30 March 2008


I just finished shacking up with William P. Young. I guess William's middle name is Paul -- and from reading his blog and others, and while following but not joining in the conversations about The Shack I found there -- I discovered that he goes by Paul. So that's what I'll call him from now on in this short email.

I found little in Paul's words to be fearful of and much about them ponder-able.

I think that building theology on the Bible and not on literature, sacred or secular is always a good idea.
So I'll keep building my ragamuffin beliefs on God's Word and not, for instance, on Flannery O'Connor, Eugene Peterson, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dr. Seuss, Anne Lamott, C.S. Lewis, or Paul Young for that matter. And I'd issue the same caution for building our theology on our experiences. Sandy ground to be sure. At least my experiences. Maybe yours are more sacredly sound than my own adolescent fumblings.

I found Paul's writing getting better from the front of the book to the back. This seems like something an editor could have helped him with. And yet, overall, if I was grading him on "improvement of thought, writing, structure and the portrayal of intent" I'd give him pretty high marks. But I can't say the same thing for his belief-system. It seemed rickety at best, and downright fragile at worst. But then I'm sure some might say the same thing about mine.

And the reason I see Paul's belief system as rickety and fragile is because it seems to have been primarily built on his experiences and disappointments with God, rather than with his interaction with God's written and living Word. At least 1/2 and 1/2 would have been an improvement.

I think that when we have a single-hearted devotion to Jesus Christ we can (and should) read books like this that have somehow caught the hearts, minds, and imaginations of God-seekers and Christ-followers from across a broad spectrum of denominational and transdenominational flavors.

But I also want to temper that belief with by following Paul's keen advice in
ROMANS 16:19 that Christ-followers be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil -- because I believe that to do so will save us not only from doctrinal error, but from spiritual heartache and regret.

I see Paul simply trying to share his with-God experiences -- however "sketchy and/or freely expanded-upon" they seem to be. Is what he shares incomplete? Sure. And yet, let's not expect a book to be different than the intention it was birthed from. I don't see it was Paul's goal to write a volume of systematic theology. Like all things written down in words, Paul's describing the God he has experienced, and not the God he is experiencing. But is it heresy? No, I don't think so. Maybe it's kind of how I view the 7th Day Adventist Church? Is it a cult? No. Do I want to sign up to let them teach me about end times, angels, and dietary laws? No thanks. Likewise, I don't want Paul to teach me theology. But I do think I can learn some things from him ... more about that in a future post.

Maybe Paul will write a belief-stepped sequel and call it The Condo. If he does, I hope it includes some of the life-lessons and God-lessons he's no doubt learning and taking for a test-drive now that his book is such a big hit (# 9 last week on www.amazon.com out of millions of books).

Unlike some of my friends and colleagues, I don't see Paul's words marketing "cheap grace". Rather, I see them revealing to us his incomplete understanding of grace. He's on a journey. And while I don't see myself walking side-by-side him right now, I have great hopes that he's authentically seeking the One True God.

Some web-postings about Paul and The Shack seem like they want to canonize the book and beatify the man. While others seem like they want to burn the book, and excommunicate the author. I see little need to give either extreme much attention.

But neither does Paul seem to me like a wolf in sheep's clothing. He's a man in process. Not everybody can embrace the neat-and-tidy-black-and-white theological categories of MacArthur and Piper. Nor can everyone feel at home in the bend-over-backwards-while-sticking-your-head-between-your-thighs flexible dogma of the emergent church movement's McLaren and Driscolll. Maybe Paul fancies himself living and believing somewhere in between. I know I do. But that doesn't make me a Youngite. It just makes me human.

I'm glad I read The Shack. But I'm also glad that my doubts and questions don't outweigh my beliefs and convictions 10 to 1 (it's probably more like a 80/20 split), that it's my goal to have my faith be both reasoned and experiential, and that I can know the intimacy of God as my "Abba" and Jesus as my "friend" while at the same time be in speechless awe that God is infinite, unknowable, and completely other to all I am and all I can know on my own. Godspeed.



20 March 2008


In MATTHEW 11:28 (NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE) Jesus says, Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest. Jesus didn’t say, “Come unto Me all you who are wise or wealthy or worthy.” He said, Come unto Me, all you who are weary.

Or remember when Jesus said in MATTHEW 9:12
(NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE), I haven’t come for the well, but for the sick.

(NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE) the Apostle Paul says, Are there any among you who are wise? [implying that “no, there is not”] but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong …

Our God is in the business of choosing down-and-outers – people who’ve known rejection … and then He gets busy about transforming them from death into life. And this isn’t just some new plan God started using when Jesus came to earth. God has always used this method. It’s the same method God used in The Old Testament when He came to David in the wilderness and gave him some good, true, righteous men to stand and fight at his side. Listen to the description of who these God brought alongside David ...

(NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE) ... Everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was disoriented gathered to him; and he became captain over them. Now there were about four hundred men with him.

Distressed, in debt and disoriented. Now that’s a great resume! Do any of those descriptions ring a bell from your own life, from your own experience, from your own choices?
Distressed, in debt and disoriented? And yet as this group of men followed David, they learned from him, they changed, and eventually they became a powerful, purposeful righteous band of brothers.

Or consider Jesus’ own disciples and His other followers. Three years before the cross came into the picture, Jesus asked this ragtag group of men and women to follow Him, and they weren’t exactly magna cum laude material. In JOHN 15:18
(NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE) Jesus said to them … If the world hates and rejects you, you know that it has hated and rejected Me before it hated you.

And in the final hours of His life … when Jesus hung on the cross for you and for me, He was rejected, despised and forsaken. And nobody who’s ever walked this world has known the kind of rejection Jesus knew that day.

As Jesus went through the last days and hours leading up to the cross … and as the crown of thorns was forced down onto His head … and as He hung, nearly naked on the cross of Calvary … He experienced a gut-wrenching kind of rejection.
  • Jesus was alone as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of His arrest.
  • Jesus was alone before Caiaphas the High Priest.
  • Jesus was alone when He stood before Pilate and Herod.
  • Jesus was alone as He was nailed to the cross.
  • And ultimately, as Jesus tried to breathe, His body heaving up and down, and up and down on the cross, He was abandoned by His Father.
The Apostle Paul wrote in … SECOND CORINTHIANS 5:21 (NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE) God made Him [Jesus Christ] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

And when that happened, when Jesus became sin, God the Father had to look away from Him, reject Him, and abandon Him. Maybe you’ve felt some of the rejection Jesus felt on the days leading up to the cross and as He hung there on the cross.

Maybe you’ve felt alone … Maybe you can relate to Jesus in the Garden that night … maybe you’ve prayed prayers that didn’t seem to get out of the room, let alone make it all the way to God. Maybe, while going through hard things, it’s felt like God has forgotten about you, that you weren’t on God’s radar, or that God didn’t even know you existed.

Maybe you’ve felt alone … Maybe friends have turned their backs on you. You thought they were loyal … real friends. But when you needed them most they were nowhere to be found, or even worse, maybe they turned against you.

Maybe you’ve felt alone … Maybe the church hasn’t been there for you like you thought it should, hoped it could, or prayed it would. Maybe that’s the reason it’s been hard for you to trust the church, or really get involved in the church – because somewhere in your past it’s let you down.

Maybe you’ve felt alone … Maybe the government or other people in authority over you haven’t given you a fair shake, haven’t really heard your side of the story, haven’t stood with you when you needed them to.

If you’ve felt rejected or forsaken by God sometime during your life, I want to tell you that you haven’t been. Because the truth of the matter is that nothing can separate you and me from the love of God that is found in Christ Jesus.

ISAIAH 53:3a
(NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE) says that He [Jesus Christ] was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.

Because of what Jesus went through during His thirty-three years here on earth, and during the last week of His life, and on the last hours when He hung on the cross … Believe me when I tell you that He is “acquainted with grief.” In other words, He can relate to our hurts, to our pains, to our hang-ups, to our sorrows, to our disappointments.

To the teenager who doesn’t know how to fit in … or where to fit in. Jesus says, “Because of the Cross I’m acquainted with that kind of sorrow, with that kind of pain.”

To the man or woman whose spouse walked out on them … or to the man or woman whose spouse cheated on them, breaking their vows and their trust … Jesus says, “Because of the Cross I’m acquainted with that kind of desertion.”

To the student who tried to get into a certain school but was rejected. To the guy who had his heart stomped on by the girl who he thought loved him. To the employee who heard the words, “We’re downsizing” … whatever it is, Jesus says, “Because of the Cross I know about grief … I know about rejection … I know about pain.”

Again, the Apostle Paul writes, this time to the believers in the town of Ephesus (which was in what is now modern-day Turkey) EPHESIANS 1:6
(NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE) the praise of the glory of His [God the Father’s] grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved [Jesus Christ].

The NEW KING JAMES VERSION of the Bible puts this verse this way … to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved.

In God’s WORD we read that we are …
  • The apple of God’s eye.
  • That we are the Bride of Christ.
  • That we are the Rose of Sharon.
  • That we are a Royal Priesthood, a Chosen People, and a Holy Nation.
This is who we are before God because of what happened on the Cross.

Chris Tomlin

I’m forgiven because You were forsaken,
I’m accepted … You were condemned.
I am alive and well … Your spirit is within me,
Because You died and rose again.

Amazing love … How can it be?
That You, my King would die for me?
Amazing love … I know it’s true.
It’s my joy to honor You … In all I do, I honor You.

I’m forgiven because You were forsaken,
I’m accepted … You were condemned.
I am alive and well … Your spirit is within me,
Because You died and rose again.

You are my King
You are my King

God, thank You for Your willingness to send Your Son, Jesus Christ to the cross so that we can know You, be loved by You, and accepted by You. Thank you that in Jesus Christ, we are embraced by You. May the price Jesus paid on the cross drive our priorities deeper into Your heart. May the price Jesus paid on the cross convict us of shallow living, of half-hearted discipleship, of the cheapening of grace that we so easy participate in.

Thank You God for picking a "down and outer" like me. Today I choose to remember what You’ve done for me. What You alone could have done for me. And I thank You. And I embrace You. And I bow down before You. Amen.




06 March 2008


Earlier this week I wrote the following letter to a friend of mine in leadership. After reading back through it, I feel that it has more to say than to just this one person. So I'm sharing it here with you ...


I'm glad that God's plans for your life and your gifts have included you being in the role you are in. I'm know that your journey to this place has included much praying, dreaming, envisioning, planning, waiting, learning, cooperating, leading, applying, serving, knowing, not knowing, and discovery. A Christ-follower, a leader of leaders, a parent, a Sunday School teacher, a friend, a sibling, a child ... you have worn and are wearing many hats.

I'm sure that old saying, "Be careful of what you hope and pray for!" has come to mind more than once in the past three decades of life, ministry and career. What a rare combination of gifts and callings you are. And through it all I have watched you stand strong with God. Thank you for your witness of what it means to have what Frederick Nietzsche said was lacking in so much of Christianity ... a "long obedience in the same direction."

Today while thinking about you my mind has gone to
GENESIS 22:14 where God revealed Himself to Abraham, Isaac and the ram, and where Abraham named the place God showed up "Jehovah Yireh" which doesn't exactly mean what the 1970's worship song says ... "Jehovah Jireh, my provider". And at the end of the day, the One who had issued the call, watched the obedience of Abraham and became his provider. Abraham didn't have to think long and hard about what to call the hilltop.

Again, the translation "Jehovah Jireh, my provider" is too "
present and immediate" in it's tense for what this expression of God's character means. You and I both know from our own life-experiences what Abraham learned after climbing that mountain -- that as God leads, God also provides. But when you look at the Hebrew tense of the words in this verse (as The Emphasized Version of the Bible does), here is what's really being said ...

"So Abraham called the name of that place Yahweh, - as to which it is still said today, 'In the mountain of Yahweh,
will provision be made.'" (italics mine)

In other words, "God's provision" isn't always quickly, or easily discovered, looked upon, or lived into. And yet, somehow, in response to our faithfulness, and our humble choice to look beyond the potentially flimsiness of our qualifications, God takes us on a journey of heart, mind and soul, that allows us to trust Him deeper, to depend on Him more consistently, to walk by faith and not by sight, and to hand over the outcomes of our lives into His hands in ways that move past stubborn obedience to true and total surrender."

And when we do this as
GENESIS 22:14 says, "God's "provision will (in His timing, and in His way) be made."

Like they say in AA, "sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly." Trust God's timing. Trust the nudges God gives you and that you will only notice by being attentive, dey pendent upon Him, and fully surrendered to Him. Like what the Apostle Paul wrote to His friends in GALATIANS 3:3, I write to you ...

Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren't smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you
could perfect it? (The Message)

And I love how this verse is rendered by J.B. Phillips ...

Surely you can't be so idiotic as to think that a man begins his spiritual life in the Spirit and then completes it by reverting to outward observances?
Has all your painful experience brought you nowhere? I simply cannot believe it of you! (The J.B. Phillips New Testament In Modern English)

A person wouldn't start out a horse race, be way out in front of the pack, and then say, "I don't need this horse. I'm going to jump off it and finish this race on my own two legs. I'm fast enough. I can do this." They'd be a fool to try this. And yet this is the "
craziness" and the "idiocy" we all-too-easily fall for when promoted by God to do greater things for Him in His Kingdom. What God has begun, let God continue doing.

So let me remind you today to let God's provision be seen in your visions, in your decisions AND IN the processes you take with God discerning and implementing them. Allow God to truly lead you, and then you can lead the others God has called you and equipped you to lead by simply staying in His footsteps.

Don't sprint ahead of God because of pride. Don't lag behind God because of fear. And as you stay in step with God, listen with the intention and humility of a servant listening for the voice and directions of the master. For a servant is what and who you are ... and what you must remain if you're to continue being God's person for the job He has called you to do.
PSALM 123:1-2 speaks so beautifully of this ...

I lift my eyes to you, O God, enthroned in heaven.
We look to the LORD our God for his mercy, just as servants keep their eyes on their master, as a slave girl watches her mistress for the slightest signal.
(New Living Translation)

Blessings to you dear friend. Your master is signaling, so keep your eyes on Him. Godspeed.