Friday, May 29, 2009

Lessons from Lazarus

Chapter 8 talks about something that most of us struggle with at some time or another…. the waiting game. We have a need and we ask something of God and we devote extensive time to prayer but then, what we want just does not happen. And then it still doesn’t happen or it may not happen the way we believe that it should have happened. And at this point when this happens it is so easy to give up hope and just think that God doesn’t care. But really that’s just what the devil wants you to think. God has a plan, it’s just not possible for us to understand or even conceive His ways and how He can use things to bring Him glory. In this chapter the author talks about the story of Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus. Lazarus is sick and he is dying and Mary and Martha send word for Jesus to come heal him. But Jesus doesn’t come as fast as they would expect him to, He waits. The bible tells us why he waited to come to Mary and Martha, so that we could see the glory of God. The author gives us 5 lessons that we can learn from the story of Lazarus as well as a couple of God’s grammar rules. The author goes into detail about each of them but I will only highlight a couple things:

1: God’s will does not always proceed in a straight line.
2: God’s love sometimes tarried for our good and His glory.
3: God’s ways are not our ways, but His character is still dependable.
4: God’s plan is released when we believe and obey.
5: The “end” is never the end; it is only the beginning.

Grammar rule #1: Never put a period where God puts a comma.
Grammar rule #2: Don’t put a comma where God puts a period.

I like the quote by Ray C. Stedman as he talks about the hardest problem he deals with as a Christian, “what to do when God does not do what I have been taught to expect him to do; when God gets out of line and does not act the way I think he ought. What do I do about that?” We all have had times when hard questions that we throw at God surface up. We cry out to God and ask him why and we can feel like we never get an answer. I believe that it’s just not time for me to know the answer; it may just be something that my human logic can not follow. I am content in knowing that my whys can be answered when I make it to my real home in Heaven. Even then I probably won’t even know what my questions were. We can look no further than the bible to see that Jesus understands what we are going through. The author has a nice shaded box at the end of this chapter that is titled, “Jesus Understands.” She has compiled a list for us to see that many of the heartache and emotions that we go through Jesus experienced when he was here on earth. He knows, understands and wants to show us the glory of God. A question from the back of the book asks which lessons from Lazarus have you found to be the most true in life? Have you ever experienced the reality of these lessons?

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Facelift for the blog..... DONE!

I experimented with some different backgrounds for the blog so if you came and it was really different or looked weird, I hope I didn't scare you off! I changed it up so that there weren't any swirlies hindering people from reading it. I really liked having swirlies or bows in the background with the words but I don't want anyone to not read because it is too complicated to see, so I will simplify! Plus I think it would be fun to change it up every now and then just because! After much deliberation and a unanimous vote among some lovely friends that had a minute to help, this one won!! I hope that you enjoy it and can read it easier. Thanks!

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

The spiritual sort

The better part that we need to experience with Jesus is time spent alone with him. In chapter 7 the author talks a lot about finding that quiet time to spend alone with just you and Jesus and what a difference it can make in your life. She gives us several little stories to help support this and I believe them. I like the quote from Hudson Taylor that she gave us that says, “We will all have trials. The question is not when the pressure will come, but where the pressure will lie. Will it come between us and the Lord? Or will is press us ever closer to His breast?” When we make the time to spend with Him we will grow closer rather than farther when those bad times do come. I like the story about the rock experiment and the $3 worth of God. I like what Cynthia Heald says, “We are as intimate with God as we choose to be.” So many of us complain about not being close to God but are we really making an effort?? Really?? Think about it.

I love the story that she gives us from J. Sidlow Baxter and I would love to re-type it all and quote it on here but it’s just a little too long. If you don’t quite remember that part go back and read it. You will find it in chapter 7 under the title “An Act of the Will.” In his little story he and his “will” are deciding that they are going to have a regular devotional time with God because he is not going to settle for the idea that he is, “just not the spiritual sort.” He tells us his thought process between him and his will and how he makes it work. It is very encouraging when you learn that you aren’t the only one that has problems. If you think that you are the only one that is dealing with something, that is the devils work. The devil wants you to think that it’s “only you” so that you think you are beyond help. Don’t believe him! Have a talk with your will like J. Sidlow Baxter does. I know I am going to.

The author gives us the three “C’s” that she uses to help grow in her time with God. Consistency, Creativity and Conversation. She gives us lots of helpful ways to use the three C’s so that we can broaden our horizons with our quiet time. She even gives us one of those nice little shaded boxes that has 10 ways to have Creative quiet times so we can mix it up a little. I really like the reading a chapter idea and getting a notebook or spending half a day in prayer or going to somewhere like a fast food restaurant to have my time. Lots of cool ideas so be sure you don’t miss it. I pray none of us shy away from becoming the spiritual sort.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Stick out all over

It's not what you do it's how you do it. Chapter 6, Kitchen Service, is about the aspect of it being okay to serve and have some Martha in us. Jesus calls us all to serve and love like he does. J. Oswald Sanders reminds us that "Only once did Jesus say that he was leaving his disciples an example, and that was when he washed their feet." Jesus was becoming the least of these to serve others. He wasn't telling Martha not to serve, he just wants us to just have a joyful heart in whatever way we are serving. When we let our service become a burden it is no longer done in joy. We forget the real reason we began in the first place, which can then place us on the road to burnout. We are told that Jesus ministered to others as he went on his way, out of his way and in all kinds of ways. List all three of these and look for opportunities in your life where you can minister to others. Look in the back of your book where she talks more about this in the study guide. There is a story of Brother Lawrence who ended up with unexpected kitchen duty. Instead of grumbling and throwing a pity party about where he would be serving he made the best of it. He made it into an act of worship. I know this is something that I have also learned as far as the occupation we have is concerned. We aren't all called to ministry or work in the church, if we were how would others in the outside world get to see what it's like to live as a christian? She reminds us that we may be the only Jesus that many people see so we need to keep that in mind at all times. We are given a quote from Dwight L. Moody that I really liked, "Of one hundred men, one will read the Bible; the ninety-nine will read the Christian." Isn't that so true?? The author has some shaded areas in the chapter that discuss some ideas on how to decide how you can serve others as well as to decide if you are doing your service for the right reasons.

So just because you aren't working in the church doesn't mean you aren't making an impact. Jesus needs us to be lights out in this dark world to allow His Holy Spirit to shine through us to others. Whatever your occupation may be do it with the mindset that you are serving God. A friend of ours owns a blinds company. I remember he said that to change his perspective he decided that he was going to treat every house he installed blinds in as if it were Jesus house. What a difference our day can make when we remember to have this kind of attitude!!! In this chapter the author talks some more about producing fruit and abiding in Jesus and letting him abide in us. One last part of this chapter that stood out to me was the story about the boy who is talking to the evangelist and he says, "I'm so little and Jesus is so big-he's just gonna stick out all over!" What a great analogy to show us what having Christ abide in us and us in him really means so that we can show the world who He really is. I pray that I can be someone that has Christ sticking out all over and that you can too.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The branch must be connected to the tree

In chapter 5 we have lots of analogies. I love a good analogy that puts something in an easy perspective for me to understand. The author tells us a story about a boy who went on a ship to the the new world and about how he starved because he didn’t think he could use his money to eat on the ship only to find out later it was free the whole time. I have heard this story before when people think that they have to wait till their life is good enough to come to a relationship with Christ so they put Him off only to find out later that they could have had the relationship the whole time. The price He paid for us is done and nothing we do can change that. She reminds us that the devil enjoys using our busy schedules our doubts and our fears so that we feel unworthy and don’t become intimate in our relationship with Christ. We have another shaded area that gives us advice on how to create a living room intimacy with God. I have heard of several who have prayer closets but this gives you some other ideas to help you have your quiet time with Him.

In the section titled, “How to live together,” in chapter 5 she tells a story of a branch that falls from the tree but is still trying it’s hardest to produce apples. But the branch doesn’t have the power to produce the apples, only the tree does. The branch must be connected to the tree to produce the fruit. I like this analogy of how Christ is our tree and we His branches that must be connected to Him to bear much fruit. So often we try the “do it ourselves” approach and think we will yield the same results as we did when we were fully attached to Him. It doesn’t always work out and many times we fail. Then since the devil couldn't keep us from thinking we need a savior he tried to make us think that we don’t deserve our savior. He tries his hardest to keep us from revamping that relationship. Don’t feel like you can’t do it. Don’t listen to the devil and let his lies corrupt your walk. She makes mention that we should do a daily housecleaning of our sins and turning them over to God so that it doesn’t build up and we feel overwhelmed. She gives us the formula for intimacy with God, prayer + the word + time. In the back of the book she asks which one of these are you struggling with as you try to build your relationship? Which one comes easiest? She tells us that, “Conscious repentance leads to unconscious holiness.” If we try to do these tasks everyday to build our relationship with him how much easier the bearing of fruit will become?

I want to reflect on one last analogy, from this chapter, where the author quotes Kent Hughes. “Think of it this way, Our lives are like photographic plates, and prayer is like a time exposure to God. As we expose ourselves to God for a half hour, an hour, perhaps two hours a day, his image is imprinted more and more upon us. More and more we absorb the image of his character, his love, his wisdom, his way of dealing with life and people.” Isn’t this what we all need? To be exposed to God in a way that we abide in him and allow Him to abide in us and we become more of a reflection of Jesus than of ourselves?

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Dump your worries and rocks

In chapter 3 we are talking about how worried we can get at times and how some of us carry around so much anxiety over everything. She has a shaded section in this chapter that is titled, “Ten signs of a big worrier.” I don’t struggle with this as much as others I know but I still can at times. I seem to be the one that counteracts their worry and tries to help them not be so worrisome but then you will find me worrying about little insignificant things every once in a while. I don’t think many can escape not worrying abut anything whatsoever. Bless you if you are! I am a firm believer in what Jesus said in Matthew 6:27 and try to remember it daily, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” And to take it further, your parents lives, your friends lives, or your children’s lives?? No one, none of us can add to anything by worrying. She gives us some pretty interesting statistics about what all we do worry about in which 70 % of them are things we can’t even do anything about. Wow that is a lot! We worry about way to much stuff which is completely out of our control. Are you one of those people that she talks about that worry so it won’t happen? I can see how that would be a good mind game to play but I think you would just set yourself up for disappointment because one day your worrying isn’t going to pay off and all the stress will be for naught.

We are also given a handy little chart that distinguishes the difference between actual worry and concern. She states, “Concern draws us to God. Worry pulls us from him.” I think that if you are one of those worrisome people where this is a problem area for you that you should use her chart about Worry vs. Concern and make a list. Write down all the things you find yourself worrying about and see which they fit under. I always think writing something down so you can visualize it helps put something in better perspective. Pray over this list and give it to God. See if you can take off some that are under the worry and genuinely give them to God as a concern and stop stressing yourself out. I think a big misconception among many is that when you become a Christian life gets easier. And she points this out, “Jesus warned us, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). Catch that! He said, “you will,” not “you might.”” Just because you are a Christian does not mean that everything will be fine, it means that you have a hope in a savior to help you get through those tough times. She also reminds us that Jesus also says, “Take Heart, I have overcome the world.” He has overcome the world. Remember the troubles of today will one day all fade away and we will be with our heavenly father. Don’t worry so much. Let some of it go. I love reading those bits of scripture over and over, they really help me let things go.

She gives good advice on how to stop mentally obsessing about issues and turn them into prayer. She gives us one last shaded area in this chapter titled, “Top ten ways to tame your worry habit.” I find these to be helpful with making the list and deciding if something is a worry or a concern and what to do with each item on that list. Please share with us other strategies you may have so that you don’t worry so much. I have seen where people will make their own bookmarks that have the scriptures that talk about not being worrisome so that they look at it constantly. Maybe you could do something similar so that you pray over this throughout the day.

In chapter 4 we come back to the overloaded wagon story. I think this is a very good mental illustration of what it’s like for us to overload our lives. She gives us some advice on how to dump some of our own, “rocks” in a couple of her shaded areas that offer practical advice. She reminds us that we can become overly busy with things that we think God would want us to do but really He may just be looking to spend time with us. As Jesus tells Martha that there is only one thing needed the author gives us an answer as this, “First, to know him and to put worship before work but also not to overdo even in our efforts on his behalf.” I feel like that is me many times over. I try to “do” too much when really I should let a lot of things go and take that time for Him and I. But I am still a steady work-in-progress. She reminds us to ask for wisdom from God before we start dumping our rocks. We need to be sure we are only carrying the load He wants us to have rather than the load we think He wants us to have. Let me know if you have any other tidbits of advice you can share with everyone that help you.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Lord, Don't you care? Yes.

As we come in to chapter two we battle that question many do of, “Lord Don’t you care?” And the response we give life too often enough, “It’s just not fair.” I really like these little shaded sections in the chapters that have little lists or it takes the message a little further in helping you identify areas where you may just not have realized you need work in yet. Such as in one little box that talks about signs of a Martha overload. It has different sayings that if you hear yourself saying or thinking then you may be on the verge of an overload. I think the two in this list that stick out to me are "I have the capacity to help everyone" and "I am the only person available to help." We always complain about how it is the same people doing the same activities and work again and again and it's easy to get overloaded. We want to help but sometimes we can let ourselves take it a little too far. We start to say, "It's just not fair." Jump with me to chapter 4 where we read about the story of the man with the wagon of stones. Wow! What a way to help us see how easy it is for us to become overloaded, say it's not fair and blame God for our problems. We become overloaded because we try to reach beyond the task God has given us that was never meant to be overloaded nor more burden than we could carry. I think we need to learn to zip our lips when someone asks us to do something and take it home in prayer before giving a response. It's so easy to say sure I'll do that without even really thinking about what it can do to your already busy schedule. I know I am guilty of it.

Back to chapter 2 where we learn the 3 deadly D's: Distraction, Discouragement and Doubt. She tells us a story about a priest who the devil finally reached with these D's. How easy is it for us to get brought down with these? They seem insignificant compared to other tools the devil could use but they can make a big difference in our lives. In a shaded area she gives us some strategies that we can use so that we can fight off discouragement which I find helpful. For some of us the littlest thing can make us discouraged so I hope you find some of these useful. As we conclude chapter 2 we continue with our questioning if the Lord really cares. Of course He does. Sometimes when something bad happens to us, all we can focus on is the bad and forget all about good things He has done for us. I am reminded of a cartoon that I want to share with you. When I first saw it, I was WOWED. It put in a visual perspective for me how much He does care. I couldn't find the pictures any bigger so I put the words in for you in case you can't read them. And I'm not sure who to give the credit to so if you know please tell me. I got this in a forward e-mail a long time ago and I haven't ever forgotten it. If you would like me to send you the e-mail so you can have the full size version just let me know. I hope this gives you some food for thought and helps answer the question that He does indeed care.
"Lord Protect me."
"Are you alright? I might have missed a small piece."

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott

As you know I will periodically share with you what my brief thoughts are on a book that I have been reading other than our book club selection. You can always find this section on the right hand side of the blog. I have just finished up Traveling Mercies, Some thoughts on faith by Anne Lamott. Here is what the book flap states:

With an exuberant mix of passion, insight, and humor, Anne Lamott takes us on a journey through her often troubled past to illuminate her devout but quirky walk of faith. In a narrative spiced with stories and Scripture, with diatribes, laughter, and tears, Lamott tells how, against all odds, she came to believe in God and then, even more miraculously, in herself. She shows us the myriad ways in which this sustains and guides her, shining the light of faith on the darkest part of ordinary life and exposing surprising pockets of meaning and hope. Whether writing about her family or her dreadlocks, sick children or old friends, the most religious women of her church or the men she's dated, Lamott reveals the hard-won wisdom gathered along her path to connectedness and liberation. (end quote)

Each chapter is a new story that she shares about an aspect of her life. Some of them I liked and some I didn't care for so much. She does use cuss words quite a few times in the book, so just a warning in case it bothers you. I enjoyed her stories where she talks about her walk with Christ and opens herself up to share with the reader some of her mis-steps and what she has learned. I also enjoyed the stories about the people in her Presbyterian Church in California and how they supported and have helped her in life. I would have to say one of my favorite quotes of the book is in her Overture titled Lily Pads. She is quoting someone when talking about learning what it means to be saved and says, "I guess it's like discovering you're on the shelf of a pawnshop, dusty and forgotten and maybe not worth very much. But Jesus comes in and tells the pawnbroker, 'I'll take her place on the shelf. Let her go outside again." I always like good analogies that make it easier to put things in perspective. There are several of these in the book. She also has several other books available that are set up similarly with all the different stories. I do not think this is exactly what our book club is looking for at this time, so at this point I don't see us reading it in the future. If you have any other questions feel free to e-mail me at

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June Book Club Selection

Our June selection for the book club will be, The Red Tent by Anita Diamant!!!! I have talked to many people that have read this book and they really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the book but I also want to warn you that there are a couple parts in it that are graphic that I could have done without. So this warning is similar to Redeeming Love when we needed the warning that it is not a book suitable for young girls. Here is what is on the back of the book cover:

Her name is Dinah. In the Bible, her life is only hinted at in a brief and violent detour within the more familiar chapters about her father, Jacob, and his dozen sons in the Book of Genesis. Told in Dinah's voice, this novel reveals the traditions and turmoil of ancient womanhood - the world of the red tent. It begins with the story of her mothers - Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah - the four wives of Jacob. They love Dinah and give her gifts that are to sustain her through a hard-working youth, a calling to midwifery, and a new home in a foreign land. Dinah's story reaches out from a remarkable period of early history and creates an intimate, immediate connection. Deeply affecting, The Red Tent combines rich storytelling with a valuable achievement in modern fiction: a new view of biblical woman's society.

Remember only a brief bit of Dinah's story is told in the Bible so this is a fictional novel for entertainment purposes. This book is 321 pages long with no study guide or discussion questions. If you are interested in a Pre-order please contact Kathy. She sent out an e-mail with the information for a possible Pre-order this morning. If you did not get the e-mail and would like it sent to you please let me know and I will forward it on. And as always local libraries and bookstores have some copies available. Sometimes you can even find our monthly book at the $5.00 bookstore in the outlet mall but it's not a guarantee they will have it. We will no longer be raffling off the book at the meetings due to costs but we will still have door prizes. Remember our May meeting is coming up on May 30th and our June meeting will be June 27th. Happy Reading!!

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The two sisters

Here we are beginning our next book, Having a Mary heart in a Martha world and I’m staying busy and not blogging like I should…. Imagine that. This story intrigues me and always has because of the struggle we so often face that the author clearly points out. I am one that wants to be like Mary but has many Martha tendencies. I had heard about this book for awhile now and heard such great things about it that I thought it was high time I stop being so busy and take some time to read it. Well I’m still busy but at least I’m reading it! I like the way in chapter one, the author gives us a more detailed description using her imagination of what Martha and Mary must be going through as Jesus comes to their home. I like how she even describes Martha as “maybe having time to fashion an ark from the cheese and carve the fruit into little animals marching two by two.” Or Martha of the Bible also known as, “the original Martha Stewart.” That makes me laugh because I can picture this. It is so easy to picture it because we do it. Or at least I know I do. I have these grand detailed plans that really don’t make any sense because it doesn’t make a difference in the end. I mean who really remembers that often if the napkins were matching or that the centerpiece was divine? Well some do… I can remember some pretty bad centerpieces. But really??? Now I'm not saying that having those things is wrong, it's fine having your napkins match and all. We just have to remember that it's not what everything is really about. I’m getting better but I’m still a work in progress.

I like how the author points out to us that Jesus did not condemn Martha but gently rebukes her. And he’s not saying that one is wrong and the other right, just one has chosen better. If God didn’t want us all to be different he would have made us all the same. The author reminds us in this chapter that God makes us all unique and with different personalities which help balance each other. I think this whole Mary/Martha struggle is something many of us women at our church are dealing with, the busyness of life. So often we have the same people doing the work over and over again not to mention all the other things that are going on in their lives like marriage, work and children. I am one of these Martha’s that I speak about who finds it hard not to help out, so again I'm a work in progress.

There is a study guide in the back of the book that has some questions you can look over and some other bible passages to look up and meditate over. I wanted to post a couple of the questions that stuck out to me on here for us to ponder. This is in the Appendix “A” Study Guide and you can find the remaining questions there in the back of the book.

- What preconceived ideas did you have about Mary and Martha before reading this? Which do you relate to the most?
- Do you think it is possible for our basic character to change, or are we destined to live our lives stuck in a predetermined nature? Explain your answer.
- What spoke most to you in this chapter?

Here are my answers to these questions: I had the stereotypical preconceived notions about Mary and Martha that I believe most people do at first. The author uses her descriptions to help bring them down to more of a personal level for me and to make it easier to understand what they were probably going through at the time. Also I believe that our character can change through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Yes we all may struggle but if we allow Jesus into our heart He will make a way. This is evidenced throughout the Bible and today in our time with many testimonies of people who have had a changed heart. Now all situations are different but I do believe that change is possible. And what stuck out to me the most so far is my answer to the first question. I enjoy it when an author uses made up details in a story to make the character feel more real. This method makes it easier to connect with stories of the Bible and I am looking forward to reading more and learning how to become more like Mary. The more we dig deeper into the Bible the more I have learned that human nature really hasn't changed very much and the people can be easy to relate to. I hope as you read you will find this to be true for you as well.

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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Healing Dreams

Disclaimer: Please have mercy and forgive me if I make an error on something for I have neither educational background nor the knowledge to enlighten you about some of the main themes of this book. I know there is much controversy surrounding this book. If I say something in error, remember that I am no expert and for this reason there are some parts in the book that are important that I will not touch on. Thank you.

We had a nice turnout at our meeting this past Saturday and I think everyone had great discussion. We thank Beacon of Life Ministries for allowing us to use their facility. I have posted a needs list on the right hand side of our blog. This list is from Beacon of Life and it has ways we can support them in addition to the love offering we have at our meetings.

Today we will wrap up our discussion on The Shack as we move on to our May selection. We left off on Chapter 17 where Mack is carrying Missy’s body back to the shack. Again I can’t imagine the emotions he is feeling holding his little girl and burying her. Mack has a discussion with the other characters and they give him the choice of staying with them or going back to his life with Nan and his other children. Mack chooses to go back to his life which I think would have been my decision too. He leaves the shack and is in a terrible car accident. In chapter 18 we learn that the terrible car accident happened on Friday night, not Sunday. Now after he has that discussion and we find out about the accident, I think that this is like those moments you hear about people having when they are on the verge of death. Where they have an experience and they go to heaven for a few minutes but end up coming back. Finding out that it all could have been a dream, does that matter to you? Would it make the story or the emotions any less real? I don’t think so. To me there is healing in this story that many people can benefit from that it doesn’t matter if it was a dream or not. I am especially happy to see Mack be able to help in the healing of Kate. In the end this experience more than just Mack were healed. Papa gave him wisdom and guidance to use to help heal his family as well. At the end of our meeting, we all felt that Tresa summed it up the best, I even made her repeat it twice, "He had a broken body but he received a healed mind through grace." (And if that still isn't exactly right someone correct me!)

I liked this book and thought it was a good read. We had varying opinions at our meeting but for the most part many people enjoyed it and spoke of the healing that the book can provide. This was my second time reading it and I really enjoyed it the first time. The second time around I have been dissecting it more so I haven’t enjoyed it as much as the first time. I still enjoy many of the themes I wrote about on here and will definitely read it again one day. There are comforting words in some of its pages that help with the death of a family member. I do not agree with all the cries of heresy. I understand some of the arguments but I believe it is important to remember its just fiction, its entertainment and most importantly not the word of God nor claiming to be. Pastor Keith brought a review to our attention from one of the editors of the book and I wanted to share it with you. You can click here to go to the link where the editor discusses, “Is the Shack Heresy?” Hopefully you might find some answers to some questions you have that we did not discuss on here.

And there were so many discussion questions to choose from online about this book that I had to narrow it down. I decided that I will start posting the questions we have at the meeting to start discussions on here too! I hope you enjoyed reading the book. Feel free to respond by commenting to any of the questions listed below so that we have your thoughts as well. Happy Reading!

- Were you drawn in by the plot of The Shack? Many readers find the first 4 chapters of The Shack almost too painful to read. Could they have been written in a way that would be less painful—without changing the book's message?

-Why do you think Mack's encounter with God took place at the shack? If God were to invite you somewhere, where would it be? (In other words, where is the center of your doubt and pain)?

-Do you think suffering makes people closer to God or causes them to distance themselves from Him? What has been the pattern in your life?

-Were you satisfied with God's answers to Mack about suffering? Do you struggle with believing God is good in light of all the tragedy in the world?

-The Great Sadness goes from being something that is the grief of Mack, to the thing that defines him. How did this happen? How does this happen in people that you know?In what ways does the Great Sadness in Mack hurt him in his relationships with other people? In what ways does Mack blame himself for what happened to Missy? How does this define him?

-Throughout the story we see that Mack, although he can hardly speak it, blames God for taking his daughter away. When do we blame God? Why? How do we reconcile with God after this?What were your thoughts about Mack's reconciliation with his father? In what ways do our relationships with our parents define us? Color our relationship with God? With others?

-Why is Mack's forgiveness of the killer important? To Papa? To Mack? For the killer?

-How does Mack's forgiveness of himself, God, and others get him to the point where he can be a better husband, father, and friend? Do you think this is true of all of us?

-What does The Shack say about forgiveness—toward the self or toward those who have wronged you.

-How did the author's description of God differ from your understanding of God? What parts of the descriptions of God did you resonate with? What parts did you have a hard time with? Why?Did you have a hard time with the way the author presented God's gender? Why or why not?

-If you think about your soul as a garden, what do you imagine it being like? Is it neat and all in order? Is it a mess? Do you want it in order? Do you want it to be a mess or in order? Does it need weeding? Why do you think Missy was buried in the garden?

-What do you think about how Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu relate to one another?

-How did reading this book affect your faith? Does it change, challenge, strengthen your image of God? Why is God portrayed as a woman, what reasons does God give Mack?

-Does God answer convincingly the reason for the trinity?

-Does the idea of God as character in the book, or God's first-person voice, bother you...or does it work within the context of The Shack's story?

-Why did God let Missy die? Do you think The Shack answers convincingly the central question of theology, the existence of evil—or why, if there is a God, bad things happen to good people?
Did The Shack change any of your opinions about God or Christianity? What were some of the things The Shack teaches about God, faith and life that you disagreed with?

-Has the author succeed in presenting faith in a way that feels relevant and relatable? Are there specific characters whose beliefs resonate with yours? Is there anything in this book to which you personally can relate? Is there any advice or ideas you can take and apply to your own life?

-What part of the book spoke to you the most, and why? Are there any brief quotes in the book that you like?

-What part of the book confused you the most or created the most questions? Why did you have a hard time with that part of the book?

-Does the book's ultimate message satisfy you? Is it possible to let go of control and certainty in life? Is it possible to live only in the present?

-What do you think will be your lasting impression of the book? Would you recommend it to a friend?

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Friday, May 1, 2009

Removing the Great Sadness

Disclaimer: Please have mercy and forgive me if I make an error on something for I have neither educational background nor the knowledge to enlighten you about some of the main themes of this book. I know there is much controversy surrounding this book. If I say something in error, remember that I am no expert and for this reason there are some parts in the book that are important that I will not touch on. Thank you.

As we finish the book and wrap this up, these last few chapters seem to be made up of long deep conversations between Mack & our characters. Mack states in the book that alot of these things he is learning from them are hard to wrap his mind around. And I feel the same way. Much of what they are saying I'm just not following that well or I can't get my mind around it. As I have stated before I will not go into the deep discussions; so here’s a little, well maybe long overview.

In Chapter 12 Mack begins to feel the “Great Sadness” lift off his shoulders. He has a long discussion with Jesus and the relationship that Jesus wants to have with him. Jesus tells Mack that just because the world is filled with institutions it doesn’t mean that they are right. Man made institutions and people do many things in the name of Jesus that aren’t what he is about at all. In the book Jesus says, “Systems cannot provide you security, only I can.” This conversation in the book I think helps remind us that Jesus wants to have a relationship with us. He wants us to, “let him rescue us when we start to sink.” Let His love in your heart and let Him Love you. In the book Jesus admits to Mack that he knows this is not always easy for us but just a little bit at a time can grow into something amazing. The Jesus in our book also reminds Mack to, “Love others without an agenda,” which is what part of the greatest commandment is all about. We are to love others as we love ourselves because Jesus first loved us.

In Chapter 13 Mack and Papa are now in a long deep conversation. I like where Papa says, “Just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don’t ever assume that my using something means I caused it or that I need it to accomplish my purposes.” God doesn’t need to use force, if He did then when we come to Him it wouldn’t really be love. I also especially like in Mack and Papa’s conversation where she tells him, “My love is a lot bigger than your stupidity.” Can I get an Amen!? I am so happy to know that God is bigger than all the dumb mistakes I can make on a regular basis and that He forgives me. As they continue Mack tries to wrap his mind around everything Papa is saying with difficulty but I think he begins to accept that he doesn’t have to know all the answers right now. We have to have a little mystery with God, we don’t want a God we can fit in a box and manipulate.

In chapter 14 Sarayu is in the boat with Mack and she makes a good point to him, “For you to know or not has nothing at all to do with whether I am actually here or not. I am always with you; sometimes I want you to be aware in a special way – more intentional.” I find this to be very true in our lives today. We may not always realize it but God is always here with us. Sometimes it's a matter of us being quiet and still enough to notice. I have heard that some people believe that God does not intentionally make us aware of him or perform miracles anymore but that it was only back in the Biblical times. I don't agree with this. I believe that God does still make miracles and does intentionally make us aware of him everday. Just because you may not have had an experience doesnt' make it unreal for others.

In chapter 15 Sarayu has touched Mack's eyes so that he may truly "see." We have a very descriptive emotional scene in the forest with Mack that I have learned can give many people comfort who have lost a loved one. I feel happy for Mack and his father as they are able to forgive and let go of heavy hearts. I think that this is a big part of Mack's healing in his relationship with God as well. When we hold on to something in our heart for so long it becomes a part of who we are. We must forgive and let that power that grudge holds over us go; not only for them but for ourselves.

And I'm going to close up this post today with Chapter 16 where something BIG happens for Mack. Papa changes form to a more father figure and shows Mack where Missy is buried. Mack receives closure and he starts the process of forgiving Missy's killer. My heart aches for Mack as I could not imagine experiencing something like this. This chapter is themed around forgiveness. Mack and Papa discuss the old expression, "Forgive and Forget". Forgetting is a big achievement and a little unrealistic sometimes. We are only human and will find it hard to forget something like God forgets things. But when I think of the forgetting part I think it means that we don't bring it to mind every time we think of that person or every time we see them. We may still have it buried down in our brain and it takes alot for us to bring it back to memory but we can say I have forgiven them and truly pray for the best for them. I have had hurts before with friends I see on a regular basis. They apologized and I forgave them and didn't hold on to it. I see them often and I never even think about it but it doesn't mean I forgot it. When I see these people it's not coming to mind, instead I always am filled with joy and love for them and only want the best for them. I still remember the issue every now and then but I'm no longer hurt or effecting our friendship with it. I hope you have enjoyed reading and I will wrap up the book in the next post so we can move on to May's selection.

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