Thinking Out Loud

January 16, 2015

Re-Reading: Classic Philip Yancey

Some time ago, I wrote something to the effect that Christian readers should alternate between currently published works, and what are considered Christian classics. Of course, by classics, I meant something a little older than Philip Yancey, but that raises another issue: So many great Christian books — ones still in print, author still living — predate the internet, which means reviews are fewer than for more recent titles publishes are promoting through social media.

Reaching for the Invisible GodPhilip Yancey’s Reaching for the Invisible God is perhaps more significant now than when it was published in 2002. It belongs in the conversation among those wrestling with issues of faith and doubt, and addresses the question of skepticism directly that is so prevalent in 2015.

Reaching is subjective. Most of Philip Yancey’s book are more autobiographical than other authors you encouter. They are about his journey, but sufficiently researched and footnoted so as to represent our universal quest to know and experience God in a world where he is physically invisible.

If you’re new to the name, Yancey started out as a journalist writing for Campus Life magazine, which led to co-authoring The NIV Student Bible notes with Tim Stafford and co-authoring three books with Dr. Paul Brand. Though his earlier writing includes books such as Where is God When it Hurts and Disappointment With God, for this reader the journey began with The Jesus I Never Knew and What’s So Amazing About Grace.

He is very philosophical in his writing. I copied this passage from Reaching… a few days ago to send to a friend which deals with the contrast between the God of the First Testament and the Jesus of the Second Testament. I love this analogy:

Love tends to decrease as power increases, and vice versa.  The same power that repeatedly overwhelmed the Israelites made it difficult for them to perceive God’s love.  A parent stands tall to instill respect in his child and stoops low for hugs and affection.  In the Old Testament, God stood tall. (p. 131)

The original subtitle of the book — which appears on my copy — is “What Can We Expect to Find?” It reminds me of Jesus’ words to his earliest disciples in John 1:38,

When Jesus turned and noticed them following Him, He asked them, “What are you looking for?” (HCSB and others use looking, others use seeking)

In a world where people are seeking and looking for God, people often search for a book, but booksellers and their staff are so oriented to frontlist (recently released items) that they forget that Christian publishing is so rich in backlist titles. Publishers revive older books with new covers and even new titles, but sometimes you just have to dig a little deeper to find a gem you may have missed. 

If you already own a copy; join me in a re-read. If not, get yourself a copy. I think you’ll find it is perhaps even more relevant more than a decade later.


Related: A few years back I wrote about rich text, which is of course now an HTML computer term, but I appropriated it to mean books that are rich in substance.  You can read that article by clicking here.

Philip Yancey Books

 

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October 15, 2011

Craving More of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit

Last weekend we were on a retreat at a Christian camp, and I suddenly had this strong desire to take off my clothes.

We’ll get to that in a minute, but first something completely different…

“Some of you have had to have a medical procedure where you’re told that 24 hours beforehand you’re to stop eating solid food.  You may be a light eater generally, but once you’re told that can’t eat something, you find yourself really craving it.

“Then, they might tell you that for the last three hours prior to the procedure, you’re not to drink anything, either.  You’ve probably gone longer without quenching your thirst, but once you reach that no drink  stage, you suddenly find yourself aching for something in the beverage category.

“But the real kicker is when, five minutes before the procedure, they ask you stop breathing…”

And with that, several years ago, I introduced the song “Breathe” by the group Passion, reminding our church that while the first two situations — being denied food and drink — are achievable in the short term, we all need to breathe.  (Actually, Need to Breathe would be a great name for a band.)  We simply can’t live without oxygen, and so also we should be hungry and thirsty for God.

This is the air I breathe
This is the air I breathe
Your holy presence
Living in me

This is my daily bread
This is my daily bread
Your very word
Spoken to me

And I, I’m desperate for You
And I, I’m lost without You

I relate this because this week we were at a Christian camp, and if you’ve ever been on the grounds of a Christian retreat or conference facility, you know there’s an unwritten rule that if you’re a guy, unless you’re swimming, skiing, windsurfing or water skiing, you’re supposed to keep your shirt on.

But Ontario experienced record high temperatures on the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, with temperatures hovering close to 30 ° Celsius all three days, which for our metricly challenged American friends is around 78 ° Fahrenheit.  Beautiful sunshine.  No black flies, mosquitoes or bees.  No humidity. Reduced risk of sunburn in October.

I was craving maximum sunlight.  So I climbed up a hill to what the kids call “the mountain” and doffed my t-shirt and stretched out on a rock in nothing but shorts and let the sunshine vitamin soak in; in the process becoming a human solar panel, absorbing the rays at just the right angle.

And I started thinking about the warmth of God’s Spirit that we’re supposed to experience as part of what the Bible considers normal Christian living.

the warmth = the comfort of God’s spirit
the sunshine = the spiritual ‘nutritional benefit’ of God’s presence 

In a previous century, the songwriter talked about “Heavenly sunshine, flooding my soul with glory divine.” We express things differently today, but the principle is the same; food, drink, oxygen, the light of the sun; all these analogies in nature exist to remind us of our need for God.  A craving that is intended to be natural.

Just like a deer that craves
streams of water,
my whole being craves you, God.

Common English Bible Psalm 42:1

But none of this would have struck me, and my Vitamin D fix would not have been fulfilling had I not first climbed the mountain… but we wouldn’t want to add another metaphor, would we? 

In our culture, we really don’t know what it is to be physically hungry or thirsty.  There’s always a snack bar just around the corner.  Do we know what it means to truly be spiritually hungry? Have you ever experienced true spiritual hunger or thirst?

May 23, 2011

Book Review: Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman

I believe what we’re looking at here is a book that has the potential to pick up where books like Crazy Love by Francis Chan and Radical by David Platt left off and move us to the next level of commitment.

Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus by Kyle Idleman is one of those “Snakes on a Plane” type of titles; since once you’ve seen the cover, you know exactly where the story is headed.  There were people in Jesus’ day, just as there are in ours, who are fans but not followers.  End of synopsis.  The book consists in accurately delineating the difference.

But I am, in fact a fan — of the author, teaching pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky and host of the brilliant but underrated H20 video evangelism series, Kyle Idleman; which is why I begged the people at Zondervan to toss me a freebie of this one, which, I can now say, I would have gladly paid for anyway.

Just as the ten short films in the H20 collection cut back and forth between teaching and story, Not a Fan cuts back and forth between Bible narrative and illustrations from people Kyle has known, including some very candid stories from his own life and family.

The book begins in an off-hand, light-hearted way, using occasional footnotes suggestive perhaps of an ADD or ADHD author who is his own worst distraction.  But there’s nothing light at all about the book, which sets the bar high in terms of what Christ followership implies.  If anything, the relatability of the author, including some rather self-deprecating moments, leave you totally unprepared for the moments where the hammer falls in terms of truly deciding if you’re a follower or a fan.

The first seven chapters include snapshots from the gospels of people at various levels of intimate relationship with Jesus.  The next four chapters are a superlative breakdown of Luke 9:23–

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

— while the last three chapters continue to explore the implications of that theme.  For the last seven chapters in total, it rolls out this way:

  • Anyone: No list of pre-qualifications or character references required
  • Come After: Pursuing God with passion; with abandon
  • Deny: What happens when it costs everything to be a follower
  • Dying Daily: Taking up your cross today, tomorrow, and the next day
  • Wherever: It’s probably not where you think
  • Whenever: Right here, right now, no excuses
  • Whatever: No second thoughts

Each of the 14 chapters ends with a testimony of someone who wishes to stand up and be counted as being “Not a fan.”  Honestly, if you can live out everything this book challenges us to do and to be, there ought to be button you remove or a sticker you peel off on the last page to demonstrate your desire to make that same commitment. 

I am giving this book my unqualified full endorsement as the book to read in the summer of 2011.  But I want to go beyond that; I want to suggest that Not a Fan is the book for house church, small group or adult elective study for the fall.  You can combine chapters one and two to create a 13-week curriculum out of this, if you have to stick to a quarterly schedule.  Others may want to take even longer to flesh out the implications of Luke 9:23 and what Jesus truly intended when he said, “Follow me.”

My name is Paul Wilkinson, and by God’s grace, and with God’s help, I am not a fan.

Read an excerpt of the book posted here on May 1st and another at Christianity 201 on May 11th.

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