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Archive for the ‘Yancey’ Category

How long, O LORD, will I call for help, And You will not hear? I cry out to You, “Violence!” Yet You do not save. (Hab 1.2)

Today’s passage is Habakkuk 2.1-4, but to make sense of it, it’s worth looking back at chapter 1.

In chapter 1 the prophet’s cry is one that we often hear today: how can you let this happen, God? We see destruction and violence and wickedness all around – where are you, Lord? The law is ignored and justice is perverted – how can you let this continue?

At the beginning of chapter 2 we have an answer, of a sort. What do you think of the Lord’s reply?

When I read these words I’m reminded that so often the Lord’s reply to me is the same: trust me. ‘Things are moving, I’m not delaying or lying to you… trust me.’ Verse 4 contains those famous words “the righteous (one) will live by his faith”, and what strikes me is how true this is. We do live by faith, and in faith, that the Lord is coming, that he will put things to right. Though the world is often dark and violent and God is invisible, often mysterious, and frequently elusive in his replies to important questions, we have to trust him… the alternative is to put our faith in empty, powerless idols (look ahead to Hab 2.18-20).  We don’t build statues today, but we’re good at putting our trust in money, or politics, a job, or even our family. But let’s make that choice to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith…” (Heb 12.2)

One of the books that’s been most helpful to me on the question of faith is Philip Yancey‘s ‘Reaching for the Invisible God‘ (you can read Chapter 3: Room for Doubt and Chapter 4: Faith Under Fire online for free), his personal and insightful exploration of the challenges of relating to – and trusting in – an invisible God. I also highly recommend John Ortberg’s ‘Faith and Doubt‘, which is one of the wisest books I’ve read on this – or any – topic.

If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. (Hab 2.3)

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Yancey

Christianity Today has a really nice article about Philip Yancey, one of my favourite Christian writers.

I’m a big fan of Yancey’s writing, especially ‘What’s So Amazing About Grace?’, which is always in my ‘Christian classics pile’. I was also reminded today of how good ‘In the Likeness of God’ (by Yancey and Dr Paul Brand) is – a fascinating journey through the intricacies of the human body and the insight they give us into the body of Christ. Loved it – the science and the theology!

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Patches of Green

I’ve previously posted on Christianity on Trial, a book well worth reading for its balanced and convincing approach to historical Christianity and the church’s successes and failures.

The conclusion to the book asserts that “if knowledge of such dark episodes [such as the Crusades] in the history of Christianity is essential, it is also corrosive if it is the only knowledge of the past that most people possess.” (p.208) The writers point out it is not just society at large, but also the church itself, that has been quick to over-represent failures and paint a unbalanced picture of Christian history that doesn’t take into account all the facts available.

The book has been a excellent read and given me a much better sense of the detail of history as well as the bigger picture – the redeeming work that God has done and is doing. I’ve been especially struck – in a similar way to reading a biography – by what God can accomplish through individuals; the powerful impact that one or two people can have on a society, William Wilberforce being a powerful example. His story, and that of the other British abolitionists and what they accomplished, is almost beyond belief.

In 1770, slaves comprised 22% of the population of Britain’s American colonies, 90% in the East and West Indies. Between 1791 and 1800, 400,000 slaves were sold, making these some of the most active years of the slave trade (p.33). It was during these years, when the British economy was heavily dependent on slavery, or slave-produced goods, that the antislavery movement began to pick up steam, driven by the Methodists and men like Wilberforce. The Abolition Act of 1833, brought the emancipation of 780,000 slaves, at a cost to the British government of 20 million pounds!

Equally striking is the reminder, in the conclusion, that we “have no need to pore over historical works to appreciate an example of the more hopeful side of the Christian legacy” as significant examples exist even in the last half century. The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe began with a nonviolent campaign in Poland, sparked off and encouraged by visits by Pope John Paul II in 1979 and 1983. The authors make a convincing case for the importance of the church and Christian faith, as well as the impact of the Pope, during the ensuing events. They comment that even the Chinese government recognised the role that the churches had played and on their own turf sought to ‘strangle the baby while it is still in the manger’ (p.211). They argue that Christianity’s “indigenous growth outside the West is one of the signal democratizing forces around the globe today.” (p.211)

Philip Yancey also remarks on these ‘patches of green’ in a chapter in What’s so Amazing about Grace:

Remarkably, we have lived to see these [Eastern European] dissidents triumph. An alternative kingdom of ragged subjects, of prisoners, poets, and priests, who conveyed their words in the scrawl of hand-copied samizdat, toppled what seemed like an impregnable fortress. In each nation the church operated as a counterforce, sometimes quietly and sometimes loudly insisting on a truth that transcended, and often contradicted, official propaganda. In Poland the Catholics marched past government buildings shouting ‘We forgive you!’” (p.261)

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I was skimming through Wild at Heart by John Eldredge this morning, and was struck by the reminder that the night of Jesus’ birth was no ‘silent night’ in heaven.

Eldredge points out that our ‘Silent Night’ or ‘Away in a Manger’ picture of the nativity scene, quiet and intimate, is in many ways a deceptive one. For a fuller picture you have to turn to Revelation 12:

A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter…

And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down ‚— that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

(Rev 12: 1-5, 7-9)

Eldredge continues…
As Philip Yancey says, I have never seen this version of the story on a Christmas card. Yet is is the truer story, the rest of the picture of what was going on that fateful night. Yancey calls the birth of Christ the Great Invasion, “a daring raid by the ruler of the forces of good into the universe’s seat of evil.” Spiritually speaking, this is no silent night. It is D-Day. “It is almost beyond my comprehension too, and yet I accept that this notion is the key to understanding Christmas and is, in fact, the touchstone of my faith. As a Christian I believe that we live in parallel worlds. One world consists of hills and lakes and barns and politicians and shepherds watching their flocks by night. The other consists of angels and sinister forces” and the whole spiritual realm.

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No, I’m not trying to be controversial, that’s the title of my half-term-book-of-the-day today (although I should say that this is the first day I’ve managed it – and potentially the last one!)

This is Philip Yancey’s reflection on his own church experiences, and although it’s fairly slight and doesn’t say much that I haven’t gathered already from his other books, he’s as readable as ever. I always find Yancey an inspiring read, or at least an affirming one. He asks honest questions and his reflections on genuine God-focused spirituality ring true for me.

However, the foreward by Eugene Peterson is perhaps my favourite part of this book. He relates the story of John Muir climbing a Douglas Fir in a storm, in order to experience the Weather.

He goes onto to talk about spirituality being about lived life, and his inspiration from Muir to “open myself to the Weather, not wanting to miss a detail of this invasion of Life into my life, ready at the drop of a hat to lose my life to save it (Mark 8:35)
“…if there is no readiness to respond to the living God, who moves when and how and where he chooses, it isn’t much of a life – the livingness soon leaks out of it”

And two or three thoughts from Yancey that struck me…

On hypocrisy – “one day the question occurred to me, ‘What would church look like if every member were just like me?’ Properly humbled, I began concentrating on my spirituality, not everyone else’s.”

On the body of Christ – “As I look around on Sunday morning…I see the risk that God has assumed. For whatever reason, God now reveals himself in the world not through a pillar of smoke and fire, not evern through the physical body of his Son in Galilee, but through the mongrel collection that comprises my local church…”

On the ‘saviour complex’ – “Nouwen concludes, ‘When we can come to realize that our guilt has been taken away and that only God saves, then we are free to serve, then we can live truly humble lives.'”
– (from Helmut Thielicke, on Jesus’ ministry) “Though the burden of the whole world lay heavy upon his shoulders…he has time to stop and talk to the individual…for all time is in the hands of his Father. And that too is why peace and not unrest goes out from him.”

Actually, this is one of the most interesting sections of the book…a reflection on how ministry in obedience and ‘under’ God’s faithfulness avoids frenzied activity and burnout.

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I came across this (fairly old) article by Philip Yancey, reflecting on Jesus’ unanswered prayers.

Yancey is always refreshing in his willingness to ask the difficult questions, to reflect seriously without rushing desperately into an answer. Real faith, like real life, does not demand easy answers. The questions are important and definitely worth asking.

I find his journey of faith, that he expresses with honesty in his books, a real one and a path I identify with. I am encouraged that his faith is neither untested nor unquestioned and yet stands strong. We don’t have to be afraid to ask questions of God, to doubt and ponder – there’s still room for belief, even trust. And, as Jacob discovered, some things are only revealed in the wrestling. (Genesis 32)

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I’ve been meaning to finish reading this book for a couple of months. I always like the way Philip Yancey comes at things. He asks good questions and tells some great stories..they always make me think and often stay with me a while. Plus they’re never heavy going!

This book stems from some encounters he had with people who were really fed up with God and felt He’d really let them down. He starts with three questions that “no one asks aloud”:
Is God unfair?
Is God silent?
Is God hidden?

As a friend of his asks, “If only God answered those questions – if only he answered one of them. If, say, he would just speak aloud one time so that everyone could hear, then I would believe. Probably the whole world would believe. Why doesn’t he?”

He starts by looking at the Exodus. To the Israelites rescued from Egypt and wandering in the desert God is neither unfair, silent nor hidden. Yet God’s directness didn’t produce worship and love but fear and rebellion!!

H asks the questions, what is God like?
The God of the Bible behaves not like an abstract idea but an actual Person, with deep emotions and passion. “I marveled at how much God lets human beings affect him.”

PY starts in Genesis, working through the Old Testament, considering the relationship that God has with his people, and with Bible characters. He is especially good on Solomon, quoting Oscar Wilde: “In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.”

I have got to the section on the Prophets and I love the clear way in which he explains and humanises these men. The way he looks at things makes so much sense to me and brings some much needed insight – and a sense of the overall picture which I haven’t had in the same way before.
The Prophets ask the same questions of God – are you unfair, silent, hidden?
And God replies..

I’ll leave it for you to read, but here’s my favourite:
‘Despite everything, I am ready to forgive at any moment’

“Often, the midst of a stern reproof, God would stop -literally midsentence- and beg Israel to repent.”

The question I’ve got to in the book: are we really the ones betrayed?

(Thoroughly recommended so far… hard to put down and a lot of really interesting things to think about. Hope I haven’t given too much away!)

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