The Shack: A Story of Freedom or Force?

 

As a Christian it may be less controversial at the moment to offer an opinion about current politics, than it is to express one’s thoughts of the film, The Shack, based upon WM. Paul Young’s book of the same title.  Honestly, I, myself, have tried very hard to avoid sharing my two cents about the book or film, but after reviewing the author’s newest book, Lies We Believe About God, I figured it was time I added my voice to the theological stratosphere.

But before I do, allow me to add a few disclaimers.

I think that it’s worthwhile to acknowledge that believers often behave like the disciples in Mark 9:38. You remember the story. It’s where John informs Jesus that they saw someone else “driving out demons in your name” so they told him to stop.  Jesus rebukes them and uses the moment to reveal that the kingdom is bigger than their egos.  I think this is a lesson that the church needs to collectively relearn today.  It’s no secret that as believers, we have a tendency to shoot our own.  Every theological difference it seems provides opportunity for tearing one another down or spiritually posturing ourselves in hopes that all will see that we are really God’s favorite.

I should perhaps also mention that I know that millions of people have been impacted by The Shack, whether through the book or box office, and in sharing my perspective about the message of the film, I’m in no way desiring to negate the experience they’ve had.  I believe God speaks through a plethora of mediums, film included, and I’ve been a champion for finding God in some of the most unique places.  (I still hold that Avatar transformed how I think about eternity, and I’m also of the viewpoint that AMC’s post-apocalyptic sensation, The Walking Dead, has better theology about God than most Christian churches.)  I point these examples out to express that I’m not a religious prude and that God is able to give revelation even beyond that which may be intended by the writer or director – and The Shack is no different.

But although inspiration can be found in the most unique places, we should still remember that inspiration doesn’t always equal truth.  As Christians, all revelation must always pass through the lens of scripture to ensure that we don’t drift into theological half-truths that can damage our faith.  Film, books, and television can inspire, but only the Bible can offer doctrine.

With the renewed interest in the book, my concern is not that people will ascertain their beliefs about God from the film, but rather that the film will introduce people to additional teachings and materials from the writer.

The challenge for me in Young’s writings, as both a storyteller and theologian, is that they only partially uphold Biblical ideas about God’s nature, such as his goodness, grace, and mercy.  For this reason, it’s easy for the new believer to miss the subtleties of Young’s extra-biblical message, and, perhaps even for the more veteran believer, to mistakenly label Young as a modern Christian reformist who is merely kicking over sacred cows of Christian tradition.

But true reformation is always rooted in absolute truth – specifically that of scripture.  Young’s deconstructionist tendencies, mostly absent of scriptural support, prove that his intention is not only to kick over sacred cows, but also to vacate the farm all together.

Although it’s been speculated in the past that Young held to a form of Christian universalist theology (that all are saved or will be saved apart from faith), Young seems to have clarified his stance in his new book, Lies We Believe About God, which also contains a foreword from known universalist Baxter Kruger.  In the book, Young states, “Are you suggesting that everyone is saved? That you believe in universal salvation? That is exactly what I am saying!”  As you can see, Young leaves little question as to where he stands on the topic of universal salvation and even goes on to describe Hell by saying, “I propose the possibility that hell is not separation from Jesus but that it is the pain of resisting our salvation in Jesus while not being able to escape Him who is True Love.”

The Shack’s blurred gospel message, along with his association with Kruger, are perhaps enough to theologically villainize Young, but this isn’t the point – nor should it be.  Despite his post-Christian leanings, Young isn’t the villain.  The bigger issue is that Young’s stance reveals and represents the binary choice that religion all-too-often presents to its adherents – either God is angry and fault-finding or he’s all-inclusive and universally accepting. The first option is easy to debunk as it is rooted in judgment and legalism, but the second choice, universalism, is challenging to refute without one sounding unloving in doing so.

As I’ve pointed out before, although the universalist ideology appears to offer a loving solution to legalistic Christianity, in reality, its message is one of force.  Much like Rob Bell’s distorted gospel message in Love Wins, Young’s God rejects the biblical concept of freewill and “loves” you so much he’ll force you into the kingdom.  Personally, I believe God is better than this.

This in no way means that one cannot enjoy The Shack as a film, but it should not be used to shape our understanding of God any more than Dante’s Inferno should shape our view of Hell.  With that being said, I do agree with Young that the common religious understanding of God is quite flawed, but instead of departing from the truth of the Word and the foundations of Christian faith, as I believe he does at least in part, I have proposed a reformation of thinking that is based upon scripture and a renewed understanding of God shaped by gazing into the person of Christ.

It is for exactly this reason I wrote the book, Good God:  The One We Want To Believe In But Are Afraid To Embrace.  Upon releasing Good God, there were those who in fact immediately labeled me a heretic, but the difference between my stance and that of Young’s, is that my presentation of God was not just based upon whimsical thinking or fantasy, rather on specific verses of scripture and teachings of Jesus.  While Good God indeed kicked over many sacred cows of traditional theology, it remained loyal to the inerrancy of the Word, the love of the Church, and Jesus’ teaching on the final judgement.

Although I hope Young recognizes how far he’s slid in his post-Christian thinking, I’m more concerned now with the masses who have been influenced (or will be) by his teaching and universalist agenda.  My hope is that people recognize that viewing the Father from each of these extreme spectrums has the tendency to expose one to error.  The only way one can truly construct a proper theology of heaven, hell, love, and judgment is by beginning with the solid and trustworthy revelation of Jesus Christ.

For those looking for an alternative to the narrowed-minded view of God offered by legalism and tradition, but who still value the foundation of scripture, the message of Christ, and the truth of the gospel, I would invite you to consider the almost too-good-to-be-true God that I present in my book, Good God.

 

 

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The Power of Humility


Years ago a friend of mine was struggling in his restaurant business due to some poor decisions that he had made.  Upon asking for my advice, God revealed to me in a vision one day exactly what my friend needed to do in order to reverse the situation and save his company.  Unfortunately, the first step required operating in a great deal of humility toward his family in order to carry out (no pun intended), but the man was sadly unwilling to comply and in time ended up losing his store and ruined his relationship with his family.  I truly believe if he had responded differently, much of this could have been avoided.

The Bible tells the story of another man who was in danger of losing, not just his business, but his entire kingdom due to a lapse of judgment.  This man’s name was David.

After conducting a secret affair with a married woman, David tried to cover up his initial moral lapse in judgment by having her husband killed on the battlefield.  With each poor choice, David’s sin became compounded; lust, sexual sin, murder, and now deception.  God then revealed his sin to the prophet Nathan and as a result the prophet warned David of God’s judgment and anger against him.  But David’s response was anything but ordinary.

With a seemingly contrite and repentant heart, David confesses, “I have sinned against the Lord.”  It was a simple sentence, but it demonstrated his heart for God.  As such, God spared David’s life and restored his place on the throne of Israel and Judah.  His deliverance was rooted in humility.

Thankfully today, as New Covenant believers, we possess an even greater covenant than David did.  Through the Cross, Christ bore in his body the penalty for sin, and we are now (as believers) no longer in danger of God’s judgment, but this doesn’t excuse the need for humility, nor strip it of its power.  In fact, humility is just as powerful today as it was for David.  Like my friend above, humility can make the difference between experiencing God’s deliverance or falling back into the fruit of our own efforts and works.

Humility offers a simple path to embracing God’s attitude and opinions, and acknowledging that as people, we don’t have it all together.  In the end, it’s one of the most empowering tools that we possess in the kingdom.  In fact, humility is the key to our salvation.  Although salvation is offered to us, by grace through faith, it takes humility to receive it in the first place. Only when our heart is humble can we acknowledge our need for a Savior.

Is God speaking to you today?  Is your heart soft enough to listen and humbly obey?

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Proclaim 2017

This week I had the pleasure of attending the National Religious Broadcasters Convention – Proclaim 2017.  While there I spent the majority of my time in the press room recording interviews for my upcoming podcast, The Lucas Miles, as well as appearing on various Christian and conservative talk shows, like Tbe Church Boys, The Hugh Hewitt Show, Paul Ladd, and more!  Here are a few snapshots from throughout the week:

 

 

Author & researcher, George Barna & Lucas Miles

Lucas Miles and journalist Billy Hallowell

 

 

 

Lucas and DeVon Franklin

The Benham Twins and Lucas

Andrew Farley and Lucas Miles

Lucas and Moriah Peters

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Lucas Miles Reports Live from the National Religious Broadcasters 2017 Convention!

This week thousands of Christian industry leaders flocked to Orlando, FL for the annual National Religious Broadcasters Convention.  I had the opportunity to report all of the happenings live on The Harvest Show.  Here is my segment from today’s show:

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Drifting from the Truth

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Isaiah 5:20 ESV says this, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”

In the tale of The Emperor’s New Clothes none of the ruler’s servants nor the town’s people wanted to be seen as foolish or unfit by admitting that the Emperor was really naked. Instead, the masses fell victim to a very small minority (2 traveling salesmen with a sinister agenda to deceive the people and profit off of their fear of being wrong). Because no one would speak up, each individual eventually assumed that all were able to perceive his new clothes, except for them, so they unanimously agreed how wonderful he looked – even though none of them could see his suit.

In today’s world the same is true. There is an agenda that exists to reframe truth – politically, biologically, historically, morally, religiously, and ethically – and those behind it are banking on the masses’ unwillingness to speak out and call evil “evil”. They have gone to great lengths to publicly and brutally disparage and demean anyone who would stand up against them and state what the great majority know, but that most are afraid to say.

This week’s headlines showed just a snapshot of this rising agenda and continued distortion of the truth; an anti-Semitic, radical Islamic sympathizer being appointed deputy chair of the DNC, continued attempts at normalizing and desensitizing the public to transgenderism and other sexual distortions, as well as a convicted cannibal’s charges being dropped from murder to only manslaughter. Each of these represent just a small glimpse at how far we’ve drifted from truth as a society and the extent that morality and godliness have been stripped from our definition of truth, identity, and life.

More than ever we need the gospel.

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst.” – 1 Timothy 1:15

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The Truth About Illegal Immigration

Immigration

I’ve been invested in the people of Latin American for the last 17 years, specifically Mexico. I have ministered to thousands of people throughout their wonderful country and along both sides of the border. Additionally, I have spent considerable time with major Mexican business leaders over the years, as well as major Mexican politicians, several of which I consider dear friends. I’ve also assisted literally dozens of people from nations all around the world over the years enter our nation legally for short term trips, long term trips, to gain political asylum, and to gain green cards and citizenship in our fine nation.

During this time and through these experiences, I have undoubtably seen how broken our current immigration system is, how slanted it is against Christians, and how it favors the wealthy, the Islamic and non-Christian faiths, and those with political connections. It is in major need of revision, but despite all of this, illegal immigration is not the solution nor should it be embraced, overlooked, accepted, or encouraged.

Illegal immigration hurts both Mexico (and the many other nations involved), as well as the United States equally. It strips other countries of desperately needed human capital and talent, promotes illegal trafficking rings (often the same groups responsible for sex and drug trafficking), steals jobs from American workers, and helps perpetuate cartel controlled communities, especially along border cities. Hilary Clinton, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and President Trump have all addressed these same issues I’ve mentioned. In fact, until this past election, virtually no one (republic or democrat) in Washington questioned this fact, nor cared to state it any differently, but now this has changed.

The current push to normalize and desensitize the American people regarding illegal immigration has nothing to do with immigration. It is merely one of many tactics designed to undermine the current administration. Sadly latinos and other immigrants are being used as pawns by liberal masterminds exactly the same way that Lyndon B. Johnson did this to the black community in the 1960’s in order to gain power.

I’m sure that many will disagree and some will lash out, but I only say this because I’m committed (and will continue to be committed) to a thriving Mexico and a safe and prosperous United States.

The solution is immigration reform, an improved vetting process, temporary bans from problematic nations, increased border security, extended periods of decreased immigration to allow for assimilation, and invoking strict, yet fair, penalties and consequences on those who have entered our country illegally.

I believe that anyone who truly cares about this country and the immigrant, especially those who enter the country legally, should take no other view.

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2016 has not been kind to Hollywood. Carrie Fisher aka Princess Leia Dead at 60.

princess-leiaToday the world received the news of the death of Carrie Fisher.  Fisher allegedly suffered a massive heart attack while aboard an international flight from London to Los Angeles, and sadly passed away today (December 27th) in a Beverly Hills Hospital, but the former Star Wars Princess is not the only star who the world has lost this year.  Here is a partial list of some of the entertainment icons whom have passed this year (2016).

Carrie Fisher

Gene Wilder

Muhammad Ali

Alan Rickman

David Bowe

George Michael

Anton Yelchin

Prince

Prayers go out to all of their friends and families!

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Thoughts on Romans 11:11-12

Paul writes in Romans 11:11-12 (NIV),

“Again I ask: Did they (Israel) stumble so as to fall beyond recovery?  Not at all!  Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.  But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring!”

In this passage, Paul is asking if Israel, or more specifically, the Jewish people, have fallen so far that they do not have an opportunity to return to the Lord.  Paul adamantly states, “Not at all!”  This is amazing news for Israel (even today) and is monumental evidence for advocates of free will everywhere , but it’s the verse after this that I would like to draw our attention to at the moment. In the second part of verse 11, Paul reveals that it is because of the transgression of the Jews that salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel jealous.

Although subtle, this verse reveals much needed clarity regarding the sovereignty of God.

In the church today, there exists an idea that everything that happens is a direct result of God’s divine choosing.  The extreme adherents to this idea preach a message that nullifies man’s freewill and argues that God is the puppet master behind all of the outcomes of our life.  If this were so, one would expect Paul to say that God was divinely orchestrating the outcome of both Jews and Gentiles, but he doesn’t.  Paul instead reveals that it was “because of their transgression” that an opportunity for salvation was presented to the Gentiles.  Their transgression…not God’s divine choosing, not God’s sovereign will, but their choice, their sin, and their will.  This is important.

First, it shows us that we play a major part in the outcome of our lives.  In a world where it seems that most try to shrug off their responsibility, the Bible is reminding us that our actions, decisions, and will matter – immensely!  Second, it shows us that God loves Israel so much that he constantly leaves the door open for their return.  But it doesn’t stop there – he loves us that much too!  Like the prodigal son, we may wander away, but the Father never stops watching for us, waiting for us, and hoping that we might come to the end of ourselves and return.

What are you choosing today?  Are you choosing life?  Are you moving in a direction that is going to lead you into greater blessing, understanding, fullness, and joy 0r are you chasing after your own desires, temporal gratifications, and short lived pleasures?

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Is God Rigging the Election?

“God is in control,” shouted one church-going woman recently in a conversation about politics when a man suggested that someone other than her candidate might win the election due to millions of Christians’ lack of political involvement.  But is she right?  Is God really in control?  And if this statement is true, then what does it really mean?  Is the election rigged…by God?  Are our efforts in voting, campaigning, and sharing our various political platforms meaningless and unfruitful?  Does the real outcome on November 8 belong not to the American people, nor corrupt politicians, but really to God Almighty?

If you ask many Christians, I think they may answer yes.  But is this what the Bible says?

As I mention in my book,   Good God ; The One We Want To Believe In But Are Afraid To Embrace, the Bible never states ‘God is in control’.  Rather, the Bible portrays a world where personal responsibility matters and where humankind receives the fruit of the seeds that we plant.  But this biblical truth of personal responsibility is often eclipsed by what I refer to as “the doctrine of the extreme sovereignty of God.”  And although the idea that

HEMPSTEAD, NY - Democratic Nominee for President of the United States former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Republican Nominee for President of the United States Donald Trump meet for their first presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York on Monday September 26, 2016. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

“God is in control” has become a normal way of viewing God, it sadly leaves people to assume that everything that happens in the world, including the outcome of elections, was either approved by God or directly caused by our heavenly Father.

The reality is that the doctrine of extreme sovereignty is birthed out of convenience.  If everything that happens is “God’s will”, then it’s easy to divert the attention off our personal shortcomings, or political apathy, and chalk up the outcome of life, and the upcoming election, to God’s master plan.  I suggest that this is exactly the line of thinking which has allowed and perpetuated the current anti-Christian culture and lack of biblical values in our society.  Christian apathy in political participation has resulted in the passage of unconstitutional laws, which have unduly and illegally separated church and State.  Christians have falsely concluded regardless if they get involved in the political process, the outcome is divinely rigged.  Whatever God wills will happen.

Because of this, corruption has thrived, values have become distorted, and all the while the church is mostly silent – after all, God is sovereign.

Or is he?

Some might be surprised to discover that the word sovereign never appears in the King James Version of the Bible.  While it is found over three hundred times in the Old Testament of the New International Version – as in “sovereign God” – it is simply used a moniker equivalent to what is translated in the King James Version as “Lord God.”  In fact, never in one instance, even in the New International Version, is “sovereign” used to describe God in the sense of “controlling everything”.

With regard to politics, some would argue that Romans 13 definitely substantiates the idea that God is responsible for “establishing all authorities”.

However, the Message bible shines some additional light on the meaning of Romans 13:1-3 which reads,

Be a good citizen. All governments are under God. Insofar as there is peace and order, it’s God’s order. So live responsibly as a citizen. If you’re irresponsible to the state, then you’re irresponsible with God, and God will hold you responsible. Duly constituted authorities are only a threat if you’re trying to get by with something. Decent citizens should have nothing to fear.

Another translation (J.B. Philips bible) provides additional insight by stating “all legitimate authority is derived from God’s authority”.

Paul never intended this passage to be a blanket endorsement from God for all those who are in power.  He simply stated that legitimate authority comes from God.  This isn’t referring to particular candidates and specific individuals, as if every politician has been hand selected by God, but rather it’s speaking to the benefit of the rule of law, and how godly laws help protect society from an infestation of evil and those who participate in it.

Some might attempt to prove God’s hand in the political process by referencing Old Testament passages in the Bible that mention God appointing certain men to be rulers in the Old Testament, like King David, Jeroboam, or even the prophet Jeremiah.

But we have to take note that these men were in a nation that actually recognized God’s directives and leadings.  Israel, when they weren’t in rebellion, gave God a say in the governance of their nation and, as a result, God’s voice was often heard and the people affirmed his leading through their acceptance of his choice.  Today is no different, throughout the earth, God is still preparing and elevating people to lead and govern, but this doesn’t mean that every nation always accepts his choice or acknowledges his plan.  In fact, a perfect example of this would be 1 Samuel chapter 8, where Israel demands that Samuel appoint a king over the people.  In this instance, the people rejected God’s form of government for the nation, and instead forced Samuel to appoint a king for the people – a king who’s reign was full of lies and ended in corruption and rebellion against God, I might add.

God’s will for Israel was originally rejected, causing him to pivot and eventually give the people what they wanted – an earthly king.  But think of all of the pain and hardship that could have been avoided, however, if Israel had sought God’s plan for their country from the beginning.  How many lives would have been spared?  How many wars would have been avoided?  We may never know, but what we do know, is that the people played a role in the outcome of the nation.  The same is true today.

We stand at the crossroads of one of the most important elections our country has ever had.  The media wants us to believe that it is a circus and a laughingstock, yet the potential results are anything but funny.  The next president will most likely appoint three or more Supreme Court justices who will define the rule of law regarding moral and social issues like abortion, sexual identity, and religious freedom.  In addition, they will be at the forefront of perhaps one of the greatest oppositions that this country (and perhaps the world) has ever faced – radical Islamic terror.  Who stands in office matters.  Your vote matters.  Your political involvement matters.  There is no separation of church and State, because the church is filled with individual private citizens with a right to vote, speak out, and be involved.  Should we do so in love and respect?  Absolutely!  But whatever we do, let us not for one second succumb to the lie that God is in control of the outcome of this election or any election for that matter – because God doesn’t rig elections and he loves mankind enough to allow us the freedom to decide our future, our politicians, and the outcome of our nation.

What will you decide?

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The Flea and the Acrobat: A Spiritual Lesson in Stranger Things

(Spoiler Alert – Stranger Things Season 1 Details Below)

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On the Netflix hit series, Stranger Things, an over-eager middle school science professor, Mr. Clarke, explains to three of his young pupils about the nature of dimensional travel. He reveals that our current dimension is like a tight rope and mankind is like an acrobat carefully walking the line. Limited by our nature, we are only able to walk across the line in a single direction. But he reveals that a smaller creature, like a flea, might be able to walk along the line, moving freely, forward and backward, and even “upside down”, where it would then enter a sub-dimension. But that’s a flea? What about humans? Humans, according to Mr. Clarke, could only ever experience this “upside down” sub-dimension if there was some tremendous release of energy that opened a portal to this other world.

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Hmm, that’s interesting.

This morning while studying I read Ephesians 2:6 that reveals that “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus”. This got me thinking.

In the beginning, God created us in a world of perfection; that we know as the Garden of Eden (or the top side of the tight rope). But when we fell, a tremendous amount of energy was released, and we were forced through a portal into a lesser reality – a sub-natural existence, much like the upside down world of Stranger Things.

Sadly though, upside down begins to feel “right” after you’ve stayed that way for so long, so that now many who are still trapped in this upside down post-fall world are unaware that they aren’t right side up. I’m confident that even for the believer, as we finally enter into the full reality of eternal life, that only then will we realize how very sub-natural we actually were.

But according to Ephesians, we don’t need to wait until we die to enter this world. For the believer, we are there now – seated with Him! Through the power of the resurrection, a new and living portal was reopened by which all who believe on the name of the Lord Jesus may pass freely from darkness into light. What an awesome truth! (And a pretty cool comparison for all of the Stranger Things geeks out there like me.)

What do you think?  Any other connections between Stranger Things and faith?

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