Movie Review-The Shack

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I saw the move The Shack with my parents this past weekend.  I read the book in 2009, and I posted a book review on my other blog (which I no longer update BTW, but it’s there) after my read.  I went back and read the book review, and surprisingly, I would say my movie review in 2017 would pretty much match my book review in 2009, but I’m going to do a brief review of the movie.

The movie opens by jumping around jerkily between the main character’s (Mack) childhood, his current life, and the event that brought on the “Great Sadness.”  That was a bit disorienting and distracting because it’s not done well, but the movie finally settles down into a mostly linear timeline.  The acting at the beginning is also kind of stunted among all the characters except for the adorable Missy.  In the beginning of the movie the dialogue is almost all in a whisper especially from Sam Worthington’s “Mack” who I felt was trying to channel an angst-y Batman or Wolverine character.  That was also quite frustrating, at times, during the whole movie.  Except for two scenes that he played well Sam W. never quite sold me on the depth Mack’s suffering.

I did enjoy Octavia Spencer’s acting as God “aka “Papa.” “Jesus” and the “Holy Spirit” were  more one-dimensional characters, but still endearing.

I will admit that I started crying when the Holy Spirit collected Mack’s tears, and my tears came again intermittently throughout the reminder of the movie, but this was due to the imagery and my own pain bubbling up.  My mom kept passing me Kleenex, and she shed some tears also.

As I stated in my original book review Universalism is implied in the movie, but I’ve also found Universalism hinted at in many other Christian fiction books and movies.  I didn’t feel this movie over played it.  More on that in a moment.  Some people were also upset that God is portrayed as a black woman (and then later as a Native-American “Great Spirit” man) and the Holy Spirit as an Asian woman, but I didn’t have a problem with it.  When Mack questions this himself  “Papa”/God says (loosely quoted), “I don’t think you could handle me as a father figure right now.”

Some evangelicals  have been up in arms about the book’s Universalism implication since it came out in 2007-2008, and they’re just as upset about the movie version.  Books have even been written to discredit the book.  While I don’t ascribe to Universalism, I am an evangelical myself,  I fail to see the need to go to such lengths to discredit a work of fiction.  It’s overkill.  Even if the story had been based on someone’s actual experience I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to discredit what someone experiences in a vision or near-death experience, but that’s neither here or there for this book.  Read it for what it is…a story…and make your own conclusions.  I  get very frustrated at times with the Christian community for feeling they have to dissect everything down to the jot and tittle.  Most people can make up their own minds about a story without theologians making their minds up for them.  At the end  of the day I always go back to God’s Word as the final authority in my life.  A book or a movie is not going to change my mind one way or another.

Now, back to the movie.  I enjoyed it for the same reasons I enjoyed the book.  I mean, who wouldn’t want to have an encounter/vision of God, The Son, and Holy Spirit?  The movie does make you think about God’s attributes, especially his justness and sovereignty.  It also challenges us about judgment and forgiveness.  More movies are coming out, even secular films, that are touching on that, and I think that it’s a good thing even if it doesn’t match our own theology to a tee.

Conclusion:  Go into the movie, The Shack, as you would any movie.  You’re seeing a story, in this case a fictional story, but a story that will make you think about God, and help you remember that while we will never understand everything that happens to us and others on this Earth in the end God truly is “very fond” of us.

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God’s Sovereignty

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Many people have pondered it.  Theologians have examined it, dissected it, and debated it. We all have to come to a personal conclusion about it.  The first major hurdle in spirituality as a whole is believing in God’s existence.  Yes, you have to believe that He’s there and in the atonement for our sins through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.  So fundamental.  But I believe the most important spiritual issue we face in this life after that elementary step is understanding God’s sovereignty.  How we view God’s sovereignty will affect how we interpret everything that happens in our life good or seemingly bad.

God has many attributes.  I have studied these extensively in my recent Biblical counseling experience.  If you’re looking for an extensive list go here.  Delving into God’s sovereignty takes a lot of heart and mind energy.  For some it becomes a full-blown existential crisis while others float through much of their life without giving it much thought.  That is until tragedy strikes which it inevitably will in everyone’s life either directly or indirectly.  I dare say most people deal with tragedy very directly at some point in their lives even if it’s only when they face their own physical mortality.   But let’s be real, most of us deal with tragedy or loss several times throughout our lifetime.

Why was I singled out for barrenness? 

Why did my husband abandon me? 

Those have been the biggies in my life so far.  I’ll admit the former question caused me to get stuck in the mire for many years.  The latter, while nearly soul crushing, was used as an unlikely springboard for a journey out of the mire.

Does everything happen for a reason? Yes, but maybe not in the way we normally postulate to arrive at the question.

You see, God gives us a free will.  Because of that free will we make decisions and our decisions set in motion a set of consequences.  God has spiritual laws much like He has laws for nature.  The law of gravity for instance is a natural law.  If anyone goes and jumps off a building they are going to hit the ground.  No exceptions.  Same goes for God’s spiritual laws.   If we make decisions that stay within God’s laws then God will honor that obedience.  If we make decisions that go against God’s spiritual laws then there will be consequences. No exceptions.   The Ten Commandments were the first spiritual laws conveyed to humans, so if you want to stay within God’s spiritual laws and not jump off any proverbial spiritual buildings and go “splat” stay within those laws.  There is even more elaboration throughout the Word, but the Ten Commandments are pretty much common-sense spiritual laws everyone needs to follow in this life to stay in line with God’s spiritual law.

So am I barren because of my sin?  Is it a curse?

Well, let’s…hypothetically…say I had an abortion when I was young.  The abortion caused scar tissue in my womb that later prevented an embryo from attaching to my uterine wall thus rendering me barren.  Then, yes, I would be barren  because of my sin.  This has happened to many women post abortion.

But in my case I am barren because of a hormonal issue that caused my follicles (eggs) not to develop or release properly.  Is that the result of my sin? No.

In either case am I cursed?  No.

Now, if you read the Old Testament you will find examples of where God cursed people with barrenness; however, when Jesus died on the cross and rose to atone for our sins he made a new covenant with us that pretty much did away with the old “curse” system.  Now, that’s a long discussion itself, Old versus New Covenant, and I won’t go into that much detail here, but to summarize, thank God I live in the age of the New Covenant!  I don’t have to sacrifice animals yearly to atone for sin, and because Jesus’ blood covered it all!  God

I think I wasted many years wondering if there was some kind of sin I hadn’t confessed  that was causing me to be barren.  I really don’t believe that’s the case, because I have accepted Jesus’ sacrifice and atonement for my sins.  Even if I had had an abortion which caused scarring, or made a bad decision that lead to an accident that rendered me barren it’s not a curse.  It’s a natural consequence of God’s natural laws.  In the end, I believe it all comes down to God’s sovereignty.

In regards to consequences…not only is God sovereign he is also omniscient (knowing all of the past and the future).  He knows at times we’re going to make good decisions and at times we’re going to make bad decisions.  Is he waiting up there with a Holy Hammer waiting to bonk us on the head like a game of Whack-a-Mole?  No, He uses the (just) consequences of our sin to try and move us towards Him, but He will not override our free will.  He even uses our free will in His sovereign design.  So many Bible stories illustrate that.   Joseph’s brothers when they sold him into slavery. Pharoah’s hard heart that wouldn’t let the Israelites freely leave Egypt.  David when he slept with Bathsheba…and many more.  All these bad decisions were used to advance God’s kingdom and His people.  Did those decisions have some heavy and adverse consequences for those making them?  Yes, but in the end God’s will prevailed!

Now, if someone lives in outright rebellion to God and resists even the consequential urgings of God to get on the right track God won’t overrule that.  He will continue to act justly in that situation, but at some point that person’s heart gets so hardened they can’t or won’t turn from their sin,  or their time runs out, and the window for repentance is closed…forever.

Sometimes people make decisions that affect us greatly.  When we are abandoned by a friend, a family member, or a spouse the fall-out can be huge. Yet, God still works these situations for our good.  Over time we can see how God used a situation caused by someone else to lovingly show us that He loves us enough to remove us from a bad situation or a toxic relationship that was going to harm us (or continue to harm us) in some way if it continued.

I said a lot, but really, this is just a very small encapsulation of what I’ve come to understand about God’s sovereignty.  God ultimately wants everyone to come to Him and to follow His plan for a Godly life.  He knows we are fallen humans, so he lovingly…even firmly…at times tries to get us on the right path through consequences.  Sometimes he allows us to go through things (think Job) to further solidify our trust in Him.  If we are surrendered to Him and following Him even the bad things that come to us  out of our direct control are used to advance His perfect will for our lives.  He even uses our mistakes for our good.   This realization has brought me to a greater peace in my life, and I’m thankful I’ve taken the time to study and reflect on the attributes of God, especially His sovereignty.  He is completely trustworthy!

Be Anxious for Nothing…

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6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:6-7-Source:  Bible Gateway

“Be anxious for nothing…” A four-word phrase, but probably one of the most pregnant-with-meaning phrases in the New Testament if not the whole Bible.

All my life I have struggled with anxiety.  Some of it is by heredity.  I have many extended family members who are on anxiety meds, so I don’t discount DNA factors at all.  It plays a part in some types of anxiety; however, I also believe that DNA doesn’t have to dictate one’s destiny.  I think a big factor in spiritual/emotional/mental health is how we deal with the things that are handed down to us genetically, by nurture, as well as our by our own God-given personality traits.

In my public life I’ve been able to play it cool most of the time.  You would never know this is a struggle within me.  My anxiety publicly usually is masked by  perkiness, talking, and high energy..  Some of what I term anxiety is actually excitement, but even my excitement can be tinged with an anxious undertone.  Those of you who deal with anxiety will understand that feeling.  To function well in everyday life I’ve learned to channel my anxiety/excitement in productive ways (that’s actually a good thing!).

But so-called good anxiety aside I still, at times, deal with the yucky, Calgon-take-me-away type of anxiety.  In fact, for years, it colored almost everything I did.  Even the excitement anxiety would spiral into anxiety attacks at times.  Example:  Being excited about taking a vacation (a good thing) but ahead of it becoming so overwhelmed by everything I needed to do to prepare for the vacation I would loose sleep, worry (especially about my pets I was getting ready to leave) that by the time the day came to leave for said vacation I would be an anxious moody mess and take it out on my significant other(s).  It would usually take  2-3 days once reaching my vacation destination to relax…that is if I ever did relax!

This is something I’ve taken great pains to work on in the last few years.  I’ve not done it alone.  I’ve had the wonderful support of counselors and friends who have held my hand as I’ve walked this journey to whom I’m very grateful.  Primarily, I’ve relied on God’s help.

What I’ve learned through Biblical counseling is that we do have to lean on God heavily to deal with things like anxiety, but how on earth do we “Be anxious for nothing?”  If you stop at the “Be anxious for nothing” phrase and don’t read the context of what follows in verses 6 and 7 it would seem like an impossible task.  What follows that phrase are the keys to carrying out that seemingly impossible task:

” …but in everything by prayer and supplication…”   Let’s get very literal about the phrase “Be anxious for nothing” God tells us to not BE anxious, but that doesn’t imply that we will never feel anxious.  God gave us the ability to feel anxious.  When real dangers come anxiety is a good thing.  It triggers our fight or flight response via our adrenal glands.  So, we will feel anxious at times appropriately.  The problem with us who have chronic anxiety issues is that somewhere along the way our bodies either by DNA, but mostly by our thoughts, learned to perceive so many things in our daily lives as threats that were actually not true threats…at least not the fight or flight type of threats. We actually thought ourselves into being anxious.  There is a big difference in feeling and being.  As long as we’re on this fallen earth we at times are going to feel anxious.  The main principle of not letting feeling become being follows that initial four-word phrase, “…but in everything by prayer and supplication…”  When we feel anxious we’re supposed to immediately take those feelings to God.  The instruction doesn’t change whether it’s a real threat or just a perceived threat.  We immediately take it God.  Now, if a speeding bus is barreling towards you, get out of the way first, of course, but when it’s our feelings we cry out to God either internally or externally.  I’ll be the first to admit when feelings of anxiety hit it’s become habitual for me to immediately whisper or even shout “Lord, help me!”  I try not to do it in social settings, but I find actually speaking that simple plea out loud when those anxious feelings hit can actually do wonders.  Do the feelings immediately go away?  Sometimes yes, but oftentimes no, but when prayer is my go-to reaction to anxiety the anxiety at least reduces, because I’ve just told “Daddy” to handle it.  It’s a release.  It’s not always appropriate for me to stop and go into a long prayer, and really, a long prayer is not always necessary.  A simple “help!” is all that is needed even if it’s spoken inwardly from your soul.

But there are times when “supplication” is needed…when you really get nitty-gritty with God about a situation that is threatening to usurp your peace, or has usurped your peace to the point you are being anxious.  That’s when you go to God, and say, “God, I’ve moved from feeling anxious to being anxious, and that’s what Your Word tells me not to do.  [This situation] is really disrupting my peace, and I need Your help in not only fighting my battle(s) in this situation, but I need to lean on You to give me peace…”

“with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God…”   This goes along with prayer and supplication.  Tell him what you would like to see happen.  Many of us have become disheartened that God hasn’t given us what we’ve asked for (e.g.babies), but God always answers our prayers even when at times our prayers haven not been answered in the way we hoped.  I’m to the point in my journey that I’m beginning to see why God didn’t always give me the exact desires of my heart.  In some ways I will not understand until I stand before Him after I leave this earth, but as the big picture unfolds over time there are ah-ha moments.  I’ve had several in the last few years to the point that I can honestly say, “I am GLAD You didn’t answer in the way I asked.”  Still, God tells us to ask, and like a good father (and He is a good father) He will decide if what we are asking for is in our best interest or not, and he ALWAYS has our best interest at heart.  That’s the most comforting thing about complete trust in God’s ways.  He will never give us anything that is not in alignment with His divine will for us.  And so when we don’t get something…even if we feel disappointed for a while…thank Him for His ways are higher than ours.  That’s why I think this part of the verse is prefaced “with thanksgving” because we should already be thankful for what God is going to do with the request before we even make the request.  It’s already ALL GOOD!

“…and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”   And there you go…the full circle of how to not be anxious.  Once we’ve done what we are to do…prayer, supplication, thanksgiving, and requesting…God promises to give us the peace that passes all understanding, and He will guard your and mind through Christ Jesus.  Done.   

So, you see, it’s a process.  If you are waiting for the day that you won’t feel anxious you’ll go through life feeling like you’re failing at this anxiety thing everyday.  When you have that feeling that threatens or…and let’s face it, we’re sinful humans… we dissolve into being anxious we need to focus on minds on Philippians 4: 6-7 which is God’s remedy for being anxious.  The more we learn to catch our anxiety at the feeling stage, and use God’s process, the less we’ll find ourselves being anxious.

And I’m alive today because of of these verses…

 

 

 

Back in the writing saddle…somewhat

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Another year, another blog post.  Yes, I’m averaging about one a year.  Gold writing star for me! While writing more is not a New Year’s resolution…I gave up on those years ago…I do feel the desire to write again.  It’s something that God is placing on my heart.  I’ve been talking to Him about what to write in what format and whether it should be public or not, and I really hear nothing but “write” so here I go…

I don’t “need” to make my writing public.  In fact, this last year I’ve become a very private person for more than one reason.  Deeply personal reasons aside I feel like too much of what I used to feel and say was said publicly on social media.  I started inwardly cringing so much about that, that my temporary Facebook hiatus has now turned into an aversion so great that the thought of going back there would be akin to jumping back into a toxic swamp. If I did I would have to go back years and years and delete and delete.  The thought of that brings on something akin to dry heaves.  So, no, FB my account staying deactivated is just the way it needs to be for me and for the world.

I know that social media has it’s positives, but the few positives it afforded me have been held down and drowned in that toxic swamp by all the negatives and my own past misuse of it. Yes, I miss my friends there who are miles and even countries away, but I’ve overcome that with actually communicating with them directly.  Now, I will admit I don’t communicate as much as a should, but what a novel idea to write them directly, call them or even better make sacrifices to actually see them face to face when and if possible!

I’m not completely a social media recluse yet you think I’ve become of some anti-social media super-cool hipster (ha!  Me a hipster?  I don’t even own a plaid shirt!) I’m still on Instagram because I occasionally go to cool places and take pretty pictures, but even my postings there average about once every three months!

The reason I’m blogging is because the thought that my writing might be seen by maybe a handful of people will make me somewhat accountable for what I am writing.  Right now as I look at how many “I’s” and “I’ms” are in this post it screams “all about me.” I’ll try to remedy that…but then again, maybe not.

I will try to be vulnerable without dishing about my private life.  This is not because I’m that super-cool hipster that’s above it all (I do have some new nerdy glasses’ frames.  I’ll give myself some hipster credit for that) but because what I want to share is what God has shown me spiritually in the last year or so. I want it to be about Him and not about me.

2016 was a transition year for me in so many ways.  It was at times wonderful and at times difficult, sometimes simultaneously.  Becoming a true adult in your late 40’s is not for the faint of heart.  It really is hard to teach an old dog new tricks, but I’m living proof that with God’s help it can accomplished.  Believe me, there are days when I don’t want to adult, but the joys of truly surrendering myself to my God and allowing Him to do the maturing work in me are so above and beyond the difficult moments. With the help of my Savior, Godly friends and counselors I look back on the person I was and cannot believe I’m the same person.  Now, there are days the enemy tries to taunt me with the old fears and anxieties, but it only lasts for moments, hours, days.  I even have bad weeks, but consistently God is doing such a redeeming work in me that I find it hard to put the experience into words.  I’m going to try though…

I will disclaimer all that to say I don’t know how much I will post, but my goal is more than once a year.  Just to cover the bases though if I don’t write until next year I pray your 2017 brings to you many blessings and that God will do for you what He’s so consistently been doing for me.

 

 

 

 

Hello Again

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I have sorely neglected this blog.  It’s been nearly a year since my last post.   I am amazed that I’m still getting any traffic at all, but still several people visit this humble little site everyday.

I am doing well.  Things have not changed for  me circumstantially, but it’s okay.  God still has me on a journey and is still teaching me many things along the way.  I read a quote in a devotional this week that said, “If God brings it to me it must be for my good.”  Reminds me of a verse I have used as my life verse in the last several years.  “And we know that God works all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to this purpose.”  (Romans 8:28).   Not not all things are good, but He works all things for the good even our own screw ups!

Let’s just face it…. some things are just bad.  Don’t I know!  You can sugar-coat things all day long and/or live in denial, but some things just down right stink.  STILL, I remember that Bible verse and the above quote from Streams in the Desert.  

I don’t know what the future holds, and that’s as it should be.  I’m hoping for a period of stable times, devoted love, and not facing a life crisis daily.  But on days I don’t feel like I can go on God always gives me the ability to make it through that day, and then the next one and the next one.  They key is leaning on Him for everything, and I have to remind myself of that daily.

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day, and while that day doesn’t carry as much emotional weight as it used to for me there is a bit of melancholy associated with it.  I acknowledge it, feel it, shed a few tears if I must, and then I move on with my day.  I don’t allow myself to feel isolated by these types of holidays anymore.  This particular holiday is not for me, but I won’t allow that fact to cripple me emotionally anymore and make me feel “less than”.  There is a difference in acknowledgement of one’s emotions (it’s not good to repress either) and letting them cripple you.  This applies to all situations we face.

So to all of you non-moms out there you are not alone, and just because one Hallmark holiday doesn’t apply to you doesn’t mean you are worthless.  You are EXACTLY who and where God wants you to be.  And if He brought it, it IS for your good even if it doesn’t feel particularly lovely.

Hugs and Prayers my Friends!

The Pursuer

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Ever since she was a little girl she felt it; someone was pursuing her.  It wasn’t a person.  She knew it wasn’t someone that was tangibly flesh and blood.  It was a presence, yes, maybe something akin to a guardian angel.  As a mere child she had heard of angels, so if she had even dared to speak of her pursuer she might have described him as an angel since deep spirituality was something that hadn’t even dawned on her immature mind.  It was more of a feeling than anything tangible.  It just was, and it felt special to her.  

She felt special to the pursuer, and he did things to make her feel special.  Just where he placed her on the earth made her feel set apart.  Being surrounded by the spectacular mountains and the beautiful azure blue sky made her feel as if she had been dropped into the portico of Heaven.   Her playgrounds were the rivers and woods.  Her hometown felt like Mayberry.  Her family felt like the Waltons even though she only had one sibling.  She had tons of cousins though and loving grandparents.  Looking back she describes her childhood as ridiculously idyllic; something 1970’s television shows were made of.

She even  felt immortal in some way.  She felt different from others, but not in a better-than-them way.  Just special…set apart. Her mom and dad were faithful church goers, so she heard all the Biblical teachings on life and death; heaven and hell.  One Sunday she sat in church listening to the pastor talk about death, and in her mind she told herself that she would not allow herself to die.  When death tried to come for her she would will herself to keep breathing and her heart to keep beating.  Of course, this was very naive, but in her earliest recollections she understood that her spirit was eternal, not merely something that would live up to 100 years and just disintegrate into the ground along with her body.  The concept of eternal life was there but not in the practical understanding much less in the spiritual.

Still, as she grew she began to realize that even though her life felt charmed in many ways there was something missing.  She began to fantasize about a father who would die for her.  She made up elaborate fantasies in her mind about a father  who would fight Indians, kidnappers and would go to the ends of the earth to find and save her.  When he found her he would hold and protect her and declare to her his undying love through tears of love.  In those fantasies she felt perfectly loved, perfectly safe, perfectly secure.

The fantasies were not because she didn’t have a loving father, because she did, but her daddy wasn’t a demonstrative man.  He loved her through providing so well for her, taking her on arrowhead hunts, and rides in his Jeep.  The fantasies were because the void was there, formed by the Pursuer.  At that time she thought that her fantasy father would meet those needs deep-down inside that her own father couldn’t.  Her father didn’t know how to handle the strong emotions of this little girl who needed to be loved in a way he could not.  He didn’t have experience with little girls, because he never had a sister, only brothers.  It wasn’t any fault of his. Not many men ever understand the psyche of a woman nor are they supposed to, but the little girl didn’t understand that.  She began to feel that she didn’t measure up and not complete, so she retreated into her fantasies.  She had a great imagination and often demonstrated that in creative ways, but what the fantasies were doing was setting up unreal expectations for her relationships with people…men in particular.

It would take many years for her to understand all she was supposed to understand.  Still, the Pursuer kept pursuing even though as the years marched she didn’t understand Who the Pursuer was.  He was the one who who would go to the ends of the earth rescue her.  In fact, He had already rescued her.  She just didn’t know it.  

The Promise…

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This is the time of year…especially when the Winter has been long and cold…it feels like Spring will never come.  The landscape is gray and brown; the lingering snow piles are a dingy black, and the flora and fauna seem so dormant that a stranger to this world would actually declare them dead.

But if you slow down, look closely and pay close attention you will see the telltale signs that things are not really as they seem. The evergreen that is never fazed. Winter weeds that withstand even the harshest cold temps and the crocus…the small yet glorious promise from God that no matter how cold and long the Winter the Earth will bloom again.

I believe nature is a beautiful allegory of how God works in our lives and the promise that He is always creating new and beautiful things in our lives no matter how dead things may seem.