Kevin Mark – 2017
Comfort from the Scripture
John 11:25-26: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”
Romans 14:8 For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.
The Lord gives and the Lord takes away- blessed be the name of the Lord. Job 1:21
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil; For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever.
The Shack – Part IV
Jesus’ answer to seeing “sheep without a shepherd was to teach them many things.” His answer to the chaos of life was to bring truth to the people. Jesus was a teacher – a master Mark 6:34.
Teaching truth empowers people. They then have the tools to make accurate judgments and discernment about life. The task of the Church is to teach, baptize and teach again Matthew 28:19-20.
The bible is a book of balance. Paul confronted Peter to the face “because he was to be blamed.” Paul also called the Galatians “my little children because he loved them so much. Paul told the Philippians, “I have you in my heart.” It is possible to be correct and caring – It is possible to be truthful and also loving. Not just possible – essential
The Bible is a book of balance Proverbs 3:3. Sometimes it about extreme balance Romans 11:22. God is extravagant goodness and extreme severity.
Humans are typically out of balance – they tend towards all love or all truth. That is not the Bible. That is not God of the Bible. ‘By mercy and truth iniquity is purged’ Proverbs 16:6. Jesus fulfilled that scripture – He was ‘full of grace and truth’ John 1:14.
The emerging/emergent movement is an attempt to restore balance in Christendom by emphasizing factors that have been ignored for so long. Doctrine and beliefs have been emphasized to the lack of love and grace and mercy and worship. The emerging system is attempting to restore those concepts.
The Shack is an attempt to restore balance by emphasizing aspects of God that have been ignored for so long. The emphases are similar to those of the emerging approach. The primary weakness of both of these approaches is their willingness to relinquish a firm grasp on truth.
Balance is of the essence.
On one side is: grace, mercy, and love.
On the other side is: truth, righteousness and judgment.
Over emphasis on either side of the discussion is not God’s plan. Balance, as in Jesus Christ, is God’s plan for His children and His Church.
The Shack – Part III
Whether this book is accurate or not, it has given voice to many hurting hearts. Maybe, just maybe, those hearts, now awakened will find the source and the depth for the longings that they experience. Maybe this is the needed wake-up call.
Maybe this book will open human hearts to seek and find the truth and the Truth and a new day will dawn when and where we become the Body of Christ in the ways God intended.
Idolatry takes many shapes. Idols of the heart are the current gods of choice. We make our idols after our own image. We make them to serve us and forget that we are not serving God, but we are serving our selves. Compliance and relevance have replaced obedience and holiness.
Today there is a counselor or a pill for all suffering and pain. Christ did not imbibe the sour wine that could have taken the edge off of His suffering. Opiates are becoming a most pressing factor in human behavior. Let us take care that we bring health and love to all of life’s domains without demanding immediate relief from its difficulties.
Not only pills, but touch screens and false religions are current opiate options. Only freeing ourselves from them will allow us to see God in our pain, not just as the relief from it.
Do not be content with chaos. The shack rightly brings the unconditional love of God to life. But also needed is the God of order; not just the god of our conception of acceptance. Do not get used to chaos. Do not think of chaos as acceptable. Jesus spoke to the storm. God condemned Lucifer for his disobedience. Paul spoke truth about Alexander the coppersmith. Jesus called the Pharisees to account for their sins.
It is in chaos that God appears. He brings order to it. He does not condone it. He does not consider it normal as it is in post modernism. He brings it to order and brings order to it. Creation and nature are our constant reminders and proof of that. Love produces that order. Beauty emerges from that order. We are to be examples of that order, even in our pain.
The Shack has highlighted a neglected domain: the emotive center of human existence. Needed, but not at the loss of God-aided reason. Emotions but, not at the loss of truth.
The message of The Shack is understandable and needed but also inadequate. It is a flight to the opposite side of the road – a corrective which has, once again, gone too far and taken many with it.
The Shack – part II
Thanks to all of you who commented on The Shack essay. It was not an attempt to add to the hype but to bring a somewhat different view of the situation.
The book is clearly not in keeping with historic Christendom. But, it is a current attempt to make God real to those who, otherwise, may never encounter God.
The book “hooks” the reader immediately. The gripping story of the sad death of an innocent little girl is enough to soften even the hardest sensibilities. From there the author writes about his own life in allegorical form. His difficult childhood as a missionary-kid and pastor’s-kid are worked out through the developing story. Just as the protagonist tries to make sense out of impossible developments of life, the author is vicariously doing the same in this book.
That debilitating level of pain and distress resonates with so many people, both in and out of the church, today. Hence, the popularity of this tome. More than 20 million copies have been sold since 2007. Now the movie is making its debut.
What are some observations? Jesus was not soft on sin, but, He was not soft on the Pharisees either. He had compassion on those who knew that they were wrong, but, He had little compassion on those who knew that they were right. The book calls to those who have been hurt by that type of religion.
We may have erred on the side of doctrine. Fundamentalism/Evangelicalism, caught the eye of the Anabaptists. It was an easy step to move from Anabaptist to Fundamentalist. Fundamentalism provided a vocabulary to express our deepest concerns and understandings. The price was high. We accepted without discernment and without adequate research into our own heritage. It was easy to adopt the easy, organized approach to their doctrines of the Bible and create our own. Finally, we could do theology with the best of them.
The Mennonites rewrote their confession in 1921. The Brethren rewrote their ‘Brethren Card’ in 1923. Both reflected the new vocabulary. More recently, Fundamentalism/Evangelicalism has experienced its own realignment in the emerging/emergent movement. And, once again, our people are drawn into the Protestant approach to church.
Emerging/emergent church is now charting a course which is, to a greater or lesser degree, divorced from doctrine. Focus on spirit, worship, grace, mercy, love and other subjects has overshadowed, or even replaced historic theology. The new approach attempts to address the whole person, not just the mental faculty.
Part III Tomorrow
I read The Shack. I did not watch The Shack. The Christian community, not to mention much of the North American community, has been greatly impacted by The Shack.
Why all the reaction to this book? The conservative Christian community seems intent on building a case against it.
My reaction to the reading was to be jarred by its divergence from any theological training and exposure I had received. At the same time, the author introduced concepts that were novel and somewhat refreshing. A story fueled by the love and quest of a parent and devoid of salacious content is cause for some recognition.
Why are so many conservative Anabaptists reading and impressed by this novel? What does it hold for them? That is the question I am asking to myself.
After 20 years of teaching in conservative circles, questions arise. My conservative upbringing and training have led me to trust the Scripture and find in it my security and the answers to the searching of my heart and mind. Coupled with the indwelling Holy Spirit of God, the scripture has been both source and stability for me.
Not so for all. Many of my counterparts in the Anabaptist community have reacted negatively to our culture and religion. For them The shack was a breath of fresh air. They met God in His many facets and in His Mother form and have felt His acceptance and care. They read and heard love in its unconditional form. They were introduced to unqualified care and have felt it at its deepest levels.
So, attempting to discredit the book on its theological errors will fall mostly on deaf ears and unreceptive hearts and minds.
One challenge of current, emerging Christendom is that theological accuracy will never make up for Spiritual negligence. What ever you may think of that charge, it is acquiring adherents in the Anabaptist world. Granted, that is not how we should make decisions, but, is there really a reason to sacrifice one for the other? This rising generation feels damaged and jaded by their upbringing. Many of them feel intense pain and feel starved for the love of God. They are looking and they are finding. Can we make a safe place for them so they can stay home and trust and find God here?
Is there really some reason that we cannot bring the blessings of the love of God into our church groups? Is there some reason that we cannot produce a volume that exalts the love and grace of God? Is there a reason that we continue to force compliance by rules and laws when our history clearly recognizes “Two Kinds of Obedience?”
If we can begin to answer these kinds of questions then, maybe we will be able to begin to understand our people and who they are and who we made them to be and maybe we will be able to bring into our theology the love and care of a God who is personal in His love to us. Maybe.
Instead of building a case against this book, maybe we could build a case for The Book – a case for the loving God whose kindness calls us to Himself.
Is God speaking to us through message of The Shack? Quite possibly.
Is God speaking to us through the hearts of our people? Quite certainly.
Reconciliation – the Dire Need
No relationship can continue indefinitely without the need for reconciliation. We will hurt each other in some way. It is inevitable. We must seek reconciliation and pursue it.
It is easier to cut people out of your life or eliminate them from your contacts than it is to make amends and reconcile. That said, there are issues that should not be reconciled. If there is on-going sin and harm or if there is Biblical principle at stake, then reconciliation is typically wrong.
Some people must be eliminated if they are irreconcilable and/or abusive. That should be true in very few situations. If truth is compromised of if harm is being done, separation has to occur. Even in those cases, some level of reconciliation should be sought.
All humans will eventually fail you. All close relationships will eventually bring some level of pain. All will need your forgiveness and you will need theirs.
“I have tried to live to bless you. I have failed. I still love you and I will still love you. I need your forgiveness. You are allowed to reject me. That is your privilege. If you do that without good reason, we both will lose. If we reconcile, we will both win – and God will win also.”
Some people do not feel worthy of love or forgiveness. They do not want to allow themselves to be loved because they do not feel worthy. They do not love themselves. Rejection feels more normal to them than acceptance. It is difficult to love someone who does not love him/her self.
Open you heart and mind and life to reconciliation today. Seek those who have offended you and those whom you have offended. Without any compromise and without any rejection of truth – reconcile. State the case simply and clearly but state the case.
Reconciliation is not always restoration. Reconciliation restores the option of restoration. It states the case for re-establishment of respect and cooperation. It makes the case for restoration.
God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. He has given us the ministry of reconciliation. That is our task in this world. Employ it today. Be the minister of God to your world – reconcile.
Coaches and Cheerleaders
First of all, keep in mind that there have been many women who have been coaches and many men who have been cheerleaders. This is not about gender. This is about life. This is about winning.
Cheer leaders are impressive. They believe in their team. They put lots of energy and time into cheering and practicing their cheering. They seem to enjoy what they do. They believe that their team is going to win. Even if their team is losing by 10 points and there are only 20 seconds left to play, they still think their team is going to win.
Cheerleaders are loyal. They adore the players. All of that is may be good, but…
Cheerleaders are not allowed in the locker room. That is for the coaches. Coaches tell the team what they need to do if they want to win. They draw lines and Xs and 0s on the board and tell the players what they need to do and how and why and when. They expect complete cooperation. Their goal is to win. They are interested in details of the player’s lives. Coaches are very specific.
They tell the players:
• What to wear
• What to eat
• What to not eat
• How much to sleep
• How to run
• How to pass
• How to catch
• How to throw
• How to slide
• How to hit
• How to not get hurt
• How to prepare mentally and physically for the contest
• How to keep their bodies in shape
Coaches are critical to the success of the team. There can be two teams with players of similar skills. One team wins. The other team looses. What is the difference? The difference is the coaching. Good coaches are in high demand. They demand much from their players. They give much to their players and to the game.
They send in plays. They sub in players. They know the abilities and weaknesses of each individual on the team. They know the weaknesses and strengths of the opposing team. They do their research. They prepare their team for the up-coming games. They are constantly making plans for next: game, week, year, and beyond.
Coaches can raise the ire of the players. But, eventually the players realize that they win because of the coaches. They respect the coach because they know the coach will always work for the good of the team.
What does this have to do with life or with anything for that matter? Life is just like this. There are many cheerleaders. There are few coaches. Cheerleaders get the attention. Coaches give constant attention and focus and direction.
There are many cheerleaders. They cheer for their team win. There are too few life-coaches. We desperately need more coaches.
We need coaches who can live the life and show us how to live the life by their lives.
We need coaches who know how to win the “game” of life.
We need coaches who tell us how to live, work, love, plan, teach, parent, lead, in all areas of life.
We need coaches who can call together a team of dedicated people who submit to the “rules” of life and faith.
Unfortunately churches also seem to have more cheerleaders than coaches.
They can tell you how good it is to be part of their “team.” They are loyal. But,
Where are the coaches?
Where are the leaders who can and will hold the people accountable?
Where are the men who can chart a course through the chaos of this modern society?
Where are the men who can tell us how to live and not lose the “game?”
Where are the men who can stand the pressure of the world system?
Where are the men who will not be distracted by the allures around them?
Where are the men who can guide us safely into the future?
The few coaches we have, need to be coaching a whole new generation of new coaches who will be able to learn how to live life and pass on the values and beliefs and convictions to the next generation. It is time to teach the teachers. It is time to lead the leaders. It is time to coach the coaches so they can coach the people.
It is time. It will soon be too late. It is time, now.
The Apostle Paul was a “wise masterbuilder.” The word means architect. He was an architect of the Christian life and Church. He was a coach. He lived the life. He taught the life. He taught coaches. There were many leaders of his day. He is the one that God features prominently in the Book of books.
Cheerleaders are impressive but, only coaches know and show and teach us how to win.
Cheerleaders are forgotten. Coaches, never.