Wednesday

I'll Take Narnia's Aslan Over The Shack's Papa Any Day - What William P. Young Is Missing (A Guest Post)

It's my pleasure to welcome my friend and fellow author, Lael Arrington, as guest blogger on Hungry for God today.


This week The Shack is (still) #1 on the New York Times Best-Seller list and, after three weeks, still in the top five at the movie box office. With unforgettable images Young draws a picture of God’s compassion for a bruised reed of a man who has lost his little girl in a crime of unspeakable violence and murder. 

The God of all comfort prepares Mack’s favorite food in the kitchen. Skips rocks across the lake with him. Wears old flannel shirts. Young’s story takes us inside Mack’s grief and shows how God’s tender, creative soul-care heals and restores.

Throughout almost thirty years of rheumatoid arthritis, the wanderings of a prodigal, and the inevitable conflicts and rejections of the pastorate, Jesus has lavished me with his tenderness and mercy. Yet in times of deepest sorrow I find the portrait of God that CS Lewis has drawn in Aslan, the lion-King in his fictional world of Narnia, even more comforting than Papa in The Shack


We see Aslan’s playful, gentle, tenderness, romping with the children who ride on his back and nestle in his fur. We see him weep and groan over Narnia’s agonies. 

But we are continually reminded…”Aslan is not a tame lion.” He is wildly unpredictable. His fury destroys the White Witch’s minions. His claws rip Eustace’s dragon-skin clean off. His fearful growls in the dark spur Bree to gallop faster and carry Shasta to safety. His humiliating, horrific sacrifice for Edward’s selfish indulgence-turned-nightmare takes our breath away. 

Lewis invites us to think about the wildness of God in a way that enlarges our understanding of his compassion. When I or someone I care about is unjustly wronged or even oppressed, or when the Church is maligned or marginalized, I want a strong, fearful God to fight for us. Fight for his Church.  

I’m not as eager for God to fight for my heart and my redemption when it involves hurting me. Yet I am learning (again) that ultimately the most compassionate thing God can do for me is to expose the contours of my weakness, selfishness or indifference so that I might change and grow. 

In Mere Christianity Lewis writes, “God is the only comfort. He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most need to hide from. He is our only possible ally and we have made ourselves His enemies. Some people talk as if meeting the gaze of absolute goodness would be fun. They need to think again.” 

One day we will stand before him, overwhelmed by that goodness. Instead of condemning, he welcomes us. Invites us to share his throne and his reign—an act of compassion and nobility that staggers our dim imaginations. 

Compared to Aslan, Papa’s therapeutic breakfast-making sovereign looks pretty one-dimensional. All mercy and compassion all the time. By contrast, the wrath of Aslan against oppressors and injustice makes his mercy shine more brightly—like the diamond displayed on the jewelers black velvet. 

His bloody sacrifice for sinners like me infuses his compassion with a transcendence hard to wrap words or images around. A soaring magnificence sadly missing from Papa’s folksy humor and hugs. 

In his poem “The Misery of Job and the Mercy of God,” John Piper describes the compassion of God to his little girl: “”Beware Jemimah, God is kind in ways that will not fit your mind.” 

And that is the greatest deficit of the Papa of The Shack—his/her kindness fits too easily into our minds conditioned by today’s New Agey, marshmallowy, overwrought compassion. Tender feeling-with but without holiness or righteousness or accountability or sacrifice or hard-earned wisdom from a man like Job who lost far more than Mack. 

God comes to Job like Papa comes to Mack in his pain and suffering and gives the most important gift—the gift of his I-AM-enough presence. The fulfillment of our deepest longing when we are in the deepest pit. When we need an Answerer far more than an answer. 

But interestingly, he comes without comfort food or Neil Diamond music. He comes to Job and says, “Brace yourself like a man and I will question you.” Words I can imagine coming from the mouth of Aslan, but not Papa. 

The prophet Isaiah tells us that Jesus is so tender that “a bruised reed he will not break.” Still, when we are hurting, we need God to be fully God. 

This review points out some of the merits and the Biblical problems with The Shack. For a more theological evaluation, this from Al Mohler. 

How do you respond to the portrait of God drawn in The Shack? Please respond kindly in the comments below…




Lael Arrington is the author of four books, most recently Faithand Culture (Zondervan). A former talk radio host in Houston and Dallas, she now lives in Columbia where she speaks and blogs on faith and culture at LaelArrington.com.






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Sunday

Following God Even When He Isn't Moving

There’s nothing worse than being stuck.


We’ve all been there.You’re tooling along in traffic, making good progress toward your destination, when all of a sudden the cars in front of you grind to a halt. All you see is the Red Sea of taillights. Zero to 60 becomes zero to nothing, and the timely arrival you planned vanishes like snow in the South. 

Stuck in traffic is one example of being stuck, but sometimes “stuck” looks like more than a minor traffic delay. Sometimes stuck looks like a major train derailment.

Some of us are stuck in a relationship that’s going nowhere. The press of apathy, selfishness, or conflict hinders us from moving forward. Others are stuck in more noble ways—by caring for an aging parent, a sick spouse, or a needy child. Your life is on hold, and everyone but you seems to be accomplishing something noteworthy or fulfilling. Or maybe you’re stuck professionally in a job where you don’t feel challenged, and no one appreciates you.

Sometimes we’re stuck because of our own poor decisions, but other times we know the hand of God has placed us where we are. No amount of effort, ingenuity, or prayer seems to change things. We’re stuck because the Lord has hemmed us in.

The children of Israel knew what it meant to be stuck. They had escaped Egypt in a blaze of glory, marching boldly away from their captors with God as their rear guard. Through the Red Sea they went, triumphant and heady with victory. Six hundred thousand fighting men strong in addition to women and children. Bible scholars estimate between 2-3 million people may have been following Moses’ leadership. 

Then came the wilderness wanderings.

“At the command of the Lord the children of Israel would journey, and at the command of the Lord they would camp. As long as the cloud stayed above the tabernacle they remained encamped. Even when the cloud continued long, many days above the tabernacle, the children of Israel kept the charge of the Lord and did not journey” (Num. 9:18-19).

Some seasons of “stuck” lasted only a few days. Then the cloud would lift, and they’d be on their way. Other seasons lasted longer—a month sometimes. Or a year.

The Israelites made many mistakes on their journey, but, with few exceptions, they did this right—they never moved until God said, “Go.”

I wish I could be more like them. Oh, how I chafe at delays that seem to hinder my progress. I grow impatient with taillights and detours. I see the exit on the horizon, and I want off. Sometimes I go rogue and drive down the emergency lane, only to find myself not only stuck, but in trouble as well.

Stuck is hard. Lack of forward motion is counter-intuitive and appears fruitless and pointless.

Thankfully God provides a wise example for us to follow in the man Moses. Moses understood what we often forget—that God works equally well in the pauses.

One day, overwhelmed by the task of leading two million people, he talked with God, "If your Presence does not go with us,” he said, “do not send us up from here” (Ex. 33:15). Moses knew wherever God was—in the going or in the staying—that’s where he wanted to be.

When God advanced, he would follow. When God stopped, he would trust. “At the command of the Lord they remained encamped, and at the command of the Lord they journeyed; they kept the charge of the Lord, at the command of the Lord by the hand of Moses” (Num. 9:23).

It’s during the stuck times that we must ask ourselves, am I willing to follow God, even when he isn’t moving? 

Are you?

Father, help me see your hand in the stopping and in the going. Help me trust that you are accomplishing your perfect will for me, even when I cannot see it. I know you can use every circumstance to make me more like Jesus. Help me not get ahead of your good plan for my life. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.














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Wednesday

Does It Matter How Much Faith You Have?

Have you ever wondered if your lack of unwavering faith has hindered your prayers? I have.


Especially when I’ve prayed really hard about something. I read verses like Matthew 21:22, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer,” and it's easy to assume that because I haven’t received what I asked for, I must not have believed enough.

A little story in Mark 9 addresses this question.

Here’s the scene: a man has brought his epileptic, demon-possessed son to Jesus’ disciples for healing. When Jesus arrives, he discovers that the disciples have been unable to heal the boy. Seeing Jesus, the father asks, “'. . . if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.’

"'If you can?’ said Jesus. ‘Everything is possible for him who believes.’

“Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "’ I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’” With that response, Jesus commanded the demon to leave and healed the man’s son.

Jesus’ miraculous answer despite the father’s wobbly faith reminds me that I don’t have to have unshakable faith for God to answer my prayers. Here’s why:

The father did several things “right.” Here are two of them:

1. He brought his son to Jesus. This demonstrates he believed Jesus was able to heal him. That his faith wasn’t perfect and unshakable is evident by his words, “If you can do anything.” He’s not 100 percent sure, maybe he’s even grasping at straws, but he has some faith in Jesus.

2. He moved from less faith to more. When Jesus challenged his “If” clause with truth, “Everything is possible for him who believes,” he moved into an even greater faith decision:

“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” He declared his desire to trust Jesus wholeheartedly while honestly acknowledging that he still doubts.

We know Jesus was OK with his hopeful but afraid-to-be-disappointed faith because of his response—he healed the man’s son.


We can learn a few things from this man:

1. When we have a need, the only place to run is to Jesus.

2. We don’t have to know the outcome to be able to trust God with it.

3. We can be honest with him about our struggle to believe. (He knows anyway.)

4. We can ask God to give us more faith and help our unbelief.

5. We can trust God, regardless of the outcome.

The faith life is a long journey of small steps. Every time I trust God with something, my faith grows, and it becomes easier to trust him with the next thing. I don’t know if I’ll ever reach the point where I can trust God without even a smidgen of doubt, but every faith step I take in his direction brings me closer to that ideal. One day, like the centurion in Luke 9, I hope to amaze Jesus with my faith.

Now it’s your turn. What stands out most to you in the Luke 9 story? Of the five lessons listed above, which is the most challenging for you? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.


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Sunday

7 Signs God Is Calling You, Part II

It’s undeniable—that gentle (or not-so-gentle) tug on your heart. You think God might be calling you to do something, but you’re not sure. How can you be certain it’s God calling you and not one of your own crazy ideas?

In my last blog post, I shared four signs God is calling you, based on Moses' experience in Exodus 2-3. If you missed that post, click here to read "7 Signs God Is Calling You, Part I."

Today I'd like to share three more signs God is calling you:

5. God will provide what you need.


Moses was concerned that Pharaoh and the Israelites wouldn’t believe God had sent him. In response to his concern, God gave him what he needed to accomplish his mission—his rod—and instructions in how to use it.

One year I sensed God was calling me to attend a writers conference. It was expensive and would involve rescheduling two days of patients and losing two days of income.

Shortly after I began to pray about it, my coworker asked me if I could work two extra days for her. Guess when? The week before the writers conference.

“And if you’d like me to work for you so you can have a few days off, I’d be glad to,” she said. Her offer enabled me to take the next week off without having to reschedule any of my patients.
 
Well Lord, you’ve removed two of three obstacles preventing me from attending the conference. The only problem that remains is the $800 conference fee.

Shortly after I prayed, I received an unexpected check—for $800. God had shown me clearly that I was to attend the writers conference.


6. God will bring others along to help you.

God called Moses to a monumental task—to face the leader of one of the most powerful nations on earth and demand the release of more than a million people. I'm not surprised that he doubted his ability. Even after God gave him a healthy pep talk, Moses continued to protest. God graciously dealt with his lack of faith by sending his brother Aaron to help him.

"I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do,” God said (Ex. 4:15).

It’s noteworthy that after the first encounter with Pharaoh, Moses no longer needed to hide behind his older brother. He became a bold, powerful orator who faithfully championed the cause of his fellow Israelites.

Our family mission trip is a perfect example of how God brought others alongside us to make up for what we were lacking. My husband and I felt comfortable teaching and leading Bible studies, but when the missionaries with whom we’d be ministering asked if our team could make some home repairs, we knew we were out of our league. Our coworker, Mike, however, was especially handy with tools. His wife, Mandy, has the gift of organization, and together we were able to preach, teach, and give our missionary friends’ kitchen a much-needed face lift.

7. God will reassure you about (but not remove) your inadequacies.


Moses was scared to death. He felt woefully unprepared for the monumental task God was calling him to. He was a poor speaker, and he lacked self-confidence. God, however, made it perfectly clear that his power would be behind Moses’ calling.

"Who gave man his mouth?” God said. “Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say" (Ex. 4:11-12).

When God calls us to do something for him, he seldom waits until we’re polished and perfect. If he did, we’d be tempted to trust in our own abilities instead of seeking his power and enabling. The apostle Paul explained it this way,

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Cor. 4:7).

On our mission trip, we were asked to counsel couples struggling with marital challenges. My husband and I felt woefully inadequate, but we stepped out in faith, asking God to speak through us. During one of our sessions, a man and his wife committed their lives to Christ. Today, seven years later, they are still together and serving God in their local church. We are amazed at how God didn’t remove our inadequacies, he worked in spite of them.

I hope this list of ways God confirms his calling will help you the next time you sense him speaking to you. It isn’t all-inclusive, nor are you likely to experience all seven. It does, however, attempt to explain the gracious way God reveals his will and then confirms it.

If you sense God calling you to do something, I encourage you to claim the promise of Jeremiah 29:13:

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

Prayer: Father, I don’t know what your will for me is, but I believe you will make it clear. Help me step out in faith and obedience, knowing that you will walk with me every step of the way. Use me for your glory, Amen.

 Now it’s your turn. How have you seen God confirm what you suspected he was calling you to do? Leave a comment below and join the conversation.



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Wednesday

7 Signs God Is Calling You, Part I

It’s undeniable—that gentle (or not-so-gentle) tug on your heart. You think God might be calling you to do something, but you’re not sure. How can you be certain it’s really God calling you and not one of your own crazy ideas?

It’s a mysterious thing, this faith life. It doesn’t come with specific instructions, yet believers down through the ages have followed God with confidence and faith. Unlike Food Network’s step-by-step instructions for how to make lasagna, God’s direction is usually a little less straightforward.

The Bible does, however, provide classic examples of how God reveals his will to his followers. We can learn from the historic exchanges on the pages of Scripture and apply the principles to our own lives. Because of this, we can obey God with the same faith and confidence that guided the biblical heroes of the faith.

Moses’ historic “Burning Bush” experience of Exodus 3 and 4 is a great example of how God reveals his will to his people. And while most of us are unlikely to have a literal burning bush appear in front of us, if we take the pyrotechnic element out of the picture, we can still find much guidance from Moses’ encounter with God.

Here are seven signs of God’s direction, four today, and three in the next post:



1. God will get your attention in a significant way. 

He used a burning bush to catch Moses’ eye, but he may get yours in an equally noteworthy but less flammable way. Maybe you attend a concert and the artist shares a story about sex trafficking. The statistics shock you, and you’ve thought of little else since. Maybe you read an article about how local schools are struggling to find readers for their at risk students, and you’re wondering if you’re supposed to volunteer. Or maybe you’ve noticed your pastor’s wife seems overwhelmed and discouraged, and you feel moved to help. Whatever method God uses, he will get your attention.

2. God will often repeat himself. 

In Moses’ case, God repeated himself by calling Moses' name twice from the bush. Your call probably won’t be audible, but the sense that God is speaking to you will usually return again and again. I’ve heard it said that being convicted by the Holy Spirit is like being nibbled to death by a duck, and I agree—it’s relentless.

When my husband and I began to sense God was calling us to take a family mission trip, the idea just wouldn’t go away. Shortly after we began talking about it, we received a letter from missionary friends in Mexico describing how one of their supporting families had just spent a week ministering with them. The experience was so positive that they wanted to invite other families to come.

A final repeating nudge came when my husband shared what we were thinking with another family, and they said they’d had a similar sense that God was calling them to do a short-term mission trip. I’m thankful God repeated his call several times in several ways, or we might have missed the opportunity for a life-changing mission experience.

3. God will assure you of his presence. 

When God called Moses to go to Egypt and announce himself as God’s appointed deliverer, Moses balked.

“Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" he asked.

“I will certainly be with you,” God said.

It's been my experience that when God calls us, he also reassures us that he will go with us. This confirmation can come in different ways. You might read a verse of Scripture that speaks perfectly into our situation. Or hear a word of promise in a Christian song, or read a Bible verse on a billboard or a bumper sticker. Your pastor may preach a message that has nothing to do with what you’re sensing, yet one of the verses will shine like a spotlight in your heart. However he chooses to do it, God will give you confidence that he will walk with you every step of the way as you obey his calling.


4. God will give you the first step.

As you seek God’s face and try to discern his will, God will reveal Step 1. For Moses, it was, “So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt" (v. 10). God later laid out a series of steps for Moses to follow, but he seldom does this for us. I suspect if he did, we’d be too scared to take the first step. Instead, he usually shows us the first thing he wants us to do. Then, as we obey, he reveals the next one, and the next one, and the next one.

When I first sensed the Lord calling me to write professionally, I had no idea how to go about it. Then I received an email from a writer friend telling me about a new Christian writers group. I attended the inaugural meeting, which set into motion a series of steps that led to the publication of my first devotional book, Joy in the Journey. God didn’t show me every step that first day, but as I obeyed what he told me to do, he gave me direction for the next step.

These are four of the seven signs God is calling you. In my next post, I'll share three more signs. If you haven't yet subscribed to Hungry for God, now is a great time. I'd hate for you to miss a single post.



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