Monday, October 10, 2016

City Notes 28: Yawning at Tigers Part 1 of 3

City Notes 28: Books in 30 minutes or less

City Notes are more than a book review. They are meant to provide you with direct quotes from some books I've read in the last year, so you can get a taste of the overall theme of the book and then begin to chew on what your life might look like if you applied what you read.

Here are links to the previous City Notes books:

Igniting the Spark of a Desire to Encounter the Furious Flame of God's Holy Love with Drew Dyck's Yawning at Tigers: You Can't Tame God, So Stop Trying 

It's taken 35 years of my life, but it seems now, the Holy Spirit has begun to grow my desire to ask God for more of His holiness. To actually want it and pray for it. Thank, God. I think. Wait. Watch out.

Holiness is one of those words that has been caricatured to death by when it is one of most alive words we have because of its active curiosity and mystery. Jesus can be admired, but somehow we remove His holiness from Him as we consider His love and honesty not realizing they come from His holiness. The Holy Spirit can be asked for His gifts and His power without considering His holiness is part of the filling that provides such Kingdom conduits. 

I was afraid of God's holiness. But I knew Him less then. Now, as the years keep continuing in His walk with me, I'm learning how much more I need Him and His holy presence. Where will He take me if He makes me more whole like Him? Will I lose my desire for lesser things (i.e. the things I too often really want) if I really desire holy heaven on earth in me and through me for others? Why don't I trust His Holy Spirit's holiness filling me is one of the greatest benefits I could receive from the perfect Father who gives generously?

Drew Dyck has provided a decent answer in Yawning at Tigers: You Can't Tame God, So Stop Trying. And he gave the book a wicked good title to boot.

City Notes 28: Yawning at Tigers Part 1 of 3

The Greatest Adventure

People are starving for the awe of God.

Most don't know it, of course. They think they're starving for success or money or excitement or acceptance  you name it. But here's the problem. Even those fortunate enough to satisfy these cravings find they are still hungry. Hungrier, even. Why? Because they've left untouched the most ancient and aching need, the one stitched into the fabric of their souls: to know and love a transcendent God.

I believe that once you strip away all our shallow desires and vain pursuits, it's God we're after. And not just any god. We have enough friends. We need a great and awesome God. A God worth worshiping. We thirst for transcendence and long to be loved. In the full portrayal of God found in the Scripture, we find both. Our souls find satisfaction only in the God who is grand enough to worship and close enough to love. We need a home, but we also crave adventure. The greatest adventure is to see God.

Let it begin ...  

| 1 | Tiger Territory

Divine Invasion: Rarely do we hear about God's mystery and majesty, let alone whisper a word about his wrath. This one-sided portrayal diminishes our experience of God. We can't truly appreciate God's grace until we glimpse his greatness. We won't be lifted by his love until we're humbled by his holiness. Oswald Chambers wrote, "The Bible reveals not first the love of God but the intense, blazing holiness of God. ... his love (is) at the center of that holiness." + pgs. 3-4

Divine Invasion: We ask God to keep us safe, not realizing that it is from him we most need protecting. Even when we see evidence of God in our midst, when we glimpse his holiness, we're more likely to yawn than yell. Somehow we've succeeded in making the strange ordinary. + pg. 6

Divine Invasion: Perhaps it was to convey this dangerous side of God that pastor and author Eugene Peterson half-jokingly suggested churches post signs outside their buildings that read: BEWARE THE GOD. "The places and occasions that people gather to attend to God are dangerous," Peterson explains. "They're glorious places and occasions, true, but they're also dangerous. Danger signs should be conspicuously placed, as they are at nuclear power stations."

Pulitzer-prize-winning Annie Dillard takes it a step further: "On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of the conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return." + pgs. 9-10

Divine Invasion: The good news is that this dangerous God turns out to be a lover. And he's not content to love us from a distance. He wants to be with us so desperately he cooked up the most creative and costly way imaginable to bridge the chasm. God is dangerous, yes, but loving. He's above and beyond our physical world, yet mysteriously present within it. This, of course, is the grand paradox of the Christian faith. We worship a God transcendent and immanent, other and intimate, high and lifted up yet closer than our own breath. He's the Intimate Stranger, and we are the objects of his fierce affection. Now the temple veil is torn. The Holy of Holies beckons, and we're free to enter. Just remember to tread lightly ... he's still the same God. + pgs. 10-11

Beyond the Shallows: Are we all that different from the Israelites? We may not melt down jewelry to make golden calves, but we're continually pulling God down to our level. We're forever creating more comfortable versions of him to worship. We, too, exchange intimacy with the living God for "the dangerous illusion of a manageable deity." 

I think it's interesting that after casting the idol, Aaron proclaimed, "These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt" (Exodus 32:4). Then he announced to the people, "Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD" (v. 5). Those gods didn't bring them out of Egypt. And how could an idolatrous party be described as a "festival to the LORD"? Many believe that the idol (or idols) Aaron fashioned may have actually been intended to represent Yahweh. If that was the case, the great sin of the Israelites at Sinai was not worshipping other gods. It was assigning God a replacement. It was reducing God to something he is not and making that the object of worship. In other words, it was something we do all the time. + pg. 18

Beyond the Shallows: If the ocean is like God, the lagoon is a poor, but useful, replacement. It's domesticated Christianity. It's engagement with a lesser deity. It's the golden calf in place of Yahweh. It's a life designed to give us spiritual experiences while cushioning us from the reality of a dangerous God. Just like the man-made lagoon had real ocean water and marine life, this "god lagoon" may contain some spiritual truths. We may even encounter qualities of the true God  but only the ones we deem acceptable. Divine characteristics we find threatening or that clash with our modern sensibilities, we carefully screen out. Life in the lagoon means never being surprised by God. It means never having to take seriously what he might have us do or ask us to give up. Ultimately, it means we are in control. The power of the god lagoon lies in its subtlety. It's easy to think you're in the ocean when you're immersed in saltwater surrounded by sea turtles. And it's easy to believer we're encountering God because we go to church, sing the songs, pray the prayers, and interact with Christians. But we can do all those things without ever having to grapple with the real presence of God. + pgs. 20-21

Beyond the Shallows: So many of us live what one writer called "lives of quiet desperation." We're bored to death of living but scared to death to really live. What if what's really missing are the deep things of God? What if it's not that next accomplishment or superficial thrill? What if only a ravishing vision of God's grandeur will make the difference? Maybe that's what it takes to make you want to crawl back into your life. Maybe only the deep will do. What is the deep? It's where we encounter God. Not God as we might imagine him to be, but God how he really is. How he has revealed himself to us. We might not always like what we find in the deep. We will likely discover truths that make us uncomfortable or even offend us. We should never expect eternal truth to neatly fulfill our twenty-first-century expectations. Nor can we demand safety there.

Poet John Blase writes a reflection in which he invites readers to leave the shallows to follow Jesus out into the deep. But he offers this caveat: "Now in the interest of full disclosure I should mention that out there in the deep you might drown, or get eaten by a shark, or get a charley horse then flail around thus drawing the attention of leviathon. The only guarantee is God's presence. That's the deal. That's the deep." Of course he's right. Life in the deep is dangerous because it's life with God. So why risk it? Because there isn't just danger in the deep; there's wonder too. + pgs. 21-22

Beyond the Shallows: We will never plumb the depths of God. Yet I'm amazed by how much God has chosen to reveal to us. Paul also wrote that we have received God's Spirit, who "searches all things, even the deep things of God" (1 Corinthians 2:10). If we have access to the deep things of God, why would we ever be bored? Why are we so often spiritually complacent?

Beyond the Shallows: My friend Margaret Feinberg wrote about this tendency: "Many of us say we want to experience God, but we don't look for his majesty. We travel life's paths with our heads down, focused on the next step with our careers or families or retirement plans. But we don't really expect God to show up with divine wonder. Slowly, subtly, God becomes ordinary, commonplace. As our view of his grandeur dims, our spiritual lives become dull. Instead of striking off for the depths, we never leave the beach. + pg. 24

The God Worth Worshipping: If that sense of divine holiness I longed for seemed absent in my church experiences, it leaped from the pages of Scripture. The Bible is filled with kings and beggars, prophets and prostitutes, warriors and weaklings, merchants and thieves. But when they encountered God, or even one of his angelic envoys, they reacted in remarkably similar ways. They trembled. They cowered. Some went mute. The ones who could manage speech expressed despair (or "woe," to use a biblical word) and were convinced they were about to die. Fainters abound in Scripture. Take the prophet Daniel, for instance. He could stare down lions, but when the heavens opened before him, he swooned like a Victorian lady. Ezekiel, too, was overwhelmed by his vision of God. After witnessing Yahweh's throne chariot lift into the air with the sound of a jet engine, he fell face-first to the ground. When Solomon dedicated the temple, the glory of the Lord was so overpowering "the priests could not perform their service" (1 Kings 8:11). New Testament types fared no better. John's revelations on the island of Patmos left him lying on the ground "as though dead" (Revelation 1:17). The disciples dropped when they saw Jesus transfigured. Even the intrepid Saul marching to Damascus collapsed before the blazing brilliance of the resurrected Christ. + pg. 28

The God Worth Worshipping: There's nothing wrong with applying intimate language to our relationship with Jesus. The disciple John described himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved" and was depicted as laying his head on Jesus' chest (John 13:23). Yet when that same disciple beheld the resurrected Christ in a vision on the island of Patmos, he "fell at his feet as though dead" (Revelation 1:17). We need intimacy with Christ  and reverence for him. But I fear we've lost the second half of that equation. + pg. 36

The God Worth Worshipping: The early church father Gregory of Nyssa compared contemplating God's nature to standing at the edge of a sheer cliff with no foothold. He wrote: "The soul ... becomes dizzy and perplexed and returns once again to what is natural to it, content now to merely know this about the Transcendent, that it is completely different from the nature of the things which the soul knows." We might assume knowing God simply includes getting all our facts about him straight. But maybe the first step is vertigo, a holy disorientation. Perhaps only once we've been shocked out of our normal way of processing reality  categorizing it, mastering it  can we hope to gain even a glimpse of God's awesome power and beauty. Even C.S. Lewis, arguably the most brilliant Christian of the last century, speculated that "half our great theological and metaphysical problems" would be too confused to even have answers. "How many hours are in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask ... are like that?" Our attempts to describe God stretch the limits of human language. The best descriptions seem to veer toward the superlative and abstract. Theologians describe God as the ground of all being, the uncaused first cause, the overwhelming mystery. + pgs. 37-38 

The God Worth Worshipping: As the Dominican priest Victor White wrote: "So soon as we become satisfied with any picture of God, we are in danger of idolatry: of mistaking the comprehensible image for the reality, of losing the numinous, the mystery, the transcendent majesty of God. So soon as, consciously or unconsciously, we suppose we have grasped God, he must elude us, for he is always beyond the furthermost advance we make in knowledge about him." + pg. 38

The God Worth Worshipping: Those of us who lead can be the worst. Preaching professor John Koessler wrote of the tendency for preachers to "normalize the outrageous in Scripture." There's a temptation to flatten out the divine portrayals in the Bible to make God more palatable to our audiences. We're in desperate need of leaders who will resist this temptation and teach the "whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27), holiness included. Here's the beautiful irony: making God strange actually enables us to know him more. Once we marveled at his magnitude and mystery, we are able to achieve the deep intimacy that grows out of a true appreciation for who God is. Instead of treating him as an equal, we approach him with reverent awe. Only when we've been awestruck by his majesty cane we be overwhelmed by his love. + pg. 39

Next post: City Notes 28: Yawning at Tigers Part 2 of 3 


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