, then the military opened fire on the Indians. A massacre ensued. In less than an hour, at least 150 Lakota men, women, and children had been killed, and many more wounded. Some estimates put the total casualties (dead and wounded) at around 300 of the approximately 350 Indians in Spotted Elk’s group. Many of the women and children fled into a nearby ravine, where they were systematically hunted down and shot. The Wounded Knee Massacre effectively ended all Lakota hopes of a return to the pre-reservation way of life.

Religion on Pine Ridge Reservation

Approximately 46% of the residents on Pine Ridge Reservation are affiliated with a religious congregation. Nearly half of those are affiliated with the Catholic Church, and a little over a quarter are affiliated with the Episcopal Church. The rest are spread between various evangelical churches, mainline Protestant churches, and a smattering of others.

The Oglala Lakota are very spiritual people. Although not affiliated with a church, most hold to some variation of traditional Lakota beliefs, and many affiliated with churches combine some traditional beliefs with their Christian beliefs.

According to Lakota tradition, the Lakota were given their culture by a sacred person, the White Buffalo Calf Woman, who gave the people the sacred pipe along with a promise to teach them the ceremonies and standards for living as a united tribe. This pipe links the Lakota to their relatives the buffalo, who would give their very lives to sustain their kin.

The Lakota language has no word for religion. The sacred are not restricted to certain times, places, or activities – the Lakota held and many continue to hold that all is sacred. Religious revelation through personal quest, dreams, and visions remains an important part of their dynamic belief system. Lakota religion teaches that everything has a spirit, and many Lakota worship the spirits. The Great Spirit is the most powerful of all – the traditional Lakota God.

There are many Christian organizations that do mission work on Pine Ridge. Most center around building projects and other ways of trying to improve the living conditions on the Reservation. Many of the Oglala appreciate the work these groups do, but many others have a deep opposition to Christianity and Christians. Many feel they have been stripped of everything they once had, and that their traditional religious beliefs are all they have left. Others resent that religion, especially Catholic and Episcopalian churches, was shoved down their throats in the deliberate attempts to “civilize” them by forcing them to give up their traditional ways.

Why this matters

Pine RidgeBecause I will be spending a week in August on the Pine Ridge Reservation as a missionary, I felt it was critical that I learn as much as possible about the people I will be ministering to. The Gospel isn’t about changing culture; it’s about introducing people to Jesus Christ. Part of evangelism involves understanding the people being evangelized in order to be able to present the Gospel message in a relevant way. The message doesn’t change, but how it’s presented must be tailored to fit the understanding of those with whom it’s being shared. Part of always being ready to give a defense of the Gospel to everyone who asks us about it (1 Peter 3:15) is to anticipate the probable objections to the Gospel that a particular group might raise, and to prepare Biblically-solid answers.

In Lakota culture, one must earn the right to be heard. The way to earn that right is by building relationships, and relationships are built through understanding and trust. At this point, my goals for the trip are: 1) help improve someone’s life through building projects; 2) build relationships through service and friendship; and 3) when given the opportunity to be heard, present the Gospel in a way that it can be understood and received. My hope is that the preparation, study, and prayer I have undertaken will allow me to have an impact on someone’s life with the Gospel.

There is great spiritual warfare on the Reservation. The worship of spirits opens the door to demonic activity. Many of the suicides at Pine Ridge have been directly attributed to bad “spirits” telling people to kill themselves. Please pray for the Lakota people on Pine Ridge Reservation, and for the Christians (both natives and non-natives) working to spread the Gospel and improve living conditions.

The righteous will answer Him, saying, “Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?” And the King will answer and say to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”