There’s a Wolf in THE SHACK

 

The Heretical Theology of William P. Young in The Shack

Remember the folk tale of Little Red Riding Hood?  In most versions of the story, a young girl is walking to her sickly grandmother’s cottage with a basket of goodies.  Along the way, she meets a big, bad wolf who wants to eat her.  The wolf tricks her into telling where she is going.  The wolf gets to grandmother’s cottage first, and eats the grandmother.  He then puts on her clothing as a disguise and gets into her bed.  When Red Riding hood arrives, she is fooled by the wolf, and would have been eaten if she had not been rescued by a brave woodsman.

In the book The Shack by author William P. Young (and in the 2017 movie based on the book), the protagonist, Mackenzie Phillips, called “Mack,” meets God, who is portrayed as a grandmotherly woman called Papa living in a cottage.  And like Red Riding Hood’s grandmother, the grandmotherly woman in The Shack is a wolf in disguise.

William P. Young

The Bible often refers to false teachers as wolves.  For example, in Matthew 7:15, Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.”  Ezekiel describes Israel’s false teachers by writing, “Her princes in her midst are like wolves tearing the prey, to shed blood, to destroy people, and to get dishonest gain. Her prophets plastered them with untempered mortar, seeing false visions, and divining lies for them, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’ when the Lord had not spoken” (Ezekiel 22:27-28).  And the Apostle Paul warned the church leaders at Ephesus, “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears” (Acts 20:29-31).

In my previous blog, I discussed the bad theology I believe ruined an otherwise wonderful movie about forgiveness.  After reading my review, one of my readers pointed me to a new 2017 book by William P. Young called Lies We Believe About God.  According to the book’s description on Amazon.com,

Wm. Paul Young has been called a heretic for the ways he vividly portrays God’s love through his novels. Here he shares twenty-eight commonly uttered and sometimes seemingly innocuous things we say about God. Paul exposes these as lies that keep us from having a full, loving relationship with our Creator.

Many of the beliefs Young calls “lies” are in fact lies, according to the Bible.  For example, Young includes chapters on “God blesses my politics,” “God is a magician,” “God is a divine Santa Claus,” and “God loves me for my potential.”  None of these ideas are biblical.  The problem is that other chapters deny essential truths of the Bible.  Three of the most egregious truths that Young calls lies are as follows/

“You need to get saved.”

Young believes the saying, “You need to get saved,” is a lie.  Young writes in Lies We Believe About God:

So what is the Good News? What is the Gospel?

The Good News is not that Jesus has opened up the possibility of salvation and you have been invited to receive Jesus into your life. The Gospel is that Jesus has already included you into His life, into His relationship with God the Father, and into His anointing in the Holy Spirit. The Good News is that Jesus did this without your vote, and whether you believe it or not won’t make it any less or more true.

He continues:

Are you suggesting that everyone is saved? That you believe in universal salvation? That is exactly what I am saying!

Young uses several verses from the Bible to justify his assertion of universal salvation:

  • John 12:32 “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.”
  • 1 Timothy 4:10 “For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.”
  • John 1:3 “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.”
  • 2 Timothy 1:9 “God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began…”
  • 2 Corinthians 5:19 “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.”

The problem is that Young cherry-picks verses out of context to support his view, while completely ignoring others that contradict it.  Young is correct that God’s gift of salvation is offered universally to all people, but misses the fact that not all people will receive this precious gift.  Consider these verses:

  • John 1:10-13 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
  • Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”
  • Revelation 21:27 (speaking of Heaven) “But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.”

Scripture is clear that not all people will receive God’s amazing gift of salvation.  Only those who repent and believe are saved.  “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19).  “..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” Romans 10:9-10).

“Sin separates us from God.”

Young believes that sin does NOT separate us from God.  He writes in Lies We Believe About God:

  • The irony is that the healing for their sadness is always within their reach, because their actions never had the power to separate them from God in the first place.
  • There is a truth about who you are: God’s proclamation about a “very good creation” is the truest about you. That very good creation is the form or origin of you, the truth of who you are in your being. Sin, then, is anything that negates or diminishes or misrepresents the truth of who you are, no matter how pretty or ugly that is.
  • If separation is a lie, does it mean that no one has ever been separated from God? That is exactly what it means. Nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38–39). Jesus did not come to build a bridge back to God or to offer the possibility of getting unseparated.
  • Do we think we can be so wretched and sinful that we become abhorrent to God… No! There is no separation.

What does the Bible have to say about separation from God?

  • Isaiah 59:1-2 “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”
  • 2 Thessalonians 1:9 “They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”
  • John 3:3 “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’”

What about Romans 8:38–39?  “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  In context, Paul is talking about those who have been saved, not all of humanity. The context:

“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit… But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His… For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” (Romans 8:1, 9, 13-14).

For those who have trusted Jesus Christ as Savior, nothing can separate us from the love of God.  However, for those who do not repent and trust in Jesus, they will forever be separated from God.  As it states in Revelation 20:12-15:

 And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.

“God is good. I am not.”

Young believes in the inherent goodness of humanity.  He writes:

The truth is that we have inherent value because we are made in the image of God. Our value and worth are not dependent on us. But those of us who are desperately broken and wounded may believe that if there is nothing good in us, there is no hope for real transformation.

Does anything that is “not good” originate in God? No! Are we still image bearers, made in the image of God? Yes, we are!

I am fundamentally good because I am created “in Christ” as an expression of God, an image bearer, imago dei (see Ephesians 2:10). This identity and goodness is truer about us than any of the damage that was done to us or by us.

Young’s argument is that because we are created in the image of God, we must be good, because God is good, and cannot create anything that is not good.  What Young fails to understand is that although humanity was created “very good,” our sin has marred the image of God in us.  Originally created “good,” we are now sinners.

  • Genesis 6:5 “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
  • Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?”
  • Romans 3:10-12 “There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.”
  • Romans 7:18 “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”

Young also fails to grasp that God loves us despite our depravity, not because of our goodness.  This is the very essence of the Gospel.  “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  God saves us, not because we are inherently good, but because of His great mercy and grace.  Mercy can be defined as not getting what we deserve, while grace can be defined as getting what we don’t deserve.  They’re opposite sides of the same coin.  Because of sin, we all deserve Hell.  God, in His mercy, gives us the opportunity to avoid Hell by repenting of sin and making Jesus Christ our Lord.  Because of sin, we do not deserve a relationship with God.  God, in His grace, offers us a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ.  God cannot offer mercy, grace, or forgiveness to “good” people, but only to those who don’t deserve it because of sin.  If we were “good,” we wouldn’t need mercy or grace.

Young does make an important point, however.  He states, “The truth is that we have inherent value because we are made in the image of God. Our value and worth are not dependent on us.”  This is absolutely true.  Young relates his personal story of growing up in an abusive home.  He writes:

“Growing up with my father was too often terrifying. Being around him was like walking through a minefield, with the explosive devices changing positions every night while I slept… He was the righteous man who was never wrong, and he was a strict disciplinarian.”

Many people view God as a hateful, vengeful disciplinarian who punishes us because we disappoint Him.  Many get this idea because they grew up with abusive fathers.  This is not the God of the Bible.  God loves and values us more than we can ever imagine.  God’s love is perfect, unlike human love.  The separation between humanity and God is not from God; it is because of our sin and our rejection of Him.  John 3:16-20 explains it like this:

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. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.

Conclusions

While Young makes several valid points in Lies We Believe About God, he promotes heresy and completely undermines the Gospel in other places.  Young grew up believing a mixed bag of truths and untruths.  In rejecting the untruths, he threw out the proverbial baby with the bath water.  Young correctly rejects the angry, vengeful god in favor of the God of love.  However, in the process, he also rejects the holiness, justice, and sovereignty of God.    He rejects one false gospel by adopting a different false gospel.  He preaches a form of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, not biblical Christianity.  The god of The Shack cannot save anyone.  Paul warned us in Colossians 1:6-9 about false teaching such as this:

I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.

The truth is that we are sinners who need to be saved by God’s mercy and grace.  The Good News is that God loves us despite our rebellion against Him, and offers each of us salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ, who died in our place, and rose again.  If we repent and receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we can have an eternal love relationship with God.  The flip side is that if we do not receive Christ, we do indeed spend eternity separated from God in Hell.  This is not because God hates us, but because we reject God.

The god of The Shack is indeed a ravenous wolf disguised as a benevolent grandmother.  While the book and movie contain wonderful messages of forgiving those who hurt us, forgiving ourselves, and seeking forgiveness from others, it completely misses the truth of receiving forgiveness from God through Jesus Christ.  It offers a false hope in a false gospel, and anyone who embraces this falsehood is accursed to spending eternity without the true forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

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.

 

 

What Is My Biggest Problem?

What is my biggest problem?

 

It’s not the government.

It’s not the economy.

It’s not other people.

It’s not a lack of opportunity.

It’s not my health.

It’s not my job.

 

My biggest problem is myself.

 

I am a sinner.

I’ve always been a sinner.

I will always be a sinner until the day I die.

I can’t change it by trying harder.

I can’t change it by being more religious.

I can’t change it by doing more good stuff.

There is nothing I can do to stop being a sinner.

It’s who I am.

 

Only Jesus can change me.

 

Only Jesus can fundamentally change who I am.

All I can do is trust Jesus.

All I can do is to quit trying to change myself,

And give my life to Jesus.

Give my sin to Jesus,

Give my will to Jesus,

Give my dreams and ambitions to Jesus,

Give everything to Jesus.

 

My biggest problem is myself.

And I cannot fix myself.

Only Jesus can fix me,

And all I can do is get out of the way

And trust and follow Jesus.

 

You are your own biggest problem.

And, only Jesus can fix you, too.

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 5

Friday was the last full day we spent at Pine Ridge. It was our “free day” – no construction work was scheduled. Most groups went to Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore, or the Black Hills. We spent most of the day meeting with people and building relationships.

Ruby's Garden

Ruby’s Garden

Our first stop was at the home of a Lakota woman named Ruby. Ruby lives in a trailer on the outskirts of the town of Pine Ridge, near the airport. She works to bring the message of the Gospel to the people of Pine Ridge in a number of ways. Ruby has a large garden where she grows a variety of vegetables, and she gives most of the produce away. One of the things I had noticed yesterday when I had visited the only grocery store in town was that the price of produce was extremely high. The government commodity foods that most of the residents receive contain very little fresh produce, and since most residents have extremely limited income, it must be very difficult for many residents to obtain fresh produce. Ruby’s garden helps with this.

Ruby

Ruby

Ruby also brings in a local Gospel band to do concerts, sometimes under a tent in her yard. She said that most Lakota won’t come to hear a speaker, but will come to hear music, and the message of Jesus Christ can be spread through music.

Ruby’s main income is her Social Security check, which she spends mostly to help others. She said, “I’m very poor materialistically, but very rich in God’s blessings.” Such a wonderful attitude!

Some of the guys grabbed lawnmowers and mowed Ruby’s yard.

Our next stop was at the Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Cemetery in Porcupine, SD, to visit the grave of Cody White Pipe.

Many from our group met Cody, a 21-year-old Lakota man, a year ago while on another mission trip to Pine Ridge. Cody was hitch hiking, and they gave him a ride. Some of the group spent time getting to know him, and they became friends. About a month later, after the Fairfield group had returned home, Cody was killed in a hit-and-run accident. He had been visiting his sister, and had decided to walk home. His body was found on the side of U.S. Highway 18 about five miles east of Vetal, according to the Rapid City Journal. Cody’s obituary is here.

Cody's Grave

Cody’s Grave

Jessica, our group leader, went to Cody’s wake, and befriended several family members.

We were met at Cody’s grave site by his sister. She told us that Cody’s case is still considered open by the police, and that he might have been a victim of homicide. Apparently, there were indications at the scene that his death might not have been an accident. For many years, Pine Ridge Reservation has had a homicide rate much higher than the national average, and many of the murders remain unsolved. Gang violence is responsible for many of the murders. Although Cody was not affiliated with any of the gangs on the reservation, Cody’s family suspects that he might have seen something, or said something, or been mistaken for someone else, and paid for it with his life.

According to his sister, Cody had mentioned seeing a mysterious, dark figure a week or so before his death. Many Lakota believe in a “Tall Man” spirit, a spirit of death, which often appears to people before they die. Because Lakota religion is based around spirit worship, demonic activity is rampant on the reservation. It’s quite possible Cody’s death was influenced by this demonic activity.

Grave of a young Lakota child

Grave of a young Lakota child

Something that struck me as I walked around the cemetery was the large number of young people and children buried there. There are many graves of infants, children, teenagers, and young adults in their 20s, far more than in most cemeteries I’ve visited. I’ve seen graves of children in pioneer cemeteries from the 1700s and 1800s, before modern medicine had been developed. These graves, however, were mostly from within the last 50 years. It really hit home to me how the medical care and relative safety I take for granted are simply not available to many on Pine Ridge Reservation, with deadly consequences. Pine Ridge has the lowest average life expectancy in the United States, largely because of childhood deaths. The problems with poverty on Pine Ridge and many other reservations have little to do with the current welfare system, but stem from treaties signed in the 1800s that have never been fully honored and never been renegotiated or revised. This has led to conditions comparable to third-world countries like Haiti, in the heartland of the United States.

As we were getting ready to leave the cemetery, Cody’s mother and other sister arrived. This other sister is the young lady we had met at Big Bat’s earlier in the week; she is currently homeless, living in a car with her three children. She recently bought a trailer, not far from the cemetery, for $400. We drove over to take a look at it.

The trailer had recently been used as a meth lab – there was drug paraphernalia and lab equipment strewn around. The interior had been completely stripped, the windows were all broken, and the drywall and insulation were gone. There was mold, dry rot, no plumbing, and no electric. The trailer was completely uninhabitable, even by Pine Ridge standards.

My daughter Stacey and I, along with at least one other person from our group, sensed something strange in and around the trailer. I went into the trailer, and was looking around, when I felt very strongly like I was being watched, like someone or something was hiding nearby.   It freaked me out – I had to get out of the trailer immediately. Stacey said she sensed an evil “presence.” Neither Stacey nor I saw anything, but we sensed it. I’ve had this sort of sensation a few times before. In college, I used to get the same feeling every time a certain girl was around – even when I didn’t know she was there. It turned out, she was very heavily into the occult and witchcraft. Stacey and I both believe that there was some sort of demon in or near the trailer. Most of the people in our group said they didn’t see or sense anything unusual, but I’m sure there was something there. I realize some of my readers think demons are nonsense; however, as a follower of Jesus Christ, I believe demons are real. I don’t fear them, because the Holy Spirit dwells in me and protects me. However, they’re not something to be messed with, and for non-Christians, they can be extremely dangerous.

The general consensus among the adults in our group was that the trailer either needed to be completely dismantled and replaced, or that it would need a complete overhaul before it would be inhabitable. We were uncertain what, if anything, we could do to help get it to a livable condition before winter.

Middle of Nowhere

Middle of Nowhere

Our next stop of the day did involve a little sightseeing. We drove to a roadside pull-off overlooking the Badlands on BIA-41 between the town of Oglala and Red Shirt. We had been given a “short cut” from Porcupine that wouldn’t involve going back through the town of Pine Ridge. The “short cut” turned out to be a 21-mile long dirt road through the middle of nowhere. While we were driving down this road, in the middle of absolutely nowhere, a woman holding a STOP sign stood in the middle of the road. It turned out, there was a road crew grading the road. We had to wait for 45 minutes for the road to be cleared enough for us to pass. While we were sitting at a STOP sign, on a road in the middle of nowhere, a dog appeared. Most Rez dogs live in town, and are uncared for. This dog was in the middle of nowhere, and it seemed like it might have been cared for a little bit fairly recently. Since we were in the middle of nowhere, with no sign of a house or farm, just a lady holding a STOP sign, we assumed the dog had been abandoned by someone, and the dog was picked up to be taken to the animal shelter in Pine Ridge.

Stacey at the Badlands overlook

Stacey at the Badlands overlook

When we finally got to the overlook, the view was spectacular. The Badlands is an area composed of extremely soft sedimentary layers which have been eroded, leaving spectacular canyons, ravines, gullies, buttes, and mesas. The Badlands are a bit of a problem for the idea that the earth is billions of years old. The landforms and geology fit much better with the Biblical young-earth timeframe. The layers would have been rapidly deposited during the Great Flood, and quickly eroded immediately after, leaving the sharp landforms. If the process had taken millions of years, the landforms would be far flatter, lacking the sharp vertical structures, due to the extremely soft sediments.

Our last stop of the day was at the Wounded Knee Cemetery and Memorial. Wounded Knee is the site of two significant events in Lakota history. The infamous Wounded Knee Massacre occurred in 1890.   On December 28, 1890, a detachment of the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment under the command of Major Samuel M. Whitside intercepted a band of Miniconjou and Hunkpapa Lakota near the modern-day town of Porcupine, and escorted them five miles westward to Wounded Knee Creek, where they made

Mass grave at wounded Knee, January, 1891

Mass grave at wounded Knee, January, 1891

camp. The 7th Cavalry was the same unit that had been obliterated under General Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn. The next morning, while attempting to disarm the Lakota, a shot was accidentally fired; the soldiers opened fire indiscriminately from all sides, killing men, women, and children, as well as some of their own fellow soldiers. The surviving Lakota fled, but U.S. cavalrymen pursued and killed between 200 and 300 Lakota, and wounded at least 51, most of whom were unarmed women, children, and elderly. Following a three-day blizzard, the military hired civilians to gather the frozen bodies and heap them in a mass grave on the hillside overlooking the massacre site. This event essentially ended all resistance to the Reservation system, and put into motion events that have led to the deplorable conditions that exist on the reservation to this day.

Wounded Knee, 1973

Wounded Knee, 1973

The second incident, 83 years after the massacre, began on February 27, 1973, when approximately 200 Oglala Lakota and followers of the American Indian Movement (AIM) seized and occupied the town of Wounded Knee, just a few yards south of the massacre site. The occupation was part of an internal political struggle within the Lakota tribe, but was also a protest against the United States government’s failure to fulfill treaties with Native people and demanded the reopening of treaty negotiations. Oglala and AIM activists controlled the town for 71 days while the United States Marshals Service, FBI agents, and other law enforcement agencies cordoned off the area. The internal tribal political conflict continues to this day, with traditionalists pitted against progressives for control of the tribe.

John and Nadine talk to the group at Wounded Knee

John and Nadine talk to the group at Wounded Knee

John and Nadine Bissonette joined our group at the cemetery to share their personal stories. I didn’t write down all the details, but one of Nadine’s great grandparents was present at the Massacre of Wounded Knee. I don’t remember whether she said her ancestor was a survivor, or whether they died during the massacre. John’s family was very involved with the 1973 incident. His uncle Pedro Bissonette was the director of the Oglala Sioux Civil Rights Organization (OSCRO), who, along with AIM, occupied the town of Wounded Knee. In the aftermath of the incident, more than 60 opponents of the tribal government died violently, including John’s uncle Pedro Bissonette, his aunt Gladys Bissonette, and his mother Jeanette Bissonette. John was a toddler when his mother was murdered in her car by a sniper, with John in the back seat. Her murder remains unsolved.

The mass grave at Wounded Knee

The mass grave at Wounded Knee

The visit to the Wounded Knee Memorial was a very somber event for me. The massacre was a pivotal point in the long history of oppression the Lakota have suffered. The aftershocks of Wounded Knee are still felt on the Rez. It reminded me of why I went to Pine Ridge: the people of Pine Ridge have suffered for many years, and desperately need the hope that only Jesus Christ can provide.

That evening, one of Cody White Pipe’s sisters stopped by the Next Step compound to say goodbye to our group. I wasn’t involved, but some of our group talked with her late into the night and shared the Gospel.

As I spent my last night in my cot at the Next Step compound, I prayed that the work we had done and the relationships we had built had brought hope to someone, and that somehow my visit to Pine Ridge would be used by God to bring someone closer to knowing Jesus Christ as Savior.