The Shack: Help or Heresy


After much foot-dragging and skepticism, I finally read The Shack. The following is my review:

I found the storyline of The Shack intriguing, if a bit slow to develop. Mack is a likable guy and his grief over losing his beloved daughter is well-developed. The theme of unbearable pain resonates with most of us, as well as the emotional struggle to hang on to faith in spite of it. In addition, the interactions between Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu are well-written and leave readers wishing we could meet them. But that’s where the warning lights begin to flash.

In his efforts to portray the triune God as approachable and loving, Paul Young dispenses with biblical portrayals of Him and creates a god he likes better. This is almost understandable when we know the tragic childhood abuse Young suffered. But it is not excusable. If we had no factual accounts where a human met God, then Young’s guesswork would be more plausible. However, the Bible has given us some, and they look nothing like Young’s portrayal. This is where The Shack departs from the genre of allegory and nudges the border of heresy. 

Biblical characters who met God followed a predictable pattern. In the Bible, everyone who met the God of the Old Testament, or recognized the identity of Jesus in the New, fell down and worshiped (Gen. 18:1-2; Matt. 14:33; Isaiah 6:5). They couldn’t help it. The awesome majesty of Almighty God compelled them to instantly humble themselves. Mack’s lack of awe and reverence, and “Papa’s” casual acceptance of it, are a jarring departure from what we know to be true. Here, Young takes a sharp left turn from biblical truth and creates a god who does not exist. This would be fine in the genre of fantasy or sci-fi, but Young purports that his fictional god can teach us more about the real one than the Bible can. And frighteningly, many Christians have agreed.

Allegorical works never state upfront that they are parallel representations of spiritual realities. Pilgrim’s Progress and The Chronicles of Narnia, for example, are fictional worlds that parallel truth, but they never ask us to substitute real truth for their own. They merely cast shadows that help us think of spiritual truths in more concrete terms. That’s where this book parts company from other fictional portrayals of God-like characters. The Shack is not allegorical. It asks that we suspend biblical reality, enter into its world, and accept an alternate god who is unlike the portrait God has painted of Himself. That is not allegory. That is not a helpful way to understand God. That is heresy.

Many intentional departures from truth are sprinkled throughout the book and would be tolerable if they weren’t so foundational. Giving “Jesus” a big nose is merely taking artistic license. But having “Papa” state that she “never punishes sin because sin is its own consequence” is a direct contradiction of scripture (Romans 1:18; Colossians 3:5-6; Ephesians 5:6). Some other contrasts are:

  • Young’s god has flesh; scripture’s God can never be seen (1 Tim. 6:16).
  • Young’s god saves everyone; scripture’s God saves those who repent and believe (John 3:16-18). 
  • Young’s god identifies as female: scripture’s God calls Himself Father, using decidedly masculine nouns and pronouns from Genesis to Revelation (2 Cor. 6:18).
  • Young’s god dismisses hell; scripture’s God warns us about it (Matthew 23:33).
  • Young’s god experienced the crucifixion as the Father; scripture’s God sent Jesus Christ in the flesh to suffer that alone (Matt. 27:46).
  • Young’s god would never pour out wrath upon sin or unbelievers; scripture’s God pours out His wrath against all wickedness (Romans 2:5; Col. 3:6).  
These departures illustrate one of the most troubling undertones of the whole book: every reference to the Bible is negative. Young, through the supposed counsel of Papa, implies that in order to truly know God, one must set aside the “centuries-old parchment” and find Him in music, art, poetry, etc. Don’t we recognize how dangerous this is? The real God points continually to His word as our source of life and wisdom (John 17:17). Mack’s “Papa” never mentions it except to dismiss it as irrelevant to the superior experience of “relationship.” This feeds into our natural human desire to recreate God as we’d like Him to be--a launching point for most spiritual error.

“Relationship” implies an amicable agreement between two people. Human relationships are always negotiated, with a bit of compromise on each part. When the word “relationship” becomes the sole foundation of our standing with Almighty God, we subconsciously assume those same rules apply. Without His word as the foundation for a “relationship with God,” the term can mean anything we want it to mean. However, the Bible never gives us that option.

One of the most offensive errors in the book is the paragraph where Mack asks Jesus what it takes to be a part of His bride, the church. The fictional “Jesus” deflects the question and insists that He doesn’t want anyone to be a Christian. In one sentence, the pretend Jesus dismisses the word “Christian” with disdain and goes on to explain that His people are in every religion and every walk of life. This statement is outright heresy and with one sweep dismantles the entire gospel. This fake Jesus fails to explain why the apostles and martyrs did not realize “we’re all God’s children” before giving up their lives for proclaiming the opposite.

I am honestly baffled at why this spiritual minefield has been enthusiastically greeted as a theological masterpiece by those who ought to know better. The unapologetic theme of universalism flows unabashedly through every conversation Mack has with this unholy trinity. They refer continuously to all human beings as their “children,” ignoring passages such as John 1:12 and 1 John 3:7-10 which narrow the field considerably. Hell is soundly dismissed as a possibility, since Papa could no more allow His beloved children to go there than Mack could sentence his own. This unsettling conclusion is in direct contrast to the words of the real Jesus who said, “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:5)

For those still in the corner with Wm. Paul Young, ready to argue any of the above concerns, I invite you to consider his latest work Lies We Believe About God. In it, Young clarifies his heretical assertions that were more subtly suggested in The Shack. Young's answer to whether or not he believes everyone will eventually be reconciled to God: “Are you suggesting that everyone is saved? That you believe in universal salvation? That is exactly what I am saying!” (p. 118). “Every human being you meet . . . is a child of God” (p. 206). 


The popularity of The Shack among evangelical Christians is not only shocking but sad. It is, unfortunately, a thermometer that indicates the temperature of the modern church. We claim we want to know God, but we are equally desirous of a god who says and does what we like, leaving us frighteningly susceptible to ideas and practices that give us both. Sadly, discernment is a quality modern evangelicalism has discounted in its frantic efforts to produce a form of spirituality the world can accept. The embrace of works like The Shack demonstrates just how little weight we really give to scriptural authority and how lacking is our understanding of the Lord we claim to serve.
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I Hear You...

They went across the lake to…the Gerasenes..
Jesus again crossed over to the other side… Mark 5:1,21


Sandwiched between verse 1 and 21 is the familiar story about Jesus casting demons out of a crazy guy in a cemetery. But in reading about tombstones and bacon-over-a-cliff, we nearly miss the “Oh wow!” point. In verse 1, Jesus traveled clear across a lake and was met by a demon-possessed man. Jesus healed the guy, sent the demons into the pigs, but then in verse 21 He got back in the boat. Wait! Why did He go there at all? A stormy boat ride for nothing? No sermon. No seminars. No banquet from a Happy Meal. The Bible lets us figure this one out ourselves. (Hint: one desperate guy needed Him). 


At that point in His life, Jesus was the Leader of the pack. Everybody wanted a piece of Him. Most leaders understand that feeling, because it’s always something with the people they lead: Jane’s feelings are hurt, Ben lost his job, and Rex is mad at the men’s group. One way some leaders cope is to tune out the individual needs to better serve the group. But Jesus never did that. His heart was fine-tuned to the ones nobody else heard. People in Gerasenes had stopped hearing the nasty guy in the cemetery. But from miles away, his Maker heard him. While the disciples were arguing over the last thing He said, and the crowds were demanding more miracles, Jesus heard something else. He stood, looked across the water and answered, “I hear you. I’m coming for you.” Who would leave the crowds to go after one guy? A Leader you can trust. And He still does that.

First Things First

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, 
but also to the interests of others. Philippians 3:4  


“It’s my way or the highway!” “Now that I’m in charge, we’re doing things my way.” “Because I’m the boss, that’s why.” Powerful statements, right? Not according to God’s Rule Book. Leaders in God’s kingdom are to do things the way Jesus did them, not the way the world trains us. Have you noticed how God likes to flip things upside down and backward? He does things opposite from the way we think they should be done. He uses foolish things to stump smarties. He exalts the humble and brings down the prideful. So leadership in His family is backward from the way we think it should be. God says leaders are those who consider the interests of everyone else before their own. That lifts a few eyebrows in our me-first world.

So what does it look like when a leader considers everyone else first? Anytime we have “how” questions, we should look first at Jesus. How did He do it? He was a leader and He got tired—but He didn’t get grumpy. He was misunderstood—but He didn’t blame. He had to repeat Himself to the clueless disciples—so He said it again, in a different way. He didn’t panic when He was expected to produce supper for a stadium full of people or embarrass His mom when His host ran out of wine. He didn’t snap when that ONE MORE PERSON needed His healing touch or refuse to serve because they didn’t appreciate it.

When we have questions about the best way to lead, we should first ask, 
“How did Jesus do it?”
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How to Choose a Disciple

And as he passed by, he saw Levi…sitting at the tax booth, 
and he said to him, “Follow me.” Mark 2:14



What if yesterday’s headline announced that Jesus had arrived and would hold auditions for America’s Next Top Disciple? Before dawn, the limos of TV preachers clog the streets, convents and monasteries empty, and every kid with a semester of Bible college slept on the sidewalk last night so he could be first in line. But the doors to the theater stay closed until a manager pokes his head out and says, “Sorry, folks. We got ahead of ourselves. Turns out Jesus isn’t following standard protocol. Oh, and just so you all know, disciples don’t get paid anything and they must be prepared to die in the line of duty. But if you’re still interested, I heard that Jesus was spotted under an overpass choosing disciples from among the homeless.”

The inner recoil we might feel is exactly the way the religious people felt when Jesus did the same thing 2000 years ago. He didn’t wait for people to come to Him; He went after them. But He bypassed the temple in favor of the docks and the tax collector booths. He knew liars and thieves would never seek Him, they would assume He had come for the righteous people. So He sought them. He paid no attention to the LOSER medallions around their necks. Instead, He saw them for what they would be once they knew Him. And He offered to journey with them in becoming who they were created to be.


Great leaders are those who show others what they can become 
once they meet Jesus.


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Path to Leadership

“Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant.”  Mark 10:43


Pastor Ray cleared his throat and the room quieted. “I appreciate you all coming to our first leadership class. I know each of you desires to lead here at Red Mountain Church, but I have some bad news for you.” The class members gave each other puzzled looks. “What you don’t know,” Pastor Ray went on, “is that I’ve already given you a leadership test…and none of you passed.” Eager smiles turned into worried frowns. “For the past two weeks, I’ve let it be known that we need bathroom janitors, nursery workers, and help with painting. A few people showed up…but not one of you.” The members darted worried looks at each other, but the pastor smiled kindly at them. “Keep that in mind as we begin Lesson One: Leadership Through Serving.”


We’ve all had moments when we thought, “If I was in charge…” Armchair quarterbacking goes on in churches too. But when we imagine our greatness as leaders, we rarely start where great leaders have to begin: humble service. That feels wrong to us. After all, anybody can sweep a floor, but talent like ours should be noticed. Jesus knows that about us, so He made it clear that those who desire important roles must start with serving, without praise or glory, because that’s where He builds leaders.

Fishers of Men



And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”  Mark 1:17

The fishy smell was such a part of Peter’s life that he scarcely noticed it anymore. It was the smell of money. Of survival. He straightened his aching back and looked down the shoreline where James and John were cleaning their nets. Fishing was all they knew, and all they expected to know. They took orders, sold fish, and paid the bills. What else was there? But then that Rabbi in the white robe set a sandaled foot on the edge of Peter’s boat and said the strangest thing: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Rabbis didn’t fish and they didn’t talk to fishermen. They lived in a sanitary world of ideas, theology, and discussion. What kind of a rabbi would choose some smelly fishermen to be His protégés? The One who really knew them.  

Jesus saw leadership potential in rough dock workers, shady IRS agents, and women with a past because He really knew them. From earth’s rabble, Jesus created world-changers and He did it with two simple words: “Follow me.” When we obey those words, we learn from the best how to live this life and how to help others live theirs. Jesus did not begin His disciple-making by pointing out all their flaws. He simply modeled godliness and taught them in ways they understood. 

He reminded them that when they fished with nets they caught a lot of junk—but they didn’t stop fishing. They picked out the trash and cast the nets again. As fishers of men, they would also catch a lot of junk: hate, rejection, and disinterest. But they should never stop fishing. That made sense to them. They didn’t have to be somebody else to follow Jesus, they could be fishermen for Him.

Leaders motivate people to follow Jesus by connecting with them right where they are. 

You Need a Plan

He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6



“What is it?” Del touched the wooden pole and then pointed to a pile of unpainted boards. “And those?” Layne sighed and ran his hands through his hair. “Yeah…that was gonna be a coat rack, and this one…maybe a bookcase. I never got around to finishing them.” He swept his arm to indicate what had once been a three-car garage, but now resembled the after effects of an explosion at Hobby Lobby. “Yeah, I start out great, but lose steam halfway through and never finish. I’ve got thousands of dollars’ worth of parts in here—mechanical, carpentry, technology—but they’re worth nothing unless I do something with them. He kicked a two-legged table. “Guess I should throw some of it away, but it’s good stuff. I really need a plan.”

Do you ever feel like one of those unfinished projects? God saved you, delivered you, and cleaned you up, but every time you turn around, you’re messing up. You don’t want to. You’re trying to follow Jesus, but all you see is a big mess. This verse is for you! It was God who began that good work in you and it is God who will finish it. He doesn’t give up on His projects halfway through because, unlike Layne, He does have a plan. Jesus doesn’t toss anyone on the scrap pile, because He’s an excellent carpenter. His sandpaper is rough and His knife is sharp as he whittles away ugly parts of our character. Being God’s project can be painful, but He’s the only One who sees the message inside our mess. He knows how to bring out the beauty hidden behind our stubbornness, pride, and selfishness. When we cooperate with Him, He continually refines, perfects, and molds us into works of art. Our Carpenter never gives up until our lives become masterpieces, fit for the house of a King.

When discouraged with yourself, remember that your Carpenter is still at work.
 Don’t criticize His masterpiece. 
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Thank God for You

Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Philippians 1:3


Every time I think of you, I …what? Depending upon our relationship with the “you” in this question, the answer often sounds like this: “Every time I think of you, I get nauseous…I want to scream…I have deep regret…I feel anxious.” Can we honestly say that we give thanks to God for everyone in our church? Some people make us question God’s judgment rather than motivate us toward thanksgiving. Paul had the same issues we have. Not every person who read his letter was Best Friend material. The church at Philippi had a few jerks in it too. Their church also included baby Christians, whiners, and trouble-makers. But, instead of reminding them of how far they had to go, Paul praised them for how far they had come.

Gratefulness is the secret to contentment. When we express continual thanks for our possessions, we stopped craving what other people have. When we thank God for our physical features—eyes that see, hears that hear, hands that move—we realize that bad-mouthing the way we look is simply ungratefulness. And when we learn to thank God for the good qualities we see in others, we can more easily extend to them grace and forgiveness. Our natural attitude says: “That guy is so-o-o slow, it drives me crazy!” Paul’s attitude says: “That guy is so careful that he rarely makes a mistake.”


Try this experiment: When you want to complain about someone, find something about them to thank God for.
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Welcome to Phillipi


After they had been… thrown into prison…
Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God. Acts 16:23-25 

WELCOME TO PHILIPPI. Paul’s experience in this city looked nothing like its tourist literature. He and his company had arrived for a stay and were leading people to Jesus and starting a church. But the city leaders were convinced that his message would upset the status quo, so they had Paul and Silas arrested, beaten, and thrown into a dungeon. Unfortunately, Paul had experienced several similar tours of Mediterranean jails, so instead of sulking in silence, he and his buddy considered prison their new mission field. The Dungeon Choir drew the attention of the other prisoners and even the jailer got saved. When the anti-Jesus mob couldn’t shut them up, they ran them out of town. And that was Paul’s introduction to Philippi.

How would you feel about a place that had treated you that way? It would be understandable if Paul wanted to shake the dust off his sandals and vow never to return. Holding a grudge or crossing them off his list would be reasonable. At the very least, he may try to forget it ever happened and focus his efforts on people who appreciated his message. 

But when Paul was invited to be a guest in another city jail, he wrote a warm letter to the church at Philippi. Some in that church may have been the very people who had mocked, arrested, and beaten him. But since that time, they had accepted the message they once rejected and been added to the church. Paul’s former enemies were included in his loving letter to the church at Philippi.

Who has been crossed off your list because of what they did? 
What if God wants to use you to bless them?
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Veto Power

He humbled himself by becoming obedient… even death on a cross. 
Therefore, God highly exalted him... Phil 2: 9

You deserve more! Demand your rights! Flaunt your stuff! So much for the wisdom of our day. It’s all about ME. Nobody can offend or take advantage of ME. “It’s my way or the highway,” we announce proudly, as though God Himself might want to take notes. What if Jesus had that attitude? What if He arrived on earth, grew up to understand Who He really was, and became disgusted with the whole plan. “These people are awful, Father. They don’t appreciate anything I do for them: the miracles, food…and for what? Only a handful even believe in me and I deserve respect! I’m not dying for them. Beam me up.”

That’s how we might feel. But Jesus understood true humility. He knew that to exalt Himself would distract from His message. So He always exalted and obeyed God—even when that obedience cost Him His dignity, His wants, and His life. How far would you go to obey God? We might want to please Him, but we also want to retain the veto power— just in case. Being beaten to a pulp and then nailed to a cross would classify as veto-worthy; yet, Jesus earned future glory by His willingness to fully obey. Jesus knew that His Father would reward Him for all eternity. We can follow His example because we know that too.

Have you retained the veto power in your level of obedience? 
You’ll never accomplish all God wants for you.
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Empty Yourself


…although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Phil. 2: 6-7 


Imagine the scene. The Adored One of heaven steps to the portal and looks down. On a faraway planet, the humans He loves are murdering, raping, and stealing from each other, while the religious ones are frantically trying to make themselves righteous enough to impress God. They are all without hope. The Son looks at the Father and hears, “It’s time, Son.” Jesus nods and lifts the ornate crown from His head while a thousand angels gasp in astonishment. The warriors draw their swords. What was happening? The Son removes His royal robes, but when angels rush to serve Him, He holds up a hand. “No, I’m not going there to be served. I’m going to be a servant.” Emptied of His privileges as God, the Son steps through the portal.


When Jesus “emptied Himself,” He willingly set aside everything that kept Him from coming down here and being with us: His rights, His history, His comfort, His own will. He left them in the hands of His Father and would depend upon the Holy Spirit’s power to help Him fulfill His mission. He set the pattern for us. Jesus emptied Himself of everything that kept Him from uniting with us physically, and we must empty ourselves of everything that keeps us from uniting with Him spiritually. We set aside our rights, our history, our comfort, and our own will, leaving them in the hands of the Father, and depending upon the Holy Spirit’s power to help us live for Christ. As Jesus emptied Himself to be one of us, we must also empty ourselves to be one with Him. 
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Think Like Jesus

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Phil 1: 5

Whoa! Wait a minute. We know we are supposed to try to BE like Jesus, ACT like Jesus, and LOVE like Jesus. But those are all external behaviors, things we can choose to do. Now, we’re told to THINK like Jesus. That sounds about as possible as leaping over Mt. Everest in a single bound. We’d be more likely to win the lottery without buying a ticket than to have the same mindset, the same attitudes, and the same motivations as the Son of God. Yet, there it is. A command we’re expected to follow. So when we’re confronted with an impossible-looking command in the Bible, should we: 

A) treat it as a suggestion?

B) pretend we didn’t see it? 
C) pretend we’re doing it but we’re really not? 
D) ask the Holy Spirit to do it through us?

If you guessed A-C, you’re wrong, but probably in the majority. If you guessed D, you’re right, but it might not be the way you think. Asking the Lord to “do this through me” is often spiritual code for “It’s God’s fault if I don’t obey Him.” That’s not what it means. Before the Lord can do the impossible through us, we have to be willing to get ourselves out of the way. If we are to have the same mindset as Jesus has, that means we cannot hang on to the old mindset that belongs to us. 

To think like Jesus means Self has to pack its bags. Self no longer gets to vote or veto. We capture those self-centered, prideful, lustful, envious thoughts, call them what they are, and kick them out. We stop excusing our sin, and agree with God. Then answer D will work.

 Are you willing to have the same mindset as Jesus? 
It means surrendering to His right to change your thinking.
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Biblical Christianity


…not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of the others. Phil. 2:4

“Yeah, but I like things this way! I can’t believe you’re changing it.” “I don’t want our small group to grow. Those people aren’t like us.” “I should help support missions and our church, but I like nice things.” It would be great if those comments were pure fiction, but they’re not. Every church has its own version of them. Every family does too. Me First! My Wants Should Rule! Of course, we don’t say it like that. We’ve come up with milder ways to express those selfish tendencies. But the motives are still there. The very root of all sin is this: I want what I want when I want it. I’ll do right, as long as it doesn’t infringe on what I want.


What if we let Jesus rule our lives to such an extent that our first reaction to any idea was: “What would Jesus have me do? How can I best represent Him in this situation?” Imagine the transformation in our homes, our churches, and our communities if that was the default response of every Jesus follower. 
Most divorces would never happen. 
Families would live in harmony. 
The church would never need to beg for volunteers because the lists would be filled months in advance. 
Giving would overflow the buckets, every orphan would have a home, and there would be no needy among us. 

Is this utopia? No, it’s biblical Christianity. 
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Prideful Humility



Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves. Phil 2:3  

Alphonso flashed his award-winning smile as cameras snapped. “Get a couple more orphans in this shot,” he murmured to his press secretary while resting a manicured hand on a toddler’s fuzzy head. “Alphonso! Alphonso!” journalists shouted. “How much have you donated to this project?” The superstar lowered his gaze in practiced modesty and waved a dismissive hand. “A little over ten million, but really it’s nothing—” Fans cheered from the scarlet-roped viewing area, drowning out the next question. Alphonso exchanged a wink with his accountant. Ten million was a small investment that paid off in publicity. Charity work was rewarding in itself, made him feel like a good person. But it was also tremendously profitable—if you did it right.

“Prideful humility” is a paradoxical term that needs to be added to our dictionaries. Guilted by constant reminders of how blessed we are, we can be tempted to publicly demonstrate our generosity. We’re so used to posting and tweeting every minute detail of our lives that we can forget what true humility looks like. Culture’s attitude is: If you can’t Instagram it, why do it? This verse nails us. We do most things out of selfish ambition and vain conceit, but Jesus reminded us in Matthew 6:3: “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” That means that we should give, serve, love, and forgive quietly and privately because God sees our inward motivations. He wants to reward us for eternity, but He can’t if we’re already rewarding ourselves. When our greatest desire is to please the Lord, it doesn’t matter who else knows. God does. And that’s enough.


How often do you make choices simply to please the Lord without anyone else knowing about it?
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BAD DADS OF THE BIBLE--MANASSEH

He sacrificed his children in the fire…
practiced divination and witchcraft, sought omens, 
and consulted mediums and spiritists. 
He did much evil in the eyes of the LORD, arousing his anger. 
2 Chronicles 33:6



King Manasseh would never be named Father of the Year. Not only did Manasseh sacrifice his own babies to idols, but because he was king, other dads followed his example. He led the nation of Judah into all kinds of wickedness, so God was angry with him. Manasseh had so hardened his heart against the Lord that even child sacrifice was acceptable. He assumed he had God’s favor because he was king of God’s people, so he might as well court the favor of idols too. Can’t have too many gods, right? Wrong. So how could a father justify sacrificing his own children? For the same reasons we do.


When the Lord ceases being our only God, we are prone to all kinds of twisted thinking. Many modern fathers have done as Manasseh did and sacrificed their children upon the altars of selfishness and pride. “You’re pregnant? Here’s $500. Get rid of it.” We sacrifice them in other ways as well: their values to the sports god, their self-worth to the money god, and their minds to the entertainment god. The good news is that by verse 20, Manasseh repented. He tried to reverse the damage he’d caused, but even then, his eldest son followed in his footsteps to become Judah’s next evil king. No sin is too great for God’s pardon, but often the damage is irreversible. When we repent, God forgives, but scars may remain. Don’t be a Manasseh.
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BAD DADS OF THE BIBLE--DAVID

When King David heard what had happened, 
he was very angry. 
2 Samuel 13:1


David. Dreamy songwriter. Innocent shepherd boy. Mighty warrior. God’s hand-picked king of Israel. David wore many hats, most of them extraordinarily well. But he failed in one of his most important roles—father. Running a kingdom isn’t for sissies: slaughtering evil villains, making wise decisions, and keeping all those wives happy. He was proactive in bringing justice to the nation, but failed to do it in his own household when he learned that his son had raped his daughter. When Absalom learned that their father had done nothing, he became bitter and plotted to kill his half-brother and take the kingdom from his father. David was angry about the rape, but did nothing to vindicate his daughter, so she “remained desolate in her brother’s house.”

We may not have kingdoms to run, but we often allow our kids to bully each other by ignoring the victims and excusing the victimizers. “They’re just kids. All siblings pick on each other,” say the David-like fathers. Sadly, some oblivious parents allow abuse of all kinds to continue under their roof because it’s too much trouble to keep close tabs on what the kids are doing. “You kids get along!” David-like parents shout from the other room, while a lifetime of damage is being done sibling-on-sibling. David refused to address the dysfunction in his own household and lost the respect of his kids. Don’t be a David.
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BAD DADS OF THE BIBLE--ELI

Eli's sons were scoundrels; 
they had no regard for the LORD. 
1 Samuel 2:12




Eli held one of the most respected positions in the Jewish community— a priest in God’s temple. It was his job to hear from the Lord and make God’s will known to the people. But he was also the father of two sons. Church kids. While Eli was busy at the temple, the boys ran wild. Eli made the mistake many parents make, especially those in ministry. He elevated church work over family responsibilities, and assumed the kids would catch morality like the flu. God judged him for not restraining them.

God warned Eli years earlier that his sons were no good and he needed to do something about that. But like many fathers, Eli was passive. Discipline required energy and unpleasant confrontation, so he ignored their ungodly behaviors. We see this attitude after a thug has been arrested for assaulting someone. “He’s a good boy,” the tearful mother says. “He just got in with the wrong crowd.” That may be true. But it’s more likely that he WAS the wrong crowd. It’s difficult for us to see the people we love realistically, but God doesn’t wear rose-colored glasses when he sees our family. He expects parents to be intentional about teaching, disciplining, and restraining their children. Eli remained passive, and everyone suffered. Don’t be an Eli.
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BAD DADS OF THE BIBLE--LOT

The two angels arrived at Sodom… 
and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. 
Genesis 19:1



Sodom and Gomorrah were wicked places long before Lot arrived. Yet, he chose to move there anyway and became a respected leader in the most perverted twin-cities in the region. His neighbors, co-workers, and friends were vile and twisted people, but there were exciting career opportunities and the weather was beautiful. Lot may have excused his continued stay by thinking that he was a good influence; instead, he got comfortable with their sin. While Lot thought he was conquering Sodom, Sodom was conquering his family. His wife was destroyed and the girls ended up committing incest with their father.

Power, money, and success are strong lures, and many fathers sacrifice everything for them. They, like Lot, see a great opportunity and ignore everything else. They brush off the warning cries of “What about your family?” by insisting that they’re “doing this for them.” So they throw money, possessions, and permission at the kids instead of time, attention, and instruction. They assume the schools will educate them, the church will spiritualize them, and the mom will discipline them. Only too late do they realize that while they were conquering the world, the world was conquering their kids. Don’t be a Lot.
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BAD DADS OF THE BIBLE--JOSEPH (ISRAEL)

Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons... 
Genesis 37:3


“Here he comes, Dad’s little pet,” Rueben smirked. The ten brothers stood as a unit, hostility crackling in the air. As the eldest, Rueben had been the apple of his father’s eye, and the brothers all knew they were the fulfillment of God’s promise to their grandfather, Abraham. They had purpose, position, and power. Then Joseph came along, and Dad seemed to forget the rest of them. To make it worse, Dad flaunted his favoritism, giving an expensive robe to a little kid. The brat wore it like he was a king. They gave up trying to get Dad’s attention and turned their focus upon the one who’d stolen it. Hurt and resentment mushroomed into fighting and revenge. Little brother became the enemy and home became a battlefield.

Maybe you grew up in a home like that. You know the sting of favoritism and swore you’d never do that to your kids. But now, your family accuses you of the same thing. You don’t mean to, but it’s hard to treat them all equally when some are harder to handle than others. But there’s that one who wanted you when the others wanted Mama. Or he/she likes what you like, wants to be with you. Being a parent to more than one child is overwhelming, and treating them all equally is easier than it sounds. But if you find yourself favoring one child over the others, Jacob invites you to take a peek into his home and learn from his mistakes. His favoritism created disaster for one son and incited lying, hatred, and revenge in the others. Don’t be a Jacob.
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Prideful Humility

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. 
Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.  Phil 2: 3  


Alphonso flashed his award-winning smile as cameras snapped. “Get a couple more orphans in this shot,” he murmured to his press secretary while resting a manicured hand on a toddler’s fuzzy head. “Alphonso! Alphonso!” journalists shouted. “How much have you donated to this project?” The superstar lowered his gaze in practiced modesty and waved a dismissive hand. “A little over ten million, but really it’s nothing—” Fans cheered from the scarlet-roped viewing area, drowning out the next question. Alphonso exchanged a wink with his accountant. Ten million was a small investment that paid off in publicity. Charity work was rewarding in itself, made him feel like a good person. But it was also tremendously profitable—if you did it right.


“Prideful humility” is a paradoxical term that needs to be added to our dictionaries. Guilted by constant reminders of how blessed we are, we can be tempted to publicly demonstrate our generosity. We’re so used to posting and tweeting every minute detail of our lives that we can forget what true humility looks like. Culture’s attitude is: If you can’t Instagram it, why do it? This verse nails us. We do most things out of selfish ambition and vain conceit, but Jesus reminded us in Matthew 6:3: “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” That means that we should give, serve, love, and forgive quietly and privately because God sees our inward motivations. He wants to reward us for eternity, but He can’t if we’re already rewarding ourselves. When our greatest desire is to please the Lord, it doesn’t matter who else knows. God does. And that’s enough.
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It's NOT Me First?

…not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of the others. Phil. 2: 4



“Yeah, but I like things this way! I can’t believe you’re changing it.” 
“I don’t want our small group to grow. Those people aren’t like us.” 
“I should help support missions and our church, but I like nice things.” 

It would be great if those comments were pure fiction, but they’re not. Every church has its own version of them. Every family does too. Me First! My Wants Should Rule! Of course, we don’t say it like that. We’ve come up with milder ways to express those selfish tendencies. But the motives are still there. The very root of all sin is this: I want what I want when I want it. I’ll do right, as long as it doesn’t infringe on what I want.

What if we let Jesus rule our lives to such an extent that our first reaction to any idea was: “What would Jesus have me do? How can I best represent Him in this situation?” Imagine the transformation in our homes, our churches, and our communities if that was the default response of every Jesus follower. Most divorces would never happen. Families would live in harmony. The church would never need to beg for volunteers because the lists would be filled months in advance. Giving would overflow the buckets, every orphan would have a home, and there would be no needy among us. Is this utopia? No, it’s biblical Christianity.

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Thinking Like Jesus

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: (verse 5)

Whoa! Wait a minute. We know we are supposed to try to BE like Jesus, ACT like Jesus, and LOVE like Jesus. But those are all external behaviors, things we can choose to do. Now, we’re told to THINK like Jesus. That sounds about as possible as leaping over Mt. Everest in a single bound. We’d be more likely to win the lottery without buying a ticket than to have the same mindset, the same attitudes, and the same motivations as the Son of God. Yet, there it is. A command we’re expected to follow. 

So when we’re confronted with an impossible-looking command in the Bible, should we: 

A) treat it as a suggestion?

B) pretend we didn’t see it? 
C) pretend we’re doing it but we’re really not? 
D) ask the Holy Spirit to do it through us?
If you guessed A-C, you’re wrong, but probably in the majority. If you guessed D, you’re right, but it might not be the way you think. Asking the Lord to “do this through me” is often spiritual code for “It’s God’s fault if I don’t obey Him.” That’s not what it means. Before the Lord can do the impossible through us, we have to be willing to get ourselves out of the way. If we are to have the same mindset as Jesus has, that means we cannot hang on to the old mindset that belongs to us. To think like Jesus means Self has to pack its bags. Self no longer gets to vote or veto. We capture those self-centered, prideful, lustful, envious thoughts, call them what they are, and kick them out. We stop excusing our sin, and agree with God. Then answer D will work.
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Are you willing to have the same mindset as Jesus has? It means surrendering to His right to change your thinking.
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Empty Yourself

…although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Phil. 2: 6-7



Imagine the scene. The Adored One of heaven steps to the portal and looks down. On a faraway planet, the humans He loves are murdering, raping, and stealing from each other, while the religious ones are frantically trying to make themselves righteous enough to impress God. They are all without hope. The Son looks at the Father and hears, “It’s time, Son.” Jesus nods and lifts the ornate crown from His head while a thousand angels gasp in astonishment. The warriors draw their swords. What was happening? The Son removes His royal robes, but when angels rush to serve Him, He holds up a hand. “No, I’m not going there to be served. I’m going to be a servant.” Emptied of His privileges as God, the Son steps through the portal.


When Jesus “emptied Himself,” He willingly set aside everything that kept Him from coming down here and being with us: His rights, His history, His comfort, His own will. He left them in the hands of His Father and would depend upon the Holy Spirit’s power to help Him fulfill His mission. He set the pattern for us. Jesus emptied Himself of everything that kept Him from uniting with us physically, and we must empty ourselves of everything that keeps us from uniting with Him spiritually. We set aside our rights, our history, our comfort, and our own will, leaving them in the hands of the Father, and depending upon the Holy Spirit’s power to help us live for Christ. As Jesus emptied Himself to be one of us, we must also empty ourselves to be one with Him.

Veto Power

...He humbled himself by becoming obedient… even death on a cross. Therefore, God highly exalted him... Phil. 2:9



You deserve more! Demand your rights! Flaunt your stuff! So much for the wisdom of our day. It’s all about ME. Nobody can offend or take advantage of ME. “It’s my way or the highway,” we announce proudly, as though God Himself might want to take notes. What if Jesus had that attitude? What if He arrived on earth, grew up to understand Who He really was, and became disgusted with the whole plan. “These people are awful, Father. They don’t appreciate anything I do for them: the miracles, food…and for what? Only a handful even believe in me and I deserve respect! I’m not dying for them. Beam me up.”

That’s how we might feel. But Jesus understood true humility. He knew that to exalt Himself would distract from His message. So He always exalted and obeyed God—even when that obedience cost Him His dignity, His wants, and His life. How far would you go to obey God? We might want to please Him, but we also want to retain the veto power— just in case. Being beaten to a pulp and then nailed to a cross would classify as veto-worthy; yet, Jesus earned future glory by His willingness to fully obey. Jesus knew that His Father would reward Him for all eternity. We can follow His example because we know that too.


Have you retained the veto power in your level of obedience? You’ll never accomplish all God wants for you.
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Falling Idols

The next morning the same thing happened--Dagon had fallen face down before the Ark of the LORD. 
I Sam. 5:4



God’s enemies were cheering. They did it! They captured that magical Ark of the Lord. Now success was guaranteed. They could have Yahweh’s power on command. They set God’s Ark beside their idol, Dagon, and everyone went to bed happy. The next morning, old Dagon had toppled over and lay face down before God’s Ark. They stood him up, but the next morning there he was again. This time his head and his hands broke off. Terror struck the city. Who was this God that no other god could stand up against? They couldn’t get rid of the Ark fast enough. Even God’s enemies had learned: Yahweh topples idols.

He topples our idols too. He greatly prefers that His people acknowledge and get rid of idols on our own. But when we refuse, He has to do it for us: The affair gets exposed. The kids turn out horrible. The casino takes all your money and gives nothing back. The spouse you thought would complete you, betrays you. You’re left with a broken Dagon and no way to fix it. When Self has been the idol, the toppling can be particularly painful. Age steals beauty. Popularity dries up. Success succumbs to the plunging Dow, and your overpriced, designer hiding places go out of style. We can rename, replace, and refuse to admit them, but the Lord knows about those other gods and He won’t tolerate them. He loves us enough to topple our idols.

God will not share His glory with idols (Is. 48:11). 
He will topple them, but it’s much better if we do it first.